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1816: TO DR. J. MORSE. - 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.
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TO DR. J. MORSE.
Quincy, 1 January, 1816.
From 1760 to 1766, was the purest period of patriotism; from 1766 to 1776 was the period of corruption; from 1775 to 1783 was the period of war. Not a revolutionary war, for the revolution was complete, in the minds of the people, and the union of the colonies, before the war commenced in the skirmishes of Concord and Lexington on the 19th of April, 1775.
In 1766 commenced the separation of parties. The stamp act was repealed. Universal rejoicings had run like wildfire through the continent. But Chatham’s declaratory act of the sovereignty of parliament hung like a cloud over the whole American continent. Thinking men and discerning eyes saw it, and amidst all the popular rejoicings dreaded its ominous appearance. The public opinion thought it a brutum fulmen, a mere device to preserve the nominal dignity of Great Britain without any intention of ever bringing it forward into action.
When the General Court met in May, Mr. Otis’s services, sacrifices, and exertions had been so splendid, that the House of Representatives, by a spontaneous and almost unanimous feeling of gratitude, chose him their Speaker. Bernard negatived him. Hutchinson, without whom Bernard was nothing, was instantly believed to be the adviser to this declaration of hostility. The conviction flashed like lightning through the community, that the sovereignty of parliament was not intended to be relinquished, and that future calamities must be expected. The House of Representatives was electrified to such a degree, that when the election of counsellors came upon the carpet, Hutchinson, though Lieutenant-Governor and Chief Justice, and all his brother judges of the Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assizes, and general gaol delivery, were turned out of the Council, and a general looking for future troubles took place. It was now seen, that every man who espoused the cause of his country, must prepare himself for the fate of a martyr or confessor, and that every man of any consequence, who would betray his country, might expect lucrative as well as honorable rewards; honorable, I mean, in the common sense of the word in the world. It was not long before these apprehensions were confirmed. A bill was brought into parliament, imposing taxes on glass, tea, paper, colors, &c., imported into the colonies. The great Chatham was destined to
Although his name still carried great power, the mortification arising from the loss of so much of his popularity, by his acceptance of a peerage and a pension, the unbounded licentiousness of the press in abusing him for it, and perhaps, above all, the embarrassments he had found in forming a ministry among the factions of Rockingham, Bedford, and Bute, when his brother, Lord Temple, and even the Duke of Portland, deserted him, aggravated the natural and habitual infirmity of his constitution, and rendered him incapable of that activity in business, and that fire which inspired every-body with his own enthusiasm, which had been so conspicuous in all parts of his former life.
This new act of tyrannical taxation rekindled all the fires of opposition and resistance on this side the water. The associations against its execution were universal through all the colonies, and ought to be stated and related in detail, because they illustrate the progress of the revolution in the minds of the people, against the authority of parliament, towards a union of the colonies and a total independence on the one hand, and the progress of seduction and corruption on the other.
Another innovation was contrived, and a board of commissioners of the customs created; but the remonstrances and associations against the execution of the acts were so formidable, that the ministry thought it necessary to send a fleet and army to protect Temple, Hallowell, Paxton, Birch, and Robinson, their adherents and followers. In 1768, there appeared a general disposition to oppose their landing by force; but many gentlemen, apprehending confusion from unconcerted resistance, took measures for inviting a Convention of the province. The circumstances of this year ought to be distinctly developed, and the result of the Convention stated. The fleet was drawn up to fire upon the town, and protect the landing of those illustrious personages, the commissioners and their drunken secretary, and their defenders, the troops, which were given out to be four thousand men, though, probably, they were not half the number. These poor creatures, the soldiers, were in a forlorn condition,—no barracks, no shelter, hungry and cold. The inhabitants shut their doors, and would admit panthers and serpents as soon. The address of their officers upon this dangerous crisis, I shall never forget. They became suppliants, and appealed to humanity. Had the door of a citizen been broken, to let in the soldiers, such was the inflammation of spirits that they would all have been made prisoners before morning; but the officers had too much sense. They put themselves and their men upon the compassionate list. “The poor soldiers were innocent. They knew not why they were sent here. Can you see your fellow-creatures perish in your streets for want of shelter?” Humanity prevailed. The troops were paraded on the common. One regiment appeared every day in Brattle Square, with their left flank before the front of the white house, where I then lived. Every morning I saw from my front windows Major Small exercising his battalion or his regiment, and admired his patient, persevering assiduity no less than the regularity of his men. What were my reflections and feelings at these sights! Poor puppets! you know nothing of the invisible hand, which dances you upon its wires! No more than the cogs and wheels of a clock, of the weights that move them, or the hand which they point to the hour. The men who understand the machinery, and are the first springs of its movement, know no more of what they are doing than you do. They are heaping up vengeance against the day of vengeance, against you, against themselves, and against unnumbered thousands of others as innocent as you. Major Small and I passed each other every day, but never spoke. Twenty years afterwards, we passed each other at public places of amusement in London, as Dido and Æneas passed each other in the shades, and never spoke. The troops lived in Boston for a few months more than a year, as the allied forces now reside in France, the blood of the inhabitants boiling with indignation, and the continent sympathizing with them. Wrangles and quarrels frequently occurred between the citizens and the soldiers; exasperation increased on both sides, till it broke out in the melancholy catastrophe of the 5th of March, 1770. Now appeared the spirit of freemen; multitudes from Boston and the neighboring towns assembled spontaneously the next day, and from day to day. Strong guards were placed in the State House, and every man appeared to be ready at the toll of a bell or the sound of a gun to turn out with his arms. The assembly applied to the governor and council. Mr. Hutchinson was Lieutenant-Governor and commander-in-chief. Colonel Dalrymple was sent for. Samuel Adams appeared in his true character. His caution, his discretion, his ingenuity, his sagacity, his self-command, his presence of mind, and his intrepidity, commanded the admiration and loud applauses of both parties. The troops were ordered to the Castle, and Lord North called them from this time “Sam Adams’s two regiments.”
TO DR. J. MORSE.
Quincy, 5 January, 1816.
The trials of the officer and soldiers, who were indicted for the slaughter in King Street, were pending for the greatest part of the year 1770, and when they came on, consumed six or seven days each. The discussions and decisions in those cases convinced the people that they could depend on no protection against the sovereignty of parliament but Providence and their own arms. Accordingly they were found in Boston and all the neighboring towns, forming companies for voluntary military exercises. Even Salem, Marblehead, and Newbury, caught the flame, though the county of Essex, next to Worcester and Hampshire, was the last to abandon the ministry and their governors.
These trials, as important in the history of mankind as any that are recorded in the history of jurisprudence, never have been, and never can be truly, impartially, and faithfully represented to posterity. The first was taken down, and transmitted to England, by a Scottish or English stenographer, without any known authority but his own. The British government have never permitted it to see the light, and probably never will.
The second trial was taken by the same stenographer, by permission of the court, and allowed to be published. The Court allowed him to show his manuscript to the counsel. He brought it to me. Upon reading it over, I found so much inaccuracy and so many errors, that I scratched out every thing but the legal authorities and the testimonies of the witnesses. Mr. Quincy and Mr. Paine were consulted, and the result of their deliberations appears in the printed trial. Mr. Sewall, the Attorney-General, who ought, at the hazard of his existence, to have conducted those prosecutions, disappeared; and Mr. Paine and Mr. Samuel Quincy were substituted, nobody knew whether by the Court or the Attorney-General. I leave to the masters of chess to make their reflections on this curious arrangement of kings, knights, and pawns, upon the board. I speculated little on these puppetshows and idle games. “To the law and the testimony,” was my only maxim. The law and the testimony prevailed, and destroyed as much of my popularity as Mr. Pitt lost by accepting a peerage and a pension. It was instantly propagated that I had been bribed by an immense fee, to sell my country. I never uttered a word or suggested a hint alluding to fees from first to last. A single guinea was put into my hand by the Irish infant, for a retaining fee; ten guineas were offered on the first trial, and eight at the second, and accepted without looking at them, or uttering a word. These nineteen guineas were all the fees I ever received for a whole year of distressing anxiety, and for thirteen or fourteen days of the hardest labor in the trials that I ever went through. Add to all this the taunts and scoffs and bitter reproaches of the Whigs, and the giggling and tittering of the Tories, which was more provoking than all the rest.
