Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Portraits of the Nineties
Author: Raymond, E. T.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Portraits of the Nineties" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



PORTRAITS OF THE NINETIES



    PORTRAITS OF THE SIXTIES

        BY JUSTIN MCCARTHY.
        With portrait Illustrations.

    PORTRAITS OF THE SEVENTIES

        BY THE RT. HON. G. W. E. RUSSELL.
        With portrait Illustrations.

    PORTRAITS OF THE EIGHTIES

        BY HORACE G. HUTCHINSON.
        With portrait Illustrations.

    T. FISHER UNWIN, LTD., LONDON.



[Illustration: W. E. GLADSTONE.             [_Frontispiece_

(_From a portrait by J. McLure Hamilton._)]



                              PORTRAITS OF
                              THE NINETIES

                                   BY
                              E. T. RAYMOND

                          WITH 20 ILLUSTRATIONS

                          T. FISHER UNWIN, LTD.
                         LONDON: ADELPHI TERRACE

                  _First published_     _September 1921_
                  _Second Impression_   _October 1921_
                  _Third Impression_    _October 1921_
                  _Fourth Impression_   _January 1922_

                          _All rights reserved_



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                             PAGE

         I. THE NINETIES                                   9

        II. THE EARL OF ROSEBERY                          19

       III. CECIL RHODES                                  30

        IV. MR. GLADSTONE                                 41

         V. GEORGE MEREDITH                               50

        VI. LORD SALISBURY                                60

       VII. LORD KITCHENER                                69

      VIII. THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE                        83

        IX. ARCHBISHOP TEMPLE                             93

         X. LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL                      102

        XI. HERBERT SPENCER                              111

       XII. MR. CHAMBERLAIN AND MR. BALFOUR              122

      XIII. OSCAR WILDE                                  136

       XIV. SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT                         145

        XV. BISHOP CREIGHTON                             154

       XVI. JOHN MORLEY                                  164

      XVII. W. T. STEAD                                  174

     XVIII. SIR HENRY FOWLER                             183

       XIX. AUBREY BEARDSLEY                             192

        XX. LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH                     200

       XXI. THOMAS HARDY                                 211

      XXII. EARL SPENCER                                 221

     XXIII. SIR H. M. STANLEY                            230

      XXIV. JUSTIN McCARTHY                              239

       XXV. LORD LEIGHTON AND G. F. WATTS                248

      XXVI. CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON—WILLIAM BOOTH        260

     XXVII. SOME LAWYERS                                 271

    XXVIII. OLD AND NEW JOURNALISTS                      288

      XXIX. SOME ACTORS                                  308

            BIBLIOGRAPHY                                 315

            INDEX                                        317



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


    W. E. GLADSTONE                            _Frontispiece_

                                                 FACING PAGE

    CECIL RHODES                                          30

    GEORGE MEREDITH                                       50

    LORD SALISBURY                                        60

    LORD KITCHENER                                        70

    LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL                              102

    HERBERT SPENCER                                      112

    JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN                                   122

    ARTHUR BALFOUR                                       128

    OSCAR WILDE                                          136

    JOHN MORLEY                                          164

    W. T. STEAD                                          174

    AUBREY BEARDSLEY                                     192

    LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH                             200

    THOMAS HARDY, O.M.                                   212

    EARL SPENCER                                         222

    JUSTIN McCARTHY                                      240

    LORD LEIGHTON                                        248

    G. F. WATTS IN HIS STUDIO                            254

    GENERAL BOOTH                                        264



PORTRAITS OF THE NINETIES



CHAPTER I

THE NINETIES


The late Mr. Justin McCarthy’s vivid _Portraits of the Sixties_, the late
Mr. George Russell’s admirable volume dealing with the men and women of
the Seventies, and Mr. Horace Hutchinson’s more recent _Portraits of the
Eighties_ form together an invaluable biographical guide to a period
second in interest to none in modern history. It is the business of a
less distinguished pen to attempt to give some account of leading figures
during the last years of the century and of the reign of Queen Victoria.

The task is one to be approached with equal interest and trepidation.
With interest, because what men thought and did in the Nineties—still
more what they neglected to do and forgot to think—is still powerful
to-day; what we are and suffer was in the main decided for us a quarter
of a century ago. With trepidation, because the time is distant
enough for the reader to demand something more than a mere essay in
instantaneous photography, with its mad foreshortenings and irrelevant
emphasis; while it is also near enough for errors to be exposed by
competent witnesses—people who were behind the scenes at the performance,
while the writer was only one of the gallery.

It requires no great courage to attempt an “appreciation” of anybody,
from Homer to Addison, who has long been dead. For if one knows very
little about such people, there is really very little to be known—little,
that is, to tell us the very men they were. The great figures of the
past are either phantoms or statues, things of mist or things of stone,
without form or with nothing but form. Of a phantom there can be any
view; of a statue there can be essentially but one; the only possible
diversity is attained by throwing coloured lights on it, as they do on
stage groups. Thus, when literary men say that the time has not yet
arrived for a “final estimate” of this person or that, they do not
mean that a true estimate may be formed hereafter. All they mean is
that any present estimate is liable to effective contradiction. When
effective contradiction becomes by the nature of things impossible, we
have not necessarily attained truth, but we have achieved what is called
“historical perspective.”

“Drastic measures,” said the schoolboy in _Vice Versa_, “is Latin for a
whopping.” “Historical perspective” means immunity from being “whopped”
for an unlucky guess. The learned professor to whom the mind of his own
butler is probably a dark mystery discourses confidently about the secret
motives of Tiglath Pilezer or Oliver Cromwell, not because he knows, but
because he knows nobody else knows. An anti-authoritarian like Mr. Wells
will traverse the said professor’s view (if he happens not to like it)
with equal decision and for the same reason. Everybody may declare that
the professor is right and Mr. Wells wrong. Nobody can prove it.

The case is different when a letter to _The Times_, stating an
indisputable but hitherto unpublished fact, may make nonsense of the most
ingenious deductions, or when (as in the case of Lord Beaconsfield) light
is suddenly thrown on a quite unsuspected corner of some great man’s
character. The writer is not foolish enough to pretend to “finality,” and
will not be greatly perturbed if he is accused of doing less or more than
justice to individuals. In some sense the ancients were right in holding
that the real purpose of biography was less truth than edification. For
the “verdict of history” is a futility when considered in relation to
the individual arraigned before its bar; when we can be sure of doing
perfect justice in the simplest police case we may begin to talk about
the infallibility of a tribunal of pedants. The chief usefulness of such
a verdict is that of a sign-post to the living; and for such purpose
the rough method of the ancients, who put a halo round one man’s head
and hung another in chains by the roadside, was perhaps more effective
than the modern way of submitting all to the same sort of post-mortem
examination. Carry analysis to the length of an autopsy, and hero and
scoundrel look very much alike.

The writer’s view, it may be repeated, is rather that of the gallery
than the green-room. It is least of all that of any individual player’s
tea-party. The gallery has its defects. Attention is diverted by the
crackers of nuts and suckers of oranges. The actors appear quaintly
foreshortened, and throw puzzling shadows. The finer by-play sometimes
passes unnoticed, or its meaning is not rightly apprehended. There is
a tendency, perhaps, to think the man who mouths his part the best
actor. But on the whole the gallery knows a good play when it sees it,
and is more than any other part of the house free from the more cranky
prepossessions of the moment. It has no pose. It has little faddism. It
has neither the servility nor the malice of the deadhead. It has paid
honest money, and wants honest money’s worth, is unaffectedly pleased
when it gets it, and frankly angry if it doesn’t. It may be too generous
when it claps, and a trifle unjust when it hisses. But it is honest in
both moods.

If the writer may sometimes avail himself of the privileges of the
gallery to deal frankly with the eminent, he has certainly no bias
against the Nineties. He recalls them as, on the whole, a golden age.
The sun shone brighter in those days. The east wind was less bitter.
The women were certainly prettier and (perhaps) more modest; the steaks
were juicier; the landladies were a kindlier race. There was a zest and
flavour in life lacking to-day. Youth was emancipated from the harsher
kind of parental control, and had not yet found a stern step-father in
the State. The world was all before it where to choose, and the future
was veiled in a rose-coloured mist. If some well-meaning elder suggested
that one might (by working really hard) end by being Attorney-General, or
even editor of _The Times_, one said the right thing aloud, but inwardly
murmured, “Ambition should be made of jollier stuff.” Those were, in
short, the days when for men now middle-aged everything was possible,
except failure and death: unthinkable things notoriously invented by old
fogies to depress the spirits of immortal youth.

One other thing was “unthinkable,” and that was war. A “sort of war”
was, of course, familiar to the early Nineties; the public then rather
enjoyed seeing the bombardment of Alexandria on the diorama (perhaps it
is necessary to explain that the diorama was “the pictures” of that less
advanced epoch). It relished small frontier campaigns. It was overjoyed
with things like the smashing of Lobengula and the Jameson Raid. The
Liberal _Speaker_—the _Nation_ of those days—even thought it necessary to
reprove the taste which delighted in pictures and descriptions of savage
warfare; it talked about a “recrudescence of barbarism.” But of war in
the real sense nobody dreamed.

