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I sum up these atmospheric conditions - I do not presume to call
them by so definite a name as recommendations:

We are in the international game - not in its Old World intrigues
and burdens and sorrows and melancholy, but in the inevitable way
to leadership and to cheerful mastery in the future; and everybody
knows that we are in it but us. It is a sheer blind habit that
causes us to continue to try to think of ourselves as aloof. They
think in terms of races here, and we are of their race, and we
shall become the strongest and the happiest branch of it.

While we play the game with them, we shall play it better by
playing it under their long-wrought-out rules of courtesy in
everyday affairs.

We shall play it better, too, if our Government play it
quietly - except when the subject demands publicity. I have heard
that in past years the foreign representatives of our Government
have reported too few things and much too meagrely. I have heard
since I have been here that these representatives become timid
because Washington has for many a year conducted its foreign
business too much in the newspapers; and the foreign governments
themselves are always afraid of this.

Meantime I hardly need tell you of my appreciation of such a chance
to make so interesting a study and to enjoy so greatly the most
interesting experience, I really believe, in the whole world. I
only hope that in time I may see how to shape the constant
progression of incidents into a constructive course of events; for
we are soon coming into a time of big changes.

Most heartily yours,
WALTER H. PAGE.

_To David F. Houston_[28]
American Embassy, London [undated].

DEAR HOUSTON:

You're doing the bigger job: as the world now is, there is no other
job so big as yours or so well worth doing; but I'm having more
fun. I'm having more fun than anybody else anywhere. It's a large
window you look through on the big world - here in London; and,
while I am for the moment missing many of the things that I've most
cared about hitherto (such as working for the countryman, guessing
at American public opinion, coffee that's fit to drink, corn bread,
sunshine, and old faces) big new things come on the horizon. Yet a
man's personal experiences are nothing in comparison with the large
job that our Government has to do in its Foreign Relations. I'm
beginning to begin to see what it is. The American people are taken
most seriously here. I'm sometimes almost afraid of the respect and
even awe in which they hold us. But the American Government is a
mere joke to them. They don't even believe that we ourselves
believe in it. We've had no foreign policy, no continuity of plan,
no matured scheme, no settled way of doing things and we seem
afraid of Irishmen or Germans or some "element" when a chance for
real action comes. I'm writing to the President about this and
telling him stories to show how it works.

We needn't talk any longer about keeping aloof. If Cecil Spring
Rice would tell you the complaints he has already presented and if
you saw the work that goes on here - more than in all the other
posts in Europe - you'd see that all the old talk about keeping
aloof is Missouri buncombe. We're very much "in," but not frankly
in.

I wish you'd keep your eye on these things in cabinet meetings. The
English and the whole English world are ours, if we have the
courtesy to take them - fleet and trade and all; and we go on
pretending we are afraid of "entangling alliances." What about
disentangling alliances?

We're in the game. There's no use in letting a few wild Irish or
cocky Germans scare us. We need courtesy and frankness, and the
destinies of the world will be in our hands. They'll fall there
anyhow after we are dead; but I wish to see them come, while my own
eyes last. Don't you?

Heartily yours,

W.H.P.

_To Robert N. Page_[29]

London, December 22, 1913.

MY DEAR BOB:

. . . We have a splendid, big old house - not in any way
pretentious - a commonplace house in fact for fashionable London and
the least showy and costly of the Embassies. But it does very
well - it's big and elegantly plain and dignified. We have fifteen
servants in the house. They do just about what seven good ones
would do in the United States, but they do it a great deal better.
They pretty nearly run themselves and the place. The servant
question is admirably solved here. They divide the work according
to a fixed and unchangeable system and they do it remarkably
well - in their own slow English way. We simply let them alone,
unless something important happens to go wrong. Katharine simply
tells the butler that we'll have twenty-four people to dinner
to-morrow night and gives him a list of them. As they come in, the
men at the door address every one correctly - Your Lordship or Your
Grace, or what not. When they are all in, the butler comes to the
reception room and announces dinner. We do the rest. As every man
goes out, the butler asks him if he'll have a glass of water or of
grog or a cigar; he calls his car, puts him in it, and that's the
end of it. Bully good plan. But in the United States that butler,
whose wages are less than the ramshackle nigger I had at Garden
City to keep the place neat, would have a business of his own. But
here he is a sort of duke downstairs. He sits at the head of the
servants' table and orders them around and that's worth more than
money to an Old World servile mind.

The "season" doesn't begin till the King comes back and Parliament
opens, in February. But every kind of club and patriotic and
educational organization is giving its annual dinner now. I've been
going to them and making after-dinner speeches to get acquainted
and also to preach into them some little knowledge of American ways
and ideals. They are very nice - very. You could not suggest or
imagine any improvement in their kindness and courtesy. They do all
these things in some ways better than we. They have more courtesy.
They make far shorter speeches. But they do them all too much
alike. Still they do get much pleasure out of them and much
instruction too.

