To Arthur W. Page
Knebworth House, Knebworth, August 11, 1917.
First of all, these three years have made me tired. I suppose there's no doubt about that, if there were any scientific way of measuring it. While of course the strain now is nothing like what it was during the days of neutrality, there's yet some strain.
I went down to Plymouth to make a speech on the anniversary of the beginning of the war—went to tell them in the west of England something about relations with the United States and something about what the United States is doing in the war. It turned out to be a great success. The Mayor met me at the train; there was a military company, the Star Spangled Banner and real American applause. All the way through the town the streets were lined with all the inhabitants and more—apparently millions of 'em. They made the most of it for five solid days.
On the morning of August 4th the Mayor gave me an official luncheon. Thence we went to the esplanade facing the sea, where soldiers and sailors were lined up for half a mile. The American Flag was flung loose, the Star Spangled Banner broke forth from the band, and all the people in that part of the world were there gathered to see the show. After all this salute the Mayor took me to the stand and he and I made speeches, and the background was a group of dozens of admirals and generals and many smaller fry. Then I reviewed the troops; then they marched by me and in an hour or two the show was over.
Then the bowling club—the same club and the same green as when Drake left the game to sail out to meet the Armada.
Then a solemn service in the big church, where the prayers were written and the hymns selected with reference to our part in the war.
Then, of course, a dinner party. At eight o'clock at night, the Guildhall, an enormous town hall, was packed with people and I made my speech at 'em. A copy (somewhat less good than the version I gave them) goes to you, along with a leader from the Times. They were vociferously grateful for any assuring word about the United States. It's strange how very little the provincial Englander knows about what we have done and mean to do. They took the speech finely, and I have had good letters about it from all sorts of people in every part of the Kingdom.
Then followed five days of luncheons and dinners and garden parties—and (what I set out to say) I got back to London last night dead tired. To-day your mother and I came here—about twenty-five miles from London—for a fortnight.
This is Bulwer-Lytton's house—a fine old English place hired this year by Lady Strafford, whom your mother is visiting for a fortnight or more, and they let me come along, too. They have given me the big library, as good a room as I want—with as bad pens as they can find in the Kingdom.
Your mother is tired, too. Since the American Red Cross was organized here, she has added to her committee and hospitals. But she keeps well and very vigorous. A fortnight here will set her up. She enjoyed Plymouth very much in spite of the continual rush, and it was a rush.
What the United States is doing looks good and large at this distance. The gratitude here is unbounded; but I detect a feeling here and there of wonder whether we are going to keep up this activity to the end.
I sometimes feel that the German collapse may come next winter. Their internal troubles and the lack of sufficient food and raw materials do increase. The breaking point may be reached before another summer. I wish I could prove it or even certainly predict it. But it is at least conceivable. Alas, no one can prove anything about the war. The conditions have no precedents. The sum of human misery and suffering is simply incalculable, as is the loss of life; and the gradual and general brutalization goes on and on and on far past any preceding horrors.
With all my love to you and Mollie and the trio,
And so for five busy and devastating years Page did his work. The stupidities of Washington might drive him to desperation, ill-health might increase his periods of despondency, the misunderstandings that he occasionally had with the British Government might add to his discouragements, but a naturally optimistic and humorous temperament overcame all obstacles, and did its part in bringing about that united effort which ended in victory. And that it was a great part, the story of his Ambassadorship abundantly proves. Page was not the soldier working in the blood and slime of Flanders, nor the sea fighter spending day and night around the foggy coast of Ireland, nor the statesman bending parliaments to his will and manipulating nations and peoples in the mighty game whose stake was civilization itself. But history will indeed be ungrateful if it ever forget the gaunt and pensive figure, clad in a dressing gown, sitting long into the morning before the smouldering fire at 6 Grosvenor Square, seeking to find some way to persuade a reluctant and hesitating President to lead his country in the defense of liberty and determined that, so far as he could accomplish it, the nation should play a part in the great assize that was in keeping with its traditions and its instincts.
A RESPITE AT ST. IVES
To Edward M. House
Knebworth House Sunday, September,[sic] 1917.
... By far the most important peace plan or utterance is the President's extraordinary answer to the Pope. His flat and convincing refusal to take the word of the present rulers of Germany as of any value has had more effect here than any other utterance and it is, so far, the best contribution we have made to the war. The best evidence that I can get shows also that it has had more effect in Germany than anything else that has been said by anybody. That hit the bull's-eye with perfect accuracy; and it has been accepted here as the war aim and the war condition. So far as I can make out it is working in Germany toward peace with more effect than any other deliverance made by anybody. And it steadied the already unshakable resolution here amazingly.
I can get any information here of course without danger of the slightest publicity—an important point, because even the mention of peace now is dangerous. All the world, under this long strain, is more or less off the normal, and all my work—even routine work—is done with the profoundest secrecy: it has to be.
Our energetic war preparations call forth universal admiration and gratitude here on all sides and nerve up the British and hearten them more than I know how to explain. There is an eager and even pathetic curiosity to hear all the details, to hear, in fact, anything about the United States; and what the British do not know about the United States would fill the British Museum. They do know, however, that they would soon have been obliged to make an unsatisfactory peace if we hadn't come in when we did and they freely say so. The little feeling of jealousy that we should come in and win the war at the end has, I think, been forgotten, swallowed up in their genuine gratitude.
WALTER H. PAGE.
To Arthur W. Page
American Embassy, London, Sept. 3, 1917.
... The President has sent Admiral Mayo over to study the naval situation. So far as I can learn the feeling at Washington is that the British Navy has done nothing. Why, it hasn't attacked the German naval bases and destroyed the German navy and ended the war! Why not? I have a feeling that Mayo will supplement and support Sims in his report. Then gradually the naval men at Washington may begin to understand and they may get the important facts into the President's head. Meantime the submarine work of the Germans continues to win the war, although the government and the people here and in the United States appear not to believe it. They are still destroying seventy-five British ships a month besides an additional (smaller) number of allied and neutral ships. And all the world together is not turning out seventy-five ships a month; nor are we all destroying submarines as fast as the Germans are turning them out. Yet all the politicians are putting on a cheerful countenance about it because the Germans are not starving England out and are not just now sinking passenger ships. They may begin this again at any time. They have come within a few feet of torpedoing two of our American liners. The submarine is the war yet, but nobody seems disposed to believe it. They'll probably wake up with a great shock some day—or the war may possibly end before the destruction of ships becomes positively fatal.
The President's letter to the Pope gives him the moral and actual leadership now. The Hohenzollerns must go. Somehow the subjects and governments of these Old World kingdoms have not hitherto laid emphasis on this. There's still a divinity that doth hedge a king in most European minds. To me this is the very queerest thing in the whole world. What again if Germany, Austria, Spain should follow Russia? Whether they do or not crowns will not henceforth be so popular. There is an unbounded enthusiasm here for the President's letter and for the President in general.
In spite of certain details which it seems impossible to make understood on the Potomac, the whole American preparation and enthusiasm seem from this distance to be very fine. The people seem in earnest. When I read about tax bills, about the food regulation and a thousand other such things, I am greatly gratified. And it proves that we were right when we said that during the days of neutrality the people were held back. It all looks exceedingly good from this distance, and it makes me homesick.
To Frank N. Doubleday
[Undated, but written about October I, 1917]
... The enormous war work and war help that everybody seems to be doing in the United States is heartily appreciated here—most heartily. The English eat out of our hands. You can see American uniforms every day in London. Every ship brings them. Everybody's thrilled to see them. The Americans here have great houses opened as officers' clubs, and scrumptious huts for men where countesses and other high ladies hand out sandwiches and serve ice cream and ginger beer. Our two admirals are most popular with all classes, from royalty down. English soldiers salute our officers in the street and old gentlemen take off their hats when they meet nurses with the American Red Cross uniform. My Embassy now occupies four buildings for offices, more than half of them military and naval. And my own staff, proper, is the biggest in the world and keeps growing. When I go, in a little while, to receive the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh, I shall carry an Admiral or a General as my aide!
That's the way we keep a stiff upper lip.
And Good Lord! it's tiresome. Peace? We'd all give our lives for the right sort of peace, and never move an eyelid. But only the wrong sort has yet come within reach. The other sort is coming, however; for these present German contortions are the beginning of the end. But the weariness of it, and the tragedy and the cost. No human creature was ever as tired as I am. Yet I keep well and keep going and keep working all my waking hours. When it ends, I shall collapse and go home and have to rest a while. So at least I feel now. And, if I outlive the work and the danger and the weariness, I'll praise God for that. And it doesn't let up a single day. And I'm no worse off than everybody else.
