Diary of Charles Francis Adams, volume 1


Sunday. May. 2d. VI.

1824. Saturday. May 1st. V:30. CFA


1824. Saturday. May 1st. V:30. CFA
1824. Saturday. May 1st. V:30.

Arose, attended Prayers and morning recitation half an hour afterwards. The interval was spent in looking over my lesson, in Enfield’s Natural Philosophy. We commence the study of Astronomy this 107morning, which as it is interesting and instructive, it is my intention to study attentively. I was taken up and recited the commencement of the lesson. After recitation Mr. Heyward1 called me up to give me a private admonition from the Government for levity at Prayers on Friday night. This was deserved but scarcely is sufficient to correct me. I can feel no seriousness at Prayers and am condemned to stand there fifteen minutes with nothing whatever to do. In case I am farther noticed, I shall be compelled to apply for leave of absence altogether. It is a mockery.

After breakfast, I went to the Post Office and had the exquisite pleasure of finding a letter for me from John.2 From here I went to the Reading room to see the News. Nothing remarkable. The A.B. plot in which Mr. Edwards the Minister to Mexico appears deeply concerned, is making a very great noise at Washington as it will have considerable influence on the present question.3 This is all the matter of interest at present, the excitement being very great. I returned and after reading John’s letter set myself down to answer it.4 He is in very good spirits and writes as if he enjoyed himself in all the gaiety, speaks of the A.B. plot and of all the affairs agitated at present particularly his whispered attachment to Miss Selden. According to his account the world are determined upon the match and make him know it and her too. The answer being long employed me about an hour, and I scribbled a letter very much in the usual way without much in it which could be amusing. Cambridge is not a place to collect variety for letters.

My next business was to read a play of Moliere’s according to my usual custom.5 The one which came to day was Amphitryon. A sort of a play taken from the ancient fables and on a subject not the most modest for the Theatre. The moral is not remarkably good nor does the work recompense us for there is not much more than a few silly speeches on both sides. And Sosia the servant6 is made the butt of all kicks and jokes of all sorts. Occasionally a fine sentiment or just observation appears but taking it all in all, I think it is the worst of his productions which I have yet read. My portion of Poetry came next and I read some of the short productions of Swift.7 The powers of this man were remarkable for imagery, and variety. His words appear to come so naturally and yet never out of place. His application of figures is striking also. He was a singular character. Devoted to a certain unhappy degree to his eccentricities, he made himself and all around him unhappy. His conduct to Stella and Vanessa was very shameful. Formerly I was delighted with the character of a 108misanthrope and used to think it the greatest of pleasures to rail and complain. But my character in this respect is changed with the causes that produced it. My unfortunate affair8 and the lonely way in which I used to live brought on this sort of temper of which I was not cured until the hard study which I imposed upon myself and the society of some few friends I had made destroyed all my power of complaint. Character at College changes with circumstances and generally becomes materially affected if it does not obtain opportunity for developement. Thus I was employed this morning although the Weather was very fine and I was more than once tempted to walk or ride. But it changed for the worse after dinner so that I had no inducement to move out.

Dwight came in and sat with me for an hour conversing on various subjects. Sheafe was here also. Stackpole9 came in but did not stay very long. Dwight has been a friend of mine of some standing now and it appears to me unlikely that we shall have any occasion to divide. His temper is high and feelings are warm, he excites at almost every thing, and speaks almost always with remarkable earnestness. His sentiments are just as to himself and more conscious of his faults than the generality. When convinced he makes endeavours to rectify them. A hard student because he imagines it his duty, he pursues surely what his object is; I have been in doubt whether he is ambitious, (by this I mean more than school boy desire), and am not perfectly decided yet although I am inclined to think he is. For he has spoken of times of public danger as desirable, an opinion seldom held by a young man. He is obstinate and prejudiced but in proportion as he advances in life, this will wear away. He is violent and this will always remain. I like him for his feelings, ardent as my own. We conversed on the characters of students in general and after passing sentence on some in particular we went to the Book Store to lounge a half hour.

