In these volumes the second decade of the sixty-year diary of Charles Francis Adams, the third of the family’s statesmen, is begun. As was true of the two earlier volumes of the Diary, the section appearing here has not before reached print.
Covering the period from Adams’s marriage in September 1829 to the end of 1832, these volumes record the early years of his maturity during which he was seeking to find his vocation. Engaged in the day-to-day management of John Adams’s business interests in Boston, he nevertheless had no inclination toward commerce or the active practice of law. Son and grandson of presidents, proud heir to a name already great and controversial in American politics, he also at this time considered himself “not fitted for the noise of public life.” Dependent for support on his father and father-in-law but determined to maintain his independence, he devoted his available time to a program of studies and writing that would prepare him for a career he hesitated to name but in which he wished distinction. His own public career still years away, he was drawn at this period to the study of American history and his famous grandparents’ papers, an effort that would continue and that would make him the family’s archivist and editor.
These volumes offer manifold opportunities for an enlarged understanding of a complex and able man who was later to assume positions of high responsibility. In addition to furnishing innumerable personal and familial insights, this portion of the diary is of capital importance for the historian of society and culture. Probably no more detailed and faithful record exists of Boston life in the period.
His crankiness makes his diary fascinating… In disliking and criticizing he describes, and thus shows us the texture of his daily life… The Adamses being who they were, their trivia are apt to be American history.
Adams wrote candidly and well about a wide range of subjects; the editors and publishers have made his writing available in the clearest possible form so that many may easily experience the particular delight of any outstanding diary the opportunity to see a man and his time through his own eyes and thoughts.
It is no attack upon these volumes to observe that the data they provide is rather low-keyed. But it is precisely because of the relatively quiet world the Diary portrays that another, perhaps equally important question is raised. It is the question of the Diary form - the peculiar aesthetic power which resides in the well-made journal. In this case, undistracted by the glitter of major historical events or novelistic renditions of personal crisis, the reader finds himself able to focus on the central experience of absorbing, entry by entry, the daily chronicle of a man's life.
Although the editorial scholarship continues to be staggering…it never seems to be obtrusive, never unnecessary scholarship. The editors are the true heirs of an important part of the family tradition initiated by Charles Francis Adams: its legacy of selfless and creative editorial scholarship.
Most readers will find their fascination in the picture that Adams gives of an important American family and the life of one intelligent, highly individual member of ith…the work is a solid and graceful achievement in scholarly publishing. Would that more of Charles Francis Adams could reach a general audience. His is one of the great diaries.
The effect is rather that of a vastly expanded novel about nineteenth-century upper-middle-class life. Adams had not yet entered his public career; the diary is thus almost entirely personal. And this is its appeal. It gives, as few other works do, a richness of texture, a feeling for the quality of life, and a sense of the relationship of people to each other which is invaluable for the American historian.
- 1007 pages
- 6-3/4 x 10 inches
- Belknap Press
From this author
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