CHAPTER XV: ROME, 1918-1919
I returned to find a very different atmosphere from that which had prevailed when I last left England for Rome. The weeks which followed, moreover, witnessed an uninterrupted series of successes in France, in Macedonia, and in Palestine. An armistice with Bulgaria and the surrender of her railways into Allied control cut off the enemy's communications with Constantinople. The convoy system and improved methods of combating the submarine had almost exorcised the misgivings of the previous year. Every one was in good spirits, and on rejoining my post I encountered nothing but smiles, even from those who at one time had "eyed me like the basilisk."
The assumption of the Chancellorship in Germany by the Liberal Prince Max of Baden and the omission in his first speech of any mention of the Emperor's name seemed to indicate the elimination of the military régime and to show that the end was near, while our information left little doubt that the empire of the Habsburgs was entering upon the agony of dissolution. The question which then preoccupied Barrère and myself was whether Orlando and Sonnino would win the day and precipitate that collapse by an advance from the Piave or whether they would be overruled by colleagues who were less disposed to put the last venture to the test. In business as in all the relations of life the majority of Italians incline to the side of caution. The new Minister of the Treasury, who carried considerable weight, seemed to be no exception to this rule. General Diaz went to Paris in September, but was unsuccessful in persuading Versailles to increase his reserves by dispatching an American contingent. Sonnino was quite sound on the military question. But in other respects I found discussion with him increasingly difficult, whether on Greek or on other Balkan issues. He was unreceptive of new ideas, and still reluctant to admit that the principle of a united Jugo-Slav state was practically established. His attitude was really I believe to be explained by a conception, to which he held tenaciously, that the Balkan hand must be played as a whole and that concessions to be made in one quarter might be balanced in another. Trumps should therefore not be parted with light-heartedly. He clung to the old diplomacy. He would not entertain the proposal to send the Jugo-Slav prisoners detained in Italy to the Serbians. Many of these, he anticipated, might in an eventual settlement have to become Italian subjects and he could not therefore agree to their being incorporated in military groups under another allegiance.
The Minister of the Treasury seemed to be very energetic. He initiated a number of experiments to meet the exigencies of the moment. The majority of these, however, in their effects only confirmed previous experience of the impossibility of overriding economic laws by legislation. Such legislation was, moreover, not subject to exhaustive discussion in Parliament, but was enforced by Decrees of the Regent in virtue of special powers conceded to the Government in war time. An attempt arbitrarily to fix the rate of exchange only tended to produce a suspension of commercial enterprise. The financial straits imposed by war on a young country without great accumulated capital suggested recourse to expedients, unwelcome in themselves, such as that of adding a number of commodities to the list of State monopolies. The benefit to revenue was hardly commensurate with the unpopularity of the measure, and the new monopolies were not long maintained.
He was successful in bringing about an arrangement between the great commercial banks not to invade each other's fields of activity. On the other hand, an attempt which was made at this time to eliminate the last traces of foreign influence in the most important of these by the acquisition on behalf of a certain group of a preponderating proportion of the shares was said not to have had his whole-hearted support. In any case it failed to accomplish its immediate object. The new Government had under Nitti's inspiration instituted investigations into alleged trading with the enemy by firms and individuals of considerable commercial standing, and a number of prosecutions were initiated. The ex-deputy Cavallini was detained in prison on a charge of correspondence with enemy agents pending his trial, which opened at the end of the year. But the majority of these processes never got beyond the protracted stage of instruction, and ended inconclusively or were terminated by an amnesty.
The phase on which the war had now entered in the Near East made it seem opportune to revert to a matter which I had urged upon Sir Edward Grey when there seemed to be a reasonable hope that we might occupy Constantinople, namely, that provision should be made in any eventual settlement for Great Britain to enjoy at least equal privileges and opportunities with any other country in historical and archaeological research in Turkey. I therefore now approached Mr. Balfour, who was in charge of the Foreign Office, with a similar proposal, which he assured me had his entire sympathy, and should not be overlooked. It is possible that others also drew attention to the importance of such a reservation, which would not probably occur to the average official mind.
The season was rapidly approaching when the torrents which descend from the Alps, swelling with the autumn rains, become difficult to negotiate. Towards the end of October military preparations for what should be the coup de grâce were completed, and I was now satisfied that there would be no interference with the plans of the supreme command. The forcing of an issue on the Italian front seemed the more urgent as President Wilson's reply to the German peace note was drafted in a manner which might have encouraged the enemy to believe that we should be prepared to discuss rather than to impose conditions. I had learned privately some outlines of the plan of campaign, and awaited results in Rome in a state of excitement which it was nevertheless indispensable to conceal. The Fourth Army was to attack in the much-contested Grappa region, rather by way of a feint, while General Caviglia, with the Eighth Army, the Twelfth (in which a French division was incorporated) and the Tenth (Lord Cavan's army) would cross the Piave and endeavour to break through the enemy line.
The action began on the 24th of October. The river was running strong, but the British troops were successfully ferried across by the Piave boatmen, whose skill and pluck Lord Cavan greatly praised, to the islands known as the Grave di Papadopoli where, after expelling the Austrians, they established themselves securely. A sudden rise of the water retarded the construction of bridges and delayed the general attack until the night of the 26th. The resistance of the enemy was at .first stubborn, but the Tenth Army advanced two miles, and the Eighth one mile beyond the river. The bridges behind the latter were broken by shell-fire and flood, and communications had to be maintained by aeroplane. By the 29th the Eighth Army had reached Vittorio Veneto, the village which gave its name to the battle, while the Tenth Army covered its flank. Then the advance became rapid. The spear-head driven through the defences spread into a fan overlapping the broken line. I shall not, however, attempt to describe the strategic movement which led to the débâcle of the Austrian Army, to the capture of some 7,000 guns and half a million prisoners. This overwhelming victory gave its deathblow to the Austrian Empire. The crowning day of triumph was the 3rd of November, when the Italians simultaneously re-entered their old head-quarters at Udine, took Trent with a rush and landed in Trieste. By midnight the enemy was compelled to sign an armistice satisfactory in its conditions, which were communicated to Rome by wireless. On the same day the Serbians re-entered Belgrade, and the British occupied Valenciennes.
