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The Education of Henry Adams

by Henry Adams


I. QUINCY (1838-1848)
II. BOSTON (1848-1854)
III. WASHINGTON (1850-1854)
V. BERLIN (1858-1859)
VI. ROME (1859-1860)
VII. TREASON (1860-1861)
XV. DARWINISM (1867-1868)
XVIII. FREE FIGHT (1869-1870)
XIX. CHAOS (1870)
XX. FAILURE (1871)
XXIII. SILENCE (1894-1898)
XXXII. VIS NOVA (1903-1904)


THIS volume, written in 1905 as a sequel to the same author's
"Mont Saint Michel and Chartres," was privately printed, to the
number of one hundred copies, in 1906, and sent to the persons
interested, for their assent, correction, or suggestion. The idea
of the two books was thus explained at the end of Chapter XXIX:

"Any schoolboy could see that man as a force must be measured
by motion from a fixed point. Psychology helped here by
suggesting a unit -- the point of history when man held the
highest idea of himself as a unit in a unified universe. Eight or
ten years of study had led Adams to think he might use the
century 1150-1250, expressed in Amiens Cathedral and the Works of
Thomas Aquinas, as the unit from which he might measure motion
down to his own time, without assuming anything as true or
untrue, except relation. The movement might be studied at once in
philosophy and mechanics. Setting himself to the task, he began a
volume which he mentally knew as 'Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres:
a Study of Thirteenth-Century Unity.' From that point he proposed
to fix a position for himself, which he could label: 'The
Education of Henry Adams: a Study of Twentieth-Century
Multiplicity.' With the help of these two points of relation, he
hoped to project his lines forward and backward indefinitely,
subject to correction from any one who should know better."

The "Chartres" was finished and privately printed in 1904. The
"Education" proved to be more difficult. The point on which the
author failed to please himself, and could get no light from
readers or friends, was the usual one of literary form. Probably
he saw it in advance, for he used to say, half in jest, that his
great ambition was to complete St. Augustine's "Confessions," but
that St. Augustine, like a great artist, had worked from
multiplicity to unity, while he, like a small one, had to reverse
the method and work back from unity to multiplicity. The scheme
became unmanageable as he approached his end.

Probably he was, in fact, trying only to work into it his
favorite theory of history, which now fills the last three or
four chapters of the "Education," and he could not satisfy
himself with his workmanship. At all events, he was still
pondering over the problem in 1910, when he tried to deal with it
in another way which might be more intelligible to students. He
printed a small volume called "A Letter to American Teachers,"
which he sent to his associates in the American Historical
Association, hoping to provoke some response. Before he could
satisfy himself even on this minor point, a severe illness in the
spring of 1912 put an end to his literary activity forever.

The matter soon passed beyond his control. In 1913 the
Institute of Architects published the "Mont-Saint-Michel and
Chartres." Already the "Education" had become almost as well
known as the "Chartres," and was freely quoted by every book
whose author requested it. The author could no longer withdraw
either volume; he could no longer rewrite either, and he could
not publish that which he thought unprepared and unfinished,
although in his opinion the other was historically purposeless
without its sequel. In the end, he preferred to leave the
"Education" unpublished, avowedly incomplete, trusting that it
might quietly fade from memory. According to his theory of
history as explained in Chapters XXXIII and XXXIV, the teacher
was at best helpless, and, in the immediate future, silence next
to good-temper was the mark of sense. After midsummer, 1914, the
rule was made absolute.

The Massachusetts Historical Society now publishes the
"Education" as it was printed in 1907, with only such marginal
corrections as the author made, and it does this, not in
opposition to the author's judgment, but only to put both volumes
equally within reach of students who have occasion to consult


September, 1918


JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU began his famous Confessions by a
vehement appeal to the Deity: "I have shown myself as I was;
contemptible and vile when I was so; good, generous, sublime when
I was so; I have unveiled my interior such as Thou thyself hast
seen it, Eternal Father! Collect about me the innumerable swarm
of my fellows; let them hear my confessions; let them groan at my
unworthiness; let them blush at my meannesses! Let each of them
discover his heart in his turn at the foot of thy throne with the
same sincerity; and then let any one of them tell thee if he
dares: 'I was a better man!' "

Jean Jacques was a very great educator in the manner of the
eighteenth century, and has been commonly thought to have had
more influence than any other teacher of his time; but his
peculiar method of improving human nature has not been
universally admired. Most educators of the nineteenth century
have declined to show themselves before their scholars as objects
more vile or contemptible than necessary, and even the humblest
teacher hides, if possible, the faults with which nature has
generously embellished us all, as it did Jean Jacques, thinking,
as most religious minds are apt to do, that the Eternal Father
himself may not feel unmixed pleasure at our thrusting under his
eyes chiefly the least agreeable details of his creation.

As an unfortunate result the twentieth century finds few recent
guides to avoid, or to follow. American literature offers
scarcely one working model for high education. The student must
go back, beyond Jean Jacques, to Benjamin Franklin, to find a
model even of self-teaching. Except in the abandoned sphere of
the dead languages, no one has discussed what part of education
has, in his personal experience, turned out to be useful, and
what not. This volume attempts to discuss it.

As educator, Jean Jacques was, in one respect, easily first; he
erected a monument of warning against the Ego. Since his time,
and largely thanks to him, the Ego has steadily tended to efface
itself, and, for purposes of model, to become a manikin on which
the toilet of education is to be draped in order to show the fit
or misfit of the clothes. The object of study is the garment, not
the figure. The tailor adapts the manikin as well as the clothes
to his patron's wants. The tailor's object, in this volume, is to
fit young men, in universities or elsewhere, to be men of the
world, equipped for any emergency; and the garment offered to
them is meant to show the faults of the patchwork fitted on their

At the utmost, the active-minded young man should ask of his
teacher only mastery of his tools. The young man himself, the
subject of education, is a certain form of energy; the object to
be gained is economy of his force; the training is partly the
clearing away of obstacles, partly the direct application of
effort. Once acquired, the tools and models may be thrown away.

The manikin, therefore, has the same value as any other
geometrical figure of three or more dimensions, which is used for
the study of relation. For that purpose it cannot be spared; it
is the only measure of motion, of proportion, of human condition;
it must have the air of reality; must be taken for real; must be
treated as though it had life. Who knows? Possibly it had!

February 16, 1907



QUINCY (1838-1848)

UNDER the shadow of Boston State House, turning its back on the
house of John Hancock, the little passage called Hancock Avenue
runs, or ran, from Beacon Street, skirting the State House
grounds, to Mount Vernon Street, on the summit of Beacon Hill;
and there, in the third house below Mount Vernon Place, February
16, 1838, a child was born, and christened later by his uncle,
the minister of the First Church after the tenets of Boston
Unitarianism, as Henry Brooks Adams.

Had he been born in Jerusalem under the shadow of the Temple
and circumcised in the Synagogue by his uncle the high priest,
under the name of Israel Cohen, he would scarcely have been more
distinctly branded, and not much more heavily handicapped in the
races of the coming century, in running for such stakes as the
century was to offer; but, on the other hand, the ordinary
traveller, who does not enter the field of racing, finds
advantage in being, so to speak, ticketed through life, with the
safeguards of an old, established traffic. Safeguards are often
irksome, but sometimes convenient, and if one needs them at all,
one is apt to need them badly. A hundred years earlier, such
safeguards as his would have secured any young man's success; and
although in 1838 their value was not very great compared with
what they would have had in 1738, yet the mere accident of
starting a twentieth-century career from a nest of associations
so colonial, -- so troglodytic -- as the First Church, the Boston
State House, Beacon Hill, John Hancock and John Adams, Mount
Vernon Street and Quincy, all crowding on ten pounds of
unconscious babyhood, was so queer as to offer a subject of
curious speculation to the baby long after he had witnessed the
solution. What could become of such a child of the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, when he should wake up to find himself
required to play the game of the twentieth? Had he been
consulted, would he have cared to play the game at all, holding
such cards as he held, and suspecting that the game was to be one
of which neither he nor any one else back to the beginning of
time knew the rules or the risks or the stakes? He was not
consulted and was not responsible, but had he been taken into the
confidence of his parents, he would certainly have told them to
change nothing as far as concerned him. He would have been
astounded by his own luck. Probably no child, born in the year,
held better cards than he. Whether life was an honest game of
chance, or whether the cards were marked and forced, he could not
refuse to play his excellent hand. He could never make the usual
plea of irresponsibility. He accepted the situation as though he
had been a party to it, and under the same circumstances would do
it again, the more readily for knowing the exact values. To his
life as a whole he was a consenting, contracting party and
partner from the moment he was born to the moment he died. Only
with that understanding -- as a consciously assenting member in
full partnership with the society of his age -- had his education
an interest to himself or to others.

As it happened, he never got to the point of playing the game
at all; he lost himself in the study of it, watching the errors
of the players; but this is the only interest in the story, which
otherwise has no moral and little incident. A story of education
-- seventy years of it -- the practical value remains to the end
in doubt, like other values about which men have disputed since
the birth of Cain and Abel; but the practical value of the
universe has never been stated in dollars. Although every one
cannot be a Gargantua-Napoleon-Bismarck and walk off with the
great bells of Notre Dame, every one must bear his own universe,
and most persons are moderately interested in learning how their
neighbors have managed to carry theirs.

This problem of education, started in 1838, went on for three
years, while the baby grew, like other babies, unconsciously, as
a vegetable, the outside world working as it never had worked
before, to get his new universe ready for him. Often in old age
he puzzled over the question whether, on the doctrine of chances,
he was at liberty to accept himself or his world as an accident.
No such accident had ever happened before in human experience.
For him, alone, the old universe was thrown into the ash-heap and
a new one created. He and his eighteenth-century, troglodytic
Boston were suddenly cut apart -- separated forever -- in act if
not in sentiment, by the opening of the Boston and Albany
Railroad; the appearance of the first Cunard steamers in the bay;
and the telegraphic messages which carried from Baltimore to
Washington the news that Henry Clay and James K. Polk were
nominated for the Presidency. This was in May, 1844; he was six
years old ; his new world was ready for use, and only fragments
of the old met his eyes.

Of all this that was being done to complicate his education, he
knew only the color of yellow. He first found himself sitting on
a yellow kitchen floor in strong sunlight. He was three years old
when he took this earliest step in education; a lesson of color.
The second followed soon; a lesson of taste. On December 3, 1841,
he developed scarlet fever. For several days he was as good as
dead, reviving only under the careful nursing of his family. When
he began to recover strength, about January 1, 1842, his hunger
must have been stronger than any other pleasure or pain, for
while in after life he retained not the faintest recollection of
his illness, he remembered quite clearly his aunt entering the
sickroom bearing in her hand a saucer with a baked apple.

The order of impressions retained by memory might naturally be
that of color and taste, although one would rather suppose that
the sense of pain would be first to educate. In fact, the third
recollection of the child was that of discomfort. The moment he
could be removed, he was bundled up in blankets and carried from
the little house in Hancock Avenue to a larger one which his
parents were to occupy for the rest of their lives in the
neighboring Mount Vernon Street. The season was midwinter,
January 10, 1842, and he never forgot his acute distress for want
of air under his blankets, or the noises of moving furniture.

