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The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

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wanted to make useful ones. Leaders of men it never tried to
make. Its ideals were altogether different. The Unitarian clergy
had given to the College a character of moderation, balance,
judgment, restraint, what the French called mesure; excellent
traits, which the College attained with singular success, so that
its graduates could commonly be recognized by the stamp, but such
a type of character rarely lent itself to autobiography. In
effect, the school created a type but not a will. Four years of
Harvard College, if successful, resulted in an autobiographical
blank, a mind on which only a water-mark had been stamped.

The stamp, as such things went, was a good one. The chief
wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody concerned
in it, teachers and taught. Sometimes in after life, Adams
debated whether in fact it had not ruined him and most of his
companions, but, disappointment apart, Harvard College was
probably less hurtful than any other university then in
existence. It taught little, and that little ill, but it left the
mind open, free from bias, ignorant of facts, but docile. The
graduate had few strong prejudices. He knew little, but his mind
remained supple, ready to receive knowledge.

What caused the boy most disappointment was the little he got
from his mates. Speaking exactly, he got less than nothing, a
result common enough in education. Yet the College Catalogue for
the years 1854 to 1861 shows a list of names rather distinguished
in their time. Alexander Agassiz and Phillips Brooks led it; H.
H. Richardson and O. W. Holmes helped to close it. As a rule the
most promising of all die early, and never get their names into a
Dictionary of Contemporaries, which seems to be the only popular
standard of success. Many died in the war. Adams knew them all,
more or less; he felt as much regard, and quite as much respect
for them then, as he did after they won great names and were
objects of a vastly wider respect; but, as help towards
education, he got nothing whatever from them or they from him
until long after they had left college. Possibly the fault was
his, but one would like to know how many others shared it.
Accident counts for much in companionship as in marriage. Life
offers perhaps only a score of possible companions, and it is
mere chance whether they meet as early as school or college, but
it is more than a chance that boys brought up together under like
conditions have nothing to give each other. The Class of 1858, to
which Henry Adams belonged, was a typical collection of young New
Englanders, quietly penetrating and aggressively commonplace;
free from meannesses, jealousies, intrigues, enthusiasms, and
passions; not exceptionally quick; not consciously skeptical;
singularly indifferent to display, artifice, florid expression,
but not hostile to it when it amused them; distrustful of
themselves, but little disposed to trust any one else; with not
much humor of their own, but full of readiness to enjoy the humor
of others; negative to a degree that in the long run became
positive and triumphant. Not harsh in manners or judgment, rather
liberal and open-minded, they were still as a body the most
formidable critics one would care to meet, in a long life exposed
to criticism. They never flattered, seldom praised; free from
vanity, they were not intolerant of it; but they were
objectiveness itself; their attitude was a law of nature; their
judgment beyond appeal, not an act either of intellect or emotion
or of will, but a sort of gravitation.

This was Harvard College incarnate, but even for Harvard
College, the Class of 1858 was somewhat extreme. Of unity this
band of nearly one hundred young men had no keen sense, but they
had equally little energy of repulsion. They were pleasant to
live with, and above the average of students -- German, French,
English, or what not -- but chiefly because each individual
appeared satisfied to stand alone. It seemed a sign of force; yet
to stand alone is quite natural when one has no passions; still
easier when one has no pains.

Into this unusually dissolvent medium, chance insisted on
enlarging Henry Adams's education by tossing a trio of Virginians
as little fitted for it as Sioux Indians to a treadmill. By some
further affinity, these three outsiders fell into relation with
the Bostonians among whom Adams as a schoolboy belonged, and in
the end with Adams himself, although they and he knew well how
thin an edge of friendship separated them in 1856 from mortal
enmity. One of the Virginians was the son of Colonel Robert E.
Lee, of the Second United States Cavalry; the two others who
seemed instinctively to form a staff for Lee, were
town-Virginians from Petersburg. A fourth outsider came from
Cincinnati and was half Kentuckian, N. L. Anderson, Longworth on
the mother's side. For the first time Adams's education brought
him in contact with new types and taught him their values. He saw
the New England type measure itself with another, and he was part
of the process.

Lee, known through life as "Roony," was a Virginian of the
eighteenth century, much as Henry Adams was a Bostonian of the
same age. Roony Lee had changed little from the type of his
grandfather, Light Horse Harry. Tall, largely built, handsome,
genial, with liberal Virginian openness towards all he liked, he
had also the Virginian habit of command and took leadership as
his natural habit. No one cared to contest it. None of the New
Englanders wanted command. For a year, at least, Lee was the most
popular and prominent young man in his class, but then seemed
slowly to drop into the background. The habit of command was not
enough, and the Virginian had little else. He was simple beyond
analysis; so simple that even the simple New England student
could not realize him. No one knew enough to know how ignorant he
was; how childlike; how helpless before the relative complexity
of a school. As an animal, the Southerner seemed to have every
advantage, but even as an animal he steadily lost ground.

The lesson in education was vital to these young men, who,
within ten years, killed each other by scores in the act of
testing their college conclusions. Strictly, the Southerner had
no mind; he had temperament He was not a scholar; he had no
intellectual training; he could not analyze an idea, and he could
not even conceive of admitting two; but in life one could get
along very well without ideas, if one had only the social
instinct. Dozens of eminent statesmen were men of Lee's type, and
maintained themselves well enough in the legislature, but college
was a sharper test. The Virginian was weak in vice itself, though
the Bostonian was hardly a master of crime. The habits of neither
were good; both were apt to drink hard and to live low lives; but
the Bostonian suffered less than the Virginian. Commonly the
Bostonian could take some care of himself even in his worst
stages, while the Virginian became quarrelsome and dangerous.
When a Virginian had brooded a few days over an imaginary grief
and substantial whiskey, none of his Northern friends could be
sure that he might not be waiting, round the corner, with a knife
or pistol, to revenge insult by the dry light of delirium
tremens; and when things reached this condition, Lee had to
exhaust his authority over his own staff. Lee was a gentleman of
the old school, and, as every one knows, gentlemen of the old
school drank almost as much as gentlemen of the new school; but
this was not his trouble. He was sober even in the excessive
violence of political feeling in those years; he kept his temper
and his friends under control.

Adams liked the Virginians. No one was more obnoxious to them,
by name and prejudice; yet their friendship was unbroken and even
warm. At a moment when the immediate future posed no problem in
education so vital as the relative energy and endurance of North
and South, this momentary contact with Southern character was a
sort of education for its own sake; but this was not all. No
doubt the self-esteem of the Yankee, which tended naturally to
self-distrust, was flattered by gaining the slow conviction that
the Southerner, with his slave-owning limitations, was as little
fit to succeed in the struggle of modern life as though he were
still a maker of stone axes, living in caves, and hunting the bos
primigenius, and that every quality in which he was strong, made
him weaker; but Adams had begun to fear that even in this respect
one eighteenth-century type might not differ deeply from another.
Roony Lee had changed little from the Virginian of a century
before; but Adams was himself a good deal nearer the type of his
great-grandfather than to that of a railway superintendent. He
was little more fit than the Virginians to deal with a future
America which showed no fancy for the past. Already Northern
society betrayed a preference for economists over diplomats or
soldiers -- one might even call it a jealousy -- against which
two eighteenth-century types had little chance to live, and which
they had in common to fear.

Nothing short of this curious sympathy could have brought into
close relations two young men so hostile as Roony Lee and Henry
Adams, but the chief difference between them as collegians
consisted only in their difference of scholarship: Lee was a
total failure; Adams a partial one. Both failed, but Lee felt his
failure more sensibly, so that he gladly seized the chance of
escape by accepting a commission offered him by General Winfield
Scott in the force then being organized against the Mormons. He
asked Adams to write his letter of acceptance, which flattered
Adams's vanity more than any Northern compliment could do,
because, in days of violent political bitterness, it showed a
certain amount of good temper. The diplomat felt his profession.

If the student got little from his mates, he got little more
from his masters. The four years passed at college were, for his
purposes, wasted. Harvard College was a good school, but at
bottom what the boy disliked most was any school at all. He did
not want to be one in a hundred -- one per cent of an education.
He regarded himself as the only person for whom his education had
value, and he wanted the whole of it. He got barely half of an
average. Long afterwards, when the devious path of life led him
back to teach in his turn what no student naturally cared or
needed to know, he diverted some dreary hours of faculty-meetings
by looking up his record in the class-lists, and found himself
graded precisely in the middle. In the one branch he most needed
-- mathematics -- barring the few first scholars, failure was so
nearly universal that no attempt at grading could have had value,
and whether he stood fortieth or ninetieth must have been an
accident or the personal favor of the professor. Here his
education failed lamentably. At best he could never have been a
mathematician; at worst he would never have cared to be one; but
he needed to read mathematics, like any other universal language,
and he never reached the alphabet.

Beyond two or three Greek plays, the student got nothing from
the ancient languages. Beyond some incoherent theories of
free-trade and protection, he got little from Political Economy.
He could not afterwards remember to have heard the name of Karl
Marx mentioned, or the title of "Capital." He was equally
ignorant of Auguste Comte. These were the two writers of his time
who most influenced its thought. The bit of practical teaching he
afterwards reviewed with most curiosity was the course in
Chemistry, which taught him a number of theories that befogged
his mind for a lifetime. The only teaching that appealed to his
imagination was a course of lectures by Louis Agassiz on the
Glacial Period and Paleontology, which had more influence on his
curiosity than the rest of the college instruction altogether.
The entire work of the four years could have been easily put into
the work of any four months in after life.

Harvard College was a negative force, and negative forces have
value. Slowly it weakened the violent political bias of
childhood, not by putting interests in its place, but by mental
habits which had no bias at all. It would also have weakened the
literary bias, if Adams had been capable of finding other
amusement, but the climate kept him steady to desultory and
useless reading, till he had run through libraries of volumes
which he forgot even to their title-pages. Rather by instinct
than by guidance, he turned to writing, and his professors or
tutors occasionally gave his English composition a hesitating
approval; but in that branch, as in all the rest, even when he
made a long struggle for recognition, he never convinced his
teachers that his abilities, at their best, warranted placing him
on the rank-list, among the first third of his class. Instructors
generally reach a fairly accurate gauge of their scholars'
powers. Henry Adams himself held the opinion that his instructors
were very nearly right, and when he became a professor in his
turn, and made mortifying mistakes in ranking his scholars, he
still obstinately insisted that on the whole, he was not far
wrong. Student or professor, he accepted the negative standard
because it was the standard of the school.

He never knew what other students thought of it, or what they
thought they gained from it; nor would their opinion have much
affected his. From the first, he wanted to be done with it, and
stood watching vaguely for a path and a direction. The world
outside seemed large, but the paths that led into it were not
many and lay mostly through Boston, where he did not want to go.
As it happened, by pure chance, the first door of escape that
seemed to offer a hope led into Germany, and James Russell Lowell
opened it.

