Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

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.”

Wednesday May 5th. V:45. CFA Wednesday May 5th. V:45. CFA
Wednesday May 5th. V:45.

Arose and after a very slight review of my lesson attended Prayers and recitation. Fortunately I was not called upon. After recitation I was employed till ten o’clock writing my journal, therefore was unable to attend Mr. Sales’ Spanish recitation. I then read Thomson’s Winter thereby concluding the Seasons. This last I think the finest of the 118whole, as it excels from the superiority of sentiment and a nearer approach to sublimity. He shows himself a man of taste and makes many very just observations concerning study which are only liable to the objection mentioned yesterday. I then read Moliere’s Play of the “Amants Magnifiques” finishing the fifth volume of his works. There is not much plot or incident in it and appears to have been made merely as a “divertissement” for the king who condescended to take the part of a God and speak very highly of himself. There is considerable wit displayed in the character of Clitidas who in fact is the spring of the whole action. I was thus employed all the morning attending also a lecture from Mr. Farrar. The sun still denied his beams consequently no experiments could be performed. The students have become so tired of the course that they stay away when there are no experiments. For my part I always attend not only for the acquisition of knowledge but because I make no difference between voluntary and involuntary exercises. I have gained a great deal also by my attendance. Young men are very apt to assume a great deal as known which they have only a very superficial acquaintance with. And I should always distrust him when he said “he knew every thing before.” This however is common language with these lectures. He treated today of the construction of telescopes explaining to us the Newtonian, Galilean, Gregorian, and others. He has an admirable manner of telling an anecdote so that he renders parts even of a dry subject quite amusing. His history of this machine’s discovery was very well managed for effect. It is a wonderful machine and has been of very great utility to the world. By it we have gained the knowledge of the system by which we go and which is doubtless the true one, we have assisted navigation and enlightened the mind. Perhaps Astronomy has done more for this than any Science which has yet been pursued, and to me the knowledge of mathematics appears desirable only as it is subservient to this pursuit. After dinner although the weather was quite cold and unpleasant I took a warm bath. The regulations are only to admit on Wednesdays and Saturdays, consequently I was obliged to go today or else delay until Saturday at the risk of not having any better weather even then.

I did not progress as much as I expected in Mosheim owing to interruptions by Tudor and Richardson but nevertheless read somewhat over one hundred pages, principally on the state of the different churches, the Roman, the Greek and the Lutheran. The friars multiplied very much to form a stronger barrier against the reformers. There could not have been formed in the comprehension of man a 119better system for the obtainment of power. Using the most tremendous engine over men’s minds and working for the same end at the same time over all the world it is not surprizing that the power they obtained was so great. Even now the church of Rome would be nothing were it not for it’s emissaries who keep so sharp a look out, confirm the wavering by threats, and continue the faithful firm by promises. The state of learning was rapidly improving by reason of this reformation. The study which was made necessary to become a disputant, increased knowledge and the emulation caused inquiries which in the ancient state of things would not have been thought necessary. The council of Trent was rendered a mere form by the activity of the popes, whom the Author takes care to call bishops always. The catholics finding themselves likely to be abandoned formed the famous index of heretical books and suppressed the translations of the bible which is too much of a tacit confession of the weakness of their faith. One remark there is so striking concerning mankind that I shall insert it in my Common Place Book1 as very remarkable and very true. Mosheim is not perfectly standard however in his account of the Lutherans as we are frequently warned in the notes by his translator. Divisions will exist among all men as no two ever thought perfectly alike on a subject at least I believe this. No sooner had the protestants become a sect than they divided into inferior ones which now have independent governments. The state of ignorance of the Greek Church was excessive at this period, their licentiousness still greater. Subject to a foreign prince they have suffered and still continue to suffer the most harsh treatment.

I spent the evening partly in writing my forensic for tomorrow on the subject of predestination and partly in arguing on this subject at Sheafe’s where Brenan and Fay2 were visiting. Otis argued against me but with so little of reasoning and so much positive assertion without attempt at proof that I was disgusted. At some future time when I have leisure I shall give a character of this young man. I have written one on separate paper already but it does not satisfy me. Looked over the Astronomy lesson. IX:20.


On 12 March 1822 CFA had begun making entries in his literary commonplace book, a bound, blank notebook containing 382 pages, with a printed titlepage, A Common Place Book, upon the Plan Recommended and Practised by John Locke, Esq., Boston: Published by Cummings and Hilliard, 1821 (M/CFA/18, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 312). On the flyleaf, along with his name, he inscribed a quotation from Montesquieu: “Il ne s’agit de faire lire, mais de faire penser.” The first forty-five pages of the book form a rather skimpy subject index to the quotations which follow. The extracts themselves are chiefly from books which CFA mentions in his Diary. Perhaps one might 120take as the theme of CFA’s anthology his quotation from Disraeli (p. 36): “What is youth but a sketch—a brief hour of principles unsettled, passions unrestrained, powers undeveloped, and purposes unexecuted.” With equal justice, however, one might see in it an attempt to live up to JQA’s definition of genius (p. 56): “If there is one faculty of Genius more prominent than another, it is the persevering endurance of intellectual labour.” For, though haphazard and miscellaneous, the commonplace book entries do indicate how much CFA read and how seriously he took his reading. For further information on Locke’s commonplace book, see JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:47, note.


Richard Sullivan Fay, of Cambridge, a junior ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).