XVII CHRISTMAS IN ENGLAND, 1915
From World War I Document Archive
London, December 7, 1915.
MY DEAR HOUSE:
I hear you are stroking down the Tammany tiger---an easier job than I have with the British lion. You can find out exactly who your tiger is, you know the house he lives in, the liquor he drinks, the company he goes with. The British lion isn't so easy to find. At times in English history he has dwelt in Downing Street---not so now. So far as our struggle with him is concerned, he's all over the Kingdom; for he is public opinion. The governing crowd in usual times and on usual subjects can here overrun public opinion---can make it, turn it, down it, dodge it. But it isn't so now---as it affects us. Every mother's son of 'em has made up his mind that Germany must and shall be starved out, and even Sir Edward's scalp isn't safe when they suspect that he wishes to be lenient in that matter. They keep trying to drive him out, on two counts: (1) he lets goods out of Germany for the United States "and thereby handicaps the fleet"; and (2) he failed in the Balkans. Sir Edward is too much of a gentleman for this business of rough-riding over all neutral rights and for bribing those Balkan bandits.
I went to see him to-day about the Mocking, etc. He asked me: "Do you know that the ships of this line are really owned, in good faith, by Americans? "
"I'll answer your question," said I, "if I may then ask you one. No, I don't know of my own knowledge. Now, do you know that they are not owned by Americans?"
He had to confess that he, of his own knowledge, didn't know.
"Then," I said, "for the relief of us both, I pray you hurry up your prize court."
When we'd got done quarrelling about ships and I started to go, he asked me how I liked Wordsworth's war poems. "The best of all war poems," said he, "because they don't glorify war but have to do with its philosophy. " Then he told me that some friend of his had just got out a little volume of these war poems selected from Wordsworth; "and I'm going to send you a copy."
"Just in time," said I, "for I have a copy of 'The Life and Letters of John Hay' that I'm sending to you."
He's coming to dine with me in a night or two: he'll do anything but discuss our Note with me. And he's the only member of the Government who, I think, would like to meet our views; and he can't. To use the language of Lowell about the campaign of Governor Kent---these British are hell-bent on starving the Germans out, and neutrals have mighty few rights till that job's done.
The worst of it is that the job won't be done for a very long time. I've been making a sort of systematic round of the Cabinet to see what these fellows think about things in general at this stage of the game. Bonar Law (the Colonies) tells me that the news from the Balkans is worse than the public or the newspapers know, and that still worse news will come. Germany will have it all her own way in that quarter.
"And take Egypt and the canal?"
" I didn't say that," he replied. But he showed that he fears even that.
I could go on with a dozen of 'em; but I sat down to write you a Christmas letter, and nothing else. The best news I have for you is not news at all, but I conceive it to be one of the best hopes of the future. In spite of Irishmen past, present, and to come; in spite of Germans, whose fuss will soon be over; in spite of lawyers, who (if left alone) would bankrupt empires as their clients and think they'd won a victory; I'm going to leave things here in a year and a half so that, if wise men wish to lay a plan for keeping the peace of the world, all they need to do will be to say first to Uncle Sam: "This fellow or that must understand that he can't break loose like a wild beast." If Uncle Sam agrees (and has a real navy himself), he'll wink at John Bull, and John will follow after. You see our blackleg tail-twisters have the whole thing backward. They say we truckle to the British. My plan is to lead the British---not for us to go to them but to have them come to us. We have three white men to every two white men in their whole Empire; and, when peace comes, we'll be fairly started on the road to become as rich as the war will leave them. There are four clubs in London which have no other purpose than this; and the best review in the world exists chiefly for this purpose. All we need to do is to be courteous (we can do what we like if we do it courteously). Our manners, our politicians, and our newspapers are all that keep the English-speaking white man, under our lead, from ruling the world, without any treaty or entangling alliance whatsoever. If, when you went to Berlin to talk to your gentle and timid friend, the Emperor, about disarmament before the war---if about 200 American dreadnaughts and cruisers, with real grog on 'em, had come over to make a friendly call, in the North Sea, on the 300 English dreadnaughts and cruisers---just a friendly call, admirals on admirals---the "Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Save the King "---and if General Bell, from the Philippines, had happened in London just when Kitchener happened to be home from Egypt---then, there wouldn't have been this war now. Nothing need have been said---no treaty, no alliance, nothing. For then 100 or more British naval ships would have joined the Panama naval procession and any possible enemy would have seen that combined fleet clean across the Pacific.
