Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Tuesday. October 12th. VI. CFA Tuesday. October 12th. VI. CFA
Tuesday. October 12th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation as usual in Topography. Part of the 380class have seceded so that the room is not very full. The next point of investigation is according to the words of Wolf, the character of the rhapsodists, thus began Mr. Everett this morning. He mentions what he supposes three errors in the common opinion concerning their profession. The first is the confounding those of the early ages with the worthless persons who arose under the same name subsequently and who are mentioned with contempt by Plato and Xenophon. The supposing from a mistaken derivation of the name, that it was their profession to compile worthless centos,1 as they were afterwards called, from the productions of Homer. That these were confined to this poet alone. Wolf on the contrary supposes that they were dignified and authorized agents for transmitting the works of all distinguished Poets of the time. That being poets themselves, they varied according to the occasion, the structure of these poems, from which origin proceeded the various readings which we have of the author. It is necessary therefore to suppose a sort of composition corresponding to this way of publication. And if there was no other way of producing a poem, but by teaching it to the rhapsodists, one like this of 15000 lines could not have been conceived. And supposing Homer to have been a man of the greatest genius that man ever has or ever will see, it is impossible that even then he could have done this. But it is to be observed that this reasoning takes want of writing for granted. We have no historical ground for supposing that the rhapsodists were of the character stated, and we diminish their importance precisely as we increase our supposition of the knowledge of writing at that time. Homer makes no mention of such persons but speaks on the contrary of the bard as a separate and distinct profession. The French in fact have treated of Homer too familiarly doubtless, but the Germans have gone very much too far in the opposite extreme and have exaggerated the difficulty of producing poetry without writing. We have instances even now of improvisatori who have cultivated this power to great extent, one particular instance he mentioned which has been in many of the late newspapers, of a man in Paris who has delivered a whole tragedy in five Acts without more than a few minutes preparation, a fact of which there can be no doubt.

The third point of Wolf is the internal structure of the Poem. This is an analysis of the whole poem too long to state in a lecture, the general sum of which is that The Odyssey is allowed to have unity but the Iliad is not—still he argues that either might have been the work of a succession of rhapsodists. Mr. Hug in his analysis argues and infers the reverse. Wolf has had many followers, in this inquiry, the reasons of some of whom are in the 38th Article of the pamphlet.


The last point in Wolf’s argument is the external historical testimony beginning at the earliest period. We have already considered the introduction of these books into Greece by Lycurgus. The next in the order of time is concerning the labours of Solon and the Pisistratidae for the restoration of them. Diogenes Laertius quotes from Diuchidas an account that Solon first caused the rhapsodists to sing these poems. A Greek expression follows which explains the manner and is variously translated, but the critics think in its proper connexion and place. Similar efforts for the restoration and preservation of Homer are ascribed by the grammarians to Pisistratus. A fabulous account is given by Diomedes which has since been copied by many. It states that Pisistratus, wishing to collect these verses which in his time were repeated in detached portions by the people, sent heralds over the country, proclaiming that every one who knew any of these verses should upon repeating them to him receive a certain sum of money for every verse, that in this way a large number were collected and every man was paid even when he brought verses which had been repeated before. This mass was referred to seventy grammarians, each to produce an arrangement of them; when they reported, that of Aristarchus was preferred. This is an anachronism however as Aristarchus did not live until long after. It is an absurd fable but is nevertheless adopted by Barthélemy in his Preface to Anacharsis. Cicero has attributed the arrangement of the books to Pisistratus, others to Hipparchus. Wolf with this argues that these attempts were not confined to any time, but that they were made at different periods and to a greater or less degree by various persons who might possess portions of the materials, an idea confirmed in the Scholia by the frequent mention of the arrangers as peculiar officers.

After Lecture, I returned to my room and spent the morning writing my notes. I did not read over all of Ferguson this morning as I was peculiarly employed. I attended Mr. Farrar’s recitation. He lectured in his way today upon the spots on the sun. I shall not give any account of them in this book as I have already more to do than I can well make way with. I shall therefore take the whole course in regular order from a copy which is already in the possession of some of my classmates. In the afternoon I attended recitation in Paley as usual and in the Evening, we had a common drill. The privates performed well and revived my liking to the company, which I must confess had very nearly become extinct.

After drill, I attended Mr. Ticknor’s Lecture. He went on tonight with La Fontaine. He was born in Normandy in 1621, where his father was supervisor of woods and waters. He studied Latin at Rheims and entered a religious house which he soon left however as not con-382sistent with his spirit. No symptoms of talent made their appearance in him until the age of 22. This was excited much as Corregio’s was, on seeing a painting of Raphael’s, for he having heard an ode of Malherbe’s, fancied he could also write and therefore became a poet. His character was always remarkable for a childlike simplicity. He was married by a family arrangement and was not happy until he left his wife. Some say that in Belphégor he characterized her. The Duchess de Bouillon, she who had so conspired against Racine, had sense and taste enough to discover him. He always lived with all the carelessness of his character, he was almost adopted by Madame Sabliere with whom he lived during twenty years, and was so domestic and simple an animal that she said once upon being asked who was in the house, that nobody was there except her cat, her parrot and La Fontaine. When she died, he would have been left again upon the world had he not been supported by the Duke of Burgundy and then again adopted by Madame Herval d’Hervart, in 1694.