Why should there be war? We had enough, and to spare, of the earth’s
surface: some even rather objected to the addition of the small black
baby of Uganda to our enormous family. We were willing to help Germany,
as one of the Teutonic family, to help herself to other people’s
belongings; as for France, the appetite of that “dying nation,” its
petulance over various more or less important matters—Egypt, Siam,
Newfoundland, and the like—was certainly annoying, but war with France,
as with anybody else, was—well, “unthinkable.” The sound of great guns in
the Eastern seas, proclaiming the advent of a Pagan Great Power, broke
faintly on English ears, but few heeded the portent. One rather wooden
and rigid race had smashed another race even more rigid and wooden,
and had done it in a style suggestive of Western efficiency. But that
was all. There might be some little stir in the Chancelleries. But no
unofficial English head worried itself about a “Far Eastern question,”
even after Japan had been bundled out of Port Arthur by a combination of
European Powers, until towards the very end of the century.

Then, indeed, the clash of war, East, West, and South—in China, in
the Philippines, in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Sudan, and in South
Africa—might well have suggested some fear of the general toppling over
which was to come. But each incident was treated as a thing by itself;
of the way the world was going, of the real forces at work, the Nineties
had little conception. Rome under the Antonines was not more sure of the
impossibility of any fundamental change.

It is not altogether fanciful to connect this insensibility, this
half-pathetic faith that whatever was very dull must necessarily be very
solid and permanent, with the long reigns of certain European monarchs
and the extended lives of many public men. Few remembered any head
of the English State but Queen Victoria, or any Austrian Kaiser but
Francis Joseph. William I was only lately dead; it was but yesterday
that the word of Bismarck stood against the world, as it had done for a
generation. Mr. Gladstone was still the first figure in British politics
till nearly the middle of the Nineties: Lord Salisbury’s record extended
back to the dim days of Palmerston; even the Pope seemed immortal. Huxley
and Tyndal were survivals of an earlier age; the old fairy tales of
science had grown common-place, and the newer wonders were still to come;
though there were stirrings in letters and art, on the whole it was still
the reign of the old men.

Yet this appearance of changelessness was largely deceptive. The Nineties
were essentially a time of transition. They resembled that point in the
life of a caterpillar when a change of skin is almost due. The thing is
at once lethargic and uneasy; its qualms and its inertia alike suggest
coming dissolution. But beneath its rusty coat the essential activities
are going on, and presently the old constrictive covering will split,
and a quite new-looking creature emerge. What may be called a sort of
fatigued shabbiness was observable in the upper strata of society during
the Nineties. The split in the caterpillar’s coat had begun, but had
not proceeded far; patches of dead skin, of skin not quite dead, and of
new skin thrusting its way through the ancient envelope gave a mottled
and unsatisfactory appearance. The old society was visibly finishing;
the new society had only arrived in spots; and each was not quite sure
of itself. The fount of honour, which now plays steadily on new wealth,
spirted fitfully after the manner of a “lady-teaser” at a fair. Sometimes
the stream hit a Cunliffe-Lister, sometimes a Thomas Lipton. The ancient
gentility of the squires still stuck stolidly to the land, but there was
a certain restlessness in the younger generation, and when an old man
died an old house often changed hands, and a mysterious somebody from
the city arrived who filled the place with troops of week-end friends and
gave the impression that he did not much care whether “the county” called
or not.

In politics landed Toryism was already giving way to the vigorous urban
and suburban varieties; its leaders were mostly stricken in years,
and its cadets seemed to lack either ability or ambition. The great
entertainers of the old type carried on the tradition with a massive
resolution, but, as it seemed, with little conviction; it was the
atmosphere of the epilogue, not even of the last act. For over all the
older magnificence hung the challenge of the new millionaires who had
captured Park Lane. The Embankment was beginning to be what it is now—a
_via dolorosa_, sacred to the splendid equipages of men equally great
in the City and the West. The old aristocracy seemed conscious that the
new pace would kill—the pace of the petrol age just then opening up.
They were right. The twentieth century had not much more than dawned
before the old caterpillar skin definitely gave way, and something quite
new appeared, vigorous and symmetrical, with a keen appetite and a sure
objective: the aristocracy of what may be called dynamic wealth, the
wealth that reproduces itself by a sort of geometrical progression.

Of this conquest of the old by the new which was proceeding in the
Nineties, the closest observer was the working-class politician. While
the rest were assuming the permanence of the old conditions, while
Liberalism boasted itself Gladstonian, and Conservatism was still
Disraelian, Labour sent Mr. Keir Hardie to the House of Commons. It had
guessed rightly the main thing that had happened, however mistaken it
might be on details. Up to the Nineties Labour was sicklied o’er with the
pale cast of the thought of John Stuart Mill. In the Nineties it turned
contemptuously away from every “’ism” that lay between Mr. Gladstone’s
position and Mr. Bradlaugh’s. It was now ready to use Liberalism, but for
Liberalism, in another sense, it had no use; it was, if such a word can
be used where there was no sort of regard, more friendly to the squire
than to the rich Radical, but only because in its view the squire did
not matter much, and the great Radical did. Since the Nineties Labour
has changed less than any party. Its older leaders can—and very often
do—make, with applause, the same speeches to-day that struck audiences
with a sense of novelty just after the setting up of that great landmark
in industrial history—the London dockers’ strike.

The middle classes went on as in the days of Noë. They ate, drank, and
sang “Ta-ra-ra-boom-deay.” For them there never was, and there probably
never will be, a period like the Nineties. It was in many ways not a
healthy period economically; the school of economic thought which was
even then in the making deplored its “deleterious cheapness.” Certainly
everything was cheap except Consols and Home rails, and human flesh and
blood were as cheap as anything. It was a dismal equation the hopelessly
(or even hopefully) poor had to work out in terms of pieces of silver and
hours of labour. And the hopeful were few; the poor man could, as a rule,
see nothing before him but bare subsistence. But those who had money,
even a very little, could buy much with it; and it was possible to live a
quite liberal life on less than the wages of a dustman to-day.

For the Londoner especially life went very well then. He suffered from
the still undiminished reign of fog and the tall hat. But otherwise his
lot was happy. Town was quieter, but just as amusing as it is now, less
pretentious, and far less wearing; it had lost both the dismalness and
the crude rowdiness of an earlier period, and had not yet developed the
raucous note of the modern city. One rumbled along comfortably on a
horse-omnibus, or jingled merrily in a hansom, and was moderately sure
of getting somewhere. Superficially everything was slower than now;
practically it was much the same. For if the Underground steam train
was a trifle more leisurely, there was never a breakdown; and if the
horse-omnibus was supposed to take ten minutes to Liverpool Street, it
got to Liverpool Street in ten minutes. “An hour from the city” meant
an hour; to-day it may mean anything from twenty minutes to a hundred
and fifty, according to what the directors think of a Labour leader’s
economics or the railway and omnibus men of a Minister’s policy.

Well-fed, addicted to rather more healthy ideas of recreation than
his predecessors, amazingly ignorant of the outside world, deplorably
educated, but not unintelligent, the average young man of the Nineties
was decidedly self-satisfied. He thought himself a credit to his country,
and thought his country the only country worth mentioning. Continentals
were people who provided us with music-hall entertainers, barbers,
bakers, cheap clerks, and picturesque guests to see the recurrent
Jubilee, when John Bull, like a hospitable host, bared his big right arm
and showed his muscle to the visitors—in the form of a naval display at
Spithead and a procession of white, black, and yellow troops through the
streets of London. The American hardly counted.

“Ta-ra-ra-boom-deay” was the personal note of the period. “Soldiers of
the Queen”—

    “When we say that England’s _master_,
    Remember who have made _her_ so”—

represented the national gesture of the time: a time of boundless
confidence sustained on a basis in one sense horribly insecure and
in another firm as adamant. For, while the shakiness of the material
foundation of England’s “mastery” was soon to be exposed, the man of
the Nineties was to be otherwise justified in his careless faith. In
“reeking tube and iron shard” we were found but second-rate; it was the
qualities the Nineties rather went out of their way to deride that pulled
us through the evil days that followed that singular time. The English
character might seem a little vulgarised just then, a little disfigured
by superficial cynicism, but it still had its fellow to seek. And it was
just the young rowdy of that day, and not the elder who rebuked him, who
saved the period in the good opinion of its successors. The older men of
the Nineties had more than a touch of Polonius; they were excellent in
counsel, but of “most weak hams.” But if it was the autumn of the old
excellences, it was the springtide of other things, and the Nineties will
always have a claim on the reverence of Englishmen as the breeding and
growing time of men as brave as any of our blood.



CHAPTER II

THE EARL OF ROSEBERY


“I would give you a piece of plate if you could get that lad to work; he
is one of those who like the palm without the dust.”

So wrote Mr. William Cory, one of the masters at Eton in the Sixties,
concerning a favourite pupil, Lord Dalmeny, later to be widely famed as
Earl of Rosebery and Prime Minister of England. Mr. Cory seems to have
belonged to a rather rare class of men, and a perhaps still rarer class
of schoolmasters: those who really like boys and enjoy themselves in very
young society. Others besides Bacon have deemed it a not quite wholesome
taste; at any rate there is always a danger attaching to it—one may
develop into a hero-worshipper of a rather pitiable kind. Worse still,
one may get accustomed to the most sickly kind of incense. When Paul is
in his proper position at the feet of Gamaliel it is good for Paul, but
less certainly good for Gamaliel. When Gamaliel sits at the feet of Paul
it is good for neither. So when the excellent Cory talks with reverent
enthusiasm about the talented youth of the upper classes a normal man
is conscious of a certain impatience. Young Dalmeny seems to have
overpowered him. He is “surely the wisest boy that ever lived.” His Latin
verses are not as other boys’. He writes “flowing, simple, dignified
Latin,” “enjoys the old poetry as much as the modern,” and is (at fifteen
or a little more) “a strong but wise admirer of both Napoleons.” “I am
doing all I can,” says Mr. Cory, “to make him a scholar; anyhow, he will
be an orator, and, if not a poet, such a man as poets delight in.”

