The Letters of Henry Adams

by Henry Brooks Adams
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The Letters of Henry Adams

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2107

Henry Adams of Massachusetts, the grandson of one president and the great-grandson of another, “born,” as he claims in the famous opening sentences of his autobiography, “in the shadow of the Boston statehouse,” was doomed by temperament, chance, and history to spend his life as an observer of power. A disappointed romantic, Adams created from his own limitations and deficiencies a role that could mask his impotence without deflating his self-esteem. As a professional pessimist, an ironic commentator on the political foibles of his contemporaries, he brought to those who cared to or were permitted to listen, the lofty perspectives of a national history which happened by chance to also be a family one.

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Adams spent his early years as a historian, teacher, and occasional novelist, his later ones as an analyst, essayist, and autobiographer. Although in sheer quantity, the productions of his first half-century, including his biographies of Albert Gallatin and John Randolph, his nine-volume History of the United States of America (1889-1891), and the satirical novels, Democracy: An American Novel (1880) and Esther (1884) outweigh the works of his last three decades, it is for the products of his later life, Mont- Saint-Michel and Chartres (1904) and The Education of Henry Adams (1907), that he is most likely to be remembered. The three volumes of letters produced during these latter years are likely to tip the balance toward old age even further.

The more than two thousand pages that make up these massive volumes contain a staggering quantity of largely brilliant epistolary prose. Sparkling, ebullient, often witty, occasionally vicious, the letters present a full and detailed commentary on twenty-five years of American social and political life. The perspective is limited and often distorted by bigotry or bile, but the prose is a delight and the view of American political figures, caught as it were from the backs and the sides of their careers, makes the historical satire of contemporary pundits such as Gore Vidal seem unfocused and mild.

Readers of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres and The Education of Henry Adams are likely to note almost immediately the greater relaxation and freedom that permeate these more informal writings. Although the self-distancing that eventually results in choice of a third-person narrator in the Education is certainly evident throughout these volumes in Adams’ tendency to circle around his own reactions and to assume carefully defined roles in his relationship to his friends, he is on the whole more playful and, for the most part, more direct. He likes to characterize himself as senile, or detached or monkish, but the persona he assumes is clearly in many cases the continuation of a shared joke well understood by his correspondents to mean exactly the opposite of what seems to be said. He could, in short, laugh at himself to his friends, express affection and concern, and support them with great tact when they were distressed or suffering. In fact, one of the most surprising things about the correspondence is the contrast between the bitterness and cynicism which increasingly characterized the author’s view of the world around him, and the lavish affection and loyalty with which he regarded his allies, relatives, and friends.

Throughout the period covered by these volumes, more than a quarter of a century, Adams’ correspondents remain remarkably consistent, testifying to his gift for friendship and to the sustaining social ties which supported him. Primary among his friends were Charles Milnes Gaskell, a British writer and politician whom Adams had met in London during the critical years when he had acted as private secretary to his father, the American ambassador, during the Civil War; John Hay, his closest friend, who, with his wife, had been a fellow member of “The Five of Hearts,” the intimate circle which had gathered around Adams in Washington before Marian Hooper Adams committed suicide in 1885; and, above all, Elizabeth Cameron, twenty years younger than Adams and the wife of Senator Donald Cameron of Pennsylvania, to whom Adams wrote weekly and later monthly letters throughout his later life, retailing Washington gossip and political analysis in the intimate but rueful tones of a disappointed lover. Other recipients include such cultural and social luminaries as William and Henry James, the painter John LaFarge, the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Mrs. Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt and Bernard Berenson, and his brothers Brooks and Charles Francis Adams. As Adams reaches his eighties, naturally, many old friends disappear, but enough survive to give a pleasurable continuity. Events are described in one way to Mrs. Cameron and in another to younger brother Brooks. After the first two volumes, the reader comes to anticipate the pessimism of one perspective, the rueful self-mockery of another.

