Margot Asquith, An Autobiography: Volumes I & II
Part 3 out of 7
MARGOT (with vigour): "Oh, if he is THAT sort of man, a really
brave fellow, there is only one thing for you both to do!"
MISS MILLER (leaning forward with hands clasped and looking at me
earnestly): "Oh, tell me, tell me!"
MARGOT: "Are you sure he is a man of dash? Is he really unworldly
and devoted? Not afraid of what people say?"
MISS MILLER (eagerly): "No, no! Yes, yes! He would die for me,
indeed he would, and is afraid of no one!"
MARGOT (luring her on): "I expect he is very much afraid of your
MISS MILLER (hesitating): "Papa is so rude to him."
MARGOT (with scorn): "Well, if your major is afraid of your
father, I think nothing of him!" (Slight movement behind the
MISS MILLER (impulsively): "He is afraid of no one! But Papa never
talks to him."
MARGOT (very deliberately): "Well, there is only one thing for you
to do; and that is to run away!" (Sensation behind the door.)
MISS MILLER (with determination, her eyes sparkling): "If he will
do it, I WILL! But oh, dear! ...What will people say? How they
MARGOT (lightly): "Oh, of course, if you care for what people say,
you will be done all through life!"
MISS MILLER: "Papa would be furious, you know, and would curse
To this I answered:
"I know your father well and I don't believe he would care a
I got up suddenly, as if going to the door, at which there was a
sound of a scuffle in the corridor.
MISS MILLER (alarmed and getting up): "What was that noise? Can
any one have been in the passage? Could they have heard us? Let us
shut the door."
MARGOT: "No, don't shut the door, it's so hot and we shan't be
able to talk alone again."
Miss MILLER (relieved and sitting down): "You are very good. ... I
must think carefully over what you have said."
MARGOT: "Anyhow, tell your major that _I_ know your father; he is
really fond of me."
MISS MILLER: "Oh, yes, I heard him ask your father if he would
exchange you for us."
MARGOT: "That's only his chaff; he is devoted to you. But what he
likes about me is my dash: nothing your papa admires so much as
courage. If the major has pluck enough to carry you off to
Edinburgh, marry you in a registrar's office and come back and
tell your family the same day, he will forgive everything, give
you a glorious allowance and you'll be happy ever after! ... Now,
my dear, I must go."
I got up very slowly, and, putting my hands on her shoulders,
"Pull up your socks, Amy!"
I need hardly say the passage was deserted when I opened the door.
I went downstairs, took up the Scotsman and found Sir William
writing in the hall. He was grumpy and restless and at last,
putting down his pen, he came up to me and said, in his broad
"Margy, will you go round the garden with me?"
"MARGY": "Yes, if we can sit down alone and have a good talk."
SIR WILLIAM (delighted): "What about the summerhouse?"
"MARGY": "All right, I'll run up and put on my hat and meet you
When we got to the summer-house he said:
"Margy, my daughter Amy's in love with a pauper."
"MARGY": "What does that matter?"
SIR WILLIAM: "He's not at all clever."
"MARGY": "How do you know?"
SIR WILLIAM: "What do you mean?"
"MARGY": "None of us are good judges of the people we dislike."
SIR WILLIAM (cautiously): "I would much like your advice on all
this affair and I want you to have a word with my girl Amy and
tell her just what you think on the matter."
"MARGY": "I have."
SIR WILLIAM: "What did she say to you?"
"MARGY": "Really, Sir William, would you have me betray
SIR WILLIAM: "Surely you can tell me what YOU said, anyway,
without betraying her."
"MARGY" (looking at him steadily): "Well, what do you suppose you
would say in the circumstances? If a well-brought-up girl told you
that she was in love with a man that her parents disliked, a man
who was unable to keep her and with no prospects..."
SIR WILLIAM (interrupting): "Never mind what I should say! What
did YOU say?"
"MARGY" (evasively): "The thing is unthinkable! Good girls like
yours could never go against their parents' wishes! Men who can't
keep their wives should not marry at all. ..."
SIR WILLIAM (with great violence, seizing my hands): "WHAT DID YOU
"MARGY" (with a sweet smile): "I'm afraid, Sir William, you are
changing your mind and, instead of leaning on my advice, you begin
to suspect it."
SIR WILLIAM (very loud and beside himself with rage): "WHAT DID
"MARGY" (coolly, putting her hand on his): "I can't think why you
are so excited! If I told you that I had said, 'Give it all up, my
dear, and don't vex your aged father,' what would you say?"
SIR WILLIAM (getting up and flinging my hand away from him):
"Hoots! You're a liar!"
"MARGY": "No, I'm not, Sir William; but, when I see people
listening at doors, I give them a run for their money."
I had another vicarious proposal. One night, dining with the
Bischoffheims, I was introduced for the first time to Baron
Hirsch, an Austrian who lived in Paris. He took me in to dinner
and a young man whom I had met out hunting sat on the other side
I was listening impressively to the latter, holding my champagne
in my hand, when the footman in serving one of the dishes bumped
my glass against my chest and all its contents went down the front
of my ball-dress. I felt iced to the bone; but, as I was thin, I
prayed profoundly that my pink bodice would escape being marked. I
continued in the same position, holding my empty glass in my hand
as if nothing had happened, hoping that no one had observed me and
trying to appear interested in the young man's description of the
awful dangers he had run when finding himself alone with hounds.
A few minutes later Baron Hirsch turned to me and said:
"Aren't you very cold?"
I said that I was, but that it did not matter; what I really
minded was spoiling my dress and, as I was not a kangaroo, I
feared the worst. After this we entered into conversation and he
told me among other things that, when he had been pilled for a
sporting club in Paris, he had revenged himself by buying the club
and the site upon which it was built, to which I observed:
"You must be very rich."
He asked me where I had lived and seemed surprised that I had
never heard of him.
The next time we met each other was in Paris. I lunched with him
and his wife and he gave me his opera box and mounted me in the
Bois de Boulogne.
One day he invited me to dine with him tete-a-tete at the Cafe
Anglais and, as my father and mother were out, I accepted. I felt
a certain curiosity about this invitation, because my host in his
letter had given me the choice of several other dates in the event
of my being engaged that night. When I arrived at the Cafe Anglais
Baron Hirsch took off my cloak and conducted me into a private
room. He reminded me of our first meeting, said that he had been
much struck by my self-control over the iced champagne and went on
to ask if I knew why he had invited me to dine with him. I said:
"I have not the slightest idea!"
BARON HIRSCH: "Because I want you to marry my son, Lucien. He is
quite unlike me, he is very respectable and hates money; he likes
books and collects manuscripts and other things, and is highly
MARGOT: "Your son is the man with the beard, who wears glasses and
collects coins, isn't he?"
BARON HIRSCH (thinking my description rather dreary): "Quite so!
You talked to him the other day at our house. But he has a
charming disposition and has been a good son; and I am quite sure
that, if you would take a little trouble, he would be devoted to
you and make you an excellent husband: he does not like society,
or racing, or any of the things that I care for."
MARGOT: "Poor man! I don't suppose he would even care much for me!
I hate coins!"
BARON HIRSCH: "Oh, but you would widen his interests! He is shy
and I want him to make a good marriage; and above all he must
marry an Englishwoman."
MARGOT: "Has he ever been in love?"
BARON HIRSCH: "No, he has never been in love; but a lot of women
make up to him and I don't want him to be married for his money by
some designing girl."
MARGOT: "Over here I suppose that sort of thing might happen; I
don't believe it would in England."
BARON HIRSCH: "How can you say such a thing to me? London society
cares more for money than any other in the world, as I know to my
cost! You may take it from me that a young man who will be as rich
as Lucien can marry almost any girl he likes."
MARGOT: "I doubt it! English girls don't marry for money!"
BARON HIRSCH: "Nonsense, my dear! They are like other people; it
is only the young that can afford to despise money!"
MARGOT: "Then I hope that I shall be young for a very long time."
BARON HIRSCH (smiling): "I don't think you will ever be
disappointed in that hope; but surely you wouldn't like to be a
poor man's wife and live in the suburbs? Just think what it would
be if you could not hunt or ride in the Row in a beautiful habit
or have wonderful dresses from Worth! You would hate to be dowdy
"That," I answered energetically, "could never happen to me."
BARON HIRSCH: "Why not?"
MARGOT: "Because I have too many friends."
BARON HIRSCH: "And enemies?"
MARGOT (thoughtfully): "Perhaps. ...I don't know about that. I
never notice whether people dislike me or not. After all, you took
a fancy to me the first time we met; why should not other people
do the same? Do you think I should not improve on acquaintance?"
BARON HIRSCH: "How can you doubt that, when I have just asked you
to marry my son?"
MARGOT: "What other English girl is there that you would like for
BARON HIRSCH: "Lady Katie Lambton,[Footnote: The present Duchess
of Leeds.] Durham's sister."
MARGOT: "I don't know her at all. Is she like me?"
BARON HIRSCH: "Not in the least; but you and she are the only
girls I have met that I could wish my son to marry."
I longed to know what my rival was like, but all he could tell me
was that she was lovely and clever and mignonne, to which I said:
"But she sounds exactly like me!"
This made him laugh:
"I don't believe you know in the least what you are like," he
MARGOT: "You mean I have no idea how plain I am? But what an odd
man you are! If I don't know what I'm like, I am sure you can't!
