SOCIAL AND DIPLOMATIC MEMORIES, 1902-1919
BY THE RIGHT HON. SIR JAMES RENNELL RODD, G.C.B.
A Franco-Italian incident. Visitors to the Embassy. Attempt on life of King of Italy. The Dedication of the Campanile at Venice. Italo-Turkish peace negotiations. Germany and Great Britain. A Corsican Vendetta. The Balkan States attack Turkey. The Layard bequest. Death of Sir Reginald Lister. V. Jagow appointed Foreign Minister at Berlin. His hopes for an understanding with Great Britain. Austrian pressure on Italy to join in action against Montenegro and Serbia. The historic Ball at the British Embassy. Second Balkan Wax. Second Austrian attempt to involve Italy in aggression against Serbia. The Conference of Ambassadors. Albania. Aubrey Herbert. Deadlock in negotiations regarding the Layard collection.
Social life was little affected by a war which was carefully localized and which exacted relatively few sacrifices. No special war taxes were imposed, and this was no doubt one of the reasons why the nation betrayed no impatience as the months wore on. An effort made soon after the New Year by Sazonow, who was now Minister for Foreign Affairs in Russia, to intervene in a spirit of friendliness to Italy was regarded as premature. Some two months later the Ambassadors in Rome were instructed to inquire of the Italian Government on what conditions they would consent to a cessation of hostilities. Turkey, however, declined to entertain any negotiations unless Italy would renounce annexation.
At the beginning of the year an unfortunate incident occurred. A French mail steamer, the Carthage, on its way to Tunis, was stopped by an Italian warship patrolling North African waters. A request from Paris that mail steamers should not be detained failed to reach Rome in time to prevent another vessel, the Manouba, being ordered into a Sardinian port pending instructions regarding some members of the Turkish Red Crescent who were on board. Such naval issues should not in themselves have presented serious difficulties, and the President of the Council at once proposed to the French Chargé d'Affaires---the Ambassador was absent---that the question of right should be referred to the International Tribunal at The Hague for settlement. This proposal, of which the Press in Rome was immediately informed, had apparently not been made known to M. Poincaré, who was then Prime Minister, before he dealt with the matter in the Chamber of Deputies. In any case, he did not mention it in his speech, and he referred to the detention of the vessels in terms of such asperity as almost to appear like a menace. His words aroused strong resentment in Italy, and the cordial relations which had prevailed since the outbreak of the war, were inevitably compromised.
The fact that this episode happened almost to synchronize with a visit to Italy of the German Foreign Minister, Kiderlin Waechter, was responsible for a rumour, which I did not credit, that the Triple Alliance had been renewed a year before the date was due. There was, however, more justification for the report than I believed at the time, inasmuch as Germany and Austria did take advantage of the excitement aroused by the Manouba incident to propose an immediate renewal. Giolitti, while expressing his cordial appreciation of the offer, insisted that recognition of the annexation of Libya must be a condition of signature. As Germany and Austria had proclaimed their neutrality on the outbreak of the war, they could not, while it was still in progress, recognize as already determined the very issue which stood in the way of peace. The renewal did not in fact take place until December 1912.
Our family reassembled in Rome for the Christmas holidays, and on their conclusion my eldest son, who was just sixteen, did not return to Eton. We had decided, in spite of the strong protests of his tutor, to take him away after four years and send him to Germany. He spent nearly a twelvemonth at Weimar, and continued there to prepare for Oxford while doing all his work in German. The process was then repeated in French for six months at Geneva, after which he was accepted at Balliol before he was actually eighteen. Neither he nor we have ever regretted that decision. He had had every opportunity of picking up Italian in his holidays, and thus went up to the University perfectly at home in three foreign languages. He had only been some four terms at Oxford when the war broke out, and he of course volunteered at once. His knowledge of languages proved so useful that after about a year in France he was employed on various special services, which finally brought him to Damascus a short time before hostilities were suspended.
In addition to our own numerous family, one or two of my wife's nieces, or cousins and friends adopted as nieces, used to come at Christmas and spend a portion of the winter and spring with us, so that the house was always cheerful with young people. The unfailing supply of charming nieces became proverbial in Rome. The one who was most constantly with us was unconsciously learning the duties she has now to perform as the wife of our Minister in Persia.
During the years preceding the Great War we had, moreover, a constant series of guests. The most fascinating of cities seems to exercise a peculiar charm even upon those who are little moved by its classical and medieval associations. Their comments on their experiences were often entertaining. I remember one who returned to lunch interested but exhausted, after a long morning in the "Cistern Chapel." A genial foxhunting squire, who only came to take his wife home, was most appreciative after a twenty-four hours' visit. He had, he told me, seen practically everything there was to see driving round for several hours in a small carriage. " Of course," he added, "I did not get out anywhere except once to have a glass of beer, and a very good glass of beer it was." I have always been profoundly grateful to a very charming lady, whom we had accompanied to Tivoli, for the pleasure which a comment of hers unconsciously gave me. After lunch under the Temple of the Sibyl, I suggested that it might interest her to motor on some nine miles farther, through the beautiful valley of the Anio to see Horace's Sabine farm. She welcomed the proposition, but observed: " I never knew before that Horace Farquhar had property in Italy."
On the 14th of March, while the King and Queen were driving to the Pantheon at eight in the morning, to take part in a memorial service, at the tombs of the two first sovereigns of United Italy, shots were fired at His Majesty by a young anarchist in the Corso. One of these wounded the Commandant of the Body-guard, though happily not severely. At a moment when the nation was more than ever united by the war and the popularity of the King was great, such an act was doubly deplorable. The miserable creature was with difficulty rescued from the crowd, who would have lynched him, and the Sovereigns were the object of enthusiastic demonstrations.
That spring we were invited to Venice to be present at the opening of the Exhibition of Art and the dedication of the restored Tower of St. Mark. I little realized that this was destined to be my last visit to a hostess, who had long been associated with my Venice, the late Lady Layard, in her hospitable red house on the Grand Canal, where then still hung the pictures which are now in the National Gallery. The dedication was one of the most impressively beautiful ceremonies I have ever witnessed. The Loggia of the Ducal Palace was filled with thousands of children in white, and as the Duke of Genoa who represented the King landed at the Piazzetta, their young voices rose in chorus, intoning the cantata of the Campanile to the music of Benedetto Marcello's setting of the 32nd Psalm. After a brief address from Count Grimani, the syndic, and another from the Minister of Public Instruction, two thousand carrier pigeons were released from the high gallery of the tower to bear the announcement of its completion to every city of Italy. In an intense silence you heard the beating of their wings as they circled round the summit before dispersing on their several roads. Then from the central portal of the Basilica issued a magnificent procession of Bishops in resplendent vestments, who, together with Armenian and Albanian ecclesiastical dignitaries, preceded the Cardinal Archbishop to a platform in front of the church. On the conclusion of the consecration the deep voice of the Marangona bell, after ten years of silence, boomed from the tower top, resonant above the clangour of the lesser peals from all the churches, and the heart of every Venetian leapt to hear the once familiar tone again. Cannon fired a salute as the flag ran up to its olden place, and the voices of the children united in Mameli's patriotic hymn as the procession streamed back into the cathedral.
