Charles Francis Adams.

Charles Francis Adams, 1835-1915; an autobiography; online

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and adorned the volumes of the Proceedings. His generous
gifts to the Society were never lacking, but the greatest gift
of all was his own untiring energy and enthusiasm; the way
in which he asserted, developed, and maintained the position
of the Society as an influence and power in literature and his-
torical research.

The removal from Quincy to Lincoln proved in all ways
fortunate. He genuinely enjoyed the country life and the new
occupations which his estate aflforded. He became a bene-
factor, too, of his new town as he had been in the old home
of his family. Journeys to Europe were interspersed as the
years went by, and in 1905 he purchased a house in Washing-
ton and thenceforth passed his winters there. That change,
too, was a fortunate and a happy one. He liked Washington.
The varied society, the people from all parts of the United
States and from foreign lands whom he met, interested and
amused him. The climate was more genial than that of
Massachusetts and there were few days when he could not
walk and have his daily ride, which he kept up steadily until
the very end. These last twenty years were, I am sure, very
happy ones. The cares and anxieties of his railroad and
business life were all behind him. The crushing burdens

Memorial Address xlix

which came after he left the Union Pacific were disposed of
and Hfted from his shoulders. He was constantly occupied
with work which he keenly enjoyed, work worth doing, and
which he had the satisfaction of knowing was well done,
and the natural "aptitude" had at last full and unrestricted
opportunity. His physical and mental vigor remained unim-
paired to a degree which made it impossible to realize the
number of his years. He was spared the trials of gradual
decay which age so often brings. He escaped the fate which
above all others he would have dreaded and resented:

To hang
Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail
In monumental mockery.

In the full tide of activity and work. Instinct with Interest In
life, he was seized with pneumonia; a few days of illness and
the end came on the 20th of March, only two months before
his eightieth birthday. To him was given the good fortune,
which usually comes alone to youth untimely taken, of leav-
ing In the lives of those who knew and admired and loved
him, as well as of those who were nearest and dearest to him,
a gap which never can be filled.

In such fashion this career so crowded with work, with
public service, with achievements of many kinds, came to
the inevitable close. What shall be said of the man himself
who had a career so striking and who In such a vivid and ear-
nest manner lived the life of his time, who exercised so much
Influence upon the community of which he was a part and in
various ways upon the thought and the development of his
country.? How shall we approach any attempt to judge him
and his work.? Charles Adams would have been the first
to agree with Drummond, of Hawthomden^ "That there is

1 Memorial Address

nothing lighter than mere praise." In his admirable biog-
raphies, in all his historical writings, when he deals with
those who have played their part upon the stage of life and
then have gone from among us, he never treads the beaten
paths of eulogy and undiscriminating panegyric. He would,
I am sure, resent any failure to follow his own precepts and
example, when those who honored and admired him came to
speak of him after his work was done. As we may learn from
his autobiography, he judged himself far more severely, far
more harshly one may often say, than any dispassionate
critic would think of doing. Rarely does he express satisfac-
tion with anything he did. Constantly does he point out
where he had failed to reach the standard he desired, and the
censure of himself for lost opportunities recurs, often quite
unjustly, as it seems to me, again and again. His aims were
very high, very large; like most effective men he fell short of
his own ideals, like most men who make anything he made
mistakes. But he overrated the number of lost opportunities
and he underrated his own successes. He was very modest in
his judgment upon all that he did himself, but it must be con-
fessed that he was equally modest in his judgment of other
people, an attitude often mistaken for self-satisfaction when
in reality it implies nothing of the sort. This was eminently
true of Charles Adams, who was wholly free from small
conceits and petty self-complacencies. No one can read his
autobiography and fail to see that so far as he personally was
concerned he was humble-minded; but when he analyzed or
criticised any man, whether that man was historical or con-
temporary, he dealt with him as he dealt with himself —
unsparingly, rarely with any illusions, but always as fairly
as he could. He fully intended to be simply just in judgment.

