July 25

Got supper in town last night. It began to rain about 10 o'clock p. m. and continued to hard all night. I stayed at the National Hotel; went to camp early this morning; regiment paid last night; went to town again and bought clothes; went to the Canterbury Theatre in the evening; stayed at the National Hotel again. There's no sign of a move to-night.

July Twenty-Fifth

The nights are full of love;
The stars and moon take up the golden tale
Of the sunk sun, and passionate and pale,
Mixing their fires above,
Grow eloquent thereof.
Madison Cawein

 

 

July 25

July 25, 1857. (Vandoeuvres).--At ten o'clock this evening, under a starlit sky, a group of rustics under the windows of the salon employed themselves in shouting disagreeable songs. Why is it that this tuneless shrieking of false notes and scoffing words delights these people? Why is it that this ostentatious parade of ugliness, this jarring vulgarity and grimacing is their way of finding expression and expansion in the great solitary and tranquil night?

Why? Because of a sad and secret instinct. Because of the need they have of realizing themselves as individuals, of asserting themselves exclusively, egotistically, idolatrously--opposing the self in them to everything else, placing it in harsh contrast with the nature which enwraps us, with the poetry which raises us above ourselves, with the harmony which binds us to others, with the adoration which carries us toward God. No, no, no! Myself only, and that is enough! Myself by negation, by ugliness, by grimace and irony! Myself, in my caprice, in my independence, in my irresponsible sovereignty; myself, set free by laughter, free as the demons are, and exulting in my freedom; I, master of myself, invincible and self-sufficient, living for this one time yet by and for myself! This is what seems to me at the bottom of this merry-making. One hears in it an echo of Satan, the temptation to make self the center of all things, to be like an Elohim, the worst and last revolt of man. It means also, perhaps, some rapid perception of what is absolute in personality, some rough exaltation of the subject, the individual, who thus claims, by abasing them, the rights of subjective existence. If so, it is the caricature of our most precious privilege, the parody of our apotheosis, a vulgarizing of our highest greatness. Shout away, then, drunkards! Your ignoble concert, with all its repulsive vulgarity, still reveals to us, without knowing it, something of the majesty of life and the sovereign power of the soul.

Genesis and Lapse

Sunday, 25.

"Before the Revolution of 1688," says Coleridge, "metaphysics ruled without experimental philosophy. Since the Revolution, experimental psychology has in like manner prevailed, and we now feel the result. In like manner, from Plotinus to Proclus, that is, from A. D. 250 to A. D. 450, philosophy was set up as a substitute for religion; during the dark ages, religion superseded philosophy, and the consequences are equally instructive."

"The great maxim in legislation, intellectual or physical, is subordinate, not exclude . Nature, in her ascent, leaves nothing behind; but at each step subordinates and glorifies,—mass, crystal, organ, sensation, sentience, reflection."

Taken in reverse order of descent, Spirit puts itself before, at each step protrudes faculty in feature, function, organ, limb, subordinating to glorify also,—person, volition, thought, sensibility, sense, body,—animating thus and rounding creation to soul and sense alike. The naturalist cannot urge too strongly the claims of physical, nor the plea of the idealist be too vigorously pressed for metaphysical studies. One body in one soul. Nature and spirit are inseparable, and are best studied as a unit. "Either without the other," as Plato said of sex, "is but half itself." Nature ends where spirit begins. The idealist's point of view is the obverse of the naturalist's, and each must accost his side with a first love, before use has worn off the bloom and seduced their vision.

Goethe said of Aristotle that "he had better observed nature than any modern, but was too rash in his inferences and conclusions"; and he adds, "we must go to work slowly, and more indulgently with Nature, if we would get anything from her."

Inspired by his example of dealing thus reverently and lovingly with nature, the great naturalists of our time are reading secrets hitherto hidden from less careful and pious observers. If the results thus far have not satisfied the idealist, it becomes him to consider that his methods are the reverse of theirs, and that when they shall have tracked Life in its manifold shapes and modes of working in nature up to Spirit, their office is fulfilled, their work complete, and their discoveries are passed over to him for a higher generalization and genesis. "A physical delineation of nature," says Humboldt, "terminates at the point where the sphere of intellect begins, and a new world is opened to our view; it marks the limit, but does not pass it."

Whether man be the successor or predecessor of his inferiors in nature, is to be determined by exploring faithfully the realms of matter and of spirit alike, and complementing the former in the latter. Whether surveyed in order descending or ascending, in genesis or process, from the side of the idealist or of the naturalist, the keystone of the arch in either case is an ideal, underpropped by matter or upheld by mind.

"If men be worlds, there is in every one

Something to answer in fit proportion

All the world's riches, and in substance this,—

Person  his form's form, and soul's soul, is."

