Adams Papers

John Quincy Adams to William Cranch, 5 June 1790

John Quincy Adams to William Cranch

Newbury. Port June 5th: 1790.

Phillips delivered me at Exeter a half sheet of paper from you,1 I trust I need not say it was very acceptable; I would only observe by the way, that I am no great friend to half-sheets. Sat verbum—2

We had a comfortable ordination.3 Phillips can give you any particulars that your curiosity may wish to be informed of. He was however by an unfortunate accident detained from the dance in the Evening. The weather was rather too warm but we danced till between three & four in the morning. The company was not so numerous as I should have expected. Nothing like a crowd.— Of five dances in which I join’d, I had a Miss Newhall as my partner for four; she was in former times reputed to be a flame of mine; and help’d to make me pass my time tolerably—4 There was however a weight hanging up on my spirits which she could not remove, nor could all the bustle and festivity of the time serve any further, than to make it somewhat less oppressive.— You have known me heretofore in such a state of mind for several days without any cause whatever; and I am persuaded that if from rational principles you cannot allow it to be a pitiable situation, your friendship will at least prevent you from considering it as a subject of derision. There is a passage in Hamlet, which describes in a striking manner that temper of mind, which you who are blest with a better flow of spirits cannot perhaps readily conceive. It is too long for a quotation, but if you wish to turn to it, you will find it in the sixth scene of the second Act. It begins “I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth &c”5 Putnam who went with me, and who has a fund of Spirits almost inexhaustible, enjoyed the occasion to perfection: and if laughter is a full evidence of happiness his felicity was incessant. The people were very hospitable, and we made ourselves quite familiar at almost all the houses in the town. We returned home on Thursday in the afternoon, very much fatigued, and I rejoyced that the expedition was brought to a close.

My Forensic with Bridge is at the same period of advancement that it has been at from the creation of the world to the present day; and will continue, and from this moment to the end of time in statu quo. I know nothing of such a forensic, but from common report— At any rate it will not take place, for Bridge is gone to Pownalborough; is now I presume a sworn attorney in the County of Lincoln, and has no thoughts of attending Commencement. My ambition and vanity are at present so much swallow’d up by a stupid indolence, and an unmeaning listlessness, that I have not a wish to show myself at that time; but I hope the President will offer the forensic to you and some other of our classmates residing in Boston; and that you will accept it if offered.—6 Little, as you know is gone to Virginia, and therefore the valedictory Oration must go to some one else: perhaps to Beale.7

I was at Haverhill about a fortnight since. They were then tolerably well, but I presume you saw Mr: Shaw at Election. He was at the Ordination with Betsey Smith and told me the family were all in good health. The young daughter is verily the child of their old age— For my part I cannot readily imagine how they can reconcile it to their consciences, to carry on that work yet. I wonder people at that time of life are not ashamed of getting children. I was so much scandalized, that I could hardly refrain from expostulating with them upon the subject.

I have not yet, I believe replied to a Letter of yours dated April 18th: it was written at Braintree,8 and I did not know how long you would continue there; this was one reason which has prevented me from writing; another has been a deficiency of subject. My time has been spent of late to very little purpose. Park’s Insurance, Buller’s Nisi-Prius and Blackstone have employ’d my few studious hours for two months past;9 and I have ventured to expose myself to imbibe opinions of infidelity by reading Hume’s formidable essays; I have taken pleasure in the perusal; but I believe my religious principles will not suffer much from the catagion they contain.

The rest of my time has been but little diversified with Events. I have moved generally in one circle of company, and have had only a repetition of scenes which, however agreeable when they take place, would be very tedious in description.— We have had as a visitor for a month past, one of your fine Ladies, Miss K. Amory. I have been several times in company with her; and find her sensible and agreeable.10

The proximity of my departure from this place, has become an additional inducement to dissipation, and I shall henceforth scarcely look into a book. I feel very anxious to hear from Dr: Tufts upon the subject of an Office for me in Boston.— Never did I make an exchange in my situation with more unfavourable expectations.— Yet I believe it will be for the best— A firm determination to make the present a sacrifice to futurity is often the dictate of policy as well as of virtue

As to my being permitted as you say “to go about my business,”

“No more of that Hal, if thou lovest me,—

Perdition catch my soul but—”11

I am ever affectionately your’s,

J. Q. Adams.

RC (private owner, 1957); addressed: “Mr: William Cranch. / Boston.”; endorsed: “J.Q.A. / June 5th. 1790”; notation: “Mr: Phillips.”

