Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Tuesday. October 19th. VI. CFA Tuesday. October 19th. VI. CFA
Tuesday. October 19th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography. Our lessons are very much easier than they were a little while since. But it makes exceeding little difference to me. Mr. Everett went on with Hesiod today. The third work he said was the Shield of Hercules. This has been generally considered spurious or as a portion of some larger work of Hesiod relating to the ancient heroines of fabulous ages. This portion however is no work on the praises of heroines for it entirely refers to the armor of Hercules, excepting in the fifty six first lines which gives rise to an hypothesis first started by Heinrich1 which is very probable. It is that these lines which refer to Alcmene, the mother of Hercules, really did belong to a large work on the subject of heroines by Hesiod, and were afterwards prefixed to an account of the hero which was made by some other person, probably a Theban celebrating his divinity, as was their custom. Two scholia moreover speak of this as a fragment of this work. The catalogue of heroines. The work is simple, but still has a more artificial manner of composition than the other productions. It has supplied some imagery to Milton.

Here Mr. Everett entered into a discussion concerning genius, merely as connected with this observation, saying that Milton was not affected at all by having read so much, in his own original poems. That genius did not at all in any peculiar form. Some had thought it was crushed by learning but the fact is it will rise above every situation. He then gave instances of men in every situation and with every degree of learning illustrating this position. Only about two hundred lines remain of the rest of the books ascribed to Hesiod and these are of little importance. The editions are put down. The principal scholia are those of Proclus, a few remain of Didymus, many other anonymous ones. The edition of Robinson2 contains the argument concerning the rising of Arcturus. It has been translated three times into English, once by Chapman in 16183 a faithful and vigorously executed work, and although with the quaintness of the age, it has some purity. The next is by Cook in 1728 which is a heavy performance in rhyme, that by Elton in blank verse is an exceedingly well performed work. There is a very good preliminary dissertation upon the subject of his life and works in this edition and it may be considered a specimen of excellent criticism. The names of the rest of the works ascribed to Hesiod are set down in the pamphlet. The works of Hesiod have not yet received from the learned the attention they merit and there is yet no thoroughly good edition of them. He then went on to speak of the Cyclic poets, the age they flourished in, and 400the reasons why they received this name. He said nothing however in today’s lecture concerning them which was not in the synopsis and consequently it is not worth while to copy it.

I returned home and was employed all the morning writing. I attended recitation in Astronomy. Mr. Farrar detained us much longer than usual in a dissertation of some length upon Comets, their appearance, and the theories respecting their course. As I have not taken notice of his course here,4 I shall not say any thing of this except that we were rather fatigued. After dinner I attempted to study my lesson but found myself entirely unable to do so. I was so exceedingly sleepy that I was obliged to indulge and sleep away part of the afternoon. This I could do with more safety as Mr. Hedge unquestionably would not call upon me and I felt little interest in the particular subject on which the lessons this week treat. After Prayers we had an exceeding good drill although our captain now and then makes himself too great a man. Weakness is inherent in man and every step I take makes me believe it more closely. Fancy makes fools of us all and gives us all the little pleasure we have in the world, for reality would cause nothing but wretchedness.

I spent a few moments at Chapman’s and then attended Mr. Ticknor’s Lecture. I mentioned in my last notes that he had passed over Madame La Fayette but I regret very much I was not able to write more at length. A Lady at that time did not dare to put her name to a work so that Segray’s Segrais’ was attached to her’s, but there is no doubt that they belong to her. This anecdote is all I can add. This evening he continued his account of serious prose fiction. The next fashion, he said, were imitations of Richardson who had by this time become known. Then we may merely mention the coarse pictures of Rabelais and Scarron5 and pass on directly to Le Sage6 who was born in 1688. He took to reading Spanish and from thence his character was formed. He first was a mere imitator but his talent would not allow him to remain long in this humble sphere. He extracted the subjects of his best stories from Spain and Spanish character but the description is all his own. In 1707 he produced his Diable boiteux, here a short abstract was made of it. He in this novel, under Spanish costume, takes off many of the reigning characters of the day at Paris. The coquet is Ninon de L’enclos, Baron stands for another &c. Of his Guzman d’Alfarache which is a translation from the Spanish and the Bacheler de Salamanque, he would say but little as he wished to come directly to Gil Bias which first appeared in 1717. He then commenced a regular critique of this work. It wanted unity entirely, he said. Take the mere story: it is 401an account of the adventures of a rogue who by any means which come in his way, manages to rise from the lowest to the highest order of society. Take it in this way and it would be hard to find any one who would read it. But with all the variety, the delineation of character, and the power of generalization which it possesses, it certainly lays claim to be the very first in its kind. The Spaniards have laid claim to this novel and bring forward a work which they assert to have been the original one but there is sufficient internal evidence from the characters of the men in the book and the knowledge of the country that a foreigner wrote it. There are two or three very great geographical errors. There was no successful attempt after this. Crebillon the younger tried and produced a bad imitation of Fielding.

