Saint Thomas did not allow the Deity the right to contradict Himself, which is one of man s chief pleasures I read this book in preparation for my visit to Chartres, which was just last week I had not been very fond of Adam s most famous book, his Education, but I had high hopes that his writing would improve when his focus shifted to something other than his own life Yet I have found the two books discouragingly similar As a stylist Adams appears, at least superficially, quite strong His sentences are clear and mostly elegant, occasionally epigrammatic But stylistic problems appear on a higher level of organization Both Adam s autobiography and this book were not originally written for publication, but for his close circle of family and friends and as a result, Adams seems to explain everything except what most needs to be explained His ideas float against a background that he does not provide, making his train of thought appear out of context In this he reminds me of George Santayana, who similarly omits to signal where he is going and why he is going there, though Adams lacks the philosopher s occasionally forays into sublimity to compensate The result is rather irritating, superficially clear but actually opaque, like overhearing an eloquent old man talk to himself.But my gravest complaint about Adams, both here and in his autobiography, is his tendency to organize his books around central ideas that I find vague and vapid In the Education, this takes the form of his armchair theorizing about force, the Dynamo, and the laws of physics as applied to history, and even prominently in his main theme of education, his conception of which remains unclear to the very end In this book it mainly takes the form of his insistence that The Virgen was personally involved in the construction of Chartres Cathedral To be fair, he tends to treat these ideas and himself with a considerable amount of irony but the irony does not amount to full satire, leaving it unclear whether he is merely kidding or if he intends these ideas to be somehow insightful.Again, just as in his autobiography, here the dominant mood is notalgia Though extremely successful, Adams apparently felt out of harmony with his world and yearned for a time when society was simpler and unified This leads him quite naturally to the Middle Ages, to the poetry, to the great cathedrals, and to the theology of St Thomas Aquinas, which unite art and science into a seamless whole Consequently this book, far from being historical analysis, is of a personal appreciation of the French Medieval period, spinning off into fantasy or speculation wherever it suits him This self indulgent tone is grating to somebody trying to learn about Chartres.Now that I have gotten all this criticism out of the way, I must admit that the book, like his autobiography, has its merits and charms He is obviously fond of this period, and so writes in a tone of enthusiastic admiration that proves quite infectious This keen appreciation for the spirit of the Medieval period is the book s most useful attribute, helping to put the reader in the mindset to appreciate the epoch s art, poetry, and thought I found Adams s chapters on architecture, specifically on Chartres, to be stuffy and difficult to follow for here, as in his chapters on British politics in the Education he assumes a level of familiarity specifically about the French royal family that the reader is unlikely to possess But when context is provided by an external source, Adams can be quite pleasant When I visited Chartres, and saw its magnificent stained glass for myself, his chapters ceased to be so vexing.The chapters I most enjoyed were the final three, about philosophy specifically, Abelard, St Francis of Assisi, and St Thomas Aquinas since here my background was not so lacking Yet even here it must be said that Adams s comments are in the spirit of an amateurish aficionado rather than a serious student He interprets Aquinas as an artist rather than a thinker, repeatedly disqualifying himself from passing sentence on Aquinas s arguments though he says some perceptive things in spite of this.By contrast I thought the chapters on poetry were the worst, since they mainly consisted of excerpts of poetry, in Latin or Medieval French, with repeated assurances of their high quality and their untranslatable beauty His mostly bland translations serve to prove his point But in general Adams s approach to poetry is the same as his approach to architecture and theology, mostly confined to passionate declarations of affection, without much attempt at analysis or insight. The abbey at Mont Saint Michel and the cathedral at Chartres are the subject of Henry Adams history, self published in 1904 for the education of his nieces and nieces in wish but later released by Ralph Adams Cram with the support of the American Institute of Architects This history takes in not only the architecture of these two buildings, but a detailed examination of poetry, religion, science, art and philosophy It is a precise and understanding