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Sir Robert Hart by Juliet Bredon

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out with him for the Tung Wen Kwan once went to interview his chief.

"Well," said his colleagues on his return. "What did the I.G. say
about such and such a thing?" The Frenchman shook his head ruefully:
"He rolled the answer back and forth seven times, and then he did not
make it." Probably the I.G. had learned by experience that a person
can seldom pick up a hasty speech just where he dropped it.

Another time a very charming lady went up to him at a soiree with a
rose in her hand. "May I offer you my boutonniere?" said she, smiling.
The mere fact of a question having been asked him suddenly put him
instinctively upon his guard; an uncommunicative look spread over his
face, and to her horror and his own subsequent amusement, he answered,
"I should prefer to consider the matter before answering."

In 1868 came the affair of the Burlingame Mission, with which--as with
all the other events of the time in China--Robert Hart had much to do.
Mr. Burlingame was then United States Minister in Peking, a personal
friend of the I.G.'s and a most charming man with a genius for
hospitality. Nothing pleased him more than to see half a dozen
nationalities seated at his table. At one of these little dinners
Burlingame noticed that a certain discussion was growing too serious
and heated. Some of his guests were on the point of losing their
tempers, for Envoys Extraordinary dislike being disagreed with, even
by Ministers Plenipotentiary. He therefore picked up his glass of
sherry in the most courtly manner in the world, held it to the light,
studied it critically from every point of view, turning it now this
way, now that.

"Look," said he suddenly, addressing the table in his most charming
manner, "did you ever see sherry exactly like that before? Do you
notice its peculiar colour? See how it shines--yellow in one light,
reddish brown in another."

When he had drawn the interest, he went on to give the most delightful
little lecture on sherries, their similarities, their differences, and
their making, till the whole table listened with rapt attention
and, listening, forgot their perilous discussion and the heat and
irritation they had spent upon it.

These very qualities of tact and polish, combined with dignity and
agreeable manners, made Mr. Burlingame popular with the courtly
Chinese officials, and when he was about to return to his own country
some of the Wai-Wu-Pu (Foreign Office) Ministers asked him to speak a
good word for China in the United States. "Was not that an excellent
idea?" they asked the I.G. next day. He agreed, and out of this
trivial incident grew the Burlingame Mission to all the courts of
Europe. Alas! the idea was visionary rather than practical, and doomed
to disappointment--a disappointment which, luckily, Mr. Burlingame
himself never felt keenly, since he died at St. Petersburg while his
tour was still uncompleted.

At the same time that he was concerned with the Mission, the I.G.
was "setting his house in order" with very practical measures. New
Regulations for Pilotage, Rules for the Joint Investigation (Chinese
and Consular) of Disputed Customs Cases, Rules for Coolie Emigration,
each in turn claimed his attention, and it was he also who arranged
with the Chinese that one-tenth of the tonnage dues--afterwards raised
to seven-tenths--should be devoted to port improvements and lighting
the coasts. Until he took the matter in hand, vessels had been obliged
to grope around the difficult China coast in total darkness; to-day,
thanks to his foresight, lighthouses are dotted from Newchang in the
north to Hainan in the south, and a little fleet of three Revenue
cruisers serves them.

A lawsuit called him to Shanghai, when these matters were off his
hands, and kept him there for some weeks. He had time to enter into
the social life of the place, meet all the people worth meeting,
and, what he enjoyed most of all, hear the sermons of a certain Dean
Butcher, famous for his wit. The first Sunday the I.G. "sat under"
him, the Dean dragged out his discourse so interminably--and quite
contrary to his usual custom--that Robert Hart actually took out his
watch. Just as he quietly got it back to his pocket again and noticed
that he had listened for fifty minutes, the preacher looked up from
his manuscript and made Hart start guiltily as he said, "You ask, is
the sermon done. No, my brothers, it is not _done_. It is _read_. Be
ye doers of the Word, not hearers only." This bit of effect at
the end, so cleverly led up to, accounted for the unnaturally long

Another time, when Robert Hart was present, Dean Butcher preached
from a text in the Psalms, "If I go up to the heights, Thy Presence is
beside me, and if I go into the utmost depths. It is there," etc. He
had subdivided the sermon into headings--preached about God in heaven
and God upon earth, when he suddenly began to cough a little. "The
preacher's voice fails him," he said--cough, cough--"fails him, my
brethren"--more coughs--"fails him"--still more gentle coughs--"and so
we must leave God in hell till next Sunday."

Some years afterwards, when the I.G. was in Shanghai again, he went to
a luncheon at which Dean Butcher was present. Every one was asked
to tell a story, and when Robert Hart's turn came, he told one of
a certain clergyman of his acquaintance--the name he mercifully
withheld--who had "left God in hell till next Sunday." The face of
Dean Butcher during the telling was a study in sunset colours, but no
one except himself and the I.G. remembered the particular preacher who
had been so indiscreet.

Before he left Shanghai Robert Hart received the first of his long
series of honours. It came with delightful unexpectedness, with no
warning of its arrival; simply, one day as he was going to see his
lawyer, Mr. (afterwards Sir Nicholas) Hannen, a passing postman handed
him a little brown-paper parcel with Swedish stamps on it. As he
had neither acquaintance nor official correspondence with Sweden or
Norway, he was completely puzzled as to what it might contain. Greatly
to his surprise, on opening it he found an order, the "Wasa" of Sweden
and Norway, the very first foreign recognition of his international
work in China. Coming as it did just at that moment, it was singularly
opportune and acceptable, and ever afterwards I know it held a
peculiar place in his affections, even when he received a shower of
Grand Crosses from every civilized country in the world.



Three important things occurred in Robert Hart's life between the
years 1870 and 1879. In 1873 his only son was born; 1875 was marked
by the beginning of the famous Margary affair, and in 1878 he went as
President of the Chinese Commission to the Paris Exhibition.

_A propos_ of the birth of his son, there was a very strange--almost
what a Highlander would call an "uncanny"--sequence of dates in
the I.G.'s own life. The year that he himself was born, the 20th of
February--his birthday--fell on the 23rd day of the Chinese First
Moon. Once more it fell on the 23rd of the First Moon in 1854, the
year he came to China, and not again until 1873, when his son first
opened his eyes on this best of all possible worlds. A coincidence if
you like, but still a very remarkable one all the same.

In 1875 the famous Margary affair, destined to become so complicated
later on, first appeared upon the stage of politics in the simplest
possible form. There was one hero and one villain, with a crowd of
shadowy accomplices looking over his shoulder. To this day it is not
certain how many there actually were. We can distinctly follow the
unfortunate hero--his name was Margary, his occupation Interpreter
at a Consulate--on his journey across Yunnan to Burmah as far as
Tengyueh. We know he was cruelly done to death there, but we cannot
sift out truth from falsehood in the rumours that he met his death
with the connivance--and perhaps even under the orders of--the
provincial authorities.

The simple fact of a white man's murder was, of course, bad enough;
but when that white man was an official and on a mission, it was a
hundred times worse. Negotiations between the British Legation and
the Chinese began immediately. On the one side heavy compensation was
demanded, on the other it was argued over and delayed. Neither party
would move a step forward, and presently the Yunnan outrage got
hopelessly mixed with every other disputed question of the day; new
demands sprang up beside old ones; both parties, as Michie says, found
themselves "entangled in a perfect cat's-cradle of negotiations,"
and the Chinese in the privacy of their yamens were beginning to
ask themselves gloomily, "Will the English fight unless we make full

Would they? There was the rub. But now, the crisis being safely
passed, I may tell that they would--that they very nearly did--and
that the thing that prevented them was nothing more nor less than
the moving of the Customs pew in the British Legation Chapel from the
front of the church to the back. So do great events sometimes hang
upon trifles.

After the arbitrary moving of his accustomed seat, the I.G. remained
away from the Sunday services for more than a year. Then, just when
the political atmosphere was most electric, Bishop Russell, an old
friend of Ningpo days and a charming and genial Irishman, came to
Peking on a visit. He was to preach in the Legation Chapel the next
Sunday, and the I.G. could not resist the temptation of going to hear
his old acquaintance.

Russell was a man of an unconventional and spontaneous type. Because
other people did things in a certain way was no reason why he should
do the same. Consequently, instead of beginning the service by reading
the usual verses, he said, "I would like the congregation to sing a
hymn"; and the hymn that he chose was "God moves in a mysterious
way His wonders to perform." It happened to be one of Robert Hart's
favourites, but beyond feeling pleasure that this particular hymn
should have been chosen, the incident made no great impression on him
at the time.

As soon as the service was over, he went to shake hands with the
Bishop. Russell, however, was obliged to hurry away to address a
Chinese meeting; there was scarcely a moment for talk then. "We must
have a chat about old times," said he cordially; "when may I come and
see you--on Tuesday?"


"By all means on Tuesday. Don't forget," was the answer, and the I.G.
left the chapel with the rest of the congregation.

He noticed as he went out that Sir Thomas Wade had not been in church,
which struck him as odd. Surely in a small community like Peking,
where a Bishop in the pulpit was a rarity, the British Minister would
have made it a point to hear him preach--unless something very unusual
had occurred. Hart therefore went at once to call on Wade and see what
the news might be. News? There was enough and to spare, all of the
most sensational kind. Another deadlock had been reached in the
negotiations. Blacker clouds than ever obscured the horizon; war was
as near as flesh to bone. Luckily the I.G. saw at once that the
new _contretemps_ was due rather to accident than design. A
misunderstanding of Chinese despatches--which are always open to
several translations--had given Wade a wrong impression of the force
of their contents, and the I.G. accordingly begged permission to
explain the point at issue as he saw it.

Two hours later the Minister came completely round to his view, and
the critical moment was safely passed.

On Tuesday at the appointed hour Bishop Russell went to see Robert
Hart. They talked long over old Ningpo days, and presently Russell
said, "D'ye know, Hart, my converts have grown to have such faith in
me that they believe I can not only show them the way to heaven, but
arrange matters on this earth as well. What do you think they said,
now, before I came up to Peking? They said I was coming to prevent
a war with England. And that to me!" added the Bishop, laughing his
wholesome laugh, "who, as you know, am the last man in the world to
concern myself with politics."

"Well," replied the I.G. solemnly, "you have prevented war with
England all the same." And he told the Bishop the whole story. "If
you had not come to Peking," he concluded, "I should not have gone
to church. If I had not gone to church, I should not have noticed the
Minister's absence, and therefore should not have gone in to see him.
Consequently I should never have known of the difficulty which then
threatened the negotiations, and might not have been able to help
remove it. Truly, Russell,

'God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.'"

Thus, by a romantic episode, the crisis was tided over--for a time.
Alas! only for a time. A second set-back, more serious even than the
first, interrupted matters again just when they seemed to be going
on most smoothly. It occurred on a Saturday night. On Monday morning,
without saying a word to Hart--or indeed to any one--Wade started off
posthaste to Shanghai to "await orders from his Government." This
bad news greatly upset and alarmed the Yamen. "You must follow him at
once," was the order they sent the I.G., so within twelve hours he too
was on his way to Shanghai, determined on making one more effort
to avert the war which, like a sword of Damocles, was hanging over
China's head.

