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

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fighting machine is by far the best organization ever made - not the
best men, but the best organization; and the whole German people
believe what the woman writes whose letter I send you. It'll take a
long time to beat it.


* * * * *

The letter that Page inclosed, and another copy of which was sent to the
President, purported to be written by the English wife of a German in
Bremen. It was as follows:

* * * * *

It is very difficult to write, more difficult to believe that what I
write will succeed in reaching you. My husband insists on my urging
you - it is not necessary I am sure - to destroy the letter and all
possible indications of its origin, should you think it worth
translating. The letter will go by a business friend of my husband's to
Holland, and be got off from there. For our business with Holland is now
exceedingly brisk as you may understand. Her neutrality is most precious
to us[84].

Well, I have of course a divided mind. I think of those old days in
Liverpool and Devonshire - how far off they seem! And yet I spent all
last year in England. It was in March last when I was with you and we
talked of the amazing treatment of your army - I cannot any longer call
it _our_ army - by ministers crying for the resignation of its officers
and eager to make their humiliation an election cry! How far off that
seems, too! Let me tell you that it was the conduct of your ministers,
Churchill especially, that made people here so confident that your
Government could not fight. It seemed impossible that Lloyd George and
his following could have the effrontery to pose as a "war" cabinet;
still more impossible that any sane people could trust them if they did!
Perhaps you may remember a talk we had also in March about Matthew
Arnold whom I was reading again during my convalescence at Sidmouth. You
said that "Friendship's Garland" and its Arminius could not be written
now. I disputed that and told you that it was still true that your
Government talked and "gassed" just as much as ever, and were wilfully
blind to the fact that your power of action was wholly unequal to your
words. As in 1870 so now. Nay, worse, your rulers have always known it
perfectly well, but refused to see it or to admit it, because they
wanted office and knew that to say the truth would bring the radical
vote in the cities upon their poor heads. It is the old hypocrisy, in
the sense in which Germans have always accused your nation: alas! and it
is half my nation too. You pride yourselves on "Keeping your word" to
Belgium. But you pride yourselves also, not so overtly just now, on
always refusing to prepare yourselves to keep that word in _deed_. In
the first days of August you knew, absolutely and beyond all doubt, that
you could do nothing to make good your word. You had not the moral
courage to say so, and, having said so, to act accordingly and to warn
Belgium that your promise was "a scrap of paper," and effectively
nothing more. It _is_ nothing more, and has proved to be nothing more,
but you do not see that your indelible disgrace lies just in this, that
you unctuously proclaim that you are keeping your word when all the time
you know, you have always known, that you refused utterly and completely
to take the needful steps to enable you to translate word into action.
Have you not torn up your "scrap of paper" just as effectively as
Germany has? As my husband puts it: England gave Belgium a check, a big
check, and gave it with much ostentation, but took care that there
should be no funds to meet it! Trusting to your check Belgium finds
herself bankrupt, sequestrated, blotted out as a nation. But I know
England well enough to foresee that English statesmen, with our old
friend, the Manchester _Guardian_, which we used to read in years gone
by, will always quote with pride how they "guaranteed" the neutrality of

As to the future. You cannot win. A nation that has prided itself on
making no sacrifice for political power or even independence must pay
for its pride. Our house here in Bremen has lately been by way of a
centre for naval men, and to a less extent, for officers of the
neighbouring commands. They are absolutely confident that they will land
ten army corps in England before Christmas. It is terrible to know what
they mean to go for. They mean to destroy. Every town which remotely is
concerned with war material is to be annihilated. Birmingham, Bradford,
Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield, Northampton are to be wiped out, and the
men killed, ruthlessly hunted down. The fact that Lancashire and
Yorkshire have held aloof from recruiting is not to save them. The fact
that Great Britain is to be a Reichsland will involve the destruction of
inhabitants, to enable German citizens to be planted in your country in
their place. German soldiers hope that your poor creatures will resist,
as patriots should, but they doubt it very much. For resistance will
facilitate the process of clearance. Ireland will be left independent,
and its harmlessness will be guaranteed by its inevitable civil war.

