SOCIAL AND DIPLOMATIC MEMORIES, 1902-1919
BY THE RIGHT HON. SIR JAMES RENNELL RODD, G.C.B.
The Serajevo assassinations and the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. Efforts to avert war. Italy declares her neutrality. We enter the war. News of Goeben and Breslau. Death of Pins X and election of Benedict XV. Propaganda at Conclave. British representation at Holy See. Counter-propaganda. M. Destrée. The anti-war groups in Italy. The interventionists. Salandra and San Giuliano. Importance of Italy's neutrality. Embassy Staff. Sir C. Capel-Cure. Death of San Giuliano. Turkey enters the war.
Having no illusions regarding the ultimate aims of the central empires, I ought not to have been surprised by any sudden move on the political chess-board which a favourable opening might inspire. And yet the spring of 1914 advanced into summer with no graver preoccupations for us in Italy than those of watching the complications on the eastern side of the Adriatic, the troubles at Durazzo, which threatened a renewal of intervention in Albania, and the growing friction between Greece and Turkey. The elder statesmen in Italy, I gathered, like myself, regretted that San Giuliano had contested Serbian access to the sea, which would at that time have offered a barrier to a further Austrian advance, and many thought that he had also been rather intransigent in his opposition to Greek claims in Epirus. His policy had meant making enemies in Serbia and Greece, and had occasioned some impatience in France and Russia, while in Great Britain the veto to a Serbian port had not been well received.
After spending four successive summers in Italy, I had asked for leave in August, and we had taken a place in Scotland, where the boys were to have their first experience of moor and stream. My wife was leaving for England at the end of June, and I had accompanied her to say good-bye to our old friend Princess George Radziwil. While we were sitting with her and the Russian Ambassador in the villa garden, the telegraph sheet arrived, announcing the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Serajevo. The news was like a thunder-clap in a clear sky.
It was, and has remained, difficult to account for this determined and cold-blooded murder. For Serbia there seemed to be nothing to gain by a deliberate provocation of the Empire which had been seeking an excuse for coercing her. Only a distorted process of reasoning which sought to prove that ordered government was impossible under actual conditions in Bosnia could account for her complicity or tolerance. It was no less difficult to understand the neglect of the Austrian authorities to take elementary precautions to protect the heir apparent during a visit of inspection in regions of doubtful security. In any case, after the experience of recent years the danger was obvious that this deplorable outrage might furnish the war-party at Vienna with the pretext for attacking Serbia for which they had long been waiting.
The instructive memoirs of Marshal Conrad von Hoetzendorff have revealed that the report of Herr von Wiesner, the official sent to Serajevo to investigate the crime, was negative. He telegraphed on the 13th of July: "Nothing proves, or even suggests, that the Serb Government had a hand in organizing or preparing the murder, or that it supplied the arms." Nevertheless, as the month advanced it became known that the Austro-Hungarian Government would address a vigorous communication to Belgrade asserting that the plot to assassinate the Archduke had been organized there, and claiming guarantees for the repression of Pan-Serb agitation. Italy, although a party to the Triple Alliance, was not shown the terms of the ultimatum before it was dispatched. But enough must have been said to San Giuliano, who had consistently counselled moderation, or to the Italian Ambassador in Vienna, to enable the former to estimate its general character since, already on the 21st of July, at a dinner given by the Persian Minister in honour of the Shah's coronation, he confided to me his anticipation that the note would prove to be inacceptable. On the 23rd the Counsellor of the Austro-Hungarian Embassy informed him that an ultimatum had been dispatched to Belgrade. The text itself, sedulously concealed from the Italian ally until it was communicated to the other Powers, only reached him on the 24th. When we learned the real nature of what were probably the most humiliating demands ever addressed to an independent European state, with a delay of only forty-eight hours in which to signify unconditional acceptance, his comment was that it could only be regarded as a deliberate provocation to war or else as le triomphe de l'imbécilité.. Italy, who had in 1913 firmly refused to be drawn into an attack on Serbia, had now to consider what her own position would be in virtue of Article VII of the Triple Alliance Treaty which entitled her to compensation if her allies should modify, either permanently or temporarily, the status quo in the Balkans.
San Giuliano, whose constitutional gout had assumed a more menacing form, had returned to the baths at Fiuggi, some seventy miles south of Rome, to continue his treatment, and I did not see him again for some days. It was not till long afterwards that I learned that on the 25th he and Salandra had a long conversation at Fiuggi with the German Ambassador, in which the two ministers pointed out that the step taken by Austria without previous agreement with her allies was contrary to the spirit of the Triple Alliance. The note, they contended, which was profoundly offensive to Serbia, and vicariously so to Russia, clearly indicated the intention to provoke war, and if this action led to war with Russia Italy would be under no obligation to come to the assistance of Austria. Should a European war ensue it would clearly be a consequence of Austrian aggression. The Italian Ambassador at Vienna was instructed to hold similar language, and a few days later Berlin and Vienna were informed that if there were any modification of the Balkan situation and Italy did not receive adequate compensation, the Triple Alliance would be at an end. [These communications were textually quoted in the speech which Signor Salandra delivered on the Capitol at Rome on the 2nd of June, 1915.] Nevertheless, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador at Rome, Baron Macchio, who had replaced the pugnacious Merey, informed San Giuliano on the 30th of July that his Government could give no definite undertaking not to make annexations at the expense of Serbia because it was not possible to foresee whether in the course of the war they might not be compelled, in spite of their own wishes, to retain Serbian territory. It is evident therefore that Austria-Hungary and Germany had from the first ample warning of what the attitude of Italy would be. The anxiety which was felt on this account is revealed by a question addressed to the Government at Rome as to whether the institution of an Italian university at Vienna would create a favourable impression in the country. It was answered in the negative.
