THE HEIGHT OF KNOWLEDGE (1902)
AMERICA has always taken tragedy lightly. Too
busy to stop the activity of their twenty-million-horse-power
society, Americans ignore tragic motives that would
have overshadowed the Middle Ages; and the world
learns to regard assassination as a form of hysteria,
and death as neurosis, to be treated by a rest-cure.
Three hideous political murders, that would have
fattened the Eumenides with horror, have thrown
scarcely a shadow on the White House.
The year 1901 was a year
of tragedy that seemed to Hay to centre on himself.
First came, in summer, the accidental death of
his son, Del Hay. Close on the tragedy of his
son, followed that of his chief, "all the more hideous that we were so sure
of his recovery." The world turned suddenly into
a graveyard. "I have acquired the funeral habit." "Nicolay
is dying. I went to see him yesterday, and he did
not know me." Among the letters of condolence showered
upon him was one from Clarence King at Pasadena, "heart-breaking
in grace and tenderness -- the old King manner";
and King himself "simply waiting till nature and
the foe have done their struggle."
of King impressed him intensely: "There you have
it in the face!" he said -- "the best and brightest
man of his generation, with talents immeasurably
beyond any of his contemporaries; with industry
that has often sickened me to witness it; with
everything in his favor but blind luck; hounded
by disaster from his cradle, with none of the joy
of life to which he was entitled, dying at last,
with nameless suffering alone and uncared-for,
in a California tavern. Ça
vous amuse, la vie?"
The first summons that met Adams,
before he had even landed on the pier at New York, December 29,
was to Clarence King's funeral, and from the funeral
service he had no gayer road to travel than that
which led to Washington, where a revolution had
occurred that must in any case have made the men
of his age instantly old, but which, besides hurrying
to the front the generation that till then he had
regarded as boys, could not fail to break the social
ties that had till then held them all together.
vous amuse, la vie? Honestly, the lessons of education
were becoming too trite. Hay himself, probably
for the first time, felt half glad that Roosevelt
should want him to stay in office, if only to
save himself the trouble of quitting; but to
Adams all was pure loss. On that side, his education
had been finished at school. His friends in power
were lost, and he knew life too well to risk total
wreck by trying to save them.
As far as concerned Roosevelt,
the chance was hopeless. To them at sixty-three,
Roosevelt at forty-three could not be taken seriously
in his old character, and could not be recovered
in his new one. Power when wielded by abnormal
energy is the most serious of facts, and all
Roosevelt's friends know that his restless and
combative energy was more than abnormal. Roosevelt,
more than any other man living within the range
of notoriety, showed the singular primitive quality
that belongs to ultimate matter -- the quality
theology assigned to God -- he was pure act.