Lowell, on succeeding Longfellow as Professor of
Belles-Lettres, had duly gone to Germany, and had brought back
whatever he found to bring. The literary world then agreed that
truth survived in Germany alone, and Carlyle, Matthew Arnold,
Renan, Emerson, with scores of popular followers, taught the
German faith. The literary world had revolted against the yoke of
coming capitalism -- its money-lenders, its bank directors, and
its railway magnates. Thackeray and Dickens followed Balzac in
scratching and biting the unfortunate middle class with savage
ill-temper, much as the middle class had scratched and bitten the
Church and Court for a hundred years before. The middle class had
the power, and held its coal and iron well in hand, but the
satirists and idealists seized the press, and as they were agreed
that the Second Empire was a disgrace to France and a danger to
England, they turned to Germany because at that moment Germany
was neither economical nor military, and a hundred years behind
western Europe in the simplicity of its standard. German thought,
method, honesty, and even taste, became the standards of
scholarship. Goethe was raised to the rank of Shakespeare -- Kant
ranked as a law-giver above Plato. All serious scholars were
obliged to become German, for German thought was revolutionizing
criticism. Lowell had followed the rest, not very
enthusiastically, but with sufficient conviction, and invited his
scholars to join him. Adams was glad to accept the invitation,
rather for the sake of cultivating Lowell than Germany, but still
in perfect good faith. It was the first serious attempt he had
made to direct his own education, and he was sure of getting some
education out of it; not perhaps anything that he expected, but
at least a path.

Singularly circuitous and excessively wasteful of energy the
path proved to be, but the student could never see what other was
open to him. He could have done no better had he foreseen every
stage of his coming life, and he would probably have done worse.
The preliminary step was pure gain. James Russell Lowell had
brought back from Germany the only new and valuable part of its
universities, the habit of allowing students to read with him
privately in his study. Adams asked the privilege, and used it to
read a little, and to talk a great deal, for the personal contact
pleased and flattered him, as that of older men ought to flatter
and please the young even when they altogether exaggerate its
value. Lowell was a new element in the boy's life. As practical a
New Englander as any, he leaned towards the Concord faith rather
than towards Boston where he properly belonged; for Concord, in
the dark days of 1856, glowed with pure light. Adams approached
it in much the same spirit as he would have entered a Gothic
Cathedral, for he well knew that the priests regarded him as only
a worm. To the Concord Church all Adamses were minds of dust and
emptiness, devoid of feeling, poetry or imagination; little
higher than the common scourings of State Street; politicians of
doubtful honesty; natures of narrow scope; and already, at
eighteen years old, Henry had begun to feel uncertainty about so
many matters more important than Adamses that his mind rebelled
against no discipline merely personal, and he was ready to admit
his unworthiness if only he might penetrate the shrine. The
influence of Harvard College was beginning to have its effect. He
was slipping away from fixed principles; from Mount Vernon
Street; from Quincy; from the eighteenth century; and his first
steps led toward Concord.

He never reached Concord, and to Concord Church he, like the
rest of mankind who accepted a material universe, remained always
an insect, or something much lower -- a man. It was surely no
fault of his that the universe seemed to him real; perhaps -- as
Mr. Emerson justly said -- it was so; in spite of the
long-continued effort of a lifetime, he perpetually fell back
into the heresy that if anything universal was unreal, it was
himself and not the appearances; it was the poet and not the
banker; it was his own thought, not the thing that moved it. He
did not lack the wish to be transcendental. Concord seemed to
him, at one time, more real than Quincy; yet in truth Russell
Lowell was as little transcendental as Beacon Street. From him
the boy got no revolutionary thought whatever -- objective or
subjective as they used to call it -- but he got good-humored
encouragement to do what amused him, which consisted in passing
two years in Europe after finishing the four years of Cambridge

The result seemed small in proportion to the effort, but it was
the only positive result he could ever trace to the influence of
Harvard College, and he had grave doubts whether Harvard College
influenced even that. Negative results in plenty he could trace,
but he tended towards negation on his own account, as one side of
the New England mind had always done, and even there he could
never feel sure that Harvard College had more than reflected a
weakness. In his opinion the education was not serious, but in
truth hardly any Boston student took it seriously, and none of
them seemed sure that President Walker himself, or President
Felton after him, took it more seriously than the students. For
them all, the college offered chiefly advantages vulgarly called
social, rather than mental.

Unluckily for this particular boy, social advantages were his
only capital in life. Of money he had not much, of mind not more,
but he could be quite certain that, barring his own faults, his
social position would never be questioned. What he needed was a
career in which social position had value. Never in his life
would he have to explain who he was; never would he have need of
acquaintance to strengthen his social standing; but he needed
greatly some one to show him how to use the acquaintance he cared
to make. He made no acquaintance in college which proved to have
the smallest use in after life. All his Boston friends he knew
before, or would have known in any case, and contact of Bostonian
with Bostonian was the last education these young men needed.
Cordial and intimate as their college relations were, they all
flew off in different directions the moment they took their
degrees. Harvard College remained a tie, indeed, but a tie little
stronger than Beacon Street and not so strong as State Street.
Strangers might perhaps gain something from the college if they
were hard pressed for social connections. A student like H. H.
Richardson, who came from far away New Orleans, and had his
career before him to chase rather than to guide, might make
valuable friendships at college. Certainly Adams made no
acquaintance there that he valued in after life so much as
Richardson, but still more certainly the college relation had
little to do with the later friendship. Life is a narrow valley,
and the roads run close together. Adams would have attached
himself to Richardson in any case, as he attached himself to John
LaFarge or Augustus St. Gaudens or Clarence King or John Hay,
none of whom were at Harvard College. The valley of life grew
more and more narrow with years, and certain men with common
tastes were bound to come together. Adams knew only that he would
have felt himself on a more equal footing with them had he been
less ignorant, and had he not thrown away ten years of early life
in acquiring what he might have acquired in one.

Socially or intellectually, the college was for him negative
and in some ways mischievous. The most tolerant man of the world
could not see good in the lower habits of the students, but the
vices were less harmful than the virtues. The habit of drinking
-- though the mere recollection of it made him doubt his own
veracity, so fantastic it seemed in later life -- may have done
no great or permanent harm; but the habit of looking at life as a
social relation -- an affair of society -- did no good. It
cultivated a weakness which needed no cultivation. If it had
helped to make men of the world, or give the manners and
instincts of any profession -- such as temper, patience,
courtesy, or a faculty of profiting by the social defects of
opponents -- it would have been education better worth having
than mathematics or languages; but so far as it helped to make
anything, it helped only to make the college standard permanent
through life. The Bostonian educated at Harvard College remained
a collegian, if he stuck only to what the college gave him. If
parents went on generation after generation, sending their
children to Harvard College for the sake of its social
advantages, they perpetuated an inferior social type, quite as
ill-fitted as the Oxford type for success in the next generation.

Luckily the old social standard of the college, as President
Walker or James Russell Lowell still showed it, was admirable,
and if it had little practical value or personal influence on the
mass of students, at least it preserved the tradition for those
who liked it. The Harvard graduate was neither American nor
European, nor even wholly Yankee; his admirers were few, and his
many; perhaps his worst weakness was his self-criticism and
self-consciousness; but his ambitions, social or intellectual,
were necessarily cheap even though they might be negative. Afraid
of such serious risks, and still more afraid of personal
ridicule, he seldom made a great failure of life, and nearly
always led a life more or less worth living. So Henry Adams, well
aware that he could not succeed as a scholar, and finding his
social position beyond improvement or need of effort, betook
himself to the single ambition which otherwise would scarcely
have seemed a true outcome of the college, though it was the last
remnant of the old Unitarian supremacy. He took to the pen. He

The College Magazine printed his work, and the College
Societies listened to his addresses. Lavish of praise the readers
were not; the audiences, too, listened in silence; but this was
all the encouragement any Harvard collegian had a reasonable hope
to receive; grave silence was a form of patience that meant
possible future acceptance; and Henry Adams went on writing. No
one cared enough to criticise, except himself who soon began to
suffer from reaching his own limits. He found that he could not
be this -- or that -- or the other; always precisely the things
he wanted to be. He had not wit or scope or force. Judges always
ranked him beneath a rival, if he had any; and he believed the
judges were right. His work seemed to him thin, commonplace,
feeble. At times he felt his own weakness so fatally that he
could not go on; when he had nothing to say, he could not say it,
and he found that he had very little to say at best. Much that he
then wrote must be still in existence in print or manuscript,
though he never cared to see it again, for he felt no doubt that
it was in reality just what he thought it. At best it showed only
a feeling for form; an instinct of exclusion. Nothing
shocked--not even its weakness.

Inevitably an effort leads to an ambition -- creates it -- and
at that time the ambition of the literary student, which almost
took place of the regular prizes of scholarship, was that of
being chosen as the representative of his class -- Class Orator
-- at the close of their course. This was political as well as
literary success, and precisely the sort of eighteenth-century
combination that fascinated an eighteenth century boy. The idea
lurked in his mind, at first as a dream, in no way serious or
even possible, for he stood outside the number of what were known
as popular men. Year by year, his position seemed to improve, or
perhaps his rivals disappeared, until at last, to his own great
astonishment, he found himself a candidate. The habits of the
college permitted no active candidacy; he and his rivals had not
a word to say for or against themselves, and he was never even
consulted on the subject; he was not present at any of the
proceedings, and how it happened he never could quite divine, but
it did happen, that one evening on returning from Boston he
received notice of his election, after a very close contest, as
Class Orator over the head of the first scholar, who was
undoubtedly a better orator and a more popular man. In politics
the success of the poorer candidate is common enough, and Henry
Adams was a fairly trained politician, but he never understood
how he managed to defeat not only a more capable but a more
popular rival.

To him the election seemed a miracle. This was no mock-modesty;
his head was as clear as ever it was in an indifferent canvass,
and he knew his rivals and their following as well as he knew
himself. What he did not know, even after four years of
education, was Harvard College. What he could never measure was
the bewildering impersonality of the men, who, at twenty years
old, seemed to set no value either on official or personal
standards. Here were nearly a hundred young men who had lived
together intimately during four of the most impressionable years
of life, and who, not only once but again and again, in different
ways, deliberately, seriously, dispassionately, chose as their
representatives precisely those of their companions who seemed
least to represent them. As far as these Orators and Marshals had
any position at all in a collegiate sense, it was that of
indifference to the college. Henry Adams never professed the
smallest faith in universities of any kind, either as boy or man,
nor had he the faintest admiration for the university graduate,
either in Europe or in America; as a collegian he was only known
apart from his fellows by his habit of standing outside the
college; and yet the singular fact remained that this commonplace
body of young men chose him repeatedly to express his and their
commonplaces. Secretly, of course, the successful candidate
flattered himself -- and them -- with the hope that they might
perhaps not be so commonplace as they thought themselves; but
this was only another proof that all were identical. They saw in
him a representative -- the kind of representative they wanted --
and he saw in them the most formidable array of judges he could
ever meet, like so many mirrors of himself, an infinite
reflection of his own shortcomings.

All the same, the choice was flattering; so flattering that it
actually shocked his vanity; and would have shocked it more, if
possible, had he known that it was to be the only flattery of the
sort he was ever to receive. The function of Class Day was, in
the eyes of nine-tenths of the students, altogether the most
important of the college, and the figure of the Orator was the
most conspicuous in the function. Unlike the Orators at regular
Commencements, the Class Day Orator stood alone, or had only the
Poet for rival. Crowded into the large church, the students,
their families, friends, aunts, uncles and chaperones, attended
all the girls of sixteen or twenty who wanted to show their
summer dresses or fresh complexions, and there, for an hour or
two, in a heat that might have melted bronze, they listened to an
Orator and a Poet in clergyman's gowns, reciting such platitudes
as their own experience and their mild censors permitted them to
utter. What Henry Adams said in his Class Oration of 1858 he soon
forgot to the last word, nor had it the least value for
education; but he naturally remembered what was said of it. He
remembered especially one of his eminent uncles or relations
remarking that, as the work of so young a man, the oration was
singularly wanting in enthusiasm. The young man -- always in
search of education -- asked himself whether, setting rhetoric
aside, this absence of enthusiasm was a defect or a merit, since,
in either case, it was all that Harvard College taught, and all
that the hundred young men, whom he was trying to represent,
expressed. Another comment threw more light on the effect of the
college education. One of the elderly gentlemen noticed the
orator's "perfect self-possession." Self-possession indeed! If
Harvard College gave nothing else, it gave calm. For four years
each student had been obliged to figure daily before dozens of
young men who knew each other to the last fibre. One had done
little but read papers to Societies, or act comedy in the Hasty
Pudding, not to speak of regular exercises, and no audience in
future life would ever be so intimately and terribly intelligent
as these. Three-fourths of the graduates would rather have
addressed the Council of Trent or the British Parliament than
have acted Sir Anthony Absolute or Dr. Ollapod before a gala
audience of the Hasty Pudding. Self-possession was the strongest
part of Harvard College, which certainly taught men to stand
alone, so that nothing seemed stranger to its graduates than the
paroxysms of terror before the public which often overcame the
graduates of European universities. Whether this was, or was not,
education, Henry Adams never knew. He was ready to stand up
before any audience in America or Europe, with nerves rather
steadier for the excitement, but whether he should ever have
anything to say, remained to be proved. As yet he knew nothing
Education had not begun.


