The Marginalia of John Adams

John Adams

At some point I’ll stop blogging about LibraryThing, but it won’t be easy with the amount of material they provide. Tonight’s discovery via this post on the LibraryThing blog is the transcribed marginalia of John Adams. Before blogs allowed people to offer comment on everything they read and tediously deconstruct arguments paragraph by paragraph for the world to see, people like Adams wrote witty remarks in the margins of their books. LibraryThing historical consultant Jeremy Dibbell has been working with Boston Public Library staff to transcribe these gems. This is a sampling.

Monde Primitif, Volume 4 by Antoine Court de Gébelin, page 56:

Phallus. I blush to write this word: but the meaning of it is so important in all ancient religions that it cannot be omitted.

Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind by Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat Condorcet, page 53:

When? Where was such a people? Where is their history, their tradition, or fable? This is all fiction.

All this we see in every commercial nation, however founded—and shall see it. Thou art a quack, Condorcet.

De la Législation: Ou Principes des Loix by Abbé de Mably, page 64:

The French are as much alike as the Indians.

Monde Primitif, Volume 1 by Antoine Court de Gébelin, pages 34, 90, 95 and 132:

Oh! the length, the breadth and the depth of etymology!

What a coruscation of metaphors, fables, allegories, fictions, mysteries and whatnot!

An immensity of truth in a few lines!

How neat!

How pretty! How ingenious!

Is it possible that all this could have entered into the heads of those old fellows? Yet it seems the most natural, plausible and probable solution of their riddles. Right or wrong? No matter. Salvation depends not on the solution of mysteries, ancient or modern.

There is wit in plenty here! And sense, for what I know or care.

An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution by Mary Wollstonecraft, pages 131-134:

Her beauty was chiefly the fiction of flattery.

I never could see it.

She was giddy with vivacity.

Miss Wollstonecraft is too fond of such words.

Where is the evidence of this?

This is no proof.

Those luscious words might have been avoided by a lady.

Ibid, page 522:

This word simplicity in the course of seven years has murdered its millions and produced more horrors than monarchy did in a century. As if all excellence and perfection consisted in simplicity. A woman would be more simple if she had but one eye or one breast: yet Nature chose she should have two as more convenient as well as ornamental. A man would be more simple with but one ear, one arm, one leg. Shall a legislature have but one chamber then, merely because it is more simple? A wagon would be more simple if it went upon one wheel: yet no art could prevent it from oversetting at every step.

There can be none more simple than despotism. The triple complication, not simplicity, is to be sought for.

Hints on the National Bankruptcy of Britain by John Bristed, page 65:

An eternal truth.

When love or wine get into the head, good night to ye, discretion.

A New System, or, An Analysis of Ancient Mythology: Volume 3 by Jacob Bryant, page 28:

Americans! Have a care. Form no schemes of universal empire. The Lord will always come down and defeat all such projects.

Monde Primitif, Volume 8 by Antoine Court de Gébelin, page lix:

True! But what then?

Very true, but what follows?

Perfectly true! But no new discovery.

Ah! there’s the rest. We see not the end. We can foresee no end of the weakness, ignorance and corruption of mankind.




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