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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0025

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-25

Monday. October 25th.

Attended Prayers and recitation this morning as usual. After breakfast we went to Lecture. Mr. Everett commenced with Aesop, who existed in the age of Solon, by some made a native of Phrygia, by others of Thrace. He was sold as a slave first at Athens and then at Samos. Having been liberated, he went travelling through Greece and Asia Minor and met Solon at the court of Croesus. Plutarch has preserved an account of their conversation with the king in which he makes Aesop a courtier and Solon a stern reprover. We should hardly suppose this when we consider the lives of the two. The one, a slave, would be supposed to possess that roughness of character when free which is attributed to Solon, and this latter would be from his education in courts, a man at least of courtesy. It is remarkable however that the fables which remain to us under his name, but the authenticity of which we doubted, have a morality entirely worldly. They recommend prudence and are most remarkable for their primitive simplicity and application to the various situations of life. Being sent to Delphi (the correct [ . . . ] 1) by Croesus, he fell into a contro• { 420 } versy with the citizens who killed him. Planudes, a monk of Constantinople, wrote a life of him and compiled the fables. The account he gives is highly absurd. Bentley has exposed him and he gave us a specimen of his style. Many however have been misled, particularly as to the deformity of Aesop which is by no means probable. I have very little to say in addition to the account given in the Pamphlet of the origin of our fables under that name. He follows the text strictly in parts and I heard but little to divert in the intervals. He praised a dissertation on the subject by Tyrwhit and that was all.
After Lecture I returned home and wrote my Journal which employed me until Mr. Farrar’s recitation. He translated Voltaire’s story of Micromégas almost literally and this was all today’s lecture. He gave us no lesson and forgot to look over his list. After dinner we had a drill, thank Heaven, the last for this year. I am doomed to fall into difficulties, it appears to me. The Freshmen were engaged at football and amused themselves with the boyish trick of teazing the company with it. Some of them selected me out as a butt and one of them sent it. I should have knocked him down forthwith, had he not made an apology and determined it should not happen again. The next time the ball came in my way, I pricked it with my sword. This was an exceedingly trifling affair but it affected me very much and I could not get my lesson this afternoon, my feelings were so disconcerted. I determined, as the destruction of the ball might be thought malice, to leave money with the agent’s freshman to pay for a new one without mentioning myself. I was not called upon today fortunately, and after recitation, I did the thing. I employed my Evening waiting until the time for Mr. Ticknor’s Lecture which I attended.
It was long and full in it’s account of Madame de Stael, as no accounts could otherwise be easily obtained of her. This lady was born in Paris in 1766. She was fortunate in the opportunities which she had of early developing her natural talents, and she was educated for the direct purpose of being a literary woman. At the age of eleven she composed some verses during the illness of her mother and the next year she composed some little (comedies)2 one of which, Sophie, was represented at Coppet, with very considerable effect. At twenty one her mind had arrived at it’s full power, and she wrote a play on the subject of Lady Jane Gray at Paris. Her mind however soon took another direction owing to the state the country was then in. In 1781 [1786] she married the Swedish Ambassador, Baron de Stael Holstein. She followed her father Mr. Necker in his exile and { 421 } in his recall the next year (1788). At this time, Madame de Staël was a considerable personage, as she was placed in the midst of every thing that was brilliant in France. In 1789 she published her letters upon Rousseau, whom she thought had not attracted the attention he merited. There is in it much warm and passionate eloquence and it displays some power of intuition. It was a book which excited no small degree of astonishment and admiration, and now although we can not always agree with her in opinions, we will surely give her our tribute of admiration. It certainly was a very extraordinary book. She was soon to be involved in scenes however which were to produce other thoughts and she attended him again upon his second exile after which she returned and was all powerful from the 23d of July 1789 to the 4th of September of the next year when her father finally gave way. She was deeply concerned in the intrigues of the court even at this time, and was present at many of the violent political scenes of that day which, exciting her interest, gave her mind that political turn, by which she was ever after