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Henry Adams, whose name ironically conjures that of the great historian and grandson of the former presidents, is an example of what was called Yankee ingenuity, "a creative and improvisational problem-solving and inventiveness" that effected progress and/or profit. Despite his initial misfortune, he achieves his goal of "eventual fortune," although not in the manner expected and with no small amount of satiric observations about the British.
After his sailing vessel in which he relaxes on Saturday afternoons is carried out to sea, Henry is rescued by a London brig, but is made to work on the ship. Once he arrives in England, Henry's clothes are in tatters and he is starving; however, he is fortuitously called into a house where two older brothers dwell. Because they have secretly made a wager with each other on whether or not a poor man can live on a one-million-pound-note, they give Henry an envelope and, sending him on his way, tell him to open it at his lodgings. Having no lodgings, Henry opens the envelope once he is sent off, and, seeing that it contains money, the starving Henry rushes to buy a meal. But, he soon discovers that no one has change for such a million-pound note. Since he is in rags, he goes to a men's clothier and asks if they have any suits that no one has picked up. After he shows the bank note at the tailor's, he is absurdly given credit and handed other clothing. At this point, Henry realizes that he has the means to attain things, and with his ingenuity, he takes advantage of the opportunities that come to him with fellow American Hastings and the ridiculous reverence that the British have for reputation and doubles the money.
Throughout the narrative, Twain's typical satiric humor--even farce is used--of the British is evident in Henry's observations. For instance, it is farcical when proprietor of the tailor-shop sees the bank note, he gives a "low eloquent whistle," then dives into the pile of rejected clothing, speaking with excitement: "Sell an eccentric millionaire such an unspeakable suit at that!" He continues to be obsequious to Henry after finding a better suit and taking his measurements for tailored clothing. In a further flattering gesture, the proprietor walks Henry politely to the door, promising to have the other clothing made for him soon. (In the U.S. the proprietor would assume that the narrator has somehow stolen such a note, as Henry himself was originally concerned would happen, and summon the police.)
Further in the narrative, Henry satirically points out the ridiculousness of the myth that is created about his being an eccentric millionaire. The restaurant where he first ate becomes famous for having served the "vest-pocket million-pounder" and is given notoriety in Punch magazine. In another episode, he is invited by the American minister to a dinner party after the man realizes that their fathers went to Yale together. Exhibiting typical Twain humor, the English guests have ridiculous names: the Duke and Duchess of Shoreditch, Viscount Cheapside, Lord and Lady Blatherskite, etc. Then, when all these prestigious guests go in "procession" to the dinner table, there are disputes over who should sit where. Henry "refuses to yield" despite someone's "recent Norman origin," and, finally, no one sits down. Instead, the guests stand and eat off plates of sardines and strawberries.
After these "refreshments," tables are brought in and the aristocrats sit down for a game of cribbage, "sixpence a game." Henry satirizes,
The English never play any game for amusement. If they can't make something or lose something,--they don't care which--they won't play.
Perhaps, the best satire comes from the Henry's ingenuous plan to finally get himself out of poverty and serve the old gentlemen's wager against each other: He instructs fellow American Hastings to use his good name (fabricated out of the notoriety he has attained from being the mythic "vest-pocket" millionaire) to help out Hastings in his failing business venture with mining stock. After Henry calms himself and becomes "as cold as a capitalist," he exploits the English adoration of "good name" and tells Hastings to use his name as a reference in order to vouch for the security and profitability of the California stock. When profit is made, Hastings is instructed to split this profit with Henry for the use of his "good name." The venture works, and within a fortnight, Hastings is out of debt and wealthy, while Henry himself has cleared one million pounds, which he deposits in a London bank. He returns to the old gentlemen and shows them that he has made a deposit for £200,000, and Brother B wins the bet and Henry wins the hand of Portia, the step-daughter, and achieves all his goals.
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