Wednesday, October 12, 2011

ARCHIVED REVIEW: The Letters of John and Abigail Adams (6/2/10)

The Letters of John and Abigail Adams

"My bursting heart must find vent at my pen." — Abigail Adams

This book is a selection of letters between John and Abigail Adams, the couple who shaped and experienced the birth of the United States of America.

First let me say that I have always had a huge historical crush on John Adams ever since I saw 1776. Because of this, I see John Adams through William-Daniels-colored glasses.

I loved this book because of who was writing, and the small kernels of love and knowledge and wisdom that spoke to me. It is the style I had difficulty with.

You would think that an epistolary book would be easy to compile, and easy to read; one person writes, the other person responds. Not true. One person writes 5 letters and waits for a friend who is traveling in that direction to take them. They tie them all in a packet, and it takes weeks to get to the destination. In the mean time, the responder has done exactly the same thing. So you have 5 letters that have nothing to do with each other, all written at during the same month or so. And then you have the responses to all of the letters at once in another letter, followed by several more.

And that is not to mention the letters that were tossed overboard or stolen by spies.

So it is not exactly a linear conversation.

A good 50% of the conversation is "I miss you so much, write me more letters." Another 40% is recounting raids and skirmishes in Boston.

But the last 10% is filled with beautiful moments, and passions I want to hug them for.

Like John's insistence that education, exercise, simplicity, and virtue are the keys to a well-lived life. And how while changing history, all he wants to do is go home to his farm and his family. Or the comical descriptions he gives of his barber (he is not allowed to tell anything about the Continental Congress, which is hugely disappointing, as I would have loved to have this detailed of a character study for them.)

I love when she gets impassioned about the rights of women. Everyone knows the famous "remember the ladies" letter, but I think the better one is in regards to female education. It is the first time I can tell she is angry.

In response to John's rant about the deficiency of education of men in the country, she writes:

"If you complain of neglect of education in sons, what shall I say with regard to daughters, who every day experience the want of it? With regard to the education of my own children, I find myself soon out of my depth, destitute and deficient in every part of education.

I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the benefit of the rising generation, and that our new Constitution may be distinguished for encouraging leading and virtue. If we mean to have heroes, statesmen, and philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps will laugh at me and accuse me of vanity, but you, I know, have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the sentiment. If much depends, as is allowed, on the early education of youth, and the first principles which are instilled take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women."

All in all a difficult book, because it was not in narrative form, but it gave me joy to hear the words of my heroes.

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