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The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

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furnace of the Army of the Potomac to get educated in a fury of
fire. Few things were for the moment so trivial in importance as
the solitary private secretary crawling down to the wretched old
Cunard steamer Niagara at East Boston to start again for
Liverpool. This time the pitcher of education had gone to the
fountain once too often; it was fairly broken; and the young man
had got to meet a hostile world without defence -- or arms.

The situation did not seem even comic, so ignorant was the
world of its humors; yet Minister Adams sailed for England, May
1, 1861, with much the same outfit as Admiral Dupont would have
enjoyed if the Government had sent him to attack Port Royal with
one cabin-boy in a rowboat. Luckily for the cabin-boy, he was
alone. Had Secretary Seward and Senator Sumner given to Mr. Adams
the rank of Ambassador and four times his salary, a palace in
London, a staff of trained secretaries, and personal letters of
introduction to the royal family and the whole peerage, the
private secretary would have been cabin-boy still, with the extra
burden of many masters; he was the most fortunate person in the
party, having for master only his father who never fretted, never
dictated, never disciplined, and whose idea of American diplomacy
was that of the eighteenth century. Minister Adams remembered how
his grandfather had sailed from Mount Wollaston in midwinter,
1778, on the little frigate Boston, taking his eleven-year-old
son John Quincy with him, for secretary, on a diplomacy of
adventure that had hardly a parallel for success. He remembered
how John Quincy, in 1809, had sailed for Russia, with himself, a
baby of two years old, to cope with Napoleon and the Czar
Alexander single-handed, almost as much of an adventurer as John
Adams before him, and almost as successful. He thought it natural
that the Government should send him out as an adventurer also,
with a twenty-three-year-old son, and he did not even notice that
he left not a friend behind him. No doubt he could depend on
Seward, but on whom could Seward depend? Certainly not on the
Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Relations. Minister Adams
had no friend in the Senate; he could hope for no favors, and he
asked none. He thought it right to play the adventurer as his
father and grandfather had done before him, without a murmur.
This was a lofty view, and for him answered his objects, but it
bore hard on cabin-boys, and when, in time, the young man
realized what had happened, he felt it as a betrayal. He modestly
thought himself unfit for the career of adventurer, and judged
his father to be less fit than himself. For the first time
America was posing as the champion of legitimacy and order. Her
representatives should know how to play their role; they should
wear the costume; but, in the mission attached to Mr. Adams in
1861, the only rag of legitimacy or order was the private
secretary, whose stature was not sufficient to impose awe on the
Court and Parliament of Great Britain.

One inevitable effect of this lesson was to make a victim of
the scholar and to turn him into a harsh judge of his masters. If
they overlooked him, he could hardly overlook them, since they
stood with their whole weight on his body. By way of teaching him
quickly, they sent out their new Minister to Russia in the same
ship. Secretary Seward had occasion to learn the merits of
Cassius M. Clay in the diplomatic service, but Mr. Seward's
education profited less than the private secretary's, Cassius
Clay as a teacher having no equal though possibly some rivals. No
young man, not in Government pay, could be asked to draw, from
such lessons, any confidence in himself, and it was notorious
that, for the next two years, the persons were few indeed who
felt, or had reason to feel, any sort of confidence in the
Government; fewest of all among those who were in it. At home,
for the most part, young men went to the war, grumbled and died;
in England they might grumble or not; no one listened.

Above all, the private secretary could not grumble to his
chief. He knew surprisingly little, but that much he did know. He
never labored so hard to learn a language as he did to hold his
tongue, and it affected him for life. The habit of reticence --
of talking without meaning -- is never effaced. He had to begin
it at once. He was already an adept when the party landed at
Liverpool, May 13, 1861, and went instantly up to London: a
family of early Christian martyrs about to be flung into an arena
of lions, under the glad eyes of Tiberius Palmerston. Though Lord
Palmerston would have laughed his peculiar Palmerston laugh at
figuring as Tiberius, he would have seen only evident resemblance
in the Christian martyrs, for he had already arranged the

Of what they had to expect, the Minister knew no more than his
son. What he or Mr. Seward or Mr. Sumner may have thought is the
affair of history and their errors concern historians. The errors
of a private secretary concerned no one but himself, and were a
large part of his education. He thought on May 12 that he was
going to a friendly Government and people, true to the
anti-slavery principles which had been their steadiest
profession. For a hundred years the chief effort of his family
had aimed at bringing the Government of England into intelligent
cooperation with the objects and interests of America. His father
was about to make a new effort, and this time the chance of
success was promising. The slave States had been the chief
apparent obstacle to good understanding. As for the private
secretary himself, he was, like all Bostonians, instinctively
English. He could not conceive the idea of a hostile England. He
supposed himself, as one of the members of a famous anti-slavery
family, to be welcome everywhere in the British Islands.

On May 13, he met the official announcement that England
recognized the belligerency of the Confederacy. This beginning of
a new education tore up by the roots nearly all that was left of
Harvard College and Germany. He had to learn -- the sooner the
better -- that his ideas were the reverse of truth; that in May,
1861, no one in England -- literally no one -- doubted that
Jefferson Davis had made or would make a nation, and nearly all
were glad of it, though not often saying so. They mostly imitated
Palmerston who, according to Mr. Gladstone, "desired the
severance as a diminution of a dangerous power, but prudently
held his tongue." The sentiment of anti-slavery had disappeared.
Lord John Russell, as Foreign Secretary, had received the rebel
emissaries, and had decided to recognize their belligerency
before the arrival of Mr. Adams in order to fix the position of
the British Government in advance. The recognition of
independence would then become an understood policy; a matter of
time and occasion.

Whatever Minister Adams may have felt, the first effect of this
shock upon his son produced only a dullness of comprehension -- a
sort of hazy inability to grasp the missile or realize the blow.
Yet he realized that to his father it was likely to be fatal. The
chances were great that the whole family would turn round and go
home within a few weeks. The horizon widened out in endless waves
of confusion. When he thought over the subject in the long
leisure of later life, he grew cold at the idea of his situation
had his father then shown himself what Sumner thought him to be
-- unfit for his post. That the private secretary was unfit for
his -- trifling though it were -- was proved by his unreflecting
confidence in his father. It never entered his mind that his
father might lose his nerve or his temper, and yet in a
subsequent knowledge of statesmen and diplomats extending over
several generations, he could not certainly point out another who
could have stood such a shock without showing it. He passed this
long day, and tedious journey to London, without once thinking of
the possibility that his father might make a mistake. Whatever
the Minister thought, and certainly his thought was not less
active than his son's, he showed no trace of excitement. His
manner was the same as ever; his mind and temper were as
perfectly balanced; not a word escaped; not a nerve twitched.

The test was final, for no other shock so violent and sudden
could possibly recur. The worst was in full sight. For once the
private secretary knew his own business, which was to imitate his
father as closely as possible and hold his tongue. Dumped thus
into Maurigy's Hotel at the foot of Regent Street, in the midst
of a London season, without a friend or even an acquaintance, he
preferred to laugh at his father's bewilderment before the
waiter's "'amhandheggsir" for breakfast, rather than ask a
question or express a doubt. His situation, if taken seriously,
was too appalling to face. Had he known it better, he would only
have thought it worse.

Politically or socially, the outlook was desperate, beyond
retrieving or contesting. Socially, under the best of
circumstances, a newcomer in London society needs years to
establish a position, and Minister Adams had not a week or an
hour to spare, while his son had not even a remote chance of
beginning. Politically the prospect looked even worse, and for
Secretary Seward and Senator Sumner it was so; but for the
Minister, on the spot, as he came to realize exactly where he
stood, the danger was not so imminent. Mr. Adams was always one
of the luckiest of men, both in what he achieved and in what he
escaped. The blow, which prostrated Seward and Sumner, passed
over him. Lord John Russell had acted -- had probably intended to
act -- kindly by him in forestalling his arrival. The blow must
have fallen within three months, and would then have broken him
down. The British Ministers were a little in doubt still -- a
little ashamed of themselves -- and certain to wait the longer
for their next step in proportion to the haste of their first.

This is not a story of the diplomatic adventures of Charles
Francis Adams, but of his son Henry's adventures in search of an
education, which, if not taken too seriously, tended to humor.
The father's position in London was not altogether bad; the son's
was absurd. Thanks to certain family associations, Charles
Francis Adams naturally looked on all British Ministers as
enemies; the only public occupation of all Adamses for a hundred
and fifty years at least, in their brief intervals of quarrelling
with State Street, had been to quarrel with Downing Street; and
the British Government, well used to a liberal unpopularity
abroad, even when officially rude liked to be personally civil.
All diplomatic agents are liable to be put, so to speak, in a
corner, and are none the worse for it. Minister Adams had nothing
in especial to complain of; his position was good while it
lasted, and he had only the chances of war to fear. The son had
no such compensations. Brought over in order to help his father,
he could conceive no way of rendering his father help, but he was
clear that his father had got to help him. To him, the Legation
was social ostracism, terrible beyond anything he had known.
Entire solitude in the great society of London was doubly
desperate because his duties as private secretary required him to
know everybody and go with his father and mother everywhere they
needed escort. He had no friend, or even enemy, to tell him to be
patient. Had any one done it, he would surely have broken out
with the reply that patience was the last resource of fools as
well as of sages; if he was to help his father at all, he must do
it at once, for his father would never so much need help again.
In fact he never gave his father the smallest help, unless it
were as a footman, clerk, or a companion for the younger

He found himself in a singular situation for one who was to be
useful. As he came to see the situation closer, he began to doubt
whether secretaries were meant to be useful. Wars were too common
in diplomacy to disturb the habits of the diplomat. Most
secretaries detested their chiefs, and wished to be anything but
useful. At the St. James's Club, to which the Minister's son
could go only as an invited guest, the most instructive
conversation he ever heard among the young men of his own age who
hung about the tables, more helpless than himself, was: "Quel
chien de pays!" or, "Que tu es beau aujourd'hui, mon cher!" No
one wanted to discuss affairs; still less to give or get
information. That was the affair of their chiefs, who were also
slow to assume work not specially ordered from their Courts. If
the American Minister was in trouble to-day, the Russian
Ambassador was in trouble yesterday, and the Frenchman would be
in trouble to-morrow. It would all come in the day's work. There
was nothing professional in worry. Empires were always tumbling
to pieces and diplomats were always picking them up.

This was his whole diplomatic education, except that he found
rich veins of jealousy running between every chief and his staff.
His social education was more barren still, and more trying to
his vanity. His little mistakes in etiquette or address made him
writhe with torture. He never forgot the first two or three
social functions he attended: one an afternoon at Miss Burdett
Coutts's in Stratton Place, where he hid himself in the embrasure
of a window and hoped that no one noticed him; another was a
garden-party given by the old anti-slavery Duchess Dowager of
Sutherland at Chiswick, where the American Minister and Mrs.
Adams were kept in conversation by the old Duchess till every one
else went away except the young Duke and his cousins, who set to
playing leap-frog on the lawn. At intervals during the next
thirty years Henry Adams continued to happen upon the Duke, who,
singularly enough, was always playing leap-frog. Still another
nightmare he suffered at a dance given by the old Duchess Dowager
of Somerset, a terrible vision in castanets, who seized him and
forced him to perform a Highland fling before the assembled
nobility and gentry, with the daughter of the Turkish Ambassador
for partner. This might seem humorous to some, but to him the
world turned to ashes.

