CHAPTER II: ROME 1903-1904
Early in the next year, 1903, I was directed to inquire whether the nomination of Sir Francis Bertie would be agreeable to the Italian Government. Prinetti, who expressed his regret that it had not been possible to accede to his suggestion, made many inquiries about the new Ambassador, and when I said that he was an old friend, courteously observed, "C'est déjà une recommandation." I had, as a matter of fact, some misgivings as to whether Bertie, a first-class fighting man, would get on with Prinetti, who carried his head very high.
During my year in charge of the Embassy, the Italian Government had always treated me with all the regard shown to the heads of missions, and a new precedent was now created in my favour. At a dinner for the diplomatic representatives accredited to the Quirinal, the King invited Meyer and myself to shoot with him at Castel Porziano. It was the first occasion on which the party had included others than the King's own staff, and as a modest chargé d'affaires, I was much gratified by a compliment which was often repeated in subsequent years. I there killed my first wild boar, and indeed was credited with several. These parties offered opportunities for long and quite informal conversations on many subjects, and it was on such occasions that I learned to know and appreciate the very able Sovereign, whose interpretation of the duties of kingship was reasoned and profound.
In my long service in many countries, I have been able to study the minds and personality of many reigning princes, who, when the ice of official relations can be broken, are generally the best of company, if only by reason of the exceptional opportunities which their high position affords them of obtaining information. I shall not incur the suspicion of being a courtier in paying a special tribute of respect to the Italian Sovereign who, too sincere and human to be very tolerant of formalities, graciously admitted me to his intimacy. and impressed me profoundly with the sense of his great rectitude and with the philosophic balance of his well-stored mind, wholly dissociated from convention and prejudice. Circumstances enabled me over many years to watch the antecedents and test the results of decisions taken at critical moments by one who regarded himself somewhat in the relation of a permanent Under-Secretary to succeeding Governments, and I have never known His Majesty's good judgment at fault.
A few days after that expedition to the Ostian shore a tragedy took place. The Ministers met once a week at the Palace for the signing of ordinances and decrees, a ceremony corresponding in some measure to the holding of a Privy Council by the King at home. On such an occasion Prinetti was suddenly affected by a stroke which rendered his right arm and leg powerless. He did not lose consciousness, and under the care of the famous physician, Guido Bacelli, who was his colleague as Minister of Public Instruction, he was conveyed to his house. It was a severe blow to the administration, in which he was the dominant element. The old Prime Minister was in failing health, and the Minister of the Treasury had been for some time unable to attend to his duties. The Department of Foreign Affairs was entrusted to a gallant and very charming sailor, Admiral Morin. It is an experiment which we, the leading maritime power, have never tried. In Italy the sailor has more than once proved an efficient diplomatist.
Prinetti's public services were rewarded with a Marquisate. He made a partial recovery, but died prematurely without having been able to return to official life. I used to visit him from time to time, and found that his sense of humour was still keen as ever. He was rather deaf, and took full advantage of that infirmity in not hearing anything which he did not want to hear. A charming lady whose succession of admirers had long been a conversational asset in a society which is critical but not censorious, came to see him during his convalescence the day after a famous party of which all Rome was talking. "I want you to tell me," said Prinetti, "all about the ball last night." "I did not go," his fair visitor replied. "I went to bed instead." " Ah," rejoined Prinetti, pretending to have misheard, "e chi c'era? "
My wife could claim credit for one of the sensations of the season, a performance which she organized of the fairy scenes of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," acted entirely by very young children. She spent many patient weeks in training them, with results that exceeded all anticipation. Our eldest boy, not yet seven, was Puck, and young Meyer, Bottom. Titania, who lives in the Friulian country which was in hostile occupation during the war; has now a considerable family of her own. It was not without a pang of regret that I learned that Cobweb, who was on the enemy side in the late war, lies buried somewhere in France.
Bertie arrived in February to present his letters and inspect the Embassy, after which he returned to England for a few weeks. When at length he took up his work in March, there was not too much time to prepare his house for the visit of King Edward, which was to take place on the 27th of April. The Romans have the reputation of being a rather cold people, but on the King's arrival they showed unmistakable enthusiasm. His little speech at the Palace dinner struck exactly the right note. I had been besieged with applications for an advance copy of what he was going to say. In Italy, it is customary on such ceremonial occasions to read a speech which has been carefully prepared. King Edward could never be induced to follow that practice. What he said, he explained, would be the expression of his feelings at the moment he rose. We had to take rapid notes at the dinner table so as to reproduce it as closely as possible for the Press.
