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The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I online

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before he knew or was quite prepared for it, thrust into a whirl of
self-seeking men even while he is trying to think out the theory of
the duties that press, knowing the necessity of silence, surrounded
by small people - well, I made up my mind that his real friends owed
it to him and to what we all hope for, to break over his reserve
and to volunteer help. He asks for conferences with official
folk - only, I think. So I began to write memoranda about those
subjects of government about which I know something and have
opinions and about men who are or who may be related to them. It
has been great sport to set down in words without any reserve
precisely what you think. It is imprudent, of course, as most
things worth doing are. But what have I to lose, I who have my life
now planned and laid out and have got far beyond the reach of
gratitude or hatred or praise or blame or fear of any man? I sent
him some such memoranda. Here came forthwith a note of almost
abject thanks. I sent more. Again, such a note - written in his own
hand. Yet not a word of what he thinks. The Sphinx was garrulous in
comparison. Then here comes a mob of my good friends crying for
office for me. So I sent a ten-line note, by the hand of my
secretary, saying that this should not disturb my perfect frankness
nor (I knew it would not) his confidence. Again, a note in his own
hand, of perfect understanding and with the very glow of gratitude.
And he talks - generalities to the public. Perhaps that's all he can
talk now. Wise? Yes. But does he know the men about him? Does he
really know men? Nobody knows. Thus 'twixt fear and hope I
see - suspense. I'll swear I can't doubt, I can't believe. Whether
it is going to work out or not - whether he or anybody can work it
out of the haze of theory - nobody knows; and nobody's speculation
is better than mine and mine is worthless.

This is the game, this is the excitement, this is the doubthope and
the hopedoubt. I send this word about it to you (I could and would
to nobody else: you're snowbound, you see, and don't write much and
don't see many people: restrain your natural loquacity!) But for
the love of heaven tell me if you see any way _very clearly_. It's
a kind of misty dream to me.

I ask myself why should I concern myself about it? Of course the
answer's easy and I think creditable: I do profoundly hold this
democratic faith and believe that it can be worked into action
among men; and it may be I shall yet see it done. That's the secret
of my interest. But when this awful office descends on a man, it
oppresses him, changes him, you are not quite so sure of him, you
doubt whether he knows himself or you in the old way.

And I find among men the very crudest ideas of government or of
democracy. They have not thought the thing out. They hold no
ordered creed of human organization or advancement. They leave all
to chance and think, when they think at all, that chance determines
it. And yet the Great Hope persists, and I think I have grown an
inch by it.

I wonder how it seems, looked at from the cold mountains of Lake

It's the end of the year. Mrs. Page and I (alone!) have been
talking of democracy, of these very things I've written. The
bell-ringing and the dancing and the feasting are not, on this
particular year, to our liking. We see all our children gone - half
of them to nests of their own building, the rest on errands of
their own pleasure, and we are left, young yet, but the main job of
life behind us! We're going down to a cottage in southern North
Carolina (with our own cook and motor car, praise God!) for
February, still further to think this thing out and incidentally to
build us a library, in which we'll live when we can. That, for
convention's sake, we call a Vacation.

Your brave note came to-day. Of course, you'll "get" 'em - those
small enemies. The gain of twelve pounds tells the story. The
danger is, your season of philosophy and reverie will be too soon
ended. Don't fret; the work and the friends will be here when you
come down. There's many a long day ahead; and there may not be so
many seasons of rest and meditation. You are the only man I know
who has time enough to think out a clear answer to this: "What
ought to be done with Bryan?" What _can_ be done with Bryan? When
you find the answer, telegraph it to me.

