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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0010-0030

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-09-30

Thursday. September 30th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation, and was again reprieved for a time. I now think that every escape is something. After breakfast, I attended Lecture as usual. He today discussed the origin and progress of alphabetical writing, an inquiry into which, he said, had a material effect upon the question of the authenticity of the oldest writings. There were three distinct processes to be gone through, the one which invents the signs of objects and adapts oral sounds to them, the other which notes them down and a third which would be to associate the other two, and make them represent each other. The first process is the most wonderful of all. The imitative faculty is most powerfully implanted in us and we soon learn to make figures upon paper resembling certain objects and then use them as the signs of these objects afterwards. Previous to this, all communication must have been oral and the history of a tribe could only be transmitted by heads of families and priests, the one who would notice what happened within their own circle and the other the religion and rites of the people. We have reason to suppose that pictures were the commencement of Hieroglyphical writing. Mexicans carried this sort of communication to very great perfection, probably as great as possible, but from it’s nature this sort of language must have been very obscure, and from this cause probably arose alphabetical writing.
This change must have taken place from the perfection of [a] third process which, as he stated before, was the association of the oral and graphic signs. Hieroglyphical writing was unavoidably obscure, as it confounded frequently the signs with the emblems which represented the ideas. Eichhorn1 has made an ingenious conjecture concerning the story of Herodotus, concerning the army of an Oriental prince or, as we may suppose, of Sennachieb [Sennacherib]. This historian says that while in Egypt he understood that this army had been destroyed by mice, who coming to the tents ate off the strings of their bows and the straps of their shields, by which they were made defenceless and perished by the attacks of their enemies. Now in Egypt the mouse is the symbol of destruction and there was a statue of a king there holding a mouse in his hand, alias destruction, but some person, it is supposed, knowing Herodotus to be a stranger, passed off this trick upon { 346 } him, and he wrote this among other[s] as doubtful stories in his history. Hieroglyphics have come down to us as remaining from many monuments. Those on the [monuments?] are the most frequent and on the sarcophagi, both inside and out, also upon some obelisks. The Rosetta stone, as it is called, has an inscription in hieroglyphics, in Coptic, and in Greek. Ammianus Marcellinus has preserved the Greek interpretation of these on one of the Roman obelisks which he showed to us as well as an engraving of the obelisk itself. No successful attempts have ever been made however to decipher them. But one man has ever succeeded in the least and he has merely with reason argued that these figures which are surrounded by parallellogramic line, or rather curve, are proper names, so that we are authorized in making our first assertion, as this has given us no clue, and we may rather believe that there is no interpretation to be obtained for them as they express no language. This species of writing was more used in Egypt than elsewhere but it is supposed that they had an alphabetical character also.
The progress and utility of alphabetical writing was of course affected by want of materials to write on. The earliest in use for this purpose were stone, metals, wood, bark of trees, skins and linen. Bricks or tiles were used at Babylon, hard wood was also in use which was covered with a thin coat of wax and was written upon with a thing called a stylus made of steel and coming to a point; the other end was flattened and served to efface what had already been written if correction was wanted. The laws of the twelve tables and the public acts at Rome were written on bronze plates and laid up in the aerarium,2 copies of which were distributed among the provinces. At the time of the burning of Rome under Vitellius, three thousand of these were destroyed. There is a large brazen plate at Lyons taken from the bed of the Rhine which contains an harangue of the Emperor Claudius. The original law for the ejection of the Bacchanals mentioned in Livy as a Senatus consultum was dug up in Calabria in 1640. He showed us a copy of it. Preparations of linen were also made which were covered with wax. It is probable that the books of Moses were written so and the books of Homer, if written at all, were probably in this way also. Skins of animals were prepared with wax boiled with the lees of olives. Mr. Gifford, the famous editor of the Quarterly Review,3 was so poor, it is said, that he used to write his poems on smooth pieces of leather at the intervals of his work in a saddler’s shop. Cleanthes, it appears, wrote down his master’s lectures upon muscle shells and the shoulder blades of oxen. The seventh century before Christ under Psammetichus, inner bark of trees was peeled off with a needle, dried { 347 } in the sun and polished when it was written upon with a reed, having the appearance of paint. But this preparation, as given in books, does not correspond with the examples which we have which look like a coarse cloth. This was probably used by the poets Alcaeus and Sappho.
The introduction of paper was subsequent to the age of Homer. It had an effect on letters in Greece similar to that of the invention of printing on literature in modern times. The Herculanian rolls are the oldest specimens we have of the papyrus and they have been so decomposed by heat that we cannot judge of them. The use of it continued until the eleventh century A.C. Parchment was perfected by Eumenes, king of Pergamus, as being rival kings in their desire to obtain libraries, Ptolemy had forbid the exportation of Paper which however was thus without avail. It was used generally in Europe in the seventh Century, Cotton paper in the eleventh and linen in the fourteenth.
Lecture being over I went to Lothrops and learnt my directions for the Commencement of the military campaign, then returned to my room and wrote my Forensic on the subject “whether Moral Obligation implies a future state of rewards and punishments.” I was on the affirmative. After dinner I went and gave my company a drill in the rifle exercise, then attended Forensics. They were pretty good, generally speaking, and Mr. Hedge very simply stated the case and decided in favour of our side of the question. I returned and wrote my Journal. In the Evening I visited Brenan, queried the Freshmen a little and then returned, sat in my room some time and then dispersed for a half an hour in which time I finished my duties and then went to Sheafe’s where we met again with the addition of Rundlet and Fay (by we I mean the Lyceum). After they had gone we went into Otis’s and drank Porter and conversed making it quite late before we retired. XII:15.
1. Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752–1827), Orientalist and biblical scholar at Göttingen.
2. The state treasury of Rome, which was kept in the basement of the Temple of Saturn (Harper’s Dict. of Classical Lit.).
3. William Gifford (1756–1826), the first editor of the Quarterly Review (DNB).

