Margot Asquith, An Autobiography: Volumes I & II
Part 6 out of 7
MARGOT: "Have I ever lied to you, Peter?"
PETER: "How can I tell? (SHRUGGING HIS SHOULDERS) You have lied
twice, so I presume since I've been away you've got into the habit
PETER: "A man doesn't scream and put his arm round a woman, as D--
ly did at the races to-day, unless he is in love. Will you tell me
who paid my debt, please?"
MARGOT: "No, I won't."
PETER: "Was it D--ly?"
MARGOT: "I shan't tell you. I'm not Sam Lewis; and, since I'm such
a liar, is it worth while asking me these stupid questions?"
PETER: "Ah, Margot, this is the worst blow of my life! I see you
are deceiving me. I know who paid my debt now."
MARGOT: "Then why ask ME? ..."
PETER: "When I went to India I had never spoken to D--ly in my
life. Why should he have paid my debts for me? You had much better
tell me the simple truth and get it over: it's all settled and
you're going to marry him."
MARGOT: "Since I've got into the way of lying, you might spare
yourself and me these vulgar questions."
PETER (SEIZING MY HANDS IN ANGUISH): "Say you aren't going to
marry him ... tell me, tell me it's NOT true."
MARGOT: "Why should I? He has never asked me to."
After this the question of matrimony was bound to come up between
us. The first time it was talked of, I was filled with anxiety. It
seemed to put a finish to the radiance of our friendship and,
worse than that, it brought me up against my father, who had often
said to me: "You will never marry Flower; you must marry your
Peter himself, in a subconscious way, had become aware of the
situation. One evening, riding home, he said:
"Margie, do you see that?"
He pointed to the spire of the Melton Church and added:
"That is what you are in my life. I am not worth the button on
To which I replied:
"I would not say that, but I cannot find goodness for two."
I was profundly unhappy. To live for ever with a man who was
incapable of loving any one but himself and me, who was without
any kind of moral ambition and chronically indifferent to politics
and religion, was a nightmare.
I said to him:
"I will marry you if you get some serious occupation, Peter, but I
won't marry an idle man; you think of nothing but yourself and
PETER: "What in the name of goodness would you have me think of?
MARGOT: "You know exactly what I mean. Your power lies in love-
making, not in loving; you don't love any one but yourself."
At this, Peter moved away from me as if I had struck him and said
in a low tense voice:
"I am glad I did not say that. I would not care to have said such
a cat-cruel thing; but I pity the man who marries you! He will
think--as I did--that you are impulsively, throbbingly warm and
kind and gentle; and he will find that he has married a governess
and a prig; and a woman whose fire--of which she boasts so much--
blasts his soul."
I listened to a Peter I had never heard before, His face
frightened me. It indicated suffering. I put my head against his
"How can I make an honest man of you, my dearest?"
I was getting quite clever about people, as the Mrs. Bo episode
had taught me a lot.
A short time after this conversation, I observed a dark, good-
looking woman pursuing Peter Flower at every ball and party. He
told me when I teased him that she failed to arrest his attention
and that, for the first time in my life, I flattered him by my
jealousy. I persisted and said that I did not know if it was
jealousy but that I was convinced she was a bad friend for him.
PETER: "I've always noticed you think things bad when they don't
suit you, but why should I give up my life to you? What do you
give me in return? I'm the laughing-stock of London! But, if it is
any satisfaction to you, I will tell you I don't care for the
black lady, as you call her, and I never see her except at
I knew Peter as well as a cat knows its way in the dark and I felt
the truth of his remark: what did I give him? But I was not in a
humour to argue.
The lady often asked me to go and see her, but I shrank from it
and had never been inside her house.
One day I told Peter I would meet him at the Soane Collection in
Lincoln's Inn Fields. To my surprise he said he had engaged
himself to see his sister, who had been ill, and pointed out with
a laugh that my governessing was taking root. He added:
"I don't mind giving it up if you can spend the whole afternoon
I told him I would not have him give up going to see his sister
for the world.
Finding myself at a loose end, I thought I would pay a visit to
the black lady, as it was unworthy of me to have such a prejudice
against some one whom I did not know. It was a hot London day;
pale colours, thin stuffs, naked throats and large hats were
strewn about the parks and streets.
When I arrived, the lady's bell was answered by a hall-boy and,
hearing the piano, I told him he need not announce me. When I
opened the door, I saw Peter and the dark lady sharing the same
seat in front of the open piano. She wore a black satin sleeveless
tea-gown, cut low at the throat, with a coral ribbon round her
waist, and she had stuck a white rose in her rather dishevelled
Carmen hair. I stood still, startled by her beauty and stunned by
Peter's face. She got up, charmed to see me, and expressed her joy
at the amazing luck which had brought me there that very
afternoon, as she had a wonderful Spaniard coming to play to her
after tea and she had often been told by Peter how musical I was,
etc., etc. She hoped I was not shocked by her appearance, but she
has just come back from a studio and it was too hot to expect
people to get into decent clothes. She was perfectly at her ease
and more than welcoming; before I could answer, she rallied Peter
and said she pleaded guilty of having lured him away from the path
of duty that afternoon, ending with a slight twinkle:
"From what I'm told, Miss Margot, you would NEVER have done
anything so wicked? ..."
I felt ice in my blood and said:
"You needn't believe that! I've lured him away from the path of
duty for the last eight years, haven't I, Peter?"
There was an uncomfortable silence and I looked about for a means
of escape, but it took me some little time to find one.
I said good-bye and left the house.
When I was alone I locked the door, flung myself on my sofa, and
was blinded by tears. Peter was right; he had said, "Why should I
give up my life to you?" Why indeed! And yet, after eight years,
this seemed a terrible ending to me.
"What do you give me in return?" What indeed? What claim had I to
his fidelity? I thought I was giving gold for silver, but the dark
lady would have called it copper for gold. Was she prepared to
give everything for nothing? Why should I call it nothing? What
did I know of Peter's love for her? All I knew was she had taught
him to lie; and he must love her very much to do that: he had
never lied to me before.
I went to the opera that night with my father and mother. Peter
came into our box in a state of intense misery; I could hardly
look at him. He put his hand out toward me under the programme and
I took it.
At that moment the servant brought me a note and asked me to give
her the answer. I opened it and this was what I read:
"If you want to do a very kind thing come and see me after the
opera to-night. Don't say no."
I showed it to Peter, and he said, "Go." It was from the dark
lady; I asked him what she wanted me for and he said she was
"Ah, Peter," said I, "what HAVE you done? ..."
PETER: "I know ... it's quite true; but I've broken it off for
ever with her."
Nothing he could have said then would have lightened my heart.
I scribbled, "Yes," on the same paper and gave it back to the
When I said good night to my mother that night after the opera, I
told her where I was going. Peter was standing in the front hall
and took me in a hansom to the lady's house, saying he would wait
for me round the corner while I had my interview with her.
It was past midnight and I felt overpoweringly tired. My beautiful
rival opened the front door to me and I followed her silently up
to her bedroom. She took off my opera-cloak and we sat down facing
each other. The room was large and dark but for a row of candles
on the mantel-piece and two high church-lights each side of a
silver pier-glass. There was a table near my chair with odds and
ends on it and a general smell of scent and flowers. I looked at
her in her blue satin nightgown and saw that she had been crying.
"It is kind of you to have come," she said, "and I daresay you
know why I wanted to see you to-night."
MARGOT: "No, I don't; I haven't the faintest idea!"
THE LADY (LOOKING RATHER EMBARRASSED, BUT AFTER A MOMENT'S PAUSE):
"I want you to tell me about yourself."
I felt this to be a wrong entry: she had sent for me to tell her
about Peter Flower and not myself; but why should I tell her about
either of us? I had never spoken of my love-affairs excepting to
my mother and my three friends--Con Manners, Frances Horner, and
Etty Desborough--and people had ceased speaking to me about them;
why should I sit up with a stranger and discuss myself at this
time of night? I said there was nothing to tell. She answered by
saying she had met so many people who cared for me that she felt
she almost knew me, to which I replied:
"In that case, why talk about me?"
THE LADY: "But some people care for both of us."
MARGOT (RATHER COLDLY): "I daresay."
THE LADY: "Don't be hard, I want to know if you love Peter Flower
. ... Do you intend to marry him?"
The question had come then: this terrible question which my mother
had never asked and which I had always evaded! Had it got to be
answered now ... and to a stranger?
With a determined effort to control myself I said:
"You mean, am I engaged to be married?"
THE LADY: "I mean what I say; are you going to marry Peter?"
MARGOT: "I have never told him I would."
THE LADY (VERY SLOWLY): "Remember, my life is bound up in your
Her words seemed to burn and I felt a kind of pity for her. She
was leaning forward with her eyes fastened on mine and her hands
clasped between her knees.
"If you don't love him enough to marry him, why don't you leave
him alone?" she said. "Why do you keep him bound to you? Why don't
you set him free?"
MARGOT: "He is free to love whom he likes; I don't keep him, but I
won't share him."
THE LADY: "You don't love him, but you want to keep him; that is
pure selfishness and vanity."
MARGOT: "Not at all! I would give him up to-morrow and have told
him so a thousand times, if he would marry; but he is not in a
position to marry any one."
