Abigail Adams on the stormy springs of virtue

Some author, that I have met with, compares a judicious traveller to a river, that increases its stream the further it flows from its source; or to certain springs, which, running through rich veins of minerals, improve their qualities as they pass along. It will be expected of you, my son, that, as you are favored with superior advantages under the instructive eye of a tender parent, your improvement should bear some proportion to your advantages. Nothing is wanting with you but attention, diligence, and steady application. Nature has not been deficient.

These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. Would Cicero have shone so distinguished an orator if he had not been roused, kindled, and inflamed by the tyranny of Catiline, Verres, and Mark Anthony? The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. All history will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruit of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities, which would otherwise lie dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.
Abigail Adams in a letter to her son John Quincy Adams (January 12, 1780). Available in Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams. With an introductory memoir by her grandson, Charles Francis Adams, edited by Charles Francis Adams, Edition 4, (Boston, Massachusetts: Wilkins, Carter, and Company, 1848), p. 111.

Google Book Viewer


"Some author, that I have met with, compares a judicious traveller to a river"
Abigail Adams Posted on behalf of Abigail Adams on Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 under Quotations.

Leave a Reply

You can embed videos and photos in your comments just by including the URL. Here's a list of supported websites and instructions.

You can use these HTML tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>