Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Tuesday. May 4th. V:15.

Thursday. May 6th. V.

Wednesday May 5th. V:45. CFA


Wednesday May 5th. V:45. CFA
Wednesday May 5th. V:45.

Arose and after a very slight review of my lesson attended Prayers and recitation. Fortunately I was not called upon. After recitation I was employed till ten o’clock writing my journal, therefore was unable to attend Mr. Sales’ Spanish recitation. I then read Thomson’s Winter thereby concluding the Seasons. This last I think the finest of the 118whole, as it excels from the superiority of sentiment and a nearer approach to sublimity. He shows himself a man of taste and makes many very just observations concerning study which are only liable to the objection mentioned yesterday. I then read Moliere’s Play of the “Amants Magnifiques” finishing the fifth volume of his works. There is not much plot or incident in it and appears to have been made merely as a “divertissement” for the king who condescended to take the part of a God and speak very highly of himself. There is considerable wit displayed in the character of Clitidas who in fact is the spring of the whole action. I was thus employed all the morning attending also a lecture from Mr. Farrar. The sun still denied his beams consequently no experiments could be performed. The students have become so tired of the course that they stay away when there are no experiments. For my part I always attend not only for the acquisition of knowledge but because I make no difference between voluntary and involuntary exercises. I have gained a great deal also by my attendance. Young men are very apt to assume a great deal as known which they have only a very superficial acquaintance with. And I should always distrust him when he said “he knew every thing before.” This however is common language with these lectures. He treated today of the construction of telescopes explaining to us the Newtonian, Galilean, Gregorian, and others. He has an admirable manner of telling an anecdote so that he renders parts even of a dry subject quite amusing. His history of this machine’s discovery was very well managed for effect. It is a wonderful machine and has been of very great utility to the world. By it we have gained the knowledge of the system by which we go and which is doubtless the true one, we have assisted navigation and enlightened the mind. Perhaps Astronomy has done more for this than any Science which has yet been pursued, and to me the knowledge of mathematics appears desirable only as it is subservient to this pursuit. After dinner although the weather was quite cold and unpleasant I took a warm bath. The regulations are only to admit on Wednesdays and Saturdays, consequently I was obliged to go today or else delay until Saturday at the risk of not having any better weather even then.

I did not progress as much as I expected in Mosheim owing to interruptions by Tudor and Richardson but nevertheless read somewhat over one hundred pages, principally on the state of the different churches, the Roman, the Greek and the Lutheran. The friars multiplied very much to form a stronger barrier against the reformers. There could not have been formed in the comprehension of man a 119better system for the obtainment of power. Using the most tremendous engine over men’s minds and working for the same end at the same time over all the world it is not surprizing that the power they obtained was so great. Even now the church of Rome would be nothing were it not for it’s emissaries who keep so sharp a look out, confirm the wavering by threats, and continue the faithful firm by promises. The state of learning was rapidly improving by reason of this reformation. The study which was made necessary to become a disputant, increased knowledge and the emulation caused inquiries which in the ancient state of things would not have been thought necessary. The council of Trent was rendered a mere form by the activity of the popes, whom the Author takes care to call bishops always. The catholics finding themselves likely to be abandoned formed the famous index of heretical books and suppressed the translations of the bible which is too much of a tacit confession of the weakness of their faith. One remark there is so striking concerning mankind that I shall insert it in my Common Place Book1 as very remarkable and very true. Mosheim is not perfectly standard however in his account of the Lutherans as we are frequently warned in the notes by his translator. Divisions will exist among all men as no two ever thought perfectly alike on a subject at least I believe this. No sooner had the protestants become a sect than they divided into inferior ones which now have independent governments. The state of ignorance of the Greek Church was excessive at this period, their licentiousness still greater. Subject to a foreign prince they have suffered and still continue to suffer the most harsh treatment.

I spent the evening partly in writing my forensic for tomorrow on the subject of predestination and partly in arguing on this subject at Sheafe’s where Brenan and Fay2 were visiting. Otis argued against me but with so little of reasoning and so much positive assertion without attempt at proof that I was disgusted. At some future time when I have leisure I shall give a character of this young man. I have written one on separate paper already but it does not satisfy me. Looked over the Astronomy lesson. IX:20.


On 12 March 1822 CFA had begun making entries in his literary commonplace book, a bound, blank notebook containing 382 pages, with a printed titlepage, A Common Place Book, upon the Plan Recommended and Practised by John Locke, Esq., Boston: Published by Cummings and Hilliard, 1821 (M/CFA/18, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 312). On the flyleaf, along with his name, he inscribed a quotation from Montesquieu: “Il ne s’agit de faire lire, mais de faire penser.” The first forty-five pages of the book form a rather skimpy subject index to the quotations which follow. The extracts themselves are chiefly from books which CFA mentions in his Diary. Perhaps one might 120take as the theme of CFA’s anthology his quotation from Disraeli (p. 36): “What is youth but a sketch—a brief hour of principles unsettled, passions unrestrained, powers undeveloped, and purposes unexecuted.” With equal justice, however, one might see in it an attempt to live up to JQA’s definition of genius (p. 56): “If there is one faculty of Genius more prominent than another, it is the persevering endurance of intellectual labour.” For, though haphazard and miscellaneous, the commonplace book entries do indicate how much CFA read and how seriously he took his reading. For further information on Locke’s commonplace book, see JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:47, note.


Richard Sullivan Fay, of Cambridge, a junior ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).