There could now be no doubt that the war party in Vienna had found or made their opportunity, and that they knew that their action would not be stayed by Berlin, whatever its consequences might be. With Ireland apparently on the brink of civil war and Great Britain simultaneously threatened with immobility by paralysing strikes, risk of intervention on our part might well seem eliminated. Recent disclosures in the French Senate had betrayed serious deficiencies in certain branches of the military organization. There was menace of a revolutionary outbreak in Russia. At the Club where I was dining on the evening after the publication of the ultimatum, one of the Secretaries of the German Embassy expressed to me the conviction, for which he had evidently good grounds, that if, as he anticipated, the great continental Powers were drawn into the coming struggle, Italy would find some pretext for standing out. This would, he trusted, be counterbalanced by our also remaining uninvolved in the conflict. From that moment I had no doubt that Germany was about to seize the occasion offered by our internal difficulties to strike the death-blow at France.
Believing now that war of incalculable extension was imminent, I found myself faced with a perplexing problem. Our younger children were at Hamburg, attending classes, and my wife was in England. I was anxious to withdraw the children at once, but could neither telegraph my real reason to my wife nor instruct the lady in whose charge they were to send them home. The post to England was slow, and events involving restriction of communications might occur at any moment.
I could only telegraph in general terms to my wife a suggestion that the date for holidays had arrived, and supplement the message with a letter which would at best only reach her in three days. Fortunately, she had an intuition that my telegram might mean more than it said, and acted upon it. In Germany, where the coming crisis was evidently anticipated, communications at once became difficult. The children were, however, able to leave Hamburg by almost the last overcrowded train that ran through to Flushing, with repeated delays for the examination of suspicious persons, and they arrived in England just before war was declared. Until I heard of their safe arrival I was naturally in a state of considerable anxiety.
At seven in the evening of the 26th of July, I received instructions to inquire whether Italy would take part in a Conference at London with ourselves, France and Germany with a view to finding some issue from the perilous situation. With the assistance of the permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Department, I got into telephonic communication with San Giuliano at Fiuggi, and was able within two hours to telegraph the acceptance of the Italian Government. So began that hectic week of desperate effort to close the flood-gates against the tide. The texts of the most important messages sent and received during the few days in which it might yet have been possible to propitiate the hand of destiny have been published long ago. Two points which impressed me as the horizon darkened are recorded in my diary. From first to last Austria revealed herself as intractable, and Germany, while ostensibly ready and even desirous to concert with the other Powers, always found some plausible reason for not adopting the procedure suggested. The impression thus recorded is justified by the post-war revelations of Marshal Conrad, which make it clear that the military chiefs in Vienna and Berlin were determined to thwart any solution but that of war. If those who had the last word in Germany had really earnestly desired to prevent the conflict they could still have done so at the eleventh hour. Even mobilization is not war, and need not mean that every resource is exhausted for those who sincerely seek to avert catastrophe. That the loyal efforts made by the Entente Powers failed to avert it, pointed to collusion and premeditation on the part of those whose effective collaboration for peace could not be secured. The position in Europe was such that however unwilling the majority of the great Powers were to engage in war, their fundamental interests compelled them to face it if any one of them put a match to the train. Austria, disregarding the interest of the rest of Europe by insisting on an appeal to force instead of diplomatic action, had lit the fuse. Germany, in whose power alone as the dominant partner in the alliance it lay to restrain her, not only refrained from doing so, but had, as we subsequently learned from disclosures regarding the mission of Count Hoyos to Berlin, already by the 7th of July given her a free hand to prefer her arbitrary demands and a promise to stand by her without reserve. Long afterwards, in the autumn of 1915, when Italy had declared war on Turkey and the Italian mission at Constantinople was withdrawn, Sonnino told me that the Italian representative had only on his return to Rome disclosed that nine days before the Austrian note to Belgrade was delivered, the German Ambassador in Constantinople, Baron von Wangenheim, had told him that this note would be of a character which would make war inevitable.
San Giuliano expressed to me the opinion that at this stage the only thing which would have given Germany pause, and which might have induced her to make Austria listen to reason, would have been a frank declaration on our part that we should stand by France. Such a declaration, however, it was not in our power to make, while it might still have served such a purpose. During the grim days which followed the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia it seemed to me as if every effort of human goodwill were doomed to be nullified by some blind, inexorable law of destiny.
By the 31st of July the last hope had died away. An urgent appeal from the Tsar to the German Emperor to intervene at Vienna seemed to have prevailed, but Russia's announcement that her mobilization was not directed against Germany was alleged to be in contradiction with fact, and she was summoned to demobilize forthwith, with the alternative of war if the demand had not been complied with in twelve hours. At the same time the device of proclaiming a condition of Kriegsgefahr (war-danger) enabled Germany to make preparations for action not essentially different from those against which she protested in Russia. France was at the same time requested, in a manner which was tantamount to an ultimatum, to state whether she intended to act with Russia. Italy's course was thus made doubly clear. Firstly, the action of Austria, who had not consulted her, had been provocative, directly against Serbia and indirectly against Russia. No casus foederis could therefore be invoked under the terms of the Triple Alliance, the scope of which was purely defensive. Now in view of the demand addressed to France, who had not moved, her attitude was morally as well as constructively indicated. That demand, which was really a menace, made Germany the aggressor. Under an agreement concluded in 1902, which was not in contradiction with the defensive provisions of the Triple Alliance, Italy could not take arms against France if the latter were attacked without provocation.