How do you know that I am not just the sort of adventuress you
dread most? I might marry your son and, so far from widening his
interests, as you suggest, keep him busy with his coins while I
went about everywhere, enjoying myself and spending all your
money. In spite of what you say, some man might fall in love with
me, you know! Some delightful, clever man. And then Lucien's
happiness would be over."
BARON HIRSCH: "I do not believe you would ever cheat your
MARGOT: "You never can tell! Would Lady Katie Lambton many for
BARON HIRSCH: "To be perfectly honest with you, I don't think she
MARGOT: "There you are! I know heaps of girls who wouldn't;
anyhow, _I_ never would!"
BARON HIRSCH: "You are in love with some one else, perhaps, are
It so happened that in the winter I had fallen in love with a man
out hunting and was counting the hours till I could meet him
again, so the question annoyed me; I thought it vulgar and said,
with some dignity:
"If I am, I have never told him so."
My dignity was lost, however, on my host, who persisted. I did not
want to give myself away, so, simulating a tone of light banter, I
"If I have not confided in the person most interested, why should
I tell YOU?" This was not one of my happiest efforts, for he
"Then he IS interested in you, is he? Do I know him?"
I felt angry and told him that, because I did not want to marry
his son, it did not at all follow that my affections were engaged
elsewhere; and I added:
"I only hope that Mr. Lucien is not as curious as you are, or I
should have a very poor time; there is nothing I should hate as
much as a jealous husband."
BARON HIRSCH: "I don't believe you! If it's tiresome to have a
jealous husband, it must be humiliating to have one who is not."
I saw he was trying to conciliate me, so I changed the subject to
racing. Being a shrewd man, he thought he might find out whom I
was in love with and encouraged me to go on. I told him I knew
Fred Archer well, as we had hunted together in the Vale of White
Horse. He asked me if he had ever given me a racing tip. I told
him the following story:
One day, at Ascot, some of my impecunious Melton friends,--having
heard a rumour that Archer, who was riding in the race, had made a
bet on the result--came and begged me to find out from him what
horse was going to win. I did not listen much to them at first, as
I was staring about at the horses, the parasols and the people,
but my friends were very much in earnest and began pressing me in
lowered voices to be as quick as I could, as they thought that
Archer was on the move. It was a grilling day; most men had
handkerchiefs or cabbages under their hats; and the dried-up grass
in the Paddock was the colour of pea-soup. I saw Fred Archer
standing in his cap and jacket with his head hanging down, talking
to a well-groomed, under-sized little man, while the favourite--a
great, slashing, lazy horse--was walking round and round with the
evenness of a metronome. I went boldly up to him and reminded him
of how we had cannoned at a fence in the V.W.H. Fred Archer had a
face of carved ivory, like the top of an umbrella; he could turn
it into a mask or illuminate it with a smile; he had long thin
legs, a perfect figure and wonderful charm. He kept a secretary, a
revolver and two valets and was a god among the gentry and the
jockeys. After giving a slight wink at the under-sized man, he
turned away from him to me and, on hearing what I had to say,
whispered a magic name in my ear. ...
I was a popular woman that night in Melton.
Baron Hirsch returned to the charge later on; and I told him
definitely that I was the last girl in the world to suit his son.
It is only fair to the memory of Lucien Hirsch to say that he
never cared the least about me. He died a short time after this
and some one said to the Baron:
"What a fool Margot Tennant was not to have married your son! She
would be a rich widow now."
At which he said:
"No one would die if they married Margot Tennant."
PHOENIX PARK MURDERS--REMEDIES FOR IRELAND--TELEPATHY AND
PLANCHETTE--VISIT TO BLAVATSKY--SIR CHARLES DILKE'S KISS--VISITS
TO GLADSTONE--THE LATE LORD SALISBURY'S POLITICAL PROPHECIES
The political event that caused the greatest sensation when I was
a girl was the murder of Mr. Burke and Lord Frederick Cavendish on
May 6, 1882. We were in London at the time; and the news came
through on a Sunday. Alfred Lyttelton told me that Lady Frederick
Cavendish's butler had broken it to her by rushing into the room
"They have knifed his lordship!"
The news spread from West to East and North to South; groups of
people stood talking in the middle of the streets without their
hats and every one felt that this terrible outrage was bound to
have consequences far beyond the punishment of the criminals.
These murders in the Phoenix Park tended to confirm Gladstone in
his belief that the Irish were people whom we did not understand
and that they had better be encouraged to govern themselves. He
hoped to convert his colleagues to a like conviction, but Mr.
Chamberlain and he disagreed.
Just as I ask myself what would have been the outcome of the Paris
Conference if the British had made the League of Nations a genuine
first plank in their programme instead of a last postscript, so I
wonder what would have happened if Chamberlain had stuck to
Gladstone at that time. Gladstone had all the playing cards--as
President Wilson had--and was not likely to under-declare his
hand, but he was a much older man and I cannot but think that if
they had remained together Chamberlain would not have been thrown
into the arms of the Tories and the reversion of the Premiership
must have gone to him. It seems strange to me that the leaders of
the great Conservative party have so often been hired bravos or
wandering minstrels with whom it can share no common conviction. I
never cease wondering why it cannot produce a man of its own
faith. There must be something inherent in its creed that produces
When Mr. Gladstone went in for Home Rule, society was rent from
top to bottom and even the most devoted friends quarrelled over
it. Our family was as much divided as any other.
One day, when Lord Spencer was staying at Glen, I was sent out of
the room at dinner for saying that Gladstone had made a Balaclava
blunder with his stupid Home Rule; we had all got so heated over
the discussion that I was glad enough to obey my papa. A few
minutes later he came out full of penitence to see if he had hurt
my feelings; he found me sitting on the billiard-table smoking one
of his best cigars. I gave him a good hug, and told him I would
join him when I had finished smoking; he said he was only too glad
that his cigars were appreciated and returned to the dining-room
in high spirits.
Events have proved that I was quite wrong about Home Rule. Now
that we have discovered what the consequences are of withholding
from Ireland the self-government which for generations she has
asked for, can we doubt that Gladstone should have been vigorously
backed in his attempt to still the controversy? As it is, our
follies in Ireland have cursed the political life of this country
for years. Some one has said, "L'Irlande est une maladie incurable
mais jamais mortelle"; and, if she can survive the present regime,
no one will doubt the truth of the saying.
In May, June and July, 1914, within three months of the war, every
donkey in London was cutting, or trying to cut us, for wishing to
settle this very same Irish question. My presence at a hall with
Elizabeth--who was seventeen--was considered not only provocative
to others but a danger to myself. All the brains of all the
landlords in Ireland, backed by half the brains of half the
landlords in England, had ranged themselves behind Sir Edward
Carson, his army and his Covenant. Earnest Irish patriots had
turned their fields into camps and their houses into hospitals;
aristocratic females had been making bandages for months, when von
Kuhlmann, Secretary of the German Embassy in London, went over to
pay his first visit to Ireland. On his return he told me with
conviction that, from all he had heard and seen out there during a
long tour, nothing but a miracle could avert civil war, to which I
"Shocking as that would be, it would not break England."
Our follies in Ireland have cursed not only the political but the
social life of this country.
It was not until the political ostracisms over Home Rule began all
over again in 1914 that I realised how powerful socially my
friends and I were in the 'eighties.
Mr. Balfour once told me that, before our particular group of
friends--generally known as the Souls--appeared in London,
prominent politicians of opposite parties seldom if ever met one
another; and he added:
"No history of our time will be complete unless the influence of
the Souls upon society is dispassionately and accurately
The same question of Home Rule that threw London back to the old
parochialisms in 1914 was at its height in 1886 and 1887; but at
our house in Grosvenor Square and later in those of the Souls,
everyone met--Randolph Churchill, Gladstone, Asquith, Morley,
Chamberlain, Balfour, Rosebery, Salisbury, Hartington, Harcourt
and, I might add, jockeys, actors, the Prince of Wales and every
ambassador in London. We never cut anybody--not even our friends
--or thought it amusing or distinguished to make people feel
uncomfortable; and our decision not to sacrifice private
friendship to public politics was envied in every capital in
Europe. It made London the centre of the most interesting society
in the world and gave men of different tempers and opposite
beliefs an opportunity of discussing them without heat and without
reporters. There is no individual or group among us powerful
enough to succeed in having a salon of this kind to-day.
The daring of that change in society cannot be over-estimated. The
unconscious and accidental grouping of brilliant, sincere and
loyal friends like ourselves gave rise to so much jealousy and
discussion that I shall devote a chapter of this book to the
It was at No. 40 Grosvenor Square that Gladstone met Lord Randolph
Churchill. The latter had made himself famous by attacking and
abusing the Grand Old Man with such virulence that every one
thought it impossible that they could ever meet in intimacy again.
I was not awed by this, but asked them to a luncheon party; and
they both accepted. I need hardly say that when they met they
talked with fluency and interest, for it was as impossible for
Gladstone to be gauche or rude as it was for any one to be ill at
ease with Randolph Churchill. The news of their lunching with us
spread all over London; and the West-end buzzed round me with
questions: all the political ladies, including the Duchess of
Manchester, were torn with curiosity to know whether Randolph was
going to join the Liberal Party. I refused to gratify their
curiosity, but managed to convey a general impression that at any
moment our ranks, having lost Mr. Chamberlain, were going to be
reinforced by Lord Randolph Churchill.
