Burton Jesse Hendrick.

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

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Olney agrees with me that the shipping bill[67] is full of lurking

E.M. House.

For some reason, however, the suggested statement was not made. The fact
that Colonel House had visited London, Paris, and Berlin six weeks
before the outbreak of war, in an effort to bring about a plan for
disarmament, was not permitted to reach the public ear. Probably the
real reason why this fact was concealed was that its publication at that
time would have reflected so seriously upon Germany that it would have
been regarded as "un-neutral." Colonel House, as already described, had
found Germany in a most belligerent frame of mind, its army "ready," to
use the Kaiser's own word, for an immediate spring at France; on the
other hand he had found Great Britain in a most pacific frame of mind,
entirely unsuspicious of Germany, and confident that the European
situation was daily improving. It is interesting now to speculate on the
public sensation that would have been caused had Colonel House's account
of his visit to Berlin been published at that exciting time.

Page's telegrams and letters show that any suggestion at mediation would
have been a waste of effort. The President seriously forebore, but the
desire to mediate was constantly in his mind for the next few months,
and he now interested himself in laying the foundations of future
action. Page was instructed to ask for an audience with King George and
to present the following document:

_From the President of the United States
to His Majesty the King_


As official head of one of the Powers signatory to the Hague
Convention, I feel it to be my privilege and my duty under Article
3 of that Convention to say to your Majesty, in a spirit of most
earnest friendship, that I should welcome an opportunity to act in
the interest of European peace either now or at any time that might
be thought more suitable as an occasion, to serve your Majesty and
all concerned in a way that would afford me lasting cause for
gratitude and happiness.


This, of course, was not mediation, but a mere expression of the
President's willingness to mediate at any time that such a tender from
him, in the opinion of the warring Powers, would serve the cause of
peace. Identically the same message was sent to the American
Ambassadors at the capitals of all the belligerent Powers for
presentation to the heads of state. Page's letter of August 9th, printed
above, refers to the earnestness and cordiality with which King George
received him and to the freedom with which His Majesty discussed the

In this exciting week Page was thrown into intimate contact with the two
most pathetic figures in the diplomatic circle of London - the Austrian
and the German Ambassadors. To both of these men the war was more than a
great personal sorrow: it was a tragedy. Mensdorff, the Austrian
Ambassador, had long enjoyed an intimacy with the British royal family.
Indeed he was a distant relative of King George, for he was a member of
the family of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a fact which was emphasized by his
physical resemblance to Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria.
Mensdorff was not a robust man, physically or mentally, and he showed
his consternation at the impending war in most unrestrained and even
unmanly fashion. As his government directed him to turn the Austrian
Embassy over to the American Ambassador, it was necessary for Page to
call and arrange the details. The interview, as Page's letter indicates,
was little less than a paroxysm of grief on the Austrian's part. He
denounced Germany and the Kaiser; he paraded up and down the room
wringing his hands; he could be pacified only by suggestions from the
American that perhaps something might happen to keep Austria out of the
war. The whole atmosphere of the Austrian Embassy radiated this same
feeling. "Austria has no quarrel with England," remarked one of
Mensdorff's assistants to one of the ladies of the American Embassy; and
this sentiment was the general one in Austrian diplomatic circles. The
disinclination of both Great Britain and Austria to war was so great
that, as Page relates, for several days there was no official

