Jean Jules Jusserand
President of the Association, 1921
Presidential address delivered before the American Historical Association at St. Louis, December 28, 1921. Published in American Historical Review 27, no. 3 (April 1922): 426–64.
The School for Ambassadors
Of the various honors with which I have been favored in the course of a long career, none gave me more pleasure with less trouble than the presidency of the American Historical Association: for which, as the last sands in my presidential hour-glass are about to fall, I beg to renew to the members of this society the expression of a truly felt gratitude. The lack of trouble is for me a cause of regret: I wish I had been better able to show my zeal for the great cause we have at heart. And what is that cause, outsiders may say? The cause of truth, with the persuasion that the past, better known, does not merely afford amusement to dilettanti, but may help us to discern the future, to avoid mistakes, to hasten the coming of better days. The past is like a great reflector; we want to keep it bright and its light turned toward the future.
A long career, I said: a very long one, indeed, begun forty-five years ago and continued without a break for illness or any other cause. The war of 1870 determined my choice; too young to enlist, at school while the older boys had joined the army and were defending Belfort, during that gloomy winter, when half the college was set apart for troops on their way to the front, we heard our professors tirelessly repeating that our ignorance, and especially our ignorance of foreign countries, had been our bane. And we were studying furiously, at the same time developing our bodies, by tiding, fencing, swimming, climbing, trying to be complete men, learning dead languages and three or four modern ones, graduating in several branches instead of one, in the hope to be some day useful citizens for hard-tried, bleeding France. I took degrees in law, literature, and science, and was studying a variety of other matters besides, when my family remonstrated, declaring: This cannot go on, you should select one special profession; we leave you alone this afternoon; when we return you must have made your choice.
So, I remained alone, in our country home, overlooking the valley of the Loire, with the familiar landscape before me, trees, fields, and distant mountains; mute advisers. Would it be a military career or a civil one? I spent some hard moments of doubt, then thought that, with such a terrible war (we considered it so in those days) so recent, there would probably be no other for a great many years; that if there were, everybody would serve as a matter of course, and that other callings might offer chances of more immediate usefulness. When the family returned, I had made up my mind, and shortly after, having reached the necessary age, I passed the competitive examination and entered the profession which I have now followed for nearly half a century, my good fortune having secured for me as my post of longest duration, the United States of America.
Of this profession I should like to say a few words to you. What was it in former times, and what is it now? Will it continue of use when there shall no longer be any distant posts; when, from his seat, your Secretary of State will be able to call: “Hello, give me Paris, give me London”; and even when Blériot’s prediction shall have proved true, if ever it does, of people taking their breakfast in Paris, their lunch in New York, and flying back for their dinner in Paris the same day?
Of very ancient lineage, born of necessity, this profession reached, in the fifteenth and immediately following centuries, such prominence as to become the subject of numerous treatises in Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, in which was taught and described the art of diplomacy, the functions of the ambassador, the qualities the man should possess, the means he should resort to and abstain from, with hints as to his dress, his table, his manners, his talk, his secretaries and servants, his wife and whether he had better take her with him, his rights and privileges, the subject and style of his letters, and many more topics: a complete schooling. Those manuals of the perfect ambassador (which is the title of several of them) were especially numerous in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with some excellent ones of an earlier or later date, the work of Rosergius, Barbaro, Dolet, Braun, Danès, Maggi, La Mothe-Le-Vayer, Tasso, Paschal, Hotman, Gentili, Marselaer, Vera de Çuniga, Bragaccia, Germonius, Wicquefort, Rousseau de Chamoy, Callières, Pecquet, and a host of others,1 belonging most of them to the profession. Many are of great interest, not only on account of their actual subject, but for the insight they give into the private manners and public morals of the day.
On the antiquity and nobility of the art all agree. Ambassadors, according to La Mothe-Le-Vayer, became a necessity among men at the moment, “or shortly after”, when, Pandora’s fateful box having been opened, evils were scattered throughout the world, and prospered, finding for their growth “a fruitful well-tilled ground”.2 Vera de Çuniga agrees, ambassadors became a necessity after Pandora’s days, when the golden age came to an end, and men began to live in houses and to divide mine from thine: “Ambassadors had then to try and show where equity was, and recover what the ambition and the force of the ones had usurped upon the weakness or simplicity of the others.... It is reported that King Belus first made use of this means; poets however attribute it to Palamedes.”3
Other writers find for ambassadors an even more exalted origin: the first ones were the angels of God, as was so appropriately recalled to his troops by King Herod, whose envoy had been done to death by the Arabs, a most execrable deed in the eyes of every nation, he said, especially for us who have received “our sacred laws from God, through his angels, who are his heralds and ambassadors”.4 Several commentators took pleasure in recalling how Solomon was, in his wisdom, favorable to ambassadors: “A faithful one is for his sender like the coolness of the snow during the harvest; he gives rest to the sender’s soul.”5
Pecquet at a much later date declares that “for men to live together in a state of society implies a kind of continuous negotiation. Everything in life is, so to say, intercourse and negotiation, even between those whom we might think not to have anything to hope or fear from one another”.6 De Maulde in our own days wrote to the same effect: “Diplomacy is as old as the world and will not die before the world does.”7
As a matter of fact, whether Belus or Palamedes, the angels or unconscious Pandora, were the founders of the order, it is a very ancient one, and the oldest and remotest nations had of necessity recourse to it. The more so that, before the establishment of Christianity, which however did not entirely sweep away the evil, every nation, including the most civilized, saw in the others, as a matter of course, and whatever their state of development, enemies and barbarians. In the Greek language, the word βάρβαρος means a foreigner, a man who, being not a Greek, is, of necessity, a barbarian. In Latin the word hostis means both a foreigner and an enemy; the poet Lucan calls a civil war bellum sine hoste, a war with no foreigner (no enemy) in it.
In spite of prejudices, intercourse was, however, conducive to a better understanding of each other and to the discovery of the fact that, notwithstanding a man’s having a native tongue different from ours, he might possibly be something else than a barbarian and an enemy. Embassies were sent, temporary ones, it is true, by all nations, from the earliest days; the Greeks use ambassadors, πρέσβεις, in the Iliad, among whom figures, I am sorry to say, that shrewd, unscrupulous slacker, Ulysses. Plato, under the name of Socrates, derides the use sometimes made of sophists for the purpose, and shows one of the most famous, Hippias, thus explaining the infrequency of his visits to Athens: “Time has failed me, Socrates. On each occasion Elis has some business to settle with another city, it is of me, first of all, that she thinks for an ambassador, considering me cleverer than any, either to form a judgment or to pronounce the words necessary in those relations between states.”8 Temporary satisfaction, especially for the speaker, but no durable advantage could be expected, Plato leads us to understand, from the eloquence of sophists.
Immense hopes were raised when that new régime was established in the world which had for its dogma no longer: any foreign nation is an enemy nation, but “love ye one another”. The consequence was a wonderful attempt to form, in the midst of rampant barbarity and ferocity, of unspeakable sufferings and destruction, of falling empires and dying former-day religions, a first grouping of all the nations of the world or at least the Christian ones, not in a league, or a society, but, for a wonder at such a period, a family of nations: love ye one another.9
The father of the family, the ever ready umpire, the peacemaker, was to be the Vicar of Christ, the pope. The prodigious attempt was a comparative success and a comparative failure, the sum total being however progress, with the introduction of the “truce of God”, the efforts to localize wars, to suppress private ones, to settle disputes peacefully. God was admittedly the real ruler of the world; popes, holding their powers direct from him, exalted themselves high above kings: hence the devising by kings of the theory of their own divine right, so as not to have to go any more to Canossa.
As the powers of kings rose, that of the pope diminished, but the notion of a family of Christian nations long survived. “Mankind,” wrote the doctor eximius, Suarez, in 1613, “although divided into various peoples and realms, ever has a certain unity, not only a specific, but a, so to say, political and moral one, as evidenced by the natural precept of reciprocal love and pity, which extends to all, including even foreigners of whatever nation.”10 Love ye one another.
No wonder that the first diplomatic service to develop was that of the pope; that of the princes and republics of Italy followed suit, the Venetian one foremost, endowed with strict regulations as early as the thirteenth century. The dangerous, ill-paid function being not attractive to everybody, the Venetian appointees were forbidden under severe penalties to refuse to serve except by reason of confirmed ill-health; the slightest indiscretion was punished; on their return the ambassadors were expected to hand to the public treasury any presents they had received while abroad; they had to draw up a general report on their mission, and those reports early enjoyed wide fame, well deserved and still enduring. The clever French diplomat and writer Hotman de Villiers declares in his treatise on L’Ambassadeur,11 that Venetian envoys will have nothing to learn from him, being themselves past masters.
