SOCIAL AND DIPLOMATIC MEMORIES, 1902-1919
BY THE RIGHT HON. SIR JAMES RENNELL RODD, G.C.B.
Sonnino becomes Minister for Foreign Affairs. Strength of neutralist groups. The American Ambassador, T. Nelson Page. Arrival of Prince Bülow as Special Ambassador. Earthquake in Abruzzi province. Amateur diplomatists. Bülow's conversations with Page and others. Giolitti and the parecchio. Negotiations for Treaty of London. Final decision regarding Layard pictures. Triple Alliance denounced. Internal divisions. D'Annunzio's apostolate. Mussolini. Majority in Parliament for Giolitti and neutrality. Salandra resigns. Popular uprising. Salandra reappointed. Parliamentary decision of 20th May. War with Austria declared. Demonstration at Embassy. Why Italy entered the war.
Salandra was now enabled to form a more homogeneous administration with his old friend and political ally, Sonnino, at the Foreign Office. The retention in the Cabinet of that stanch advocate of intervention, Ferdinando Martini, was symptomatic, and I had reason to believe that the new War Minister was in close accord with the chief of the staff, General Cadorna, whose chief preoccupation was to make good certain deficiencies in his artillery. If he still encountered obstruction, it certainly did not arise from the new Minister of the Treasury, Signor Carcano, a sincere patriot, whose competence in the business of his department, combined with a great charm of manner, won for him a sympathetic reception on his subsequent visits to London.
It was a great relief to me to have Sonnino at the Foreign Office. We had known each other for many years, and had mutual confidence in each other's discretion. Sonnino once observed to me : "I may not always say everything that is in my mind, but I have a natural indisposition to lie." He could not have better summarized his ministerial attitude. The day after his appointment he paid me a long visit, and I found little difficulty In drawing him out of his habitual reserve. Sonnino had been a zealous upholder of the Triple Alliance, and his straightforward nature had been disturbed by its apparent repudiation on the 2nd of August. He had at first assumed that Italy would have to stand by her allies. But his hesitations with regard to her obligation did not outlast his realization of the aggressive character of the war on which the central empires had embarked, and the violation of neutralities to which Italy would not have made herself a consenting party. There was never any doubt in my mind as to where his own personal sympathies lay, and now the forced entry of Turkey into the arena had strengthened his antagonism to the former allies. He was at that time not without hope that the old Balkan League might be reconstituted, and he discussed the possibility of giving satisfaction to Bulgaria, still smarting from the recent settlement, by considerable concessions especially in Macedonia. He was very well informed on the whole Balkan situation, and his anxiety from the first, that the Allies should spare no efforts to prevent Bulgaria from gravitating to the side of the enemy was one of the indications from which I inferred that he definitely contemplated co-operation. Even at this interview he admitted the possibility that Turkey's unprovoked aggression might precipitate Italian action. But he said that so far as he had then been able to take stock of the situation, the preparedness of the country was not sufficiently advanced for intervention to be contemplated, nor was the actual moment, with winter closing in on the northern Alpine frontier, opportune for any initiative. He foresaw that the war was going to be a long one, and he could not but believe that circumstances might at any moment force his country to take a decisive step. He therefore felt that it was urgent to prepare some definite plan for eventual concerted action, to which a binding form could be given rapidly when the moment arrived, perhaps more suddenly than we then anticipated.
While the official attitude thus appeared not unpropitious, the neutralist combination was gathering strength, and my information indicated that a number of the clergy were exercising influence in that direction. Though the Government continued to extend the list of non-exportable commodities in a manner which could only be satisfactory to us, a good deal of strong feeling was aroused by the detention of raw material until innocent destination could be proved. One of the principal industrial banks which had owed its inception to German encouragement, and the advance of a moderate amount of German capital withdrawn as soon as the bank became strong enough to carry on with local resources, was still at that time administered by a triumvirate which had tap-roots in Berlin, and the considerable influence which it exercised on the commercial community was likely to become yet more adverse to the Allies if the interests of the companies which it had financed were menaced. It was represented to me from a high quarter that the non-arrival of the primary material of industry might load to the closing of factories, and so affect the goodwill of the masses towards the Allies. Another of the grievances most frequently advanced was the interception of commercial telegrams by a zealous censorship. The resulting discontent was studiously exploited in the limited number of journals which our adversaries were successful in inspiring.
Capel-Cure was invaluable to me in making the real difficulties of our position known to the mercantile community and exhorting them to patience. But I had to be importunate in pressing the home authorities not to delay releases unduly, the more so after a significant observation of Sonnino, in the early days of 1915, to the effect that it was essential that the irritation caused by the detention of cargoes should quiet down before the approach of spring.
My friend Thomas Nelson Page also rather alarmed me with reports of protests from the cotton interest in the United States against the stringency of our contraband rules. As a Virginian he would not be likely to minimize the prejudice to the market. His feelings on this subject in talking to others must have been rather outspoken, for it was once suggested to me that his attitude was more hostile than sympathetic to us. There could not have been a more erroneous appreciation. The American Ambassador was most discreet and scrupulous to observe the attitude becoming the representative of a neutral power. But it needed no special gift of diagnosis to perceive what his real feelings were. Mrs. Page, who had a daughter married in England, found it more difficult with her spontaneous frankness to disguise the emotions of a very warm and kindly heart. In those early days of strain and anxiety, Page's genuine friendship and quiet common-sense were very helpful to me, and it was a great relief occasionally to break away from the atmosphere of preoccupation which, however studiously we sought to disguise it, prevailed at our Embassy, and to dine at his hospitable house. Virginia hams, of which he had a stock in reserve, will for me always bring back associations of the Great War. The recollections of Page's boyhood went back to the days of the civil war, and his memory of the inevitable tendency in such abnormal times to give way to a spirit of exaggeration and prejudice was valuable to me as a warning. Both the Pages are, alas, now long since dead. But I shall ever retain in grateful memory the kindly sympathy they gave us in the days when we needed it most.
About half-way through December Prince Bülow arrived, with the rank of a special Ambassador, in Rome, whence he wrote on the 24th to Erzberger in a pessimistic tone regarding the ground lost by Germany in Italian opinion during recent weeks. [Erlebnisse im Weltkrieg, M. Erzberger, 1920, p. 23.] The regular representative of Germany, Herr von Flotow, remained in the capital for a short time longer, and then withdrew, leaving the field clear for the ex-chancellor. It was hoped that Bülow, with his great authority and family connections, might succeed in dissuading Italy from abandoning her neutrality and entering the war on the side of the Allies. This was the utmost which the central empires could now hope to achieve. If Austria-Hungary, whose diplomatic representatives in Rome frequented social circles of pronounced neutralist character, in which curiously enough certain ladies connected with the Court were conspicuous, could still cherish illusions as to the ultimate gravitation of Italy, Germany seems not long to have remained in doubt that the end in view could only be achieved by substantial concessions at the expense of her ally.
My former intimacy with the Bülows made it the more disagreeable for me to find myself engaged in a duel with an old friend. The Prussian Minister to the Vatican lived exactly opposite our Embassy, and I had been habitually meeting him in the street. Now it became inevitable that in some of my almost daily visits to the Foreign Office I should see my chief antagonist in one of the ante-rooms. At the King's reception on New Year's Day, at which each diplomatic mission is received separately, there was, as we entered the assembling room, a skilful shuffling of the representatives awaiting their turn, and the German Embassy appeared to be much interested in the view from the windows.