Now this may all be a mere Christmas fancy---a mere yarn about what might have been---because we wouldn't have sent ships here in our old mood; the crew would have missed one Sunday School. But it's this kind of thing that does the trick. But this means the practice of courtesy, and we haven't acquired the habit. Two years or more ago the training ships from Annapolis with the cadets aboard anchored down the Thames and stayed several weeks and let the boys loose in England. They go on such a voyage every two years to some country, you know. The English didn't know that fact and they took the visit as a special compliment. Their old admirals were all greatly pleased, and I hear talk about that yet. We ought to have two or three of our rear-admirals here on their fleet now. Symington, of course, is a good fellow; but he's a mere commander and attaché---not an admiral---in other words, not any particular compliment or courtesy to the British Navy. (As soon as the war began, a Japanese admiral turned up here and he is here now.) We sent over two army captains as military observers. The Russians sent a brigadier-general. We ought to have sent General Wood. You see the difference? There was no courtesy in our method. It would be the easiest and prettiest job in the world to swallow the whole British organization, lock, stock, and barrel---King, Primate, Cabinet, Lords, and Commons, feathers and all, and to make 'em follow our courteous lead anywhere. The President had them in this mood when the war started and for a long time after---till the Lusitania seemed to be forgotten and till the lawyers began to write his Notes. He can get 'em back, after the war ends, by several acts of courtesy---if we could get into the habit of doing such things as sending generals and admirals as compliments to them. The British Empire is ruled by a wily use of courtesies and decorations. If I had the President himself to do the correspondence, if I had three or four fine generals and admirals and a good bishop or two, a thoroughbred senator or two and now and then a Supreme Court Justice to come on proper errands and be engineered here in the right way---we could do or say anything we liked and they'd do whatever we'd say. I'd undertake to underwrite the whole English-speaking world to keep peace, under our leadership. Instead whereof, every move we now make is to follow them or to drive them. The latter is impossible, and the former is unbecoming to us.
But to return to Christmas.---I could go on writing for a week in this off-hand, slap-dash way, saying wise things flippantly. But Christmas---that's the thing now. Christmas! What bloody irony it is on this side the world! Still there will be many pleasant and touching things done. An Englishman came in to see me the other day and asked if I'd send $1,000 to Gerard to use in making the English prisoners in Germany as happy as possible on Christmas Day---only I must never tell anybody who did it. A lady came on the same errand---for the British prisoners in Turkey, and with a less but still a generous sum. The heroism, the generosity, the endurance and self-restraint and courtesy of these people would melt a pyramid to tears. Of course there are yellow dogs among 'em, here and there; but the genuine, thoroughbred English man or woman is the real thing---one of the realest things in this world. So polite are they that not a single English person has yet mentioned our Note to me---not one.
But every one I've met for two days has mentioned the sending of Von Papen and Boy-Ed home---not that they expect us to get into the war, but because they regard this action as maintaining our self-respect.
Nor do they neglect other things because of the war. I went to the annual dinner of the Scottish Corporation the other night---an organization which for 251 years has looked after Scotchmen stranded in London; and they collected $20,000 then and there. There's a good deal of Christmas in 'em yet. One fellow in a little patriotic speech said that the Government is spending twenty-five million dollars a day to whip the Germans.---"Cheap work, very cheap work. We can spend twice that if necessary. Why, gentlemen, we haven't exhausted our pocket-change yet."
Somehow I keep getting away from Christmas. It doesn't stay put. It'll be a memorable one here for its sorrows and for its grim determination---an empty chair at every English table. But nowhere in the world will it be different except in the small neutral states here and in the lands on your side the world.