All this is most reminiscent of the schoolboys of Thackeray, with their
prize-poem inspirations, their Jacobite or Jacobin enthusiasms, and
their quaint affectations of profundity. But Mr. Cory, with all his
affectionate partiality for the young Scottish aristocrat, is still
sagacious. He puts his finger unerringly on the weak spot. The mature
Lord Rosebery, of course, did not get what the young Lord Dalmeny wanted.
He just missed the palm, and he got a great deal of the dust. But the
desire to have the best of all worlds, the love of facile success, the
resentment of pain, trouble, and ingratitude, no doubt explain his
strange and splendid but rather maimed career. Mr. Gladstone described
him, while he was still young, as “the man of the future.” Judges
scarcely less competent than Mr. Gladstone used Mr. Gladstone’s words
when he had advanced well into later middle life.

The mistake was natural enough; there is hardly anything that Lord
Rosebery might not have been, with good luck. But bad luck was his almost
from the cradle. He had scarcely known his father when death left only
a very old man’s life between him and a Scottish Earldom, an English
Barony, half a dozen minor hereditary distinctions, a large rent-roll,
and a goodly amount of cash. A few years later his mother married again;
she was a daughter of the house of Stanhope, a Court beauty, and a woman
of some intellectual distinction, to whom the young Dalmeny no doubt
owed much of his wit, as well as the almost girlish good looks which
were his in early life. There were literary elements on both sides of
his ancestry. The Primroses of Jacobean days had produced preachers and
writers of some eminence, and a didactic turn was natural in the family.
Lord Rosebery’s father, for example, was author of a dissertation on the
excellence of physical exercise and its neglect by the middle classes
of these islands; he acutely pointed out that the poor cultivated their
muscles at work, and the rich in sport, but the intervening order simply
neglected its physique, being engaged from morning till night in making
a living—all of which was clearly most unintelligent on the part of the
intervening order. The son was destined to come closely enough in touch
with actuality to avoid such artlessness. Nevertheless some trace of the
parental self-satisfaction was a constant in Lord Rosebery’s character.
He could never get out of his head the notion of his superiority to all
common men in his capacity of aristocrat, and his superiority to nearly
all aristocrats in his capacity of a man of intellect.

A favourite with his grandfather, but deprived of the discipline that
only a closer relationship can supply, the boy followed much his own
bent. He was admired at the preparatory school; he was admired at Eton.
We have seen what one of the masters thought of him. With the boys he was
not less a hero. For, as the worshipper already quoted remarks, he was
“full of fun,” carelessly good at games, carelessly good at lessons, the
very type of easy and good-natured mastery that the young aristocrat,
with his liking for talent and his contempt for the “swot,” most admires.
At Christchurch the same sort of thing began over again. Lord Dalmeny was
a more important Arthur Pendennis, with tastes as catholic and far ampler
means of indulging them. He liked horseflesh, he liked fine cookery and
noble vintages, he liked old editions, he liked being heir to an Earldom,
he liked equally the reputation of being superior to all that. One of the
last lordly undergraduates to wear a “tuft,” he probably wore it with
outward disrespect and secret conviction; it is at least recorded that
he wore it once when it was not actually needed or permissible. But,
though the discipline of Christchurch was mild and partial, it was still
discipline. Lord Dalmeny entertained decided views as to the propriety
of an undergraduate riding steeplechasers. The Authorities took up a
peremptorily adverse attitude; it was not a case for compromise, and Lord
Dalmeny left without taking his degree. Of such honours, indeed, he had
small need. He had hardly attained his majority when his grandfather’s
death made him a Peer and one of the most eligible bachelors of the
moment. All the worlds, political, social, and literary, were before him
where to choose.

At Eton he is said to have declared to a chum his three great
ambitions—to marry a great heiress, to win the Derby, and to become
Prime Minister. The first aim was accomplished early and happily by his
Rothschild marriage. The fulfilment of the second arrived to him, a joy
but perhaps not a blessing, when the third prize had at last come within
his grasp. The story may not be true. But one feels it should be true,
since it so well illustrates the fatal weakness of a very considerable
man. “You fight too scattering,” said Mark Twain, in criticism of the
conduct of an American general’s Indian campaign. Lord Rosebery’s defect
was that he always “fought too scattering.” In natural abilities he
was certainly behind no man of his time. In many ways he had a quite
un-English logicality and clearness of perception. Time and time again,
throughout his long career, he has (when not affected by personal or
class interest) put his finger on the spot when others were fumbling
about it. But he has always been very English indeed in carrying to
extreme that national weakness for wanting to have one’s cake and eat it.
His non-political speeches teem with enthusiasms for incompatible things;
he really seems to have persuaded himself that Cromwell, Burke, and
himself were all democrats. It is in his own plan of life, however, that
the principle remains most obvious. Lord Rosebery, with half his talent
for politics, could have surpassed the record of many men who actually
went much further. With his imaginative insight and his noble sense of
language he could have reached almost the highest in certain important
departments of literature. With a little industry and tenacity he could
have been Prime Minister for twenty splendid years instead of for twenty
embarrassed months. He could, if he had wished, have wielded a power with
his pen superior to that of any ordinary Prime Minister. But he wanted
all sorts of things, and in all things he tended to covet the easily
gained palm. Capable of great energy on occasion, he never achieved
that habit of unresting, unintermitting exertion, of complete devotion
to the thing in hand, which is the making of everything really first
rate. Everything came easily to him—honours, money, phrases, opinions,
positions; the necessity of hard work was never his, the habit of hard
work he never quite formed, and there was nobody to form it for him.
“Easy come, easy go,” does not apply to material possessions alone, and
the testing-time proved how different in quality are the views adopted
because one rather likes them from the convictions formed in sore travail
of mind and spirit.

In one sense Lord Rosebery was especially a man of the Nineties. His
first appearance in politics was a full twenty years before; his return
to politics seemed always imminent for twenty years afterwards. But it
was in the Nineties that he climbed—or was hoisted—into the highest
place, and it was in the Nineties that he fell, with a great and (as was
afterwards seen) final ruin. One considerable act had already been played
when the decade opened—the act of “Citizen Rosebery,” the first Chairman
of the London County Council. For a year or two it seemed that the man
of the future had become in very fact the man of the present. With a very
splendid enthusiasm Lord Rosebery threw himself into a work which, after
all, could not have been highly attractive to a man of his nature—a work
involving an immensity of small detail and bringing him into contact
with a rather repulsive mass of petty motive and ambition. But to make
London, in his own phrase, “not a unit, but a unity,” to place the great
amorphous, disconnected capital, with its poverty of public spirit, on
something like a level with the great provincial towns, was no mean
object, and there was something heroic in the self-denial with which
the clever Peer entered on his task of Lord Mayor of Greater London.
Here at least the dust was cheerfully borne without thought of the palm.
It might be an advantage that the palm was lacking, that civic trouble
was not complicated by civic turtle, and that the Earl was not expected
to consider his battalions of Moderates and Progressives in terms of
prandial amenity and social precedence. But there were other hard things;
thus he had to go in person round the music-halls to judge whether Mrs.
Ormiston Chant was justified in her extreme view of the demoralising
effect of “Zæo’s back” (“Zæo,” be it explained, was a music-hall artist—I
think performing at the old Westminster Aquarium—whose scantiness of
clothing offended the still vigorous Puritanism of the day). Lord
Rosebery was an amateur of the legitimate stage; he has confessed his
early extravagance in the matter of theatre stalls. But it is credibly
reported by the chroniclers of the time that he appeared “supremely
bored” by the indicted performances, and somebody remarked, parodying the
old boast of the Aquarium, that at no other place in London could so many
sighs be heard.

In a word, Lord Rosebery’s London County Council period was one of
really hard work and much self-sacrifice. “But long it could not be.”
Apart from the desolating bereavement which Lord Rosebery had suffered,
it was not in his nature to be long contented with routine, and
especially with routine of this kind. The inadequately “flowing tide”
of 1892, indeed, found him far from desirous of any kind of activity.
He was shrewd enough to see the full hopelessness of the task before
Mr. Gladstone, and only his affection for that statesman—an affection
almost filial in its sincerity—impelled him to take control of Foreign
Affairs. We know now what could always be inferred—the strong distaste
of the Liberal chiefs for attempting, with the feeble instrument the
election had given them, a legislative programme which would have taxed
the strength of a Cabinet supported by the largest and most homogeneous
majority. Lord Rosebery was for declining the responsibility, or at
best for only carrying on with routine administration. But when Mr.
Gladstone asked, he could not refuse; the bond between the aged leader
and the political youth was too strong to be lightly severed. One of Mr.
Gladstone’s most amiable characteristics was his sympathy with youthful
promise, particularly if allied with patrician blood; he had early marked
Lord Rosebery as his ultimate successor; he had lost no opportunity
of recommending him to the party; and gratitude, as well as fervent
admiration, made the Peer, not generally an easy man to get on with,
amenable to the lightest wishes of the great Commoner.