At a banquet in the evening I was invited to speak on behalf of the foreign representatives present. The choice was really appropriate, for the great Tower had been associated for me with early memories of the spring of 1866, when the white-coated Austrian military band for the last time played in the piazza. I had seen the débris piled like a huge pyramid just after it had subsided, and had watched the structure rising again till it resumed its old dominance over the city of art and story, symbolizing the renewal of its youth and energy.
The vicissitudes of the Italo-Turkish War several times threatened to create friction, especially with Austria, where the military party was understood to be pressing for action in Albania. Aehrenthal, however, was more prudent, and it was significant that General Conrad, who was regarded in Italy as the advocate of aggression, ceased to be chief of the staff, a post to which he was recalled during the Balkan War after the death of Aehrenthal. The latter, who died suddenly in February, was succeeded by Count Berchtold, who followed the same line of policy, but without his predecessor's more statesmanlike discernment. Constant exchanges of views with the other Powers and abortive proposals for mediation kept us busy. Then as the weeks dragged on, Italy concluded that more drastic measures must be taken. A bombardment of the Dardanelles forts led to the closing of the Straits to shipping, and some 130 vessels, the majority under the British flag, were immobilized. The position became so serious that, while supporting the strong protest against this order made at Constantinople by Russia, we were tentatively examining whether it would not be possible to release shipping by some such device as a local armistice when fortunately Turkey yielded and no further steps were necessary. Towards the end of April, the Italians took the island of Stampalia, and in May they occupied Rhodes with a number of the southern Sporades, which have now come to be known as the Dodecanese. This name had in Byzantine times rather been applied to a group of twelve islands in the Cyclades which in the thirteenth century constituted the Duchy of Naxos. A little later Admiral Millo with a flotilla of torpedo boats made a gallant dash into the Dardanelles, which he penetrated to a distance of some 20 kilometres, only to find the Turkish fleet secured from direct attack by an impenetrable barrage. The occupation of the islands was followed by a decree for the expulsion of all Italians from Turkey which, in this curious war of compromises, was never seriously carried into effect.
Certain tentative measures initiated in June with a view to bringing Italy and Turkey into direct contact led to a meeting at Lausanne between Italian representatives and a Turkish Mission presided over by Said Halim. Pasha, the President of the Council of State. Then began a series of interminable negotiations with successive delegates from Constantinople, which were typical of the Turkish genius for protracting discussion and deferring an obviously inevitable settlement. The issue had long ago become one of form and not of substance. Tripoli and Cyrenaica were clearly lost to the Ottoman Empire, but Turkey still sought for some solution which would not diminish her prestige with the Arab populations. Italy, on the other hand, remained unyielding on the question of her sovereignty, and declined to consider any conditions which appeared to impugn it.
An ultimatum threatening the resumption of "complete liberty of action" was at length addressed to the Turkish Government. Just before the time limit expired, on the 10th of October, means were devised to secure its extension till the 15th, when the preliminaries were accepted and hostilities were suspended. Meanwhile, the long gathering storm-cloud in the Balkans had burst. Our influence at Constantinople had been strongly exercised in favour of the conclusion of peace with Italy, and San Giuliano admitted to me that it had probably had a deciding effect. The peace of Ouchy was finally signed on the 18th of October.
After what Jagow had told me regarding the strong anti-British sentiment which he had found prevailing in Germany, I was the more preoccupied when in the late spring of 1912 Count Paul Metternich was recalled from the German Embassy in London. My anxiety was not diminished by the announcement that he would be replaced by Baron Marschall von Bieberstein, whose policy as Ambassador at Constantinople had been constantly inimical to our interests. I had known him five and twenty years before as Minister of Baden at Berlin, and although his ability was unquestioned, I could not believe that the change indicated any desire at Berlin to improve an already delicate position in London. Metternich had sincerely done his best to overcome difficulties and had been appreciated in England, both officially and socially, in spite of a certain reserve and an extreme caution in expressing himself. He did not consider it incompatible with being himself a good patriot to desire the friendship of Great Britain and to ensue it. His crime was to have told the truth to his own people, and to have made it clear that the continual increase in the German Navy was the real impediment to better relations. After the fiasco of Agadir, and the Guildhall declaration, the advocates of the big fleet had gained the Imperial ear, and counsels of moderation were more than ever unwelcome. To these influences a good man was sacrificed.
I had occasionally endeavoured to elicit from Jagow what Admiral von Tirpitz really contemplated, and was conscious that the question embarrassed him. He admitted that the average man in England could hardly help regarding the naval expansion of Germany as a menace to his country, and yet he would not allow that it was directed against ourselves in particular. The impression I derived from conversations with him was that naval strength was regarded as an essential element in the policy accepted in Berlin, which demanded that Germany should be strong enough to impose her will by leaving other nations in no doubt that she had the power to do so. And I was reminded of Bülow's observation that though there might be no more great wars much might still be accomplished by the dread of war. To bluff successfully one must habitually hold strong cards.
During the long-drawn-out peace negotiations in Switzerland there was a lack of incident at my post, where I was chiefly engaged in reporting on prize-court cases, so that I was able to contemplate a long leave in the late summer. Mr. Churchill, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, paid a visit to Malta, the most important result of which, so far as I was personally concerned, was that he gave orders on grounds of economy for the sale of the Port Admiral's schooner, the Mavourneen. An Italian gentleman was anxious to acquire the Onyx, and I therefore replaced her with the Mavourneen, which had much more accommodation for our growing family, and which, in spite of considerable age, was the finest and stiffest craft in which I have ever sailed. Captain Cooke and my crew went to Malta to take her over, and brought her to Posillipo. After turning over stores we began our holiday with a cruise which gave us ample opportunity to test her sea-going capacity, sailing to Gaeta and then to Bastia in Corsica.