Man, the sum total of animals, transcends all in being a Person, a responsible creature. "The distinguishing mark," says Aristotle, "between man and the lower animals is this: that he alone is endowed with the power of knowing good and evil, justice and injustice, and it is a participation in this that constitutes a family and a city." Man is man in virtue of being a Person, a self-determining will, held accountable to a spiritual Ideal. To affirm that brute creatures are endowed with freedom and choice, the sense of responsibility, were to exalt them into a spiritual existence and personality; whereas, it is plain enough that they are not above deliberation and choice, but below it, under the sway of Fate, as men are when running counter to reason and conscience. The will bridges the chasm between man and brute, and frees the fated creature he were else. Solitary, not himself, the victim of appetite, inmate of the den, is man till freed from individualism, and delivered into his free Personality. "Ye must be born again."

The conflict between man's desires and satisfactions declares his defection from Personal holiness. While at one personally with himself, life suffices, his wants are seconded as they rise, and his self-respect preserved inviolate. But lapsed from personal rectitude, fallen out of and below himself, he is at variance with things around as within, his senses deceive, his will is divided, and he becomes the victim of duplicities, discontents, the prey of remorse.

"'Tis a miserable thing," says Glanvil, "to have been happy; and a self-contented wretchedness is a double one. Had felicity always been a stranger to humanity, our present misery had not been. And had not ourselves been the authors of our ruin, less. We might have been made unhappy; but since we are miserable, we chose it. He that gave our outward enjoyments might have taken them from us, but none could have robbed us of innocence but ourselves. While man knows no sin, he is ignorant of nothing that it imports humanity to know; but when he has sinned, the same transgression that opens his eyes to see his own shame, shuts them against most things else but that, and the newly-purchased misery. With the nakedness of his body, he sees that of his soul, and the blindness and disarray of his faculties to which his former innocence was a stranger; and that which shows them to him makes them. No longer the creature he was made, he loses not only his Maker's image, but his own. And does not much more transcend the creatures placed at his feet, than he comes short of his ancient self."

Whose the decree

Souls Magdalens must be

To know felicity,

The path to it

Through pleasure's pit,

Soft sin undress

Them of their holiness,—

Hath heaven so writ?

Happier the fate

That opes heaven's gate

With crystal key

Of purity,

And thus fulfils life's destiny.

55. Abigail Adams

Braintree, 25 July, 1775.

Dearest Friend,—I received yours of July 7th, for which I heartily thank you. It was the longest and best letter I have had; the most leisurely, and therefore the most sentimental. Previous to your last, I had written you, and made some complaints of you, but I will take them all back again. Only continue your obliging favors, whenever your time will allow you to devote one moment to your absent Portia.

This is the 25th of July. Gage has not made any attempts to march out since the battle at Charlestown. Our army is restless, and wish to be doing something to rid themselves and the land of the vermin and locusts which infest it. Since I wrote you last, the companies stationed upon the coast, both in this town, Weymouth, and Hingham, were ordered to Nantasket, to reap and bring off the grain, which they accomplished, all except a field or two which was not ripe; and having whaleboats, they undertook to go to the Lighthouse and set fire to it, which they effected in open day, and in fair sight of several men-of-war. Upon their return came down upon them eight barges, one cutter, and one schooner, all in battle-array, and poured whole broadsides upon them; but our men all reached the shore, and not one life lost, two only slightly wounded in their legs. They marched up a hill, and drew into order in hopes the marines would land; but they chose rather to return without a land engagement, though 't is thought they will burn the town down as soon as our forces leave it. I had this account from Captain Vinton, who with his company were there. These little skirmishes seem trifling, but they serve to inure our men, and harden them to danger. I hear the rebels are very wroth at the destruction of the Lighthouse.

There has been an offer from Gage to send the poor of Boston to Salem, by water, but not complied with on our part; they returned for answer, they would receive them upon the lines. Dr. Tufts saw a letter from Deacon Newall, in which he mentions the death of John Cotton; he says it is very sickly in town. Every fishing vessel is now obliged to enter and clear out, as though she was going a foreign voyage. No inhabitant is suffered to partake, but obliged to wait till the army is supplied, and then, if one [fish] remains, they are allowed to purchase it. An order has been given out in town that no person shall be seen to wipe his face with a white handkerchief. The reason I hear is, that it is a signal of mutiny. General Burgoyne lives in Mr. Sam Quincy's house. A lady, who lived opposite, says she saw raw meat cut and hacked upon her mahogany tables, and her superb damask curtain and cushions exposed to the rain, as if they were of no value. How much better do the Tories fare than the Whigs? I suppose this worthy, good man was put in with all confidence that nothing should be hurt.

