John Adams to Abigail Adams
London Nov. 8. 1783
My dearest Friend
I have this Day, by Special Permission from their Majesties obtained by Mr. West the Painter who with Mr. Copely do so much honour to our Country, Seen the Appartements in the Queens House, as it is called, or Buckingham House.1 It is a great Curiosity indeed. There is an inestimable Collection of Paintings by the greatest Masters, Raphael, Rubens, Vandyke, and many others.
There is one Room which the King calls Mr. Wests, as it is ornamented with a Collection of his Works—the Return of Regulus—The Death of Epaminondas—The Death of Bayard—The Death of General Wolf2—and &c.
The Cartons3 of Raphael, are a wonderfull Production of Art.
The Library is the most elegant Thing I ever saw.4 But the Kings Military and Naval Room, pleased me best as it is a Collection of Plans, and Models of every Dockyard, Fortress and Man of War in his Empire.
Come to Europe with Nabby as soon as possible, and Satisfy your Curiosity, and improve your Taste, by viewing these magnificent Sceenes. Go to the Play—see the Paintings and Buildings—visit the Manufactures for a few Months—and then, if Congress pleases return to America with me to reflect upon them.
I am in earnest. I cannot be happy, nor tolerable without you. Besides I really think one Trip across the Sea would be of Service to you and my Daughter to whom my Love. I Shall expect you constantly untill you arrive.
I mourn the Loss of my Father, but it was time to expect it, from his Age. You must be melancholly and afflicted, and I hope that the Voyage, will divert your Thoughts.
Mr. Thaxter is in America before this no doubt. My dear Son, is the only Secretary, I have or propose to have at present. I believe I Shall go to the Hague, and reside chiefly there but write to me untill you embark by Portugal Spain France England or Holland. The nearer you Arrive to the Hague, the nearer I believe you will be to me, yet I may be in Paris. I shall stay but a Short time in London.
You will read in the Newspapers, innumerable Lyes about Jay and me.5 Regard them as little as I do. I have met with an agreable Reception here, as agreable as I wish. In short I have been received here, exactly as I wished to be.
Yours with Tenderness unutterable
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “No 8.”
1. Compare JA’s description of this visit with JQA, Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981-. description ends , 1:201–202. According to JQA, they were taken to Buckingham House by Benjamin West himself. For a similar but fuller JA description of Buckingham House, drawn apparently from memory nearly thirty years later, see his Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:150. This mansion, built in 1705 for John Sheffield, first duke of Buckingham and Normanby, was bought by George III in 1762, and settled on Queen Charlotte in 1775, whence it was called “the Queens House.” All of the children of George III and Queen Charlotte except the Prince of Wales (later George IV) were born there. The mansion was razed in the 1820s, and replaced with the present Buckingham Palace (Wheatley, London Past and Present description begins Henry B. Wheatley, London Past and Present, Its History, Associations, and Traditions. Based Upon the Handbook of London by the Late Peter Cunningham, London, 1891; 3 vols. description ends ).
2. These four historical paintings were all commissioned by George III. The title of the first, done in 1768, should be “The Departure of Regulus.” The rendering of “The Death of General [James] Wolfe,” finished in late 1769 or early 1770, was a popular sensation. West’s novel depiction of heroes in contemporary dress powerfully directed the course of painting in England away from the neo-classical style, with its “chaste academic severity, muted colors, and repressed emotion.” “It was like no other modern picture Englishmen had seen. It made the viewer feel that he was present at and a part of a great historic event of his time, that he was an accessory with others in a tragic but inspiring occasion.” Because of its modern treatment, the King refused to buy the painting; but when he observed the nearly universal approval it won, he commissioned a copy from West. This was the painting that JA saw. In his enthusiasm the King commissioned the other two death scenes here mentioned (Robert C. Alberts, Benjamin West, Boston, 1978, p. 89–90, 103–109).
3. JQA identifies these as seven cartoons—drawings or rough paintings on stout paper—as the designs for a set of Brussels tapestries depicting “several of the Acts of the apostles” (Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981-. description ends , 1:201).
4. This magnificent library, which occupied three rooms, was given to the nation by George IV, and became part of the British Museum (Wheatley, London Past and Present description begins Henry B. Wheatley, London Past and Present, Its History, Associations, and Traditions. Based Upon the Handbook of London by the Late Peter Cunningham, London, 1891; 3 vols. description ends ; Alberts, Benjamin West, p. 86).
5. This probably refers to JA’s and Jay’s disagreements with Benjamin Franklin during the treaty negotiations; no specific newspaper issues critical of JA or Jay have been identified.