THE LADY: "How can you say such a thing! His debts have just been
paid by God knows who--some woman, I suppose!--and you are rich
yourself. What is there to hinder you from marrying him?"
MARGOT: "That was not what I was thinking about. I don't believe
you would understand even if I were to explain it to you."
THE LADY: "If you were really in love you could not be so critical
MARGOT: "Oh, yes, I could! You don't know me."
THE LADY: "I love him in a way you would never understand. There
is nothing in the world I would not do for him! No pain I would
not suffer and no sacrifice I would not make."
MARGOT: "What could you do for him that would help him?"
THE LADY: "I would leave my husband and my children and go right
away with him."
I felt as if she had stabbed me.
"Leave your children! and your husband!" I said. "But how can
ruining them and yourself help Peter Flower? I don't believe for a
moment he would ever do anything so vile."
THE LADY: "You think he loves you too much to run away with me, do
MARGOT (with indignation): "Perhaps I hope he cares too much for
THE LADY (not listening and getting up excitedly): "What do you
know about love? I have had a hundred lovers, but Peter Flower is
the only man I have ever really cared for; and my life is at an
end if you will not give him up."
MARGOT: "There is no question of my giving him up; he is free, I
tell you ..."
THE LADY: "I tell you he is not! He doesn't consider himself free,
he said as much to me this afternoon ... when he wanted to break
it all off."
MARGOT: "What do you wish me to do then? ..."
THE LADY: "Tell Peter you don't love him in the right way, that
you don't intend to marry him; and then leave him alone."
MARGOT: "Do you mean I am to leave him to you? ... Do you love him
in the right way?"
THE LADY: "Don't ask stupid questions . ... I shall kill myself if
he gives me up."
After this, I felt there was nothing more to be said. I told her
that Peter had a perfect right to do what he liked and that I had
neither the will nor the power to influence his decision; that I
was going abroad with my sister Lucy to Italy and would in any
case not see him for several weeks; but I added that all my
influence over him for years had been directed into making him the
right sort of man to marry and that all hers would of necessity
lie in the opposite direction. Not knowing quite how to say good-
bye, I began to finger my cloak; seeing my intention, she said:
"Just wait one moment, will you? I want to know if you are as good
as Peter always tells me you are; don't answer till I see your
She took two candles off the chimneypiece and placed them on the
table near me, a little in front of my face, and then knelt upon
the ground; I looked at her wonderful wild eyes and stretched out
my hands towards her.
"Nonsense!" I said. "I am not in the least good! Get up! When I
see you kneeling at my feet, I feel sorry for you."
THE LADY (getting up abruptly): "For God's sake don't pity me!"
Thinking over the situation in the calm of my room, I had no
qualms as to either the elopement or the suicide, hut I felt a
revulsion of feeling towards Peter. His lack of moral indignation
and purpose, his intractability in all that was serious and his
incapacity to improve had been cutting a deep though unconscious
division between us for years; and I determined at whatever cost,
after this, that I would say good-bye to him.
A few days later, Lord Dufferin came to see me in Grosvenor
"Margot," he said, "why don't you marry? You are twenty-seven; and
life won't go on treating you so well if you go on treating it
like this. As an old friend who loves you, let me give you one
word of advice. You should marry in spite of being in love, but
never because of it."
Before I went away to Italy, Peter and I, with passion-lit eyes
and throbbing hearts, had said goodbye to each other for ever.
The relief of our friends at our parting was so suffocating that I
clung to the shelter of my new friend, the stranger of that House
of Commons dinner.
THE ASQUITH FAMILY TREE--HERBERT H. ASQUITH's MOTHER--ASQUITH'S
FIRST MARRIAGE; MEETS MARGOT TENNANT FOR FIRST TIME--TALK TILL
DAWN ON HOUSE OF COMMONS' TERRACE; OTHER MEETINGS--ENGAGEMENT A
LONDON SENSATION--MARRIAGE AN EVENT
My husband's father was Joseph Dixon Asquith, a cloth-merchant, in
Morley, at that time a small town outside Leeds. He was a man of
high character who held Bible classes for young men. He married a
daughter of William Willans, of Huddersfield, who sprang of an old
Yorkshire Puritan stock.
He died when he was thirty-five, leaving four children: William
Willans, Herbert Henry, Emily Evelyn and Lilian Josephine. They
were brought up by their mother, who was a woman of genius. I
named my only daughter [Footnote: Princess Bibesco.] after
Goethe's mother, but was glad when I found out that her
grandmother Willans had been called Elizabeth.
William Willans--who is dead--was the eldest of the family and a
clever little man. He taught at Clifton College for over thirty
Lilian Josephine died when she was a baby; and Evelyn--one of the
best of women--is the only near relation of my husband still
My husband's mother, old Mrs. Asquith, I never knew; my friend
Mark Napier told me that she was a brilliantly clever woman but an
invalid. She had delicate lungs, which obliged her to live on the
South coast; and, when her two sons went to the City of London
School, they lived alone together in lodgings in Islington and
were both poor and industrious.
Although Henry's mother was an invalid she had a moral, religious
and intellectual influence over her family that cannot be
exaggerated. She was a profound reader and a brilliant talker and
belonged to what was in those days called orthodox nonconformity,
After my husband's first marriage he made money by writing,
lecturing and examining at Oxford. When he was called to the Bar
success did not come to him at once.
He had no rich patron and no one to push him forward. He had made
for himself a great Oxford reputation: he was a fine scholar and
lawyer, but socially was not known by many people.
It was said that Gladstone only promoted men by seniority and
never before knowing with precision what they were like, but in my
husband's case it was not so.
Lord James of Hereford, then Sir Henry James, was Attorney
General, overburdened with a large private practice at the Bar;
and, when the great Bradlaugh case came on, in 1883, it was
suggested to him that a young man living on the same staircase
might devil the Affirmation Bill for him. This was the beginning
of Asquith's career: When Gladstone saw the brief for his speech,
he noted the fine handwriting and asked who had written it. Sir
Henry James, the kindest and most generous of men, was delighted
at Gladstone's observation and brought the young man to him. From
that moment both the Attorney General and the Prime Minister
marked him out for distinction; he rose without any intermediary
step of an under-secretaryship from a back-bencher to a Cabinet
Minister; and when we married in 1894 he was Home Secretary. In
1890 I cut and kept out of some newspapers this prophecy, little
thinking that I would marry one of the "New English Party."
A NEW ENGLISH PARTY
Amid all the worry and turmoil and ambition of Irish politics,
there is steadily growing up a little English party, of which more
will be heard in the days that are to come. This is a band of
philosophico-social Radicals--not the OLD type of laissez-faire
politician, but quite otherwise. In other words, what I may call
practical Socialism has caught on afresh with a knot of clever,
youngish members of Parliament who sit below the gangway on the
Radical side. This little group includes clever, learned,
metaphysical Mr. Haldane, one of the rising lawyers of his day;
young Sir Edward Grey, sincere, enthusiastic, with a certain gift
for oratory, and helped by a beautiful and clever wife; Mr. Sidney
Buxton, who has perhaps the most distinct genius for practical
work; and finally, though in rather loose attachment to the rest,
Mr. Asquith, brilliant, cynical, cold, clear, but with his eye on
the future. The dominant ideas of this little band tend in the
direction of moderate Collectivism--i.e., of municipal Socialism.
I met my husband for the first time in 1891, at a dinner given by
Peter Flower's brother Cyril. [Footnote: The late Lord Battersea.]
I had never heard of him in my life, which gives some indication
of how I was wasting my time on two worlds: I do not mean this and
the next, but the sporting and dramatic, Melton in the winter and
the Lyceum in the summer. My Coquelin coachings and my dancing-
lessons had led me to rehearsals both of the ballet and the drama;
and for a short time I was at the feet of Ellen Terry and Irving.
I say "short" advisedly, for then as now I found Bohemian society
duller than any English watering-place. Every one has a different
conception of Hell and few of us connect it with flames; but stage
suppers are my idea of Hell and, with the exception of Irving and
Coquelin, Ellen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt, I have never met the
hero or heroine off the stage that was not ultimately dull.
The dinner where I was introduced to Henry was in the House of
Commons and I sat next to him. I was tremendously impressed by his
conversation and his clean Cromwellian face. He was different from
the others and, although abominably dressed, had so much
personality that I made up my mind at once that here was a man who
could help me and would understand everything. It never crossed my
brain that he was married, nor would that have mattered; I had
always been more anxious that Peter Flower should marry than
myself, because he was thirteen years older than I was, but
matrimony was not the austere purpose of either of our lives.
After dinner we all walked on the Terrace and I was flattered to
find my new friend by my side. Lord Battersea chaffed me in his
noisy, flamboyant manner, trying to separate us; but with tact and
determination this frontal attack was resisted and my new friend
and I retired to the darkest part of the Terrace, where, leaning
over the parapet, we gazed into the river and talked far into the
Our host and his party--thinking that I had gone home and that Mr.
Asquith had returned to the House when the division bell rang--had
disappeared; and when we finished our conversation the Terrace was
deserted and the sky light.