That beautiful island, perhaps the most beautiful of any I have explored, seemed at that time to be suffering from administrative indifference. The Vice-Consul at Bastia, who was most kind and attentive, had acquired a large farm some eight miles from the town, where he grew maize, tobacco, oranges, and early vegetables for the Nice market. After a series of bad years he was beginning to do well when a notorious bandit, named Paoli, established himself in a small house on a property adjoining his estate. Paoli, after deserting from the army, had killed a douanier, and had been sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment, but he escaped after nine months' detention. The Paolis, who really belonged to another section of the island, had a family feud with the Sanguinettis. A Sanguinetti had killed a Paoli on the Bastia road about a year before, and it was explained to me that the bandit could not in any case leave the island until he had done his duty by killing a Sanguinetti. He had two nephews with him, and a dog trained to give the alarm if anyone approached his cabin. The local population, who had to furnish him with supplies, were terrorized and neither the Vice-Consul nor his neighbours could retain any labourers on their farms. No attempt was made to arrest this fugitive from justice, though his house was close to the high-road, running parallel with the railway which connects Bastia with Ajaccio. During that summer the Vice-Consul had been in England, and had left his property and office in charge of two young Englishmen named Anderson, who had lived all their lives in Corsica. While out shooting partridges they had approached imprudently near the bandit's cottage. The latter, probably mistaking the Andersons for policemen in disguise, fired from his window, hitting one of the brothers in the head. The other, who went to his assistance, was subjected to a fusillade from a repeating rifle, but fortunately without effect. The Vice-Consul, who returned in haste from leave, could not induce anyone to move. The judicial authorities were amiability itself ; they requested him to make a report, but explained that it was for the gendarmerie to take action. This the latter did not seem disposed to do. There were five Paolis to carry on the vendetta if anything should happen to this one. It was even suggested to the Vice-Consul that he might take the matter in hand himself. I went with him to his farm and, from a reasonable distance, inspected the bandit's house barely a hundred yards away from the high-road.
Not many days later, when passing through Paris, I explained the situation to a friend at the Quai d'Orsay, and on my return to London I was able to amplify the Vice-Consul's representations. Then, on receipt of peremptory orders from Paris, the local authorities were at length stirred to action. The bandit seems to have been well informed, as he got away to a cave in the mountains. There he was blockaded, and an attempt was made to smoke him out. But the cave had an issue on the other side of the hill, and he was still at large when I last heard of him.
We had reached England at the end of September after leaving our two daughters at school in Geneva. I was summoned soon after my arrival to Balmoral, and we just had time to pay visits to Wynyard, Blagdon and Gosford, where I saw for the last time that splendid veteran, Lord Wemyss, looking like a Venetian Doge in his crimson silk dressing-gown, when my leave was out short by the outbreak of the Balkan conflagration. A new massacre of Macedonians had revived the demand for Macedonian autonomy, and little Montenegro opened the ball by declaring war on Turkey, just a week before the latter had finally agreed to accept the Italian peace conditions. The Great Powers vainly endeavoured to restrain the Balkan States, and rather ingenuously proclaimed that no territorial changes would be tolerated. Ambassadors could not well be absent from their posts, and I reached Rome on the day on which the Treaty of Peace with Turkey was signed at Ouchy.
It has been generally accepted that the Balkan outbreak was a result of the Italo-Turkish War, since experts had pronounced it as contrary to precedent in that incalculable region that the crisis should have occurred at the beginning of winter. It is true that the Comitadjis and mountain peoples were more disposed to take the warpath in the spring and summer, but the Bulgarians, to whom the gathering of their harvest was a paramount consideration, had been trained to winter warfare. In so far as any weakening of Ottoman resources might have acted as a stimulus to the Balkan States, a connection with the war in Tripoli might be sustained. But the military strength of the Ottoman Empire had not really been much affected by a campaign which was strictly localized, and in which only insignificant forces were engaged. It was rather the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina which had revived the germs of unrest. The chronic rivalries which had always divided jealous neighbours had hitherto made any concerted action in the Balkans impossible. But the ability of M. Venezelos and the goodwill of M. Gueshoff, the Bulgarian Minister, with the co-operation of a capable and convinced intermediary in my old friend of Athenian days, J. D. Bourchier, had accomplished the miracle, and the Balkan League was established.
The first phase of the war was brief and decisive for the fate of Turkey in Europe. The complete collapse of the armies of a fighting race, which had been trained by German officers, surprised every one. The revolution with its shattering of old loyalties, and the new domination of the Young Turks seemed to have demoralized the ranks, whose faith in the Padishah was gone, while the officers had all become politicians. With meteoric rapidity the Bulgarians, after defeating the enemy at Kirk Kilisse and Lulé Burgas, advanced on the road to Constantinople. A Greek army fought its way through to Salonika, while another was pressing Jannina. Prevesa surrendered to a Greek squadron, and the islands of Lemnos, Thasos and Stratos were occupied. The Serbians carried Uskub, and sent 80,000 men to join the Bulgarians in besieging Adrianople, while the Montenegrins held Scutari closely invested. Turkey was compelled to conclude an armistice at Chatalja on the last lines which separated Bulgaria from the capital.
The Powers, hypnotized by their old fetish of preserving the status quo, had had a rude awakening. Opinion at home favoured the policy of allowing the Balkan States full liberty to enjoy the fruits of their victories, and such seemed also to be the view held in Italy, whose chief concern was the future autonomy and integrity of Albania. But those who had maintained that the rivalries of the small nations would make any real co-operation between them impossible were, after all, to be to some extent justified in their opinion by the dissensions which ensued among the victors themselves, and which eventually brought about the second Balkan War.
Our kind hostess of the spring, Lady Layard, died after a very brief illness in November. She had lived for thirty-five years in her Venetian home, universally esteemed for her large heart, her quick intelligence, and her public spirit. A gracious old-world atmosphere surrounded the stately lady of Ca Capello, and made all who fell under its influence proud to be numbered among her friends. The question of giving execution to the provision of Sir Henry Layard's will, bequeathing his pictures to the British nation after the death of his widow, was now to give me no little occupation and anxiety over many months. It was not, in fact, definitely disposed of until nearly a year and a half later.
