Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Thursday. June 17th. VII:30. CFA Thursday. June 17th. VII:30. CFA
Thursday. June 17th. VII:30.

I missed Prayers and recitation this morning as I had not got my lesson and was very sleepy. On getting up, found myself afflicted with a very heavy cold which I had caught on Tuesday night by sitting down at the door after our return. I was somewhat troubled this Morning about my Forensic for which I had made no preparation from some cause or other. Just as I was in the middle of my quandary, Cunningham brought the agreable news of there being none this morning. I was rejoiced at this as it gave me an opportunity to write up my journal in the course of the Morning. I also read Cowpers Tirocinium or Review of Schools. It is a very severe satire upon the present system of large Schools but it gives none in return which is not open to greater objection.

In matter of instruction, I think there can be no doubt, but what private life is the best and also that the morals of a child may be injured by a public education but then there can be as little doubt that a bookish man, a mere student, will never pass off in the world. He can not succeed who is not plentifully supplied with that fashion-191able quality called brass. He also loses the society of people of his own age and class and all that polish of manner which is acquired only in associating with persons of proper rank. I know well from experience that this is injurious to a high degree to a man. He should take care who has children that while students and acquiring knowledge, they should know the ways of the world and be able to meet every man on his own ground. As to the seduction in a common school, a boy of a moderately strong mind with good principles early inculcated and narrowly observed without his knowledge will pass through the ordeal without material injury and with the good of experience. I am now in the midst of my trial and will know the success of my doctrine by my own case. If not a respectable man at least, it will not be owing to education but to a taste naturally perverted. Cowper was an instance of fear of the world carried to a most extreme height, such perhaps as brings no confirmation to his doctrine. Thus my Morning went and I felt somewhat lighter in spirits as this burden was heavy. Chapman and Dwight were driven in by stress of weather and sat with me until dinner time. I have not seen the latter privately for a great while and wish to speak with him on the subject of Cunningham as I really am anxious to make that matter up.

After dinner I went down to Porter’s Hall,1 understanding that they were going to select Officers from my Class for the next year. There has been much talk of a great competition for it but there was none. North,2 his great rival, has left College and Cunningham was elected unanimously. I was much pleased as this gives the decided triumph to the Northern party in our class, which has so long been in a struggling state. We have had many good men from the South and two or three braggarts for whom the whole suffered. Cunningham declined under the present restrictions, and stated, that unless the government changed their vote concerning the music he should decide against having any thing to do with the matter. As no body else would do any more and the company were not inclined to choose any one else, the company was adjourned until Tuesday when the Officers would report the success of a petition to the Government.3

I employed the afternoon in reading one Chapter of Mitford on the History of Athens, Institutions of Solon, the changes of their government—the Colonies from Greece, the institutions of Archons, Medon being the first, the gradual change to an absolute democracy, the characters of Solon and Peisistratus, the nine archons, the chief, the king, the polemarch, and thesmothetae. The Areiopagus. An absolute democracy appears to me to be no better than decided anarchy, and 192Athens from it’s commencement turned to this sort of government. Lacedaemon appears almost always to have been the most powerful as I think it is the most perfect on record. The Athenians by calling them in to their assistance in the time of Hippias which I am now reading. The books of Homer were first collected at this time or in that of Peisistratus immediately preceding and were set in order as they now are.

I went to recitation in Greek Testament to Dr. Popkin at four o’clock, spent half an hour at the Athenaeum, attended Prayers, and after tea, took a walk with Richardson and Tudor. Upon our return, we went to Tudor’s where we spent the evening. Barnwell4 of his class was there and conversed until half past ten o’clock when I came down to look at my lesson. I did not however examine this trusting to an early hour tomorrow morning. I then read over my Chapters of the Bible as usual and retired to bed having spent my day more usefully than common. XI.


There appear to have been two Porter’s Taverns in Cambridge at about this period, one on the Cambridge side of the Charles, near the present Anderson Bridge (Batchelder, Bits of Harvard History, p. 67), the other at Porter Square, in North Cambridge (The Harvard Book, Cambridge, 1875, 2:357).


John G. North, of Charleston, S.C., a junior ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).


The sectional rivalry at Harvard which embittered club affairs (see entry for 13 June, and note, above) also affected class politics. The juniors were now electing a captain for one of the companies of the celebrated Harvard Washington Corps. This marching society, organized in 1811 and remodeled in 1822, consisted of four companies, totaling one hundred and twenty men. At its head was a lieutenant colonel. Its grand function was to parade in uniform on the afternoon of Exhibition days (see entry for 29 June, below).