But naturally the sense of personal obligation did not fully supply the
want of earnest conviction. It would probably have been better for all
parties and interests if Lord Rosebery had adhered to his original desire
to stand aside. During the dismal business of “ploughing the sands,” he
immersed himself as far as possible in the work of the Foreign Office.
He did his duty, of course. He made a great speech in defence of the
Home Rule Bill when, having passed the House of Commons, it shivered
friendless and naked, like a stranger bird in a coop of vicious young
cockerels, in the baleful presence of the Peers. He satirised the
ceremoniousness of the killing—all the preliminaries of the bull-fight,
the skirmishings and the prickings and the wavings of scarlet cloth,
leading up to the moment when the matador, in the person of Lord
Salisbury, should deal the fatal thrust. These things, as always, he did
amazingly well. But it was evident enough that his heart was little in
the farce-tragedy of the Second Home Rule Bill.

When at last Mr. Gladstone took leave of his last Cabinet, and the
question of a successor arose, Lord Rosebery’s mind was divided. His
ambition bade him grasp the prize now it was within reach, though none
was more aware of the tenuity of the gilt film and the indigestibility
of the gingerbread. His clear-headed sense told him all the difficulties
he would have to encounter—and those not merely matters of personal
hostility, of a sneering Labouchere and a disappointed Harcourt, but
questions of foreign policy on which it would be difficult to secure
an adjustment between the national necessities and the traditions and
temper of the Liberal Party. He decided, and there was an immediate
revolt against a Peer-Premier, intensified by Lord Rosebery’s declaration
in the House of Lords that the assent of England, as the “predominant
partner,” was an essential preliminary to Home Rule. Lord Rosebery had
some time before confessed to no very definite convictions on the subject
of Ireland; he was now savagely assailed as a traitor to the cause of
Home Rule. “R. not particularly agitated,” Lord Morley notes in his diary
of the time, “though he knew pretty well that he had been indiscreet. ‘I
blurted it out,’ he said. ‘For heaven’s sake,’ said I, ‘blurt out what
you please about any country in the whole world, civilised or barbarous,
except Ireland. Irish affairs are the very last field for that practice.’
R.: ‘You know that you and I have agreed a hundred times that until
England agrees H. R. will never pass.’ J. M.: ‘That may be true. The
substance of your declaration may be as sound as you please, but not to
be said at this delicate moment.’” Morley had to clear up the mess. “It
is much easier,” he comments, “to get yourself out of a scrape of this
kind than to explain away another man.”

Lord Rosebery has left on record an impressive summary of the miseries
of a Liberal Peer-Premier. They are miseries, no doubt, to some extent
inherent to the case—at the best his own image of “riding a horse
without reins” probably does not overstate them. In his own peculiar
circumstances, being hardly on speaking terms with the leader of the
House of Commons, they were in every way fatal. Far more than the
protests of the Nonconformists, they poisoned Lord Rosebery’s Derby
success with Ladas; they endowed him with the tortures of perpetual
insomnia; they silvered his hair; lined his full face with wrinkles; and
embittered a temper naturally genial, if hasty and imperious. “There
are,” he said, in referring to his term of office, “two supreme pleasures
in life, the one ideal, the other real. The ideal is when a man receives
the seals of office from his Sovereign. The real pleasure comes when he
hands them back.”

An experience from which probably no man could have emerged triumphant
seems to have destroyed for ever what chance Lord Rosebery might have had
of evading the handicap of his temperament. Pessimism now descended on
him, and pessimism is always sterile. Henceforward he was the “retired
raven croaking on the withered branch”; his merit was that the croak was
often excellent sense and music, and always excellent English. In one of
Mr. Galsworthy’s plays there is a woman who laments that she is “too
fine and not fine enough.” The description seems to fit Lord Rosebery.
He talks with a certain disdain of his own business. “Office,” he once
said, “is indeed an acquired taste, though by habit persons may learn to
relish it, just as men learn to love absinthe, or opium, or cod-liver
oil.” He could nourish a fine intellectual contempt for the gawds and
toys of politics and society. But beneath this philosophy was a quite
keen appetite for worship of any kind. The reverence of the excellent
Cory was a luxury to the youth; the man had grown to crave as a necessity
a larger applause; and it was the tragedy of his life that, after many
years of rather uncritical admiration, there came abruptly a time of
harsh appraisement, followed by still worse things—admiration without
confidence, regard without loyalty, and finally neglect without oblivion.
It was no doubt balm to Lord Rosebery, the self-made outcast from the
Liberal fold, to have all eyes on him when he went to Chesterfield to
proclaim—what? That efficiency was an excellent thing, and that it would
be an excellent thing if England were efficient. It was pleasant, no
doubt, always to have the laugh of the stolid Campbell-Bannerman, to
pierce him with fine points of wit, to deprive him of the best intellect
of the party. But the last laugh was with “C.-B.” When the time came,
the man was not Lord Rosebery. “C.-B.” needed not even to use his plain
claymore against the dainty rapier of the brilliant lord; trusting, like
a rhinoceros, to the natural defence of pachydermity, he simply waddled
over the argumentative entanglements prepared for him, and won without
fighting.

The real drama of Lord Rosebery, it was then seen, had ended in the
Nineties when he laid down the Liberal leadership at Edinburgh in a
speech which remains as one of the most curious and mournful monuments
of political failure. The rest was merely an epilogue, full of brilliant
lines and happy conceits, but adding nothing to the action. There was
still to be a new reputation gained, or an old reputation extended—that
of Imperial Orator in Chief. For, whatever Lord Rosebery’s deficiencies
might be, he united happily, as few men can, all the patriotisms. He
loved Scotland, he loved Britain, he loved the Empire; his imagination
could concentrate on the homelands as well as expand to the “illimitable
veldt.” He did not make the mistake of some Imperialists of thinking
merely in terms of mass. He was a Little Englander only in the sense of
not conceiving of England—or Scotland—as little; he was an Imperialist
only in the sense of wishing to maintain and extend “the greatest
secular agency for good known to mankind.” Equidistant from opposite
extravagances, there was in all his great Imperial speeches a width, a
dignity, and a balance, as well as a fervour of conviction, hardly to be
found elsewhere, and this solitary splendour sufficed to outweigh his
occasional descent in other directions into what might seem mere whim and
petulance. Finally, the noble stoicism, of a finer quality than the pagan
variety that belongs to the average modern, with which, in the overcast
winter of his life, he has supported public care and crushing private
grief, gives a hint of what might have been had the fates been less
cruelly kind in his formative years.

When the hardest is said of him, there remains so much to respect and
like that he should be safe from those whom he has described as “the
body-snatchers of history, who dig up dead reputations for malignant
dissection.”



CHAPTER III

CECIL RHODES


The Nineties were the high and palmy days of the great Randlords and the
“Kaffir Circus.” The romance of the time was expressed, perhaps better
than in the verse of Mr. Kipling, by a song then popular about “sailing
away” and “coming back a millionaire.” There was a certain virtue even in
sailing away; it denoted contempt for the petty dullness of the British
Isles, and to be contemptuous of the home of the race was then the mark
of extreme patriotism. But most admirable of all was to come back a
millionaire. The notion of snatching rich loot from remote places, and
spending it in London, was intensely gratifying, even to people from
whom one would naturally look for less simplicity. I remember hearing a
certain great Peer of that day confess in public that he saw no future
for England except as a sort of lounge and pleasure garden for those who
had gathered immense wealth in the outer Empire. The more energetic sons
of these islands, he argued, would always tend to sail away, and we might
reasonably pray that a fair proportion would come back millionaires.
The less enterprising, trained to minister to every want and whim of
these conquerors, in the capacity of footmen, gardeners, gamekeepers,
entertainers, and artificers in every kind, material and intellectual,
would live in docile and contented servitude on wealth created overseas.

[Illustration: _C. J. Rhodes_]

The curious malady of vision, of which this is an extreme example, had
many victims in the latest years of the nineteenth century. During the
years between the two Jubilees of Queen Victoria the eyes of a great
part of the nation were at the ends of the earth. Johannesburg seemed
immensely nearer to London than any English town, and the Lancashire and
Yorkshire Railway sounded more outlandish than the Canadian Pacific. It
was the time of Consols at 114, and British pigs at what the dealer would
give for them. There was an immense deal of money seeking investment, and
unable, in the conditions then existing, to obtain profitable employment
at home. So the millions which could not be found to cultivate the land
of the Home Counties were poured out like water to finance any plausible
African scheme; and our public men seemed to anticipate, not altogether
without satisfaction, the time when Kent and Sussex would be to the
millionaires of the Empire what Inverness and Sutherlandshire already
were to the rich of Great Britain. The gold fever raged strongly. “Deeps”
and “Fonteins” were the staple of conversation in all sorts of circles;
if one went to the theatre the chances were that the drop-scene would
display in illuminated figures the closing prices of Rand securities;
and everybody who passed down Park Lane was reminded, by a certain house
sprawling with naked nymphs and cupids, that the shortest way from
Whitechapel to Mayfair crossed and recrossed the Equator.