The advantage of possessing such a service was so obvious that all nations arranged to have one, selecting for the function their best men, and most famous writers, poets, thinkers, speakers. Ambassadors, a word in use from the thirteenth century, and like that of minister meaning servitor, were often called orators. Without speaking of numerous preachers and prelates, Italy had recourse to Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Machiavelli; Tasso was secretary of embassy; France employed Eustache Deschamps, the friend of Chaucer,12 Alain Chartier, “father of French eloquence”, using at the Renaissance the services of the famous humanist Bude as an ambassador, and of Ronsard and Joachim du Bellay as secretaries of embassy; England had for her envoys Chaucer, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir Philip Sidney;13 Scotland had Sir David Lindsay, and others of great fame.
Those missions were temporary ones; the custom of having permanent embassies spread greatly however toward the end of the fifteenth century; the increase was coeval with the establishment of permanent armies, the one being as the antidote of the other.
The idea of a family of nations had definitively failed; the father of the family had been unequal to the task; the great schism had shown a house divided against itself; worldly, military, political, interests had made it impossible for the popes to inspire in the conflicting nations, with one or the other of which they were themselves more or less in league, confidence in their impartiality; a new religion had sprung up, and there was no longer one Christianity but, as it seemed, several, each warring on the other.
That keen observer of the ways of the world, Erasmus, was staggered at the sight, and, writing in the early years of the sixteenth century his book of advice for the young prince who was to be the famous Emperor Charles V., he wondered how this retrogression could be possible among Christian nations: how can they try to destroy one another? “In both camps Christ is present, as if He were fighting against Himself.” How could the idea of a family of nations have fallen into such disregard? “Plato calls the fights between Greeks and Greeks sedition, not wars, and they should be conducted, he recommends, with great moderation. What shall we therefore call battles between Christians and Christians when they are bound together by such links?” Family ties are falling into disrespect and the world goes back to the time when the words foreigner and enemy meant one and the same thing: “Nowadays the Englishman hates the French, the Frenchman the English, for no other cause except that he is English.” The same with all the others. “How can it be that we are absurdly separated by those mere names, more than we are bound together by the name of Christ?”14
No hope, indeed, was left for a family of nations. In the ceaseless turmoil, with religious wars added to political ones, and armies overrunning France, Italy, Germany, whence could come any faint ray of hope for better and more peaceful days? There seemed to be no hope; writing in the latter part of the fourteenth century his famous Arbre des Batailles, Prior Honoré Bonet had already devoted one of his chapters to the question: “Is it a possible thing that naturally the world be in peace?” and the first sentence in the chapter was: “To this, I answer, No.”15 And it had gone since from bad to worse.
Having nowhere else to turn, many thought of those messengers of peace, and assuagers of quarrels, the public envoys; and then began to flourish that extraordinary literature of manuals to teach those men their duties, and to impress on them the sacredness and the quasi-sacerdotal character of a mission, the chief object of which was, of course, the service of their country, but moreover that of the peace and welfare of the whole world. Early expressed, this view was maintained for ages, the consequence being more and more strict requirements exacted from people on whose action so much depended. In the course of the fifteenth century, the French prelate Bernard du Rosier (Rosergius), archbishop of Toulouse, had written one of the first manuals for ambassadors, “grande hoc officium ne vilescat”.16 As late as the second half of the eighteenth century Lescalopier de Nourar wrote his, in order to show that, smoothed by negotiators, the road followed by mankind could “become the road to happiness. The welfare of nations is in the hands of ambassadors; their designs maintain calm or blow troubles. They arm or pacify nations”.17
Immense therefore was the responsibility of those men; immense the need that they be well chosen, well prepared for the task, and that they act properly. Never was, and no wonder, a public career the occasion of so many studies and guide-books, a rather puzzling collection, it is true, for the advice in it, sometimes contradictory, was always imperative, being ever justified by examples from the Bible and the almost equally indisputable practice of the ancients.
In the theories of an art so important for mankind nothing was neglected, from the physical appearance of the person to the most exalted of the religious and moral virtues. According to those experts, an ambassador should be, as far as possible, good-looking; a man who is lame, says the Greek scholar and former secretary of embassy, Dolet, whose remark does not indicate much kindheartedhess in his contemporaries, “is received with laughter”.18 Archbishop Germonius insists: “Beauty commends a man better than any letter”; remember that “David is called handsome by God”, and that one “could not be a Vestal if afflicted with any deformity”.19 Vera y Çuniga tolerates baldness, for the unanswerable reason that Caesar was bald, and there is nothing to show that this great general would not have been a great ambassador if he had tried.
Each is however wise enough to add that talent is after all the chief thing, and must be considered first in the selection of an ambassador. So much the better if he has good looks, if he is in, at least, “moderately easy circumstances”,20 and possesses “a well sounding name” (legatum bebe sonans nomen habere debet), but merit outranks all else; Cicero’s name was commonplace, ignobilis; none more famous. Actual merits are of more import than the deeds of our ancestors.21
According to nearly all, the envoy should be neither so old as to be inactive through ill-health or the number of his years, nor so young as to prove immature or inconsiderate.22 Vera wonders whether it would not be appropriate to send in some cases two ambassadors, an older one who would shine by his wisdom and a younger one by his sprightliness. The temper of the prince to whom the ambassador is sent should moreover be taken into account, for this as for the rest; it would never do, Hotman says with unimpeachable wisdom, to send a Protestant to the pope or a bishop to the Turk.
Written most of them at the time of the Renaissance or under its influence, those treatises want the ambassador to be very learned and supremely eloquent. He should be able to speak admirab1y, either in private or in public, the latter, says Hotman, being of importance especially “in popular states”, which continues indeed to be true. All insist on eloquence. The Italian jurist Maggi wishes his perfect ambassador to possess “supreme eloquence, the most splendid gift”, he says, “bestowed on mankind by immortal God”.23 No one, according to Tasso, who wrote on ambassadors a dialogue less famous than his Gerusalemme Liberata, “can be a perfect ambassador, who is not at the same time a good orator”, and for this reason the Romans had early called their envoys “orators”.24 For Vera, eloquence “is the most essential part of the ambassador”; Gentili has a whole chapter, “Legatus ut sit orator”.25 Some ambassadors of the period had among their personnel a professional orator to help them with their speeches.
The envoy must, however, be careful not to allow himself to be carried away by his own gift of speech. After having stated that “prudence and learning are of little avail, for an ambassador, without eloquence”, Braun, whose treatise is of 1548, says: “The name of eloquent we refuse however to the verbose, the irrepressible, the inconsiderate, the empty and insincere speakers, such as the courts of kings and princes are wont to produce and foster, who fill the lands and the seas with the vain sound of their words ... to them applies the saying of the Scriptures: the fool multiplies his words.” The really eloquent aptly fit their discourse to the occasion; “their words do not come from their lips but from their hearts.”26
Able to speak at length when there is need, the ambassador should by preference be brief.27 “His way of speaking”, Hotman says, “will be grave, brief and weighty, not interspersed with many quotations, as a master of arts would do, or with rare words, and antiquated: I have seen more than one fail through affectation.”28 He must attune himself to the people he addresses; to “pindarize” is not the way to touch the Swiss or the Dutch. He should prepare his public speeches with care, but never learn them by heart, for fear that, if a word escapes him, he might utterly break down.
As for knowledge, that of the ambassador, according to his most zealous teachers and well-wishers, should be boundless. Sir Thomas More’s Utopians had ambassadors and they selected them, as well as their priests, “oute of this ordre of the learned”.29 The envoy must be an indefatigable reader,30 else he is as sure to fail as a soldier who should be indifferent to physical exercise. History is to be, of course, his chief study; on this all agree, but this is only one item of the living encyclopedia he must be. Maggi wants him well versed in the Scriptures, in the art of dialectics, in the civil science, that is the government of states and cities, in natural history, astronomy, mathematics, geography, the military art, philosophy, for, as Plato has observed, the city will not be happy until philosophers reign or kings philosophize; he must know the lands and the seas and be a good musician; he should practise contemplation, for it is the source of action.
