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The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

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-- who took no little pleasure in making fun of the senatorial
demi-gods, and who used language about Grant himself which the
North American Review would not have admitted. One asked
doubtfully what was likely to become of these men in their turn.
What kind of political ambition was to result from this
destructive political education?

Yet the sum of political life was, or should have been, the
attainment of a working political system. Society needed to reach
it. If moral standards broke down, and machinery stopped working,
new morals and machinery of some sort had to be invented. An
eternity of Grants, or even of Garfields or of Conklings or of
Jay Goulds, refused to be conceived as possible. Practical
Americans laughed, and went their way. Society paid them to be
practical. Whenever society cared to pay Adams, he too would be
practical, take his pay, and hold his tongue; but meanwhile he
was driven to associate with Democratic Congressmen and educate
them. He served David Wells as an active assistant professor of
revenue reform, and turned his rooms into a college. The
Administration drove him, and thousands of other young men, into
active enmity, not only to Grant, but to the system or want of
system, which took possession of the President. Every hope or
thought which had brought Adams to Washington proved to be
absurd. No one wanted him; no one wanted any of his friends in
reform; the blackmailer alone was the normal product of politics
as of business.

All this was excessively amusing. Adams never had been so busy,
so interested, so much in the thick of the crowd. He knew
Congressmen by scores and newspaper-men by the dozen. He wrote
for his various organs all sorts of attacks and defences. He
enjoyed the life enormously, and found himself as happy as Sam
Ward or Sunset Cox; much happier than his friends Fish or J. D.
Cox, or Chief Justice Chase or Attorney General Hoar or Charles
Sumner. When spring came, he took to the woods, which were best
of all, for after the first of April, what Maurice de Guerin
called "the vast maternity" of nature showed charms more
voluptuous than the vast paternity of the United States Senate.
Senators were less ornamental than the dogwood or even the
judas-tree. They were, as a rule, less good company. Adams
astonished himself by remarking what a purified charm was lent to
the Capitol by the greatest possible distance, as one caught
glimpses of the dome over miles of forest foliage. At such
moments he pondered on the distant beauty of St. Peter's and the
steps of Ara Coeli.

Yet he shortened his spring, for he needed to get back to
London for the season. He had finished his New York "Gold
Conspiracy," which he meant for his friend Henry Reeve and the
Edinburgh Review. It was the best piece of work he had done, but
this was not his reason for publishing it in England. The Erie
scandal had provoked a sort of revolt among respectable New
Yorkers, as well as among some who were not so respectable; and
the attack on Erie was beginning to promise success. London was a
sensitive spot for the Erie management, and it was thought well
to strike them there, where they were socially and financially
exposed. The tactics suited him in another way, for any
expression about America in an English review attracted ten times
the attention in America that the same article would attract in
the North American. Habitually the American dailies reprinted
such articles in full. Adams wanted to escape the terrors of
copyright, his highest ambition was to be pirated and advertised
free of charge, since in any case, his pay was nothing. Under the
excitement of chase he was becoming a pirate himself, and liked


CHAOS (1870)

ONE fine May afternoon in 1870 Adams drove again up St. James's
Street wondering more than ever at the marvels of life. Nine
years had passed since the historic entrance of May, 1861.
Outwardly London was the same. Outwardly Europe showed no great
change. Palmerston and Russell were forgotten; but Disraeli and
Gladstone were still much alive. One's friends were more than
ever prominent. John Bright was in the Cabinet; W. E. Forster was
about to enter it; reform ran riot. Never had the sun of progress
shone so fair. Evolution from lower to higher raged like an
epidemic. Darwin was the greatest of prophets in the most
evolutionary of worlds. Gladstone had overthrown the Irish
Church; was overthrowing the Irish landlords; was trying to pass
an Education Act. Improvement, prosperity, power, were leaping
and bounding over every country road. Even America, with her Erie
scandals and Alabama Claims, hardly made a discordant note.

At the Legation, Motley ruled; the long Adams reign was
forgotten; the rebellion had passed into history. In society no
one cared to recall the years before the Prince of Wales. The
smart set had come to their own. Half the houses that Adams had
frequented, from 1861 to 1865, were closed or closing in 1870.
Death had ravaged one's circle of friends. Mrs. Milnes Gaskell
and her sister Miss Charlotte Wynn were both dead, and Mr. James
Milnes Gaskell was no longer in Parliament. That field of
education seemed closed too.

One found one's self in a singular frame of mind -- more
eighteenth-century than ever -- almost rococo -- and unable to
catch anywhere the cog-wheels of evolution. Experience ceased to
educate. London taught less freely than of old. That one bad
style was leading to another -- that the older men were more
amusing than the younger -- that Lord Houghton's breakfast-table
showed gaps hard to fill -- that there were fewer men one wanted
to meet -- these, and a hundred more such remarks, helped little
towards a quicker and more intelligent activity. For English
reforms Adams cared nothing. The reforms were themselves
mediaeval. The Education Bill of his friend W. E. Forster seemed
to him a guaranty against all education he had use for. He
resented change. He would have kept the Pope in the Vatican and
the Queen at Windsor Castle as historical monuments. He did not
care to Americanize Europe. The Bastille or the Ghetto was a
curiosity worth a great deal of money, if preserved; and so was a
Bishop; so was Napoleon III. The tourist was the great
conservative who hated novelty and adored dirt. Adams came back
to London without a thought of revolution or restlessness or
reform. He wanted amusement, quiet, and gaiety.

Had he not been born in 1838 under the shadow of Boston State
House, and been brought up in the Early Victorian epoch, he would
have cast off his old skin, and made his court to Marlborough
House, in partnership with the American woman and the Jew banker.
Common-sense dictated it; but Adams and his friends were
unfashionable by some law of Anglo-Saxon custom -- some innate
atrophy of mind. Figuring himself as already a man of action, and
rather far up towards the front, he had no idea of making a new
effort or catching up with a new world. He saw nothing ahead of
him. The world was never more calm. He wanted to talk with
Ministers about the Alabama Claims, because he looked on the
Claims as his own special creation, discussed between him and his
father long before they had been discussed by Government; he
wanted to make notes for his next year's articles; but he had not
a thought that, within three months, his world was to be upset,
and he under it. Frank Palgrave came one day, more contentious,
contemptuous, and paradoxical than ever, because Napoleon III
seemed to be threatening war with Germany. Palgrave said that
"Germany would beat France into scraps" if there was war. Adams
thought not. The chances were always against catastrophes. No one
else expected great changes in Europe. Palgrave was always
extreme; his language was incautious -- violent!

In this year of all years, Adams lost sight of education.
Things began smoothly, and London glowed with the pleasant sense
of familiarity and dinners. He sniffed with voluptuous delight
the coal-smoke of Cheapside and revelled in the architecture of
Oxford Street. May Fair never shone so fair to Arthur Pendennis
as it did to the returned American. The country never smiled its
velvet smile of trained and easy hostess as it did when he was so
lucky as to be asked on a country visit. He loved it all --
everything -- had always loved it! He felt almost attached to the
Royal Exchange. He thought he owned the St. James's Club. He
patronized the Legation.

The first shock came lightly, as though Nature were playing
tricks on her spoiled child, though she had thus far not exerted
herself to spoil him. Reeve refused the Gold Conspiracy. Adams
had become used to the idea that he was free of the Quarterlies,
and that his writing would be printed of course; but he was
stunned by the reason of refusal. Reeve said it would bring
half-a-dozen libel suits on him. One knew that the power of Erie
was almost as great in England as in America, but one was hardly
prepared to find it controlling the Quarterlies. The English
press professed to be shocked in 1870 by the Erie scandal, as it
had professed in 1860 to be shocked by the scandal of slavery,
but when invited to support those who were trying to abate these
scandals, the English press said it was afraid. To Adams, Reeve's
refusal seemed portentous. He and his brother and the North
American Review were running greater risks every day, and no one
thought of fear. That a notorious story, taken bodily from an
official document, should scare the Endinburgh Review into
silence for fear of Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, passed even Adams's
experience of English eccentricity, though it was large.

He gladly set down Reeve's refusal of the Gold Conspiracy to
respectability and editorial law, but when he sent the manuscript
on to the Quarterly, the editor of the Quarterly also refused it.
The literary standard of the two Quarterlies was not so high as
to suggest that the article was illiterate beyond the power of an
active and willing editor to redeem it. Adams had no choice but
to realize that he had to deal in 1870 with the same old English
character of 1860, and the same inability in himself to
understand it. As usual, when an ally was needed, the American
was driven into the arms of the radicals. Respectability,
everywhere and always, turned its back the moment one asked to do
it a favor. Called suddenly away from England, he despatched the
article, at the last moment, to the Westminster Review and heard
no more about it for nearly six months.

He had been some weeks in London when he received a telegram
from his brother-in-law at the Bagni di Lucca telling him that
his sister had been thrown from a cab and injured, and that he
had better come on. He started that night, and reached the Bagni
di Lucca on the second day. Tetanus had already set in.

The last lesson -- the sum and term of education -- began then.
He had passed through thirty years of rather varied experience
without having once felt the shell of custom broken. He had never
seen Nature -- only her surface -- the sugar-coating that she
shows to youth. Flung suddenly in his face, with the harsh
brutality of chance, the terror of the blow stayed by him
thenceforth for life, until repetition made it more than the will
could struggle with; more than he could call on himself to bear.
He found his sister, a woman of forty, as gay and brilliant in
the terrors of lockjaw as she had been in the careless fun of
1859, lying in bed in consequence of a miserable cab-accident
that had bruised her foot. Hour by hour the muscles grew rigid,
while the mind remained bright, until after ten days of fiendish
torture she died in convulsion.

One had heard and read a great deal about death, and even seen
a little of it, and knew by heart the thousand commonplaces of
religion and poetry which seemed to deaden one's senses and veil
the horror. Society being immortal, could put on immortality at
will. Adams being mortal, felt only the mortality. Death took
features altogether new to him, in these rich and sensuous
surroundings. Nature enjoyed it, played with it, the horror added
to her charm, she liked the torture, and smothered her victim
with caresses. Never had one seen her so winning. The hot Italian
summer brooded outside, over the market-place and the picturesque
peasants, and, in the singular color of the Tuscan atmosphere,
the hills and vineyards of the Apennines seemed bursting with
mid-summer blood. The sick-room itself glowed with the Italian
joy of life; friends filled it; no harsh northern lights pierced
the soft shadows; even the dying women shared the sense of the
Italian summer, the soft, velvet air, the humor, the courage, the
sensual fulness of Nature and man. She faced death, as women
mostly do, bravely and even gaily, racked slowly to
unconsciousness, but yielding only to violence, as a soldier
sabred in battle. For many thousands of years, on these hills and
plains, Nature had gone on sabring men and women with the same
air of sensual pleasure.

Impressions like these are not reasoned or catalogued in the
mind; they are felt as part of violent emotion; and the mind that
feels them is a different one from that which reasons; it is
thought of a different power and a different person. The first
serious consciousness of Nature's gesture -- her attitude towards
life -- took form then as a phantasm, a nightmare, an insanity of
force. For the first time, the stage-scenery of the senses
collapsed; the human mind felt itself stripped naked, vibrating
in a void of shapeless energies, with resistless mass, colliding,
crushing, wasting, and destroying what these same energies had
created and labored from eternity to perfect. Society became
fantastic, a vision of pantomime with a mechanical motion; and
its so-called thought merged in the mere sense of life, and
pleasure in the sense. The usual anodynes of social medicine
became evident artifice. Stoicism was perhaps the best; religion
was the most human; but the idea that any personal deity could
find pleasure or profit in torturing a poor woman, by accident,
with a fiendish cruelty known to man only in perverted and insane
temperaments, could not be held for a moment. For pure blasphemy,
it made pure atheism a comfort. God might be, as the Church said,
a Substance, but He could not be a Person.

