Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 4

Monday. 30th. CFA Monday. 30th. CFA
Monday. 30th.

Fine day, though it was cloudy in the morning. I went to town for the purpose of arranging my Accounts for a payment on the 1st instant, on my father’s affairs. I shall do it with difficulty. Went to my House 338for a book or two and was engaged in several commissions. Thus the time passed. I did however succeed in reading several Chapters of the book of Major Hordynski. His book is principally military, but it conveys an idea of the bravery and success of the Polish troops greater than I had entertained.

Returned to Quincy and passed the afternoon in concluding Seneca, De vita beata. The latter portion of this is a defence of himself for possessing wealth and preaching poverty. His argument is undoubtedly sound, considered in itself. Though it might fairly be questioned how far he could be authorized to use it. It is idle to say that poverty is not an evil when so much care is taken to avoid it. The true rule is to consider wealth as not a primary object in life. And to divest it of all idea of value excepting insofar as it increases the virtuous enjoyments of life. Dr. Johnson somewhere remarks that Poverty is an evil, because it makes some virtues difficult to practise, others impossible.1 This is not agreeable to the doctrine of Seneca. Quiet evening at home. A short walk with my Wife.


Dr. Johnson many times expressed himself on poverty as an evil; probably the quotation CFA had in mind was contained in a letter to Boswell (7 Dec. 1782): “Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable, and others extremely difficult” (Boswell’s Life of Johnson, ed. George Birkbeck Hill, 6 vols., Oxford, 1887, 4:157). CFA inscribed the quotation as a part of the epigraph on the front flyleaf of his personal account book, 1829–1844 (M/CFA/9).

Tuesday. 31st. CFA Tuesday. 31st. CFA
Tuesday. 31st.

Clouds and showers with thunder and Lightning throughout the day. I remained at home and read Thucydides whose third book I finished. The picture it gives of the state of morals which the war introduced into Greece is shocking enough. Every City was divided into two parties, the aristocratic and democratic. The one favouring Sparta, the other Athens. It was a contest between two principles of government, neither of which are capable of well ordering mankind. It would seem however as if the world was on a larger scale destined to exhibit the same scenes. May they not close as before in a military despotism.

Read some of Sidney, who is rather dry. He is a staunch Republican. I also finished Seneca upon a question whether retirement is proper for a wise man. It is a pretty fragment enough. My other time was divided between the debate in the first Congress and the life of Mr. Canning. On the whole I now accomplish a good deal when at home. 339Yet I ought to remember my Grandfather’s constant advice, “Studium sine calamo somnium.”