THE SKEPTICISM OF THE HOUSE OF ADAMS
IN the welter of change that resulted from the revolutionary transitions of the Gilded Age, one man at least stood apart, skeptical about the worth of the current revolutions, unconvinced that all the hurly-burly meant a rational progress. To Henry Adams skepticism early became a habit. Doubt persistently dogged his footsteps and the more critically he examined the ways of his generation of Americans, the more certain it seemed to him that any were unworthy the name of civilization. He was not at home in the new world of the Gilded Age; and as he watched the disintegrations of the older New England in which he had been brought up, an incurable nostalgia seized upon him and he set about seeking another home where he might live the good life he had not lived heretofore. The America of the Gilded Age was alien to him; its gods were not his gods, nor its ends his ends. And so began for him a long pilgrimage of the spirit that was to carry him far and return him at last with no solider gains than a handful of curious relics in his pilgrim's scrip.
The sturdy New England character, with its self-sufficing individualism and granite integrity, never came to finer flower than in the Braintree-Quincy house of Adams. Intellectually curious, given to rationalism, retaining much of the eighteenth-century solidity of intellect and honest realism, refusing to barter principle for the good will of men, the Adams line produced no more characteristic offshoots than came in the fourth generation. In Charles Francis Adams, Jr., Henry Adams, and Brooks Adams, the family virtues of independence, intellectual integrity, and disinterested criticism, found abundant expression. All three were children of an earlier century, endowed with the solidest Yankee-Puritan qualities of mind and heart, unyielding as the rock ledges of their native fields; and they found the experience of living in the late nineteenth century, of adjusting their eighteenth-century minds to the demands of a sordid capitalistic order, a difficult business. Though they tried to bridge the chasm between the two worlds, though they honestly sought some working compromise that would suffer them to share in the work of their generation, they met with failure. It was not possible for the House of Adams, with its old-fashioned rectitude, to accept the ways of the Gilded Age, and in the end they turned aside from the main-traveled road to follow their own paths.
CHARLES FRANCES ADAMS-THE BUSINESS FAILURE
Of the three Charles Francis Adams most nearly succeeded in his experiment of a rapprochement with capitalism, with the result that his life came nearest to shipwreck. Perhaps there was less of the Adams granite in his character. He refused to turn rebel but consciously sought to win the prizes offered by his generation, training himself to serve financial interests, making overtures to business, and achieving a very considerable financial success. Yet nothing was more incongruous than an Adams serving as lackey to State Street, and when after abundant experience he came finally to realize it he turned away to pick up the scattered threads of a life largely wasted. For years he had suffered from a long maladjustment. When he quitted the army at the close of the war with the brevet rank of brigadier-general, he found himself adrift. The world of his youth was gone and the future seemed drab and unpromising. Intellectually he was caught between tides. The traditional idealisms had burnt out in the bitter struggle, and in the sterile post-war years his Puritan nature found no adequate nourishment. The crusading ardor was gone, and the new world of science had not yet risen on the horizon of young men who had given their youth to the army. In 1865 he came upon John Stuart Mill's essay on Auguste Comte, which he said revolutionized his whole mental attitude--"I emerged from the theological stage, in which I had been nurtured, and passed into the scientific. . . . From reading that compact little volume of Mill's . . . I date a changed intellectual and moral life." Yet from this accidental foray into Victorian rationalism he got little more than a sense of release from a dead Puritanism. Creative intellectual enthusiasms were not to be his portion.
Disillusioned with the law, over which he had been pottering, and wanting to ally himself with the dominant forces of his generation, he "fixed on the railroad system as the most developing force and largest field of the day." He delved into the history of certain railways and established a reputation as a student of transportation. For upwards of a quarter century-from 1866 to 1890--as a member of different public commissions and finally as president of the Union Pacific system-Jay Gould's road-he devoted his best energy to the work, only to be disillusioned in the end. In 1912 he wrote this confession:
Indeed, as I approach the end, I am more than a little puzzled to account for the instances I have seen of business success-money-getting. It comes from a rather low instinct. Certainly, as far as my observation goes, it is rarely met with in combination with the finer or more interesting traits of character. I have known, and known tolerably well, a good many "successful" men-"big" financially-men famous during the last halfcentury; and a less interesting crowd I do not care to encounter. Not one that I have ever known would I care to meet again, either in this world or the next; nor is one of them associated in my mind with the idea of humor, thought, or refinement. A set of mere money-getters and traders, they were essentially unattractive and uninteresting. . . . In the course of my railroad experiences I made no friends, apart from those in the Boston direction; nor among those I met was there any man whose acquaintance I valued. They were a coarse, realistic, bargaining crowd.1
Yet not till he had reached his late fifties did he finally cut the ties that held him to the "bargaining crowd," and turn to the business of salvaging the remnant of his days. He gave himself over with zest to the writing of Massachusetts history, but it was then too late to do notable work. He had laid too many offerings on an altar he had come to loathe. Not a lifelong student like Henry, he had been unable to gather great stores of knowledge. Not a militant rebel like Brooks, he had never been given to searching inquiries into the laws of civilization. And so when he found himself free at last, he set himself to the business of local chronicles. That was better than nothing; it was the one thing in his life he took solid pride in; the work was honestly and capably done; but it was small savings from a lifetime of conscientious work. His venture into the realm of business had been a disaster.
From a similar disaster Henry Adams was saved by an early disillusionment. His efforts at rapprochement were little more than a gesture. While casting about after the war for a promising opening for a career he hit upon finance as a likely field and published a number of essays that drew attention to him. But it was quite impossible for him to go forward along such lines. He was too completely the intellectual, too aloof from his generation in spirit and wto ally himself with the economic masters of the Gilded Age. Sooner or later he would go his own way, and luckily good fortune took the matter in hand promptly. No suitable opportunity offering, he was dragooned by family and friends into an assistantprofessorship at Harvard, where he spent seven years trying to explain to himself and his students the meaning of the Middle Ages. Those years were his introduction to history. The passion of the student was in his blood, and he turned with zest to brood over the scanty records of past generations, seeking a clue to the meaning of man's pilgrimage on earth, trying to arrange the meaningless fragments in some sort of rational pattern, in the hope of discovering an underlying unity in what seemed on the face only a meaningless welter of complexity and irrationality. A rationalist, he followed his intellect in an eager quest for the law of historical evolution, and he ended fifty years later in mysticism. It was a natural outcome for a lifetime of rationalizing-a compensation for the mordant dissatisfactions that issued from the restless play of mind.
