Adams, Henry (1838–1918) By Yoshikuni, Hiroki
Although he was known as a historian during his lifetime, the work of Henry Adams—like that of Henry James—is often seen as an American precursor to Modernism. This is mainly due to his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. His autobiography not only registers an aristocratic intellectual’s despair at the loss of ideals in the transformation of American society but, written in the third person, it also secures a distance from that despair in order to observe it self-consciously and ironically. After his death, Adams’ literary significance was appreciated by new critics, such as Yvor Winters and R. P. Blackmur.
Adams was a great-grandson of the second president of the USA, John Adams, and a grandson of the sixth president, John Quincy Adams. He was educated at Harvard University and later in Germany. During the American Civil War he served in London as a private secretary for his father. After teaching history at Harvard and editing the North American Review, he settled in Washington DC, researching American history (which led to The Life of Albert Gallatin and History of the United States of America), and making his house a salon of politicians and intellectuals. Works created during this period include two novels, Democracy and Esther, both of which portray the vicissitudes of ideals in contemporary America through the heroines’ adventures.