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(181) 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(182) 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(183) 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 overworked 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,(184) 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 saying 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.
W. H. P.
To David F. Houston(185)
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.(186) 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.
Fig. 25. Admiral William. Sowden Sims, Commander of American naval forces operating in European waters during the Great War
Fig. 26. A silver model of the Mayflower, the farewell gift of the Plymouth Council to Mr. 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 saying them from this bloody 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 saying) 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 attaché. 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 cooperation 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 oldtime 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
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.(187)
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 cooperation began. With the first group of four he had conferences besides for two days. His coming was an admirable move.
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.
W. H. P.
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 saying 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.
All this is disappointing; and I don't see what to do but to go on. I can't keep from hoping that the big battle may throw some light on the subject; but there's no telling when the big battle will end. Nothing ends---that's the trouble. I sometimes feel that the war may never end, that it may last as the Napoleonic Wars did, for 20 years; and before that time we'll all have guns that shoot 100 miles. We can stay at home and indefinitely bombard the enemy across the Rhine-have an endless battle at long range.
So, we stick to it, and give the peach trees time to grow up.
We had a big day in London yesterday---the anniversary of our entry into the war. I send you some newspaper clippings about it.
The next best news is that we have a little actual sunshine---a very rare thing---and some of the weather is now almost decent.
W. H. P.
LAST DAYS IN ENGLAND
IN SPITE of the encouraging tone of the foregoing letters, everything was not well with Page. All through the winter of 1917-1918 his associates at the Embassy had noticed a change for the worse in his health. He seemed to be growing thinner; his face was daily becoming more haggard; he tired easily, and, after walking the short distance from his house to his Embassy, he would drop listlessly into his chair. His general bearing was that of a man who was physically and nervously exhausted. It was hoped that the holiday at St. Ives would help him; that he greatly enjoyed that visit, especially the westward on the Atlantic which it gave him, his letters clearly show; there was a temporary improvement also in his health, but only a temporary one. The last great effort which he made in the interest of the common cause was Secretary Baker's visit; the activities which this entailed wearied him, but the pleasure he obtained from the resultant increase in the American participation made the experience one of the most profitable of his life. Indeed, Page's last few months in England, though full of sad memories for his friends, contained little but satisfaction for himself. He still. spent many a lonely evening by his fire, but his thoughts were now far more pleasurable than in the old Lusitania days. The one absorbing subject of contemplation now was that America was "in." His country had justified his deep confidence. The American Navy had played a determining part in defeating the submarine, and American shipyards were turning out merchant ships faster than the Germans were destroying them. American troops were reaching France at a rate which necessarily meant the early collapse of the German Empire. Page's own family had responded to the call and this in itself was a cause of great contentment to a sick and weary man. The Ambassador's youngest son, Frank, had obtained a commission and was serving in France; his son-in-law, Charles G. Loring, was also on the Western Front; while from North Carolina Page's youngest brother Frank and two nephews had sailed for the open battle line. The bravery and success of the American troops did not surprise the Ambassador but they made his last days in England very happy.
Indeed, every day had some delightful experience for Page. The performance of the Americans at Cantigny especially cheered him. The day after this battle he and Mrs. Page entertained Mr. Lloyd George and other guests at lunch. The Prime Minister came bounding into the room with his characteristic enthusiasm, rushed up to Mrs. Page with both hands outstretched and shook hands joyously.
"Congratulations!" he exclaimed. "The Americans have done it! They have met the Prussian guard and defeated them!"
Mr. Lloyd George was as exuberant over the achievement as a child.
This was now the kind of experience that had become Page's daily routine. Lively as were his spirits, however, his physical frame was giving way. In fact Page, though he did not know it at the time, was suffering from a specific disease---nephritis; and its course, after Christmas of 1918, became rapid. His old friend, Dr. Wallace Buttrick, had noted the change for the worse and had attempted to persuade him to go home.
"Quit your job, Page," he urged. "You have other big tasks waiting you at home. Why don't you go back?"
"But, Page," urged Dr. Buttrick, "you are going to lay down your life."
"I have only one life to lay down," was the reply. "I can't quit now."
To Mary E. Page(188)
London, May 12,1918.
You'll have to take this big paper and this paint brush pen---it's all the pen these blunt British have. This is to tell you how very welcome your letter to Alice is---how very welcome, for nobody writes us the family news and nothing is so much appreciated. I'll try to call the shorter roll of us in the same way:
After a miserable winter we, too, are having the rare experience of a little sunshine in this dark, damp world of London. The constant confinement in the city and in the house (that's the worst of it---no outdoor life or fresh air) has played hob with my digestion. It's not bad, but it's troublesome, and for some time I've had the feeling of being one half well. It occurred to me the other day that I hadn't had leave from my work for four years, except my short visit home nearly two years ago. I asked for two months off, and I've got it. We are going down by the shore where there is fresh air and where I can live outdoors and get some exercise. We have a house that we can get there and be comfortable. To get away from London when the weather promises to be good, and to get away from people seemed a joyous prospect. I can, at any time I must, come to London in two hours.
