The Education of Henry Adams HTML version

Rome (1859-1860)
THE tramp in Thuringen lasted four-and-twenty hours. By the end of the first walk, his
three companions -- John Bancroft, James J. Higginson, and B. W. Crowninshield, all
Boston and Harvard College like himself -- were satisfied with what they had seen, and
when they sat down to rest on the spot where Goethe had written --
"Warte nur! balde
Rubest du auch!" --
the profoundness of the thought and the wisdom of the advice affected them so strongly
that they hired a wagon and drove to Weimar the same night. They were all quite happy
and lighthearted in the first fresh breath of leafless spring, and the beer was better than at
Berlin, but they were all equally in doubt why they had come to Germany, and not one of
them could say why they stayed. Adams stayed because he did not want to go home, and
he had fears that his father's patience might be exhausted if he asked to waste time
They could not think that their education required a return to Berlin. A few days at
Dresden in the spring weather satisfied them that Dresden was a better spot for general
education than Berlin, and equally good for reading Civil Law. They were possibly right.
There was nothing to study in Dresden, and no education to be gained, but the Sistine
Madonna and the Correggios were famous; the theatre and opera were sometimes
excellent, and the Elbe was prettier than the Spree. They could always fall back on the
language. So he took a room in the household of the usual small government clerk with
the usual plain daughters, and continued the study of the language. Possibly one might
learn something more by accident, as one had learned something of Beethoven. For the
next eighteen months the young man pursued accidental education, since he could pursue
no other; and by great good fortune, Europe and America were too busy with their own
affairs to give much attention to his. Accidental education had every chance in its favor,
especially because nothing came amiss.
Perhaps the chief obstacle to the youth's education, now that he had come of age, was
his honesty; his simple-minded faith in his intentions. Even after Berlin had become a
nightmare, he still persuaded himself that his German education was a success. He loved,
or thought he loved the people, but the Germany he loved was the eighteenth-century
which the Germans were ashamed of, and were destroying as fast as they could. Of the
Germany to come, he knew nothing. Military Germany was his abhorrence. What he
liked was the simple character; the good-natured sentiment; the musical and metaphysical
abstraction; the blundering incapacity of the German for practical affairs. At that time
everyone looked on Germany as incapable of competing with France, England or
America in any sort of organized energy. Germany had no confidence in herself, and no
reason to feel it. She had no unity, and no reason to want it. She never had unity. Her
religious and social history, her economical interests, her military geography, her political
convenience, had always tended to eccentric rather than concentric motion. Until coal-