He was again successful, in so far as he obtained the British
Minister's consent to reopen negotiations with the Chinese. But
where?--that was the question. Should they be held at Shanghai, with
the Viceroy from Nanking to assist, or should they be held at Chefoo,
with the Viceroy of Chihli (who happened to be the great Li Hung
Chang) to help? Wade decided for Chefoo, which, as a cool seaside
resort, was especially suited for the broiling months of August and
September; and Robert Hart immediately wired to Peking to arrange that
Li should come to Chefoo. The Tientsin people protested vigorously
against their Viceroy's going. They even went so far as to throw
petitions in hundreds over the walls of his yamen--petitions all
reminding him of the fate of Yeh Ming Shen, the Governor-General of
Canton in 1858, whom the British seized and sent to Calcutta, where he

Yet, in spite of their warnings, Li showed sufficient absence of
superstition and sufficient patriotism to go, which was certainly
rather noble of him, more especially as his personal inclination was
against touching the affair at all. This he told the I.G. frankly when
they met, and even upbraided Robert Hart rather sharply for, as he
said, "dragging him into the business. If they fail--and there has
been no luck about these negotiations before--I shall be blamed,
whereas if they succeed, it is most unlikely that I shall get any

But the I.G. reassured him in answer to his complaints. "There will
be no trouble," said he, "no trouble at all if you work with me. Say
nothing, arrange nothing, promise nothing that we do not both agree
upon beforehand." Every evening at ten o'clock, therefore, the I.G.
would go to Li's house, and the two would remain talking, often far
into the night, of what had been done during the day and what was to
be done on the morrow.

Unfortunately in some mysterious way the plans and proposals they
discussed leaked out, allowing the other side to checkmate their best
moves and woefully retard progress. It was really too provoking just
as these troublesome negotiations promised to end so well; it meant
precious time wasted; it meant unnecessary anxiety and worry. But no
matter, history has never been made without trouble to its makers;
the I.G. was well prepared for obstacles; he met them with patience,
discovered their cause with rare intelligence, remedied them with
despatch--and this time the Convention was safely signed. Pens had
been poised over it so long that I can imagine he breathed a sigh of
relief when the signatures were actually on the document.

A big banquet celebrated the signing--a grand affair given by Li to
the personnel of the drama. Most of the Foreign Ministers from Peking
were present, they having come down to Chefoo to see what was going
on. Two British admirals had put in for the same reason, so the
banquet did not lack distinguished guests. The display of uniforms,
medals and decorations was dazzling, while the decorations of the hall
were as gorgeous as splendour-loving Orientals could devise.

The clever Li toasted the occasion by a happy speech, in which he
dwelt on the joy of meeting so many friends together. Most of them
he had known (outwitted, too, I daresay) for some time, but now,
unhindered by the restraints of public business, he could enjoy their
society with a freedom hitherto denied him, and he concluded, "Since
at this port of Yentai [Chefoo] beautiful scenery delights the eye
and cool breezes give health to the body, it is fitting that our
minds should be in harmony with the beauties of nature, cultivating
friendship and sincerity as being the noblest traits of human
character." All of which was very pretty sentiment, and if some poetic
licence got mixed in with the truth, surely the occasion justified the

Li certainly had reason to feel pleased with himself and his work. The
Convention was excellent--though it might have been still better
had Robert Hart had more of his own way. He wished, and the Chinese
agreed, to include in it clauses relative to the establishment of
a national Chinese Post Office and the opening of mints for uniform
coinage throughout the Empire. But it did not suit all parties to
allow one man to make too many suggestions, and so his schemes were

Still, over and above all petty international jealousies he had scored
another diplomatic triumph, and the Chinese were duly grateful to him
for his share in the work. That was, after all is said, the secret of
his unique position--that confidence of his Chinese employers which he
never lost. Probably the real reason he kept it so well was because
of his calm and reticent character, because he could never be moved to
anger and impatient words. Sir Thomas Wade, on the contrary, was a
man of exactly the opposite type, and his _ch'i_, better translated
as excitability than anger, often increased his difficulties at a
difficult time.

The I.G.'s association with the great Li Hung Chang by no means ceased
after the Margary affair. Business in the succeeding months frequently
took him to Tientsin--the nearest port, eighty miles from Peking, and
the post of the Chihli Viceroy--and whenever he was there, he had
a standing invitation to lunch with Li--an invitation which he very
often accepted.

What greatly appealed to him about Li's household was its absolute
simplicity. Instead of a wearisome array of courses, never more than
two plates were served--fish, and perhaps a dish of chicken, cooked,
of course, in the Chinese manner and eaten with big portions of rice.
The first was seldom touched. Li would say to his guest, "If you do
not want any fish, we will send it in to the _Taitai_" (his wife,
who, according to Chinese etiquette, was dining in the next room); and
Robert Hart, always the smallest of eaters, would invariably answer
"No," leaving the fish to go whole and untouched to Madame Li, much to
her husband's delight.

One day afterwards in Peking the I.G. happened to speak with his
Chinese writer about Li Hung Chang's household--praising a simplicity
so rarely to be found in the yamens of the rich and powerful. There
happened to be a long interval before he lunched with the Viceroy
again, and when he did, he noticed to his horror that the servants
were bringing in an array of dishes suitable for a feast. Shark's fins
preceded expensive pickled eggs and followed choice bird's-nest soup.
What could the change mean? Simply that his complimentary remark,
maimed and contorted beyond recognition by ill-informed or mischievous
persons, had travelled to Li's ears, and that he had therefore
determined to treat his guest with the greatest possible formality.

"You shall not have the chance to go away again and say that you have
been fed like a coolie in my house," said the Viceroy proudly at the
end of the banquet.

"Nevertheless, the very simplicity of your hospitality was what I most
appreciated," the I.G. replied. "But if you believe that I could have
made any such remark, and if you persist in altering the style of my
reception, I shall not come to lunch with you again."

As if the cares of treaty making and Customs supervision, coupled with
the responsibility of being unofficial adviser to the Wai-Wu-Pu,
were not enough for one man, the I.G., at the request of the Chinese,
undertook to supervise China's part in the international exhibitions
of Europe. First came the Viennese Exhibition in 1873. He set his
various commissioners of ports collecting the products of their
provinces--silks, porcelains, lacquers and teas. It sounds so simple,
but often what may be told in a dozen words may scarcely be done in as
many months, and little less than a year of writing and planning and
directing can have elapsed before all details were in order, and
his four Commissioners of Customs were driving, like the Marquis of
Carabbas, in a glass coach through the streets of Vienna. The Chinese
spared neither pains nor expense to make a good showing, and gave a
gala performance at the Opera in return for Austrian hospitality.

In 1878 came the Paris Exhibition, and to this he went himself as
President of the Chinese Government's Commission. He arrived in Paris
just before the Exhibition opened--just in time to be present at the
great opening ceremony in fact. This was a very grand affair, but
with--for him--a ludicrous climax. Coming away, he and his secretary
lost their carriage in the crowd, and had to walk the whole way home,
not a cab being obtainable--and this, too, in elaborate and heavy
uniforms, and at the risk of being hooted by _gamins_. But by good
luck, in those days gold lace and medals were so plentiful that they
attracted no embarrassing attention.

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART IN 1878.]

Numberless functions, of course, took place in connection with the
Exhibition, and scarcely a night passed without some gigantic official
reception at which two or three thousand people were present. The
Minister of Education, for example, gave a magnificent _soiree_ at
which the old dances, the stately minuet and the graceful pavane, were
danced in splendid and appropriate costumes. Bernhardt, then at the
height of her powers, recited one night at the Elysee; so also did
Coquelin. But to Robert Hart these "crushes" were often an ordeal.
Conventional entertainments never had a great attraction for him;
besides, these gatherings were really too big for any one's comfort or
pleasure; conversation was nearly impossible, and nobody felt at home.

What he did enjoy was a drive in the beautiful Bois with his children,
from whom, for the sake of their education, he had already been
separated for several years. Or else he liked to take them to the
many excellent concerts then being held. They often went to hear the
Norwegian singers who, so the advertisements said, had walked all the
way from their northern home in their quaint national costume, and
they scarcely missed a Wednesday at the Trocadero, where there were
contests of massed bands.

Music, in fact, would draw Robert Hart any day, for he loved it
dearly. Other people might talk learnedly about various schools and
tone poems; he took all he could get silently and with a thankful
heart; and because in far-away Peking he could not count upon others
playing for him, he performed the prodigious feat of learning to play
both violin and 'cello himself without a teacher, and long after he
was a man grown.

Just before the Exhibition closed, all the fine blackwood furniture of
the Chinese pavilion was presented to the Marechale MacMahon. The
I.G. had to make a speech on this occasion, which he greatly dreaded,
having none of that love of getting on his feet that is characteristic
of the south of Ireland Irishman; but when he did so his voice,
always soft and gentle, with the faintest trace of Irish accent, never
wavered for a moment, and every word he said could be heard by all.

Whether it was the speech making or the festivities or the hard work
or a combination of all three I cannot say, but Robert Hart suddenly
found himself over-tired and threatened with a breakdown of health
by the time the Exhibition closed. Sir William Gull, the famous
specialist, whom he consulted, put the case tersely to him: "If you
will do work, work will do you."

There was nothing for it then but six weeks of idleness at Ischl,
with long walks in the wonderful clear air, another six weeks at
Baden-Baden, and a quiet winter at Brighton. So, much to his regret,
he had very little opportunity to see London or enjoy the life and
gaiety which would have been such a happy contrast to the solitude of
Peking. A few hasty visits--I think the longest lasted scarcely ten
days--left him no time at all to meet the many men whose acquaintance
would have meant so much to him.

The only thing he did of a semi-political character was to accept an
invitation from the Reform Club to address them on the opium question.
The men he met there had all their opinions and convictions settled
beforehand; they had really invited him, the great authority on China,
to agree with them, and no schoolboys who had found that sixpences
had been put into their pockets in the night could have been more
surprised than they when he did not.

At least, it is not exactly accurate to say that he disagreed; he took
a practical view of a question which at that time was regarded with
much heat and sentiment. He quoted statistics to them, proved that
foreign opium was smoked by only one-third of one per cent of the
population of China, and by the calm sanity of his views made much of
their agitation seem unnecessary. But they were finally consoled when
he agreed with them that even so small a percentage in so large a
population meant millions of smokers, and that it would be well to
rescue these from so damaging a habit.

This was the last public affair in which he took part before the close
of 1878, when, being sufficiently recovered in health, he started back
to China, little thinking that he was not destined to see Europe again
for thirty years.



Curiously enough, almost as soon as Robert Hart was back in Peking
(1880) the opium question was brought to his attention again. This
time it was by a Chinese official--one Yuan Pao Heng, an uncle of the
famous Yuan Shih Kai, whose influence is paramount in the Flowery
Land to-day, and who more than any other single man was probably
responsible for the Imperial Edict (1906) which ordered the opium
traffic to be abolished within ten years.

The uncle was as bitter an enemy of the drug as his nephew, but though
his views were sound they were in advance of his time, and the I.G.
very properly pointed out to him that the cultivation of the poppy
could not be stopped suddenly. However wise theoretically it might
be to do this, practically it would be dangerous. A great source of
revenue must not be cut off abruptly, or China might find herself in
the position of the man in the old fable, who thoughtlessly mounted
the tiger, and then found out too late that he had forfeited the right
to dismount when and where he pleased.

