Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Monday. May. 3d. V:40. CFA Monday. May. 3d. V:40. CFA
Monday. May. 3d. V:40.

Arose and after looking over the lesson in Astronomy, attended Prayers and recitation immediately afterwards. Mr. Heyward shows himself to some advantage in this study. He certainly appears to know much more of the branch than usual. It is said he is writing a book. I was employed an hour in writing my Journal and some time in 113studying a Spanish lesson to recite to Mr. Sales1 at half past nine o’clock. This is generally made a farce but I am inclined to learn it and although the disposition of the hours is not good and my application is not excessive, I hope in time to acquire an understanding. He is a good instructor and a pleasant man, hardly fitted for his situation here as he is too mild. And Students, boys as they are, take advantage of it. The fact is, I think that this institution is not a University yet. Children are admitted here and make fools of themselves, are ruined by the love of dissipation which they acquire and dazzled by the glare which accompanies it.

I returned home and read the Summer of Thomson. This abounds in beautiful imagery, and a diversity of description which is extremely pleasing. Some very soft and touching parts and one voluptuous description, that of Musidora.2 But a characteristic of this poet is that he is chaste in his language and ideas to a degree not equalled by scarcely any of our other authors. This not being their forte by any means. It was my desire to obtain this book3 a month ago in order that I might notice some of the poetry which I have read in that time and give some account of the lectures I attended, but as it was not ready, I was disappointed.

I attended a lecture at eleven o’clock from Professor Farrar in Natural Philosophy, on the subject of Opticks and Vision. The weather being cloudy he could give us no experiements and confined himself to the account of the theories of light and colour. The ancients appear to have had a very indistinct conception of the cause of colour and remained in a state of ignorance until Newton discovered the real cause of the rainbow. The Lecturer has an easy manner and is quite agreable as there appears to be no effort. Newton made his most important discovery at the age of 23, and had the moderation or as Farrar called it, the continence to keep it to himself for six years. But the principal part of today’s lecture was a description of the eye and it’s properties. Most of which was very simple and not entertaining as we have so lately been over the very same account in Enfield.

After dinner I went to the College library to return my books and spent an hour there in looking over a volume of plates showing the eruptions of volcanic mountains and the sorts of lava which are sent forth. Farrar in treating of Earthquakes the other day showed them to us but at such a distance that I was unable to see them and therefore determined to see them today. The collection is a very valuable one. I returned home and read Moliere’s Comedy of the “Avare.” Some parts of which are admirable but I think it liable to the objection 114of a plot too intricate. The connection depends upon two marriages and thereby requires some attention. The mistake of the fille and cassette is carried too far as he being naturally suspicious could not misinterpret his language so far. He has also dropped his character in some places for it would be hardly expected that a man so amazingly parsimonious would keep such a multitude of servants, or would talk of engraving in letters of gold or would keep horses however he might starve them. This certainly would not be the character of the English Miser. The last scene is quite happy and shows him very much in character. On the whole I was very much pleased by the perusal.

As this afternoon’s lesson was the last in Greek I determined not to attend it and read the fourth and last Canto of Childe Harold. Byron is truely a great poet. His power lays in greatness of thought and masterly expression. He has that remarkable gift of compressing an immensity of feeling in a very few words. Laying character full in our view by a striking turn of expression and condensing passion in a breath. While you read him, you feel exalted and arise with a melancholy but delightful pleasure. I have not felt so strongly before since the time of my melancholy days. I also read an article in the last number of the Edinburgh review on the Lyrical Poetry of Spain, but was not much interested by it.4 There are one or two happy things in it but generally not much to my taste. I think the Spanish language sweet and not enough appreciated but ballads and canzonettas which are sweet in their language can seldom bear even the best translation.

I could not read any of Mosheim today as I had no volumes out. So having nothing to do I spent the Evening at Otis’s room. We had a great deal of conversation on Washington manners, the Presidency and so forth. I continued here till late so that I could but just examine Dr. Reid’s opinion on our next forensic question5 and read over Astronomy before I retired. IX:30.


Francis Sales was instructor in Spanish and French at Harvard from 1816 to 1854 ( Harvard Quinquennial Cat. ).


See entry for 28 Jan., and note, above.


His Diary.


“Lyric Poetry of Spain,” Edinburgh Review, 80:443–476 (July 1824).


There is a copy of Thomas Reid’s Works, 3 vols., N.Y., 1822, in the Stone Library.

Tuesday. May 4th. V:15. CFA Tuesday. May 4th. V:15. CFA
Tuesday. May 4th. V:15.

