Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Monday. May 17th. VII:30. CFA Monday. May 17th. VII:30. CFA
Monday. May 17th. VII:30.

Arose, feeling perfectly well, but having fixed my mind upon going away I went to the President’s immediately after breakfast and obtained leave of absence for the rest of the term. As he appeared to be 143in good humour, I made some inquiries on two points which have long been matter of agitation in my mind. They are whether I could exchange the study of Mathematics for some more interesting and more profitable study to myself and the other whether, in case I had a claim by my rank to a part, the Government would not take an excuse. On the first point the President was not explicit. He said that there had been some similar cases, and that he would speak to the Professor of Mathematics and see what could be done. My reasons are pretty word omitted—a dislike to the study, ill grounding, and loss of time. On the second he was not inclined to give me much hope. He said the Government imposed these things as a duty and an honor. If it was not considered the latter it must be taken in the former light. This shut my mouth and I was obliged to depart not so well satisfied with the conversation as I might be. I do hope still that by gaining the one I may obtain the other petition as I see no way in which I can be brought into even competition with any of my class.

I returned home and spent the rest of the Morning in wading through the terribly long night of Young. The poor man must have racked his brain considerably to write such a one as the eighth. I did not attend Mr. Farrar’s Lecture today owing to the want of time to accomplish my Journal and so forth. I also went to the Bookstore to read the new Plan to be adopted for this Institution. After examining the sketch, I have come to the opinion that something must be done, and that a great deal here is good but that somewhat of this must be corrected for I cannot think that a common place of boarding can be of any advantage to College as this does not appear to raise any obstacle to the old fault of the Institution, rebellion. To be sure the censure will be taken off the College in general but it will only come with greater force upon individuals. Dr. Ware and Mr. Hedge might come more into odium among the Students. I am too far advanced to have this materially affect me and I am thankful for it. For although I am perfectly willing to confess a change necessary, I am not inclined to be a sufferer by it. The system of fines is to be abolished and tasks imposed—a change under which I should suffer considerably.1

My affairs being arranged here, I stepped into the Stage and bid Goodbye to Cambridge and the Lyceum with a heart far from sorrowful. I have relished this term remarkably but nevertheless it has been of uncommon length and I have taken no recess to ease it off. My studies have been pretty close. My College exercises generally speaking pretty well performed and I have derived great benefit from my notes. Indeed I have but little reason to repent of my conduct. Per-144haps I wasted some time in dissipation in the first part of the term but this was pretty fully made up latterly.

My ride to town was dull and uninteresting. I went immediately to my brother’s room2 where I sat with him for an hour. Our conversation was so agreable that the time passed off astonishingly. I had much to say to him concerning the present state of our politics and he to me on the attack upon our family lately made by Mr. Timothy Pickering of Salem in the shape of a review of the Cunningham correspondence in which he is so severely handled.3 It seems that there is no limit to the abuse which he pours upon the Adams’s. This might make my blood boil, but when I think it comes from the man who was kicked out of office by my Grandfather, and who now tries his last strength to overturn the power which has ruled over him so completely, I am more desirous of looking at this with pity. He has now little influence, what little he has had, has been used to the injury of his country and native state. For he was the counsellor of the violent measures of the last war. Now he feels himself deserted and only able to show his teeth and bark to such effect however that we shall presently believe him mad. Conversing on this subject and others of equal importance, the Quincy stage arrived in the midst of our discourse and I hurried away. Receiving two or three slight cuts from Miss Harriet Welsh “en passant.”

My stage companions were two young girls and one old man. The latter was an amusing old crone who informed us all that he was happier than the richest man in the world. He had nothing, to be sure but then he cared for nothing. He passed along easily and contentedly without making any stir. Indeed I have seldom seen a man who seemed more pleased and contented with his wretched state. If he was poor as a church mouse he knew how to bear it. One of the girls appeared to be really a piety of the first degree and warmed quite enchantingly while singing the praises of good Mr. Cutler.4 The other was not so enthusiastic but would have been quite pretty had she squinted less.

