SOCIAL AND DIPLOMATIC MEMORIES, 1902-1919
BY THE RIGHT HON. SIR JAMES RENNELL RODD, G.C.B.
Political situation on arrival. The earthquake at Messina. Aehrenthal and Isvolsky. Opening of Keats-Shelley Memorial. With King Edward in the Mediterranean. My official reception. Porto Fino. Crete once more. The diplomatic body. Herr von Jagow. Sonnino's "hundred days." San Giuliano as Foreign Minister. Roosevelt in Rome. Death of King Edward.
We found London greatly excited over the disclosures of the German Emperor published in the Daily Telegraph. Their substance had already long before been made known to me by the actual receiver of the Emperor's confidence, and I was only concerned to know why they should have been published at that particular moment, and still more how they had escaped the censorship of the Wilhelmstrasse, where the officials to whom they must have been submitted had either omitted to read the notes or had failed to realize the effect they would produce in Germany. Public opinion in that country was roused to fever pitch, and not least by the admission that the majority of Germans were anti-British, a confession which was the more resented because it was true. This climax of indiscretion, after a series of not very discreet speeches, made it inevitable that Ministerial responsibility and the constitutional limits of the Sovereign's liberty of action should be discussed with an absence of reserve unusual in Berlin. The controversy only subsided after the Chancellor, Prince von Bülow, had announced in Parliament that the Emperor would in future impose more reserve on himself. The official reference to an interview, which must have been far from pleasant, was, however, rather cryptic and ambiguous.
Our departure for Rome was delayed by the illness of my predecessor, and we did not arrive there till the middle of December. My first duty, the day after my arrival, was to attend a funeral service for the Russian Ambassador, Mouraviev, who had died suddenly of heart failure while paying a visit in an hotel. On the 26th I was received by the King, who made me feel that he regarded me as an old friend, and from that moment treated me with the confidence which such a relation connotes. Giolitti had then been Prime Minister since 1903. It was his third premiership, and he had achieved a sort of dictatorial position as the arbiter of Italian political life. But the Chamber was approaching the term of its normal existence, and it was in fact dissolved some three months later. The position of Tittoni as Foreign Minister was not a comfortable one, inasmuch as Italy had been no submissive supporter of the Balkan policy of her Austrian ally, and his belief that he had turned the occasion to good account by securing the concession of an Italian university at Trieste was about to receive a very cold douche by the substitution of an offer to found an Italian faculty of jurisprudence in the University of Vienna. Since the rapprochement with France which Prinetti and Barrère had brought about in 1902 there had been a progressive diminution of cordiality towards the dual monarchy, and Italy had for some time been conscious that she had in a moment of difficulty contracted an unsympathetic marriage of interest. For her there was no law of divorce, but every successive plea for a restitution of conjugal rights became more repugnant to her. There was, however, no prospect of an early change in her political orientation. Her north-eastern neighbour was far too powerful. But it was already then fairly obvious that if she could ever convince herself that the western and northern powers were sufficiently strong to hold the central empires in check, she would not be displeased to free herself from bonds which had become unwelcome. The umbrage which her attitude towards the Bosnian annexation had occasioned made some high-handed action on the part of the Vienna Government not altogether improbable. Four Dreadnoughts to reinforce the Pola fleet were to be constructed. Hitherto there had been no battleships of this calibre in the Mediterranean, and Italians had no illusions about the significance of a naval programme which they would have to outbid.
We had hardly settled down in the Embassy at Rome when the appalling earthquake in the Straits of Messina took place. It devastated an extensive and populous area. But no shock was felt so far north as Rome. Owing to the interruption of all communications little accurate information reached us during the two days following the catastrophe. Then each successive message only served to intensify the magnitude of the disaster. Some two-thirds of the population of Messina was buried under the ruins, and at Reggio, on the opposite side of the Strait, the mortality was not much lower. Nearly all the troops in garrison at Messina were killed by the collapse of their barracks. The English chaplain and all his family perished. Our Vice-Consul and his child, though severely injured, were among the survivors, but his wife and their governess lost their lives. A sort of tidal wave raised by the earthquake invaded the ruins nearest the quays, and farther inshore fires broke out.
It appears that the majority of the inhabitants of Messina were in the habit of going to bed in a state of complete nudity, and as the earthquake began at a very early hour, while they were still asleep, those who escaped from the crumbling houses, many of them bruised and bleeding, ran naked into the streets. This added a macabre touch to the horror of the scene. They were too stunned or bewildered to be able to render much assistance to their less fortunate fellow-citizens imprisoned in the wreckage.
The Steam Navigation Company's vessel Stork had just entered the harbour, and Captain Carter with his crew of twenty-five were among the first to throw themselves into the work of rescue and earn the gratitude of the stricken townsmen. The King of Italy, who always leads the way on the path of duty, opened the first subscription list with a munificent donation of approximately £50,000, and at once proceeded to the spot, accompanied by the Queen, who worked day and night in the hospital ships which hastened to Messina. The terrible condition of the injured rescued from the ruins who were brought on board was, the Queen told me afterwards, very trying to the nerves, but she added, "one does somehow what one has to do." A little episode which was told me by one of the Court ladies impressed me. An unfortunate old woman crushed beyond recovery and evidently dying, was carried in. Her only thought was for a priest to shrive her, and no priest could be found. Her pitiful cries disturbed the other patients, and the Queen came to her and took her hand and said in a quiet voice : "I am the Queen of Italy, and I tell you that you need have no fear." Thus reassured she ceased to cry, and not long after died in peace.
