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The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

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energy; the mechanical theory of the universe; the kinetic theory
of gases, and Darwin's Law of Natural Selection, were examples of
what a young man had to take on trust. Neither he nor any one
else knew enough to verify them; in his ignorance of mathematics,
he was particularly helpless; but this never stood in his way.
The ideas were new and seemed to lead somewhere -- to some great
generalization which would finish one's clamor to be educated.
That a beginner should understand them all, or believe them all,
no one could expect, still less exact. Henry Adams was Darwinist
because it was easier than not, for his ignorance exceeded
belief, and one must know something in order to contradict even
such triflers as Tyndall and Huxley.

By rights, he should have been also a Marxist but some narrow
trait of the New England nature seemed to blight socialism, and
he tried in vain to make himself a convert. He did the next best
thing; he became a Comteist, within the limits of evolution. He
was ready to become anything but quiet. As though the world had
not been enough upset in his time, he was eager to see it upset
more. He had his wish, but he lost his hold on the results by
trying to understand them.

He never tried to understand Darwin; but he still fancied he
might get the best part of Darwinism from the easier study of
geology; a science which suited idle minds as well as though it
were history. Every curate in England dabbled in geology and
hunted for vestiges of Creation. Darwin hunted only for vestiges
of Natural Selection, and Adams followed him, although he cared
nothing about Selection, unless perhaps for the indirect
amusement of upsetting curates. He felt, like nine men in ten, an
instinctive belief in Evolution, but he felt no more concern in
Natural than in unnatural Selection, though he seized with
greediness the new volume on the "Antiquity of Man" which Sir
Charles Lyell published in 1863 in order to support Darwin by
wrecking the Garden of Eden. Sir Charles next brought out, in
1866, a new edition of his "Principles," then the highest
text-book of geology; but here the Darwinian doctrine grew in
stature. Natural Selection led back to Natural Evolution, and at
last to Natural Uniformity. This was a vast stride. Unbroken
Evolution under uniform conditions pleased every one -- except
curates and bishops; it was the very best substitute for
religion; a safe, conservative practical, thoroughly Common-Law
deity. Such a working system for the universe suited a young man
who had just helped to waste five or ten thousand million dollars
and a million lives, more or less, to enforce unity and
uniformity on people who objected to it; the idea was only too
seductive in its perfection; it had the charm of art. Unity and
Uniformity were the whole motive of philosophy, and if Darwin,
like a true Englishman, preferred to back into it -- to reach God
a posteriori -- rather than start from it, like Spinoza, the
difference of method taught only the moral that the best way of
reaching unity was to unite. Any road was good that arrived.
Life depended on it. One had been, from the first, dragged hither
and thither like a French poodle on a string, following always
the strongest pull, between one form of unity or centralization
and another. The proof that one had acted wisely because of
obeying the primordial habit of nature flattered one's
self-esteem. Steady, uniform, unbroken evolution from lower to
higher seemed easy. So, one day when Sir Charles came to the
Legation to inquire about getting his "Principles" properly
noticed in America, young Adams found nothing simpler than to
suggest that he could do it himself if Sir Charles would tell him
what to say. Youth risks such encounters with the universe before
one succumbs to it, yet even he was surprised at Sir Charles's
ready assent, and still more so at finding himself, after half an
hour's conversation, sitting down to clear the minds of American
geologists about the principles of their profession. This was
getting on fast; Arthur Pendennis had never gone so far.

The geologists were a hardy class, not likely to be much hurt
by Adams's learning, nor did he throw away much concern on their
account. He undertook the task chiefly to educate, not them, but
himself, and if Sir Isaac Newton had, like Sir Charles Lyell,
asked him to explain for Americans his last edition of the
"Principia," Adams would have jumped at the chance. Unfortunately
the mere reading such works for amusement is quite a different
matter from studying them for criticism. Ignorance must always
begin at the beginning. Adams must inevitably have begun by
asking Sir Isaac for an intelligible reason why the apple fell to
the ground. He did not know enough to be satisfied with the fact.
The Law of Gravitation was so-and-so, but what was Gravitation?
and he would have been thrown quite off his base if Sir Isaac had
answered that he did not know.

At the very outset Adams struck on Sir Charles's Glacial Theory
or theories. He was ignorant enough to think that the glacial
epoch looked like a chasm between him and a uniformitarian world.
If the glacial period were uniformity, what was catastrophe? To
him the two or three labored guesses that Sir Charles suggested
or borrowed to explain glaciation were proof of nothing, and were
quite unsolid as support for so immense a superstructure as
geological uniformity. If one were at liberty to be as lax in
science as in theology, and to assume unity from the start, one
might better say so, as the Church did, and not invite attack by
appearing weak in evidence. Naturally a young man, altogether
ignorant, could not say this to Sir Charles Lyell or Sir Isaac
Newton; but he was forced to state Sir Charles's views, which he
thought weak as hypotheses and worthless as proofs. Sir Charles
himself seemed shy of them. Adams hinted his heresies in vain. At
last he resorted to what he thought the bold experiment of
inserting a sentence in the text, intended to provoke correction.
"The introduction [by Louis Agassiz] of this new geological agent
seemed at first sight inconsistent with Sir Charles's argument,
obliging him to allow that causes had in fact existed on the
earth capable of producing more violent geological changes than
would be possible in our own day." The hint produced no effect.
Sir Charles said not a word; he let the paragraph stand; and
Adams never knew whether the great Uniformitarian was strict or
lax in his uniformitarian creed; but he doubted.

Objections fatal to one mind are futile to another, and as far
as concerned the article, the matter ended there, although the
glacial epoch remained a misty region in the young man's
Darwinism. Had it been the only one, he would not have fretted
about it; but uniformity often worked queerly and sometimes did
not work as Natural Selection at all. Finding himself at a loss
for some single figure to illustrate the Law of Natural
Selection, Adams asked Sir Charles for the simplest case of
uniformity on record. Much to his surprise Sir Charles told him
that certain forms, like Terebratula, appeared to be identical
from the beginning to the end of geological time. Since this was
altogether too much uniformity and much too little selection,
Adams gave up the attempt to begin at the beginning, and tried
starting at the end -- himself. Taking for granted that the
vertebrates would serve his purpose, he asked Sir Charles to
introduce him to the first vertebrate. Infinitely to his
bewilderment, Sir Charles informed him that the first vertebrate
was a very respectable fish, among the earliest of all fossils,
which had lived, and whose bones were still reposing, under
Adams's own favorite Abbey on Wenlock Edge.

By this time, in 1867 Adams had learned to know Shropshire
familiarly, and it was the part of his diplomatic education which
he loved best. Like Catherine Olney in "Northanger Abbey," he
yearned for nothing so keenly as to feel at home in a
thirteenth-century Abbey, unless it were to haunt a
fifteenth-century Prior's House, and both these joys were his at
Wenlock. With companions or without, he never tired of it.
Whether he rode about the Wrekin, or visited all the historical
haunts from Ludlow Castle and Stokesay to Boscobel and Uriconium;
or followed the Roman road or scratched in the Abbey ruins, all
was amusing and carried a flavor of its own like that of the
Roman Campagna; but perhaps he liked best to ramble over the Edge
on a summer afternoon and look across the Marches to the
mountains of Wales. The peculiar flavor of the scenery has
something to do with absence of evolution; it was better marked
in Egypt: it was felt wherever time-sequences became
interchangeable. One's instinct abhors time. As one lay on the
slope of the Edge, looking sleepily through the summer haze
towards Shrewsbury or Cader Idris or Caer Caradoc or Uriconium,
nothing suggested sequence. The Roman road was twin to the
railroad; Uriconium was well worth Shrewsbury; Wenlock and
Buildwas were far superior to Bridgnorth. The shepherds of
Caractacus or Offa, or the monks of Buildwas, had they approached
where he lay in the grass, would have taken him only for another
and tamer variety of Welsh thief. They would have seen little to
surprise them in the modern landscape unless it were the steam of
a distant railway. One might mix up the terms of time as one
liked, or stuff the present anywhere into the past, measuring
time by Falstaff's Shrewsbury clock, without violent sense of
wrong, as one could do it on the Pacific Ocean; but the triumph
of all was to look south along the Edge to the abode of one's
earliest ancestor and nearest relative, the ganoid fish, whose
name, according to Professor Huxley, was Pteraspis, a cousin of
the sturgeon, and whose kingdom, according to Sir Roderick
Murchison, was called Siluria. Life began and ended there. Behind
that horizon lay only the Cambrian, without vertebrates or any
other organism except a few shell-fish. On the further verge of
the Cambrian rose the crystalline rocks from which every trace of
organic existence had been erased.

That here, on the Wenlock Edge of time, a young American,
seeking only frivolous amusement, should find a legitimate
parentage as modern as though just caught in the Severn below,
astonished him as much as though he had found Darwin himself. In
the scale of evolution, one vertebrate was as good as another.
For anything he, or any one else, knew, nine hundred and ninety
nine parts of evolution out of a thousand lay behind or below the
Pteraspis . To an American in search of a father, it mattered
nothing whether the father breathed through lungs, or walked on
fins, or on feet. Evolution of mind was altogether another matter
and belonged to another science, but whether one traced descent
from the shark or the wolf was immaterial even in morals. This
matter had been discussed for ages without scientific result. La
Fontaine and other fabulists maintained that the wolf, even in
morals, stood higher than man; and in view of the late civil war,
Adams had doubts of his own on the facts of moral evolution:--

"Tout bien considere, je te soutiens en somme,
Que scelerat pour scelerat,
Il vaut mieux etre un loup qu'un homme."

It might well be! At all events, it did not enter into the
problem of Pteraspis, for it was quite certain that no complete
proof of Natural Selection had occurred back to the time of
Pteraspis, and that before Pteraspis was eternal void. No trace
of any vertebrate had been found there; only starfish,
shell-fish, polyps, or trilobites whose kindly descendants he had
often bathed with, as a child on the shores of Quincy Bay.

That Pteraspis and shark were his cousins, great-uncles, or
grandfathers, in no way troubled him, but that either or both of
them should be older than evolution itself seemed to him
perplexing; nor could he at all simplify the problem by taking
the sudden back-somersault into Quincy Bay in search of the
fascinating creature he had called a horseshoe, whose huge dome
of shell and sharp spur of tail had so alarmed him as a child. In
Siluria, he understood, Sir Roderick Murchison called the
horseshoe a Limulus , which helped nothing. Neither in the
Limulus nor in the Terebratula , nor in the Cestracion Philippi
,any more than in the Pteraspis, could one conceive an ancestor,
but, if one must, the choice mattered little. Cousinship had
limits but no one knew enough to fix them. When the vertebrate
vanished in Siluria, it disappeared instantly and forever.
Neither vertebra nor scale nor print reappeared, nor any trace of
ascent or descent to a lower type. The vertebrate began in the
Ludlow shale, as complete as Adams himself -- in some respects
more so -- at the top of the column of organic evolution: and
geology offered no sort of proof that he had ever been anything
else. Ponder over it as he might, Adams could see nothing in the
theory of Sir Charles but pure inference, precisely like the
inference of Paley, that, if one found a watch, one inferred a
maker. He could detect no more evolution in life since the
Pteraspis than he could detect it in architecture since the
Abbey. All he could prove was change. Coal-power alone asserted
evolution -- of power -- and only by violence could be forced to
assert selection of type.