The capital was wild with enthusiasm. For at last, after a century of effort, of alternating progress and disillusion, the dream of Italian unity had been realized. No similar struggle accompanied our national evolution, and those who have not lived among and in sympathy with the Italian people can hardly conceive the exultation of that hour. Late in the evening there was a demonstration in front of the Embassy, and I had to improvise a speech. I have no idea of what I said, but the upturned smiling faces were an inspiration and words did not fail me. The following morning a procession many thousands strong marched up, and when I went down to the doorway to receive them I was embraced by those who were nearest. It is good to feel the heart of a people at such moments. They knew I had done my best for them acting as an interpreter between the two nations in the long and grim struggle, and in the hour of relief and triumph they did not forget it. Such experiences are worth living for. The 24th of May, 1915, when Italy entered the war, and the 4th of November, 1918, when the Armistice had been signed, seemed the crowning days in a life which had not been uneventful.
The reverse of the medal at the same time presented itself in the urgent immediate problem of supplying food to masses of disorganized humanity, brigades and divisions surrendering wholesale, inhabitants of the regions till then in enemy occupation and destitute Italian prisoners released immediately on the signature of the armistice, who streamed in thousands down the mountain passes from Austria.
On the 31st of October intercepted wireless communications from Pola had revealed the existence of a bloodless mutiny in the fleet, the crews of which were mostly of Dalmatian race. The Austrian officers had withdrawn from the ships under compulsion, or the semblance of compulsion, for the attempted transfer of the fleet to a Jugo-Slav committee aroused some suspicion of collusion. At that moment the principal Ministers and the chief of the naval staff were absent from Rome. Some lack of timely co-ordination prevented the dispatch of a message which might have prevented the sinking in Pola harbour of the Viribus Unitis. The battleship had, we learned in Rome, struck the Imperial flag on the evening of the 31st of October. Meanwhile, a destroyer was actually on its way, conveying to the entrance of the naval port. an engine of destruction devised by two adventurous spirits, Paolucci and Rosetti. It was a navigable torpedo, to be exploded by a time machine, propelled by pedals like a bicycle. Unperceived, with only their heads above water, they brought it in the night close up to the battleship, placed it in position, set the clockwork going and swam safely to the shore. The torpedo did its deadly work, and the Viribus sank at her moorings at 6.30 in the morning. So far as the two heroes of the exploit were concerned it was a feat only second to that of Rizzo in his motor-boat when he passed through a screen of destroyers in broad daylight, and sank the Sant Isvan in mid-Adriatic, narrowly missing the Tegethof with a second torpedo. It was unfortunate that the plan was not carried into action before the fleet had been transferred to the Jugo-Slav committee, presumably to prevent its surrender to Italy. The Italian forces, however, now took over the whole area of occupation laid down in the armistice, including Pola and the Fleet.
On the Western front events had developed rapidly. Germany was manifestly exhausted. The commercial blockade had worn down her power of resistance which had been maintained with a national fortitude that compels admiration. But the rigid German system had broken at last under the strain, and if a military tradition still maintained the semblance of discipline in the army it could no longer control the protesting pulse-centres of the people. The Emperor, who had long ceased to count either as a military or as a political factor, sought refuge from the wrath to come beyond the Dutch frontier. Only an armistice could save the retreating legions from humiliating surrenders and prevent the invasion of Germany.
On, the 9th of November I completed my sixtieth year, and reached the term at which I had intended in my scheme of life to ask for release from the public service. I had been thirty-six years abroad, and it is well if you are able to make your bow and retire with a good record. Once the terms of the Armistice had been accepted by Germany I might well feel that my work was done, and the strain of recent years had been more heavy than one knew at the time. But few of the ambassadors of 1914 had survived the stress of those overburdened years. Goschen, de Bunsen and Louis Mallet had withdrawn on the declaration of war with the countries to which they were accredited. Buchanan had left Petrograd when the second revolution made the position of a British representative impossible. Bertie, whose health had broken down at Paris, had been replaced in April by Lord Derby. Cecil Spring Rice was dead. Arthur Hardinge was still in neutral Spain. But Conyngham, Green in Tokio and I in Rome were the only ambassadors in belligerent countries that remained till the end. Obviously, however, it was not possible to contemplate retiring at that moment, and nearly another year was to pass before I could claim my liberty.
On the 14th of November, three days after his birthday, on which also the Armistice with Germany had been signed, the King of Italy returned to the capital. As I watched his triumphant progress from the station to the Palace down the Via Nazionale in a blaze of flags through a rain of flowers, I felt a sense of happy exaltation because this King, for whom as a man I had so profound a regard, whose judgments had been right and sound throughout, who had never lost faith or courage in the grimmest hours of these dark years, might now feel proudly conscious that under his guidance the unity of his Kingdom and the old Italian dream had been fulfilled. I thought, I remember, of the happy family party which would be reunited at the Villa Savoia that evening, and could do so without a touch of envy, though the Christmas holidays were still a long way off and one of our own little group was far away at Damascus. For at last the war was over, and he had passed through the four years scathless except for one slight wound. That evening, for a brief space, all the misery of the stricken world, the wrack and ruin of conflict, the maimed victims and the aching hearts passed out of thought, and a sense of immeasurable relief brought a new buoyancy to life.
