John Adams As He Lived

Unpublished letters to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, Professor of Physic at Harvard College

QUINCY FEB. 13, 1805


I thank you for your Lecture on Tobacco which I received this morning and have been reading with much pleasure. Having been a great Offender in the Use of this Weed in some parts of my Life, I may not be an unprejudiced Judge: but I know that the practice may be forbone without any Sensible Inconvenience. I lived many years in France and in England and after my return, in America, without any Use of the Pipe or Cigar. And I am very sensible that great caution and moderation are necessary in the Use of them, as well as in other Ways of taking Tobacco. Many times I have been inspired by a thoughtless excess, and now after a frequent Use of it, for three Score Years, with some intervals, I am unable to take into my mouth a morsel no bigger than a Swan Shot without Sensible and immediate Injury. One quarter of the Quantity I have used in some parts of my Life, I fully believed would now kill me immediately. I heartily wish you Success in our Labours to restrain if not wholly to discredit the Use of it.

With Surprise and Grief I find by your Lecture that the Use of Cyder is become unfashionable at Colledge. The Apple is adapted to this Cliate as well as Limes, Lemmons and Oranges to the West Indies: and I fear the decay of Health at the University is owing the use of Wine and Spirits instead of Cyder, at least as much as to the consumption of Cigars. Rhenish or Mozelle Wine would be better for Us, than Sherry or Madeira: but Cider is better than either. Cyder a year or two years or three years old is all the Liquor I can drink without inconvenience to my health.

Happy to hear that your Lecture is well received, by the public at large as well as by your Pupills. I wish Success to all your other Labours for the benefit of our fellow Men and remain, as ever your hearty Friend and very humble Servant


QUINCY FEB. 19, 1805


When I wrote you a line of acknowledgement for your Lecture upon Tobacco, I kept no Copy of it, not expecting to ever hear any thing more of it, and I really remember very little that was in it.

Tobacco, I have found by long Experience, having learned the Use of it upon Ponds of Ice, when skaiting with Boys at eight years of Age, to be a very disastrous Vegetable, extreamly apt to steal upon a Man and urge him to very pernicious Excesses. In Addition to the physical Effects of it, which you have so well exposed, it consumes an enormous proportion of precious time, and prevents application both to Business and to Study, in a very criminal degree. It has also very hurtfull Effects on the Memory. I would now give any Thing for the time this has been Stolen from me by this Thief. The Habit of it is the worse, when acquired and fixed in early Life, on account of the difficulty and the danger of ever afterwards renouncing it altogether.

During the four years that I passed at Colledge there was not a Single death among the Scollars: and I have always believed that the almost universal health amongt he Students, was to be ascribed, next to early rising and beef and mutton Pies at Commons, to the free Use of Cider and the very moderate Use of Wine and ardent Spirits. When our Barrels and Bottles in the Cellar were empty, we used to Size it at the Buttery, and I never shall forget, how refreshing and Salubrious we found it, hard as it often was. I have heard of a hard Cyder Clubb which subsisted for many years, at Colledge though I never belonged to it, and have heard that the Members of it were remarkably healthy, not only while Undergraduates but in the after Course of their Lives.

Many of the longest Livers and healthiest Men that I have known, have made a free Use of this Liquor all their days, for example, the venerable old Champion of Calvinism and Athanasianism, the Reverend Mr. Niles of Monatiquot, was all his days a Lover and liberal Drinker of it. One of his Parish drolly said ‘our Mr. Niles would not drink a drop of Rum for the World, but he will drink as much Cyder as any Indian.’ This Gentleman lived till near ninety I believe and always remarkably healthy and hardy. His Son, Samuel Niles, once a Judge of the common Pleas at Boston lived I believe to Ninety Six, and remarkably healthy always. When was a healthier Man than Dr. Hitcock of Pembroke, and who made a more constant and liberal Use of it always however with temperance. To these I could Add many other Examples.

One of the ablest and most experienced Physicians in Virginia told me, about Six Years ago, that in thirty years practice in that State he had invariably found, that those who drank Cyder for their ordinary Beveredge were the most healthy and the longest Livers, that those who drank Wine or ardent Spirits tempered with Water though temperate Men were not so healthy and ended their days sooner.

I have, habitually drank the Wines of Spain France Germany and holland in all their varieties diluted with Water and I have drank the mild Porter and Table Beer of London in all their perfection, but I never found any of them agree so well with my health as the Cyder of New England. It is true I Seldom drink it under a year old, and often two and sometimes three.

It seems to me, Sir that Nature has planted the Antidote near the Poison, and that a kind Providence has ordered the productions of the Earth to grow in a manner adapted to the Circumstances of the Clymate. And the Cranberries, Barberries, Currents and Cyder of New England are better adapted to the health of the Inhabitants than any other fruits.

I have no Objections to your laughing with your friends over my frivolous Garrulity: and if you publish a second Edition of your Lecture as I hope you will, you may make any use of my Name in a note that your discretion will justify: but I pray you not to insert any formal Extracts from such Trash as this and my former Letter. I am Sir as usual your Friend and Servant.




I have heard, as you insinuate, that Sterne was a wicked Man; and there are traits of a false Character, in his Writings: yet the Benevolence, Generosity, Simpathy and Humanity that fill the Eyes and bosoms of the readers of his Works, will plead forever for their immortality. Virtues and Vices Wisdoms and Folly, Talents and imbecility, Services and demerits are so blended in most of the distinguished Sons of Men, that there is no knowing what Judgment to form of them, or what to do with them. Julian, in that ingenious Fable, The Caesars, throws headlong into the gulph of Tartarus, all the Tyrants; Alexander, Caesar, Augustus, Trajan and Constantine, are made to acknowledge that Fame, Power or Pleasure were their Objects; Marcus Aurelius alone was confessed to have aimed Singly at the good of the People. I know not whether the number of pure Characters, among Mankind in general will bear a greater proportion. The Number of unexceptionable Romances is not greater. Most of the fashionable ones, deserve to be Slighted more than Sterne. Yet I own myself to be more childish enough to be amused with their fictions, tho’ not so much as with true History. Rien n’est beau, que le vrai: Nil amoeneum nisi verum, ought to be a fundamental Maxim, not only in Religion and Government, but in all other Arts and Sciences, especially in Rhetoric and oratory, Tragedy Comedy and Romance. Many Romances however have not even the Resemblance of truth. You will do more good, and get more honor and money too, by persevering in your labours, which are really usefull, than in Writing Novels.

I am willing you should call this the Age of Frivolity as you do: and would not object if you had named it the Age of Folly, Vice, Frenzy Fury, Brutality, Daemons, Buonaparte, Tom Paine or the Age of The burning Brand from the bottomless Pitt: or any thing but the Age of Reason. I know not whether any Man in the World has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs for the last thirty years than Tom Paine. There can be no Severer Satyr on the Age. For Such a mongrel between Pigg and Puppy, begotten by a wild Boar on a Bitch Wolf, never before in any Age of the World was Suffered by the Poltroonery of mankind, to run through Such a Career of Mischief. Call it then the Age of Paine. He deserves it much more, than the Courtezan who was consecrated to represent the Goddess in the Temple at Paris, and whose name, Tom has given to the Age. The real intellectual faculty has nothing to do with the Age the Strumpet or Tom.

So much for thus time and on this Topick,

From your most obedient,


Presented by

Brigadier General (ret.) John Adams retired from the U.S. Army in 2007 and is an independent defense consultant.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in Politics

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In