Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 5

Wednesday. 24th. CFA Wednesday. 24th. CFA
Wednesday. 24th.

Clear day. I went to the Office after reading an hour of Horace. My time taken up much as usual. Made some progress in the continuation of Mackintosh although I could not say that I felt the spirit in reading that I have done heretofore. The writer has not the same philosophical mind, he leans more upon authority, and he has not the sharpness of discrimination.

Walk as usual, and I called in at the Athenaeum. Afternoon quietly at home. Read Botta and made some progress in reading over German but I am very slow.

My Wife and I went to the Theatre again tonight, the Play of Venice Preserved. Jaffier, Mr. Smith. Pierre, Mr. Kemble. Belvidera, his daughter. The first man ruined his part, an essential one to the effect of the piece. Kemble’s conception of the character of Pierre was good, but it seems to me that it wanted the full force of the character. He is a jealous, vindictive, haughty character, concealing his private griefs under the mantle of public spirit, and at the same time high spirited, full of sentiments of honor according to the world’s definition of the term. She was rather cold at first. I did not wonder at it. For to lavish the prodigality of married love upon Mr. Smith, is not easy for 75a young single woman of any delicacy.1 Afterpiece, Blue Devils, poor enough. We got home early.

1.

To find even such minor faults in the performances of the Kembles was currently judged churlish in Boston: “They are of that captious race, who labor under the impression that it argues the quintescence of taste and judgment to find fault. Such morbid beings would imagine blemishes in perfection itself, and the best efforts are lost upon them. It would be well for such persons to reflect a moment, whether the imperfections which haunt their imaginations, are not rather the spectres of their own diseased faculties, than the defects of these accomplished performers.” (Columbian Centinel, 24 April, p. 2, col. 4.)

For most of the audience in the theater, apparently, the impact of the performance was so great that the critical faculties were overwhelmed. One in that audience, sixty years later recalled that “When [Miss Kemble] as Belvidera, shrieking, stares at her husband’s ghost, I was sitting in front, in her line of vision, and I cowered and shrank from her terrible gaze.” (Henry Lee, Atlantic Monthly, May 1893, p. 664.)

Thursday. 25th. CFA Thursday. 25th. CFA
Thursday. 25th.

Fine day. I was quite occupied all the morning, first in Commissions, then I went to Quincy. This being my dear Wife’s birth day, I remembered it by presenting her with a little trifle. Found my father very quietly situated and apparently very well contented. I had an hour’s conversation with him upon a variety of subjects and then returned to town. Arrived at home exactly in time for dinner.

Mr. Brooks and his son Gorham dined with me and upon the special occasion I treated them to a bottle of Burgundy. The former was a little indisposed today but the latter sat until five o’clock.

I could not read to any purpose after such a day, and I therefore concluded as my Wife was not at home to try my luck at the Play. Obtained a seat in the second range of Boxes, and sat quiet and incog. The Provoked Husband. Lord Townley, Mr. Kemble, Lady Townley, his daughter. The piece wants spirit in the performance. Johnson, and the rest who are very good where the conception of parts has been taught them, fail here in a piece not for a long time since represented here.1 I came home but slightly gratified.

Called at Mrs. Frothingham’s for my Wife and found Mr. F. returned from his trip to New York. Chateau-briand a little.

1.

In referring to “Johnson” CFA evidently means “Smith” (of whom he had expressed reservations a day earlier), who took the role of Manley (Columbian Centinel, 25 April, p. 3, col. 4).

Friday. 26th. CFA Friday. 26th. CFA
Friday. 26th.

Morning cold and easterly. As My Wife proposed to go to Medford to pass the day, I thought I would not remain at home alone, so I 76rode to Quincy. Found my father quietly ensconced in the Study, and I passed the morning with him in conversation. Discussion of the meaning of the word Orphan, as connected with Mr. Gerard’s trust in Philadelphia. Is it confined to those deprived of both parents, or the father, or one of them indifferently?1 Quaere de hoc. As he was about to dine at Mr. Danl. Greenleaf’s, I had nothing to do but to accompany him. Mr. and Mrs. Daniel vegetate in the same quiet way with their trees. He examines the genealogy of the Greenleaf while falling into the sear and yellow one. Mr. Thomas his brother was also there.2 At three, they went to a Parish meeting, and I returned to the House where I was occupied hanging pictures. Returned home late. Found Abby had already got back. Read a little of Chateau-briand, but the weather makes me exceedingly drowsy.

1.

Nicholas Biddle, chairman of the trustees of Girard College, had requested JQA’s assistance in the preparation of a system of instruction and discipline for the school for orphans which would soon open its doors (to JQA, 9 March, Adams Papers). JQA, according to promise, extended his stay in Philadelphia on his way from Washington to Quincy to have conversations on the questions (to Biddle, 31 March, LbC, Adams Papers; JQA, Diary, 13, 15 April). Pursuing those conversations, Judge Joseph Hopkinson, who had participated in them, had written to JQA (20 April, Adams Papers) asking his opinion on the construction the trustees, in fixing admissions policy, should give to the word orphan used in Girard’s will. Was an orphan a child without both parents, a child without a father, or a child without one parent? In Hopkinson’s view the definition covered only the first two of the three situations.

JQA, when CFA arrived at the Old House, was consulting authorities in preparation for a reply to Hopkinson. They included “The Greek Lexicons, Latin Dictionaries, that of the French Academy, the Epistle of James in the New Testament, Calvin’s Lexicon Juridicum, Euripides and the French Don Quixot” (Diary, 26 April). When he did reply (8 May, LbC, Adams Papers), he opted for a child who has suffered the loss of either parent, arguing that “at least for all beneficent purposes a motherless child, must be an Orphan.... I have the greater satisfaction in coming to this conclusion because it seems to me that the principle of limiting the sense of the word to persons who have lost their fathers, carries with it something of discourtesy and even of injustice to the female sex.... The distinction countenances a pretension of superiority on the part of our own sex which would be peculiarly misplaced in the relations between Parent and Child.”

Biddle’s address a few months later at the laying of the cornerstone (printed in the National Gazette, 8 July, and attached to Biddle to JQA, 10 July, Adams Papers) suggests that JQA’s view did not prevail.

2.

Daniel and Thomas Greenleaf were brothers of John Greenleaf, who was married to AA’s niece, Lucy Cranch, on whom see Adams Genealogy. Daniel was an apothecary and doctor, owner of the wharf on Quincy Bay used by JQA for swimming. His wife Elizabeth was his cousin. Thomas, a justice of the peace, was a supervisor of the Adams Temple and School Fund (vol. 2:153; 3:57, 90).