Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 10.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, August, 1813.
Behold my translation!
“My friend Curnis, when we want to purchase horses, asses, or rams, we inquire for the well-born, and every one wishes to procure from the good breeds. A good man does not care to marry a shrew, the daughter of a shrew, unless they give a great deal of money with her.”1
What think you of my translation? Compare it with that of Grotius, and tell me which is the nearest to the original in letter and in spirit.
Grotius renders it,—
This flower of Greek poetry is extracted from the
ΘΕΟΓΝΙΛΟΣ ΜΕΓΑΡΕ′ΩΣ ΠΑΡΑΙΝΕΣΕΙΣ.
Theognis lived five hundred and forty-four years before Jesus Christ. Has science, or morals, or philosophy, or criticism, or Christianity, advanced, or improved, or enlightened mankind upon this subject, and shown them that the idea of the “well-born” is a prejudice, a phantom, a point-no-point, a Cape Flyaway, a dream?
I say it is the ordinance of God Almighty, in the constitution of human nature, and wrought into the fabric of the universe. Philosophers and politicians may nibble and quibble, but they never will get rid of it. Their only resource is to control it. Wealth is another monster to be subdued. Hercules could not subdue both or either. To subdue them by regular approaches and strong fortifications, by a regular siege, was not my object in writing on aristocracy, as I proposed to you in Grosvenor-Square. If you deny any one of these positions, I will prove them to demonstration by examples drawn from your own Virginia, and from every other State in the Union, and from the history of every nation, civilized and savage, from all we know of the time of the creation of the world.
Whence is the derivation of the words generous, generously, generosity, &c.? Johnson says, “Generous—a generosus, Latin, not of mean birth; of good extraction; noble of mind; magnanimous; open of heart; liberal; munificent, strong, vigorous,” and he might have added, courageous, heroic, patriotic.
Littleton happens to be at hand. “Generosus—ἐυγενὴς, γενναῖος. Nobilis; ex prœclaro genere ortus; qui a genere non deflectit. Born of a noble race, a gentleman born.” See his examples.
What is the origin of the word gentleman?
It would be a curious critical speculation for a learned idler to pursue this idea through all languages.
We may call this sentiment a prejudice, because we can give what names we please to such things as we please; but, in my opinion, it is a part of the natural history of man, and politicians and philosophers may as well project to make the animal live without bones or blood, as society can pretend to establish a free government without attention to it.
Quincy, 16 August, 1813.
I can proceed no further with this letter, as I intended.
Your friend, my only daughter, expired yesterday morning in the arms of her husband, her son, her daughter, her father and mother, her husband’s two sisters, and two of her nieces, in the forty-ninth year of her age, forty of which she was the healthiest and firmest of us all. Since which she has been a monument to suffering and to patience.
[1 ] “The expressions good and bad men, which in later times bore a purely moral signification, are evidently used by Theognis in a political sense for nobles and commons.” Müller, Literature of Ancient Greece.