Memorial Address H

for malice, jealousy, or uncharitableness had no existence in
his nature.

In reviewing his life one is struck most by the extent and
variety of his activities and filled with wonder that any man
had the really enormous energy, both mental and physical,
necessary to undertake and to accomplish so much. He felt
himself that he had attempted to do too many things and
had expended his efforts in too many directions. As a rule,
no doubt, the greatest reputations and the greatest results,
both in fame and accomplishment, have been obtained by
the concentration of a man's powers upon a single object; but
this in no way detracts from the effectiveness of the work or
the credit due to one who has had a large measure of success
and of high usefulness in many different fields of thought
and action, as was the case with Charles Adams. His energy
may have spent itself on too many objects, but it was never
fruitless, and to whatever subject he turned he left his mark
and a deep impress behind him. His varied interests and
incessant labors in many directions were very different from
the mere restlessness which flits here and there, touching
everything without adorning anything, and effecting nothing.
His labors may have been, they were, indeed, very diverse,
but they were never in vain.

Next to the extent and variety of his activities that which
is most arresting is the fact that in all he undertook he never
entered upon the one field for which, by strong inheritance
as well as by natural capacity, he would seem to have been
most peculiarly fitted. Statesmanship, politics in the largest
sense, diplomacy, were with him bred in the bone, were an
instinct rather than an inborn tendency or inclination. Yet
he never made any effort toward a public life in the ordinary

Hi Memorial Address

and restricted sense. He certainly never sought, it seems as
if he never even desired, pubUc office, either political or dip-
lomatic, although by inheritance and natural endowments
he was so remarkably suited for both. He took a deep inter-
est in politics and was entirely conversant with them both
at home and abroad. He understood all political questions
thoroughly, far better than most of those who are imme-
diately engaged in them. He was intensely patriotic, pro-
foundly American; he performed all the duties of a citizen at
all times, but he never became a public man himself in the
accepted meaning of the term, although he demonstrated
by his life that public service of the highest kind could be
rendered without holding public office. In the work he did
he influenced public thought and the development of his
country; he left in our great railroad system, in education, in
our park systems, in our history and literature, substantial
results, monuments of labors far more beneficent and en-
during than those achieved by most men who have official
titles appended to their names, in catalogues and dictiona-
ries. He held strong political views and never hesitated to
express them at elections great and small. He was an inde-
pendent in politics, not the kind which always votes against
and opposes one party without admitting that they belong to
the other, but a genuine independent, voting for and support-
ing the candidacy and the principles which he believed un-
der existing conditions were best for the public welfare. His
opinions and views were sharply and publicly expressed in
all contests over public questions of any importance and had
a wide influence because of his real independence and entire
sincerity. Those who differed from him never questioned
his disinterestedness or the complete absence of self-seeking.

Memorial Address liii

which was so marked in all he did. Strongly as his opinions
were held and expressed, he always could put himself in
the other man's place, understand his position, and do him
justice without an air of self-righteousness or any touch of
illiberallty. And yet, despite this knowledge of politics, this
inborn aptitude for public affairs, as I have just said, he never
sought or held any public office dependent upon political
elections or political appointment. Those which he accepted
came to him without any political reason and solely because
he was the man above all others in the town or State fitted
to perform a particular and important public service.

The reason that he never sought the higher public offices,
that he never tried to take the place which seemed in all
ways to belong to him in the broad and inviting field of
national politics at home, and the still wider field of interna-
tional politics abroad for which he was so especially adapted,
is to be found, I think, in what he himself calls at the outset
his "individualism." At a later day, in a very interesting
address at the Hawthorne centenary, he said, "I am, also,
naturally inclined to be otherwise-minded, and a bit icono-
clastic." This is what he meant, when describing his boy-
hood, by "individualism," more clearly and expressively
stated; and here is to be discovered, I think, the cause of his
entire abstention from any effort to follow in the footsteps of
his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, which
had carried them to the summits both in public service and
in history. To"be "otherwise-minded" both naturally and in
practice leads, in the case of a man of original thought and
high ability, to much achievement on his part and to a strong
and stimulating influence of great value to the community.
But this quality, like all marked attributes, has, if not its

