J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

John Quincy Adams Edits His Diary

Jeremy Dibbell and the Massachusetts Historical Society are enjoying a burst of publicity from putting some of John Quincy Adams’s diary entries on Twitter. Those “Tweets” are from Adams’s diary of visiting Russia for the second time in 1809, when he was forty-two.

I’ve studied the first volume of his journal, which John Quincy started (under pressure from his parents and his tutor, John Thaxter) in late 1779. He was twelve years old, and about to embark for Europe with his father and younger brother Charles. That first diary was part of John Quincy’s schoolwork, it appears. His father and tutor reviewed it, and he copied some entries to send home to his mother. Not surprisingly, the entries are much longer than what Adams wrote when he was a grown and busy man.

One of my favorite entries is the one for 18 Dec 1779, after the family had made a semi-emergency landfall in Spain and was traveling by land to France. That entry finishes up:

We expected to see a Nun made to day but we were disappointed the nuns are Shut up in Convents & never see any men except but the friars. [And then there are seven lines of thoroughly crossed-out words. Not just struck out with a horizontal line like that “but,” but scribbled over with lines in going three directions. One suspects the obliterated text was a joke or observation that the Adams family thought inappropriate for a twelve-year-old. John Quincy might even have been censoring himself; he definitely edited this journal and the copy he sent home to Abigail.] this afternoon the Gentlemen all went to see the armory but I was a writing a Letter & therefore could not go.


DAG said...

John Quincy Adams was edited ?
I haven't latched on to this twitter invention yet. Perhaps too set in my ways. My phone could not do that, I like things simple.

J. L. Bell said...

He edited himself at this age. It’s actually kind of sad to see a twelve-year-old so anxious that he rewrites his own diary, apparently as he goes along. Of course, he did have to show it to the grown-ups. But John Quincy did a lot more self-editing than the other six young New England diarists I’ve found.