The observation of human nature is one of my most favourite amusements and one which is most assisted by the freedom of a stage coach. We are always in search for variety of character and are delighted when we find it. The pretty prude who was at the corner is a common character in young women and always appears the most laughable. They are such a yielding sex that while you hear them talking in their prettiest manner, you cannot help thinking that their muscles are not always so rigid nor their principles so stern. A pretty 145enthusiast is the sweetest and at the same time the weakest person in the world. I had some converse with the other girl whom I found more easy and perhaps more bold. These people know how to flatter for they talked of my grandfather as if they did not know me. At least the man did and perhaps he was really ignorant of my name but this was not the case with the other although she was very warm in his praises. More so perhaps than might have been necessary. Thus passed the time and I alighted at the bottom of the hill quite diverted with my afternoon’s entertainment. I walked leisurely up the hill leading to my Grandfather’s house and admired very much the beauty of the country, the vividness of the grass and the number of blossoms. Indeed I have never seen the summer open more beautifully than it does this year. The rains have made the Spring very unpleasant indeed but they have preserved the verdure of the grass. Cambridge being situated so low does not show itself so much to advantage and my room being upon a barren common.

I was soon saluted by a dozen voices and had soon the pleasure of going through the usual form of salutation all round. After finding out what all knew before that we were some of us sick except myself I went up to see my grandfather and talk with him. He was full of Pickering’s book, the preface to which he made me read and part of the review. It is a scandalous publication and serves to make the plot of this election thicken. Mr. P. writes like a mad bull and gores every person who is thrown in his way. At tea, I met my Uncle who appears to relish this the least of all. In fact I find the family grind their teeth not that they feel anxious concerning the book but because they long to see him prostrated which desire will soon be gratified. For he has attacked three men who have powerful men to avenge them. The old gentleman appears exceedingly feeble and evidently will soon be laid up in his death bed. He converses cheerfully.

After a very little nonsense with the ladies, retired. XI:15.


After the great student riot of 1823 (see entry for 28 May, below), the various governing boards of Harvard and the public became convinced that something was wrong with the college. An investigating committee, headed by Joseph Story, set to work, and its first recommendations were made public in May 1824. They included: (1) the strengthening of the power of the President, making him the “real, and effective Head of the University,” with wide powers over the departments; (2) the establishment of departments, each directed by a professor charged with recommending appointments and removals; (3) the organization of faculty boards to run the college more economically and to discipline students more effectively. Later the committee made another report, and the two sets of recommendations, considerably modified and amended, became the basis of the new set of college statutes adopted in June 1825. See Overseers Records, 7:9, 16, 32, 52, 62–63, 66–71, 76–78, 83–85, 14692, 212, 220–227, Harvard Archives; and Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard , p. 231–233.

Of the other reforms recommended, CFA objected to the imposition of tasks, instead of fines, as penalties for misconduct, but he approved permitting students to board out instead of eating in commons.


GWA roomed with Dr. Thomas Welsh, at 20 Hancock Street.


In 1823, in an obvious attempt to injure JQA’s chances for the Presidency, there was published in Boston a volume entitled Correspondence between the Hon. John Adams . . . and the Late William Cunningham, Esq..... The letters from JA, written between 1803 and 1810 to his first cousin once removed, William Cunningham Jr. (1767–1823), were strongly anti-Jeffersonian in the early years but gradually became vigorously anti-Federalist. Cunningham wanted JA to soften his criticism of the old Federalists, especially since JA was contributing anti-Federalist letters to the Boston Patriot, and threatened to make public JA’s earlier, anti-Jeffersonian letters to embarrass JA with the Madison administration, which JA and JQA were supporting.

Cunningham committed suicide in 1823, but his son, Ephraim May Cunningham (1792–1852), published the now famous correspondence, which Timothy Pickering, an old Federalist whom JA had dismissed from his office as Secretary of State in 1800, reviewed in May 1824. In a 200-page pamphlet entitled A Review of the Correspondence between the Hon. John Adams and the Late William Cunningham, Esq. . . . , Salem, Pickering violently attacked both JA and Jefferson.

For a fuller account of this affair see CFA’s comment in JA, Works , 1:628–629; Columbian Centinel, 15 May 1824; and Jefferson’s thoughtful letter to JA, 12 Oct. 1823, Adams Papers. On the Cunninghams’ connection with JA, see Adams Genealogy.


Presumably Benjamin C. Cutler, the Episcopal minister in Quincy ( Mass. Register, 1825, p. 92).

Tuesday. May 18th. VIII:30. CFA Tuesday. May 18th. VIII:30. CFA
Tuesday. May 18th. VIII:30.

