IT is difficult for any one who knew Robert Bacon well to write about him with such reserve as will commend itself to strangers. To his friends only superlatives seem adequate. To them what he was seems infinitely more than the record of any career could possibly be. It was a distinguished and useful career, yet his usefulness consisted not merely in what he did but still more in the impression produced by his persuasive and compelling personality and his intense convictions upon the great events in which he played a part.
His life began in the year before the American Civil War and it ended in the year after the great World War. It covered a period of extraordinary development and change throughout the world---a period in which consciously or unconsciously the whole world was in motion and when directing influences for good or evil were potent beyond experience. He was born on the shore of Massachusetts Bay and he received from an un broken line of Puritan ancestors, by direct succession, the essential underlying qualities of character which have made the spirit and developing force of Puritan New England such an amazing formative power in the life of this continent. He was educated at Harvard and in later life was long an elected overseer of the University, and finally he became a fellow, one of the little group of five who with the President and Treasurer constitute the College Corporation and direct its affairs. He be came a banker in Boston and then a banker in New York. He was made Assistant Secretary of State and then Secretary of State and then Ambassador to France, and finally an officer of the American Army in France. These things came to him without any intriguing or wire-pulling or pushing or use of influence. They followed his qualities naturally; they were the by-products of strenuous labour for others unselfishly directed with little or no thought of self, inspired by sympathy, friendship, loyalty, love of country, humanity, idealism.
He was a man of curious and delightful combinations and contrasts. He was a superb creature physically. It was a pleasure to behold him as it is to look upon any natural object which approaches the perfection of beauty. But he was altogether modest and free from conceit. He never gave the impression that he was thinking about his own perfections, because he really was always thinking about something else, and the high light of his manly beauty was in the face always luminous with kindly thoughts and sympathies for other persons and other things. He was a renowned athlete in college and he was an athlete and a sportsman all his life long---an all-around devoted enthusiastic sportsman. But underlying the joyfulness in sport there was still a Puritan conscience which regulated the control of life. The incident of the boat race illustrates this very well. He was Assistant Secretary of State at Washington. The Harvard-Yale boat race was about to occur at New Haven. It was most interesting for him. He had rowed in the Harvard crew himself when in college. On this particular occasion his three sons were to row, one in each of the three Harvard boats. He was most anxious to see it and to join the multitude of college friends who would be there. He had been overworking and overdriving himself in Washington. Everybody in the State Department wanted him to get the recreation and he started by the evening train. The next morning he appeared at the State Department and explained that he had left some things undone in his office and that by the time he had got to Jersey City he found that he simply could not go on and so he took the midnight train back to Washington to attend to his duties and let the boat race go. A conscience born in Puritan England some centuries before had made the admired and joyous sportsman incapable of neglecting a duty for a pleasure.
The material which the devoted friendship of Doctor Scott has selected and arranged in this book indicates that Robert Bacon was a full member of what before the war used to be called "Society," on both sides of the Atlantic. His love of sport, education and training, and wealth and personal attractions naturally put him into that relation. He had two very rare and admirable qualities---he had charm and he had distinction---qualities that cannot be defined or even described but which can be felt, and he had highly developed the social instincts and sympathies. He was everywhere admired and welcome and he was a part in a great number of affectionate friendships which with intimate acquaintance and good manners form the true basis of social life. He was in and of society; yet he was the most domestic of men; faithful, loyal, devoted, with a heart always full to overflowing with love for his home and his wife and his children. He was responsive to a multitude of friends; always ready with universal sympathy; intensely interested in difficult and engrossing tasks, yet he was always a wonderful lover for one woman only throughout his life. What the war and all its overturnings may have done to that old prewar social life no one can yet fully measure. It was a product of aristocracy, but the war has demonstrated that it possessed some qualities which the world, democratic or otherwise, cannot afford to do without.
Bacon fell naturally into the first rank; as an undergraduate, as an alumnus, as a banker., finding his place in the greatest of American banking houses, and as a diplomatist. He brought to American diplomacy qualities and attainments of the highest value, a strong sense of right and courage to maintain it, entire freedom from subserviency or timidity, sympathetic consideration and kindly feeling for other peoples, and a most effective sincerity and frankness. He helped mightily toward substituting the new method of frank and open intercourse for the old type of subtlety and deception in diplomacy. He had the social training that is so useful; and he always understood his subject; no pains were too great for that. He was fair and honest in diplomacy as he was in sport and in business.