A proposed visit to the Pontiff had preoccupied us not a little. The Vatican was as ready to receive such a visit as the King was to pay it. But to bring it about was not so easy in those days. It was evident that the Government at home were concerned as to the effect it might produce in some of the constituencies. The first approach had been made through Monsignor Stonor who, though a most charming prelate of venerable and immaculate appearance, was hardly the man to deal with a delicate negotiation. From our point of view it was essential, in order to justify the visit, that Leo XIII should express a desire to see the King. A suggestion to this effect, perhaps not too discreetly advanced, only drew a reply from Cardinal Rampolla, the Secretary of State, that it was contrary to all ecclesiastical precedent for the Pope to invite a visit from a Protestant Sovereign. A Catholic prince would, of course, recognize it to be his duty to visit the head of his Church. Obviously, however, only a little tact was needed to conciliate the points of view.
Bertie had to leave for Naples to await the royal yacht before the matter had been settled, and I felt somewhat nervous lest it should not be arranged before the King's arrival. Fortunately, Sir Esme Howard, our present Ambassador at Washington, who had left the Diplomatic Service to take up philanthropic work, and had now returned to the Embassy as a volunteer, was very intimate with Monsignor Merry del Val, by whose assistance the problem was solved. Leo XIII became himself the Deus ex Machina. A reference to His Majesty's approaching visit to Rome led him without any hesitation to express a strong personal desire to see the King.
Another nice point had still to be settled. The King was staying at the Quirinal, and could not proceed thence directly to the Vatican. Cardinal Rampolla proposed that His Majesty should first go to the English College and drive on from there. At the College he would himself be able to pay the customary visit which it is usual for the Secretary of State to make to sovereigns at the Embassies or Legations accredited to the Holy See. King Edward, on the other hand, took the view that during his presence in Rome the functions of the Ambassador, who was his personal representative, were in abeyance. The Embassy therefore became the King's own private house and neutral ground. He proposed to go from the Quirinal to the Embassy, and thence proceed to the Vatican in Sir Francis Bertie's private carriage. This solution was adopted, and visits to and from the Cardinal Secretary of State were dispensed with. Much ado it may seem to-day over a little matter. But there were no precedents, and some form of procedure had to be established.
The King was still easily tired, but he omitted no item of official duty. I retain a pleasant picture of him at the Embassy reception paying his homage to the great Adelaide Ristori. The visit was to be returned by the King of Italy in November.
A month later the German Emperor came to Rome. He also paid a visit to Leo XIII after lunching with the Prussian Minister to the Vatican. His own carriage had been sent from Berlin to convey him, together with a picked escort of cuirassiers. Their magnificent appearance was no doubt intended to impress the Romans, but it had quite the opposite effect, and their presence only evoked criticism of the Emperor's want of tact in bringing his own guards with him. He was well received, but with less demonstrativeness than King Edward.
I was now able, after sixteen months spent consecutively at my post, to go for a few weeks to England, where Chamberlain's new financial departure monopolized public interest. But I had to return in the middle of July to relieve Bertie and once more take charge of the Embassy. The Pope, who was ninety-four years old, was very ill, and his death had been expected even before I had left London. I had only once seen Leo XIII accidentally. He was crossing the public rooms at the Vatican when I happened to be there. He looked very fragile, the unsubstantial wraith of a man. Cardinals were already assembling in the city in anticipation of a Conclave. But the aged Pontiff still lived on.
The election promised to be a very interesting one. The general view was that Rampolla would succeed. On the other hand, his French sympathies were sure to arouse opposition in certain quarters. The Italians were reported to desire the choice of Cardinal Serafino Vannutelli, who belonged to the Roman province and had relatives in the Civil Service. It was difficult to appreciate in those days to what extent the aspirations of the State might exercise a subconscious influence. The cue of the ecclesiastical hierarchy was still to complain of oppression. But the able men at its head must have been well aware that under existing conditions their position was stronger than it had been before. Until Rome became the capital of United Italy the Papacy remained vulnerable. Now it was secured against coercion or aggression. Not long after 1870 Marco Minghetti went to Berlin and saw Bismarck when the Chancellor was in the throes of the Kultur Kampf.
"What have you done?" said Bismarck to him: "you have created an impossible situation by abolishing the temporal power. So long as it existed we could deal with the Pontiff. One could send a fleet to Civita Vecchia. But now you have made him "Inviolable et insaisissable."
"That," replied Minghetti, "was exactly what we desired to do."
As things were, the preponderating majority of the Curia was sure to remain Italian. Probably only those who founded and evolved the ecclesiastical system could make it work. It suited Italy that the Curia should have a national character, and it was in the interest of the Vatican no less. Tacitly the two authorities understood each other well enough. During the last twenty years the understanding has progressed much further. In 1903 the time had certainly not come to drop the cry of protest, and the prison of St. Peter was a valuable practical asset.
On the evening of the 18th of July I walked down after dinner to the Piazza of St. Peter's. The Basilica traced a vast black silhouette against the stars, and a stillness almost oppressive was only broken by the splashing of the fountains. There were a few people gathered round the portal of the Palace where a Swiss halberdier paced to and fro. A light burned in the high window of the Madonna. I was told that its darkening would give the signal for the Carabinieri to march into the Piazza. There were few other lights in the vast façade: only those of the windows of Rampolla's apartment, and those of the corner rooms where the old man who embodied in his frail person one of the most Powerful institutions in the world lay dying by degrees.
