CHAPTER III: STOCKHOLM 1905
During a brief halt in London between Rome and Stockholm the King summoned me to lunch at Buckingham Palace, and then told me he had wished me to wait for a post where I should have greater opportunities for activity, but it had been explained to him that I ought to be promoted. It thus became evident that His Majesty had not realized what an interesting situation I should find on my arrival, or how imminent was the crisis which was destined to lead to the separation between Norway and Sweden. I was to see him again before starting, and as the audience was deferred until the second week in January I secured an additional fortnight's leave. This had the countervailing disadvantage of giving time for the two youngest children to contract whooping-cough, which only declared itself as unmistakable on the day we were to leave. We had let our London house, and some immediate decision had to be taken. The chargé d'affaires was leaving Stockholm on the following day, so I could lose no more time, and started with the two elder children and their governess, while my wife conveyed the babies to the country. On the journey my eldest daughter also began to cough in a manner which caused our fellow-travellers to regard us with suspicion.
At Copenhagen Sir Edward Goschen was kind enough to be my guide. He was soon afterwards transferred to Vienna and eventually to Berlin, where the closing dramatic scene of his tenure will not be forgotten. Sir Alan Johnstone, who succeeded him, and Lady Johnstone thereafter extended to us a constant hospitality which made the attractive haven-capital such a pleasant half-way house.
Of the many cities of the world which I have seen, few make such a pleasant impression at first sight as Stockholm, which we reached after an all-night journey from Malmö, where the passenger boats from Copenhagen meet the trains for the north. It had been intensely cold during the previous weeks, and the harbour fiord round which the city is built, with the palace on the crest of an island joined to either shore by wide bridges, was closed with thick ice over which traffic was opened for foot-passengers. In the subsequent winters which I spent there the harbour was always kept open. The previous fifteen years of my life had been lived in hot countries, and I had some misgivings as to how I should stand the cold. But the Englishman is a strangely adaptable animal, and climate affects him but little. The weather had now grown somewhat milder, but all was white with snow. When the gloom of December's three or four hours' daylight is a thing of the past, and the afternoons begin to lengthen after the middle of January, the northern capital presents a very cheerful picture with its clear atmosphere and a brilliant sunshine playing on the white roofs and the frozen fiords.
The city, moreover, is admirably kept, and suggests thorough competence in municipal administration. Ships of moderate capacity come and go, and discharge their cargoes on the quays facing the fashionable residences of Strandvägen until the bales and cases are removed. But everything is deposited with order and neatness, and you will never see any of the mess or litter with which docks and wharves are generally associated. Almost before a vessel is moored a telephone wire is connected with the shore, and communication is established with clients. The Swedish telephone service was far the most efficient which I had met in my experience, and perhaps it was not the less so because, in my time at any rate, there was competition between the State administration and the original Bell Company. A general air of well-being prevails. If great fortunes are rare and ostentation is practically unknown, poverty is at any rate nowhere apparent. The urban male population is probably the best dressed in Europe. A May Day demonstration of workingmen marching in procession is remarkable for the smartness of the manifestants. It is true, I believe, that many of the best London tailors employ Swedes as cutters. Women do much of the work in agencies, banks and counting-houses, and when office hours are concluded no conventional barriers prevent them from associating freely with the other sex. Their evenings are spent in social distraction, for which there is ample provision. It is commonly said that in Sweden every one lives beyond his income. If it be true, the habit seems to have much to recommend it, as they certainly get the most out of life.
There is a sincerity and simplicity about Swedish social life which is extremely attractive. A foreigner may find it a little difficult at first to overcome a certain reserve. But once the door is opened the welcome within is very warm. There is no lack of cordial hospitality. The standard of comfort and wellbeing is high, though large fortunes are comparatively rare. Above all there is no pretension. I remember being particularly impressed with a remark which fell from one of the great ladies of the land whose husband's château is full of remarkable treasures. My wife had asked her whether among their heirlooms there was also much jewellery. She replied that there were some exceptionally fine pearls. "But," she added, "I never wear them. Few others have anything to compare with them, and one does not like to wear what others have not got."
A characteristic feature of the houses and apartments is the nest of pigeon-holes in the hall to hold the goloshes and snowshoes of visitors. Private carriages and sledges in winter were only at the disposal of officials and wealthy members of Society. Motor-cars were then still uncommon. We had our first at Stockholm. Drivers and horses, moreover, could not be kept long waiting in the bitter winter nights. So the majority went out on foot. Ample provision had therefore to be made in the ante-rooms for footgear as well as for fur coats and caps. Therefore, when the guests departed, it was not so much the carriages as the snow-boots which were called.
The Court takes a prominent part in social life. The advent of the House of Bernadotte brought with it little of the atmosphere of the First Empire. There had already long been in Sweden an assimilation of French tradition. The cabinetmakers of Stockholm produced remarkable examples of furniture in the manner associated with the reigns of Louis XV and XVI. England also contributed something to the amenities of stately interiors. Some of the finest tapestries from the short-lived Mortlake factory founded by Charles I may be seen in the royal palaces. In the country houses dinner is served on Wedgwood plates of the early nineteenth century. As you look at the family portraits which decorate the walls you ask yourself how the ancestors came to be painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and then you realize that the Swedish painter, Breda, who worked for many years with the master, had so closely caught his manner as to be readily mistaken for him.
