The Sepulchre of Grief

Clover Hooper

It’s hard to describe how wrapped up I am in this amazing collection of letters by Mrs. Henry Adams, nee Marian ‘Clover’ Hooper. All I knew about her before was that she was married to Henry Adams, and she took her own life, and Augustus St. Gaudens sculpted a memorial for her that is considered one of his greatest works.

This all might suggest she led a dreary life. Henry Adams, as everyone knows who has ever read a line that he has written, is a colossal bore who has no actual interest in making his meaning plain to the reader, and many reasons not to.

The poor woman was probably just bored to death, like Chinese water torture or the death of a thousand cuts. But no! Turns out Henry was a bit of a wag.

Entering the Sepulchre of Grief [the name of St. Gaudens statue], I found delight and love of life.

Traveling through England, France, Spain and Morocco in the 1870s, sailing up the Nile, and presiding over the premier salon in Washington for years — across the street from the White House — she described it all in these delightful letters to her father, Dr. Robert Hooper, who didn’t have to practice because he had so much dough.

Buying fine art, equipping fine carriages, having the Spanish minister to tea, speculating about President Hayes’   choices for his cabinet, snubbing Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt, finding Keats a bore, art shopping with Isabella Stewart Gardner… This is an extraordinary primary historical source, and great reading as well. Much more interesting than anything Henry ever wrote.

In the words of John Hay, a close friend of the Adams, “”Is it any consolation to remember her as she was? That bright, intrepid spirit, that keen, fine intellect, that lofty scorn for all that was mean, that social charm which made your house such a one as Washington never knew before and made hundreds of people love her as much as they admired her.”