The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: With a Life of the Author - Vol. 1

By John Adams; Charles Francis Adams | Go to book overview

There is but little pleasure, which reason can approve, to be received from the noisy applause and servile homage that is paid to any officer, from the lictor to the dictator, or from the sexton of a parish to the sovereign of a kingdom. And reason will despise equally a blind, undistinguishing adoration of what the world calls fame. She is neither a goddess to be loved, nor a demon to be feared, but an unsubstantial phantom, existing only in imagination.

But with all this contempt, give me leave to reserve (for I am sure that reason will warrant) a strong affection for the honest approbation of the wise and good both in the present and in all future generations. Mistake not this for an expectation of the life to come, in the poet's creed. Far otherwise. I expect to be totally forgotten within seventy years from the present hour, unless the insertion of my name in the college catalogue should luckily preserve it longer. When heaven designs an extraordinary character, one that shall distinguish his path through the world by any great effects, it never fails to furnish the proper means and opportunities; but the common herd of mankind, who are to be born, and eat, and sleep, and die, and be forgotten, is thrown into the world, as it were, at random, without any visible preparation of accommodations. Yet, though I have very few hopes, I am not ashamed to own that a prospect of an immortality in the memories of all the worthy, to the end of time, would be a high gratification to my wishes.

But to return. Tully, therefore, had but few advantages, in the estimation of reason, more than we have, for a happy life. He had greater political objects to tempt his ambition. He had better opportunities to force the hosannas of his countrymen. But these are not advantages for happiness. On the contrary, the passions which these objects were designed to gratify, were so many stings forever smarting in his mind, which, at last, goaded him into that excess of vanity and pusillanimity, for which he has been as often blamed as ever he was praised for his genius and his virtues. It is true, he had abler masters, and more opportunities for instructive conversation, in a city so fruitful of great men. But, in other respects, the rational sources of pleasure have been much enlarged since his day.

-52-

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