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, 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.