liv Memorial Address

defect, the necessity of sacrifice in some other direction.
It makes it difiicult for its possessor to work with other men
on a large scale. In the many commissions upon which
Charles Adams served his relations with his colleagues were
always pleasant and harmonious in the fullest sense. But
these colleagues were few and his leadership and superiority,
so far as their especial work was concerned, were entirely
and readily acknowledged. When he was brought into rela-
tions with larger numbers of colleagues and associates with
whom it was necessary to act in furtherance of a common
purpose, as in the case of the Union Pacific, we have but to
read what he says in this connection of the financial mag-
nates and business men with whom he came in contact in
order to realize the difficulties he found in the manage-
ment of varying opinions and in taking joint action where
many men were involved. In politics this necessity for
cooperation, not only with many others but with large bod-
ies and groups of men, is greatly increased, to a degree in
fact surpassing that of any other form of human activity.
Politics are carried on, among English-speaking people at
least, through the instrumentality of parties. Parties are
composed of thousands, of millions of men, indeed, who are
agreed upon certain general principles and certain broad
policies, but who of necessity differ widely among them-
selves as to details, often of a very serious character, and
also as to those who are to be selected to represent and lead
the party. To attain success not only are much patience
and a readiness always to subordinate the lesser to the
higher and larger purpose demanded, but also a willingness
to compromise details in order to obtain united action, as
well as to accept at times not merely a half loaf, but even

Memorial Address Iv

a quarter or less with a view to an ultimate result and to a
further advance in the future. These sacrifices of individu-
ality Charles Adams did not care to make, felt, perhaps, that
he could not make them. He preferred to exercise his influ-
ence and his powers for the furtherance of the great and useful
ends he sought, in other ways, and he therefore shunned or
at least never tried to enter the wider and more conspicuous
fields of public life and service, for which by inheritance,
training, and talents he was so remarkably adapted. But if
his individualism, in his own opinion, prevented his entrance
upon the field which seemed so peculiarly his own, it was at
the same time the source of his power, of his influence, and
of his success in the many others where he played a most
distinguished part. For his "otherwise-mindedness," to use
his own homely and most picturesque phrase, was, it must
always be remembered, a quality far removed from the
empty love of facile paradox. We have had of late years, if
not here, at least in England, a group — it might almost be
called a school — of paradox-makers who have achieved a
now fading notoriety and who have certainly ardently ad-
mired each other. In the trick of paradox, no doubt, some
cleverness has been shown and some passing amusement ex-
cited. But at bottom the whole business is shallow, and, like
all tricks constantly repeated, becomes tiresome. A paradox
is merely an inverted platitude or truism. If a string of plati-
tudes wearies, the same collection inverted, after the short-
lived novelty of inversion wears ofl", becomes even more in-
tolerable, because the truism is, as a rule, true, while the
paradox is not, and in the long run truth is a better com-
panion than falsehood. If a man stands on his head in the
street, he is sure to attract momentary attention, but he is

Ivi Memorial Address

less desirable, less easy to live with, and far less useful than
those who pass by about their business in the normal and
unnoticeable position of the human biped. With the pro-
fessional paradox in all its tiresome futility and melancholy
vacuity, the " otherwise-mindedness " of Charles Adams had
no relation whatever. Still less had it any resemblance, not
even the most remote, to cheap cynicism or to an artificial
pose. He saw with clear vision what was defective, what
was wrong, as he believed, in his own times and in his own
country, but he did not on that account hold up with fac-
titious admiration some long dead century, or some foreign
country as an ideal where all was perfect, for he knew that
such perfection existed nowhere and that the bygone cen-
tury and the foreign country had their defects and their
wrongs, which, if not worse than those of his own time and
of his own land, were certainly quite as bad. He was not a
pessimist, and professional pessimism had, for him, no at-
traction On the other hand he had no patience with " the
barren, optimistic sophistries of comfortable moles," for the
instinct of the reformer was strong within him. He saw
life steadily and saw it whole, he knew that it was a tan-
gled web in which the strands of evil and good both min-
gled, and to him It seemed a duty to tear out the one and
preserve the other. This he could not have done had he
not sanely recognized the existence of both.

