No former British Ambassador has had so extensive a correspondence with the American public and professional men as Mr. Bryce. He is constantly questioned about all sorts of matters relating to government in England. He makes it a point to answer these letters fully, in spite of the extra work they involve, because he considers this task not the least important of his duties. Likewise, Mrs. Bryce receives many letters from A m e r ic a n women on a hundred and one different subjects, and many are the appeals for help and advice which she receives from British women in the States. Several hours of each day are occupied in dealing with this mass of correspondence. There are, moreover, the usual appeals from British societies and charities for patronage and assistance. Perhaps the Ambassa-dress is asked to become the president of one, or open a bazaar for another, while political unions, knowing how active Mrs. Bryce was here' in connection with the Women's National Liberal Association and the Women's Free Trade Union, for instance, seek her support. It is incumbent upon an ambassadress, however, to be discreet, particularly in a country like America, where, to say the least, much colour is often lent to the words of one of high position. Many an awkward contretemps, which might have led to serious trouble, has been caused by a fondness for talking on the part of wives of high officials.
When M. Flourens, for instance, was Foreign Minister for France, in 1887, and General Boulangerwas Minister of War, it was secretly decided that the general should be the bearer of an important letter to the Tsar. The Cabinet regarded this affair as one of paramount importance, and special precautions were taken to avoid "leakage." But they had reckoned without the woman in the case. M. Flourens having, like a good French bourgeois, detailed the day's doings to his wife, the latter, in the innocence of her heart, thought it would make an interesting tit-bit for the daughter of the German Ambassador, who called on her that day. Naturally, this intended mission created a profound sensation at the German Embassy and in Berlin. The Ambassador promptly requested an explanation from the French Foreign Secretary, and, as a result, the journey was abandoned. What M. Flourens said to his wife probably will never be recorded.
"Tactful, but how Discreet! '
A woman of such rare perception and experience as Mrs. Bryce, however, is scarcely likely to commit such an indiscretion as this. At the same time, she must be on her guard continually, and, when replying to her numerous correspondents, attending a public gathering, or meeting various people at a reception or dinner at the Embassy, she must take care not to express anything which might be misconstrued as an opinion on the political events of the day.
A well-known general, after meeting Mrs. Bryce for the first time, described her as "a most charming woman, a brilliant conversationalist, but how tactful - how discreet!"
The necessity for discretion becomes more obvious when it is explained that the British Ambassador not only represents the affairs of his Sovereign, but also the dignity and power of his master. It has been said that it is only rich men who can become Ambassadors, for the simple reason that their expenses are much in excess of their salary. It is certainly incumbent upon them to live in great style, and, of course, the duty of maintaining the dignity of the office in a social sense falls upon the Ambassadress.
It is, by the way, an unwritten rule that the names of the Ambassador and his wife to be designated by the British Sovereign should be submitted to the powers that be of the country for which they are purposed - a custom which prevents any possible unpleasantness on their arrival. Not that there was much doubt about the reception of Mr. and Mrs. Bryce, for the former was recognised in the States as a clever diplomat as well as a scholar; while the fact that Mrs. Bryce is of American origin was sufficient to ensure for her a hearty reception.
The Embassy at Washington was built in about the year 1830, when Sir Edward Thornton was Minister. The Legation had not then been raised to the rank of an
Embassy. Sir Edward was not only an able diplomatist, but a shrewd business man, who foresaw how Washington would develop. He bought land which was then practically in the country ("prairie," as they call it in America), but which is now on Connecticut Avenue, the most fashionable thoroughfare in Washington.
The Embassies of the other Powers have followed the British lead, and here, too, is the old home of Mr. Leiter, where the late Lady Curzon of Kedleston spent her girl hood, while the White House is within ten minutes' walk. Sir Edward Thornton only paid 2,000 for the land, which is now worth at least ten times that amount, and the present Embassy was built for 25,000. It is of red brick with granite "dressings," and its architecture is French rather than English. The entrance hall is immense, and a fine portrait of Queen Victoria in her Coronation robes dominates the great oak staircase. The ball-room is the largest but one in the city, and in the dining-room sixty people can sit down comfortably. Ambassadorial Hospitality
Lady Herbert's predecessor, Lady Paunce-fote, was a brilliant and successful hostess. The magnificence of her entertainments at the Embassy has been unequalled even among the New York "Four Hundred." Invitations to Lady Pauncefote's dinnerparties and receptions were eagerly sought after, her ladyship being assisted in her duties as a hostess by her four daughters, whose popularity was considerably enhanced by their democratic manners.
Apropos of these daughters, it is a curious fact that when an Ambassador has a daughter, the question of her precedence is a very difficult one to settle. A famous instance of this was the case of Count Munster, who for many years was German Ambassador in London. During the whole of the time he was at the Court of St. James's, it was always a moot point whether his daughter should take rank as an Ambassadress, and the point was never satisfactorily settled.
It is certainly an important point, for an Ambassadress is regarded as almost as important a person as the Ambassador. Not only is she addressed as "Your Excellency." but any insult offered to her is as much an affront, and even a cause for war, as would be one offered to her husband. At one time all the wives of earls abstained from coming to Court, so as not to yield precedence to the wives of ambassadors, while in the early part of Queen Victoria's reign the duchesses rose in arms at the idea of making way for these ladies. But they were forced to yield.
Often Mr. and Mrs. Bryce exchange visits with the representatives of other Powers, whom they also meet at receptions at the White House. Although, of course, official matters are not discussed seriously at such gatherings, there is no doubt but that the latter help to oil the wheels of diplomacy.