Our military attaché, Colonel Delmé Radcliffe, was among the first to reach Messina and offer assistance. The Mediterranean fleet from Malta, conveying supplies which the British Government liberally offered, and a completely equipped field hospital, arrived with the least possible delay. The crews were landed to co-operate in rescuing survivors penned in the basements, a duty which continual subsequent collapses of masonry rendered very dangerous. They behaved as always, with rare devotion and resource, and it was gratifying to receive as I did letters from many parts of Italy expressing appreciation of their splendid service. A Russian squadron also entered the Straits and landed willing workers. There was thus a friendly naval rivalry in well-doing. Many remarkable cases were recorded of persons immured in vaults and passages, blocked by the fall of upper stories, who were liberated alive after almost a week's confinement.
The Italian people gave largely and generously, and offerings from every country in the world revealed the solidarity of the human race in the hour of disaster. The Lord Mayor at once opened a fund at the Mansion House, which met with a magnificent response. The Dominions and Colonies organized funds of their own, as did some of the greater cities at home. After food, the most urgent need in the stricken area was for clothing and boots. Delmé Radcliffe, confident that funds would be available, had telegraphed wholesale orders for blankets and shoes to Naples. But a single city was hardly able to supply the demand. My wife instituted work-rooms in the Embassy, and there assembled all the British ladies in Rome to cut out and make up clothing. Hundreds of suits were completed and dispatched with remarkable promptitude.
The Lord Mayor was good enough to entrust me with the appropriation of the Mansion House Fund, which eventually grew to upwards of £160,000. In the first weeks of emergency some £65,000 were passed on to the central Italian Relief Committee. Later we decided to co-operate by direct action. A British Committee was constituted in Rome to assist me, and local Committees were organized in Sicily and Calabria. The Military attaché acted as intermediary and controlling agent. Lord Granby, who had just joined the Embassy as an honorary attaché, and Ralph Bingham, our nephew, who happened to be staying with us, went to Calabria and established a camp and depot on the shore. The Piedmontese and Milanese Relief Expeditions, which were most capably administered, kept constant touch with our Committees and agents, and we were very glad to avail ourselves of the devoted services of officers of the Salvation Army who had thrown themselves into the work of rescue. The latter made it their special duty to carry supplies into remoter mountain centres which were in danger of being overlooked in the vastness of the catastrophe.
We ordered a number of wooden houses in England, and, after the first urgent demands for food and clothing had been met, concentrated our efforts on reconstruction. With the cooperation of the local authorities and the energetic arch-priest we rebuilt the Calabrian village of San Giovanni, where not a house had remained standing. The work was carried out systematically with due regard to sanitation on concrete foundations round a central garden area. At Messina also we constructed for the survivors among the British colony a number of comfortable wooden houses which were still in occupation when I visited the spot some fifteen years afterwards. One of the first to be completed was assigned to Mr. Beyliss Heynes, formerly Lloyd's agent, who had shown himself so capable at a moment when most people had lost their heads that I appointed him Vice-Consul within a few days of the earthquake, trusting that the Foreign Secretary would confirm my action, which he did not fail to do.
The work which the administration of the Mansion House fund entailed was all in the nature of "overtime," for the political situation which had developed after the Austrian annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina became full of anxiety during the early weeks of 1909, when we seemed to alternate between hopes of compromise and imminence of war. Aehrenthal at Vienna stuck to his guns with no little tenacity, but a compromise was eventually found which Turkey could accept. He agreed to pay what was really an indemnity, though to save face it was disguised as compensation for taking over the vacoufs or religious foundations in the annexed provinces, and also to withdraw the Austro-Hungarian garrisons from the Sandjak of Novi Bazar. This was a concession of which Serbia had reason to appreciate the value some years later in the Balkan War. The opposition of Turkey to the independence of Bulgaria was eliminated when Isvolsky intervened and undertook the responsibility for compensation. By so doing he appeared to have re-established the position of Russia as a factor in the Balkans.
