Henry Adams

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

Henry Brooks Adams (16 February 183827 March 1918) was a U.S. historian, journalist, novelist and educator. He was the great-grandson of John Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams and son of Charles Francis Adams, Sr.


It's always the good men who do the most harm in the world.
We never despised the world or its opinions, we only failed to find out its existence.
Man has mounted science, and is now run away with...Someday science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide, by blowing up the world.
  • A period of about twelve years measured the beat of the pendulum. After the Declaration of Independence, twelve years had been needed to create an efficient Constitution; another twelve years of energy brought a reaction against the government then created; a third period of twelve years was ending in a sweep toward still greater energy; and already a child could calculate the result of a few more such returns.
    • A History of the United States of America During the First Administration of James Madison (1890), Vol. II, Ch. VI: Meeting of the Twelfth Congress; 1921 edition, p. 123
  • I disagree with my brother Charles and Theodore Roosevelt. I think that Lee should have been hanged. It was all the worse that he was a good man and a fine character and acted conscientiously. These facts have nothing to do with the case and should not have been allowed to interfere with just penalties. It's always the good men who do the most harm in the world.
    • As quoted in American Heritage (December 1955), p. 44
  • Man has mounted science, and is now run away with. I firmly believe that before many centuries more, science will be the master of men. The engines he will have invented will be beyond his strength to control. Someday science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide, by blowing up the world.
    • Letter to Charles Francis Adams Jr., London, 11 April 1862. In J. C. Levenson, E. Samuels, C. Vandersee and V. Hopkins Winner (eds.), The Letters of Henry Adams: 1858-1868 (1982), 1: 290.
  • I turn green in bed at midnight if I think of the horror of a year's warfare in the Philippines ... We must slaughter a million or two foolish Malays in order to give them the comforts of flannel petticoats and electric railways.
    • Letter to Elizabeth Cameron (22 January 1899), in J. C. Levinson et al. eds., The Letters of Henry Adams, Volume IV: 1892–1899 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1988), p. 670
  • We never despised the world or its opinions, we only failed to find out its existence. The world, if it exists, feels exactly in the same way towards us, and cares not one straw whether we exist or not. Philosophy has never got beyond this point. There are but two schools: one turns the world onto me; the other turns me onto the world; and the result is the same. The so-called me is a very, very small and foolish puppy-dog, but it is all that exists, and it tries all its life to get a little bigger by enlarging its energies, and getting dollars or getting friends.
    • Letter to Elizabeth Cameron (13 May 1905), in Worthington C. Ford ed., Letters of Henry Adams, Volume 2: 1892–1918 (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1938), p. 451
How can we all be right? Half of our wise men declare that the world is going straight to perdition; the other half that it is fast becoming perfect. Both cannot be right.
  • For reasons which many persons thought ridiculous, Mrs. Lightfoot Lee decided to pass the winter in Washington. She was in excellent health, but she said that the climate would do her good.
    • Ch. I, first lines
  • Who, then, is right? How can we all be right? Half of our wise men declare that the world is going straight to perdition; the other half that it is fast becoming perfect. Both cannot be right.
    • Madeleine Lee in Ch. IV
  • I have faith; not perhaps in the old dogmas, but in the new ones; faith in human nature; faith in science; faith in the survival of the fittest. Let us be true to our time, Mrs. Lee!
    • Nathan Gore in Ch. IV
  • I have got so far as to lose the distinction between right and wrong. Isn't that the first step in politics?
    • Madeleine Lee in Ch. VIII
  • She regarded men as creatures made for women to dispose of.
    • About Madeleine, in Ch. XI
  • ...any woman will, under the right conditions, marry any man at any time, provided her "higher nature" is properly appealed to.
    • Ch. XI
  • The audacity of the man would have seemed sublime if she had felt sure that he knew the difference between good and evil, between a lie and the truth; but the more she saw of him, the surer she was that his courage was mere moral paralysis, and that he talked about virtue and vice as a man who is colour-blind talks about red and green; he did not see them as she saw them; if left to choose for himself he would have nothing to guide him. Was it politics that had caused this atrophy of the moral senses by disuse? Meanwhile, here she sat face to face with a moral lunatic.
    • Madeleine Lee assessing Senator Silas P. Ratcliffe in Ch. XIII
I know of nothing useful in life except what is beautiful or creates beauty.
The matter was too serious for any treatment but a joke, and joking made it more serious still.
She fell in love with the cataract and turned to it as a confidant, not because of its beauty or power, but because it seemed to tell her a story which she longed to understand.
  • In this atmosphere of charity, where all faiths were alike and all professions joined hands, the church and the world became one.
    • On a children's hospital, Ch. III
  • Wharton was captivated by her sweet face, and tried to make her understand his theory that the merit of a painting was not so much in what it explained as in what it suggested.
    • Referring to Catherine Brooke, Ch. III
  • An artist must be man, woman and demi-god.
    • Mr. Wharton in Ch. IV
  • I know of nothing useful in life except what is beautiful or creates beauty.
    • Mr. Wharton in Ch. IV
  • One is a saint or one is not; every man can choose the career that suits him; but to be saint and sinner at the same time requires singular ingenuity.
    • Ch. IV
  • This view of the case amused Esther for a time, but not for long — the matter was too serious for any treatment but a joke, and joking made it more serious still.
    • Ch. VII
  • Mystery for mystery science beats religion hollow. I can't open my mouth in my lecture-room without repeating ten times as many unintelligible formulas as ever Hazard is forced to do in his church.
    • George Strong in Ch. VII
  • Every one who marries goes it blind, more or less.
    • George Strong in Ch. VII
  • Like most vigorous-minded men, seeing that there was no stopping-place between dogma and negation, he preferred to accept dogma. Of all weaknesses he most disliked timid and half-hearted faith. He would rather have jumped at once to Strong's pure denial, than yield an inch to the argument that a mystery was to be paltered with because it could not be explained.
    • About the Rev. Stephen Hazard, in Ch. VIII
  • Never was the Church blessed with a stranger ally than this freest of free thinkers, who looked at churches very much as he would have looked at a layer of extinct oysters in a buried mud-bank. Strong's notion was that since the Church continued to exist, it probably served some necessary purpose in human economy, though he could himself no more understand the good of it than he could comprehend the use of human existence in any shape. Since men and women were here, idiotic and purposeless as they might be, they had what they chose to call a right to amuse themselves in their own way, and if this way made some happy without hurting others, Strong was ready enough to help.
    • Ch. VIII
  • I am never afraid of pure atheism; it is the flabby kind of sentimental deism that annoys me, because it is as slippery as air.
    • The Rev. Stephen Hazard in Ch. VIII
  • She fell in love with the cataract and turned to it as a confidant, not because of its beauty or power, but because it seemed to tell her a story which she longed to understand.
  • ...the huge church [...] was thundering its gospel under her eyes.

    To have Niagara for a rival is no joke. Hazard spoke with no such authority; and Esther's next idea was one of wonder how, after listening here, any preacher could have the confidence to preach again. "What do they know about it?" she asked herself. "Which of them can tell a story like this, or a millionth part of it?"

    • Ch. IX
  • As for broken hearts, no self-respecting young woman shows such an ornament at any well regulated breakfast-table; they are kept in dark drawers and closets like other broken furniture.
    • Ch. IX
  • She broke in with a question that staggered him.
    "Does your idea mean that the next world is a sort of great reservoir of truth, and that what is true in us just pours into it like raindrops?"
    "Well!" said he, alarmed and puzzled: "the figure is not perfectly correct, but the idea is a little of that kind."
    "After all I wonder whether that may not be what Niagara has been telling me!" said Esther, and she spoke with an outburst of energy that made Strong's blood run cold.
    • Esther Dudley and George Strong in Ch. IX
  • Some people are made with faith. I am made without it.
    • Esther Dudley in Ch. X
  • As for myself, if I could have removed my doubts by so simple a step as that of becoming an atheist, I should have done it, no matter what scandal or punishment had followed. I studied the subject thoroughly, and found that for one doubt removed, another was raised, only to reach at last a result more inconceivable than that reached by the church, and infinitely more hopeless besides. What do you gain by getting rid of one incomprehensible only to put a greater one in its place, and throw away your only hope besides? The atheists offer no sort of bargain for one's soul. Their scheme is all loss and no gain. At last both they and I come back to a confession of ignorance; the only difference between us is that my ignorance is joined with a faith and hope.
    • The Rev. Stephen Hazard in Ch. X
  • "Do you really believe in the resurrection of the body?" she asked
    "Of course I do!" replied Hazard stiffly.
    "To me it seems a shocking idea. I despise and loathe myself, and yet you thrust self at me from every corner of the church as though I loved and admired it. All religion does nothing but pursue me with self even into the next world."
    • Esther Dudley and Stephen Hazard in Ch. X
  • Esther looked at him with an expression that would have been a smile if it had not been infinitely dreary and absent; then she said, simply and finally:
    "But George, I don't love you, I love him."
    • Ch. X, the last lines of the novel
Religious art is the measure of human depth and sincerity; any triviality, any weakness, cries aloud.
Our age has lost much of its ear for poetry, as it has its eye for color and line, and its taste for war and worship, wine and women.
Chapter I Saint Michiel de la Mer del Peril
  • ...taste is free, and all styles are good which amuse.
Chapter II La Chanson de Roland
Chapter III The Merveille
  • The nineteenth century moved fast and furious, so that one who moved in it felt sometimes giddy, watching it spin; but the eleventh moved faster and more furiously still. The Norman conquest of England was an immense effort, and its consequences were far-reaching, but the first crusade was altogether the most interesting event in European history. Never has the western world shown anything like the energy and unity with which she then flung herself on the East, and for the moment made the East recoil. Barring her family quarrels, Europe was a unity then, in thought, will and object. Christianity was the unit.
  • The outburst of the first crusade was splendid even in a military sense, but it was great beyond comparison in its reflexion in architecture, ornament, poetry, color, religion and philosophy. Its men were astonishing, and its women were worth all the rest.
  • Every ounce of food must be brought from the mainland, or fished from the sea. All the tenants and their farms, their rents and contributions, must be looked after. No secular prince had a more serious task of administration, and none did it so well. Tenants always preferred an Abbot or Bishop for landlord. The Abbey was the highest administrative creation of the middle ages.
  • The whole Mount still kept the grand style; it expressed the unity of Church and State, God and Man, Peace and War, Life and Death, Good and Bad; it solved the whole problem of the universe.
  • Even the discord of war is a detail on which the Abbey refuses to insist. Not till two centuries afterwards did the Mount take on the modern expression of war as a discord in God's providence. Then, in the early years of the fifteenth century, Abbot Pierre le Roy plastered the gate of the Châtelet as you now see it, over the sunny thirteenth-century entrance called Belle Chaise which had treated mere military construction with a sort of quiet contempt. You will know what a Châtelet is when you meet another; it frowns in a spirit quite alien to the twelfth century; it jars on the religion of the place; it forebodes wars of religion; dissolution of society; loss of unity; the end of a world. Nothing is sadder than the catastrophe of gothic art, religion and hope.
Chapter IV Normandy and the Ile de France
  • Among the unexpected revelations of human nature that suddenly astonish historians, one of the least reasonable was the passionate outburst of religious devotion to the ideal of feminine grace, charity and love that took place here in Normandy while it was still a part of the English kingdom, and flamed up into almost fanatical frenzy among the most hard-hearted and hard-headed race in Europe.
  • The complaint of the French artist against the Norman, is the "mesquin" treatment of dividing his tower into stories of equal height. Even in the twelfth century and in religious architecture, artists already struggled over the best solution to this peculiarly American problem of the twentieth century, and when tourists return to New York, they may look at the twenty-story towers which decorate the city, to see whether the Norman or the French plan has won; but this at least will be sure in advance:— the Norman will be the practical scheme which states the facts, and stops; while the French will be the graceful one, which states the beauties and more or less fits the facts to suit them.
    • Mesquin: paltry, unimaginative, prosaic
  • Even theologians — even the great theologians of the thirteenth century,— even Saint Thomas Aquinas himself — did not trust to faith alone, or assume the existence of God.
Chapter V Towers and Portals
  • For a first visit to Chartres, choose some pleasant morning when the lights are soft, for one wants to be welcome, and the Cathedral has moods, at times severe. At best, the Beauce is a country none too gay.
  • The spire is the simplest part of the romanesque or gothic architecture, and needs least study in order to be felt. It is a bit of sentiment almost pure of practical purpose. It tells the whole of its story at a glance, and its story is the best that architecture had to tell, for it typified the aspirations of man at the moment when man's aspirations were highest.
  • First comes the central door-way, and above it is the glory of Christ, as the church at Chartres understood Christ in the year 1150; for the glories of Christ were many, and the Chartres Christ is one. Whatever Christ may have been at other churches, here, on this portal, he offers himself to his flock as the herald of salvation alone. Among all the imagery of these three door-ways, there is no hint of fear, punishment or damnation, and this is the note of the whole time. Before 1200, the Church seems not to have felt the need of appealing habitually to terror; the promise of hope and happiness was enough.
  • At Chartres Christ is identified with his Mother, the spirit of love and grace, and his Church is the Church Triumphant.

