Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 29 May 1818

From John Adams

Quincy May 29. 1818

Dear Sir

As Holly is a Diamond of a Superiour Water, it would be crushed to pouder1 by mountainous oppression in any other Country. Even in this, he is a light Shining in a dark place. His System is founded in the hopes of Mankind: but they delight more in their Fears. When will Men have juster Notions of the Universal eternal Cause? Then will rational Christianity prevail. I regrett Hollys Misfortune in not finding you, on his Account to whom an Interview with you would have been a lasting Gratification.

Waterhouses Pen “Labitur et labetur,.” He has let it run on with too much fluency. I have not a tenth part of the Vivacity, Activity, Memory, or Promptitude and punctuality2 in Correspondence3 that he ascribes to me. I can answer but few of the Letters I receive, and those only with Short Scratches of the Pen.

I agree4 with you that “it is difficult to say at what moment the Revolution began.” In my Opinion it began as early as the first Plantation of the Country. Independence of Church and Parliament was a fixed Principle of our Predecessors in 1620 as it was of Sam. Adams and Chris. Gadsden in 1776. And Independence of Church and Parliament were always kept in View in this Part of the Country and I believe in most others. The Hierarchy and Parliamentary Authority5 were dreaded and detested even by a Majority of professed Episcopalians.

I congratulate you on your “Canine Appetite for reading.”6 I have been equally voracious for Several Years and it has kept me alive.

It is policy in me to despize and abhor the “Writing Table” for it is a Bunch of Grapes out of reach; Had I your Eyes and Fingers I Should Scribble forever, such poor Stuff as you know I have been writting by fits and Starts for fifty or Sixty years without ever correcting or revising any thing.7

Helluo as I am, I hunger and thirst after what I Shall never See, Napolions Publication of the Report of his Institute of Cairo. Denons Volumes have excited an inextinguishable Curiosity for an unattainable Object.

Mr Coffee has been mentiond to me by my Son.8 He will be welcome. But though Robin is alive he is not alive like to be. Mr Coffee must be very quik9 or Robbin may die in his hand.

Mr Binon a French Artist from Lyons who has Studied eight years in Italy has lately taken my Bust. He appears to be an Artist and a Man of Letters, I let them do what they please10 with my old head.

When We come to be cool in the future World, I think We cannot choose but Smile at the gambols of Ambition Avarice Pleasure Sport and Caprice here below. Perhaps We may laugh like the Angels in the French Fable. At a convivial repast of a Clubb of Choice Spirits of whom Gabriel and Michael were the most illustrious, after Nectar and ambrosia had Sett their hearts at Ease, they began to converse upon the Mechanique Cœleste. After discussing the Zodiack and the Constellations and the Solar System they condescended to this Speck of dirt the Earth, and remarked Some of its Inhabitants, The Lyon the Elephant the Eagle and even the Fidelity Gratitude and adroitness of the Dog. At last one of them recollected Man. What a fine Countenance! What an elegant figure! What Subtilty, Inginuity, Versatillity Agility! And above all, a rational Creature! At this the whole board broke out into a broad Ha! Ha! Ha!11 that resounded through the Vault of Heaven: exclaiming “Man a rational Creature”! How could any rational Being12 even dream that Man was a rational Creature?

After all, I hope to meet my Wife and Friends, Ancestors and Posterity, Sages ancient and modern. I believe I could get over all my Objections to meeting Alec Hamilton and Tim Pick, if I could perceive13 a Symptom of Sincere14 Penitence in either.

My fatigued Eyes and Fingers command me very reluctantly to subscribe abruptly

John Adams.

RC (DLC); addressed by Susanna Boylston Adams Clark (Treadway): “Thomas Jefferson Esqre Monticello. Virginia”; franked; postmarked Boston, 29 May; endorsed by TJ as received 9 June 1818 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

labitur et labetur: “glides, and will glide” (Horace, Epistles, 1.2.43, in Fairclough, Horace: Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica, 264–5). helluo: “glutton” (OED). denons volumes: Vivant Denon, Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Égypte, pendant les campagnes du Général Bonaparte, 2 vols. (Paris, 1802; Sowerby, no. 3947). In the game of robin’s alive (robin is alive) a burning object is passed quickly from person to person (William Wells Newell, Games and Songs of American Children [1883], 135–6).

In accord with an 1818 resolution of the Massachusetts General Assembly, a public subscription financed the creation of a bust of Adams for display in Faneuil Hall in Boston. The French artist Jean Baptiste binon duly executed the sculpture in marble. Benjamin A. Gould sent TJ a plaster copy in 1825 (Andrew Oliver, Portraits of John and Abigail Adams [1967], 179–87; Stein, Worlds, 228, 229; Gould to TJ, 14 July 1825; TJ to Gould, 5 Aug. 1825). mechanique cœleste (“celestial mechanics”): “the branch of astronomy that deals with the mathematical theory of the motions of celestial bodies” (OED). tim pick: Timothy Pickering.

1FC: “powder.”

2RC: “puntuality.” FC: “punctuality.”

3RC: “Correspondenc.” FC: “correspondence.”

4FC: “think.”

5FC here adds “over.”

6Omitted period at right margin editorially supplied.

7RC: “any. thing.”

8Omitted period at right margin editorially supplied.

9FC: “quick.”

10FC: “like.”

11Preceding two words present in RC and added to FC by Adams.

12Preceding two words present in RC and added to FC by Adams.

13FC: “see.”

14Word not in FC.

Index Entries

  • Adams, Abigail Smith (John Adams’s wife); relationship with J. Adams search
  • Adams, John; and origin of American Revolution search
  • Adams, John; busts of search
  • Adams, John; introduces H. Holley search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on Christianity search
  • Adams, John; on death and dying search
  • Adams, John; on Napoleon search
  • Adams, John; on writing search
  • Adams, John; reading habits of search
  • Adams, John Quincy; relationship with J. Adams search
  • Adams, Samuel (1722–1803); and origin of American Revolution search
  • American Revolution; disputes over origin of search
  • American Revolution; J. Adams on search
  • astronomy; J. Adams references search
  • Binon, Jean Baptiste; and bust of J. Adams search
  • Boston, Mass.; Fanueil Hall search
  • Christianity; J. Adams on search
  • Coffee, William John; TJ recommends search
  • Denon, Vivant; Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Égypte, pendant les campagnes du Général Bonaparte search
  • Gabriel (archangel) search
  • Gadsden, Christopher; organizes Sons of Liberty search
  • games; robin’s alive search
  • Gould, Benjamin Apthorp; and bust of J. Adams search
  • Hamilton, Alexander (1757–1804); and J. Adams search
  • Holley, Horace; introduced to TJ search
  • Horace; quoted by J. Adams search
  • Massachusetts; legislature of search
  • Michael (archangel) search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; J. Adams on search
  • Pickering, Timothy; and J. Adams search
  • religion; Episcopalians search
  • religion; J. Adams on search
  • robin’s alive (game) search
  • Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Égypte, pendant les campagnes du Général Bonaparte (V. Denon) search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; and origin of American Revolution search