The Austro-Serbian issue, however, which had really become an Austro-Russian issue, and the duel between Aehrenthal and Isvolsky continued to preoccupy diplomacy. For us no material interest was involved, but we had with France supported Russia in opposing a unilateral repudiation of international agreements. Isvolsky's position was really a weak one, if it was true, as I was assured, that he had, in the hope of settling the Dardanelles question, given pledges to Austria which he affected to consider were no longer binding when such a settlement had proved to be impracticable. As March advanced the attitude both of Vienna and Petersburg became less bellicose. It was rumoured and denied, but confirmed to me from a source to which I attached credence, that the veteran Francis Joseph had in a personal letter appealed to the generous sentiments of the Tsar, reminding him how Austria might have taken advantage of the difficult situation created in Russia by the insuccess of the Japanese War, but had refrained from doing, so. At this moment, whether in order to acquire merit by an inexpensive display of solidarity with her ally, or to diminish the prospect of a triumph for Aehrenthal, who was almost as much disliked in Berlin as in Petersburg, Germany intervened and aggressively announced that unless Russia agreed to the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany would leave Austria-Hungary free to act against Serbia. Isvolsky at once capitulated and consented to the abrogation of Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin without consulting Great Britain or France, whose support he had regarded as rather platonic. The success thus appeared to be Bülow's and not Aehrenthal's. We on the other hand had no reason or disposition to yield to threats, and maintained our position until Serbia had recognized the annexation and agreed thenceforth to live on terms of good neighbourship with Austria-Hungary.
Whether the reasons suggested above were really responsible for the sudden collapse of Russian opposition, whether Russia had deceived herself with the hope that the united opinion of the other powers would be too strong for Aehrenthal, or whether, as was also suggested, the intervention of Germany was not unwelcome to Isvolsky I had no means of deciding. In any case he loyally accepted the responsibility. But the humiliation inflicted on Russia was a bitter blow. If circumstances made her submission at that time inevitable, the resentment which it aroused should have offered a sufficient warning that the procedure could not be repeated with impunity. The crisis of 1909 therefore offers illuminating evidence of how deliberate was the action of the Central Empires in 1914.
In the beginning of April the Keats-Shelley Memorial House in the Piazza di Spagna, now definitely acquired by British and American co-operation, was formally opened by the King of Italy. Sir Harold Boulton, who had organized the English Committee, came to Rome for the occasion with Arthur Severn and Shelley's grandson, Mr. Esdaile. By a happy coincidence Rudyard Kipling was also present. Nelson Gay, whose perseverance and devotion to the cause had overcome all obstacles to the purchase of the house, represented the American Committee, and all of these, with the exception of Kipling from whom we could not extract a speech, as well as myself, addressed the meeting. Ferdinando Martini, speaking on behalf of Italian men of letters, revealed to us the beauty of his own Tuscan language in the mouth of a master. Severn deposited in the Memorial for perpetual preservation all the relies which he had inherited, recalling his father's friendship with Keats. The American sculptor Ezekiel presented a bust of Shelley and a copy of the first edition of the Revolt of Islam. A telegram from King Edward, announcing his interest in the Memorial, was read, and the King of Italy then declared it open. The little ceremony was all that the lovers of the two poets would have wished it to be. I count myself happy to have been directly concerned with the acquisition of this house of memory, now visited every year by hundreds of pilgrims from all the English-speaking lands, in which all who enter the precincts grow conscious of a haunting genius loci. I commend it to my countrymen, and earnestly trust that when I am there no more a younger generation will watch over its maintenance with not less loving care.
We had established some order in the Embassy house by the opening of spring, and a number of guests had just arrived to stay with us when I received an unexpected summons to join the royal yacht at Genoa and accompany King Edward on his Mediterranean tour in the place of a Minister in attendance. I found on board, in addition to the Queen and Princess Victoria, the dowager Empress of Russia, who was to see Italy for the first time, and was in high spirits at escaping from a ceremonious Court to the happy atmosphere which King Edward took pleasure in creating. There were no other guests beyond the members of the household in attendance. We steamed directly from Genoa to Porto Empedocle in Sicily, and spent the following day in an expedition to the golden temples of Girgenti.
Meanwhile, in Constantinople there had been an unsuccessful attempt at counter-revolution, and a new massacre of Armenians at Adana. Troops from Macedonia were reported to be marching on the capital to support the young Turks, and before our cruise was ended Abdul Hamid had been removed to Salonika and replaced by Rechad Effendi as Mohammed V. In consequence of these events the Mediterranean fleet was ordered to Lemnos before we could arrive in Malta.
Circumstances had on a number of occasions brought me into close personal as well as official relations with King Edward, both before and after his accession to the throne; but I had never before had the same opportunity for long and intimate discussions of public affairs with him as during the daily intercourse of a voyage which extended over a fortnight. I was much impressed by the methodical manner in which he dealt with the papers which followed us in the rapid Aboukir. The King was not a late sleeper, and he would read through each instalment of telegrams and dispatches before breakfast, marking various passages which he talked over with me in the course of the morning. His interest in all foreign questions had always been very keen, and he had a statesman's grasp of the general European situation. There has perhaps been a disposition, especially abroad, to over-colour the part which he is represented as having played in foreign affairs, and to attribute to him an initiative which was hardly justified. On the other hand, I have also noticed a tendency on the part of some politicians at home to assign less value than was due to his judgments, and to question the quickness of his apprehension. The views of political leaders may even in foreign issues be to some extent affected by considerations of which they have to take account at home. King Edward, with an extensive knowledge of the Continent, which tended to eliminate prejudice, and an exceptionally good memory, which had registered appreciations derived from personal contact with prominent men in every country over nearly half a century, seemed to me to take a synthetic view, and to look beyond the immediate moment. Perhaps in his relations with his advisers much may have depended on the manner in which questions were submitted to him. My own experience revealed him as a very tolerant listener to views which might not accord with those he had formed himself. There was nothing in reason which could not discussed with him provided the matter was approached sympathetically. He read little beside official papers; but he had a remarkable power of picking other people's brains, and he thus obtained vicariously a mass of interesting and valuable information which a retentive memory assimilated. I remember my surprise at finding how well posted the King was in all recent archaeological research after a morning spent with Professor Solinas of Palermo.
