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

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I was told after I came from the King's presence that the Queen would
receive me in a few minutes. I was shown upstairs, the door opened, and
there in a small drawing room, stood the Queen alone - a pleasant woman,
very royal in appearance. The one thing that sticks in my memory out of
this first conversation with her Majesty was her remark that she had
seen only one man who had been President of the United States - Mr.
Roosevelt. She hoped he was well. I felt moved to remark that she was
not likely to see many former Presidents because the office was so hard
a task that most of them did not long survive.

"I'm hoping that office will not soon kill the King," she said.

In time Page obtained an entirely adequate and dignified house at 6
Grosvenor Square, and soon found that the American Ambassadorship had
compensations which were hardly suggested by his first glimpse of the
lugubrious Chancery. He brought to this new existence his plastic and
inquisitive mind, and his mighty gusto for the interesting and the
unusual; he immensely enjoyed his meetings with the most important
representatives of all types of British life. The period of his arrival
marked a crisis in British history; Mr. Lloyd George was supposed to be
taxing the aristocracy out of existence; Mr. Asquith was accused of
plotting the destruction of the House of Lords; the tide of liberalism,
even of radicalism, was running high, and, in the judgment of the
conservative forces, England was tottering to its fall; the gathering
mob was about to submerge everything that had made it great. And the
Irish question had reached another crisis with the passage of the Home
Rule Bill, which Sir Edward Carson was preparing to resist with his
Irish "volunteers."

All these matters formed the staple of talk at dinner tables, at country
houses and at the clubs; and Page found constant entertainment in the
variegated pageant. There were important American matters to discuss
with the Foreign Office - more important than any that had arisen in
recent years - particularly Mexico and the Panama Tolls. Before these
questions are considered, however, it may be profitable to print a
selection from the many letters which Page wrote during his first year,
giving his impressions of this England which he had always loved and
which a closer view made him love and admire still more. These letters
have the advantage of presenting a frank and yet sympathetic picture of
British society and British life as it was just before the war.

_To Frank N Doubleday_

The Coburg Hotel,
Carlos Place, Grosvenor Square,
London, W.


You can't imagine the intensity of the party feeling here. I dined
to-night in an old Tory family. They had just had a "division" an
hour or two before in the House of Lords on the Home Rule Bill. Six
Lords were at the dinner and their wives. One was a Duke, two were
Bishops, and the other three were Earls. They expect a general
"bust-up." If the King does so and so, off with the King! That's
what they fear the Liberals will do. It sounds very silly to me;
but you can't exaggerate their fear. The Great Lady, who was our
hostess, told me, with tears in her voice, that she had suspended
all social relations with the Liberal leaders.

At lunch - just five or six hours before - we were at the Prime
Minister's, where the talk was precisely on the other side.
Gladstone's granddaughter was there and several members of the

Somehow it reminds me of the tense days of the slavery controversy
just before the Civil War.

Yet in the everyday life of the people, you hear nothing about it.
It is impossible to believe that the ordinary man cares a fig!

Good-night. You don't care a fig for this. But I'll get time to
write you something interesting in a little while.


_To Herbert S. Houston_

American Embassy
Sunday, 24 Aug., 1913.


. . . You know there's been much discussion of the decadence of the
English people. I don't believe a word of it. They have an awful
slum, I hear, as everybody knows, and they have an idle class.
Worse, from an equal-opportunity point-of-view, they have a very
large servant-class, and a large class that depends on the nobility
and the rich. All these are economic and social drawbacks. But they
have always had all these - except that the slum has become larger
in modern years. And I don't see or find any reason to believe in
the theory of decadence. The world never saw a finer lot of men
than the best of their ruling class. You may search the world and
you may search history for finer men than Lord Morley, Sir Edward
Grey, Mr. Harcourt, and other members of the present Cabinet. And I
meet such men everywhere - gently bred, high-minded, physically fit,
intellectually cultivated, patriotic. If the devotion to old forms
and the inertia which makes any change almost impossible strike an
American as out-of-date, you must remember that in the grand old
times of England, they had all these things and had them worse than
they are now. I can't see that the race is breaking down or giving
out. Consider how their political morals have been pulled up since
the days of the rotten boroughs; consider how their court-life is
now high and decent, and think what it once was. British trade is
larger this year than it ever was, Englishmen are richer then they
ever were and more of them are rich. They write and speak and play
cricket, and govern, and fight as well as they have ever
done - excepting, of course, the writing of Shakespeare.