This great event turned the attention of all the colonies to it, and the supremacy of parliament stared all men in the face. If parliament was omnipotent, could enact what statutes it pleased, and employ armies and navies, governors, counsellors, and judges to interpret them, and carry them into execution, of what use could our houses of representatives be? And what were our religion, liberties, properties, or existence worth? I recollect no event which increased the horror of parliamentary usurpation so much as this. The journals, the pamphlets, and the records of this period ought to be collected and examined with patient attention. About this period, parties in England were as angry as in America. Wilkes and Junius agitated king, ministry, parliament, and nation. Opposition pretended friendship for America; but no members of either house, of administration or opposition, ever dared to avow the true American principle, or to express a doubt of the supreme, unlimited authority of parliament over all the dominions of the crown. “Standing armies in time of peace, stationed in populous cities to preserve internal peace,” Cato’s Letters and the Independent Whig, and all the writings of Trenchard and Gordon, Mrs. Macaulay’s History, Burgh’s Political Disquisitions, Clarendon’s History of the Civil War, and all the writings relative to the revolutions in England became fashionable reading. Hutchinson, whose ambition made him as weak as water, had declared publicly in council, that he had no authority over the king’s troops; that the military force had a separate command, and he could do nothing without Dalrymple. “Good God!” said the public, “is this our situation already? Is a military authority already erected over the civil authority, or independent of it? Is a lieutenant-colonel of a regiment commander-in-chief of the province, or even independent upon him? We remember the time when Brigadier Timothy Ruggles, commander-in-chief of Massachusetts troops, was put under the command of a British ensign for a whole campaign. Is the whole civil authority of the province now to be placed under the command of a lieutenant-colonel of a British regiment? To talk or think of liberty or privileges under a military government, is as idle and absurd as under an ecclesiastical government.
How slightly soever historians may have passed over this event, the blood of the martyrs, right or wrong, proved to be the seeds of the congregation. Not the battle of Lexington or Bunker’s Hill, not the surrender of Burgoyne or Cornwallis were more important events in American history than the battle of King Street, on the 5th of March, 1770. The town of Boston instituted an annual oration in commemoration of this catastrophe, “upon the danger of standing armies, stationed in populous cities in time of peace,” and among the first orators were such names as Hancock, Warren, and Lovell. These orations were read, I had almost said by every-body that could read, and scarcely ever with dry eyes. They have now been continued for forty-five years. Will you read them all? They were not long continued in their original design, but other gentlemen with other views had influence enough to obtain a change from “standing armies,” to “feelings which produced the revolution.” Of these forty-five orations I have read as many as I have seen. They have varied with all the changes of our politics. They have been made the engine of bringing forward to public notice young gentlemen of promising genius, whose connections and sentiments were conformable to the prevailing opinions of the moment. There is juvenile ingenuity in all that I have read. There are few men of consequence among us who did not commence their career by an oration on the 5th of March. I have read these orations with a mixture of grief, pleasure, and pity. Young gentlemen of genius describing scenes they never saw, and descanting on feelings they never felt, and which great pains had been taken that they never should feel. When will these orations end? And when will they cease to be monuments of the fluctuations of public opinion and general feeling in Boston, Massachusetts, New England, and the United States? They are infinitely more indicative of the feelings of the moment, than of the feelings that produced the revolution.
Remember, Sir, that I am not writing history nor annals. I am only stating a few facts, and suggesting a few hints. If I could be fifty years younger, and had nothing better to do, I would have these orations collected, and printed in volumes, and then write the history of the last forty-five years in commentaries upon them.
TO DR. J. MORSE.
Quincy, 20 January, 1816.
In the order of time, I have passed over a tragical event which excited much interest, and contributed largely to render the sovereignty of parliament odious, detestable, and horrible to the people, and I can conscientiously add, accelerated the catastrophe of the 5th March, 1770.1
In 1769, a little before the recall of Governor Bernard, the British frigate, The Rose, sent a lieutenant, a midshipman, and a pressgang of sailors on board a ship of Mr. Hooper, of Marblehead, then returning from Bilboa, upon the recruiting service. The lieutenant demanded of the captain a sight of his crew. The crew were called. “Are here all?” No answer. “Search the ship,” said the imperious lieutenant. Away flew the midshipman and his gang of loyal soldiers, through every part of the ship to search for hidden seamen. At last the cry was heard, “here they are.” Four sailors had hid themselves in the forepeak of the ship, the place most likely to be overlooked in a search. The forepeak was immediately invaded by the lieutenant, the midshipman, and the whole pressgang armed with swords and pistols. Michael Corbet and Lieutenant Panton argued the cause, but neither being convinced, resort was had to the ratio ultima, and an amiable youth was laid dead at the feet of Michael Corbet. A boat was sent to the Rose, and a strong reënforcement to the pressgang soon broke down all before them, seized the four sailors, one of whom was bleeding with an arm broken by a pistol ball, shot by the midshipman at random among the four, in the first assault upon the forepeak.
A special Court of Admiralty was summoned, according to act of parliament, to try these four sailors for piracy and murder on the high seas, in killing Lieutenant Panton; when in law, truth, and conscience, the commander of the Rose frigate ought to have been prosecuted for piracy and murder on the high seas, in illegally sending a pressgang to enslave freemen, and compelling them in self-defence to destroy their invader and intended destroyer; or in the better language of the boat-swain of the Rose frigate, “to deprive honest men of their liberty.”
The constitution of this Court ought to be stated by a historian. It consisted of the Governors of Massachusetts, Bernard, and New Hampshire, Wentworth: Judge of Admiralty, Auchmuty; Commander of the Navy, Commodore Hood; and counsellors from several colonies, to the number of fifteen. Whether Hutchinson sat as Lieutenant-Governor or as Chief Justice, I know not. When the Court opened, the counsel of the poor prisoners presented pleas to the jurisdiction of the Court, and if that should be overruled, requesting and demanding that a jury should be summoned to try the facts, according to the course of the common law.
What has become of the records of this Court, whether they have been sent to Halifax or to London, whether they remain in any repository in Boston, or whether they have been burned, like most of the records of this world, I know not. But if they exist, they will show four pleas, drawn at great length, stating the laws, principles, and reasonings on which they were founded, and each of them signed by one of the four prisoners, or by his counsel. These pleadings, contemptible as they may appear at this day, cost the counsel many days of painful research, and the mere composition and draught of them cost more than one sleepless night, in the handwriting.
When the prisoners were arraigned, they presented these four pleas to the Court, and their counsel appeared to support them, with his arguments and books of authority, against Mr. Sewall himself and the other counsel for the crown.
But the counsel on neither side were permitted to say a word. Hutchinson started up, and with a countenance, which remains deeply graven on my retina to this hour, expressive of the designs and passions, the fears and apprehensions, that agitated and tormented his soul, moved that the Court should adjourn to the council chamber. No opposition! no reasons pro or con! The countenances of the innocents and the simple on the bench, indicating some surprise, but the knowing ones manifesting a knowledge, or, at least, a pleasing conjecture of the secret. The prisoners were remanded; parties, witnesses, counsel, audience, dismissed; and the Court adjourned to the council chamber, where they remained in secret conclave till late in the evening. When they arose, it was given out and propagated through the town that they had decided in favor of the pleas, and that jurors were to be summoned the next morning, to try the prisoners.
Whether this rumor had any foundation in truth, or whether it was invented and circulated to soften the keen asperity of the public feeling, I know not; but this is certain, the Court met again early next morning in secret conclave in the council chamber; and then it was believed by many, conjectured by more, and reported generally, that Hutchinson and his confidential few had been alarmed at the decision of the preceding evening, and had contrived a secret meeting in the morning to reconsider the vote. Whether there was any truth in these whispers, rumors, and murmurs, I know not. But one thing is certain, that when the Court opened in form, the four pleas, without permitting one word to be said for them or against them by the counsel on either side, were pronounced by the president, Bernard, to be overruled.
The prisoners were now at the bar, and the trial commenced. The witnesses on both sides examined and cross-examined.1 All agreed in every fact and circumstance. No contradictory testimony; British sailors and American sailors all agreed. What morality and what religion, Dr. Morse, in these sons of Neptune! Oh! for the honor of human nature, that I could say the same of the Court!
