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AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.
HEEBEET B. ADAMS.
A MEMORIAL ADDRESS
JOHN MARTIN VINCENT,
PROFESSOR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY.
(From the Annual Report of the American Historical Association for 1901,
Vol. I, pages 197-210, )
GOVKRNMENT PRINTING OFFICE.
ftB 3 1903
IX— HERBERT B. ADAMS.
By JOHN MARTIN VINCENT,
PROFESSOR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY.
HERBERT B. ADAMS.
A MEMORIAL ADDRESS, BY JOHN MARTIN VINCENT.
In presenting- a memorial to the late Prof. Herbert B."
Adams I stand as one among a large number who would be
glad to bring forward their tributes of respect and affection.
The ties which bound him to his contemporaries were numer-
ous and varied. To his students he was an inspiring teacher
and a faithful friend. To the world of educators he was an
adviser whose opinions and cooperation were sought and
shared by many. To the members of this association he was
a trusted leader and hopeful comrade. Hence this paper will
not stand alone. Numerous estimates of his work and char-
acter have already appeared in the periodical press, but it is
fitting that in the proceedings of the society which he did so
much to found and to foster a brief biographical sketch should
appear. It is with this in view that 1 take this place, and for
the reason that circumstances have placed within my reach
materials for the description of his earlier life and later
academic history. In fact, Professor Adams himself had col-
lected from time to time the chief items in his own career,
and of these I have made free use. M}^ only regret is that
this matter was not left more in autobiographical form, so that
it might be presented to you with the charm of reminiscence.
Herbert Baxter Adams was ])orn at Shutesbury (near Am-
herst), Mass. , April 10, 1850. His father was Nathaniel Dick-
inson Adams, a lumber merchantand selectman of Sluitesbury,
and a descendant of Henr}^ Adams, who settled in Braintree,
Mass., 1634. His mother was Harriet Hastings, a descend-
ant of Deacon Thomas Hastings, who settled in Watertown,
Mass., 16M. Lieut. Thomas Hastings, of the Revolutionary
army, was also a member of this family, and the race as a
whole was of sound Puritan stock.
Herbert B. Adams prepared for Amherst College in the
public schools of his adopted town of Amherst, whither his
200 AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.
mother and two brothers removed after the father's death,
which occurred, September 7., 1856. The older brothers con-
tinued their studies at Williston Seminary, East Hampton,
Mass. ; the oldest, Charles Dickinson Adams, was afterwards
graduated, at the head of his class, at Amherst College, 1863,
and became a prominent and respected law3^er in New York
City. He died March 20, 1889. The second brother, Henry
Martyn Adams, went from Williston Seminary to Troy Poly-
technic Institute, and thence to West Point Military Academy,
from which he was graduated at the head of his class in 1866.
He now holds the rank of colonel and is a member of the
United States Board of Engineers, being stationed at present
at New Orleans.
At the suggestion of his elder brother, H. B. Adams
entered Phillips Exeter Academy in the winter of 1867 and
was graduated with honor in the class of 1868. He won the
Porter prize for the best entrance examination at Amherst
College in the fall of that year and was graduated with the
valedictory in 1872. The following year he taught Latin,
Greek, mathematics, and classical history at Williston Semi-
nar}^, where he succeeded Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst, now of
New York, as teacher of the middle classical class. After a
year at Williston he was encouraged bj^ his elder brother to
go abroad for higher studies and sailed for Germany to take
up history. This was in fulfillment of a desire first conceived
at Phillips Exeter Academy and strengthened at Amherst
College. Young Adams acquired his taste for histor}^ from
books given him at school by his elder brother and by early
privileges, obtained as a subfreshman, of drawing books from
the library of Amherst College. President Julius H. Seel3^e
confirmed this early historical bent of mind by a single lecture
on "History" in Adams's senior year, but it was President
Seelye who originally gave him a written permit to use the
college librar}'^ years before the boy entered the institution.
