No more complacency! Really nothing short of mental anguish held me by the throat. I paced my library quarter of an hour, and my garden for quarter of an hour more. Then I got into the motor to drive for a Privy Council at Palace. By the time I reached my Office at Whitehall, my concentrated thought in the motor had cleared all doubts away. My nerve had become good as usual, my temper as cool. I sat down and concocted my letter to the Prime Minister, copied the draft and sent it in to its destination.
Aug. 4, 1914.
MY DEAR ASQUITH,
Your letter shakes me terribly. It goes to my very core. In spite of temporary moments of difference, my feelings for you have been cordial, deep, close, from your earliest days, and the idea of severing our affectionate association has been the most poignant element in the stress of the last four days.
But I cannot conceal from myself that we—I and the leading men of the Cabinet—do not mean the same thing in the foreign policy of the moment. To swear ourselves to France, is to bind ourselves to Russia, and to whatever demands may be made by Russia on France. With this cardinal difference, how could I either decently or usefully sit in a cabinet day after day discussing military and diplomatic details in a policy which I think a mistake. Again I say divided counsels are fatal.
I am more distressed in making this reply to your generous and moving appeal, than I have ever been in writing any letter of all my life.
At the Palace, the King, who had been aware since Monday of the prospect of my resignation, asked me for the second or third time, whether I was in or out. I said out, until he had named my successor. He said in a rather sincere tone that he was very sorry. I take this to be the date of my resignation, though emoluments were paid up to
I looked to the past in this short episode, without self-reproach. I parted from friends without a wound or even a scratch, I could not comprehend them all, and two of them I had no choice but to judge. I looked to my brief future with steady self-control, meaning to imitate Michelangelo’s figure of the Pensieroso in my library,1—with a firm mind pondering stern things.
Grato m’ è ‘l sonno, e più l’ esser di sasso. 1
Morley wrote in his Recollections (1917), Book I., chap. iv.: ‘I had a cast of Michelangelo’s famous figure of the Penseroso in a libraly, presiding over an array of shelves well stocked with saints, sages, and some demoniacs, with
A look that’s fastened to the ground,
A tongue ehained up without a sound.’
Sir G. Buchanan, British Ambassador At St.Petersburgh, To Sir Edward Grey.
(Received July 24)
July 24, 1914.
I HAD a telephone message this morning from M. Sazonof (Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs.) to the effect that the text of the Austrian ultimatum had just reached him.
His Excellency added that a reply within forty-eight hours was demanded, and he begged me to meet him at the French Embassy to discuss matters, as Austrian step clearly meant that war was imminent.
Minister for Foreign Affairs said that Austria’s conduct was both provocative and immoral; she would never have taken such action unless Germany had first been consulted; some of her demands were quite impossible of acceptance. He hoped that His Majesty’s Government would not fail to proclaim their solidarity with Russia and France.
The French Ambassador gave me to understand that France would fulfil all the obligations entailed by her alliance with Russia, if necessity arose, besides supporting Russia strongly in my diplomatic negotiations.
I said that I would telegraph a full report to you of what their Excellencies had just said to me. I could not, of course, speak in the name of His Majesty’s Government but personally I saw no reason to expect any declaration of solidarity from His Majesty’s Government that would entail an unconditional engagement on their part to support Russia and France by force of arms. Direct British interests in Servia were nil, and a war on behalf of that country would never be sanctioned by British public opinion. To this M. Sazonof replied that we must not forget that the general European question was involved, the Servian question being but a part of the former, and that Great Britain could not afford to efface herself from the problems now at issue.
In reply to these remarks, I observed that I gathered from what he said that His Excellency was suggesting that Great Britain should join in making a communication to Austria to the effect that active intervention by her in the internal affairs of Servia could not be tolerated. But supposing Austria nevertheless proceeded to embark on military measures against Servia in spite of our representations, was it
the intention of the Russian Government forthwith to declare war on Austria?
M. Sazonof said that he himself thought that Russian mobilisation would at any rate have to be carried out; but a council of Ministers was being held this afternoon to consider the whole question. A further council would be held, probably to-morrow, at which the Emperor would preside, when a decision would be come to.
I said that it seemed to me that the important point was to induce Austria to extend the time limit, and that the first thing to do was to bring an influence to bear on Austria with that end in view; French Ambassador, however, thought that either Austria had made up her mind to act at once or that she was bluffing. Whichever it might be, our only chance of averting war was for us to adopt a firm and united attitude. He did not think there was time to carry out my suggestion. Thereupon I said that it seemed to me desirable that we should know just how far Servia was prepared to go to meet the demands formulated by Austria in her note. M. Sazonof replied that he must first consult his colleagues on this point but that doubtless some of the Austrian demands could be accepted by Servia.
French Ambassador and M. Sazonof both continued to press me for a declaration of complete solidarity of His Majesty’s Government with French and Russian Governments, and I therefore said that it seemed to me possible that you might perhaps be willing to make strong representations to both German and Austrian Governments, urging upon them that an attack by Austria upon Servia would endanger the whole peace of Europe. Perhaps you might see your way to saying to them that such action on the part of Austria would probably mean Russian intervention, which would involve France and Germany, and that it would be difficult for Great Britain to keep out if the war were to become general. M. Sazonof answered that we would sooner or later be dragged into war if it did break out; we should have rendered war more likely if we did not from the outset make common cause with his country and with France; at any rate, he hoped His Majesty’s Government would express strong reprobation of action taken by Austria.
President of French Republic and President of the Council cannot reach France, on their return from Russia, for four or five days, and it looks as though Austria purposely chose this moment to present their ultimatum.
It seems to me, from the language held by French Ambassador, that, even if we decline to join them, France and Russia are determined to make a strong stand.
SIR EDWARD GREY TO SIR F. BERTIE, BRITISH AMBASSADOR AT PARIS, AND SIR E. GOSCHEN, BRITISH AMBASSADOR AT BERLIN
July 31, 1914.
I STILL trust that the situation is not irretrievable, but in view of prospect of mobilisation in Germany it becomes essential to His Majesty’s Government, in view of existing treaties, to ask whether French (German) Government are prepared to engage to respect neutrality of Belgium so long as no other Power violates it.
A similar request is being addressed to German (French) Government. It is important to have an early answer.
SIR E. GOSCHEN, BRITISH AMBASSADOR AT BERLIN, TO SIR EDWARD GREY
(Received August 1)
BERLIN, July 31, 1914.
NEUTRALTTY of Belgium, referred to in your telegram of 31st July to Sir F. Bertie.1
I have seen Secretary of State, who informs me that he must consult the Emperor and the Chancellor before he could possibly answer. I gathered from what he said that he thought any reply they might give could not but disclose a certain amount of their plan of campaign in the event of war ensuing, and he was therefore very doubtful whether they would return any answer at all. His Excellency, nevertheless, took note of your request.
It appears from what he said that German Government consider that certain hostile acts have already been committed by Belgium. As an instance of this, he alleged that a consignment of corn for Germany had been placed under an embargo already.
(1 See No. 114).
I hope to see his Excellency to-morrow again to discuss the matter further, but the prospect of obtaining a definite answer seems to me remote.
In speaking to me to-day the Chancellor made it clear that Germany would in any case desire to know the reply returned to you by the French Government.
SIR EDWARD GREY TO SIR E. GOSCHEN, BRITISH AMBASSADOR AT BERLIN
August 1, 1914.
I told the German Ambassador to-day that the reply 1 of the German Government with regard to the neutrality of Belgium was a matter of very great regret, because the neutrality of Belgium affected feeling in this country. If Germany could see her way to give the same assurance as that which had been given by France, it would materially contribute to relieve anxiety and tension here. On the other hand, if there were a violation of the neutrality of Belgium by one combatant, while the other respected it, it would be extremely difficult to restrain public feeling in this country. I said that we had been discussing this question at a Cabinet meeting, and as I was authorised to tell him this I gave him a memorandum of it.
He asked me whether, if Germany gave a promise not to violate Belgium neutrality we would engage to remain neutral. (1 See No. 122.)
I replied that I could not say that; our hands were still free, and we were considering what our attitude should be. All I could say was that our attitude would be determined largely by public opinion here, and that the neutrality of Belgium would appeal very strongly to public opinion here. I did not think that we could give a promise of neutrality on that condition alone.
The Ambassador pressed me as to whether I could not formulate conditions on which we would remain neutral. He even suggested that the integrity of France and her colonies might be guaranteed.
I said that I felt obliged to refuse definitely any promise to remain neutral on similar terms, and I could only say that we must keep our hands free.
I am, etc., E. Grey