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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0008

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-08

Friday. October 8th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation this morning as usual. The room was rather empty this morning but I was not called upon. After breakfast, attended Lecture as usual. He gave us today an account of the controversy relative to the authenticity of Homer. In ancient times, he said the opinion entertained of Homer was unanimous, he was regarded as the first both in age and merit. Some quotations to prove this are made in the Synopsis. Zoilus and his followers attacked { 369 } him, but it was not at all as not being an author, but merely making small objections at the probability of events, and other trifling matters. He suffered dearly for his temerity, for he was stoned to death. The only questions which were discussed in antiquity any way similar are whether the whole of the Odyssey was authentic, some believing that it really ended with the 296th line of the twenty fifth book. Others doubted whether the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed by the same author. The first doubts of a higher nature arose in the age of Louis the 14th and were started by the before mentioned Perrault, who in a quotation made in the pamphlet expresses the opinion that these books were composed by divers authors at different [word omitted] and were the best that could be collected out of a great many which were composed and sung all over Greece. An opinion a little similar was expressed by Dr. Bentley in England.1 Perrault argued that it was evident there were many authors concerned in this production as the native city of Homer never could be determined. Seven cities laid equal claims to the honor of his birth and it is very probable they each had equal reason. Bentley differed from this part of his opinion. He was a man whose erudition and penetration was only equal to his want of judgment and his want of taste. This was proved by his notes to an edition of Horace, but as they were in Latin, Scholars only perceived it, and he would have saved his character had he not undertaken an edition of Milton which made the thing evident to every body. He ascribes them in his opinion (which is also quoted in the pamphlet) exclusively to one individual and states that “he wrote the Ilias for the men and the Odyssius for the other sex.” This doctrine it will be perceived is essentially different from that of Perrault although it has been thought much to resemble it.
These opinions do not appear to have been much noticed in England or on the continent so that one author on the subject asserts that no one ever had doubted their authenticity, he probably never having heard of it. And so far from affecting his reputation, it rather increased the examination of the poems. “An inquiry into the life and writings of Homer” by Blackwall2 but published anonymously gave an impulse to the study in England which was much increased by Robert Wood’s3 Essay on the original genius of Homer. The former is an ingenious but superficial work, the latter is one of great value and influence. It was reviewed and much praised by Heyne.4 He was also the author of travels, he went to the plain of Troy and examined it for the direct purpose of comparing it. What we call the plain of Troy is thirty miles inland which does not agree at all with Homer’s account. Wood { 370 } supposes an earthquake to have taken place but he announces it gratuitously. An opinion however which in his work he happened to express, that these poems could not have been committed to writing, became the strong hold of the future doubts. Wolf,5 next only to Heyne in Germany, immediately prepared and brought forward an edition of Homer in which he was much assisted by the appearance of Villoison’s6 edition with the scholia. And in five years he produced his edition with a preface in which he states his theory which is that these poems were composed at different times by different persons and afterwards collected and wrought up into their present form. The time was a good one for his purpose, but still the public were doubtful, and he himself in his statement is timid in announcing it.
Heyne reviewed the work and intimated in it that Wolf, who had been his scholar, had received the first suggestion from himself. This offended the latter personage and he answered with virulence. The contest between Wolf and Heyne therefore was not as to the authenticity of the works of Homer, as it has been generally supposed, but merely as to the priority in starting a theory. It is unfortunate that Wolf’s Latinity is extremely obscure, and even after numerous perusals no one is sure that he has seized the correct meaning of the author. This turn however in the controversy affected scholars powerfully and little doubt remained as to the correctness of the theory.
Lecture over, after toiling over my Journal a considerable time, I determined to free myself for the rest of the morning and therefore sat down and read an Article in the North American Review upon Italian Poetry.7 It is only to be felt by a person who has been going through as much laborious drudgery as I have, when he gets a moment to sit down and read an entertaining book. I enjoyed myself more in running over the delightful account of Italian Poetry than I could have done any coarse pleasure. There is something so voluptuous, so sweet, so melodious in my associations connected with it that I read with delight, and this was really a well written Essay. It was quite a good account of it’s course.