Adams said of his own life at Amherst:
My editorial connection with the Amherst Student really gave a per-
manent bent to my life. I learned more real useful knowledge in that
voluntary connection than in all other college means of training — in punc-
tuation, c()nii)Osition, and rhetoric. To this day I can discern more lasting
influences proceeding from that editorial den of mine at Amherst than
from any other one college source. I have forgotten my mathemati(;s,
which I always hated, hut in which I always ranked high by reason of my
HERBERT B. ADAMS. 201
Exeter training; but I shall never forget how to revise other people's
manuscript and read proof, although I hate that, too.
His private reading in college was chiefly in connection with
the subjects upon which he had to write or debate. History
was not a large part of his collegiate training, and we might
be a little surprised that he afterwards devoted his life to it.
Of this he says himself: "Of history we had nothing at all
after the freshman year, when Smith's Manuals of Greece and
Rome were studied in well-chosen selections." The impulse
came later, "I remember in the philosophical course by the
president of the college one remarkable lecture on the ' Phi-
losophy of history.' After rapidly reviewing the course of
civilization, Dr. Seelye said that history was the grandest
study in the world. That sentence decided my fate. 1 deter-
mined to devote myself to that grand subject. Up to that
time I had no career in mind except journalism. I had written
more or less for the Amherst Record and for the New York
and Boston papers when I found a chance to do any reporting.
But now my mind was quickl}^ made up to pursue the ' grandest
study in the world' — the recorded experience of mankind."
Before settling down in Germany Adams studied French
for some months at Lausanne, Switzerland, whither he had
been directed by Professor Lalande, his French tutor at Wil-
liston Seminary, and by whom he was personally introduced
to a teacher in Professor Thebault, of the Lycee. After
Lausanne there followed a few months of study and travel in
Italy and a second brief sojourn in Paris. Here he met his
elder brother, who dissuaded him from further study in
France and urged him to take up German university life at
In January, 1874, he proceeded to Heidelberg with many
pleasant anticipations, for the place had been graphically pic-
tured to him by an Exeter fellow-student, a German-American
named Movius. Here he met his Amherst College friend,
John B. Clark, now professor in Columbia University, and
with him heard the lectures of Wilhelm Ihne on Roman his-
tory, Kuno Fischer on German literature and philosophy,
and Heinrich von Treitschke on politics. At Heidelberg-
Adams lived in the family of the late Dr. Emil Otto, author
of the well-known grammars, and with him studied and prac-
ticed German, at the same time making many acquaintances
202 AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.
and good friends among German students. He continued also
the daily practice of Frencli conversation with Swiss students
and in a kSwiss family of his acquaintance. Thus passed the
winter and summer of that academic year.
After a tour of north Germany and a yisit to the Amherst
men residing in Gottingen, Adams spent the winter semester
of 1874-75 at the Uniyersity of Berlin. The professors who
interested him most were Ernst Curtius, who lectured on
(xreek art and archaeology; Hermann Grimm, who illustrated
early Christian and Italian art ])y familiar talks in the Royal
Museum; Lepsius, who, in the same nuiseum, discoursed on
Egyptology; Zeller, the historian of Greek philtjsophy ; Droy-
sen, who lectured on the French Revolution; and Treitschke,
who had just come with great eclat from Heiden)erg, and
whom Adams, like many other students, had realh^ followed
to Berlin. The mentor and friend of young Adams in Berlin
was Elihu H, Root, a pupil of Helmholtz and afterwards pro-
fessor of physics in Amherst College.
In the summer of 1875, somewhat discouraged at the pros-
pect of an expensive and a protracted course of study neces-
sary for the doctor's degree in Berlin, Adams would have
returned home to America and actually forwarded his books
to Glasgow with that intent; l)ut, while on a tour through
Southern Germany, he received a generous letter from his
elder brother urging him to remain in German}^ and finish
what he had begun at Heidell>erg. Accordingly he returned
for another year and, in the sununer of 1876, under the guid-
ance of Prof, J. C. Bluntschli, completed a definite course in
historical and political science. In these subjects he was ex-
amined by Bluntschli, the statesman, and Knies, the econo-
mist, and was awarded the degree of doctor of philosophy by
the political science faculty, July 14, 1876.
In a little old diary which Adams kept during this period
there are interesting entries of his reading for this examina-
tion. Great sections of Bluntschli's Staatslehre, Volkerrecht,
and Staatsworterlnich, were consumed from day to day.
