- Historic Sites
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
Lord Carmarthen lived around the corner, and up the street on the Grosvenor Square side were Lady Lacy Lincoln, Lord North (the former Prime Minister), the Duchess of Bedford, and a titled lady whose name the agent could not recall but “whose husband ran a Pen through his Nose the other day.” Lady Lacy Lincoln lived next door, and because her house stood closer to the street than the Adamses’ she could look from her side parlor-window into their front drawing-room windows. “She peeps at us,” Amelia wrote John Quincy, “and we cannot do less you know than return the compliment.”
Lady Lincoln peeped, but neither she nor any of the titled ladies and gentlemen on Grosvenor Square came to call. This caused no heartache to Miss Adams, who had a low opinion of British society. One evening the Dutch minister, D. W. Lynden van Blitterswyck, called about eight o’clock “and told us he had just come from breakfasting with the Dutchess of Bedford, to which he was invited for four o’clock —ridiculous beings these are. I was told the other day of an invitation which a Gentleman had to dine with the Duke and Dutchess of Devonshire at Eleven o’clock at Night .”
The Dutch minister, whom Amelia described as “an odd Womanish kind of a Man,” frequently dropped in at the American legation to take a cup of tea in the evening, but she did not much enjoy his visits, because “he is profuse in nothing but Compliments. … and his ruffles look as if he did not often pay for their washing.”
One evening in mid-July the Spanish minister, Del Campo, came to tea. Amelia noted that his eyes were “squint, very black, and sharp enough to be agreeable.” His sharp eyes were very probably looking for some connection between the American legation and Francisco de Miranda, whose intimacy with Colonel Smith had undoubtedly been reported to him. Miranda had anticipated such a visit and had been careful to avoid the Adamses. Years later, Adams heard that “his apology for avoiding my house was, that if he had been seen there, the Spanish ambassador might have been informed of it, and … procured from court an order for his arrest.” At the time, Adams did not even know that Miranda was in London, much less that there could have been any suspicion in Del Campo’s sharp glance. Amelia merely concluded that the Spanish minister was “a very ugly Man.”
On the whole, Adams thought the diplomatic corps in London much inferior to those at Dutch and French courts. Only the French had ambassadorial rank. All the ministers came to call, but without their wives, and no invitations to the American ladies were forthcoming from this quarter in these early months in London when anti-American feeling, fanned by the newspapers, seemed to run higher than it had even during the Revolution. Amelia reported to her brother that “Your father says he observes a fear in every one of the Foreign Ministers of being known to have any intimacy with him least they should be mobbed.”
Into the social vacuum created at the American legation by the disdain of the British nobility and the timidity of the diplomatic corps stepped the large American colony in London.
A famous American-born London hostess gave the first dinner party in honor of the Adamses. She was Mrs. John Paradise, a Virginia heiress. As little Lucy Ludwell, she had been sent to England at the age of nine to be educated, and stayed on, marrying an Englishman partly of Greek descent and maintaining a salon at her house in Cavendish Square. Her specialty was her regular Sunday evening “musical rout,” to which the Adamses promptly received a blanket invitation.
On these evenings Amelia and her mother were accompanied only by Colonel Smith, because after the first dinner party at Cavendish Square John Adams refused to return. He never questioned Mrs. Paradise’s ardent Americanism, and he undoubtedly appreciated the efforts of her French chef, for he disliked British cooking, once warning his family that they would “all soon be sick with eating raw meat”; but Mrs. Paradise must have seemed to him, as she had to Dr. Samuel Johnson and Mrs. Thrale, a “tiresome silly woman.” Amelia’s pen failed when she attempted to describe her: “the only observation that I could make upon Mrs. P——when I first saw her was—that I had never seen anything like her before.” Fanny Burney pictured Lucy Paradise at one of her routs wearing an extravagantly high headdress of feathers, flowers, jewels, and gewgaws and a dress “trimmed with beads, silver, persian sashes, and all sorts of fine fancies; her face is thin and fiery, and her whole manner spoke a lady all alive.” In contrast to her lively and fiery face her voice was gentle and her manner deliberate, even when she went into one of her spectacular rages. With unruffled composure on one occasion she poured the contents of a scalding tea urn over a man who had offended her; on another, she calmly sailed across a ballroom and resoundingly slapped her daughter for dancing awkwardly.
John Paradise appeared to be as enthusiastic an American as his wife. He had called on the Adamses while they were still at the Bath Hotel, ingratiating himself with them by bringing old General Oglethorpe, first governor of Georgia, now eighty-eight but still, Amelia noted, “sprightly and chearfull.” After the family moved to Grosvenor Square, Paradise called two or three times a week.