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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0007-0018

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-06-18

Friday. June 18th. V.

Arose and having read my Enfield over attended Prayers and recitation. I then read Cowper’s Table Talk, which I did not feel at all struck with, some satire in it but he has treated it so much better in { 193 } other parts of his works that this seems to be only the outline of the more perfect picture. He is satirical to a great degree and although more pious than I wish him to be as he inveighs against the theatre, billiards, cards, which I take to be perfectly innocent amusements when not used for any sinister purposes.
I then wrote my journal and at ten o’clock was ready to attend Mr. Channing’s Lecture which was today upon deliberative Oratory or that sort of Eloquence adapted to Assemblies by which he meant a number of Individuals meeting together to consult upon the interests of any number or some national concern. He passed over the Areiopagus and Amphictyonic Council without notice, referred to the Council of Five Hundred and to the favourable opportunity for display of this sort at Athens in the time of Demosthenes. He then spoke of the Romans, their prevailing passion, ambition and this the reason that Eloquence did not flourish till in the decline of the State. He then gave us an account of the opportunity for this kind of speaking in the Senate of Rome and referred to the state of subjection an Orator was in to the people even when he governed them most. He then descanted upon the nature of a popular government and in fact employed half of it in nothing whatsoever to do directly with the subject but a mere essay on government. I was quite dissatisfied with him I must confess.
Coming home I read Mitford’s sixth Chapter in the course of the Morning. It treated of Asia, the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, of Cyrus, Cambyses and Darius and the circumstances which led to the connection between the two people. In fact there is not much in this part which cannot easily be remembered without notes. It is mere history and although the Author sometimes reflects, his observations are always short and simple but almost always somewhat striking. I then finished the first part of the Introduction to Anacharsis. I am not so well pleased reading over this a second time as history because the author deviates into the romantic too often. He intended it probably as a popular work among a large class of the light readers who would like history very well when garnished up with a good deal of imagination and when the fabulous ages particularly can be treated as the author chooses.
I read also almost the whole of the life of Lycurgus in Plutarch and was much pleased with it. I am somewhat of an admirer of his system although he excludes knowledge from his community. He was a remarkable man and performed an astonishing work, he made a very great change by small means and was pure certainly so far as temporal { 194 } desires went. He was ambitious but not of being a sovereign. One of the strongest marks of his sense was I think, not to permit any of his laws to be put down in writing but to take the general sense of the people. As corruption advances, people always become more attached to the letter than to the spirit of the laws and an evasion of the former saves a man even though he shall have done the criminal action. By destroying all opportunity he destroyed all desire.
There are but few actions which can be considered as natural crimes in my mind, perhaps murder is the only one, all others are formed by convention. Theft and adultery were not known as such in Sparta, they were allowed and formed no disgrace to the code. The fact is that we do not think of laws except by the custom of the country and I for my part believe that there are in a savage state no such things as crimes, except murder and rape, which is violating the natural freedom of every individual. That in society other laws are necessary, I grant, and also that they should have the force and consideration of natural laws, I allow also. I was not able to finish this Life before Declamation which I attended and heard Brown1 and Cunningham speak very well.
Immediately after this I attended Mr. Nuttall’s Lecture which was upon the Corrolla of Flowers. He mentioned their different sorts and illustrated them by Examples. He has a very simple and easy way of lecturing which I am much pleased with. I was pretty well acquainted with this part of the subject before.
After his lecture I went and obtained a Chaise and we drove (Sheafe and I) to Lexington. We were caught in a slight shower of rain but luckily it passed off and the weather and scenery were delightful. I went to be patriotic and see the monument of those who fell in the first battle in the revolutionary war in this country. I copied the inscription and shall insert it in my Common Place Book although it does no credit to the Author, I could have done better myself.2 We returned to tea and in the Evening, I attended a meeting of the Knights at Wheelwrights.3 The Porcellians met but decided upon nothing, they all looked blown. XI.
1. William K. Brown, of Boston, a junior (Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).
2. CFA did insert the long inscription in his Literary Commonplace Book (M/CFA/18), p. 290 (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 312).
3. William Wilson Wheelwright, of Boston, a senior (Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/