Summary and Analysis
On April 12, 1859, the semester at the Gymnasium ends; Henry happily leaves Berlin with three friends from Harvard. For the next eighteen months, Henry will pursue "accidental education" traveling through Europe. Although his German continues to improve, an attempt at studying law in Dresden is short-lived. At the end of June, the young men begin a tour of Bavaria, Switzerland, and the Rhine country. Another winter in Berlin seems unbearable. Italy beckons. Early in 1860, Henry begins a "pleasant series of letters," as he calls them in a letter to his brother Charles; they are published in the Boston Daily Courier. In April, Henry visits his older sister, Louisa Catherine, who lives in Florence with her husband, Charles Kuhn. Adams ultimately concedes that he has become "a tourist, but a mere tourist, and nothing else."
Regarding Henry's education, two important decisions occur between April 1859 and October 1860. The first is that he finally surrenders any pretense of studying law in Germany. Even in Dresden, a city that he much prefers to Berlin, his mind is occupied more with the arts and further improvement of his German. He reads history and novels in German and agrees to engage in conversation in German with his Harvard chum Benjamin Crowninshield. He travels more, eventually arriving in Rome in May 1860. Henry is the first of his family to be granted the luxury of the Grand Tour, and he is concerned that his father may conclude that he is wasting his time. Letters from his brother Charles do scold Henry but encourage him to pursue his talents as a writer.
The second decision follows Charles's advice. Henry begins a series of letters to his brother with the intent that they be published if Charles deems them worthy and can find a newspaper that is interested. The Boston Daily Courier of April 30, 1860, carries the first of six letters, all signed "H.B.A.," which will run through July 13. It is not the most prestigious or most widely read newspaper in New England, but it is a start. The letters offer a casual view of current events and stories of human interest from a tourist whose prejudices suggest that he is a child of privilege. When he sees mobs rioting in Sicily, for example, Henry is less concerned with their causes than with their heritage, observing that it is "not good stock" that behaves so crudely. As Ernest Samuels points out in The Young Henry Adams, "If these opinions seem painfully superficial, we should remember that they are the complacent insights of a very young man."
By the fall of 1860, it is time to return home. Henry has extended his stay in Europe as long as he can and spent "all the money he dared." With the vague intent of studying law in Massachusetts, he sails for the States.
Elbe and Spree rivers in Germany.
Warte nur! . . . du auch! (German) from Goethe's "Wanderer's Nightsong" (1780): "Only wait! before long / You too will rest."
conundrum a puzzling question or problem.
impervious incapable of being passed through or penetrated.
derisive showing or provoking contempt or ridicule