Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Wednesday. July 21st. VI. CFA Wednesday. July 21st. VI. CFA
Wednesday. July 21st. VI.

Attended Prayers and, after employing the interval in getting my lesson, recitation in Topography. After breakfast I attended a lecture to Mr. Channing. It was addressed to us particularly, upon forming a style. The young are very often heard to say they are learning to write, a very incorrect expression, for they are more properly learning to express their thoughts not forming collections of words. They read classics and poets, they form their sentences in recitation, but this is improper, for in this way they only weaken an original manner and also original ideas. He would recommend youth to learn the proper and chaste use of language by studying it’s idioms, watching the changes of fashion, what words have become obsolete, gather variety of language from old English writers, from foreign nations, read other languages and compare the force of words. Our genius or the style of writing which we are prompted to, must not be thwarted. Style is the picture of a man’s mind and character. We cannot alter it without doing violence to our own natural powers. A man’s writing is dry, he has not read the poets, he has no imagination, therefore it would be 251exquisite nonsense for him to attempt what is entirely out of his kind. There always is a national strain running through authors of the same country, they have similar associations arising from early habits and education, and consequently express themselves in the same way.

Youth does not write well because it just begins to think, and the mind developes as we grow. Nothing is wanting for style but practice. Rules of rhetoric will not form it, they are only helps by which moderate men will obtain something like a good taste. They will be taught the construction of sentences, the proper application of figures and the way to avoid any ridiculous error, which they could not do with their own natural stock of taste. The desire to imitate great writers only weakens one’s own natural powers, there are great advantages in an original style and every man of good mind should indulge his peculiarities, if within the rules of good taste. A man will express his thoughts in his own way, to be sure he may be plain and without much effect, but his friends tell him of this, and that he has not the smoothness of Goldsmith and his easy flow, nor the sonorous and polished periods of Johnson, nor the well rounded, and easily finished declamation of Bolingbroke. He will then change his own style to imitate the beauties of those three, to combine them, and he will become a mere cypher having nothing of his own to recommend him and not capable of gaining those of his models. It is entirely wrong to break down the independent mind. A little that is all our own is better than borrowed abundance. He then made a few observations upon our literature and our attempts to be free from the charge of always imitating, which are in fair train for success.1 The lecture was a handsome one and I have detailed it considerably by means of some very good notes of Richardson’s.

I returned home and read Paley on Virtue, for recitation. At ten o’clock I attended recitation and was taken up but did not recite as I wished to. I nevertheless did very well. After recitation, I, not being obliged to read over Paley, wrote my Journal this morning. After dinner, I read a little more of Love’s Labour’s lost, read my lesson and attended recitation to Mr. Farrar in Trigonometry which finishes the troubles of this work. I have been amused today at the conduct of Cunningham, he was probably surprised at my sudden burst not expecting it from my smooth temper. I think this will do him good, as he will learn to treat me with a little more respect. A young man has many faults generally and those which he is most apt to fall into here are vanity and self conceit. These have been his lot and it will be long although he attempts now to correct them, before he has success. This 252afternoon, I read a life in Plutarch, that of Cimon, he does not appear to have had many of those marked characteristics about him which other of the Athenians possessed. Fortune favoured him full as much, I take it as he favoured himself. This was hardly enough to account for two hours, but I do not know what better to say for them.

After Prayers and tea I drilled my section and they performed very much to my satisfaction. This was the last time, and I with great satisfaction placed them in line and gave up all orders in the manual. It has been considerable trouble and more irritation than I usually wish to feel. They performed very well in line to night and I retired with the rest with great satisfaction. Our evening meeting was pleasanter tonight than last night but none of the superior officers were present. We remained here in conversation until very late this Evening, as it was the last Evening of the terrible part of our time. At ten o’clock I returned home and spent half an hour in drilling Mr. Richardson who it appears has decided to become a soldier although I recommended him not. Indeed he talked so much in his usual doubting way that I thought it would be better for a few harsh words to decide him in some way. I had a singular tremble which made me feel very sore this Evening. I read my Bible and went to bed. XI.


Channing referred to the movement to foster a distinctively American literature, avoiding “foreign ornament” and “images, allusions, and a metaphorical language . . . unmeaning and sickly from abroad” in favor of “nativeness.” See Benjamin T. Spencer, The Quest for Nationality, Syracuse, 1957, p. 63, 82, 160.

Thursday. July 22d. VI. CFA Thursday. July 22d. VI. CFA
Thursday. July 22d. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography. After breakfast I sat myself down and wrote a theme upon the subject of Lord Byron’s death. It was very easy and fruitful, although my Class have been assuring me that it is already hackneyed. I commenced with a few observations upon his future character and then went on culling the remarkable parts of his character good and bad, as well as I could within so short a time. I then concluded with my own sentiments upon his character, and quoted the late toast of Mr. Sprague’s which I think is one of the sweetest things I have seen for a great while. I shall insert it in my Common Place Book.1 I was obliged to go to the Athenaeum to obtain it, which delayed me considerably and I was not released until almost half past ten, which was the time appointed for a meeting of the Officers at the Arbour. We all attended and went through the form of Parade, and performed all the evolutions which we intend to do tomorrow night. This employed us all the morning. 253We adjourned to the Ensign’s to appoint Markers which we did and took a little refreshment. Some strong punch upon an empty stomach affected us all a little.

We dined and after dinner, I attended Mr. Nuttall’s lecture upon leaves. The heat of the weather made me so exceedingly sleepy that I attended to very little indeed. The leaves were a dry subject and as I could read my own book exactly as well, I was rather sorry I attended. I know not how it was but I spent the whole of the rest of this afternoon in writing my Journal. The listlessness occasioned by the warm weather destroys all power of fixing the mind in writing particularly. My Journal is a weight and in case I feel it next month I shall take leave to abridge it considerably without feeling in the least as if I had infringed upon my first intention.

After Prayers, we received the unwelcome news that Walley the Sophomore2 had applied for Tudor’s room and would probably obtain it. We had a consultation at which Dwight and Chapman attended and found ourselves in a great quandary upon the subject and adjourned without doing any thing. I was affected with a bad head ach, and therefore was glad to read my Bible and go to bed. Every body appeared to be sick this Evening. X:15.


In his literary commonplace book (M/CFA/18, p. 104), CFA did copy the toast Sprague gave at a dinner on 5 July 1824 to the memory of Lord Byron:

“O’er the tomb of Childe Harold Greek maidens shall weep In his own native land, his body shall sleep With the bones of the bravest and best But his soul shall go down to the latest of time Fame tell how he rose for Earth’s loveliest clime And mercy shall blot out the rest.”

Samuel Hurd Walley, of Boston ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1824).