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Miss Adams In Love
Eighteenth-century equivalents of “Yankee go home!” greeted the Adams family when, in 1785, they arrived in London. Nevertheless, there were certain delightful compensations—especially for an eligible young lady
February 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 2
There was an anguished parting, for both had a presentiment that they would never see each other again; the girl, usually so self-contained, was in tears when she went aboard ship. The only comfort was her father’s promise that if they were of the same mind at the end of a year, Royall could join her in Europe and they could be married. In the meantime, they could write to each other. From the time she arrived in Europe, thick packets of letters went back to Royall regularly; her greatest delight in the new sights and scenes of London and Paris, in the happy reunion with her father and brother, was in sharing them with him. And then, like any eighteen-year-old in love, she began to live for the mail; but months went by and there was no letter from Royall. It was well into the winter at Auteuil before she began to hear from him, and his notes were strangely brief and unsatisfactory. She suffered in silence—it was not in her nature to confide in her family—but her mother saw her dejection deepening during those last months at Auteuil and became so concerned that she herself wrote a friendly, gently chiding letter to Royall on May 9.
Abigail hoped that the London venture would lift Amelia out of her depression. There they would live more in the world than they had at suburban Auteuil, where, except for obligatory dinners with the other foreign ministers, they had gone little into society. In London they would live in the city; there would be the theatres and shopping, and the bliss of speaking English; and there would be a large American colony, which included a beloved young cousin, Charles Storer, to take John Quincy’s place as an escort. But first there would be the presentation at court—an ordeal to be sure, but still a diversion. Amelia had already become interested enough in it to write to her cousin for advice on what to wear.
A continuing diversion would be writing letters home to her brother John Quincy. On his departure from Paris he had extracted from his sister a promise to write him a day-by-day account of the life of the first official American family in London. “No sentiment!” he warned her sternly. Sentiment he could get from books; he wanted only a plain relation of facts. He wanted “all the minutiae. What did the king say? What the queen?”
Thanks to her promise, which she dutifully kept, Amelia will be our main narrator of the adventures of the Adams family in London. And as time goes on, the light-hearted tone of her first impressions of Europe returns, because Amelia—all unaware as she sits pensively in the carriage on the road to Calais—is journeying toward a new adventure of the heart.
“I’ll tell you what, I like the King better than the Queen,” Amelia wrote John Quincy.
Within two weeks after their arrival John Adams and his family were presented at court, and along with them the new secretary of legation. Colonel William Stephens Smith of New York, former aide to General Washington and veteran of seven years’ gallant service in the Revolution. None of the Adamses had met him before they encountered him in London. John Adams had heard with some dismay that he was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, a hereditary order founded by officers of the Revolutionary War that smacked too much of aristocracy to please Adams. But when the Colonel called upon the new official family at their suite at the Bath Hotel on the evening they arrived, May 26, he assured the Adamses that he had never worn the badge of the society and that he had joined it out of respect for George Washington, its first president. The dashing young officer was a tall, erect man of thirty with a dark complexion, a long, high-bridged nose, and boyish blue eyes; and was so well-mannered and agreeable that, as Abigail Adams reported to Thomas Jefferson, they anticipated “much pleasure” in his society. Next day he accompanied the Minister on his first official visit to Lord Carmarthen, the British Foreign Secretary, and the presentations were arranged.
John Adams’ turn came first, at a private audience on June i. Face to face with George III, he saw before him a stout, middle-aged man with a red face and white eyebrows, who seemed almost as agitated as Adams himself. The King listened with obvious emotion while the American with a tremor in his voice addressed him in felicitous words, ending, “I shall esteem myself the happiest of men if I can be instrumental in recommending my country more and more to your Majesty’s royal benevolence, and of restoring an entire esteem, confidence, and affection, or in better words, the old good nature and the old good humor, between people who, though separated by an ocean, and under different governments, have the same language, a similar religion, and kindred blood!” And the King replied, “Sir, your words have been so proper upon this occasion, that I cannot but say I am gratified that you are the man chosen to be the Minister.”