Margot Asquith, An Autobiography: Volumes I & II
Margot Asquith

Part 7 out of 7

"'Only for one reason. I wish I had completed my prison reforms. I
have, however, appointed the best committee ever seen, who will go
on with my work. Ruggles-Brise, the head of it, is a splendid
little fellow!'

"At that moment he received a note to say he was wanted in the
House of Commons immediately, as Lord Rosebery had been sent for
by the Queen. This excited us much and, before he could finish
telling me what had happened, he went straight down to Westminster
. ... John Morley had missed this fateful division, as he was
sitting with me, and Harcourt had only just arrived at the House
in time to vote.

"Henry returned at 1 a.m. and came to say good night to me: he
generally said his prayers by my bedside. He told me that St. John
Brodrick's motion to reduce C. B.'s salary by L100 had turned the
Government out; that Rosebery had resigned and gone straight down
to Windsor; that Campbell-Bannerman was indignant and hurt; that
few of our men were in the House; and that Akers Douglas, the Tory
Whip, could not believe his eyes when he handed the figures to Tom
Ellis, our chief Whip, who returned them to him in silence.

"The next morning St. John Brodrick came to see me, full of
excitement and sympathy. He was anxious to know if we minded his
being instrumental in our downfall; but I am so fond of him that,
of course, I told him that I did not mind, as a week sooner or
later makes no difference and St. John's division was only one out
of many indications in the House and the country that our time was
up. Henry came back from the Cabinet in the middle of our talk and
shook his fist in fun at 'our enemy.' He was tired, but good-
humoured as ever.

"At 3:30 Princess Helene d'Orleans came to see me and told me of
her engagement to the Due d'Aosta. She looked tall, black and
distinguished. She spoke of Prince Eddy to me with great
frankness. I told her I had sometimes wondered at her devotion to
one less clever than herself. At this her eyes filled with tears
and she explained to me how much she had been in love and the
sweetness and nobility of his character. I had reason to know the
truth of what she said when one day Queen Alexandra, after talking
to me in moving terms of her dead son, wrote in my Prayer Book:

"Man looketh upon the countenance, but God upon the heart.

"Helene adores the Princess of Wales [Footnote: Queen Alexandra.]
but not the Prince! [Footnote: King Edward VII.] and says the
latter's rudeness to her brother, the Duc d'Orleans, is terrible.
I said nothing, as I am devoted to the Prince and think her
brother deserves any ill-treatment he gets. I asked her if she was
afraid of the future: a new country and the prospect of babies,
etc. She answered that d'Aosta was so genuinely devoted that it
would make everything easy for her.

"'What would you do if he were unfaithful to you?' I asked.

"PRINCESS HELENE: 'Oh! I told Emanuel. ... I said, "You see? I
leave you ... If you are not true to me, I instantly leave you,"
and I should do so at once.'

"She begged me never to forget her, but always to pray for her.

"'I love you,' she said, 'as every one else does'; and with a warm
embrace she left the room.

"She came of a handsome family: Blowitz's famous description,'de
loin on dirait un Prussien, de pres un imbecile,' was made of a
near relation of the Duchesse d'Aosta."

With the fall of the Government my diary of that year ceases to
have the smallest interest.



I will finish with a character-sketch of myself copied out of my
diary, written nine weeks before the birth of my fifth and last
baby in 1906, and like everything else that I have quoted never
intended for the public eye:

"I am not pretty, and I do not know anything about my expression,
although I observe it is this that is particularly dwelt upon if
one is sufficiently plain; but I hope, when you feel as kindly
towards your fellow-creatures as I do, that some of that warmth
may modify an otherwise bright and rather knifey CONTOUR.

"My figure has remained as it was: slight, well-balanced and
active. Being socially courageous and not at all shy, I think I
can come into a room as well as many people of more appearance and
prestige. I do not propose to treat myself like Mr. Bernard Shaw
in this account. I shall neither excuse myself from praise, nor
shield myself from blame, but put down the figures as accurately
as I can and leave others to add them up.

"I think I have imagination, born not of fancy, but of feeling; a
conception of the beautiful, not merely in poetry, music, art and
nature, but in human beings. I have insight into human nature,
derived not only from a courageous experience, but also from
imagination; and I have a clear though distant vision, down dark,
long and often divergent avenues, of the ordered meaning of God. I
take this opportunity of saying my religion is a vibrating reality
never away from me; and this is all I shall write upon the

"It is difficult to describe what one means by imagination, but I
think it is more than inventiveness, or fancy. I remember
discussing the question with John Addington Symonds and, to give
him a hasty illustration of what I meant, I said I thought naming
a Highland regiment 'The Black Watch' showed a HIGH degree of
imagination. He was pleased with this; and as a personal
testimonial I may add that both he and Jowett told me that no one
could be as good a judge of character as I was who was without
imagination. In an early love-letter to me, Henry wrote:

"Imaginative insight you have more than any one I have ever met!

"I think I am deficient in one form of imagination; and Henry will
agree with this. I have a great longing to help those I love: this
leads me to intrepid personal criticism; and I do not always know
what hurts my friends' feelings. I do not think I should mind
anything that I have said to others being said to me, but one
never can tell; I have a good, sound digestion and personally
prefer knowing the truth; I have taken adverse criticism pretty
well all my life and had a lot of it; but by some gap I have not
succeeded in making my friends take it well. I am not vain or
touchy; it takes a lot to offend me; but when I am hurt the scar
remains. I feel differently about people who have hurt me; my
confidence has been shaken; I hope I am not ungenerous, but I fear
I am not really forgiving. Worldly people say that explanations
are a mistake; but having it out is the only chance any one can
ever have of retaining my love; and those who have neither the
courage, candour nor humbleness to say they are wrong are not
worth loving. I am not afraid of suffering too much in life, but
much more afraid of feeling too little; and quarrels make me
profoundly unhappy. One of my complaints against the shortness of
life is that there is not time enough to feel pity and love for
enough people. I am infinitely compassionate and moved to my
foundations by the misfortunes of other people.