Dissatisfied with his labors he quitted the Harvard post in 1879 and thereafter made his home at Washington in the atmosphere of politics. From the Middle Ages he turned to the American past and set out to explore the period during which the first Adams had played his part. He could not deal with narrow parochial themes; he would not fall into the "sink of history-antiquarian ism," that satisfied Charles Francis Adams. From the beginnings of his intellectual life he had been concerned with the ideas and ideals that presumably lie behind periods and civilizations; so he went back to what he regarded as the great age of American political history, to inquire into the meaning of the struggle between Federalism and Jeffersonianism for control of the venture in republicanism. But finding little satisfaction there, as he had earlier found none in Victorian England, where he had studied closely contemporary English statesmen-Palmerston and Lord Russell and Gladstoneonly to convince himself that they were bankrupt of ideas and morality, and had nothing to teach concerning the good life, he abandoned the field, threw over his familiar studies, and set about the great business of reëducating himself.
From his long studies in the American past one significant thing had emerged-he had come to understand the source of certain of his dissatisfactions with current American ideals that set him apart from his fellows. He had gone back to his own origins and had traced the rise of the defiant Adams prejudices that were as strong in the fourth generation as they had been in the first. The Adams family was eighteenth-century-Henry Adams had come to understand-and he himself in mind and education and prejudices, was of that earlier time. He was a child of Quincy rather than Boston-a simple world with simple virtues that capitalism and industrialism were destroying in the name of progress. From such village loyalties he could not rid himself. Perhaps in reason he should not have preferred that earlier homespun world; but affection does not heed logic, and as Henry Adams traced the decline of Quincy to Hamilton's financial policy that started the new capitalism on its triumphant career, he was filled with bitterness. It was a vulgar order that was rising and an evil day. Since 1865 the bankers had ruled America, and they were coming finally to cajole the American people into accepting their vulgar ideals and putting their trust in a bankers' paradise. As he watched the temples of the new society rising everywhere in the land, his gorge rose at the prospect. He had no wish to dwell in a bankers' paradise. Dislike of a capitalistic society was in his blood. From father to son all the Adamses had distrusted capitalism and hated State Street. The "only distinctive mark of all the Adamses," he said late in life, "since old Sam Adams's father a hundred and fifty years before, had been their inherited quarrel with State Street, which had again and again broken out into riot, bloodshed, personal feuds, foreign and civil war, wholesale banishments and confiscations, until the history of Florence was hardly more turbulent than that of Boston."2
And so when at the climax of the capitalistic revolution he watched the change going on noisily all about him, when the transition to the bankers' paradise was called progress and capitalistic feudalism was hailed as the advent of Utopia, he seemed to himself a somewhat pathetic anachronism. Shades of the prison house were falling about him. "He had hugged his antiquated dislike of bankers and capitalistic society," he said bitterly, "until he had become little better than a crank."
He had known for years that he must accept the regime, but he had, known a great many other disagreeable certainties-like age, senility, and death-against which one made what little resistance one could. . . . For a hundred years, between 1793 and 1893, the American people had hesitated, vacillated, swayed forward and back, between two forces, one simply industrial, the other capitalistic, centralizing, and mechanical. In 1893, the issue came on the single gold standard, and the majority at last declared itself, once for all, in favor of the capitalistic system with all its necessary machinery. All one's friends, all one's best citizens, reformers, churches, colleges, educated classes, had joined the banks to force submission to capitalism; a submission long foreseen by the mere law of mass. Of all forms of society or government, this was the one he liked least, but his likes and dislikes were as antiquated as the rebel doctrine of State rights. A capitalistic system had been adopted, and if it were to be run at all, it must be run by capital and by capitalistic methods.3
But while he clung tenaciously to his obsolete prejudices in favor of an earlier century, the pugnacious realism of that century was oozing out of him. The middle years of his life, between the acceptance of the Harvard post in 1870 and the final break with Victorianism in 1892, were intellectually an unhappy period. He was losing his grasp on realities and becoming narrowly and exclusively political-minded. It was not good for him to live daily in the presence of politics. In so "far as he had a function in life," he said of the Henry Adams of 1877, "it was as stable-companion to statesmen, whether they liked it or not."4 The term "statesmen" was of course only a polite euphemism for the breed of politicians who played their sordid game under his critical eyes. He was rarely under any illusions in regard to them except when blinded by friendship. Certainly his etchings of Grant and Blaine and Sherman and Conkling and other servants of democracy were done with acid.
Yet in all his penetrating comment on men and measures there is a curious failure to take into account the economic springs of action. He had let slip the clue old John Adams had followed so tenaciously. An acute historian, not thus wanting, would never have traced the triumph of the gold standard to the "mere law of mass," would never have substituted a physical determinism for an economic, would never have confused the principle of mass with minority. How far an intelligent man and a competent historian could go astray in his criticism of current ways is suggested by the curious novel Democracy, that he wrote in 1880 while living in the daily companionship of John Hay and Clarence King. In dealing with the phenomena of political corruption he had none of the acuteness of old John Taylor of Carolina, who would have put his finger unerringly on the cause, or of the first Adams. If he had written Democracy after he had studied the funding operations of the Federalists under Hamilton's leadership, very likely he would have dealt with the problem more searchingly; but in 1880 Henry Adams revealed no more critical intelligence than did Godkin or Lowell or other critics of the Gilded Age.
The historical work done during those middle years at Washington was abundant and excellent, marked by rigorous use of sources, a dispassionate attitude towards partisan issues, and excellent form. It was easy for an Adams to take middle ground between Jefferson and Hamilton, however much his sympathies inclined to the former. In all this work, however, in the Life of Albert Gallatin (1879), in John Randolph(1882), as well as in the nine-volume History of the United States during the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison(1889-1891), the point of view remains too narrowly political, with the result that it fails to thrust into adequate relief the economics of the great struggle between agrarianism and capitalism; and without that clue the interpretation is wanting in substantial realism.
