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The Education of Henry Adams

Chaos (1870)
ONE fine May afternoon in 1870 Adams drove again up St. James's Street wondering
more than ever at the marvels of life. Nine years had passed since the historic entrance of
May, 1861. Outwardly London was the same. Outwardly Europe showed no great
change. Palmerston and Russell were forgotten; but Disraeli and Gladstone were still
much alive. One's friends were more than ever prominent. John Bright was in the
Cabinet; W. E. Forster was about to enter it; reform ran riot. Never had the sun of
progress shone so fair. Evolution from lower to higher raged like an epidemic. Darwin
was the greatest of prophets in the most evolutionary of worlds. Gladstone had
overthrown the Irish Church; was overthrowing the Irish landlords; was trying to pass an
Education Act. Improvement, prosperity, power, were leaping and bounding over every
country road. Even America, with her Erie scandals and Alabama Claims, hardly made a
discordant note.
At the Legation, Motley ruled; the long Adams reign was forgotten; the rebellion had
passed into history. In society no one cared to recall the years before the Prince of Wales.
The smart set had come to their own. Half the houses that Adams had frequented, from
1861 to 1865, were closed or closing in 1870. Death had ravaged one's circle of friends.
Mrs. Milnes Gaskell and her sister Miss Charlotte Wynn were both dead, and Mr. James
Milnes Gaskell was no longer in Parliament. That field of education seemed closed too.
One found one's self in a singular frame of mind -- more eighteenth-century than ever --
almost rococo -- and unable to catch anywhere the cog-wheels of evolution. Experience
ceased to educate. London taught less freely than of old. That one bad style was leading
to another -- that the older men were more amusing than the younger -- that Lord
Houghton's breakfast-table showed gaps hard to fill -- that there were fewer men one
wanted to meet -- these, and a hundred more such remarks, helped little towards a quicker
and more intelligent activity. For English reforms Adams cared nothing. The reforms
were themselves mediaeval. The Education Bill of his friend W. E. Forster seemed to him
a guaranty against all education he had use for. He resented change. He would have kept
the Pope in the Vatican and the Queen at Windsor Castle as historical monuments. He did
not care to Americanize Europe. The Bastille or the Ghetto was a curiosity worth a great
deal of money, if preserved; and so was a Bishop; so was Napoleon III. The tourist was
the great conservative who hated novelty and adored dirt. Adams came back to London
without a thought of revolution or restlessness or reform. He wanted amusement, quiet,
and gaiety.
Had he not been born in 1838 under the shadow of Boston State House, and been
brought up in the Early Victorian epoch, he would have cast off his old skin, and made
his court to Marlborough House, in partnership with the American woman and the Jew
banker. Common-sense dictated it; but Adams and his friends were unfashionable by
some law of Anglo-Saxon custom -- some innate atrophy of mind. Figuring himself as
already a man of action, and rather far up towards the front, he had no idea of making a
new effort or catching up with a new world. He saw nothing ahead of him. The world
 
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