And now all energies were concentrated on preparations for the Peace Conference to the exclusion of secondary issues, the consideration of which had to be deferred. Among those was the situation in Egypt, which undoubtedly demanded attention now that the conditions had ceased which had justified the enforcement of abnormal measures. That its discussion with Egyptian Ministers should have been postponed was natural enough on the eve of the Conference, though the urgency of the problem was perhaps not fully realized at home. Had it been possible to admit at least a preliminary examination of the representations of the Egyptian Government we might have been spared many subsequent difficulties.
In the beginning of December Orlando and Sonnino were in London, which they reached simultaneously with the French Prime Minister. They were, I was told, rather unpleasantly surprised because on their arrival only the Marseillaise was played by the band at the station. It was of course an oversight, and neither of them mentioned the matter to me on their return. But it was unfortunate that some one should have blundered even in such a small matter, because there had been a chronic disposition to believe that one of our Allies received more consideration from us than the other. The claims in Africa which they now advanced in virtue of a provision in the London Agreement were certainly extensive. But it might legitimately be assumed that they were meant to include latitude for bargaining. In any case it looked as if we alone were to make any substantial concessions to Italy. The proposed transfer of Kismayu and the southern bank of the Juba, which has now taken place, brought vividly back to me the memory of pioneer days in East Africa, when I had built a stockade round that equatorial outpost to defend it against the aggressive Ogaden Somalis. By this time inevitable points of issue between the Italians and the Jugo-Slavs had been worked up by publicists into a stage of acuteness, and it was evident that grave difficulties would be encountered in devising any settlement acceptable to both parties.
It is not my intention to comment on the discussions or decisions of the Peace Conference. But there was at the time so much criticism of the attitude of Italy that it seems only fair to resume, neither in the spirit of an advocate nor of a censor, the manner in which the question presented itself to the majority.
A united Jugo-Slav nation, composed by the grouping together of several unities which had hitherto displayed distinct individual characteristics, was a new conception. A potentially powerful Southern-Slav union which might eventually even become a maritime factor in the Adriatic arm of the Mediterranean could not be a matter of indifference to a neighbour with a geographically defenceless eastern sea-board. On this point there had been general agreement four years earlier, when only Austria-Hungary had to be considered, and it was then accepted in principle that Italy must make her coast secure by controlling certain points on the farther side of the Adriatic which Nature had designed to offer ideal bases for aggression and impregnable barriers for defence. When I had first discussed a possible disintegration of the dual monarchy with the spokesmen of the Southern Slavs their ambitions had impressed me as moderate. Some serviceable commercial ports were naturally postulated. But later, assured of Allied sympathies and encouraged by an influential Press, they were believed, by the Italians at any rate, to aim at reconstituting the very situation which Italy had looked to remedy in entering the war.
The Austrian occupation of many of these natural strongholds had only been an incident of comparatively recent date in history, whereas Latin influence had prevailed along the eastern shore for centuries. Venice, so long the sea-bulwark of Europe against the Turk, had controlled the ports and islands. In earlier days Hungary had stretched a long arm to the sea. Still earlier Byzantium had replaced the Western Empire which had received several rulers from Dalmatia. When Austria had taken the place of the extinct Venetian Republic, it became her policy to manipulate the local populations with a view to substituting Slavs for Italians on the coasts. The evidence of Austrian official records showed, to cite two examples only, that in 1880 the Italian inhabitants of Spalatro numbered 5,280, of Traü 1,960. Twenty years later, in 1900, the former number had been reduced to 1,046 and the latter to 170. In the hinterland there was certainly little or no Italian population. But the wild and primitive people who occupied the highlands were not, they argued, sufficiently developed to be acceptable as masters by the occidentals of the coastal towns. In determining the destiny of these areas historical and cultural associations would no doubt carry less weight than ethnical, geographic and economic considerations. At the same time, if President Wilson's principle of self-determination was to prevail in diminution of Italian claims based on the London Agreement, that principle might equally well be invoked in favour of revising the decision to exclude Fiume from the Italian sphere, since its Italian population, if as they claimed they constituted a majority, might reasonably insist on determining their own status.
Public feeling was also affected, rightly or wrongly, by another influence. Population in Italy increases constantly and rapidly, and therefore seeks new outlets, while that of France remains stationary. In not many years the former will outnumber the latter, a fact which cannot but cause some pre-occupation in France. The suspicion existed, though it might not be openly expressed, that the isolation of the chief Mediterranean rival was an object to her powerful neighbour, whose influence at the Conference would therefore be thrown into the scale in favour of the new Treaty state.
If I have referred to these questions at all it is only because it seemed to me at the time to be too readily assumed that the Italian attitude in regard to the Adriatic was governed by Imperialist ambitions, whereas living on the spot I came to the conclusion that it was attributable in the first instance to a legitimate desire for security and secondly to sentimental and cultural associations.
The Italian statesmen who would deal with these issues at the Conference had to take account of the strong feeling which the Adriatic question aroused in the country. They were also by that time well aware of the difficulty of making good certain claims in Asia Minor, conditionally recognized in 1917, which the country, urgently in need of new areas of occupation for its surplus population, would not readily renounce, the less so since the expansion of France in the eastern Mediterranean seemed assured. The agreement of 1917 contained a provision for the reopening of the whole discussion if conditions should change before it could become effective. Those conditions had indeed altogether changed with the Russian renouncement of Constantinople and the entry of the United States into the war. But the plea that the 1917 agreement was invalid, because it had not been accepted by a Russia which had ceased to exist as a recognized Government, did not commend itself to our ally. Italian Ministers had, moreover, to reckon with a nation which, after the overwhelming defeat of the Austrian armies at Vittorio Veneto, had developed a stronger sense of national consciousness and pride and a belief in its future destiny. Italy could justly claim that after rendering an immense service to the Allied cause by her timely declaration of neutrality, she had done far more than had been undertaken in the Pact of London, and had, after the Russian defection, held up from fifty to sixty Austro-Hungarian divisions on the Isonzo and Piave lines, which would otherwise have been thrown on to the Western front. It is necessary to have all these considerations in mind in order to form a just appreciation of the Italian attitude.