While reviewing his notes a month beforehand he writes:
" Headache; scared over the prospect of exam.'"' Hence we
are prepared for the entry of July 13: "The die is cast.
Studied until dinner. Am nervous — had a bad night. Loaf
until 6 p. m. Examination from 6-8 p. m. Sununa cum
laude. Knies, Bluntschli, Erdmannsdorfer, Winkelmann,
HERBERT B. ADAMS. 203
Stark, Ribbeck, Weil, and others present." On the 15th of
July Adams bade farewell to his professors and entered in
his diary the comment: " Bluntschli a trump."
Through Bluntschli's personal influence and recommenda-
tion Adams had been appointed, while still at Heidelberg, to
the fellowship in history at the Johns Hopkins University.
It is interesting" to note in this connection that about a year
after Bluntschli's death (October 21, 1881) his private library
was publicly presented (December 20, 1882) to the Johns
Hopkins University by a group of German citizens of Balti-
more, who thus contributed to the doubly patriotic object of
presenting the library of a German statesman to an American
school of historical and political science. (See '"" Bluntschli,
Lieber, and Laboulaye" and "Bluntschli's Life- Work" by
H. B. Adams, privatel}^ printed in 1884 by John Murphy &
Co.) This library was the flrst memorable public gift to the
When Dr. Adams came to Baltimore as fellow in history, at
the opening of the university, in the fall of 1876, Dr. Austin
Scott, a graduate of Yale Universit}^, 1869, and now president
of Rutgers (College, was in charge of the work in history. At
that time he was the coadjutor of Mr. George Bancroft in the
revision of his history of the United States, and in the prepa-
ration of Bancroft's last great work on the Formation of the
Constitution. Dr. Scott resided in Washington, but came to
Baltimore once or twice a week for the conduct of a seminary
of American history, which used to meet in one of the rooms
of the Maryland Historical Society. It was in connection
with the work of this seininary that Dr. Adams prepared his
first printed monograph, entitled "Maryland's Influence in
Founding a National Commonwealth, or the History of the
Accession of Public Lands by the Old Confederation." This
was published in 1877 by the Maryland Historical Society as
Fund Publication No. 11, and was afterwards, in 1885, repub-
lished in revised form by the university. The monograph
presents some of Dr. Adams's favorite subjects of study; for
example, the importance of our western territory as a neces-
sary economic and historic basis for the American Union.
George Washington's interest in Avestern lands, in the Potomac
Company (historic forerunner of the Chesapeake and Ohio
Canal) and in the project of a national university continued to
influence Dr. Adams throughout his academic life. He
204 AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.
believed most strongly in our first President's notion of a
great school of political science, midway between the North
and the South, to which 3'oung men from both sections could
come and, by friendh^ association, do awa}" in some measure
with what Washington called " local attachments and State
The first work of Dr. Adams as a teacher in the Johns Hop-
kins University began while he was yet a fellow. At first he
had a class of two once a week and a class of one twice a week.
Both were voluntary. The class of one was peripatetic and
consisted of a park walk and a talk on American constitutional
history with George M. Sharp (nowrludge Sharp). The class
of two was on the outlines of European histor\' and met in one
of the old buildings, since torn down.
The register of the university for the third year, 1878-79,
contains the first mention of Dr. Adams's regular collegiate
class work : ' ' European History during the Middle Ages," four
times weekly, first half year, with 14 students. At the same
time Dr. Scott's "seminary of American history" met for
advanced work once weekly through the yeav and enrolled 1.5
students. Adams was also actively connected with this.
In the spring of 1878 Dr. Adams was invited to Smith Col-
lege, Northampton, Mass., to lecture to the first three regular
classes of that new institution. He gave them written lec-
tures on the history of church and state, which he had origi-
nally prepared and which he had already given in part at the
Johns Hopkins University in the previous 3^ear, to a semi-
pu])lic audience of ladies and gentlemen. The invitation to
Smith College was the beginning of Dr. Adams's academic pro-
motion, for, when called to a professorship in Northampton, he
was appointed at a lower salary an associate in history in Balti-
more. He continued to hold both positions for some years,
lecturing on history at Smith College during the spring term.