Haste in the Far East is a commodity for which it is easy to pay too
high a price--when it is obtainable at all--which, to tell the truth,
it generally is not. "Change slowly--if change you must" has ever been
the motto of China, and for years the capital itself was an example
of the saying. Improvements were not encouraged. There were no more
public buildings in 1879 than in 1863. I doubt if a single tumble-down
wall had been replaced--the dirt and smells still remained, and the
roads were no smoother. Only a few more Legations had established
themselves there, and, by clustering together, they formed what might
by courtesy be called a Legation Quarter, which lay between the pink
wall of the Imperial City--the innermost of the ring of three cities
that form Peking--and the frowning, machicolated grey wall of the
Tartar town.

The Chinese, partly no doubt with the idea of keeping all the
foreigners together and partly for the convenience of business,
presently gave the I.G. a piece of land in this quarter, and he
accordingly moved down to comparative civilization--as we understand
it--from his far-away corner of the suburbs, as soon as the buildings
were ready. He had a modest row of low offices, several houses for his
staff, each standing, Indian fashion, in its own compound, and, in a
large garden, his own dwelling.

This, like the rest, was a bungalow--for the Chinese in those days
objected to high buildings lest they should overlook the Palace--and
built in the form of a letter H, partly from a sentimental connection
with his own initial, and partly to utilise all the sunshine and
southerly breeze possible. Two fine drawing-rooms, a billiard- and
a dining-room filled the cross-bar of the letter: one of the
perpendicular strokes was the west, or guest wing; the other contained
his own private offices, a special reception-room, furnished in
Chinese style--stiff chairs and rigid tables--for Chinese guests, and
his living-rooms. It was characteristic of the man that these were the
most unpretentious rooms in the whole house.

Undoubtedly one of the chief reasons which allowed Peking to preserve
its mediaeval aspect intact for so many years was the difficulty of
communicating with the rest of the world for several months of the
year. Its port, Tientsin, was ice-bound from November to March, and
the foreign community was therefore completely cut off during the long
winter. Neither letters nor papers enlivened _la morte saison_
until the I.G. conceived the idea of arranging a service of overland
couriers from Chinkiang, a port on the Yangtsze, to Peking. The seven
hundred miles intervening was covered by mounted men, who took
from ten to twelve days for the journey, and they as well as their
mounts--the latter of course in relays--were provided on contract by
a clever old mafoo (groom) who had the reputation of getting the best
ponies for the Tientsin amateur race meetings, and who was in league
with all the picturesque Mongol horse-dealers.


On the whole the system worked admirably, though of course there were
occasional hitches. Sometimes a messenger was attacked by bandits on
the way and had his bags stolen. I know once the I.G. chuckled over
such a disaster. It so happened that in the missing bags there was one
letter which he had written giving an appointment in the Customs to a
certain man. No sooner was it gone than he regretted what he had
done, and would have recalled his decision had it been possible. Well,
believe it or not, this and one other were the only two letters of
that lost pouch ever discovered, and they came into the possession of
a French Missionary Bishop and were afterwards returned by him to the

Now and again, too, an accident happened to the incoming mails even
after they reached Peking. Of course they were taken direct to the
Inspectorate for sorting, and while headquarters were still in the
_Kau Lan Hu Tung_ the messenger was more than once thrown on his
way down to the Legations--perhaps he met one of those gong-beating
processions which would be enough to frighten a hobby-horse--and his
mails recklessly distributed by the terrified animal. And sometimes a
courier would stumble into a ditch in the rainy season when the road
was all river, and narrowly escape being drowned, but these little
incidents were only the fortunes of war.

It is not to be wondered at, considering the international work he was
doing, that his own country decorated Robert Hart as early as 1879.
It is only strange--to me--that they gave him no more than a humble
C.M.G. But this was soon changed into a K.C.M.G., and, as it happened,
at a most opportune moment---just when an American University
conferred an LL.D. upon him. There he was within an ace of being
called "Doctor" for the rest of his life, when the knighthood
providentially came to save the situation. The K.C.M.G. was followed
by a G.C.M.G., and the G.C.M.G. by a baronetcy, both the Liberals and
Conservatives giving him honours alternately. The last, the baronetcy,
came from Gladstone's Ministry, and with it he received a friendly
letter from the Grand Old Man, who always admired him immensely, and
said so when a brother of the I.G.'s--at the time in Europe acting
as interpreter to Li Hung Chang--was presented at a big dinner to the


"So you are a Mr. Hart from China," he remarked. "You should feel very
proud of a man who has made his name illustrious for all time."

France was not long behindhand in adding to his ever-growing list of
honours. He had the "Grand Officier" of the coveted "Legion" in 1885
after bringing safely to a conclusion the French Treaty of that year.
Undoubtedly this was one of the most picturesque and interesting
incidents with which he was ever connected, and perhaps it will not
come amiss to give some details of how it came about.

The trouble began over a disputed boundary--the Tonkin frontier, to
be exact. One side, the Chinese, wanted the Red River for the
dividing-line, would hear of nothing else, declared loudly that this
was the natural division; the other, France, was equally obstinate
for the older frontier between the State of Tonkin and China proper,
because this meant far more land for her. Meanwhile, in the disputed
area, Liu Yung Fuh, a very famous soldier of fortune--somewhat of an
Eastern d'Artagnan--roamed to and fro with his band of "Black Flags,"
threw in his lot with the Chinese, and made harassing raids on
the French side of the disputed border-line. Like the picador at a
bullfight, he maddened his enemy with dart-pricks, and the Chinese,
who, to continue the simile, had the toreador's part to play,
reaped the enmity he provoked. The French gave them battle at Pagoda
Anchorage, routed them utterly, and seized Formosa. This was the point
where the I.G. first came upon the scene. Once again he was to play
his old part of peacemaker. With the Nanking Viceroy Tseng Kuo Tseun
as collaborator, so to speak, he went to Shanghai to interview the
French Charge d'Affaires, M. Patenotre, and see what could be done.


This Viceroy, by the way, was what we should call a self-made man;
that is, he had not risen to office by the usual route, which in China
is the way of a scholar. Undistinguished for any particular learning,
he had none of those literary degrees which the conservative Chinese
of those days prized above every other possession. He was, moreover,
quite conscious of his limitations and spoke of them to the I.G. _a
propos_ of the visit to Shanghai of two men who held the much-coveted
position of Literary Chancellors.

"It will not be possible for me to make a success of these
negotiations with the French," he exclaimed ruefully, "because
whatever I do these two men will find it out and disparage it in
every way they can. You see their view-point is that of distinguished
scholars, and they despise an unlettered man like me."

"But what would you say," replied the I.G., "if these two learned
gentlemen were made your colleagues in the business--if they were
ordered to work with you and share the responsibility?"

"Ah, that would be too good to be true," was the Viceroy's answer.
Nevertheless it did come true, because the I.G. telegraphed to Peking
about it, and shortly afterwards an Imperial Edict appointed them
to be associated with Tseng Kuo Tseun. Did ever any one find a more
diplomatic method of avoiding jealousies and closing the mouth of

In government business even more than in private affairs the great
danger always is what the wise old Chicago pork-packer described as
"the weak mouths that let slip what they ought to retain." Indiscreet
talk has upset many a politician's apple-cart--even the legitimate
bumps on the road are not such serious obstacles. It almost spoiled
the Margary affair, it threatened the French Treaty no less seriously.
Again and again the two parties attempted to come to an agreement over
the troublesome boundary question; again and again they failed. And
why? Simply because the vexatious gossip that is the curse of small
communities interfered. And then to add to the existing complications
a Customs vessel, the _Fei Hoo_, was seized by the French as she was
landing stores for a lighthouse in Formosa. They would not let her go,
saying she had landed letters as well as stores. Perhaps she did--no
one can say--but contraband mail on board or not, she had important
duties to perform. All the lighthouses along that coast depended on
her for supplies, could not, in fact, function without her, and all
vessels of every nationality in China seas depended on those lights,
so her detention was worse than aggravating.

The I.G. explained this to Monsieur Patenotre and urged him to free
her. "_Ca, c'est l'affaire de l'amiral_," was the answer, and the
Admiral, when communicated with, refused to do anything. With many
regrets Monsieur Patenotre told the I.G. this, adding: "You'd better
go to Paris." He probably little thought that his advice would be
taken _au pied de la lettre_, but within an incredibly short time
the barren negotiations at Shanghai were abandoned, and the I.G. had
telegraphed at length explaining the whole position to his Resident
Secretary in London and directing him to go to Paris, see M. Jules
Ferry, then Premier and Minister for Foreign Affairs, and try to
settle something about the _Fei Hoo_ there. M. Ferry received him very
cordially, said he would be interested in hearing anything such an
authority as Sir Robert Hart might have to say, but, all civilities
aside, the matter rested with the Admiralty, and he would be obliged
to refer it to them.

Next day the Secretary, a certain Mr. Campbell, went again for his
answer and found it unfavourable, for the Admiralty was still in
that state of mind which we call firm when it occurs in ourselves,
obstinate when it occurs in others. M. Ferry personally was distressed
over the refusal. But what could he do beyond asking Mr. Campbell
politely if there was any other matter about which he would like to
speak? Here was an opportunity the I.G. had luckily foreseen--and
prepared to meet. Thanks to his foresight, Mr. Campbell was able to
take out of his pocket several long and carefully worded telegrams
giving a _resume_ of the situation. They suggested a workable
compromise; it was adopted, and peace _pourparlers_ began once more.
The I.G.'s one stipulation on entering upon them was that they should
be kept absolutely secret. And this time they were. Except Prince
Ching and one Tsungli Yamen Minister, nobody knew, nobody even
guessed, that anything unusual was even "on the carpet," as the French
say; and in order to deepen the impression that no political
anxieties were darkening the horizon, Robert Hart embarked in private
theatricals--a thing he had never done before, or since--and played

Alas, the path of treaties never did run smooth! When arrangements
were just on the point of being concluded the Court suddenly desired
to retract some of their promises, thinking too much had been given
away. This was a cruel blow to the I.G., who well knew that the French
would never agree to the proposed changes and that the painstaking
work of weeks would topple over like a house of cards. As for China's
position in case the Treaty fell through, the less said about that the

Notwithstanding, the I.G. did speak of it, and forcibly, to Yamen
Ministers, who did not listen--not because they would not, but
because they dared not for fear of exceeding their powers and bringing
Imperial censure on their own heads. What the I.G. must do, said they,
was to send a telegram immediately to Paris and say the Treaty could
not be signed as it was. He promised to do this--what else could he
do?--and went home from the Yamen disheartened, discouraged, and in no
mood for work.


