Charles Francis Adams.

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

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^ 2 King Henry IF, i, 2. « Essays, Book i, ch. xix.



Charles Francis Adams



Hancock Avenue, as the narrow footway on the right-hand
side of the statue of Horace Mann, west of the State-House
grounds in Boston is still designated, between nine and
eleven p.m. of the 27th of May, 1835. My father and mother
had passed the winter at the house of my grandfather,
Peter C. Brooks, on Pearl Street; but, on the nth of May
they had moved up to Hancock Avenue, their own house,
with a view to the approaching event. In my father's diary
of that period there is a reference which fixes another and,
to the generality, far more interesting date. Quincy gran-
ite was then in great vogue. On the 27th of April my father
went out to Quincy, and up to the Old Granite Railway in
Milton, on business connected with leasing some quarry
lands, and he there "observed some beautiful specimens
which are in process of sculpture for the new hotel of Mr.
Astor in New York." These were the familiar Astor House
monoliths, until recently so conspicuous a landmark In the
architecture of Broadway.

The period of childhood, and school and college days of
any man, no matter how considerable, are not a profitable
field on which to dilate; and yet, after all, as Wordsworth
has said: "The child is father of the man," and, for the au-
tobiographer, if he only knows how to deal with them, the
recollections of early life and education, told in the light of
experience, carry about as useful lessons as any of riper
years; If, indeed, they do not carry some far more useful. As
the twig is bent, the tree inclines ; I know this has been so
in my case, and my youth and education now seem to me
to have been a skilfully arranged series of mistakes, first on
the part of others and then on my own part.

During all my earlier years my father and mother were



Youth and Education



living very quietly in Boston and Quincy, and there they
continued to live until, in 1859, my father went into active
public life. I was then twenty-four years old. Previous to
that great, and blessed, break, they were always at home,
never even going to Europe — not a small thing in those
days — and, until, in 1853, 1 went to college, I lived at home.
It was just the sort of bringing-up I ought not to have had.
The Boston life of those days was simple, and, in many re-
spects, not bad; but it was distinctly provincial and self-
complacent. Until 1842 my father lived on in the Hancock
Avenue house. He then moved to the house he subsequently
occupied as a winter residence during forty-five years. No.
57 Mt. Vernon Street, nearly opposite the head of Walnut
Street, a vamped-up dwelling, the purchase and occupation
of which were highly characteristic of the man. Bought
by my grandfather, Peter C. Brooks, for his daughter, my
mother, the house had been built in the early part of the
century, and in the way then usual. Subsequently It had
been re-modelled, and a little elementary plumbing and
heating apparatus forced bodily into It; but, unfortunately.
It contained one large and handsome room on the second
floor into which the sun poured, and which occupied the
entire front. The only really desirable room in the house,
my father fixed on it for his library regardless of other con-
siderations. So the house was bought for my mother, and
In It I grew up. That house threw a shadow across my whole
early life. I well remember my disappointment at its aspect
the first time I ever rang the door-bell — a boy of seven.
And when, forty-seven years later — my mother having
died and the house having been emptied of everything — I
crossed the threshold for the last time, and turned the key



Charles Francis Adams



in the door, I walked away with a distinct sense of relief,
thanking God that chapter was closed. I have not a single
pleasant recollection associated with No. 57 Mt. Vernon
Street. There hangs about it, stretching through a memory
covering long years, a monotonous atmosphere of winter
gloom.

It was not so with Quincy, our summer, as well as im-
memorial family home. Quincy was associated in my mind
with spring and summer — bright skies, open windows,
green fields, singing birds, the blue bay with white sails dot-
ting it, and a distant view over a country rolling into great
whale-back hills, with the State-House dome on the horizon.
Boston was gloom personified, frost, snow and discomfort;
short days and long school-hours ; wet, cold feet, and evening
lessons. In those days — 1 840-1 853 — Quincy was by no
means a bad place in which to grow up. A Massachusetts
country town, it had not altogether outgrown the colonial
period, it still savored of the past. The famous Quincy
granite quarries had been opened some years before, and
already, physically and morally, had worked the place mani-
fest injury; but their far-reaching destructive influence was
not made fully manifest. In point of fact, though it would
hardly now be imagined, Quincy was in a natural way more
richly endowed than any other region adjacent to Boston.
Lying on the seaward slope of the Blue Hill range, without
being a seaboard place It stretched for miles along the shores
of Boston Bay, with the rocky and picturesque Squantum
headland at one extremity and the Great Hill and Fore
River at the other. The hills at the west and north offered
residential sites of the choicest character, since gutted for
the stone that underlay them, and now converted into an



Touth and Education



7



abomination of desolation. The passage of ten thousand
years could not restore a trace of the natural advantages in
that region obliterated since my boyhood.