We met a few days later dining with Sir Algernon West--a very dear
and early friend of mine--and after this we saw each other
constantly. I found out from something he said to me that he was
married and lived at Hampstead and that his days were divided
between 1 Paper Buildings and the House of Commons. He told me
that he had always been a shy man and in some ways this is true of
him even now; but I am glad that I did not observe it at the time,
as shy people disconcerted me: I liked modesty, I pitied timidity,
but I was embarrassed by shyness.
I cannot truly say, however, that the word shy described my
husband at any time: he was a little gauche in movement and
blushed when he was praised, but I have never seen him nervous
with any one or embarrassed by any social dilemma. His unerring
instinct into all sorts of people and affairs--quite apart from
his intellectual temperament and learning--and his incredible lack
of vanity struck me at once. The art of making every man better
pleased with himself he had in a high degree; and he retains to
this day an incurable modesty.
When I discovered that he was married, I asked him to bring his
wife to dinner, which he did, and directy I saw her I said:
"I do hope, Mrs. Asquith, you have not minded your husband dining
here without you, but I rather gathered Hampstead was too far away
for him to get back to you from the House of Commons. You must
always let me know and come with him whenever it suits you."
In making this profound and attaching friendship with the
stranger of that House of Commons dinner, I had placed myself in a
difficult position when Helen Asquith died. To be a stepwife and a
stepmother was unthinkable, but at the same time the moment had
arrived when a decision--involving a great change in my life--had
become inevitable. I had written to Peter Flower before we parted
every day for nine years--with the exception of the months he had
spent flying from his creditors in India--and I had prayed for him
every night, but it had not brought more than happiness to both of
us; and when I deliberately said good-bye to him I shut down a
page of my life which, even if I had wished to, I could never have
reopened. When Henry told me he cared for me, that unstifled inner
voice which we all of us hear more or less indistinctly told me I
would be untrue to myself and quite unworthy of life if, when such
a man came knocking at the door, I did not fling it wide open. The
rumour that we were engaged to be married caused alarm amounting
to consternation in certain circles. Both Lord Rosebery and Lord
Randolph Churchill, without impugning me in any way, deplored the
marriage, nor were they by any means alone in thinking such a
union might ruin the life of a promising politician. Some of my
own friends were equally apprehensive from another point of view;
to start my new life charged with a ready-made family of children
brought up very differently from myself, with a man who played no
games and cared for no sport, in London instead of in the country,
with no money except what he could make at the Bar, was, they
thought, taking too many risks.
My Melton friends said it was a terrible waste that I was not
marrying a sporting man and told me afterwards that they nearly
signed a round-robin to implore me never to give up hunting, but
feared I might think it impertinent.
The rumour of my engagement caused a sensation in the East-end of
London as well as the West. The following was posted to me by an
At the meeting of the "unemployed" held on Tower Hill yesterday
afternoon, John E. Williams, the organiser appointed by the Social
Democratic Federation, said that on the previous day they had gone
through the West-end squares and had let the "loafers" living
there know that they were alive. On the previous evening he had
seen an announcement which, at first sight, had caused tears to
run down his face, for he had thought it read, "Mr. Asquith going
to be murdered." However, it turned out that Mr. Asquith was going
to be married, and he accordingly proposed that the unemployed,
following the example of the people in the West-end, should
forward the right hon. gentleman a congratulatory message. He
moved: "That this mass meeting of the unemployed held on Tower
Hill, hearing that Mr. Asquith is about to enter the holy bonds of
matrimony, and knowing he has no sympathy for the unemployed, and
that he has lately used his position in the House of Commons to
insult the unemployed, trusts that his partner will be one of the
worst tartars it is possible for a man to have, and that his
family troubles will compel him to retire from political life, for
which he is so unfit." The reading of the resolution was followed
by loud laughter and cheers. Mr. Crouch (National Union of Boot
and Shoe Operatives) seconded the motion, which was supported by a
large number of other speakers and adopted.
I was much more afraid of spoiling Henry's life than my own, and
what with old ties and bothers, and new ties and stepchildren, I
deliberated a long time before the final fixing of my wedding-day.
I had never met any of his children except little Violet when I
became engaged and he only took me to see them once before we were
married, as they lived in a villa at Redhill under the charge of a
kind and careful governess; he never spoke of them except one day
when, after my asking him if he thought they would hate me and
cataloguing my grave imperfections and moderate qualifications for
the part, he stopped me and said that his eldest son, Raymond, was
remarkably clever and would be devoted to me, adding thoughtfully:
"I think--and hope--he is ambitious."
This was a new idea to me: we had always been told what a wicked
thing ambition was; but we were a fighting family of high spirits
and not temper, so we had acquiesced, without conforming to the
nursery dictum. The remark profoundly impressed me and I pondered
it over in my heart. I do not think, by the way, that it turned
out to be a true prophecy, but Raymond Asquith had such unusual
intellectual gifts that no one could have convicted him of lack of
ambition. To win without work, to score without an effort and to
delight without premeditation is given to few.
One night after our engagement we were dining with Sir Henry and
Lady Campbell-Bannerman. While the women were talking and the men
drinking, dear old Mrs. Gladstone and other elderly ladies and
political wives took me on as to the duties of the spouse of a
possible Prime Minister; they were so eloquent and severe that at
the end of it my nerves were racing round like a squirrel in a
When Mr. Gladstone came into the drawing-room I felt depressed
and, clinging to his arm, I switched him into a corner and said I
feared the ladies took me for a jockey or a ballet-girl, as I had
been adjured to give up, among other things, dancing, riding and
acting. He patted my hand, said he knew no one better fitted to be
the wife of a great politician than myself and ended by saying
that, while I was entitled to discard exaggeration in rebuke, it
was a great mistake not to take criticism wisely and in a spirit
which might turn it to good account.
I have often thought of this when I see how brittle and
egotistical people are at the smallest disapprobation. I never get
over my surprise, old as I am, at the surly moral manners, the
lack of humbleness and the colossal personal vanity that are the
bed-rock of people's incapacity to take criticism well. There is
no greater test of size than this; but, judged by this test, most
of us are dwarfs.
Disapproving of long engagements and wishing to escape the
cataract of advice by which my friends thought to secure both my
husband's and my own matrimonial bliss, I hurried on my marriage.
My friends and advisers made me unhappy at this time, but
fortunately for me Henry Asquith is a compelling person and, in
spite of the anxiety of the friends and relations, we were married
at St. George's, Hanover Square, on May the 10th, 1894. I doubt if
any bride ever received so many strange letters as I did. There
was one which I kept in front of me when I felt discouraged. I
shall not say who it is from, as the writer is alive:
MY DEAR MARGOT,
You are not different to other people except in this respect--you
have a clear, cold head, and a hot, keen heart, and you won't find
EVERYTHING; so choose what lasts, and with luck and with pluck,
marrying as you are from the highest motives, you will be repaid.
Asquith is far too good for you. He is not conventional, and will
give you a great deal of freedom. He worships you, and understands
you, and is bent on making the best of you and the life together.
You are marrying a very uncommon man--not so much intellectually--
but he is uncommon from his Determination, Reality and
concentrated power of love. Don't pity yourself--you would not
wish to have loved Peter less--though you might wish you had
never seen him--but you must know you have allowed too much love
in your life, and must bear the consequences. Deep down in your
heart you must feel that you ought to put a stop to your present
life, and to the temptation of making people love you. Depend upon
it with your rich and warm nature you need not be afraid of not
loving Asquith intensely. By marrying him you will prove yourself
to be a woman of courage and nobility, instead of a woman who is
talked about and who is in reality self-indulgent. You are lucky
after your rather dangerous life to have found such a haven and
should bless God for it.
In those days it was less common for people to collect in the
streets to see a wedding. The first marriage I ever saw which
collected a crowd was Lady Crewe's, but her father, Lord Rosebery,
was a Derby winner and Prime Minister and she was married in
Westminster Abbey. From Grosvenor Square to St. George's, Hanover
Square, is a short distance, but from our front door to the church
the pavements were blocked with excited and enthusiastic people.
An old nurse of my sister Charlotte's, Jerusha Taylor, told me
that a gentleman outside St. George's had said to her, "I will
give you L10 for that ticket of yours!" and when she refused he
said, "I will give you ANYTHING YOU LIKE! I must see Margot
Tennant married!" I asked her what sort of a man he was. She
"Oh! he was a real gentleman, ma'am! I know a gentleman when I see
him; he had a gardenia in his buttonhole, but he didn't get my
Our register was signed by four Prime Ministers: Mr. Gladstone,
Lord Rosebery, Arthur Balfour and my husband. We spent the first
part of our honeymoon at Mells Park, Frome, lent to us by Sir John
and Lady Horner, and the second at Clovelly Court with our friend
and hostess, Mrs. Hamlyn.
THE ASQUITH CHILDREN BY THE FIRST MARRIAGE--MARGOT'S STEPDAUGHTER
VIOLET--MEMORY OF THE FIRST MRS. ASQUITH--RAYMOND'S BRILLIANT
CAREER--ARTHUR'S HEROISM IN THE WAR
I do not think if you had ransacked the world you could have found
natures so opposite in temper, temperament and outlook as myself
and my stepchildren when I first knew them.