He did not value his own talents sufficiently, not that he was not conscious he possessed some, but from his simplicity he did not give them their due weight. He failed in his love elegies and his religious poetry, his pieces also for the Theatre all failed although there is much humour in one of them. We have his letters, his epistles in verse, ballads and the tale of Psyche, a beautiful romance drawn from the story recorded in Apuleius. But in his Tales and Fables we find him shining forth in the natural power of his character. This sort of writing indeed was peculiarly well adapted to it’s display. His fables are in twelve books, the first of which did not produce much effect. Madame de Sevigne, who is a good chronicler, says that they were good but some part was tiresome, the feeling soon changed however and they were pronounced delightful. In his tales he shows his talent still more by the variety and originality of his ideas but it is unfortunate that they are indecent and thus their whole effect is ruined.

Next came Pascal who was born in Auvergne in 1623. He was instructed by his father first in the languages and then in mathematics. I shall pass over the early symptoms of his genius as too numerous to mention, suffice it that he made a Geometry for himself. At 16 he wrote a treatise on Conic sections, at 19 he made a machine and at 23 he wrote a treatise on the subject of the vacuum. His physical strength could not endure it, he became fanatical and distempered in mind, he was austere in his life beyond endurance. He wore hair cloth for a shirt and a girdle of wire with points. His famous letters were written however after his derangement. These letters called Lettres Provinciales2 had a tremendous effect, were condemned by parliament and stopped by the Pope. They exhibit however every kind of eloquence. He did not finish them as he stopped in obedience to the Pope’s orders.

After Lecture I returned home and wrote my notes for last nights lecture, read Burke’s observations upon Taste3 and then retired for the night. XI.


A composition formed by joining scraps from other authors.


Les provinciales, ou les lettres écrites par Louis de Montalte à un provincial de ses amis, published in 1656.


JQA’s set of The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, 8 vols., London, 1792–1827, is in the Stone Library.

Wednesday. October 13th. VI. CFA Wednesday. October 13th. VI. CFA
Wednesday. October 13th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation this morning, without any thing uncommon happening. After breakfast, I attended Mr. Everett’s Lecture as usual. He closed the controversy with some remarks on the last points of it. The traditions concerning Solon at that age certainly favour Wolf’s hypothesis. They are not however directly inconsistent with the common opinion concerning the unity and authenticity of Homer. It is not at all surprising that Homer should have come down in detached portions when we consider the want of materials for the preservation of works and the practice of recitation easily accounts for the scattered state of the poems. Subsequent authors moreover, when Libraries were made for the express purpose of preserving entire books, have come down to us in a similar way. The different parts of the Testament even were collected at different places.

Another strong argument against Wolf’s theory is that no such thing has been mentioned by any ancient author whatsoever. Had it been a fact that these poems were formed by many, it would have been 384recollected for many ages and certainly a sufficient number of years does not exist between Solon and the last of these poetical composers to admit of a total oblivion or account for the want of any tradition of such compilation. We must observe also that this is a question not of the fabrication of the poems at a later date, as is the case with Ossian, but merely of the writing of the poems of which an author would have been proud to declare himself the composer. Perrault, to be sure, regards the contest of the seven cities as some argument, but this is merely an inference, and it is evident that no single, abstract conception of the unity of Homer could have been formed, had many authors been known to exist and had the poems been gradually perfected according to the present argument. Finally it is worthy of remark that Wolf and his followers are not at all confident in their own assertions. These, if brought to a strict test, amount to no more than that the present form of the Iliad and Odyssey, the division into books, the insertion of some of the episodes with scattered passages and many single lines, are to be ascribed to the rhapsodists and grammarians. That they were in a simple and shorter form and that there is no absolute historical certainty about the person of Homer.

Men when in contest are very apt to go further than they intend and in this something may have escaped from some of the advocates of the theory which the other party do not allow. Indeed by a quotation from Wolf’s own preface in the synopsis,1 we can see that his statements go no farther. Such are the merits of the most important question in Greek literature. Those who incline to support Wolf in his theory have a great argument and much plausibility on their side. The popular doctrine rests on the consent of ages. His Everett’s qualified statement of the theory is one which he thinks will unite most probabilities, as by it we can believe in one sublime poet for the author, whilst we do not contradict the known laws of human and intellectual progress.