After dinner I was again employed upon my Journal and making a list of books in every branch of literature such as would entitle a man to be called a man of reading. This is a delightful amusement as it flatters literary ambition so intensely. I attended Declamation in my turn and declaimed, it being my last appearance but one, I hope upon this Stage. I delivered part of Patrick Henry’s speech and in what I believe to be it’s proper spirit. I have spoken it often, having studied it with very considerable attention. Chapman and Cunning• { 371 } ham declaimed, and in my opinion failed altogether, but I will not pretend to say that my standard of speaking is a correct one. Few young men know what declamation is and they rave and rant, have no idea of what the speaker intended and then call their exertions good. After this, I spent the afternoon comfortably at my room writing my Journal. The Medical Faculty met but as I have taken somewhat of a disgust to all College affairs, I would not attend and from subsequent accounts I have reason to be joyful.
I will here continue my notes to Mr. Ticknor’s last Lecture. I had mentioned that Racine had left the Stage in consequence of the opposition excited against the fine plays of Iphigenie and Phedre but I did not say that this opposition was excited by Rochefoucauld, de Nevers, the Duchess de Bouillon. These last had attempted to obtain the failure of these plays, by making Pradon, an insignificant author, to write on the same subject, obtained their representation the same night, filled the house for Pradon and kept out the people for Racine and thus succeeded. This affair cost the nation 28000 francs. I have mentioned the other particulars of his life until the time when Madame Maintenon asked him to write a play on some sacred subject. He being much troubled by this application, applied to his friend Boileau for advice, who at this time was considered an Oracle. Strange to say he was advised not to attempt anything for he would assuredly fail. Racine could not refuse the solicitations of the queen and therefore resolved to write. He selected for his subject Esther which was more dramatic than tragical and more lyrical than dramatic. It was represented in 1689 with the most splendid success. Madame de Sevigne who had been a bitter enemy was converted by it. In 1691 Athalie appeared, the subject of which is also drawn from scripture. This play again excited the enmity and malignity of his opponents and they determined he should not succeed. They managed so well as to put it down entirely so that no one even took the pains to read it. At this he felt entirely discouraged and gave up writing. Nor did he live to see his play take the place which it afterwards did in literature. Being overpowered with the conviction that he had entirely failed, he wrote but one play for the next and last eight years of his life. This was not published. He died in 1699, aged 60 years, his faculties not in the least impaired, he may rather have been called in the flower of his strength.
I did not attend Lecture or drill this Evening as I went into Boston with a party of young men to see Mrs. Duff8 in the part of Hermione in the Distrest Mother.9 In making up my judgment, I must confess, { 372 } I think she failed, she does not understand her part, she appeared to me to attempt to express what she was not able to, and to be conscious that she was trying to be a first rate actress. She ranted, she expressed her changes too quickly and exhibited no nice gradations of feeling between them, and I concluded in short that I had never seen her in so inferior a performance. The afterpiece was Paul and Virginia10 and was wretched. Two European dancers exhibited and quite shocked the modesty of our New England manners. Mrs. Henry as interesting and as voluptuous as usual. We supped at the Marlborough and returned early. XI.
1. Richard Bentley (1662–1742), the Cambridge scholar (Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship , 2:401–405).
2. Thomas Blackwell (1701–1757) (same, 3:61, note, and 491).
3. Robert Wood (c. 1717–1771), whose Essay appeared in 1769 (same, 2:432).
4. Christian Gottlob Heyne (1729–1812), professor at Göttingen (same, 3:36–40).
5. Friedrich August Wolf (1759–1824), professor at Halle (same, 3:51 ff.).
6. Jean Baptiste Gaspard d’Ansse de Villoison (1753–1805), professor at the Collège de France (same, 2:397–398).
7. North American Review, 45:337–389 (Oct. 1824).
8. Mary Ann Duff, one of the great actresses of the generation (Odell, Annals N.Y. Stage , 3:209).
9. A translation by Ambrose Philips of Racine’s Andromaque.
10. A dramatic version of Paul et Virginie, by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.
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