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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0006-0002

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-05-02

Sunday. May. 2d. VI.

Missed Prayers, but I arose notwithstanding and immediately sat down to my journal for yesterday which I did not complete until it was time to go to Chapel. We had a thunder shower this morning which made me averse from going, but on the whole I determined that I would. Sheafe asked me to go to Mr. Heyward to excuse him which { 111 } I did, and was much amused with his manner. He asked me to sit down but as it was time to go and I wished to drop in to Bartlett’s for a minute I would not stop. I came to inquire the Dr.’s health after his fatigue and debauch of Tuesday.1
We went to Chapel and heard as usual Dr. Ware in the Morning and the President in the afternoon. It is not my intention here to make critiques upon Sermons, as I will frankly confess I never attend to them. After many trials without success I have given up the attempt and although I may occasionally make a remark, it is only “en passant.” I was amused this afternoon with a part of the President’s discourse which was much in character, for it seemed somewhat disjointed from the rest.
I read today Moliere’s Comedy of "George Dandin." It does not appear to me a good attempt. In the first place I have the same objection to this that I had to the one yesterday, it is on a subject altogether improper for the stage. But what is worse, it takes the immoral side by justifying a faithless woman. The poor man is a fellow of no spirit but still had nothing in him to deserve this sort of treatment. Family Pride is well exposed in the Sotenvilles, and perhaps it is good advice to men, not to marry above their degree. Although this scarcely justifies a woman, even the want of generosity which he shows and which is awkwardly put in does not suffice. I read to day Thomson’s Spring, A beautiful poem.2 I have always been pleased with this, partly from the associations which are connected with the first perusal, as it was for the first time, that my romantic feelings were excited at all by reading Poetry. I was not naturally formed a lover of it and it was only by a concurrence of circumstances that I have become attached to it. My reading it every day of late has increased this feeling, so that now I could almost give up every other pursuit. The pleasure of man’s life is increased greatly by it and he will never repent of his choice.
I continued reading Mosheim this afternoon and Evening and read the history of the Church during the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries. The crusades which had excited such immense zeal at first were now finished, as the expense was found to exceed the good efforts produced. The increase of the Church does not appear to have been very considerable and was caused not by the original method of persuasion but by force. The spirit had departed and human nature was left. It is worthwhile to read this book if it is only to discover the excesses which man will run into. There is nothing too extravagant for him and nothing too ridiculous. It is not wonderful therefore to { 112 } find that this religion lost ground in Asia. A more dazzling one had taken it’s place, a more voluptuous one, and now a more simple one. Letters had now come to their lowest point of declension and began to rise with some rapidity at the close of the fifteenth. Aristotle gave way to Plato although it might have been better had neither ever existed. Disputation was the reigning power, took the place of reason. Judicial Astrology was now in fashion and ignorance commanded. The Quarrel between Philip the Fair of France and Boniface which caused the residence of the the Popes at Avignon was a proof that some kings still had spirit to resist. These may be considered however as causes of the reformation. Complaints were breathed forth loudly, and Wickliffe in England raised his voice against this usurpation. Huss and Jerome of Prague excited the flame by their death. Indulgences and corruption could be born no farther. Three supreme heads of the Church at the same time exposed themselves to ridicule and Alexander the Sixth finished the Climax. The council of Constance and afterwards that of Basil attempted a reformation but were frustrated by the ambition of the Popes. And the Greek Church separated for ever from the Latin. Roscoe speaks differently of Alexander and Savonarola but I am inclined to think him prejudiced in favour of one and against the other. This finishes the third volume.
Brenan came in, in the Evening and we had some Conversation. He is a pleasant young man, injured much by circumstances; of a social temper he suffered himself to become gloomy and suspicious. But he is most to be praised for having subdued his vicious or dissipated habits and become a studious sensible young man. He is a strong friend of mine and one <of> whom I shall always think with pleasure.
I read today the third Canto of Childe Harold. Remarks I shall make tomorrow. Looked over Enfield. IX:30.
1. George Bartlett received a medical degree in 1830 ( Harvard Quinquennial Cat. ).
2. JQA’s copy of James Thomson’s Works, 3 vols., London, 1788, is in the Stone Library, as is a set of Thomson’s Poetical Works, London, 1786. But CFA probably read the selections printed in Aikin’s British Poets ; see entry for 6 May, below.

