Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 4

Friday. 24th. CFA Friday. 24th. CFA
Friday. 24th.

The weather changed to sharp cold again. This has been on the whole a Winter of greater severity than any I have known since I have lived in New England, whether in regard to amount of cold or it’s duration. At the Office. Occupied in correcting and writing over what I have to say upon Mr. Gallatin’s Paper. There certainly is a good deal worth noticing in it, and the more closely I look at it the more I am satisfied with the fact. But I want very much a channel through which to communicate my opinions to the world. I am living in a town where the whole Press is inhospitable to me and my name. My time was not economized however. Notwithstanding the cold, I took a walk and felt better for it.

Afternoon. Looked over the Annual Registers for two or three years and found a good deal in them that suited my purpose. Of all the things in this world, information is the thing that sets a man on an eminence. Speculation can then be brought to bear with great force upon any given topic. I think this gives the advantage in our day.

We passed a quiet Evening at home and I read a little more of Ariosto. He is rather free as are all his Countrymen. There is genius and imagination in his Poem but not much of the high soaring of 247Poetry. Looked over some numbers of the Albion Newspaper which has good extracts from the prevailing literature in England.1

1.

The Albion was a weekly newspaper published in New York City.

Saturday. 25th. CFA Saturday. 25th. CFA
Saturday. 25th.

Morning cold with snow. At the Office where I was occupied in reading a little more of Gibbon. But it is heavy work. The style of that author is cumbrous. His regularly balanced periods become tiresome after a certain time. And his sneers are too constant to vary materially the monotony. Attended a Stock sale but made no purchase. Manufactures appear to be very much at a stand. Took a walk.

Afternoon. Took up Virgil and read his five first Eclogues.1 I have read them so often before that I am enabled to do a good deal at once. They are fine specimens of the highest polish of which verse is susceptible. Vigorous yet smooth.

Evening. Continued Ariosto and finished Pope’s version of the Odyssey. On the whole I think the criticism of Longinus correct. Homer does nod in this Work pretty often. The Iliad is a splendid performance for its vigor, and its beauty. This has less of the former, but yet in places more of the latter. It is as the female in comparison with the male. Finished also the first Volume of the Guardian.

1.

Of the numerous editions of Virgil in Latin, French, and English at MQA, two London editions of the Opera, 1818 and 1824, have CFA’s bookplate; and that of 1824 has marginalia in CFA’s hand. CFA noted there that the source of most of his comments was the edition of Heyne published at Leipzig in 1798, “with which I have compared [this].” Above his signature he has entered, “January 21, 1834. I this day finished this volume.”

Sunday. 26th. CFA Sunday. 26th. CFA
Sunday. 26th.

The weather at last looks a little more in conjunction with the Season and the closing of Winter. Yet the whole surface of the Earth was covered with Ice this morning, making the walking difficult. I went to Meeting all day. Heard Mr. Frothingham from Ecclesiasticus 50. 6, 7, 8. “He was as the Morning star in the midst of a cloud: as the rainbow giving light in the bright clouds: and as the flower of roses in the spring of the year.” It was upon the respect to be paid to great men; occasioned more immediately by the celebration of Washington’s Anniversary. He considered the objections that had been made in two lights. First, as being directed against the practice of paying extraordinary devotion to man, second, as underrating the merits of others who were partners of the same struggle and producers of the same success. These he combated as unreasonable fears, for in the first place 248the man was dead, and could do no harm, in the second, nothing was claimed for him to the disparagement of others. He was in a degree the creature of circumstances which placed him at the head of our Revolution. He was a fitting Instrument chosen by Providence for a definite purpose. He then closed, by some severe strictures upon a Preacher who had vilified our Presidents at Albany. The whole in a strain of Eloquence of the first Order, and very far beyond the usual tone of the Preacher. A Mr. Green1 preached in the Afternoon from Acts 8. 30. “Understandest thou what thou readest?” There was no eloquence in him, but I obtained some information. He explained the manner in which the Testament should be treated. He considered it as the record of revelation and not the revelation itself. As designed not to be a system of morals to apply universally, but as intended for the information of the era in which it was written. It followed from this that in construing the Passages of the Testament, we should have regard to the local character of the illustrations and set it apart as distinct from the general rule which it conveyed. The first were used merely to impress the latter more strongly upon the mind, but have no binding force upon us. The rule however remains forever. He instanced several texts. I confess this gave me new ideas, though I suppose they are not original with him.

Afternoon at home. Read a Sermon of Massillon’s upon the mixture of virtuous and wicked in the world. Text Matthew. 18. 15. “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” He considers this mixture as beneficial in two ways. 1. Because the virtuous are either the safety or the condemnation of the wicked. By leaving them no palliation for misconduct 2. Because the bad teach lessons of instruction or conduce to the merit of the virtuous. I read it rather superficially.

Evening, did nothing. Conversation with my Wife. Read Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel which contains many very masterly lines.2 Vigour is the great merit of them.

1.

Samuel Green was the minister at the Union Church in Essex Street, Boston; James D. Green was the minister at a Congregational church in Cambridge ( Mass. Register, 1832).

2.

The poems of Dryden read on each of the next several evenings are in vols. 1–2 of the edition of his Poetical Works at MQA owned by CFA; see vol. 2:369.