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MY DEAR LUCY,
I promised to write to you from the Hague, but your uncle's unexpected arrival at London prevented me. Your uncle purchased an excellent travelling coach in London, and hired a post-chaise for our servants. In this manner we travelled from London to Dover, accommodated through England with the best of horses, postilions, and good carriages ; clean, neat apartments, genteel entertainment, and prompt attendance. But no sooner do you cross from Dover to Calais, than every thing is reversed, and yet the distance is very small between them.
The cultivation is by no means equal to that of England ; the villages look poor and mean, the houses all thatched, and rarely a glass window in them ; their horses, instead of being handsomely harnessed, as those in England are, have the appearance of so many old cart-horses. Along you go, with seven horses tied up with ropes and chains, rattling like trucks ; two ragged postilions, mounted, with enormous jack-boots, add to the comic scene. And this is the style in which a duke or a count travels through this kingdom. You inquire of me how I like Paris. Why, they tell me I am no judge, for that I have not seen it yet. One thing, I know, and that is that I have smelt it. If I was agreeably disappointed in London, I am as much disappointed in Paris. It is the very dirtiest place 1 ever saw. There are some buildings and some squares, which are tolerable ; but in general the streets are narrow, the shops, the houses, inelegant and dirty, the streets full of lumber and stone, with which they build. Boston cannot boast so elegant public buildings ; but, in every other respect, it is as much superior in ray eyes to Paris, as London is to Boston. To have had Paris tolerable to me, I should not have gone to London. As to the people here, they are more given to hospitality than in England, it is said. I have been in company with but one French ladv since I arrived ; for strangers here make the first visit, and nobody will know you until you have waited upon them in form.
This lady l I dined with at Dr. Franklin's. She entered the room with a careless, jaunty air ; upon seeing ladies who were strangers to her, she bawled out, " Ah ! mon Dieu, where is Franklin ? Why did you not tell me there were ladies here ? " You must suppose her speaking all this in French. " How I look ! " said she, taking hold of a chemise made of tiffany, which she had on over a blue lutestring, and which looked as much upon the decay as her beauty, for she was once a handsome woman ; her hair was frizzled ; over it she had a small straw hat, with a dirty gauze half-handkerchief round it, and a bit of dirtier gauze, than ever my maids wore, was bowed on behind. She had a black gauze scarf thrown over her shoulders. She ran out of the room ; when she returned, the Doctor entered at one door, she at the other ; upon which she ran forward to him, caught him by the hand, " Helas ! Franklin ; " then gave him a double kiss, one upon each cheek, and another upon his forehead. When we went into the room to dine, she was placed between' the Doctor and Mr. Adams. She carried on the chief of the conversation at dinner, frequently locking her hand into the Doctor's, and sometimes spreading her arms upon the backs of both the gentlemen's chairs, then throwing her arm carelessly upon the Doctor's neck.
I should have been greatly astonished at this conduct, if the good Doctor had not told me that in this lady I should see a genuine Frenchwoman, wholly free from affectation or stiffness of behaviour, and one of the best women in the world. For this I ' must take the Doctor's word ; but I should have set her down for a very bad one, although sixty years of age, and a widow. I own I was highly disgusted, and never wish for an acquaintance with any ladies of this cast. After dinner she threw herself upon a settee, where she showed more than her feet. She had a little lap-dog, who was, next to the Doctor, her favorite. This she kissed, and when he wet the floor she wiped it up with her chemise. This is one of the Doctor's most intimate friends, with whom he dines once every week, and she with him. She is rich, and is my near neighbour ; but I have not yet visited her. Thus you see, my dear, that manners differ exceedingly in different countries. I hope, however, to find amongst the French ladies manners more consistent with my ideas of decency, or I shall be a mere recluse.
You must write to me, and let me know all about you ; marriages, births, and preferments ; every thing you can think of. Give my respects to the Germantown family. I shall begin to get letters for them by the next vessel. Good night. Believe me
Your most affectionate aunt,
- Abigail Adams
- Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840