    Not only is Fear absent; there is not even a suggestion of pain; there is not a martyr with the symbol of his martyrdom; and what is still more striking, in the sculptured life of Christ, from the Nativity to the Ascension, which adorns the capitals of the columns, the single scene that has been omitted is the Crucifixion. There, as everywhere in this Portal, the artists seem actually to have gone out of their way to avoid a suggestion of suffering.

  • In the center sits Mary, with her crown on her head and her son in her lap, enthroned, receiving the homage of heaven and earth; of all time, ancient and modern; of all thought, Christian and Pagan; of all men, and all women; including if you please, your homage and mine, which she receives without question, as her due; which she cannot be said to claim, because she is above making claims; she is empress. Her left hand bore a sceptre; her right supported the child, who looks directly forward, repeating the mother's attitude, and raises his right hand to bless, while his left rests on the orb of empire. She and her child are one.
  • True artists, turned critics, think also less of rules than of values.
  • The artists and donors and priests forgot nothing which, in their judgment could set off the authority, elegance and refinement of the Queen of Heaven; even the young ladies-in-waiting are there, figured by the twelve Virtues and the fourteen Beatitudes; and indeed, though men are plenty and some of them are handsome, women give the tone, the charm, and mostly the intelligence. The court of Mary is feminine, and its charms are Grace and Love; perhaps even more grace than love, in a social sense, if you look at Beauty and Friendship among Beatitudes.
Chapter VI The Virgin of Chartres
  • If you are to get the full enjoyment of Chartres, you must, for the time, believe in Mary as Bernard and Adam did, and feel her presence as the architects did, in every stone they placed, and in every touch they chiseled. You must try first to rid your mind of the traditional idea that the gothic is an intentional expression of religious gloom. The necessity for light was the motive of the gothic architects. They needed light and always more light, until they sacrificed safety and common-sense in trying to get it. They converted their walls into windows, raised their vaults, diminished their piers, until their churches could no longer stand. You will see the limit at Beauvais; at Chartres we have not got so far, but even here in places where the Virgin wanted it — as above the high altar — the architect has taken all the light there was to take.
  • Every day, as the work went on, the Virgin was present, directing the architects, and it is this direction that we are going to study, if you have now got a realising sense of what it meant. Without this sense, the church is dead. Most persons of a deeply religious nature would tell you emphatically that nine churches out of ten actually were dead-born, after the thirteenth century, and that church architecture became a pure matter of mechanism or mathematics; but that is a question for you to decide when you come to it; and the pleasure consists not in seeing the death, but in feeling the life.
Chapter VII Roses and Apses
  • Like all great churches, that are not mere store-houses of theology, Chartres expressed, besides whatever else it meant, an emotion, the deepest man ever felt,— the struggle of his own littleness to grasp the infinite. You may, if you like, figure in it a mathematic formula of infinity,— the broken arch, our finite idea of space; the spire, pointing, with its converging lines, to Unity beyond space; the sleepless, restless thrust of the vaults, telling the unsatisfied, incomplete, overstrained effort of man to rival the energy, intelligence and purpose of God. Thomas Aquinas and the schoolmen tried to put it in words, but their church is another chapter. In act, all man's work ends there;— mathematics, physics, chemistry, dynamics, optics, every sort of machinery science may invent,— to this favor come at last, as religion and philosophy did before science was born.
  • The wood-carving, the glass windows, the sculpture, inside and out, were done mostly in workshops on the spot, but besides these fixed objects, precious works of the highest perfection filled the church treasuries. Their money-value was great then; it is greater now. No world's-fair is likely to do better today. After five hundred years of spoliation, these objects fill museums still, and are bought with avidity at every auction [....] Royalty and feudality spent their money rather on arms and clothes. The Church alone was universal patron, and the Virgin was the dictator of taste.
  • If you want to know what Churches were made for, come down here on some great festival of the Virgin; but come alone! That kind of knowledge cannot be taught and can seldom be shared. We are not now seeking religion; indeed, true religion generally comes unsought. We are trying only to feel gothic art. For us the world is not a schoolroom or a pulpit, but a stage, and the stage is the highest yet seen on earth. In this church the old romanesque leaps into the gothic under our eyes; of a sudden, between the portal and the shrine, the infinite rises into a new expression, always a rare and excellent miracle in thought.
  • True ignorance approaches the infinite more nearly than any amount of knowledge can do, and, in our case, ignorance is fortified by a certain element of nineteenth-century indifference which refuses to be interested in what it cannot understand; a violent reaction from the thirteenth century which cared little to comprehend anything except the incomprehensible.
  • Any woman would see at once the secret of all this ingenuity and effort. The Chartres apse, enormous in size and width, is exquisitely lighted. Here, as everywhere throughout the church, the windows give the law, but here they actually take place of law.
  • The Chartres apse is as entertaining as all the other Gothic apses together, because it overrides the architect. You may, if you really have no imagination whatever, reject the idea that the Virgin herself made the plan; the feebleness of our fancy is now congenital, organic, beyond stimulant or strychnine, and we shrink like sensitive plants from the touch of a vision or spirit; but at least one can still sometimes feel a woman's taste, and in the apse of Chartres one feels nothing else.
Chapter VIII The Twelfth Century Glass
  • Among the thirteenth-century windows the Western Rose alone seems to affect a rivalry in brilliance with the lancets, and carries it so far that the separate medallions and pictures are quite lost,— especially in direct sunshine,— blending in a confused effect of opals, in a delirium of color and light, with a result like a cluster of stones in jewelry. Assuming as one must, in want of the artist's instruction, that he knew what he wanted to do, and did it, one must take for granted that he treated the Rose as a whole, and aimed at giving it harmony with the three precious windows beneath. The effect is that of a single large ornament; a round breastpin, or what is now called a sun-burst, of jewels, with three large pendants beneath.
  • An artist, if good for anything, foresees what his public will see; and what his public will see is what he ought to have intended — the measure of his genius. If the public sees more than he himself did, this is his credit; if less, this is his fault. No matter how simple or ignorant we are, we ought to feel a discord or a harmony where the artist meant us to feel it, and when we see a motive, we conclude that other people have seen it before us, and that it must therefore have been intended.
  • Never in all these seven hundred years has one of us looked up at this Rose without feeling it to be Our Lady's promise of Paradise.
  • Looking carefully, one discovers at last that this gorgeous combination of all the hues of Paradise contains or hides a Last Judgment [....]

    To the Virgin and her suppliants, as to us, who though outcasts in other churches can still hope in hers, the Last Judgment was not a symbol of God's justice or man's corruption but of her own infinite mercy. The Trinity judged, through Christ;— Christ loved and pardoned, through her. She wielded the last and highest power on earth and in hell. In the glow and beauty of her nature, the light of her Son's infinite love shone as the sunlight through the glass, turning the Last Judgement itself into the highest proof of her divine and supreme authority. The rudest ruffian of the middle-ages, when he looked at this Last Judgment, laughed, for what was the Last Judgment to her! An ornament, a play-thing, a pleasure! a jewelled decoration which she wore on her breast! Her chief joy was to pardon; her eternal instinct was to love; her deepest passion was pity! On her imperial heart the flames of hell showed only the opaline colors of heaven. Christ the Trinity might judge as much as he pleased, but Christ the Mother would rescue; and her servants could look boldly into the flames.

Chapter IX The Legendary Windows
  • Religion is, or ought to be, a feeling.
  • The thirteenth century knew more about religion and decoration than the twentieth century will ever learn.
Chapter X The Court of the Queen of Heaven
  • In this excessive display of armorial bearings — for the two Roses above are crowded with them — one likes to think that these great princes had in their minds not so much the thought of their own importance — which is a modern sort of religion,— as the thought of their devotion to Mary. The assertion of power and attachment by one is met by the assertion of equal devotion by the other, and while both loudly proclaim their homage to the Virgin, each glares defiance across the church.
  • People who suffer beyond the formulas of expression,— who are crushed into silence, and beyond pain,— want no display of emotion,— no bleeding heart,— no weeping at the foot of the Cross,— no hysterics,— no phrases! They want to see God, and to know that he is watching over his own.
Chapter XI The Three Queens
  • The twelfth and thirteenth centuries, studied in the pure light of political economy, are insane. The scientific mind is atrophied, and suffers under inherited cerebral weakness, when it comes in contact with the eternal woman,— Astarte, Isis, Demeter, Aphrodite, and the last and greatest deity of all, the Virgin. Very rarely one lingers, with a mild sympathy, such as suits the patient student of human error, willing to be interested in what he cannot understand. Still more rarely, owing to some revival of archaic instincts, he rediscovers the woman. This is perhaps the mark of the artist alone, and his solitary privilege. The rest of us cannot feel; we can only study. The proper study of mankind is woman, and, by common agreement since the time of Adam, it is the most complex and arduous. The study of Our Lady, as shown by the art of Chartres, leads directly back to Eve, and lays bare the whole subject of sex.

    If it were worthwhile to argue a paradox, one might maintain that nature regards the female as the essential, the male as the superfluity of her world.

  • The superiority of the woman was not a fancy but a fact. Man's business was to fight, or hunt, or feast or make love. The man was also the travelling partner in commerce, commonly absent from home for months together, while the woman carried on the business. The woman ruled the household and the workshop; cared for the economy; supplied the intelligence and dictated the taste. Her ascendancy was secured by her alliance with the Church, into which she sent her most intelligent children; and a priest or clerk, for the most part, counted socially as a woman. Both physically and mentally the woman was robust, as the men often complained, and she did not greatly resent being treated as a man. Sometimes the husband beat her, dragged her about by the hair, locked her up in the house; but he was quite conscious that she always got even with him in the end. As a matter of fact, probably she got more than even. On this point, history, legend, poetry, romance, and especially the popular Fabliaux,— invented to amuse the gross tastes of the coarser class,— are all agreed, and one could give scores of volumes illustrating it.
  • The art is French, but the ideas may have come from anywhere, like the game of chess which the pilgrims or crusaders brought home from Syria. In the oriental game, the King was followed step by step by a Minister whose functions were personal. The crusaders freed the piece from control; gave it liberty to move up or down or diagonally, forwards and backwards; made it the most arbitrary and formidable champion on the board, while the King and the Knight were the most restricted in movement; and this piece they named Queen and called the Virgin.
    • An early French name for the chesspiece known as the Queen was Fierge or Vierge, meaning "Virgin".
  • For a hundred and fifty years the Virgin and Queens ruled French taste and thought so successfully that the French man has never yet quite decided whether to be more proud or ashamed of it. Life has ever since seemed a little flat to him, and art a little cheap. He saw that the woman, in elevating herself, had made him appear ridiculous, and he tried to retaliate with a wit not always sparkling, and too often at his own expense.
  • Shakespeare realised the thirteenth-century woman more vividly than the thirteenth-century poets ever did; but that is no new thing to say of Shakespeare.
  • We are concerned with the artistic and social side of life, and have only to notice the coincidence that while the Virgin was miraculously using the power of spiritual love to elevate and purify the people, Eleanor and her daughters were using the power of earthly love to discipline and refine the Courts. Side by side with the crude realities about them, they insisted on teaching and enforcing an ideal that contradicted the realities, and had no value for them or for us except in the contradiction.

    The ideals of Eleanor and her daughter Mary of Champagne were a form of religion, and if you care to see its evangels, you had best go directly to Dante and Petrarch.