When the examination was ended and taken down by the clerk and the counsel in writing, the argument of counsel was expected. The counsel for the prisoners had taken great pains to search and research, through every law, human and divine, the doctrine of homicide in all its divisions, distinctions, and limitations. As this was said to be a civil law court, he had ransacked every writer on the civil law, that the town of Boston possessed. He had examined every authority in the laws of England upon the subject, and, superadded to all, he had brought forward that volume of the British Statutes at Large, which contained the act of parliament which expressly prohibited the impressment of seamen in America. All these books were piled up on the table before him, in the sight of the Court, when the counsel arose, in the ordinary course of proceedings, to argue the cause of his clients, the poor prisoners at the bar. After addressing the court in the usual style of respect, he begged their attention to the authorities in law, and to the testimonies, which he should apply, to show that the action of the prisoners in killing Lieutenant Panton could amount to nothing more than justifiable homicide in necessary self-defence.
The words “justifiable homicide” were scarcely out of his mouth, before Hutchinson started up in very indecorous haste, and moved that the prisoners be remanded, and the Court adjourned to the council chamber. The prisoners, the crowded audience, the bar, the counsel, were all thunderstruck. But what were prisoners, audience, bar or counsel, against “sic volo, sic jubeo, stet pro ratione voluntas”? The Court was adjourned to the council chamber, and there inclosed, like a conclave of cardinals, in secret intrigues for the rest of the day.
When the Court opened the next day, and the prisoners ordered to the bar, all the world expected that the trial would commence, and the argument on the law and the evidence proceed. But after a solemn pause and total silence, Governor Bernard, the President of the Court, arose, and with a countenance so solemn and gloomy as made the audience shudder, as if a sentence of death was coming, addressed himself to the prisoners by name, and pronounced, “The Court have considered the evidence in support of the libel against you, and are unanimously of opinion that it amounts only to justifiable homicide; you are accordingly acquitted and discharged from your imprisonment.” Not another word was said, except by Mr. Auchmuty, the Judge of Admiralty, who cried out, “The Court is unanimous in this opinion.”
I will leave to poets and writers of romance to describe the joy that glowed in every heart, and lighted every countenance at this denouement of the tragedy. One circumstance is too characteristic to be omitted. The counsel for the prisoners descending from the chamber where the Court sat, to the lower floor of the Court House, was met at the bottom of the stairs by the boatswain of the Rose. “Sir,” said he, “we are all greatly obliged to you for your noble conduct in defence of these brave fellows; yet, Sir, this is the employment in which I have been almost constantly engaged for twenty years, fighting with honest men to deprive them of their liberty. I always thought I ought to be hanged for it, and now I know it.”
This trial, Dr. Morse, is a mystery never yet explained,—a labyrinth without a clue! an enigma that never can be unriddled. Though all hypothesis must be unavailing in investigating this phenomenon, so strange, so unprecedented in the history of jurisprudence, I must be permitted to suggest a few hints for your consideration and inquiry.
First. Where can you find a secret court of judicature? In courts martial, in the Inquisition, or in the Lion’s mouth at Venice? The star chamber and the high commission court in England, even Jeffreys’s courts were open and public.
Second. Here were the Governor, the Lieutenant-Governor, the Chief Justice, the Judge of Admiralty of Massachusetts, the Governor and counsellors from New Hampshire, counsellors from Rhode Island, and the commander-in-chief of the royal navy, Commodore Hood, now, if alive, Lord Bridport, skulking and hiding in total silence from open court to secret council chamber, like Indians fighting behind bushes, and running in the dark from one bush to another to avoid detection.
Third. Upon what law, upon what principle were the prisoners acquitted of piracy and murder? Nobody knew, nobody could conjecture. Every honest soul was delighted with the decision, but none knew or could surmise upon what grounds it was made.
Fourth. Was the decision according to the law of nature, the law of nations, the civil law, the common law, or the statute law? No man could answer any of these questions. All was darkness, mystery, uncertainty, and confusion. The honest lawyers said, “misera servitus est, ubi jus est vagum aut incognitum.”
Fifth. There was an act of parliament expressly forbidding impressments in America, then lying on the table before the judges, produced by the counsel for the prisoners, and ready to be read at a moment’s warning, which would have justified the decision of the Court, to the king, the English nation, and the American public, without any other authority or argument. Why did not the Court permit this statute to be read or mentioned? Why did they not produce it and read it themselves, if the counsel had through ignorance or forgetfulness omitted it.
Sixth. Can it be credible, that this Court, and all the counsel for the crown, and all the naval and custom-house officers were ignorant of this statute? However incredible it may appear, I have always believed and still believe that not one of them all had the least knowledge or suspicion that such an act existed. There was at that time but one copy of the Statutes at Large in the Massachusetts, and that set had been imported by the counsel for the prisoners.
Seventh. Was the sentence of the Court founded on the principle of the universal illegality of impressment? I sincerely believe it was, and, moreover, that not one judge upon that bench would have dared to give an opinion of its legality. The oracular and equivocal dictum of Lord Chatham had not then been pronounced, nor the opinion of the first Pitt, as ignorant as it was dogmatical, that it was a common-law prerogative of the crown. Candor obliges me to acknowledge that Mr. Sewall conducted this prosecution like a judicious lawyer and a polite gentleman; but Hutchinson appeared hurried between his terror of the crown and its officers on one hand, and his dread of unpopularity on the other.1 No trial had ever interested the community so much before, excited so much curiosity and compassion, or so many apprehensions of the fatal consequences of the supremacy of parliamentary jurisdiction, or the intrigues of parliamentary courts. No trial had drawn together such crowds of auditors from day to day; they were as numerous as those in the next year, at the trials of Preston and the soldiers.
Nevertheless, every thing relative to this great event must remain mysterious. The whole transaction seems totally forgotten. None of our historians appears to have ever heard of it. Mrs. Warren has not remembered it, and Dr. Gordon has taken no notice of it; yet Dr. Gordon has minutely related the action of Mr. Richardson in shooting young Snider, and its effects. Mr. Richardson and his exploit were thought worthy to be recorded, while Panton and Corbet were to be forgotten! And who was Richardson? If there was even a color of justice in the public opinion, he was the most abandoned wretch in America. Adultery, incest, perjury were reputed to be his ordinary crimes. His life would exhibit an atrocious volume. This man was selected by the board of commissioners for a customhouse officer. His name was sufficient to raise a mob, and I had almost said to the honor of the mob. Mr. Richardson and the innocent victim, Snider, ought to have been remembered, but Panton and Corbet ought not to have been forgotten. Preston and his soldiers ought to have been forgotten sooner.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 2 March, 1816.
I cannot be serious! I am about to write you the most frivolous letter you ever read. Would you go back to your cradle, and live over again your seventy years? I believe you would return me a New England answer, by asking me another question, “Would you live your eighty years over again?” If I am prepared to give you an explicit answer, the question involves so many considerations of metaphysics and physics, of theology and ethics, of philosophy and history, of experience and romance, of tragedy, comedy, and farce, that I would not give my opinion without writing a volume to justify it. I have lately lived over again in part, from 1753, when I was junior sophister at college, till 1769, when I was digging in the mines as a barrister at law for silver and gold in the town of Boston, and got as much of the shining dross for my labor, as my utmost avarice at that time craved. At the hazard of the little vision that is left me, I have read the history of that period of sixteen years, in the six first volumes of the Baron de Grimm. In a late letter to you, I expressed a wish to see a history of quarrels, and calamities of authors in France, like that of D’Israeli in England; I did not expect it so soon, but now I have it in a manner more masterly than I ever hoped to see it. It is not only a narrative of the incessant great wars between the ecclesiastics and the philosophers, but of the little skirmishes and squabbles of poets, musicians, sculptors, painters, architects, tragedians, comedians, opera singers, and dancers, chansons, vaudevilles, epigrams, madrigals, epitaphs, sonnets, &c.
No man is more sensible than I am of the service to science and letters, humanity, fraternity, and liberty, that would have been rendered by the encyclopedists and economists, by Voltaire, D’Alembert, Buffon, Diderot, Rousseau, La Lande, Frederic and Catherine, if they had possessed common sense. But they were all totally destitute of it. They seemed to think that all Christendom was convinced, as they were, that all religion was “visions judaiques,” and that their effulgent lights had illuminated all the world; they seemed to believe that whole nations and continents had been changed in their principles, opinions, habits, and feelings, by the sovereign grace of their almighty philosophy, almost as suddenly as Catholics and Calvinists believe in instantaneous conversion. They had not considered the force of early education on the minds of millions, who had never heard of their philosophy.
And what was their philosophy? Atheism,—pure, unadulterated atheism. Diderot, D’Alembert, Frederic, De La Lande, and Grimm, were indubitable atheists. The universe was master only, and eternal. Spirit was a word without a meaning. Liberty was a word without a meaning. There was no liberty in the universe; liberty was a word void of sense. Every thought, word, passion, sentiment, feeling, all motion and action was necessary. All beings and attributes were of eternal necessity; conscience, morality, were all nothing but fate. This was their creed, and this was to perfect human nature, and convert the earth into a paradise of pleasure.
