Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1

Journal. December. 1823.


December 18th. CFA


December 18th. CFA
December 18th.

Arose considerably fatigued by the exertions last evening and the late hour at which I retired, as the intimate friends of the Junior 10Members of the Lyceum1 had been invited to spend the evening here on the breaking up of the term. Social feeling does much for men in this world, consequently it always has been my plan to promote it as far as compatible with my own wishes and my duty. I relish society here but I always wish it select and although I may have to accuse myself of aristocracy, (a hydra in this country) I cannot help confessing to myself that there is a distinction in the education of men which precludes some from the enjoyment of the society of others with whom they can share no common feeling and whose conduct is always matter of disgust to each other. Men are born free and equal but it is nonsense and worse than nonsense to say that they are so educated.

After breakfasting at Mrs. Gilman’s as usual Lothrop of my class2 and myself appointed ten o’clock to start for Quincy, previously to which I went to the President’s study to obtain leave of absence for the rest of the term, which being granted I then fell into conversation with him on the subject of my rank as a scholar here at College.3 My father has always requested me to make inquiries every winter in consequence of the low standing which I held on my arrival here, a thing unexpected by him and on that account the greater blow. For my own part, I have been long convinced that rank in itself is nothing as we have abundant evidence here of the position that a College scholar is seldom any thing else. The President informed me of what I knew before, that I was a good scholar in Latin, and that in Metaphysics and Composition tolerable.

Now in the former of these I should have been much higher I will venture to say had knowledge of the subject been put into the scale, but in mere verbal recitation without hesitation I allow all the palm. I do not wish to emulate fools in follies of their own. In the latter branch I was surprized as I had never expected rank where no exertions had been made. If I ever write well, the power of doing it, will not have been acquired by writing themes. But if there is a man who exercises himself actually more in this important branch than I do, it would then excite my emulation to know him. In Declamation I was justly ranked and few are superior to me. In Greek I was not astonished at what I was told and in Mathematics, expected worse. Paley and Theology had not been returned but I know full well I am no zealous disciple of that school. It is not a subject which interests me.4

On the whole I retired well pleased as I had not a bad account to carry home to my father. Knowing as I did the manner in which 11he is affected I was considerably elated. My time has never been misspent here for I have gone on acquiring knowledge but it has been in my own way and in one which makes no noise, neither blazes up in parts nor excites that expectation which is the great obstacle to the progress of a young man who like me is already thrown too much before the world. But enough of this subject. It has agitated my own bosom too long to be born without murmur, and it would be egotism in the greatest degree to trouble any body but myself with a minute account of myself. In this book made for the amusement of I, alone, it is but fair that I should have that share in its pages to which it is justly entitled.

Immediately after this Lothrop and I went to Boston. The snow was just beaten down so that the ride was very pleasant. Here we stopped for a short time on account of a little business to be done by both of us. I was anxious respecting the receipt of a letter from my father to George5 as it contained the order for the provision of my journey. After hunting a considerable time, the letter was found but as George was not in Town, could not be opened. Relieved however by the certainty that it had arrived, I met Lothrop again and we rode to Quincy. Little things had conduced to provoke and irritate me so that I was not so pleasant a companion as I might have been. On arriving, Servants had all been sent into the woods so that I was reduced to the necessity of asking his assistance to take care of the horse, a thing still farther mortifying to my pride.

Had I been in better humour, I might have diverted myself considerably with the odd appearance of a character who came out to visit my grandfather on that day and who took dinner with us. His name was Pedrick and he was from Salem. It appeared that he had a plan in his head of going to establish a distillery in Saint Petersburgh and he had come here to take advice as well as to obtain a letter of introduction to my father, so that I ascertained that I should have the felicity of meeting him at Washington which accordingly happened as I shall hereafter describe.6 My spirits however were too low even to be raised by wine and I went up into my Grandfather’s7 room remarkably gloomy. Here however I had some quite interesting conversation with the old gentleman concerning olden time which gave me some light as to points the correctness of which I had doubted in a late perusal of Marshal.8