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0006-0003

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-05-03

Monday. May. 3d. V:40.

Arose and after looking over the lesson in Astronomy, attended Prayers and recitation immediately afterwards. Mr. Heyward shows himself to some advantage in this study. He certainly appears to know much more of the branch than usual. It is said he is writing a book. I was employed an hour in writing my Journal and some time in { 113 } studying a Spanish lesson to recite to Mr. Sales1 at half past nine o’clock. This is generally made a farce but I am inclined to learn it and although the disposition of the hours is not good and my application is not excessive, I hope in time to acquire an understanding. He is a good instructor and a pleasant man, hardly fitted for his situation here as he is too mild. And Students, boys as they are, take advantage of it. The fact is, I think that this institution is not a University yet. Children are admitted here and make fools of themselves, are ruined by the love of dissipation which they acquire and dazzled by the glare which accompanies it.
I returned home and read the Summer of Thomson. This abounds in beautiful imagery, and a diversity of description which is extremely pleasing. Some very soft and touching parts and one voluptuous description, that of Musidora.2 But a characteristic of this poet is that he is chaste in his language and ideas to a degree not equalled by scarcely any of our other authors. This not being their forte by any means. It was my desire to obtain this book3 a month ago in order that I might notice some of the poetry which I have read in that time and give some account of the lectures I attended, but as it was not ready, I was disappointed.
I attended a lecture at eleven o’clock from Professor Farrar in Natural Philosophy, on the subject of Opticks and Vision. The weather being cloudy he could give us no experiements and confined himself to the account of the theories of light and colour. The ancients appear to have had a very indistinct conception of the cause of colour and remained in a state of ignorance until Newton discovered the real cause of the rainbow. The Lecturer has an easy manner and is quite agreable as there appears to be no effort. Newton made his most important discovery at the age of 23, and had the moderation or as Farrar called it, the continence to keep it to himself for six years. But the principal part of today’s lecture was a description of the eye and it’s properties. Most of which was very simple and not entertaining as we have so lately been over the very same account in Enfield.
After dinner I went to the College library to return my books and spent an hour there in looking over a volume of plates showing the eruptions of volcanic mountains and the sorts of lava which are sent forth. Farrar in treating of Earthquakes the other day showed them to us but at such a distance that I was unable to see them and therefore determined to see them today. The collection is a very valuable one. I returned home and read Moliere’s Comedy of the “Avare.” Some parts of which are admirable but I think it liable to the objection { 114 } of a plot too intricate. The connection depends upon two marriages and thereby requires some attention. The mistake of the fille and cassette is carried too far as he being naturally suspicious could not misinterpret his language so far. He has also dropped his character in some places for it would be hardly expected that a man so amazingly parsimonious would keep such a multitude of servants, or would talk of engraving in letters of gold or would keep horses however he might starve them. This certainly would not be the character of the English Miser. The last scene is quite happy and shows him very much in character. On the whole I was very much pleased by the perusal.
As this afternoon’s lesson was the last in Greek I determined not to attend it and read the fourth and last Canto of Childe Harold. Byron is truely a great poet. His power lays in greatness of thought and masterly expression. He has that remarkable gift of compressing an immensity of feeling in a very few words. Laying character full in our view by a striking turn of expression and condensing passion in a breath. While you read him, you feel exalted and arise with a melancholy but delightful pleasure. I have not felt so strongly before since the time of my melancholy days. I also read an article in the last number of the Edinburgh review on the Lyrical Poetry of Spain, but was not much interested by it.4 There are one or two happy things in it but generally not much to my taste. I think the Spanish language sweet and not enough appreciated but ballads and canzonettas which are sweet in their language can seldom bear even the best translation.
I could not read any of Mosheim today as I had no volumes out. So having nothing to do I spent the Evening at Otis’s room. We had a great deal of conversation on Washington manners, the Presidency and so forth. I continued here till late so that I could but just examine Dr. Reid’s opinion on our next forensic question5 and read over Astronomy before I retired. IX:30.
1. Francis Sales was instructor in Spanish and French at Harvard from 1816 to 1854 ( Harvard Quinquennial Cat. ).
2. See entry for 28 Jan., and note, above.
3. His Diary.
4. “Lyric Poetry of Spain,” Edinburgh Review, 80:443–476 (July 1824).
5. There is a copy of Thomas Reid’s Works, 3 vols., N.Y., 1822, in the Stone Library.