Who and what is this fate? He must be a sensible fellow. He must be a master of science; he must be a master of spherical trigonometry, and great circle sailing; he must calculate eclipses in his head by intuition; he must be master of the science of infinitesimals, “la science des infiniment petits.” He must involve and extract all the roots by intuition, and be familiar with all possible or imaginable sections of the cone. He must be a master of the arts, mechanical and imitative; he must have more eloquence than Demosthenes, more wit than Swift or Voltaire, more humor than Butler or Trumbull; and what is more comfortable than all the rest, he must be good-natured; for this is upon the whole a good world. There is ten times as much pleasure as pain in it.
Why, then, should we abhor the word God, and fall in love with the word fate? We know there exists energy and intellect enough to produce such a world as this, which is a sublime and beautiful one, and a very benevolent one, notwithstanding all our snarling; and a happy one, if it is not made otherwise by our own fault.
Ask a mite in the centre of your mammoth cheese, what he thinks of the ‘το πᾶν.” I should prefer the philosophy of Timæus of Locris, before that of Grimm, Diderot, Frederic, and D’Alembert. I should even prefer the Shaster of Indostan, or the Chaldean, Egyptian, Indian, Greek, Christian, Mahometan, Teutonic, or Celtic theology. Timæus and Ocellus taught that three principles were eternal: God, matter, and form. God was good, and had ideas; matter was necessity, fate, dead, without form, without feeling, perverse, untractable, capable, however, of being cut into forms of spheres, circles, triangles, squares, cubes, cones, &c. The ideas of the good God labored upon matter to bring it into form; but matter was fate, necessity, dulness, obstinacy, and would not always conform to the ideas of the good God, who desired to make the best of all possible worlds, but matter, fate, necessity, resisted, and would not let him complete his idea. Hence all the evil and disorder, pain, misery, and imperfection of the universe.
We all curse Robespierre and Bonaparte; but were they not both such restless, vain, extravagant animals as Diderot and Voltaire? Voltaire was the greatest literary character and Bona the greatest military character of the eighteenth century; there is all the difference between them; both equally heroes and equally cowards.
When you asked my opinion of a university, it would have been easy to advise mathematics, experimental philosophy, natural history, chemistry, and astronomy, geography, and the fine arts, to the exclusion of ontology, metaphysics, and theology. But knowing the eager impatience of the human mind to search into eternity and infinity, the first cause and last end of all things, I thought best to leave it its liberty to inquire, till it is convinced, as I have been these fifty years, that there is but one being in the universe who comprehends it, and our last resource is resignation.
This Grimm must have been in Paris when you were there. Did you know him or hear of him?
I have this moment received two volumes more; but these are from 1777 to 1782, leaving the chain broken from 1769 to 1777. I hope hereafter to get the two intervening volumes.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 3 May, 1816.
Yours of April 8th has long since been received.
Would you agree to live your eighty years over again?
Aye, and sans phrase.
Would you agree to live your eighty years over again for ever?
I once heard our acquaintance, Chew, of Philadelphia, say, he should like to go back to twenty-five, to all eternity. But I own my soul would start and shrink back on itself at the prospect of an endless succession of boules de savon, almost as much as at the certainty of annihilation. For what is human life? I can speak only for one. I have had more comfort than distress, more pleasure than pain, ten to one; nay, if you please, a hundred to one. A pretty large dose, however, of distress and pain. But, after all, what is human life? A vapor, a fog, a dew, a cloud, a blossom, a flower, a rose, a blade of grass, a glass bubble, a tale told by an idiot, a boule de savon, vanity of vanities, an eternal succession of which would terrify me almost as much as annihilation.
Would you prefer to live over again rather than accept the offer of a better life in a future state?
Would you live again, rather than change for the worse in a future state, for the sake of trying something new?
Would you live over again once or forever rather than run the risk of annihilation, or of a better or worse state at or after death?
Most certainly I would not.
How valiant you are!
Aye, at this moment and at all other moments of my life that I can recollect; but who can tell what will become of his bravery, when his flesh and his philosophy were not sufficient to support him in his last hours. D’Alembert said, Happy are they who have courage, but I have none. Voltaire, the greatest genius of them all, behaved like the greatest coward of them all, at his death, as he had like the wisest fool of them all in his lifetime. Hume awkwardly affects to sport away all sober thoughts. Who can answer for his last feelings and reflections, especially as the priests are in possession of the custom of making the great engines of their craft, procul este profani.
How shall we, how can we, estimate the value of human life?
I know not; I cannot weigh sensations and reflections, pleasures and pains, hopes and fears in money scales. But I can tell you how I have heard it estimated by some philosophers. One of my old friends and clients, a mandamus counsellor against his will, a man of letters and virtues, without one vice that I ever knew or suspected, except garrulity, William Vassal, asserted to me, and strenuously maintained, that pleasure is no compensation for pain. A hundred years of the keenest delights of human life, could not atone for one hour of bilious colic that he had felt. The sublimity of this philosophy my dull genius could not reach. I was willing to state a fair account between pleasure and pain, and give credit for the balance, which I found very great in my favor. Another philosopher who, as we say, believed nothing, ridiculed the notion of a future state. One of the company asked, “Why are you an enemy to a future state? Are you wearied of life? Do you detest existence?” “Weary of life! Detest existence!” said the philosopher, “no, I love life so well and am so attached to existence, that to be sure of immortality, I would consent to be pitched about with forks by the devils among flames of fire and brimstone to all eternity.” I find no resources in my courage for this exalted philosophy. I would rather be blotted out. Il faut trancher le mot. What is there in life to attach us to it, but the hope of a future and a better? It is a cracker, a bouquet, a firework, at best.
I admire your navigation, and should like to sail with you either in your bark or in my own, alongside with yours. Hope, with her gay ensigns displayed at the prow; fear, with her hobgoblins behind the stern. Hope remains. What pleasure? I mean, take away fear, and what pain remains? Ninety-nine hundredths of the pleasures and pains of life are nothing but hopes and fears. All nations known in history or in travels have hoped, believed, and expected a future and a better state. The Maker of the universe, the cause of all things, whether we call it fate, or chance, or God, has inspired this hope. If it is a fraud, we shall never know it; we shall never resent the imposition, be grateful for the illusion, nor grieve for the disappointment; we shall be no more.
Credant Grimm, Diderot, Buffon, La Lande, Condorcet, D’Holbach, Frederic, Catherine, non ego. Arrogant as it may be, I shall take the liberty to pronounce them all ideologians. Yet I would not persecute a hair of their heads; the world is wide enough for them and me.
Suppose the cause of the universe should reveal to all mankind at once a certainty, that they must all die within a century, and that death is an eternal extinction of all living powers, of all sensation and reflection. What would be the effect? Would there be one man, woman, or child existing on this globe twenty years hence? Would every human being be a Madame Deffand, Voltaire’s “aveugle clairvoyante,” all her lifetime regretting her existence, bewailing that she had ever been born; grieving that she had ever been dragged without her consent into being? Who would bear the gout, the stone, the colic, for the sake of a boule de savon, when a pistol, a cord, a pond, a phial of laudanum, was at hand? What would men say to their Maker? Would they thank him? No; they would reproach him, they would curse him to his face.
Voilà, a sillier letter than my last! For a wonder, I have filled a sheet, and a greater wonder, I have read fifteen volumes of Grimm. Digito compesce labellum. I hope to write you more upon this and other topics of your letter. I have read also a history of the Jesuits, in four volumes. Can you tell me the author, or any thing of this work?
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 6 May, 1816.
Neither eyes, fingers, nor paper held out to despatch all the trifles I wished to write in my last letter.
In your letter of April 8th, you wonder for what good end the sensations of grief could be intended. You wish the pathologists would tell us what is the use of grief in our economy, and of what good it is the cause, proximate or remote. When I approach such questions as this, I consider myself like one of those little eels in vinegar, or one of those animalcules in black or red pepper or in the horseradish root, that bite our tongues so cruelly, reasoning upon the τό πᾶν. Of what use is this sting upon the tongue? Why might we not have the benefit of these stimulants without the sting? Why might we not have the fragrance, the beauty of the rose, without the thorn?
