Abigail Adams to John Shaw
Auteuil Janry. 18 1785
I find Sir, what I never doubted; that you are a Gentleman of your word: I thank you for the agreeable proof which you have given me of it,1 and that I may not be wanting in punctuality I have taken my pen2 to discharge the debt which I acknowledge is due to you. Amongst the publick Edifices which are worthy of notice in this Country are several Churches. I went a few days Since to see three of the most Celebrated in Paris.3 They are prodigious Massess of Stone Buildings, and so surrounded by Houses which are seven story high that the Sun seldom enlightens them. I found them so cold and damp that I could only give them a very hasty and trancient Survey. The Architecture, the Sculpture, the paintings are Beautifull indeed, and each of them would employ my pen for several pages, when the Weather will permit me to take a more accurate and critical inspection of them. These Churches are open every day, and at all times of the Day, so that you never enter them without finding preists upon their knees, half a dozen at a time, and more at the Hours of confession. All kinds of people and all ages, go in without Ceremony, and regardless of each other, fall upon their knees, cross themselves say their pater nosters, and ave Marias, silently and go out again without being noticed, or even seen by the priests whom I found always kneeling with their faces towards the Alter. Round these churches (for they have not pews and Galleries as with us; Chairs alone being made use of) there are little Boxes, or closets, about as large as a Centry Box, in which is a small grated window, which communicates with an other closet of the same kind. One of them holds the person who is confessing, and the other the confessor, who places his ear at this window, hears the crime, absolves the transgressor,4 and very often makes an assignation for a repetition of the Same Crime, or prehaps a new one. I do not think this a breach of Charity, for can we suppose that of the many thousands whom the Religion of the Country obliges to Celibacy, one quarter part of the number can find its influence sufficently powerfull; to conquer those passions, which nature has implanted in Man, when the gratification of them will cost them only a few livres in confessions. The Priest who is known to betray his trust, or devulge any thing committed to him in confession; is punished with Death.5
I was at the Church St. Rock6 about ten oclock in the morning, and whilst I was there, about three hundred little Boys came in from some Charity Seminary which belongs to that Church; they had Books in their Hands. They followed in each other in regular order, and fell upon their knees in rows like Soldiers in rank and file. Their might be 50 other persons in the Church at their devotion. Every thing was still and Solemn throughout this vast edifice. I was walking with a slow pace round it, when all at once, the drear Silence which Reignd was suddenly broken by all these Boys at one instant Chanting; with loud voices which made the dome ring; and me spring, for I had no apprehension of any Sound. I have never been to any of these Churches upon a Sunday, when the weather is warmer I design it, but their Churches seem rather calculated to damp Devotion than excite it. I took such a cold there; as I have not had since I have been in France before. I have been several times to the Chaple of the Dutch Ambassador; and should go oftner, if I could comprehend the discourses which are all in French. I believe the American embassy is the only one to which Chaplings are not allowed. Do Congress think that their Ministers have no need of Grace? Or that Religion is not a necessary article for them. Sunday will not feel so to me, whilst I continue in this Country. It is High Hollyday for all France.
We had a visit the other day from no less a personage than Abbe Thayer in his Habit, who has become a convert.7 His visit I suppose was to me, for he was a perfect stranger to Mr. Adams. He told us that he had spent a year at Rome, that he belonged to a Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris; that he never knew what Religion was untill his conversion, and that he designd to return to America in a year or two, to see if he could not convert his Friends and acquaintance. After talking sometime in this Stile he began to question Mr. A. if he believed the Bible, and to rail at Luther and Calvin, upon which Mr. A took him up pretty short, and told him that he was not going to make a Father confessor of him, that his Religion was a matter that he did not look upon him self accountable for, to any one but his Maker, and that he did not chuse to hear either Luther, or Calvin treated in such a manner.
Mr. Abbe took his leave after some time, without any invitation to repeat his visit.
With respect to our interest at Medford what ever is necessary to be done8 for our mutual benifit, you will be so good as to direct performd. I am glad that the old Tennant did not go off, untill death removed him.9 The account you give of your Nephews is vastly pleasing to their, and Your affectionate Friend.10
RC (DNDAR); addressed in JQA’s hand: “The Revd. John Shaw Haverhill Massachusetts”; endorsed: “Jan 18th 1785.” Dft (Adams Papers), originally identified as written to Cotton Tufts, dated , and filmed under that date (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 363).
2. At this point the draft completes this sentence: “without any previous preparation of Subject to entertain you with.”
3. The draft sentence begins: “I went last week,” and AA2 records visiting Notre Dame and St. Sulpice with her parents on 12 Jan. (Jour. and Corr. description begins Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, Daughter of John Adams, . . . edited by Her Daughter [Caroline Amelia (Smith) de Windt], New York and London, 1841–; 3 vols.Note: Vol. , unnumbered, has title and date: Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, 1841; vol. 2 has title, volume number, and date: Correspondence of Miss Adams . . . Vol. II, 1842; vol.  has title, volume number, and date: Correspondence of Miss Adams . . ., Vol. II, 1842[!], i.e. same as vol. 2, but preface is signed “April 3d, 1849”[!], and the volume contains as “Part II” a complete reprinting from same type, and with same pagination, of vol. 2 (i.e. “Vol. II”), above, originally issued in 1842. description ends , 1:41). The third church was St. Roch.
4. The rest of this sentence is not in the draft. The text from “I do not think” to “a few livres in confessions” is written at the end of the draft, with no indication that it was to be inserted at any point. In place of the last sentence in this paragraph, the draft has “From hence come <
those> many of those foresaken beings call’d enfans trouves which I have described in my Letter to Mrs. Shaw” (AA to Elizabeth Shaw,11 Jan., above).
5. This sentence is omitted from AA, Letters, ed. CFA description begins Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams. With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1840. description ends .
6. St. Roch, on the Rue Saint Honoré, a little north of the Tuileries Gardens, was built in the 1650s, with alterations to 1740 (Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel description begins Pierre Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle, Paris ; 15 vols. and supplements. description ends ).
7. John Thayer, born in Boston in 1758 and related to the Thayers of Braintree, preached as a Congregationalist in Boston during the War for Independence. In 1781 he traveled to France, where he offered to become Benjamin Franklin’s personal chaplain. Franklin declined. In 1783 Thayer converted to Roman Catholicism. He completed his theological studies at the Séminaire de St. Sulpice in 1787, was ordained, and in 1790 returned to America, where he proselytized for over a decade, from Massachusetts to Kentucky. He spent his last years in Limerick, Ireland, where he recruited young clerics to go to New England (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; 20 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends ).
8. At this point the draft adds: “by way of repairs.” The Medford interest was the farm left by Rev. William Smith to AA and Elizabeth Shaw. John Shaw had reported the death of tenant Benjamin Teel (or Teal) in his letter of 15 Oct. 1784, above.
9. At this point the draft adds: “tho we may meet with some Difficulty in getting the Rent.”
10. In place of this sentence the draft has: “I hope you will continue from time to time to write to  affectionate Friend and sister.” This paragraph is omitted from AA, Letters, ed. CFA description begins Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams. With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1840. description ends .