Another conclusion that is confirmed the more you see of English
life is their high art of living. When they make their money, they
stop money-making and cultivate their minds and their gardens and
entertain their friends and do all the high arts of living - to
perfection. Three days ago a retired soldier gave a garden-party in
my honour, twenty-five miles out of London. There was his historic
house, a part of it 500 years old; there were his ten acres of
garden, his lawn, his trees; and they walk with you over it all;
they sit out-of-doors; they serve tea; they take life rationally;
they talk pleasantly (not jocularly, nor story-telling); they abhor
the smart in talk or in conduct; they have gentleness, cultivation,
the best manners in the world; and they are genuine. The hostess
has me take a basket and go with her while she cuts it full of
flowers for us to bring home; and, as we walk, she tells the story
of the place. She is a tenant-for-life; it is entailed. Her husband
was wounded in South Africa. Her heir is her nephew. The home, of
course, will remain in the family forever. No, they don't go to
London much in recent years: why should they? But they travel a
month or more. They give three big tea-parties - one when the
rhododendrons bloom and the others at stated times. They have
friends to stay with them half the time, perhaps - sometimes parties
of a dozen. England never had a finer lot of folk than these. And
you see them everywhere. The art of living sanely they have
developed to as high a level, I think, as you will find at any time
in any land.

The present political battle is fiercer than you would ever guess.
The Lords feel that they are sure to be robbed: they see the end
of the ordered world. Chaos and confiscation lie before them. Yet
that, too, has nearly always been so. It was so in the Reform Bill
days. Lord Morley said to me the other day that when all the
abolitions had been done, there would be fewer things abolished
than anybody hopes or fears, and that there would be the same
problems in some form for many generations. I'm beginning to
believe that the Englishman has always been afraid of the
future - that's what's keeps him so alert. They say to me: "You have
frightful things happen in the United States - your Governor of New
York[16], your Thaw case, your corruption, etc., etc.; and yet you
seem sure and tell us that your countrymen feel sure of the safety
of your government." In the newspaper comments on my
Southampton[17] speech the other day, this same feeling cropped up;
the American Ambassador assures us that the note of hope is the
dominant note of the Republic - etc., etc. Yes, they are dull, _in a
way_ - not dull, so much as steady; and yet they have more solid
sense than any other people.

It's an interesting study - the most interesting in the world. The
genuineness of the courtesy, the real kindness and the hospitality
of the English are beyond praise and without limit. In this they
show a strange contradiction to their dickering habits in trade and
their "unctuous rectitude" in stealing continents. I know a place
in the world now where they are steadily moving their boundary line
into other people's territory. I guess they really believe that the
earth belongs to them.


To Arthur W. Page[18]

Gordon Arms Hotel, Elgin, Scotland.
September 6, 1913.

Dear Arthur:

Your mother and Kitty[19] and I are on our way to see Andy[20]. Had
you any idea that to motor from London to Skibo means driving more
than eight hundred miles? Our speedometer now shows more than seven
hundred and we've another day to go - at least one hundred and
thirty miles. And we haven't even had a tire accident. We're having
a delightful journey - only this country yields neither vegetables
nor fruits, and I have to live on oatmeal. They spell it
p-o-r-r-i-d-g-e, and they call it puruge. But they beat all
creation as carnivorous folk. We stayed last night at a beautiful
mountain hotel at Braemar (the same town whereat Stevenson wrote
"Treasure Island") and they had nine kinds of meat for dinner and
eggs in three ways, and no vegetables but potatoes. But this
morning we struck the same thin oatbread that you ate at
Grandfather Mountain.

I've never understood the Scotch. I think they are, without doubt,
the most capable race in the world - away from home. But how they
came to be so and how they keep up their character and supremacy
and keep breeding true needs explanation. As you come through the
country, you see the most monotonous and dingy little houses and
thousands of robust children, all dirtier than niggers. In the
fertile parts of the country, the fields are beautifully
cultivated - for Lord This-and-T'Other who lives in London and comes
up here in summer to collect his rents and to shoot. The country
people seem desperately poor. But they don't lose their robustness.
In the solid cities - the solidest you ever saw, all being of
granite - such as Edinburgh and Aberdeen, where you see the
prosperous class, they look the sturdiest and most independent
fellows you ever saw. As they grow old they all look like
blue-bellied Presbyterian elders. Scotch to the marrow - everybody
and everything seem - bare knees alike on the street and in the
hotel with dress coats on, bagpipes - there's no sense in these
things, yet being Scotch they live forever. The first men I saw
early this morning on the street in front of the hotel were two
weather-beaten old chaps, with gray beards under their chins.
"Guddddd Murrrrninggggg, Andy," said one. "Guddddd murrninggggg,
Sandy," said the other; and they trudged on. They'd dethrone kings
before they'd shave differently or drop their burrs and gutturals
or cover their knees or cease lying about the bagpipe. And you
can't get it out of the blood. Your mother[21] becomes provoked
when I say these things, and I shouldn't wonder if you yourself
resent them and break out quoting Burns. Now the Highlands can't
support a population larger than the mountain counties of Kentucky.
Now your Kentucky feud is a mere disgrace to civilization. But your
Highland feud is celebrated in song and story. Every clan keeps
itself together to this day by its history and by its plaid. At a
turn in the road in the mountains yesterday, there stood a statue
of Rob Roy painted every stripe to life. We saw his sword and purse
in Sir Walter's house at Abbotsford. The King himself wore the kilt
and one of the plaids at the last court ball at Buckingham Palace,
and there is a man who writes his name and is called "The
Macintosh of Macintosh," and that's a prouder title than the
King's. A little handful of sheep-stealing bandits got themselves
immortalized and heroized, and they are now all Presbyterian
elders. They got _their_ church "established" in Scotland, and when
the King comes to Scotland, by Jehoshaphat! he is obliged to become
a Presbyterian. Yet your Kentucky feudist - poor devil - he comes too
late. The Scotchman has pre-empted that particular field of glory.
And all such comparisons make your mother fighting mad. . . .


