“I cannot O! I cannot be reconcil’d to living as I have done for 3 years past… Will you let me try to soften, if I cannot wholy releave you, from your Burden of Cares and perplexities?” So begins Abigail Adams’s correspondence to her husband in these volumes: a plea to end their long separation, as John Adams represented the United States in Europe while Abigail tended to family and farm in Massachusetts, and passed on to John crucial political information from Congress.
In October 1782, the Adams family was as widely scattered as it would ever be, with young John Quincy Adams in St. Petersburg, John at The Hague, and Abigail in Braintree with her daughter and younger sons. With the summer of 1784, however, Abigail would have her fondest wish, as most of the family reunited to spend nearly a year together in Europe. As the Adams family traveled, and as the children came of age, so their correspondence expanded to include an ever larger and more fascinating range of Cultural topics and international figures. The record of this remarkable expansion, these volumes document John Adams’s diplomatic triumphs, his wife and daughter’s participation in the cosmopolitan scenes of Paris and London, and his son John Quincy’s travels in Europe and America. These pages also welcome Thomas Jefferson, who soon became one of Abigail’s closest friends, into the family correspondence. From the intimacies of the children’s education, sentimental and worldly, to the details of the firm friendship between Abigail and Madame Lafayette, to the grand drama of Edmund Burke and William Pitt the Younger debating in Parliament, the contents of these letters draw an incredibly rich picture of international life in the 1780s and an incomparable portrait of America’s first family of politics and letters.
Superbly edited, beautifully printed and magnificently written, in large part by John and Abigail Adams themselves, this saga of private lives in times of great public peril is as moving and dramatic as anything that has been put between covers in recent years.
Here even the Revolution is in the background, subordinate to the immediate business of life. There are letters among John and his relatives; there are also many back and forth between Abigail and her cousins. But the heart of this collection—and heart is the only word for it—is the long interchange between John and Abigail.
Taken together, the four volumes now in print are as full a domestic correspondence as now exists for eighteenth-century America, and the wisdom of bringing them out as a separate series becomes apparent. The value of the correspondence lies accordingly in the opportunity it offers for probing the character of human relations, especially domestic relations during the period… [The editors] supply us with the information for understanding the tone as well as the content of the letters. And the index to the volumes is a work of art in itself.
Abigail Adams, as these volumes suggest, was the nation’s ‘First Lady,’ not only of her husband’s ill-starred presidency, but of this epoch of American history… She was, in sum, one of the superb letter writers in our history; her smooth-flowing prose sparkles, revealing repeatedly the high spirits, the wit, the high intelligence of this remarkable woman.
It is of course a familiar tribute to this enterprise to say that it disinters John Adams the man and gives him a place in history at least equal to that of any other Founding Father. In fact by publishing the family letters as a distinct series the editors enhance still more the vigorous personalities, human reactions, and often vehement opinions of their subjects.
- 621 pages
- 6-1/2 x 9-3/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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