How many Christmases the war may last, nobody's wise enough to know. That depends absolutely on Germany. The Allies announced their terms ten months ago, and nothing has yet happened to make them change them. That would leave the Germans with Germany and a secure peace---no obliteration or any other wild nonsense, but only a secure peace. Let 'em go back home, pay for the damage they've done, and then stay there.
I do hope that the actual fighting will be ended by Christmas of next year. Of course it may end with dramatic suddenness at any time, this being the only way, perhaps, for the Kaiser to save his throne. Or it may go on for two or three years. My guess is that it'll end next year---a guess subject to revision, of course, by events that can't be foreseen.
But as I said before---to come back to Christmas. Mrs. Page and I send you and Mrs. House our affectionate good wishes and the hope that you keep very well and very happy in your happy, prosperous hemisphere. We do, I thank you. We haven't been better for years---never before so busy, never, I think, so free from care. We get plenty to eat (such as it is in this tasteless wet zone), at a high cost, of course; we have comfortable beds and shoes (we spend all our time in these two things, you know); we have good company, enough to do (!!), no grievances nor ailments, no ill-will, no disappointments, a keen interest in some big things---all the chips are blue, you know; we don't feel ready for halos, nor for other uncomfortable honours; we deserve less than we get and are content with what the gods send. This, I take it, is all that Martin would call a comfortable mood for Christmas; and we are old enough and tough enough to have thick armour against trouble. When Worry knocks at the door, the butler tells him we're not at home.
And I see the most interesting work in the world cut out for me for the next twenty-five or thirty years---to get such courtesy into our dealings with these our kinsmen here, public and private---as will cause them to follow us in all the developments of democracy and---in keeping the peace of the world secure. I can't impress it on you strongly enough that the English-speaking folk have got to set the pace and keep this world in order. Nobody else is equal to the job. In all our dealings with the British, public and private, we allow it to be assumed that they lead: they don't. We lead. They'll follow, if we do really lead and are courteous to them. If we hold back, the Irishman rears up and says we are surrendering to the English! Suppose we go ahead and the English surrender to us, what can your Irishmen do then? Or your German? The British Navy is a pretty good sort of dog to have to trot under your wagon. If we are willing to have ten years of thoughtful good manners, I tell you Jellicoe will eat out of your hand.
Therefore, cheer up! It's not at all improbable that Ford and his cargo of cranks, if they get across the ocean, may strike a German mine in the North Sea. Then they'll die happy as martyrs; and the rest of us will live happy, and it'll be a Merry Christmas for everybody.
Our love to Mrs. House.
Always heartily yours,
W. H. P.
London, Christmas, 1915.
DEAR D. P. & Co.
. . . Now, since we're talking about the war, let me deliver my opinion and leave the subject. They're killing one another all right; you needn't have any doubt about that---so many thousand every day, whether there's any battle or not. When there's "nothing to report" from France, that means the regular 5,000 casualties that happen every day. There isn't any way of getting rid of men that has been forgotten or neglected. Women and children, too, of course, starve in Serbia and Poland and are massacred in Turkey. England, though she has by very much the largest army she ever had, has the smallest of all the big armies and yet I don't know a family that had men of fighting age which hasn't lost one or more members. And the worst is to come. But you never hear a complaint. Poor Mr. Dent, for instance (two sons dead), says: "It's all right. England must be saved."
And this Kingdom alone, as you know, is spending twenty-five million dollars a day. The big loan placed in the United States would last but twenty days! If this pace of slaughter and of spending go on long enough, there won't be any men or any money left on this side the world. Yet there will be both left, of course; for somehow things never quite go to the ultimate smash that seems to come. Read the history of the French Revolution. How did the French nation survive?
It will go on, unless some unexpected dramatic military event end it, for something like another year at least---many say for two years more, and some, three years more. It'll stop, of course, whenever Germany will propose terms that the Allies can consider---or something near such terms; and it won't stop before. By blockade pressure and by fighting, the Allies are gradually wearing the Germans out. We can see here the gradual pressure of events in that direction. My guess is that they won't go into a third winter.
