Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 4

Saturday. 19th.

Monday. 21st.

Sunday. 20th. CFA


Sunday. 20th. CFA
Sunday. 20th.

Temperature colder, and Clouds, which dispersed in the course of the day. I read part of the Dictionary of Painting this morning in order to gain information upon the subject of Engraving, as strange to say, this book of Bryan’s answers much better to that.1

Attended Divine Service all day and heard Mr. Frothingham in the morning from Acts 17. 22. “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.” This is the beginning of the famed and beautiful Address of Paul to the Athenians—One not excelled by any of the most distinguished Oratorical efforts of Antiquity. The subject chosen by the Preacher was not the general one but the mere question of superstition, and an argument for charity in the construction of what it is. He stated that the real translation of the Greek words is “over religious.” Words much better adapted to the general purpose of the Speech than the ones used, though the original will bear both meanings. Superstition however is the excess of religious feeling commonly, though the reverse may not be true. It is therefore a more pardonable extreme than the total want of it, which is it’s opposite.

The Afternoon Sermon was from 2. Timothy 3. 7. “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” He applied this Text to those among men who occupy their time not in the solid acquirements for a life of virtue and usefulness, but in the curious controversial topics of Sectarianism or the unimportant minutiae of mental occupations. Upon some points I did not assent to the Doctrine. He slighted the certainty of Historical knowledge when it seems to be i.e. me to bear considerably upon the moral character of man, that the lessons he reads from other experience should carry no doubt with them as to their truth.2

At home read a Sermon of Massillon upon the future State. He derives his argument from two heads. 1. The certainty of it as founded upon reason. 2. The necessity of it, as agreeable to the idea of a wise Deity, and to the private conviction of every man in the existence of such a being.


Evening reading to my Wife more of George 4th. Then the rest of the Lectures of Reynolds which are very sensible, and the Spectator.


Michael Bryan, A Biographical and Critical Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 2 vols., London, 1813–1816.


The meaning of the passage, though poorly expressed, would seem to be about as follows: To slight the importance of the effort to arrive at certainty in matters of historical fact by terming it a study of unimportant minutiae is something I cannot agree with. To the extent that man’s principles are formed out of the sum of men’s experiences, the effort to ascertain what is true in history is an occupation that bears considerably upon the moral character of man.