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Diary of Charles Francis Adams, 1864

Wednesday 3d.

3 February 1864

Friday 5th

5 February 1864
4 February 1864
Thursday 4th

Very awkward and clumsy with no little pain in morning. Nevertheless I performed my customary amount of work early in the day, so that I might be prepared to go out with Mrs Adams and Mary to witness the opening of Parliament. It was at one time expected that the Queen would do it this year in person, but it appears she cannot brace her mind to any effort not associated with some memorial of her husband. This peculiarity is beginning to excite some uneasiness. This makes it so doubtful whether we shall have it in our power to see the ceremony in its splendor, that we determined at all events not to lose the chance of seeing the common form of opening by commission. So we went to the House of Lords at two o’clock. Mr Moran procured as seats in the Diplomatic Gallery, where we saw it all. It is comical rather than imposing. At a quarter past two, the Commissioners consisting of the Lord Chancellor with full grey wig, and four others, the Duke of Argyll, Lord St Germain’s, Lord Harris, and Lord Stanley of Alderley, all in red gowns and cocked hats, came in and seated themselves in a row close together on the woolsack in front of the throne. In the body of the House sat perhaps three Bishops in lawn sleeves, and two Lords in common attire. The benches were otherwise empty, excepting where occupied by ladies who came from curiosity, as we did. The Chancellor began by announcing564 his commission and directing the commons to be notified. In a few minutes they came in considerable numbers headed by the speaker in his Wig and black gown. The Clerk then read the Queen’s commission in a low tone, so that no body heard. This drove the Chancellor proceeded to read the speech in his peculiar clear, precisely articulated way, with a voice aigne doux as the French say. There was even less than usual in it. No allusion at all to America, and in regard to Denmark, the only noticeable thing was the recital of the names of all the parties to the Treaty of 1852, and the remark that the Queen would act in the interest of Peace. It was all over in twenty minutes, and every body dispersed. Never having been in this part of the building before we spent half an hour or so in examining the room and the Library. All is as handsome as wealth can make it. The objection is that it is prodigious and gloomy. The Librarian showed us the original of the death warrant of Charles the first with all the signatures. It is somewhat worn, but the signatures of Cromwell, and Ireton and Harrison are well preserved. This memorial is about the only curiosity. As there was sometime before the meeting of the Lords for business, we returned home until five. Mr Moran did not then accompany us and my son Henry took his place. At five the Chancellor quietly took his seat on the woolsack and read once more the speech. The Marquis of Sligo then rose to more the address. He was in a Scotch uniform, as was likewise Lord Abercrombie, the seconder. The custom is to give this as an exercise to young men, to try their powers. Not much could be said in these cases. The man spoke so low and fast that it was impossible to follow. Lord Abercrombie was clear and brief. We should scarcely find such boy’s play in our Senate. Then came Lord Derby, the orator of the Lords. His style is simple, light and easy. His matter pungent rather than substantial. A sharp attack on the foreign policy of Lord Russell, which he characterized by the words meddle and muddle. At the same time he carefully avoided to commit himself against any position of action. The darts he threw were light and feathery only piercing the surface of the skin. I had heard so much of Lord Derby, that I confess he fell below my expectation. At such a moment, something more might have come from a great leader, than seemed hard wit, and565 ill tempered sarcasms. Instead of towering as a Statesman he preferred to dwindle into the small partisan of the outs trying to eject the ins. Lord Russell answered him in the heavy dull style peculiar to him. The first part was scarcely effective, but when he got to the Danish question, upon which he had prepared himself with more care, the plain earnest, gravity of his manner strongly marking his sense of the serious condition to this people, flitting before peace and war, As an answer which certainly , overweighed his rival. By this time it was nearly nine o’clock, and we had to go home to dinner. Indeed with their two speeches the interest was gone. Lord Grey who followed retained but a few. Then attendance tonight was unusually general, embracing among other the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge. I have thus seen at last the Lords’ house. It seems to me that little permanent interest could be taken in such a body. For it wants the vitality of a real power. The little it retains comes from the new blood infused into it from the schools of life. With the exception of Lord Derby, I think there is not a nobleman sitting by virtue of lineal descent of any great length of time, at all distinguished from the present generation. Yet this is the aristocracy held forth as one of the great safeguards of the British constitution! Certainly in point of capacity it bears no comparison to our Senate, even in its present diminished reputation. Late dinner and short evening.

Cite web page as:

Charles Francis Adams, Sr., [date of entry], diary, in Charles Francis Adams, Sr.: The Civil War Diaries (Unverified Transcriptions). Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2015. http://www.masshist.org/publications/cfa-civil-war/view?id=DCA64d035