Then we are invited to twice as many private dinners and luncheons
as we can attend. At these, these people are at their best. But it
is yet quite confusing. A sea of friendly faces greets you - you
can't remember the names. Nobody ever introduces anybody to
anybody; and if by accident anybody ever tries, he simply says
"Uh-o-oh-Lord Xzwwxkmpt." You couldn't understand it if you had to
be hanged.

But we are untangling some of this confusion and coming to make
very real and very charming friends.

About December 20, everybody who is anybody leaves London. They go
to their country places for about a fortnight or they go to the
continent. Almost everything stops. It has been the only dull time
at the Embassy that I've had. Nothing is going on now. But up to
two days ago, it kept a furious gait. I'm glad of a little rest.

Dealing with the Government doesn't present the difficulties that
I feared. Sir Edward Grey is in the main responsible for the ease
with which it is done. He is a frank and fair and truthful man. You
will find him the day after to-morrow precisely where you left him
the day before yesterday. We get along very well indeed. I think we
should get along if we had harder tasks one with the other. And the
English people are even more friendly than the Government. You have
no idea of their respect for the American Nation. Of course there
is much ignorance, sometimes of a surprising sort. Very many
people, for instance, think that all the Americans are rich. A lady
told me the other night how poor she is - she is worth only
$1,250,000 - "nothing like all you Americans." She was quite
sincere. In fact the wealth of the world (and the poverty, too) is
centred here in an amazing way. You can't easily take it in - how
rich or how many rich English families there are. They have had
wealth for generation after generation, and the surprising thing
is, they take care of it. They spend enormously - seldom
ostentatiously - but they are more than likely to add some of their
income every year to their principal. They have better houses in
town and in the country than I had imagined. They spend vast
fortunes in making homes in which they expect to live
forever - generation after generation.

To an American democrat the sad thing is the servile class. Before
the law the chimney sweep and the peer have exactly the same
standing. They have worked that out with absolute justice. But
there it stops. The serving class is what we should call abject. It
does not occur to them that they might ever become - or that their
descendants might ever become - ladies and gentlemen.

The "courts" are a very fine sight. The diplomatic ladies sit on a
row of seats on one side the throne room, the Duchesses on a row
opposite. The King and Queen sit on a raised platform with the
royal family. The Ambassadors come in first and bow and the King
shakes hands with them. Then come the forty or more Ministers - no
shake for them. In front of the King are a few officers in gaudy
uniform, some Indians of high rank (from India) and the court
officials are all round about, with pages who hold up the Queen's
train. Whenever the Queen and King move, two court officials back
before them, one carrying a gold stick and the other a silver
stick.

The ladies to be presented come along. They curtsy to the King,
then to the Queen, and disappear in the rooms farther on. The
Ambassadors (all in gaudy uniforms but me) stand near the
throne - stand through the whole performance. One night after an
hour or two of ladies coming along and curtsying and disappearing,
I whispered to the Spanish Ambassador, "There must be five hundred
of these ladies." "U-m," said he, as he shifted his weight to the
other foot, "I'm sure there are five thousand!" When they've all
been presented, the King and Queen go into a room where a stand-up
supper is served. The royalty and the diplomatic folks go into that
room, too; and their Majesties walk around and talk with whom they
please. Into another and bigger room everybody else goes and gets
supper. Then we all flock back to the throne room; and preceded by
the backing courtiers, their Majesties come out into the floor and
bow to the Ambassadors, then to the Duchesses, then to the general
diplomatic group and they go out. The show is ended. We come
downstairs and wait an hour for our car and come home about
midnight. The uniforms on the men and the jewels on the ladies (by
the ton) and their trains - all this makes a very brilliant
spectacle. The American Ambassador and his Secretaries and the
Swiss and the Portuguese are the only ones dressed in citizens'
clothes.

At a levee, the King receives only gentlemen. Here they come in all
kinds of uniforms. If you are not entitled to wear a uniform, you
have a dark suit, knee breeches, and a funny little tin sword. I'm
going to adopt the knee breeches part of it for good when I go
home - golf breeches in the day time and knee breeches at night.
You've no idea how nice and comfortable they are - though it is a
devil of a lot of trouble to put 'em on. Of course every sort of
man here but the Americans wears some sort of decorations around
his neck or on his stomach, at these functions. For my part, I like
it - here. The women sparkle with diamonds, the men strut; the King
is a fine man with a big bass voice and he talks very well and is
most agreeable; the Queen is very gracious; the royal ladies (Queen
Victoria's daughters, chiefly) are nice; you see all the big
Generals and all the big Admirals and the great folk of every
sort - fine show.