Orlando and Sonnino returned from their visit to London and Paris rather disconcerted to have found, as it appeared to them, that the interests of the new nations which would be formed from the dissolution of the Habsburg empire were engaging more attention than those of an old and tried ally. Preoccupied with the obvious difficulties which confronted them, they did not I think quite do justice to the difficulties of others whose task it would be to co-ordinate the many often conflicting aspects of an equitable settlement. A new spirit was abroad, evoked by the declarations of the President of the United States, which would inevitably entail the renunciation of ambitions regarded as legitimate under the conditions prevailing in 1915. At the same time the wider import of those declarations had found response in the minds of many Italians who had welcomed a general principle which corresponded to their sense of justice, perhaps without reflecting how far its application might run counter to postulates which they had hitherto tenaciously vindicated.
This belief in the generous sentiments of the President, the conviction that he would approach the problems of Europe without prejudice or preconception and, holding an even balance between rival pretensions, would become the deus ex machinâ of the Conference, ensured him and Mrs. Wilson a magnificent reception in Rome. My colleague, Nelson Page---although before the end of the Conference he somewhat modified his views---had so often enlarged to me on the outstanding qualities of Mr. Wilson as almost a superman, that I was very curious to meet him when he made his presidential progress with a state and circumstance which a little surprised the more fervent apostles of democracy. The King and Queen of Italy with all the foreign representatives received him at the station, and he was accompanied to the royal palace by an enthusiastically demonstrative crowd. The municipality of the city which had given law to the world presented the anticipated founder of a new international code with a reproduction in gold of the famous wolf, the mother of Rome.
I had asked Sonnino, who had already met him in Paris, to give me his impression of the President. He conveyed his answer with a characteristic smile in three laconic words, specie di clergyman. I had curiously enough just read a letter from an American gentleman who had known him for more than thirty years, in which he was described as having the qualities of a Presbyterian parson, convinced that he cannot make a mistake." Uncontradicted, the letter continued, he was pleasant, well-informed, intelligent to a certain point. Contradicted, he could become fanatically malignant, believing himself absolutely right, and not having imagination enough to be generous, even though he might accidentally be so disposed. Obviously this critic was a republican.
Fortunately, when we met in Rome no occasion arose for disagreement with so formidable an antagonist. The speeches which he delivered there were expressed in beautifully balanced periods, suggesting the accomplishment of oratory. But he only dealt with general principles. No doubt he was rightly anxious to avoid any premature commitments. Some undue weight may have been attached to a rather Olympian pronouncement made at Milan in a speech to the crippled victims of the war, when he was reported to have said, "I shall give due consideration in Paris at the Conference to the sacrifices made by Italy." I watched him with curious interest on several public and private occasions. An impression remains with me of a rather immobile unplastic face which encountered each and all with the same stereotyped smile of a detached but conscious providence.
A few days after his departure the telegraph agencies announced the death of Theodore Roosevelt. Big-hearted, impulsive, enthusiastic, he was the very opposite of President Wilson. Roosevelt was just my own age. I had not seen him since the evening which he spent with me in Rome, discussing Egypt and the Sudan, when he pronounced his emphatic verdict, "You have shown that you know how to govern. Govern or go!" We had however exchanged an intermittent correspondence. With the part which he played in the political life of his own country I was not concerned, but as a man I cared very much for him and deeply regretted his premature death.
On the first day of 1919, I learned that my youngest boy, who was with us for Christmas, had passed his examination for a naval cadetship, and so one more of my ambitions was realized by the renewal of an old family connection with the Navy. He had to start at once for Osborne. There was also to be an examination for the Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service, chiefly in modern languages, and my eldest son, who was to present himself, spent three days with us on the way from Damascus to London. His services in the Intelligence Corps in Palestine had just won him a mention in dispatches, and in spite of an inopportune attack of influenza, which was raging in England, he amply satisfied the examiners after having been adopted by the Selection Board.
In an earlier chapter, when recording the steps taken in 1915 to remove the Layard pictures from the dangerous neighbourhood of the war zone, I referred to the excellent work done by Ugo Ojetti, who was entrusted with the protection of monuments in the north. All movable paintings and statues of real artistic value were transferred to central Italy, and secrecy was maintained with regard to their temporary disposal. I had however long known that the four bronze horses from the portal of St. Mark's, the Colleoni statue from Venice and the Gattamelata from Padua had been conveyed to Rome. After the Armistice I was able to see them and to study them in detail under conditions which are unlikely to occur again. The Palazzo Caffarelli on the Capitol, the property of the German Government, which occupies the site of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus and the Palazzo Venezia, where both the Austro-Hungarian Embassies had their offices, had been sequestrated by the Italian Government. In the court of the latter, against a background of dark ilex, the green bronze horses stood on the gravel. They gained greatly when thus seen in close proximity. It was evident that they had been very heavily overlaid with gold from the marks of the files used to remove the precious metal of which a little remained here and there. Corrado-Ricei, the director of the Fine Arts Department, who first took me to see them, maintained that an analysis of the bronze revealed the Roman and not the Greek formula of metallic combination.