The job's too important to give up at this juncture. This, then, is the way we can keep it going. I've no such hard task now as I had during the years of our neutrality, which, praise God! I somehow survived, though I am now suffering more or less from the physical effects of that strain. Yet, since I have had the good fortune to win the confidence of this Government and these people, I feel that I ought to keep on now until some more or less natural time to change comes.
Alice keeps remarkably well---since her influenza late in the winter; but a rest away from London is really needed as much by her as by me. They work her to death. In a little while she is to go, by the invitation of the Government and the consent of the King, to christen a new British warship at Newcastle. It will be named the "Eagle." Meantime I'll be trying to get outdoor life at Sandwich.
Yesterday a regiment of our National Army marched through the streets of London and were reviewed by the King and me; and the town made a great day of it. While there is an undercurrent of complaint in certain sections of English opinion because we didn't come into the war sooner, there is a very general and very genuine appreciation of everything we have done and of all that we do. Nothing could be heartier than the welcome given our men here yesterday. Nor could any men have made a braver or better showing than they made. They made us all swell with pride.
They are coming over now, as you know, in great quantities. There were about 8,000 landed here last week and about 30,000 more are expected this week. I think that many more go direct to France than come through England. On their way through England they do not come to London. Only twice have we had them here, yesterday and one day last summer when we had a parade of a regiment of engineers. For the army London is on a sidetrack---is an out of the way place. For our navy, of course, it's the European headquarters, since Admiral Sims has his headquarters here. We thus see a good many of our sailors who are allowed to come to London on leave. A few days ago I had a talk with a little bunch of them who came from one of our superdreadnaughts in the North Sea. They had just returned from a patrol across to the coast of Norway. "Bad luck, bad luck," they said, "on none of our long patrol trips have we seen a single Hun ship! "
About the war, you know as much as I know. There is a general confidence that the Allies will hold the Germans in their forthcoming effort to get to Calais or to Paris. Yet there is an undercurrent of fear. Nobody knows just how to feel about it. Probably another prodigious onslaught will be made before you receive this letter. It seems to me that we can make no intelligent guess until this German effort is finished in France---no guess about the future. If the Germans get the French ports (Calais, for example) the war will go on indefinitely. If they are held back, it may end next autumn or winter ---partly because of starvation in Germany and partly because the Germans will have to confess that they can't whip our armies in France. But, even then, since they have all Russia to draw on, they may keep going for a long time. One man's guess is as good as another's.
One sad thing is certain: we shall at once begin to have heavy American casualties. Our Red Cross and our army here are getting hospitals ready for such American wounded as are brought over to England---the parts of our army that are fighting with the British.
We have a lot of miserable politics here which interfere with the public feeling. The British politician is a worse yellow dog than the American---at times he is, at least; and we have just been going through such a time. Another such time will soon come about the Irish.
Well, we have an unending quantity of work and wear -no very acute bothers but a continuous strain, the strain of actual work, of uneasiness, of seeing people, of uncertainty, of great expense, of doubt and fear at times, of inability to make any plans---all which is only the common lot now all over the world, except that most persons have up to this time suffered incomparably worse than we. And there's nothing to do but to go on and on and on and to keep going with the stoutest hearts we can keep up till the end do at last come. But the Germans now (as the rest of us) are fighting for their lives. They are desperate and their leaders care nothing for human life.
The Embassy now is a good deal bigger than the whole State Department ever was in times of peace. I have three buildings for offices, and a part of our civil force occupies two other buildings. Even a general supervision of so large a force is in itself a pretty big job. The army and the Navy have each about the same space as the Embassy proper. Besides, our people have huts and inns and clubs and hospitals all over the town. Even though there be fewer vexing problems than there were while we were neutral, there is not less work---on the contrary, more. Nor will there be an end to it for a very long time---long after my time here. The settling of the war and the beginning of peace activities, whenever these come, will involve a great volume of work. But I've no ambition to have these things in hand. As soon as a natural time of relief shall come, I'll go and be happier in my going than you or anybody else can guess.
Now we go to get my digestion stiffened up for another long tug---unless the Germans proceed forthwith to knock us out---which they cannot do.
With my love to everybody on the Hill,
W. H. P.
Mr. and Mrs. Waldorf Astor---since become Viscount and Viscountess Astor---had offered the Pages the use of their beautiful seaside house at Sandwich, Kent, and it was the proposed vacation here to which Page refers in this letter. He obtained a six weeks' leave of absence and almost the last letters which Page wrote from England are dated from this place. These letters have all the qualities of Page at his best: but the handwriting is a sad reminder of the change that was progressively taking place in his physical condition. It is still a clear and beautiful script, but there are signs of a less steady hand than the one that had written the vigorous papers of the preceding four years.