Even more tragical than the fate of the Austrian Ambassador was that of
his colleague, the representative of the German Emperor. It was more
tragical because Prince Lichnowsky represented the power that was
primarily responsible, and because he had himself been an unwilling tool
in bringing on the cataclysm. It was more profound because Lichnowsky
was a man of deeper feeling and greater moral purpose than his Austrian
colleague, and because for two years he had been devoting his strongest
energies to preventing the very calamity which had now become a fact. As
the war went on Lichnowsky gradually emerged as one of its finest
figures; the pamphlet which he wrote, at a time when Germany's military
fortunes were still high, boldly placing the responsibility upon his own
country and his own Kaiser, was one of the bravest acts which history
records. Through all his brief Ambassadorship Lichnowsky had shown these
same friendly traits. The mere fact that he had been selected as
Ambassador at this time was little less than a personal calamity. His
appointment gives a fair measure of the depths of duplicity to which the
Prussian system could descend. For more than fourteen years Lichnowsky
had led the quiet life of a Polish country gentleman; he had never
enjoyed the favour of the Kaiser; in his own mind and in that of his
friends his career had long since been finished; yet from this
retirement he had been suddenly called upon to represent the Fatherland
at the greatest of European capitals. The motive for this elevation,
which was unfathomable then, is evident enough now. Prince Lichnowsky
was known to be an Anglophile; everything English - English literature,
English country life, English public men - had for him an irresistible
charm; and his greatest ambition as a diplomat had been to maintain the
most cordial relations between his own country and Great Britain. This
was precisely the type of Ambassador that fitted into the Imperial
purpose at that crisis. Germany was preparing energetically but quietly
for war; it was highly essential that its most formidable potential foe,
Great Britain, should be deceived as to the Imperial plans and lulled
into a sense of security. The diabolical character of Prince
Lichnowsky's selection for this purpose was that, though his mission was
one of deception, he was not himself a party to it and did not realize
until it was too late that he had been used merely as a tool. Prince
Lichnowsky was not called upon to assume a mask; all that was necessary
was that he should simply be himself. And he acquitted himself with
great success. He soon became a favourite in London society; the Foreign
Office found him always ready to coöperate in any plan that tended to
improve relations between the two countries. It will be remembered that,
when Colonel House returned to London from his interview with the Kaiser
in June, 1914, he found British statesmen incredulous about any trouble
with Germany. This attitude was the consequence of Lichnowsky's work.
The fact is that relations between the two countries had not been so
harmonious in twenty years. All causes of possible friction had been
adjusted. The treaty regulating the future of the Bagdad Railroad, the
only problem that clouded the future, had been initialled by both the
British and the German Foreign Offices and was about to be signed at the
moment when the ultimatums began to fly through the air. Prince
Lichnowsky was thus entitled to look upon his ambassadorship as one of
the most successful in modern history, for it had removed all possible
cause of war.

And then suddenly came the stunning blow. For several days Lichnowsky's
behaviour was that of an irresponsible person. Those who came into
contact with him found his mind wandering and incoherent. Page describes
the German Ambassador as coming down and receiving him in his pajamas;
he was not the only one who had that experience, for members of the
British Foreign Office transacted business with this most punctilious of
diplomats in a similar condition of personal disarray. And the
dishabille extended to his mental operations as well.

But Lichnowsky's and Mensdorff's behaviour merely portrayed the general
atmosphere that prevailed in London during that week. This atmosphere
was simply hysterical. Among all the intimate participants, however,
there was one man who kept his poise and who saw things clearly. That
was the American Ambassador. It was certainly a strange trick which
fortune had played upon Page. He had come to London with no experience
in diplomacy. Though the possibility of such an outbreak as this war had
been in every man's consciousness for a generation, it had always been
as something certain yet remote; most men thought of it as most men
think of death - as a fatality which is inevitable, but which is so
distant that it never becomes a reality. Thus Page, when he arrived in
London, did not have the faintest idea of the experience that awaited
him. Most people would have thought that his quiet and studious and
unworldly life had hardly prepared him to become the representative of
the most powerful neutral power at the world's capital during the
greatest crisis of modern history. To what an extent that impression was
justified the happenings of the next four years will disclose; it is
enough to point out in this place that in one respect at least the war
found the American Ambassador well prepared. From the instant
hostilities began his mind seized the significance of it all. "Mr. Page
had one fine qualification for his post," a great British statesman once
remarked to the present writer. "From the beginning he saw that there
was a right and a wrong to the matter. He did not believe that Great
Britain and Germany were equally to blame. He believed that Great
Britain was right and that Germany was wrong. I regard it as one of the
greatest blessings of modern times that the United States had an
ambassador in London in August, 1914, who had grasped this overwhelming
fact. It seems almost like a dispensation of Providence."

It is important to insist on this point now, for it explains Page's
entire course as Ambassador. The confidential telegram which Page sent
directly to President Wilson in early September, 1914, furnishes the
standpoint from which his career as war Ambassador can be understood:

_Confidential to the President_
September 11, 3 A.M.
No. 645.

Accounts of atrocities are so inevitably a part of every war that
for some time I did not believe the unbelievable reports that were
sent from Europe, and there are many that I find incredible even
now. But American and other neutral observers who have seen these
things in France and especially in Belgium now convince me that the
Germans have perpetrated some of the most barbarous deeds in
history. Apparently credible persons relate such things without

Those who have violated the Belgian treaty, those who have sown
torpedoes in the open sea, those who have dropped bombs on Antwerp
and Paris indiscriminately with the idea of killing whom they may
strike, have taken to heart Bernhardi's doctrine that war is a
glorious occupation. Can any one longer disbelieve the completely
barbarous behaviour of the Prussians?



[Footnote 61: At this time American military attaché.]

[Footnote 62: The American Government, on the outbreak of war, sent the
U.S.S. _Tennessee_ to Europe, with large supplies of gold for the relief
of stranded Americans.]

[Footnote 63: The late Augustus P. Gardner, of Massachusetts.]