It is necessary to recall this atmosphere, in which even the figure of
Barney Barnato seemed invested with something of the glamour of Drake and
Raleigh, to understand the place occupied by Cecil John Rhodes in the
life of the Nineties. If mere swollen gamblers seemed, in the Gibbonian
phrase, to “display the awful majesty of the hero,” it was natural that
a man very much more than a gambler, a man with a large share of the
heroic, should fire the imagination of his contemporaries. Even to-day,
when we see Rhodes in a dry light, we are conscious of a quality which
gives him admittance to that small and select brotherhood we agree to
call great; in the full blaze of his prestige it was indeed a steady
eye which could avoid being dazzled by the splendour of him. To the
ordinary non-critical man of that time, his very faults, as many now
esteem them, contributed to the fascination he exercised. As a nation
we may be somewhat prone—though it would seem more prudent to write in
the past tense—to the “unctuous rectitude” with which Rhodes sneeringly
credited us. But we have always a weakness for the strong man who shows
his strength by smashing the Ten Commandments, so long as he satisfies
us in his observances of all the taboos and ordinances contained in that
greater table of the law which we call “cricket.” Rhodes let it be known
that he thought little of the Decalogue. But he succeeded in spreading
the faith that he always played “cricket.” Thus a legend arose concerning
him which was not quite like the truth. He appeared to his contemporaries
as a compound of the qualities we like to think specially English. He was
admired for a recklessness which was certainly not part of his character,
and for a frankness which did not always distinguish him. In any contest
between Rhodes and statesmen at home the public was always ready to
assume that the man who talked gallantly about “facing the music” was in
some deep sense in the right, even if by technical standards he might be
proved to be in the wrong. For this faith in his essential “whiteness”
there was, indeed, some justification. He had certainly made his great
fortune by much the same methods that other great African fortunes were
made. He had had some very queer business and political associates. He
had done many things that could be called strong, and perhaps some things
that could be called wrong. That his most fervent admirers were ready
enough to admit. But they were not disposed to be censorious. Granted
that Rhodes was a little cynical, and that in his earlier career there
might be little to distinguish him (apart from manners and education)
from the gamblers who “made good” in his company, it was still a fact
that, arrived at great riches, he sought riches no more.

This combination of great wealth and disinterestedness appealed strongly
to the British mind. We have little use for the poor idealist; his
ideals, we argue, cannot be very valuable, or how could he remain poor?
But we are seldom over-critical of the man who, with great wealth,
subordinates money to an idea. “Big ideas,” said Rhodes once to Gordon,
“must have big cash behind them.” Rhodes’s countrymen were won by the
fact that the big ideas supported by the big cash were not strictly
commercial ideas. Had he been a mere company promoter, on however
colossal a scale, he could not have won even a passing popularity. For he
had no turn for sport or for society; with something of the superstition
of the Calvinist, he united the unsocial Calvinistic temper. He could
be a good host at Groote Schuur, and a kindly master to his small knot
of dependent intimates; but he had no taste for the ordinary rich man’s
amusements. He could not have tickled the public fancy by running yachts
or race-horses, or dazzled it by great display. But his “big ideas,” it
was soon recognised, were really big. They had, it is true, a touch of
the vulgarity which so often attaches to very big things. Personally,
Rhodes was not, indeed, without a vein of vulgarity. He was, it is true,
by nature and education a gentleman, and he was, of course, very much
more than a gentleman. But he had a passion for diamonds and a contempt
for women; he loved not merely appreciation but flattery of the grosser
kind; he was strangely content with the companionship of quite inferior
men; he was not exempt from that very bad failing, a tendency to bully
those who were in no position to retaliate. To gloss over these defects
would be to give a wholly false view of a character which owes its
distinction less to fine harmonies than to striking contrasts. Rhodes
had his smallness. But there was another side of his character which
gave him a singular dominion over minds which might be suspected of
utter incapacity for hero-worship. His superiority was admitted by men
far richer than himself, who seemed incapable of respecting anything
but riches and the qualities that gain riches. Barney Barnato went ever
in awe of him. Beit admitted his superiority. It was the magic of his
name, long before he reached greatness, which permitted of the De Beers
Consolidation, and made a commercial company for many years the virtual
ruler of South Africa. It was the presence of something incalculable
in his character which gave him his power over brother millionaires.
They had one simple motive—to make money and enjoy it after their kind.
Rhodes did not despise money, or luxury, or power. He had firm faith
in the “big cash”; though caring little for pleasure or society in the
ordinary sense, he keenly relished magnificence of living; his enjoyment
of absolutism was Sultanic. But no Beit or Barnato could ever tell when
his materialism or his mysticism would predominate, and they held him
accordingly in the kind of perplexed respect with which madmen have been
regarded in rude ages. More normal people, of course, were closer to a
real understanding of this element in the man. The decent Dutchman knew
that he had a genuine passion for South Africa. The decent Englishman
knew that he had a genuine passion for England. Both knew that they could
trust him in large things to prefer the South African and the British
interest to that of the wealthy speculator. By that mysterious process
which enables whole masses of men without special information to do
rough justice to the deeds and motives of the great, the impression
spread to the mother country, and sufficed at the time of the Jameson
raid to break the force of a fall which might otherwise have finally
ruined him.

Any other man but Rhodes must have been ruined, and his true greatness,
the greatness that was personal to him and had nothing to do with his
wealth, was never better illustrated than in the sequel. Stripped of
his offices, he still continued the greatest power in South Africa, and
it was simply as Cecil Rhodes, and in no other capacity, that he made
his famous peace with the Matabele, a peace which survived the shock of
the Boer War. The story has often been told, how to win the confidence
of the natives he left the expeditionary force, and lay in a tent,
which could readily have been rushed, within easy reach of the enemy,
without a single bayonet to protect him; how, after a time, the natives,
admiring his courage, agreed to a parley; how Rhodes went unarmed to
meet the chiefs in their full war kit; how he calmly discussed with
them all their grievances, and then, after three or four hours’ talk,
suddenly asked, “Is there to be peace or war?” On which the chiefs threw
down their spears at his feet, and the war was over. The incident well
illustrates the kind of courage Rhodes possessed. No man could be further
removed from the dare-devil. He was not even free from some suspicion
of personal timidity. Some exceedingly brave deeds are credited to him,
but it would seem that his courage was of that sort which is seen at
its best when facing the ferocities of inanimate nature, the perils of
fire and flood, of storm and earthquake. No unkindly critic has remarked
on the fact that, when travelling with five or six other men through a
lion-infested region, he habitually and instinctively took the position
nearest the tent-pole; he coveted Ulysses’ privilege of being eaten
last. Under fire, though he never flinched, he was hardly comfortable;
he had little of the contempt of danger which distinguished his friend
and follower, Dr. Jameson. Probably it is broadly true that he was at
his best pitted against mere difficulties, and at his worst when he had
to encounter an intelligent enemy. Even in the warfare of politics he
preferred methods of suasion to those of force, and was always readier to
compromise than to fight unless the nature of the issue forbade. But when
his mind was set on anything his resolution could neither be bent nor
broken, and he would face any incidental and unavoidable danger with the
coolest stoicism. He no doubt exactly expressed the case when he said,
describing his experiences in the second Matabele War, that he was in a
funk all the time, but afraid to be thought afraid. His courage, in fact,
though adequate to any ordinary military strain, was rather that of the
statesman than of the soldier. In affairs he was singularly free from
respect for persons or fear of responsibility; he had made up his mind,
from a very early stage, what he wanted to do, and difficulties, personal
or material, existed only to be overcome. Ordinarily he was placable and
plausible, concerned rather to smooth away opposition than to crush it;
but when seriously crossed he could be violent and even terrible in his
rage. He demanded from most of his little court a subservience which
was of small profit to him; the meaner men came to know that it paid to
flatter him and concur in all his views, and it thus happened that he
was deprived of sound and disinterested advice when it would have been
of the greatest service. Few men of his stature—for Rhodes was, with all
deductions, a very great man—have been content with creatures so small;
Dr. Jameson was almost the only member of his immediate circle who
enjoyed his society on equal terms. Between these two men there was real
affection. They had much in common—patriotism, a love of the wild, a
sense of the romantic, a passion for action. But there seems also to have
been a more obscure bond which secured the friendship against the risks
involved in Jameson’s frankness and Rhodes’s intolerance to any form
of contradiction. Rhodes’s health was never good; he was first driven
from England at the age of seventeen by physical breakdown, and when he
started for South Africa the second time he was given but six months to
live. All through his life the fear of death weighed heavily on him, and,
with the fatalistic superstition which modified his unbelief, he fancied
that he was only safe when Jameson was within reach. Moreover, Jameson
was a man of education, and Rhodes almost reached the ludicrous in his
reverence for “a scholar and a gentleman.” He had himself taken immense
pains to get a degree. He was preparing for Oxford when forced to take
his first trip abroad; in 1872 he returned to matriculate at Oriel; but
it was not until 1881 that he was able to call himself a Master of Arts.
There is something slightly humorous in the notion of this man, dealing
with the largest practical affairs, flitting between Kimberley and
Oxford in order to attain a distinction shared with many very dull and
common-place people. But Rhodes’s faith in the English University system
was an abiding characteristic. Sir Thomas Fuller relates that he pointed
out that under the system at De Beers there was nothing but the honesty
of one of the officials to prevent wholesale robbery of diamonds. “Oh,”
said Rhodes, “that’s all right. Mr. —— takes charge of the diamonds. He
is an Oxford man and an English gentleman. Perhaps if there were two at
the job they might conspire.” “One man,” says the American philosopher,
“learns the value of truth by going to Sunday school, and another by
doing business with liars.” It would seem that the well-founded respect
which Rhodes felt for the honesty of the English gentleman derived partly
from his exhaustive experience of cosmopolitan adventurers.

