Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

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.


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


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


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


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


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.

Saturday. May. 8th. VII:30. CFA Saturday. May. 8th. VII:30. CFA
Saturday. May. 8th. VII:30.

Owing to my being up so late last night I did not arise quite so early this morning and therefore missed Prayers and recitation in Enfield. I immediately sat down to write my Journal for the preceding day. There being no Exercises after the Morning, I had it for leisure time and read in it the fourth part of “Liberty” and Moliere’s tragicomedy of Psyche. Of the first I can say but little more than I did yesterday except that I like it a little better. Some fine sentiments and just observations and occasionally quite a bright passage. This is too severely criticised by a very few words in Dr. Johnson’s life of him, saying that when it came out he had not been able to get through it and he never should. It is not a subject or a title to please him very much. Psyche is rather a representation drama than a reading comedy. There is great room for scenery and beautiful women. The Gods being the principal actors, the whole goes by machinery. I could imagine the effect of it on the stage but I should not incline to read it again. La Fontaine has written a beautiful little story on this subject which although considered by Roscoe as a failure, I beg leave to differ, and think well of. I am not a judge but I recollect being very much pleased in reading it.

I received also a very good letter from John1 in which he tells me his disappointment in a party to Mount Vernon in a very amusing 125way. Thus was I occupied all the morning, so constantly that I could but just steal ten minutes before dinner to go to the reading room. Not much news. The memorial of Mr. Edwards is printed and makes considerable noise.2 I think Monsieur’s chance is gradually improving. This affair may assist Crawford materially however. Each man to his turn however to clear up these accusations. My father has been through the ordeal with success. Let others go on also. The Boston party of republicans are very rash and headstrong, attacking the federalists, like fools. Had they been more moderate, they would have had much less opposition to their measures.

The members of the house were all absent today except Tudor and myself, so we dined alone. After dinner my time was most egregiously wasted but not voluntarily, for Tudor was here one hour and a half and after him Brenan for another hour so that at four o’clock I had accomplished very little. Tudor then insisted upon a walk to the bookstore which I had promised, so that I went and lounged there sometime. We had intended to ride but changed our minds when the wind rose—the roads also were not sufficiently good. I returned home at a quarter past five but could do nothing owing to Tudor and Wheatland and Sheafe until we attended Prayers.

I read only about one hundred pages of Mosheim all day. It treated of the commencement of the seventeenth Century, and has become less interesting to me as it comes to more known ages. The system of Missions was commenced and carried on in this century. The Catholics adopting the measure. The Jesuits acting a conspicuous part in these scenes. This sect became terrible as it obtained power and as it was under the influence of no moral restraint could affect even the Pope himself. They became hated and persecuted in some kingdoms and it has now become so proverbial that Jesuitical signifies to the world generally, every thing that is bad. I am not inclined to be so quick in condemning them in America, as historians speak of the Paraguay missions as models for the peaceful civilization of the Indians. I have never been able to make up my mind concerning the efficacy of proselytism, and less concerning the expediency of talking so arrogantly about our religion—“the light of the divine ray,” “benighted regions,” are the expressions of almost all Christians. They believe themselves to be right and are so without doubt to us. But if there was no doubt in the minds of pagans they would all embrace our religion upon perceiving its truth that is to say immediately. And it would be unnecessary to make converts by fraudulent means or to make any exertion by missionaries. Let this divine truth act for itself. 126Perhaps if we inquire rigidly into the matter we shall find that these rays were not introduced so as to convince, for even the most pious allow that had not the religion been a remarkably good political system it would not have obtained so general an acceptation. If the religion is one so convincing why make so violent exertions in its favour, if not it is not worthwhile to spread it. I have nothing more to notice except the great spread of philosophy. This being the age of Gassendi, Descartes, Bacon, Galileo and Newton.

I have to blame myself this afternoon for becoming too angry in a conversation with Tudor. My position was right for he was exercising most intolerable arrogance over Sheafe but I was wrong in becoming angry. My passions are not things I know to be trifled for if excited to a very high degree it might cost my antagonist and myself our life. I have not been in a passion since my unfortunate affair with Fessenden.3 I governed myself very well finally and walked to Prayers with Tudor in very good terms. In the Evening I walked with Dwight with some delightful conversation. On returning I wrote a letter to Mother in rather a plaintive tone being somewhat affected by an expression in hers.4 This detained me awake until late. XI:20.




See entry for 1 May, and note, above.


Benjamin Buekman Fessenden, of Boston, a former schoolmate of CFA’s at the Boston Latin School and a junior at Harvard, was expelled on the 15th. See Boston Latin School Catalogue , p. 154; Harvard Annual Cat., 1823; and entry for 15 May, below.


Letter missing.