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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1

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

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-11

Monday. October 11th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation this Morning as usual. After breakfast attended Lecture. Mr. Everett continued to day the analysis of the controversy concerning Homer. Mr. Raoul Rochette,1 a learned Frenchman answered those objections made by those travellers in a very strenuous argument, but many of the leading charges are not noticed, and particularly the one mentioned concerning Hesichaeus. And it may be fairly concluded that they are substantial. The principal ground on which the inscriptions are supported as genuine was that the Abbe was entirely ignorant of the Greek language. This however must be overstated as the Academy would not have recommended nor the king sent an ignorant man upon such an expedition. And afterwards he was employed in arranging what he had found, for a length of time sufficient to have gained a knowledge of the language from it’s foundation.
The most suspicious circumstances against him are these, 1st the highly finished form in which the inscriptions exist, which makes it evident that they could not have been made on the spot, and no traces have ever been discovered of these monuments and he has never referred to or spoken of any drawings made at the time he saw them. 2dly. that he himself has made mention of only three in his memoir upon the subject whereas his collection contains nine. We see no reason why he should not have mentioned them all at once, if he had not been preparing them and was only hindered by his death from producing them. These are reasons of Mr. Everett’s, which occurred to him when he saw them. He took the trouble to copy them when at Paris but his labour was lost with the package in coming over here. In consequence of these reasons, he agrees with Wolf in rejecting them as monuments of the 8th century before Christ. Mr. Buh believed that they were made a century after Christ. Dr. [Corrar?] who is now at Paris believes that they were imposed upon Fourmonts credulity.
Mr. Hug’s work is the only considerable one in opposition to the opinion of Wolf. He argues that writing was known much earlier than Wolf’s theory assumes. In the age of Solon laws were hung on wooden axes and Hipparchus had moral sentences engraved upon statues on the road side. These facts do not indicate want of writing among the { 377 } higher class and rather exhibit an incitement to improvement in the lower. The late introduction of prose also does not prove by any means that all writing was as late. If the science of writing was known at all, there is no reason to suppose it would not record longer or smaller poems. The Greeks themselves speak of writing as of very great antiquity. Aeschylus, who in all accounts of ancient manners is the best authority, speaks of the inscriptions upon the shields of the seven against Thebes, and refers the invention of writing to Prometheus. Had the use of writing been introduced only a century and a half before him he would not have dared to have asserted the thing so.
Mr. Hug then examines the inscriptions already mentioned. He supposes them to have been really copied, from inscriptions, a part of which were very ancient but more had been added and corrected in later times. He dates their appearance in their present form in the sixth century. But Mr. Hug’s principal point, and one which proved would settle the question, is that Lycurgus obtained a copy from Ionia, of the poems of Homer. Four authorities are quoted for this assertion. These are mentioned in the synopsis.2 They are not of a perfectly convincing nature. Mr. Hug’s third period is that of Homer himself. The anecdote of Bellerophon which has been before alluded to, proves at least the use of signs. The nature of the poem also, he argues, necessarily requires the use of writing. He consequently analyses the Poem and endeavours to prove that the Iliad must have been written on one plan, and that the separate parts, as they were mentioned in Aelian with various names adopted according to the variations in the story, were all made aptly to each other. They all had a relation to each other in the commencement. And from these considerations he argues that these are the works of Homer. Here he makes two remarks confirming this conclusion, that the period of Wolf, elapsing between the introduction and use of writing is altogether contrary to analogy, and that too much stress has been laid upon the want of poets intervening. Many authors and works are mentioned although the latter have not come down to us. Mr. Everett supposes some political course must have assisted in their suppression. Some of their works did last for a time and there must have been a secret motive for their destruction.