In the first place, however, we know not the connections between pleasure and pain. They seem to be mechanical and inseparable. How can we conceive a strong passion, a sanguine hope, suddenly disappointed, without producing pain or grief? Swift, at seventy, recollected the fish he had angled out of water when a boy, which broke loose from his hook, and said, “I feel the disappointment at this moment.” A merchant places all his fortune and all his credit in a single India or China ship. She arrives at the Vineyard with a cargo worth a million, in order. Sailing round the Cape for Boston, a sudden storm wrecks her; ship, cargo, and crew all lost. Is it possible that the merchant, ruined, bankrupt, sent to prison by his creditors, his wife and children starving, should not grieve? Suppose a young couple, with every advantage of persons, fortune, and connection, on the point of an indissoluble union. A flash of lightning, or any one of those millions of accidents which are allotted to humanity, proves fatal to one of the lovers. Is it possible that the other, and all the friends of both, should not grieve? It should seem that grief, as a mere passion, must necessarily be in proportion to sensibility.
Did you ever see a portrait or a statue of a great man, without perceiving strong traits of pain and anxiety? These furrows were all ploughed in the countenance by grief. Our juvenile oracle, Sir Edward Coke, thought that none were fit for legislators and magistrates but sad men; and who were these sad men? They were aged men who had been tossed and buffeted in the vicissitudes of life, forced upon profound reflection by grief and disappointments, and taught to command their passions and prejudices.
But all this, you will say, is nothing to the purpose; it is only repeating and exemplifying a fact, which my question supposed to be well known, namely, the existence of grief, and is no answer to my question, what are the uses of grief? This is very true, and you are very right; but may not the uses of grief be inferred, or at least suggested by such exemplifications of known facts? Grief compels the India merchant to think, to reflect upon the plan of his voyage. “Have I not been rash to trust my fortune, my family, my liberty to the caprice of winds and waves in a single ship? I will never again give loose to my imagination and avarice. It had been wiser and more honest to have traded on a smaller scale, upon my own capital.” The desolated lover, and disappointed connections, are compelled by their grief to reflect on the vanity of human wishes and expectations; to learn the essential lesson of resignation, to review their own conduct toward the deceased, to correct any errors or faults in their future conduct towards their remaining friends, and towards all men; to recollect the virtues of their lost friend, and resolve to imitate them; his follies and vices, if he had any, and resolve to avoid them. Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, sharpens the understanding, and softens the heart; it compels them to rouse their reason, to assert its empire over their passions, propensities and prejudices, to elevate them to a superiority over all human events, to give them the felicis animi immotam tranquilitatem; in short, to make them stoics and Christians.
After all, as grief is a pain, it stands in the predicament of all other evil, and the great question occurs, what is the origin and what the final cause of evil. This, perhaps, is known only to Omniscience. We poor mortals have nothing to do with it, but to fabricate all the good we can out of all inevitable evils, and to avoid all that are avoidable; and many such there are, among which are our own unnecessary apprehensions and imaginary fears. Though stoical apathy is impossible, yet patience, and resignation, and tranquillity may be acquired, by consideration, in a great degree, very much for the happiness of life.
I have read Grimm in fifteen volumes, of more than five hundred pages each. I will not say, like Uncle Toby, “you shall not die” till you have read him, but you ought to read him, if possible. It is the most entertaining work I ever read. He appears exactly as you represent him. What is most of all remarkable, is his impartiality. He spares no characters, but Necker and Diderot. Voltaire, Buffon, D’Alembert, Helvetius, Rousseau, Marmontel, Condorcet, La Harpe, Beaumarchais, and all others are lashed without ceremony. Their portraits are faithfully drawn as possible. It is a complete review of French literature and fine arts from 1753 to 1790. No politics. Criticisms very just. Anecdotes without number, and very merry; one, ineffably ridiculous, I wish I could send you, but it is immeasurably long. D’Argens, a little out of health and shivering with the cold in Berlin, asked leave of the King to take a ride to Gascony, his native province. He was absent so long that Frederic concluded the air of the south of France was likely to detain his friend, and as he wanted his society and services, he contrived a trick to bring him back. He fabricated a mandement in the name of the Archbishop of Aix, commanding all the faithful to seize the Marquis d’Argens, author of Ocellus, Timæus, and Julian, works atheistical, deistical, heretical, and impious in the highest degree. This mandement, composed in a style of ecclesiastical eloquence, that never was exceeded by Pope, Jesuit, Inquisitor, or Sorbonnite, he sent in print by a courier to d’Argens, who, frightened out of his wits, fled by cross-roads out of France and back to Berlin, to the greater joy of the philosophical court for the laugh of Europe, which they had raised at the expense of the learned Marquis.
I do not like the late resurrection of the Jesuits. They have a general now in Russia, in correspondence with the Jesuits in the United States, who are more numerous than everybody knows. Shall we not have swarms of them here, in as many shapes and disguises as ever a king of the gypsies, Bampfylde Moore Carew himself, assumed? In the shape of printers, editors, writers, schoolmasters, &c.? I have lately read Pascal’s letters over again, and four volumes of the History of the Jesuits. If ever any congregation of men could merit eternal perdition on earth and in hell, according to these historians, though, like Pascal, true Catholics, it is this company of Loyola. Our system, however, of religious liberty must afford them an asylum; but if they do not put the purity of our elections to a severe trial, it will be a wonder.
TO F. A. VANDERKEMP.
Quincy, 26 May, 1816.
Reverend, Honorable, Learned, Venerable, and Dear Sir,—
As I stand in need of a casuist in philosophy, morality, and Christianity, to whom should I apply but to you, whom I consider as the best qualified of all my friends?
The stoics, the Christians, the Mahometans, and our North American Indians all agree that complaint is unmanly, unlawful, and impious. To bear torment without a murmur, a sigh, a groan, or a distortion of face and feature, or a writhe or contortion of the body, is consummate virtue, heroism, and piety. Mr. Lear has completed the glory of great and good Washington, by informing us that he suffered great distress without a sigh or a groan. Jephtha’s daughter, Agamemnon’s Iphigenia, the Hindoo widows, who roast and broil and fry with their husband’s bones, probably utter no shrieks. The son of Alnoniac never complained. Brissot and some of his colleagues are said to have pronounced “Vive la répub—,” when the guillotine has cut off the head, which hopping and bouncing and rolling has articulated the syllable “lique,” after it was sundered from the shoulders.
I can almost believe all this. The history of the Christian martyrs, and the French clergy on the 2d of September, seem to render it credible. Indeed, in the course of my strange life I have had at times some feelings of a like kind; but I do not give so much weight to all these as to the cool declaration of our excellent and blessed, though once passionate, Dr. Chauncy, that he had found by experience that a man could lie all night upon his pillow under the most excruciating torment of toothache, headache, rheumatism, or gout, unable to sleep a wink, without uttering a groan, sigh, or syllable. Now, Sir, please to tell me what virtue there is in all this? A common man, as I am informed, was lately asked what he meant by the word resignation. His answer was, “I cannot help it.” Could Socrates have given a better reason?
Resignation is our own affair. What good does it do to God? Prudence dictates to us to make the best we can of inevitable evils. We may fret and fume and peeve, and scold and rave, but what good does this do? It hurts ourselves, and may hurt our neighbors by the weak, silly, foolish example, but does no good in the universe that we can imagine.
Voltaire, for the last ten years of his life seemed to adopt as a kind of motto, “vieux et malade,” and I might adopt for mine, “vieux et malade, paralytique et presque aveugle.” My wife has been sick all winter, frequently at the point of death, in her own opinion. I have been sick in the beginning of winter and the beginning of spring, and good for nothing all the year round. I have lost the ablest friend I had on earth in Mr. Dexter. Is all this complaint? If I say I have the toothache, the headache, the earache, the colic, the gout, the gravel, the stone, or the rheumatism, is this complaint? As I have alluded to Washington, I may quote Franklin. The aged philosopher alighted from his coach at my door, at Auteuil, on an invitation to dinner. I never saw a more perfect picture of horror, terror, or grief than his countenance. I was shocked with surprise and compassion. He turned to his coachman and said, “You need not come for me. I will walk home” (to Passy, about two miles). He then turned to me and said, “I will never enter the door of a coach again, at least if I cannot find a coachman who has the stone.” I believe he kept his word; but was this complaint?
I see nothing but pride, vanity, affectation, and hypocrisy in these pretended stoical apathies. I have so much sympathy and compassion for human nature, that a man or a woman may grunt and groan, screech and scream, weep, cry, or roar, as much as nature dictates under extreme distress, provided there be no affectation; for there may be hypocrisy even in these expressions of torture. I have not alluded to the crucifixions of the convulsionnaires of Paris. Pray enlighten my conscience.
