The Magazine

Isn't That Special?

Anglo-American relations are more complicated than you think.

Jul 7, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 41 • By ANDREW ROBERTS
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Campbell is also good on the symbiotic politico-social networks that were built up during the era: There were no fewer than four senior late-Victorian British cabinet ministers--Sir William Harcourt, James Bryce, Lord Randolph Churchill and Joseph Chamberlain--who were married to Americans, for example. There are also several excellent vignettes, especially about writers such as Henry James, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, and especially Charles Dickens, who repaid the adoration and hospitality he received in Boston in 1842 with his rabidly anti-Yankee American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit, and eventually also with support for the Confederacy. Campbell also thinks pleasingly laterally, connecting, for example, the secession of Texas from Mexico in 1836 to the almost-contemporaneous rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada.

Yet on his central thesis, that the Special Relationship has deep roots in the Victorian era, Campbell is plain wrong. The two countries were conscious rivals until the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, which was not signed until after the queen-empress's death. Of course, this should not put anyone off reading such an entertaining, thought-provoking, and fluent work, especially in the 150th anniversary of the laying of the transatlantic cable, which Queen Victoria told James Buchanan that she hoped would "prove an additional link between the nations whose friendship is founded on their common interest and reciprocal esteem."

Although the cable broke down the very next month, the common interests and reciprocal esteem are still in good repair today.

Andrew Roberts is the author of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900.