June 17

June Seventeenth


Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia never sustained defeat. Finally succumbing to exhaustion, to the end they were not overthrown in fight.

Charles Francis Adams



We arrived at Point of Rocks at 1 o'clock a. m., marched about three miles, got coffee and joined our brigade in General B. F. Butler's breastworks at the front; have been idle all day. About dark our skirmish line was driven in, and our regiment was sent out to support the line until reestablished, but as they could not succeed in this we withdrew and went back to camp. We expected to have to assault the enemy's formidable fortifications, and were greatly relieved when we were withdrawn. General H. G. Wright opposed General Butler in an assault on the enemy's works here and won his point, it is said.

June 17

June 17, 1852.--Every despotism has a specially keen and hostile instinct for whatever keeps up human dignity, and independence. And it is curious to see scientific and realist teaching used everywhere as a means of stifling all freedom of investigation as addressed to moral questions under a dead weight of facts. Materialism is the auxiliary doctrine of every tyranny, whether of the one or of the masses. To crush what is spiritual, moral, human so to speak, in man, by specializing him; to form mere wheels of the great social machine, instead of perfect individuals; to make society and not conscience the center of life, to enslave the soul to things, to de-personalize man, this is the dominant drift of our epoch. Everywhere you may see a tendency to substitute the laws of dead matter (number, mass) for the laws of the moral nature (persuasion, adhesion, faith) equality, the principle of mediocrity, becoming a dogma; unity aimed at through uniformity; numbers doing duty for argument; negative liberty, which has no law in itself, and recognizes no limit except in force, everywhere taking the place of positive liberty, which means action guided by an inner law and curbed by a moral authority. Socialism versus individualism: this is how Vinet put the dilemma. I should say rather that it is only the eternal antagonism between letter and spirit, between form and matter, between the outward and the inward, appearance and reality, which is always present in every conception and in all ideas.

Materialism coarsens and petrifies everything; makes everything vulgar and every truth false. And there is a religious and political materialism which spoils all that it touches, liberty, equality, individuality. So that there are two ways of understanding democracy....

What is threatened to-day is moral liberty, conscience, respect for the soul, the very nobility of man. To defend the soul, its interests, its rights, its dignity, is the most pressing duty for whoever sees the danger. What the writer, the teacher, the pastor, the philosopher, has to do, is to defend humanity in man. Man! the true man, the ideal man! Such should be their motto, their rallying cry. War to all that debases, diminishes, hinders, and degrades him; protection for all that fortifies, ennobles, and raises him. The test of every religious, political, or educational system, is the man which it forms. If a system injures the intelligence it is bad. If it injures the character it is vicious. If it injures the conscience it is criminal.

June 17

June 17, 1857. (Vandoeuvres).--I have just followed Maine de Biran from his twenty-eighth to his forty-eighth year by means of his journal, and a crowd of thoughts have besieged me. Let me disengage those which concern myself. In this eternal self-chronicler and observer I seem to see myself reflected with all my faults, indecision, discouragement, over-dependence on sympathy, difficulty of finishing, with my habit of watching myself feel and live, with my growing incapacity for practical action, with my aptitude for psychological study. But I have also discovered some differences which cheer and console me. This nature is, as it were, only one of the men which exist in me. It is one of my departments. It is not the whole of my territory, the whole of my inner kingdom. Intellectually, I am more objective and more constructive; my horizon is vaster; I have seen much more of men, things, countries, peoples and books; I have a greater mass of experiences--in a word, I feel that I have more culture, greater wealth, range, and freedom of mind, in spite of my wants, my limits, and my weaknesses. Why does Maine de Biran make will the whole of man? Perhaps because he had too little will. A man esteems most highly what he himself lacks, and exaggerates what he longs to possess. Another incapable of thought, and meditation, would have made self-consciousness the supreme thing. Only the totality of things has an objective value. As soon as one isolates a part from the whole, as soon as one chooses, the choice is involuntarily and instinctively dictated by subjective inclinations which obey one or other of the two opposing laws, the attraction of similars or the affinity of contraries.

Five o'clock.--The morning has passed like a dream. I went on with the journal of Maine de Biran down to the end of 1817. After dinner I passed my time with the birds in the open air, wandering in the shady walks which wind along under Pressy. The sun was brilliant and the air clear. The midday orchestra of nature was at its best. Against the humming background made by a thousand invisible insects there rose the delicate caprices and improvisations of the nightingale singing from the ash-trees, or of the hedge-sparrows and the chaffinches in their nests. The hedges are hung with wild roses, the scent of the acacia still perfumes the paths; the light down of the poplar seeds floated in the air like a kind of warm, fair-weather snow. I felt myself as gay as a butterfly. On coming in I read the three first books of that poem "Corinne," which I have not seen since I was a youth. Now as I read it again, I look at it across interposing memories; the romantic interest of it seems to me to have vanished, but not the poetical, pathetic, or moral interest.