Maggi, who had painted his ambassador as his compatriots painted their glorified, godlike princes on the ceilings of their palaces, had gone so far that some protested, Hotman for instance, who reproaches him and his like for making of their diplomat “a theologian, astrologer, dialectician, excellent orator, learned as Aristotle and wise as Solomon”. But, while recalling that to be an expert de omni re scibili was, especially for a man in active life, an impossibility, critics might have acknowledged the fact, still a fact, that there is no kind of knowledge, science, or accomplishment that cannot happen to be of use in such a profession, and therefore as many as “nostra tam actuosa vita” allows us, to use Maggi’s words, should be acquired. I should have been greatly surprised, if I may quote a personal example, had any one told me, when in boyhood days I was swimming rivers and climbing rocks, that this “accomplishment” would be of service years later, when, an ambassador in far-off America, in order to keep company with the chief of the state, President Roosevelt, I swam the Potomac and climbed the quarries south of the stream. The same with contemplation; many may have experienced, as I often have, the good done by a solitary walk, in inspiring resolutions and rectifying judgments.
Even those however who did not go so far as Maggi, mapped out a wide enough plan of studies for their ambassadorial pupil. Hotman, for all his criticism, wants his envoy to know history, moral and political philosophy, foreign languages, Roman civil law, and generally speaking, to be addicted to letters, for such an intellectual training “teaches you how to talk and answer, to judge of the justice of a war, of the equity of all pretensions and requests ... how to weigh reasons and escape sophisms and subtilities”. If the appointee lacks that education, he must, even while in office, try to acquire as much of it as he can, “though, truth to say, it is rather late to begin digging a well when feeling thirsty.... He will especially avoid showing disdain for lettered people, but display consideration to men of learning and experience, who are cherished in all civilized states”.31 A just measure must be observed by him and he shall carefully abstain from imitating, says Wicquefort, “l’humeur contredisante” of pedants.32
Foreign languages were to be learned by the ambassador, in spite of the fact that he necessarily possessed Latin which was in early times the common language of all Christian nations, and French which had succeeded Latin, being spoken, says Rousseau de Chamoy, “by most princes and ministers with whom ambassadors of France have to deal”.33 It is nevertheless a great advantage to know the idiom of the country where you are, and the people are grateful to you for the effort. The idea however that English should be one of the languages to be learned never occurred to any one, and it does not, to my knowledge, appear in any list drawn then, of those to be studied. Besides Italian, Latin, Spanish, French, German, Maggi’s list includes Turkish, but not English. Even Callières’s list, which is of 1716, omits English.34
As to the moral virtues of the ambassador the manuals of the period are no less exacting than as to his learning. Was not the ambassador a kind of lay priest, with a sacred task and moral duties to fulfill, of interest for the whole of mankind? The Ruler of the world must guide him; piety must therefore be one of his basic qualities: on this all manuals agree. Bernard du Rosier draws, in the fifteenth century, a list of twenty-six virtues with which this pacificator of quarrels must be endowed: he is expected to be “veracious, upright, modest, temperate, discreet, kindly, honest, sober, just”, etc., etc.35 Ermolo Barbaro, in the same century, wants him to have “hands and eyes as pure as those of the priest officiating at the altar. Let him remember that he can do nothing more meritorious for the Republic than to lead an innocent and holy life”.36 The same views in the following centuries: “The ambassador,” says the friend of Ronsard, Bishop Pierre Danès, who had taught Greek at the Collège de France and represented the king at the Council of Trent, “must appear, in his private life, pious, just, and a friend of the common quiet”.37 Dolet wants him irreproachable in his morals even in countries where, immorality being widely practised, his conforming to the general custom would possibly be rather approved than blamed: “Virtutis studiosissimus habeatur”; avoiding however crabbedness: “summamque severiatatem summa cum humanitate jungat”.38 Hotman’s ambassador is to be above all an honest man, charitable to the poor, and trustworthy for all, “careful not to promise lightly, but religiously doing what he has once promised; for, of course, people are less offended by a refusal than by a perfidy”. Bragaccia wants him to possess every virtue, and devotes a separate chapter in his huge treatise to each virtue, recommending moreover to his envoy to appeal, in his difficulties, “first to God, the source of all good”.39 Let him be virtuous, says Germonius, who however, as we shall see, condones lying, “for there is nothing more lovable than virtue, nothing that better wins men’s love, so much so that we love, in a way, for their virtue and probity, even men whom we have never seen”.40
An anonymous Frenchman, of about 1600, desires the ambassador to show himself “a great observer and defender of his religion, of justice, and of the common weal”.41 Louis XIV. had observers to tell him whether his ambassadors went to mass every day, and one of them, Barrillon, accredited to England, got a severe remonstrance because he did not, and because he ‘had been seen talking with his neighbors during the service.42 This however was no longer piety, but, in an age of pomp, gold lace, wigs, and feathers, a show thereof.
Drinking, which, as one of the manuals recalls, is described by Seneca as “a voluntary madness”, is wrong and dangerous, but in some countries of central and northern Europe, indispensable; it is therefore regretfully allowed.
A fundamental virtue in an ambassador is punctuality. “The people of Troy sent their deputies to Tiberius, in order to offer him condolences on the death of his sons, seven or eight months after the event. ‘And I,’ said the emperor, ‘deeply regret the loss you sustained of Hector your good and valorous compatriot.’ At which all laughed for Hector had died several centuries before.”43
The good ambassador will watch over his words, never deride the country he is in nor disparage the prince to whom he is accredited; he must not “blame the form of a popular government”, much less will he venture any obloquy to the detriment of his own people: “Our country is our mother ... we must be as jealous of her honor as of our own.”44
Owing to the dangers accompanying certain missions, a temperament impervious to fear was held indispensable:
For which cause the Romans and other republics, well aware of the perilous character of legations, honored with a statue the memory of those who had died in fulfilling such missions. Hence the blunt reply of an Athenian ambassador to King Philip of Macedon who threatened him with having his head cut off: “If thou hast this head removed, my country will give me another which will be immortal, statuam pro capite; pro motto immortalitatem.”
It is not everybody however that would enjoy the change, and more than one would prefer keeping his own.45
Among the moral questions relating to the ambassadorial profession, none was more passionately discussed, for centuries in succession, than that of whether an ambassador should swerve from the truth, when his country’s good is at stake, that is, whether he should answer the definition of his calling humorously inscribed in the album of a German merchant at Augsburg, in 1604, by Sir Henry Wotton, when on his way to Venice as English ambassador: “Legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad mentiendum reipublicae causa”, a joke which, brought to the notice of a king who could never understand one, James I., caused the envoy to fall into temporary disgrace.46 Casuists, innumerable in those days, had a splendid field for the exercise of their ingenuity, and of their knowledge of precedents, classical authors, and the Bible.
For a few, there was no question: Salus populi, suprema lex; for fewer, there was no question: Super omnia veritas. Machiavelli cannot imagine that discussion be possible: when the country is at stake, the result only counts, and there is “no longer any question of just or unjust, merciful or cruel, praiseworthy or shameful”.47 For most, however, the question has to be discussed and, true casuists as they are, they first peremptorily state that an ambassador should never lie, for “lying is a mortal sin”; and then they add that, in certain circumstances, he must. They busy themselves thereupon to find the concord of this discord and their usual way consists, after having eloquently declared in favor of absolute truth, in adding a little but or a subtle distinguo.
Many save themselves by setting apart what they call officious lies, officiosa mendacia, by which they mean those caused by the function, officii causa:48 a sufficient justification even for an ambassador answering Wotton’s ironical definition.
Braun first rejects the officious lie, then admits it if no third party is to suffer. Tasso has also recourse to a distinguo.49 Gentili writes a treatise De Abusu Mendacii which is rather one De Usu, so numerous are the cases when lies are justifiable, according to his count, on the part of physicians, poets, historians, theologians, and politicians; an admirer of Machiavelli he agrees with him: the saving of the country is the supreme law.50 Paschalius declares decidedly against lying, adding however the usual but: “I want the ambassador to shine by truth, the best assured of virtues.... But I am not so boorishly exacting as to entirely close the lips of the envoy to officious lies.”51 For pompous, pedantic, retrograde Marselaer the ideal ambassador must be very noble by birth, very rich, and perfect at dissembling and lying; such is the rule of the game; it is necessary cum vulpe vulpinari.52 Bacon’s essay “On Truth” resembles that of Gentili, so much does it contain in favor of lies, a necessary alloy to the pure gold of truth: “A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure.” Truth absolute is “the honor of man’s nature”, but it must be admitted that a “mixture of falsehood is like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work better, but it embaseth it”.53
Vera and Bragaccia surpass all as casuists. According to the latter, “Pythagoras being asked when men most resembled the gods, answered, ‘when they speak truth’. And wisely to be sure, for there is nothing belonging so properly to God as truth.”54 He demonstrates, however, that “in case of urgency or for a good reason”, one may consent not to be so very godlike; there are moreover many ways to speak the truth without revealing it, “for example when you include the lesser in the greater, as one would say, when having ten crowns, that he has two”. It can scarcely be doubted that the officious lie, bugia officiosa, is a sin, but circumstances can attenuate the fault.
