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The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

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affected it; this was one of the points that greatly interested a
student, but young men have a passion for regarding their elders
as senile, which was only in part warranted in this instance by
observing that Russell's generation were mostly senile from
youth. They had never got beyond 1815 Both Palmerston and Russell
were in this case. Their senility was congenital, like
Gladstone's Oxford training and High Church illusions, which
caused wild eccentricities in his judgment. Russell could not
conceive that he had misunderstood and mismanaged Minister Adams
from the start, and when after November 12 he found himself on
the defensive, with Mr Adams taking daily a stronger tone, he
showed mere confusion and helplessness.

Thus, whatever the theory, the action of diplomacy had to be
the same. Minister Adams was obliged to imply collusion between
Russell and the rebels. He could not even stop at criminal
negligence. If, by an access of courtesy, the Minister were civil
enough to admit that the escape of the Alabama had been due to
criminal negligence, he could make no such concession in regard
to the ironclad rams which the Lairds were building; for no one
could be so simple as to believe that two armored ships-of-war
could be built publicly, under the eyes of the Government, and go
to sea like the Alabama, without active and incessant collusion.
The longer Earl Russell kept on his mask of assumed ignorance,
the more violently in the end, the Minister would have to tear it
off. Whatever Mr. Adams might personally think of Earl Russell,
he must take the greatest possible diplomatic liberties with him
if this crisis were allowed to arrive.

As the spring of 1863 drew on, the vast field cleared itself
for action. A campaign more beautiful -- better suited for
training the mind of a youth eager for training -- has not often
unrolled itself for study, from the beginning, before a young man
perched in so commanding a position. Very slowly, indeed, after
two years of solitude, one began to feel the first faint flush of
new and imperial life. One was twenty-five years old, and quite
ready to assert it; some of one's friends were wearing stars on
their collars; some had won stars of a more enduring kind. At
moments one's breath came quick. One began to dream the sensation
of wielding unmeasured power. The sense came, like vertigo, for
an instant, and passed, leaving the brain a little dazed,
doubtful, shy. With an intensity more painful than that of any
Shakespearean drama, men's eyes were fastened on the armies in
the field. Little by little, at first only as a shadowy chance of
what might be, if things could be rightly done, one began to feel
that, somewhere behind the chaos in Washington power was taking
shape; that it was massed and guided as it had not been before.
Men seemed to have learned their business -- at a cost that
ruined -- and perhaps too late. A private secretary knew better
than most people how much of the new power was to be swung in
London, and almost exactly when; but the diplomatic campaign had
to wait for the military campaign to lead. The student could only

Life never could know more than a single such climax. In that
form, education reached its limits. As the first great blows
began to fall, one curled up in bed in the silence of night, to
listen with incredulous hope. As the huge masses struck, one
after another, with the precision of machinery, the opposing
mass, the world shivered. Such development of power was unknown.
The magnificent resistance and the return shocks heightened the
suspense. During the July days Londoners were stupid with
unbelief. They were learning from the Yankees how to fight.

An American saw in a flash what all this meant to England, for
one's mind was working with the acceleration of the machine at
home; but Englishmen were not quick to see their blunders. One
had ample time to watch the process, and had even a little time
to gloat over the repayment of old scores. News of Vicksburg and
Gettysburg reached London one Sunday afternoon, and it happened
that Henry Adams was asked for that evening to some small
reception at the house of Monckton Milnes. He went early in order
to exchange a word or two of congratulation before the rooms
should fill, and on arriving he found only the ladies in the
drawing-room; the gentlemen were still sitting over their wine.
Presently they came in, and, as luck would have it, Delane of the
Times came first. When Milnes caught sight of his young American
friend, with a whoop of triumph he rushed to throw both arms
about his neck and kiss him on both cheeks. Men of later birth
who knew too little to realize the passions of 1863 -- backed by
those of 1813 -- and reenforced by those of 1763 -- might
conceive that such publicity embarrassed a private secretary who
came from Boston and called himself shy; but that evening, for
the first time in his life, he happened not to be thinking of
himself. He was thinking of Delane, whose eye caught his, at the
moment of Milnes's embrace. Delane probably regarded it as a
piece of Milnes's foolery; he had never heard of young Adams, and
never dreamed of his resentment at being ridiculed in the Times;
he had no suspicion of the thought floating in the mind of the
American Minister's son, for the British mind is the slowest of
all minds, as the files of the Times proved, and the capture of
Vicksburg had not yet penetrated Delane's thick cortex of fixed
ideas. Even if he had read Adams's thought, he would have felt
for it only the usual amused British contempt for all that he had
not been taught at school. It needed a whole generation for the
Times to reach Milnes's standpoint.

Had the Minister's son carried out the thought, he would surely
have sought an introduction to Delane on the spot, and assured
him that he regarded his own personal score as cleared off --
sufficiently settled, then and there -- because his father had
assumed the debt, and was going to deal with Mr. Delane himself.
"You come next!" would have been the friendly warning. For nearly
a year the private secretary had watched the board arranging
itself for the collision between the Legation and Delane who
stood behind the Palmerston Ministry. Mr. Adams had been steadily
strengthened and reenforced from Washington in view of the final
struggle. The situation had changed since the Trent Affair. The
work was efficiently done; the organization was fairly complete.
No doubt, the Legation itself was still as weakly manned and had
as poor an outfit as the Legations of Guatemala or Portugal.
Congress was always jealous of its diplomatic service, and the
Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Relations was not likely to
press assistance on the Minister to England. For the Legation not
an additional clerk was offered or asked. The Secretary, the
Assistant Secretary, and the private secretary did all the work
that the Minister did not do. A clerk at five dollars a week
would have done the work as well or better, but the Minister
could trust no clerk; without express authority he could admit no
one into the Legation; he strained a point already by admitting
his son. Congress and its committees were the proper judges of
what was best for the public service, and if the arrangement
seemed good to them, it was satisfactory to a private secretary
who profited by it more than they did. A great staff would have
suppressed him. The whole Legation was a sort of improvised,
volunteer service, and he was a volunteer with the rest. He was
rather better off than the rest, because he was invisible and
unknown. Better or worse, he did his work with the others, and if
the secretaries made any remarks about Congress, they made no
complaints, and knew that none would have received a moment's

If they were not satisfied with Congress, they were satisfied
with Secretary Seward. Without appropriations for the regular
service, he had done great things for its support. If the
Minister had no secretaries, he had a staff of active consuls; he
had a well-organized press; efficient legal support; and a swarm
of social allies permeating all classes. All he needed was a
victory in the field, and Secretary Stanton undertook that part
of diplomacy. Vicksburg and Gettysburg cleared the board, and, at
the end of July, 1863, Minister Adams was ready to deal with Earl
Russell or Lord Palmerston or Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Delane, or any
one else who stood in his way; and by the necessity of the case,
was obliged to deal with all of them shortly.

Even before the military climax at Vicksburg and Gettysburg,
the Minister had been compelled to begin his attack; but this was
history, and had nothing to do with education. The private
secretary copied the notes into his private books, and that was
all the share he had in the matter, except to talk in private.

No more volunteer services were needed; the volunteers were in
a manner sent to the rear; the movement was too serious for
skirmishing. All that a secretary could hope to gain from the
affair was experience and knowledge of politics. He had a chance
to measure the motive forces of men; their qualities of
character; their foresight; their tenacity of purpose.

In the Legation no great confidence was felt in stopping the
rams. Whatever the reason, Russell seemed immovable. Had his
efforts for intervention in September, 1862, been known to the
Legation in September, 1863 the Minister must surely have
admitted that Russell had, from the first, meant to force his
plan of intervention on his colleagues. Every separate step since
April, 1861, led to this final coercion. Although Russell's
hostile activity of 1862 was still secret -- and remained secret
for some five-and-twenty years -- his animus seemed to be made
clear by his steady refusal to stop the rebel armaments. Little
by little, Minister Adams lost hope. With loss of hope came the
raising of tone, until at last, after stripping Russell of every
rag of defence and excuse, he closed by leaving him loaded with
connivance in the rebel armaments, and ended by the famous
sentence: "It would be superfluous in me to point out to your
lordship that this is war!"

What the Minister meant by this remark was his own affair; what
the private secretary understood by it, was a part of his
education. Had his father ordered him to draft an explanatory
paragraph to expand the idea as he grasped it, he would have
continued thus:--

"It would be superfluous: 1st. Because Earl Russell not only
knows it already, but has meant it from the start. 2nd Because it
is the only logical and necessary consequence of his unvarying
action. 3d. Because Mr. Adams is not pointing out to him that
'this is war,' but is pointing it out to the world, to complete
the record."

This would have been the matter-of-fact sense in which the
private secretary copied into his books the matter-of-fact
statement with which, without passion or excitement, the Minister
announced that a state of war existed. To his copying eye, as
clerk, the words, though on the extreme verge of diplomatic
propriety, merely stated a fact, without novelty, fancy, or
rhetoric. The fact had to be stated in order to make clear the
issue. The war was Russell's war--Adams only accepted it.

Russell's reply to this note of September 5 reached the
Legation on September 8, announcing at last to the anxious
secretaries that "instructions have been issued which will
prevent the departure of the two ironclad vessels from
Liverpool." The members of the modest Legation in Portland Place
accepted it as Grant had accepted the capitulation of Vicksburg.
The private secretary conceived that, as Secretary Stanton had
struck and crushed by superior weight the rebel left on the
Mississippi, so Secretary Seward had struck and crushed the rebel
right in England, and he never felt a doubt as to the nature of
the battle. Though Minister Adams should stay in office till he
were ninety, he would never fight another campaign of life and
death like this; and though the private secretary should covet
and attain every office in the gift of President or people, he
would never again find education to compare with the
life-and-death alternative of this two-year-and-a-half struggle
in London, as it had racked and thumb-screwed him in its shifting
phases; but its practical value as education turned on his
correctness of judgment in measuring the men and their forces. He
felt respect for Russell as for Palmerston because they
represented traditional England and an English policy,
respectable enough in itself, but which, for four generations,
every Adams had fought and exploited as the chief source of his
political fortunes. As he understood it, Russell had followed
this policy steadily, ably, even vigorously, and had brought it
to the moment of execution. Then he had met wills stronger than
his own, and, after persevering to the last possible instant, had
been beaten. Lord North and George Canning had a like experience.
This was only the idea of a boy, but, as far as he ever knew, it
was also the idea of his Government. For once, the volunteer
secretary was satisfied with his Government. Commonly the
self-respect of a secretary, private or public, depends on, and
is proportional to, the severity of his criticism, but in this
case the English campaign seemed to him as creditable to the
State Department as the Vicksburg campaign to the War Department,
and more decisive. It was well planned, well prepared, and well
executed. He could never discover a mistake in it. Possibly he
was biassed by personal interest, but his chief reason for
trusting his own judgment was that he thought himself to be one
of only half a dozen persons who knew something about it. When
others criticised Mr. Seward, he was rather indifferent to their
opinions because he thought they hardly knew what they were
talking about, and could not be taught without living over again
the London life of 1862. To him Secretary Seward seemed immensely
strong and steady in leadership; but this was no discredit to
Russell or Palmerston or Gladstone. They, too, had shown power,
patience and steadiness of purpose. They had persisted for two
years and a half in their plan for breaking up the Union, and had
yielded at last only in the jaws of war. After a long and
desperate struggle, the American Minister had trumped their best
card and won the game.