To my great distress, moreover, not very long afterwards the French Ambassador became rather seriously unwell. After many years of intimacy I had felt I could draw upon his great experience---he had been nearly twenty years in Rome---as on a blank cheque. A long residence in England in early youth had given him a capacity rare in his countrymen for understanding the British temperament, which at such a time was a valuable asset. Shortly before the outbreak of war he had met with a serious motor accident entailing great loss of blood, and before he could recover his normal health, overwork, and the depressing conditions in the battle area seemed to threaten a general breakdown. Happily, however, his great vitality enabled him to make a rapid recovery, and he was not long out of action. But for a short time I felt very much alone, the more so as my Russian colleague, Kroupensky, though the best of fellows in all personal relations, was excitable and emotional, and I realized that Sonnino was reluctant to take him into confidence. He was before very long replaced by the former Russian Ambassador at Constantinople, M. de Giers, whose clear and well-balanced mind made him an admirable representative of his country throughout the war, and not least in that grim final stage which he confronted with a dignity which commanded our admiration.
Just before Christmas my eldest son started for the Front: having completed his artillery training at Aldershot. The letter in which he announced his departure concluded, "I am so happy to be out at last that I don't know what to say." That was the spirit with which our boys went to France. Another, of the 26th of December, describing Christmas in camp, ended with the words, "I am sure I shall come back safe and sound." How many must have sent that message in their first letter from the Front!
For us Christmas and the New Year were enlivened by the arrival of our four younger children. They safely accomplished the first of a series of journeys which were a recurring source of anxiety to my wife and myself, but always a new adventure to the young people, who became past-masters in the experience of war-time travelling and intimate with all the authorities along the line. The crossing to Southampton remained open throughout the war, and at Havre, where a night had generally to be spent, they could count on friendly assistance from Sir Francis Villiers, our Minister to Belgium, who had established his Legation there.
Just before eight o'clock on the morning of the 8th of January, 1915, we experienced a severe shock of earthquake in Rome. Experts described it as an undulatory shock of the 7th magnitude. It was reported to have lasted fifteen seconds. To us it seemed much longer. Having retired at a very late hour on the previous night I had only just risen and, for a moment, I attributed the difficulty which I found in standing to my being only half awake. Then I saw the lantern which hung from the ceiling swinging violently, and realized what was happening. I placed my wife momentarily under an archway which was likely to resist even if the walls yielded. The children were in a wing at some distance, where the mezzanino rooms were strengthened by vaulting. They seemed, when we reached them, more interested than scared by the experience. Fortunately, beyond a few cracks in the newer part of the building, the Embassy did not suffer. Rome on the whole escaped with little damage. One of the colossal statues over the tympanum of St. John Lateran fell to the ground, and was shattered. There were settlements of some gravity in houses in the old city. The strangest phenomenon reported was that the bronze St. Paul on the top of the column of Antoninus in the Piazza Colonna took a half-turn to the left. When it was originally placed there at the end of the sixteenth century by the architect Fontana, the statue had faced the Piazza del Popolo. This did not satisfy Sixtus V, who had the scaffolding reconstructed in order to make it look towards the Vatican Basilica. That it should now have more directly turned its back on the Austro-Hungarian Embassy in Palazzo Chigi was accepted as a significant omen by the population which crowded to the square to verify the rumour.
Unfortunately, in the Abruzzi province, the shock had been far more severe, especially at Avezzano and several smaller villages. The death-roll was heavy, and though it seemed small as compared with the terrible mortality at Messina and Reggio in 1908, the percentage of the village populations which perished was probably not less. The King was among the first to reach the stricken district, and a volunteer service of motor-cars and ambulances was rapidly organized. The pontiff placed the Hospital of St. Martha at the service of the injured who were brought into the city, and if it was true, as I was informed, that he personally inspected the wards in preparation, he must have left the actual precincts of the Vatican to do so. This disaster was a blow to the country on the eve of entering the valley of decision.
About this time the danger arising from the well-meant zeal of the amateur diplomatist was first brought home to me. During a journey from Salonika to Piraeus two members of the Balkan Committee who had been visiting Bulgaria and Roumania found themselves in the company of a traveller, a priest, whom they evidently assumed to be a Hungarian. He had indeed been a Hungarian subject, being a Roumanian of Transylvania. But his political antecedents had involved years of detention in Magyar prisons. With this fellow voyager it seems that one of our Balkan experts began to discuss the future attitude of Roumania, suggesting that she was bound to extend eventually over Bessarabia and even beyond. The priest, who drew up a full report of this conversation, a copy of which soon afterwards came into my possession, observed that. in his opinion Roumania was much more concerned about Transylvania and the regions where the population was essentially Roumanian. The British traveller replied that any ambitions in that direction would certainly be opposed by Great Britain, who would never permit the destruction or even the weakening of Hungary, an indispensable buffer between the Slavs of the north and those of the south. He was, according to the report, not very well informed as to the real numerical strength of the Magyar element in the kingdom of Hungary. It was only when the discussion shifted to the religious orientation of the Roumanians that the amateur diplomatist seems to have discovered that he had been talking to a Transylvanian of Roumanian stock. After that there was no further exchange of political opinions. The priest in question, whose name and career would be familiar to those who have studied Near Eastern questions, was in intimate relations with M. Bratiano, for whom I gathered the report in question was destined. Unfortunately, the Balkan Committee was believed in those regions, as the Minister in Rome informed me, to have official status or encouragement. I cannot of course vouch for the accuracy of the report which he drew up of this conversation, but even if it gave undue colour to some casual observations, the fact that such a report was forwarded to Bucharest illustrates the danger at critical moments of discussing political issues with chance acquaintances. The alleged determination of Great Britain to maintain a strong Hungary as a barrier between the northern and the southern Slavs would not be calculated to stimulate favourably a Government standing at the cross-roads. A well-known Scotch writer on Balkan questions, who arrived not long afterwards in Rome from Roumania, told me he had found this belief regarding the attitude of Great Britain widely diffused in that country, and that it caused some want of confidence in the Allies. Nor would the dissemination of such opinions have been particularly serviceable just then in Italy. But fortunately the travellers, when they passed through Rome, did not press for an interview with the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
I was greatly interested in the beginning of February to receive from Nelson Page a full account of an after-dinner conversation which he had in his own house with Bülow, who had not hesitated to denounce the incapacity of Berlin in allowing war to break out. Page was anxious to put before him the views of the average American in the hope that they might give food for reflection. He therefore began by asking the Prince when he thought peace might be anticipated. Bülow regarded the date as still remote, and enquired what Page thought himself. He replied that he believed it to be Germany's interest to find some means of opening negotiations as quickly as possible. "But how," said Bülow, "can we bring public opinion to look for peace when our people believe they have won ?" Page rejoined that his people only believed what they were allowed to believe. He would for a moment drop all considerations of official position and speak as a simple man who, not being directly engaged in the war and having no reason to colour judgment with hope, tried to see facts in their naked reality. "Your people," he repeated, "only believe what they are told. You and I know better. In this war you can never win. You cannot crush nations. Even if you got to Paris you would be no nearer your goal." Here Bülow interrupted, saying that Germany had no animosity against France. "But," Page rejoined, "the French have against the Germans, and every day you are intensifying that bitterness. As to England, who should be your natural ally, consider the position you are making for yourselves in public opinion there. You are piling up a heritage of hatred which will blight the future of Germany. You can never crush England, and you know it. Her own vast resources have only begun to be tapped, and then there are the millions of Canada and of Australia and New Zealand. Nor could Germany herself be crushed out of existence. Nations will subsist, and one must look ahead to their future relations. You are raising up a world of enemies against yourselves and, as I see it, you must make peace before matters have been brought to a pass which will compromise the future for an indefinite time." Bülow then asked him what he would consider possible bases of peace. Page answered that he foresaw two indispensable conditions, of which the first must be "that you must make complete reparation to Belgium." He told me that on hearing these words the ex-chancellor leaned back in his chair and looked at him as a man might who had received a blow between the eyes. After a pause he said: "But our people all think that reparation is due from Belgium to us." Page returned to his former position: "Your people believe what they have been told to believe. They know only what the censor allows them to know."
