Adams Papers

Thurdsday [19 October].
[from the Diary of John Adams]

Thurdsday [19 October].

I borrowed yesterday of Quincy, the 1st Volume of Batista Angeloni’s Letters,1 and a general Treatise of naval Trade and Commerce as founded on the Laws and Statutes of this Realm in which those (Laws and Statutes I suppose) relating to his Majesties Customs, Merchants, Masters of Ships, Mariners, Letters of Marque, Privateers, Prizes, Convoys, Cruizers &c. are particularly considered and treated with due Care under all the necessary Heads from the earliest time down to the present, 2d Edition in 2. Volumes.2 Read Angeloni thro I believe, and studied, carefully, about a dozen Pages in mercantile Law. Angelonis Letters are all of a Piece. He has an odd System of Faith, viz. that Utility is Truth and therefore that Transubstantiation is true, and Auricular Confession is true because they are useful, they promote the Happiness of mankind. Therefore Rain is true because it is useful in promoting the Growth of Herbs, and fruits and flowers, and consequently of Animals for mans Use. This is very different from Mathematical Truth, and this Explanation of his meaning gives Room to suspect that he disbelieves a Revelation, himself, tho he thinks it useful for the World to believe it.

He reasons, who can conceive that a Being of infinite Wisdom, Justice and Goodness, would suffer the World to be governed 2000 [years] by a Religion that was false. But may not this Question be asked of the Mahometan, the Chinese, in short of every Religion under the sun, and will not the Argument equally prove them all to be true?

What Passion is most active and prevalent in Dr. Savel’s mind?3 The Desire of Money. He retails Sugar by the Pound, [. . .] by the bunch, Pins, Pen knifes, to save these Articles in his family, and neat4 a few Shillings Profit. He makes poor People who are in his Debt pay him in Labour. He bargains with his Debtors in the 2 other Parishes for Wood, which he sends to the Landing Place, and to Dr. Marshes. Thus by practice of Physick, by trading and bargaining and scheming he picks up a Subsistance for his family and gathers very gradually, Additions to his Stock. But this is low. The same Application, and scheming in his Profession, would raise and spread him a Character, procure him profitable Business and make his fortune. But by this contemptible Dissipation of mind, among Pins, Needles, Tea, Snuff Boxes, Vendues, Loads of Wood, day labour &c. he is negligent of the Theory of his Profession, and will live and die unknown.—These driveling souls, oh! He aims not at fame, only at a Living and a fortune!

1Letters on the English Nation, London, 1755, 2 vols., purporting to be “by Batista Angeloni, a Jesuit,” were actually the work of John Shebbeare (see DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1900; 63 vols. plus supplements. description ends ), a British political writer whose identity JA had discovered by the time of his next reference to this book; see 19 March 1759, below. JA’s own copy of the Letters, now in the Boston Public Library, contains a few marginal notes in his hand and some underscoring, though none in Letter IX, on religion, from which the paraphrase below is largely derived.

2The first volume of JA’s own copy of this edition survives, as does the first volume of his copy of the first edition, London, 1740 (Catalogue of JA’s Library description begins Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston, Boston, 1917. description ends , p. 101).

3The present paragraph is separated from the preceding ones by a line across the page in the MS; it may therefore have been written on either 19 or 20 Oct.

4Neat, vb.: to clear or net (a sum of money) (OED description begins The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford, 1933; 12 vols. and supplement. description ends ).

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