The Education of Henry Adams
Foes Or Friends (1862)
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.