distinguished and involved. In these scenes she became intimate with Talleyrand, Sieyes and other leaders of the first epoch of the revolution. In 1792 she escaped from Paris, and in the next year she wrote a sort of address to the People upon the trial of the Queen. She seems here so moved with the situation of the Queen that she burst out in an appeal to the public, which contains remarkable eloquence. There is great pathetic vehemence throughout and she tries every thing to save the stain upon her country’s honour. During the reign of terror, as it is called, which existed until the death of Robespierre, she lived in England, actually poor, who at one time had been the greatest heiress in France. She lived pretty comfortably however at Richmond, retired from society and in company with the Count de Narbonne and Talleyrand, both distinguished characters in the revolution. In this company, she says, she spent a pleasant life, and that the play of talent was greater here than at any other residence she ever was at. She became tired however and went back to Paris in 1795 although the country was in a state of anarchy. Here she conducted herself with so little prudence in the expression of her opinions as to fall under the notice of many of the leading men and she was even reported to the convention as a dangerous character. Notwithstanding all this, she wrote an essay on the state of things which was quite bold. But from this scene she was called to Coppet on account of the illness of her mother which ended in her death. Here while with her father she composed the Essai sur I’influence des Passions. This work was to have been in two parts. The one on individual happiness, the other upon { 422 } that of nations, but she never went beyond the first part, which was published in 1796. It is on the whole an unfortunate attempt, the subject was beyond her power, nor was it fit for her peculiar talents. She was fond of abstractions and was apt to fall into metaphysical subtleties which she could not easily manage. This makes parts of the work confused and unsatisfactory, and with many beauties which may be allowed, it is obscure, incoherent and extravagant.
It was not therefore until 1800 that her claim to the first rank among literary writers was decided, when she published a work on literature, which settled her pretensions. It is a bold and powerful review of the relations of society to litterature and the reverse. She however here advances the famous doctrine of perfectibility, and unconsciously gives unfair representations of the state of litterature in all ages, in order to support her own views of the subject. In order to support her argument which has the experience of all ages in fact against her, she undervalues the state of the Greeks and Romans, and on the other hand she lays more stress than they are worth upon the works of the middle ages. Thus she makes a regular gradation of improvement from the earliest times, a thing entirely contradicted by the experience of past ages and by theory. She has also recorded a prophecy which with the present view of Europe can only be read with a smile. With these objections we must allow, it is one of the French books in which the [] 3 of criticism is not contained. It is a work still unrivalled in France although Sismondi has since written on the same subject. It contains much eloquence, boldness and comprehensive wisdom. And the whole notwithstanding its defects [and] errors of reasoning has a redeeming spirit of the genius of philosophy. It is one of the most interesting and instructive works in the French language.
She returned again to Paris in 1799 when Buonaparte had become head of the republic. She immediately became an object of suspicion which she made no effort to destroy, her saloon became the head quarters of all opposition to the reigning power which irritated the Consul to such a degree that in 1803 she was exiled from Paris. Delphine however was published in 1802. It is a story with the same immoral tendency with the Nouvelle Heloise, it’s prototype, but it does not equal it. It is too long, the story ends with the fourth volume and still it is dragged out into two more. In 1803 she went into Germany but was suddenly called back to Coppet just to arrive at the death of Mr. Necker, a father much beloved. Here she remained in deep grief and her employment was an examination of her father’s papers which ended in the publication of some of them, in 1804. The next year she { 423 } goes to Italy with Sismondi and spends more than a year crossing and recrossing the country. Corinne was the result of her thoughts which appeared in 1807. The idea is eminently happy. He then dashed off into a flamingly sentimental abstract of it which I did not choose to take off as I propose soon to read the work.
After Lecture, I went with Sheafe and we took an Oyster Supper after which we went to Chapman’s room, and having paid him a short visit, I returned home and spent the rest of the Evening reading Don Juan. XI.
1. Possibly “word,” but overwritten and not clear.
2. Thus in MS , as if the diarist questioned the term.
3. Blank in MS .