"That," Bülow admitted, "is true. And what do you consider the other indispensable condition to be?" The answer was, "Disarmament." The Prince quite candidly stated that he regarded disarmament as out of the question. After the war was over there would be, he held, a tendency rather to increase and perfect armament. "If that," said Page, "is the view held in Germany, then there seems nothing for it but that the war should continue. But you will gain nothing by it and will only add to your difficulties by prolonging it." This conversation was of course much ampler than its brief record, and Page seems to have expressed his convictions with frankness and force.
The suggestion that public opinion in Germany regarded reparations to be due from Belgium reminded me of Hindenburg's laconic justification of the violation of neutrality, "it was necessary." Evidently we were very far away from any basis of peace so long as a mentality prevailed which could allow men, normally right-minded in the everyday relations of life, to claim that the advantage of Germany must override obligations of honour and justice.
I was much impressed with the strident contrast between the mental attitude fostered under a Prussian hegemony which found its ultimate expression in hymns of hate, and the sentiment expressed in a letter written about this time by a member of one of the ruling houses in Germany, which was given me to read. The writer of the letter, which though not addressed to an Englishman was written in English, was unknown to me personally, but I had always heard him described as a singularly attractive character with strong Liberal tendencies. I shall hardly be committing an indiscretion in reproducing one or two sentences which struck me, as they are wholly to the writer's credit and profoundly interesting as revealing a standpoint very different from that to which I have just referred. A similar spirit no doubt moved a great mass of the German people, who, as Bülow admitted, only believed what they were told to believe and therefore did not doubt the justice of their cause. He wrote : "This war is giving us worlds of knowledge, and opens to our blind eyes insights into human nature, heart and soul of unaccountable value. . . . Yes, it is a great and beautiful thing to live in a country fighting for its existence, if one is able to take the highest point of view, which excludes hatred towards one's enemies. One learns to be satisfied, and one is taught a great lesson in love. None of us wanted this war, neither the Emperor, whom you make accountable for it nor our army. This is the great moral background on which the regeneration of our country is taking place. It gives the clue to the singular unity and cheerful simplicity of our people. These things are questions of experience, and discussion would be useless. I am quite convinced that France has the same mentality from its own point of view."
I should not be disposed to contest the belief which this letter implies that the mass of the German people did not want the war. But they had accepted without protest over a number of years a direction by the governing classes which was to make war in the long run inevitable, while the rampant affirmation of Deutschland über Alles was hardly consistent with goodwill towards other men. My views, however, of the responsibilities of the dominant element in Germany have been fully expressed in Chapter VIII.
The substance of not a few other conversations of Bülow with deputies and senators was spontaneously repeated to me. I have never had much faith in information procured by the surreptitious means which diplomatists are popularly believed to employ. Hints and insinuations about the millions spent by Great Britain for her own sinister purposes had been familiar all my life. The German chancellor was shortly to proclaim that the chief members of the Italian Cabinet had been bought with the gold of the Entente. The practical humorists who invented the phrase perfide Albion discovered another not less useful in its picturesque suggestiveness, la cavalerie de St. Georges. During the thirty years of my career previous to the outbreak of war the only payments of such a nature which I remember making were in Africa, where small rewards were paid to agents for information which led to the detection of violations of the slave-trade regulations. Since the declaration of war my only exceptional demands on the Treasury had been for an inconsiderable sum to defray the cost of translating and printing documents. It would in any case have been superfluous to explore indirect channels. I felt myself in an atmosphere of friendship. Reports, which seemed the more trustworthy because their communication was unsolicited, were continually brought to me even in regard to such details as the amounts drawn from banks by our opponents for propaganda purposes or for influencing the Press. Happily in the latter respect Italian journalism has an honourable tradition. Individual corruption is rare, and seldom escapes suspicion. A few conspicuous exceptions were so notorious that they came, like brigandage In the old papal states, to be regarded as tolerated institutions. Under those conditions it was a question whether their services were worth their price. On the other hand, it was not difficult for those interested in doing so to stimulate in the Press the inevitable discontent which our supervision of contraband entailed, and it was necessary to be constantly ready with facts and figures to correct misrepresentations.
It was only late at night that I could find time to work on my reports, as almost the whole of the day, not spent at the Ministries or in consultation with my colleagues, had to be devoted to receiving a constant stream of visitors. These were of course not all inspired by purely benevolent motives. Discretion in the language used was sometimes necessary. But the diplomatist of long experience has his intuitions, and like the spiritual missionary acquires a sort of flair as to who is susceptible of conversion. The general tenor of the information which I received regarding the activities of our enemies in Italy after the battle of the Marne pointed to a growing anxiety in Germany over the eventual outcome of the war, and there was evidence to show that the financial and industrial community there was beginning already to take a gloomy view of prospects. But the military despotism was now omnipotent.
I must give Bülow all credit for the discernment which he displayed in his methods. He seems throughout to have been handicapped by the incapacity of his allies to see things as they were. I have referred to the evident strength of the neutralist group and the influence exercised on the peasantry by many of the priests who preached that peace was the desire of the Church. They were no doubt enabled to quote the assurances given to a Cabinet Minister, from whom I learnt them, that Germany would now very quickly dispose of Russia, and that France was already exhausted and weary of war. If it was admitted that Great Britain would present a tougher problem, such an admission could also serve a useful purpose by inducing reflection that the war might yet be of long duration. When the ground seemed propitious and occasion appropriate a more direct lever of intimidation might be applied to "persons of importance." The eminent economist and former Prime Minister, Luigi Luzzatti, during occasional visits in the spring of 1915, spoke to me ominously more than once of terrible things which he knew the Germans to be preparing against us. He begged me to believe that he had good authority for the warning which he thus passed on. It was, I knew, conveyed in the most friendly spirit, and Luzzatti had evidently been scared, but in view of the vagueness of the menace I could only assure him that we were not easily intimidated. It was not till much later, after Italy had entered into the war, that he explained himself more fully. It then came out that Bülow and Mühlberg, the Prussian Minister to the Holy See, had paid him a visit, in the course of which they had disclosed the Tirpitz project to destroy not only the British Fleet, but also our whole mercantile navy by submarine attack on a vast scale. They had, he said, announced with evident satisfaction that by such means the British Empire was about to be annihilated. He had protested with all the eloquence at his command, asking how they could desire to overthrow that great country which had carried civilization over the world and had established law and justice for primitive peoples. Thereupon he said that Bülow, realizing that he had perhaps opened in the wrong key, endeavoured to pass the matter off with a laugh which did not ring very true, and pretended that he had only been trying to draw out his host. This was not the only case within my knowledge in which a member of the German Embassy spoke to neutrals of a grim destiny overshadowing Great Britain. Too much must not be made of what people say for their own ends in war time, but the interest of this conversation is the evidence which it offers that the indiscriminate and unrestricted use of the submarine had been premeditated from the first.