When the end of the season came, the private secretary had not
yet won a private acquaintance, and he hugged himself in his
solitude when the story of the battle of Bull Run appeared in the
Times. He felt only the wish to be more private than ever, for
Bull Run was a worse diplomatic than military disaster. All this
is history and can be read by public schools if they choose; but
the curious and unexpected happened to the Legation, for the
effect of Bull Run on them was almost strengthening. They no
longer felt doubt. For the next year they went on only from week
to week, ready to leave England at once, and never assuming more
than three months for their limit. Europe was waiting to see them
go. So certain was the end that no one cared to hurry it.

So far as a private secretary could see, this was all that saved
his father. For many months he looked on himself as lost or
finished in the character of private secretary; and as about to
begin, without further experiment, a final education in the ranks
of the Army of the Potomac where he would find most of his
friends enjoying a much pleasanter life than his own. With this
idea uppermost in his mind, he passed the summer and the autumn,
and began the winter. Any winter in London is a severe trial;
one's first winter is the most trying; but the month of December,
1861, in Mansfield Street, Portland Place, would have gorged a
glutton of gloom.

One afternoon when he was struggling to resist complete nervous
depression in the solitude of Mansfield Street, during the
absence of the Minister and Mrs. Adams on a country visit,
Reuter's telegram announcing the seizure of Mason and Slidell
from a British mail-steamer was brought to the office. All three
secretaries, public and private were there -- nervous as wild
beasts under the long strain on their endurance -- and all three,
though they knew it to be not merely their order of departure --
not merely diplomatic rupture -- but a declaration of war --
broke into shouts of delight. They were glad to face the end.
They saw it and cheered it! Since England was waiting only for
its own moment to strike, they were eager to strike first.

They telegraphed the news to the Minister, who was staying with
Monckton Milnes at Fryston in Yorkshire. How Mr. Adams took it,
is told in the "Lives" of Lord Houghton and William E. Forster
who was one of the Fryston party. The moment was for him the
crisis of his diplomatic career; for the secretaries it was
merely the beginning of another intolerable delay, as though they
were a military outpost waiting orders to quit an abandoned
position. At the moment of sharpest suspense, the Prince Consort
sickened and died. Portland Place at Christmas in a black fog was
never a rosy landscape, but in 1861 the most hardened Londoner
lost his ruddiness. The private secretary had one source of
comfort denied to them -- he should not be private secretary

He was mistaken -- of course! He had been mistaken at every
point of his education, and, on this point, he kept up the same
mistake for nearly seven years longer, always deluded by the
notion that the end was near. To him the Trent Affair was nothing
but one of many affairs which he had to copy in a delicate round
hand into his books, yet it had one or two results personal to
him which left no trace on the Legation records. One of these,
and to him the most important, was to put an end forever to the
idea of being "useful." Hitherto, as an independent and free
citizen, not in the employ of the Government, he had kept up his
relations with the American press. He had written pretty
frequently to Henry J. Raymond, and Raymond had used his letters
in the New York Times. He had also become fairly intimate with
the two or three friendly newspapers in London, the Daily News,
the Star, the weekly Spectator; and he had tried to give them
news and views that should have a certain common character, and
prevent clash. He had even gone down to Manchester to study the
cotton famine, and wrote a long account of his visit which his
brother Charles had published in the Boston Courier.
Unfortunately it was printed with his name, and instantly came
back upon him in the most crushing shape possible -- that of a
long, satirical leader in the London Times. Luckily the Times did
not know its victim to be a part, though not an official, of the
Legation, and lost the chance to make its satire fatal; but he
instantly learned the narrowness of his escape from old Joe
Parkes, one of the traditional busy-bodies of politics, who had
haunted London since 1830, and who, after rushing to the Times
office, to tell them all they did not know about Henry Adams,
rushed to the Legation to tell Adams all he did not want to know
about the Times. For a moment Adams thought his "usefulness" at
an end in other respects than in the press, but a day or two more
taught him the value of obscurity. He was totally unknown; he had
not even a club; London was empty; no one thought twice about the
Times article; no one except Joe Parkes ever spoke of it; and the
world had other persons -- such as President Lincoln, Secretary
Seward, and Commodore Wilkes -- for constant and favorite objects
of ridicule. Henry Adams escaped, but he never tried to be useful
again. The Trent Affair dwarfed individual effort. His education
at least had reached the point of seeing its own proportions.
"Surtout point de zele!" Zeal was too hazardous a profession for
a Minister's son to pursue, as a volunteer manipulator, among
Trent Affairs and rebel cruisers. He wrote no more letters and
meddled with no more newspapers, but he was still young, and felt
unkindly towards the editor of the London Times.

Mr. Delane lost few opportunities of embittering him, and he
felt little or no hope of repaying these attentions; but the
Trent Affair passed like a snowstorm, leaving the Legation, to
its surprise, still in place. Although the private secretary saw
in this delay -- which he attributed to Mr. Seward's good sense
-- no reason for changing his opinion about the views of the
British Government, he had no choice but to sit down again at his
table, and go on copying papers, filing letters, and reading
newspaper accounts of the incapacity of Mr. Lincoln and the
brutality of Mr. Seward -- or vice versa. The heavy months
dragged on and winter slowly turned to spring without improving
his position or spirits. Socially he had but one relief; and, to
the end of life, he never forgot the keen gratitude he owed for
it. During this tedious winter and for many months afterwards,
the only gleams of sunshine were on the days he passed at
Walton-on-Thames as the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Russell Sturgis at
Mount Felix.

His education had unfortunately little to do with bankers,
although old George Peabody and his partner, Junius Morgan, were
strong allies. Joshua Bates was devoted, and no one could be
kinder than Thomas Baring, whose little dinners in Upper
Grosvenor Street were certainly the best in London; but none
offered a refuge to compare with Mount Felix, and, for the first
time, the refuge was a liberal education. Mrs. Russell Sturgis
was one of the women to whom an intelligent boy attaches himself
as closely as he can. Henry Adams was not a very intelligent boy,
and he had no knowledge of the world, but he knew enough to
understand that a cub needed shape. The kind of education he most
required was that of a charming woman, and Mrs. Russell Sturgis,
a dozen years older than himself, could have good-naturedly
trained a school of such, without an effort, and with infinite
advantage to them. Near her he half forgot the anxieties of
Portland Place. During two years of miserable solitude, she was
in this social polar winter, the single source of warmth and

Of course the Legation itself was home, and, under such
pressure, life in it could be nothing but united. All the inmates
made common cause, but this was no education. One lived, but was
merely flayed alive. Yet, while this might be exactly true of the
younger members of the household, it was not quite so with the
Minister and Mrs. Adams. Very slowly, but quite steadily, they
gained foothold. For some reason partly connected with American
sources, British society had begun with violent social prejudice
against Lincoln, Seward, and all the Republican leaders except
Sumner. Familiar as the whole tribe of Adamses had been for three
generations with the impenetrable stupidity of the British mind,
and weary of the long struggle to teach it its own interests, the
fourth generation could still not quite persuade itself that this
new British prejudice was natural. The private secretary
suspected that Americans in New York and Boston had something to
do with it. The Copperhead was at home in Pall Mall. Naturally
the Englishman was a coarse animal and liked coarseness. Had
Lincoln and Seward been the ruffians supposed, the average
Englishman would have liked them the better. The exceedingly
quiet manner and the unassailable social position of Minister
Adams in no way conciliated them. They chose to ignore him, since
they could not ridicule him. Lord John Russell set the example.
Personally the Minister was to be kindly treated; politically he
was negligible; he was there to be put aside. London and Paris
imitated Lord John. Every one waited to see Lincoln and his
hirelings disappear in one vast debacle. All conceived that the
Washington Government would soon crumble, and that Minister Adams
would vanish with the rest.

This situation made Minister Adams an exception among
diplomats. European rulers for the most part fought and treated
as members of one family, and rarely had in view the possibility
of total extinction; but the Governments and society of Europe,
for a year at least, regarded the Washington Government as dead,
and its Ministers as nullities. Minister Adams was better
received than most nullities because he made no noise. Little by
little, in private, society took the habit of accepting him, not
so much as a diplomat, but rather as a member of opposition, or
an eminent counsel retained for a foreign Government. He was to
be received and considered; to be cordially treated as, by birth
and manners, one of themselves. This curiously English way of
getting behind a stupidity gave the Minister every possible
advantage over a European diplomat. Barriers of race, language,
birth, habit, ceased to exist. Diplomacy held diplomats apart in
order to save Governments, but Earl Russell could not hold Mr.
Adams apart. He was undistinguishable from a Londoner. In society
few Londoners were so widely at home. None had such double
personality and corresponding double weight.

The singular luck that took him to Fryston to meet the shock of
the Trent Affair under the sympathetic eyes of Monckton Milnes
and William E. Forster never afterwards deserted him. Both Milnes
and Forster needed support and were greatly relieved to be
supported. They saw what the private secretary in May had
overlooked, the hopeless position they were in if the American
Minister made a mistake, and, since his strength was theirs, they
lost no time in expressing to all the world their estimate of the
Minister's character. Between them the Minister was almost safe.

One might discuss long whether, at that moment, Milnes or
Forster were the more valuable ally, since they were influences
of different kinds. Monckton Milnes was a social power in London,
possibly greater than Londoners themselves quite understood, for
in London society as elsewhere, the dull and the ignorant made a
large majority, and dull men always laughed at Monckton Milnes.
Every bore was used to talk familiarly about "Dicky Milnes," the
"cool of the evening"; and of course he himself affected social
eccentricity, challenging ridicule with the indifference of one
who knew himself to be the first wit in London, and a maker of
men -- of a great many men. A word from him went far. An
invitation to his breakfast-table went farther. Behind his almost
Falstaffian mask and laugh of Silenus, he carried a fine, broad,
and high intelligence which no one questioned. As a young man he
had written verses, which some readers thought poetry, and which
were certainly not altogether prose. Later, in Parliament he made
speeches, chiefly criticised as too good for the place and too
high for the audience. Socially, he was one of two or three men
who went everywhere, knew everybody, talked of everything, and
had the ear of Ministers; but unlike most wits, he held a social
position of his own that ended in a peerage, and he had a house
in Upper Brook Street to which most clever people were
exceedingly glad of admission. His breakfasts were famous, and no
one liked to decline his invitations, for it was more dangerous
to show timidity than to risk a fray. He was a voracious reader,
a strong critic, an art connoisseur in certain directions, a
collector of books, but above all he was a man of the world by
profession, and loved the contacts -- perhaps the collisions --
of society. Not even Henry Brougham dared do the things he did,
yet Brougham defied rebuff. Milnes was the good-nature of London;
the Gargantuan type of its refinement and coarseness; the most
universal figure of May Fair.

Compared with him, figures like Hayward, or Delane, or
Venables, or Henry Reeve were quite secondary, but William E.
Forster stood in a different class. Forster had nothing whatever
to do with May Fair. Except in being a Yorkshireman he was quite
the opposite of Milnes. He had at that time no social or
political position; he never had a vestige of Milnes's wit or
variety; he was a tall, rough, ungainly figure, affecting the
singular form of self-defense which the Yorkshiremen and
Lancashiremen seem to hold dear -- the exterior roughness assumed
to cover an internal, emotional, almost sentimental nature.
Kindly he had to be, if only by his inheritance from a Quaker
ancestry, but he was a Friend one degree removed. Sentimental and
emotional he must have been, or he could never have persuaded a
daughter of Dr. Arnold to marry him. Pure gold, without a trace
of base metal; honest, unselfish, practical; he took up the Union
cause and made himself its champion, as a true Yorkshireman was
sure to do, partly because of his Quaker anti-slavery
convictions, and partly because it gave him a practical opening
in the House. As a new member, he needed a field.