Since I had been first concerned with the Layard bequest in 1904, new legislation had been adopted in Italy, further restricting the exportation of works of art. It was still in the discretion of the State to determine what objects were of such national interest as to justify their retention in the country, and the estimate of national interest was far more comprehensively interpreted. But the new law also laid down that any works of art more than fifty years old, of which the exportation was contemplated, must first be submitted to the competent department with the valuation which the intending exporter assigned to them. The State might then acquire them at that valuation or, if export was sanctioned, impose an export duty rising progressively in proportion to the amount of the valuation ultimately established.
So far as the six pictures which had been under discussion in 1904 were concerned, authority to remove them had been definitely conceded. But I was informed that there were upwards of ten others which would now be classified as of national interest. The Trustees of the National Gallery, on the other hand, held that as it had already been agreed that certain pictures in the Layard collection, which had been brought from England to Italy, might return there, they were entitled to remove the whole collection, to which the arguments which had been admitted as valid in 1904 applied in equal measure. It would perhaps have been difficult to establish that there had been no additions to the gallery after its transfer to Venice, but they were in any case unimportant, and proof had been adduced regarding the large majority. I argued the British case from the point of view of equity, and of the obvious intention which had prevailed in 1904. But doubts were expressed as to whether the former decision had been legally sound, and in any case the letter of the existing law was very definite. A caveat should no doubt have been entered when the new legislation was under discussion. I was, however, then no longer in Rome, and its effect on the Layard bequest was probably not realized. The issue was still undecided when some months later it became necessary to remove its contents from the house which was to be sold, and the pictures were, under agreement with the Italian Government, temporarily deposited in the Correr Museum.
Only a few days after Lady Layard my old friend, Reggie Lister, our Minister at Tangier, died there of malaria at the relatively early age of forty-seven. Our intimacy dated from the merry days at 40 Grosvenor Square, when a certain social group, on whom the Tennant family exercised a magnetic charm, came to be known as the Souls. He had then just passed into Sandhurst at the head of the list, but Reggie was never meant to be a soldier, and he wisely elected instead to enter a profession for which he was admirably suited. His high spirits, his unfailing humour, and a laughter that was appreciative and infectious were a passport to every society. He had discriminating taste, and much of the artist's temperament. But he had a still rarer gift, the power of attracting sympathy by an instinctive disposition to understand and like his fellow-men. This made him invaluable as a diplomatist, for his frank advances invited confidence and discounted prejudice, and there was sound judgment and perspicacity behind the engaging manner of the eternal boy. He loved his profession, to which his early death was a real loss. The concluding words of a generous appreciation of his character written in the Temps by that eminent critic of public affairs, M. Tardieu, will appeal to all who cared for him : "Ce grand garçon, mince et simple, à l'oeil vif et rieur . . . aimait la politique et la vie et ne les séparait pas l'une de l'autre. En lui, rien de convenu ni de livresque ; une spontaniété gracieuse et clairvoyante qui donnait à ses propos une grace incomparable."
The conflict of interests in the Near East between the groups both of greater and lesser Powers drew dark storm-clouds over the horizon as 1912 drew to a close. The Triple Alliance was renewed on the 5th of December , some months before the expiration of its current term. In the course of the year both the German and the Austrian Foreign Ministers had paid visits to Italy, and in November San Giuliano had been to Berlin, where he was much courted, receiving certain confidences from the Emperor which may or may not have represented the views of the German Government. The Emperor said for instance that he wished to see the Eastern Question definitely settled by the entry of the Bulgars into Constantinople. [Memoirs of my Life, G. Giolitti, p. 253 of the English version. Chapman & Dodd, 1923.] San Giuliano returned a good deal under the charm of Berlin, and the stock of the Triple Alliance appeared at the end of the year to have appreciated considerably at any rate at the Italian Foreign Office. The renewal was in any case inevitable, inasmuch as Italy and Austria were bound to be either allies or enemies, and there had been indications that the military party in the dual Monarchy would have regarded the latter alternative with little less favour than the former.
I was selfishly sorry when Jagow was recalled to Berlin on the death of Kiderlin to be his successor as Minister for Foreign Affairs. We had been intimate for some ten years, and I had never before felt on such frank terms of confidence with any German representative.
He was sincerely reluctant to take over this responsible position both because he was very happy in Rome and because he had misgivings as to whether his health would stand the strain. But he was unable to resist the pressure which was exercised on him to accept it. Before he left he dined with me alone, and we spent a long evening together threshing out all the various issues which had affected the relations between our countries. As regards the actual critical position in the Near East, Germany was bound in Balkan issues to stand by Austria, but with all the goodwill possible it was difficult to support a policy which had neither method nor consistency, and which showed a complete absence of leadership. Jagow had, throughout our long acquaintance, given me such ample evidence of his desire to see our two nations overcome their mutual mistrust and arrive at a better understanding that I was chiefly concerned, now that he might be able to use his influence to that end, to learn whether he had any practical views as to how, after twenty years of widening divergencies, a more satisfactory relation might gradually be evolved. I explained to him the difficulty we had always experienced in learning what Germany really wanted, and how under the circumstances the spirit of hostility towards us, which his countrymen made little effort to conceal, could not fail to arouse mistrust. He frankly admitted this difficulty, which he thought largely due to Germany not actually knowing what she wanted herself. A desire for national expansion had grown up concomitantly with a commercial prosperity which had developed with phenomenal rapidity. He maintained, however, that no definite scheme of expansion existed. There was, on the other hand, a general feeling of resentment because opportunities had been neglected of which other nations had known how to take advantage. While I am convinced that Jagow was here expressing what he believed himself, I do not agree that no preconceived plans existed in the ambitions of a certain section of his countrymen, who were ready to seize any proffered opportunity. More than a year earlier he had admitted to me that only after returning home on leave had he realized how intense was the anti-British sentiment in Germany and, from various conversations in which he seemed to me to underrate the influence of the gospel of Treitschke and Bernhardi, I felt that he had perhaps lived too long out of his own country to appreciate fully the new tendencies. I gathered that he regarded the Moroccan issue as having been a defeat for Germany, and was ready to recognize that we British were justified in taking the line we had adopted. Whether he was right in maintaining that it had occasioned more resentment there against France than against us seems doubtful. Morocco had in any case taught its lesson. A somewhat analogous case might again arise in the future. It was an open question whether a State like the Ottoman Empire which seemed incapable of any higher development would be able to maintain itself much longer even in Asia Minor. So long as it retained some authority and coherence he thought it should be supported. But the eventual bankruptcy of the Turkish power might some day lead to a partition. We had, he believed, no designs in Anatolia or Syria, but Russia was ambitious of closing round the Black Sea, and France advanced traditional claims in Syria. A feeling existed in Germany which it would be idle to ignore that Anatolia, where she had entered with enthusiasm into the Bagdad Railway scheme, should not be closed to her as a field of enterprise as Morocco had been. Germany could not endure patiently a second Morocco, and if the Powers constituting what was then known as the Triple Entente were to combine to exclude Germany from any sphere of interest there, it must lead to the gravest consequences. Though we might have no ambitions in that part of the world, when such a definite grouping of Powers existed circumstances might make them work together for a common end. I said that our evident interest lay in the Persian Gulf, and this he assured me Germany was fully disposed to recognize. If therefore we could come to some mutual understanding regarding our political influence there, it might be possible to clear away one impediment to a better understanding. We had certainly no desire to find ourselves in opposition to Germany at every point, and had she been more frank with us long ago, perhaps many difficulties might have been avoided. Jagow traced the beginning of our misunderstandings to 1889, when he said Bismarck, who was then in power, had suggested to Lord Salisbury a programme which the two Powers might adopt in Eastern policy, but received a very cold answer. When shortly afterwards the young Emperor, full of enthusiasms and ideas, went to England, Lord Salisbury would not go to Windsor to meet him. This refusal had given great offence, and many subsequent developments might be attributed to the soreness which it caused. I did not then know the other side of this story, and only learned later that at a first meeting with Salisbury the Emperor had propounded to him such startling proposals that he was quite unprepared to engage in any further conversations.