Vera is in no way inferior as a casuist. For him, “there is no end so honest that may cause a lie to be condoned, or may exempt the liar from mortal sin”. True it is that the people of a different opinion allege that inventions and artifices are indispensable antidotes against “the venom of a powerful enemy”, and are a means for transforming inequality into equality. They say also that “Nature, and God her maker, have endowed with ruse and shrewdness the animals which they have not armed with teeth and nails, so that the ones may compensate the others”. But this is a false doctrine, based on pagan authors and misinterpreted Bible. “The ambassador must avoid this path, and beware of causing the plans of his king to develop along such a line.”
We seem to be on firm ground, but we are not, for Vera now comes to the usual distinguo, and persuades himself that, “between those two extremes, that is to say to conduct business with downright falsehood or downright truthfulness, there can be found a midway which is the golden path of Horatius, and we shall move forth without falling into the abyss of evil, though swerving a little from the straight line of perfect purity”.55 Numerous examples follow, of people who, in old or recent times, acted thus and, according to Vera, deserved praise.
On dissembling, which is very near lying, Vera has no doubt, “Blamable in a private man, it is excusable in public business, since it is impossible to manage government affairs well if one is unable to dissemble and feign. This ability is acknowledged as the true attribute of kings, and it has been observed long ago that one who does not know how to feign is inapt to reign.”
To the credit of Hotman, chief spokesman of the early French school of diplomacy, it must be said that, while referring to the Bible and admitting that there are cases when a falsehood is unavoidable, he feels, at the thought, pangs of regret, which is very much to his honor. “To act thus is hard,” he says, “for a man of worth who does not care to wound his conscience in order to be considered clever; it is hard for a frank and generous soul who, in lying, strains his nature: and no wonder, since to lie and dissemble is an undoubted mark of a low-hearted and low-born individual.” There is however a difference between delusive words used to harm, or used to help, as happened when Abraham and Isaac declared that their wives were their sisters, which they did in order to save the honor of these women. And remembering the time when he was himself employed abroad, Hotman adds from personal experience:
There was no choice but to disguise to the Swiss Leagues, to Germany, England, and the other Protestant states and princes the folly of the Saint-Bartholomew; and I know some of those who were thus employed who would have willingly passed on this duty to cleverer-liars. But what? It was for the service of the king and to endeavor to shield our nation from a stain which however no water has been able to wash away since.56
The solution of the problem continued remote. Well within the seventeenth century appeared the characteristic work before mentioned, of Archbishop Germonius, whose authority in such matters was great, he being, at the same time, a prelate and an ambassador. After having demonstrated that “to lie is servile and cannot be tolerated even in a slave”; that “any lie is a sin”; that, according to Aristotle, “the penalty of the liar is that he will not be believed even when he speaks the truth”, the learned author bravely goes on to show that there is nevertheless a good deal to say in favor of lying: “What is not permitted by natural reason, is by civil reason; else princes and republics would often be upset and perish. In the same way as, among the laws of old, the most famous is, salus populi suprema lex esto, for the same reason, to an ambassador, the safety of the republic must be the supreme law.” Can we aspire to be wiser than the Greeks or the Romans? Asked by Neoptolemus whether it was shameful to lie, Ulysses answered: “Not at all if safety is to be the result.”57 Titus Livius praises Xenophanes “for having used the subterfuge of a lie”. No one blames physicians because they cheer their patients with false hopes.
In war, continues the archbishop, who obviously would have been favorable to “camouflaged” communiqués, untrue news may be indispensable to keep up the morale of troops.
How much greater and nobler, one may remonstrate, the peoples who need no such falsifications of the truth and whose force of resistance grows because they know that the peril is great and not because they fancy it to be small, the nations able to offer thanks even to a Varro for not having despaired of the Republic, or able to defend and save Verdun when the defense seemed hopeless. A “They shall not pass” from men of heart is worth any amount of sophisticated communiqués.
In defense of his system, Germonius appeals also to the Bible as being full of lies which “get there no condemnation, but praise”; a list follows of those of Abraham, “a man of worth, and very pleasing to God”, and of others. Jacob’s lie when securing for himself Esau’s birthright was worse than one in words, being one in action, “unless we believe with Saint Augustine that we are not confronted with a lie, but with a mystery”.58 We may accept such an interpretation if we please, but cannot be prevented from remembering besides that we have each of us, within ourselves, a guide, also God-inspired, called conscience.
Corruption, the use of spies, a good deal of intriguing, were admired as necessities. And then the question arose: Is an ambassador justified in wrong-doing if he is so ordered by his master? Is it permissible for him to interfere in local politics to the detriment of the local sovereign? Tasso bluntly answers: “If the prince orders something unjust”, the envoy must try to open his eyes, and if he fails, must obey: “Egli altro non può facere, ch’essequir il commendamento del Prencipe.” Vera thinks it is a pity, but decides in the same fashion, and saves the ambassadors possible doubts by some new sample of his ever ready casuistry: the envoy should discard all scruples, saying to himself that, after all, what he is aiming at is not primarily the destruction of the prince to whom he is accredited, but the salvation of his own:
And if it happened that the advantage procured by the ambassador to his master should result in damage to the other prince, it would be enough for the ambassador to have no load on his conscience, that his object and intention were only to protect his own prince against dangers threatening him; the more so that accidents cannot be prevented.59
But there were, even in those days, some men with a stricter conscience who would answer such questions with a no, the same Hotman foremost among them. The ambassador should, according to him, entirely abstain from intrigues hurtful to the country where he is:
What, however, if he is commanded to act otherwise? ... Will he be allowed to excuse himself, to judge of the justice of his master’s intentions and of the equity of his commands? Does it belong to him to penetrate the secret or control the will of his prince? Here the man of worth will once more find himself greatly embarrassed.... The solution of the problem seems to me to be the same as that adopted by philosophers, jurists, and theologians concerning the obedience due by the son to his father, the slave to his master, the subject to his prince, and the vassal to his liege lord: for all agree that this obedience does not cover what is of God, of nature, and of reason. Well, to lie, mislead, betray, to attempt a sovereign prince’s life, to foster revolt among his subjects, to steal from him or trouble his state, even in peace-time and under cover of friendship and alliance, is directly against the command of God, against the law of nature and of nations; it is to break that public faith without which human society and, in truth, the general order of the world would dissolve. And the ambassador who seconds his master’s views in such a business doubly sins, because he both helps him in the undertaking and performing of a bad deed, and neglects to counsel him better, when he is bound to do so by his function which carries with it the quality of councillor of state for the duration of his mission, even if he had not had the honor of being previously received as a councillor.60
With a number of fighting bishops along the Rhine (“Bishops’ Street”, the valley was familiarly called), with the omnipresent but often nebulous pretensions of an elective emperor and an elective pope, with an elective king in Poland, with innumerable princelings in Germany and Italy, accessible to many reasons with which reason had little to do, intrigue had an immense field. An infinity of tiny states had an infinity of petty ambitions, petty wars, petty pacifications; greater states played some of the smaller ones against the others, the more efficaciously that these diminutive countries could, according to the ideas of the time, be parcelled out, sold, given away, serve as the pledge for a loan or the portion of a princess, without the inhabitants being any more consulted than their own cattle. The fate of flocks of men and of a number of countries had been changed by such marriages as that of Eleanora of Aquitania to the future Henry II. Plantagenet, or Mary of Burgundy, only daughter of Charles the Bold, to Maximilian, the future emperor. Cardinal Wolsey had however found means to make sure of preserving an even mind in the quarrels between Francis I. and Charles V. by accepting pensions from both.
In the hope of winning the help of a nation in a great war, pensions were offered to her ministers, sometimes to her king, rich jewels to the mistress of the king, and the whole court would be in ecstasies as to the good taste and generosity of the sender. The ministers would not only accept but occasionally insist on an increase, for having so well betrayed their country. “Money,” says Hotman, “opens the most secret cabinets of princes.” Rousseau de Chamoy recommends that “gratifications” be adroitly offered to the foreign commissioners with whom the ambassador has to negotiate a treaty, but deplores that the French neglect too much this means of success.61
Presents were constantly on the move, between monarchs, ministers, ambassadors, members of public assemblies, etc., and it was no easy matter to discern where courtesy stopped and corruption began. Venice, as we have seen, solved the problem by obliging her ambassadors to hand to the public treasury the gifts received by them in foreign countries. Parsimonious Bishop Danès advises ambassadors to provision themselves, before starting, with “objects of small value, but rare and therefore greatly esteemed where they go”; and we know that Regnault Girard, sent to Scotland in 1434 to fetch Princess Margaret, the betrothed of the future king of France, Louis XI., had brought as presents “a gentle mule”, considered “a very strange beast, because they have none there, six barrels of wine and three of chestnuts, pears, and apples, for there is little fruit in Scotland”.62 But you could not win thus the good will of a royal mistress, and the presents sent by Louis XIV. to a Duchess of Cleveland or a Duchess of Portsmouth were not of so homely a nature; the ladies themselves were not of a homely nature.