_To the President_

American Embassy, London.
October 25, 1913.

Dear Mr. President:

I am moved once in a while to write you privately, not about any
specific piece of public business, but only, if I can, to transmit
something of the atmosphere of the work here. And, since this is
meant quite as much for your amusement as for any information it
may carry, don't read it "in office hours."

The future of the world belongs to us. A man needs to live here,
with two economic eyes in his head, a very little time to become
very sure of this. Everybody will see it presently. These English
are spending their capital, and it is their capital that continues
to give them their vast power. Now what are we going to do with the
leadership of the world presently when it clearly falls into our
hands[22]? And how can we use the English for the highest uses of

You see their fear of an on-sweeping democracy in their social
treatment of party opponents. A Tory lady told me with tears that
she could no longer invite her Liberal friends to her house: "I
have lost them - they are robbing us, you know." I made the mistake
of saying a word in praise of Sir Edward Grey to a duke. "Yes, yes,
no doubt an able man; but you must understand, sir, that I don't
train with that gang." A bishop explained to me at elaborate length
why the very monarchy is doomed unless something befalls Lloyd
George and his programme. Every dinner party is made up with strict
reference to the party politics of the guests. Sometimes you
imagine you see something like civil war; and money is flowing out
of the Kingdom into Canada in the greatest volume ever known and I
am told that a number of old families are investing their fortunes
in African lands.

These and such things are, of course, mere chips which show the
direction the slow stream runs. The great economic tide of the
century flows our way. _We_ shall have the big world questions to
decide presently. Then we shall need world policies; and it will be
these old-time world leaders that we shall then have to work with,
more closely than now.

The English make a sharp distinction between the American people
and the American Government - a distinction that they are conscious
of and that they themselves talk about. They do not think of our
_people_ as foreigners. I have a club book on my table wherein the
members are classified as British, Colonial, American, and
Foreign - quite unconsciously. But they do think of our Government
as foreign, and as a frontier sort of thing without good manners or
good faith. This distinction presents the big task of implanting
here a real respect for our Government. People often think to
compliment the American Ambassador by assuming that he is better
than his Government and must at times be ashamed of it. Of course
the Government never does this - never - but persons in unofficial
life; and I have sometimes hit some hard blows under this
condescending provocation. This is the one experience that I have
found irritating. They commiserate me on having a Government that
will not provide an Ambassador's residence - from the King to my
servants. They talk about American lynchings. Even the _Spectator,_
in an early editorial about you, said that we should now see what
stuff there is in the new President by watching whether you would
stop lynchings. They forever quote Bryce on the badness of our
municipal government. They pretend to think that the impeachment of
governors is common and ought to be commoner. One delicious M.P.
asked me: "Now, since the Governor of New York is impeached, who
becomes Vice-President[23]?" Ignorance, unfathomable ignorance, is
at the bottom of much of it; if the Town Treasurer of Yuba Dam gets
a $100 "rake off" on a paving contract, our city government is a

I am about to conclude that our yellow press does us more harm
abroad than at home, and many of the American correspondents of the
English papers send exactly the wrong news. The whole governing
class of England has a possibly exaggerated admiration for the
American people and something very like contempt for the American

If I make it out right two causes (in addition to their ignorance)
of their dislike of our Government are (1) its lack of manners in
the past, and (2) its indiscretions of publicity about foreign
affairs. We ostentatiously stand aloof from their polite ways and
courteous manners in many of the every-day, ordinary, unimportant
dealings with them - aloof from the common amenities of
long-organized political life. . . .

