AT the beginning of the summer of 1888, I was suddenly ordered to Berlin as private secretary to Sir Edward Malet, who, although he was not yet fifty, had been for some time Ambassador in Berlin and was considered one of the most successful men in the Diplomatic Service. His father had been our Minister to Frankfurt in the revolutionary times of 1848-1849 and had there known Bismarck and made friends with him. It seems that Bismarck had been attracted to Sir Edward when he met him as a young man at his father’s house in Frankfurt, had followed his career, and, when a vacancy occurred in our Embassy in Berlin, he took the opportunity of hinting that Malet’s appointment would be agreeable to him. He continued to be very friendly to Malet up to the end.
Bismarck always used to converse with Malet in English, and his English, though very fluent and perfectly clear, was sometimes rather quaint in its pronunciation. One day Malet came back from one of these interviews much amused and told me that he had not for a long time been able to understand what Bismarck had meant, because the great man had kept on repeating to him: ‘ Why can’t we let bigguns be bigguns?’ This completely puzzled Malet, and he did not know what to say. Only after two or three minutes did he discover that the Chancellor’s meaning was ‘bygones be bygones.’
Edward Malet was sincerely attached to the great man and believed that he was perfectly genuine in his constant assurances of good will to England and his desire for the maintenance of peace in Europe. In both respects I take it that Malet was justified. Bismarck had no wish to compete with Great Britain, either as a maritime or as a colonial power. As he said himself, he was ‘kein Jcolonial Mensch.’ He had united Germany by means of three wars, each of which had been carefully planned beforehand, and he had no wish for further adventures. His one desire seemed to be to guide his country along a path of peaceful and prosperous development by means of a paternal government, he himself acting, of course, in the rôle of paterfamilias. This certainly suited us very well at the time, and there was no reason, as long as Bismarck remained at the head of the German State, — which he could do during the lifetime of the old Emperor, who gave way to him in practically everything, — why Great Britain and Germany should not continue to be the best of friends. There were small tiffs from time to time, but none that gave any serious cause of anxiety, so far as I can remember, while Bismarck remained at the helm. Things, however, were changing very rapidly when I reached Berlin about ten days after the death of the Emperor Frederick, which occurred on the fifteenth of June, 1888.
The first thing that caused me infinite surprise was to discover what I had not realized from the papers, that the Empress Frederick was practically a prisoner in her own Palace at Potsdam. The long-drawn-out agony of the Emperor Frederick’s illness had no sooner come to an end than his son, the Emperor William II, then a young man of twenty-nine, ordered a cordon of soldiers to be placed round the Palace at Potsdam where he died and where the Empress was still living, and it was impossible for the Embassy, or anyone else without the special authority of the Emperor, to obtain access to or indeed in any way communicate with her. Even letters and telegrams from her mother, Queen Victoria, do not appear to have been delivered, as I remember indignant telegrams from the Queen to the Ambassador asking why she could not get into communication with her daughter.
The whole reason for this extraordinary behavior on the part of the young Emperor was, it appeared later, that Bismarck and William II both feared that the Emperor Frederick had left behind a diary which might contain unpalatable information about people and things, especially, it was supposed, with regard to the conduct of the War of 1870 and Bismarck’s treatment of the Liberal leaders in Germany, with whom the Emperor Frederick was known to have had considerable sympathy. This diary they wished to seize, in order to prevent its possible publication by the Empress Frederick. A minute search was therefore made all through the Palace, and it was not until this search was concluded, but without success, that the Empress was again allowed free communication with the outside world.
The Byzantinism of these proceedings came, I must say, as a great shock to my youthful mind. I had been brought up with an immense admiration and affection for everything German. Here I suddenly found, on arrival in Germany, a method of procedure that was so entirely inconsistent with all my previously held English prejudices about liberty and — if I may say so — decent behavior that I was completely nonplused. As an introduction to German official life, nothing could have been less promising. And I must confess that my experience in Berlin, and everything that I have since read of transactions at the German Foreign Office and at the Court of the Emperor William, have only confirmed the very unfortunate impression I received during that first week of my stay at the Embassy.