June 17, 1863

Wednesday. We were nearly drowned again last night. One of the showers, such as only this place can get up, came down on us just as we dozing off. Every hollow became a puddle before the fellows sleeping in it could get out. The best thing about these downpours is, we don't have to dread them. We are soaking wet before we know it. Then they only last a short time, and the weather being hot we are not chilled. We stand around and growl for a while and then settle down and are soon asleep again.

I have been to the river and had a swim, also washed out my clothes. We are near neighbors with the enemy now. Directly opposite us is their water battery, so called because it is near the river. Just beyond us, to the right, the ground is about covered with rifle pits belonging to both sides, and near enough together to talk across. Both sides are resting up I guess, for there is next to no firing to-day. A strip of road just beyond us, and where we had to go over when we came here, is open to the enemy's fire and they made us scratch yesterday. They are bad marksmen, for so far they have hit no one. The men crossing this open space are the only ones they have tried to shoot.

Night. An order—they call everything an order here—has just been read, calling for 1,000 volunteers to go into Port Hudson, or die in the attempt. A "Forlorn Hope," it is called. I believe it must be a joke. If the whole 19th Army Corps together can't get in, how can a thousand men expect to do it? The order congratulates the troops on their good behavior, and the steady advance they have made on the enemy's works. We are at all points upon the enemy's threshold. "One more advance and they are ours." Then it calls upon the bold men of the corps to organize a storming party of a thousand men, to vindicate the Flag of our Union, and the memory of the defenders who have already fallen. Officers who lead the column shall be promoted, and the men composing the storming party shall each have a medal, and have their names put on the roll of honor. That is the substance of the order, which has raised the greatest sort of a commotion among us.

Later. Although we have until morning to decide, Company B has made up its mind not to try for the medals. We don't believe one thousand men can hope to do what all the thousands of the 19th Army Corps have twice failed to do. I wish General Banks and his army of advisers could have been at our conference, for we spoke our minds no matter who it hit. From the best evidence possible to get, viz., the deserters that daily come out, General Banks has at least ten men to the enemy's one. We could swarm over the breastworks on some dark night and bring every man in Port Hudson back with us. We wouldn't send them word to get ready, and have their guns pointed at us before we started, neither would we allow the cannon to bellow the news of our coming for an hour or two beforehand. This was done on May 27, and of the last attempt word was sent in by a flag of truce the day before. Companies G and E are of the same mind as Company B, so if any go from the 128th it must be from the other companies.

266. John Adams

Paris, 17 June, 1780.

My dear Portia,—I yesterday received a letter of the 26th of April from brother Cranch, for which I thank him, and will answer as soon as possible. He tells me you have drawn a little bill upon me. I am sorry for it, because I have sent and should continue to send you small presents, by which you would be enabled to do better than by drawing bills. I would not have you draw any more. I will send you things which will defray your expenses better. The machine is horribly dear. Mr. C. desires to know if he may draw on me. I wish it was in my power to oblige him, but it is not. I have no remittances, nor anything to depend on. Not a line from Congress, nor any member, since I left you. My expenses through Spain were beyond all imagination, and my expenses here are so exorbitant that I can't answer any bill from anybody, not even from you, excepting the one you have drawn. I must beg you to be as prudent as possible. Depend upon it, your children will have occasion for all your economy. Mr. Johonnot must send me some bills. Every farthing is expended, and more. You can have no idea of my unavoidable expenses. I know not what to do. Your little affairs and those of all our friends, Mr. Wibird, etc., are on board the Alliance, and have been so these four months, or ready to be. Pray write me by way of Spain and Holland, as well as France. We are all well. My duty to your father, my mother, and affection and respects where due. My affections, I fear, got the better of my judgment in bringing my boys. They behave very well, however.

London is in the horrors. Governor Hutchinson fell down dead at the first appearance of mobs. They have been terrible. A spirit of bigotry and fanaticism, mixing with the universal discontents of the nation, has broken out into violences of the most dreadful nature, burned Lord Mansfield's house, books, manuscripts; burned the King's Bench prison and all the other prisons, let loose all the debtors and criminals, tore to pieces Sir George Saville's house, insulted all the lords of Parliament, etc., etc. Many have been killed, martial law proclaimed, many hanged. Lord George Gordon committed to the Tower for high treason, and where it will end, God only knows. The mobs all cried, Peace with America and war with France. Poor wretches! as if this were possible!