The Old Colony Railroad, connecting what was originally
the Pl}Tnouth Colony with that of Massachusetts Bay, was
not constructed until I was ten years old; and up to as late
as 1850 Quincy was practically what it had always been —
a quiet, steady-going, rural Massachusetts community, with
its monotonous main thoroughfares and commonplace con-
necting streets, both thoroughfare and by-ways lined with
wooden houses, wholly innocent of any attempts at archi-
tecture, and all painted white with window blinds of green.
With the exception of the workers in the quarries, not
yet developed into a purely mining community — with all
the term implies — the place was still peopled by those of
the original stock; for the foreign and more particularly the
Irish element had not yet reached the self-asserting point.
Later Quincy became to a large extent a bed-room annex to
the Boston ware-house; but in my boyhood period it was
still largely agricultural, while its leading industry was the
making of boots and shoes, almost every house along the
main street having a small one-story annex, from which on
any summer's day could be heard the incessant tapping of
the hammer on the lap-stone. The factory and the machine-
made shoe were as yet unknown or in their earliest stages of
development. In the centre of the town, where the roads to
Plymouth and Taunton branched, stood the meeting-house
and the town-hall; the "tavern," as it was called, also was
here located, with the big, shady elm-trees in front of it.
From it the daily stage-coaches started for Boston over the
"pike," or went down Plymouth way; while, in summer,



8 Charles Francis Adams

on the porch and in their shirt sleeves, sat the red-faced,
big-belHed, village topers and loafers, as well known as the
town-pump. The blacksmith's shop on the main street, the
tannery "down in the Hollow," and the oxen-drawoi stone-
teams were objects of deep interest, as my brother John and
I, red-headed and freckle-faced urchins of six and eight years,
trudged daily through the village to and from school. Since
then what they are pleased to call "the march of improve-
ment" has done away with that whole phase of more placid
existence. The mass of mankind in Quincy as elsewhere is
now doubtless much better housed, better taught and better
served than it then was; but the place I as a child loved so
well no longer exists. It has been transformed into a con-
ventional, commonplace suburban community, progressive
and well to do, but wholly devoid of individuality. So, no
more than its everlasting hills or the islands in its bay are
the present Inhabitants of Quincy suggestive of the Quincy
of my boyhood. The hills have been stripped, and gutted or
built over, made common and vulgarized, or devastated and
turned, as I have already said, into a mining horror, while
the islands have lost their green, whale-back outlines under
an eruption of summer hotels and seashore cottages. As to
the population, no one knows me now as I walk the once
familiar streets; and I recall no faces. With local feeling,
traditions also are gone. As I pass to-and-fro in Quincy I
now seem to wander with ghosts.

Going back to the old days, my grandfather with his fam-
ily lived In what we knew as "the old house, down the hill,"
while we occupied "the house on the hill," built by my father
two years after I was born. There we passed the summers,
from late May to early November, until we children grew



Youth and Education



up. Then the house no longer sufficed. We were crowded
out. My grandfather died in 1848, and my grandmother
occupied "the house down the hill " only one or two summers
afterwards. In 1850, I think it was, my father took posses-
sion; and there in June, 1889, my mother died, just one year
more than a century after John and Abigail Adams first
took possession in 1788, after their return from Europe and
our first English Mission. We were all fond of "the old
house," and pleasant recollections cluster about it. Still
belonging to the family, it is now (191 2) occupied by my
brother Brooks; and I know of no other case in all my New
England acquaintance of a fourth generation still living
under the same roof-tree, covering an unbroken occupancy
of considerably over a century.