Sandwich, Kent, Sunday, 19 May, 1918.
We're at Rest Harrow and it's a fine, sunny early spring Carolina day. The big German drive has evidently begun its second phase. We hear the guns distinctly. We see the coast-guard aeroplanes at almost any time o' day. What is the mood about the big battle?
The soldiers---British and French---have confidence in their ability to hold the Germans back from the Channel and from Paris. Yet can one rely on the judgment of soldiers? They have the job in hand and of course they believe in themselves. While one does not like in the least to discount their judgment and their hopefulness, for my part I am not quite so sure of their ability to make sound judgments as I wish I were. The chances are in favour of their success; but---suppose they should have to yield and give up Calais and other Channel ports? Well, they've prepared for it as best they can. They have made provision for commandeering most of the hotels in London that are not yet taken over---for hospitals for the wounded now in France.
And the war would take on a new phase. Whatever should become of the British and American armies, the Germans would be no nearer having England than they now are. They would not have command of the sea. The combined British and American fleets could keep every German ship off the ocean and continue the blockade by sea---indefinitely; and, if the peoples of the two countries hold fast, a victory would be won at last---at sea.
To Ralph W. Page
Rest Harrow, Sandwich, Kent.
May 19, 1918.
I felt -very proud yesterday when I read T. R.'s good word in the Outlook about your book.(189) If I had written what he said myself---I mean, if I had written what I think of the book---I should have said this very thing. And there is one thing more I should have said, viz.:---All your life and all my life, we have cultivated the opinion at home that we had nothing to do with the rest of the world, nothing to do with Europe in particular---and in our political life our hayseed spokesmen have said this over and over again till many people, perhaps most people, came really to believe that it was true. Now this aloofness, this utterly detached attitude, was a pure invention of the shirt-sleeve statesman at home. I have long concluded, for other reasons as well as for this, that these men are the most ignorant men in the whole world; more ignorant---because they are viciously ignorant---than the Negro boys who act as caddies at Pinehurst; more ignorant than the inmates of the Morganton Asylum; more ignorant than sheep or rabbits or idiots. They have been the chief hindrances of our country---worse than traitors, in effect. It is they, in fact, who kept our people ignorant of the Germans, ignorant of the English, ignorant of our own history, ignorant of ourselves. Now your book, without mentioning the subject, shows this important fact clearly, by showing that our aloofness has all been a fiction. We've been in the world---and right in the middle of the world---the whole time.
And our public consciousness of this fact has enormously slipped back. Take Franklin, Madison, Monroe, Jefferson; take Hay, Root---and then consider some of our present representatives! One good result of the war and of our being in it will be the restoration of our foreign consciousness. Every one of the half million, or three million, soldiers who go to France will know more about foreign affairs than all Congress knew two years ago.
A stay of nearly five years in London (five years ago to-day I was on the ship coming here) with no absence long enough to give any real rest, have got my digestion wrong. I've therefore got a real leave for two months. Your mother and I have a beautiful house here that has been lent to us, right on the Channel where there's nothing worth bombing and where as much sunshine and warmth come as come anywhere in England. We got here last night and to-day is as fine an early spring day as you ever had in the Sandhills. I shall golf and try to find me an old horse to ride, and I'll stay out in the sunshine and try to get the inside machinery going all right. We may have a few interruptions, but I hope not many, if the Germans leave us alone. Your mother has got to go to Newcastle to christen a new British warship---a compliment the Admiralty pays her "to bind the two nations closer together" etc. etc. And I've got to go to Cambridge to receive an LL. D. for the President. Only such things are allowed to interrupt us. And we are very much hoping to see Frank here.
We are in sound of the battle. We hear the big guns whenever we go outdoors. A few miles down the beach is a rifle range and we hear the practice there. Almost any time of day we can hear aeroplanes which (I presume) belong to the coast guard. There's no danger of forgetting the war, therefore, unless we become stone deaf. But this decent air and sunshine are blessings of the highest kind. I never became so tried of anything since I had the measles as I've become of London.
My Lord! it sounded last night as if we had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Just as we were about to go to bed the big gun on the beach-just outside the fence around our yard----about 50 yards from the house, began its thundering belch---five times in quick succession, rattling the windows and shaking the very foundation of things. Then after a pause of a few minutes, another round of five shots. Then the other guns all along the beach took up the chorus---farther off---and the inland guns followed. They are planted all the way to London ---ninety miles. For about two hours we had this roar and racket. There was an air raid on, and there were supposed to be twenty-five or thirty German planes on their way to London. I hear that it was the worst raid that London has had. Two of them were brought down ---that's the only good piece of news I've heard about it. Well, we are not supposed to be in danger. They fly over us on the way to bigger game. At any rate I'll take the risk for this air and sunshine. Trenches and barbed wire run all along the beach---I suppose to help in case of an invasion. But an invasion is impossible in my judgment. Holy Moses! what a world!---the cannon in the big battle in France roaring in our ears all the time, this cannon at our door likely to begin action any night and all the rest along the beach and on the way to London, and this is what we call rest! The world is upside down, all crazy, all murderous; but we've got to stop this barbaric assault, whatever the cost.
