At midnight, in the month of June,
I stand beneath the mystic moon.
An opiate vapor, dewy, dim,
Exhales from out her golden rim,
And, softly dripping, drop by drop,
Upon the quiet mountain top,
Steals drowsily and musically
Into the universal valley.
The rosemary nods upon the grave;
The lily lolls upon the wave;
Wrapping the fog above its breast,
The ruin moulders into rest;
Looking like Lethe, see! the lake
A conscious slumber seems to take,
And would not, for the world, awake.
Edgar Allan Poe

232. Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams

June, 1778.

My dear Son,—'T is almost four months since you left your native land, and embarked upon the mighty waters, in quest of a foreign country. Although I have not particularly written to you since, yet you may be assured you have constantly been upon my heart and mind.

It is a very difficult task, my dear son, for a tender parent to bring her mind to part with a child of your years, going to a distant land;nor could I have acquiesced in such a separation under any other care than that of the most excellent parent and guardian who accompanied you. You have arrived at years capable of improving under the advantages you will be likely to have, if you do but properly attend to them. They are talents put into your hands, of which an account will be required of you hereafter; and being possessed of one, two, or four, see to it that you double your numbers.

The most amiable and most useful disposition in a young mind is diffidence of itself; and this should lead you to seek advice and instruction from him who is your natural guardian and will always counsel and direct you in the best manner, both for your present and future happiness. You are in possession of a natural good understanding, and of spirits unbroken by adversity and untamed with care. Improve your understanding by acquiring useful knowledge and virtue, such as will render you an ornament to society, an honor to your country, and a blessing to your parents. Great learning and superior abilities, should you ever possess them, will be of little value and small estimation, unless virtue, honor, truth, and integrity are added to them. Adhere to those religious sentiments and principles which were early instilled into your mind, and remember that you are accountable to your Maker for all your words and actions.

Let me enjoin it upon you to attend constantly and steadfastly to the precepts and instructions of your father, as you value the happiness of your mother and your own welfare. His care and attention to you render many things unnecessary for me to write, which I might otherwise do; but the inadvertency and heedlessness of youth require line upon line and precept upon precept, and, when enforced by the joint efforts of both parents, these will, I hope, have a due influence upon your conduct; for, dear as you are to me, I would much rather you should have found your grave in the ocean you have crossed, or that any untimely death should crop you in your infant years, than see you an immoral, profligate, or graceless child.

You have entered early in life upon the great theatre of the world, which is full of temptations and vice of every kind. You are not wholly unacquainted with history, in which you have read of crimes which your inexperienced mind could scarcely believe credible. You have been taught to think of them with horror, and to view vice as

"a monster of so frightful mien That, to be hated, needs but to be seen."

Yet you must keep a strict guard upon yourself, or the odious monster will soon lose its terror by becoming familiar to you. The modern history of our own times furnishes as black a list of crimes as can be paralleled in ancient times, even if we go back to Nero, Caligula, or Cæsar Borgia. Young as you are, the cruel war into which we have been compelled by the haughty tyrant of Britain and the bloody emissaries of his vengeance may stamp upon your mind this certain truth, that the welfare and prosperity of all countries, communities, and, I may add, individuals, depend upon their morals. That nation to which we were once united, as it has departed from justice, eluded and subverted the wise laws which formerly governed it, and suffered the worst of crimes to go unpunished, has lost its valor, wisdom, and humanity, and, from being the dread and terror of Europe, has sunk into derision and infamy.

But, to quit political subjects, I have been greatly anxious for your safety, having never heard of the frigate since she sailed, till, about a week ago, a New York paper informed that she was taken and carried into Plymouth. I did not fully credit this report, though it gave me much uneasiness. I yesterday heard that a French vessel was arrived at Portsmouth, which brought news of the safe arrival of the Boston ; but this wants confirmation. I hope it will not be long before I shall be assured of your safety. You must write me an account of your voyage, of your situation, and of everything entertaining you can recollect.

Be assured I am most affectionately yours,——.

Madras, June, 1842

We quitted England in the course of March, 1842, and reached Madras in the month of June of the same year. I shall give but a brief sketch of our voyage.

