Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Thursday. August 5th. VI.

Saturday. August 7th. VI:15.

Friday. August 6th. VI. CFA Friday. August 6th. VI. CFA
Friday. August 6th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography. Came home and spent the time until lecture in writing my Journal. Last Evening, I took more Wine than I usually do, which had the effect of making me exceedingly feverish today. A slight head ach came on which I made some attempt to avoid but without success. I could not, on this account, attend so well to Mr. Channing’s Lecture today. It was upon structure of sentences. He said that it was usual to pay considerable attention to these, as to make them harmonize happily. There are many ways of forming them. Sometimes including in one sentence what might be made three or more distinct periods, and at others, writing sentences with much diffuseness every part of which should depend on each other. He referred to Gibbon and made a quotation in three independent sentences were included in one.1 He then went on to notice 276the way which some had followed, of rounding off and forming their sentences in a peculiar way. He did not by any means approve of it. Many had a fashion of contracting their thought and rendering it obscure, merely for the sake of making it correspond with the rest of their sentences, and of amplifying an idea so as to make it weak for the very same reason. This was the fault with Gibbon and it was a great one. It was really a pity that a historian like Gibbon in research and learning should have a manner of writing so difficult to read. He would venture to say that he could not nor could any one recollect one third of what Gibbon had written.

He then spoke of Johnson. When one had been reading one of his long unmeaning sentences, the reader might be tempted to ask what all this meant. But Johnson must nevertheless be allowed to have succeeded admirably in what he undertook. And as he is a single instance, it is hardly proper to make him an example in a sort of style which almost every body else would have failed in. He therefore recommended to us not to cast our sentences but to write naturally and to combine, as much as possible, sound without any injury to the sense. He said after all, he was inclined to think that the prose of some centuries back was the purest and the best. An intimate acquaintance with such writers as Milton, Hooker and others of an age as far back, would make a man more experienced in the beauties of combination which our language possesses, than any of the thousand slovenly or bombastic books of our day. We might charge them with quaintness but after all this may be said to be only the fashion of the day. These men certainly knew more of the powers of the English language than any of their successors. He did not close the subject.

I returned home and amused myself the rest of the morning in reading Twelfth Night which had so many attractions to me that I finished it although my head ach was quite powerful. It is a pleasant play to read and there are many beautiful passages but it is faulty as it goes upon a resemblance which is extremely improbable. This injures it’s effect in some measure but it is Shakespeare still.

In the afternoon, I heard McLean2 declaim together with others in the Sophomore class. He is certainly one of the most natural, least constrained speakers I have yet heard. He delivered a speech in the House of Representatives of Virginia upon duelling in the last session. But one fault I saw and that was, that he was too vapid. Morgan was ridiculous and Palfrey3 was really awful. After declamation was over which was in pretty reasonable season today, I dressed myself and went with Chapman to Medford, first as a ride, and returning rode 277over to the encampment of the Boston Light Infantry where we stopped according to invitation to see their parade. I saw Quincy and Amory the two Lieutenants.4 There was a great deal of company here today and the encampment had quite a different appearance from that last Friday. They went through the Rifle drill and indeed all their evolutions in much better style. But still there is not that correctness which is witnessed in the drill of our corps here. It now became time to return from this scene of dissipation, for such it was and we came down meeting quantities of company going to Mrs. Amory’s party. We did not get back to Prayers.

After tea we drilled as usual and again were exceedingly well satisfied with our companies. They certainly are admirably instructed. We had a little too much of the double quick time and hardly formed columns enough, but the captain in fact is rather afraid of confounding his orders. Parade over much to our satisfaction, we, some of us, went to the Hotel and sat there a little while but I was so fatigued and sick that I went home and, after a little conversation at Sheafe’s, I came down and very quickly went to bed. X.


CFA’s inattentiveness is appropriately reflected in this garbled sentence.


Cornelius McLean, of Washington, D.C. ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).


Cazneau Palfrey, of Boston (same).


Possibly Thomas C. Amory, ensign of the Divisionary Corps of Independent Cadets, and the younger Josiah Quincy, who was an ensign in die Third Brigade, First Division, of the Massachusetts militia ( Mass. Register, 1824, p. 122–123).