Again and again, in after life, he went back over the ground to
see whether he could detect error on either side. He found none.
At every stage the steps were both probable and proved. All the
more he was disconcerted that Russell should indignantly and with
growing energy, to his dying day, deny and resent the axiom of
Adams's whole contention, that from the first he meant to break
up the Union. Russell affirmed that he meant nothing of the sort;
that he had meant nothing at all; that he meant to do right; that
he did not know what he meant. Driven from one defence after
another, he pleaded at last, like Gladstone, that he had no
defence. Concealing all he could conceal -- burying in profound
secrecy his attempt to break up the Union in the autumn of 1862
-- he affirmed the louder his scrupulous good faith. What was
worse for the private secretary, to the total derision and
despair of the lifelong effort for education, as the final result
of combined practice, experience, and theory -- he proved it.

Henry Adams had, as he thought, suffered too much from Russell
to admit any plea in his favor; but he came to doubt whether this
admission really favored him. Not until long after Earl Russell's
death was the question reopened. Russell had quitted office in
1866; he died in 1878; the biography was published in 1889.
During the Alabama controversy and the Geneva Conference in 1872,
his course as Foreign Secretary had been sharply criticised, and
he had been compelled to see England pay more than L3,000,000
penalty for his errors. On the other hand, he brought forward --
or his biographer for him -- evidence tending to prove that he
was not consciously dishonest, and that he had, in spite of
appearances, acted without collusion, agreement, plan, or policy,
as far as concerned the rebels. He had stood alone, as was his
nature. Like Gladstone, he had thought himself right.

In the end, Russell entangled himself in a hopeless ball of
admissions, denials, contradictions, and resentments which led
even his old colleagues to drop his defence, as they dropped
Gladstone's; but this was not enough for the student of diplomacy
who had made a certain theory his law of life, and wanted to hold
Russell up against himself; to show that he had foresight and
persistence of which he was unaware. The effort became hopeless
when the biography in 1889 published papers which upset all that
Henry Adams had taken for diplomatic education; yet he sat down
once more, when past sixty years old, to see whether he could
unravel the skein.

Of the obstinate effort to bring about an armed intervention,
on the lines marked out by Russell's letter to Palmerston from
Gotha, 17 September, 1862, nothing could be said beyond
Gladstone's plea in excuse for his speech in pursuance of the
same effort, that it was "the most singular and palpable error,"
"the least excusable," "a mistake of incredible grossness," which
passed defence; but while Gladstone threw himself on the mercy of
the public for his speech, he attempted no excuse for Lord
Russell who led him into the "incredible grossness" of announcing
the Foreign Secretary's intent. Gladstone's offence, "singular
and palpable," was not the speech alone, but its cause -- the
policy that inspired the speech. "I weakly supposed . . . I
really, though most strangely, believed that it was an act of
friendliness." Whatever absurdity Gladstone supposed, Russell
supposed nothing of the sort. Neither he nor Palmerston "most
strangely believed" in any proposition so obviously and palpably
absurd, nor did Napoleon delude himself with philanthropy.
Gladstone, even in his confession, mixed up policy, speech,
motives, and persons, as though he were trying to confuse chiefly

There Gladstone's activity seems to have stopped. He did not
reappear in the matter of the rams. The rebel influence shrank in
1863, as far as is known, to Lord Russell alone, who wrote on
September 1 that he could not interfere in any way with those
vessels, and thereby brought on himself Mr. Adams's declaration
of war on September 5. A student held that, in this refusal, he
was merely following his policy of September, 1862, and of every
step he had taken since 1861.

The student was wrong. Russell proved that he had been feeble,
timid, mistaken, senile, but not dishonest. The evidence is
convincing. The Lairds had built these ships in reliance on the
known opinion of the law-officers that the statute did not apply,
and a jury would not convict. Minister Adams replied that, in
this case, the statute should be amended, or the ships stopped by
exercise of the political power. Bethell rejoined that this would
be a violation of neutrality; one must preserve the status quo.
Tacitly Russell connived with Laird, and, had he meant to
interfere, he was bound to warn Laird that the defect of the
statute would no longer protect him, but he allowed the builders
to go on till the ships were ready for sea. Then, on September 3,
two days before Mr. Adams's "superfluous" letter, he wrote to
Lord Palmerston begging for help; "The conduct of the gentlemen
who have contracted for the two ironclads at Birkenhead is so
very suspicious," -- he began, and this he actually wrote in good
faith and deep confidence to Lord Palmerston, his chief, calling
"the conduct" of the rebel agents "suspicious" when no one else
in Europe or America felt any suspicion about it, because the
whole question turned not on the rams, but on the technical scope
of the Foreign Enlistment Act, -- "that I have thought it
necessary to direct that they should be detained," not, of
course, under the statute, but on the ground urged by the
American Minister, of international obligation above the statute.
"The Solicitor General has been consulted and concurs in the
measure as one of policy though not of strict law. We shall thus
test the law, and, if we have to pay damages, we have satisfied
the opinion which prevails here as well as in America that that
kind of neutral hostility should not be allowed to go on without
some attempt to stop it."

For naivete that would be unusual in an unpaid attache of
Legation, this sudden leap from his own to his opponent's ground,
after two years and a half of dogged resistance, might have
roused Palmerston to inhuman scorn, but instead of derision, well
earned by Russell's old attacks on himself, Palmerston met the
appeal with wonderful loyalty. "On consulting the law officers he
found that there was no lawful ground for meddling with the
ironclads," or, in unprofessional language, that he could trust
neither his law officers nor a Liverpool jury; and therefore he
suggested buying the ships for the British Navy. As proof of
"criminal negligence" in the past, this suggestion seemed
decisive, but Russell, by this time, was floundering in other
troubles of negligence, for he had neglected to notify the
American Minister. He should have done so at once, on September
3. Instead he waited till September 4, and then merely said that
the matter was under "serious and anxious consideration." This
note did not reach the Legation till three o'clock on the
afternoon of September 5 -- after the "superfluous" declaration
of war had been sent. Thus, Lord Russell had sacrificed the
Lairds: had cost his Ministry the price of two ironclads, besides
the Alabama Claims -- say, in round numbers, twenty million
dollars -- and had put himself in the position of appearing to
yield only to a threat of war. Finally he wrote to the Admiralty
a letter which, from the American point of view, would have
sounded youthful from an Eton schoolboy: --

September 14, 1863.

It is of the utmost importance and urgency that the ironclads
building at Birkenhead should not go to America to break the
blockade. They belong to Monsieur Bravay of Paris. If you will
offer to buy them on the part of the Admiralty you will get
money's worth if he accepts your offer; and if he does not, it
will be presumptive proof that they are already bought by the
Confederates. I should state that we have suggested to the
Turkish Government to buy them; but you can easily settle that
matter with the Turks. . . .

The hilarity of the secretaries in Portland Place would have
been loud had they seen this letter and realized the muddle of
difficulties into which Earl Russell had at last thrown himself
under the impulse of the American Minister; but, nevertheless,
these letters upset from top to bottom the results of the private
secretary's diplomatic education forty years after he had
supposed it complete. They made a picture different from anything
he had conceived and rendered worthless his whole painful
diplomatic experience.

To reconstruct, when past sixty, an education useful for any
practical purpose, is no practical problem, and Adams saw no use
in attacking it as only theoretical. He no longer cared whether
he understood human nature or not; he understood quite as much of
it as he wanted; but he found in the "Life of Gladstone" (II,
464) a remark several times repeated that gave him matter for
curious thought. "I always hold," said Mr. Gladstone, "that
politicians are the men whom, as a rule, it is most difficult to
comprehend"; and he added, by way of strengthening it: "For my
own part, I never have thus understood, or thought I understood,
above one or two."

Earl Russell was certainly not one of the two.

Henry Adams thought he also had understood one or two; but the
American type was more familiar. Perhaps this was the sufficient
result of his diplomatic education; it seemed to be the whole.



KNOWLEDGE of human nature is the beginning and end of political
education, but several years of arduous study in the neighborhood
of Westminster led Henry Adams to think that knowledge of English
human nature had little or no value outside of England. In Paris,
such a habit stood in one's way; in America, it roused all the
instincts of native jealousy. The English mind was one-sided,
eccentric, systematically unsystematic, and logically illogical.
The less one knew of it, the better.

This heresy, which scarcely would have been allowed to
penetrate a Boston mind -- it would, indeed, have been shut out
by instinct as a rather foolish exaggeration -- rested on an
experience which Henry Adams gravely thought he had a right to
think conclusive -- for him. That it should be conclusive for any
one else never occurred to him, since he had no thought of
educating anybody else. For him -- alone -- the less English
education he got, the better!

For several years, under the keenest incitement to
watchfulness, he observed the English mind in contact with itself
and other minds. Especially with the American the contact was
interesting because the limits and defects of the American mind
were one of the favorite topics of the European. From the
old-world point of view, the American had no mind; he had an
economic thinking-machine which could work only on a fixed line.
The American mind exasperated the European as a buzz-saw might
exasperate a pine forest. The English mind disliked the French
mind because it was antagonistic, unreasonable, perhaps hostile,
but recognized it as at least a thought. The American mind was
not a thought at all; it was a convention, superficial, narrow,
and ignorant; a mere cutting instrument, practical, economical,
sharp, and direct.

The English themselves hardly conceived that their mind was
either economical, sharp, or direct; but the defect that most
struck an American was its enormous waste in eccentricity.
Americans needed and used their whole energy, and applied it with
close economy; but English society was eccentric by law and for
sake of the eccentricity itself.

The commonest phrase overheard at an English club or
dinner-table was that So-and-So "is quite mad." It was no offence
to So-and-So; it hardly distinguished him from his fellows; and
when applied to a public man, like Gladstone, it was qualified by
epithets much more forcible. Eccentricity was so general as to
become hereditary distinction. It made the chief charm of English
society as well as its chief terror.

The American delighted in Thackeray as a satirist, but
Thackeray quite justly maintained that he was not a satirist at
all, and that his pictures of English society were exact and
good-natured. The American, who could not believe it, fell back
on Dickens, who, at all events, had the vice of exaggeration to
extravagance, but Dickens's English audience thought the
exaggeration rather in manner or style, than in types. Mr.
Gladstone himself went to see Sothern act Dundreary, and laughed
till his face was distorted -- not because Dundreary was
exaggerated, but because he was ridiculously like the types that
Gladstone had seen -- or might have seen -- in any club in Pall
Mall. Society swarmed with exaggerated characters; it contained
little else.

Often this eccentricity bore all the marks of strength; perhaps
it was actual exuberance of force, a birthmark of genius. Boston
thought so. The Bostonian called it national character -- native
vigor -- robustness -- honesty -- courage. He respected and
feared it. British self-assertion, bluff, brutal, blunt as it
was, seemed to him a better and nobler thing than the acuteness
of the Yankee or the polish of the Parisian. Perhaps he was

These questions of taste, of feeling, of inheritance, need no
settlement. Every one carries his own inch-rule of taste, and
amuses himself by applying it, triumphantly, wherever he travels.
Whatever others thought, the cleverest Englishmen held that the
national eccentricity needed correction, and were beginning to
correct it. The savage satires of Dickens and the gentler
ridicule of Matthew Arnold against the British middle class were
but a part of the rebellion, for the middle class were no worse
than their neighbors in the eyes of an American in 1863; they
were even a very little better in the sense that one could appeal
to their interests, while a university man, like Gladstone, stood
outside of argument. From none of them could a young American
afford to borrow ideas.

