Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Wednesday. August 11th. VI. CFA Wednesday. August 11th. VI. CFA
Wednesday. August 11th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography. I was left in peace this morning for once. After breakfast, I attended Mr. Channing’s Lecture which was today a sort of treatise upon the question, how far criticism might be applied to style. There was some diversity of opinion as to this lecture, for my own part however good it might have been, I must confess I did not see a great deal of connection in it. He commenced with a few observations concerning the degree of criticism, or of intention to find fault as custom has almost translated it, with which we should sit down to a book. This, he observed, should be but small. A man must read a book to read it properly, as if not only there was no other copy, but as if he had never read a book before. From this he went off again upon the subject of literary reviews, their bad effects in prejudicing public opinion—literary decrees, he called them, issued periodically deciding the fate of all works. Here I lost him for a 284little while and did not come up with him again until he applied the same power of criticism to poetry. He then commenced this question with some remarks upon the absolute requisites for poetry, but a perfect definition of the word could not in his opinion be given. He then said it was like genius, an inexpressible term but fully understood. He had read all the definitions but none came up to his idea of what it was. He talked some time about genius, then reverted to Poetry and extracted from the Edinburgh Review a definition of it by Dr. Jeffrey1 the Editor of the Work. It was to be sure complicated enough and proved that it is hardly possible to give a perfectly intelligible definition of every necessary quality in poetry. The Lecture on the whole was a singular one and made evident to me that he had patched it as he was in a hurry to close a long series of Lectures. This morning was entirely our own as Mr. Hedge had gone to Westford where he is a Trustee to a School. I spent part of it at Cunningham’s room where we went through a number of new manoeuvres. The Fusileers2 passed through today. They have a beautiful Uniform and appear exceedingly well, on the March. They are all Democrats but not very good Soldiers, nor very respectable or at least very high people, as that party here is generally among the lower class.

I employed the rest of the Morning in writing my Journal and talking foolishly with Richardson who was as unpleasant as usual. After dinner I prepared myself very quickly and attended recitation. As it was the last lesson I did not much care how I appeared. I certainly did not acquit myself very well. Thus have we finished with Mr. Farrar. A thing which has been a considerable bugbear without very serious injury. The studies of the Junior Year have almost closed and every man of my class can now look back and ask himself what he has done and how much he has improved. For my own part it would take some time for me to consider the question, and after all I should decide that I had not done as much as I could have done but, comparing myself with others, I have done a great deal. Had my father done as in my opinion was his duty I should have done more.3 My College studies have been moderate in some branches, in some entirely neglected, and in others studied intensely. I have been pretty wild this year, spent a great deal of money and look with a sort of dread upon the events of the next year. I know not but I have a presentiment of something unfortunate which I do not intend to indulge however. I returned home and wrote my Journal and for a rarity I got my lesson in the interval before Prayers. Blake drank tea with us, he has just returned from a Journey and is now ready to take his degree in all haste.


We came out to drill tonight and I, already prepared for a difficult time, but we succeeded exceedingly well. All our4 difficult manoeuvres were done very perfectly. They were all new, this company was governed last year by an Officer of an amazingly indolent disposition, who did very little and who knew less. It has never been so well commanded, with respect to interest in the company, not even in Peabody’s5 company. The Officers appeared better being generally handsomer and taller men than we. I was perfectly satisfied tonight and attended the meeting of the Officers with pleasure. Much discussion arose upon different subjects which were all settled very easily, at last, and we adjourned very amicably indeed. I returned home, spent half an hour at Sheafe’s, came down, read my Bible and went to bed. X:10.


Francis Jeffrey (1773–1850), who was also a founder of the distinguished quarterly.


The First Regiment, Third Brigade, First Division of the Massachusetts militia, composed of Boston and Chelsea inhabitants ( Mass. Register, 1824, p. 122).


See entry for 13 June, and note, above.


MS: “are.”


George Peabody, Harvard 1823, who was the first commanding officer of the Washington Corps after it was reorganized in 1822. See Batchelder, Bits of Harvard History , p. 67; entry for 17 June, above.