Now for the travels on and about the Oneida lake, which I read with more interest than Scott’s monument of clannish fable, “The Lady of the Lake.” Receiving it without any letter, I concluded it was to be returned to you. Wishing Mr. Johnson might have the pleasure and advantage of reading it, I requested him to return it to you. I no more suspected it to come from Dewitt Clinton than from the prophet of Wabash or the prophet of Oneida, or the up and down philosopher and hero of Elba and St. Helena. Had Mr. Clinton condescended to drop me a line, I should have delivered the manuscript to Mr. Quincy, as you intended.
I lament the misfortunes of friend Gyselaer’s family, as I do those of my friend Gerry’s, and many others of the most virtuous and meritorious men I have known. I cannot say I have never seen the seed of honest men begging bread; but I believe equity as well as goodness will prevail in the universe throughout. This is a fundamental article in the faith of your friend.
THOMAS JEFFERSON TO JOHN ADAMS.
Monticello, 1 August, 1816.
Your two philosophical letters, of May 4th and 6th, have been too long in my carton of “letters to be answered.” To the question, indeed, to the utility of grief, no answer remains to be given. You have exhausted the subject. I see that with the other evils of life it is destined to temper the cup we are to drink.
Putting to myself your question, Would I agree to live my seventy-three years over again forever, I hesitate to say. With Chew’s limitations, from twenty-five to sixty, I would say yes; and I might go further back, but not come lower down. For at the latter period, with most of us, the powers of life are sensibly on the wane; sight becomes dim, hearing dull, memory constantly enlarging its frightful blank, and parting with all we have ever seen or known, spirits evaporate, bodily debility creeps on, palsying every limb, and so faculty after faculty quits us, and where, then, is life? If, in its full vigor, of good as well as evil, your friend Vassall could doubt its value, it must be purely a negative quantity, when its evils alone remain. Yet I do not go into his opinion entirely. I do not agree that an age of pleasure is no compensation for a moment of pain. I think, with you, that life is a fair matter of account, and the balance often, nay generally, in its favor. It is not, indeed, easy, by calculation of intensity and time, to apply a common measure, or to fix the par between pleasure and pain; yet it exists, and is measurable. On the question, for example, whether to be cut for the stone, the young, with a longer prospect of years, think these overbalance the pain of the operation. Dr. Franklin, at the age of eighty, thought his residuum of life not worth that price. I should have thought with him, even taking the stone out of the scale. There is a ripeness of time for death, regarding others as well as ourselves, when it is reasonable we should drop off, and make room for another growth. When we have lived our generation out, we should not wish to encroach on another. I enjoy good health. I am happy in what is around me; yet I assure you, I am ripe for leaving all, this year, this day, this hour. If it could be doubted, whether we would go back to twenty-five, how can it be, whether we would go forward from seventy-three? Bodily decay is gloomy in prospect; but of all human contemplations, the most abhorrent is body without mind. Perhaps, however, I might accept of time to read Grimm before I go. Fifteen volumes of anecdotes and incidents, within the compass of my own time and cognizance, written by a man of genius, of taste, of point, an acquaintance, the measure and traverses of whose mind I knew, could not fail to turn the scale in favor of life during their perusal. I must write to Ticknor, to add it to my catalogue, and hold on till it comes.
There is a Mr. Vanderkemp, of New York, a correspondent, I believe, of yours, with whom I have exchanged some letters, without knowing who he is. Will you tell me?
I know nothing of the History of the Jesuits you mention, in four volumes. Is it a good one? I dislike, with you, their restoration, because it marks a retrograde step from light towards darkness. We shall have our follies without doubt. Some one or more of them will always be afloat, but ours will be the follies of enthusiasm, not of bigotry, not of Jesuitism. Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm, of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both. We are destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism. Old Europe will have to lean on our shoulders, and to hobble along by our side, under the monkish trammels of priests and kings, as she can. What a colossus shall we be, when the southern continent comes up to our mark! What a stand will it secure as a ralliance for the reason and freedom of the globe! I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. So good night. I will dream on, always fancying that Mrs. Adams and yourself are by my side marking the progress and the obliquities of ages and countries.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 9 August, 1816.
The biography of Mr. Vanderkemp would require a volume, which I could not write if a million were offered me as a reward for this work. After a learned and scientific education, he entered the army in Holland, and served as a captain with reputation; but loving books more than arms, he resigned his commission, and became a preacher. My acquaintance with him commenced at Leyden, in 1780. He was then minister of the Mennonist congregation, the richest in Europe, in that city, where he was celebrated as the most elegant writer in the Dutch language. He was the intimate friend of Luzac and De Gyselaer. In 1788, when the king of Prussia threatened Holland with invasion, his party insisted on his taking a command in the army of defence, and he was appointed to the command of the most exposed and most important post in the seven provinces. He was soon surrounded by the Prussian forces; but he defended his fortress with a prudence, fortitude, patience, and perseverance, which were admired by all Europe, till, abandoned by his nation, destitute of provisions and ammunition, still refusing to surrender, he was offered the most honorable capitulation. He accepted it, was offered very advantageous proposals, but despairing of the liberty of his country, he returned to Antwerp; determined to emigrate to New York, he wrote to me in London, requesting letters of introduction. I sent him letters to Governor Clinton and several others of our little great men. His history in this country is equally curious and affecting. He left property in Holland, which the revolutions there have annihilated, and I fear is now pinched with poverty. His head is deeply learned, and his heart is pure. I scarcely know a more amiable character. A gentleman here asked my opinion of him. My answer was, “he is a mountain of salt to the earth.” He has written to me occasionally, and I have answered his letters in great haste. You may well suppose that such a man has not always been able to understand our American politics. Nor have I. Had he been as great a master of our language as he was of his own, he would at this day have been one of the most conspicuous characters in the United States.
So much for Vanderkemp. Now for your letter of August 1st. Your poet, the Ionian, I suppose, ought to have told us, whether Jove, in the distribution of good and evil from his two urns, observes any rule of equity or not; whether he thunders out flames of eternal fire on the many, and power, glory, and felicity on the few, without any consideration of justice. Let us state a few questions “sub rosâ.”
1. Would you accept a life, if offered you, of equal pleasure and pain, e. g. one million of moments of pleasure and one million of moments of pain? 1,000,000 pleasure = 1,000,000 pain. Suppose the pleasure as exquisite as any in life, and the pain as exquisite as any, e. g. stone, gravel, gout, headache, earache, toothache, colic, &c. I would not. I would rather be blotted out.
2. Would you accept a life of one year of incessant gout, headache, &c., for seventy-two years of such life as you have enjoyed? I would not. 1 year of cholic = 72 of boule de savon. Pretty, but unsubstantial. I would rather be extinguished. You may vary these algebraical equations at pleasure and without end. All this ratiocination, calculation, call it what you will, is founded on the supposition of no future state. Promise me eternal life, free from pain, though in all other respects no better than our present terrestrial existence, I know not how many thousand years of Smithfield fires I would not endure to obtain it. In fine, without the supposition of a future state, mankind and this globe appear to me the most sublime and beautiful bubble and bauble that imagination can conceive. Let us, then, wish for immortality at all hazards, and trust the ruler with his skies. I do, and earnestly wish for his commands, which, to the utmost of my power, shall be implicitly and piously obeyed.
It is worth while to live to read Grimm, whom I have read. And La Harpe, and Mademoiselle d’Espinasse, the fair friend of d’Alembert, both of whom Grimm characterizes very distinctly, are, I am told, in print. I have not seen them, but hope soon to have them.
My History of the Jesuits is not elegantly written, but is supported by unquestionable authorities, is very particular and very horrible. Their restoration is indeed “a step towards darkness,” cruelty, perfidy, despotism, death and—! I wish we were out of danger of bigotry and Jesuitism. May we be “a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism.” What a colossus shall we be! But will it not be of brass, iron, and clay? Your taste is judicious in liking better the dreams of the future than the history of the past. Upon this principle I prophesy that you and I shall soon meet better friends than ever. So wishes
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 9 September, 1816.