The private secretary, like every other Bostonian, began by
regarding British eccentricity as a force. Contact with it, in
the shape of Palmerston, Russell, and Gladstone, made him
hesitate; he saw his own national type -- his father, Weed,
Evarts, for instance -- deal with the British, and show itself
certainly not the weaker; certainly sometimes the stronger.
Biassed though he were, he could hardly be biassed to such a
degree as to mistake the effects of force on others, and while --
labor as he might -- Earl Russell and his state papers seemed
weak to a secretary, he could not see that they seemed strong to
Russell's own followers. Russell might be dishonest or he might
be merely obtuse -- the English type might be brutal or might be
only stupid -- but strong, in either case, it was not, nor did it
seem strong to Englishmen.

Eccentricity was not always a force; Americans were deeply
interested in deciding whether it was always a weakness.
Evidently, on the hustings or in Parliament, among
eccentricities, eccentricity was at home; but in private society
the question was not easy to answer. That English society was
infinitely more amusing because of its eccentricities, no one
denied. Barring the atrocious insolence and brutality which
Englishmen and especially Englishwomen showed to each other --
very rarely, indeed, to foreigners -- English society was much
more easy and tolerant than American. One must expect to be
treated with exquisite courtesy this week and be totally forgotten
the next, but this was the way of the world, and education
consisted in learning to turn one's back on others with the same
unconscious indifference that others showed among themselves. The
smart of wounded vanity lasted no long time with a young man about
town who had little vanity to smart, and who, in his own country,
would have found himself in no better position. He had nothing to
complain of. No one was ever brutal to him. On the contrary, he
was much better treated than ever he was likely to be in Boston --
let alone New York or Washington -- and if his reception varied
inconceivably between extreme courtesy and extreme neglect, it
merely proved that he had become, or was becoming, at home. Not
from a sense of personal griefs or disappointments did he labor
over this part of the social problem, but only because his
education was becoming English, and the further it went, the less
it promised.

By natural affinity the social eccentrics commonly sympathized
with political eccentricity. The English mind took naturally to
rebellion -- when foreign -- and it felt particular confidence in
the Southern Confederacy because of its combined attributes --
foreign rebellion of English blood -- which came nearer ideal
eccentricity than could be reached by Poles, Hungarians, Italians
or Frenchmen. All the English eccentrics rushed into the ranks of
rebel sympathizers, leaving few but well-balanced minds to attach
themselves to the cause of the Union. None of the English leaders
on the Northern side were marked eccentrics. William E. Forster
was a practical, hard-headed Yorkshireman, whose chief ideals in
politics took shape as working arrangements on an economical
base. Cobden, considering the one-sided conditions of his life,
was remarkably well balanced. John Bright was stronger in his
expressions than either of them, but with all his self-assertion
he stuck to his point, and his point was practical. He did not,
like Gladstone, box the compass of thought; "furiously earnest,"
as Monckton Milnes said, "on both sides of every question"; he
was rather, on the whole, a consistent conservative of the old
Commonwealth type, and seldom had to defend inconsistencies.
Monckton Milnes himself was regarded as an eccentric, chiefly by
those who did not know him, but his fancies and hobbies were only
ideas a little in advance of the time; his manner was eccentric,
but not his mind, as any one could see who read a page of his
poetry. None of them, except Milnes, was a university man. As a
rule, the Legation was troubled very little, if at all, by
indiscretions, extravagances, or contradictions among its English
friends. Their work was largely judicious, practical, well
considered, and almost too cautious. The "cranks" were all
rebels, and the list was portentous. Perhaps it might be headed
by old Lord Brougham, who had the audacity to appear at a July
4th reception at the Legation, led by Joe Parkes, and claim his
old credit as "Attorney General to Mr. Madison." The Church was
rebel, but the dissenters were mostly with the Union. The
universities were rebel, but the university men who enjoyed most
public confidence -- like Lord Granville, Sir George Cornewall
Lewis, Lord Stanley, Sir George Grey -- took infinite pains to be
neutral for fear of being thought eccentric. To most observers,
as well as to the Times, the Morning Post, and the Standard, a
vast majority of the English people seemed to follow the
professional eccentrics; even the emotional philanthropists took
that direction; Lord Shaftesbury and Carlyle, Fowell Buxton, and
Gladstone, threw their sympathies on the side which they should
naturally have opposed, and did so for no reason except their
eccentricity; but the "canny" Scots and Yorkshiremen were

This eccentricity did not mean strength. The proof of it was
the mismanagement of the rebel interests. No doubt the first
cause of this trouble lay in the Richmond Government itself. No
one understood why Jefferson Davis chose Mr. Mason as his agent
for London at the same time that he made so good a choice as Mr.
Slidell for Paris. The Confederacy had plenty of excellent men to
send to London, but few who were less fitted than Mason. Possibly
Mason had a certain amount of common sense, but he seemed to have
nothing else, and in London society he counted merely as one
eccentric more. He enjoyed a great opportunity; he might even
have figured as a new Benjamin Franklin with all society at his
feet; he might have roared as lion of the season and made the
social path of the American Minister almost impassable; but Mr.
Adams had his usual luck in enemies, who were always his most
valuable allies if his friends only let them alone. Mason was his
greatest diplomatic triumph. He had his collision with
Palmerston; he drove Russell off the field; he swept the board
before Cockburn; he overbore Slidell; but he never lifted a
finger against Mason, who became his bulwark of defence.

Possibly Jefferson Davis and Mr. Mason shared two defects in
common which might have led them into this serious mistake.
Neither could have had much knowledge of the world, and both must
have been unconscious of humor. Yet at the same time with Mason,
President Davis sent out Slidell to France and Mr. Lamar to
Russia. Some twenty years later, in the shifting search for the
education he never found, Adams became closely intimate at
Washington with Lamar, then Senator from Mississippi, who had
grown to be one of the calmest, most reasonable and most amiable
Union men in the United States, and quite unusual in social
charm. In 1860 he passed for the worst of Southern fire-eaters,
but he was an eccentric by environment, not by nature; above all
his Southern eccentricities, he had tact and humor; and perhaps
this was a reason why Mr. Davis sent him abroad with the others,
on a futile mission to St. Petersburg. He would have done better
in London, in place of Mason. London society would have delighted
in him; his stories would have won success; his manners would
have made him loved; his oratory would have swept every audience;
even Monckton Milnes could never have resisted the temptation of
having him to breakfast between Lord Shaftesbury and the Bishop
of Oxford.

Lamar liked to talk of his brief career in diplomacy, but he
never spoke of Mason. He never alluded to Confederate management
or criticised Jefferson Davis's administration. The subject that
amused him was his English allies. At that moment -- the early
summer of 1863 -- the rebel party in England were full of
confidence, and felt strong enough to challenge the American
Legation to a show of power. They knew better than the Legation
what they could depend upon: that the law officers and
commissioners of customs at Liverpool dared not prosecute the
ironclad ships; that Palmerston, Russell, and Gladstone were
ready to recognize the Confederacy; that the Emperor Napoleon
would offer them every inducement to do it. In a manner they
owned Liverpool and especially the firm of Laird who were
building their ships. The political member of the Laird firm was
Lindsay, about whom the whole web of rebel interests clung --
rams, cruisers, munitions, and Confederate loan; social
introductions and parliamentary tactics. The firm of Laird, with
a certain dignity, claimed to be champion of England's navy; and
public opinion, in the summer of 1863, still inclined towards

Never was there a moment when eccentricity, if it were a force,
should have had more value to the rebel interest; and the
managers must have thought so, for they adopted or accepted as
their champion an eccentric of eccentrics; a type of 1820; a sort
of Brougham of Sheffield, notorious for poor judgment and worse
temper. Mr. Roebuck had been a tribune of the people, and, like
tribunes of most other peoples, in growing old, had grown
fatuous. He was regarded by the friends of the Union as rather a
comical personage -- a favorite subject for Punch to laugh at --
with a bitter tongue and a mind enfeebled even more than common
by the political epidemic of egotism. In all England they could
have found no opponent better fitted to give away his own case.
No American man of business would have paid him attention; yet.
the Lairds, who certainly knew their own affairs best, let
Roebuck represent them and take charge of their interests.

With Roebuck's doings, the private secretary had no concern
except that the Minister sent him down to the House of Commons on
June 30, 1863, to report the result of Roebuck's motion to
recognize the Southern Confederacy. The Legation felt no anxiety,
having Vicksburg already in its pocket, and Bright and Forster to
say so; but the private secretary went down and was admitted
under the gallery on the left, to listen, with great content,
while John Bright, with astonishing force, caught and shook and
tossed Roebuck, as a big mastiff shakes a wiry, ill-conditioned,
toothless, bad-tempered Yorkshire terrier. The private secretary
felt an artistic sympathy with Roebuck, for, from time to time,
by way of practice, Bright in a friendly way was apt to shake him
too, and he knew how it was done. The manner counted for more
than the words. The scene was interesting, but the result was not
in doubt.

All the more sharply he was excited, near the year 1879, in
Washington, by hearing Lamar begin a story after dinner, which,
little by little, became dramatic, recalling the scene in the
House of Commons. The story, as well as one remembered, began
with Lamar's failure to reach St. Petersburg at all, and his
consequent detention in Paris waiting instructions. The motion to
recognize the Confederacy was about to be made, and, in prospect
of the debate, Mr. Lindsay collected a party at his villa on the
Thames to bring the rebel agents into relations with Roebuck.
Lamar was sent for, and came. After much conversation of a
general sort, such as is the usual object or resource of the
English Sunday, finding himself alone with Roebuck, Lamar, by way
of showing interest, bethought himself of John Bright and asked
Roebuck whether he expected Bright to take part in the debate:
"No, sir!" said Roebuck sententiously; "Bright and I have met
before. It was the old story -- the story of the sword-fish and
the whale! NO, sir! Mr. Bright will not cross swords with me

Thus assured, Lamar went with the more confidence to the House
on the appointed evening, and was placed under the gallery, on
the right, where he listened to Roebuck and followed the debate
with such enjoyment as an experienced debater feels in these
contests, until, as he said, he became aware that a man, with a
singularly rich voice and imposing manner, had taken the floor,
and was giving Roebuck the most deliberate and tremendous
pounding he ever witnessed, "until at last," concluded Lamar, "it
dawned on my mind that the sword-fish was getting the worst of

Lamar told the story in the spirit of a joke against himself
rather than against Roebuck; but such jokes must have been
unpleasantly common in the experience of the rebel agents. They
were surrounded by cranks of the worst English species, who
distorted their natural eccentricities and perverted their
judgment. Roebuck may have been an extreme case, since he was
actually in his dotage, yet this did not prevent the Lairds from
accepting his lead, or the House from taking him seriously.
Extreme eccentricity was no bar, in England, to extreme
confidence; sometimes it seemed a recommendation; and unless it
caused financial loss, it rather helped popularity.

The question whether British eccentricity was ever strength
weighed heavily in the balance of education. That Roebuck should
mislead the rebel agents on so strange a point as that of
Bright's courage was doubly characteristic because the Southern
people themselves had this same barbaric weakness of attributing
want of courage to opponents, and owed their ruin chiefly to such
ignorance of the world. Bright's courage was almost as irrational
as that of the rebels themselves. Every one knew that he had the
courage of a prize-fighter. He struck, in succession, pretty
nearly every man in England that could be reached by a blow, and
when he could not reach the individual he struck the class, or
when the class was too small for him, the whole people of
England. At times he had the whole country on his back. He could
not act on the defensive; his mind required attack. Even among
friends at the dinner-table he talked as though he were
denouncing them, or someone else, on a platform; he measured his
phrases, built his sentences, cumulated his effects, and pounded
his opponents, real or imagined. His humor was glow, like iron at
dull heat; his blow was elementary, like the thrash of a whale.

