Summary and Analysis Chapter XXI



This transitional chapter helps Adams to skip more than twenty years of his life during which he married Marian "Clover" Hooper of Boston (on June 27, 1872), taught at Harvard until 1877, published widely, traveled widely, and suffered through his wife's suicide (December 6, 1885). During his year's leave from Harvard (1872-1873), Adams traveled throughout Europe and Egypt with his bride; after her death, John La Farge, a noted artist, former Harvard associate, and devoted friend, accompanied him to Japan and later to Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, Australia, and Ceylon. Adams's publications during this period included two novels, two biographies, and one of his most important works, the History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison (in nine volumes). His wife's suicide, following a long depression, was especially traumatic for Adams and the primary reason for eliminating this period (1872-1892) from the book. He does not address the topic directly in the Education but writes, "Life had been cut in halves, and the old half had passed away, education and all, leaving no stock to graft on." He sometimes refers to the rest of his life as "posthumous." (Students can find helpful guides to the events of these years in Ernest Samuels, Henry Adams: The Middle Years, as well as the second and third volumes of The Letters of Henry Adams.)

By the middle of February 1892, Adams is again in Washington. Just before the death of his wife, the Adamses and Mr. and Mrs. John Hay built homes next to each other facing Lafayette Square. Hay, Adams, and Clarence King are inseparable friends, the narrator says; James Donald Cameron and, especially, his young wife, Elizabeth, are also close friends. Adams foreshadows the depression of 1893 through a veiled reference to the collapse (in 1891) of the world's leading banking firm, London's House of Baring, which caused a worldwide recession and led to the depression. Adams was in Samoa at the time: "Even the year before, in 1891, far off in the Pacific, one had met everywhere in the east a sort of stagnation — a creeping paralysis . . . [q]uestions of exchange and silver-production loomed large." This introduces a major topic of the next chapter, in which Adams will re-assess his position on the gold standard. Even though he is still despondent about his wife's death, Adams is drawn to this financial issue. Henry has, he says, "an uneasy distrust of bankers. Even dead men allow themselves a few narrow prejudices."


inertia a tendency to remain in a fixed condition without change; disinclination to move or act.

stentorian very loud (after the Greek herald in the Iliad, with the voice of fifty men).

viscosity the state or quality of having a cohesive and sticky fluid consistency.

torpor a state of being dormant or inactive.

A la disposicion de Usted! (Spanish) At your service!; At your disposal!