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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
The journal that Abigail had advised the Colonel to keep, and from which she anticipated so much pleasure, was not forthcoming. It had been handed over to Miranda when the two friends parted in Vienna, along with a loan from Smith of 230 to enable Miranda to continue on to Constantinople. In any case, there were portions of the journal that would not have made suitable reading for ladies. Miranda was a libertine and it appears that the Colonel sometimes joined him in his amorous adventures, though not always: one evening in Prague, Smith recorded in his journal that they had gone to a brothel together “but its appearance was so vulgar I retired—Miranda stayed.” A notation in the journal that might have interested John Adams concerned the Prussian Review. Military men from England as well as the Continent were there, including the Duke of York, son of George III. The journal shows that the close connection between the American diplomat and the Venezuelan conspirator had not gone unnoticed: one page contains on the margin an indignant note scrawled by Miranda to the effect that certain English officers had stigmatized them as “rebels.”
Having made his peace with John Adams, the Colonel took pains to assure his friend Mrs. Adams that he would respect Amelia’s engagement to Tyler; that “nothing should ever pass from him inconsistent with the Strickest Honour and the laws of hospitality.” But in the next few weeks, something happened between the two. Abigail wrote John Quincy, “some explanation from her perhaps, I shall never learn, but I perceived all at once upon a Day, a dejection dispelled, a Brightness of countenance, and a lightness of Heart” on the part of Amelia, “and in the evening the Gentleman asked permission to attend us to the Theater with Col. Humphries.”
When they returned, John Adams had gone to bed, but Colonel Smith asked a private audience of Abigail and handed her “with much emotion” a bundle of documents which he asked her to read and pass on to her husband. They were “votes of congress and commissions, with the amplest testimonials from the Generals under whom he had served of his Brave and good conduct.” Accompanying the documents was a letter in which he made “mention of his family situation” and asked permission to “gain the confidence of her daughter and to lay a proper foundation for a future connection.” Delighted, Abigail consulted John Adams. He seems to have been kept somewhat in the dark; only a few days before, he had sent a friendly letter to Royall Tyler. But his daughter’s happiness was very near his heart. He gave his approval.
After that, Amelia, who her mother thought “must feel a calmness and serenity in her present connection which she never before experienced,” began to enjoy London.
She went to her first court ball. The ballroom was huge, but Amelia pronounced it not half so elegant as Concert Hall in Boston. Only a dozen or so of those in attendance were selected to dance in addition to the prince and princesses. A little before nine the Prince of Wales “came staggering in—I don’t mean he was in Liquor but his manner was careless”—and good-humoredly chatted with the ladies who were to dance. At nine, their Majesties entered followed by the Princess Royal, and the company rose. The King and Queen went round the circle, the King “Laughing and grinning” and addressing Del Campo and other favorites with the “What what what what!” that usually peppered his remarks to his intimates. After the opening minuets there were country dances, in one of which the Prince of Wales fell flat on his back. Amelia began to refer to him as the “Prince of Whales,” commenting that “he is very fat and looks stuffd,” adding slyly, “report says that it is not with all honourable virtues.” Gossip about his liaison with Mrs. Fitzherbert was agitating all London.
“Scandal is the forte of this nation,” Abigail commented when a new play called The School for Scandal opened at Covent Garden Theatre. The theatre was brilliant that spring, and the Adamses enjoyed it to the utmost. One evening they went to the vaudeville at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, where tight-rope walkers and acrobats shared the billing with some remarkable animal acts—a “learned pig,” dogs that danced, a duck that sang, and a little rabbit that beat a drum.
Sadler’s Wells was a great attraction for the American tourists, along with St. Paul’s Cathedral, the zoo at the Tower of London—and George III himself. It was essential to be able to report on these wonders after they got home to America. “The People of our country,” Amelia reminded John Quincy, “have a Wonderfull liking to those who can say ‘I have been in St. Paul’s Church. I have seen the Lions, Tigers, etc. in the Tower. I have seen the King and what is more have had the extreme honour of being saluted by him.’”
Thomas Jefferson came over for a seven weeks’ visit in mid-March, his first and only visit to London. Adams had summoned him (sending Colonel Smith off to Paris in a snowstorm in late February) for discussions on two important topics—negotiations with the Tripolitan minister and the prospects of a treaty with Portugal, on which Adams had had some encouraging conferences with the Portuguese minister in London, the Chevalier de Pinto. Madame de Pinto had even called at Grosvenor Square and made some friendly overtures to Mrs. Adams. The treaty with Portugal seemed to Jefferson more important than negotiations with the Tripolitan, and it appeared at the time to be more successful. A treaty was drawn up and signed, but it was not ratified in Lisbon.