The question was again one in which casuists could give free play to their distinguos. Vera and others are thus able to both exclude and admit presents.63 Most manuals however specify that no ambassador should consent to receive any except with the assent of his prince, or when he leaves the country: “An effect of his abstemiousness,” says Hotman, “will be his refusal, to accept any gifts or presents, either from the prince to whom he is sent or from any of his people for any cause whatsoever, unless, having already taken leave, he is about to mount his horse.” Many princes regretfully spent large sums at those partings but considered it a kind, as is now said, of “propaganda”, useful for their good fame and glory.64 “The custom is,” says Rousseau de Chamoy, “that, on such occasions, the prince give, as a present to the ambassador, his portrait set in diamonds or some similar object, and that he cause to be sent to his secretary a golden chain with his medal or something else.”65 This use was so well established that when the American republic was founded it was considered indispensable to submit to it, and George Washington bestowed on foreign envoys as they left the country a golden chain with a medal, choosing however to send to the French representative a heavier one than to the others. To that extent at any rate did the great man practise secret diplomacy.
Portraits continue to be given in our days, but consisting in signed photographs, a great improvement and leaving no room for casuistry; they are accompanied however in most countries with a decoration, a more debatable practice.
Endowed, as much as nature and study would allow, with so many accomplishments, political, moral, or literary, having bought expensive carriages, liveries, and plate, secured, as best he could, trustworthy secretaries and “chiffreurs”66 and very numerous servants, selected, some for their “taciturnity” and others for their ability to play the part of semi-spies, but of otherwise good morals,67 the ambassador would enter his coach or mount his horse (Eustache Deschamps complains that his “sits on its knees”, out of fatigue, on the long road from Paris to Prague) and start on his mission.
The manuals keep their eyes on him and flood him with advice. How should he behave when he arrives? Whom should he see first? Ought ladies to be the object of his attention? Yes, says Pecquet, provided he does not fall in love with them. What should be his table, his expenses, the style and subject of his despatches, the ceremonial and rules of precedence he should observe? Must he be secretive? Yes, the wiser manuals answer on this last point, but within due limits. They do not back Ben Jonson’s advice to Politick Would-bes:
First for your garb, it must be grave and serious,
Very reserv’d and lock’d; not tell a secret
On any terms, not to your father, scarce
A fable, but with caution.68
The question of precedence, being of immense importance in those days, gets of course ample attention.69 For questions of precedence, which were supposed to imply the rank and dignity of their country, people would risk their lives and sometimes lose them, the rivalry as is well known being especially keen between France and Spain. The “most Christian” kings of France, anointed with the miraculous oil at Rheims, considered themselves as without a peer. Their right had been recognized at the meeting of more than one council, that of Constance among others in 1434. “And not without cause,” wrote Claude de Seissel in 1558, “did the king of the Romans, Maximilian, playfully say more than once that if he were God and had several children, he would make the eldest God after him, but the second he would make him king of France.”70 The quarrel nevertheless continued more and more fierce, until the terrible d’Estrades incident occurred, when for a question of precedence between two ambassadorial carriages several people remained dead on the London pavement, a general war was with difficulty averted, and the “Catholic King” had to definitively admit the pretension of his “most Christian” but very unyielding brother, young Louis XIV.71
The ambassador must be liberal in his expenses, but not extravagant; certain envoys have so behaved that it seemed as though they wanted to outshine the greatest of the land where they lived; they have thus displeased the very people they wanted to conciliate. A sense of measure is an important item in the art of diplomacy, and is of value whatever the occasion. For selecting the chief objects of expense, account must be taken of local tastes: “The expenditure of the house must be well regulated, yet splendid in every respect, chiefly for the table and cooking, to which foreigners, especially those of the North, pay more attention than to any other item. In Spain and Italy the table is frugal; but one must shine there in the matter of horses, carriages, garments, and followers.”72
Now for the ambassador’s actual functions, his raison d’être. They are, as we have seen, of the highest a man can be honored with. Whatever the circumstances and the temptations, he should never forget what the paramount duty of an ambassador consists in, which is to “zealously act in such fashion that he be rather the maker of peace and concord than of discord and of war”.73 His task will be comparatively easy if he is personally trustworthy and if he represents a nation which also can be trusted: hence the constant recommendations to keep promises; one of the elements of Louis XIV.’s power in Europe was that, with all which now appears to us as blemishes on his politics, he kept his promises more faithfully than any monarch of his time.
The untrustworthiness of many envoys, whose word was empty and promises meant nothing, whose conscience was as pliable as casuists would have it, and whose very presence was a danger for the state, had retarded, in the fifteenth century, the progress of the institution. Several kings, among them Henry VII. of England, were averse to receiving any. Philippe de Commines the historian, who had himself been an ambassador (e.g., to Lorenzo de’ Medici), has strong words on the subject: “’Tis not too safe a thing, those constant goings and comings of embassies, for very often bad things are treated of by them; yet the sending and receiving of them cannot be avoided.” What is the remedy? some will ask; others might give a better answer,
As for me, this I would do. Ambassadors who come from true friends and not to be suspected, I deem that they should be well treated and be granted permission to see the prince pretty often, taking however into account what the prince himself actually is; I mean if he be wise and honest; for when he is otherwise, the least shown the better. And when he is shown, let him be well dressed and well informed of what he ought to say, and let him not stay long. [If, on the other hand, ambassadors come from princes filled with a perpetual hatred,] as I have seen it among those many of whom I have spoken before, there is, I think, no safety in their coming. They must however be well and honorably treated; they should be met on their arrival, comfortably lodged, and safe and sensible people should be ordered to accompany them; which is both safe and honest, for thus one knows who is about them, and light-headed and discontented men are prevented from giving them news, for in no house is everybody content.
They must be well feasted, offered presents, promptly heard, and sent back, “for it is a very bad thing to keep one’s enemies in one’s house”. In the meantime a continuous watch ought to be kept, night and day, to know whom they see. “And for one messenger or ambassador that would be sent to me I would send two.... Some will say that your enemy will take pride on it. I do not care, for thus I shall get more news of him.”74
The ambassador knows from his instructions what he has to do, and if he has followed the wise advice to men of his calling, given in 1436 by Archbishop Bernard du Rosier, he must have verified, before leaving, that they were perfectly clear and straightforward, whether expressed verbally or in writing.75 Being moreover an ambassador, and present on the spot, powers of appreciation are left him; he may have lights that his sender had not, and he must, under his responsibility, follow them; which is just as true today as in the past centuries, and which I, for one, had to put more than once into practice during the Great War. Danès,76 Montaigne, Tasso,77 Hotman, Wicquefort, Rousseau, all agree. “It should be noted,” says Montaigne, who wrote no treatise about ambassadors, but who, interested in all kinds of men and things, has a variety of observations to make about them:
It should be noted that unswerving obedience fits only with precise and peremptory commands. Ambassadors have somewhat freer duties the fulfilling of which, in several respects, entirely depends on their own dispositions. They do not simply execute, but form also and direct by their own advice the will of their masters. I have seen in my day people in authority blamed for having rather obeyed the words in the king’s letters than the dictates of the affairs in the midst of which they themselves were.