Indeed, the arrogance which was one of the least pleasant characteristics
of Rhodes—an arrogance which inflated his strong features and often gave
a rather repellent aspect to an otherwise attractive face—was generally
softened in the presence of men of science, letters, and humane learning.
Rhodes might be stiff to a home politician, and overbearing to an African
associate, but he was, both in London and at Groote Schuur, an easy and
winning host to those whom he held in any kind of intellectual reverence,
or whom he recognised as pursuing ideals he respected. The man who won
the heart of Gordon must have been a remarkable man in more than his
obvious aspects. There was, indeed, in Rhodes a kind of spiritual hunger
contrasting almost pathetically with his superficial materialism and
his blank unbelief. He had a temperament fitted for a great part in an
age of faith, and it was his fate to be rather specially representative
of an agnostic age. He had read in youth Winwood Reade’s _Martyrdom of
Man_, and had adopted its dogmatic atheism. Yet he wanted vehemently
to believe in something; his strong interest in the supernatural
eloquently testified to this hunger. A belief of some sort was, in fact,
a necessity to a man such as he; and, if there was artlessness, there
was full sincerity in his claim to be the instrument of the Providence
whose existence he denied. God, he once said, was “obviously” trying
to produce a predominant type most fitted to bring peace, liberty, and
justice to the world; and only one race approached this “ideal type”
of the Almighty. This was the race to which Rhodes himself belonged,
the “Anglo-Saxon,” and Rhodes believed that the best way to help on
God’s work and fulfil His purpose in the world was to contribute to the
predominance of the Anglo-Saxon race.

Such convictions may be philosophically absurd, but when they take
possession of a mind richly endowed in practical qualities, and direct
a will of altogether abnormal strength, they are bound to lead to
great achievement. Rhodes belonged to that terrible order of men who
conceive themselves, by virtue of the grandeur and purity of the visions
that absorb and inspire them, released from the ordinary restraints
appropriate to humbler people. “What have you been doing since I last
saw you, Mr. Rhodes?” asked Queen Victoria once. “I have added,” was
the reply, “two provinces to Your Majesty’s dominions.” In the view
of most people that sublimely sufficient answer would equally serve
for the epitaph of the man who rendered it in haughty assurance that
it justified his life. It is certainly an answer to be pleaded in any
court of historical justice which returns a favourable verdict on other
great empire-builders like Clive and Warren Hastings. Rhodes is to be
judged as they are. As in their case, so in his, we have to set off
great splendours and virtues against not inconsiderable blemishes. As in
their case, so in his, we could wish that he had sometimes not neglected
those maxims of morality which are also in the main the soundest maxims
in policy; that he had never taken the crooked path; that he had always
disdained the counsel of crooked people. But each nature has its own
temptations, and the man of strong will who is passionately determined on
a great object can seldom resist the temptations to break through fences
barring what he thinks the shortest way to its attainment. Rhodes was
thrown in very early life among men of a cynicism quite exceptional; and
it is hardly wonderful that he became himself not a little cynical. But
the real greatness that underlay his character was shown by his cool
estimate of wealth after he had made it. His head was no doubt a little
affected by the intoxication of power. But mere money soon ceased to
interest him. It is said that he would not trouble for months together to
pay in dividend warrants amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds,
and, on hearing from the bank that his account was overdrawn, he would
fumble in the pockets of some old dressing-gown or shooting-jacket for
crumpled papers worth perhaps a million. Such a man may be at once
acquitted of any ignoble worship of money. Yet much smaller men have
proved capable of equal philosophy. The greatness of Rhodes lay in that
very faith which, stated in words, provokes a smile, but, translated into
deeds over half a lifetime and half a continent, compels a wondering
respect. The racial arrogance with which the faith was expressed may
sometimes offend. The acts which it prompted may sometimes appear
questionable. Some of us may feel that the world is wide enough for all
kinds of human talent and character, and that the burden of governing is
too great for any one kind, however admirable. Others may feel strongly
that the nation which most aspires to a moral domination must be more
than ordinarily careful of its own morals. But when all is said the man
who possessed such a faith and wrote it in characters of such sprawling
bigness belongs to that small company of Englishmen who have really
earned the often too lightly conceded adjective “great.”



CHAPTER IV

MR. GLADSTONE


It was in the nature of things that the majestic and challenging
personality of Mr. Gladstone should evoke such variety of worship and
censure that even to-day, after all has been written concerning him, the
plain seeker after truth is not a little perplexed.

For he knows the man was great, and even very great, and that not merely
in the sense of filling a great place over a great space of time; there
was something above and beyond all that. Mr. Gladstone was more than the
sum of all that Mr. Gladstone ever said or did; he had that rare quality,
undefined because indefinable, which compels a homage of the spirit
even when the intellect is in vehement opposition. Four only of Mr.
Gladstone’s greater contemporaries seem to have been wholly insensible
to this influence. Whenever he was in question, Mr. Disraeli retained
the fixed sneer of a Mephistopheles; Lord Salisbury gazed on him with
as little emotion as a colossal Buddha or a landscape; Lord Randolph
Churchill pursued him with the catcalls of a Gavroche; Mr. Parnell
watched him with the cool and scientific detachment of an entomologist
studying a beetle or some other creature with which he has nothing but
life in common. But such complete freedom from the spell cast by the
great Liberal statesman was rare. Others, though they said many bitter
and many mocking things about him, never succeeded in hiding from the
world, or even from themselves, the extent to which he really impressed
them. It was curious, and a little touching, to note how in the heat of
the Irish debates Mr. Balfour would, on the smallest intimation that Mr.
Gladstone’s feelings had been seriously hurt by some shaft of ridicule,
turn from irony to almost filial solicitude. Mr. Chamberlain, whose moral
and intellectual colour scheme ran less to nuance and art tint, showed
with a difference, but not the less sincerely, the extent to which his
old chief still remained an element in his life. After 1886 he seldom
spoke about Mr. Gladstone without a curious kind of anger; the object was
probably less Mr. Gladstone than himself, for being in this case unable
completely to live up to his favourite philosophy of wasting no time in
regretting “either mishaps or mistakes.” As to others still in the train
of Mr. Gladstone, his influence was extraordinary. It was assuredly no
small man, or great man in the smaller way, who could inspire in Lord
Rosebery, himself gifted with a manner that struck terror into those he
wished to keep at a distance, the sort of reverence Tom Brown felt for
Dr. Arnold. It was a very extraordinary man indeed who, himself of the
strictest sect of the Pharisees, could bend the knees of so complacent a
Sadducee and so lukewarm a hero-worshipper as John Morley. But perhaps
the most remarkable case of all was that of Sir William Harcourt, who,
never loved, and perhaps never really loving, was tamed into a submissive
loyalty scarcely congruous with his proud and difficult temperament.

Of the human greatness of Mr. Gladstone, then, there can be no question.
But when we come to deal with his statesmanship, the clouds of incense
sent up by various groups of worshippers conceal more than is revealed by
the light of their pious candles. The more simple school of devotees, who
scouted the possibility that Mr. Gladstone could in any circumstances
be wrong, has naturally shrunk since his death; but those who would
discriminate are divided into many sects. There is one which admires
him as an inspired financier, but censures his foreign policy; there is
another which venerates him mainly as the pacific idealist, the enemy
of the Turkish and other tyrannies, and the friend of small peoples
“struggling rightly to be free”; some point approvingly to his essential
conservatism; others laud him, on the ground of his “trust in the people,
tempered by prudence,” as a great democrat; still others admire chiefly
his marvellous command of the technique of Parliamentary Government. In
short, Mr. Gladstone is revered by all kinds of incompatible people on
all kinds of incompatible grounds. But, of all tributes paid to him,
the quaintest, I imagine, is that I heard from the lips of a Japanese
professor in the late Nineties. He belonged to a school, then rather
influential, with an enthusiasm for a sort of atheistic Christianity.
People were beginning to talk about horseless carriages and wireless
telegraphy. These eminent Orientals desired a Godless Religion and a
Creedless Faith. They rejected all Christian dogma as a superstition not
less fantastic than the wildest perversion of Taoism. They held that
Darwin and Herbert Spencer had between them solved the whole riddle of
the universe. They took, indeed, ground not very dissimilar to that now
occupied by certain dignitaries of the Church. But they recommended, on
what they considered practical grounds, the adoption of Christianity
(carefully deprived of everything conflicting with the scientific notions
of the time) as the State religion of the Japanese Empire. In the first
place such a conversion, it was held, would remove one great obstacle to
the full admission of Japan to the comity of European nations; in the
second, it would provide the lower classes with a moral standard and
motive superior to anything afforded by the Eastern religions in their
decline.

Now it so happened that Mr. Gladstone, when eighty-five or so, was
mentioned in the Japanese papers as having spent five hours of a Good
Friday in public worship. For this he was praised, on grounds not a
little singular, by the curious Evangelist I have mentioned. It was
impossible, said the professor, for a man of such brilliant intellect
to have any real belief in the religion he professed. Mr. Gladstone, of
course, was in his heart of hearts as little a Christian as Professor
Huxley. But, while Professor Huxley viewed great questions only from the
standpoint of a scientist, Mr. Gladstone was a great practical statesman,
who recognised that the vulgar could only be kept in their places by due
awe of the supernatural. Therefore, like a true patriot, he endured at
his great age this serious fatigue (to say nothing of this unutterable
boredom) in order that he might give an example to the masses. This
(the professor proceeded) was the true source of England’s greatness;
her public men, instead of spending their spare time in frivolity, kept
ever in mind the necessity of preserving appearances in the presence of
the proletariat; and the quiet and law-abiding character of the British
people was their exceeding great reward.