deconstruction of life in twelfth century France By taking just two buildings as his focal point, Adams was better able to reveal the spirit of the century, and with erudite skill than almost everyone since.Mont Saint Michel s importance in history is evident in every step one takes within it The weight of history is accumulated here, it is breathed in everywhere Made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Mont Saint Michel is now protected against invasion, development and rivalry The town of Chartres, south of Paris, is another place enveloped in history there has been settlement there since Roman times but unlike Mont Saint Michel which withstood many invasions and attacks, Chartres suffered frequently, and greatly, especially during the Second World War Remarkably the religious buildings at both sites survived these onslaughts almost intact, though both suffered at the hands of successive generations that wrought upon them their own distinct style.As we can ascertain from The Education of Henry Adams 1907 , Henry Adams first visited France in the late 1850s, following his graduation from Harvard University He said of time in France in that book He squandered two or three months on Paris From the first he had avoided Paris, and had wanted no French influence in his education He disapproved of France in the lump He disliked most the French mind To save himself the trouble of drawing up a long list of all that he disliked, he disapproved of the whole, once for all, and shut them figuratively out of his life France was not serious, and he was not serious in going there p.81, Education of Henry Adams The Education of Henry Adams is a book of his education in all things and of how his mind becomes changed, and so sometime between 1857 and the opening of the twentieth century, Adams came to respect France.Mont Saint Michel and Chartres takes the form of a monologue from uncle Adams to his niece , and as such has at times a very conversational tone His introduction is such like The party, then, with such variations of detail as may suit its tastes, has sailed from New York, let us say, early in June for an entire summer in France One pleasant June morning it has landed at Cherbourg or Havre and takes the train across Normandy to Pontorson, where, with the evening light, the tourists drive along the chaussee, over the sands or through the tide, till they stop at Madame Poulard s famous hotel within the Gate of the Mount Preface, Mont Saint Michel Despite this tone, Adam s work contains a wealth of detail He refers to the reader as tourist and says he does not need to go into great detail for tourists never do but he does, and frequently It is the detail of the place that most excites him It is a work engaged with the history of the place at every level, and Adams manages to bring to life a long forgotten world His version of Pierre Abelard whose letters to Heloise were examined earlier on this blog comes to life on the page, as does St Francis and all the other figures of twelfth century life that circle around Mont Saint Michel and Chartres There is even poetry in his detail For seven hundred years Chartres has seen pilgrims, coming and going or less like us, and will perhaps see them for another seven hundred years but we shall see it no , and can safely leave the Virgin in her majesty, with her three great prophets on either hand, as calm and confident in their own strength and in God s providence as they were when Saint Louis was born, but looking down from a deserted heaven, into an empty church, on a dead faith P.197, ibid This also points to one of the most interesting contradictions in Adams work As we saw in his novel Esther 1884 the debate between science and religion has been a crux of Adams life In his Education he says of his youth, but neither to him nor to his brothers or sisters was religion real P.27, Education By 1904 it is a dead faith and yet the debates of religion and of church construction are of deep fascination to this man of knowledge.Mont Saint Michel and Chartres is also engaged with another subject, explored also in Esther, and that is the position of women Adams was very much for women s liberation his life had been dedicated to freeing those who suffered repression and this work, dedicated to his nieces shows a deep understanding of the role of women in twelfth century society from the Virgin Mary to Heloise At any time of her life, Heloise would have defied society or church, and would at least in the public s fancy have taken Abelard by the hand and gone off to the forest much readily than she went to the cloister but Abelard would have made a poor figure as Tristan Abelard and Christian of Troyes were as remote as we are from the legendary Tristan but Isolde and Heloise, Eleanor and Mary were the immortal and eternal woman P.221, Mont Saint Michel Adams continues to rhapsodise upon this issue, culminating in one of his most eulogist passages The fact, conspicuous above all other historical certainties about religion, that the Virgin was by essence