With nerves strained for the first time beyond their power of
tension, he slowly travelled northwards with his friends, and
stopped for a few days at Ouchy to recover his balance in a new
world; for the fantastic mystery of coincidences had made the
world, which he thought real, mimic and reproduce the distorted
nightmare of his personal horror. He did not yet know it, and he
was twenty years in finding it out; but he had need of all the
beauty of the Lake below and of the Alps above, to restore the
finite to its place. For the first time in his life, Mont Blanc
for a moment looked to him what it was -- a chaos of anarchic and
purposeless forces -- and he needed days of repose to see it
clothe itself again with the illusions of his senses, the white
purity of its snows, the splendor of its light, and the infinity
of its heavenly peace. Nature was kind; Lake Geneva was beautiful
beyond itself, and the Alps put on charms real as terrors; but
man became chaotic, and before the illusions of Nature were
wholly restored, the illusions of Europe suddenly vanished,
leaving a new world to learn.

On July 4, all Europe had been in peace; on July 14, Europe was
in full chaos of war. One felt helpless and ignorant, but one
might have been king or kaiser without feeling stronger to deal
with the chaos. Mr. Gladstone was as much astounded as Adams; the
Emperor Napoleon was nearly as stupefied as either, and Bismarck:
himself hardly knew how he did it. As education, the out-break of
the war was wholly lost on a man dealing with death hand-to-hand,
who could not throw it aside to look at it across the Rhine. Only
when he got up to Paris, he began to feel the approach of
catastrophe. Providence set up no affiches to announce the
tragedy. Under one's eyes France cut herself adrift, and floated
off, on an unknown stream, towards a less known ocean. Standing
on the curb of the Boulevard, one could see as much as though one
stood by the side of the Emperor or in command of an army corps.
The effect was lurid. The public seemed to look on the war, as it
had looked on the wars of Louis XIV and Francis I, as a branch of
decorative art. The French, like true artists, always regarded
war as one of the fine arts. Louis XIV practiced it; Napoleon I
perfected it; and Napoleon III had till then pursued it in the
same spirit with singular success. In Paris, in July, 1870, the
war was brought out like an opera of Meyerbeer. One felt one's
self a supernumerary hired to fill the scene. Every evening at
the theatre the comedy was interrupted by order, and one stood up
by order, to join in singing the Marseillaise to order. For
nearly twenty years one had been forbidden to sing the
Marseillaise under any circumstances, but at last regiment after
regiment marched through the streets shouting "Marchons!" while
the bystanders cared not enough to join. Patriotism seemed to
have been brought out of the Government stores, and distributed
by grammes per capita. One had seen one's own people dragged
unwillingly into a war, and had watched one's own regiments march
to the front without sign of enthusiasm; on the contrary, most
serious, anxious, and conscious of the whole weight of the
crisis; but in Paris every one conspired to ignore the crisis,
which every one felt at hand. Here was education for the million,
but the lesson was intricate. Superficially Napoleon and his
Ministers and marshals were playing a game against Thiers and
Gambetta. A bystander knew almost as little as they did about the
result. How could Adams prophesy that in another year or two,
when he spoke of his Paris and its tastes, people would smile at
his dotage?

As soon as he could, he fled to England and once more took
refuge in the profound peace of Wenlock Abbey. Only the few
remaining monks, undisturbed by the brutalities of Henry VIII --
three or four young Englishmen -- survived there, with Milnes
Gaskell acting as Prior. The August sun was warm; the calm of the
Abbey was ten times secular; not a discordant sound -- hardly a
sound of any sort except the cawing of the ancient rookery at
sunset -- broke the stillness; and, after the excitement of the
last month, one felt a palpable haze of peace brooding over the
Edge and the Welsh Marches. Since the reign of Pterspis, nothing
had greatly changed; nothing except the monks. Lying on the turf
the ground littered with newspapers, the monks studied the war
correspondence. In one respect Adams had succeeded in educating
himself; he had learned to follow a campaign.

While at Wenlock, he received a letter from President Eliot
inviting him to take an Assistant Professorship of History, to be
created shortly at Harvard College. After waiting ten or a dozen
years for some one to show consciousness of his existence, even a
Terabratula would be pleased and grateful for a compliment which
implied that the new President of Harvard College wanted his
help; but Adams knew nothing about history, and much less about
teaching, while he knew more than enough about Harvard College;
and wrote at once to thank President Eliot, with much regret that
the honor should be above his powers. His mind was full of other
matters. The summer, from which he had expected only amusement
and social relations with new people, had ended in the most
intimate personal tragedy, and the most terrific political
convulsion he had ever known or was likely to know. He had failed
in every object of his trip. The Quarterlies had refused his best
essay. He had made no acquaintances and hardly picked up the old
ones. He sailed from Liverpool, on September 1, to begin again
where he had started two years before, but with no longer a hope
of attaching himself to a President or a party or a press. He was
a free lance and no other career stood in sight or mind. To that
point education had brought him.

Yet he found, on reaching home, that he had not done quite so
badly as he feared. His article on the Session in the July North
American had made a success. Though he could not quite see what
partisan object it served, he heard with flattered astonishment
that it had been reprinted by the Democratic National Committee
and circulated as a campaign document by the hundred thousand
copies. He was henceforth in opposition, do what he might; and a
Massachusetts Democrat, say what he pleased; while his only
reward or return for this partisan service consisted in being
formally answered by Senator Timothy Howe, of Wisconsin, in a
Republican campaign document, presumed to be also freely
circulated, in which the Senator, besides refuting his opinions,
did him the honor -- most unusual and picturesque in a Senator's
rhetoric -- of likening him to a begonia.

The begonia is, or then was, a plant of such senatorial
qualities as to make the simile, in intention, most flattering.
Far from charming in its refinement, the begonia was remarkable
for curious and showy foliage; it was conspicuous; it seemed to
have no useful purpose; and it insisted on standing always in the
most prominent positions. Adams would have greatly liked to be a
begonia in Washington, for this was rather his ideal of the
successful statesman, and he thought about it still more when the
Westminster Review for October brought him his article on the
Gold Conspiracy, which was also instantly pirated on a great
scale. Piratical he was himself henceforth driven to be, and he
asked only to be pirated, for he was sure not to be paid; but the
honors of piracy resemble the colors of the begonia; they are
showy but not useful. Here was a tour de force he had never
dreamed himself equal to performing: two long, dry, quarterly,
thirty or forty page articles, appearing in quick succession, and
pirated for audiences running well into the hundred thousands;
and not one person, man or woman, offering him so much as a
congratulation, except to call him a begonia.

Had this been all, life might have gone on very happily as
before, but the ways of America to a young person of literary and
political tastes were such as the so-called evolution of
civilized man had not before evolved. No sooner had Adams made at
Washington what he modestly hoped was a sufficient success, than
his whole family set on him to drag him away. For the first time
since 1861 his father interposed; his mother entreated; and his
brother Charles argued and urged that he should come to Harvard
College. Charles had views of further joint operations in a new
field. He said that Henry had done at Washington all he could
possibly do; that his position there wanted solidity; that he
was, after all, an adventurer; that a few years in Cambridge
would give him personal weight; that his chief function was not
to be that of teacher, but that of editing the North American
Review which was to be coupled with the professorship, and would
lead to the daily press. In short, that he needed the university
more than the university needed him.

Henry knew the university well enough to know that the
department of history was controlled by one of the most astute
and ideal administrators in the world -- Professor Gurney -- and
that it was Gurney who had established the new professorship, and
had cast his net over Adams to carry the double load of mediaeval
history and the Review. He could see no relation whatever between
himself and a professorship. He sought education; he did not sell
it. He knew no history; he knew only a few historians; his
ignorance was mischievous because it was literary, accidental,
indifferent. On the other hand he knew Gurney, and felt much
influenced by his advice. One cannot take one's self quite
seriously in such matters; it could not much affect the sum of
solar energies whether one went on dancing with girls in
Washington, or began talking to boys at Cambridge. The good
people who thought it did matter had a sort of right to guide.
One could not reject their advice; still less disregard their

The sum of the matter was that Henry went out to Cambridge and
had a few words with President Eliot which seemed to him almost
as American as the talk about diplomacy with his father ten years
before. "But, Mr. President," urged Adams, "I know nothing about
Mediaeval History." With the courteous manner and bland smile so
familiar for the next generation of Americans Mr. Eliot mildly
but firmly replied, "If you will point out to me any one who
knows more, Mr. Adams, I will appoint him." The answer was
neither logical nor convincing, but Adams could not meet it
without overstepping his privileges. He could not say that, under
the circumstances, the appointment of any professor at all seemed
to him unnecessary.

So, at twenty-four hours' notice, he broke his life in halves
again in order to begin a new education, on lines he had not
chosen, in subjects for which he cared less than nothing; in a
place he did not love, and before a future which repelled.
Thousands of men have to do the same thing, but his case was
peculiar because he had no need to do it. He did it because his
best and wisest friends urged it, and he never could make up his
mind whether they were right or not. To him this kind of
education was always false. For himself he had no doubts. He
thought it a mistake; but his opinion did not prove that it was
one, since, in all probability, whatever he did would be more or
less a mistake. He had reached cross-roads of education which all
led astray. What he could gain at Harvard College he did not
know, but in any case it was nothing he wanted. What he lost at
Washington he could partly see, but in any case it was not
fortune. Grant's administration wrecked men by thousands, but
profited few. Perhaps Mr. Fish was the solitary exception. One
might search the whole list of Congress, Judiciary, and Executive
during the twenty-five years 1870 to 1895, and find little but
damaged reputation. The period was poor in purpose and barren in

Henry Adams, if not the rose, lived as near it as any
politician, and knew, more or less, all the men in any way
prominent at Washington, or knew all about them. Among them, in
his opinion, the best equipped, the most active-minded, and most
industrious was Abram Hewitt, who sat in Congress for a dozen
years, between 1874 and 1886, sometimes leading the House and
always wielding influence second to none. With nobody did Adams
form closer or longer relations than with Mr. Hewitt, whom he
regarded as the most useful public man in Washington; and he was
the more struck by Hewitt's saying, at the end of his laborious
career as legislator, that he left behind him no permanent result
except the Act consolidating the Surveys. Adams knew no other man
who had done so much, unless Mr. Sherman's legislation is
accepted as an instance of success. Hewitt's nearest rival would
probably have been Senator Pendleton who stood father to civil
service reform in 1882, an attempt to correct a vice that should
never have been allowed to be born. These were the men who

The press stood in much the same light. No editor, no political
writer, and no public administrator achieved enough good
reputation to preserve his memory for twenty years. A number of
them achieved bad reputations, or damaged good ones that had been
gained in the Civil War. On the whole, even for Senators,
diplomats, and Cabinet officers, the period was wearisome and

None of Adams's generation profited by public activity unless
it were William C. Whitney, and even he could not be induced to
return to it. Such ambitions as these were out of one's reach,
but supposing one tried for what was feasible, attached one's
self closely to the Garfields, Arthurs, Frelinghuysens, Blaines,
Bayards, or Whitneys, who happened to hold office; and supposing
one asked for the mission to Belgium or Portugal, and obtained
it; supposing one served a term as Assistant Secretary or Chief
of Bureau; or, finally, supposing one had gone as sub-editor on
the New York Tribune or Times -- how much more education would
one have gained than by going to Harvard College? These questions
seemed better worth an answer than most of the questions on
examination papers at college or in the civil service; all the
more because one never found an answer to them, then or
afterwards, and because, to his mind, the value of American
society altogether was mixed up with the value of Washington.