Facing one another under the arcade and level with the eye the fiery Colleoni and the cold imperturbable Erasmus of Narni sat their chargers. It was only when I saw them there, taken down from their lofty pedestals, that I fully realized all the qualities of those masterpieces, which so admirably express the respective characters of the two men. The globe had been removed from under the foot of Gattamelata's horse, which is represented standing at rest but pawing the ground. The legs, meant to be seen at a greater elevation, looked a little short on the lower level. Those of the Colleoni horse seem also for the same reason to have been a little shortened. Examined close to the eye the decorative harness and trappings applied by Leopardi to Verocchio's model are seen to have been left rough as they issued from the casting mould. The supreme artist is revealed in the careful chisel work devoted by Donatello to all the ornamentation of the Gattamelata. The latter recalls the Marcus Aurelius of the Capitol, and is still classical in conception. The Colleoni is an expression of the Renaissance and the first modern equestrian statue.
When Orlando and Sonnino left for Paris as the delegates of Italy, I had understood that Nitti might join them later, but very soon after the opening of the Conference, Orlando was brought back to Rome owing to demands put forward by the latter for certain changes which he represented as indispensable if he were to remain in the Ministry. As Orlando would not agree to these substitutions, Nitti resigned. The crisis which he thus provoked within the Cabinet at such a moment plainly indicated Nitti's ambition to succeed to the Presidency of the Council at an opportune moment, which he no doubt anticipated would present itself after the close of the Conference.
In the Peace negotiations I played no part beyond furnishing evidence on various points which arose for discussion, but I inevitably served as a clearing house for many complaints and criticisms. Standing outside the often hectic atmosphere at Paris, where principles of abstract justice, practical considerations, national ambitions, historic and pseudo-historic claims, personal predilections and prejudices were continually in conflict, I was able to contemplate divergent points of view more indulgently and more objectively than were those who had to weigh in the scale actual and immediate values. A long professional training had led me to consider the effects of a settlement rather in the perspective of their future influence on international relations and especially with a view to the manner in which they might ultimately affect British interests.
As regards the questions which most closely touched the country to which I was accredited, my personal view was eminently practical, though I can understand that it might readily be misinterpreted as sentimental. The future economic, and therefore to a great extent the future political, orientation of the new states which were to arise on the dissolution of the Austrian Empire would inevitably be determined sooner or later by their immediate neighbourships and their land frontiers. The new Jugo-Slavia, not to mention the new Czecho-Slovakia, would be, and would remain, very remote from us, and must eventually look both politically and economically rather towards Central Europe. While therefore it behoved us to be just and even magnanimous as arbiters it seemed to me that no British interest could be served by the adoption of a partisan attitude on issues of relatively little concern to ourselves. On the other hand, the Mediterranean situation was to me a constant source of preoccupation. Egypt had already become a centre of unrest. The future of Palestine did not promise to be an easy one. The security of the maritime highway to the east was an urgent interest common to us and to the ally which touched no other sea. Apart from the fact that it was to our material advantage that a friend of long standing should not fall back under influences which had prevailed before 1914, it was essential for us as an island power to retain the goodwill of a country whose maritime position was also almost insular, whose friendship in the Mediterranean, where it constitutes a sort of bridge stretching from Europe to Africa, could never be a matter of indifference to us. It is hardly necessary to elaborate an argument which would seem axiomatic, but the fervour of certain controversialists over matters of little moment to ourselves sometimes tempted me to ask like Hamlet, "What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba?"
Private affairs called me to England at the beginning of April. I spent one night on the way at Paris in Mr. Balfour's flat in the Rue Nitot, but my chief was in bed with a feverish cold, and we could only discuss very summarily the difficulties which threatened to bring about a crisis at the Conference. I had meant to return at the end of three weeks, but was delayed for a few days by bronchitis and blizzards. Meanwhile, the crisis at Paris had taken place. The Italian delegates had left, and Mr. Wilson had published his famous note. My wife who had remained in Rome was a witness of the profound effect created by this rupture of negotiations. The masts for the decorations which had served for the public welcome to the President were still standing in the Via Nazionale, down which the Ministers drove with gloomy faces, and the shouts which had greeted Mr. Wilson some three months before were replaced by an inharmonious chorus demanding the restitution of the wolf. The course which events had taken had come as a surprise to the disillusioned population, and after the issue of the note it was considered expedient, though I prefer to think it was unnecessary, to place a cordon of troops round the American Embassy for its protection.
I reached Rome on the 4th of May, and found the atmosphere still highly electric. The nation had taken charge, and Ministers were no longer able, even if they desired it, to control national sentiment which was unanimous over Fiume and the Adriatic question. Bissolati, who in a speech at Milan had advocated counsels of moderation, could hardly obtain a hearing. Some months earlier a compromise might have been more easy to find, but the consideration of this issue had been postponed until public spirit had been worked up to a dangerous point. My French and American colleagues had meanwhile been doing all that was in their power to persuade Orlando and Sonnino to go back to Paris, and almost immediately after my return they decided to do so. But the reaction of popular feeling against the President of the United States remained intense. He was charged with being ready to waive his points, and even his principles in favour of France and Great Britain, but rigorously to assert them where Italian interests were concerned. Nor was general dissatisfaction with the attitude of the Allies much less pronounced. I do not however propose here to deal with these questions or to discuss the ultimate settlement with which I was not concerned. I had throughout been treated with complete frankness by the members of Orlando's Government, and I shall respect their confidence. It seems however legitimate to say that the action and powers of my own Government were sometimes misinterpreted in the excitement of conflict. Discussion was no longer limited to the signatories of the London Agreement by which we were prepared to stand.