My earliest recollections of that house are associated with
my grandfather and his family, consisting of my grand-
mother, his daughter-in-law, "Mrs. John," and his grand-
daughter, the only surviving child of his second son, John.
As to my grandfather, he was during the whole period I
remember him an old man, absorbed in work and public
life. He seemed to be always writing — as, indeed, he was.
I can see him now, seated at his table in the middle of the
large east room, which he used as a library, a very old-
looking gentleman, with a bald head and white fringe of
hair — writing, writing — with a perpetual inkstain on the
fore-finger and thumb of the right hand. He was kind and
considerate to his grandchildren, and seemed to like to have
us in that library of his, walled in with over-loaded book-
shelves; but his was not a holiday temperament. Always
unaccompanied, he used to wander about the ragged, un-
kempt old place — with its pear and cherry trees, and old-



lo Charles Francis Adams

time orchard — hatchet and saw in hand, pruning and
watching his seedlings; and he would take grave, sedate
walks — constitutionals — invariably along the highway,
and apparently absorbed in meditation ; but he never seemed
to relax; nor could I imagine him playful. In his library he
was always at work, or nodding in his chair. Though in de-
tail different, my father was in substance much the same.
To their own great misfortune, neither of them had any real
taste — no innate love — for innocent outdoor amusement;
that is, they did not care to get near to Nature whether in
the woods or on the water. They were, moreover, both of
them afflicted with an everlasting sense of work to be ac-
complished — "so much to do, so little done!" The terrible
New England conscience implanted in men who, inheriting
its traditions, had largely outgrown Calvinistic theology.
They were, in a word, by inheritance ingrained Puritans,
and no Puritan by nature probably ever was really com-
panionable. Of the two, however, my grandfather was in-
comparably the more active-minded and interesting. His
was a truly inquiring and observing disposition; and, more-
over, he had a fairly pronounced taste for social life. His
chief difficulty lay in a tendency to introspection, which was
almost morbidly developed by the journalizing habit. His
diary was his daily confidant; and he grew to desire no other.
The "old house" stood on the Plymouth road facing
south, in comparatively low ground; but in 1837 my father
built a country home on " the Hill " — President's Hill, as
it was called, Stoneyfield Hill in Provincial days — in what
had previously been John Adams's cow-pasture. The two
residences were perhaps an eighth of a mile apart, though
in full view of each other; and, from the gallery of my father's



Toiith and Education



1 1



house — portico, we called it — my grandfather used daily
to time the rising and the settmg sun. Now, seventy years
later, I can see him standing or sitting, watch in hand, not-
ing the earliest and last rays of the summer day. There is
nothing of that period I more vividly recall. A somewhat
solitary man, he was to me, hardly more than a child, an
attractive as well as a great one. He impressed my imagina-
tion.

It was not so with my father. He was built on more rigid
and narrower lines. He was even less companionable. He
was never the companion of our sports and holidays. To us,
it would, as I now see, have made all the difference conceiv-
able had he loved the woods and the water, — walked and
rode and sailed a boat; been, in short, our companion as well
as instructor. The Puritan was in him, and he did n't know
how! In reading his diary, for instance, I came across two
entries which tell the whole story — they are as a calcium
light cast upon him, and his relations with his children. They
are from the record of 1843, and as follows; my sister, his
eldest child, being then a girl of about twelve: "Took a
walk with my daughter, Louisa. We went along the road
to Quincy Point, until we reached a street that has been
lately opened and called North Street, from which we struck
into another called South Street, which comes out below
Mrs. Miller's house. It is curious, and illustrative of my
little inclination to ramble, that, so long as I have lived in
Quincy, I have never before to my knowledge been in this
pretty little road." Yet South Street is one of the oldest
and most picturesque — at least it was so then, and long
after — it has now, eheu ! gone the way of all the rest — it
was, I say, one of the oldest, the most picturesque, and to



1 2 Charles Francis Adams

me the most familiar roads in Quincy; and almost within
sight of his house. Yet at thirty-six he did n't know of its
existence ! So the same year, but two days later. My brother
John and I, that summer, were at a sort of small boarding-
school, at Hingham — of which, more, presently — and we
were brought home every Saturday, to pass Sunday. The
autumn was come, and with it the smelting season; the
only kind of sport in which I ever knew my father to en-
gage. He used now and then to take us down to Black's
Creek, as it was called, where was Greenleaf's wharf, half-
a-mile or so from the house. So he now made this entry of
30th September: "The weather was charming. I idled
away the morning on Mr. Daniel Greenleaf's wharf, with
very little success. Perhaps this consumption of time is
scarcely justifiable; but why not take some of life for simple
enjoyments, provided that they interfere with no known
duty? My boys came home from school and joined me. We
remained until dinner time."