"As I said in my 1888 character-sketch, truthfulness with me is
hardly a virtue, but I cannot discriminate between truths that
need and those that need not be told. Want of courage is what
makes so many people lie. It would be difficult for me to say
exactly what I am afraid of. Physically and socially not much;
morally, I am afraid of a good many things: reprimanding servants,
bargaining in shops; or to turn to more serious matters, the loss
of my health, the children's or Henry's. Against these last
possibilities I pray in every recess of my thoughts.

"With becoming modesty I have said that I am imaginative, loving
and brave! What then are my faults?

"I am fundamentally nervous, impatient, irritable and restless.
These may sound slight shortcomings, but they go to the
foundation of my nature, crippling my activity, lessening my
influence and preventing my achieving anything remarkable. I wear
myself out in a hundred unnecessary ways, regretting the trifles I
have not done, arranging and re-arranging what I have got to do
and what every one else is going to do, till I can hardly eat or
sleep. To be in one position for long at a time, or sit through
bad plays, to listen to moderate music or moderate conversation is
a positive punishment to me. I am energetic and industrious, but I
am a little too quick; I am DRIVEN along by my temperament till I
tire myself and every one else.

"I did not marry till I was thirty. This luckily gave me time to
read; and I collected nearly a thousand books of my own before I
married. If I had had real application--as all the Asquiths have--
I should by now be a well-educated woman; but this I never had. I
am not at all dull, and never stale, but I don't seem to be able
to grind at uncongenial things. I have a good memory for books and
conversations, but bad for poetry and dates; wonderful for faces
and pitiful for names.

"Physically I have done pretty well for myself. I ride better than
most people and have spent or wasted more time on it than any
woman of intellect ought to. I have broken both collar-bones, all
my ribs and my knee-cap; dislocated my jaw, fractured my skull,
gashed my nose and had five concussions of the brain; but--though
my horses are to be sold next week [Footnote: My horses were sold
at Tattersalls, June 11th, 1906.]--I have not lost my nerve. I
dance, drive and skate well; I don't skate very well, but I dance
really well. I have a talent for drawing and am intensely musical,
playing the piano with a touch of the real thing, but have
neglected both these accomplishments. I may say here in self-
defence that marriage and five babies, five step-children and a
husband in high politics have all contributed to this neglect, but
the root of the matter lies deeper: I am restless.

"After riding, what I have enjoyed doing most in my life is
writing. I have written a great deal, but do not fancy publishing
my exercises. I have always kept a diary and commonplace books and
for many years I wrote criticisms of everything I read. It is
rather difficult for me to say what I think of my own writing.
Arthur Balfour once said that I was the best letter-writer he
knew; Henry tells me I write well; and Symonds said I had
l'oreille juste; but writing of the kind that I like reading I
cannot do: it is a long apprenticeship. Possibly, if I had had
this apprenticeship forced upon me by circumstances, I should have
done it better than anything else. I am a careful critic of all I
read and I do not take my opinions of books from other people; I
have not got 'a lending-library mind' as Henry well described
that of a friend of ours. I do not take my opinions upon anything
from other people; from this point of view--not a very high one--I
might be called original.

"When I read Arthur Balfour's books and essays, I realised before
I had heard them discussed what a beautiful style he wrote.
Raymond, whose intellectual taste is as fine as his father's,
wrote in a paper for his All Souls Fellowship that Arthur had the
finest style of any living writer; and Raymond and Henry often
justify my literary verdicts.

"From my earliest age I have been a collector: not of anything
particularly valuable, but of letters, old photographs of the
family, famous people and odds and ends. I do not lose things. Our
cigarette ash-trays are plates from my dolls' dinner-service; I
have got china, books, whips, knives, match-boxes and clocks given
me since I was a small child. I have kept our early copy-books,
with all the family signatures in them, and many trifling
landmarks of nursery life. I am painfully punctual, tidy and
methodical, detesting indecision, change of plans and the egotism
that they involve. I am a little stern and severe except with
children: for these I have endless elasticity and patience. Many
of my faults are physical. If I could have chosen my own life--
more in the hills and less in the traffic--I should have slept
better and might have been less overwrought and disturbable. But
after all I may improve, for I am on a man-of-war, as a friend
once said to me, which is better than being on a pirate-ship and
is a profession in itself.

"Well, I have finished; I have tried to relate of my manners,
morals, talents, defects, temptations, and appearance as
faithfully as I can; and I think there is nothing more to be said.
If I had to confess and expose one opinon of myself which might
differentiate me a little from other people, I should say it was
my power of love coupled with my power of criticism, but what I
lack most is what Henry possesses above all men: equanimity,
moderation, self-control and the authority that comes from a
perfect sense of proportion. I can only pray that I am not too old
or too stationary to acquire these.


"P.S. This is my second attempt to write about myself and I am not
at all sure that my old character-sketch of 1888 is not the better
of the two--it is more external--but, after all, what can one say
of one's inner self that corresponds with what one really is or
what one's friends think one is? Just now I am within a few weeks
of my baby's birth and am tempted to take a gloomy view. I am
inclined to sum up my life in this way:

"'An unfettered childhood and triumphant youth; a lot of love-
making and a little abuse; a little fame and more abuse; a real
man and great happiness; the love of children and seventh heaven;
an early death and a crowded memorial service.'

"But perhaps I shall not die, but live to write another volume of
this diary and a better description of an improved self."



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