Ray Stannard Baker is spending a few days with us, much to our pleasure.
With love to Leila and the babies,
W. H. P.
To Arthur W. Page
Rest Harrow, Sandwich Beach, Sandwich, Kent, England.
May 20, 1918.
I can't get quite to the bottom of the anti-English feeling at Washington. God knows, this people have their faults. Their social system and much else here is mediæval. I could write several volumes in criticism of them. So I could also in criticism of anybody else.
But Jefferson's(190) letter is as true to-day as it was when he wrote it. One may or may not have a lot of sentiment about it; but, without sentiment, it's mere common sense, mere prudence, the mere instinct of safety to keep close to Great Britain, to have a decent respect for the good qualities of these people and of this government. Certainly it is a mere perversity---lost time---lost motion, lost everything---to cherish a dislike and a distrust of them ---a thing that I cannot wholly understand. While we are, I fear, going to have trade troubles and controversies, my feeling is, on the whole, in spite of the attitude of our official life, that an increasing number of our people are waking up to what England has done and is and may be depended on to do. Isn't that true?
We've no news here. We see nobody who knows anything. I am far from strong---the old stomach got tired and I must gradually coax it back to work. That's practically my sole business now for a time, and it's a slow process. But it's coming along and relief from seeing hordes of people is as good as medicine.
W. H. P.
To the President
Sandwich, May 24, 1918.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT.'
Your speeches have a cumulative effect in cheering up the British. As you see, if you look over the mass of newspaper clippings that I send to the Department, or have them looked over, the British press of all parties and shades of opinion constantly quote them approvingly and gratefully. They have a cumulative effect, too, in clearing the atmosphere. Take, for instance, your declaration in New York about standing by Russia. All the allied governments in Europe wish to stand by Russia, but their pressing business with the war, near at hand, causes them in a way to forget Russia; and certainly the British public, all intent on the German "drive" in France had in a sense forgotten Russia. You woke them up. And your "Why set a limit to the American Army?" has had a cheering effect. As leader and spokesman of the enemies of Germany---by far the best trumpet-call spokesman and the strongest leader---your speeches are worth an army in France and more, for they keep the proper moral elevation. All this is gratefully recognized here. Public opinion toward us is wholesome and you have a "good press" in this Kingdom. In this larger matter, all is well. The English faults are the failings of the smaller men---about smaller matters---not of the large men nor of the public, about large matters.
In private, too, thoughtful Englishmen by their fears pay us high tribute. I hear more and more constantly such an opinion as this: "You see, when the war is over, you Americans will have much the largest merchant fleet. You will have much the largest share of money, and England and France and all the rest of the world will owe you money. You will have a large share of essential raw materials. You will have the machinery for marine insurance and for foreign banking. You will have much the largest volume of productive labour. And you will know the world as you have never known it before. What then is going to become of British trade?"
The best answer I can give is: "Adopt American methods of manufacture, and the devil take the hindmost. There will be for a long time plenty for everybody to do; and let us make sure that we both play the game fairly: that's the chief matter to look out for." That's what I most fear in the decades following the end of the war---trade clashes.
The Englishman's pride will be hurt. I recall a speech made to me by the friendliest of the British---Mr. Balfour himself: "I confess that as an Englishman it hurts my pride to have to borrow so much even from you. But I will say that I'd rather be in your debt than in anybody else's.
To Edward M. House
May 27, 1918.
MY DEAR HOUSE:
I can write in the same spirit of the Labour Group which left for home last week. Nobody has been here from our side who had a better influence than they. They emphatically stuck by their instructions and took pleasure, against the blandishments of certain British Socialists, in declaring against any meeting with anybody from the enemy countries to discuss "peace-by-negotiation" or anything else till the enemy is whipped. They made admirable speeches and proved admirable representatives of the bone and sinew of American manhood. They had dead-earnestness and good-humour and hard horse-sense.
This sort of visit is all to the good. Great good they do, too, in the present English curiosity to see and hear the right sort of frank, candid Americans. Nobody who hasn't been here lately can form an idea of the eagerness of all classes to hear and learn about the United States. There never was, and maybe never will be again, such a chance to inform the British and---to help them toward a right understanding of the United States and our people.
