Burton Jesse Hendrick.

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

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weather - not so cold as you have in Pinehurst. But the sun has gone
out to sea - clean gone. We never see it. A damp darkness
(semi-darkness at least) hangs over us all the time. But we manage
to feel our way about.

A poor photograph goes to you for Xmas - a poor thing enough surely.
But you get Uncle Bob[32] busy on the job of paying for an
Ambassador's house. Then we'll bring Christmas presents home for
you. What a game we are playing, we poor folks here, along with
Ambassadors whose governments pay them four times what ours pays.
But we don't give the game away, you bet! We throw the bluff with a
fine, straight poker face.


_To Frank N. Doubleday and Others_

London, Sunday, December 28, 1913.


I was never one of those abnormal creatures who got Christmas all
ready by the Fourth of July. The true spirit of the celebration has
just now begun to work on me - three days late. In this respect the
spirit is very like Christmas plum-pudding. Moreover, we've just
got the patriotic fervour flowing at high tide this morning. This
is the President's birthday. We've put up the Stars and Stripes on
the roof; and half an hour ago the King's Master of Ceremonies
drove up in a huge motor car and, being shown into my presence in
the state drawing room, held his hat in his hand and (said he):

"Your Excellency: I am commanded by the King to express to you His
Majesty's congratulations on the birthday of the President, to wish
him a successful administration and good health and long life and
to convey His Majesty's greetings to Your Excellency: and His
Majesty commands me to express the hope that you will acquaint the
President with His Majesty's good wishes."

Whereto I made just as pretty a little speech as your 'umble
sarvant could. Then we sat down, I called in Mrs. Page and my
secretary and we talked like human beings.

Having worked like the devil, upon whom, I imagine, at this
bibulous season many heavy duties fall - having thus toiled for two
months - the international docket is clean, I've got done a round of
twenty-five speeches (O Lord!) I've slept three whole nights, I've
made my dinner-calls - you see I'm feeling pretty well, in this
first period of quiet life I've yet found in this Babylon. Praise
Heaven! they go off for Christmas. Everything's shut up tight. The
streets of London are as lonely and as quiet as the road to Oyster
Bay while the Oyster is in South America. It's about as mild here
as with you in October and as damp as Sheepshead's Bay in an autumn
storm. But such people as you meet complain of the c-o-l-d - the
c-o-l-d; and they run into their heatless houses and put on extra
waistcoats and furs and throw shawls over their knees and curse
Lloyd George and enjoy themselves. They are a great people - even
without mint juleps in summer or eggnog in winter; and I like them.
The old gouty Lords curse the Americans for the decline of
drinking. And you can't live among them without laughing yourself
to death and admiring them, too. It's a fine race to be sprung

All this field of international relations - you fellows regard it as
a bore. So it used to be before my entrance into the game! But it's
everlastingly interesting. Just to give him a shock, I asked the
Foreign Secretary the other day what difference it would make if
the Foreign Offices were all to go out of business and all the
Ambassadors were to be hanged. He thought a minute and said:
"Suppose war kept on in the Balkans, the Russians killed all their
Jews, Germany took Holland and sent an air-fleet over London, the
Japanese landed in California, the English took all the oil-wells
in Central and South America and - "

"Good Lord!" said I, "do you and I prevent all these calamities? If
so, we don't get half the credit that is due us - do we?"

You could ask the same question about any group or profession of
men in the world; and on a scratch, I imagine that any of them
would be missed less than they think. But the realness and the
bigness of the job here in London is simply oppressive. We don't
even know what it is in the United States and, of course, we don't
go about doing it right. If we did, we shouldn't pick up a green
fellow on the plain of Long Island and send him here: we'd train
the most capable male babies we have from the cradle. But this
leads a long way.

