The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography

By Henry Adams | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XIX

CHAOS (1870)

ONE fine May afternoon in 1870 Adams drove again up St. James's Street wondering more than ever at the marvels of life. Nine years had passed since the historic entrance of May, 1861. Outwardly London was the same. Outwardly Europe showed no great change. Palmerston and Russell were forgotten ; but Disraeli and Gladstone were still much alive. One's friends were more than ever prominent. John Bright was in the Cabinet; W. E. Forster was about to enter it; reform ran riot. Never had the sun of progress shone so fair. Evolution from lower to higher raged like an epidemic. Darwin was the greatest of prophets in the most evolutionary of worlds. Gladstone had overthrown the Irish Church; was overthrowing the Irish landlords; was trying to pass an Education Act. Improvement, prosperity, power, were leaping and bounding over every country road. Even America, with her Erie scandals and Alabama Claims, hardly made a discordant note.

At the Legation, Motley ruled; the long Adams reign was forgotten ; the rebellion had passed into history. In society no one cared to recall the years before the Prince of Wales. The smart set had come to their own. Half the houses that Adams had frequented, from 1861 to 1865, were closed or closing in 1870. Death had ravaged one's circle of friends. Mrs. Milnes Gaskell and her sister Miss Charlotte Wynn were both dead, and Mr. James Milnes Gaskell was no longer in Parliament. That field of education seemed closed too.

One found one's self in a singular frame of mind more eighteenth-century than ever almost rococo and unable to catch anywhere the cog-wheels of evolution. Experience ceased to educate. London taught less freely than of old. That one bad

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