  • Eleanor and her daughter Mary and her granddaughter Blanche knew as well as Saint Bernard did, or Saint Francis, what a brute the emancipated man could be; and as though they foresaw the society of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, they used every terror they could invent as well as every tenderness they could invoke, to tame the beasts around them. Their charge was of manners, and to teach manners, they made a school which they called their Court of Love, with a code of law to which they gave the name of "courteous love". The decisions of this Court were recorded, like the decisions of a modern Bench, under the names of the great ladies who made them, and were enforced by the ladies of good society for whose guidance they were made. They are worth reading, and anyone who likes may read them to this day, with considerable scepticism about their genuineness. The doubt is only ignorance. We do not, and never can, know the twelfth-century woman, or, for that matter, any other woman, but we do know the literature she created; we know the art she lived in, and the religion she professed. We can collect from them some idea why the Virgin Mary ruled, and what she was taken to be, by the world which worshipped her.
  • Courteous love was avowedly a form of drama, but not the less a force of society. Illusion for illusion, courteous love in Thibaut's hands, or in the hands of Dante and Petrarch, was as substantial as any other convention;— the balance of trade, the rights of man, the Athanasian Creed. In that sense the illusions alone were real; if the middle-ages had reflected only what was practical, nothing would have survived for us.
Chapter XII Nicolette and Marion
  • As far as women are concerned, they seem always to have been more clean than the men, except when men painted them in colors which men liked best. Perhaps society was actually cleaner in the thirteenth century than in the sixteenth, as Saint Louis was more decent than Francis I, and as the bath was habitual in the twelfth century and exceptional in the renaissance.
  • The Roman de la Rose is the end of true mediæval poetry [...] Our age calls it false taste, and no doubt our age is right;— every age is right by its own standards as long as its standards amuse it.
    • Adams specifies that he refers "only to the Roman of William of Lorris, which dates from the death of Queen Blanche and of all good things, about 1250". He describes the rather cynical continuation by Jean de Meung, about 1300, as "beyond our horizon".
  • The world had still a long march to make from the Rose of Queen Blanche to the guillotine of Madame du Barry; but the Roman de la Rose made epoch. For the first time since Constantine proclaimed the reign of Christ, a thousand years, or so, before Philip the Fair dethroned him, the deepest expression of social feeling ended with the word: Despair.
Chapter XIII Les Miracles de Notre Dame
  • No one has ventured to explain why the Virgin wielded exclusive power over poor and rich, sinners and saints alike. Why were all the Protestant churches cold failures without her help? Why could not the Holy Ghost,— the spirit of Love and Grace,— equally answer their prayers? Why was the Son powerless? Why was Chartres Cathedral — like Lourdes today — the expression of what is in substance a separate religion? Why did the gentle and gracious Virgin Mother so exasperate the Pilgrim Father? Why was the Woman struck out of the Church and ignored in the State? These questions are not antiquarian or trifling in historical value; they tug at the very heart-strings of all that makes whatever order is in the cosmos. If a Unity exists, in which and towards which all energies centre, it must explain and include Duality, Diversity, Infinity,— Sex!
  • The convulsive hold which Mary to this day maintains over human imagination,— as you can see at Lourdes,— was due much less to her power of saving soul or body than to her sympathy with people who suffered under law,— divine or human,— justly or unjustly, by accident or design, by decree of God or by guile of Devil. She cared not a straw for conventional morality, and she had no notion of letting her friends be punished, to the tenth or any other generation, for the sins of their ancestors or the peccadillos of Eve.
  • Mary's treatment of respectable and law-abiding people who had no favors to ask, and were reasonably confident of getting to heaven by the regular judgment, without expense, rankled so deeply that three hundred years later the puritan reformers were not satisfied with abolishing her, but sought to abolish the woman altogether as the cause of all evil in heaven and on earth. The puritans abandoned the New Testament in order to go back to the beginning, and renew the quarrel with Eve. This is the Church's affair, not ours, and the women are competent to settle it with Church or State, without help from outside; but honest tourists are seriously interested in putting the feeling back into the dead architecture where it belongs.
  • If you cannot feel the color and quality,— the union of naïveté and art,— the refinement,— the infinite delicacy and tenderness — of this little poem ["Tombeor de Notre Dame"], then nothing will matter much to you; and if you can feel it, you can feel, without more assistance, the majesty of Chartres.
    • The anonymous thirteenth-century poem "Tombeor de Notre Dame", of which Adams gives a fairly detailed summary, is translated in Of the Tumbler of Our Lady and Other Miracles, edited by Alice Kemp-Welsh (London: Chatto & Windus, 1909).
Chapter XIV Abélard
Abélard would find most of his old problems sensitive to his touch today. Time has settled few or none of the essential points of dispute.
  • Abélard would find most of his old problems sensitive to his touch today. Time has settled few or none of the essential points of dispute. Science hesitates, more visibly than the Church ever did, to decide once for all whether Unity or Diversity is ultimate law; whether order or chaos is the governing rule of the Universe, if Universe there is; whether anything except phenomena exists. Even in matters more vital to society, one dares not speak too loud. Why, and for what, and to whom, is man a responsible agent? Every jury and judge, every lawyer and doctor, every legislator and clergyman has his own views, and the law constantly varies. Every nation may have a different system. One court may hang, and another may acquit for the same crime, on the same day; and Science only repeats what the Church said to Abélard, that where we know so little, we had better hold our tongues.
  • Science has become too complex to affirm the existence of universal truths, but it strives for nothing else, and disputes the problem, within its own limits, almost as earnestly as in the twelfth century, when the whole field of human and superhuman activity was shut between these barriers of Substance, Universals, and Particulars. Little has changed except the vocabulary and the method.
  • ...analogies [...] are figures intended to serve as fatal weapons if they succeed, and as innocent toys if they fail.
  • No man likes to have his intelligence or good faith questioned, especially if he has doubts about it himself.
  • Strange as the paradox seems, Saint Bernard and Lord Bacon, though looking at the world from opposite stand-points, agreed in this:— that the scholastic method was false and mischievous, and that the longer it was followed, the greater was its mischief.
Chapter XV The Mystics
In essence, religion was love; in no case was it logic. Reason can reach nothing except through the senses; God, by essence, cannot be reached through the senses; if he is to be known at all, he must be known by contact of spirit with spirit, essence with essence; directly; by emotion; by ecstasy; by absorption of our existence with his; by substitution of his spirit for ours.
  • ...we must go to the poets to see what they all meant by it; but the sum is an emotion — clear and strong as love and much clearer than logic,— whose charm lies in its unstable balance. The Transition is the equilibrium between the Love of God,— which is Faith, and the Logic of God,— which is Reason; between the round arch and the pointed. One may not be sure which pleases most, but one need not be harsh towards people who think that the moment of balance is exquisite. The last and highest moment is seen at Chartres where, in 1200, the charm depends on the constant doubt whether emotion or science is uppermost.
  • In every age man has been apt to dream uneasily, rolling from side to side, beating against imaginary bars, unless tired out he has sunk into indifference or scepticism. Religious minds prefer scepticism. The true saint is a profound sceptic; a total disbeliever in human reason, who has more than once joined hands on this ground with some who were at best sinners. Bernard was a total disbeliever in scholasticism; so was Voltaire.
  • If there was in all France, between 1140 and 1200, a more typical Englishman of the future Church of England type than John of Salisbury, he has left no trace; and John wrote a description of his time which makes a picturesque contrast with the picture painted by Abélard, his old master, of the century at its beginning. John weighed Abélard and the Schools against Bernard and the Cloister, and coolly concluded that the way to truth lay rather through Citeaux, which brought him to Chartres as Bishop in 1176, and to a mild scepticism in faith. "I prefer to doubt," he said, "rather than rashly define what is hidden."
  • Pascal touched God behind the veil of scepticism.
  • In essence, religion was love; in no case was it logic. Reason can reach nothing except through the senses; God, by essence, cannot be reached through the senses; if he is to be known at all, he must be known by contact of spirit with spirit, essence with essence; directly; by emotion; by ecstasy; by absorption of our existence with his; by substitution of his spirit for ours. The world had no need to wait five hundred years longer in order to hear this same result reaffirmed by Pascal. Saint Francis of Assisi had affirmed it loudly enough, even if the voice of Saint Bernard had been less powerful than it was. The Virgin had asserted it in tones more gentle, but anyone can still see how convincing, who stops a moment to feel the emotion that lifted her wonderful Chartres spire up to God.
  • Even in prose, the greatest writers have not often succeeded in stating simply and clearly the fact that Infinity can make itself finite or that Space can make itself bounds or that Eternity can generate time. In verse, Adam did it as easily as though he were writing any other miracle.
  • The art of this poetry of love and hope which marked the mystics, lay of course in the background of shadows which marked the cloister. "Inter Vania nihil vanius est homine." [Among vain things nothing is more vain than man.] Man is an imperceptible atom always trying to become one with God. If ever modern science achieves a definition of Energy, possibly it may borrow the figure:— Energy is the inherent effort of every multiplicity to become unity. Adam's poetry was an expression of the effort to reach absorption through love, not through fear, but to do this thoroughly he had to make real to himself his own nothingness; most of all to annihilate pride, for the loftiest soul can comprehend that an atom — say, of hydrogen,— which is proud of its personality, will never merge in a molecule of water.
  • Poverty of body in itself mattered nothing; what Francis wanted was poverty of pride, and the external robe or the bare feet were outward and necessary forms of protection against its outward display. Against riches or against all external and visible vanity, rules and laws could be easily enforced if it were worth while, although the purest humility would be reached only by those who were indifferent and unconscious of their external dress; but against spiritual pride the soul is defenceless, and of all its forms the subtlest and the meanest is pride of intellect. [...] Lord Bacon held much the same opinion. [..:] "Let men please themselves as they will in admiring and almost adoring the human mind, this is certain:— that, as an uneven mirror distorts the rays of objects according to its own figure and section, so the mind … cannot be trusted ..." Bacon's first object was the same as that of Francis, to humiliate and if possible destroy the pride of human reason; both of them knew that this was their most difficult task.
  • One sees instantly that neither Francis of Assisi nor Bacon of Verulam could have hoped for peace with the Schools; twelfth-century ecstasy felt the futility of mere rhetoric quite as keenly as seventeenth-century scepticism was to feel it.
  • The schoolmen saw their duty in one direction; Francis saw his in another; and [...] the two paths seem to be the only roads that can exist, if man starts by taking for granted that there is an object to be reached at the end of his journey. The Church embracing all mankind, had no choice but to march with caution, seeking God by every possible means of intellect and study. Francis, acting only for himself, could throw caution aside and trust implicitly in God [....] He carried to its last point the mystical Union wth God, and its necessary consequence of contempt and hatred of human intellectual processes. Even Saint Bernard would have thought his ideas wanting in that mesure which the French mind so much prizes. At the same time we had best try, as innocently as may be, to realise that no final judgement has yet been pronounced, either by the Church or by Society or by Science, on either or any of these points; and until mankind finally settles to a certainty where it means to go, or whether it means to go anywhere,— what its object is, or whether it has an object,— Saint Francis may still prove to have been its ultimate expression. In that case, his famous Chant,— the Cantico del Sole,— will be the last word of religion, as it was probably its first.
Chapter XVI Saint Thomas Aquinas
  • For summer tourists to handle these intricate problems in a theological spirit would be altogether absurd; but for us these great theologians were also architects who undertook to build a Church Intellectual, corresponding bit by bit to the Church Administrative, both expressing — and expressed by — the Church Architectural. Alexander Hales, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and the rest, were artists.
  • Saint Thomas is still alive and overshadows as many schools as he ever did; at all events as many as the Church maintains. He has outlived Descartes and Leibnitz and a dozen other schools of philosophy more or less serious in their day. He has mostly outived Hume, Voltaire and the militant sceptics. His method is typical and classic; his sentences, when interpreted by the Church, seem, even to an untrained mind, intelligible and consistent; his Church Intellectual remains practically unchanged, and, like the Cathedral of Beauvais, erect although the storms of six or seven centuries have prostrated, over and over again, every other social or political or juristic shelter. Compared with it, all modern systems are complex and chaotic, crowded with self-contradictions, anomalies, impracticable functions and out-worn inheritances; but beyond all their practical shortcomings is their fragmentary character. An economic civilisation troubles itself about the universe much as a hive of honey-bees troubles about the ocean, only as a region to be avoided. The hive of Saint Thomas sheltered God and Man, Mind and Matter, The Universe and the Atom, the One and the Multiple, within the walls of a harmonious home.
  • In Thomas's creation nothing intervened between God and his world [....] The intermediate Universals,— the secondary causes,— vanish as causes; they are, at most, sequences or relations; all merge in one universal act of will; instantaneous, infinite, eternal.
  • In any case God's act was the union of Mind with Matter by the same act or will which created both. No intermediate cause or condition intervened; no secondary influence had anything whatever to do with the result. Time had nothing to do with it. Every individual that has existed or shall exist was created by the same instantaneous act, for all time. "When the question regards the universal agent who produces beings and time, we cannot consider him as acting now and before, according to the succession of time." God emanated time, force, matter, mind, as he might emanate gravitation, not as a part of his substance but as an energy of his will, and maintains them in their activity by the same act, not by a new one. Every individual is a part of the direct act, not a secondary outcome.
  • A Church which embraced, with equal sympathy, and within a hundred years, the Virgin, Saint Bernard, William of Champeaux and the School of Saint Victor, Peter the Venerable, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Dominic, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Saint Bonaventure, was more liberal than any modern state can afford to be. Radical contradictions the State may perhaps tolerate, but never embrace or profess. Such elasticity long ago vanished from human thought.
  • God, as Descartes justly said, we know! but what is man? The schools answered:— Man is a rational animal! So was apparently a dog, or a bee, or a beaver, none of which seemed to need churches. Modern science, with infinite effort, has discovered and announced that man is a bewildering complex of energies, which helps little to explain his relations with the ultimate Substance or Energy or Prime Motor whose existence both Science and Schoolmen admit; which Science studies in laboratories and Religion worships in churches. The Man whom God created to fill his Church, must be an energy independent of God; otherwise God filled his own Church with his own energy.
  • Where, then,— in what mysterious cave outside of creation — could Man, and his free-will, and his private world of responsibilities and duties, lie hidden? Unless Man was a free agent in a world of his own beyond constraint, the Church was a fraud, and it helped little to add that the State was another. If God was the sole and immediate cause and support of everything in his creation, God was also the cause of its defects, and could not,— being Justice and Goodness in essence,—hold Man responsible for his own omissions. Still less could the State or Church do it in his name.