I returned the following night and learned that the Pope was hardly conscious, and that his physical resistance was wearing out. He passed away at four in the morning. There is a legend that when a pope dies the forehead is tapped with a silver hammer, and his name invoked to verify death. If such a custom ever prevailed in the Middle Ages, it has long ceased to be observed.
Three days later, on the 22nd of July, after nightfall, the embalmed body was carried down by torchlight through the haunted galleries of the Vatican to the Chapel of the Sacrament in St. Peter's, there to lie in state. The control of the populace thronging to the church was handed over to the civil authorities, a further indication of the tacit understanding. I found no difficulty in passing in with the stream of visitors. The dead Pope lay in full pontificals, a mere shadow of a human form, on a bier in the chapel. The face was already blackening and, in the dim light, hardly recognizable under the golden mitre. Swiss halberdiers lined the chapel, and at each corner of the bier stood one of the Guard of Nobles in a scarlet tunic. A certain austere simplicity contrasted with the traditions of old-time pomp. The majority of those present seemed to me drawn thither rather by curiosity than reverence. It had been the custom to pass the feet of the dead Pope through the grill of the gate for the devout to touch with their lips as they passed. Benvenuto Cellini has recorded how he duly kissed the foot of his old patron Clement VII. On this occasion the ceremony of the Bacciapiede was suppressed. The embalming had apparently not been very successful, and the lying-in-state was limited to two instead of three days.
There was rather more difficulty in obtaining a pass for St. Peter's on the evening of the 24th of July, when the funeral took place. A deceased pope is not buried at once in his destined grave. The coffin is placed provisionally in a niche high up over the arch of the Coro in the left aisle of the Basilica. Leo XIII had expressed a desire to be buried in the Lateran Church. There had been some rioting when the body of Pius IX had been removed to San Lorenzo, and it was considered undesirable to risk a similar demonstration. Therefore the tomb prepared for Leo XIII remained unfilled till 1924.
There may have been from two to three thousand people in St. Peter's. A large number were ecclesiastics or members of the regular orders. Many of those present, however, were only spectators, and to judge from a number of acquaintances whom I saw, the whites were as numerous as the blacks. No Italian police were on duty, and order was maintained by the papal Gendarmerie, in uniforms of the Napoleonic period, and the Swiss Guards. A wooden gangway had been constructed in the middle of the nave, where the Palatine Guards were aligned. These are drawn from worthy members of the bourgeoisie, and only don their uniforms on exceptional occasions. They seemed rather at a loss what to do. The vast shadowy church, and the funeral of a very eminent Pope offered all the elements for an imposing solemnity. But it failed to be impressive. There was rather a sense of decadence, of departed glory and indifference on the part of those who assisted.
At seven o'clock a procession, formed by the Chapter of St. Peter and the Guard of Nobles, escorted Cardinal Rampolla the Chapel of the Sacrament to fetch the body. It re-formed to conduct the bier with solemn chant and accompaniment of torches to the Giulian Chapel, to which had been conveyed the three coffins prescribed by tradition, of cypress, of lead, and of walnut. There were assembled the Cardinals, the Roman Princes and the Foreign Representatives. The proceedings were very lengthy. All the events of the late pontificate were rehearsed, and a parchment on which they were recorded was placed in the coffin. In conformity with usage this should also have contained three silken bags with medals for each of the twenty-six years of the reign, of gold, of silver and of bronze. I was unable to see what took place during that portion of the ceremony, but it was reported that the gold medals were omitted for reasons of economy. Then the Act of Interment was read, absolution was given, and the first coffin was closed. The cypress shell was sealed up in the leaden coffin, which was placed in the walnut case.
The Cardinals next proceeded to a space cleared for them by the Swiss Guards in front of the lofty niche, where the body was temporarily to rest. A heavy wooden panel painted to look like part of the marble wall had been removed, and the brick wall closing tile vault behind it had been opened. In front had been rigged a rough scaffolding, like that erected to clean ceilings, with ladders fixed to the sides. From the top a stout beam projected, the other end of which was secured above the niche. Pulleys for hoisting the coffin were attached to this beam and below was a primitive windlass. The load to be raised weighed a ton and a half. There was no attempt to conceal with draperies the rude timbers of the scaffolding, over which mechanics and masons in their rough working clothes were climbing. The improvised machinery seemed amateurish, and was calculated to dispel any sense of solemnity. When at length the coffin arrived, much time was consumed In attaching the ropes, getting it into position, hoisting, and sliding it back into the hollow. Some of the Cardinals grew tired and slipped away. It was nine o'clock before the operation was completed. Then the church, hitherto in semidarkness, was illuminated with the new electric lighting. A few people knelt in front of the arch. The rest slowly dispersed without method. Sic transit gloria mundi.
