“merit; not tittles, gave a man preeminence in our Country”

“I long for the day which will give us land,” ABIGAIL ADAMS says in the journal she kept for her sister MARY CRANCH. The ship Active, bearing her to England, is nearing the end of its journey. But Abigail still has time to describe a passenger she heartily dislikes, not only for his politeness to her merely because of her connections but also because he is haughty and overly impressed by titles and position in general. She proudly notes how mortifying it must have been to the class-conscious British to be defeated by a collection of “mere mecanicks and husband men”.

fryday,16 July
We have an other wet misty day; the Cabbin so damp that I dare not set in it; am therefore obliged confined as it is to keep in my own little room; and upon my bed. I long for the day which will give us land. . . . We have but one passenger which we should have been willing to have been without; I have no particular reason to dislike him, as he is studiously complasant to me; but I know his politeness to me, is not personally upon my own account; but because of my connection which gives me importance sufficient to intitle me to his notice. Nabby [the Adams’s daughter Abigail known as Nabby] says he is exactly Such a Character as Mr. Anger [Oakes Angier studied law with John Adams and remained his friend for many years; Abigail disliked him.] I realy think there is a stricking resemblance; he is always inquiring who was such a General? What was his origin and rank in Life? I have felt a Disposition to quarrel with him several times; but have restraind myself; and only observed to him mildly, that merit; not tittles, gave a man preeminence in our Country, that I did not doubt it was a mortifying circumstance to the British nobility, to find themselves so often conquerd by mecanicks and mere husband men—but that we esteemed it our Glory to draw such characters not only into the field, but into the Senate; and I believed no one would deny but what they had shone in both. All our passengers enjoyed this conversation, and the Gentleman was civil enough to drop the Subject, but the venom Spits out very often; yet the creature is sensible and entertaining when upon indifferent Subjects: he is a haughty Scotchman. He hates the French, and upon all occasions ridicules them and their Country. I fancy from his haughty airs, that his own rank in Life has not been superiour to those whom he affects to dispise. He is not a man of liberal Sentiments, and is less beloved than any passenger we have on Board. A mans humour contributes much to the making him agreable, or other ways, dark and sour humours, especially those which have a spice of malevolence in them are vastly dissagreable. Such men have no musick in their Souls. I believe he would hardly be so complasant if he knew how meanly I thought of him; but he deserves it all, his whole countanance shews his Heart.

“Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 6 – 30 July 1784,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed September 29, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-05-02-0204. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 5, October 1782 – November 1784, ed. Richard Alan Ryerson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993, pp. 358–386.]


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