Well, dear gentlemen, however you may feel about it, that's enough for me. My day---every day---is divided into these parts: (1) two to three hours listening to Americans or their agents here whose cargoes are stopped, to sorrowing American parents whose boys have run away and gone into the English Army, to nurses and doctors and shell makers who wish to go to France, to bereaved English men and women whose sons are "missing": can I have them found in Germany? (2) to answering letters about these same cheerful subjects; (3) to going over cases and documents prepared about all these sorts of troubles and forty other sorts, by the eight or ten secretaries of the Embassy, and a conference with every one of them; (4) the reading of two books of telegrams, one incoming, the other outgoing, and the preparation of a lot of answers; (5) going to the Foreign Office, not every day but often, to discuss more troubles there; (6) home to dinner at 8 o'clock---at home or somewhere else, and there is more talk about the war or about the political troubles. That for a regular daily routine for pretty nearly a year and a half! As I say, if anybody is keeping the war up for my entertainment, he now has my permission to stop. No time to read, no time to write, little time to think, little or no time to see the people you most wish to see, I often don't know the day of the week or of the month: it's a sort of life in the trenches, without the immediate physical danger. Then I have my cabinet meetings, my financial reports (money we spend for four governments: I had till recently about a million dollars subject to my check); then the commission for the relief of Belgium; then the Ambassadors and Ministers of the other neutral states---our task is worse than war!
Well, praise God for sleep. I get from seven to nine hours a night, unbroken; and I don't take Armageddon to bed with me.
I don't mind telling you (nobody else) that the more I see just how great statesmen work and manage great governments---the more I see of them at close range---whether in Washington or London or Berlin or Vienna or Constantinople (for these are my Capitals), the more I admire the methods of the Long Island farmers. Boys, I swear I could take our crowd and do a better job than many of these great men do. I have to spend a lot of time to correct their moves before the other fellow finds out the mistake. For instance I know I spent $2,000 in telegrams before I could make the German Government understand the British military age, and the British Government understand the German military age, for exchanging prisoners who had lost two legs or arms or both eyes; and I've had to send a man to Berlin to get a financial report from one man on one floor of a building there and to take it to another man on the floor above. Just yesterday I was reminded that I had made eighteen requests for the same information of the British Government, when the nineteenth request for it came from Washington; and I have now telegraphed that same thing nineteen times since the war began. Of course everybody's worked to death. But something else ails a lot of 'em all the way from Constantinople to London. Leaving out common gutter lying (and there's much of it) the sheer stupidity of governments is amazing. They are all so human, so mighty human! I wouldn't be a government for any earthly consideration. I'd rather be a brindled dog and trot under the wagon.
But it has been an inexpressibly interesting experience to find all this out for myself. There's a sort of weary satisfaction in feeling that you've seen too much of them to be fooled by 'em any more. And, although most men now engaged in this game of government are mere common mortals with most of the common mortal weaknesses, now and then a really big man does stumble into the business. I have my doubts whether a really big man ever deliberately goes into it.. And most of the men who the crowd for the moment thinks are big men don't really turn out so. It's a game like bull fighting. The bull is likely to kill you---pretty sure to do so if you keep at the business long enough; but in the meantime you have some exciting experiences and the applause of the audience. When you get killed, they forget you---immediately. There are two rather big men in this Government, and you wouldn't guess in three rounds who they are. But in general the war hasn't so far developed very big men in any country. Else we are yet too close to them to recognize their greatness. Joffre seems to have great stuff in him; and (I assure you) you needn't ever laugh at a Frenchman again. They are a great people. As for the British, there was never such a race. It's odd---I hear that it happens just now to be the fashion in the United States to say that the British are not doing their share. There never was a greater slander. They absolutely hold the Seven Seas. They have caught about seventy submarines and some of them are now destroying German ships in the Baltic Sea. They've sent to France by several times the largest army that any people ever sent over the sea. They are financing most of their allies and they have turned this whole island into gun and shell factories. They made a great mistake at the Dardanelles and they are slower than death to change their set methods. But no family in the land, from charcoal burners to dukes, hesitates one moment to send its sons into the army.
When the news comes of their death, they never whimper. When you come right down to hard facts, the courage and the endurance of the British and the French excel anything ever before seen on this planet. All the old stories of bravery from Homer down are outdone every day by these people. I see these British at close range, full-dress and undress; and I've got to know a lot of 'em as well as we can ever come to know anybody after we get grown. There is simply no end to the silly sides of their character. But, when the real trial comes, they don't flinch; and (except the thoroughbred American) there are no such men in the world.