Perhaps one of the most striking links of association between Great Britain and Sweden is to be found in the large number of Scottish names which are met in society. The names of the Swedish aristocracy may in fact be divided into three main groups: those which have a heraldic origin, drawn from the devices on the arms of northern warriors, such as Silver sword or Golden star or Lion's head; those which indicate Germanic origin from the Baltic provinces once united to Sweden; and those introduced into the country by cadets of famous Scotch houses who offered their swords to Gustavus Adolphus or Charles XII. You feel in the midst of kinsmen when the party includes a Hamilton, a Douglas, a Stuart, a Fleming, or a Spens.
A few days after my arrival I was received by King Oscar with full ceremonial, being taken to the palace in a carriage drawn by four horses, escorted by a guard of honour. Within the palace troops in the old uniforms of the days of Charles XII ---the long dark-blue coat doubled back with yellow, three-cornered hats and high black knee-boots---were on duty and presented arms with the sabre. I made my little speech in French, to which the King replied in the same language, after which we sat down and he began to talk in perfect English. The grandson of Bernadotte---the King of Sweden and Norway, of the Goths and the Vandals, as he was then styled---a splendid figure of a veteran, six foot three in height, was not only exceptionally gifted with all the graces of social and intellectual accomplishment, but he was also one of the most sympathetic of men, and I immediately fell under his charm. If I might use the word in a sense implying no disparagement, his natural sincerity was accompanied by a slightly histrionic sense, which well became the part he had to play. When I gave him the message with which King Edward had entrusted me, and asked what report I might transmit of his health, he replied that he was not only feeling the advance of years but that he was at that time not a little troubled by anxieties of State. The Crown Prince was about to assume the Regency, and would pay the visit to Norway which was due on his behalf. Meanwhile he would take a little rest. We then had some talk about literature, in which the King knew I was interested, and His Majesty presented me with two volumes of his own poems, which I was to study when I had made some progress in the Swedish language. They are full of the spirit of the sea, on which so much of his life had been spent as a naval officer until he succeeded, at the age of forty-three, after two elder brothers who stood between him and the throne and his only nephew had passed away.
After the official audience I was received by the Crown Prince, who immediately made me feel very much at home. During our four years at Stockholm circumstances brought me very frequently into conference with His Royal Highness as Regent and afterwards as King, and we met continually in the free and informal social life which the Swedish Court encouraged. It is not my intention to betray any confidences, but it would be unjust if I did not here record a tribute of regard for His Majesty's high sense of duty and his clear perception of political issues. His attitude during a very trying regency and his modest self-effacement throughout a long period of waiting as heir-apparent commanded all my respect. It is perhaps easier for an outside observer, who has no partisan feelings in public issues, to form an unbiased judgment than for a national whose sentiments at critical moments in his country's story are strongly affected. Having had opportunity to follow events very closely up to the final dissolution of the Union, I have retained a warm admiration for the tact, patience and conciliatory spirit displayed by the reigning King of Sweden at a time when he was called upon to play a most ungrateful part. Now, after twenty years, I may be permitted to offer this testimony to a Prince who honoured me with his friendship. A few days after our interview he left for Norway.
The British Legation had been reduced by the departure of the Secretary of Legation to a minimum not consistent with efficiency. An attaché who had only arrived a few weeks earlier and knew no Swedish was its only member. My predecessor, Sir William Barrington, had engaged at his own charges the services of a young Swedish gentleman to act as translator and private secretary, and I maintained him in that capacity. But as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed all communications to us in Swedish, and I could not feel entire confidence in the sketchy analysis of laws and decrees, or in the reports on the Press supplied by a supernumerary assistant, I had at once to learn enough of the written language to be quite independent. To read Swedish is a fairly easy matter for those who know German, and in a very short time I found no difficulty in dealing with all documentary work myself, or even in following current literature. But I never made a success of conversation. The accent, or perhaps not so much the accent as the vocalization, is difficult to acquire. Swedish is spoken with a rhythmic measure resembling the intonation of the lowland Scotch which an Englishman is shy of attempting to assimilate. The Swedes, moreover, are not quick, as are the southern nations, at understanding a foreigner who has not the mimetic faculty necessary to reproduce their particular cadences of voice. It was disheartening in a shop when one's carefully prepared inquiry for a certain article was met with the answer, "We do not speak German."
As I was Minister in Norway as well as in Sweden, we lost no time, after my wife had rejoined me, in going to Christiania. It was as well that we did not delay, as the crisis between the two countries which was shortly to lead to the dissolution of the Union was nearer at hand than anyone at home had realized. I had, during the short time which I had already spent at Stockholm, perceived how great a tension existed, but it was only in Christiania that my eyes were really opened to the full gravity of the situation.
