Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Tuesday. September 28th. VI.

Thursday. September 30th. VI.

Wednesday. September 29th. VI. CFA


Wednesday. September 29th. VI. CFA
Wednesday. September 29th. VI.

Attended Prayers this morning although tardy, and recitation afterwards in which I escaped by not being taken up. Returned home, dressed for the day and after breakfast attended Mr. Everetts third Lecture. The etymology of language and their origin have ever been a study among men. Considering the changes natural by transmission, it is remarkable that the radical forms are still the same. It is therefore not at all singular that men should attempt to obtain history in this way. Inquiries have given the origin of the Greek to the Hebrew, to the Celtic, the Flemish, the German. A writer of the present day is still more extravagant than Father Hardouin1 which was that German was the court language of Rome. Father Hardouin professed to believe that the Classics were all fabrications by monks in the dark ages. Others have derived the language from the Jews, the Phoenicians, the Goths and Finns. Some have supposed it the original language, Von der Hardt has supported this last opinion. He maintains the opinion that the Gothic is the parent of Latin and Greek with some appearance of probability. Previous to the arrival of the Phoenicians, the Pelasgi existed and it is supposed by some that the Poems of Homer were originally written in this language and afterwards written in the Greek. Marsham2 maintained that the Egyptian was the original language and so did Lord Monboddo,3 and many other opinions.

Two considerations account for so many theories. One, that as so little real authority remains, there is full play for the imagination as the period we are speaking of is carried back to at least 2000 years 343B.C. We are authorized in saying that there are no remains of the language which was original and therefore there is no ground on which to argue. We have witnessed the changes of language in a time so much shorter that we can easily see the uncertainty of any conclusion with respect to the Gothic claim. The Greek is a derived language as indeed is every language of which we have now any idea, or knowledge. A few words generally find their way into every language from another which do not however justify any claim to forming them. We have an example of the possibility of influence in the case of the Island of Malta which the Saracens possessed for a long time in the middle ages. On this account there are a great many remains in the Arabic language, many therefore have to trace these to Carthage and Phoenicia for its origin.4 It is a fallacy however, he thinks, to call languages derivative. Those which produced a national literature should be considered original, and critics should call them so. Etymologists might call them otherwise. Different dialects of Dutch, Flemish, high German, low German, Swedish, Danish &c. are of the Northern stock. Italian, French and Spanish are all from the Latin, yet the members of one nation cannot understand the conversation or language of another. Whatever has been added or changed to the original, which was the same to all, must be original.

There are also the four different dialects of Greece which require more study to understand, the dialect of Homer also which is peculiar to him. But it is not for the grammar of a language that it is worth noticing it, it is for the character of the literature of the nation to which it belongs. Originality belongs to this as much as it does to the language itself. Italy wants drama, France wants history and other nations are also deficient in some particular branch which constitutes the peculiarity in their language. Though the Athenians affected to be indigenous, Greece was generally settled by the Pelasgi, barbarians of whom it is a question whether they were aborigines like our own or derived their origin from the East. It is sufficiently certain that there were emigrations from Egypt and Phoenicia about sixteen centuries before the birth of Christ. Four of them are mentioned in history, that of Cecrops in 1556, of Danaus 1485, Cadmus 1493 and Pelops 1350. As these dated i.e. dates? are not by any means certain, we may call it generally in the sixteenth century previous to the Christian era. There is certainly a great similarity between the Greek and Oriental languages. There has been of late years a doubt of the identity of such a person as Cadmus or of his ever having existed. It has been generally supposed correct because Cadmus, or Redden as it is in the Oriental 344language, signifies the East so that merely the use of the word has made us suppose it a proper name, but he did not incline to see any reason for this and supposes we might be led into a mistake by our over vigilance and then cited an example exceedingly apt to the purpose. If our history should by some calamity or accident be entirely destroyed and a mere tradition exist as to the history of Columbus, future critics might with the same ground suppose him to be a fabulous character as his name which is Colon in Spanish signifies a (first) settler, and consequently men might say that he was only the first settler and called so by way of distinction. Also of Cabot whose name cabbotir in Italian and French means to explore.

He considers the Greek language as a compound language but it appeared to him, he said, that the Pelasgii far outweighed the oriental. From political and moral causes, he should argue this as it is most probable that men will always take the common terms in use among the larger part and use them as their own. Indeed we are the only example in which the language of emigrants did not vary by that of the nations and this was only because ours was more of a case of extermination and we kept ourselves a single separate body by which it was impossible for our language to be corrupted. He then urged us to recollect and keep in mind these facts, as the Oriental emigrations were the first starting point of the history of the literature of Greece. It is rather remarkable that no native stock has ever grown to the highest excellence and he closed his lecture by showing in this case a similarity between the animal and vegetable world in which many trees will remain barren until engrafted with another stock when they will produce luxuriantly.

After Lecture, I returned home and read over my Astronomy, attended recitation where Mr. Farrar explained to us with much sense more of the Solar system. I wish and intend to state also his remarks, as he is as much of a lecturer as any other almost. He explained to day the distances of the planets and corrected any erroneous impressions we might have from seeing his orreries.

In the afternoon I wrote my Journal and got a lesson in Paley, and the Evening I employed in finishing a long day’s Journal and in reading Pope’s fifth and last Essay, with the Messiah which, to my shame, I have not noticed before as remarkable. I thus spent the whole Evening in reading and writing for a few moments at Mathematics after which I retired. X:25.


Father Jean Hardouin (1646–1729).


John Marsham.


James Burnett, Lord Monboddo 345(1714–1799), Scottish judge and philosopher.


Everett’s second point, as CFA confusedly noted, was that some words are “common to many languages in consequence of the original community of stock” (Everett, Synopsis , p. 2; see entry for 1 Oct., below, for an explanation of this source).