At first, the simple beginner, struggling with principles,
wanted throw off responsibility on the American people, whose
bare and toiling shoulders had to carry the load of every social
or political stupidity; but the American people had no more to do
with it than with the customs of Peking. American character might
perhaps account for it, but what accounted for American
character? All Boston, all New England, and all respectable New
York, including Charles Francis Adams the father and Charles
Francis Adams the son, agreed that Washington was no place for a
respectable young man. All Washington, including Presidents,
Cabinet officers, Judiciary, Senators, Congressmen, and clerks,
expressed the same opinion, and conspired to drive away every
young man who happened to be there or tried to approach. Not one
young man of promise remained in the Government service. All
drifted into opposition. The Government did not want them in
Washington. Adams's case was perhaps the strongest because he
thought he had done well. He was forced to guess it, since he
knew no one who would have risked so extravagant a step as that
of encouraging a young man in a literary career, or even in a
political one; society forbade it, as well as residence in a
political capital; but Harvard College must have seen some hope
for him, since it made him professor against his will; even the
publishers and editors of the North American Review must have
felt a certain amount of confidence in him, since they put the
Review in his hands. After all, the Review was the first literary
power in America, even though it paid almost as little in gold as
the United States Treasury. The degree of Harvard College might
bear a value as ephemeral as the commission of a President of the
United States; but the government of the college, measured by
money alone, and patronage, was a matter of more importance than
that of some branches of the national service. In social
position, the college was the superior of them all put together.
In knowledge, she could assert no superiority, since the
Government made no claims, and prided itself on ignorance. The
service of Harvard College was distinctly honorable; perhaps the
most honorable in America; and if Harvard College thought Henry
Adams worth employing at four dollars a day, why should
Washington decline his services when he asked nothing? Why should
he be dragged from a career he liked in a place he loved, into a
career he detested, in a place and climate he shunned? Was it
enough to satisfy him, that all America should call Washington
barren and dangerous? What made Washington more dangerous than
New York?

The American character showed singular limitations which
sometimes drove the student of civilized man to despair. Crushed
by his own ignorance -- lost in the darkness of his own gropings
-- the scholar finds himself jostled of a sudden by a crowd of
men who seem to him ignorant that there is a thing called
ignorance; who have forgotten how to amuse themselves; who cannot
even understand that they are bored. The American thought of
himself as a restless, pushing, energetic, ingenious person,
always awake and trying to get ahead of his neighbors. Perhaps
this idea of the national character might be correct for New York
or Chicago; it was not correct for Washington. There the American
showed himself, four times in five, as a quiet, peaceful, shy
figure, rather in the mould of Abraham Lincoln, somewhat sad,
sometimes pathetic, once tragic; or like Grant, inarticulate,
uncertain, distrustful of himself, still more distrustful of
others, and awed by money. That the American, by temperament,
worked to excess, was true; work and whiskey were his stimulants;
work was a form of vice; but he never cared much for money or
power after he earned them. The amusement of the pursuit was all
the amusement he got from it; he had no use for wealth. Jim Fisk
alone seemed to know what he wanted; Jay Gould never did. At
Washington one met mostly such true Americans, but if one wanted
to know them better, one went to study them in Europe. Bored,
patient, helpless; pathetically dependent on his wife and
daughters; indulgent to excess; mostly a modest, decent,
excellent, valuable citizen; the American was to be met at every
railway station in Europe, carefully explaining to every listener
that the happiest day of his life would be the day he should land
on the pier at New York. He was ashamed to be amused; his mind no
longer answered to the stimulus of variety; he could not face a
new thought. All his immense strength his intense nervous energy,
his keen analytic perceptions, were oriented in one direction,
and he could not change it. Congress was full of such men; in the
Senate, Sumner was almost the only exception; in the Executive,
Grant and Boutwell were varieties of the type -- political
specimens -- pathetic in their helplessness to do anything with
power when it came to them. They knew not how to amuse
themselves; they could not conceive how other people were amused.
Work, whiskey, and cards were life. The atmosphere of political
Washington was theirs -- or was supposed by the outside world to
be in their control -- and this was the reason why the outside
world judged that Washington was fatal even for a young man of
thirty-two, who had passed through the whole variety of
temptations, in every capital of Europe, for a dozen years; who
never played cards, and who loathed whiskey.


FAILURE (1871)

FAR back in childhood, among its earliest memories, Henry Adams
could recall his first visit to Harvard College. He must have
been nine years old when on one of the singularly gloomy winter
afternoons which beguiled Cambridgeport, his mother drove him out
to visit his aunt, Mrs. Everett. Edward Everett was then
President of the college and lived in the old President's House
on Harvard Square. The boy remembered the drawing-room, on the
left of the hall door, in which Mrs. Everett received them. He
remembered a marble greyhound in the corner. The house had an air
of colonial self-respect that impressed even a nine-year-old

When Adams closed his interview with President Eliot, he asked
the Bursar about his aunt's old drawing-room, for the house had
been turned to base uses. The room and the deserted kitchen
adjacent to it were to let. He took them. Above him, his brother
Brooks, then a law student, had rooms, with a private staircase.
Opposite was J. R. Dennett, a young instructor almost as literary
as Adams himself, and more rebellious to conventions. Inquiry
revealed a boarding-table, somewhere in the neighborhood, also
supposed to be superior in its class. Chauncey Wright, Francis
Wharton, Dennett, John Fiske, or their equivalents in learning
and lecture, were seen there, among three or four law students
like Brooks Adams. With these primitive arrangements, all of them
had to be satisfied. The standard was below that of Washington,
but it was, for the moment, the best.

For the next nine months the Assistant Professor had no time to
waste on comforts or amusements. He exhausted all his strength in
trying to keep one day ahead of his duties. Often the stint ran
on, till night and sleep ran short. He could not stop to think
whether he were doing the work rightly. He could not get it done
to please him, rightly or wrongly, for he never could satisfy
himself what to do.

The fault he had found with Harvard College as an undergraduate
must have been more or less just, for the college was making a
great effort to meet these self-criticisms, and had elected
President Eliot in 1869 to carry out its reforms. Professor
Gurney was one of the leading reformers, and had tried his hand
on his own department of History. The two full Professors of
History -- Torrey and Gurney, charming men both -- could not
cover the ground. Between Gurney's classical courses and Torrey's
modern ones, lay a gap of a thousand years, which Adams was
expected to fill. The students had already elected courses
numbered 1, 2, and 3, without knowing what was to be taught or
who was to teach. If their new professor had asked what idea was
in their minds, they must have replied that nothing at all was in
their minds, since their professor had nothing in his, and down
to the moment he took his chair and looked his scholars in the
face, he had given, as far as he could remember, an hour, more or
less, to the Middle Ages.

Not that his ignorance troubled him! He knew enough to be
ignorant. His course had led him through oceans of ignorance; he
had tumbled from one ocean into another till he had learned to
swim; but even to him education was a serious thing. A parent
gives life, but as parent, gives no more. A murderer takes life,
but his deed stops there. A teacher affects eternity; he can
never tell where his influence stops. A teacher is expected to
teach truth, and may perhaps flatter himself that he does so, if
he stops with the alphabet or the multiplication table, as a
mother teaches truth by making her child eat with a spoon; but
morals are quite another truth and philosophy is more complex
still. A teacher must either treat history as a catalogue, a
record, a romance, or as an evolution; and whether he affirms or
denies evolution, he falls into all the burning faggots of the
pit. He makes of his scholars either priests or atheists,
plutocrats or socialists, judges or anarchists, almost in spite
of himself. In essence incoherent and immoral, history had either
to be taught as such -- or falsified.

Adams wanted to do neither. He had no theory of evolution to
teach, and could not make the facts fit one. He had no fancy for
telling agreeable tales to amuse sluggish-minded boys, in order
to publish them afterwards as lectures. He could still less
compel his students to learn the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the
Venerable Bede by heart. He saw no relation whatever between his
students and the Middle Ages unless it were the Church, and there
the ground was particularly dangerous. He knew better than though
he were a professional historian that the man who should solve
the riddle of the Middle Ages and bring them into the line of
evolution from past to present, would be a greater man than
Lamarck or Linnaeus; but history had nowhere broken down so
pitiably, or avowed itself so hopelessly bankrupt, as there.
Since Gibbon, the spectacle was almost a scandal. History had
lost even the sense of shame. It was a hundred years behind the
experimental sciences. For all serious purpose, it was less
instructive than Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas.

All this was without offence to Sir Henry Maine, Tyler,
McLennan, Buckle, Auguste Comte, and the various philosophers
who, from time to time, stirred the scandal, and made it more
scandalous. No doubt, a teacher might make some use of these
writers or their theories; but Adams could fit them into no
theory of his own. The college expected him to pass at least half
his time teaching the boys a few elementary dates and relations,
that they might not be a disgrace to the university. This was
formal; and he could frankly tell the boys that, provided they
passed their examinations, they might get their facts where they
liked, and use the teacher only for questions. The only privilege
a student had that was worth his claiming, was that of talking to
the professor, and the professor was bound to encourage it. His
only difficulty on that side was to get them to talk at all. He
had to devise schemes to find what they were thinking about, and
induce them to risk criticism from their fellows. Any large body
of students stifles the student. No man can instruct more than
half-a-dozen students at once. The whole problem of education is
one of its cost in money.

The lecture system to classes of hundreds, which was very much
that of the twelfth century, suited Adams not at all. Barred from
philosophy and bored by facts, he wanted to teach his students
something not wholly useless. The number of students whose minds
were of an order above the average was, in his experience, barely
one in ten; the rest could not be much stimulated by any
inducements a teacher could suggest. All were respectable, and in
seven years of contact, Adams never had cause to complain of one;
but nine minds in ten take polish passively, like a hard surface;
only the tenth sensibly reacts.

Adams thought that, as no one seemed to care what he did, he
would try to cultivate this tenth mind, though necessarily at the
expense of the other nine. He frankly acted on the rule that a
teacher, who knew nothing of his subject, should not pretend to
teach his scholars what he did not know, but should join them in
trying to find the best way of learning it. The rather
pretentious name of historical method was sometimes given to this
process of instruction, but the name smacked of German pedagogy,
and a young professor who respected neither history nor method,
and whose sole object of interest was his students' minds, fell
into trouble enough without adding to it a German parentage.

The task was doomed to failure for a reason which he could not
control. Nothing is easier than to teach historical method, but,
when learned, it has little use. History is a tangled skein that
one may take up at any point, and break when one has unravelled
enough; but complexity precedes evolution. The Pteraspis grins
horribly from the closed entrance. One may not begin at the
beginning, and one has but the loosest relative truths to follow
up. Adams found himself obliged to force his material into some
shape to which a method could be applied. He could think only of
law as subject; the Law School as end; and he took, as victims of
his experiment, half-a-dozen highly intelligent young men who
seemed willing to work. The course began with the beginning, as
far as the books showed a beginning in primitive man, and came
down through the Salic Franks to the Norman English. Since no
textbooks existed, the professor refused to profess, knowing no
more than his students, and the students read what they pleased
and compared their results. As pedagogy, nothing could be more
triumphant. The boys worked like rabbits, and dug holes all over
the field of archaic society; no difficulty stopped them; unknown
languages yielded before their attack, and customary law became
familiar as the police court; undoubtedly they learned, after a
fashion, to chase an idea, like a hare, through as dense a
thicket of obscure facts as they were likely to meet at the bar;
but their teacher knew from his own experience that his wonderful
method led nowhere, and they would have to exert themselves to
get rid of it in the Law School even more than they exerted
themselves to acquire it in the college. Their science had no
system, and could have none, since its subject was merely
antiquarian. Try as hard as he might, the professor could not
make it actual.