A seven-foot Kansas lawyer (Kansas all over him) came to see me yesterday. He came here a month ago on some legal business. He told me yesterday that he had always despised Englishmen. He's seen a few with studhorse clothes and white spats and monocles on who had gone through Kansas to shoot in the Rocky Mountains. He couldn't understand 'em and he didn't like 'em. "So infernally uppish," said he.
"Well, what do you think of 'em now?"
"The very best people in the world," said he. I think he has a notion of enlisting!
You're still publishing books, I hear. That's a good occupation. I'd like to be doing it myself. But I can't even get time to read 'em now.
But, as you know, nobody's writing anything but war books---from Kipling to Hall Caine. Poor Kipling!---his boy's dead. I have no doubt of it. I've had all the German hospitals and prison camps searched for him in vain. These writing men and women, by the way, are as true blue and as thoroughbred as any other class. I can never forget Maurice Hewlett's brave behaviour when he thought that his flying corps son had been killed by the Germans or drowned at sea. He's no prig, but a real man. And the women are as fine as the men. . . .
To go back to books: Of course nobody can tell what effect the war will have on the writing of them, nor what sort of new writers may come up. You may be sure that everything is stirred to its profoundest depths and will be stirred still more. Some old stagers will be laid on the shelf; that's certain. What sort of new ones will come? I asked H. G. Wells this question. He has promised to think it out and tell me. He has the power to guess some things very well. I'll put that question to Conrad when I next see him.
Does anybody in the United States take the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, to be a great man? His wife is a brilliant woman; and she has kept a diary ever since he became Prime Minister; and he now has passed the longest single term in English history. Mr. Dent thinks he's the biggest man alive, and Dent has some mighty good instincts.
Talk about troubles! Think of poor Northcliffe. He from its miserable government, and the government now openly abuses him in the House of Commons. Northcliffe puts on his brass knuckles and turns the Times building upside down and sets all the Daily Mail machine guns going, and has to go to bed to rest his nerves, while the row spreads and deepens. The Government keeps hell in the prayerbook because without it they wouldn't know what to do with Northcliffe; and Northcliffe is just as sure that he has saved England as he is sure the Duke of Wellington did.
To come back to the war. (We always do.) Since I wrote the first part of this letter, I spent an evening with a member of the Cabinet and he told me so much bad military news, which they prevent the papers from publishing or even hearing, that to-night I almost share this man's opinion that the war will last till 1918. That isn't impossible. If that happens the offer that I heard a noble old buck make to a group of ladies the other night may be accepted. This old codger is about seventy-five, ruddy and saucy yet. "My dear ladies," said he, "if the war goes on and on we shall have no young men left. A double duty will fall on the old fellows. I shall be ready, when the need comes, to take four extra wives, and I daresay there are others of my generation who are as patriotic as I am."
All of which is only my long-winded, round-about diplomatic way of wishing you every one and every one of yours and all the folk in the office, their assigns, superiors, dependents, companions in labour---all, everyone and sundry, the happiest of Christmases; and when you take stock of your manifold blessings, don't forget to be thankful for the Atlantic Ocean. That's the best asset of safety that we have.
W. H. P.
6 Grosvenor Square,
London, December 7, 1915.
This is my Christmas letter to you and Chud---a poor thing, but the best I have to give you. At least it carries My love, dear, and my wishes that every Christmas under your own roof will be happier than the preceding one. Since your starting point is on the high level of your first Christmas in your own home---that's a good wish. isn't it?
I'm beginning to think a good deal of your mother and me. Here we are left alone by every one of you---in a foreign land; and, contrary to all predictions that any of you would have made about us four or five years ago, we're faring pretty well, thank you, and not on the edge of dying of loneliness at all. I tell you, I think we're pretty brave and hardy.
We're even capable of becoming cocky and saucy to every one of you. Be careful, then.
You see if you have a war to live with you don't necessarily need children: you'll have strife enough without em. We'll console ourselves with such reflections as these.
