Abigail Adams to John Thaxter
October 26 1782
No, the Fire Brand shall not sail again without a Letter to my Friend. Why what a Hurry. I meant to have written him a long Letter—but here before a Body could think twice she is loaded and ready to sail. I could not write by Capt. Grinnel for reasons which I gave you.1 This vessel will sail before I can advertize your Friends. I have the pleasure however to assure you that they were well last week; when your Mamma and sister Celia made me a visit. They took from hence a stiff dutch figure. Why if that is your present likeness
I do not wonder you wish to come to America to be New formed. There are some Traits tis true but is it the fashion to have such prominent cheek Bones? I felt affronted with any who supposed a likeness, tho all agreed that it was an ugly one.2 You cannot conceive how it struck the Fair American.3 She protests against going to Holland. No Flatterers there she thinks. She is certain they know nothing of the graces, or they could not so have deformed the countanance of the Handsome Charles.4 The features of both the portraitures are hard and cours. Tell him his Friends do not like it—and do him an other message if you please. If you return, and he succeeds You, I expect him to supply your place in every respect—one of which is to become my correspondent. I meant to have written him a few lines by way of requests, but fear I shall not have time.
His good Pappa obliged me by reading some of his Letters. I like his Manner of Letter writing, he pleases me exactly—he writes to the Moment—and has the happy art of giving even trivial matters an agreable air and dress, he is Sentimental without a too formal gravity, and his observations upon Men and Manners do honour to his judgment. If I had no other test of his worth, the affectionate regard he expresses for his Sister would prove his merrit.
Do you not want to give a look at our Fire side. I will tell you how it is occupied—rather different from what it commonly is, for there is a Card table before it, and A Mr. Robbins5 (the present preceptor of my Sons) is holding a hand at whist with Miss A. Miss Betsy Otis, the daughter of Mr. Allen Otis6 and Master Billy Cranch are partners—a sweet delicate Lovely Lilly and rose Beauty is this amiable Girl.
What do you think of my crosing the Atlantick? I have serious thoughts of it. If my best Friend asks it, I certainly shall but I rather wish for peace that he may return to me. I love the peacefull Rural Retirement and the pleasures of domestick Life. You know sir that ever since you made a part of our Family I have lived in one continued sacrifice of private happiness. I have felt anxious some times least the long seperation should Estrange the affections of my Children from their parent, and this was a powerfull inducement with me; for my two sons to accompany their Father. Charles was a carefull observer of his Fathers sentiments many of which he has treasurd up. He is calld here the Man in minature. His manners are pleasing and agreable. My Elder son I very seldom hear from, he is with a Gentleman of whom I have a high opinion. I hope he will be attentive to his precepts and instructions. You know his disposition, he is not so manageable as either of the others. Great activity and vivacity run away with him. Yet properly guided they promise great things. But our highest expectations are sometimes cut of, and that in a mortifying manner.
Mr. Laurence, poor old Gentleman his Grey hairs will come with sorrow to the Grave. Will he support the loss of his son with the fortitude of Cato when Marcius fell coverd with wounds in defence of his Country? Thus fell the Brave Col. Laurence, Lamented by all who knew him.7 Freedom mourns over his urn, and Honour decks the sod which covers his ashes with unfadeing Laurels.
I think there is nothing New in the political world. Our Eyes seem to be turned towards Europe as the Theater of great actions. We are tierd of the war, and wish for an honorable peace. Taxation is exceeding heavy, and those who will pay them may, but those who will not—are not always made to do it. Tis said by Pope that that goverment which is best administerd, is best.8 I mean not to discuss this point, but this we feel, that a good goverment ill administerd is injurious to every member of the community. I have been informd that some counties have paid no tax for two years.
This I know I have been obliged to pay every thing I could get. I cannot see how the Merchants who have met with exceeding heavy losses this year by Captures and the Farmer whose produce has been cut of in a most uncommon manner, Can answer the publick demands. But enough of this, you would hear it from all Quarters if you was here.
Present my Regards to your Friend: and Master Charles’es to Madam Chabinal9 and Daughters whom he often speaks of with great affection. Miss A. desires you would write to her. She thinks you a Letter in her debt. Be assurd you are at all times affecti[onately] Rememberd by Your Friend
RC (MB); addressed in an unidentified hand: “Mr. John Thaxter at the Hague”; endorsed: “Mrs. Adams 26th. Octr. 1782. R. 29th Jany. 1783. A. 30th.”
1. AA is probably referring to her admission, in her letter to JA of 8 Oct., above, sent by Capt. Grinnell, of writing in haste. Her remark, above, about not letting the Fire Brand sail “again” without a letter to Thaxter may refer to her letter of 17 June to Thaxter by that vessel (vol. 4:329–331).
2. This portrait of Thaxter was probably done earlier in the year (see Descriptive List of Illustrations, above). For AA’s criticism of an earlier miniature of Thaxter, see vol. 4:348–349.
3. AA had teased Thaxter since Dec. 1780 about this unidentified, and perhaps imaginary girl, to whom she fancied he was particularly attracted. AA at one point thought that her name was Eliza, and that she did not live in Braintree, but Thaxter denied being especially interested in any Eliza (vol. 4:28, 123 and note 2). AA’s present reference would fit her own daughter, but other references make AA2 an unlikely choice. Thaxter, in replying to this letter on 30 Jan. 1783, below, professed to be thoroughly mystified about the “Fair American’s” identity. In letters written in 1781, however, he expressed no doubt or concern about this (vol. 4:97, 140, 187). Thaxter would marry Elizabeth Duncan of Haverhill in 1787, but the editors have found no evidence that he knew her before going to Europe in 1779 (see JQA, Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981-. description ends , vols. 1 and 2).
4. This likeness of Charles Storer, to which Thaxter refers in his 30 Jan. 1783 letter to AA, below, has not been positively identified. It might be the painting that appears after p. 232 of MHS, Procs. description begins Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections and Proceedings. description ends , 55 (1921–1922), and is described on p. 233, but that miniature could be later (1789?), and the likeness appears to be of a man older than twenty-one (see Descriptive List of Illustrations, above).
6. Samuel Allyne Otis, younger brother of James Otis Jr., and of Mercy Otis Warren.
7. Henry Laurens’ son John was killed in a late, minor battle of the War for Independence in South Carolina on 27 August. AA’s allusion is probably to Joseph Addison’s play Cato (1713), in which Marcus, one of the sons of Cato the Younger, dies while resisting his father’s traitorous ally, Syphax. In act IV, scene iv of Addison’s play, Cato views his son Marcus’s body, and says:
Welcome, my Son! Here lay him down my Friends,
Full in my Sight, that I may view at Leisure
The bloody Corse, and count those glorious Wounds.
—How beautiful is Death, when earn’d by Virtue!
Who would not be that Youth? What a Pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our Country!
Young Marcus’s death before that of his father is a post-classical invention. Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger, the Stoic defender of the Roman republic who committed suicide at Utica in Africa in 46 b.c., rather than submit to the dictator Julius Caesar, did have two sons, but neither is recorded as dying before his father. Cato’s eldest son, Marcus, did die heroically four years later at Philippi, while resisting the forces of Caesar’s successor, Mark Antony. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, the dominant image of Cato in the English-speaking world was no longer based on the more authoritative accounts of Plutarch and other classical authors, but on Addison’s celebrated play, which occupied a central place in the thinking of both English Whigs and American patriots. Plutarch, Cato the Younger; Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Cambridge, 1967, p. 43–44.
8. Essay on Man, epistle 3, lines 303–304: “For forms of government let fools contest;/Whate’er is best administer’d is best.”