It was no use arguing with this learned Japanese; indeed, he was a man so
illustrious that disputation with him, on the part of a nobody, seemed to
savour of presumption. But I remembered enough of the spectacle of Mr.
Gladstone at public worship (during one of his many visits to Brighton
at the time of his last Premiership) to be very cautious ever afterwards
in attempting to classify the motives of a foreigner. For, if there was
one man in England for whom religion was a reality, it was Mr. Gladstone.
And if there was one man in England incapable of the altruistic hypocrisy
imputed to him it was again Mr. Gladstone. He was even destitute of that
knack of saying pleasant insincerities which is generally reckoned as
very little of a sin and very much of a social asset. Witness that old
story of Disraeli and the pictures. Someone told Mr. Gladstone with great
glee how Disraeli went to some picture show, and delighted the artists
by most lavish praise. This work showed sublime genius; that recalled
the grace of Gainsborough; this the sombre power of Caravaggio; that the
splendid colour of Titian; that the severe purity of outline of Mantegna.
And then, when Disraeli was well clear of the men he had flattered into
frantic worship of him, he murmured to a friend: “What an ordeal; such
fearful daubs I never saw!” To this story Mr. Gladstone listened with
a steadily increasing frown, and at the end of it he struck the table
emphatically with his fist. “I call that—_devilish_,” was his comment.

It was, probably, this massive seriousness—deriving from his intense
sense of the eternal—that was the secret of Mr. Gladstone’s power over
nearly all who came into close touch with him. It is not quite true that
he altogether lacked a sense of humour. In a certain vein he could be
playful and even jocose, and, though he was generally wanting in the
compression which belongs to true wit, witty things occasionally escaped
him. But all this was by the way, as incidental as the play of sunlight
on a rock or the laughter on the surface of the deep sea; he might, in an
off moment, play with an idea in much the same spirit that he took his
backgammon with Mr. Armistead, but such concessions to the mood of the
moment only threw into sharper relief the intense earnestness which was
the basis of his character.

Every virtue has its characteristic dangers, and if Mr. Gladstone’s
solemn belief in himself and his mission gave him immense power over
others it also led to one side of himself exercising too much power
over the other. His intellect was often unduly dominated by his
prepossessions; from first to last he seldom saw things in a dry light.
In his youth Macaulay noted a characteristic which endured throughout
life—content with insecure foundations for an argument, he relied too
much for victory on his splendid power of impressive rhetoric. He was not
the less governed by prejudice because his prejudice might at one time
be different from, and even contradictory to, his prejudice at another.
Had Mr. Gladstone been a duller man, his temper would have ended by
enfeebling the mind which it constantly reduced to subjection. But in his
case a mentality already almost preternaturally active was still further
stimulated by the necessity of justifying his temper. It was driven to a
kind of jesuitry through the despotic conscientiousness of its master.
Mr. Gladstone was incapable of consciously deceiving others; he did
sometimes unconsciously deceive himself, and others through himself.
On certain questions, like finance, which he could treat objectively,
his reason had full play; on others his judgment was always liable to
subjective disturbance. Where a broad and definite moral issue existed
that judgment seldom went astray, but on whole classes of questions
more or less indifferent he was governed by the same sort of likes and
dislikes which determine a rich man’s wine cellar or picture collection.
Thus half his mistakes in regard to Egypt were due to nothing more than
want of interest. He was bored with Egypt, and intrigued with other
things. Ireland, also, at first bored him; it was to him, as to so many
of the Liberals, a tiresome irrelevancy breaking in on the set programme.
For some time he felt towards the Irish members as a whist-player might
towards some noisy person who insisted that there must be no more
whist until everybody in the room had exhausted the possibilities of
“tiddleywinks.” But when at last he found that “tiddleywinks” was only
a slang name for Irish auction bridge, and that Irish auction bridge
was vastly more exciting than any whist, he quickly discovered that the
enunciation of a Home Rule policy was what Mr. Balfour called “a moral
imperative of the most binding kind.”

This would seem a flippant explanation of a conversion in which Mr.
Gladstone renewed his political youth. It is not meant as a flippancy.
Most assuredly Mr. Gladstone did not consciously, as some very great
opponents maintained at the time, reach his Home Rule position by the
road of sordid or ignoble considerations. But his mind was one equally
prone to innovation and to routine; it ran in grooves, but had no
difficulty, when impelled by any sufficiently powerful stimulus, in
jumping from one groove to another. There is a kind of roundabout on
which the horses (running on rigidly prescribed lines) seem at one
moment to be going straight to a certain point, and then suddenly turn,
to the bewilderment of their riders, in a direction exactly opposite.
Mr. Gladstone made such a swerve, and it was not surprising that there
were tumbles, or that, while he was eloquently explaining that the
change of course was natural and necessary, less agile characters were
mainly swearing over bumps and bruises. He himself was probably not even
conscious that the change was great. For Mr. Gladstone had a way of
making himself at once at home in a new situation. He was like a man who
often changes his house, but always carries with him the old furniture
and—if possible—the old servants. The chief trouble in this case was that
some of the household staff declined to join in the new move; otherwise
Erin Mansions was not very different from Coercion Row. There was point,
if there was also rudeness, in Lord Randolph’s gibe of “the old man in
a hurry.” But the hurry was chiefly in the matter of settling down in
the new quarters. Once settled Mr. Gladstone never again moved. Under
all the superficial bustle of his last Premiership there was essential
immobility; what he had become in 1885 he remained till the end.

Of the “rapid splendours” of that last Home Rule fight Lord Morley
has discoursed eloquently. It was a wonderful affair, and a most
pathetic one. The eloquence which had dazzled two generations had lost
little or nothing of its magnificence. The wizardry of Mr. Gladstone’s
manipulations of stubborn material still extorted the admiration of
those who had known him a quarter of a century before. Half blind, very
deaf, dependent on majorities that sometimes sank to eight or ten, faced
with the certainty of rejection by the Lords, and the equal certainty
that their action would be approved by the country, the old hero never
faltered. It was a marvellous and inspiring example of the triumph of
a sense of public duty over all the disabilities of age and infirmity.
But through the whole splendid performance ran the note of tragedy. Mr.
Gladstone knew the thing could not be done by him. He must have more
than suspected what was to come when he was gone. The portent of the
Newcastle programme could no more have been lost on him than the waning
enthusiasm of many of his supporters for the cause of Home Rule. But for
the faith which had always sustained him, this last fight must have been
sad indeed. “But,” says Lord Morley, speaking of a visit just before
Mr. Gladstone’s last appearance in the House of Commons, “there the old
fellow was, doing what old fellows have done for long ages on a Sunday
afternoon, reading a big Bible.” The same witness speaks of a “sudden
solemnity” during the discussion of an intricate point in the Home Rule
Bill, when Mr. Gladstone turned to him with “Take it from me, that to
endure trampling on with patience and self-control is no bad element in
the preparation of a man for walking firmly and successfully in the path
of great public duty. Be sure that discipline is full of blessings.”
Then, a moment later, he added, “When it’s all over, you and I must have
our controversy out about Horace. I cannot put him as high as you do.”

After all, no man is to be pitied who could bear the weight of
eighty-four years in a spirit at once so humanly gallant and so
Christianly resigned.



CHAPTER V

GEORGE MEREDITH


George Meredith was impatient of talk about life’s ironies; he took
things as they came, accepted Fate’s decrees with fortitude, and did not
blame Nature for being natural. That is to say, he took up this attitude
in debate; internally he might and did lament over things not specially
lamentable. And, whatever he might say, he can hardly have failed to
feel something of the irony of his position in the Nineties. He had won
through long years of total neglect and hard toil. He had passed the
hardly less painful period of purely esoteric appreciation. First, nobody
cared for his work; then he became the oracle of a small circle; neither
fate was pleasing to a nature so large and eager, so avid of fame, with
so keen a zest for life, and so imperious an appetite for its best
things, material and intellectual. George Meredith liked recognition; he
liked also good and even fat living, old vintages, pleasant lodgment, and
ease of mind. He wrote best about the sunshine when he saw it through a
glass of fine claret, and lark pie was for him the best preparation for
an ode to the lark. But it was long before he could afford to translate
into practice his theories of good provender. In his youth, it is said,
he was so poor that a single bowl of porridge had often to suffice him
for the day, and long after he had reached maturity he was so little
esteemed that John Morley, coming to London ten years his junior, was
soon able to repay his generous welcome by printing two or three novels
which would otherwise have stood small chance with the publishers. In his
later middle age, though he could afford himself fairly full indulgence
in those dietetic fantasies which were his joy, he was so harnessed to
the daily task that he could not imagine, so he said, what he would do if
turned loose in the paddock of independence. But now in the Nineties and
his own sixties, just as he had grown into a cult, he had to live as a
recluse at Box Hill, almost a prisoner in his arm-chair, very deaf, and
with an impaired digestion.

[Illustration: GEORGE MEREDITH.]