BERLIN (1858-1859)

A FOURTH child has the strength of his weakness. Being of no
great value, he may throw himself away if he likes, and never be
missed. Charles Francis Adams, the father, felt no love for
Europe, which, as he and all the world agreed, unfitted Americans
for America. A captious critic might have replied that all the
success he or his father or his grandfather achieved was chiefly
due to the field that Europe gave them, and it was more than
likely that without the help of Europe they would have all
remained local politicians or lawyers, like their neighbors, to
the end. Strictly followed, the rule would have obliged them
never to quit Quincy; and, in fact, so much more timid are
parents for their children than for themselves, that Mr. and Mrs.
Adams would have been content to see their children remain
forever in Mount Vernon Street, unexposed to the temptations of
Europe, could they have relied on the moral influences of Boston
itself. Although the parents little knew what took place under
their eyes, even the mothers saw enough to make them uneasy.
Perhaps their dread of vice, haunting past and present, worried
them less than their dread of daughters-in-law or sons-in-law who
might not fit into the somewhat narrow quarters of home. On all
sides were risks. Every year some young person alarmed the
parental heart even in Boston, and although the temptations of
Europe were irresistible, removal from the temptations of Boston
might be imperative. The boy Henry wanted to go to Europe; he
seemed well behaved, when any one was looking at him; he observed
conventions, when he could not escape them; he was never
quarrelsome, towards a superior; his morals were apparently good,
and his moral principles, if he had any, were not known to be
bad. Above all, he was timid and showed a certain sense of
self-respect, when in public view. What he was at heart, no one
could say; least of all himself; but he was probably human, and
no worse than some others. Therefore, when he presented to an
exceedingly indulgent father and mother his request to begin at a
German university the study of the Civil Law -- although neither
he nor they knew what the Civil Law was, or any reason for his
studying it -- the parents dutifully consented, and walked with
him down to the railway-station at Quincy to bid him good-bye,
with a smile which he almost thought a tear.

Whether the boy deserved such indulgence, or was worth it, he
knew no more than they, or than a professor at Harvard College;
but whether worthy or not, he began his third or fourth attempt
at education in November, 1858, by sailing on the steamer Persia,
the pride of Captain Judkins and the Cunard Line; the newest,
largest and fastest steamship afloat. He was not alone. Several
of his college companions sailed with him, and the world looked
cheerful enough until, on the third day, the world -- as far as
concerned the young man -- ran into a heavy storm. He learned
then a lesson that stood by him better than any university
teaching ever did -- the meaning of a November gale on the
mid-Atlantic -- which, for mere physical misery, passed
endurance. The subject offered him material for none but serious
treatment; he could never see the humor of sea-sickness; but it
united itself with a great variety of other impressions which
made the first month of travel altogether the rapidest school of
education he had yet found. The stride in knowledge seemed
gigantic. One began a to see that a great many impressions were
needed to make very little education, but how many could be
crowded into one day without making any education at all, became
the pons asinorum of tourist mathematics. How many would turn out
to be wrong whether any could turn out right, was ultimate

The ocean, the Persia, Captain Judkins, and Mr. G. P. R. James,
the most distinguished passenger, vanished one Sunday morning in
a furious gale in the Mersey, to make place for the drearier
picture of a Liverpool street as seen from the Adelphi
coffee-room in November murk, followed instantly by the
passionate delights of Chester and the romance of red-sandstone
architecture. Millions of Americans have felt this succession of
emotions. Possibly very young and ingenuous tourists feel them
still, but in days before tourists, when the romance was a
reality, not a picture, they were overwhelming. When the boys
went out to Eaton Hall, they were awed, as Thackeray or Dickens
would have felt in the presence of a Duke. The very name of
Grosvenor struck a note of grandeur. The long suite of lofty,
gilded rooms with their gilded furniture; the portraits; the
terraces; the gardens, the landscape; the sense of superiority in
the England of the fifties, actually set the rich nobleman apart,
above Americans and shopkeepers. Aristocracy was real. So was the
England of Dickens. Oliver Twist and Little Nell lurked in every
churchyard shadow, not as shadow but alive. Even Charles the
First was not very shadowy, standing on the tower to see his army
defeated. Nothing thereabouts had very much changed since he lost
his battle and his head. An eighteenth-century American boy fresh
from Boston naturally took it all for education, and was amused
at this sort of lesson. At least he thought he felt it.

Then came the journey up to London through Birmingham and the
Black District, another lesson, which needed much more to be
rightly felt. The plunge into darkness lurid with flames; the
sense of unknown horror in this weird gloom which then existed
nowhere else, and never had existed before, except in volcanic
craters; the violent contrast between this dense, smoky,
impenetrable darkness, and the soft green charm that one glided
into, as one emerged -- the revelation of an unknown society of
the pit -- made a boy uncomfortable, though he had no idea that
Karl Marx was standing there waiting for him, and that sooner or
later the process of education would have to deal with Karl Marx
much more than with Professor Bowen of Harvard College or his
Satanic free-trade majesty John Stuart Mill. The Black District
was a practical education, but it was infinitely far in the
distance. The boy ran away from it, as he ran away from
everything he disliked.

Had he known enough to know where to begin he would have seen
something to study, more vital than the Civil Law, in the long,
muddy, dirty, sordid, gas-lit dreariness of Oxford Street as his
dingy four-wheeler dragged its weary way to Charing Cross. He did
notice one peculiarity about it worth remembering. London was
still London. A certain style dignified its grime; heavy, clumsy,
arrogant, purse-proud, but not cheap; insular but large; barely
tolerant of an outside world, and absolutely self-confident. The
boys in the streets made such free comments on the American
clothes and figures, that the travellers hurried to put on tall
hats and long overcoats to escape criticism. No stranger had
rights even in the Strand. The eighteenth century held its own.
History muttered down Fleet Street, like Dr. Johnson, in Adams's
ear; Vanity Fair was alive on Piccadilly in yellow chariots with
coachmen in wigs, on hammer-cloths; footmen with canes, on the
footboard, and a shrivelled old woman inside; half the great
houses, black with London smoke, bore large funereal hatchments;
every one seemed insolent, and the most insolent structures in
the world were the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England. In
November, 1858, London was still vast, but it was the London of
the eighteenth century that an American felt and hated.

Education went backward. Adams, still a boy, could not guess
how intensely intimate this London grime was to become to him as
a man, but he could still less conceive himself returning to it
fifty years afterwards, noting at each turn how the great city
grew smaller as it doubled in size; cheaper as it quadrupled its
wealth; less imperial as its empire widened; less dignified as it
tried to be civil. He liked it best when he hated it. Education
began at the end, or perhaps would end at the beginning. Thus far
it had remained in the eighteenth century, and the next step took
it back to the sixteenth. He crossed to Antwerp. As the Baron Osy
steamed up the Scheldt in the morning mists, a travelling band on
deck began to play, and groups of peasants, working along the
fields, dropped their tools to join in dancing. Ostade and
Teniers were as much alive as they ever were, and even the Duke
of Alva was still at home. The thirteenth-century cathedral
towered above a sixteenth-century mass of tiled roofs, ending
abruptly in walls and a landscape that had not changed. The taste
of the town was thick, rich, ripe, like a sweet wine; it was
mediaeval, so that Rubens seemed modern; it was one of the
strongest and fullest flavors that ever touched the young man's
palate; but he might as well have drunk out his excitement in old
Malmsey, for all the education he got from it. Even in art, one
can hardly begin with Antwerp Cathedral and the Descent from the
Cross. He merely got drunk on his emotions, and had then to get
sober as he best could. He was terribly sober when he saw Antwerp
half a century afterwards. One lesson he did learn without
suspecting that he must immediately lose it. He felt his middle
ages and the sixteenth century alive. He was young enough, and
the towns were dirty enough -- unimproved, unrestored,
untouristed -- to retain the sense of reality. As a taste or a
smell, it was education, especially because it lasted barely ten
years longer; but it was education only sensual. He never dreamed
of trying to educate himself to the Descent from the Cross. He
was only too happy to feel himself kneeling at the foot of the
Cross; he learned only to loathe the sordid necessity of getting
up again, and going about his stupid business.

This was one of the foreseen dangers of Europe, but it vanished
rapidly enough to reassure the most anxious of parents. Dropped
into Berlin one morning without guide or direction, the young man
in search of education floundered in a mere mess of
misunderstandings. He could never recall what he expected to
find, but whatever he expected, it had no relation with what it
turned out to be. A student at twenty takes easily to anything,
even to Berlin, and he would have accepted the thirteenth century
pure and simple since his guides assured him that this was his
right path; but a week's experience left him dazed and dull.
Faith held out, but the paths grew dim. Berlin astonished him,
but he had no lack of friends to show him all the amusement it
had to offer. Within a day or two he was running about with the
rest to beer-cellars and music-halls and dance-rooms, smoking bad
tobacco, drinking poor beer, and eating sauerkraut and sausages
as though he knew no better. This was easy. One can always
descend the social ladder. The trouble came when he asked for the
education he was promised. His friends took him to be registered
as a student of the university; they selected his professors and
courses; they showed him where to buy the Institutes of Gaius and
several German works on the Civil Law in numerous volumes; and
they led him to his first lecture.

His first lecture was his last. The young man was not very
quick, and he had almost religious respect for his guides and
advisers; but he needed no more than one hour to satisfy him that
he had made another failure in education, and this time a fatal
one. That the language would require at least three months' hard
work before he could touch the Law was an annoying discovery; but
the shock that upset him was the discovery of the university
itself. He had thought Harvard College a torpid school, but it
was instinct with life compared with all that he could see of the
University of Berlin. The German students were strange animals,
but their professors were beyond pay. The mental attitude of the
university was not of an American world. What sort of instruction
prevailed in other branches, or in science, Adams had no occasion
to ask, but in the Civil Law he found only the lecture system in
its deadliest form as it flourished in the thirteenth century.
The professor mumbled his comments; the students made, or seemed
to make, notes; they could have learned from books or discussion
in a day more than they could learn from him in a month, but they
must pay his fees, follow his course, and be his scholars, if
they wanted a degree. To an American the result was worthless. He
could make no use of the Civil Law without some previous notion
of the Common Law; but the student who knew enough of the Common
Law to understand what he wanted, had only to read the Pandects
or the commentators at his ease in America, and be his own
professor. Neither the method nor the matter nor the manner could
profit an American education.

