Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 5

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.

Monday. 17th. CFA Monday. 17th. CFA
Monday. 17th.

Cloudy day. I went to the Office and was engaged the whole morning with Tenants. Finding my finances now alarmingly low, I made a sweep around the Tenants on Saturday and they answered the call bravely. Mr. Conant came in and we were for a considerable time engaged in getting through the terms &ca. of the new Lease for five years—After which it was signed and sealed and that business finished.

Walk. Afternoon, copied and despatched the Letter to my father.1 Finished Terence’s Eunuch. Its close is not happy. It seems to fall short in the character of the boaster, but there are more original strokes of humour and vigor of thought in it than in the Andrian. The parasite is admirably drawn. His double meaning in every speech construed by his patron as a compliment and by others as a sarcasm is very well done.

I went to the Theatre this evening with my Wife. Rule a Wife and have a Wife. Miss Kemble as Estefania and her father as Leon.2 The play is one of the most licentious of those very licentious authors Beaumont and Fletcher, and in order to make it tolerable about are one half is taken out of it in the representation. Still there is a deal of wit in it and that sort of dramatic action which keeps attention fixed. The first character in it, Michael Perez was performed by Mr. Smith who though tolerable was not as good as he might have been. Miss Kemble as Estefania performed with great spirit, and there were fewer of her drawling airs than I have seen in any of her parts. He is admirable in this line. The poets have left it doubtful what Estefania is, but the course of the action betrays her to be totally destitute of all moral principle and of shame. In those days morality was not the fashion, wherein it must be admitted we have improved. I must give as my general conclusion that I came away pleased, without inquiring narrowly into causes. Afterpiece a new one called Woman’s worth and Woman’s ways, written to show one performer in several characters. Miss A. Fisher who has spirit and animation went through well, but she overexerts herself, loses the ease which is all important for effect 265in an Actress, and gives the auditor an impression of pain for her suffering. We returned home before ten o’clock—An arrangement which I think very well of. Read a little more of Dubos.


17 Feb., Adams Papers. Stimulated by JQA’s favorable comments on the review of Hutchinson’s History, CFA reflects on the difficulties facing one who would write on the country’s history: “American History cannot be written very fairly in this Century because ... no man is brave enough to encounter the opposition which a fair judgment of individual character would probably create. Any qualification of praise towards Otis, Hancock or S. Adams would yet be regarded as enmity in this State, and the same would happen elsewhere upon touching Jefferson, Hamilton or Franklin. Mr. Sparks is filling the Country with eulogies for the simple reason that he compiles for the popular taste.... There is no going a step among the original papers without observing that ... the passions worked as vehemently in those days as they do now.... A concealment under the garb of general perfection at once removes the age from us into the regions of Hercules and Theseus.”

CFA also reports on the current economic distress in Boston, and discourses on A. H. Everett’s difficulties in the Harvard Board of Overseers, with the North Amer. Rev. , and on the political scene.


This renewal of Kemble appearances at the Tremont Theatre was begun on 4 Feb. and was to conclude on the 18th (Columbian Centinel, 17 Feb., p. 3, col. 4).