Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Thursday. July. 15th. V:55. CFA Thursday. July. 15th. V:55. CFA
Thursday. July. 15th. V:55.

Attended Prayers and the last recitation in Enfield. I am rejoiced at this as it has been an exceedingly disgusting book from it’s length. We commenced somewhere in July and have been studying it the whole year except the first term. It is a work too which by the progress of Philosophy wants much correcting. I do not think young men ought to derive their ideas from a book of this sort, because erroneous impressions are with great difficulty worn off. There is much in Astronomy it appears to me, which might be left off as it hardly is worth the trouble given in studying it. Our next work is Topography and this I believe is our last in the course of Mathematics at Cambridge. This is much consolation to me. For I cannot be pleased with mere mining although we do obtain, I will not say gold for I do not think it so precious, I will say, copper, which makes up by its currency and use for want of value.

This day was our’s as the other division read Forensics to Mr. Hedge in the Morning and in future we have no lesson in the afternoon on this day of the week, for the rest of this term. I wrote my Journal in the Morning and spent an hour and a half foolishly at the bookstore this Morning endeavouring to select a book as a present from Tudor, and did not succeed after all.

I also went to the Reading room and was a good deal affected by seeing a piece in the National Journal evidently from the hands of my father, which possessed all that bitterness and caustic severity which he is so much noted for.1 I regretted this as it will be made a handle against him for accusations which have been made already and although I think that the printers have acted in a most scandalous manner I am afraid that they will turn his own high feelings against him. For my own part however, I am anxious that he should show himself what he is and preserve that lofty character which has been matter of so much satisfaction to himself already. Whether the people of the United States do give him the honor or not is doubtful but were I no relative to the family of this I am sure, that I should think him [fol. 240] [fol. 240] [fol. 240] [fol. 240] 241the greatest, I am not certain that I should not say the only candidate, who is fit for the high office which they are putting him up for. He may not, he will not obtain it, but he will retire from his office with the proud satisfaction of having done his duty to his country.

I am satisfied in either way. My opinion would not be altered as to his merit nor do I think that a contrary decision would be the voice of the majority of this people. I returned home considerably anxious and have thought much of this since. I cannot help being interested although I endeavour not to be, and my wish continually is that it was over when I should know what would become of me. The time is fast approaching and a few months more will settle the affair.

I read Plutarchs life of Themistocles, this Afternoon, and read a Chapter in Mitford. The leading feature in the character of this man appears to have been unbounded ambition, he had a high mind which despising trifles looked only to those great ends which were to make him a man, and a hero. The anecdotes told here concerning him tend remarkably to this belief and set off this part of his character strikingly. If he was eager to obtain money, it was only that he might gain more influence, for avarice was no part of his composition. On the whole I think he is certainly as great a man as Aristides. I do not know but that I could say a greater. In Mitford, I got to the time of Pericles, and the end of the first war with Lacedaemon. At this time Athens was in it’s greatest glory, the most powerful, the richest, the most elegant and literate commonwealth of Greece which was the first in arts in the world. We begin here to trace the causes which led to the destruction of this power, which made the people licentious and which finally brought on ruin upon the republic.

I attended Mr. Nuttall’s Lecture today upon the Gynandrous plants and upon the classes of Monoecia and Dioecia of Linnaeus. It was not an interesting lecture nor a very instructive one as it requires peculiar attention to be given to it for some time, a mere lecture being scarcely sufficient to explain even the general character of the flower. I took a nap this afternoon unintentionally by which means I lost an hour. On the whole however I spent the day very profitably and after Prayers gave my section a squad, they did better but not so well as usual, they have exercised so much of late that they are not to be calculated upon so much. My pride has obtained a little healthy mortification by this. After the usual meeting of the Officers I returned home and spent some time in getting the first lesson in Topography, at least not the first but one in Heights and Distances. I then read my Bible and retired. XI:15.

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1.

