H. E. the Hon. Mr Whitelaw Reid, the American Ambassador,
and Dr Fridtjof Nansen

From the Whitefriars Journal, vol. III, no. 3, June 1906, pp. 39-46.

The Annual Ladies' Banquet took place in the Empire Room at the Trocadero on Friday, April 27th 1906, and was largely attended. Friar R. Newton Crane was Prior, and the guests were His Excellency the Hon. Whitelaw Reid (the American Ambassador), Dr Fridtjof Nansen, Mrs Craigie ['John Oliver Hobbes'], Mrs Cornwallis West (earlier Lady Randolph Churchill), Mrs W. K. Clifford, Mrs Mabel Dearmer and the Rev. Percy Dearmer, Mrs T. P. O'Connor, Mrs de la Pasture and Mr I Henry de la Pasture, Mrs Alice Perrin, Mrs Katherine Cecil Thurston and Mr Thurston, and Mrs Alec Tweedie.

The dinner was preceded by a reception in the Alexandra Room. The Prior, on the removal of the cloth, gave the loyal toasts, and read the roll-call of welcome.
FRIAR WALTER RUNCIMAN, MP, who followed, gave the toast of 'The American Ambassador'. He said: 'This is a toast of welcome particularly appropriate to the Whitefriars Club, for his Excellency is here not only as a great diplomatist but also
as an author and journalist. We claim him as being one of our own cult. That is a qualification which is dear to everyone who has written successfully, is claimed by everyone who has written unsuccessfully, and is an object of envy to all the rest of the world. Mr Whitelaw Reid at one time in his long and successful career was a war correspondent, and I understand that during that period of his career he was brought into sharp conflict with the Press Censor, which I believe to be the correct attitude of mind for the fulfilment of the duty of a correspondent.' (Laughter.) 'He was far too informing, as all good correspondents are, and he wrote a book Ohio during the War, which is one of the standard works.

'He has long been the proprietor of the Tribune, as he was the editor of the Tribune, and he has done more than any man in the United States to raise American journalism to the high realm which it now occupies.' ('Hear, hear.') 'He has gone from success to success. We need hardly wonder at that when we recall that he hails from the State of Ohio. If I mistake not he is of Scottish-Irish extraction, and no combination in the world could give him a greater claim to distinction. The Scottish govern the earth and the Irish entertain it.' (Laughter.)

'Mr Whitelaw Reid is so closely connected with our own people that we scarcely like to think it is necessary for him to be in London as an ambassador from another Power: We almost regard him as one of ourselves. But he is here as representing the American nation, and surely in no assembly of people has an American greater claims than upon a meeting in London of men and women who make the writing of English literature their main profession. In language, in feeling, and in enthusiasm for all that is free and just the American people are one with ourselves, and we, I think, are truly American.' (Hear, hear.)

'I think at this time we may very fitly express our deep sympathy with our cousins across the water in the great disaster which has befallen them in California. I understand Mrs Reid is very intimately associated with San Francisco1, and I think it is peculiarly fitting that we should express our great sympathy with her upon the disaster which has fallen upon that city, and must have brought great anxiety into her own home.' ('Hear, hear.') 'On personal, national and literary grounds I give you this toast, which I am confident you will drink with enthusiasm.'
The toast was cordially received.

MR WHITELAW REID, in reply, said ; 'I was particularly touched by the reference to recent experiences in my native land which have attracted the attention of the civilised world, and above all have attracted the sympathy of the old home; I need not speak of their nature. Happily, the worst is over. I will say this; however, while one is always proud of his countrymen – the American is apt to be, at least – I have never been so proud of my countrymen as hours of great trial and distress, never prouder of them in any previous trial than I have been during the past week.' ('Hear, hear.') 'I ought to say also that there is nothing which has so moved their gratitude – after they had recovered sufficiently from the sudden visitation of Providence which befell them – as to realise what was being done in the rest of the world, nothing so moved their gratitude as the expressions of sympathy which have come to them from this land, and from the other lands of the English-speaking race.' ('Hear, hear.')