What was the use of training an active mind to waste its
energy? The experiments might in time train Adams as a professor,
but this result was still less to his taste. He wanted to help
the boys to a career, but not one of his many devices to
stimulate the intellectual reaction of the student's mind
satisfied either him or the students. For himself he was clear
that the fault lay in the system, which could lead only to
inertia. Such little knowledge of himself as he possessed
warranted him in affirming that his mind required conflict,
competition, contradiction even more than that of the student. He
too wanted a rank-list to set his name upon. His reform of the
system would have begun in the lecture-room at his own desk. He
would have seated a rival assistant professor opposite him, whose
business should be strictly limited to expressing opposite views.
Nothing short of this would ever interest either the professor or
the student; but of all university freaks, no irregularity
shocked the intellectual atmosphere so much as contradiction or
competition between teachers. In that respect the
thirteenth-century university system was worth the whole teaching
of the modern school.

All his pretty efforts to create conflicts of thought among his
students failed for want of system. None met the needs of
instruction. In spite of President Eliot's reforms and his
steady, generous, liberal support, the system remained costly,
clumsy and futile. The university -- as far as it was represented
by Henry Adams -- produced at great waste of time and money
results not worth reaching.

He made use of his lost two years of German schooling to
inflict their results on his students, and by a happy chance he
was in the full tide of fashion. The Germans were crowning their
new emperor at Versailles, and surrounding his head with a halo
of Pepins and Merwigs, Othos and Barbarossas. James Bryce had
even discovered the Holy Roman Empire. Germany was never so
powerful, and the Assistant Professor of History had nothing else
as his stock in trade. He imposed Germany on his scholars with a
heavy hand. He was rejoiced; but he sometimes doubted whether
they should be grateful. On the whole, he was content neither
with what he had taught nor with the way he had taught it. The
seven years he passed in teaching seemed to him lost.

The uses of adversity are beyond measure strange. As a
professor, he regarded himself as a failure. Without false
modesty he thought he knew what he meant. He had tried a great
many experiments, and wholly succeeded in none. He had succumbed
to the weight of the system. He had accomplished nothing that he
tried to do. He regarded the system as wrong; more mischievous to
the teachers than to the students; fallacious from the beginning
to end. He quitted the university at last, in 1877, with a
feeling. that, if it had not been for the invariable courtesy and
kindness shown by every one in it, from the President to the
injured students, he should be sore at his failure.

These were his own feelings, but they seemed not to be felt in
the college. With the same perplexing impartiality that had so
much disconcerted him in his undergraduate days, the college
insisted on expressing an opposite view. John Fiske went so far
in his notice of the family in "Appleton's Cyclopedia," as to say
that Henry had left a great reputation at Harvard College; which
was a proof of John Fiske's personal regard that Adams heartily
returned; and set the kind expression down to camaraderie. The
case was different when President Eliot himself hinted that
Adams's services merited recognition. Adams could have wept on
his shoulder in hysterics, so grateful was he for the rare
good-will that inspired the compliment; but he could not allow
the college to think that he esteemed himself entitled to
distinction. He knew better, and his was among the failures which
were respectable enough to deserve self-respect. Yet nothing in
the vanity of life struck him as more humiliating than that
Harvard College, which he had persistently criticised, abused,
abandoned, and neglected, should alone have offered him a dollar,
an office, an encouragement, or a kindness. Harvard College might
have its faults, but at least it redeemed America, since it was
true to its own.

The only part of education that the professor thought a success
was the students. He found them excellent company. Cast more or
less in the same mould, without violent emotions or sentiment,
and, except for the veneer of American habits, ignorant of all
that man had ever thought or hoped, their minds burst open like
flowers at the sunlight of a suggestion. They were quick to
respond; plastic to a mould; and incapable of fatigue. Their
faith in education was so full of pathos that one dared not ask
them what they thought they could do with education when they got
it. Adams did put the question to one of them, and was surprised
at the answer: "The degree of Harvard College is worth money to
me in Chicago." This reply upset his experience; for the degree
of Harvard College had been rather a drawback to a young man in
Boston and Washington. So far as it went, the answer was good,
and settled one's doubts. Adams knew no better, although he had
given twenty years to pursuing the same education, and was no
nearer a result than they. He still had to take for granted many
things that they need not -- among the rest, that his teaching
did them more good than harm. In his own opinion the greatest
good he could do them was to hold his tongue. They needed much
faith then; they were likely to need more if they lived long.

He never knew whether his colleagues shared his doubts about
their own utility. Unlike himself, they knew more or less their
business. He could not tell his scholars that history glowed with
social virtue; the Professor of Chemistry cared not a chemical
atom whether society was virtuous or not. Adams could not pretend
that mediaeval society proved evolution; the Professor of Physics
smiled at evolution. Adams was glad to dwell on the virtues of
the Church and the triumphs of its art: the Professor of
Political Economy had to treat them as waste of force. They knew
what they had to teach; he did not. They might perhaps be frauds
without knowing it; but he knew certainly nothing else of
himself. He could teach his students nothing; he was only
educating himself at their cost.

Education, like politics, is a rough affair, and every
instructor has to shut his eyes and hold his tongue as though he
were a priest. The students alone satisfied. They thought they
gained something. Perhaps they did, for even in America and in
the twentieth century, life could not be wholly industrial. Adams
fervently hoped that they might remain content; but supposing
twenty years more to pass, and they should turn on him as
fiercely as he had turned on his old instructors -- what answer
could he make? The college had pleaded guilty, and tried to
reform. He had pleaded guilty from the start, and his reforms had
failed before those of the college.

The lecture-room was futile enough, but the faculty-room was
worse. American society feared total wreck in the maelstrom of
political and corporate administration, but it could not look for
help to college dons. Adams knew, in that capacity, both
Congressmen and professors, and he preferred Congressmen. The
same failure marked the society of a college. Several score of
the best- educated, most agreeable, and personally the most
sociable people in America united in Cambridge to make a social
desert that would have starved a polar bear. The liveliest and
most agreeable of men -- James Russell Lowell, Francis J. Child,
Louis Agassiz, his son Alexander, Gurney, John Fiske, William
James and a dozen others, who would have made the joy of London
or Paris -- tried their best to break out and be like other men
in Cambridge and Boston, but society called them professors, and
professors they had to be. While all these brilliant men were
greedy for companionship, all were famished for want of it.
Society was a faculty-meeting without business. The elements were
there; but society cannot be made up of elements -- people who
are expected to be silent unless they have observations to make
-- and all the elements are bound to remain apart if required to
make observations.

Thus it turned out that of all his many educations, Adams
thought that of school-teacher the thinnest. Yet he was forced to
admit that the education of an editor, in some ways, was thinner
still. The editor had barely time to edit; he had none to write.
If copy fell short, he was obliged to scribble a book-review on
the virtues of the Anglo-Saxons or the vices of the Popes; for he
knew more about Edward the Confessor or Boniface VIII than he did
about President Grant. For seven years he wrote nothing; the
Review lived on his brother Charles's railway articles. The
editor could help others, but could do nothing for himself. As a
writer, he was totally forgotten by the time he had been an
editor for twelve months. As editor he could find no writer to
take his place for politics and affairs of current concern. The
Review became chiefly historical. Russell Lowell and Frank
Palgrave helped him to keep it literary. The editor was a
helpless drudge whose successes, if he made any, belonged to his
writers; but whose failures might easily bankrupt himself. Such a
Review may be made a sink of money with captivating ease. The
secrets of success as an editor were easily learned; the highest
was that of getting advertisements. Ten pages of advertising made
an editor a success; five marked him as a failure. The merits or
demerits of his literature had little to do with his results
except when they led to adversity.

A year or two of education as editor satiated most of his
appetite for that career as a profession. After a very slight
experience, he said no more on the subject. He felt willing to
let any one edit, if he himself might write. Vulgarly speaking,
it was a dog's life when it did not succeed, and little better
when it did. A professor had at least the pleasure of associating
with his students; an editor lived the life of an owl. A
professor commonly became a pedagogue or a pedant; an editor
became an authority on advertising. On the whole, Adams preferred
his attic in Washington. He was educated enough. Ignorance paid
better, for at least it earned fifty dollars a month.

With this result Henry Adams's education, at his entry into
life, stopped, and his life began. He had to take that life as he
best could, with such accidental education as luck had given him;
but he held that it was wrong, and that, if he were to begin
again, he would do it on a better system. He thought he knew
nearly what system to pursue. At that time Alexander Agassiz had
not yet got his head above water so far as to serve for a model,
as he did twenty or thirty years afterwards; but the editorship
of the North American Review had one solitary merit; it made the
editor acquainted at a distance with almost every one in the
country who could write or who could be the cause of writing.
Adams was vastly pleased to be received among these clever people
as one of themselves, and felt always a little surprised at their
treating him as an equal, for they all had education; but among
them, only one stood out in extraordinary prominence as the type
and model of what Adams would have liked to be, and of what the
American, as he conceived, should have been and was not.

Thanks to the article on Sir Charles Lyell, Adams passed for a
friend of geologists, and the extent of his knowledge mattered
much less to them than the extent of his friendship, for
geologists were as a class not much better off than himself, and
friends were sorely few. One of his friends from earliest
childhood, and nearest neighbor in Quincy, Frank Emmons, had
become a geologist and joined the Fortieth Parallel Survey under
Government. At Washington in the winter of 1869-70, Emmons had
invited Adams to go out with him on one of the field-parties in
summer. Of course when Adams took the Review he put it at the
service of the Survey, and regretted only that he could not do
more. When the first year of professing and editing was at last
over, and his July North American appeared, he drew a long breath
of relief, and took the next train for the West. Of his year's
work he was no judge. He had become a small spring in a large
mechanism, and his work counted only in the sum; but he had been
treated civilly by everybody, and he felt at home even in Boston.
Putting in his pocket the July number of the North American, with
a notice of the Fortieth Parallel Survey by Professor J. D.
Whitney, he started for the plains and the Rocky Mountains.

In the year 1871, the West was still fresh, and the Union
Pacific was young. Beyond the Missouri River, one felt the
atmosphere of Indians and buffaloes. One saw the last vestiges of
an old education, worth studying if one would; but it was not
that which Adams sought; rather, he came out to spy upon the land
of the future. The Survey occasionally borrowed troopers from the
nearest station in case of happening on hostile Indians, but
otherwise the topographers and geologists thought more about
minerals than about Sioux. They held under their hammers a
thousand miles of mineral country with all its riddles to solve,
and its stores of possible wealth to mark. They felt the future
in their hands.

Emmons's party was out of reach in the Uintahs, but Arnold
Hague's had come in to Laramie for supplies, and they took charge
of Adams for a time. Their wanderings or adventures matter
nothing to the story of education. They were all hardened
mountaineers and surveyors who took everything for granted, and
spared each other the most wearisome bore of English and Scotch
life, the stories of the big game they killed. A bear was an
occasional amusement; a wapiti was a constant necessity; but the
only wild animal dangerous to man was a rattlesnake or a skunk.
One shot for amusement, but one had other matters to talk about.