    Whatever truth lies in the charge that the schools discussed futile questions by faulty methods, one cannot decently deny that in this case the question was practical and the method vital. Theist or atheist, monist or anarchist must all admit that society and science are equally interested with theology in deciding whether the Universe is one or many, a harmony or a discord. The Church and State asserted that it was a harmony, and that they were its representatives. They say so still. Their claim led to singular but unavoidable conclusions, with which society has struggled for seven hundred years, and is still struggling.

  • Thomas [...] could offer no proof of it, but he could assume as probable a plan of good which became the more perfect for the very reason that it allowed great liberty in detail.

    One hardly feels Saint Thomas here in all his force. He offers suggestion rather than proof;— apology, the weaker because of obvious effort to apologise, rather than defence, for infinite Goodness, Justice and Power; [...] but at all events society has never done better by way of proving its right to enforce morals, or unity of opinion. Unless it asserts law, it can only assert force.

  • Mankind could not admit an anarchical,— a dual or multiple — universe. The world was there, staring them in the face, with all its chaotic conditions, and society insisted on its Unity in self-defence. Society still insists on treating it as Unity though no longer affecting logic. Society insists on its free will, although free will has never been explained to the satisfaction of any but those who much wish to be satisfied, and although the words in any common sense implied not unity but duality in creation. The Church had nothing to do with inventing this riddle,— the oldest that fretted mankind.
    • "Affecting": making a pretence of
  • ...either the Universe was One, or it was two, or it was many; either Energy was one, seen only in powers of itself, or it was several; either God was Harmony or he was discord. With practical unanimity, mankind rejected the dual or multiple scheme; it insisted on Unity. Thomas took the question as it was given him. The Unity was full of defects; he did not deny them; but he claimed that they might be incidents, and that the admitted Unity might even prove their beneficence. Granting this enormous concession, he still needed a means of bringing into the system one element which vehemently refused to be brought:— that is, Man himself, who insisted that the Universe was a unit, but that he was a universe; that Energy was one, but that he was another energy; that God was omnipotent but that man was free. The contradiction had always existed, exists still, and always must exist, unless man either admits that he is a machine, or agrees that anarchy and chaos are the habit of nature, and law and order its acident. The agreement may become possible, but it was not possible in the thirteenth century nor is it now.
  • No one ever seriously affirmed the literal freedom of will. Absolute liberty is absence of restraint; responsibility is restraint; therefore the ideally free individual is responsible only to himself. This principle is the philosophical foundation of anarchism, and, for anything that science has yet proved, may be the philosophical foundation of the Universe; but it is fatal to all society and is especially hostile to the State. Perhaps the Church of the thirteenth century might have found a way to use even this principle for a good purpose; certainly the influence of Saint Bernard was sufficiently unsocial and that of Saint Francis was sufficiently unselfish to conciliate even anarchists of the militant class.
  • In fact, the Church never admitted free-will, or used the word when it could be avoided. In Latin, the term used was liberum arbitrium,— free choice,— and in French to this day it remains in strictness libre arbitre still. From Saint Augustine downwards the Church was never so unscientific as to admit of liberty beyond the faculty of choosing between paths, some leading through the Church and some not, but all leading to the next world.
  • Experience proved that man's power of choice in action was very far from absolute, and logic seemed to require that every choice should have some predetermining cause which decided the will to act. Science affirmed that choice was not free,— could not be free,— without abandoning the unity of force and the foundation of law. Society insisted that its choice must be left free, whatever became of science or unity. Saint Thomas was required to illustrate the theory of liberum arbitrium by choosing a path through these difficulies, where path there was obviously none.
  • With very slight straining of equivalents, Thomas might now be written thus:—

    By the term God, is meant a Prime Mover which supplies all energy to the universe, and acts directly on man as well as on all other creatures, moving him as a mechanical motor might do; but man, being specially provided with an organism more complex than the organisms of other creatures, enjoys an exceptional capacity for reflex action,— a power of reflexion,— which enables him within certain limits to choose between paths; and this singular capacity is called free choice or free-will. Of course, the reflexion is not choice, and though a man's mind reflected as perfectly as the facets of a lighthouse lantern, it would never reach a choice without an energy which impels it to act. [...]

    The scheme seems to differ little, and unwillingly, from a system of dynamics as modern as the dynamo.

  • Creation was not successive; it was one instantaneous thought and act, identical with the will, and was complete and unchangeabble from end to end, including time as one of its functions. Thomas was as clear as possible on that point:— "Supposing God wills anything in effect, he cannot will not to will it, because his will cannot change." He wills that some things shall be contingent and others necessary, but he wills in the same act that the contingency shall be necessary. "They are contingent because God has willed them to be so, and with this object has subjected them to causes which are so." In the same way he wills that his creation shall develop itself in time and space and sequence, but he creates these conditions as well as the events. He creates the whole, in one act, complete, unchangeable, and it is then unfolded like a rolling panorama with its predetermined contingencies.

    Man's free choice — liberum arbitrium — falls easily into place as a predetermined contingency. God is the First Cause, and acts in all Secondary Causes directly; but while he acts mechanically on the rest of creation,— as far as is known,— he acts freely at one point, and this free action remains free as far as it extends on that line. Man's freedom derives from this source, but it is simply apparent, as far as he is a cause; it is a [...] Reflex Action of the complicated mirror [...] called Mind, and [...] an illusion arising from the extreme delicacy of the machine.

  • ...the quality that arouses most surprise in Thomism is its astonishingly scientific method. [...] Avowedly science has aimed at nothing but the reduction of multiplicity to unity, and has excommunicated, as though it were itself a Church, anyone who doubted or disputed its object, its method, or its results. The effort is as evident and quite as laborious in modern science, starting as it does from multiplicity, as in Thomas Aquinas who started from unity, and it is necessarily less successful, for its true aims as far as it is Science and not disguised Religion, were equally attained by reaching infinite complexity; but the assertion or assumption of ultimate unity has characterised the Law of Energy as emphatically as it has characterised the definition of God in Theology. If it is a reproach to Saint Thomas, it is equally a reproach to Clerk-Maxwell. In truth it is what most men admire in both — the power of broad and lofty generalisation.
  • To religious mystics, whose scepticism concerned chiefly themselves and their own existence, Saint Thomas's Man seemed hardly worth herding, at so much expense and trouble, into a Church where he was not eager to go. True religion felt the nearness of God without caring to see the mechanism. Mystics like Saint Bernard, Saint Francis, Saint Bonaventure or Pascal had a right to make this objection, since they got into the Church, so to speak, by breaking through the windows; but society at large accepted and retains Saint Thomas's Man much as Saint Thomas delivered him to the government; a two-sided being, free or unfree, responsible or irresponsible, an energy or a victim of energy, moved by choice or moved by compulsion, as the interests of society seemed for the moment to need. Certainly Saint Thomas lavished no excess of liberty on the Man he created, but still he was more generous than the State has ever been. Saint Thomas asked little from Man, and gave much; even as much freedom of will as the State gave or now gives; he added immortality hereafter and eternal happiness under reasonable restraints; his God watched over man's temporal welfare far more anxiously than th State has ever done, and assigned him space in the Church which he can never have in the galleries of Parliament or Congress. [...] No statute law ever did as much for Man, and no social reform ever will try to do it; yet Man bitterly complained that he had not his rights, and even in the Church is still complaining, because Saint Thomas set a limit, more or less vague, to what man was obstinate in calling his freedom of will.

    Thus Saint Thomas completed his work, keeping his converging lines clear and pure throughout, and bringing them together, unbroken, in the curves that gave unity to his plan. His sense of scale and proportion was that of the great architects of his age. One might go on studying it for a life-time.

  • Strange as it sounds, although Man thought himself hardly treated in respect to freedom, yet, if freedom meant superiority, Man was in action much the superior of God, whose freedom suffered, from Saint Thomas, under restraints that Man never would have tolerated. Saint Thomas did not allow God even an undetermined will; he was pure Act, and as such he could not change. Man alone was, in act, allowed to change direction. What was more curious still, Man might absolutely prove his freedom by refusing to move at all; if he did not like his life, he could stop it, and habitually did so, or acquiesced in its being done for him; while God could not commit suicide or even cease for a single instant his continuous action. If Man had the singular fancy of making himself absurd,— a taste confined to himself but attested by evidence exceedingly strong,— he could be as absurd as he liked; but God could not be absurd. Saint Thomas did not allow the Deity the right to contradict himself, which is one of Man's chief pleasures. While Man enjoyed what was, for his purposes, an unlimited freedom to be wicked,— a privilege which, as both Church and State bitterlly complained and still complain, he has outrageously abused,— God was Goodness and could be nothing else. [...] In one respect, at least, Man's freedom seemed to be not relative but absolute, for his thought was an energy paying no regard to space or time or order or object or sense; but God's thought was his act and will at once; speaking correctly, God could not think, he is. Saint Thomas would not, or could not, admit that God was Necessity, as Abélard seems to have held, but he refused to tolerate the idea of a divine maniac, free from moral obligation to himself. The atmosphere of Saint Louis surrounds the God of Saint Thomas, and its pure ether shuts out the corruption and pollution to come,— the Valois and Bourbons, the Occams and Hobbes's, the Tudors and the Medicis of an enlightened Europe.
  • From that time, the universe has steadily become more complex and less reducible to a central control. With as much obstinacy as though it were human, it has insisted on expanding its parts; with as much elusiveness as though it were feminine, it has evaded the attempt to impose on it a single will. Modern science, like modern art, tends, in practice, to drop the dogma of organic unity. Some of the mediaeval habit of mind survives, but even that is said to be yielding before the daily evidence of increasing and extending complexity. The fault, then, was not in man, if he no longer looked at science or art as an organic whole or as the expression of unity. Unity turned itself into complexity, multiplicity, variety, and even contradiction.
  • Naturally man tended to lose his sense of scale and relation. A straight line, or a combination of straight lines, may have still a sort of artistic unity, but what can be done in art with a series of negative symbols? Even if the negative were continuous, the artist might express at least a negation; but supposing that Omar's kinetic analogy of the ball and the players turned out to be a scientific formula! supposing that the highest scientific authority, in order to obtain any unity at all, had to resort to the middle-ages for an imaginary demon to sort his atoms! how could art deal with such problems, and what wonder that art lost unity with philosophy and science! Art had to be confused in order to express confusion; but perhaps it was truest, so.
    • Adams alludes to a well-known passage from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. In Edward FitzGerald's translation:

      The Ball no Question makes of Ayes and Noes,
      But Right and Left as strikes the Player goes;
      And He that toss'd Thee down into the Field,
      He knows about it all — HE knows — HE knows!

  • The pathetic interest of the drama deepens with every new expression, but at least you can learn from it that your parents in the nineteenth century were not to blame for losing the sense of unity in art. As early as the fourteenth century, signs of unsteadiness appeared, and, before the eighteenth century, unity became only a reminiscence. The old habit of centralising a strain at one point, and then dividing and subdividing it, and distributing it on visible lines of support to a visible foundation, disappeared in architecture soon after 1500, but lingered in theology two centuries longer, and even, in very old-fashioned communities, far down to our own time; but its values were forgotten, and it survived chiefly as a stock jest against the clergy. The passage between the two epochs is as beautiful as the Slave of Michael Angelo; but, to feel its beauty, you should see it from above, as it came from its radiant source. Truth, indeed, may not exist; science avers it to be only a relation; but what men took for truth stares one everywhere in the eye and begs for sympathy.
  • Granted a Church, Saint Thomas's Church was the most expressive that man has made, and the great gothic Cathedrals were its most complete expression.

    Perhaps the best proof of it is their apparent instability. Of all the elaborate symbolism which has been suggested for the gothic Cathedral, the most vital and most perfect may be that the slender nervure, the springing motion of the broken arch, the leap downwards of the flying buttress,— the visible effort to throw off a visible strain,— never let us forget that Faith alone supports it, and that, if Faith fails, Heaven is lost. The equilibrium is visibly delicate beyond the line of safety; danger lurks in every stone. The peril of the heavy tower, of the restless vault, of the vagrant buttress; the uncertainty of logic, the inequalities of the syllogism, the irregularities of the mental mirror,— all these haunting nightmares of the Church are expressed as strongly by the gothic Cathedral as though it had been the cry of human suffering, and as no emotion had ever been expressed before or is likely to find expression again. The delight of its aspirations is flung up to the sky. The pathos of its self-distrust and anguish of doubt, is buried in the earth as its last secret. You can read out of it whatever else pleases your youth and confidence; to me, this is all.