Ostensibly because the National Intelligencer had failed to print all the documents relating to the slave trade convention the Monroe administration had negotiated with Great Britain but instead had published only a selection of the papers hostile to that treaty, JQA had authorized the publication of official papers from the State Department in the rival National Journal. The fact that the Intelligencer was neutral on the presidential question, while the Journal was devotedly promoting JQA’s chances, doubtless influenced the Secretary’s decision. When the editors of the Intelligencer objected, JQA tartly defended his action and announced: “The Secretary of State asks neither the favor or the friendship of the Editors of the Intelligencer.” See his unsigned article in the National Journal, 10 July 1824, as reprinted in the Daily National Intelligencer, 12 July 1824. For further developments in this controversy, see entries for 17 and 20 July, below.

Friday. July 16th. VI. CFA Friday. July 16th. VI. CFA
Friday. July 16th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography. Mr. Heyward has cheated the class very unhandsomely out of a miss, as is always usual upon entering a new book. The government certainly have some exceeding mean traits in their character and I think this late fine1 is one of the most remarkable instances of this character that has yet been shown. Had they punished them by public admonition, I imagine it would have had the same effect and would have been more honourable.

I attended a lecture of Mr. Channing’s this morning on style which appeared to me one of the best he has yet delivered. The first thing which we do, he said, is to analyze the feelings of the person writing, and his design. His method of expressing himself whether manifesting any force of genius or not. There were two classes of men he said, and with this he commenced his observations upon the utility of books for style, very different from each other but each striking particularly by contrast, the one was that class of men who have always applied themselves to books exclusively and have spent all their days in a library. They will tell that now there is nothing like originality, that a man is little else than a fool who attempts to do any thing out of the line marked out for him by older and standard Authors. What use they say or what advantage can be derived in attempting to do a thing which has already been done better probably than you are able. If you ask them whether conversation is not a good way of procuring knowledge and instruction, they will tell you that at best it is a very loose way of gaining information and that much time is lost which might be employed in study. If you ask them whether it is not well to walk out and study the face of nature, observe it’s beauties and enjoy the productions of the earth, They will say it is wasted time, for what is the use of taking much time to learn that by experience yourself, which you can 243soon get by that of others. Life is too short for a man to obtain all knowledge of personal experience, we must trust to others who have gone before us. It is better to give up some of the knowledge than merely be a book worm.

There is another class as common or more so in the world and far more disgusting, when met with. It is that which rejects all books as the restraints and trammels of genius, which arrogates to itself all knowledge from an instinctive possession, who would only feel curbed by rules, and become tame when they could be great. Many characters there are who do aspire to this eminence but there are very few who truly are in this way affected. There are some. Vanity and Indolence however generally prompt this sort of boasting and are on this account exceedingly unpleasant. He said that reading was principally of use to store the mind with facts and images which by thought become our own. Almost all others may be charged with plagiarism if taking figures from others may be considered so, but he did not think it was. In reading, Ideas did not pass into the Memory sometimes but were retained insensibly as subjects of meditation until they came out entirely new modelled. He then went upon a little Metaphysics, he talked of the operations of the mind while awake and asleep and at last resembled it to a man who could direct a stream through innumerable channels in his garden. He might stop one and open another but he could not create or give force to the stream. A man might give his mind direction in it’s thoughts but he could not stop them or create them. But I have said enough of this lecture although much in the first part I have omitted—the advice as to reading also which, I might judge, was nothing but the medium between the extremes he described.

I employed the Morning in writing my Journal and reading a capital review on the subject of America and abuse of it in the Quarterly, it is a worthy chastisement and exhibits a powerful pen. In the afternoon I attended Declamation. The Sophomores commenced today, they were frightened out of their wits and spoke very poorly in general. After this, I attended Mr. Nuttall’s Lecture on the last class of Linnaeus, Cryptogamia. I read this Afternoon one Chapter of Mitford, concerning the affairs of Greece for the thirty years truce, the wars of Corcyra, Potidaea and finally the grand quarrel between Athens and Sparta. I also read a little of the romantic Anacharsis and looked over my Evening lesson. After Prayers, I gave my squad a drill, they did a little better but not perfectly well. After it was over, I went over to a Meeting of the officers at the First Lieutenants where we practiced the sword exercise, and performed a few of the manoeuvres in 244platoons. The difficulty was however that our drinking provisions fell short very quick, which was a grievous thing to me. I returned home, read my Bible and retired immediately to bed. XI:30.

1.

See entry for 14 July, above.