Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

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).

Thursday. May 6th. V. CFA Thursday. May 6th. V. CFA
Thursday. May 6th. V.

Spent an hour this morning studying my Astronomy lesson, then attended Prayers and recitation, had the happiness of being called upon first which is a very great relief, after which I employed myself writing my Journal which takes me some time. I read for my portion of Poetry for today Thomson’s Castle of Indolence. A very sweet thing. I have become almost altogether attached to that sort of stanza. There is something so smooth in it. It is peculiarly well adapted to his subject and the tone of his style is such as to convey almost the very feeling which he is describing. His sentiments are just and his description of the evil consequences attending indolence, is such as would destroy the effect of the commencement. His description is exquisitely simple although I have not perceived the ludicrous appearance which Dr. Aikin mentions in the preface. In fact I do not know whether I should not hesitate to which of his productions I should give the palm. Blank verse although good for sublime subjects, does not on the whole convey so much feeling to me as rhyme. On examining Dr. Johnson’s life of Milton I find my opinion supported by him who says that where the subject is not able to support itself blank verse can never be used with advantage, and that though we may be astonished at the power we shall only be pleased with rhyme. Thomson supports his subject well, but it requires more exertion to read that sort of versification and admits of fewer rests not having the advantage of stanzas. I have been very much pleased however by the whole of this author which I have yet read. At a little after ten o’clock, I attended the forensic disputation, “Whether prescience be consistent with human liberty” of which I had the negative to support, which agreed with my opinion. The arguments were very similar throughout, the other side however did not make as much of the case as in my opinion could have been done. We were here as usual two hours. Mr. Hedge1 decided the case as far as it is worded in our favour although he did not deny human liberty altogether. It is an incomprehensible and irreconciliable ques-121tion so that I intend never to consider it again, if possible to avoid it. My mind has been made up, as I believe it to be the only course for a man to pursue in argument that when he becomes too inquisitive he should check himself and retire. His next subject is a philological one as it treats of languages. I went and paid a visit to Fisher’s2 room of a few minutes where we had some conversation concerning our old Carolina classmates, but the Dinner bell ringing I was called home.

I was not able to read as much of Mosheim today as I intended owing to a visit from Tudor and Wheatland, of almost two hours after dinner and one from Howard of half an hour after the Greek review. I have not appeared very well in these and find I know less of Homer than I thought. Howard was stupid and sleepy, threw all the labour of amusing him upon me which was more than I could do. Indeed I wished him many times any where else. He is one of those men with whom I can have no common subjects of conversation. I cannot talk to him of women for I know none, nor of men for they do not interest him nor of College affairs for he considers himself above them, nor of books for he knows nothing of them, at least of any of those with which I have any acquaintance. I was thankful when the bell called us to Prayers. From these causes it was not till very late that I read Moliere. The play today was the “Bourgeois Gentilhomme.” An admirable production although I can imagine how much more pleasant it would be in representation. The folly of Monsieur Jourdain so natural to a weak head and large fortune, and the violence of his wife are very well contrasted. He resorts however to his old system of cheating a marriage, being extremely unwilling to use any other means. Servants are the acting class and they are the very persons who would most willingly receive these impressions.

I read over one hundred pages of Mosheim principally concerning the differences between Luther, Melancthon, Zwinglius and Calvin, the leaders of the reformed churches. The author does not perform the part of an impartial historian in this account. Nature is such that it can bear no contradiction in this most important part. We all wish to believe our doctrine the most acceptable and consequently wish that others would embrace yours i.e. ours or at least not arrogate to theirs the same. What seems reasonable in us appears very much the contrary in others. This I think is the origin of all the persecutions which have been continued ever since the origin of our religion. The account of these differences although they explain the doctrines of the separate parties are only of importance to the Minister or Theological student as I have no interest in learning the shades of distinction. 122My end being only to obtain and facts and learn their causes in human nature.3 “The study of mankind is man.” Thus did the Evening pass and after studying or rather merely reading over Astronomy I retired to bed. IX:30.


Levi Hedge, Harvard 1792, who served as professor of logic and metaphysics from 1810 to 1827, later became Alford professor of natural religion, moral philosophy, and civil polity ( Harvard Quinquennial Cat. ).


Joshua Francis Fisher, of Philadelphia, a junior ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).


CFA undoubtedly meant: “My end being only to obtain the facts and learn their causes in human nature.”