Adams enjoyed killing big game, but loathed the labor of
cutting it up; so that he rarely unslung the little carbine he
was in a manner required to carry. On the other hand, he liked to
wander off alone on his mule, and pass the day fishing a mountain
stream or exploring a valley. One morning when the party was
camped high above Estes Park, on the flank of Long's Peak, he
borrowed a rod, and rode down over a rough trail into Estes Park,
for some trout. The day was fine, and hazy with the smoke of
forest fires a thousand miles away; the park stretched its
English beauties off to the base of its bordering mountains in
natural landscape and archaic peace; the stream was just fishy
enough to tempt lingering along its banks. Hour after hour the
sun moved westward and the fish moved eastward, or disappeared
altogether, until at last when the fisherman cinched his mule,
sunset was nearer than he thought. Darkness caught him before he
could catch his trail. Not caring to tumble into some fifty-foot
hole, he "allowed" he was lost, and turned back. In half-an-hour
he was out of the hills, and under the stars of Estes Park, but
he saw no prospect of supper or of bed.

Estes Park was large enough to serve for a bed on a summer
night for an army of professors, but the supper question offered
difficulties. There was but one cabin in the Park, near its
entrance, and he felt no great confidence in finding it, but he
thought his mule cleverer than himself, and the dim lines of
mountain crest against the stars fenced his range of error. The
patient mule plodded on without other road than the gentle slope
of the ground, and some two hours must have passed before a light
showed in the distance. As the mule came up to the cabin door,
two or three men came out to see the stranger.

One of these men was Clarence King on his way up to the camp.
Adams fell into his arms. As with most friendships, it was never
a matter of growth or doubt. Friends are born in archaic
horizons; they were shaped with the Pteraspis in Siluria; they
have nothing to do with the accident of space. King had come up
that day from Greeley in a light four-wheeled buggy, over a trail
hardly fit for a commissariat mule, as Adams had reason to know
since he went back in the buggy. In the cabin, luxury provided a
room and one bed for guests. They shared the room and the bed,
and talked till far towards dawn.

King had everything to interest and delight Adams. He knew more
than Adams did of art and poetry; he knew America, especially
west of the hundredth meridian, better than any one; he knew the
professor by heart, and he knew the Congressman better than he
did the professor. He knew even women; even the American woman;
even the New York woman, which is saying much. Incidentally he
knew more practical geology than was good for him, and saw ahead
at least one generation further than the text-books. That he saw
right was a different matter. Since the beginning of time no man
has lived who is known to have seen right; the charm of King was
that he saw what others did and a great deal more. His wit and
humor; his bubbling energy which swept every one into the current
of his interest; his personal charm of youth and manners; his
faculty of giving and taking, profusely, lavishly, whether in
thought or in money as though he were Nature herself, marked him
almost alone among Americans. He had in him something of the
Greek -- a touch of Alcibiades or Alexander. One Clarence King
only existed in the world.

A new friend is always a miracle, but at thirty-three years
old, such a bird of paradise rising in the sage-brush was an
avatar. One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are
hardly possible. Friendship needs a certain parallelism of life,
a community of thought, a rivalry of aim. King, like Adams, and
all their generation, was at that moment passing the critical
point of his career. The one, coming from the west, saturated
with the sunshine of the Sierras, met the other, drifting from
the east, drenched in the fogs of London, and both had the same
problems to handle -- the same stock of implements -- the same
field to work in; above all, the same obstacles to overcome.

As a companion, King's charm was great, but this was not the
quality that so much attracted Adams, nor could he affect even
distant rivalry on this ground. Adams could never tell a story,
chiefly because he always forgot it; and he was never guilty of a
witticism, unless by accident. King and the Fortieth Parallel
influenced him in a way far more vital. The lines of their lives
converged, but King had moulded and directed his life logically,
scientifically, as Adams thought American life should be
directed. He had given himself education all of a piece, yet
broad. Standing in the middle of his career, where their paths at
last came together, he could look back and look forward on a
straight line, with scientific knowledge for its base. Adams's
life, past or future, was a succession of violent breaks or
waves, with no base at all. King's abnormal energy had already
won him great success. None of his contemporaries had done so
much, single-handed, or were likely to leave so deep a trail. He
had managed to induce Congress to adopt almost its first modern
act of legislation. He had organized, as a civil -- not military
-- measure, a Government Survey. He had paralleled the
Continental Railway in Geology; a feat as yet unequalled by other
governments which had as a rule no continents to survey. He was
creating one of the classic scientific works of the century. The
chances were great that he could, whenever he chose to quit the
Government service, take the pick of the gold and silver, copper
or coal, and build up his fortune as he pleased. Whatever prize
he wanted lay ready for him -- scientific social, literary,
political -- and he knew how to take them in turn. With ordinary
luck he would die at eighty the richest and most many-sided
genius of his day.

So little egoistic he was that none of his friends felt envy of
his extraordinary superiority, but rather grovelled before it, so
that women were jealous of the power he had over men; but women
were many and Kings were one. The men worshipped not so much
their friend, as the ideal American they all wanted to be. The
women were jealous because, at heart, King had no faith in the
American woman; he loved types more robust.

The young men of the Fortieth Parallel had Californian
instincts; they were brothers of Bret Harte. They felt no
leanings towards the simple uniformities of Lyell and Darwin;
they saw little proof of slight and imperceptible changes; to
them, catastrophe was the law of change; they cared little for
simplicity and much for complexity; but it was the complexity of
Nature, not of New York or even of the Mississippi Valley. King
loved paradox; he started them like rabbits, and cared for them
no longer, when caught or lost; but they delighted Adams, for
they helped, among other things, to persuade him that history was
more amusing than science. The only question left open to doubt
was their relative money value.

In Emmons's camp, far up in the Uintahs, these talks were
continued till the frosts became sharp in the mountains. History
and science spread out in personal horizons towards goals no
longer far away. No more education was possible for either man.
Such as they were, they had got to stand the chances of the world
they lived in; and when Adams started back to Cambridge, to take
up again the humble tasks of schoolmaster and editor he was
harnessed to his cart. Education, systematic or accidental, had
done its worst. Henceforth, he went on, submissive.



ONCE more! this is a story of education, not of adventure! It
is meant to help young men -- or such as have intelligence enough
to seek help -- but it is not meant to amuse them. What one did
-- or did not do -- with one's education, after getting it, need
trouble the inquirer in no way; it is a personal matter only
which would confuse him. Perhaps Henry Adams was not worth
educating; most keen judges incline to think that barely one man
in a hundred owns a mind capable of reacting to any purpose on
the forces that surround him, and fully half of these react
wrongly. The object of education for that mind should be the
teaching itself how to react with vigor and economy. No doubt the
world at large will always lag so far behind the active mind as
to make a soft cushion of inertia to drop upon, as it did for
Henry Adams; but education should try to lessen the obstacles,
diminish the friction, invigorate the energy, and should train
minds to react, not at haphazard, but by choice, on the lines of
force that attract their world. What one knows is, in youth, of
little moment; they know enough who know how to learn. Throughout
human history the waste of mind has been appalling, and, as this
story is meant to show, society has conspired to promote it. No
doubt the teacher is the worst criminal, but the world stands
behind him and drags the student from his course. The moral is
stentorian. Only the most energetic, the most highly fitted, and
the most favored have overcome the friction or the viscosity of
inertia, and these were compelled to waste three-fourths of their
energy in doing it.

Fit or unfit, Henry Adams stopped his own education in 1871,
and began to apply it for practical uses, like his neighbors. At
the end of twenty years, he found that he had finished, and could
sum up the result. He had no complaint to make against man or
woman. They had all treated him kindly; he had never met with
ill-will, ill-temper, or even ill-manners, or known a quarrel. He
had never seen serious dishonesty or ingratitude. He had found a
readiness in the young to respond to suggestion that seemed to
him far beyond all he had reason to expect. Considering the stock
complaints against the world, he could not understand why he had
nothing to complain of.

During these twenty years he had done as much work, in
quantity, as his neighbors wanted; more than they would ever stop
to look at, and more than his share. Merely in print, he thought
altogether ridiculous the number of volumes he counted on the
shelves of public libraries. He had no notion whether they served
a useful purpose; he had worked in the dark; but so had most of
his friends, even the artists, none of whom held any lofty
opinion of their success in raising the standards of society, or
felt profound respect for the methods or manners of their time,
at home or abroad, but all of whom had tried, in a way, to hold
the standard up. The effort had been, for the older generation,
exhausting, as one could see in the Hunts; but the generation
after 1870 made more figure, not in proportion to public wealth
or in the census, but in their own self-assertion. A fair number
of the men who were born in the thirties had won names --
Phillips Brooks; Bret Harte; Henry James; H. H. Richardson; John
La Farge; and the list might be made fairly long if it were worth
while; but from their school had sprung others, like Augustus St.
Gaudens, McKim, Stanford White, and scores born in the forties,
who counted as force even in the mental inertia of sixty or
eighty million people. Among all these Clarence King, John Hay,
and Henry Adams had led modest existences, trying to fill in the
social gaps of a class which, as yet, showed but thin ranks and
little cohesion. The combination offered no very glittering
prizes, but they pursued it for twenty years with as much
patience and effort as though it led to fame or power, until, at
last, Henry Adams thought his own duties sufficiently performed
and his account with society settled. He had enjoyed his life
amazingly, and would not have exchanged it for any other that
came in his way; he was, or thought he was, perfectly satisfied
with it; but for reasons that had nothing to do with education,
he was tired; his nervous energy ran low; and, like a horse that
wears out, he quitted the race-course, left the stable, and
sought pastures as far as possible from the old. Education had
ended in 1871; life was complete in 1890; the rest mattered so

As had happened so often, he found himself in London when the
question of return imposed its verdict on him after much
fruitless effort to rest elsewhere. The time was the month of
January, 1892; he was alone, in hospital, in the gloom of
midwinter. He was close on his fifty-fourth birthday, and Pall
Mall had forgotten him as completely as it had forgotten his
elders. He had not seen London for a dozen years, and was rather
amused to have only a bed for a world and a familiar black fog
for horizon. The coal-fire smelt homelike; the fog had a fruity
taste of youth; anything was better than being turned out into
the wastes of Wigmore Street. He could always amuse himself by
living over his youth, and driving once more down Oxford Street
in 1858, with life before him to imagine far less amusing than it
had turned out to be.

The future attracted him less. Lying there for a week he
reflected on what he could do next. He had just come up from the
South Seas with John La Farge, who had reluctantly crawled away
towards New York to resume the grinding routine of studio-work at
an age when life runs low. Adams would rather, as choice, have
gone back to the east, if it were only to sleep forever in the
trade-winds under the southern stars, wandering over the dark
purple ocean, with its purple sense of solitude and void. Not
that he liked the sensation, but that it was the most unearthly
he had felt. He had not yet happened on Rudyard Kipling's
"Mandalay," but he knew the poetry before he knew the poem, like
millions of wanderers, who have perhaps alone felt the world
exactly as it is. Nothing attracted him less than the idea of
beginning a new education. The old one had been poor enough; any
new one could only add to its faults. Life had been cut in
halves, and the old half had passed away, education and all,
leaving no stock to graft on.

