“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, CATEGORIES: Adams, Hannah, Illness, Medicine, Research


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