1Not found.

2A word is enough.

3Rev. William Frederick Rowland (1761–1843), originally of Plainfield, Conn., was ordained as minister of the First Church of Exeter, N.H., on 2 June (NEHGR description begins New England Historical and Genealogical Register. description ends , 1:155 [April 1847]).

4A member of JQA’s social circle in Newburyport, Mary Newhall (b. 1769), daughter of Elizabeth Sprague and Samuel Newhall of Newburyport, married Rev. Ebenezer Coffin (1769–1816) in 1793 and relocated to Brunswick, Maine, where Coffin served as minister of the First Parish Church (JQA, Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981–. description ends , 2:408, 433, 434; Vital Records of Newburyport Massachusetts to the End of the Year 1849, 2 vols., Salem, Mass., 1911, 1:275; Thompson Eldridge Ashby, History of the First Parish Church in Brunswick, Maine, Brunswick, 1969, p. 76–77).

5Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, scene ii, lines 307–324.

6In a letter of 21 June 1790, Harvard president Joseph Willard invited JQA to participate in the forensic disputation to be performed at the master’s degree commencement on 21 July, suggesting that JQA find a partner (Adams Papers). JQA, in a reply to Willard that has not been found, declined to participate—seemingly because he could not perform with James Bridge, as he wished, and did not want to perform with Samuel Putnam. Bridge had left Newburyport on 20 May for his native Pownalborough, Maine, where he opened a law practice. On 10 July, he wrote to JQA, “It was a flattering circumstance to me, that the Government of H. C. had remembered me on this occasion, much more so that they thot me fit to contend with such an antagonist.” It was Bridge’s understanding that JQA now would be partnered with Samuel Putnam. He declared, “I shall set apart some portion of commencement day, to picture to my self Putnam & you performing— I am highly pleased that Putnam succeeds to my place, for his own sake as well as yours— I Judge that he will give is audience a better opinion of his capacity, than some have been accustomed to entertain—” (Bridge to JQA, 28 June, Adams Papers).

JQA’s friend Thomas W. Thompson reported to JQA on 28 June that shortly after receiving JQA’s refusal, President Willard called upon him “for an explanation of that part of your letter respecting the disagreements between Putnam and you. I told him in answer that you had mentioned the reason to me in confidence why you did not agree, but I supposed you would have no objection to his knowing it, tho’ I presumed you would not wish to have it go from him. I then told him that you had no inclination that the performance should wind off in an anticlimax, and that Putnam had. He laughed, & acknowledged the propriety of your objection” (Adams Papers). Thompson went on to say he was commissioned by Willard to travel to Boston to ask William Cranch and John Murray Forbes if they would agree to present at the commencement ceremony, which they did. For JQA’s attendance at commencement, see JQA to TBA, 28 April, note 3, above (D/JQA/12, 20 May, APM Reel 15; Quaestiones, 21 July 1790, MHi:Broadside Coll., Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends No. 22562).

7Thaddeus Mason Harris, another former classmate of JQA, delivered the valedictory oration (JQA, Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981–. description ends , 2:198–199; Boston Columbian Centinel, 24 July). For Benjamin Beale and Moses Little, see JQA, Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981–. description ends , 2:166–167, 218. Little had temporarily relocated to Virginia to teach at an academy in Fredericksburg (Little to JQA, 29 July, Adams Papers).

8Not found.

9James Allan Park, A System of the Law of Marine Insurances, London, 1787; Francis Buller, An Introduction to the Law Relative to Trials at Nisi Prius, Dublin, 1768.

10Probably Catherine Amory (1769–1832), daughter of John Amory and Catherine Greene Amory of Boston and a cousin of JQA’s Harvard classmate Jonathan Amory (NEHGR description begins New England Historical and Genealogical Register. description ends , 10:61–65 [Jan. 1856]).

11JQA combines two Shakespeare quotations. The first line is from Henry IV, Part 1, Act II, scene iv, lines 312–313; the second is from Othello, Act III, scene iii, lines 89–90.

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