And the truth is---at least about me---that there isn't time to think of what you haven't got. Of course, I'm working, as always, to soften the relations between these two governments. So far, in spite of the pretty deep latent feeling on both sides---far worse than it ought to be and far worse than I wish it were---I'm working all the time to keep things as smooth as possible. Happily, nobody can prove it, but I believe it, that there is now and there has been all along more danger of a serious misunderstanding than anybody has known. The Germans have, of course, worked in 1000 ways to cause misunderstanding between England and the United States. Then, of course, there has been constant danger in the English bull-headed insularity which sees nothing but the Englishman's immediate need, and in the English slowness. Add to these causes the American ignorance of war and of European conditions. It has been a God's mercy for us that we have so far had a man like Sir Edward Grey in his post. And in my post, while there might well have been a better man, this much at least has been lucky---that I do have a consciousness of English history and of our common origin and some sense of the inevitable destiny of the great English-speaking race---so that, when we have come to sharp corners in the road, I have known that whatever happen we must travel in the right general direction---have known that no temporary difference must be allowed to assume a permanent quality. I have thought several times that we had passed the worst possible place, and then a still worse one would appear. It does look now as if we had faced most of the worst difficulties that can come, but I am not sure what Congress may do or provoke. If we outlast Congress, we shall be safe. Now to come through this enormous war even with no worse feeling than already exists between the two countries---that'll be a big thing to have done. But it's work like the work of the English fleet. Nobody can prove that Jellicoe has been a great admiral. Yet the fleet has done the whole job more successfully than if it had had sea-fights and lost a part of their ships.
Our Note has left a great deal of bad feeling---suppressed, but existent. A part of it was inevitable and (I'd say) even necessary. But we put in a lot of things that seem to me to be merely disputatious, and we didn't write it in the best form. It corresponds to what you once called suburban: do you remember? Not thoroughbred. But we'll get over even that, especially if the Administration and the courts continue to bring the Germans to book who are insulting our dignity and destroying our property and killing Americans. If we can satisfactorily settle the Lusitania trouble, the whole outlook will be very good.
Your mother and I are hearing much interesting political talk. We dined last night with Mr. Bonar Law. Sir Edward Carson was there. To-day we lunched with Lady P.---the other side, you see. There are fundamental differences continually arising. They thought a few weeks ago that they had the Prime Minister's scalp. He proved too nimble for them. Now one person after another says to you: "Kitchener doesn't deserve the reverence the people give him." More and more folks say he's hard to work with---is domineering and selfish. Nobody seems really to know him; and there are some signs that there may be a row about him.
We've heard nothing from Harold in quite a little while. We have, you know, three of our footmen in the war. Allen was wounded at Loos---a flesh, bullet-wound. He's about well now and is soon going back. Leslie is in the trenches and a postal card came from him the other day. The third one, Philip, is a prisoner in Germany. Your mother sent him a lot of things, but we've never heard whether he received them or not. The general strain---military, political, financial---gets greater. The streets are darker than ever. The number of wounded increases rapidly. More houses are turned into hospitals. The Manchesters', next door, is a hospital now. And everybody fears worse days are to come. But they have no nerves, these English. They grit their teeth, but they go on bravely, enduring everything. We run in to experiences every day that melt you, and the heroic things we hear outnumber and outdo all the stories in all the books.
I keep forgetting Xmas, Kitty, and this is my Xmas letter. You needn't put it in your stocking, but you'd really better burn it up. It would be the ruination of the world if my frank comments got loose. It's for you and Chud only. You may fill your stocking full of the best wishes you ever received---enough to fill the polar bear skin. And I send you both my love.
London, Christmas, 1915.
DEAR BOYS: R. W. P., A. W. P., F. C. P.
A Merry Christmas to you! Good cheer, good company, good food, good fires, good golf. I suppose (though the Lord only knows) that I'll have to be here another Christmas; but another after that? Not on your life!