Arose and after reexamining my lesson in Astronomy, attended Prayers and recitation. Mr. H. came up to me and the bell rung so I was saved. Returning home I found a letter for me from my Mother. She appears to be in bad health and writes as if under the influence 115of irritated feelings. There was some excellent advice concerning style which I intend to pursue as it agrees with my ideas and intentions. Translation is an excellent plan to increase one’s acquaintance with language; I had selected the life of Agricola as an exercise for next Vacation, being very much pleased when I lately read it. I was employed one hour writing my Journal. Went to the Library for my books, from thence to the Reading room. No News consequently came home and read Thomson’s Autumn. A pleasing Poem. But in reading it, I could not help smiling at it’s romantic visions and at the close I thought his plan of unambitious retirement an admirable one if Man was formed of a different mould. The author himself was seeking fame and obtained it by his Poems, but it would be a difficult matter for the world to see it exclusive here. No, there is a feeling in the breast of every man which destroys this happiness, it is very well to dream of and no more. Life would not be supportable at it’s commencement if so many of these images did not present themselves and Youth is unmindful, persevering in that Search after happiness, the great end of human life although Ages before have done the same without success. I read also, Moliere’s Comedy of Monsieur de Pourceaugnac. The great fault with all his plays seems to be that he is not careful enough of the moral introducing cheats and scoundrels succeeding in plans hardly faulty in themselves. Not that I am attached to the English fashion of ranting about virtue and every thing of that sort, but as I like to see vice discouraged without puffing virtue. Sentimentalism is ridiculous, Cant much worse but immoral freedoms are far the most dangerous. The immoral tendency of books is often urged and to the most fascinating books the most frequently; those which draw Nature are generally the most objected to, which to a sensible mind must bring an irresistible conclusion that we act viciously. Purity of motive certainly is not universal. This will have no effect on the actions of the enlightened but it discovers truth to the ignorant and that of a kind to deprave them, consequently it is injurious. These who have acquired a little tincture of knowledge are the most dangerous to themselves and to society.

At eleven o’clock, I went to Lecture. Mr. Farrar intended to have given us some experiments on light and colour but the rays of the sun were not powerful enough today. He therefore confined himself to an explanation of the different instruments used for increasing the appearance of small objects. We are more indebted to light for our happiness whatever it is than to any other natural production. It is the origin of all the beautiful colours which are so delightful to the 116eye and of heat which is life. He explained to us the various forms of the microscope in which objects are magnified to different degrees. Also the Camera Obscura and the Magic Lanthorn. Of the former he gave us a specimen by fixing a glass on a hole in a window shutter and reflecting the images on a white screen. They appeared inverted and indistinct on account of the want of the Sun. I saw the Church however and the Lyceum very well. The weather was so cloudy that the experiments on the colours of the rainbow could not be performed. They were therefore delayed.

After dinner, the weather being delightful I shut my blinds and began Mosheim very nobly again. With the fourth volume he begins the history of the reformation, and makes a new division in his plan. He still continues his system of centuries, and now writes the sixteenth. The restoration of learning which was fast increasing, had a bad effect on the church. It opened men’s eyes to the superstitions and scandalous corruptions which were carried on by the monks and exposed the actors to ridicule. Mosheim is as severe upon the Popes as Roscoe is lenient, he charges Julius with being the fury of the age as he was continually exciting animosities and delighted in war. He would have been a great man had Fortune made him a General instead of a Pope. The avarice and extortion of the clergy had reached an intolerable height, the Catholics themselves wished for a council to reform the Church and many of them were inclined to change upon seeing the ineffectual attempts of the various councils rendered abortive by the influence of the Popes who feared the destruction of their power and preferred the division of the Christian Church. An anecdote is here related concerning the Dominican Friars far surpassing in wickedness any thing I have yet seen and proves satisfactorily that such a state of depression cannot have been endured any longer. Luther, Melancthon and Zwinglius rose at the same time to oppose this and succeeded. Mosheim is evidently partial to Luther, although he gives a very fair account generally speaking of the reformation. Violence appears to have been Luther’s character which was well qualified by the mildness of his colleague. This was fortunate as the one could resist with boldness while the other could persuade. Many fortunate circumstances assisted this great change. The state of Europe, the rivalry of Charles and Francis and the character of Henry destroyed any idea which could have been at another time acted upon, that of a crusade. This step had a good effect even upon the Catholic religion for to preserve the remainder of their power they were obliged to form good institutions and to drop all the extravagant demands 117which they formerly supported. The sect or order of the Jesuits was founded by Ignatius Loyola to support the Pope and have been one of the greatest bulwarks which could have been formed for him. The talent, the order, and the obedience of these men has been astonishing, their perseverance and success. But Men will overreach themselves and so did these.

There being a Greek review this afternoon I did not have a lesson, was therefore enabled to make considerable progress. Though I did not make much of an appearance to Dr. Popkin.1 After recitation I went to Howard’s2 room and spent half an hour with him as I understand that he is offended with my neglect. It galls me much to see young men so formal as this. I have no objection to a certain degree of it but farther is foolish. This young man is a very weak head so I pardon him and as he is of an excellent nature I continue his acquaintance. After some uninteresting conversation on Anatomy which he is studying or attempting I left him thankful that my acquaintance was not of a more intimate kind.

A lounge at the bookstore until Prayers passed off the time and talk with Brenan. Prayers being over, I returned home, finished my portion of Mosheim and at eight o’clock attended Farrar’s Lecture on the Magic Lanthorn. The first part was quite a Juvenile Exhibition but the latter illustrated the constellations and the different phases of the Moon very simply and well. After Lecture which detained us until nine almost, Numbers of Visiters at the house. I went to Sheafe’s and spent an hour but could not drink any of the Wine offered me. I think the late satiety has had a good effect upon me as it has very much destroyed my taste for these things. We sung some songs and made some noise which was 3 however by the room upstairs where there was an entertainment. Rundlet and Lothrop were at Sheafe’s and I was kept till ten and just looked over Astronomy. X:15.


John Snelling Popkin, Harvard 1792, was professor of Greek from 1815 to 1826 and Eliot professor of Greek literature from 1826 to 1833 ( Harvard Quinquennial Cat. ).


John Clark Howard, of Boston, a junior ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).


Word written over and illegible; possibly “drowned.”