All this seemed trivial to the true Darwinian, and to Sir
Charles it was mere defect in the geological record. Sir Charles
labored only to heap up the evidences of evolution; to cumulate
them till the mass became irresistible. With that purpose, Adams
gladly studied and tried to help Sir Charles, but, behind the
lesson of the day, he was conscious that, in geology as in
theology, he could prove only Evolution that did not evolve;
Uniformity that was not uniform; and Selection that did not
select. To other Darwinians -- except Darwin -- Natural Selection
seemed a dogma to be put in the place of the Athanasian creed; it
was a form of religious hope; a promise of ultimate perfection.
Adams wished no better; he warmly sympathized in the object; but
when he came to ask himself what he truly thought, he felt that
he had no Faith; that whenever the next new hobby should be
brought out, he should surely drop off from Darwinism like a
monkey from a perch; that the idea of one Form, Law, Order, or
Sequence had no more value for him than the idea of none; that
what he valued most was Motion, and that what attracted his mind
was Change.

Psychology was to him a new study, and a dark corner of
education. As he lay on Wenlock Edge, with the sheep nibbling the
grass close about him as they or their betters had nibbled the
grass -- or whatever there was to nibble -- in the Silurian
kingdom of Pteraspis, he seemed to have fallen on an evolution
far more wonderful than that of fishes. He did not like it; he
could not account for it; and he determined to stop it. Never
since the days of his Limulus ancestry had any of his ascendants
thought thus. Their modes of thought might be many, but their
thought was one. Out of his millions of millions of ancestors,
back to the Cambrian mollusks, every one had probably lived and
died in the illusion of Truths which did not amuse him, and which
had never changed. Henry Adams was the first in an infinite
series to discover and admit to himself that he really did not
care whether truth was, or was not, true. He did not even care
that it should be proved true, unless the process were new and
amusing. He was a Darwinian for fun.

From the beginning of history, this attitude had been branded
as criminal -- worse than crime -- sacrilege! Society punished it
ferociously and justly, in self-defence. Mr. Adams, the father,
looked on it as moral weakness; it annoyed him; but it did not
annoy him nearly so much as it annoyed his son, who had no need
to learn from Hamlet the fatal effect of the pale cast of thought
on enterprises great or small. He had no notion of letting the
currents of his action be turned awry by this form of conscience.
To him, the current of his time was to be his current, lead where
it might. He put psychology under lock and key; he insisted on
maintaining his absolute standards; on aiming at ultimate Unity.
The mania for handling all the sides of every question, looking
into every window, and opening every door, was, as Bluebeard
judiciously pointed out to his wives, fatal to their practical
usefulness in society. One could not stop to chase doubts as
though they were rabbits. One had no time to paint and putty the
surface of Law, even though it were cracked and rotten. For the
young men whose lives were cast in the generation between 1867
and 1900, Law should be Evolution from lower to higher,
aggregation of the atom in the mass, concentration of
multiplicity in unity, compulsion of anarchy in order; and he
would force himself to follow wherever it led, though he should
sacrifice five thousand millions more in money, and a million
more lives.

As the path ultimately led, it sacrificed much more than this;
but at the time, he thought the price he named a high one, and he
could not foresee that science and society would desert him in
paying it. He, at least, took his education as a Darwinian in
good faith. The Church was gone, and Duty was dim, but Will
should take its place, founded deeply in interest and law. This
was the result of five or six years in England; a result so
British as to be almost the equivalent of an Oxford degree.

Quite serious about it, he set to work at once. While confusing
his ideas about geology to the apparent satisfaction of Sir
Charles who left him his field-compass in token of it, Adams
turned resolutely to business, and attacked the burning question
of specie payments. His principles assured him that the honest
way to resume payments was to restrict currency. He thought he
might win a name among financiers and statesmen at home by
showing how this task had been done by England, after the
classical suspension of 1797-1821. Setting himself to the study
of this perplexed period, he waded as well as he could through a
morass of volumes, pamphlets, and debates, until he learned to
his confusion that the Bank of England itself and all the best
British financial writers held that restriction was a fatal
mistake, and that the best treatment of a debased currency was to
let it alone, as the Bank had in fact done. Time and patience
were the remedies.

The shock of this discovery to his financial principles was
serious; much more serious than the shock of the Terebratula and
Pteraspis to his principles of geology. A mistake about
Evolution was not fatal; a mistake about specie payments would
destroy forever the last hope of employment in State Street. Six
months of patient labor would be thrown away if he did not
publish, and with it his whole scheme of making himself a
position as a practical man-of-business. If he did publish, how
could he tell virtuous bankers in State Street that moral and
absolute principles of abstract truth, such as theirs, had
nothing to do with the matter, and that they had better let it
alone? Geologists, naturally a humble and helpless class, might
not revenge impertinences offered to their science; but
capitalists never forgot or forgave.

With labor and caution he made one long article on British
Finance in 1816, and another on the Bank Restriction of
1797-1821, and, doing both up in one package, he sent it to the
North American for choice. He knew that two heavy, technical,
financial studies thus thrown at an editor's head, would probably
return to crush the author; but the audacity of youth is more
sympathetic -- when successful -- than his ignorance. The editor
accepted both.

When the post brought his letter, Adams looked at it as though
he were a debtor who had begged for an extension. He read it with
as much relief as the debtor, if it had brought him the loan. The
letter gave the new writer literary rank. Henceforward he had the
freedom of the press. These articles, following those on
Pocahontas and Lyell, enrolled him on the permanent staff of the
North American Review . Precisely what this rank was worth, no
one could say; but, for fifty years the North American Review
had been the stage coach which carried literary Bostonians to
such distinction as they had achieved. Few writers had ideas
which warranted thirty pages of development, but for such as
thought they had, the Review alone offered space. An article was
a small volume which required at least three months' work, and
was paid, at best, five dollars a page. Not many men even in
England or France could write a good thirty-page article, and
practically no one in America read them; but a few score of
people, mostly in search of items to steal, ran over the pages to
extract an idea or a fact, which was a sort of wild game -- a
bluefish or a teal -- worth anywhere from fifty cents to five
dollars. Newspaper writers had their eye on quarterly pickings.
The circulation of the Review had never exceeded three or four
hundred copies, and the Review had never paid its reasonable
expenses. Yet it stood at the head of American literary
periodicals; it was a source of suggestion to cheaper workers; it
reached far into societies that never knew its existence; it was
an organ worth playing on; and, in the fancy of Henry Adams, it
led, in some indistinct future, to playing on a New York daily

With the editor's letter under his eyes, Adams asked himself
what better he could have done. On the whole, considering his
helplessness, he thought he had done as well as his neighbors. No
one could yet guess which of his contemporaries was most likely
to play a part in the great world. A shrewd prophet in Wall
Street might perhaps have set a mark on Pierpont Morgan, but
hardly on the Rockefellers or William C. Whitney or Whitelaw
Reid. No one would have picked out William McKinley or John Hay
or Mark Hanna for great statesmen. Boston was ignorant of the
careers in store for Alexander Agassiz and Henry Higginson.
Phillips Brooks was unknown; Henry James was unheard; Howells was
new; Richardson and LaFarge were struggling for a start. Out of
any score of names and reputations that should reach beyond the
century, the thirty-years-old who were starting in the year 1867
could show none that was so far in advance as to warrant odds in
its favor. The army men had for the most part fallen to the
ranks. Had Adams foreseen the future exactly as it came, he would
have been no wiser, and could have chosen no better path.

Thus it turned out that the last year in England was the
pleasantest. He was already old in society, and belonged to the
Silurian horizon. The Prince of Wales had come. Mr. Disraeli,
Lord Stanley, and the future Lord Salisbury had thrown into the
background the memories of Palmerston and Russell. Europe was
moving rapidly, and the conduct of England during the American
Civil War was the last thing that London liked to recall. The
revolution since 1861 was nearly complete, and, for the first
time in history, the American felt himself almost as strong as an
Englishman. He had thirty years to wait before he should feel
himself stronger. Meanwhile even a private secretary could afford
to be happy. His old education was finished; his new one was not
begun; he still loitered a year, feeling himself near the end of
a very long, anxious, tempestuous, successful voyage, with
another to follow, and a summer sea between.

He made what use he could of it. In February, 1868, he was back
in Rome with his friend Milnes Gaskell. For another season he
wandered on horseback over the campagna or on foot through the
Rome of the middle ages, and sat once more on the steps of Ara
Coeli, as had become with him almost a superstition, like the
waters of the fountain of Trevi. Rome was still tragic and solemn
as ever, with its mediaeval society, artistic, literary, and
clerical, taking itself as seriously as in the days of Byron and
Shelley. The long ten years of accidental education had changed
nothing for him there. He knew no more in 1868 than in 1858. He
had learned nothing whatever that made Rome more intelligible to
him, or made life easier to handle. The case was no better when
he got back to London and went through his last season. London
had become his vice. He loved his haunts, his houses, his habits,
and even his hansom cabs. He loved growling like an Englishman,
and going into society where he knew not a face, and cared not a
straw. He lived deep into the lives and loves and disappointments
of his friends. When at last he found himself back again at
Liverpool, his heart wrenched by the act of parting, he moved
mechanically, unstrung, but he had no more acquired education
than when he first trod the steps of the Adelphi Hotel in
November, 1858. He could see only one great change, and this was
wholly in years. Eaton Hall no longer impressed his imagination;
even the architecture of Chester roused but a sleepy interest; he
felt no sensation whatever in the atmosphere of the British
peerage, but mainly an habitual dislike to most of the people who
frequented their country houses; he had become English to the
point of sharing their petty social divisions, their dislikes and
prejudices against each other; he took England no longer with the
awe of American youth, but with the habit of an old and rather
worn suit of clothes. As far as he knew, this was all that
Englishmen meant by social education, but in any case it was all
the education he had gained from seven years in London.


THE PRESS (1868)

AT ten o'clock of a July night, in heat that made the tropical
rain-shower simmer, the Adams family and the Motley family
clambered down the side of their Cunard steamer into the
government tugboat, which set them ashore in black darkness at
the end of some North River pier. Had they been Tyrian traders of
the year B.C. 1000 landing from a galley fresh from Gibraltar,
they could hardly have been stranger on the shore of a world, so
changed from what it had been ten years before. The historian of
the Dutch, no longer historian but diplomatist, started up an
unknown street, in company with the private secretary who had
become private citizen, in search of carriages to convey the two
parties to the Brevoort House. The pursuit was arduous but
successful. Towards midnight they found shelter once more in
their native land.

How much its character had changed or was changing, they could
not wholly know, and they could but partly feel. For that matter,
the land itself knew no more than they. Society in America was
always trying, almost as blindly as an earthworm, to realize and
understand itself; to catch up with its own head, and to twist
about in search of its tail. Society offered the profile of a
long, straggling caravan, stretching loosely towards the
prairies, its few score of leaders far in advance and its
millions of immigrants, negroes, and Indians far in the rear,
somewhere in archaic time. It enjoyed the vast advantage over
Europe that all seemed, for the moment, to move in one direction,
while Europe wasted most of its energy in trying several
contradictory movements at once; but whenever Europe or Asia
should be polarized or oriented towards the same point, America
might easily lose her lead. Meanwhile each newcomer needed to
slip into a place as near the head of the caravan as possible,
and needed most to know where the leaders could be found.
One could divine pretty nearly where the force lay, since the
last ten years had given to the great mechanical energies --
coal, iron, steam -- a distinct superiority in power over the old
industrial elements -- agriculture, handwork, and learning; but
the result of this revolution on a survivor from the fifties
resembled the action of the earthworm; he twisted about, in vain,
to recover his starting-point; he could no longer see his own
trail; he had become an estray; a flotsam or jetsam of wreckage;
a belated reveller, or a scholar-gipsy like Matthew Arnold's. His
world was dead. Not a Polish Jew fresh from Warsaw or Cracow --
not a furtive Yacoob or Ysaac still reeking of the Ghetto,
snarling a weird Yiddish to the officers of the customs -- but
had a keener instinct, an intenser energy, and a freer hand than
he -- American of Americans, with Heaven knew how many Puritans
and Patriots behind him, and an education that had cost a civil
war. He made no complaint and found no fault with his time; he
was no worse off than the Indians or the buffalo who had been
ejected from their heritage by his own people; but he vehemently
insisted that he was not himself at fault. The defeat was not due
to him, nor yet to any superiority of his rivals. He had been
unfairly forced out of the track, and must get back into it as
best he could.

