Adams Papers

John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams 2d, 25 April 1786

John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams 2d

Braintree, April 151[i.e. 25]th, 1786

This is the eighth day it has rained and stormed without intermission, the weather is worse than that of England commonly is.

The parson2 has been here to-day. Smoked some pipes, was sometimes witty, and always ready to laugh at his own flashes. The vacancy expires tomorrow. The weather has been such that we could not stir out of doors. I have employed my time in reading, writing and taking lessons on the flute, for you must know we are all turning musicians. I never had before an opportunity of paying any steady attention to any musical instrument, now I am settled, in one place for fifteen months, vacancies excepted, and shall be glad for a relaxation from study, to amuse myself with a little music, which you know

When the soul is press’d with cares

Awakes it with enlivening airs.3

Charles and I came up on Wednesday. I spent the eve on Wednesday at Mr. D.’s,4 and was again there this afternoon. I saw there a gentleman and heard his name, but do not recollect it, who had a vast deal of small talk with Miss E.5 upon matrimony and so forth. I think the conversation of this kind is still more ridiculous in this country than it is in Europe; there, the theatres furnish subjects, and there is an opportunity, now and then, of hearing some good critical remarks; but here, complete nonsense is a word not expressive enough of the insipidity and absurdity that reigns in our polite conversation.

The class to which I belong recite this week to the Greek tutor. His name is Jennison; a youth who was chosen tutor before he had been three years out of college; he is not more than twenty-four now: and is very far from being possessed of those qualities which I should suppose necessary for a tutor here. He is so ignorant in Greek, that he displays it sometimes in correcting a scholar that is right, and other times suffering the most absurd constructions to pass unnoticed. We had a capital instance of this no longer ago than this morning, but notwithstanding these circumstances, he is not so unpopular in college as some other characters are, because he is not fond of punishing; he has, upon many occasions, shown his lenity in this way.

My room is directly over his, and am obliged to take the greatest caution to make no noise, for fear of a message from him. The other day a person came into my chamber, and seeing my flute on the table, took it up, and played about a dozen notes. I had immediately a freshman, who came to me with orders to go to Mr. Jennison; he said he would inform me once for all, that he desired I would confine myself for my amusements, to the hours allotted for that purpose. To tell him I did not play would have been of no service, for here you are responsible, not only for what you do yourself, but for whatever is done in your chamber. I have not been used to such subjection, but I find I can submit to it with as good a grace as any body. If there was not such an awful distance between a tutor and a scholar, I should submit to them with equal pleasure and be much better satisfied, but a Turkish bashaw could not be more imperious than they are; nor will they, in any manner, mix with the students so as to give them information upon any subject.

We attend this week Mr. James, the Latin tutor. He is not very popular, and indeed it would be difficult to point out more than one person belonging to our government that is, that one is Professor Williams; but to return to Mr. Jones [James]; no one doubts of his literary qualifications, but he is accused of great partiality towards his own class in general,6 and towards particular persons; and what makes this more disagreeable to the students is, that his partialities are not in favor of good characters, but are owing rather to interested views. But in this I am only the herald of public fame. Since I have been here, he has shown me no favor, nor any partiality against me. The tutors here, have a right to lay pecuniary punishment on the students for misbehaviour of any kind, and this is the greatest cause of their unpopularity. The tutors often show a fault in their judgment or their justice. If they have a pique against any particular scholar, they will gratify it by punishing him as often as they can possibly find opportunity, and sometimes without any valid reasons at all; but any one who is favored by a tutor, may do almost anything and it will pass by unnoticed; and when the students see one punished for a trifle, and another running into every excess with impunity, it is very natural they should dislike the tutor’s conduct. But people out of college say Mr. James is much of a gentlemen, which we have no opportunity of discovering here; for it is entirely inconsistent for a tutor to treat a scholar like a gentleman. How do you think this sets upon your brother’s stomach? My chum, who has already graduated, often has the tutors in the chamber. He always informs me of it a short time before, and I never fail of being absent at the time; for if I was to stay, I might be three hours in the room with them, without having a word said to me, or a look at me, unless one of a proud superiority. Such are these giants, who, like the Colossus, bestride the whole length of Harvard College. But you will think it does me good, as it will mortify my vanity and teach me a little humility. I wish it may have this good effect.