The Conclave for the election of a successor to Leo XIII, of which Monsignor Merry del Val would be the organizing secretary, was to open on the 1st of August. By the 31st of July sixty-two of the sixty-four members of the Sacred College had arrived. Pending the election they held daily congregations for the transaction of current business, and it was reported that at the concluding congregation the Camerlengo or Chamberlain proposed that they, as a reigning body, sede vacante, should formally renew the protest against the usurpation of the Papal States by the Italian Government. The empty form of protest seemed superfluous. But it was apparently held that not to have reasserted it after the death of a Pope might have been interpreted to imply acquiescence.
During the interval before the Conclave I went with Mark Kerr to San Vito in the Sabines to attend the wedding of an English compatriot to Donna Diana Theodoli, whose mother, an American by birth, was celebrated for her beauty. The bride had been the fairest debutante of her season, and one now felt uncertain which to admire most, the mother or the daughter. It was a charming wedding, in which every soul in the little mountain town, the ancestral home of the Theodolis, took a personal interest. The children had covered the floor of the church with a mosaic design of wild flowers. We spent the night in the old castle, once a stronghold of the Colonnas. The next day we drove some twelve miles through the hills to Valmontone to join the train to Rome. In it, to our surprise, we found Harrington, our Minister in Abyssinia. He had just landed at Naples with John Baird, who had been with the Butter expedition exploring the frontier between Abyssinia and East Africa. Baird had been under a lion whose jaw he had broken with a shot which was not immediately fatal, and had been somewhat mauled before he was rescued by his Somali attendants from a critical position. They were only passing through Rome. But I persuaded Harrington to stay with me, and not to miss the rare chance of witnessing a papal election.
On the morning of the 2nd of August, when the first scrutiny would be taken, we went to the Piazza of St. Peter's to watch for the traditional indication by which the decision of the sixty-two cardinals, completely isolated from the world, would be communicated. The voting took place at eleven. At 11.20 we saw a cloud of smoke issue from the iron chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. The smoke produced by the burning of the voting papers after they had been counted showed that there had been no result, and that the prescribed majority of two-thirds had not been secured by any candidate. At six in the evening a second ballot took place, and once more the negative smoke rose and dispersed in the August evening. On the 3rd we were again at our post of observation both in the morning and in the evening. As the third and fourth ballot produced no other result, Harrington decided to take the night train to Paris. I returned alone to the Piazza by eleven on the morning of the 4th. This time the quarter passed, and no smoke issued from the roof. By half-past eleven there could no longer be any doubt that the electors had made their choice, and the excitement in the waiting crowd became intense. The news must have spread like wildfire from mouth to mouth through the city, for the vast circular area in front of the Basilica, blazing in the summer sun, at once began to fill. I moved up towards the portico, in front of which troops had now formed a hollow square. About ten minutes before midday a silk and velvet drapery was hung upon the balustrade over the central entrance.
On the stroke of noon Cardinal Macchi appeared in the gallery, and with a resonant voice, slightly shaken with emotion, made the traditional announcement to the populace . " Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam eminentissimum reverendiwimum Dominum Cardinalem, ... Josephum Sarto." The unanticipated name of the Venetian Patriarch was greeted with an outburst of cheering, which was renewed with even more enthusiasm when Cardinal Macchi completed his announcement: "Qui nomen sibi imposuit Pius Decimus."
There was then a general rush for the church, into which I was borne on a wave of perspiring Capucins. Almost immediately afterwards the new Pope intoned the Benediction in a firm unfaltering voice from the inner gallery. Then I went to the nearest telegraph office and dispatched the news to the Foreign Office.
The election of Giuseppe Sarto, who had only obtained five votes at the first scrutiny, was a surprise. It was largely due to the influence of the foreign Cardinals, who were very glad to take the decision out of the exclusive control of the Roman group. Although strict secrecy regarding the proceedings in Conclave is the rule, a number of indiscretions soon made it possible to form a fairly correct impression of what had taken place. At the first ballot Rampolla was stated to have obtained twenty-four votes, while the second largest total was in favour of Gotti. A further accession of support for Rampolla was the signal for a dramatic scene, when a cardinal, now known to have been the Archbishop of Cracow, announced that he was instructed to signify the Austrian Emperor's disapproval of the choice of Rampolla. The latter, while declaring that he did not himself covet the Papal Chair, was reported to have protested vigorously against such outside interference. The Camerlengo, according to my informant, replied that the Conclave would treat the communication as non-avenue. Nevertheless, it seems from that moment the votes assigned to Rampolla began to diminish, and the ascendancy of the Patriarch of Venice, who was altogether independent of any combinations, became more pronounced. The votes first given to Gotti were mostly transferred to Sarto, who ended by obtaining fifty as against ten recorded by those who remained faithful to Rampolla.