Meanwhile, it was made clear to the right people that Germany would endeavour to obtain as the price of Italy's neutrality the surrender of the Trentino and a rectification of frontier on the Isonzo, concessions no doubt of great importance, but wholly inadequate, as it proved, to stem the growing tide in favour of intervention. In regard to Trieste, Germany was just as little inclined as Austria was to consider its cession to Italy. To secure the acceptance of any such offer it would be necessary to gain the suffrages of a majority in the Chamber. This entailed making sure of at least the tacit support of Giolitti, whose mysterious influence over individual deputies and groups seldom failed, when he elected to exercise it, to rally some three-fifths of their number to his side. Many rumours were circulated at this time regarding visits exchanged between Bülow and Giolitti. In his memoirs Signor Giolitti has categorically stated that he only paid one visit to the Prince in December 1914, on which occasion discussion of all delicate questions was avoided. He was away from home when the visit was returned. They did not meet again till 1922. The legends therefore which grew up regarding their personal intercourse must be rejected.
Some colour was however not unnaturally given to the presumption that Giolitti was familiar with Bülow's proposals by a letter which the former wrote to his friend and quondam chef de cabinet, Signor Peano, on the 24th of January, 1915, with a view to its publication. In this letter he repudiated the reports of his relations with the special German Ambassador, and also described his alleged policy of neutrality at all costs as a fable. But this significant phrase occurred: "Given the actual conditions in Europe, it is my belief that much may be obtained without going to war, but only those who are in the Government are fully qualified to judge of this matter." The popular instinct immediately seized upon the word parecchio, translated by much in the English version of the memoirs, though it might be more justly rendered by a certain amount. The unsentimental suggestion implied in the parecchio di Giolitti, that Italy's policy should be to obtain something for nothing, was unsparingly used by his antagonists to discredit the veteran statesman, who has since frankly admitted and given his reasons for his opposition to Italy entering the war. I fully accept his disclaimer of the reported interviews in Rome. But I have always presumed that Giolitti, in view of the influence he could exercise and of his consistent advocacy of neutrality, was, vicariously at any rate, kept fully informed throughout of Bülow's activities and proposals.
Later, in March, when the Catholic deputy, Erzberger, some of whose fierce tirades against Great Britain in the Germania and the Tag I had seen translated in the Italian Press, was for the second time in Rome, and reported to be endeavouring to persuade the Vatican to exercise pressure on Francis Joseph to cede the Trentino, I had myself the opportunity of having an hour's conversation with Giolitti. It would not have been opportune that our meeting should have become public property, and with the exception of those who arranged the interview no one, so far as I am aware, ever knew that it had taken place. I felt, however, that it would be unwise in these critical times not to make contact with a statesman of his authority and position. Giolitti on that occasion insisted on the paramount importance which the obligations of loyalty had always had for him. After a good deal of perfectly amicable fencing without coming to close quarters on a direct issue, I received the definite impression that he was then as firmly as ever wedded to neutrality.
The heavy losses of battleships in the attack on the Dardanelles on the 18th of March, which the presence of a moderate landing party would have converted into a most successful action, had an unfortunate moral effect on the hesitating Balkan States and indeed on the weak-kneed everywhere. But there were compensations, such as the destruction of the Dresden after her successful career of commerce-destroying. And now an important step forward was taken towards the end on which all my thoughts were concentrated. For, while the efforts of the special Ambassador, of Erzberger and of the peace party to preserve Italian neutrality were being daily intensified, negotiations were secretly initiated with the Italian Government for an agreement which would take immediate effect in the event of Italy ranging herself in line with the Allies. It is curious after the event to read in Erzberger's record of his experiences during the struggle that a deputy with whom he was intimate informed him that the Italian Government did not wish for war, [As evidence of this disposition his informant cited the fact that the Ministry had associated General Porro with the fire-eating Cadorna in the supreme command. General Porro is described as mäszig (moderate), and this word would seem to refer not so much to his opinions as to his military capacity.---Erlebnisse im Weltkrieg, M. Erzberger, p. 27.] and that Sonnino was more reluctant than ever. Simultaneously I became aware of certain unostentatious preparations for future contingencies, such as the replacement of married by unmarried railway officials in the Venetian area and a large extension of hospital accommodation in the big cities. For reasons into which I need not enter the negotiations which led to the Pact of London were known to the fewest possible individuals, and the bases of agreement were drafted in London. I at any rate had now no doubt as to Sonnino's intentions, nor had I any that he would carry the Ministry with him. But there remained the graver question of whether they would have the support of Parliament and of the people. To ensure the latter---and, as I have already pointed out, it is the people who have the last word in Italy ---it then seemed essential that the future security of a country which had lived under the intolerable menace of the Austrian guns, whether on the northern frontier or in the Adriatic, should be absolutely guaranteed. No half-measures or inadequate assurances would command the national adhesion.
Sonnino was in my opinion at that stage genuinely anxious that no counter-irredentism should be created by the incorporation of an undue number of non-Italians in the kingdom. But he had a very definite problem to face. The continuous chain of islands forming a natural barrier along the eastern shore of the Adriatic, behind which destroyers and submarines could move and assemble undetected, had constituted a standing menace to the opposite defenceless coasts of the Italian peninsula which possessed no ports worthy of the name between Venice and Brindisi. Vallona in Albania could not be made available for naval purposes without an expenditure of many millions, and were it to be permanently held this would only be as a precautionary measure to prevent it from falling into other hands. Slavism had always been regarded as a potential danger, and if Italy was to enter into a combination in which peoples having rival interests were already engaged, it would be necessary for her to assure herself that she was not going to fight for a settlement which might prove to her own ultimate disadvantage.
It was then still an accepted doctrine that Russia would some day become a naval factor in the Mediterranean, and, though she might not be suspected of any design to absorb the southern Slays, the obligations of racial affinity had already been practically demonstrated. Italian statesmen were therefore bound to consider the possibility of the establishment of naval bases independent of their control which might at a future time become a danger to their country. The opinion of naval experts was unanimous in regarding the Cursolan Islands as offering an ideal naval base and therefore a danger to Italy if left in any other hands. It was imperative to satisfy Italian exigencies in respect of a position which was claimed to be a key of the Adriatic. This was therefore one of the issues on which depended the mobilization of a million and a half of men, which might moreover, as it seemed then, carry with it the decision of Roumania, possibly also that of other Balkan States. The Russian Government, which had on its own initiative suggested the transfer of Dalmatia to Italy, made difficulties about the islands, on grounds which were apparently sentimental, as it seemed hardly probable that her statesmen were contemplating the remote possibility of reserving them as a naval base. The attitude of Russia in regard to the co-operation of Italy gave me at one time considerable anxiety. For Great Britain and France the future of the islands had little direct interest. Dalmatia, however, was a thorny question, because while the coastal towns were Italian in culture and tradition, the hinterland was wholly Slavonic, and at the same time there was force in the contention that the two were neither logically nor economically separable. The unity of Dalmatia was moreover being warmly advocated at home by a number of travellers and publicists. But at such a moment sentimental considerations were not very likely to prevail against practical ones. Probably in the beginning of 1915 no one counted on the extinction of the Habsburg system. The most sanguine only looked forward to a sensible diminution of its strength. The contingency of Croatia being transferred from the dual monarchy to a Jugo-Slav confederation had not yet been contemplated, and Sonnino was prepared, with what mental reservations I cannot say, to defer to Russian opinion and not to insist on the reversion of Fiume. As regards the islands, however, he was rigidly immovable.