The "otherwise-mindedness" of Charles Adams was In
reality independent and often original thought as to all the
conditions which he met. Whether it was in education or
railroad systems, in literature or politics, in life or history,
his Instinct was to question the accepted system or the ac-
cepted view, and if he thought It harmful or erroneous he

Memorial Address Ivii

set himself to correct it. This spirit of questioning, of divine
discontent, which is not satisfied with mere ineffective snarl-
ing, but which seeks always a practical result, is the spirit
which has saved the world from stagnation, which has lifted
man from the shell-heaps and the cave-dwellings to the place
which for good or ill he occupies to-day. This was the spirit
of Charles Adams. He always expressed his views or opinions
with uncompromising vigor so that every one took notice of
them and no one failed to understand them. When con-
vinced that he had made a mistake he admitted it with the
same uncompromising clearness. I have been reminded more
than once by his confession of some error, of the story of
Dr. Johnson, who replied, when a lady asked him why he
had wrongly defined the word "pastern," — "Ignorance,
Madam, pure ignorance." The same blunt sincerity, the
same absolute honesty of mind, was eminently character-
istic of Charles Adams. He stated his opinions with all the
force of absolute conviction, and he was equally direct and
outspoken if he was satisfied that he was mistaken, or if
further reflection or new facts led him to change his mind.
Disagreement he was sure to arouse and intended to do so.
But whether he went too far or not, whether he was wholly
right or measurably wrong, in practical affairs he wrought
improvements and brought progress; in history, if he did
not always change the accepted opinion, he caused men to
review and reconsider their judgment in the interests of
truth. In whatever he did throughout his long, active, and
distinguished career he was always a stimulating and up-
lifting influence. To his questioning spirit backed by his
energy, his love of practical results, his readiness to under-
stand the positions of other men from whom he difltered, he

1 viii Memorial Address

owed his success and all that he accomplished for his State
and country, for American letters and for American history.
He underrated his own measure of success, as it seems to me,
but he judged himself and his career in a singularly dispas-
sionate way. At the close of his autobiography he says:

Finally I want to say that preparing this resume has been for
me a decidedly profitable use of time. It has caused me to re-
view, to weigh, and to measure. As a result of that process, I
feel I have no cause of complaint with the world. I have been
a remarkably, an exceptionally, fortunate man. I have had
health, absence of death, dissipation, and worthlessness In my
family, with no overwhelming calamity to face and subside
under; and the world has taken me for all I was fairly worth.
Looking back, and above all, in reading that destroyed diary of
mine, I see with tolerable clearness my own limitations. I was
by no means what I in youth supposed myself to be. As to
opportunity, mine seems to have been infinite. No man could
ask for better chances. In a literary way, financially, politi-
cally, I might have been anything, had It only been In me. The
capacity, not the occasion, has been wanting. It was so In the
army; It was so In railroads, in politics, and In business; it was
so in literature and history. In one and all my limitations made
themselves felt; most of all, in the law. On the other hand, my
abilities, as ability goes in this world, have been considerable;
never first-rate, but more than respectable. They have enabled
me to accomplish what I have accomplished; and I have accom-
plished something.

... In other directions also I have, perhaps, accomplished
nothing considerable, compared with what my three Immediate
ancestors accomplished; but, on the other hand, I have done
some things better than they ever did; and, what Is more and
most of all, I have had a much better time In life — got more
enjoyment out of it. In this respect I would not change with
any of them.