This discovery seemed to shock none of the students. They went
to the lectures, made notes, and read textbooks, but never
pretended to take their professor seriously. They were much more
serious in reading Heine. They knew no more than Heine what good
they were getting, beyond the Berlin accent -- which was bad; and
the beer -- which was not to compare with Munich; and the dancing
-- which was better at Vienna. They enjoyed the beer and music,
but they refused to be responsible for the education. Anyway, as
they defended themselves, they were learning the language.

So the young man fell back on the language, and being slow at
languages, he found himself falling behind all his friends, which
depressed his spirits, the more because the gloom of a Berlin
winter and of Berlin architecture seemed to him a particular sort
of gloom never attained elsewhere. One day on the Linden he
caught sight of Charles Sumner in a cab, and ran after him.
Sumner was then recovering from the blows of the South Carolinian
cane or club, and he was pleased to find a young worshipper in
the remote Prussian wilderness. They dined together and went to
hear "William Tell" at the Opera. Sumner tried to encourage his
friend about his difficulties of language: "I came to Berlin," or
Rome, or whatever place it was, as he said with his grand air of
mastery, "I came to Berlin, unable to say a word in the language;
and three months later when I went away, I talked it to my
cabman." Adams felt himself quite unable to attain in so short a
time such social advantages, and one day complained of his trials
to Mr. Robert Apthorp, of Boston, who was passing the winter in
Berlin for the sake of its music. Mr. Apthorp told of his own
similar struggle, and how he had entered a public school and sat
for months with ten-year-old-boys, reciting their lessons and
catching their phrases. The idea suited Adams's desperate frame
of mind. At least it ridded him of the university and the Civil
Law and American associations in beer-cellars. Mr. Apthorp took
the trouble to negotiate with the head-master of the
Friedrichs-Wilhelm-Werdersches Gymnasium for permission to Henry
Adams to attend the school as a member of the Ober-tertia, a
class of boys twelve or thirteen years old, and there Adams went
for three months as though he had not always avoided high schools
with singular antipathy. He never did anything else so foolish
but he was given a bit of education which served him some purpose
in life.

It was not merely the language, though three months passed in
such fashion would teach a poodle enough to talk with a cabman,
and this was all that foreign students could expect to do, for
they never by any chance would come in contact with German
society, if German society existed, about which they knew
nothing. Adams never learned to talk German well, but the same
might be said of his English, if he could believe Englishmen. He
learned not to annoy himself on this account. His difficulties
with the language gradually ceased. He thought himself quite
Germanized in 1859. He even deluded himself with the idea that he
read it as though it were English, which proved that he knew
little about it; but whatever success he had in his own
experiment interested him less than his contact with German

He had revolted at the American school and university; he had
instantly rejected the German university; and as his last
experience of education he tried the German high school. The
experiment was hazardous. In 1858 Berlin was a poor, keen-witted,
provincial town, simple, dirty, uncivilized, and in most respects
disgusting. Life was primitive beyond what an American boy could
have imagined. Overridden by military methods and bureaucratic
pettiness, Prussia was only beginning to free her hands from
internal bonds. Apart from discipline, activity scarcely existed.
The future Kaiser Wilhelm I, regent for his insane brother King
Friedrich Wilhelm IV, seemed to pass his time looking at the
passers-by from the window of his modest palace on the Linden.
German manners, even at Court, were sometimes brutal, and German
thoroughness at school was apt to be routine. Bismarck himself
was then struggling to begin a career against the inertia of the
German system. The condition of Germany was a scandal and
nuisance to every earnest German, all whose energies were turned
to reforming it from top to bottom; and Adams walked into a great
public school to get educated, at precisely the time when the
Germans wanted most to get rid of the education they were forced
to follow. As an episode in the search for education, this
adventure smacked of Heine.

The school system has doubtless changed, and at all events the
schoolmasters are probably long ago dead; the story has no longer
a practical value, and had very little even at the time; one
could at least say in defence of the German school that it was
neither very brutal nor very immoral. The head-master was
excellent in his Prussian way, and the other instructors were not
worse than in other schools; it was their system that struck the
systemless American with horror. The arbitrary training given to
the memory was stupefying; the strain that the memory endured was
a form of torture; and the feats that the boys performed, without
complaint, were pitiable. No other faculty than the memory seemed
to be recognized. Least of all was any use made of reason, either
analytic, synthetic, or dogmatic. The German government did not
encourage reasoning.

All State education is a sort of dynamo machine for polarizing
the popular mind; for turning and holding its lines of force in
the direction supposed to be most effective for State purposes.
The German machine was terribly efficient. Its effect on the
children was pathetic. The Friedrichs-Wilhelm-Werdersches
Gymnasium was an old building in the heart of Berlin which served
the educational needs of the small tradesmen or bourgeoisie of
the neighborhood; the children were Berliner-kinder if ever there
were such, and of a class suspected of sympathy and concern in
the troubles of 1848. None was noble or connected with good
society. Personally they were rather sympathetic than not, but as
the objects of education they were proofs of nearly all the evils
that a bad system could give. Apparently Adams, in his rigidly
illogical pursuit, had at last reached his ideal of a viciously
logical education. The boys' physique showed it first, but their
physique could not be wholly charged to the school. German food
was bad at best, and a diet of sauerkraut, sausage, and beer
could never be good; but it was not the food alone that made
their faces white and their flesh flabby. They never breathed
fresh air; they had never heard of a playground; in all Berlin
not a cubic inch of oxygen was admitted in winter into an
inhabited building; in the school every room was tightly closed
and had no ventilation; the air was foul beyond all decency; but
when the American opened a window in the five minutes between
hours, he violated the rules and was invariably rebuked. As long
as cold weather lasted, the windows were shut. If the boys had a
holiday, they were apt to be taken on long tramps in the
Thiergarten or elsewhere, always ending in over-fatigue,
tobacco-smoke, sausages, and beer. With this, they were required
to prepare daily lessons that would have quickly broken down
strong men of a healthy habit, and which they could learn only
because their minds were morbid. The German university had seemed
a failure, but the German high school was something very near an
indictable nuisance.

Before the month of April arrived, the experiment of German
education had reached this point. Nothing was left of it except
the ghost of the Civil Law shut up in the darkest of closets,
never to gibber again before any one who could repeat the story.
The derisive Jew laughter of Heine ran through the university and
everything else in Berlin. Of course, when one is twenty years
old, life is bound to be full, if only of Berlin beer, although
German student life was on the whole the thinnest of beer, as an
American looked on it, but though nothing except small fragments
remained of the education that had been so promising -- or
promised -- this is only what most often happens in life, when
by-products turn out to be more valuable than staples. The German
university and German law were failures; German society, in an
American sense, did not exist, or if it existed, never showed
itself to an American; the German theatre, on the other hand, was
excellent, and German opera, with the ballet, was almost worth a
journey to Berlin; but the curious and perplexing result of the
total failure of German education was that the student's only
clear gain -- his single step to a higher life -- came from time
wasted; studies neglected; vices indulged; education reversed; --
it came from the despised beer-garden and music-hall; and it was
accidental, unintended, unforeseen.

When his companions insisted on passing two or three afternoons
in the week at music-halls, drinking beer, smoking German
tobacco, and looking at fat German women knitting, while an
orchestra played dull music, Adams went with them for the sake of
the company, but with no presence of enjoyment; and when Mr.
Apthorp gently protested that he exaggerated his indifference,
for of course he enjoyed Beethoven, Adams replied simply that he
loathed Beethoven; and felt a slight surprise when Mr. Apthorp
and the others laughed as though they thought it humor. He saw no
humor in it. He supposed that, except musicians, every one
thought Beethoven a bore, as every one except mathematicians
thought mathematics a bore. Sitting thus at his beer-table,
mentally impassive, he was one day surprised to notice that his
mind followed the movement of a Sinfonie. He could not have been
more astonished had he suddenly read a new language. Among the
marvels of education, this was the most marvellous. A prison-wall
that barred his senses on one great side of life, suddenly fell,
of its own accord, without so much as his knowing when it
happened. Amid the fumes of coarse tobacco and poor beer,
surrounded by the commonest of German Haus-frauen, a new sense
burst out like a flower in his life, so superior to the old
senses, so bewildering, so astonished at its own existence, that
he could not credit it, and watched it as something apart,
accidental, and not to be trusted. He slowly came to admit that
Beethoven had partly become intelligible to him, but he was the
more inclined to think that Beethoven must be much overrated as a
musician, to be so easily followed. This could not be called
education, for he had never so much as listened to the music. He
had been thinking of other things. Mere mechanical repetition of
certain sounds had stuck to his unconscious mind. Beethoven might
have this power, but not Wagner, or at all events not the Wagner
later than "Tannhauser." Near forty years passed before he
reached the "Gotterdammerung."

One might talk of the revival of an atrophied sense -- the
mechanical reaction of a sleeping consciousness -- but no other
sense awoke. His sense of line and color remained as dull as
ever, and as far as ever below the level of an artist. His
metaphysical sense did not spring into life, so that his mind
could leap the bars of German expression into sympathy with the
idealities of Kant and Hegel. Although he insisted that his faith
in German thought and literature was exalted, he failed to
approach German thought, and he shed never a tear of emotion over
the pages of Goethe and Schiller. When his father rashly ventured
from time to time to write him a word of common sense, the young
man would listen to no sense at all, but insisted that Berlin was
the best of educations in the best of Germanies; yet, when, at
last, April came, and some genius suggested a tramp in Thuringen,
his heart sang like a bird; he realized what a nightmare he had
suffered, and he made up his mind that, wherever else he might,
in the infinities of space and time, seek for education, it
should not be again in Berlin.


ROME (1859-1860)

THE tramp in Thuringen lasted four-and-twenty hours. By the end
of the first walk, his three companions -- John Bancroft, James
J. Higginson, and B. W. Crowninshield, all Boston and Harvard
College like himself -- were satisfied with what they had seen,
and when they sat down to rest on the spot where Goethe had
written --

"Warte nur! balde
Rubest du auch!" --

the profoundness of the thought and the wisdom of the advice
affected them so strongly that they hired a wagon and drove to
Weimar the same night. They were all quite happy and lighthearted
in the first fresh breath of leafless spring, and the beer was
better than at Berlin, but they were all equally in doubt why
they had come to Germany, and not one of them could say why they
stayed. Adams stayed because he did not want to go home, and he
had fears that his father's patience might be exhausted if he
asked to waste time elsewhere.

They could not think that their education required a return to
Berlin. A few days at Dresden in the spring weather satisfied
them that Dresden was a better spot for general education than
Berlin, and equally good for reading Civil Law. They were
possibly right. There was nothing to study in Dresden, and no
education to be gained, but the Sistine Madonna and the
Correggios were famous; the theatre and opera were sometimes
excellent, and the Elbe was prettier than the Spree. They could
always fall back on the language. So he took a room in the
household of the usual small government clerk with the usual
plain daughters, and continued the study of the language.
Possibly one might learn something more by accident, as one had
learned something of Beethoven. For the next eighteen months the
young man pursued accidental education, since he could pursue no
other; and by great good fortune, Europe and America were too
busy with their own affairs to give much attention to his.
Accidental education had every chance in its favor, especially
because nothing came amiss.

Perhaps the chief obstacle to the youth's education, now that
he had come of age, was his honesty; his simple-minded faith in
his intentions. Even after Berlin had become a nightmare, he
still persuaded himself that his German education was a success.
He loved, or thought he loved the people, but the Germany he
loved was the eighteenth-century which the Germans were ashamed
of, and were destroying as fast as they could. Of the Germany to
come, he knew nothing. Military Germany was his abhorrence. What
he liked was the simple character; the good-natured sentiment;
the musical and metaphysical abstraction; the blundering
incapacity of the German for practical affairs. At that time
everyone looked on Germany as incapable of competing with France,
England or America in any sort of organized energy. Germany had
no confidence in herself, and no reason to feel it. She had no
unity, and no reason to want it. She never had unity. Her
religious and social history, her economical interests, her
military geography, her political convenience, had always tended
to eccentric rather than concentric motion. Until coal-power and
railways were created, she was mediaeval by nature and geography,
and this was what Adams, under the teachings of Carlyle and
Lowell, liked.

