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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0007-0009

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-06-09

Wednesday. June 9th. VI.

Attended Prayers, but was very late in getting up. My walk of last Evening had fatigued me so much, that I slept more soundly than usual. As I was absent during nearly all the day’s review I excused myself to Mr. Hayward and consequently made up my Chapters in { 176 } the Bible in the interval. At study bell we attended Mr. Channings first Lecture. It was an introductory one detailing the dangers to which students were liable—they were likely to become too proud of their knowledge and therefore sceptical. He adverted to the danger of falling into a way of studying not for the sake of improvement in their own happiness but to show their acquisition, to be actuated by motives of ambition, and not read books for their sake as pleasure and gratification but as a path to become distinguished. In this way he said the heart became callous to the finer feelings of nature and wholly engrossed in the pursuit of fame. The things which were most to be dreaded by persons in pursuit of knowledge in short, he said, were pride which leads to scepticism, and ambition which destroys all good and moral feeling. He was highly moral throughout. The style is easy and pleasing, the manner is not tolerable. He has never been possessed of the graces and has sundry peculiarities which are certainly not pleasing, I might say, disgusting. I had to complain of his want of purpose in this lecture as I saw nothing in the Essay which had a direct reference to the matter in point. In future I propose to take notes at the time and write his sentiments more fully as I propose to compare them with those of my father on the same subject at some future time. I wish to judge as fairly of Mr. Channing as possible. I have no reason to admire the man and therefore shall be cautious.1
I returned home after a few minutes at the reading room, and prepared myself for a recitation to Mr. Farrar in Trigonometry. He is much of a scare crow to students as he has a greater desire to make them learn really and truly, than any other members of the government. I recited to him not very well however. As this is a study which I do not wish to pursue, I am not anxious. I had intended speaking to him today but I was so hurried by the next division that it was not in my power. I am fixed however in doing this soon as this is certainly nothing but lost time. I might as well undertake to study Hebrew without Grammar or Dictionary. It is sufficiently difficult with2 in either case. We do not come again until Monday.
I finished writing my Journal and read the poems of Mason together with some of the first of Cowper’s.3 I did not think the first very remarkable although the lines to his wife are certainly sweet and pretty. I will not pretend to criticize though as I have never read them before. These of Cowper are very pretty, there is something very interesting in them as they refer themselves to our simplest feelings and are sure to touch them with effort. The little piece on Friendship { 177 } which I read today is as true, as striking as any thing could be made yet it is all drawn from what we must know by the every day experience of human life. It is this power which has made this Author so popular with all classes and which makes him seen oftener on the table than any Poet we have. Some there [are] who are looked upon with reverence and respect but he is always read and always admired.
I began my course in Botany this Morning with a Lesson in Mr. Locke4 and commenced Mitford’s History of Greece5 by reading the First Chapter today. This is principally taken up in a geographical description of the country, and an account of the fabulous ages to the time of the Trojan War. He gives the appearance of history to the stories of the Poets and gives Homer high authority as a Historian. He runs over their origin, which he argues from Egypt, their method of life which was according to all account sufficiently piratical, and their gradual civilization particularly in Attica. One chapter bears considerably on politics as it shows us that at least in this age Despotism was not known or thought of. The accounts of Minos and Theseus give us reason to suppose that this was the original contract if there ever was one in society. To ensure order, a head was necessary, but for that head to have absolute power was as far from their ideas as the cutting off their own heads. I also read my Greek Testament and attended recitation after which I paid a visit to Fisher and came home. I next attended Prayers, after tea Otis and myself went round paying visits at least with the intention of doing so but we found no one at home except Howard. I smoked a cigar with him although he did not appear perfectly glad to see us. Why, I know not. We then returned, having heard nonsense enough, and I spent the remainder of the Evening in reading Plutarch’s Life of Theseus and studying the obscure chronology as well as I could. Finishing this I read two Numbers in the Spectator for amusement and my two Chapters as usual. X.
1. JQA was the first Boylston professor of rhetoric and oratory at Harvard, holding the chair from 1806 to 1809. He had opposed the appointment of E. T. Channing, the third occupant of the chair. When Channing failed CFA on his Harvard entrance examination in Sallust, JQA appealed the decision to President Kirkland, reminding him that the professor might have been motivated by resentment. JQA was given permission to attend the second examination, and this time CFA passed (Duberman, CFA , p. 18).
2. Thus in MS .
3. William Mason (1725–1797) and William Cowper (1731–1800).
4. John Locke, Outlines of Botany, Boston, 1819.
5. JQA’s set of William Mitford, History of Greece, 8 vols., Boston, 1823, is in the Stone Library. CFA, however, apparently bought his own copy. See entry for 29 June, below. A first edition of Vol. 1 (published in 1784) is among JA’s books in the Boston Public Library ( Catalogue of JA’s Library , p. 170).