Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 6

Friday. May 1st. CFA Friday. May 1st. CFA
Friday. May 1st.

It has become very much the practice here of late years to go out into the Country on the first of May in quest of the Season of Spring and it’s flowers. Our climate lends itself kindly to no such custom. The poets sing of May with some license even in England, but here with us the error is too gross. The morning was cloudy with a raw East wind.

I as usual paid my first visit to the House where I inspected the proceedings of the various departments of cleaning, painting &ca. Afterwards, at Office, Mr. Walsh came in and discussed matters in 129general for some time. He has rarely been at my Office from a sense of his debt, which I confess I could wish he would pay for both our sakes. He has conversation and mental cultivation if he has not wealth, which makes him as a companion rather agreeable than otherwise.

Walk, business accounts until a little later than usual then home. Afternoon M. Thiers, with whose history I am in many respects pleased although in others it does not quite satisfy me. Evening at home. Goethe. Kunst und Alterthum.1

1.

A volume of the 6-vol., Stuttgart, 1818–1832, edition was borrowed from the Athenaeum.

Saturday. 2d. CFA Saturday. 2d. CFA
Saturday. 2d.

It was a tolerably pleasant day today and might justify some calculation upon the season. I went to the Office and then my usual round to the House where the people were at work. The progress is now becoming visible. I yet find the sense of care in assuming a household press heavily upon me notwithstanding my comfort in the idea of more complete independence.

At Office Mr. Walsh there a little while, the remainder of the time spent in making up Diary and Accounts. Time on the whole not very well spent. Walk and home where I read Landor’s Imaginary Conversations. I take up these from noticing a flattering recommendation of them in Mr. Taylor’s Notes to Philip van Artevelde. This is not unmingled with criticism and I am the more led to conclude the book worth reading. There is some reflection in it.

After dinner Thiers—Charlotte Corday, Marat, and the energy of the French Revolution. The career of Bonaparte is not so wonderful when you perceive the materials which were prepared for him. Carnot and Robespierre, Danton and Barere were the real foundations of his fortune. Evening quiet at home. Goethe. Kunst und Alterthum, a sort of desultory notice of subjects of Fine Arts in Germany. I particularly notice some remarks upon the fashion of exalting the older class of Painting.

Sunday. 3d. CFA Sunday. 3d. CFA
Sunday. 3d.

Morning clear but a cold East wind. I read a little German and a little of Mr. Landor besides taking a little round with my child. The air was forbidding but we have had so little that is not decidedly bad that we rather enjoyed its clear freshness.

130

I attended divine service, but my mind was totally absent in the morning—Almost a state of vacancy. I did not even catch the Text. Afternoon Mr. Frothingham preached upon the temptation of Christ. Luke 4. 10. “And when the devil had ended all the temptation he departed from him for a season.” This is one of the difficult parts of the New Testament. As usual one part of the Community fly to figurative language as an explanation and Mr. Frothingham is of the number. But this looks to me too much like laboured construction, and would give me more doubts of the religion than it would remove. I cannot divine why so much labour should be spent in softening the supernatural character of Jesus’ acts, when there is not one natural feature in his character. The whole story is miraculous and if a part of it is admitted to be true and the evidence is certainly stronger for than against it, I do not see the value of discrediting the rest. I am not however sufficiently versed in these questions to decide with any certainty upon questions which have employed so many learned.

I took a walk meeting T. K. Davis today. He has conversation and mind. Read a Sermon of Barrow’s in continuation of the last, with the same Text. Not so good because the subject was partially exhausted. This considered the subject of meddling with the business of others in the two departments of advice and reproof adding some maxims of great good sense.

Received letters from my father—One in answer to my first one which made me almost regret my sending it. He has fixed his fortunes upon a certain basis and it does not become me to batter it however much I may doubt it’s stability.1 Also an answer to the application for stone.2 In the evening, visitors—Mr. Tucker and C. Brooks.

1.

JQA to CFA, 29 April (Adams Papers); a reply to CFA’s letter of 23 April, on which see note to entry of that date.

“If I have misused my time and talents by devoting myself to public life, or by not retiring from it in due Season my career cannot continue much longer for good or evil.... For the present I am contented with my situation and taking pleasure in those trifles which appear to you so worthless....

“As you see nothing but Vanity and vexation of Spirit in public affairs I advised you to turn your attention to the acquisition of wealth.... It was to engage you in a pursuit which would interest your feelings, and in which success would contribute to your enjoyment. It was that you might take some pleasure in Life. You have a natural disposition to look at the dark side of things, and that, if too much indulged is apt to lead to misanthropy and despondency, to discourage exertion, and to sink into discontented indolence, unfavourable to the comfort of one’s own Life, and not very propitious to the happiness of others. I wished to see you form for yourself habits and a temper of cheerfulness, and even a disposition to be gratified with objects perhaps not of much value in themselves, but precious to those who so esteem them. Such are the political baubles to those who engage in political life. Such are Treasures to those who toil for wealth. There is another object, no doubt of higher 131value, and of much greater dignity, consisting in literary eminence, or the pursuit of useful Science. I would infinitely rather recommend this to you than either the search for riches or the aspiration to political distinction. But it is scarcely possible in this Country for a man to acquire much literary eminence without being brought into a political career.

“My own life has not been inattentive to the duties either of domestic economy, or of political distinction, or of literary reputation. Its success in all three ... has been various.... You may not be inclined to allow me a more pure or more copious stock of moral principle than has belonged to the generality of my neighbours. I am aware of the danger of self-delusion, even in the estimate of one’s own motives, but in a public life of more than fifty years duration, I am not conscious of having done wrong to any one man.... I have suffered great and grievous wrong from many, and it has been my constant aim to avoid strife and contention whenever it was possible. I have suffered under treachery far more than under open enmity, and have suppressed many more vital shafts than I have sent. I have never sought public life, or any one of its numerous stations which I have occupied. It has always come and offered itself to me, from the dignity of Clerk of the Market in the town of Boston to that of President of the United States. My administration of this last Office was conducted with a purity of principle, and an absence of all intriguing duplicity, certainly as spotless as that of any one of my Predecessors.... For all this I may not obtain credit even with my own family. It is nevertheless true.”

2.

30 April (Adams Papers).