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MY DEAR SISTER,
I will now give you some account of my late tour to Bath, that seat of fashionable resort, where, like the rest of the world, I spent a fortnight in amusement and dissipation, but returned, I assure you, with double pleasure to my own fireside, where only, thank Heaven, my substantial happiness subsists. Here I find that satisfaction, which neither satiates by enjoyment, nor palls upon reflection ; for, though I like sometimes to mix in the gay world, and view the manners as they rise, I have much reason to be grateful to my parents, that my early education gave me not an habitual taste for what is termed fashionable life. The Eastern monarch, after having partaken of every gratification and sensual pleasure, which power, wealth, and dignitycould bestow, pronounced it all vanity and vexation of spirit ; and I have too great a respect for his wisdom to doubt his authority. I, however, passed through the routine, and attended three balls, two concerts, one play, and two private parties, besides dining and breakfasting abroad. We made up a party of Americans ; Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Rucker, and Miss Ramsay, Mr. Shippen, Mr. Harrison, Mr. Murray, Mr. Paradise, Mr. Bridgen, and a Count Zenobia, a Venetian nobleman. These, with our domestics, made a considerable train, and when we went to the rooms, we at least had a party to speak to. As I had but one acquaintance at Bath, and did not seek for letters of introduction, I had no reason to expect half the civility 1 experienced. I was, however, very politely treated by Mr. Fairfax and his lady, who had been in America, and own an estate in Virginia, and by a sister of Mr. Hartley's, who, though herself a cripple, was every way attentive and polite to us. Mr. John Boylston, whom I dare say you recollect, was the acquaintance I mentioned. He visited us immediately upon our arrival, and during our stay made it his whole study to show us every civility in his power. We breakfasted with him, and he dined with us. He has very handsome apartments, though he lives at lodgings. We drank tea and spent an evening with him, in a style of great elegance ; for he is one of the nicest bachelors in the world, and bears his age wonderfully, retaining the vivacity and sprightliness of youth. He has a peculiarity in his manners, which is natural to him ; but is a man of great reading and knowledge. He is a firm friend and wellwisher to America, as he amply testified during the war by his kindness to the American prisoners.
And now you will naturally expect that I should give you some account of Bath, the antiquity of it, and the fame of its waters, having been so greatly celebrated. The story, which is related of its first discovery, is not the least curious part of it. A certain King Bladud, said to be a descendant from Hercules, was banished his father's court, on account of his having the leprosy. Thus disgraced, he wandered in disguise into this part of the country, and let himself to a swine-herd, to whom he communicated the disease, as well as to the hogs. In driving his hogs one day at some distance from his home, they wandered away to one of these streams, of which they were so fond that he could not get them out, until he enticed them with acorns. After their wallowing in them for several successive days, he observed that their scales fell off, and that his herd were perfectly cured. Upon which he determined to try the experiment upon himself; and, after a few bathings, he was made whole. And Bladud's figure, in stone, is placed in the bath known by the name of the King's Bath, with an inscription relating his discovery of these baths, eight hundred and sixty-three years before Christ.
Bath lies in a great valley, surrounded with hills. It is handsomely built, chiefly with free-stone, which is its own growth, and is dug from the sides of its hills. The streets are as narrow and inconvenient for carriages as those of Paris, so that chairs are chiefly used, particularly in the old town. Bath was formerly walled in, and was a very small place ; but of late years it is much extended, and the new buildings are erected upon hills. Since it has become a place of such fashionable resort, it has been embellished with a Circus and a Crescent. The Parades are magnificent piles of buildings, the square is a noble one, and the Circus is said to be a beautiful piece of architecture ; but what I think the beauty of Bath, is the Crescent. The front consists of a ran^e of Ionic columns on a rustic basement ; the ground falls gradually before it down to the river Avon, about half a mile's distance, and the rising country on the other side of the river holds up to it a most delightful prospect. The Crescent takes its name from the form in which the houses stand ; all of which join. There is a parade and street before them, a hundred feet wide, and nothing in front to obstruct this beautiful prospect. In this situation are the new assemblv-rooms, w r hich are said to exceed any thing of the kind in the kingdom, both as to size and decoration ; but, large as they are, they Were completely crowded the evenings that I attended. There is a constant emulation subsisting between the new and old rooms, similar to the North and South Ends of Boston. It was said whilst I was there, that there were fourteen thousand persons more than the inhabitants of Bath. By this you may judge what a place of resort it is, not only for the infirm, but for the gay, the indolent, the curious, the gambler, the