Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Journal. January. 1824. Thursday. 1st.

Saturday 3d.

2d. CFA


2d. CFA

Spent the morning reading,1 which I was obliged to omit yesterday on account of the Drawing Room. Continued the Essays with which I am very much pleased as containing a great deal of observation although I do not think highly of it’s morality. But this last was not a preeminent quality in the author.

In the evening, we all went to Mrs. Wirt’s, to a ball.2 The rooms before the dancing begun were crowded to excess, and I do not think that I ever saw so many ladies in one room in my life. The ball room was opened and appeared to advantage at first but afterwards the lamps went out or faded so much as to give an ugly tinge to the room and the women. The room was also intolerably hot. There were but three cotillions in the whole room, which number could employ but just one third or less of the dancers in the room, and these pressed on so that dancing was not very pleasant. For my own part, I danced with Miss Vail,3 Miss Selden, Miss McKnight4 and America Peter, besides a very short dance with Miss Crowninshield as Papa forced her away before it was over.5

Miss Selden was as pleasant as she used to be and I enjoyed myself with her as much as formerly. Miss McKnight has rather improved and become very conversible, she was always remarkably ladylike. America Peter is just as she was and the very circumstance united with her character makes her rather insipid. She probably never will be very different. Miss Vail has been here so many Winters that she is now taken more because she can make up a cotillion than 29on account of any attraction. She is however rather an agreable woman, although for a French woman which she professes to be, it appears to me, that she is “excessivement stupide.”

Young Vail appeared very attentive to Miss Crowninshield all the evening and appeared very unwilling to give up her hand to me when it was due. And to get it back he made applications to Miss Wirt for a Spanish dance which he knew I never danced. This put me in such a passion that had not he given way I expect we should have had a scene. I succeeded but after all it was not worth the trouble. Spanish dances have come very much into fashion here through the influence of Miss Wirt and other young ladies. They are very pretty but require so much grace that it is impossible for me to risk any attitudes. So I do not practise them.

Miss Macomb6 is a very pretty young lady but owing to some mistake I lost an opportunity of being introduced to her this evening which I never since obtained. She is however so much engrossed by her lover that I do not much care for the loss.

Among others I met Dugan,7 and had some conversation. He informed me that the passage in the steam boat had been very rough, and that they did not get to New York till Sunday night, which made me glad that I had taken the other course. He appeared here with great modesty and if it was not for a little, simpering, lurking vanity in his composition I should like him well enough. As it is he is far preferable to the man he adores the worthy Mr. Nicolson.8 But of this man, my journal was not formed to treat. Young Vail I met again. There are so many of these that I must distinguish them. The eldest, I (if ever I have again occasion to speak of him) shall call broad face, the next, narrow face, and the youngest of whom I am now speaking, the midshipman. He received orders tonight to go off, and was making great lamentations about the matter.

But it became time to retire, and as our carriage was full we (John and myself) had to beg carriage seats of Blunt and accordingly we went home with him, or at least as far as our house. The great trouble attending the parties here in Washington is that the carriages always have difficulty in passing to the door. It is but seldom some unfortunate accident does not happen. We had an instance yesterday, and this evening another. Coachmen have a habit here of driving contrary ways to the same door which brings the carriage poles tilting with each other. This came very near injuring Mr. Crowninshield’s horses which caused him to swear most vociferously. And on our return, we were crossed by a pair of horses with the front wheels of 30a carriage only, on a full gallop. After a cup of tea at home we separated for the night.


He studied geography (D/CFA/1).


Mrs. William Wirt, the former Elizabeth Gamble, the wife of the Attorney General, who lived on G Street between 18th and 19th streets (Columbia Hist. Soc., Records , 19 [1916]:24).


Presumably a sister of Eugene and Aaron Vail, government clerks who were protégés of Senator Crawford, and Midshipman Edward M. Vail (Force, National Calendar, 1824, p. 66, 72, 153; Gouverneur, As I Remember , p. 282).


Ann McKnight, the orphaned niece of Commodore Stephen Decatur, was a good friend of Mary C. Hellen and later asked JQA to stand as father at her wedding (JQA, Diary, 13 April 1831).


Either Elizabeth or Mary Crowninshield, one of the daughters of Benjamin Williams Crowninshield (1772–1851), Secretary of the Navy under Presidents Madison and Monroe.


Daughter of General Alexander Macomb, who became commander in chief of the army in 1828.


Presumably Frederick J. Dugan, of Baltimore, a freshman at Harvard who appears to have been dismissed in March 1824 ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823; Records of the College Faculty, 10:63, Harvard Archives).


Possibly Joseph H. Nicholson, of Baltimore, another Harvard freshman who appears to have been dismissed in March 1824 (same).