In 1857 Laurence Oliphant (1829-88), lawyer, journalist, diplomat and sometime spy, later Liberal MP, satirical novelist, and, for a time, adherent of the religious mystic Thomas Harris, became private secretary to Lord Elgin (1811-63), accompanying him to China, and thence to Japan, on a mission to protect and extend British trading interests in the region. Oliphant's 1859 account of the trip was published in two volumes. Volume 1 deals with the events of the Second Opium War, and Volume 2 with the negotiation of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Yedo, and the legalisation of the Chinese opium trade. The work is a mixture of travel narrative - Oliphant had previously written about his travels in the Crimea (also reissued in this series) - and political analysis. It provides both an informative account of the war from a privileged vantage point and a window upon Oliphant's colourful career.
Volume 1: Preface; 1. The origin of the war; 2. Appointment and departure of special mission; 3. Arrival at Hong-Kong; 4. Condition of India in August 1857; 5. Voyage to the Philippines; 6. Attempt of Count Poutiatine to reach Pekin; 7. Landing of the troops; 8. New Year's Day, 1858; 9. Withdrawal of the naval force; 10. Diplomacy in China; 11. The Imperial Grand Canal; 12. An expedition to the Snowy Valley; 13. Communication from the Imperial Government; 14. Perilous position of despatch gunboats; 15. The night before the attack; 16. Ascent of the river; 17. The chances of a Chinese political career; 18. Insolence of the mob; 19. Advantages gained by Russia and America; 20. Duplicity of the Commissioners; Appendix. Volume 2: 1. First view of Japan; 2. Missionary success of Xavier; 3. A surfeit of sensations; 4. Residence of the American Consul; 5. Official visitors; 6. Residence of British mission; 7. Constitution of government; 8. A riding party; 9. A Japanese funeral; 10. Population of Yedo; 11. Settling-day; 12. Future prospects; 13. Effects of the Chinese climate; 14. All the ships aground; 15. Renewal of the action; 16. A battle between rebels and imperialists; 17. A foraging expedition; 18. First impressions of Han-kow; 19. First appearance of strangers; 20. Exploration of a lake; 21. The Yang-tse-Kiang commercially considered; Appendix.