As I look back over these six or seven months, from the pause that
has come this week, I'm bound to say (being frank, not to say vain)
that I had the good fortune to do one piece of work that was worth
the effort and worth coming to do - about that infernal Mexican
situation. An abler man would have done it better; but, as it was,
I did it; and I have a most appreciative letter about it from the

By thunder, he's doing _his_ job, isn't he? Whether you like the
job or not, you've got to grant that. When I first came over here,
I found a mild curiosity about Wilson - only mild. But now they sit
up and listen and ask most eager questions. He has pressed his
personality most strongly on the governing class here.

Yours heartily,

_To the President_

American Embassy, London
[May 11, 1914.]


The King of Denmark (I always think of Hamlet) having come to make
his royal kinsman of these Isles a visit, his royal kinsman
to-night gave a state dinner at the palace whereto the Ambassadors
of the eight Great Powers were, of course, invited. Now I don't
know how other kings do, but I'm willing to swear by King George
for a job of this sort. The splendour of the thing is truly regal
and the friendliness of it very real and human; and the company
most uncommon. Of course the Ambassadors and their wives were
there, the chief rulers of the Empire and men and women of
distinction and most of the royal family. The dinner and the music
and the plate and the decorations and the jewels and the
uniforms - all these were regal; but there is a human touch about it
that seems almost democratic.

All for His Majesty of Denmark, a country with fewer people and
less wealth than New Jersey. This whole royal game is most
interesting. Lloyd George and H.H. Asquith and John Morley were
there, all in white knee breeches of silk, and swords and most
gaudy coats - these that are the radicals of the Kingdom, in
literature and in action. Veterans of Indian and South African wars
stood on either side of every door and of every stairway, dressed
as Sir Walter Raleigh dressed, like so many statues, never blinking
an eye. Every person in the company is printed, in all the papers,
with every title he bears. Crowds lined the streets in front of the
palace to see the carriages go in and to guess who was in each.
To-morrow the Diplomatic Corps calls on King Christian and
to-morrow night King George commands us to attend the opera as his

Whether it's the court, or the honours and the orders and all the
social and imperial spoils, that keep the illusion up, or whether
it is the Old World inability to change anything, you can't ever
quite decide. In Defoe's time they put pots of herbs on the desks
of every court in London to keep the plague off. The pots of herbs
are yet put on every desk in every court room in London. Several
centuries ago somebody tried to break into the Bank of England. A
special guard was detached - a little company of soldiers - to stand
watch at night. The bank has twice been moved and is now housed in
a building that would stand a siege; but that guard, in the same
uniform goes on duty every night. Nothing is ever abolished,
nothing ever changed. On the anniversary of King Charles's
execution, his statue in Trafalgar Square is covered with flowers.
Every month, too, new books appear about the mistresses of old
kings - as if they, too, were of more than usual interest: I mean
serious, historical books. From the King's palace to the humblest
house I've been in, there are pictures of kings and queens. In
every house, too (to show how nothing ever changes), the towels are
folded in the same peculiar way. In every grate in the kingdom the
coal fire is laid in precisely the same way. There is not a
salesman in any shop on Piccadilly who does not, in the season,
wear a long-tail coat. Everywhere they say a second grace at
dinner - not at the end - but before the dessert, because two hundred
years ago they dared not wait longer lest the parson be under the
table: the grace is said to-day _before_ dessert! I tried three
months to persuade my "Boots" to leave off blacking the soles of my
shoes under the instep. He simply couldn't do it. Every "Boots" in
the Kingdom does it. A man of learning had an article in an
afternoon paper a few weeks ago which began thus: "It is now
universally conceded by the French and the Americans that the
decimal system is a failure," and he went on to concoct a scheme
for our money that would be more "rational" and "historical." In
this hot debate about Ulster a frequent phrase used is, "Let us see
if we can't find the right formula to solve the difficulty"; their
whole lives are formulas. Now may not all the honours and garters
and thistles and O.M.'s and K.C.B.'s and all manner of gaudy
sinecures be secure, only because they can't abolish anything? My
servants sit at table in a certain order, and Mrs. Page's maid
wouldn't yield her precedence to a mere housemaid for any mortal
consideration - any more than a royal person of a certain rank would
yield to one of a lower rank. A real democracy is as far off as
doomsday. So you argue, till you remember that it is these same
people who made human liberty possible - to a degree - and till you
sit day after day and hear them in the House of Commons,
mercilessly pounding one another. Then you are puzzled. Do they
keep all these outworn things because they are incapable of
changing anything, or do these outworn burdens keep them from
becoming able to change anything? I daresay it works both ways.
Every venerable ruin, every outworn custom, makes the King more
secure; and the King gives veneration to every ruin and keeps
respect for every outworn custom.

