Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Thursday. May. 27th. VIII:30. CFA Thursday. May. 27th. VIII:30. CFA
Thursday. May. 27th. VIII:30.

Thomas Hellen took his leave this morning for Exeter, evidently much against his will. He is quite agreable and when he shall have lost a little of his confidence, obtained I know not how, he will do very well. Great assurance in a young man is very disagreable and I would rather see him err on the side of modesty or timidity. The latter is by far the most easily corrected.

After breakfast I took a walk to see the canal which is digging, by whom no person knows.1 I also read all the poems of Gray, which are in this collection.2 This is an author who has always been a great favourite of mine although so severely lashed by Dr. Johnson. His elegy and Bard are very beautiful specimens of the pathetic and sublime. His other odes are sweet but require keener observation than I can at present afford. His poems, I have reserved for frequent examination. I employed the rest of the day in reading Mrs. Opie’s second volume of the New Tales. They are extremely interesting but still more subject to the observation made yesterday. In the “Confes-160sions of an Odd tempered Man” I find a character very much resembling my own although rather strained, for dramatic effect.3 Caprice is a prevailing passion with me in the light world, and I am very unconscionable in my dislikes of women and take prejudices immediately. My own character has been matter of some contemplation to myself and although I will not pretend to come to any decision concerning it, I think that I have some hints. At any rate, I know that by some singular idea, I am ever desirous to conceal the best traits of my character.

In the evening a young lady by the name of Cooper came out to pay a visit to the girls. Who she is, I know not. She is not pretty nor interesting. My Uncle also returned from Boston where he went in the morning. I spent an hour in the evening with my Grandfather in conversation concerning books and some time in the parlour although I see no family group half so pleasing now and I have again retired within my shell, after an uncommon exertion and satisfactory proof to the women that “I can be agreable when I am inclined to be so.” Now this is not much matter of importance to me. I had this evening the pleasure of sitting with my Uncle alone, in one of his usual fits, and I thought it somewhat singular that young girls should be invited by our ladies to this house only to see the disgrace of their father and to feel—if they at all in the proportion as I do, I pity them.4 I pleaded being very sleepy owing to my last night’s vigil and got away early. XI:25.


A private citizen of Quincy, Joshua Torrey, projected a canal in 1824 that would run from the head of the creek, east of the old almshouse, almost to the meeting house. The town was unable to assist him, and he discontinued the work. A year later other Quincy residents began a new canal, which was to follow a stream called Town River from the Tidemill up as far as the Stone Bridge on the Hingham and Quincy turnpike. The work was completed in 1826, but the canal proved unprofitable and was finally abandoned. See Pattee, Old Braintree and Quincy , p. 104–105.


Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard” and “The Bard” are included in Aikin’s British Poets .


CFA identified himself with the narrator of the story, Henry Aubrey, a man of affections and sensibility who consciously retreated behind an “impenetrable coldness” in order to protect his independence and ego. Aubrey’s unnatural behavior cost him his wife, child, and future happiness.


Thus in MS.

Friday May 28th. IX:10. CFA Friday May 28th. IX:10. CFA
Friday May 28th. IX:10.

Up very late this morning, so that the morning passed rapidly. I finished Mrs. Opie and read the small and short productions of Smollett1 in Aikin’s Collection. The commencement of the Ode to 161Independence is beautiful and the whole is not moderate poetry by any means.

The young lady who came here yesterday expected her brother to carry her back to Boston. He accordingly came and spent all the afternoon. Having accidentally fallen into his company, I was detained by him all the afternoon. After some conversation concerning our College institutions in which he made many inquiries and I had to tell him all the old story of the last year’s rebellion2 he compelled me in civility to walk with him to the top of the hill opposite to the house—this was a task not the most relishing to me but I did it and he talked very wisely for some time concerning the view while the day was as misty as it conveniently might be with a little sprinkling of rain. It was most excessively hot withal so that I had given up walking after attempting it in the morning but civility conquers all things.

Returning I accompanied him to the library where he professed to show a great deal of knowledge, and made some of the most awkward blunders I ever heard. He wanted to know if the Koran was not a religious book of the Jews, and if it was not very rare; who was the author of the Federalist and if that was not very uncommon; he talked of Lytteltons3 Essays instead of his Henry 2d. and made many similar mistakes in about ten minutes, making comments upon all these withal. By this I soon set him down for a shallow fellow with some assurance. I was not displeased with him as he was not impertinent and was only desirous to conceal ignorance and expose all the knowledge which he possessed. This certainly was but small whether by his own fault or that of others, and decides his character. I then walked in the garden with him and so got rid of him. I then went to the Office4 to write my Journal but was unable as my Uncle was in a talking humour being under the influence of this fire which he perpetually takes. We talked Politics until tea was announced when I was unexpectedly announced into a large tea room, full of company. Dressed as I was, I began to feel foolishly, but immediately recollecting it was Quincy, I put on my usual brass. Mr. Marston and family were here but went off at nine. So did Cooper and sister. I forgot to mention that Thomas went to Boston and brought his aunt and cousin Mrs. and Miss Harrod5 to spend a few days. Some other invited young ladies had a little dance on the carpet. I went to bed early. XI.


Tobias George Smollett (1721–1771).


Intermittently there had heen student riots at Harvard, but the “Great Rebellion” of 1823 revealed both instructional and disciplinary inadequacies. The immediate cause of the riot—an “obedient black” informed on one of the “high fellows”—was unimportant; the significant fact was that the “uncom-162monly rowdy” class of 1823 was so little inspired by the curriculum that it chose to leave college rather than see its hero dismissed and the informant rewarded. Forty-three of the rebels were expelled (including JA2, whose father pleaded with the faculty for leniency), and only generations later were twenty-five of them granted A.B. degrees as of 1823. See Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard , p. 230–231. For the later story of reform at Harvard, see entry for 17 May, and note, above.


George, 1st Baron Lyttelton (1709–1773).


The “Office” at the Adams homestead meant the rambling frame structure close behind the family residence. This building is partly visible in some of the early views of the Old House and was used for many purposes. It was the farm office; it was at times occupied by tenants and caretakers; and for nearly a century one or more of its upper rooms held most of the immense accumulations of the Adamses’ books. At length in 1869 CFA had it torn down to make room for an extension of the kitchen of the main house and to improve the site of the Stone Library that he built soon afterward.


Mrs. TBA’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Charles Harrod, and her daughter, Susan D. Harrod.