Henry Brooks Adams

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

Henry Brooks Adams (1838-02-16 - 1918-03-27) was a U.S. historian, journalist, novelist and educator. He was the great-grandson of John Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams and son of Charles Francis Adams, Sr.


  • For reasons which many persons thought ridiculous, Mrs. Lightfoot Lee decided to pass the winter in Washington.
    • Democracy (1880), ch. I
  • 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 History of the United States of America During the First Administration of James Madison (1890), vol. II, ch. VI: Meeting of the Twelfth Congress (New York, Scribner's, 1921), p. 123

The Education of Henry Adams (1907)

  • Accident counts for much in companionship as in marriage.
    • Ch. 4
  • Women have, commonly, a very positive moral sense; that which they will, is right; that which they reject, is wrong; and their will, in most cases, ends by settling the moral.
    • Ch. 6
  • All experience is an arch, to build upon.
    • Ch. 6
  • Only on the edge of the grave can man conclude anything.
    • Ch. 6
  • 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.
    • Ch. 7
  • Friends are born, not made.
    • Ch. 7
  • A friend in power is a friend lost.
    • Ch. 7
  • 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.
    • Ch. 10
  • Young men have a passion for regarding their elders as senile.
    • Ch. 11
  • Knowledge of human nature is the beginning and end of political education.
    • Ch. 12
  • These questions of taste, of feeling, of inheritance, need no settlement. Every one carries his own inch-rule of taste, and amuses himself by applying it, triumphantly, wherever he travels.
    • Ch. 12
  • Intimates are predestined.
    • Ch. 13
  • Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.
    • Ch. 13
  • At best, the renewal of broken relations is a nervous matter.
    • Ch. 13
  • Sumner's mind had reached the calm of water which receives and reflects images without absorbing them; it contained nothing but itself.
    • Ch. 13
  • The difference is slight, to the influence of an author, whether he is read by five hundred readers, or by five hundred thousand; if he can select the five hundred, he reaches the five hundred thousand.
    • Ch. 17
  • A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
    • Ch. 20
  • One friend in a lifetime is much, two are many, three are hardly possible. Friendship needs a certain parallelism of life, a community of thought, a rivalry of aim.
    • Ch. 20
  • What one knows is, in youth, of little moment; they know enough who know how to learn.
    • Ch. 21
  • He had often noticed that six months' oblivion amounts to newspaper-death, and that resurrection is rare. Nothing is easier, if a man wants it, than rest, profound as the grave.
    • Ch. 22
  • Morality is a private and costly luxury.
    • Ch. 22
  • Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.
    • Ch. 22
  • Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.
    • Ch. 25
  • Power when wielded by abnormal energy is the most serious of facts.
    • Ch. 28
  • Those who seek education in the paths of duty are always deceived by the illusion that power in the hands of friends is an advantage to them.
    • Ch. 28
  • Modern politics is, at bottom, a struggle not of men but of forces.
    • Ch. 28
  • We combat obstacles in order to get repose, and, when got, the repose is insupportable.
    • Ch. 29
  • Simplicity is the most deceitful mistress that ever betrayed man.
    • Ch. 30
  • No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
    • Ch. 31
  • Even in America, the Indian Summer of life should be a little sunny and a little sad, like the season, and infinite in wealth and depth of tone— but never hustled.
    • Ch. 35


  • Absolute liberty is absence of restraint; responsibility is restraint; therefore, the ideally free individual is responsible to himself.
  • Everyone carries his own inch-rule of taste, and amuses himself by applying it, triumphantly, wherever he travels.
  • Henry James chews more than he bites off.
  • I have written too much history to have faith in it; and if anyone thinks I'm wrong, I am inclined to agree with him.
  • It is impossible to underrate human intelligence— beginning with one's own.
  • Man is an imperceptible atom always trying to become one with God.
  • No historian can take part with— or against— the forces he has to study. To him even the extinction of the human race should merely be a fact to be grouped with other vital statistics.
  • No man likes to have his intelligence or good faith questioned, especially if he has doubts about it himself.
  • No man, however strong, can serve ten years as schoolmaster, priest, or Senator, and remain fit for anything else.
  • Philosophy: unintelligible answers to insoluble problems.
  • Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.
  • The woman who is known only through a man is known wrong.
  • The work of internal government has become the task of controlling the thousands of fifth-rate men.
  • There is no such thing as an underestimate of average intelligence.


  • Never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.

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