The Duchess of Manchester (who became the late Duchess of
Devonshire) was the last great political lady in London society as
I have known it. The secret of her power lay not only in her
position--many people are rich and grand, gay and clever and live
in big houses--but in her elasticity, her careful criticisms, her
sense of justice and discretion. She not only kept her own but
other people's secrets; and she added to a considerable effrontery
and intrepid courage, real kindness of heart. I have heard her
reprove and mildly ridicule all her guests, both at Compton Place
and at Chatsworth, from the Prince of Wales to the Prime Minister.
I asked her once what she thought of a certain famous lady, whose
arrogance and vulgarity had annoyed us all, to which she answered:
"I dislike her too much to be a good judge of her."
One evening, many years after the time of which I am writing, she
was dining with us, and we were talking tete-a-tete.
"Margot," she said, "you and I are very much alike."
It was impossible to imagine two more different beings than myself
and the Duchess of Devonshire--morally, physically or
intellectually--so I asked her what possible reason she had for
thinking so, to which she answered:
"We have both married angels; when Hartington dies he will go
straight to Heaven"--pointing her first finger high above her
head--"and when Mr. Asquith dies he will go straight there, too;
not so Lord Salisbury," pointing her finger with a diving movement
to the floor.
You met every one at her house, but she told me that before 1886-
1887 political opponents hardly ever saw one another and society was
One day in 1901 my husband and I were staying at Chatsworth. There
was a huge house-party, including Arthur Balfour and Chamberlain.
Before going down to dinner, Henry came into my bedroom and told
me he had had a telegram to say that Queen Victoria was very ill
and he feared the worst; he added that it was a profound secret
and that I was to tell no one. After dinner I was asked by the
Duchess' granddaughters--Lady Aldra and Lady Mary Acheson--to join
them at planchette, so, to please them, I put my hand upon the
board. I was listening to what the Duchess was saying, and my mind
was a blank. After the girls and I had scratched about for a
little time, one of them took the paper off the board and read out
"The Queen is dying." She added, "What Queen can that be?"
We gathered round her and all looked at the writing; and there I
read distinctly out of a lot of hieroglyphics:
"The Queen is dying."
If the three of us had combined to try to write this and had poked
about all night, we could not have done it.
I have had many interesting personal experiences of untraceable
communication and telepathy and I think that people who set
themselves against all this side of life are excessively stupid;
but I do not connect them with religion any more than with Marconi
and I shall always look upon it as a misfortune that people can be
found sufficiently material to be consoled by the rubbish they
listen to in the dark at expensive seances.
At one time, under the influence of Mr. Percy Wyndham, Frederic
Myers and Edmund Gurney (the last-named a dear friend with whom I
corresponded for some months before he committed suicide), Laura
and I went through a period of "spooks." There was no more
delightful companion than Mr. Percy Wyndham; he adored us and,
though himself a firm believer in the spirit world, he did not
resent it if others disagreed with him. We attended every kind of
seance and took the matter up quite seriously.
Then, as now, everything was conducted in the dark. The famous
medium of that day was a Russian Jewess, Madame Blavatsky by name.
We were asked to meet her at tea, in the dining-room of a private
house in Brook Street, a non-professional affair, merely a little
gathering to hear her views upon God. On our arrival I had a good
look at her heavy, white face, as deeply pitted with smallpox as a
solitaire board, and I wondered if she hailed from Moscow or
Margate. She was tightly surrounded by strenuous and palpitating
ladies and all the blinds were up. Seeing no vacant seat near her,
I sat down upon a low, stuffed chair in the window. After making a
substantial tea, she was seen to give a sobbing and convulsive
shudder, which caused the greatest excitement; the company closed
up round her in a circle of sympathy and concern. When pressed to
say why her bust had heaved and eyelids flickered, she replied:
"A murderer has passed below our windows." The awe-struck ladies
questioned her reverently but ardently as to how she knew and what
she felt. Had she visualised him? Would she recognise the guilty
one if she saw him and, after recognising him, feel it on her
conscience if she did not give him up to the law? One lady
proposed that we should all go round to the nearest police-station
and added that a case of this kind, if proved, would do more to
dispell doubts on spirits than all the successful raps, taps,
turns and tables. Being the only person in the window at the time,
I strained my eyes up and down Brook Street to see the murderer,
but there was not a creature in sight.
Madame Blavatsky turned out to be an audacious swindler.
To return to Chatsworth: our host, the Duke of Devonshire, was a
man whose like we shall never see again; he stood by himself and
could have come from no country in the world but England. He had
the figure and appearance of an artisan, with the brevity of a
peasant, the courtesy of a king and the noisy sense of humour of a
Falstaff. He gave a great, wheezy guffaw at all the right things,
and was possessed of endless wisdom. He was perfectly disengaged
from himself, fearlessly truthful and without pettiness of any
Bryan, the American politician, who came over here and heard all
our big guns speak--Rosebery, Chamberlain, Asquith, etc.--when
asked what he thought, said that a Chamberlain was not unknown to
them in America, and that they could produce a Rosebery or an
Asquith, but that a Hartington no man could find. His speaking was
the finest example of pile-driving the world had ever seen.
After the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Duke and his wife were
the great social, semi-political figures of my youth. One day
they came to pay us a visit in Cavendish Square, having heard that
our top storey had been destroyed by fire. They walked round the
scorched walls of the drawing-room, with the blue sky overhead,
and stopped in front of a picture of a race-horse, given to me on
my wedding day by my habit-maker, Alexander Scott (a Scotchman who
at my suggestion had made the first patent safety riding-skirt).
The Duke said:
"I am sorry that your Zoffany and Longhi were burnt, but I myself
would far rather have the Herring." [Footnote: A portrait by J. F.
Herring, sen., of Rockingham, winner of the St. Leger Stakes,
1833, ridden by Sam Darling.]
The Duchess laughed at this and asked me if my baby had suffered
from shock, adding:
"I should be sorry if my little friend, Elizabeth, has had a
I told her that luckily she was out of London at the time of the
fire. When the Duchess got back to Devonshire House, she sent
Elizabeth two tall red wax candles, with a note in which she said:
"When you brought your little girl here, she wanted the big red
candles in my boudoir and I gave them to her; they must have
melted in the fire, so I send her these new ones."
I was walking alone on the high road at Chatsworth one afternoon
in winter, while the Duchess was indoors playing cards, when I saw
the family barouche, a vast vehicle which swung and swayed on C-
springs, stuck in the middle of a ploughed field, the horses
plunging about in unsuccessful efforts to drag the wheels out of
the mud. The coachman was accompanied by a page, under life size.
Observing their dilemma, I said:
"Hullo, you're in a nice fix! What induced you to go into that
The coachman, who knew me well, explained that they had met a
hearse in the narrow part of the road and, as her Grace's orders
were that no carriage was to pass a funeral if it could be
avoided, he had turned into the field, where the mud was so deep
and heavy that they were stuck. It took me some time to get
assistance; but, after I had unfastened the bearing-reins and
mobilised the yokels, the coachman, carriage and I returned safely
to the house.
Death was the only thing of which I ever saw the Duchess afraid
and, when I referred to the carriage incident and chaffed her
about it, she said:
"My dear child, do you mean to tell me you would not mind dying?
What do you feel about it?"
I answered her, in all sincerity, that I would mind more than
anything in the world, but not because I was afraid, and that
hearses did not affect me in the least.
She asked me what I was most interested in after hunting and I
said politics. I told her I had always prophesied I would marry a
Prime Minister and live in high political circles. This amused her
and we had many discussions about politics and people. She was
interested in my youth and upbringing and made me tell her about
As I have said before, we were not popular in Peeblesshire. My
papa and his vital family disturbed the country conventions; and
all Liberals were looked upon as aliens by the Scottish
aristocracy of those days. At election times the mill-hands of
both sexes were locked up for fear of rows, but in spite of this
the locks were broken and the rows were perpetual. When my father
turned out the sitting Tory, Sir Graham Montgomery, in 1880, there
were high jinks in Peebles. I pinned the Liberal colours, with the
deftness of a pick-pocket, to the coat-tails of several of the
unsuspecting Tory landlords, who had come from great distances to
vote. This delighted the electors, most of whom were feather-
stitching up and down the High Street, more familiar with drink
The first politicians of note that came to stay with us when I was
a girl were Chamberlain and Sir Charles Dilke. Just as, later on,
my friends (the Souls) discussed which would go farthest, George
Curzon, George Wyndham or Harry Cust, so in those days people were
asking the same question about Chamberlain and Dilke. To my mind
it wanted no witch to predict that Chamberlain would beat not only
Dilke but other men; and Gladstone made a profound mistake in not
making him a Secretary of State in his Government of 1885.
Mr. Chamberlain never deceived himself, which is more than could
be said of some of the famous politicians of that day. He also
possessed a rare measure of intellectual control. Self-mastery was
his idiosyncrasy; it was particularly noticeable in his speaking;
he encouraged in himself such scrupulous economy of gesture,
movement and colour that, after hearing him many times, I came to
the definite conclusion that Chamberlain's opponents were snowed
under by his accumulated moderation. Whatever Dilke's native
impulses were, no one could say that he controlled them. Besides a
defective sense of humour, he was fundamentally commonplace and
had no key to his mind, which makes every one ultimately dull. My
father, being an ardent Radical, with a passion for any one that
Gladstone patronised, had made elaborate preparations for Dilke's
reception; when he arrived at Glen he was given a warm welcome;
and we all sat down to tea. After hearing him talk uninterruptedly
for hours and watching his stuffy face and slow, protruding eyes,
I said to Laura:
"He may be a very clever man, but he has not a ray of humour and
hardly any sensibility. If he were a horse, I would certainly not
With which she entirely agreed.