After Lecture, I heard a report that the class had permission to leave Mathematics for any other study, and accordingly made my arrangements for the change. I intended to have studied Euripides, and in this way to have some benefit from the disposal of my time, but upon application I found that this permission was only extended to the lowest scholars in the class and I was very politely informed that { 378 } I was not among them, which I always believed before. I requested Mr. Hayward however to mention my statement to the Government. I attended Mr. Farrar’s recitation and after dinner studied Paley and attended Mr. Hedge but was not taken up, a singular thing. The Company had a drill at noon and it was attended by the higher Officers; we were excused.
In the Evening, I sat with Otis a little while and afterwards attended Mr. Ticknor, having obtained a seat very much more to my liking. I regret somewhat that I was compelled to miss the other night but the hour is such that I shall pay very little attention to punctuality or regularity, as I have no idea of becoming a perfect galley slave. It is a hard thing here that they load us with recitations which we do not like and punish us if we do not pursue them, in addition to Lectures which we are willing enough to attend and take advantage of, if they are at reasonable season. He had got to the Femmes Savantes, Moliere’s last work; tonight commenced with this. It was written the year before his death as an attack upon Madame Dacier and others who had attacked his Amphitryon. In it the Abbé Cottin3 was particularly marked and indeed almost every character had some person in view. Although with but little foundation he has made an admirable comedy of it. His plays are all according to the strict rules. It may be asked how he could write with so much ease in a way which so much shackled Moliere4 and to this it may be said, that the difference is owing to the difference between Tragedy and Comedy. It creates many fears to the powers of genius in the former, whilst it is probably of some advantage to the latter, as being able to suppress extravagance. Moliere had in the course of his life possessed all the advantages for the observation of character and had improved them. He had been in almost every grade in society and had taken off the comic situations of all. Indeed his works may be truly called a gallery of pictures all drawn from the life. Moliere had also studied books but his originality cannot well be questioned. He owed but little to others whilst his successors owe almost all to him and it was Racine’s opinion that he was the greatest genius of the age of Louis 14th.
He then commenced with Boileau. Nicholas Boileau was born in 1636 and died in 1711. He was thirteen years younger than Moliere and three years older than Racine although he was the survivor of both. He was educated to the law but gave it up in disgust and studied theology until he obtained a place in the Sorbonne with 800 francs a year. His early character by no means foretold satire and a story was related of the father who predicted of his [words omitted] then the very { 379 } reverse of what they turned out to be in life. He gave up his place however in the Sorbonne and in 1677 was made in conjunction with Racine historiographer to the king. After Racine’s death however in 1699, he never went to court being offended, it is said, by some impertinent speech of the king which hurt his feelings. Indeed he possessed excellent feelings and was steady in his friendship to Racine and Moliere. His general character as a man was good and he died respected and esteemed at the age of seventy five.
The time in which he lived was favourable to the particular course he took and he accordingly succeeded without obstacle. In 1666 when he was 30 years of age, he wrote seven satires, or at least he published what were written some time before. They have much art, elegance and colouring but little of natural unborrowed strength; they showed too much he had been pursuing the classics. He was also affected much by the writers of his day. He afterwards added five more. The 10th is a close imitation of Juvenal and the last is admitted to be a failure. There is much knowledge of human nature in them and of the principles of versification. The ninth is the best of them. They are not however his best productions. In his Epistles, twelve of which he published at various times between 1669 and 1695, he is more powerful. There is much richness of thought in them. He tried some smaller works and songs which he failed in, in his prose he is pure but without variety. The Lectern appeared between 1672[1674]–83, a mock heroic well written but too long. Two last cantos fail. There is in it however much grace, correctness and elegance. His last work was his Art of Poetry—and he who understands it all, knows all requisite to form the taste and model the Genius of a Poet. There is nothing in it however which proves him a skilful writer as he is almost always in a negative sort of instruction.5 This work was extremely circulated and has placed him at the head of the government of style.
Lecture over I returned to my room after a short visit to Dwight and wrote my Journal. XI.
1. Désiré Raoul Rochette (1783–1854), the archeologist.
3. Molière satirized the Abbé C. Cotin (1604–1682), a poet, preacher, and member of the Académie Française, in the character Trissotin (originally Tricotin) in Les Femmes Savantes (Anatole Loquin, Molière, Paris, 1898, 1:495).
4. Thus in MS. Probably CFA meant to write “Corneille.”
5. Sentence and sense garbled.