So this over-weary world goes, dear Effendi; but the longest day shades at last down to twilight and rest; and so this will be. And poor old Europe will then not be worth while for the rest of our lives—a vast grave and ruin where unmated women will mourn and starvation will remain for years to come.
God bless us.
Sincerely yours, with my love to all the boys, W.H.P.
To Frank N. Doubleday
London, November 9, 1917.
... This infernal thing drags its slow length along so that we cannot see even a day ahead, not to say a week, or a year. If any man here allowed the horrors of it to dwell on his mind he would go mad, so we have to skip over these things somewhat lightly and try to keep the long, definite aim in our thoughts and to work away distracted as little as possible by the butchery and by the starvation that is making this side of the world a shambles and a wilderness. There is hardly a country on the Continent where people are not literally starving to death, and in many of them by hundreds of thousands; and this state of things is going to continue for a good many years after the war. God knows we (I mean the American people) are doing everything we can to alleviate it but there is so much more to be done than any group of forces can possibly do, that I have a feeling that we have hardly touched the borders of the great problem itself. Of course here in London we are away from all that. In spite of the rations we get quite enough to eat and it's as good as it is usually in England, but we have no right to complain. Of course we are subject to air raids, and the wise air people here think that early next spring we are going to be bombarded with thousands of aeroplanes, and with new kinds of bombs and gases in a well-organized effort to try actually to destroy London. Possibly that will come; we must simply take our chance, every man sticking to his job. Already the slate shingles on my roof have been broken, and bricks have been knocked down my chimney; the sky-light was hit and glass fell down all through the halls, and the nose of a shrapnel shell, weighing eight pounds, fell just in front of my doorway and rolled in my area. This is the sort of thing we incidentally get, not of course from the enemy directly, but from the British guns in London which shoot these things at German aeroplanes. What goes up must come down. Between our own defences and the enemy, God knows which will kill us first!
In spite of all this I put my innocent head on my pillow every night and get a good night's sleep after the bombing is done, and I thank Heaven that nothing interrupts my sleep. This, and a little walking, which is all I get time to do in these foggy days, constitute my life outdoors and precious little of it is outdoors.
Then on every block that I know of in London there is a hospital or supply place and the ambulances are bringing the poor fellows in all the time. We don't get any gasolene to ride so we have to walk. We don't get any white bread so we have to eat stuff made of flour and corn meal ground so fine that it isn't good. While everybody gets a little thinner, the universal opinion is that they also get a little better, and nobody is going to die here of hunger. We feel a little more cheerful about the submarines than we did some time ago. For some reason they are not getting so many ships. One reason, I am glad to believe, is that they are getting caught themselves. If I could remember all the stories that I hear of good fighting with the submarines I could keep you up two nights when I get home, but in these days one big thing after another crowds so in men's minds that the Lord knows if, when I get home, I shall remember anything.
Always heartily yours,
To the President
London, December 3, 1917.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
... Some of the British military men in London are not hopeful of an early end of the war nor even cheerful about the result. They are afraid of the war-weariness that overcame Russia and gave Italy a setback. They say the military task, though long and slow and hard, can be done if everybody will pull together and keep at the job without weariness—be done by our help. But they have fits of fear of France. They are discouraged by the greater part of Lord Lansdowne's letter. I myself do not set great value on this military feeling in London, for the British generals in France do not share it. Lord French once said to me and General Robertson, too, that when they feel despondent in London, they go to the front and get cheered up. But it does seem to be a long job. Evidently the Germans mean to fight to the last man unless they can succeed in inducing the Allies to meet them to talk it over without naming their terms in advance. That is what Lord Lansdowne favours, and no public outgiving by any prominent man in England has called forth such a storm of protest since the war began. I think I see the genesis of his thought, and it is this: there is nothing in his letter and there was nothing in the half dozen or more rather long conversations that I have had with him on other subjects to show that he has the slightest conception of democracy as a social creed or as a political system. He is, I think, the most complete aristocrat that I have ever met. He doesn't see the war at all as a struggle between democracy and its opposite. He sees it merely as a struggle between Germany and the Allies; and inferentially he is perfectly willing the Kaiser should remain in power. He is of course a patriotic man and a man of great cultivation. But he doesn't see the deeper meaning of the conflict. Add to this defect of understanding, a long period of bad health and a lasting depression because of the loss of his son, and his call to the war-weary ceases to be a surprise.
I am, dear Mr. President, Sincerely yours, WALTER H. PAGE.
To Arthur W. Page
American Embassy, London, December 23, 1917.
I sent you a Christmas cable yesterday for everybody. That's about all I can send in these days of slow mail and restricted shipping and enormously high prices; and you gave all the girls each $100 for me, for the babies and themselves? That'll show 'em that at least we haven't forgotten them. Forgotten? Your mother and I are always talking of the glad day when we can go home and live among them. We get as homesick as small boys their first month at a boarding school. Do you remember the day I left you at Lawrenceville, a forlorn and lonely kid?—It's like that.
A wave of depression hangs over the land like a London fog. And everybody on this tired-out side of the world shows a disposition to lean too heavily on us—to depend on us so completely that the fear arises that they may unconsciously relax their own utmost efforts when we begin to fight. Yet they can't in the least afford to relax, and, when the time comes, I dare say they will not. Yet the plain truth is, the French may give out next year for lack of men. I do not mean that they will quit, but that their fighting strength will have passed its maximum and that they will be able to play only a sort of second part. Except the British and the French, there's no nation in Europe worth a tinker's damn when you come to the real scratch. The whole continent is rotten or tyrannical or yellow-dog. I wouldn't give Long Island or Moore County for the whole of continental Europe, with its kings and itching palms.
... Waves of depression and of hope—if not of elation—come and go. I am told, and I think truly, that waves of weariness come in London far oftener and more depressingly than anywhere else in the Kingdom. There is no sign nor fear that the British will give up; they'll hold on till the end. Winston Churchill said to me last night: "We can hold on till next year. But after 1918, it'll be your fight. We'll have to depend on you." I told him that such a remark might well be accepted in some quarters as a British surrender. Then he came up to the scratch: "Surrender? Never." But I fear we need—in some practical and non-ostentatious way—now and then to remind all these European folk that we get no particular encouragement by being unduly leaned on.
It is, however, the weariest Christmas in all British annals, certainly since the Napoleonic wars. The untoward event after the British advance toward Cambrai caused the retirement of six British generals and deepened the depression here. Still I can see it now passing. Even a little victory will bring back a wave of cheerfulness.
Depression or elation show equally the undue strain that British nerves are under. I dare say nobody is entirely normal. News of many sorts can now be circulated only by word of mouth. The queerest stories are whispered about and find at least temporary credence. For instance: The report has been going around that the revolution that took place in Portugal the other day was caused by the Germans (likely enough); that it was a monarchical movement and that the Germans were going to put the King back on the throne as soon as the war ended. Sensation-mongers appear at every old-woman's knitting circle. And all this has an effect on conduct. Two young wives of noble officers now in France have just run away with two other young noblemen—to the scandal of a large part of good society in London. It is universally said that the morals of more hitherto good people are wrecked by the strain put upon women by the absence of their husbands than was ever before heard of. Everybody is overworked. Fewer people are literally truthful than ever before. Men and women break down and fall out of working ranks continuously. The number of men in the government who have disappeared from public view is amazing, the number that would like to disappear is still greater—from sheer overstrain. The Prime Minister is tired. Bonar Law in a long conference that Crosby and I had with him yesterday wearily ran all round a circle rather than hit a plain proposition with a clear decision. Mr. Balfour has kept his house from overwork a few days every recent week. I lunched with Mr. Asquith yesterday; even he seemed jaded; and Mrs. Asquith assured me that "everything is going to the devil damned fast." Some conspicuous men who have always been sober have taken to drink. The very few public dinners that are held are served with ostentatious meagreness to escape criticism. I attended one last week at which there was no bread, no butter, no sugar served. All of which doesn't mean that the world here is going to the bad—only that it moves backward and forward by emotions; and this is normally a most unemotional race. Overwork and the loss of Sons and friends—the list of the lost grows—always make an abnormal strain. The churches are fuller than ever before. So, too, are the "parlours" of the fortune-tellers. So also the theatres—in the effort to forget one's self. There are afternoon dances for young officers at home on leave: the curtains are drawn and the music is muffled. More marriages take place—blind and maimed, as well as the young fellows just going to France—than were ever celebrated in any year within men's memory. Verse-writing is rampant. I have received enough odes and sonnets celebrating the Great Republic and the Great President to fill a folio volume. Several American Y.M.C.A. workers lately turned rampant Pacifists and had to be sent home. Colonial soldiers and now and then an American sailor turn up at our Y.M.C.A. huts as full as a goat and swear after the event that they never did such a thing before. Emotions and strain everywhere!