By 1891 he was convinced that he had got all he could from the curdled milk of politics, and he became dissatisfied with his work. There can be little doubt that it was a growing realization of the inadequacy of his analysis of social forces that determined him to abandon the field he had tilled so long and set about the business of reeducating himself. If Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres and The Education tell anything about Henry Adams they reveal that his dissatisfactions welled up from deep springs within himself--from the consciousness of his failure to penetrate beneath the surface, to probe the hidden forces that move the puppets on the historical stage. He had long been seeking an adequate philosophy of history-for a unity behind the multiplicity-and in these early years of the nineties he was stimulated by Brooks Adams, who was then deep in his theory of the law of civilization and decay and had come to lean heavily on the principle of economic determinism.5
"Brooks Adams had taught him," he said later, "that the relation between civilizations was that of trade," and stimulated by this rediscovery of the philosophy of the first Adams he set about the business of orienting himself to the realm of science, of substituting for a meaningless political interpretation a broader philosophical interpretation.
Very likely it was his reading in the sociology of the Enlightenment that first turned his thought to the philosophy of historychiefly Turgot and Comte. Speaking of the years 1867-1868 he said he "became a Comteist, within the limits of evolution."6 He had long been interested in such clues as science offered-in the geological theories of Sir Charles Lyell and the biological deductions of Darwin. But the theory of biological evolution with its implications of a benevolent progress from the simple to the complex, failed to satisfy him; and he turned to the physical sciences for a guide, discovering as the ultimate reality behind all appearancesforce. This physical principle he transferred to the field of sociology. Coal-power, electrical power, he concluded, were to civilization what the gaseous theory was to physics. It was a creative suggestion and it revolutionized his conception of history. It runs through all his later speculations and provided the basis of his thinking. "Adams never knew why," he said, "knowing nothing of Faraday, he began to mimic Faraday's trick of seeing lines of force all about him, where he had always seen lines of will."7 "To evolutionists may be left the processes of evolution; to historians the single interest is the law of reaction between force and forcebetween mind and nature-the law of progress."8 "The great division of history into phases by Turgot and Comte first affirmed this law in its outlines by asserting the unity of progress."9
Thus by the aid of the physical sciences Henry Adams came back to the philosophy of determinism-a conception that may lead either to pantheism or to mechanism as one's temperament determines. In such a choice there would be no doubt which way Henry Adams would go; he must somehow reconcile determinism and progress, he must discover unity in multiplicity-and that unity and progress he found in a mystical pantheism. "Continuous movement, universal cause, and interchangeable force. This was pantheism, but the Schools were pantheist . . . and their deft was the ultimate energy, whose thought and action were one."10
How creatively this pantheistic mysticism was to determine his later thinking is sufficiently revealed in the pages of Mont-SaintMichel and Chartres. With incredible labor Henry Adams had at last made his way out of the Sahara of politics in which he had long wandered.
Phrased in less transcendental terms his philosophy of history, as he came finally to understand it, was expressed thus:
The work of domestic progress is done by masses of mechanical powersteam, electric, furnace, or other-which have to be controlled by a score or two of individuals who have shown capacity to manage it. The work of internal government has become the task of controlling these men, who are socially as remote as heathen gods, alone worth knowing, but never known, and who could tell nothing of political value if one skinned them alive. Most of them have nothing to tell, but are forces as dumb as their dynamos, absorbed in the development or economy of power. They are trustees for the public, and whenever society assumes the property, it must confer on them that title; but the power will remain as before, whoever manages it, and will then control society without appeal, as it controls its stokers and pit-men. Modern politics is, at bottom, a struggle not of men but of forces. The men become every year more and more creatures of force, massed about central power-houses. The conflict is no longer between the men, but between the motors that drive the men, and the men tend to succumb to their own motive forces. This is a moral that man strongly objects to admit, especially in mediaeval pursuits like politics and poetry, nor is it worth while for a teacher to insist upon it.11
From a civilization thus tyrannized over by coal-power and electrical power, he turned away to discover if possible a civilization in which men had lived the good life that he longed for; and in his second incursion into medieval times he found what he had long been seeking. Two centuries, from 1050 to 1250, came to represent for him in the evening of his days the crown and glory of all human endeavor; the first century with its Norman Mont-Saint-Michel and its Chanson de Roland, with its forthright strength and simplicity, its uncritical acceptance of life and God, its hope encompassed by a sufficing unity-a strong, naive, credulous world, yet with men's minds buttressed like their cathedrals by a faith that held in equilibrium the soaring arches of their aspirations, with every cranny and nook flooded with radiant color: and the second century, that expressed itself in the cathedral of Chartres, with its adoration of the Virgin, its courtly love of Guillaume de Lorris and . Marie de Champagne, its passionate mysticism of Saint Louis and Saint Bernard and Saint Francis, and its soaring scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas-a tender, feminine age, that worshiped woman and erected its altars to Our Lady of Love rather than to Our Lady of Sorrows, that found in Isolde the ideal woman and expressed itself in Eleanor of Guienne and Blanche of Castile, in Héloïse and Marie de Champagne, more adequately than in Richard Coeur-de-Lion, till it finally went the way of mortality "with the death of Queen Blanche and of all good things about the year 1250" :-to such idealization of medievalism did this child of Puritanism come in the wistful twilight of his days. He had never evaded life, nor professed himself satisfied with mean or cheap substitutes, but had sought persistently till he had come to believe that the good life had been lived once, though it might not ever be lived again. So much at least was clear gain, even though it should end in wistfulness.
Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres is a beautiful book, the more beautiful because of its wistfulness; and the theme that runs through its pages is a denial of the values that embodied for his countrymen the sum of all excellence. It is an account of certain happy generations-so few amongst the countless many-who worshiped in love, before fear had come to the western world and crept into the message of the church; a love that elevated Mother Mary above the Christ of the Cross, and that in her shrine at Chartres would allow no hint of sorrow or suffering to appear, but represented her as looking out upon the world with a gracious and regal kindliness and mercy, quick to succor and to forgive-the spirit of love that suffices life in all its needs. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres is rich and tender and wise, perhaps beyond anything else that his generation of Americans wrote, with a mellow scholarship that walks modestly because it has learned how little it knows. Yet in its every implication it is a sharp and searching criticism of Boston and America of the nineteenth century. It repudiates every ideal of a generation that had gambled away the savor of life-that does not comprehend "and never shall," the greatness of that earlier time, "the appetite" for living, the "greed for novelty," "the fun of life."12 It was precisely these things, unimportant though they might seem to the acquisitive mind, that Henry Adams had missed in his own life and passionately resented having missed. To come to know great men and great deeds and great ages is perhaps of doubtful expediency for one who must live amongst small men; and Henry Adams was forced to pay a heavy penalty for his catholic understanding and sympathy.
The profound suggestiveness of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres lies in the skill with which the brilliant threads of medieval art and thought and aspiration are woven into a single pattern, and the splendor of its unity traced to a mystical élan that found its highest expression in faith. It was the ideal of love that he discovered in the golden twelfth century-love above law, above logic, above the church and the schools: a love that explains for him the passionate worship of Mother Mary, together with the new "courtoisie" that sought to shape manners and morals to humane ends. The humanity of the Virgin set her above the Trinity, as the humanity of Saint Francis set him above Thomas Aquinas, for all the latter's soaring scholasticism. To one who entered those bygone times through the portals of Chartres cathedral, it was natural to interpret the total age in the light of the gentle smile of the Mother of God, and to feel her presence as a transforming spirit amongst men. Has any other Yankee interpreted so lovingly the mission of the Virgin, as Henry Adams analyzed it in such a passage as this?
True it was, although one should not say it jestingly, that the Virgin embarrassed the Trinity; and perhaps this was the reason, behind all the other excellent reasons, why men loved and adored her with a passion such as no other deity has ever inspired: and why we, although utter strangers to her, are not far from getting down on our knees and praying to her still. Mary concentrated in herself the whole rebellion of man against fate; the whole protest against divine law; the whole contempt for human law as its outcome; the whole unutterable fury of human nature beating itself against the walls of its prison-house, and suddenly seized by a hope that in the Virgin man had found a door of escape. She was above law; she took feminine pleasure in turning hell into an ornament; she delighted in trampling on every social distinction in this world and the next. She knew that the universe was as unintelligible to her, on any theory of morals, as it was to her worshippers, and she felt, like them, no sure conviction that it was any more intelligible to the Creator of it. To her, every suppliant was a universe in himself, to be judged apart, on his own merits, by his love for her,-by no means on his orthodoxy, or his conventional standing in the Church, or according to his correctness in defining the nature of the Trinity. The convulsive hold which Mary to this day maintains over human imagination-as you can see at Lourdes-was due much less to her power of saving soul or body than to her sympathy with people who suffered under law,-divine or human, justly or unjustly, by acci dent or design, by decree of God or by guile of Devil. She cared not a straw for conventional morality, and she had no notion of letting her friends be punished, to the tenth or any other generation, for the sins of their ancestors or the peccadilloes of Eve.
So Mary filled heaven with a sort of persons little to the taste of any respectable middle-class society, which has trouble enough in making this world decent and pay its bills, without having to continue the effort in another. Mary stood in a Church of her own, so independent that the Trinity might have perished without much affecting her position; but, on the other hand, the Trinity could look on and see her dethroned with almost a breath of relief. . . . Mary's treatment of respectable and law-abiding people who had no favours to ask, and were reasonably confident of getting to heaven by the regular judgment, without expense, rankled so deeply that three hundred years later the Puritan reformers were not satisfied with abolishing her, but sought to abolish the woman altogether as the cause of all evil in heaven and on earth. The Puritans abandoned the New Testament and the Virgin in order to go back to the beginning, and renew the quarrel with Eve.13
Thus at last, in another land and a remote age, Henry Adams found the clue that explained for him his own failure and the source of the dissatisfactions that had tracked him doggedly through his far wanderings. He had come to understand the reasons for the sterility of his Massachusetts past, and the last shreds of his Puritan-Federalist heritage were cast off. In comparison with the vision that came to him in the choir of Chartres, how unspeakably poor and mean were the activities he had portrayed in Democracy, or even those he had dealt with in his history of the early days of the republic. He had discovered the highest existence in emotional response to noble-appeal-;-the-good life was -the unified life, possible only on a grand scale in these rare and great periods of social élan when the individual is fused in an encompassing unity. Of that golden age of the Transition--so he finally cast up the account--"the sum is an emotion-clear and strong as love and much clearer than logic whose charm lies in its unstable balance."
The Transition is the equilibrium between the love of God-which is faith-and the logic of God-which is reason; between the round arch and the pointed. One may not be sure which pleases most, but one need not be harsh toward people who think that the moment of balance is exquisite. The last and highest moment is seen at Chartres, where, in 1200 the charm depends on the constant doubt whether emotion or science is uppermost. At Amiens, doubt ceases; emotion is trained in school, Thomas Aquinas reigns. 14
Of all the elaborate symbolism which has been suggested for the Gothic cathedral, the most vital and most perfect may be that the slender nervure, the springing motion of the broken arch, the leap downwards of the flying buttress,-the visible effort to throw off a visible strain never let us forget that Faith alone supports it, and that, if Faith fails, Heaven is lost. The equilibrium is visibly delicate beyond the line of safety; danger lurks in every stone. The peril of the heavy tower, of the restless vault, of the vagrant buttress; the uncertainty of logic, the inequalities of the syllogism, the irregularities of the mental mirror,-all these haunting nightmares of the Church are expressed as strongly by the Gothic cathedral as though it had been the cry of human suffering, and as no emotion had ever been expressed before or is likely to find expression again. The delight of its aspiration is flung up to the sky. The pathos of its self-distrust and anguish of doubt is buried in the earth as its last secret. You can read out of it whatever else pleases your youth and confidence; to me, this is all. 15
One may enter the past, of course, through such portals as one chooses; but one is likely to choose the portals that promise to open upon the world of one's desires. It was a fortunate accident, no doubt, that led Henry Adams to Chartres to study the cathedral glass under the guidance of John La Farge; nevertheless it finally determined for him his total interpretation of the Middle Ages and of all history, and that interpretation followed naturally a subtle ancestral bias. Even in his rebellion against his past he could not get away from it, but like Ruskin and John Henry Newman he came to affirm--whether rightly or wrongly, who shall say?--that the singular glory of the Middle Ages was the mystical élan that came to expression in the adoration of the Virgin. As a child of generations of Puritans he came back finally, in the twilight of his studies, to the great ideal of faith. And yet it is not without suggestion that William Morris, who more nearly than any other modern expressed in his daily life the spirit of the Middle Ages, never concerned himself much with the medieval church-neither its cathedrals nor its scholasticism nor its miracles-never talked about an age of faith, would scarcely have understood, indeed, what was meant by the drive of a mystical élan; but discovered the secret of that earlier civilization in the gild rather than the church, and traced the source of the haunting beauty that clings to all its works to the psychology of craftsmanship that found delight in shaping the raw material to the craftsman's dreams.
