Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 6

Tuesday. 10th.

Thursday. 12th.

Wednesday. 11th. CFA Wednesday. 11th. CFA
Wednesday. 11th.

Morning cold. I went out a little earlier. Nothing very remarkable at the Office. Occupied myself in writing Diary and then recommenced upon something in relation to Harvard University. I wrote a page with which I was satisfied for the moment. Walk with Edmund Quincy. Talked politics and the Senatorial Election.

News arrived from Washington today which bids fair to topple down the whole edifice which the Senate here have been laboring to build. My father has come out with what appears very like an approval of warlike measures against France. This has set the whole hive in commotion. He is a singular man and not to be judged by the same rules which regulate the conduct of men in general. The result will probably be the loss of the seat in the Senate.1 This in itself is no great thing to be sure and with the unwavering confidence I have in the decisions of the Deity will certainly prove for the best, but it is 74sometimes not agreeable to me who feel myself often in an enemy’s Country. I believe it is very fortunate for me not to be in political life, and it will be wise to remain perfectly abstracted from them while my father is so engaged. For his course would perpetually embarrass mine.

Read Ovid as usual. Afternoon, Papers, which I examine now very slowly, only a few at a time. Looked over some of Grimm’s Literary Correspondence.2 Most of the publications he speaks of are dead, and show the value of this puffing up the hill of fame, but his criticism is amusing.

Evening finished Hayward’s Faust. As a literal translation of the Author it is well enough, but it can pretend to no merit as an English translation. The spirit is not there. A literal translation will help only those who learn German; it gives no correct idea to those who do not. After all Faust itself is a singular compound of Genius and extravaganza. There is no such merit in it as in the pieces of Shakespeare. None of the words which fall like the lessons of angels upon the mind of man, drawn from their power of deep penetration into the human heart. Goethe relies upon two styles—the one excessive simplicity, the other the most refined abstraction. Neither represent the common tone of men’s minds which is a mixture of both. Both draw into burlesque, the one from falling into childish nonsense, the other into what the French call galimatias.3 I am yet far from denying the merit of Goethe. The scenes in the Cathedral and Prison with the song and indeed the whole character of Margaret are very fine.

1.

On 7 Feb., upon receipt by the House of Representatives of a special message from the President detailing the firm course he had had the American minister, Edward Livingston, take with the French government on the spoliation claims, JQA had, with his usual independence of party and in spite of the widespread fear that the end would be war, spoken in support of the President’s actions.

The effect of JQA’s speech was to cost him the support of those Whigs in the Massachusetts Senate who had been advocating his election as a means to keep Davis in the governorship and to acquire for their party the adherence of the Antimasons, who were also being wooed by the Democrats. See Darling, Political Changes in Mass. , p. 184–185.

JQA did not entirely or at all times subscribe to the view that his speech had been decisive in costing him a seat in the Senate and was willing to accept the result if it had:

“I believe the failure of my election to the Senate was a providential escape for me.... [I]n the Senate ... many important measures may hang upon a single vote and ... antipathy to Jackson swallows up all sympathy with the rights of the Nation.

“My exclusion from the Senate was very deliberately concerted last summer; and to effect it the double operation of screwing John Davis into the Senate to make way for Edward Everett to be Governor was necessary. The difficulty of accomplishing this was in creased by the success of the La Fayette Oration, and by the marked attention of the Jackson party in the House to me on 75that occasion. This precipitated the Webster Nomination at Boston, and opened the flood gates of Slander upon me, in the Whig newspapers.... Bates and especially Governor Lincoln were annoyed at the preposterous hoisting of Davis into the Senate.”

(JQA to CFA, 5 March, Adams Papers.)

CFA, in response, insisted upon the significant impact in Boston of the speech:

“It is a singular co-incidence, your sale of the New England Insurance Stock, but it produced a great effect here. You will not find many Merchants who do not believe that it was done under the idea of a War. This has given a handle to existing prejudices against yourself and was used with considerable effect in the Senator’s election. The Mercantile and the Manufacturing Interest combined upon Davis and they always prove too strong in Massachusetts for the Agricultural”

(to JQA, 17–18 March, Adams Papers).

The circumstances bearing upon his deprivation of the senatorial nomination are further explored, and his course in the House during the current session on the war issue, the Fortifications Bill, the Ohio-Michigan boundary dispute, and the Patronage Bill is recounted in detail by JQA in eight letters to CFA (31 March, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 April, all in Adams Papers), which he wrote as “a confidential record to keep for your information and for that of your children” and which were clearly intended by JQA to substitute for diary entries during the period covered by the letters. The numerous gaps in the Diary during January and February are thus best explained. The letters are more specifically referred to in notes to entries for 19 Feb., 9 March, and 17 April, below. For the impact in Boston and on CFA of a number of the matters referred to in the letters, see CFA to JQA, 7 and 23 April (both in Adams Papers) and the notes referring to them in the entries for 20 and 23 April, below.

2.

CFA would make successive borrowings at the Athenaeum of the Correspondance of Frédéric Melchior, Baron Grimm, and Denis Diderot, Paris, 1812–1813, and of its Supplément, Paris, 1814, until the end of April.

3.

Inflated or confused language, pompous nonsense.