John Adams letter to Abigail Adams, 2 December 1778

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Passy, 2 December, 1778.

MY DEAREST FRIEND,

LAST night an express from M. de Sartines, whose politeness upon this occasion was very obliging, brought me your letters of September 29th and October 10th. The joy which the receipt of these packets afforded me, was damped by the disagreeable articles of intelligence, but still more so by the symptoms of grief and complaint which appeared in the letters. For heaven's sake, my dear, don t indulge a thought that it is possible for me to neglect or forget all that is dear to me in this world. It is impossible for me to write as I did in America. What should I write ? It is not safe to write any thing that one is not willing should go into all the newspapers of the world. I know not by whom to write. I never know what conveyance is safe. Vessels may have arrived without letters from me. I am five hundred miles from Bordeaux, and not much less distant from Nantes. I know nothing of many vessels that go from the sea ports, and if I knew of all, there are some that I should not trust. Notwithstanding this, I have written to you not much less than fifty letters. I am astonished that you have received no more. But almost every vessel has been taken. Two vessels by which I sent goods to you for the use of your family, and one by which I sent Mr. Cranch's things, we know, have been taken. In every one of these I sent large packets of letters and papers for Congress, for you, and for many friends. God knows I don t spend my time in idleness, or in gazing at curiosities. I never wrote more letters, however empty they may have been. But by what I hear, they have been all, or nearly all, taken or sunk. My friends complain that they have not received letters from me. I may as well complain. I have received scarcely any letters from America. I have written three where I have received one. From my friend, Mr. Adams, I have received only one short card ; from Mr. Gerry, not a syllable ; from Mr. Lovell, only two or three, very short. What shall I say ? I doubt not they have written oftener, but letters miscarry. Drs. Cooper and Gordon write to Dr. Franklin, not to me. My friend Warren has been good as usual. I have received several fine, long letters, full of sound sense, useful intelligence, and reflections as virtuous, as wise as usual from him. I have answered them and written more, but whether they arrive, I know not.

I approve very much of your draught upon me in favor of your cousin. The moment it arrives, it shall be paid. Draw for more as you may have occasion. But make them give you gold and silver for your bills. Your son is the joy of my heart, without abating in the least degree of my affection for the young rogue that did not seem as if he had a father, or his brother or sister. Tell Abby her papa likes her the better for what she tells her brother, viz, : " that she don t talk much," because I know she thinks and feels the more. I hope the Boston has arrived. She carried many things for you.

Last night a friend from England brought me the King's speech. Their delirium continues, and they go on with the war, but the speech betrays a manifest expectation that Spain will join against them, and the debates betray a dread of Holland. They have reason for both. They have not and cannot get an ally. They cannot send any considerable reinforcement to America.

Your reflections upon the rewards of the virtuous friends of the public are very just. But if virtue was to be rewarded with wealth, it would not be virtue. If virtue was to be rewarded with fame, it would not be virtue of the sublimest kind. Who would not rather be Fabricius than Csesar ? Who would not rather be Aristides than even William the Third ? Who ! No body would be of this mind but Aristides and Fabricius. These characters are very rare, but the more precious. Nature has made more insects than birds, more butterflies than eagles, more foxes than lions, more pebbles than diamonds. The most excellent of her productions both in the physical, intellectual and moral world, are the most rare. I would not be a butterfly because children run after them, nor because dull philosophers boast of them in their cabinets.

Have you ever read J. J. Rousseau ? If not, read him. Your cousin Smith has him. What a difference between him and Chesterfield and even Voltaire ? But he was too virtuous for the age and for Europe. I wish I could not say for another country.

I am much disappointed in not receiving despatches from Congress by this opportunity. We expect alterations in the plan here. What will be done with me I can t conjecture. If I am recalled, I will endeavor to get a safe opportunity home. I will watch the proper season, and look out for a good vessel. And if I can get safe to Penn's hill, shall never repent of my voyage to Europe, because I have gained an insight into several things that I never should have understood without it.

I pray you to remember me with every sentiment of tenderness, duty and affection to your father and my mother, your and my brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, and every body else that you know deserves it. What shall I say too of my dear young friends by your fireside ? May God Almighty bless them and make them wise !

Author:
John Adams

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