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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0016

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-16

Saturday. October 16th. VIII.

Missed Prayers this morning without my intending it in the least. After breakfast attended Mr. Everett’s Lecture. I regret that I was absent yesterday morning as I had wished to keep the course of all { 392 } his, although many of them and that one of yesterday in particular, are not of a particularly interesting nature. He went over all the scholiasts of Homer today—the most considerable are Didymus a grammarian of the Age of Cicero who is supposed the author of all the smaller scholia in the Oxford editions of the work. Some however of these mention authors who existed later than the age of this Didymus of whom we speak. The commentary of Eustathius is much more distinguished; he was a native of Constantinople and educated there in the twelfth century. A catalogue has been made of 45 pages of authors whom he had read and quoted but his erudition has been exaggerated. He read no ancient author of any note who is now lost. Owing to the scarcity of books in the middle ages, it was the habit to comprehend as much as possible in a single volume and hence the most famous codices of Homer include the scholia in the way of marginal notes. But there appears to have been no original criticism from the time of Porphyry to Eustathius, as all these scholia except the Venetian appear to have descended from a common stock. These Venetian are the most famous, they are valuable for their appeals to old authors, to old political manuscripts and to ancient scholiasts not known to us. The origin of it is not known. This was the work which gave the impulse to the study of Homer at it’s publication by Villoison. The Göttingen Journal has given an analysis of all the scholiasts we now have. These are held in too great veneration at the present day and indifferent books have obtained under the name of scholia much respect.
Translations of the poems of Homer have been made in almost every language, many and the most important are mentioned at full length in the synopsis. The origin of the prose Latin translation attending most of the copies of Homer is not distinctly known but it has been supposed to have been generally made by Schrevelius.1 The best translations into English are those of Pope and Cowper. Cesarotti’s, in the Italian, who has very much changed the poem. He has omitted the repetitions, shortened the prolix speeches of Nestor and cut off the episodes, he has even altered the name of the poem. The German by Voss2 is an imitation of the ancient hexameter. He then went over a list of the principal copies of Homer, and as it was very little more than a mere enumeration of the copies which are put down in the synopsis, I scarcely think it worthwhile to repeat it. He only stated that Heyne’s copy was indispensable to a student of Homer. He made rather a sarcastic observation when speaking of Clarke’s3 edition. He observed that we probably were personally acquainted with it. { 393 } It has a Latin version which has probably been consulted by every man in the class. He has thus finished with Homer. I am surprised that he confines himself so much to dry detail as I think from the very nature of the subject he should attempt to give ornament, and particularly where it could be given to so much advantage. He has all the display of his learning but he must be confessed to partake of the German character he mentioned.
After lecture I went to read the newspapers, found nothing but a nomination of Professor Everett to Congress and a letter of his which appears to me to be as great a curiosity as I have ever seen.4 The election is at a dead stand, I think as every body seems to believe, exertions are useless, it will go to the House without any doubt in my opinion. I received this morning a delightful letter from John,5 long enough to make up for the deficiency. He writes much more agreably than usual, as he has less levity and seriousness, although it does not amount to morality of the rigid sort or to sentiment. He mentions every thing that is passing, and what is very pleasant, my mother’s safe arrival at Washington after very considerable fatigue. This raised my spirits which once inclined to be quite low and I felt well all day. I was employed a larger part of the time in writing off my Journal and the rest in company with Richardson.
I will now take Mr. Ticknor’s last night lecture. He passed through the remainder of Fenelon and Crebillon6 last night and commenced tonight the series of French Comedy since Moliere. Comedy he says dates from the time of Corneille’s Lyar7 1643. Moliere came on soon after and brought it to perfection for a long series of years. The comic writers were mere imitators of Moliere without any originality or pretence to new qualities, with the exception of a little lively sprightliness. The first man who can be said to have differed materially was John Francis Regnard8 who was born in 1656 and received a good education. Travelling and gaming appear to have been the great objects of his life. In the course of his various voyages, he once met with a misfortune. He was taken by Pirates and carried to Algiers where he was sold for a slave. Being an epicure however he was soon promoted to the place of his master’s cook. From here he was carried to Constantinople where he came very near losing his life for an affair in the haram of his master. He got his liberty in time however and returning wrote a romance called the Provinciales [La Provençale]. In 1681 he again left Paris on an expedition to Lapland, and after going farther than any countrymen had before gone, he left a boasting latin inscription upon the rock. He wrote eight pieces { 394 } for the Italian and a number for the French and died in 1710 in a singular way, recorded in his life prefixed to his works. Eight comedies are entirely his own, others he wrote with [other?] men. Le Joueur appeared in 1696 and is his best effort; it is drawn from the best rule, personal experience. He then analysed the plot. Le Distrait, and les Menechmes appeared; these were neither of them very remarkable but the Legataire Universel appeared last in 1705. The whole plot turns on the fourth act; the abstract of it gives us little of peculiar talent but there is a gay spirit, a liveliness and ease of tone which equals or even surpasses Moliere. These are his distinguishing characteristics. He is the only considerable variety from the school of Moliere for one century.
The next change introduced was that of the “Comedie Larmoyante,” or as it should be interpreted, the whining Comedy. This was made by Monsieur de la Chaussé.9 He was born in 1692 but did not write until he was forty one. He was the author of “la fausse antipathie” and the “Prejuge’s a la mode,” the first a poor play, the second not much. The “Gouvernante” appeared in 1747. This is called his best play. It is a sort of dramatic romance and nothing more, an extreme. He died in 1754, 62 years old. Denys Diderot who carried this to its extreme, was the son of a cutler, he is more famous for other works than for his plays. He is the author of the Pere de Famille and Fils naturel, sentimental to excess, consequently improbable, but perfect in what they set out to be. This closes Comedy, none of importance after this and no tragedy excepting Voltaire. This is the order of the light drama school of Moliere, Regnard and Comedie Larmoyante.
I wrote to John10 this Evening, and spent some time sociably with Sheafe and Richardson in the latter’s room. We also took supper at Willard’s. XII.
1. Kornelis Schrevel Schrevelius (Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship , 2:492).
2. Johann Heinrich Voss (1751–1826), professor at Heidelberg (same, 3:61–63).
3. Dr. Samuel Clarke (1675–1729), of Cambridge University (same, 2:413, 3:13).
4. Dissatisfied with the regular congressional nomination in the Middlesex district, a group of JQA’s supporters met in Lexington on October 14 and, influenced partly by the fame of Everett’s recent Phi Beta Kappa address and partly by his well known friendship for the Adams family, nominated the Harvard professor. In accepting, Everett said he personally favored JQA for the Presidency but expressed the hope that his congressional contest would not turn upon the presidential question. See Frothingham, Everett , p. 87. How little Everett’s wishes were to be respected is indicated by the ease with which CFA jumped in the very next sentence to the presidential race.
5. Missing.
6. Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (1674–1762).
{ 395 }
7. The Liar or Le Menteur.
8. Jean François Regnard (1655–1709).
9. Pierre Claude Nivelle de la Chaussée.
10. Letter missing.
{ 394 }