Some other questions besides territorial rectifications were included in the Pact, which was to be completed by a military convention. Its terms have now long been known and amply discussed. If I have referred here to one or two particular issues which presented difficulty at a critical moment, and which must have given my friend Imperiali some sleepless nights in London, it has been rather to emphasize a belief which I have always entertained, that considerations of security and not imperialist ambition inspired the Italian statesmen who conducted negotiations.
A suspicion of Imperialism was, I think, too readily entertained outside Italy by those who did not understand the depth of a sentiment which claimed the reunion of certain areas, not strictly comprehended within the geographical limits of the peninsula, but always regarded as essential outposts ; which owed all the civilization and prosperity they possessed to Italian tradition, enterprise, and settlement. It is true there had never been a united Italy after the downfall of the Western Empire until the nineteenth century. But the municipal institutions which had been the strength of that Empire, reviving after the Dark Ages in small states and city republics, had maintained a sort of common Italian ambience over an even wider area, and later the links re-established by Venice with the eastern Adriatic shore had engendered a spirit of kinship rather than of dominion. A century of Austrian domination in the Narrow Seas had on the other hand humiliatingly reminded a reunited Italy of an insecurity of tenure which every patriot ardently desired to see eliminated.
By the beginning of April a stage was reached at which there was little left to divide us if Russian sentiment did not raise further obstacles. Meanwhile Germany was urging on a very reluctant Austria that certain territorial concessions must be made to Italy forthwith and that it would be fatal to insist on deferring the surrender of the Trentino until after an eventual peace. I could not be blind to the fact that Bülow had the support of a very strong combination which made no secret of their preference for the parecchio, if it could be secured at once, to the alternative of War. There was reason to believe that, with the co-operation of the banking corporation already referred to, strong influence could be brought to bear on senators and deputies connected with the many industrial enterprises which it controlled. Giolitti had been absent from the capital for some weeks ; but the Giolittian groups began to consolidate themselves. The proverbially hospitable Villa Malta entertained a constant stream of such guests at dinner and Princess Bülow held weekly receptions. We felt little inclination to receive at such a time, especially as many acquaintances of long standing now seemed separated from us by a wide gulf and made little secret of the sentiments they entertained towards those who were shortly to be their own country's allies. Things were said which it was not easy to forgive, and at this stage it became impossible to ignore the existence of two opposing camps in a society, the least useful members of which were the most outspoken in their hostility towards ourselves. The anonymous letter is a fairly frequent experience in Italy, and I received a number of these criticizing my activities. The most interesting was one which came after the arrest of Casement warning me that if he were executed I should be killed the following day. On the other hand, we learned at this time to appreciate our real friends, and continued to make a host of new ones. My wife felt reluctantly obliged to follow the example of the Villa Malta. The attendance at such receptions, after due allowance was made for a permanent nucleus of partisans, acted as a barometric register of the rise and fall of our respective stock in social circles.
In the midst of such uncertainties and preoccupations I received a telegram from Cornwall which left no doubt on my mind that my mother, who was in her ninetieth year, was dying, and indeed two days later, on the night of the 16th/17th of April, she passed away without having been aware that her end was near. It was hard not to have been able to give the consolation of my presence at the last to the best of mothers, or to aid my only sister in the last offices. My father had died in Rome, and it had been her wish to be buried there also. But the disabilities of war had made an always difficult problem impossible, and she was laid to rest with many generations of Rodds at North Hill near Trebartha. I have in these reminiscences made it a rule as far as possible to avoid reference to purely personal matters. But I am tempted to depart from the rule by recording an affectionate testimony to the remarkable sense of equity and fairness which distinguished my mother and was, I think, rare in the generation to which she belonged. My father's estate was left at her disposal for life in trust, she and I being joint trustees, with ultimate reversion to my sister and myself. When we had reached a certain age my mother made up her mind that it was not right or fair that we should remain indefinitely in a state of dependence on her goodwill. "Who knows," she said, "what may happen? I might become eccentric or arbitrary in my old age. And you ought to be free." She therefore with legal assistance secured the release from trust of one-half of the estate, which was forthwith divided between the reversionaries.
On the 26th of April I entered in my diary the two words Nunc dimittis. I had received the anxiously awaited telegram announcing the signature of the Pact of London. Its terms, the practical execution of which would obviously have to depend on the situation existing after the termination of hostilities, have since been much criticized, especially by those to whom the ultimate destiny of the Jugo-Slav peoples seems to have been a paramount consideration. But no one who reviews without prejudice the position of the Allies in the early months of 1915, and not least that of Serbia herself, is entitled to criticize their acceptance by the British Government. Nor could Italian statesmen have decided to bring a hesitating and divided nation into a war of such magnitude and danger without having first obtained assurances believed by them necessary to safeguard the future of their country, which would be called upon to make immense sacrifices. There remained certain formulae to be completed when the opportune moment came, but I felt that we were now practically in alliance with Italy.
The Government of Signor Salandra, with which I had had the most cordial relations, now gave me a signal manifestation of friendship, which I am anxious to acknowledge. They released the Layard pictures in answer to my renewed request without restrictions of any kind beyond the obligation of meeting the export duties which they had no power to remit. While, as I have already pointed out, our claim to remove from Italy the six gems of the collection had been already recognized and would not be disputed, I was convinced that we could not establish any title to override the law of the land as regards certain other pictures, over which the Department of Fine Arts, in virtue of subsequent legislation, was able to exercise a right of pre-emption. In equity the case for the release of the whole collection was sound. Under the letter of the law the title to detain a certain number of the pictures was incontestable. My proposals for a compromise had not been accepted by the trustees of the National Gallery, who clung to the idea of seeking legal relief, in which they would certainly have been disappointed. My friend, the Minister of the Colonies, was now so good as to urge the matter once more on the Prime Minister, and the release of the collection was sanctioned as an act of grace largely, I was given to understand, as a personal favour to myself. The action thus taken was the more sympathetic, as it entailed a good deal of criticism from a public not sufficiently well informed to appreciate the complicated antecedents of the case. To one of the strongest objectors, the eminent critic, Ugo Ojetti, whose zeal in a cause he had so much at heart I could not altogether resent, all lovers of art owe a debt of gratitude for the admirable measures taken under his supervision to preserve the principal monuments at Venice and in Northern Italy from aerial bombardment. I was anxious to have the pictures removed without delay from the proximity of the frontier, and no time was lost in having them packed and transferred from the Museo Correr to the Embassy at Rome, where they remained till they could be sent home.