[Footnote 64: The materials on which this account is based are a
memorandum of the interview made by Sir Edward Grey, now in the archives
of the British Foreign Office, a similar memorandum made by Page, and a
detailed description given verbally by Page to the writer.]

[Footnote 65: Colonel House, of course, is again referring to his
experience in Berlin and London, described in the preceding chapter.]

[Footnote 66: Richard Olney, Secretary of State in the Cabinet of
President Cleveland, who was a neighbour of Colonel House at his summer
home, and with whom the latter apparently consulted.]

[Footnote 67: This is the bill passed soon after the outbreak of war
admitting foreign built ships to American registry. Subsequent events
showed that it was "full of lurking dangers."]



The months following the outbreak of the war were busy ones for the
American Embassy in London. The Embassies of all the great Powers with
which Great Britain was contending were handed over to Page, and the
citizens of these countries - Germany, Austria, Turkey - who found
themselves stranded in England, were practically made his wards. It is a
constant astonishment to his biographer that, during all the labour and
distractions of this period, Page should have found time to write long
letters describing the disturbing scene. There are scores of them, all
penned in the beautiful copper-plate handwriting that shows no signs of
excitement or weariness, but is in itself an evidence of mental poise
and of the sure grip which Page had upon the evolving drama. From the
many sent in these autumn and early winter months the following
selections are made:

_To Edward M. House_
September 22nd, 1914.


When the day of settlement comes, the settlement must make sure
that the day of militarism is done and can come no more. If sheer
brute force is to rule the world, it will not be worth living in.
If German bureaucratic brute force could conquer Europe, presently
it would try to conquer the United States; and we should all go
back to the era of war as man's chief industry and back to the
domination of kings by divine right. It seems to me, therefore,
that the Hohenzollern idea must perish - be utterly strangled in the
making of peace.

Just how to do this, it is not yet easy to say. If the German
defeat be emphatic enough and dramatic enough, the question may
answer itself - how's the best way to be rid of the danger of the
recurrence of a military bureaucracy? But in any event, this thing
must be killed forever - somehow. I think that a firm insistence on
this is the main task that mediation will bring. The rest will be
corollaries of this.

The danger, of course, as all the world is beginning to fear, is
that the Kaiser, after a local victory - especially if he should yet
take Paris - will propose peace, saying that he dreads the very
sight of blood - propose peace in time, as he will hope, to save his
throne, his dynasty, his system. That will be a dangerous day. The
horror of war will have a tendency to make many persons in the
countries of the Allies accept it. All the peace folk in the world
will say "Accept it!" But if he and his throne and his dynasty and
his system be saved, in twenty-five years the whole job must be
done over again. We are settling down to a routine of double work
and to an oppression of gloom. Dead men, dead men, maimed men, the
dull gray dread of what may happen next, the impossibility of
changing the subject, the monotony of gloom, the consequent dimness
of ideals, the overworking of the emotions and the heavy bondage of
thought - the days go swiftly: that's one blessing.

The diplomatic work proper brings fewer difficulties than you would
guess. New subjects and new duties come with great rapidity, but
they soon fall into formulas - at least into classes. We shall have
no sharp crises nor grave difficulties so long as our Government
and this Government keep their more than friendly relations. I see
Sir Edward Grey almost every day. We talk of many things - all
phases of one vast wreck; and all the clear-cut points that come up
I report by telegraph. To-day the talk was of American cargoes in
British ships and the machinery they have set up here for fair
settlement. Then of Americans applying for enlistment in Canadian
regiments. "If sheer brute force conquer Europe," said he, "the
United States will be the only country where life will be worth
living; and in time you will have to fight against it, too, if it
conquer Europe." He spoke of the letter he had just received from
the President, and he asked me many sympathetic questions about you
also and about your health. I ventured to express some solicitude
for him.

"How much do you get out now

"Only for an automobile drive Sunday afternoon."

This from a man who is never happy away from nature and is at home
only in the woods and along the streams. He looks worn.

I hear nothing but satisfaction with our neutrality tight-rope
walk. I think we are keeping it here, by close attention to our
work and by silence.

Our volunteer and temporary aids are doing well - especially the
army and navy officers. We now occupy three work-places: (1) the
over-crowded embassy; (2) a suite of offices around the corner
where the ever-lengthening list of inquiries for persons is handled
and where an army officer pays money to persons whose friends have
deposited it for them with the Government in Washington - just now
at the rate of about $15,000 a day; and (3) two great rooms at the
Savoy Hotel, where the admirable relief committee (which meets all
trains that bring people from the continent) gives aid to the
needy and helps people to get tickets home. They have this week
helped about 400 with more or less money - after full investigation.