A weaker man would have "gloomed" openly; he did nothing more
despairing than stroll into the office of one of his secretaries and
have some talk about indifferent matters. None the less it was an
unusual thing for him to do, as, whenever they had business together,
his secretaries came to him, and he must have been pushed to it by one
of those mysterious impulses that sometimes shape men's destinies. Was
it the same strange impulse that sent him over to the bookcase in the
corner of the room, that made him pick out, at random, and without
thinking what he was doing, a volume of the Chinese classics, and when
he opened it carelessly made his eye light on the sentence "_Kung Kwei
Yih Kwei_,"--literally, the "work wants another basket"? (The phrase
is part of one of Confucius' sayings.) "If a man wants to build a hill
so high," says the Sage, "he must not refuse it the last basketful of

Here was a direct answer to the I.G.'s own perplexity. Perhaps one
more effort and his work, too, might be successful. At any rate he
would keep back the fatal telegram for a day.

Next morning he went to the Yamen again. The first thing the Minister
said to him was, "Have you sent that telegram?" And they were all
anxiety till they had his reply, which, strange to say, they received
with profound sighs of relief, for once again the Court had changed
their minds--had come to see the folly of risking a break in the
negotiations--and the Ministers, who feared the I.G. had already
taken the step they had insisted on so firmly the day before, were
prodigiously relieved to find nothing definite had been done. Then,
when he told them the reason, how Confucius had guided China from his
grave, they were still more deeply impressed.

The telegram that the I.G. _did_ send that morning to his London agent
was "Sign the Treaty. But don't sign the 1st of April," he added,
for they were then in the last days of March. The sudden relief from
anxiety made him want a little joke--but he did not want it in the
Treaty. Unfortunately nobody appreciated the sally. His Resident
Secretary solemnly wrote on the telegram when he handed it to
the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, "Don't sign on the 1st of
April--_parce que c'est un jour nefasfe_--because it is an unlucky
day." Either as a Scotchman he deplored the unseemly frivolity, or he
thought the French could not appreciate a _poisson d'Avril_, and
so racked his brains for a serious reason to justify the I.G.'s

It so happened that the very day this message went to Paris, Sir Harry
Parkes's funeral took place. After a useful and eventful life he
died, as every one knows, at the summit of his ambitions while he was
British Minister in Peking. Just as the I.G. was going into the chapel
for the service, one of the Legation Secretaries drew him aside to
communicate a most important piece of news. A wire had come in only
a few minutes before offering "the appointment of Her Britannic
Majesty's Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary at Peking
to Sir Robert Hart." To say the I.G. was surprised is not to say
enough. The offer, coming as it did under such solemn circumstances,
made an impression upon him too deep for words. Looking down at the
coffin half hidden in flowers, he could not help feeling the vanity
of earthly glories. "We brought nothing into this world, and it is
certain we can take nothing out," said the voice of the preacher. The
Envoy Extraordinary and the beggar travel towards the same goal, and
one is scarcely more indispensable than the other. Any pride he might
have had in the new dignity was most effectively taken out of him,
and I think that never in his life did the I.G. feel a deeper humility
than on this day when, invited to take the Legation, he stood the one
black-coated coated figure amid a blaze of diplomatic uniforms.


In the evening Mr. O'Conor (afterwards Sir Nicholas), the First
Secretary of the British Legation, came to dine with him and hear
his answer--which was that for the present he could not take up
the appointment as British Minister because of those Franco-Chinese
negotiations. So well had the secret been kept this time that O'Conor
had not the faintest idea anything important was going on; he heard
the news with amazement. Might he telegraph it home to his Government?
Yes, he might, provided he did not speak of the matter in Peking.

At the same time the I.G. begged that his appointment might not
be gazetted just then, for possibly the French would not care to
negotiate with a man about to become British Minister, and even
if they made no formal objection, the fact could not fail to have
considerable influence on Chinese affairs.

Accordingly the news was temporarily suppressed. But the I.G.
afterwards had the personal satisfaction of hearing through a lady
of the Court that when O'Conor's telegrams about the whole story were
laid before Queen Victoria, she said, "I am very glad that we shall
have for our next Minister in China the man who arranged such delicate
negotiations as these."

By all the laws of climax the incident should close here; no writer
would dream of dragging it out further, but unfortunately in real
life there is little respect for climaxes, and that vexatious Treaty
coquetted with her suitors once more. Really it was enough to make
anybody lose patience altogether. When the ground was clear at the
very last moment, how absurd that the Black Flags and the Chinese
should win a big victory over the French at Langson and that, in
consequence, there should have been an interpellation in the French
Senate causing the Jules Ferry Ministry to resign suddenly and leaving
the Treaty still unsigned.

The victory affected the Chinese no less seriously; in the twinkling
of an eye they were split into two parties. The military side, elated
with their success, was all for continuing the war ("Those we have
beaten once we shall beat again," said they), and the wiser councils
of the civil side only just carried the day, for, flushed as the
soldiers were with victory, it was not easy to make them see that
their success was but temporary, and the best, in fact the only thing,
for China to do was to hurry on with the Treaty.

Then the endless telegraphing began again. The I.G., by the way, had
spent Tls. 80,000 (over L10,000) on telegrams, a sum which, had the
Treaty failed, would not have been repaid easily. But it was too late
to stop now. Once more he wired instructions to his Secretary.

"You must face the jump. Go direct to the President and lay the matter
before him." In those days, when he was manoeuvring for a big success,
the I.G. sometimes risked much on the turn of a card.

Mr. Campbell went to President Grevy, and later to the Foreign
Minister de Freycinet. Things, as they seemed most desperate, took a
brighter turn; difficulties melted away, and at last, on the 4th of
April, 1885, M. Billot, afterwards Ambassador at Rome, was appointed
by the French Government to sign for France, and the Resident
Secretary of course signed for the Chinese. Thus the work was really
completed by those last basketfuls of earth, and the long months of
anxiety and strain brought to a happy conclusion much to everybody's

Later, M. de Freycinet asked the I.G. to continue and arrange the
detail Treaty, as the first had been really little more than a
Protocol. The second went through without a hitch, and on June 9th Li
Hung Chang and M. Patenotre signed it at Tientsin.

Next day the I.G. had a telegram from London from Lord Granville
saying that the Gladstone Ministry was about to resign. "If your
appointment as British Minister at Peking is to be published before
the new Government under Lord Salisbury comes in, it must be gazetted
immediately." He was then able to answer. "Yes. Publish whenever you
please. The French Treaty was signed yesterday, June 9."


Sir Robert Hart planned to go into the Legation in August, on the
anniversary of his wedding day. Of course you may be sure he had
reported the matter to the Chinese and sent in his resignation in good
time. But, as they gave him no definite answer, there was nothing for
it but to remind them that he had agreed to go--and soon. Downcast
faces listened; a most unconsenting silence answered.

"Well, are you willing?" said he at last. "Is Her Majesty the
Empress-Dowager agreeable to receiving me as British Minister?"

"Oh, yes," they replied; "she would rather have you than any one else,
because, with your great knowledge of China, it will be very pleasant
to do business with you. Besides, you are an old friend of ours."

"Then is she willing to have me leave the Inspectorate?" continued
the I.G., still feeling a subtle sense of their dissatisfaction. They
brightened up at this. It was evidently the cue they had been looking
for. "That is the point," said one of the Ministers, plucking up
courage. "Her Majesty would much prefer that you stayed with us."

The upshot of it all was that he stayed; he felt that in the face
of the Yamen's remarks he could not treat such kind and considerate
employers as the Chinese otherwise. But one of the quaintest touches
in the whole affair was that his strongest private reason for holding
back, at first, from the splendid appointment as British Minister
was that he did not wish to tie himself for five years longer in
China--and yet after all he was to stay twenty-five willingly in the
land of his exile.



Robert Hart therefore went quietly on with his work in the Customs
(1885), setting personal ambitions calmly aside, and finding--let us
hope--his reward in the satisfaction which the Chinese and the service
generally expressed at his sacrifice of the British Government's
tempting offer.

The very year after it was made, an important piece of business,
safely, even brilliantly concluded, added greatly to his reputation.
This was the settlement of questions relating to the simultaneous
collection of duty and likin on opium--two of the burning questions of
the day in the south. China had long desired to levy both taxes at one
and the same time, but without an arrangement with the Hongkong and
Macao Governments this was impossible, as clever smugglers usually
contrived to hurry the drug safely into either British or Portuguese
territory before the Chinese authorities could lay their eyes, much
less levy their duties, upon it. Moreover, once it had crossed a
frontier, redress was impossible.

To remedy this unfortunate state of affairs, the I.G., together with
a certain Taotai, was sent on a mission. Great pourparlers were held
with the Hongkong authorities, who finally agreed to the concessions
he asked--provided the Macao authorities should do the same. Luckily
they did with readiness--even with enthusiasm--as they themselves were
anxious for a _quid pro quo_ from China.

The Portuguese position in Macao had always been a peculiar
one--unofficial is the word which best describes it--for though they
had quietly occupied the place since the far-away days of the Mings,
the Chinese had tolerated the strangers without recognizing them, only
now and then murdering one by way of protest. Here, then, was their
chance to obtain official status, and the Governor, a shrewd man,
seized it. The matter went through without a hitch; China, in addition
to getting her own way on the likin question, was given the right to
open her Custom Houses at Kowloon (Hongkong) and Lappa (Macao), while
Portugal on her side agreed never to sell or cede Macao to any other
Power without China's consent.

A slight passage-at-arms between the I.G. and a certain Chinese
official enlivened the proceedings, and threw an amusing sidelight on
Oriental methods. This man, when Robert Hart met him in Canton, said
with amazing frankness, "I had a spy in Hongkong who repeated to me
faithfully all that went on there, all that you did, all that you
said; but I had nobody in Macao. So will you please tell me what
happened in the latter place?"

When the I.G. refused, saying the business concerned only himself and
the Yamen, the fellow was first genuinely amazed, then righteously
indignant, finally secretly vindictive. He nursed the grievance for
years, and revenged himself at last by memorializing against the
I.G.'s famous Land Tax Scheme, which, weathering a storm of bitter
criticism, lived to enjoy great praise.

Once this Mission was over, the I.G. travelled no more. Things were so
well established by this time that there was no need for him to tour
the ports, and increasing work kept him ever closer to his desk in
Peking. Never was a man, I think, who lived a quieter or more orderly
life, or who had less recreation in his days. He went little
into society; when he did, his rare appearances were immensely
remarked--much as the passage of a comet might have been--and if he
made a visit, it was talked of with pride all through the community.
Indeed, the hostess who could say "The I.G. took tea with me to-day,"
was something of a heroine. He read much and wrote prodigiously,
sending out--and receiving too--the mail of a Prime Minister.

One extravagance, and only one, did he permit himself--I am thinking
of his private band. Yet even that he did not deliberately seek. The
idea came to him unexpectedly, put into his head by the Commissioner
of Customs at Tientsin, who wrote one day that he had among his
subordinates the very man for a bandmaster. Pathetic derelict, a
bandmaster without a band! Acting upon a sudden inspiration--perhaps
with some subtle intuition of the important part the music was to play
in the life of the community in after years, and of all the pleasure
it was to give--the I.G. sent money from his private purse to buy
instruments and music, though until that moment the idea of a band in
Peking had seemed infinitely remote if not utterly preposterous.


Playing on the lawn in front of his house.]