It afterwards transpired that the French Cardinal who occupied the stall next to Sarto, indignant at the Austrian intervention, addressed some critical observation to his neighbour, in French. Whereupon the Venetian replied: " Nescio gallice loqui." The Frenchman, to whom such an admission must have seemed an obvious disqualification, remarked with a touch of irony, "Tu non es papabilis." The answer came from the Patriarch's heart " Deo gratias." But the next day or the day after he was to receive the homage of his French colleague.
There was much discussion at the time as to whether a definite veto had been imposed by the Austrian Emperor on the choice of Cardinal Rampolla. A bull of Pius IX had declared abhorrent all lay intervention or any external influence in a papal election. To this bull fidelity had been sworn by the members of the Sacred College. Had a real veto been asserted, a formal protest would therefore have seemed inevitable. As no such formal protest was recorded, it may be assumed that no direct veto was advanced, and that the Cardinal Archbishop of Cracow confined himself to expressing the Emperor's hope that Rampolla would not be chosen.
In a speech to the Delegations not long afterwards Count Goluchowski, the Austro-Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs, took occasion to say that there was no reason why a Cardinal should not declare in Conclave that the selection of a particular individual was undesirable to the interests of the Catholic Church. He did not say that such a declaration had actually been made, but his insistence at that time on the principle tends to confirm a report which was generally accepted.
The motives which might have inspired the Emperor's objection were matter for conjecture. The Cardinal was regarded, and rightly so, as the candidate most acceptable to France. He had brought about a rapprochement between the Vatican and the Government of the Republic, and was even credited with republican hopes for Italy. But would this have accounted for so grave a step as the intervention of Francis Joseph? Another explanation of a personal and human character has greater probability. After the tragedy of Meyerling the question whether a religious funeral might be accorded to the Archduke Rudolph, in spite of his having committed suicide, was referred to Rome. Such a proposition encountered the determined opposition of Rampolla, who insisted on the maintenance of the rule without respect of persons. Leo XIII, in compassion for the afflicted Emperor, eventually gave way on this point, and overruled his Secretary of State. The Cardinal, who had protested against any compromise, was never forgiven.
If the rejection of Rampolla was a blow to France, the election of Cardinal Sarto was not particularly welcome to the Italian Government. The semi-official Press had made propaganda for Cardinal Vannutelli, whose prospects were possibly not thereby improved. Sarto, a man of the people with a democratic tradition, genially human and universally respected for a model and saintly life, promised to become a popular Pontiff in sympathy with the masses. The Government was manifestly dissatisfied, and one organ went so far as to assert that no pope could be more dangerous than one who was essentially a Churchman.
Such without question was the Patriarch of Venice, who had succeeded in his sixty-sixth year. The descendant of a sturdy peasant stock from Riese, near Treviso, he had a fine and dignified presence, with a natural charm of address. After directing the Seminary at Treviso, and filling various ecclesiastical offices with distinction, he became Bishop of Mantua, and nine years later, in 1893, he received the Red Hat. Three days afterwards Leo XIII appointed him to be Patriarch of Venice. That office had been vacant for some time, as the first selection made for the post had been that of a non-Italian, to whom the Government had not been disposed to accord the necessary exequatur. Its issue was again delayed after Sarto had been chosen, not for any personal reasons, but because the Government claimed that the right of nomination was vested in the Italian crown. Venice had taken the place of the old Patriarchate of Aquileia, whose pretensions to be coeval as an ecclesiastical hierarchy had always been met by Rome in a conciliatory spirit. Thus Venice had from early times retained the right of choosing its own Patriarch. Crispi, who in 1893 had his reasons for emphasizing a normal hostility to the Church, maintained that the rights acquired by the Austrian Empire, when the republic was absorbed, had passed to the King of Italy with the cession of Venetia. The Vatican, on the other hand, contended that the privileges of Aquileia were not susceptible of transmission. Eventually opposition to the issue of the exequatur was withdrawn. If at the time of his election Pius X would not have been the choice of the Italian Government, he was none the less Italianissimo, and he had the traditional sentiments of a Venetian with regard to Austria. A friend of mine went to see him some years later to inquire what progress had been made in an investigation into the claims of a former member of his family to canonization. It was that Marco d'Avezzano, who had played a conspicuous part in the war against the Turks under Sobieski. He was credited with many miracles, and his girdle which had been preserved was regarded as a very potent relic by peasant women who desired to become mothers. Marco d'Avezzano had died in Austria, and was buried in the sepulchre of the Imperial family. Pius X told my friend that he himself had submitted the case for his canonization to the authorities at Rome. He went on to say that though Marco had no doubt performed many miracles in his lifetime, he had not any to his credit since his death. The fact was that he had been buried "in very bad company." His remains ought to be transferred to Italy, and then, no doubt, their miraculous influence would revive.
