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The Education of Henry Adams

Silence (1894-1898)
The convulsion of 1893 left its victims in dead-water, and closed much education. While
the country braced itself up to an effort such as no one had thought within its powers, the
individual crawled as he best could, through the wreck, and found many values of life
upset. But for connecting the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the four years, 1893 to
1897, had no value in the drama of education, and might be left out. Much that had made
life pleasant between 1870 and 1890 perished in the ruin, and among the earliest
wreckage had been the fortunes of Clarence King. The lesson taught whatever the
bystander chose to read in it; but to Adams it seemed singularly full of moral, if he could
but understand it. In 1871 he had thought King's education ideal, and his personal fitness
unrivalled. No other young American approached him for the combination of chances --
physical energy, social standing, mental scope and training, wit, geniality, and science,
that seemed superlatively American and irresistibly strong. His nearest rival was
Alexander Agassiz, and, as far as their friends knew, no one else could be classed with
them in the running. The result of twenty years' effort proved that the theory of scientific
education failed where most theory fails -- for want of money. Even Henry Adams, who
kept himself, as he thought, quite outside of every possible financial risk, had been
caught in the cogs, and held for months over the gulf of bankruptcy, saved only by the
chance that the whole class of millionaires were more or less bankrupt too, and the banks
were forced to let the mice escape with the rats; but, in sum, education without capital
could always be taken by the throat and forced to disgorge its gains, nor was it helped by
the knowledge that no one intended it, but that all alike suffered. Whether voluntary or
mechanical the result for education was the same. The failure of the scientific scheme,
without money to back it, was flagrant.
The scientific scheme in theory was alone sound, for science should be equivalent to
money; in practice science was helpless without money. The weak holder was, in his own
language, sure to be frozen out. Education must fit the complex conditions of a new
society, always accelerating its movement, and its fitness could be known only from
success. One looked about for examples of success among the educated of one's time --
the men born in the thirties, and trained to professions. Within one's immediate
acquaintance, three were typical: John Hay, Whitelaw Reid, and William C. Whitney; all
of whom owed their free hand to marriage, education serving only for ornament, but
among whom, in 1893, William C. Whitney was far and away the most popular type.
Newspapers might prate about wealth till commonplace print was exhausted, but as
matter of habit, few Americans envied the very rich for anything the most of them got out
of money. New York might occasionally fear them, but more often laughed or sneered at
them, and never showed them respect. Scarcely one of the very rich men held any
position in society by virtue of his wealth, or could have been elected to an office, or
even into a good club. Setting aside the few, like Pierpont Morgan, whose social position
had little to do with greater or less wealth, riches were in New York no object of envy on
account of the joys they brought in their train, and Whitney was not even one of the very
rich; yet in his case the envy was palpable. There was reason for it. Already in 1893
 
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