John Adams to Abigail Adams
My dear Portia
The inclosed Dialogue in the Shades was written by Mr. Edmund Jennings now residing at Brussells, a Native of Maryland. I will send you the Rest when I can get it.2
How I lament the Loss of my Packets by Austin! There were I suppose Letters from Congress of great Importance to me. I know not what I shall do without them. I suppose there was Authority to draw &c. Mr. T[haxter]’s Letter from his father, hints that Mr. L.3 is coming here. This will be excellent.
Since my Arrival this time I have driven about Paris, more than I did before. The rural Scenes around this Town are charming. The public Walks, Gardens, &c. are extreamly beautifull. The Gardens of the Palais Royal, the Gardens of the Tuilleries, are very fine. The Place de Louis 15, the Place Vendome or Place de Louis 14, the Place victoire, the Place royal, are fine Squares, ornamented with very magnificent statues. I wish I had time to describe these objects to you in a manner, that I should have done, 25 Years ago, but my Head is too full of Schemes and my Heart of Anxiety to use Expressions borrowed from you know whom.
To take a Walk in the Gardens of the Palace of the Tuilleries, and describe the Statues there, all in marble, in which the ancient Divinities and Heroes are represented with exquisite Art, would be a very pleasant Amusement, and instructive Entertainment, improving in History, Mythology, Poetry, as well as in Statuary. Another Walk in the Gardens of Versailles, would be usefull and agreable.—But to observe these Objects with Taste and describe them so as to be understood, would require more time and thought than I can possibly Spare. It is not indeed the fine Arts, which our Country requires. The Usefull, the mechanic Arts, are those which We have occasion for in a young Country, as yet simple and not far advanced in Luxury, altho perhaps much too far for her Age and Character.
I could fill Volumes with Descriptions of Temples and Palaces, Paintings, Sculptures, Tapestry, Porcelaine, &c. &c. &c.—if I could have time. But I could not do this without neglecting my duty.—The Science of Government it is my Duty to study, more than all other Sciences: the Art of Legislation and Administration and Negotiation, ought to take Place, indeed to exclude in a manner all other Arts.—I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.4
RC (Adams Papers). For the enclosed newspaper piece by Edmund Jenings, which has not been found, see note 2.
1. It is difficult to date this letter with precision but not at all difficult to date it within a day or two of its composition. It must have been written after JA’s letter to AA of 12 May, above, which reported the capture of Jonathan Loring Austin and the loss of the letters he was bringing JA from America—a loss plaintively mentioned again in the present letter. It was very probably written before JA’s letter to AA of 15 May, below, because it mentions incidents that occurred earlier in May, for example JA’s receipt of Jenings’ “Dialogue” (see the following note) and Thaxter’s receipt of letters from Hingham, which Thaxter’s letter to AA of 12 May, preceding, states he received on the 10th.
2. The editors have not seen this political piece. The “first part” was sent by its author, Edmund Jenings (1731–1819), to JA on 2 May (letter in Adams Papers, enclosure missing) as printed in a recent but unidentified London newspaper; it was warmly acknowledged in JA’s reply of 6 May (LbC, Adams Papers). In a dispatch dated 27 May, JA told President Huntington: “Among the English Papers, which I enclose to Congress, will be found a Dialogue in the Shades between the Duke of Devonshire, the Earl of Chatham and Mr. Charles York—it was written by Edmund Jennings Esqr. of Maryland, now residing at Brussells, a Gentleman of Merit” (PCC, No. 84, II, without the newspaper in question; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 3:735).
As for Jenings, a Marylander long resident in London who played an obscure but interesting and controversial part in the international intrigues of the day, see a biographical note in JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:355–356, and numerous mentions of him in that work.
3. Henry Laurens?
4. For an attempt to put the foregoing celebrated passage in the context of JA’s general view of the fine arts, see the Foreword to Oliver, Portraits of JA and AA description begins Andrew Oliver, Portraits of John and Abigail Adams, Cambridge, 1967. description ends , p. xii–xvi. See also the Introduction to the present volume.