One day in early spring, March 26, 1863, the Minister requested
his private secretary to attend a Trades-Union Meeting at St.
James's Hall, which was the result of Professor Beesly's patient
efforts to unite Bright and the Trades-Unions on an American
platform. The secretary went to the meeting and made a report
which reposes somewhere on file in the State Department to this
day, as harmless as such reports should be; but it contained no
mention of what interested young Adams most -- Bright's
psychology. With singular skill and oratorical power, Bright
managed at the outset, in his opening paragraph, to insult or
outrage every class of Englishman commonly considered
respectable, and, for fear of any escaping, he insulted them
repeatedly under consecutive heads. The rhetorical effect was

"Privilege thinks it has a great interest in the American
contest," he began in his massive, deliberate tones; "and every
morning with blatant voice, it comes into our streets and curses
the American Republic. Privilege has beheld an afflicting
spectacle for many years past. It has beheld thirty million of
men happy and prosperous, without emperors -- without king
(cheers) -- without the surroundings of a court (renewed
cheers)--without nobles, except such as are made by eminence in
intellect and virtue -- without State bishops and State priests,
those vendors of the love that works salvation (cheers) --
without great armies and great navies -- without a great debt and
great taxes -- and Privilege has shuddered at what might happen
to old Europe if this great experiment should succeed."

An ingenious man, with an inventive mind, might have managed,
in the same number of lines, to offend more Englishmen than
Bright struck in this sentence; but he must have betrayed
artifice and hurt his oratory. The audience cheered furiously,
and the private secretary felt peace in his much troubled mind,
for he knew how careful the Ministry would be, once they saw
Bright talk republican principles before Trades-Unions; but,
while he did not, like Roebuck, see reason to doubt the courage
of a man who, after quarrelling with the Trades-Unions, quarreled
with all the world outside the Trades-Unions, he did feel a doubt
whether to class Bright as eccentric or conventional. Every one
called Bright "un-English," from Lord Palmerston to William E.
Forster; but to an American he seemed more English than any of
his critics. He was a liberal hater, and what he hated he reviled
after the manner of Milton, but he was afraid of no one. He was
almost the only man in England, or, for that matter, in Europe,
who hated Palmerston and was not afraid of him, or of the press
or the pulpit, the clubs or the bench, that stood behind him. He
loathed the whole fabric of sham religion, sham loyalty, sham
aristocracy, and sham socialism. He had the British weakness of
believing only in himself and his own conventions. In all this,
an American saw, if one may make the distinction, much racial
eccentricity, but little that was personal. Bright was singularly
well poised; but he used singularly strong language.

Long afterwards, in 1880, Adams happened to be living again in
London for a season, when James Russell Lowell was transferred
there as Minister; and as Adams's relations with Lowell had
become closer and more intimate with years, he wanted the new
Minister to know some of his old friends. Bright was then in the
Cabinet, and no longer the most radical member even there, but he
was still a rare figure in society. He came to dinner, along with
Sir Francis Doyle and Sir Robert Cunliffe, and as usual did most
of the talking. As usual also, he talked of the things most on
his mind. Apparently it must have been some reform of the
criminal law which the Judges opposed, that excited him, for at
the end of dinner, over the wine, he took possession of the table
in his old way, and ended with a superb denunciation of the
Bench, spoken in his massive manner, as though every word were a
hammer, smashing what it struck:--

"For two hundred years, the Judges of England sat on the Bench,
condemning to the penalty of death every man, woman, and child
who stole property to the value of five shillings; and, during
all that time, not one Judge ever remonstrated against the law.
We English are a nation of brutes, and ought to be exterminated
to the last man."

As the party rose from table and passed into the drawing-room,
Adams said to Lowell that Bright was very fine. "Yes!" replied
Lowell, " but too violent! "

Precisely this was the point that Adams doubted. Bright knew
his Englishmen better than Lowell did -- better than England did.
He knew what amount of violence in language was necessary to
drive an idea into a Lancashire or Yorkshire head. He knew that
no violence was enough to affect a Somersetshire or Wiltshire
peasant. Bright kept his own head cool and clear. He was not
excited; he never betrayed excitement. As for his denunciation of
the English Bench, it was a very old story, not original with
him. That the English were a nation of brutes was a commonplace
generally admitted by Englishmen and universally accepted by
foreigners; while the matter of their extermination could be
treated only as unpractical, on their deserts, because they were
probably not very much worse than their neighbors. Had Bright
said that the French, Spaniards, Germans, or Russians were a
nation of brutes and ought to be exterminated, no one would have
found fault; the whole human race, according to the highest
authority, has been exterminated once already for the same
reason, and only the rainbow protects them from a repetition of
it. What shocked Lowell was that he denounced his own people.

Adams felt no moral obligation to defend Judges, who, as far as
he knew, were the only class of society specially adapted to
defend themselves; but he was curious -- even anxious -- as a
point of education, to decide for himself whether Bright's
language was violent for its purpose. He thought not. Perhaps
Cobden did better by persuasion, but that was another matter. Of
course, even Englishmen sometimes complained of being so
constantly told that they were brutes and hypocrites, although
they were told little else by their censors, and bore it, on the
whole, meekly; but the fact that it was true in the main troubled
the ten-pound voter much less than it troubled Newman, Gladstone,
Ruskin, Carlyle, and Matthew Arnold. Bright was personally
disliked by his victims, but not distrusted. They never doubted
what he would do next, as they did with John Russell, Gladstone,
and Disraeli. He betrayed no one, and he never advanced an
opinion in practical matters which did not prove to be practical.

The class of Englishmen who set out to be the intellectual
opposites of Bright, seemed to an American bystander the weakest
and most eccentric of all. These were the trimmers, the political
economists, the anti-slavery and doctrinaire class, the followers
of de Tocqueville, and of John Stuart Mill. As a class, they were
timid -- with good reason -- and timidity, which is high wisdom
in philosophy, sicklies the whole cast of thought in action.
Numbers of these men haunted London society, all tending to
free-thinking, but never venturing much freedom of thought. Like
the anti-slavery doctrinaires of the forties and fifties, they
became mute and useless when slavery struck them in the face. For
type of these eccentrics, literature seems to have chosen Henry
Reeve, at least to the extent of biography. He was a bulky figure
in society, always friendly, good-natured, obliging, and useful;
almost as universal as Milnes and more busy. As editor of the
Edinburgh Review he had authority and even power, although the
Review and the whole Whig doctrinaire school had begun -- as the
French say -- to date; and of course the literary and artistic
sharpshooters of 1867 -- like Frank Palgrave -- frothed and
foamed at the mere mention of Reeve's name. Three-fourths of
their fury was due only to his ponderous manner. London society
abused its rights of personal criticism by fixing on every too
conspicuous figure some word or phrase that stuck to it. Every
one had heard of Mrs. Grote as "the origin of the word
grotesque." Every one had laughed at the story of Reeve
approaching Mrs. Grote, with his usual somewhat florid manner,
asking in his literary dialect how her husband the historian was:
"And how is the learned Grotius?" "Pretty well, thank you,
Puffendorf! " One winced at the word, as though it were a drawing
of Forain.

No one would have been more shocked than Reeve had he been
charged with want of moral courage. He proved his courage
afterwards by publishing the "Greville Memoirs," braving the
displeasure of the Queen. Yet the Edinburgh Review and its editor
avoided taking sides except where sides were already fixed.
Americanism would have been bad form in the liberal Edinburgh
Review; it would have seemed eccentric even for a Scotchman, and
Reeve was a Saxon of Saxons. To an American this attitude of
oscillating reserve seemed more eccentric than the reckless
hostility of Brougham or Carlyle, and more mischievous, for he
never could be sure what preposterous commonplace it might

The sum of these experiences in 1863 left the conviction that
eccentricity was weakness. The young American who should adopt
English thought was lost. From the facts, the conclusion was
correct, yet, as usual, the conclusion was wrong. The years of
Palmerston's last Cabinet, 1859 to 1865, were avowedly years of
truce -- of arrested development. The British system like the
French, was in its last stage of decomposition. Never had the
British mind shown itself so decousu -- so unravelled, at sea,
floundering in every sort of historical shipwreck. Eccentricities
had a free field. Contradictions swarmed in State and Church.
England devoted thirty years of arduous labor to clearing away
only a part of the debris. A young American in 1863 could see
little or nothing of the future. He might dream, but he could not
foretell, the suddenness with which the old Europe, with England
in its wake, was to vanish in 1870. He was in dead-water, and the
parti-colored, fantastic cranks swam about his boat, as though he
were the ancient mariner, and they saurians of the prime.



MINISTER ADAMS'S success in stopping the rebel rams fixed his
position once for all in English society. From that moment he
could afford to drop the character of diplomatist, and assume
what, for an American Minister in London, was an exclusive
diplomatic advantage, the character of a kind of American Peer of
the Realm. The British never did things by halves. Once they
recognized a man's right to social privileges, they accepted him
as one of themselves. Much as Lord Derby and Mr. Disraeli were
accepted as leaders of Her Majesty's domestic Opposition,
Minister Adams had a rank of his own as a kind of leader of Her
Majesty's American Opposition. Even the Times conceded it. The
years of struggle were over, and Minister Adams rapidly gained a
position which would have caused his father or grandfather to
stare with incredulous envy.

This Anglo-American form of diplomacy was chiefly undiplomatic,
and had the peculiar effect of teaching a habit of diplomacy
useless or mischievous everywhere but in London. Nowhere else in
the world could one expect to figure in a role so unprofessional.
The young man knew no longer what character he bore. Private
secretary in the morning, son in the afternoon, young man about
town in the evening, the only character he never bore was that of
diplomatist, except when he wanted a card to some great function.
His diplomatic education was at an end; he seldom met a diplomat,
and never had business with one; he could be of no use to them,
or they to him; but he drifted inevitably into society, and, do
what he might, his next education must be one of English social
life. Tossed between the horns of successive dilemmas, he reached
his twenty-sixth birthday without the power of earning five
dollars in any occupation. His friends in the army were almost as
badly off, but even army life ruined a young man less fatally
than London society. Had he been rich, this form of ruin would
have mattered nothing; but the young men of 1865 were none of
them rich; all had to earn a living; yet they had reached high
positions of responsibility and power in camps and Courts,
without a dollar of their own and with no tenure of office.

Henry Adams had failed to acquire any useful education; he
should at least have acquired social experience. Curiously
enough, he failed here also. From the European or English point
of view, he had no social experience, and never got it. Minister
Adams happened on a political interregnum owing to Lord
Palmerston's personal influence from 1860 to 1865; but this
political interregnum was less marked than the social still-stand
during the same years. The Prince Consort was dead; the Queen had
retired; the Prince of Wales was still a boy. In its best days,
Victorian society had never been "smart." During the forties,
under the influence of Louis Philippe, Courts affected to be
simple, serious and middle class; and they succeeded. The taste
of Louis Philippe was bourgeois beyond any taste except that of
Queen Victoria. Style lingered in the background with the
powdered footman behind the yellow chariot, but speaking socially
the Queen had no style save what she inherited. Balmoral was a
startling revelation of royal taste. Nothing could be worse than
the toilettes at Court unless it were the way they were worn.
One's eyes might be dazzled by jewels, but they were heirlooms,
and if any lady appeared well dressed, she was either a foreigner
or "fast." Fashion was not fashionable in London until the
Americans and the Jews were let loose. The style of London
toilette universal in 1864 was grotesque, like Monckton Milnes on
horseback in Rotten Row.

