Adams Papers

From Elizabeth Smith Shaw Peabody to William Smith Shaw, 23 February 1800

Atkinson February 23d. 1800

My Dear Son.

Yesterday agreeably to the Presidents recommendation, our own feelings, & the example of David, (who called all the People together, & wept again over Abner; a Prince & a great Man fallen;) we assembled, & with down cast Eye, & solemn dirges, walked in procession from the Academy; lamenting the departure of humanity’s Friend, Columbia’s Patriot, & Father.—

Mr. Peabody delivered a Sermon you would have been pleased with. He recalled to the mind those virtuous deeds which justly denominated Washinton a great Man, the best character that ever graced the annals of time. The Bright luminary, of our northern hemisphere. Like Cyrus raised up by Providence, possessing a constellation of virtues, peculiarly suited to the exigencies of a Nation struggling for birth, which by divine direction, shed there benign influences upon our highly favoured, happy Land.

A very good Eulogy was spoken by a Senior Scholar in our academy, which merited as much applause as many, which were destined to the Press, canvassed by the publick Eye, & received its Plaudit. After recounting many great exploits, he requested all those who had lost the faithful participants of their joys, & griefs; whose affections had been raised by mutual tenderness, strengthened by virtue, & were hurled from a Paradise of bliss, into thorny wilderness of Sorrow, not to withold the tear of sympathy, but condole with the weeping Friend at Mount Vernon; regretting that the messenger of Death should at this all important Crisis, be commissioned with the solemn [. . .], that Washington should return to the Courts on high. His head was silvered with the grey hairs of Wisdom. His countenance inspired every Soldier with Fortitude!

Many have run into wild excesses in their panegyricks, & some of our Divines not content with searching the terrestial Globe for Tropes, & Figures, have assended the blest abodes, & presumed that all the angels were summoned; & sent to convoy the illustrious Sage from his phylosophick retreat below, to the Paradise above, reserving only One, of the bright retinue to wipe the tear from the Widows Eye. But my Son, after all that has been poured forth by the Orator, & the Eulogist, I presume a simple detail of Facts, & a faithful narrative of his useful life, will be the highest Eulogium.—We should rob this great Man of a most valuable Wreath, if we did not follow him into domestic life, & among an assemblage of virtues, distinguish the exact oeconomy, the nice order, the regular conduct which marked his daily course, for I have been told that in all his multiplicity of affairs; he was but three days behind of his business, when he died.

And it may be said of a Washinton, that he went but “little slower than the Sun.”—While we review, the lives of those illustrious characters, which have dignified human nature & meditate upon those things that are lovely, may habits of virtue be formed, & bring forth fruit, some fifty, & some an hundred fold.—

Your late Journey to Mount Vernon must be attended with many painful feelings, peculiar to your Errand. The conduct of Mrs. Washinton relative to the [tepal] appears to be the result of a mind deeply affected by recent Grief. Her answer to the Presidents Letter, of which you had the honour of being the Bearer, is an evidence of female excellence; & that though grief may oppress, yet it does not sink the mind.

It gives me great pleasure to hear you enjoy health this winter. But my dear Son it affords me still greater, to see that you improve in your handwriting your stile & composition; & infinitely more joy to hear that you are approved by your good & virtuous Gauardians. To be assured by your dear Aunt that you were free from vice, that no habit has polluted, & debased your mind, is more grateful to my Soul, than was the fragant precious ointment which bedewed the cheek of Aaron—That at an age, when unballanced passions have there greatest sway, & temptations appear in there most fascinating Garb, you are yet (heaven be praised) preserved from there contaminating Influence. O my Son! you need only think of the misery occasioned by vice, & your heart must recoil, & feel a chilly horror. How many have pined in secret, whose virtuous Souls were harrowed up! How many sit like “Patience on a monument,” & to beguile the worlds piercing Eye, smile in Grief.

It is my fervent petition, that you may be kept pure; & not commit suicide upon all happiness, & that you may have wisdom to qualify yourself for some important Station. Useful life, progressive virtue, should be your motto—

Riches & honour are but secondary considerations yet with propriety they may be kept in view, & be a stimulas to early rising, & indefatigable application. With trembling solicitude, I perceive the time fast approaching when you will be under a necessity of making choice of a profession that may support yourself in life. It is a momentous affair, & many a clever fellows heart have I known to ake, upon this occasion. I do not mean to bias your mind as to either of the Proffessions. But if you have any prefference, I wish you to direct the course of your Studies to that point. It is best for all to have some goal, to which we give our whole strength, or we never shall gain the prize. You have hitherto, my Son, been peculiarly favoured in being so long nurtured at the feet of Gamaliel, but this can only be a temporary support; & I hope in the stile of life you are now, you will form no habits of living, dress &cc, but what you can with ease, & without mortification lay asside with your present honorable, improving Office—By prudence in your affairs I hope, you will be enabled to procure an agreeable Situation, that may afford you Bread in due season. In doing thus, & continuing in the paths of Virtue, you will have a fond Mothers blessing, and be assured of her utmost exertions to promote your interest, & happiness—and think herself blessed in the life of such a Son.