On the second night of his visit, our distinguished guest met
Laura in the passage on her way to bed; he said to her:
"If you will kiss me, I will give you a signed photograph of
To which she answered:
"It is awfully good of you, Sir Charles, but I would rather not,
for what on earth should I do with the photograph?"
Mr. Gladstone was the dominating politician of the day, and
excited more adoration and hatred than any one.
After my first visit to Hawarden, he sent me the following poem,
which he had written the night before I left:
When Parliament ceases and comes the recess,
And we seek in the country rest after distress,
As a rule upon visitors place an embargo,
But make an exception in favour of Margot.
For she brings such a treasure of movement and life,
Fun, spirit and stir, to folk weary with strife.
Though young and though fair, who can hold such a cargo
Of all the good qualities going as Margot?
Up hill and down dale,'tis a capital name
To blossom in friendship, to sparkle in fame;
There's but one objection can light upon Margot,
Its likeness in rhyming, not meaning, to argot.
Never mind, never mind, we will give it the slip,
'Tis not argot, the language, but Argo, the ship;
And by sea or by land, I will swear you may far go
Before you can hit on a double for Margot.
W. E. G. December 17th, 1889.
I received this at Glen by the second post on the day of my
arrival, too soon for me to imagine my host had written it, so I
wrote to our dear old friend, Godfrey Webb--always under suspicion
of playing jokes upon us--to say that he had overdone it this
time, as Gladstone had too good a hand-writing for him to
caricature convincingly. When I found that I was wrong, I wrote to
Dec. 19th, 1889. VERY DEAR AND HONOURED MR. GLADSTONE,
At first I thought your poem must have been a joke, written by
some one who knew of my feelings for you and my visit to Hawarden;
but, when I saw the signature and the post-mark, I was convinced
it could be but from you. It has had the intoxicating effect of
turning my head with pleasure; if I began I should never cease
thanking you. Getting four rhymes to my name emphasizes your
uncommon genius, I think! And Argo the ship is quite a new idea
and a charming one. I love the third verse; that Margot is a
capital name to blossom in friendship and sparkle in fame. You
must allow me to say that you are ever such a dear. It is
impossible to believe that you will be eighty to-morrow, but I
like to think of it, for it gives most people an opportunity of
seeing how life should be lived without being spent.
There is no blessing, beauty or achievement that I do not wish
In truth and sincerity, Yours,
A propos of this, twelve years later I received the following
letter from Lord Morley:
THE RED HOUSE, HAWARDEN, CHESTER,
July 18th, 1901.
I have just had such a cheerful quarter-of-an-hour--a packet of
YOUR letters to Mr. G. Think--! I've read them all!--and they
bring the writer back to me with queer and tender vividness. Such
a change from Bishops!!! Why do you never address me as "Very dear
and honoured Sir"? I'm not quite eighty-five yet, but I soon shall
Ever yours, JOHN MORLEY.
I have heard people say that the Gladstone family never allowed
him to read a newspaper with anything hostile to himself in it;
all this is the greatest rubbish; no one interfered with his
reading. The same silly things were said about the great men of
that day as of this and will continue to be said; and the same
silly geese will believe them. I never observed that Gladstone was
more easily flattered than other men. He WAS more flattered and by
more people, because he was a bigger man and lived a longer life;
but he was remarkably free from vanity of any kind. He would
always laugh at a good thing, if you chose the right moment in
which to tell it to him; but there were moods in which he was not
inclined to be amused.
Once, when he and I were talking of Jane Welsh Carlyle, I told him
that a friend of Carlyle's, an old man whom I met at Balliol, had
told me that one of his favourite stories was of an Irishman who,
when asked where he was driving his pig to, said:
"Cark. ..." (Cork.)
"But," said his interlocutor, "your head is turned to Mullingar
To which the man replied:
"Whist! He'll hear ye!"
This delighted Mr. Gladstone. I also told him one of Jowett's
favourite stories, of how George IV. went down to Portsmouth for
some big function and met a famous admiral of the day. He clapped
him on the back and said in a loud voice:
"Well, my dear Admiral, I hear you are the greatest blackguard in
At which the Admiral drew himself up, saluted the King and said:
"I hope, Sir, YOU have not come down to take away my reputation."
I find in an old diary an account of a drive I had with Gladstone
after my sister Laura died. This is what I wrote:
"On Saturday, 29th May, 1886, Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone came to pay
us a visit at 40 Grosvenor Square. Papa had been arranging the
drawing-room preparatory to their arrival and was in high
spirits. I was afraid he might resent my wish to take Mr.
Gladstone up to my room after lunch and talk to him alone.
However, Aunty Pussy--as we called Mrs. Gladstone--with a great
deal of winking, led papa away and said to mamma:
"'William and Margot are going to have a little talk!'
"I had not met or seen Mr. Gladstone since Laura's death.
"When he had climbed up to my boudoir, he walked to the window and
admired the trees in the square, deploring their uselessness and
asking whether the street lamp--which crossed the square path in
the line of our eyes--was a child.
"I asked him if he would approve of the square railings being
taken away and the glass and trees made into a place with seats,
such as you see in foreign towns, not merely for the convenience
of sitting down, but for the happiness of invalids and idlers who
court the shade or the sun. This met with his approval, but he
said with some truth that the only people who could do this--or
prevent it--were 'the resident aristocracy.'
"He asked if Laura had often spoken of death. I said yes and that
she had written about it in a way that was neither morbid nor
terrible. I showed him some prayers she had scribbled in a book,
against worldliness and high spirits. He listened with reverence
and interest. I don't think I ever saw his face wear the
expression that Millais painted in our picture as distinctly as
when, closing the book, he said to me:
"'It requires very little faith to believe that so rare a creature
as your sister Laura is blessed and with God.'
"Aunty Pussy came into the room and the conversation turned to
Laurence Oliphant's objection to visiting the graves of those we
love. They disagreed with this and he said:
"'I think, on the contrary, one should encourage oneself to find
consolation in the few tangible memories that one can claim; it
should not lessen faith in their spirits; and there is surely a
silent lesson to be learnt from the tombstone.'
"Papa and mamma came in and we all went down to tea. Mr. G.,
feeling relieved by the change of scene and topic, began to talk
and said he regretted all his life having missed the opportunity
of knowing Sir Walter Scott, Dr. Arnold and Lord Melbourne. He
told us a favourite story of his. He said:
"'An association of ladies wrote and asked me to send them a few
words on that unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots. In the penury of my
knowledge and the confusion arising from the conflicting estimates
of poor Mary, I thought I would write to Bishop Stubbs. All he
replied was, "Mary is looking up."'
"After this I drove him back to Downing Street in my phaeton,
round the Park and down Knights bridge. I told him I found it
difficult to judge of people's brains if they were very slow.
"MR. GLADSTONE: "I wish, then, that you had had the privilege of
knowing Mr. Cobden; he was at once the slowest and quite one of
the cleverest men I ever met. Personally I find it far easier to
judge of brains than character; perhaps it is because in my line
of life motives are very hard to fathom, and constant association
with intelligence and cultivation leads to a fair toleration and
criticism of all sorts and conditions of men.'
"He talked of Bright and Chamberlain and Lord Dalhousie,[Footnote:
The late Earl of Dalhousie.] who, he said, was one of the best
and most conscientious men he had ever known. He told me that,
during the time he had been Prime Minister, he had been personally
asked for every great office in the State, including the
Archbishopric of Canterbury, and this not by maniacs but by highly
respectable men, sometimes even his friends. He said that
Goschen's critical power was sound and subtle, but that he spoilt
his speeches by a touch of bitterness. Mr. Parnell, he said, was a
man of genius, born to great things. He had power, decision and
reserve; he saw things as they were and had confidence in himself.
(Ten days after this drive, Mr. Gladstone made his last great
speech on Irish Home Rule.)
"I made him smile by telling him how Lord Kimberley told me that,
one day in Dublin, when he was Viceroy, he had received a letter
"'My Lord, To-morrow we intend to kill you at the corner of
Kildare Street; but we would like you to know there is nothing
personal in it!'
"He talked all the way down Piccadilly about the Irish character,
its wit, charm, grace and intelligence. I nearly landed my phaeton
into an omnibus in my anxiety to point out the ingratitude and
want of purpose of the Irish; but he said that in the noblest of
races the spirit of self-defence had bred mean vices and that
generation after generation were born in Ireland with their blood
discoloured by hatred of the English Governments.
"'Tories have no hope, no faith,' he continued, 'and the best of
them have class-interest and the spirit of antiquity, but the last
has been forgotten, and only class-interest remains. Disraeli was
a great Tory. It grieves me to see people believing in Randolph
Churchill as his successor, for he has none of the genius,
patience or insight which Dizzy had in no small degree.'
"Mr. Gladstone told me that he was giving a dinner to the Liberal
party that night, and he added:
"'If Hartington is in a good humour, I intend to say to him,
"Don't move a vote of want of confidence in me after dinner, or
you will very likely carry it."'
