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Original Source. Google Source: p 169, The Portable John Adams, by John Adams

AA to JA [Braintree, 12-23 November 1778]

In vain do I strive to through of [throw off] in the company of my Friends some of the anxiety of my Heart, it increases in proportion to my endeavours to conceal it; the only alleiviation I know of would be a frequent intercourse by Letters unrestrained by the apprehension of their becomeing food for our Enemies. The affection I feel for my Friend is of the tenderest kind, matured by years, [sanctified?| by choise and approved by Heaven. Angles [Angels—ED.] can witness to its purity, what care I then for the Ridicule of Britains should this testimony of it fall into their Hands, nor can I endure that so much caution and circumspection on your Part should deprive me of the only consolor of your absence—a consolation that our Enemies enjoy in a much higher degree than I do, Many of them having received 3 or 4 Letters from their Friends in England to one that I have received from France.

1. I guess that Abigail Adams writes that she doesn't care that her letters might be ridiculed by the British, if they fall into their Hands because her letters evince her affection for her Friend, so pure to be approved by Heaven and witnessed by Angels?

If my guess is right, then what about the grammaticality and syntax? Was it right even in 1778?

2. The Latin verb consolor worsens my confusion; did Abigail Adams use it as a noun?

Digression/excursus: For those who are wondering, a Google Books search on the use of 'I endure that' revealed this letter fortuitously and then impelled these several questions.

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    Why should I care if those Brits be talkin' trash? – Wayfaring Stranger Jan 10 '15 at 19:49
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    I think it's technically legitimate English grammar even now. It's simply "poetic" by modern standards. – Hot Licks Jan 11 '15 at 1:24
  • @WayfaringStranger - You mean "Why care I if those Brits talkin' trash be." – Hot Licks Jan 12 '15 at 3:21
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  1. The essence here is that because angels can vouch for the purity of her affection (for her husband, whom she calls "my Friend"), she is indifferent to any ridicule that the British might have for it. It is the affection she feels for him that has been "approved by Heaven".

The passage can be stripped of the non-essentials and slightly modernized to make the relationships clearer:

The affection I feel for my Friend is [...] approved by Heaven. Angels can witness to its purity, what care I then for [i.e. "so why should I care about?"] the Ridicule of Britains [i.e. Britons] should this testimony of it fall into their Hands [i.e. "if this proof of it were to fall into their hands"] ?

  1. Consolor is simply Adams's spelling of 'consoler'. She writes "consolor of your absence" where nowadays one would write "consolation for your absence".

Regarding the interpretation of "what care I then for the Ridicule of Britains":

Firstly, what is a parenthetical interjection in Adams's letter that is marked off by commas:

"[...], what care I then for the Ridicule of Britains should this testimony of it fall into their Hands, [...]"

today would be either turned into an independent sentence, or would be marked off with dashes (or maybe parentheses).

Meanwhile, the phrasal verb to care for has the meaning 'to feel affection or liking for'. Conversely, not to care for X can mean either 'to dislike X' or 'not to care about X'. It is this latter sense that I think is invoked in Adams's rhetorical declaration.

There are two possible ways I can think of to modernize the inverted structure with what ("what care I [then] for the ridicule").

The first uses the rhetorical why should:

"Why should I care about the ridicule [...] ?"

It also substitutes about for for, and includes a question mark at the end of the sentence. (Though one could instead use an exclamation mark if extra emphasis was desired.)

The second variant uses the modal verb do, likewise substitutes about for for, and includes an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence:

"What do I care about the ridicule [...] !"

(When spoken aloud, the main emphases would be placed on the words care and ridicule, or possibly I and ridicule.)

Meanwhile, the emphatic then that has been inserted into Adams's rhetorical phrase would nowadays be replaced by an emphatic introductory So in both variants:

  • "So why should I care about the ridicule [...] ?"

  • "So what do I care about the ridicule [...] !"

  • +1. Thanks. About #1, would you please explain how to interpret or parse what care I then for the Ridicule, to derive the meaning that you kindly explained? Please respond in your answer, and not in comments? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Jan 10 '15 at 15:34
  • @LawArea51Proposal-Commit - Done. – Erik Kowal Jan 10 '15 at 19:18

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