Thursday. August 12th. VI. CFA Thursday. August 12th. VI. CFA
Thursday. August 12th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography. This is the commencement of the easy part of this term. But little more to do except these miserable lessons in Topography which I do not understand, and which consequently require but little study. After breakfast, I wrote my Journal up by a strong effort upon myself. I overcalculated my strength of mind and perseverance when I commenced this book. And indeed I have not exactly pursued the primitive intention, as I first wished to write whatever I thought in my book, and not have any precise points to arrive at in writing. As I read so little at this season, I can make no observations upon that subject, and I am not thrown sufficiently often into new company to be frequent in characters. My observations are principally drawn from myself. I finished my Journal and then went to the Reading room where I sat until dinner time reading a little Novel called Highways and Byways,1 in other words a collection of stories. I do not like the style and think the incident simple and hardly worth relating. This I have just found is quite a pleasant place to sit and read.

Cunningham came up and told me good news. Professor Everett has sent us an invitation to his house for Exhibition day. By us, I mean the College Company. We had been debating for a long while what 286we should do with ourselves with the present restrictions2 but now our trouble we find was unnecessary. The other division read Forensics this morning; After dinner, I drove the Captain to the Encampment of the Fusileers at Watertown in the new Chaise. I have seen this Howe3 before. His company being at Quincy last year. He is a rough unpolished man who wished to be exceedingly polite to us but could not succeed. He has not been in the habit of being in good society and, although I have no doubt he means well, I doubt exceedingly his power to please. We came up principally to give the Excuses of the Officers and to make arrangements with one of the band for our music next Thursday. We engaged eleven men being one more than we were allowed by the Government in the last regulations which were issued. This is an advantage which the students invariably take and the Government are most angry with.

We were glad to get rid of his formality and preciseness and hastened on to Boston over the Western Avenue meeting quantities of company going out there to visit them. Arrived in town, my first object was to go and see my cap, which is almost ready. I met Robinson in the street and found that George, whom I had come in to see, had not got back from Sandwich. I nevertheless went to the house but I found no individual here. I spent almost half an hour in his room doing nothing in particular, then sprung up, walked back to the Marlborough, met Cunningham and returned to Cambridge in time for Prayers.

After Prayers, we had a drill. The company generally did very well, my own part of it did not perform quite as well as common because my guide was absent and his substitute was not worth much, although he tried his best. I am afraid we shall not go through all the manoeuvres perfectly on Exhibition day. Cunningham has not been through one night yet without giving incorrect orders and we have but two more drills at farthest. The assessment was declared and appeared to excite some little murmur.4 After drill, The Officers had a Meeting and discussed the remainder of their business. We argued over the old questions of yesterday and decided differently on some points. The laws of the Government appear to trouble us most in two points, a return to Prayers and our Music. Of the former we have thought and thought but it is impossible to avoid it so that we shall attend and appear afterwards. The latter we have avoided by getting one piece of music written and making one play two pieces which will be almost as many as we generally have had. Some conversation concerning our arrangements to return the invitation of the Officers, and as usual a great variety of opinions upon the subject. There is sometimes a little warm 287squabbling between our Officers and one contemptible man has often shown himself deficient as a gentleman. Indeed I do think Otis is contemptible, he has shown a small spirit, for his honour in debts is not, and he suffers himself to be mortified by refusals at the different places in turn, without doing any thing whatever to reclaim his character or to resent the insult. He suffers himself to be trifled with by stable keepers most ridiculously and as the invariable consequence he lives his character in College. Adjourned, I went home and went directly to bed. XI.


Thomas Colley Grattan, Highways and Byways, London, 1823.


See entry for 17 June, above, for the new college rules governing the marching company on exhibition days.


Joseph N. Howe Jr., one of the captains of the Fusileers ( Mass. Register, 1824, p. 123).


The annual assessment for members of the marching corps was five or six dollars (Batchelder, Bits of Harvard History , p. 69).