He returned again to Eloquence, and made some remarks upon the reasons why only certain sorts of eloquence flourished in France formerly, which were sufficiently Commonplace. Suffice it that pulpit eloquence and that courtly word omitted? was the form in which it appeared. J. B. Massillon was born in 1663 and appeared the year that Bossuet and Bourdaloue died. He gained great reputation but was not promoted during the life of Louis 14th. He afterwards obtained the bishopric of Clermont. His sermons amount to more than a hundred and are divided into panegyrics on the saints, conferences or instructions to young clergymen and the “petit careme.”7 Two or three beautiful quotations he gave us. He has not so much power perhaps as Bossuet, nor so much cogent, philosophical eloquence as Bourdaloue but in sweetness, gracefulness, dignified excellence, he has no superior. As a suite of sermons, those of the petit careme, in number eleven, are the best he has left us. There is more art to be found in the formation of his works than had been usual, and more attention to the mechanical arrangement in order to produce effect. He died in 1742 at his see, out of debt as a clergyman should. After Lecture I returned home, read a little of Akenside which did not much please me, a chapter of Campbell’s Rhetoric8 and retired. XI:15.


Karl Friedrich Heinrich (1744–1838), professor at Kiel and, later, at Bonn (Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship , 3:109).


Thomas Robinson, Oxford 1737 (same, 2:479).


Presumably George Chapman (c. 1559–1634), the English scholar (same, 2:241).


CFA wrote up Professor Farrar’s lectures in a separate notebook (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 314).


Paul Scarron (1610–1660).


Alain-René Le Sage (1668–1747).


The little Lent sermon.


George Campbell, The Philosophy of Rhetoric, 2 vols., London, 1776.

Wednesday. October 20th. VI. CFA Wednesday. October 20th. VI. CFA
Wednesday. October 20th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation this morning as usual. Mr. Hey-402ward being extremely complaisant, I was free with a remarkably easy passage. Mr. Everett lectured as usual. He continued his notice of the Cyclic Poets. He also discussed the origin of the term, which however is entire in the pamphlet.1 His result was that they obtained their name only from the choice of the subjects of which they treated. They are generally dull and servile poets which explains a passage quoted from Horace. They were imitators of Homer but it is extremely probable that these were the sources from which the works of Homer and Hesiod were interpolated. It is doubtful whether many of these poems survived long in Greece. The fragments were collected and made models for imitation by the Alexandrian School who then put them forth as the true original poems. Some of these still exist. One by Quintus Calaber, hereafter to be mentioned, who flourished in the sixth century and wrote a poem in imitation of the lesser Iliad of Lesches. One of Tzetzes is still inferior, a writer “who lived” says Heyne “I will not say flourished.” These ancient poems are principally interesting to us in connexion with the Aeneid of Virgil who drew many things from other sources than Homer and probably differed from him. Macrobius asserts that he borrowed from Pisander which is not true and proved so by Heyne. Two poems are the principal guides of Virgil when he departs from Homer, the Lesser Iliad of Lesches and the sack of Troy by Arctinus the Milesian. The first is ascribed to Homer himself in the life attributed to Herodotus. Lesches is however generally reputed the author. Nothing is known of him but that he was a native of Smyrna. We hear of his poem from the mention made of it by the ancient authors who have come down to us. From Aristotle, who gives its argument. It is remarkable that it has given eight subjects to the Attic stage while the greater work has given but two. We know something of it from the Iliac table, a curious relic, the object of which seemed to be a sort of synopsis for schools as it contains the subjects of the poems both of Homer and the lesser poets, roughly sketched, also the names of the authors &c. He showed us an engraving of this Iliac table, which is preserved in the capitol of Rome, after lecture was over.