Although not extraordinarily late, I found my breakfast laid by and the room cleaned up. I was therefore reminded that the indulgence of former days was over, that the departure of my brother John who used to make this sort of indulgence more valuable, had broken all my plans. This is the first vacation that I have spent at Quincy without him. And here it is that I feel his absence most. All our parties and diversions are broken up for want of somebody to carry them on with and I find myself doomed to the variety of books. It is happy for me that I can bear this without complaining, but I must acknowledge, I cannot see how John could have lived here through four months in the same train. He paid me two compliments by requesting my society which I was willing enough to give him as the College studies were difficult and tedious. Since his departure from here, Quincy has become less attractive and has seen less of me. So that I now feel precisely as if in a strange family. Abby looks better than she used to, probably for discontinuing her loads of medicine. She is not very communicative about Washington. I think she has much improved by showing less of her fretting temper and by having acquired more of 147the manners of a lady. This is much more striking when we see the comparison.

I spent the morning partly in writing my Journal, partly in reading the first half of Young’s Ninth and last Night. This man was a singular character. His temper in his youth at least does not seem to have been the most gloomy. I imagine that he made himself so to write as I have sometimes made myself melancholy to enjoy the luxury. Lorenzo appears to be not the finest character in the world. The life vehemently denies that he intended his son to be represented. But this is written as if the son himself was the author. Dr. Johnson says but little. I took a ride also with Grandfather who appears remarkably feeble. He requires support now which I have never known before. We did not take a long ride for he could not bear it and merely stopped at Mr. Marston’s1 to hear what he had to say. He looked very busy, and important as usual. The day was a remarkably fine one, and he came home considerably refreshed. The rest of the morning was spent in lounging and keeping the old gentleman company, which is something of a task. My spirits are cheerful, but there is always something chilling to me here which I do not believe it will ever be possible for me to get over.

After dinner, feeling in singular state of humour, I took a walk up Montezillo as my Grandfather has called it2—and seated myself down on a rock where I had a view of all the harbour and of Boston. I had indulged myself in a remarkable train of musing on “auld lang syne.” My situation in this life, and the many pleasant hours I have spent here with John. For my pleasurable associations here will always turn upon him as we saw none else. I thought of our future course, that we should never see so much of each other again, that soon he would have a part to take in this world and would be engaged in a heavy responsibility. I ran over our future prospects, George with his marked distinctly for he will have much to struggle with, he has taken his course.3 John with his which is yet at his own disposal.4 And I, who am doomed to live an independent and a single life. I have not enjoyed pleasure of this sort for a long time, as it paralizes exertion and only makes me feel that I have neglected my duty. Thus I spent two hours after which I returned home and finding no other employment, took down Tacitus and commenced my destined task of translating the life of Agricola. In looking over a copy which was in my grandfather’s library5 I came to a mark of my father’s in which he put down his progress forty years ago. I determined to pursue the same course and for today I translated three sections. It is my intention if I have 148time to reduce it all to writing in order to improve my style which is said to be barren.

Tea was announced as I finished—and I went, after which I went up to the old gentleman’s sitting room where I amused him by reading aloud part of a book which he has just received called “The constitution of England explained.” It is the production of a man by the name of Cartwright6 who appears to be one of the extravagant advocates of radical reform in England. He writes as if he was not perfectly sound, certainly not perfectly correct. The book was very dull also, so I shut it up as soon as I obtained convenient opportunity. I then read over John’s letters7 to my Grandfather, and three of others to him, after which I went down stairs to hear the ladies talk of dress as Mrs. Clark and Elizabeth had just come out of town. This was not my forte so I laid down quietly on the sopha. Afterwards I had a little conversation with Mrs. Adams upon Shaw whose place of retirement I had not before known, and then retired. XI:45.


Presumably John Marston, JA’s old friend.


After JA and Jefferson resumed their correspondence in 1812, JA fancied his Quincy estate as “Montezillo,” or little hill, as contrasted to “Monticello,” or Jefferson’s lofty mountain. This was one of several names JA gave his Quincy home. See JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:248.


GWA was admitted to the Suffolk County bar in 1824 and in 1826 was chosen to the Massachusetts legislature.


Expelled from Harvard after the 1823 “rebellion,” JA2 was studying law in Washington under his father’s guidance.


For editions of Tacitus among JA’s books in the Boston Public Library, see Catalogue of JA’s Library , p. 240–241.


JQA’s copy of John Cartwright, The English Constitution Produced and Illustrated, London, 1823, is in the Stone Library. Among JA’s books in the Boston Public Library are two copies of the work ( Catalogue of JA’s Library , p. 45).