'The toast which it was originally suggested to me that I should speak to was "Mere Man". I do not see now that the subject of the toast is materially different from what it was before.' (Laughter.) 'Mere man, at this season, and in this town, is apt to present himself as I do, the victim of a climate which, well – if the truth must be told; is no better than that of New York." (Laughter.) " There is another similarity between the toasts. One is compelled, when contrasts are made, to realise the unworthiness of both. While mere man presents himself as a victim of this climate, the better half of creation, whether in New York or in Europe, bares her bosom to the winter blasts and her head to the torrid sun with equal impunity.' (Laughter.)

'There is the further resemblance between the toasts that neither is in a position to be eulogised at all.' (Laughter.) 'Mere man, like the American Ambassador, hates speech-making; on the other hand the better portion of the race loves speech-making, loves it in all its forms, forensic or domestic – (laughter) – shines in it herself, as you are going to be convinced on both sides of me in a few moments, and is even angelic enough sometimes to tolerate it from her male inferiors – tolerate it sometimes, and for a certain time.' (Laughter.)

'There is another thing she loves, this superior part of the race. I am not going – do not be alarmed – to enter into the recondite subject of her loves. There is one thing I should like to warn you writing men about. She loves writing, and when she enters that arena you may as well remember you have become mere men indeed. Whether you are a lofty litterateur or whether you are the lowly newspaper man, you may as well understand that when you come in competition with women writers it is a very serious case for you, not to say a portentous situation. Lovely woman, whether she is going to edit a magazine or whether she is merely going to contribute to a magazine or to a newspaper, is equally irresistible to the man who gets out her magazine for her – (laughter) – to the mere editor who just has to accept her contributions, or to the general public which fairly devours them.' (Hear, hear.) 'As for the female novelist, she is the Crœsus of the hour, and when one looks about this table and realises what an absolute monarch she is – especially over the Whitefriars – one might venture to say she is the Lucullus of the hour.' ('Hear, hear.')

'Besides all that, one sees that she has given very strong symptoms of a determination to become almost or altogether – and to become this in defiance alike of the English language and her church tradition – to become a Whitefriar of herself.' ('Hear, hear.') 'But the original Whitefriars were vowed to celibacy and poverty. If you would know what progress the new Whitefriars have made you have only to look
about you. But the old Whitefriars, to speak seriously, served good learning and literature in their day, and for that service they are held in grateful memory to this day. The new Whitefriars muster under the same banner, and have carried it further.'
('Hear, hear.') 'Nothing is so good for a nation, nothing makes the fame of a nation so lasting, as its literature, and so a rank outsider, a mere man, begs to close these rambling and utterly inconsequential remarks by saluting the old banner and its present bearers.' (Applause.)

FRIAR EDWARD CLODD, in proposing 'Woman and Literature', said: 'If Dr Nansen had been here in full panoply as minister of the newly created kingdom of Norway2, he would have submitted this toast, and, doing so, would have found a reception which in its warmth would have strangely affected him because of the chilling receptions he has met with in regions where his renown was won.' (Laughter.)

'In regard to this toast, I have known many women and I have loved – ('Oh!') – the reading of books as well as the writing of books. I stand before you as one not of the centre but of the fringe – ('No.') – We have just heard of the Crœsus time of literature ; I belong to that Republic of letters which Tom Hood said deserved its name because we had not a sovereign amongst us.' (Laughter.) 'I accept the words from Mrs Craigie's delightful play The Ambassador. Woman may have got us out of Eden, but as a compensation she makes the earth very pleasant.' ('Hear, hear.') 'But a cynic has said, upon this subject, that whatever woman may say, she is only a side issue.' (Laughter.)

'In the concatenation of the terms of this toast, we cannot consider woman apart from literature or literature apart from woman.' ('Hear, hear.') 'If woman was not the creator of prose and poetry, she at least had been the inspirer of all the romance it contained from a prehistorical period. Imagine the Iliad without Helen or the Odyssey without Penelope, Shakespeare without his gallery of heroines, whose roll-call would have been too numerous to count, Tom Jones without Sophia, or Hardy without Bathsheba or Tess.' ('Hear, hear.')

'It gives me great pleasure to connect with this toast the name of Mrs Craigie, and I raise my glass to her and to thank the ladies for the refreshment, instruction, and light we have had from their several productions, and when Mrs Craigie rises to respond to this toast I have only one suggestion to make, and that is that, in view of a certain religious controversy which is being waged in this country, in which the episcopacy is taking prominent part, she should refrain from making any reference to The Bishop's Move, and if she will exclude from her remarks Some Emotions. I hope she will not leave out the Moral.' (Applause.)

