Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 4

Tuesday. 14th. CFA Tuesday. 14th. CFA
Tuesday. 14th.

At the Office as usual. Read a part of Gibbon’s fifth volume and 240the detail of the miserable condition of the Countries of Europe under the Government of such Puppets as Arcadius and Honorius. I have often thought of a remark made either by Robertson or Roscoe which at the time I transferred to my Commonplace, that the period which may be considered that of the world’s utmost degradation dated from the close of the reign of Theodosius till the Revival of letters.1 Nothing material occurred.

Mr. Peabody and Mr. Quincy dined with me. The thing was rather dull. The latter gentleman has altered considerably and not for the better since his engagement. I had not time to pursue my studies today so that I took up Beaumont and Fletcher reading the four first Acts of the Maid’s Tragedy, and wondering what it was gave to them their reputation.2 Probably the loyalty which runs through it. A King is represented as bad as possible, and the persons he most injured will not touch him because he is a King. The Woman repents of her sin in the most sudden and unnatural manner merely because her brother rants a minute or two and threatens to kill her. Just so, this brother afterwards quarrels with Amintor and is reconciled again in neither case with any adequate motive. The transitions are violent and unnatural, and the Poetry is not particularly distinguished. Evening quiet, continued Hunt’s puerile recollections of himself, the epithet will apply in more than one sense.

1.

William Roscoe’s The Life and Pontificate of Leo the Tenth and The Life of Lorenzo de Medici are among the most frequently quoted works in CFA’s literary commonplace book (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 312), but no passage copied there from either bears on this point. However, there are two relevant passages (p. 30 and 186) from William Robertson, The History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V, with a View of the Progress of Society in Europe from the Subversion of the Roman Empire to the Beginning of the 16th Century, one a general statement on the measurement of degeneration in a society, the second on the specific characteristics of society in the Middle Ages. Neither says quite what CFA remembers. Three editions of Robertson’s History are at MQA. The two published at Philadelphia in 1770 in 3 vols. and at Basel in 1793 in 4 vols. have JQA’s bookplate; the 2-vol., London, 1809, edition bears GWA’s signature and his notation that he read it while at Harvard in 1818–1819.

2.

See above, entry for 29 Jan., note.

Wednesday. 15th. CFA Wednesday. 15th. CFA
Wednesday. 15th.

I devoted nearly two hours to Gibbon and felt quite well pleased with myself in consequence. The rest of the time passed as it usually does. I accomplished a walk also in very wet streets, but it was not half as long as it should have been. Mr. Brooks dined with us, but did not appear to me to be very lively.

I was very superficial in Quinctilian. The truth is I have read enough 241about the Theory of Oratory. It has become so tedious and dry as to benefit me little. I have some notion of giving up the study of it, having accomplished six books being one half of the Work. But the truth is I am not clear what to do next. Perhaps I may take up Livy, perhaps Virgil or go back to a minuter analysis of the Orations of Cicero.

Quiet evening. Continued Leigh Hunt. His imprisonment for a libel, his opinion of himself &ca. On the whole, he seems a tolerably amiable man to have seen so much difficulty. His book was made up however to sell.