Pius was the ninth Venetian Pope. He had been nine years a parish priest, nine years Bishop of Mantua, and nine years Cardinal and Patriarch. He was commonly reported to have come to Rome with a return ticket. It was no doubt very hard for him to reconcile himself never to see again the beloved Venice, where he had moved among the people, living a very simple and almost austere life, which made it difficult for him to defer to the ceremonial obligations as well as to the isolation of his exalted position. In one rather endearing domestic detail he took his own way, and insisted on occasionally having his old sisters to dine in the Vatican, an innovation which rather scandalized the conventional retainers.
The Coronation took place on the 10th of August. I reached St. Peter's at eight in the morning, but had to remain sweltering in the August sun until 10.30 before I could enter the church. Tickets of admission were issued to all who applied for them, and the ceremony was thus practically held with open doors. Some 50,000 people were estimated to have passed the gates. A new departure was the prohibition, by handbills and placards, of all applause. There were nevertheless one or two attempts at demonstrations which the Pontiff himself repressed with a dignified gesture.
I have devoted to the funeral of Leo XIII and the succession of Pius X what may appear a disproportionate number of pages, seeing that I was only an interested onlooker and in no way personally associated with these events. But papal elections are relatively rare. This one, moreover, took place in midsummer, and was therefore witnessed by few strangers. I was once more in Rome when Pius X died in 1914, and Cardinal della Chiesa became Benedict XV. But I was then Ambassador, and even if I had had a moment to spare from the pressing duties which devolved upon me in the opening weeks of the Great War, I could not have wrestled with the crowd in the Piazza or assisted incognito in the ceremonies.
Lord Salisbury only survived his retirement for one year, and in August, 1903, there passed away one of the last really impressive figures of the old English political life. He had been Prime Minister during nearly fourteen years. As a modest observer and subordinate I could not always agree that his handling of foreign issues justified the reputation which he enjoyed at home of being a heaven-sent Foreign Minister. The imagination which might have assisted a very British mentality to see things as other nations see them was lacking, and he was occasionally betrayed into ironical appreciations which are inopportune on the lips of a Minister for Foreign Affairs. At Constantinople in 1876 the professional diplomatist, Sir Henry Elliot, was right in the main, and the politician plenipotentiary who recommended his recall appears to have been easily cajoled by the astute Ignatieff. Some eighteen months later he went to the opposite extreme in becoming the champion of Turkey against Russia, and was thus largely responsible for a policy which he afterwards straightforwardly admitted to have been mistaken. These lessons and other later experiences no doubt disposed him to place more confidence in the judgment of the man on the spot, and made him in the end a chief who was very loyally served. He was, so far as I could judge, more reserved in expressing his views than any of the other ministers under whom I have worked. But whatever his merits as a diplomatist may have been, he certainly commanded the confidence of his countrymen. He jealously guarded the great heritage of the Empire without ignoring the legitimate claims of other nations, and he typically represented the best Conservative tradition, which accepts change, but only after convincing proof of its necessity.
Not long before my friend, Jimmy Whistler, had passed to the great silence. I had not seen him for some time, and twenty years had gone by since the great days of the studio in Tite Street, when every day was a merry adventure. That genial artist in uncompromising aggressiveness had a very loyal and affectionate nature, and he never got over the death of his wife, the widow of Godwin the architect. I am afraid that in his latter years he was rather embittered with life, which had never been easy for him, in spite of the light-hearted bravado with which he carried his panache. There was an element of tragedy in the fact that, no doubt largely on account of his high-mettled and disputatious temperament, the most serious of craftsmen was never taken quite seriously in the country where so much of his best work was done. The Academicians would have none of him, but the National Gallery has made amends.
Another link with the past was severed that autumn by the death of Menotti Garibaldi, the elder son of the liberator. True to the family tradition he lived a poor man, and he left a good name with the humble peasantry on his small estate. I attended his funeral and walked with a crowd of old men in red shirts with rows of medals. With every year of my residence in Italy these have grown fewer and fewer, and the survivors ever more infirm. But I never see them without a thrill of emotion, and it almost overcame me when the last remnants in Rome of that band of veterans marched up at the head of a cheering crowd to the British Embassy on the declaration of war in May, 1915. That autumn the King and Queen of Italy paid a visit to Paris, where the rapprochement which had been achieved under the auspices of Prinetti secured them an enthusiastic welcome. In October the Russian Emperor was due in Rome to return the visit of the Italian Sovereigns.
For some time before the date fixed, Russian police agent swarmed in Italy, taking stock of the social conditions. It is probable that they asked for the impossible in a democratic country. In any case they could not obtain what they considered satisfactory assurances regarding his safety on the railways, and at the eleventh hour the announcement had to be made that the visit would not take place. The extreme Socialists, who had been protesting against the reception, were triumphant. They claimed to have, for the first time, exercised an influence in a foreign issue. To the vast majority in Italy, however, the decision caused profound mortification and a certain sense of humiliation. Nelidow, the Ambassador, took all the responsibility on himself. He could not well do otherwise. But he incurred an unpopularity from which he suffered until his retirement in the following December. It may be questioned how far the most successful royal visits have more than an ephemeral influence. But the renunciation under such circumstances of a visit which had long been announced could only have an unfortunate effect on relations. We had never heard the end in Italy of the Austrian Emperor's failure to return the visit of King Humbert. All the efforts made by Prinetti to bring about a better understanding with Russia were thus neutralized. A brilliant reception, however, of the King and Queen of Italy in England did something to redress the balance.