Some dozen promising young Chinese were at once collected and
initiated into the complicated mysteries of chords and keys. They
learned quickly and well--so well that within a year eight of them
were ready to come up to the capital and teach others. A doubtful
venture became an assured success. More and more players were added;
a promising barber, lured, perhaps, by the playing of his friend's
flute, abandoned his trade and set to work on the 'cello; or a
shoemaker, forsaking his last, devoted himself to the cornet. The
neighbouring tailor laid aside his needle; the carter left his cart,
bewitched away from everyday things by the music. It may be the smart
uniform had something to do with the popularity of the organization;
there is ever a fine line between art and vanity--but why dwell upon
an ignoble motive?

Suffice it to say, whether from pure conceit or better things, the
little company grew till it reached a score, and, under a Portuguese
bandmaster, touched a high level of perfection, playing both on brass
and strings with taste and spirit. The Tientsin branch flourished
equally well and became ultimately the Viceroy's band, and the mother
of bands innumerable all over the metropolitan province of Chihli. But
in reputation it never equalled what was known throughout China as the
"I.G.'s Own."


In spring and autumn his musicians gave an open-air concert in the
Inspectorate garden every Wednesday afternoon. Of course, this was the
event of the week so far as society was concerned. Peking residents,
as well as many distinguished strangers who happened to be passing,
came to listen. The scene was invariably animated; ladies walked about
under the lilacs, which in April hung over the paths like soft clouds
of purple fog, displaying their newest toilettes; diplomats discussed
_la situation politique_; missionaries argued points of doctrine;
correspondents exchanged bits of news. All nationalities, classes and
creeds were represented in this cosmopolitan corner of the world, but
the lions and the lambs agreed tacitly to tolerate each other for the
sake of hearing the familiar tunes, warming as good old wine to the
hearts of exiles, and for the sake of seeing the mysterious man whose
advice, given, as it were, under his breath, shaped the course of
events in China.

He guessed well enough what brought the people, and would sometimes
remark laughingly, "They come; I know why they all come. It is just
to get a sight of the two curios of Peking, the I.G. and his queer

Occasionally Chinese guests would mingle with the rest, lending with
their silken gowns and silken manners a touch of picturesqueness to
the scene. I can well remember seeing the famous Wu Ting Fang, whose
alert manner made him a general favourite. He prided himself upon
it--and rightly. "How old do you think I am?" he asked his host one
day. "Perhaps forty-five," was the reply. "Forty-five! What a guess!
Sixty-five would have been nearer--and I mean to live to be two

He went on to explain carefully how this feat was to be accomplished.
The first thing, naturally, was diet. The man who would cheat time
should live on nuts like the squirrels (do they contrive to do it, I
wonder?). Under no conditions should he touch salt, lest a dangerous
precipitate form upon his bones, and he should begin and end each meal
with a teaspoonful of olive oil. So much for the physical side: the
mental is no less important. "I have hung scrolls in my bedroom," Wu
Ting Fang went on to explain, "with these sentences written upon them
in English and in Chinese: 'I am young, I am healthy, I am cheerful.'
Immediately I enter the room my eye falls upon these precepts. I
say to myself, Why, of course I am, and therefore I _am_." Was ever
simpler or saner method discovered for warding off old age?

Towards the end of 1889 the Chinese Government, desirous of paying the
I.G. a special compliment, chose to confer upon him an honour never
before given to any foreigner. Without precedent and without warning,
the Emperor issued an Imperial Decree raising him to the Chinese
equivalent of the peerage. Henceforth he belonged to the distinguished
company of Iron Hatted Dukes--at least not he but his ancestors
did, for this was no ordinary father-to-son patent of nobility. The
topsy-turvy honour reached backward instead of forward, diminishing
one rank with each succeeding generation.

The Chinese reason as follows: "If a man is wise or great or
successful, it is because his forbears were studious or temperate or
frugal. Therefore, when we give rewards, shall we not give them where
they are justly due?" Something might be said for a point of view
so diametrically opposed to our own, but the question of ethics has
nothing to do with my story.

The strange feature of it is that the very night before the Edict
appeared--when the I.G. had not the slightest hint of what was in
store for him--he dreamed of his father's father--a thing he had not
done for years. Dressed in a snuff-coloured suit, with knee-breeches
and shining shoe buckles, he appeared walking down the little street
of Portadown leaning heavily upon a blackthorn stick and murmuring
sadly, "Nobody cares for me, nobody takes any notice of me." Nobody,

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART'S STABLES IN 1890.]

The very next evening at a dinner party at the French Legation some
one told the I.G. of the new honour, gazetted an hour before, and how
an Emperor, with a stroke of his Vermilion Pencil, had deprived the
ghost of a grievance.

Equally romantic was a coincidence that happened when the I.G. was
made a Baronet in 1893. The question of arms then coming up, he made
all possible enquiries concerning those which his family had a right
to use. Without doubt the Harts did bear arms in the days of William
of Orange, when they were granted to the famous Dutchman Captain van
Hardt who so distinguished himself at the Battle of the Boyne. But
after his death the family grew poor; the arms fell into disuse and
were forgotten so completely that one descendant thought they might
have been a hart rampant, while another declared they were a sheaf of
burning wheat.

Robert Hart was not the man to grope long in a fog of mystery. He
decided the question once and for all by submitting a blazon of his
own choice to the College of Heralds, and his design--three fleurs
de lis and a four-leaved shamrock--was sanctioned, as it had not been
previously applied for.

The search for the original arms was naturally given up then, but by
the merest accident they were ultimately found. Some member of
the family happening years afterwards to stroll through a very old
cemetery in Dublin, curiosity or idleness led him to examine the
tombstones. One in particular attracted his attention, perhaps because
it was more dilapidated and tumble-down than the rest. He gently
scraped the moss from the inscription and found that he had stumbled
on the long-forgotten tomb of Captain van Hardt, and underneath
the hero's name he found a coat-of-arms, half obliterated yet still
recognizable. It showed _three fleurs de lis and a four-leaved

But it must not be imagined that Robert Hart was the man to rest on
his laurels or to regard honours as so many flags of truce entitling
him to draw out, even for a time, of the battle of work. From 1889
to 1903 he was deeply engaged on that very important business the
Sikkim-Thibet Convention. The Thibetans having crossed the border into
Sikkim, a State protected by the British, the British in return sent
an expedition into Thibet and, since there was trouble about the
frontier, refused to go out again. This was a very disagreeable
predicament for China. She turned, as usual, to the man who never
ceased labouring on her behalf, and, as usual, he rose to the

Mr. James Hart, the I.G.'s brother, lately returned from delimitating
the Tonkin frontier, was sent posthaste to assist the Amban, the
Chinese Resident in Thibet. As a result of this wise choice, the
preliminary Treaty was put through by 1890, and the Chinese Customs
opened stations in Thibet. Three questions relative to trade, however,
remained to be settled, and for three long years negotiations over
these dragged on at Darjeeling.

Needless to say it was a slow and often wearisome business, with the
interest, to my mind, unfairly divided. On one side, the Thibetan
side, there was picturesqueness enough, though not without discomfort
too, for many a time the envoys must needs cross mountain-passes so
deep in snow that a hundred Thibetans marched ahead treading it down,
and not less often they must sleep in the rudest camps and eat the
unsavoury cuisine of the country. But on the other, the Peking side,
there was nothing but hard and dreary work, since every word that the
Chinese Commissioners said was telegraphed back to the I.G., and then
carefully discussed with the Yamen.

No sooner was quiet restored in Thibet than anxiety about war with
Japan began to agitate the Chinese capital. The air was as full of
rumours as a woman of whims. One day, happening to find himself beside
Baron Komura, the Japanese Charge d'Affaires in Peking, the I.G. half
laughingly remarked, "So you are going to fight China after all?
I suppose you will win." "Oh, one never knows," was the Minister's
diplomatic reply. Strange to say the general opinion among men less
practical and less well-informed than the Inspector-General, was that
China would easily win a war against Japan--if it came to war--just as
later the unanimous opinion in the Far East was that if Russia fought
Japan, Russia must conquer.

But subsequent events proved Robert Hart right. China, after a brief
struggle, was severely beaten, and peace came as a relief. Then
immediately the question of loans to pay off the indemnity arose.
Two small war loans of Tls. 10,000,000 each were floated, it is true,
during the actual hostilities, but the first big loan of L16,000,000
was not arranged till so late as 1896.

The I.G. had the matter in hand; but unfortunately, just as he was
about to complete it, French and Russian banks offered to lend the sum
at a cheaper rate of interest, and so it was given to them. They also
agreed to float a second loan for L16,000,000. But at the last moment,
either because of some hitch in the minor arrangements, or because the
Chinese suddenly thought it might be unwise to put all their eggs in
one basket, they turned again to Robert Hart.

Late one night a Yamen messenger came clattering down the silent
streets, the sound of his pony's hoof-beats echoing from the compound
walls and arousing the whole quarter, there was a prodigious thumping
on the big outer gate before a sleeping watchman could be made to roll
out of his wadded quilts; but finally, after prolonged consultation,
the despatch was taken in to the I.G., the messenger calmed with tea
and a _pourboire_, and quiet once more restored. Next morning, early,
the I.G.'s cart was at the door--a vehicle, by the way, interesting
in itself, since it was chosen by Hung Ki, the man who liberated Sir
Harry Parkes--and Robert Hart started for the only shop in Peking,
ostensibly to buy toys for his children friends, as it was near


The wheels have knobs on them to strengthen them, there are no
springs. The carter always walks.]

In those days the Legations watched his movements very closely;
he wished them to hear that his little expedition was purely a
pleasurable one. No doubt they did, for not a soul knew that, when
he casually strolled into a bank near by, it was to quietly produce a
paper from his pocket and say, as one might say "Good day,"--"I have
here a loan agreement for L16,000,000, but I can only give it to you
on condition that you sign immediately."

Half an hour later the necessary signatures were on the document--the
whole great matter put through. Looking back upon the success, one
marvels at how he contrived it so rapidly that, once the news was out,
people caught their breath with astonishment. Instinctively he must
have felt it was a psychological moment when a man is required to take
responsibility--to presume even on his power, and that in a moment's
hesitation all might have been lost.

In 1896 came the formal establishment of the Imperial Chinese Post
Office--in itself the work of many a man's lifetime. Money had to
be found for the experiment from the Customs funds first, then
innumerable rules and regulations framed and experiments tried before
it became a practical working institution. The I.G.'s wonderful grasp
of detail stood him in good stead then, for a hundred details came
daily under his notice, and he was consulted on every possible
subject--from a design on a postage stamp to the opening of a
new department. To him, indeed, belongs the entire credit for the
designing and building of the greatest success of recent years in
China--a postal service, grown beyond the most sanguine hopes,
which not only pays its own way but is beginning to turn over some
revenue--indirectly, of course--to the Imperial Treasury.


Meanwhile the "five years longer" that he had privately set as the
term of his life in China when he refused to become British Minister
at Peking (1885) were long since passed, and five other years had
followed them, yet he had never found it possible to return to his
own country. Each spring he debated whether he might safely leave his
unfinished plans, which, ranging as they did over a vast number of
subjects, could not well be given half completed into other hands, and
each spring some new problem claimed his attention. In 1896, however,
he faced a harder decision than usual. The road was perhaps unusually
open--and yet he knew that, half hidden, there were obstacles waiting
to be met.

