It Was Nothing

Sep 5, 2014

Amid so much news of international conflict and human loss (Ferguson, Missouri; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; civil wars in Ukraine, Libya, Syria, and Iraq), Americans were heartened this morning to learn that peace had returned to the houses of Salisbury and Derby with the sudden resolution Thursday of a misunderstanding between Thomas Montagu, Earl of Salisbury and Frederick Stanley, Earl of Derby. Addressing Lord Derby, Lord Salisbury wrote:

Dear sir,

I sincerely apologize for not having immediately seized the opportunity to say how sorry I was not to have managed the regrettable development in question in a less questionable manner that might have placed me outside or beyond your just censure when, Lord knows, I was already guilty of a reprehensible oversight of, frankly, inexcusable proportions, and although I am not much given to self-flagellation, I hope you know that it is with sincere but admittedly insufficient humility that I debase myself to beg your pardon now, feeling inexpressibly ashamed yet ready to subject myself to your understandable admonishment, which I take to be very light punishment indeed, sensing as I do the reprehension I might have expected to receive from one whose chiding, although ever restrained toward my undeserving person, nevertheless has cut me to the quick on other occasions of lesser moment -- not that your words were too harsh (on the contrary!) -- when my culpability was less apparent, though great; but in this new instance, I perceive more acutely than ever the unforgivable nature of my -- what shall I call it? can it be named? -- sin against all that is sacred in this blessed life, a life in which I henceforth readily accept all due reprobation, and would accept far worse, were it not that God's wrath is restrained by a spirit of mercy that, though it not find direct application in my case, still sets a limit on what I may fear to suffer at His omnipotent hands, and so likewise hope to bear without resistance, even in the heat of your righteous anger, the forcefulness of the rebuke I have long expected and patiently await. Your servant, etc.

As relations between the two great families weighed in the balance, Lord Derby penned the following reply:

My dear sir,

I am sure I have long since forgiven the supposed offense to which you refer – and of which, frankly, I have so faint a memory that I cannot imagine your actions ever having caused my slightest discomfort, let alone pain and suffering of intensity sufficient to prompt in me sentiments of outrage and fury. On the evening in question, I stood in little need of consolation, and so I would not have remarked any such failure of yours. But, hear me, I am loath to call that a failure which my own shocking heedlessness invited. I was neglectful. More to the point, my self-satisfaction stole from me an awareness of my proper duty. A guest has the right to expect from his host a tender regard for his comfort, first and foremost (for it is the sad truth that my very happiness blinded me to the awkwardness of the circumstances in which you found yourself due to no fault of your own). If you indeed stumbled (a fact which I dispute!), you precipitated no harm beyond what I inflicted upon my own honor. I pray you will continue to hold me in your esteem, unworthy though I have proved myself of late. In short, I was unjust, and far from blaming you, I beg you to forgive me.

President Obama joined other world leaders in praising the two noblemen, stating, “Because the two lords were able to rise above their differences, a great catastrophe was averted.”