Before continuing with a description of the life at the Embassy, I shall refer, very briefly, to the sequel to the story of the Emperor Frederick’s diary. It had been confided to Professor Geffcken, of Hamburg, a well-known liberal, some time before the Emperor died. Many months passed before anything more was heard of it, but ultimately a version of it. was published by the Professor. It contained nothing of interest respecting military operations during the War of 1870, but it did contain one item which greatly irritated the Iron Chancellor. This was an entry to the effect that both Bismarck and the old Emperor William I were not in favor of accepting the German Imperial Crown at the hands of the German Princes at Versailles, both being of the opinion that William as King of Prussia should, so to speak, place the crown on his own head. The Emperor Frederick (then Crown Prince of Prussia) went on to relate in his diary that it was he who had overcome their opposition, and so brought about the establishment of the German Empire by agreement with the Princes instead of by imposition from above.
This account of the negotiations that preceded the declaration of the German Empire at Versailles, the culminating point of Bismarck’s great work, roused the ire of the Chancellor as being likely to rob him of some of the kudos rightly belonging to him. In any case poor Geffcken was arrested and condemned to three months’ imprisonment for publishing the statement without previous consultation with the Emperor, which was contrary to the Prussian law for the protection of the royal house.
Both Professor and diary have since passed into oblivion, and we shall probably never know what the latter contained.
During the summer months the Ambassador used to take a charming old-fashioned villa at Potsdam. Potsdam is, or was in those days, a singularly beautiful place. There were not only the lakes and woods, but also the eighteenth-century palaces and gardens, of which ‘Sans Souci,’ the Palace of Frederick the Great, was especially charming, and besides that the little old-world town itself, with its eighteenth-century houses and cobbled pavements, all of which, I suppose, have long ago given way to so-called modem improvements. Our existence that first summer was an extraordinarily pleasant and peaceful one. We were a very happy family in the Chancery, and the Ambassador was kindness itself.
Malet was rather a strange combination of strict conventionality and etiquette as long as he was in his Embassy in Berlin and of everything opposed thereto as soon as he could get away from ambassadorial surroundings, when his natural inclination for a Bohemian life got the better of him. There was nothing he loved so much as going away for two or three days on a little excursion, it mattered not where, provided he could put up at some small country inn, his rank unknown to the innkeeper, and just potter about, doing nothing particular and smoking endless cigarettes. I accompanied him on these expeditions on more than one occasion, for he never could go alone. I remember, once, his almost childlike pleasure when, after he had grown tired of some little Prussian town, we packed our few belongings and went down to the station, intending to go on to the next place. Suddenly the spirit of adventure seized him and he said: ‘ Why should n’t we leave it to chance in what direction we go ? ’ Taking a coin out of his pocket, he added: ‘Heads it’s north, and tails it’s south,’ and so it was.
Bohemian though he really was, he always expected to be comfortably housed when he went to pay his respects to the numerous German Courts to which he was accredited, and his indignation knew no bounds when on one occasion, at the palace of some Grand Duchess or other, he had not been provided with even a hip bath. He was always very chary of spending a night under the hospitable roof of these numerous Princes after that, and I believe some of them caused complaints to be made to Buckingham Palace in consequence. But for this he cared very little.
He told me a story of the way in which Bismarck treated some of these potentates, who were extremely particular about their own dignity. I suppose he got the story from Bismarck himself, and it was this: —
One evening at a dinner at the Palace in Berlin, Bismarck was placed next to one of the German Grand Duchesses of whom he was not particularly fond. She irritated him by complaining about the lack of courtesy, over some trifling matter, with which her household had been treated by the Berlin authorities. He asked her brusquely if she knew an old house in Enter den Linden which looked very much out of date in that fashionable street. She said that she had observed it and asked him why he mentioned it. He said that the Municipality of Berlin had been trying, for a long time, to buy it and pull it down, in order to build something more up to date, but had not been able to do so. Then he said, significantly: ‘It’s much easier to pull down a German Prince than a house in Unter den Linden.’ After that she left him alone.
Bismarck had been for so many years the complete master in the German Reich that it was almost impossible that he and the young Emperor should work together harmoniously for long. From the first, although the Emperor appeared to have most profound respect and admiration for the national hero who had united Germany and was unquestionably the greatest figure in the Europe of that day, people began to wonder how long it would be before a breach occurred, for Bismarck no more hesitated to speak out his mind to the Emperor than to a Grand Duchess at a palace dinner party. He had, indeed, become extremely dictatorial. Whether intentionally or otherwise, the Emperor cleverly chose the subject of social legislation as a reason for a break with the old man.