Hotman, shortly after, wrote
that a number of things must be left to the discretion of a prudent ambassador without thus tying his tongue and hands. Mitte sapientem, nihil dicito. But when he has played the part of a man of worth, ’tis ill done to repay him with a disavowal; and such princes do not deserve to be served by people of worth, especially when these have done for the best. Industry and diligence are of ourselves; a successful issue is of heaven.78
The same views in Rousseau de Chamoy a century later:
As he is bound to know the interests of his master, he may and must make up his mind (without waiting for instructions) in accordance with events, and those are the occasions when the clever and true negotiator distinguishes himself from the common man and the ordinary minister of no parts.79
In negotiating the ambassador will be careful not to be brusque, haughty, arrogant:
Prudence demands [said, in early days, Bishop Danès,] that he listen with gentleness and modesty to the reasons of others, without being enamored of his own nor too absolute in his opinion. When one has to contradict somebody else’s advice in a conference, be the cause one sustains ever so good and well justified, the words must be tempered in such a way that none may remain offended at the opposition, but that everybody, on the contrary, may notice the respect felt by the contradictor for the company. One must yield sometimes out of complaisance, and then avail himself of the next colloquy to amicably bring back the others to the cause of justice.80
Having to keep his government well informed, the ambassador will neglect no opportunity in order to be himself aware of what goes on, and since nothing in the world stands quite apart, and everything has ramifications everywhere, he must be able to establish comparisons. Early written books advised him to keep up therefore a constant correspondence with the other ambassadors of his country in different lands, having if need be a special code to exchange confidential views with them. He must also take care to keep well posted on what happens threatens to happen in his own country, counting for this, less on the secretary of state, often very remiss in that respect, than on some friends or even on paid informers, “not grudging two or three hundred crowns for this, if need be”. He will thus be able to counteract enemy propaganda (the thing, not the word, being in use at an early date), especially hurtful to his own country in war time.81
If he uses spies, as was then the custom, he is to be very much on his guard. In order to get pay, rascally fellows will bring him thrilling news in abundance, even when there is no news; being moreover men of no conscience they will never hesitate to betray one paymaster to the advantage of another and to their own profit. No account should therefore be taken of their statements, unless it be possible to control them.
The importance of being well informed is such that Rousseau de Chamoy goes the length, alone then of his kind, of recommending the ambassador to read, would you believe it? “the gazettes”. The news they give is, to be sure, abundantly false, but it may chance that some be true, though rather difficult to distinguish from the imaginary; nothing however should be neglected; false news has moreover its advantage, in “evidencing the spirit of partiality in the place where it is devised”.82
But above all the ambassador must study the country where he is, and do so personally, see people of all ranks, talk with them, understand the trend of opinion and discover the various forces at play there. The task is not so easy for French ambassadors abroad as for foreign ambassadors in France: “Everything, in France, is bared to the curiosity of foreigners, partly owing to the natural freedom with which we speak of every subject, partly because of the factions in the state and the divisions in religious matters which have torn France for the last forty years.”83 This was written in 1603.
The ambassador’s despatches will convey to his government all the information he can gather. Must he also send data which are sure to displease and irritate his own prince, playing the unwelcome part of the carrier of bad news? Without doubt he must, sternly answers Bishop Danès:
Hold it as a maxim that displeasing things must be sent as well as pleasing ones, and the prince, in the end, if he is a man of wisdom and understanding, will be better satisfied with the ambassador who will not have concealed from him any item he may have learnt where he is stationed, than with the one who, to spare him annoyance, will have abstained from writing unpleasant things (des choses facheuses), but which it would have been of interest for him to know in time.80
Hotman agrees, adding one proviso, however, that is: except when the conveying of such information can only cause useless irritation and diminish the chances of that good understanding between nations, which is, as we have seen, the chief object of diplomacy. If however any untoward incident has been public the ambassador has no choice:
The matter would be different if, in full council of the prince, or in the pulpit by preachers, or on the stage by comedians,85 or by writings or lampoons, the ambassador saw his master’s house defamed, for then he must send the information at once and crave justice and reparation from those who owe it, using however moderation not to make the harm greater than it is, for the case is similar to that of ladies who often by over-defending their honor render it more suspected and doubtful.
The lady, Shakespeare thought, should not protest too much.
Doubts as to the sending of the whole truth scarcely exist at all nowadays, especially in democratic countries, but still linger in some others. A change of foreign minister having happened in an imperial country some years ago, I was asked by that country’s ambassador for information as to the new man, who happened to be unknown to him but well known to me. I made, in general terms, a polite answer. “But that is not what I want,” the other said, “Is he a man to speak the truth to the Emperor?” The only answer I could conspicuously return was, “Yes, if it is agreeable.”
The ambassador, according to the manuals, will avoid giving room in his letters to trifling incidents, piquant as they may be, to news of the amours of the court ladies, to the quarrels of their admirers, and similar subjects, though in great demand on the part of certain princes and their fair friends “who want to know everything”. The best, if he can not avoid writing on these “frivolous topics, just fit to amuse idle persons”, is to treat of them in “separate letters which, since they would not deal with what is the business of the office, would not have to be submitted to the council and read there”. This advice was followed later by the ambassadors to England of Louis XIV., who, though no “idle person”, greatly relished full accounts of what was going on, in the way of loves and scandals, at the court of his royal brother the merry monarch Charles II. Separate sheets added to the official correspondence, and of which many remain in our foreign archives, kept him informed.
In his style the envoy will imitate good models, who differ according to the periods and countries: French, Italian, or Spanish, d’Ossat, du Perron, Mazarin, Bellièvre, d’Estrades, the Spaniard Saavedra, the texts collected by Vittorio Siri, and, for a wonder, one Englishman, but at a late date, and in a translation, “le Chevalier Temple”.86
The despatches will be “grave, brief, compressed, containing much in a few words, drawn in terms rather plain than far-fetched, seasoned but only seldom with traits and maxims. For the better intelligence of the facts, it would be appropriate that each question be dealt with in a separate letter, according to the example of Monsieur de Villeroy”. The report might else seem “grotesque”, that is to say like the artificial grottoes so much the fashion in those days, “a patchwork made of different pieces”.87
Thus admonished, garnering information, remembering precedents, studying the approved models of the art, looking splendid in their silks, laces, and embroideries, assisted by the renown of their cook in the North and of their horses in the South, now obeying, now guiding circumstances, and displaying talents sometimes of the highest order, ambassadors worked for two centuries at the establishment in Europe of the system which gradually replaced the family of Christian nations, namely that of the, not yet so called, balance of power. The first had for its basis a hard-to-realize brotherly love; the second, more practical, was grounded on safety. The moment one power, be it the house of Austria, the house of France, or that of Spain, became so strong that it might dominate all the others if it chose, these others, by instinct or treaty, united together for the preservation of equilibrium. The establishment and maintenance of this order of things, which rendered great service, and which though much abused and held antiquated is not yet dead, gave occasion to innumerable negotiations and treaties in which envoys could show whether they answered the requirements of the manuals. They have a right to be judged by the outcome, and it is a fact that some of the treaties negotiated by them, those of Westphalia or of Utrecht for example, count among the great events in the history of mankind.
Important results and a wider practice having permitted the guiding principles of the profession to be better tested, manuals appeared in the eighteenth century in which former-day advice was filtered, exaggerations were pruned off, and new pictures were drawn of what a modern ambassador should be. The best of those portraits are so carefully devised as to be worthy of attention even now and doubtless in after time. The most characteristic trait in them is increasing austerity.
Visible already in Rousseau de Chamoy, 1697, the change is much more striking in such manuals as those of Callières, a member of the French Academy and a former ambassador, 1716, and Pecquet, a clerk in the French foreign office, 1737, especially the latter, by far the best. Without neglecting the gifts of the mind necessary for an ambassador, these two writers give an unwonted place to the qualities of his heart: we are moving further and further away from Machiavelli. “It is not enough,” according to Callières, “in order to make a good negotiator, that he have all the dexterity and the other fine gifts of the intellect; it is necessary for him to possess also those resulting from the sentiments of the heart; there exists no function needing more elevation and nobility in conduct.” One who enters this profession without disinterestedness and who wants “to promote other interests than those consisting in the glory of having succeeded ... is sure to play in it the part of a very mediocre individual and if any important negotiation happens to succeed in his hands the result should be attributed only to some happy chance that cleared for him all difficulties”. Pomp, gold lace, embroideries, great wealth, ancient lineage, are but secondary matters: “There are temporary embassies for mere ostentation, for the fulfilling of which nothing is needed but a great name and much wealth, like those for the ceremony of a marriage or a baptism.... But when affairs have to be negotiated, a man is needed, not an idol.”88
Callières’s ambassador must have travelled abroad and studied foreign nations, “but not in the fashion of our young men who, on leaving the academy or the college, go to Rome to see fine palaces, gardens, and the remains of some ancient buildings, or to Venice to see the opera and the courtesans; they ought to travel when a little older and better able to meditate and to study the form of government of each country”.