At this crisis of indecision he decided to do what he had so often
done before--consult the Bible. This had been a habit of his father's
before him; in fact, his whole family had asked guidance on every
venture they undertook, no matter how humble it might be, and the
training of his childhood was not outgrown. He accordingly took the
Bible lying on his desk and opened it at random one evening. There,
truly enough, was an answer clear and unmistakable in the very
first verse his eye lighted upon--Acts xxvii. 31: "Paul said to the
centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye
cannot be saved." It immediately decided him to remain in China, and
he suffered no more from perplexity or indecision.

Robert Hart was indeed deeply religious. Unlike so many men who
have passed their lives in the East, he never absorbed any Eastern
fatalism, nor did the lamp of his faith ever burn dimly because he
mixed with men of other and older creeds. The Christian ideal he
always considered the highest in the world; but once, when trying to
live up to it, he was brought to confusion, though not through any
fault of his own.

One day, as he was leaving the gate of a certain mission where he
had been to pay a call, a Chinese of the poorer classes, unkempt and
dirty, came and threw an arm about his shoulders, saying, "I see you
are also coming away from the mission, so we are brothers in Christ. I
will accompany you on your way."

The I.G. afterwards confessed that his first feeling was one of
irritation at the man's familiarity--which amounted almost to
impertinence--and his second, disgust at the grimy hand so near his
collar. To summarily shake it off was a natural instinct. But, when he
thought a moment, he clearly saw the absurdity of professing a creed
of universal brotherhood and then, as soon as some one attempted
brotherly familiarity, of repulsing him. Therefore he suffered the
man's arm to remain as far as the corner of the big street, where he
made a determined effort to get free, saying, "My way lies in this
direction," and attempting to slip off before his companion could see
which point of the compass "this" was.

But the fellow-Christian was observant and consistent. "Oh, I will
come with you," he said, in the tone of one doing a kindness, so the
I.G. could do nothing but resign himself to his fate. Baronet and
coolie made a triumphal progress down Legation Street, much to the
amusement of the sentries on guard, and by the time he reached his own
door the former felt a few shamefaced doubts about the advisability of
mission methods which inculcated the equality of man irrespective of
colour, class, and cleanliness.

1899 saw the Germans take possession of Kiaochow, and the question of
establishing a branch of the Chinese Customs there was discussed and
settled, China finally obtaining the right to open her own Kiaochow
Custom House, with a German staff of her own employees.

This was the last important international work he undertook before
the memorable Siege in 1900. Already the first mutterings of the storm
sounded. The first Boxers appeared in Shantung--a little cloud
of fanatics scarcely bigger than a man's hand. But soon they were
spreading over all the north of China, and even spilling into the
metropolitan province of Chihli itself.




Some three weeks before the beginning of the Siege proper Peking was
in a state of great unrest--how great no one, not even the I.G., could
accurately judge. But as each day brought new alarms and constant
reports of Boxer misdoings all over the city were confirmed by
terrified eye-witnesses, it was thought wise to make some practical
preparations for defence. The Legations were luckily provided with
guards, whose officers, acting in concert, agreed to hold a square
that included the whole quarter and the Customs property as well.
Unfortunately the few troops made a pitifully thin line when they were
spread over the area to be defended, and the Customs Staff, at the
I.G.'s suggestion, organized themselves into a Volunteer corps, kept
regular watches day and night, and prepared to assist generally in
case of emergency.

Indeed they did even more; with his permission they set to and
fortified the Inspectorate compounds, turning his garden into a
trampled wilderness. Barricades were built across what was known as
Inspectorate Street while the I.G. stood by and refreshed the thirsty
workers with beer from his cellar; the big gate was loopholed, the
walls strengthened, and clumsy look-out platforms, reminiscent of
the Siege of Troy, constructed. From these I can guess he must have
watched--and with what feelings!--the progress of the dreadful fires
starting over the city; must have seen, down the long straight street,
native Christians burning like torches, and must have heard the
fiendish shouts of "Kill!" "Kill and burn!" issuing from a thousand
hoarse throats.

The situation was terrifying enough in all conscience--yet nothing to
what it was to be later when the handful of white men, encumbered with
women, children and converts, were to stand against Imperial troops in
addition to these savage hordes of Boxers, whose infinite daring, due
to a belief in their own invulnerability, was somewhat mitigated by
their inferior weapons.

[Illustration: LADY HART.]

From first to last the I.G., though no longer young, showed admirable
coolness and courage in the face of the crisis. He sent frequent
despatches, full of excellent and sane advice, to the Yamen. Alas!
they went unheeded. So did the telegram he got through to Li Hung
Chang on June 12th. This was his final effort to save a desperate
situation, and the message ran: "You have killed missionaries; that
is bad enough. But if you harm the Legations you will violate the most
sacred international obligations and create an impossible situation."

It did no good, unluckily; things had gone so far by this time that
they must go still farther with inevitable motion, and whatever
Li himself thought of the insane idea of attempting to exterminate
foreigners, he could do nothing to stem the tide of mistaken Boxer

On the 13th the telegraph wires were cut; and on the 19th an ultimatum
arrived from the Yamen giving the foreigners twenty-four hours to
leave Peking, and offering to convoy them with Chinese troops as
far as Tientsin. The Ministers held meeting after meeting; they were
somewhat shaken, but, still trustful, determined to accept the Chinese
Government's offer of an escort as far as the sea. Against this
proposal, however, the non-diplomatic community threw the whole weight
of its disapproval, fortunately--as things turned out--overbearing it,
since the Chinese Government, with the best will in the world, was not
at that moment in a position to assure the safety of any one. The very
best proof of this, if further proof were needed, was the murder of
Baron von Ketteler, the German Minister, on the morning of June 20th.

The shock of that news filled the community with horror and
consternation. The suddenness of the tragedy, the treachery of it,
were appalling. Plainly no protection could be hoped for, and the same
afternoon all non-combatants were ordered into the British Legation,
as that was the largest compound in Peking, and the one most suitable
for a last stand should the worst come to the worst. The I.G., of
course, went with the rest. If it cost him anything to calmly walk
out of the house he had occupied for years, leaving all behind him--he
took a last look around the rooms, I remember, as though to impress
their picture on his mind--he gave no sign, just as he showed none
of the natural alarm which, with his responsibility for a large staff
with wives and children, he must have felt.

[Illustration: By the courtesy of "The Pall Mall Magazine"


The history of the Siege proper, like the history of the Taiping
Rebellion, has been written a hundred times. Praise and blame have
been variously distributed; flaws picked in one another's behaviour
by a dozen eye-witnesses, but it is not my purpose to attempt to
arbitrate over details which each man naturally sees through his own
glasses. Only so far as the I.G. was personally concerned with the
events of those two unhappy months need they be touched upon here.

At first the wildest confusion prevailed in the Legation.
Misunderstandings about where a final stand should be made, doubts
whether it should be made in Peking at all, had delayed very necessary
preparations. There was not shelter for all the refugees, and some
literally camped under the big _ting-erhs_ (open pavilions with roofs
but no side walls), their hastily collected household goods lying
around them. The Customs, however, fared better than that; they were
given a small house, into which they packed themselves as best they
could. The I.G., who refused to accept any special privileges, slept
in a tiny back room and cheerfully ate the mule, which was hatefully
coarse while it was fat and unutterably tough when it grew lean.
Indeed, his marvellous adaptability to difficult conditions was soon
the talk of that little company.

To a man accustomed during a long life to habits regulated by
clockwork, the jar must have been especially sharp; yet before his
neighbours had fairly begun to wonder how he would take it, he had
made for himself a new routine of living, and he might have been
observed each day doing the same things at the same hours--smoking
his afternoon cigarette as he leaned against a favourite pillar, or
walking to and fro along a particular path--thus setting an example of
regularity in an irregular and stormy existence.

As every one expected, the Yamen soon attempted to communicate with
him. This they did several times, throwing letters over the wall
during the night. One enquired quite tenderly after the besieged;
another asked him to send a message to London saying all was well with
the Legations; a third calmly requested his advice about a ticklish
matter of Customs business. This latter he answered in detail--just
as if he had been in his own office--and then threw the reply over the
wall again. It is interesting to know, by the way, that the "writer"
who assisted him with these letters received L20 for his pains--the
highest pay ever earned by a literary man in China at one sitting.

But the message which the I.G. afterwards laughingly said was the
most important--as far as he personally was concerned--went out of the
Legation instead of coming into it. Addressed to no Foreign Office and
to no Commander-in-Chief, it contained neither diplomatic nor military
secrets. It was a domestic message pure and simple--yet sent neither
to relative nor intimate friend. His tailor was, in fact, the man who
received it. "Send quickly," the wire read, "two autumn office suits
and later two winter ditto with morning and evening dress, warm cape
and four pairs of boots and slippers. I have lost everything but am
well. We have still an anxious fortnight to weather.--HART, Peking, 5
August 1900."

What a startling effect this message from the grave must have had upon
people in England, who, having pictured the I.G. boiled in oil, found
him quietly ordering clothes for a future which was still uncertain!
As it happened his forethought was providential, for the parcel of
warm clothing arrived in Peking on the morning of October 26th, when
the I.G. waked to find autumn changed to winter in a night, and the
ground thickly powdered with snow.

The "anxious fortnight," he spoke of was, after all, safely weathered.
On the night of August 13th, which happened to be fine and clear,
the far-away guns of the relief force outside the city sounded so
distinctly that all those in the Legation were aroused in a moment.
The sleepers sprang to their feet; and the sentries answered the
welcome voices of the pom-poms, careless of their own long-saved
ammunition. Next day the relieving troops were in the city, and
the besieged, in defiance of orders (the Chinese were still firing
heavily), were out to meet them beyond the last barricade, and close
by the historic water gate. No words could adequately picture the
intense excitement of that meeting; emotion touched for a moment the
most unemotional, and I may say, without exaggeration, that there was
not a dry eye, blue or black, nor a voice which could give a cheer
without a break in it.

Soon after the I.G. had the dangerous pleasure of reading his own
obituary notices, and then, very much alive again, he set to work
once more. Not for him was a change of air and scene possible. As he
whimsically remarked to some one who urged him to take a rest after
the discomforts and trials of the Siege, "I have had my holiday
already. Eight weeks of doing nothing,--what more could a man expect?"

The Yamen Secretaries were seeking him out three days after the last
shot was fired--while he still remained in the Legation--eagerly
enquiring what he thought of the possibility of beginning negotiations
with the Powers. How could order be brought out of chaos?


As a famous Chinese, Ku Hung Ming, author of the "Papers from a
Viceroy's Yamen," afterwards said, "All great men are optimists,
and Sir Robert Hart was the greatest optimist we had in 1900." His
hopefulness encouraged the officials so much that the heads of the
Yamen soon sent word they also wished to consult him: this business,
if there was any hope of its success, was too big to be entrusted to
deputies. Accordingly he began a search for new offices, since the
Legation was no place to receive such men and his own house had been
burned down.

