Asquith’s notes, 2 August 1914 (end of this series)

Things are pretty black. Germany is now in active war with both Russia and France and the Germans have violated the neutrality of Luxembourg. We are waiting to know whether they are going to do the same with Belgium. I had a visit at breakfast from Lichnowsky, who was very émotionné and implored me not to side with France. He said that Germany, with her army cut in two between France and Russia, was far more likely to be crushed than France. He was very agitated, poor man, and wept. I told him that we had no desire to intervene, and that it rested largely with Germany to make intervention impossible if she would (1) not invade Belgium and (2) not send her fleet into the Channel to attack the unprotected north coast of France. He was bitter about the policy of his Government in not restraining Austria and seemed quite heart-broken.
Then we had a long Cabinet from 11 till nearly 2, which very soon revealed that we are on the brink of a split. We agreed at last with some difficulty that Grey should be authorized to tell Cambon that our fleet would not allow the German fleet to make the Channel a base of hostile operations. John Burns at once resigned, but was persuaded to hold on at any rate till the evening when we meet again. There is a strong party against any kind of intervention in any event. Grey, of course, will never consent to this and I shall not separate myself from him. Crewe, McKenna and Samuel are a modifying intermediate body. Bonar Law writes that the Opposition will back us up in any measure we may take for the support of France and Russia. I suppose a good number of our own party in the House of Commons are for absolute non-interference. It will be a shocking thing if at such a moment we break up.
Happily I am quite clear in my own mind as to what is right and what is wrong. (1) We have no obligation of any kind either to France or Russia to give them military or naval help. (2) The dispatch of the Expeditionary Force to help France at this moment is out of the question and would serve no object. (3) We must not forget the ties created by our long-standing and intimate friendship with France. (4) It is against British interests that France should be wiped out as a Great Power. (5) We cannot allow Germany to use the Channel as a hostile base. (6) We have obligations to Belgium to prevent it being utilized and absorbed by Germany.

[These posts were a series of extracts from the first chapter of the second volume of Extracts from Memories and Reflections, 1852-1927, by the Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (1928), and we have now reached the end of it. Asquith describes the material as follows: “I have not myself, except for a brief period, kept what is technically called a “Diary”, but I have been in the habit of jotting down irregularly my impressions of noteworthy persons and incidents while they were still fresh in my memory. I believe this to be an innocent and even a useful practice, for though I have on the whole a serviceable working memory; experience has shown me that no faculty is more subject to lapses, particularly when it is a question of preserving the ipsissima verba of a conversation. For the period I now approach I have drawn freely upon such of these contemporary notes as were accessible, and also upon letters to a few intimate friends, which they have been good enough to place at my disposal.” Most of the material is apparently from his correspondence with Venetia Stanley.]