In March Page, a very weary man—as these letters indicate—took a brief holiday at St. Ives, on the coast of Cornwall. As he gazed out on the Atlantic, the yearning for home, for the sandhills and the pine trees of North Carolina, again took possession of his soul. Yet it is evident, from a miscellaneous group of letters written at this time, that his mind revelled in a variety of subjects, ranging all the way from British food and vegetables to the settlement of the war and from secret diplomacy to literary style.
To Mrs. Charles G. Loring St. Ives, Cornwall, March 3, 1918.
Your mother of course needed a rest away from London after the influenza got done with her; and I discovered that I had gone stale. So she and I and the golf clubs came here yesterday—as near to the sunlit land of Uncle Sam as you can well get on this island. We look across the ocean—at least out into it—in your direction, but I must confess that Labrador is not in sight. The place is all right, the hotel uncommonly good, but it's Greenlandish in its temperature—a very cold wind blowing. The golf clubs lean up against the wall and curse the weather. But we are away from the hordes of people and will have a little quiet here. It's as quiet as any far-off place by the sea, and it's clean. London is the dirtiest town in the world.
By the way that picture of Chud came (by Col. Honey) along with Alice Page's adorable little photograph. As for the wee chick, I see how you are already beginning to get a lot of fun with her. And you'll have more and more as she gets bigger. Give her my love and see what she'll say. You won't get so lonesome, dear Kitty, with little Alice; and I can't keep from thinking as well as hoping that the war will not go on as long as it sometimes seems that it must. The utter collapse of Russia has given Germany a vast victory on that side and it may turn out that this will make an earlier peace possible than would otherwise have come. And the Germans may be—in fact, must be, very short of some of the essentials of war in their metals or in cotton. They are in a worse internal plight than has been made known, I am sure. I can't keep from hoping that peace may come this year. Of course, my guess may be wrong; but everything I hear points in the direction of my timid prediction.
Bless you and little Alice,
Page's oldest son was building a house and laying out a garden at Pinehurst, North Carolina, a fact which explains the horticultural and gastronomical suggestions contained in the following letter:
To Ralph W. Page
Tregenna Castle Hotel, St. Ives, Cornwall, England, March 4, 1918.
Asparagus Celery Tomatoes Butter Beans Peas Sweet Corn Sweet Potatoes Squash—the sort you cook in the rind Cantaloupe Peanuts Egg Plant Figs Peaches Pecans Scuppernongs Peanut-bacon, in glass jars Razor-back hams, divinely cured Raspberries Strawberries etc. etc. etc. etc.
You see, having starved here for five years, my mind, as soon as it gets free, runs on these things and my mouth waters. All the foregoing things that grow can be put up in pretty glass jars, too.
Add cream, fresh butter, buttermilk, fresh eggs. Only one of all the things on page one grows with any flavour here at all—strawberries; and only one or two more grow at all. Darned if I don't have to confront Cabbage every day. I haven't yet surrendered, and I never shall unless the Germans get us. Cabbage and Germans belong together: God made 'em both the same stinking day.
Now get a bang-up gardener no matter what he costs. Get him started. Put it up to him to start toward the foregoing programme, to be reached in (say) three years—two if possible. He must learn to grow these things absolutely better than they are now grown anywhere on earth. He must get the best seed. He must get muck out of the swamp, manure from somewhere, etc. etc. He must have the supreme flavour in each thing. Let him take room enough for each—plenty of room. He doesn't want much room for any one thing, but good spaces between.
This will be the making of the world. Talk about fairs? If he fails to get every prize he must pay a fine for every one that goes to anybody else.
How we'll live! I can live on these things and nothing else. But (just to match this home outfit) I'll order tea from Japan, ripe olives from California, grape fruit and oranges from Florida. Then poor folks will hang around, hoping to be invited to dinner!
Plant a few fig trees now; and pecans? Any good?
The world is going to come pretty close to starvation not only during the war but for five or perhaps ten years afterward. An acre or two done right—divinely right—will save us. An acre or two on my land in Moore County—no king can live half so well if the ground be got ready this spring and such a start made as one natural-born gardener can make. The old Russian I had in Garden City was no slouch. Do you remember his little patch back of the house? That far, far, far excelled anything in all Europe. And you'll recall that we jarred 'em and had good things all winter.
This St. Ives is the finest spot in England that I've ever seen. To-day has been as good as any March day you ever had in North Carolina—a fine air, clear sunshine, a beautiful sea—looking out toward the United States; and this country grows—the best golf links that I've ever seen in the world, and nothing else worth speaking of but—tin. Tin mines are all about here. Tin and golf are good crops in their way, but they don't feed the belly of man. As matters stand the only people that have fit things to eat now in all Europe are the American troops in France, and their food comes out of tins chiefly. Ach! Heaven! In these islands man is amphibious and carnivorous. It rains every day and meat, meat, meat is the only human idea of food. God bless us, one acre of the Sandhills is worth a vast estate of tin mines and golf links to feed the innards of
P.S. And cornfield peas, of just the right rankness, cooked with just the right dryness.
When I become a citizen of the Sandhills I propose to induce some benevolent lover of good food to give substantial prizes to the best grower of each of these things and to the best cook of each and to the person who serves each of them most daintily.
We can can and glass jar these things and let none be put on the market without the approval of an expert employed by the community. Then we can get a reputation for Sandhill Food and charge double price.
To Arthur W. Page
St. Ives, Cornwall,
England, March 8, 1918.
Your letter, written from the University Club, is just come. It makes a very distinct impression on my mind which my own conclusions and fears have long confirmed. Let me put it at its worst and in very bald terms: The Great White Chief is at bottom pacifist, has always been so and is so now. Of course I do not mean a pacifist at any price, certainly not a cowardly pacifist. But (looked at theoretically) war is, of course, an absurd way of settling any quarrel, an irrational way. Men and nations are wasteful, cruel, pigheaded fools to indulge in it. Quite true. But war is also the only means of adding to a nation's territory the territory of other nations which they do not wish to sell or to give up—the robbers' only way to get more space or to get booty. This last explains this war. Every Hohenzollern (except the present Emperor's father, who reigned only a few months) since Frederick the Great has added to Prussian and German area of rule. Every one, therefore, as he comes to the throne, feels an obligation to make his addition to the Empire. For this the wars of Prussia with Austria, with Denmark, with France were brought on. They succeeded and won the additions that old William I made to the Empire. Now William II must make his addition. He prepared for more than forty years; the nation prepared before he came to the throne and his whole reign has been given to making sure that he was ready. It's a robber's raid. Of course, the German case has been put so as to direct attention from this bald fact.
Now the philosophical pacifists—I don't mean the cowardly, yellow-dog ones—have never quite seen the war in this aspect. They regard it as a dispute about something—about trade, about more seaboard, about this or that, whereas it is only a robber's adventure. They want other people's property. They want money, treasure, land, indemnities, minerals, raw materials; and they set out to take them.
Now confusing this character of the war with some sort of rational dispute about something, the pacifists try in every way to stop it, so that the "issue" may be reasoned out, debated, discussed, negotiated. Surely the President tried to reach peace—tried as hard and as long as the people would allow him. The Germans argued away time with him while they got their submarine fleet built. Then they carried out the programme they had always had in mind and had never thought of abandoning. Now they wish to gain more time, to slacken the efforts of the Allies, if possible to separate them by asking for "discussions"—peace by "negotiation." When you are about to kill the robber, he cries out, "For God's sake, let's discuss the question between us. We can come to terms."—Now here's where the danger comes from the philosophical pacifist—from any man who does not clearly understand the nature of the war and of the enemy. To discuss the difference between us is so very reasonable in sound—so very reasonable in fact if there were a discussable difference. It is a programme that would always be in order except with a burglar or a robber.
The yet imperfect understanding of the war and of the nature of the German in the United States, especially at Washington—more especially in the White House—herein lies the danger.
... This little rest down here is a success. The weather is a disappointment—windy and cold. But to be away from London and away from folks—that's much. Shoecraft is very good. He sends us next to nothing. Almost all we've got is an invitation to lunch with Their Majesties and they've been good enough to put that off. It's a far-off country, very fine, I'm sure in summer, and with most beautiful golf links. The hill is now so windy that no sane man can play there.
We're enjoying the mere quiet. And your mother is quite well again.
To Mrs. Charles G. Loring St. Ives, Cornwall, March 10, 1918.