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0001

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-01

Friday. October 1st.

Attended Prayers this morning and recitation in Topography. I was called upon today and acquitted myself with mediocrity. Making one week over, out of eight which we have before us. I returned home, dressed myself and after breakfast attended Lecture. It was today the history of the Anti Homeric literature, the subjects of which are those { 348 } which we have still remaining of the works of that time, those of which we have authentic accounts, the works themselves being lost and lastly the authors of these works. Three periods may be assumed in the early history of Greek works and although we rank Homer our first author, he does not come until the close of the third period. A peculiar character is to be ascribed to that age when man was just emerging from the barbarous into the heroic state which itself was semibarbarous. The first period above mentioned consequently comprises the age of the earliest lawgivers, founders of tribes, priests, inventors of arts, founders of cities and reformers, whose communication with their fellow men was in an unusual strain, but who can by no means be considered poets in the sense in which we use the term. Of this number were Orpheus, Linus, Amphion and Musaeus, if we ascribe to them any actual existence. They were not poets but only higher wise men, but as the changes between the ages was great as the progress of civilization, it is probable they had nothing to leave worthy of notice.
The second period was that of the sacred songs of the temples, of triumphal hymns in the families of the heroes and the songs of the bards like those in more modern times. Here was more probably the rise of Poetry as an art. It is highly probable that many of these came down to a much later age although they have become unknown in any time which we have records of. The songs in the temples came down and were preserved long after they had become unintelligible. Homer mentions the song of the Salii which was sung but of which nobody knew the meaning. Something similar may be found in our version of the Bible in which there are some words which have lost their meaning but which are preserved because it is not thought worthwhile to affect the associations which are natural to the mind and which would weaken our respect for the sacred scriptures, were we at liberty to expunge at pleasure. This species of writing would however sink naturally also, by the transition into a more polished age.
The third period is that in which poetry was made a single branch of application and was gradually brought to the perfection which we behold in the books of Homer. No one will suppose that a book like the Iliad or Odyssey of Homer could be the first composition in any language. It is so artificially formed that with all the allowance in the world for the native power of creative genius, and all deductions for the work of subsequent critics, there is an art to be seen and traced which could not have proceeded but from a long series of efforts. They may since have been adapted to each other and more highly polished { 349 } and suited to an after age, but nevertheless they are still very much too great for a first exertion.
We are thus prepared to analyze a few of the accounts which we have received of the early authors and which has been perfected for us by the patience of criticism. Fabricius has given us seventy names. We will therefore attempt a few. He previously however noticed a list of names in the synopsis Article 6. of authors of works of reference, for the history of Greek Literature.1 The first class comprise the names of the primitive heroes, Prometheus, Hercules &c. The first was considered as the great leader of the arts and age in this early stage. Chiron, a native of Thessaly, which country appears to have been the cradle of the arts in this country, a curious circumstance when we find it had relapsed into proverbial ignorance and barbarism in the flourishing times of Athens. It has been usual with theologians to attempt to identify every name in ancient history with