Neither history no education provided an answer for Henry Adams. Individuals, he believed, could not face reality; to endure, one adopts illusions. His attempt to draw lines of continuity from the 13th to the 2oth centuries ended in futility. “All he could prove,” Adams concluded, “was change.”
In 1908 Adams edited the letters and diary of his friend John Hay, secretary of state from 1898 to 1905. His last book, The Life of George Cabot Lodge, was published in 1911. In two speculative essays, “Rule of Phase Applied to History” (1909) and Letter to American Teachers of History (1910), Adams calculated the demise of the world. Basing his theory on a scientific law, the dissipation of energy, he described civilization as having retrogressed through four stages: the religious, mechanical, electrical, and ethereal. The cataclysm, he prophesied, would, occur in 1921. How literally Adams intended his prediction remains a point of dispute.
In 1912, at the age of 74, Adams suffered a stroke. His haunting fear of senility became real for a short time. For three months he lay partially paralyzed, his mind hovering between reason and delirium. He recovered sufficiently, however, to travel to Europe once again. On March 27, 1918, Adams died in his sleep in his Washington home and, according to his wish, was buried next to his wife in an unmarked grave. In 1919 he was post humously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the Education.
Adams is noted for an ironic literary style coupled with a detached, often bitter, tone. These characteristics have led some critics to view him as an irascible misfit. They contend that his fascination with the Middle Ages and his continuous emphasis upon failure were masks behind which he hid a misanthropic alienation from the world. More sympathetic commentators see Adams as romantic figure who sought meaning in the chaos and violence of the 20the century. As Adams described it, he was in pursuit of ” . . . a world that sensitive and timid natures could regard without a shudder.” – (C.McH.)