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Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment

Rudolf Steiner

Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

Vanity Fair

William Thackery

Life in a New England town, 1787, 1788

by John Quincy Adams


Though I found in this record much which greatly interested me, no use whatever was made of it by my father in his publication entitled "Memoirs of J. Q. Adams " ; for it contains little of, so-called, historical value. It nevertheless gives a curious and graphic picture of social, every-day existence in a small Massachusetts seaport during the closing years of the eighteenth century. Its maturity of tone is perhaps its most noticeable feature; but, in reading it, it is well to bear constantly in mind that not only was the writer an exceptional character, but his experience had been so very unusual as to be even yet almost, if indeed not altogether, unique. Born and brought up as a boy in an eighteenthcentury Massachusetts country town, in the midst of our revolutionary troubles, he accompanied his father to Europe, still lacking five months of his eleventh birthday, when, one February morning, the two took boat .from the beach at Braintree, for the frigate " Boston," lying in the offing. Sent to school near Paris, he there became proficient in French. On this point we get an amusing as well as suggestive glimpse of him from the diary of John Adams, kept during the return from his first mission to France in 1779. At this time J. Q. Adams was not quite twelve years old. He had been in France some fourteen months, and was returning home with his father on the French frigate " Sensible," in company with La. Luzerne, the commissioner from Louis XVI. to the Congress, and M. Marbois, the secretary of the commission. Writing when three days at sea, under date of Sunday, the 20th June, John Adams says: "The Chevalier de la Luzerne and M. Marbois are in raptures with my son. They get him to teach them the language. I found this morning the Ambassador seated on the cushion in our state-room, M. Marbois in his cot, at his left hand, and my son stretched out in his, at his right. The Ambassador reading out loud, in Blackstone's Discourse at his entrance on his Professorship of the Common Law at the University, and my son correcting the pronunciation of every word and syllable and letter. The Ambassador said he was astonished at my son's knowledge; that he was a master of his own language, like a professor. M. Marbois said, Your son teaches us more than you; he has point de grd.ce, point d'eloges. He shows us no mercy, and makes us no compliments. We must have Mr. John."

Getting safely back to America and the Braintree environment early in August, 1779, about three months later John Adams again embarked for Europe, and again on the "Sensible "; this time accompanied by two of his sons, John Quincy and Charles, the latter only nine years old. They returned to France by way of Spain, and J. Q. Adams now remained six years in Europe; during which time, besides being at school and college, he associated in confidential capacities with men of distinction much older than himself, in Holland, Russia and France. He saw also a good deal of both Franklin and Jefferson, especially the latter, for whom he entertained a strong boyish admiration. At fourteen he was a student in the University of Leyden, of which institution he always afterwards spoke with deep affection. More than fifty years later, referring to this period, he wrote: "There is a character of romantic wildness about the memory of my travels in Europe from 1778 to 1785, which gives to it a tinge as if it was the recollection of something in another world. Life was new, everything was surprising, everything carried with it a deep interest. It is almost surprising to me now that I escaped from the fascination of Europe's attractions. . . . My return home from Auteuil, leaving my father when he was going upon his mission to England, decided the fate and fortunes of my after-life. It was my own choice, and the most judicious choice I ever made. My short discipline of fifteen months at Harvard University was the introduction to all the prosperity that has ever befallen me, and perhaps saved me from early ruin "; and afterwards (1840) when philosophizing in his diary, in extremely despondent mood, over his own life and the results thereof, he wrote again, it was to " Harvard College, Leyden University, seven years of youthful travel and the blessing of heaven " that he attributed whatever of useful it had been given to him to accomplish.

Graduating at Harvard, in 1787, the volumes of diary covering student life at Newburyport open immediately thereafter. From one of these volumes I made a number of extracts for use at the Newburyport church anniversary of 31st October; but these extracts proved far too voluminous to find a place in the printed report of what then occurred. Another portion I subsequently communicated to the Massachusetts Historical Society at its November meeting, 1902. I then put the two volumes covering the Newburyport period in the hands of Mr. C. C. Smith, the editor of the Society, with permission to make such use of their contents as he saw fit. It was the daily record of a young man just out of college. Having passed the period between eleven and eighteen in a curiously diversified and roving life in the Europe of Louis XVI., Catherine II. and George III., he had then been suddenly transferred at his own volition to America, where at twenty he had graduated at Harvard. The salient features of his college days, as recorded in this diary, have already found their way into print.1 The record of subsequent law-student life at Newburyport was thought by Mr. Smith to be of sufficient interest to justify reproduction in full in the volumes of Proceedings of the Historical Society. This publication resulted.

It is merely necessary to add that, between 1787 and 1790, Newburyport, a substantial seaport of some five thousand inhabitants, was largely engaged in commerce. As a community, it was made up of people — men and women — of the old New England type. While distinctly provincial, the place had not yet become suburban; it had an individuality. Socially, no less than commercially and financially, it was a local centre. The period was critical. The country had emerged from the revolutionary troubles only a few years before, and was still in the formative stage. The land was poor, and those dwelling in it were burdened by taxation. Hence the spirit of unrest was great; crude theories of money, government, and the rights of man were in the air, and it yet remained to be seen whether the people of Anglo-Saxon descent in America were to prove equal to the occasion and develop into a nationality, or whether, victims of a morbid jealousy of all centralized authority, they were to sink into a state of chronic anarchy.

1 North American Review, Toi. cxiv. pp. 110-147. Harvard College, 178ft1787. Henry Adams, Historical Essays, pp. 80-121.

Shays's Rebellion had broken out in Massachusetts only a few months before this diary opens; the Convention which framed the Federal Constitution was then sitting at Philadelphia; John Hancock was Governor of Massachusetts; but not for two years yet was Washington chosen President. In Europe, France was on the eve of the Revolution, and, on May 5,1789, the States General met at Versailles; on the 14th of July following the Bastille was stormed; William Pitt was then Prime Minister of Great Britain; the trial of Warren Hastings was in progress; Frederick the Great had been only a twelvemonth dead; and the future Emperor of the French was hanging about Paris, an impecunious Lieutenant of Artillery, vainly seeking financial relief for his father from a bankrupt and sinking government. So far as the writer of the diary himself was concerned, his father had, in 1787, been eight years in Europe, and his mother and sister three years. In 1785 they had passed over from France to England, and since then John Adams had represented the Federation near the Court of St. James. During the period covered by his son's residence at Newburyport he returned to America to assume the duties of Vice-President in the first administration of Washington. Finally, at the time covered by this diary, Boston, not yet a city, numbered some eighteen thousand inhabitants, and Cambridge a little over two thousand. The town of Quincy had not yet been incorporated, but was still the North Precinct of Braintree, the birthplace of the writer of the diary. It numbered a population a little short of three thousand.

While some insignificant portions of the diary have been omitted either because the events recorded were too trivial or commonplace to merit publication, or because they related to matters of student life and intercourse now of interest to no one, the record is noticeably devoid of anything of a scandalous or prurient nature, or of allusions which the most sensitive of descendants would seek to suppress. In these respects it is throughout thoroughly healthy, as well as creditable to the writer.1 Q p ^

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