Arts and Leisure

John Quincy Adams Complains About Kissing

On Jan. 2, 1788, John Quincy Adams was a 20-year-old Harvard graduate studying law with Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport, Mass. As a boy, he had traveled to France and the Netherlands with his father, and at 14 he went on a diplomatic mission to St. Petersburg as secretary to Francis Dana. Still, the quirky John Quincy Adams felt socially awkward and preferred reading alone to attending parties.

John Quincy Adams complains a lot as a young man. By John Singleton Copley.

He had spent New Year’s Eve reading in his room and writing a cranky diary entry about how much time his diary was taking up. The next day he got an invitation to a party at the home of Moses Frazier, a shipowner and officeholder in the town. He went, but he didn’t enjoy himself. Young Adams especially disliked a kissing game. He thought it a “profanation of one of the most endearing demonstrations of Love.”

John Quincy Adams Complains

He described the evening in his diary. A man named Putnam dropped by the office and invited him to join him at Frazier’s party. He debated with himself about going, but finally determined to go.

We found there a number of young gentlemen and Ladies. After we had sat a little while the infallible request to sing made its appearance.

He complained about the singing. “One could not sing, and another could not sing, and a total incapacity to sing, was declared all round the room,” he wrote.

If everyone stuck to their first assertion that they can’t sing, he wrote, “it would be very agreeable.” But when in mixed company “musical powers are exerted,” there is generally little recompense for the “intolerable tediousness of urging.” Generally, the urging results in “a few very insipid songs sung in a very insipid manner.”

“But the misfortune is, that some one always relents, and by singing furnishes the only materials for a conversation, which consists in intreaties for further gratifications of the same kind,” he wrote.

Then things got worse. They did something equally stupid called “playing pawns.”

A number of pledges were given all round, and kissing was the only condition upon which they were redeem’d. Ah! what kissing! ‘Tis a profanation, of one of the most endearing demonstrations of Love. A kiss unless warm’d by sentiment, and enlivened by affection, may just as well be given to the air, as to the most beautiful, or the most accomplished object in the Universe.

This story updated in 2022.


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