In the course of my diplomatic career I have been in relations with a number of ruling sovereigns. King Edward was the only one amongst them who gave me the impression of really enjoying kingship. That may have been one of the reasons which made him an ideal constitutional sovereign. He did not originate; as a constitutional king he could hardly do so. But when a policy had been determined by his advisers he was the most efficient of collaborators for putting it into practice. He took pleasure in giving pleasure, and the charm of his manner, his genial smile, and his knowledge of the world were invaluable assets. A naturally kindly nature made him alien to any assumption of ascendancy, but his manner suggested a conscious obligation of dignity which would not tolerate any liberty.
In one of my many conversations with Prince Bülow, who had a large experience of the world, he told me that he regarded King Edward as the completest instance of perfect accomplishment in a constitutional sovereign. In widening the circle of his acquaintance without exclusiveness he showed singular wisdom. By cultivating the society of members of that community who maintain among their own elect a sort of wireless correspondence bureau which keeps them in touch with internal developments in every country, he managed to be one of the best-informed men in his kingdom. That was the real secret of a relation for which foolish people tried to account by preposterous stories. Bülow added that he had himself, before he left office, endeavoured to convince people that a man worth several million marks was a more important factor in the empire than a mere lieutenant. It had been uphill work there. But King Edward knew very well how valuable such acquaintances were to him.
The German Emperor was at this time in Corfu, and he had announced his intention of paying a visit to Malta. It seemed not impossible that the orbits of the royal yachts might intersect. The King, though far from anxious to be involved in any inopportune discussions with his nephew, could do no less than inform him of the programme of his cruise. The Emperor, however, was expecting visitors at Corfu, and would not go to sea until we had left southern waters. I was not a little relieved to find any possibility of such a meeting eliminated.
After a very interesting day at Girgenti with Professor Solinas and San Giuliano, then Ambassador in London, who came over from his home in Catania, we left Porto Empedocle before daybreak on the 21st of April, and reached Valetta punctually at eleven o'clock. The Duke of Connaught, who was then High Commissioner in the Mediterranean, occupied the Palace. It was unfortunate that the Fleet should have been absent. Four days were spent at Malta in a constant round of ceremonial dinners and lunches, and on the 25th we proceeded to Catania, arriving in the afternoon. The quays and every open space beyond were black with dense crowds. San Giuliano, who was there to meet us, had provided motor-cars, anticipating that the King would wish to visit the city. Seeing the masses which had assembled I was a little preoccupied. The Queen, moreover, was very anxious that the King, who was not yet very strong, should remain on board and begged me to use my influence to postpone a landing. But he would not hear of it.
The people had come to welcome him, and he would not disappoint them. So densely packed were the spectators, with an entire absence of any police control, that the cars which were open could only proceed at a foot's pace. Agents in plain clothes stood on the foot-boards, and the crowd as it close in behind us held on to the hood of the motor. The King and San Giuliano were in the first car, and I sat opposite His Majesty and hardly took my eyes off him. The friendly Sicilians only wanted to show their enthusiasm. But the presence of fanatics or anarchists is always a possibility in such an assembly, and I confess to having felt not a little anxious till we were safely back in the Victoria and AIbert after what was really a triumphal progress which gratified the King.
San Giuliano had organized an expedition round Etna for the following day. There has been a long tradition of goodwill towards the British people in Sicily, and the part we had recently taken in their misfortune had gone to their hearts. The sovereigns were therefore the objects of an enthusiastic welcome in every village where our train stopped, and the carriages were laden with flowers and fruit. We returned to tea in the San Giuliano palace. The next day we steamed through the Straits to Palermo, passing close enough to Messina to realize the awful havoc of the earthquake. We were much impressed with the consideration and good taste shown by the Palermitans, who left the royal visitors perfectly free to enjoy themselves, saluting them with friendly greetings but never crowding or obstructing their liberty of movement.