It now seemed quite justifiable to assume that only a brief interval of time would suffice to bring to their inevitable conclusion the discussions with Austria-Hungary which the Minister for Foreign Affairs had been conducting in an evidently unyielding spirit regarding the compensations claimed in virtue of the terms of the Triple Alliance as a consequence of the modification of status quo in the Balkans. And yet the gravest crisis in the long battle had still to be affronted.
In this last phase the Italian Government had of course to act alone, and the enemy's manoeuvres to gain for neutrality the support of a chamber which was not really representative of the country seemed about to be crowned with success. The Austro-Hungarian Government, on the strength of reports received from Rome, continued up to the last to believe that Italy was only "bluffing," and would never go to war. So confident were they in this opinion that relatively few troops were concentrated on the Italian frontier. Erzberger, who had been once more summoned to Rome in the first days of May, complains of the delusions and inactivity of Baron Macchio, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador. Suddenly at the eleventh hour the gravity of the situation was brought home to them, and when it was too late they decided to make larger concessions. But on the 4th of May the Italian Government notified Vienna that they withdrew any proposals they had put forward for agreement, denounced the Treaty of Alliance, and resumed entire liberty of action. Their intention had been to maintain the strictest secrecy regarding the action then taken until the meeting of Parliament. I did not myself learn the formal denunciation of the Triple Alliance until several days later, when circumstances made it desirable to take the public into confidence. The enemy missions, having now realized that it was too late to deflect Salandra and Sonnino from the course on which they had resolved, rested their hopes on displacing the Government in office by intriguing with the opposition. But the people became cognizant of this intrigue, and then the strength of the popular voice, the ultima ratio in Italian national life, was revealed.
A majority among the masses had in my opinion been with us throughout. It was not only nor perhaps chiefly that the outbreak of the world's war made Trieste and the Trentino appear no longer an unrealizable dream. People had long ago made up their minds as to who was responsible, and they had followed closely and with growing indignation the unscrupulous methods of warfare by which the will of Germany was to be enforced on the world. Public sentiment, always quick to respond to the appeal of elemental justice and instinctively intolerant of prepotency, had been profoundly stirred by that treatment of Belgium, which even Count Moltke admitted to have been "certainly brutal." [In a letter addressed to General Conrad von Hoetzendorff and published by the latter in his astonishingly candid memories.] The opening phase of the submarine campaign against merchant vessels, sunk without warning in defiance of the accepted rules of naval warfare, had been responsible for the death of innocent Italian emigrants. The politician and the business world might be intimidated, but the simple man, who discussed these outrages with his fellow, was growing dangerously angry. Humble friends of mine among the working-classes said to me again and again, "We mean to have war." Then, as if to reaffirm the truth of the ancient saying, "Those whom the gods have doomed they first afflict with madness," just at this critical stage came the crime of the Lusitania, and the outraged feelings of an emotional people only needed a voice to give expression to their resentment. Eloquence is never wanting in Italy, where the word springs ready to the lips. But the occasion demanded not only eloquence but that imagination and inspiration which moves men to possess their souls. Perhaps in no other country in the world could it have happened that at such a moment a poet should indicate the course and take the helm. At the rock of Quarto, where Garibaldi had embarked with his thousand for the Sicilian expedition, d'Annunzio began his apostolate with a speech to the Ligurians, which went to the heart of the country. A second and a third speech followed, and an enthusiastic crowd assembled to welcome the orator to Rome.
Not less zealous and effective in the critical hour was the intervention of that remarkable man who in more recent years has played such a dominant part in the public life of Italy, Benito Mussolini. As his field of activity was in the north, at Milan, I had no opportunity at this time of meeting him. He began life as a teacher in a village school in his native Romagna, but early migrated to Switzerland where he learned French and studied economics. The extreme views which he advocated in a revolutionary paper led to his expulsion, and he returned to join the staff of the Socialist organ the Avanti. I have always understood that in the first instance on the outbreak of the European War Mussolini's attitude was, like that of a majority of the party to which he then still adhered, in favour of neutrality. But his conversion, if not quite as miraculously quick as that of Paul of Tarsus, was rapid and convinced. Denouncing the heresies of the Avanti he founded the Popolo d'Italia, and with a powerful pen and no prejudices in favour of understatement he became one of the most strenuous propagandists of the cause of the Allies, who have every reason to be grateful for his potent advocacy. Nor was his intervention confined to theory. He joined the Bersaglieri when Italy entered the struggle, and his tough fibre enabled him to recover from a number of serious wounds, from bursting shrapnel, after which he returned to his journal.
I do not propose to carry the record of my recollections beyond the conclusion of the Great War and shall not therefore have occasion to refer to the effects of a political leadership which I believe saved his country in a critical hour. But I may add here that the personality of the actual Prime Minister in Italy has always suggested to me a reversion to the type which impressed itself on the early history of the Renaissance by the possession of those characteristic qualities of primeval vitality, of courage, intellectual ability and forceful will to achieve a purpose which Machiavelli indicated in the word virtu, by no means to be confused with its English homonym.
The meeting of Parliament which would have to decide the great issue and confer extraordinary powers on the Government drew near. On the 7th of May Giolitti came to Rome after an absence of several weeks. His personal attitude had remained enigmatic. There is reason to believe that his original intention had been not to oppose Salandra, for whose succession in 1914 he had prepared the way. But there had been subsequent misunderstandings, and considerable bitterness had grown up between the statesmen, with the result that in this critical period Giolitti had been left entirely in the background, which he no doubt resented. Various rumours reached me which, though their source seemed worthy of credit, I had no means of testing. Public opinion in any case charged him with having at a critical hour abandoned a passive attitude for a militant advocacy of neutralism. There had been demonstrations of hostility during his passage through Turin, and in Rome he was received with cries of Abasso il parecchio! Nevertheless, upwards of three hundred deputies left cards or letters of welcome at his house on his arrival. What may be described as his tied voters had seldom failed him when he claimed their support to secure him an adequate majority. Giolitti has stated in his memoirs that already before the 9th of May Bertolini, a former colleague in his Ministry who, during his absence, acted as leader of his group in Rome, had informed him of the offers which Austria was making.
It was not, however, till the 11th that the responsible Ministers Salandra and Sonnino received a simultaneous communication drafted in haste, and dispatched during the night, containing the ultimate concessions which Austria-Hungary, under German pressure, was prepared to grant to Italy. [Erzberger (Erlebnisse im Weltkrieg) fully confirms that the Austrian conditions had been discussed with the Opposition and communicated to Giolitti before they were sent to his Ministers.] The German Empire undertook to guarantee the loyal execution of the arrangement to be concluded to give them effect. It was now proposed that Trieste should become a free city with municipal autonomy endowed with an Italian university. But the time had gone by for negotiations with the Government in office, which had already crossed the Rubicon.
And now it was ascertained by those means which are available to Parliamentary experts that the neutralists intended to defeat the Ministry by some 300 votes out of an approximate total of 500. Giolitti himself, I was given to understand, would take no direct part in the proceedings in the Chamber, but would leave it to his followers to upset the Government. Without a vote of confidence and the indispensable credits Salandra's administration would be paralysed. On the night of the 13th of May it was announced that they had resigned. It was one of the grimmest moments I have ever experienced. Bülow and his allies were chanting victory. If not Giolitti himself, one of his nominees would, they assumed, form a more or less neutralist Cabinet, and all danger of Italy entering the war would be eliminated. But such self-congratulations were premature. They had left the people out of their reckoning.
