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MY DEAR SON,
I cannot begin my letter by thanking you for yours. You write so seldom that you do not give me the opportunity. Yet I think you would feel disappointed if you did not get a few lines from me. I congratulate you upon your success at Commencement, and, as you have acquired a reputation upon entering the stage of the world, you will be no less solicitous to preserve and increase it through the whole drama. It is said of Hannibal, that he wanted nothing to the completion of his martial virtues, but that, when he had gained a victory, he should know how to use it. It is natural to the human heart, to swell with presumption, when conscious of superior power ; yet all human excellence is comparative, and he, who thinks he knows much to-day, will find much more still unattained, provided he is still eager in pursuit of knowledge.
Your friends are not anxious that you will be in any danger through want of sufficient application, bat that a too ardent pursuit of your studies will impair your health, and injure those bodily powers and faculties upon which the vigor of the mind depends. Moderation in all things is conducive to human happiness, though this is a maxim little heeded by youth, whether their pursuits are of a sensual or a more refined and elevated kind.
It is an old adage, that a man at thirty must be either a fool or a physician. Though you have not arrived at that age, you would do well to trust to the advice and experience of those who have. Oar bodies are framed of such materials as to require constant exercise to keep them in repair, to brace the nerves, and give vigor to the animal functions. Thus do I give you " line upon line, and precept upon precept."
By the time this reaches you, you will have heard of the humiliating condition of Holland. History does not furnish a more striking instance of abject submission and depression, totally and almost unresistingly conquered by a few Prussian troops ; a nation, that formerly withstood the whole power and force of Spain, and gave such proofs of bravery and prowess as astonished surrounding nations, now humbled to the dust by an imperious and haughty woman, backed by the troops of Prussia, for a mere trifling affront ; or rather, this has been the specious pretence for all the horrors which are brought upon the patriots and friends of liberty in Holland. May her name descend with eternal obloquy to future ages.
Poor Dumas and family have lived in a state worse than death ; since to exist in constant dread of being dragged a victim to an enraged mob, who were constantly threatening him and his family with destruction, is worse than death. His friends all forsook him, or dared not appear in his behalf. He wrote a most afflicting account to your father, and begged him to claim protection for him, as acting for the United States ; but, as he never had any public character, or, rather, never was commissioned by Congress, it could not be done. Mr. Dumas, you know, has been engaged in the service of France, and has received a salary from that government, besides his being opposed to the measures of the Stadtholder ; all of which renders him particularly obnoxious to the Princess and her party.
This nation piqued at the treaty of alliance which was last winter made between France and Holland, has been ever since seeking revenge, by fomenting the troubles in Holland, and seized the first opportunity she had in her power, to bully France. The death of Vergennes, the deranged state of the finances in France, and the dispute between the King and his Parliament, all, all have contributed to hasten the downfall of liberty in Holland. England has held a very high tone, and given it out, that, if France marched a single man to the assistance of Holland, it should be considered as a commencement of hostilities ; and, from the conduct of France, she appears to have been intimidated and held in awe by it. This is another lesson to us not " to put our trust in princes." England, not content with the tame and pacific conduct of France, is arming with a zeal and eagerness really astonishing to every person of reflection, who can see no object which she can have in view adequate to or a compensation for the horror and distress she must bring upon her subjects by the increase of expenses, and the accumulation of the national debt.
If I was not present to see and hear it, I could scarcely credit that a whole people should not only tamely submit to the evils of war, but appear frantic with joy at the prospect ; led away by false glory, by their passions and their vices, they do not reflect upon past calamities nor approaching destruction ; and few of them have better reasons to offer for their conduct, than the lady with whom I was in company the other day, who hoped there would be a war. " Pray," said I, " how can you wish so much misery to mankind ? ' " O," said she, " if there is a war, my brother and several of my friends will be promoted." In the general flame, which threatens Europe, I hope and pray our own country may have wisdom sufficient to keep herself out of the fire. I am sure she has been a sufficiently burnt child. Remember me to your brothers, if I do not write to them.
Your ever affectionate mother,
- Abigail Adams
- Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840