"'He laughed at this, and told me some days after that Lord
Hartington had been delighted with the idea.
"He strongly advised me to read a little book by one Miss Tollet,
called Country Conversations, which had been privately printed,
and deplored the vast amount of poor literature that was
circulated, 'when an admirable little volume like this cannot be
got by the most ardent admirers now the authoress is dead.'" (In
parenthesis, I often wish I had been able to tell Mr. Gladstone
that Jowett left me this little book and his Shakespeare in his
"We drove through the Green Park and I pulled up on the Horse
Guards Parade at the garden-gate of 10 Downing Street. He got out
of the phaeton, unlocked the gate and, turning round, stood with
his hat off and his grey hair blowing about his forehead, holding
a dark, homespun cape close round his shoulders. He said with
great grace that he had enjoyed his drive immensely, that he hoped
it would occur again and that I had a way of saying things and a
tone of voice that would always remind him of my sister Laura. His
dear old face looked furrowed with care and the outline of it was
sharp as a profile. I said good-bye to him and drove away; perhaps
it was the light of the setting sun, or the wind, or perhaps
something else, but my eyes were full of tears."
My husband, in discussing with me Gladstone's sense of humour,
told me the following story:
"During the Committee Stage of the Home Rule Bill in the session
of 1893, I was one evening in a very thin House, seated by the
side of Mr. Gladstone on the Treasury Bench, of which we were the
sole occupants. His eyes were half-closed, and he seemed to be
absorbed in following the course of a dreary discussion on the
supremacy of Parliament. Suddenly he turned to me with an air of
great animation and said, in his most solemn tones, 'Have you ever
considered who is the ugliest man in the party opposite?
"MR. ASQUITH: 'Certainly; it is without doubt X' (naming a famous
"MR. GLADSTONE: 'You are wrong. X is no doubt an ugly fellow, but
a much uglier is Y' (naming a Queen's Counsel of those days).
"MR. ASQUITH: 'Why should you give him the preference?'
"MR. GLADSTONE: 'Apply a very simple test. Imagine them both
magnified on a colossal scale. X's ugliness would then begin to
look dignified and even impressive, while the more you enlarged Y
the meaner he would become.'"
I have known seven Prime Ministers--Gladstone, Salisbury,
Rosebery, Campbell-Bannerman, Arthur Balfour, Asquith and Lloyd
George--every one of them as different from the others as
possible. I asked Arthur Balfour once if there was much difference
between him and his uncle. I said:
"Lord Salisbury does not care fanatically about culture or
literature. He may like Jane Austen, Scott or Sainte-Beuve, for
all I know, BUT HE IS NOT A SCHOLAR; he does not care for Plato,
Homer, Virgil or any of the great classics. He has a wonderful
sense of humour and is a beautiful writer, of fine style; but I
should say he is above everything a man of science and a
Churchman. All this can be said equally well of you."
To which he replied:
"There is a difference. My uncle is a Tory... and I am a Liberal."
I delighted in the late Lord Salisbury, both in his speaking and
in his conversation. I had a kind of feeling that he could always
score off me with such grace, good humour and wit that I would
never discover it. He asked me once what my husband thought of his
son Hugh's speaking, to which I answered:
"I will not tell you, because you don't know anything about my
husband and would not value his opinion. You know nothing about
our House of Commons either, Lord Salisbury; only the other day
you said in public that you had never even seen Parnell."
LORD SALISBURY (pointing to his waistcoat): "My figure is not
adapted for the narrow seats in your peers' gallery, but I can
assure you you are doing me an injustice. I was one of the first
to predict, both in private and in public, that Mr. Asquith would
have a very great future. I see no one of his generation, or even
among the younger men, at all comparable to him. Will you not
gratify my curiosity by telling me what he thinks of my son Hugh's
I was luckily able to say that my husband considered Lord Hugh
Cecil the best speaker in the House of Commons and indeed
anywhere, at which Lord Salisbury remarked:
"Do you think he would say so if he heard him speak on subjects
other than the Church?"
I assured him that he had heard him on Free Trade and many
subjects and that his opinion remained unchanged. He thought that,
if they could unknot themselves and cover more ground, both he and
his brother, Bob Cecil, had great futures.
I asked Lord Salisbury if he had ever heard Chamberlain speak
(Chamberlain was Secretary of State for the Colonies at the time).
LORD SALISBURY: "It is curious you should ask me this. I heard him
for the first time this afternoon."
MARGOT: "Where did you hear him? And what was he speaking about?"
LORD SALISBURY: "I heard him at Grosvenor House. Let me see...what
was he speaking about? ... (reflectively) Australian washer-
women? I think...or some such thing. ..."
MARGOT: "What did you think of it?"
LORD SALISBURY: "He seems a good, business-like speaker."
MARGOT: "I suppose at this moment Mr. Chamberlain is as much hated
as Gladstone ever was?"
LORD SALISBURY: "There is a difference. Mr. Gladstone was hated,
but he was very much loved. Does any one love Mr. Chamberlain?"
One day after this conversation he came to see me, bringing with
him a signed photograph of himself. We of the Liberal Party were
much exercised over the shadow of Protection which had been
presented to us by Mr. Ritchie, the then Chancellor of the
Exchequer, putting a tax upon corn; and the Conservative Party,
with Mr. Balfour as its Prime Minister, was not doing well. We
opened the conversation upon his nephew and the fiscal question.
I was shocked by his apparent detachment and said:
"But do you mean to tell me you don't think there is any danger of
England becoming Protectionist?"
LORD SALISBURY (with a sweet smile): "Not the slightest! There
will always be a certain number of foolish people who will be
Protectionists, but they will easily be overpowered by the wise
ones. Have you ever known a man of first-rate intellect in this
country who was a Protectionist?"
MARGOT: "I never thought of it, but Lord Milner is the only one I
can think of for the moment."
He entirely agreed with me and said:
"No, you need not be anxious. Free Trade will always win against
Protection in this country. This will not be the trouble of the
MARGOT: "Then what will be?"
LORD SALISBURY: "The House of Lords is the difficulty that I
I was surprised and incredulous and said quietly:
"Dear Lord Salisbury, I have heard of the House of Lords all my
life! But, stupid as it has been, no one will ever have the power
to alter it. Why do you prophesy that it will cause trouble?"
LORD SALISBURY: "You may think me vain, Mrs. Asquith, but, as long
as I am there, nothing will happen. I understand my lords
thoroughly; but, when I go, mistakes will be made: the House of
Lords will come into conflict with the Commons."
MARGOT: "You should have taught it better ways! I am afraid it
must be your fault!"
LORD SALISBURY (smiling): "Perhaps; but what do YOU think will be
the next subject of controversy?"
MARGOT: "If what you say is true and Protection IS impossible in
this country, I think the next row will be over the Church of
England; it is in a bad way."
I proceeded to denounce the constant building of churches while
the parsons' pay was so cruelly small. I said that few good men
could afford to go into the Church at all; and the assumed voices,
both in the reading and in the preaching, got on the nerves of
every one who cared to listen to such a degree that the churches
were becoming daily duller and emptier.
He listened with patience to all this and then got up and said:
"Now I must go; I shall not see you again."
Something in his voice made me look at him.
"You aren't ill, are you?" I asked with apprehension.
To which he replied:
"I am going into the country."
I never saw him again and, when I heard of his death, I regretted
I had not seen him oftener.
THE BEAUTIFUL KATE VAUGHAN--COACHED BY COQUELIN IN MOLIERE--
ROSEBERY'S POPULARITY AND ELOQUENCE--CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN BON-VIVANT
AND BOULEVARDIER--BALFOUR'S MOT; HIS CHARM AND WIT; HIS TASTES AND
PREFERENCES; HIS RELIGIOUS SPECULATION
The next Prime Minister, whom I knew better than either Mr.
Gladstone or Lord Salisbury, was Lord Rosebery.
When I was a little girl, my mother took us to stay at Thomas's
Hotel, Berkeley Square, to have a course of dancing lessons from
the fashionable and famous M. d'Egville. These lessons put me in
high spirits, because my master told me I could always make a
living on the stage. His remarks were justified by a higher
authority ten years later: the beautiful Kate Vaughan of the
I made her acquaintance in this way: I was a good amateur actress
and with the help of Miss Annie Schletter, a friend of mine who is
on the English stage now, I thought we might act Moliere's
Precieuses ridicules together for a charity matinee. Coquelin--the
finest actor of Moliere that ever lived--was performing in London
at the time and promised he would not only coach me in my part but
lend his whole company for our performance. He gave me twelve
lessons and I worked hard for him. He was intensely particular;
and I was more nervous over these lessons than I ever felt riding
over high timber. My father was so delighted at what Coquelin said
to him about me and my acting that he bought a fine early copy of
Moliere's plays which he made me give him. I enclose his letter of
MY DEAREST LITTLE MARGOT,
Je suis tres mecontent de vous. Je croyais que vous me traitiez
tout a fait en ami, car c'etait en ami que j'avais accepte de vous
offrir quelques indications sur les Precieuses...et voila que vous
m'envoyez un enorme cadeau...imprudence d'abord parce que j'ai
tous les beaux Moliere qui existent et ensuite parce qu'il ne
fallait pas envoyer ombre de quoi que ce soit a votre ami Coq.