When I returned I set down to read a part of Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History10 which I commenced a short time since. My ideas upon the subject of the Christian Religion are very vague and have compelled me to this. The perusal thus far however has not been any more satisfactory and on the contrary has troubled me more. I read to day a portion commencing with the Second Chapter of the Second Part of the Thirteenth Century. The corruption of the Clergy had arrived by this time at a most astonishing height and was vehemently complained of long before the reformation. It is wonderful to observe the increase of power in the Popes. The institution appears 109to me the most decidedly politic which I have ever seen. Men of boldness and of talents, were hereby secured and, as they all had the same object in view, they all acted in the same way, by this means avoiding a fault inherent in a monarchical form as there is no continuity ensured in the succession, that is, princes come to the throne with opposite views and tempers by which they defeat each other. The power of the Popes increased very much in this century by fortunate contests with weak princes. John of England and the Emperor Frederic were compelled to bow to the superior power of the church. But the succession of Pontiffs is singularly quick and gives reason to suppose that more than natural causes hastened their deaths. Of this however there appears little probability as I have never seen the charge made. The Mendicant Friars arose in this century, and seem to have been good engines to confirm the Ecclesiastical authority. Their quarrels, arrogance, and intestine divisions appear among the causes of the reformation. Literature was at it’s lowest ebb and Roger Bacon appears to be the only person of real merit in the age.

The doctrines taught in this age show fully the degree of ignorance then prevalent. Transubstantiation became a leading tenet and auricular confession was approved. Not without opposition however, unavailing as it might be. Metaphysics were the delight of all and Words became the fashion of the Universe. More injury was done in these times to future ages than will probably ever be repaired. Questions have arisen to rack the brain which are of no use to man and of great disadvantage. Confusion was made in terms which put fixed ideas to flight and opinion took the place of fixed truth.

The Greek Church which had long been at variance came to a pretty decided variance in this age. Superstition which had become so extravagant to support itself was obliged to have resort to a multiplication of ceremonies among which may be reckoned those accompanying the sacrament, which were some of the secret springs of the reformation. The world however was not always quiet and some portion would resist. The arms of power though had now taken the place of those of persuasion and the Albigenses fell under the stroke. The inquisition was established and preserved the true faith by fire and the rack. The Christian religion was in it’s infancy unfortunately exposed to changes which have rendered it impure to a degree which we cannot tell. Doctrine came upon doctrine and all belief was swallowed up in an incomprehensible chaos. Religion was made the cloak of the deepest hypocrisy as it ever will be 110 ’Tis too much prov’d—that with devotion’s visage And pious action, we do sugar o’er The devil himself.11

This closes the Century. I did read a little more but as it is a good division I shall stop here. I was thus employed in the afternoon and evening. I also wrote a letter to my Mother in answer to one received some days ago,12 and attended Prayers.

It being early and my duties finished I diverted myself with reading the two first cantos of Childe Harold.13 The poetry is exquisitely beautiful and I was delighted. Retiring to bed with feelings perfectly poetical I only wished that I had been gifted. My feelings sometimes prompt me but then I think of a poor attempt and am discouraged. X.14


James Hayward, Harvard 1819, who served as tutor from 1820 to 1826, was appointed professor of mathematics and natural philosophy in 1826 ( Harvard Quinquennial Cat. ).




Ninian Edwards (1775–1833) resigned as Senator from Illinois in 1824 in order to accept Monroe’s appointment as minister to Mexico. Before he could take up his diplomatic post, however, it was revealed that he had been the author of “the A.B. papers,” letters which made reckless charges against Secretary of the Treasury Crawford. Unable to substantiate his accusations, Edwards was obliged to resign ( DAB ; JQA, Memoirs , 6:296). The “present question,” of course, was the presidential succession.


Letter missing.


CFA’s set of Molière’s OEuvres complètes, 8 vols., Paris, 1821, containing an inscription from George Sheafe, is in the Stone Library, which also contains several other editions of Molière’s works. JA’s books in the Boston Public Library contain two copies of Molière’s OEuvres, 1760 and 1784 ( Catalogue of JA’s Library , p. 170).


Sosie, the valet.


CFA probably read some of Jonathan Swift’s poems in John Aikin’s Select Works of the British Poets, London, 1820.


Possibly a reference to his infatuation with his cousin, Mary C. Hellen. See entry for 5 Jan., and note, above.


Joseph Lewis Stackpole, Harvard 1824, LL.B. 1828.


A copy of John Lawrence Mosheim, An Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern, 4 vols., N.Y., 1824, is in the Stone Library.


Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1, lines 47–49.


Both letters are missing.


A copy of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, 2 vols., London, 1819, is in the Stone Library.


In this volume of his Diary CFA began to indicate the time of his retiring with a roman numeral. Thus he went to bed at 10 P.M. this day.