We are not half using the opportunity. There seems to be a feeling on your side the ocean that we oughtn't to send men here to "lecture" the British. No typical, earnest, sound American who has been here has "lectured" the British. They have all simply told facts and instructed them and won their gratitude and removed misconceptions. For, instance, I have twenty inquiries a week about Dr. Buttrick. He went about quietly during his visit here and talked to university audiences and to working-men's meetings and he captured and fascinated every man he met. He simply told them American facts, explained the American spirit and aims and left a grateful memory everywhere. Buttrick cost our Government nothing: he paid his own way. But if he had cost as much as a regiment it would have been well spent. The people who heard him, read American utterances, American history, American news in a new light. And most of his talk was with little groups of men, much of it even in private conversation. He did no orating or "lecturing." A hundred such men, if we had them, would do more for a perfect understanding with the British people than anything else whatsoever could do.
WALTER H. PAGE.
To Arthur W. Page
Sandwich, May 27, 1918.
. . . I do get tired--my Lord! how tired!---not of the work but of the confinement, of the useless things I have to spend time on, of the bad digestion that has overtaken me, of London, of the weather, of absence from you all---of the general breaking up of the world, of this mad slaughter of men. But, after all, this is the common lot now and I am grateful for a chance to do what I can. That's the true way to look at it.
. . . Worry? I don't worry about anything except the war in general and this mad world so threatened by these devil barbarians. And I have a feeling that, when we get a few thousand flying machines, we'll put an end to that, alas! with the loss of many of our brave boys. I hear the guns across the channel as I write---an unceasing boom! boom! boom! That's what takes the stuff out of me and gets my inside machinery wrong. Still, I'm gradually getting even that back to normal. Golf and the poets are fine medicine. I read Keats the other day, with entire forgetfulness of the guns. Here we have a comfortable house, our own servants (as many as we need), a beautiful calm sea, a perfect air and for the present ideal weather. There's nobody down here but Scottish soldiers. We've struck up a pleasant acquaintance with them; and some of the fellows from the Embassy come down week ends. Only the murderous guns keep their eternal roar.
Thanks, thanks, a thousand thanks, old man. It'll all work out right.
. . . I look at it in this way: all's well that ends well. We are now doing our duty. That's enough. These things don't bother me, because doing our duty now is worth a million years of past errors and shortcomings.
Your mother's well and spry---very, and the best company in the world. We're having a great time.
Bully for the kids! Kiss 'em for me and Mollie too.
W. H. P.
Make Shoecraft tell you everything. He's one of the best boys and truest in the world.
To Ralph W. Page
Rest Harrow, Sandwich, Kent.
June 7, 1918.
MY DEAR RALPH:
. . . I have all along cherished an expectation of two things---(1) That when we did get an American Army by conscription, if it should remain at war long enough to learn the game, it would become the best army that the world ever saw, for the simple reason that its ranks would contain more capable men than any other country has ever produced. The proof of this comes at once. Even our new and raw troops have astonished the veterans of the French and British armies and (I have no doubt) of the German Army also. It'll be our men who will whip the Germans, and there are nobody else's men who could do it. We've already saved the Entente from collapse by our money. We'll save the day again by our fighting men. That is to say, we'll save the world, thank God; and I fear it couldn't have been saved in any other way. (2) Since the people by their mood command and compel efficiency, the most efficient people will at last (as recent events show) get at the concrete jobs, in spite of anybody's preferences or philosophy. And this seems at last to be taking place. What we have suffered and shall suffer is not failure but delays and delays and bunglings. But they've got to end by the sheer pressure of the people's earnestness. These two things, then, are all to the good.
I get the morning papers here at noon. And to-day I am all alone. Your mother went early on her journey to launch a British battleship. I haven't had a soul to speak to all day but my servants. At noon, therefore, I was rather eager for the papers. I saw at a glance that a submarine is at work off the New Jersey coast! It's an awful thing for the innocent victims, to be drowned. But their deaths have done us a greater service than 100 times as many lives lost in battle. If anybody lacked earnestness about the war, I venture to guess that he doesn't lack it any longer. If the fools would now only shell some innocent town on the coast, the journey to Berlin would be shortened.
If the Germans had practised a chivalrous humanity in their war for conquest, they'd have won it. Nothing on earth can now save them; for the world isn't big enough to hold them and civilized people. Nor is there any room for pacifists till this grim business is done.
W. H. P.
The last piece of writing from Sandwich is the following memorandum:
June 10, 1918.
The Germans continue to gain ground in France---more slowly, but still they gain. The French and British papers now give space to plans for the final defense---the desperate defense---of Paris. The Germans are only forty miles away. Slocum, military attaché, thinks they will get it and he reports the same opinion at the War Office---because the Germans have taken such a large number of guns and so much ammunition. Some of these guns were meant for the American troops, and they cannot now be replaced in time if the German advance continues. But I do not know enough facts at first hand to form an opinion. But, if Paris be taken, the war will go on a long time ---unless the English-speaking rulers make a compromise. And, then, in another form---and forms---it'll go on indefinitely. There has been no more perilous or uncertain or anxious time than now.
The United States too late, too late, too late: what if it should turn out so?
