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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0005

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-05

Tuesday. October 5th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation and was very unexpectedly called upon by Mr. Hayward. I however managed pretty well—these recita• { 357 } tions are rather farcical excepting with a few. After breakfast, I went to Lecture but forgot to carry with me my Synopsis which will perhaps affect the regularity of my notes. He continued today his account of Orpheus where actual evidence is granted by all ancient authors. He was a native of Thrace, the land first cultivated in Greece. His geographical situation was exceedingly well adapted to have made the country a literary one, no region indeed could have been more happily calculated to have been the cradle of Greece. The names and worship of the muses, and all the religious mysteries commenced in Thrace. Pieria, Rhodope, Haemus and Strymon are all classical names and all Thracian and were the first adopted in literature and poetry. It was the highway from Asia to Europe and consequently improved the earliest. It was also open on three sides to the sea and received all the new acquirements both of Asia and Europe. Thus it was three or four centuries preceding the time of Solon and Lycurgus.
We do not however understand the causes why Thrace declined while the other parts of Greece were developing themselves. There are now extant four works which are asserted to be his, the names of which are given. The learned have differed very much as to these works, [which] some authors have supposed very ancient, others very modern. Gessner1 published an edition of these works with a commentary and two dissertations upon ancient navigation. Here he attempts to prove it to have had it’s origin really in Orpheus’ time and his argument was a pretty good one. Schneider, Tyrrwhi[tt] and Hermann2 considered them as of the second or third century of the christian era. The latter has written a work on the peculiar character of the genius which distinguished him in which he examines critically the progressive modification of Hexameter verse, showing the gradual changes which it underwent from the time of Homer until the age in which the sort of verse was remodelled by Nonnus.3 He examines the Trochaic caesura in the fourth foot, the lengthening of doubtful vowels, the hiatus and several other signs by which he proves that the poem could not have been composed in an early age when these refinements were not introduced.
The oldest period which the poem which principally engrosses notice, the Argonautica, is assigned to is the time of the Persian invasion of Greece. They are generally attributed to Onomacritus an Athenian priest who being detected in interpolating the oracles of Musaeus was expelled from Athens by Hipparchus and took refuge in the court of the Persian king whither he carried his oracles, and he incited Xerxes to the undertaking an invasion of Greece by suppressing { 358 } the unfavourable responses. It has been translated but this account is all suspicious.
The Lithica, or the next work given to him, is asserted by Tyrwhitt to belong to the age of Constantius when the first edict against magic was issued. This book, as from it’s name may be collected, treats of the magical properties of stones, twenty two species of which it examines. Ruhnkinius4 thinks the style too good for that age and refers it to the time of Domitian under whom philosophers were subjected to banishment and all sorts of punishment. This man was an extraordinary scholar, his life was written by Wittenbach and is well worth reading as a specimen of the best Latinity in modern times. These decrees against magic were to give us a clue to the date of this work and consequently it is referred with reason to these two times.
The hymns are supposed to be older than either of the two before-mentioned. They are analyzed by Tiedemann, and although some small fragments are inserted in the whole, it is in it’s present state, a fabrication of the era when christianity and Platonism were so singularly mingled. The same may be said of the fragments, but they contain some valuable remains mixed in. He mentioned a song and the sixth which [is] a splendid ascription to Jupiter. These fragments, we must recollect, are obtained from the quotations which Greek writers have made in their own works; thus these were obtained from Eusebius, Clemens Alexandrinus and others of the middle centuries. He then noticed the editions of the author, for the first time he has done it to any, he distinguished the Princeps and the Optima, the former being the first and the latter the best. One published at Florence in 1500 is the first, Gessner’s in 1764 was considered the best until that of Hermann came out which has scarce a superior in the whole field of philological discussion.
I returned home immediately and employed myself this morning in reading my Astronomy, to recite which I attended as usual. Mr. Farrar has a singular way of questioning us, as he does not confine himself at all in his questions to what he has given us as a lesson. He lectures in the mean time, at least familiarly instructs us. We today learned of him all the new discoveries in Mercury and Venus and [he] explained to us the principles by which we obtained a knowledge of the different situations of planets at different times with respect to the earth. He went on so fast here however that I found it impossible to follow him, and my ideas are not clear upon the subject. After Lecture or recitation, he showed us an orrery on a large scale and the motion of the bodies exhibited. It is a very ingenius work indeed, { 359 } made by a Mr. Pope of Boston, bought by the Legislature and presented to the College. It exhibits the motion and situation of the Sun, Mercury, Venus, the Earth and its moon, Jupiter and four Moons, Saturn and four, which was all the Solar system at that time known. These severally turn on their own axis and crossed the Sun in proportional time. Thus the mechanism is exceedingly complicated, it is not very valuable now however as much has been since found incorrect which was believed at that time.
