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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0011

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-11

Monday. October 11th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation this Morning as usual. After breakfast attended Lecture. Mr. Everett continued to day the analysis of the controversy concerning Homer. Mr. Raoul Rochette,1 a learned Frenchman answered those objections made by those travellers in a very strenuous argument, but many of the leading charges are not noticed, and particularly the one mentioned concerning Hesichaeus. And it may be fairly concluded that they are substantial. The principal ground on which the inscriptions are supported as genuine was that the Abbe was entirely ignorant of the Greek language. This however must be overstated as the Academy would not have recommended nor the king sent an ignorant man upon such an expedition. And afterwards he was employed in arranging what he had found, for a length of time sufficient to have gained a knowledge of the language from it’s foundation.
The most suspicious circumstances against him are these, 1st the highly finished form in which the inscriptions exist, which makes it evident that they could not have been made on the spot, and no traces have ever been discovered of these monuments and he has never referred to or spoken of any drawings made at the time he saw them. 2dly. that he himself has made mention of only three in his memoir upon the subject whereas his collection contains nine. We see no reason why he should not have mentioned them all at once, if he had not been preparing them and was only hindered by his death from producing them. These are reasons of Mr. Everett’s, which occurred to him when he saw them. He took the trouble to copy them when at Paris but his labour was lost with the package in coming over here. In consequence of these reasons, he agrees with Wolf in rejecting them as monuments of the 8th century before Christ. Mr. Buh believed that they were made a century after Christ. Dr. [Corrar?] who is now at Paris believes that they were imposed upon Fourmonts credulity.
Mr. Hug’s work is the only considerable one in opposition to the opinion of Wolf. He argues that writing was known much earlier than Wolf’s theory assumes. In the age of Solon laws were hung on wooden axes and Hipparchus had moral sentences engraved upon statues on the road side. These facts do not indicate want of writing among the { 377 } higher class and rather exhibit an incitement to improvement in the lower. The late introduction of prose also does not prove by any means that all writing was as late. If the science of writing was known at all, there is no reason to suppose it would not record longer or smaller poems. The Greeks themselves speak of writing as of very great antiquity. Aeschylus, who in all accounts of ancient manners is the best authority, speaks of the inscriptions upon the shields of the seven against Thebes, and refers the invention of writing to Prometheus. Had the use of writing been introduced only a century and a half before him he would not have dared to have asserted the thing so.
Mr. Hug then examines the inscriptions already mentioned. He supposes them to have been really copied, from inscriptions, a part of which were very ancient but more had been added and corrected in later times. He dates their appearance in their present form in the sixth century. But Mr. Hug’s principal point, and one which proved would settle the question, is that Lycurgus obtained a copy from Ionia, of the poems of Homer. Four authorities are quoted for this assertion. These are mentioned in the synopsis.2 They are not of a perfectly convincing nature. Mr. Hug’s third period is that of Homer himself. The anecdote of Bellerophon which has been before alluded to, proves at least the use of signs. The nature of the poem also, he argues, necessarily requires the use of writing. He consequently analyses the Poem and endeavours to prove that the Iliad must have been written on one plan, and that the separate parts, as they were mentioned in Aelian with various names adopted according to the variations in the story, were all made aptly to each other. They all had a relation to each other in the commencement. And from these considerations he argues that these are the works of Homer. Here he makes two remarks confirming this conclusion, that the period of Wolf, elapsing between the introduction and use of writing is altogether contrary to analogy, and that too much stress has been laid upon the want of poets intervening. Many authors and works are mentioned although the latter have not come down to us. Mr. Everett supposes some political course must have assisted in their suppression. Some of their works did last for a time and there must have been a secret motive for their destruction.
After Lecture, I heard a report that the class had permission to leave Mathematics for any other study, and accordingly made my arrangements for the change. I intended to have studied Euripides, and in this way to have some benefit from the disposal of my time, but upon application I found that this permission was only extended to the lowest scholars in the class and I was very politely informed that { 378 } I was not among them, which I always believed before. I requested Mr. Hayward however to mention my statement to the Government. I attended Mr. Farrar’s recitation and after dinner studied Paley and attended Mr. Hedge but was not taken up, a singular thing. The Company had a drill at noon and it was attended by the higher Officers; we were excused.
