Archive for the ‘Adams, Hannah’ Category

“feast of reason and the flow of soul”

HANNAH ADAMS, one of the first professional writers in the United States, who has been the subject of the last several posts, had concerns about providing for her declining years, especially since her eyes were failing. Her fears were alleviated by the largesse of friends who settled an annuity on her. She was also gratified by the opportunity, afforded her by a friend, to use the library at the Boston Athenaeum.

Amidst that large and valuable collection of books, I found an inexhaustible source of information and entertainment: and among other advantages, I found a few literary friends, in whose conversation I enjoyed ‘the feast of reason and the flow of soul.’

Hannah Adams’ short memoir is followed by “Additional Notices by a Friend,” that friend being Mrs. H.F.S. Lee. It was noted by Mrs. Lee that Hannah had the “very uncommon faculty . . . of comprehending, and making her own, the information a book contained. . . ” Another person noted this ability. Hannah received an invitation

to pass a week or two at . . . President Adams’s. at Quincy, with the offer of his library as an inducement to accept the invitation. He was much struck with the rapidity with which she went through folios of the venerable Fathers; and made some pleasant remarks in consequence, which induced her to speak of their contents. He then found, that, while she had been turning over leaf after leaf, she had been culling all that could be useful in her labors.

Hannah Adams dedicated her book View of Religions to John Adams. The two corresponded; in one of Adams’ letters to her he remarked:

You and I are undoubtedly related by birth; and although we were both “born in humble obscurity,” yet I presume neither of us have any cause to regret that circumstance. If I could ever suppose that family pride was in any case excusable, I should think a descent from a line of virtuous, independent New England farmers, for one hundred and sixty years, was a better foundation for it, than a descent through royal or titled scoundrels ever since the flood.

Hannah Adams died in November 1831 at the age of seventy-six.

A Memoir of Miss Hannah Adams 1755-1831 (Boston: Grey and Bowen, 1832), pp 38, 73-74, 90.

posted March 21st, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Hannah,Adams, John

“by applying laudanum and sea water . . . “

As writer and historian HANNAH ADAMS says in her Memoir “It was poverty, not ambition, or vanity, that first induced me to become an author, or rather a compiler. But I now formed the flattering idea, that I might not only help myself, but benefit the public.” She set out to write a history of New England.

I selected this subject, rather from public utility, than for my own gratification. My object was to render my compilation useful to those in early life, who had not time or opportunity to peruse the large mass of materials, which . . . lay scattered in many publications. I knew my work would require much reading upon dry subjects, such as ancient news prints, state papers, &c. But I wrote for bare subsistence, and never wished to gain anything from the pubic which I had not at least earned by laborious investigation. I also considered, that attention to such an antipoetical subject would have a tendency to keep my mind in a more healthy state, than the perusal of works which are calculated to excite the feelings.

Hannah did extensive research, examining records and old manuscripts, traveling to cities where they were housed. She drove herself hard, writing early and late during one winter. She found that her eyesight began to fail suddenly and she was obliged to stop work. She consulted several doctors.

The gloomy apprehension of being totally deprived of my sight was distressing beyond description. I not only anticipated the misfortune of being obliged forever to relinquish those literary pursuits which had constituted so much of my enjoyment during life, and was at this time my only resource for a subsistence. . . . At length, by the advice of a respectable friend, I applied to Dr. Jeffries; and by assiduously following his prescription for about two years, I partially recovered my sight. For the encouragement of those who are troubled with similar complaints, I would mention, that when I first consulted the doctor, he had not any expectation my eyes would recover so as to enable me to make the use of them I have since done. But by applying laudanum and sea water several times in the course of a day, for two years, I recovered so far as to resume my studies; and by employing an amanuensis to assist me in transcribing my manuscript, I was enabled to print the work in 1799.

Hannah was careful in her work to give credit where it was due.

Preciously to putting the copy to the press, I consulted all the living authors, and showed them the use I had made of their works in my compilation, and they did not make any objection. As my eyes were still weak, I could not bestow the same attention in condensing the last part of my History, as the first; and consequently the History of the American Revoluton was much more prolix than I originally intended. In giving an account of the war, my ignorance of military terms rendered it necessary to transcribe more from Dr. [David] Ramsay’s History, that I had done in any other part of the work. I therefore wrote an apology to the doctor, and had the satisfaction of receiving in return a very interesting letter from Mrs. Ramsay, expressing her approbation of my work, and inclosing a bill of ten dollars.

Although she had intended to solicit subscriptions to defray the cost of printing. the problem with her eyes prevented her from doing so. She had to publish the work entirely at her own expense.

A Memoir of Miss Hannah Adams 1755-1831 (Boston: Grey and Bowen, 1832), pp 22-27.

posted March 17th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Hannah,Illness,Medicine,Research

“my happiness chiefly consisted in literary pursuits”

In her Memoir, HANNAH ADAMS discussed other influences on her life and education. After her mother and a beloved aunt died, and her father’s failure in trade, she described what her life was like and how she found ways to expand her knowledge despite her lack of means.