Thus passed the time till tea. My Uncle9 had been out all day and arrived just then, in a situation likely to do any thing but please me or improve my humour. This was too bad, and I began to feel 12 image a blush of the bitterest sort covering my face when Lothrop was entering the tea room. I could not suffer it any longer — therefore putting myself in his way I pressed him out and shut the door then led the way back to my grandfather’s room where I ordered tea to be brought up. My feelings never were more intense than now. And as I was determined to save this disgrace if possible I ordered my horse immediately. And after taking leave of all (he had gone) I with no little joy jumped into the sleighs after having spent the most uncomfortable day for many years. In fact Quincy is not a very agreable place for me in my situation.

The air was delightfully mild and we returned to town so comfortably that I became better. We stopped but a few minutes at my brother’s room, to see him and obtain the money for my travelling expenses, after which we came back to Cambridge. The weather threatened for my journey but I was fixed so that upon my return I employed myself in packing my trunk and conversation with some of the students. My room looked cold and dreary as the table had been moved for last night’s affair and no books or papers on it, in fact my thoughts had so exhausted me and my nerves had been so much affected that I went to bed as soon as I had made all the arrangements necessary for tomorrow.

Such was this day, a most melancholy one for the Commencement of a Journal but a true account of the effect of a late debauch.


An informal group composed of members of Mr. Saunders’ boarding house. Seniors included Henry Samuel Tudor and George Wheatland; juniors in the club were Allyne Otis, John Hancock Richardson, George Sheafe, and, of course, CFA. See entries for 12 and 13 May, below, and Harvard Annual Cat., 1823.


Samuel Kirkland Lothrop, of Utica, N.Y. (same).


The President of Harvard College from 1810 to 1828 was John Thornton Kirkland. At the end of his first college term CFA had stood fifty-first in a class of fifty-nine (Duberman, CFA , p. 20). He later improved his status but was never an outstanding student.


Juniors read two volumes of Locke’s essays, Homer’s Iliad, Juvenal, and Persius or Tacitus, Paley’s Evidences of Christianity, Willard’s Hebrew Grammar, Whiting and Watson’s Hebrew Bible or Psalter, Griesbach’s Greek Testament, Enfield’s Natural Philosophy, Stewart’s Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, and Paley’s Moral Philosophy. They also studied analytic geometry and topography. Once a month they participated in public declamations and forensic disputes, and they wrote themes every fortnight.

The Harvard Annual Catalogue for 1820 lists the following table of private exercises for Juniors:

Morning, Monday—Saturday Metaphysics 1st term.
Natural Philosophy 2nd and 3rd terms.
Forenoon, Monday—Wednesday Theology 1st term.
Hebrew or substitute 2nd term.
Mathematics 3rd term.
Forensics or Themes Through the year.
Afternoon, Monday—Thursday Greek and Latin 1st and 2nd terms.
Moral Philosophy last 7 weeks of 3rd term.
Greek Testament first 5 weeks of 3rd term.

GWA was reading law in Daniel Webster’s Boston law office; he had graduated from Harvard in 1821. See Adams Genealogy.


Pedrick secured letters of introduction from TBA in Quincy and from Peter Paul Francis Degrand in Boston, but JQA dismissed his business scheme as impractical (JQA, Diary, 24 Jan. 1824). See also entry of 1 Feb. 1824, below.


John Adams, now eighty-eight years of age, had retired to Quincy after serving as second President and lived in the “Old House,” now the Adams National Historical Site, 135 Adams Street, Quincy. See JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:74–75, note, and Adams Genealogy.


Two sets of John Marshall’s Life of George Washington, published in Philadelphia and in London, 1804–1807, each in 5 vols., are in the Stone Library. Marshall gave an 1805 edition of his work to JA, and it is among JA’s books in the Boston Public Library ( Catalogue of JA’s Library , p. 160).


Thomas Boylston Adams (1772–1832) was the other surviving child of JA. A lawyer and a judge, he was married to Ann Harrod (1774?–1845) and lived with his large family in JA’s house in Quincy. See Adams Genealogy.