I thank you for your kind letter of the 5th of this month, which our meritorious friend, Mr. Shaw, put into my hand yesterday. I had before seen the paragraph in the Daily Advertiser. The Baron de Grimm himself, in a subsequent volume, sufficiently explains and confutes the error of the rumor which had been propagated, I know not by whom, in 1782.1 You will find at the end of the first volume of the “Defence of our Constitutions,” a postscript and a letter, in French, which will explain, somewhat too cavalierly and vulgarly, the whole matter. If you think it of any importance, however, as soon as the weakness of my eyes and the trembling of my hands will permit, I will give you a more decent statement of the facts, and the letter to the Abbé, in our language. I never saw the Baron till 1785, when I left Paris, never to see it more. He was then only a secret correspondent of the empress of Russia, and some of the sovereigns of Germany. He was soon appointed a public minister, admitted into the diplomatic corps, and consequently became known to Mr. Jefferson. The Baron’s great work in fifteen volumes will be read with different views. The lovers of romance, founded on truth, will find it an exquisite entertainment. I need not tell you how the amateurs and connoisseurs of the fine arts, of architecture, painting, sculpture, statuary, music, poetry, eloquence, &c., and every species of theatrical instruction and amusement will be delighted with it. I own to you, I admire it as the best history of the causes, the rise, and progress of the French revolution, to 1790, that I have seen.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 30 September, 1816.
The seconds of life that remain to me are so few and so short (and they seem to me shorter and shorter every minute) that I cannot stand upon epistolary etiquette; and though I have written two letters yet unnoticed, I must write a third, because I am not acquainted with any man on this side Monticello who can give me any information upon subjects that I am now analyzing and investigating, if I may now be permitted to use the pompous words now in fashion.
When I read Dr. Priestley’s remarks upon “Dupuis,” I felt a curiosity to know more about him. I wrote to Europe, and engaged another to write. I had no idea of more than one or two volumes in octavo or duodecimo; but lo! I am overwhelmed with eight or ten volumes, and another of planches!
Sixteen years of research the author acknowledges; and as he quotes his authorities, I would not undertake to verify them in sixteen years, if I had all his books, which surely are not to be found in America. If you know any thing of this Monsieur Dupuis, or his Origine de tous les Cultes, candidus imperti.
I have read only the first volume. It is learned and curious. The whole work will afford me business, study, and amusement for the winter.
Dr. Priestley pronounced him an atheist, and his work the “ne plus ultra of infidelity.” Priestley agrees with him, that the history of the fall of Adam and Eve is an “allegory,” a fable, an Arabian tale, and so does Dr. Middleton, to account for the origin of evil, which, however, it does not. Priestley says that the Apocalypse, according to Dupuis, is the most learned work that ever was written.
With these brief flétrissures, Priestley seems to have expected to annihilate the influence of Dupuis’s labor, as Swift destroyed Blackmore with his
And as he disgraced men as good, at least, as himself by his
“Wicked Will Whiston”
“Good Master Ditton.”
But Dupuis is not to be so easily destroyed. The controversy between spiritualism and materialism, between spiritualists and materialists, will not be settled by scurrilous epigrams of Swift, nor by dogmatical censures of Priestley. You and I have as much authority to settle these disputes as Swift, Priestley, Dupuis, or the Pope; and if you will agree with me, we will issue our bull, and enjoin it upon all these gentlemen to be silent till they can tell us what matter is, and what spirit is, and in the mean time to observe the commandments, and the sermon on the mount.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 4 November, 1816.
Your letter of October 14th has greatly obliged me. Tracy’s Analysis I have read once, and wish to read it a second time. It shall be returned to you; but I wish to be informed whether this gentleman is one of that family of Tracys with which the Marquis Lafayette is connected by intermarriages.
I have read not only the Analysis, but eight volumes out of twelve of the “Origine de tous les Cultes,” and, if life lasts, will read the other four. But, my dear Sir, I have been often obliged to stop and talk to myself, like the reverend, allegorical, hieroglyphical, and apocalyptical Mr. John Bunyan, and say, “sobrius esto. John, be not carried away by sudden blasts of wind, by unexpected flashes of lightning, nor terrified by the sharpest crashes of thunder.”
We have now, it seems, a national Bible Society, to propagate King James’s Bible through all nations. Would it not be better to apply these pious subscriptions to purify Christendom from the corruptions of Christianity than to propagate those corruptions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America? Suppose we should project a society to translate Dupuis into all languages, and offer a reward in medals of diamonds to any man or body of men who would produce the best answer to it.
Enthusiasms, crusades, French revolutions, are epidemical or endemical distempers, to which mankind is liable. They are not tertian or quartan agues. Ages and centuries are sometimes required to cure them.
It is more worth your while to read Dupuis than Grimm. Of all the romances and true histories I ever read, it is the most entertaining and instructive, though Priestley calls it “dull.”
Conclude not from all this that I have renounced the Christian religion, or that I agree with Dupuis in all his sentiments. Far from it. I see in every page something to recommend Christianity in its purity, and something to discredit its corruptions. If I had strength, I would give you my opinion of it in a fable of the bees. The ten commandments and the sermon on the mount contain my religion.
I agree perfectly with you that “the moral sense is as much a part of our condition as that of feeling,” and in all that you say upon this subject.
My History of the Jesuits is in four volumes in twelves, under the title of “Histoire Générale de la Naissance et des Progrès de la Compagnie de Jésus, et l’Analyse de ses Constitutions et ses Priviléges,” printed at Amsterdam in 1761. The work is anonymous, because, as I suppose, the author was afraid, as all the monarchs of Europe were, at that time, of Jesuitical assassination. The author, however, supports his facts by authentic records and known authorities which the public may consult.
This society has been a greater calamity to mankind than the French Revolution, or Napoleon’s despotism or ideology. It has obstructed the progress of reformation and the improvement of the human mind in society much longer and more fatally.
The situation of England may be learned from the inclosed letter, which I pray you to return to me. Little reason as I have to love the old lady, I cannot but dread that she is going after France into a revolution, which will end like that of England in 1660, and like that of France in 1816. In all events our country must rise. England cannot.
We have long been afflicted with a report, that your books, and Harvard College books, and John Quincy Adams’s Uranologia were lost at sea. But lo! the Astronomy has arrived in one ship and College books in another. We hope your books are equally safe, but should be glad to know. It seems that father and son have been employed in contemplating the heavens! I should like to sit down with him and compare Dupuis with his Uranologia.
I have been disappointed in the review of Sir John Malcolm’s History of Persia. Those cunning Edinburgh men break off at the point of the only subject that excited my curiosity, the ancient and modern religion and government of Persia. I should admire to read an Edinburgh or Quarterly review of Dupuis’s twelve volumes. They have reviewed Grimm, who is not of half the importance to mankind. I suspect the reviewers evaded the religion of Persia for fear they should be compelled to compare it with Dupuis.
A scrap of an English paper, in which you are honorably mentioned, and I am not much abused, must close this letter from your friend.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 16 November, 1816.
Your favor of the 11th has conjured up in my imagination so many ghosts, that I am in danger of being frightened as much as the old lady of Endor was at the sight of Samuel.
Many are the years in which I have seriously endeavored to strip from my mind every prejudice, and from my heart every feeling, unfavorable to Mr. Hutchinson. The subject is so familiar to my thoughts that I could draw his character faster than my pen could fly. I feel no animosity against his memory. I could write his life, as coolly as that of Alexander or Cæsar. But on a deliberate second view of my own portrait of him, I should feel doubts of my own impartiality.
He was a memorable and an awful example of disappointment in the career of ambition. Cromwell and Napoleon will be more known, but neither was a more distinct example.
You may form some conjecture of my feelings, when I tell you, or, perhaps, I might more properly say, when I remind you, that he seduced from my bosom three of the most intimate friends I ever had in my life, Jonathan Sewall, Samuel Quincy, and Daniel Leonard. Every one of these had been as ardent and explicit a patriot as I was, or ever pretended to be. By means more artful, but as corrupt as any ever employed by Sir Robert Walpole, did that Jesuit seduce three of the most amiable young men from the cause of their country to their own ruin. He practised all his arts upon me. My constant answer was, “I cannot in conscience.” I would give the whole history in detail, but you would say, and the world would say, John Adams is an old Pharisee, thanking God that he is not like other men. I had rather they would say, he is a publican, praying God to be merciful to him, a sinner. But in either case, poor John would be accused as a fanatic or a hypocrite.
I could not write the character of Hutchinson without describing my three friends, Sewall, Quincy, and Leonard, and many others that would harrow up my soul; among the rest myself, and this would make me blush. If you desire it, however, and will give me your honor they shall not be published, I will give you a few anecdotes, of the probability of which you shall judge from your own recollections.