I think I'm as cheerful and hopeful as I ever was, but this experience here and the war have caused my general confidence in the orderly progress of civilization somewhat to readjust itself. I think that any man who looks over the world and who knows something of the history of human society---I mean any American who really believes in democracy and in human progress---is somewhat saddened to see the exceeding slowness of that progress. In the early days of our Republic hopeful Americans held the opinion that the other countries of the world would follow our example;. that is to say, would educate the people, would give the masses a chance to become real men, would make their governments and institutions serve the people, would dispense with kings and gross privileges and become free. Well, they haven't done it. France is nominally a republic, but the masses of it people are far, far backward. Switzerland is a republic, but a very small one. Denmark is a very free state, in spite of its monarchical form of government. In South America they think they have republics, but they haven't the slightest idea of the real education and freedom of the people. Practically, therefore, the United States and the self-governing British colonies are the only really free countries of much importance in the whole world---these and this Kingdom. Our example hasn't been followed. In Europe, Germany and Russia in particular have monarchs who are in absolute command. Thus on both sides the world, so far as government and the danger of war are concerned, there hasn't been very much real progress in five hundred years.
This is a little disappointing. And it means, of course, that we are likely to have periodical earthquakes like this present one till some radical change come. Republics have their faults, no doubt. But they have at least this virtue: that no country where the people really have the control of their government is likely to start out deliberately on any war of conquest---is not likely to run amuck---and will not regard its population as mere food for shell and powder.
Nor do I believe that our example of our government has, relatively to our strength and wealth and population, as much influence in the world as we had one hundred years ago. Our people have no foreign consciousness and I know that our government knows almost nothing about European affairs; nor do our people know. As regards foreign affairs our government lacks proper machinery. Take this as an illustration: The President wrote vigorous and proper notes about the Lusitania and took a firm stand with Germany. Germany has paid no attention to the Lusitania outrage. Yet (as I understand it) the people will not run the risk of war---or the Administration thinks they will not---and hence the President can do nothing to make his threat good. Therefore we stand in a ridiculous situation; and nobody cares how many notes we write. I don't know that the President could have done differently---unless, before he sent the Lusitania notes, he had called Congress together and submitted his notes to Congress. But, as the matter stands, the Germans are merely encouraged to blow up factories and practically to carry on war in the United States, because they know we can (or will) do nothing. Mere notes break nobody's skin.
We don't seem to have any machinery to bring any influence to bear on foreign governments or on foreign opinion; and, this being so, it is little wonder that the rest of the world does not follow our republican example.
And this sort of impotence in influence has curious effects at home. For example, the ship-purchase bill, as it was at the last session of Congress, was an economic crime. See what has happened: We have waked up to the fact that we must have a big navy. Well, a navy is of no far-fighting value unless we have auxiliary ships and a lot of 'em. Admiral Jellicoe has 3,000 ships under his command; and he couldn't keep his fleet on the job he didn't have them. Most of them are commandeered merchant, passenger, and fishing ships. Now we haven't merchant, passenger, and fishing ships to commandeer. We've got to build and buy auxiliary ships to our navy. This, to my mind, makes the new ship-purchase bill, something like it, necessary. Else our navy, when comes to the scratch, will be of no fighting value, however big it be. It's the price we've got to pay for not having built up a merchant marine. And we haven't built up a merchant marine because we've had no foreign consciousness. While our Irishmen have been leading us to twist the Lion's tail, we've been depending almost wholly on English ships---and, in late years, on German ships. You can't cross the ocean yet in a decent American ship. You see, we've declared our independence; and, so far a individual development goes, we've worked it out. But the governmental machinery for maintaining it and for making it visible to the world---we've simply neglected to build it or to shape it. Hence the President's notes hurt nobody and accomplish nothing; nor could our navy put up a real fight, for lack of colliers and supply ships. It's the same way all around the horizon. And these are the reasons we haven't made our democracy impress the world more.
A democracy is not a quick-trigger war-engine and can't be made into one. When the quick-trigger engines get to work, they forget that a democracy does not consider fighting the first duty of man. You can bend your energies to peaceful pursuits or you can bend them to war. It's hard to do both at the same time. The Germans are the only people who have done both at the same time; and even they didn't get their navy big enough for their needs.