Praise God for the Atlantic Ocean! It is the geographical
foundation of our liberties. Yet, as I've often written, there are
men here, real men, ruling men, mighty men, and a vigorous stock.

A civilization, especially an old civilization, isn't an easy nut
to crack. But I notice that the men of vision keep their thought on
us. They never forget that we are 100 million strong and that we
dare do new things; and they dearly love to ask questions
about - Rockefeller! Our power, our adaptability, our potential
wealth they never forget. They'll hold fast to our favour for
reasons of prudence as well as for reasons of kinship. And,
whenever we choose to assume the leadership of the world, they'll
grant it - gradually - and follow loyally. They cannot become French,
and they dislike the Germans. They must keep in our boat for safety
as well as for comfort.

Yours heartily,

The following extracts are made from other letters written at this time:

* * * * *

. . . To-night I had a long talk with the Duchess of X, a kindly woman who
spends much time and money in the most helpful "uplift" work; that's the
kind of woman she is.

Now she and the Duke are invited to dine at the French Ambassador's
to-morrow night. "If the Duke went into any house where there was any
member of this Government," said she, "he'd turn and walk out again. We
thought we'd better find out who the French Ambassador's guests are. We
didn't wish to ask him nor to have correspondence about it. Therefore
the Duke sent his Secretary quietly to ask the Ambassador's
Secretary - before we accepted."

This is now a common occurrence. We had Sir Edward Grey to dinner a
little while ago and we had to make sure we had no Tory guests that

This same Duchess of X sat in the Peeresses' gallery of the House of
Lords to-night till 7 o'clock. "I had to sit in plain sight of the wives
of two members of the Cabinet and of the wife and daughter of the Prime
Minister. I used to know them," she said, "and it was embarrassing."

Thus the revolution proceeds. For that's what it is.

* * * * *

. . . On the other hand the existing order is the most skilfully devised
machinery for perpetuating itself that has ever grown up among civilized
men. Did you ever see a London directory? It hasn't names
alphabetically; but one section is "Tradesmen," another "The City,"
etc., etc., and another "The Court." Any one who has ever been presented
at Court is in the "Court" section, and you must sometimes look in
several sections to find a man. Yet everybody so values these
distinctions that nobody complains of the inconvenience. When the
Liberal party makes Liberals Peers in order to have Liberals in the
House of Lords, lo! they soon turn Conservative after they get there.
The system perpetuates itself and stifles the natural desire for change
that most men in a state of nature instinctively desire in order to
assert their own personalities. . . .

* * * * *

. . . All this social life which engages us at this particular season,
sets a man to thinking. The mass of the people are very slow - almost
dull; and the privileged are most firmly entrenched. The really alert
people are the aristocracy. They see the drift of events. "What is the
pleasantest part of your country to live in?" Dowager Lady X asked me on
Sunday, more than half in earnest. "My husband's ancestors sat in the
House of Lords for six hundred years. My son sits there now - a dummy.
They have taken all power from the Lords; they are taxing us out of our
lands; they are saving the monarchy for destruction last. England is of
the past - all is going. God knows what is coming." . . .

* * * * *

. . . And presently the presentations come. Lord! how sensible American
women scramble for this privilege! It royally fits a few of them. Well,
I've made some rules about presentations myself, since it's really a
sort of personal perquisite of the Ambassador. One rule is, I don't
present any but handsome women. Pretty girls: that's what you want when
you are getting up a show. Far too many of ours come here and marry
Englishmen. I think I shall make another rule and exact a promise that
after presentation they shall go home. But the American women do enliven
London. . . .

