John Adams As He Lived

Unpublished letters to Dr.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

QUINCY JUNE 19, 1806

D’R SIR,

I rejoice to find by your Letter of the 26, and by my Sons Conversation, that his commencement of a residence at Cambridge has been agreable to you and to him. He could not in his present Circumstances have been so hapily situated as he is. Two such Men as Dr. Waterhouse and J.Q. Adams will find in the society of each other, and in the sciences and Litterature an inexhaustible fund of Amusement and of information. If his health and his other Engagements will allow him a career of three or four Years, I doubt not he will open a Road before the students to all that can be known, on the subjects of Rhetorick and Eloquence.

It is my ardent wish and confident hope that he will make no unnecessary difficulties with the Government of the Colledge, in any of its Branches. I wish he had delivered his first Lecture on fryday, even if the determination of the Corporation, had authorized him to repeat his first Lecture to the Sophomores, at their subsequent Appearance. If I were in his case, and the Corporation should decide against admitting the sophomores before Commencement, I would after Commencement repeat all the preceedent Lectures, although I might add a new Lecture, in every instance at the same time. If the schollars should be detained a whole hour instead of half an hour it would not hurt them. I am sorry to hear that speaking has been considered an irksome taske, which ought to be a delightful employment and an object of Ambition.

Eloquence however can never be restored to its ancient Glory without more moral sentiments and public Virtue than I believe remain in the World. Duty, Virtue Obligation, Patriotism, appear to me to have become through the whole Earth at least with the Majority, mere stalking Horses to Ambition and Avarice.

With my best comp’s to your good Lady, I remain with high esteem and respect your friend

and humble servant

J. ADAMS


QUINCY JAN. 21, 1807

DEAR SIR

Robinson was not only a Man of Sense and learning Piety and Virtue but of a Catholic tolerant Spirit and remarkable humanity. He resembled the two Shepards one of whom was Settled at Charleston and the other at Cambridge. Neither of the three were for renouncing Communion with the Church of England Brown was for excommunicating all, who differed from him in his most rigid notions. It is greatly to be regretted that Robinson did not live to come over, for he probably would have had influence enough to have restrained the early Emigrants from many Extravagancies which have diminished the reverence due to their general Character.

I congratulate you on the Amusement and Instruction you have found in the Sermons of Dr. Isaac Barrow. His Character and Writings are too much neglected. In Science and Learning he has had very few equals in England. He was the Predecessor, of Sir Isaac Newton in the Professorship of Mathematicks and natural Phylosophy, and contributed largely as I conjecture to the formation of that mighty Genius both in Science and Litterature. I am not very largely read in English Sermons. Dr. Tillotson Dr. Sam. Clark, Atterury Hoadley Dr. Shirlock, Dr. Seeker South Swift, Sterne and Blair, I occasionally read in Part. But I cannot think any of them deserve to be read more than Barrow. The English Divines who have ever read him call him a Quarry both of Sentiment and Expression. I have Somewhere read that the Earl of Chatham was a constant Reader and great Admirer of him, as the greatest Magazine of nervous Expressions in the English Language. I bought his Works in England and have read the Sermons you enumerate, and admire them as you do. But you know the Taste of this Age both in Europe and America. The nice palates of our modern men of Letters, must have polished Periods and fashionable Words. A few Words out of date and Sentences not fashioned upon the model of Hume Robertson Johnson Gibbon or Burke or Junius, will give them Such disgust that they will throw away the most sterling Wisdom to take up Reviews, Magazines Maria Williams and Dr. Aikin.

Were I a Professor of oratory at Harvard Colledge I would give a Lecture at least if not a Course of Lectures upon Dr. Barrow. I Suppose all Attempts however, to bring him into fashion would be abortive. The Bent of the Reviews etc. in England and Scotland is to run down out of Sight all the old Writers. I See they are now endeavouring to cry down Mr. Lock. His Ideas of Liberty and Tolleration are not enough Sublimated for them. They are more tender of Tom Paine. Locks Essay on Human Understanding however I still think one of the greatest Works of modern or ancient times. But alas! of what value is the opinion of

J. ADAMS


QUINCY SEP’R 17, 1810

DEAR SIR

I know that Mother Harvard had Power to make D.D.M.D. and LL.D. as well as Batchelors and Masters: but never knew till now that She possessed The Prerogative of making Princes. It is a notable Epocha in our History. Why may She not make Dukes, Marquisses, Viscounts, Earls Barons, Knights, and Esquires?

If the Republicans wish and expect from me a History of the Rise and Progress of the Essex Junto, they know not what they wish. I do not like the Appellation of Essex Junto. It is old Toryism, and is common in every State, City town and Village in the United States. There was not one without a Tory Junto in it, and their Heirs Executors Administrators, Sons Cousins etc. compose at this day an Essex Junto in every one of them. An History of the Essex Junto then would require a History of the whole American Community for fifty years. Let The Republicans remember, that it must contain at the Same time an History of Democracy and Jacobinism, two Sects to whom The Essex Junto owe their Power and Importance. The Characters of Hancock Adams Bowdoin, Warren, and an hundred others must come in. The Republicans would e as much offended as the Federalists by my History. But Alas, neither my Life would be long enough nor my Talents weighty enough to Accomplish one Year of the Fity of Such an History.

In my own Time: In my own Way I will communicate what I please. But I will not be The Gladiator of a Faction: No Nor of a Party. Not one of the many Limbs that are limed up for me shall catch The Bird, if I can avoid it.

J. ADAMS

The Speaker of the House of Commons is often called in Latin in other Parts of Europe, Orator, and often Prolocutor. The Man who is Sett up in our Town Meetings and Ecclesiastical Counsells to be looked at and talk’d at is called Moderator. I wish there could be a Moderator of The Senate and House too. Is it not passing Strange that I should become a Preacher of Moderation? In short, Waterhouse, in Speaking of Titles of any kind in this Country as Discriminations of Station, or Condition I can do nothing but pun and droll as you do.


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

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