Volume IV begins in 1892, well after the crisis—Clover Adams’ death—that Adams claimed broke his life in half He has finished his active mourning (direct references to his wife are almost as scarce in the letters as they are in his published writings) and has returned from the South Seas voyage, made with LaFarge, that brought him back to life. The famous statue by Saint-Gaudens, embodying grief and mystery, has been finished, and the relationship with Mrs. Cameron, which had apparently become disturbing to both of them, has been consciously tempered into a literary intimacy (Adams describes himself to her as her “tame cat”). He is without direction at first: no longer a historian, but not yet anything else. Throughout the volume, however, hints erupt of a new vocation, or, rather, of a rededication, a reinterpretation of the old one. Two visits to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago describe his reactions to the dynamo, his astonishment not simply at the raw power evidenced by the expanse of the exhibition but at its beauty, in fact at its mere existence. “Chicago delighted me,” he writes to his old friend Lucy Baxter in October of 1893, anticipating themes he will later develop at length, “because it was just as chaotic as my own mind, and I found my own preposterous state of consciousness reflected and exaggerated at every turn.”

Adams’ professed confusion is in part assumed and in part the product of real panic and uncertainty. The financial crisis that shook the markets in the summer of 1893, while leaving his own solid investments relatively untouched, endangered the lives and fortunes of his friends and seemed to promise worldwide collapse. It furthered his conviction that the banking establishment controlled society and was rotten to the core. It was in this period that his well-known anti-Semitism, far more explicit in the letters than in his published writings, became obsessive. The “gold-bugs,” as he termed Jewish bankers and financiers, dominated society and culture; they alone would be responsible for the international debacle he anticipated in the second decade of the twentieth century. That others of Adams’ class and time shared his opinions to one degree or another is less important than the virulence of his particular hatred. Offensive both by its general nature and by its obsessiveness, it is particularly disturbing because it seems directly related to observations which, without knowledge of his particular bias, seem prescient, indeed brilliant in the later works: the prediction of the social and economic crisis which took the form of revolution in Russia and world war, the analysis of social change in terms of an immutable law of growing inertia and cultural decline. Even the opening sentences of The Education of Henry Adams take on resonance when examined in the context of Adams’ expressed convictions about Jews. (Particularly disturbing is his comment on Berenson—whose wife found Adams “pretty rude” on first meeting—a man whom he later entertained regularly and with whom he exchanged overtly cordial letters.)

Politics—the sins of the hated Cleveland Administration, William Jennings Bryan and the “free silver” campaign of 1896, the international intrigues and retreats that led to the American involvement in Cuba, Panama, and the Philippines-filled the letters of the 1890’s. Ironically, by the time his friends Roosevelt and Hay come into power at the beginning of the next century, Adams has turned his interest away from contemporary Washington to the Middle Ages and has begun once again to write. A routine tour to Normandy in 1895 had awoken in him a sudden passion for the twelfth century. It was the era, he claimed from then on, in which he belonged, and the long decline from Chartres to Chicago, from the apparent unity of medieval culture to the chaos of the modern world, with its “gold- bugs” and dynamos, its Pierpont Morgans and its McKinleys, made his feelings of displacement understandable. In the letters composed while he was actually writing Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres and The Education of Henry Adams, his work and research are seldom mentioned—in fact, he seems to live an existence that is purely social—but phrases and ideas from the books recur in the letters, and when the books have been finished, he is not hesitant about circulating them among his friends and asking for comments and corrections.