If there was a difference between the Tennants and Lytteltons of
laughter, there was a difference between the Tennants and Asquiths
of tears. Tennants believed in appealing to the hearts of men,
firing their imagination and penetrating and vivifying their
inmost lives. They had a little loose love to give the whole
world. The Asquiths--without mental flurry and with perfect self-
mastery--believed in the free application of intellect to every
human emotion; no event could have given heightened expression to
their feelings. Shy, self-engaged, critical and controversial,
nothing surprised them and nothing upset them. We were as zealous
and vital as they were detached and as cocky and passionate as
they were modest and emotionless.
They rarely looked at you and never got up when any one came into
the room. If you had appeared downstairs in a ball-dress or a
bathing-gown they would not have observed it and would certainly
never have commented upon it if they had. Whether they were
glowing with joy at the sight of you or thrilled at receiving a
friend, their welcome was equally composed. They were devoted to
one another and never quarrelled; they were seldom wild and never
naughty. Perfectly self-contained, truthful and deliberate, I
never saw them lose themselves in my life and I have hardly ever
seen the saint or hero that excited their disinterested emotion.
When I thought of the storms of revolt, the rage, the despair, the
wild enthusiasms and reckless adventures, the disputes that
finished not merely with fights, but with fists in our nursery and
schoolroom, I was stunned by the steadiness of the Asquith temper.
Let it not be inferred that I am criticising them as they now are,
or that their attitude towards myself was at any time lacking in
sympathy. Blindness of heart does not imply hardness; and
expression is a matter of temperament or impulse; hut it was their
attitude towards life that was different from my own. They over-
valued brains, which was a strange fault, as they were all
remarkably clever. Hardly any Prime Minister has had famous
children, but the Asquiths were all conspicuous in their different
ways: Raymond and Violet the most striking, Arthur the most
capable, Herbert a poet and Cyril the shyest and the rarest.
Cys Asquith, who was the youngest of the family, combined what was
best in all of them morally and intellectually and possessed what
was finer than brains.
He was two, when his mother died, and a clumsy ugly little boy
with a certain amount of graceless obstinacy, with which both
Tennants and Asquiths were equally endowed. To the casual observer
he would have appeared less like me than any of my step-family,
but as a matter of fact he and I had the most in common; we shared
a certain spiritual foundation and moral aspiration that solder
people together through life.
It is not because I took charge of him at an early age that I say
he is more my own than the others, but because, although he did
not always agree with me, he never misunderstood me. He said at
Murren one day, when he was seventeen and we had been talking
together on life and religion:
"It must be curious for you, Margot, seeing all of us laughing at
things that make you cry."
This showed remarkable insight for a schoolboy. When I look at his
wonderful face now and think of his appearance at the time of our
marriage, I am reminded of the Hans Andersen toad with the jewel
in its head, but the toad is no longer there.
I have a dear friend called Bogie Harris,[Footnote: Mr. H. Harris,
of Bedford Square.] who told me that, at a ball given by Con and
Hoppy Manners, he had seen a young man whose face had struck him
so much that he looked about for some one in the room to tell him
who it was. That young man was Cyril Asquith.
One night when he was a little boy, after I had heard him say his
prayers he asked me to read the General Confession out of his
Prayer Book to him. It was such an unusual request that I said:
"Very well, darling, I will, but first of all I must read you what
I love best in the Prayer Book."
To which he answered:
"Oh, do! I should like that."
I put a cushion behind my head and, lying down beside him, read:
"Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, O Lord; and by Thy great
mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the
love of Thine only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."
After this I read him the General Confession, opening, "We have
erred and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep," and ending,
"that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life."
When I had finished I said to him:
"What do you take sober to mean here, darling?"
CYS (looking furtively at me with his little green eyes): "It does
not mean drunkenness." (A slight pause and then reflectively): "I
should say moderate living."
I told the children one day to collect some of their toys and that
I would take them to the hospital, where they could give them away
themselves. I purposely did not say broken toys; and a few days
afterwards I was invited to the nursery. On arriving upstairs I
saw that Cys's eyes were scarlet; and set out in pathetic array
round the room was a large family of monkeys christened by him
"the Thumblekins." They were what he loved best in the world. I
observed that they were the only unbroken toys that were brought
to me; and he was eyeing his treasures with anguish in his soul. I
was so touched that I could hardly speak; and, when I put my arms
round his neck, he burst into sobs:
"May I keep one monkey ... only one, Margot? ... PLEASE?
...PLEASE, Margot? ..."
This was the window in his soul that has never been closed to me.
For many years during a distinguished college career he was
delicate, but since his marriage to Miss Ann Pollock--a daylight
creature of charm, beauty and goodness--he has been happy and
My stepdaughter Violet--now Lady Bonham Carter--though intensely
feminine, would have made a remarkable man. I do not believe there
is any examination she could not have passed either at a public
school or a university. Born without shyness or trepidation, from
her youth upwards she had perfect self-possession and patience.
She loved dialectics and could put her case logically, plausibly
and eloquently; and, although quite as unemotional as her
brothers, she had more enterprise and indignation. In her youth
she was delicate, and what the French call tres personelle; and
this prevented her going through the mill of rivalry and criticism
which had been the daily bread of my girlhood.
She had the same penetrating sense of humour as her brother
Raymond and quite as much presence of mind in retort. Her gift of
expression was amazing and her memory unrivalled. My daughter
Elizabeth and she were the only girls except myself that I ever
met who were real politicians, not interested merely in the
personal side--whether Mr. B. or C. spoke well or was likely to
get promoted--but in the legislation and administration of
Parliament; they followed and knew what was going on at home and
abroad and enjoyed friendships with most of the young and famous
men of the day. Violet Bonham Carter has, I think, a great
political future in the country if not in the Commons. She is a
natural speaker, easy, eloquent, witty, short and of imperturbable
Life in the House is neither healthy, useful nor appropriate for a
woman; and the functions of a mother and a member of Parliament
are not compatible. This was one of the reasons why my husband and
I were against giving the franchise to women. Violet is a real
mother and feels the problem acutely, but she is a real Liberal
also and, with gifts as conspicuous as hers, she must inevitably
exercise a wide-spread political influence. Her speeches in her
father's election at Paisley, in February of this year, brought
her before a general as well as intellectual audience from which
she can never retire; and, whenever she appears on a platform, the
public shout from every part of the hall calling on her to speak.
Raymond Asquith was born on the 6th of November, 1878, and was
killed fighting against the Germans before his regiment had been
in action ten minutes, on the 15th of September, 1916.
He was intellectually one of the most distinguished young men of
his day and beautiful to look at, added to which he was light in
hand, brilliant in answer and interested in affairs. When he went
to Balliol he cultivated a kind of cynicism which was an endless
source of delight to the young people around him; in a good-
humoured way he made a butt of God and smiled at man. If he had
been really keen about any one thing--law or literature--he would
have made the world ring with his name, but he lacked temperament
and a certain sort of imagination and was without ambition of any
His education was started by a woman in a day-school at
Hampstead; from there he took a Winchester scholarship and he
became a scholar of Balliol. At Oxford he went from triumph to
triumph. He took a first in classical moderations in 1899; first-
class literae humaniores in 1901; first-class jurisprudence in
1902. He won the Craven, Ireland, Derby and Eldon scholarships. He
was President of the Union and became a Fellow of All Souls in
1902; and after he left Oxford he was called to the Bar in 1904.
In spite of this record, a more modest fellow about his own
achievements never lived.
Raymond was charming and good-tempered from his boyhood and I only
remember him once in his life getting angry with me. He had been
urged to go into politics by both his wife and his father and had
been invited by the Liberal Association of a northern town to
become their candidate. He was complaining about it one day to me,
saying how dull, how stupid, how boring the average constituents
of all electorates were; I told him I thought a closer contact
with common people would turn out not only more interesting and
delightful than he imagined, but that it would be the making of
him. He flared up at once and made me appear infinitely
ridiculous, but being on sure ground I listened with amusement and
indifference; the discussion ended amicably, neither of us having
deviated by a hair's breath from our original positions. He and I
seldom got on each other's nerves, though two more different
beings never lived. His arctic analysis of what he looked upon as
"cant" always stirred his listeners to a high pitch of enthusiasm.
One day when he was at home for his holidays and we were all
having tea together, to amuse the children I began asking riddles.
I told them that I had only guessed one in my life, but it had
taken me three days. They asked me what it was, and I said:
"What is it that God has never seen, that kings see seldom and
that we see every day?"
Raymond instantly answered:
I felt that the real answer, which was "an equal," was very tepid
In 1907 he married, from 10 Downing Street, Katherine Horner, a
beautiful creature of character and intellect, as lacking in fire
and incense as himself. Their devotion to each other and happiness
was a perpetual joy to me, as I felt that in some ways I had
contributed to it. Katherine was the daughter of Laura's greatest
friend, Frances Horner, and he met her through me.
Raymond found in both his mother-in-law and Sir John Horner
friends capable of appreciating his fine flavour. He wrote with
ease and brilliance both prose and poetry. I will quote two of his
IN PRAISE OF YOUNG GIRLS
Attend, my Muse, and, if you can, approve
While I proclaim the "speeding up" of Love;
For Love and Commerce hold a common creed--
The scale of business varies with the speed;
For Queen of Beauty or for Sausage King
The Customer is always on the wing--
Then praise the nymph who regularly earns
Small profits (if you please) but quick returns.
Our modish Venus is a bustling minx,
But who can spare the time to woo a Sphinx?