I've a book or two more to send you. If they interest you, praise
the gods. If they bore you, fling 'em in the snow and think no
worse of me. You can't tell what a given book may be worth to a
given man in an unknown mood. They've become such a commodity to me
that I thank my stars for a month away from them when I may come at
'em at a different angle and really need a few old
ones - Wordsworth, for instance. When you get old enough, you'll
wake up some day with the feeling that the world is much more
beautiful than it was when you were young, that a landscape has a
closer meaning, that the sky is more companionable, that outdoor
colour and motion are more splendidly audacious and beautifully
rhythmical than you had ever thought. That's true. The gently
snow-clad little pines out my window are more to me than the whole
Taft Administration. They'll soon be better than the year's
dividends. And the few great craftsmen in words who can confirm
this feeling - they are the masters you become grateful for. Then
the sordidness of the world lies far beneath you and your great
democracy is truly come - the democracy of Nature. To be akin to a
tree, in this sense, is as good as to be akin to a man. I have a
grove of little long-leaf pines down in the old country and I know
they'll have some consciousness of me after all men have forgotten
me: I've saved 'em, and they'll sing a century of gratitude if I
can keep 'em saved. Joe Holmes gave me a dissertation on them the
other day. He was down there "on a little Sunday jaunt" of forty
miles - the best legs and the best brain that ever worked together
in one anatomy.

A conquering New Year - that's what you'll find, begun before this
reaches you, carrying all good wishes from

Yours affectionately,


To Edwin A. Alderman

Garden City, New York,

January 26, 1913.


This has been "Board" [10] week, as you know. The men came from all
quarters of the land, and we had a good time. New work is opening;
old work is going well; the fellowship ran in good tide - except
that everybody asked everybody else: "What do you know about
Alderman?" Everybody who had late news of you gave a good report.
The Southern Board formally passed a resolution to send
affectionate greetings to you and high hope and expectation, and I
was commissioned to frame the message. This is it. I shall write no
formal resolution, for that wasn't the spirit of it. The fellows
all asked me, singly and collectively, to send their love. And we
don't put that sort of a message under _whereases_ and
_wherefores_. There they were, every one of them, except Peabody
and Bowie. Mr. Ogden in particular was anxious for his emphatic
remembrance and good wishes to go. The dear old man is fast passing
into the last stage of his illness and he knows it and he soon
expects the end, in a mood as brave and as game as he ever was. I
am sorry to tell you he suffers a good deal of pain.

What a fine thing to look back over - this Southern Board's work!
Here was a fine, zealous merchant twenty years ago, then
fifty-seven years old, who saw this big job as a modest layman. If
he had known more about "Education" or more about "the South,
bygawd, sir!" he'd never have had the courage to tackle the job.
But with the bravery of ignorance, he turned out to be the wisest
man on that task in our generation. He has united every real, good
force, and he showed what can be done in a democracy even by one
zealous man. I've sometimes thought that this is possibly the
wisest single piece of work that I have ever seen done - _wisest_,
not smartest. I don't know what can be done when he's gone. His
phase of it is really done. But, if another real leader arise,
there will doubtless be another phase.

The General Board doesn't find much more college-endowing to do. We
made only one or two gifts. But we are trying to get the country
school task rightly focussed. We haven't done it yet; but we will.
Buttrick and Rose will work it out. I wish to God I could throw
down my practical job and go at it with 'em. Darned if I couldn't
get it going! though _I_ say it, as shouldn't. And we are going
pretty soon to begin with the medical colleges; that, I think, is
good - very.

But the most efficient workmanlike piece of organization that my
mortal eyes have ever seen is Rose's hookworm worm work. We're
going soon to organize country life in a sanitary way, the county
health officer being the biggest man on the horizon. Stiles has
moved his marine hospital and his staff to Wilmington, North
Carolina, and he and the local health men are quietly going to make
New Hanover the model county for sanitary condition and efficiency.
You'll know what a vast revolution that denotes! - And Congress
seems likely to charter the big Rockefeller Foundation, which will
at once make five millions available for chasing the hookworm off
the face of the earth. Rose will spread himself over Honduras,
etc., etc., and China, and India! This does literally beat the
devil; for, if the hookworm isn't the devil, what is?