You may wonder, as I do sometimes, whether this hatred of England is not
unworthy, or a form of mental disease. But you must know that it is at
bottom not hatred but contempt; fierce, unreasoning scorn for a country
that pursues money and ease, from aristocrat to trade-unionist labourer,
when it has a great inheritance to defend. I feel bitter, too, for I
spent half my life in your country and my dearest friends are all
English still; and yet I am deeply ashamed of the hypocrisy and
make-believe that has initiated your national policy and brought you
down. Now, one thing more. England is, after all, only a stepping stone.
From Liverpool, Queenstown, Glasgow, Belfast, we shall reach out across
the ocean. I firmly believe that within a year Germany will have seized
the new Canal and proclaimed its defiance of the great Monroe Doctrine.
We have six million Germans in the United States, and the
Irish-Americans behind them. The Americans, believe me, are _as a
nation_ a cowardly nation, and will never fight organized strength
except in defense of their own territories. With the Nova Scotian
peninsula and the Bermudas, with the West Indies and the Guianas we
shall be able to dominate the Americas. By our possession of the entire
Western European seaboard America can find no outlet for its products
except by our favour. Her finance is in German hands, her commercial
capitals, New York and Chicago, are in reality German cities. It is some
years since my father and I were in New York. But my opinion is not very
different from that of the forceful men who have planned this war - that
with Britain as a base the control of the American continent is under
existing conditions the task of a couple of months.

I remember a conversation with Doctor Dohrn, the head of the great
biological station at Naples, some four or five years ago. He was
complaining of want of adequate subventions from Berlin. "Everything is
wanted for the Navy," he said. "And what really does Germany want with
such a navy?" I asked. "She is always saying that she certainly does not
regard it as a weapon against England." At that Doctor Dohrn raised his
eyebrows. "But you, _gnädige Frau_, are a German?" "Of course." "Well,
then, you will understand me when I say with all the seriousness I can
command that this fleet of ours is intended to deal with smugglers on
the shores of the Island of Rügen." I laughed. He became graver still.
"The ultimate enemy of our country is America[85]; and I pray that I may
see the day of an alliance between a beaten England and a victorious
Fatherland against the bully of the Americas." Well, Germany and Austria
were never friends until Sadowa had shown the way. Oh! if your country,
which in spite of all I love so much, would but "see things clearly and
see them whole."

Bremen, September 25, 1914.

_To Ralph W. Page_[86]
London, Sunday, November 15, 1914.


You were very good to sit down in Greensboro', or anywhere else,
and to write me a fine letter. Do that often. You say there's
nothing to do now in the Sandhills. Write us letters: that's a fair

God save us, we need 'em. We need anything from the sane part of
the world to enable us to keep our balance. One of the commonest
things you hear about now is the insanity of a good number of the
poor fellows who come back from the trenches as well as of a good
many Belgians. The sights and sounds they've experienced unhinge
their reason. If this war keep up long enough - and it isn't going
to end soon - people who have had no sight of it will go crazy,
too - the continuous thought of it, the inability to get away from
it by any device whatever - all this tells on us all. Letters, then,
plenty of them - let 'em come.

You are in a peaceful land. The war is a long, long way off. You
suffer nothing worse than a little idleness and a little poverty.
They are nothing. I hope (and believe) that you get enough to eat.
Be content, then. Read the poets, improve a piece of land, play
with the baby, learn golf. That's the happy and philosophic and
fortunate life in these times of world-madness.