The difference between Morris and Adams is great enough, and at bottom it is the difference between the artist and the intellectual; yet it is a pity that Henry Adams, with his wide acquaintance in England, should never have known the one Victorian he should most have delighted in-the nineteenth-century craftsman who found in his workshop the good life the historian dreamed of, and was unhappy because it had been lost. Perhaps it would not have greatly changed the latter's interpretation. He was not a pagan in temperament to enter sympathetically into the medieval world that Morris had discovered and of which the Church was only a drapery-a drapery that never quite covered a frank joie de vivre that was an emotion far more realistic and human than any mystical élan, and that persisted long after the apogee of faith in the early twelfth century, filling all the later Middle Ages with its abundant beauty till it was finally destroyed by the economic revolution that came out of the Reformation. But at any rate he might have been led by such knowledge to set the craftsman beside the poet and the schoolman and the mystic-the nameless artist who wrought such marvels beside the patron who took care to have his name and his arms emblazoned on window and wall to remind posterity of his generosity; and certainly, his interpretation of the Middle Ages would not have suffered by such addition. Instead, an excessive intellectualism drove him back upon the naive.
The disillusion of Henry Adams is abundantly instructive to the student of our flamboyant transition, so different from the golden Transition. Here was an honest man and an able-none honester and none abler in his generation-who devoted his life to finding a path out of the maze of middle-class America, that should lead to a rational and humane existence. He was never overconfident of his conclusions. All arrogant dogmatisms he had long since left behind; they had become for him pathetically futile and foolish. Creeds and faiths, whether in religion or politics or economics, he no longer subscribed to; but a certain residuum remained, from his long meditations-a sense of interfusing unity, mystical, pantheistic, that his lurking skepticism dealt tenderly with. "Inter vania nihil vanius est homine," he asserted as a skeptic, and as a mystic he replied, "Man is an imperceptible atom always trying to become one with God. If ever modern science achieves a definition of energy, possibly it may borrow the figure: Energy is the inherent effort of every multiplicity to become unity." 16 In these later years he called himself half whimsically a "conservative Christian Anarchist" 17 and the explanation probably is to be found in his shift from intellectualism to emotion as the crown of a satisfying life. "The two poles of social and political philosophy seem necessarily to be organization or anarchy; man's intellect or the forces of nature." 18 In rare and happy periods-as in the glorious Transition-freedom finds its fullest life in a spontaneous drawing together of the whole; but as the social elan dies away, institutions, organization, remain. Thomas Aquinas follows Saint Francis, form remains after emotion has subsided. Nevertheless the free man must cling to his freedom, in spite of society, in spite of the political state.
Absolute liberty is absence of restraint; responsibility is restraint; therefore, the ideally free individual is responsible only to himself. This principle is the philosophical foundation of anarchism, and, for anything that science has yet proved, may be the philosophical foundation of the universe; but it is fatal to all society and is especially hostile to the State.19
Though he lived in the midst of a centralizing politics and found his friends in such servants of centralization as John Hay and Henry Cabot Lodge, Henry Adams had no faith in the dominant ideals. He was never a friend to an acquisitive society with its engrossing political state. In the light of his favorite dictum that "Power is poison," he may perhaps be regarded as an old-fashioned Jeffersonian; it is another evidence of the persistence of his eighteenth-century mind. He was an arch-individualist who would go his own way and reach his own conclusions, quite unconcerned that his views were wholly at variance with those of his generation. How could it be otherwise? How should men who lived in the counting-house understand even the language of this pilgrim returned from other and greater worlds? It was foolish to talk of what he had seen. And so when he wrote Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres he published it privately, and was incredulous when it was proposed to republish it and give it to the world. What had he, or the twelfth century, to say to the land of Theodore Roosevelt and Pierpont Morgan? Was not this America of theirs peopled by the descendants of the bourgeoisie who, six hundred years before, resentful at having been cheated-as they supposed-in their heavy investments in shrines and churches of Our Lady, had turned away from all such unprofitable business, and put their savings in lands and houses and ships and railways and banks-of which things politics was the sluttish servant? How should one who had known Saint Francis and Eleanor of Guienne take such men or such a world seriously?
The difference between Henry Adams and Brooks Adams is, perhaps, sufficiently revealed in the distinction between the intellectual and the rebel. The youngest of the brothers was a militant nonconformist, a searching and outspoken critic of all the faiths of his generation. In Brooks Adams the family skepticisms were pointed and barbed, and the family distrust of capitalism issued in a broadside attack upon the hateful system. Few Americans of his day were so little pleased with the bankers' Utopia dreamed of by the middle class, or subjected the capitalistic mind to such critical analysis. Not content with rejecting that Utopia, he pursued his studies in the history of western civilization with a view to determining whether the economic mind, instead of being the friend and ally of a human society-as it professed to be-were not rather the foul wellspring of a disintegrating egoism that must destroy every civilization that yields to its siren appeal. In the theory he eventually elaborated the capitalistic mind proves to be a greedy spider spinning his web to catch the simple imaginlative minds-warrior and priest and artist and craftsman--and suck them dry. The sterile middleman becomes master of society and with the inevitable enslavement of the producer, and the drying-up of production at its source, civilization withers and decays, to be followed by another cycle in the ion long struggle between the creative and acquisitive instincts.
