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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0020

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-20

Wednesday. October 20th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation this morning as usual. Mr. Hey• { 402 } ward being extremely complaisant, I was free with a remarkably easy passage. Mr. Everett lectured as usual. He continued his notice of the Cyclic Poets. He also discussed the origin of the term, which however is entire in the pamphlet.1 His result was that they obtained their name only from the choice of the subjects of which they treated. They are generally dull and servile poets which explains a passage quoted from Horace. They were imitators of Homer but it is extremely probable that these were the sources from which the works of Homer and Hesiod were interpolated. It is doubtful whether many of these poems survived long in Greece. The fragments were collected and made models for imitation by the Alexandrian School who then put them forth as the true original poems. Some of these still exist. One by Quintus Calaber, hereafter to be mentioned, who flourished in the sixth century and wrote a poem in imitation of the lesser Iliad of Lesches. One of Tzetzes is still inferior, a writer “who lived” says Heyne “I will not say flourished.” These ancient poems are principally interesting to us in connexion with the Aeneid of Virgil who drew many things from other sources than Homer and probably differed from him. Macrobius asserts that he borrowed from Pisander which is not true and proved so by Heyne. Two poems are the principal guides of Virgil when he departs from Homer, the Lesser Iliad of Lesches and the sack of Troy by Arctinus the Milesian. The first is ascribed to Homer himself in the life attributed to Herodotus. Lesches is however generally reputed the author. Nothing is known of him but that he was a native of Smyrna. We hear of his poem from the mention made of it by the ancient authors who have come down to us. From Aristotle, who gives its argument. It is remarkable that it has given eight subjects to the Attic stage while the greater work has given but two. We know something of it from the Iliac table, a curious relic, the object of which seemed to be a sort of synopsis for schools as it contains the subjects of the poems both of Homer and the lesser poets, roughly sketched, also the names of the authors &c. He showed us an engraving of this Iliac table, which is preserved in the capitol of Rome, after lecture was over.
The other poem is the sack of Troy by Arctinus the Milesian, which we hear of through Proclus who is [the] great authority for the other poem also. The Iliac table contains another work of this author, but not this, although it probably furnishes some materials for it. Of this class of poets Heyne makes two observations. It is to be wished that some person should make an accurate treatise upon them, should compare and collect the fragments. In this way he would do the { 403 } greatest service as he would illustrate the classics which is all the object we have in view to know them. It is also to be observed and to be regretted that the greatest sacrifices in Greek literature have been made in times when there were abundant means to preserve them.
After lecture I went to the reading room and saw nothing but electioneering manoeuvres which now fill the papers. I soon returned to my room and spent my morning writing notes. Attended Mr. Farrar’s recitation and lecture which was a continuation of his observations upon comets. In the afternoon, I was again extremely negligent in my lesson. Mr. Hedge came upon our side in the review and put me in a fright for a little while. I escaped however. We had no drill after Prayers as usual, the Juniors being in somewhat of a complaining humour and the weather being bad.
In the Evening I wrote my Journal and attended Mr. Ticknor’s Lecture which was quite a pleasant one to me as I was enabled to judge of the works he talked of. The next branch which he should take up he said was that of Epistolary composition. The person who most distinguished herself here was Madame de Sevigne who was born in 1626, and being an Orphan, was educated by her Uncle. In her youth she was not handsome but striking, and although receiving the usual instruction of that period, it was very deficient, and probably contributed to her success by throwing her upon her own exertions. She was married at 18, and a widow at 25, and spent the remainder of her life in attention upon her son and daughter, more particularly the latter, whom she perfectly doted upon, and whom she watched with so much attention in a sickness as to injure her own health, in consequence of which she died in 1696 being 70 years old. To prove how great her purity was, no scandal which was so common with the characters of that age, has ever attached to that name. She was neither a “prude” in early years nor a “devote” in her age. Her letters to her daughter are the only productions we have of her and are models. The loss of them would not only have made a chasm in the literature of France but in that of the world. Her grace and imagination, the confidence of her sympathy, the pictures of the society of that age render her letters brilliant, faithful and interesting. She gives an admirable view of the illustrious days of Louis 14th. There is a vivacity of manner and happiness of detail which can be found nowhere else. But her last and prevailing merit is her affection for her daughter which gives her letters the appearance of a whole—an inspiration which imparted it’s power to whatever it touched.
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After her there were a diversity of authors. Madame de Maintenon wrote and she is perhaps the best of the series. Correspondence degenerated a little too much into scandal, and although all the works in this way are amusing, they are merely a reflection, although a correct reflection of the manners of the court, and therefore they finally become tiresome. Among these may be counted Madame Deffand, Madame Espinasse,2 Voltaire, and many others. The next branch which he takes up is that of History which the French have never been successful in, at least in formal history; they are generally long and dull. Mezeray, Father Daneil, St. Real and Vertot3 have all written but not remarkably well. In a branch of history however, Memoirs, they have been exceedingly successful and they have written much. He mentioned Sully in his first lecture which I did not hear; he tonight treated of Cardinal de Retz. He wrote Memoirs in four volumes. Few books of a more amazing character have existed, they display at length the intrigues of the French and are most remarkable for their exhibition of personal vanity. This man was born for intrigue but his indolence deterred him from gaining any thing by it. His life is a continued example of the deepest intrigue without any result of importance. The mountain was perpetually bringing forth a mouse. His book is entertaining as a perfectly measured display of himself and his times. He here shifts away with a mere mention of the rest of this branch as a very large collection.
He next came to Rochefoucauld who was born in 1613 and whose education was neglected, which made him think probably, and the author of a book whimsical, original and false. In his Maxims he thought selfishness the only motive of action. He was a man who did not believe in the existence of virtues and with these opinions it is not surprising that he should die little regretted except by his immediate circle of friends. Of La Bruyere I shall speak tomorrow. I returned home, wrote a theme, sat a little while with Richardson and then went to bed. XI.
1. See Everett’s Synopsis , p. 72–74.
2. Marie de Vichy-Chamroud, Marquise du Deffand (1697–1780), and Julie-Jeanne-Éléanore de Lespinasse (1732–1776).
3. François Endes de Mézeray (1610–1683), Gabriel Daniel (1649–1728), César Saint-Réal (1639–1692), and René Aubert Vertot (1655–1735).
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