At one of our small dinners I had such a characteristic answer from an English diplomatist, who had been ambassador at St. Petersburg. He was really a charming talker, but wouldn’t speak French. That was of no consequence as long as he only talked to me, but naturally all the people at the table wanted to talk to him, and when the general conversation languished, at last, I said to him: “I wish you would speak French; none of these gentlemen speak any other language.” (It was quite true, the men of my husband’s age spoke very rarely any other language but their own; now almost all the younger generation speak German or English or both. Almost all my son’s friends speak English perfectly.) “Oh no, I can’t,” he said; “I haven’t enough the habit of speaking French. I don’t say the things I want to say, only the things I can say, which is very different.” “But what did you do in Russia?” “All the women speak English.” “But for affairs, diplomatic negotiations?” “All the women speak English.” I have often heard it said that the Russian women were much more clever than the men. He evidently had found it true.
THE EXPOSITION YEAR
The big political dinners were always interesting. On one occasion we had a banquet on the 2d of December. My left-hand neighbour, a senator, said to me casually: “This room looks very different from what it did the last time I was in it.” “Does it? I should have thought a big official dinner at the Foreign Office would have been precisely the same under any regime.” “A dinner perhaps, but on that occasion we were not precisely dining. I and a number of my friends had just been arrested, and we were waiting here in this room strictly guarded, until it was decided what should be done with us.” Then I remembered that it was the 2d of December, the anniversary of Louis Napoleon’s coup d’etat. He said they were quite unprepared for it, in spite of warnings. He was sent out of the country for a little while, but I don’t think his exile was a very terrible one.
I got my first lesson in diplomatic politeness from Lord Lyons, then British ambassador in Paris. He was in Paris during the Franco-German War, knew everybody, and had a great position. He gave very handsome dinners, liked his guests to be punctual, was very punctual himself, always arrived on the stroke of eight when he dined with us. We had an Annamite mission to dine one night and had invited almost all the ambassadors and ministers to meet them. There had been a stormy sitting at the Chamber and W. was late. As soon as I was ready I went to his library and waited for him; I couldn’t go down and receive a foreign mission without him. We were quite seven or eight minutes late and found all the company assembled (except the Annamites, who were waiting with their interpreter in another room to make their entry in proper style). As I shook hands with Lord