The Prime Minister Zanardelli, who was quite worn out now resigned, but he only survived his resignation a few weeks. Giolitti's chance had come, and he formed a composite administration from a number of groups of varying political colour, endeavouring though without success even to include the moderate Socialist Turati. One of the members of his Cabinet most attacked by the extreme Left was Tittoni, who now became Minister for Foreign Affairs. The successive parliamentary combinations, which Giolitti thereafter continued to manipulate so adroitly that he eventually became a virtual dictator in Italian politics, were constituted of such diverse elements that they offered little evidence to show which way his own predispositions tended. Some of his intimates have, however, assured me that the natural inclination of his typically opportunist mind was towards the right.
On the night of the 1st November the world ran the risk of being made immeasurably poorer by a fire which broke out in the Vatican just above the library with all its priceless treasures. The pontifical pumps were ineffectual from long disuse, but fortunately the Roman firemen were quickly on the spot, and no serious damage was done. To reassure the learned and scientific world at home I prepared a brief telegram for Bertie, giving an exact account of the incident. It led to a curious revelation of the still prevailing under-secretarial state of mind in my new chief, who had spent so many years in the Foreign Office, amending drafts sent up to him for revision, that it had become second nature to him never to pass one without a number of corrections in red ink. The document in question only contained a few lines, but it came back with a large number of emendations, which so far altered its sense that, as I explained to him, it no longer gave a true exposition of the case. He admitted this, but was still so reluctant to pass it in its original form that for a considerable part of the morning he laboured at it only to come to the conclusion at last that the matter could not well be stated in any other words than those formulated in the first instance. No doubt after he went to Paris, with greater experience of life in an Embassy, Bertie to some extent shook off the bureaucratic habit, but it was still so strong in him that during his comparatively short sojourn in Rome he made his chancery, accustomed to less rigid methods, very uncomfortable. It was interesting, on the other hand, to note the rapid transition which took place in the attitude of so exacting a critic towards his old department. When I had known him there no one could have been more severe than he was in his judgments on our representatives abroad. No sooner had he left the Foreign Office than he became an uncompromising censor of the institution of which he had been a pillar. He was continually coming to my room to expatiate on some new instance which he had detected of what he described as the incompetence of that department, or to read me some masterpiece of acerbity which he had just addressed to one of the under-secretaries who had replaced him. Being myself practically quarrel-proof, Bertie was always a joy to me as a master in the art of quarrelling. But then I had a real respect for his great ability and his shrewd, if slightly insular, diagnosis of foreign questions. We got on capital in spite of his expecting me to go beyond my proper function and to act as a sort of supervisory head of the chancery. But he was a difficult chief to serve.
Before I left for England at the end of 1903 to take advantage of some months of accumulated leave, Harrington arrived in Rome to join in a conference with myself and the Director-General of the Italian Colonial Department on the future policy of the two Governments in Abyssinia, and after ten days' hard work we drew up a series of recommendations, which were eventually adopted.
London was extremely agreeable with its less formal winter hospitalities during the months which we spent in our new house. A dinner-party story told by Sir Spencer Walpole amused me. When the late Lord Orford was very ill, and only a short time before his death the King, who was always constant in his loyalty to old friends, went to see him, and said to the butler who opened the door: "Will you announce me---you know who I am?" "Sir Henry Drummond Wollf, I believe," said the butler, and led the way upstairs.
I remember also a good evening spent as the guest of A. B. Walkley, when he was entertaining Bernard Shaw, Barrie, Mason, Street, and George Wyndham, with whom I sat up talking till two. George was always incorrigible in that respect, but as his brilliant life was not to be a long one, it was fortunate for his friends that he did not waste any unnecessary time in bed. Sir Walter Raleigh, with whom he had something in common, when first established at Court, claimed to have devoted five hours to sleep, four to reading, two to relaxation and the other thirteen to business. This reference here to his mode of life is not irrelevant, as I had spent my leave in completing a volume on the great Devonian for Macmillan 's "Men of Action " series.
Sir Charles Hardinge was now appointed to succeed our old friend of Berlin days, Sir Charles Scott, as Ambassador at St. Petersburg. He was only about a year senior to me in the service. Gorst, who was junior to me, took his place as Assistant Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. I had reached my forty-fifth birthday, and the prospect of realizing my ambition to become a minister at forty-five seemed very uncertain. It was nevertheless to be accomplished sooner than I anticipated. our second surviving son Peter was born on the 16th of April, and as soon as possible afterwards I returned to my post for one more summer.