There you have it! Hereditarily warped, he had no con-
ception of the idea that in idling away that soft, kindly
September day in companionship with his two boys just
home from school, and all close to Nature, he was saving
one day at least from utter loss — making of it the very
best possible use that could be made ! And so he had to ex-
cuse himself, to himself, for this scarcely justifiable waste
of time! The thought of it even now saddens and irritates
me — the difference to me would have been so great. I
have suffered from it all through life. The twig was bent
wrong. I ought to have been brought up in closer touch
with Nature and its enjoyments. I should then have ac-
quired aptitudes — sailing, rambling, the playing of games,



Youth and Education 1 3



the genuine love of outdoor life — which I never did ac-
quire, and the lack of which I lament more and more every
year I live. I would to-day give much to feel at home on a
boat or a bicycle. I have since sailed a great deal, and bi-
cycled somewhat; but it was in both cases too late! I never
got so as to feel really at home when handling sheet and
tiller, or when on a wheel. And so the most important as
well as enjoyable branches of education for me were neg-
lected or abjured in youth, and only partly made good by my
subsequent fortunate army experience at over twenty-six.
But my father saw no good whatever in athletics; and he
had a prejudice against the gymnasium. As to my army
experience, altogether the most beneficial of my life educa-
tionally, until long after the event he simply deplored it as
to me ruinous. What was in truth my salvation, developed,
as he at the time persuaded himself, all my most objection-
able tendencies. In his case, two hundred years of ancestral
swaddling clothes could not be burst. The loss has been
great, and, in my case, the injury sustained was Irreparable.
It was never, except In part, made good.

This was educational error number one; and, before I get
through, the list will be long! My father had the old New
England sense of duty In religious observances. The Sab-
bath and church-going were Institutions. All through my
childhood how I disliked Sunday! I was glad when Monday
came; for me It was n't "black Monday," for It was six days
before another Sunday. I remember now the silence, the
sombre idleness, the sanctified atmosphere of restraint of
those days, with their church-bells, their sedate walk and
their special duties. We children had to be brought up
strictly In the way we should go; for then we would not de-



14 Charles Francis Adams

part from it when we were old! Would n't we! The recol-
lection of those Sundays haunts me now. We always had a
late breakfast — every one did; and we dined early — roast
beef always for dinner; and I got a dislike for roast beef
which lasted almost to manhood, because I thus had to
eat it every Sunday at 1.30, after a breakfast at 9. Then
came the Sunday hair-combing and dressing. After which,
Bible reading, four chapters, each of us four verses in rota-
tion. Then a Sunday lesson, committing some verses from
the Bible or a religious poem to memory. I especially re-
member the Sermon on the Mount and Pope's Messiah;
and these were the hardest lessons of the whole week, those
we all disliked most; and so distasteful were they that they
have left on me to this day a sort of aversion to the Bible
and to Pope. Then came the going to Church. Lord! that
going to Church! Twice a day, rain or shine, summer and
winter. In town [Boston] we went to that dreary old Con-
gregational barn in Chauncy Street, — the gathering place
of the First Church of Boston — where my uncle, Dr.
Frothingham, held forth. And, by the way, only the other
day I heard a good story of Dr. Frothingham. It came from
Mr. Stetson, with whom I was associated in the Commis-
sion to award cost, etc., of the Metropolitan Park System.
He was the son of old Caleb Stetson, of Medford, who mar-
ried my father and mother more than ninety years ago.
He mentioned a turn of speech of Dr. Lunt's, our Quincy
pastor, who once remarked of my uncle Frothingham, in a
grand burst of expression: "Dr. Frothingham is a man of
gentle and saintly life; I picture him as a sanctified isle in
the midst of a wild and Godless sea."