From Palermo we went north through the night to Baia in the Gulf of Pozzuoli, where the King and Queen of Italy, accompanied by the Duke and Duchess of Aosta, were awaiting us in the Re Umberto. The Duke was then in military command at Naples. After lunch on board the battleship we drove from Baia up steep and winding roads to the mountain monastery of Camaldoli, which overlooks one of the most magnificent panoramas in the world, the Gulf of Naples, the islands, and the coastal ranges to the north. In the evening there was a banquet on board the Victoria and Albert. The meeting of the sovereigns was not intended to be a ceremonial one, and Baia had been deliberately selected to mark its intimate character. But it offered an opportunity for a renewal of personal associations and friendly exchanges of view. Tittoni, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, was present, and had a long conversation with King Edward, who was then regarded in friendly countries as the leader of political opinion in Europe. The Italian sovereigns returned the same night to Rome, while we proceeded to Naples and anchored in the roadstead off Santa Lucia. My wife and Lady Violet Manners, who was staying with us, came to Naples, and brought with them my eldest boy to say good-bye before he returned to Eton after the Easter holidays, nearly all of which I had missed. The King was kind enough to invite him to luncheon and my wife and Lady Violet dined on board, where Neapolitan singers and dancers entertained us. After a few days at Naples the King returned overland, and I accompanied him as far as Rome.
It was the custom in those days at the Italian capital, as at most of the Courts of the great powers, that a new Ambassador should soon after his arrival hold an official reception at which the social world was formally presented to him by a royal master of the ceremonies. For various reasons it had been necessary to postpone our reception till May. Such functions were generally of a rather tedious character; but my wife, who has a genius for entertaining, conceived the idea of making the occasion attractive at a moment when the glory of the Roman spring offered a special opportunity.
The beautiful garden at Porta Pia, bounded by the towers of Aurelian's wall, was illuminated with fairy lamps, and small supper tables under umbrella tents were dispersed over the lawns. The dark ilex avenues were hung with Chinese lanterns, and from the Embassy roof a searchlight lit up the more distant group of pines. The scent of flowers was in the mild air, and the first fireflies were abroad in the shadowy corners. After the introductions in the ball-room we invited our guests to descend to supper under the stars. There had not been wanting prophets of evil who foretold that the Romans would never be induced to issue into a garden after nightfall; but the Prime Minister led the way and the whole company followed. The temperature of the late spring night was perfect and, instead of a tedious ceremony of obligation which they had anticipated, our guests were delighted at the surprise party among the lanterns. This official reception remained a memorable occasion also from the fact that it was the last which was to take place in Rome. Two of the senior Ambassadors who were old friends had explained to me that it would be superfluous for them to go through the form of presentation to a colleague whom they had known for many years. They accordingly decided amongst themselves that the Ambassadors would not be present. As junior Ambassador I could only bow to the decision. All the Legations, however, came in full numbers. The Court, whose traditional duty it had been to conduct these functions, adopted the view that if the Ambassadors remained absent, there was no reason why the King's representatives should attend. The result was that these receptions were abolished.
This was in my opinion to be regretted, not only because in Italy a tendency to suppress ceremonial and tradition which serves a certain purpose has been carried too far, but also because it was extremely useful for a newly-appointed representative to have an opportunity of making once and for all the acquaintance of the whole social world as well as of deputies, senators and officials, and being ever after able to dispense with individual introductions.
The recollection of such gatherings naturally recalls many conspicuous figures which have passed away, and among them old Count Greppi, then still relatively young at ninety, always the first to arrive at any social entertainment in Rome, immaculately dressed with a carnation in his buttonhole. He had begun life as a page to the Emperor of Austria, when Lombardy was still ruled from Vienna, and he ended his career at the Italian Embassy in that capital. When he completed his 100th year, I wrote my congratulations, and received from him a long letter in reply perfectly written and charmingly expressed. Even after his centenary his singular vitality carried him through an attack of pneumonia, and he reached the phenomenal age of 103. When some diplomatist asked him whether he still went to mass on Sunday mornings he was reported to have answered in the negative, adding, "Je suis très vieux. Je crois que le bon Dieu m'a oublié. Il vaut mieux ne pas me rappeler à son souvenir."
A few days after the reception I was taken ill with high fever and what threatened to be typhoid. Fortunately, my temperature was due to the agency of some less virulent microbe. But ten days in bed was an experience not encountered since the bad days of malaria in East Africa some fifteen years earlier. To my regret it entailed missing nearly the whole of a visit from the Meyers, our kind hosts in Washington. As soon as I was convalescent we moved to Porto Fino, which nestles like a dream-haven of romance in its sheltered bay under the Ligurian Mountains south of Genoa. Lady Carnarvon had most kindly placed at our disposal for the summer her villa on the ridge which joins a peninsula of vine and olive to the mainland. Aubrey Herbert had spent much of his youth there, and I like to think that the suggestive character of Porto Fino and its neighbour, the solitary San Fruttuoso with the Doria tombs, had shaped his early thoughts to adventure.
I have always taken pleasure in picking up local legends during my travels, and there I learned a delightful story which is told to account for the antagonism which still exists between Porto Fino and the neighbouring Santa Margherita, not two miles away.
During one of the crusades the little port had equipped a vessel for the holy war. According to the habit of navigators in those days, it shaped its course to the east in constant sight of land. Some time before it reached the port of destination, whether Tripoli or Acre or Jaffa, all the provisions on board had been exhausted, and the crew were in dire straits. Then the friar who accompanied them had a vision. The vessel was to approach the shore, and they were to land near a solitary tree. Digging beneath its roots they would find a bone of the ox which had been in the stall at Bethlehem on the night of the nativity. From this miraculous bone they would be able to derive a supply of soup which would never fail until they came home from their adventurous voyage. And so indeed it proved. Therefore after their return from the Holy Land it was carried from the ship with due solemnity and rejoicing to be deposited in the church. But a dog from Santa Margherita found its way into the precincts and carried off the bone ; and therefore the descendants of those pious warriors cherish an undying resentment against the town which harboured that sacrilegious hound.