When Mona Lisa posed with rustic guile
The stale enigma of her simple smile,
Her leisure lovers raised a pious cheer
While the slow mischief crept from ear to ear.
Poor listless Lombard, you would ne'er engage
The brisker beaux of our mercurial age
Whose lively mettle can as easy brook
An epic poem as a lingering look--
Our modern maiden smears the twig with lime
For twice as many hearts in half the time.
Long ere the circle of that staid grimace
Has wheeled your weary dimples into place,
Our little Chloe (mark the nimble fiend!)
Has raised a laugh against her bosom friend,
Melted a marquis, mollified a Jew,
Kissed every member of the Eton crew,
Ogled a Bishop, quizzed an aged peer,
Has danced a Tango and has dropped a tear.
Fresh from the schoolroom, pink and plump and pert,
Bedizened, bouncing, artful and alert,
No victim she of vapours and of moods
Though the sky falls she's "ready with the goods"--
Will suit each client, tickle every taste
Polite or gothic, libertine or chaste,
Supply a waspish tongue, a waspish waist,
Astarte's breast or Atalanta's leg,
Love ready-made or glamour off the peg--
Do you prefer "a thing of dew and air"?
Or is your type Poppaea or Polaire?
The crystal casket of a maiden's dreams,
Or the last fancy in cosmetic creams?
The dark and tender or the fierce and bright,
Youth's rosy blush or Passion's pearly bite?
You hardly know perhaps; but Chloe knows,
And pours you out the necessary dose,
Meticulously measuring to scale,
The cup of Circe or the Holy Grail--
An actress she at home in every role,
Can flout or flatter, bully or cajole,
And on occasion by a stretch of art
Can even speak the language of the heart,
Can lisp and sigh and make confused replies,
With baby lips and complicated eyes,
Indifferently apt to weep or wink,
Primly pursue, provocatively shrink,
Brazen or bashful, as the case require,
Coax the faint baron, curb the bold esquire,
Deride restraint, but deprecate desire,
Unbridled yet unloving, loose but limp,
Voluptuary, virgin, prude and pimp.
LINES TO A YOUNG VISCOUNT, WHO DIED AT OXFORD, ON THE MORROW OF A
BUMP SUPPER (by the President of his College)
Dear Viscount, in whose ancient blood
The blueness of the bird of March,
The vermeil of the tufted larch,
Are fused in one magenta flood.
Dear Viscount--ah! to me how dear,
Who even in thy frolic mood
Discerned (or sometimes thought I could)
The pure proud purpose of a peer!
So on the last sad night of all
Erect among the reeling rout
You beat your tangled music out
Lofty, aloof, viscontial.
You struck a bootbath with a can,
And with the can you struck the bath,
There on the yellow gravel path,
As gentleman to gentleman.
We met, we stood, we faced, we talked
While those of baser birth withdrew;
I told you of an Earl I knew;
You said you thought the wine was corked;
And so we parted--on my lips
A light farewell, but in my soul
The image of a perfect whole,
A Viscount to the finger tips--
An image--Yes; but thou art gone;
For nature red in tooth and claw
Subsumes under an equal law
Viscount and Iguanodon.
Yet we who know the Larger Love,
Which separates the sheep and goats
And segregates Scolecobrots, 
Believing where we cannot prove,
Deem that in His mysterious Day
God puts the Peers upon His right,
And hides the poor in endless night,
For thou, my Lord, art more than they.
[Footnote 1: A word from the Greek Testament meaning people who
are eaten by worms.]
It is a commonplace to say after a man is dead that he could have
done anything he liked in life: it is nearly always exaggerated;
but of Raymond Asquith the phrase would have been true.
His oldest friend was Harold Baker,[Footnote: The Rt. Hon. Harold
Baker.] a man whose academic career was as fine as his own and
whose changeless affection and intimacy we have long valued; but
Raymond had many friends as well as admirers. His death was the
first great sorrow in my stepchildren's lives and an anguish to
his father and me. The news of it came as a terrible shock to
every one. My husband's natural pride and interest in him had
always been intense and we were never tired of discussing him when
we were alone: his personal charm and wit, his little faults and
above all the success which so certainly awaited him. Henry's
grief darkened the waters in Downing Street at a time when, had
they been clear, certain events could never have taken place.
When Raymond was dying on the battle-field he gave the doctor his
flask to give to his father; it was placed by the side of his bed
and never moved till we left Whitehall.
I had not realised before how powerless a step-wife is when her
husband is mourning the death of his child; and not for the first
time I profoundly wished that Raymond had been my son.
Among the many letters we received, this one from Sir Edward Grey,
the present Lord Grey of Fallodon, gave my husband the most
33 ECCLESTON SQUARE, S.W. Sept. 18, 1916.
MY DEAR ASQUITH,
A generation has passed since Raymond's mother died and the years
that have gone make me feel for and with you even more than I
would then. Raymond has had a brilliant and unblemished life; he
chose with courage the heroic part in this war and he has died as
If this life be all, it matters not whether its years be few or
many, but if it be not all, then Raymond's life is part of
something that is not made less by his death, but is made greater
and ennobled by the quality and merit of his life and death.
I would fain believe that those who die do not suffer in the
separation from those they love here; that time is not to them
what it is to us, and that to them the years of separation be they
few or many will be but as yesterday.
If so then only for us, who are left here, is the pain of
suffering and the weariness of waiting and enduring; the one
beloved is spared that. There is some comfort in thinking that it
is we, not the loved one, that have the harder part.
I grieve especially for Raymond's wife, whose suffering I fear
must be what is unbearable. I hope the knowledge of how the
feelings of your friends and the whole nation, and not of this
nation only, for you is quickened and goes out to you will help
you to continue the public work, which is now more than ever
necessary, and will give you strength. Your courage I know never
Raymond Asquith was the bravest of the brave, nor did he ever
complain of anything that fell to his lot while he was soldiering.
It might have been written of him:
As one that had been studied in his death
To throw away the dearest thing he own'd.
As 'twere a careless trifle.
--MACBETH, Act I., sc. iv.
Our second son, Herbert, began his career as a lawyer. He had a
sweet and gentle nature and much originality. He was a poet and
wrote the following some years before the Great War of 1914,
through which he served from the first day to the last:
[Footnote: Reprinted from The Volunteer and other Poems, by kind
permission of Messrs. Sidgwick & Jackson.]
Here lies a clerk who half his life had spent
Toiling at ledgers in a city grey,
Thinking that so his days would drift away
With no lance broken in life's tournament;
Yet ever 'twixt the book and his bright eyes
The gleaming eagles of the legions came,
And horsemen, charging under phantom skies,
Went thundering past beneath the oriflamme.
And now those waiting dreams are satisfied,
From twilight to the halls of dawn he went;
His lance is broken--but he lies content
With that high hour, he wants no recompense,
Who found his battle in the last resort,
Nor needs he any hearse to bear him hence,
Who goes to join the men at Agincourt.
He wrote this when he was in Flanders in the war:
THE FALLEN SPIRE (A Flemish Village)
[Footnote: Reprinted from The Volunteer and other Poems, by kind
permission of Messrs. Sidgwick & Jackson.]
That spire is gone that slept for centuries,
Mirrored among the lilies, calm and low;
And now the water holds but empty skies
Through which the rivers of the thunder flow.
The church lies broken near the fallen spire,
For here, among these old and human things,
Death sweeps along the street with feet of fire,
And goes upon his way with moaning wings.
On pavements by the kneeling herdsmen worn
The drifting fleeces of the shells are rolled;
Above the Saints a village Christ forlorn,
Wounded again, looks down upon His fold.
And silence follows fast: no evening peace,
But leaden stillness, when the thunder wanes,
Haunting the slender branches of the trees,
And settling low upon the listless plains.
"Beb," as we called him, married Lady Cynthia Charteris, a lovely
niece of Lady de Vesci and daughter of another beloved and
interesting friend of mine, the present Countess of Wemyss.
Our third son, Arthur Asquith, was one of the great soldiers of
the war. He married Betty, the daughter of my greatest friend,
Lady Manners, a woman who has never failed me in affection and
Arthur Asquith joined the Royal Naval Division on its formation in
September, 1914, and was attached at first to the "Anson," and
during the greater part of his service to the "Hood" Battalion. In
the early days of October, 1914, he took part in the operations at
Antwerp and, after further training at home in the camp at
Blandford, went in February, 1915, with his battalion to the
Dardanelles, where they formed part of the Second Naval Brigade.
He was in all the fighting on the Gallipoli peninsula and was
wounded, but returned to duty and was one of the last to embark on
the final evacuation of Helles, in January, 1916.
In the following May the Naval Division joined the army in France,
becoming the 63rd Division, and the "Hood" Battalion (now
commanded by Commander Freyberg, V. C.) formed part of the 189th
In the Battle of the Ancre (February, 1917) Arthur Asquith was
severely wounded and was awarded the D.S.O.
In the following April, Commander Freyberg having been promoted to
be a Brigadier, Arthur Asquith took over the command of the "Hood"
Battalion and played a leading part in the operations against
Gavrelle, taking the mayor's house (which was the key to the
position) by assault and capturing the German garrison. It was
largely due to him that Gavrelle was taken; and he was awarded a
bar to his D.S.O.
