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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0001

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-01

Friday. October 1st.

Attended Prayers this morning and recitation in Topography. I was called upon today and acquitted myself with mediocrity. Making one week over, out of eight which we have before us. I returned home, dressed myself and after breakfast attended Lecture. It was today the history of the Anti Homeric literature, the subjects of which are those { 348 } which we have still remaining of the works of that time, those of which we have authentic accounts, the works themselves being lost and lastly the authors of these works. Three periods may be assumed in the early history of Greek works and although we rank Homer our first author, he does not come until the close of the third period. A peculiar character is to be ascribed to that age when man was just emerging from the barbarous into the heroic state which itself was semibarbarous. The first period above mentioned consequently comprises the age of the earliest lawgivers, founders of tribes, priests, inventors of arts, founders of cities and reformers, whose communication with their fellow men was in an unusual strain, but who can by no means be considered poets in the sense in which we use the term. Of this number were Orpheus, Linus, Amphion and Musaeus, if we ascribe to them any actual existence. They were not poets but only higher wise men, but as the changes between the ages was great as the progress of civilization, it is probable they had nothing to leave worthy of notice.
The second period was that of the sacred songs of the temples, of triumphal hymns in the families of the heroes and the songs of the bards like those in more modern times. Here was more probably the rise of Poetry as an art. It is highly probable that many of these came down to a much later age although they have become unknown in any time which we have records of. The songs in the temples came down and were preserved long after they had become unintelligible. Homer mentions the song of the Salii which was sung but of which nobody knew the meaning. Something similar may be found in our version of the Bible in which there are some words which have lost their meaning but which are preserved because it is not thought worthwhile to affect the associations which are natural to the mind and which would weaken our respect for the sacred scriptures, were we at liberty to expunge at pleasure. This species of writing would however sink naturally also, by the transition into a more polished age.
The third period is that in which poetry was made a single branch of application and was gradually brought to the perfection which we behold in the books of Homer. No one will suppose that a book like the Iliad or Odyssey of Homer could be the first composition in any language. It is so artificially formed that with all the allowance in the world for the native power of creative genius, and all deductions for the work of subsequent critics, there is an art to be seen and traced which could not have proceeded but from a long series of efforts. They may since have been adapted to each other and more highly polished { 349 } and suited to an after age, but nevertheless they are still very much too great for a first exertion.
We are thus prepared to analyze a few of the accounts which we have received of the early authors and which has been perfected for us by the patience of criticism. Fabricius has given us seventy names. We will therefore attempt a few. He previously however noticed a list of names in the synopsis Article 6. of authors of works of reference, for the history of Greek Literature.1 The first class comprise the names of the primitive heroes, Prometheus, Hercules &c. The first was considered as the great leader of the arts and age in this early stage. Chiron, a native of Thessaly, which country appears to have been the cradle of the arts in this country, a curious circumstance when we find it had relapsed into proverbial ignorance and barbarism in the flourishing times of Athens. It has been usual with theologians to attempt to identify every name in ancient history with some one or other of the names in the old testament, thinking in that to make a regular historical account of all ages to agree from different authorities, but it only rendered the Christian account suspect, he thought. Hermes was according to the ancient accounts the author of alphabetical writing, of Geometry, of medicine, of the lyre of seven strings and many other arts, from which it would appear that he was a tolerably versatile genius. He has many works charged to him but they are all fabrications of different periods, two or three of them Arabian, and others in the middle ages or earlier, their names are in the synopsis. He was supposed to have been the [ . . . ] who pursued alchemy as a study; it did not arise until the third century after Christ. He was also called Theuth [Thoth] in Egyptian and Teut in German. Horus and Zoroaster were the last. Of this last he spoke largely, or rather of his supposed work, the Zendavesta [Zend-Avesta] which was said to have been discovered and translated in the eighteenth century by du Perron, a Frenchman.2 Sir William Jones however did not allow its authenticity but argues it as merely tradition which has come down in the East from a much later period. He however thinks that there are two Chapters which appear to be somewhat authentic, even if this is the case the work is extremely valuable. Eichhorn has also added another passage to the number. He is supposed to have existed in Persia in the seventh Century before Christ. From lecture I went home and wrote my Journal which occupied me very nearly all the morning.
I spent half an hour at the reading room and after dinner went to declamation. It was my turn, but I did not [word or words omitted] and my excuse was not accepted. I offered the speech of Patrick Henry { 350 } on the Virginia resolutions and it was accepted. I could find no other. I spent the afternoon committing a piece of poetry, a little song of Waller’s3 to a rose, according to an intention of mine to commit to Memory a certain portion of Poetry in a certain time in order to improve my memory. I also read Thomson’s Autumn, not having had an opportunity to read it at the appointed time. I nevertheless took the commencement of this month instead, to which the poem as strictly applies. I was more pleased than ever with it, the appeal to Industry delighted me very much. Thinking of that song of Wallers, I was struck with the similarity of one of the ideas with one of Grey’s [Gray’s] which has been much admired. “Full many a flower” &c. My afternoon was in this way very agreably taken up.
After Prayers, we drilled in the Corps, which as usual put me into a terribly irritated state, I believe much more pain has issued from serving in my capacity than pleasure. After drill, I was a little while at Otis’s and the rest of the time in my room. We this evening enjoyed the first privileges of the Senior Year by having no lesson on Saturdays. I wrote a large part of my theme and mused away some time.4 XI.
1. The “synopsis” to which CFA alludes is Edward Everett’s own Synopsis of a Course of Lectures on the History of Greek Literature. This octavo pamphlet (extant incomplete copies contain 108 pages) is without author’s name, place, or date of publication, but presumably was printed at or about the time Everett began lecturing at Harvard in 1819. From entries below it is clear that CFA usually carried his copy of the Synopsis to class with him and used it to verify names, dates, titles, and the like in Everett’s learned discourses. CFA’s copy has not been found, but a copy in the Massachusetts Historical Society has proved useful to the present editors for the same purpose and especially in making sense of the diarist’s badly punctuated and sometimes garbled sentences. For an excellent account of Everett’s classical and philological training in Europe and the impact of his lectures at Harvard, see Orie W. Long, Literary Pioneers: Early American Explorers of European Culture, Cambridge, 1935, p. 63–76.
2. Anquetil du Perron (Everett, Synopsis, p. 7).
3. Edmund Waller (1606–1687).
4. CFA also took a walk (D/CFA/1).
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.