Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 6

Wednesday. 22d.

Friday. 24th.

Thursday. 23rd. CFA Thursday. 23rd. CFA
Thursday. 23rd.

I went to the Office after a due continuation of Torquato Tasso. The day which opened with Clouds soon after grew bright with a cool wind from the Westward. I was occupied during my disposable time in writing an answer to my father’s letters concerning the campaign of last Winter. I do not entirely agree with him and take the liberty of writing so to him, without any ill intention but merely with a view to maintain my independence of opinion. He has paid the forfeit for a name, and is content. I do not feel disposed to do the same.1

Short walk. Called to see a model of a group of two figures by Hughes an American Sculptor of New York. It is taken from Tristram Shandy—The Widow Wadman and my Uncle Toby. I have a prejudice against the book, which is a sort of imposition upon the gullibility of the public, and do not think this part of it admits of any great effect. But whatever there is, the Sculptor has given and moreover has been very successful in his perfections of detail. The model is in plaster of more than the size of life. The female figure is a very voluptuous one.

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Home. Afternoon, Continued Thiers. We were rendered uneasy by Accounts of the illness of Mrs. Everett, and her last child. Read Grimm and Sir Egerton Brydges. Conversation with my Wife upon our affairs, after which I finished the Interlude between the parts of Philip van Artevelde.

1.

See CFA to JQA, 23 April (Adams Papers). Whether this reply to JQA’s letter received on the 20th (see note to entry for that date, above) was written before or after receipt of a letter from LCA (18 April, Adams Papers) is uncertain. Her awareness of the recent series of letters JQA had written and of CFA’s response caused her to interpose comment that JQA’s “mind is in an intensely excited state.... Do not suffer yourself to be distressed about it.... Be soothing in your answers and moderate if you can with truth the circumstances that are stirring around you in such a manner as to soften the asperity of his wounded feelings and do not be hurt at any expression, for his mind is too much engrossed by self to remember or to enter into the feelings of others.”

With or without benefit of her injunction, CFA responded to JQA:

“In reflecting upon the series of eight letters and the supplementary one.... The only basis of public conduct which I can find in any direction is private interest, the desire of personal aggrandisement. This desire according to your own showing leads every man entirely to overlook or disregard the rights of others, it produces a perpetual exacerbation of feeling against some person or other who may momentarily be an obstacle....

“I am aware that you individually plead for higher motives and feelings than you give credit for to any body else, and I am very far from believing that you are not impelled by the very best intentions for the Country’s good. This may and probably does lead you to overlook a species of treatment and a constant difficulty of position which would discourage almost every other man. But this is a very different question from that of the pleasure to be derived from such a species of life. The gratification of a moment is to some so exquisite a sensation that it will be readily purchased by a year of pain. To others the suffering would appear far the worst....

“On this account it is that I am unable to contest the goodness of your reasons for remaining in public life. To you they were sufficient.... Although I might wonder at it and might know that positively considered the amount of happiness was not great, and that the condition would never do for me....

“But you regret your situation on my account as likely to be affected by the opinions entertained of yourself.... Personally it is a favor to me to be out of the way of public affairs. If it was not that the family had been heretofore distinguished in them and that inevitably a retreat from them will bring upon me the [charge of degeneracy], I should look upon it as a great blessing.... However much therefore I may regret the charge ... which my children as well as I must endure, I would rather endure it, than pay a price for fame which would take with it all my happiness.

“But you say if I dislike political affairs, let me turn my Attention to making money.... I do not know whether it was your intention to imply by this that my mind was inclined to value wealth in such a degree as a pursuit, but whether it was or not makes little difference in the main. The spirit of the whole sentence betrays as it seems to me an erroneous idea of the purposes of Life.... Of the acquisition of Wealth as an end of life, I trust I understand pretty accurately the value. Of its possession as a means of independent action in all its relations, and as a defence from many of its subordinate anxieties, I do not believe that I can think too highly. To be a slave to a game of chance would be as bad as to be a slave to a game of reputation. They are both and equally contrary to the injunctions of the gospel and the doctrines of all enlightened philosophy.... It is 124in this light that I view the text ... which seems to counsel that state of mind which proceeds only from the power of rigid self regulation—A power which is never acquired as your own letters bear witness in the storms of political faction, nor in the fluctuations of the Exchange. He has it only who can say with the Poet ‘My mind to me a kingdom is.’ He has it only who has schooled himself in prosperity and adversity to the rigorous maxim ‘Ne quid nimis.’ Can you say it who derive all your winter’s satisfaction from the chance coincidence of two hundred and ten men acting under influences such as you describe them, backed by some little applause in the gallery? Can you say it who pay off all your sufferings by a little breeze of popular favor upon the Eulogy of La Fayette?

“Of the permanency of your writings in connexion with the history of the Country I do not doubt. But I must deem it unfortunate that you have persisted in attaching yourself to objects of local and temporary interest and thus counteracting rather than assisting the effects of your productions.”