August 14

Have remained idle all day; enemy occupy the other side of Strasburg. Our pickets are just this side of town; very warm and sultry; are in the shade. Captain Merritt Barber and Lieut. J. M. Read have gone on picket; no skirmishing to-day; rations and mail expected to-night.

August Fourteenth

Look, out of line one tall corn-captain stands
Advanced beyond the foremost of his bands,
And waves his blades upon the very edge
And hottest thicket of the battling hedge.
Thou lustrous stalk, that ne'er may walk nor talk,
Still shalt thou type the poet-soul sublime
That leads the vanward of his timid time
And sings up cowards with commanding rhyme.
Sidney Lanier
(Corn )



August 14, 1863

Plaquemine, La. Friday. Plaquemine is quite a place, in spite of its name. There are several stores with quite a decent assortment but the prices are way out of reach. I was going to buy a paper of tobacco, such as we used to buy at home for a shilling, but when I found it was $1.50 I decided to wait until our sutler got here and get it for half that. A fine large house which was furnished, but not occupied, has been taken for a hospital. Colonel Smith is acting brigadier general and quartermaster. Mace is acting brigade commissary. Several wrecks of steamers lie near the mouth of a bayou that enters the river here. I suppose they were destroyed by our folks last spring or else by the Rebs to keep them from being captured. The people are civil, but not real friendly. They do full as well as I could if the conditions were reversed.

129. Abigail Adams

Boston, 14 August, 1776.

Mr. Smith [152] called upon me to-day and told me he should set out to-morrow for Philadelphia; desired I would write by him. I have shown him all the civility in my power, since he has been here, though not all I have wished to. I was much pleased with the account he gave us of the universal joy of his province upon the establishment of their new government, and the harmony subsisting between every branch of it. This State seems to be behind-hand of their neighbors. We want some master workman here. Those who are capable seem backward in this work, and some who are so tenacious of their own particular plan as to be loath to give it up. Some who are for abolishing both House and Council, affirming business was never so well done as in the provincial Congress, and they perhaps never so important.

Last Sunday, after service, the Declaration of Independence was read from the pulpit by order of Council. The Dr. concluded with asking a blessing "upon the United States of America even until the final restitution of all things."

Dr. Chauncy's address pleased me. The good man after having read it, lifted his eyes and hands to heaven. "God bless the United States of America, and let all the people say Amen."

One of his audience told me it universally struck them.

I have no news to write you. I am sure it will be none to tell you I am ever

Yours     Portia.


[152]Mr. B. Smith, from South Carolina, who had paid a visit to Boston at this time.

130. Abigail Adams

14 August, 1776.

Your letter of August 3 came by this day's post. I find it very convenient to be so handy. I can receive a letter at night, sit down and reply to it, and send it off in the morning.

You remark upon the deficiency of education in your countrymen. It never, I believe, was in a worse state, at least for many years. The college is not in the state one could wish. The scholars complain that their professor in philosophy is taken off by public business, to their great detriment. In this town I never saw so great a neglect of education. The poorer sort of children are wholly neglected, and left to range the streets, without schools, without business, given up to all evil. The town is not, as formerly, divided into wards. There is either too much business left upon the hands of a few, or too little care to do it. We daily see the necessity of a regular government.

You speak of our worthy brother. I often lament it, that a man so peculiarly formed for the education of youth, and so well qualified as he is in many branches of literature, excelling in philosophy and the mathematics, should not be employed in some public station. I know not the person who would make half so good a successor to Dr. Winthrop. He has a peculiar, easy manner of communicating his ideas to youth; and the goodness of his heart and the purity of his morals, without an affected austerity, must have a happy effect upon the minds of pupils.[153]

If you complain of neglect of education in sons, what shall I say with regard to daughters, who every day experience the want of it? With regard to the education of my own children, I find myself soon out of my depth, destitute and deficient in every part of education.

I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the benefit of the rising generation, and that our new Constitution may be distinguished for encouraging learning and virtue. If we mean to have heroes, statesmen, and philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me and accuse me of vanity, but you, I know, have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the sentiment. If much depends, as is allowed, upon the early education of youth, and the first principles which are instilled take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women.

Excuse me. My pen has run away with me. I have no thoughts of coming to Philadelphia. The length of time I have and shall be detained here would have prevented me, even if you had no thoughts of returning till December; but I live in daily expectation of seeing you here. Your health, I think, requires your immediate return. I expected Mr. G—— would have set off before now, but he perhaps finds it very hard to leave his mistress. I won't say harder than some do to leave their wives. Mr. Gerry stood very high in my esteem. What is meat for one is not for another. No accounting for fancy. She is a queer dame and leads people wild dances.

But hush! Post, don't betray your trust and lose my letter.



[153]This probably refers to Richard Cranch, some mention of whom is found in the preliminary memoir.

August 14

August 14, 1869.--In the name of heaven, who art thou? what wilt thou--wavering inconstant creature? What future lies before thee? What duty or what hope appeals to thee?