The German Government had already led the way in what was, for that time, an advanced law with regard to workmen’s insurance against old age and sickness. Having myself had to translate and write a report on this extremely complicated piece of legislation, I knew it fairly thoroughly and was very much impressed by its value for the welfare of the working classes. It had given the Emperor’s government considerable popularity, from which he personally undoubtedly benefited, and people believed that he was likely to turn out to be, not as had at first been thought, an ultraconservative, but, at any rate so far as care for the welfare of the working classes was concerned, quite as liberal as his father would have been. This inclined him toward measures of social legislation which went a great deal further than the old Iron Chancellor was prepared to go. There were said to have been violent scenes between them, and finally, in March 1890, the old man, never dreaming that it would be accepted, tendered his resignation and found himself, to his surprise and indignation, out of office.
Nothing could exceed the astonishment of the German people, and, indeed, of the whole of Europe, when it was discovered that this immense Colossus, whose word had been law in international affairs for so many years, was suddenly removed from power. He himself admittedly took it very ill. The Emperor conferred upon him the feudal title of Duke of Lauenburg, which was higher in rank than that of Prince Bismarck, but, without rejecting it, he would never make use of it. The story went that one day before he left Berlin he received an autographed letter from the Emperor, addressed to ‘His Highness the Duke of Lauenburg.’ He looked at the envelope and then said before the assembled company: ‘Why does he address me in this way when I told him that I should only call myself by that name when I was traveling incognito?’
The Chancellor’s Palace was in the Wilhelmstrasse, only a few doors away from the Embassy. Bismarck left Berlin on the twenty-ninth of March, 1890. Malet had said to me that he would go to the station to say goodbye to the old man, no matter what the Emperor thought. He said: ‘I’ve known him ever since I was a boy, and he’s always been kind to me. I can’t let him go, now that he has fallen from favor, without shaking him by the hand. I shall expect you to come to the station with me.’
I, of course, was delighted to be present on such an historic occasion. Malet thought he would drive to the station immediately after the Prince and his family had left, as it would be difficult to pass the cordon of police before. We saw the old Prince, accompanied by his son Count Herbert and one of his enormous Danish dogs, drive past the windows of the Embassy in an open carriage, amidst the wild cheering of a tremendous crowd, to which he, however, seemed to pay little attention. We were just getting ready to enter the Ambassador’s brougham when there was a movement in the crowd and the Empress Frederick’s carriage drove up to the door of the Embassy. The hour was an early one, at which the Empress had never called before. Malet said to me: —
‘I can’t think why she has come now, unless it is to prevent me from going to the station to say good-bye, but I shall go, all the same.’
We went down the steps of the Embassy to receive the Empress, and he handed her out of her carriage and accompanied her into the house. He then said: —
‘I am very sorry that I must leave Your Majesty to be entertained by Lady Ermyntrude [Lady Ermyntrude, his wife, was a daughter of the Duke of Bedford], who is waiting for Your Majesty in the drawing-room. I hope Your Majesty will excuse me if I go at once to say good-bye to Prince Bismarck at the station; I fear that otherwise I may not be in time to see him before he goes.’
The Empress graciously signified her assent, and, quite contrary to all rules of etiquette, we left her, jumped into the carriage, had difficulty in making our way through the streets to the station, and arrived to find the station absolutely packed with cheering, enthusiastic crowds, singing Die Wacht am Rhein.
The station master, informed of the arrival of the British Ambassador, at once hurried to Prince Bismarck’s carriage to tell him. There was a silence as the Old Chancellor stepped out and came toward us. He was evidently deeply moved by the fact that Malet had dared, in the circumstances, to come and pay him this final mark of respect. They spoke together for a short time, while the crowds remained silent, and I thought I detected — but it may have been merely imagination on my part — a tear in Bismarck’s eye. Before he left, Malet introduced me to him, and this was the only time I ever had the opportunity of shaking hands with that extraordinary man. I had seen him many times, but never had been so impressed by his immense size and the massive ruggedness of his face. That was a morning which stands out very vividly among my memories.