I was very much pleased with General Lee's letter,[90] and really entertained a more favorable opinion of Burgoyne than I before had imbibed from his speech; but a late letter from London, written to Mr. Josiah Quincy, and, in case of his absence, to be opened either by you or Mr. Samuel Adams, or either of the Warrens, has left me no room to think that he is possessed either of generosity, virtue, or humanity. His character runs thus:—

"As to Burgoyne, I am not master of language sufficient to give you a true idea of the horrible wickedness of the man. His designs are dark; his dissimulation of the deepest dye; for, not content with deceiving mankind, he practices deceit on God himself, by assuming the appearance (like Hutchinson) of great attention to religious worship, when every action of his life is totally abhorrent to all ideas of true religion, virtue, or common honesty. An abandoned, infamous gambler, of broken fortune, and the worst and most detestable of the Bedford gang, who are wholly bent on blood, tyranny, and spoil, and therefore the darling favorite of our unrivaled ruler, Lord Bute."[91]

The character of Howe is not drawn much more favorably, but Clinton's general character very good, and 't is said he does not relish the service he is sent upon. I am ready to believe this of Clinton, as I have never heard of any speeches of his since his arrival, nor scarcely any mention of him. That such characters as Burgoyne and Howe should engage in such a cause is not to be wondered at; but it is really to be lamented, when a man possessed of one spark of virtue should be drawn aside, and disgrace himself and posterity by adding one more to the already infamous list. I suppose you have heard of Derby's arrival,[92] and the intelligence he brings. I could not refrain wishing them everlasting fetters; "the news received with some symptoms of pleasure," and "our friends increased," and a few more such sugar plums. Were they suffering as we are, could Americans sit thus coldly whilst Britons were bleeding? How is it possible that the love of gain and the lust of domination should render the human mind so callous to every principle of honor, generosity, and benevolence?

May that day be far distant from America, when "trade's unfeeling train" shall "usurp this land, and dispossess the swain."

"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;A breath can make them, as a breath has made;But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,When once destroyed, can never be supplied."

Your address meets with general approbation here; your petitioning the King again pleases (forgive me if I say the timid and the weak) those persons who were esteemed the lukewarm, and who think no works of supererogation can be performed to Great Britain; whilst others say you heap coals of fire upon the heads of your enemies. You know you are considered here as a most perfect body; if one member is by any means rendered incapable of acting, 't is supposed the deficiency will be made up. The query is, why your President left the Congress so long as to make it necessary to choose another member,[93]—whether he declined returning to you again.

I suppose you have a list of our Council. It was generally thought that Gage would make an attempt to come out either Election day or upon the Fast; but I could not believe we should be disturbed upon that day. Even "the devils believe and tremble," and I really believe they are more afraid of the Americans' prayers than of their swords. I could not bear to hear our inanimate old bachelor.[94]Mrs. Cranch and I took our chaise and went to hear Mr. Haven, of Dedham, and we had no occasion to repent eleven miles' ride; especially as I had the pleasure of spending the day with my namesake and sister delegate.[95] Why should we not assume your titles when we give you up our names? I found her comfortably situated in a little country cottage, with patience, perseverance, and fortitude for her companions, and in better health than she has enjoyed for many months past.

I fear General Thomas being overlooked, and Heath placed over him, will create much uneasiness. I know not who was to blame, but it is likely to make a great and fatal gap in the army. If Thomas resigns, all his officers resign; and Mr. Thomas cannot with honor hold under Heath. The camp will evince to every eye how good an officer he has been; but this is out of my sphere. I only say what others say, and what the general disposition of the people is.

I believe you will not complain that I do not write often enough, and at length enough. When you are tired, tell me. Pray make my compliments to Mr. Barrell for his great civility to Portia. I really feel very anxious at being exposed to any eyes but yours, whose partiality I have so often experienced to cover a multitude of faults, that I rely upon it with the utmost security. You will not fail letting me hear from you by every opportunity.

I need not say how much I want to see you, but no one will credit my story of your returning in a month. I hope to have the best of proofs to convince them.

It cannot need any to convince you how sincerely

I am your affectionate     Portia.

Footnotes:

[90]See Memoirs of the Life of the late Charles Lee, Esq., published in London in 1793, p. 323.

[91]It is scarcely necessary to point out the extravagance of this invective. It sounds very like Arthur Lee.

[92]Captain John Derby had just returned from his trip to Great Britain with the first news of the affair at Concord.

[93]This alludes to Peyton Randolph, who was suddenly called home to Virginia, on the 24th of May, leaving his place vacant. John Hancock was chosen to fill it. Mr. Randolph did return soon after, and died at Philadelphia in October.

[94]Anthony Wibird, the pastor of the parish of which Mr. Adams was a member.

[95]Mrs. Samuel Adams.