As for the continent of Europe - forget it. We have paid far too
much attention to it. It has ceased to be worth it. And now it's of
far less value to us - and will be for the rest of your life - than
it has ever been before. An ancient home of man, the home, too, of
beautiful things - buildings, pictures, old places, old traditions,
dead civilizations - the place where man rose from barbarism to
civilization - it is now bankrupt, its best young men dead, its
system of politics and of government a failure, its social
structure enslaving and tyrannical - it has little help for us. The
American spirit, which is the spirit that concerns itself with
making life better for the whole mass of men - that's at home at its
best with us. The whole future of the race is in the new
countries - our country chiefly. This grows on one more and more and
more. The things that are best worth while are on our side of the
ocean. And we've got all the bigger job to do because of this
violent demonstration of the failure of continental Europe. It's
gone on living on a false basis till its elements got so mixed that
it has simply blown itself to pieces. It is a great convulsion of
nature, as an earthquake or a volcano is. Human life there isn't
worth what a yellow dog's life is worth in Moore County. Don't
bother yourself with the continent of Europe any more - except to
learn the value of a real democracy and the benefits it can confer
precisely in proportion to the extent to which men trust to it. Did
you ever read my Address delivered before the Royal Institution of
Great Britain[87]? I enclose a copy. Now that's my idea of the very
milk of the word. To come down to daily, deadly things - this
upheaval is simply infernal. Parliament opened the other day and
half the old lords that sat in their robes had lost their heirs and
a larger part of the members of the House wore khaki. To-morrow
they will vote $1,125,000,000 for war purposes. They had already
voted $500,000,000. They'll vote more, and more, and more, if
necessary. They are raising a new army of 2,000,000 men. Every man
and every dollar they have will go if necessary. That's what I call
an invincible people. The Kaiser woke up the wrong passenger. But
for fifty years the continent won't be worth living on. My heavens!
what bankruptcy will follow death!


_To Frank C. Page_[88]
Sunday, December 20th, 1914.


I envy both you and your mother[89] your chance to make plans for
the farm and the house and all the rest of it and to have one
another to talk to. And, most of all, you are where you can now and
then change the subject. You can guess somewhat at our plight when
Kitty and I confessed to one another last night that we were dead
tired and needed to go to bed early and to stay long. She's
sleeping yet, the dear kid, and I hope she'll sleep till lunch
time. There isn't anything the matter with us but the war; but
that's enough, Heaven knows. It's the worst ailment that has ever
struck me. Then, if you add to that this dark, wet, foggy, sooty,
cold, penetrating climate - you ought to thank your stars that
you are not in it. I'm glad your mother's out of it, as much as we
miss her; and miss her? Good gracious! there's no telling the hole
her absence makes in all our life. But Kitty is a trump, true blue
and dead game, and the very best company you can find in a day's
journey. And, much as we miss your mother, you mustn't weep for us;
we are having some fun and are planning more. I could have no end
of fun with her if I had any time. But to work all day and till
bedtime doesn't leave much time for sport.

The farm - the farm - the farm - it's yours and Mother's to plan and
make and do with as you wish. I shall be happy whatever you do,
even if you put the roof in the cellar and the cellar on top of the

If you have room enough (16 X 10 plus a fire and a bath are enough
for me), I'll go down there and write a book. If you haven't it,
I'll go somewhere else and write a book. I don't propose to be made
unhappy by any house or by the lack of any house nor by anything

All the details of life go on here just the same. The war goes as
slowly as death because it _is_ death, death to millions of men.
We've all said all we know about it to one another a thousand
times; nobody knows anything else; nobody can guess when it will
end; nobody has any doubt about how it will end, unless some
totally improbable and unexpected thing happens, such as the
falling out of the Allies, which can't happen for none of them can
afford it; and we go around the same bloody circle all the time.
The papers never have any news; nobody ever talks about anything
else; everybody is tired to death; nobody is cheerful; when it
isn't sick Belgians, it's aeroplanes; and when it isn't aeroplanes,
it's bombarding the coast of England. When it isn't an American
ship held up, it's a fool American-German arrested as a spy; and
when it isn't a spy it's a liar who _knows_ the Zeppelins are
coming to-night. We don't know anything; we don't believe anybody;
we should be surprised at nothing; and at 3 o'clock I'm going to
the Abbey to a service in honour of the 100 years of peace! The
world has all got itself so jumbled up that the bays are all
promontories, the mountains are all valleys, and earthquakes are
necessary for our happiness. We have disasters for breakfast; mined
ships for luncheon; burned cities for dinner; trenches in our
dreams, and bombarded towns for small talk.

