It has been my good fortune to be the guest of eminent men in many lands and on occasions of memorable interest, but the rarest privilege for any one was to be the guest of Lord Rosebery, either at his city house or one of his country residences. The wonderful charm of the host, his tact with his guests, his talent for drawing people out and making them appear at their best, linger in their memories as red-letter days and nights of their lives.
All Americans took great interest in the career of Lord Randolph Churchill. His wife was one of the most beautiful and popular women in English society, and an American. I knew her father, Leonard Jerome, very well. He was a successful banker and a highly educated and cultured gentleman. His brother, William Jerome, was for a long time the best story-teller and one of the wittiest of New Yorkers.
Lord Randolph Churchill advanced very rapidly in British politics and became not only one of the most brilliant debaters but one of the leaders of the House of Commons. On one of my visits abroad I received an invitation from the Churchills to visit them at their country place. When I arrived I found that they occupied a castle built in the time of Queen Elizabeth, and in which few modern alterations had been made. It was historically a very unique and interesting structure. Additions had been made to it by succeeding generations, each being another house with its own methods of ingress and egress. Lord Randolph said: "I welcome you to my ancestral home, which I have rented for three months."
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."