Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Sunday. July 18th. VIII. CFA Sunday. July 18th. VIII. CFA
Sunday. July 18th. VIII.

Missed Prayers this Morning, as usual with me, this being truly my only morning of rest in the week. As I have not been excused this term, I determined not to attend Chapel today, and seated myself very leisurely to spend a pleasant day at home. In the morning I wrote my Journal and read some of the North American Review. This publication appears to be pretty ably conducted nevertheless and this number has two or three redeeming articles. There is a very amusing review of the late American Novels, giving them the lashing they deserve.1 I do think, the public have been drawn on to encourage some of the most wretched stuff by giving it the name of American. It is my opinion that we have no good writers of a light style in our country with a few exceptions, a very few. All who are good devote themselves to divinity and to politics. We have not become so populous a nation as to make a large tribe of authors, the most miserable beings in existence. Every one can obtain surer and better means of livelihood either from his profession or else from some subordinate one which he privately pursues. Politics engross all the attention of the talent of the country and young men who have ambition have easy means of encouraging it as this people is particularly open to impression.

In the afternoon, I continued with Mitford and finished the Second Volume which brings the History down to the application for peace by the Lacedaemonians. The history of this war is a melancholy account of human nature, cruelty exerted and unbridled, licentiousness of a mob encouraged. The moral sense of the age was not delicate, revenge was indulged to it’s full and society was destroyed. It is melancholy to think of men who really did possess noble qualities destroying themselves for no purpose on earth but the satisfaction of a wretched jealousy. Had this been a united people, it could have governed the world. Valour, heroism, greatness of mind, and love of country were distinguishing traits in their general character. They 246called all foreign nations, barbarians, although they themselves occupied but a very small portion of the globe known as it was at that time, and the noble answer to the Persians dictated by Aristides is an illustrious example of their firmness. The race of illustrious men had now passed away and we now find Athens under the influence of Cleon and fast declining to her ruin. The rest of her tale is but a melancholy account of misconduct, and misfortune. I like the style of this History very well and think the author is desirous to do justice to all parties. He gives as fair an account as possible although he may be influenced a little too much in favour of Herodotus and prejudiced against Plutarch. I do not know that I can speak so certainly on this matter but it appears a little so to me.

Having done this I finished the afternoon with Plutarch’s life of Aristides. As this is all appertaining to the same history, my remarks remain the same. In looking back, over all my employment, I am surprised to find no Poetry or light reading of any sort except Salmagundi for a few days. I am now uncertain which to commence, Cowper or Pope in their unread Poems. My avocations are so numerous now however that I am not certain whether I shall commence till the course of Botany is finished. I read my first lesson in Paley over today. The subject is certainly an interesting one and, treated in so simple a manner as it is by Dr. Paley, I cannot help being pleased with it. I enter into this course with no reluctance and hope sincerely that my good resolutions will not give way in this. I read it carefully over twice and intend every day to pursue the same plan.

In the Evening, I took a walk with Dwight and had some conversation with him on the subject of the Knight Club, on the expediency of admitting any Sophomores. I am decidedly in favour of the measure and he as much against it although I think I can bend him considerably. I returned home and having smoked a couple of cigars at Richardson’s, whom I like better since the Seniors have gone, I read my Bible and went to bed. X:20.

1.

The anonymous reviewer of Boston Prize Poems, Boston, 1824, felt that many of the verses “seem to have been written without the aid, and sometimes we should fear without the entire approbation of the muse.” The plot of Hobomok, a Tale of Early Times, by an American [Lydia Maria Child], Boston, 1824, was considered “not only unnatural, but revolting ... to every feeling of delicacy in man or woman” (North American Review, 44:256, 263 [July 1824]).

Monday July 19th. VI. CFA Monday July 19th. VI. CFA
Monday July 19th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography this Morning. I 247was not taken up as usual. I returned home and after breakfast attended a Lecture of Mr. Channing’s. It was upon the way of writing. He said it was not wonderful that it was an amusement so little popular, for that it required much exertion. A man when he undertakes to write must sit down and first drive away all other thoughts from his mind, he must think upon his subject exclusively, he must not give himself any range in ideas, but must wait and work for his production. It was not proper however when the moment for writing had come to stop the current of the thoughts, as was the case with some in order to correct what had gone before, a person should write upon the impulse of the moment. Nor should he stop until he was to look over the whole for the sake of correction. Nature is the best auxiliary to powerful writing. It was the habit with some to write very quick he said, and they were able to do so from practice and because their ideas always lie on the surface. They have a few common places to say on every subject. Writing of this kind was shallow and weak, however this was not uniformly the case for there were some who could write from the inspiration of the moment as strongly and as richly as they ever would be able to do. These were great and uncommon geniuses, and not very frequently occurring. He expressed himself as fully believing the dictum of seasons of inspiration or at least that men could write much better at one time than at another, which Dr. Johnson speaks so severely of. This man however is no admirer of Dr. Johnson in any thing, and when he does allude to him does not do it with much respect. Though I myself do not think much of Mr. Channing’s method. Study does exceeding well to form a style but practice is as good and, if one can write handsomely without deep study, I think it has more effect. For my own part if study is to form style I do not think I shall be so fortunate as to become a good critic.

As soon as he had finished, I returned home and studied my Paley until recitation time. I have had some idea of making an analysis of this book but on the whole I hardly thought it worth the trouble. He writes in a style so simple that I shall not be afraid to trust it to my memory. At ten we attended recitation and I on being called upon acquitted myself very handsomely. After it was over, he detained us with a very dry lecture upon the subject very little varied from Dr. Paley and an explanation of his system of Utility which we have not yet seen. This over, I spent the rest of the morning in looking over the lesson for tomorrow.

After dinner, I spent an hour at Otis’ looking over the lesson in Trigonometry which was quite long. At two, I attended Mr. Nuttall’s 248lecture upon the Roots and Stems. He gave us examples of the different roots, but the afternoon was so oppressively warm, that I could do nothing. My attention was not in my power. His lecture was very long and detained us until after three. I hurried home, and spending a few minutes more in going over the lesson, attended the recitation. He was so concerned with others that it was not in his power to give us more than a few minutes attention, not enough to approach me with his quizzical face. He has the most singular countenance when he is in the least interested that it is with great difficulty that I can avoid laughing. At last I obtained a respite. This is the most busy day in the week with us, and I have not one moment of leisure time from the Prayer bell in the morning until four o’clock. We have but three more of these however and then enter upon our last College Year. A most august situation in my former recollections when I little thought of being here so quickly. The remaining hours until Prayers were devoted to the writing of my Journal which before I had not been able to touch.

After Prayers I drilled my section but was very much dissatisfied with mine, they never conducted themselves in so shameful a manner since I have had them. They at last made me exceedingly angry and I gave them a lecture individually upon the subject which made some impression upon them. I was afraid that I should get the character of harshness which would very probably be the case from what I have been told as the impression I first make. I was therefore too lenient and appeared too well satisfied with moderate efforts. When I had piqued them they began to do exceedingly well. I was obliged then to dismiss them having recovered my good opinion of them. This is probably the last time they come out together under me. After drill I spent an hour with the Commandants as usual. When I came home, looked over some hard sums without doing them, read my Bible and went to bed. X:40.