Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 19, 1900 --- Mr. Astor's Great Gaffe

The American expatriate millionaire William Waldorf Astor (left) makes an apology in the columns of his own newspaper, The Pall Mall Gazette.

Astor had lived in England for eight years and, although basically an eccentric recluse, he had made inroads into society. While he preferred to sleep in the strongroom at his office in the City, surrounded by bags of gold sovereigns, his parties at Cliveden, his splendid Thames-side seat, and at his home in Carlton House Terrace became justly famous.

In late June, he entertained at the latter address. The Countess of Orford, invited by Astor, brought as her escort Captain Sir Berkeley Milne of the Royal Navy, a former commander of the Queen's yacht. At the door, however, Astor confronted the officer, declaring, "I have not had the pleasure of your acquaintance and I must ask you to leave." The abashed Milne retreated to his club where he wrote an immediate apology. Astor was not satisfied at all and placed an item in the society column of the Gazette: "We are desired to make known that the presence of [Capt. Milne] at Mr. Astor's concert last Thursday evening was uninvited."

London society was set aflame. The Prince of Wales, whom Astor had egregiously befriended in hopes of a knighthood, stood by Milne, inviting him to sit in the Royal box at the theatre. The Saturday Review sallied to Milne's defense, "the latchet of whose shoe Astor with all his millions is unworthy to untie." Astor was threatened with expulsion from the Carlton Club unless he apologised. At last, claiming a "misapprehension," Astor states in the Gazette: "Explanations of a completely categorical kind now show that (Milne's) presence was due to a misunderstanding that entirely absolves him from any individual discourtesy."

Time and Astor's fortune - he heavily supported the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital - eventually assuaged the ill feelings and the Prince, when King, made him a Viscount.

Mr. Astor from the New York Times

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