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The Education became an American classic almost immediately after the Society published it posthumously in collaboration with Houghton Mifflin Company in 1918. The following year, it won the Pulitzer Prize for biography or autobiography. There was a time when it seemed that almost every American high school or college student read at least a portion of the book. As recently as 2003, a board of critics the Modern Library assembled named the Education the best non-fiction work of the twentieth century. Now, a hundred years later, the MHS has brought out a new version of this classic. Why would anyone re-edit such a book? The answer lies in the hundreds of defects that mar every previously available edition.
Although the Education was not published until 1918, it first appeared in print as a draft in 1907. Adams, who could afford to do such things, had arranged for a printer to typeset the book's manuscript. His plan was to share the text with friends whose judgment he trusted before revising it for publication. A shipment of 100 copies arrived at his residence in Washington, D.C., by 20 February, when he began to mail them to his confidants.
Adams's progress on the final version of the text was slow. We know from various sources that before long he began to make notes for some changes in the margins of copies of the draft, and four of these annotated copies have survived, including a copy in the MHS library. In 1912, though, he suffered a serious stroke and any realistic possibility of completing the work to his own satisfaction ended. Memory loss was one of the consequences of Adams's stroke, and he apparently misplaced the annotated copies. In 1916, anxious to assure the books future, he gave a new copy with a small number of changes indicated to Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, a former student of his and at the time the president of the MHS. In a cover note, he instructed Lodge to have the Society publish the book posthumously. Adams died on 27 March 1918; the MHS-Houghton Mifflin edition appeared the following September.
The 1907 draft had suffered from all the flaws that authors used to expect to find in printer's proofs. Before the days of computers and spell-check software, proofs routinely contained many different kinds of typographical errors. There were misspellings, omissions in punctuation, inconsistencies in the use of italics and capitals; all told, there were perhaps 1,000 errors.
Shortly after Adams's death, Lodge gave the copy of the Education he had received in 1916 to Worthington C. Ford, the Historical Society's editor of publications. Ford quickly determined that Adams's marginalia had done nothing to resolve the typographical problems he was encountering. Moreover, American fashions in writing had changed rapidly since 1907, and the draft Adams had typeset 11 years before looked antique to Ford's eyes. Some of Adams's spelling and punctuation forms posed particular problems as far as Ford was concerned. The edition the Society and Houghton Mifflin brought out in September 1918 was, consequently, substantially modernized and Americanized. We will never know whether or not Adams would have approved of Ford's changes; we do know that almost every page in a book of more than 500 looked different from what the author had expected.
The objective of the project the Society undertook in 2001 was to produce a carefully edited book in keeping with Henry Adams's expectations when he wrote the Education. There is no way to channel Adams, no way to know in every instance how he would have resolved all the apparent editorial problems in the 1907 printing, but using other Adams publications and his correspondence from the time as guides, the editors-Edward Chalfant, Professor Emeritus of English at Hofstra University, and Conrad Edick Wright, the Society's Ford Editor of Publications-have determined the author's preferences on scores of points. They have identified more than 60 spots where words have apparently been omitted and in bracketed insertions propose corrections. They have also drawn on four surviving copies with Adams's marginalia to insert changes Adams clearly wanted to make. The result is a perfected version of the Education.