When Henry James and Henry Adams met in England in September 1914—a month after Britain declared war on Germany—“they threw their arms around each other as if bridging a great chasm.” (So wrote Aileen Tone, Adams’s companion.) James and Adams had been friends, although not close friends, for four decades, but this was probably the first time they had ever greeted each other in this way. Perhaps the war had made them more demonstrative.

The onset of war had been a shock to James. On August 10 he wrote to his friend Rhoda Broughton: “Black and hideous is to me the tragedy that gathers. . . . Just across the Channel, blue as paint today, the fields of France and Belgium are . . . about to be given up to unthinkable massacre and misery.” A week later he confided to his close friend Edith Wharton: “Life goes on after a...


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