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The Education of Henry Adams

Chicago (1893)
DRIFTING in the dead-water of the fin-de-siecle -- and during this last decade every one
talked, and seemed to feel fin-de-siecle -- where not a breath stirred the idle air of
education or fretted the mental torpor of self-content, one lived alone. Adams had long
ceased going into society. For years he had not dined out of his own house, and in public
his face was as unknown as that of an extinct statesman. 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.
His friends sometimes took pity on him, and came to share a meal or pass a night on
their passage south or northwards, but existence was, on the whole, exceedingly solitary,
or seemed so to him. Of the society favorites who made the life of every dinner- table and
of the halls of Congress -- Tom Reed, Bourke Cockran, Edward Wolcott -- he knew not
one. Although Calvin Brice was his next neighbor for six years, entertaining lavishly as
no one had ever entertained before in Washington, Adams never entered his house. W. C.
Whitney rivalled Senator Brice in hospitality, and was besides an old acquaintance of the
reforming era, but Adams saw him as little as he saw his chief, President Cleveland, or
President Harrison or Secretary Bayard or Blaine or Olney. One has no choice but to go
everywhere or nowhere. No one may pick and choose between houses, or accept
hospitality without returning it. He loved solitude as little as others did; but he was unfit
for social work, and he sank under the surface.
Luckily for such helpless animals as solitary men, the world is not only good-natured
but even friendly and generous; it loves to pardon if pardon is not demanded as a right.
Adams's social offences were many, and no one was more sensitive to it than himself; but
a few houses always remained which he could enter without being asked, and quit
without being noticed. One was John Hay's; another was Cabot Lodge's; a third led to an
intimacy which had the singular effect of educating him in knowledge of the very class of
American politician who had done most to block his intended path in life. Senator
Cameron of Pennsylvania had married in 1880 a young niece of Senator John Sherman of
Ohio, thus making an alliance of dynastic importance in politics, and in society a reign of
sixteen years, during which Mrs. Cameron and Mrs. Lodge led a career, without
precedent and without succession, as the dispensers of sunshine over Washington. Both
of them had been kind to Adams, and a dozen years of this intimacy had made him one of
their habitual household, as he was of Hay's. In a small society, such ties between houses
become political and social force. Without intention or consciousness, they fix one's
status in the world. Whatever one's preferences in politics might be, one's house was
bound to the Republican interest when sandwiched between Senator Cameron, John Hay,
and Cabot Lodge, with Theodore Roosevelt equally at home in them all, and Cecil
Spring-Rice to unite them by impartial variety. The relation was daily, and the alliance
undisturbed by power or patronage, since Mr. Harrison, in those respects, showed little
more taste than Mr. Cleveland for the society and interests of this particular band of
followers, whose relations with the White House were sometimes comic, but never