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The Education of Henry Adams

The Press (1868)
AT ten o'clock of a July night, in heat that made the tropical rain-shower simmer, the
Adams family and the Motley family clambered down the side of their Cunard steamer
into the government tugboat, which set them ashore in black darkness at the end of some
North River pier. Had they been Tyrian traders of the year B.C. 1000 landing from a
galley fresh from Gibraltar, they could hardly have been stranger on the shore of a world,
so changed from what it had been ten years before. The historian of the Dutch, no longer
historian but diplomatist, started up an unknown street, in company with the private
secretary who had become private citizen, in search of carriages to convey the two parties
to the Brevoort House. The pursuit was arduous but successful. Towards midnight they
found shelter once more in their native land.
How much its character had changed or was changing, they could not wholly know, and
they could but partly feel. For that matter, the land itself knew no more than they. Society
in America was always trying, almost as blindly as an earthworm, to realize and
understand itself; to catch up with its own head, and to twist about in search of its tail.
Society offered the profile of a long, straggling caravan, stretching loosely towards the
prairies, its few score of leaders far in advance and its millions of immigrants, negroes,
and Indians far in the rear, somewhere in archaic time. It enjoyed the vast advantage over
Europe that all seemed, for the moment, to move in one direction, while Europe wasted
most of its energy in trying several contradictory movements at once; but whenever
Europe or Asia should be polarized or oriented towards the same point, America might
easily lose her lead. Meanwhile each newcomer needed to slip into a place as near the
head of the caravan as possible, and needed most to know where the leaders could be
found. One could divine pretty nearly where the force lay, since the last ten years had
given to the great mechanical energies -- coal, iron, steam -- a distinct superiority in
power over the old industrial elements -- agriculture, handwork, and learning; but the
result of this revolution on a survivor from the fifties resembled the action of the
earthworm; he twisted about, in vain, to recover his starting-point; he could no longer see
his own trail; he had become an estray; a flotsam or jetsam of wreckage; a belated
reveller, or a scholar-gipsy like Matthew Arnold's. His world was dead. Not a Polish Jew
fresh from Warsaw or Cracow -- not a furtive Yacoob or Ysaac still reeking of the
Ghetto, snarling a weird Yiddish to the officers of the customs -- but had a keener
instinct, an intenser energy, and a freer hand than he -- American of Americans, with
Heaven knew how many Puritans and Patriots behind him, and an education that had cost
a civil war. He made no complaint and found no fault with his time; he was no worse off
than the Indians or the buffalo who had been ejected from their heritage by his own
people; but he vehemently insisted that he was not himself at fault. The defeat was not
due to him, nor yet to any superiority of his rivals. He had been unfairly forced out of the
track, and must get back into it as best he could.
One comfort he could enjoy to the full. Little as he might be fitted for the work that was
before him, he had only to look at his father and Motley to see figures less fitted for it
than he. All were equally survivals from the forties -- bric-a-brac from the time of Louis
 
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