Henry Adams


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Henry Adams (1838-1918), American author, historian, and critic is most famous for his memoir The Education of Henry Adams (1918) which he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for in 1919.

Henry Brooks Adams was born on 16 February 1838 in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents were Charles Francis Adams (1807-1886), diplomat and writer, and Abigail Brown Brooks (1808-1889). Being the great-grandson of the second American President John Adams, and the grandson of the sixth President John Quincy Adams provided for a certain number of advantages in young Henry's life. He spent much time in the summers at his grandfather's home, and was surrounded by culture and wealth. The family's library was the largest private collection at the time and young Henry spent much time in it studying voraciously such subjects as Greek and Roman literature, mathematics, politics, physics, and astronomy. His father's position of power in politics as congressman and Vice Presidential candidate in 1848 also served him well, for he was surrounded by high-ranking diplomats and world leaders all his life.

Adams attended Harvard College from 1854-1858, and was a contributor to Harvard Magazine. In the fall of 1858 he set sail with a number of his fellow graduates on the "Grand Tour" of Europe. He attended Berlin University to study civil law and for the next year he visited various parts of Germany, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. For a time he became a correspondent for the Boston Daily Courier and his letters home included an interview with patriot Garibaldi. Over his lifetime Adams would amass an extraordinary collection of correspondence with many prominent friends and dignitaries of his day. After ten weeks spent in Paris, Adams left law school and returned to Massachusetts, and between 1861 and 1868 acted as his father's private secretary, who had been newly appointed by Abraham Lincoln as Minister to Great Britain. Whilst they were in Washington he was correspondent for Boston's Daily Advertiser. They next travelled to England and Adams was correspondent for The New York Times. He wrote a number of essays critical of congress, free trade, and diplomatic relations during this time, many published in the influential journal North American Review. Upon his return to America in 1868 he became a lobbyist and freelance political journalist. Ulysses S. Grant was a favourite target of Adam's mordant wit and scathing critique, his articles appearing in such prestigious journals as The Nation and the New York Evening Post.

Satisfying his intellectual pursuits, 1870 saw Adams appointed assistant professor of history at Harvard university and for the next six years he taught medieval English, European, and American history. "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Politics still hot in his veins however he also became editor of the North American Review. On 27 June 1872 Adams married Marian Hooper (1843-1885) and they set sail for their honeymoon, in Europe and Egypt. Whilst in England Adams visited with a number of his friends, political figures and scholars. In 1877 he resigned from Harvard to undertake a study of the papers in the state archive of Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury; Life of Albert Gallatin was published in 1879.

The Adam's maintained a close circle of friends, entertaining lavishly at their home senators, diplomats, attorneys, and a number of foreign visitors. After extensive travels and research, Adams wrote a treatise on corruption in Washington, Democracy, an American Novel (anonymous; 1880) which was widely read in England and North America. His pseudonym Frances Snow Compton published Esther: A Novel in 1884. In 1885 his wife Marian Adams committed suicide, and a year later his father Charles Francis Adams died. The grieving Adams moved into the new home that he and his wife had a friend design, on Lafayette Square in Washington. His mother died in 1889.

History of the United States - 1801 to 1817 (1889-1891) objectively details the time period during the diplomatic relations and administration of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Whilst on another tour of the Pacific with painter John La Farge in 1890, Adams made the acquaintance of Marau Taaroa, and through his guidance and friendship, penned her Memoirs of Marau Taaroa, Last Queen of Tahiti (1893). Adams continued to travel the world, including Mexico and the Caribbean Islands in 1894. After leaving the Republican Party to join the Democrats, the inside view was disenchanting to Adams and he slowly withdrew from his political pursuits; by 1902 the separation was complete. "Practical politics consists in ignoring facts." He now delved further into his historical studies, including a life-long appreciation and study of architecture and writing a number of biographies. Mont Saint Michel and Chartres: A Study of Thirteenth-Century Unity was published in 1913 with photographs and illustrations. He had released it privately years before, and now his meditations on the medieval world and its French cathedrals was well-received. In 1912 he had suffered a cerebral thrombosis which partially paralysed him. Henry Adams died 27 March 1918 and lies buried beside his wife in the Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, District of Columbia.

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2006. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on Henry Adams

Adams: coming to terms with the dawning 20th century

What I have done in my memoirs is not dissimilar to the autobiography of Henry Adams. Entitled The Education of Henry Adams it is much more a record of Adams's introspection than of his deeds. It is an extended meditation on the social, technological, political, and intellectual changes that occurred over Adams's lifetime. Adams concluded that his traditional education failed to help him come to terms with the rapid changes of his lifetime: hence his need for self-education. The organizing thr...


The Alure of Henry Adams

It seems to me that the absence of commentary from fellow members may result from a seeming lackluster in this dynamo's name and reputation. I personally was unaware of his story and interest until I found his biography and Democracy: An American Novel. I highly recommend his writing to all those who care enough to see this comment, a derivative of his genius....


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