Bijlage 1: Memorandum on Resignation. August 1914 by John Viscount Morley (1)

(Cathalogue of the Papers of John Morley (1829 -1923).Bodleian Library of Oxford Univ..(Dep.of special colllections and Western manuscripts)


MY uncle, the late Lord Morley of Blackburn, left me, under certain restrictions contained in his will, a large selection of papers to be published at my discretion. After consulting some of his friends I have come to the conclusion that the publication of his Memorandum on the War, or rather on the diplomacy which led to his resignation at the beginning of August 1914, ought not to be any longer delayed. Most of the leading actors in the great tragedy have given their account to the world. After the outbreak of war Lord Morley put into shape the notes he had taken during the week or ten days of hurried negotiations and Cabinet deliberations. Once the die was cast he felt that no advantage could be gained by public utterances, and he was satisfied to write down for posterity the principles, opinions, and impressions he formed on this occasion and on which he acted. At various times before his death he contemplated and constantly discussed with me the question of publication, but postponed it on various grounds, chiefly, I think, because he did not feel equal to controversy with old friends at a time when his vital energies were ebbing and literary composition was becoming slow and painful. I feel sure, however, that I am now fulfilling his wishes in making this Memorandum public. My friend, Mr. F. W. Hirst, has prepared a brief introduction for the purpose of elucidating certain points in the document.

Guy Morley.

London, August 16, 1928.


AFTER the declaration of war and his resignation from the Cabinet Lord Morley began to prepare for ultimate publication his notes on the Cabinet proceedings from July 24 onwards. By that time the Serbian question had assumed an aspect menacing to the peace of Europe, though for several days public attention at home was distracted from external dangers by the Ulster crisis and by preparations for the summer holidays. Lord Morley consulted several friends, while he was still lingering over the task and doubtful of its execution. Among others the late Lord Bryce pressed him in the interest of history not to fail in what was really a duty to posterity, by placing on record his personal account of those momentous transactions, which ended in Great Britain’s entry into the Great War and in his own retirement and that of Mr. John Burns from Mr. Asquith’s Cabinet. Everyone acquainted with the author’s mind, temper, and style will feel that the document now published at the instance of his literary executor is a highly characteristic composition, bearing the marks of much labour and art. But it is also clear from the papers which he left along with the original manuscript and the corrected typewritten copy that he did not trust entirely to his own notes, impressions, and recollections. His colleague, Mr. John Burns, whose opinions on the questions at issue during the negotiations and on the final decision harmonised pretty fully with his own, gave valuable assistance from time to time, and was responsible for the addition of at least one attendance when the last draft was being made.

Moreover, Lord Morley communicated his paper, when it was completed and typewritten, to Earl Loreburn, a former member of the Cabinet, whose theory of foreign policy in relation to British intervention on the Continent was derived, like Morley’s, from Cobden. Lord Morley selected a number of Foreign Office papers and letters bearing on the diplomacy which led up to the war, as well as personal letters received after his resignation from colleagues, friends, and admirers. These he deposited in a despatch box with his Memorandum. In our printed text the typed copy has been followed, as it incorporates a few amendments. But it has been carefully collated with Morley’s original manuscript, and one or two typewriter’s slips, which he had not noticed, have been put right. The seeming vagueness of the first sentence—where the later differs from the earlier version—is undoubtedly intentional, because ‘the important line’ taken by Sir Edward Grey, and the Cabinet discussions which ensued, were continuous and inconclusive, spread over several days and not confined to one.

On the larger controversy of War Guilt, as distinct from British intervention, Lord Morley did not embark, for reasons which may easily be surmised, even if they had not been made known in personal talk. He knew that in his own life-time all the materials for a complete judgement would not be published. He knew, too, that while he was engaged on the smaller task Earl Loreburn had approached from a similar angle the larger problem of ‘How the War came’.1 Nor was he dissatisfied with Loreburn’s apportionment of the guilt. Lastly, even if the materials had been adequate and Loreburn’s work had not appeared, age and physical weakness made it out of the question for him to undertake an inquiry so intricate and laborious. It may be added that, while agreeing in the main with Lord Loreburn, Morley dissented strongly from many of the facts and conclusions in Lord Haldane’s Before the War, which came out soon afterwards.

Since Lord Morley’s death, four important publications have been issued throwing light on the subject matter of his Memorandum. These are The Genesis of the War by the late Earl of Oxford (1926) and his Diary, extracts from which have been published recently in two large volumes. Of equal, if not greater, interest to readers of this document are Viscount Grey’s Twenty-five Years (published in 1925), in which are several chapters marking his divergence from the Peace Party in the Cabinet.2

That divergence, as Lord Morley’s papers indicate, first came to a head in the Agadir Crisis of 1911, when the Cabinet was not kept informed of the diplomatic approach to war. Thereupon Lord Morley, on discovering what had been done, and learning of the secret conversations between our naval and military experts and those of France, took steps to rectify matters, and obtained from the Prime Minister a pledge that in the future no diplomatic steps should be taken which might involve naval or military commitments on behalf of France, without the knowledge and previous assent of the Cabinet.

A fourth Cabinet contribution to the subject of Lord Morley’s Memorandum has come from Mr. Winston Churchill, whose-four volumes on The World Crisis were completed in 1927. Mr. Churchill tells part of the inner history of the Agadir negotiations, and also informs us that in the closing days of July 1914, Mr. Asquith’s Cabinet was overwhelmingly pacific. ‘At least three-quarters of its members were determined not to be drawn into a European quarrel, unless Great Britain were herself attacked.’ Lord Morley, it will be seen, did not think there was more than a bare majority for neutrality in the Cabinet. Lord Grey wrote, in his sixteenth chapter, with reference to those who favoured neutrality in case war should break out on the Continent: ‘It is needless to inquire whether the group included half, or less, or more than half the Cabinet. It was sufficient in number and influences to have broken up the Cabinet.’ How the peace group was itself disintegrated until only four, and at last only two, were left to resign, is told for the first time in these dramatic pages. Though Mr. John Burns was the first to act, on a decision which he thought tantamount to war, no real difference of doctrine or application divided the two colleagues. We are permitted to print two letters which will illustrate Morley’s feelings towards his friend:



July 9, 1916.



I shall not soon, nor ever, forget your visit here to-night.

I am more melted than for many a long, long day past. The breadth of social survey and foresight—the angry vision of this hideous war—the tender pathos of the garden and the empty room—it all makes me proud that I hold the hand of such a comrade in a great piece of history.

Yours always,





August 29, 1918.



Thank you for sending me the book you promised, most valuable as a record of the stupid and evil Diplomacies only too well known to you and me. I thank you also for your company.

You cannot guess how one of these evenings of yours lights me up, interesting me, amuses, informs, and stimulates. You take one travelling over such unexpected diversity of area and topic. We were electrified by your figures immense and precise of the proportion of the population of the U K., of the additions that could be made to the state acquisition of the land of the U.K., and of the railways, by the vast pile of millions now being flung out over the land and railroads of Flanders. Your view accurate of the men you had met in the tramcar, just back with their tackle on their shoulders and the French mud on their clothes and hands only a day off from the actual fight, gave extra point to your expert estimate and interpretation of the military bulletins.

You cannot think how all this heartened up the two ancients who listened to you. Nature or the Stars have given you my dear Burns the art of clear and energetic narrative with no falsetto in it. I am supposed to be a man of letters and you are not, but you beat me hollow last night, as often before in coming out pat with an apt reference from the books: e.g. in talking of some weak parliamentary colleagues of ours you summed up the case with Dante’s ‘don’t let us reason with them ma guarda e passa, they’re too bad for heaven too good for the other place’.

By the way I ought to have recalled Swinburne’s lines in San Lorenzo, ‘Grato m’ è ’l sonno, e più l’ esser di sasso’.

You’ve been to that sublime chapel in your travels. My wife was most grateful to you for reciting to her Swinburne’s half-dozen lines about the babe on its mother’s knee.

And I for my part enjoyed your bit of Madame de Stael when our young little whelp was so overjoyed with you and your friendly reproach to me, for after all though I was a trifle world weary I had sufficiently warmed my hands at the fire of life—Landor I think. I cannot but like to think of you in your Library, so ample and well chosen within its own range, and that no narrow one. It will some day, I am sure, find an honoured place in that London in which your interest has always been so active and so important and which you study with such indomitable attention.

We hope you’ll come again and if Mrs. Burns would come too, we should be all the better pleased.

Will you let me say that a night like this makes me feel proud to have marched out in manful comradeship with John Burns to face wild winds and stormy weather.

Your sincere friend,


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