Je vais tout faire, malgre cela, pour aller vous voir un instant
au'jourd'hui, mais je ne suis pas certain d'y parvenir.
Remerciez votre amie Madelon et dites-lui bien qu'elle non plus ne
me doit absolument rien.
J'aime mieux un tout petit peu de la plus legere gratitude que
n'importe quoi. Conservez, ma chere Margot, un bon souvenir de ce
petit travail qui a du vous amuser beaucoup et qui nous a reunis
dans les meilleurs sentiments du monde; continuons nous cette
sympathie que je trouve moi tout a fait exquise--et croyez qu'en
la continuant de votre cote, vous serez mille fois plus que quitte
envers votre tres devoue
Coquelin the younger was our stage-manager, and acted the
principal part. When it was over and the curtain went down,
"Freddy Wellesley's [Footnote: The Hon. F. Wellesley, a famous
bean and the husband of Kate Vaughan.] band" was playing Strauss
valses in the entr'acve, while the audience was waiting for Kate
Vaughan to appear in a short piece called The Dancing Lesson, the
most beautiful solo dance ever seen. I was alone on the stage and,
thinking that no one could see me, I slipped off my Moliere hoop
of flowered silk and let myself go, in lace petticoats, to the
wonderful music. Suddenly I heard a rather Cockney voice say from
"My Lord! How you can dance! Who taught you, I'd like to know?"
I turned round and saw the lovely face of Kate Vaughan. She wore a
long, black, clinging crepe-de-chine dress and a little black
bonnet with a velvet bow over one ear; her white throat and
beautiful arms were bare.
"Why," she said, "you could understudy me, I believe! You come
round and I'll show you my parts and YOU will never lack for
I remember the expression, because I had no idea what she meant by
it. She explained that, if I became her under-study at the Gaiety,
I would make my fortune. I was surprised that she had taken me for
a professional, but not more so than she was when I told her that
I had never had a lesson in ballet-dancing in my life.
My lovely coach, however, fell sick and had to give up the stage.
She wrote me a charming letter, recommending me to her own
dancing-master, M. d'Auban, under whom I studied for several
One day, on returning from my early dancing-lesson to Thomas's
Hotel, I found my father talking to Lord Rosebery. He said I had
better run away; so, after kissing him and shaking hands with the
stranger I left the room. As I shut the door, I heard Lord
"Your girl has beautiful eyes."
I repeated this upstairs, with joy and excitement, to the family,
who, being in a good humour, said they thought it was true enough
if my eyes had not been so close together. I took up a glass, had
a good look at myself and was reluctantly compelled to agree.
I asked my father about Lord Rosebery afterwards, and he said:
"He is far the most brilliant young man living and will certainly
be Prime Minister one day."
Lord Rosebery was born with almost every advantage: he had a
beautiful smile, an interesting face, a remarkable voice and
natural authority. When at Oxford, he had been too much interested
in racing to work and was consequently sent down--a punishment
shared at a later date and on different grounds by another
distinguished statesman, the present Viscount Grey--but no one
could say he was not industrious at the time that I knew him and a
man of education. He made his fame first by being Mr. Gladstone's
chairman at the political meetings in the great Midlothian
campaign, where he became the idol of Scotland. Whenever there was
a crowd in the streets or at the station, in either Glasgow or
Edinburgh, and I enquired what it was all about, I always received
the same reply:
I think Lord Rosebery would have had a better nervous system and
been a happier man if he had not been so rich. Riches are over-
estimated in the Old Testament: the good and successful man
receives too many animals, wives, apes, she-goats and peacocks.
The values are changed in the New: Christ counsels a different
perfection and promises another reward. He does not censure the
man of great possessions, but He points out that his riches will
hamper him in his progress to the Kingdom of Heaven and that he
would do better to sell all; and He concludes with the penetrating
"Of what profit is it to a man if he gain the whole world and lose
his own soul?"
The soul here is freedom from self.
Lord Rosebery was too thin-skinned, too conscious to be really
happy. He was not self-swayed like Gladstone, but he was self-
enfolded. He came into power at a time when the fortunes of the
Liberal party were at their lowest; and this, coupled with his
peculiar sensibility, put a severe strain upon him. Some people
thought that he was a man of genius, morbidly sensitive shrinking
from public life and the Press, cursed with insufficient ambition,
sudden, baffling, complex and charming. Others thought that he was
a man irresistible to his friends and terrible to his enemies,
dreaming of Empire, besought by kings and armies to put countries
and continents straight, a man whose notice blasted or blessed
young men of letters, poets, peers or politicians, who at once
scared and compelled every one he met by his freezing silence, his
playful smile, or the weight of his moral indignation: the truth
being that he was a mixture of both.
Lord Salisbury told me he was the best occasional speaker he had
ever heard; and certainly he was an exceptionally gifted person.
He came to Glen constantly in my youth and all of us worshipped
him. No one was more alarming to the average stranger or more
playful and affectionate in intimacy than Lord Rosebery.
An announcement in some obscure paper that he was engaged to be
married to me came between us in later years. He was seriously
annoyed and thought I ought to have contradicted this. I had never
even heard the report till I got a letter in Cairo from Paris,
asking if I would not agree to the high consideration and
respectful homages of the writer and allow her to make my
chemises. After this, the matter went completely out of my head,
till, meeting him one day in London, I was greeted with such
frigid self-suppression that I felt quite exhausted. A few months
later, our thoughtful Press said I was engaged to be married to
Arthur Balfour. As I had seen nothing of Lord Rosebery since he
had gone into a period of long mourning, I was acclimatised to
doing without him, but to lose Arthur's affection and friendship
would have been an irreparable personal loss to me. I need not
have been afraid, for this was just the kind of rumour that
challenged his insolent indifference to the public and the Press.
Seeing me come into Lady Rothschild's ball-room one night, he left
the side of the man he was conversing with and with his elastic
step stalked down the empty parquet floor to greet me. He asked me
to sit down next to him in a conspicuous place; and we talked
through two dances. I was told afterwards that some one who had
been watching us said to him:
"I hear you are going to marry Margot Tennant."
To which he replied:
"No, that is not so. I rather think of having a career of my own."
Lord Rosebery's two antagonists, Sir William Harcourt and Sir
Henry Campbell-Bannerman, were very different men.
Sir William ought to have lived in the eighteenth century. To
illustrate his sense of humour: he told me that women should be
played with like fish; only in the one case you angle to make them
rise and in the other to make them fall. He had a great deal of
wit and nature, impulsive generosity of heart and a temperament
that clouded his judgment. He was a man to whom life had added
nothing; he was perverse, unreasonable, brilliant, boisterous and
kind when I knew him; but he must have been all these in the
At the time of the split in our party over the Boer War, when we
were in opposition and the phrase "methods of barbarism" became
famous, my personal friends were in a state of the greatest
agitation. Lord Spencer, who rode with me nearly every morning,
deplored the attitude which my husband had taken up. He said it
would be fatal to his future, dissociating himself from the
Pacifists and the Pro-Boers, and that he feared the Harcourts
would never speak to us again. As I was devoted to the latter, and
to their son Lulu [Footnote: The present Viscount Harcourt.] and
his wife May--still my dear and faithful friends--I felt full of
apprehension. We dined with Sir Henry and Lady Lucy one night and
found Sir William and Lady Harcourt were of the company. I had no
opportunity of approaching either of them before dinner, but when
the men came out of the dining-room, Sir William made a bee-line
for me. Sitting down, he took my hand in both of his and said:
"My dear little friend, you need not mind any of the quarrels! The
Asquith evenings or the Rosebery afternoons, all these things will
pass; but your man is the man of the future!"
These were generous words, for, if Lord Morley, my husband and
others had backed Sir William Harcourt instead of Lord Rosebery
when Gladstone resigned, he would certainly have become Prime
I never knew Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman well, but whenever we
did meet we had great laughs together. He was essentially a bon
vivant, a boulevardier and a humorist. At an official luncheon
given in honour of some foreign Minister, Campbell-Bannerman, in
an admirable speech in French--a language with which he was
familiar--described Arthur Balfour, who was on one side of him,
as l'enfant gate of English politics and Chamberlain, who was also
at the lunch, as l'enfant terrible.
On the opening day of Parliament, February the 14th, 1905, he made
an amusing and telling speech. It was a propos of the fiscal
controversy which was raging all over England and which was
destined to bring the Liberal party into power at the succeeding
two general elections. He said that Arthur Balfour was "like a
general who, having given the command to his men to attack, found
them attacking one another; when informed of this, he shrugs his
shoulders and says that he can't help it if they will
misunderstand his orders!"
In spite of the serious split in the Liberal Party over the Boer
War, involving the disaffection of my husband, Grey and Haldane,
Campbell-Bannerman became Prime Minister in 1905.
He did not have a coupon election by arrangement with the
Conservative Party to smother his opponents, hut asked Henry,
before he consulted any one, what office he would take for himself
and what he thought suitable for other people in his new Cabinet.
Only men of a certain grandeur of character can do these things,
but every one who watched the succeeding events would agree that
Campbell-Bannerman's generosity was rewarded.
When C.B.--as he was called--went to Downing Street, he was a
tired man; his wife was a complete invalid and his own health had
been undermined by nursing her. As time went on, the late hours in
the House of Commons began to tell upon him and he relegated more
and more of his work to my husband.