We reverted to the naval question, and here I found Jagow, now that he was about to become a Minister, rather more reserved. He thought that it had become an obsession with Tirpitz, whose creation the German Fleet had to a great extent been, to make it the most perfect instrument that organization could devise, and in order to achieve his purpose and overcome opposition he might use arguments which it would be wiser to avoid. In his own opinion, it was absurd for Germany to aim at competing with us, to whom our fleet was everything. On the other hand, specific agreements for the limitations of armaments would be contrary to the national sentiment.
He asked me questions regarding various individuals, and whether they were anti-German in sentiment.--- I expressed the opinion, and he agreed with me, that it would, as a rule, be a mistake to label individuals in my country as having stereotyped friendly or hostile bias. The fact that a particular person had been associated with a certain school of culture, had inclined to Latin or Teutonic studies, as the case might be, did not mean that he was on that account less alive to, or less zealous to promote his own country's advantage.
There was much more. But in resuming some of the matter of a long and interesting exchange of views, which was of course entirely unofficial and as between old friends, I have carefully refrained from any references which might have a personal or compromising character. In conclusion, Jagow said that he meant to do all that was in his power to restore the good understanding which he believed with all his heart was for us the normal relation. He did not, I fear, then realize the obstacles which he would find everywhere in his path at Berlin, or how little the goodwill of one man could effect at the eleventh hour against the forces to which a long process of suggestion and an unrestrained sense of racial destiny had given irresistible impulsion. Though he came from the centre of junkerdom, the only touch of its spirit which I could detect in him was his conviction of the superiority of the Germanic races who had, he could admit, learned much from the Latin nations. Had there been many more men in authority in Germany like Jagow, with his capacity for seeing the point of view of others, we might possibly have been spared a great catastrophe. I have, in any case, in justice to an old friend , in whose sincerity I believed, felt it to be a debt of honour to testify to the intentions with which he went to take up his new duties.
After the incessant telegraphic correspondence of the last few months, it was a great relief when, in the beginning of 1913, the Conference of Ambassadors, instituted in London, became an international clearing house. I shall not attempt to write the history of the complicated issues which occupied diplomacy, the suspension of hostilities and their resumption after the Young Turks had repudiated the armistice conditions. I shall confine myself to reviewing the policy and perplexities of Italy who, while in accord with her allies regarding Adriatic issues, nevertheless found herself repeatedly obliged to resist the pressure of Austria-Hungary to join her in action, which must almost irresistibly have led to a European war.
The attention of Italy after the first phase of the Balkan struggle was concentrated on Albania. Alone among the Balkan peoples the Albanians had remained loyal to the Turkish Empire, from which they were now entirely cut off. The Serbians and Montenegrins had entered Albania from the north and the Greeks from the south. Austria and Italy, so long as they were prepared to work on a self-denying basis, could join hands in defending the integrity of Albania, which would have to be constituted an independent state. Austria, whose dreams of expansion to the south and east seemed shattered by the victory of the Balkan peoples, was concerned to prevent Serbia from reaching the sea and Montenegro from absorbing Scutari, which she was besieging with Serbian assistance. Italy, while at one with Austria in these aims, was not less concerned to prevent both sides of the Corfu channel from falling into the hands of Greece. I found it a little difficult to understand the great importance attached to this point. But the view that the security of the approaches to the Adriatic might be compromised by some Power establishing a naval base there, was strongly held by Italian naval experts, and was therefore a factor with which we had to reckon. Germany stood behind her allies, but displayed a conciliatory spirit towards Greece, the possible detachment of which from the Entente was an object to her. Russia, on the other hand, favoured the ambitions of both Serbia and Montenegro. France was less directly occupied with the local issues, but she was the ally of Russia, and had considerable financial commitments in Serbia. Great Britain, like France, regarded the claim of Serbia to reach the sea as reasonable, and, while we were quite in sympathy with the national aspirations of the little Albanian people, who represented the aboriginal population of the coast, our traditional Philhellenism could readily appreciate the sentiment which the Greeks felt regarding regions which had played such a prominent part in their own struggle for liberty. We were, in any case, best able to look upon all these issues dispassionately.
With such pieces set out on the board it was fortunate that a spirit of conciliation animated the Conference in London, over which Sir Edward Grey presided with consummate tact and patience. By the end of February, the more burning issues were narrowed down to the question of the ownership of Djakova on the northern Albanian frontier, which the Serbians had occupied, and the liberation of the blockaded Scutari. The truculence of Montenegro gave the military party in Vienna their opportunity, and M. de Mercy, the bellicose Austro-Hungarian Ambassador in Rome, lost no opportunity of pressing the Italian Government to co-operate in an active intervention which, while ostensibly directed against Montenegro, no doubt contemplated Serbia as the ultimate objective. Had Italy not resisted this pressure, it is probable that the European conflict would have been precipitated a year before it actually broke out. As I was later to find myself in the opposite camp to Signor Giolitti, it is the more grateful to me to testify to the sound and statesmanlike attitude which he adopted on the present occasion. Little or no light was thrown at the time on episodes with regard to which Italy was bound to maintain a prudent reserve, but their history has since been fully disclosed with documentary evidence by Giolitti himself in his memoirs, which should be studied by all who are interested in the antecedents of the Great War.