In the English papers they have inserted the death of Mr. Hutchinson with severity, in these words: "Governor Hutchinson is no more. On Saturday last he dropped down dead. It is charity to hope that his sins will be buried with him in the tomb, but they must be recorded in his epitaph. His misrepresentations have contributed to the continuance of the war with America. Examples are necessary. It is to be hoped that all will not escape into the grave without a previous appearance either on a gibbet or a scaffold."

Governor Bernard, I am told, died last fall. I wish that, with these primary instruments of the calamities that now distress almost all the world, the evils themselves may come to an end. For although they will undoubtedly end in the welfare of mankind, and accomplish the benevolent designs of Providence towards the two worlds, yet for the present they are not joyous but grievous. May Heaven permit you and me to enjoy the cool evening of life in tranquillity, undisturbed by the cares of politics or war, and above all, with the sweetest of all reflections, that neither ambition nor vanity nor avarice nor malice nor envy nor revenge nor fear nor any base motive or sordid passion, through the whole course of this mighty revolution, and the rapid, impetuous course of great and terrible events that have attended it, have drawn us aside from the line of our duty and the dictates of our consciences. Let us have ambition enough to keep our simplicity or frugality, and our integrity, and transmit these virtues as the fairest of inheritances to our children.

112. Abigail Adams

Plymouth, 17 June, 1776, a remarkable day.

I this day received by the hands of our worthy friend a large packet, which has refreshed and comforted me. Your own sensations have ever been similar to mine. I need not then tell you how gratified I am at the frequent tokens of remembrance with which you favor me, nor how they rouse every tender sensation of my soul, which sometimes will find vent at my eyes. Nor dare I describe how earnestly I long to fold to my fluttering heart the object of my warmest affections; the idea soothes me. I feast upon it with a pleasure known only to those whose hearts and hopes are one.

The approbation you give to my conduct in the management of our private affairs is very grateful to me, and sufficiently compensates for all my anxieties and endeavors to discharge the many duties devolved upon me in consequence of the absence of my dearest friend. Were they discharged according to my wishes, I should merit the praises you bestow.

You see I date from Plymouth. I came upon a visit to our amiable friends, accompanied by my sister Betsey, a day or two ago. It is the first night I have been absent since you left me. Having determined upon this visit for some time, I put my family in order and prepared for it, thinking I might leave it with safety. Yet, the day I set out I was under many apprehensions, by the coming in of ten transports, which were seen to have many soldiers on board, and the determination of the people to go and fortify upon Long Island, Pettick's Island, Nantasket, and Great Hill. It was apprehended they would attempt to land somewhere, but the next morning I had the pleasure to hear they were all driven out, Commodore  and all; not a transport, a ship, or a tender to be seen. This shows what might have been long ago done. Had this been done in season, the ten transports, with many others, in all probability would have fallen into our hands; but the progress of wisdom is slow.

Since I arrived here I have really had a scene quite novel to me. The brig Defence, from Connecticut, put in here for ballast. The officers, who are all from thence, and who are intimately acquainted at Dr. Lathrop's, invited his lady to come on board, and bring with her as many of her friends as she could collect. She sent an invitation to our friend, Mrs. Warren, and to us. The brig lay about a mile and a half from town. The officers sent their barge, and we went. Every mark of respect and attention which was in their power, they showed us. She is a fine brig, mounts sixteen guns, twelve swivels, and carries one hundred and twenty men. A hundred and seventeen were on board, and no private family ever appeared under better regulation than the crew. It was as still as though there had been only half a dozen; not a profane word among any of them. The captain himself is an exemplary man (Harden his name); has been in nine sea engagements; says if he gets a man who swears, and finds he cannot reform him, he turns him on shore, yet is free to confess that it was the sin of his youth. He has one lieutenant, a very fine fellow, Smelden by name. We spent a very agreeable afternoon, and drank tea on board. They showed us their arms, which were sent by Queen Anne, and everything on board was a curiosity to me. They gave us a mock engagement with an enemy, and the manner of taking a ship. The young folks went upon the quarter-deck and danced. Some of their Jacks played very well upon the violin and German flute. The brig bears the Continental colors, and was fitted out by the Colony of Connecticut. As we set off from the brig, they fired their guns in honor of us, a ceremony I would very readily have dispensed with.