As a means of variation from a normal type, sickness in
childhood ought to have a certain value not to be classed under
any fitness or unfitness of natural selection; and especially
scarlet fever affected boys seriously, both physically and in
character, though they might through life puzzle themselves to
decide whether it had fitted or unfitted them for success; but
this fever of Henry Adams took greater and greater importance in
his eyes, from the point of view of education, the longer he
lived. At first, the effect was physical. He fell behind his
brothers two or three inches in height, and proportionally in
bone and weight. His character and processes of mind seemed to
share in this fining-down process of scale. He was not good in a
fight, and his nerves were more delicate than boys' nerves ought
to be. He exaggerated these weaknesses as he grew older. The
habit of doubt; of distrusting his own judgment and of totally
rejecting the judgment of the world; the tendency to regard every
question as open; the hesitation to act except as a choice of
evils; the shirking of responsibility; the love of line, form,
quality; the horror of ennui; the passion for companionship and
the antipathy to society -- all these are well-known qualities of
New England character in no way peculiar to individuals but in
this instance they seemed to be stimulated by the fever, and
Henry Adams could never make up his mind whether, on the whole,
the change of character was morbid or healthy, good or bad for
his purpose. His brothers were the type; he was the variation.

As far as the boy knew, the sickness did not affect him at all,
and he grew up in excellent health, bodily and mental, taking
life as it was given; accepting its local standards without a
dificulty, and enjoying much of it as keenly as any other boy of
his age. He seemed to himself quite normal, and his companions
seemed always to think him so. Whatever was peculiar about him
was education, not character, and came to him, directly and
indirectly, as the result of that eighteenth-century inheritance
which he took with his name.

The atmosphere of education in which he lived was colonial,
revolutionary, almost Cromwellian, as though he were steeped,
from his greatest grandmother's birth, in the odor of political
crime. Resistance to something was the law of New England nature;
the boy looked out on the world with the instinct of resistance;
for numberless generations his predecessors had viewed the world
chiefly as a thing to be reformed, filled with evil forces to be
abolished, and they saw no reason to suppose that they had wholly
succeeded in the abolition; the duty was unchanged. That duty
implied not only resistance to evil, but hatred of it. Boys
naturally look on all force as an enemy, and generally find it
so, but the New Englander, whether boy or man, in his long
struggle with a stingy or hostile universe, had learned also to
love the pleasure of hating; his joys were few.

Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, had always
been the systematic organization of hatreds, and Massachusetts
politics had been as harsh as the climate. The chief charm of New
England was harshness of contrasts and extremes of sensibility --
a cold that froze the blood, and a heat that boiled it -- so that
the pleasure of hating -- one's self if no better victim offered
-- was not its rarest amusement; but the charm was a true and
natural child of the soil, not a cultivated weed of the ancients.
The violence of the contrast was real and made the strongest
motive of education. The double exterior nature gave life its
relative values. Winter and summer, cold and heat, town and
country, force and freedom, marked two modes of life and thought,
balanced like lobes of the brain. Town was winter confinement,
school, rule, discipline; straight, gloomy streets, piled with
six feet of snow in the middle; frosts that made the snow sing
under wheels or runners; thaws when the streets became dangerous
to cross; society of uncles, aunts, and cousins who expected
children to behave themselves, and who were not always gratified;
above all else, winter represented the desire to escape and go
free. Town was restraint, law, unity. Country, only seven miles
away, was liberty, diversity, outlawry, the endless delight of
mere sense impressions given by nature for nothing, and breathed
by boys without knowing it.

Boys are wild animals, rich in the treasures of sense, but the
New England boy had a wider range of emotions than boys of more
equable climates. He felt his nature crudely, as it was meant. To
the boy Henry Adams, summer was drunken. Among senses, smell was
the strongest -- smell of hot pine-woods and sweet-fern in the
scorching summer noon; of new-mown hay; of ploughed earth; of box
hedges; of peaches, lilacs, syringas; of stables, barns,
cow-yards; of salt water and low tide on the marshes; nothing
came amiss. Next to smell came taste, and the children knew the
taste of everything they saw or touched, from pennyroyal and
flagroot to the shell of a pignut and the letters of a
spelling-book -- the taste of A-B, AB, suddenly revived on the
boy's tongue sixty years afterwards. Light, line, and color as
sensual pleasures, came later and were as crude as the rest. The
New England light is glare, and the atmosphere harshens color.
The boy was a full man before he ever knew what was meant by
atmosphere; his idea of pleasure in light was the blaze of a New
England sun. His idea of color was a peony, with the dew of early
morning on its petals. The intense blue of the sea, as he saw it
a mile or two away, from the Quincy hills; the cumuli in a June
afternoon sky; the strong reds and greens and purples of colored
prints and children's picture-books, as the American colors then
ran; these were ideals. The opposites or antipathies, were the
cold grays of November evenings, and the thick, muddy thaws of
Boston winter. With such standards, the Bostonian could not but
develop a double nature. Life was a double thing. After a January
blizzard, the boy who could look with pleasure into the violent
snow-glare of the cold white sunshine, with its intense light and
shade, scarcely knew what was meant by tone. He could reach it
only by education.

Winter and summer, then, were two hostile lives, and bred two
separate natures. Winter was always the effort to live; summer
was tropical license. Whether the children rolled in the grass,
or waded in the brook, or swam in the salt ocean, or sailed in
the bay, or fished for smelts in the creeks, or netted minnows in
the salt-marshes, or took to the pine-woods and the granite
quarries, or chased muskrats and hunted snapping-turtles in the
swamps, or mushrooms or nuts on the autumn hills, summer and
country were always sensual living, while winter was always
compulsory learning. Summer was the multiplicity of nature;
winter was school.

The bearing of the two seasons on the education of Henry Adams
was no fancy; it was the most decisive force he ever knew; it ran
though life, and made the division between its perplexing,
warring, irreconcilable problems, irreducible opposites, with
growing emphasis to the last year of study. From earliest
childhood the boy was accustomed to feel that, for him, life was
double. Winter and summer, town and country, law and liberty,
were hostile, and the man who pretended they were not, was in his
eyes a schoolmaster -- that is, a man employed to tell lies to
little boys. Though Quincy was but two hours' walk from Beacon
Hill, it belonged in a different world. For two hundred years,
every Adams, from father to son, had lived within sight of State
Street, and sometimes had lived in it, yet none had ever taken
kindly to the town, or been taken kindly by it. The boy inherited
his double nature. He knew as yet nothing about his
great-grandfather, who had died a dozen years before his own
birth: he took for granted that any great-grandfather of his must
have always been good, and his enemies wicked; but he divined his
great-grandfather's character from his own. Never for a moment
did he connect the two ideas of Boston and John Adams; they were
separate and antagonistic; the idea of John Adams went with
Quincy. He knew his grandfather John Quincy Adams only as an old
man of seventy-five or eighty who was friendly and gentle with
him, but except that he heard his grandfather always called "the
President," and his grandmother "the Madam," he had no reason to
suppose that his Adams grandfather differed in character from his
Brooks grandfather who was equally kind and benevolent. He liked
the Adams side best, but for no other reason than that it
reminded him of the country, the summer, and the absence of
restraint. Yet he felt also that Quincy was in a way inferior to
Boston, and that socially Boston looked down on Quincy. The
reason was clear enough even to a five-year old child. Quincy had
no Boston style. Little enough style had either; a simpler manner
of life and thought could hardly exist, short of cave-dwelling.
The flint-and-steel with which his grandfather Adams used to
light his own fires in the early morning was still on the
mantelpiece of his study. The idea of a livery or even a dress
for servants, or of an evening toilette, was next to blasphemy.
Bathrooms, water-supplies, lighting, heating, and the whole array
of domestic comforts, were unknown at Quincy. Boston had already
a bathroom, a water-supply, a furnace, and gas. The superiority
of Boston was evident, but a child liked it no better for that.

The magnificence of his grandfather Brooks's house in Pearl
Street or South Street has long ago disappeared, but perhaps his
country house at Medford may still remain to show what impressed
the mind of a boy in 1845 with the idea of city splendor. The
President's place at Quincy was the larger and older and far the
more interesting of the two; but a boy felt at once its
inferiority in fashion. It showed plainly enough its want of
wealth. It smacked of colonial age, but not of Boston style or
plush curtains. To the end of his life he never quite overcame
the prejudice thus drawn in with his childish breath. He never
could compel himself to care for nineteenth-century style. He was
never able to adopt it, any more than his father or grandfather
or great-grandfather had done. Not that he felt it as
particularly hostile, for he reconciled himself to much that was
worse; but because, for some remote reason, he was born an
eighteenth-century child. The old house at Quincy was eighteenth
century. What style it had was in its Queen Anne mahogany panels
and its Louis Seize chairs and sofas. The panels belonged to an
old colonial Vassall who built the house; the furniture had been
brought back from Paris in 1789 or 1801 or 1817, along with
porcelain and books and much else of old diplomatic remnants; and
neither of the two eighteenth-century styles -- neither English
Queen Anne nor French Louis Seize -- was cofortable for a boy, or
for any one else. The dark mahogany had been painted white to
suit daily life in winter gloom. Nothing seemed to favor, for a
child's objects, the older forms. On the contrary, most boys, as
well as grown-up people, preferred the new, with good reason, and
the child felt himself distinctly at a disadvantage for the

Nor had personal preference any share in his bias. The Brooks
grandfather was as amiable and as sympathetic as the Adams
grandfather. Both were born in 1767, and both died in 1848. Both
were kind to children, and both belonged rather to the eighteenth
than to the nineteenth centuries. The child knew no difference
between them except that one was associated with winter and the
other with summer; one with Boston, the other with Quincy. Even
with Medford, the association was hardly easier. Once as a very
young boy he was taken to pass a few days with his grandfather
Brooks under charge of his aunt, but became so violently homesick
that within twenty-four hours he was brought back in disgrace.
Yet he could not remember ever being seriously homesick again.

The attachment to Quincy was not altogether sentimental or
wholly sympathetic. Quincy was not a bed of thornless roses. Even
there the curse of Cain set its mark. There as elsewhere a cruel
universe combined to crush a child. As though three or four
vigorous brothers and sisters, with the best will, were not
enough to crush any child, every one else conspired towards an
education which he hated. From cradle to grave this problem of
running order through chaos, direction through space, discipline
through freedom, unity through multiplicity, has always been, and
must always be, the task of education, as it is the moral of
religion, philosophy, science, art, politics, and economy; but a
boy's will is his life, and he dies when it is broken, as the
colt dies in harness, taking a new nature in becoming tame.
Rarely has the boy felt kindly towards his tamers. Between him
and his master has always been war. Henry Adams never knew a boy
of his generation to like a master, and the task of remaining on
friendly terms with one's own family, in such a relation, was
never easy.

All the more singular it seemed afterwards to him that his
first serious contact with the President should have been a
struggle of will, in which the old man almost necessarily
defeated the boy, but instead of leaving, as usual in such
defeats, a lifelong sting, left rather an impression of as fair
treatment as could be expected from a natural enemy. The boy met
seldom with such restraint. He could not have been much more than
six years old at the time -- seven at the utmost -- and his
mother had taken him to Quincy for a long stay with the President
during the summer. What became of the rest of the family he quite
forgot; but he distinctly remembered standing at the house door
one summer morning in a passionate outburst of rebellion against
going to school. Naturally his mother was the immediate victim of
his rage; that is what mothers are for, and boys also; but in
this case the boy had his mother at unfair disadvantage, for she
was a guest, and had no means of enforcing obedience. Henry
showed a certain tactical ability by refusing to start, and he
met all efforts at compulsion by successful, though too vehement
protest. He was in fair way to win, and was holding his own, with
sufficient energy, at the bottom of the long staircase which led
up to the door of the President's library, when the door opened,
and the old man slowly came down. Putting on his hat, he took the
boy's hand without a word, and walked with him, paralyzed by awe,
up the road to the town. After the first moments of consternation
at this interference in a domestic dispute, the boy reflected
that an old gentleman close on eighty would never trouble himself
to walk near a mile on a hot summer morning over a shadeless road
to take a boy to school, and that it would be strange if a lad
imbued with the passion of freedom could not find a corner to
dodge around, somewhere before reaching the school door. Then and
always, the boy insisted that this reasoning justified his
apparent submission; but the old man did not stop, and the boy
saw all his strategical points turned, one after another, until
he found himself seated inside the school, and obviously the
centre of curious if not malevolent criticism. Not till then did
the President release his hand and depart.