Adams claimed, only half in jest, that most of the readers of his later books were women. The doting uncle of ten nieces, whom he entertained and educated and advised from early childhood onward, and the sponsor and friend of innumerable other young women, dubbed “honorary nieces” by his friends, the venerable historian and adviser to presidents surrounded himself throughout his old age with young females and their mothers, his contemporaries and friends. He listened to their gossip, talked about their clothes, kept a dollhouse for their children in his study, and shared their worries. Among the most moving letters in the collection are the notes he sent to young Elizabeth Lodge after her husband had died suddenly. His worship of the Virgin, described in Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres and elsewhere, was in part a literary conceit, but it clearly reflected a sympathy for the sensibility of women—who, like himself, were on the outside of the political world, looking in and in some way bearing the burden of conscience. Although, like many men of his generation and later, he claimed to dislike suffragists and moral reformers, he was happy to exchange scientific information with his Boston friend, Margaret Chanler, and late in life formed close friendships with, among others, Elsie De Wolfe, the actress and interior decorator, and Edith Wharton.

One of the pleasures of immersing oneself in a correspondence of the length and size of the Adams letters is being able to observe change and growth both in the author and in his friends. Lifetimes pass in a few hundred pages. Children grow to adulthood and have their own children. In these volumes, as in the first three in the series (1858-1892), the daily life of the author engages the imagination. With the concluding volume, it is shocking to realize that the writer, having described himself as old or senile since his fifties, has in fact become old and must apologize for his declining powers. When World War I breaks out, and he is no longer able to spend half of each year in France, as he has for nearly twenty years, one misses the energy that informed incisive commentaries on Washington and world politics of the earlier years, and as each friend—Clarence King, John Hay, John LaFarge, Clara Hay, Henry James—dies, the reader senses a diminution of society and feels pain at the loss. The young private secretary who tacked his way through the treacherous waters of English politics during the 1860’s has become the still acute but physically feeble observer of Woodrow Wilson and the host to Eleanor Roosevelt and Ruth Draper. As Adams himself was fond of pointing out, the gap between 1860 and 1918 seems unbridgeable, almost impossible to imagine.

Adams was, as his editor notes, “the right man in the right place to observe the workings of American democracy in its new context of world power.” In these letters, the irrepressible interest and energy of the gifted observer constantly breaks through the jaundiced and curmudgeonly surface the professional writer has created. Despite the tedious anti- Semitism of the 1890’s and the eventually monotonous self- deprecation evident in all three volumes, the correspondence is among the richest in American letters. At its best, the prose moves with speed and wit. The reader is led to admire Adams’ unflagging curiosity and to like him, almost in spite of himself.

The editors of The Letters of Henry Adams have performed a heroic task in bringing these papers to the public. The detailed index and helpfully full, yet concise, footnotes go a long way toward ensuring that these volumes will be consulted again and again by students of American history and culture.

The Letters of Henry Adams

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3527

As any student of American history knows, the epistolary talents of the Adams family are a great and still only partially mined national natural resource. For more than a hundred and fifty years, the pens of this small group of curious, articulate New Englanders scratched out descriptions of the events and discussions of the ideas that shaped the intellectual and political consciousness of their country. Narrow, bitter, and contentious as they sometimes are, the Adams letters have provided a unique record of the American past and a fascinating study in the interplay of personality and politics.

Publication of The Letters of Henry Adams makes available to the general reader for the first time an important vein of this mine hitherto only glimpsed. In the past, scholars or casual readers who did not have access to the Adams family papers could read the letters of this celebrated grandson and great-grandson of presidents only in highly abridged or selected editions, notably the two-volume collection published in the 1930’s by Worthington C. Ford, which deleted comments that might have been an embarrassment to the still-surviving members of the Adams family and their immediate circle of friends. According to the current editors, more than fifteen hundred letters survive from the period covered by these three volumes; of these, 1,277 appear here, 710 of them published in a complete text for the first time. The letters, which begin with Adams’ first European trip in 1858 and end with his decision to return to Washington in 1892, cover his sojourn in the London embassy during the Civil War, his years in Washington and at Harvard University, his marriage, his hopeless infatuation with Elizabeth Cameron, and his retreat to the South Seas with John La Farge. They present, as well as a touching personal history, a vivid report on the rise and fall of the Gilded Age in the United States and the birth of what Adams identified as fin de siècle despondency throughout the world.