Peaceful seems the sandy landscape where you are, glad the very
blackjacks, happy the curs, blessed the sheep, interesting the
chin-whiskered clodhopper, innocent the fool darkey, blessed the
mule, for it knows no war. And you have your mother - be happy, boy;
you don't know how much you have to be thankful for.

Europe is ceasing to be interesting except as an example of
how-not-to-do-it. It has no lessons for us except as a warning.
When the whole continent has to go fighting - every blessed one of
them - once a century, and half of them half the time between and
all prepared even when they are not fighting, and when they shoot
away all their money as soon as they begin to get rich a little and
everybody else's money, too, and make the whole world poor, and
when they kill every third or fourth generation of the best men and
leave the worst to rear families, and have to start over afresh
every time with a worse stock - give me Uncle Sam and his big farm.
We don't need to catch any of this European life. We can do without
it all as well as we can do without the judges' wigs and the court
costumes. Besides, I like a land where the potatoes have some
flavour, where you can buy a cigar, and get your hair cut and have
warm bathrooms.

Build the farm, therefore; and let me hear at every stage of that
happy game. May the New Year be the best that has ever come for




[Footnote 68: Evidently the battle of Heligoland Bight of August 28,

[Footnote 69: The reference in all probability is to Mr. Charles L.
Hoover, at that time American Consul at Carlsbad.]

[Footnote 70: German Ambassador in Washington.]

[Footnote 71: Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, whose
openly expressed pro-Germanism was making him exceedingly unpopular in
the United States.]

[Footnote 72: Evidently written in the latter part of September, 1914.]

[Footnote 73: Miss Katharine A. Page, the Ambassador's daughter.]

[Footnote 74: The _Hague_, the _Cressy_, and the _Aboukir_ were
torpedoed by a German submarine September 22, 1914. This exploit first
showed the world the power of the submarine.]

[Footnote 75: Princess Lichnowsky, wife of the German Ambassador to
Great Britain.]

[Footnote 76: Private Secretary to Mrs. Page.]

[Footnote 77: Mr. Harold Fowler, the Ambassador's Secretary.]

[Footnote 78: Probably a reference to Mr. Charles M. Schwab, President
of the Bethlehem Steel Company, who was in London at this time on this

[Footnote 79: No. 4 Grosvenor Gardens.]

[Footnote 80: Miss Katharine A. Page had just returned from a visit to
the United States.]

[Footnote 81: Mr. Arthur W. Page's country home on Long Island.]

[Footnote 82: Evidently the _Audacious_, sunk by mine off the North of
Ireland, October 27, 1914.]

[Footnote 83: Tewfik Pasha, the very popular Turkish Ambassador to Great

[Footnote 84: Germany was conducting her trade with the neutral world
largely through Dutch and Danish ports.]

[Footnote 85: Mr. Irwin Laughlin, first secretary of the American
Embassy in London, furnishes this note: "This statement about America
was made to me more than once in Germany, between 1910 and 1912, by
German officers, military and naval."]

[Footnote 86: Of Pinehurst, North Carolina, the Ambassador's oldest

[Footnote 87: On June 12, 1914. The title of the address was "Some
Aspects of the American Democracy."]

[Footnote 88: The Ambassador's youngest son.]

[Footnote 89: Mrs. W.H. Page was at this time spending a few weeks in
the United States.]




