15 April 1773213

    Virginia, Port Royal April 15th 1773.

    Honored and dear Sir

    The occurrences of every day (however vexatious some of them are for the present) give me new reason to consider my present undertaking, as a salutary and happy adventure.—I know I fled from fortune and fame—but

    “What’s fame? a fancied life in other’s breath

    A thing beyond us, e’en before our death

    It begins and ends

    In the small circle of our foes and friends.”214

    Shall I in conformity to the model of the Ancients boast of more valuable acquisitions —— an acquaintance with mankind, a knowledge of the world, a contempt of my own country &c. (“The fame of Tully”—says my Lord Bacon somewhere—“had scarce lasted a day, or at least not as fresh and fair if it had not been joined with vanity and boasting, for boasting seems to be like varnish that not only makes wood shine but last.”)215 But alas! to what will even this acquisition amount? A new series of evidence; to show forth the source of the great, the fruits of the little, the insolence of the rich, the knavery of the poor, and the depravity of all, this will make up the sum . . . I think that it is Seneca who says, that “he who would enjoy many friends and live happy in the world, should be deaf, dumb, and blind to its follies and vices.”216 Whoever said this, said truly, and yet he who acts upon this principle through life, will scarce be a good citizen or great character.

    Should I tell you Sir that, the more I see of mankind the greater is my desire of retirement—that the more I mix with the world, the less I am pleased with it; that the oftener I blend in public companies the more I long for solitude. I should only re-echo the trite tale of many who have advanced on the other side of the hill of life, and are verging swift down the declivity; but thus to moralize is seldom the part of one in the hey day of his youth surrounded with pleasures and amusements.

    It is a happiness to be able to inform my friends that I am in better health than I remember ever to have experienced before. It gives me a yet more sensible pleasure when I communicate this information to those who will share the joy of my acquisition. You may wonder, perhaps, that while my blood flows with an unusual current, when my spirits vibrate with uncommon velocity, I should seem so sick of the world, its engagements, pursuits, and pleasures. But who that hath felt the languor of study, the perplexities of his ways, the lassitude of application and the despondence of sinking nature and dread not the miserable sensation? Who that has exchanged such feelings for those of ease, air, and exercise, and health, would hazard all for wealth and honors? You may tell me I am now remote from temptation; that necessity will drive me to study and toil, that moderation and mediocrity are repugnant to my nature, that video meliora proboque deteriora sequor217—You perhaps judge right, and say truly, but it does not therefore follow that I now think and reason wrong. The moralist, the philosopher, the Bra[h]min, and the Mystic have their essays, maxims, doctrines, and dogmas; but their words and doctrines are at perpetual variance. It is not strange then, that the dicta and practice of a poor, simple, uninspired, common lawyer should be at variance and opposition. But it is a little mysterious, however, that consistency, and stability seem the honour of a man while contradiction and change form his characteristic. Having an idle moment, I have employed it in giving you my thoughts as they rose and fluctuated, having neither leisure [n]or inclination to review and correct them, you will consider this latter a tribute of my heart rather than my head.

    With much love and gratitude,

    yours J. Quincy junr.