Society in London, by a Foreign Resident

Smalley, George W.


CHAPTER IV: Diplomatists and Their Hosts


CHAPTER IV: Diplomatists and Their Hosts




THERE is no society in London that can be called distinctively diplomatic. The Foreign Secretary entertains diplomatists at dinner when special events in which they are concerned are taking place in the English capital; when, for instance, a treaty for the navigation of the Danube is being drawn up, or an Egyptian conference is being held. The wife of the Foreign Secretary receives, of course, ambassadors and attaches at her State parties at the Foreign Office or at her house; and at these the "diplomatic circle," as the newspapers call it, is represented prominently-that is to say, there is visible an unusual number of gentlemen accredited to the Court of St. James's and decorated with foreign orders. The scene is brilliant, but it is not more brilliant than any other of the receptions at the mansions of English ministers who happen also to be nobles of high degree.

There is, indeed, a club in London-the St. James's-one of the best-with a cuisine and cellar of exceptional excellence, to which most diplomatists, English or foreign, belong. The St. James's Club has thus a diplomatic cachet about it, and the representatives of all nations find it a convenient locality for dining, smoking, and card-playing. It is, however, official as much as it is diplomatic. If most perhaps of the Foreign Office clerks and under-secretaries belong to it, so, too, do many of the clerks of other offices of State, notably the Treasury and the superior departments of the Civil Service generally. The club may be described by the English epithet, now much in vogue, smart. It is more than any other establishment


of the kind-an international and cosmopolitan rendezvous for gentlemen of position and fashion. Breakfast at Voisin's any morning you like, and you may be sure that the majority of those you meet there, if they are Englishmen, or if they have occasion to be in England pretty frequently, have the entree of the St. James's Club.

The foreign diplomatist, then, in England is, like the English diplomatist, like the English lawyer, politician, or doctor, merged in the elements which constitute the general society of London. He is to be met with at all the best houses of the capital. At the first a foreign ambassador or attache may find the time hang a little heavily on his hands. The dinners of ceremony are unpalatable novelties. He sighs for more frequent and less formal intercourse with the fair sex. So it was with the Italian ambassador on his earliest arrival in England, the Chevalier Nigra. But the strangeness soon wears off, and English comfort is felt to be no bad recompense for the deficiencies of the English salon. After a time the diplomatist who is stationed in London is surrounded by a little set of special acquaintances, and gradually grows to be intimate at particular houses. There are a few English hosts and hostesses who make it a point of honor to secure at their more select feasts the presence of a leader diplomat. The present head of the London Rothschilds, Sir Nathaniel de Rothschild, who lives in a palace in Piccadilly, is noted for his hospitality to foreign ambassadors and attaches. Sir Algernon and Lady Borthwick, whose house, formerly the residence of the poet Byron, is only a hundred paces distant in the same thoroughfare. Sir Julian and Lady Goldsmid, Lord and Lady Delawarr, are also renowned for the alacrity with which they welcome the official representatives of foreign governments. Other persons, whom it is needless to name, if they are interested in commercial or industrial enterprises in the territory of some remote State, cultivate in a special degree the friendship of that State's ministers and servants in England; and indeed you will soon be able to form a shrewd idea, from the nationality of the minor foreign diplomats whom you meet under any particular roof, where the wealth or some portion of it of their entertainers, whether they are contractors, investors, or speculators, is laid out.

Lord Granville, who I imagine will remain at the head of the Foreign Office for some time longer, lives at Carlton House Terrace. All Europe knows him by reputation. Very courtly, well-bred,


and pleasant to look upon; a little deaf, but not so deaf as he is often supposed to be, and indeed concealing at times a singular quickness of hearing under the veil of this malady; cautious, wary -one might say wily-saying little himself, and preferring to talk on any subject rather than on politics or diplomacy. Altogether he is an interesting man. He once declined to be, and has twice narrowly missed being Prime-minister. He was once a prime favorite at Court, but has compromised or sacrificed that position since he attached himself so devotedly to Mr. Gladstone and his fortunes. Although, as is plain for one to see, he has been a man of pleasure, he is not prematurely old, and carries his years well. Gout has peremptorily restricted his enjoyment of existence within narrow limits, and has tended to confirm a natural impulse towards indecision. But though his judgment is halting, and his reluctance to undertake responsibilitity unusually great even for a Whig -dread of responsibility and sensitiveness to public opinion are the notes of Whiggism-he still transacts in his own fashion, working by preference in his house rather than at his bureau in Downing Street, a good deal of business. Lord Granville married a second time some years ago a young wife. He has a rising family of boys and girls. He is a brave husband and an assiduous father.