fortune-hunter, and even for those who go, as the thoughtless girl from the country told Beau Nash, (as he was styled,) that she came, out of wantonness. It is one constant scene of dissipation and gambling, from Monday morning till Saturday night, and the ladies sit down to cards in the public rooms as they would at a private party ; and not to spend a fortnight or a month at Bath at this season of the year, is as unfashionable as it would be to reside in London during the summer season. Yet Bath is a place I should never visit a second time for pleasure. To derive a proper improvement from company, it ought to be select, and to consist of persons respectable both for their morals and their understanding ; but such is the prevailing taste, that, provided you can be in a crowd, with here and there a glittering star, it is considered of little importance what the character of the person is who wears it. Few consider that the foundation stone, and the pillar on which they erect the fabric of their felicity, must be in their own hearts, otherwise the winds of dissipation will shake it, and the floods of pleasure overwhelm it in ruins. What is the chief end of man ? is a subject well worth the investigation of every rational being. What, indeed, is life, or its enjoyments, without settled principle, laudable purposes, mental exertions, and internal comfort, that sunshine of the soul; and how are these to be acquired in the hurry and tumult of the world ? My visit to Bath, and the scenes which I mixed in, instead of exciting a gayety of disposition, led me into a train of moral reflections, which I could not refrain from detailing to you in my account of it.
Upon my return, I had a new scene of folly to go through, which was, preparing for the birth-day. But as the fashionable Magazine will detail this matter, I shall omit any account of birth-day dresses and decorations, only that I most sincerely wish myself rid of it. It is a prodigious expense, from which I derive neither pleasure nor satisfaction.
The riots and dissensions in our State have been matter of very serious concern to me. No one will suppose that our situation here is rendered more eligible in consequence of it ; but I hope it will lead the wise and sensible part of the community in our State, as well as in the whole Union, to reflect seriously upon their situation, and, having wise laws, to execute them with vigor, justice, and punctuality. I have been gratified with perusing many late publications in our Boston papers ; particularly the speech of the Chief Justice, which does him great honor. Mr. Adams, you will see by the books which Captain Gushing has carried out, has been employed in strengthening and supporting our governments, and has spared no pains to collect examples for them, and show them, in one short, comprehensive statement, the dangerous consequences of unbalanced power. We have the means of being the first and the happiest people upon the globe. Captain Scott, I hear, is just arrived ; but it may be a week, perhaps ten days, before he will get up himself, so that, whatever letters he may have, I shall not be able to get them before Captain dishing sails. This is rather unfortunate, as there may be something I might wish to reply to. As to India handkerchiefs, I give two guineas a-piece here for them, so that they are lower with you, as well as all other India goods. I give more for an ounce of spice than I used to do for a quarter of a pound in America. Only think, too, of five shillings sterling for every pound of coffee we use ! O, pray, by the next opportunity, send me a peck of Tuscarora rice. Let it be sifted. I want it only to scour my hands with. "Tuscarora rice?" say you, "why, I suppose she means Indian meal." Very true, my dear sister ; but I will tell you a good story about this said rice. An ancestor of a family, who now hold their heads very high, is said to have made a fortune by it. The old grand-dame went out to America, when its productions were not much known here, and returned in rather indigent circumstances. After some time, knowing the taste in all ages for cosmetics, she made out a pompous advertisement of a costly secret which she possessed for purifying and beautifying the complexion, nothing less than the " Tuscarora rice " at a guinea an ounce. The project took like the " Olympian dew " at this day, and barrel after barrel was disposed of at the moderate price before mentioned, till one fatal day, a sailor, whose wife had procured one quarter of an ounce, was caught in the very act of using it. The sailor very roughly threw away the darling powder, upon which his wife exclaimed that he had ruined her, as she could procure no more, there being an unusual scarcity at that time. The fellow examined the paper, and swore it was nothing but Indian meal, and that he would bring her two barrels for a guinea, the next voyage he went. Upon this, the imposture was discovered, and the good woman obliged to decamp. Now, though I do not esteem it so highly as the sailor's wife, I pronounce it the best antidote to seacoal black, that can be found. One friend and another have supplied me ever since I have been here, but now I am quite destitute. It is an article in so small quantity, that it will not be an object for the custom-house, so that it may come safely.
Remember me most affectionately to all my friends. I cannot write to half of them ; my nieces shall hear from me by Raimond ; in the mean time be assured, mv dear sister, of the warmest affection of
- Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840