Preface (The Education of Henry Adams)

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JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU began his famous “Confessions” by a
vehement appeal to the Deity: “I have shown myself as I was;
contemptible and vile when I was so; good, generous, sublime when I
was so; I have unveiled my interior such as Thou thyself hast seen it,
Eternal Father! Collect about me the innumerable swarm of my
fellows; let them hear my confessions; let them groan at my
unworthiness; let them blush at my meannesses! Let each of them
discover his heart in his turn at the foot of thy throne with the same
sincerity; and then let any one of them tell thee if he dares: ‘I
was a better man!'”

Jean Jacques was a very great educator in the manner of the
eighteenth century, and has been commonly thought to have had more
influence than any other teacher of his time; but his peculiar
method of improving human nature has not been universally admired.
Most educators of the nineteenth century have declined to show
themselves before their scholars as objects more vile or
contemptible than necessary, and even the humblest teacher hides, if
possible, the faults with which nature has generously embellished us
all, as it did Jean Jacques, thinking, as most religious minds are apt
to do, that the Eternal Father himself may not feel unmixed pleasure
at our thrusting under his eyes chiefly the least agreeable details of
his creation.

As an unfortunate result the twentieth century finds few recent
guides to avoid, or to follow. American literature offers scarcely one
working model for high education. The student must go back, beyond
Jean Jacques, to Benjamin Franklin, to find a model even of
self-teaching. Except in the abandoned sphere of the dead languages,
no one has discussed what part of education has, in his personal
experience, turned out to be useful, and what not. This volume
attempts to discuss it.

As educator, Jean Jacques was, in one respect, easily first; he
erected a monument of warning against the Ego. Since his time, and
largely thanks to him, the Ego has steadily tended to efface itself,
and, for purposes of model, to become a manikin on which the toilet of
education is to be draped in order to show the fit or misfit of the
clothes. The object of study is the garment, not the figure. The
tailor adapts the manikin as well as the clothes to his patron’s
wants. The tailor’s object, in this volume, is to fit young men, in
universities or elsewhere, to be men of the world, equipped for any
emergency; and the garment offered to them is meant to show the faults
of the patchwork fitted on their fathers.

At the utmost, the active-minded young man should ask of his
teacher only mastery of his tools. The young man himself, the
subject of education, is a certain form of energy; the object to be
gained is economy of his force; the training is partly the clearing
away of obstacles, partly the direct application of effort. Once
acquired, the tools and models may be thrown away.

{PREFACE ^paragraph 5}

The manikin, therefore, has the same value as any other geometrical
figure of three or more dimensions, which is used for the study of
relation. For that purpose it cannot be spared; it is the only measure
of motion, of proportion, of human condition; it must have the air
of reality; must be taken for real; must be treated as though it had
life. Who knows? Possibly it had!

February 16, 1907

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