A week here. No news. Shoecraft says we've missed nothing in London. What we came for we've got: your mother's quite well. She climbs these high hills quite spryly. We've had a remarkable week in this respect—we haven't carried on a conversation with any human being but ourselves. I don't think any such thing has ever happened before. I can stand a week, perhaps a fortnight of this now. But I don't care for it for any long period. At the bottom of this high and steep hill is the quaintest little town I ever saw. There are some streets so narrow that when a donkey cart comes along the urchins all have to run to the next corner or into doors. There is no sidewalk, of course; and the donkey cart takes the whole room between the houses. Artists take to the town, and they have funny little studios down by the water front in tiny houses built of stone in pieces big enough to construct a tidewater front. Imagine stone walls made of stone, each weighing tons, built into little houses about as big as your little back garden! There's one fellow here (an artist) whom I used to know in New York, so small has the world become!
On another hill behind us is a triangular stone monument to John Knill. He was once mayor of the town. When he died in 1782, he left money to the town. If the town is to keep the money (as it has) the Mayor must once in every five years form a procession and march up to this monument. There ten girls, natives of the town, and two widows must dance around the monument to the playing of a fiddle and a drum, the girls dressed in white. This ceremony has gone on, once in five years, all this time and the town has old Knill's money!
Your mother and I—though we are neither girls nor widows—danced around it this morning, wondering what sort of curmudgeon old John Knill was.
Don't you see how easily we fall into an idle mood? Well, here's a photograph of little Alice looking up at me from the table where I write—a good, sweet face she has.
And you'll never get another letter from me in a time and from a place whereof there is so little to tell.
Affectionately, dear Kitty,
To Ralph W. Page Tregenna Castle Hotel, St. Ives, Cornwall, March 12, 1918.
MY DEAR RALPH:
Arthur has sent me Gardiner's 37-page sketch of American-British Concords and Discords—a remarkable sketch; and he has reminded me that your summer plan is to elaborate (into a popular style) your sketch of the same subject. You and Gardiner went over the same ground, each in a very good fashion. That's a fascinating task, and it opens up a wholly new vista of our History and of Anglo-Saxon, democratic history. Much lies ahead of that. And all this puts it in my mind to write you a little discourse on style. Gardiner has no style. He put his facts down much as he would have noted on a blue print the facts about an engineering project that he sketched. The style of your article, which has much to be said for it as a magazine article, is not the best style for a book.
Now, this whole question of style—well, it's the gist of good writing. There's no really effective writing without it. Especially is this true of historical writing. Look at X Y Z's writings. He knows his American history and has written much on it. He's written it as an Ohio blacksmith shoes a horse—not a touch of literary value in it all; all dry as dust—as dry as old Bancroft.
Style is good breeding—and art—in writing. It consists of the arrangement of your matter, first; then, more, of the gait; the manner and the manners of your expressing it. Work every group of facts, naturally and logically grouped to begin with, into a climax. Work every group up as a sculptor works out his idea or a painter, each group complete in itself. Throw out any superfluous facts or any merely minor facts that prevent the orderly working up of the group—that prevent or mar the effect you wish to present.
Then, when you've got a group thus presented, go over what you've made of it, to make sure you've used your material and its arrangement to the best effect, taking away merely extraneous or superfluous or distracting facts, here and there adding concrete illustrations—putting in a convincing detail here, and there a touch of colour.
Then go over it for your vocabulary. See that you use no word in a different meaning than it was used 100 years ago and will be used 100 years hence. You wish to use only the permanent words—words, too, that will be understood to carry the same meaning to English readers in every part of the world. Your vocabulary must be chosen from the permanent, solid, stable parts of the language.
Then see that no sentence contains a hint of obscurity.
Then go over the words you use to see if they be the best. Don't fall into merely current phrases. If you have a long word, see if a native short one can be put in its place which will be more natural and stronger. Avoid a Latin vocabulary and use a plain English one—short words instead of long ones.
Most of all, use idioms—English idioms of force. Say an agreement was "come to." Don't say it was "consummated." For the difference between idioms and a Latin style, compare Lincoln with George Washington. One's always interesting and convincing. The other is dull in spite of all his good sense. How most folk do misuse and waste words!
Freeman went too far in his use of one-syllable words. It became an affectation. But he is the only man I can think of that ever did go too far in that direction. X—would have written a great history if he had had the natural use of idioms. As it is, he has good sense and no style; and his book isn't half so interesting as it would have been if he had some style—some proper value of short, clear-cut words that mean only one thing and that leave no vagueness.
You'll get a good style if you practice it. It is in your blood and temperament and way of saying things. But it's a high art and must be laboriously cultivated.
This glimpse of a changing and chastened England appears in a letter of this period:
* * * * *
The disposition shown by an endless number of such incidents is something more than a disposition of gratitude of a people helped when they are hard pressed. All these things show the changed and changing Englishman. It has already come to him that he may be weaker than he had thought himself and that he may need friends more than he had once imagined; and, if he must have helpers and friends, he'd rather have his own kinsmen. He's a queer "cuss," this Englishman. But he isn't a liar nor a coward nor any sort of "a yellow dog." He's true, and he never runs—a possible hero any day, and, when heroic, modest and quiet and graceful. The trouble with him has been that he got great world power too easily. In the times when he exploited the world for his own enrichment, there were no other successful exploiters. It became an easy game to him. He organized sea traffic and sea power. Of course he became rich—far, far richer than anybody else, and, therefore, content with himself. He has, therefore, kept much of his mediaeval impedimenta, his dukes and marquesses and all that they imply—his outworn ceremonies and his mediaeval disregard of his social inferiors. Nothing is well done in this Kingdom for the big public, but only for the classes. The railway stations have no warm waiting rooms. The people pace the platform till the train comes, and milord sits snugly wrapt up in his carriage till his footman announces the approach of the train. And occasional discontent is relieved by emigration to the Colonies. If any man becomes weary of his restrictions he may go to Australia and become a gentleman. The remarkable loyalty of the Colonies has in it something of a servant's devotion to his old master.
Now this trying time of war and the threat and danger of extinction are bringing—have in fact already brought—the conviction that many changes must come. The first sensible talk about popular education ever heard here is just now beginning. Many a gentleman has made up his mind to try to do with less than seventeen servants for the rest of his life since he now has to do with less. Privilege, on which so large a part of life here rests, is already pretty well shot to pieces. A lot of old baggage will never be recovered after this war: that's certain. During a little after-dinner speech in a club not long ago I indulged in a pleasantry about excessive impedimenta. Lord Derby, Minister of War and a bluff and honest aristocrat, sat near me and he whispered to me—"That's me." "Yes," I said, "that's you," and the group about us made merry at the jest. The meaning of this is, they now joke about what was the most solemn thing in life three years ago.
None of this conveys the idea I am trying to explain—the change in the English point of view and outlook—a half century's change in less than three years, radical and fundamental change, too. The mother of the Duke of X came to see me this afternoon, hobbling on her sticks and feeble, to tell me of a radiant letter she had received from her granddaughter who has been in Washington visiting the Spring Rices. "It's all very wonderful," said the venerable lady, "and my granddaughter actually heard the President make a speech!" Now, knowing this lady and knowing her son, the Duke, and knowing how this girl, his daughter, has been brought up, I dare swear that three years ago not one of them would have crossed the street to hear any President that ever lived. They've simply become different people. They were very genuine before. They are very genuine now.
It is this steadfastness in them that gives me sound hope for the future. They don't forget sympathy or help or friendship. Our going into the war has eliminated the Japanese question. It has shifted the virtual control of the world to English-speaking peoples. It will bring into the best European minds the American ideal of service. It will, in fact, give us the lead and make the English in the long run our willing followers and allies. I don't mean that we shall always have plain sailing. But I do mean that the direction of events for the next fifty or one hundred years has now been determined.