I don’t think I am wrong in saying that after this the Emperor William was never quite the same to Sir Edward Malet. It must be admitted, however, that when he came to the Embassy to dine, as he did once or twice every winter, he was always most charming, and he had to a supreme degree what in America is called ‘the glad hand,’ which made him particularly popular with casual acquaintances.
Judging by the memoirs of German statesmen who served him, William II was not so popular with those with whom he was in daily contact. He was, indeed, distinctly histrionic, always acting his part, and extraordinarily vain; that was, perhaps, his dominating quality. Very quick, but with little judgment and no balance, extremely sensitive, with a mediaeval belief in the sanctity of his Imperial Crown, yet essentially weak in character — it would be hardly possible to find, in the history of the ages, a more dangerous man to have been placed, in critical times, in such a position of vast responsibility at the head of the most powerful nation in Europe.
Years afterward in Washington, Miss Mabel Board man, the niece of Mr. Phelps, who was American Minister in Berlin in 1888, reminded me of the impression he had made upon us at the opening of his first Reichstag, which took place in one of the great halls of the Palace in Berlin. Surrounded by all his Generals, he himself in military uniform, with the great crimson cloak of the Order of the Black Eagle, he stood there, the emblem of military force, and in his peculiarly clear, dominating, and incisive voice began his speech, looking round him as if to see that he was making the proper effect.
‘I . . . William ... by the grace of God . . . German Emperor . . . King of Prussia . . .’
It is, of course, impossible to reproduce the exact tone, but the effect of it at the time was certainly both impressive and startling. Looking back, it seemed to Miss Boardman and myself that the whole thing was a magnificent piece of play acting.
The Empress Frederick, I suppose on account of having known my sister and brother-in-law fairly well and having lived for months in their house at Portofino, used, from time to time, to invite me in solitary grandeur to her Palace in the evenings. These were unquestionably the most awful entertainments I have ever attended; not because the Empress or any of those about her were anything but entirely friendly and kind, but because of the terrific atmosphere of mourning which pervaded the whole place after the death of the Emperor Frederick.
The Empress herself, the three Princesses, and the Grande Maitresse, Countess Brockdorf, were dressed in crape from head to foot. The long room in which we sat was scarcely lighted, with the exception of one large picture of the Emperor Frederick, the frame of which was draped in crape. This dominated the entire scene and made it almost impossible to forget his tragic death. After the Empress had spoken to me for some time, I used to be turned over to the Princesses, and on one occasion we were even provided with a card table and I was asked to teach them some game. The result of this was that we became lively in spite of our surroundings and even laughed. Countess Brockdorf swept up to me, looking more like a black shadow than a real person, and whispered: ‘The Empress does not like loud laughter.’ It was a relief when these invitations ceased because the Empress went away to live at Homburg.
In 1890, Sir Percy Anderson, the head of the African Department of the Foreign Office, was sent out on a special mission to Berlin in order to negotiate with the German Government the question, which had recently come to a head, of the partition of East Africa, including Zanzibar, between England and Germany. Both British and German explorers had been busy for some time, as the habit was in those days, planting the flags of their countries in divers parts of the Dark Continent.
These negotiations and the interest they aroused in me with respect to the extension and development of the British Empire in Africa brought to a head a feeling of unrest which had been simmering in me for the past year or two. I felt I could not continue in the humdrum life of the Diplomatic Service. What was known as ‘the call of the wild’ possessed itself of me to an ever-increasing degree, and I finally made up my mind to ask the Foreign Office for two years’ disponibilité. This would give me the opportunity I longed for, of seeing something of those countries about which we had been negotiating and of enjoying the delights of a really wild camp life.
The end of February, 1891, found me in South Africa. The first thing I wished to do was to get into contact with Cecil Rhodes, who was then, for me, a sort of demigod. I left my letter of introduction to him at his curious little cottage not far from Wynberg, which struck me as an amazingly modest abode for a man who was one of the richest, if not the richest, in the world at that day, and then, pending an answer, I asked Seymour Fort, Sir Henry Loch’s private secretary, if he could take me round to the Parliament House and give me a sight of the great man. In a day or two he let me know that Rhodes would be there at a certain hour, when he would come with me. As we walked up to the Parliament House together, I saw a large figure of a man, with a rather rolling gait, in not over-clean gray flannels, with a somewhat battered straw hat on his head, his hands thrust deep into his trouser pockets and his jacket pulled to his waist, showing an enormous breadth of beam, wandering meditatively upon the road before us. Fort said to me: ‘There you are! That’s Rhodes.’