The other poem is the sack of Troy by Arctinus the Milesian, which we hear of through Proclus who is the great authority for the other poem also. The Iliac table contains another work of this author, but not this, although it probably furnishes some materials for it. Of this class of poets Heyne makes two observations. It is to be wished that some person should make an accurate treatise upon them, should compare and collect the fragments. In this way he would do the 403greatest service as he would illustrate the classics which is all the object we have in view to know them. It is also to be observed and to be regretted that the greatest sacrifices in Greek literature have been made in times when there were abundant means to preserve them.

After lecture I went to the reading room and saw nothing but electioneering manoeuvres which now fill the papers. I soon returned to my room and spent my morning writing notes. Attended Mr. Farrar’s recitation and lecture which was a continuation of his observations upon comets. In the afternoon, I was again extremely negligent in my lesson. Mr. Hedge came upon our side in the review and put me in a fright for a little while. I escaped however. We had no drill after Prayers as usual, the Juniors being in somewhat of a complaining humour and the weather being bad.

In the Evening I wrote my Journal and attended Mr. Ticknor’s Lecture which was quite a pleasant one to me as I was enabled to judge of the works he talked of. The next branch which he should take up he said was that of Epistolary composition. The person who most distinguished herself here was Madame de Sevigne who was born in 1626, and being an Orphan, was educated by her Uncle. In her youth she was not handsome but striking, and although receiving the usual instruction of that period, it was very deficient, and probably contributed to her success by throwing her upon her own exertions. She was married at 18, and a widow at 25, and spent the remainder of her life in attention upon her son and daughter, more particularly the latter, whom she perfectly doted upon, and whom she watched with so much attention in a sickness as to injure her own health, in consequence of which she died in 1696 being 70 years old. To prove how great her purity was, no scandal which was so common with the characters of that age, has ever attached to that name. She was neither a “prude” in early years nor a “devote” in her age. Her letters to her daughter are the only productions we have of her and are models. The loss of them would not only have made a chasm in the literature of France but in that of the world. Her grace and imagination, the confidence of her sympathy, the pictures of the society of that age render her letters brilliant, faithful and interesting. She gives an admirable view of the illustrious days of Louis 14th. There is a vivacity of manner and happiness of detail which can be found nowhere else. But her last and prevailing merit is her affection for her daughter which gives her letters the appearance of a whole—an inspiration which imparted it’s power to whatever it touched.


After her there were a diversity of authors. Madame de Maintenon wrote and she is perhaps the best of the series. Correspondence degenerated a little too much into scandal, and although all the works in this way are amusing, they are merely a reflection, although a correct reflection of the manners of the court, and therefore they finally become tiresome. Among these may be counted Madame Deffand, Madame Espinasse,2 Voltaire, and many others. The next branch which he takes up is that of History which the French have never been successful in, at least in formal history; they are generally long and dull. Mezeray, Father Daneil, St. Real and Vertot3 have all written but not remarkably well. In a branch of history however, Memoirs, they have been exceedingly successful and they have written much. He mentioned Sully in his first lecture which I did not hear; he tonight treated of Cardinal de Retz. He wrote Memoirs in four volumes. Few books of a more amazing character have existed, they display at length the intrigues of the French and are most remarkable for their exhibition of personal vanity. This man was born for intrigue but his indolence deterred him from gaining any thing by it. His life is a continued example of the deepest intrigue without any result of importance. The mountain was perpetually bringing forth a mouse. His book is entertaining as a perfectly measured display of himself and his times. He here shifts away with a mere mention of the rest of this branch as a very large collection.

He next came to Rochefoucauld who was born in 1613 and whose education was neglected, which made him think probably, and the author of a book whimsical, original and false. In his Maxims he thought selfishness the only motive of action. He was a man who did not believe in the existence of virtues and with these opinions it is not surprising that he should die little regretted except by his immediate circle of friends. Of La Bruyere I shall speak tomorrow. I returned home, wrote a theme, sat a little while with Richardson and then went to bed. XI.


See Everett’s Synopsis , p. 72–74.


Marie de Vichy-Chamroud, Marquise du Deffand (1697–1780), and Julie-Jeanne-Éléanore de Lespinasse (1732–1776).


François Endes de Mézeray (1610–1683), Gabriel Daniel (1649–1728), César Saint-Réal (1639–1692), and René Aubert Vertot (1655–1735).