You've no idea how much time and money they spend on shooting. The
King has been shooting most of the time for three months. He's said
to be a very good shot. He has sent me, on different occasions,
grouse, a haunch of venison, and pheasants.

But except on these occasions, you never think about the King. The
people go about their business as if he didn't exist, of course.
They begin work much later than we do. You'll not find any of the
shops open till about ten o'clock. The sun doesn't shine except
once in a while and you don't know it's daylight till about ten.
You know the House of Commons has night sessions always. Nobody is
in the Government offices, except clerks and secretaries, till the
afternoon. We dine at eight, and, when we have a big dinner, at
eight thirty.

I like these people (most of 'em) immensely. They are very genuine
and frank, good fighters and folk of our own sort - after you come
to know them. At first they have no manners and don't know what to
do. But they warm up to you later. They have abundant wit, but much
less humour than we. And they know how to live.

Except that part of life which is ministered to in mechanical ways,
they resist conveniences. They don't really like bathrooms yet.
They prefer great tin tubs, and they use bowls and pitchers when a
bathroom is next door. The telephone - Lord deliver us! - I've given
it up. They know nothing about it. (It is a government concern, but
so is the telegraph and the post-office, and they are remarkably
good and swift.) You can't buy a newspaper on the street, except in
the afternoon. Cigar-stores are as scarce as hen's teeth.
Barber-shops are all "hairdressers" - dirty and wretched beyond
description. You can't get a decent pen; their newspapers are as
big as tablecloths. In this aquarium in which we live (it rains
every day) they have only three vegetables and two of them are
cabbages. They grow all kinds of fruit in hothouses, and (I can't
explain this) good land in admirable cultivation thirty miles from
London sells for about half what good corn land in Iowa brings.
Lloyd George has scared the land-owners to death.

Party politics runs so high that many Tories will not invite
Liberals to dinner. They are almost at the point of civil war. I
asked the Prime Minister the other day how he was going to prevent
war. He didn't give any clear answer. During this recess of
Parliament, though there's no election pending, all the Cabinet are
all the time going about making speeches on Ireland. They talk to
me about it.

"What would you do?"

"Send 'em all to the United States," say I.

"No, no."

They have had the Irish question three hundred years and they
wouldn't be happy without it. One old Tory talked me deaf abusing
the Liberal Government.

"You do this way in the United States - hate one another, don't
you?"

"No," said I, "we live like angels in perfect harmony except a few
weeks before election."

"The devil you do! You don't hate one another? What do you do for
enemies? I couldn't get along without enemies to swear at."

If you think it's all play, you fool yourself; I mean this job.
There's no end of the work. It consists of these parts: Receiving
people for two hours every day, some on some sort of business, some
merely "to pay respects," attending to a large (and exceedingly
miscellaneous) mail; going to the Foreign Office on all sorts of
errands; looking up the oddest assortment of information that you
ever heard of; making reports to Washington on all sorts of things;
then the so-called social duties - giving dinners, receptions, etc.,
and attending them. I hear the most important news I get at
so-called social functions. Then the court functions; and the
meetings and speeches! The American Ambassador must go all over
England and explain every American thing. You'd never recover from
the shock if you could hear me speaking about Education,
Agriculture, the observance of Christmas, the Navy, the
Anglo-Saxon, Mexico, the Monroe Doctrine, Co-education, Woman
Suffrage, Medicine, Law, Radio-Activity, Flying, the Supreme Court,
the President as a Man of letters, Hookworm, the Negro - just get
down the Encyclopædia and continue the list. I've done this every
week-night for a month, hand running, with a few afternoon
performances thrown in! I have missed only one engagement in these
seven months; and that was merely a private luncheon. I have been
late only once. I have the best chauffeur in the world - he deserves
credit for much of that. Of course, I don't get time to read a
book. In fact, I can't keep up with what goes on at home. To read a
newspaper eight or ten days old, when they come in bundles of three
or four - is impossible. What isn't telegraphed here, I miss; and
that means I miss most things.