In October, 1917, in the Battle of Passchendaele the Naval
Division were heavily engaged. The following account of what
happened near Poelcappelle (October 26th) is taken from the
"History of the Royal Naval Division," by Sub-Lieutenants Fry and
On account of the serious losses in officers, the four battalions
were getting out of hand when Commander Asquith, like the born
fighter that he is, came forward and saved the situation. He
placed his battalion in the most advantageous positions to meet
any counter-attacks that might develop. That done, in spite of
heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, he passed from end to end
of the line we were holding and superintended the consolidation of
our gains. In addition, he established liaison with the Canadians
on our right, and thus closed a breach which might have caused us
infinite trouble and been the source of our undoing.
Arthur Asquith was recommended for the V.C. (he, in fact, received
a second bar to his D.S.O.); and these are the terms of the
Near Poelcappelle, during the operations of October 26th-27th,
1917, Commander Asquith displayed the greatest bravery,
initiative and splendid leadership, and by his reconnaissance of
the front line made under heavy fire, contributed much valuable
information which made the successful continuance of the
operations possible. During the morning of the 26th, when no news
was forthcoming of the position of the attacking troops, Commander
Asquith went forward, through heavy fire, round the front
positions, and heedless of personal danger, found out our
dispositions, got into touch with the troops on the right, and
returned after some hours with most valuable information. On the
night of the same day, he went forward alone in bright moonlight
and explored the ground in the vicinity of Varlet Farm, where the
situation was not clear. He was observed by the enemy, but, in
spite of heavy rifle and machine-gun fire directed at him, and the
fact that the going was necessarily slow, owing to the awful state
of the ground, he approached Varlet Farm then reported to be in
the hands of the enemy. Entering a concrete building alone he
found it occupied by a small British garrison, who were exhausted
and almost without ammunition and the most of them wounded. After
investigating the ground thoroughly he returned and led up three
platoons of a company of this battalion and relieved the garrison.
He superintended the disposal of the troops, putting one platoon
in the building as garrison and placing the other two platoons on
each flank. A very important position was therefore kept entirely
in our hands, owing to magnificent bravery, leadership and utter
disregard of his own personal safety. This example of bravery and
cool courage displayed throughout the operations by Commander
Asquith encouraged the men to greater efforts, and kept up their
moral. His valuable reconnaissance, the manner in which he led his
men and his determination to hold the ground gained, contributed
very largely to the success of the operations.
On December 16th, 1917, he was appointed Brigadier to command the
189th Brigade; and a few days later, in reconnoitring the
position, he was again severely wounded. His leg had to be
amputated and he was disabled from further active service in the
war. I never saw Arthur Asquith lose his temper or think of
himself in my life.
. . . . . . .
I look around to see what child of which friend is left to become
the wife of my son Anthony; and I wonder whether she will be as
virtuous, loving and good-looking as my other daughters-in-law.
We were all wonderfully happy together, but, looking back, I think
I was far from clever with my stepchildren; they grew up good and
successful independently of me.
In consequence of our unpopularity in Peebles-shire, I had no
opportunity of meeting other young people in their homes; and I
knew no family except my own. The wealth of art and music, the
luxury of flowers and colour, the stretches of wild country both
in Scotland and high Leicestershire, which had made up my life
till I married, had not qualified me to understand children reared
in different circumstances. I would not perhaps have noticed many
trifles in my step-family, had I not been so much made of, so
overloved, caressed and independent before my marriage.
Every gardener prunes the roots of a tree before it is
transplanted, but no one had ever pruned me. If you have been
sunned through and through like an apricot on a wall from your
earliest days, you are over-sensitive to any withdrawal of heat.
This had been clearly foreseen by my friends and they were
genuinely anxious about the happiness and future of my
stepchildren. I do not know which of us had been considered the
boldest in our marriage, my husband or myself; and no doubt step-
relationships should not be taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or
wantonly, but reverently, discreetly, and soberly. In every one of
the letters congratulating me there had been a note of warning.
Mr. Gladstone wrote:
MAY 5TH, 1894.
You have a great and noble work to perform. It is a work far
beyond human strength. May the strength which is more than human
be abundantly granted you.
Ever yours, W. E. G.
I remember, on receiving this, saying to my beloved friend, Con
"Gladstone thinks my fitness to be Henry's wife should be prayed
for like the clergy: 'Almighty and Everlasting God, who alone
workest great marvels . ...'"
John Morley wrote:
95 ELM PARK GARDENS, SOUTH KENSINGTON, S.W. MARCH 7,1894. MY DEAR
Now that the whirl of congratulations must be ceasing, here are
mine, the latest but not the least warm of them all. You are going
to marry one of the finest men in all the world, with a great
store of sterling gifts both of head and heart, and with a life
before him of the highest interest, importance and power. Such a
man is a companion that any woman might envy you. I daresay you
know this without my telling you. On the other part, I will not
add myself to those impertinents who--as I understand you to
report--wish you "to improve." I very respectfully wish nothing of
the sort. Few qualities are better worth leaving as they are than
vivacity, wit, freshness of mind, gaiety and pluck. Pray keep them
all. Don't improve by an atom.
Circumstances may have a lesson or two to teach you, but 'tis only
the dull who don't learn, and I have no fear but that such a pair
have happy years in front of them.
You ask for my blessing and you have it. Be sure that I wish you
as unclouded a life as can be the lot of woman, and I hope you
will always let me count myself your friend. I possess some
aphorisms on the married state--but they will keep. I only let
them out as occasion comes. Always yours sincerely, JOHN MORLEY.
Looking back now on the first years of my marriage, I cannot
exaggerate the gratitude which I feel for the tolerance, patience
and loyalty that my stepchildren extended to a stranger; for,
although I introduced an enormous amount of fun, beauty and
movement into their lives, I could not replace what they had lost.
Henry's first wife, Helen Asquith, was an exceptionally pretty,
refined woman; never dull, never artificial, and of single-minded
goodness; she was a wonderful wife and a devoted mother, but was
without illusions and even less adventurous than her children. She
told me in one of our talks how much she regretted that her
husband had taken silk and was in the House of Commons, at which I
said in a glow of surprise:
"But surely, Mrs. Asquith, you are ambitious for your husband!
Why, he's a WONDERFUL man!"
This conversation took place in Grosvenor Square the second time
that we met, when she brought her little girl to see me. Violet
was aged four and a self-possessed, plump, clever little creature,
with lovely hair hanging in Victorian ringlets down her back.
The children were not like Helen Asquith in appearance, except
Raymond, who had her beautiful eyes and brow; but, just as they
had none of their father's emotion and some of his intellect, they
all inherited their mother's temperament, with the exception of
Violet, who was more susceptible to the new environment than her
brothers. The greatest compliment that was ever paid to my
appearance--and one that helped me most when I felt discouraged
in my early married life--was what Helen Asquith said to my
husband and he repeated to me: "There is something a little noble
about Margot Tennant's expression."
If my stepchildren were patient with me, I dare not say what their
father was: there are some reservations the boldest biographer has
a right to claim; and I shall only write of my husband's
character--his loyalty, lack of vanity, freedom from self, warmth
and width of sympathy--in connection with politics and not with
myself; but since I have touched on this subject I will give one
illustration of his nature.
When the full meaning of the disreputable General Election of
1918, with its promises and pretensions and all its silly and
false cries, was burnt into me at Paisley in this year of 1920 by
our Coalition opponent re-repeating them, I said to Henry:
"Oh, if I had only quietly dropped all my friends of German name
when the war broke out and never gone to say good-bye to those
poor Lichnowskys, these ridiculous lies propagated entirely for
political purposes would never have been told; and this criminal
pro-German stunt could not have been started."
To which he replied:
"God forbid! I would rather ten thousand times be out of public
life for ever."
VISIT TO WOMAN'S PRISON--INTERVIEW THERE WITH MRS. MAYBRICK--SCENE
IN A LIFER'S CELL; THE HUSBAND WHO NEVER KNEW THOUGHT WIFE MADE
MONEY SEWING--MARGOT'S PLEA THAT FAILED
My husband was Home Secretary when we married, and took a serious
interest in our prison system, which he found far from
satisfactory. He thought that it would be a good thing, before we
were known by sight, to pay a surprise visit to the convict--
prisons and that, if I could see the women convicts and he could
see the men privately, he would be able to examine the conditions
under which they served their sentences better than if we were to
I was expecting my baby in about three months when we made this
Wormwood Scrubs was the promising, almost Dickens-like name of one
of our convict-prisons and, at that time, took in both men and
The governor scrutinised Henry's fine writing on our permits; he
received us dryly, but without suspicion; and we divided off,
having settled to meet at the front door after an hour and a
The matron who accompanied me was a powerful, intelligent-looking
woman of hard countenance and short speech. I put a few stupid
questions to her about the prison: how many convicts they had, if
the food was good, etc.
She asked me if I would care to see Mrs. Maybrick, an American
criminal, who had been charged with murder, but sentenced for
manslaughter. This woman had poisoned her husband with mild
insistence by arsenic, but, as he was taking this for his health
at the time of his death, the evidence was conflicting as to where
he stopped and she began. She had the reputation of being a lady
and beautiful; and petitions for her reprieve were sent to us
signed by every kind of person from the United States. I told the
matron I would see her and was shown into her cell, where I found
her sitting on a stool against a bleak desk, at which she was
reading. I noted her fine eyes and common mouth and, apologising,
"I hope you will not mind a stranger coming to enquire how you are
getting on," adding, "Have you any complaints to make of the
The matron had left me and, the doors being thick, I felt pretty
sure she could not hear what we were saying.
