Harvard Calm and Henry Adams

‘Yes,’ said the very charming library official, ‘the Adamses were always up to some sort of mischief ’; and he walked on. He made no other comment on my discovery. Surely Henry Adams was right when he wrote, ‘If Harvard College gave nothing else, it gave calm.’

To me it was an indescribably piquant experience to pick casually from the shelves of the Widener Library bound volume one hundred and fourteen of the North American Review, and open accidentally at a page, at the top of which was written in neat, square, scholarly writing, ‘Suppressed.’ The word ‘suppressed’ always implies an interesting history, and when it is written on a proof-sheet above the heading ‘Taylor’s Faust.Faust. A Tragedy. By JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE. First and Second Parts. Translated in the original meters by BAYARD TAYLOR,’ it cannot but arouse curiosity.

Had I been trained in the Harvard calm, I should undoubtedly have first read through the article in a scholarly manner, to ascertain the reason for its suppression. Instead, I turned directly to the last page of the review, and in the same delicate handwriting I found the following note. ‘This notice, written originally by a strong admirer of Mr. Taylor, but much changed by me in tone, led to a protest from the author, and a request from Mr. Osgood that the notice should be suppressed. Which was done. HENRY ADAMS.’

Only then did it occur to me that one did not ordinarily find proof-sheets of suppressed articles bound up in library copies of standard magazines. Surely there was a history behind this, and one not irrelevant to this age of suppression and censorship. Who knows what it may have been?

In 1871 Henry Adams became Assistant Professor of History in Harvard University. Shortly before that ‘the publishers and editors of t ho North American Review must have felt a certain amount of confidence in him, since they put the Review in his hands.’ Mr. Osgood was the publisher of the North American Review, as well as of Bayard Taylor’s translation of Faust. Is it not justifiable to picture the twinkle in Professor Adams’s eye as he, perhaps surreptitiously, placed the proofsheets of the suppressed review in the library copy of the North American Review, available to all future generations of Harvard students, if denied the general public because of an editor’s duty to his publisher?

As to the tenor of the review — I leave that to the investigations of the curious reader.