But it did not turn out so. Even while Page was penning these lines great events were taking place in France and the American troops were having a large share in them. In June the Americans stopped the German troops at Belleau Wood---a battle which proved the mettle of these fresh levies not only for the benefit of the Germans but of the Allies as well. Thus Page had the great satisfaction of returning to London while the city was ringing with the praise of these achievements. He found that the atmosphere had materially changed since he had last been in the British capital; when he had left for Sandwich there had been a general expectation that the Germans would get Paris or the Channel ports; now, however, there was every confidence of victory. Greatly as Page rejoiced over the new prospect, however, the fight at Belleau Wood brought him his last great sorrow. His nephew, Allison M. Page, of Aberdeen, North Carolina, the son of his youngest brother, Frank, lost his life in that engagement. At first the young man was reported "missing"; the investigation set afoot by the Ambassador for some time brought no definite information. One of the most pathetic of Page's papers is a brief note addressed by him to Allison Page, asking him for news: "It's been a long time since we heard from you," Page wrote his nephew. "Write how it goes with you. Affectionately, Uncle Wat." After travelling over a considerable part of France, this note found its way back to the Embassy. The boy---he was only 19---had been killed in action near Belleau Wood, on June 25th, while leading his detachment in an attack on a machine gun. Citations and decorations for gallantry in action were given posthumously by General Pershing, Marshal Pétain, Major General Omar Bundy, and Major-General John A. LeJeune.
And now the shadows began to close in rapidly on Page. In early July Major Frank C. Page, the Ambassador's youngest son, came over from France. A brief glance at his father convinced him that he was dying. By this time the Ambassador had ceased to go to the Chancery, but was transacting the most imperative business propped up in a chair at home. His mind was possessed by two yearnings: one was to remain in London until the end of the war, the other was to get back to his childhood home in North Carolina. Young Page urged his father to resign, but the weary invalid insisted on sticking to his post. On this point it seemed impossible to move him. Knowing that his brother Arthur had great influence with his father, Frank Page cabled, asking him to come to England immediately. Arthur took the first boat, reaching London late in July.
The Ambassador's two sons then gently pressed upon their father the fact that he must resign. Weak as he was, the Ambassador was still obdurate.
"No," he said. "It's quitting on the job. I must see .the war through. I can't quit until it's over."
But Sir William Osler, Page's physician and devoted friend, exercised his professional authority and insisted on the resignation. Finally Page consented.
To the President
American Embassy, London,
August 1, 1918.
MY DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
I have been struggling for a number of months against the necessity to write you this note; for my doctors now advise me to give up all work for a period---my London doctor says for six months. I have a progressive digestive trouble which does not yield to the usual treatment. It's the war, five London winters, and the unceasing labour which is now the common lot. I am ashamed to say that these have brought me to something near a breakdown. I have had Sir William Osler as well as two distinguished London physicians for several months. The digestive trouble has brought other ills in its train; and I am assured that they will yield to freedom from responsibility and complete rest for a time in a dry, warm climate and that they are not likely to yield to anything else.
I see nothing else to do then but to bow to the inevitable and to ask you to be kind enough to relieve me and to accept my resignation to take effect as soon as I can go to Washington and make a somewhat extended report on the work here, which, I hope, will be of some use to the Department; and I ought to go as soon as possible---say, in September. I cannot tell you how great my disappointment is that this request has become necessary.
If the world and its work were so organized that we could do what we should like to do, I should like a leave of absence till winter be broken and then to take up my duties here again till the war end. But that, of course, is impracticable. And it is now a better time to change Ambassadors than at any time since the war began. My five years' service has had two main phases---the difficult period of our neutrality and the far easier period since we came into the war. But when the war ends, I fear that there will be again more or less troublesome tasks arising out of commercial difficulties.
But for any reasonable period the Embassy's work fortunately can now go on perfectly well with Mr. Laughlin as Chargé---until my successor can get here. The Foreign Office like him, he is persona grata to all other Departments of the Government, and he has had a long experience; and he is most conscientious and capable. And the organization is in excellent condition.
I venture to ask you to have a cable message sent to me (to be deciphered by me alone). It will require quite a little time to pack up and to get away.
I send this, Mr. President, with more regret than I can express and only after a struggle of more than six months to avoid it.
WALTER H. PAGE.
Arthur Page took his father to Banff, in Scotland, for a little rest in preparation for the voyage. From this place came Page's last letter to his wife:
To Mrs. Page
Duff House, Banff, Scotland.
Sunday, September 2, 1918.
. . . I've put the period of our life in London, in my mind, as closed. That epoch is ended. And I am glad. It was time it ended. My job (that job) is done. From the letters that Shoecraft has sent me and from what the papers say, I think I couldn't have ended it more happily ---or---at a better time. I find myself thinking of the winter down South---of a Thanksgiving Day dinner for the older folks of our family, of a Christmas tree for the kids, of frolics of all sorts, of Rest, of some writing (perhaps not much), going over my papers with Ralph---that's what he wants, you know; etc., etc., etc.