I had never entertained serious doubt as to what her decision would be. But it was very satisfactory when any possible doubt was removed from my mind by San Giuliano on the 31st of July. [In Mr. Wickham. Steeds' Through Thirty Years, Vol. II, p. 55, the following words occur: " On the 1st of August San Giuliano informed the French Ambassador of Italy's decision and the French Government informed Great Britain." This statement may not be incorrect. But I received the communication from him on the 31st of July, and naturally reported it to my Government, which did not have to depend on the French Government for its information.] Giolitti, who had been on a visit to London, when passing through Paris on the 1st of August, expressed to the Italian chargé d'affaires his personal opinion that neutrality should at once be declared. The official announcement was only made on the 2nd of August, after the German Ambassador had at midday informed the Minister for Foreign Affairs that war had been declared on France and Russia. Pressure was exercised on Italy to reconsider this decision on the plea that France had violated the frontier before the declaration of war. But the Government remained unmoved. Evidence of the alleged violation was altogether unconvincIng. On the eve of war frontier incidents are almost inevitable, and France had shown every desire to avoid them by leaving an intermediate zone unoccupied. Germany had, moreover, herself immediately violated the neutrality of Luxemburg. A Colonel von Kleist, who arrived a few days later, was reported to be the bearer of a message from the German Emperor, and the Italian Ambassador at Vienna came to Rome to report on the state of feeling in that capital. It would seem that the idea of a deal with Italy was present from the first with the German military authorities, as General Moltke is quoted in Field-Marshal Conrad's reminiscences as having suggested to the latter that her assistance should be secured by the concession of the Trentino. Conrad seems at first to have approved the proposal, with the reservation that after a victorious war one perfidy might be rewarded by another, and the Trentino re-taken from the "traitors."
It was fortunate for Italy that the circumstances leading to the outbreak of war made her course so clear, for there would have been revolutionary protests in some parts of the country against collaboration with Austria, and had not the sea remained open for the transport of supplies, the position of her forces in Tripoli would have become critical. I had some grim satisfaction in recalling the words which a friend of mine had quoted as having been used to him by M. de Mercy, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador in Rome, who had long anticipated the war: "Italy will hate it, but she will march with us." I thought I knew better.
French subjects in Italy who had to join the flag on mobilization were summoned home on the 2nd of August. Of the diplomatic staff at the Embassy only the Ambassador and the Counsellor remained. Noel, the painter, in whose studio my family had been working, came to consult me where he could best place in safety the little money he had put by for his wife and children, as he was to leave the following afternoon. Great Britain was still neutral, and we were among the oldest friends he had in Rome. I undertook the care of it for him. He was one of the best and most modest of men, and was just beginning, after many uphill years spent in giving instruction, to see a more prosperous future, thanks largely. to the encouragement of my wife and the many commissions for pastel portraits which her patronage had secured for him. Though forty years old, he had to go with the first, and he was one of the first to fall. "It could not be otherwise," his elder brother said to me afterwards, "he was born on a Friday, the 13th."
For us the momentous decision had still to be taken. The obvious intention of Germany to march through Belgium seemed to leave no doubt as to what that decision must be. Throughout the 4th of August we waited in tense anxiety. Fortunately, every minute of the day was occupied. There had been a run upon the banks in Italy, and the Government were compelled to limit withdrawals to a small percentage of deposits. The British subjects normally in Italy were augmented by an influx of fugitives from Austria and Southern Germany, who could obtain no funds, as transfers of money from England were temporarily suspended. I arranged for a credit under my guarantee from the Banca d'Italia in favour of the Consulates, so as to enable them to grant small advances in urgent cases until the financial situation became more clearly defined. Such provision had to be made without a moment's delay, and considerable personal responsibility engaged. Our countrymen, in their perplexity, behaved almost universally as one would have expected, being moderate in their demands and appreciative of the efforts made to assist them. In practically every case the advances made were scrupulously repaid.
Midnight came and still we had received no message. Our instructions for the event of war were precise, and left nothing in doubt. It was for us to see that there was no bungling in their execution. Mounsey, the head of the Chancery, Henderson, Clark-Kerr, Parr and Tyrrwhit (Lord Berners) sat up with me making the necessary preparations. At 2 a.m. I went to bed for a few hours, having taken dispositions for action at any hour. It was at seven on the morning of the 5th that we received the expected telegram, dispatched at 10.45 the previous night, announcing war with Germany. Immediately every consulate in Italy was warned, and all the conditions incidental to a state of war came into force. After breakfast I went to the Italian Foreign Office to announce to the Minister what he already knew. San Giuliano, even at that early stage, foresaw that Turkey would attack Russia, and he also anticipated a Bulgarian invasion of Serbia. There was something paradoxical in the actual situation, inasmuch as Austria-Hungary, after firing the train, had as yet only declared war on Serbia, while Germany was already at war with France, Russia, Belgium, and ourselves.
