The Education of Henry Adams HTML version

Twenty Years After (1892)
ONCE more! this is a story of education, not of adventure! It is meant to help young men
-- or such as have intelligence enough to seek help -- but it is not meant to amuse them.
What one did -- or did not do -- with one's education, after getting it, need trouble the
inquirer in no way; it is a personal matter only which would confuse him. Perhaps Henry
Adams was not worth educating; most keen judges incline to think that barely one man in
a hundred owns a mind capable of reacting to any purpose on the forces that surround
him, and fully half of these react wrongly. The object of education for that mind should
be the teaching itself how to react with vigor and economy. No doubt the world at large
will always lag so far behind the active mind as to make a soft cushion of inertia to drop
upon, as it did for Henry Adams; but education should try to lessen the obstacles,
diminish the friction, invigorate the energy, and should train minds to react, not at
haphazard, but by choice, on the lines of force that attract their world. What one knows
is, in youth, of little moment; they know enough who know how to learn. Throughout
human history the waste of mind has been appalling, and, as this story is meant to show,
society has conspired to promote it. No doubt the teacher is the worst criminal, but the
world stands behind him and drags the student from his course. The moral is stentorian.
Only the most energetic, the most highly fitted, and the most favored have overcome the
friction or the viscosity of inertia, and these were compelled to waste three-fourths of
their energy in doing it.
Fit or unfit, Henry Adams stopped his own education in 1871, and began to apply it for
practical uses, like his neighbors. At the end of twenty years, he found that he had
finished, and could sum up the result. He had no complaint to make against man or
woman. They had all treated him kindly; he had never met with ill-will, ill-temper, or
even ill-manners, or known a quarrel. He had never seen serious dishonesty or
ingratitude. He had found a readiness in the young to respond to suggestion that seemed
to him far beyond all he had reason to expect. Considering the stock complaints against
the world, he could not understand why he had nothing to complain of.
During these twenty years he had done as much work, in quantity, as his neighbors
wanted; more than they would ever stop to look at, and more than his share. Merely in
print, he thought altogether ridiculous the number of volumes he counted on the shelves
of public libraries. He had no notion whether they served a useful purpose; he had
worked in the dark; but so had most of his friends, even the artists, none of whom held
any lofty opinion of their success in raising the standards of society, or felt profound
respect for the methods or manners of their time, at home or abroad, but all of whom had
tried, in a way, to hold the standard up. The effort had been, for the older generation,
exhausting, as one could see in the Hunts; but the generation after 1870 made more
figure, not in proportion to public wealth or in the census, but in their own self-assertion.
A fair number of the men who were born in the thirties had won names -- Phillips
Brooks; Bret Harte; Henry James; H. H. Richardson; John La Farge; and the list might be
made fairly long if it were worth while; but from their school had sprung others, like
Augustus St. Gaudens, McKim, Stanford White, and scores born in the forties, who