I'm going to farming. I've two brothers and two sons, all young and
strong, who believe in the game. We have land without end,
thousands of acres; engines to pull stumps, to plough, to plant, to
reap. The nigger go hang! A white boy with an engine can outdo a
dozen of 'em. Cotton and corn for staple crops; peaches, figs,
scuppernongs, vegetables, melons for incidental crops; God's good
air in North Carolina; good roads, too - why, man, Moore County has
authorized the laying out of a strip of land along all highways to
be planted in shrubbery and fruit trees and kept as a park, so that
you will motor for 100 miles through odorous bloom in spring! - I
mean I am going down there to-morrow for a month, one day for golf
at Pinehurst, the next day for clearing land with an oil
locomotive, ripping up stumps! Every day for life out-of-doors and
every night, too. I'm going to grow dasheens. You know what a
dasheen is? It's a Trinidad potato, which keeps and tastes like a
sweet potato stuffed with chestnuts. There are lots of things to
learn in this world.

God bless us all, old man. It's a pretty good world, whether seen
from the petty excitements of reforming the world and dreaming of a
diseaseless earth in New York, or from the stump-pulling recreation
of a North Carolina wilderness.

Health be with you!


To Edwin A. Alderman

Garden City, L.I.

March 10, 1913.


I'm home from a month of perfect climate in the sandhills of North
Carolina, where I am preparing a farm and building a home at least
for winter use; and I had the most instructive and interesting
month of my life there. I believe I see, even in my life-time, the
coming of a kind of man and a kind of life that shall come pretty
near to being the model American citizen and the model American way
to live. Half of it is climate; a fourth of it occupation; the
other fourth, companionship. And the climate (with what it does) is
three fourths companionship.

Then I came to Washington and saw Wilson made President - a very
impressive experience indeed. The future - God knows; but I believe
in Wilson very thoroughly. Men fool him yet. Men fool us all. He
has already made some mistakes. But he's sound. And, if we have
moral courage enough to beat back the grafters, little and big - I
mean if we, the people, will vote two years and four years hence,
to keep them back, I think that we shall now really work toward a
democratic government. I have a stronger confidence in government
now as an instrument of human progress than I have ever had before.
And I find it an exhilarating and exciting experience.

I have seen many of your good friends in North Carolina, Virginia,
and Washington. How we all do love you, old man! Don't forget that,
in your successful fight. And, with my affectionate greetings to
Mrs. Alderman, ask her to send me the news of your progress.

Always affectionately yours,


_To Edwin A. Alderman_

On the _Baltic_, New York to Liverpool,

May 19, 1913.


It was the best kind of news I heard of you during my last weeks at
home - every day of which I wished to go to Briarcliff to see you.
At a distance, it seems absurd to say that it was impossible to go.
But it was. I set down five different days in my calendar for this
use; and somehow every one of them was taken. Two were taken by
unexpected calls to Washington. Another was taken by my partners
who arranged a little good-bye dinner. Another was taken by the
British Ambassador - and so on. Absurd - of course it was absurd, and
I feel now as if it approached the criminal. But every stolen day I
said, "Well, I'll find another." But another never came.

But good news of you came by many hands and mouths. My
congratulations, my cheers, my love, old man. Now when you do take
up work again, don't take up all the work. Show the fine virtue
called self-restraint. We work too much and too hard and do too
many things even when we are well. There are three titled
Englishmen who sit at the table with me on this ship - one a former
Lord Mayor of London, another a peer, and the third an M.P. Damn
their self-sufficiencies! They do excite my envy. _They_ don't
shoulder the work of the world: they shoulder the world and leave
the work to be done by somebody else. Three days' stories and
political discussion with them have made me wonder why the devil
I've been so industrious all my life. They know more than I know;
they are richer than I am; they have been about the world more than
I have; they are far more influential than I am; and yet one of
them asked me to-day if George Washington was a born American! I
said to him, "Where the devil do you suppose he came from - Hades?"
And he laughed at himself as heartily as the rest of us laughed at
him, and didn't care a hang!