Alas for the mournful desolation that met his eyes when he made a
melancholy pilgrimage, as it were, to his old quarters! Nothing was
left of the house but a few charred walls. Broken tiles lay scattered
here and there, and he picked up the head of a pretty little Saxe
shepherdess, of all things the most fragile and improbable to survive
such a storm. The rest of his belongings had disappeared utterly--all
the treasures of a lifetime had been burned or looted--priceless
letters from Chinese Gordon and from Gladstone, the wonderful
rainbow-silk scrolls for his Chinese patent of nobility, the
photographs of all the famous men with whom he had been associated in
the past--everything.

He was glad enough to get two rooms behind Kierulff's shop for
temporary living quarters. What matter if his hall door was littered
with packing-cases, or if his sitting-room windows fronted upon waste
ground where a herd of mules scampered? He soon learned to pick his
way among the former; the latter, with characteristic caution, always
respected his panes, and anyway it was not the time for finicking over

For an office he hired a tiny little temple nestling under the walls
of the Tartar City. It was but a small _pied-a-terre_, yet all he
required, for the Customs Archives had been burnt, and the Deputy
Inspector General, Sir Robert Bredon, with the Inspectorate Staff,
left immediately for Shanghai to begin the difficult task of picking
up the threads of Customs work there.

Meanwhile the _Tajens_ (heads of boards) wrote to the I.G. asking for
a safe convoy through the foreign lines, and he sent one of his own
men to bring them down, since, though poor enough in other things,
they were so rich in fears. Five came this first time, but one acted
as spokesman to voice the grief of all over what had occurred, and to
exonerate the Emperor and the Empress-Dowager of blame. No doubt
the two sovereigns _were_ innocent of responsibility for what had
happened--no one would believe it at the time, however--and _were_
captured, as these ministers said, by "officials of another way of
thinking, and made to appear as if approving what they disapproved and
ordering what they really forbade."

Their position is not too difficult to understand when one remembers
that, Oriental fashion, they were shut up in their palaces, where no
breath of impartial advice could possibly reach them, and that they
heard only what courtiers with their own fish to fry permitted them to

The real culprits then, according to all accounts, were the officials
who deliberately misled the Court. It was characteristic of the I.G.,
always too big for resentment, that he could find some excuse for
them and, though the length of his service entitled him to more
consideration than most of those who cried out bitterly for
"vengeance," could write in his book ("These From the Land of Sinim"),
"In the heat of the conflict, and under the agonizing strain of
anxiety for imperilled loved ones, many hard things have been said and
written about the officials who allied themselves with the Boxers.
But these men were eminent in their own country for their learning
and services, were animated by patriotism, were enraged by foreign
dictation, and had the courage of their convictions. We must do them
the justice of allowing that they were actuated by high motives and
love of country--not that these necessarily mean political ability or
highest wisdom," The truth is--and he realized it thoroughly--that
the real deep feeling of the Chinese people has always been to be left
alone in peace to pursue the even tenor of their way.

So enlightened a man as the great Minister Wen Hsiang--"one of the
most intelligent and broad-minded Chinese I ever knew," as Sir Robert
Hart sometimes said--frankly confessed this when speaking to the I.G.
a few years after the inauguration of the Customs. "We would gladly
pay you all the increased revenue you have brought us," were his exact
words, "if you foreigners would go back to your own country and leave
us in peace as we were before you came."

Of course neither the wishes of the Chinese nor the question of
Imperial responsibility or non-responsibility mattered greatly in
1900. The nations of the world were not in a tolerant mood; they
would, as he pointed out, care little for excuses and less for the
Chinese anxiety about the Palace, "with its ancestral contents," or
the Imperial Tombs. The only thing which might influence them was the
consideration of the welfare of the Chinese people.

Plans for the future must turn upon this as upon an axle. Moreover,
to effect anything some distinguished person of high position and
importance must come forward, and the man whom the I.G. named when he
was asked for his advice was Prince Ching. He was the one person with
whom the Foreign Powers would be most likely to treat, as it was to
his influence, rumour said, that the Legations owed the merciful truce
during the Siege. Li Hung Chang, it is true, had also been given full
powers to negotiate with the Nations, but they looked rather askance
at him because of two telegrams he had sent. One stating that the
Legations had reached Tientsin in safety was a most unfortunate
falsehood and prejudiced the world against him, more's the pity, as he
had hitherto been considered able and powerful abroad. The other was a
foolish request that no foreign troops should pass Tungchow--a town
on the Grand Canal about fifteen miles from the capital. It was quite
right and proper that, being appointed, Li should share Prince Ching's
labours and not allow everything, criticism included, to be thrown on
the latter alone; but the more he was discredited, the more need for
Prince Ching to return to Peking--and quickly.


In the costume given her by the Empress-Dowager of China when Miss
Carl painted her portrait for the St. Louis Exhibition.]

At last the officials discovered where he was--he had fled with the
Court but stopped _en route_--urged him to come back, and he came. I
believe one of the first things he did was to send for the I.G., whom
he greeted with great cordiality. "This is China's oldest friend,"
he said to the officials standing by, "and I rely on him to help us.
Indeed I can remember, as if it was yesterday, when we worked together
before on the Franco-Chinese negotiations in 1885."

The meeting was a memorable and decisive one. As the Chinese
themselves knew, and as the I.G. agreed, there were but two ways of
solving the difficulty before them. Either it must be fought out--and
the fact that China's military strength could not arrest the steps of
the foreign troops, and that a fort-night sufficed for them to march
victoriously from the sea to Peking, was in itself sufficient to show
that nothing could be hoped from the noble idea of "no surrender"--or
at all costs some peaceful arrangement must be made.

A note was accordingly drawn up requesting the doyen of the Diplomatic
Corps to fix a day to receive the Chinese Plenipotentiaries, who
"were ready to begin negotiations and had prepared a proposal for
discussion," which they enclosed. A bold stroke this, and rather a
surprise to the diplomats, who marvelled that the Chinese--injuring
parties as they were--should have the courage--let us call it so, for
there was truly much admirable bravery in it--to take the first step.

The details of the subsequent negotiations would fill pages.
How anxiously Li Hung Chang was waited for; how memorandum after
memorandum was drawn up, altered, amended, discarded altogether; how
the stricken city was gradually calmed, and traders induced to bring
in supplies again; how the poor ladies, wives of four Emperors, who
had been left behind in the palace almost starved to death when the
international troops guarding the Forbidden City forbade all ingress
and egress through the pink gates, until the I.G. saved them, in the
nick of time, by applying to the Allied Generals, might be told at

But a busy age has little patience with details, however
romantic--suffice it to say that negotiations continued by fits and
starts. What really complicated them was the absence of the Court! The
I.G. frankly wrote as much to the Grand Secretary, Wang Wen Shao, and
in so doing he only voiced the general feeling that "at such a time
of suffering it would be well for the Emperor to be with his people."
Prince Ching willingly testified that. Though he had been back ten
days he had not suffered any personal indignity, and hinted that, were
the Emperor to return, he would, of course, meet with even greater
consideration. But the Court was obstinate. While the Palace was in
the hands of foreign troops they would not come--and so, for the
time, the negotiators had to get on as best they could without their
Imperial masters.

Only for a time, however. Then what persuasion had been unable to
accomplish was brought about by a natural calamity. Famine broke
out in the province of Shensi, and the Court suffered greatly in the
devastated state of the country and the cramped and uncomfortable
quarters of a Governor's yamen. Soon they were as desirous of
returning to their capital as they had formerly been reluctant to do
so. "Hurry up the negotiations at all costs" were the orders sent
to the Plenipotentiaries, and hurry they did, so that by December a
settlement was within sight, the two most difficult questions--those
dealing with penalties and indemnities--being the last arranged.

The first named long caused embarrassment to the Chinese side and
greatly worried everybody, for there seemed no possible way to
compromise about it. The last ultimately resolved itself into the
simple problem not whether China would or would not pay, but what
she would pay with. Tariff Revision was suggested as one method, the
taxation of native opium as another. Speaking of the latter, the I.G.
one day remarked to Prince Ching, "I lost all my memoranda about it
when the Inspectorate was burned down." "But you have your wonderful
memory," the Prince replied, "and you must carry it through. I count
upon you, remember."

On Christmas Eve (1900) a great meeting was held at the Spanish
Legation--the Spanish Minister was doyen of the Diplomatic Corps at
the time. All the Ministers then assembled to meet Prince Ching and
Li and to hand over the final demands they had formulated. They were
signed in French that same day, and the next telegraphed in Chinese
word for word to the Court at Si-an.

Strange to say the I.G. was not present at the meeting, and therefore
reaped none of the kudos for his hard work. It was not for lack of
invitation, however. The Chinese certainly urged him to come. Li Hung
Chang, for instance, spoke continually of what he had done, and not an
official but was sincerely grateful and would gladly have pushed him
forward. A vainer man, a lighter character, must have yielded to the
temptation to satisfy his vanity, but he had the strength to refuse,
saying, "Being a foreigner, my presence would only complicate

The Court, however, did not allow his efforts to go unrewarded.
They telegraphed another high if queer-sounding honour from Si-an.
Thenceforth he was to be addressed as _Kung-pao_, or Guardian of the
Heir-Apparent,--who, by the way, does not exist; not that in
China this trifling fact makes his guardians any less important
or honourable. The Empress-Dowager herself was well aware that the
importance of these Peace Negotiations could not be overestimated. She
knew that his promptness in urging the return of Prince Ching probably
saved the dynasty--that had Count Waldersee arrived before any Chinese
officials had taken action, it is impossible to say what might not
have happened; and to further show her Imperial approbation she
summoned him to a private audience on her return to Peking and said

[Illustration: PEKING PEACE PROTOCOL, 1901.

Left to right (seated) Secretary of Japanese Legation Baron
d'Anthouard, Secretary of French Legation Baron (now Count) Komura,
Japanese Minister M. Knotel, Minister for the Netherlands Marquis
Salvago-Raggi, Minister for Italy M de Giers, Minister for Russia M.
de Cologan, Minister for Spain Baron Czikann de Wahlborn. Minister for
Austria M. Joostens, Minister for Belgium Baron Momin, Minister for
Germany Sir Ernest Satow, Minister for Great Britain Mr. Rockhill,
Minister for the United States M. Beau, Minister for France.]

To him she showed her softest side, melted into kindness and
consideration, complimented him in her velvet voice, and went so
far as to say, when some question of the future came up, "We owe the
possibility of a new beginning to the help you have given our faithful
Ministers." Last of all she paid him a greater tribute still. When on
enquiring where he lived, and being told by Prince Kung on his knees
and in deeply apologetic tones, "Since the little accident in
1900, when Sir Robert's house was burned, he has been living behind
Kierulff's shop," her eyes filled with tears, and with real regret in
her voice she said, "How can we look you in the face?"