The new world he faced in Paris and London seemed to him
fantastic Willing to admit it real in the sense of having some
kind of existence outside his own mind, he could not admit it
reasonable. In Paris, his heart sank to mere pulp before the
dismal ballets at the Grand Opera and the eternal vaudeville at
the old Palais Royal; but, except for them, his own Paris of the
Second Empire was as extinct as that of the first Napoleon. At
the galleries and exhibitions, he was racked by the effort of art
to be original, and when one day, after much reflection, John La
Farge asked whether there might not still be room for something
simple in art, Adams shook his head. As he saw the world, it was
no longer simple and could not express itself simply. It should
express what it was; and this was something that neither Adams
nor La Farge understood.

Under the first blast of this furnace-heat, the lights seemed
fairly to go out. He felt nothing in common with the world as it
promised to be. He was ready to quit it, and the easiest path led
back to the east; but he could not venture alone, and the rarest
of animals is a companion. He must return to America to get one.
Perhaps, while waiting, he might write more history, and on the
chance as a last resource, he gave orders for copying everything
he could reach in archives, but this was mere habit. He went home
as a horse goes back to his stable, because he knew nowhere else
to go.

Home was Washington. As soon as Grant's administration ended,
in 1877, and Evarts became Secretary of State, Adams went back
there, partly to write history, but chiefly because his seven
years of laborious banishment, in Boston, convinced him that, as
far as he had a function in life, it was as stable-companion to
statesmen, whether they liked it or not. At about the same time,
old George Bancroft did the same thing, and presently John Hay
came on to be Assistant Secretary of State for Mr. Evarts, and
stayed there to write the "Life" of Lincoln. In 1884 Adams joined
him in employing Richardson to build them adjoining houses on La
Fayette Square. As far as Adams had a home this was it. To the
house on La Fayette Square he must turn, for he had no other
status -- no position in the world.

Never did he make a decision more reluctantly than this of
going back to his manger. His father and mother were dead. All
his family led settled lives of their own. Except for two or
three friends in Washington, who were themselves uncertain of
stay, no one cared whether he came or went, and he cared least.
There was nothing to care about. Every one was busy; nearly every
one seemed contented. Since 1871 nothing had ruffled the surface
of the American world, and even the progress of Europe in her
side-way track to dis-Europeaning herself had ceased to be
After a dreary January in Paris, at last when no excuse could be
persuaded to offer itself for further delay, he crossed the
channel and passed a week with his old friend, Milnes Gaskell, at
Thornes, in Yorkshire, while the westerly gales raved a warning
against going home. Yorkshire in January is not an island in the
South Seas. It has few points of resemblance to Tahiti; not many
to Fiji or Samoa; but, as so often before, it was a rest between
past and future, and Adams was grateful for it.

At last, on February 3, he drove, after a fashion, down the
Irish Channel, on board the Teutonic. He had not crossed the
Atlantic for a dozen years, and had never seen an ocean steamer
of the new type. He had seen nothing new of any sort, or much
changed in France or England. The railways made quicker time, but
were no more comfortable. The scale was the same. The Channel
service was hardly improved since 1858, or so little as to make
no impression. Europe seemed to have been stationary for twenty
years. To a man who had been stationary like Europe, the Teutonic
was a marvel. That he should be able to eat his dinner through a
week of howling winter gales was a miracle. That he should have a
deck stateroom, with fresh air, and read all night, if he chose,
by electric light, was matter for more wonder than life had yet
supplied, in its old forms. Wonder may be double -- even treble.
Adams's wonder ran off into figures. As the Niagara was to the
Teutonic -- as 1860 was to 1890 -- so the Teutonic and 1890 must
be to the next term -- and then? Apparently the question
concerned only America. Western Europe offered no such conundrum.
There one might double scale and speed indefinitely without
passing bounds.

Fate was kind on that voyage. Rudyard Kipling, on his wedding
trip to America, thanks to the mediation of Henry James, dashed
over the passenger his exuberant fountain of gaiety and wit -- as
though playing a garden hose on a thirsty and faded begonia.
Kipling could never know what peace of mind he gave, for he could
hardly ever need it himself so much; and yet, in the full delight
of his endless fun and variety; one felt the old conundrum repeat
itself. Somehow, somewhere, Kipling and the American were not
one, but two, and could not be glued together. The American felt
that the defect, if defect it were, was in himself; he had felt
it when he was with Swinburne, and, again, with Robert Louis
Stevenson, even under the palms of Vailima; but he did not carry
self-abasement to the point of thinking himself singular.
Whatever the defect might be, it was American; it belonged to the
type; it lived in the blood. Whatever the quality might be that
held him apart, it was English; it lived also in the blood; one
felt it little if at all, with Celts, and one yearned
reciprocally among Fiji cannibals. Clarence King used to say that
it was due to discord between the wave-lengths of the man-atoms;
but the theory offered difficulties in measurement. Perhaps,
after all, it was only that genius soars; but this theory, too,
had its dark corners. All through life, one had seen the American
on his literary knees to the European; and all through many lives
back for some two centuries, one had seen the European snub or
patronize the American; not always intentionally, but
effectually. It was in the nature of things. Kipling neither
snubbed nor patronized; he was all gaiety and good-nature; but he
would have been first to feel what one meant. Genius has to pay
itself that unwilling self-respect.

Towards the middle of February, 1892, Adams found himself again
in Washington. In Paris and London he had seen nothing to make a
return to life worth while; in Washington he saw plenty of
reasons for staying dead. Changes had taken place there;
improvements had been made; with time -- much time -- the city
might become habitable according to some fashionable standard;
but all one's friends had died or disappeared several times over,
leaving one almost as strange as in Boston or London. Slowly, a
certain society had built itself up about the Government; houses
had been opened and there was much dining; much calling; much
leaving of cards; but a solitary man counted for less than in
1868. Society seemed hardly more at home than he. Both Executive
and Congress held it aloof. No one in society seemed to have the
ear of anybody in Government. No one in Government knew any
reason for consulting any one in society. The world had ceased to
be wholly political, but politics had become less social. A
survivor of the Civil War -- like George Bancroft, or John Hay --
tried to keep footing, but without brilliant success. They were
free to say or do what they liked; but no one took much notice of
anything said or done.

A presidential election was to take place in November, and no
one showed much interest in the result. The two candidates were
singular persons, of whom it was the common saying that one of
them had no friends; the other, only enemies. Calvin Brice, who
was at that time altogether the wittiest and cleverest member of
the Senate, was in the habit of describing Mr. Cleveland in
glowing terms and at great length, as one of the loftiest natures
and noblest characters of ancient or modern time; "but," he
concluded, "in future I prefer to look on at his proceedings from
the safe summit of some neighboring hill." The same remark
applied to Mr. Harrison. In this respect, they were the greatest
of Presidents, for, whatever harm they might do their enemies,
was as nothing when compared to the mortality they inflicted on
their friends. Men fled them as though they had the evil eye. To
the American people, the two candidates and the two parties were
so evenly balanced that the scales showed hardly a perceptible
difference. Mr. Harrison was an excellent President, a man of
ability and force; perhaps the best President the Republican
Party had put forward since Lincoln's death; yet, on the whole,
Adams felt a shade of preference for President Cleveland, not so
much personally as because the Democrats represented to him the
last remnants of the eighteenth century; the survivors of Hosea
Biglow's Cornwallis; the sole remaining protestants against a
banker's Olympus which had become, for five-and-twenty years,
more and more despotic over Esop's frog-empire. One might no
longer croak except to vote for King Log, or -- failing storks --
for Grover Cleveland; and even then could not be sure where King
Banker lurked behind. The costly education in politics had led to
political torpor. Every one did not share it. Clarence King and
John Hay were loyal Republicans who never for a moment conceived
that there could be merit in other ideals. With King, the feeling
was chiefly love of archaic races; sympathy with the negro and
Indian and corresponding dislike of their enemies; but with Hay,
party loyalty became a phase of being, a little like the loyalty
of a highly cultivated churchman to his Church. He saw all the
failings of the party, and still more keenly those of the
partisans; but he could not live outside. To Adams a Western
Democrat or a Western Republican, a city Democrat or a city
Republican, a W. C. Whitney or a J. G. Blaine, were actually the
same man, as far as their usefulness to the objects of King, Hay,
or Adams was concerned. They graded themselves as friends or
enemies not as Republicans or Democrats. To Hay, the difference
was that of being respectable or not.

Since 1879, King, Hay, and Adams had been inseparable. Step by
step, they had gone on in the closest sympathy, rather shunning
than inviting public position, until, in 1892, none of them held
any post at all. With great effort, in Hayes's administration,
all King's friends, including Abram Hewitt and Carl Schurz, had
carried the bill for uniting the Surveys and had placed King at
the head of the Bureau; but King waited only to organize the
service, and then resigned, in order to seek his private fortune
in the West. Hay, after serving as Assistant Secretary of State
under Secretary Evarts during a part of Hayes's administration,
then also insisted on going out, in order to write with Nicolay
the "Life" of Lincoln. Adams had held no office, and when his
friends asked the reason, he could not go into long explanations,
but preferred to answer simply that no President had ever invited
him to fill one. The reason was good, and was also conveniently
true, but left open an awkward doubt of his morals or capacity.
Why had no President ever cared to employ him? The question
needed a volume of intricate explanation. There never was a day
when he would have refused to perform any duty that the
Government imposed on him, but the American Government never to
his knowledge imposed duties. The point was never raised with
regard to him, or to any one else. The Government required
candidates to offer; the business of the Executive began and
ended with the consent or refusal to confer. The social formula
carried this passive attitude a shade further. Any public man who
may for years have used some other man's house as his own, when
promoted to a position of patronage commonly feels himself
obliged to inquire, directly or indirectly, whether his friend
wants anything; which is equivalent to a civil act of divorce,
since he feels awkward in the old relation. The handsomest
formula, in an impartial choice, was the grandly courteous
Southern phrase of Lamar: "Of course Mr. Adams knows that
anything in my power is at his service." A la disposicion de
Usted! The form must have been correct since it released both
parties. He was right; Mr. Adams did know all about it; a bow and
a conventional smile closed the subject forever, and every one
felt flattered.

Such an intimate, promoted to power, was always lost. His
duties and cares absorbed him and affected his balance of mind.
Unless his friend served some political purpose, friendship was
an effort. Men who neither wrote for newspapers nor made campaign
speeches, who rarely subscribed to the campaign fund, and who
entered the White House as seldom as possible, placed themselves
outside the sphere of usefulness, and did so with entirely
adequate knowledge of what they were doing. They never expected
the President to ask for their services, and saw no reason why he
should do so. As for Henry Adams, in fifty years that he knew
Washington, no one would have been more surprised than himself
had any President ever asked him to perform so much of a service
as to cross the square. Only Texan Congressmen imagined that the
President needed their services in some remote consulate after
worrying him for months to find one.

In Washington this law or custom is universally understood, and
no one's character necessarily suffered because he held no
office. No one took office unless he wanted it; and in turn the
outsider was never asked to do work or subscribe money. Adams saw
no office that he wanted, and he gravely thought that, from his
point of view, in the long run, he was likely to be a more useful
citizen without office. He could at least act as audience, and,
in those days, a Washington audience seldom filled even a small
theatre. He felt quite well satisfied to look on, and from time
to time he thought he might risk a criticism of the players; but
though he found his own position regular, he never quite
understood that of John Hay. The Republican leaders treated Hay
as one of themselves; they asked his services and took his money
with a freedom that staggered even a hardened observer; but they
never needed him in equivalent office. In Washington Hay was the
only competent man in the party for diplomatic work. He
corresponded in his powers of usefulness exactly with Lord
Granville in London, who had been for forty years the saving
grace of every Liberal administration in turn. Had usefulness to
the public service been ever a question, Hay should have had a
first-class mission under Hayes; should have been placed in the
Cabinet by Garfield, and should have been restored to it by
Harrison. These gentlemen were always using him; always invited
his services, and always took his money.