If that's British, I've a mind to become British; and, the point
is, you must, too. Work is a curse. There was some truth in that
old doctrine. At any rate a little of it must henceforth go a long
way with you.

A sermon? Yes. But, since it's a good one, I know you'll forgive
me; for it is preached in love, my dear boy, and accompanied with
the hearty and insistent hope that you'll write to me.


This last letter apparently anticipates the story. A few weeks before it
was written President Wilson had succeeded in carrying out his
determination to make Page an important part of his Administration. One
morning Page's telephone rang and Colonel House's well-known and
well-modulated voice came over the wire.

"Good morning, Your Excellency," was his greeting.

"What the devil are you talking about?" asked Page.

Then Colonel House explained himself. The night before, he said, he had
dined at the White House. In a pause of the conversation the President
had quietly remarked:

"I've about made up my mind to send Walter Page to England. What do you
think of that?"

Colonel House thought very well of it indeed and the result of his
conversation was this telephone call, in which he was authorized to
offer Page the Ambassadorship to Great Britain.


[Footnote 7: Mr. David F. Houston, ex-President of the University of
Texas, and in 1912 Chancellor of the Washington University of St.

[Footnote 8: Charles R. Van Hise, President of the University of

[Footnote 9: Clarence Poe, editor of _The Progressive Farmer_.]

[Footnote 10: The reference is to the meeting of the Southern and the
General Education Boards.]



The London Embassy is the greatest diplomatic gift at the disposal of
the President, and, in the minds of the American people, it possesses a
glamour and an historic importance all its own. Page came to the
position, as his predecessors had come, with a sense of awe; the great
traditions of the office; the long line of distinguished men, from
Thomas Pinckney to Whitelaw Reid, who had filled it; the peculiar
delicacy of the problems that then existed between the two countries;
the reverent respect which Page had always entertained for English
history, English literature, and English public men - all these
considerations naturally quickened the new ambassador's imagination and,
at the same time, made his arrival in England a rather solemn event. Yet
his first days in London had their grotesque side as well. He himself
has recorded his impressions, and, since they contain an important
lesson for the citizens of the world's richest and most powerful
Republic, they should be preserved. When the ambassador of practically
any other country reaches London, he finds waiting for him a spacious
and beautiful embassy, filled with a large corps of secretaries and
servants - everything ready, to the minutest detail, for the beginning of
his labours. He simply enters these elaborate state-owned and
state-supported quarters and starts work. How differently the mighty
United States welcomes its ambassadors let Page's memorandum tell:

The boat touched at Queenstown, and a mass of Irish reporters came
aboard and wished to know what I thought of Ireland. Some of them
printed the important announcement that I was quite friendly to Ireland!
At Liverpool was Mr. Laughlin[11], Chargé d'Affaires in London since Mr.
Reid's death, to meet me, and of course the consul, Mr. Washington. . . .
On our arrival in London, Laughlin explained that he had taken quarters
for me at the Coburg Hotel, whither we drove, after having fought my way
through a mob of reporters at the station. One fellow told me that since
I left New York the papers had published a declaration by me that I
meant to be very "democratic" and would under no conditions wear "knee
breeches"; and he asked me about that report. I was foolish enough to
reply that the existence of an ass in the United States ought not
necessarily to require the existence of a corresponding ass in London.
He printed that! I never knew the origin of this "knee breeches" story.

That residence at the Coburg Hotel for three months was a crowded and
uncomfortable nightmare. The indignity and inconvenience - even the
humiliation - of an ambassador beginning his career in an hotel,
especially during the Court season, and a green ambassador at that! I
hope I may not die before our Government does the conventional duty to
provide ambassadors' residences.