* * * * *
Yet Page found one stolid opposition to his attempts to establish the friendliest relations between the two peoples. That offish attitude of the Washington Administration, to which reference has already been made, did not soften with the progress of events. Another experience now again brought out President Wilson's coldness toward his allies. About this time many rather queer Americans—some of the "international" breed—were coming to England on more or less official missions. Page was somewhat humiliated by these excursions; he knew that his country possessed an almost unlimited supply of vivid speakers, filled with zeal for the allied cause, whose influence, if they could be induced to cross the Atlantic, would put new spirit into the British. The idea of having a number of distinguished Americans come to England and tell the British public about the United States and especially about the American preparations for war, was one that now occupied his thoughts. In June, 1917, he wrote his old friend Dr. Wallace Buttrick, extending an invitation to visit Great Britain as a guest of the British Government. Dr. Buttrick made a great success; his speeches drew large crowds and proved a source of inspiration to the British masses. So successful were they, indeed, that the British Government desired that other Americans of similar type should come and spread the message. In November, therefore, Dr. Buttrick returned to the United States for the purpose of organizing such a committee. Among the eminent Americans whom he persuaded to give several months of their time to this work of heartening our British allies were Mr. George E. Vincent, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, Mr. Harry Pratt Judson, President of Chicago University, Mr. Charles H. Van Hise, President of the University of Wisconsin, Mr. Edwin A. Alderman, President of the University of Virginia, Mr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Bishop Lawrence of Massachusetts. It was certainly a distinguished group, but it was the gentleman selected to be its head that gave it almost transcendent importance in the eyes of the British Government. This was ex-President William H. Taft. The British lay greater emphasis upon official rank than do Americans, and the fact that an ex-President of the United States was to head this delegation made it almost an historic event. Mr. Taft was exceedingly busy, but he expressed his willingness to give up all his engagements for several months and to devote his energies to enlightening the British public about America and its purposes in the war. An official invitation was sent him from London and accepted.
Inasmuch as Mr. Taft was an ex-President and a representative of the political party opposed to the one in power, he thought it only courteous that he call upon Mr. Wilson, explain the purpose of his mission, and obtain his approval. He therefore had an interview with the President at the White House; the date was December 12, 1917. As soon as Mr. Wilson heard of the proposed visit to Great Britain he showed signs of irritation. He at once declared that it met with his strongest disapproval. When Mr. Taft remarked that the result of such an enterprise would be to draw Great Britain and the United States more closely together, Mr. Wilson replied that he seriously questioned the desirability of drawing the two countries any more closely together than they already were. He was opposed to putting the United States in a position of seeming in any way to be involved with British policy. There were divergencies of purpose, he said, and there were features of the British policy in this war of which he heartily disapproved. The motives of the United States in this war, the President continued, "were unselfish, but the motives of Great Britain seemed to him to be of a less unselfish character." Mr. Wilson cited the treaty between Great Britain and Italy as a sample of British statesmanship which he regarded as proving this contention. The President's reference to this Italian treaty has considerable historic value; there has been much discussion as to when the President first learned of its existence, but it is apparent from this conversation with ex-President Taft that he must have known about it on December 12, 1917, for President Wilson based his criticism of British policy largely upon this Italian convention.
The President showed more and more feeling about the matter as the discussion continued. "There are too many Englishmen," he said, "in this country and in Washington now and I have asked the British Ambassador to have some of them sent home."
Mr. Wilson referred to the jealousy of France at the close relations which were apparently developing between Great Britain and the United States. This was another reason, he thought, why it was unwise to make the bonds between them any tighter. He also called Mr. Taft's attention to the fact that there were certain elements in the United States which were opposed to Great Britain—this evidently being a reference to the Germans and the Irish—and he therefore believed that any conspicuous attempts to increase the friendliness of the two countries for each other would arouse antagonism and resentment.
As Mr. Taft was leaving he informed Mr. Wilson that the plan for his visit and that of the other speakers had originated with the American Ambassador to Great Britain. This, however, did not improve the President's temper.
"Page," said the President, "is really an Englishman and I have to discount whatever he says about the situation in Great Britain."
And then he added, "I think you ought not to go, and the same applies to the other members of the party. I would like you to make my attitude on this question known to those having the matter in charge."
Despite this rebuff Dr. Buttrick and Mr. Taft were reluctant to give up the plan. An appeal was therefore made to Colonel House. Colonel House at once said that the proposed visit was an excellent thing and that he would make a personal appeal to Mr. Wilson in the hope of changing his mind. A few days afterward Colonel House called up Dr. Buttrick and informed him that he had not succeeded. "I am sorry," wrote Colonel House to Page, "that the Buttrick speaking programme has turned out as it has. The President was decidedly opposed to it and referred to it with some feeling."
[Footnote 64: August 1, 1917, Pope Benedict XV sent a letter to the Powers urging them to bring the war to an end and outlining possible terms of settlement. On August 29th President Wilson sent his historic reply. This declared, in memorable language, that the Hohenzollern dynasty was unworthy of confidence and that the United States would have no negotiations with its representatives. It inferentially took the stand that the Kaiser must abdicate, or be deposed, and the German autocracy destroyed, as part of the conditions of peace.]
[Footnote 65: On November 29, 1917, the London Daily Telegraph published a letter from the Marquis of Lansdowne, which declared that the war had lasted too long and suggested that the British restate their war aims. This letter was severely condemned by the British press and by practically all representative British statesmen. It produced a most lamentable impression in the United States also.]
[Footnote 66: Eugene C. Shoecraft, the Ambassador's secretary.]
[Footnote 67: As related in Chapter XXII, page 267, President Wilson was informed of the so-called "secret treaties" by Mr. Balfour, in the course of his memorable visit to the White House.]
GETTING THE AMERICAN TROOPS TO FRANCE
A group of letters, written at this time, touch upon a variety of topics which were then engaging the interest of all countries:
To Arthur W. Page
London, January 19, 1918.
While your letter is still fresh in my mind I dictate the following in answer to your question about Palestine.
It has not been settled—and cannot be, I fancy, until the Peace Conference—precisely what the British will do with Palestine, but I have what I think is a correct idea of their general attitude on the subject. First, of course, they do not propose to allow it to go back into Turkish hands; and the same can be said also of Armenia and possibly of Mesopotamia. Their idea of the future of Palestine is that whoever shall manage the country, or however it shall be managed, the Jews shall have the same chance as anybody else. Of course that's quite an advance for the Jews there, but their idea is not that the Jews should have command of other populations there or control over them—not in the least. My guess at the English wish, which I have every reason to believe is the right guess, is that they would wish to have Palestine internationalized, whatever that means. That is to say, that it should have control of its own local affairs and be a free country but that some great Power, or number of Powers, should see to it that none of the races that live there should be allowed to impose upon the other races. I don't know just how such a guarantee can be given by the great Powers or such a responsibility assumed except by an agreement among two or three of them, or barely possibly by the English keeping control themselves; but the control by the English after the war of the former German colonies will put such a large task on them that they will not be particularly eager to extend the area of their responsibility elsewhere. Of course a difficult problem will come up also about Constantinople and the Dardanelles. The Dardanelles must be internationalized.
I have never been able to consider the Zionist movement seriously. It is a mere religious sentiment which will express itself in action by very few people. I have asked a number of Jews at various times who are in favour of the Zionist movement if they themselves are going there. They always say no. The movement, therefore, has fixed itself in my mind as a Jewish movement in which no Jew that you can lay your hands on will ever take part but who wants other Jews to take part in it. Of course there might be a flocking to Palestine of Jews from Russia and the adjoining countries where they are not happy, but I think the thing is chiefly a sentiment and nothing else. Morgenthau is dead right. I agree with him in toto. I do not think anybody in the United States need be the least concerned about the Zionist movement because there isn't a single Jew in our country such a fool as to go to Palestine when he can stay in the United States. The whole thing is a sentimental, religious, more or less unnatural and fantastic idea and I don't think will ever trouble so practical a people as we and our Jews are.
The following memorandum is dated February 10, 1918:
General Bliss has made a profound and the best possible impression here by his wisdom and his tact. The British have a deep respect for him and for his opinions, and in inspiring and keeping high confidence in us he is worth an army in himself. I have seen much of him and found out a good deal about his methods. He is simplicity and directness itself. Although he is as active and energetic as a boy, he spends some time by himself to think things out and even to say them to himself to see how his conclusions strike the ear as well as the mind. He has been staying here at the house of one of our resident officers. At times he goes to his room and sits long by the fire and argues his point—out loud—oblivious to everything else. More than once when he was so engaged one of his officers has knocked at the door and gone in and laid telegrams on the table beside him and gone out without his having known of the officer's entrance. Then he comes out and tries his conclusion on someone who enjoys his confidence. And then he stands by it and when the time comes delivers it slowly and with precision; and there he is; and those who hear him see that he has thought the matter out on all sides and finally.
Our various establishments in London have now become big—the Embassy proper, the Naval and Army Headquarters, the Red Cross, the War Trade Board's representatives, and now (forthwith) the Shipping Board, besides Mr. Crosby of the Treasury. The volume of work is enormous and it goes smoothly, except for the somewhat halting Army Headquarters, the high personnel of which is now undergoing a change; and that will now be all right. I regularly make the rounds of all the Government Departments with which we deal to learn if they find our men and methods effective, and the rounds of all our centres of activity to find whether there be any friction with the British The whole machine moves very well. For neither side hesitates to come to me whenever they strike even small snags. All our people are at work on serious tasks and (so far as I know) there are now none of those despicable creatures here who used during our neutrality days to come from the United States on peace errands and what-not to spy on the Embassy and me (their inquiries and their correspondence were catalogued by the police). I have been amazed at the activity of some of them whose doings I have since been informed of.