One comfort he could enjoy to the full. Little as he might be
fitted for the work that was before him, he had only to look at
his father and Motley to see figures less fitted for it than he.
All were equally survivals from the forties -- bric-a-brac from
the time of Louis Philippe; stylists; doctrinaires; ornaments
that had been more or less suited to the colonial architecture,
but which never had much value in Desbrosses Street or Fifth
Avenue. They could scarcely have earned five dollars a day in any
modern industry. The men who commanded high pay were as a rule
not ornamental. Even Commodore Vanderbilt and Jay Gould lacked
social charm. Doubtless the country needed ornament -- needed it
very badly indeed -- but it needed energy still more, and capital
most of all, for its supply was ridiculously out of proportion to
its wants. On the new scale of power, merely to make the
continent habitable for civilized people would require an
immediate outlay that would have bankrupted the world. As yet, no
portion of the world except a few narrow stretches of western
Europe had ever been tolerably provided with the essentials of
comfort and convenience; to fit out an entire continent with
roads and the decencies of life would exhaust the credit of the
entire planet. Such an estimate seemed outrageous to a Texan
member of Congress who loved the simplicity of nature's noblemen;
but the mere suggestion that a sun existed above him would
outrage the self-respect of a deep-sea fish that carried a
lantern on the end of its nose. From the moment that railways
were introduced, life took on extravagance.

Thus the belated reveller who landed in the dark at the
Desbrosses Street ferry, found his energies exhausted in the
effort to see his own length. The new Americans, of whom he was
to be one, must, whether they were fit or unfit, create a world
of their own, a science, a society, a philosophy, a universe,
where they had not yet created a road or even learned to dig
their own iron. They had no time for thought; they saw, and could
see, nothing beyond their day's work; their attitude to the
universe outside them was that of the deep-sea fish. Above all,
they naturally and intensely disliked to be told what to do, and
how to do it, by men who took their ideas and their methods from
the abstract theories of history, philosophy, or theology. They
knew enough to know that their world was one of energies quite

All this, the newcomer understood and accepted, since he could
not help himself and saw that the American could help himself as
little as the newcomer; but the fact remained that the more he
knew, the less he was educated. Society knew as much as this, and
seemed rather inclined to boast of it, at least on the stump; but
the leaders of industry betrayed no sentiment, popular or other.
They used, without qualm, whatever instruments they found at
hand. They had been obliged, in 1861, to turn aside and waste
immense energy in settling what had been settled a thousand years
before, and should never have been revived. At prodigious
expense, by sheer force, they broke resistance down, leaving
everything but the mere fact of power untouched, since nothing
else had a solution. Race and thought were beyond reach. Having
cleared its path so far, society went back to its work, and threw
itself on that which stood first -- its roads. The field was
vast; altogether beyond its power to control offhand; and society
dropped every thought of dealing with anything more than the
single fraction called a railway system. This relatively small
part of its task was still so big as to need the energies of a
generation, for it required all the new machinery to be created
-- capital, banks, mines, furnaces, shops, power-houses,
technical knowledge, mechanical population, together with a
steady remodelling of social and political habits, ideas, and
institutions to fit the new scale and suit the new conditions.
The generation between 1865 and 1895 was already mortgaged to the
railways, and no one knew it better than the generation itself.

Whether Henry Adams knew it or not, he knew enough to act as
though he did. He reached Quincy once more, ready for the new
start. His brother Charles had determined to strike for the
railroads; Henry was to strike for the press; and they hoped to
play into each other's hands. They had great need, for they found
no one else to play with. After discovering the worthlessness of
a so-called education, they had still to discover the
worthlessness of so-called social connection. No young man had a
larger acquaintance and relationship than Henry Adams, yet he
knew no one who could help him. He was for sale, in the open
market. So were many of his friends. All the world knew it, and
knew too that they were cheap; to be bought at the price of a
mechanic. There was no concealment, no delicacy, and no illusion
about it. Neither he nor his friends complained; but he felt
sometimes a little surprised that, as far as he knew, no one,
seeking in the labor market, ever so much as inquired about their
fitness. The want of solidarity between old and young seemed
American. The young man was required to impose himself, by the
usual business methods, as a necessity on his elders, in order to
compel them to buy him as an investment. As Adams felt it, he was
in a manner expected to blackmail. Many a young man complained to
him in after life of the same experience, which became a matter
of curious reflection as he grew old. The labor market of good
society was ill-organized.

Boston seemed to offer no market for educated labor. A peculiar
and perplexing amalgam Boston always was, and although it had
changed much in ten years, it was not less perplexing. One no
longer dined at two o'clock; one could no longer skate on Back
Bay; one heard talk of Bostonians worth five millions or more as
something not incredible. Yet the place seemed still simple, and
less restless-minded than ever before. In the line that Adams had
chosen to follow, he needed more than all else the help of the
press, but any shadow of hope on that side vanished instantly.
The less one meddled with the Boston press, the better. All the
newspapermen were clear on that point. The same was true of
politics. Boston meant business. The Bostonians were building
railways. Adams would have liked to help in building railways,
but had no education. He was not fit.

He passed three or four months thus, visiting relations,
renewing friendships, and studying the situation. At thirty years
old, the man who has not yet got further than to study the
situation, is lost, or near it. He could see nothing in the
situation that could be of use to him. His friends had won no
more from it than he. His brother Charles, after three years of
civil life, was no better off than himself, except for being
married and in greater need of income. His brother John had
become a brilliant political leader on the wrong side. No one had
yet regained the lost ground of the war.

He went to Newport and tried to be fashionable, but even in the
simple life of 1868, he failed as fashion. All the style he had
learned so painfully in London was worse than useless in America
where every standard was different. Newport was charming, but it
asked for no education and gave none. What it gave was much gayer
and pleasanter, and one enjoyed it amazingly; but friendships in
that society were a kind of social partnership, like the classes
at college; not education but the subjects of education. All were
doing the same thing, and asking the same question of the future.
None could help. Society seemed founded on the law that all was
for the best New Yorkers in the best of Newports, and that all
young people were rich if they could waltz. It was a new version
of the Ant and Grasshopper.

At the end of three months, the only person, among the hundreds
he had met, who had offered him a word of encouragement or had
shown a sign of acquaintance with his doings, was Edward
Atkinson. Boston was cool towards sons, whether prodigals or
other, and needed much time to make up its mind what to do for
them -- time which Adams, at thirty years old, could hardly
spare. He had not the courage or self-confidence to hire an
office in State Street, as so many of his friends did, and doze
there alone, vacuity within and a snowstorm outside, waiting for
Fortune to knock at the door, or hoping to find her asleep in the
elevator; or on the staircase, since elevators were not yet in
use. Whether this course would have offered his best chance he
never knew; it was one of the points in practical education which
most needed a clear understanding, and he could never reach it.
His father and mother would have been glad to see him stay with
them and begin reading Blackstone again, and he showed no very
filial tenderness by abruptly breaking the tie that had lasted so
long. After all, perhaps Beacon Street was as good as any other
street for his objects in life; possibly his easiest and surest
path was from Beacon Street to State Street and back again, all
the days of his years. Who could tell? Even after life was over,
the doubt could not be determined.

In thus sacrificing his heritage, he only followed the path
that had led him from the beginning. Boston was full of his
brothers. He had reckoned from childhood on outlawry as his
peculiar birthright. The mere thought of beginning life again in
Mount Vernon Street lowered the pulsations of his heart. This is
a story of education -- not a mere lesson of life -- and, with
education, temperament has in strictness nothing to do, although
in practice they run close together. Neither by temperament nor
by education was he fitted for Boston. He had drifted far away
and behind his companions there; no one trusted his temperament
or education; he had to go.

Since no other path seemed to offer itself, he stuck to his
plan of joining the press, and selected Washington as the
shortest road to New York, but, in 1868, Washington stood outside
the social pale. No Bostonian had ever gone there. One announced
one's self as an adventurer and an office-seeker, a person of
deplorably bad judgment, and the charges were true. The chances
of ending in the gutter were, at best, even. The risk was the
greater in Adams's case, because he had no very clear idea what
to do when he got there. That he must educate himself over again,
for objects quite new, in an air altogether hostile to his old
educations, was the only certainty; but how he was to do it --
how he was to convert the idler in Rotten Row into the lobbyist
of the Capital -- he had not an idea, and no one to teach him.
The question of money is rarely serious for a young American
unless he is married, and money never troubled Adams more than
others; not because he had it, but because he could do without
it, like most people in Washington who all lived on the income of
bricklayers; but with or without money he met the difficulty
that, after getting to Washington in order to go on the press, it
was necessary to seek a press to go on. For large work he could
count on the North American Review, but this was scarcely a
press. For current discussion and correspondence, he could depend
on the New York Nation; but what he needed was a New York daily,
and no New York daily needed him. He lost his one chance by the
death of Henry J. Raymond. The Tribune under Horace Greeley was
out of the question both for political and personal reasons, and
because Whitelaw Reid had already undertaken that singularly
venturesome position, amid difficulties that would have swamped
Adams in four-and-twenty hours. Charles A. Dana had made the Sun
a very successful as well as a very amusing paper, but had hurt
his own social position in doing it; and Adams knew himself well
enough to know that he could never please himself and Dana too;
with the best intentions, he must always fail as a blackguard,
and at that time a strong dash of blackguardism was life to the
Sun. As for the New York Herald, it was a despotic empire
admitting no personality but that of Bennett. Thus, for the
moment, the New York daily press offered no field except the
free-trade Holy Land of the Evening Post under William Cullen
Bryant, while beside it lay only the elevated plateau of the New
Jerusalem occupied by Godkin and the Nation. Much as Adams liked
Godkin, and glad as he was to creep under the shelter of the
Evening Post and the Nation, he was well aware that he should
find there only the same circle of readers that he reached in the
North American Review.

The outlook was dim, but it was all he had, and at Washington,
except for the personal friendship of Mr. Evarts who was then
Attorney General and living there, he would stand in solitude
much like that of London in 1861. Evarts did what no one in
Boston seemed to care for doing; he held out a hand to the young
man. Whether Boston, like Salem, really shunned strangers, or
whether Evarts was an exception even in New York, he had the
social instinct which Boston had not. Generous by nature,
prodigal in hospitality, fond of young people, and a born
man-of-the-world, Evarts gave and took liberally, without
scruple, and accepted the world without fearing or abusing it.
His wit was the least part of his social attraction. His talk was
broad and free. He laughed where he could; he joked if a joke was
possible; he was true to his friends, and never lost his temper
or became ill-natured. Like all New Yorkers he was decidedly not
a Bostonian; but he was what one might call a transplanted New
Englander, like General Sherman; a variety, grown in ranker soil.
In the course of life, and in widely different countries, Adams
incurred heavy debts of gratitude to persons on whom he had no
claim and to whom he could seldom make return; perhaps
half-a-dozen such debts remained unpaid at last, although six is
a large number as lives go; but kindness seldom came more happily
than when Mr. Evarts took him to Washington in October, 1868.

Adams accepted the hospitality of the sleeper, with deep
gratitude, the more because his first struggle with a
sleeping-car made him doubt the value -- to him -- of a Pullman
civilization; but he was even more grateful for the shelter of
Mr. Evarts's house in H Street at the corner of Fourteenth, where
he abode in safety and content till he found rooms in the
roomless village. To him the village seemed unchanged. Had he not
known that a great war and eight years of astonishing movement
had passed over it, he would have noticed nothing that betrayed
growth. As of old, houses were few; rooms fewer; even the men
were the same. No one seemed to miss the usual comforts of
civilization, and Adams was glad to get rid of them, for his best
chance lay in the eighteenth century.

