Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Tuesday. May. 11th. V:15. CFA Tuesday. May. 11th. V:15. CFA
Tuesday. May. 11th. V:15.

Studied my Astronomy before Prayers and spent the interval in writing my Journal. After recitation as I had the Morning before me, I determined to make the best of it, therefore directly sat down to read Dyer’s1 Grongar Hill and Ruins of Rome. I also read Shenstone’s2 School Mistress. I do not admire feeble Poetry which however pretty it may be leaves a sort of vacant unpleasant feeling not to be made up by descriptions. The first author has some good ideas and commences them well but he fails by making too long a winding in its close and not wording this with effect. He is not concise and striking enough—indeed I imagine he is not one of the Poets whom I have marked for a reperusal. I will not say this of Shenstone for there is some very pretty poetry in the first piece in this collection although I am conscious, I shall have the same objection to him which I gave to Dyer’s. They both want force. I also read Moliere’s last and very possibly his best Play, that of the “Malade Imaginaire,” at least it is a very amusing one. He loved to satirize the learned Medical Faculty and throughout all his Plays omits no opportunity of dashing at them. He also pays no compliment to College Education in the person of Mr. Thomas Diafoirus who is made to cut a very ridiculous figure. Here he is right for College pedants are the most unpleasant animals in the world. I was very much amused in reading over this though I will confess I was not sorry it was the last of Moliere’s Plays.

We attended a lecture of Mr. Farrar’s at eleven o’clock. The day being windy and the sun not bright, the lectures on Opticks were postponed and he gave us one on Electricity which had formerly been postponed on account of the weather. The lecture was entirely experimental, as the theory had been explained before. He charged part of a battery and showed us how the fluid passed through paper, melted gold leaf, fired ether and cotton, and ignited hydrogen gas. The lecture was the most amusing I have yet been to. He also explained many of the instruments which he used. He was quite short so that I had time to go to the Athenaeum3 and Bookstore before dinner. My satisfaction was great today in having performed all my duties in season. I can but seldom do this now from the great number of tasks imposed upon me and the duties which I owe to civility in receiving and returning visits. This latter as the least important I am compelled to neglect but it has already excited some dissatisfaction among my friends. Such is the feeling among some in this institution who take offense because I, their humble servant, do not wait upon them the very next day after the honour has been conferred upon me. Even 132Brenan undertook once to become offended at what he was pleased to call my slight.

Having the day entirely to myself without interruption, I progressed rapidly in Mosheim reading two hundred pages. My observations on this part of the work are not so numerous as they have been because the accounts are less interesting, doctrinal points are explained which have no bearing on my purpose in reading the book. The Pope was in continual strife with the powers of Europe it being their last attempt to recover that supremacy which was inevitably and irrecoverably gone. All had discovered the important secret that the Pope was not infallible and that the Catholic religion was not the only religion. I am not surprised that the Jesuits obtained the degree of authority which they did. Their policy was most admirably adapted to sooth men’s minds and obtain authority over them. Their principles were made subservient to their end. Their effect however on the morality of the age was material. Jansenism which was opposed to it however, I consider full as extravagant if not as criminal. The Greek Church is only mentioned to be stated as going to ruin, indeed though considerably revived in Russia it is still in a most barbarous state. But the most provoking account is that of the Lutheran Church of this Century. Their obstinacy, their intolerance and bigotry is disgusting. It has descended to their posterity and is one of the harshest features in their Church. I was diverted by the history of the conferences which he gives. Plans which were commenced with the best intentions and closed with the least success. Argument is the most foolish way of wishing to end a dispute in the world. Defeat irritates the conquered and victory exalts the successful, both however are acted upon by ill feeling and conviction never takes place. In this church two sects were formed—the Syncretists and Pietists. The latter in attempting to reform the world went to the other extreme and have been the cause of all the bigoted notions of the present day. In fact I should imagine that this is the least Christian of all the numerous religious sects.

Mr. Farrar gave a lecture this Evening, that is, he gave us some experiments which could not be so well done in the day time. Owing to the great crowd of Freshmen and Sophomores who took advantage of the darkness, the room became very hot and the moisture arising from the breath prevented the success of these. Much to my regret. The quickness of lightning or the fluid was well exhibited and this was the only one. I returned home disappointed and having finished Mosheim early, I went up to Wheatland’s and had an hour’s conversation with him. He is sometimes quite pleasant, and as I remark that he 133is remarkably polite to me I take care that he shall not become too intimate to lose it. Read over Enfield. X.


John Dyer (1700?–1758).


William Shenstone (1714–1763).


From the context and from frequent similar references to “the Athenaeum” in the following months, this appears to have been a news shop and periodical reading room in the area of what is now Harvard Square. Since CFA often visited it between morning classes and between afternoon classes and prayers (and could hear the Harvard chapel bell as he read), it could not have been the famous Boston Athenaeum, incorporated in 1807 and located at this time in the James Perkins house, 13 Pearl Street, Boston. CFA was later to frequent that institution, both before and after it moved, in 1849, to its present building at 10 1/2 Beacon Street; see Whitehill, Boston: A Topographical History , p. 117–118. Nor could it have been the Cambridge Athenaeum, which was not founded until 1849 and was eventually absorbed by the Cambridge Public Library; see Arthur Gilman, ed., The Cambridge of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-Six, Cambridge, 1896, p. 228. CFA’s “Athenaeum” is probably the same as “the reading room” he so often mentions passing a little time in to see the latest news and magazines. It was clearly not the same as “the Bookstore,” evidently William Hilliard’s (see entry for 14 Sept., and note, below), also in Cambridge but at a little distance from the Yard and the Athenaeum.

