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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0029

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-29

Friday. October 29th. VI:30.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography. I went down today to see what had been the matter with my Chaise and found that I had brought from Boston an entirely different one and one of very little value. As this matter promised to be of exceeding importance if not soon rectified, I was obliged to send to Boston on purpose for it, which I did, dispatching Cunningham in the old Chaise. I spent the morning as usual reading and writing, although a considerable part of it was wasted in my Expedition to different rooms on this business.
I attended Lecture as usual. Of the three or four succeeding Poets, Stesichorus, Susarion, Ibycus and Theognis, Mr. Everett had nothing to say besides what was put down in the synopsis. The latter indeed a little. He composed poems out of which his maxims are supposed to have been selected. He has one maxim which has been frequently repeated since and is now attributed to a hundred different authors. It has even extended to rude nations, some of whom to exemplify it, weep at the birth of a child and rejoice at it’s death, a universal sentiment which can be charged to no particular age. These maxims are useful as giving historical Light as to the history of the course of Moral Sentiment. Of Phocylides he had nothing more to say. Anacreon, according to the common accounts, was born at Teos in Ionia and fled an attack of the Persians at which time he went to Abdera in Thrace, he went to the court of Polycrates of Samos where he was very well received. Here he remained until he was sent for by Hipparchus, and at his death, returned to Abdera where he died. Many fables concerning his death were invented by the grammarians which are not entitled to any credit. Sixty four odes now extant are attributed to him; the authenticity of them is doubted however, on the grounds stated in the pamphlet. Words and many significations of words however are used which have obtained in a later age. Only some of them have merit. The first edition was by Henry Stephanus in 1554 and contained fifty five odes; afterwards, the others were added. That of the Abbé de la Trappe1 was published in 1639. I have no more to say as far as the synopsis goes. De Pauw2 published an edition in 1732 in which he argues against the authenticity of these odes. This called out an angry reply from d’Orville3—a French writer.
The third edition of Fischer4 is the best. These are the chief editions except Brunck’s.5 Two editions have been printed at Rome which may be called splendid specimens of execution. One called the Bodoni edition, the other published by Spalleti.6 The former is very { 430 } beautiful being printed in Capital letters throughout, it’s critical value is not great however. Moore7 has translated these odes in a manner certainly equal if not superior to the text, an uncommon merit. He does not appear to have been a very thorough scholar in Greek although well versed in the language. He does not follow him in regularity but excels in sweetness.
It is possible that the character of Anacreon has been injured by later writers in a way similar to that of Sappho already related. He is described as highly sensual and his odes breathe that spirit but the odes may have been since made to fit the character drawn at the same time. Thus closed the lecture, the synopsis and my notes of the course in this book. I shall not desist from taking them but I am happy to congratulate myself upon my perseverance which I must confess has once or twice been upon the point of sinking. I have now the pleasure of praising myself deservedly and of knowing that I have not employed my time unprofitably. I have already given an account of my mornings occupation. I today commenced the Rambler8 with a determination to read four Numbers every day. I attended Declamation this afternoon, and heard much very wretched speaking. I had intended to write my Journal this afternoon, but when I came to look for my synopsis in which I take my notes, I found it was left this morning at Dwight[’s]. So I looked over “much ado about nothing” and finished Don Juan. The latter Cantos fall off exceedingly but the third, fourth and fifth are beautiful.
