Summary and Analysis
Henry and his father arrive at Liverpool on May 13, 1861, the same day that the British Ministry issues a "Proclamation of Neutrality" regarding the war in the United States. Through the editor of the New York Times, and without the knowledge of his father, Henry has arranged to be the newspaper's London correspondent. Between June 7, 1861, and January 4, 1862, Henry publishes thirty-two unsigned letters in the daily.
The atmosphere in England startles both Henry and his father. They had expected the English to oppose slavery and support the North; on the contrary, due primarily to financial interests, there is significant support for the Confederacy. On December 16, a supposedly anonymous letter to the Boston Daily Courier is identified as Henry's, resulting in considerable difficulty for the young writer.
Henry has no business agreeing to serve as London correspondent for the New York Times. As Ernest Samuels points out in The Young Henry Adams, the State Department clearly prohibits "all communications with the press." Henry might argue that he is not officially an employee of the State Department, serving as a private secretary to his father; but he knows that he could put his father in an awkward position and that neither his father nor hostile critics would accept his excuse. Other than contacts at the newspaper, only his brother Charles is in on the secret.
The historical situation is explosive. Instead of finding an England that supports the North and considers the South to be in rebellion, Charles Francis faces avowed neutrality, which puts the South on equal footing. A blockade of Confederate ports concerns cotton processors in England who fear that supplies may be extensively interrupted, causing serious economic hardship. They support recognition of the Confederacy and hope for an early end to the fighting, with the South surviving as an independent nation.
Henry's letters to New York are designed to strengthen his father's position in England; but a separate letter, published in the Boston Daily Courier on December 16, nearly destroys his purpose. Henry has visited Manchester in hopes of explaining — and perhaps disarming — the cotton industry's support of the South. His letter on the topic is supposed to be anonymous, but the Boston editor reveals the source. Henry effectively points out that the Cotton Supply Association has experimented with India cotton and may not need materials from the South. Unfortunately, he does not stop there. An incidental paragraph on Manchester social life speaks well of the city but unfavorably of London. "In London," Henry writes, "the guests shift for themselves, and a stranger had better depart at once so soon as he has looked at the family pictures." Manchester hosts provide lovely suppers; in London, a guest is lucky to get a few "thimblefuls of ice cream and hard seed cakes."
After identification, the London journalists have a field day. The Times mocks him mercilessly as a "Special Commissioner" to England's "dangerous coast." The Examiner recommends softer cakes for the poor boy. Henry is terrified that the London papers may identify him as the author of the letters to the New York Times, which would be ruin for him and probably his father. Brother Charles urges him to leave his father's service and carry on a separate fight; but throughout his life, Henry avoids public battles. As soon as he can, he resigns as London correspondent. He needs a more private outlet for his writing talent.
Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) president of the Confederate States of America (1861-1865).
ostracism rejection or exclusion, as by society.
Quel chien de pays! (French) What a dog of a country!
Que tu es beau aujourdhui, mon cher! (French) You're looking fine today, my dear!
débâcle overwhelming defeat or total failure.
diffidence lack of confidence in oneself.