The first step, of course, was the making of acquaintance, and
the first acquaintance was naturally the President, to whom an
aspirant to the press officially paid respect. Evarts immediately
took him to the White House and presented him to President Andrew
Johnson. The interview was brief and consisted in the stock
remark common to monarchs and valets, that the young man looked
even younger than he was. The younger man felt even younger than
he looked. He never saw the President again, and never felt a
wish to see him, for Andrew Johnson was not the sort of man whom
a young reformer of thirty, with two or three foreign educations,
was likely to see with enthusiasm; yet, musing over the interview
as a matter of education, long years afterwards, he could not
help recalling the President's figure with a distinctness that
surprised him. The old-fashioned Southern Senator and statesman
sat in his chair at his desk with a look of self-esteem that had
its value. None doubted. All were great men; some, no doubt, were
greater than others; but all were statesmen and all were
supported, lifted, inspired by the moral certainty of rightness.
To them the universe was serious, even solemn, but it was their
universe, a Southern conception of right. Lamar used to say that
he never entertained a doubt of the soundness of the Southern
system until he found that slavery could not stand a war. Slavery
was only a part of the Southern system, and the life of it all --
the vigor -- the poetry -- was its moral certainty of self. The
Southerner could not doubt; and this self-assurance not only gave
Andrew Johnson the look of a true President, but actually made
him one. When Adams came to look back on it afterwards, he was
surprised to realize how strong the Executive was in 1868 --
perhaps the strongest he was ever to see. Certainly he never
again found himself so well satisfied, or so much at home.

Seward was still Secretary of State. Hardly yet an old man,
though showing marks of time and violence, Mr. Seward seemed
little changed in these eight years. He was the same -- with a
difference. Perhaps he -- unlike Henry Adams -- had at last got
an education, and all he wanted. Perhaps he had resigned himself
to doing without it. Whatever the reason, although his manner was
as roughly kind as ever, and his talk as free, he appeared to
have closed his account with the public; he no longer seemed to
care; he asked nothing, gave nothing, and invited no support; he
talked little of himself or of others, and waited only for his
discharge. Adams was well pleased to be near him in these last
days of his power and fame, and went much to his house in the
evenings when he was sure to be at his whist. At last, as the end
drew near, wanting to feel that the great man -- the only chief
he ever served even as a volunteer -- recognized some personal
relation, he asked Mr. Seward to dine with him one evening in his
rooms, and play his game of whist there, as he did every night in
his own house. Mr. Seward came and had his whist, and Adams
remembered his rough parting speech: "A very sensible
entertainment!" It was the only favor he ever asked of Mr.
Seward, and the only one he ever accepted.

Thus, as a teacher of wisdom, after twenty years of example,
Governor Seward passed out of one's life, and Adams lost what
should have been his firmest ally; but in truth the State
Department had ceased to be the centre of his interest, and the
Treasury had taken its place. The Secretary of the Treasury was a
man new to politics -- Hugh McCulloch -- not a person of much
importance in the eyes of practical politicians such as young
members of the press meant themselves to become, but they all
liked Mr. McCulloch, though they thought him a stop-gap rather
than a force. Had they known what sort of forces the Treasury was
to offer them for support in the generation to come, they might
have reflected a long while on their estimate of McCulloch. Adams
was fated to watch the flittings of many more Secretaries than he
ever cared to know, and he rather came back in the end to the
idea that McCulloch was the best of them, although he seemed to
represent everything that one liked least. He was no politician,
he had no party, and no power. He was not fashionable or
decorative. He was a banker, and towards bankers Adams felt the
narrow prejudice which the serf feels to his overerseer; for he
knew he must obey, and he knew that the helpless showed only
their helplessness when they tempered obedience by mockery. The
world, after 1865, became a bankers' world, and no banker would
ever trust one who had deserted State Street, and had gone to
Washington with purposes of doubtful credit, or of no credit at
all, for he could not have put up enough collateral to borrow
five thousand dollars of any bank in America. The banker never
would trust him, and he would never trust the banker. To him, the
banking mind was obnoxious; and this antipathy caused him the
more surprise at finding McCulloch the broadest, most liberal,
most genial, and most practical public man in Washington.

There could be no doubt of it. The burden of the Treasury at
that time was very great. The whole financial system was in
chaos; every part of it required reform; the utmost experience,
tact, and skill could not make the machine work smoothly. No one
knew how well McCulloch did it until his successor took it in
charge, and tried to correct his methods. Adams did not know
enough to appreciate McCulloch's technical skill, but he was
struck at his open and generous treatment of young men. Of all
rare qualities, this was, in Adams's experience, the rarest. As a
rule, officials dread interference. The strongest often resent it
most. Any official who admits equality in discussion of his
official course, feels it to be an act of virtue; after a few
months or years he tires of the effort. Every friend in power is
a friend lost. This rule is so nearly absolute that it may be
taken in practice as admitting no exception. Apparent exceptions
exist, and McCulloch was one of them.

McCulloch had been spared the gluttonous selfishness and
infantile jealousy which are the commoner results of early
political education. He had neither past nor future, and could
afford to be careless of his company. Adams found him surrounded
by all the active and intelligent young men in the country. Full
of faith, greedy for work, eager for reform, energetic,
confident, capable, quick of study, charmed with a fight, equally
ready to defend or attack, they were unselfish, and even -- as
young men went -- honest. They came mostly from the army, with
the spirit of the volunteers. Frank Walker, Frank Barlow, Frank
Bartlett were types of the generation. Most of the press, and
much of the public, especially in the West, shared their ideas.
No one denied the need for reform. The whole government, from top
to bottom, was rotten with the senility of what was antiquated
and the instability of what was improvised. The currency was only
one example; the tariff was another; but the whole fabric
required reconstruction as much as in 1789, for the Constitution
had become as antiquated as the Confederation. Sooner or later a
shock must come, the more dangerous the longer postponed. The
Civil War had made a new system in fact; the country would have
to reorganize the machinery in practice and theory.

One might discuss indefinitely the question which branch of
government needed reform most urgently; all needed it enough, but
no one denied that the finances were a scandal, and a constant,
universal nuisance. The tariff was worse, though more interests
upheld it. McCulloch had the singular merit of facing reform with
large good-nature and willing sympathy -- outside of parties,
jobs, bargains, corporations or intrigues -- which Adams never
was to meet again.

Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit. The Civil War
had bred life. The army bred courage. Young men of the volunteer
type were not always docile under control, but they were handy in
a fight. Adams was greatly pleased to be admitted as one of them.
He found himself much at home with them -- more at home than he
ever had been before, or was ever to be again -- in the
atmosphere of the Treasury. He had no strong party passion, and
he felt as though he and his friends owned this administration,
which, in its dying days, had neither friends nor future except
in them.

These were not the only allies; the whole government in all its
branches was alive with them. Just at that moment the Supreme
Court was about to take up the Legal Tender cases where Judge
Curtis had been employed to argue against the constitutional
power of the Government to make an artificial standard of value
in time of peace. Evarts was anxious to fix on a line of argument
that should have a chance of standing up against that of Judge
Curtis, and was puzzled to do it. He did not know which foot to
put forward. About to deal with Judge Curtis, the last of the
strong jurists of Marshall's school, he could risk no chances. In
doubt, the quickest way to clear one's mind is to discuss, and
Evarts deliberately forced discussion. Day after day, driving,
dining, walking he provoked Adams to dispute his positions. He
needed an anvil, he said, to hammer his ideas on.

Adams was flattered at being an anvil, which is, after all,
more solid than the hammer; and he did not feel called on to
treat Mr. Evarts's arguments with more respect than Mr. Evarts
himself expressed for them; so he contradicted with freedom. Like
most young men, he was much of a doctrinaire, and the question
was, in any event, rather historical or political than legal. He
could easily maintain, by way of argument, that the required
power had never been given, and that no sound constitutional
reason could possibly exist for authorizing the Government to
overthrow the standard of value without necessity, in time of
peace. The dispute itself had not much value for him, even as
education, but it led to his seeking light from the Chief Justice
himself. Following up the subject for his letters to the Nation
and his articles in the North American Review, Adams grew to be
intimate with the Chief Justice, who, as one of the oldest and
strongest leaders of the Free Soil Party, had claims to his
personal regard; for the old Free Soilers were becoming few. Like
all strong-willed and self-asserting men, Mr. Chase had the
faults of his qualities. He was never easy to drive in harness,
or light in hand. He saw vividly what was wrong, and did not
always allow for what was relatively right. He loved power as
though he were still a Senator. His position towards Legal Tender
was awkward. As Secretary of the Treasury he had been its author;
as Chief Justice he became its enemy. Legal Tender caused no
great pleasure or pain in the sum of life to a newspaper
correspondent, but it served as a subject for letters, and the
Chief Justice was very willing to win an ally in the press who
would tell his story as he wished it to be read. The intimacy in
Mr. Chase's house grew rapidly, and the alliance was no small
help to the comforts of a struggling newspaper adventurer in
Washington. No matter what one might think of his politics or
temper, Mr. Chase was a dramatic figure, of high senatorial rank,
if also of certain senatorial faults; a valuable ally.

As was sure, sooner or later, to happen, Adams one day met
Charles Sumner on the street, and instantly stopped to greet him.
As though eight years of broken ties were the natural course of
friendship, Sumner at once, after an exclamation of surprise,
dropped back into the relation of hero to the school boy. Adams
enjoyed accepting it. He was then thirty years old and Sumner was
fifty-seven; he had seen more of the world than Sumner ever
dreamed of, and he felt a sort of amused curiosity to be treated
once more as a child. At best, the renewal of broken relations is
a nervous matter, and in this case it bristled with thorns, for
Sumner's quarrel with Mr. Adams had not been the most delicate of
his ruptured relations, and he was liable to be sensitive in many
ways that even Bostonians could hardly keep in constant mind; yet
it interested and fascinated Henry Adams as a new study of
political humanity. The younger man knew that the meeting would
have to come, and was ready for it, if only as a newspaper need;
but to Sumner it came as a surprise and a disagreeable one, as
Adams conceived. He learned something -- a piece of practical
education worth the effort -- by watching Sumner's behavior. He
could see that many thoughts -- mostly unpleasant -- were passing
through his mind, since he made no inquiry about any of Adams's
family, or allusion to any of his friends or his residence
abroad. He talked only of the present. To him, Adams in
Washington should have seemed more or less of a critic, perhaps a
spy, certainly an intriguer or adventurer, like scores of others;
a politician without party; a writer without principles; an
office-seeker certain to beg for support. All this was, for his
purposes, true. Adams could do him no good, and would be likely
to do him all the harm in his power. Adams accepted it all;
expected to be kept at arm's length; admitted that the reasons
were just. He was the more surprised to see that Sumner invited a
renewal of old relations. He found himself treated almost
confidentially. Not only was he asked to make a fourth at
Sumner's pleasant little dinners in the house on La Fayette
Square, but he found himself admitted to the Senator's study and
informed of his views, policy and purposes, which were sometimes
even more astounding than his curious gaps or lapses of

On the whole, the relation was the queerest that Henry Adams
ever kept up. He liked and admired Sumner, but thought his mind a
pathological study. At times he inclined to think that Sumner
felt his solitude, and, in the political wilderness, craved
educated society; but this hardly told the whole story. Sumner's
mind had reached the calm of water which receives and reflects
images without absorbing them; it contained nothing but itself.
The images from without, the objects mechanically perceived by
the senses, existed by courtesy until the mental surface was
ruffled, but never became part of the thought. Henry Adams roused
no emotion; if he had roused a disagreeable one, he would have
ceased to exist. The mind would have mechanically rejected, as it
had mechanically admitted him. Not that Sumner was more
aggressively egoistic than other Senators -- Conkling, for
instance -- but that with him the disease had affected the whole
mind; it was chronic and absolute; while, with other Senators for
the most part, it was still acute.