He was in a fair way to do himself lasting harm, floundering
between worlds passed and worlds coming, which had a habit of
crushing men who stayed too long at the points of contact.
Suddenly the Emperor Napoleon declared war on Austria and raised
a confused point of morals in the mind of Europe. France was the
nightmare of Germany, and even at Dresden one looked on the
return of Napoleon to Leipsic as the most likely thing in the
world. One morning the government clerk, in whose family Adams
was staying, rushed into his room to consult a map in order that
he might measure the distance from Milan to Dresden. The third
Napoleon had reached Lombardy, and only fifty or sixty years had
passed since the first Napoleon had begun his military successes
from an Italian base.

An enlightened young American, with eighteenth-century tastes
capped by fragments of a German education and the most excellent
intentions, had to make up his mind about the moral value of
these conflicting forces. France was the wicked spirit of moral
politics, and whatever helped France must be so far evil. At that
time Austria was another evil spirit. Italy was the prize they
disputed, and for at least fifteen hundred years had been the
chief object of their greed. The question of sympathy had
disturbed a number of persons during that period. The question of
morals had been put in a number of cross-lights. Should one be
Guelph or Ghibelline? No doubt, one was wiser than one's
neighbors who had found no way of settling this question since
the days of the cave-dwellers, but ignorance did better to
discard the attempt to be wise, for wisdom had been singularly
baffled by the problem. Better take sides first, and reason about
it for the rest of life.

Not that Adams felt any real doubt about his sympathies or
wishes. He had not been German long enough for befogging his mind
to that point, but the moment was decisive for much to come,
especially for political morals. His morals were the highest, and
he clung to them to preserve his self-respect; but steam and
electricity had brought about new political and social
concentrations, or were making them necessary in the line of his
moral principles -- freedom, education, economic development and
so forth -- which required association with allies as doubtful as
Napoleon III, and robberies with violence on a very extensive
scale. As long as he could argue that his opponents were wicked,
he could join in robbing and killing them without a qualm; but it
might happen that the good were robbed. Education insisted on
finding a moral foundation for robbery. He could hope to begin
life in the character of no animal more moral than a monkey
unless he could satisfy himself when and why robbery and murder
were a virtue and duty. Education founded on mere self-interest
was merely Guelph and Ghibelline over again -- Machiavelli
translated into American.

Luckily for him he had a sister much brighter than he ever was
-- though he thought himself a rather superior person -- who
after marrying Charles Kuhn, of Philadelphia, had come to Italy,
and, like all good Americans and English, was hotly Italian. In
July, 1859, she was at Thun in Switzerland, and there Henry Adams
joined them. Women have, commonly, a very positive moral sense;
that which they will, is right; that which they reject, is wrong;
and their will, in most cases, ends by settling the moral. Mrs.
Kuhn had a double superiority. She not only adored Italy, but she
cordially disliked Germany in all its varieties. She saw no gain
in helping her brother to be Germanized, and she wanted him much
to be civilized. She was the first young woman he was ever
intimate with -- quick, sensitive, wilful, or full of will,
energetic, sympathetic and intelligent enough to supply a score
of men with ideas -- and he was delighted to give her the reins
-- to let her drive him where she would. It was his first
experiment in giving the reins to a woman, and he was so much
pleased with the results that he never wanted to take them back.
In after life he made a general law of experience -- no woman had
ever driven him wrong; no man had ever driven him right.

Nothing would satisfy Mrs. Kuhn but to go to the seat of war as
soon as the armistice was declared. Wild as the idea seemed,
nothing was easier. The party crossed the St. Gothard and reached
Milan, picturesque with every sort of uniform and every sign of
war. To young Adams this first plunge into Italy passed Beethoven
as a piece of accidental education. Like music, it differed from
other education in being, not a means of pursuing life, but one
of the ends attained. Further, on these lines, one could not go.
It had but one defect -- that of attainment. Life had no richer
impression to give; it offers barely half-a-dozen such, and the
intervals seem long. Exactly what they teach would puzzle a
Berlin jurist; yet they seem to have an economic value, since
most people would decline to part with even their faded memories
except at a valuation ridiculously extravagant. They were also
what men pay most for; but one's ideas become hopelessly mixed in
trying to reduce such forms of education to a standard of
exchangeable value, and, as in political economy, one had best
disregard altogether what cannot be stated in equivalents. The
proper equivalent of pleasure is pain, which is also a form of

Not satisfied with Milan, Mrs. Kuhn insisted on invading the
enemy's country, and the carriage was chartered for Innsbruck by
way of the Stelvio Pass. The Valtellina, as the carriage drove up
it, showed war. Garibaldi's Cacciatori were the only visible
inhabitants. No one could say whether the pass was open, but in
any case no carriage had yet crossed. At the inns the handsome
young officers in command of the detachments were delighted to
accept invitations to dinner and to talk all the evening of their
battles to the charming patriot who sparkled with interest and
flattery, but not one of them knew whether their enemies, the
abhorred Austrian Jagers, would let the travellers through their
lines. As a rule, gaiety was not the character failing in any
party that Mrs. Kuhn belonged to, but when at last, after
climbing what was said to be the finest carriage-pass in Europe,
the carriage turned the last shoulder, where the glacier of the
Ortler Spitze tumbled its huge mass down upon the road, even Mrs.
Kuhn gasped when she was driven directly up to the barricade and
stopped by the double line of sentries stretching on either side
up the mountains, till the flash of the gun barrels was lost in
the flash of the snow. For accidental education the picture had
its value. The earliest of these pictures count for most, as
first impressions must, and Adams never afterwards cared much for
landscape education, except perhaps in the tropics for the sake
of the contrast. As education, that chapter, too, was read, and
set aside.

The handsome blond officers of the Jagers were not to be beaten
in courtesy by the handsome young olive-toned officers of the
Cacciatori. The eternal woman as usual, when she is young,
pretty, and engaging, had her way, and the barricade offered no
resistance. In fifteen minutes the carriage was rolling down to
Mals, swarming with German soldiers and German fleas, worse than
the Italian; and German language, thought, and atmosphere, of
which young Adams, thanks to his glimpse of Italy, never again
felt quite the old confident charm.

Yet he could talk to his cabman and conscientiously did his
cathedrals, his Rhine, and whatever his companions suggested.
Faithful to his self-contracted scheme of passing two winters in
study of the Civil Law, he went back to Dresden with a letter to
the Frau Hofrathin von Reichenbach, in whose house Lowell and
other Americans had pursued studies more or less serious. In
those days, "The Initials" was a new book. The charm which its
clever author had laboriously woven over Munich gave also a
certain reflected light to Dresden. Young Adams had nothing to do
but take fencing-lessons, visit the galleries and go to the
theatre; but his social failure in the line of "The Initials,"
was humiliating and he succumbed to it. The Frau Hofrathin
herself was sometimes roused to huge laughter at the total
discomfiture and helplessness of the young American in the face
of her society. Possibly an education may be the wider and the
richer for a large experience of the world; Raphael Pumpelly and
Clarence King, at about the same time, were enriching their
education by a picturesque intimacy with the manners of the
Apaches and Digger Indians. All experience is an arch, to build
upon. Yet Adams admitted himself unable to guess what use his
second winter in Germany was to him, or what he expected it to
be. Even the doctrine of accidental education broke down. There
were no accidents in Dresden. As soon as the winter was over, he
closed and locked the German door with a long breath of relief,
and took the road to Italy. He had then pursued his education, as
it pleased him, for eighteen months, and in spite of the infinite
variety of new impressions which had packed themselves into his
mind, he knew no more, for his practical purposes, than the day
he graduated. He had made no step towards a profession. He was as
ignorant as a schoolboy of society. He was unfit for any career
in Europe, and unfitted for any career in America, and he had not
natural intelligence enough to see what a mess he had thus far
made of his education.

By twisting life to follow accidental and devious paths, one
might perhaps find some use for accidental and devious knowledge,
but this had been no part of Henry Adams's plan when he chose the
path most admired by the best judges, and followed it till he
found it led nowhere. Nothing had been further from his mind when
he started in November, 1858, than to become a tourist, but a
mere tourist, and nothing else, he had become in April, 1860,
when he joined his sister in Florence. His father had been in the
right. The young man felt a little sore about it. Supposing his
father asked him, on his return, what equivalent he had brought
back for the time and money put into his experiment! The only
possible answer would be: "Sir, I am a tourist! "

The answer was not what he had meant it to be, and he was not
likely to better it by asking his father, in turn, what
equivalent his brothers or cousins or friends at home had got out
of the same time and money spent in Boston. All they had put into
the law was certainly thrown away, but were they happier in
science? In theory one might say, with some show of proof, that a
pure, scientific education was alone correct; yet many of his
friends who took it, found reason to complain that it was
anything but a pure, scientific world in which they lived.

Meanwhile his father had quite enough perplexities of his own,
without seeking more in his son's errors. His Quincy district had
sent him to Congress, and in the spring of 1860 he was in the
full confusion of nominating candidates for the Presidential
election in November. He supported Mr. Seward. The Republican
Party was an unknown force, and the Democratic Party was torn to
pieces. No one could see far into the future. Fathers could
blunder as well as sons, and, in 1860, every one was conscious of
being dragged along paths much less secure than those of the
European tourist. For the time, the young man was safe from
interference, and went on his way with a light heart to take
whatever chance fragments of education God or the devil was
pleased to give him, for he knew no longer the good from the bad.

He had of both sorts more than he knew how to use. Perhaps the
most useful purpose he set himself to serve was that of his pen,
for he wrote long letters, during the next three months, to his
brother Charles, which his brother caused to be printed in the
Boston Courier; and the exercise was good for him. He had little
to say, and said it not very well, but that mattered less. The
habit of expression leads to the search for something to express.
Something remains as a residuum of the commonplace itself, if one
strikes out every commonplace in the expression. Young men as a
rule saw little in Italy, or anywhere else, and in after life
when Adams began to learn what some men could see, he shrank into
corners of shame at the thought that he should have betrayed his
own inferiority as though it were his pride, while he invited his
neighbors to measure and admire; but it was still the nearest
approach he had yet made to an intelligent act.

For the rest, Italy was mostly an emotion and the emotion
naturally centred in Rome. The American parent, curiously enough,
while bitterly hostile to Paris, seemed rather disposed to accept
Rome as legitimate education, though abused; but to young men
seeking education in a serious spirit, taking for granted that
everything had a cause, and that nature tended to an end, Rome
was altogether the most violent vice in the world, and Rome
before 1870 was seductive beyond resistance. The month of May,
1860, was divine. No doubt other young men, and occasionally
young women, have passed the month of May in Rome since then, and
conceive that the charm continues to exist. Possibly it does --
in them -- but in 1860 the lights and shadows were still
mediaeval, and mediaeval Rome was alive; the shadows breathed and
glowed, full of soft forms felt by lost senses. No sand-blast of
science had yet skinned off the epidermis of history, thought,
and feeling. The pictures were uncleaned, the churches
unrestored, the ruins unexcavated. Mediaeval Rome was sorcery.
Rome was the worst spot on earth to teach nineteenth-century
youth what to do with a twentieth-century world. One's emotions
in Rome were one's private affair, like one's glass of absinthe
before dinner in the Palais Royal; they must be hurtful, else
they could not have been so intense; and they were surely
immoral, for no one, priest or politician, could honestly read in
the ruins of Rome any other certain lesson than that they were
evidence of the just judgments of an outraged God against all the
doings of man. This moral unfitted young men for every sort of
useful activity; it made Rome a gospel of anarchy and vice; the
last place under the sun for educating the young; yet it was, by
common consent, the only spot that the young -- of either sex and
every race -- passionately, perversely, wickedly loved.