Two years ago it seemed as if Lord Granville would find at no distant date a successor in Sir Charles Dilke. That minister has educated himself in a manner peculiarly suitable for the portfolio of Foreign Affairs. He has been a great traveller; he has acquired many acquaintances and some friendships at the chief European capitals; he was for several years the one Englishman who knew Gambetta; he is possessed of a property near Toulon to which he retires periodically, though not for the same length of time together that he formerly did. Perhaps the place has lost some of its attractions, or perhaps the demands of office render more protracted sojourns impossible. Add, too, the insight into European questions, and into the forces which govern their development, immense aptitude for dealing with details, clearness of judgment, and strength of will; add, also, great linguistic acquirements and a decidedly good manner-grave though urbane, kindly but cautious -and you have no bad material for the composition of an English Foreign Minister.

But, alas! the prospect once so fair has been clouded over. Sir Charles Dilke may be compared to an ardent admirer of the sex


who has had a disappointment of heart to which he is unable to rise superior. His passion blighted, his hope nipped in the bud, have bequeathed him a legacy of resentment and disgust. He will have no more to say, at any rate for the present, to foreign affairs. For what happened? It is but three short years ago that Sir Charles Dilke went to Paris burning with impatience to win the heart of the French people to a commercial treaty. He was like a young, enthusiastic, and credulous lover. He confided in M. Gambetta, believed that Gambetta would do anything for him, as he would have done for Gambetta. Oh, the perfidy of that man! Oh, for the fond expectances of the English Under-secretary shattered forever!

Sir Charles Dilke was kept in Paris, at the magnificent apartments in the Grand Hotel to which he had been welcomed with the ovation due to a plenipotentiary after he has concluded a treaty, for some weeks at that season of the year when Paris is most insupportable. It all came to nothing. The French were dead against free exchange. M. Gambetta had played upon the young affections of his English friend. Sir Charles Dilke silently, though not on that account the less bitterly, resented the wrong he had suffered. Henceforth he would disbelieve foreign statesmen generally and French statesmen in particular. No talk for the present, if you please, of replacing Lord Granville; and very soon after his return to England Sir Charles Dilke quitted the Foreign Office for the Presidency of the Local Government Board with the determination that he would henceforth have nothing more to do with foreign policy. Since then he has been as little in Paris, as little indeed out of England, as possible. Whether the wound is irremediable, whether he will remain a misodiplomat, as some cruelly treated lovers remain misogynists to the end of the chapter, time will show.

Yet, though Sir Charles Dilke cannot conceal all traces of an affliction still recent, he is agreeable, hospitable, and marvellously well informed. He drinks no wine and smokes many cigars. I am told that he meditates for the second time matrimony. For myself I think that Sir Charles Dilke's aversion to the Foreign Office is not invincible, and is only transient. It often happens that when a man has been severely defeated in a love affair jilted by his betrothed, or duped by the mistress for whom he had a grand passion, he has sworn he would for the future have nothing more


to say to womankind. It is a rash vow. The inevitable hour arrives, the destined lady appears, and the misogynist yields. Sir Charles Dilke may have steeled his heart, may have turned his soft susceptibilities to adamant. But fate is too much for him. In the bitterness of his disappointment, and in the full fury of his wrath, he swore that foreign affairs should never tempt him to their embrace again; that he would dedicate his future to that chaste ideal of non-intervention which all good Radicals ought to worship. But who shall control circumstances? See what England has had to face during the last two years-the reopening of the whole Egyptian and of a large part of the Eastern Question. There are no signs that the era of these foreign complications is about to close. Non-intervention, abstinence from diplomacy, is therefore rapidly becoming just as much out of the question to that austere eremite of Radicalism, Sir Charles Dilke, as isolation from feminine society is to the man who, living in the midst of his fellow-creatures, cannot subdue the cravings of the old Adam for the old or the young Eve.