    • The closing lines of the book. In a letter to William James (17 February 1908), Adams wrote with customary self-deprecation: "If you will read my Chartres,— the last chapter is the only thing I ever wrote that I almost think good." (J. C. Levinson et al. eds., The Letters of Henry Adams, Volume VI: 1906–1918. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1988, p. 121)
Full text online
All experience is an arch, to build upon.
Only on the edge of the grave can man conclude anything.
Knowledge of human nature is the beginning and end of political education.
Every one carries his own inch-rule of taste, and amuses himself by applying it, triumphantly, wherever he travels.
What one knows is, in youth, of little moment; they know enough who know how to learn.
Any schoolboy could see that man as a force must be measured by motion, from a fixed point.
Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.
Modern politics is, at bottom, a struggle not of men but of forces.
No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
  • As educator, Jean Jacques was, in one respect, easily first; he erected a monument of warning against the Ego. Since his time, and largely thanks to him, the Ego has steadily tended to efface itself, and, for purposes of model, to become a manikin on which the toilet of education is to be draped in order to show the fit or misfit of the clothes. The object of study is the garment, not the figure. The tailor adapts the manikin as well as the clothes to his patron's wants. The tailor's object, in this volume, is to fit young men, in universities or elsewhere, to be men of the world, equipped for any emergency; and the garment offered to them is meant to show the faults of the patchwork fitted on their fathers.
  • American literature offers scarcely one working model for high education. The student must go back, beyond Jean Jacques, to Benjamin Franklin, to find a model even of self-teaching. Except in the abandoned sphere of the dead languages, no one has discussed what part of education has, in his personal experience, turned out to be useful, and what not. This volume attempts to discuss it.
Chapter I Quincy
  • As a means of variation from a normal type, sickness in childhood ought to have a certain value not to be classed under any fitness or unfitness of natural selection; and especially scarlet fever affected boys seriously, both physically and in character, though they might through life puzzle themselves to decide whether it had fitted or unfitted them for success.
  • He fell behind his brothers two or three inches in height, and proportionally in bone and weight. His character and processes of mind seemed to share in this fining-down process of scale. He was not good in a fight, and his nerves were more delicate than boys' nerves ought to be. He exaggerated these weaknesses as he grew older. The habit of doubt; of distrusting his own judgment and of totally rejecting the judgment of the world; the tendency to regard every question as open; the hesitation to act except as a choice of evils; the shirking of responsibility; the love of line, form, quality; the horror of ennui; the passion for companionship and the antipathy to society — all these are well-known qualities of New England character in no way peculiar to individuals but in this instance they seemed to be stimulated by the fever, and Henry Adams could never make up his mind whether, on the whole, the change of character was morbid or healthy, good or bad for his purpose. His brothers were the type; he was the variation.
  • Whatever was peculiar about him was education, not character, and came to him, directly and indirectly, as the result of that eighteenth-century inheritance which he took with his name.
  • Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, had always been the systematic organization of hatreds, and Massachusetts politics had been as harsh as the climate.
  • From earliest childhood the boy was accustomed to feel that, for him, life was double. Winter and summer, town and country, law and liberty, were hostile, and the man who pretended they were not, was in his eyes a schoolmaster — that is, a man employed to tell lies to little boys.
  • There as elsewhere a cruel universe combined to crush a child. As though three or four vigorous brothers and sisters, with the best will, were not enough to crush any child, every one else conspired towards an education which he hated. From cradle to grave this problem of running order through chaos, direction through space, discipline through freedom, unity through multiplicity, has always been, and must always be, the task of education, as it is the moral of religion, philosophy, science, art, politics, and economy; but a boy's will is his life, and he dies when it is broken, as the colt dies in harness, taking a new nature in becoming tame. Rarely has the boy felt kindly towards his tamers. Between him and his master has always been war. Henry Adams never knew a boy of his generation to like a master, and the task of remaining on friendly terms with one's own family, in such a relation, was never easy.
  • ...but he distinctly remembered standing at the house door one summer morning in a passionate outburst of rebellion against going to school. Naturally his mother was the immediate victim of his rage; that is what mothers are for, and boys also; but in this case the boy had his mother at unfair disadvantage, for she was a guest, and had no means of enforcing obedience. Henry showed a certain tactical ability by refusing to start, and he met all efforts at compulsion by successful, though too vehement protest. He was in fair way to win, and was holding his own, with sufficient energy, at the bottom of the long staircase which led up to the door of the President's library, when the door opened, and the old man slowly came down. Putting on his hat, he took the boy's hand without a word, and walked with him, paralyzed by awe, up the road to the town. After the first moments of consternation at this interference in a domestic dispute, the boy reflected that an old gentleman close on eighty would never trouble himself to walk near a mile on a hot summer morning over a shadeless road to take a boy to school, and that it would be strange if a lad imbued with the passion of freedom could not find a corner to dodge around, somewhere before reaching the school door. Then and always, the boy insisted that this reasoning justified his apparent submission; but the old man did not stop, and the boy saw all his strategical points turned, one after another, until he found himself seated inside the school, and obviously the centre of curious if not malevolent criticism. Not till then did the President release his hand and depart.
  • Thus already, at ten years old, the boy found himself standing face to face with a dilemma that might have puzzled an early Christian. What was he? — where was he going? Even then he felt that something was wrong, but he concluded that it must be Boston.
Chapter II Boston
  • To his son Henry, the quality that distinguished his father from all the other figures in the family group, was that, in his opinion, Charles Francis Adams possessed the only perfectly balanced mind that ever existed in the name.
  • Charles Francis Adams's memory was hardly above the average; his mind was not bold like his grandfather's or restless like his father's, or imaginative or oratorical — still less mathematical; but it worked with singular perfection, admirable self-restraint, and instinctive mastery of form. Within its range it was a model.
  • ...in his case it went further and became indifference to social distinction. Never once in forty years of intimacy did his son notice in him a trace of snobbishness. He was one of the exceedingly small number of Americans to whom an English duke or duchess seemed to be indifferent, and royalty itself nothing more than a slightly inconvenient presence. This was, it is true, rather the tone of English society in his time, but Americans were largely responsible for changing it, and Mr. Adams had every possible reason for affecting the manner of a courtier even if he did not feel the sentiment. Never did his son see him flatter or vilify, or show a sign of envy or jealousy; never a shade of vanity or self-conceit. Never a tone of arrogance! Never a gesture of pride!
  • No doubt, too, that even his restless-minded, introspective, self-conscious children who knew him best were much too ignorant of the world and of human nature to suspect how rare and complete was the model before their eyes.
  • Average human nature is very coarse, and its ideals must necessarily be average. The world never loved perfect poise. What the world does love is commonly absence of poise, for it has to be amused.
  • In that respect, and in that only, Charles Sumner was like him, but Sumner, in almost every other quality, was quite different from his three associates — altogether out of line.
  • His superiority was, indeed, real and incontestable; he was the classical ornament of the anti-slavery party; their pride in him was unbounded, and their admiration outspoken.

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

  • Of all the conditions of his youth which afterwards puzzled the grown-up man, this disappearance of religion puzzled him most. The boy went to church twice every Sunday; he was taught to read his Bible, and he learned religious poetry by heart; he believed in a mild deism; he prayed; he went through all the forms; but neither to him nor to his brothers or sisters was religion real. Even the mild discipline of the Unitarian Church was so irksome that they all threw it off at the first possible moment, and never afterwards entered a church. The religious instinct had vanished, and could not be revived, although one made in later life many efforts to recover it.

    That the most powerful emotion of man, next to the sexual, should disappear, might be a personal defect of his own; but that the most intelligent society, led by the most intelligent clergy, in the most moral conditions he ever knew, should have solved all the problems of the universe so thoroughly as to have quite ceased making itself anxious about past or future, and should have persuaded itself that all the problems which had convulsed human thought from earliest recorded time, were not worth discussing, seemed to him the most curious social phenomenon he had to account for in a long life.

  • The children reached manhood without knowing religion, and with the certainty that dogma, metaphysics, and abstract philosophy were not worth knowing. So one-sided an education could have been possible in no other country or time, but it became, almost of necessity, the more literary and political. As the children grew up, they exaggerated the literary and the political interests. They joined in the dinner-table discussions and from childhood the boys were accustomed to hear, almost every day, table-talk as good as they were ever likely to hear again. The eldest child, Louisa, was one of the most sparkling creatures her brother met in a long and varied experience of bright women.
  • Home influences alone never saved the New England boy from ruin, though sometimes they may have helped to ruin him; and the influences outside of home were negative. If school helped, it was only by reaction. The dislike of school was so strong as to be a positive gain. The passionate hatred of school methods was almost a method in itself. Yet the day-school of that time was respectable, and the boy had nothing to complain of. In fact, he never complained. He hated it because he was here with a crowd of other boys and compelled to learn by memory a quantity of things that did not amuse him. His memory was slow, and the effort painful. For him to conceive that his memory could compete for school prizes with machines of two or three times its power, was to prove himself wanting not only in memory, but flagrantly in mind. He thought his mind a good enough machine, if it were given time to act, but it acted wrong if hurried. Schoolmasters never gave time.

    In any and all its forms, the boy detested school, and the prejudice became deeper with years. He always reckoned his school-days, from ten to sixteen years old, as time thrown away.

  • Indeed, had his father kept the boy at home, and given him half an hour's direction every day, he would have done more for him than school ever could do for them. Of course, school-taught men and boys looked down on home-bred boys, and rather prided themselves on their own ignorance, but the man of sixty can generally see what he needed in life, and in Henry Adams's opinion it was not school.
  • Books remained as in the eighteenth century, the source of life, and as they came out — Thackeray, Dickens, Bulwer, Tennyson, Macaulay, Carlyle, and the rest — they were devoured; but as far as happiness went, the happiest hours of the boy's education were passed in summer lying on a musty heap of Congressional Documents in the old farmhouse at Quincy, reading "Quentin Durward," "Ivanhoe," and "The Talisman," and raiding the garden at intervals for peaches and pears. On the whole he learned most then.
Chapter III Washington
  • His aunt drily remarked that, at this rate, he would soon get through all the sights; but she could not guess — having lived always in Washington — how little the sights of Washington had to do with its interest.

    The boy could not have told her; he was nowhere near an understanding of himself. The more he was educated, the less he understood. Slavery struck him in the face; it was a nightmare; a horror; a crime; the sum of all wickedness! Contact made it only more repulsive. He wanted to escape, like the negroes, to free soil. Slave States were dirty, unkempt, poverty-stricken, ignorant, vicious! He had not a thought but repulsion for it; and yet the picture had another side. The May sunshine and shadow had something to do with it; the thickness of foliage and the heavy smells had more; the sense of atmosphere, almost new, had perhaps as much again; and the brooding indolence of a warm climate and a negro population hung in the atmosphere heavier than the catalpas. The impression was not simple, but the boy liked it: distinctly it remained on his mind as an attraction, almost obscuring Quincy itself. The want of barriers, of pavements, of forms; the looseness, the laziness; the indolent Southern drawl; the pigs in the streets; the negro babies and their mothers with bandanas; the freedom, openness, swagger, of nature and man, soothed his Johnson blood.