In the Evening, I sat with Otis a little while and afterwards attended Mr. Ticknor, having obtained a seat very much more to my liking. I regret somewhat that I was compelled to miss the other night but the hour is such that I shall pay very little attention to punctuality or regularity, as I have no idea of becoming a perfect galley slave. It is a hard thing here that they load us with recitations which we do not like and punish us if we do not pursue them, in addition to Lectures which we are willing enough to attend and take advantage of, if they are at reasonable season. He had got to the Femmes Savantes, Moliere’s last work; tonight commenced with this. It was written the year before his death as an attack upon Madame Dacier and others who had attacked his Amphitryon. In it the Abbé Cottin3 was particularly marked and indeed almost every character had some person in view. Although with but little foundation he has made an admirable comedy of it. His plays are all according to the strict rules. It may be asked how he could write with so much ease in a way which so much shackled Moliere4 and to this it may be said, that the difference is owing to the difference between Tragedy and Comedy. It creates many fears to the powers of genius in the former, whilst it is probably of some advantage to the latter, as being able to suppress extravagance. Moliere had in the course of his life possessed all the advantages for the observation of character and had improved them. He had been in almost every grade in society and had taken off the comic situations of all. Indeed his works may be truly called a gallery of pictures all drawn from the life. Moliere had also studied books but his originality cannot well be questioned. He owed but little to others whilst his successors owe almost all to him and it was Racine’s opinion that he was the greatest genius of the age of Louis 14th.
He then commenced with Boileau. Nicholas Boileau was born in 1636 and died in 1711. He was thirteen years younger than Moliere and three years older than Racine although he was the survivor of both. He was educated to the law but gave it up in disgust and studied theology until he obtained a place in the Sorbonne with 800 francs a year. His early character by no means foretold satire and a story was related of the father who predicted of his [words omitted] then the very { 379 } reverse of what they turned out to be in life. He gave up his place however in the Sorbonne and in 1677 was made in conjunction with Racine historiographer to the king. After Racine’s death however in 1699, he never went to court being offended, it is said, by some impertinent speech of the king which hurt his feelings. Indeed he possessed excellent feelings and was steady in his friendship to Racine and Moliere. His general character as a man was good and he died respected and esteemed at the age of seventy five.
The time in which he lived was favourable to the particular course he took and he accordingly succeeded without obstacle. In 1666 when he was 30 years of age, he wrote seven satires, or at least he published what were written some time before. They have much art, elegance and colouring but little of natural unborrowed strength; they showed too much he had been pursuing the classics. He was also affected much by the writers of his day. He afterwards added five more. The 10th is a close imitation of Juvenal and the last is admitted to be a failure. There is much knowledge of human nature in them and of the principles of versification. The ninth is the best of them. They are not however his best productions. In his Epistles, twelve of which he published at various times between 1669 and 1695, he is more powerful. There is much richness of thought in them. He tried some smaller works and songs which he failed in, in his prose he is pure but without variety. The Lectern appeared between 1672[1674]–83, a mock heroic well written but too long. Two last cantos fail. There is in it however much grace, correctness and elegance. His last work was his Art of Poetry—and he who understands it all, knows all requisite to form the taste and model the Genius of a Poet. There is nothing in it however which proves him a skilful writer as he is almost always in a negative sort of instruction.5 This work was extremely circulated and has placed him at the head of the government of style.
Lecture over I returned to my room after a short visit to Dwight and wrote my Journal. XI.
1. Désiré Raoul Rochette (1783–1854), the archeologist.
3. Molière satirized the Abbé C. Cotin (1604–1682), a poet, preacher, and member of the Académie Française, in the character Trissotin (originally Tricotin) in Les Femmes Savantes (Anatole Loquin, Molière, Paris, 1898, 1:495).
4. Thus in MS . Probably CFA meant to write “Corneille.”
5. Sentence and sense garbled.