United States 219

3 downloads 0 Views 199KB Size Report
his death six decades later, Henry Adams seldom ... States, in the autumn of 1860, Adams was back .... the idealists, Bryan believed that his country could.
United States ardry" by which he gained and maintained power. But the so-called Ulrich affair in 1911, when Washington was badly beaten in an "easy morals section" of New York allegedly for making overtures to a white woman, graphically demonstrated the fragile nature of his power and position. Harlan's treatment of this episode, which is far more sensitive and thorough than those of previous investigators, emphasizes its significance in providing Washington with the self-recognition that even he, the most famous Negro in the world, was lynchable. Such recognition, coupled with the disintegration of his political empire after Roosevelt's departure from office and the emergence of the NAACP, prompted him during his last years to abandon some of his earlier optimism and to sharpen his public criticism of racial injustice. The last black leader born in slavery, whose policies reflected his origins as well as the New South spirit of materialism, Washington remained to the end a Southern-based spokesman of a people still overwhelmingly Southern and rural. Louis Harlan's study of the Wizard of Tuskegee is in every respect definitive-a model of the demanding art of biography. WILLARD B. GATEWOOD, JR.

University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

et al., editors. The Letters of Henry Adams, 1858-1892. In three volumes. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 1982. Pp. xlvi, 574; viii, 645; xi, 638. $100.00 the set.


From his first European tour at age twenty-one until his death six decades later, Henry Adams seldom passed a day without writing letters. This most recent and complete edition of his correspondence covers the period 1858-92. In it Adams reveals the extraordinary breadth of his interests. He appears as traveler, reformer, teacher and historian socialite, husband, and friend. It is the youthful tourist who pens the earliest missives. Adams is in Germany, ostensibly studying law at the University of Berlin, but in reality enjoying a two-year, postbaccalaureate spree. Letters to brother Charles recount evenings at the theater, debilitating morning hangovers, and rambles through the Thuringian Woods. While enjoying himself immensely, Adams could not hide his national prejudices, clearly preferring simple American manners to the contortions of German etiquette. "German politeness," he declared, "is a cumbrous affair consisting chiefly in elephantine compliments and profuse lies." Within six months of his return to the United States, in the autumn of 1860, Adams was back across the Atlantic. The newly elected Abraham


Lincoln had made Charles Francis Adams minister to Great Britain, and Henry agreed to serve as his father's private secretary. He found British stiffness quite offensive at first, but soon appreciated the political and social importance of the London "season." He described the bustling scene one June evening in 1863: "Gentlemen in white cravats were scuttling about ... ; cabs were rushing furiously in all quarters.... There was a rush and roar all through the West End, that one can only see in London." Of all Adams's journeys, the most exotic was his odyssey through Asia and the South Pacific with painter John La Farge (August I890-october 1891). It was his first real escape since his wife's suicide in December 1885, and it introduced him to a whole new world of symbol and myth. By now an experienced traveler, he was ready to accept the mores of a foreign culture without invidious comparisons to his own. In a letter to his old friend, Elizabeth Cameron, he shared his impressions of a sensuous Samoan dance. "Out of the dark," he wrote, "five girls came into the light, with a dramatic effect that really I never felt before. Naked to the waist, their rich skins glistened with cocoanut oil." Half-naked Polynesian girls were a far cry from his family's century-long preoccupation with politics. Yet numerous letters show Henry to be a keen judge of men and events. His accounts to brother Charles of the secession winter of 1860-61 fairly crackle with tension. Despairing as the nation careened toward civil war, Adams lost patience with many statesmen. He scorned Charles Sumner's oratorical skill, sneering that the Massachusetts senator could "no more argue than a cat. He states his proposition and sticks to it, but the commonest special-pleader can knock him to splinters in five minutes." Later, awed by the spectacle of seven hundred thousand American troops locked in fratricidal struggle, Adams envisioned a tougher, more sinewy nation. He predicted a time "when America alone will take France and England both together on her hands, and be strong enough to knock their two skulls against each other till they crack." Fifty years later the United States could do just that, and more. But by then Germany and its allies had replaced Britain and France in the pantheon of international demons. This ability to peer into the dynamics of complex events and to project their course well into the future served Adams well as a teacher and historian. Both careers began in the autumn of 1870 when he assumed an assistant professorship at Harvard. By all reports Adams was a brilliant classroom teacher and it was there that he started to ponder the American past in earnest. And as he dug more deeply into the personalities of the American republic, he concluded that they were largely the pawns of external circumstance. He insisted in a letter to