March 3d—

It has been here as fine a winter, as I have ever known, good travelling all the time, and one would almost have thought Atkinson a central place; for company has crouded here from all quarters—Capt Peabody has had the happiness to be stationed in Haverhill—a most delightful situation for a Gentleman quite at leisure—And as peace now waves its olive branch, & he has no call in the field, he has quartered himself upon the Ladies. By the perfect command he appears to have over them, he must be an adept in discipline. For he has no sooner directed several large squadrons of them to the heights of Atkinson, than immediately they are eqquiped, fly to his standard, and are ready at a minutes warning to follow their Leader, even to the forsaking of Father & Mother, for what heart can withstand a sword & a shoulder-knot. In truth, he is a fine looking Officer, & much improved in his Manners, and the Ladies, it is said, are all setting their Caps for him—

Mr and Mrs Webster have made us a visit of about six weeks—They returned accompanied by Mr Vose. I have seldom known so many cloudless days at this season, as our Preceptor has been favoured with in his Journey to Landoff. May it be a prelude to the sunshine of prosperity which may brighten his future life—I know you will rejoice to hear that Hymen has united him, with the Object of his warmest affections, which were kindled in early youth, fan’d in riper years, & approbated by mature judgment. And now when Cupid has yoked these gentle Doves, if they should not find it easy; and when Hymen has thrown over them his silken bands, it should prove a “plague of Iron,” I shall despair of ever seeing happiness exist in the conjugal State—But I must leave them to their destiny—cooing together—

I have nothing knew to communicate, except it be, a Meteor that has of late made its appearance, about once in a fortnight, or three weeks in our hemisphere. We cannot say that it portends no good—though its path is yet unknown, & its future destination not investigated. From the slenderness of its body, & its complexion, we find its velocity great. And from its frequent corruscations, which are emited in a black & white coulour, resembling sheets of written paper, even now it is in its Aphelion, we are fearful what the attraction may be, when it approaches its Perihelion.—And should a transit of the celestial divine bodies take place before it has completed its northern revolution, it might be attended with some baneful, deliterous influences upon our System—I think it is no Ignis Fatuus,—as I always hope for the best, I rather believe it an happy Omen, & may terminate in auspicious Days, at least-to one in my Family

Daniel White has spoken an Oration at Methuen—which is to be printed—If they go on, the world will scarcely contain them—The Mr Rogers’s Father has been dangerously sick, with a fever this winter—while they were far distant, obtaining some pecuniary assistance by keeping a School—How many dificultys some have to encounter, while others are dandled in the Lap of Plenty—Abner has been at home sent for, to attend the Funeral of his Friend, & former school fellow Mr Sam. Poor—who died of a Fever after a long confinement—He went to school with your dear Sister & Sally Peabody the first Summer she was here—He was an excellent young man, not less conspicuous for the beauty of his person, than for the goodness of his heart, & amiable deportment—His death affected me greatly, he was the friend of your Sister.—

We have too lament the premature death of our valuable Friend Capt Porter—The unhappy circumstance of his Death you have seen in our news Paper. I suppose, his embarrassed affairs were said to be the cause—He had agreed with Timothy Osgood to carry him in a Sley to Newbury. He came to Mr Harrods dressed to go, desired he might be called—Charles went to his Chamber, but he was not there—to the Barn—& O shocking to behold! suspended by a rope, upon a Beam was the Phylanthropist, the good [. . .] of Society, & the unfortunate Lover—I saw him a few days before this melancholly event & he was the sensible companion, and the [instructive] literary Friend—One of the best I left in Haverhill—

In his Shop for sometime he had appeared very gloomy Mr Dudley Porter requested him to communicate his troubles, & lesson them in the bosom of one, in whom he could confide—He said they were of such a nature as could not be mentioned—He felt amazed that he should not have fortitude to combat the Ills of life, & was ashamed when he felt his insufficency—Mr Porter said every thing to comfort him, & you know he was a good man for such a purpose, but alas! it had no lasting effect—He had long rowed against the tide—Misfortunes of various kinds awaited him on every side, & dissappointed love couloured every Object, with its melancholly hue— Let us throw a mantle of Charity over his Manes, & pray that we enter not into Temptation—

William & John are well,—& your Sister is much as usual—She is as a Lilly of the field—

Present my kindest regards where due, not forgeting My Nephew Thomas, whom I hope one day to see, Mrs Smith, Cousin Louisa &cc—affectionatly

E. Peabody

DLC: Shaw Family Papers.

Index Entries