John Adams letter to Abigail Adams, 23 April 1777

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[Philadelphia], 23 April, 1777.

MY barber just left the chamber. The following curious dialogue was the amusement during the gay moments of shaving.

" Well, Burne, what is the lie of the day ? " " Sir, Mr told me, that a privateer from Baltimore has taken two valuable prizes with sixteen guns each. I can scarcely believe it." " Have you heard of the success of the Rattlesnake, of Philadelphia, and the Sturdy Begqar, of Maryland, Mr. Burne ? These two privateers have taken eleven prizes, and sent them into the West India Islands ; nine transports and two guinea men." "Confound the ill luck, Sir; I was going to sea myself on board the Rattlesnake, and my wife fell a yelping. These wives are queer things. I told her, I wondered she had no more ambition." " Now," says I, " when you walk the streets and any body asks who that is ? The answer is " Burne the barber's wi/e," Should you not be better pleased to hear it said, " That is Captain Burners la dy" the captain of marines on board the Rattlesnake ? " " O," says she, * I would rather be called Burne the barber's wife, than Captain Burners widow. I Don't desire to live better than you maintain me, my dear." So it is, Sir, by this sweet, honey language, I am choused out of my prizes, and must go on *ith my soap and razors and pincers and combs. I wish she had my ambition.

If this letter should be intercepted by the Tories, they will get a booty. Let them enjoy it If some of their wives had been as tender and discreet as the barber's, their husbands ambition would not have led them into so many salt ponds. What an ignis fatuus this ambition is ? How few of either sex have arrived at Mrs. Burne's pitch of moderation, and are able to say, " I Don't desire to live better, and had rather be the Barber's wife, than the Captain's widow " ! Quite smart, I think, as well as philosophical.

Author:
John Adams

Source:
Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife. Edited by His Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume I, 1841