At the Embassy a secretary remains till bed-time, which generally
means till midnight; and I go back there for an hour or two every

The financial help we give to German and Austrian subjects (poor
devils) is given, of course, at their embassies, where we have
men - our men-in charge. Each of these governments accepted my offer
to give our Ambassadors (Gerard and Penfield) a sum of money to
help Americans if I would set aside an equal sum to help their
people here. The German fund that I thus began with was $50,000;
the Austrian, $25,000. All this and more will be needed before the
war ends. - All this activity is kept up with scrupulous attention
to the British rules and regulations. In fact, we are helping this
Government much in the management of these "alien enemies," as they
call them.

I am amazed at the good health we all keep with this big volume of
work and the long hours. Not a man nor a woman has been ill a day.
I have known something about work and the spirit of good work in
other organizations of various sorts; but I never saw one work in
better spirit than this. And remember, most of them are volunteers.

The soldiers here complained for weeks in private about the
lethargy of the people - the slowness of men to enlist. But they
seemed to me to complain with insufficient reason. For now they
come by thousands. They do need more men in the field, and they may
conscript them, but I doubt the necessity. But I run across such
incidents as these: I met the Dowager Countess of D - -
yesterday - a woman of 65, as tall as I and as erect herself as a
soldier, who might be taken for a woman of 40, prematurely gray.
"I had five sons in the Boer War. I have three in this war. I do
not know where any one of them is." Mrs. Page's maid is talking of
leaving her. "My two brothers have gone to the war and perhaps I
ought to help their wives and children." The Countess and the maid
are of the same blood, each alike unconquerable. My chauffeur has
talked all day about the naval battle in which five German ships
were lately sunk[68]. He reminded me of the night two months ago
when he drove Mrs. Page and me to dine with Sir John and Lady
Jellicoe - Jellicoe now, you know, being in command of the British

This Kingdom has settled down to war as its one great piece of
business now in hand, and it is impossible, as the busy, burdensome
days pass, to pick out events or impressions that one can be sure
are worth writing. For instance a soldier - a man in the War
Office - told me to-day that Lord Kitchener had just told him that
the war may last for several years. That, I confess, seems to me
very improbable, and (what is of more importance) it is not the
notion held by most men whose judgment I respect. But all the
military men say it will be long. It would take several years to
kill that vast horde of Germans, but it will not take so long to
starve them out. Food here is practically as cheap as it was three
months ago and the sea routes are all open to England and
practically all closed to Germany. The ultimate result, of course,
will be Germany's defeat. But the British are now going about the
business of war as if they knew they would continue it
indefinitely. The grim efficiency of their work even in small
details was illustrated to-day by the Government's informing us
that a German handy man, whom the German Ambassador left at his
Embassy, with the English Government's consent, is a spy - that he
sends verbal messages to Germany by women who are permitted to go
home, and that they have found letters written by him sewed in some
of these women's undergarments! This man has been at work there
every day under the two very good men whom I have put in charge
there and who have never suspected him. How on earth they found
this out simply passes my understanding. Fortunately it doesn't
bring any embarrassment to us; he was not in our pay and he was
left by the German Ambassador with the British Government's
consent, to take care of the house. Again, when the German
Chancellor made a statement two days ago about the causes of the
war, in a few hours Sir Edward Grey issued a statement showing that
the Chancellor had misstated every important historic fact. - The
other day a commercial telegram was sent (or started) by Mr. Bryan
for some bank or trading concern in the United States, managed by
Germans, to some correspondent of theirs in Germany. It contained
the words, "Where is Harry?" The censor here stopped it. It was
brought to me with the explanation that "Harry" is one of the most
notorious of German spies - whom they would like to catch. The
English were slow in getting into full action, but now they never
miss a trick, little or big.

The Germans have far more than their match in resources and in
shrewdness and - in character. As the bloody drama unfolds itself,
the hollow pretence and essential barbarity of Prussian militarism
become plainer and plainer: there is no doubt of that. And so does
the invincibility of this race. A well-known Englishman told me
to-day that his three sons, his son-in-law, and half his office men
are in the military service, "where they belong in a time like
this." The lady who once so sharply criticized this gentleman to
Mrs. Page has a son and a brother in the army in France. It makes
you take a fresh grip on your eyelids to hear either of these talk.
In fact the strain on one's emotions, day in and day out, makes one
wonder if the world is real - or is this a vast dream? From sheer
emotional exhaustion I slept almost all day last Sunday, though I
had not for several days lost sleep at all. Many persons tell me of
their similar experiences. The universe seems muffled. There is a
ghostly silence in London (so it seems); and only dim street lights
are lighted at night. No experience seems normal. A vast
organization is working day and night down town receiving Belgian
refugees. They become the guests of the English. They are assigned
to people's homes, to boarding houses, to institutions. They are

Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 24 of 32)