I forgot, there are a dozen other kinds of activities, such as
American marriages, which they always want the Ambassador to
attend; getting them out of jail, when they are jugged (I have an
American woman on my hands now, whose four children come to see me
every day); looking after the American insane; helping Americans
move the bones of their ancestors; interpreting the income-tax law;
receiving medals for Americans; hearing American fiddlers,
pianists, players; sitting for American sculptors and
photographers; sending telegrams for property owners in Mexico;
reading letters from thousands of people who have shares in estates
here; writing letters of introduction; getting tickets to the House
Gallery; getting seats in the Abbey; going with people to this and
that and t'other; getting tickets to the races, the art-galleries,
the House of Lords; answering fool questions about the United
States put by Englishmen. With a military attaché, a naval attaché,
three secretaries, a private secretary, two automobiles, Alice's
private secretary, a veterinarian, an immigration agent, consuls
everywhere, a despatch agent, lawyers, doctors, messengers - they
keep us all busy. A woman turned up dying the other day. I sent
for a big doctor. She got well. As if that wasn't enough, both the
woman and the doctor had to come and thank me (fifteen minutes
each). Then each wrote a letter! Then there are people who are
going to have a Fair here; others who have a Fair coming on at San
Francisco; others at San Diego; secretaries and returning and
outgoing diplomats come and go (lunch for 'em all); niggers come up
from Liberia; Rhodes Scholars from Oxford; Presidential candidates
to succeed Huerta; people who present books; women who wish to go
to court; Jews who are excited about Rumania; passports, passports
to sign; peace committees about the hundred years of peace; opera
singers going to the United States; artists who have painted some
American's portrait - don't you see? I haven't said a word about
reporters and editors: the city's full of them.

A Happy New Year.

Affectionately,
WAT.

_To Ralph W. Page_[30]
London, December 23, 1913.

DEAR RALPH:

. . . The game is pretty much as it has been. I can't think of any
new kinds of things to write you. The old kinds simply multiply and
repeat themselves. But we are beginning now really to become
acquainted, and some life friendships will grow out of our
experience. And there's no doubt about its being instructive. I get
glimpses of the way in which great governments deal with one
another, in ways that our isolated, and, therefore, safe government
seldom has any experience of. For instance, one of the Lords of the
Admiralty told me the other night that he never gets out of
telephone reach of the office - not even half an hour. "The
Admiralty," said he, "never sleeps." He has a telephone by his bed
which he can hear at any moment in the night. I don't believe that
they really expect the German fleet to attack them any day or
night. But they would not be at all surprised if it did so
to-night. They talk all the time of the danger and of the
probability of war; they don't expect it; but most wars have come
without warning, and they are all the time prepared to begin a
fight in an hour.

They talk about how much Germany must do to strengthen her frontier
against Russia and her new frontier on the Balkan States. They now
have these problems in hand and therefore they are for the moment
not likely to provoke a fight. But they might.

It is all pitiful to see them thinking forever about danger and
defense. The controversy about training boys for the army never
ends. We don't know in the United States what we owe to the
Atlantic Ocean - safe separation from all these troubles. . . .

But I've often asked both Englishmen and Americans in a dining room
where there were many men of each country, whether they could look
over the company and say which were English and which were
Americans. Nobody can tell till - they begin to talk.

The ignorance of the two countries, each of the other, is beyond
all belief. A friend of Kitty's - an American - received a letter
from the United States yesterday. The maid noticed the stamp, which
had the head of George Washington on it. Every stamp in this
kingdom bears the image of King George. She asked if the American
stamp had on it the head of the American Ambassador! I've known far
wiser people to ask far more foolish questions.

Affectionately,
W.H.P.

_To Mrs. Ralph W. Page_

London, Christmas-is-coming, 1913.

MY DEAR LEILA:

. . . Her work [Mrs. Walter H. Page's] is all the work of going and
receiving and - of reading. She reads incessantly and enormously;
and, when she gets tired, she goes to bed. That's all there is
about it. Lord! I wish I could. But, when I get tired, I have to go
and make another speech. They think the American Ambassador has
omniscience for a foible and oratory as a pastime.

In some ways my duties are very instructive. We get different
points of view on many things, some better than we had before had,
some worse. For instance, life is pretty well laid out here in
water-tight compartments; and you can't let a stream in from one to
another without danger of sinking the ship. Four reporters have
been here to-day because Mr. and Mrs. Sayre[31] arrived this
morning. Every one of 'em asked the same question, "Who met them at
the station?" That's the chief thing they wished to know. When I
said "I did" - that fixed the whole thing on the highest peg of
dignity. They could classify the whole proceeding properly, and
they went off happy. Again: You've got to go in to dinner in the
exact order prescribed by the constitution; and, if you avoid that
or confuse that, you'll never be able to live it down. And so about
Government, Literature, Art - everything. Don't you forget your
water-tight compartments. If you do, you are gone! They have the
same toasts at every public dinner. One is to "the guests." Now you
needn't say a word about the guests when you respond. But they've
been having toasts to the guests since the time of James I and they
can't change it. They had me speak to "the guests" at a club last
night, when they wanted me to talk about Mexico! The winter has
come - the winter months at least. But they have had no cold



Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 12 of 32)