illogical, unreasonable and feminine, is the only fact of any ultimate value worth studying, and starts a number of questions that history has shown itself clearly afraid to touch Protestant and Catholic differ little in that respect No one has ventured to explain why the Virgin wielded exclusive power over poor and rich, sinners and saints, alike Why were all the Protestant churches cold failures without her help Why could not the Holy Ghost the spirit of Love and Grace equally answer their prayers Why was the Son powerless Why was Chartres Cathedral in the thirteenth century like Lourdes to day the expression of what is in substance a separate religion Why did the gentle and gracious Virgin Mother so exasperate the Pilgrim Father Why was the Woman struck out of the Church and ignored in the State These questions are not antiquarian or trifling in historical value they tug at the very heart strings of all that makes whatever order is in the cosmos If a Unity exists, in which and toward which all energies centre, it must explain and include Duality, Diversity, Infinity Sex P.261, ibid His engagement with philosophy is also of deep fascination Adams frequently displays his knowledge but is not condescending of excluding with it If God is everywhere wholly presiding, sustaining, embracing and filling, sursum regens, deorsum continens, He is the only possible energy, and leaves no place for human will to act A force which is one and the same and wholly everywhere is Spinozist than Spinoza, and is likely to be mistaken for frank pantheism by the large majority of religious minds who must try to understand it without a theological course in a Jesuit college p.286, ibid His expositions take in the most diverse of subjects, from Spinoza, to the Chanson de Roland and the writings of other deep thinkers His work shows a willingness to engage with life, to debate its intricacies Adams says, Freedom could not exist in nature, or even in God, after the single, unalterable act or will which created P.369 This becomes the nexus of art borne of religion He goes on to say The theology turns always into art at the last, and ends in aspiration All they saw was the soul vanishing into the skies How it was done, one does not care to ask in a result so exquisite, one has not the heart to find fault with adresse p.379 There are many other exquisite ideas contained within Adams work and is worth tracking down a copy History can only be glad that Ralph Adams Cram saw fit to rescue this work from its relative obscurity and bring it forth to a grateful public It is a work of such education and erudition that to sum it up successfully is impossible All I can do is urge you to read it yourself If you have any interest in religion, architecture, history, poetry, or philosophy Adams Mont Saint Michel and Chartres is essential. Henry Adams is the type of author, and an author, whom every educated American once read and discussed Now, he and his type have been replaced by stupid studies of so called white privilege, and the triumphant martryologies of the past have been replaced by the mewling victimologies of the present, much to the detriment of everyone involved, and most of all to the detriment of any useful intellectual discourse, as can be seen from a cursory view of the comments section of any article in the New York Times But by reading Adams, we can at least educate ourselves, and educate the Remnant, as Isaiah did before the renewal Adams, who lived from 1838 to 1918, and was descended from both John Adams and John Quincy Adams, also wrote the famous The Education of Henry Adams That book covers the second half of the 19th Century, through which Adams lived and onto which he turned an analytic eye The Education also overlaps Mont St Michel in some ways, for it contrasts the modern industrial world, symbolized by the dynamo, with the ancient world of Chartres and the Virgin Mary Primarily, though, it s an autobiography The Education is a fairly straightforward book Mont St Michel is elliptical and philosophical What makes Mont St Michel particularly interesting today is that Adams wrote in 1905 from the perspective of modernity, contrasting that to the totally different world of 12th and 13th century France We, of course, see both Adams and Chartres as elements of the distance past, before the 20th century erased so much, and we see much in common between Adams and Chartres than Adams did himself This makes reading Mont St Michel doubly interesting Adams starts from the premise that the 12th and 13th centuries in France were a time of unprecedented, and since unduplicated, explosion of striving, creativity and social ferment, creating works of wonder and laying the groundwork for future progress He takes this as a combination of social and spiritual behaviors, and analyzes the architecture of the time through this lens He is also free from modern day cant for example, he sees the Crusades as part of this flowering, not some sort of original sin of Christendom, as our current dullard President would have it