Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 4

Sunday. 15th. CFA Sunday. 15th. CFA
Sunday. 15th.

Foggy with a cold Easterly wind this morning. I went to Meeting at Mr. Frothingham’s and heard Mr. Lunt of New York all day. I knew him at College.1 His writing is good though it did not interest me. This is a difficulty I am totally unable to get over. Not one preacher seems to be able to fix attention. Is it in my dullness or theirs? Perhaps a little of both. A Clergyman has a hard task. It is cruel to judge him who appears weekly before us—And when Christianity has 49been inculcated till all its leading doctrines have become too common to be fit for use in the Pulpit. A man who should tell us that Charity, Piety, Faith, Benevolence, Meekness, and the rest of the virtues are good things to practise, would probably be laughed at for his pains. Yet these are the great topics of our Religion, and the cultivation of them the great purposes of preaching. The difficulty is not to be common place.

I read today, Racine’s Esther and Athalie2 with the Commentaries and Laharpe’s Opinion. I think they justify their character. French Tragedy has not been my favourite in general, but these are master pieces in a style not known in any other author of that line. They are upon the Greek model and in management much superior. After all, the amount of genius requisite to overcome the infinite difficulties placed in its way by the French taste, must be very great. The production of passages is comparatively easy. A man may write one character in a play well and yet the Play itself be miserable. The combination is the difficulty. Edmund Quincy passed an hour. After him, Two Spectators.

1.

Rev. William Parsons Lunt, Harvard 1823, is identified at vol. 2:280. Lunt was to become co-minister of the First Church in Quincy in 1835, and a close association developed between him and the Adamses, particularly JQA. See JQA, Memoirs , passim, and Pattee, Old Braintree and Quincy , passim.

2.

Of the six editions at MQA of the Oeuvres of Racine, that in 3 vols. published at Paris in 1750 has CFA’s bookplate and also the signature of his daughter Mary, 1866. Esther and Athalie are in vol. 3.

Monday. 16th. CFA Monday. 16th. CFA
Monday. 16th.

The fog still continues thick and heavy, without rain. I passed an hour in reading the criticism of La Harpe upon Esther and Athalie, together with occasional dipping into the Volumes of Voltaire whose inexhaustible variety supplies the place of depth and judgment. By this last word I mean that consistency of a mind which forms opinions upon thorough reflection and adheres to them stubbornly. At the Office—My time not spent very profitably. Two or three interruptions. My new Tenant among others who adheres tenaciously. A true bore, I fear. Nothing of consequence took place. I went home after calling upon a Tenant.

My Wife went out of town to see Mrs. Gorham Brooks who is confined. I finished the Oration for Caelius. It is as Middleton calls it, amusing, but its general character does not recommend itself to my judgment—Abuse of vice and justification of it in the same breath. Evening, read Athalie over again to remember it. It seems the perfec-50tion of melodious versification. Read the Life of Racine in the Dictionnaire Historique, and Two Spectators.