After a peaceful month, broken for me only by occasional visits to Rome, the situation in Crete once more became critical. It was generally believed that the German Emperor, whose sister was destined one day to become Queen of Greece, had not discouraged its revival in conversations with the veteran Minister Theotokis at Corfu. Italy, at that time pronouncedly Philhellene, was generally in agreement with ourselves. We were both prepared to welcome a solution of the troublesome problem by the annexation of the island to Greece, but neither was disposed to exercise any pressure upon Turkey to accept it. The Cretans had hoisted the Greek flag, and though Greece could not be held directly responsible, the Young Turks seemed determined to force a quarrel on her and to invade Thessaly. Our difficulties at Constantinople were increased by our being only able to deal with a puppet Government which was really controlled by the Committee of Union and Progress. The great powers, however, dispatched ships to Crete, where the situation became still more complicated when an executive committee, formed after the resignation of the provisional Government, took an oath of allegiance to the King of Greece. Some satisfaction was, however, given to Turkey. The offending flag at the entrance to the port of Canea was removed by seamen from the ships without encountering any resistance on the part of the Cretans: while a Turkish flag, the last remaining evidence of suzerainty, continued to fly on an island in Suda Bay.
After this very provisional settlement on a basis of bunting we paid a pleasant visit to Count Pasolini, the gifted author of Catherine Sforza, at Montericco near Imola. With him we revisited Theodoric's capital, where he also owned an interesting house. We made a first acquaintance with the little mountain republic of San Marino, and studied the art of a school of painters little seen outside the Adriatic towns, whose patrons were the petty tyrants of Romagna. It is strange how, after the lapse of more than four centuries, that country still bears the impress of the tremendous personality of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. The story of Rimini and the neighbouring towns is an epitome of the Renaissance where high artistic and literary sensibility was compatible with incredible turpitude and cruelty. There are few more interesting monuments of that period in Italy than the library founded by Novello Malatesta at Cesena. It resembles a church, divided by columns into three aisles, with big pews of chestnut wood, each of which has chained to the bookrest some half-dozen huge volumes of manuscript.
The autumn after our return to the capital was uneventful.
The execution in October of the Spanish revolutionary Ferrer evoked a general sense of protest in all countries, which in Italy assumed an anti-clerical form. The chambers of labour discussed extravagant demands for a rupture of diplomatic relations, for the expulsion of the Spanish cardinals from Rome, and for a change of the name of the Piazza di Spagna in the centre of the city to Piazza Ferrer. A brief strike with the closing of shops and the temporary suspension of newspapers, borne with equanimity by those who had to read nearly a dozen daily, were the only concrete results.
Of my colleagues in Rome at this period the French Ambassador, Barrère, was an old friend who had already been doyen of the diplomatic corps when I was counsellor in Rome. The Austro-Hungarian Ambassador, Count Henry Lutzow, had also been my colleague in younger days. He was unfortunately soon withdrawn from the country to which he was really attached, and to which he had shown constant goodwill. The embassy in Palazzo Chigi which the Lutzows with their great hospitality had succeeded in making socially popular was then filled by a bachelor, M. de Merey, a Hungarian who was essentially a bureaucrat and not very conciliatory in temperament. This was another symptom of the widening of the rift between Italy and Austria which seemed to have become increasingly perceptible ever after the visit of the Tsar to King Victor Emmanuel at Racconigi in 1907 before my return to Italy. It was probably surmised, if not actually known, at Vienna that on that occasion agreement was reached on certain Eastern questions. Russia had, moreover, then undertaken to recognize the predominant rights of Italy in Tripoli, if and when occasion arose for asserting them.
My Russian colleague, Prince Dolgorouki, owing to a breakdown in health, only retained his post for a comparatively short time after our arrival, and was then replaced by another old friend, Anatole Kroupensky, who had been counsellor at Rome when I occupied the same position. If we saw little of Dolgorouki, we became well acquainted with his chef, who after his retirement came to us for one season. The diamond pin and general magnificence of the latter duly impressed me. I had not known when we engaged him that he was the doyen of the faculty of cooks, and that therefore not only did his dignity require an unusual number of assistants, some of whom were no doubt apprentices articled to him, but that he, naturally of course, regarded himself as entitled to a much higher percentage on every article of consumption than any other culinary artist I have had the honour to patronize. His daily account, after enumerating a list of items which seemed to include every herb or tuber produced in or out of season by the market garden, always ended with an additional entry of at least nine lire for "rough vegetables". My wife's occasional protest at the amount of his daily budget only encountered on his part a confession of surprise at his own moderation, for these accounts, he frankly admitted, were as nothing to those he had presented to Dolgorouki. As an artist, however, it is legitimate to say of him, "He was a great man, and I have forgotten all his faults."