Adams spent much time in France, and this book was a privately circulated combination of travelogue and philosophy The first 10% or so is a description, both historical and then present day, of the Abbey of Mont St Michel, emphasizing its dedication to the militaristic Michael the Archangel in the context of the Abbey s history The next 40% or so is a description of Chartres, liberally interspersed with philosophical asides, and in particular a keen appreciation for and focus on how the people of that time viewed the cathedral and the Virgin Mary who reigned there This is the most interesting section of the book Nowadays the usual view is that religion is stupid and useless, except to the extent it services transgender rights, and that no thinking person could possibly believe what they did in a cathedral village in the 12th Century Adams is a useful corrective to this no believer himself, it appears, he understood how they thought, though he probably overstates the permanent death of the religious impulse, as we can see in history since 1905.On the visceral belief of the time, my favorite passage is, talking of the 10,000 people or so at a usual Mass How many women are there, in this mass of thirteenth century suppliants, who have lost children Probably nearly all, for the death rate is very high in the conditions of medieval life There are thousands of such women here, for it is precisely this class who come most and probably every one of them has looked up to Mary in her great window, and has felt actual certainty, as though she saw with her own eyes there, in heaven, while she looked her own lost baby playing with the Christ Child at the Virgin s knee, as much at home as the saints, and much at home than the kings The earth, she says, is a sorry place, and the best of it is bad enough, no doubt but there above is Mary in heaven who sees and hears me as I see her, and who keeps my little boy till I come so I can wait with patience, or less Saints and prophets and martyrs are all very well, and Christ is very sublime and just, but Mary knows The physical descriptions of Chartres are excellent, and with the Internet easy to view along with modern images Without some images, it s hard to follow the details of the art description, though Adams s discussion is only partially travelogue a discussion of any particular stained glass window, for example, is the occasion of a discourse on French royal politics of the time, and, in some cases, how that affected the window itself What all this meant to a modern of Adams s time, or means to a modern of our time, probably varies by reader Adams clearly thought we had lost much, and a thinking reader probably endorses that, and thinks it even so now, for all that we have gained much since 1300 and since 1905 Those with a Whig view of history think that history is continual progress from worse to better, and what is left behind is justly left behind, but perhaps past is prologue, and a time will come when Western society once again unites behind a transcendent idea and produces art and thought for the ages, as Adams demonstrates convincingly this society did The remainder of the book is a obscure discussion of poetry of the time, including Adams s translations only in most cases, though, in case you don t know Latin or medieval French , as well as discussion of various key Churchmen of the age Abelard and his opponents like William of Champeaux St Francis Bernard of Clairvaux , and their arguments and consequences realism as a descent to pantheism nominalism as the road to doubt This is probably, as Lincoln apocryphally said, for people who like that sort of thing, just about the sort of thing they d like It is fantastically well written, but it is probably not the type of thing that compels most people.All this may make the book sound like a hard read But Adams writes extremely well and the book flows it is not a slog, and it is well worth reading, regardless of your approach to history, philosophy, or religion. This is an old classic that I first read over thirty years ago I recently reread it as part of a family vacation to Belgium and France, during which we spent at day at each of these two wonderful places along with the Bayeux Tapestry James provides a good history and description of the key portions of each building along with particular highlights of interest such as the links between Mont Saint Michel and the Song of Roland Adams prose is wonderful and easy to follow and most of the information in the book is still applicable after all, these buildings have generally been kept up, apart from the constant need for renovation such as at Chartres now If you want to use it as a tour book, you should read it ahead of time, since the Abbey is filled with tourists and Chartres is fairly dark inside on many days such as when we visited. Thoughtful idiotsIn the ancestral shadow of Adams s great study of these two cathedrals of France, which he extends to amplify the doctrines of the 11th and 13th centuries in which they were built, we who live today