The issue which actually brought matters to a head had been the demand of Norway for a separate Consular Service. But that was only a particular manifestation of a much more general divergence. This is not the place for a recapitulation of the history of an association which had already subsisted, and had been dissolved in much earlier times. The former Union covered the period from the Calmar agreement in 1397 till the beginning of the sixteenth century. The second phase dated from the peace of Kiel in January 1814, when Norway was separated from Denmark and reunited to Sweden. I am only concerned with the record of personal experiences, and therefore shall not review the reasons why a relation which was not in the beginning particularly welcomed in Norway had, after the lapse of nearly a century, failed to gain solidarity, in spite of the obvious advantages to two relatively small countries of a common policy, and a united front against the apprehended menace of an advance by the Russian Colossus towards the open Atlantic. It will suffice here to say that the Norwegians, though both racially and linguistically very near kinsmen of the Swedes, differ from them in certain essential characteristics to an extent which made it difficult to live under a common roof, though not to be excellent neighbours.
The facts of the special case at issue were clear enough. By the arrangements concluded in 1814, the Norwegians, who were in other respects to be autonomous, left their foreign affairs in the hands of the King. When in 1885 the Swedish Parliament first made its influence felt in foreign issues, the Norwegians maintained that these had practically been removed from the Sovereign's direct control, and placed under an authority that was not Norwegian. The question of the administration of foreign affairs had continued to be discussed with some acrimony over many years. Norway showed no disposition to meet the advances of Sweden when it was proposed that the King should be legislatively empowered to appoint either a Swede or a Norwegian to the post of Minister and invest him with a double parliamentary responsibility towards both countries, and this was in itself an indication that separation was the real object in view. Negotiations initiated shortly before my arrival in the Scandinavian peninsula with a view to the institution of a separate Consular Service for Norway had led to an agreement on the principle. But Sweden maintained that this must involve certain changes in the position of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and raised the question of the reciprocal relations between diplomatic representatives in foreign countries and Consuls. The Norwegians, on the other hand, contended that the introduction of any such reservations constituted a breach of the fundamental basis on which agreement had been reached. The Norwegian Prime Minister had just broken off negotiations, and had expressed the opinion that the actual situation rendered a revision of the Act of Union inevitable. It was the impasse brought about by this sudden rupture of negotiations which had caused the preoccupations to which the King had referred at my audience.
A long and interesting conversation with the Norwegian Prime Minister, M. Hagerup, who spoke English with perfect facility, threw much light on the internal situation. Apart from the political issue which was only partially reflected in the demand for a separate Consular Service, public feeling was embittered by the prevailing economic conditions which compared unfavourably with those of Sweden. The financial position was unsatisfactory, trade was stagnant, and there was much poverty. An inadequate snowfall that winter had interfered with the transport of timber, and water-power for the mills would run short. He had, he said, hoped that in the discussions on the Consular Service a point had been reached which promised an acceptable modus vivendi. But Sweden had declined to accept this proposed Consular Law without reservations regarding the position of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, reservations which to myself as a disinterested party seemed in no way unreasonable, but which the Norwegians declined to entertain. It would have been better that negotiations should never have been initiated than that they should have failed. The Radicals now claimed to be the defenders of a patriotic interest, and the Conservatives who had upheld the Union foresaw the danger that this issue would lead to its dissolution. An uncompromising spirit had evidently grown up in Norway, where public feeling was strongly roused, whereas in Sweden up to that time there had been little apparent evidence of anxiety and a certain reluctance to face real facts.
My wife and I met the Crown Prince Regent tramping through the snow, and he was good enough to invite me to come at once to the Palace, where he gave me a most interesting exposition of the situation as he saw it. He took a very pessimistic view. His forecast of events was clear and precise, and it was remarkable how the course of events justified in almost every detail the estimate which he had then formed. He was resolutely determined to do all in his power to find some conciliatory solution. So long, however, as he remained in Norway, although Regent of the two countries and responsible for the interests of both, he was quite alone with the Norwegians. The established etiquette required that his personal suite should be composed only of Norwegian subjects. They were inevitably bound to regard him as prejudiced in favour of the Swedish point of view. The influence which he could exercise was therefore relatively small. And yet the onus of a rupture, if rupture there was to be, would to some extent fall upon him as the responsible authority on the spot.
I have seldom felt more sincere sympathy for any man than I felt for the Regent, alone in the palace at Christiania, revolving a problem which he believed to be insoluble.
Those of my countrymen whose knowledge of the Scandinavian crisis was derived from the simple outlines of its successive phases reported in telegrams to the Press, can have had little idea of all the complications presented by its inner history, which it was now my duty to study and report to my Government. It may not be without interest therefore briefly to resume the problem which had to be faced. It did not take me long to conclude, from conversations which I had in Christiania, that the majority in Norway now deliberately intended to bring about the dissolution of the Union, and that the Consular question would be made the pretext. So far as my own country was concerned our attitude was one of unreserved goodwill to both peoples. But there was an aspect of the situation which under the conditions then prevailing in Europe could hardly fail to engage our attention, and which made the permanence of the Union an interest to ourselves. In Sweden, at any rate, no one in those days doubted that Russia aimed at obtaining a road to the open sea across Norwegian territory, though her recent disasters in the Japanese War seemed likely to postpone any new adventures for a certain period. Should such an ambition eventually take shape, there was good reason to believe that Germany would not be content without some territorial compensation, and a Polish partition of Norway might be contemplated. Great Britain and France had in 1855 signed a Treat with Sweden-Norway, guaranteeing the integrity of the territory of the two kingdoms. The dissolution of the Union seemed, from the terms in which the instrument was drawn, to carry with it the termination of that joint guarantee, inasmuch as it was given in view of a certain political situation which would then cease to exist. So long as the Union continued it offered a certain bulwark against the aggressive designs of other powers. But Norway standing by herself would be powerless to resist encroachment, and the position of Sweden also would then be rendered precarious.
