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The Education of Henry Adams

Dilettantism (1865-1866)
THE campaign of 1864 and the reelection of Mr. Lincoln in November set the American
Minister on so firm a footing that he could safely regard his own anxieties as over, and
the anxieties of Earl Russell and the Emperor Napoleon as begun. With a few months
more his own term of four years would come to an end, and even though the questions
still under discussion with England should somewhat prolong his stay, he might look
forward with some confidence to his return home in 1865. His son no longer fretted. The
time for going into the army had passed. If he were to be useful at all, it must be as a son,
and as a son he was treated with the widest indulgence and trust. He knew that he was
doing himself no good by staying in London, but thus far in life he had done himself no
good anywhere, and reached his twenty-seventh birthday without having advanced a step,
that he could see, beyond his twenty-first. For the most part, his friends were worse off
than he. The war was about to end and they were to be set adrift in a world they would
find altogether strange.
At this point, as though to cut the last thread of relation, six months were suddenly
dropped out of his life in England. The London climate had told on some of the family;
the physicians prescribed a winter in Italy. Of course the private secretary was detached
as their escort, since this was one of his professional functions; and he passed six months,
gaining an education as Italian courier, while the Civil War came to its end. As far as
other education went, he got none, but he was amused. Travelling in all possible luxury,
at some one else's expense, with diplomatic privileges and position, was a form of travel
hitherto untried. The Cornice in vettura was delightful; Sorrento in winter offered hills to
climb and grottoes to explore, and Naples near by to visit; Rome at Easter was an
experience necessary for the education of every properly trained private secretary; the
journey north by vettura through Perugia and Sienna was a dream; the Splugen Pass, if
not equal to the Stelvio, was worth seeing; Paris had always something to show. The
chances of accidental education were not so great as they had been, since one's field of
experience had grown large; but perhaps a season at Baden Baden in these later days of
its brilliancy offered some chances of instruction, if it were only the sight of fashionable
Europe and America on the race-course watching the Duke of Hamilton, in the middle,
improving his social advantages by the conversation of Cora Pearl.
The assassination of President Lincoln fell on the party while they were at Rome, where
it seemed singularly fitting to that nursery of murderers and murdered, as though America
were also getting educated. Again one went to meditate on the steps of the Santa Maria in
Ara Coeli, but the lesson seemed as shallow as before. Nothing happened. The travellers
changed no plan or movement. The Minister did not recall them to London. The season
was over before they returned; and when the private secretary sat down again at his desk
in Portland Place before a mass of copy in arrears, he saw before him a world so changed
as to be beyond connection with the past. His identity, if one could call a bundle of
disconnected memories an identity, seemed to remain; but his life was once more broken
into separate pieces; he was a spider and had to spin a new web in some new place with a
new attachment.