Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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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.
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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.