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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0007

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-07

Thursday October 7th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation, was called upon and acquitted myself as well as usual. After breakfast attended Lecture which consisted of observations upon the Anti homeric writers as he had given them. These works he said had been [ . . . ] upon for the sake of making a regular series until the time of Homer but true authenticity begins with him. The causes of the greatness of the Greeks is a question often discussed. We do not treat of the respective merits of nations standing on the same point of refinement but we inquire into the first efforts of humanity which will of necessity happen in some age or other. On this account, before the Homeric age, local causes had little influence in directing light to particular parts of Greece. No division of tribes had been made nor was there any distinction of country made. Indeed as to the reasons for different sorts of improvement in different situations, we can make out but few after assigning some gross, geographical causes. The inference which was drawn by Rousseau, although it has obtained much notice, is not correct, that a man when in a savage state must be in a state of nature. A man is truly in a state of nature when all his faculties, mental and bodily, are developed to the greatest perfection and not as in a savage state when he knows but half himself.
But the first fact we have in Grecian history is that improvement was capricious, and the second, that where once commenced, it all tended to that part of Greece which afterwards became the metropolis of refinement. There was no political distribution so late as the Trojan war and but one tribe, the Achaeans, had a name. Before that, exploits and expeditions were conducted by families and merely concerned them, there was no great national spirit, though it was evidently increasing. Of this sort of expedition are the three cases mentioned in the pamphlet, the Seven against Thebes, which has since been the subject of a beautiful play by Aeschylus, The Cretan under Theseus and the Argonautic, as piracy at that time was not considered blameable. These deeds had their effect by introducing much refinement { 366 } into the country and prepared them for the Trojan war which was the first thing which brought them all together, and by it’s length formed a union, as they soon discovered that without it they never could hope to succeed in the object of their contest.
Modern criticism has doubted the whole history of Troy, but those who doubt it ought to bring as probable an account of the rise of the Greek character. There is a great similarity between this history and that of the Crusades which first gave a character to the different nations of Europe. But he assumed for a moment the Trojan war as actually having happened, and observed that the consequences of it did not answer the first promise, as for sometime the nations were engaged in civil broils and local contests which checked the progress of civilizations. Four tribes were formed however which may be reduced to two, the Ionic and the Doric which last was not settled until the return of the Heracleids [Heraclidae] after the Trojan war. These internal troubles however had one good effect, by settling Asia Minor with Ionians who founded many extremely flourishing states. It has been urged by English writers with respect to this country that no colony could ever equal it’s parent but here we have in the very first example in history a contradiction of the assertion. For while improvement was arrested in the elder country Man’s genius had reached it’s achme in it’s first flight and the books of Homer were produced. We are in possession of poems which after all deductions, were substantially composed in Ionia, and which have never since been equalled. They had a great effect upon the literature of the country although not so much as could have been expected had it not been for the troubled state of the times. The heroic age passed away and with it went all attempt at equal excellence. The Cyclic poets succeeded, of whom he will speak hereafter. The most glorious effect of Homer’s poems was that it gave such an impulse upon the national spirit that Lycurgus, who in his institutions was opposed to the admission of literature and who being a Dorian was bound to oppose an Ionian poet, nevertheless had them collected and brought to Sparta to animate his country men with a national spirit. Solon did the same at a later period.
After Lecture, I returned home, copied my Theme and carried it to Mr. Channing. He informed me that he never read my themes, indeed he treats me in a way so singular that I do not know what to make of it, and only hope to have some future opportunity of repaying him. I spent the rest of the morning in writing my Notes out which is a most interminable labour. In the Afternoon, I found that if on Saturday morning we had obtained one gratification, we had lost another in { 367 } having an exercise now, but I found we are rather on the winning side as we gain every Saturday and we lose only every other Thursday. I paid considerable attention to my lesson but he went upon the other side. This is an excellent way Mr. Hedge has of confining himself to the one or other half of the class and in this way putting a part, at least, out of all anxiety.
After Prayers the whole battalion drilled for the Rifle Exercise and most heartily disgusted me with the Company. I feel mortified at the way I had been treated and grieved for the conduct of men or rather boys tonight, I made a formal complaint against Brigham and am determined never to have him in my company again, this I also stated, and that I should resign rather than see him there. My feelings had been irritated to an uncommon degree, and I had tried what consisted with my duty to myself, this having failed, the same principle actuates me to my decision. Our drill having been so long, I had no opportunity to go home and obtain my note book so that I could take no notes this Evening and shall have to depend on my memory and an illegible manuscript of Sheafe’s. Human nature is a singular contradiction. I did the very thing at Mr. Ticknor’s lecture, to tease him, which had been done by others to me. To be sure, I did not disgrace myself, but was merely foolish and have since been ashamed.
Alexandre may also be called not much of a tragedy. In 1667 however he1 produced Andromaque, being 27 years old. In this he evidently manifested that he had caught the spirit of the Ancients. Love is the plot of this play, a passion on which almost all later pieces have turned. In 1668 he produced the “Plaideurs,” a Comedy which he imitated from Aristophanes. This is divided into three acts and although not a perfect Comedy is a most exquisite Farce. He hit off with true Attic wit the wretched manner of delivering judgment in law and may be called an admirable model. This play did not succeed first, but when represented at Versailles before the King, he, though a grave man, was continually laughing during the whole piece. It became of course a favourite at the court and has continued ever since to be represented with applause upon the French stage. In 1669 Brittanicus came out, a play which had cost him much labour, indeed more than any of his others, but which at its first representation scarcely passed without condemnation. The subject is drawn from Tacitus and is one capable of high finish. The play has since risen to it’s proper place and is now very popular. In 1670 Berenice appeared, the success of which has been already mentioned. In 1672 Bajazet appeared and Mithridate in the year following. Voltaire, who has a right to judge upon such an occa• { 368 } sion, pronounces Iphigenie, his next play which came out in the succeeding year, to be the best piece on the French stage. The characters are marked and prominent, his diction is exquisite and his manner is elegantly fluent. The second quality he probably possessed in greater perfection than any other French author. In 1677 Phedre was represented. This was his final piece and it was not destined to pass through without undergoing the severe criticism of a party who were jealous of his success and could not forgive him for surpassing Corneille. They consequently excited so much opposition to him that it affected him very much, he felt offended at the attacks of his rivals and was deeply wounded at the reception of this last of his productions.
He determined to leave the Stage and at the age of 38 he took farewell of the stage. At first he thought of entering a monastic order but at last he determined to retire and devote himself to educating his children. His character instantly changed with his course of life and he became insensible to the favour of the court and to the fame of his works. He was appointed in conjunction with Boileau, an intimate friend of his, historiographer to the king, a place to which he was by no means suited. Religion which had so early taken hold in his mind again took possession of him and he became melancholy. At this time Madame Maintenon had become the wife of Louis the 14th and she had formed a College for young females at St. Cyr. These used to [ . . . ]2 parts of plays and found it difficult to select those which should be entirely proper to represent them. She therefore applied to Racine to write one according to her conception which should be perfectly fitted for such a purpose. I must restrict myself so I shall write a continuation when I have leisure. After returning home, I spent the rest of my time in writing my Journal. X:30.
1. Racine.
2. Overwritten and illegible; the sentence as a whole is somewhat garbled, but its general meaning is clear.
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/