Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 4

Friday. 2d. CFA Friday. 2d. CFA
Friday. 2d.

My day was passed at home. I designed to have passed it very pleasantly in getting rid of some of the last occupations which must engage me before I leave Quincy. But Mr. Greenleaf and Mr. Beale came in and engaged me to look over the Library here with them, which occupation though a very troublesome one, I did not feel as if I could refuse. The books are very much out of order—Exposed to the injury of time, of damp, and mice, and utter neglect.1 I feel an emotion of grief whenever I think of the misapplication of valuable funds in this instance. But what does it serve to lament circumstances beyond 390one’s power to alter? There is enough happening in life in which man must himself be a responsible party, to worry and distress him. He need not seek for additional care beyond.

Evening at home very quietly. Read and finished the fifth volume of Lingard, which completes the first and least interesting part of English history. It is a little remarkable that out of a line of nineteen kings since William the Conqueror twelve held the Crown by force. Title to the Crown by descent is modern. In ancient times it is manifest that it came through the law of the strongest. Henry the 7th perpetuated his power in his own line, without the shadow of a title and from this false root comes the whole line which has since filled the throne of Great Britain.

1.

Thomas Greenleaf and George W. Beale had been deputed to examine the books in the library which JA gave in 1822 to the town of Quincy, and which still remained in the Office (JQA, Diary, 2 Nov.; and above, entry for 17 Sept. 1831, note).

Saturday 3d. CFA Saturday 3d. CFA
Saturday 3d.

Fine morning though a little colder. I went to town accompanied by my wife. Left her at the house and soon afterwards went up there myself. Found all the workmen actively occupied in their various repairs and that my directions were at last in the way of being thoroughly executed. Left the house and did some business afterwards at the Office with Mr. Conant and others. Thus went the morning.

Returned to Quincy with my Wife at one. Engaged after dinner again with Mr. Greenleaf. Finished looking over the books and made up the missing list, which is considerable. A good many of them will however be found hereafter among the scattering works not numbered.1

In the evening, Mr. Beale came in and passed two hours. Nothing new. Looked over Hume’s Account of the Reign of Richard and Henry but found little that was new. Read also my father’s Poem of Dermot MacMorrogh, which is just out. There is vigor in the lines, and occasionally a high order of poetry. But as a whole, the work wants invention and imagination. It is totally deficient in descriptive imagery and leans as almost all my father’s poetry does, too much to the didactic style. This to the general is caviare. My opinion is, he would have done better not to have published it, but my opinion is worth very little in cases of this kind.2

1.

As a condition of the gift of his library JA required that a catalogue of his books be made and published. This was done: Deeds and Other Documents Relating to the Several Pieces of Land and to the Library Presented to the Town 391 of Quincy, by President Adams, Together with a Catalogue of the Books, Cambridge, 1823. Although the books are not numbered in the catalogue, it would appear that at the time of the preparation of the catalogue or earlier, numbers were affixed to most but not all of the books listed in the catalogue. The catalogue would have served as the basis for the inventory being made.

2.

On the bibliographic history of Dermot MacMorrogh, or the Conquest of Ireland; an Historical Tale of the Twelfth Century, see Bemis, JQA , 2:218. This narrative, “the subject of my own selection; the moral clear and palpable; the characters and incidents strictly historical; the story complete and entire,” in 266 stanzas of Byronic ottava rima, was written principally in Washington from February to April 1831. JQA described the method: “I usually compose one, sometimes two, occasionally three [stanzas], before rising, between three and five o’clock, and usually from three to five in my walk round the Capitol Square. These stanzas I retain in memory, and write down after returning home, sometimes before, sometimes after, breakfast.... I read every day to my wife what I have composed in the twenty-four hours” (JQA, Memoirs , 8:352, 355).

Nearly a year after publication, in Oct. 1833, when he was preparing copy for a second edition, JQA expressed his own judgment of the poem: “Scarcely any man in this country who has ever figured in public life has ever ventured into the field of general literature — none successfully. I have attempted it... in this poem of Dermot MacMorrogh, which is original, and at once a work of history, imagination, and poetry.... Like the rest of American poetry, it resembles the juice of American grapes — it has not, in ripening, the property of acquiring alcohol enough to keep it in preservation. I have pushed my experiment on the public temper far enough” (Memoirs, 9:24).

Copies of Dermot MacMorrogh in several stages of its composition, two in JQA’s hand and one in CFA’s, are in the Adams Papers (Microfilms, Reel Nos. 237, 242).