The foregoing letters sufficiently portray Page's attitude toward the
war; they also show the extent to which he suffered from the daily
tragedy. The great burdens placed upon the Embassy in themselves would
have exhausted a physical frame that had never been particularly robust;
but more disintegrating than these was the mental distress - the constant
spectacle of a civilization apparently bent upon its own destruction.
Indeed there were probably few men in Europe upon whom the war had a
more depressing effect. In the first few weeks the Ambassador
perceptibly grew older; his face became more deeply lined, his hair
became grayer, his body thinner, his step lost something of its
quickness, his shoulders began to stoop, and his manner became more and
more abstracted. Page's kindness, geniality, and consideration had long
since endeared him to all the embassy staff, from his chief secretaries
to clerks and doormen; and all his associates now watched with
affectionate solicitude the extent to which the war was wearing upon
him. "In those first weeks," says Mr. Irwin Laughlin, Page's most
important assistant and the man upon whom the routine work of the
Embassy largely fell, "he acted like a man who was carrying on his
shoulders all the sins and burdens of the world. I know no man who
seemed to realize so poignantly the misery and sorrow of it all. The
sight of an England which he loved bleeding to death in defence of the
things in which he most believed was a grief that seemed to be sapping
his very life."

Page's associates, however, noted a change for the better after the
Battle of the Marne. Except to his most intimate companions he said
little, for he represented a nation that was "neutral"; but the defeat
of the Germans added liveliness to his step, gave a keener sparkle to
his eye, and even brought back some of his old familiar gaiety of
spirit. One day the Ambassador was lunching with Mr. Laughlin and one or
two other friends.

"We did pretty well in that Battle of the Marne, didn't we?" he said.

"Isn't that remark slightly unneutral, Mr. Ambassador?" asked Mr.

At this a roar of laughter went up from the table that could be heard
for a considerable distance.

About this same time Page's personal secretary, Mr. Harold Fowler, came
to ask the Ambassador's advice about enlisting in the British Army. To
advise a young man to take a step that might very likely result in his
death was a heavy responsibility, and the Ambassador refused to accept
it. It was a matter that the Secretary could settle only with his own
conscience. Mr. Fowler decided his problem by joining the British Army;
he had a distinguished career in its artillery and aviation service as
he had subsequently in the American Army. Mr. Fowler at once discovered
that his decision had been highly pleasing to his superior.

"I couldn't advise you to do this, Harold," Page said, placing his hand
on the young man's shoulder, "but now that you've settled it yourself
I'll say this - if I were a young man like you and in your circumstances,
I should enlist myself."

Yet greatly as Page abhorred the Prussians and greatly as his
sympathies from the first day of the war were enlisted on the side of
the Allies, there was no diplomat in the American service who was more
"neutral" in the technical sense. "Neutral!" Page once exclaimed.
"There's nothing in the world so neutral as this embassy. Neutrality
takes up all our time." When he made this remark he was, as he himself
used to say, "the German Ambassador to Great Britain." And he was
performing the duties of this post with the most conscientious fidelity.
These duties were onerous and disagreeable ones and were made still more
so by the unreasonableness of the German Government. Though the American
Embassy was caring for the more than 70,000 Germans who were then living
in England and was performing numerous other duties, the Imperial
Government never realized that Page and the Embassy staff were doing it
a service. With characteristic German tactlessness the German Foreign
Office attempted to be as dictatorial to Page as though he had been one
of its own junior secretaries. The business of the German Embassy in
London was conducted with great ability; the office work was kept in the
most shipshape condition; yet the methods were American methods and the
Germans seemed aggrieved because the routine of the Imperial bureaucracy
was not observed. With unparalleled insolence they objected to the
American system of accounting - not that it was unsound or did not give
an accurate picture of affairs - but simply that it was not German. Page
quietly but energetically informed the German Government that the
American diplomatic service was not a part of the German organization,
that its bookkeeping system was American, not German, that he was doing
this work not as an obligation but as a favour, and that, so long as he
continued to do it, he would perform the duty in his own way. At this
the Imperial Government subsided. Despite such annoyances Page refused
to let his own feelings interfere with the work. The mere fact that he
despised the Germans made him over-scrupulous in taking all precautions
that they obtained exact justice. But this was all that the German cause
in Great Britain did receive. His administration of the German Embassy
was faultless in its technique, but it did not err on the side of

His behaviour throughout the three succeeding years was entirely

Online LibraryBurton Jesse HendrickThe Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Volume I → online text (page 26 of 32)