A special Committee of the Storthing, the Norwegian Parliament, had been appointed to advise the Government on the policy to be adopted with regard to the Consular question. The Ministers actually in office when I visited Christiania were divided in their view, and half of them had gone over to the Radicals, who were quite uncompromising on the issue of foreign affairs. The Ministry was bound to resign on the report of the Committee, as to the findings of which no one entertained any doubt, and a new Government could then only be formed from the national party, as the Storthing in its actual mood would support no other. The leaders made no secret that they would put forward definite conditions before undertaking office. As these conditions would involve matters of common interest to the two countries, the Crown would have to refer them to the Swedish Government before accepting them. To such reference the Norwegians would not agree. It seemed probable therefore that the Regent would be compelled to declare his inability to form a Ministry. If he had to return to Sweden re infecta it would be the signal for the immediate appointment of a provisional Government by the Storthing, and this would imply that the kingly power had ceased to be effective, and would be tantamount to an act of revolution.
Such were the anticipations which prevailed while I was in Christiania. But shortly after my return to Stockholm events to some extent modified not the substance but the conditions of the impasse. The Parliamentary Committee by an overwhelming majority recommended the Storthing to proceed forthwith to establish a separate consular service without further reference to Sweden, and to present a law for the King's sanction inaugurating the new service not later than the 1st of April, 1906. The Chamber, by adopting this recommendation, which would probably receive unanimous approval, would practically be presenting an ultimatum to the Crown. A new Government coming into office would thus have a definite mandate from the legislature, and it would therefore be unnecessary for them to make conditions. Under these circumstances, Mr. Michelsen, one of the dissentient members of the Hagerup Cabinet who had advocated immediate action and whose resignation had been followed by that of the other Ministers, was entrusted with the Premiership. He found no difficulty in forming a coalition to carry out a policy which had already been laid down. The King was to be invited to sanction unilateral legislation by Norway on a matter of common interest to both countries, framed on lines to which Sweden had already expressed dissent. This brought the crisis of the issue much nearer, and already indicated the dissolution of the Union. An independent foreign policy for Norway and a merely personal union under a common sovereign was inconceivable. The position of a common sovereign reigning over two countries, whose not altogether latent antagonism might be developed or encouraged by other interested states, so as to menace a rupture of relations, would be untenable. We had come to the parting of the ways. What would Sweden do? My diagnosis of the situation was, for a number of reasons into which I cannot enter here, that she would accept the inevitable.
At this moment of uncertainty and general depression a redeeming element of brightness was presented by the news which reached Stockholm on the 26th of February that Prince Gustaf Adolf was engaged to Princess Margaret of Connaught. The satisfaction was the greater inasmuch as it was understood that the engagement of the heir-presumptive to a granddaughter of Queen Victoria was the result of a spontaneous impulse and not a pre-arranged decision. I felt a certain sense of personal satisfaction, because it so happened that I had myself suggested to the Swedish Minister in London, who spoke to me of the Prince's intention to travel and look round the world, that he might take the opportunity of visiting Egypt, where the Duke and Duchess of Connaught with their daughters were spending the winter. In Sweden everybody was delighted with the proposed alliance. It was now five hundred years since an English Princess, Philippa, the daughter of Henry IV, had sat on the throne of Sweden, and had been one of the most popular figures in her history.
That experience was not in the present instance, alas, to be repeated. But, as Mr. Gladstone once so well said, the influence of a life is not measured by its length so much as by its intensity, and for all that in her was helpful and kindly and gracious and sweet, the too brief presence of Princess Margaret in the land of her adoption has left a radiant memory in all classes of the population which they treasure in very loyal hearts.
The King gave a dinner-party to celebrate the announcement, and at the dinner my wife and I were summoned to see the Queen who, being a confirmed invalid, seldom received anyone and never appeared in public. On this exceptional occasion, however, she talked to us for half an hour, and revealed a keen intelligence which made me believe that her reputation for being the really moving spirit in the Royal Palace was fully justified.
We had just managed to get the Legation ready in time for a big dinner in honour of the Royal engagement. The Crown Prince Regent came with his second son. His handsome soldier brother, Prince Charles, with his pretty wife, Princess Ingeborg of Denmark, was also present, as well as the fourth and youngest son of the King, Prince Eugene, who had adopted an artist's career in no amateur spirit, and was then in my humble opinion with Anders Zorn, Bruno Liliefors and Carl Larssen one of the four outstanding painters of Sweden. The second son of the royal house, Prince Oscar, who had been like his father a sailor, had resigned all his prerogatives and the right of succession on his marriage with a lady of private station. He and his wife devoted all their time and energy to benevolent work, and were seldom seen in the social world. The dinner was followed by a dance and a cotillon, at which for a moment, at any rate, all political preoccupations were forgotten, and we were allowed to feel that however hard it might be freezing outside the ice had been broken at the British Legation.
It was at that first dinner-party at the Legation that I made the acquaintance of the famous traveller, Sven Hedin, but recently home from Asia, who accepted an invitation. There was at that time a feeling in Stockholm that we in England were in danger of hearing only one side of the issue with Norway.