Society of this sort might fit a young man in some degree for
editing Shakespeare or Swift, but had little relation with the
society of 1870, and none with that of 1900. Owing to other
causes, young Adams never got the full training of such style as
still existed. The embarrassments of his first few seasons
socially ruined him. His own want of experience prevented his
asking introductions to the ladies who ruled society; his want of
friends prevented his knowing who these ladies were; and he had
every reason to expect snubbing if he put himself in evidence.
This sensitiveness was thrown away on English society, where men
and women treated each others' advances much more brutally than
those of strangers, but young Adams was son and private secretary
too; he could not be as thick-skinned as an Englishman. He was
not alone. Every young diplomat, and most of the old ones, felt
awkward in an English house from a certainty that they were not
precisely wanted there, and a possibility that they might be told

If there was in those days a country house in England which had
a right to call itself broad in views and large in tastes, it was
Bretton in Yorkshire; and if there was a hostess who had a right
to consider herself fashionable as well as charming, it was Lady
Margaret Beaumont; yet one morning at breakfast there, sitting by
her side -- not for his own merits -- Henry Adams heard her say
to herself in her languid and liberal way, with her rich voice
and musing manner, looking into her tea-cup: "I don't think I
care for foreigners!" Horror-stricken, not so much on his own
account as on hers, the young man could only execute himself as
gaily as he might: "But Lady Margaret, please make one small
exception for me!" Of course she replied what was evident, that
she did not call him a foreigner, and her genial Irish charm made
the slip of tongue a happy courtesy; but none the less she knew
that, except for his momentary personal introduction, he was in
fact a foreigner, and there was no imaginable reason why she
should like him, or any other foreigner, unless it were because
she was bored by natives. She seemed to feel that her
indifference needed a reason to excuse itself in her own eyes,
and she showed the subconscious sympathy of the Irish nature
which never feels itself perfectly at home even in England. She,
too, was some shadowy shade un-English.

Always conscious of this barrier, while the war lasted the
private secretary hid himself among the herd of foreigners till
he found his relations fixed and unchangeable. He never felt
himself in society, and he never knew definitely what was meant
as society by those who were in it. He saw far enough to note a
score of societies which seemed quite independent of each other.
The smartest was the smallest, and to him almost wholly strange.
The largest was the sporting world, also unknown to him except
through the talk of his acquaintances. Between or beyond these
lay groups of nebulous societies. His lawyer friends, like
Evarts, frequented legal circles where one still sat over the
wine and told anecdotes of the bench and bar; but he himself
never set eyes on a judge except when his father took him to call
on old Lord Lyndhurst, where they found old Lord Campbell, both
abusing old Lord Brougham. The Church and the Bishops formed
several societies which no secretary ever saw except as an
interloper. The Army; the Navy; the Indian Service; the medical
and surgical professions; City people; artists; county families;
the Scotch, and indefinite other subdivisions of society existed,
which were as strange to each other as they were to Adams. At the
end of eight or ten seasons in London society he professed to
know less about it, or how to enter it, than he did when he made
his first appearance at Miss Burdett Coutts's in May, 1861.

Sooner or later every young man dropped into a set or circle,
and frequented the few houses that were willing to harbor him. An
American who neither hunted nor raced, neither shot nor fished
nor gambled, and was not marriageable, had no need to think of
society at large. Ninety-nine houses in every hundred were
useless to him, a greater bore to him than he to them. Thus the
question of getting into -- or getting out of -- society which
troubled young foreigners greatly, settled itself after three or
four years of painful speculation. Society had no unity; one
wandered about in it like a maggot in cheese; it was not a hansom
cab, to be got into, or out of, at dinner-time.

Therefore he always professed himself ignorant of society; he
never knew whether he had been in it or not, but from the
accounts of his future friends, like General Dick Taylor or
George Smalley, and of various ladies who reigned in the
seventies, he inclined to think that he knew very little about
it. Certain great houses and certain great functions of course he
attended, like every one else who could get cards, but even of
these the number was small that kept an interest or helped
education. In seven years he could remember only two that seemed
to have any meaning for him, and he never knew what that meaning
was. Neither of the two was official; neither was English in
interest; and both were scandals to the philosopher while they
scarcely enlightened men of the world.

One was at Devonshire House, an ordinary, unpremeditated
evening reception. Naturally every one went to Devonshire House
if asked, and the rooms that night were fairly full of the usual
people. The private secretary was standing among the rest, when
Mme. de Castiglione entered, the famous beauty of the Second
Empire. How beautiful she may have been, or indeed what sort of
beauty she was, Adams never knew, because the company, consisting
of the most refined and aristocratic society in the world,
instantly formed a lane, and stood in ranks to stare at her,
while those behind mounted on chairs to look over their
neighbors' heads; so that the lady walked through this polite
mob, stared completely out of countenance, and fled the house at
once. This was all!

The other strange spectacle was at Stafford House, April 13,
1864, when, in a palace gallery that recalled Paolo Veronese's
pictures of Christ in his scenes of miracle, Garibaldi, in his
gray capote over his red shirt, received all London, and three
duchesses literally worshipped at his feet. Here, at all events,
a private secretary had surely caught the last and highest touch
of social experience; but what it meant -- what social, moral, or
mental development it pointed out to the searcher of truth -- was
not a matter to be treated fully by a leader in the Morning Post
or even by a sermon in Westminster Abbey. Mme. de Castiglione and
Garibaldi covered, between them, too much space for simple
measurement; their curves were too complex for mere arithmetic.
The task of bringing the two into any common relation with an
ordered social system tending to orderly development -- in London
or elsewhere -- was well fitted for Algernon Swinburne or Victor
Hugo, but was beyond any process yet reached by the education of
Henry Adams, who would probably, even then, have rejected, as
superficial or supernatural, all the views taken by any of the
company who looked on with him at these two interesting and
perplexing sights.

From the Court, or Court society, a mere private secretary got
nothing at all, or next to nothing, that could help him on his
road through life. Royalty was in abeyance. One was tempted to
think in these years, 1860-65, that the nicest distinction
between the very best society and the second-best, was their
attitude towards royalty. The one regarded royalty as a bore, and
avoided it, or quietly said that the Queen had never been in
society. The same thing might have been said of fully half the
peerage. Adams never knew even the names of half the rest; he
never exchanged ten words with any member of the royal family; he
never knew any one in those years who showed interest in any
member of the royal family, or who would have given five
shillings for the opinion of any royal person on any subject; or
cared to enter any royal or noble presence, unless the house was
made attractive by as much social effort as would have been
necessary in other countries where no rank existed. No doubt, as
one of a swarm, young Adams slightly knew various gilded youth
who frequented balls and led such dancing as was most in vogue,
but they seemed to set no value on rank; their anxiety was only
to know where to find the best partners before midnight, and the
best supper after midnight. To the American, as to Arthur
Pendennis or Barnes Newcome, the value of social position and
knowledge was evident enough; he valued it at rather more than it
was worth to him; but it was a shadowy thing which seemed to vary
with every street corner; a thing which had shifting standards,
and which no one could catch outright. The half-dozen leaders and
beauties of his time, with great names and of the utmost fashion,
made some of the poorest marriages, and the least showy careers.

Tired of looking on at society from the outside, Adams grew to
loathe the sight of his Court dress; to groan at every
announcement of a Court ball; and to dread every invitation to a
formal dinner. The greatest social event gave not half the
pleasure that one could buy for ten shillings at the opera when
Patti sang Cherubino or Gretchen, and not a fourth of the
education. Yet this was not the opinion of the best judges.
Lothrop Motley, who stood among the very best, said to him early
in his apprenticeship that the London dinner and the English
country house were the perfection of human society. The young man
meditated over it, uncertain of its meaning. Motley could not
have thought the dinner itself perfect, since there was not then
-- outside of a few bankers or foreigners -- a good cook or a
good table in London, and nine out of ten of the dinners that
Motley ate came from Gunter's, and all were alike. Every one,
especially in young society, complained bitterly that Englishmen
did not know a good dinner when they ate it, and could not order
one if they were given carte blanche. Henry Adams was not a
judge, and knew no more than they, but he heard the complaints,
and he could not think that Motley meant to praise the English

Equally little could Motley have meant that dinners were good
to look at. Nothing could be worse than the toilettes; nothing
less artistic than the appearance of the company. One's eyes
might be dazzled by family diamonds, but, if an American woman
were present, she was sure to make comments about the way the
jewels were worn. If there was a well-dressed lady at table, she
was either an American or "fast." She attracted as much notice as
though she were on the stage. No one could possibly admire an
English dinner-table.

Least of all did Motley mean that the taste or the manners were
perfect. The manners of English society were notorious, and the
taste was worse. Without exception every American woman rose in
rebellion against English manners. In fact, the charm of London
which made most impression on Americans was the violence of its
contrasts; the extreme badness of the worst, making background
for the distinction, refinement, or wit of a few, just as the
extreme beauty of a few superb women was more effective against
the plainness of the crowd. The result was mediaeval, and
amusing; sometimes coarse to a degree that might have startled a
roustabout, and sometimes courteous and considerate to a degree
that suggested King Arthur's Round Table; but this artistic
contrast was surely not the perfection that Motley had in his
mind. He meant something scholarly, worldly, and modern; he was
thinking of his own tastes.

Probably he meant that, in his favorite houses, the tone was
easy, the talk was good, and the standard of scholarship was
high. Even there he would have been forced to qualify his
adjectives. No German would have admitted that English
scholarship was high, or that it was scholarship at all, or that
any wish for scholarship existed in England. Nothing that seemed
to smell of the shop or of the lecture-room was wanted. One might
as well have talked of Renan's Christ at the table of the Bishop
of London, as talk of German philology at the table of an Oxford
don. Society, if a small literary class could be called society,
wanted to be amused in its old way. Sydney Smith, who had amused,
was dead; so was Macaulay, who instructed if he did not amuse;
Thackeray died at Christmas, 1863; Dickens never felt at home,
and seldom appeared, in society; Bulwer Lytton was not sprightly;
Tennyson detested strangers; Carlyle was mostly detested by them;
Darwin never came to town; the men of whom Motley must have been
thinking were such as he might meet at Lord Houghton's
breakfasts: Grote, Jowett, Milman, or Froude; Browning, Matthew
Arnold, or Swinburne; Bishop Wilberforce, Venables, or Hayward;
or perhaps Gladstone, Robert Lowe, or Lord Granville. A
relatively small class, commonly isolated, suppressed, and lost
at the usual London dinner, such society as this was fairly
familiar even to a private secretary, but to the literary
American it might well seem perfection since he could find
nothing of the sort in America. Within the narrow limits of this
class, the American Legation was fairly at home; possibly a score
of houses, all liberal, and all literary, but perfect only in the
eyes of a Harvard College historian. They could teach little
worth learning, for their tastes were antiquated and their
knowledge was ignorance to the next generation. What was
altogether fatal for future purposes, they were only English.

A social education in such a medium was bound to be useless in
any other, yet Adams had to learn it to the bottom. The one thing
needful for a private secretary, was that he should not only
seem, but should actually be, at home. He studied carefully, and
practised painfully, what seemed to be the favorite
accomplishments of society. Perhaps his nervousness deceived him;
perhaps he took for an ideal of others what was only his
reflected image; but he conceived that the perfection of human
society required that a man should enter a drawing-room where he
was a total stranger, and place himself on the hearth-rug, his
back to the fire, with an air of expectant benevolence, without
curiosity, much as though he had dropped in at a charity concert,
kindly disposed to applaud the performers and to overlook
mistakes. This ideal rarely succeeded in youth, and towards
thirty it took a form of modified insolence and offensive
patronage; but about sixty it mellowed into courtesy, kindliness,
and even deference to the young which had extraordinary charm
both in women and in men. Unfortunately Adams could not wait till
sixty for education; he had his living to earn; and the English
air of patronage would earn no income for him anywhere else.