Reviews of Books

Samuel J. Tilden that "Jefferson, Madison and Monroe ... appear like mere grass-hoppers, kicking and gesticulating, on the middle of the Mississippi River. There is no possibility of reconciling their theories with their acts.... They were carried along on a stream which floated them after a fashion without much regard to themselves." Such sentiments would ripen into a full-blown fatalism in The Education and other later writings. Adams's enthusiasm for Harvard and Boston seemed to wane as he became more absorbed in the country's past. "The world here stands still," he wrote to Charles Milnes Gaskell, his English friend from legation days. "Boston is a curious place," he continued. "Its business in life is to breed and to educate. The parent lives for his children; the child, when educated himself, becomes a parent or becomes an educator, or is both. But no further result is ever reached." Nearly forty years old, Adams not only lost interest in his Boston life; he was drowning in an endless sea of classrooms and students. In November 1877 Adams moved to Washington and began work on his massive Hisum of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson andJamesMadison. The next eight years turned out to be the happiest in his whole adult life. Settling down across from the White House on Lafayette Square, Henry and Marian Adams entertained everyone of merit, distinction, and wit. Among their closest and most enduring friends were diplomat and writer John Hay and naturalist Clarence King. Whenever separated, the three men turned to the mails in order to maintain the flow of sprightly banter. In these letters particularly, Adams emerges as a warm and frequently endearing man, whose capacity for sympathy and friendship appear boundless. Yet there was a morose strain in Adams's character that has fascinated scholars for years. Early letters from Germany and England point to a young man at peace with neither his family nor himself. After Marian's suicide his self-castigation and general pessimism grew more pronounced. He confided to John Hay that he felt "like a volunteer in his first battle. If I don't run ahead at full speed, I shall run away." A disappointing infatuation for the beautiful Elizabeth Cameron only exacerbated Adams's despair. She loved him very much, but she could not cross the boundary into a full physical relationship. He wryly summed up their predicament in a letter dated November 5, 1891: "I am not old enough to be a tame cat; you are too old to accept me in any other character." Despite their richness and variety, this most recent collection of Adams's letters presents no real surprises. Nearly all have been available in manuscript since the 1950s. Nevertheless, the collection boasts over 80 percent of existing Adams letters up

to 1892, nearly half of them appearing in print for the first time. Introductory and editorial notes are both excellent. Historians will await publication of the final three volumes of Adams's letters with much anticipation. DAVID R. CONTOSTA

Chestnut Hill College

KENDRICK A. CLEMENTS. William Jennings Bryan: Missionary Isolationist. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 1982. Pp. xvi, 214. $19.95.

After plodding through numerous works filled with social minutiae, it is a relief to find a sound book on an important subject. Kendrick A. Clements's monograph is meticulously researched and contains a fruitful bibliographical essay. Long ago, this reviewer categorized the isolationists in pointing out that like Progressivism, the movement was not monolithic. John M. Cooper added the "idealistic isolationists" to the grouping; men who closely resembled Clements's description of Bryan as a "missionary isolationist." In contrast to the idealists, Bryan believed that his country could remain free of power politics and still perform the Christian duty of improving the world. As a result of experience and kaleidoscopic global events, he evolved from provincialism to a harbinger of the "moral suasion" obsession of the interwar decades; a promise of service to peace bereft of firm commitments. Bryan was a reasonably competent secretary of state whose full promise was thwarted since it proved impossible to translate his missionary impulse into workable policies. His Latin American stance was paradoxical for the one-time apostle of anti-imperialism ended up with an interventionism that surpassed that of his Republican predecessors. Wilson and Bryan did not intervene to protect the "interests," but hoped rather that their actions would help perfect the society of our southern neighbors. The secretary, more than his chief, believed that the world was evolving toward a Christian democracy and that Washington could speed this development. Wilson and Bryan coexisted peacefully until they parted company over the vexed issue of neutrality. The president saw in the 1914 conflict new opportunities, while in the secretary it activated isolationist fears. Wilson did not fully share Bryan's dread of involvement, especially if abstention meant a surrender of moral principles and yielding, as a neutral, the chance of shaping the postwar world. Clements explores in detail the complex reasons for Bryan's resignation, arguing that he longed to return to private life, failing to reason that he was yielding any further chance of influencing policy.