It would be worth reading these letters if their contributions to the historical record were their only value. Little of the information about Charles Francis Adams’ diplomatic maneuvering in the 1860’s or the attempt of the reform Republicans to take power in the presidential elections of the 1870’s can be new to the scholar, but Henry Adams’ unique perspective on the period lends a sharp immediacy to his observations. He was an involved participant in the political life around him, especially in his early years, sometimes fascinated and sometimes bored, but always acute and often eager. The four sons of Charles Francis fully expected him to be nominated for the presidency in 1872, and Henry’s letters to Carl Schurz and others during this and subsequent years show him to be as full of intrigue and excitement as any other partisan insider. It is not until the late 1880’s that he can confess that he has, for the first time, no personal friend in the Cabinet and thus knows little of what the inner circles are up to. He had ambivalent feelings about these circles, but his views on their unpredictable revolutions are always interesting and sufficiently snappish to retain their historical bite. Similarly, his letters from Tahiti and Samoa, which he visited in the 1890’s, several decades before Margaret Mead, present a highly individual view of island customs observed carefully at a time when they were rapidly changing.

Adams’ historical and anthropological observations, valuable as they may be, provide only a small part of the interest of these volumes. The letters are a pleasure to read. They are witty, eloquent, and precise. Adams was clearly lucky in his choice of friends, for he was able to write to them on a wide range of subjects, assured of their common interests and affections. Childless himself, he keeps up with the activities of their children. He jokes about himself and about shared memories and mutual friends. No answers to Adams’ letters are provided here, except where they are quoted briefly in notes, but it is clear from, for example, Adams’ letters in block capitals to little Martha Cameron and to his nieces that he was warmly accepted in his immediate world and was more relaxed and open to experience than his famous autobiography would lead the reader to expect.

There are many significant differences between letters and autobiography as literary genres, and it is difficult to imagine these contrasts more clearly illustrated than they are in the juxtaposition of The Education of Henry Adams (1907) with Adams’ correspondence. The former is a fixed rhetorical structure, carefully planned, polished, and unified by a distinctive narrative voice. Written by a disappointed elderly man for a select audience, it distorts, or at least shapes experience into illustration. The letters by contrast offer change, uncertainty, fluctuation. They are alive. The reader becomes absorbed in process rather than fascinated by product. The sharp perceptions and intelligence that characterize the autobiography are never absent, but they seem part of a developing personality, a lively response to an unstable world instead of exemplary aspects of an American character. What was Adams like as a young man? Was he flirtatious? Or passionate? What did he do after his wife’s suicide? How did he feel? One goes to Adams’ letters for answers to such questions raised by Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (1913; privately printed, 1904) and The Education of Henry Adams, brilliant but slightly inhuman works.

Henry Adams was born in 1838, the fourth child and third son of a family that was inextricably involved with American political life. Born, as he says in his autobiography, “under the shadow of Boston State House,” he perhaps carried a lighter burden of expectation than his older brothers, but he was never without the sense of being an Adams and thus caught, willy-nilly, in history. The middle-child consciousness that he was somehow out of place and perpetually in need of self-definition, and which would later be expanded into a full-scale philosophical position, pursued Henry from an early age. He was temperamentally drawn to his rebellious older sister Louisa but was closest in age and interest, at least while he was young, to his brother Charles, who had been his Harvard roommate and to whom the majority of the letters in the first volume are written.