I gazed on the curious back, deeply impressed with an astonishment that was only to grow as I got to know him better. On my return home I found a very pleasant note from him asking me to dine in a day or two. We were only men at the dinner and the dining room could not have held more than eight or ten at the most. Who were there I cannot exactly remember, except C. D. Rudd, who was Rhodes’s principal partner in the Rand.
It was Rhodes himself, naturally, who was the star performer, and him I shall never forget. His large, stocky figure, surmounted by the head of a Roman Emperor, which was yet extremely British on account of the naturally ruddy complexion deepened by years of African sun to a rich brick color, in which were set large, vague, dreamy gray eyes, surmounted by a high forehead with a shock of reddish hair, made him one of the most extraordinary figures I have ever seen. He at once produced on me the impression that Bismarck did when I came up to him in the station in Berlin on the day of his departure: that of a Colossus, who was different to and above other men, and could hardly be judged by the same standards.
The dinner was simple enough, although the wine, especially the champagne, was noteworthy for its excellence; that was the one luxury which Rhodes allowed himself. After dinner, when we were all sitting together smoking, he turned upon me and asked me what the Foreign Office was thinking about affairs in Mashonaland, especially with regard to the relations with Portugal.
This was, of course, an effort on his part to draw me out as to what the feeling was at the Foreign Office about his efforts to acquire, in some way or other, the harbor of Beira, at the mouth of the Pungwe River, in Portuguese East Africa, which was the natural outlet of Mashonaland to the sea. Apart from the division of northern East Africa with Germany, this was, at the time, perhaps the most acute question in foreign politics which the scramble for Africa had raised.
I said I was extremely sorry, but since I had left the Foreign Office I had heard nothing on the subject, and I felt sure that he could give me much more information than I could give him.
Upon which his dreamy eyes lit up with a sort of malicious fun, and he said: —
‘Oh, yes, I’ll tell you all that is going on in London. Soveral [the Portuguese Minister, who was a great favorite with the smart set in London at that time] is going round to dine with the Duchess of this and the Countess of that, and after dinner he gets excited, ruffles his hair [Soveral was as bald as a coot, but Rhodes ruffled his own hair], then falls on his knees [Rhodes fell on his knees before his nearest guest], and, with hands clasped, begs them to go at once to the Prince of Wales and save him and Portugal from the clutches of that archfiend, Rhodes.’
The whole of this was done with such a sense of mimicry and comedy — besides also having a considerable basis of truth in it — that we were all convulsed. I never think of Rhodes without that scene’s coming to my mind. It is the kind of thing that I have never come across in any biography of him, and it threw a ray upon the humorous side of his character which was a real revelation to me.
The next time Rhodes invited me to dine we were almost alone and he gave me a sketch of his ideas as to the lines along which the Empire should develop. A tremendous believer in the force of British character and its fundamental love of liberty, he was strongly opposed to anything like centralization. The interference of Downing Street in the affairs of the great Colonies, as South Africa, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand then were, was anathema to him. He was very decided in declaring that the time had come for these countries, which would before long be called upon to play a considerable part in world affairs, to run their own business, rightly or wrongly, without being told how to do it by Governments in London that completely changed their tone and their policy every five years in accordance with the views of the party which elected them. This, he declared, would possibly lead to the breakup of the Empire before very long. It was a source of continual vexation and it must be removed.
He then sketched out what he believed to be the only plan by which the British Empire could continue to exist, and this — which I look back upon as having been a vision of the future of an extraordinarily farsighted prophet in political affairs — was almost precisely what has actually taken place. He demanded the complete internal autonomy of the countries now known as the Dominions. In fact, the Empire would become a loose Confederation of English-speaking States, having certain common interests and common objects: peace, law and order, economic development; the further civilizing of backward parts of the world, which he, with his intense belief in British efficiency, held should gradually, in the main, come into this British constellation of States; and, for the rest, friendship with the outside world generally, provided — and this was the snag — that the outside world did not interfere too much with his ideas. That was the trouble, in his opinion, with Portugal at that time; an inefficient and corrupt country, according to him, which, while others were asleep, had acquired vast portions of the surface of the world that it was entirely unable properly to develop.