Perhaps for this very reason, Sumner was the more valuable
acquaintance for a newspaper-man. Adams found him most useful;
perhaps quite the most useful of all these great authorities who
were the stock-in-trade of the newspaper business; the
accumulated capital of a Silurian age. A few months or years
more, and they were gone. In 1868, they were like the town
itself, changing but not changed. La Fayette Square was society.
Within a few hundred yards of Mr. Clark Mills's nursery monument
to the equestrian seat of Andrew Jackson, one found all one's
acquaintance as well as hotels, banks, markets and national
government. Beyond the Square the country began. No rich or
fashionable stranger had yet discovered the town. No literary or
scientific man, no artist, no gentleman without office or
employment, had ever lived there. It was rural, and its society
was primitive. Scarcely a person in it had ever known life in a
great city. Mr. Evarts, Mr. Sam Hooper, of Boston, and perhaps
one or two of the diplomatists had alone mixed in that sort of
world. The happy village was innocent of a club. The one-horse
tram on F Street to the Capitol was ample for traffic. Every
pleasant spring morning at the Pennsylvania Station, society met
to bid good-bye to its friends going off on the single express.
The State Department was lodged in an infant asylum far out on
Fourteenth Street while Mr. Mullett was constructing his
architectural infant asylum next the White House. The value of
real estate had not increased since 1800, and the pavements were
more impassable than the mud. All this favored a young man who
had come to make a name. In four-and-twenty hours he could know
everybody; in two days everybody knew him.

After seven years' arduous and unsuccessful effort to explore
the outskirts of London society, the Washington world offered an
easy and delightful repose. When he looked round him, from the
safe shelter of Mr. Evarts's roof, on the men he was to work with
-- or against -- he had to admit that nine-tenths of his acquired
education was useless, and the other tenth harmful. He would have
to begin again from the beginning. He must learn to talk to the
Western Congressman, and to hide his own antecedents. The task
was amusing. He could see nothing to prevent him from enjoying
it, with immoral unconcern for all that had gone before and for
anything that might follow. The lobby offered a spectacle almost
picturesque. Few figures on the Paris stage were more
entertaining and dramatic than old Sam Ward, who knew more of
life than all the departments of the Government together,
including the Senate and the Smithsonian. Society had not much to
give, but what it had, it gave with an open hand. For the moment,
politics had ceased to disturb social relations. All parties were
mixed up and jumbled together in a sort of tidal slack-water. The
Government resembled Adams himself in the matter of education.
All that had gone before was useless, and some of it was worse.



THE first effect of this leap into the unknown was a fit of low
spirits new to the young man's education; due in part to the
overpowering beauty and sweetness of the Maryland autumn, almost
unendurable for its strain on one who had toned his life down to
the November grays and browns of northern Europe. Life could not
go on so beautiful and so sad. Luckily, no one else felt it or
knew it. He bore it as well as he could, and when he picked
himself up, winter had come, and he was settled in bachelor's
quarters, as modest as those of a clerk in the Departments, far
out on G Street, towards Georgetown, where an old Finn named
Dohna, who had come out with the Russian Minister Stoeckel long
before, had bought or built a new house. Congress had met. Two or
three months remained to the old administration, but all interest
centred in the new one. The town began to swarm with
office-seekers, among whom a young writer was lost. He drifted
among them, unnoticed, glad to learn his work under cover of the
confusion. He never aspired to become a regular reporter; he knew
he should fail in trying a career so ambitious and energetic; but
he picked up friends on the press -- Nordhoff, Murat Halstead,
Henry Watterson, Sam Bowles -- all reformers, and all mixed and
jumbled together in a tidal wave of expectation, waiting for
General Grant to give orders. No one seemed to know much about
it. Even Senators had nothing to say. One could only make notes
and study finance.

In waiting, he amused himself as he could. In the amusements of
Washington, education had no part, but the simplicity of the
amusements proved the simplicity of everything else, ambitions,
interests, thoughts, and knowledge. Proverbially Washington was a
poor place for education, and of course young diplomats avoided
or disliked it, but, as a rule, diplomats disliked every place
except Paris, and the world contained only one Paris. They abused
London more violently than Washington; they praised no post under
the sun; and they were merely describing three-fourths of their
stations when they complained that there were no theatres, no
restaurants, no monde, no demi-monde, no drives, no splendor,
and, as Mme. de Struve used to say, no grandezza. This was all
true; Washington was a mere political camp, as transient and
temporary as a camp-meeting for religious revival, but the
diplomats had least reason to complain, since they were more
sought for there than they would ever be elsewhere. For young men
Washington was in one way paradise, since they were few, and
greatly in demand. After watching the abject unimportance of the
young diplomat in London society, Adams found himself a young
duke in Washington. He had ten years of youth to make up, and a
ravenous appetite. Washington was the easiest society he had ever
seen, and even the Bostonian became simple, good-natured, almost
genial, in the softness of a Washington spring. Society went on
excellently well without houses, or carriages, or jewels, or
toilettes, or pavements, or shops, or grandezza of any sort; and
the market was excellent as well as cheap. One could not stay
there a month without loving the shabby town. Even the Washington
girl, who was neither rich nor well-dressed nor well-educated nor
clever, had singular charm, and used it. According to Mr. Adams
the father, this charm dated back as far as Monroe's
administration, to his personal knowledge.

Therefore, behind all the processes of political or financial
or newspaper training, the social side of Washington was to be
taken for granted as three-fourths of existence. Its details
matter nothing. Life ceased to be strenuous, and the victim
thanked God for it. Politics and reform became the detail, and
waltzing the profession. Adams was not alone. Senator Sumner had
as private secretary a young man named Moorfield Storey, who
became a dangerous example of frivolity. The new
Attorney-General, E. R. Hoar, brought with him from Concord a
son, Sam Hoar, whose example rivalled that of Storey. Another
impenitent was named Dewey, a young naval officer. Adams came far
down in the list. He wished he had been higher. He could have
spared a world of superannuated history, science, or politics, to
have reversed better in waltzing.

He had no adequate notion how little he knew, especially of
women, and Washington offered no standard of comparison. All were
profoundly ignorant together, and as indifferent as children to
education. No one needed knowledge. Washington was happier
without style. Certainly Adams was happier without it; happier
than he had ever been before; happier than any one in the harsh
world of strenuousness could dream of. This must be taken as
background for such little education as he gained; but the life
belonged to the eighteenth century, and in no way concerned
education for the twentieth.

In such an atmosphere, one made no great presence of hard work.
If the world wants hard work, the world must pay for it; and, if
it will not pay, it has no fault to find with the worker. Thus
far, no one had made a suggestion of pay for any work that Adams
had done or could do; if he worked at all, it was for social
consideration, and social pleasure was his pay. For this he was
willing to go on working, as an artist goes on painting when no
one buys his pictures. Artists have done it from the beginning of
time, and will do it after time has expired, since they cannot
help themselves, and they find their return in the pride of their
social superiority as they feel it. Society commonly abets them
and encourages their attitude of contempt. The society of
Washington was too simple and Southern as yet, to feel
anarchistic longings, and it never read or saw what artists
produced elsewhere, but it good-naturedly abetted them when it
had the chance, and respected itself the more for the frailty.
Adams found even the Government at his service, and every one
willing to answer his questions. He worked, after a fashion; not
very hard, but as much as the Government would have required of
him for nine hundred dollars a year; and his work defied
frivolity. He got more pleasure from writing than the world ever
got from reading him, for his work was not amusing, nor was he.
One must not try to amuse moneylenders or investors, and this was
the class to which he began by appealing. He gave three months to
an article on the finances of the United States, just then a
subject greatly needing treatment; and when he had finished it,
he sent it to London to his friend Henry Reeve, the ponderous
editor of the Edinburgh Review. Reeve probably thought it good;
at all events, he said so; and he printed it in April. Of course
it was reprinted in America, but in England such articles were
still anonymous, and the author remained unknown.

The author was not then asking for advertisement, and made no
claim for credit. His object was literary. He wanted to win a
place on the staff of the Edinburgh Review, under the vast shadow
of Lord Macaulay; and, to a young American in 1868, such rank
seemed colossal -- the highest in the literary world -- as it had
been only five-and-twenty years before. Time and tide had flowed
since then, but the position still flattered vanity, though it
brought no other flattery or reward except the regular thirty
pounds of pay -- fifty dollars a month, measured in time and

The Edinburgh article finished, he set himself to work on a
scheme for the North American Review. In England, Lord Robert
Cecil had invented for the London Quarterly an annual review of
politics which he called the "Session." Adams stole the idea and
the name -- he thought he had been enough in Lord Robert's house,
in days of his struggle with adversity, to excuse the theft --
and began what he meant for a permanent series of annual
political reviews which he hoped to make, in time, a political
authority. With his sources of information, and his social
intimacies at Washington, he could not help saying something that
would command attention. He had the field to himself, and he
meant to give himself a free hand, as he went on. Whether the
newspapers liked it or not, they would have to reckon with him;
for such a power, once established, was more effective than all
the speeches in Congress or reports to the President that could
be crammed into the Government presses.

The first of these "Sessions" appeared in April, but it could
not be condensed into a single article, and had to be
supplemented in October by another which bore the title of "Civil
Service Reform," and was really a part of the same review. A good
deal of authentic history slipped into these papers. Whether any
one except his press associates ever read them, he never knew and
never greatly cared. The difference is slight, to the influence
of an author, whether he is read by five hundred readers, or by
five hundred thousand; if he can select the five hundred, he
reaches the five hundred thousand. The fateful year 1870 was near
at hand, which was to mark the close of the literary epoch, when
quarterlies gave way to monthlies; letter-press to illustration;
volumes to pages. The outburst was brilliant. Bret Harte led, and
Robert Louis Stevenson followed. Guy de Maupassant and Rudyard
Kipling brought up the rear, and dazzled the world. As usual,
Adams found himself fifty years behind his time, but a number of
belated wanderers kept him company, and they produced on each
other the effect or illusion of a public opinion. They straggled
apart, at longer and longer intervals, through the procession,
but they were still within hearing distance of each other. The
drift was still superficially conservative. Just as the Church
spoke with apparent authority, of the quarterlies laid down an
apparent law, and no one could surely say where the real
authority, or the real law, lay. Science lid not know. Truths a
priori held their own against truths surely relative. According
to Lowell, Right was forever on the scaffold, Wrong was forever
on the Throne; and most people still thought they believed it.
Adams was not the only relic of the eighteenth century, and he
could still depend on a certain number of listeners -- mostly
respectable, and some rich.

Want of audience did not trouble him; he was well enough off in
that respect, and would have succeeded in all his calculations if
this had been his only hazard. Where he broke down was at a point
where he always suffered wreck and where nine adventurers out of
ten make their errors. One may be more or less certain of
organized forces; one can never be certain of men. He belonged to
the eighteenth century, and the eighteenth century upset all his
plans. For the moment, America was more eighteenth century than
himself; it reverted to the stone age.

As education -- of a certain sort -- the story had probably a
certain value, though he could never see it. One seldom can see
much education in the buck of a broncho; even less in the kick of
a mule. The lesson it teaches is only that of getting out of the
animal's way. This was the lesson that Henry Adams had learned
over and over again in politics since 1860.

