How I First Met My Husband

Third Article In This Remarkable Series

MARGOT ASQUITH September 1 1920

How I First Met My Husband

Third Article In This Remarkable Series

MARGOT ASQUITH September 1 1920

How I First Met My Husband

Third Article In This Remarkable Series

MARGOT ASQUITH

ONE night in 1896 we wert dining with Lord and Lady Reay.

I was introduced to the great South African millionaire, Robinson, of Robinson’s Deeps, who had taken Dudley House for the London season. He was tall and deaf, and as he offered me his arm to take me in to dinner, he paused and said—looking down at me—in a voice of thunder:

“What is your name?”

To which I replied almost as loud:

“Asquith!”

Still standing and blocking the way to the dining-room he said:

“Any relation to the famous Asquith?”

At which I shouted :

“Wife!”

Slightly doubting and completely quelled we went in to dinner together and sat down opposite Sir Donald Wallace —the foreign editor of the Times.

London had been bouleverse by the news of the Jameson Raid—an enterprise which had covered England with ridicule and the friends of Rhodes and Chamberlain with confusion. The excitement was intense. There had been a famous telegram published in the Times—a sort of S. O. S. from the loyalists in South Africa—imploring Rhodes or any other warrior of British birth to go and save them; followed by a poem from the Laureate about “Girls in the goldreefed City”; and to crown the whole affair a letter from Lady Warwick*—better known by the name given to her lately by our daughter, Violet Bonham Carter, of “Comrade Warwick”—in which she said President Kruger was “the savage chief of a nomadic tribe”—aletter which I was afterwards told had been written for her by one of the Intelligenzia of the Stock Exchange. Opinions varied, and conversations buzzed round the Rand and the Raid. I asked my millionaire to tell me something about South Africa, hoping to hear details of the Jameson affair. Robinson: “Have you ever been there?”

Margot: “No—”

Robinson: “Are you rich?”

Margot: “No, but my father is—”

Robinson: “Who is your Arthur?”

Margot: “I never said Arthur, I said Father!—” Robinson: “Oh!—Well, I’ll tell you how I made my money if you’ll tell me afterwards how he made his.” I gave myself up for lost but soon became absorbed in his

He told me he had started life as a poor man, and kept a smal! store: that one day a friend came to him whom he knew a little and said that he was in great, difficulties, and that if he could be helped by the loan of fifty pounds his

Count~ of Varo'~ck.

life would be saved. lie promised he would pay it back and Robinson lent him the money. -

Time passed, hut he heard nothing of his debtor. Two years later he received a let ter from him; he had been away trekking out of reach of all posts. Enclosed was a map giving a detailed description of a field on a farm which he said would some day be of enormous value; he had prospected it and found gold there. He enclosed his debt and Robinson started off the same day up coun try. The owner of the farm was a Boer who received him with suspicion. They walk ed all over the estate, and when they came to the field indicated on the map, Robinson said it looked an arid kind of place, butthat he would like to buy it as he did not sup pose it would be dear, and he wanted to start farming in a mild fashion. To his surprise the Beer opened his mouth rather -wide, asking him $500* to which Robinson de murred.

But the farmer was obdurate, so he gave .way and bought the

field. When the business was over, they returned to lunch in the bosom of the Boer family-a neighbor or two having strayed in. At the conclusion of the meal the host, gazing steadily at Rohinson, lifted his glass and said he proposed drinking his health in honor of the day's sale. With a rapid wink at his son and heir he gulped down some of the country claret. Mr. Robinson ended the story by telling me that after this he was pursued by the women and children of the place, offering him wooden dolls and cheap ornaments as they looked upon him as a zany capable of buying anything. V This was the beginning of the great Robinson Gold Mines worth many millions now.

The Jameson Raid A T THE end of the story I turned to my other neighbor, feelingl had perhaps neglected him, and found him in the throes of an argument about the Jameson Raid: be said Jameson was a hero in spite of his failure, and that he himself was an Im perialist, and thought it was high time we fought the Boers. He added in the vernacular of the day that it was only the damned radicals that critic ized Jameson, and they were well known to love every country but their own. After talking a little time I found the young Imperialist's con versation was not so new to me as Robinson's, and fearing lest he would find out that I was a damned radical, I turned round and asked why the girls in the gold-reefed city had sent the famous telegram. Robinson: "That telegram came from London!" On hearing this Sir Donald Wallace leant across the table and said that he was the only person in the world who could contradict this, as the tele gram had passed through his hands before being published in the Times. Robinson, not hearing what he said, interrupted by giving me a poke with his elbow and saying: 9 am cot quite cure if this was th~ exact cons.

"What is he ta~ ing about? Does say I'm a liar?"

Margot (firmly and loudly): "Yes, Mr. R~ inson.,,

I have often wondered since what the t? history of that telegram was, for though Sir Donald W lace was a man of the highest honor, I always thought his trifle green, as the schoolboys would say. Lord Kitchener once said to me when I asked h who he thought were the best men and women he had e~ known: "I should say Lady Waterford* and Dr. Jamesor He said that his experience of the so-called Loyali in South Africa had not been a good one; they were peo~ of no sort of judgment and far too fond of money; that had never known them right on any political questli and ended by saying Doctor Jim was the only one of lot that never made a shilling and was a really fine fells K. was right. Dr. Janieson was an uncommon person a had great beauty and simplicity of nature. I heard equally high testimony paid to him by a greater man th K., General Botha. My husband and I met the Doctor first-a week or I days before he was sentenced in Bow Street-at Georgia Lady Dudley's house; and the night before he went prison he dined a Irois with myhusband and me in Cavs dish Square. Dr. Jim had great personal magnetism, and could what he liked with my sex. He was one of those men s if he had been a quack could have made a vast fortune a doctor, a thought-reader, a faith healer or in any of th by-paths; but he was without quackery of any kind. never thought him a fine judge of people, but here I may wrong. If his brains had been as good as his hature would have had a commanding position in any count The reason that convinced me that they were not when he told us of the great scheme that had failed; wh was to kidnap Kruger and carry him off in person. T somewhat jejune intention was frustrated, and Jame~ was had up in the police courts. The responsibility of the Raid could not, however, confined to Jameson. Both Cecil Rhodes and Chaml~ lain's reputations were involved, and everyone was stirr Admirers of Rhodes went about saying if his name struck off the list of Privy Councillors they would au Joe up, and admirers of Chamberlain were going to sb someone else up, and a Government Committee appointed to show everyone up. The secret history of I time will probably never be written. I remember open the front door of 20, Cavendish Square to Chamberlain i morning and showing him in to Henry's library. At end of a long visit I went in and said to my husbai "What did Joe want?" Sister of the present fluke of Beaufort.

Henry: “He asked me if I would serve on the Committee of Enquiry on the responsibility of the Raid—they call it the Rhodes Commission—and I refused.”

Margot: “Why did you refuse?”

Henry: “Do you take me for a fool?”

The Wonderful Cecil Rhodes

I NEVER spoke to Cecil Rhodes, but I met him once at a party in 10, Downing Street, when Arthur Balfour was Prime Minister.

It was in 1898, when South Africa was in a state of suppressed turmoil. Alfred Milner, the then Lord High Commissioner, was writing letters from Cape Town warning us of the exact situation, but the Government did not believe in these warnings.

Balfour had been told that if you listen to the man on the spot you cannot go wrong, and that Rhodes—the great hero of South Aftica—was the proper person to consult about the Boer problem over which Milner and so many of us were exercised.

Cecil Rhodes was a name that was famous all the world over. Men and women trembled before him. A phrase much in vogue at the time, “Think Imperially,” was attributed to him, also the poignant, epigram quoted by the more enlightened Tariff Reformers that it was not the Article but the Art that ought to be encouraged in British trade. It is perhaps hardly fair to credit him with both these mots, but it is certain that his lightest word carried weight. Lord Fisher, writing to me from the Admiralty, quoted a talk he had had with Rhodes, which impressed him deeply; his letter ended with: “Rhodes is a wonderful fellow! I will finish my long letter by quoting a clever thing he said to me to-day:

“ T have found one thing, and that is, if you have an idea and it is a good idea, if you will only stick to it, you will come out all right.’

“Your affectionate,

FISHER.”

On arriving at Arthur Balfour’s party at 10, Downing Street to meet Cecil Rhodes, I took my host aside and asked him if “the man onthespot’’—always a favorite with the stupid—had given him his views on South Africa.

Balfour: “Yes, he doesn’t think there is the slightest chance of war; he says not only that the Boers won’t fight, but that they can’t.’’

Thinking Imperially made us confident that after an experience of twenty years in South Africa, Rhodes must know his Boers and we took comfort together.

I looked round me but saw no one of interest, so I penetrated into the next room. There for the first time I saw the Burne-Jones Legend of the Briar Rose hung on the ugly panelling put up by Disraeli in the Downing Street dining-room; but much more remarkable than this innovation was the circle of fashionable and crouching ladies at Rhodes’s feet. He sat like a great bronze gong among them, and I had not the spirit to disturb their worship.

When I First Met My Husband

I FIRST met my husband in 1891 at a dinner in the House of Commons.

I had never heard of him in my life, which gives some indication of how much time I was wasting on two worlds—I do not mean this and the next—but the sporting and dramatic.

I sat next to him. I was immensely impressed by his conversation and his clean Cromwellian face. He was different to all the others and, although abominably dressed, had so much personality that I made up my mind at once that here was a man who could help me and would understand everything. It never crossed my brain that he -was married, nor would that have mattered. •*'

It was a glorious night; and after dinner, when we all walked on the Terrace, I was flattered to find my new Mend by rav side. Lord Battersea—our host—who adored my husband and had flamboyant manners, openly chaffed me, and tried to separate us, but with tact and determination this frontal attack was resisted.

He.dfid I retired to the darkest part

of the Terrace and, leaning over the parapet, we gazed

into the river and talked till far into the night.

Our host and party—thinking I had gone home and that Henry had returned to the House when the division bell rang—had disappeared: and when we finished our conversation the Terrace was deserted and the sky was light. We met a few days later, dining with Sir Algernon West—

a very dear and early friend of mine.’ f After this we saweach other constantly. I found out from something he said that he was married and lived at Hampstead. He told me afterwards that he was a shy man, and in some ways this is true of him even now: I am glad that I never observed it at the time, as shy people worried me. I liked modesty—I pitied timidity—but I was bored with shyness.

I cannot truly say that the word shy described Henry; he was a little gauche in movement, and blushed when he was praised, but I have never seen him afraid of anyone, or disconcerted by any social dilemma. His unerring instinct into all sorts of people and affairs— quite apart from his intellectual temperament and learning—his incredible lack of vanity and freedom from self struck me at once; he made everyone talk well, which always convinces people that they are not being flattered, but being clever.

When I found that he was married I asked him to bring his wife to dinner, which he did.

Directly I saw her I said:

“I do hope, Mrs. Asquith, you have not minded your husband dining here without you, but I rather gathered Hampstead was too far away for him to get back to you from the House. You must let me know and come with him whenever it suits you.”

Our Engagement Causes Perturbation

TN MAKING my profound ■t and attaching friendship with the stranger of that House of Commons dinner I had placed myself in a difficult position when Helen Asquith died. To be a stepwife and a step-mother was unthinkable, but at the same - time the moment had arrived in my life when a decision—

involving a great change—had become inevitable. I had written to Peter Flower* before we parted every day for nine years--with the exception of the months he had spent flying from his creditors in India -and I had prayed for him every night, but it had not brought more than happiness to both of us, and when I deliberately said good-

•The «tory of Peter Flower will be tolil fully in a iater in«tal-

bye to him I shut down a page of my life which even if I had wanted to I could never have reopened. When Henry told me he cared for me, that unstilled inner voice, which we all of us hear more or less indistinctly, told mo that I should be untrue to myself and quite unworthy of life j.f, when such a man came knocking at the door, I did not fling it wide open.

The rumour that we were engaged to be married caused perturbation amounting to consternation in certain circles. ^B"® ^*B Both Lord Rosebery and Lord Randolph M Churchill, without impugning me in any W way, deplored the marriage, nor were they by any means alone in thinking such a union might ruin the life of a promising politician. Some of my own friends from another point of view were equally apprehensive; to start my new life ¡{charged with a ready-made family'of children brought up very differently to myself, with a man who played no games and cared for no sport, in London instead of the country, with no money except what he could make at the Bar, was, they thought, taking too many risks.

My Melton friends said it was a terrible waste that I was not marrying a sporting man ! and told me afterwards that they nearly signed a round robin to beg me never to giveup hunting.^

much more afraid of spoiling my husband’s life than my own. I had never seen any of his children except little Violet when I became engaged; and he only took me to see them once before we were married. He never spoke of them, except one day when, after my asking him if he thought they would hate me, and cataloguing my grave imperfections and moderate qualifications for the part, he stopped me and said that his eldest son, Raymond, was remarkably clever and would be devoted to me. He added thoughtfully: “I think and hope he is ambitious.”

This was quite a new idea to me; we had alw-ays been told what a wicked thing ambition was, but we were a fighting family of high spirits and hot temper as well as exceedingly competitive, so we had acquiesced without conforming. This remark profoundly impressed me and I pondered it in my heart.

Disapproving of long engagements I hurried on my marriage all I could; first to avoid the month of May. and next to escape the cataract of advice by w-hich my friends thought to secure both my husband’s and my own matrimonial bliss.

One night after our engagement we were dining with Sir Henry and Lady Campbell-Bannerman. While the women were talking and the men drinking, dear old Mrs. Gladstone and other elderly ladies and political wives took me on as to the duties of the spouse of a possible Prime Minister: they were so severe that at the end of it I did not feel at all sure that 1 should be doing the proper thing by sleeping with him.

When Mr. Gladstone came into the drawing-room I felt depressed and, clinging to his arm, I switched him off into a corner and said 1 feared the ladies took me for a jockey or a ballet girl, as I had been abjured to give up dancing, riding, and acting, etc. He patted my hand, said he knew no one better fitted to Inthe wife of a great politician than myself and ended by saying that, while I was entitled to discard exaggeration in rebuke, it was a great mistake not. to take criticism wisely anti in a spirit which might turn it to good account.

I have often thought of this when 1 see how brittle and egotistical people arc at the smallest disapprobation. There is no greater test, of size than the way people take criticism; but, judging stature by this standard, most people are dwarfs.

To In( 'ontinued

ln Ihr next instalment Mrs. Asquith tells of the outbreak of war, of the breathless moments when Britain was trying to adapt herself to the idea of war, and of the varying panorama of personages that passed by and through the doors of Ike Prime Minister.