My life passed in seclusion, with gloomy prospects before me, and surrounded with various perplexities from which I could not extricate myself. The solitude in which I lived was, however, to me preferable to society in general; and to that, and to my natural singularity, I must impute the awkwardness of manners, of which I never could divest myself at an advanced period of life. A consciousness of this awkwardness produced a dislike to the company of strangers. those who have been accustomed to general society when young, can scarcely imagine the trembling timidity I felt, when introduced to my superiors in circumstances and education. I, however, enjoyed society upon a small scale. I had a few dear friends (for novels had taught me to be very romantic,) who were chiefly in indigent circumstances, and like myself had imbibed a taste for reading, and were particularly fond of poetry and novels. Most of them wrote verses, which were read and admired by the whole little circle. Our mutual love of literature, want of fortune, and indifference to the society of those whose minds were wholly uncultivated, served to cement a union between us, which was interrupted only by the removal of parties to distant places, and dissolved only by their death. . . .
Still, however, I was blessed with a sister of similar tastes and sentiments, but very different in her disposition. I was warm and irritable in my temper; she, placid and even. I was fluctuating and undecided: she, steady and judicious. I was extremely timid; she blended softness with courage and fortitude. I was inclined to be melancholy, though sometimes in high spirits; she was uniformly serene and cheerful. I placed the strongest reliance upon her judgment, and as she was older than myself, she seemed the maternal friend as well as the best of sisters. In short,”she was my guide, my friend, my earthly all.
As I was too feeble to engage in any laborious employments, I found considerable leisure for reading; and as my happiness chiefly consisted in literary pursuits, I was very desirous of learning the rudiments of Latin, Greek, geography, and logic. Some gentlemen who boarded at my father’s offered to instruct me in these branches of learning gratis, and I pursued these studies with indescribable pleasure and avidity. I still, however, sensibly felt the want of a more systemic education. . . . Yet as I always read with great rapidity, perhaps few of my sex have perused more books at the age of twenty than I had. Yet my reading was very desultory, and novels engaged too much of my attention. Though my seclusion from the world preserved me from many temptations which are incident to young people, I was perhaps more exposed to errors of the understanding, than those who in early life have mixed more with the world. . . .

A Memoir of Miss Hannah Adams 1755-1831 (Boston: Grey and Bowen, 1832), pp 6-9.

posted March 14th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Hannah,Education

Hannah Adams

HANNAH ADAMS is not related to the famous founder or his wife who have received so much attention. Born in 1755 in Medfield, Massachusetts, to Eleanor Clark and Thomas Adams, Hannah Adams led a sheltered life in an upper-class family because of what she termed “a feeble constitution.” Possessing a brilliant mind she was educated at home, as were many young women of those times, seeking enlightenment and pleasure in books: histories, poetry and novels. Her mother died when she was ten and, after her father’s business failed, she was forced to support herself. As sewing provided an insufficient income, she turned to writing, history in particular, becoming one of the first professional writers in the United States. Her books included a histories of New England, the Jews, and several religious works, among others. She was the first woman to be allowed into the Boston Athenaeum. Remaining single all her life, in 1832 she wrote her Memoirs. This work is a wonderful source of insights not only into her life but also into the times in which she lived. Here is what she had to say about her education.

My health did not . . . admit of attending school with the children in the neighborhood where I resided. The country schools, at that time, were kept but a few months in the year, and all that was then taught in them was reading, writing and arithmetic. In the summer, the children were instructed by females in reading, sewing and other kinds of work. The books chiefly made use of were the Bible and Psalter. . . . The disadvantages of my early education I have experienced during life; and among various others, the acquiring a very faulty pronunciation; a habit contracted so early, that I cannot wholly rectify it in later years.
In my early years I was extremely timid, and averse from appearing in company. Indeed, I found but few with whom I could happily associate. My life, however, was not devoid of enjoyment. The first strong propensity of my mind which I can recollect, was an ardent curiosity, and desire to acquire knowledge. I remember that my first idea of the happiness of Heaven was, of a place where we should find our thirst for knowledge fully gratified. From my predominant taste I was induced to apply to reading, and as my father had a considerable library, I was enabled to gratify my inclination. I read with avidity a variety of books, previously to my mind’s being sufficiently matured, and strengthened, to make a proper selection. I was passionately fond of novels; and, as I lived in a state of seclusion, I acquired false ideas of life. The ideal world which my imagination formed was very different from the real. My passions were naturally strong, and this kind of reading heightened my sensibility, by calling it forth to realize scenes of imaginary distress. I was also an enthusiastic admirer of poetry; and as my memory, at an early period, was very tenacious, I committed much of the writings of my favorite poets to memory, such as Milton, Thompson, Young, &c. I did not, however, neglect the study of history and biography, in each of which kind of reading I found an inexhaustible fund to feast my mind, and gratify my curiosity.

A Memoir of Miss Hannah Adams 1755-1831 (Boston: Grey and Bowen, 1832), pages 3-5.

posted March 10th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Hannah,Education

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