Boys never see a conclusion; only on the edge of the grave can
man conclude anything; but the first impulse given to the boy is
apt to lead or drive him for the rest of his life into conclusion
after conclusion that he never dreamed of reaching. One looked
idly enough at the Forum or at St. Peter's, but one never forgot
the look, and it never ceased reacting. To a young Bostonian,
fresh from Germany, Rome seemed a pure emotion, quite free from
economic or actual values, and he could not in reason or common
sense foresee that it was mechanically piling up conundrum after
conundrum in his educational path, which seemed unconnected but
that he had got to connect; that seemed insoluble but had got to
be somehow solved. Rome was not a beetle to be dissected and
dropped; not a bad French novel to be read in a railway train and
thrown out of the window after other bad French novels, the
morals of which could never approach the immorality of Roman
history. Rome was actual; it was England; it was going to be
America. Rome could not be fitted into an orderly, middle-class,
Bostonian, systematic scheme of evolution. No law of progress
applied to it. Not even time-sequences -- the last refuge of
helpless historians -- had value for it. The Forum no more led to
the Vatican than the Vatican to the Forum. Rienzi, Garibaldi,
Tiberius Gracchus, Aurelian might be mixed up in any relation of
time, along with a thousand more, and never lead to a sequence.
The great word Evolution had not yet, in 1860, made a new
religion of history, but the old religion had preached the same
doctrine for a thousand years without finding in the entire
history of Rome anything but flat contradiction.

Of course both priests and evolutionists bitterly denied this
heresy, but what they affirmed or denied in 1860 had very little
importance indeed for 1960. Anarchy lost no ground meanwhile. The
problem became only the more fascinating. Probably it was more
vital in May, 1860, than it had been in October, 1764, when the
idea of writing the Decline and Fall of the city first started to
the mind of Gibbon, "in the close of the evening, as I sat musing
in the Church of the Zoccolanti or Franciscan Friars, while they
were singing Vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, on the ruins of
the Capitol." Murray's Handbook had the grace to quote this
passage from Gibbon's "Autobiography," which led Adams more than
once to sit at sunset on the steps of the Church of Santa Maria
di Ara Coeli, curiously wondering that not an inch had been
gained by Gibbon -- or all the historians since -- towards
explaining the Fall. The mystery remained unsolved; the charm
remained intact. Two great experiments of Western civilization
had left there the chief monuments of their failure, and nothing
proved that the city might not still survive to express the
failure of a third.

The young man had no idea what he was doing. The thought of
posing for a Gibbon never entered his mind. He was a tourist,
even to the depths of his sub-consciousness, and it was well for
him that he should be nothing else, for even the greatest of men
cannot sit with dignity, "in the close of evening, among the
ruins of the Capitol," unless they have something quite original
to say about it. Tacitus could do it; so could Michael Angelo;
and so, at a pinch, could Gibbon, though in figure hardly heroic;
but, in sum, none of them could say very much more than the
tourist, who went on repeating to himself the eternal question:
-- Why! Why!! Why!!! -- as his neighbor, the blind beggar, might
do, sitting next him, on the church steps. No one ever had
answered the question to the satisfaction of any one else; yet
every one who had either head or heart, felt that sooner or later
he must make up his mind what answer to accept. Substitute the
word America for the word Rome, and the question became personal.

Perhaps Henry learned something in Rome, though he never knew
it, and never sought it. Rome dwarfs teachers. The greatest men
of the age scarcely bore the test of posing with Rome for a
background. Perhaps Garibaldi -- possibly even Cavour -- could
have sat "in the close of the evening, among the ruins of the
Capitol," but one hardly saw Napoleon III there, or Palmerston or
Tennyson or Longfellow. One morning, Adams happened to be
chatting in the studio of Hamilton Wilde, when a middle-aged
Englishman came in, evidently excited, and told of the shock he
had just received, when riding near the Circus Maximus, at coming
unexpectedly on the guillotine, where some criminal had been put
to death an hour or two before. The sudden surprise had quite
overcome him; and Adams, who seldom saw the point of a story till
time had blunted it, listened sympathetically to learn what new
form of grim horror had for the moment wiped out the memory of
two thousand years of Roman bloodshed, or the consolation,
derived from history and statistics, that most citizens of Rome
seemed to be the better for guillotining. Only by slow degrees,
he grappled the conviction that the victim of the shock was
Robert Browning; and, on the background of the Circus Maximus,
the Christian martyrs flaming as torches, and the morning's
murderer on the block, Browning seemed rather in place, as a
middle-aged gentlemanly English Pippa Passes; while afterwards,
in the light of Belgravia dinner-tables, he never made part of
his background except by effacement. Browning might have sat with
Gibbon, among the ruins, and few Romans would have smiled.

Yet Browning never revealed the poetic depths of Saint Francis;
William Story could not touch the secret of Michael Angelo, and
Mommsen hardly said all that one felt by instinct in the lives of
Cicero and Caesar. They taught what, as a rule, needed no
teaching, the lessons of a rather cheap imagination and cheaper
politics. Rome was a bewildering complex of ideas, experiments,
ambitions, energies; without her, the Western world was pointless
and fragmentary; she gave heart and unity to it all; yet Gibbon
might have gone on for the whole century, sitting among the ruins
of the Capitol, and no one would have passed, capable of telling
him what it meant. Perhaps it meant nothing.

So it ended; the happiest month of May that life had yet
offered, fading behind the present, and probably beyond the past,
somewhere into abstract time, grotesquely out of place with the
Berlin scheme or a Boston future. Adams explained to himself that
he was absorbing knowledge. He would have put it better had he
said that knowledge was absorbing him. He was passive. In spite
of swarming impressions he knew no more when he left Rome than he
did when he entered it. As a marketable object, his value was
less. His next step went far to convince him that accidental
education, whatever its economical return might be, was
prodigiously successful as an object in itself. Everything
conspired to ruin his sound scheme of life, and to make him a
vagrant as well as pauper. He went on to Naples, and there, in
the hot June, heard rumors that Garibaldi and his thousand were
about to attack Palermo. Calling on the American Minister,
Chandler of Pennsylvania, he was kindly treated, not for his
merit, but for his name, and Mr. Chandler amiably consented to
send him to the seat of war as bearer of despatches to Captain
Palmer of the American sloop of war Iroquois. Young Adams seized
the chance, and went to Palermo in a government transport filled
with fleas, commanded by a charming Prince Caracciolo.

He told all about it to the Boston Courier; where the narrative
probably exists to this day, unless the files of the Courier have
wholly perished; but of its bearing on education the Courier did
not speak. He himself would have much liked to know whether it
had any bearing whatever, and what was its value as a
post-graduate course. Quite apart from its value as life
attained, realized, capitalized, it had also a certain value as a
lesson in something, though Adams could never classify the branch
of study. Loosely, the tourist called it knowledge of men, but it
was just the reverse; it was knowledge of one's ignorance of men.
Captain Palmer of the Iroquois, who was a friend of the young
man's uncle, Sydney Brooks, took him with the officers of the
ship to make an evening call on Garibaldi, whom they found in the
Senate House towards sunset, at supper with his picturesque and
piratic staff, in the full noise and color of the Palermo
revolution. As a spectacle, it belonged to Rossini and the
Italian opera, or to Alexandre Dumas at the least, but the
spectacle was not its educational side. Garibaldi left the table,
and, sitting down at the window, had a few words of talk with
Captain Palmer and young Adams. At that moment, in the summer of
1860, Garibaldi was certainly the most serious of the doubtful
energies in the world; the most essential to gauge rightly. Even
then society was dividing between banker and anarchist. One or
the other, Garibaldi must serve. Himself a typical anarchist,
sure to overshadow Europe and alarm empires bigger than Naples,
his success depended on his mind; his energy was beyond doubt.

Adams had the chance to look this sphinx in the eyes, and, for
five minutes, to watch him like a wild animal, at the moment of
his greatest achievement and most splendid action. One saw a
quiet-featured, quiet-voiced man in a red flannel shirt;
absolutely impervious; a type of which Adams knew nothing.
Sympathetic it was, and one felt that it was simple; one
suspected even that it might be childlike, but could form no
guess of its intelligence. In his own eyes Garibaldi might be a
Napoleon or a Spartacus; in the hands of Cavour he might become a
Condottiere; in the eyes of history he might, like the rest of
the world, be only the vigorous player in the game he did not
understand. The student was none the wiser.

This compound nature of patriot and pirate had illumined
Italian history from the beginning, and was no more intelligible
to itself than to a young American who had no experience in
double natures. In the end, if the "Autobiography" tells truth,
Garibaldi saw and said that he had not understood his own acts;
that he had been an instrument; that he had served the purposes
of the class he least wanted to help; yet in 1860 he thought
himself the revolution anarchic, Napoleonic, and his ambition was
unbounded. What should a young Bostonian have made of a character
like this, internally alive with childlike fancies, and
externally quiet, simple, almost innocent; uttering with apparent
conviction the usual commonplaces of popular politics that all
politicians use as the small change of their intercourse with the
public; but never betraying a thought?

Precisely this class of mind was to be the toughest problem of
Adams's practical life, but he could never make anything of it.
The lesson of Garibaldi, as education, seemed to teach the
extreme complexity of extreme simplicity; but one could have
learned this from a glow-worm. One did not need the vivid
recollection of the low-voiced, simple-mannered, seafaring
captain of Genoese adventurers and Sicilian brigands, supping in
the July heat and Sicilian dirt and revolutionary clamor, among
the barricaded streets of insurgent Palermo, merely in order to
remember that simplicity is complex.

Adams left the problem as he found it, and came north to
stumble over others, less picturesque but nearer. He squandered
two or three months on Paris. From the first he had avoided
Paris, and had wanted no French influence in his education. He
disapproved of France in the lump. A certain knowledge of the
language one must have; enough to order dinner and buy a theatre
ticket; but more he did not seek. He disliked the Empire and the
Emperor particularly, but this was a trifle; he disliked most the
French mind. To save himself the trouble of drawing up a long
list of all that he disliked, he disapproved of the whole, once
for all, and shut them figuratively out of his life. France was
not serious, and he was not serious in going there.

He did this in good faith, obeying the lessons his teachers had
taught him; but the curious result followed that, being in no way
responsible for the French and sincerely disapproving them, he
felt quite at liberty to enjoy to the full everything he
disapproved. Stated thus crudely, the idea sounds derisive; but,
as a matter of fact, several thousand Americans passed much of
their time there on this understanding. They sought to take share
in every function that was open to approach, as they sought
tickets to the opera, because they were not a part of it. Adams
did like the rest. All thought of serious education had long
vanished. He tried to acquire a few French idioms, without even
aspiring to master a subjunctive, but he succeeded better in
acquiring a modest taste for Bordeaux and Burgundy and one or two
sauces; for the Trois Freres Provencaux and Voisin's and
Philippe's and the Cafe Anglais; for the Palais Royal Theatre,
and the Varietes and the Gymnase; for the Brohans and Bressant,
Rose Cheri and Gil Perez, and other lights of the stage. His
friends were good to him. Life was amusing. Paris rapidly became
familiar. In a month or six weeks he forgot even to disapprove of
it; but he studied nothing, entered no society, and made no
acquaintance. Accidental education went far in Paris, and one
picked up a deal of knowledge that might become useful; perhaps,
after all, the three months passed there might serve better
purpose than the twenty-one months passed elsewhere; but he did
not intend it -- did not think it -- and looked at it as a
momentary and frivolous vacation before going home to fit himself
for life. Therewith, after staying as long as he could and
spending all the money he dared, he started with mixed emotions
but no education, for home.