We now pay this tribute to the submarines—that we have entered the period of compulsory rations. There is enough to eat in spite of the food that has gone to feed the fishes. But no machinery of distribution to a whole population can be uniformly effective. The British worker with his hands is a greedy feeder and a sturdy growler and there will be trouble. But I know no reason to apprehend serious trouble.
The utter break-up of Russia and the German present occupation of so much of the Empire as she wants have had a contrary effect on two sections of opinion here, as I interpret the British mind. On the undoubtedly enormously dominant section of opinion these events have only stiffened resolution. They say that Germany now must be whipped to a finish. Else she will have doubled her empire and will hold the peoples of her new territory as vassals without regard to their wishes and the war lord caste will be more firmly seated than ever before. If her armies be literally whipped she'll have to submit to the Allies' terms, which will dislodge her from overlordship over these new unwilling subjects—and she can be dislodged in no other way. This probably means a long war, now that after a time she can get raw materials for war later and food from Rumania and the Ukraine, etc. This will mean a fight in France and Belgium till a decisive victory is won and the present exultant German will is broken.
The minority section of public opinion—as I judge a small minority—has the feeling that such an out-and-out military victory cannot be won or is not worth the price; and that the enemies of Germany, allowing her to keep her Eastern accretions, must make the best terms they can in the East; that there's no use in running the risk of Italy's defeat and defection before some sort of bargain could be made about Belgium, Alsace-Lorraine, and Serbia. Of course this plan would leave the German warlordship intact and would bring no sort of assurance of a prolonged peace. It would, too, leave European Russia at least to German mercy, and would leave the Baltic and the Black Seas practically wholly under German influence. As for the people of Russia, there seems small chance for them in this second contingency. The only way to save them is to win a decisive victory.
As matters stand to-day Lord Lansdowne and his friends (how numerous they are nobody knows) are the loudest spokesmen for such a peace as can be made. But it is talked much of in Asquith circles that the time may come when this policy will be led by Mr. Asquith, in a form somewhat modified from the Lansdowne formula. Mr. Asquith has up to this time patriotically supported the government and he himself has said nothing in public which could warrant linking his name with an early peace-seeking policy. But his friends openly and incessantly predict that he will, at a favourable moment, take this cue. I myself can hardly believe it. Political victory in Great Britain doesn't now lie in that direction.
The dominant section of opinion is much grieved at Russia's surrender, but they refuse to be discouraged by it. They recall how Napoleon overran most of Europe, and the French held practically none of his conquests after his fall.
Such real political danger as exists here—if any exists, of which I am not quite sure—comes not only now mainly of this split in public opinion but also and to a greater degree from the personal enemies of the present government. Lloyd George is kept in power because he is the most energetic man in sight—by far. Many who support him do not like him nor trust him-except that nobody doubts his supreme earnestness to win the war. On all other subjects he has enemies of old and he makes new ones. His intense and superb energy has saved him in two notable crises. His dismissal of Sir William Robertson has been accepted in the interest of greater unity of military control, but it was a dangerous rapids that he shot, for he didn't do it tactfully. Yet there's a certain danger to the present powers in the feeling that some of them are wearing out. Parliament itself—an old one now—is thought to have gone stale. Bonar Law is over-worked and tired; Balfour is often said to be too philosophical and languid; but, when this feeling seems in danger of taking definite shape, he makes a clearer statement than anybody else and catches on his feet. The man of new energy, not yet fagged, is Geddes, whose frankness carries conviction.
To the President
London, March 17, 1918.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
The rather impatient and unappreciative remarks made by the Prime Minister before a large meeting of preachers of the "free" churches about a League of Nations reminds me to write you about the state of British opinion on that subject. What Lloyd George said to these preachers is regrettable because it showed a certain impatience of mind from which he sometimes suffers; but it is only fair to him to say that his remarks that day did not express a settled opinion. For on more than one previous occasion he has spoken of the subject in a wholly different tone—much more appreciatively. On that particular day he had in mind only the overwhelming necessity to win the war—other things, all other things must wait. In a way this is his constant mood—the mood to make everybody feel that the only present duty is to win the war. He has been accused of almost every defect in the calendar except of slackness about the war. Nobody has ever doubted his earnestness nor his energy about that. And the universal confidence in his energy and earnestness is what keeps him in office. Nobody sees any other man who can push and inspire as well as he does. It would be a mistake, therefore, to pay too much heed to any particular utterance of this electrical creature of moods, on any subject.
Nevertheless, he hasn't thought out the project of a league to enforce peace further than to see the difficulties. He sees that such a league might mean, in theory at least, the giving over in some possible crisis the command of the British Fleet to an officer of some other nationality. That's unthinkable to any red-blooded son of these islands. Seeing a theoretical possibility even of raising such a question, the British mind stops and refuses to go further—refuses in most cases even to inquire seriously whether any such contingency is ever likely to come.
The British Grand Fleet, in fact, is a subject that stands alone in power and value and in difficulties. It classifies itself with nothing else. Since over and over again it has saved these islands from invasion when nothing else could have saved them and since during this war in particular it has saved the world from German conquest—as every Englishman believes—it lies in their reverence and their gratitude and their abiding convictions as a necessary and perpetual shield so long as Great Britain shall endure. If the Germans are thrashed to a frazzle (and we haven't altogether done that yet) and we set about putting the world in order, when we come to discuss Disarmament, the British Fleet will be the most difficult item in the world to dispose of. It is not only a Fact, with a great and saving history, it is also a sacred Tradition and an Article of Faith.
The first reason, therefore, why the British general mind has not firmly got hold on a league is the instinctive fear that the formation of any league may in some conceivable way affect the Grand Fleet. Another reason is the general inability of a somewhat slow public opinion to take hold on more than one subject at a time or more than one urgent part of one subject. The One Subject, of course, is winning the war. Since everything else depends on that, everything else must wait on that.
The League, therefore, has not taken hold on the public imagination here as it has in the United States. The large mass of the people have not thought seriously about it: it has not been strongly and persistently presented to the mass of the people. There is no popular or general organization to promote it. There is even, here and there, condemnation of the idea. The (London) Morning Post, for example, goes out of its way once in a while to show the wickedness of the idea because, so it argues, it will involve the sacrifice, more or less, of nationality. But the Morning Post is impervious to new ideas and is above all things critical in its activities and very seldom constructive. The typical Tory mind in general sees no good in the idea. The typical Tory mind is the insular mind.
On the other hand, the League idea is understood as a necessity and heartily approved by two powerful sections of public opinion—(1) the group of public men who have given attention to it, such as Bryce, Lord Robert Cecil, and the like, and (2) some of the best and strongest leaders of Labour. There is good reason to hope that whenever a fight and an agitation is made for a League these two sections of public opinion will win; but an agitation and a fight must come. Lord Bryce, in the intervals of his work as chairman of a committee to make a plan for the reorganization of the House of Lords, which, he remarked to me the other day, "involves as much labour as a Government Department," has fits of impatience about pushing a campaign for a league, and so have a few other men. They ask me if it be not possible to have good American public speakers come here—privately, of course, and in no way connected with our Government nor speaking for it—to explain the American movement for a League in order to arouse a public sentiment on the subject.
Thus the case stands at present.
Truth and error alike and odd admixtures of them come in waves over this censored land where one can seldom determine what is true, before the event, from the newspapers. "News" travels by word of mouth, and information that one can depend on is got by personal inquiry from sources that can be trusted.
There is a curious wave of fear just now about what Labour may do, and the common gossip has it that there is grave danger in the situation. I can find no basis for such a fear. I have talked with labour leaders and I have talked with members of the government who know most about the subject. There is not a satisfactory situation—there has not been since the war began. There has been a continuous series of labour "crises," and there have been a good many embarrassing strikes, all of which have first been hushed up and settled—at least postponed. One cause of continuous trouble has been the notion held by the Unions, sometimes right and sometimes wrong, that the employers were making abnormal profits and that they were not getting their due share. There have been and are also other causes of trouble. It was a continuous quarrel even in peace times. But I can find no especial cause of fear now. Many of the Unions have had such advances of wages that the Government has been severely criticized for giving in. Just lately a large wing of the Labour Party put forth its war aims which—with relatively unimportant exceptions—coincide with the best declarations made by the Government's own spokesmen.
