30 December 1789: Versification & moral maxims

Wednesday… (…) This Morning Mr. Phyn jun[io]r breakfasts with me. He is on his Way to London from Tours. Like all other Englishmen he is filled with Hatred and Contempt for this Nation. (…) Go to Mons[ieu]r de Montmorin’s. (…) …I chat a while with the Ladies, and observing some Almanacks on the Chimney Piece, take out my Pencil and address a few Lines to Mad[am]e de Beaumont, his [Montmorin’s] Daughter.

How Days and Months and Years succeed,
Clara you here behold
But while you look on this, take Heed!
Both you and I grow old.

Those Days which come the past destroy,
Do not too long delay:
For ev’ry Hour not spent in Joy
Is so much thrown away.

She is more pleased with this than she expresses, for the Moral is rather to be adopted than approved. Go hence to a Party of Madame de Vannoise. The Intention is, I find, to hear the Harmonica and drink Punch. I am requested to mix that Liquor and in order that my Glasses may produce equal Music with those of the Performer I make it very strong. Mad[am]e de La Borde comes in and sits next me with Mons[ieu]r de Bonnet. I repeat to her the Lines I had written for Mad[am]e de Beaumont. She of Course objects to the Liberality of the Sentiment and Mr. Bonnet, who is to judge, and can understand English only by the Eye tho he has translated Tristram Shandy, gives me his Pencil and a Piece of Paper. I address to her a Demonstration of my Theme instead of copying what I had written:

You find my Moral somewhat free,
But why enthral the Mind?
The truest Doctrine, trust to me,
Is Nature unconfin’d.

What she commands let us obey
Nor strive to be too pure.
All human Maxims lead astray
And only her’s are sure.

I do not know whether this is exact but it is convenient and will I know be more strictly followed by those who condemn it than by the Author. A Reputation either good or bad as to Morals is easily acquired. To judge a Man by his Actions requires a Degree of Attention which few have a Right to expect and very few are willing to pay. It is much more convenient to judge from the Conversation than from the Conduct. Those who wish to hide Things blameable always say Things commendable. Those who have nothing to hide and those who wish to hide nothing say what comes uppermost. There are a very few in the World who act, speak and think properly. Those are always proud, and yet Pride is a Vice, but it is one of the oeconomical Vices and not so unaccomodating as is generally supposed, for I have often met with it in the Garb of Humility. Go from hence to Madame de Chastellux’s. The Marshal de Ségur is here. The Dutchess [of Orleans] comes in. No Conversation. Go to Madame de La Borde’s to Supper. Madame d’Houdtot tells me that she dined at Mr. Necker’s. I find that this Family are much hurt at a Refusal of the Assemblée to accept a Gift proffered from Geneva, which is considered as a Slight to Mr. Necker. She tells me that the Abbé Raynal has addressed an excellent Letter to the Assemblée. I suppose from hence that it is a Criticism upon their Conduct, which will not I think do them much Good. Sup very heartily and return Home about twelve. This Day has been pleasant and the Evening is very fine.

A diary of the French revolution, by Gouverneur Morris, 1752-1816. Ed. by Beatrix Cary Davenport. Vol. 1 (Boston, 1939), p. 351-353.


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