It was at a June couunencement in Northampton that Presi-
dent Gilman once began his address with tfiis pleasant intro-
I know not what unseen ties may bind Smith College and the Johns
Hopkins University together, but I do know that they both have the
same teacher of history, who, in his annual migrations from Northampton
to Baltimore, l)rings us tidings of the beautiful, the true, and the good.
This springtime experience of Dr. Adams in the Connecti-
HERBERT B. ADAMS. 205
cut Valley, only a few miles from his own home, he always
looked back upon with the greatest pleasure.
In 1881 Edward A. Freeman visited America and spent some
time in Baltimore lecturing at the Peabod}^ Institute and at
Johns Hopkins University. He took much interest in the
historical work of the university, and in an English Review,
and later in his book called "Impressions of the United
States," Mr. Freeman said:
A young and growing school which still has difficulties to struggle
against may be glad of a good word on either side of the ocean. I can not
help mentioning the school which is now devoting itself to the special
study of local institutions, a school which is spread over various parts of
the Union, but which seems to have its special home in the Johns Hopkins
University, at Baltimore, as one from which great things may be looked
for. Nor can I help adding the name of my friend, Mr. Herbert B. Adams,
as that of one who has done much for the work, and who, to me at least,
specially represents it.
For several years after his visit to Baltimore, and after his
call to the historical professorship at Oxford, Mr. Freeman
continued to write encouraging letters to Dr. Adams. In an
article entitled "Mr. Freeman's visit to Baltimore "Dr. Adams
gave an account of a great service rendered by Freeman and
James Bryce to Maryland and the Maryland Historical Society.
They visited the building of the Historical Society and there
were made acquainted with the archives of the State. After-
wards each of the visitors wrote a letter regarding the impor-
tance of preserving and publishing the manuscript records of
the Commonwealth. These opinions, made public by the His-
torical Society and reinforced by prominent citizens and the
whole Baltimore delegation to the legislature, were laid before
the general assembly, while a sharp newspaper campaign was
conducted by Dr. Adams. The result was the removal of the
colonial papers from Annapolis to Baltimore and the begin-
ning of their publication at State expense.
We see from Mr. Freeman's description the tendency of the
historical seminary which Adams was quietly building up.
At first it was held in the rooms of the Maryland Historical
Society, then in a basement room of the Peabody Library,
where he was allowed to collect and use books on English
constitutional history. Shortly before Mr. Freeman's visit
the Bluntschli Library was received, and he found both semi-
nary and books installed in handsome quarters on the univer-
sity premises. In these rooms, since devoted to mineralogy,
206 AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.
pa.s.sed the stirrinj^- period of .Vdaius's universit}' (-areer. It is
to that seminary table, placed in the midst of a laboratory of
l)ooks and literall\' li^-htod from above, that the recollections
of the older generation of Hopkins historians return.
Adams himself was at this time deeply interested in the
orif^inof \e\v England towns and othoi- local institutions, for
which he made numerous ori*>-inal investigations. He derived
the impulse not from Freeman. l>ut from a study of Sir
Henry iSIaine and Von Maurer, first suggested b^" Professor
Erdmannsdorfer in a Heidelberg seminary.
The researches of Adams's seminary progressed so vigorous-
ly that a regular form of pubHcation was found desiral)le. In
1882 he began the issue of the "Johns Hopkins University
Studies in Historical and Political Science. " To give the enter-
prise an impulse, ]Mr. Freeman after his return to England
wrote an ''Introduction to American Institutional Histor3\"
It was this phrase which suggested to the academic council
nearly ten years later the title of Adams's professorial chair.
At the time the,y were started the historical studies were
new, and at once attracted attention at liome and abroad.
