- Historic Sites
“Never Leave Me, Never Leave Me”
February 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 2
I wanted Miss Tone to write an account of her years with Adams, an’d for some time she played with the idea, but it at last became apparent that she would never do it. Then I suggested that we should simply talk about Adams and that I should record my impressions. But when I did this and showed lier my draft, she was distressed. “Because it’s so wrong?” I asked. “No, because it’s so right,” she said sadly, “and I’m so wrong.” She would not go on with our sessions. What I am sure disturbed her was the impression that she feared she might give of remembering too keenly the early difficulties of her position. Certainly it was not easy for a young and beautiful woman to enter the household of an ailing and unsociable old man, adored by a jealous family, and to adapt herself to the rigorous routine that he had long established. As will be seen, there were moments of loneliness and frustration. But to me these fragments show how both uncle and adopted niece turned their relationship into something extraordinarily beautiful. Let Miss Tone speak for herself. Here is a day in Adams’ Washington household in 1913:
“We always walked for an hour before breakfast, which we ate on trays in the living room by a fire. Then old Dawson, Uncle Henry’s coachman, brought around the purple victoria that had once belonged to Perry Belmont, and we drove to Rock Creek Park. Uncle Henry knew its every path and turn, almost its every tree and bush, and he would plan a different walk for each morning, telling Dawson exactly where to meet us and just what time we would be there. We never failed to emerge from the park at the appointed hour and place.
“Lunch was at noon, and afterwards Uncle Henry would sleep until three. That was the hour for correspondence. I wrote out his letters in longhand under his dictation and then read him the financial news from the New York Times . He was particularly interested in the price of gold, which played so large a role in his and his brother Brooks’s Theories of history. On the dot of four Dawson would reappear with the victoria, and Uncle Henry would ask me if I had any errands or any calls to make. Sometimes, if I could think of none, we would simply sit in the stationary vehicle until he finally exclaimed, with a touch of impatience: ‘All right, Dawson, to the river!’
“Oh, that river! I once protested to Uncle Henry that the air was so damp I thought we must be below sea level. ‘But we are below sea level,’ he replied.
“There were enormous compensations in life with a man of such wisdom and kindness and sympathy, but those afternoon drives were the bad part of my day. However, then came dinner, which Uncle Henry always made into a festive occasion. We dressed, even when alone—he insisted that I should have good clothes and look well—and there was always champagne, which lie would drink in such rapid gulps that I was sometimes afraid he would choke. ‘It’s the only way to taste good champagne/ he would retort if I protested.
“He never dined out, even when asked to the White House—Tm in bed with a nurse’ was his invariable excuse—and he never asked people in, but he expected them to propose themselves. Young people were shy about this, but I soon learned to tell when he wanted company and would suggest to friends of my own, Robert and Mildred Bliss or Frank and Lily Polk, that they come in on a given night. In this way we had many pleasant parties. Uncle Henry was passionately curious to know what ‘the young men were thinking,’ but he could never bear to feel that they had come out of obligation to an old man. The impulse for the meeting had to be all on their part.”
Miss Tone believed that one of Adams’ great disappointments was that he did not appeal more to young men. He would have adored to have been surrounded by a crowd of disciples as was Justice Holmes, of whom in this respect he was very jealous. Judge Learned Hand told me once how vividly he remembered Adams’ snort and his “Very interesting, very interesting” when Hand told him that Holmes was the man he admired most in the world. Adams’ interest in young men, however, diminished if they had not come to the house to talk to him . Miss Tone did not have an easy time when her own friends came.
“I remember one awkward afternoon when a friend of mine from the British embassy called on me, and Uncle Henry refused to leave the room and was so icy that the poor young man never came again. Also, he hated to have me go out without him; if I cared about a party, I had to beg permission to attend. He would cross-examine me about my prospective host and hostess and why I wanted to go, and he could be very disparaging indeed when he wanted to be. But in the end he would always yield and say with a sigh: ‘It seems I must send you forth, a dove from my ark.’ The next morning, of course, he would want to know every detail about the party, who was there and what was said. He was quick to discover just how little he had missed.”
Then there came the terrible day, the day on which the whole plan of their life threatened to crumble.