I had missed President Loubet's visit to Rome, but found that it had left the atmosphere rather heavily charged. Recent utterances in Italy and Germany confirming the solidarity of the Triple Alliance had not been well received in Paris. Had they been made a little earlier, occasion might indeed have been found to postpone the visit which led to a crisis in the situation, already long strained, between France and the Vatican. The Cardinal Secretary of State had sent the French Government a protest, perhaps not couched in an altogether felicitous form, against the omission to visit the Pope in his own capital. It was reported that the note communicating its text to other States in diplomatic relations with the Vatican contained a sentence to the effect that if the Papal Nuncio was still suffered to remain in Paris it was only for reasons of a special nature. In Italy the Papal protest was represented by politicians of the extreme Left as impugning the title of Italy to Rome. But I afterwards learned that its terms had been submitted to the Government before it was dispatched. The Papacy is regarded by Italians as essentially an Italian institution, and any rebuff to the Head of the Church is bound to arouse a little touch of Chauvinism. The result of the step was that the French representative was forthwith recalled, and in July relations with the Vatican were definitely severed. Nor were they renewed during the critical years when the events which led to the cataclysm of 1914 were maturing.
The health of Sir Thomas Sanderson, who had for so many years acted as Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, compelled him for a time at any rate to renounce all active work, and Bertie, who went to London in July, 1904, was detained there to take his place. I was therefore once more to be for some time in charge of the Embassy. The lease of our house in Rome was up, and I established my family for the summer at Sorrento. Lord Lansdowne then in a very kind and flattering letter offered me the Legation at Stockholm, which counted as a first-class mission, and was about to become vacant. My professional ambition was after all thus realized though for service reasons I was not to proceed to my new post for some little time.
The summer life at Sorrento was pleasant enough, save for the scorching journeys to Rome and back in the dog days. Vesuvius entertained us with a mild eruption. One August afternoon we drove across the peninsula to Positano on the southern side to witness the festival of the Madonna at that picturesque rock-sheltered town, which once rivalled Amalfi as a flourishing commercial port. In the evening we were looking for a corner in which to unpack the food we had brought with us, when a tall friendly man, who spoke fair English, accosted us and offered his assistance. He told us he had been for seventeen years in New York, where he had prospered and now owned three hardware shops. He had been ill for some time, and had convinced himself that he would never get well unless he returned to his old home to offer a candle to the Madonna of Positano on her festival. He had come over with a return ticket, and had bought a candle so big that it had taken two men to carry it. Now he was feeling quite well, and he intended to go back to New York the following week. Coelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt.
The great event of the summer was the birth of an heir to the throne of Savoy in mid-September. A suspected agitation for the adoption of the title of Prince of Rome, desired by the anti-clericals, was discounted by the immediate announcement that the heir would be known as the Prince of Piedmont. Bertie was now appointed to Paris, and Sir Edwin Egerton from Madrid was to succeed him in Rome, where my place would be filled by Reginald Lister.
During my last period in charge of the Embassy I had first occasion to interest myself in the Layard bequest to the National Gallery, with which I had once more to deal in 1913, when further difficulties arose on the death of Lady Layard. Sir Henry Layard had left the important group of pictures, almost exclusively of the Italian school, which he had in his house at Venice, to the British nation subject to the life interest of his widow. The Italian Ministry of Public Instruction, which controls the Department of Fine Arts, had sent a notification to Lady Layard that six of the finest examples in the collection were to be placed in the catalogue of pictures, the exportation of which from Italy was prohibited. As such an inhibition would have nullified the provisions of the will, Lady Layard appealed to the Embassy. The Ambassador, after examining the terms of the edicts governing such issues, discussed the matter with the competent minister, and concluded that nothing could be done. I did not altogether agree, and obtained his consent to a further investigation of the matter. Co-operating with the Trustees of the National Gallery I was eventually able to submit to the Italian authorities a sufficient body of evidence in the form of old catalogues and newspaper reviews to prove beyond all question that these six pictures had been in England for several years, and that they had been publicly exhibited in London at the Exhibition of 1851, at Manchester and elsewhere, before they were conveyed to Venice to the house acquired there some years later by Sir Henry Layard. There was, moreover, evidence available to prove that he had taken such steps as were open to him at the time to place on record the fact of their removal from London to Venice, which suggested that, had the regulations which now provide for temporary importation then been in force, he would no doubt have fulfilled their prescriptions. The Italian Government, after considering the evidence submitted, took an equitable view of the case, and no longer insisted on the application of subsequent legislation to these six pictures, which included the portrait of Mohammed the Great. They, moreover, gave me an assurance that when the time came for their transfer to the National Gallery, no difficulty would be raised. The remaining pictures were not at that time regarded as of such exceptional value as to be included in the catalogue of non-exportable works of art.
We left Rome in November full of regrets. But I had a presentiment that I should return there some day.
Go to Chapter Three