The point was that this act, contrary to the inalienable rights
of boys, and nullifying the social compact, ought to have made
him dislike his grandfather for life. He could not recall that it
had this effect even for a moment. With a certain maturity of
mind, the child must have recognized that the President, though a
tool of tyranny, had done his disreputable work with a certain
intelligence. He had shown no temper, no irritation, no personal
feeling, and had made no display of force. Above all, he had held
his tongue. During their long walk he had said nothing; he had
uttered no syllable of revolting cant about the duty of obedience
and the wickedness of resistance to law; he had shown no concern
in the matter; hardly even a consciousness of the boy's
existence. Probably his mind at that moment was actually
troubling itself little about his grandson's iniquities, and much
about the iniquities of President Polk, but the boy could
scarcely at that age feel the whole satisfaction of thinking that
President Polk was to be the vicarious victim of his own sins,
and he gave his grandfather credit for intelligent silence. For
this forbearance he felt instinctive respect. He admitted force
as a form of right; he admitted even temper, under protest; but
the seeds of a moral education would at that moment have fallen
on the stoniest soil in Quincy, which is, as every one knows, the
stoniest glacial and tidal drift known in any Puritan land.

Neither party to this momentary disagreement can have felt
rancor, for during these three or four summers the old
President's relations with the boy were friendly and almost
intimate. Whether his older brothers and sisters were still more
favored he failed to remember, but he was himself admitted to a
sort of familiarity which, when in his turn he had reached old
age, rather shocked him, for it must have sometimes tried the
President's patience. He hung about the library; handled the
books; deranged the papers; ransacked the drawers; searched the
old purses and pocket-books for foreign coins; drew the
sword-cane; snapped the travelling-pistols; upset everything in
the corners, and penetrated the President's dressing-closet where
a row of tumblers, inverted on the shelf, covered caterpillars
which were supposed to become moths or butterflies, but never
did. The Madam bore with fortitude the loss of the tumblers which
her husband purloined for these hatcheries; but she made protest
when he carried off her best cut-glass bowls to plant with acorns
or peachstones that he might see the roots grow, but which, she
said, he commonly forgot like the caterpillars.

At that time the President rode the hobby of tree-culture, and
some fine old trees should still remain to witness it, unless
they have been improved off the ground; but his was a restless
mind, and although he took his hobbies seriously and would have
been annoyed had his grandchild asked whether he was bored like
an English duke, he probably cared more for the processes than
for the results, so that his grandson was saddened by the sight
and smell of peaches and pears, the best of their kind, which he
brought up from the garden to rot on his shelves for seed. With
the inherited virtues of his Puritan ancestors, the little boy
Henry conscientiously brought up to him in his study the finest
peaches he found in the garden, and ate only the less perfect.
Naturally he ate more by way of compensation, but the act showed
that he bore no grudge. As for his grandfather, it is even
possible that he may have felt a certain self-reproach for his
temporary role of schoolmaster -- seeing that his own career did
not offer proof of the worldly advantages of docile obedience --
for there still exists somewhere a little volume of critically
edited Nursery Rhymes with the boy's name in full written in the
President's trembling hand on the fly-leaf. Of course there was
also the Bible, given to each child at birth, with the proper
inscription in the President's hand on the fly-leaf; while their
grandfather Brooks supplied the silver mugs.

So many Bibles and silver mugs had to be supplied, that a new
house, or cottage, was built to hold them. It was "on the hill,"
five minutes' walk above "the old house," with a far view
eastward over Quincy Bay, and northward over Boston. Till his
twelfth year, the child passed his summers there, and his
pleasures of childhood mostly centred in it. Of education he had
as yet little to complain. Country schools were not very serious.
Nothing stuck to the mind except home impressions, and the
sharpest were those of kindred children; but as influences that
warped a mind, none compared with the mere effect of the back of
the President's bald head, as he sat in his pew on Sundays, in
line with that of President Quincy, who, though some ten years
younger, seemed to children about the same age. Before railways
entered the New England town, every parish church showed
half-a-dozen of these leading citizens, with gray hair, who sat
on the main aisle in the best pews, and had sat there, or in some
equivalent dignity, since the time of St. Augustine, if not since
the glacial epoch. It was unusual for boys to sit behind a
President grandfather, and to read over his head the tablet in
memory of a President great-grandfather, who had "pledged his
life, his fortune, and his sacred honor" to secure the
independence of his country and so forth; but boys naturally
supposed, without much reasoning, that other boys had the
equivalent of President grandfathers, and that churches would
always go on, with the bald-headed leading citizens on the main
aisle, and Presidents or their equivalents on the walls. The
Irish gardener once said to the child: "You'll be thinkin' you'll
be President too!" The casuality of the remark made so strong an
impression on his mind that he never forgot it. He could not
remember ever to have thought on the subject; to him, that there
should be a doubt of his being President was a new idea. What had
been would continue to be. He doubted neither about Presidents
nor about Churches, and no one suggested at that time a doubt
whether a system of society which had lasted since Adam would
outlast one Adams more.

The Madam was a little more remote than the President, but more
decorative. She stayed much in her own room with the Dutch tiles,
looking out on her garden with the box walks, and seemed a
fragile creature to a boy who sometimes brought her a note or a
message, and took distinct pleasure in looking at her delicate
face under what seemed to him very becoming caps. He liked her
refined figure ; her gentle voice and manner; her vague effect of
not belonging there, but to Washington or to Europe, like her
furniture, and writing-desk with little glass doors above and
little eighteenth-century volumes in old binding, labelled
"Peregrine Pickle" or "Tom Jones" or "Hannah More." Try as she
might, the Madam could never be Bostonian, and it was her cross
in life, but to the boy it was her charm. Even at that age, he
felt drawn to it. The Madam's life had been in truth far from
Boston. She was born in London in 1775, daughter of Joshua
Johnson, an American merchant, brother of Governor Thomas Johnson
of Maryland; and Catherine Nuth, of an English family in London.
Driven from England by the Revolutionary War, Joshua Johnson took
his family to Nantes, where they remained till the peace. The
girl Louisa Catherine was nearly ten years old when brought back
to London, and her sense of nationality must have been confused;
but the influence of the Johnsons and the services of Joshua
obtained for him from President Washington the appointment of
Consul in London on the organization of the Government in 1790.
In 1794 President Washington appointed John Quincy Adams Minister
to The Hague. He was twenty-seven years old when he returned to
London, and found the Consul's house a very agreeable haunt.
Louisa was then twenty.

At that time, and long afterwards, the Consul's house, far more
than the Minister's, was the centre of contact for travelling
Americans, either official or other. The Legation was a shifting
point, between 1785 and 1815; but the Consulate, far down in the
City, near the Tower, was convenient and inviting; so inviting
that it proved fatal to young Adams. Louisa was charming, like a
Romney portrait, but among her many charms that of being a New
England woman was not one. The defect was serious. Her future
mother-in-law, Abigail, a famous New England woman whose
authority over her turbulent husband, the second President, was
hardly so great as that which she exercised over her son, the
sixth to be, was troubled by the fear that Louisa might not be
made of stuff stern enough, or brought up in conditions severe
enough, to suit a New England climate, or to make an efficient
wife for her paragon son, and Abigail was right on that point, as
on most others where sound judgment was involved; but sound
judgment is sometimes a source of weakness rather than of force,
and John Quincy already had reason to think that his mother held
sound judgments on the subject of daughters-in-law which human
nature, since the fall of Eve, made Adams helpless to realize.
Being three thousand miles away from his mother, and equally far
in love, he married Louisa in London, July 26, 1797, and took her
to Berlin to be the head of the United States Legation. During
three or four exciting years, the young bride lived in Berlin;
whether she was happy or not, whether she was content or not,
whether she was socially successful or not, her descendants did
not surely know; but in any case she could by no chance have
become educated there for a life in Quincy or Boston. In 1801 the
overthrow of the Federalist Party drove her and her husband to
America, and she became at last a member of the Quincy household,
but by that time her children needed all her attention, and she
remained there with occasional winters in Boston and Washington,
till 1809. Her husband was made Senator in 1803, and in 1809 was
appointed Minister to Russia. She went with him to St.
Petersburg, taking her baby, Charles Francis, born in 1807; but
broken-hearted at having to leave her two older boys behind. The
life at St. Petersburg was hardly gay for her; they were far too
poor to shine in that extravagant society; but she survived it,
though her little girl baby did not, and in the winter of
1814-15, alone with the boy of seven years old, crossed Europe
from St. Petersburg to Paris, in her travelling-carriage, passing
through the armies, and reaching Paris in the Cent Jours after
Napoleon's return from Elba. Her husband next went to England as
Minister, and she was for two years at the Court of the Regent.
In 1817 her husband came home to be Secretary of State, and she
lived for eight years in F Street, doing her work of entertainer
for President Monroe's administration. Next she lived four
miserable years in the White House. When that chapter was closed
in 1829, she had earned the right to be tired and delicate, but
she still had fifteen years to serve as wife of a Member of the
House, after her husband went back to Congress in 1833. Then it
was that the little Henry, her grandson, first remembered her,
from 1843 to 1848, sitting in her panelled room, at breakfast,
with her heavy silver teapot and sugar-bowl and cream-jug, which
still exist somewhere as an heirloom of the modern safety-vault.
By that time she was seventy years old or more, and thoroughly
weary of being beaten about a stormy world. To the boy she seemed
singularly peaceful, a vision of silver gray, presiding over her
old President and her Queen Anne mahogany; an exotic, like her
Sevres china; an object of deference to every one, and of great
affection to her son Charles; but hardly more Bostonian than she
had been fifty years before, on her wedding-day, in the shadow of
the Tower of London.

Such a figure was even less fitted than that of her old
husband, the President, to impress on a boy's mind, the standards
of the coming century. She was Louis Seize, like the furniture.
The boy knew nothing of her interior life, which had been, as the
venerable Abigail, long since at peace, foresaw, one of severe
stress and little pure satisfaction. He never dreamed that from
her might come some of those doubts and self-questionings, those
hesitations, those rebellions against law and discipline, which
marked more than one of her descendants; but he might even then
have felt some vague instinctive suspicion that he was to inherit
from her the seeds of the primal sin, the fall from grace, the
curse of Abel, that he was not of pure New England stock, but
half exotic. As a child of Quincy he was not a true Bostonian,
but even as a child of Quincy he inherited a quarter taint of
Maryland blood. Charles Francis, half Marylander by birth, had
hardly seen Boston till he was ten years old, when his parents
left him there at school in 1817, and he never forgot the
experience. He was to be nearly as old as his mother had been in
1845, before he quite accepted Boston, or Boston quite accepted

A boy who began his education in these surroundings, with
physical strength inferior to that of his brothers, and with a
certain delicacy of mind and bone, ought rightly to have felt at
home in the eighteenth century and should, in proper
self-respect, have rebelled against the standards of the
nineteenth. The atmosphere of his first ten years must have been
very like that of his grandfather at the same age, from 1767 till
1776, barring the battle of Bunker Hill, and even as late as
1846, the battle of Bunker Hill remained actual. The tone of
Boston society was colonial. The true Bostonian always knelt in
self-abasement before the majesty of English standards; far from
concealing it as a weakness, he was proud of it as his strength.
The eighteenth century ruled society long after 1850. Perhaps the
boy began to shake it off rather earlier than most of his mates.