My longing, my search is for love, for peace, for something to fill my heart; an idea to defend; a work to which I might devote the rest of my strength; an affection which might quench this inner thirst; a cause for which I might die with joy. But shall I ever find them? I long for all that is impossible and inaccessible: for true religion, serious sympathy, the ideal life; for paradise, immortality, holiness, faith, inspiration, and I know not what besides! What I really want is to die and to be born again, transformed myself, and in a different world. And I can neither stifle these aspirations nor deceive myself as to the possibility of satisfying them. I seem condemned to roll forever the rock of Sisyphus, and to feel that slow wearing away of the mind which befalls the man whose vocation and destiny are in perpetual conflict. "A Christian heart and a pagan head," like Jacobi; tenderness and pride; width of mind and feebleness of will; the two men of St. Paul; a seething chaos of contrasts, antinomies, and contradictions; humility and pride; childish simplicity and boundless mistrust; analysis and intuition; patience and irritability; kindness and dryness of heart; carelessness and anxiety; enthusiasm and languor; indifference and passion; altogether a being incomprehensible and intolerable to myself and to others!

Then from a state of conflict I fall back into the fluid, vague, indeterminate state, which feels all form to be a mere violence and disfigurement. All ideas, principles, acquirements, and habits are effaced in me like the ripples on a wave, like the convolutions of a cloud. My personality has the least possible admixture of individuality. I am to the great majority of men what the circle is to rectilinear figures; I am everywhere at home, because I have no particular and nominative self. Perhaps, on the whole, this defect has good in it. Though I am less of a man, I am perhaps nearer to the man; perhaps rather more man. There is less of the individual, but more of the species, in me. My nature, which is absolutely unsuited for practical life, shows great aptitude for psychological study. It prevents me from taking sides, but it allows me to understand all sides. It is not only indolence which prevents me from drawing conclusions; it is a sort of a secret aversion to all intellectual proscription. I have a feeling that something of everything is wanted to make a world, that all citizens have a right in the state, and that if every opinion is equally insignificant in itself, all opinions have some hold upon truth. To live and let live, think and let think, are maxims which are equally dear to me. My tendency is always to the whole, to the totality, to the general balance of things. What is difficult to me is to exclude, to condemn, to say no; except, indeed, in the presence of the exclusive. I am always fighting for the absent, for the defeated cause, for that portion of truth which seems to me neglected; my aim is to complete every thesis, to see round every problem, to study a thing from all its possible sides. Is this skepticism? Yes, in its result, but not in its purpose. It is rather the sense of the absolute and the infinite reducing to their proper value and relegating to their proper place the finite and the relative. But here, in the same way, my ambition is greater than my power; my philosophical perception is superior to my speculative gift. I have not the energy of my opinions; I have far greater width than inventiveness of thought, and, from timidity, I have allowed the critical intelligence in me to swallow up the creative genius. Is it indeed from timidity?

Alas! with a little more ambition, or a little more good luck, a different man might have been made out of me, and such as my youth gave promise of.

128. John Adams

Philadelphia, 14 August, 1776.

This is the anniversary of a memorable day in the history of America. A day when the principle of American resistance and independence was first asserted and carried into action. The stamp office fell before the rising spirit of our countrymen.[151] It is not impossible that the two grateful brothers may make their grand attack this very day. If they should, it is possible it may be more glorious for this country than ever; it is certain it will become more memorable.

I am put upon a committee to prepare a device for a golden medal, to commemorate the surrender of Boston to the American arms, and upon another to prepare devices for a great seal for the confederated States. There is a gentleman here of French extraction, whose name is Du Simitiere, a painter by profession, whose designs are very ingenious, and his drawings well executed. He has been applied to for his advice. I waited on him yesterday, and saw his sketches. For the medal he proposes, Liberty, with her spear and pileus, leaning on General Washington. The British fleet in Boston harbor with all their sterns towards the town, the American troops marching in. For the seal, he proposes the arms of the several nations from whence America has been peopled, as English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch, German, etc., each in a shield. On one side of them, Liberty with her pileus, on the other, a rifler in his uniform, with his rifle-gun in one hand and his tomahawk in the other; this dress and these troops, with this kind of armor, being peculiar to America, unless the dress was known to the Romans. Dr. Franklin showed me yesterday a book containing an account of the dresses of all the Roman soldiers, one of which appeared exactly like it. This M. du Simitiere is a very curious man. He has begun a collection of materials for a history of this revolution. He begins with the first advices of the tea ships. He cuts out of the newspapers every scrap of intelligence and every piece of speculation, and pastes it upon clean paper, arranging them under the head of that State to which they belong, and intends to bind them up in volumes. He has a list of every speculation and pamphlet concerning independence, and another of those concerning forms of government.

Dr. F. proposes a device for a seal: Moses lifting up his wand and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh in his chariot overwhelmed with the waters. This motto, "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."

Mr. Jefferson proposed the children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; and on the other side, Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed.

I proposed the choice of Hercules, as engraved by Gribelin, in some editions of Lord Shaftesbury's works. The hero resting on his club. Virtue pointing to her rugged mountain on one hand, and persuading him to ascend. Sloth, glancing at her flowery paths of pleasure, wantonly reclining on the ground, displaying the charms both of her eloquence and person, to seduce him into vice. But this is too complicated a group for a seal or medal, and it is not original.

I shall conclude by repeating my request for horses and a servant. Let the horses be good ones. I can't ride a bad horse so many hundred miles. If our affairs had not been in so critical a state at New York, I should have run away before now. But I am determined now to stay until some gentleman is sent here in my room, and until my horses come. But the time will be very tedious.

The whole force is arrived at Staten Island.


[151]Hutchinson, Vol. III. p. 120; Gordon, Vol. I. p. 175.