* * * * *

That triumph with the tariff is historic. I wrote to the President:
"Score one!" And I have been telling the London writers on big subjects,
notably the editor of the _Economist_, that this event, so quiet and
undramatic, will mark a new epoch in the trade history of the world. . . .
This island is a good breeding place for men whose children find
themselves and develop into real men in freer lands. All that is needed
to show the whole world that the future is ours is just this sort of an
act of self-confidence. You know the old story of the Negro who saw a
ghost - "Git outen de way, Mr. Rabbit, and let somebody come who _kin_
run!" Score one! We're making History, and these people here know it.
The trade of the world, or as much of it as is profitable, we may take
as we will. The over-taxed, under-productive, army-burdened men of the
Old World - alas! I read a settled melancholy in much of their
statesmanship and in more of their literature. The most cheerful men in
official life here are the High Commissioners of Canada, Australia, New
Zealand, and such fellows who know what the English race is doing and
can do freed from uniforms and heavy taxes and class feeling and such
like. . . .

* * * * *

. . . The two things that this island has of eternal value are its gardens
and its men. Nature sprinkles it almost every day and holds its moisture
down so that every inch of it is forever green; and somehow men thrive
as the lawns do - the most excellent of all races for progenitors. You
and I[33] can never be thankful enough that our ancestors came of this
stock. Even those that have stayed have cut a wide swath, and they wield
good scythes yet. But I have moods when I pity them - for their
dependence, for instance, on a navy (2 keels to 1) for their very bread
and meat. They frantically resent conveniences. They build their great
law court building (the architecture ecclesiastical) so as to provide an
entrance hall of imposing proportions which they use once a year; and to
get this fine hall they have to make their court rooms, which they must
use all the time, dark and small and inaccessible. They think as much of
that once-a-year ceremony of opening their courts as they think of the
even justice that they dispense; somehow they feel that the justice
depends on the ceremony.

This moss that has grown all over their lives (some of it very pretty
and most of it very comfortable - it's soft and warm) is of no great
consequence - except that they think they'd die if it were removed. And
this state of mind gives us a good key to their character and habits.

What are we going to do with this England and this Empire, presently,
when economic forces unmistakably put the leadership of the race in our
hands? How can we lead it and use it for the highest purposes of the
world and of democracy? We can do what we like if we go about it
heartily and with good manners (any man prefers to yield to a gentleman
rather than to a rustic) and throw away - gradually - our isolating fears
and alternate boasting and bashfulness. "What do we most need to learn
from you?" I asked a gentle and bejewelled nobleman the other Sunday, in
a country garden that invited confidences. "If I may speak without
offence, modesty." A commoner in the company, who had seen the Rocky
Mountains, laughed, and said: "No; see your chance and take it: that's
what we did in the years when we made the world's history." . . .


[Footnote 11: Mr. Irwin Laughlin, first secretary of the American
Embassy in London.]

[Footnote 12: In about a year Page moved the Chancery to the present
satisfactory quarters at No. 4 Grosvenor Gardens.]

[Footnote 13: Mrs. Walter H. Page.]

[Footnote 14: Miss Katharine A. Page, the Ambassador's daughter.]

[Footnote 15: "Effendi" is the name by which Mr. F.N. Doubleday, Page's
partner, is known to his intimates. It is obviously suggested by the
initials of his name.]

[Footnote 16: A reference to William Sulzer, Governor of New York, who
at this time was undergoing impeachment.]

[Footnote 17: See Chapter VIII, page 258.]

[Footnote 18: The Ambassador's son.]

[Footnote 19: Miss Katharine A. Page.]

[Footnote 20: Mr. Andrew Carnegie.]

