|Back||1 2 3 4||Next|
Race-inertia seemed to be fairly constant, and made the chief trouble in the Russian future. History looked doubtful when asked whether race-inertia had ever been overcome without destroying the race in order to reconstruct it; but surely sex-inertia had never been overcome at all. Of all movements of inertia, maternity and reproduction are the most typical, and women's property of moving in a constant line forever is ultimate, uniting history in its only unbroken and unbreakable sequence. Whatever else stops, the woman must go on reproducing, as she did in the Siluria of Pteraspis; sex is a vital condition, and race only a local one. If the laws of inertia are to be sought anywhere with certainty, it is in the feminine mind. The American always ostentatiously ignored sex, and American history mentioned hardly the name of a woman, while English history handled them as timidly as though they were a new and undescribed species; but if the problem of inertia summed up the difficulties of the race question, it involved that of sex far more deeply, and to Americans vitally. The task of accelerating or deflecting the movement of the American woman had interest infinitely greater than that of any race whatever, Russian or Chinese, Asiatic or African.
On this subject, as on the Senate and the banks, Adams was conscious of having been born an eighteenth-century remainder. As he grew older, he found that Early Institutions lost their interest, but that Early Women became a passion. Without understanding movement of sex, history seemed to him mere pedantry. So insistent had he become on this side of his subject that with women he talked of little else, and -- because women's thought is mostly subconscious and particularly sensitive to suggestion -- he tried tricks and devices to disclose it. The woman seldom knows her own thought; she is as curious to understand herself as the man to understand her, and responds far more quickly than the man to a sudden idea. Sometimes, at dinner, one might wait till talk flagged, and then, as mildly as possible, ask one's liveliest neighbor whether she could explain why the American woman was a failure. Without an instant's hesitation, she was sure to answer: "Because the American man is a failure!" She meant it.
Adams owed more to the American woman than to all the American men he ever heard of, and felt not the smallest call to defend his sex who seemed able to take care of themselves; but from the point of view of sex he felt much curiosity to know how far the woman was right, and, in pursuing this inquiry, he caught the trick of affirming that the woman was the superior. Apart from truth, he owed her at least that compliment. The habit led sometimes to perilous personalities in the sudden give-and-take of table-talk. This spring, just before sailing for Europe in May, 1903, he had a message from his sister-in-law, Mrs. Brooks Adams, to say that she and her sister. Mrs. Lodge, and the Senator were coming to dinner by way of farewell; Bay Lodge and his lovely young wife sent word to the same effect; Mrs. Roosevelt joined the party; and Michael Herbert shyly slipped down to escape the solitude of his wife's absence. The party were too intimate for reserve, and they soon fell on Adams's hobby with derision which stung him to pungent rejoinder: "The American man is a failure! You are all failures!" he said. "Has not my sister here more sense than my brother Brooks? Is not Bessie worth two of Bay? Wouldn't we all elect Mrs. Lodge Senator against Cabot? Would the President have a ghost of a chance if Mrs. Roosevelt ran against him? Do you want to stop at the Embassy, on your way home, and ask which would run it best -- Herbert or his wife?" The men laughed a little -- not much! Each probably made allowance for his own wife as an unusually superior woman. Some one afterwards remarked that these half-dozen women were not a fair average. Adams replied that the half-dozen men were above all possible average; he could not lay his hands on another half-dozen their equals.
Gay or serious, the question never failed to stir feeling. The cleverer the woman, the less she denied the failure. She was bitter at heart about it. She had failed even to hold the family together, and her children ran away like chickens with their first feathers; the family was extinct like chivalry. She had failed not only to create a new society that satisfied her, but even to hold her own in the old society of Church or State; and was left, for the most part, with no place but the theatre or streets to decorate. She might glitter with historical diamonds and sparkle with wit as brilliant as the gems, in rooms as splendid as any in Rome at its best; but she saw no one except her own sex who knew enough to be worth dazzling, or was competent to pay her intelligent homage. She might have her own way, without restraint or limit, but she knew not what to do with herself when free. Never had the world known a more capable or devoted mother, but at forty her task was over, and she was left with no stage except that of her old duties, or of Washington society where she had enjoyed for a hundred years every advantage, but had created only a medley where nine men out of ten refused her request to be civilized, and the tenth bored her.
|Back||1 2 3 4||Next|
The Education of Henry Adams -by- Henry Adams