After five or six years of constant practice, any one can
acquire the habit of going from one strange company to another
without thinking much of one's self or of them, as though
silently reflecting that "in a world where we are all insects, no
insect is alien; perhaps they are human in parts"; but the dreamy
habit of mind which comes from solitude in crowds is not fitness
for social success except in London. Everywhere else it is
injury. England was a social kingdom whose social coinage had no
currency elsewhere.

Englishwomen, from the educational point of view, could give
nothing until they approached forty years old. Then they become
very interesting -- very charming -- to the man of fifty. The
young American was not worth the young Englishwoman's notice, and
never received it. Neither understood the other. Only in the
domestic relation, in the country -- never in society at large --
a young American might accidentally make friends with an
Englishwoman of his own age, but it never happened to Henry
Adams. His susceptible nature was left to the mercy of American
girls, which was professional duty rather than education as long
as diplomacy held its own.

Thus he found himself launched on waters where he had never
meant to sail, and floating along a stream which carried him far
from his port. His third season in London society saw the end of
his diplomatic education, and began for him the social life of a
young man who felt at home in England -- more at home there than
anywhere else. With this feeling, the mere habit of going to
garden-parties, dinners, receptions, and balls had nothing to do.
One might go to scores without a sensation of home. One might
stay in no end of country houses without forgetting that one was
a total stranger and could never be anything else. One might bow
to half the dukes and duchesses in England, and feel only the
more strange. Hundreds of persons might pass with a nod and never
come nearer. Close relation in a place like London is a personal
mystery as profound as chemical affinity. Thousands pass, and one
separates himself from the mass to attach himself to another, and
so make, little by little, a group.

One morning, April 27, 1863, he was asked to breakfast with Sir
Henry Holland, the old Court physician who had been acquainted
with every American Minister since Edward Everett, and was a
valuable social ally, who had the courage to try to be of use to
everybody, and who, while asking the private secretary to
breakfast one day, was too discreet to betray what he might have
learned about rebel doings at his breakfast-table the day before.
He had been friendly with the Legation, in the teeth of society,
and was still bearing up against the weight of opinion, so that
young Adams could not decline his invitations, although they
obliged him to breakfast in Brook Street at nine o'clock in the
morning, alternately with Mr. James M. Mason. Old Dr. Holland was
himself as hale as a hawk, driving all day bare-headed about
London, and eating Welsh rarebit every night before bed; he
thought that any young man should be pleased to take his early
muffin in Brook Street, and supply a few crumbs of war news for
the daily peckings of eminent patients. Meekly, when summoned,
the private secretary went, and on reaching the front door, this
particular morning, he found there another young man in the act
of rapping the knocker. They entered the breakfastroom together,
where they were introduced to each other, and Adams learned that
the other guest was a Cambridge undergraduate, Charles Milnes
Gaskell, son of James Milnes Gaskell, the Member for Wenlock;
another of the Yorkshire Milneses, from Thornes near Wakefield.
Fate had fixed Adams to Yorkshire. By another chance it happened
that young Milnes Gaskell was intimate at Cambridge with William
Everett who was also about to take his degree. A third chance
inspired Mr. Evarts with a fancy for visiting Cambridge, and led
William Everett to offer his services as host. Adams acted as
courier to Mr. Evarts, and at the end of May they went down for a
few days, when William Everett did the honors as host with a
kindness and attention that made his cousin sorely conscious of
his own social shortcomings. Cambridge was pretty, and the dons
were kind. Mr. Evarts enjoyed his visit but this was merely a
part of the private secretary's day's work. What affected his
whole life was the intimacy then begun with Milnes Gaskell and
his circle of undergraduate friends, just about to enter the

Intimates are predestined. Adams met in England a thousand
people, great and small; jostled against every one, from royal
princes to gin-shop loafers; attended endless official functions
and private parties; visited every part of the United Kingdom and
was not quite a stranger at the Legations in Paris and Rome; he
knew the societies of certain country houses, and acquired habits
of Sunday-afternoon calls; but all this gave him nothing to do,
and was life wasted. For him nothing whatever could be gained by
escorting American ladies to drawing-rooms or American gentlemen
to levees at St. James's Palace, or bowing solemnly to people
with great titles, at Court balls, or even by awkwardly jostling
royalty at garden-parties; all this was done for the Government,
and neither President Lincoln nor Secretary Seward would ever
know enough of their business to thank him for doing what they
did not know how to get properly done by their own servants; but
for Henry Adams -- not private secretary -- all the time taken up
by such duties was wasted. On the other hand, his few personal
intimacies concerned him alone, and the chance that made him
almost a Yorkshireman was one that must have started under the

More than any other county in England, Yorkshire retained a
sort of social independence of London. Scotland itself was hardly
more distinct. The Yorkshire type had always been the strongest
of the British strains; the Norwegian and the Dane were a
different race from the Saxon. Even Lancashire had not the mass
and the cultivation of the West Riding. London could never quite
absorb Yorkshire, which, in its turn had no great love for London
and freely showed it. To a certain degree, evident enough to
Yorkshiremen, Yorkshire was not English -- or was all England, as
they might choose to express it. This must have been the reason
why young Adams was drawn there rather than elsewhere. Monckton
Milnes alone took the trouble to draw him, and possibly Milnes
was the only man in England with whom Henry Adams, at that
moment, had a chance of calling out such an un-English effort.
Neither Oxford nor Cambridge nor any region south of the Humber
contained a considerable house where a young American would have
been sought as a friend. Eccentricity alone did not account for
it. Monckton Milnes was a singular type, but his distant cousin,
James Milnes Gaskell, was another, quite as marked, in an
opposite sense. Milnes never seemed willing to rest; Milnes
Gaskell never seemed willing to move. In his youth one of a very
famous group -- Arthur Hallam, Tennyson, Manning, Gladstone,
Francis Doyle -- and regarded as one of the most promising; an
adorer of George Canning; in Parliament since coming of age;
married into the powerful connection of the Wynns of Wynstay;
rich according to Yorkshire standards; intimate with his
political leaders; he was one of the numerous Englishmen who
refuse office rather than make the effort of carrying it, and
want power only to make it a source of indolence. He was a
voracious reader and an admirable critic; he had forty years of
parliamentary tradition on his memory; he liked to talk and to
listen; he liked his dinner and, in spite of George Canning, his
dry champagne; he liked wit and anecdote; but he belonged to the
generation of 1830, a generation which could not survive the
telegraph and railway, and which even Yorkshire could hardly
produce again. To an American he was a character even more
unusual and more fascinating than his distant cousin Lord

Mr. Milnes Gaskell was kind to the young American whom his son
brought to the house, and Mrs. Milnes Gaskell was kinder, for she
thought the American perhaps a less dangerous friend than some
Englishman might be, for her son, and she was probably right. The
American had the sense to see that she was herself one of the
most intelligent and sympathetic women in England; her sister,
Miss Charlotte Wynn, was another; and both were of an age and a
position in society that made their friendship a complirnent as
well as a pleasure. Their consent and approval settled the
matter. In England, the family is a serious fact; once admitted
to it, one is there for life. London might utterly vanish from
one's horizon, but as long as life lasted, Yorkshire lived for
its friends.

In the year 1857, Mr. James Milnes Gaskell, who had sat for
thirty years in Parliament as one of the Members for the borough
of Wenlock in Shropshire, bought Wenlock Abbey and the estate
that included the old monastic buildings. This new, or old,
plaything amused Mrs. Milnes Gaskell. The Prior's house, a
charming specimen of fifteenth-century architecture, had been
long left to decay as a farmhouse. She put it in order, and went
there to spend a part of the autumn of 1864. Young Adams was one
of her first guests, and drove about Wenlock Edge and the Wrekin
with her, learning the loveliness of this exquisite country, and
its stores of curious antiquity. It was a new and charming
existence; an experience greatly to be envied -- ideal repose and
rural Shakespearian peace -- but a few years of it were likely to
complete his education, and fit him to act a fairly useful part
in life as an Englishman, an ecclesiastic, and a contemporary of


DILETTANTISM (1865-1866)

THE campaign of 1864 and the reelection of Mr. Lincoln in
November set the American Minister on so firm a footing that he
could safely regard his own anxieties as over, and the anxieties
of Earl Russell and the Emperor Napoleon as begun. With a few
months more his own term of four years would come to an end, and
even though the questions still under discussion with England
should somewhat prolong his stay, he might look forward with some
confidence to his return home in 1865. His son no longer fretted.
The time for going into the army had passed. If he were to be
useful at all, it must be as a son, and as a son he was treated
with the widest indulgence and trust. He knew that he was doing
himself no good by staying in London, but thus far in life he had
done himself no good anywhere, and reached his twenty-seventh
birthday without having advanced a step, that he could see,
beyond his twenty-first. For the most part, his friends were
worse off than he. The war was about to end and they were to be
set adrift in a world they would find altogether strange.

At this point, as though to cut the last thread of relation,
six months were suddenly dropped out of his life in England. The
London climate had told on some of the family; the physicians
prescribed a winter in Italy. Of course the private secretary was
detached as their escort, since this was one of his professional
functions; and he passed six months, gaining an education as
Italian courier, while the Civil War came to its end. As far as
other education went, he got none, but he was amused. Travelling
in all possible luxury, at some one else's expense, with
diplomatic privileges and position, was a form of travel hitherto
untried. The Cornice in vettura was delightful; Sorrento in
winter offered hills to climb and grottoes to explore, and Naples
near by to visit; Rome at Easter was an experience necessary for
the education of every properly trained private secretary; the
journey north by vettura through Perugia and Sienna was a dream;
the Splugen Pass, if not equal to the Stelvio, was worth seeing;
Paris had always something to show. The chances of accidental
education were not so great as they had been, since one's field
of experience had grown large; but perhaps a season at Baden
Baden in these later days of its brilliancy offered some chances
of instruction, if it were only the sight of fashionable Europe
and America on the race-course watching the Duke of Hamilton, in
the middle, improving his social advantages by the conversation
of Cora Pearl.

The assassination of President Lincoln fell on the party while
they were at Rome, where it seemed singularly fitting to that
nursery of murderers and murdered, as though America were also
getting educated. Again one went to meditate on the steps of the
Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, but the lesson seemed as shallow as
before. Nothing happened. The travellers changed no plan or
movement. The Minister did not recall them to London. The season
was over before they returned; and when the private secretary sat
down again at his desk in Portland Place before a mass of copy in
arrears, he saw before him a world so changed as to be beyond
connection with the past. His identity, if one could call a
bundle of disconnected memories an identity, seemed to remain;
but his life was once more broken into separate pieces; he was a
spider and had to spin a new web in some new place with a new

All his American friends and contemporaries who were still
alive looked singularly commonplace without uniforms, and
hastened to get married and retire into back streets and suburbs
until they could find employment. Minister Adams, too, was going
home "next fall," and when the fall came, he was going home "next
spring," and when the spring came, President Andrew Johnson was
at loggerheads with the Senate, and found it best to keep things
unchanged. After the usual manner of public servants who had
acquired the habit of office and lost the faculty of will, the
members of the Legation in London continued the daily routine of
English society, which, after becoming a habit, threatened to
become a vice. Had Henry Adams shared a single taste with the
young Englishmen of his time, he would have been lost; but the
custom of pounding up and down Rotten Row every day, on a hack,
was not a taste, and yet was all the sport he shared. Evidently
he must set to work; he must get a new education he must begin a
career of his own.