Nothing extraordinary has happened in the course of the week—the same scene continually repeated. My time is taken up much more than I expected it would be. I have adopted a system, which you will immediately see leaves no time: six hours of the day are employed in the public exercises of the college; six for study, six for sleep, and six for exercise and amusements; the principal of which now is my flute. I very seldom go into company out of college, and have been but once to Boston since I came here.

It is usual for every class, in the beginning of the senior year, to choose one of the class, to deliver a Latin valedictory or farewell oration, before the government of the college and the other classes, on the 21st of June next ensuing, the day when the seniors leave college, but this has been neglected by the present senior class till two days ago, when they appointed a youth by the name of Fowle to speak, not a Latin oration, but an English poem, he is quite young but a very pretty poet, I have heard some lines of his read which would do honor to any young man.7

We recite this week to Mr. Hale, the metaphysical tutor; it would be difficult for me to name one student that loves this man; he is cordially hated even by his own class, which is not the case with the other tutors. Nobody accuses him of partialities in favor of any one; he is equally morose, surly and peevish to all; he has got the nickname of the cur. We this day experienced his ill nature, we had this morning to dispute upon a certain question that he gave out some time since; this is called a forensic. We began at 9 1/2, at 11 Mr. Williams had a philosophical lecture, when the bell rung two or three of those who had read their parts applied for leave to go out and attend Mr. Williams’ lecture, and he refused them, so that we must infallibly, have lost a lecture, had not Mr. Williams been so kind as to wait near half an hour for us.

Remember me to all friends, and believe me yours.

J. Q. Adams

MS not found. Printed from (AA2, Jour. and Corr. description begins Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, Daughter of John Adams, . . . Edited by Her Daughter [Caroline Amelia (Smith) de Windt], New York and London, 1841–[1849]; 3 vols. Note: Vol. [1], unnumbered, has title and date: Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, 1841; vol. 2 has title, volume number, and date: Correspondence of Miss Adams . . . Vol. II, 1842; vol. [3] has title, volume number, and date: Correspondence of Miss Adams . . ., Vol. II, 1842, i.e., same as vol. 2, but preface is signed “April 3d, 1849,” and the volume contains as “Part II” a complete reprinting from same type, and with same pagination, of vol. 2 (i.e., “Vol. II”), above, originally issued in 1842. description ends , 3:106–112.)

1This is probably a copying error for “April 25,” the correct date of the events of the opening paragraphs (JQA, Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981– . description ends , 2:21).

2For Rev. Anthony Wibird, minister of the First Church in Braintree, see vol. 1:146.

3A paraphrase of Alexander Pope, Ode for Music on St. Cecilia’s Day, lines 24–27: “If in the breast tumultuous joys arise, / Music her soft, assuasive voice applies; / Or when the soul is press’d with cares, / Exalts her in enlivening airs.”

4Francis Dana, an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court since 1785, had served as JA’s official secretary from 1779 to mid-1781. JQA accompanied Dana to St. Petersburg in 1781, when the latter took up his appointment as minister to Russia, and acted as his private secretary and translator for over a year (JQA, Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981– . description ends , 1:ix—x; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; repr. New York, 1964; 20 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends ).

5Almy Ellery of Newport, R.I., Dana’s sister-in-law (NEHGR description begins New England Historical and Genealogical Register. description ends , 8:318 [Oct. 1854]).

6Perhaps a vestige of an archaic Harvard mode in which each tutor was responsible for administering all subjects in the curriculum as well as overseeing the general well-being of an entire class of undergraduates throughout their college career. In 1767 the system was revised and each tutor instructed all classes at the college in specific subject matter (Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century, Cambridge, 1936, p. 51–53; Samuel Eliot Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636–1936, Cambridge, 1936, p. 90).

7Robert Fowle (1766–1847), Harvard 1786, served as the Episcopal minister of Holderness, N.H., from his ordination in 1791 until his death (Harvard Quinquennial Cat. description begins Harvard University, Quinquennial Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates 1636–1930, Cambridge, 1930. description ends ; Samuel Seabury, A Discourse Delivered in St. John’s Church . . . Conferring the Order of Priesthood on The Rev. Robert Fowle, A.M. of Holderness, Boston, 1791, Evans description begins Charles Evans and others, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends , No. 23755).

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