Abigail Adams to Royall Tyler?
You wish me to devote half an hour to you in your absence; you requested and I comply, to shew you that I have a disposition to oblige, but I am very unequal to the task you have assigned as I have no Herculian properties, but can say with Gays Shepard
I study her as my surest safest guide, for our actions must not only be right, but expedient, they must not only be agreable to virtue but to prudence. It was upon this principal that my late advise2 was founded. You differd so widely from me in sentiment, that I determined never again to tender an opinion unaskd—yet I did not wish you any further influenced by it than appeard to me, to conduce to your <
“the little knowledge I have gaind
is all from simple nature draind.”
Horace has in some of his Epistles this sentiment better one thorn pluct out than all remain, Humane nature is represented by an english poet as a wild where weeds and flowers promiscuous shoot
Let it be our study to cultivate the flowers, and root out the weeds, to nourish with a softening care and attention those tender Blossoms, that they may be neither blasted in their prime nor witherd in their bloom but as the blossom falls may the fruit <
A garden tempting with forbiden fruit.
Sternses observation may be just, but King Richards was a more independant one. God says, he helps those who help themselves.3 Advise is of little avail unless it is reduced to practise nor ought we implicitly to give up<
on> our judgement to any one what ever may be our regard or esteem for them untill we have weighed and canvassed that advise with our reason and judgment—then if it is right agreable to virtue expedient and prudent we ought strictly to adhere to it—a mutability of temper and inconsistency with ourselves is the greatest weakness of Humane Nature, and will render us little and contemtable in the Eyes of the World. There are certain principal which ought to become unchangeable in us justice temperance fortitude hold the first rank—he who possesses these will soon have all others added unto him.
I have not been alone to day. My Weymouth Friends dined with me together with my sister and cousins. You was kindly enquired after, and the vacant Chair lookt solitary. The provision too was not carved with that dexterity and allertness which your hand is accustomed to.4 This evening—I know you think of your solitary Friend—whilst the lightning plays from cloud to cloud and threatens a tempestous Night. You wish yourself at hand to read me some amuseing or entertaining subject, or to beguile the hour with the incidents of the past day, or converse upon some literary subject, but my little slumbering Guests are all locked in the Arms of sleep. My candle and my pen are all my companions. I send my thoughts across the broad Atlantick in serch of my associate and rejoice that thought and immagination are not confined like my person to the small spot on which I exist.
Adieu—I have complied with your request recive it in the Spirit of Friendship for that alone dictates to the pen of your Friend
Dft (Adams Papers).
1. The editors have redated this letter, originally filed and filmed at , Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 350. Royall Tyler is AA’s likely correspondent for several reasons. First, the letter seems to be a response to a reaction by Tyler to AA’s letter of 14 June, above. Second, Tyler is the only person outside the family who enjoyed such an intimate relationship with AA’s household in JA’s absence. Finally, AA’s mention of her correspondent’s carving abilities, at note 4, resembles a passage in a later AA letter that almost certainly refers to Tyler.
3. This may be AA’s joke, since one source of this saying, which appears as early as AEsop’s fables, is Benjamin Franklin’s Maxims Prefixed to Poor Richard’s Almanac (1757). See also AA to Dr. Thomas Welsh, , below.