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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, 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?