Soon after leaving England, having arrived near Ushant, situated on the north-west coast of France, a tremendous storm came on; the waves rose high and washed the deck, while the ship itself pitched to such a degree that the very dinner rolled off the table; in the night my wife was tossed out of bed, and thrown to the other side of the cabin. We were in the greatest danger of being drowned. I started out of my hammock, but was unable to stand upright. Towards morning, however, the wind abated.

After this storm had passed, the ship went forward rapidly until we reached the equator, where she lay becalmed for several days. The heat at this point of our voyage was excessive; we used to lie about on the deck almost all night, taking care, however, to cover our faces if the moon was shining; for it is said that, in these hot climates, if any one goes to sleep under its light, he is in danger of losing his sight, and even his life.[1]

We now proceeded more slowly until we had rounded the Cape of Good Hope, where another storm came on. Every sail was taken in; yet, without their assistance, we ran, in two days, 545 miles. The waves rose as high as mountains, and the ship seemed to toil up one side, and to send the bowsprit up into the air, then, plunging down again, seemed to bury it in the sea. I was standing with my wife at the door of the dinner cabin when a large wave burst in through the upper part of the ship, flooded the room, and shivered one of our large boats to atoms.

As we were passing the equator, too, we suffered from a tremendous thunderstorm. The heat was excessive: not a breath of wind stirred the air. About twelve o'clock a little cloud, about the size of a man's hand, rose in the horizon: gradually it spread until it hung like a huge black mass over the ship. I stood and watched its increase, when suddenly a vivid flash of lightning shot from the heavens, and almost blinded me. At the same moment a crash of thunder bellowed round the ship like the noise of a thousand cannons. The lightning slightly struck one of our passengers and the mate, but did not inflict any serious injury. The rain now descended: not a sharp thick shower, such as you may witness in England, but as it were all in one mass, and soon every trace of the storm passed away; the sun burst forth, and the ship and sails were dried in the course of a few minutes.

Calm weather was ours now until we reached Madras. During our voyage we observed many curious kinds of birds, the principal of which was the stormy petrel. These creatures quit the land, and fly many thousand miles over the sea in the track of ships, following them by night and by day. The whale-bird is about the size of a thrush, white in colour, and may be seen hovering about the great fish from which it derives its name.


The Cape pigeon is a very beautiful creature, about the size of our own pigeon, white, with black spots on its body, and a blue, glossy head. We several times amused ourselves with catching them; and the way we contrived was, to let fly from our hands a piece of thread several yards in length, which was carried out by the wind, and the pigeon, flying across it, became entangled in it. In fluttering about in the endeavour to extricate itself, it became only more firmly secured; and then, drawing the string towards us, we caught the bird, and, placing it on the deck, suffered it to walk about. The legs of this pigeon are so peculiarly formed that they are unable to spring up from the ground, and can only rise from the crest of a wave, or throw themselves from the edge of a rock. The albatross is a large white bird, which has been known to measure fourteen or sixteen feet from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. We used to catch them sometimes by casting out a hook and line, as for a fish.

The Cape hen, which follows the ship in flocks, is large and black, measuring about ten feet from wing to wing. Occasionally we caught a glimpse of the tropic-bird, called by the sailors the boatswain, because of its long pointed tail resembling the pigtail which these men used formerly to wear.


The booby is a large brown bird, about as big as a common hen. I must not forget to tell you something about the pilot-fish. Every shark, whether old or young, is accompanied by a little fish about twelve inches long, and striped like a zebra, which keeps always near the nose of the shark, and seems to guide him to his food.

As I have in this place said so much about birds and fishes, I may as well tell you a little about the animals here in Madras. The first I shall mention is the cow, by which all the carts and many of the carriages are drawn along—sometimes, too, very swiftly. They are much smaller than English cows, and have a hump on their backs. Camels may be seen in the streets patiently carrying heavy loads of goods: the people, however, treat them very cruelly.

As I was going to the cathedral last Sunday I saw a mungoose, a little green and yellow animal, something between a ferret and a squirrel. It is said that when bitten by a snake it runs and rubs the place over with the juice of a certain plant, which immediately cures it.