Henry rather indirectly escaped the legal career that seemed to loom ahead of him in 1858 by persuading his parents to let him study civil law and languages in Europe. He left suddenly, apparently without consulting Charles, who was reading law in Boston and bored to death with it. Thus, the early letters home from Berlin, a place Henry soon found tedious and dismal, are both defensive and filled with that kind of anxiety about his own and his brother’s career choices that only the very young and the very self-absorbed can feel. Henry insists at first that he wants to stay with law, envisioning himself and Charles working together in Boston in spite of Charles’s contention that the two of them “are not adapted to make great lawyers.” At the same time, although he claims that he does not want to be a writer, he follows his brother’s suggestion to try journalism and write letters for American newspapers about his European experiences. It is impossible not to read the future into his comments from Rome in 1860, when he has just read Edward Gibbon’s autobiography—an event that is described with great care in The Education of Henry Adams, because it provides one of the controlling thematic ideas of that book:

Do you know, after long argument and reflexion I feel much as if perhaps some day I too might come to anchor like that. Our house needs a historian in this generation and I feel strongly tempted by the quiet and sunny prospect, while my ambition for political life dwindles as I get older.

Adams was only twenty-two at this point, and it would take a long time for his ambition for political life to become entirely negligible, if it ever did, but he did begin early to relish his role as an observer and to take it seriously. Like Henry James, Adams was to discover that his success in life would depend on the quality of his perceptions, and that the critical eye he could turn upon experience would be his most valuable and reliable personal resource. Even the earliest letters, homesick and filled with pleas for news from Boston, display his fondness for description and a slightly pompous analysis of the society around him. As he moves south in his second year abroad, he warms to the excitement of revolutionary politics in Italy, admires Giuseppe Garibaldi in person, and is thrilled to take official dispatches to Palermo. He writes excited letters to Charles about his adventures, then reorganizes the material into formal reports to the Boston Courier, impersonating very successfully the seasoned political commentator.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, he rewarded Charles Francis Adams for his support by making him Minister to Great Britain, a post which at that moment required considerable diplomatic tact. Henry, who had already been persuaded rather easily to postpone the study of law a little longer to become his father’s private secretary, went along to London with some reluctance. While Charles and older brother John struggled with hateful superior officers and inadequate supplies on the battlefield, watching their contemporaries die around them, Henry took his younger sister to balls, suffered the snubs of the English aristocracy, and watched his father in action. The skill of Charles in surmounting repeated crises and keeping Great Britain out of the war is described at length in The Education of Henry Adams. Here, what one is most conscious of is Henry’s frustration and annoyance. He feels guilty about being away from the fighting and repeatedly threatens to enlist, but he also bewails the futility of the bloodshed. He is lonely, and his moods are uneven, swinging from triumphant to depressed in accordance with the war news or the progress of official business. He dutifully reports the family news, but predictions of imminent disaster abound.

The letters of this period are very much those of a son and brother. Henry is still defining himself to Charles and looking for direction. He is sure he has wasted his life and confesses to Charles, “I have steadily lost faith in myself ever since I left college.” Gradually, however, a sense of purpose and direction begin to emerge. He begins a history of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, searching the British Museum for documents and quizzing other scholars. Flashes of prescience illuminate his comments. After noting the obsolescence of the British naval force, he predicts, “Some day science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide, by blowing up the world”—an idea he would develop in his later works.

Volume 1 ends with Adams’ return to Boston with his family in 1868; volume 2 begins with his decision to move to Washington alone and try his hand as a writer on contemporary affairs. In this volume, which traces the emotional growth and professional commitment of the mature man, the circle of correspondents widens. Charles, who was often living near Henry and from whom, in any case, he was often estranged, is replaced by Charles Milnes Gaskell, a close friend from the London period, and by Adams’ contemporary and neighbor, John Hay. Adams seems immediately more self-assured and confident, a formed person rather than a dependent middle son.

