In 1917, about a year before he died, Henry Adams remarked in a letter to one of his oldest friends: “I once wrote some books myself, but no one has even mentioned the fact to me for more than a generation. I have a vague recollection that once some young person did mention an anecdote to me that came from one of my books and that he attributed it to some one else.” A good deal of what is most characteristic of Adams is contained in these two valedictory sentences written at the age of seventy-nine. They are haughty; they are drenched in bitterness; and they ignore any and all realities that might spoil the dramatic effect at which they aim. The reader of these sentences would never suspect, for example, that only four years earlier a privately printed book by Adams, which he had finally allowed a commercial publisher to issue after an endless courtship, had broken all the firm’s records for...


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