Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 4

Friday. 2d.

Sunday 4th.

Saturday 3d. CFA


Saturday 3d. CFA
Saturday 3d.

Fine morning though a little colder. I went to town accompanied by my wife. Left her at the house and soon afterwards went up there myself. Found all the workmen actively occupied in their various repairs and that my directions were at last in the way of being thoroughly executed. Left the house and did some business afterwards at the Office with Mr. Conant and others. Thus went the morning.

Returned to Quincy with my Wife at one. Engaged after dinner again with Mr. Greenleaf. Finished looking over the books and made up the missing list, which is considerable. A good many of them will however be found hereafter among the scattering works not numbered.1

In the evening, Mr. Beale came in and passed two hours. Nothing new. Looked over Hume’s Account of the Reign of Richard and Henry but found little that was new. Read also my father’s Poem of Dermot MacMorrogh, which is just out. There is vigor in the lines, and occasionally a high order of poetry. But as a whole, the work wants invention and imagination. It is totally deficient in descriptive imagery and leans as almost all my father’s poetry does, too much to the didactic style. This to the general is caviare. My opinion is, he would have done better not to have published it, but my opinion is worth very little in cases of this kind.2


As a condition of the gift of his library JA required that a catalogue of his books be made and published. This was done: Deeds and Other Documents Relating to the Several Pieces of Land and to the Library Presented to the Town 391 of Quincy, by President Adams, Together with a Catalogue of the Books, Cambridge, 1823. Although the books are not numbered in the catalogue, it would appear that at the time of the preparation of the catalogue or earlier, numbers were affixed to most but not all of the books listed in the catalogue. The catalogue would have served as the basis for the inventory being made.


On the bibliographic history of Dermot MacMorrogh, or the Conquest of Ireland; an Historical Tale of the Twelfth Century, see Bemis, JQA , 2:218. This narrative, “the subject of my own selection; the moral clear and palpable; the characters and incidents strictly historical; the story complete and entire,” in 266 stanzas of Byronic ottava rima, was written principally in Washington from February to April 1831. JQA described the method: “I usually compose one, sometimes two, occasionally three [stanzas], before rising, between three and five o’clock, and usually from three to five in my walk round the Capitol Square. These stanzas I retain in memory, and write down after returning home, sometimes before, sometimes after, breakfast.... I read every day to my wife what I have composed in the twenty-four hours” (JQA, Memoirs , 8:352, 355).

Nearly a year after publication, in Oct. 1833, when he was preparing copy for a second edition, JQA expressed his own judgment of the poem: “Scarcely any man in this country who has ever figured in public life has ever ventured into the field of general literature — none successfully. I have attempted it... in this poem of Dermot MacMorrogh, which is original, and at once a work of history, imagination, and poetry.... Like the rest of American poetry, it resembles the juice of American grapes — it has not, in ripening, the property of acquiring alcohol enough to keep it in preservation. I have pushed my experiment on the public temper far enough” (Memoirs, 9:24).

Copies of Dermot MacMorrogh in several stages of its composition, two in JQA’s hand and one in CFA’s, are in the Adams Papers (Microfilms, Reel Nos. 237, 242).