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The Education of Henry Adams

Free Fight (1869-1870)
THE old New Englander was apt to be a solitary animal, but the young New Englander
was sometimes human. Judge Hoar brought his son Sam to Washington, and Sam Hoar
loved largely and well. He taught Adams the charm of Washington spring. Education for
education, none ever compared with the delight of this. The Potomac and its tributaries
squandered beauty. Rock Creek was as wild as the Rocky Mountains. Here and there a
negro log cabin alone disturbed the dogwood and the judas-tree, the azalea and the laurel.
The tulip and the chestnut gave no sense of struggle against a stingy nature. The soft, full
outlines of the landscape carried no hidden horror of glaciers in its bosom. The brooding
heat of the profligate vegetation; the cool charm of the running water; the terrific
splendor of the June thunder-gust in the deep and solitary woods, were all sensual,
animal, elemental. No European spring had shown him the same intermixture of delicate
grace and passionate depravity that marked the Maryland May. He loved it too much, as
though it were Greek and half human. He could not leave it, but loitered on into July,
falling into the Southern ways of the summer village about La Fayette Square, as one
whose rights of inheritance could not be questioned. Few Americans were so poor as to
question them.
In spite of the fatal deception -- or undeception -- about Grant's political character,
Adams's first winter in Washington had so much amused him that he had not a thought of
change. He loved it too much to question its value. What did he know about its value, or
what did any one know? His father knew more about it than any one else in Boston, and
he was amused to find that his father, whose recollections went back to 1820, betrayed
for Washington much the same sentimental weakness, and described the society about
President Monroe much as his son felt the society about President Johnson. He feared its
effect on young men, with some justice, since it had been fatal to two of his brothers; but
he understood the charm, and he knew that a life in Quincy or Boston was not likely to
deaden it.
Henry was in a savage humor on the subject of Boston. He saw Boutwells at every
counter. He found a personal grief in every tree. Fifteen or twenty years afterwards,
Clarence King used to amuse him by mourning over the narrow escape that nature had
made in attaining perfection. Except for two mistakes, the earth would have been a
success. One of these errors was the inclination of the ecliptic; the other was the
differentiation of the sexes, and the saddest thought about the last was that it should have
been so modern. Adams, in his splenetic temper, held that both these unnecessary evils
had wreaked their worst on Boston. The climate made eternal war on society, and sex
was a species of crime. The ecliptic had inclined itself beyond recovery till life was as
thin as the elm trees. Of course he was in the wrong. The thinness was in himself, not in
Boston; but this is a story of education, and Adams was struggling to shape himself to his
time. Boston was trying to do the same thing. Everywhere, except in Washington,
Americans were toiling for the same object. Every one complained of surroundings,
except where, as at Washington, there were no surroundings to complain of. Boston kept