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0012

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-12

Tuesday. October 12th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation as usual in Topography. Part of the { 380 } class have seceded so that the room is not very full. The next point of investigation is according to the words of Wolf, the character of the rhapsodists, thus began Mr. Everett this morning. He mentions what he supposes three errors in the common opinion concerning their profession. The first is the confounding those of the early ages with the worthless persons who arose under the same name subsequently and who are mentioned with contempt by Plato and Xenophon. The supposing from a mistaken derivation of the name, that it was their profession to compile worthless centos,1 as they were afterwards called, from the productions of Homer. That these were confined to this poet alone. Wolf on the contrary supposes that they were dignified and authorized agents for transmitting the works of all distinguished Poets of the time. That being poets themselves, they varied according to the occasion, the structure of these poems, from which origin proceeded the various readings which we have of the author. It is necessary therefore to suppose a sort of composition corresponding to this way of publication. And if there was no other way of producing a poem, but by teaching it to the rhapsodists, one like this of 15000 lines could not have been conceived. And supposing Homer to have been a man of the greatest genius that man ever has or ever will see, it is impossible that even then he could have done this. But it is to be observed that this reasoning takes want of writing for granted. We have no historical ground for supposing that the rhapsodists were of the character stated, and we diminish their importance precisely as we increase our supposition of the knowledge of writing at that time. Homer makes no mention of such persons but speaks on the contrary of the bard as a separate and distinct profession. The French in fact have treated of Homer too familiarly doubtless, but the Germans have gone very much too far in the opposite extreme and have exaggerated the difficulty of producing poetry without writing. We have instances even now of improvisatori who have cultivated this power to great extent, one particular instance he mentioned which has been in many of the late newspapers, of a man in Paris who has delivered a whole tragedy in five Acts without more than a few minutes preparation, a fact of which there can be no doubt.
The third point of Wolf is the internal structure of the Poem. This is an analysis of the whole poem too long to state in a lecture, the general sum of which is that The Odyssey is allowed to have unity but the Iliad is not—still he argues that either might have been the work of a succession of rhapsodists. Mr. Hug in his analysis argues and infers the reverse. Wolf has had many followers, in this inquiry, the reasons of some of whom are in the 38th Article of the pamphlet.
{ 381 }
The last point in Wolf’s argument is the external historical testimony beginning at the earliest period. We have already considered the introduction of these books into Greece by Lycurgus. The next in the order of time is concerning the labours of Solon and the Pisistratidae for the restoration of them. Diogenes Laertius quotes from Diuchidas an account that Solon first caused the rhapsodists to sing these poems. A Greek expression follows which explains the manner and is variously translated, but the critics think in its proper connexion and place. Similar efforts for the restoration and preservation of Homer are ascribed by the grammarians to Pisistratus. A fabulous account is given by Diomedes which has since been copied by many. It states that Pisistratus, wishing to collect these verses which in his time were repeated in detached portions by the people, sent heralds over the country, proclaiming that every one who knew any of these verses should upon repeating them to him receive a certain sum of money for every verse, that in this way a large number were collected and every man was paid even when he brought verses which had been repeated before. This mass was referred to seventy grammarians, each to produce an arrangement of them; when they reported, that of Aristarchus was preferred. This is an anachronism however as Aristarchus did not live until long after. It is an absurd fable but is nevertheless adopted by Barthélemy in his Preface to Anacharsis. Cicero has attributed the arrangement of the books to Pisistratus, others to Hipparchus. Wolf with this argues that these attempts were not confined to any time, but that they were made at different periods and to a greater or less degree by various persons who might possess portions of the materials, an idea confirmed in the Scholia by the frequent mention of the arrangers as peculiar officers.
After Lecture, I returned to my room and spent the morning writing my notes. I did not read over all of Ferguson this morning as I was peculiarly employed. I attended Mr. Farrar’s recitation. He lectured in his way today upon the spots on the sun. I shall not give any account of them in this book as I have already more to do than I can well make way with. I shall therefore take the whole course in regular order from a copy which is already in the possession of some of my classmates. In the afternoon I attended recitation in Paley as usual and in the Evening, we had a common drill. The privates performed well and revived my liking to the company, which I must confess had very nearly become extinct.
After drill, I attended Mr. Ticknor’s Lecture. He went on tonight with La Fontaine. He was born in Normandy in 1621, where his father was supervisor of woods and waters. He studied Latin at Rheims and entered a religious house which he soon left however as not con• { 382 } sistent with his spirit. No symptoms of talent made their appearance in him until the age of 22. This was excited much as Corregio’s was, on seeing a painting of Raphael’s, for he having heard an ode of Malherbe’s, fancied he could also write and therefore became a poet. His character was always remarkable for a childlike simplicity. He was married by a family arrangement and was not happy until he left his wife. Some say that in Belphégor he characterized her. The Duchess de Bouillon, she who had so conspired against Racine, had sense and taste enough to discover him. He always lived with all the carelessness of his character, he was almost adopted by Madame Sabliere with whom he lived during twenty years, and was so domestic and simple an animal that she said once upon being asked who was in the house, that nobody was there except her cat, her parrot and La Fontaine. When she died, he would have been left again upon the world had he not been supported by the Duke of Burgundy and then again adopted by Madame Herval [d’Hervart], in 1694.
He did not value his own talents sufficiently, not that he was not conscious he possessed some, but from his simplicity he did not give them their due weight. He failed in his love elegies and his religious poetry, his pieces also for the Theatre all failed although there is much humour in one of them. We have his letters, his epistles in verse, ballads and the tale of Psyche, a beautiful romance drawn from the story recorded in Apuleius. But in his Tales and Fables we find him shining forth in the natural power of his character. This sort of writing indeed was peculiarly well adapted to it’s display. His fables are in twelve books, the first of which did not produce much effect. Madame de Sevigne, who is a good chronicle[r], says that they were good but some part was tiresome, the feeling soon changed however and they were pronounced delightful. In his tales he shows his talent still more by the variety and originality of his ideas but it is unfortunate that they are indecent and thus their whole effect is ruined.
Next came Pascal who was born in Auvergne in 1623. He was instructed by his father first in the languages and then in mathematics. I shall pass over the early symptoms of his genius as too numerous to mention, suffice it that he made a Geometry for himself. At 16 he wrote a treatise on Conic sections, at 19 he made a machine and at 23 he wrote a treatise on the subject of the vacuum. His physical strength could not endure it, he became fanatical and distempered in mind, he was austere in his life beyond endurance. He wore hair cloth for a shirt and a girdle of wire with points. His famous letters were written however after his derangement. These letters called Lettres Provinciales2 had a tremendous effect, were condemned by parliament and stopped by the Pope. They exhibit however every kind of eloquence. He did not finish them as he stopped in obedience to the Pope’s orders.
After Lecture I returned home and wrote my notes for last nights lecture, read Burke’s observations upon Taste3 and then retired for the night. XI.
1. A composition formed by joining scraps from other authors.
2. Les provinciales, ou les lettres écrites par Louis de Montalte à un provincial de ses amis, published in 1656.
3. JQA’s set of The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, 8 vols., London, 1792–1827, is in the Stone Library.
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.