MRS CRAIGIE, in reply, said: 'It is our lot to live at a time when the right of woman to do as she pleases is seldom denied, but with the liberty to follow her will she is often warned that in the event of her succeeding in public or in artistic life she will be placed in strenuous rather than in agreeable society. In strenuous society we are told both sexes talk in unison, whereas in agreeable society the men only are brilliant, and the women are good listeners.' (Laughter.) 'But there is no reason why a good listener should not be a charming writer, and in any case you need not read a book. You can close it at any moment or lock it away in a case, which you cannot always do with a speaker.' (Laughter.) 'But if you will read us, you may find that, after all, we are only repeating the inspired utterances which have fallen from the lips of men. I will not say I wonder why men are so generous to women's literary work, because I never wonder at the generosity of men. If there be any reason for their kindness I say that it may be traced to a recognition in our books of their ideas.' (Laughter.) 'Can it be that we compose the things which they have not the time to set down in black and white, and that we merely attempt to create the beauties which are already immortal? Mr Clodd has asked us to imagine what Tom Jones would have been without Sophia. We often hear it said that women writers have great audacity, but I confess that my audacity fails me there.' (Laughter.) 'I dare not imagine Tom Jones without Sophia.' (Laughter.)

MRS CORNWALLIS WEST, in giving the toast of 'The Whitefriars Club', said: 'I accepted the invitation to dine here with alacrity, and looked forward with pleasurable anticipation to it until I was told I was put down to propose this toast. I am not a
Suffragette – (laughter) – and notwithstanding what my distinguished compatriot has said, I very much fear the sound of my own voice – in public.' (Laughter.) 'I confess I was on the verge of running away until the thought struck me that no one would expect anything from me but a few commonplace remarks, and that I really need not disappoint anyone.' (Laughter.) 'By one of their good monastic rules the Whitefriars extend their hospitality so as to include, I had almost said embrace, the weaker sex –(laughter) – and this gives them an opportunity of getting a glimpse of that life which, notwithstanding its severity, I am sure fills their souls with envy. To be allowed to sit at the feet of a host of Gamaliels is indeed a feast!' (Laughter.) 'We are glad to see this, that although the conditions of this community in some respects have changed with the times, the friars still keep up this good old custom of inviting us to their board. I can assure the Prior and the friars, that personally I am extremely grateful for this hospitality, and as very small token of this gratitude I beg to propose the health of the Whitefriars Club, and success to it.' (Applause.)

THE PRIOR, in reply, said: 'It is more years than I care to recall since I was myself in active journalism, and derived my meagre support from that vocation. I recall as but yesterday, when I entered the editorial office of a large newspaper in St. Louis, the first exchange I picked up was a newspaper with a very remarkable heading – I think perhaps his: Excellency may recall it by its peculiar name; it was published in the centre of Missouri, and it was called the Sedulia Buzzer. Beneath its title were the words "Whoso tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted".' (Laughter.) ' I derived inspiration there and then from that motto, and it has been a very comforting reflection to me through out my life.

'Now I am proud of the Whitefriars Club, I am proud of my association with this club, comprising, as it does, within its ranks, representatives of nearly every daily and periodical newspaper in London and the provinces; and that says a great deal. If you laymen and laywomen whose business is not with newspapers proper or their production, should contrast the newspapers of this country with the newspapers of any other country I think you would be struck by the result. Take it in any form you please, whether it is for the physical appearance or what they contain, or the manner in which the news is presented, the result is remarkable. There is a dignity about the newspapers of this country, a cleanliness, a healthiness, which distinguishes them from the newspapers of every other country, which break out into hysteria of headlines and exaltation of details while they forget the true subject-matter. I am extremely proud of the men who are actively working in the Whitefriars Club in literature, and particularly in the literature of journalism, and I am quite convinced that this club and the way in which it means the bond of comradeship, the camaraderie of meeting together weekly for our dinners, the entertaining of men who are distinguished in all walks of literature and in art and in social life, produce that result or at least are largely accountable for it.' (Applause.)