Indeed this prehistoric stage of education ended rather
abruptly with his tenth year. One winter morning he was conscious
of a certain confusion in the house in Mount Vernon Street, and
gathered, from such words as he could catch, that the President,
who happened to be then staying there, on his way to Washington,
had fallen and hurt himself. Then he heard the word paralysis.
After that day he came to associate the word with the figure of
his grandfather, in a tall-backed, invalid armchair, on one side
of the spare bedroom fireplace, and one of his old friends, Dr.
Parkman or P. P. F. Degrand, on the other side, both dozing.

The end of this first, or ancestral and Revolutionary, chapter
came on February 21, 1848 -- and the month of February brought
life and death as a family habit -- when the eighteenth century,
as an actual and living companion, vanished. If the scene on the
floor of the House, when the old President fell, struck the still
simple-minded American public with a sensation unusually
dramatic, its effect on a ten-year-old boy, whose boy-life was
fading away with the life of his grandfather, could not be
slight. One had to pay for Revolutionary patriots; grandfathers
and grandmothers; Presidents; diplomats; Queen Anne mahogany and
Louis Seize chairs, as well as for Stuart portraits. Such things
warp young life. Americans commonly believed that they ruined it,
and perhaps the practical common-sense of the American mind
judged right. Many a boy might be ruined by much less than the
emotions of the funeral service in the Quincy church, with its
surroundings of national respect and family pride. By another
dramatic chance it happened that the clergyman of the parish, Dr.
Lunt, was an unusual pulpit orator, the ideal of a somewhat
austere intellectual type, such as the school of Buckminster and
Channing inherited from the old Congregational clergy. His
extraordinarily refined appearance, his dignity of manner, his
deeply cadenced voice, his remarkable English and his fine
appreciation, gave to the funeral service a character that left
an overwhelming impression on the boy's mind. He was to see many
great functions -- funerals and festival -- in after-life, till
his only thought was to see no more, but he never again witnessed
anything nearly so impressive to him as the last services at
Quincy over the body of one President and the ashes of another.

The effect of the Quincy service was deepened by the official
ceremony which afterwards took place in Faneuil Hall, when the
boy was taken to hear his uncle, Edward Everett, deliver a
Eulogy. Like all Mr. Everett's orations, it was an admirable
piece of oratory, such as only an admirable orator and scholar
could create; too good for a ten-year-old boy to appreciate at
its value; but already the boy knew that the dead President could
not be in it, and had even learned why he would have been out of
place there; for knowledge was beginning to come fast. The shadow
of the War of 1812 still hung over State Street; the shadow of
the Civil War to come had already begun to darken Faneuil Hall.
No rhetoric could have reconciled Mr. Everett's audience to his
subject. How could he say there, to an assemblage of Bostonians
in the heart of mercantile Boston, that the only distinctive mark
of all the Adamses, since old Sam Adams's father a hundred and
fifty years before, had been their inherited quarrel with State
Street, which had again and again broken out into riot,
bloodshed, personal feuds, foreign and civil war, wholesale
banishments and confiscations, until the history of Florence was
hardly more turbulent than that of Boston? How could he whisper
the word Hartford Convention before the men who had made it? What
would have been said had he suggested the chance of Secession and
Civil War?

Thus already, at ten years old, the boy found himself standing
face to face with a dilemma that might have puzzled an early
Christian. What was he? -- where was he going? Even then he felt
that something was wrong, but he concluded that it must be
Boston. Quincy had always been right, for Quincy represented a
moral principle -- the principle of resistance to Boston. His
Adams ancestors must have been right, since they were always
hostile to State Street. If State Street was wrong, Quincy must
be right! Turn the dilemma as he pleased, he still came back on
the eighteenth century and the law of Resistance; of Truth; of
Duty, and of Freedom. He was a ten-year-old priest and
politician. He could under no circumstances have guessed what the
next fifty years had in store, and no one could teach him; but
sometimes, in his old age, he wondered -- and could never decide
-- whether the most clear and certain knowledge would have helped
him. Supposing he had seen a New York stock-list of 1900, and had
studied the statistics of railways, telegraphs, coal, and steel
-- would he have quitted his eighteenth-century, his ancestral
prejudices, his abstract ideals, his semi-clerical training, and
the rest, in order to perform an expiatory pilgrimage to State
Street, and ask for the fatted calf of his grandfather Brooks and
a clerkship in the Suffolk Bank?

Sixty years afterwards he was still unable to make up his mind.
Each course had its advantages, but the material advantages,
looking back, seemed to lie wholly in State Street.


BOSTON (1848-1854)

PETER CHARDON BROOKS, the other grandfather, died January 1,
1849, bequeathing what was supposed to be the largest estate in
Boston, about two million dollars, to his seven surviving
children: four sons -- Edward, Peter Chardon, Gorham, and Sydney;
three daughters -- Charlotte, married to Edward Everett; Ann,
married to Nathaniel Frothingham, minister of the First Church;
and Abigail Brown, born April 25, 1808, married September 3,
1829, to Charles Francis Adams, hardly a year older than herself.
Their first child, born in 1830, was a daughter, named Louisa
Catherine, after her Johnson grandmother; the second was a son,
named John Quincy, after his President grandfather; the third
took his father's name, Charles Francis; while the fourth, being
of less account, was in a way given to his mother, who named him
Henry Brooks, after a favorite brother just lost. More followed,
but these, being younger, had nothing to do with the arduous
process of educating.

The Adams connection was singularly small in Boston, but the
family of Brooks was singularly large and even brilliant, and
almost wholly of clerical New England stock. One might have
sought long in much larger and older societies for three
brothers-in-law more distinguished or more scholarly than Edward
Everett, Dr. Frothingham, and Mr. Adams. One might have sought
equally long for seven brothers-in-law more unlike. No doubt they
all bore more or less the stamp of Boston, or at least of
Massachusetts Bay, but the shades of difference amounted to
contrasts. Mr. Everett belonged to Boston hardly more than Mr.
Adams. One of the most ambitious of Bostonians, he had broken
bounds early in life by leaving the Unitarian pulpit to take a
seat in Congress where he had given valuable support to J. Q.
Adams's administration; support which, as a social consequence,
led to the marriage of the President's son, Charles Francis, with
Mr. Everett's youngest sister-in-law, Abigail Brooks. The wreck
of parties which marked the reign of Andrew Jackson had
interfered with many promising careers, that of Edward Everett
among the rest, but he had risen with the Whig Party to power,
had gone as Minister to England, and had returned to America with
the halo of a European reputation, and undisputed rank second
only to Daniel Webster as the orator and representative figure of
Boston. The other brother-in-law, Dr. Frothingham, belonged to
the same clerical school, though in manner rather the less
clerical of the two. Neither of them had much in common with Mr.
Adams, who was a younger man, greatly biassed by his father, and
by the inherited feud between Quincy and State Street; but
personal relations were friendly as far as a boy could see, and
the innumerable cousins went regularly to the First Church every
Sunday in winter, and slept through their uncle's sermons,
without once thinking to ask what the sermons were supposed to
mean for them. For two hundred years the First Church had seen
the same little boys, sleeping more or less soundly under the
same or similar conditions, and dimly conscious of the same
feuds; but the feuds had never ceased, and the boys had always
grown up to inherit them. Those of the generation of 1812 had
mostly disappeared in 1850; death had cleared that score; the
quarrels of John Adams, and those of John Quincy Adams were no
longer acutely personal; the game was considered as drawn; and
Charles Francis Adams might then have taken his inherited rights
of political leadership in succession to Mr. Webster and Mr.
Everett, his seniors. Between him and State Street the relation
was more natural than between Edward Everett and State Street;
but instead of doing so, Charles Francis Adams drew himself aloof
and renewed the old war which had already lasted since 1700. He
could not help it. With the record of J. Q. Adams fresh in the
popular memory, his son and his only representative could not
make terms with the slave-power, and the slave-power overshadowed
all the great Boston interests. No doubt Mr. Adams had principles
of his own, as well as inherited, but even his children, who as
yet had no principles, could equally little follow the lead of
Mr. Webster or even of Mr. Seward. They would have lost in
consideration more than they would have gained in patronage. They
were anti-slavery by birth, as their name was Adams and their
home was Quincy. No matter how much they had wished to enter
State Street, they felt that State Street never would trust them,
or they it. Had State Street been Paradise, they must hunger for
it in vain, and it hardly needed Daniel Webster to act as
archangel with the flaming sword, to order them away from the

Time and experience, which alter all perspectives, altered this
among the rest, and taught the boy gentler judgment, but even
when only ten years old, his face was already fixed, and his
heart was stone, against State Street; his education was warped
beyond recovery in the direction of Puritan politics. Between him
and his patriot grandfather at the same age, the conditions had
changed little. The year 1848 was like enough to the year 1776 to
make a fair parallel. The parallel, as concerned bias of
education, was complete when, a few months after the death of
John Quincy Adams, a convention of anti-slavery delegates met at
Buffalo to organize a new party and named candidates for the
general election in November: for President, Martin Van Buren;
for Vice-President, Charles Francis Adams.

For any American boy the fact that his father was running for
office would have dwarfed for the time every other excitement,
but even apart from personal bias, the year 1848, for a boy's
road through life, was decisive for twenty years to come. There
was never a side-path of escape. The stamp of 1848 was almost as
indelible as the stamp of 1776, but in the eighteenth or any
earlier century, the stamp mattered less because it was standard,
and every one bore it; while men whose lives were to fall in the
generation between 1865 and 1900 had, first of all, to get rid of
it, and take the stamp that belonged to their time. This was
their education. To outsiders, immigrants, adventurers, it was
easy, but the old Puritan nature rebelled against change. The
reason it gave was forcible. The Puritan thought his thought
higher and his moral standards better than those of his
successors. So they were. He could not be convinced that moral
standards had nothing to do with it, and that utilitarian
morality was good enough for him, as it was for the graceless.
Nature had given to the boy Henry a character that, in any
previous century, would have led him into the Church; he
inherited dogma and a priori thought from the beginning of time;
and he scarcely needed a violent reaction like anti-slavery
politics to sweep him back into Puritanism with a violence as
great as that of a religious war.

Thus far he had nothing to do with it; his education was
chiefly inheritance, and during the next five or six years, his
father alone counted for much. If he were to worry successfully
through life's quicksands, he must depend chiefly on his father's
pilotage; but, for his father, the channel lay clear, while for
himself an unknown ocean lay beyond. His father's business in
life was to get past the dangers of the slave-power, or to fix
its bounds at least. The task done, he might be content to let
his sons pay for the pilotage; and it mattered little to his
success whether they paid it with their lives wasted on
battle-fields or in misdirected energies and lost opportunity.
The generation that lived from 1840 to 1870 could do very well
with the old forms of education; that which had its work to do
between 1870 and 1900 needed something quite new.