And so we too were face to face with the issue of life and death. War had been familiar all my life, ever since, as a child, I had touched the fringe of the Austrian and Prussian conflict in 1866. But the hostilities in which we had ourselves actually been engaged had always been in remoter regions of Asia and Africa. Now war was at our very doors, in the Channel and on all the highways that linked us with the daughter lands. Every available man would be needed. I had only one son of military age, and he I knew would go with the first. It seemed uncertain in those first days when I should see any of my family again, or indeed have any news of them.
Early on the 5th of August I received private information from a friendly source that the Breslau had come into Messina and probably the Goeben also. I lost not a moment in transmitting this information to London and Malta, notwithstanding the absence of any telegram from the Vice-ConsuL We then ascertained that telegrams in cypher from Consulates were being refused at the local offices, on the grounds that the use of cypher was restricted to diplomatic representatives. This was at once rectified, and I then received confirmatory news. The cruisers would have to leave on the following day. All through the 6th reports followed one another at brief intervals, and when in the evening I learned that they were steaming eastward through the neutral waters of the narrow strait I went off to dine at the Club with the comfortable conviction that on the following morning I should hear that they had been intercepted. But this was not to be. The escape of the Goeben and the Breslau was the first great disappointment of the war, and its consequences were disastrous. Having had the good fortune to locate them the moment we were free to attack, I felt it the more acutely.
A little incident which took place on the first day of war was characteristic of its pathetic estrangements. A nephew of Field-Marshal von Hindenburg and grandson of Count Münster had married a fellow-countrywoman of ours at Rome while I was counsellor of Embassy. As she was an old friend, and quite alone in the world, she had been married from our house. I well remember then being struck with the tribal spirit of insistence with which the pastor at the chapel of the German Embassy emphasized in his address the words "our people shall be thy people and our God shall be thy God." The Hindenburgs were appointed to Stockholm while I was minister there, and then followed us back to Rome, where he was acting as a secretary at the Palazzo Caffarelli. He now asked to see me, and said that as he felt we should not be able to meet again he wished to come and say good-bye. Naturally we did not discuss the events of the previous days. Only when he expressed his deep regret that our countries should have become enemies, and added that this ought never to have been, I could not help saying: "Why, then, did you violate the neutrality of Belgium?" His answer, in three words, was characteristic : "It was necessary." And so we parted. But I have always gratefully remembered the good feeling which inspired his last visit.
Messages requiring immediate attention at once began to flock in. German merchant vessels actually at Genoa were reported to be making preliminary preparations for conversion into cruisers. Others in various ports were suspected of using their wireless instalment for signalling purposes, a procedure to which the dismantling of the apparatus by the Italian authorities put an end forthwith. The delicate question of the landing from neutral vessels and the transport across Italy of contingent war material had to be studied and discussed. Italian ships were already being detained for search by our cruisers. Problems of which we had little previous experience kept all my staff busily engaged. From the first I found the Italian official world reasonable and even benevolent. There were continual conferences with my French and Russian colleagues as well as with my old friend the Belgian Minister, Count van den Steen, whose calm and dignified attitude was an example to us all while his gallant country was bearing the brunt of a ruthlessness which its heroic determination and constancy made every day more fiercely inexorable.
On the 10th of August Louis Malet, who had been at home on the outbreak of war, passed through Rome on his way to Constantinople. He brought us the first real news from home. The task before him was already a hopeless one in the opinion of the Italian Foreign Office, and had become the more so now that the Goeben and the Breslau had anticipated his arrival. The co-operation of the group which over-awed a weak administration had long ago been secured by Germany.
Letters from England took ten days or more in transit. It was not until the 17th of August that I received my wife's announcement of the safe arrival of our children from Hamburg. A letter from my mother, which reached me about the same time, spoke of the terrible anxiety which she had felt on the 2nd of August when it had seemed as though the advocates of neutrality might prevail. But then, she added, came the violation of neutrality, and "I knew that England's honour was safe from selfish disgrace." She was in her 88th year, and when I read those words I felt proud of my mother.
English newspapers either failed to arrive at all or came in batches ten or twelve days after their issue. The Italian Press provided tolerably full accounts of the opening events of the war, but it soon became difficult to reconcile the contradictory accounts of military movements. Wild rumours were circulated of big naval engagements and holocausts of ships which were reduced in the following days to the sinking of one small cruiser. Such appreciations of the position in the West as the balance of evidence warranted were generally depressing, and in those early days of war one began to wonder how long nerves would stand the daily anxieties and disappointments. At the end of the month, however, the brilliant action of Beatty and Tyrwhitt off Heligoland was a pleasant diversion, after the grim news from Belgium and the unforgivable destruction of Louvain.
The first eminent victim of the European cataclysm was the Pope, at whose enthronement I had assisted some eleven years earlier, for I think there can be little doubt that the outbreak of war accelerated the end of the saintly Pius X. He died in the night of the 9th/10th of August. In so far as his humane sentiments and sincere patriotism might have influenced events, his passing was a loss to the Allies. The contents of his will were touching in their austere simplicity. He had written : "I was born poor, I lived poor, and I shall die poor." He asked that an aged sister might have a pension not exceeding 300 lire a month, and that his valet should receive one of 60. He desired, if his successor would consent, to leave a small sum of money which had been presented to him to his nephews and nieces. What a contrast this modest estate offered to the vast accumulations with which Renaissance and post-Renaissance Popes endowed the families they ennobled. If Pius X was not a great Pontiff, he left behind him the fragrant memory of a lovable nature and a blameless life.