Of the lesser officials of the Foreign Office there is only one who is seen extensively in the guise of an entertainer of diplomatists. Sir Julian Pauncefote and Mr. Villiers Lister are both of them gentlemen greatly to be esteemed, eminently worthy and capable. The former is a first-rate man of business. He is not, indeed, so completely in the diplomatic current, so saturated with the traditions of a Foreign Office, as Mr. Lister, who is a connection of the late Lord Clarendon, and the member of a governing and a diplomatic family. Sir Julian Pauncefote is even, from the Foreign Office point of view, a parvenu. He is in the Office, but not of it. He knows its routine, but he has not felt the contagious force of its genius. He is a capital official, but an official who, as his colleagues think, though they are the last men in the world to hint so much in words, lacks the inspiration of his department. Titularly he is the successor of Lord Hammond, who spent the greater portion of half a century in the Foreign Office, and who during that time opened more official letters with his own hand than was ever done within a similar period by a servant of the English Crown. Lord Hammond still lives-a gouty, rather cross-grained and opinionated old gentleman, but agreeable and instructive when he is not suffering from an acute attack of the malady peculiar to British statesmen and diplomatist, and happy in the possession of a wife and daughters


who are among the best and most amiable women in the world. But I have forgotten to mention the name of the Under-secretary of the Foreign Office who, so far as London society is concerned, is incomparably the most prominent of the group-a ubiquitous diner-out, and a deeply versed and finished Amphitryon.

Mr. Philip Currie can be a stranger to no one who is acquainted with Paris, Florence, or London. He is a true citizen of the world, though many of his most admirable qualities are distinctively British. He is now a man of nearly fifty-two years of age, of a pink and white countenance befitting his innocence, with light curling hair, with a presence undeniably good, and a manner half courtly and half contemptuous. Finished man of the world as he is, cynical and blase as he may be also, there is still a soupcon of boyish freshness about him which is in its way quite charming. You may make a long day's journey in London, and in England, and come across many varieties of men before you meet a more creditable specimen of the English official or the English gentleman than Philip Currie.

I attribute his merits to a combination of circumstances. Belonging immediately to a powerful and opulent commercial family, he has inherited the best sort of common-sense with which the English middle class is gifted. His brother is one of the largest partners, and the chief manager, of one of the greatest private banks in the City of London. Mr. Philip Currie, had his career been that of banking instead of diplomacy, would have acquitted himself equally well. As it is, he has brought into diplomacy all those qualities which would have stood him in such good stead in business. He adds to the finesse of the diplomatist the practical shrewdness, the grit of the Englishman of business. He knows that his countrymen are, above all things, traders, and that the City of London is, in a sense, England. There can be nothing visionary in the political or diplomatic faith which rests upon a metallic basis.

Again, Mr. Philip Currie is closely connected with one of the most sagacious and not the least aristocratic of Whig families, the family of Lord Kimberley; and the Whiggism he has imbibed from these relatives makes, in its conjunction with the City ingredients in his character, an admirable blend. Probably his greatest defect and his worst enemy, though it has detracted in no degree from his official usefulness, has been a certain voluptuous languor


of disposition, superinducing something akin to indolence. He is an epicurean of the most comprehensive, and in many respects refined, tastes. He has a suburban villa, which is a model in some rooms of the very best style of English furniture and decoration, in others of Italian ornament. You will observe the same grace and finish in everything about him. He may be a little too official for some people, a little too cynical for others, but he is never either without a reason. His manner may be criticised as too much resembling that of the dilettante. But there is nothing frivolous or effeminate in his views on practical matters. If he is not a statesman, he knows what a statesman ought to be, and he is an admirable judge alike of the temper of the English people and the extent of English resources.

Thus far I have had nothing to say of those who are of some importance in a sketch of diplomatic society in London, viz., the foreign diplomatists themselves. I repeat my remark that there is no circle in London society which is exclusively diplomatic. Individual ambassadors have their favorite hosts and hostesses, and are to be seen most frequently at certain houses. Thus one minister, M. Waddington and Mme. Waddington, are constant guests at Lady Molesworth's. Her Ladyship knows, and has known for, shall I say half a century? every one in London or in England worth knowing. Never was an acquaintance at once so catholic and so eclectic. Statesmen, judges, divines, authors, actors, painters, wits, beauties, the rank and file of men and women of the world-with all the most prominent of these she has been upon good terms, has entertained them well, and has allowed herself to be entertained by some of them in return. She has an inborn aptitude for that most critical of social combinations, the London dinner-party of from eight to twelve people. Any hostess can turn her dining-room into a table-d'hote; very few can make it the scene of symposia, at once attractive for their social ease and impressive for their social distinction. And all this though, resembling in that respect the city of Rome-Exiguis profecta initiis.