After two years in Washington, watching with amusement and dismay the peculiar shenanigans of the Ulysses S. Grant Administration, Adams moves back to Boston to take on the editorship of the North American Review and to assume the duties of a professor of medieval history at the newly reorganized Harvard University. He meets and marries a Boston woman, Marian Hooper, buys a house on Back Bay, and absorbs himself in the problems of editing, teaching, and research. Soon, however, he begins to find the demands of academic life annoying (several of his letters are written during faculty meetings), and by the end of the 1870’s, he is happy to return to Washington as editor of the Albert Gallatin papers, the first in a series of projects that would culminate in his massive history of the administrations of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. In Washington, until his wife drinks photographic fluid one December Sunday morning, Adams is happy, surrounded by friends and challenged by his work. He arranges for the anonymous publication of his two novels, Democracy: An American Novel (1880) and Esther (1884), and reports with glee the reactions of Washington society to the books. He buys land with John Hay, commissions Henry Hobson Richardson to design a house, and spends time poring over the plans and choosing rugs and furniture to fill it.

The mystery of Marian Hooper Adams’ sudden death is not solved here. Adams’ comments about his fiancée, when he announces his wedding, are characteristically defensive—he notes that she is “certainly not handsome” but is nevertheless “so far away superior to any woman I had ever met”—yet there is no indication here that the marriage was anything but happy. One biographer suggests that Adams was covertly patronizing toward women (and there is some evidence of this in the letters, particularly the early ones), yet this was hardly unusual in Adams’ period, and it is really necessary to stretch one’s imagination beyond the confines of these pages to guess the underlying causes of Marian’s depression and suicide. Perhaps the cozy intimacy of the Adamses, the Hays, and Clarence King, who called themselves the “Five of Hearts,” concealed unpleasant pressures; perhaps being childless and thus relatively unoccupied while Henry worked in his study was simply too much for this clever woman. In any case, the letters written to Marian—she was usually called “Clover”—when she was nursing her father in his final illness only a few months before his death, and subsequently hers, are the most touching documents in the three volumes. Henry talks about the dogs, her friends, the progress of the house. His brief notes after her death are, by contrast, abrupt and painfully controlled.

Critics tend to view the omission from The Education of Henry Adams of any reference to the author’s marriage and its aftermath as a kind of structural coyness: It breaks the book neatly into the kind of antithetical pattern that fits Adams’ general theory of history. From the letters in the third volume it becomes clear, however, that his reticence reflected reality: Adams could not or would not speak of his wife and the years of their marriage, even to his closest friends at the time. Some diary entries that are included by the editor suggest that Adams suffered miserably, but as far as the public was concerned, his mourning took the form of boredom, restlessness, and a general sense of his own lack of worth. With the emergence of Elizabeth Cameron as the principal recipient, a reborn Henry Adams appeared, but it is never quite clear that this is the same man who wrote the earlier letters. The descriptions of life in Samoa and Fiji are sometimes almost impersonal, but they suggest a more responsive writer and display a far broader emotional range. The tension between the descriptive surface of the travel letters and the complicated interior turmoil of the man writing them make this the most compelling volume of the collection.

A few months after his wife’s suicide, Adams was persuaded to go to Japan with his friend, the painter John La Farge. Adams’ letters home are not pleasant to read. Although he is too well-bred to impose his sufferings directly on his friends, his observations of the world around him are sour, his attitudes unyielding and uncharacteristically provincial. He was a sophisticated traveler by this time, one with highly developed tastes in Oriental art, but he could not open himself to the Japanese character. Japan was a disappointment; its population seemed to him doll-like, its women repulsive, its culture secondhand. Longing to get as far away as possible from Washington, he craved exoticism but could not bear it when it confronted him. Perhaps he had not gone far enough. Perhaps China was the answer. He was committed to return to the house in which Clover had died and to finish the history he had planned and begun in the early years of their marriage, but he would study Chinese and try again to escape.

Life, however, does go on. In spite of his misery, or possibly because of it, Henry Adams fell in love. It is not clear from the letters precisely when he acknowledged his infatuation with his beautiful young neighbor, Elizabeth Cameron. (Otto Friedrich’s suggestion in his biography, Clover: A Love Story, 1979, that jealousy prompted Marian Hooper Adams’ suicide seems farfetched, although not impossible.) It is clear, however, by the end of the 1880’s, that Mrs. Cameron and her baby daughter are playing an important part in his life. He writes to her with increasing frequency and with such obvious emotion that the departure for Samoa, a trip he had planned for months and which she had possibly suggested as a solution to the problem, comes as a relief.