His father's character was therefore the larger part of his
education, as far as any single person affected it, and for that
reason, if for no other, the son was always a much interested
critic of his father's mind and temper. Long after his death as
an old man of eighty, his sons continued to discuss this subject
with a good deal of difference in their points of view. To his
son Henry, the quality that distinguished his father from all the
other figures in the family group, was that, in his opinion,
Charles Francis Adams possessed the only perfectly balanced mind
that ever existed in the name. For a hundred years, every
newspaper scribbler had, with more or less obvious excuse,
derided or abused the older Adamses for want of judgment. They
abused Charles Francis for his judgment. Naturally they never
attempted to assign values to either; that was the children's
affair; but the traits were real. Charles Francis Adams was
singular for mental poise -- absence of self-assertion or
self-consciousness -- the faculty of standing apart without
seeming aware that he was alone -- a balance of mind and temper
that neither challenged nor avoided notice, nor admitted question
of superiority or inferiority, of jealousy, of personal motives,
from any source, even under great pressure. This unusual poise of
judgment and temper, ripened by age, became the more striking to
his son Henry as he learned to measure the mental faculties
themselves, which were in no way exceptional either for depth or
range. Charles Francis Adams's memory was hardly above the
average; his mind was not bold like his grandfather's or restless
like his father's, or imaginative or oratorical -- still less
mathematical; but it worked with singular perfection, admirable
self-restraint, and instinctive mastery of form. Within its range
it was a model.

The standards of Boston were high, much affected by the old
clerical self-respect which gave the Unitarian clergy unusual
social charm. Dr. Channing, Mr. Everett, Dr. Frothingham. Dr.
Palfrey, President Walker, R. W. Emerson, and other Boston
ministers of the same school, would have commanded distinction in
any society; but the Adamses had little or no affinity with the
pulpit, and still less with its eccentric offshoots, like
Theodore Parker, or Brook Farm, or the philosophy of Concord.
Besides its clergy, Boston showed a literary group, led by
Ticknor, Prescott, Longfellow, Motley, O. W. Holmes; but Mr.
Adams was not one of them; as a rule they were much too
Websterian. Even in science Boston could claim a certain
eminence, especially in medicine, but Mr. Adams cared very little
for science. He stood alone. He had no master -- hardly even his
father. He had no scholars -- hardly even his sons.

Almost alone among his Boston contemporaries, he was not
English in feeling or in sympathies. Perhaps a hundred years of
acute hostility to England had something to do with this family
trait; but in his case it went further and became indifference to
social distinction. Never once in forty years of intimacy did his
son notice in him a trace of snobbishness. He was one of the
exceedingly small number of Americans to whom an English duke or
duchess seemed to be indifferent, and royalty itself nothing more
than a slightly inconvenient presence. This was, it is true,
rather the tone of English society in his time, but Americans
were largely responsible for changing it, and Mr. Adams had every
possible reason for affecting the manner of a courtier even if he
did not feel the sentiment. Never did his son see him flatter or
vilify, or show a sign of envy or jealousy; never a shade of
vanity or self-conceit. Never a tone of arrogance! Never a
gesture of pride!

The same thing might perhaps have been said of John Quincy
Adams, but in him his associates averred that it was accompanied
by mental restlessness and often by lamentable want of judgment.
No one ever charged Charles Francis Adams with this fault. The
critics charged him with just the opposite defect. They called
him cold. No doubt, such perfect poise -- such intuitive
self-adjustment -- was not maintained by nature without a
sacrifice of the qualities which would have upset it. No doubt,
too, that even his restless-minded, introspective, self-conscious
children who knew him best were much too ignorant of the world
and of human nature to suspect how rare and complete was the
model before their eyes. A coarser instrument would have
impressed them more. Average human nature is very coarse, and its
ideals must necessarily be average. The world never loved perfect
poise. What the world does love is commonly absence of poise, for
it has to be amused. Napoleons and Andrew Jacksons amuse it, but
it is not amused by perfect balance. Had Mr. Adams's nature been
cold, he would have followed Mr. Webster, Mr. Everett, Mr.
Seward, and Mr. Winthrop in the lines of party discipline and
self-interest. Had it been less balanced than it was, he would
have gone with Mr. Garrison, Mr. Wendell Phillips, Mr. Edmund
Quincy, and Theodore Parker, into secession. Between the two
paths he found an intermediate one, distinctive and
characteristic -- he set up a party of his own.

This political party became a chief influence in the education
of the boy Henry in the six years 1848 to 1854, and violently
affected his character at the moment when character is plastic.
The group of men with whom Mr. Adams associated himself, and
whose social centre was the house in Mount Vernon Street,
numbered only three: Dr. John G. Palfrey, Richard H. Dana, and
Charles Sumner. Dr. Palfrey was the oldest, and in spite of his
clerical education, was to a boy often the most agreeable, for
his talk was lighter and his range wider than that of the others;
he had wit, or humor, and the give-and-take of dinner-table
exchange. Born to be a man of the world, he forced himself to be
clergyman, professor, or statesman, while, like every other true
Bostonian, he yearned for the ease of the Athenaeum Club in Pall
Mall or the Combination Room at Trinity. Dana at first suggested
the opposite; he affected to be still before the mast, a direct,
rather bluff, vigorous seaman, and only as one got to know him
better one found the man of rather excessive refinement trying
with success to work like a day-laborer, deliberately hardening
his skin to the burden, as though he were still carrying hides at
Monterey. Undoubtedly he succeeded, for his mind and will were
robust, but he might have said what his lifelong friend William
M. Evarts used to say: "I pride myself on my success in doing not
the things I like to do, but the things I don't like to do."
Dana's ideal of life was to be a great Englishman, with a seat on
the front benches of the House of Commons until he should be
promoted to the woolsack; beyond all, with a social status that
should place him above the scuffle of provincial and
unprofessional annoyances; but he forced himself to take life as
it came, and he suffocated his longings with grim
self-discipline, by mere force of will. Of the four men, Dana was
the most marked. Without dogmatism or self-assertion, he seemed
always to be fully in sight, a figure that completely filled a
well-defined space. He, too, talked well, and his mind worked
close to its subject, as a lawyer's should; but disguise and
silence it as he liked, it was aristocratic to the tenth

In that respect, and in that only, Charles Sumner was like him,
but Sumner, in almost every other quality, was quite different
from his three associates -- altogether out of line. He, too,
adored English standards, but his ambition led him to rival the
career of Edmund Burke. No young Bostonian of his time had made
so brilliant a start, but rather in the steps of Edward Everett
than of Daniel Webster. As an orator he had achieved a triumph by
his oration against war; but Boston admired him chiefly for his
social success in England and on the Continent; success that gave
to every Bostonian who enjoyed it a halo never acquired by
domestic sanctity. Mr. Sumner, both by interest and instinct,
felt the value of his English connection, and cultivated it the
more as he became socially an outcast from Boston society by the
passions of politics. He was rarely without a pocket-full of
letters from duchesses or noblemen in England. Having sacrificed
to principle his social position in America, he clung the more
closely to his foreign attachments. The Free Soil Party fared ill
in Beacon Street. The social arbiters of Boston -- George Ticknor
and the rest -- had to admit, however unwillingly, that the Free
Soil leaders could not mingle with the friends and followers of
Mr. Webster. Sumner was socially ostracized, and so, for that
matter, were Palfrey, Dana, Russell, Adams, and all the other
avowed anti-slavery leaders, but for them it mattered less,
because they had houses and families of their own; while Sumner
had neither wife nor household, and, though the most socially
ambitious of all, and the most hungry for what used to be called
polite society, he could enter hardly half-a-dozen houses in
Boston. Longfellow stood by him in Cambridge, and even in Beacon
Street he could always take refuge in the house of Mr. Lodge, but
few days passed when he did not pass some time in Mount Vernon
Street. Even with that, his solitude was glacial, and reacted on
his character. He had nothing but himself to think about. His
superiority was, indeed, real and incontestable; he was the
classical ornament of the anti-slavery party; their pride in him
was unbounded, and their admiration outspoken.

The boy Henry worshipped him, and if he ever regarded any older
man as a personal friend, it was Mr. Sumner. The relation of Mr.
Sumner in the household was far closer than any relation of
blood. None of the uncles approached such intimacy. Sumner was
the boy's ideal of greatness; the highest product of nature and
art. The only fault of such a model was its superiority which
defied imitation. To the twelve-year-old boy, his father, Dr.
Palfrey, Mr. Dana, were men, more or less like what he himself
might become; but Mr. Sumner was a different order -- heroic.

As the boy grew up to be ten or twelve years old, his father
gave him a writing-table in one of the alcoves of his Boston
library, and there, winter after winter, Henry worked over his
Latin Grammar and listened to these four gentlemen discussing the
course of anti-slavery politics. The discussions were always
serious; the Free Soil Party took itself quite seriously; and
they were habitual because Mr. Adams had undertaken to edit a
newspaper as the organ of these gentlemen, who came to discuss
its policy and expression. At the same time Mr. Adams was editing
the "Works" of his grandfather John Adams, and made the boy
read texts for proof-correction. In after years his father
sometimes complained that, as a reader of Novanglus and
Massachusettensis, Henry had shown very little consciousness of
punctuation; but the boy regarded this part of school life only
as a warning, if he ever grew up to write dull discussions in the
newspapers, to try to be dull in some different way from that of
his great-grandfather. Yet the discussions in the Boston Whig
were carried on in much the same style as those of John Adams and
his opponent, and appealed to much the same society and the same
habit of mind. The boy got as little education, fitting him for
his own time, from the one as from the other, and he got no more
from his contact with the gentlemen themselves who were all types
of the past.

Down to 1850, and even later, New England society was still
directed by the professions. Lawyers, physicians, professors,
merchants were classes, and acted not as individuals, but as
though they were clergymen and each profession were a church. In
politics the system required competent expression; it was the old
Ciceronian idea of government by the best that produced the long
line of New England statesmen. They chose men to represent them
because they wanted to be well represented, and they chose the
best they had. Thus Boston chose Daniel Webster, and Webster
took, not as pay, but as honorarium, the cheques raised for him
by Peter Harvey from the Appletons, Perkinses, Amorys, Searses,
Brookses, Lawrences, and so on, who begged him to represent them.
Edward Everett held the rank in regular succession to Webster.
Robert C. Winthrop claimed succession to Everett. Charles Sumner
aspired to break the succession, but not the system. The Adamses
had never been, for any length of time, a part of this State
succession; they had preferred the national service, and had won
all their distinction outside the State, but they too had
required State support and had commonly received it. The little
group of men in Mount Vernon Street were an offshoot of this
system; they were statesmen, not politicians; they guided public
opinion, but were little guided by it.

The boy naturally learned only one lesson from his saturation
in such air. He took for granted that this sort of world, more or
less the same that had always existed in Boston and Massachusetts
Bay, was the world which he was to fit. Had he known Europe he
would have learned no better. The Paris of Louis Philippe,
Guizot, and de Tocqueville, as well as the London of Robert Peel,
Macaulay, and John Stuart Mill, were but varieties of the same
upper-class bourgeoisie that felt instinctive cousinship with the
Boston of Ticknor, Prescott, and Motley. Even the typical
grumbler Carlyle, who cast doubts on the real capacity of the
middle class, and who at times thought himself eccentric, found
friendship and alliances in Boston -- still more in Concord. The
system had proved so successful that even Germany wanted to try
it, and Italy yearned for it. England's middle-class government
was the ideal of human progress.