And I've got to eat more. I myself come into my thinking and planning in only two ways---(1) I'm going to have a suit like old Lord N.'s and (2) I'm going to get all the good things to eat that there are!
Meantime, my dear, how are you? Don't you let this getting ready wear you out. Let something go undone rather. Work Miss Latimer and the boys and the moving and packing men, and Petherick and the servants. Take it very easy yourself.
Nine and a half more days here---may they speed swiftly. Comfortable as I am, I'm mortal tired of being away from you---dead tired.
Praise God it's only 91 days. If it were 91, I should not stand it, but break for home prematurely.
Yours, dear Allie, with all my love,
W. H. P.
On August 24th came the President's reply:
I have received your communication of August 1st. It caused me great regret that the condition of your health makes it necessary for you to resign. Under the circumstances I do not feel I have the right to insist on such a sacrifice as your remaining in London. Your resignation is therefore accepted. As you request it will take effect when you report to Washington. Accept my congratulations that you have no reason to fear a permanent impairment of your health and that you can resign knowing that you have performed your difficult duties with distinguished success.
The news of Page's resignation inspired tributes from the British press and from British public men such as have been bestowed upon few Americans. The London Times headed its leader, "A Great Ambassador" and this note was echoed in all sections of Great Britain. The part of Page's career which Englishmen chiefly recalled was his attitude during the period of neutrality. This, the newspapers declared, was Page's great contribution to the cause. The fact, that it had had such far-reaching influences on history was the one especially insisted on. His conciliatory and skillful behaviour had kept the United States and Great Britain friends at a time when a less tactful ambassador might easily have made them enemies; the result was that, when the time came, the United States could join forces against the common enemy, with results that were then daily unfolding on the battlefields of France. "I really believe," wrote the Marquess of Crewe, "that there were several occasions when we might have made it finally impossible for America to join us in the war; that these passed by may have been partly due to some glimmering of common sense on our part, with Grey as its main exponent; but it was more largely owing to your patience and courtesy and to the certainty which the Foreign Office always enjoyed that its action would be set before the Secretary of State in as favourable a light as it conscientiously could be." That, then, was Page's contribution to the statesmanship of this crisis---that of holding the two countries together so that, when the time came, the United States could join the Allies. A mass of private letters, all breathing the same sentiment, began to pour in on Page. There was hardly an illustrious name in Great Britain that was not represented among these leave-takings. As illustrating the character and spirit animating them, the following selections are made:
From the King
The information communicated to me yesterday through Mr. Laughlin of Your Excellency's resignation of the Post of Ambassador and the cause of this step fill me with the keenest regret. During your term of office in days of peace and of war your influence has done much to strengthen the ties of friendship and good-will which unite the two English-speaking nations of the world. I trust your health will soon be restored and that we may have the pleasure of seeing you and Mrs. Page before your departure.
GEORGE R. I.
From the Prime Minister
10, Downing Street, Whitehall, S. W. 1,
30th August, 1918.
MY DEAR AMBASSADOR:
It is with the deepest regret that my colleagues and I have received the news that you have been forced by ill health to resign your office and that the President has consented to your relinquishing your ambassadorial duties. We are sorry that you are leaving us, all the more because your tenure of office has coincided with one of the greatest epochs in the history of our two countries and of the world, and because your influence and counsel throughout this difficult time have been of the utmost value to us all.
The power for good or evil which can be exerted by the occupant of your high position is at all times necessarily very great. That our peoples are now fighting side by side in the cause of human freedom and that they are manifesting an ever growing feeling of cordiality to one another is largely attributable to the exceptional wisdom and good-will with which you have discharged your duties. For the part you have played during the past five years in bringing about this happy result we owe you our lasting gratitude.
May I add that while you have always firmly presented the point of view of your own country, you have succeeded in winning, not only the respect and admiration of official circles, but the confidence, and I can say without hesitation, the affection of all sections of our people? It will be with universal regret that they will learn that, owing to the strain of the great responsibilities you have borne, you are no longer to remain among us. I earnestly trust that a well-earned rest will speedily restore you to complete health, and that you have many years of public service still in store for you.
I should like also to say how much we shall miss Mrs. Page. She has won a real place in all our hearts. Through her unfailing tact, her genuine kindliness, and her unvarying readiness to respond to any call upon her time and energy, she has greatly contributed to the success of your ambassadorship.
D. LLOYD GEORGE.
From Viscount Grey of Fallodon
Glen Innerleithen, Scotland.
September 2, 1918.