Nothing was easier to say, but even his father admitted two
careers to be closed. For the law, diplomacy had unfitted him;
for diplomacy he already knew too much. Any one who had held,
during the four most difficult years of American diplomacy, a
position at the centre of action, with his hands actually
touching the lever of power, could not beg a post of Secretary at
Vienna or Madrid in order to bore himself doing nothing until the
next President should do him the honor to turn him out. For once
all his advisers agreed that diplomacy was not possible.

In any ordinary system he would have been called back to serve
in the State Department, but, between the President and the
Senate, service of any sort became a delusion. The choice of
career was more difficult than the education which had proved
impracticable. Adams saw no road; in fact there was none. All his
friends were trying one path or another, but none went a way that
he could have taken. John Hay passed through London in order to
bury himself in second-rate Legations for years, before he
drifted home again to join Whitelaw Reid and George Smalley on
the Tribune. Frank Barlow and Frank Bartlett carried
Major-Generals' commissions into small law business. Miles stayed
in the army. Henry Higginson, after a desperate struggle, was
forced into State Street; Charles Adams wandered about, with
brevet-brigadier rank, trying to find employment. Scores of
others tried experiments more or less unsuccessful. Henry Adams
could see easy ways of making a hundred blunders; he could see no
likely way of making a legitimate success. Such as it was, his
so-called education was wanted nowhere.

One profession alone seemed possible -- the press. In 1860 he
would have said that he was born to be an editor, like at least a
thousand other young graduates from American colleges who entered
the world every year enjoying the same conviction; but in 1866
the situation was altered; the possession of money had become
doubly needful for success, and double energy was essential to
get money. America had more than doubled her scale. Yet the press
was still the last resource of the educated poor who could not be
artists and would not be tutors. Any man who was fit for nothing
else could write an editorial or a criticism. The enormous mass
of misinformation accumulated in ten years of nomad life could
always be worked off on a helpless public, in diluted doses, if
one could but secure a table in the corner of a newspaper office.
The press was an inferior pulpit; an anonymous schoolmaster; a
cheap boarding-school but it was still the nearest approach to a
career for the literary survivor of a wrecked education. For the
press, then, Henry Adams decided to fit himself, and since he
could not go home to get practical training, he set to work to do
what he could in London.

He knew, as well as any reporter on the New York Herald, that
this was not an American way of beginning, and he knew a certain
number of other drawbacks which the reporter could not see so
clearly. Do what he might, he drew breath only in the atmosphere
of English methods and thoughts; he could breathe none other. His
mother -- who should have been a competent judge, since her
success and popularity in England exceeded that of her husband --
averred that every woman who lived a certain time in England came
to look and dress like an Englishwoman, no matter how she
struggled. Henry Adams felt himself catching an English tone of
mind and processes of thought, though at heart more hostile to
them than ever. As though to make him more helpless and wholly
distort his life, England grew more and more agreeable and
amusing. Minister Adams became, in 1866, almost a historical
monument in London; he held a position altogether his own. His
old opponents disappeared. Lord Palmerston died in October, 1865;
Lord Russell tottered on six months longer, but then vanished
from power; and in July, 1866, the conservatives came into
office. Traditionally the Tories were easier to deal with than
the Whigs, and Minister Adams had no reason to regret the change.
His personal relations were excellent and his personal weight
increased year by year. On that score the private secretary had
no cares, and not much copy. His own position was modest, but it
was enough; the life he led was agreeable; his friends were all
he wanted, and, except that he was at the mercy of politics, he
felt much at ease. Of his daily life he had only to reckon so
many breakfasts; so many dinners; so many receptions, balls,
theatres, and country-parties; so many cards to be left; so many
Americans to be escorted -- the usual routine of every young
American in a Legation; all counting for nothing in sum, because,
even if it had been his official duty -- which it was not -- it
was mere routine, a single, continuous, unbroken act, which led
to nothing and nowhere except Portland Place and the grave.

The path that led somewhere was the English habit of mind which
deepened its ruts every day. The English mind was like the London
drawing-room, a comfortable and easy spot, filled with bits and
fragments of incoherent furnitures, which were never meant to go
together, and could be arranged in any relation without making a
whole, except by the square room. Philosophy might dispute about
innate ideas till the stars died out in the sky, but about innate
tastes no one, except perhaps a collie dog, has the right to
doubt; least of all, the Englishman, for his tastes are his
being; he drifts after them as unconsciously as a honey-bee
drifts after his flowers, and, in England, every one must drift
with him. Most young Englishmen drifted to the race-course or the
moors or the hunting-field; a few towards books; one or two
followed some form of science; and a number took to what, for
want of a better name, they called Art. Young Adams inherited a
certain taste for the same pursuit from his father who insisted
that he had it not, because he could not see what his son thought
he saw in Turner. The Minister, on the other hand, carried a sort
of aesthetic rag-bag of his own, which he regarded as amusement,
and never called art. So he would wander off on a Sunday to
attend service successively in all the city churches built by Sir
Christopher Wren; or he would disappear from the Legation day
after day to attend coin sales at Sotheby's, where his son
attended alternate sales of drawings, engravings, or
water-colors. Neither knew enough to talk much about the other's
tastes, but the only difference between them was a slight
difference of direction. The Minister's mind like his writings
showed a correctness of form and line that his son would have
been well pleased had he inherited.

Of all supposed English tastes, that of art was the most
alluring and treacherous. Once drawn into it, one had small
chance of escape, for it had no centre or circumference, no
beginning, middle, or end, no origin, no object, and no
conceivable result as education. In London one met no corrective.
The only American who came by, capable of teaching, was William
Hunt, who stopped to paint the portrait of the Minister which now
completes the family series at Harvard College. Hunt talked
constantly, and was, or afterwards became, a famous teacher, but
Henry Adams did not know enough to learn. Perhaps, too, he had
inherited or acquired a stock of tastes, as young men must, which
he was slow to outgrow. Hunt had no time to sweep out the rubbish
of Adams's mind. The portrait finished, he went.

As often as he could, Adams ran over to Paris, for sunshine,
and there always sought out Richardson in his attic in the Rue du
Bac, or wherever he lived, and they went off to dine at the
Palais Royal, and talk of whatever interested the students of the
Beaux Arts. Richardson, too, had much to say, but had not yet
seized his style. Adams caught very little of what lay in his
mind, and the less, because, to Adams, everything French was bad
except the restaurants, while the continuous life in England made
French art seem worst of all. This did not prove that English
art, in 1866, was good; far from it; but it helped to make
bric-a-brac of all art, after the manner of England.

Not in the Legation, or in London, but in Yorkshire at Thornes,
Adams met the man that pushed him furthest in this English garden
of innate disorder called taste. The older daughter of the Milnes
Gaskells had married Francis Turner Palgrave. Few Americans will
ever ask whether any one has described the Palgraves, but the
family was one of the most describable in all England at that
day. Old Sir Francis, the father, had been much the greatest of
all the historians of early England, the only one who was
un-English; and the reason of his superiority lay in his name,
which was Cohen, and his mind which was Cohen also, or at least
not English. He changed his name to Palgrave in order to please
his wife. They had a band of remarkable sons: Francis Turner,
Gifford, Reginald, Inglis; all of whom made their mark. Gifford
was perhaps the most eccentric, but his "Travels" in Arabia were
famous, even among the famous travels of that generation. Francis
Turner -- or, as he was commonly called, Frank Palgrave -- unable
to work off his restlessness in travel like Gifford, and stifled
in the atmosphere of the Board of Education, became a critic. His
art criticisms helped to make the Saturday Review a terror to the
British artist. His literary taste, condensed into the "Golden
Treasury," helped Adams to more literary education than he ever
got from any taste of his own. Palgrave himself held rank as one
of the minor poets; his hymns had vogue. As an art-critic he was
too ferocious to be liked; even Holman Hunt found his temper
humorous; among many rivals, he may perhaps have had a right to
claim the much-disputed rank of being the most unpopular man in
London; but he liked to teach, and asked only for a docile pupil.
Adams was docile enough, for he knew nothing and liked to listen.
Indeed, he had to listen, whether he liked or not, for Palgrave's
voice was strident, and nothing could stop him. Literature,
painting, sculpture, architecture were open fields for his
attacks, which were always intelligent if not always kind, and
when these failed, he readily descended to meaner levels. John
Richard Green, who was Palgrave's precise opposite, and whose
Irish charm of touch and humor defended him from most assaults,
used to tell with delight of Palgrave's call on him just after he
had moved into his new Queen Anne house in Kensington Square:
"Palgrave called yesterday, and the first thing he said was,
'I've counted three anachronisms on your front doorstep.' "

Another savage critic, also a poet, was Thomas Woolner, a type
almost more emphatic than Palgrave in a society which resounded
with emphasis. Woolner's sculpture showed none of the rough
assertion that Woolner himself showed, when he was not making
supernatural effort to be courteous, but his busts were
remarkable, and his work altogether was, in Palgrave's clamorous
opinion, the best of his day. He took the matter of British art
-- or want of art -- seriously, almost ferociously, as a personal
grievance and torture; at times he was rather terrifying in the
anarchistic wrath of his denunciation. as Henry Adams felt no
responsibility for English art, and had no American art to offer
for sacrifice, he listened with enjoyment to language much like
Carlyle's, and accepted it without a qualm. On the other hand, as
a third member of this critical group, he fell in with Stopford
Brooke whose tastes lay in the same direction, and whose
expression was modified by clerical propriety. Among these men,
one wandered off into paths of education much too devious and
slippery for an American foot to follow. He would have done
better to go on the race-track, as far as concerned a career.

Fortunately for him he knew too little ever to be an
art-critic, still less an artist. For some things ignorance is
good, and art is one of them. He knew he knew nothing, and had
not the trained eye or the keen instinct that trusted itself; but
he was curious, as he went on, to find out how much others knew.
He took Palgrave's word as final about a drawing of Rembrandt or
Michael Angelo, and he trusted Woolner implicitly about a Turner;
but when he quoted their authority to any dealer, the dealer
pooh-poohed it, and declared that it had no weight in the trade.
If he went to a sale of drawings or paintings, at Sotheby's or
Christie's, an hour afterwards, he saw these same dealers
watching Palgrave or Woolner for a point, and bidding over them.
He rarely found two dealers agree in judgment. He once bought a
water-color from the artist himself out of his studio, and had it
doubted an hour afterwards by the dealer to whose place he took
it for framing He was reduced to admit that he could not prove
its authenticity; internal evidence was against it.

One morning in early July, 1867, Palgrave stopped at the
Legation in Portland Place on his way downtown, and offered to
take Adams to Sotheby's, where a small collection of old drawings
was on show. The collection was rather a curious one, said to be
that of Sir Anthony Westcomb, from Liverpool, with an undisturbed
record of a century, but with nothing to attract notice. Probably
none but collectors or experts examined the portfolios. Some
dozens of these were always on hand, following every sale, and
especially on the lookout for old drawings, which became rarer
every year. Turning rapidly over the numbers, Palgrave stopped at
one containing several small drawings, one marked as Rembrandt,
one as Rafael; and putting his finger on the Rafael, after
careful examination; "I should buy this," he said; "it looks to
me like one of those things that sell for five shillings one day,
and fifty pounds the next." Adams marked it for a bid, and the
next morning came down to the auction. The numbers sold slowly,
and at noon he thought he might safely go to lunch. When he came
back, half an hour afterwards, the drawing was gone. Much annoyed
at his own stupidity, since Palgrave had expressly said he wanted
the drawing for himself if he had not in a manner given it to
Adams, the culprit waited for the sale to close, and then asked
the clerk for the name of the buyer. It was Holloway, the
art-dealer, near Covent Garden, whom he slightly knew. Going at
once to the shop he waited till young Holloway came in, with his
purchases under his arm, and without attempt at preface, he said:
"You bought to-day, Mr. Holloway, a number that I wanted. Do you
mind letting me have it?" Holloway took out the parcel, looked
over the drawings, and said that he had bought the number for the
sake of the Rembrandt, which he thought possibly genuine; taking
that out, Adams might have the rest for the price he paid for the
lot -- twelve shillings.