When the infernal thing's over---that'll be a glad day; and the European world won't really know what it has cost in men and money and loss of standards till it is over. . . .
W. H. P.
London, Christmas, 1915.
For your first Christmas, I have the honour to send you my most affectionate greetings; and in wishing you all good health, I take the liberty humbly to indicate some of the favours of fortune that I am pleased to think I enjoy in common with you.
First---I hear with pleasure that you are quite well content with yourself---not because of a reasoned conviction of your own worth, which would be mere vanity and unworthy of you, but by reason of a philosophical disposition. It is too early for you to bother over problems of self-improvement---as for me it is too late; wherefore we are alike in the calm of our self-content. What others may think or say about us is a subject of the smallest concern to us. Therefore they generally speak well of us; for there is little satisfaction in speaking ill of men who care nothing for your opinion of them. Then, too, we are content to be where we happen to be---a fact that we did not order in the beginning and need not now concern ourselves about. Consider the eternal coming and going of folk. On every road many are travelling one way and an equal number are travelling the other way. It is obvious that, if they were all content to remain at the places whence they set forth, the distribution of the population would be the same. Why therefore move hither and yon at the cost of much time and labour and money, since nothing is accomplished thereby? We spare ourselves by being content to remain where we are. We thereby have the more time for reflection. Nor can we help observing with a smile that all persons who have good reasons to see us themselves make the necessary journey after they discover that we remain fixed.
Again, people about us are continually doing this service and that for some other people---running errands, mending fences, bearing messages, building, and tearing down; and they all demand equal service in return. Thus a large part of mankind keeps itself in constant motion like bubbles of water racing around a pool at the foot of a water-fall---or like rabbits hurrying into their warrens and immediately hurrying out again. Whereas, while these antics amuse and sadden us, we for the most part remain where we are. Hence our wants are few; they are generally most courteously supplied without our asking; or, if we happen to be momentarily forgotten, we can quickly secure anything in the neighbourhood by a little judicious squalling. Why, then, should we whirl as bubbles or scurry as rabbits? Our conquering self-possession gives a masterful charm to life that the victims of perpetual locomotion never seem to attain.
You have discovered, and my experience confirms yours, that a perpetual self-consciousness brings most of the misery of the world. Men see others who are richer than they; or more famous, or more fortunate---so they think; and they become envious. You have not reached the period of such empty vanity, and I have long passed it. Let us, therefore, make our mutual vows not to be disturbed by the good luck or the good graces of others, but to continue, instead, to contemplate the contented cat on the rug and the unenvious sky that hangs over all alike.
This mood will continue to keep our lives simple. Consider our diet. Could anything be simpler or better? We are not even tempted by the poisonous victuals wherewith mankind destroys itself. The very first sound law of life is to look to the belly; for it is what goes into a man that ruins him. By avoiding murderous food, we may hope to become centenarians. And why not? The golden streets will not be torn up and we need be in no indecent haste to travel even on them. The satisfactions of this life are just beginning for us; and we shall be wise to endure this world for as long a period as possible.
And sleep is good-long sleep and often; and your age and mine permit us to indulge in it without the sneers of the lark or the cock or the dawn.
I pray you, sir, therefore, accept my homage as the philosopher that you are and my assurance of that high esteem indicated by my faithful imitation of your virtues. I am,
With the most distinguished consideration,
With the sincerest esteem, and
With the most allectionate good wishes,
To Master Walter Hines Page,
On Christmas, 1915.
- ↑ By William Roscoe Thayer, published in 1915.
- ↑ The Ambassador had in mind The Round Table.
- ↑ James W. Gerard, American Ambassador to Germany, and, as such, in charge of British interests in Germany.
- ↑ The German military and naval attachés, whose persistent and outrageous violation of American laws led to their dismissal by President Wilson.
- ↑ E. S. Martin, Editor of Life.
- ↑ Mr. Henry Ford at this time was getting together his famous peace ship, which was to sail to Europe "to get the boys out of the trenches by Christmas."
- ↑ J. M. Dent, the London publisher.
- ↑ $500,000,000.
- ↑ The Ambassador's sons.
- ↑ The Ambassador's infant grandson, son of Arthur W. Page.