Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 6

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

A very heavy North Easterly rain storm which kept me confined at home all day. I arose in the morning after a poor night’s rest, much tranquillized but not a whit less decided. I met my father as usual without making any attempt at conversation upon any topic between us. He seemed excessively depressed which I regretted. It is very melancholy to see an old man so bowed down, but I have contributed less to this than any member of the family. I have served him as well as I could although I had heretofore thought myself not cherished as I might have been. Now at the moment of trial to be called upon merely to render menial services at the expense of my own independent station in Society, at the expense of the society of my Wife and children, and to receive no thanks for it, nothing but a formal acknowledgment of duty performed, and at the moment of this rather unreasonable expectation to be told, that property had ceased to interest him, that nothing of his was of value to him to prevent his parting with it tomorrow, that the Estates at Quincy, his own residence and that of his father before him might as well go. If this is an expression of feeling for or interest in children and grandchildren, if this is even a sense of generous attention to the mere sensitive feelings of an only child, then has my understanding of terms and of conduct been grossly perverted in my education. But I will stop.

Some day or other, I may turn over this page and regret I had written it. Be it so, the faults of a Parent are holy even when they work aggressively. I will endeavour to be silent though I cannot forget. Not that I mean to say my father has been an unkind one in general. Far from it. His indulgence has if any thing been too great. But he has never taken any active interest in our success in life. His rules have been those of general application which rarely operate so forcibly upon the young mind as short maxims at the right moment. His course has been to leave them to themselves, a course under which nine out 15of ten youths in situations of the same kind would fail, a course which he would be probably able himself to stand under, but which judging from the letters of my grandfather and grandmother he luckily escaped the full effect of in his own person. I have felt the influence of this mode of treatment less than others, but I have had enough of it very much to discourage my exertions. But enough of this. I shall not recur to it.

Having nothing to do the day passed wearily. I read a considerable part of the letters of Espriella, a work of Southey’s written under the influence of far more liberal principles than he has acknowledged of late.1 There is much sense and justice in them. But they did not interest me much.

Conversation with my Mother. She talked a great deal of the last moments of my brother. He was not in possession of his senses mind but his visions were not painful. His mind did not recur to painful associations. His taking leave of his Wife previous to his loss of reason as well as the thorough possession of his faculties in the direction of matters after his death which he so clearly foresaw, are the consolations which she now derives from the fatal event. Her tears are plentiful, and they will relieve her. May her mind find more steady quiet now than it has had for years.

1.

Adopting the pseudonym, Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella, a Spaniard traveling in the country, Southey had published Letters from England in 1807.

Tuesday. 18th. CFA Tuesday. 18th. CFA
Tuesday. 18th.

The room I occupy in the house is the one which my brother and his Wife formerly had as theirs. It is full of his old things, and puts me so constantly in mind of him that I feel gloomy in spite of myself.

Luckily for me this was a true Washington day. Mild and hazy with the relaxing, enervating feeling which is characteristic of the climate. I was glad, for it gave me an opportunity of looking round the town and seeing the changes which six years have made, and perhaps of seeing the capital for once again. I accordingly took a walk almost to the Capitol hill. The Pennsylvania Avenue looks now far more like a Street and the place begins to concentrate, but every thing wears the appearance of poverty and of want of permanency.1

I called to see our two old Servants, Antony Giusta and Ellen his Wife, who are now established in a Restorator, formerly Letourno’s and according to their Account are making money quite fast. He is as great a talker as ever, and she looks neat and bright as she used to do 16in England. She is evidently of the money getting tribe. I was glad to see them so comfortable.2 While there, Richard Wallack came in—A man from the Eastward, whom I recollected as a brisk and comfortable lawyer in very good practice here. Six years have entirely changed all this. He is now a dramdrinker at Anthonys shop at eleven in the morning. There was a touch of shame in his countenance as he swallowed down the poison before me, but it was momentary. His face was that of careless despair. His course had been downward ever since he lost his Wife and politics took the turn against him.

There is something in the climate and habits of this place very hostile to the happiness of the New Englanders. They are an active, enterprising race when at home, frugal in their habits and accurate in their plans. The relaxing climate, and indolent habits of the Washington Office holders rapidly take possession of these men and in a few years they cease to display any characteristics but mortification, disappointment and despair.

I conversed much with Anthony about my brother and drew from his chattering indelicacy more of the actual state of things as it existed for months previous to his death than I have gained any-where else. My father shuts his eyes to it, preferring to set it down as bad as possible rather than examine the particulars. But the truth is, things were coming to a crisis which must have distressed my brother’s mind infinitely. He had got to living upon expedients. Yet no retrenchment of his extravagant tastes. And the idea of death before him as a relief from consequences. After some conversation which I found so painful that I cut it short by entering into a negotiation for some silver, and striking a bargain I returned home.

A little hesitation had prevented my fixing my day of departure positively, but finding myself still idle, my father exhibiting no change in his manner, I determined upon starting tomorrow and gave orders accordingly.

Mr. Johnson hearing me announce this gave me directly an invitation to dine with him which I accepted. The business of the silver being negotiated with Anthony who came to the Bank to have it weighed, I went to Mr. J’s. Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Frye the only persons at table. He lives in a very quiet but independent manner, in a small house handsomely fitted up, and is only unhappy because the great demon of Ennui has got him bound hand and foot his devoted slave though a very murmuring one. Our conversation mainly turns upon my departure which strikes every body with surprise, and incidentally upon my father’s affairs which are as well known to them as they are to me. 17I perhaps talked imprudently, because I felt too much, but I am desirous of leaving some testimony upon the spot of my intentions when I came here, of my earnest desire to change the system which has been so fatally pursued hitherto, of my decided opposition to the continuance of the present.

Mr. Frye came in after dinner. Returned home to pack up. Spent an hour with my Mother whom my absence does affect far more than I could wish. But it must be soon or late. My father seemed more depressed than ever.

1.

A view of Pennsylvania Avenue from a contemporary print is reproduced in the present volume; see also p. x–xi, above.

2.

Antonio Giusta had entered JQA’s service in the Netherlands in 1814 and remained his manservant until the end of his presidential term. Known to the family through those years as Antoine, he had apparently taken the form Anthony in recent years on setting himself up as the proprietor of what JQA referred to as a “small oyster and coffee house,” CFA here as a “Restorator” or restaurant ( Webster, 2d. edn.), and seems to have been a barroom or tavern. His wife, whose name was Mary Newell when she came to the Adamses at Ealing as a cook-maid, was always called Ellen in the family. Both came with the Adamses on their return to America in 1817 on the Washington and were married the following year. Somewhat close relations with the prospering Giustas were maintained for another ten years, during which period Ellen lived for a time with the Adamses in Quincy. (JQA, Diary, 16 June, 26 July 1817; 8 Dec. 1818; 1, 29 July, 18 Nov. 1836; 22 April 1844; CFA, Diary , 20 June 1839.) See also vol. 1:84 and Bemis, JQA , 2:159.