The appointment of Herr von Jagow as German Ambassador in succession to Count Monts was very welcome to us. We had been simultaneously counsellors of Embassy in Rome, and a community of tastes and interests had drawn us together. The shadow of the Great War lies between the present day and a former intimacy which ripened when we once more became colleagues in 1909. He was always, and as he believed in his country's interests, a convinced advocate of a good understanding with ourselves, which indeed I think most of the high civilian authorities in Germany desired, though they were powerless to promote it under the progressively increasing ascendancy of the military party, which perceived in us an obstacle to the realization of their ambitions.
I have been very conscious of the difficulty which confronts me at this point owing to a delicacy which it is impossible not to feel in referring to conversations with Jagow which took place in a period of cordiality and goodwill. The same applies to my intercourse with Prince Bülow who, after his resignation of the chancellorship, spent every winter up to the European crisis in Rome. I should hate to be disloyal even to the memory of a friendship, but I do not think that I shall have anything to say which they would resent. On the other hand they might fairly claim that what they had said to me was meant for myself only, and the observation would be just. Nevertheless, having set out with the object of adding the modest contribution of my experience to history, and of reproducing the political atmosphere as I perceived it during the period immediately preceding the Great War---but for which this volume of my recollections might not have been written---I feel that I cannot in subsequent chapters altogether suppress every reference to those discussions.
During a short expedition to Florence which I made with Jagow in the autumn, I gathered that he regarded the Morocco policy as having been a most unfortunate mistake. The impression which I had received from other quarters was confirmed that it was mainly due to the fatal influence of Holstein, who was an office man and not in touch with the world. Bismarck, who had used him to do uncongenial work, had kept him in his place; but recently he had acquired an undue ascendancy in the German Foreign Office. The influence which he succeeded in establishing with Bülow has always puzzled me. He had it seems a most persuasive and insistent manner of presenting his case, which he prepared like an expert in a manner which appeared logically inexpugnable. But the logic of exposition does not always coincide with logic of circumstance, and after the disappearance of Bismarck, who never neglected the importance of what he described as the imponderabilia, German psychology has been consistent in its readiness to ignore all that did not agree with its own preconceptions.
A short visit to England in November and December was interesting on account of the tense political situation. It was hardly resolved by a general election in January 1910, which left the two great political parties equally balanced and therefore at the mercy of the Irish on a division. During my absence from Rome Giolitti, who found a formidable opposition in the Chamber to his project for a re-organization of the maritime and postal services, rode for a fall over financial issues. On his resignation Sonnino formed an administration with his friend Salandra at the Treasury, and Guicciardini, a descendant of the Florentine historian, at the Foreign Office. With the change of government, San Giuliano was transferred to Paris from the Embassy at London, where he was replaced by the Marchese Imperiali. The latter had joined his first post abroad only a few days after I did, at Berlin, in 1884 Having begun our careers together we were to end them as Ambassadors in each other's countries soon after the conclusion of peace.
Sonnino's brief administration became known as the Ministry of the hundred days. It was formed of the best elements in political life, of men who did nothing to conciliate the Press, and declined to bid for the support of deputies by promises of favours. It could only last as long as it was tolerated by the Giolittian group, and their anticipated defection led to Sonnino's: resignation on the 31st of March 1910. Luigi Luzzatti, the eminent economist, who in co-operation with Sonnino had restored equilibrium to Italian finance, took his place at the age of sixty-eight. My venerable friend, profound in his erudition and apostolic in appearance, enjoyed a popularity which made him the only Italian Prime Minister of the many I have known who acquired a nickname of endearment, for he was known among his friends and indeed to the public in general as Gigione, or big Luigi. He took such genuine pleasure in having reached the summit of his ambitions as President of the Council that it vexed me to think that he would only remain there until such time as Giolitti saw fit to return to office, for that eminent manipulator of political combinations was now absolute master of a parliamentary machine which grew less and less representative of the mass of the Italian people. San Giuliano was recalled from Paris to the Foreign Office, where he remained until his death at the end of 1914.
The change of Government helped me out of a rather difficult situation. Owing to a lack of co-ordination between departments at home a premature publication had placed us in the light of having lacked consideration towards the Italian Government. But the new Minister was less interested and exclusively occupied with taking over his department. San Giuliano was very able and the best of company. He knew how to say what he meant, though I should be less sure that he always meant what he said. Indeed, I sometimes thought he enjoyed putting the credulity of his audience to the test. If a story which he told me of his accidental identification of a lost grandfather was authentic, it offers a remarkable example of coincidence.