[Footnote 21: Mrs. Walter H. Page is the daughter of a Scotchman from

[Footnote 22: The astonishing thing about Page's comment on the
leadership of the United States - if it would only take this
leadership - is that these letters were written in 1913, a year before
the outbreak of the war, and eight years before the Washington
Disarmament Conference of 1921-22.]

[Footnote 23: Just what this critical Briton had in mind, in thinking
that the removal of a New York governor created a vacancy in the
Vice-Presidency, is not clear. Possibly, however, he had a cloudy
recollection of the fact that Theodore Roosevelt, after serving as
Governor of New York State, became Vice-President, and may have
concluded from this that the two offices were held by the same man.]

[Footnote 24: For years this idea of the stenographer back of a screen
in the Foreign Office has been abroad, but it is entirely unfounded.
Several years ago a Foreign Secretary, perhaps Lord Salisbury, put a
screen behind his desk to keep off the draughts and from this precaution
the myth arose that it shielded a stenographer who took a complete
record of ambassadorial conversations. After an ambassador leaves, the
Foreign Secretary, however, does write out the important points in the
conversation. Copies are made and printed, and sent to the King, the
Prime Minister, the British Ambassador in the country to which the
interview relates, and occasionally to others. All these records are, of
course, carefully preserved in the archives of the Foreign Office.]

[Footnote 25: The Rev. Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley, the well-known Vicar
of Crosthwaite, Keswick, poet and student of Wordsworth. President
Wilson, who used occasionally to spend his vacation in the Lake region,
was one of his friends.]

[Footnote 26: It is perhaps unnecessary to say that the Ambassador was
thinking only of a diplomatic "fight."]

[Footnote 27: The Underwood Bill revising the tariff "downward" became a
law October, 1913. It was one of the first important measures of the new
Wilson Administration.]

[Footnote 28: Secretary of Agriculture in President Wilson's Cabinet.]

[Footnote 29: Of Aberdeen, North Carolina, the Ambassador's brother.]

[Footnote 30: Of Pinehurst, North Carolina, the Ambassador's eldest

[Footnote 31: Mr. and Mrs. Francis B. Sayre, son-in-law and daughter of
President Wilson, at that time on their honeymoon trip in Europe.]

[Footnote 32: Mr. Robert N. Page, the Ambassador's brother, was at this
time a Congressman from North Carolina.]

[Footnote 33: This is from a letter to President Wilson.]




The last days of February, 1913, witnessed one of those sanguinary
scenes in Mexico which for generations had accompanied changes in the
government of that distracted country. A group of revolutionists
assailed the feeble power of Francisco Madero and virtually imprisoned
that executive and his forces in the Presidential Palace. The Mexican
army, whose most influential officers were General Blanquet and General
Victoriano Huerta, was hastily summoned to the rescue of the Government;
instead of relieving the besieged officials, however, these generals
turned their guns upon them, and so assured the success of the uprising.
The speedy outcome of these transactions was the assassination of
President Madero and the seizure of the Presidency by General Huerta.
Another outcome was the presentation to Page of one of the most delicate
problems in the history of Anglo-American relations.

At almost any other time this change in the Mexican succession would
have caused only a momentary disturbance. There was nothing new in the
violent overthrow of government in Latin-America; in Mexico itself no
president had ever risen to power except by revolution. The career of
Porfirio Diaz, who had maintained his authority for a third of a
century, had somewhat obscured this fundamental fact in Mexican
politics, but Diaz had dominated Mexico for seven presidential terms,
not because his methods differed from the accepted methods of his
country, but because he was himself an executive of great force and a
statesman of genius, and could successfully hold his own against any
aspiring antagonist. The civilized world, including the United States,
had long since become reconciled to this situation as almost a normal
one. In recognizing momentarily successful adventurers, Great Britain
and the United States had never considered such details as justice or
constitutionalism: the legality of the presidential title had never been
the point at issue; the only question involved was whether the
successful aspirant actually controlled the country, whether he had
established a state of affairs that approximately represented order, and
whether he could be depended upon to protect life and property. During
the long dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, however, certain events had

Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 13 of 32)