  • ...what struck boys most was their type. Senators were a species
  • As for the White House, all the boy's family had lived there, and, barring the eight years of Andrew Jackson's reign, had been more or less at home there ever since it was built. The boy half thought he owned it, and took for granted that he should some day live in it. He felt no sensation whatever before Presidents. A President was a matter of course in every respectable family; he had two in his own; three, if he counted old Nathaniel Gorham, who, was the oldest and first in distinction. Revolutionary patriots, or perhaps a Colonial Governor, might be worth talking about, but any one could be President, and some very shady characters were likely to be. Presidents, Senators, Congressmen, and such things were swarming in every street.
  • Henry heard the vote announced which gave Sumner the needed number. Slipping under the arms of the bystanders, he ran home as hard as he could, and burst into the dining-room where Mr. Sumner was seated at table with the family. He enjoyed the glory of telling Sumner that he was elected; it was probably the proudest moment in the life of either.
Capter IV Harvard College
  • In effect, the school created a type but not a will. Four years of Harvard College, if successful, resulted in an autobiographical blank, a mind on which only a water-mark had been stamped.
  • The chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody concerned in it, teachers and taught.
  • Accident counts for much in companionship as in marriage.
  • The Class of 1858, to which Henry Adams belonged, was a typical collection of young New Englanders, quietly penetrating and aggressively commonplace; free from meannesses, jealousies, intrigues, enthusiasms, and passions; not exceptionally quick; not consciously skeptical; singularly indifferent to display, artifice, florid expression, but not hostile to it when it amused them; distrustful of themselves, but little disposed to trust any one else; with not much humor of their own, but full of readiness to enjoy the humor of others; negative to a degree that in the long run became positive and triumphant. Not harsh in manners or judgment, rather liberal and open-minded, they were still as a body the most formidable critics one would care to meet, in a long life exposed to criticism.
  • ...each individual appeared satisfied to stand alone. It seemed a sign of force; yet to stand alone is quite natural when one has no passions; still easier when one has no pains.
  • If the student got little from his mates, he got little more from his masters. The four years passed at college were, for his purposes, wasted. Harvard College was a good school, but at bottom what the boy disliked most was any school at all. He did not want to be one in a hundred — one per cent of an education. He regarded himself as the only person for whom his education had value, and he wanted the whole of it.
  • Harvard College was a negative force, and negative forces have value. Slowly it weakened the violent political bias of childhood, not by putting interests in its place, but by mental habits which had no bias at all.
  • Rather by instinct than by guidance, he turned to writing, and his professors or tutors occasionally gave his English composition a hesitating approval; but in that branch, as in all the rest, even when he made a long struggle for recognition, he never convinced his teachers that his abilities, at their best, warranted placing him on the rank-list, among the first third of his class. Instructors generally reach a fairly accurate gauge of their scholars' powers.
  • It was surely no fault of his that the universe seemed to him real; perhaps — as Mr. Emerson justly said — it was so.
  • So Henry Adams, well aware that he could not succeed as a scholar, and finding his social position beyond improvement or need of effort, betook himself to the single ambition which otherwise would scarcely have seemed a true outcome of the college, though it was the last remnant of the old Unitarian supremacy. He took to the pen. He wrote.
  • No one cared enough to criticise, except himself who soon began to suffer from reaching his own limits. He found that he could not be this — or that — or the other; always precisely the things he wanted to be. He had not wit or scope or force. Judges always ranked him beneath a rival, if he had any; and he believed the judges were right. His work seemed to him thin, commonplace, feeble. At times he felt his own weakness so fatally that he could not go on; when he had nothing to say, he could not say it, and he found that he had very little to say at best.
  • Self-possession was the strongest part of Harvard College, which certainly taught men to stand alone, so that nothing seemed stranger to its graduates than the paroxysms of terror before the public which often overcame the graduates of European universities.
Chapter V Berlin
  • Then came the journey up to London through Birmingham and the Black District, another lesson, which needed much more to be rightly felt. The plunge into darkness lurid with flames; the sense of unknown horror in this weird gloom which then existed nowhere else, and never had existed before, except in volcanic craters; the violent contrast between this dense, smoky, impenetrable darkness, and the soft green charm that one glided into, as one emerged — the revelation of an unknown society of the pit — made a boy uncomfortable, though he had no idea that Karl Marx was standing there waiting for him, and that sooner or later the process of education would have to deal with Karl Marx much more than with Professor Bowen of Harvard College or his Satanic free-trade majesty John Stuart Mill. The Black District was a practical education, but it was infinitely far in the distance. The boy ran away from it, as he ran away from everything he disliked.
  • All State education is a sort of dynamo machine for polarizing the popular mind; for turning and holding its lines of force in the direction supposed to be most effective for State purposes.
Chapter VI Rome
  • Women have, commonly, a very positive moral sense; that which they will, is right; that which they reject, is wrong; and their will, in most cases, ends by settling the moral.
  • All experience is an arch, to build upon.
  • Boys never see a conclusion; only on the edge of the grave can man conclude anything; but the first impulse given to the boy is apt to lead or drive him for the rest of his life into conclusion after conclusion that he never dreamed of reaching.
Chapter VII Treason
  • No man, however strong, can serve ten years as schoolmaster, priest, or Senator, and remain fit for anything else. All the dogmatic stations in life have the effect of fixing a certain stiffness of attitude forever, as though they mesmerised the subject.
  • Although the Senate is much given to admiring in its members a superiority less obvious or quite invisible to outsiders, one Senator seldom proclaims his own inferiority to another, and still more seldom likes to be told of it. Even the greatest Senators seemed to inspire little personal affection in each other, and betrayed none at all.
  • The two men would have disliked each other by instinct had they lived in different planets. Each was created only for exasperating the other; the virtues of one were the faults of his rival, until no good quality seemed to remain of either.
  • Friends are born, not made, and Henry never mistook a friend except when in power. From the first slight meeting in February and March, 1861, he recognized Hay as a friend, and never lost sight of him at the future crossing of their paths.
  • Only one man in Adams's reach seemed to him supremely fitted by knowledge and experience to be an adviser and friend. This was Senator Sumner; and there, in fact, the young man's education began; there it ended.
  • He was thunderstruck to learn that Senator Sumner privately denounced the course, regarded Mr. Adams as betraying the principles of his life, and broke off relations with his family.
  • ...the profoundest lessons are not the lessons of reason; they are sudden strains that permanentlywarp the mind.
  • he liked lofty moral principle and cared little for political tactics; he felt a profound respect for Sumner himself; but the shock opened a chasm in life that never closed, and as long as life lasted, he found himself invariably taking for granted, as a political instinct, with out waiting further experiment — as he took for granted that arsenic poisoned — the rule that a friend in power is a friend lost.
  • ...not one rebel defection — not even Robert E. Lee's — cost young Adams a personal pang; but Sumner's struck home.
Chapter VIII Diplomacy
  • Still another nightmare he suffered at a dance given by the old Duchess Dowager of Somerset, a terrible vision in castanets, who seized him and forced him to perform a Highland fling before the assembled nobility and gentry, with the daughter of the Turkish Ambassador for partner. This might seem humorous to some, but to him the world turned to ashes.
  • Monckton Milnes was a social power in London, and of course he himself affected social eccentricity, challenging ridicule with the indifference of one who knew himself to be the first wit in London, and a maker of men — of a great many men. A word from him went far. An invitation to his breakfast-table went farther. Behind his almost Falstaffian mask and laugh of Silenus, he carried a fine, broad, and high intelligence which no one questioned. As a young man he had written verses, which some readers thought poetry, and which were certainly not altogether prose. Later, in Parliament he made speeches, chiefly criticised as too good for the place and too high for the audience. Socially, he was one of two or three men who went everywhere, knew everybody, talked of everything.
Chapter IX Foes or Friends
  • That Swinburne was altogether new to the three types of men-of-the-world before him; that he seemed to them quite original, wildly eccentric, astonishingly gifted, and convulsingly droll, Adams could see; but what more he was, even Milnes hardly dared say. They could not believe his incredible memory and knowledge of literature, classic, mediaeval, and modern; his faculty of reciting a play of Sophocles or a play of Shakespeare, forward or backward, from end to beginning; or Dante, or Villon, or Victor Hugo.
  • That Stirling as well as Milnes should regard Swinburne as a prodigy greatly comforted Adams, who lost his balance of mind at first in trying to imagine that Swinburne was a natural product of Oxford.
  • The idea that one has actually met a real genius dawns slowly on a Boston mind, but it made entry at last.
  • Adams could no more interest Algernon Swinburne than he could interest Encke's comet. To Swinburne he could be no more than a worm. The quality of genius was an education almost ultimate, for one touched there the limits of the human mind on that side; but one could only receive; one had nothing to give — nothing even to offer.
  • ...no number of centuries could ever educate him to Swinburne's level, even in technical appreciation.
Chapter X Political Morality
  • The effect of power and publicity on all men is the aggravation of self, a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim's sympathies.
  • Here, then, appeared in its fullest force, the practical difficulty in education which a mere student could never overcome; a difficulty not in theory, or knowledge, or even want of experience, but in the sheer chaos of human nature.
  • ...he took his lesson of political morality as learned, his notice to quit as duly served, and supposed his education to be finished.

    Everyone thought so, and the whole City was in a turmoil. Any intelligent education ought to end when it is complete. One would then feel fewer hesitations and would handle a surer world. The old-fashioned logical drama required unity and sense; the actual drama is a pointless puzzle, without even an intrigue. When the curtain fell on Gladstone's speech, any student had the right to suppose the drama ended; none could have affirmed that it was about to begin; that one's painful lesson was thrown away.

  • All the world had been at cross-purposes, had misunderstood themselves and the situation, had followed wrong paths, drawn wrong conclusions, and had known none of the facts. One would have done better to draw no conclusions at all. One's diplomatic education was a long mistake.
Chapter XI The Battle of the Rams
  • Young men have a passion for regarding their elders as senile.
  • He no longer cared whether he understood human nature or not; he understood quite as much as he wanted; but he found in the Life of Gladstone (II. 464) a remark several times repeated that gave him matter for curious thought. "I always hold," said Mr. Gladstone, "that politicians are the men whom, as a rule, it is most difficult to comprehend;" and he added, by way of strengthening it— "For my own part, I never have thus understood, or thought I understood, above one or two,"
Chapter XII Eccentricity
  • Knowledge of human nature is the beginning and end of political education.
  • The English themselves hardly conceived that their mind was either economical, sharp, or direct; but the defect that most struck an American was its enormous waste in eccentricity. Americans needed and used their whole energy, and applied it with close economy; but English society was eccentric by law and for sake of the eccentricity itself.

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

  • Society swarmed with exaggerated characters; it contained little else.

    Often this eccentricity bore all the marks of strength; perhaps it was actual exuberance of force, a birthmark of genius. Boston thought so. The Bostonian called it national character — native vigor — robustness — honesty — courage. He respected and feared it.

  • These questions of taste, of feeling, of inheritance, need no settlement. Every one carries his own inch-rule of taste, and amuses himself by applying it, triumphantly, wherever he travels.
Chapter XIII The Perfection of Human Society
  • Close relation in a place like London is a personal mystery as profound as chemical affinity. Thousands pass, and one separates himself from the mass to attach himself to another, and so make, little by little, a group.
  • Intimates are predestined.
Chapter XIV Dilettantism
  • The English mind was like the London drawing room, a comfortable and easy spot, filled with bits and fragments of incoherent furnitures, which were never meant to go together, and could be arranged in any relation without making a whole, except by the square room. Philosophy might dispute about innate ideas till the stars died out in the sky, but about innate tastes no one, except perhaps a collie-dog, has the right to doubt; least of all the Englishman, for his tastes are his being; he drifts after them as unconsciously as a honey-bee drifts after his flowers.
  • Macaulay was the English historian. Adams had the greatest admiration for Macaulay, but he felt that any one who should even distantly imitate Macaulay would perish in self-contempt. One might as well imitate Shakespeare.
Chapter XV Darwinism
  • Adams was content to read Darwin, especially his "Origin of Species" and his "Voyage of the Beagle." He was a Darwinist before the letter; a predestined follower of the tide; but he was hardly trained to follow Darwin's evidences.
  • Unbroken Evolution under uniform conditions pleased every one — except curates and bishops; it was the very best substitute for religion; a safe, conservative practical, thoroughly Common-Law deity. Such a working system for the universe suited a young man who had just helped to waste five or ten thousand million dollars and a million lives, more or less, to enforce unity and uniformity on people who objected to it.
  • Unity and Uniformity were the whole motive of philosophy, and if Darwin, like a true Englishman, preferred to back into it — to reach God a posteriori — rather than start from it, like Spinoza, the difference of method taught only the moral that the best way of reaching unity was to unite. Any road was good that arrived.
  • Objections fatal to one mind are futile to another.
  • As he lay on Wenlock Edge, with the sheep nibbling the grass close about him as they or their betters had nibbled the grass — or whatever there was to nibble — in the Silurian kingdom of Pteraspis, he seemed to have fallen on an evolution far more wonderful than that of fishes. He did not like it; he could not account for it; and he determined to stop it. Never since the days of his Limulus ancestry had any of his ascendants thought thus. Their modes of thought might be many, but their thought was one. Out of his millions of millions of ancestors, back to the Cambrian mollusks, every one had probably lived and died in the illusion of Truths which did not amuse him, and which had never changed. Henry Adams was the first in an infinite series to discover and admit to himself that he really did not care whether truth was, or was not, true. He did not even care that it should be proved true, unless the process were new and amusing. He was a Darwinian for fun.

    From the beginning of history, this attitude had been branded as criminal — worse than crime — sacrilege! Society punished it ferociously and justly, in self-defence.

Chapter XVI The Press
  • One could divine pretty nearly where the force lay, since the last ten years had given to the great mechanical energies — coal, iron, steam — a distinct superiority in power over the old industrial elements — agriculture, handwork, and learning; but the result of this revolution on a survivor from the fifties resembled the action of the earthworm; he twisted about, in vain, to recover his starting-point; he could no longer see his own trail; he had become an estray; a flotsam or jetsam of wreckage; a belated reveller, or a scholar-gipsy like Matthew Arnold's. His world was dead. Not a Polish Jew fresh from Warsaw or Cracow — not a furtive Yacoob or Ysaac still reeking of the Ghetto, snarling a weird Yiddish to the officers of the customs — but had a keener instinct, an intenser energy, and a freer hand than he — American of Americans, with Heaven knew how many Puritans and Patriots behind him, and an education that had cost a civil war.
  • He was a banker, and towards bankers Adams felt the narrow prejudice which the serf feels to his overseer; for he knew he must obey, and he knew that the helpless showed only their helplessness when they tempered obedience by mockery. The world, after 1865, became a bankers' world.
  • Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.
  • In doubt, the quickest way to clear one's mind is to discuss.
  • Like all strong-willed and self-asserting men, Mr. Chase had the faults of his qualities. He was never easy to drive in harness, or light in hand. He saw vividly what was wrong, and did not always allow for what was relatively right.
  • As was sure, sooner or later, to happen, Adams one day met Charles Sumner on the street, and instantly stopped to greet him. As though eight years of broken ties were the natural course of friendship, Sumner at once, after an exclamation of surprise, dropped back into the relation of hero to the school boy. Adams enjoyed accepting it. He was then thirty years old and Sumner was fifty-seven; he had seen more of the world than Sumner ever dreamed of, and he felt a sort of amused curiosity to be treated once more as a child. At best, the renewal of broken relations is a nervous matter, and in this case it bristled with thorns.
  • He was the more surprised to see that Sumner invited a renewal of old relations. He found himself treated almost confidentially. Not only was he asked to make a fourth at Sumner's pleasant little dinners in the house on La Fayette Square, but he found himself admitted to the Senator's study and informed of his views, policy and purposes, which were sometimes even more astounding than his curious gaps or lapses of omniscience.