My old friend, Nelson Page, who held strong views on the issue which had caused the departure of the Italian delegates from the Conference, went to Paris with the intention of laying certain considerations before the President. There he patiently awaited an opportunity of doing so, but that opportunity was never given him, and after some weeks had elapsed his position became humiliating. Page was too good a patriot and too great a gentleman to complain, but I have reason to know that he felt it acutely, and when he asked for leave I realized that there was little chance of his returning to his post. Both he and Mrs. Page had done so much for Italy during the war and were so genuinely attached to the country that it seemed almost tragic that they should be leaving Rome at a moment when popular feeling against the President was at its height and judgment was obscured by prejudice. The United States had been fortunate in having such representatives as the two Pages in London and Rome, but it was a curious coincidence that both of them should have left their posts disillusioned by the small impression they were able to make on the President's unplastic mentality and their inability to obtain a hearing. Thomas Nelson Page had not the strong personality of his colleague in London, but he had all the charming qualities of an old Virginian gentleman of sound traditions and transparent honesty. His Tales of Old Virginia contain in "Massa Chance" at least one little masterpiece and many other delightful human pictures of the plantation life which has now disappeared. I had hoped we should meet again to talk over In a calmer spirit the difficult years which we had lived through together, but this was not to be. Mrs. Page died rather suddenly in America, and her husband did not long survive her. His memory remains to me one of the brightest associations of the Great War.
My eldest son, after passing the examination for the Diplomatic Service, was appointed to the Embassy at Rome. During the Palestine campaign he had become devoted to Colonel Lawrence, who won the entire confidence of the Arabs, and played such a conspicuous part in the eastern zone of action. An accident brought us together quite unexpectedly in Rome. Lawrence was on his way from England to Egypt by air. The Handley-Page in which he was travelling left the aerodrome at Pisa too late in the day to reach the Roman station at Centocelle before it was dark. The pilot as he was about to alight felt uncertain of his ground, and was attempting to rise again when the machine struck a tree. It was smashed to pieces and the two aviators were killed on the spot. Lawrence escaped with a cracked shoulder-blade and some other minor injuries. To these he paid no attention while busying himself with the victims of the mishap, and only some time afterwards was taken to the military hospital. He wanted to start again at the end of a week, but fortunately a new machine was not immediately available, and my son succeeded with some difficulty in persuading him to come and stay a few days at the Embassy. I was thus enabled to make the acquaintance of the remarkable man who had rendered invaluable service to his country, both as a political influence and as a leader of Arab irregulars on the desert border beyond the Jordan. A few walks and talks with him were enlightening regarding certain aspects of Arabian affairs. I could however well understand that Lawrence must have been a difficult problem to the authorities. Almost an ascetic by temperament and habit and quite detached from the age in which he lived, he was supremely indifferent to life's rewards and prizes. He may have shown himself lacking in perspective, and so disposed to concentrate on one exclusive interest as to be intolerant of any of the compromises which are inevitable in the handling of political questions ; but if he was rigidly tenacious of his own opinions he was obviously sincere. I was sorry when he left us, much too soon after his accident for the ordinary mortal to travel, in another aeroplane for Taranto and Crete. He has now by his own deliberate act elected to disappear from social life, but it is to be hoped that when occasion arises he will emerge once more from his moral Thebaid.
The conclusion of the Peace Conference and the general disappointment felt in Italy at its results was no doubt responsible for the fall of Orlando's Government. The ostensible cause was the reluctance of its most prominent members to agree to parliamentary reform, for which there was apparently an urgent demand in the Chamber. On the 19th of June Orlando was overwhelmingly defeated, chiefly by the Giolittian combination which, long quiescent, had not ceased to be the most potent factor in political life. His resignation entailed the retirement of Sonnino, the only Minister for Foreign Affairs in Allied countries who had survived all the vicissitudes of the Great War. Nitti, who could, for the time at any rate, count on the support of Giolitti's adherents, realized his ambition, and succeeded to the Premiership.
Sonnino did not seek re-election after the dissolution which followed. If his fellow-negotiators had found him difficult to work with at Paris he was not less criticized by his own countrymen for having accepted the provisions of the London Treaty which excluded Fiume from the Italian sphere. To such criticisms he did not deign personally to reply, nor did he ever speak in the Senate to which he was only called, after having declined to be nominated on the recommendation of Nitti, more than a year later, at the instance of his old antagonist Giolitti. He remained for the most part in seclusion among his books in his hermitage on the Tuscan coast. When some three years afterwards I went to Rome, in November 1922, he had just succumbed to an apoplectic seizure. In a cavern of the cliff below his garden between the pine-trees and the sea, a sarcophagus of granite had been morticed to the rock. He had been heard to say that the only favour he had ever asked of the State was the authorization to be laid in the place he had prepared when his hour should come. And there, where the blue water whitens against the rocks below, lies Sidney Sonnino, a man of whose friendship I have always been proud, whose high intellectual capacity no one questioned, who had many admirers but few intimates, who throughout his life regarded things rather than men, and was therefore perhaps not really suited for the political career he had elected to follow. He was twice Prime Minister for terms of a few months only, and the brevity of his tenure of that office revealed the unadaptability of character which was more to his honour than to his advantage. He could never yield on what to him was a question of principle, but his single-minded and disinterested patriotism had a quality of greatness.
Once the new Government was formed I was able for the last time to spend a few weeks at the Villa Rosebery at Posillipo, where the spirit of the pre-war days was revived by a merry party which included Lady Cynthia Curzon, Lord Delaware, and several members of the staff in addition to our large family party. We had so fallen in love with the gulf of Naples that some years earlier we had acquired a few acres of vineyard over the little bay of Trentaremi on the last point of the peninsula towards Nisida and Pozzuoli, which in the Augustan age had formed part of the estate of Vedrius Pollio. We now began to lay out there the foundations of a house which for various reasons was not completed until 1924.
