Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1


1824. Saturday. May 1st. V:30.

[Introduction] CFA [Introduction] CFA

As with this book, I commence a new plan, it will not be inapropriate to my purpose, to lay down to myself the rules by which I am to be guided, and to define distinctly my intentions. To this end it will be necessary to notice some of my present habits, the continuation of which, it was one of the influencing causes with me to ensure, by this Diary. I have been in the habit for years past of writing a small Index of events, but as I grow older, I find it by far too narrow to contain those Ideas, many of which would be valuable to me recorded, as they might serve to prop, in case of necessity, my virtuous or good intentions. On this account, I shall prescribe to myself rules for general conduct whenever any occur, which in my mind will be of any service, although I shall not feel mortified if I do not rigidly adhere to them. My intention is only to ensure the right bent. A review of my course for a month will enable me at its end to judge better of myself. This therefore shall be as carefully and impartially done as possible. It is a custom with me to read portions of some books methodically every day, but to have one work constantly in hand for study. This last is generally History of some kind, the others, Poetry, Essays, and light reading in general. The portions of these that I read, it is intended to review every day and write down any ideas which may pass my mind in their perusal. As it would be much more trouble and no more advantage to keep a separate account of the Lectures which I attend, the idea is given up and every thing which strikes me shall be inserted here, a plan which appears to me the best I can pursue as it will be well suited to my general desire of self improvement brought as much as practicable into the same form.


One thing more I have in view, which will appear probably the hardest task of all. This is, to delineate characters according to the impressions which I receive and the best of my judgment. Among these will be drawn more particularly, the pictures of those who are my best friends, and though at times I may be influenced by momentary feeling, I hope to arrive at a pretty correct conclusion in general.

These four objects are to be pursued which together with the common occurrences of life will form this book. I am conscious to myself that this plan is of such a kind that I shall unavoidably be disappointed but at any rate it will serve as amusement in my leisure hours and what is the great end, Improvement.

From the golden verses of Pythagoras1 Paraphrase.
Let not thine eyelids close at parting day Till, with thyself communing, thou shalt say, “What deed of good or evil have I done Since Morning last restored the radiant Sun”? In strict review the day before thee pass, And see thyself in Truth’s unerring glass. If scorning self delusion’s fraudful ways, Her solemn voice, reproving conscience raise, With keen contrition, aid divine implore, Each error to redeem, and wrong no more. Or should that faithful guardian witness bear That all thy actions have been just and fair, Rejoice, and Heaven intreat with soul sincere, In virtue’s perfect path to persevere. J. Q. Adams, for his three Sons.

JA, JQA, and CFA all read and copied into their Diaries extracts from the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, a collection of maxims actually written by disciples of the Greek philosopher. The Stone Library contains La vie de Pythagore, ses symboles, ses vers dorez, la vie d’Hierocles, ed. André Dacier (Bibliothèque des anciens philosophes, volumes 1–2), Paris, 1771.