    On the whole, the relation was the queerest that Henry Adams ever kept up. He liked and admired Sumner, but thought his mind a pathological study. At times he inclined to think that Sumner felt his solitude, and, in the political wilderness, craved educated society; but this hardly told the whole story. Sumner's mind had reached the calm of water which receives and reflects images without absorbing them; it contained nothing but itself.

Chapter XVII President Grant
  • In time one came to recognize the type in other men, with differences and variations, as normal; men whose energies were the greater, the less they wasted on thought; men who sprang from the soil to power; apt to be distrustful of themselves and of others; shy; jealous; sometimes vindictive; more or less dull in outward appearance; always needing stimulants, but for whom action was the highest stimulant — the instinct of fight.
  • Simple-minded beyond the experience of Wall Street or State Street, he resorted, like most men of the same intellectual calibre, to commonplaces when at a loss for expression: "Let us have peace!" or, "The best way to treat a bad law is to execute it"; or a score of such reversible sentences generally to be gauged by their sententiousness.
  • What worried Adams was not the commonplace; it was, as usual, his own education. Grant fretted and irritated him, like the Terebratula, as a defiance of first principles. He had no right to exist. He should have been extinct for ages. The idea that, as society grew older, it grew one-sided, upset evolution, and made of education a fraud. That, two thousand years after Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, a man like Grant should be called — and should actually and truly be — the highest product of the most advanced evolution, made evolution ludicrous. One must be as commonplace as Grant's own commonplaces to maintain such an absurdity. The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant, was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin.
  • The difference is slight, to the influence of an author, whether he is read by five hundred readers, or by five hundred thousand; if he can select the five hundred, he reaches the five hundred thousand.
  • Had Grant been a Congressman one would have been on one’s guard, for one knew the type. One never expected from a Congressman more than good intentions and public spirit. Newspaper-men as a rule had no great respect for the lower House; Senators had less; and Cabinet officers had none at all. Indeed, one day when Adams was pleading with a Cabinet officer for patience and tact in dealing with Representatives, the Secretary impatiently broke out: “You can’t use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!”
Chapter XVIII Free Fight
  • No European spring had shown him the same intermixture of delicate grace and passionate depravity that marked the Maryland May. He loved it too much, as though it were Greek and half human.
  • Material furnished by a government seldom satisfies critics or historians, for it lies always under suspicion.
  • Society is immoral and immortal; it can afford to commit any kind of folly, and indulge in any sort of vice; it cannot be killed, and the fragments that survive can always laugh at the dead.
  • Society hesitated, wavered, oscillated between harshness and laxity, pitilessly sacrificing the weak, and deferentially following the strong.
Chapter XIX Chaos
  • ...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?
  • 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.
  • ...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.
Chapter XX Failure
  • A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • ...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.
  • ...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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Chapter XXI Twenty Years After
  • 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.
  • ...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.
  • 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.
  • ...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
  • Probably, since human society began, it had seen no such curious spectacle as the houses of the San Francisco millionaires on Nob Hill.
  • 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 bicycle.
  • 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.
Chapter XXII Chicago
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Loving paradox, Brooks, with the advantages of ten years' study, had swept away much rubbish in the effort to build up a new line of thought for himself, but he found that no paradox compared with that of daily events. The facts were constantly outrunning his thoughts. The instability was greater than he calculated; the speed of acceleration passed bounds. Among other general rules he laid down the paradox that, in the social disequilibrium between capital and labor, the logical outcome was not collectivism, but anarchism; and Henry made note of it for study.
  • Some millions of other people felt the same helplessness, but few of them were seeking education, and to them helplessness seemed natural and normal, for they had grown up in the habit of thinking a steam-engine or a dynamo as natural as the sun, and expected to understand one as little as the other.
  • Chicago asked in 1893 for the first time the question whether the American people knew where they were driving.
  • He had hugged his antiquated dislike of bankers and capitalistic society until he had become little better than a crank. He had known for years that he must accept the regime, but he had known a great many other disagreeable certainties -- like age, senility, and death — against which one made what little resistance one could.
Chapter XXIII Silence
  • The woman who is known only through a man is known wrong.
  • ...the planet offers hardly a dozen places where an elderly man can pass a week alone without ennui, and none at all where he can pass a year.
Chapter XXIV Indian Summer
  • In his fancy, office was poison; it killed — body and soul — physically and socially. Office was more poisonous than priestcraft or pedagogy in proportion as it held more power; but the poison he complained of was not ambition; he shared none of Cardinal Wolsey's belated penitence for that healthy stimulant, as he had shared none of the fruits; his poison was that of the will — the distortion of sight — the warping of mind — the degradation of tissue — the coarsening of taste — the narrowing of sympathy to the emotions of a caged rat.
  • The American mind — the Bostonian as well as the Southern or Western — likes to walk straight up to its object, and assert or deny something that it takes for a fact; it has a conventional approach, a conventional analysis, and a conventional conclusion, as well as a conventional expression, all the time loudly asserting its unconventionality.
  • The mind resorts to reason for want of training.
  • Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.
  • Like so many other great observers, Langley was not a mathematician, and like most physicists, he believed in physics. Rigidly denying himself the amusement of philosophy, which consists chiefly in suggesting unintelligible answers to insoluble problems, he still knew the problems, and liked to wander past them in a courteous temper, even bowing to them distantly as though recognising their existence though doubting their respectability.
Chapter XXV The Dynamo and the Virgin
  • Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.
  • ...but to Adams the dynamo became a symbol of infinity. As he grew accustomed to the great gallery of machines, he began to feel the forty-foot dynamos as a moral force, much as the early Christians felt the Cross.
  • Langley seemed prepared for anything, even for an indeterminable number of universes interfused — physics stark mad in metaphysics.
  • The force of the Virgin was still felt at Lourdes, and seemed to be as potent as X-rays, but in America neither Venus nor Virgin ever had value as force — at most as sentiment.
  • The Woman had once been supreme; in France she still seemed potent, not merely as sentiment but as a force; why was she unknown in America?
  • She was goddess because of her force; she was the animated dynamo; she was reproduction — the greatest and most mysterious of all energies; all she needed was to be fecund.
  • The true American knew something of the facts, but nothing of the feelings; he read the letter but he never felt the law.
  • How many years had he taken to admit a notion of what Michael Angelo and Rubens were driving at? He could not say; but he knew that only since 1895 had he begun to feel the Virgin or Venus as force, and not everywhere even so. At Chartres — perhaps at Lourdes — possibly at Cnidos if one could still find there the divinely naked Aphrodite of Praxiteles — but otherwise one must look for force to the goddesses of Indian mythology.
  • All the steam in the world could not, like the Virgin, build Chartres.
  • ...by action on man all known force may be measured. Indeed, few men of science measured force in any other way. After once admitting that a straight line was the shortest distance between two points, no serious mathematician cared to deny anything that suited his convenience, and rejected no symbol, proved or unproveable, that helped him to accomplish work. The symbol was force, as a compass-needle or a triangle was force.
  • Symbol or energy, the Virgin had acted as the greatest force the Western world ever felt, and had drawn man's activities to herself more strongly than any other power, natural or supernatural, had ever done; the historian's business was to follow the track of the energy; to find where it came from and where it went to; its complex source and shifting channels; its values, equivalents, conversions.
Chapter XXVI Twilight
  • Senators could seldom give a reason for obstruction. In every hundred men, a certain number obstruct by instinct, and try to invent reasons to explain it afterwards.
  • … the affectation of readiness for death is a stage rôle, and stoicism is a stupid resource though the only one. Non dolet, Pæte! One is ashamed of it even in the acting.
Chapter XXVII Teufelsdröckh
  • Paris remained Parisian in spite of change, mistress of herself though China fell. Scores of artists — sculptors and painters, poets and dramatists, workers in gems and metals, designers in stuffs and furniture — hundreds of chemists, physicists, even philosophers, philologists, physicians, and historians — were at work, a thousand times as actively as ever before, and the mass and originality of their product would have swamped any previous age, as it very nearly swamped its own; but the effect was one of chaos, and Adams stood as helpless before it as before the chaos of New York.
  • He too had played with anarchy; though not with socialism, which, to young men who nourished artistic emotions under the dome of the Pantheon, seemed hopelessly bourgeois, and lowest middle-class.
  • For years Adams had taught American youth never to travel without a Senator who was useful even in America at times, but indispensable in Russia where, in 1901, anarchists, even though conservative and Christian, were ill-seen. This wing of the anarchistic party consisted rigorously of but two members, Adams and Bay Lodge.
  • Adams proclaimed that in the last synthesis, order and anarchy were one, but that the unity was chaos. As anarchist, conservative and Christian, he had no motive or duty but to attain the end; and, to hasten it, he was bound to accelerate progress; to concentrate energy; to accumulate power; to multiply and intensify forces; to reduce friction, increase velocity and magnify momentum, partly because this was the mechanical law of the universe as science explained it; but partly also in order to get done with the present which artists and some others complained of; and finally — and chiefly — because a rigorous philosophy required it, in order to penetrate the beyond, and satisfy man's destiny by reaching the largest synthesis in its ultimate contradiction. Of course the untaught critic instantly objected that this scheme was neither conservative, Christian, nor anarchic, but such objection meant only that the critic should begin his education in any infant school in order to learn that anarchy which should be logical would cease to be anarchic. To the conservative Christian anarchist, the amiable doctrines of Kropotkin were sentimental ideas of Russian mental inertia covered with the name of anarchy merely to disguise their innocence.
  • ...the outpourings of Elisée Reclus were ideals of the French ouvrier, diluted with absinthe, resulting in a bourgeois dream of order and inertia. Neither made a pretence of anarchy except as a momentary stage towards order and unity. Neither of them had formed any other conception of the universe than what they had inherited from the priestly class to which their minds obviously belonged. With them, as with the socialist, communist, or collectivist, the mind that followed nature had no relation.
  • The throb of fifty or a hundred million steam horse-power, doubling every ten years, and already more despotic than all the horses that ever lived, and all the riders they ever carried, drowned rhyme and reason. No one was to blame, for all were equally servants of the power, and worked merely to increase it; but the conservative Christian anarchist saw light.
  • Studied in the dry light of conservative Christian anarchy, Russia became luminous like the salt of radium; but with a negative luminosity as though she were a substance whose energies had been sucked out — an inert residuum — with movement of pure inertia. From the car window one seemed to float past undulations of nomad life — herders deserted by their leaders and herds — wandering waves stopped in their wanderings — waiting for their winds or warriors to return and lead them westward; tribes that had camped, like Khirgis, for the season, and had lost the means of motion without acquiring the habit of permanence. They waited and suffered. As they stood they were out of place, and could never have been normal. Their country acted as a sink of energy like the Caspian Sea, and its surface kept the uniformity of ice and snow. One Russian peasant kissing an ikon on a saint's day, in the Kremlin, served for a hundred million. The student had no need to study Wallace, or re-read Tolstoy or Tourguenieff or Dostoiewski to refresh his memory of the most poignant analysis of human inertia ever put in words; Gorky was more than enough: Kropotkine answered every purpose.
Chapter XXVIII The Height of Knowledge
  • The tragedy of King impressed him intensely: "There you have it in the face!" he said — "the best and brightest man of his generation, with talents immeasurably beyond any of his contemporaries; with industry that has often sickened me to witness it; with everything in his favor but blind luck; hounded by disaster from his cradle, with none of the joy of life to which he was entitled, dying at last, with nameless suffering alone and uncared-for, in a California tavern.
  • Power when wielded by abnormal energy is the most serious of facts, and all Roosevelt's friends know that his restless and combative energy was more than abnormal.
  • Those who seek education in the paths of duty are always deceived by the illusion that power in the hands of friends is an advantage to them. As far as Adams could teach experience, he was bound to warn them that he had found it an invariable disaster. Power is poison. Its effect on Presidents had been always tragic, chiefly as an almost insane excitement at first, and a worse reaction afterwards.
  • As a type for study, or a standard for education, Lodge was the more interesting of the two. Roosevelts are born and never can be taught; but Lodge was a creature of teaching — Boston incarnate — the child of his local parentage; and while his ambition led him to be more, the intent, though virtuous, was — as Adams admitted in his own case — restless. An excellent talker, a voracious reader, a ready wit, an accomplished orator, with a clear mind and a powerful memory, he could never feel perfectly at ease whatever leg he stood on, but shifted, sometimes with painful strain of temper, from one sensitive muscle to another, uncertain whether to pose as an uncompromising Yankee; or a pure American; or a patriot in the still purer atmosphere of Irish, Germans, or Jews; or a scholar and historian of Harvard College. English to the last fibre of his thought — saturated with English literature, English tradition, English taste — revolted by every vice and by most virtues of Frenchmen and Germans, or any other Continental standards, but at home and happy among the vices and extravagances of Shakespeare — standing first on the social, then on the political foot; now worshipping, now banning; shocked by the wanton display of immorality, but practicing the license of political usage; sometimes bitter, often genial, always intelligent — Lodge had the singular merit of interesting. The usual statesmen flocked in swarms like crows, black and monotonous. Lodge's plumage was varied, and, like his flight, harked back to race. He betrayed the consciousness that he and his people had a past, if they dared but avow it, and might have a future, if they could but divine it.
  • The work of domestic progress is done by masses of mechanical power — steam, electric, furnace, or other — which have to be controlled by a score or two of individuals who have shown capacity to manage it. The work of internal government has become the task of controlling these men, who are socially as remote as heathen gods, alone worth knowing, but never known, and who could tell nothing of political value if one skinned them alive. Most of them have nothing to tell, but are forces as dumb as their dynamos, absorbed in the development or economy of power. They are trustees for the public, and whenever society assumes the property, it must confer on them that title; but the power will remain as before, whoever manages it, and will then control society without appeal, as it controls its stokers and pit-men. Modern politics is, at bottom, a struggle not of men but of forces. The men become every year more and more creatures of force, massed about central power-houses. The conflict is no longer between the men, but between the motors that drive the men, and the men tend to succumb to their own motive forces.
Chapter XXIX The Abyss of Ignorance
  • We combat obstacles in order to get repose, and, when got, the repose is insupportable.
  • This education startled even a man who had dabbled in fifty educations all over the world; for, if he were obliged to insist on a Universe, he seemed driven to the Church. Modern science guaranteed no unity. The student seemed to feel himself, like all his predecessors, caught, trapped, meshed in this eternal drag-net of religion.