Of course, no prudent man would venture to make dogmatic predictions. There have been times when for brief intervals any one would have been tempted to fear that these quarrels might cause an unsatisfactory conclusion of the war. But the undoubted patriotism of the British workman has every time saved the situation. While a danger point does lie here, there is no reason to be more fearful now than at any preceding time when no especial trouble was brewing. This wave of gossip and fear has no right to sweep over the country now.
Labour hopes and expects and is preparing to win the next General Election—whether with good reason or not I cannot guess. But most men expect it to win the Government at some time—most of them after the war. I recall that Lord Grey once said to me, before the war began, that a general political success of the Labour Party was soon to be expected.
Another wave which, I hear, has swept over Rome as well as London is a wave of early peace expectation. The British newspapers have lately been encouraging this by mysterious phrases. Some men here of good sense and sound judgment think that this is the result of the so-called German "peace offensive," which makes the present the most dangerous period of the war.
To David F. Houston
London, March 23, 1918.
MY DEAR HOUSTON:
It is very kind of you indeed to write so generously about the British visitors who are invading our sacred premises, such as the Archbishop of York, and it is good to hear from you anyhow about any subject and I needn't say that it is quite a rare experience also. I wish you would take a little of your abundant leisure and devote it to good letters to me.
And in some one of your letters tell me this.—The British send over men of this class that you have written about to see us, but they invite over here—and we permit to come—cranks on prohibition, experts in the investigation of crime, short-haired women who wish to see how British babies are reared, peace cranks and freaks of other kinds. Our Government apparently won't let plain, honest, normal civilians come over, but if a fellow comes along who wants to investigate some monstrosity then one half of the Senate, one half of the House of Representatives, and a number of the executive offices of the Government give him the most cordial letters. Now there are many things, of course, that I don't know, but it has been my fate to have a pretty extensive acquaintance with cranks of every description in the United States. I don't think there is any breed of them that didn't haunt my office while I was an editor. Now I am surely punished for all my past sins by having those fellows descend on me here. I know them, nearly all, from past experience and now just for the sake of keeping the world as quiet as possible I have to give them time here far out of proportion to their value.
Now, out of your great wisdom, I wish you would explain to me why the deuce we let all this crew come over here instead of sending a shipload of perfectly normal, dignified, and right-minded gentlemen. These thug reformers!—Baker will be here in a day or two and if I can remember it I am going to suggest to him that he round them all up and put them in the trenches in France where those of them who have so far escaped the gallows ought to be put.
I am much obliged to have the illuminating statement about our crops. I am going to show it to certain gentlemen here who will be much cheered by it. By gracious, you ought to hear their appreciation of what we are doing! We are not doing it for the sake of their appreciation, but if we were out to win it we could not do it better. Down at bottom the Englishman is a good fellow. He has his faults but he doesn't get tired and he doesn't suffer spasms of emotion.
Give my love to Mrs. Houston, and do sit down and write me a good long letter—a whole series of them, in fact.
Believe me, always most heartily yours,
WALTER HINES PAGE.
To Frank L. Polk
London, March 22, 1918.
DEAR MR. POLK:
You are good enough to mention the fact that the Embassy has some sort of grievance against the Department. Of course it has, and you are, possibly, the only man that can remove it. It is this: You don't come here to see the war and this government and these people who are again saving the world as we are now saving them. I thank Heaven and the Administration for Secretary Baker's visit. It is a dramatic moment in the history of the race, of democracy, and of the world. The State Department has the duty to deal with foreign affairs—the especial duty—and yet no man in the State Department has been here since the war began. This doesn't look pretty and it won't look pretty when the much over-worked "future historian" writes it down in a book. Remove that grievance.
The most interesting thing going on in the world to-day—a thing that in History will transcend the war and be reckoned its greatest gain—is the high leadership of the President in formulating the struggle, in putting its aims high, and in taking the democratic lead in the world, a lead that will make the world over—and in taking the democratic lead of the English-speaking folk. Next most impressive to that is to watch the British response to that lead. Already they have doubled the number of their voters, and even more important definite steps in Democracy will be taken. My aim—and it's the only way to save the world—is to lead the British in this direction. They are the most easily teachable people in our way of thinking and of doing. Of course everybody who works toward such an aim provokes the cry from a lot of fools among us who accuse him of toadying to the English and of "accepting the conventional English conclusion." They had as well talk of missionaries to India accepting Confucius or Buddha. Their fleet has saved us four or five times. It's about time we were saving them from this bloods Thing that we call Europe, for our sake and for theirs.
The bloody Thing will get us all if we don't fight our level best; and it's only by our help that we'll be saved. That clearly gives us the leadership. Everybody sees that. Everybody acknowledges it. The President authoritatively speaks it—speaks leadership on a higher level than it was ever spoken before to the whole world. As soon as we get this fighting job over, the world procession toward freedom—our kind of freedom—will begin under our lead. This being so, can't you delegate the writing of telegrams about "facilitating the license to ship poppy seed to McKesson and Robbins," and come over and see big world-forces at work?
I cannot express my satisfaction at Secretary Baker's visit. It was historic—the first member of the Cabinet, I think, who ever came here while he held office. He made a great impression and received a hearty welcome.
That's the only grievance I can at the moment unload on you. We're passing out of our old era of isolation. These benighted heathen on this island whom we'll yet save (since they are well worth saving) will be with us as we need them in future years and centuries. Come, help us heighten this fine spirit.
Always heartily yours,
WALTER HINES PAGE.
P.S. You'd see how big our country looks from a distance. It's gigantic, I assure you.
The above letter was written on what was perhaps the darkest day of the whole war. The German attack on the Western Front, which had been long expected, had now been launched, and, at the moment that Page was penning this cheery note to Mr. Polk, the German armies had broken through the British defenses, had pushed their lines forty miles ahead, and, in the judgment of many military men, had Paris almost certainly within their grasp. A great German gun, placed about seventy miles from the French capital, was dropping shells upon the apparently doomed city. This attack had been regarded as inevitable since the collapse of Russia, which had enabled the Germans to concentrate practically all their armies on the Western Front.
The world does not yet fully comprehend the devastating effect of this apparently successful attack upon the allied morale. British statesmen and British soldiers made no attempt to conceal from official Americans the desperate state of affairs. It was the expectation that the Germans might reach Calais and thence invade England. The War Office discussed these probabilities most freely with Colonel Slocum, the American military attache. The simple fact was that both the French and the British armies were practically bled white.
"For God's sake, get your men over!" they urged General Slocum. "You have got to finish it."
Page was writing urgently to President Wilson to the same purpose. Send the men and send them at once. "I pray God," were his solemn words to Mr. Wilson, "that you will not be too late!"
One propitious event had taken place at the same time as the opening of the great German offensive. Mr. Newton D. Baker, the American Secretary of War, had left quietly for France in late February, 1918, and had reached the Western Front in time to obtain a first-hand sight of the great March drive. No visit in history has ever been better timed, and no event could have better played into Page's hands. He had been urging Washington to send all available forces to France at the earliest possible date; he knew, as probably few other men knew, the extent to which the Allies were depending upon American troops to give the final blow to Germany; and the arrival of Secretary Baker at the scene of action gave him the opportunity to make a personal appeal. Page immediately communicated with the Secretary and persuaded him to come at once to London for a consultation with British military and political leaders. The Secretary spent only three days in London, but the visit, brief as it was, had historic consequences. He had many consultations with the British military men; he entered into their plans with enthusiasm; he himself received many ideas that afterward took shape in action, and the British Government obtained from him first-hand information as to the progress of the American Army and the American determination to cooperate to the last man and the last dollar. "Baker went straight back to France," Page wrote to his son Arthur, "and our whole cooeperation began."
Page gave a dinner to Mr. Baker at the Embassy on March 23rd—two days after the great March drive had begun. This occasion gave the visitor a memorable glimpse of the British temperament. Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Balfour, Lord Derby, the War Secretary, General Biddle, of the United States Army, and Admiral Sims were the Ambassador's guests. Though the mighty issues then overhanging the world were not ignored in the conversation the atmosphere hardly suggested that the existence of the British Empire, indeed that of civilization itself, was that very night hanging in the balance. Possibly it was the general sombreness of events that caused these British statesmen to find a certain relief in jocular small talk and reminiscence. For the larger part of the evening not a word was said about the progress of the German armies in France. Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Balfour, seated on opposite sides of the table, apparently found relaxation in reviewing their political careers and especially their old-time political battles. They would laughingly recall occasions when, in American parlance, they had put each other "in a hole"; the exigencies of war had now made these two men colleagues in the same government, but the twenty years preceding 1914 they had spent in political antagonism. Page's guests on this occasion learned much political history of the early twentieth century, and the mutual confessions of Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Balfour gave these two men an insight into each others' motives and manoeuvres which was almost as revealing. "Yes, you caught me that time," Mr. Lloyd George would say, and then he would counter with an episode of a political battle in which he had got the better of Mr. Balfour. The whole talk was lively and bantering, and accompanied with much laughter; and all this time shells from that long-distance gun were dropping at fifteen minute intervals upon the devoted women and children of Paris and the Germans were every hour driving the British back in disorder. At times the conversation took a more philosophic turn. Would the men present like to go back twenty-five years and live their lives all over again? The practically unanimous decision of every man was that he would not wish to do so.