Nansen had exposed the Norwegian case very fully in The Times, and owing to the great popularity which he enjoyed in the British Empire it was believed that his statement would undoubtedly have a strong influence in moulding opinion there. On the other hand, Nansen was regarded by the Swedes as having omitted to mention certain matters which were pertinent from their point of view, and to have drawn conclusions which they considered should not pass unnoticed. I was discreetly asked whether it would not be possible to have certain corrections made. I replied that as an official representative I could do nothing, and must obviously maintain an attitude of strict impartiality. But I ventured to suggest that they had also a famous explorer whose name was as well known to my countrymen as that of Nansen. Why should they not get Sven Hedin to enter the lists and break a lance. He was invited, and undertook to do so. To this extent I was responsible for the duel in which the two great travellers then engaged in the English Press.
I saw a good deal of Hedin in those days, and continued to correspond with him after he started afresh on a later journey. Probably no pioneer who has made exploration the business of his life was ever so well equipped for his work as Hedin, because of his great scientific attainments, his trained observation, and his remarkable facility for acquiring languages. At the centenary celebration of Nordenskiold's birth, to which as President of the Swedish Geographical Society he invited me, I heard him make excellent speeches in four different languages, to which a fifth, Russian, would have been added had he not realized that the Russian Minister whom he had to address would probably have been the only person present to understand him. One of the heroes of the evening on that occasion was my friend, Admiral Palander, who had been Nordenskiold's navigating officer, a splendid type of the Norse seaman. He took his holiday every year in a small sailing-vessel which he handled himself, with Peter Simple and Midshipman Easy as his only literary distraction.
I was once discussing Tibet with Hedin when he told me a story which was rather suggestive. He had said that he did not believe that the Buriat Dorjieff, whose presence in St. Petersburg had not long before caused us some pre-occupation, had any mission from any Tibetan authority of importance. He regarded him as a mere adventurer who had seen his own advantage in pretending to be an emissary. When Hedin had been received in audience at St. Petersburg he had expressed to the Emperor Nicholas the opinion that Dorjieff had not been sent by the Tibetans at all. The Tsar almost started from his chair and said, "Comment! Est-ce-qu'on m'a trompé encore une fois ?"
Looking back to the pleasant relations which we maintained during my residence in Sweden, and having had every reason to believe in Hedin's real attachment to my countrymen, and his genuine gratitude to the British authorities for their assistance, to which many of his letters bear testimony, I have always deeply regretted the attitude he assumed during the Great War. A hero-worship for Charles XII and an historic resentment at the spoliation of Sweden, together with his openly proclaimed mistrust of aggressive Russian designs on the Scandinavian peninsula, a mistrust shared by many of his countrymen, may to some extent explain his lack of sympathy with the cause of the Allies. But his manner of expressing a violent partisanship, which would not have come amiss from a belligerent subject of the Emperor William, seemed hardly appropriate to a member of a neutral state.
The next step in the issue with Norway so far as Sweden was concerned, was the summoning of a Committee of the Swedish Parliament, as a consultative body in the national emergency. It consisted of twelve members, who would hold their meetings in secret, a measure for which the constitution made provision.
Public feeling was at this time, so far as I could judge, still relatively cool in regard to the severance of the Union, and there did not appear to be any sufficiently strong and general body of opinion in favour of forcible resistance to justify its being seriously considered. In Norway there was no longer any vestige of a party to uphold its maintenance. The only sound course, therefore, was to be ready with such measures as would enable the two peoples to part in peace and guard against possible occasions for friction or resentment during the process.
Events now began to move rapidly. In the beginning of April and before the Bill for the establishment of a Separate Norwegian Consular Service could be passed through the Storthing, a last effort at conciliation was made, and a proposal was submitted by the Crown to a joint Norwegian and Swedish Council for new negotiations with a view to establishing perfect equality between the two countries in respect to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign representation. This advance was, however, immediately and decisively rejected by a refusal to consider any other proposals until the Consular Bill had been adopted by Parliament. It was passed unanimously, and then submitted for the royal approval in a Norwegian Council towards the end of May. If the Crown could have been convinced that assent might have been constitutionally accorded, it would, in my opinion, have been given. But the unilateral decision of one of the parties to the Union to separate the consular services without any preliminary arrangements as to the relations in which the consular agents would stand to the hierarchy of Foreign Affairs presented obvious difficulties which seemed to an impartial mind to render its unconditional acceptance practically impossible. The King, who resumed the reins of government for the purpose, refused his sanction to the law, whereupon the Norwegian Ministers tendered their resignations in a document which had evidently been prepared in anticipation of such a decision. It was contended that in refusing to sanction a law presented by the Norwegian Government, and passed unanimously by the Storthing, the King had acted unconstitutionally. All hope of maintaining the union was now at an end.
Meanwhile, that wonderful transformation of nature which can only be witnessed in the far north had taken place. After the winter's long suspense, we had experienced the tedious transitional period of the gradual thaw, with its false starts and reactions, with roads impassable when the caked snow began to disintegrate. In those days I used to think of Hans Andersen's birds in the town discussing whether the time had come to fly out into the country and look for the spring. Then at last a day arrived when citizens who ventured afield returned with the treasure of a little twig, the buds on which had just burst into tiny fronds. The little twig is brought home just like the dove's olive branch. Then the miracle happens. In a moment, as at the waving of a fairy wand, the whole dull-coloured world turns golden green with the magic of the uncurling leaves. The sleeping life which has lain in a trance under the blanket of snow is awake once more and thrusting through the wet earth in infinite variety of revelation to seek the sun. The marvel of the northern spring is very brief, and in a week almost it seems like full summer in the land.