The personal contributions of the editor were numerous,
chiefly in the held of American institutional and educational
history. These publications set the example in this countr}'^
for original academic contributions to historical and political
science in serial form. In twenty years such monographs
and periodicals have increased to a wonderful degree, and all
are adding something to the scientific and economic capitiil of
the country, })ut we must look back to Adams as the leader of
The value of the studies was recognized at once. John
Fiske, more than ten years ago, said:
In sUidying the local institutions of our iliffrrent States I have been
greatly helped by the .Tohns Hopkins rniversity SUidies in History and
Politics. * * * In the course of the pages ])elo\v I have frecjucnt occa-
sion to acknowledge my indel)tedness of these learned and sometimes pro-
foundly suggestive monographs, but I can not leave the subject without a
special word of gratitude to my friend, Dr. Herbert B. Adams, editor of
the series, for the noble w'ork which lie is doing in promoting the study of
The works of James Bryce and other writers upon Ameri-
can institutions are full of notes derived from the special
monographs of this series.
HERBERT B. ADAMS. 207
In 1884 Dr. Adams joined with Justin Winsor, Andrew D.
White, Charles Kendall Adams, Clarence W. Bowen, and oth-
ers in the organization of this American Historical Associa-
tion. The records of his official connection are to be found
in the long series of its publications. It is to be found also in
the memories of a greater number of you who are present on
this occasion. But those who have not stood close to Adams
in his lifetime can scarcely realize the amount of time and
attention which he devoted to this Association, not only in
preparation for its annual meetings, the arrangements of pro-
grammes and addresses, but in the constant daily attention to
its business and progress. Notwithstanding the fact that he
was furnished with most efficient clerical assistance, there were
always innumerable questions to be referred to him for decision,
and it was close attention to this in Hnitude of detail which carried
forward the Association with smoothness and precision. But,
of all his work for the Association, Adams was proudest of the
part he took in obtaining a national charter in 18S9. He
regarded the connection with the Smithsonian Institution as
a most important extension of usefulness and a union to be
fostered and utilized with every care.
Adams's contributions to historical literature were chiefly
monographic. In 1893, however, he brought out in two large
octavo volumes the Life and Writings of Jared Sparks. He
had been persuaded by the late Andrew P. Peabody and by
the widow of Jared Sparks to undertake the examination of
his voluminous papers. It was a laborious task, for the editor
of Washington's Writings, the Diplomatic Correspondence,
and a long series of American biographies, North American
Review, and the writings of Benjamin Franklin had left an
embarrassment of riches for a review of his own life work. I
well recollect the vast collection of pamphlet cases and docu-
mentary files which filled for many 3^ears some of the closets
in Adams's university office. It seemed an interminal)le labor
even to examine the series at hand, for Sparks was a man who
never threw away a letter, even if it were an invitation to a
dinner. All this had to be sifted in the preparation of the
volumes which were to show the characteristic activity of the
man. Dr. George E. Ellis says of these books: "The just as
well as the highest encomium upon the work of this biogra-
pher is spoken when we say in full sincerity that we can con-
ceive that he would have from Mr. Sparks himself the warmest
208 AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.
expression of approval and gratitude for the ability, fidelity,
good taste, and wise judgment with which he has wrought his
exacting labor." (Proceedings of the Massachusetts Society,
In 1887 Dr. Adams began to edit for the United States
Bureau of Education a scries of contributions to American
educational history. These begin with a monograph on the
college of William and Mary. In this he took occasion to put
forward some of his own ideas al)out higher education, with
suggestions for its national promotion. He advocated the
founding in Washington of a civil academy which should be
in matters of political science and civil-service training what
West Point and Annapolis are in militar}" and naval education.
This idea was derived from old William and Mary College,
the first school of history, politics, and economics in this
country. The idea is reinforced by Washington's plan of a
national university midway between the North and the South,
which seems in these days to be approaching a realization.
Dr. Adams further contributed to his educational series
Thomas Jefi'erson and the University of Virginia, and another
elaborate report on the Study of History in American Colleges
and Universities. With the approval of successive commis-
sioners of education, he arranged for a series of histories of
higher education in the various Sfcites of the Union. These
have been prepared by authors and subeditors selected by
Dr. Adams, and of the 32 monographs all but 8 were com-
pleted at the time of his death. Adams also prepared for
the Bureau of Education special monographs on popular edu-
cation. Chautauqua schools in America and in Europe, uni-
versity extension in Great Britain, and university extension
in America were also given a thorough treatment.