At least four-fifths of the American people -- Adams among the
rest -- had united in the election of General Grant to the
Presidency, and probably had been more or less affected in their
choice by the parallel they felt between Grant and Washington.
Nothing could be more obvious. Grant represented order. He was a
great soldier, and the soldier always represented order. He might
be as partisan as he pleased, but a general who had organized and
commanded half a million or a million men in the field, must know
how to administer. Even Washington, who was, in education and
experience, a mere cave-dweller, had known how to organize a
government, and had found Jeffersons and Hamiltons to organize
his departments. The task of bringing the Government back to
regular practices, and of restoring moral and mechanical order to
administration, was not very difficult; it was ready to do it
itself, with a little encouragement. No doubt the confusion,
especially in the old slave States and in the currency, was
considerable, but, the general disposition was good, and every
one had echoed that famous phrase: "Let us have peace."

Adams was young and easily deceived, in spite of his diplomatic
adventures, but even at twice his age he could not see that this
reliance on Grant was unreasonable. Had Grant been a Congressman
one would have been on one's guard, for one knew the type. One
never expected from a Congressman more than good intentions and
public spirit. Newspaper-men as a rule had no great respect for
the lower House; Senators had less; and Cabinet officers had none
at all. Indeed, one day when Adams was pleading with a Cabinet
officer for patience and tact in dealing with Representatives,
the Secretary impatiently broke out: "You can't use tact with a
Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and
hit him on the snout!" Adams knew far too little, compared with
the Secretary, to contradict him, though he thought the phrase
somewhat harsh even as applied to the average Congressman of 1869
-- he saw little or nothing of later ones -- but he knew a
shorter way of silencing criticism. He had but to ask: "If a
Congressman is a hog, what is a Senator?" This innocent question,
put in a candid spirit, petrified any executive officer that ever
sat a week in his office. Even Adams admitted that Senators
passed belief. The comic side of their egotism partly disguised
its extravagance, but faction had gone so far under Andrew
Johnson that at times the whole Senate seemed to catch hysterics
of nervous bucking without apparent reason. Great leaders, like
Sumner and Conkling, could not be burlesqued; they were more
grotesque than ridicule could make them; even Grant, who rarely
sparkled in epigram, became witty on their account; but their
egotism and factiousness were no laughing matter. They did
permanent and terrible mischief, as Garfield and Blaine, and even
McKinley and John Hay, were to feel. The most troublesome task of
a reform President was that of bringing the Senate back to

Therefore no one, and Henry Adams less than most, felt hope
that any President chosen from the ranks of politics or
politicians would raise the character of government; and by
instinct if not by reason, all the world united on Grant. The
Senate understood what the world expected, and waited in silence
for a struggle with Grant more serious than that with Andrew
Johnson. Newspaper-men were alive with eagerness to support the
President against the Senate. The newspaper-man is, more than
most men, a double personality; and his person feels best
satisfied in its double instincts when writing in one sense and
thinking in another. All newspaper-men, whatever they wrote, felt
alike about the Senate. Adams floated with the stream. He was
eager to join in the fight which he foresaw as sooner or later
inevitable. He meant to support the Executive in attacking the
Senate and taking away its two-thirds vote and power of
confirmation, nor did he much care how it should be done, for he
thought it safer to effect the revolution in 1870 than to wait
till 1920..

With this thought in his mind, he went to the Capitol to hear
the names announced which should reveal the carefully guarded
secret of Grant's Cabinet. To the end of his life, he wondered at
the suddenness of the revolution which actually, within five
minutes, changed his intended future into an absurdity so
laughable as to make him ashamed of it. He was to hear a long
list of Cabinet announcements not much weaker or more futile than
that of Grant, and none of them made him blush, while Grant's
nominations had the singular effect of making the hearer ashamed,
not so much of Grant, as of himself. He had made another total
misconception of life -- another inconceivable false start. Yet,
unlikely as it seemed, he had missed his motive narrowly, and his
intention had been more than sound, for the Senators made no
secret of saying with senatorial frankness that Grant's
nominations betrayed his intent as plainly as they betrayed his
incompetence. A great soldier might be a baby politician.

Adams left the Capitol, much in the same misty mental condition
that he recalled as marking his railway journey to London on May
13, 1861; he felt in himself what Gladstone bewailed so sadly,
"the incapacity of viewing things all round." He knew, without
absolutely saying it, that Grant had cut short the life which
Adams had laid out for himself in the future. After such a
miscarriage, no thought of effectual reform could revive for at
least one generation, and he had no fancy for ineffectual
politics. What course could he sail next? He had tried so many,
and society had barred them all! For the moment, he saw no hope
but in following the stream on which he had launched himself. The
new Cabinet, as individuals, were not hostile. Subsequently Grant
made changes in the list which were mostly welcome to a Bostonian
-- or should have been -- although fatal to Adams. The name of
Hamilton Fish, as Secretary of State, suggested extreme
conservatism and probable deference to Sumner. The name of George
S. Boutwell, as Secretary of the Treasury, suggested only a
somewhat lugubrious joke; Mr. Boutwell could be described only as
the opposite of Mr. McCulloch, and meant inertia; or, in plain
words, total extinction for any one resembling Henry Adams. On
the other hand, the name of Jacob D. Cox, as Secretary of the
Interior, suggested help and comfort; while that of Judge Hoar,
as Attorney-General, promised friendship. On the whole, the
personal outlook, merely for literary purposes, seemed fairly
cheerful, and the political outlook, though hazy, still depended
on Grant himself. No one doubted that Grant's intention had been
one of reform; that his aim had been to place his administration
above politics; and until he should actually drive his supporters
away, one might hope to support him. One's little lantern must
therefore be turned on Grant. One seemed to know him so well, and
really knew so little.

By chance it happened that Adam Badeau took the lower suite of
rooms at Dohna's, and, as it was convenient to have one table,
the two men dined together and became intimate. Badeau was
exceedingly social, though not in appearance imposing. He was
stout; his face was red, and his habits were regularly irregular;
but he was very intelligent, a good newspaper-man, and an
excellent military historian. His life of Grant was no ordinary
book. Unlike most newspaper-men, he was a friendly critic of
Grant, as suited an officer who had been on the General's staff.
As a rule, the newspaper correspondents in Washington were
unfriendly, and the lobby sceptical. From that side one heard
tales that made one's hair stand on end, and the old West Point
army officers were no more flattering. All described him as
vicious, narrow, dull, and vindictive. Badeau, who had come to
Washington for a consulate which was slow to reach him, resorted
more or less to whiskey for encouragement, and became irritable,
besides being loquacious. He talked much about Grant, and showed
a certain artistic feeling for analysis of character, as a true
literary critic would naturally do. Loyal to Grant, and still
more so to Mrs. Grant, who acted as his patroness, he said
nothing, even when far gone, that was offensive about either, but
he held that no one except himself and Rawlins understood the
General. To him, Grant appeared as an intermittent energy,
immensely powerful when awake, but passive and plastic in repose.
He said that neither he nor the rest of the staff knew why Grant
succeeded; they believed in him because of his success. For
stretches of time, his mind seemed torpid. Rawlins and the others
would systematically talk their ideas into it, for weeks, not
directly, but by discussion among themselves, in his presence. In
the end, he would announce the idea as his own, without seeming
conscious of the discussion; and would give the orders to carry
it out with all the energy that belonged to his nature. They
could never measure his character or be sure when he would act.
They could never follow a mental process in his thought. They
were not sure that he did think.

In all this, Adams took deep interest, for although he was not,
like Badeau, waiting for Mrs. Grant's power of suggestion to act
on the General's mind in order to germinate in a consulate or a
legation, his portrait gallery of great men was becoming large,
and it amused him to add an authentic likeness of the greatest
general the world had seen since Napoleon. Badeau's analysis was
rather delicate; infinitely superior to that of Sam Ward or
Charles Nordhoff.

Badeau took Adams to the White House one evening and introduced
him to the President and Mrs. Grant. First and last, he saw a
dozen Presidents at the White House, and the most famous were by
no means the most agreeable, but he found Grant the most curious
object of study among them all. About no one did opinions differ
so widely. Adams had no opinion, or occasion to make one. A
single word with Grant satisfied him that, for his own good, the
fewer words he risked, the better. Thus far in life he had met
with but one man of the same intellectual or unintellectual type
-- Garibaldi. Of the two, Garibaldi seemed to him a trifle the
more intellectual, but, in both, the intellect counted for
nothing; only the energy counted. The type was pre-intellectual,
archaic, and would have seemed so even to the cave-dwellers.
Adam, according to legend, was such a man.

In time one came to recognize the type in other men, with
differences and variations, as normal; men whose energies were
the greater, the less they wasted on thought; men who sprang from
the soil to power; apt to be distrustful of themselves and of
others; shy; jealous; sometimes vindictive; more or less dull in
outward appearance; always needing stimulants, but for whom
action was the highest stimulant -- the instinct of fight. Such
men were forces of nature, energies of the prime, like the
Pteraspis , but they made short work of scholars. They had
commanded thousands of such and saw no more in them than in
others. The fact was certain; it crushed argument and intellect
at once.

Adams did not feel Grant as a hostile force; like Badeau he saw
only an uncertain one. When in action he was superb and safe to
follow; only when torpid he was dangerous. To deal with him one
must stand near, like Rawlins, and practice more or less
sympathetic habits. Simple-minded beyond the experience of Wall
Street or State Street, he resorted, like most men of the same
intellectual calibre, to commonplaces when at a loss for
expression: "Let us have peace!" or, "The best way to treat a bad
law is to execute it"; or a score of such reversible sentences
generally to be gauged by their sententiousness; but sometimes he
made one doubt his good faith; as when he seriously remarked to a
particularly bright young woman that Venice would be a fine city
if it were drained. In Mark Twain, this suggestion would have
taken rank among his best witticisms; in Grant it was a measure
of simplicity not singular. Robert E. Lee betrayed the same
intellectual commonplace, in a Virginian form, not to the same
degree, but quite distinctly enough for one who knew the
American. What worried Adams was not the commonplace; it was, as
usual, his own education. Grant fretted and irritated him, like
the Terebratula, as a defiance of first principles. He had no
right to exist. He should have been extinct for ages. The idea
that, as society grew older, it grew one-sided, upset evolution,
and made of education a fraud. That, two thousand years after
Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, a man like Grant should be
called -- and should actually and truly be -- the highest product
of the most advanced evolution, made evolution ludicrous. One
must be as commonplace as Grant's own commonplaces to maintain
such an absurdity. The progress of evolution from President
Washington to President Grant, was alone evidence enough to upset

Education became more perplexing at every phase. No theory was
worth the pen that wrote it. America had no use for Adams because
he was eighteenth-century, and yet it worshipped Grant because he
was archaic and should have lived in a cave and worn skins.
Darwinists ought to conclude that America was reverting to the
stone age, but the theory of reversion was more absurd than that
of evolution. Grant's administration reverted to nothing. One
could not catch a trait of the past, still less of the future. It
was not even sensibly American. Not an official in it, except
perhaps Rawlins whom Adams never met, and who died in September,
suggested an American idea.

Yet this administration, which upset Adams's whole life, was
not unfriendly; it was made up largely of friends. Secretary Fish
was almost kind; he kept the tradition of New York social values;
he was human and took no pleasure in giving pain. Adams felt no
prejudice whatever in his favor, and he had nothing in mind or
person to attract regard; his social gifts were not remarkable;
he was not in the least magnetic; he was far from young; but he
won confidence from the start and remained a friend to the
finish. As far as concerned Mr. Fish, one felt rather happily
suited, and one was still better off in the Interior Department
with J. D. Cox. Indeed, if Cox had been in the Treasury and
Boutwell in the Interior, one would have been quite satisfied as
far as personal relations went, while, in the Attorney-General's
Office, Judge Hoar seemed to fill every possible ideal, both
personal and political.