The Conclave which took place a fortnight after his death was brief and apparently calm. And yet the election of Cardinal della Chiesa, Archbishop of Bologna, who had hardly been quoted among the papabili, was rather a surprise. There was, however, method in the choice of one who had been intimately connected with the diplomatic side of ecclesiastical affairs. The prophetic motto for the coming reign, dating from the sixteenth century and attributed to the Benedictine Arnold Wyom, religio depopulata, was significant at such a moment.
A few days later I learned that every Cardinal attending the Conclave, except presumably those of the nations with which the central empires were at war, had received from Germany a long letter in Latin---my informant, who was an excellent judge, added "in bad Latin, too"---representing that Russia was wholly to blame for the war. It was, this tendencious document alleged, in reality a religious war. Russia was the enemy of the Catholic Church, to which her success could only be prejudicial. It was the bounden duty of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to see that all good Catholics opposed the enemy of the Church, with whom it was deplorable that Catholic states like France and Belgium should be in alliance. No opportunity, even in such an unpromising quarter as a Conclave, was neglected by our enemies for the active campaign of suggestion which was initiated the moment hostilities began. At that time France was unrepresented at the Holy See, and the Belgian Minister was a very old man. On the other hand, Austria-Hungary, Prussia and Bavaria had active representatives who were in exclusive possession of the field. I had always advocated that the British Empire, which has so many Catholic subjects, should have means of securing due consideration for their interests by maintaining a diplomatic agent at a centre which has exceptional opportunities for influencing opinion. The latest not very discreet attempt of the enemy to prejudice the Conclave added one more to the arguments in favour of reconsidering our position. These were not weakened by the fact that while the students at the English and Scotch colleges were volunteering in various capacities for the Front, certain members of the Irish college made no secret of their open hostility to the Allies. The decision to appoint a representative was taken in November.
German preparedness for the eventuality of war was revealed by the amount of militant literature with which offices and agencies in Italy were immediately inundated. Means were oven found for introducing such documents into club reading-rooms, from which, however, they were at once removed. One or two minor newspapers were annexed which, while remaining ostensibly Italian journals, disseminated unfavourable appreciations of the Allies. These found so few purchasers that before long the news hawkers retained for their circulation might have been seen distributing them gratis. At the time when the devastation of Belgian towns was exciting universal indignation, I received a letter from a former acquaintance, a German Egyptologist, who bore a distinguished name, inviting me as a credible person who had lived in Germany and had "received kindness from the House of Hohenzollern," to write to the English Press and inform my countrymen that German troops were incapable of acts of vandalism and brutality. The concluding paragraph mentioned that a copy of the letter had already been sent by the writer, without awaiting my answer, to the German Press. This seemed rather foolish and ineffectual, but it illustrated the manner in which every individual, however unofficial or unwarlike, was expected to co-operate. We, on our part, availed ourselves of such opportunities as occasion offered to counter these activities in a manner more discreet and I think more efficient. Such steps, however, the effect of which could only be appreciated by results, did not always satisfy the simplicist mentality of our countrymen, who assumed, because our methods were less apparent, that nothing was being done, and wrote to the papers to complain.
The German effort to influence Italian opinion became the more vigorous after the battle of the Marne and the Russian capture of Lemberg had relieved the anxieties of the black Month of August. The more far-sighted probably already then apprehended that ultimate success was no longer possible.
The Roman correspondent of one of the leading Italian journals told me that it had been suggested to him by the German Embassy that his paper would do well to point out that even if Germany were defeated she would still remain a very strong Power, and that she would have to console herself for what she failed to obtain elsewhere by seeking compensation from Austria, if Austria were doomed to break up. Provided Italy showed patience and remained quiet, Germany would help her to secure Trieste. So, diplomatically at any rate, a prospective sacrifice of the ally was already being contemplated as a propitiation to Italy. I was not surprised when a Minister, to whom I reported the story, ejaculated "Ma! Questo è enorme! " ("No! This is monstrous!")
By that time our organization to correct the propaganda of libel and misrepresentation instituted by our enemies was beginning to have its effect. Willing helpers did not fail us, and I may here a little anticipate events by referring to the splendid work done at Milan for the allied cause by Donna Bettina di Casanova who, as the daughter of an Italian father and a British mother, had an almost dual nationality and, if I may say so without doing violence to the modesty of a dear friend who is happily still alive, combined the best qualities of both. Her influence was all the greater because of a long previous record of useful and charitable service which commanded universal respect. All that was in the first instance attempted was to have available an adequate supply of simple documents showing stage by stage with chapter and verse the effort we had made to avert war. These, which were reproduced without comment, were supplemented by a collection of opinions of high authority from neutral sources, and by first-hand evidence regarding the methods applied in dragooning Belgium. Means were found, through friendly sympathizers, of introducing such literature into popular libraries throughout the kingdom, so that the simple man had opportunity to form his own judgment as to the rights and wrongs of the great issue. The relatively small sum required for translation and printing was the only expense which fell upon the Treasury during the earlier weeks of the war. Later Donna Bettina founded at Milan, with the help of an indefatigable secretary, Signorina Boschetti, a British-Italian Institute, which proved invaluable for maintaining contact between the subjects of the two countries by supplying information, correcting misapprehensions, and organizing lectures. It was copied in its general lines and purposes at Florence, Genoa, and Rome.