The royal wedding was to take place at Windsor in the second week of June, and on the 5th we left for London. The Crown Prince had to attend another wedding in Berlin before going to England, and I felt some interest as to the conversations which would take place there regarding the Scandinavian situation and the treaty of 1855. Before leaving Stockholm, I had a long interview with the King, who was resigned but very depressed, and anxious to make it quite clear that he could not have acted otherwise. He said pathetically :
"I wish they had waited just a little longer to do this until I had been carried out to the church at Riddarholm."
It was interesting to hear from his own lips an account of his attitude during the Danish War in 1866. He was in command of the Swedish-Norwegian Fleet of observation watching in the south, and it was his desire to intervene on behalf of Denmark. But his brother, who was then on the throne, did not agree. There were, he said, many restraining influences at work, and he would not criticize his brother's decision. He himself, how ever, obtained a medical certificate which enabled him to be relieved of his command, as he could not remain there to run the risk of seeing an Austrian and a Prussian squadron pass under his guns to attack Denmark.
Before we reached England, the Norwegians had taken the anticipated action. An address to the King, courteous in its terms, declared that as he was unable to form another Ministry, he had ceased to reign, and that the Storthing had appointed a provisional Government. His Majesty was invited to name a Prince of his own house to be King of Norway. It was certainly right as well as politic on their part to make such a proposal, and had it been possible to give it immediate effect, the candidature of Prince Charles would no doubt have been welcome to Norway. But there was little prospect of its acceptance, nor could the second son of the Crown Prince contemplate such a position until the succession in Sweden was assured. The consent of the Swedish Parliament would have been necessary to enable any of the King's sons to alienate themselves, even if they had been willing to go. The Swedish people were deeply offended by the mode of procedure as well as the issue, and would give no encouragement to a proposition which the King himself showed no inclination to urge. In default of a member of the Swedish Royal Family, it appeared probable that the throne would be offered to Prince Charles of Denmark. Simultaneously, the Norwegian representatives in the joint diplomatic service tendered their resignation.
The interlude of the royal wedding during this period of preoccupation and uncertainty presented one of life's curious contrasts. The bridegroom and his brother arrived on the 12th of June and spent the night at Buckingham Palace. I then accompanied them to Windsor, and returned to meet the Crown Prince and Princess and Prince Eugene. The following day they also went to Windsor. The ceremonial reception with the escort of Life Guards and the State entry to the Castle precincts in the splendid June weather offered a picture to which in my experience no other country can offer a parallel. In the afternoon there was a garden-party, and in the evening a State banquet. My old friend, Baron de Bildt, the Swedish Minister, was also staying at the Castle, and all the while between the public functions and late into the night we discussed the critical situation. The wedding in St. George's Chapel was the prettiest thing imaginable. The weather was ideal, and place and circumstance and the evident happiness of the young couple combined to make it memorable. For a moment one forgot responsibilities and perplexities.
Then came the reaction. There was reason to fear that now that the inevitable had taken place, Sweden would be meticulous about conditions. It had even been suggested that everything should remain in suspense until the autumn, when a new Swedish Chamber would be elected, which would only meet in the following January. I had, of course, neither right nor status to offer counsel or intervene in any respect in an internal question. But in so far as a friend to both countries was entitled to. express a purely personal opinion when occasion offered, I did not conceal my own view, which was that, when once the rupture of the Union had been accepted as inevitable, it would be the worst of all policies to place obstructions in the path of Norway.
Since the crisis had developed, the attitude adopted by Sweden had gained for her general sympathy in Europe. The only sound line she could now adopt was to be large-minded and generous, and to part with a good grace which would make future relations easy. From a practical point of view, moreover, if discussion was protracted, and Sweden was not, as it was her interest to be, the first to recognize Norway as an independent state, some other power might anticipate her and establish an obligation which might react unfavourably on her future liberty of action. For the Crown there was nothing to gain in opposing obstacles. It was wiser to be magnanimous. Such was also, I gathered, the view of my friend, Bildt, for whose judgment in public questions I have, after an experience of twenty years, learned to have great respect.
It was perhaps too much to hope, in view of the inevitable influence of the human element in such issues, that there should be no further friction. One of the lessons brought home to me in my long public and diplomatic life has been that the opportunity is constantly thrown away of acquiring goodwill and actual advantage by not doing graciously and at once what we know perfectly well will have to be done in the long run. Personal considerations and fear of criticism qualify judgment, and the golden moment goes by. We in Great Britain often fail conspicuously in this respect, largely perhaps through ingrained conservatism and reluctance to venture on an untried road. In the end we grant with every appearance of acting grudgingly what we have long known we should have to yield, and thus we rather appear to surrender to importunity that which we might have acquired merit by conceding with goodwill. This is bad policy, and tends to alienate friendship. If gratitude for services willingly rendered is rare in the history of international relations, it has certainly never been testified for an ungracious concession.