Diffidence was not one of Forster's weaknesses. His practical
sense and his personal energy soon established him in leadership,
and made him a powerful champion, not so much for ornament as for
work. With such a manager, the friends of the Union in England
began to take heart. Minister Adams had only to look on as his
true champions, the heavy-weights, came into action, and even the
private secretary caught now and then a stray gleam of
encouragement as he saw the ring begin to clear for these burly
Yorkshiremen to stand up in a prize-fight likely to be as brutal
as ever England had known. Milnes and Forster were not exactly
light-weights, but Bright and Cobden were the hardest hitters in
England, and with them for champions the Minister could tackle
even Lord Palmerston without much fear of foul play.

In society John Bright and Richard Cobden were never seen, and
even in Parliament they had no large following. They were classed
as enemies of order, -- anarchists, -- and anarchists they were
if hatred of the so-called established orders made them so. About
them was no sort of political timidity. They took bluntly the
side of the Union against Palmerston whom they hated. Strangers
to London society, they were at home in the American Legation,
delightful dinner-company, talking always with reckless freedom.
Cobden was the milder and more persuasive; Bright was the more
dangerous to approach; but the private secretary delighted in
both, and nourished an ardent wish to see them talk the same
language to Lord John Russell from the gangway of the House.

With four such allies as these, Minister Adams stood no longer
quite helpless. For the second time the British Ministry felt a
little ashamed of itself after the Trent Affair, as well it
might, and disposed to wait before moving again. Little by
little, friends gathered about the Legation who were no
fair-weather companions. The old anti-slavery, Exeter Hall,
Shaftesbury clique turned out to be an annoying and troublesome
enemy, but the Duke of Argyll was one of the most valuable
friends the Minister found, both politically and socially, and
the Duchess was as true as her mother. Even the private secretary
shared faintly in the social profit of this relation, and never
forgot dining one night at the Lodge, and finding himself after
dinner engaged in instructing John Stuart Mill about the peculiar
merits of an American protective system. In spite of all the
probabilities, he convinced himself that it was not the Duke's
claret which led him to this singular form of loquacity; he
insisted that it was the fault of Mr. Mill himself who led him on
by assenting to his point of view. Mr. Mill took no apparent
pleasure in dispute, and in that respect the Duke would perhaps
have done better; but the secretary had to admit that though at
other periods of life he was sufficiently and even amply snubbed
by Englishmen, he could never recall a single occasion during
this trying year, when he had to complain of rudeness.

Friendliness he found here and there, but chiefly among his
elders; not among fashionable or socially powerful people, either
men or women; although not even this rule was quite exact, for
Frederick Cavendish's kindness and intimate relations made
Devonshire House almost familiar, and Lyulph Stanley's ardent
Americanism created a certain cordiality with the Stanleys of
Alderley whose house was one of the most frequented in London.
Lorne, too, the future Argyll, was always a friend. Yet the
regular course of society led to more literary intimacies. Sir
Charles Trevelyan's house was one of the first to which young
Adams was asked, and with which his friendly relations never
ceased for near half a century, and then only when death stopped
them. Sir Charles and Lady Lyell were intimates. Tom Hughes came
into close alliance. By the time society began to reopen its
doors after the death of the Prince Consort, even the private
secretary occasionally saw a face he knew, although he made no
more effort of any kind, but silently waited the end. Whatever
might be the advantages of social relations to his father and
mother, to him the whole business of diplomacy and society was
futile. He meant to go home.



OF the year 1862 Henry Adams could never think without a
shudder. The war alone did not greatly distress him; already in
his short life he was used to seeing people wade in blood, and he
could plainly discern in history, that man from the beginning had
found his chief amusement in bloodshed; but the ferocious joy of
destruction at its best requires that one should kill what one
hates, and young Adams neither hated nor wanted to kill his
friends the rebels, while he wanted nothing so much as to wipe
England off the earth. Never could any good come from that
besotted race! He was feebly trying to save his own life. Every
day the British Government deliberately crowded him one step
further into the grave. He could see it; the Legation knew it; no
one doubted it; no one thought of questioning it. The Trent
Affair showed where Palmerston and Russell stood. The escape of
the rebel cruisers from Liverpool was not, in a young man's eyes,
the sign of hesitation, but the proof of their fixed intention to
intervene. Lord Russell's replies to Mr. Adams's notes were
discourteous in their indifference, and, to an irritable young
private secretary of twenty-four, were insolent in their
disregard of truth. Whatever forms of phrase were usual in public
to modify the harshness of invective, in private no political
opponent in England, and few political friends, hesitated to say
brutally of Lord John Russell that he lied. This was no great
reproach, for, more or less, every statesman lied, but the
intensity of the private secretary's rage sprang from his belief
that Russell's form of defence covered intent to kill. Not for an
instant did the Legation draw a free breath. The suspense was
hideous and unendurable.

The Minister, no doubt, endured it, but he had support and
consideration, while his son had nothing to think about but his
friends who were mostly dying under McClellan in the swamps about
Richmond, or his enemies who were exulting in Pall Mall. He bore
it as well as he could till midsummer, but, when the story of the
second Bull Run appeared, he could bear it no longer, and after a
sleepless night, walking up and down his room without reflecting
that his father was beneath him, he announced at breakfast his
intention to go home into the army. His mother seemed to be less
impressed by the announcement than by the walking over her head,
which was so unlike her as to surprise her son. His father, too,
received the announcement quietly. No doubt they expected it, and
had taken their measures in advance. In those days, parents got
used to all sorts of announcements from their children. Mr. Adams
took his son's defection as quietly as he took Bull Run; but his
son never got the chance to go. He found obstacles constantly
rising in his path. The remonstrances of his brother Charles, who
was himself in the Army of the Potomac, and whose opinion had
always the greatest weight with Henry, had much to do with
delaying action; but he felt, of his own accord, that if he
deserted his post in London, and found the Capuan comforts he
expected in Virginia where he would have only bullets to wound
him, he would never forgive himself for leaving his father and
mother alone to be devoured by the wild beasts of the British
amphitheatre. This reflection might not have stopped him, but his
father's suggestion was decisive. The Minister pointed out that
it was too late for him to take part in the actual campaign, and
that long before next spring they would all go home together.

The young man had copied too many affidavits about rebel
cruisers to miss the point of this argument, so he sat down again
to copy some more. Consul Dudley at Liverpool provided a
continuous supply. Properly, the affidavits were no business of
the private secretary, but practically the private secretary did
a second secretary's work, and was glad to do it, if it would
save Mr. Seward the trouble of sending more secretaries of his
own selection to help the Minister. The work was nothing, and no
one ever complained of it; not even Moran, the Secretary of
Legation after the departure of Charley Wilson, though he might
sit up all night to copy. Not the work, but the play exhausted.
The effort of facing a hostile society was bad enough, but that
of facing friends was worse. After terrific disasters like the
seven days before Richmond and the second Bull Run, friends
needed support; a tone of bluff would have been fatal, for the
average mind sees quickest through a bluff; nothing answers but
candor; yet private secretaries never feel candid, however much
they feel the reverse, and therefore they must affect candor; not
always a simple act when one is exasperated, furious, bitter, and
choking with tears over the blunders and incapacity of one's
Government. If one shed tears, they must be shed on one's pillow.
Least of all, must one throw extra strain on the Minister, who
had all he could carry without being fretted in his family. One
must read one's Times every morning over one's muffin without
reading aloud -- "Another disastrous Federal Defeat"; and one
might not even indulge in harmless profanity. Self-restraint
among friends required much more effort than keeping a quiet face
before enemies. Great men were the worst blunderers. One day the
private secretary smiled, when standing with the crowd in the
throne-room while the endless procession made bows to the royal
family, at hearing, behind his shoulder, one Cabinet Minister
remark gaily to another: "So the Federals have got another
licking!" The point of the remark was its truth. Even a private
secretary had learned to control his tones and guard his features
and betray no joy over the "lickings" of an enemy -- in the
enemy's presence.

London was altogether beside itself on one point, in especial;
it created a nightmare of its own, and gave it the shape of
Abraham Lincoln. Behind this it placed another demon, if possible
more devilish, and called it Mr. Seward. In regard to these two
men, English society seemed demented. Defence was useless;
explanation was vain; one could only let the passion exhaust
itself. One's best friends were as unreasonable as enemies, for
the belief in poor Mr. Lincoln's brutality and Seward's ferocity
became a dogma of popular faith. The last time Henry Adams saw
Thackeray, before his sudden death at Christmas in 1863, was in
entering the house of Sir Henry Holland for an evening reception.
Thackeray was pulling on his coat downstairs, laughing because,
in his usual blind way, he had stumbled into the wrong house and
not found it out till he shook hands with old Sir Henry, whom he
knew very well, but who was not the host he expected. Then his
tone changed as he spoke of his -- and Adams's -- friend, Mrs.
Frank Hampton, of South Carolina, whom he had loved as Sally
Baxter and painted as Ethel Newcome. Though he had never quite
forgiven her marriage, his warmth of feeling revived when he
heard that she had died of consumption at Columbia while her
parents and sister were refused permission to pass through the
lines to see her. In speaking of it, Thackeray's voice trembled
and his eyes filled with tears. The coarse cruelty of Lincoln and
his hirelings was notorious. He never doubted that the Federals
made a business of harrowing the tenderest feelings of women --
particularly of women -- in order to punish their opponents. On
quite insufficient evidence he burst into violent reproach. Had
Adams carried in his pocket the proofs that the reproach was
unjust, he would have gained nothing by showing them. At that
moment Thackeray, and all London society with him, needed the
nervous relief of expressing emotion; for if Mr. Lincoln was not
what they said he -- was what were they?

For like reason, the members of the Legation kept silence, even
in private, under the boorish Scotch jibes of Carlyle. If Carlyle
was wrong, his diatribes would give his true measure, and this
measure would be a low one, for Carlyle was not likely to be more
sincere or more sound in one thought than in another. The proof
that a philosopher does not know what he is talking about is apt
to sadden his followers before it reacts on himself. Demolition
of one's idols is painful, and Carlyle had been an idol. Doubts
cast on his stature spread far into general darkness like shadows
of a setting sun. Not merely the idols fell, but also the habit
of faith. If Carlyle, too, was a fraud, what were his scholars
and school?

Society as a rule was civil, and one had no more reason to
complain than every other diplomatist has had, in like
conditions, but one's few friends in society were mere ornament.
The Legation could not dream of contesting social control. The
best they could do was to escape mortification, and by this time
their relations were good enough to save the Minister's family
from that annoyance. Now and then, the fact could not be wholly
disguised that some one had refused to meet -- or to receive --
the Minister; but never an open insult, or any expression of
which the Minister had to take notice. Diplomacy served as a
buffer in times of irritation, and no diplomat who knew his
business fretted at what every diplomat -- and none more commonly
than the English -- had to expect; therefore Henry Adams, though
not a diplomat and wholly unprotected, went his way peacefully
enough, seeing clearly that society cared little to make his
acquaintance, but seeing also no reason why society should
discover charms in him of which he was himself unconscious. He
went where he was asked; he was always courteously received; he
was, on the whole, better treated than at Washington; and he held
his tongue.

For a thousand reasons, the best diplomatic house in London was
Lord Palmerston's, while Lord John Russell's was one of the
worst. Of neither host could a private secretary expect to know
anything. He might as well have expected to know the Grand Lama.
Personally Lord Palmerston was the last man in London that a
cautious private secretary wanted to know. Other Prime Ministers
may perhaps have lived who inspired among diplomatists as much
distrust as Palmerston, and yet between Palmerston's word and
Russell's word, one hesitated to decide, and gave years of
education to deciding, whether either could be trusted, or how
far. The Queen herself in her famous memorandum of August 12,
1850, gave her opinion of Palmerston in words that differed
little from words used by Lord John Russell, and both the Queen
and Russell said in substance only what Cobden and Bright said in
private. Every diplomatist agreed with them, yet the diplomatic
standard of trust seemed to be other than the parliamentarian No
professional diplomatists worried about falsehoods. Words were
with them forms of expression which varied with individuals, but
falsehood was more or less necessary to all. The worst liars were
the candid. What diplomatists wanted to know was the motive that
lay beyond the expression. In the case of Palmerston they were
unanimous in warning new colleagues that they might expect to be
sacrificed by him to any momentary personal object. Every new
Minister or Ambassador at the Court of St. James received this
preliminary lesson that he must, if possible, keep out of
Palmerston's reach. The rule was not secret or merely diplomatic.
The Queen herself had emphatically expressed the same opinion
officially. If Palmerston had an object to gain, he would go down
to the House of Commons and betray or misrepresent a foreign
Minister, without concern for his victim. No one got back on him
with a blow equally mischievous -- not even the Queen -- for, as
old Baron Brunnow described him: "C'est une peau de rhinocere!"
Having gained his point, he laughed, and his public laughed with
him, for the usual British -- or American -- public likes to be
amused, and thought it very amusing to see these beribboned and
bestarred foreigners caught and tossed and gored on the horns of
this jovial, slashing, devil-may-care British bull.

Diplomatists have no right to complain of mere lies; it is
their own fault, if, educated as they are, the lies deceive them;
but they complain bitterly of traps. Palmerston was believed to
lay traps. He was the enfant terrible of the British Government.
On the other hand, Lady Palmerston was believed to be good and
loyal. All the diplomats and their wives seemed to think so, and
took their troubles to her, believing that she would try to help
them. For this reason among others, her evenings at home --
Saturday Reviews, they were called -- had great vogue. An
ignorant young American could not be expected to explain it.
Cambridge House was no better for entertaining than a score of
others. Lady Palmerston was no longer young or handsome, and
could hardly at any age have been vivacious. The people one met
there were never smart and seldom young; they were largely
diplomatic, and diplomats are commonly dull; they were largely
political, and politicians rarely decorate or beautify an evening
party; they were sprinkled with literary people, who are
notoriously unfashionable; the women were of course ill-dressed
and middle-aged; the men looked mostly bored or out of place;
yet, beyond a doubt, Cambridge House was the best, and perhaps
the only political house in London, and its success was due to
Lady Palmerston, who never seemed to make an effort beyond a
friendly recognition. As a lesson in social education, Cambridge
House gave much subject for thought. First or last, one was to
know dozens of statesmen more powerful and more agreeable than
Lord Palmerston; dozens of ladies more beautiful and more
painstaking than Lady Palmerston; but no political house so
successful as Cambridge House. The world never explains such
riddles. The foreigners said only that Lady Palmerston was "

The small fry of the Legations were admitted there, or
tolerated, without a further effort to recognize their existence,
but they were pleased because rarely tolerated anywhere else, and
there they could at least stand in a corner and look at a bishop
or even a duke. This was the social diversion of young Adams. No
one knew him -- not even the lackeys. The last Saturday evening
he ever attended, he gave his name as usual at the foot of the
staircase, and was rather disturbed to hear it shouted up as "Mr.
Handrew Hadams!" He tried to correct it, and the footman shouted
more loudly: "Mr. Hanthony Hadams!" With some temper he repeated
the correction, and was finally announced as "Mr. Halexander
Hadams," and under this name made his bow for the last time to
Lord Palmerston who certainly knew no better.

Far down the staircase one heard Lord Palmerston's laugh as he
stood at the door receiving his guests, talking probably to one
of his henchmen, Delane, Borthwick, or Hayward, who were sure to
be near. The laugh was singular, mechanical, wooden, and did not
seem to disturb his features. "Ha! . . . Ha! . . . Ha!" Each was
a slow, deliberate ejaculation, and all were in the same tone, as
though he meant to say: "Yes! . . . Yes! . . . Yes!" by way of
assurance. It was a laugh of 1810 and the Congress of Vienna.
Adams would have much liked to stop a moment and ask whether
William Pitt and the Duke of Wellington had laughed so; but young
men attached to foreign Ministers asked no questions at all of
Palmerston and their chiefs asked as few as possible. One made
the usual bow and received the usual glance of civility; then
passed on to Lady Palmerston, who was always kind in manner, but
who wasted no remarks; and so to Lady Jocelyn with her daughter,
who commonly had something friendly to say; then went through the
diplomatic corps, Brunnow, Musurus, Azeglio, Apponyi, Van de
Weyer, Bille, Tricoupi, and the rest, finally dropping into the
hands of some literary accident as strange there as one's self.
The routine varied little. There was no attempt at entertainment.
Except for the desperate isolation of these two first seasons,
even secretaries would have found the effort almost as mechanical
as a levee at St. James's Palace.

Lord Palmerston was not Foreign Secretary; he was Prime
Minister, but he loved foreign affairs and could no more resist
scoring a point in diplomacy than in whist. Ministers of foreign
powers, knowing his habits, tried to hold him at arms'-length,
and, to do this, were obliged to court the actual Foreign
Secretary, Lord John Russell, who, on July 30, 1861, was called
up to the House of Lords as an earl. By some process of personal
affiliation, Minister Adams succeeded in persuading himself that
he could trust Lord Russell more safely than Lord Palmerston. His
son, being young and ill-balanced in temper, thought there was
nothing to choose. Englishmen saw little difference between them,
and Americans were bound to follow English experience in English
character. Minister Adams had much to learn, although with him as
well as with his son, the months of education began to count as

Just as Brunnow predicted, Lord Palmerston made his rush at
last, as unexpected as always, and more furiously than though
still a private secretary of twenty-four. Only a man who had been
young with the battle of Trafalgar could be fresh and jaunty to
that point, but Minister Adams was not in a position to
sympathize with octogenarian youth and found himself in a danger
as critical as that of his numerous predecessors. It was late one
after noon in June, 1862, as the private secretary returned, with
the Minister, from some social function, that he saw his father
pick up a note from his desk and read it in silence. Then he said
curtly: "Palmerston wants a quarrel!" This was the point of the
incident as he felt it. Palmerston wanted a quarrel; he must not
be gratified; he must be stopped. The matter of quarrel was
General Butler's famous woman-order at New Orleans, but the
motive was the belief in President Lincoln's brutality that had
taken such deep root in the British mind. Knowing Palmerston's
habits, the Minister took for granted that he meant to score a
diplomatic point by producing this note in the House of Commons.
If he did this at once, the Minister was lost; the quarrel was
made; and one new victim to Palmerston's passion for popularity
was sacrificed.

The moment was nervous -- as far as the private secretary knew,
quite the most critical moment in the records of American
diplomacy -- but the story belongs to history, not to education,
and can be read there by any one who cares to read it. As a part
of Henry Adams's education it had a value distinct from history.
That his father succeeded in muzzling Palmerston without a public
scandal, was well enough for the Minister, but was not enough for
a private secretary who liked going to Cambridge House, and was
puzzled to reconcile contradictions. That Palmerston had wanted a
quarrel was obvious; why, then, did he submit so tamely to being
made the victim of the quarrel? The correspondence that followed
his note was conducted feebly on his side, and he allowed the
United States Minister to close it by a refusal to receive
further communications from him except through Lord Russell. The
step was excessively strong, for it broke off private relations
as well as public, and cost even the private secretary his
invitations to Cambridge House. Lady Palmerston tried her best,
but the two ladies found no resource except tears. They had to do
with American Minister perplexed in the extreme. Not that Mr.
Adams lost his temper, for he never felt such a weight of
responsibility, and was never more cool; but he could conceive no
other way of protecting his Government, not to speak of himself,
than to force Lord Russell to interpose. He believed that
Palmerston's submission and silence were due to Russell. Perhaps
he was right; at the time, his son had no doubt of it, though
afterwards he felt less sure. Palmerston wanted a quarrel; the
motive seemed evident; yet when the quarrel was made, he backed
out of it; for some reason it seemed that he did not want it --
at least, not then. He never showed resentment against Mr. Adams
at the time or afterwards. He never began another quarrel.
Incredible as it seemed, he behaved like a well-bred gentleman
who felt himself in the wrong. Possibly this change may have been
due to Lord Russell's remonstrances, but the private secretary
would have felt his education in politics more complete had he
ever finally made up his mind whether Palmerston was more angry
with General Butler, or more annoyed at himself, for committing
what was in both cases an unpardonable betise.

At the time, the question was hardly raised, for no one doubted
Palmerston's attitude or his plans. The season was near its end,
and Cambridge House was soon closed. The Legation had troubles
enough without caring to publish more. The tide of English
feeling ran so violently against it that one could only wait to
see whether General McClellan would bring it relief. The year
1862 was a dark spot in Henry Adams's life, and the education it
gave was mostly one that he gladly forgot. As far as he was
aware, he made no friends; he could hardly make enemies; yet
towards the close of the year he was flattered by an invitation
from Monckton Milnes to Fryston, and it was one of many acts of
charity towards the young that gave Milnes immortality. Milnes
made it his business to be kind. Other people criticised him for
his manner of doing it, but never imitated him. Naturally, a
dispirited, disheartened private secretary was exceedingly
grateful, and never forgot the kindness, but it was chiefly as
education that this first country visit had value. Commonly,
country visits are much alike, but Monckton Milnes was never like
anybody, and his country parties served his purpose of mixing
strange elements. Fryston was one of a class of houses that no
one sought for its natural beauties, and the winter mists of
Yorkshire were rather more evident for the absence of the hostess
on account of them, so that the singular guests whom Milnes
collected to enliven his December had nothing to do but astonish
each other, if anything could astonish such men. Of the five,
Adams alone was tame; he alone added nothing to the wit or humor,
except as a listener; but they needed a listener and he was
useful. Of the remaining four, Milnes was the oldest, and perhaps
the sanest in spite of his superficial eccentricities, for
Yorkshire sanity was true to a standard of its own, if not to
other conventions; yet even Milnes startled a young American
whose Boston and Washington mind was still fresh. He would not
have been startled by the hard-drinking, horse-racing
Yorkshireman of whom he had read in books; but Milnes required a
knowledge of society and literature that only himself possessed,
if one were to try to keep pace with him. He had sought contact
with everybody and everything that Europe could offer. He knew it
all from several points of view, and chiefly as humorous.

The second of the party was also of a certain age; a quiet,
well-mannered, singularly agreeable gentleman of the literary
class. When Milnes showed Adams to his room to dress for dinner,
he stayed a moment to say a word about this guest, whom he called
Stirling of Keir. His sketch closed with the hint that Stirling
was violent only on one point -- hatred of Napoleon III. On that
point, Adams was himself sensitive, which led him to wonder how
bad the Scotch gentleman might be. The third was a man of thirty
or thereabouts, whom Adams had already met at Lady Palmerston's
carrying his arm in a sling. His figure and bearing were
sympathetic -- almost pathetic -- with a certain grave and gentle
charm, a pleasant smile, and an interesting story. He was
Lawrence Oliphant, just from Japan, where he had been wounded in
the fanatics' attack on the British Legation. He seemed
exceptionally sane and peculiarly suited for country houses,
where every man would enjoy his company, and every woman would
adore him. He had not then published "Piccadilly"; perhaps he was
writing it; while, like all the young men about the Foreign
Office, he contributed to The Owl.

The fourth was a boy, or had the look of one, though in fact a
year older than Adams himself. He resembled in action -- and in
this trait, was remotely followed, a generation later, by another
famous young man, Robert Louis Stevenson -- a tropical bird,
high-crested, long-beaked, quick-moving, with rapid utterance and
screams of humor, quite unlike any English lark or nightingale.
One could hardly call him a crimson macaw among owls, and yet no
ordinary contrast availed. Milnes introduced him as Mr. Algernon
Swinburne. The name suggested nothing. Milnes was always
unearthing new coins and trying to give them currency. He had
unearthed Henry Adams who knew himself to be worthless and not
current. When Milnes lingered a moment in Adams's room to add
that Swinburne had written some poetry, not yet published, of
really extraordinary merit, Adams only wondered what more Milnes
would discover, and whether by chance he could discover merit in
a private secretary. He was capable of it.

In due course this party of five men sat down to dinner with
the usual club manners of ladyless dinner-tables, easy and formal
at the same time. Conversation ran first to Oliphant who told his
dramatic story simply, and from him the talk drifted off into
other channels, until Milnes thought it time to bring Swinburne
out. Then, at last, if never before, Adams acquired education.
What he had sought so long, he found; but he was none the wiser;
only the more astonished. For once, too, he felt at ease, for the
others were no less astonished than himself, and their
astonishment grew apace. For the rest of the evening Swinburne
figured alone; the end of dinner made the monologue only freer,
for in 1862, even when ladies were not in the house, smoking was
forbidden, and guests usually smoked in the stables or the
kitchen; but Monckton Milnes was a licensed libertine who let his
guests smoke in Adams's bedroom, since Adams was an
American-German barbarian ignorant of manners; and there after
dinner all sat -- or lay -- till far into the night, listening to
the rush of Swinburne's talk. In a long experience, before or
after, no one ever approached it; yet one had heard accounts of
the best talking of the time, and read accounts of talkers in all
time, among the rest, of Voltaire, who seemed to approach nearest
the pattern.

That Swinburne was altogether new to the three types of
men-of-the-world before him; that he seemed to them quite
original, wildly eccentric, astonishingly gifted, and
convulsingly droll, Adams could see; but what more he was, even
Milnes hardly dared say. They could not believe his incredible
memory and knowledge of literature, classic, mediaeval, and
modern; his faculty of reciting a play of Sophocles or a play of
Shakespeare, forward or backward, from end to beginning; or
Dante, or Villon, or Victor Hugo. They knew not what to make of
his rhetorical recitation of his own unpublished ballads --
"Faustine"; the "Four Boards of the Coffin Lid"; the "Ballad of
Burdens" -- which he declaimed as though they were books of the
Iliad. It was singular that his most appreciative listener should
have been the author only of pretty verses like "We wandered by
the brook-side," and "She seemed to those that saw them meet";
and who never cared to write in any other tone; but Milnes took
everything into his sympathies, including Americans like young
Adams whose standards were stiffest of all, while Swinburne,
though millions of ages far from them, united them by his humor
even more than by his poetry. The story of his first day as a
member of Professor Stubbs's household was professionally clever
farce, if not high comedy, in a young man who could write a Greek
ode or a Provenal chanson as easily as an English quatrain.

Late at night when the symposium broke up, Stirling of Keir
wanted to take with him to his chamber a copy of "Queen
Rosamund," the only volume Swinburne had then published, which
was on the library table, and Adams offered to light him down
with his solitary bedroom candle. All the way, Stirling was
ejaculating explosions of wonder, until at length, at the foot of
the stairs and at the climax of his imagination, he paused, and
burst out: "He's a cross between the devil and the Duke of

To appreciate the full merit of this description, a judicious
critic should have known both, and Henry Adams knew only one --
at least in person -- but he understood that to a Scotchman the
likeness meant something quite portentous, beyond English
experience, supernatural, and what the French call moyenageux, or
mediaeval with a grotesque turn. That Stirling as well as Milnes
should regard Swinburne as a prodigy greatly comforted Adams, who
lost his balance of mind at first in trying to imagine that
Swinburne was a natural product of Oxford, as muffins and
pork-pies of London, at once the cause and effect of dyspepsia.
The idea that one has actually met a real genius dawns slowly on
a Boston mind, but it made entry at last.

Then came the sad reaction, not from Swinburne whose genius
never was in doubt, but from the Boston mind which, in its
uttermost flights, was never moyenageux. One felt the horror of
Longfellow and Emerson, the doubts of Lowell and the humor of
Holmes, at the wild Walpurgis-night of Swinburne's talk. What
could a shy young private secretary do about it? Perhaps, in his
good nature, Milnes thought that Swinburne might find a friend in
Stirling or Oliphant, but he could hardly have fancied Henry
Adams rousing in him even an interest. Adams could no more
interest Algernon Swinburne than he could interest Encke's comet.
To Swinburne he could be no more than a worm. The quality of
genius was an education almost ultimate, for one touched there
the limits of the human mind on that side; but one could only
receive; one had nothing to give -- nothing even to offer.

Swinburne tested him then and there by one of his favorite
tests -- Victor Hugo for to him the test of Victor Hugo was the
surest and quickest of standards. French poetry is at best a
severe exercise for foreigners; it requires extraordinary
knowledge of the language and rare refinement of ear to
appreciate even the recitation of French verse; but unless a poet
has both, he lacks something of poetry. Adams had neither. To the
end of his life he never listened to a French recitation with
pleasure, or felt a sense of majesty in French verse; but he did
not care to proclaim his weakness, and he tried to evade
Swinburne's vehement insistence by parading an affection for
Alfred de Musset. Swinburne would have none of it; de Musset was
unequal; he did not sustain himself on the wing.

Adams would have given a world or two, if he owned one, to
sustain himself on the wing like de Musset, or even like Hugo;
but his education as well as his ear was at fault, and he
succumbed. Swinburne tried him again on Walter Savage Landor. In
truth the test was the same, for Swinburne admired in Landor's
English the qualities that he felt in Hugo's French; and Adams's
failure was equally gross, for, when forced to despair, he had to
admit that both Hugo and Landor bored him. Nothing more was
needed. One who could feel neither Hugo nor Landor was lost.

The sentence was just and Adams never appealed from it. He knew
his inferiority in taste as he might know it in smell. Keenly
mortified by the dullness of his senses and instincts, he knew he
was no companion for Swinburne; probably he could be only an
annoyance; no number of centuries could ever educate him to
Swinburne's level, even in technical appreciation; yet he often
wondered whether there was nothing he had to offer that was worth
the poet's acceptance. Certainly such mild homage as the American
insect would have been only too happy to bring, had he known how,
was hardly worth the acceptance of any one. Only in France is the
attitude of prayer possible; in England it became absurd. Even
Monckton Milnes, who felt the splendors of Hugo and Landor, was
almost as helpless as an American private secretary in personal
contact with them. Ten years afterwards Adams met him at the
Geneva Conference, fresh from Paris, bubbling with delight at a
call he had made on Hugo: "I was shown into a large room," he
said, "with women and men seated in chairs against the walls, and
Hugo at one end throned. No one spoke. At last Hugo raised his
voice solemnly, and uttered the words: 'Quant a moi, je crois en
Dieu!' Silence followed. Then a woman responded as if in deep
meditation: 'Chose sublime! un Dieu qui croft en Dieu!"'

With the best of will, one could not do this in London; the
actors had not the instinct of the drama; and yet even a private
secretary was not wholly wanting in instinct. As soon as he
reached town he hurried to Pickering's for a copy of "Queen
Rosamund," and at that time, if Swinburne was not joking,
Pickering had sold seven copies. When the "Poems and Ballads"
came out, and met their great success and scandal, he sought one
of the first copies from Moxon. If he had sinned and doubted at
all, he wholly repented and did penance before "Atalanta in
Calydon," and would have offered Swinburne a solemn worship as
Milnes's female offered Hugo, if it would have pleased the poet.
Unfortunately it was worthless.

The three young men returned to London, and each went his own
way. Adams's interest in making friends was something desperate,
but "the London season," Milnes used to say, "is a season for
making acquaintances and losing friends"; there was no intimate
life. Of Swinburne he saw no more till Monckton Milnes summoned
his whole array of Frystonians to support him in presiding at the
dinner of the Authors' Fund, when Adams found himself seated next
to Swinburne, famous then, but no nearer. They never met again.
Oliphant he met oftener; all the world knew and loved him; but he
too disappeared in the way that all the world knows. Stirling of
Keir, after one or two efforts, passed also from Adams's vision
into Sir William Stirling-Maxwell. The only record of his
wonderful visit to Fryston may perhaps exist still in the
registers of the St. James's Club, for immediately afterwards
Milnes proposed Henry Adams for membership, and unless his memory
erred, the nomination was seconded by Tricoupi and endorsed by
Laurence Oliphant and Evelyn Ashley. The list was a little
singular for variety, but on the whole it suggested that the
private secretary was getting on.



ON Moran's promotion to be Secretary, Mr. Seward inquired
whether Minister Adams would like the place of Assistant
Secretary for his son. It was the first -- and last -- office
ever offered him, if indeed he could claim what was offered in
fact to his father. To them both, the change seemed useless. Any
young man could make some sort of Assistant Secretary; only one,
just at that moment, could make an Assistant Son. More than half
his duties were domestic; they sometimes required long absences;
they always required independence of the Government service. His
position was abnormal. The British Government by courtesy allowed
the son to go to Court as Attache, though he was never attached,
and after five or six years' toleration, the decision was
declared irregular. In the Legation, as private secretary, he was
liable to do Secretary's work. In society, when official, he was
attached to the Minister; when unofficial, he was a young man
without any position at all. As the years went on, he began to
find advantages in having no position at all except that of young
man. Gradually he aspired to become a gentleman; just a member of
society like the rest. The position was irregular; at that time
many positions were irregular; yet it lent itself to a sort of
irregular education that seemed to be the only sort of education
the young man was ever to get.

Such as it was, few young men had more. The spring and summer
of 1863 saw a great change in Secretary Seward's management of
foreign affairs. Under the stimulus of danger, he too got
education. He felt, at last, that his official representatives
abroad needed support. Officially he could give them nothing but
despatches, which were of no great value to any one; and at best
the mere weight of an office had little to do with the public.
Governments were made to deal with Governments, not with private
individuals or with the opinions of foreign society. In order to
affect European opinion, the weight of American opinion had to be
brought to bear personally, and had to be backed by the weight of
American interests. Mr. Seward set vigorously to work and sent
over every important American on whom he could lay his hands. All
came to the Legation more or less intimately, and Henry Adams had
a chance to see them all, bankers or bishops, who did their work
quietly and well, though, to the outsider, the work seemed wasted
and the "influential classes" more indurated with prejudice than
ever. The waste was only apparent; the work all told in the end,
and meanwhile it helped education.

Two or three of these gentlemen were sent over to aid the
Minister and to cooperate with him. The most interesting of these
was Thurlow Weed, who came to do what the private secretary
himself had attempted two years before, with boyish ignorance of
his own powers. Mr. Weed took charge of the press, and began, to
the amused astonishment of the secretaries, by making what the
Legation had learned to accept as the invariable mistake of every
amateur diplomat; he wrote letters to the London Times. Mistake
or not, Mr. Weed soon got into his hands the threads of
management, and did quietly and smoothly all that was to be done.
With his work the private secretary had no connection; it was he
that interested. Thurlow Weed was a complete American education
in himself. His mind was naturally strong and beautifully
balanced; his temper never seemed ruffled; his manners were
carefully perfect in the style of benevolent simplicity, the
tradition of Benjamin Franklin. He was the model of political
management and patient address; but the trait that excited
enthusiasm in a private secretary was his faculty of irresistibly
conquering confidence. Of all flowers in the garden of education,
confidence was becoming the rarest; but before Mr. Weed went
away, young Adams followed him about not only obediently -- for
obedience had long since become a blind instinct -- but rather
with sympathy and affection, much like a little dog.

The sympathy was not due only to Mr. Weed's skill of
management, although Adams never met another such master, or any
one who approached him; nor was the confidence due to any display
of professions, either moral or social, by Mr. Weed. The trait
that astounded and confounded cynicism was his apparent
unselfishness. Never, in any man who wielded such power, did
Adams meet anything like it. The effect of power and publicity on
all men is the aggravation of self, a sort of tumor that ends by
killing the victim's sympathies; a diseased appetite, like a
passion for drink or perverted tastes; one can scarcely use
expressions too strong to describe the violence of egotism it
stimulates; and Thurlow Weed was one of the exceptions; a rare
immune. He thought apparently not of himself, but of the person
he was talking with. He held himself naturally in the background.
He was not jealous. He grasped power, but not office. He
distributed offices by handfuls without caring to take them. He
had the instinct of empire: he gave, but he did not receive. This
rare superiority to the politicians he controlled, a trait that
private secretaries never met in the politicians themselves,
excited Adams's wonder and curiosity, but when he tried to get
behind it, and to educate himself from the stores of Mr. Weed's
experience, he found the study still more fascinating. Management
was an instinct with Mr. Weed; an object to be pursued for its
own sake, as one plays cards; but he appeared to play with men as
though they were only cards; he seemed incapable of feeling
himself one of them. He took them and played them for their
face-value; but once, when he had told, with his usual humor,
some stories of his political experience which were strong even
for the Albany lobby, the private secretary made bold to ask him
outright: "Then, Mr. Weed, do you think that no politician can be
trusted? " Mr. Weed hesitated for a moment; then said in his mild
manner: "I never advise a young man to begin by thinking so."

This lesson, at the time, translated itself to Adams in a moral
sense, as though Mr. Weed had said: "Youth needs illusions !" As
he grew older he rather thought that Mr. Weed looked on it as a
question of how the game should be played. Young men most needed
experience. They could not play well if they trusted to a general
rule. Every card had a relative value. Principles had better be
left aside; values were enough. Adams knew that he could never
learn to play politics in so masterly a fashion as this: his
education and his nervous system equally forbade it, although he
admired all the more the impersonal faculty of the political
master who could thus efface himself and his temper in the game.
He noticed that most of the greatest politicians in history had
seemed to regard men as counters. The lesson was the more
interesting because another famous New Yorker came over at the
same time who liked to discuss the same problem. Secretary Seward
sent William M. Evarts to London as law counsel, and Henry began
an acquaintance with Mr. Evarts that soon became intimate. Evarts
was as individual as Weed was impersonal; like most men, he cared
little for the game, or how it was played, and much for the
stakes, but he played it in a large and liberal way, like Daniel
Webster, "a great advocate employed in politics." Evarts was also
an economist of morals, but with him the question was rather how
much morality one could afford. "The world can absorb only doses
of truth," he said; "too much would kill it." One sought
education in order to adjust the dose.

The teachings of Weed and Evarts were practical, and the
private secretary's life turned on their value. England's power
of absorbing truth was small. Englishmen, such as Palmerston,
Russell, Bethell, and the society represented by the Times and
Morning Post, as well as the Tories represented by Disraeli, Lord
Robert Cecil, and the Standard, offered a study in education that
sickened a young student with anxiety. He had begun -- contrary
to Mr. Weed's advice -- by taking their bad faith for granted.
Was he wrong? To settle this point became the main object of the
diplomatic education so laboriously pursued, at a cost already
stupendous, and promising to become ruinous. Life changed front,
according as one thought one's self dealing with honest men or
with rogues.

Thus far, the private secretary felt officially sure of
dishonesty. The reasons that satisfied him had not altogether
satisfied his father, and of course his father's doubts gravely
shook his own convictions, but, in practice, if only for safety,
the Legation put little or no confidence in Ministers, and there
the private secretary's diplomatic education began. The
recognition of belligerency, the management of the Declaration of
Paris, the Trent Affair, all strengthened the belief that Lord
Russell had started in May, 1861, with the assumption that the
Confederacy was established; every step he had taken proved his
persistence in the same idea; he never would consent to put
obstacles in the way of recognition; and he was waiting only for
the proper moment to interpose. All these points seemed so fixed
-- so self-evident -- that no one in the Legation would have
doubted or even discussed them except that Lord Russell
obstinately denied the whole charge, and persisted in assuring

Minister Adams of his honest and impartial neutrality.
With the insolence of youth and zeal, Henry Adams jumped at once
to the conclusion that Earl Russell -- like other statesmen --
lied; and, although the Minister thought differently, he had to
act as though Russell were false. Month by month the
demonstration followed its mathematical stages; one of the most
perfect educational courses in politics and diplomacy that a
young man ever had a chance to pursue. The most costly tutors in
the world were provided for him at public expense -- Lord
Palmerston, Lord Russell, Lord Westbury, Lord Selborne, Mr.
Gladstone, Lord Granville, and their associates, paid by the
British Government; William H. Seward, Charles Francis Adams,
William Maxwell Evarts, Thurlow Weed, and other considerable
professors employed by the American Government; but there was
only one student to profit by this immense staff of teachers. The
private secretary alone sought education.

To the end of his life he labored over the lessons then taught.
Never was demonstration more tangled. Hegel's metaphysical
doctrine of the identity of opposites was simpler and easier to
understand. Yet the stages of demonstration were clear. They
began in June, 1862, after the escape of one rebel cruiser, by
the remonstrances of the Minister against the escape of "No.
290," which was imminent. Lord Russell declined to act on the
evidence. New evidence was sent in every few days, and with it,
on July 24, was included Collier's legal opinion: "It appears
difficult to make out a stronger case of infringement of the
Foreign Enlistment Act, which, if not enforced on this occasion,
is little better than a dead letter." Such language implied
almost a charge of collusion with the rebel agents -- an intent
to aid the Confederacy. In spite of the warning, Earl Russell let
the ship, four days afterwards, escape.

Young Adams had nothing to do with law; that was business of
his betters. His opinion of law hung on his opinion of lawyers.
In spite of Thurlow Weed's advice, could one afford to trust
human nature in politics ? History said not. Sir Robert Collier
seemed to hold that Law agreed with History. For education the
point was vital. If one could not trust a dozen of the most
respected private characters in the world, composing the Queen's
Ministry, one could trust no mortal man.

Lord Russell felt the force of this inference, and undertook to
disprove it. His effort lasted till his death. At first he
excused himself by throwing the blame on the law officers. This
was a politician's practice, and the lawyers overruled it. Then
he pleaded guilty to criminal negligence, and said in his
"Recollections":-- "I assent entirely to the opinion of the Lord
Chief Justice of England that the Alabama ought to have been
detained during the four days I was waiting for the opinion of
the law officers. But I think that the fault was not that of the
commissioners of customs, it was my fault as Secretary of State
for Foreign Affairs." This concession brought all parties on
common ground. Of course it was his fault! The true issue lay not
in the question of his fault, but of his intent. To a young man,
getting an education in politics, there could be no sense in
history unless a constant course of faults implied a constant

For his father the question was not so abstruse; it was a
practical matter of business to be handled as Weed or Evarts
handled their bargains and jobs. Minister Adams held the
convenient belief that, in the main, Russell was true, and the
theory answered his purposes so well that he died still holding
it. His son was seeking education, and wanted to know whether he
could, in politics, risk trusting any one. Unfortunately no one
could then decide; no one knew the facts. Minister Adams died
without knowing them. Henry Adams was an older man than his
father in 1862, before he learned a part of them. The most
curious fact, even then, was that Russell believed in his own
good faith and that Argyll believed in it also.

Argyll betrayed a taste for throwing the blame on Bethell, Lord
Westbury, then Lord Chancellor, but this escape helped Adams not
at all. On the contrary, it complicated the case of Russell. In
England, one half of society enjoyed throwing stones at Lord
Palmerston, while the other half delighted in flinging mud at
Earl Russell, but every one of every party united in pelting
Westbury with every missile at hand. The private secretary had no
doubts about him, for he never professed to be moral. He was the
head and heart of the whole rebel contention, and his opinions on
neutrality were as clear as they were on morality. The private
secretary had nothing to do with him, and regretted it, for Lord
Westbury's wit and wisdom were great; but as far as his authority
went he affirmed the law that in politics no man should be

Russell alone insisted on his honesty of intention and
persuaded both the Duke and the Minister to believe him. Every
one in the Legation accepted his assurances as the only
assertions they could venture to trust. They knew he expected the
rebels to win in the end, but they believed he would not actively
interpose to decide it. On that -- on nothing else -- they rested
their frail hopes of remaining a day longer in England. Minister
Adams remained six years longer in England; then returned to
America to lead a busy life till he died in 1886 still holding
the same faith in Earl Russell, who had died in 1878. In 1889,
Spencer Walpole published the official life of Earl Russell, and
told a part of the story which had never been known to the
Minister and which astounded his son, who burned with curiosity
to know what his father would have said of it.

The story was this: The Alabama escaped, by Russell's confessed
negligence, on July 28, 1862. In America the Union armies had
suffered great disasters before Richmond and at the second Bull
Run, August 29-30, followed by Lee's invasion of Maryland,
September 7, the news of which, arriving in England on September
14, roused the natural idea that the crisis was at hand. The next
news was expected by the Confederates to announce the fall of
Washington or Baltimore. Palmerston instantly, September 14,
wrote to Russell: "If this should happen, would it not be time
for us to consider whether in such a state of things England and
France might not address the contending parties and recommend an
arrangement on the basis of separation?"

This letter, quite in the line of Palmerston's supposed
opinions, would have surprised no one, if it had been
communicated to the Legation; and indeed, if Lee had captured
Washington, no one could have blamed Palmerston for offering
intervention. Not Palmerston's letter but Russell's reply,
merited the painful attention of a young man seeking a moral
standard for judging politicians: --

GOTHA, September, 17, 1862


Whether the Federal army is destroyed or not, it is clear
that it is driven back to Washington and has made no progress
in subduing the insurgent States. Such being the case, I agree
with you that the time is come for offering mediation to the
United States Government with a view to the recognition of the
independence of the Confederates. I agree further that in case
of failure, we ought ourselves to recognize the Southern States
as an independent State. For the purpose of taking so important
a step, I think we must have a meeting of the Cabinet. The 23d
or 30th would suit me for the meeting.

We ought then, if we agree on such a step, to propose it
first to France, and then on the part of England and France, to
Russia and other powers, as a measure decided upon by us.

We ought to make ourselves safe in Canada, not by sending
more troops there, but by concentrating those we have in a few
defensible posts before the winter sets in. . . .

Here, then, appeared in its fullest force, the practical
difficulty in education which a mere student could never
overcome; a difficulty not in theory, or knowledge, or even want
of experience, but in the sheer chaos of human nature. Lord
Russell's course had been consistent from the first, and had all
the look of rigid determination to recognize the Southern
Confederacy "with a view" to breaking up the Union. His letter of
September 17 hung directly on his encouragement of the Alabama
and his protection of the rebel navy; while the whole of his plan
had its root in the Proclamation of Belligerency, May 13, 1861.
The policy had every look of persistent forethought, but it took
for granted the deliberate dishonesty of three famous men:
Palmerston, Russell, and Gladstone. This dishonesty, as concerned
Russell, was denied by Russell himself, and disbelieved by
Argyll, Forster, and most of America's friends in England, as
well as by Minister Adams. What the Minister would have thought
had he seen this letter of September 17, his son would have
greatly liked to know, but he would have liked still more to know
what the Minister would have thought of Palmerston's answer,
dated September 23: --

. . . It is evident that a great conflict is taking place to
the northwest of Washington, and its issue must have a great
effect on the state of affairs. If the Federals sustain a great
defeat, they may be at once ready for mediation, and the iron
should be struck while it is hot. If, on the other hand, they
should have the best of it, we may wait a while and see what
may follow. . .

The roles were reversed. Russell wrote what was expected from
Palmerston, or even more violently; while Palmerston wrote what
was expected from Russell, or even more temperately. The private
secretary's view had been altogether wrong, which would not have
much surprised even him, but he would have been greatly
astonished to learn that the most confidential associates of
these men knew little more about their intentions than was known
in the Legation. The most trusted member of the Cabinet was Lord
Granville, and to him Russell next wrote. Granville replied at
once decidedly opposing recognition of the Confederacy, and
Russell sent the reply to Palmerston, who returned it October 2,
with the mere suggestion of waiting for further news from
America. At the same time Granville wrote to another member of
the Cabinet, Lord Stanley of Alderley, a letter published forty
years afterwards in Granville's "Life" (I, 442) to the private
secretary altogether the most curious and instructive relic of
the whole lesson in politics:

. . . I have written to Johnny my reasons for thinking it
decidedly premature. I, however, suspect you will settle to do
so. Pam., Johnny, and Gladstone would be in favor of it, and
probably Newcastle. I do not know about the others. It appears
to me a great mistake. . . .

Out of a Cabinet of a dozen members, Granville, the best
informed of them all, could pick only three who would favor
recognition. Even a private secretary thought he knew as much as
this, or more. Ignorance was not confined to the young and
insignificant, nor were they the only victims of blindness.
Granville's letter made only one point clear. He knew of no fixed
policy or conspiracy. If any existed, it was confined to
Palmerston, Russell, Gladstone, and perhaps Newcastle. In truth,
the Legation knew, then, all that was to be known, and the true
fault of education was to suspect too much.

By that time, October 3, news of Antietam and of Lee's retreat
into Virginia had reached London. The Emancipation Proclamation
arrived. Had the private secretary known all that Granville or
Palmerston knew, he would surely have thought the danger past, at
least for a time, and any man of common sense would have told him
to stop worrying over phantoms. This healthy lesson would have
been worth much for practical education, but it was quite upset
by the sudden rush of a new actor upon the stage with a rhapsody
that made Russell seem sane, and all education superfluous.

This new actor, as every one knows, was William Ewart
Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. If, in the domain of
the world's politics, one point was fixed, one value ascertained,
one element serious, it was the British Exchequer; and if one man
lived who could be certainly counted as sane by overwhelming
interest, it was the man who had in charge the finances of
England. If education had the smallest value, it should have
shown its force in Gladstone, who was educated beyond all record
of English training. From him, if from no one else, the poor
student could safely learn.

Here is what he learned! Palmerston notified Gladstone,
September 24, of the proposed intervention: "If I am not
mistaken, you would be inclined to approve such a course."
Gladstone replied the next day: "He was glad to learn what the
Prime Minister had told him; and for two reasons especially he
desired that the proceedings should be prompt: the first was the
rapid progress of the Southern arms and the extension of the area
of Southern feeling; the second was the risk of violent
impatience in the cotton-towns of Lancashire such as would
prejudice the dignity and disinterestedness of the proffered

Had the puzzled student seen this letter, he must have
concluded from it that the best educated statesman England ever
produced did not know what he was talking about, an assumption
which all the world would think quite inadmissible from a private
secretary -- but this was a trifle. Gladstone having thus
arranged, with Palmerston and Russell, for intervention in the
American war, reflected on the subject for a fortnight from
September 25 to October 7, when he was to speak on the occasion
of a great dinner at Newcastle. He decided to announce the
Government's policy with all the force his personal and official
authority could give it. This decision was no sudden impulse; it
was the result of deep reflection pursued to the last moment. On
the morning of October 7, he entered in his diary: "Reflected
further on what I should say about Lancashire and America, for
both these subjects are critical." That evening at dinner, as the
mature fruit of his long study, he deliberately pronounced the
famous phrase:--

. . . We know quite well that the people of the Northern States
have not yet drunk of the cup -- they are still trying to hold
it far from their lips -- which all the rest of the world see
they nevertheless must drink of. We may have our own opinions
about slavery; we may be for or against the South; but there is
no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South
have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and
they have made, what is more than either, they have made a
nation. . . .

Looking back, forty years afterwards, on this episode, one
asked one's self painfully whet sort of a lesson a young man
should have drawn, for the purposes of his education, from this
world-famous teaching of a very great master. In the heat of
passion at the moment, one drew some harsh moral conclusions:
Were they incorrect? Posed bluntly as rules of conduct, they led
to the worst possible practices. As morals, one could detect no
shade of difference between Gladstone and Napoleon except to the
advantage of Napoleon. The private secretary saw none; he
accepted the teacher in that sense; he took his lesson of
political morality as learned, his notice to quit as duly served,
and supposed his education to be finished.

Every one thought so, and the whole City was in a turmoil. Any
intelligent education ought to end when it is complete. One would
then feel fewer hesitations and would handle a surer world. The
old-fashioned logical drama required unity and sense; the actual
drama is a pointless puzzle, without even an intrigue. When the
curtain fell on Gladstone's speech, any student had the right to
suppose the drama ended; none could have affirmed that it was
about to begin; that one's painful lesson was thrown away.

Even after forty years, most people would refuse to believe it;
they would still insist that Gladstone, Russell, and Palmerston
were true villains of melodrama. The evidence against Gladstone
in special seemed overwhelming. The word "must" can never be used
by a responsible Minister of one Government towards another, as
Gladstone used it. No one knew so well as he that he and his own
officials and friends at Liverpool were alone "making" a rebel
navy, and that Jefferson Davis had next to nothing to do with it.
As Chancellor of the Exchequer he was the Minister most
interested in knowing that Palmerston, Russell, and himself were
banded together by mutual pledge to make the Confederacy a nation
the next week, and that the Southern leaders had as yet no hope
of "making a nation" but in them. Such thoughts occurred to every
one at the moment and time only added to their force. Never in
the history of political turpitude had any brigand of modern
civilization offered a worse example. The proof of it was that it
outraged even Palmerston, who immediately put up Sir George
Cornewall Lewis to repudiate the Chancellor of the Exchequer,
against whom he turned his press at the same time. Palmerston had
no notion of letting his hand be forced by Gladstone.

Russell did nothing of the kind; if he agreed with Palmerston,
he followed Gladstone. Although he had just created a new evangel
of non-intervention for Italy, and preached it like an apostle,
he preached the gospel of intervention in America as though he
were a mouthpiece of the Congress of Vienna. On October 13, he
issued his call for the Cabinet to meet, on October 23, for
discussion of the "duty of Europe to ask both parties, in the
most friendly and conciliatory terms, to agree to a suspension of
arms." Meanwhile Minister Adams, deeply perturbed and profoundly
anxious, would betray no sign of alarm, and purposely delayed to
ask explanation. The howl of anger against Gladstone became
louder every day, for every one knew that the Cabinet was called
for October 23, and then could not fail to decide its policy
about the United States. Lord Lyons put off his departure for
America till October 25 expressly to share in the conclusions to
be discussed on October 23. When Minister Adams at last requested
an interview, Russell named October 23 as the day. To the last
moment every act of Russell showed that, in his mind, the
intervention was still in doubt.

When Minister Adams, at the interview, suggested that an
explanation was due him, he watched Russell with natural
interest, and reported thus:

. . . His lordship took my allusion at once, though not
without a slight indication of embarrassment. He said that Mr.
Gladstone had been evidently much misunderstood. I must have
seen in the newspapers the letters which contained his later
explanations. That he had certain opinions in regard to the
nature of the struggle in America, as on all public questions,
just as other Englishmen had, was natural enough. And it was
the fashion here for public men to express such as they held in
their public addresses. Of course it was not for him to disavow
anything on the part of Mr. Gladstone; but he had no idea that
in saying what he had, there was a serious intention to justify
any of the inferences that had been drawn from it of a
disposition in the Government now to adopt a new policy. . . .

A student trying to learn the processes of politics in a free
government could not but ponder long on the moral to be drawn
from this "explanation" of Mr. Gladstone by Earl Russell. The
point set for study as the first condition of political life, was
whether any politician could be believed or trusted. The question
which a private secretary asked himself, in copying this despatch
of October 24, 1862, was whether his father believed, or should
believe, one word of Lord Russell's "embarrassment." The "truth"
was not known for thirty years, but when published, seemed to be
the reverse of Earl Russell's statement. Mr. Gladstone's speech
had been drawn out by Russell's own policy of intervention and
had no sense except to declare the "disposition in the Government
now to adopt" that new policy. Earl Russell never disavowed
Gladstone, although Lord Palmerston and Sir George Cornewall
Lewis instantly did so. As far as the curious student could
penetrate the mystery, Gladstone exactly expressed Earl Russell's

As political education, this lesson was to be crucial; it would
decide the law of life. All these gentlemen were superlatively
honorable; if one could not believe them, Truth in politics might
be ignored as a delusion. Therefore the student felt compelled to
reach some sort of idea that should serve to bring the case
within a general law. Minister Adams felt the same compulsion. He
bluntly told Russell that while he was "willing to acquit"
Gladstone of "any deliberate intention to bring on the worst
effects," he was bound to say that Gladstone was doing it quite
as certainly as if he had one; and to this charge, which struck
more sharply at Russell's secret policy than at Gladstone's
public defence of it, Russell replied as well as he could: --

. . . His lordship intimated as guardedly as possible that Lord
Palmerston and other members of the Government regretted the
speech, and`Mr. Gladstone himself was not disinclined to
correct, as far as he could, the misinterpretation which had
been made of it. It was still their intention to adhere to the
rule of perfect neutrality in the struggle, and to let it come
to its natural end without the smallest interference, direct or
otherwise. But he could not say what circumstances might happen
from month to month in the future. I observed that the policy
he mentioned was satisfactory to us, and asked if I was to
understand him as saying that no change of it was now proposed.
To which he gave his assent. . . .

Minister Adams never knew more. He retained his belief that
Russell could be trusted, but that Palmerston could not. This was
the diplomatic tradition, especially held by the Russian
diplomats. Possibly it was sound, but it helped in no way the
education of a private secretary. The cat's-paw theory offered no
safer clue, than the frank, old-fashioned, honest theory of
villainy. Neither the one nor the other was reasonable.

No one ever told the Minister that Earl Russell, only a few
hours before, had asked the Cabinet to intervene, and that the
Cabinet had refused. The Minister was led to believe that the
Cabinet meeting was not held, and that its decision was informal.
Russell's biographer said that, "with this memorandum [of
Russell's, dated October 13] the Cabinet assembled from all parts
of the country on October 23; but . . . members of the Cabinet
doubted the policy of moving, or moving at that time." The Duke
of Newcastle and Sir George Grey joined Granville in opposition.
As far as known, Russell and Gladstone stood alone.
"Considerations such as these prevented the matter being pursued
any further."

Still no one has distinctly said that this decision was formal;
perhaps the unanimity of opposition made the formal Cabinet
unnecessary; but it is certain that, within an hour or two before
or after this decision, "his lordship said [to the United States
Minister] that the policy of the Government was to adhere to a
strict neutrality and to leave this struggle to settle itself."
When Mr. Adams, not satisfied even with this positive assurance,
pressed for a categorical answer: "I asked him if I was to
understand that policy as not now to be changed; he said: Yes!"

John Morley's comment on this matter, in the "Life of
Gladstone," forty years afterwards, would have interested the
Minister, as well as his private secretary: "If this relation be
accurate," said Morley of a relation officially published at the
time, and never questioned, "then the Foreign Secretary did not
construe strict neutrality as excluding what diplomatists call
good offices." For a vital lesson in politics, Earl Russell's
construction of neutrality mattered little to the student, who
asked only Russell's intent, and cared only to know whether his
construction had any other object than to deceive the Minister.

