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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
They heard from him in the middle of September, a letter from Berlin to John Adams saying that as soon as the military reviews at Berlin and Potsdam were over, about September 20, he would immediately return to London—via Paris. Though he shuddered “at the idea of trespassing too far upon your indulgence,” he knew Adams would make every allowance when he considered that his Secretary has “passed the period of ridiculous dissipation” and was “in pursuit of knowledge and improvement.” The same mail brought a letter to Mrs. Adams asking her to be his advocate if John Adams thought his absence was too long. “What will you tell him?—can you say with Stern that it is a quiet Journey of the heart in pursuit of those affections which make us love each other and the world better than we do, or will you say he is flying from——? hush madam—not a lisp.” But he would not dictate to her; whatever she said and whatever she did, he would subscribe to it; and he added, “I hope both as a young Politician and as a Soldier (casting a veil upon everything else as much as possible) to be richly paid for this excurtion.”
This was the last letter they received from him on his journey. Weeks went by, and John Adams may well have reflected that the legation was paying a high price for the Colonel’s search for knowledge and improvement; Abigail had thought it best not to mention any other motive. On November 3, Amelia wrote in her diary, “I think the Secretary must be out of his senses to remain so long from his duty.” By the end of November the prolonged absence was the cause of considerable gossip in diplomatic circles in London. An attaché of one of the foreign countries told Amelia that he “had not been in his own country for ten years—that he wished ardently to go only for five weeks—if he could do as Colln S.” Embarrassment was succeeded by alarm. On November 24 Abigail wrote a frantic letter to Thomas Jefferson: “We are now daily more and more anxious because we cannot account for Col S’s long absence but by sickness or some disaster and even then we ought to have heard from him or of him.”
Instead of the expected letters from Colonel Smith, there arrived on November 29 unexpected letters from Royall Tyler. One was addressed to Mrs. Adams, thanking her for her letter of May 9—“whilst the human Mind is ever most anxious for what it holds most Dear, I shall have my apprehensions and feel grateful to those who are kind enow to quiet them.” Another was to John Adams, saying that he had refrained from writing until he could offer proof that his “pecuniary circumstances” would enable him to support Amelia. That time had now come, and he would leave the matter to Adams’ judgment—in Tyler’s own opinion, “I should never suppose myself sufficiently prosperous or affluent to render her Life comfortable and Happy.”
Six days later, the Colonel returned. It was the evening of December 5. The Adams ladies had been to the Drury Lane Theatre to see Miss Mercy Farren, a comedienne very much in favor with them all; they were fond of quoting an observation by a visiting American that she was the only woman in England who knew she had eyes. They got home around eleven and had just sat down in the drawing room to tell John Adams about the evening when, according to Amelia, “Colln Smith puts his Head into the room and exclaimd dare I see you Sir—to Pappa—and well he might have some fears of his reception for his long absence.”
For this contingency the Colonel had prepared by bringing with him his friend Colonel David Humphreys, secretary of legation in Paris. “Colln S. told Papa he had brought his friend as a peace offering-he was all too grown to style him a Lamb.” The two young men were gay and talkative and full of news from Paris. Mr. Jefferson had a fine new house but complained constantly about his salary, said he was two thousand dollars in debt and would be ruined. The Algerian negotiators had departed but those to Morocco had not yet gone. The Baron de Staël was soon to be married to Mademoiselle Necker.
Next morning was time enough to report to John Adams on the prolonged journey. After the Prussian Review, the Colonel had not been able to resist the temptation to continue on to Leipzig, Dresden, Prague, and Vienna. As he undoubtedly explained to Adams and did explain in a letter to John Jay, he had studied the climate of opinion in the countries he visited and concluded that the governments of Europe believed that George III would sow such dissension in the American Confederation that it would fall, like the ancient Greek republics, and England would regain her lost colonies. But the governments of Europe were themselves none too stable. Liberty was in the air.
In his letter to Jay, the Colonel got down to particulars: “From what I can collect, the inhabitants of South America begin to feel uneasy and look around for liberation from the Spanish yoke, and perhaps will take advantage of the first European commotion and try their strength; provided they can meet with the countenance and protection of a naval power—for no other can rid them.” If these Miranda-inspired sentiments were communicated to Adams, they were probably not taken very seriously. Years later, when Adams heard for the first time that Miranda had been attempting to enlist British aid in a plot to revolutionize South America, he was inclined to laugh. He considered Miranda to be as “delirious” as Don Quixote and his project “as visionary, though far less innocent, than that of his countryman Gonzalez, of an excursion to the moon in a car drawn by geese trained and disciplined for the purpose.”