Until the final and definite rupture I remained Minister to Norway as well as to Sweden, but there had been little direct contact with Norwegian Ministers, and I was therefore surprised when a few days later in London I received a very early visit from a gentleman who came on behalf of the Norwegian Government with a view to obtaining certain information for further guidance in the event of the non-acceptance of the throne by a Prince of the House of Bernadotte. His visit entailed, besides making arrangements for the emissary in question to see Lord Lansdowne, the submission of certain matters of a personal nature to King Edward himself. My visitor had to leave for Norway in twenty-four hours, and it was necessary to take a very rapid decision. It was Ascot week, and the King would, I knew, be at the races. I had a ticket for the Royal enclosure, but had not till then intended to go. Arranging therefore to meet him again in the evening, I left my visitor and caught the first available train. I managed to have a message conveyed to the King, who left his party and gave me a brief interview on the lawn, at which our business was satisfactorily settled. Resisting tempting offers to lunch from friends who caught sight of me at that most brilliant of meetings, I returned to London immediately, having stayed barely an hour on the course, and I have not been there since. Lord Lansdowne, to whom I explained the situation, was good enough to receive my visitor, who left the following morning with what he appeared to consider a sufficient answer to his questions.
If an immediate and amicable settlement proved in practice impossible, the Crown Prince Regent, who throughout this crisis showed remarkable statesmanship, was successful in securing the agreement of the Swedish Cabinet to a royal message to Parliament proposing that the Riksdag should nominate delegates to meet delegates from the Storthing, who would consider under what conditions the Union could be dissolved. The message was generally well received. But the secret committee had not yet reported. The longer the situation remained indefinite the more difficult it became, because the Swedish people, who in the initial stages appeared less concerned than might have been expected, were, now that the Rubicon had been crossed, becoming more restive, and the Conservative organs were accusing the Government of weakness.
On the other hand, I was informed in Copenhagen on my way back that the inconvenience of having no settled form of government was beginning to be seriously felt in Norway, and that if the Swedish decision were not quickly received it would be difficult to keep the public from demanding further action. In national emergencies many expedients are adopted, expedients too, not always directly authorized by the responsible leaders. Throughout this crisis Denmark was made the focus of certain activities which were intended to react on Sweden. Considerable capital was being made there of the danger of a republican rally in Norway if the question of her future king were not quickly determined. It required no great diplomatic acumen to understand the motives of a form of propaganda for which I do not think the provisional Government in Norway were responsible.
1 had been very anxious to remain in England a few days longer because of an expected event in the family, but had been obliged to return to my post at the beginning of July in order to be present at the public reception of Prince Gustaf Adolf and his bride. The Swedes were on that occasion very demonstrative in their enthusiasm, and it was gratifying to hear every one speaking of the English Princess in terms which came from the heart. At the dinner-party given in her honour at the Palace the old King said to me, "Every one in Sweden is in love with the Princess, but I most of all." Her new life thus began under pleasant auspices although in troublous times. Some happy instinct, deriving from the essential goodness and healthy home training of the young Princess, seemed to guide her every action, and there was nothing that she did not do rightly and well. She moreover brought a new element of life and gaiety into a depressed Court, and appealed to the national sentiment by genial association in all popular interests and pursuits. Not long after their arrival she said to me, "The world is changing very fast, and if destiny has placed one in an exceptional position one must do one's best to deserve it." This was the spirit in which she entered on her new life.
My own personal preoccupations were relieved two or three days after my return by a telegram from London announcing the birth of our youngest son. The Crown Prince, who had now resumed the Regency, graciously undertook to be his godfather, and we were for a moment rather puzzled how to familiarize a name so unusual in England as Gustaf, until a really somewhat obvious solution suggested itself in the adoption of Taffy, a nomenclature which I understand the shipmates of his term in the gun-room have adopted with general approval. A little later I had to go to Marstrand in the south of Sweden, where the King was leading a quiet life on board his yacht. He had just been appointed an honorary Admiral of the British Navy, and I had been instructed to convey to His Majesty the uniform as a present from King Edward. On my arrival I found that he had retired to bed in his cabin with a cold, but he insisted on receiving me there, and when I told him of the happy event in my own household the venerable monarch with a natural gesture drew me to him and kissed me on both cheeks.
There had been no indiscreet leakage regarding the discussions in the secret committee of the Riksdag. But a number of schemes were being ventilated by the public voice of the country, not all of them in a conciliatory spirit. If an acceptable settlement were to be reached, Swedish amour propre, which had been wounded by the manner of the rupture, would have in some measure to be satisfied. At last, on the 25th of July, the Committee's resolution was announced. It was to the effect that Sweden should agree to separation on certain conditions to be discussed subsequently, provided it were demanded after new elections had been held in Norway or after popular verdict had been obtained by a plebiscite. The Swedish Parliament adopted the resolution of the Committee without debate. The Ministry, whose proposals for a settlement had not been endorsed, resigned. They were replaced by a coalition under M. Lundeberg, which was favourable to settlement. Norway agreed to the plebiscite which was held forthwith, and recorded an almost unanimous voice for the dissolution of the Union. The worst difficulties seemed now to have been surmounted, and yet an acute phase was still to come.
