Saturday, April 23, 2016
Abigail spent long hours reading to her son as he sat at her feet before the hearth. But Abigail would never have thought that loving attention, from either mother or son, was enough. She expected Johnny to read aloud to her, so that she could critique him and help him along. She reported to her husband that she had gotten the seven-year-old boy to read to her every day from Charles Rollins' Ancient History of the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, and Persians, Macedonians and Grecians, a best seller published six years early that, one scholar points out, "seamlessly melded classical themes with Christian ends." It was, of course, written for adults. And she encouraged the boy to write. In his first letter to his father, October 13, 1774, the seven-year-old boy wrote, "Sir - I have been trying ever since you went away to lern to write you a Letter." He apologized for his meager effort - an exaggerated sense of his own insufficiency which a lifetime of achievements would barely make a dent it - and concluded, "I hope I grow to be a better boy and that you will have no occasion to be ashamed of me when you return."
-James Traub, John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit