The Education of Henry Adams By Henry Adams Summary and Analysis Chapter IX - Foes or Friends

Summary

As the war continues back home, Henry struggles with London's social life. Despite disappointments, he does make the acquaintance of a number of talented writers, most notably Algernon Swinburne. More important is the developing tension between the Legation and British political leaders who favor the South and come close to diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy. One practical crisis involves two warships (the Florida and the Alabama) that English shipbuilders have produced under contract to Confederacy. Another crisis is primarily diplomatic but even more dangerous as the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, attempts to turn an incident at the surrender of New Orleans into an international issue.

Analysis

Although he recognizes the seriousness of his father's role in keeping England from recognizing the Confederacy, Henry is a twenty-four-year-old bachelor whose social life is important to him. He feels that he is suffering and, at one point (see Chapter VIII in the Critical Commentaries), makes the ludicrous, self-indulgent observation that his friends in the Union army are "enjoying a much pleasanter life" than he is. Still somewhat superficial and biased, Henry resents the cold shoulder that he receives from the English aristocracy, especially since Henry, frankly, thinks of himself as an aristocrat. On the positive side, English liberals and radical reformers, most of whom abhor slavery, are more congenial. Of special interest to a fledgling writer, Henry becomes acquainted with such talented authors as Robert Browning, John Stuart Mill, Charles Dickens, and Oliver Goldsmith. This year, 1862, he is especially impressed with the young poet Algernon Swinburne. Only a year older than Henry, Swinburne dazzles Adams with his knowledge of literature and his ease of perception; he is a contemporary who is "quite original, wildly eccentric, astonishingly gifted and convulsingly droll." Henry is sincerely humbled.

Of greater concern is his father's struggle to keep the English from diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy. Charles Francis Adams must demonstrate just enough toughness to keep the English in check without going too far and starting another war. Tensions mount when it is discovered that the Confederates have had two cruisers built in England, setting sail as if they were British ships and then being armed from another ship and hoisting the rebel colors at sea.

Even more dangerous is the attitude of the Prime Minister, John Henry Temple, Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865; Prime Minister from 1855-1858 and from 1859-1865). Palmerston appears to be looking for a fight, perhaps hoping for an excuse to recognize the Confederacy. He latches on to an incident at the surrender of New Orleans. There, victorious Union General Benjamin Franklin Butler ordered that any woman who insulted a Yankee soldier should be arrested as a common prostitute. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, angrily eager to support the honor of Southern womanhood, decreed that, if Butler were ever captured, the General should be hanged as a felon. Recognizing a popular cause, Palmerston rants to the British House of Commons that the Union has disgraced the Anglo-Saxon race! Henry's father calmly stands up to Palmerston, refusing to receive further communication from the Prime Minister except through the apparently levelheaded British Foreign Secretary, Lord Russell. The implication is that diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy would mean war between the United States and Great Britain. Palmerston backs down, but the problems have just begun.

Glossary

remonstrances protests, complaints, objections.

harrowing causing mental distress to; tormenting; vexing.

enfant terrible (French) an unmanageable, mischievous child.

bêtise (French) blunder.

dyspepsia indigestion.

Quant à moi, je crois en Dieu! (French) As for me, I believe in God!

Chose sublime! un Dieu qui croit en Dieu! What a sublime thing! a God who believes in God!

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