My samee, or native manservant, who is a Malay, gave me one about as large as a kitten, and quite as playful. It will attain to the size of a cat; it follows me about, sleeps on the foot of the bed, and if a snake comes into the room will instantly kill it. When an Indian mother wishes to go out, she need only just tell the mungoose to mind the cradle, and then he lies down by it, and suffers neither man nor reptile to approach. This creature, once tamed, is quite wretched out of human society.

The cobra de capello is one of the most poisonous snakes with which we are acquainted. I saw a girl playing with some of them the other day, but their fangs had been extracted.

There are a great number of beautiful birds here; and green paroquets can be purchased for three pence, while an avadavad costs only one penny. The cock avadavad should, when kept, be confined along with twelve hens in a cage.

The large carrion-crow is as common here as the sparrow is in England, and is so tame that they fly close to the houses, and even look in at the windows. Nobody is allowed to shoot or hurt them, because they make themselves useful in carrying away all the dirt from the town. Large vultures are almost as numerous.

I must not forget to mention the mosquito, which is a gnat exactly like those you see in England. Great numbers fly about all the night, and some people suffer much from their bite, but they never touch me.

The flowers here are beautiful, and some smell exceedingly sweet. There are two tall trees, as large as elms, covered with red and yellow flowers about the size of a plate. In the hedges, too, we see very splendid cactuses. I shall be able, however, to tell you more about these things when I have been here longer.

The fruits are exquisite, but it is dangerous to eat them in any quantity. For a pine-apple nearly as big as your head we pay only two anas—that is, three pence; but they are not exactly like those you buy in England. Here they are quite sweet, and soft and juicy as a peach. The mango is a yellow fruit about the size of a large orange, the inside of which is full of a very rich sort of custard. The plantain resembles a dahlia-root, and has very much the same taste as cheese. The guava is in appearance like an apple, but possesses the flavour of a strawberry. There are several other kinds of fruit, but I have not time to describe them now. I am very fond of the pine-apple and the orange, but do not care for any of the others.


Mother-of-pearl may be bought very cheap here. It is found in a particular kind of oyster-shell, of which I can get three or four for a halfpenny. Though the heat here is excessive, I do not suffer from it: the thermometer in the large room where I am sitting is now 93½°. The heat causes a kind of rash called the prickle-heat, which is very disagreeable. The sensation to which it gives rise is much the same as would be caused by running needles into the body. In every room, hanging from the ceiling, is a large fan, called a punkah, about four times the size of the door, and a boy is continually employed in swinging it backward and forward, and the current of air thus created cools the whole room. The windows are without glass. Venetian blinds serve instead, and sometimes mats, which are kept constantly wetted. The water soon turns into steam, and, evaporating very fast, carries off with it the latent heat.

When my wife goes to sleep, the little black boy, with no covering but a pair of drawers and a cap, stands near and fans her, while every now and then he sprinkles her face with water as she reclines on the sofa.


The people here are nearly all black, and wear very little clothing. The population is extensive. At dinner we have generally eight or ten men to wait upon us, but they are slow in their movements, and very lazy. The Arabian Nights mentions the fakirs. I have seen some here that have let their feet grow in one position until they cannot move them.


Some of the inhabitants of Madras are afflicted with a curious kind of disease, in which one leg swells to the size of a man's body, while the other is no thicker than the limb of an infant.

When you meet in the street with a native who is at all acquainted with you, or who wishes to express his thanks for anything, instead of merely saying "Thank you," or "How do you do?" he presses his hands upon his eyes, and says "Salaam, sahib." Some English persons, on going out for a walk, may be seen to carry a whip, with which, if the natives are at all troublesome, they lash them; but this is a cruel practice. Ladies are prevented by the heat from walking abroad here, and gentlemen seldom do so, but go about in what are called palanquins, which I will describe hereafter. When we ride out, however swiftly we go, a man called a coolie runs by the side of the carriage. We are obliged to get up here at about half-past five in the morning, and then we go out for a drive, or in the palanquin; at half-past seven the sun is too powerful even for that exercise: we then return home, take a cold bath, and breakfast. At half-past six in the evening we are enabled to go out again a little. In the middle of the day we take a nap.


[1]It is doubted whether the injury does not rather arise from the damp night-air than from the effect of the moon-beams.