'But I do not intend to speak about the Whitefriars Club; I want, however, to call your attention to a somewhat remarkable coincidence. We are now in what the Whitefriars of old would call the active celebration of the bicentenary of one of the most remarkable men who ever lived – I mean Benjamin Franklin. Today there has been unveiled to him a monument in Paris, and while we are enjoying ourselves here a banquet is being held which is being attended by representatives not only of the best of Paris, but of the scholars of America and of England and other parts of Europe; and the memory of that remarkable man is one which gives us an inspiration in our work. I doubt if there was ever a more remarkable history than his biography affords. At fourteen he ran away from home, after a disagreement with his brother, and started printing in Philadelphia, and thus began that brilliant career in journalism, literature, science, diplomacy, art, education – almost everything that fills men's lives and makes them better members of the community. I say without hesitation he was one of the most wonderful men that ever lived – not only one of the most wonderful men, and the most useful men that America ever produced, but that the world ever produced.

'Fancy a child without birth and without education such as we have had the privilege of acquiring, born in poverty, working not only with the types, but making the types, making the press upon which they worked, cutting in a rude way his own engravings, struggling on with high aspirations until literally he became the honoured guest and member of almost every learned society in the world at that day, the friend of kings, the friend of ambassadors, the learned adviser of ministers!

'Think what the man accomplished! And Englishmen should hold his memory in especial veneration, for to him belongs the great glory of keeping Canada under the British flag. In the Peace of 1760 the question arose in this, country as to what terms should be exacted from France, and it was rather proposed – ludicrous as the thing seems now – that the little island of Guadeloupe, one of the little islands of the Lesser Antilles, should be kept, and Canada given to France. Then came forward one of those clear and forcible pamphlets3 which he was so apt to produce, and to him is owing, more than to any other man, the fact that Canada is still part, of the British Empire.

'I have spoken in this way in responding to this toast for two reasons. First the Whitefriars can speak for themselves. In the second place, I should like to say something to lead some of the younger members who are here to take down from their shelves some life of Franklin. His autobiography is written in the most beautiful style. Blow the dust away from the top of the book and read, that story, and whether you are old or young, I have no doubt it will be an incentive to realise higher conceptions of duty, and give you greater zeal in the execution of it.' (Hear, hear.)

'I have a very distinguished man sitting upon my left, and I am going to devote to him the somewhat limited time which remains, and to ask Dr Nansen if he will be kind enough to say a few words to you.'
This announcement was greeted with hearty cheering.
DR NANSEN, received with loud applause, said: 'I feel greatly honoured by the fact that you have asked me to say a few words. I regard it as a great privilege to be allowed to be your guest in this brilliant assembly tonight. I come from a country in which you will find deep sympathy with your great nation. I come from a country having a people which is kindred to you in race, and which has often visited your shores during past centuries – ('Oh!') – though not always so welcome, I am afraid, as I have, been made here tonight.' (Laughter.) 'I have travelled a great deal – not a great deal, still, a deal – and I have been a guest under various circumstances. I have been in the low hut of the Esquimaux and in the tents of the Nomads, and in places where the entertainment was little better,' – (laughter) – 'but I have found there is one thing which always makes it pleasing to be a guest, and that is, not the food you get, but the way in which you are received.' ('Hear, hear.')

'I have found there is one thing which above all makes life worth living, and that is the feeling of friendship. I have the feeling – I am certain that many of you have – that life is becoming more and more of a rush. We travel further and further away from the original, and we more and more forget even the things which make life worth living, but there is one thing which I think makes it worth living above every other thing – this feeling of friendship: friendship between individuals and friendship between nations – ('hear, hear') – and I understand this feeling is this prevailing feeling amongst the friars of this club, and I will give you the toast of friendship, the friendship of men and the friendship of nations.' (Applause.)

Music was artistically rendered by Miss Edith Serpell, Miss Carrie Herwin, and Mr Albert Garcia. Mr Walter Churcher provided the humorous recitations. A conversazione was afterwards held in the Alexandra Room.


1 The great San Francisco Earthquake had occurred the week before, on April 18th.

2 Nansen had strongly supported the separation of Norway from Sweden and had previously been in London to obtain the support of the British government. Following its separation in 1905, he was appointed Norway's Ambassador to Britain in April 1906, but at the time of this dinner he had not received his credentials, and attended as a private individual.

3 Benjamin Franklin, The Interest of Great Britain Considered, With Regard to Her Colonies, 1760.