must look on as thoughtful idiots We think we understand God and man, theology and science, in deeper modern ways than available to Abelard and Aquinus, Francis and Bernard We may be thoughtful, but we stand as idiots Adams writing in the fin de seicle of the 19th century calls us, politely, tourists before the monumental architecture of these ancients.So how to classify Mont Saint Michel and Chartres The first is to consider it an architectural study of the cathedrals for laymen, which is the nominal topic But Adams quickly lets the reader know with a wink and a nod that this will be about or accurately, about the architecture as a mirror of the living in the stones theology of the age Particularly in the study of the cathedral at Chartres, Adams finds the driving influence of the Virgin Mary in the architecture, even to the level of the engineering and project management, as we know these disciplines in the vulgar vernacular surely there is nothing of theology in project management of our day At Chartres, one sees everywhere the Virgin, and nowhere any rival authority one sees her give orders, and architects obey them, but very rarely a hesitation as though the architect were deciding for himself p 108 of this edition.Mariolatry the worship of Mary drives the architecture of the age a drive and a worship that Adams will famously and with precise accuracy later predict to be utterly replaced by the Dynamo , the electric generator, in the 20th century All this is written in full, on every stone and window of this apse, as legible as the legends to anyone who cares to read, writes Adams on p 154 As Adams ventures into the theology of grace, the Trinity, Mary, and sin, he summarizes the dilemma this way The fact, conspicuous above all other historical certainties about religion, that the Virgin was by essence illogical, unreasonable and feminine, is the only fact of any ultimate value worth studying, and starts a number of questions that history has shown itself clearly afraid to touch Protestant and Catholic differ little in that respect Why were all the Protestant churches cold failures without her help Why could not the Holy Ghost, the spirit of Love and Grace, equally answer their prayers Why was the Son powerless Why was Chartres Cathedral in the thirteenth century like Lourdes today the expression of what is in substance a separate religion Why did the gentle and gracious Virgin Mother so exasperate the Pilgrim Father Why was the Woman struck out of the Church and ignored in the State These questions are not antiquarian or trifling in historical value they tug at the very heartstrings of all that makes whatever order is in the cosmos p 246Unfortunately, Adams continues for another 110 pages wading away from the architecture and luminous insights like these deep into the swamps of doctrinal disputes that attempted to answer these great questions he posed here, and the book loses its momentum and its fifth star Nevertheless, this is prose worth tasting and savoring from the first and still great historian and writer of the unfolding 20th century. Mont Saint Michel and Chartres is clearly a work of love by Henry Adams To be sure, Adams can come off as a bit pompous with his repeated declarations of quotes which can only be read in French and not translated which are probably best read that way, but impossible for many people who don t read French at all , but his love of the subject is key, as his enthusiasm is infectious and the reader is likely to start to plan their trip to see these incredible structures for themselves.Though not divided that way by the author, I felt that the book had two sections The first is the architectural discussion of Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, which focuses on the history of their construction, the architectural decisions, and the relative historical events which shaped the structures It should also be pointed out that while those two structures dominate the discussion, it is not limited to just those two In fact, Adams is looking at the structures built by the Normans in the 11th century and moving forward into the 12th and 13th centuries Adams starts with the Abbey Church at Mont Saint Michelle in 1020, going through Coutances, Caen, Bayeux, Palermo, le de France and eventually to Chartres Of course, some features have been destroyed over the years, and Adams seeks out examples to replace those as well, such as the central tower at Mont Saint Michel where he looks at C risy la For t, Lessay, and Falaise Adams also adds flavor to this journey that he is taking us on, with discussion of verses, art, and history of the time and in those areas In most cases he provides the needed translations, but as I indicated earlier, there are times he withholds all translation because he believes it must be read in French The result of all this is a fairly rich experience of these historical treasures and an appreciation for the people of the times.The second section changes slightly becoming focused on history, but it also changes in another