Even the violent reaction after 1848, and the return of all
Europe to military practices, never for a moment shook the true
faith. No one, except Karl Marx, foresaw radical change. What
announced it? The world was producing sixty or seventy million
tons of coal, and might be using nearly a million
steam-horsepower, just beginning to make itself felt. All
experience since the creation of man, all divine revelation or
human science, conspired to deceive and betray a twelve-year-old
boy who took for granted that his ideas, which were alone
respectable, would be alone respected.

Viewed from Mount Vernon Street, the problem of life was as
simple as it was classic. Politics offered no difficulties, for
there the moral law was a sure guide. Social perfection was also
sure, because human nature worked for Good, and three instruments
were all she asked -- Suffrage, Common Schools, and Press. On
these points doubt was forbidden. Education was divine, and man
needed only a correct knowledge of facts to reach perfection:

"Were half the power that fills the world with terror,
Were half the wealth bestowed on camps and courts,
Given to redeem the human mind from error,
There were no need of arsenals nor forts."

Nothing quieted doubt so completely as the mental calm of the
Unitarian clergy. In uniform excellence of life and character,
moral and intellectual, the score of Unitarian clergymen about
Boston, who controlled society and Harvard College, were never
excelled. They proclaimed as their merit that they insisted on no
doctrine, but taught, or tried to teach, the means of leading a
virtuous, useful, unselfish life, which they held to be
sufficient for salvation. For them, difficulties might be
ignored; doubts were waste of thought; nothing exacted solution.
Boston had solved the universe; or had offered and realized the
best solution yet tried. The problem was worked out.

Of all the conditions of his youth which afterwards puzzled the
grown-up man, this disappearance of religion puzzled him most.
The boy went to church twice every Sunday; he was taught to read
his Bible, and he learned religious poetry by heart; he believed
in a mild deism; he prayed; he went through all the forms; but
neither to him nor to his brothers or sisters was religion real.
Even the mild discipline of the Unitarian Church was so irksome
that they all threw it off at the first possible moment, and
never afterwards entered a church. The religious instinct had
vanished, and could not be revived, although one made in later
life many efforts to recover it. That the most powerful emotion
of man, next to the sexual, should disappear, might be a personal
defect of his own; but that the most intelligent society, led by
the most intelligent clergy, in the most moral conditions he ever
knew, should have solved all the problems of the universe so
thoroughly as to have quite ceased making itself anxious about
past or future, and should have persuaded itself that all the
problems which had convulsed human thought from earliest recorded
time, were not worth discussing, seemed to him the most curious
social phenomenon he had to account for in a long life. The
faculty of turning away one's eyes as one approaches a chasm is
not unusual, and Boston showed, under the lead of Mr. Webster,
how successfully it could be done in politics; but in politics a
certain number of men did at least protest. In religion and
philosophy no one protested. Such protest as was made took forms
more simple than the silence, like the deism of Theodore Parker,
and of the boy's own cousin Octavius Frothingham, who distressed
his father and scandalized Beacon Street by avowing scepticism
that seemed to solve no old problems, and to raise many new ones.
The less aggressive protest of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was, from an
old-world point of view, less serious. It was naif.

The children reached manhood without knowing religion, and with
the certainty that dogma, metaphysics, and abstract philosophy
were not worth knowing. So one-sided an education could have been
possible in no other country or time, but it became, almost of
necessity, the more literary and political. As the children grew
up, they exaggerated the literary and the political interests.
They joined in the dinner-table discussions and from childhood
the boys were accustomed to hear, almost every day, table-talk as
good as they were ever likely to hear again. The eldest child,
Louisa, was one of the most sparkling creatures her brother met
in a long and varied experience of bright women. The oldest son,
John, was afterwards regarded as one of the best talkers in
Boston society, and perhaps the most popular man in the State,
though apt to be on the unpopular side. Palfrey and Dana could be
entertaining when they pleased, and though Charles Sumner could
hardly be called light in hand, he was willing to be amused, and
smiled grandly from time to time; while Mr. Adams, who talked
relatively little, was always a good listener, and laughed over a
witticism till he choked.

By way of educating and amusing the children, Mr. Adams read
much aloud, and was sure to read political literature, especially
when it was satirical, like the speeches of Horace Mann and the
"Epistles" of "Hosea Biglow," with great delight to the youth. So
he read Longfellow and Tennyson as their poems appeared, but the
children took possession of Dickens and Thackeray for themselves.
Both were too modern for tastes founded on Pope and Dr. Johnson.
The boy Henry soon became a desultory reader of every book he
found readable, but these were commonly eighteenth-century
historians because his father's library was full of them. In the
want of positive instincts, he drifted into the mental indolence
of history. So too, he read shelves of eighteenth-century poetry,
but when his father offered his own set of Wordsworth as a gift
on condition of reading it through, he declined. Pope and Gray
called for no mental effort; they were easy reading; but the boy
was thirty years old before his education reached Wordsworth.

This is the story of an education, and the person or persons
who figure in it are supposed to have values only as educators or
educated. The surroundings concern it only so far as they affect
education. Sumner, Dana, Palfrey, had values of their own, like
Hume, Pope, and Wordsworth, which any one may study in their
works; here all appear only as influences on the mind of a boy
very nearly the average of most boys in physical and mental
stature. The influence was wholly political and literary. His
father made no effort to force his mind, but left him free play,
and this was perhaps best. Only in one way his father rendered
him a great service by trying to teach him French and giving him
some idea of a French accent. Otherwise the family was rather an
atmosphere than an influence. The boy had a large and
overpowering set of brothers and sisters, who were modes or
replicas of the same type, getting the same education, struggling
with the same problems, and solving the question, or leaving it
unsolved much in the same way. They knew no more than he what
they wanted or what to do for it, but all were conscious that
they would like to control power in some form; and the same thing
could be said of an ant or an elephant. Their form was tied to
politics or literature. They amounted to one individual with
half-a-dozen sides or facets; their temperaments reacted on each
other and made each child more like the other. This was also
education, but in the type, and the Boston or New England type
was well enough known. What no one knew was whether the
individual who thought himself a representative of this type, was
fit to deal with life.

As far as outward bearing went, such a family of turbulent
children, given free rein by their parents, or indifferent to
check, should have come to more or less grief. Certainly no one
was strong enough to control them, least of all their mother, the
queen-bee of the hive, on whom nine-tenths of the burden fell, on
whose strength they all depended, but whose children were much
too self-willed and self-confident to take guidance from her, or
from any one else, unless in the direction they fancied. Father
and mother were about equally helpless. Almost every large family
in those days produced at least one black sheep, and if this
generation of Adamses escaped, it was as much a matter of
surprise to them as to their neighbors. By some happy chance they
grew up to be decent citizens, but Henry Adams, as a brand
escaped from the burning, always looked back with astonishment at
their luck. The fact seemed to prove that they were born, like
birds, with a certain innate balance. Home influences alone never
saved the New England boy from ruin, though sometimes they may
have helped to ruin him; and the influences outside of home were
negative. If school helped, it was only by reaction. The dislike
of school was so strong as to be a positive gain. The passionate
hatred of school methods was almost a method in itself. Yet the
day-school of that time was respectable, and the boy had nothing
to complain of. In fact, he never complained. He hated it because
he was here with a crowd of other boys and compelled to learn by
memory a quantity of things that did not amuse him. His memory
was slow, and the effort painful. For him to conceive that his
memory could compete for school prizes with machines of two or
three times its power, was to prove himself wanting not only in
memory, but flagrantly in mind. He thought his mind a good enough
machine, if it were given time to act, but it acted wrong if
hurried. Schoolmasters never gave time.

In any and all its forms, the boy detested school, and the
prejudice became deeper with years. He always reckoned his
school-days, from ten to sixteen years old, as time thrown away.
Perhaps his needs turned out to be exceptional, but his existence
was exceptional. Between 1850 and 1900 nearly every one's
existence was exceptional. For success in the life imposed on him
he needed, as afterwards appeared, the facile use of only four
tools: Mathematics, French, German, and Spanish. With these, he
could master in very short time any special branch of inquiry,
and feel at home in any society. Latin and Greek, he could, with
the help of the modern languages, learn more completely by the
intelligent work of six weeks than in the six years he spent on
them at school. These four tools were necessary to his success in
life, but he never controlled any one of them.

Thus, at the outset, he was condemned to failure more or less
complete in the life awaiting him, but not more so than his
companions. Indeed, had his father kept the boy at home, and
given him half an hour's direction every day, he would have done
more for him than school ever could do for them. Of course,
school-taught men and boys looked down on home-bred boys, and
rather prided themselves on their own ignorance, but the man of
sixty can generally see what he needed in life, and in Henry
Adams's opinion it was not school.

Most school experience was bad. Boy associations at fifteen
were worse than none. Boston at that time offered few healthy
resources for boys or men. The bar-room and billiard-room were
more familiar than parents knew. As a rule boys could skate and
swim and were sent to dancing-school; they played a rudimentary
game of baseball, football, and hockey; a few could sail a boat;
still fewer had been out with a gun to shoot yellow-legs or a
stray wild duck; one or two may have learned something of natural
history if they came from the neighborhood of Concord; none could
ride across country, or knew what shooting with dogs meant. Sport
as a pursuit was unknown. Boat-racing came after 1850. For
horse-racing, only the trotting-course existed. Of all pleasures,
winter sleighing was still the gayest and most popular. From none
of these amusements could the boy learn anything likely to be of
use to him in the world. Books remained as in the eighteenth
century, the source of life, and as they came out -- Thackeray,
Dickens, Bulwer, Tennyson, Macaulay, Carlyle, and the rest --
they were devoured; but as far as happiness went, the happiest
hours of the boy's education were passed in summer lying on a
musty heap of Congressional Documents in the old farmhouse at
Quincy, reading "Quentin Durward," "Ivanhoe," and " The
Talisman," and raiding the garden at intervals for peaches and
pears. On the whole he learned most then.


WASHINGTON (1850-1854)

EXCEPT for politics, Mount Vernon Street had the merit of
leaving the boy-mind supple, free to turn with the world, and if
one learned next to nothing, the little one did learn needed not
to be unlearned. The surface was ready to take any form that
education should cut into it, though Boston, with singular
foresight, rejected the old designs. What sort of education was
stamped elsewhere, a Bostonian had no idea, but he escaped the
evils of other standards by having no standard at all; and what
was true of school was true of society. Boston offered none that
could help outside. Every one now smiles at the bad taste of
Queen Victoria and Louis Philippe -- the society of the forties
-- but the taste was only a reflection of the social slack-water
between a tide passed, and a tide to come. Boston belonged to
neither, and hardly even to America. Neither aristocratic nor
industrial nor social, Boston girls and boys were not nearly as
unformed as English boys and girls, but had less means of
acquiring form as they grew older. Women counted for little as
models. Every boy, from the age of seven, fell in love at
frequent intervals with some girl -- always more or less the same
little girl -- who had nothing to teach him, or he to teach her,
except rather familiar and provincial manners, until they married
and bore children to repeat the habit. The idea of attaching
one's self to a married woman, or of polishing one's manners to
suit the standards of women of thirty, could hardly have entered
the mind of a young Bostonian, and would have scandalized his
parents. From women the boy got the domestic virtues and nothing
else. He might not even catch the idea that women had more to
give. The garden of Eden was hardly more primitive.

