The Education of Henry Adams HTML version

Nunc Age (1905)
NEARLY forty years had passed since the ex-private secretary landed at New York with
the ex-Ministers Adams and Motley, when they saw American society as a long caravan
stretching out towards the plains. As he came up the bay again, November 5, 1904, an
older man than either his father or Motley in 1868, he found the approach more striking
than ever -- wonderful -- unlike anything man had ever seen -- and like nothing he had
ever much cared to see. The outline of the city became frantic in its effort to explain
something that defied meaning. Power seemed to have outgrown its servitude and to have
asserted its freedom. The cylinder had exploded, and thrown great masses of stone and
steam against the sky. The city had the air and movement of hysteria, and the citizens
were crying, in every accent of anger and alarm, that the new forces must at any cost be
brought under control. Prosperity never before imagined, power never yet wielded by
man, speed never reached by anything but a meteor, had made the world irritable,
nervous, querulous, unreasonable and afraid. All New York was demanding new men,
and all the new forces, condensed into corporations, were demanding a new type of man -
- a man with ten times the endurance, energy, will and mind of the old type -- for whom
they were ready to pay millions at sight. As one jolted over the pavements or read the last
week's newspapers, the new man seemed close at hand, for the old one had plainly
reached the end of his strength, and his failure had become catastrophic. Every one saw
it, and every municipal election shrieked chaos. A traveller in the highways of history
looked out of the club window on the turmoil of Fifth Avenue, and felt himself in Rome,
under Diocletian, witnessing the anarchy, conscious of the compulsion, eager for the
solution, but unable to conceive whence the next impulse was to come or how it was to
act. The two-thousand-years failure of Christianity roared upward from Broadway, and
no Constantine the Great was in sight.
Having nothing else to do, the traveller went on to Washington to wait the end. There
Roosevelt was training Constantines and battling Trusts. With the Battle of Trusts, a
student of mechanics felt entire sympathy, not merely as a matter of politics or society,
but also as a measure of motion. The Trusts and Corporations stood for the larger part of
the new power that had been created since 1840, and were obnoxious because of their
vigorous and unscrupulous energy. They were revolutionary, troubling all the old
conventions and values, as the screws of ocean steamers must trouble a school of herring.
They tore society to pieces and trampled it under foot. As one of their earliest victims, a
citizen of Quincy, born in 1838, had learned submission and silence, for he knew that,
under the laws of mechanics, any change, within the range of the forces, must make his
situation only worse; but he was beyond measure curious to see whether the conflict of
forces would produce the new man, since no other energies seemed left on earth to breed.
The new man could be only a child born of contact between the new and the old energies.
Both had been familiar since childhood, as the story has shown, and neither had warped
the umpire's judgment by its favors. If ever judge had reason to be impartial, it was he.
The sole object of his interest and sympathy was the new man, and the longer one
watched, the less could be seen of him. Of the forces behind the Trusts, one could see