My old friend, Dick Bagot, the author, who had lived in Italy for many years, travelled about the country lecturing and writing, and I have no doubt he rendered useful service. But as he elected to act independently and not to fall into line with any organization reporting to the Embassy, I had little opportunity of estimating the value of his activities.
No single individual did more to influence opinion in the country than the Belgian deputy, Destrée, who gave a series of lectures in the principal cities. Gifted with an eloquence which could assume a moving dramatic quality, he had the power of holding himself in reserve until exactly the right moment, when, after a harrowing picture of the sufferings of his country told with effective restraint, he allowed his vibrating voice to break into an emotional appeal to which his audience never failed to respond. Though addressing Italians in French, he was able to sway them with a power which I have known few orators to exercise. Destrée was not only a politician with broad social sympathies, but he was also an eminent authority on Flemish art and a lover of all beautiful things. It was therefore always a pleasure to see him when he came to the Embassy to report progress.
A retrospective study of letters and of notes made at the time justifies me in claiming to have correctly estimated the sentiments of the Italian people long before the question of their active participation became acute. The public feeling in the country which really counted was strongly and consistently with the allies. There was a general approval of the attitude which we had adopted, and a conviction that what we were striving to uphold was also of vital import for Italy. There were, on the other hand, certain very influential sections of the nation to which their own particular interests were of such urgent concern as to make them blind to the issue of right and wrong in the great struggle. A number, in Rome probably a majority, of those who form the privileged class, identified the two groups of combatants respectively with democracy and aristocracy, and saw a new menace to their weakening status in the eventual triumph of the Allies. The magnates of finance were with rare exceptions deeply involved in the German economic machine which had for many years established a dominant grip on Italian economy. The extreme Socialists condemned war on any account. The peasantry, on whom the burden of war falls most severely and particularly in a country of small farmers whose prosperity depends on the labour of their sons, were inarticulate but pacific. Finally, the Church, whose function it is to seek peace and ensue it was not only bound to adopt an attitude of neutrality but could hardly be, and certainly was not, indifferent to the fate of its most faithful supporter, the Austrian Empire, while it could hardly ignore the vitality of German Catholicism. I do not pretend to gauge the accuracy of the various rumours which were current regarding the real sympathies of the hierarchy, though there were moments when the attitude of the Vatican certainly appeared anything but friendly to ourselves. I remember, however, that a witty monsignor was reported, towards the end of the war, to have remarked that it was curious that the Holy Father, who was infallible, should have been convinced that the central empires would triumph, whereas the Cardinal Secretary of State, who was not infallible, believed in the ultimate victory of the Allies. In any case, even if we eliminate the Church altogether, there were, in the groups which I have enumerated and especially among those who were making big profits by the transmission of supplies to Germany, all the elements of a very strong neutralist party.
There was, moreover, present in the minds of many, before the methods of warfare employed had roused the public conscience, a genuine sense of reluctance to take a step which might seem directly to violate the moral pledge connoted by a longstanding alliance. The case for neutrality had been incontestably clear. That for intervention appeared more open to question. There were also practical considerations of vital importance which for a time at any rate were bound to give pause to the most eager advocates of action. Military equipment had been gravely depleted during the war with Turkey, and no one had really believed the ministerial assurances regarding its replacement, which were complacently accepted by a chamber well satisfied to have escaped additional taxation. The troops with the colours had for economical reasons been reduced to a minimum, and conscripts had been allowed to return to the farms only half trained. There was practically no heavy artillery available. The war had taken the country by surprise, and found it unprepared for an emergency. Attacks on the War Department were in fact now pressed home, and they led in October to the resignation of the War Minister and of the Under-Secretary of State.
Notwithstanding all these adverse factors, there were from the first a number of zealots who sought to bring Italy actively into line with Great Britain, France and Belgium. These included not only Nationalists in whose creed the first article of faith was the recovery of the unredeemed provinces, but also Radicals, Republicans and not a few of the Socialists. It was good to hear in my own room a prominent deputy from the Marches make the admission: "Though as a Republican I ought not to say such a thing, what I should like to see would be the King placing himself at the head of the nation to march against the hereditary enemy." But the Republicans in Italy were Republicans of tradition, maintaining the secular protest against the old order, inherited from the gospel of Mazzini, and they are to-day among the best of citizens. During the six years that I had already been Ambassador in Rome I had, while careful not to be more intimate with any one group or party than with another, endeavoured to keep touch with men of every denomination. It was most gratifying to realize how in these critical times men of the most varying political colour gave me their fullest confidence and never abused the frankness with which I met them. But while it was legitimate firmly to maintain our standpoint and to emphasize our determination at all costs to carry the issue to a conclusive end, some discretion in the language used was always necessary, for the very men who were working most actively in support of the Allies would have lost ground if that activity could have been represented as other than spontaneous.
The difficulty at such moments for diplomatists, whom social conditions and conventions have inclined to move in a restricted circle, must always be to find the real pulse of the nation. This was the task which I now set myself. I had to estimate which tendency would finally prevail in a country where the tradition has always been at crucial moments for the people to scendere in piazza, to come out into the public square, and pronounce themselves. Which way would their decision point? While I attached little importance to the opinions of the social world, which were generally influenced by purely selfish considerations, I never doubted that the people who really mattered, the articulate middle class of the cities, meant right and, little more than a month after the outbreak of war, though fully conscious of the counterinfluences at work, I recorded in writing my belief that the Italians would in due course take the great resolution.