MRS. MAYBRICK (SHRUGGING HER SHOULDERS): "The butter here is
abominable and we are only given two books--THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
and the Bible--and what do you say to our looking-glasses?"
(POINTING TO A LITTLE GLASS, FOUR INCHES BIG, IN A DEEP THICK
FRAME HANGING ON A PEG). "Do you know why it is so small?"
MRS. MAYBRICK: "Because the women who want to kill themselves
can't get their heels in to break the glass; if they could they
would cut their throats. The men don't have looking-glasses at
MARGOT: "Do you think they would like to have them?"
MRS. MAYBRICK (SHRUGGING HER SHOULDERS AGAIN AND FINGERING HER
BLUE COTTON BLOUSE): "I don't suppose they care! I'm sure no one
could wish to see themselves with cropped hair and in these
MARGOT: "I think that I could get you every kind of book, if you
like reading, and will tell me what you want."
MRS. MAYBRICK (with a sudden laugh and looking at me with a
contemptuous expression which made my heart ache): "Oh, no, you
couldn't! Never mind me! But you might tell them about the
I did not find Mrs. Maybrick sympathique and shortly after this
rejoined the matron. It was the first time I had seen a prison and
my heart and mind were moved as we went from cell to cell nodding
to the grey occupants.
"Have you any very bad cases?" I asked. "I mean any woman who is
difficult and unhappy?"
MATRON: "Yes, there is one woman here who has been sitting on the
floor for the last three days and, except a little water, I don't
think she has swallowed a mouthful of food since she came in. She
is a violent person and uses foul language. I do not think you had
better see her."
MARGOT: "Thank you, I am not at all afraid. Please take me to her
MATRON (still reluctant and eyeing my figure): "She may not speak
to you, but if she does it might give you a shock. Do you think
you are wise to go in your present condition?"
MARGOT: "Oh, that's all right, thanks! I am not easily shocked."
When we came to the cell, I took the precaution of telling the
matron she could leave me, as after this visit I should have to
join my husband and I could find my way to the front hall by
myself. She opened the door in silence and let me in.
Crouching on the stone floor, in an animal attitude, I saw a
woman. She did not look up when I went in nor turn when I shut the
door. Her eyebrows almost joined above a square-tipped nose; and
her eyes, shaded by long black lashes, were fixed upon the ground.
Her hair grew well, out of a beautiful forehead, and the red curve
of her mouth gave expression to a wax-like face. I had never seen
a more striking-looking creature.
After my usual apology and a gentle recitative of why I had come,
she turned what little I could see of her face away from me and
whatever I suggested after that was greeted with impenetrable
At last I said to her:
"It is so difficult for me to stand and talk while you are sitting
on the ground. Won't you get up?"
No answer. At this--being an active woman--I sat down beside her
on the stone floor and took her hand in both of mine. She did not
withdraw it, but lifted her lashes to look at me. I noted the
sullen, exhausted expression in her grey eyes; my heart beat at
the beauty of her face.
"Why don't you speak to me?" I said. "I might, for all you know,
be able to do a great deal for you."
This was greeted by a faint gleam and a prolonged shake of the
MARGOT: "You look very young. What is it you did, that brought you
into this prison,"
My question seemed to surprise her and after a moment's silence
"Don't you know why I am sentenced?"
MARGOT: "No; and you need not tell me if you don't want to. How
long are you here for?"
THE WOMAN (in a penetrating voice): "Life!"
MARGOT: "That's impossible; no one is punished for life unless
they commit murder; and even then the sentence is always
THE WOMAN: "Shortened in time for what? For your death and burial?
Perhaps you don't know how kind they are to us here! No one is
allowed to die in prison! But by the time your health is gone,
your hair white and your friends are dead, your family do not need
you and all that can be done for you is done by charity. You die
and your eyes are closed by your landlady."
MARGOT: "Tell me what you did."
THE WOMAN: "Only what all you fashionable women do every day ..."
THE WOMAN: "I helped those who were in trouble to get rid of their
MARGOT: "Did you take money for it?"
THE WOMAN: "Sometimes I did it for nothing."
MARGOT: "What sort of women did you help?"
THE WOMAN: "Oh, quite poor women!"
MARGOT: "When you charged them, how much money did you ask for?"
THE WOMAN: "Four or five pounds and often less."
MARGOT: "Was your husband a respectable man and did he know
anything about it?"
THE WOMAN: "My husband was highly respected. He was a stone-mason,
and well to do, and knew nothing at all till I was arrested. ...
He thought I made money sewing."
MARGOT: "Poor man, how tragic!"
After this rather stupid ejaculation of mine, she relapsed into a
frozen silence and I got up off the ground and asked her if she
liked books. No answer. If the food was good? No answer. If her
bed was clean and comfortable? But all my questions were in vain.
At last she broke the silence by saying:
"You said just now that you might be able to help me. There is
only one thing in the world that I want, and you could not help to
get it . ... No one can help me ..."
MARGOT: "Tell me what you want. How can I or any one else help you
while you sit on the ground, neither speaking nor eating? Get up
and I will listen to you; otherwise I shall go away."
After this she got up stiffly and lifted her arms in a stretch
above her head, showing the outline of her fine bust. I said to
"I would like to help you."
THE WOMAN: "I want to see one person and only one. I think of
nothing else and wonder night and day how it could be managed."
MARGOT: "Tell me who it is, this one person, that you think of and
want so much to see."
THE WOMAN: "I want to see Mrs. Asquith."
MARGOT (dumb with surprise): "Why?"
THE WOMAN: "Because she is only just married and will never again
have as much influence over her husband as she has now; and I am
told she is kind ..."
MARGOT (moving towards her): "I am Mrs. Asquith."
At this the woman gave a sort of howl and, shivering, with her
teeth set, flung herself at my feet and clasped my ankles with an
iron clutch. I should have fallen, but, loosening her hold with
great rapidity, she stood up and, facing me, held me by my
shoulders. The door opened and the matron appeared, at which the
woman sprang at her with a tornado of oaths, using strange words
that I had never heard before. I tried to silence her, but in
vain, so I told the matron that she might go and find out if my
husband was ready for me. She did not move and seemed put out by
"I really think," she said, "that you are extremely foolish
risking anything with this woman.'
THE WOMAN (in a penetrating voice): "You clear out and go to hell
with you! This person is a Christian, and you are not! You are a--
I put my hand over her mouth and said I would leave her for ever
if she did not stop swearing. She sat down. I turned to the matron
"You need not fear for me, thank you; we prefer being left alone."
When the matron had shut the door, the woman sprang up and,
hanging it with her back, remained with arms akimbo and her legs
apart, looking at me in defiance. I thought to myself, as I
watched her resolute face and strong, young figure, that, if she
wanted to prevent me getting out of that room alive, she could
easily do so.
THE WOMAN: "You heard what I said, that you would never have as
much influence with your husband as you have now, so just listen.
He's all-powerful and, if he looks into my case, he will see that
I am innocent and ought to be let out. The last Home Secretary was
not married and never took any interest in us poor women."
Hearing the matron tapping at the door and feeling rather anxious
to get out, I said:
"I give you my word of honour that I will make my husband read up
all your case. The matron will give me your name and details, but
I must go now."
THE WOMAN (with a sinister look): "Oh, no, you don't! You stay
here till I give you the details: what does a woman like that care
for a woman like me?" (throwing her thumb over her shoulder
towards the matron behind the door). "What does she know about
MARGOT: "You must let me open the door and get a pencil and
THE WOMAN: "The old lady will do it for you while I give you the
details of my case. You have only got to give her your orders.
Does she know who you are?"
MARGOT: "No; and you must not tell her, please. If you will trust
me with your secret, I will trust you with mine; but you must let
me out first if I am to help you."
With a lofty wave of my hand, but without taking one step forward,
I made her move away from the door, which I opened with a feeling
of relief. The matron was in the passage and, while she was
fetching a pencil, the woman, standing in the doorway of her cell,
told me in lowered tones how cruelly unlucky she had been in life;
what worthless, careless girls had passed through her hands; and
how they had died from no fault of hers, but through their own
ignorance. She ended by saying:
"There is no gratitude in this world ..."
When the matron came back, she was much shocked at seeing me kiss
I said, "Good-bye," and never saw her again.
My husband looked carefully into her case, but found that she was
a professional abortionist of the most hopeless type.
MARGOT'S FIRST BABY AND ITS LOSS--DANGEROUS ILLNESS--LETTER FROM
QUEEN VICTORIA--SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT'S PLEASANTRIES--ASQUITH
MINISTRY FALLS--VISIT FROM DUCHESS D'AOSTA
Sir John Williams [Footnote: Sir John Williams, of Aberystwyth,
Wales.] was my doctor and would have been a remarkable man in any
country, but in Wales he was unique. He was a man of heart without
hysteria and both loyal and truthful.
