Letters

Front Cover

Henry Adams' letters are among the best in the language. They are, in Alfred Kazin's words, "magnificent, his most spontaneous arid freest literary works." With the completion of this edition, they may well be judged his most significant achievement. "The letters are not a gloss on a life's work; in a real sense they are his life's work' the reviewer for American Literature stated.

We encounter Adams in 1892 at a turning point in his career, at the beginning of the period in which his leading ideas would he crystallized and his major literary works take shape. He had survived the shock of his wife's suicide and had completed his great History of the Jefferson era, and after his long journey in the South Seas his frustrated passion for Elizabeth Cameron had begun to calm. His wanderlust now took him to the Carolinas and the Rockies, to Mexico, Cuba, Egypt, the Near East, Greece, Italy, central Europe, Russia, and the North Cape. His interest came increasingly to center on the geopolitical present and the medieval past. Prompted by the Panic of 1893, he began an intensive study of the new finance capitalism and the imperial power it created; by the end of the decade he was beginning to foresee the shift of global dominance from Britain to the United States and Russia. Meanwhile a tour of the churches and abbeys of Normandy fired his imagination and led to the absorption in the art and culture 0f medieval France that would bear fruit in Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres

At his home on Lafayette Square, across from the White House, he became an informal adviser to statesmen, John Hay and Theodore Roosevelt among them. Out of his friendly association with scientists arid his own study of science came his conviction that the dynamo and radium were bringing a revolution in physics. His germinating ideas about science, technology, and economic power were conveyed in his letters over many years before they were formulated in The Education of Henry Adams, his "Study of Twentieth-Century Multiplicity."

The Adams who emerges from the letters is far more complex, contradictory, and human than the protagonist of the Education. He writes to women, Mrs. Cameron above all, about politics, economics, and science as well as social news and palace gossip, just as he writes to men about art as well as power. The multiplicity of his interests, his sharp perceptions, eye for telling detail, and passion for generalization, together with his irony and wit, make his letters the engrossing record of an extraordinary life-in-progress and an incomparable commentary upon his age.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

The letters of Henry Adams

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

These three volumes of Adams's letters constitute an American literary masterpiece. They bring togetherin full with superb annotationssome 1600 epistles from Adams to his closed circle of friends. An ... Read full review

Contents

Unweary Traveler 1892
1
Confrontation with Panic 1893
85
Professional Wanderer 1894
151
Copyright

5 other sections not shown

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (1989)

Adams was born in Boston, in 1838, the son of American diplomat Charles Francis Adams and grandson of President John Quincy Adams. Educated at Harvard, Adams worked in Washington, D.C., as his father's secretary before embarking on a career in journalism and later in teaching. A prominent American historian, he wrote several important historical works. Adams's autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams (1907), might be called the story of an education and the recovery from it, although the writer felt that he never in fact recovered. His earlier work, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (privately printed 1904, published 1913), a study of thirteenth-century unity, can readily be compared with the Education, a study of twentieth-century multiplicity that Adams believed makes education so destructive. Henry Adams wrote two novels, Esther (1884) and the earlier cutting satire on the U.S. government, Democracy: An American Novel (1880). In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt described Democracy as a novel that created a great furor among the educated incompetents and the pessimists generally and condemned it for what he considered "its superficial and rotten cleverness." Adams died in 1918.

University of Virginia

Ernest Samuels is Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of English, Emeritus, Northwestern University.