«My meeting with president Wilson was to me, an interesting episode. He was then at the zenith of his spectacular career. The World had selected him as the great Arbiter of peace. Wherever he went, he was being received as a sort of Messiah; the fuss made about him was enough to turn a god’s head. This extreme adulation, this elevation of an outsider to first position in the seething Europe of that day, belongs, according to me, to the special ‘war nevrose’ of the time. Humanity was searching for a superman who would be able to allay the evil spirits let loose by four years appalling war, so it fastened its hope and illusions upon the long faced, sober-looking man from beyond the seas. President Wilson, whose language was so wise, was he not the one indicated to lead the way, to trace a road others could follow, a man to whose advice would be worth listening, who, because not an European, would be a perfectly unbiased umpire, judging all questions impartially and without passion? The world has an instinctive need of idols. It likes to set them up and bow down to them, without pausing to enquire if perchance they may have feet of clay. And even if at first the idol of the day is somewhat bewildered by this sudden uplifting to giddy heights, he gradually begins to agree with those proclaiming his superior merits; for praise and adulation are difficult to resist. Finally he believes in his superior perfection and enjoys the part he has been told to play, fitting comfortable into the niche selected for him. But humans are fickle, and are as ready to pull down as to set up. They even do this with a certain, to me, incomprehensible gusto, as though revenging themselves upon the unfortunate idol for their own mistaken enthusiasm. The fall of the idol is often as cruel as it is unfair. At the outset the chosen one is perhaps instinctively aware of his own limitations, but having been lifted upon the highest crest of popularity, he is quite unprepared for this sudden and blasting change of wind. Thus it was with Wilson, whose fall was, I think as unjustified as his sudden elevation had been. I dislike unfairness in any form; but then I am no lion-hunter, nor am I ever inclined to howl with the wolves. I like to hear of great men being recognized and getting their due, but I am wary of too explosive hero-worship, and can never understand why man must be so excessive, both in adoration or hatred. Anyhow when I came to Paris, Wilson was the man of the day. His name was in every mouth, there was something a little sickening about the way he was being glorified and set up on a pedestal which could not but make him giddy. So much indeed had his head been turned by all the fuss made of him that he wondered if, as great representer of Democracy, it was not under his dignity to pay a visit to the Queen of Romania – A mere Queen! But as everybody was doing so, he thought he would cleverly escape this politeness expected of him, by letting me know that he would be delighted to pay his respects, but, being a very busy man, he had no time at his disposal after 9 a.m. With perfect amiability I sent answer that, myself an early riser, I would be glad to receive him even at seven in the morning, if this were agreeable to him. The wind having thus been taken out of his sails, he compromised and came to see me with Mrs. Wilson at half past eight. So they came, both he and she, accompanied by an admiral who was doing duty as A.D.C. and who took part in the audience, which for us seemed unusual, as our military or naval attendants generally wait in another room. The President was exactly like his pictures; tall, lean, with a very long face and benign smile, his whole appearance being very much that of a sleek and rather puritanical clergyman. So as to be quite precise about my impressions I think it perhaps not uninteresting to quote my diary of that date.
April 10th 1919
President Wilson came early to see me this morning with his wife and the smile he has on his photographs. I received him with my usual simplicity and directness, so that conversation never lagged, although our time was sadly limited. We talked about many things ‘à l’ordre du jour’, also touching upon the subject of Bolshevism, ever uppermost in my mind, and I could give him a few savoury details about what Bolsheviks really were which he did not know.
I also expounded upon the hopes of smaller countries for which he had set up a defender and this led us over to the League of Nations[i] and he began proclaiming the excellence of his pet idea, and how it would especially be the smaller countries which would benefit by the League. All in admiring the beauty of the thought, I could not however abstain from drawing his attention to the way great ideas were often marred by future followers and partisans who gradually corrupted the initial thought, making finally something quite different out of a great ideal. It was thus with most religious, and today Christ would probably weep over what man had made out of His teaching. What horrors had not been perpetrated in the name of Religion? Our modern world was sadly mercenary and commercial, nor had I noticed any turn to the better after all this tragic war-upheaval. Still hope always existed that, a new and happier solidarity might arise out of the actual chaos. ‘But’ I added ‘let us not treat our fallen enemies too mercilessly. Hatred is a bad councillor, and leads to more trouble!’ On the next day we lunched with Mr. and Mrs. Wilson and I continued to study the great man with interest.
April 11th 1919
Lunched with the President accompanied by my sister[ii], daughters and suite. A small party and a most pleasant meal. Being profoundly interested in the old gentleman’s ideas and ideals I encouraged him to expound his theories, which he was very willing to do, and was, I think, pleased at the attention with which I listened. He spoke much and well.
President Wilson is exactly as he has been described. He is a born preacher and might be a highly cultivated clergyman. Very convicted of always being right, there is something slighty patronising about him, but at the same time he is quite homme du monde, polite, amiable, even somewhat ceremonious. Very ready to argue, he is however, owing to his superior, detached attitude ‘qui le fait planer au-dessus du commun des mortels’, certain that he will always have the last word. Although not unsympathetic, he nevertheless awakes that certain feeling of antagonism particular to those who, because of their aloofness, are convinced of their undiscussable superiority. It makes one wonder if they are absolutely genuine. I can only hope that Wilson is genuine, so as to justify the extraordinary confidence Europe has in his arbitration. Many of his own compatriots look upon him as a fraud, and there is a large party in the United States, eagerly awaiting his downfall; for such is the world.
We had one pass of arms. He very sanctimoniously preached to me about how we should treat our minorities, demonstrating how very important this was and spread himself out at great length upon this topic, becoming exceedingly unctuous and moral as he warmed to his subject, treating me the while as a rather ignorant beginner who could profit of his advice. No doubt I could, but he struck me as being rather too fond of the sound of his own voice, so finally, when he paused to take breath, I mildly suggested that he was evidently well acquainted with these difficulties because of the Japanese question in the United States?
Upon this he bared his rather long teeth in a polite smile, drew up his eye-brows and declared he was not aware that there was a Japanese question in America! Not being a preacher, and as I was his guest, I merely shrugged my shoulders and dropped the subject…
Before leaving, I got him to promise he would call Brãtianu [ the Romanian prime minister] so as to give him a chance to lay our situation before him. But I had the feeling that if there had been time, I could do much more with the President than our Prime Minister who spoke no English; besides I always rather enjoy a skirmish.»
Source: Diana Mandache, Later Chapters of My Life. The Lost Memoir of Queen Marie of Romania, Sutton, 2004
[i]King Ferdinand and Queen Marie were the first monarchs to visit the League of Nations in Geneva (1924).
[ii]Beatrice, Infanta of Spain, née Princess of Edinburgh (b.1883-d.1966); married with Alfonso (Ali), Infante of Spain in 1909; her nickname was Baby Bee.