The greatest public services of Robert: Bacon's life, however, were rendered on the basis of comparatively little official authority. His genuine affection for the French people added to the strong predilections of his English descent, his knowledge of European politics, his intimate acquaintance with the men and women who were significant in the public life of England and of the continent, his special interest in European affairs incident to his service as ambassador, all gave to him a sense of the true meaning and possibilities of the Austrian assault upon Servia and the German assault upon Belgium at the end of July, 1914. He saw in this concerted movement immediately, the purpose and the danger of world domination; and he saw America resting in a condition of complacent incredulity similar to that which confronted Lord Roberts in Great Britain when he strove to make the British people understand that Germany was preparing to attack. His whole soul rose in protest against the fatuous indifference which remains blind to danger until it is too late; and he became an active and ardent apostle of immediate military preparation and speedy entry into the war. He repudiated indignantly the idea of neutrality between right and wrong. With voice and pen, in private and in public, he urged immediate action. He went up and down the country arguing and exhorting, demonstrating the danger and pointing out the need of American liberty for defense on the battle line where the liberties of western civilization were at stake. He and his devoted wife threw themselves with enthusiasm into the work of that American aid for the care of the wounded in France, before our entrance into the war, which did so much to express and to foster American sympathy with the Allied cause. While he superintended construction and drove ambulances and arranged with officials, Mrs. Bacon raised vast sums of money and secured material and organized personnel in America, and they became the foremost single agency in that beneficent work which did so much for the wounded and so much more for America. When the training camps, to which Plattsburg has given its name, were organized the former Ambassador, distinguished, wealthy, far up beyond the military age, but an athlete still, set the example of service in the ranks to do the uttermost that it was possible for an American to do toward meeting the inevitable emergency. He should be counted as one of the greatest of the personal forces which gradually moved the American people to the point of entering the great conflict just before it was too late.
Robert Bacon rendered one further public service of the first importance. The great danger of composite forces carrying on war together is in misunderstandings, unsettled differences of opinion, personal discords and resentments, and the feebleness and irresolution which flow from divided councils. We all remember the repeated efforts made by Germany through all sorts of agencies during the war to bring about informal conferences about the aims of the war. Many very good people thought such overtures should be accepted as a matter of course in the interest of peace; but many better informed or more mindful of the working of human nature perceived that the true object and necessary effect of such conferences during hostilities would be to put the Allies into controversy and destroy their unity of action. That is, that if discussions were opened then upon the aims of the war, just what has happened in Europe since the armistice would have happened with the German army still in the field, and Germany would have won against a divided foe. In a war carried on by allies, however friendly, one of the first and most difficult requisites is to keep the allies together, pursuing a single purpose by concerted action. When America entered the war she introduced not only a needed element of strength but another element of possible misunderstanding and divided purpose.
Robert Bacon was not persona grata with the Administration---the role he had played in urging preparation and action made that impossible; but the experience and sound judgment of General Pershing led him to see that here was an agent of the first force for the accomplishment of the vital military purpose of maintaining real harmony among the Allied forces. Accordingly, after a sufficient experience as commandant of the headquarters at Chaumont, to become thoroughly familiar with American organization and military opinion, Colonel Bacon assumed the head of the American Military Mission to the British Headquarters of Sir Douglas Haig. From that coign of vantage until the close of the war every quality Robert Bacon possessed was actively devoted to the purpose of maintaining good understanding and harmony among the leaders of the Allied forces. All his experience in business and in diplomacy, his Anglo-American traits, his Franco-American affections, his tremendous and untiring energy, his knowledge of languages and of manners, his liberal education, his familiarity and facility in sports of every kind, his social training, his personal charm and distinction, his kindliness and consideration, his intense devotion to the common purpose-all of these fitted him above all other men whom America could produce to prevent the fatal misfortune of dissension and discord.
CONCERNING the general scope of this book I am not qualified to speak, for my knowledge of Robert Bacon is confined to the period when he was serving as liaison officer with the British forces in France. During that period, however, I saw much of him and formed for him a great regard; so that I am very ready to accede to the request made to me that I should write a short foreword to this account of his life.
From our first meeting, he struck me as a most honest, upright man, and absolutely to be trusted. My early impressions of him were confirmed and strengthened by longer acquaintance, till acquaintance ripened into friendship. His obvious sincerity and sympathy drew the confidence and affection of all he met, while to a fine character and courteous manner he joined ability beyond the common and a wide experience of men and affairs.
I need scarcely say that the work he had taken in hand he did well, for it was work for which he was peculiarly fitted. The unvarying excellence of the relations which prevailed between the American and British armies owed much to his quiet influence. Yet with all his understanding and sympathy for the British point of view he never for one moment forgot that he was an American. Only, he was a man of large mind and great heart, very keen on the success of our common cause which, he believed as we did, stood for justice and freedom.
He and I often rode together and I used to take him with me to see the troops. On these occasions, I treated him exactly as if he were my personal staff officer, and he and I and my A.D.C. would lunch together out of the lunch box we took with us. It happened from time to time that we visited together a sector where an offensive was impending, and Colonel Bacon would be surprised by seeing that our guns were very active and signs everywhere that something was on foot. In such case I had the most complete confidence in his discretion, although I could not explain to him beforehand what our intentions were.
He was an admirable companion, charming and pleasant even on the blackest days. His devotion to the cause for which we fought is shown by the fact that, despite his years, he went through a volunteer camp for training before America came into the war. Once America was in, he was desperately anxious that America should show up well in the field, and took immense interest in the training which American divisions were going through with the British. In this connection in particular he was able to be of great help to us, and he never spared himself.