The next morning I went to the Chancery (123, Victoria Street) and my
heart sank. I had never in my life been in an American Embassy. I had
had no business with them in Paris or in London on my previous visits.
In fact I had never been in any embassy except the British Embassy at
Washington. But the moment I entered that dark and dingy hall at 123,
Victoria Street, between two cheap stores - the same entrance that the
dwellers in the cheap flats above used - I knew that Uncle Sam had no fit
dwelling there. And the Ambassador's room greatly depressed me - dingy
with twenty-nine years of dirt and darkness, and utterly undignified.
And the rooms for the secretaries and attachés were the little bedrooms,
kitchen, etc., of that cheap flat; that's all it was. For the place we
paid $1,500 a year. I did not understand then and I do not understand
yet how Lowell, Bayard, Phelps, Hay, Choate, and Reid endured that cheap
hole. Of course they stayed there only about an hour a day; but they
sometimes saw important people there. And, whether they ever saw anybody
there or not, the offices of the United States Government in London
ought at least to be as good as a common lawyer's office in a country
town in a rural state of our Union. Nobody asked for anything for an
embassy: nobody got anything for an embassy. I made up my mind in ten
minutes that I'd get out of this place[12].

At the Coburg Hotel, we were very well situated; but the hotel became
intolerably tiresome. Harold Fowler and Frank and I were there until
W.A.W.P.[13] and Kitty[14] came (and Frances Clark came with them). Then
we were just a little too big a hotel party. Every morning I drove down
to the old hole of a Chancery and remained about two hours. There wasn't
very much work to do; and my main business was to become acquainted with
the work and with people - to find myself with reference to this task,
with reference to official life and to London life in general.

Every afternoon people came to the hotel to see me - some to pay their
respects and to make life pleasant, some out of mere curiosity, and many
for ends of their own. I confess that on many days nightfall found me
completely worn out. But the evenings seldom brought a chance to rest.
The social season was going at its full gait; and the new ambassador
(any new ambassador) would have been invited to many functions. A very
few days after my arrival, the Duchess of X invited Frank and me to
dinner. The powdered footmen were the chief novelty of the occasion for
us. But I was much confused because nobody introduced anybody to anybody
else. If a juxtaposition, as at the dinner table, made an introduction
imperative, the name of the lady next you was so slurred that you
couldn't possibly understand it.

Party succeeded party. I went to them because they gave me a chance to
become acquainted with people.

But very early after my arrival, I was of course summoned by the King. I
had presented a copy of my credentials to the Foreign Secretary (Sir
Edward Grey) and the real credentials - the original in a sealed
envelope - I must present to His Majesty. One morning the King's Master
of the Ceremonies, Sir Arthur Walsh, came to the hotel with the royal
coaches, four or five of them, and the richly caparisoned grooms. The
whole staff of the Embassy must go with me. We drove to Buckingham
Palace, and, after waiting a few moments, I was ushered into the King's
presence. He stood in one of the drawing rooms on the ground floor
looking out on the garden. There stood with him in uniform Sir Edward
Grey. I entered and bowed. He shook my hand, and I spoke my little piece
of three or four sentences.

He replied, welcoming me and immediately proceeded to express his
surprise and regret that a great and rich country like the United States
had not provided a residence for its ambassadors. "It is not fair to an
ambassador," said he; and he spoke most earnestly.

I reminded him that, although the lack of a home was an inconvenience,
the trouble or discomfort that fell on an ambassador was not so bad as
the wrong impression which I feared was produced about the United States
and its Government, and I explained that we had had so many absorbing
domestic tasks and, in general, so few absorbing foreign relations, that
we had only begun to develop what might be called an international

Sir Edward was kind enough the next time I saw him to remark that I did
that very well and made a good impression on the King.

I could now begin my ambassadorial career proper - call on the other
ambassadors and accept invitations to dinners and the like.

Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 10 of 32)