Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Henry Adams, aka Henry Brooks Adams

American Journalist, Historian, Academic and Novelist

"Friendship needs a certain parallelism of life, a community of thought, a rivalry of aim."

"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."

"The effect of power and publicity on all men is the aggravation of self, a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies."

"What one knows is, in youth, of little moment; they know enough who know how to learn."

"Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit."

"A teacher affects eternity he can never tell, where his influence stops. "

"Absolute liberty is absence of restraint; responsibility is restraint; therefore, the ideally free individual is responsible to himself."

"It is always good men who do the most harm in the world. "

"Knowledge of human nature is the beginning and end of political education."

"Morality is a private and costly luxury. "

"No man likes to have his intelligence or good faith questioned, especially if he has doubts about it himself. "

"Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts. "

"Philosophy: Unintelligible answers to insoluble problems. "

"Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds."

"Practical politics consists in ignoring facts. "

"Simplicity is the most deceitful mistress that ever betrayed man. "

"The press is the hired agent of a monied system, and set up for no other purpose than to tell lies where their interests are involved. One can trust nobody and nothing. "

"There is no such thing as an underestimate of average intelligence."

"They know enough who know how to learn. "

"All experience is an arch, to build upon."

"Power when wielded by abnormal energy is the most serious of facts."

"No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous."

"A friend in power is a friend lost. "

"A man must now swallow more belief than he can digest. "

"For after all, man knows mighty little, and may some day learn enough of his own ignorance to fall down again and pray. "

"Religious minds prefer skepticism. The true saint is a profound skeptic; a total disbeliever in human reason, who has more than once joined hands on this ground with someone who were at best sinners."

"Seneca closed the vast circle of his knowledge by learning that a friend in power was a friend lost. "

"The chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody concerned with it, teachers and students."

"The mind resorts to reason for want of training. "

"The work of internal government has become the task of controlling the thousands of fifth-rate men "

"Young men have a passion for regarding their elders as senile."

"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools."

"A new friend is always a miracle, but at thirty-three years old, such a bird of paradise rising in the sage-brush was an avatar. One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly."

"A parent gives life, but as parent, gives no more. A murderer takes life, but his deed stops there. A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."

"A period of about twelve years measured the beat of the pendulum. After the Declaration of Independence, twelve years had been needed to create an efficient Constitution; another twelve years of energy brought a reaction against the government then created; a third period of twelve years was ending in a sweep toward still greater energy; and already a child could calculate the result of a few more such returns."

"A professor can never better distinguish himself in his work than by encouraging a clever pupil, for the true discoverers are among them, as comets amongst the stars."

"Accident counts for as much in companionship as in marriage."

"After Gibbs, one the most distinguished [American scientists] was Langley, of the Smithsonian. ? He had the physicist's heinous fault of professing to know nothing between flashes of intense perception. ? Rigidly denying himself the amusement of philosophy, which consists chiefly in suggesting unintelligible answers to insoluble problems, and liked to wander past them in a courteous temper, even bowing to them distantly as though recognizing their existence, while doubting their respectability."

"All taxation is an evil, but heavy taxes, indiscriminately levied on every everything are one of the greatest curses that can afflict a people"

"Although the Senate is much given to admiring in its members a superiority less obvious or quite invisible to outsiders, one Senator seldom proclaims his own inferiority to another, and still more seldom likes to be told of it."

"American society is a sort of flat, fresh-water pond which absorbs silently, without reaction, anything which is thrown into it."

"Any large body of students stifles the student. No man can instruct more than half-a-dozen students at once."

"Any schoolboy could see that man as a force must be measured by motion, from a fixed point. Psychology helped here by suggesting a unit ? the point of history when man held the highest idea of himself as a unit in a unified universe. Eight or ten years of study had led Adams to think he might use the century 1150-1250, expressed in Amiens Cathedral and the Works of Thomas Aquinas, as the unit from which he might measure motion down to his own time, without assuming anything as true or untrue, except relation. The movement might be studied at once in philosophy and mechanics. Setting himself to the task, he began a volume which he mentally knew as "Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres: a Study of Thirteenth-Century Unity." From that point he proposed to fix a position for himself, which he could label: "The Education of Henry Adams: a Study of Twentieth-Century Multiplicity." With the help of these two points of relation, he hoped to project his lines forward and backward indefinitely, subject to correction from anyone who should know better. Thereupon, he sailed for home."

"Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job."

"Artists... disappeared long ago as social forces. So did the church."

"As educator, Jean Jacques was, in one respect, easily first; he erected a monument of warning against the Ego. Since his time, and largely thanks to him, the Ego has steadily tended to efface itself, and, for purposes of model, to become a manikin on which the toilet of education is to be draped in order to show the fit or misfit of the clothes. The object of study is the garment, not the figure. The tailor adapts the manikin as well as the clothes to his patron's wants. The tailor's object, in this volume, is to fit young men, in universities or elsewhere, to be men of the world, equipped for any emergency; and the garment offered to them is meant to show the faults of the patchwork fitted on their fathers."

"As for America, it is the ideal fruit of all your youthful hopes and reforms. Everybody is fairly decent, respectable, domestic, bourgeois, middle-class, and tiresome. There is absolutely nothing to revile except that it's a bore."

"As for Henry Adams, fresh from Europe and chaos of another sort, he plunged at once into a lurid atmosphere of politics, quite heedless of any education or forethought. His past melted away. The prodigal was welcomed home, but not even his father asked a malicious question about the Pandects. At the utmost, he hinted at some shade of prodigality by quietly inviting his son to act as private secretary during the winter in Washington, as though any young man who could afford to throw away two winters on the Civil Law could afford to read Blackstone for another winter without a master. The young man was beyond satire, and asked only a pretext for throwing all education to the east wind."

"As for piracy, I love to be pirated. It is the greatest compliment an author can have. The wholesale piracy of Democracy was the single real triumph of my life. Anyone may steal what he likes from me."

"At best, the renewal of broken relations is a nervous matter."