All this, of course, was merely on the surface; despite the laughter and the banter, there was only one thing which engrossed the Ambassador's guests, although there were not many references to it. That was the struggle which was then taking place in France. At intervals Mr. Lloyd George would send one of the guests, evidently a secretary, from the room. The latter, on his return, would whisper something in the Prime Minister's ear, but more frequently he would merely shake his head. Evidently he had been sent to obtain the latest news of the battle.
At one point the Prime Minister did refer to the great things taking place in France.
"This battle means one thing," he said. "That is a generalissimo."
"Why couldn't you have taken this step long ago?" Admiral Sims asked Mr. Lloyd George.
The answer came like a flash.
"If the cabinet two weeks ago had suggested placing the British Army under a foreign general, it would have fallen. Every cabinet in Europe would also have fallen, had it suggested such a thing."
Memorandum on Secretary Baker's visit
Secretary Baker's visit here, brief as it was, gave the heartiest satisfaction. So far as I know, he is the first member of an American Cabinet who ever came to England while he held office, as Mr. Balfour was the first member of a British Cabinet who ever went to the United States while he held office. The great governments of the English-speaking folk have surely dealt with one another with mighty elongated tongs. Governments of democracies are not exactly instruments of precision. But they are at least human. But personal and human neglect of one another by these two governments over so long a period is an astonishing fact in our history. The wonder is that we haven't had more than two wars. And it is no wonder that the ignorance of Englishmen about America and the American ignorance of England are monumental, stupendous, amazing, passing understanding. I have on my mantelpiece a statuette of Benjamin Franklin, an excellent and unmistakable likeness which was made here during his lifetime; and the inscription burnt on its base is Geo. Washington. It serves me many a good turn with my English friends. I use it as a measure of their ignorance of us. Of course this is a mere little error of a statuette-maker, an error, moreover, of a hundred years ago. But it tells the story of to-day also. If I had to name the largest and most indelible impression that has been made on me during my five years' work here, I should say the ignorance and aloofness of the two peoples—not an ignorance of big essential facts but of personalities and temperaments—such as never occur except between men who had never seen one another.
But I was writing about Mr. Baker's visit and I've got a long way from that. I doubt if he knows himself what gratification it gave; for these men here have spoken to me about it as they could not speak to him.
Here is an odd fact: For sixty years, so far as I know, members of the Administration have had personal acquaintance with some of the men in power in Salvador, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Peru, etc., etc., and members of the British Government have had personal acquaintance with some men in authority in Portugal, Serbia, Montenegro and Monte Carlo; but during this time (with the single exception of John Hay) I think no member of any Administration had a real personal acquaintance while he held office with any member of the British Government while he held office, and vice versa—till Mr. Balfour's visit. Suspicion grows out of ignorance. The longer I live here the more astonished I become at the fundamental ignorance of the British about us and of our fundamental ignorance about them. So colossal is this ignorance that every American sent here is supposed to be taken in, to become Anglophile; and often when one undertakes to enlighten Englishmen about the United States one becomes aware of a feeling inside the English of unbelief, as if he said, "Oh, well! you are one of those queer people who believe in republican government." All this is simply amazing. Poor Admiral Sims sometimes has a sort of mania, a delusion that nobody at Washington trusts his judgment because he said seven or eight years ago that he liked the English. Yet every naval officer who comes here, I understand, shares his views about practically every important naval problem or question. I don't deserve the compliment (it's a very high one) that some of my secretaries sometimes pay me when they say that I am the only man they know who tries to tell the whole truth to our Government in favour of the Englishman as well as against him. It is certain that American public opinion is universally supposed to suspect any American who tries to do anything with the British lion except to twist his tail—a supposition that I never believed to be true.—But it is true that the mutual ignorance is as high as the Andes and as deep as the ocean. Personal acquaintance removes it and nothing else will.
To Arthur W. Page
American Embassy, London, April 7, 1918.
I daresay you remember this epic:
Old Morgan's wife made butter and cheese; Old Morgan drank the whey. There came a wind from West to East And blew Old Morgan away.
I'm Old Morgan and your mother got ashamed of my wheyness and made the doctor prescribe cream for me. There's never been such a luxury, and anybody who supposes that I am now going to get fat and have my cream stopped simply doesn't know me. So, you see why I'm intent on shredded wheat biscuits. That's about the best form of real wheat that will keep. And there's no getting real wheat-stuff, pure and simple, in any other form.
There's no use in talking about starving people—except perhaps in India and China. White men can live on anything. The English could fight a century on cabbage and Brussels sprouts. I've given up hope of starving the Germans. A gut of dogmeat or horse flesh and a potato will keep them in fighting trim forever. I've read daily for two years of impending starvation across the Rhine; but I never even now hear of any dead ones from hunger. Cold steel or lead is the only fatal dose for them.
Therefore I know that shredded wheat will carry me through.
You'll see, I hope, from the clippings that I enclose that I'm not done for yet anyhow. Two speeches a day is no small stunt; and I did it again yesterday—hand running; and I went out to dinner afterward. It was a notable occasion—this celebration of the anniversary of our coming into the war.
Nobody here knows definitely just what to fear from the big battle; but everybody fears more or less. It's a critical time—very. I am told that that long-range gunning of Paris is the worst form of frightfulness yet tried. The shells do not kill a great many people. But their falling every fifteen minutes gets on people's nerves and they can't sleep. I hear they are leaving Paris in great numbers. Since the big battle began and the Germans have needed all their planes and more in France, they've let London alone. But nobody knows when they will begin again.
Nobody knows any future thing about the war, and everybody faces a fear.
Secretary Baker stayed with me the two days and three nights he was here. He made a good impression but he received a better one. He now knows something about the war. I had at dinner to meet him:
Lloyd George, Prime Minister.
Balfour, Foreign Secretary.
The Chief of Staff.
Lord Derby, War Secretary.
General Biddle, U.S.A., in command in London.
Admiral Sims, U.S.N.
The talk was to the point—good and earnest. Baker went straight back to France and our whole cooeperation began. With the first group of four he had conferences besides for two days. His coming was an admirable move.
Yours affectionately, W.H.P.
To Ralph W. Page
London, April 13, 1918.
Your cheery letters about entertaining governors, planting trees and shrubbery and your mother's little orchard give us much pleasure. The Southern Pines paper brings news of very great damage to the peach crop. I hope it is much exaggerated. Is it?
We haven't any news here, and I send you my weekly note only to keep my record clear. The great battle—no one talks or thinks of anything else. We have suffered and still suffer a good deal of fear and anxiety, with real reason, too. But the military men are reassuring. Yet I don't know just how far to trust their judgment or to share their hopes. Certainly this is the most dangerous situation that modern civilization was ever put in. If we can keep them from winning any great objective, like Paris or a channel port, we ought to end the war this year. If not, either they win or at the least prolong the war indefinitely. It's a hazardous and trying time.
There were never such casualties on either side as now. Such a bloody business cannot keep up all summer. But before everybody is killed or a decisive conclusion is reached, the armies will, no doubt, dig themselves in and take a period of comparative rest. People here see and feel the great danger. But the extra effort now may come too late. Still we keep up good hope. The British are hard to whip. They never give up. And as for the French army, I always remember Verdun and keep my courage up.
The wounded are coming over by the thousand. We are incomparably busy and in great anxiety about the result (though still pretty firm in the belief that the Germans will lose), and luckily we keep very well.
To Ralph W. Page
London, April 7, 1918.
There used to be a country parson down in Wake County who, when other subjects were talked out, always took up the pleasing topic of saving your soul. That's the way your mother and I do—with the subject of going home. We talk over the battle, we talk over the boys, we talk over military and naval problems, we discuss the weather and all the babies, and then take up politics, and talk over the gossip of the wiseacres; but we seldom finish a conversation without discussing going home. And we reach just about as clear a conclusion on our topic as the country parson reached on his. I've had the doctors going over me (or rather your mother has) as an expert accountant goes over your books; and I tried to bribe them to say that I oughtn't to continue my arduous duties here longer. They wouldn't say any such thing. Thus that device failed—dead. It looks as if I were destined for a green old age and no martyr business at all.