Agreeing with his predecessors, Callières wants the envoy’s learning to be considerable, on condition however that he be not crushed by it, or make of it his chief occupation. It is appropriate that “negotiators should have a general knowledge of the sciences sufficient to enlighten their understanding, but they must possess it and not be possessed by it, that is to say that they must not make more of the sciences than they are worth for their profession, but see in them only a means to become wiser and cleverer; abstaining from pride and from showing scorn for those less well informed”. They should moreover not give too much time to those studies. “A man who has entered public employ must consider that his duty is to act and not to remain too long closeted in his study; his chief work must be to learn what goes on among the living rather than what went on among the dead.”89
In the way of austerity Pecquet90 is stricter than all. The aims of true diplomacy are so high, the responsibilities so great, that such a calling has a sacred character; for him, more even than for the mentors of early days, it is a kind of apostleship, and in the same way as for other sacred vocations, a severe mental and especially moral training, to be begun in boyhood, is indispensable. Fathers of families are guilty in not understanding these truths and in abstaining from a timely preparation of their sons for such a service. The result is that the French do not succeed in it as they should:
Though desirous of avoiding a partiality which every writer should eschew, it is certain that our nation produces a large number of bright minds who join to attractive parts great sagacity; but these natural talents are obscured by faults born of inapplication or are devoted to objects entirely foreign to the profession of the negotiator. I do not speak thus out of an undue predilection for a profession which, I confess, is dear to me, I only speak as a citizen. I have always considered it shameful and hurtful for my country that the lack of preparation and an unjust prejudice on the part of fathers of family leave us inferior in this to other nations who give us very different examples.
Think how important is such a calling “which prepares those great events whose éclat strikes the eye”, war, peace, conciliation, alliances. “The fate of his country is in the hands of the negotiator”; his functions are of the most difficult, for “all in them is, so to say, conjectural”, and requires deeper thought than “matters offering fixed and demonstrated points”.
Just therefore as for the Church, the prentice ambassador, “if he is to become superior, should be prepared from childhood for those important functions. His studies, his amusements too, must have no other object; he must ceaselessly labor to form his judgment, accustom himself early to get clear ideas on every matter, and to fill his mind with principles capable of guiding him as infallibly as possible in every juncture”. He thus should, when studying history, even modern history which will be the chief subject of his attention and offers so many burning problems, try to remain impartial: “Since every country has taken part in public events, it is only too usual, while reading, to favorably judge one’s own nation and feel a passion for her to the detriment of the others.” From such prejudices may flow “consequences of no small importance”.91 It is never an advantage, when walking, to be blindfolded.
Former writers had drawn up, as we have seen, interminable lists of the accomplishments necessary for an ambassador. Pecquet, without forgetting the study of foreign languages, in spite of “ours having become in a way that of all Europe”,92 offers to ambassadors a no less impressive list of the moral qualities indispensable to any worthy member of this, in his eyes, quasi-holy profession. The ambassador he approves of is fair and moderate in his judgments, avoids vain fits of enthusiasm or hatred, is careful not to “confuse nervousness (inquiétude d’esprit) with activity”, is patient and plucky, never feels disheartened.
While neglecting nothing of what may secure the success of an undertaking, all the obstacles should be considered coolly, a firm stand being taken against those sometimes encountered at every step. The ambassador must never be discouraged, but feel satisfied when he has done all that accords with humanity, and, above all, keep no ill humor nor prejudice against the people who put obstacles in his path; they do nothing else, in many cases, than what we should have done if we had been in their place.
Personal modesty should be practised,
Being not incompatible with the dignity attached to the representative character of the ambassador; without this, it is hard to please men. All the moments in the life of an envoy do not require that he be hampered by his professional character; he would become a burden to himself and to the others.... The honors accorded to the representative character are easily mistaken by the one who enjoys them as a personal homage.... The fault is frequent with beginners; they fancy they have become new men; they consider themselves as actual princes, they exact everything, and think they are dispensed from everything, the language soon accords with the attitude, and the name of dignity is given to what is nothing but pride and self-sufficiency.93
Disinterestedness is of the highest importance; not only presents will always be refused, even when allowed by custom and by one’s government, but no ambition of wealth or profit of any sort can be tolerated in an ambassador, except that of properly serving his country. Let all those who entertain other desires besides, look elsewhere; in “a profession so important”, those desires are the sign of a great risk that should be avoided at all cost, the risk of a “corruption of the heart”. This exclusion is applied even to rewards from one’s own country, which may come or not, the thing is of no importance; one should never work in view of them:
It is good to be able to say to one’s self that, with a pure heart and innocent hands, one deserved to be well treated. It is in itself a recompense, to be worthy of one. Let us moreover agree that every man owes himself to the service of his country without having any title to exact rewards. We are born in a country and partake in her glory, splendor, and safety; we owe to her the goods and fortune inherited from our fathers; we therefore owe a service to her of one sort or another.... If men were well penetrated with these principles they would take the habit of not serving their mother country as mercenaries.94
Military service for all, with no pay, as established later in France, is in essence in these remarks.
The tendency was decidedly toward austerity. The ambassador is to be the more exacting toward himself that he is so much in view and so many people have an interest in finding out his faults and foibles and taking advantage of them against him. Even when he has no choice and must needs follow custom he should not be the dupe of it. He will have a sumptuous establishment, “and yield to this folly since the opinion of men has made it a consequence of his representative character”; but he will remember that it is a folly. He will become acquainted with all sorts of people, especially in republican states where the sovereignty belongs to all, but be careful to keep absolutely aloof from internal politics and avoid taking sides with one party or another, especially, again, in republican states. “This care to seek out everybody, this kind of popularity, must not be accompanied by anything that might lead people to suppose that the envoy is endeavoring to enter into the detail of domestic affairs, which he should not, or profit of the multiplicity of the members composing the sovereignty, to sow division among them.” He would become at once suspected. “The republican spirit, or spirit of liberty, which liberty, to be solid, must rest on internal union, ever leads all the other affections to this rallying point.” The envoy who forgets those truths becomes useless to his government in the country where he is and in all others.95
There may be cases, to be sure, when the right course will be difficult to discern. The heart then will decide: “The heart it is that causes us to make a good or a bad use of the qualities of the mind.”
Needless to say that on all questions of sincerity and truthfulness, Pecquet is absolutely positive. No casuistry with him, no room for “Faux-Semblant”. Not in vain had Pascal in his Provinciales passed sentence on easy-going casuistry, nor Molière said by the mouth of Alceste:
Je veux qu’on soit sincère et qu’en homme d’honneur
On ne lâche aucun mot qui ne parte du coeur.
At that date the cause of truth had been won; Rousseau de Chamoy, in 1697, had been equally positive there was “no quality more important for an ambassador than probity.”96 Bayle in his great Dictionnaire Historique has nothing but scorn for dissembling ambassadors;97 De la Sarraz du Franquesnay, Lescalopier de Nourar, at a later date, fully agree. “We must recognize,” says the first, “that, generally speaking, bad faith is destructive of society ... cunning and guile are of no avail to those who use them.”98 “Cunning,” says the second (an optimist it is true, according to whom the “detention of a king or an attempt on his sacred person had become impossibilities”; and he was writing in 1763), “has been banished from politics.”99
The ambassador, according to Pecquet, will offer in his despatches nothing but unalloyed truth, and the desire to please his master will never induce him to color it falsely:
The most essential care of the envoy should be exactitude in the facts he reports; he must neither weaken them nor change their hue, but distinctly state which are in his eyes certain, and which doubtful.... He must not flatter his master by his selection of the facts he narrates or by his way of narrating them. The object of his mission is not to lead his chief astray but to enlighten him.
The judgments of certain men are biassed by personal considerations; nothing can be worse in an ambassador:
It often happens that an envoy who does not believe himself well enough treated or enough considered in a court, poisons the simplest things. In other cases, if he sees that a disposition to a good understanding does not subsist between the prince he serves and the one to whom he is accredited, he thinks he pays his court to the former by embittering everything and giving violent advice. [The duty of a negotiator is] to make a complete abstraction of his own person.100
The use of spies is utterly contemptible. The envoy should have recourse, for information, not to traitors, but, what is a little more difficult, to his own brains. “The other means, consisting in keeping paid spies and corrupting men in a position to know, cannot be considered praiseworthy or honorable. Most people, as is well known, have no scruples in using this means and they hope that their master will consider it a merit in them.” Their merit however is nil, gold does all. “One would perhaps risk being stoned, in the political world, if one wanted to positively forbid all recourse to such sources of information, but at least let the use thereof be restricted to occasions when every other means fails.” There is little to choose between the scorn due to the seduced and that due to the seducer. Add moreover, from the practical point of view, that there is never any safety in using a traitor.101
The question of falsehoods pro bono publico does not exist for Pecquet: none can ever be allowed. A man is not bound to say all he knows, but he must never speak an untruth. “It has often been the stumbling-block of many negotiators,” he says, “to have ignored or have wanted to ignore that one can, without the help of falsehood, well serve one’s master and one’s country.” He does not even admit the political definition of a lie which I recently heard given by a man of note: “A lie consists in not speaking the truth to one who has a right to know it.” It is, he considers, a question of the heart, and we have seen the part reserved to the heart in the new manuals written in the century of sentiment and sensibility, the century of Richardson, Rousseau, Bernardin de St. Pierre:
The qualities of the heart in every profession, and especially that of the negotiator, are the most important. His success chiefly depends upon the confidence he inspires; sentiments of candor, truth, and probity are indispensable to him. One may seduce men by the brilliancy of one’s talents, but if these are not guided by probity, they become useless and even dangerous instruments. Men do not forgive having been deceived.