None but a congenital rebel could have arrived at such conclusions from the studies in which his youth was passed. As a son of the house of Adams the profession of the law was the predestined path to politics and diplomacy, and like Charles and Henry he devoted his younger years to the ancestral study, receiving such training as the Harvard Law School could give. He made greater progress than his brothers, eventually getting so far as to write legal treatises; but finding such work a bit arid he supplemented his legal studies with the writing of Massachusetts chronicles. His dissatisfactions seem to have culminated in the late eighties, during the lean years that preceded the crash of 1893; and he turned away from local chronicles to speculate on the deeper causes of social vigor and decline. The result was the publication in 1895 of The Law of Civilization and Decay, a study in social dynamics that took its point of departure from psychology, and based its conclusions on physics and economics. Before Henry Adams he elaborated the theory that civilization is the product of social energy, and social energy obeys the physical law of mass, accelerating or retarding in ratio to the density of population reduced to order. As society draws together in great centers its activity increases until exhaustion finally slows it down; whereupon follows a period of disintegration that breaks up the integrated mass and disperses its energy. The social ebb and flow, therefore, is always from decentralization to centralization and back again to decentralization, and as it flows it thrusts into the foreground different types of mind that express themselves in diverse ideals.
The master types that appear and disappear in this ceaseless flux are determined by two psychological drives that always and everywhere shape human activity-fear and greed: the one culminating in the social rule of the priest, the other in the social rule of the usurer. Decentralization with its isolation breeds the imaginative mind which, seeing more devils than vast hell can hold, turns to the priest for succor-to one who deals in miracles and professes to be able to fend off malignant powers, and who in consequence grows rich by his traffic in relics and rises to economic power. But imagination produces as well the creative mind that finds in isolation the promptings to revery, expresses its dreams in terms of beauty, and fashions a realm of art in which to dwell. Priest, artist, and warrior,-shrine, cathedral, and castle-were the creation of medieval times, the naive products of the golden age of decentralization. Whereas centralization, with the rubbing away of singularity by daily contact and the greater rewards that lie open to activity, breeds automatically the economic mind-a mind that is necessarily unimaginative, practical, competitive, acquisitive, skeptical, preferring administration to creation, and setting exploitation as the single object of activity. And since centralization offers increasing rewards to greed, the economic mind subdues the imaginative, and the money-lender with his control of wealth rises to mastery. As he expropriates the resources of society he inevitably dominates the political state. His wealth enables him to maintain a hired police to safeguard his gains, until expropriation having run its course, the police fail to hold in check the mass of the exploited, and an unmartial class discovers that money can no longer buy security against the strength of numbers. The usurer is overthrown, his wealth is expropriated, and the social cycle must be run again.
This suggestive theory, which he works out with conspicuous skill in his interpretation of the Middle Ages and the rise of capitalism, implies a perennial conflict between fear and greed, that turns finally upon the relative development of the arts of attack and of defense. Centralization, it is clear, results from the superiority of the former; when attack is superior to defense the lesser strongholds of exploitation must fall and the defeated must become subject to the coalescing masters. After the disruption of the Roman Empire western Europe created its feudal system, by means of which the baron in his stout castle flouted the centralizing ambitions of the impotent monarchy; and it was not till the wealth of the church and of the bourgeoisie was thrown on the side of the king, and the development of the art of attack through the use of gunpowder, that the rise of the monarchical state was possible. But having aided the king to reduce the power of the barons, thereby rendering trade secure on a large scale, the bourgeoisie turned against the medieval church with its vast wealth that invited expropriation. In the primitive age of faith, under the dominion of fear, the burgesses had spent their money prodigally to build shrines and churches and cathedrals-in France alone between the years 1170 and 1270, eighty cathedrals and nearly five hundred large churches had been built, that by a calculation made in 1840 would cost a billion dollars to replace 20--but with the development of the economic mind such amazing expenditures seemed wasteful, and the bourgeoisie looked about for a cheaper way of salvation. The money cost to the worshipers of saints and relics was a sharp prod to their skepticism as to the efficacy of such worship. This explains for Brooks Adams the origins of the Reformation; it was due to the economic dissatisfaction of the burgess class; the church had grown rich and grasping from its monopoly power. Speaking of the rise of English Lollardry, he argued:
The Lollards were of the modern economic type, and discarded the miracle because the miracle was costly and yielded an uncertain return. . . gifts as an atonement for sin were a drain on savings, and the economist instinctively sought cheaper methods of propitiation. The monied class, therefore, proceeded step by step, and its first experiment was to suppress all fees to middlemen, whether priests or saints, by becoming their own intercessors with the deity . . . [and] as the tradesman replaced the enthusiast, a dogma was evolved by which mental anguish, which cost nothing, was substituted for the offering which was effective in proportion to its money value. This dogma was "Justification by Faith," the cornerstone of Protestantism. . . .
But the substitution of a mental condition for a money payment led to consequences more far-reaching than the suppression of certain clerical revenues, for it involved the rejection of the sacred tradition which had not only sustained relic worship, but which had made the Church the channel of communication between Christians and the invisible world. That ancient channel once closed, Protestants had to open another, and this led to the deification of the Bible. . . . Thus for the innumerable costly fetishes of the imaginative age were substituted certain writings which could be consulted without a fee. The expedient was evidently the device of a mercantile community, . . . and made an organized priesthood impossible. When each individual might pry into the sacred mysteries at his pleasure, the authority of the clergy was annihilated.21
With warrior and priest superseded by the tradesman as the dominant type-the imaginative mind by the economic-came the inevitable triumph of greed over fear. The ancient defenses of the church were razed and it stood naked to its enemies. In presence of the skepticism of the burgesses it could no longer sell its miracles in the open market, could no longer persuade men that it was God's vicegerent with powers of binding and loosing; and with its divine sanctions gone, its wealth-hoards lay unprotected before the cupidity of king, noble, and commoner. The spoliation of the monasteries was the prelude to the long movement of the Reformation in England, and made possible its success. So long as the church retained its lands and treasure it could not easily be overturned; so a greedy King and greedy nobles took effective measures to disarm it, and having got their hands on the substantial plunder they left to Genevan ministers the lesser business of disputing over the form and doctrine of the new church. The revolution had already been accomplished; and this revolution-the transfer from priest to layman of a third of the wealth of England-was but prelude to still greater revolutions that were preparing, and which began with the pouring into England of the gold and silver from the Spanish treasureships. The spoiling of Rome and the spoiling of the Spaniard were both buccaneering adventures undertaken by zealous Protestants. Drake and Hawkins-pirate and slaver-were "hot gospellers," ready to fight, plunder, or rape for the glory of God and the profit of England; and it was such men who diverted to London the flood of Spanish-American silver that issued from the rich mines of Potosi.