Thus, down to that moment, every expert in London had probably
seen these drawings. Two of them -- only two -- had thought them
worth buying at any price, and of these two, Palgrave chose the
Rafael, Holloway the one marked as Rembrandt. Adams, the
purchaser of the Rafael, knew nothing whatever on the subject,
but thought he might credit himself with education to the value
of twelve shillings, and call the drawing nothing. Such items of
education commonly came higher.

He took the drawing to Palgrave. It was closely pasted to an
old, rather thin, cardboard mount, and, on holding it up to the
window, one could see lines on the reverse. "Take it down to Reed
at the British Museum," said Palgrave; "he is Curator of the
drawings, and, if you ask him, he will have it taken off the
mount." Adams amused himself for a day or two by searching
Rafael's works for the figure, which he found at last in the
Parnasso, the figure of Horace, of which, as it happened --
though Adams did not know it -- the British Museum owned a much
finer drawing. At last he took the dirty, little, unfinished
red-chalk sketch to Reed whom he found in the Curator's room,
with some of the finest Rafael drawings in existence, hanging on
the walls. "Yes!" said Mr Reed; "I noticed this at the sale; but
it's not Rafael!" Adams, feeling himself incompetent to discuss
this subject, reported the result to Palgrave, who said that Reed
knew nothing about it. Also this point lay beyond Adams's
competence; but he noted that Reed was in the employ of the
British Museum as Curator of the best -- or nearly the best --
collection in the world, especially of Rafaels, and that he
bought for the Museum. As expert he had rejected both the Rafael
and the Rembrandt at first-sight, and after his attention was
recalled to the Rafael for a further opinion he rejected it

A week later, Adams returned for the drawing, which Mr. Reed
took out of his drawer and gave him, saying with what seemed a
little doubt or hesitation: "I should tell you that the paper
shows a water-mark, which I kind the same as that of paper used
by Marc Antonio." A little taken back by this method of studying
art, a method which even a poor and ignorant American might use
as well as Rafael himself, Adams asked stupidly: "Then you think
it genuine?" "Possibly!" replied Reed; "but much overdrawn."

Here was expert opinion after a second revise, with help of
water-marks! In Adams's opinion it was alone worth another twelve
shillings as education; but this was not all. Reed continued:
"The lines on the back seem to be writing, which I cannot read,
but if you will take it down to the manuscript-room, they will
read it for you."

Adams took the sheet down to the keeper of the manuscripts and
begged him to read the lines. The keeper, after a few minutes'
study, very obligingly said he could not: "It is scratched with
an artist's crayon, very rapidly, with many unusual abbreviations
and old forms. If any one in Europe can read it, it is the old
man at the table yonder, Libri! Take it to him!"

This expert broke down on the alphabet! He could not even judge
a manuscript; but Adams had no right to complain, for he had
nothing to pay, not even twelve shillings, though he thought
these experts worth more, at least for his education. Accordingly
he carried his paper to Libri, a total stranger to him, and asked
the old man, as deferentially as possible, to tell him whether
the lines had any meaning. Had Adams not been an ignorant person
he would have known all about Libri, but his ignorance was vast,
and perhaps was for the best. Libri looked at the paper, and then
looked again, and at last bade him sit down and wait. Half an
hour passed before he called Adams back and showed him these
"Or questo credo ben che una elleria
Te offende tanto che te offese il core.
Perche sei grande nol sei in tua volia;
Tu vedi e gia non credi il tuo valore;
Passate gia son tutte gelosie;
Tu sei di sasso; non hai piu dolore."

As far as Adams could afterwards recall it, this was Libri's
reading, but he added that the abbreviations were many and
unusual; that the writing was very ancient; and that the word he
read as "elleria" in the first line was not Italian at all.

By this time, one had got too far beyond one's depth to ask
questions. If Libri could not read Italian, very clearly Adams
had better not offer to help him. He took the drawing, thanked
everybody, and having exhausted the experts of the British
Museum, took a cab to Woolner's studio, where he showed the
figure and repeated Reed's opinion. Woolner snorted: "Reed's a
fool!" he said; "he knows nothing about it; there maybe a rotten
line or two, but the drawing's all right."

For forty years Adams kept this drawing on his mantelpiece,
partly for its own interest, but largely for curiosity to see
whether any critic or artist would ever stop to look at it. None
ever did, unless he knew the story. Adams himself never wanted to
know more about it. He refused to seek further light. He never
cared to learn whether the drawing was Rafael's, or whether the
verse were Rafael's, or whether even the water-mark was Rafael's.
The experts -- some scores of them including the British Museum,
-- had affirmed that the drawing was worth a certain moiety of
twelve shillings. On that point, also, Adams could offer no
opinion, but he was clear that his education had profited by it
to that extent -- his amusement even more.

Art was a superb field for education, but at every turn he met
the same old figure, like a battered and illegible signpost that
ought to direct him to the next station but never did. There was
no next station. All the art of a thousand -- or ten thousand --
years had brought England to stuff which Palgrave and Woolner
brayed in their mortars; derided, tore in tatters, growled at,
and howled at, and treated in terms beyond literary usage.
Whistler had not yet made his appearance in London, but the
others did quite as well. What result could a student reach from
it? Once, on returning to London, dining with Stopford Brooke,
some one asked Adams what impression the Royal Academy Exhibition
made on him. With a little hesitation, he suggested that it was
rather a chaos, which he meant for civility; but Stopford Brooke
abruptly met it by asking whether chaos were not better than
death. Truly the question was worth discussion. For his own part,
Adams inclined to think that neither chaos nor death was an
object to him as a searcher of knowledge -- neither would have
vogue in America -- neither would help him to a career. Both of
them led him away from his objects, into an English dilettante
museum of scraps, with nothing but a wall-paper to unite them in
any relation of sequence. Possibly English taste was one degree
more fatal than English scholarship, but even this question was
open to argument. Adams went to the sales and bought what he was
told to buy; now a classical drawing by Rafael or Rubens; now a
water-color by Girtin or Cotman, if possible unfinished because
it was more likely to be a sketch from nature; and he bought them
not because they went together -- on the contrary, they made
rather awkward spots on the wall as they did on the mind -- but
because he could afford to buy those, and not others. Ten pounds
did not go far to buy a Michael Angelo, but was a great deal of
money to a private secretary. The effect was spotty, fragmentary,
feeble; and the more so because the British mind was constructed
in that way -- boasted of it, and held it to be true philosophy
as well as sound method.

What was worse, no one had a right to denounce the English as
wrong. Artistically their mind was scrappy, and every one knew
it, but perhaps thought itself, history, and nature, were
scrappy, and ought to be studied so. Turning from British art to
British literature, one met the same dangers. The historical
school was a playground of traps and pitfalls. Fatally one fell
into the sink of history -- antiquarianism. For one who nourished
a natural weakness for what was called history, the whole of
British literature in the nineteenth century was antiquarianism
or anecdotage, for no one except Buckle had tried to link it with
ideas, and commonly Buckle was regarded as having failed.
Macaulay was the English historian. Adams had the greatest
admiration for Macaulay, but he felt that any one who should even
distantly imitate Macaulay would perish in self-contempt. One
might as well imitate Shakespeare. Yet evidently something was
wrong here, for the poet and the historian ought to have
different methods, and Macaulay's method ought to be imitable if
it were sound; yet the method was more doubtful than the style.
He was a dramatist; a painter; a poet, like Carlyle. This was the
English mind, method, genius, or whatever one might call it; but
one never could quite admit that the method which ended in Froude
and Kinglake could be sound for America where passion and poetry
were eccentricities. Both Froude and Kinglake, when one met them
at dinner, were very agreeable, very intelligent; and perhaps the
English method was right, and art fragmentary by essence.
History, like everything else, might be a field of scraps, like
the refuse about a Staffordshire iron-furnace. One felt a little
natural reluctance to decline and fall like Silas Wegg on the
golden dust-heap of British refuse; but if one must, one could at
least expect a degree from Oxford and the respect of the
Athenaeum Club.

While drifting, after the war ended, many old American friends
came abroad for a holiday, and among the rest, Dr. Palfrey, busy
with his "History of New England." Of all the relics of
childhood, Dr. Palfrey was the most sympathetic, and perhaps the
more so because he, too, had wandered into the pleasant meadows
of antiquarianism, and had forgotten the world in his pursuit of
the New England Puritan. Although America seemed becoming more
and more indifferent to the Puritan except as a slightly rococo
ornament, he was only the more amusing as a study for the
Monkbarns of Boston Bay, and Dr. Palfrey took him seriously, as
his clerical education required. His work was rather an Apologia
in the Greek sense; a justification of the ways of God to Man,
or, what was much the same thing, of Puritans to other men; and
the task of justification was onerous enough to require the
occasional relief of a contrast or scapegoat. When Dr. Palfrey
happened on the picturesque but unpuritanic figure of Captain
John Smith, he felt no call to beautify Smith's picture or to
defend his moral character; he became impartial and penetrating.
The famous story of Pocahontas roused his latent New England
scepticism. He suggested to Adams, who wanted to make a position
for himself, that an article in the North American Review on
Captain John Smith's relations with Pocahontas would attract as
much attention, and probably break as much glass, as any other
stone that could be thrown by a beginner. Adams could suggest
nothing better. The task seemed likely to be amusing. So he
planted himself in the British Museum and patiently worked over
all the material he could find, until, at last, after three or
four months of labor, he got it in shape and sent it to Charles
Norton, who was then editing the North American. Mr. Norton very
civilly and even kindly accepted it. The article appeared in
January, 1867.

Surely, here was something to ponder over, as a step in
education; something that tended to stagger a sceptic! In spite
of personal wishes, intentions, and prejudices; in spite of civil
wars and diplomatic education; in spite of determination to be
actual, daily, and practical, Henry Adams found himself, at
twenty-eight, still in English society, dragged on one side into
English dilettantism, which of all dilettantism he held the most
futile; and, on the other, into American antiquarianism, which of
all antiquarianism he held the most foolish. This was the result
of five years in London. Even then he knew it to be a false
start. He had wholly lost his way. If he were ever to amount to
anything, he must begin a new education, in a new place, with a
new purpose.


DARWINISM (1867-1868)

POLITICS, diplomacy, law, art, and history had opened no outlet
for future energy or effort, but a man must do something, even in
Portland Place, when winter is dark and winter evenings are
exceedingly long. At that moment Darwin was convulsing society.
The geological champion of Darwin was Sir Charles Lyell, and the
Lyells were intimate at the Legation. Sir Charles constantly said
of Darwin, what Palgrave said of Tennyson, that the first time he
came to town, Adams should be asked to meet him, but neither of
them ever came to town, or ever cared to meet a young American,
and one could not go to them because they were known to dislike
intrusion. The only Americans who were not allowed to intrude
were the half-dozen in the Legation. Adams was content to read
Darwin, especially his "Origin of Species" and his "Voyage of the
Beagle." He was a Darwinist before the letter; a predestined
follower of the tide; but he was hardly trained to follow
Darwin's evidences. Fragmentary the British mind might be, but in
those days it was doing a great deal of work in a very un-English
way, building up so many and such vast theories on such narrow
foundations as to shock the conservative, and delight the
frivolous. The atomic theory; the correlation and conservation of

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