Henry Adams’ Prophecy

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Henry Adams was in London in 1862 when the depredations of the Merrimac in Hampton Roads proved the superiority of ironclad warships. To his brother Charles, an officer in the Union Army, Adams wrote:”

Only a fortnight ago they discovered that their whole wooden navy was useless . . . I don’t think as yet they have dared to look their position in the face. People begin to talk vaguely about the end of the war and eternal peace, just as though human nature was changed by the fact that Great Britain’s sea-power is knocked in the head. But for my private part, I think I see a thing or two. . . . Our good country the United States is left to a career that is positively unlimited except by the powers of the imagination. And for England there is still greatness and safety, if she will draw her colonies around her, and turn her hegemony into a Confederation of British nations.

You may think all this nonsense, but I tell you these are great times. Man has mounted science, and is now run away with. I firmly believe that before many centuries more, science will be the master of man. The engines he will have invented will be beyond his strength to control. Some day science may have the existence of mankind in its power, and the human race commit suicide by blowing up the world. Not only shall we be able to cruize in space, but I see no reason why some future generation wouldn’t give it another rotary motion so that every zone would receive in turn its due portion of heat and light. . . .”