I pity you, and feel for you under all the difficulties you have to encounter. My daily petitions to Heaven for you are that you may have health, wisdom, and fortitude sufficient to carry you through the great and arduous business in which you are engaged, and that your endeavors may be crowned with success. Canada seems a dangerous and ill-fated place. It is reported here that General Thomas is no more, that he took the small-pox, and died with it. Every day some circumstance arises which shows me the importance of having the distemper in youth. Dr. Bulfinch has petitioned the General Court for leave to open a hospital somewhere, and it will be granted him. I shall, with all the children, be one of the first class, you may depend upon it.

I have just this moment heard that the brig which I was on board of on Saturday, and which sailed yesterday morning from this place, fell in with two transports, having each of them a hundred and fifty men on board, and took them, and has brought them into Nantasket Roads, under cover of the guns which are mounted there. I will add further particulars as soon as I am informed.

I am now better informed, and will give you the truth. The brig Defence, accompanied by a small privateer, sailed in concert Sunday morning. About twelve o'clock they discovered two transports, and made for them. Two privateers, which were small, had been in chase of them, but finding the enemy was of much larger force, had run under Cohasset rocks. The Defence  gave a signal gun to bring them out. Captain Burk, who accompanied the Defence, being a prime sailor, he came up first, and poured a broadside on board a sixteen gun brig. The Defence  soon attacked her upon her bows. An obstinate engagement ensued. There was a continual blaze upon all sides for many hours, and it was near midnight before they struck. In the engagement, the Defence  lost one man, and five wounded. With Burk, not one man received any damage; on board the enemy, fourteen killed, among whom was a major, and sixty wounded. They are part of the Highland soldiers. The other transport mounted six guns. When the fleet sailed out of this harbor last week, they blew up the lighthouse. They met six transports coming in, which they carried off with them. I hope we shall soon be in such a posture of defense as to bid them defiance.

I feel no great anxiety at the large armament designed against us. The remarkable interpositions of Heaven in our favor cannot be too gratefully acknowledged. He who fed the Israelites in the wilderness, "who clothes the lilies of the field, and feeds the young ravens when they cry," will not forsake a people engaged in so righteous a cause, if we remember his loving-kindness. We wanted powder,—we have a supply. We wanted arms,—we have been favored in that respect. We wanted hard money,—twenty-two thousand dollars, and an equal value in plate, are delivered into our hands.

You mention your peas, your cherries, and your strawberries, etc. Ours are but just in blossom. We have had the coldest spring I ever knew. Things are three weeks behind what they generally used to be. The corn looks poor. The season now is rather dry. I believe I did not understand you, when in a former letter you said, "I want to resign my office, for a thousand reasons." If you mean that of judge, I know not what to say. I know it will be a difficult and arduous station; but, divesting myself of private interest, which would lead me to be against your holding that office, I know of no person who is so well calculated to discharge the trust, or who I think would act a more conscientious part.

Ideal Culture

Thursday, 17.

The new courses of lectures at Harvard University are advertised by the new President. They are a novelty in our college culture. A marked peculiarity is the announcement of a course to be given by Emerson, on the Natural History of Intellect; by Dr. Hedge, on Theism, Atheism, and Pantheism; and by J. Eliot Cabot, on Kant. The course, or any part of it, is open "to graduates, teachers, and other competent persons, men or women."

It is hoped, also, that Hutchison Stirling may be added to the list of lecturers,—an acquisition certainly that Harvard should be proud to secure, both for its own and the credit of metaphysical studies on this side of the Atlantic.

The English mind seems to have held aloof from pure metaphysics,—from German Idealism, especially. Berkeley, its finest thinker since Bacon, was for a long time misapprehended, if, indeed, he is fairly appreciated as yet. Boehme, Kant, Schelling, were unknown till Coleridge introduced their ideas to the notice of his contemporaries—Carlyle those of Goethe, and the great scholars of Germany.

"Great, indeed," says Coleridge, "are the obstacles which an English metaphysician has to encounter. Amongst his most respectable and intelligent judges, there will be many who have devoted their attention exclusively to the concerns and interests of human life, and who bring with them to the perusal of philosophical systems, an habitual aversion to all speculations, the utility and application of which are not evident and immediate.

"There are others whose prejudices are still more formidable, inasmuch as they are grounded in their moral feelings and religious principles, which had been alarmed and shocked by the injurious and pernicious tenets defended by Hume, Priestley, and the French Fatalists, or Necessitarians, some of whom had perverted metaphysical reasonings to the denial of the mysteries, and, indeed, of all the peculiar doctrines of Christianity; and others, to the subversion of all distinctions between right and wrong.

"A third class profess themselves friendly to metaphysics, and believe that they are themselves metaphysicians. They have no objection to system and terminology provided it be the method and nomenclature to which they have been familiarized in the writings of Locke, Hume, Hartley, Condillac, or, perhaps, Dr. Reid and Professor Stewart.