Adams's interest in these forms of education led him also to
lecture for several years before the Chautauijua Lake Assem
bly. His latest report in this field was a monograph prepared
for the Paris Exposition on Poi)ular Education in tlie United
States. It may be said that in the educational domain, this
field interested him in late years more than any other. On
his desk he pinned a card containing the words of Jules Sieg-
fried, senator of France, "The education of the people is the
first duty of democi'acy."
Adams remained steadily in Baltimore for twenty -five years.
HERBEET B. ADAMS. 209
He had every inducement to go to other institutions of learn-
ing, but for personal reasons preferred to remain where he
began. At the time of the Chicago Exposition in 1893, he
was offered the directorship of the department of liberal arts,
and at the same time he had offered him the professorship of
history and the deanship of the graduate department of (.hi-
cago University. But with all due respect to the promising
future there spread before him, he preferred to stay bj' the
department of his first love. It was while still in the harness
which he assumed in 1876 that he was first stricken down in
1899. He continued two 3^ears longer in the vain hope of
restoration to activity, and died at Amherst, Mass., Jul}^ 30,
To those who worked under Adams as students or assistants
the predominating notes in his teaching were inspiration and
sympathy. This was not due to a profundity of thought in
his lectures which might create wonder and admiration for
himself in a body of disciples. His lectures were, indeed,
sound and interesting, but he was also continualh' pointing to
more work to be done, more fields to be cultivated, and more
reputations to be made. At every opportunity he brought
before his classes particularly the work of men who had gone
out from the seminary. Reports of their successes or fail-
ures, their promotions or their publications, came before the
young men almost daily, until they became acquainted b}' name
with the whole familj^ of fellow-investigators. Such things as
these men did were within reach of the young aspirant, and
the effect was to spur every man to do something worthy of
that company and that university. The results were unequal,
but the inspiration was universal and lasting.
This friendly counsel continued after men had gone out to
fill positions in the professional world. He spared no pains
in answering requests for advice, whether it related to academic
methods or private affairs. His numerous literary and edito-
rial connections placed him in position to point out work to a
large number of men; consequently his friendship became an
ever-widening circle. The fact that he never married may
have allowed him to take an individual interest in his "boys,"
as he was wont to call the men who had gone out from his
In business affairs he was a man of thrift, but this permitted
H. Doc. 702, pt. 1 14
210 AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.
liini to bo useful to others.- Many ji student was the recipient
of teniporaiy economic aid, loaned unostentatiously and with
a confidence rarely misplaced. He bought books freely for
himself and for the seminary, and before his death presented
his large priyate library to the uniyersity. Outside of a few
family bequests he devoted his whole estate to public pur-
poses. To the town of Amherst he gaye his own home, as a
memorial to his parents, and to Amherst College $2,000, as
a fund for the purchase of books. To the American Histor-
ical Association he left $5,000 unconditionalh'. To the uni-
yersity which he ser\cd for twenty -iiye j^ears he gaye the
balance of his estate to form the Herbert B. Adams fund, the
income of which nuist be deyoted to the promotion of history,
politics, and education.
Adams took a great interest in religion, especially as viewed
from the historical standpoint. For many years he lectured
upon the deyelopment of religious ])elief, tracing it through
the Orient and the Hebrews into Christianity. The result
was wide catholicity of sentiment on his own part and broad
interpretation of the Christian doctrines. He was not a man
who took a prominent part in the devotional side of religion,
but was a constant nienil)er and attendant upon church serv-
ices and gave thought to his own belief. In a paper written*
some years ago I found a creed written in his own hand in
which his beliefs and hopes are placed in an all-wise Provi-
dence, and in what may be called the broad essentials of
In practical work his SA'mpathies were bound l)v no single
church, for he was constantly aiding the educational move-
ment of all denominations. Ministers, priests, rabbis, com-
mittees from Christian associations, and all sorts of workers
were continually consulting with him in regard to social work.
To these forms of religious activity he devoted many hours of
This was a bus}- man, who wore himself out at the age of
51. One-half of his allotted time was devoted to preparation
and one-half to the fulfillment of his life work. We looked
for a longer sojourn among us, that he might continue activit}'
in the prime of life and reap the honors and rewards of old
age. But since it was otherwise decreed. I leave a feeble
tribute in the archives of the Association of which he was an
honored otficcr and devoted friend.
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