Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

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.

1.

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. ).

2.

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

3.

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

Friday. May 7th. V:20. CFA Friday. May 7th. V:20. CFA
Friday. May 7th. V:20.

Arose and after reading over Astronomy, attended Prayers and recitation after which I wrote my Journal and attended a recitation to Mr. Sales the study of which employed me nearly all the morning. Having but just time to read three parts of Thomson’s Liberty. This is a dull heavy poem, written in that sort of measure which is the worst adapted to common use for although we sometimes unconsciously speak in it, still this makes the attempt more difficult, for we are only prompted to it by highly exalted feelings. There is nevertheless some evidence of talent and some of those expressions which I spoke of formerly as the peculiarity of Byron. His reflections are sometimes just but we cannot entirely approve a poem with no action unless as is the case with Childe Harold the ideas are supported uniformly in the same strain. It was not without pain that I got through. Perhaps on a second reading I shall relish it more.

It being a very rainy day I did not expect that we should have a lecture; this was the case however. Mr. Farrar treated today of several phenomena in Opticks the names of which I did not distinctly hear. The first was concerning an appearance which often is seen in the Eastern countries by which an image of an object is formed inverted over the object, itself.1 Also that in the deserts of Arabia and Africa, the appearance of a lake always obstructs the passage of travellers who imagine it to lie between them and their journey’s end, the same behind. This accounted for by the excessive heat which forms a stratum of excessively rarified air which is close to the earth and performs the part of a speculum. So that rays which strike under a certain angle are reflected and form an image on the opposite side. Two or three phenomena of less importance such as the formation of images of places on water at some distance and the story of the man in the isle of Bourbon. Lastly he came to the Aurora Borealis of 123which he gave a very interesting account. Its appearance, attending noise, and uniform attachment to the poles. No satisfactory explanation has yet been given, although one as near as possible has been proposed by a Mr. Dalton2 I believe, that at the pole the earth is bound with ice in such a way as to contain the electric fluid and stop its passage into the earth, and that occasionally it is drawn out and passes off through the air by the influence of particles of iron in the air. I see no use of this latter as air is a Conductor to take off all the surplus which may be contained in this ice. Ice is a conductor until it is exposed to a certain degree of cold when it is used for electrical purposes almost as well as glass.

I attended Declamation, the last Division of the Senior Class made their last appearance, and I carried a piece for approval. A very singular affair took place which has caused some noise. The expulsion of two students, Potter and Barry, Sophomores.3 The cause was just enough. It appears he had brought a lady out of town and was found by Hayward sleeping with her. Barry was expelled for being in the room. The government could act in no other way. Such an affair had not happened before for many years. It is a great scandal to the College. Hening,4 another of the same class, was dismissed yesterday, cause not known. Supposed to be general conduct. The rest of the afternoon was spent in reading Mosheim and finishing the fourth volume, besides reading the “Fourberies de Scapin” of Moliere. This is an extremely amusing play as it shows the ways of an accomplished cheat. But it lays the most open to the usual objection, of all his plays. While we admire his ingenuity and his wit it is impossible not to damn the moral. I am not a very moral man but I do not think that these things should dazzle the eyes of the common people.

Not much is to be said of Mosheim as I am in the middle of very dull accounts of doctrine. Calvin with all his good qualities had counterbalancing faults and has left sentiments among his partisans which do him no honour. The weaknesses of Nature are fully portrayed in this account of the various sects as we find no opinion too absurd not to be embraced by some—the most extravagant obtaining most extensively. The horrible lengths of the Anabaptists were not disgusting to the sect although it became more wise by persecution from the others. There is an interesting account of Socinianism which I wished to read in order to know the sentiments of that sect which is now very extensively embraced around here and of which this Institution is the source. They seem to be more innocent in their intentions than any of the others. These divided much as they do now showing the 124inclination of men to go from one doctrine of a mild sort to a bolder until they come to no belief at all.

I attended Prayers was afterwards caught in a thunder shower so that I was obliged to stay from home and neglect my lesson. Being engaged all the Evening at a meeting of the Knights of the Square Table at Chapman’s room. It is a festive club and quite a large Meeting. After staying there till ten we followed the Pierian Sodality5 who were serenading all round, the night being a fine one. Returning home late I found it impossible to study so I went directly to bed having enjoyed myself very much. XI:45.

1.

CFA, probably at a later period, penciled the word “Mirage” in the margin.

2.

Possibly John Dalton (1766–1844), the English scientist.

3.

Thomas P. Potter, of Charlestown, Mass., and Edward Barry, of Norfolk, Va. ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).

4.

Edward W. Hening, of Richmond, Va. (same).

5.

Little is known of this singing club except that it was begun in 1808, combined with the equally obscure “Anacreontics” in 1819, and later spawned a glee club. GWA was president of the group in 1820, but CFA never joined. See Catalogue . . . of the Pierian Sodality of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1832, Harvard Archives, and Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard , p. 201.