"But the worst and widest impediment remains. It is the predominance of a popular philosophy, at once the counterfeit and mortal enemy of all true and manly metaphysical research. It is that corruption introduced by certain immethodical aphorisming Eclectics, who, dismissing, not only all system, but all logical consequence, pick and choose whatever is most plausible and showy; who select whatever words can have semblance of sense attached to them, without the least expenditure of thought; in short, whatever may enable men to talk of what they do not understand, with a careful avoidance of everything that might awaken them to a moment's suspicion of their ignorance."

Fifty years and more have passed since this criticism was written; and, with slight change of names for similar things, it still holds for the popular estimate put upon metaphysics by too many scholars of our time. If Coleridge, Schelling, Hegel, and the rest, are still held in disregard by persons in chairs of philosophy, we may infer the kind of culture which the universities favor. What he also said of intellectual culture in his country and time, holds scarcely less true as regards ours; and this in a republic, too, which in theory educates all its citizens.

"I am greatly deceived if one preliminary to an efficient popular education be not the recurrence to a more manly discipline of the intellect on the part of the learned themselves; in short, a thorough recasting of the moulds in which the minds of our gentry, the characters of our future landowners, magistrates, and senators, are to receive their shape and fashion. What treasures of practical wisdom would be once more brought to open day by the solution of the problem. Suffice it for the present to hint the master thought.

"The first man on whom the light of an Idea dawned, did in that same moment receive the spirit and credentials of a lawgiver. And as long as man shall exist, so long will the possession of that antecedent—the maker and master of all profitable experience, which exists in the power of an idea—be the one lawful qualification for all dominion in the world of the senses. Without this, experience itself is but a Cyclops walking backwards under the fascinations of the past; and we are indebted to a lucky coincidence of outward circumstances and contingencies, least of all to be calculated on in a time like the present, if this one-eyed experience does not seduce its worshippers into practical anachronisms. But, alas! the halls of the old philosophers have been so long deserted, that we circle them at shy distance, as the haunt of phantoms and chimeras. The sacred grave of Academus is held in like regard with the unfruitful trees in the shadowy world of Maro, that had a dream attached to every leaf. The very terms of ancient wisdom are worn out; or, far worse, stamped as baser metal; and whoever should have the hardihood to re-proclaim its solemn truths, must commence with a glossary."

The Dialectic, or Method of the Mind, constitutes the basis of all culture. Without a thorough discipline in this, our schools and universities give but a showy and superficial training. The knowledge of mind is the beginning of all knowledge; without this a theology is baseless, the knowledge of God impossible. Modern education has not dealt with these deeper questions of life and being. It has the future in which to prove its power of conducting a Cultus, answering to the discipline of the Greek thinkers, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle.

As yet we deal with mind with far less certainty than with matter; the realm of intellect having been less explored than the world of the senses, and both are treated conjecturally rather than absolutely. When we come to perceive that Intuition is the primary postulate of all intelligence, most questions now perplexing and obscure will become transparent; the lower imperfect methods then take rank where they belong and are available. The soul leads the senses; the reason the understanding; imagination the memory; instinct and intuition include and prompt the Personality entire.

The categories of imagination are the poet's tools; those of the reason, the implements of the naturalist. The dialectic philosopher is master of both. The tools to those only who can handle them skilfully. All others but gash themselves and their subject, at best. Ask not a man of understanding to solve a problem in metaphysics. He has neither wit, weights, nor scales for the task. But a man of reason or of imagination solves readily the problems of understanding the moment these are fairly stated. Ideas are solvents of all mysteries, whether in matter or mind.

'Tis clear

Mind's sphere

Is not here;

The Ideal guest

In ceaseless quest

Pursues the Best:

The very Better

The while her fetter,

Her desire

Higher, still higher;

Ever is fleeing

Past Seeming to Being;

Nor doth the sight content itself with seeing,

As forms emerge they fast from sense are fleeing,

Things but appear to vanish into Being.

So the Greeks represented thought in their winged god, Hermes, as the father of speech and messenger of intelligence; they conceiving the visible world as a globe of forms, whereby objects of thought were pictured to sense, and held forth to fancy,—a geometry of ideas, a rhetoric of images.

Sallying forth into nature, the mind clothes its ideas in fitting images, and thus reflects itself upon the understanding. Things are symbols of thoughts, and nature the mind's dictionary.

Mind omnipresent is,

All round about us lies,

To fashion forth itself

In thought and ecstacy,

In fancy and surprise,

Things with ideas fraught,

And nature our dissolving thought.