Adams's opinion of politics and politicians, as he frankly
admitted, lacked enthusiasm, although never, in his severest
temper, did he apply to them the terms they freely applied to
each other; and he explained everything by his old explanation of
Grant's character as more or less a general type; but what roused
in his mind more rebellion was the patience and good-nature with
which Hay allowed himself to be used. The trait was not confined
to politics. Hay seemed to like to be used, and this was one of
his many charms; but in politics this sort of good-nature demands
supernatural patience. Whatever astonishing lapses of social
convention the politicians betrayed, Hay laughed equally
heartily, and told the stories with constant amusement, at his
own expense. Like most Americans, he liked to play at making
Presidents, but, unlike most, he laughed not only at the
Presidents he helped to make, but also at himself for laughing.

One must be rich, and come from Ohio or New York, to gratify an
expensive taste like this. Other men, on both political flanks,
did the same thing, and did it well, less for selfish objects
than for the amusement of the game; but Hay alone lived in
Washington and in the centre of the Ohio influences that ruled
the Republican Party during thirty years. On the whole, these
influences were respectable, and although Adams could not, under
any circumstances, have had any value, even financially, for Ohio
politicians, Hay might have much, as he showed, if they only knew
enough to appreciate him. The American politician was
occasionally an amusing object; Hay laughed, and, for want of
other resource, Adams laughed too; but perhaps it was partly
irritation at seeing how President Harrison dealt his cards that
made Adams welcome President Cleveland back to the White House.

At all events, neither Hay nor King nor Adams had much to gain
by reelecting Mr. Harrison in 1892, or by defeating him, as far
as he was concerned; and as far as concerned Mr. Cleveland, they
seemed to have even less personal concern. The whole country, to
outward appearance, stood in much the same frame of mind.
Everywhere was slack-water. Hay himself was almost as languid and
indifferent as Adams. Neither had occupation. Both had finished
their literary work. The "Life" of Lincoln had been begun,
completed, and published hand in hand with the "History" of
Jefferson and Madison, so that between them they had written
nearly all the American history there was to write. The
intermediate period needed intermediate treatment; the gap
between James Madison and Abraham Lincoln could not be judicially
filled by either of them. Both were heartily tired of the
subject, and America seemed as tired as they. What was worse, the
redeeming energy of Americans which had generally served as the
resource of minds otherwise vacant, the creation of new force,
the application of expanding power, showed signs of check. Even
the year before, in 1891, far off in the Pacific, one had met
everywhere in the East a sort of stagnation -- a creeping
paralysis -- complaints of shipping and producers -- that spread
throughout the whole southern hemisphere. Questions of exchange
and silver-production loomed large. Credit was shaken, and a
change of party government might shake it even in Washington. The
matter did not concern Adams, who had no credit, and was always
richest when the rich were poor; but it helped to dull the
vibration of society.

However they studied it, the balance of profit and loss, on the
last twenty years, for the three friends, King, Hay, and Adams,
was exceedingly obscure in 1892. They had lost twenty years, but
what had they gained? They often discussed the question. Hay had
a singular faculty for remembering faces, and would break off
suddenly the thread of his talk, as he looked out of the window
on La Fayette Square, to notice an old corps commander or admiral
of the Civil War, tottering along to the club for his cards or
his cocktail: "There is old Dash who broke the rebel lines at
Blankburg! Think of his having been a thunderbolt of war!" Or
what drew Adams's closer attention: "There goes old Boutwell
gambolling like the gambolling kid!" There they went! Men who had
swayed the course of empire as well as the course of Hay, King,
and Adams, less valued than the ephemeral Congressman behind
them, who could not have told whether the general was a Boutwell
or Boutwell a general. Theirs was the highest known success, and
one asked what it was worth to them. Apart from personal vanity,
what would they sell it for? Would any one of them, from
President downwards, refuse ten thousand a year in place of all
the consideration he received from the world on account of his

Yet consideration had value, and at that time Adams enjoyed
lecturing Augustus St. Gaudens, in hours of depression, on its
economics: "Honestly you must admit that even if you don't pay
your expenses you get a certain amount of advantage from doing
the best work. Very likely some of the really successful
Americans would be willing you should come to dinner sometimes,
if you did not come too often, while they would think twice about
Hay, and would never stand me." The forgotten statesman had no
value at all; the general and admiral not much; the historian but
little; on the whole, the artist stood best, and of course,
wealth rested outside the question, since it was acting as judge;
but, in the last resort, the judge certainly admitted that
consideration had some value as an asset, though hardly as much
as ten -- or five -- thousand a year.

Hay and Adams had the advantage of looking out of their windows
on the antiquities of La Fayette Square, with the sense of having
all that any one had; all that the world had to offer; all that
they wanted in life, including their names on scores of
title-pages and in one or two biographical dictionaries; but this
had nothing to do with consideration, and they knew no more than
Boutwell or St. Gaudens whether to call it success. Hay had
passed ten years in writing the "Life" of Lincoln, and perhaps
President Lincoln was the better for it, but what Hay got from it
was not so easy to see, except the privilege of seeing popular
book-makers steal from his book and cover the theft by abusing
the author. Adams had given ten or a dozen years to Jefferson and
Madison, with expenses which, in any mercantile business, could
hardly have been reckoned at less than a hundred thousand
dollars, on a salary of five thousand a year; and when he asked
what return he got from this expenditure, rather more extravagant
in proportion to his means than a racing-stable, he could see
none whatever. Such works never return money. Even Frank Parkman
never printed a first edition of his relatively cheap and popular
volumes, numbering more than seven hundred copies, until quite at
the end of his life. A thousand copies of a book that cost twenty
dollars or more was as much as any author could expect; two
thousand copies was a visionary estimate unless it were canvassed
for subscription. As far as Adams knew, he had but three serious
readers -- Abram Hewitt, Wayne McVeagh, and Hay himself. He was
amply satisfied with their consideration, and could dispense with
that of the other fifty-nine million, nine hundred and
ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-seven; but neither
he nor Hay was better off in any other respect, and their chief
title to consideration was their right to look out of their
windows on great men, alive or dead, in La Fayette Square, a
privilege which had nothing to do with their writings.

The world was always good-natured; civil; glad to be amused;
open-armed to any one who amused it; patient with every one who
did not insist on putting himself in its way, or costing it
money; but this was not consideration, still less power in any of
its concrete forms, and applied as well or better to a comic
actor. Certainly a rare soprano or tenor voice earned infinitely
more applause as it gave infinitely more pleasure, even in
America; but one does what one can with one's means, and casting
up one's balance sheet, one expects only a reasonable return on
one's capital. Hay and Adams had risked nothing and never played
for high stakes. King had followed the ambitious course. He had
played for many millions. He had more than once come close to a
great success, but the result was still in doubt, and meanwhile
he was passing the best years of his life underground. For
companionship he was mostly lost.

Thus, in 1892, neither Hay, King, nor Adams knew whether they
had attained success, or how to estimate it, or what to call it;
and the American people seemed to have no clearer idea than they.
Indeed, the American people had no idea at all; they were
wandering in a wilderness much more sandy than the Hebrews had
ever trodden about Sinai; they had neither serpents nor golden
calves to worship. They had lost the sense of worship; for the
idea that they worshipped money seemed a delusion. Worship of
money was an old-world trait; a healthy appetite akin to worship
of the Gods, or to worship of power in any concrete shape; but
the American wasted money more recklessly than any one ever did
before; he spent more to less purpose than any extravagant court
aristocracy; he had no sense of relative values, and knew not
what to do with his money when he got it, except use it to make
more, or throw it away. Probably, since human society began, it
had seen no such curious spectacle as the houses of the San
Francisco millionaires on Nob Hill. Except for the railway
system, the enormous wealth taken out of the ground since 1840,
had disappeared. West of the Alleghenies, the whole country might
have been swept clean, and could have been replaced in better
form within one or two years. The American mind had less respect
for money than the European or Asiatic mind, and bore its loss
more easily; but it had been deflected by its pursuit till it
could turn in no other direction. It shunned, distrusted,
disliked, the dangerous attraction of ideals, and stood alone in
history for its ignorance of the past.

Personal contact brought this American trait close to Adams's
notice. His first step, on returning to Washington, took him out
to the cemetery known as Rock Creek, to see the bronze figure
which St. Gaudens had made for him in his absence. Naturally
every detail interested him; every line; every touch of the
artist; every change of light and shade; every point of relation;
every possible doubt of St. Gaudens's correctness of taste or
feeling; so that, as the spring approached, he was apt to stop
there often to see what the figure had to tell him that was new;
but, in all that it had to say, he never once thought of
questioning what it meant. He supposed its meaning to be the one
commonplace about it -- the oldest idea known to human thought.
He knew that if he asked an Asiatic its meaning, not a man,
woman, or child from Cairo to Kamtchatka would have needed more
than a glance to reply. From the Egyptian Sphinx to the Kamakura
Daibuts; from Prometheus to Christ; from Michael Angelo to
Shelley, art had wrought on this eternal figure almost as though
it had nothing else to say. The interest of the figure was not in
its meaning, but in the response of the observer. As Adams sat
there, numbers of people came, for the figure seemed to have
become a tourist fashion, and all wanted to know its meaning.
Most took it for a portrait-statue, and the remnant were
vacant-minded in the absence of a personal guide. None felt what
would have been a nursery-instinct to a Hindu baby or a Japanese
jinricksha-runner. The only exceptions were the clergy, who
taught a lesson even deeper. One after another brought companions
there, and, apparently fascinated by their own reflection, broke
out passionately against the expression they felt in the figure
of despair, of atheism, of denial. Like the others, the priest
saw only what he brought. Like all great artists, St. Gaudens
held up the mirror and no more. The American layman had lost
sight of ideals; the American priest had lost sight of faith.
Both were more American than the old, half-witted soldiers who
denounced the wasting, on a mere grave, of money which should
have been given for drink.

Landed, lost, and forgotten, in the centre of this vast plain
of self-content, Adams could see but one active interest, to
which all others were subservient, and which absorbed the
energies of some sixty million people to the exclusion of every
other force, real or imaginary. The power of the railway system
had enormously increased since 1870. Already the coal output of
160,000,000 tons closely approached the 180,000,000 of the
British Empire, and one held one's breath at the nearness of what
one had never expected to see, the crossing of courses, and the
lead of American energies. The moment was deeply exciting to a
historian, but the railway system itself interested one less than
in 1868, since it offered less chance for future profit. Adams
had been born with the railway system; had grown up with it; had
been over pretty nearly every mile of it with curious eyes, and
knew as much about it as his neighbors; but not there could he
look for a new education. Incomplete though it was, the system
seemed on the whole to satisfy the wants of society better than
any other part of the social machine, and society was content
with its creation, for the time, and with itself for creating it.
Nothing new was to be done or learned there, and the world
hurried on to its telephones, bicycles, and electric trams. At
past fifty, Adams solemnly and painfully learned to ride the

Nothing else occurred to him as a means of new life. Nothing
else offered itself, however carefully he sought. He looked for
no change. He lingered in Washington till near July without
noticing a new idea. Then he went back to England to pass his
summer on the Deeside. In October he returned to Washington and
there awaited the reelection of Mr. Cleveland, which led to no
deeper thought than that of taking up some small notes that
happened to be outstanding. He had seen enough of the world to be
a coward, and above all he had an uneasy distrust of bankers.
Even dead men allow themselves a few narrow prejudices.