Dr. Frothingham may have been all that. He certainly



Touth and Education 1 5



was a man of very sweet and gentle character; but, as a
preacher, he recalls to me only a slow, somewhat soft and
diffuse delivery in that superheated, roof-lighted, somnolent
barrack, where I passed so many weary, penitential hours
in those winter months in "the forties" and the "early fif-
ties." The old meeting-house was removed in 1868, 1 think;
and I well remember going there on the Sunday when serv-
ices were held in it for the last time [May 10, 1868] in order
that, as I went down the familiar steps on leaving, I could
say to myself: "There; that is behind me. Never, never
again, shall I enter those doors, or sit in that pew."

Such was my Boston church-going. That at Quincy was
not so bad; and yet bad enough. Dr. William P. Lunt was a
natural orator. He looked the preacher; and his voice was
rich and full. The church too was more cheerful, and the
summer air used to steal in through the open windows. But
the only portion of the ser\' ice which ever commended itself
to me was that closing prayer, which I knew by heart —
and can repeat now — and then the benediction — and the
hateful services were over! I was free then to hurry home,
to get out of my Sunday into my week-day clothes, and I
could go and play; for Sunday was now done, and would n't
come again for six days ! Those New England Sabbaths actu-
ally embittered my youth. It required the drastic war edu-
cation to emancipate me from them. Educational mistake
number two !

Fortunately for me, the railroad did not get Into Quincy
until 1846, and I was then eleven years old; so I did have a
few years of child life really in the country. The conunon-
schools my father did not care to send his children to; and
I have always been glad of it. I don't associate with the



1 6 Charles Francis Adams

laborers on my place, nor would the association be agreeable
to either of us. Their customs, language, habits and con-
ventionalities differ from mine; as do those of their children.
I believe in school life; and I believe in the equality of men
before the law; but social equality, whether for man or
child, is altogether another thing. My father, at least, did n't
force that on us. So, as children, we went to the small
private schools, were taught in a way by the clergymen of
the Episcopal Church, or, what was quite as well for us,
were not taught at all. But that school question got serious;
and, in 1843 — I being then just eight — John and I, by
a happy inspiration, were sent to Hingham, to be boarded
and schooled by a young man named Wilder, who took in
four other boys, two named Eldridge, from Boston, and two
others, sons of George Bancroft, the historian, both of whom
subsequently I was with in college, the younger being in the
same class with me.^ I remember the first week at Hingham
well. How homesick John and I were! We were only eight
and nine years old, and had never been away from home;
and we were as miserable as boys usually are under such
circumstances. But that summer ought to have taught a
lesson to my parents and to us. John and I always after-
wards agreed in looking back on the months at Hingham as
the one bright, pleasant, joyous summer of our school-days.
It stands out from among the others, in white. We did n't
learn anything; but we were with other boys, and we bathed,
and rambled, and were up to boyish mischief. Forty years
and more afterwards I used often to ride through Hingham
on my way to our summer seaside resort, the Glades, in
North Scituate, and I always liked to go by that house,
» John Chandler Bancroft (H.U. 1854) and George Bancroft (H. U. 1856).



Youth and Education 1 7



looking up at the window of the room in which John and I
slept.

And here was educational error number three; an error
I never have been able sufficiently to deplore, for it deeply
affected my character, my physical development, and my
subsequent existence even to this day. As a developing boy
I peculiarly needed the influence and atmosphere of board-
ing-school life. I should have been compelled to rough it
with other boys. Of that I stood in great want, and that for
several reasons.

And, in the first place, though in no way remarkable, I
see now that I was, and am still, individual. I don't see
things, and take things, quite in the usual and average way.
I did n't when a boy; and the best and most useful education
I ever had was when undergoing constant attrition after I
went to college, and, subsequently, in the army. I look back
on it with deep thankfulness, as well as sincere pleasure.
I needed more of it — all I could have of it! Not by nature


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Online LibraryCharles Francis AdamsCharles Francis Adams, 1835-1915; an autobiography; → online text (page 5 of 21)