The Education of Henry Adams HTML version

The Abyss Of Ignorance (1902)
THE years hurried past, and gave hardly time to note their work. Three or four months,
though big with change, come to an end before the mind can catch up with it. Winter
vanished; spring burst into flower; and again Paris opened its arms, though not for long.
Mr. Cameron came over, and took the castle of Inverlochy for three months, which he
summoned his friends to garrison. Lochaber seldom laughs, except for its children, such
as Camerons, McDonalds, Campbells and other products of the mist; but in the summer
of 1902 Scotland put on fewer airs of coquetry than usual. Since the terrible harvest of
1879 which one had watched sprouting on its stalks on the Shropshire hillsides, nothing
had equalled the gloom. Even when the victims fled to Switzerland, they found the Lake
of Geneva and the Rhine not much gayer, and Carlsruhe no more restful than Paris; until
at last, in desperation, one drifted back to the Avenue of the Bois de Boulogne, and, like
the Cuckoo, dropped into the nest of a better citizen. Diplomacy has its uses. Reynolds
Hitt, transferred to Berlin, abandoned his attic to Adams, and there, for long summers to
come, he hid in ignorance and silence.
Life at last managed of its own accord to settle itself into a working arrangement. After
so many years of effort to find one's drift, the drift found the seeker, and slowly swept
him forward and back, with a steady progress oceanwards. Such lessons as summer
taught, winter tested, and one had only to watch the apparent movement of the stars in
order to guess one's declination. The process is possible only for men who have
exhausted auto-motion. Adams never knew why, knowing nothing of Faraday, he began
to mimic Faraday's trick of seeing lines of force all about him, where he had always seen
lines of will. Perhaps the effect of knowing no mathematics is to leave the mind to
imagine figures -- images -- phantoms; one's mind is a watery mirror at best; but, once
conceived, the image became rapidly simple, and the lines of force presented themselves
as lines of attraction. Repulsions counted only as battle of attractions. By this path, the
mind stepped into the mechanical theory of the universe before knowing it, and entered a
distinct new phase of education.
This was the work of the dynamo and the Virgin of Chartres. Like his masters, since
thought began, he was handicapped by the eternal mystery of Force -- the sink of all
science. For thousands of years in history, he found that Force had been felt as occult
attraction -- love of God and lust for power in a future life. After 1500, when this
attraction began to decline, philosophers fell back on some vis a tergo -- instinct of
danger from behind, like Darwin's survival of the fittest; and one of the greatest minds,
between Descartes and Newton -- Pascal -- saw the master-motor of man in ennui, which
was also scientific: "I have often said that all the troubles of man come from his not
knowing how to sit still." Mere restlessness forces action. "So passes the whole of life.
We combat obstacles in order to get repose, and, when got, the repose is insupportable;
for we think either of the troubles we have, or of those that threaten us; and even if we
felt safe on every side, ennui would of its own accord spring up from the depths of the
heart where it is rooted by nature, and would fill the mind with its venom."