Already on the 13th certain prominent members of the Giolittian party had been roughly handled in the streets. On the morning of the 14th a crowd shouting "Down with Giolitti!" made an irruption into the precincts of the Chamber, and did considerable damage there. The Ministers who had tendered their resignation were not in a position to make any public statement. But there were discreet indiscretions. The Corriere della Sera, in its issue of the 14th, divulged that the Triple Alliance had been denounced, and that an agreement with the Entente Powers had been signed. Gabriele d'Annunzio made a similar statement at a mass meeting at the Costanzi Theatre, where he stigmatized Giolitti as a traitor. The public became aware that it was only after the Triple Alliance had actually been denounced that Austria-Hungary had definitely formulated concessions, and they realized with growing anger that these conditions had been made known to Opposition politicians before they were actually submitted to the Government. There was a storm of protest against the attempt of a foreign State to intervene in the internal affairs of the country. [In corroboration of what I have here written, the speech made by Signor Salandra on the Capitol on the 2nd of June may be quoted. While giving Prince Bülow credit for entertaining a sincere sympathy for Italy he said, "But how many and how grave were the errors he made in translating these good intentions into action. He supposed that Italy could be deflected from her course by a certain number of millions ill-bestowed, by the influence of a limited number of individuals who had lost the sense of the national spirit, by attempting, though I hope without success, the seduction of Italian politicians." The authority of "the best judge of the situation in Italy" was invoked by the German Chancellor on the day following her declaration of war in order to convince his audience that at the beginning of May 1915 four-fifths of the Senate and two-thirds of the Chamber, including the most serious and influential statesmen, were still against the war; but the mob, supported by the chief Ministers in a Cabinet gorged with the gold of the Triple Entente, led by unscrupulous agitators, had threatened the King with revolution, and the Moderates with assassination, if war were not declared. If the Chancellor meant to include Salandra and Sonnino in his general charge of corruption, he must have assumed extraordinary credulity in his audience.] There were violent demonstrations before Giolitti's house. Cavalry and infantry were detailed to protect the residence of the special Ambassador. From Milan was heard an ominous murmur, "War or the republic!" Trieste and the Trentino were hardly referred to now, and Austria, the traditional enemy, seemed relegated to the second plane. The universal cry was "Fuori i Barbari!" ("Out with the Barbarians!") All through Saturday, the 15th, there were popular demonstrations in every part of Italy. The situation was tense. And now the next word was with the King.
Since August 1914 I had seen the King from time to time on various occasions. His Majesty was far too scrupulously observant of his obligations as a constitutional monarch ever consciously to commit himself to any expressions inconsistent with the neutrality of his country. But there had been little indications of friendship in his manner, guarded warnings suggesting prudence in certain courses, and especially a look of comradeship in the eyes, which left me in no doubt as to what his own feelings were. And was he not the grandson of Victor Emmanuel, the Liberator King, and the head of the great fighting House of Savoy? But whatever the King's own personal sentiments might be, he was now faced with a grave constitutional responsibility. His decision, because of the consequences which it must entail, would be the most serious a monarch can be called upon to take. The Government of Signor Salandra, on the eve of a declaration of war, had resigned because they had realized that they would not be supported by Parliament. The King, always the best-informed man in the country, disregarding actuarial forecasts of the Parliamentary vote, took his deliberate stand on what he believed to be the will of the people, so openly manifested in the last two days. On the 16th he confirmed the Salandra Government in office. The nation responded by acclamation. The people had come down into the piazza, and no Chamber could ignore their verdict. And so the great conspiracy failed.
Two hundred thousand citizens of Rome were reported to have gathered that afternoon in the Piazza del Popolo. The estimate seems almost fantastic. But it was on a Sunday when all were out and about. That evening, a golden evening of the Roman May, thousands and thousands of them marched up to the Embassy at Porta Pia. They were not of the type which ordinarily furnishes demonstrations, but an orderly and disciplined throng which seemed to include the best of the bourgeoisie, officials, tradesmen and craftsmen. My wife threw down armfuls of flowers from the balcony. There was a call for the flag, and then a hush fell upon the multitude, expecting a speech. But I had to repress my emotions, and could only say that my duty was still to be silent. It would be for the Government to speak.
I have never witnessed a more remarkable phenomenon than this uprising of the people. There had been nothing like it in Italy since 1859. The few witnesses surviving from that epoch pronounced the enthusiasm of 1915 to be greater. I do not believe the Government themselves had expected such unanimity. After the hectic days, which were referred to as passion week, it was evident that the die was cast. Party pledges and combinations, the insincerities and compromises of political life would have to disappear before a manifestation of the popular will which had cleared the air. Except for that of the irreconcilable Socialists, Parliamentary opposition might now be regarded as silenced. It was, however, dormant rather than dead, a condition which accounts for subsequent developments which it might otherwise be difficult to explain.
Erzberger, who already on the 9th of May, realizing the gravity of the situation and apprehending that his intrigues with the Opposition might lead to his expulsion, had had himself officially attached to Bülow's Mission, was recommended to leave Rome, and took his departure on the 17th.
Parliament assembled on the 20th of May for the most memorable meeting at which I ever assisted. The galleries were packed beyond their capacity. The President of the Council asked the Chamber to give the Government the extraordinary powers which would be necessary in the event of war. As Signor Salandra made his brief but pregnant statement of the reasons which had made this demand inevitable, members rose time after time to their feet to applaud. Only five rows of Socialists on the extreme left remained seated and grimly silent. The Bill was referred to a Committee which was directed to report forthwith. Meanwhile, Ministers went on in a body to the Senate. By the time they returned the report of the Committee was ready. As the Socialist leader, Turati, who had been appointed to the Committee, had excused himself from attendance, its report in favour of the Bill was unanimous. The reporter, the veteran patriot Boselli, made a touching and impressive address. He was followed by Barzilai, a protagonist of irredentism and one of the orators of the House. Turati then explained the dissent of a group of Socialists who believed that Italy should remain neutral, being heard with impatience. He was answered by Cicotti, as the spokesman of the other group who regarded intervention as an ideal duty. The ballot was taken at 6.50 p.m. There were 483 deputies present, two of whom abstained from voting. The Bill was carried by 407 to 74. Then the Assembly, hitherto restrained, as befitted the solemnity of the occasion, went mad with enthusiasm, and the public in the galleries joined in the patriotic manifestations. As friends pressed round to clasp Sonnino's hand, there was the shadow of a smile upon the handsome ascetic face.
At an audience of the King, to whom I had a message to convey from my sovereign, I congratulated His Majesty on the manner in which the crisis had been overcome. I shall not, I trust, be betraying a confidence in saying that the King, who had been deeply sensible of the anxious and momentous character of his decision, felt in his own quiet modest way a certain moral glow of satisfaction that he had so justly estimated the situation and had rightly acquitted himself of the duty of kingship when put to the highest test. He told me he expected to leave very shortly to join the army, when the Duke of Genoa would probably act as Regent in Rome. I was not a little gratified, because of the evidence it afforded of the cordiality of relations, when the King, who could not fail to have in mind the great uncertainties of war, asked me as a friend to be at the disposal of the Queen and the Royal Family for any services which it might be possible to render them. A few such words, a look, a pressure of the hand are very eloquent at such a moment.