To keep down expenses and to tighten college discipline, a faculty committee, consisting of Professors Otis and Channing, had been appointed on 29 April to consider the future of the military order. On 10 May they recommended that the group be continued, but that in the future it should not hold an encampment, should not be allowed more than six musicians, including fife and drum, and should not be served refreshments after Exhibition day parades. The proposed rules were very distasteful to members of the corps, who enjoyed martial music as well as the traditional gay dinner which capped their public performances. Nevertheless, the faculty approved the new rules on 21 June, with the concession (made, perhaps, as a result of the petition CFA mentioned) that ten musicians, drum and fife included, were to be allowed on great occasions. See Records of the College Faculty, 10:65, 66, 69, Harvard Archives; Batchelder, Bits of Harvard History, p. 65 ff., for a full history of the corps; Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard , p. 214–215.


William Barnwell, of Beaufort, S.C., a senior ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).

Friday. June 18th. V. CFA Friday. June 18th. V. CFA
Friday. June 18th. V.

Arose and having read my Enfield over attended Prayers and recitation. I then read Cowper’s Table Talk, which I did not feel at all struck with, some satire in it but he has treated it so much better in 193other parts of his works that this seems to be only the outline of the more perfect picture. He is satirical to a great degree and although more pious than I wish him to be as he inveighs against the theatre, billiards, cards, which I take to be perfectly innocent amusements when not used for any sinister purposes.

I then wrote my journal and at ten o’clock was ready to attend Mr. Channing’s Lecture which was today upon deliberative Oratory or that sort of Eloquence adapted to Assemblies by which he meant a number of Individuals meeting together to consult upon the interests of any number or some national concern. He passed over the Areiopagus and Amphictyonic Council without notice, referred to the Council of Five Hundred and to the favourable opportunity for display of this sort at Athens in the time of Demosthenes. He then spoke of the Romans, their prevailing passion, ambition and this the reason that Eloquence did not flourish till in the decline of the State. He then gave us an account of the opportunity for this kind of speaking in the Senate of Rome and referred to the state of subjection an Orator was in to the people even when he governed them most. He then descanted upon the nature of a popular government and in fact employed half of it in nothing whatsoever to do directly with the subject but a mere essay on government. I was quite dissatisfied with him I must confess.

Coming home I read Mitford’s sixth Chapter in the course of the Morning. It treated of Asia, the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, of Cyrus, Cambyses and Darius and the circumstances which led to the connection between the two people. In fact there is not much in this part which cannot easily be remembered without notes. It is mere history and although the Author sometimes reflects, his observations are always short and simple but almost always somewhat striking. I then finished the first part of the Introduction to Anacharsis. I am not so well pleased reading over this a second time as history because the author deviates into the romantic too often. He intended it probably as a popular work among a large class of the light readers who would like history very well when garnished up with a good deal of imagination and when the fabulous ages particularly can be treated as the author chooses.

I read also almost the whole of the life of Lycurgus in Plutarch and was much pleased with it. I am somewhat of an admirer of his system although he excludes knowledge from his community. He was a remarkable man and performed an astonishing work, he made a very great change by small means and was pure certainly so far as temporal 194desires went. He was ambitious but not of being a sovereign. One of the strongest marks of his sense was I think, not to permit any of his laws to be put down in writing but to take the general sense of the people. As corruption advances, people always become more attached to the letter than to the spirit of the laws and an evasion of the former saves a man even though he shall have done the criminal action. By destroying all opportunity he destroyed all desire.

There are but few actions which can be considered as natural crimes in my mind, perhaps murder is the only one, all others are formed by convention. Theft and adultery were not known as such in Sparta, they were allowed and formed no disgrace to the code. The fact is that we do not think of laws except by the custom of the country and I for my part believe that there are in a savage state no such things as crimes, except murder and rape, which is violating the natural freedom of every individual. That in society other laws are necessary, I grant, and also that they should have the force and consideration of natural laws, I allow also. I was not able to finish this Life before Declamation which I attended and heard Brown1 and Cunningham speak very well.

Immediately after this I attended Mr. Nuttall’s Lecture which was upon the Corrolla of Flowers. He mentioned their different sorts and illustrated them by Examples. He has a very simple and easy way of lecturing which I am much pleased with. I was pretty well acquainted with this part of the subject before.

After his lecture I went and obtained a Chaise and we drove (Sheafe and I) to Lexington. We were caught in a slight shower of rain but luckily it passed off and the weather and scenery were delightful. I went to be patriotic and see the monument of those who fell in the first battle in the revolutionary war in this country. I copied the inscription and shall insert it in my Common Place Book although it does no credit to the Author, I could have done better myself.2 We returned to tea and in the Evening, I attended a meeting of the Knights at Wheelwrights.3 The Porcellians met but decided upon nothing, they all looked blown. XI.


William K. Brown, of Boston, a junior ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).


CFA did insert the long inscription in his Literary Commonplace Book (M/CFA/18), p. 290 (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 312).


William Wilson Wheelwright, of Boston, a senior ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).