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