With the conclusion of the Peking Congress a new era began in the old
capital. One could scarcely expect the effects of the Siege and its
terrible aftermath to wear off at once. It was long indeed before the
city resumed anything like a normal appearance, before people dared to
come creeping back to their ruined shops and houses. Some, alas! found
they had nothing to creep back to, not even ruins--for the Legations,
determined never to be caught in the same trap a second time,
insisted upon reserving a big area for themselves and fortifying
it. Unfortunately those who had borne least of the heat of the day
received the largest rewards in the newly planned Quarter, and grabbed
most greedily and with least justice. Consideration for Chinese
sentiments at such a time would have been almost more than human, but
revenge carried to the point of making the I.G., because he was an
employee of the Chinese Government, suffer for the mistakes of that
Government, seems both unnecessary and ungenerous. This, however, was
just what happened. His fine garden was ruthlessly chopped to pieces
in the rearrangement, and though he did not actually lose ground, the
long walk around the house was spoiled and he found a frowning wall
five feet from his back windows. Moreover there was nothing he could
do to prevent these things--the opinions of critics who accused him
of weakness notwithstanding. These critics wanted him to shout his
grievances aloud, to make them audible above the din of that noisy
time. But what hope had he of being heard? The Chinese officials
_could_ not listen and his own countrymen _would_ not, so where was he
to turn?

Nothing remained for it but to build his house on the old
foundations--an economical plan--and try to forget about the wall near
the back windows. The garden also was set in order. As the Psalmist
says, "The wilderness was made to blossom," for wilderness it was.
Judging from appearances, Chinese soldiers must have encamped there.
They left their rice-bowls in the path and their fans under the trees.
Probably they stayed some days and looted at leisure, then disappeared
as suddenly as they had come, after a sharp struggle with a company
of Boxers, for two of these patriots in full regalia--red sashes and
rusty swords--lay dead in the long grass. Poor patriots, they owed
their quiet graves under a barbarian's lawn to a barbarian's kindness.
I wonder if their ghosts have a sense of humour, and if they ever
chuckle a little over the trick Fate played on them when they were


Once established again in his new-old quarters, the I.G. went back
to his former routine of life. The band-boys, scattered by the Siege,
returned, one having become, all of a sudden, a hero.

It happened during the days immediately following the Relief, when the
prostrate city was given up to plunderers. A company of soldiers
chose to break into a big dwelling-house, and the Chinese inhabitants
scampered--men and women--in wild terror. Then suddenly, in the midst
of the confusion, a bugle call rang loud and clear on the air. The
European soldiers, recognizing the "Retreat" and fearing a superior
force was about to descend on them, stood not on the order of their
going, but left at once. Yet it was no superior force after all. A
single man by his presence of mind saved the situation--and that man
was the I.G.'s best cornet player. Afterwards, I remember, he used to
be pointed out to strangers at garden parties, and he had quite a deal
of notoriety before he and his gallantry were forgotten in the daily
round of commonplace happenings.

Taking into consideration the great shock of 1900, it is wonderful how
the I.G. could remain unaltered in all his habits, could be so unmoved
by the changes taking place around him. The Chinese officials, for
instance--who suddenly became as anxious for Western comforts as they
had hitherto detested them--drove over modernized roads in carriages;
he clung to his old-fashioned sedan chair. The majority of the
besieged bought--or otherwise acquired loot; he never spent a penny on
it, and never entered what the looters euphemistically liked to call
"deserted houses."


The whole community took advantage of the opening of the Temple of
Heaven and the Temple of Agriculture, fine parks free from dust and
the noise of the city; he never entered either. Nor at a time when the
whole world was discussing the Winter Palace and the Forbidden City,
did he consider that the dictates of good breeding permitted him to go
where the rightful owners would have refused him entrance. He took his
outings as usual either in his own garden or on the city wall, from
which he could watch the slow rebuilding of the Legation Quarter, a
perfect _salade Russe_ of architecture, with German gables, classic
Venetian gateways and Flemish turrets jostling one another.

This calm life continued for four peaceful years. Then he was startled
again by a bolt from the blue. The Inspectorate of Customs was
transferred by Imperial Edict from the Wai-Wu-Pu to the Shui-Wu-Ch'u,
a Board specially created to control it.

The real meaning of the change was not easy to fathom, but everybody
seized the opportunity to talk at once--all the newspapers and the
correspondents and the political experts; to criticize, to prophesy,
to predict, to shake their heads--all but one man, the man most
concerned. And he said nothing; he listened while the others
authoritatively stated what he must think, what he did think, and what
he would think later. To tell the truth he thought less of his own
position, the prestige of which was undoubtedly affected by a move
that turned him from a semi-political agent into a simple departmental
head, than he did of the future of his service. Consequently, at a
juncture when he had the best excuse for deserting a post which had
partially deserted him, he remained to reassure outsiders as well
as employees and to prove that radical as the Edict seemed, its real
meaning was not half so disturbing as it appeared.


Anxiety could never have driven him away; it took insomnia to make him
apply for the leave he so greatly needed. His brain, like Gladstone's,
was overtaxed; the problems which he had so long considered gave him
no rest, and by night as well as by day his too active mind thought
and planned and considered. Rest was therefore imperative,
and fortunately his leave was granted. At the same time the
Empress-Dowager commanded him to an Audience. It was not the first by
any means, as he had for the last few years always gone to the Palace
at the Chinese New Year. But as it was typical of the others, a few
words of description may not come amiss. He was off early in the
morning as usual, surrounded by Palace officials mounted on shaggy
ponies who trotted beside his sedan chair while their riders with
shrieks and yells cleared a way for the cavalcade. The police guards
popped out of their stations to salute him--I can tell you that hour's
journey across the city was something in the nature of a triumphal
progress, what with traffic airily waved aside and sentries and
soldier-police presenting arms! At the Palace gates he alighted, and
was met by other officials, bigger and grander, and conducted to
the Hall of Audience. A considerable distance still remained to
be covered; courtyard after courtyard had to be traversed and an
artificial lake crossed in a barge before the Hall itself was reached
and--an official having gone ahead and peeped in and announced
his presence informally--he was shown into the presence of Their
Majesties. Side by side on a little raised platform sat the Emperor
and the Empress-Dowager, each with a table before them. He might have
noticed that there were flowers on the Empress's table and none on the
Emperor's, but that otherwise the room was not particularly large or
imposing and very bare--without chairs, without cupboards, without
ornamentation of any kind except the beautiful painting on the ceiling
and the fine woodcarving on the long doors. But he had a speech
to make--absorbing occupation--and as soon as it was over the
Empress-Dowager was talking to him quite simply about his travels and
asking questions about London. She shyly confessed that since her one
and only train journey--from Si-an in 1900--she had conceived a great
liking for travel and enjoyed seeing strange sights. Then she wished
him a happy voyage and concluded by remarking: "We have chosen to
give you some little keepsakes," using the word meaning a "personal
souvenir" rather than a formal and perfunctory "present." It was
a moment of natural excitement, and the I.G., dumb with emotion,
received the intimation in unflattering silence. "Thank," said the
Minister who presented him, in agonized tones; and while he stammered
out a simple "Thank you," devoid of any conventional flourishes, the
Minister went down on his knees and put his gratitude prettily.
The interview was then closed; Emperor and Empress both assumed a
Buddha-like impassivity of expression and allowed the I.G. to back
just as if they were entirely oblivious of his presence. Such is
the Chinese method of differentiating between the friend and the

PEKING 1902.]

In the waiting-room he told his _faux pas_ to the Ministers, either
coming from or going into the Audience Hall, and expressed his
annoyance that the proper formula for returning thanks had slipped his
mind when it did. They laughed heartily over the incident, and for his
comfort told him the story of a certain man called Kwei Hsin, who had
an even worse experience. Some time in the late 'seventies he returned
from an audience pulling his beard, which was long and thin. He seemed
visibly annoyed about something.

"What has happened?" enquired his colleagues anxiously.


On the left is admiral Hu Yue Fen]

"Well," said he, "the Emperor (then little more than a child) asked me
a question to-day which I could not answer."

"And what was it?" Their minds immediately flew to knotty points
at issue. Was it about the finances of the provinces? Could it be a
Censor had denounced some one and enquiries were to be made?

"He asked me," said Kwei Hsin slowly, "if I slept with my beard under
the quilt or outside it, and for the life of me I could not remember,
so I stood there dumb as a fish."

Two or three days after the audience the "souvenirs" were brought to
the I.G. by the Palace servants. In addition, they gave him a little
surprise of their own. He found them pasting a big red placard on his
front gate. It was their way of advertising his newest honour--the
Presidency of a Board--and has had the sanction of society in China
since the Flood. What if it is a little embarrassing! It would be
worse for the newly promoted to tell his friends about his step up in
the world himself. By this method he is spared the trouble, and while
he theoretically knows nothing about it, the Imperial servants
take this delicate means of making the honour known, receiving a
substantial tip for their thoughtfulness.

But the I.G., whose modesty was entirely genuine instead of
counterfeit, was shocked at seeing himself lauded in three-inch black
characters on a flaring red ground, and driven in desperation to
explain that while his gratitude was unbounded, he did not want
an admiring crowd collected on his threshold. So, much to the
disappointment of his servants, who in China feel that their master's
glory reflects upon themselves, the announcement was taken down.

Whoever says "No man can be a hero to his own valet" is wrong, for
the I.G. was undoubtedly a hero to his whole household--modesty
notwithstanding. Most of his servants remained with him for thirty
years, and at the end one and all gave him an excellent "character."
"We have found you a very satisfactory master," said they--which
sounds strange to us, but is the Chinese way of doing things. No
wonder they said so. He had such a horror of asking too much from
those he employed that he was far too lenient with them. His ear
was too attentive to their stories, his purse too open to their
borrowings. When their relatives died--and in China each man has an
army of them, including duplicate mothers and grandmothers--boys,
cooks, coolies and bandsmen rushed to "borrow" from him. I cannot
remember hearing that one ever came to repay.

At last this fact struck even the I.G., long-suffering though he
was. "Why do you not ask me to give you this amount?" he mildly
expostulated to the next man who came pleading for the funeral
expenses of his brother's son's wife.

"Oh," replied the fellow, pained and grieved at his master's want
of understanding, "I couldn't do that. If I did I should lose
'face'"--that is, prestige and standing in the community. On such a
slender thread hangs self-respect in the Far East.

The old butler, a Cantonese with the manner of a courtier, was even
more privileged than the rest--and for the best of reasons. He
had been with his master for almost half a century. His memory was
wonderful, and sometimes on winter nights when he had helped to
serve the I.G.'s solitary and frugal dinner, he would presume on his
position, linger behind the other servants, and call up again to the
I.G.'s mind the night in 1863--just such a bitter night as this, with
just such a howling wind--when together they had gone to meet Gordon,
and the sampan taking them ashore had capsized, throwing them both
into the icy water.

Occasionally then the I.G. would retaliate with reminiscences of Ah
Fong making the Grand Tour of Europe with him in 1878--how he
kissed his hands to the winning French chambermaids, and called out
"Allewalla, Allewalla!" ("Au revoir, au revoir!"), or how he had
answered the horrified ladies of Ireland who inquired about his
duties,--"Morning time my brush master's clothes, night time my bring
he brandy and water."


In this age of uninterested or inanimate "helps," a servitor like Ah
Fong is about as rare as an archaeopteryx. Devotion and loyalty such
as his are fast dying out of the world, but they make a pretty picture
when one does find them, and I like to tell how the old servant
grieved at the thought of separation from one who represented his
whole horizon.

The I.G., too, must have felt some sentiment at leaving the faces
to which he was accustomed, the house which had grown dear in almost
thirty years of uninterrupted solitude. It is just these associations
which are most intangible, which sound most trivial set down in black
and white, that often take the strongest hold upon us. Habit, the

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