Nothing built on falsehood has any duration; events are not long in bringing truth to light. “We are persuaded that there remains to day none of those princes who prided themselves on cleverly deceiving others. There is nothing a man jealous of his reputation must avoid more carefully than missions contrary to probity.”102
When the mission of an ambassador comes to an end, his duties continue. The knowledge he has acquired belongs not to him but to his government, he must sum it up in a general report which will instruct those who sent him; he will not publish it for fear of hurting the interests of his own country. “The public, usually curious, without any advantage for the state, will possibly see in this reserve nothing but ridiculous scruple and useless secrecy, instead of respecting a discretion inspired by probity and the love of the state.” The envoy must not yield, but resist an inducement the more dangerous “that self-love and a desire to shine may cause him to find a certain satisfaction in falling into this kind of temptation”.
Like the man who has once pronounced perpetual vows, Pecquet’s ambassador, when he has returned home, will not become indolent; he may be wanted again by his country. “An envoy must consider himself, even in his moments of rest, as consecrated forever to a special service, the obligations of which should be ever present to his mind, be the object of his studies, and serve as a rule of conduct in his conversations and actions.”103
Most of the principles propounded by modest and now forgotten Pecquet have been justified by events. The most terrible revolutions, the most cruel wars mankind has ever seen, have one after the other proclaimed to the world, as the moral of their tale of destruction and slaughter: Falsehood and cruelty do not pay.
They will more and more, and in louder tones, proclaim the same dogma. That mankind progresses does not, for sincere observers, allow the possibility of a doubt. Old Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, the translator of Aristotle, used to say to me years ago when he was our foreign minister: “The proof that good prevails over evil in the society of men is that this society still exists.” Certain it is, therefore, that honorable ways of acting will increasingly be the only ones admired; the others will be rejected, and, if resorted to, will entail such punishment as to more and more efficiently prevent their use. The ideas of Pecquet will triumph, and those of Germonius be defeated.
In spite of whatever set-backs, let us keep our faith. Set-backs may occur in the future; the most appalling ones are of yesterday, when some peoples were seen following the wrong road, re-enacting and obeying a gospel of force, of inequality among nations, of the weaker, because weaker, having to obey the stronger, of the end justifying the means whatever the end and whatever the means, proclaiming as their guiding principle that of wolves and ravens, that necessity has no law, persuaded that, hand in hand, force and falsehood were sure to triumph, and relying so much on them that when they wanted to start that “fresh and joyous war”, which was to result in the agonizing death of millions of brave and useful citizens, yours, ours, theirs, they did not even take the trouble to devise probable stories, but declared war on France because she had bombarded Nuremberg. Had she indeed?
What was retrogression, they called progress, forgetting that, as John Morley observed, “the law of things is that they who tamper with veracity, from whatever motives, are tampering with the vital force of human progress”.104 The moral of the tale is there, however. Men and nations obeying different tenets have been powerful men and nations—for a time; rising, but only unde altior esset casus.
No one would now relate as a fine trait to the credit of a great man what Moritz Busch admiringly reports of Bismarck’s instructions to him when the memoirs of the Emperor Frederick began to appear in the Deutsche Rundschau: “I myself consider the diary even more genuine than you do,” said Bismarck to his trusty confidant; nevertheless, “first assert it to be a forgery, and express indignation at such a calumny upon the noble dead. Then, when they prove it to be genuine, refute the errors and foolish ideas which it contains, but cautiously.”105 The trusty confidant made this public in order to increase the admiration of his compatriots for their great man.
The day for such things has gone by, we hope; evidence is growing that the rules of honesty cannot be of one sort for ordinary men and of another for powerful ones or for nations. “I know but one code of morality for men,” Jefferson had written to Madison, at an earlier date, Paris, August 28, 1789, “whether acting singly or collectively. He who says, I will be a rogue when I act in company with a hundred others, but an honest man when I act alone, will be believed in the former assertion but not in the latter.” The code of Jefferson will more and more triumph and that of Bismarck be more and more contemned.
In their sorrow for the past, their anxiety for the future, honest nations have recently been considering what could be tried to prevent the recurrence of catastrophes and to secure the safety of even the smaller among them. And, as in the time of the barbaric invasions of yore which had so greatly contributed to the attempted formation of a family of Christian peoples, with an ever ready pacific judge and umpire, they bethought themselves of that organism which we now see struggling for a useful existence, the League or Society of Nations, with its permanent tribunal.106 No Perdita ever had a stormier infancy than the new being,
Thou ’rt like to have
A lullaby too rough: I never saw
The heavens so dim by day.
The mere fact however of such a birth is an important symptom, and another of an even greater value is that the very men who disagree with the plan such as it is, agree with the object: the fate of nations must depend in the future on something else than force and falsehood.
Years may elapse before the goal is reached, and in the meantime no precautions necessary for safety should be neglected, for neglect would result in lengthening the journey. But a great thing it is that the goal stands visible as a beacon before the eyes of the whole world. Without perhaps reaching it in our days, to come nearer will be a great boon. And how much nearer shall we not be, how much lighter the burdens and anxieties of mankind, when one nation whose thinkers, poets, and scientists had won for her of yore the admiration of the world, may find her way to pronounce these three short words: “We are sorry!”
In the task of hastening better days, honest negotiators, busy with the task and not with the building of their own fortunes, obeying the most austere of the olden-day manuals, will have an important part to play: Conamur tenues grandia. No invention, no telephone, no aeroplane, no wireless, will ever replace the knowledge of a country and the understanding of a people’s dispositions. The importance of persuading a prince and his minister has diminished; that of understanding a nation has increased. The temper, qualities, and limitations of many a man can sometimes be divined on short acquaintance; those of a nation need a longer contact. Temporary missions may suffice in the first case; permanent ones are indispensable in the second, and will therefore be continued. Instead of showing signs of reduction in the more recent period, the ambassadorial system has been adopted by more and more numerous countries. “It would be an historical absurdity,” one reads in such a recent and authoritative work as the Encyclopedia Britannica, ninth edition,107 “to suppose diplomatic relations connecting together China ... and Japan”; this has nevertheless come to pass.
Secret treaties, already forbidden by the present League covenant, which has been accepted by the immense majority of nations, will cease to be resorted to. Nothing better shows the change of sentiment throughout the world than another anecdote triumphantly told by Busch in his memoirs of Bismarck. The latter is represented giving as an “exquisite example” of the political incapacity of Emperor Frederick III., the fact that, being informed by him of a secret treaty of neutrality concluded by his country with Russia, in case of an Anglo-Russian war, the then Kronprinz replied: “‘Of course England has been informed and has agreed to it.’ Great laughter, in which the ladies also joined.”108 There would be no laughter nowadays and the ladies would not join.
Actual negotiations, however, will be initiated and conducted in public in all their phases, only when humanity is composed of men impervious to the praise, the sarcasms, the exigencies, the threats, the fury, the ridicule, the idolatry of the agora: not a thing for today, we may fear, nor perhaps for tomorrow.
Born on the day when the evils escaped from Pandora’s box, ambassadorial functions will cease only on the happy, but maybe distant day, when the evils go back to their box.
Let us trust however that history in the making will more and more have the same ideal and motto as history in the telling, the same as our American Historical Association, Super omnia veritas. May future ambassadors never forget that, as old Dolet wrote centuries ago, their chief duty “is to be rather the makers of peace and concord than of discord and of war”, and that, as Erasmus wrote in his book for the guidance of the future Emperor Charles V.: “Wars beget wars; good will begets good will; equity, equity.”109
Jean J. Jusserand (February 18, 1855–July 18, 1932) was Ambassador Extraordinary to the United States in the first quarter of the 20th century, where he played a critical part in drawing the U.S. into the First World War. He authored English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages (1889), A Literary History of the English People (1895-1909), and With Americans of Past and Present Days (1916), which won the first Pulitzer Prize for History in 1917.