Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Thursday. July. 8th. VI:5.

Saturday. July 10th. V:30.

Friday. July 9th. VI. CFA Friday. July 9th. VI. CFA
Friday. July 9th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Enfield but was not called upon, Mr. Hayward very seldom troubles me with questions now, a very singular but certainly not disagreable circumstance. I had intended after breakfast to have given my squad a drill, but forgot all about the matter and so did they. I then wrote some of my Journal and attended Mr. Channing’s Lecture, the final one upon Oratory. He commenced by wishing to know what Oratory was, and why one Man would please without much talent, while another who was really an able man would be dull? It depended he said upon a natural gift far above art with which some men were able to act with greater force. Art might remedy faults but nothing but nature could make great beauties. He then made some observations on extemporaneous speaking. It had in former times been a habit with the ancient Orators to write their Orations elaborately and when any particular passage pleased to repeat it at other times and in different situations with equal applause. If such a thing were to be attempted now, the man would only make himself ridiculous. The principal part of our Eloquence is composed of speeches at the bar or in Assemblies where they are almost entirely extemporaneous. A good Orator is supposed to be prepared for every subject and ought to act as if he had anticipated every question before it came into notice. He then made a few observations concerning the reasons why extemporaneous eloquence should have such effect with which he closed all he had to say on Oratory. These observations, I do not recollect. Much of this last lecture was a repetition of what had formerly been said in the different parts of the subject. Now he has completed this part of his course, I should wish to know whether I have gained one single idea from every thing he has told me. Whether there is any thing in all these lectures which a man would not of himself, almost immediately observe. Having done with this, I returned home and employed myself all the morning 230writing &c. My letters to and from home have been strangely neglected of late but my Journal and my pleasure has been a pretty incessant occupation. I refer every thing like business to be done, until after next Tuesday which is the day on which we become the highest class in Harvard University.1

After dinner I attended a lecture from Mr. Nuttall concerning flowers which was very interesting but which I could not understand quite so well as I wished to owing to the heat of the room. I returned home at four o’clock and read a Chapter in Mitfords Greece giving the history of Greece until the time of Cimon. Themistocles made the policy of Athens maritime and was among the first in wealth and power to a nation, to arise from Commerce and naval strength. In those days it was still more advantageous than now because few people were prepared to resist a force of this kind. It is surprising to reflect on the power always acquired in this way by a people, and at this day we can hardly cite a people as flourishing who do not depend very much upon navigation. The English are a striking example of success, as the nation without continual supply in this way could never have supported half what it has been called upon to contribute. The Athenians, hitherto unknown, by embracing this course became powerful and rich and by these means gave that encouragement to literature and elegance which has continued them to this day.

I had scarcely finished my reading before Brenan came in and we conversed concerning the characters of individuals, their ambition, &c. very pleasantly all the rest of the afternoon. He is very agreable when he does not undertake to conceal his natural character for that of a morose man which he seems most singularly to covet. Prayers were delayed half an hour this Evening, on account of the funeral of Gray2 which was attended by the Senior Class. He died this morning after a sickness of about a fortnight. I believe he was a very excellent fellow. The President gave a very feeling Prayer concerning him this evening which seemed to have a remarkable effect upon the students in general. After tea, My section came out with guns the first time and did very well considering. The Evening was a very beautiful one and I spent some time out talking with Tudor, Sheafe &c. concerning the contemplated excursion tomorrow. I then read my lesson over and my Bible but my night’s sleep was not sound. X:40.


Seniors were allowed to retire from college on the seventh Tuesday before commencement (in 1824, on 13 July); commencement was held on the last Wednesday in August. In the absence of the seniors, the juniors obviously became 231the highest class. See Harvard Annual Cat., 1823, p. 16.


John M. Gray, of Cambridge ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).