some one or other of the names in the old testament, thinking in that to make a regular historical account of all ages to agree from different authorities, but it only rendered the Christian account suspect, he thought. Hermes was according to the ancient accounts the author of alphabetical writing, of Geometry, of medicine, of the lyre of seven strings and many other arts, from which it would appear that he was a tolerably versatile genius. He has many works charged to him but they are all fabrications of different periods, two or three of them Arabian, and others in the middle ages or earlier, their names are in the synopsis. He was supposed to have been the [ . . . ] who pursued alchemy as a study; it did not arise until the third century after Christ. He was also called Theuth [Thoth] in Egyptian and Teut in German. Horus and Zoroaster were the last. Of this last he spoke largely, or rather of his supposed work, the Zendavesta [Zend-Avesta] which was said to have been discovered and translated in the eighteenth century by du Perron, a Frenchman.2 Sir William Jones however did not allow its authenticity but argues it as merely tradition which has come down in the East from a much later period. He however thinks that there are two Chapters which appear to be somewhat authentic, even if this is the case the work is extremely valuable. Eichhorn has also added another passage to the number. He is supposed to have existed in Persia in the seventh Century before Christ. From lecture I went home and wrote my Journal which occupied me very nearly all the morning.
I spent half an hour at the reading room and after dinner went to declamation. It was my turn, but I did not [word or words omitted] and my excuse was not accepted. I offered the speech of Patrick Henry { 350 } on the Virginia resolutions and it was accepted. I could find no other. I spent the afternoon committing a piece of poetry, a little song of Waller’s3 to a rose, according to an intention of mine to commit to Memory a certain portion of Poetry in a certain time in order to improve my memory. I also read Thomson’s Autumn, not having had an opportunity to read it at the appointed time. I nevertheless took the commencement of this month instead, to which the poem as strictly applies. I was more pleased than ever with it, the appeal to Industry delighted me very much. Thinking of that song of Wallers, I was struck with the similarity of one of the ideas with one of Grey’s [Gray’s] which has been much admired. “Full many a flower” &c. My afternoon was in this way very agreably taken up.
After Prayers, we drilled in the Corps, which as usual put me into a terribly irritated state, I believe much more pain has issued from serving in my capacity than pleasure. After drill, I was a little while at Otis’s and the rest of the time in my room. We this evening enjoyed the first privileges of the Senior Year by having no lesson on Saturdays. I wrote a large part of my theme and mused away some time.4 XI.
1. The “synopsis” to which CFA alludes is Edward Everett’s own Synopsis of a Course of Lectures on the History of Greek Literature. This octavo pamphlet (extant incomplete copies contain 108 pages) is without author’s name, place, or date of publication, but presumably was printed at or about the time Everett began lecturing at Harvard in 1819. From entries below it is clear that CFA usually carried his copy of the Synopsis to class with him and used it to verify names, dates, titles, and the like in Everett’s learned discourses. CFA’s copy has not been found, but a copy in the Massachusetts Historical Society has proved useful to the present editors for the same purpose and especially in making sense of the diarist’s badly punctuated and sometimes garbled sentences. For an excellent account of Everett’s classical and philological training in Europe and the impact of his lectures at Harvard, see Orie W. Long, Literary Pioneers: Early American Explorers of European Culture, Cambridge, 1935, p. 63–76.
2. Anquetil du Perron (Everett, Synopsis, p. 7).
3. Edmund Waller (1606–1687).
4. CFA also took a walk (D/CFA/1).
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2016.