In Copenhagen it was assumed that the offer of the throne to Prince Charles of Denmark would be conditional on his proceeding at once to Norway and assuming the crown before the initiation of negotiations with Sweden for the abrogation of the Riksakt establishing the Union. Such a step would have been regarded in Sweden as a deliberate slight, for until that Act was repealed constitutionally the throne was not vacant. Norway might contend that in agreeing to a plebiscite she had done all that was reasonable. On the other hand, public feeling in Sweden was growing more intransigent. The Liberals and the Radicals were as staunch as the Conservatives on the question of national dignity, and there was danger that a premature disposal of the throne might have serious consequences. Fortunately the propagandists in Copenhagen did not represent the only or the real voice of Norway, and while alarming reports were circulating there, a very discreet and capable emissary from M. Michelsen's Government, who has now for a long time been a popular representative of his country in London, was coming and going between Christiania and Stockholm, and on the 22nd of August the Storthing, by an overwhelming majority, accepted the proposal of the Norwegian Government to invite Sweden to agree to the repeal of the Riksakt and the dissolution of the Union, and at the same time to appoint delegates to negotiate preliminaries and discuss all the points which had been specified in the resolution of the Swedish Parliament.
A conference accordingly assembled at Karlstadt. The most delicate matter with which the delegates had to deal was the request of Sweden for the demolition of certain frontier fortresses which could only be directed against herself. Feeling in Sweden and especially in the army had now grown acute. If these remained standing the Swedes, to feel safe in their own house, would have to build other fortresses to contain them, and this they had no desire to do. Their maintenance was therefore regarded as wholly inacceptable, and it was on this issue that the danger point was actually approached. Norwegian missioners in Copenhagen complained of a bullying attitude and an unjustifiable demand for the destruction of the old historic strongholds of Frederiksten and Kongsvinger, which were national monuments, whereas Sweden only required that certain modern extensions of these fortresses which had been built in the last five or six years should be demolished and a neutral zone established. Sweden was charged with having massed 70,000 men on the border. She had, so far as I was able to ascertain, never had more than four battalions of frontier guards, some 2,000 men in all, on the spot. A Norwegian mobilization, on the other hand, was in process. Moved by the rumours to which currency was given in Copenhagen, the Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs invited Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia to make friendly representations to Sweden. Our information did not confirm the reports on which his action was based, and we wisely declined. Germany also took the sounder course of consulting her Minister in Stockholm. France and Russia were, however, persuaded to make certain representations of an anodyne character, only to be told that there were no grounds for such a step, and that as the negotiations at Karlstadt were secret, any reports which had reached them could only be due to a breach of confidence.
Happily, by the end of September agreement was reached, and, if a few Chauvinists murmured at the idea of any concession to Norway, generally the decisions of the Conference were well received in Sweden. The Riksdag confirmed the Treaties of Karlstadt, and agreed to the repeal of the Union. The last act in the drama was the abdication of King Oscar as King of Norway and his farewell to the Norwegian people. The scene in the Rikshall at Stockholm, to which the age and the lovable character of the venerable sovereign lent a touch of pathos, was very impressive. Preceded by the Princes of his house in their robes and coronets, he took his place on the throne robed and crowned. At its foot were three stools: one for the Riksmarshal, the highest officer of State, whose functions include that of Lord High Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. A fourth stool, on which the representative Minister of Norway had for almost a century been used to take his place, was conspicuous by its absence. The King was manifestly much affected, but he did not break down in making the announcement which terminated an historic association.
The epilogue was to take place at Christiania. Prince Charles of Denmark, who was now formally offered the throne, demanded, and rightly in my opinion, a referendum before acceptance. Without such a popular decision it might afterwards have been contended by the republican group that he had become King by the grace of M. Michelsen, and not by the voice of the people. That group had displayed considerable activity in the Storthing, and the Government asked for the authority of Parliament to offer the throne to Prince Charles, subject to the confirmation of their action by a plebiscite. Nearly four to one of the electors confirmed the choice, and then by a unanimous vote of the Storthing the Prince was invited to be King.
The Crown Prince of Sweden immediately went to Copenhagen to be the first to congratulate the new King. It was an act of no small courage on his part, as certain utterances at Christiania on the eve of the plebiscite had produced an unfortunate impression in Sweden, and his initiative was therefore sure to be criticized.
In the necessarily brief narrative of the main outline of this difficult issue, I have said little of the preoccupations from which I personally could not altogether escape at my first independent post. A mistaken judgment of the situation and wrong advice at critical moments to my Government might have had unwelcome consequences. But I was fortunate in having established friendly relations from the first with the highest authorities, and was thus able to obtain the best information from the most trustworthy sources. Throughout I had to deal with men who said what they meant and meant what they said. The goodwill of Great Britain was valuable to both countries at such a crisis, and there were occasions when discreet counsels were evidently welcomed. There were phases in its evolution when it seemed almost impossible to find a way through the perplexing web of circumstance. There were moments when tension was high, and the strain grew menacing to peace. If some mistakes were made, if occasionally words were used which would have been better unsaid, I cannot but feel, looking back over the anxious year of 1905 and re-reading the ample notes which I made at the time, that on the whole an extremely difficult issue was handled with great discretion, self-restraint, and statesmanship by all those who were primarily responsible.
Go To Next Chapter