Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Monday August 9th. VI. CFA Monday August 9th. VI. CFA
Monday August 9th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography. Was taken up and acquitted myself with about as much propriety as usual. After breakfast I attended a lecture of Mr. Channing’s, in which he made a few remarks upon the structure of sentences, in continuation, particularly in reference to their unity. Every sentence he said should be perfectly comprehended by itself. There should be no meaning to hunt for any where else. A sentence should invariably explain itself, and is always faulty, either when it has too much left to be understood, or when words are placed so together as to injure the signification of each other. He had read many authors he said, who wrote well enough except that they had such a fashion of twisting their sentences that it was necessary to go far from the original meaning of the words to get at the supposed meaning of the author. Otherwise the sentence was absurd. This was an evil particularly to be avoided and, although it was not desirable to have much diffuseness as to make style weak, it certainly was proper to have it, of full clearness. A young man if he went by the rules given for criticism by Dr. Blair might find much fault with every author in the English language even the most classical, and would despair but it is by no means necessary to be so absolutely close. It is hypercriticism. His lecture was remarkably short and gave me time to go down to the Reading room and see what the papers said.

The New York legislature will probably do exactly as I supposed, that is, will adjourn without any farther ceremony. The Senate have passed a vote concerning the Governor, the house have passed a vote that it was expedient to pass an electoral law.1 Thus has this ridiculous affair ended, on one side a political job has been exposed, on the other many fruitless conferences to run their candidates for the Presidency. My father in my opinion has lost his election and if it is so, it has been managed by the most tremendous intrigue that has ever been carried on. Men will not hesitate for power to do many exceeding scandalous things. But this is nature and although I cannot help it I am sorry. It remains to see of the seventy five votes in the Legislature 281now how many will be in my father’s favour in November. I must say I have felt considerably interested in this election and cannot conceal that I shall feel sorry if my father does not obtain it. A life, spent in the public service and almost exclusively devoted to it, ought to obtain so high an honour. His competitors are so much his inferiors, also, that it is mortifying to suffer a defeat. This is what my father would feel and this only. His high spirit will ill bear to see a man whom he despises governing a nation partially and feebly. But if so, it must be, I am resigned.

I returned home and read over my Paley lesson but not with so much attention as usual, my thoughts would wander from one thing to another all the time, and it was impossible for me to help it. So that at recitation time I was not so well prepared as usual. I know the lesson well though and went in without fear, I was taken up in the review however and recited very well. After it was over I went home and read tomorrow’s lesson upon Oaths. That today was upon Lies, a very ingenious essay but doubtful. But I did not pay that attention to the lesson, which is usual with me.

After dinner I wasted the afternoon in an attempt to get a lesson in Trigonometry, or rather it’s Appendix. The lesson was not difficult but I only half understood it when I went in. I came off much as usual. I spent the remainder of the day in writing my Journal. The weather has been remarkable today. A perpetual series of thunder and lightning and rain.

After Prayers the Company was not called out but, there being music, there was a voluntary drill. Almost twenty six came out and we, the Commandants, were compelled to tug about with six men each. I never felt so ashamed of myself in all my life. Cunningham as usual gave a number of wrong orders, and we were confused by not performing an order correctly on account of not recollecting the difference between single and double rank manoeuvres. In truth we cut a most lamentable figure, and injured the company considerably, I am afraid. We were dismissed as we found that nothing could be done and the clouds threatened more rain. It was well for in five minutes we had a very heavy thunder shower. Although there was no meeting of the Officers, I had considerable conversation with Cunningham and Chapman after which I returned home, looked very indolently over my lesson, and retired. X.

1.

The failure of the New York legislature to pass an electoral reform law, which was supported by JQA’s friends who had formed a “People’s Party” on that issue, caused such an uproar that the governor called a special session of 282the legislature in August. The assembly passed the reform bill, but the senate adjourned without acting. Before going home, however, the legislators, under tight Regency (Democratic) control, removed former Governor DeWitt Clinton, now an Adams supporter, from his post as canal commissioner. The move was a costly mistake for the Regency, since Clinton was popular as the father of the state’s canal system, and his outraged followers gave new strength to JQA’s candidacy. See Dixon Ryan Fox, The Decline of Aristocracy in the Politics of New York, N.Y., 1919, p. 286–293.

Tuesday. August 10th. VI. CFA Tuesday. August 10th. VI. CFA
Tuesday. August 10th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography in which this morning I was exceedingly unsuccessful as I trusted to Mr. Heyward’s usual forbearance. But I was taken up in a part of the lesson which I had never seen and of course recited very elegantly. After breakfast, I went down to the Reading room. Nothing of much importance. I managed to waste an hour though and came to my room late for my lesson in Paley. This is the only one which I have neglected at all or at least so much that I could not have recited well. I went to recitation at ten o’clock not knowing much about the lesson but trusting to the class going in together and my not being taken up. I calculated correctly. The class were in but half an hour as this was a sort of half-public day here. The students of theology read dissertations today and an unusual quantity of company came to hear them. Mr. Hedge being desirous to hear them, and to give us an opportunity, made us come together and kept us in so short a time. I am sure, I am not one of those anxious to be edified by a parcel of, generally speaking, very contemptible people.

I returned home and read a long article in the Edinburgh Review criticizing a work by a Mr. Brodie called a Constitutional History of the reign of Charles 1st.1 It is a severe notice of Hume’s History of that time. I intend when I again resume my studies to read carefully this part of Hume as it has always been notoriously partial and I shall make my own comments upon it. This review being a whig publication goes perhaps a little too far. How little can we trust to the pen of mortal man, his prejudices will lead him off for ever from the path of right, altho the moralists might lament. The formation of rules is an admirable thing but they go very little way indeed when man is tempted. History after all is only a record of passion and even in it’s composition it mingles the very worst. A man if he wishes to know how wicked the world has been may read history, the same may be said to be sure of virtue, but a perfectly virtuous man is what we have not found, a thorough paced villain is not so uncommon a matter. 283This review was a very long one, I really thought I should not finish it, but I succeeded although my lazy habits were in arms.

After dinner I spent the afternoon in Otis’s room learning Napier’s rules in Trigonometry which I performed very hastily.2 Attended recitation. After this, I spent the afternoon writing my Journal and looking over the book of military tactics. After Prayers, we had a drill. It was an exceedingly long one and very fatiguing. The company at last got to be very mutinous and I doubt much whether they would have served any longer. I was myself in a high flame not with the officers but with the soldiers, and came very near asking Brigham to leave the ranks. He is my most obnoxious soldier and has my most hearty wishes to be absent. We had a meeting of the officers and argued throughout the regulations of the Government, which we find much more galling than we thought they would be.3 We had a thorough discussion and fixed our plan of conduct for next exhibition throughout. For my own part I do not think the Government will take any notice of little infringements. The plan was settled and I was satisfied. After considerable conversation further we adjourned and I returned home, read over my lesson and went to bed. XI.

1.

“Brodie’s Constitutional History,” Edinburgh Review, 40:92–146 (March 1824).

2.

This entire paragraph appears on a leaf at the end of D/CFA/4 and is preceded by a note reading as follows: “Note to p. 179 [on which the above entry for Tuesday, 10 Aug. 1824, appears]. Owing to a mistake I commenced the journal for Wednesday before I had finished that for Tuesday which I am obliged consequently to insert here.”

3.

See entry for 17 June, above.