Knowing that I was anxious to be relieved of my duties at the Embassy, Curzon, who had then replaced Lord Balfour as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, suggested to me that before definitely retiring I should undertake one more public service and accompany Lord Milner to Egypt on a mission to investigate the conditions there, which had assumed a serious phase in the spring of 1919, and to report to the Government the conclusions we should form as to the best manner of dealing with the situation. The eight years I had spent in that country as second in command to Lord Cromer had left me constantly interested in its future, and so, with good hope of being able to contribute useful assistance, I gladly accepted the invitation. Sir George Buchanan was to succeed me in Rome. My first duty was to write to the King of Italy and explain personally to His Majesty the reason why my long tenure of the Embassy was now about to. terminate. I then paid a hasty visit to London to see Milner and make arrangements for the transfer of the Embassy to my successor, returning to Italy to take leave and remove the furniture and effects accumulated during a residence of eleven years. The task was comparatively easy, as we had just bought a house in the picturesque Via Giulia, behind the Farnese palace, to which all that we desired to keep was transferred.
Meanwhile Gabriele d'Annunzio had endeavoured to out a Gordian knot by throwing himself into Fiume with a band of militant enthusiasts, officially disowned but tacitly applauded by national sentiment. It surprised me that my own countrymen, who have generally a weakness for a great adventure, were not more indulgent in appraising the bold defiance of authority which made the poet for a time the uncrowned king of Fiume. It is true he had recently overstepped the limits of moderation in denouncing the Allies individually and collectively, and probably the fate of that much-contested port was to the British public a question of relatively small interest at a moment when every one was weary of the afterwar unrest and resented any developments tending to prolong it. Officially I could of course only condemn his action for which, it may now be confessed, I could not help feeling a certain romantic sympathy. Those who also look back to-day on the part he played must at least admit that it contributed to the ultimate solution of a problem with which the concentrated abilities of the Peace delegates had been inadequate to cope.
D'Annunzio, ever since he magniloquently substituted for a modest bourgeois patronymic the name of the Archangel of the Annunciation, had strained the privilege of genius and had offered ample occasion for criticism. So long as I only knew of him at the world's valuation I was numbered among the critics, though I could pay my homage to the creator of the Figlia di Jorio. But when we first met in 1915 he completely conquered me. Externally nature had not been lavish to him of her gifts, but he had only to speak to exercise the spell of an undeniable charm, which was not due only to his mastery of expression in a beautiful language, but also to the resources of a singularly well-stored mind and the unfailing precision with which he rounded the outline and conveyed the colour sense of a picture. If in his earlier days a somewhat exotic temperament seemed hardly consistent with martial qualities, the experience of war revealed him to be a man of exceptional and imaginative courage. His addresses to the Italian people in a critical hour had been one of the moving impulses which persuaded the hesitating to appeal to the sword. As soon as that decision had been taken he sought a post of honour and danger in the ranks. He made himself an aviator at the age of fifty, and fearlessly undertook perilous raids into enemy territory. In his submarine ventures he could only serve as an inspiring supercargo, but on the shell-battered fronts of the Isonzo and the Carso he was ready to volunteer for any forlorn hope and, bearing as it seemed a charmed life, he stimulated the assailants like a modern Tyrtaeus with his lyric enthusiasm. In exalting a gospel of patriotism which stirred the soul of young Italy, d'Annunzio may be regarded as the precursor of a recent national reaction against forces which were threatening the social order with dissolution.
Before leaving the Embassy in October, I placed on record, in one of the longest dispatches I have ever written, a summary of my experience during the last eleven years, and an appreciation of the manner in which the good relations which I believed to be essential with Italy in the future could best be maintained. My last week at Rome was somewhat marred by a troublesome episode arising from a misinterpretation of a friendly conversation which had taken place in London and a consequent communication to the Press in Rome, which offered another occasion for reopening the floodgates of journalistic intemperance. I was, however, happily able to deal with the matter in a way which satisfied both sides, and a fresh communication was issued announcing that any misunderstanding had been entirely cleared away. Meanwhile, my wife and I were most cordially entertained at a series of farewell parties, and I was greatly touched to receive a magnificent piece of silver from the staff of the Embassy who had worked with me so devotedly through the last anxious years. Privately and officially nothing was left undone to manifest the warmth of Italian goodwill. The Press was full of kindly notices, and when the hour came to start, the Railway Department provided a saloon carriage to convey us to Pisa, whence we were to go to San Rossore and take leave of the King and the Queen. The station in Rome was crowded with friends
- a number of the Ministers were there, and all my colleagues.
There was a touching demonstration from a group of crippled soldiers who had come to express their recognition of my wife's work in their behalf. They had already presented her with a beautiful silver vase for remembrance. The saloon carriage was like a garden of flowers, and it was not without some natural emotion that we left so many familiar faces behind. But it was only a good-bye in the official sense, inasmuch as we hoped to devote a considerable portion of our leisure to the city in which I had spent some sixteen of my thirty-seven years of official duty.
While such a testimony of friendly sentiment is very gratifying, "no doubt there's something strikes a balance." If I had ever been disposed to overestimate the result of my activities during the eleven years of my tenure of the Embassy, which had been full of incident even in the period preceding the Great War, a corrective would have been supplied by the two or three bald lines in the English Press which were the only comment on our departure after an exceptionally long and strenuous term of office. But I had no reason to resent a silence which indeed was only to be anticipated from certain quarters, because I have always maintained that the less a diplomatist is discussed in public the better in all probability he has done his work.
On the other hand, I received from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs both in official and in private form the warmest appreciation of my service at Rome, expressed in terms which could not but be extremely gratifying at what was probably the end of a long career. On the first ensuing appropriate occasion, I was offered, as a public recognition of those services, the alternative of a baronetcy or of the Grand Cross of the Bath. I chose the latter distinction, which indeed Sir Edward Grey had already been good enough to ask for in my favour in 1915, but at a moment when there was no vacancy on the then restricted list.