On the 18th of May, 1895, my sisters Charlotte and Lucy were
sitting with me in my bedroom. I will quote from my diary the
account of my first confinement and how I got to know him:
"I began to feel ill. My Gamp, an angular-faced, admirable old
woman called Jerusha Taylor--'out of the Book of Kings'--was
bustling about preparing for the doctor. Henry was holding my
hands and I was sobbing in an arm-chair, feeling the panic of pain
and fear which no one can realise who has not had a baby.
"When Williams arrived, I felt as if salvation must be near; my
whole soul and every beat of my heart went out in dumb appeal to
him, and his tenderness on that occasion bred in me a love and
gratitude which never faded, but was intensified by all I saw of
him afterwards. He seemed to think a narcotic would calm my
nerves, but the sleeping-draught might have been water for all
the effect it had upon me, so he gave me chloroform. The room grew
dark; grey poppies appeared to be nodding at me--and I gasped:
"'Oh, doctor, DEAR doctor, stay with me to-night, just THIS one
night, and I will stay with you whenever you like!'
"But Williams was too anxious, my nurse told me, to hear a word I
"At four o'clock in the morning, Henry went to fetch the
anaesthetist and in his absence Williams took me out of
chloroform. Then I seemed to have a glimpse of a different world:
if PAIN is evil, then it was HELL; if not, I expect I got nearer
Heaven than I have ever been before . ...
"I saw Dr. Bailey at the foot of the bed, with a bag in his hand,
and Charty's outline against the lamp; then my head was placed on
the pillow and a black thing came between me and the light and
closed over my mouth, a slight beating of carpets sounded in my
brain and I knew no more . ...
"When I came to consciousness about twelve the next morning, I saw
Charty looking at me and I said to her in a strange voice:
"'I can't have any more pain, it's no use.'
"CHARTY: 'No, no, darling, you won't have any more.' (SILENCE.)
"MARGOT: 'But you don't mean it's all over?'
"CHARTY (soothingly): 'Go to sleep, dearest.'
"I was so dazed by chloroform that I could hardly speak. Later on
the nurse told me that the doctor had had to sacrifice my baby and
that I ought to be grateful for being spared, as I had had a very
"When Sir John Williams came to see me, he looked white and tired
and, finding my temperature was normal, he said fervently:
"'Thank you, Mrs. Asquith.'
"I was too weak and uncomfortable to realise all that had
happened; and what I suffered from the smallest noise I can hardly
describe. I would watch nurse slowly approaching and burst into a
perspiration when her cotton dress crinkled against the chintz of
my bed. I shivered with fear when the blinds were drawn up or the
shutters unfastened; and any one moving up or down stairs, placing
a tumbler on the marble wash-hand-stand or reading a newspaper
would bring tears into my eyes."
In connection with what I have quoted out of my diary here it is
not inappropriate to add that I lost my babies in three out of my
five confinements. These poignant and secret griefs have no place
on the high-road of life; but, just as Henry and I will stand
sometimes side by side near those little graves unseen by
strangers, so he and I in unobserved moments will touch with one
heart an unforgotten sorrow.
Out of the many letters which I received, this from our intimate
and affectionate friend, Lord Haldane, was the one I liked best:
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I cannot easily tell you how much touched I was in the few minutes
I spent talking to you this afternoon, by what I saw and what you
told me. I left with the sense of witnessing triumph in failure
and life come through death. The strength that is given at such
times arises not from ignoring loss, or persuading oneself that
the thing is not that IS; but from the resolute setting of the
face to the East and the taking of one step onwards. It is the
quality we touch--it may be but for a moment--not the quantity we
have, that counts. "All I could never be, all that was lost in me
is yet there--in His hand who planned the perfect whole." That was
what Browning saw vividly when he wrote his Rabbi Ben Ezra. You
have lost a great joy. But in the deepening and strengthening the
love you two have for each other you have gained what is rarer and
better; it is well worth the pain and grief--the grief you have
borne in common--and you will rise stronger and freer.
We all of us are parting from youth, and the horizon is narrowing,
but I do not feel any loss that is not compensated by gain, and I
do not think that you do either. Anything that detaches one, that
makes one turn from the past and look simply at what one has to
do, brings with it new strength and new intensity of interest. I
have no fear for you when I see what is absolutely and
unmistakably good and noble obliterating every other thought as I
saw it this afternoon. I went away with strengthened faith in what
human nature was capable of.
May all that is highest and best lie before you both.
Your affec. friend,
R. B. HALDANE.
I was gradually recovering my health when on May the 21st, 1895,
after an agonising night, Sir John Williams and Henry came into my
bedroom between five and six in the morning and I was told that I
should have to lie on my back till August, as I was suffering from
phlebitis; but I was too unhappy and disappointed to mind. It was
then that my doctor, Sir John Williams, became my friend as well
as my nurse, and his nobility of character made him a powerful
influence in my life.
To return to my diary:
"Queen Victoria took a great interest in my confinement, and wrote
Henry a charming letter. She sent messengers constantly to ask
after me and I answered her myself once, in pencil, when Henry was
at the Home Office.
"I was convalescing one day, lying as usual on my bed, my mind a
blank, when Sir William Harcourt's card was sent up to me and my
door was darkened by his huge form.
I had seen most of my political and other friends while I was
convalescing: Mr. Gladstone, Lord Haldane, Mr. Birrell, Lord
Spencer, Lord Rosebery, the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Morley,
Arthur Balfour, Sir Alfred Lyall and Admiral Maxse; and I was
delighted to see Sir William Harcourt. When he came into my room,
he observed my hunting-crops hanging on the wall from a rack, and
"I am glad to see those whips! Asquith will be able to beat you if
you play fast and loose with him. That little tight mouth of his
convinces me he has the capacity to do it.
"After my nurse had left the room, he expressed surprise that I
should have an ugly woman near me, however good she might be, and
told me that his son, Bobby, had been in love with his nurse and
wrote to her for several years. He added, in his best Hanoverian
"'I encourage my boys all I can in this line; it promises well for
"After some talk, Mr. John Morley's card was brought up and,
seeing Sir William look rather subdued, I told the servant to ask
him to wait in my boudoir for a few minutes and assured my guest
that I was in no hurry for him to go; but Harcourt began to fidget
about and after a little he insisted on John Morley coming up. We
had a good talk a trots, starting by abusing men who minded other
people's opinion or what the newspapers said of them. Knowing, as
I did, that both of them were highly sensitive to the Press, I
encouraged the conversation.
"JOHN MORLEY: 'I can only say I agree with what Joe once said to
me, "I would rather the newspapers were for than against me."'
"SIR WILLIAM: 'My dear chap, you would surely not rather have the
DAILY CHRONICLE on your side. Why, bless my soul, our party has
had more harm done it through the DAILY CHRONICLE than anything
"MARGOT: Do you think so? I think its screams, though pitched a
little high, are effective!'
"JOHN MORLEY: 'Oh, you like Massingham, of course, because your
husband is one of his heroes.'
"SIR WILLIAM: 'Well, all I can say is he always abuses me and I am
glad of it.'
"JOHN MORLEY: 'He abuses me, too, though not, perhaps, quite so
often as you!'
"MARGOT: 'I would like him to praise me. I think his descriptions
of the House of Commons debates are not only true and brilliant
but fine literature; there is both style and edge in his writing
and I rather like that bitter-almond flavour! How strangely the
paper changed over to Lord Rosebery, didn't it?'
"Feeling this was ticklish ground, as Harcourt thought that he and
not Rosebery should have been Prime Minister, I turned the talk on
"SIR WILLIAM: 'It is sad to see the way Goschen has lost his hold
in the country; he has not been at all well treated by his
"This seemed to me to be also rather risky, so I said boldly that
I thought Goschen had done wonders in the House and country,
considering he had a poor voice and was naturally cautious. I told
them I loved him personally and that Jowett at whose house I first
met him shared my feeling in valuing his friendship. After this he
took his departure, promising to bring me roses from Malwood.
"John Morley--the most fastidious and fascinating of men--stayed
on with me and suggested quite seriously that, when we went out of
office (which might happen any day), he and I should write a novel
together. He said that, if I would write the plot and do the
female characters, he would manage the men and politics.
I asked if he wanted the old Wilkie Collins idea of a plot with a
hundred threads drawn into one woof, or did he prefer modern
nothingness, a shred of a story attached to unending analysis and
the infinitely little commented upon with elaborate and
pretentious humour. He scorned the latter.
I asked him if he did not want to go permanently away from
politics to literature and discussed all his wonderful books and
writings. I chaffed him about the way he had spoken of me before
our marriage, in spite of the charming letter he had written, how
it had been repeated to me that he had said my light-hearted
indiscretions would ruin Henry's career; and I asked him what I
had done since to merit his renewed confidence.
"He did not deny having criticised me, for although 'Honest John'
--the name by which he went among the Radicals--was singularly ill-
chosen, I never heard of Morley telling a lie. He was quite
impenitent and I admired his courage.
"After an engrossing conversation, every moment of which I loved,
he said good-bye to me and I leant back against the pillow and
gazed at the pattern on the wall.
"Henry came into my room shortly after this and told me the
Government had been beaten by seven in a vote of censure passed on
Campbell-Bannerman in Supply, in connection with small arms
ammunition. I looked at him wonderingly and said:
"'Are you sad, darling, that we are out?'
"To which he replied:
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