Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Thursday. May 6th. V.

Saturday. May. 8th. VII:30.

Friday. May 7th. V:20. CFA


Friday. May 7th. V:20. CFA
Friday. May 7th. V:20.

Arose and after reading over Astronomy, attended Prayers and recitation after which I wrote my Journal and attended a recitation to Mr. Sales the study of which employed me nearly all the morning. Having but just time to read three parts of Thomson’s Liberty. This is a dull heavy poem, written in that sort of measure which is the worst adapted to common use for although we sometimes unconsciously speak in it, still this makes the attempt more difficult, for we are only prompted to it by highly exalted feelings. There is nevertheless some evidence of talent and some of those expressions which I spoke of formerly as the peculiarity of Byron. His reflections are sometimes just but we cannot entirely approve a poem with no action unless as is the case with Childe Harold the ideas are supported uniformly in the same strain. It was not without pain that I got through. Perhaps on a second reading I shall relish it more.

It being a very rainy day I did not expect that we should have a lecture; this was the case however. Mr. Farrar treated today of several phenomena in Opticks the names of which I did not distinctly hear. The first was concerning an appearance which often is seen in the Eastern countries by which an image of an object is formed inverted over the object, itself.1 Also that in the deserts of Arabia and Africa, the appearance of a lake always obstructs the passage of travellers who imagine it to lie between them and their journey’s end, the same behind. This accounted for by the excessive heat which forms a stratum of excessively rarified air which is close to the earth and performs the part of a speculum. So that rays which strike under a certain angle are reflected and form an image on the opposite side. Two or three phenomena of less importance such as the formation of images of places on water at some distance and the story of the man in the isle of Bourbon. Lastly he came to the Aurora Borealis of 123which he gave a very interesting account. Its appearance, attending noise, and uniform attachment to the poles. No satisfactory explanation has yet been given, although one as near as possible has been proposed by a Mr. Dalton2 I believe, that at the pole the earth is bound with ice in such a way as to contain the electric fluid and stop its passage into the earth, and that occasionally it is drawn out and passes off through the air by the influence of particles of iron in the air. I see no use of this latter as air is a Conductor to take off all the surplus which may be contained in this ice. Ice is a conductor until it is exposed to a certain degree of cold when it is used for electrical purposes almost as well as glass.

I attended Declamation, the last Division of the Senior Class made their last appearance, and I carried a piece for approval. A very singular affair took place which has caused some noise. The expulsion of two students, Potter and Barry, Sophomores.3 The cause was just enough. It appears he had brought a lady out of town and was found by Hayward sleeping with her. Barry was expelled for being in the room. The government could act in no other way. Such an affair had not happened before for many years. It is a great scandal to the College. Hening,4 another of the same class, was dismissed yesterday, cause not known. Supposed to be general conduct. The rest of the afternoon was spent in reading Mosheim and finishing the fourth volume, besides reading the “Fourberies de Scapin” of Moliere. This is an extremely amusing play as it shows the ways of an accomplished cheat. But it lays the most open to the usual objection, of all his plays. While we admire his ingenuity and his wit it is impossible not to damn the moral. I am not a very moral man but I do not think that these things should dazzle the eyes of the common people.

Not much is to be said of Mosheim as I am in the middle of very dull accounts of doctrine. Calvin with all his good qualities had counterbalancing faults and has left sentiments among his partisans which do him no honour. The weaknesses of Nature are fully portrayed in this account of the various sects as we find no opinion too absurd not to be embraced by some—the most extravagant obtaining most extensively. The horrible lengths of the Anabaptists were not disgusting to the sect although it became more wise by persecution from the others. There is an interesting account of Socinianism which I wished to read in order to know the sentiments of that sect which is now very extensively embraced around here and of which this Institution is the source. They seem to be more innocent in their intentions than any of the others. These divided much as they do now showing the 124inclination of men to go from one doctrine of a mild sort to a bolder until they come to no belief at all.

I attended Prayers was afterwards caught in a thunder shower so that I was obliged to stay from home and neglect my lesson. Being engaged all the Evening at a meeting of the Knights of the Square Table at Chapman’s room. It is a festive club and quite a large Meeting. After staying there till ten we followed the Pierian Sodality5 who were serenading all round, the night being a fine one. Returning home late I found it impossible to study so I went directly to bed having enjoyed myself very much. XI:45.


CFA, probably at a later period, penciled the word “Mirage” in the margin.


Possibly John Dalton (1766–1844), the English scientist.


Thomas P. Potter, of Charlestown, Mass., and Edward Barry, of Norfolk, Va. ( Harvard Annual Cat., 1823).


Edward W. Hening, of Richmond, Va. (same).


Little is known of this singing club except that it was begun in 1808, combined with the equally obscure “Anacreontics” in 1819, and later spawned a glee club. GWA was president of the group in 1820, but CFA never joined. See Catalogue . . . of the Pierian Sodality of Harvard University, Cambridge, 1832, Harvard Archives, and Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard , p. 201.