Potosi was discovered in 1545, and from that event Adams dates the rise of the commercial activity that was to prepare the way for the Industrial Revolution, which came to flower two centuries later. This vast upheaval that destroyed the older feudal England, was the immediate outcome of the plundering of India that brought to London the vast treasure-hoards of the East. The eviction of the peasants from their lands had already provided a plentiful supply of cheap labor, the machinery of credit and exchange had been created, and with this immense influx of capital the Industrial Revolution was a matter of course. The manufacturers seized control of England and ruled till approximately 1810 when their authority was disputed by the financiers who gradually displaced them. The Bank Act of 1844, which yielded the control of the currency to the bankers, marked the definite transfer of sovereignty to Lombard Street; Samuel Lloyd, the banker, completed the work begun in 1523 by Thomas Cromwell, burgess-adventurer-the work of bringing England under the authoritative sway of the principle of greed. Since 1844 western civilization has lain helpless under the heel of the usurer, who levies his tax upon production by expanding and contracting the currency at will, and rules society through his control of the political state. The triumph of the economic mind is complete.
The aristocracy which wields this autocratic power is beyond attack, for it is defended by a wage-earning police, by the side of which the legions were a toy-a police so formidable that, for the first time in history, revolt is hopeless and is not attempted. The only question which preoccupies the ruling class is whether it is cheaper to coerce or bribe.22
The Law of Civilization and Decay is an extraordinarily provocative study, the main principles of which he elaborated and applied in later historical studies, the result of which was to emphasize for him the determining influence of economics and geography in the rise and fall of empires .23 Equipped thus with a comprehensive philosophy of history, he turned in a later work to examine certain aspects of the play of social forces in America, in the light of universal social experience. The particular object of his inquiry in The Theory of Social Revolutions is the machinery of social control developed in America during the movement of capitalistic centralization, and its probable adequacy to meet the future stresses of acceleration. The problem of security for the capitalistic order resolves itself, he decides, into the problem of a sufficient protective police; and since every non-military master class must depend upon some form of mercenary Swiss guard, the solution in America has assumed a form not uncommon in earlier European experience, but which every European country has learned at bitter cost to reject. In the face of a strong anti-militaristic public sentiment that forbids coercive army and navy, the financial masters have had recourse to the courts; and it is the eventual effect of such perversion of the courts to non-judicial ends that he considers in this frank inquiry.
Historically, he points out, the courts have at times exercised two diverse functions, the judicial and the political; and the problem of justice and equity before the law, it has been found by long and bitter experience, resolves itself into the total separation of the one from the other. The judicial function is that of impartial arbitrament in accordance with an established corpus juris; it is judgment and not will. The enactment of the law, on the other hand, is a political function, residing in the legislature. When therefore, the courts exercise the political function, they not only assert that the judicial will is sovereign, but they engage in a perilous struggle for mastership and involve themselves in all the passions of partisan objectives. Every "dominant class, as it has arisen, has done its best to use the machinery of justice for its own benefit." The temptation to such perversion is perennial; it is the particular and besetting temptation of an unmartial monied class; and in times of social stress it becomes acute. In revolutionary crises-as in England under Lord Chief-Justice Jeffreys and in France under the Revolutionary Tribunal-the political function overrides the judicial, the last protection of the individual is swept away, and society lies helpless before the ruling power. Thus to pervert the legitimate functions of the courts is a dangerous game to play-most dangerous for a non-military group for whom the courts are protectors; and yet it is precisely this game that capitalism in America, heedless of the teachings of experience, has long been playing. Using the courts as a police power it has brought contempt upon them and thereby weakened the arm upon which alone it can hope to rely in periods of acute stress. In short, capitalism has assumed the functions of sovereignty in America, but it has refused to assume the responsibilities of sovereignty. To gain immediate ends it has shut its eyes to future consequences; and what those future consequences are likely to be Brooks Adams is at pains to point out.