A memorandum submitted by the German Ambassador in London which urged the necessity of joint action in order to bring Serbia and Montenegro to reason, and which suggested that a mandate might be given to one or two Powers to enforce the collective decisions, seemed to be inspired by Vienna. San Giuliano, apprehending that such a mandate might be entrusted to Austria-Hungary, at once instructed the Italian Ambassador at Berlin to make it clear that Italy could not accept such a proposal. In informing the Italian Ambassador at Berlin of the step which had been taken in London, the German Minister for Foreign Affairs is reported by Giolitti to have stated that any weakness shown by Austria in regard to Scutari would prejudice her prestige and compromise the international position of the Triple Alliance, whereas the influence of the latter would be enhanced in Europe, if it could impose its will.
Almost simultaneously M. de Merey in Rome pressed for a joint Austro-Italian naval demonstration against Montenegro. San Giuliano, preoccupied lest Austria should acquire merit in Albania by independent action, hesitated. But Giolitti pertinently pointed out to him that a naval demonstration against a mountain country would be an absurdity unless it connoted the landing of troops, and such a step would compel Russia, who had refused to countenance isolated action, to attack Austria. He was therefore absolutely opposed to the demonstration, and he regarded the pressure put upon Italy to co-operate as merely an attempt to restrict her liberty of action. Giolitti was absent from the capital, and his messages to the Foreign Minister, which he has published, show a penetrating appreciation of the diplomatic situation. He made it clear at Berlin that Italy would only agree to the demonstration if a mandate were given to her and to Austria by all the Powers. Meanwhile the Conference had adopted Sir Edward Grey's proposal to inform Cettinje and Belgrade that the great Powers reserved to themselves the right of defining the frontiers of Albania, and that the destiny of Scutari, even if it should have to capitulate to Montenegro, would be determined by them alone. Fortunately, Russia and Austria were negotiating for an agreement on a basis of mutual concession by which Serbia would retain Djakova while Scutari would be restored to Albania. The Conference of Ambassadors unanimously called upon Montenegro to raise the siege of Scutari. When she still refused to obey, Italy sounded London and Paris with a view to joint action by all the Powers.
Early in April, however, Vienna again urged joint Austro-Italian action if the collective influence of the Powers failed to bring Montenegro to reason. But Giolitti adhered consistently to his decision, and laid it down as a principle that Italy must on no account act either alone, or in conjunction with Austria, without a mandate from the Powers. In a note to his colleague at the Foreign Office, he insisted that neither Scutari nor the Corfu Channel were worth the risk of a European war, and that Italy must carefully avoid giving Austria any opportunity to compromise her in a manner which would bind her to cooperation if a conflict ensued. Fortunately, Serbia bowed to the authority of the Powers, and withdrew her troops from Scutari. San Giuliano then reported to his chief that the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador was greatly dejected.
Montenegro, however, still remained defiant, and the Albanians were restless and divided among themselves. The fear of independent action by Austria was not eliminated. France made difficulties about a naval demonstration, and required a mandate from Russia. A proposal to compensate Montenegro by assisting her financially was opposed by Austria on the grounds that it savoured of blackmail. She was, however, prepared to give way so long as it was understood the offer did not emanate from her. It is curious that Signor Giolitti in his Memoirs states that after the withdrawal of Serbia from Scutari, Austria had herself proposed to Italy that they should conjointly support the Montenegrin dynasty with financial aid, and thus endeavour to obviate the absorption of the little country by Serbia. When, as time dragged on, the danger of Austrian action was renewed, San Giuliano had a brilliant idea, to which I do not find any reference in the Giolitti Memoirs. Public opinion, he maintained, would not allow Italy to join Austria in forcible measures at Scutari. But Italy might render assistance to her ally by simultaneous action to keep the Albanians quiet, and was prepared to send an expedition to Vallona. Such parallel action, adroitly represented at Vienna as a service rendered, would enable Italy to hold a pledge for the eventual withdrawal of Austria from northern Albania. An Italian fleet was mobilized, and Austria realized that, under the pretext of supporting her, Italy was proposing to do precisely what it had been for years her policy to prevent. Such a proposal was calculated to give Vienna pause. I found San Giuliano, however, rather at a loss for an answer when I asked him what explanation he proposed to offer to the Powers, who were all interested in Albania. At the Conference in London, Grey was able to bring forward good arguments for gaining a little time. Then King Nicholas gave way, as he had been bound to do all along, and Admiral Burney with a mixed naval brigade took charge of Scutari, which thereafter enjoyed the novel experience of living under a benevolent and efficient administration. There was no further obstacle to the signature of peace, though one more effort was yet to be made to drag Italy into aggressive action behind her allies.
In the meantime, on the 18th of March, King George of Greece had been assassinated, while walking in the streets of Salonika. I had always retained a great regard for that adroit ruler, whose kindness to me in Athens in younger days, I remembered with real gratitude. It was a tragedy that this utterly wanton outrage should have occurred just when the little country, over which he had reigned for almost fifty years, seemed about to emerge into a new phase of prosperity and national expansion, with a territory doubled in area. It proved to be doubly tragic in the light of subsequent events, inasmuch as his great experience and his intimate relations with so many Courts would no doubt have enabled him to guide the destinies of Greece along a wiser course than was pursued by his successor through troubled waters in the ensuing years.
