Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

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Letter of John Adams

on hearing a Southern Preacher


4 August. [1776]

[1] Went this morning to the Baptist meeting, in hopes of hearing Mr. Stillman, but was disappointed. He was there, but another gentleman preached. His action was violent to a degree bordering on fury. His gestures unnatural and distorted. Not the least idea of grace in his motions, or elegance in his style. His voice was vociferous, and boisterous, and his composition almost wholly destitute of ingenuity. I wonder extremely at the fondness of our people for scholars educated at the southward, and for southern preachers.

[2] There is no one thing in which we [New Englanders] excel them [Southerners] more, than in our university, our scholars and preachers. Particular gentlemen here, who have improved upon their education by travel, shine; but in general, old Massachusetts outshines her younger sisters [sisters = states]. Still in several particulars they [the English] have more wit than we. They have societies, the philosophical society particularly, which excites a scientific emulation, and propagates their fame. If ever I get through this scene of politics and war, I will spend the remainder of my days in endeavoring to instruct my country men, in the art of making the most of their abilities and virtues ; an art, which they have, hitherto, too much neglected. A philosophical society shall be established at Boston, if I have wit and address enough to accomplish it, sometime or other. . . .

[3] My countrymen want art and address [skill & preparedness]. They want [lack] knowledge of the world. They want the exterior and superficial accomplishment of gentlemen, upon which the world has set so high a value. In solid abilities and real virtues, they vastly excel, in general, any people upon this continent. Our New England people are awkward and bashful, yet they are pert, ostentatious and vain ; a mixture, which excites ridicule and gives disgust. They have not the faculty of showing themselves to the best advantage, nor the art of concealing this faculty; an art and faculty which some people possess in the highest degree. Our deficiencies in these respects are owing wholly to the little intercourse we have with strangers, and to our inexperience in the world. These imperfections must be remedied, for New England must produce the heroes, the statesmen, the philosophers, or America will make no great figure, for some time.

[4] Our army is rather sickly at New York, and we live in daily expectation of hearing of some great event. May God Almighty grant it may be prosperous for America. Hope is an anchor and a cordial. Disappointment, however, will not disconcert us.

[5] If you will come to Philadelphia in September, I will stay as long as you please. I should be as proud and happy as a bridegroom.


John Adams


Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife. Edited by His Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume I, 1841