Memorial Address 1 i


This brief extract, which will be read in the future with
its context, as it ought to be if it is to be fully understood,
seems to me very illuminating. It shows to any one who
will consider it carefully that Charles Adams was, as I
have said, essentially humble-minded as to himself and that
he was disposed to underestimate his own success and
achievements. But it also shows that he was in the high-
est degree honest-minded. He meant to give himself full
credit even when he judged himself most harshly. He hated
shams, he looked truth and facts squarely in the face, and
he shrank from neither. Boasting was as alien to him as
repining. These are very noble intellectual qualities. There
are, indeed, none finer, none which should more command
the imitation and respect of men.

With these qualities of mind in Charles Adams the moral
qualities fully corresponded. The highest sense of honor, the
most absolute moral integrity, were so completely his, so
accepted by all as a matter of course, that in his life no one
thought it necessary even to allude to them; but when we
speak of him in commemoration they must find their place
upon the printed page for the benefit of those who will only
know him there. He was a man of the highest courage, both
moral and physical, and of the purest patriotism. He ser\'ed
his country in the field through four years of war. There he
might have paused with the consciousness that the duty
and the debt which all men owe their country had been fully
paid. But for that debt and that duty there was for him
no full payment possible. He continued to render public
service in many ways until the day of his death.

In the same fashion he sought to serve his fellow-men, not
only in the wide sense of the public, but the individual man

Ix Memorial Address

and woman. He was generous, he liked to be helpful. He
was a good friend, although he made few professions, and so
loyal that he found disloyalty hard to comprehend. Under
a manner somewhat brusque, sometimes abrupt, was con-
cealed one of the kindest, most affectionate hearts that ever
beat, and how tender his sympathy could be those to whom
it went out know well.

The uppermost thought, the keenest feeling, in the minds
of all who knew him is pervaded by the sense of personal
loss and of personal sorrow. One lingers reluctant by the
closing door which shuts him out from the present and
leaves him with his great ancestors as a figure in our history.
As we turn away, this final word may at least be said. The
world is torn with war, tortured with pain and anguish,
oppressed with dark forebodings. Many dangerous and diffi-
cult questions confront our beloved country. But the fact
that we as a people can still bring forth, can still honor, still
be influenced and helped by a man of the character, ideals,
and aspirations of Charles Adams, must give us hope in the
present and confidence in the years that are yet to be.

The Horatian lines, so old, so familiar, so beautiful, come
unsought to the memory because they can be said of Charles
Adams without reservation and in all the simplicity of

Justum ac tenacem propositi virum,
Non civlum ardor prava jubentium,
Non vultus instantis tyranni,
Mente quatit solida, neque Auster
Dux inquieti turbidus Adriae,
Nee fulminantis magna manus Jovis:
Si fractus illabatur orbis
Impavidum ferient ruinae.

Charles Francis Adams


(jy4'w (^Autobiography

^ Charles Francis Adams ?^




Shakespeare causes Falstaff to tell Chief Justice Gas-
coigne, in a certain familiar interview, that he "was bom
about three of the clock in the afternoon, with a white head,
and something a round belly." ^ No character of that period
lives for us now quite so distinctly and in the flesh as Shake-
speare's creation, and we must skip a hundred and seventy-
five years before coming to another, this time one who
really lived, moved and had his being, but who to-day is
as much a presence in the world of the past as Sir John
Falstaff. That battle of Shrewsbury in which Shakespeare
makes Falstaff figure occurred July 21, 1403; so it is fair to
presume that Falstaff, had he come into the world at all,
would have made his appearance in it at "about three of
the clock in the afternoon" of some day in the year 1360 —
there or thereabouts. Michel de Montaigne, the succeeding
vivid individuality referred to, has recorded the exact hour
when he was bom, "betwixt eleven and twelve o'clock in
the forenoon, the last of February, 1533." 2 It so happens
that, owing to the fact of my father's keeping a diary, I can
fix the exact hour of my birth as definitely as did either Fal-
staff or Montaigne. I came into this world in a house on

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Online LibraryCharles Francis AdamsCharles Francis Adams, 1835-1915; an autobiography; → online text (page 4 of 21)