Henry Brooks Adams was born February 16, 1838, in Boston, Massachusetts. Adams came from a long line of political influences. His father was Charles Francis Adams, an American statesman and minister to Great Britain; his grandfather was John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States; and his great-grandfather was John Adams, the second President of the United States. Adams’ grandfather influenced his grandson’s career by instilling in him a strong moral conscience and a respect for education, especially in literary works.
After a primary education at Boston Latin School and Epes Dixwell School, Adams attended Harvard from 1854 to 1858. He then went to Europe to study civil law at the University of Berlin, but ended up traveling Europe, becoming a student of languages and cultures of the Old World. On his return from Europe, Adams did some legal studies in Quincy, Massachusetts before becoming a private secretary to his father.
In 1868, Adams became a freelance journalist, writing for papers such as the North American Review, the Nation, and the New York Post. He took an instructor’s position at Harvard from 1870 to 1877, where he became editor of the North American Review.
Adams visited Japan with John La Farge, a writer and an artist in 1879. There he wrote a biography entitled The Life of Albert Gallatin. In 1880, he published Democracy, a satirical novel about political life. After his return from Japan, Adams worked on a nine volume history about the administrations of Jefferson and Madison.
Later in life, while traveling the South Seas, Adams began work on Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, published in 1904. This work relates a time when society had achieved unity in the twelfth century. He also worked on The Education of Henry Adams, an autobiographical work that criticized an education system that poorly prepared people for their adult lives. Adams died shortly after the publication of The Education of Henry Adams. He posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize in 1919.
Adams died March 27, 1918 in Washington D.C. Although he considered himself a failure, his contributions to literature are widely considered a success.
“Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.”
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell, where his influence stops.”
“Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.”
“No man means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.”
“One friend in a lifetime is much, two are many, three are hardly possible. Friendship needs a certain parallelism of life, a community of thought, a rivalry of aim.”
“Never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.”
“A friend in power is a friend lost.”
“Philosophy: unintelligible answers to insoluble problems.”
“Politics… have always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”
“The woman who is known only through a man is known wrong.”
“From cradle to grave this problem of running order through chaos, direction through space, discipline through freedom, unity through multiplicity, has always been, and must always be, the task of education.”