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Full text of "Commemorative tribute to Henry Adams"

AS 
36 

A&5 

v.2l 






COMMEMORATIVE TRIBUTE TO 

HENRY ADAMS 

By PAUL ELMER MORE 



PREPARED FOR 

THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF 
ARTS AND LETTERS 

1920 




AMERICAN ACADEMY OF 

ARTS AND LETTERS 

1922 



A Uo 
V. Ll 



Copyright, 1922, by 
THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS 



THE DE VINNE PRESS 
NEW YORK 



HENRY ADAMS 

BY PAUL E. MORE 

By the death of Henry Adams, in 
March of 1918, in his eighty-first year, 
the Academy lost a member distin 
guished in many ways, a man who 
reveled in all the riddles of life and 
himself left for those curious in the 
natural history of the human soul a 
riddle not easily solved. In one re 
spect he was American by every fiber 
of his being. Great-grandson of the 
second President of the United States, 
grandson of a later President, son of 
the Minister to the Court of St. 
James s during the trying years of the 
Civil War, reared in a tradition of al 
most chauvinistic patriotism, he might 



ACADEMY NOTES 

M52233 



THE AMERICAN ACADEMY 



be regarded as an impersonation of 
that New Englandism which pene 
trated the bones and marrow of the 
national character. And he was, 
throughout life, acutely conscious of 
his inheritance. 

Yet from another side he was con 
spicuously un-American ; and of this, 
too, he was conscious, and never felt 
really at home in the land of his an 
cestors. It was a difference in mind, 
in thought, which, whatever else may 
be said, has not been "the master part 
of us," and which was so in Henry 
Adams. This is not to say that Amer 
ica is mentally sluggish, or has failed 
of large accomplishment in scholar 
ship and invention and the arts; but 
that detached intellectuality which dis 
solves the substance of life into a ques 
tion, that restless inquisitiveness which 
pierces all veils of custom and is only 
strengthened the more it is baffled, 
that outreaching of "the imperious 



ACADEMY NOTES 



OF ARTS AND LETTERS 



lonely thinking power" which makes 
an imprisonment of its very freedom, 
the spirit, in a word, which Matthew 
Arnold described in his Empedocles, 
these are distinctly not American, and 
they distinctly are what characterize 
Henry Adams. 

The variety of his intellectual 
achievement is more remarkable than 
their magnitude. As a teacher of his 
tory at Harvard for seven years he 
was one of the .pioneers of the semi 
nary method of study. Besides other 
more or less notable works in this field 
he published a History of Jefferson s 
and Madison s Administrations, mon 
umental in bulk, and almost unique in 
its combination of documentary re 
search, philosophical reflection, and 
literary charm. He divulged a scien 
tific theory of the periods of human 
growth and decline in history which 
is strikingly original and, it must be 
added, rather sad. For six years he 



AND MONOGRAPHS 



THE AMERICAN ACADEMY 



edited the North American Review, 
then the most solid magazine of the 
country. He wrote two novels, one 
of which, Democracy, aroused a good 
deal of heated comment by its satirical 
picture of Washington political soci 
ety. He composed verse, not much in 
quantity, but weighted with thought 
and emotion and technically more than 
respectable. His letters, printed since 
his death, show him to have been a 
master of the quaint and whimsical in 
this delicate genre. Above all he has 
left two books of extraordinary qual 
ity, his Education and his Mont-Saint- 
Michel and Chartres, one of which is 
like the portrait of a naked mind 
caught by some art of spiritual pho 
tography, the other of which has made 
the whole mental and emotional life 
of the twelfth century a vehicle for 
the same insatiate personality. This, 
however one may judge the individual 
works, is a record scarcely paralleled 



ACADEMY NOTES 



OF ARTS AND LETTERS 



by the production of any other Amer 
ican author. 

In the long run interest probably 
will center on the last two works, the 
Education and the Mont-Saint-Michel. 
By education Adams meant not at all 
the mere accumulation of knowledge, 
of which, nevertheless, he had abun 
dance, but that insight into the nature 
of things which should enable a man 
to know what the world is and what 
he himself is, and so to adjust his life 
to the forces that play upon it. In that 
sense education came to our Acade 
mician slowly, if it came at all, and 
the pages of his autobiography are a 
continual, and sometimes a bitter, 
complaint over the fact that he, the 
heir of all the ages and of all the 
Adamses, should be held at bay by the 
baffling sphinx of existence. He sent 
his intellect to work in the various 
fields of learning of which the cen 
tury was so proud history, science, 



AND MONOGRAPHS 



THE AMERICAN ACADEMY 



politics, art, religion seeking an 
answer to the question everywhere put 
to him : Why are you here, and who 
am I who set you here? Only at the 
end of his life did he read the riddle, 
and for those who read his books left 
another riddle to solve. 

Standing before the great dynamo 
at the Paris Exposition, in 1900, he 
thought he saw in that wheel, revolv 
ing with such vertiginous speed, so 
terribly silent, so majestically regular 
in its motion, a symbol of the ruthless, 
impersonal force which science discov 
ers at the center of the universe : 
"Among the thousand symbols of ulti 
mate energy, the dynamo was not so 
human as some, but it was the most 
expressive." Then from this inhuman 
sign he turned, by a kind of revulsion 
of feeling, to what \vas most opposite 
to it in every respect. He wrote his 
book to show that the Virgin Mother 
of God, in whose honor the cathe- 



ACADEMY NOTES 






OF ARTS AND LETTERS 


7 


dral of Chartres had been raised and 




adorned, was the real object of wor 




ship in the Middle Ages just because 




she was the symbol and warrant of 




something inconsequent, whimsically 




merciful, contemptuous of law, hu 




man, feminine, in the governing of the 




world. That he should have turned 




from one to the other of these forces 




is not strange, but that he should have 




found it consonant to adore them to 




gether is a feat of audacious thinking, 




if not of education. 




AND MONOGRAPHS 





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