In the Evening, I attended Mr. Ticknor’s Lecture. I regret somewhat that I was obliged to miss a part of his course, particularly his two last, but I could not undertake to bind myself to that hour. He continued tonight what he had to say of Chateaubriand. His literary character, he said, was confined to a period of ten years in which he wrote five works. Atala, which was the first, is a beautiful little thing, but by it he may be charged with insincerity as he was at the time he wrote it an unbeliever in the Christian faith. And if this piece has any value at all, it is [because?] it has for its basis what Chateaubriand at the time did not feel. The story is eminently happy, the development is fortunate and with some extravagance it possesses great force and boldness. Religious feeling is however the great excellence of Atala and it may truly be called a sweet little French work. It is not original but it is no slavish imitation and this is truly no detraction from it’s merit. Some years afterward he became a Christian and composed the Genie du Christianisme. He first intended to print this work in England and it was partly finished when on account of { 431 } his extreme distrust he destroyed the impression. Soon after on his return to France, he again printed an edition and again suppressed it. It finally appeared however in France in 1812 [1802]. It certainly contains in it whatever is necessary to ornament, illustrate and beautify the Romish Church. The first book of this work is not very interesting, the second and third contain an exposition of the effect of religion upon literature and are the most pleasing, the fourth is on external worship. Four of the subjects are thoroughly examined, he scarcely knew many of the poets, certainly he did not comprehend them, such as Dante or Ossian. He is mistaken in his account of the monastic orders but notwithstanding all this, there is great eloquence in many parts and the work is to be placed among the most important in French literature.
He next undertook to write a book on the Martyrs in the middle ages, for Christianity. He accordingly determined to visit the scenes of their sufferings and for that end he went to Greece, Asia Minor and other countries around. He spent here almost two years and the result of this expedition was the “Itineraire” which came out in 1811, a work in which every thing we know of Greece is represented in a new medium. “Les Martyrs” his other work which appeared some time before, is a work with a marked character. It gives the account of the lives of two Christians and their death. The most striking fault is that it is neither poetry nor prose. It is written on a system and principaly treating of saints and demagogues. The misfortune of it is that it is encumbered with history, which ever must fail as it is impossible to succeed in writing where we wish at the same time to stick to facts and indulge in the extravagance of romance. The characters are however finely drawn. The principal merit of the work consists in its fine descriptions of natural scenery in which he is peculiarly happy. This work is not destined to final success. It does not command the distinction it aspires to, and may be considered a failure, notwithstanding the fine delineation of character and beauty of detail, although it combines much originality of talent with force of personal character, and with all this no little extravagance. He has since left off writing and it is still doubtful whether he will obtain high standing with posterity. He will not probably come again before the public, as he says that if his works are to be remembered, he has already written enough, if not, he has written too much. Mr. Ticknor gave some of the class a pretty severe reproof this evening as they were in whispering conversation with each other. I was glad of it, for in my opinion, the persons deserved it. I believe I did it formerly and I { 432 } deserved it. Young men have but one great fault and that is thoughtlessness. They have no definite principles of honour and consequently hurry themselves into an unhandsome action without reflecting in the least what they are about and without even knowing what they do.
I returned home and employed the rest of the Evening in a variety of ways. I have had little or no regular plan in reading since I have been so tied down by Lectures and this Journal, but I shall soon be released from this and then I shall take up another plan. It is fortunate that I have been able to bring in Mr. Ticknor’s course as far as I heard them into this book as in this way they will not be divided. I have just closed with Mr. Everett as his pamphlet gives out which has been a great relief to me, as I shall be hereafter very incorrect in names. As to the merits of these two courses, the first is very good as we receive it. He has gone I think a little into the other extreme, from being too large, he has become too small in his course, but the latter is rather the best recommendation. The latter would perhaps be also a little improved by being cut down, as hitherto we have had little more than dry details and ancient learning but nothing to interest or to amuse. I passed my Evening entirely at home and retired at my common hour. XI.
1. Abbé Armand de Rancé, of La Trappe priory (Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship , 2:297).
2. Jan Cornells de Pauw, a Utrecht scholar (same, 2:454).
3. Jacques Philippe d’Orville (1696–1751), professor at Amsterdam (same).
4. Johann Friedrich Fischer (1726–1799), headmaster at Leipsic (same, 3:14).
5. Richard Francois Philippe Brunck (1729–1803), a classical scholar of Strassburg (same, 2:395).
6. Joseph Spaletti, secretary of the Vatican Library (same, 3:64, 518).
7. Thomas Moore ( Harper’s Dict. of Classical Lit. , p. 76).
8. A periodical issued by Samuel Johnson, in 208 numbers, from 1749 to 1752 ( Oxford Companion to English Lit. ).