The German Ambassador, Count Munster, is, so far as habits and tastes are concerned, an Englishman. He enjoys to the full the pleasures, and he is impregnated with most of the prejudices, of the aristocratic order in which he mixes. Connected himself by marriage with the Earl of Rosslyn, he is on terms of domestic intimacy with that nobleman. He is also a frequent visitor at the houses in London and in the country of a ci-devant English Secretary


of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord Derby. But wherever you go, provided only the social level is sufficiently high, there you will meet Count Munster. Fond of horses, and a good judge of them, a fair rider, a passable whip, a member of the Four-in-Hand Club, whose coach is always one of the best turned out in the Park, an industrious and early-rising fisherman when he happens to be on a visit at a country house through the grounds of which there runs a trout-stream that takes his fancy-Count Munster presents also the appearance of an English gentleman, and it is only from his foreign accent that you would know him not to be an Englishman born. As a host he cannot be praised; his dinners are the worst, and his evening parties among the dullest, of the London season. Nor as a diplomatist has he any particular recommendations. To Prince Bismarck he is almost useless, but he has not been recalled for no other reason than that there is probably no other subject of the German Empire who could afford the expense of the German embassy in Carlton House Gardens. His opinion on the political affairs of England is absolutely worthless. He is without more knowledge than may be picked up from the newspapers. When the Times writes in a Conservative sense, he is persuaded that the country is Tory at heart; and when its tone approximates to Liberalism, he is convinced that Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Chamberlain is, and is likely to remain, omnipotent.

As to the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, Count Karolyi, and his perfectly charming Countess, you will see them nowhere to greater advantage than in the mansion of Lord Breadalbane, which used to belong to the eccentric Duke of Portland, Harcourt House, in Cavendish Square. The Karolyis indeed go everywhere, less because the Count is so much appreciated or so brilliant than because the Countess is so popular. The reader may remember that one of the first things which Mr. Gladstone did on his accession to office in was to address a letter to the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to the Court of St. James's expressing his regret that he should have spoken disrespectfully of the policy of his government. It is a fact that this incident vastly improved the social position of Count Karolyi, both in Liberal and Conservative circles.

The Danish Minister and his wife-an English lady well known and much liked-Madame de Falk, may be said to live more even for society than diplomacy.

The Chevalier Nigra is justly famous for the excellence of the


dinners which he gives to his favored friends. He is also famous for a chef whose gifts are not confined to the cuisine, and who is quite a master of the art of legerdemain. His excellency, when he pays visits to his friends from Saturday to Monday, is in the habit of taking with him his domestic to amuse the company with his tricks.

The Chevalier Nigra belongs to the school of Cavour, and is probably the most efficient member of the Italian diplomatic corps. He is cool, quiet, and determined; speaks French with strong accent, which, when he so desires it, renders him unintelligible; has a great opinion of female influence, and has always employed it with success in his diplomatic career. In France his power with the Empress was the principal factor in the foreign policy of the Empire. When transferred to Russia, he immediately contrived to establish such relations with certain members of the Court circle among the fair sex as gave him an authority usually denied to foreign representatives in the Russian capital. Since his arrival in London he has elaborated a similar programme, to the success of which can be ascribed in a great measure the conclusion of the Anglo-Italian alliance.

The representatives of the Sultan and of the Dutch Government have been in London longer than any other members of the corps diplomatique. Musurus-a quiet-looking little man, with a tranquil, almost seraphic expression of countenance, giving one the idea that he is engaged in the stealthy contemplation of the beatific vision-though almost English in his habits of thought, his tastes, as in his partialities, and though speaking English well, prefers to talk in French. M. de Bylandt speaks English as an Englishman, and is in this respect a great contrast to Countess de Bylandt, a clever and well-read woman, but not too easy to understand in consequence of the peculiarity of her enunciation, whatever the tongue in which she may address one.