The Prime Minister, Signor Salandra, a man of the highest principle and integrity, allowed me, without in any way committing himself, to form a tolerably clear diagnosis of the bias of his own personal inclinations. It was a great satisfaction to find that the Minister of the Colonies, my old friend Ferdinando Martini, the greatest living master of his own beautiful Tuscan speech, saw eye to eye with us. On the other hand, I had some misgivings regarding the attitude of the Foreign Department, where there was an influential group which believed in the necessity of placating Germany. With San Giuliano himself I had been on terms of friendship for many years. He had been so closely identified with Triplicist policy that I felt it would be more difficult for him than for others to take a new departure. He had, moreover, been Giolitti's nominee for the post of Foreign Minister which he retained under Salandra, and Giolitti, though still in those early days maintaining an enigmatic silence, was understood to hold firmly to the principle of neutrality. San Giuliano had, however, a very plastic mentality, and at the opportune moment his unfailing resource would have found a ready way to liberate himself from former obligations. Salandra, who as his colleague and chief can speak with authority, has stated that San Giuliano did not fail to perceive that the European conflagration would hasten the hour for completing the work of the Risorgimento. He did in fact himself suggest to me the initiation of conversations with a view to defining the conditions to which we should be prepared to agree if Italy were eventually to range herself on our side. But his subtle and contriving mind was disposed to contemplate too many hypotheses and to overload proposals with an elaboration of safeguards. At that time the party of action still regarded him as an obstacle.
I look back to the first grim weeks of war, before the mind had adapted itself to circumstances, with the horror of a nightmare. The worst period of all was that immediately preceding the battle of the Marne. Living in a foreign country where every development was being anxiously watched, we who had no accurate knowledge of the military situation seemed to feel the tide closing in with a menace of decisive conclusions before the weight of our effort could be brought to bear on the issue. I shall never forget the immeasurable relief with which we received the series of messages announcing the turn of the tide, or the sense of gratitude we felt to the old Russian Army which sacrificed itself to redress the balance, and to Italy whose immediate declaration of neutrality, enabling some 300,000 men to be withdrawn from the French Alpine frontier, had contributed to that decisive victory. During those early weeks the burden of work imposed on the Embassy by the problems arising from the restriction of maritime transport, detention of contraband and questions of ultimate destination was very heavy. The urgent pressure to obtain releases of cargo, the holding up of which in a country whose industry depended on imported raw material involved the risk to thousands of losing their employment, was a constant strain. The first transitional stage was the most exacting. As time went on the situation was relieved by a series of decrees prohibiting the exportation from Italy of many commodities, including a number of foodstuffs.
My staff was at present restricted to the ordinary peacetime effective, and as our military difficulties increased, all the younger men were impatient to volunteer for the Front. Moved by the pleadings of Clark-Kerr, I expressed my readiness to try and carry on without him, only to be told that as he could be spared he was to proceed at once to the Legation at Teheran. If I was a little ruffled at such advantage being taken of my altruism I must admit that the decision of the Foreign Office to retain all hands at their posts and to make no exceptions was quite sound. I was more successful in bringing about the release of the naval attaché, who was in a condition bordering on melancholia at being chained to a desk in war time, and my friend Boyle soon found an opportunity to add new laurels to a name famous in naval annals. He was replaced by Captain Larking, who had retired before the war as a commander, but had at once rejoined. His appointment was a fortunate one, as no one could have better filled a post which in war time called for special qualities. The military attaché, Colonel Peter Granet, was also soon to be recalled, and his place was taken by Colonel Sir Charles Lamb, who had already acted in that capacity in the days of Lord Currie.
An offer of voluntary assistance from Mr., afterwards Sir, Edward Capel-Cure, who was almost my own contemporary, was very welcome. After taking his degree at Oxford, he had entered the University of Siena, and having passed the greater part of his life in Italy, he had become completely bilingual. His studies of the economic progress of the country had brought him into intimate personal relations with industrialists, politicians and journalists, and his services as a sympathetic exponent of Italian aspirations had already been recognized by the State. We had been slightly acquainted for some years when he proposed at considerable personal sacrifice to leave his home in Lombardy and establish himself at my disposal in Rome, together with his daughter, who quickly became a most efficient secretary and typist. He was a believer in the soundness of an Italian precept which lays down that when you really want something you go about it in person, when you do not much care you write. Capel-Cure always went himself, and with infinite patience he waited or returned for the answer which he never failed to obtain. His services proved so indispensable that I was before long authorized to place him in charge of the commercial work at the Embassy which, under war conditions, ranged far beyond the normal activities of that section. It would not be possible to exaggerate the value of the work he performed, both while acting as a sort of private secretary and later when he was definitely incorporated in the official staff.
