The Education of Henry Adams HTML version

President Grant (1869)
THE first effect of this leap into the unknown was a fit of low spirits new to the young
man's education; due in part to the overpowering beauty and sweetness of the Maryland
autumn, almost unendurable for its strain on one who had toned his life down to the
November grays and browns of northern Europe. Life could not go on so beautiful and so
sad. Luckily, no one else felt it or knew it. He bore it as well as he could, and when he
picked himself up, winter had come, and he was settled in bachelor's quarters, as modest
as those of a clerk in the Departments, far out on G Street, towards Georgetown, where
an old Finn named Dohna, who had come out with the Russian Minister Stoeckel long
before, had bought or built a new house. Congress had met. Two or three months
remained to the old administration, but all interest centred in the new one. The town
began to swarm with office-seekers, among whom a young writer was lost. He drifted
among them, unnoticed, glad to learn his work under cover of the confusion. He never
aspired to become a regular reporter; he knew he should fail in trying a career so
ambitious and energetic; but he picked up friends on the press -- Nordhoff, Murat
Halstead, Henry Watterson, Sam Bowles -- all reformers, and all mixed and jumbled
together in a tidal wave of expectation, waiting for General Grant to give orders. No one
seemed to know much about it. Even Senators had nothing to say. One could only make
notes and study finance.
In waiting, he amused himself as he could. In the amusements of Washington, education
had no part, but the simplicity of the amusements proved the simplicity of everything
else, ambitions, interests, thoughts, and knowledge. Proverbially Washington was a poor
place for education, and of course young diplomats avoided or disliked it, but, as a rule,
diplomats disliked every place except Paris, and the world contained only one Paris. They
abused London more violently than Washington; they praised no post under the sun; and
they were merely describing three-fourths of their stations when they complained that
there were no theatres, no restaurants, no monde, no demi-monde, no drives, no splendor,
and, as Mme. de Struve used to say, no grandezza. This was all true; Washington was a
mere political camp, as transient and temporary as a camp-meeting for religious revival,
but the diplomats had least reason to complain, since they were more sought for there
than they would ever be elsewhere. For young men Washington was in one way paradise,
since they were few, and greatly in demand. After watching the abject unimportance of
the young diplomat in London society, Adams found himself a young duke in
Washington. He had ten years of youth to make up, and a ravenous appetite. Washington
was the easiest society he had ever seen, and even the Bostonian became simple, good-
natured, almost genial, in the softness of a Washington spring. Society went on
excellently well without houses, or carriages, or jewels, or toilettes, or pavements, or
shops, or grandezza of any sort; and the market was excellent as well as cheap. One could
not stay there a month without loving the shabby town. Even the Washington girl, who
was neither rich nor well-dressed nor well-educated nor clever, had singular charm, and
used it. According to Mr. Adams the father, this charm dated back as far as Monroe's
administration, to his personal knowledge.