A thorough believer in the Anglo-Saxon race, he often spoke of the future as being with America and Great Britain. He did much to cement the friendship of our two countries, and in doing so showed himself to possess in preëminent degree those splendid qualities of our common stock which he so much admired.
26th July, 1923
IL n'y a pas un ami de l'Amérique à Paris qui n'ait été frappe de stupeur en apprenant la mort soudaine de M. R. I. Bacon. Il avait passé toute la guerre auprès de nous, toujours si vaillant, si dévoué, si vivant! La victoire avait couronné ses plus intimes espérances: c'était un ami de la France, comme elle n'en rencontrera jamais; car il faut les jours d'épreuves pour susciter de tels dévouements.... Et voila! Une dépêche nous apprend que ce brave cur a fini de battre!
Je n'ai cesse de l'aimer depuis que je l'ai connu. Il était alors ambassadeur à Paris. Nous nous embarquâmes sur le même bateau, la France, quand, au lendemain du désastre du Titanic, la mission du Comité France-Amérique se rendait a New-York.
Il avait échappé par miracle à la catastrophe, car son billet était pris et sa cabine retenue; je ne sais quelle affaire l'avait retardé. Comme je le félicitais, il me dit, avec son gentil courage: "Je serais, maintenant, au fond de l'océan, car, comme ambassadeur, je n'avais pas le droit de quitter le paquebot, tant qu'il restait un Américain à bord."
Quand la guerre eut éclaté, le premier télégramme qui me vint d'Amérique était de lui: "La France se bat, j'accours!" Nous allâmes le chercher au Havre, juste à la veille de la bataille de la Marne. Il avait l'impatience du front. Il s'y rendit, à peine débarqué, sur une puissante automobile, et il commença à relever les blessés sur les champs de bataille de la Marne et de l'Aisne. Combien de fois nous avons fait le trajet de Paris à Fère-en-Tardenois, où il avait été loge chez le médecin et où se trouvait alors le quartier général du maréchal French!
Il s'était consacré, d'abord, aux mille devoirs de secours qu'il avait su se créer à lui-même. Mais, bientôt, son action s'élargit. J'ai raconté quelque part un entretien que j'eus avec lui.
"Je retourne en Amérique en passant par Londres, me disait-il; je vais aller voir sir Edward Grey. Il faut que l'Amérique entre dans la en guerre, et tout de suite... (C'était en 1915). Je le sais, il y a de grandes difficultés. Mais nous y arriverons. Il y a, en ce moment, 50,000 Américains au plus qui comprennent que c'est notre intérêt et notre devoir d'intervenir: il s'agit de faire en sorte que ces 50,000 deviennent 50 millions. Voilà le but à atteindre." Il partit et la chose se fit comme il l'avait prévue.
Bacon fit le voyage à diverses reprises. Il pensait à tout, à la propagande, aux emprunts, aux secours publics et privés. Une flamme brillait dans ses jeux: c'était l'âme de l'Amérique a la fois généreuse et réaliste.
Enfin, "les 50,000 étaient devenus 50 millions"; la guerre était déclarée. Il revint encore; mais, cette fois, en costume d'officier, ce qui avait été son grand rêve, un peu la coquetterie de ce magnifique garçon qui portait beau, malgré que ses cheveux et sa moustache eussent commencé à blanchir. Attaché, en qualité de colonel, a l'état-major du général Pershing, il était enfin "soldat" et sur "le front." Alors commença pour lui une vie nouvelle toute d'activité, de dévouement et de sacrifice. Il donna sa vie pour ses deux patries.
Parmi tant de circonstances qui restent dans mon souvenir, comment oublier la visite qu'il fit, un jour, dans nos lignes, accompagné de Mme Bacon, qui donnait toute son activité féminine à la même cause? Nous allâmes visiter les écoles et les hôpitaux sur le Chemin des Dames. Nous assistâmes à l'une des chaudes journées de la guerre; les populations du malheureux village de Paissy se souviennent et se souviendront toujours de l'encouragement et du réconfort que la présence de ces amis, venus de si loin, leur apportaient! Saint-Dié aussi connut la générosité inlassable de M. et de Mme Bacon. Tous ces amis de la première heure ont fait le possible et l'impossible; je répéterai ce que j'ai dit déjà: "en Amérique c'est la bienfaisance qui a fait le chemin a l'alliance."
Ces amis incomparables se faisaient, de la France, une idée si haute que rien que d'avoir été aimée ainsi, elle en est vénérable et consacrée à jamais.
Je voudrais que les noms de nos ambassadeurs américains fussent inscrits, quelque part, dans un endroit où passe le peuple de Paris. On mettrait, sur la plaque, le mot de Myron Herrick: "Paris appartient au monde." Et aussi celui de Robert I. Bacon: "La France se bat. J'accours!"
Ce sont là, pour les peuples, des deux côtés, de magnifiques héritages. Il ne convient pas qu'ils périssent.
de l'Académie française.