To balance this virtue, the Puritan city had always hidden a
darker side. Blackguard Boston was only too educational, and to
most boys much the more interesting. A successful blackguard must
enjoy great physical advantages besides a true vocation, and
Henry Adams had neither; but no boy escaped some contact with
vice of a very low form. Blackguardism came constantly under
boys' eyes, and had the charm of force and freedom and
superiority to culture or decency. One might fear it, but no one
honestly despised it. Now and then it asserted itself as
education more roughly than school ever did. One of the commonest
boy-games of winter, inherited directly from the
eighteenth-century, was a game of war on Boston Common. In old
days the two hostile forces were called North-Enders and
South-Enders. In 1850 the North-Enders still survived as a
legend, but in practice it was a battle of the Latin School
against all comers, and the Latin School, for snowball, included
all the boys of the West End. Whenever, on a half-holiday, the
weather was soft enough to soften the snow, the Common was apt to
be the scene of a fight, which began in daylight with the Latin
School in force, rushing their opponents down to Tremont Street,
and which generally ended at dark by the Latin School dwindling
in numbers and disappearing. As the Latin School grew weak, the
roughs and young blackguards grew strong. As long as snowballs
were the only weapon, no one was much hurt, but a stone may be
put in a snowball, and in the dark a stick or a slungshot in the
hands of a boy is as effective as a knife. One afternoon the
fight had been long and exhausting. The boy Henry, following, as
his habit was, his bigger brother Charles, had taken part in the
battle, and had felt his courage much depressed by seeing one of
his trustiest leaders, Henry Higginson -- "Bully Hig," his school
name -- struck by a stone over the eye, and led off the field
bleeding in rather a ghastly manner. As night came on, the Latin
School was steadily forced back to the Beacon Street Mall where
they could retreat no further without disbanding, and by that
time only a small band was left, headed by two heroes, Savage and
Marvin. A dark mass of figures could be seen below, making ready
for the last rush, and rumor said that a swarm of blackguards
from the slums, led by a grisly terror called Conky Daniels, with
a club and a hideous reputation, was going to put an end to the
Beacon Street cowards forever. Henry wanted to run away with the
others, but his brother was too big to run away, so they stood
still and waited immolation. The dark mass set up a shout, and
rushed forward. The Beacon Street boys turned and fled up the
steps, except Savage and Marvin and the few champions who would
not run. The terrible Conky Daniels swaggered up, stopped a
moment with his body-guard to swear a few oaths at Marvin, and
then swept on and chased the flyers, leaving the few boys
untouched who stood their ground. The obvious moral taught that
blackguards were not so black as they were painted; but the boy
Henry had passed through as much terror as though he were Turenne
or Henri IV, and ten or twelve years afterwards when these same
boys were fighting and falling on all the battle-fields of
Virginia and Maryland, he wondered whether their education on
Boston Common had taught Savage and Marvin how to die.

If violence were a part of complete education, Boston was not
incomplete. The idea of violence was familiar to the anti-slavery
leaders as well as to their followers. Most of them suffered from
it. Mobs were always possible. Henry never happened to be
actually concerned in a mob, but he, like every other boy, was
sure to be on hand wherever a mob was expected, and whenever he
heard Garrison or Wendell Phillips speak, he looked for trouble.
Wendell Phillips on a platform was a model dangerous for youth.
Theodore Parker in his pulpit was not much safer. Worst of all,
the execution of the Fugitive Slave Law in Boston -- the sight of
Court Square packed with bayonets, and his own friends obliged to
line the streets under arms as State militia, in order to return
a negro to slavery -- wrought frenzy in the brain of a
fifteen-year-old, eighteenth-century boy from Quincy, who wanted
to miss no reasonable chance of mischief.

One lived in the atmosphere of the Stamp Act, the Tea Tax, and
the Boston Massacre. Within Boston, a boy was first an
eighteenth-century politician, and afterwards only a possibility;
beyond Boston the first step led only further into politics.
After February, 1848, but one slight tie remained of all those
that, since 1776, had connected Quincy with the outer world. The
Madam stayed in Washington, after her husband's death, and in her
turn was struck by paralysis and bedridden. From time to time her
son Charles, whose affection and sympathy for his mother in her
many tribulations were always pronounced, went on to see her, and
in May, 1850, he took with him his twelve-year-old son. The
journey was meant as education, and as education it served the
purpose of fixing in memory the stage of a boy's thought in 1850.
He could not remember taking special interest in the railroad
journey or in New York; with railways and cities he was familiar
enough. His first impression was the novelty of crossing New York
Bay and finding an English railway carriage on the Camden and
Amboy Railroad. This was a new world; a suggestion of corruption
in the simple habits of American life; a step to exclusiveness
never approached in Boston; but it was amusing. The boy rather
liked it. At Trenton the train set him on board a steamer which
took him to Philadelphia where he smelt other varieties of town
life; then again by boat to Chester, and by train to Havre de
Grace; by boat to Baltimore and thence by rail to Washington.
This was the journey he remembered. The actual journey may have
been quite different, but the actual journey has no interest for
education. The memory was all that mattered; and what struck him
most, to remain fresh in his mind all his lifetime, was the
sudden change that came over the world on entering a slave State.
He took education politically. The mere raggedness of outline
could not have seemed wholly new, for even Boston had its ragged
edges, and the town of Quincy was far from being a vision of
neatness or good-repair; in truth, he had never seen a finished
landscape; but Maryland was raggedness of a new kind. The
railway, about the size and character of a modern tram, rambled
through unfenced fields and woods, or through village streets,
among a haphazard variety of pigs, cows, and negro babies, who
might all have used the cabins for pens and styes, had the
Southern pig required styes, but who never showed a sign of care.
This was the boy's impression of what slavery caused, and, for
him, was all it taught. Coming down in the early morning from his
bedroom in his grandmother's house -- still called the Adams
Building in -- F Street and venturing outside into the air
reeking with the thick odor of the catalpa trees, he found
himself on an earth-road, or village street, with wheel-tracks
meandering from the colonnade of the Treasury hard by, to the
white marble columns and fronts of the Post Office and Patent
Office which faced each other in the distance, like white Greek
temples in the abandoned gravel-pits of a deserted Syrian city.
Here and there low wooden houses were scattered along the
streets, as in other Southern villages, but he was chiefly
attracted by an unfinished square marble shaft, half-a-mile
below, and he walked down to inspect it before breakfast. His
aunt drily remarked that, at this rate, he would soon get through
all the sights; but she could not guess -- having lived always in
Washington -- how little the sights of Washington had to do with
its interest.

The boy could not have told her; he was nowhere near an
understanding of himself. The more he was educated, the less he
understood. Slavery struck him in the face; it was a nightmare; a
horror; a crime; the sum of all wickedness! Contact made it only
more repulsive. He wanted to escape, like the negroes, to free
soil. Slave States were dirty, unkempt, poverty-stricken,
ignorant, vicious! He had not a thought but repulsion for it; and
yet the picture had another side. The May sunshine and shadow had
something to do with it; the thickness of foliage and the heavy
smells had more; the sense of atmosphere, almost new, had perhaps
as much again; and the brooding indolence of a warm climate and a
negro population hung in the atmosphere heavier than the
catalpas. The impression was not simple, but the boy liked it:
distinctly it remained on his mind as an attraction, almost
obscuring Quincy itself. The want of barriers, of pavements, of
forms; the looseness, the laziness; the indolent Southern drawl;
the pigs in the streets; the negro babies and their mothers with
bandanas; the freedom, openness, swagger, of nature and man,
soothed his Johnson blood. Most boys would have felt it in the
same way, but with him the feeling caught on to an inheritance.
The softness of his gentle old grandmother as she lay in bed and
chatted with him, did not come from Boston. His aunt was anything
rather than Bostonian. He did not wholly come from Boston
himself. Though Washington belonged to a different world, and the
two worlds could not live together, he was not sure that he
enjoyed the Boston world most. Even at twelve years old he could
see his own nature no more clearly than he would at twelve
hundred, if by accident he should happen to live so long.

His father took him to the Capitol and on the floor of the
Senate, which then, and long afterwards, until the era of
tourists, was freely open to visitors. The old Senate Chamber
resembled a pleasant political club. Standing behind the
Vice-President's chair, which is now the Chief Justice's, the boy
was presented to some of the men whose names were great in their
day, and as familiar to him as his own. Clay and Webster and
Calhoun were there still, but with them a Free Soil candidate for
the Vice-Presidency had little to do; what struck boys most was
their type. Senators were a species; they all wore an air, as
they wore a blue dress coat or brass buttons; they were Roman.
The type of Senator in 1850 was rather charming at its best, and
the Senate, when in good temper, was an agreeable body, numbering
only some sixty members, and affecting the airs of courtesy. Its
vice was not so much a vice of manners or temper as of attitude.
The statesman of all periods was apt to be pompous, but even
pomposity was less offensive than familiarity -- on the platform
as in the pulpit -- and Southern pomposity, when not arrogant,
was genial and sympathetic, almost quaint and childlike in its
simple-mindedness; quite a different thing from the Websterian or
Conklinian pomposity of the North. The boy felt at ease there,
more at home than he had ever felt in Boston State House, though
his acquaintance with the codfish in the House of Representatives
went back beyond distinct recollection. Senators spoke kindly to
him, and seemed to feel so, for they had known his family
socially; and, in spite of slavery, even J. Q. Adams in his later
years, after he ceased to stand in the way of rivals, had few
personal enemies. Decidedly the Senate, pro-slavery though it
were, seemed a friendly world.

This first step in national politics was a little like the walk
before breakfast; an easy, careless, genial, enlarging stride
into a fresh and amusing world, where nothing was finished, but
where even the weeds grew rank. The second step was like the
first, except that it led to the White House. He was taken to see
President Taylor. Outside, in a paddock in front, "Old Whitey,"
the President's charger, was grazing, as they entered; and
inside, the President was receiving callers as simply as if he
were in the paddock too. The President was friendly, and the boy
felt no sense of strangeness that he could ever recall. In fact,
what strangeness should he feel? The families were intimate; so
intimate that their friendliness outlived generations, civil war,
and all sorts of rupture. President Taylor owed his election to
Martin Van Buren and the Free Soil Party. To him, the Adamses
might still be of use. As for the White House, all the boy's
family had lived there, and, barring the eight years of Andrew
Jackson's reign, had been more or less at home there ever since
it was built. The boy half thought he owned it, and took for
granted that he should some day live in it. He felt no sensation
whatever before Presidents. A President was a matter of course in
every respectable family; he had two in his own; three, if he
counted old Nathaniel Gorham, who, was the oldest and first in
distinction. Revolutionary patriots, or perhaps a Colonial
Governor, might be worth talking about, but any one could be
President, and some very shady characters were likely to be.
Presidents, Senators, Congressmen, and such things were swarming
in every street.

Every one thought alike whether they had ancestors or not. No
sort of glory hedged Presidents as such, and, in the whole
country, one could hardly have met with an admission of respect
for any office or name, unless it were George Washington. That
was -- to all appearance sincerely -- respected. People made
pilgrimages to Mount Vernon and made even an effort to build
Washington a monument. The effort had failed, but one still went
to Mount Vernon, although it was no easy trip. Mr. Adams took the
boy there in a carriage and pair, over a road that gave him a
complete Virginia education for use ten years afterwards. To the
New England mind, roads, schools, clothes, and a clean face were
connected as part of the law of order or divine system. Bad roads
meant bad morals. The moral of this Virginia road was clear, and
the boy fully learned it. Slavery was wicked, and slavery was the
cause of this road's badness which amounted to social crime --
and yet, at the end of the road and product of the crime stood
Mount Vernon and George Washington.