In the grave one can afford to be lavish of charity, and
possibly Earl Russell may have been honestly glad to reassure his
personal friend Mr. Adams; but to one who is still in the world
even if not of it, doubts are as plenty as days. Earl Russell
totally deceived the private secretary, whatever he may have done
to the Minister. The policy of abstention was not settled on
October 23. Only the next day, October 24, Gladstone circulated a
rejoinder to G. C. Lewis, insisting on the duty of England,
France, and Russia to intervene by representing, "with moral
authority and force, the opinion of the civilized world upon the
conditions of the case." Nothing had been decided. By some means,
scarcely accidental, the French Emperor was led to think that his
influence might turn the scale, and only ten days after Russell's
categorical "Yes!" Napoleon officially invited him to say "No!"
He was more than ready to do so. Another Cabinet meeting was
called for November 11, and this time Gladstone himself reports
the debate:

Nov. 11. We have had our Cabinet to-day and meet again
tomorrow. I am afraid we shall do little or nothing in the
business of America. But I will send you definite intelligence.
Both Lords Palmerston and Russell are right.

Nov. 12. The United States affair has ended and not well. Lord
Russell rather turned tail. He gave way without resolutely
fighting out his battle. However, though we decline for the
moment, the answer is put upon grounds and in terms which leave
the matter very open for the future.

Nov. 13. I think the French will make our answer about America
public; at least it is very possible. But I hope they may not
take it as a positive refusal, or at any rate that they may
themselves act in the matter. It will be clear that we concur
with them, that the war should cease. Palmerston gave to
Russell's proposal a feeble and half-hearted support.

Forty years afterwards, when every one except himself, who
looked on at this scene, was dead, the private secretary of 1862
read these lines with stupor, and hurried to discuss them with
John Hay, who was more astounded than himself. All the world had
been at cross-purposes, had misunderstood themselves and the
situation, had followed wrong paths, drawn wrong conclusions, had
known none of the facts. One would have done better to draw no
conclusions at all. One's diplomatic education was a long

These were the terms of this singular problem as they presented
themselves to the student of diplomacy in 1862: Palmerston, on
September 14, under the impression that the President was about
to be driven from Washington and the Army of the Potomac
dispersed, suggested to Russell that in such a case, intervention
might be feasible. Russell instantly answered that, in any case,
he wanted to intervene and should call a Cabinet for the purpose.
Palmerston hesitated; Russell insisted; Granville protested.
Meanwhile the rebel army was defeated at Antietam, September 17,
and driven out of Maryland. Then Gladstone, October 7, tried to
force Palmerston's hand by treating the intervention as a fait
accompli. Russell assented, but Palmerston put up Sir George
Cornewall Lewis to contradict Gladstone and treated him sharply
in the press, at the very moment when Russell was calling a
Cabinet to make Gladstone's words good. On October 23, Russell
assured Adams that no change in policy was now proposed. On the
same day he had proposed it, and was voted down. Instantly
Napoleon III appeared as the ally of Russell and Gladstone with a
proposition which had no sense except as a bribe to Palmerston to
replace America, from pole to pole, in her old dependence on
Europe, and to replace England in her old sovereignty of the
seas, if Palmerston would support France in Mexico. The young
student of diplomacy, knowing Palmerston, must have taken for
granted that Palmerston inspired this motion and would support
it; knowing Russell and his Whig antecedents, he would conceive
that Russell must oppose it; knowing Gladstone and his lofty
principles, he would not doubt that Gladstone violently denounced
the scheme. If education was worth a straw, this was the only
arrangement of persons that a trained student would imagine
possible, and it was the arrangement actually assumed by nine men
out of ten, as history. In truth, each valuation was false.
Palmerston never showed favor to the scheme and gave it only "a
feeble and half-hearted support." Russell gave way without
resolutely fighting out "his battle." The only resolute,
vehement, conscientious champion of Russell, Napoleon, and
Jefferson Davis was Gladstone.

Other people could afford to laugh at a young man's blunders,
but to him the best part of life was thrown away if he learned
such a lesson wrong. Henry James had not yet taught the world to
read a volume for the pleasure of seeing the lights of his
burning-glass turned on alternate sides of the same figure.
Psychological study was still simple, and at worst -- or at best
-- English character was never subtile. Surely no one would
believe that complexity was the trait that confused the student
of Palmerston, Russell, and Gladstone. Under a very strong light
human nature will always appear complex and full of
contradictions, but the British statesman would appear, on the
whole, among the least complex of men.

Complex these gentlemen were not. Disraeli alone might, by
contrast, be called complex, but Palmerston, Russell, and
Gladstone deceived only by their simplicity. Russell was the most
interesting to a young man because his conduct seemed most
statesmanlike. Every act of Russell, from April, 1861, to
November, 1862, showed the clearest determination to break up the
Union. The only point in Russell's character about which the
student thought no doubt to be possible was its want of good
faith. It was thoroughly dishonest, but strong. Habitually
Russell said one thing and did another. He seemed unconscious of
his own contradictions even when his opponents pointed them out,
as they were much in the habit of doing, in the strongest
language. As the student watched him deal with the Civil War in
America, Russell alone showed persistence, even obstinacy, in a
definite determination, which he supported, as was necessary, by
the usual definite falsehoods. The young man did not complain of
the falsehoods; on the contrary, he was vain of his own insight
in detecting them; but he was wholly upset by the idea that
Russell should think himself true.

Young Adams thought Earl Russell a statesman of the old school,
clear about his objects and unscrupulous in his methods --
dishonest but strong. Russell ardently asserted that he had no
objects, and that though he might be weak he was above all else
honest. Minister Adams leaned to Russell personally and thought
him true, but officially, in practice, treated him as false.
Punch, before 1862, commonly drew Russell as a schoolboy telling
lies, and afterwards as prematurely senile, at seventy. Education
stopped there. No one, either in or out of England, ever offered
a rational explanation of Earl Russell.

Palmerston was simple -- so simple as to mislead the student
altogether -- but scarcely more consistent. The world thought him
positive, decided, reckless; the record proved him to be
cautious, careful, vacillating. Minister Adams took him for
pugnacious and quarrelsome; the "Lives" of Russell, Gladstone,
and Granville show him to have been good-tempered, conciliatory,
avoiding quarrels. He surprised the Minister by refusing to
pursue his attack on General Butler. He tried to check Russell.
He scolded Gladstone. He discouraged Napoleon. Except Disraeli
none of the English statesmen were so cautious as he in talking
of America. Palmerston told no falsehoods; made no professions;
concealed no opinions; was detected in no double-dealing. The
most mortifying failure in Henry Adams's long education was that,
after forty years of confirmed dislike, distrust, and detraction
of Lord Palmerston, he was obliged at last to admit himself in
error, and to consent in spirit -- for by that time he was nearly
as dead as any of them -- to beg his pardon.

Gladstone was quite another story, but with him a student's
difficulties were less because they were shared by all the world
including Gladstone himself. He was the sum of contradictions.
The highest education could reach, in this analysis, only a
reduction to the absurd, but no absurdity that a young man could
reach in 1862 would have approached the level that Mr. Gladstone
admitted, avowed, proclaimed, in his confessions of 1896, which
brought all reason and all hope of education to a still-stand: --

I have yet to record an undoubted error, the most singular and
palpable, I may add the least excusable of them all, especially
since it was committed so late as in the year 1862 when I had
outlived half a century . . . I declared in the heat of the
American struggle that Jefferson Davis had made a nation. . . .
Strange to say, this declaration, most unwarrantable to be made
by a Minister of the Crown with no authority other than his
own, was not due to any feeling of partisanship for the South
or hostility to the North. . . . I really, though most
strangely, believed that it was an act of friendliness to all
America to recognize that the struggle was virtually at an end.
. . . That my opinion was founded upon a false estimate of the
facts was the very least part of my fault. I did not perceive
the gross impropriety of such an utterance from a Cabinet
Minister of a power allied in blood and language, and bound to
loyal neutrality; the case being further exaggerated by the
fact that we were already, so to speak, under indictment before
the world for not (as was alleged) having strictly enforced the
laws of neutrality in the matter of the cruisers. My offence
was indeed only a mistake, but one of incredible grossness, and
with such consequences of offence and alarm attached to it,
that my failing to perceive them justly exposed me to very
severe blame. It illustrates vividly that incapacity which my
mind so long retained, and perhaps still exhibits, an
incapacity of viewing subjects all round. . . .

Long and patiently -- more than patiently -- sympathetically,
did the private secretary, forty years afterwards in the twilight
of a life of study, read and re-read and reflect upon this
confession. Then, it seemed, he had seen nothing correctly at the
time. His whole theory of conspiracy -- of policy -- of logic and
connection in the affairs of man, resolved itself into
"incredible grossness." He felt no rancor, for he had won the
game; he forgave, since he must admit, the "incapacity of viewing
subjects all round" which had so nearly cost him life and
fortune; he was willing even to believe. He noted, without
irritation, that Mr. Gladstone, in his confession, had not
alluded to the understanding between Russell, Palmerston, and
himself; had even wholly left out his most "incredible" act, his
ardent support of Napoleon's policy, a policy which even
Palmerston and Russell had supported feebly, with only half a
heart. All this was indifferent. Granting, in spite of evidence,
that Gladstone had no set plan of breaking up the Union; that he
was party to no conspiracy; that he saw none of the results of
his acts which were clear to every one else; granting in short
what the English themselves seemed at last to conclude -- that
Gladstone was not quite sane; that Russell was verging on
senility; and that Palmerston had lost his nerve -- what sort of
education should have been the result of it? How should it have
affected one's future opinions and acts?

Politics cannot stop to study psychology. Its methods are
rough; its judgments rougher still. All this knowledge would not
have affected either the Minister or his son in 1862. The sum of
the individuals would still have seemed, to the young man, one
individual -- a single will or intention -- bent on breaking up
the Union "as a diminution of a dangerous power." The Minister
would still have found his interest in thinking Russell friendly
and Palmerston hostile. The individual would still have been
identical with the mass. The problem would have been the same;
the answer equally obscure. Every student would, like the private
secretary, answer for himself alone.



MINISTER ADAMS troubled himself little about what he did not
see of an enemy. His son, a nervous animal, made life a terror by
seeing too much. Minister Adams played his hand as it came, and
seldom credited his opponents with greater intelligence than his
own. Earl Russell suited him; perhaps a certain personal sympathy
united them; and indeed Henry Adams never saw Russell without
being amused by his droll likeness to John Quincy Adams. Apart
from this shadowy personal relation, no doubt the Minister was
diplomatically right; he had nothing to lose and everything to
gain by making a friend of the Foreign Secretary, and whether
Russell were true or false mattered less, because, in either
case, the American Legation could act only as though he were
false. Had the Minister known Russell's determined effort to
betray and ruin him in October, 1862, he could have scarcely used
stronger expressions than he did in 1863. Russell must have been
greatly annoyed by Sir Robert Collier's hint of collusion with
the rebel agents in the Alabama Case, but he hardened himself to
hear the same innuendo repeated in nearly every note from the
Legation. As time went on, Russell was compelled, though slowly,
to treat the American Minister as serious. He admitted nothing so
unwillingly, for the nullity or fatuity of the Washington
Government was his idee fixe; but after the failure of his last
effort for joint intervention on November 12, 1862, only one week
elapsed before he received a note from Minister Adams repeating
his charges about the Alabama, and asking in very plain language
for redress. Perhaps Russell's mind was naturally slow to
understand the force of sudden attack, or perhaps age had

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