The difficulty was not the want of friends, and had the whole
government been filled with them, it would have helped little
without the President and the Treasury. Grant avowed from the
start a policy of drift; and a policy of drift attaches only
barnacles. At thirty, one has no interest in becoming a barnacle,
but even in that character Henry Adams would have been ill-seen.
His friends were reformers, critics, doubtful in party
allegiance, and he was himself an object of suspicion. Grant had
no objects, wanted no help, wished for no champions. The
Executive asked only to be let alone. This was his meaning when
he said: "Let us have peace! "

No one wanted to go into opposition. As for Adams, all his
hopes of success in life turned on his finding an administration
to support. He knew well enough the rules of self-interest. He
was for sale. He wanted to be bought. His price was excessively
cheap, for he did not even ask an office, and had his eye, not on
the Government, but on New York. All he wanted was something to
support; something that would let itself be supported. Luck went
dead against him. For once, he was fifty years in advance of his


FREE FIGHT (1869-1870)

THE old New Englander was apt to be a solitary animal, but the
young New Englander was sometimes human. Judge Hoar brought his
son Sam to Washington, and Sam Hoar loved largely and well. He
taught Adams the charm of Washington spring. Education for
education, none ever compared with the delight of this. The
Potomac and its tributaries squandered beauty. Rock Creek was as
wild as the Rocky Mountains. Here and there a negro log cabin
alone disturbed the dogwood and the judas-tree, the azalea and
the laurel. The tulip and the chestnut gave no sense of struggle
against a stingy nature. The soft, full outlines of the landscape
carried no hidden horror of glaciers in its bosom. The brooding
heat of the profligate vegetation; the cool charm of the running
water; the terrific splendor of the June thunder-gust in the deep
and solitary woods, were all sensual, animal, elemental. No
European spring had shown him the same intermixture of delicate
grace and passionate depravity that marked the Maryland May. He
loved it too much, as though it were Greek and half human. He
could not leave it, but loitered on into July, falling into the
Southern ways of the summer village about La Fayette Square, as
one whose rights of inheritance could not be questioned. Few
Americans were so poor as to question them.

In spite of the fatal deception -- or undeception -- about
Grant's political character, Adams's first winter in Washington
had so much amused him that he had not a thought of change. He
loved it too much to question its value. What did he know about
its value, or what did any one know? His father knew more about
it than any one else in Boston, and he was amused to find that
his father, whose recollections went back to 1820, betrayed for
Washington much the same sentimental weakness, and described the
society about President Monroe much as his son felt the society
about President Johnson. He feared its effect on young men, with
some justice, since it had been fatal to two of his brothers; but
he understood the charm, and he knew that a life in Quincy or
Boston was not likely to deaden it.

Henry was in a savage humor on the subject of Boston. He saw
Boutwells at every counter. He found a personal grief in every
tree. Fifteen or twenty years afterwards, Clarence King used to
amuse him by mourning over the narrow escape that nature had made
in attaining perfection. Except for two mistakes, the earth would
have been a success. One of these errors was the inclination of
the ecliptic; the other was the differentiation of the sexes, and
the saddest thought about the last was that it should have been
so modern. Adams, in his splenetic temper, held that both these
unnecessary evils had wreaked their worst on Boston. The climate
made eternal war on society, and sex was a species of crime. The
ecliptic had inclined itself beyond recovery till life was as
thin as the elm trees. Of course he was in the wrong. The
thinness was in himself, not in Boston; but this is a story of
education, and Adams was struggling to shape himself to his time.
Boston was trying to do the same thing. Everywhere, except in
Washington, Americans were toiling for the same object. Every one
complained of surroundings, except where, as at Washington, there
were no surroundings to complain of. Boston kept its head better
than its neighbors did, and very little time was needed to prove
it, even to Adams's confusion.

Before he got back to Quincy, the summer was already half over,
and in another six weeks the effects of President Grant's
character showed themselves. They were startling -- astounding --
terrifying. The mystery that shrouded the famous, classical
attempt of Jay Gould to corner gold in September, 1869, has never
been cleared up -- at least so far as to make it intelligible to
Adams. Gould was led, by the change at Washington, into the
belief that he could safely corner gold without interference from
the Government. He took a number of precautions, which he
admitted; and he spent a large sum of money, as he also
testified, to obtain assurances which were not sufficient to have
satisfied so astute a gambler; yet he made the venture. Any
criminal lawyer must have begun investigation by insisting,
rigorously, that no such man, in such a position, could be
permitted to plead that he had taken, and pursued, such a course,
without assurances which did satisfy him. The plea was
professionally inadmissible.

This meant that any criminal lawyer would have been bound to
start an investigation by insisting that Gould had assurances
from the White House or the Treasury, since none other could have
satisfied him. To young men wasting their summer at Quincy for
want of some one to hire their services at three dollars a day,
such a dramatic scandal was Heaven-sent. Charles and Henry Adams
jumped at it like salmon at a fly, with as much voracity as Jay
Gould, or his ame damnee Jim Fisk, had ever shown for Erie; and
with as little fear of consequences. They risked something; no
one could say what; but the people about the Erie office were not
regarded as lambs.

The unravelling a skein so tangled as that of the Erie Railway
was a task that might have given months of labor to the most
efficient District Attorney, with all his official tools to work
with. Charles took the railway history; Henry took the so-called
Gold Conspiracy; and they went to New York to work it up. The
surface was in full view. They had no trouble in Wall Street, and
they paid their respects in person to the famous Jim Fisk in his
Opera-House Palace; but the New York side of the story helped
Henry little. He needed to penetrate the political mystery, and
for this purpose he had to wait for Congress to meet. At first he
feared that Congress would suppress the scandal, but the
Congressional Investigation was ordered and took place. He soon
knew all that was to be known; the material for his essay was
furnished by the Government.

Material furnished by a government seldom satisfies critics or
historians, for it lies always under suspicion. Here was a
mystery, and as usual, the chief mystery was the means of making
sure that any mystery existed. All Adams's great friends -- Fish,
Cox, Hoar, Evarts, Sumner, and their surroundings -- were
precisely the persons most mystified. They knew less than Adams
did; they sought information, and frankly admitted that their
relations with the White House and the Treasury were not
confidential. No one volunteered advice. No one offered
suggestion. One got no light, even from the press, although press
agents expressed in private the most damning convictions with
their usual cynical frankness. The Congressional Committee took a
quantity of evidence which it dared not probe, and refused to
analyze. Although the fault lay somewhere on the Administration,
and could lie nowhere else, the trail always faded and died out
at the point where any member of the Administration became
visible. Every one dreaded to press inquiry. Adams himself feared
finding out too much. He found out too much already, when he saw
in evidence that Jay Gould had actually succeeded in stretching
his net over Grant's closest surroundings, and that Boutwell's
incompetence was the bottom of Gould's calculation. With the
conventional air of assumed confidence, every one in public
assured every one else that the President himself was the savior
of the situation, and in private assured each other that if the
President had not been caught this time, he was sure to be
trapped the next, for the ways of Wall Street were dark and
double. All this was wildly exciting to Adams. That Grant should
have fallen, within six months, into such a morass -- or should
have let Boutwell drop him into it -- rendered the outlook for
the next four years -- probably eight -- possibly twelve --
mysterious, or frankly opaque, to a young man who had hitched his
wagon, as Emerson told him, to the star of reform. The country
might outlive it, but not he. The worst scandals of the
eighteenth century were relatively harmless by the side of this,
which smirched executive, judiciary, banks, corporate systems,
professions, and people, all the great active forces of society,
in one dirty cesspool of vulgar corruption. Only six months
before, this innocent young man, fresh from the cynicism of
European diplomacy, had expected to enter an honorable career in
the press as the champion and confidant of a new Washington, and
already he foresaw a life of wasted energy, sweeping the stables
of American society clear of the endless corruption which his
second Washington was quite certain to breed.

By vigorously shutting one's eyes, as though one were an
Assistant Secretary, a writer for the press might ignore the Erie
scandal, and still help his friends or allies in the Government
who were doing their best to give it an air of decency; but a few
weeks showed that the Erie scandal was a mere incident, a rather
vulgar Wall Street trap, into which, according to one's point of
view Grant had been drawn by Jay Gould, or Jay Gould had been
misled by Grant. One could hardly doubt that both of them were
astonished and disgusted by the result; but neither Jay Gould nor
any other astute American mind -- still less the complex Jew --
could ever have accustomed itself to the incredible and
inexplicable lapses of Grant's intelligence; and perhaps, on the
whole, Gould was the less mischievous victim, if victims they
both were. The same laxity that led Gould into a trap which might
easily have become the penitentiary, led the United States
Senate, the Executive departments and the Judiciary into
confusion, cross-purposes, and ill-temper that would have been
scandalous in a boarding-school of girls. For satirists or
comedians, the study was rich and endless, and they exploited its
corners with happy results, but a young man fresh from the rustic
simplicity of London noticed with horror that the grossest
satires on the American Senator and politician never failed to
excite the laughter and applause of every audience. Rich and poor
joined in throwing contempt on their own representatives. Society
laughed a vacant and meaningless derision over its own failure.
Nothing remained for a young man without position or power except
to laugh too.

Yet the spectacle was no laughing matter to him, whatever it
might be to the public. Society is immoral and immortal; it can
afford to commit any kind of folly, and indulge in any sort of
vice; it cannot be killed, and the fragments that survive can
always laugh at the dead; but a young man has only one chance,
and brief time to seize it. Any one in power above him can
extinguish the chance. He is horribly at the mercy of fools and
cowards. One dull administration can rapidly drive out every
active subordinate. At Washington, in 1869-70, every intelligent
man about the Government prepared to go. The people would have
liked to go too, for they stood helpless before the chaos; some
laughed and some raved; all were disgusted; but they had to
content themselves by turning their backs and going to work
harder than ever on their railroads and foundries. They were
strong enough to carry even their politics. Only the helpless
remained stranded in Washington.

The shrewdest statesman of all was Mr. Boutwell, who showed how
he understood the situation by turning out of the Treasury every
one who could interfere with his repose, and then locking himself
up in it, alone. What he did there, no one knew. His colleagues
asked him in vain. Not a word could they get from him, either in
the Cabinet or out of it, of suggestion or information on matters
even of vital interest. The Treasury as an active influence
ceased to exist. Mr. Boutwell waited with confidence for society
to drag his department out of the mire, as it was sure to do if
he waited long enough.

Warned by his friends in the Cabinet as well as in the Treasury
that Mr. Boutwell meant to invite no support, and cared to
receive none, Adams had only the State and Interior Departments
left to serve. He wanted no better than to serve them. Opposition
was his horror; pure waste of energy; a union with Northern
Democrats and Southern rebels who never had much in common with
any Adams, and had never shown any warm interest about them
except to drive them from public life. If Mr. Boutwell turned him
out of the Treasury with the indifference or contempt that made
even a beetle helpless, Mr. Fish opened the State Department
freely, and seemed to talk with as much openness as any
newspaper-man could ask. At all events, Adams could cling to this
last plank of salvation, and make himself perhaps the recognized
champion of Mr. Fish in the New York press. He never once thought
of his disaster between Seward and Sumner in 1861. Such an
accident could not occur again. Fish and Sumner were inseparable,
and their policy was sure to be safe enough for support. No
mosquito could be so unlucky as to be caught a second time
between a Secretary and a Senator who were both his friends.