Luckily boys accept contradictions as readily as their elders
do, or this boy might have become prematurely wise. He had only
to repeat what he was told -- that George Washington stood alone.
Otherwise this third step in his Washington education would have
been his last. On that line, the problem of progress was not
soluble, whatever the optimists and orators might say -- or, for
that matter, whatever they might think. George Washington could
not be reached on Boston lines. George Washington was a primary,
or, if Virginians liked it better, an ultimate relation, like the
Pole Star, and amid the endless restless motion of every other
visible point in space, he alone remained steady, in the mind of
Henry Adams, to the end. All the other points shifted their
bearings; John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, even John
Marshall, took varied lights, and assumed new relations, but
Mount Vernon always remained where it was, with no practicable
road to reach it; and yet, when he got there, Mount Vernon was
only Quincy in a Southern setting. No doubt it was much more
charming, but it was the same eighteenth-century, the same old
furniture, the same old patriot, and the same old President.

The boy took to it instinctively. The broad Potomac and the
coons in the trees, the bandanas and the box-hedges, the bedrooms
upstairs and the porch outside, even Martha Washington herself in
memory, were as natural as the tides and the May sunshine; he had
only enlarged his horizon a little; but he never thought to ask
himself or his father how to deal with the moral problem that
deduced George Washington from the sum of all wickedness. In
practice, such trifles as contradictions in principle are easily
set aside; the faculty of ignoring them makes the practical man;
but any attempt to deal with them seriously as education is
fatal. Luckily Charles Francis Adams never preached and was
singularly free from cant. He may have had views of his own, but
he let his son Henry satisfy himself with the simple elementary
fact that George Washington stood alone.

Life was not yet complicated. Every problem had a solution,
even the negro. The boy went back to Boston more political than
ever, and his politics were no longer so modern as the eighteenth
century, but took a strong tone of the seventeenth. Slavery drove
the whole Puritan community back on its Puritanism. The boy
thought as dogmatically as though he were one of his own
ancestors. The Slave power took the place of Stuart kings and
Roman popes. Education could go no further in that course, and
ran off into emotion; but, as the boy gradually found his
surroundings change, and felt himself no longer an isolated atom
in a hostile universe, but a sort of herring-fry in a shoal of
moving fish, he began to learn the first and easier lessons of
practical politics. Thus far he had seen nothing but
eighteenth-century statesmanship. America and he began, at the
same time, to become aware of a new force under the innocent
surface of party machinery. Even at that early moment, a rather
slow boy felt dimly conscious that he might meet some personal
difficulties in trying to reconcile sixteenth-century principles
and eighteenth-century statesmanship with late nineteenth-century
party organization. The first vague sense of feeling an unknown
living obstacle in the dark came in 185l.

The Free Soil conclave in Mount Vernon Street belonged, as
already said, to the statesman class, and, like Daniel Webster,
had nothing to do with machinery. Websters or Sewards depended on
others for machine work and money -- on Peter Harveys and Thurlow
Weeds, who spent their lives in it, took most of the abuse, and
asked no reward. Almost without knowing it, the subordinates
ousted their employers and created a machine which no one but
themselves could run. In 1850 things had not quite reached that
point. The men who ran the small Free Soil machine were still
modest, though they became famous enough in their own right.
Henry Wilson, John B. Alley, Anson Burlingame, and the other
managers, negotiated a bargain with the Massachusetts Democrats
giving the State to the Democrats and a seat in the Senate to the
Free Soilers. With this bargain Mr. Adams and his statesman
friends would have nothing to do, for such a coalition was in
their eyes much like jockeys selling a race. They did not care to
take office as pay for votes sold to pro-slavery Democrats.
Theirs was a correct, not to say noble, position; but, as a
matter of fact, they took the benefit of the sale, for the
coalition chose Charles Sumner as its candidate for the Senate,
while George S. Boutwell was made Governor for the Democrats.
This was the boy's first lesson in practical politics, and a
sharp one; not that he troubled himself with moral doubts, but
that he learned the nature of a flagrantly corrupt political
bargain in which he was too good to take part, but not too good
to take profit. Charles Sumner happened to be the partner to
receive these stolen goods, but between his friend and his father
the boy felt no distinction, and, for him, there was none. He
entered into no casuistry on the matter. His friend was right
because his friend, and the boy shared the glory. The question of
education did not rise while the conflict lasted. Yet every one
saw as clearly then as afterwards that a lesson of some sort must
be learned and understood, once for all. The boy might ignore, as
a mere historical puzzle, the question how to deduce George
Washington from the sum of all wickedness, but he had himself
helped to deduce Charles Sumner from the sum of political
corruption. On that line, too, education could go no further.
Tammany Hall stood at the end of the vista.

Mr. Alley, one of the strictest of moralists, held that his
object in making the bargain was to convert the Democratic Party
to anti-slavery principles, and that he did it. Henry Adams could
rise to no such moral elevation. He was only a boy, and his
object in supporting the coalition was that of making his friend
a Senator. It was as personal as though he had helped to make his
friend a millionaire. He could never find a way of escaping
immoral conclusions, except by admitting that he and his father
and Sumner were wrong, and this he was never willing to do, for
the consequences of this admission were worse than those of the
other. Thus, before he was fifteen years old, he had managed to
get himself into a state of moral confusion from which he never
escaped. As a politician, he was already corrupt, and he never
could see how any practical politician could be less corrupt than

Apology, as he understood himself, was cant or cowardice. At
the time he never even dreamed that he needed to apologize,
though the press shouted it at him from every corner, and though
the Mount Vernon Street conclave agreed with the press; yet he
could not plead ignorance, and even in the heat of the conflict,
he never cared to defend the coalition. Boy as he was, he knew
enough to know that something was wrong, but his only interest
was the election. Day after day, the General Court balloted; and
the boy haunted the gallery, following the roll-call, and
wondered what Caleb Cushing meant by calling Mr. Sumner a
"one-eyed abolitionist." Truly the difference in meaning with the
phrase "one-ideaed abolitionist," which was Mr. Cushing's actual
expression, is not very great, but neither the one nor the other
seemed to describe Mr. Sumner to the boy, who never could have
made the error of classing Garrison and Sumner together, or
mistaking Caleb Cushing's relation to either. Temper ran high at
that moment, while Sumner every day missed his election by only
one or two votes. At last, April 24, 1851, standing among the
silent crowd in the gallery, Henry heard the vote announced which
gave Sumner the needed number. Slipping under the arms of the
bystanders, he ran home as hard as he could, and burst into the
dining-room where Mr. Sumner was seated at table with the family.
He enjoyed the glory of telling Sumner that he was elected; it
was probably the proudest moment in the life of either.

The next day, when the boy went to school, he noticed numbers
of boys and men in the streets wearing black crepe on their arm.
He knew few Free Soil boys in Boston; his acquaintances were what
he called pro-slavery; so he thought proper to tie a bit of white
silk ribbon round his own arm by way of showing that his friend
Mr. Sumner was not wholly alone. This little piece of bravado
passed unnoticed; no one even cuffed his ears; but in later life
he was a little puzzled to decide which symbol was the more
correct. No one then dreamed of four years' war, but every one
dreamed of secession. The symbol for either might well be matter
of doubt.

This triumph of the Mount Vernon Street conclave capped the
political climax. The boy, like a million other American boys,
was a politician, and what was worse, fit as yet to be nothing
else. He should have been, like his grandfather, a protege of
George Washington, a statesman designated by destiny, with
nothing to do but look directly ahead, follow orders, and march.
On the contrary, he was not even a Bostonian; he felt himself
shut out of Boston as though he were an exile; he never thought
of himself as a Bostonian; he never looked about him in Boston,
as boys commonly do wherever they are, to select the street they
like best, the house they want to live in, the profession they
mean to practise. Always he felt himself somewhere else; perhaps
in Washington with its social ease; perhaps in Europe; and he
watched with vague unrest from the Quincy hills the smoke of the
Cunard steamers stretching in a long line to the horizon, and
disappearing every other Saturday or whatever the day might be,
as though the steamers were offering to take him away, which was
precisely what they were doing.

Had these ideas been unreasonable, influences enough were at
hand to correct them; but the point of the whole story, when
Henry Adams came to look back on it, seemed to be that the ideas
were more than reasonable; they were the logical, necessary,
mathematical result of conditions old as history and fixed as
fate -- invariable sequence in man's experience. The only idea
which would have been quite unreasonable scarcely entered his
mind. This was the thought of going westward and growing up with
the country. That he was not in the least fitted for going West
made no objection whatever, since he was much better fitted than
most of the persons that went. The convincing reason for staying
in the East was that he had there every advantage over the West.
He could not go wrong. The West must inevitably pay an enormous
tribute to Boston and New York. One's position in the East was
the best in the world for every purpose that could offer an
object for going westward. If ever in history men had been able
to calculate on a certainty for a lifetime in advance, the
citizens of the great Eastern seaports could do it in 1850 when
their railway systems were already laid out. Neither to a
politician nor to a business-man nor to any of the learned
professions did the West promise any certain advantage, while it
offered uncertainties in plenty.

At any other moment in human history, this education, including
its political and literary bias, would have been not only good,
but quite the best. Society had always welcomed and flattered men
so endowed. Henry Adams had every reason to be well pleased with
it, and not ill-pleased with himself. He had all he wanted. He
saw no reason for thinking that any one else had more. He
finished with school, not very brilliantly, but without finding
fault with the sum of his knowledge. Probably he knew more than
his father, or his grandfather, or his great-grandfather had
known at sixteen years old. Only on looking back, fifty years
later, at his own figure in 1854, and pondering on the needs of
the twentieth century, he wondered whether, on the whole the boy
of 1854 stood nearer to the thought of 1904, or to that of the
year 1. He found himself unable to give a sure answer. The
calculation was clouded by the undetermined values of
twentieth-century thought, but the story will show his reasons
for thinking that, in essentials like religion, ethics,
philosophy; in history, literature, art; in the concepts of all
science, except perhaps mathematics, the American boy of 1854
stood nearer the year 1 than to the year 1900. The education he
had received bore little relation to the education he needed.
Speaking as an American of 1900, he had as yet no education at
all. He knew not even where or how to begin.



ONE day in June, 1854, young Adams walked for the last time
down the steps of Mr. Dixwell's school in Boylston Place, and
felt no sensation but one of unqualified joy that this experience
was ended. Never before or afterwards in his life did he close a
period so long as four years without some sensation of loss --
some sentiment of habit -- but school was what in after life he
commonly heard his friends denounce as an intolerable bore. He
was born too old for it. The same thing could be said of most New
England boys. Mentally they never were boys. Their education as
men should have begun at ten years old. They were fully five
years more mature than the English or European boy for whom
schools were made. For the purposes of future advancement, as
afterwards appeared, these first six years of a possible
education were wasted in doing imperfectly what might have been
done perfectly in one, and in any case would have had small
value. The next regular step was Harvard College. He was more
than glad to go. For generation after generation, Adamses and
Brookses and Boylstons and Gorhams had gone to Harvard College,
and although none of them, as far as known, had ever done any
good there, or thought himself the better for it, custom, social
ties, convenience, and, above all, economy, kept each generation
in the track. Any other education would have required a serious
effort, but no one took Harvard College seriously. All went there
because their friends went there, and the College was their ideal
of social self-respect.

Harvard College, as far as it educated at all, was a mild and
liberal school, which sent young men into the world with all they
needed to make respectable citizens, and something of what they

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