The Court mourning had entailed a postponement of an historic ball for which my wife had conceived Rome would furnish an appropriate setting. She had contemplated making it a pageant of the ages. It had taken much time and thought to prepare, for not only were the chief groups and costumes to follow pictorial records, but there were to be characteristic dances, which required diligent rehearsal. As the date, fixed the 9th of April, approached, there was danger of a further postponement as the health of the Pontiff had occasioned some anxiety. All the children were with us for the Easter holidays, and they were thus able to see what was probably a unique spectacle, because so many of the characters represented were impersonated by their own living descendants, bearing the same historic names. There was, I believe, some misgiving among the Ambassadors as to whether their dignity might not be compromised by their appearing in fancy dress. But the diffident adjusted their scruples by putting on dominoes. I could not well take part in my wife's classical group as an Olympian deity, but I had no hesitation in assuming the part of an Elizabethan Ambassador, and my costume was a copy, made at home, of the famous Court suit of Sir Walter Raleigh, only that the real pearls with which its white silk was studded were replaced by the beads which a well-known Roman industry supplies. Dering, the Counsellor, supported me as Sir Francis Drake, and we received the guests in the ball-room, conversing with Count San Martino, gorgeously attired as the envoy of Ivan the Terrible. After the guests had assembled in the ballroom, in the centre of which a space was kept clear, the various processions entered successively. The first was that of my wife, who as Juno was accompanied by all the denizens of Olympus, the demi-gods and the heroes of Homeric legend. She was preceded by a group of beautiful amazons led by the Naval Attaché, Captain Courtenay Stuart, in the panoply of Mars. Princess Potenziani was an ideal Venus, and Mrs. George Keppel a statuesque Minerva. Osborne, one of the Secretaries, temporarily removed his habitual eyeglass to do justice to the "lord of the unerring bow," and led the train of the nine Muses. Our eldest boy was a graceful Mercury. A delightful group of young Bacchantes revelled in leopard skins and vine leaves round Charles Lister who made an admirable Bacchus, while the nieces and adopted nieces, who included Lady Gerald Wellesley, Lady Grimthorpe and Louise Stuart-Wortley, were Greek maidens attending Miss Irene Lawley as Nausicaa until they were scared by the inrush of Tyrrwhit (Lord Berners) amazingly disguised as Pan. The youngest members of the family arrayed as Cupids scattered leaves from baskets of roses. Among the mortals the head of the Chancery, Mounsey, was Ulysses, and Baroness Aliotti a Penelope so beautiful as to entitle her to the fabulous number of suitors. Hector and Paris completed the staff of the Embassy, and Mrs. Raymond Parr as Helen was charming enough to justify the Trojan War. My wife in a classic dress of blue and gold with a crown of turquoise took her seat on a throne composed of two peacocks designed by an artist friend, while the other divinities grouped themselves round her. Then entered a strange shimmering golden figure, attended by satellites with gilded faces. It was the Marchesa Casati, a sun-goddess as conceived by Bakst.
The first of the historical processions was that of the Milanese tyrant, Ludovico il Moro, who was impersonated by the Duca Lorenzo Sforza. The Princess of Paliano was Beatrice, and the Countess Virginia della Somaglia, Isabella d'Este, while Somaglia himself followed his patrons as Leonardo da Vinci. Next in order chronologically followed the group of Vittoria Colonna. The beautiful lady who is now the Duchess of Sermoneta and until her marriage was herself Vittoria Colonna, dressed in dark grey velvet broidered with gold, advanced with the famous book of sonnets in her hand, accompanied by her uncle, Don Prospero, in the guise of Ascanio Colonna, and his three sons wearing the old Colonna armour. The figure of Guglielmo Caetani was recalled by Don Leone, the present Duke of Sermoneta and that of Napoleone Orsini by Don Domenico Orsini, with many other contemporaries, of whom not the least interesting were Michelangelo and Bernardo Castiglione, recalled to life respectively by Marchese Vitelleschi and Conte Giuseppe Primoli.
A magnificent procession from the Arabian Nights was headed by Prince Lichtenstein, the naval attaché to the Austro-Hungarian Embassy. It included some of the most beautiful women of the day in Rome. They danced a languorous Eastern dance. Suffrages were divided between that and the minuet executed by a charming group of eight, in the costume of Louis XV. There were Bedawin and Mandarins, Venetian Doges and Lansquenets. In his familiar hooded red robe Dante, leaning against a column, contemplated the later generations of his countrymen, sardonic and detached.
All the nations met on this interesting occasion in the most cosmopolitan city in the world. We little imagined then that a year later they were to be divided in the fiercest struggle in human annals. For me personally that historic ball, which was one of the last great social events before the breaking up of the old order, has therefore always seemed to have a certain analogy with the famous ball at Brussels on the eve of Waterloo.
The pressure of work had been very heavy for the best part of two years, and I was glad to be able to take two or three weeks' leave, spent on a cruise in the Mavourneen, which after a refit in England had arrived in the beginning of June at Palermo. Mrs. Arthur Strong, the assistant director of the British School, accompanied us, and proved as unruffled by the elements as she was inspiring as a travelling companion. We had hoped to reach Ithaca, but winds were contrary and time limited, so that we did not get beyond Corfu, from which we turned back reluctantly, making a good course to Syracuse, and thence sailing through the Straits of Messina back to Posillipo. During our absence out of reach of letters or telegrams, two old friends had passed away, George Wyndham and Northampton, both of them suddenly and both away from home. Then a few days after our return, I learned from London of the tragic death of Alfred Lyttelton. He had himself only a few weeks before written a charming appreciation of George Wyndham in The Times, and I now found myself reading in the same place a warm and affectionate tribute to one of the dearest and most genial comrades of younger days, the type and flower of an English gentleman, than which I know no better thing. It was signed with an initial which the matter and manner left no doubt was that of our common friend George Curzon.
Meanwhile the Balkan League had proved its inability to outlast the accomplishment of the immediate ends for which it was created. Serbia had displayed anxiety to secure certain modifications in the London Treaty. Greece was well aware that Bulgaria intended sooner or later to turn her out of Salonika, and those two states had thus a common interest. Bulgaria, though she had not yet withdrawn her troops from Turkish territory, anticipated any combined action on their part, and made herself the aggressor by an unprovoked attack on the Serbian Army, a step which aroused suspicion of a secret understanding with Vienna. The Rumanians, who might easily have been conciliated by certain timely concessions, entered Bulgaria from the north and the victors of Lulé Bourgas, weakened by the struggle with Turkey and now assailed on three sides, were rapidly and decisively defeated and compelled to accept the unwelcome conditions of the Treaty of Bucharest.
The weakening of Bulgaria and the strengthening of Serbia and of Greece, whose exclusive possession of Salonika was now assured, presented a further obstacle to the ambitions of the military party in Vienna. The Austro-Hungarian Government consequently informed Italy and Germany of their intention to attack Serbia, characterizing the measure as one of defence and calling on their allies for support in virtue of the casus foederis laid down in the Treaty of Triple Alliance. The reply of Signor Giolitti was clear and categorical. As no one was attacking Austria, there could be no question of defence. She would be acting on her own initiative, and the casus foederis did not arise. What the reply of Germany may have been in 1913 has never been disclosed. But the intended aggression was dropped. This further attempt on the part of Austria to involve Italy, and now Germany as well, in action which must inevitably have brought on a general war in Europe, was only known to her two allies, and did not become of public notoriety until after the outbreak of the Great War, when it was revealed by the Italian Government. When a third attempt was made in 1914 after the Sarajevo assassinations, Italy, to her honour, adhered to the attitude she had throughout adopted. On the other hand, all the evidence points to a previous consent of Germany to the invasion of Serbia which provoked the great catastrophe.