DEAR MR. PAGE:
I have been out of touch with current events for a few days, but yesterday I read the two articles in the Times on your retirement. I am very grieved to think that you are going. There was not a word of eulogy in the Times articles that was not under rather than over-stated, and reflecting thus I thought how rare it is in public life to have an occasion that justifies the best that can be said. But it is so now, and I am filled with deep regret that you are going and with deep gratitude that you came to us and were here when the war broke out and subsequently. If the United States had been represented here by any one less decided as to the right and wrong of the war and less firm and courageous than yourself, the whole of the relations between your country and ours would have been in peril. And if the two countries had gone apart instead of coming together the whole fate of the world would be very different from what I hope it will now be.
I have often thought that the forces behind public affairs are so tremendous that individuals have little real, even when much apparent, influence upon the course of events. But in the early years of the war I think everything might have gone wrong if it had not been that certain men of strong moral conviction were in certain places. And you were preeminently one of these. President Wilson I am sure was another, though I know him only through you and Colonel House and his own public utterances. Even so your influence must have counted in his action, by your friendship with him as well as by the fact of your being the channel through which communications passed between him and us.
I cannot adequately express what it was to me personally in the dark days of 1914, 1915, and 1916 to know how you felt about the great issues involved in the war.
I go to Fallodon at the end of this week and come to London the first week of September---if you and Mrs. Page have not left by then I hope I may see you. I long to do so before you go. I wish you may recover perfect health. My eyesight continues to fail and I shall soon be absolutely dependent upon other eyes for reading print. Otherwise I feel as well as a schoolboy, but it is depressing to be so well and yet so crippled in sight.
Please do not trouble to answer this letter---you must have too many letters of the kind to be able to reply to them separately---but if there is a chance of my seeing you before you 90. Please let me have a message to say when and where.
GREY OF F.
A few months before his resignation Page had received a letter from Theodore Roosevelt, who was more familiar than most Americans with Page's work in London. This summed up what will be probably the judgment of history upon his ambassadorship. The letter was in reply to one written to the Ex-President, asking him to show hospitality to the Archbishop of York,(191) who was about to visit the United States.
(Office of the Metropolitan Magazine)
342 Fourth Ave., New York,
March 1st, 1918.
MY DEAR MR. AMBASSADOR:
I am very much pleased with your letter, and as soon as the Archbishop arrives, he will be addressed by me with all his titles, and I will get him to lunch with me or dine with me, or do anything else he wishes! I shall do it for his own sake, and still more, my dear fellow, I shall do it for the sake of the Ambassador who has represented America in London during these trying years as no other Ambassador in London has ever represented us, with the exception of Charles Francis Adams, during the Civil War.
The seriousness of Page's condition was not understood in London; consequently there were many attempts to do him honour in which he was unable to participate. Custom demands that a retiring Ambassador shall go to Windsor Castle to dine and to sleep; but King George, who was very solicitous about Page's health, offered to spare the Ambassador this trip, and to come himself to London for this leave-taking. However, Page insisted on carrying out the usual programme; but the visit greatly tired him and he found it impossible personally to take part in any further official farewells. The last ceremony was a visit from the Lord Mayor and Council of Plymouth, who came to the Ambassador's house in September to present the freedom of the city. Ever since Page's speech of August 4, 1917, Plymouth had been planning to do him this honour; when the Council heard that the Ambassador's health would make it impossible for him to visit Plymouth, they asked if they might not come to London. The proceeding was most impressive and touching and the Ambassador's five-minute speech, the last one which he made in England, had all his old earnestness and mental power, though the physical weakness of the man saddened everybody present. The Lord Mayor presented the freedom of the ancient borough in a temporary holder, explaining that a more permanent receptacle would follow the Ambassador to America. When this arrived, it proved to be a beautiful silver model of the Mayflower. Certainly there could have been no more appropriate farewell gift to Page from the English town whose name so closely links the old country with the United States.
The last scene took place at Waterloo Station. Sir Arthur Walsh came representing the King, while Mr. Balfour, Lord Robert Cecil, and other ministers represented the cabinet. The Government had provided a special railway carriage, and this was stationed at a convenient place as Page's motor drew up. So weak was the Ambassador that it was with difficulty that his companions, the ever devoted Mr. Laughlin, on one side, and Page's secretary, Mr. Shoecraft, on the other, succeeded in supporting him to his chair. Mr. Balfour, Lord Robert Cecil and the others then entered the carriage, and, with all that sympathetic dignity in which Englishmen of this type excel, said a few gracious and affectionate words of good-bye. They all stood, with uncovered heads, as the train slowly pulled out of the station, and caught their final glimpse of Page as he smiled at them and faintly waved his hand.
Perhaps the man most affected by this leave-taking was Mr. Balfour. He knew, as did the others, that that frail and emaciated figure had been one of the greatest friends that Britain had had at the most dreadful crisis in her history. He has many times told of this parting scene at Waterloo Station and always with emotion.
"I loved that man," he once said to an American friend, recalling this event. "I almost wept when he left England."
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