TREASON (1860-1861)

WHEN, forty years afterwards, Henry Adams looked back over his
adventures in search of knowledge, he asked himself whether
fortune or fate had ever dealt its cards quite so wildly to any
of his known antecessors as when it led him to begin the study of
law and to vote for Abraham Lincoln on the same day.

He dropped back on Quincy like a lump of lead; he rebounded
like a football, tossed into space by an unknown energy which
played with all his generation as a cat plays with mice. The
simile is none too strong. Not one man in America wanted the
Civil War, or expected or intended it. A small minority wanted
secession. The vast majority wanted to go on with their
occupations in peace. Not one, however clever or learned, guessed
what happened. Possibly a few Southern loyalists in despair might
dream it as an impossible chance; but none planned it.

As for Henry Adams, fresh from Europe and chaos of another
sort, he plunged at once into a lurid atmosphere of politics,
quite heedless of any education or forethought. His past melted
away. The prodigal was welcomed home, but not even his father
asked a malicious question about the Pandects. At the utmost, he
hinted at some shade of prodigality by quietly inviting his son
to act as private secretary during the winter in Washington, as
though any young man who could afford to throw away two winters
on the Civil Law could afford to read Blackstone for another
winter without a master. The young man was beyond satire, and
asked only a pretext for throwing all education to the east wind.
November at best is sad, and November at Quincy had been from
earliest childhood the least gay of seasons. Nowhere else does
the uncharitable autumn wreak its spite so harshly on the frail
wreck of the grasshopper summer; yet even a Quincy November
seemed temperate before the chill of a Boston January.

This was saying much, for the November of 1860 at Quincy stood
apart from other memories as lurid beyond description. Although
no one believed in civil war, the air reeked of it, and the
Republicans organized their clubs and parades as Wide-Awakes in a
form military in all things except weapons. Henry reached home in
time to see the last of these processions, stretching in ranks of
torches along the hillside, file down through the November night;
to the Old House, where Mr. Adams, their Member of Congress,
received them, and, let them pretend what they liked, their air
was not that of innocence.

Profoundly ignorant, anxious, and curious, the young man packed
his modest trunk again, which had not yet time to be unpacked,
and started for Washington with his family. Ten years had passed
since his last visit, but very little had changed. As in 1800 and
1850, so in 1860, the same rude colony was camped in the same
forest, with the same unfinished Greek temples for work rooms,
and sloughs for roads. The Government had an air of social
instability and incompleteness that went far to support the right
of secession in theory as in fact; but right or wrong, secession
was likely to be easy where there was so little to secede from.
The Union was a sentiment, but not much more, and in December,
1860, the sentiment about the Capitol was chiefly hostile, so far
as it made itself felt. John Adams was better off in Philadelphia
in 1776 than his great-grandson Henry in 1860 in Washington.

Patriotism ended by throwing a halo over the Continental
Congress, but over the close of the Thirty-sixth Congress in
1860-61, no halo could be thrown by any one who saw it. Of all
the crowd swarming in Washington that winter, young Adams was
surely among the most ignorant and helpless, but he saw plainly
that the knowledge possessed by everybody about him was hardly
greater than his own. Never in a long life did he seek to master
a lesson so obscure. Mr. Sumner was given to saying after
Oxenstiern: "Quantula sapientia mundus regitur!" Oxenstiern
talked of a world that wanted wisdom; but Adams found himself
seeking education in a world that seemed to him both unwise and
ignorant. The Southern secessionists were certainly unbalanced in
mind -- fit for medical treatment, like other victims of
hallucination -- haunted by suspicion, by idees fixes, by violent
morbid excitement; but this was not all. They were stupendously
ignorant of the world. As a class, the cotton-planters were
mentally one-sided, ill-balanced, and provincial to a degree
rarely known. They were a close society on whom the new fountains
of power had poured a stream of wealth and slaves that acted like
oil on flame. They showed a young student his first object-lesson
of the way in which excess of power worked when held by
inadequate hands.

This might be a commonplace of 1900, but in 1860 it was
paradox. The Southern statesmen were regarded as standards of
statesmanship, and such standards barred education. Charles
Sumner's chief offence was his insistence on Southern ignorance,
and he stood a living proof of it. To this school, Henry Adams
had come for a new education, and the school was seriously,
honestly, taken by most of the world, including Europe, as proper
for the purpose, although the Sioux Indians would have taught
less mischief. From such contradictions among intelligent people,
what was a young man to learn?

He could learn nothing but cross-purpose. The old and typical
Southern gentleman developed as cotton-planter had nothing to
teach or to give, except warning. Even as example to be avoided,
he was too glaring in his defiance of reason, to help the
education of a reasonable being. No one learned a useful lesson
from the Confederate school except to keep away from it. Thus, at
one sweep, the whole field of instruction south of the Potomac
was shut off; it was overshadowed by the cotton planters, from
whom one could learn nothing but bad temper, bad manners, poker,
and treason.

Perforce, the student was thrown back on Northern precept and
example; first of all, on his New England surroundings.
Republican houses were few in Washington, and Mr. and Mrs. Adams
aimed to create a social centre for New Englanders. They took a
house on I Street, looking over Pennsylvania Avenue, well out
towards Georgetown -- the Markoe house -- and there the private
secretary began to learn his social duties, for the political
were confined to committee-rooms and lobbies of the Capitol. He
had little to do, and knew not how to do it rightly, but he knew
of no one who knew more.

The Southern type was one to be avoided; the New England type
was one's self. It had nothing to show except one's own features.
Setting aside Charles Sumner, who stood quite alone and was the
boy's oldest friend, all the New Englanders were sane and steady
men, well-balanced, educated, and free from meanness or intrigue
-- men whom one liked to act with, and who, whether graduates or
not, bore the stamp of Harvard College. Anson Burlingame was one
exception, and perhaps Israel Washburn another; but as a rule the
New Englander's strength was his poise which almost amounted to a
defect. He offered no more target for love than for hate; he
attracted as little as he repelled; even as a machine, his motion
seemed never accelerated. The character, with its force or
feebleness, was familiar; one knew it to the core; one was it --
had been run in the same mould.

There remained the Central and Western States, but there the
choice of teachers was not large and in the end narrowed itself
to Preston King, Henry Winter Davis, Owen Lovejoy, and a few
other men born with social faculty. Adams took most kindly to
Henry J. Raymond, who came to view the field for the New York
Times, and who was a man of the world. The average Congressman
was civil enough, but had nothing to ask except offices, and
nothing to offer but the views of his district. The average
Senator was more reserved, but had not much more to say, being
always excepting one or two genial natures, handicapped by his
own importance.

Study it as one might, the hope of education, till the arrival
of the President-elect, narrowed itself to the possible influence
of only two men -- Sumner and Seward.

Sumner was then fifty years old. Since his election as Senator
in 1851 he had passed beyond the reach of his boy friend, and,
after his Brooks injuries, his nervous system never quite
recovered its tone; but perhaps eight or ten years of solitary
existence as Senator had most to do with his development. No man,
however strong, can serve ten years as schoolmaster, priest, or
Senator, and remain fit for anything else. All the dogmatic
stations in life have the effect of fixing a certain stiffness of
attitude forever, as though they mesmerized the subject. Yet even
among Senators there were degrees in dogmatism, from the frank
South Carolinian brutality, to that of Webster, Benton, Clay, or
Sumner himself, until in extreme cases, like Conkling, it became
Shakespearian and bouffe -- as Godkin used to call it -- like
Malvolio. Sumner had become dogmatic like the rest, but he had at
least the merit of qualities that warranted dogmatism. He justly
thought, as Webster had thought before him, that his great
services and sacrifices, his superiority in education, his
oratorical power, his political experience, his representative
character at the head of the whole New England contingent, and,
above all, his knowledge of the world, made him the most
important member of the Senate; and no Senator had ever saturated
himself more thoroughly with the spirit and temper of the body.

Although the Senate is much given to admiring in its members a
superiority less obvious or quite invisible to outsiders, one
Senator seldom proclaims his own inferiority to another, and
still more seldom likes to be told of it. Even the greatest
Senators seemed to inspire little personal affection in each
other, and betrayed none at all. Sumner had a number of rivals
who held his judgment in no high esteem, and one of these was
Senator Seward. The two men would have disliked each other by
instinct had they lived in different planets. Each was created
only for exasperating the other; the virtues of one were the
faults of his rival, until no good quality seemed to remain of
either. That the public service must suffer was certain, but what
were the sufferings of the public service compared with the risks
run by a young mosquito -- a private secretary -- trying to buzz
admiration in the ears of each, and unaware that each would
impatiently slap at him for belonging to the other? Innocent and
unsuspicious beyond what was permitted even in a nursery, the
private secretary courted both.

Private secretaries are servants of a rather low order, whose
business is to serve sources of power. The first news of a
professional kind, imparted to private secretary Adams on
reaching Washington, was that the President-elect, Abraham
Lincoln, had selected Mr. Seward for his Secretary of State, and
that Seward was to be the medium for communicating his wishes to
his followers. Every young man naturally accepted the wishes of
Mr. Lincoln as orders, the more because he could see that the new
President was likely to need all the help that several million
young men would be able to give, if they counted on having any
President at all to serve. Naturally one waited impatiently for
the first meeting with the new Secretary of State.

Governor Seward was an old friend of the family. He professed
to be a disciple and follower of John Quincy Adams. He had been
Senator since 1849, when his responsibilities as leader had
separated him from the Free Soil contingent, for, in the dry
light of the first Free Soil faith, the ways of New York politics
Thurlow Weed had not won favor; but the fierce heat which welded
the Republican Party in 1856 melted many such barriers, and when
Mr. Adams came to Congress in December, 1859, Governor Seward
instantly renewed his attitude of family friend, became a daily
intimate in the household, and lost no chance of forcing his
fresh ally to the front.

A few days after their arrival in December, 1860, the Governor,
as he was always called, came to dinner, alone, as one of the
family, and the private secretary had the chance he wanted to
watch him as carefully as one generally watches men who dispose
of one's future. A slouching, slender figure; a head like a wise
macaw; a beaked nose; shaggy eyebrows; unorderly hair and
clothes; hoarse voice; offhand manner; free talk, and perpetual
cigar, offered a new type -- of western New York -- to fathom; a
type in one way simple because it was only double -- political
and personal; but complex because the political had become
nature, and no one could tell which was the mask and which the
features. At table, among friends, Mr. Seward threw off
restraint, or seemed to throw it off, in reality, while in the
world he threw it off, like a politician, for effect. In both
cases he chose to appear as a free talker, who loathed pomposity
and enjoyed a joke; but how much was nature and how much was
mask, he was himself too simple a nature to know. Underneath the
surface he was conventional after the conventions of western New
York and Albany. Politicians thought it unconventionality.
Bostonians thought it provincial. Henry Adams thought it
charming. From the first sight, he loved the Governor, who,
though sixty years old, had the youth of his sympathies. He
noticed that Mr. Seward was never petty or personal; his talk was
large; he generalized; he never seemed to pose for statesmanship;
he did not require an attitude of prayer. What was more unusual
-- almost singular and quite eccentric -- he had some means,
unknown to other Senators, of producing the effect of

Superficially Mr. Seward and Mr. Adams were contrasts;
essentially they were much alike. Mr. Adams was taken to be
rigid, but the Puritan character in all its forms could be supple
enough when it chose; and in Massachusetts all the Adamses had
been attacked in succession as no better than political
mercenaries. Mr. Hildreth, in his standard history, went so far
as to echo with approval the charge that treachery was hereditary
in the family. Any Adams had at least to be thick-skinned,
hardened to every contradictory epithet that virtue could supply,
and, on the whole, armed to return such attentions; but all must
have admitted that they had invariably subordinated local to
national interests, and would continue to do so, whenever forced
to choose. C. F. Adams was sure to do what his father had done,
as his father had followed the steps of John Adams, and no doubt
thereby earned his epithets.