In society Count de Bylandt has a gift of agreeable conversation and a nervous manner. His diplomatic career has been long and successful. As Secretary of Embassy in St. Petersburg he acquired a diplomatic habit of a Russian kind, which he intensified by marriage with a Russian lady belonging to an old Muscovite family. Subsequently he was Minister at Constantinople, and having now been for nearly fifteen years Minister in London, is regarded by his colleagues as an authority upon all matters of form.


The estimation in which he is held by his own government, who find his voluminous despatches a trifle irksome, is less respectful, and the Foreign Office at the Hague is animated by a hope that Count de Bylandt will shortly seek repose and cause a muchcoveted post to be vacant.

The Spanish Minister, the Marquis de Casa Laiglesia, has also been resident for many years in London, and is a familiar and popular personage in London society. His career in the English capital is better known to most persons from the social than from the diplomatic aspect. He has had in his day several affairs of heart. His name has been mentioned, rightly or wrongly, in many contests of gallantry. But all things come to an end, and the Marquis de Laiglesia has-not, I dare say, without a sigh of regret-bidden adieu to the amorous dalliance of his prime.

Count Piper, the Swedish Minister, is seldom seen in any except purely official society. Speaking English with much volubility and amusing incorrectness, he is ready to talk about any theme, social or political, foreign or domestic, which crops up. Droll, diverting, and inexhaustibly good tempered, he scatters cheeriness around him, and society in London would be the merrier if it saw more of him.

Just now the polite world is speculating as to the successor of Mr. Russell Lowell at the United States embassy. Mr. Lowell's retirement will be a greater loss to the literary and intellectual life of London than to its political or diplomatic circles. For he is above all things a man of letters-the reader and writer of books, the master of epigrammatic English, and on the whole the best after-dinner speaker in the capital. Summoned from an American professorship to diplomacy, he brought with him to his new duties none of the stiffness or pedantry of the schoolman. Beyond any of his contemporaries, he has been instrumental in improving the estimate entertained of Americans, not only by Englishmen, but by the representatives of Europe in England, and indeed elsewhere.

St. Petersburg has recently sent to London a new Ambassador in M. de Staal, who has won golden opinions. This was what his predecessor never succeeded in doing. The Baron de Mohrenheim had the misfortune to spread, wherever he went, a sense of ennui. He was accused of having caused Mr. Gladstone's illness a couple of years ago, while he could never see Lord Granville without predisposing that illustrious statesman to an attack of the gout.

Let me conclude these remarks with a word or two about Baron Solvyas, the Belgian Minister. His predecessor, M. Van Der Weyer, was to all intents and purposes an Englishman. Very nearly the same may be said of the present representative of the Belgian Government. He speaks English as an Englishman, and he judges at least as correctly of English character and of the currents of political thought as the most dispassionate Briton.

M. de Staal, noted for his correctness and courtesy, was formerly an official attached to the staff of Gortschakoff (brother of the Chancellor), while in command of the Military District of Warsaw. With Gortschakoff lie subsequently became more intimately associated by his marriage with his daughter, a lady whose charms of conversation are generally recognized. M. de Staal has the reputation of being safe and cautious, and, since the death of his wife's uncle and the Chancellor, has remained on confidential terms with his successor at the Russian Foreign Office, M. de Giers. He is given to hospitality, and, in conjunction with Madame de Staal, bids fair to achieve a social success in London. So far as his diplomatic action is concerned, he may be trusted quietly to maintain the traditions of his country's diplomatic service.

That the position of diplomacy in England and the character of what I have called for the sake of convenience, rather than of accuracy, diplomatic society should be what it has been represented as being is not strange. The English carry their insularity into everything. Even their public men seem to think that as their country is divided by the sea from the rest of the world, it is of no particular importance to them to have any intimacy with foreigners. Thus society in London welcomes after a frigid fashion the ministers of foreign Powers, treats them well, entertains them royally, but it does no more. I do not think it is very wise in its generation. English politicians might derive greater benefit than they look for by recognizing in ambassadors and attaches, not only foreign officials to whom courtesy is due, but men who might be useful in establishing between England and the rest of Europe a sort of personal rapport which is surely at this time of day greatly to be desired.