This dream of security lasted hardly longer than that of 1861.
Adams saw Sumner take possession of the Department, and he
approved; he saw Sumner seize the British mission for Motley, and
he was delighted; but when he renewed his relations with Sumner
in the winter of 1869-70, he began slowly to grasp the idea that
Sumner had a foreign policy of his own which he proposed also to
force on the Department. This was not all. Secretary Fish seemed
to have vanished. Besides the Department of State over which he
nominally presided in the Infant Asylum on Fourteenth Street,
there had risen a Department of Foreign Relations over which
Senator Sumner ruled with a high hand at the Capitol; and,
finally, one clearly made out a third Foreign Office in the War
Department, with President Grant himself for chief, pressing a
policy of extension in the West Indies which no Northeastern man
ever approved. For his life, Adams could not learn where to place
himself among all these forces. Officially he would have followed
the responsible Secretary of State, but he could not find the
Secretary. Fish seemed to be friendly towards Sumner, and docile
towards Grant, but he asserted as yet no policy of his own. As
for Grant's policy, Adams never had a chance to know fully what
it was, but, as far as he did know, he was ready to give it
ardent support. The difficulty came only when he heard Sumner's
views, which, as he had reason to know, were always commands, to
be disregarded only by traitors.

Little by little, Sumner unfolded his foreign policy, and Adams
gasped with fresh astonishment at every new article of the creed.
To his profound regret he heard Sumner begin by imposing his veto
on all extension within the tropics; which cost the island of St.
Thomas to the United States, besides the Bay of Samana as an
alternative, and ruined Grant's policy. Then he listened with
incredulous stupor while Sumner unfolded his plan for
concentrating and pressing every possible American claim against
England, with a view of compelling the cession of Canada to the
United States.

Adams did not then know -- in fact, he never knew, or could
find any one to tell him -- what was going on behind the doors of
the White House. He doubted whether Mr. Fish or Bancroft Davis
knew much more than he. The game of cross-purposes was as
impenetrable in Foreign Affairs as in the Gold Conspiracy.
President Grant let every one go on, but whom he supported, Adams
could not be expected to divine. One point alone seemed clear to
a man -- no longer so very young -- who had lately come from a
seven years' residence in London. He thought he knew as much as
any one in Washington about England, and he listened with the
more perplexity to Mr. Sumner's talk, because it opened the
gravest doubts of Sumner's sanity. If war was his object, and
Canada were worth it, Sumner's scheme showed genius, and Adams
was ready to treat it seriously; but if he thought he could
obtain Canada from England as a voluntary set-off to the Alabama
Claims, he drivelled. On the point of fact, Adams was as
peremptory as Sumner on the point of policy, but he could only
wonder whether Mr. Fish would dare say it. When at last Mr. Fish
did say it, a year later, Sumner publicly cut his acquaintance.
Adams was the more puzzled because he could not believe Sumner so
mad as to quarrel both with Fish and with Grant. A quarrel with
Seward and Andrew Johnson was bad enough, and had profited no
one; but a quarrel with General Grant was lunacy. Grant might be
whatever one liked, as far as morals or temper or intellect were
concerned, but he was not a man whom a light-weight cared to
challenge for a fight; and Sumner, whether he knew it or not, was
a very light weight in the Republican Party, if separated from
his Committee of Foreign Relations. As a party manager he had not
the weight of half-a-dozen men whose very names were unknown to

Between these great forces, where was the Administration and
how was one to support it? One must first find it, and even then
it was not easily caught. Grant's simplicity was more
disconcerting than the complexity of a Talleyrand. Mr. Fish
afterwards told Adams, with the rather grim humor he sometimes
indulged in, that Grant took a dislike to Motley because he
parted his hair in the middle. Adams repeated the story to
Godkin, who made much play with it in the Nation, till it was
denied. Adams saw no reason why it should be denied. Grant had as
good a right to dislike the hair as the head, if the hair seemed
to him a part of it. Very shrewd men have formed very sound
judgments on less material than hair -- on clothes, for example,
according to Mr. Carlyle, or on a pen, according to Cardinal de
Retz -- and nine men in ten could hardly give as good a reason as
hair for their likes or dislikes. In truth, Grant disliked Motley
at sight, because they had nothing in common; and for the same
reason he disliked Sumner. For the same reason he would be sure
to dislike Adams if Adams gave him a chance. Even Fish could not
be quite sure of Grant, except for the powerful effect which
wealth had, or appeared to have, on Grant's imagination.

The quarrel that lowered over the State Department did not
break in storm till July, 1870, after Adams had vanished, but
another quarrel, almost as fatal to Adams as that between Fish
and Sumner, worried him even more. Of all members of the Cabinet,
the one whom he had most personal interest in cultivating was
Attorney General Hoar. The Legal Tender decision, which had been
the first stumbling-block to Adams at Washington, grew in
interest till it threatened to become something more serious than
a block; it fell on one's head like a plaster ceiling, and could
not be escaped. The impending battle between Fish and Sumner was
nothing like so serious as the outbreak between Hoar and Chief
Justice Chase. Adams had come to Washington hoping to support the
Executive in a policy of breaking down the Senate, but he never
dreamed that he would be required to help in breaking down the
Supreme Court. Although, step by step, he had been driven, like
the rest of the world, to admit that American society had
outgrown most of its institutions, he still clung to the Supreme
Court, much as a churchman clings to his bishops, because they
are his only symbol of unity; his last rag of Right. Between the
Executive and the Legislature, citizens could have no Rights;
they were at the mercy of Power. They had created the Court to
protect them from unlimited Power, and it was little enough
protection at best. Adams wanted to save the independence of the
Court at least for his lifetime, and could not conceive that the
Executive should wish to overthrow it.

Frank Walker shared this feeling, and, by way of helping the
Court, he had promised Adams for the North American Review an
article on the history of the Legal Tender Act, founded on a
volume just then published by Spaulding, the putative father of
the legal-tender clause in 1861. Secretary Jacob D. Cox, who
alone sympathized with reform, saved from Boutwell's decree of
banishment such reformers as he could find place for, and he
saved Walker for a time by giving him the Census of 1870. Walker
was obliged to abandon his article for the North American in
order to devote himself to the Census. He gave Adams his notes,
and Adams completed the article.

He had not toiled in vain over the Bank of England Restriction.
He knew enough about Legal Tender to leave it alone. If the banks
and bankers wanted fiat money, fiat money was good enough for a
newspaper-man; and if they changed about and wanted "intrinsic"
value, gold and silver came equally welcome to a writer who was
paid half the wages of an ordinary mechanic. He had no notion of
attacking or defending Legal Tender; his object was to defend the
Chief Justice and the Court. Walker argued that, whatever might
afterwards have been the necessity for legal tender, there was no
necessity for it at the time the Act was passed. With the help of
the Chief Justice's recollections, Adams completed the article,
which appeared in the April number of the North American. Its
ferocity was Walker's, for Adams never cared to abandon the knife
for the hatchet, but Walker reeked of the army and the
Springfield Republican, and his energy ran away with Adams's
restraint. The unfortunate Spaulding complained loudly of this
treatment, not without justice, but the article itself had
serious historical value, for Walker demolished every shred of
Spaulding's contention that legal tender was necessary at the
time; and the Chief Justice told his part of the story with
conviction. The Chief Justice seemed to be pleased. The Attorney
General, pleased or not, made no sign. The article had enough
historical interest to induce Adams to reprint it in a volume of
Essays twenty years afterwards; but its historical value was not
its point in education. The point was that, in spite of the best
intentions, the plainest self-interest, and the strongest wish to
escape further trouble, the article threw Adams into opposition.
Judge Hoar, like Boutwell, was implacable.

Hoar went on to demolish the Chief Justice; while Henry Adams
went on, drifting further and further from the Administration. He
did this in common with all the world, including Hoar himself.
Scarcely a newspaper in the country kept discipline. The New York
Tribune was one of the most criminal. Dissolution of ties in
every direction marked the dissolution of temper, and the Senate
Chamber became again a scene of irritated egotism that passed
ridicule. Senators quarrelled with each other, and no one
objected, but they picked quarrels also with the Executive and
threw every Department into confusion. Among others they
quarrelled with Hoar, and drove him from office.

That Sumner and Hoar, the two New Englanders in great position
who happened to be the two persons most necessary for his success
at Washington, should be the first victims of Grant's lax rule,
must have had some meaning for Adams's education, if Adams could
only have understood what it was. He studied, but failed.
Sympathy with him was not their weakness. Directly, in the form
of help, he knew he could hope as little from them as from
Boutwell. So far from inviting attachment they, like other New
Englanders, blushed to own a friend. Not one of the whole
delegation would ever, of his own accord, try to help Adams or
any other young man who did not beg for it, although they would
always accept whatever services they had not to pay for. The
lesson of education was not there. The selfishness of politics
was the earliest of all political education, and Adams had
nothing to learn from its study; but the situation struck him as
curious -- so curious that he devoted years to reflecting upon
it. His four most powerful friends had matched themselves, two
and two, and were fighting in pairs to a finish; Sumner-Fish;
Chase-Hoar; with foreign affairs and the judiciary as prizes!
What value had the fight in education?

Adams was puzzled, and was not the only puzzled bystander. The
stage-type of statesman was amusing, whether as Roscoe Conkling
or Colonel Mulberry Sellers, but what was his value? The
statesmen of the old type, whether Sumners or Conklings or Hoars
or Lamars, were personally as honest as human nature could
produce. They trod with lofty contempt on other people's jobs,
especially when there was good in them. Yet the public thought
that Sumner and Conkling cost the country a hundred times more
than all the jobs they ever trod on; just as Lamar and the old
Southern statesmen, who were also honest in money-matters, cost
the country a civil war. This painful moral doubt worried Adams
less than it worried his friends and the public, but it affected
the whole field of politics for twenty years. The newspapers
discussed little else than the alleged moral laxity of Grant,
Garfield, and Blaine. If the press were taken seriously, politics
turned on jobs, and some of Adams's best friends, like Godkin,
ruined their influence by their insistence on points of morals.
Society hesitated, wavered, oscillated between harshness and
laxity, pitilessly sacrificing the weak, and deferentially
following the strong. In spite of all such criticism, the public
nominated Grant, Garfield, and Blaine for the Presidency, and
voted for them afterwards, not seeming to care for the question;
until young men were forced to see that either some new standard
must be created, or none could be upheld. The moral law had
expired -- like the Constitution.

Grant's administration outraged every rule of ordinary decency,
but scores of promising men, whom the country could not well
spare, were ruined in saying so. The world cared little for
decency. What it wanted, it did not know; probably a system that
would work, and men who could work it; but it found neither.
Adams had tried his own little hands on it, and had failed. His
friends had been driven out of Washington or had taken to
fisticuffs. He himself sat down and stared helplessly into the

The result was a review of the Session for the July North
American into which he crammed and condensed everything he
thought he had observed and all he had been told. He thought it
good history then, and he thought it better twenty years
afterwards; he thought it even good enough to reprint. As it
happened, in the process of his devious education, this "Session"
of 1869-70 proved to be his last study in current politics, and
his last dying testament as a humble member of the press. As
such, he stood by it. He could have said no more, had he gone on
reviewing every session in the rest of the century. The political
dilemma was as clear in 1870 as it was likely to be in 1970 The
system of 1789 had broken down, and with it the
eighteenth-century fabric of a priori, or moral, principles.
Politicians had tacitly given it up. Grant's administration
marked the avowal. Nine-tenths of men's political energies must
henceforth be wasted on expedients to piece out -- to patch --
or, in vulgar language, to tinker -- the political machine as
often as it broke down. Such a system, or want of system, might
last centuries, if tempered by an occasional revolution or civil
war; but as a machine, it was, or soon would be, the poorest in
the world -- the clumsiest -- the most inefficient

Here again was an education, but what it was worth he could not
guess. Indeed, when he raised his eyes to the loftiest and most
triumphant results of politics -- to Mr. Boutwell, Mr. Conkling
or even Mr. Sumner -- he could not honestly say that such an
education, even when it carried one up to these unattainable
heights, was worth anything. There were men, as yet standing on
lower levels -- clever and amusing men like Garfield and Blaine

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