Not one of these things is worth mentioning or remembering. But
generations of them have caused our Government to be regarded as
thoughtless of the fine little acts of life - as rude. The more I
find out about diplomatic customs and the more I hear of the
little-big troubles of others, the more need I find to be careful
about details of courtesy.

Thus we are making as brave a show as becomes us. I no longer
dismiss a princess after supper or keep the whole diplomatic corps
waiting while I talk to an interesting man till the Master of
Ceremonies comes up and whispers: "Your Excellency, I think they
are waiting for you to move." But I am both young and green, and
even these folk forgive much to green youth, if it show a
willingness to learn.

But our Government, though green, isn't young enough to plead its
youth. It is time that it, too, were learning Old World manners in
dealing with Old World peoples. I do not know whether we need a
Bureau, or a Major-Domo, or a Master of Ceremonies at Washington,
but we need somebody to prompt us to act as polite as we really
are, somebody to think of those gentler touches that we naturally
forget. Some other governments have such officers - perhaps all. The
Japanese, for instance, are newcomers in world politics. But this
Japanese Ambassador and his wife here never miss a trick; and they
come across the square and ask us how to do it! All the other
governments, too, play the game of small courtesies to
perfection - the French, of course, and the Spanish and - even the
old Turk.

Another reason for the English distrust of our Government is its
indiscretions in the past of this sort: one of our Ministers to
Germany, you will recall, was obliged to resign because the
Government at Washington inadvertently published one of his
confidential despatches; Griscom saved his neck only by the skin,
when he was in Japan, for a similar reason. These things travel all
round the world from one chancery to another and all governments
know them. Yesterday somebody in Washington talked about my
despatch summarizing my talk with Sir Edward Grey about Mexico, and
it appeared in the papers here this morning that Sir Edward had
told me that the big business interests were pushing him hard. This
I sent as only _my_ inference. I had at once to disclaim it. This
leaves in his mind a doubt about our care for secrecy. They have
monstrous big doors and silent men in Downing Street; and, I am
told, a stenographer sits behind a big screen in Sir Edward's room
while an Ambassador talks[24]! I wonder if my comments on certain
poets, which I have poured forth there to provoke his, are
preserved in the archives of the British Empire. The British Empire
is surely very welcome to them. I have twice found it useful, by
the way, to bring up Wordsworth when he has begun to talk about
Panama tolls. Then your friend Canon Rawnsley[25] has, without
suspecting it, done good service in diplomacy.

The newspaper men here, by the way, both English and American, are
disposed to treat us fairly and to be helpful. The London _Times_,
on most subjects, is very friendly, and I find its editors worth
cultivating for their own sakes and because of their position. It
is still the greatest English newspaper. Its general friendliness
to the United States, by the way, has started a rumour that I hear
once in a while - that it is really owned by Americans - nonsense yet
awhile. To the fairness and helpfulness of the newspaper men there
are one or two exceptions, for instance, a certain sneaking whelp
who writes for several papers. He went to the Navy League dinner
last night at which I made a little speech. When I sat down, he
remarked to his neighbour, with a yawn, "Well, nothing in it for
me. The Ambassador, I am afraid, said nothing for which I can
demand his recall." They, of course, don't care thrippence about
me; it's you they hope to annoy.

Then after beating them at their own game of daily little
courtesies, we want a fight with them - a good stiff fight about
something wherein we are dead right, to remind them sharply that we
have sand in our craw[26]. I pray every night for such a fight; for
they like fighting men. Then they'll respect our Government as they
already respect us - if we are dead right.

But I've little hope for a fight of the right kind with Sir Edward
Grey. He is the very reverse of insolent - fair, frank,
sympathetic, and he has so clear an understanding of our real
character that he'd yield anything that his party and Parliament
would permit. He'd make a good American with the use of very little
sandpaper. Of course I know him better than I know any other member
of the Cabinet, but he seems to me the best-balanced man of them

I can assure you emphatically that the tariff act[27] does command
their respect and is already having an amazing influence on their
opinion of our Government. Lord Mersey, a distinguished law lord
and a fine old fellow of the very best type of Englishman, said to
me last Sunday, "I wish to thank you for stopping half-way in
reducing your tariff; that will only half ruin us." A lady of a
political family (Liberal) next whom I sat at dinner the other
night (and these women know their politics as no class of women
among us do) said: "Tell me something about your great President.
We hadn't heard much about him nor felt his hand till your tariff
bill passed. He seems to have real power in the Government. You
know we do not always know who has power in your Government." Lord
Grey, the one-time Governor-General of Canada, stopped looking at
the royal wedding presents the other evening long enough to say:
"The United States Government is waking up - waking up."

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