Wednesday. May. 12th. V:25. CFA Wednesday. May. 12th. V:25. CFA
Wednesday. May. 12th. V:25.

Looked over my Astronomy with more care than usual, attended Prayers and having spent the half hour in writing my journal, went to recitation but was not called upon. The Morning being the busy one, I did not accomplish my Journal till late, my Spanish lesson employing me until late. Mr. Sales was not well attended today, this was not the case however with the Lecture from Farrar. For that was very full. He gave us the theory of Thunder and Lightning today. The great fault with this man is that there is no originality in him, his experiments are precisely those we read in Enfield not varied in the least and illustrated almost in his words. He gives us also much repetition of the simple steps which tires one very much. He has a great deal of recapitulation. He closed his lecture by showing us a few experiments in Opticks exhibiting by the power of the solar microscope, a number of flies magnified and some crystallizations which were very beautiful indeed. He is not generally successful in his experiments however.

Returning home I finished Shenstone and Churchill1 in this collection. I also read “la Gloire du Val de Grace,”2 the concluding poem in the works of Moliere. I passed quickly over the softness of the first poet and read with great delight the Rosciad. It is admirable satire—piquant, just and well directed. The lines have remarkable force in them and the sentiments on the subject are correct. It is forcible and this is the great end of Poetry. The lines are strong and come together 134uniting meaning with sound. Indeed I have not relished any of this kind of writing remarkably until I came to this, and have marked it for frequent reconsideration. As to Moliere’s Poem, I do not see much meaning to it, it appears to be a panegyric upon the work of some carver and may be said perhaps to be prettily turned. It has a great deal of Boileau’s “clinquant” in it though. At least such was my impression, which may be unjust as I will confess I read it superficially. This finishes his Works. I have been very well pleased in reading them. He ridiculed the foibles of the age with a great deal of happiness and introduced some improvements of consequence in the public taste. For his wit and comic effect he will deservedly remain a favourite with the French and a standard in their language. I have read all his plays in exactly one month. My daily portion has been missed but once and that was on a day which I had allowed myself a holiday. It was on last Exhibition.3 This has been beneficial to me as it has proved my method and resolution and also it has opened to my examination the beauties of one of the first authors in the French or in any language. I speak now in my own person and therefore drop the objection of moral tendency.

I had intended to have spent the afternoon in reading but Tudor came in and staid here. We conversed for a considerable time. This is a singular man, I have attempted once or twice to draw a correct character but find myself unable. His fine feelings, his variableness, his love of contradiction and his obstinacy when engaged on a side make up a chaos which it is impossible to arrange in a continual and regular series. The fine points of his nature far out-balance the bad ones. He is generous, he is affectionate, and openhearted. Positive and this arises from youth, obstinate and this comes from feeling. The truth is that he has lived without obtaining or endeavouring to obtain any command over his passions, he gratifies all his desires without hesitations. Still he has some principle, for though dissipated he never drinks to excess and ardent he indulges but little in women. Of this latter quality one might be led to doubt his possession. But on the whole I incline to think from his complexion and temper it is but want of temptation which makes him appear the contrary. This principle if I will speak correctly, I must allow is not from a sentiment of moral wrong but from the dislike of the consequences as affecting himself. Thus have I been as fair and impartial as possible in this account. He is my friend.

I read ninety pages of Mosheim today—to become disgusted by his partiality, and the contentions which he describes. Had I not gone so 135far in this work, I should throw it up in disgust, and that would injure my perseverance. We attended the Dudleian Lecture this afternoon in the place of a recitation. It was delivered this year by Mr. Flint of Salem.4 The subject, the force of revealed religion. This makes the fourth we have heard since entering College. There was not a great deal of argument in it as his proofs were simple, reducing himself to two or three plain but pretty powerful dilemmas. His close was eloquent however, in his address to the students he spoke with much feeling and his unaffected manner had considerable effect. It was on the whole quite an agreable disappointment. The rest of the day was spent in finishing my portion of Mosheim, writing a sketch for my tomorrow’s theme and studying my lesson. At nine o’clock, Richardson and Tudor came down and we drank a bottle of Champagne Wine together. We (the Lyceum Club of whom I shall speak hereafter) had bought a hamper and therefore to try its quality we three took one of the Society.5 It was very delicious and after some conversation we all retired, I being moderately exhilarated, very slightly however. The Wine was very fine. XI.


Charles Churchill (1731–1764).


“La gloire du dôme du Val-de-Grâce.”


By college rule this would have been the last Tuesday of April (or 27 April).


The Dudleian Lecture was an annual rotating theological discourse. The Rev. James Flint’s sermon was later published in A Present from a Pastor to His Young Parishioners, Boston, 1844; the manuscript is in the Harvard Archives.


Thus in MS.