I cannot, of course, remember the words he used, but this was the general impression left on my mind, and it came nearer to prophecy on a grand scale than anything else I can ever recollect to have heard. Nearly everything he foresaw has come true. He filled me with enthusiasm for his views, which included, among other things, a preferential tariff among the component parts of the Empire. This also I have lived to see.
When he spoke about these things it was almost as an inspired prophet, and he lost that hard, somewhat material look which was generally predominant in his face. His eyes always had the dreamy expression of a visionary, but when he spoke of the future of the Empire his whole face seemed to change. It is no wonder that he carried me by storm in those days and convinced me of the practical value of most of his ideas, to which I have adhered ever since.
There was one of his pet themes, however, which I have never been able to digest. That was the absurd Nietzschean doctrine of the superiority of the Nordic races. I had already, in those days, become convinced that the Latins and Celts possessed certain qualities of the mind and of the spirit which were largely lacking in the British and in the German Nordic make-up. All races, indeed, appeared to me complementary to the others, and I have grown with years only more firmly fixed in the belief that there is nothing more fatuous in international affairs than to believe in the unquestioned superiority of one’s own people and the inferiority of others.
The Liberals had returned to power in 1892 with a small majority, including the Irish, pledged to bring in a Home Rule Bill. Gladstone was Prime Minister; Rosebery, Foreign Secretary; and Harcourt, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Between the two last there was no love lost. Rosebery was, in Harcourt’s eyes, exuding at every pore the venom of Imperialism, while Harcourt, in Rosebery’s opinion, was the Champion Little Englander. Neither took any trouble to hide his views from his colleagues or from the public, and this did not make for harmony in poor Mr. Gladstone’s last Cabinet.
He, in fact, old and worn with the strife of contending factions, resigned in March 1893, when the Queen, to the undying vexation of Harcourt and the more radical faction, sent for Rosebery to form the new Cabinet and continue Gladstone’s policy in accordance with the majority in the House. Harcourt remained Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Lord Kimberley, a most kindly, moderate, patient, and sensible Liberal, became Minister for Foreign Affairs.
During Lord Rosebery’s brief reign I had another short innings at the Foreign Office. Lord Kimberley’s second son, Armine Wodehouse, was a friend of mine and, since his father took him on as private secretary, he asked me to act as unpaid assistant private secretary, which I was delighted to do. Henry Foley of the Foreign Office was precis writer, and we all shared the large room next to that of the Secretary of State, known as the private secretary’s room. We made an excellent ménage à trois.
Lord Kimberley acted as buffer between the two contending factions in the Cabinet, and what made the greatest impression on me at that time was the ceaseless wrangling over all questions of foreign politics between the Prime Minister and Sir William Harcourt, who both seemed to think that it was up to them to conduct the foreign policy of the country and that poor Lord Kimberley was no more than a kind of sausage machine to turn out of their conflicting ideas an agreeable food for the British public. I admired Lord Kimberley’s tactful and patient handling of these two fiery antagonists in the Ministry.
On one occasion, when I was working alone in the room, Lord Rosebery suddenly appeared. He was agitated and not in the best of humors. He asked where Lord Kimberley was, where Armine Wodehouse was, where Henry Foley was, when they would be back, and so forth, and said he would wait for the Secretary of State. He began pacing up and down the room with his hands behind his back, looking like Napoleon on the way to St. Helena. He was not lacking in a certain histrionic power on these occasions and I could not help wondering if he did not feel that he was on his way to his own St. Helena, and was playing up to the situation. I remained standing, out of respect to the Prime Minister, who had not sat down. He told me I might sit down and go on with my work, which I tried to do, but found myself too fascinated by that pacing figure to think of anything else. He never spoke and the silence could have been cut with a knife. I prayed almost audibly for Lord Kimberley’s return. At last he came back and Lord Rosebery without a word passed into his room.
That was the only tête-à-tête I was ever privileged to have with Lord Rosebery. His Government fell shortly after. I saw him again occasionally at large parties, when he was resplendent in his blue ribbon and diamond garter, but he never paid the slightest attention to me. This I attributed at the time to his dislike of men with beards, — especially, I think, reddish, backwoodsmen beards like mine, — for he was always extraordinarily carefully groomed himself. I imagine, however, that he never truly realized my existence, and, if I was but a pebble by the road to him, he remained — to my chagrin, for I should have liked to know him better — not even a Primrose by the river’s brim to me.
