Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 4

Wednesday. 26th. CFA Wednesday. 26th. CFA
Wednesday. 26th.

Cloudy and dull day. I went to the Office and passed my time there in the usual way. First and most regularly writing up Diary. Second, making up Accounts for the close of the year. Third, reading Dr. Lingard. The days are so short, and I take my regular walk at one o’clock, that I have not three hours for all these occupations. The political news as to the state of the Country is gloomy. There seems to be hardly any prospect of saving the Union since the appearance of the Resolutions from Virginia.1

Afternoon, finished Villemain’s Life of Cromwell. I have seen no occasion to alter the opinion already expressed. The Author was not equal to his task. It required a knowledge of Constitutional Law of England, a study of the springs of human action, and a familiarity with preceding events, that he did not possess. His reliance is upon Hume et id genus omne.2 I afterwards read his Eulogy of Montaigne. Here he is on his legs. This is French literature, and many a Frenchman perfectly understands that for one who knows what the Institutions of England are.3 I was induced to look into Montaigne. He has 429been much admired for his originality and profoundness of thought. I confess in the two Chapters I read tonight I found nothing of them. Neither have I ever before.

Quiet evening. My Wife’s tooth ach was better. We were asked to pass the evening at Mrs. Gray’s but declined. Miss Julia Gorham dined here.

1.

The first reactions expressed in the Virginia legislature to the President’s Proclamation were that “Virginia would not see South Carolina crushed” and that a convention of the states should be called (Boston Daily Advertiser & Patriot, 20 Dec., p. 2, col. 4). More moderate sentiments, though still opposed to the assertion in the Proclamation of the federal power, seemed, according to the latest reports, to be on the ascendant (same, 26 Dec., p. 2, col. 4). On the actions taken in the several states in the wake of Jackson’s Proclamation, see William W. Freehling, Prelude to Civil War, N.Y., 1966, p. 267–297 passim.

2.

CFA expressed his disagreements with Villemain’s interpretation of Cromwell and of his times much more vigorously in the marginal comments and notes he wrote in his copy of the book (see above, entry for 17 Dec., note). These comments ranged from simple expletives: “humbug,” “you goose,” “flat Popery,” “lie,” “nonsense,” “what a man,” “stuff,” “all slander,” “brazen dog,” and “French humbug”; to a kind of dialogue with the author: “You are talking about men whose principles of action, wrong or right, you could never understand”; and then to generalizing animadversions: “No Frenchman knows much about English Constitutional History”; “A Frenchman cannot understand morality. He considers it all as policy.”

Another characteristic example appears in the facsimile of a page from CFA’s copy of Villemain reproduced as an illustration in the present volume; see above, p. xv.

3.

In the edition of Villemain’s Mélanges philosophiques, historiques et littéraires at MQA (3 vols., Brussels, 1829), “Eloge de Montaigne” is in the first volume. CFA’s bookplate is affixed and his characteristic underlinings and markings appear throughout.

Thursday. 27th. CFA Thursday. 27th. CFA
Thursday. 27th.

Morning cloudy with occasional rain. Went to the Office. Nothing particularly new. Engaged in my regular occupations, the monotony of which destroys all the interest of a Diary. Pursued the study of Lingard and owing to the weather, did not take my walk.

Afternoon, rather idle. Read an Essay upon Criticism by Villemain with which I was very much pleased. I do not now wonder at his reputation as a Writer. To begin with him where I did is doing an injustice to his character.1 I finished the Afternoon by looking over Voltaire’s Account of the English Revolution.2 It is written with vivacity but with the same French mind. He sees things only by halves. He cannot understand the true character of the English Puritan. He sees nothing but fanaticism. Yet there was conscientiousness, morality, faith in God, and immense firmness of purpose. All good qualities in their way and strongly in contrast with the unprincipled looseness of their opponents, in whom Loyalty was the principal merit and a sense 430of honour according to the worldly notion apart from morality or religion. Voltaire is however more fair to Cromwell’s character, Dr. Lingard yet more so.

Quiet evening. Malvina, and Conversation. Afterwards, German.

1.

“Discours sur les avantages et les inconvénients de la critique” is also in the first volume of Villemain’s Mélanges philosophiques, historiques et littéraires.

2.

Probably the section relating to England in his Siècle de Louis XIV.