Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

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.

Saturday. July. 17th. VI. CFA Saturday. July. 17th. VI. CFA
Saturday. July. 17th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography. Went to the bookstore and Athenaeum, found very little in the papers. Mr. Force has bought the Washington Republican and proposes to publish a daily paper in opposition to the Intelligencer. A number of this latter paper did not come this Morning so that I was unable to see what answer they made to my father. They have the most sliding, misrepresenting villainous way with them that I have ever known in a publication. Though very justly punished, they may do some injury.1 As I am perfectly independent of all this however, I care not one cent.

I returned home and wrote my Journal and read one or two articles of the North American Review. One on the subject of Boccaccio which did not appear of much importance and one on the Tariff which I did not like although it comes from Mr. Everett.2 It appears to me to be reasoning not of the very strongest, but I was in such a languid state while reading it, that I presume it was owing to that. I know not what it is, but my usual energy is gone. Since the interval which I have taken my powers of mind are considerably weakened and any thing but an exciting book puts me to sleep; I am determined to conquer this.

In the afternoon, I remained in my room reading, finished a Chapter in Mitford concerning the first Peloponesian War until the death of Pericles. An account of the famous plague of Athens which made such havoc in the middle of a raging war. The people of this city were unfortunate but the nature of their Government must have prevented their success, for the people had become almost unmanageable. It is a question not yet decided whether a people are able to govern themselves and it is exceedingly doubtful whether even our experiment will succeed. I read the second age of Anacharsis also. He makes romance of history.

I did business with Mr. Porter for the Knights and exchanged my Burns for a set of Johnson at the Bookstore a very advantageous business for me. After Prayers I took a walk with Richardson, returning spent sometime at the Hotel with Dwight and others after which we returned and I read my Bible, having had some pleasant converse with Richardson, went to bed. XI.

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1.

The editors of the National Intelligencer denied that they had published a distorted selection of the documents concerning JQA’s slave trade convention (see entry for 15 July, and note, above) but refused to make a personal or political issue of the Secretary’s blunt attack, expressing “our sincere regret that one, who has so many claims on our personal respect, should have permitted himself to use this language” (Daily National Intelligencer, 12 July 1824). The editors then attempted further to pacify JQA by printing all the papers on the slave trade convention in an extra issue of 15 July.

2.

Caleb Cushing, “Boccaccio’s Decameron,” North American Review, 44:68–86 (July 1824); Edward Everett, “The Tariff Question,” same, p. 223–253.