One reason I haven’t blogged much recently is that I have been really caught up in The Letters of Mrs. Henry Adams. Mrs. Adams, née Marian “Clover” Hooper was a fascinating, engaging woman who wrote detailed letters to her father during her winters in Washington, D.C. and her trips abroad.
As a young girl she travels to Washington to see the grand review of Grant and Sherman’s armies. When she gets there, she figures she can stay with her Uncle Sam, but the President of the United States (Andrew Johnson) is staying there with all his hangers-on, so she has to find another place.
She watches the grand review, and one general in a bright red sash dashes ahead of his army and makes a grandiose bow to the dignitaries in the reviewing stand. Who could that be? Why it’s George Armstrong Custer!
Clover visits the room where Lincoln died and attends the trial of the assassins — all in all a fascinating trip.
Then she writes about her honeymoon with Henry, sailing up the Nile, but first the newlyweds attend the great arbitration in Switzerland between the United States and Britain to settle the so-called Alabama Claims.
Henry’s father, Charles Francis Adams, might be said to be one of the saviors of the American republic, because it was he who, as minister to Britain, kept the Brits from making common cause with the Confederacy.
The Confederate warship Alabama was built and outfitted in Britain, with a wink and a nod from a since-disgraced prime minister, and it caused considerable damage hereabouts. After the war, the two countries decided to settle the matter by arbitration. They appointed a panel with an American guy (Charles Francis Adams), a British guy, a Brazilian guy, an Italian guy and a Swiss guy to break the tie.
The panel decided Britain should pay the US 15.5 million dollars. Which was a bit less than the $2 billion that Charles Sumner wanted. He was head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The arbitration of the Alabama claims was thus a precursor to the Hague Convention, the League of Nations, the World Court, and the United Nations, and Clover writes all about the social side of it.
Then she writes about their cruise up the Nile side by side with the yacht of William Blodgett. You remember him. He founded the Metroplitan Museum of Art in New York City.
And she gives a lively account of the social scene in London, where she meets Robert Browning, whom she finds boring, and the Shah of Persia, who turns out to be pretty funny.
When Sir Henry Rawlinson introduced the Shah to Lady Rawlinson, the Shah said, “She is good, but too old. You should get a new one.”
The Shah was also keen to see an English execution. When told there were no convicts handy, he suggested they use one of his retainers.
What a fascinating view of history. You can’t make this stuff up!