way The first section has purpose, it feels almost like a quest for Adams to visit those grand pieces of architecture The second section, by contrast, almost feels like a stream of consciousness collection of historical stories and figures However, while there are interesting stories here, the lack of a purpose detracted from this part of the book I also did not feel the same energy and enthusiasm on the part of Adams during this section.Overall, I enjoyed this book, but there isn t enough here for me to give it four stars There is no doubt reading the first section had me planning a trip in my mind, but that enthusiasm waned in the end I would certainly revisit this if I ever have the opportunity to do a tour of these churches and abbeys, but I can t go above three stars on this one. Mont Saint Michel And Chartres Is A Record Not Of A Literal Jouney But Of A Meditative Journey Across Time And Space Into The Medieval Imagination Using The Architecture, Sculpture, And Stained Glass Of The Two Locales As A Starting Point, Adams Breathes Life Into What Others Might See Merely As Monuments Of A Past Civilization With Daring And Inventive Conceits, Adams Looks At The Ordinary People, Places, And Events In The Context Of The Social Conventions And Systems Of Thought And Belief Of The Thirteenth Century Turning The Study Of History Into A Kind Of TheaterAs Raymond Carney Discusses In His Introduction, Adams Freeedom From The European Traditions Of Study Lends An Exuberance And Puckish Wit To His WritingsFor Than Seventy Years, Penguin Has Been The Leading Publisher Of Classic Literature In The English Speaking World With Than , Titles, Penguin Classics Represents A Global Bookshelf Of The Best Works Throughout History And Across Genres And Disciplines Readers Trust The Series To Provide Authoritative Texts Enhanced By Introductions And Notes By Distinguished Scholars And Contemporary Authors, As Well As Up To Date Translations By Award Winning Translators An interesting and very personal mediation on French architecture and theology in the 12th and 13th centuries centered around the militant Mont St Michel the cult of the Virgin in Chartres and the battles between the Church and the scholastics Many interesting anecdotes A knowledge of gothic architecture helps in following his description I could not follow his discussion of medieval scholastic philsophy very well, so I can t tell if the failing was mine or that Adams made his discussion intentionally obscure to prove a point about the philosophy he was discussing. I am slowly working my way through this paperback that I bought back in the 70s and never managed to finish Now that I have been to France and seen many of the cathedrals, it is making sense to me, and if you need visuals you can always google for photos Adams connects the building style to the style and character of the culture and since I particularly love Romanesque and the earliest Gothic churches, I am delighted by his insights I still have not seen Mont Saint Michel or Chartres, but when I go, this will go with me. Hello Editors of the World,Was everyone busy when Henry Adams finished his book about the Abbey of Mont St Michel and the Chartres Cathedral The first part of the book, very interesting, although I would recommend printing out the Architectural Terms at the end of the book, before reading.Adams is especially enjoyable to read when he hits upon the Love of the Queen of Heaven, Mary Queens Elenore and Blanche the strength of women in the 12th century and Courteous Love Three stars.
See this thread for information. Henry Brooks Adams was born into one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Boston, a family which had produced two American presidents, giving him the opportunity to pursue a wide ranging variety of intellectual interests during the course of his life Functioning both in the world of practical men and affairs as a journalist and an assistant to his father, who was an American diplomat in Washington and London , and in the world of ideas as a prolific writer, the editor of the prestigious North American Review, and a professor of medieval, European, and American history at Harvard , Adams was one of the few men of his era who attempted to understand art, thought, culture, and history as one complex force field of interacting energies His two masterworks in this dazzling effort are Mont Saint Michel and Chartres and The Education of Henry Adams, published one after the other in 1904 and 1907 Taken together they may be read as Adams spiritual autobiography two monumental volumes in which he attempts to bring together into a vast synthesis all of his knowledge of politics, economics, psychology, science, philosophy, art, and literature in order to attempt to understand the individual s place in history and society They constitute one of the greatest historical and philosophical meditations on the human condition in all of literature.
- 455 pages
- Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres
- Henry Adams
- 17 January 2019 Henry Adams