The long delay in the arrival of mails became the more trying when the casualty lists included the names of those who were very near to us. Every relative we could claim of military age had gone to the Front. My eldest son, who during his year at Balliol had learned the elements of gunnery in the Officers' Training Corps, had received. a commission in the artillery. He was not yet quite nineteen, having gone to Oxford unusually early. I had not seen him for six months, and any prospect of seeing him again now seemed very remote. The four other children were all settled at school, and my wife was to join me in Rome as soon as possible. A letter announced the rescue, after an hour's swim in the North Sea, of a nephew who had been in one of the three cruisers sunk off the Hook of Holland. From the newspapers of the 21st of September I learned the death of another nephew, David Bingham, of the Coldstreams, a universal favourite who was killed together with George Wyndham's son. I am not by nature superstitious, but I had been impressed soon after the war began by a particularly vivid dream in which I saw my sister-in-law, Rose Bingham, who had been dead some six years, hurriedly enter the room, and felt that she was looking for her boy. This dream, of which I told some of the staff the following morning, had, I must admit, made me watch the casualty lists with some apprehension. Not long afterwards a third nephew to whom we were much attached, John Anstruther, was reported missing. He was one of a group on the manner of whose end no light has ever been thrown, in spite of every effort to obtain information.
In the beginning of October the rheumatic gout, from which San Giuliano had suffered more or less acutely during the whole of his life, assumed a very grave phase. I saw him for the last time on the 12th. His brain was as clear and keen as ever, but the slightest movement gave him pain. "Have you heard," he asked, "the latest announcement made by the German Emperor? His Majesty has been all-graciously pleased, in recognition of eminent services to the House of Hohenzollern, to accord the dignity of von to the Alter Deutscher Gott, who would in future be known as Herr von Gott. " He winced a little as he laughed at his own story. He begged me once more to urge upon my Government the necessity of considering eventual conditions for co-operation which might be mutually accepted without further delay if and when occasion arose. So full was he of the future that when I left him I believed that he had turned the corner. That night his heart became affected. But he would not give in, and continued to work to the last, bearing great pain with admirable fortitude. There was an heroic quality in San Giuliano's struggle for life during the world's crisis after forty years of battle with the hereditary malady. He died on the afternoon of the 16th.
Since the discrediting of the Triple Alliance he had been attacked from several quarters. But he remained serene and content to answer "respice finem." Our conversations justify the presumption that he would not have been less prepared for action than any other Italian statesman when he felt that the moment was ripe, and I have little doubt that in the end we should have had San Giuliano on our side. But he would have been a difficult and elusive factor in the conduct of negotiations. Though I had not always agreed with his policy in the past, and had experienced some difficulty in identifying the direction in which his flexible mind was working, I had a real liking for an old friend whose indomitable pluck commanded respect, and I followed him on his last journey to St. Mary of the Angels in the Baths of Diocletian with genuine regret.
By a curious coincidence his death was almost simultaneous with that of King Charles of Roumania, for whom it was even more difficult to detach himself from association with the Triple Alliance and loyalty to the dynasty whose name he bore.
Salandra assumed temporary charge of the Foreign Office. In taking over the department he addressed the assembled staff, and pronounced a brief but eloquent panegyric on the dead Minister. At the close of his speech occurred the words, "Sacro egoismo per l'Italia," which immediately attracted the attention of critics both in Italy and in other countries. Removed from their context the words might no doubt be interpreted not too benevolently as recommending the exclusion of any but purely selfish national motives from consideration. Taken with the context there is nothing ungracious in their import. The speaker was indicating the qualities indispensable to the statesman who in so grave a moment had to maintain the continuity of policy, and at the end of the enumeration, he concluded by saying: "His mind must be liberated from every preconception, from every prejudice, from every sentiment save that of exclusive and unlimited devotion to our fatherland and of a holy egoism for Italy."
While it seems to me that injustice was done to Salandra in the interpretation which was attributed to the actual words in this address, I do not altogether agree with his defence of them in the notes to the published collection of his speeches delivered during the war. He has there written that the war was not fought for the sake of humanity, for justice, for democracy. The war was fought and won by the Italians for Italy, by the French for France, by the British for Britain, by the Americans for America. Those ideals, which our enemy rejected, he admitted, ennobled the war and triumphed in the final victory. But you cannot make men die for justice, for humanity, for democracy. For their country you still can. I believe and hope to show in the ensuing chapters that sentiment played a very considerable part in preparing the mentality of the Italian people to take the great decision. I am equally convinced that when my own countrymen most reluctantly approved the arbitrament of war they were little moved by considerations of political or commercial rivalry. Their country's word was pledged to support Belgium. Their friends had been aggressively attacked. And they were ready to fight because they believed it to be right.
Grave events now began to follow one another in rapid succession. The tragedy of Craddock's ill-fated squadron was .counterbalanced by the magnificent resistance of the thin khaki line at Ypres which saved the Channel ports. The unprovoked Turkish bombardment of defenceless Russian ports in the Black Sea led to a state of war with the Ottoman Empire, and our enemies, who were responsible for the aggression, saw no reason to restrain their latest ally from launching a sort of Jehad against all Christians with exceptions in favour of Germany and Austria. In the beginning of December the Serbians took the offensive, and after a series of brilliant actions expelled the enemy from their territory with heavy losses of men and guns. In Italy reluctance on the part of the Minister of the Treasury to concede the credits demanded by the War Minister brought about the resignation of the Cabinet.
The withdrawal of our Embassy from Constantinople had for us the happy result of bringing the Gerald Wellesleys to Rome, where the assistance of another experienced secretary was greatly needed. They had been able to carry little with them, and had to leave most of their household goods as hostages to fortune. My wife meanwhile made a prosperous voyage out in a Netherlands steamship. Sea journeys did not as yet give the same grounds for anxiety as during the latter years of the war. But it was a relief when she safely reached Genoa, where I met her, taking for the purpose a brief holiday of two days, almost the only one I was to have for four years. We spent it in motoring to Rome.
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