Instructions had been sent to the Italian Ambassador in Vienna on the 22nd of May to announce the declaration of war. The message appears to have been stopped upon the road, as he telegraphed that he had not received the communication which he had been warned to expect. The declaration of war as from the 24th was therefore handed to the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador in Rome on the 23rd. At daybreak on the 24th an Austrian flotilla bombarded Ancona. The Counsellor of the German Embassy then proceeded to the Foreign Office to announce that if the Italians attacked the Austrians they would find German troops with them. This would entail the existence of a state of war with Germany also.
It was obvious that the withdrawal of enemy diplomatic missions to the Quirinal must entail the simultaneous departure of their missions to the Holy See. All of them left Rome by special train on the evening of the 24th. Donna Laura, the mother of Princess Bülow, was heard to say, "I have been to the station to see Bernhard off, and I have returned fully conscious that I am the widow of Marco Minghetti."
If Bülow's diplomacy had failed, there was nevertheless one point which he could reckon to the credit side of his account. He was able to render a not unimportant service to his country by inducing the Italian Government to accept a reciprocal arrangement by which subjects of the respective countries between which there had been no formal declarations of war were allowed to remain at large, together with certain provisions protecting their property. The terms of this agreement did not become known to me until somewhat later. The reciprocity stipulated in the agreement was more apparent than real because such Italians as were to be found in Germany belonged to the labouring class, and their presence would not be dangerous in a country under such rigid discipline, whereas every German in Italy was a potential agent of espionage. A bureau for the collection of information was in fact quickly improvised on the Swiss border, and the free circulation of enemy subjects in Italy was a manifest danger until the agreement was denounced.
On the following day, the first Sunday of Italy's war, there were organized demonstrations by processions to the Allied embassies. This time we were better prepared to receive them. On the balcony over the entrance in Via XX Settembre the British and Italian flags waved side by side, and flowers and ribbons had been collected. At the head of the procession marched a small pathetic group of old Garibaldians in their red shirts. The veterans of fifty-nine and sixty were bidding God-speed to the young armies of 1915. There was no longer any need for reticence, and I went down to the front door and from the steps said what it was in my heart to say---a few such simple words as the emotion of the moment inspired. When I had finished I was conscious of arms round my shoulders and rough faces against my cheek.
And so with a lighter heart for the moment, because a crisis was past, because all that one had hoped and believed had been accomplished, I watched the long procession pass and melt away through Porta Pia, where as the twilight darkened the globe-topped crenellations, black against the evening sky, seemed like a row of altar ministrants kneeling in line to pray for the safety of the holy city. It was legitimate then to anticipate that this new accession of strength to the Allies must mean an earlier termination of the titanic struggle. And yet, in despite of that welcome sense of momentary relief, I was conscious of a vague misgiving which would not be repressed. All national wars begin with popular enthusiasm. How would it be in six months' time, in a year from then ?
On the 2nd of June Salandra addressed the citizens on the Capitol. In this historic speech he traced the conduct of the Italian Government from August 1914 until the declaration of war. He described the manoeuvres of the enemy, and denounced the falsity of the charge of betrayal which the German Chancellor had brought against the former ally. This address should be carefully studied by all who desire to understand the position which Italy had from the first adopted and had consistently maintained until the day of issue. [It has been republished, together with the Minister's other speeches and many valuable annotations by Fratelli Treves of Milan. I Discorsi della Guerra, Antonio Salandra, 1922.]
Once the great decision had been taken I received a number of gratifying letters from official and private sources. There was perhaps no one which gave me greater pleasure than that which I received from my old friend Curzon, written on the day on which he had joined the Government as Lord Privy Seal, with that affectionate touch of sympathy which he only allowed his intimate friends to appreciate.
I have sometimes been asked by my countrymen how far I was responsible for the entry of Italy into the war. Such a question reveals, I think, a rather insular misapprehension of what really took place in Italy. It no doubt suited our enemies to attribute the miscarriage of their calculations to the guile of their antagonists who, as they expressed it, encouraged the blackmailing instincts of the Government. But they had throughout disregarded and had never understood the Italian people. The latter, it should be remembered, was not aware of the conditions laid down in the Pact of London, though the nation had no doubt full confidence that the reward of victory would be the realization of long-cherished dreams of national union and territorial security. I have never doubted and have constantly affirmed both at the time and since that the moving impulse which drew the people together and led them to unite with the Allies against the forces of aggression was in the main that elemental love of justice which is in their nature. Every act committed by the enemy which estranged the sense of a common humanity had added strength to the movement, and the final rupture with the Central Powers came to them as a welcome relief.
At the same time a foreign representative actively concerned in so grave an issue, might readily do much to compromise success by inopportune action, or by giving the wrong advice to his Government. In that respect I see no reason, looking back, to minimize the importance of the part I played in the critical months of 1914-15 before Italy became our ally. I can conscientiously claim to have made few mistakes, to have taken no step which was prejudicial, and to have done my best to prevent misunderstandings on the part of others less well acquainted with Italian temperament and susceptibilities. I worked unceasingly to encourage the zealous, to put heart into the hesitating, and to remain in close and constant touch with men of every class and denomination. But I carefully refrained from appearing to exercise any pressure. To my own Government I did my best to explain the position of Italy in the Adriatic and the necessity of guaranteeing her future security if we were to expect her co-operation. I was singularly fortunate in having in Sir Edward Grey a chief who invariably treated my representations with broad and sympathetic consideration.
Nevertheless, it was not perhaps altogether surprising that after the 24th of May I found myself regarded, or at any rate represented, in Germany, as the evil genius of Italy. Bethmann-Hollweg had himself given direction to public opinion when he spoke of the Italian Government as having been bought with the gold of the Triple Entente and of the Italian people as having been misled by agents provocateurs. The Berlin Ulk produced a caricature, of which a copy reached me, where I am represented in a suit of checks sitting in the place of Marcus Aurelius on the famous horse of the Capitol. The Italian Ministers, all of them also in checks of a similar pattern, with bowed heads linked together neck to neck in a chain-gang, are depressedly climbing the Capitol slope. The cartoon is entitled "Made in England." It is true that I might not have recognized myself had my name not been inscribed on the pedestal.
A little later the Berliner Tageblatt produced an amazing article purporting to be based on a letter from a "neutral in Rome." There I read: "As a result of Sir Rennell Rodd's activities, hostility to England is growing daily in Italy.---Nothing of importance can happen in Governmental circles without Sir Rennell's consent. The Ministers, the Press, the King himself acts entirely through him. All the departments, custom-houses, banks, etc., are filled with English agents. The Foreign Minister will listen to nobody but Sir Rennell Rodd. The Prime Minister is as much under his control. At the Royal Palace he rules with the active support of Miss -----, nurse to the King's children and Queen Helena." I smiled grimly as I read this and a similar article in the Lokal Anzeiger, which gave me credit for having directed the struggle between the diplomacy of the Entente and Prince Bülow, for I thought of the admission which the latter had made to Page, that his people only believed what the censor allowed them to know.
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