The Conference of Ambassadors reassembled at the beginning of August to deal with various matters, the settlement of which had been postponed, such as the southern frontier of Albania. Austria desired a revision of certain points in the Treaty of Bucharest, but did not press it. Every one was weary of Balkan questions. A proposal to compensate Greece for withdrawing from the shore of the Corfu channel by handing over to her the islands which Italy had occupied and still held as a pledge for the execution of the Treaty of Ouchy was unacceptable to the latter, because she was definitely engaged to restore them to Turkey, and their cession to Greece would have justified the Constantinople Government in repudiating other conditions. It was a question to which at that time we could not be altogether indifferent, because such a strategic position in the Aegean, occupied by one of the parties, might become a naval base for the Triple Alliance. The undertaking to restore the islands to Turkey as soon as the Treaty conditions were fulfilled was renewed in London. Declarations by Italian statesmen regarding the provisional character of the occupation were becoming almost as numerous as those of British statesmen some thirty years earlier regarding the occupation of Egypt. and were no doubt made in equally good faith. But in 1915, Italy found herself once more at war with Turkey, and she still holds the so-called Dodecanese, while Greece has come into her natural inheritance of all the other Aegean islands, with the exception of Imbros and Tenedos, near the entrance of the Straits.
The limits of the new Albanian State were laid down by the Conference on lines which were acceptable to both Italy and Austria. It only remained to find a prince who would undertake the formidable task of ruling over a country where tribal quarrels, religious differences and chronic rivalries between the families which constitute a sort of feudal aristocracy had hitherto made cohesion impossible. One of the candidates was Prince Fuad of Egypt, whose eagerness to assume the uneasy duty of sovereignty has since been gratified by his succession to a throne in his own country. But Austria would not agree to a Mussulman ruler. The choice eventually fell upon the Prince of Wied, an amiable German officer, with no previous knowledge of the East. He was good enough to call on me in Rome in the following year on his way to Durazzo. He seemed to me to have little conception of the elemental social conditions prevailing in the primitive land, to which the Princess was to follow him with State coaches, liveries, and an the equipment of a little Court. Pomp and circumstance make little impression on the Albanians, who have nevertheless shown themselves capable of real devotion to the few individuals who have won their regard. The Prince was only allowed a little space to monarchize and found himself compelled to leave the country in March 1914, a few months after his arrival.
Two of our own country people, one of them only known to me by her vigorous correspondence, Miss Durham, the other a much-beloved friend, Aubrey Herbert, will always be remembered by the Albanians with gratitude and affection for their disinterested friendship to a struggling nationality. Aubrey was frequently in Rome on his journeys backwards and forwards, and it was always a pleasure to welcome that chivalrous knight-errant of the twentieth century, who was equally at his ease in the House of Commons, in a Turkish trench in the Gallipoli peninsula, or in the homestead of a Bey under the shadow of the Acroceraunian mountains. Heavily handicapped by defective sight, he was always recklessly ready to undertake the adventure perilous. Humorous, but very kindly and never self-assertive, with a mind which was a store-house of curious information, derived largely from personal experience and keen observation Aubrey Herbert had an irresistible charm, and he will ever remain in the hearts of his friends :
The Conference of Ambassadors had undoubtedly rendered great service. Grey's patience, calmness, perseverance and rectitude won universal recognition. A very difficult international situation had been surmounted without another war, and the eternal "Eastern question," whose recurrent crises had haunted the whole of my career, seemed, so far as Turkey in Europe was concerned, to have found a definite solution. It was legitimate to feel a little impatient with all the irresponsible talk about the failure of diplomacy which had been general on the outbreak of the Balkan War. Diplomacy had maintained the creaking fabric of the Turkish Empire until the lesser subject states were mature enough to step into their own natural inheritance. It had prevented a partition of the Balkans among the greater Powers, and had held the ring while the small peoples worked out their own salvation. Finally, it had secured the restoration of peace in the Near East, without the European conflict which so many prophets had proclaimed to be inevitable. A similar denunciation of diplomacy was heard in 1914. But then the attitude of the central empires left no room for compromise or adjustment, and when there is a deliberate will to war, there is no more place for diplomacy.
It was a real pleasure to me to receive a letter from Grey expressing his great appreciation of the part which my old friend Imperiali had played during the Conference. His task had often been far from easy. But he had, while sustaining the point of view of his Government with vigour, always kept the discussion on a friendly plane and, even when differences were acute, shown a good faith which, met with the frankness it invited, helped greatly towards a solution. The pleasure was the greater because I was encouraged to inform San Giuliano of the favourable impression which his attitude had created.
I went home in October, and spent the first week of my leave in Cornwall on a visit to my mother. It was the last time I saw her, as she died in the spring of 1915, and after the outbreak of war I remained on duty without a break until the summer of 1917. While in England, I had several conferences with the Trustees of the National Gallery on the subject of the Layard bequest. Having satisfied myself that, with the exception of the six pictures which had been liberated by the decision of 1904, the collection was subject to the prescriptions of the existing law governing the exportation of works of art, I had hoped to find a solution on lines of compromise. I had little doubt, after discussing the matter with the competent authorities, that if one or two of the pictures which had a particular historic interest for Venice, such as the Gentile Bellini portrait of Mohammed II, could be left as a loan from the National Gallery to hang in the Accademia, I could secure sanction for the removal of the rest. I was, however, unable to persuade the Trustees to adopt my suggestion. They had taken legal advice, and were determined to contest the issue. I was on the other hand convinced that an Italian Court would and could only uphold the application of the existing law, and that the fact that the will disposing of the collection was anterior to existing legislation would in no way influence its decision. Such a decision would have involved the retention of some ten to fifteen pictures in the country. Meanwhile, a new difficulty had arisen, this time at home. The clause in the instrument bequeathing the pictures to the British nation contained the words "except the portraits." It was clear from other evidence that Sir Henry Layard's intention was to except only portraits of his own family, but the unqualified use of the word "portrait" enabled his nephew to claim a certain number of the old Italian pictures which were obviously portraits in the general sense of the word. Until this issue, which was referred to the Courts in England, had been decided as it eventually was in favour of the Trustees, the question of the removal of the collection remained in abeyance.
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