"The most important diplomatic post in the world." It was thus that Sir Mortimer Durand once referred to the office of the British Ambassador at Washington. He went further, moreover, and in a tribute to Lady Durand, remarked that "the greatest measure of responsibility rests upon the ambassadress."
Sir Mortimer retired in 1906 in favour of the Rt. Hon. James Bryce, and during his three years of office he added very considerably to his reputation as a diplomat.
It may not at first be apparent to the average person why so much more importance should be attached to the British ambassadorship in an English-speaking country like America, which carries with it a salary of 10,000, than to that of France, for instance, which is worth 11,500. The explanation lies in the fact that upon Anglo-american friendship, with its influences in Canada and in the Far East, depends to a very large extent the peace of the world.
In no other country, moreover, do social amenities count for so much in official life as they do in America. Upon the Ambassadress, therefore, rests the responsibility of winning popularity for her husband, and fostering those friendly relations which have hitherto proved so mutually beneficial.
In Washington, as in New York, the elite vie with one another in the originality of their entertainments, and when, for instance, Lady Durand hit upon the novel idea of giving a ball in which the dancers represented tableaux from "Alice in Wonderland," it was voted the social event of the Washington season. Sir Mortimer himself, moreover, was voted " a real good sort of fellow and a democrat to the bone " when, at Lenox,
Mass., he played cricket with a team mainly composed of his own servants, and led them with the ardour and freedom of a schoolboy.
A Russian Irishman
Again, America was greatly pleased by his diplomatic reply to a persistent lady who wanted to know the feelings of the British Government towards Russia during the Russo-japanese War. Sir Mortimer, of course, could not discuss the question. "At any rate," continued the lady, "we hear over here that the Irish sympathise very warmly with the Russians. Why is it that they pray for General Kuropatkin's success?" "That," answered the Ambassador, "may be because they believe he has Irish blood in his veins. Have you never noticed how he spells the third syllable of his name?"
Then, again, Lady Herbert, wife of the late Sir Michael Herbert - " Courtesy Herbert," to quote a nickname bestowed upon him by a noted Senator - Lady Durand's predecessor at Washington, added much to her husband's popularity by establishing a smart social salon at the embassy. Almost every day there were five o'clock teas on a scale of considerable magnificence, where one could meet all the diplomats and governmental bigwigs, as well as all the stars in the artistic and professional worlds. Lady Herbert became famous for her entertainments, and, like Sir Mortimer Durand, Sir Michael was the first to admit how much the lady of the embassy can contribute to diplomatic success.
Lady Herbert, however, had the advantage of being an American lady - she was a Miss Leila Wilson, and is an aunt of the present Duchess of Roxburghe.
Curiously enough, Mrs. Bryce, the wife of the present British Ambassador at Washington, is also of American origin. Her mother, Miss Elizabeth Gair, came of American parentage on both sides, although she was born in Liverpool, and ultimately married Mr. Thomas Ashton, a rich manufacturer of Fordbank, near Manchester. Miss Elizabeth Marion
Ashton married Mr. Bryce in 1889, and being a deeply intellectual woman, with a keen grasp of politics, and a liking for people who have done things, she and her husband had much in common.
The American strain in her blood betrayed itself in her fondness for clever Americans, and it was largely due to her that so many of them found a welcome at Mr. Bryce's house in Portland Place, London, prior to his departure for Washington in 1907.
America, therefore, gave the Bryces a very hearty welcome, and Mrs. Bryce, who is averse to the newspaper interviewer, had a difficult task to pilot her husband, upon his arrival in the States, through the cohorts of journalists and photographers who flocked about him. She succeeded, however, for, although the persistent pressmen hurled questions at him until they got him " going some," as they said - in fact, until he called them "boys," and looked as if he was willing to talk, one of them soon grasped the situation, and broke out into that popular song of the English vaudeville stage, "My wife won't let me." Then the ranks parted, and the King's distinguished emissary was allowed to pass.
Beyond organising the semi-official banquets, which the British Ambassador at Washington is called upon to give, Mrs. Bryce, unlike Lady Durand or Lady Herbert, has not distinguished herself in the matter of elaborate entertainments. But she has instituted what might be termed an intellectual salon at Washington, where one may meet the cleverest of people. However, it falls to the lot of the Ambassadress in America to meet people of all classes. In the States there are something like three million Britishers, many of whom, it would seem, judging by the letters received, look upon the Ambassador and his wife as their guardians.
Mrs. Bryce, wife of the Rt. Hon. James Bryce, British Ambassador at Washington. By her tact and charm she has gained the goodwill and esteem of the American nation Photo, R. Haines