CHICAGO (1893)

DRIFTING in the dead-water of the fin-de-siecle -- and during
this last decade every one talked, and seemed to feel
fin-de-siecle -- where not a breath stirred the idle air of
education or fretted the mental torpor of self-content, one lived
alone. Adams had long ceased going into society. For years he had
not dined out of his own house, and in public his face was as
unknown as that of an extinct statesman. He had often noticed
that six months' oblivion amounts to newspaper-death, and that
resurrection is rare. Nothing is easier, if a man wants it, than
rest, profound as the grave.

His friends sometimes took pity on him, and came to share a
meal or pass a night on their passage south or northwards, but
existence was, on the whole, exceedingly solitary, or seemed so
to him. Of the society favorites who made the life of every
dinner- table and of the halls of Congress -- Tom Reed, Bourke
Cockran, Edward Wolcott -- he knew not one. Although Calvin Brice
was his next neighbor for six years, entertaining lavishly as no
one had ever entertained before in Washington, Adams never
entered his house. W. C. Whitney rivalled Senator Brice in
hospitality, and was besides an old acquaintance of the reforming
era, but Adams saw him as little as he saw his chief, President
Cleveland, or President Harrison or Secretary Bayard or Blaine or
Olney. One has no choice but to go everywhere or nowhere. No one
may pick and choose between houses, or accept hospitality without
returning it. He loved solitude as little as others did; but he
was unfit for social work, and he sank under the surface.

Luckily for such helpless animals as solitary men, the world is
not only good-natured but even friendly and generous; it loves to
pardon if pardon is not demanded as a right. Adams's social
offences were many, and no one was more sensitive to it than
himself; but a few houses always remained which he could enter
without being asked, and quit without being noticed. One was John
Hay's; another was Cabot Lodge's; a third led to an intimacy
which had the singular effect of educating him in knowledge of
the very class of American politician who had done most to block
his intended path in life. Senator Cameron of Pennsylvania had
married in 1880 a young niece of Senator John Sherman of Ohio,
thus making an alliance of dynastic importance in politics, and
in society a reign of sixteen years, during which Mrs. Cameron
and Mrs. Lodge led a career, without precedent and without
succession, as the dispensers of sunshine over Washington. Both
of them had been kind to Adams, and a dozen years of this
intimacy had made him one of their habitual household, as he was
of Hay's. In a small society, such ties between houses become
political and social force. Without intention or consciousness,
they fix one's status in the world. Whatever one's preferences in
politics might be, one's house was bound to the Republican
interest when sandwiched between Senator Cameron, John Hay, and
Cabot Lodge, with Theodore Roosevelt equally at home in them all,
and Cecil Spring-Rice to unite them by impartial variety. The
relation was daily, and the alliance undisturbed by power or
patronage, since Mr. Harrison, in those respects, showed little
more taste than Mr. Cleveland for the society and interests of
this particular band of followers, whose relations with the White
House were sometimes comic, but never intimate.

In February, 1893, Senator Cameron took his family to South
Carolina, where he had bought an old plantation at Coffin's Point
on St. Helena Island, and Adams, as one of the family, was taken,
with the rest, to open the new experience. From there he went on
to Havana, and came back to Coffin's Point to linger till near
April. In May the Senator took his family to Chicago to see the
Exposition, and Adams went with them. Early in June, all sailed
for England together, and at last, in the middle of July, all
found themselves in Switzerland, at Prangins, Chamounix, and
Zermatt. On July 22 they drove across the Furka Pass and went
down by rail to Lucerne.

Months of close contact teach character, if character has
interest; and to Adams the Cameron type had keen interest, ever
since it had shipwrecked his career in the person of President
Grant. Perhaps it owed life to Scotch blood; perhaps to the blood
of Adam and Eve, the primitive strain of man; perhaps only to the
blood of the cottager working against the blood of the townsman;
but whatever it was, one liked it for its simplicity. The
Pennsylvania mind, as minds go, was not complex; it reasoned
little and never talked; but in practical matters it was the
steadiest of all American types; perhaps the most efficient;
certainly the safest.

Adams had printed as much as this in his books, but had never
been able to find a type to describe, the two great historical
Pennsylvanians having been, as every one had so often heard,
Benjamin Franklin of Boston and Albert Gallatin of Geneva. Of
Albert Gallatin, indeed, he had made a voluminous study and an
elaborate picture, only to show that he was, if American at all,
a New Yorker, with a Calvinistic strain -- rather Connecticut
than Pennsylvanian. The true Pennsylvanian was a narrower type;
as narrow as the kirk; as shy of other people's narrowness as a
Yankee; as self-limited as a Puritan farmer. To him, none but
Pennsylvanians were white. Chinaman, negro, Dago, Italian,
Englishman, Yankee -- all was one in the depths of Pennsylvanian
consciousness. The mental machine could run only on what it took
for American lines. This was familiar, ever since one's study of
President Grant in 1869; but in 1893, as then, the type was
admirably strong and useful if one wanted only to run on the same
lines. Practically the Pennsylvanian forgot his prejudices when
he allied his interests. He then became supple in action and
large in motive, whatever he thought of his colleagues. When he
happened to be right -- which was, of course, whenever one agreed
with him -- he was the strongest American in America. As an ally
he was worth all the rest, because he understood his own class,
who were always a majority; and knew how to deal with them as no
New Englander could. If one wanted work done in Congress, one did
wisely to avoid asking a New Englander to do it. A Pennsylvanian
not only could do it, but did it willingly, practically, and

Never in the range of human possibilities had a Cameron
believed in an Adams -- or an Adams in a Cameron -- but they had
curiously enough, almost always worked together. The Camerons had
what the Adamses thought the political vice of reaching their
objects without much regard to their methods. The loftiest virtue
of the Pennsylvania machine had never been its scrupulous purity
or sparkling professions. The machine worked by coarse means on
coarse interests, but its practical success had been the most
curious subject of study in American history. When one summed up
the results of Pennsylvanian influence, one inclined to think
that Pennsylvania set up the Government in 1789; saved it in
1861; created the American system; developed its iron and coal
power; and invented its great railways. Following up the same
line, in his studies of American character, Adams reached the
result -- to him altogether paradoxical -- that Cameron's
qualities and defects united in equal share to make him the most
useful member of the Senate.

In the interest of studying, at last, a perfect and favorable
specimen of this American type which had so persistently
suppressed his own, Adams was slow to notice that Cameron
strongly influenced him, but he could not see a trace of any
influence which he exercised on Cameron. Not an opinion or a view
of his on any subject was ever reflected back on him from
Cameron's mind; not even an expression or a fact. Yet the
difference in age was trifling, and in education slight. On the
other hand, Cameron made deep impression on Adams, and in nothing
so much as on the great subject of discussion that year -- the
question of silver.

Adams had taken no interest in the matter, and knew nothing
about it, except as a very tedious hobby of his friend Dana
Horton; but inevitably, from the moment he was forced to choose
sides, he was sure to choose silver. Every political idea and
personal prejudice he ever dallied with held him to the silver
standard, and made a barrier between him and gold. He knew well
enough all that was to be said for the gold standard as economy,
but he had never in his life taken politics for a pursuit of
economy. One might have a political or an economical policy; one
could not have both at the same time. This was heresy in the
English school, but it had always been law in the American.
Equally he knew all that was to be said on the moral side of the
question, and he admitted that his interests were, as Boston
maintained, wholly on the side of gold; but, had they been ten
times as great as they were, he could not have helped his bankers
or croupiers to load the dice and pack the cards to make sure his
winning the stakes. At least he was bound to profess disapproval
-- or thought he was. From early childhood his moral principles
had struggled blindly with his interests, but he was certain of
one law that ruled all others -- masses of men invariably follow
interests in deciding morals. Morality is a private and costly
luxury. The morality of the silver or gold standards was to be
decided by popular vote, and the popular vote would be decided by
interests; but on which side lay the larger interest? To him the
interest was political; he thought it probably his last chance of
standing up for his eighteenth-century principles, strict
construction, limited powers, George Washington, John Adams, and
the rest. He had, in a half-hearted way, struggled all his life
against State Street, banks, capitalism altogether, as he knew it
in old England or new England, and he was fated to make his last
resistance behind the silver standard.

For him this result was clear, and if he erred, he erred in
company with nine men out of ten in Washington, for there was
little difference on the merits. Adams was sure to learn
backwards, but the case seemed entirely different with Cameron, a
typical Pennsylvanian, a practical politician, whom all the
reformers, including all the Adamses. had abused for a lifetime
for subservience to moneyed interests and political jobbery. He
was sure to go with the banks and corporations which had made and
sustained him. On the contrary, he stood out obstinately as the
leading champion of silver in the East. The reformers,
represented by the Evening Post and Godkin, whose personal
interests lay with the gold standard, at once assumed that
Senator Cameron had a personal interest in silver, and denounced
his corruption as hotly as though he had been convicted of taking
a bribe.

More than silver and gold, the moral standard interested Adams.
His own interests were with gold, but he supported silver; the
Evening Post's and Godkin's interests were with gold, and they
frankly said so, yet they avowedly pursued their interests even
into politics; Cameron's interests had always been with the
corporations, yet he supported silver. Thus morality required
that Adams should be condemned for going against his interests;
that Godkin was virtuous in following his interests; and that
Cameron was a scoundrel whatever he did.

Granting that one of the three was a moral idiot, which was it:
-- Adams or Godkin or Cameron? Until a Council or a Pope or a
Congress or the newspapers or a popular election has decided a
question of doubtful morality, individuals are apt to err,
especially when putting money into their own pockets; but in
democracies, the majority alone gives law. To any one who knew
the relative popularity of Cameron and Godkin, the idea of a
popular vote between them seemed excessively humorous; yet the
popular vote in the end did decide against Cameron, for Godkin.

The Boston moralist and reformer went on, as always, like Dr.
Johnson, impatiently stamping his foot and following his
interests, or his antipathies; but the true American, slow to
grasp new and complicated ideas, groped in the dark to discover
where his greater interest lay. As usual, the banks taught him.
In the course of fifty years the banks taught one many wise
lessons for which an insect had to be grateful whether it liked
them or not; but of all the lessons Adams learned from them, none
compared in dramatic effect with that of July 22, 1893, when,
after talking silver all the morning with Senator Cameron on the
top of their travelling-carriage crossing the Furka Pass, they
reached Lucerne in the afternoon, where Adams found letters from
his brothers requesting his immediate return to Boston because
the community was bankrupt and he was probably a beggar.

If he wanted education, he knew no quicker mode of learning a
lesson than that of being struck on the head by it; and yet he
was himself surprised at his own slowness to understand what had
struck him. For several years a sufferer from insomnia, his first
thought was of beggary of nerves, and he made ready to face a
sleepless night, but although his mind tried to wrestle with the
problem how any man could be ruined who had, months before, paid
off every dollar of debt he knew himself to owe, he gave up that
insoluble riddle in order to fall back on the larger principle
that beggary could be no more for him than it was for others who
were more valuable members of society, and, with that, he went to
sleep like a good citizen, and the next day started for Quincy
where he arrived August 7.

As a starting-point for a new education at fifty-five years
old, the shock of finding one's self suspended, for several
months, over the edge of bankruptcy, without knowing how one got
there, or how to get away, is to be strongly recommended. By slow
degrees the situation dawned on him that the banks had lent him,
among others, some money -- thousands of millions were -- as
bankruptcy -- the same -- for which he, among others, was

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