The inevitable followed, as a child fresh from the nursery
should have had the instinct to foresee, but the young man on the
edge of life never dreamed. What motives or emotions drove his
masters on their various paths he made no pretence of guessing;
even at that age he preferred to admit his dislike for guessing
motives; he knew only his own infantile ignorance, before which
he stood amazed, and his innocent good-faith, always matter of
simple-minded surprise. Critics who know ultimate truth will
pronounce judgment on history; all that Henry Adams ever saw in
man was a reflection of his own ignorance, and he never saw quite
so much of it as in the winter of 1860-61. Every one knows the
story; every one draws what conclusion suits his temper, and the
conclusion matters now less than though it concerned the merits
of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; but in 1861 the conclusion
made the sharpest lesson of life; it was condensed and
concentrated education.

Rightly or wrongly the new President and his chief advisers in
Washington decided that, before they could administer the
Government, they must make sure of a government to administer,
and that this chance depended on the action of Virginia. The
whole ascendancy of the winter wavered between the effort of the
cotton States to drag Virginia out, and the effort of the new
President to keep Virginia in. Governor Seward representing the
Administration in the Senate took the lead; Mr. Adams took the
lead in the House; and as far as a private secretary knew, the
party united on its tactics. In offering concessions to the
border States, they had to run the risk, or incur the certainty,
of dividing their own party, and they took this risk with open
eyes. As Seward himself, in his gruff way, said at dinner, after
Mr. Adams and he had made their speeches: "If there's no
secession now, you and I are ruined."

They won their game; this was their affair and the affair of
the historians who tell their story; their private secretaries
had nothing to do with it except to follow their orders. On that
side a secretary learned nothing and had nothing to learn. The
sudden arrival of Mr. Lincoln in Washington on February 23, and
the language of his inaugural address, were the final term of the
winter's tactics, and closed the private secretary's interest in
the matter forever. Perhaps he felt, even then, a good deal more
interest in the appearance of another private secretary, of his
own age, a young man named John Hay, who lighted on LaFayette
Square at the same moment. Friends are born, not made, and Henry
never mistook a friend except when in power. From the first
slight meeting in February and March, 1861, he recognized Hay as
a friend, and never lost sight of him at the future crossing of
their paths; but, for the moment, his own task ended on March 4
when Hay's began. The winter's anxieties were shifted upon new
shoulders, and Henry gladly turned back to Blackstone. He had
tried to make himself useful, and had exerted energy that seemed
to him portentous, acting in secret as newspaper correspondent,
cultivating a large acquaintance and even haunting ballrooms
where the simple, old-fashioned, Southern tone was pleasant even
in the atmosphere of conspiracy and treason. The sum was next to
nothing for education, because no one could teach; all were as
ignorant as himself; none knew what should be done, or how to do
it; all were trying to learn and were more bent on asking than on
answering questions. The mass of ignorance in Washington was
lighted up by no ray of knowledge. Society, from top to bottom,
broke down.

From this law there was no exception, unless, perhaps, that of
old General Winfield Scott, who happened to be the only military
figure that looked equal to the crisis. No one else either looked
it, or was it, or could be it, by nature or training. Had young
Adams been told that his life was to hang on the correctness of
his estimate of the new President, he would have lost. He saw Mr.
Lincoln but once; at the melancholy function called an Inaugural
Ball. Of course he looked anxiously for a sign of character. He
saw a long, awkward figure; a plain, ploughed face; a mind,
absent in part, and in part evidently worried by white kid
gloves; features that expressed neither self-satisfaction nor any
other familiar Americanism, but rather the same painful sense of
becoming educated and of needing education that tormented a
private secretary; above all a lack of apparent force. Any
private secretary in the least fit for his business would have
thought, as Adams did, that no man living needed so much
education as the new President but that all the education he
could get would not be enough.

As far as a young man of anxious temperament could see, no one
in Washington was fitted for his duties; or rather, no duties in
March were fitted for the duties in April. The few people who
thought they knew something were more in error than those who
knew nothing. Education was matter of life and death, but all the
education in the world would have helped nothing. Only one man in
Adams's reach seemed to him supremely fitted by knowledge and
experience to be an adviser and friend. This was Senator Sumner;
and there, in fact, the young man's education began; there it

Going over the experience again, long after all the great
actors were dead, he struggled to see where he had blundered. In
the effort to make acquaintances, he lost friends, but he would
have liked much to know whether he could have helped it. He had
necessarily followed Seward and his father; he took for granted
that his business was obedience, discipline, and silence; he
supposed the party to require it, and that the crisis overruled
all personal doubts. He was thunderstruck to learn that Senator
Sumner privately denounced the course, regarded Mr. Adams as
betraying the principles of his life, and broke off relations
with his family.

Many a shock was Henry Adams to meet in the course of a long
life passed chiefly near politics and politicians, but the
profoundest lessons are not the lessons of reason; they are
sudden strains that permanently warp the mind. He cared little or
nothing about the point in discussion; he was even willing to
admit that Sumner might be right, though in all great emergencies
he commonly found that every one was more or less wrong; he liked
lofty moral principle and cared little for political tactics; he
felt a profound respect for Sumner himself; but the shock opened
a chasm in life that never closed, and as long as life lasted, he
found himself invariably taking for granted, as a political
instinct, with out waiting further experiment -- as he took for
granted that arsenic poisoned -- the rule that a friend in power
is a friend lost.

On his own score, he never admitted the rupture, and never
exchanged a word with Mr. Sumner on the subject, then or
afterwards, but his education -- for good or bad -- made an
enormous stride. One has to deal with all sorts of unexpected
morals in life, and, at this moment, he was looking at hundreds
of Southern gentlemen who believed themselves singularly honest,
but who seemed to him engaged in the plainest breach of faith and
the blackest secret conspiracy, yet they did not disturb his
education. History told of little else; and not one rebel
defection -- not even Robert E. Lee's -- cost young Adams a
personal pang; but Sumner's struck home.

This, then, was the result of the new attempt at education,
down to March 4, 1861; this was all; and frankly, it seemed to
him hardly what he wanted. The picture of Washington in March,
1861, offered education, but not the kind of education that led
to good. The process that Matthew Arnold described as wandering
between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born,
helps nothing. Washington was a dismal school. Even before the
traitors had flown, the vultures descended on it in swarms that
darkened the ground, and tore the carrion of political patronage
into fragments and gobbets of fat and lean, on the very steps of
the White House. Not a man there knew what his task was to be, or
was fitted for it; every one without exception, Northern or
Southern, was to learn his business at the cost of the public.
Lincoln, Seward, Sumner, and the rest, could give no help to the
young man seeking education; they knew less than he; within six
weeks they were all to be taught their duties by the uprising of
such as he, and their education was to cost a million lives and
ten thousand million dollars, more or less, North and South,
before the country could recover its balance and movement. Henry
was a helpless victim, and, like all the rest, he could only wait
for he knew not what, to send him he knew not where.

With the close of the session, his own functions ended. Ceasing
to be private secretary he knew not what else to do but return
with his father and mother to Boston in the middle of March, and,
with childlike docility, sit down at a desk in the law-office of
Horace Gray in Court Street, to begin again: "My Lords and
Gentlemen"; dozing after a two o'clock dinner, or waking to
discuss politics with the future Justice. There, in ordinary
times, he would have remained for life, his attempt at education
in treason having, like all the rest, disastrously failed.



HARDLY a week passed when the newspapers announced that
President Lincoln had selected Charles Francis Adams as his
Minister to England. Once more, silently, Henry put Blackstone
back on its shelf. As Friar Bacon's head sententiously announced
many centuries before: Time had passed! The Civil Law lasted a
brief day; the Common Law prolonged its shadowy existence for a
week. The law, altogether, as path of education, vanished in
April, 1861, leaving a million young men planted in the mud of a
lawless world, to begin a new life without education at all. They
asked few questions, but if they had asked millions they would
have got no answers. No one could help. Looking back on this
moment of crisis, nearly fifty years afterwards, one could only
shake one's white beard in silent horror. Mr. Adams once more
intimated that he thought himself entitled to the services of one
of his sons, and he indicated Henry as the only one who could be
spared from more serious duties. Henry packed his trunk again
without a word. He could offer no protest. Ridiculous as he knew
himself about to be in his new role, he was less ridiculous than
his betters. He was at least no public official, like the
thousands of improvised secretaries and generals who crowded
their jealousies and intrigues on the President. He was not a
vulture of carrion -- patronage. He knew that his father's
appointment was the result of Governor Seward's personal
friendship; he did not then know that Senator Sumner had opposed
it, or the reasons which Sumner alleged for thinking it unfit;
but he could have supplied proofs enough had Sumner asked for
them, the strongest and most decisive being that, in his opinion,
Mr. Adams had chosen a private secretary far more unfit than his
chief. That Mr. Adams was unfit might well be, since it was hard
to find a fit appointment in the list of possible candidates,
except Mr. Sumner himself; and no one knew so well as this
experienced Senator that the weakest of all Mr. Adams's proofs of
fitness was his consent to quit a safe seat in Congress for an
exceedingly unsafe seat in London with no better support than
Senator Sumner, at the head of the Foreign Relations Committee,
was likely to give him. In the family history, its members had
taken many a dangerous risk, but never before had they taken one
so desperate.

The private secretary troubled himself not at all about the
unfitness of any one; he knew too little; and, in fact, no one,
except perhaps Mr. Sumner, knew more. The President and Secretary
of State knew least of all. As Secretary of Legation the
Executive appointed the editor of a Chicago newspaper who had
applied for the Chicago Post-Office; a good fellow, universally
known as Charley Wilson, who had not a thought of staying in the
post, or of helping the Minister. The Assistant Secretary was
inherited from Buchanan's time, a hard worker, but socially
useless. Mr. Adams made no effort to find efficient help; perhaps
he knew no name to suggest; perhaps he knew too much of
Washington, but he could hardly have hoped to find a staff of
strength in his son.

The private secretary was more passive than his father, for he
knew not where to turn. Sumner alone could have smoothed his path
by giving him letters of introduction, but if Sumner wrote
letters, it was not with the effect of smoothing paths. No one,
at that moment, was engaged in smoothing either paths or people.
The private secretary was no worse off than his neighbors except
in being called earlier into service. On April 13 the storm burst
and rolled several hundred thousand young men like Henry Adams
into the surf of a wild ocean, all helpless like himself, to be
beaten about for four years by the waves of war. Adams still had
time to watch the regiments form ranks before Boston State House
in the April evenings and march southward, quietly enough, with
the air of business they wore from their cradles, but with few
signs or sounds of excitement. He had time also to go down the
harbor to see his brother Charles quartered in Fort Independence
before being thrown, with a hundred thousand more, into the

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