After dinner I spent an hour and more making a bargain for some candles which I incline to prefer to lamps. They are rather more expense but I think them so much pleasanter to sit with that I shall be willing to pay the difference. At any rate I can go back again to the others if I do not like these. Having returned home I was in no mood to study so that it was late before I had got fixed and still later before I could bend my mind down to my lesson. I think I was less prepared today than at any time since I have been in Paley. I was not called upon however and only blamed myself for not having kept my resolution of knowing the thing for the thing itself. Morals are a study which like all other studies is dry in parts but ought not the less to be learnt. After Prayers and tea, I gave my company a drill in the Rifle exercise until seven o’clock, it being a beautiful moonlight night. They progressed and improved rapidly.
I detained them until the bell rung for Mr. Ticknor’s Lecture when I dismissed them and immediately hurried in to hear him. He had already commenced and the room was so full it was not possible to obtain a good seat to take notes. I tried however. He has cut short his course very much and to my great regret had noticed Sully and Montagne last Evening. He commenced tonight an account of Corneille. Pierre Corneille was born in Normandy, the country which nourished the literature of France, he was educated by the Jesuits and bred to the law. He did not pursue his profession with much pleasure, although he applied for and obtained a low place under the government, which he might even have continued to fill without distinction had it not been for an accident which gave his genius it’s direction. When going once to visit a lady with a friend, they each agreed to pay their court to her and he succeeded but in [incurring?] her regard. He then wrote the Comedy of Melite in consequence. This being more successfull than he had any reason to hope he wrote five more Comedies in succession. He had not however yet found his place. In 1635 he wrote Medea and in the year following, the Cid. From this time until 1642 he wrote only two Comedies which added nothing to his reputa• { 360 } tion, and the total failure of the last warned him, as he said, to quit the Stage. He therefore retired, and as he had many religious fears that what he wrote were only so many splendid sins, the natural affect of his education, he spent six years of his life in seclusion making a version of Thomas a Kempis. He came forward again however in 1659 and gave a number of new plays, thus he continued until 1672 not materially increasing his reputation, when he retired altogether and spent the rest of his life in the manner directed by his early bent. He died in 1681, not rich but very well rewarded for the exertion he had made.
As to himself, all we know of him is that he was simple in his manners, rather negligent in his appearance and too independent of the Court to promote his own advancement. But it is in the history of his genius that we are most interested, as being the cause of the reformation which took place in French literature between about 1630 and 1650. It is he who unites the classical days of France with those which immediately precede him. We think of him too much with later men and we should always rather consider those who were before him than those after. We bring too much into our own times, the more we examine him, the more we shall find that he belonged to each age in part. His spirit gave the impulse to the literature of the age of Louis 14th. while he himself was not quite clear of all the faults of his predecessors. He knew nothing of the three unities5 as these had not at that time acquired such a commanding influence as they have since possessed. He had but one of these, that of time. The plot of Melite is clumsy and the fifth act is entirely useless, but he gave the strain in a more native and simple expression, and his wit was by far better than any which had yet been seen on the French stage. This play was at first but little understood as the people had not yet become alive to quiet and sprightly wit. Afterwards it filled the house. Comedy had not hitherto been so well known in France. Next came Clitandre, which may with truth be called a successfully bad comedy. In 1634 La Veuve came out, the story of which is well [ . . . ],6 the characters are well supported, the style is pleasant and many very comic situations. It had a long success.
Next came la Galerie du Palais and next the suivante, 1635. It was at this time that the unities were formed by Chapelin.7 This is the first part of Corneille’s history in which he wrote many good things but nothing extremely remarkable; he was controlled by the opinion of his time. In 1635 Medea made it’s appearance, formed from the ancients in a regular and more elevated style. In 1636 The { 361 } Cid appeared, a piece which excited a greater interest than any since the time of the Greeks. It was drawn from the Spanish of de Castro. Cardinal Richelieu became offended with him and he influenced the Academy considerably in their decisions. In 1639 Les Horace appeared, which was condemned by the Academy but supported by the people. In 1639 Cinna, which was most important in it’s effects as it fixed the victory of Richelieu and his unities, being written in that style. As to the unities, he mentioned that Aristotle never thought of introducing such unities as all he says is merely to procure that of action. He then entered into a discussion upon the ancient Theatre with which he closed and I closed the Evening with my Journal. XI.
1. Johann Matthias Gesner (1691–1761), librarian and classical scholar at Göttingen (Harper’s Dict. of Classical Lit.).
2. Presumably Professor Johann Gottlob Schneider (1750–1822), of Breslau; Thomas Tyrwhitt (1730–1786), of Oxford; and Professor Johann Gottfried Jacob Hermann (1772–1848), of Leipsic (Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, 3:11, 2:419).
3. An Egyptian poet of the 4th century after Christ; see Everett’s Synopsis, p. 14.
4. Professor David Ruhnken (or Ruhkenius) (1723–1798), of Leyden (Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, 2:456–460).
5. The so-called Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action, which under the influence of the French Academy, founded by Richelieu, became rigid requirements in French drama.
6. Illegible; possibly “managed.”
7. Jean Chapelain (1595–1674), a dominant figure in the French Academy.
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/