Royalty Thick as Huckleberries

I’m having tremendous fun with The Letters of Mrs. Henry Adams, a series of letters to her father recounting her trips to Europe and her winters in Washington. Marian ‘Clover’ Hooper was married to Henry Brook Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams, son of Charles Francis Adams, who, as US ambassador to England, kept the Brits from intervening in the Civil War.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., doctor and novelist and father of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Civil War hero and Supreme Court Justice, was a close friend of her father. Henry James was another close friend of the family whom they saw a lot in London.

And lots of big shots in England were pals with Charles Francis Adams and knew Henry as his secretary and factotum, so when Henry and Clover go there after the war in the 1870s, they have all kinds of invitations to choose from.

Mrs. Adams is such a delightful guide: “Tuesday, tea with Mrs. Procter; chat with [novelist]Antony Trollope. Wednesday garden party in the P.M. at the famous Holland House. Very beautiful house, garden, trees, etc. Royalty thick as huckleberries — one had to shuffle so as not to tread on a prince.”

Henry and Clover were pals with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the founders of the (NY) Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Mrs. Adams writes a lot about the pictures she’s looking at and purchasing and framing and sending to friends.

At the Grosvenor Gallery she meets James Whistler, who made his mother famous (“His etchings are so charming, it is a pity he should leave that to woo a muse whom he can’t win.”)

“Mrs. Jack Gardner [Isabella Stewart Gardner, founder of the Gardner Museum in Boston, famously robbed in 1990] was there, and we had some twenty minutes side by side in the vestibule waiting for our respective broughams [carriages], and sympathised over the awful gowns.

“Down come an elderly female in black, followed by a jolly-looking very fat one, and the Britons fall back on either side and bend their sovereign-loving knees, because it ‘s the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-something and her sister Mary of Teck. Mrs. Gardner and I smile pityingly on the Britons.”