I hope I am not doing him an injustice, but Lord Rosebery has ever seemed to me like a highly polished eighteenth-century snuffbox of onyx and lapis lazuli set with cunningly wrought gold and diamonds, filled with perfumed snuff, which would be opened on special occasions and produce richly scented sneezes in the shape of epigrams. He had certainly the highly polished, light-reflecting surface which the eighteenth century loved, but which Sir Edwin Lutyens rightly warns us against as a form of decoration. Of him perhaps more than of anyone it may be said, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ Which of us in this world hath his heart’s desire, and which of us, having it, is therewith content? He achieved his three ambitions: was Prime Minister, married a great heiress, and won the Derby — and was he therewith content?
I was glad to be in the Foreign Office at that time because Edward Grey was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, a very responsible position when the Secretary of State was in the House of Lords. In this way I got to know him better than before, and he would sometimes talk shop to me even outside the walls of the Foreign Office. My respect and admiration for his character and his restrained and balanced outlook on world affairs grew continually. I met him frequently shooting and fishing in the house of our mutual friend, Vernon Watney. He reminded me of the ideal characters of old Rome, such as Cincinnatus, who after serving his country in the highest degree only desired to return to his farm and live the simple life of a countryman. No one I have ever met in political life has had quite the same attract ion for me, though I cannot say I ever knew him really intimately — very few had that privilege.
If Lord Rosebery appeared to my mind’s eye in the guise of a highly polished eighteenth-century snuffbox, Edward Grey always took the form of a granite column, smooth, but not polished so as to reflect the things about him, for he was the most genuine man I ever met. I cannot imagine him ever imitating anyone. Though he was a granite column, there was hidden within it a vein of gold; and though it may seem incompatible with granite, he had a keen sense of humor. Perhaps I am prejudiced, but I infinitely prefer his writing to Lord Rosebery’s polished style, and I believe that Grey’s Charm of Birds will outlive thousands of more learned and more profound books, just as Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler is probably to-day more read than Hobbes’s Leviathan or Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. The Charm of Birds is a perfect piece of English prose and deals in a true English spirit with a subject that appeals to most English hearts.
Another man with whom the months I spent at the Foreign Office brought me into closer contact than ever before was my cousin Auberon Herbert.
Auberon was a most unusual person. Very gifted though he was, and with a special charm coming perhaps from the old-world courtesy peculiar to all that branch of the Herberts, his ideas were yet so revolutionary and subversive and his habits so unconventional that he had dropped almost entirely out of the society of his own class. He was indeed so pronounced an individualist as to be an anarchist. He was, as a matter of course, a violent opponent of government control or interference of any kind. Having been a very smart cavalry officer in his youth, he had become a fanatical pacifist, and had on one occasion to fly before an irate patriotic mob in Hyde Park whom he had attempted to convert too rapidly to his ideas. Indeed, he only saved himself by climbing the high railings that surround the park, leaving, I was told, a large part of his trousers on the spikes, to the huge delight of his pursuers.
He had a mania for woolen clothing and spent a great part of the day in pulling on or stripping off knitted gray woolen jerseys. He always traveled with his own Jaeger blankets and would sleep in nothing else; he also had a passion for airing them. So much was this the case that once, being on my way through Athens, I looked up at the upper stories of one of the principal hotels, and seeing the balcony of one room hung, not with tapestries, as in the Renaissance for a festa, but with large Jaeger blankets, I went in, asked for Auberon Herbert, and was immediately taken up to his room.
I used to go from London in the summer and spend week-ends with him occasionally at his quaint house in the New Forest. Auberon — then about fifty, I suppose — suddenly thought he would learn to play the fiddle. One moonlight night I heard the most unearthly sounds from the garden and, looking out, saw Auberon, wrapped in woolen sweaters and Jaeger rugs, sitting on a chair in an open space that passed for a lawn, sawing away on his fiddle with astonishing energy. It was a delightful sight, but the sounds were more like the moans and shrieks of a tortured animal than anything before produced from a musical instrument.
How memories crowd upon me as I write!