His grandfather, whose house and estates had been managed during his youth by a capable and masterful aunt, eventually married a beautiful young wife to whom he was devoted. The aunt resented her supersession in the household, and after the birth of his son began to insinuate specious suggestions of his wife's infidelity. The hot-blooded marquis in a moment of jealous fury shot his wife dead, and then disappeared from Sicily for ever. No trace of him was ever discovered. In due course his son grew up and became the father of my friend the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
San Giuliano himself travelled extensively, and in the course of his wanderings he was once the guest of the Italian Consul-General at Tripoli. The latter in response to his request for literature describing the country furnished him with an old book written many years earlier by a British Consul-General. He took it to bed with him, and finding it extremely interesting read on late into the night. At a certain point the author related how, desiring to visit a certain oasis far inland, he had asked the Bey if he could provide him with an escort. The ruler, with whom he was on excellent terms, readily agreed, and added, " I will do more than that. I will send my son-in-law Yussuf Effendi with you. He is popular with all the Bedawin and will see that you come to no harm." Yussuf and the Consul-General became good friends, and as the former spoke Italian, in which the Englishman was more fluent than in Arabic, they generally used that language. The Consul had several times expressed his surprise that Yussuf should speak it with such ease, and at last one day the latter said he would make a confession. He was not really an Arab by birth. He was an Italian. He had had to leave his own country for certain reasons into which he need not enter. He came to Tripoli, was accepted as a Mussulman, and having rendered good service to the Bey, had ended by marrying his daughter. There he was Yussuf Effendi, but his real name was San Giuliano! "My grandfather evidently!" said the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
I had received a telegram from Theodore Roosevelt dispatched as soon as he reached Cairo at the close of his African voyage, offering me one of the three evenings which he counted on spending in Rome. He accordingly dined with us and a very small party which included Jagow and Boni, the magician of the Forum and the Palatine. It was evident that Roosevelt thought our policy in Egypt weak, and feared that the good work accomplished was being imperilled. He had been asked to deliver an address at the Mansion House, and he consulted me as to whether I thought he might say without reserve what he felt. I urged him strongly to do so. He was well known for his frank habit of plain speaking. Englishmen would like him all the better for his telling them the truth as he saw it, and it could only do them good to know it. It was refreshing to hear him denounce the people he designated as "mushy sentimentalists." During his presidency an incident had occurred in Manilla which had given them their opportunity. An American force had been repulsed in a first assault on a fort. Rallied by the officers it attacked again. A number of native women were then seen to be fighting with the men. The troops could not stop to pick and choose, and went through with the bayonet. There was an immediate shriek from the Yellow Press, and excited protests from the sentimental. He sent forthwith a message of congratulation to the troops informing Congress that he had done so and was prepared to take all the responsibility which military action entailed. He cordially approved my selections for his camp reading, and Gregorovius had been a great success. This was my last meeting with that very lovable man.
I endeavoured, so far as lay in my power, to identify the Embassy with literary interests and research work. A small but select cosmopolitan literary society was founded which met in the Keats-Shelley house once a fortnight through the winter for lectures and readings in the various languages which a decently educated person should understand. At the British Archaeological School I read two papers which were the result of a careful study of the Renaissance tombs, altars and monuments in Rome. I was much gratified at being elected in March 1910 a member of the Academy of St. Luke, the oldest I believe of all academies, which numbers very few foreign members.
My wife had been busy for some weeks organizing a series of dramatic scenes from classical mythology to be represented in the Embassy garden early in May. The first episode was to represent the Judgment of Paris, showing the three goddesses arriving with their attendants by converging paths through the groves of ilex. I had been instructed to compose an appropriate dialogue in verse. An artificial hill with a grotto was constructed of painted canvas with festooning creepers, and this served as a background to the picture. Behind it a band of twenty-five performers and the actors were concealed. The scene opened with the song of OEnone as she descended from the crest. The second episode represented Proserpine with her girl companions assembling, gathering flowers and dancing in the meadow, when from the cavern in the hill there issued my brother-in-law, Colonel Anstruther, a magnificent Pluto, who carried away the struggling maiden in his arms. Then followed the Feast of Flora and the propitiation of the Vernal Goddess at an altar in the centre of the lawn. There must have been more than thirty grown-up people and twenty to thirty children in the procession, which was to wind its way through the pines and ilexes leading a white ox to the sacrifice and chanting a refrain of "Ave Flora veris numen." In the beautiful garden at Porta Pia it promised to be one of the most effective pageants ever staged, and the dress rehearsal had been reached without misgiving. It was actually in process when I received a telegram containing so serious a report of King Edward's health that I had to decide at once to suspend the performance which it had taken so many weeks to prepare.
A still graver telegram followed, and to my consternation in the middle of the night I received the announcement of the King's death. On the 5th of May, he had, in spite of a menacing attack of bronchitis, still continued receiving and carrying on his multifarious duties, and a quarter of an hour before midnight on the 6th he died.
He had reigned for nine years after a long life of waiting, in which he filled only a second place with so much tact and discretion that the majority had had little opportunity to appreciate how admirably qualified he was to rule. But in those nine years he had become an outstanding factor in Europe. He set the model for the new kingship. No sovereign was ever in closer or more constant touch with his people, and every man at home felt as if he knew his King personally. His death seemed a disaster for his own country and a loss to all nations, for his knowledge of men and of the world, his charm and that very kindly winning smile had proved a solvent to many apparent obstacles. To me it meant the loss not only of a sovereign but of a friend who had been consistently gracious and encouraging for more than twenty years.
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