One evening he sent for Henry to go and see him at 10 Downing
Street and, telling him that he was dying, thanked him for all he
had done, particularly for his great work on the South African
constitution. He turned to him and said:
"Asquith, you are different from the others, and I am glad to have
known you ... God bless you!"
C.B. died a few hours after this.
I now come to another Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour.
When Lord Morley was writing the life of Gladstone, Arthur Balfour
said to me:
"If you see John Morley, give him my love and tell him to be bold
A biography must not be a brief either for or against its client
and it should be the same with an autobiography. In writing about
yourself and other living people you must take your courage in
both hands. I had thought of putting as a motto on the title-page
of this book, "As well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb"; but I
gave it up when my friends gave me away and I saw it quoted in the
newspapers; and I chose Blake and the Bible.
If I have written any words here that wound a friend or an enemy,
I can only refer them to my general character and ask to be judged
by it. I am not tempted to be spiteful and have never consciously
hurt any one in my life; but in this book I must write what I
think without fear or favour and with a strict regard to
Arthur Balfour was never a standard-bearer. He was a self-
indulgent man of simple tastes. For the average person he was as
puzzling to understand and as difficult to know as he was easy
for me and many others to love. You may say that no average man
can know a Prime Minister intimately; but most of us have met
strangers whose minds we understood and whose hearts we reached
without knowledge and without effort; and some of us have had an
equally surprising and more painful experience when, after years
of love given and received, we find the friend upon whom we had
counted has become a stranger.
He was difficult to understand, because I was never sure that he
needed me; and difficult to know intimately, because of his
formidable detachment. The most that many of us could hope for was
that he had a taste in us as one might have in clocks or
Balfour was blessed or cursed at his birth, according to
individual opinion, by two assets: charm and wits. The first he
possessed to a greater degree than any man, except John Morley,
that I have ever met. His social distinction, exquisite attention,
intellectual tact, cool grace and lovely bend of the head made him
not only a flattering listener, but an irresistible companion. The
disadvantage of charm--which makes me say cursed or blessed--is
that it inspires every one to combine and smooth the way for you
throughout life. As the earnest housemaid removes dust, so all his
friends and relations kept disagreeable things from his path; and
this gave him more leisure in his life than any one ought to have.
His wits, with which I say that he was also cursed or blessed--
quite apart from his brains--gave him confidence in his
improvisings and the power to sustain any opinion on any subject,
whether he held the opinion or not, with equal brilliance,
plausibility and success, according to his desire to dispose of
you or the subject. He either finessed with the ethical basis of
his intellect or had none. This made him unintelligible to the
average man, unforgivable to the fanatic and a god to the
On one occasion my husband and I went to a lunch, given by old Mr.
McEwan, to meet Mr. Frank Harris. I might have said what my sister
Laura did, when asked if she had enjoyed herself at a similar
meal. "I would not have enjoyed it if I hadn't been there," as,
with the exception of Arthur Balfour, I did not know a soul in the
room. He sat like a prince, with his sphinx-like imperviousness to
bores, courteous and concentrated on the languishing
conversation. I made a few gallant efforts and my husband, who is
particularly good on these self-conscious occasions, did his best
... but to no purpose.
Frank Harris, in a general disquisition to the table, at last
turned to Arthur Balfour and said, with an air of finality:
"The fact is, Mr. Balfour, all the faults of the age come from
Christianity and journalism."
To which Arthur replied with rapier quickness and a child-like
"Christianity, of course ... but why journalism?"
When men said, which they have done now for over thirty years,
that Arthur Balfour was too much of a philosopher to be really
interested in politics, I always contradicted them. With his
intellectual taste, perfect literary style and keen interest in
philosophy and religion, nothing but a great love of politics
could account for his not having given up more of his time to
writing. People thought that he was not interested because he had
nothing active in his political aspirations; he saw nothing that
needed changing. Low wages, drink, disease, sweating and
overcrowding did not concern him; they left him cold, and he had
not the power to express moral indignation which he was too
detached to feel.
He was a great Parliamentarian, a brilliant debater and a famous
Irish Secretary in difficult times, but his political energies lay
in tactics. He took a Puck-like pleasure in watching the game of
party politics, not in the interests of any particular political
party, nor from esprit de corps, but from taste. This was very
conspicuous in the years 1903 to 1906, during the fiscal
controversy; but any one with observation could watch this
peculiarity carried to a fine art wherever and whenever the
Government to which he might be attached was in a tight place.
Politically, what he cared most about were problems of national
defence. He inaugurated the Committee of Defence and appointed as
its permanent Chairman the Prime Minister of the day; everything
connected with the size of the army and navy interested him. The
size of your army, however, must depend on the aims and quality of
your diplomacy; and, if you have Junkers in your Foreign Office
and jesters on your War Staff, you must have permanent
conscription. It is difficult to imagine any one in this country
advocating a large standing army plus a navy, which is vital to
us; but such there were and such there will always be. With the
minds of these militarists, protectionists and conscriptionists,
Arthur Balfour had nothing in common at any time. He and the men
of his opinions were called the Blue Water School; they deprecated
fear of invasion and in consequence were violently attacked by the
Tories. But, in spite of an army corps of enthusiasts kept upon
our coasts to watch the traitors with towels signalling to the sea
with full instructions where to drive the county cows to, no
German army during the great War attempted to land upon our
shores, thus amply justifying Arthur Balfour's views.
The artists who have expressed with the greatest perfection human
experience, from an external point of view, he delighted in. He
preferred appeals to his intellect rather than claims upon his
feelings. Handel in music, Pope in poetry, Scott in narration,
Jane Austen in fiction and Sainte-Beuve in criticism supplied him
with everything he wanted. He hated introspection and shunned
What interested me most and what I liked best in Arthur Balfour
was not his charm or his wit--and not his politics--but his
writing and his religion.
Any one who has read his books with a searching mind will perceive
that his faith in God is what has really moved him in life; and no
one can say that he has not shown passion here. Religious
speculation and contemplation were so much more to him than
anything else that he felt justified in treating politics and
society with a certain levity.
His mother, Lady Blanche Balfour, was a sister of the late Lord
Salisbury and a woman of influence. I was deeply impressed by her
character as described in a short private life of her written by
the late minister of Whittingehame, Mr. Robertson. I should be
curious to know, if it were possible, how many men and women of
mark in this generation have had religious mothers. I think much
fewer than in mine. My husband's mother, Mr. McKenna's and Lord
Haldane's were all profoundly religious.
This is part of one of Lady Blanche Balfour's prayers, written at
the age of twenty-six:
From the dangers of metaphysical subtleties and from profitless
speculation on the origin of evil--Good Lord deliver me.
From hardness of manner, coldness, misplaced sarcasm, and all
errors and imperfections of manner or habit, from words and deeds
by which Thy good may be evil-spoken, of through me, or not
promoted to the utmost of my ability--Good Lord deliver me.
Teach me my duties to superiors, equals and inferiors. Give me
gentleness and kindliness of manner and perfect tact; a thoughtful
heart such as Thou lovest; leisure to care for the little things
of others, and a habit of realising in my own mind their positions
Give me grace to trust my children--with the peace that passeth
all understanding--to Thy love and care. Teach me to use my
influence over each and all, especially children and servants,
aright, that I may give account of this, as well as of every other
talent, with joy--and especially that I may guide with the love
and wisdom which are far above the religious education of my
By Lady Blanche Balfour, 1851.
Born and bred in the Lowlands of Scotland, Arthur Balfour avoided
the narrowness and materialism of the extreme High Church; but he
was a strong Churchman. I wrote in a very early diary: "I wish
Arthur would write something striking on the Established Church,
as he could express better than any one living how much its
influence for good in the future will depend on the spirit in
which it is worked."
His mind was more critical than constructive; and those of his
religious writings which I have read have been purely analytical.
My attention was first arrested by an address he delivered at the
Church Congress at Manchester in 1888. The subject which he chose
was Positivism, without any special reference to the peculiarities
of Comte's system. He called it The Religion of Humanity.
[Footnote: An essay delivered at the Church Congress, Manchester,
and printed in a pamphlet] In this essay he first dismisses the
purely scientific and then goes on to discuss the Positivist view
of man. The following passages will give some idea of his manner
and style of writing:
Man, so far as natural science itself is able to teach us, is no
longer the final cause of the universe, the heaven-descended heir
of all the ages. His very existence is an accident, his history a
brief and discreditable episode in the life of one of the meanest
of the planets. Of the combination of causes which first converted
a piece or pieces of unorganised jelly into the living progenitors
of humanity, science indeed, as yet, knows nothing. It is enough
that from such beginnings, Famine, Disease, and Mutual Slaughter,
fit nurses of the future lord of creation, have gradually evolved,
after infinite travail, a race with conscience enough to know that
it is vile, and intelligence enough to know that it is
insignificant. We survey the past and see that its history is of
blood and tears, of helpless blundering, of wild revolt, of stupid
acquiescence, of empty aspirations. We sound the future, and learn
that after a period, long compared with the individual life, but
short indeed compared with the divisions of time open to our
investigation, the energies of our system will decay, the glory of
the sun will be dimmed, and the earth, tideless and inert, will no
longer tolerate the race which has for a moment disturbed its
solitude. Man will go down into the pit, and all his thoughts will
perish. The uneasy consciousness, which in this obscure corner has
for a brief space broken the contented silence of the Universe,
will be at rest. Matter will know itself no longer. Imperishable
monuments and immortal deeds, death itself, and love stronger than
death, will be as though they had never been. Nor will anything
that is be better or be worse for all that the labour, genius,
devotion, and suffering of man have striven through countless
generations to effect.