My wife and I with our youngest daughter dined with the King and Queen of Italy at San Rossore, returning from the villa late after dinner to Pisa to spend the night at the royal residence within the city. His Majesty expressed to me his great regret at our departure. After all that we had lived through together and the perfect confidence with which he had always treated me, this leave-taking was the one which I felt the most. I had been reading in the train Ferrero's remarkable history of the greatness and decline of Rome, and had just reached the passage in which he explains why Octavian had found himself reluctantly compelled to take over the whole burden of administration. The exhaustion of the civil war had undermined the stability and broken the continuity of the old order. The populace of Rome cared only for distraction. The best elements in the country had perished in the struggle, and the Senate had become impotent. To enlist public support for his external policy Octavian fell back upon a man of letters and engaged the collaboration of Horace. That foreign affairs should be in the hands of a poet is regarded by Ferrero as a sure indication of political degeneracy. D'Annunzio had just taken charge in Fiume, and I could not help pointing out the humour of the parallel to the King, without in any way accepting Ferrero's depreciation of poets as men of action. The analogy between the actual situation and the period succeeding the civil war proved after all not without significance, for it did not take long for the country to drift into a condition from which it was only redeemed by a sort of revolution, which the King with his unerring judgment recognized as an expression of the real will of the country. In 1919-20 Italy was in danger.
His Majesty chose this occasion personally to present to my wife the medal for auxiliary service during the war. This medal in gold is, I believe, almost unique, and she was justifiably proud to receive such a distinction. It was an interesting evening, during which we discussed many experiences of recent years. Then, frankly admitting that there must inevitably be stages in international affairs where opposing views were difficult to reconcile, we parted officially only, with good hopes for the future relations of our two countries.
And now I have reached a point at which it is well to close the record of my diplomatic memories, which in the later period it has only been possible to resume very summarily. Of our experience in Egypt, where, in spite of a sort of boycott, which I believe the Egyptians themselves soon realized to have been a regrettable mistake, the Mission collected an immense amount of valuable information and formed very definite conclusions, I do not intend to speak here. The Egyptian question has not yet found its final solution, and as the one which we recommended did not at the time meet with complete acceptance, I do not feel at liberty to add anything to what has already been published in our report. No exception, however, can be taken to my expressing the pleasure I had in working with friends, among whom a singular unanimity prevailed, such as Lord Milner, Sir John Maxwell, Sir Cecil Hurst, Alfred Spender, and Sir Owen Thomas, the genial member for Anglesey, from whom the Great War had exacted the utmost sacrifice in the lives of his three sons, and who has now himself passed away from our midst.
In retiring from foreign service some ten years before the fixed age limit I expressed my readiness at any time to undertake any public work for which my long service abroad might qualify me. I have since presided over various Committees and acted with Sir Cecil Hurst as British delegate on a Commission which met in the winter of 1922-3 at The Hague, to study what changes in the existing rules of international Law should be adopted in consequence of the introduction of new agencies of warfare, namely, the development of aircraft and wireless telegraphy. I have also been twice appointed one of the three British delegates to the General Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva, where I have chiefly had to deal with the less conspicuous but important and difficult issues of finance and administration.
The last public service which I have been called upon to perform was to represent Mr. Ramsay MacDonald's Government at the centenary of Byron's death at Athens and Missolonghi--- I shared this privilege with Lord Ernle, than whom it would be difficult to find a more congenial companion on such a pilgrimage. I think we both look back on it as one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. To return to Greece was in itself a keen pleasure which satisfied a chronic nostalgia, and to crown this satisfaction my wife and I were conveyed to the land of lands in the historic Sunbeam by so kind a host as Mr. Walter Runciman, who was good enough to take us to many places I had longed but hardly hoped to see. Delos and Melos were familiar from of old; new to us all were Knossos in Crete, where we had the good fortune to find Sir Arthur Evans; Mitylene, where the almonds and the judas were in bloom, and the clear air seemed quick with an echo of the songs which "cleave to men's lives," and then that little Gibraltar on the eastern coast of the Morea, Monemvasia or Malvasia, which gave its name to the wines exported to western Europe. There, over the door of one of the half-ruined Byzantine churches in the fortress on the summit, we found the floreate anchored cross of Villehardouin. It was good to feel that the capacity for enjoyment of the things that really matter had not diminished with the years, and every day of the island voyage was glorious to live.
The celebration of the centenary at Athens, unostentatious and sincere, was perfect in taste and feeling. The visit also enabled us to realize with what efficiency the problem of disposing of the urban refugees from Asia Minor has been handled. The courage and devotion with which a little nation of five millions has received and absorbed a million and a half of new population is to the eternal credit of Greece.
The scene at solitary Missolonghi, which we reached by sea from Corinth, was deeply impressive, and not the less so because of the presence of a contingent of British sailors from the Emperor of India, whose dark navy blue contrasted with the white kilts and red waistcoats of the Evzones. The little town had made a great effort, and the long central street leading to the Heroum was festooned through all its length with greenery and flags. From both sides of the gulf the villagers had gathered, and hundreds of guests from Athens had accompanied us to do honour to the poet who gave his fortune and his life to Greece. We made two pilgrimages to the Heroum, at midday to hear and deliver orations at the Byron monument and in the evening to follow the bishops and the clergy to the shrine, where they held a solemn service in memory of the last exodus of the starving garrison.
We have been told that the inclusion of a tablet bearing the name of Byron in Poet's Corner would disturb the sensibilities of devout worshippers in the Abbey at Westminster. Well, if so, he at any rate has his appropriate place here. His statue stands between the mound of the martyrs of Missolonghi and the tomb of Mareo Botzaris, remote and difficult of access, relieving against the background of the rugged Aetolian mountains, where the austere majesty of nature inspires a less exclusive worship.