He then went on to the life of Homer and mentioned the accounts of him which have been written. One is ascribed to Herodotus; ancient authors mention his having written such a life but this is not probably it. It is quoted by no ancient author. There is a life of Homer ascribed to Plutarch which is quoted by Aulus Gellius. The work does not however correspond with these citations. One author has supposed Dionysius of Halicarnassus to be the author. There are three short lives in Greek prefixed to a work of Allatius de Patria Homeri of which two are anonymous. The first is by Proclus. But the most convenient works on his life are those of Madame Dacier and Pope prefixed to 385their translations of the poems and that of Blackwall. We can only make inferences and deductions from the entire want of certain knowledge, and his omitting to mention himself in his poems, a custom which prevailed among the ancients but the reverse of which now obtains. We suppose him a native of Ionia from his geography and his hymn to Apollo which however is not correct ground. As to the time, a variety of opinion has been held. He has been placed between the sixth and tenth centuries before the Christian era. His description is minute of the siege of Troy but he says he was not near the time. Some have placed him before the return of the Heracleids (Mitford and Haller) but the Ionians did not emigrate until two generations after that.2 He has been fixed with most probability 900 years before Christ, 130 after the return of the Heracleids and 270 after the Trojan war. Herodotus agrees with this by placing him four hundred years before himself.

Lecture over, I returned home and sat myself down according to my usual way to write out my Lectures. I did not read over the Astronomy so that I did not know any thing about the recitation. It was upon the Moon today. After recitation I returned home and employed myself in a similar way. The afternoon was taken up in studying the lesson in Paley as I was confident that I should be called upon which was the case.

After Prayers we had a good Rifle drill and then attended a Lecture of Mr. Ticknors. I took very full notes of a very beautiful lecture but I shall be compelled to condense them very much. Pascal, he said, had given the direction and tone to French eloquence and had shown what it was capable of in the pulpit. Bossuet arose and carried it to it’s height. He was born in Burgundy in 1627, his education was private. He retired to Metz, was made a canon and there studied the councils, the scriptures and the fathers to prepare for those attacks upon the reformers which he commenced in 1655. The reputation which he thus acquired soon called him to Paris and in his sermons he so pleased the two Queens of England and of France that in 1661 he was called to the court, before which he delivered discourses that year and the lent of the year following. In 1669 he was made a Bishop and still remained about the Court. The next year he was appointed preceptor to the Dauphin and laid out a plan for his education in which all the learned men were to contribute. It was for him that he wrote an abridgment of history, an account of the reign of Louis 14th and a system of religious classics. It was for him also that he wrote the excellent Essay on universal history. In 1681 he was promoted to the 386more valuable bishopric of Meaux. The elector of Hanover had proposed a meeting between him and a protestant which was agreed to but it had the same result with all affairs of this sort, no success. He then attacked the sect of the Quietists of whom more will be said hereafter; he was always ambitious, great and successful. He enjoyed the office of counsellor to the king which he held until his death which happened in 1704, he being 77 years old. He wrote above 100 works which fill twenty quarto volumes. Many of these are in Latin and a larger part controversial. He was a Doctor at 25 and dedicated a thesis to the Condé by which he gained his favour. We find him at the hotel de Rambouillet in Paris leading the wits of the day. He did not come forward in his strength however until he was forty three years old when he immediately became the head of the clergy, which he kept until he was 73. Though for the last ten years of his life he did nothing half equalling his old effort, he made important additions to his universal history. His works were almost all written to increase his power and do not for the most part come within our jurisdiction.

His Doctrine he published in 1671 as an answer to the Protestants and it may be considered the best answer which has ever been given to the reformation. The argument is logical, acute, the proportion in style is elegant and it’s compactness is perfection to it. Bonaparte, if such an authority is to be quoted on such a subject, said that but for this treatise he should have been a Protestant. His Discours sur l’histoire universel was published in 1681. It is more of a discourse indeed than an item of events, but in his sermons we find most splendid specimens of French eloquence, although not the first in the language. He here yielded the palm to Bourdaloue3 and with more effect as it was done with grace. His funeral orations however were the very greatest things which were ever delivered. He then analysed the species of writing and went on with considerable eloquence to speak of the contrast between the men and the he has given. It is a duty but little proper to a Christian minister. This was certainly a beautiful specimen. He was undoubtedly the father of the Gallican church whose rights he ably defended. He was inferior to but few of his rivals; indeed Bourdaloue excelled him as they lived in the habit of writing touching Sermons.4 Not that Bossuet might not have succeeded, but that he would not. Of his great rival Bourdaloue whom Mr. Ticknor also mentioned, I cannot say any thing today but shall continue writing notes out whenever I have the leisure.

After Lecture, Chapman and one or two more of us went to Mr. Willard’s and spent a considerable quantity of time. I staid quite pleasantly and talked with him; afterwards, returned home and wrote 387out my notes, a long labour when I felt very much more like sleeping. I am anxious for the time to come when I finish a drudgery of slaves.



Everett, Synopsis , p. 44.


CFA wrote: “. . . but the Ionians did not emigrate until after that two generations.”


Louis Bourdaloue (1632–1704).


Thus apparently in MS, but the sense is obscure and some of the words in this sentence are less than perfectly legible.