    In practice the student escapes this dilemma in two ways: the first is that of ignoring it, as one escapes most dilemmas; the second is that the Church rejects pantheism as worse than atheism, and will have nothing to do with the pantheist at any price.

  • Nihilism had no bottom. For thousands of years every philosopher had stood on the shore of this sunless sea, diving for pearls and never finding them. All had seen that, since they could not find bottom, they must assume it.
  • Science itself had been crowded so close to the edge of the abyss that its attempts to escape were as metaphysical as the leap.
  • Any schoolboy could see that man as a force must be measured by motion, from a fixed point. Psychology helped here by suggesting a unit — the point of history when man held the highest idea of himself as a unit in a unified universe. Eight or ten years of study had led Adams to think he might use the century 1150-1250, expressed in Amiens Cathedral and the Works of Thomas Aquinas, as the unit from which he might measure motion down to his own time, without assuming anything as true or untrue, except relation. The movement might be studied at once in philosophy and mechanics. Setting himself to the task, he began a volume which he mentally knew as "Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres: a Study of Thirteenth-Century Unity." From that point he proposed to fix a position for himself, which he could label: "The Education of Henry Adams: a Study of Twentieth-Century Multiplicity." With the help of these two points of relation, he hoped to project his lines forward and backward indefinitely, subject to correction from any one who should know better. Thereupon, he sailed for home.
    • On the genesis of two of his historical and autobiographical works.
Chapter XXX Vis Inertiae
  • ...simplicity is the most deceitful mistress that ever betrayed man.
  • "The American man is a failure! You are all failures!" he said. "Has not my sister here more sense than my brother Brooks? Is not Bessie worth two of Bay? Wouldn't we all elect Mrs. Lodge Senator against Cabot? Would the President have a ghost of a chance if Mrs. Roosevelt ran against him? Do you want to stop at the Embassy, on your way home, and ask which would run it best — Herbert or his wife?" The men laughed a little — not much! Each probably made allowance for his own wife as an unusually superior woman. Some one afterwards remarked that these half-dozen women were not a fair average. Adams replied that the half-dozen men were above all possible average; he could not lay his hands on another half-dozen their equals.
  • Socialism, communism, collectivism, philosophical anarchism, which promised paradise on earth for every male, cut off the few avenues of escape which capitalism had opened to the woman, and she saw before her only the future reserved for machine-made, collectivist females.
  • The Church had known more about women than science will ever know, and the historian who studied the sources of Christianity felt sometimes convinced that the Church had been made by the woman chiefly as her protest against man.
    • In the first part of this quote, Adams alludes to the figure of the Virgin, the subject of Chapters V–XIII of Mont Saint Michel and Chartres.
  • No honest historian can take part with — or against — the forces he has to study. To him even the extinction of the human race should be merely a fact to be grouped with other vital statistics.
Chapter XXXI The Grammar of Science
  • Pearson shut out of science everything which the nineteenth-century had brought into it. He told his scholars that they must put up with a fraction of the universe, and a very small fraction at that — the circle reached by the senses, where sequence could be taken for granted.
    • Adams quotes — and takes the title of this chapter — from Karl Pearson's classic work The Grammar of Science: "In the chaos behind sensations, in the 'beyond' of sense-impressions, we cannot infer necessity, order or routine, for these are concepts formed by the mind of man on this side of sense-impressions." "Briefly chaos is all that science can logically assert of the supersensuous."
  • In plain words, Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.
  • No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
  • The Church alone had constantly protested that anarchy was not order, that Satan was not God, that pantheism was worse than atheism, and that Unity could not be proved as a contradiction. Karl Pearson seemed to agree with the Church, but everyone else, including Newton, Darwin and Clerk-Maxwell, had sailed gaily into the supersensual.
  • At last their universe had been wrecked by rays, and Karl Pearson undertook to cut the wreck loose with an axe, leaving science adrift on a sensual raft in the midst of a supersensual chaos.
  • He took their facts for granted. He knew no more than a firefly about rays — or about race or sex — or ennui — or a bar of music — or a pang of love — or a grain of musk — or of phosphorus — or conscience — or duty — or the force of Euclidian geometry — or non-Euclidian — or heat — or light — or osmosis — or electrolysis — or the magnet — or ether — or vis inertiae — or gravitation — or cohesion — or elasticity — or surface tension — or capillary attraction — or Brownian motion — or of some scores, or thousands, or millions of chemical attractions, repulsions or indifferences which were busy within and without him; or, in brief, of Force itself, which, he was credibly informed, bore some dozen definitions in the textbooks, mostly contradictory, and all, as he was assured, beyond his intelligence.
Chapter XXXII Vis Nova
  • That it was actual and serious in France as in the Senate Chamber at Washington, proved itself at once by forcing Adams to buy an automobile, which was a supreme demonstration because this was the form of force which Adams most abominated. He had set aside the summer for study of the Virgin, not as a sentiment but as a motive power, which had left monuments widely scattered and not easily reached. The automobile alone could unite them in any reasonable sequence, and although the force of the automobile, for the purposes of a commercial traveller, seemed to have no relation whatever to the force that inspired a Gothic cathedral, the Virgin in the twelfth century would have guided and controlled both bag-man and architect, as she controlled the seeker of history.
  • As long as he could whisper, he would go on as he had begun, bluntly refusing to meet his creator with the admission that the creation had taught him nothing except that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle might for convenience be taken as equal to something else. Every man with self-respect enough to become effective, if only as a machine, has had to account to himself for himself somehow, and to invent a formula of his own for his universe, if the standard formulas failed.
Chapter XXXIII A Dynamic Theory of History
  • Man had in the beginning no power of analysis or synthesis approaching that of the spider, or even of the honey-bee; he had acute sensibility to the higher forces. Fire taught him secrets that no other animal could learn; running water probably taught him even more, especially in his first lessons of mechanics; the animals helped to educate him, trusting themselves into his hands merely for the sake of their food, and carrying his burdens or supplying his clothing; the grasses and grains were academies of study.
  • Susceptibility to the highest forces is the highest genius; selection between them is the highest science; their mass is the highest educator. Man always made, and still makes, grotesque blunders in selecting and measuring forces, taken at random from the heap, but he never made a mistake in the value he set on the whole, which he symbolized as unity and worshipped as God.
  • The result might have been stated in a mathematical formula as early as the time of Archimedes, six hundred years before Rome fell. The economic needs of a violently centralizing society forced the empire to enlarge its slave-system until the slave-system consumed itself and the empire too, leaving society no resource but further enlargement of its religious system in order to compensate for the losses and horrors of the failure. For a vicious circle, its mathematical completeness approached perfection. The dynamic law of attraction and reaction needed only a Newton to fix it in algebraic form.

    At last, in 410, Alaric sacked Rome, and the slave-ridden, agricultural, uncommercial Western Empire — the poorer and less Christianized half — went to pieces.

  • Even when, after centuries of license, the Church reformed its discipline, and, to prove it, burned Giordano Bruno in 1600, besides condemning Galileo in 1630 — as science goes on repeating to us every day — it condemned anarchists, not atheists. None of the astronomers were irreligious men; all of them made a point of magnifying God through his works; a form of science which did their religion no credit. Neither Galileo nor Kepler, neither Spinoza nor Descartes, neither Leibnitz nor Newton, any more than Constantine the Great — if so much — doubted Unity. The utmost range of their heresies reached only its personality.
  • Yet the telescope held it rigidly standing on its head; the microscope revealed a universe that defied the senses; gunpowder killed whole races that lagged behind; the compass coerced the most imbruted mariner to act on the impossible idea that the earth was round; the press drenched Europe with anarchism. Europe saw itself, violently resisting, wrenched into false positions, drawn along new lines as a fish that is caught on a hook; but unable to understand by what force it was controlled.
  • Whether the attractive energy has been called God or Nature, the mechanism has been always the same, and history is not obliged to decide whether the Ultimate tends to a purpose or not, or whether ultimate energy is one or many.
  • There is nothing unscientific in the idea that, beyond the lines of force felt by the senses, the universe may be — as it has always been — either a supersensuous chaos or a divine unity, which irresistibly attracts, and is either life or death to penetrate. Thus far, religion, philosophy and science seem to go hand in hand. The schools begin their vital battle only there.
Chapter XXXIV A Law of Acceleration
  • Fifty years ago, science took for granted that the rate of acceleration could not last. The world forgets quickly, but even today the habit remains of founding statistics on the faith that consumption will continue nearly stationary. Two generations, with John Stuart Mill, talked of this stationary period, which was to follow the explosion of new power. All the men who were elderly in the forties died in this faith, and other men grew old nursing the same conviction, and happy in it; while science, for fifty years, permitted, or encouraged, society to think that force would prove to be limited in supply. This mental inertia of science lasted through the eighties before showing signs of breaking up; and nothing short of radium fairly wakened men to the fact, long since evident, that force was inexhaustible.
  • For this new creation, born since 1900, a historian asked no longer to be teacher or even friend; he asked only to be a pupil, and promised to be docile, for once, even though trodden under foot; for he could see that the new American — the child of incalculable coal-power, chemical power, electric power, and radiating energy, as well as of new forces yet undetermined — must be a sort of God compared with any former creation of nature. At the rate of progress since 1800, every American who lived into the year 2000 would know how to control unlimited power. He would think in complexities unimaginable to an earlier mind. He would deal with problems altogether beyond the range of earlier society. To him the nineteenth century would stand on the same plane with the fourth — equally childlike — and he would only wonder how both of them, knowing so little, and so weak in force, should have done so much.
Chapter XXXV Nunc Age
  • The Trusts and Corporations stood for the larger part of the new power that had been created since 1840, and were obnoxious because of their vigorous and unscrupulous energy. They were revolutionary, troubling all the old conventions and values, as the screws of ocean steamers must trouble a school of herring. They tore society to pieces and trampled it under foot.
  • Even in America, the Indian Summer of life should be a little sunny and a little sad, like the season, and infinite in wealth and depth of tone — but never hustled.
  • It was time to go. The three friends had begun life together; and the last of the three had no motive — no attraction — to carry it on after the others had gone. Education had ended for all three, and only beyond some remoter horizon could its values be fixed or renewed. Perhaps some day — say 1938, their centenary — they might be allowed to return together for a holiday, to see the mistakes of their own lives made clear in the light of the mistakes of their successors; and perhaps then, for the first time since man began his education among the carnivores, they would find a world that sensitive and timid natures could regard without a shudder.
    • The closing lines of the book.


  • Never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.

Quotes about Adams

  • Henry Adams had prophesied that the awakening would come before 1940. He missed the year by a trifle. His historic sense was sound.
  • Adams's skill as a literary craftsman has rarely been excelled by anyone writing in the English language, and certainly by no American historian. Any historian who ventures into territory where Henry Adams trod does so with either trepidation or foolhardy courage—lest one offend not only Clio, the muse of History, but also Calliope, the muse of Epic Poetry.
Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikisource has original works by or about:
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Adams, Henry.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: