Though this temporary residence was very ancient, yet its hospitalities were dispensed by one of the most up-to-date and progressive couples in the kingdom. In the intimacy of a house-party, not too large, one could enjoy the versatility, the charm, the wide information, the keen political acumen of this accomplished and magnetic British statesman. It was unfortunate for his country that from overwork he broke down so early in life.
No one during his period could surpass Baron Alfred Rothschild as host. His dinners in town, followed by exquisite musicales, were the social events of every season. He was, however, most attractive at his superb place in the country. A week-end with him there met the best traditions of English hospitality. In the party were sure to be men and women of distinction, and just the ones whom an American had read about and was anxious to meet.
Baron Rothschild was a famous musician and an ardent lover of music. He had at his country place a wonderfully trained orchestra of expert musicians. In the theatre he gave concerts for the enjoyment of his guests, and led the orchestra himself. Among the company was sure to be one or more of the most famous artists from the opera at Covent Garden, and from these experts his own leadership and the performance of his perfectly trained company received unstinted praise and applause. Baron Rothschild had the art so necessary for the enjoyment of his guests of getting together the right people. He never risked the harmony of his house by inviting antagonists.
Lord Rothschild, the head of the house, differed entirely from his amiable and accomplished brother. While he also entertained, his mind was engrossed in business and affairs. I had a conference with him at the time of the Spanish-American War, which might have been of historical importance. He asked me to come and see him in the Rothschild banking-house, where the traditions of a century are preserved and unchanged. He said to me: "We have been for a long time the bankers of Spain. We feel the responsibility for their securities, which we have placed upon the market. The United States is so all-powerful in its resources and spirit that it can crush Spain. This we desire to avert. Spain, though weak and poor compared to the United States, has nevertheless the proudest people in the world, and it is a question of Spanish pride we have to deal with."
In answering him I said: "Lord Rothschild, it seems to me that if you had any proposition you should take it to Mr. John Hay, our accomplished minister."
"No," he said; "then it would become a matter of diplomacy and publicity. Now the Spanish Government is willing to comply with every demand the United States can make. The government is willing to grant absolute independence to Cuba, or what it would prefer, a self-governing colony, with relations like that of Canada to Great Britain. Spain is willing to give to the United States Porto Rico and the Philippine Islands, but she must know beforehand if these terms will be accepted before making the offer because if an offer so great as this and involving such a loss of territory and prestige should be rejected by the United States there would be a revolution in Spain which might overthrow not only the government but the monarchy. What would be regarded as an insult would be resented by every Spaniard to the bitter end. That is why I have asked you to come and wish you to submit this proposition to your president. Of course, I remain in a position, if there should be any publicity about it, to deny the whole thing."
The proposition unfortunately came too late, and Mr. McKinley could not stop the war. It was well known in Washington that he was exceedingly averse to hostilities and believed the difficulties could be satisfactorily settled by diplomacy, but the people were aroused to such an extent that they were determined not only to free Cuba but to punish those who were oppressing the Cubans.
One incident which received little publicity at the time was in all probability the match which fired the magazine. One of the ablest and most level-headed members of the Senate was Senator Redfield Proctor, of Vermont. The solidity of his character and acquirements and his known sense and conservatism made him a power in Congress, and he had the confidence of the people. He visited Cuba and wrote a report in which he detailed as an eyewitness the atrocities which the government and the soldiers were perpetrating. He read this report to Mr. McKinley and Senator Hanna. They both said: "Senator Proctor, if you read that to the Senate, our negotiations end and war is inevitable."