The kernel of his argument, obviously, lies in the thesis that the federal courts have assumed political functions; and into this question he delves with the equipment of the lawyer added to that of the philosophical historian. "Politics," he asserts realistically, "is the struggle for ascendancy of a class or a majority." Under the "American system, the Constitution . . . is expounded by judges, and this function, which, in essence, is political, has brought precisely that quality of pressure on the bench which it has been the labor of a hundred generations of our ancestors to remove." 24 Hence, "from the outset, the American bench, because it deals with the most fiercely contested of political issues, has been an instrument necessary to political success. Consequently, political parties have striven to control it, and, therefore, the bench has always had an avowed partisan bias."25 From so anomalous a situation two curious developments have resulted: in the role of guardians of the Constitution the courts have assumed sovereign powers over the legislature, and at the same time, by a clever nonjudicial hocus-pocus they have declared themselves superior to the' Constitution, possessed of the prerogative of dispensation. How the first came into being Adams traces in detail from the time of Marbury vs. Madison in 1803, when Marshall asserted a supervisory jurisdiction over Congress, to Standard Oil Company vs. United States in 1911, when the Court amended an act of Congress that Congress had declined to amend. How the second came into being is a curious story. It arose, according to Adams, from the rigidity of a written constitution, that having been interpreted narrowly must somehow be stretched to meet public needs. In such an emergency the "Supreme Court of New York imagined the theory of the Police Power," saying in effect, "in our discretion, we suspend the operation of the Constitution, in this instance, by calling your act an exercise of a power unknown to the framers of the Constitution." 26
In other words, having, by the assumption of sovereignty, nullified the legislative power from which relief would naturally come, and having awakened a hostile public opinion by its narrow interpretation of contractual rights, the court was embarrassed and looked about for a loophole of escape; and the most convenient loophole was the novel doctrine of judicial prerogative:
No legislature could intervene, and a pressure was brought to bear which the judges could not withstand; therefore, the Court yielded, declaring that if impairing a contract were, on the whole, for the public welfare, the Constitution, as Marshall interpreted it, should be suspended in favor of the legislation which impaired it. They called this suspension the operation of the "Police Power." It followed, as the "Police Power" could only come into operation at the discretion of the Court, that, therefore, within the limits of judicial discretion, confiscation, however arbitrary and to whatever extent, might go on.27
The effect of the adoption by the Supreme Court of the United States of the New York theory of the Police Power was to vest in the judiciary, by the use of this catch-word, an almost unparallelled prerogative. They assumed a supreme function which can only be compared to the Dispensing Power claimed by the Stuarts, or to the authority which, according to the Council of Constance, inheres in the Church, to "grant indulgences for reasonable causes." I suppose nothing in modern judicial history has ever resembled this assumption. . . .28
It is this amazing principle of the judicial prerogative which sets the Courts above the Constitution and grants them the privilege of dispensing Indulgences, that has perverted their functions from the judicial to the political. If Indulgences are for sale, naturally the wealthy will buy them. And since corporate wealth is regarded by the judiciary with a more than friendly eye, it rarely finds difficulty in securing such Indulgences as it seeks. The Courts have become, in consequence, not so much the Swiss Guards of capitalism, as a pliant sovereign lord who dispenses rewards to his favorites. The capitalist is "the most lawless" of citizens. In his attitude towards the state he is essentially anarchistic; he evades or nullifies a law that he does not like, while clamorous for the enforcement of a law that works in his favor.
If the capitalist has bought some sovereign function, and wishes to abuse it for his own behoof, he regards the law which restrains him as a despotic invasion of his constitutional rights, because, with his specialized mind, he cannot grasp the relation of a sovereign function to the nation as a whole. He, therefore, looks upon the evasion of a law devised for public protection, but inimical to him, as innocent or even meritorious. This attitude of capital has had a profound effect upon shaping the American legal mind. The capitalist, as I infer, regards the constitutional form of government which exists in the United States, as a convenient method of obtaining his own way against a majority, but the lawyer has learned to worship it as a fetish. Nor is this astonishing, for, were written constitutions suppressed, he would lose most of his importance and much of his income. Quite honestly, therefore, the American lawyer has come to believe that a sheet of paper soiled with printers' ink and interpreted by half-a-dozen elderly gentlemen snugly dozing in armchairs, has some inherent and marvellous virtue by which it can arrest the march of omnipo tent Nature.And capital gladly accepts this view of American civilization, since hitherto capitalists have usually been able to select the magistrates who decide their causes.29
The skepticisms of the House of Adams came to their frankest expression in the writings of Brooks Adams. The passion for social justice had brought him at last to a philosophy of history that made him a trenchant critic of the American of his generation. He rejected alike the humanitarian optimism that, from Condorcet to Herbert Spencer, had inspired generous souls with hope for future progress-and that even Henry Adams clung to-and the economic optimism that from the beginnings of the westward movement had inspired acquisitive souls with the hope of continuous gain. Nothing perhaps marked him more clearly as a rebel than his denial of the god worshiped by his fellows. The gospel of progress was for him no more than a fetish of the economic mind. In the ebb and flow of civilizations under the attraction of fear and greed, what justification was there for faith in a benevolent progress? His lot had been cast, unfortunately, in an age of capitalism, when the acquisitive mind was triumphing over the imaginative, the banker over the priest and craftsman and mystic; but he could see no reason in heaven or earth to brag of that fact, and he would have held himself a fool to apply the term progress to the spread of greed that was crowning the usurer as master of men. A thorough skeptic, with the comfortable illusions of his generation dissipated, he was in worse plight than Henry Adams, for he had created no golden twelfth century as a refuge against the present.
But if he was under no illusions, he was under no intellectual tyrannies; he had cleared his mind of all middle-class fetishes and could look out calmly upon a mad world. After a century and a quarter this youngest of the House of Adams was still true to the sturdy intellectual honesty of his race. He refused to cry up a fool's paradise where his fellows were crowning the banker as king-professing to serve high ends while seeking vulgar profits: he would not shut his eyes to disagreeable truth or hold his tongue. In Brooks Adams one can almost hear the voice of the first Adams elaborating his doctrine of determinism, pointing out to a romantic generation the unpleasant realities that confuted its optimism, expatiating on the abundant follies of men that lay snares in their own path, yet clinging to a faith in justice that has become old-fashioned. Possibly Brooks Adams is not to be reckoned a great figure, but he was an honest man and worthy of his name-no mean accomplishment, for all in all the Adams family is the most distinguished in our history.
1 Autobiography, pp., 190-195.
2 The Education of Henry Adams, p. 21.
3 Ibid. , pp. 343-344.
4 Ibid ., p. 317.
5 Ibid. , pp. 338-339.
6 Ibid. , p. 225.
7 Ibid. , p. 426.
8 Ibid. , p. 493.
9 Ibid. , p. 493.
10 Ibid. , pp. 428-429.
11 Ibid. , pp. 421-422.
12 Ibid ., p. 139.
13 Moni-Saint-Michel , pp. 276-277.
14 Ibid ., pp. 321-322.
15 Ibid ., p. 383.
16 Mont-Saint-Michel , p. 332.
17 The Education, p. 405.
18 Mont;-Saint-Michel , p. 344.
19 Ibid ., p. 372.
20 See Henry Adams, Mont-Saint-Michel, pp. 94-95.
21 The Law of Civilization and Decay, pp. 150-151.
22 Ibid ., p. 292.
23 See America's Economic Supremacy, New York, 1900 The New Empire, New York, 1902.
24 The Theory of Social Revolution , p. 45.
25 Ibid ., pp. 47-48.
26 Ibid ., p. 128.
27 Ibid ., p. 93.
28 Ibid ., pp. 91-92.
29 Ibid ., pp. 213-215.