Ambassador at Large
IN Theatre of Life (Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $3.50) Lord Howard of Penrith invites us to a varied and interesting performance, as he offers us a seat by his side in the proscenium box to which he has always been entitled. The curtain rises on Greystoke, the ancestral castle where his happy childhood was spent. We get a charming picture of the place, with its mixture of Whig and Tory traditions; the great house full of Stuart portraits and historic relics, surrounded by six thousand acres of enclosed park, the children’s paradise. ‘The good things came to me, it seemed to me, as of right and I could not understand what the elders meant when they told me I should be grateful to God for them.’
The good things continued to come. On graduating from school the young Howard decided not to go to college but to start at once preparing for the Diplomatic Service. He spent several years on the Continent, learning languages in Florence, Paris, Düsseldorf, everywhere meeting interesting people and making friends wherever he went. He was only a short time in the service when his brother-in-law Lord Carnarvon was made Viceroy of Ireland and took him to Dublin as private secretary. This was in 1885, soon after the Phœnix Park murders, at the height of the Home Rule agitation. Although living at the Viceregal Lodge, young Howard became convinced of the justice of the Irish cause and even in those unruly times gave it his full sympathy. He went back to the Foreign Office at the end of Carnarvon’s term, and was sent as attaché to the Embassy in Rome. There he saw and lost his heart forever to the lovely Donna Isabella Bandini, daughter of Prince Bandini, ninth Earl of Newburgh. According to Roman custom, she was strictly chaperoned; he saw her at balls and receptions, but was never allowed to have any private conversation. Phis romance runs through the whole book and is treated with delicate candor. On a subsequent visit he obtained permission to offer the lady his hand and heart. She would not marry him unless he became a Catholic, and he tells us of his conversion, which was as sincere and as lasting as his devotion to the young princess.
Presently the scene shifts to South Africa. Those were the days of ’African fever.’ Diamond mines had been discovered in the Transvaal, and the Boers in possession did all they could to hinder their exploitation, while the British and the Germans were watching their chance to step in. Cecil Rhodes was the hero of the hour, and Howard describes him with warm enthusiasm and tells of many talks and encounters with the great practical dreamer. He also meets four ‘wild Australian’ prospectors and takes them with him on a big-gameshooting expedition in order to benefit by their experience. His companions represented wide differences of origin and opinion. There were long discussions over the campfire, and ‘we learned to tolerate each other because we early learned that we had need of each other, and it has often seemed to me that in those few months I took a Degree in the Art of Living and in the knowledge of Human Nature which as many years at Oxford or Cambridge or indeed at any University could not have conferred upon me.’
After returning to Europe, Howard became interested in the rubber industry and made long adventurous journeys to Brazil, Central America, Mexico, and the West Indies. He started a rubber plantation at Tobago; this island, which may have been Robinson Crusoe’s, is described as an Arcadian paradise. He returned to Rome and married Donna Isabella a year before the Boer War. For this he enlisted as a yeoman and fought in it till he was taken prisoner. All this and a great deal more are well told, with a variety of amusing incidents and vivid portraits of men and women encountered on the way. Governors of colonies, cardinals, ambassadors, and rulers of men are not described with more zest of human interest than chance companions, colored innkeepers, porters, and the stranded waifs of civilization. He has known all the great men of his day and never disregarded the lesser ones. His book makes delightful reading.