The Literary Vocation of Henry Adams

By William Merrill Decker | Go to book overview

4
The Romance and Tragedy of Statesmanship

Reform Author

DESPITE THE Union victory at Antietam two months earlier, the war in November 1862 remained undecided, and legation business daily went forward on treacherous diplomatic ground. At a loss on the question of his long-term career, Henry Adams did his best to reconcile himself to its necessary deferral. "The future is a blank to me as I suppose it is also to you," he wrote Charles. By calling it a "blank" he doubtless meant that the future is unforeseeable, but the text of the letter encourages another reading--that the future is to be seen as a blank page, inviting inscription. Restricted as his London activities were "to a careful observation of events here and assistance in the manual labor of the place," he had committed himself in his free hours to no less than "a study of history and politics which seem to me most necessary to our country for the next century" (italics added). Having thus unaffectedly named his curriculum's purview, he proceeded to register his fear that such studies, given his Hamlet-like temperament, must miscarry before they could translate into action. The good of the world appeared too inseparable from its evil, the evil too inseparable from the good; confusion and disenchantment clouded for him what the brothers had been brought up to regard as life's higher objects. He admitted that the fault lay in his mind: insufficiently "positive and absolute," it was ill-equipped for "action, which requires quickness and perseverance. I have steadily lost faith in myself ever since I left college," he wrote, and he worried that he was headed for "a truncated life" ( LHA 1:315).

Nevertheless he went on to outline a program that he would pursue with perseverance over several decades, clinging to its aspiration even in what recurrently appeared to be its defeat. The particular career paths of the Adams brothers were not the essential questions; "What we want," he lectured Charles, "is a school. We want a national set of young men like ourselves or better, to start new influences not only in politics, but in

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The Literary Vocation of Henry Adams
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Abbreviations xii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1- Retirement from Authorship 10
  • 2- The Education of Henry Adams: Return and Valediction 42
  • 3- The Paradoxical Spirit Of Private Conversation 68
  • 4- The Romance and Tragedy Of Statesmanship 108
  • 5- The Democratic Ocean 157
  • 6- The Eternal Woman 204
  • 7- Henry Adams's Bequest 258
  • Notes 289
  • Bibliography 311
  • Index 317
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