This time, the letters of observation are rich and appealing. Unlike the Japanese, the Samoans and Tahitians please Adams. They are graceful and beautifully proportioned, sensual without being provocative, and their attentions soothe his jangled nerves. Passion seems to have opened his senses and relaxed his hypercritical responses. He describes to John Hay and Gaskell, and especially to Elizabeth Cameron, the languorous beauty of the sunrises, the native dances, the lush vegetation, and the food, which he religiously samples and learns to like. His curiosity about the growth and decline of the culture in the islands is intense. He questions the inhabitants about everything and even inspires in them a desire to record what they can remember of their history. He begins to paint, taking lessons from La Farge, and he sends his watercolor sketches—nicely reproduced in this work—home to give his friends some idea of the view from the veranda of his native hut. Until his teeth start to rot, the trip is a real restorative: Adams seems a new man.

As the voyage comes to an end, however, Adams’ thoughts return to Washington. He arranges to meet Mrs. Cameron in Paris, but she is with her daughter and stepdaughter, and the meeting is not a success. In London, she apparently rebuffs him again but gently enough to inspire a passionate letter to her on shipboard. One wonders how the two will be able to resume an ordinary social relationship at home where Adams, surrounded as he will be for the rest of his life by a bevy of real and honorary nieces, must see her and her husband nearly every day. The sources of that mystical power attributed to the Virgin in Mont-Saint Michel and Chartres begin to seem evident. The as yet unpublished volumes of letters will presumably provide the denouement.

The accomplishment of J. C. Levenson and the other editors of these letters is admirable. The notes are brief and sometimes leave the reader unsatisfied, but considering the scale of the enterprise, it is hard to see how they could have been more informative or detailed. They follow at the end of each letter, an arrangement that is generally convenient; although when the letters are long, the reader must sometimes scramble around to find the relevant pages. Levenson’s introduction, supplemented by the paragraphs which introduce the various chronological divisions of the books, tells the reader almost everything about the text and the characters that he needs to know. The index, placed at the end of volume 3, is particularly well-organized and easy to use.

One final comment might be made: The first three volumes of Letters of Henry James (1843-1895), edited by Leon Edel and also published by the Harvard University Press, cover roughly the same period of time and describe some of the same people and events as this collection. Comparison between the personal writings of these two men, so alike in some ways and so profoundly different in others, might help to illuminate the peculiar qualities of each. Both men were intricately bound to their families, particularly to their retiring mothers and overbearing brothers; both were observers and analysts, comfortable with women, whatever their hidden feelings about them may have been, and uncomfortable with the open brutality of American popular culture. It is interesting to note, however, one significant difference that becomes apparent through these letters: Adams was rich, at least comparatively so, while James had to write to live. There is nothing in the Adams letters remotely like the polite negotiations over contracts, payments, debts, and serial rights that take up so much space in the James volumes. In fact, at one point, Adams even offers to subsidize his publication, a gesture which reveals much about his relationship to his own work and to the society around him.


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American Spectator. XXI, December, 1988, p.21.

Chicago Tribune. February 5, 1989, XIV, p.6.

Chronicle of Higher Education. XXV, September 15, 1982, p. 27.

Library Journal. CXII I, November 1, 1988, p.92.

London Review of Books. XII, January 25, 1990, p.13.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. August 21, 1983, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 12, 1989, p.2.

New England Quarterly. LVI, September, 1983, p. 472.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVIII, March 6, 1983, p. 9.

Newsweek. CXXI, April 11, 1983, p. 95.

Time. CXXI, April 11, 1983, p. 95.

The Washington Post Book World. XIX, January 15, 1989, p.1.

The Wilson Quarterly. XIII, Summer, 1989, p.98.

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