He continues on Positivism as an influence that cannot be
One of the objects of the "religion of humanity," and it is an
object beyond all praise, is to stimulate the imagination till it
lovingly embraces the remotest fortunes of the whole human family.
But in proportion as this end is successfully attained, in
proportion as we are taught by this or any other religion to
neglect the transient and the personal, and to count ourselves as
labourers for that which is universal and abiding, so surely must
be the increasing range which science is giving to our vision over
the time and spaces of the material universe, and the decreasing
importance of the place which man is seen to occupy in it, strike
coldly on our moral imagination, if so be that the material
universe is all we have to do with. My contention is that every
such religion and every such philosophy, so long as it insists on
regarding man as merely a phenomenon among phenomena, a natural
object among other natural objects, is condemned by science to
failure as an effective stimulus to high endeavour. Love, pity,
and endurance it may indeed leave with us; and this is well. But
it so dwarfs and impoverishes the ideal end of human effort, that
though it may encourage us to die with dignity, it hardly permits
us to live with hope.
Apart from the unvarying love I have always had for Arthur
Balfour, I should be untrue to myself if I did not feel deeply
grateful for the unchanging friendship of a man who can think and
write like this.
Of the other two Prime Ministers I cannot write, though no one
knows them better than I do. By no device of mine could I conceal
my feelings; both their names will live with lustre, without my
conscience being chargeable with frigid impartiality or fervent
partisanship, and no one will deny that all of us should be
allowed some "private property in thought."
END OF BOOK ONE
5. Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.
6. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are
disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who
shall gather them.
7. And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in Thee.
THE SOULS--LORD CURZON's POEM AND DINNER PARTY AND WHO WERE THERE
--MARGOT'S INVENTORY OF THE GROUP--TILT WITH THE LATE LADY
LONDONDERRY--VISIT TO TENNYSON; HIS CONTEMPT FOR CRITICS; HIS
HABIT OF LIVING--J. K. S. NOT A SOUL--MARGOT'S FRIENDSHIP WITH
JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS; HIS PRAISE OF MARIE BASHKIRTSEFF
No one ever knew how it came about that I and my particular
friends were called "the Souls." The origin of our grouping
together I have already explained: we saw more of one another than
we should probably have done had my sister Laura Lyttelton lived,
because we were in mourning and did not care to go out in general
society; but why we were called "Souls" I do not know.
The fashionable--what was called the "smart set"--of those days
centred round the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII, and
had Newmarket for its head-quarters. As far as I could see, there
was more exclusiveness in the racing world than I had ever
observed among the Souls; and the first and only time I went to
Newmarket the welcome extended to me by the shrewd and select
company there made me feel exactly like an alien.
We did not play bridge or baccarat and our rather intellectual and
literary after-dinner games were looked upon as pretentious.
Arthur Balfour--the most distinguished of the Souls and idolised
by every set in society--was the person who drew the enemy's fire.
He had been well known before he came among us and it was
considered an impertinence on our part to make him play pencil-
games or be our intellectual guide and critic. Nearly all the
young men in my circle were clever and became famous; and the
women, although not more intelligent, were less worldly than their
fashionable contemporaries and many of them both good to be with
and distinguished to look at.
What interests me most on looking back now at those ten years is
the loyalty, devotion and fidelity which we showed to one another
and the pleasure which we derived from friendships that could not
have survived a week had they been accompanied by gossip, mocking,
or any personal pettiness. Most of us had a depth of feeling and
moral and religious ambition which are entirely lacking in the
clever young men and women of to-day. Our after-dinner games were
healthier and more inspiring than theirs. "Breaking the news," for
instance, was an entertainment that had a certain vogue among the
younger generation before the war. It consisted of two people
acting together and conveying to their audience various ways in
which they would receive the news of the sudden death of a friend
or a relation and was considered extraordinarily funny; it would
never have amused any of the Souls. The modern habit of pursuing,
detecting and exposing what was ridiculous in simple people and
the unkind and irreverent manner in which slips were made material
for epigram were unbearable to me. This school of thought--which
the young group called "anticant"--encouraged hard sayings and
light doings, which would have profoundly shocked the most
frivolous among us. Brilliance of a certain kind may bring people
together for amusement, but it will not keep them together for
long; and the young, hard pre-war group that I am thinking of was
The present Lord Curzon [Footnote: Earl Curzon of Kedleston.] also
drew the enemy's fire and was probably more directly responsible
for the name of the Souls than any one.
He was a conspicuous young man of ability, with a ready pen, a
ready tongue, an excellent sense of humour in private life and
intrepid social boldness. He had appearance more than looks, a
keen, lively face, with an expression of enamelled selfassurance.
Like every young man of exceptional promise, he was called a prig.
The word was so misapplied in those days that, had I been a clever
young man, I should have felt no confidence in myself till the
world had called me a prig. He was a remarkably intelligent person
in an exceptional generation. He had ambition and--what he claimed
for himself in a brilliant description--"middle-class method"; and
he added to a kindly feeling for other people a warm corner for
himself. Some of my friends thought his contemporaries in the
House of Commons, George Wyndham and Harry Cust, would go farther,
as the former promised more originality and the latter was a finer
scholar, but I always said--and have a record of it in my earliest
diaries--that George Curzon would easily outstrip his rivals. He
had two incalculable advantages over them: he was chronically
industrious and self-sufficing; and, though Oriental in his ideas
of colour and ceremony, with a poor sense of proportion, and a
childish love of fine people, he was never self-indulgent. He
neither ate, drank nor smoked too much and left nothing to chance.
No one could turn with more elasticity from work to play than
George Curzon; he was a first-rate host and boon companion and
showed me and mine a steady and sympathetic love over a long
period of years. Even now, if I died, although he belongs to the
more conventional and does not allow himself to mix with people of
opposite political parties, he would write my obituary notice.
At the time of which I am telling, he was threatened with lung
trouble and was ordered to Switzerland by his doctors. We were
very unhappy and assembled at a farewell banquet, to which he
entertained us in the Bachelors' Club, on the 10th of July, 1889.
We found a poem welcoming us on our chairs, when we sat down to
dinner, in which we were all honourably and categorically
mentioned. Some of our critics called us "the Gang"--to which
allusion is made here--but we were ultimately known as the Souls.
This famous dinner and George's poem caused a lot of fun and
friction, jealousy, curiosity and endless discussion. It was
followed two years later by another dinner given by the same host
to the same guests and in the same place, on the 9th of July,
The repetition of this dinner was more than the West End of London
could stand; and I was the object of much obloquy. I remember
dining with Sir Stanley and Lady Clarke to meet King Edward--then
Prince of Wales--when my hostess said to me in a loud voice,
across the table:
"There were some clever people in the world, you know, before you
were born, Miss Tennant!"
Feeling rather nettled, I replied:
"Please don't pick me out, Lady Clarke, as if I alone were
responsible for the stupid ones among whom we find ourselves
Having no suspicion of other people, I was seldom on the
defensive and did not mean to be rude but I was young and
intolerant. This was George Curzon's poem:
[Editor's Note: See footnotes at bottom of poem]
10th JULY, 1889.
Ho! list to a lay
Of that company gay,
Compounded of gallants and graces,
Who gathered to dine,
In the year '89,
In a haunt that in Hamilton Place is.
There, there where they met,
And the banquet was set
At the bidding of GEORGIUS CURZON;
Brave youth! 'tis his pride,
When he errs, that the side
Of respectable licence he errs on.
Around him that night--
Was there e'er such a sight?
Souls sparkled and spirits expanded;
For of them critics sang,
That tho' christened the Gang,
By a spiritual link they were banded.
Souls and spirits, no doubt
But neither without
Fair visible temples to dwell in!
E'en your image divine
Must be girt with a shrine,
For the pious to linger a spell in.
There was seen at that feast
Of this band, the High Priest,
The heart that to all hearts is nearest;
Him may nobody steal
From the true Common weal,
Tho' to each is dear ARTHUR the dearest. 
Nay, she gives when she sends
Such treasures as HARRY and DAISY; 
Tho' many may yearn,
None but HARRY can turn
That sweet little head of hers crazy.
There was much-envied STRATH 
With the lady who hath 
Taught us all what may life be at twenty;
Of pleasure a taste,
Of duty no waste,
Of gentle philosophy plenty.
KITTY DRUMMOND was there-- 
Where was LAWRENCE, oh! where?--
And my Lord and my Lady GRANBY; 
Is there one of the Gang
Has not wept at the pang
That he never can VIOLET'S man be?
From WILTON, whose streams
Murmur sweet in our dreams,
Come the Earl and his Countess together; 
In her spirit's proud flights
We are whirled to the heights,
He sweetens our stay in the nether.
Dear EVAN was there, 
The first choice of the fair,
To all but himself very gentle!
And ASHRIDGE'S lord 
Most insufferably bored
With manners and modes Oriental.
The Shah, I would bet,
In the East never met
Such a couple as him and his consort. 
If the HORNERS you add, 
That a man must be mad
Who complains that the Gang is a wrong sort.
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