Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 5

Friday. 14th. CFA Friday. 14th. CFA
Friday. 14th.

Morning passed at the office occupied in the same series of nothingness which distinguishes so much of my time. My spirits are a little affected by this state of things. I feel as if I was not doing any thing worthy of myself and as if I should not ever be more than one of the idle drones of Society. I know that this is wrong, that I ought to think how greatly favoured I am in life to be put above the necessity of 262labour. Perhaps this is one cause of my uneasiness. To be a mere liver of a life of luxury is not fully to my taste. To be a hanger on upon the popular favor is still less so. I cannot court any body. And my talents however much I may prize them, are not of that transcendent description which secure admiration in a moment.

Walk. Afternoon. Read Ricardo’s Pamphlet on the Bank of England which gave me some new ideas upon that subject. Terence, the Eunuch—A description of a rape which would be rather harsh for our ears. Evening quiet at home. The Absentee. I afterwards began Du Bos Reflections upon Poetry and Painting.1


JQA’s set of Jean Baptiste Dubos’ Réflexions critiques, sur la poésie et sur la peinture, 3 vols., Paris, 1719–1740, is in MQA.

Saturday. 15th. CFA Saturday. 15th. CFA
Saturday. 15th.

Mild but cloudy. I went to the Office and spent an hour in reading the Parliamentary Debates. In the present disturbed state of our own Country it is a great relief to go abroad and look at the state of things in foreign countries and in history. Yet wherever one looks, there is an appearance of solidity which comforts. Here the example is lost every twenty years.

I took a walk. Afternoon, reading Dubos Reflexions upon Poetry and Painting—A pleasing book upon a pleasing subject. On the whole, I take more pleasure in these studies than in all the noise of politics. Were it not, that the present measures press upon the industry of the Country and consequently upon our resources, I should make myself tolerably indifferent to the state of things.

Evening. The Absentee, a pleasing work, and La Fontaine’s Fables which are charming.1


Three editions (1769, 1777, and 1797) of the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine are in MQA.

Sunday. 16th. CFA Sunday. 16th. CFA
Sunday. 16th.

The day was pleasant. I attended divine service and heard Mr. Frothingham preach from Psalms. 4. 4. “Commune with your own heart and be still.” The sermon was directed against the fashion of theological controversy in the present day. He combated what he considered two leading popular errors—The first, that all subjects could be perfectly submitted to the test of argument and reason, with a view to elicit all truth. The second, that this truth could be made evident 263by the agency of popular discussions. The immediate occasion of this discourse was the scheme of lecturing upon the evidences of Christianity devised by a combination of orthodox and episcopal Clergymen to combat the much dreaded heresy of the Fanny Wright School.1 I am somewhat doubtful in my own mind what can be right in this case. That Mr. Frothingham is perfectly correct in his positions seems to me undeniable. But the misfortune is that he consults only the feelings of the educated classes who can be content with moderate religion to guide their reason and affections. The large mass with whom religion must be a passion or nothing, require excitement, require the strong emotion which controversy and nothing else can give. Our Community is a very moral one, but it cannot live in the dead calm of all the exciting passions. Pleasure is thought wicked because it can rarely be tasted in that moderation which preserves from sin. The love of strong liquors is perhaps the most dangerous of all this sort of temptation among us. To preserve from this, resort is had to one of two things—The accummulation of money which is a pretty complete security, or the zealous pursuit of religious faith. The two latter are not unfrequently united, but the first does not often combine with either. Of the three, the first is undoubtedly the most injurious in it’s effects upon society, and hence it is, that though I cannot approve of them, yet I do not look with quite so much dislike upon their various modes of manifestation. For the rest, Mr. Frothingham was as polished as usual, and his manner not often so animated, became decidedly eloquent.

Afternoon, Mr. Sargent preached. Text. 1. Kings 18. 28. “Elijah came unto all the people and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” A discourse deprecating controversial fury in the pulpit and lukewarmness in the people. It was well conceived and in parts not badly executed, but the young man has no idea of the mode to carry out his plan. It was written with a view to attack boldly. It was preached so very much under this daring tone, that the figures seemed out of place and the apostrophes mere nonsense. Such is always the result, when an Orator does not keep the feeling of his auditors on the same pace with his own. The effect upon those who analyse little was unfortunate for the poor youth. And coming so directly after the morning, the condemnation fell the more heavily.

Read a Charity Sermon of Atterbury. Luke 10. 32. “He came and looked on him and passed by on the other side.” An examination of the usual objections made to giving. 1. Inability, 2. public distress or hard 264times, 3. delay or a distribution by legacy, 4. that charities multiply poor, 5. badly managed. There is no new view of these questions. I long to begin some better thinker. Evening quietly at home. Young Gardiner Gorham passed a short time. I wrote to my father.


On the threat to established religion posed by Frances (Fanny) Wright, see vol. 4:76.