You say Hutchinson’s moral character was good. This must be understood with great exceptions.
You say his judicial character was good. This must be construed with great limitations.
You say his private character was good. Of this I know not enough to say any thing.
Of his literary character the world will judge by his writings. They are valuable. He had great advantages from his birth, and hereditary collections of pamphlets and manuscripts, and especially from his family connections with the Mathers, and his neighborhood to Mr. Prince, for writing the history of Massachusetts Bay.
There was much affectation, much dissimulation, and, I must add, deep hypocrisy in his character. Though his father had made a fortune by speculations in a depreciating paper currency, he had great merit in abolishing that instrument of injustice in 1750.
But who, my friend, who shall do justice to the characters of James Otis, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock, who breasted a torrent of persecution from 1760 to 1775, and ever since?
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 12 December, 1816.
I return the Analysis of Dupuis, with my thanks for the loan of it. It is but a faint miniature of the original. I have read that original in twelve volumes, besides a thirteenth of plates. I have been a lover and a reader of romances all my life, from Don Quixote and Gil Blas to the Scottish Chiefs, and a hundred others. For the last year or two I have devoted myself to this kind of study, and have read fifteen volumes of Grimm, seven volumes of Tucker’s Neddy Search,1 twelve volumes of Dupuis, and Tracy’s Analysis, and four volumes of Jesuitical History! Romances all! I have learned nothing of importance to me, for they have made no change in my moral or religious creed, which has, for fifty or sixty years, been contained in four short words, “Be just and good.” In this result they all agree with me.
I must acknowledge, however, that I have found in Dupuis more ideas that were new to me, than in all the others. My conclusion from all of them is universal toleration. Is there any work extant so well calculated to discredit corruptions and impostures in religion as Dupuis?
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 18 December, 1816.
Your kind letter of the 13th contains much truth, and nothing but the truth. I may return to it hereafter, but at present, with your leave, I will continue a few hints on the judicial character of Chief Justice Hutchinson. I pass over that scenery, which he introduced, so showy and so shallow, so theatrical and so ecclesiastical, of scarlet and sable robes, of broad bands, and enormous tie wigs, more resembling fleeces of painted merino wool than any thing natural to man and that could breathe with him. I pass over, also, the question, whether he or his court had legal authority to establish a distinction between barristers and attorneys. Innovations, though often necessary, are always dangerous.
But to return to writs of assistance. In February term, 1761, the new Chief Justice and his court ordered Chief Justice Sewall’s question to be argued in the council chamber, and that argument produced the American Revolution. Otis demonstrated the illegality, the unconstitutionality, the iniquity and inhumanity of that writ in so clear a manner, that every man appeared to me to go away ready to take arms against it. No harangue of Demosthenes or Cicero ever had such effects upon this globe as that speech. Such was the impression, that the court dared not give judgment in favor of it.1Curia advisare voluit. After many days, the Chief Justice arose, and, with that gravity and subtilty, that artless design of face, which will never fade in my memory, said, “the Court could not, at present, see any foundation for the writ of assistance, but thought proper to continue the consideration of it till next term, and, in the mean time, to write to England, and inquire what was the practice and what were the grounds of it there.”
The public never was informed, what was the correspondence with England, what was the practice or the grounds of it there. The public never was informed of the judgment of the Court. No judge ever gave his opinion, or discussed the question in public. After six or nine months, we heard enough of custom-house officers breaking houses, cellars, shops, ships, casks, and bales, in search of prohibited and uncustomed goods, by virtue of writs of assistance. Is this the conduct of “a good, judicial character” in a free country, and under a government of laws? Jeffreys himself was never more Jesuitical nor more arbitrary.
In my next, I may give you more proofs of his “good judicial character,” in the trial of Michael Corbet and his three messmates, for killing Lieutenant Panton, the commander of a pressgang from the Rose frigate.1 When courts of justice dare not speak in open air, nor see the daylight, where is life, liberty, or property?
Were I writing history, I should not write in this style. I should study a language of more philosophical moderation and dignity. But I now express to you the feelings of my friends and myself at those times, and our opinions too.
TO F. A. VANDERKEMP.
Quincy, 27 December, 1816.
I do declare that I can write Greek better than you do, though I cannot say, so well as you can if you will. I can make nothing but pothooks and trammels of the frontispiece of your amiable letter of the 15th. If you had quoted your authority, I might have found it.
Jesus is benevolence personified, an example for all men. Dupuis has made no alteration in my opinions of the Christian religion, in its primitive purity and simplicity, which I have entertained for more than sixty years. It is the religion of reason, equity, and love; it is the religion of the head and of the heart.
It would be idle for me to write observations upon Dupuis. I must fill thirteen volumes. If I was twenty-five years old, and had the necessary books and leisure, I would write an answer to Dupuis; but when, or where, or how should I get it printed? Dupuis can be answered, to the honor and advantage of the Christian religion as I understand it. To this end I must study astrology as well as astronomy, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian, and Sanscrit.
But to leave Dupuis to be answered or reviewed in Edinburgh or London, I must inquire into the attributes given by the ancient nations to their divinities; gods with stars and new moons in their foreheads or on their shoulders; gods with heads of dogs, horns of oxen, bulls, cows, calves, rams, sheep, or lambs; gods with the bodies of horses; gods with the tails of fishes; gods with the tails of dragons and serpents; gods with the feet of goats. The bull of Mithra; the dog of Anubis; the serpent of Esculapius!!!!
Is man the most irrational beast of the forest? Never did bullock, or sheep, or snake imagine himself a god. What, then, can all this wild theory mean? Can it be any thing but allegory founded in astrology? Your Manilius would inform you as well as Dupuis.
The Hebrew unity of Jehovah, the prohibition of all similitudes, appears to me the greatest wonder of antiquity. How could that nation preserve its creed among the monstrous theologies of all the other nations of the earth? Revelation, you will say, and especial Providence; and I will not contradict you, for I cannot say with Dupuis that a revelation is impossible or improbable.
Christianity, you will say, was a fresh revelation. I will not deny this. As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? How has it happened that all the fine arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, statuary, music, poetry, and oratory, have been prostituted, from the creation of the world, to the sordid and detestable purposes of superstition and fraud?
The eighteenth century had the honor to discover that Ocellus of Lucania, Timæus of Locris, Aristotle, Tacitus, Quintilian, and Pliny, were in the right. The philosophy of Frederic, Catharine, Buffon, De la Lande, Diderot, d’Alembert, Condorcet, d’Holbach, and Dupuis, appears to me to be no more nor less than the philosophy of those ancient men of science and letters, whose speculations came principally from India, Egypt, Chaldea, and Phœnicia. A consolatory discovery, to be sure! Let it once be revealed or demonstrated that there is no future state, and my advice to every man, woman, and child would be, as our existence would be in our own power, to take opium. For, I am certain, there is nothing in this world worth living for but hope, and every hope will fail us, if the last hope, that of a future state, is extinguished.
I know how to sympathize with a wounded leg, having been laid up with one for two or three months, and I have felt the delightful attentions of a daughter. May you have the felicity to celebrate as many more lustres of Madam Vanderkemp as human nature can bear.
[1 ] The account which follows is in some measure a repetition of what has been already printed in the second volume, pp. 224-226, note, and also in the ninth volume, pp. 317-319. But as it forms one of the series addressed to Dr. Morse, and opens some views of the subject not there touched upon, it has been thought best to retain it.
[1 ] The notes taken by Mr. Adams in this trial have been found since the publication of the prior volumes. They are very full, and entirely confirm the accuracy of this account given from memory nearly half a century afterwards. Hutchinson says, however, that it was he who pronounced the decision of the Court.
[1 ] Hutchinson has explained this whole matter. He admits that the change in the action of the Court upon the application for a jury was owing entirely to his interference; and he rests the final decision upon the fact, that neither the lieutenant nor his superior officer was acting by any warrant or special authority from the lords of the admiralty. This avoided the question of their power to give such authority. History of Massachusetts, vol. iii. p. 232, note.
[1 ] That the Abbé de Mably had been applied to by the United States, for his aid to form a code of laws. Baron de Grimm corrected the error in 1784. See Vol. v. Appendix, p. 491.
[1 ] The Light of Nature Pursued, by Edward Search, the well known work of Abraham Tucker.
[1 ] Hutchinson himself admits that, “if judgment had then been given, it is uncertain on which side it would have been.” History of Massachusetts, vol. iii. p. 94.
[1 ] This letter is printed in vol. ii. p. 224, note.