Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Adams, Henry Brooks (1838–1918)
Author:
Newstrom, Scott L.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Great-grandson of President John Adams and grandson of President John Quincy Adams, Henry Adams was a historian known for his dynamic theory of history and his idea of historical force. He is remembered for his autobiographical The Education of Henry Adams, which maintains that his conventional education was incomplete and had to be supplemented by his own experience and study.

Though Adams infrequently mentioned Whitman in his published writing and correspondence, he clearly admired Whitman's poetry and compared other poets to Whitman. More importantly, in The Education he praised the "power of sex" evident in Whitman's poetry, which he thought other American authors lacked. The force of procreation found throughout Whitman mirrors Adams's own admiration for the force abundant in the thirteenth-century Virgin figure, which he opposed to the destructive power of the twentieth-century dynamo. In this way, Adams shared with Whitman an anxiety about modern technological culture. While both Whitman and Adams attempted to understand America in terms of historical and cosmic forces, Adams was more elegiac, while Whitman was more progressive and optimistic. Both authors wrote autobiographically, but Whitman's first-person voice contrasts with Adams's writing his Education in a third-person omniscient voice.

Bibliography

Adams, Henry. The Education of Henry Adams. 1906. New York: Modern Library, 1931.

Aspiz, Harold. Walt Whitman and the Body Beautiful. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1980.

Jordy, William H. "Henry Adams and Walt Whitman." South Atlantic Quarterly 40 (1941): 132–145.

Miller, Edwin Haviland. Walt Whitman's Poetry: A Psychological Journey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968.


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