Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 4

Sunday. 24th. CFA Sunday. 24th. CFA
Sunday. 24th.

The morning was very clear with a hot day following it. I passed an hour after breakfast in continuing Aristotle, and a little while reading Viger on the Greek Idioms,1 a very excellent Book if I may judge of the whole from a part.

Attended divine service all day, and heard in the morning Mr. Emerson, in the afternoon, Mr. Frothingham. I began today my intended practice of examining the Bible from the Texts of the Preachers. Mr. Emerson’s Sermon was from 1. Corinthians, Chapt. 2. Verse 14. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” He drew from this the distinction existing between soul and body. He objected to the prevailing habit of forming opinions from effects produced on the senses, exhorting to a greater cultivation of mind and leading to an increase of faith and hope and trust. He spoke of the custom of judging of all things by the method in which they sensibly affected us, instancing the ideas commonly formed of Heaven. What he said was true, but if man cannot be allowed to reflect upon the future in the way that comes most naturally and indeed in the only way he can realize any idea of advantage, is not there danger that he will cease to think at all, and then be without a stimulus to good conduct? Mr. Emerson should look at the thing practically. The spirit of the Chapter from which his text was taken is the humiliation of man’s powers when compared to those coming from the Spirit of God. Inspiration is to be sure the most unfailing guide. But our degeneracy has deprived us of it. And if human wisdom is liable to error, (as it most certainly is), yet it is the most desirable thing we can attain. A distinction however can be drawn between human wisdom, and worldly wisdom. Mr. Frothingham’s Sermon was from Matthew 18 Chap. 10 verse: “Take heed that 97ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their Angels do always behold the Face of my Father which is in Heaven.” This is a lesson of humility to Man. The Saviour frequently inculcates innocence through the medium of these living examples. Their helplessness, their freedom from the passions and consequent sins of manhood and their increased natural good feelings, afford to us, the strongest possible illustration to affect us. The moral is beautiful. Mr. Frothingham however drew only that arising from God’s care of Children. I therefore thought the Sermon a failure. Returned home and consumed the afternoon in reading one of Massillon’s Sermons which I intend in this way to go through.2 I began with the Petit Careme. Luke C.2. v:34. This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel. The course were addressed to Louis 15th during his minority, and were designed to give him some advice upon the conduct he should pursue when King. This first is upon the influence of example either as holding out encouragement to virtue, or taking off restraint from vice. As a lesson to a King, it was bold. And the strong dissuasion from War which forms its most eloquent Passage is in singular contrast with the praises bestowed in the close, upon the character of his Grandfather. How little did the whole avail. Louis the 15th was the age of most unbounded private licentiousness instigated by the practice of the Monarch himself.

The day was very warm. In the evening, Dr. and Mrs. Stevenson called to pass half an hour. I was pleased with him as an intelligent and well informed man. They left us and I consumed the remainder of the Evening in reading Mr. Pye’s Commentary on Aristotle, many opinions in which do not strike my fancy, and the Spectator.


François Viger, Greek Idioms ... translated by Rev. J. Seager, London [1828].


At MQA are two editions owned by JQA of the Sermons of Jean Baptiste Massillon: one in 5 vols., Paris, 1748; the other in 13 vols., Paris, 1763–1769.

Monday. 25th. CFA Monday. 25th. CFA
Monday. 25th.

Morning clear and exceedingly warm. After an hour devoted as usual to the reading of Aristotle, I walked down for the purpose of doing some little Commissions for my Wife and myself. This took up so much time that upon arriving at my Office, I found my Father doing business there with several of his friends. They left soon and so did he to attend a Meeting of the ΦBK Society about their secrets.1 I was engaged much of my morning in preparing Copies of his Oration to be sent away by the Mail.2 I also began my Grandfather’s principal work, the Defence of the American Constitutions, for the purpose of 98forming an Independent opinion.3 Mr. Ballister called upon me about seeing my Father but he did not succeed in finding him.

Returned home and found my Mother with little Louisa come in to spend the day. This young Lady is a great trouble as I cannot treat her with the little ceremony I could with one of my own children. My nerves are not made for these trifling trials. I did not enjoy the visit.4 In the afternoon, I continued reading Cicero’s Letters, to Curio and Caelius. They are good models to learn the science by. My father and Mother went away at about Sunset and after a conversation with Judge Hall and going to the Post Office, I took a little walk with my Wife. Thus passed the time until nine, when I read Aristotle commented upon and the Spectator.


At a meeting of the Harvard Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society on 21 July a committee of nine, JQA being one, was appointed to propose a revision of the charter and laws of the society. Reflecting the desire of a number of members to take a stand consistent with their antimasonic leanings, the Society was bent upon the elimination of secrets. At the first meeting of the committee, JQA moved to repeal all parts of the charter and laws which required the administration of an oath and any promise of secrecy. This motion encountered little opposition, but was not adopted because of the intrusion of an attempt to amend the law governing election by eliminating the requirement of unanimity. The issues were fiercely argued through several sessions. (JQA, Diary, 21, 25 July; 8, 11 Aug. See also Catalogue of the Harvard Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Cambridge, 1933, p. 152–154.)


JQA received printed copies of his oration on 22 July (JQA, Diary). Extracts began to appear in newspapers in Boston and elsewhere almost at once. See, for example, Boston Patriot, 25 July, p. 2, cols. 1–3. The copy at MQA of the pamphlet, An Oration ... on the Fourth of July 1831, Boston, 1831, has in JQA’s hand: “Mary Louisa Adams.”


A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 3 vols., London, 1787–1788, was the most ambitious literary composition that JA undertook, contained his most comprehensive speculations in political theory, and was among the most controversial of his published works. See vol. 1:314; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:202. Among the copies in MQA is one of the first edition, presented and inscribed to CFA by JA, 25 Jan. 1819.


Despite his disclaimers, CFA seems to have been much drawn to the two-year-old, Mary Louisa. LCA thought her “a great favorite” of both ABA and CFA and quoted him as saying “she is irresistible in her little ways.” Certainly his manner with her provoked enthusiastic response from the child. LCA’s frequent reports to Mary Louisa’s mother throughout the summer on the child’s activities and predilections leave no doubt that she had “a most extraordinary affection for her Uncle Charles”; she mimicked him delightfully and “dearly loves a romp with Charles as she familiarly calls him.” LCA to Mrs. JA2, 2 and 21 May, 7 and 27 July, 11 Aug. (all in Adams Papers).