Concerning that “Egyptian bondage” of journalism, all Meredith’s
philosophy could not prevent him expressing himself with extreme
bitterness. “No slavery,” he said, “is comparable to the chains of hired
journalism.” When a man talks thus it is natural to infer that he is
complaining of the injury such work does to his intellect and conscience;
obviously from the purely physical viewpoint writing for newspapers, for
some hundreds a year in Victorian valuation, is not worse than being an
Egyptian fellah, a Chinese coolie, or even an English dustman. But it
is hard to believe that even on the moral and intellectual side there
was much hardship; for, curiously enough, George Meredith was rather
specially free from scruples of the kind which torture some men. Indeed,
he was unusually wide-minded in the matter of “writing to order”; in that
sense, at least, the chains hung lightly on him. There have always been
journalists of great and even boisterous independence, and they were
more numerous in Meredith’s time than in our own. Even now, however,
the idea of the refined and penniless man of genius working against his
convictions under the lash of a brutal and tyrannous proprietor belongs
not to Fleet Street, where they produce newspapers, but to the Haymarket,
where they produce plays. Doubtless there is a good deal of compliance
in matters indifferent, or esteemed indifferent. Men with very red
noses have been known to argue eloquently in favour of local option, and
nothing but total abstinence is compatible with the coolness of head
requisite for some arguments in favour of “the trade.” But, as mere men
of business, newspaper proprietors save themselves, wherever possible,
the strain of attempting to force a highly individual writer against his
convictions. Mr. Massingham has never had to choose between no dinner and
the advocacy of causes likely to appeal to the editor of _John Bull_.
Mr. Bottomley has never been compelled by hunger to adopt the views of
the United Kingdom Alliance or the Anti-Betting League. But Meredith did
indubitably, as a Liberal, write habitually for the political columns
of the Conservative _Morning Post_ in London and the Conservative
_Ipswich Journal_ in the provinces; as a professed lover of liberty he
did indubitably argue in favour of slavery; and, if all the secrets of
the files were revealed, it would probably be found that, as a literary
critic, he said many things in print which were contrary to his private
taste and conviction.

His disgust with journalism was, it may be surmised, less concerned with
morals than with money. He complains that the better the work the worse
the pay, and the poorer the esteem; and, just as he could not refrain
from some envy of the “best sellers” in literature (an envy which found
vent in savage criticism of much of Tennyson’s work), so he was not
a little disgusted that many journalists far less gifted made better
incomes. In truth he was not suited to the trade. The best in journalism
is still for the many, and Meredith’s manner, when all is said, was for
the few. With the prestige of a name behind his books, the average of men
might be induced (if only by the coward fear of being out of the fashion)
to begin reading, and, having begun, it was always quite possible that
he would go on long enough to find much that he could honestly like. But
anonymous writing has no such advantage. Its appeal must be immediate, or
the reader turns to the next column. With his peculiar tendencies George
Meredith could never have been a journalist of the kind that delights the
editorial soul—the man who never under-writes or over-writes either in
space or quality, who can always be depended on to produce a first-class
trade article, who never uses an expression queried by the printer’s
reader. The highest merit of the journalist is to make complicated
things clear, and dry things readable; Meredith’s genius lay in the
direction of making the simplest things obscure, and the most ordinary
things out-of-the-way. The dread of being common-place seems to have
inclined him especially to verbal contortions when he was conscious of
some thinness or ordinariness of thought. When he has really something
to say he often says it strongly and naturally; there are deep things
and true things in Meredith which could hardly be better, more shortly,
or more lucidly expressed. Browning suffered from much the same disease;
with both men it is quite a safe rule to read only so long as one can
get on comfortably; skipping the hard parts means a gain altogether out
of proportion to the loss. Meredith is never more obscure than when he
means to tell one that a man kissed a woman, or that the sky was red at
sunset. Men do quite commonly kiss women, and skies are often red at
sunset. But Meredith seems to have felt that his men must be different
from any other men, their kisses different from any other kisses, and the
women kissed different from any other kissed women. And on no account
must his sunsets be the sunsets of Tom, Dick, or Harry. Therefore, in
dealing with such things, he racked his brain for some verbal violence
which sometimes hit the mark, but more often did not. In one of his short
poems—published, if I remember rightly, in the Nineties—there occurred
the expression, “Hands that paw the naked bush.” I asked a Meredithian
exactly what it meant. Pityingly he reminded me that some lines before
there were references to winter and snow. “Now,” he said, “if you have
closely observed a bush when the leaves are off, you will remember that
here and there twigs, to the number of four or five, radiate from a sort
of clump which bears a distant resemblance to the human wrist. When
these twigs are covered with snow they distinctly suggest a hand with
the fingers spread out. The poet saw that, as he saw everything. You,
who never use your middle-class eyes except to find misprints, naturally
never saw it, and you dare to charge your own insensitiveness and lack of
imagination on a great genius.” This, of course, was crushing. But I can
imagine an Elizabethan man of taste being equally crushing to any heretic
who questioned some elaborate figure of the Ephuists, and appealed from
them to the simple delicacy of him who wrote—

    “And winking Mary-buds begin
    To ope their golden eyes”—

a thing any critic can admire and any coal-heaver can understand.

“Meredith,” says Lord Morley, “often missed ease.” It might be truer to
say that he took the most cruel pains to avoid ease. Macaulay notices
how Johnson used sometimes to translate into his own peculiar dialect
an observation first made in strong, simple English. Thus he once
said that a certain work had not “enough wit to keep it sweet,” and
immediately added, “It has not sufficient vitality to preserve it from
putrefaction.” One has an uneasy feeling that Macaulay was, as sometimes
happened, a little innocent in his earnestness to make a point, and
that Johnson was here only playing with himself; his ordinary literary
style, though stiff as compared with his table talk, is yet generally
muscular and masculine. But Meredith actually did in solemn fashion what
Johnson may have done in a spirit of fooling. He did continually think
in a natural and write in an unnatural idiom. In his familiar letters
one often comes across the germ of a reflection later elaborated in a
book; in the one case it is expressed in terse, vigorous English, wholly
intelligible and to the point; in the other it is tortured into two pages
of Meredithian “epigram,” most of which would be incomprehensible if he
did not generally clinch the whole thing with one splendid sentence of
quite undoubtful meaning. In these key sentences, indeed, resides the
whole value of Meredith—if we exclude a certain embarrassing impression
of disorderly opulence, of careless magnificence, which makes one feel
rather like a boy with a great jar of “chow-chow” from Canton; he has
not a vestige of an idea what he is eating, and hardly knows whether he
quite likes it, but it is sweet, obviously expensive, and provocatively
curious, and has a certain medicinal suggestion that excuses a little
gluttony. Or we might say that a Meredith novel suggests a great
firework display, meant to represent “Peace and War,” or “Ali Baba and
the Forty Thieves,” or “Grand Attack on a Sleeping City by Ten Thousand
Aeroplanes.” One does not pretend to follow the story as if it were a
piece on the stage, and much of it seems to be irrelevant; but there are
plenty of bombs, squibs and Roman candles, and rockets that go up with a
satisfying rush and break into floating glory.

As he was in his books, so was Meredith in society. In the company of an
intimate friend or two he could be natural—could talk with easy vigour,
expressing views that were often just in language that was always plain
and strong. But let a stranger—especially a distinguished stranger—join
the circle, and he deviated automatically into “epigram.” He seems to
have felt it necessary to be brilliant, and for him brilliance meant
effort; he was not content to let the good things come to the surface as
they would, but pumped them up from the recesses of his being with an
energy which sometimes affected the purity of the flow and not seldom
made the machinery creak.

There was, indeed, something a little forced about the whole man. In his
youth he was addicted to violent exercise, and especially to throwing the
beetle—the great wooden mallet with which foresters split tree-trunks.
He used to throw up the beetle and catch it, and this violent business,
designed to preserve his health, ended by ruining it; the spinal weakness
from which he suffered in later life was the direct consequence of
beetle-throwing. This indiscreet athleticism is paralleled in other
departments of Meredith’s life. In literature he was perpetually throwing
the beetle—juggling in ponderous style with ponderous things; he is a
muscular rather than a nimble wit. I remember to have seen an acrobat
climb down a table leg, hand over hand, as if he were lowering himself
from the Nelson Monument—a difficult feat, no doubt, but a very useless
and ungainly one. Meredith’s cleverness gave often the same impression
of wasted power and even compromised dignity. In life, again, he tended
to this exaggerated strenuousness without adequate object; it might have
been better for him, and for others, if there had been more repose. His
first marriage was wrecked because he came into contact and conflict with
a temperament too like his own, and the sequel proved that his generally
benevolent and kindly nature had a core of hardness which might in truth
be suspected from his writings. Concerning Carlyle’s matrimonial affairs,
he wrote that “a woman of the placid disposition of Milton’s Eve, framed
by her master to be an honest labourer’s cook and housekeeper, with a
nervous disposition resembling a dumpling, would have been enough for
him.” Much the same was true of himself. If, in spite of much domestic
sorrow, he reached old age unbroken in his resolute optimism, his
deficiencies have perhaps no less credit than his qualities. For, if he
sometimes indulged in self-pity regarding small matters, he bore with
great stoicism the sterner buffets of fate, and this because of a certain
insensibility, illustrated again and again in his career, to the kind
of wounds which are commonly most painful. It is not indifference to
others, still less hardness of heart; his letters are evidence enough
on that point. But one has the same sort of impression one gets from
Shakespeare’s sonnets, of a second self quietly watching, and almost
jeering at, the sufferings of the first and its mates. “Happily for me,”
he wrote during his second wife’s hopeless and painful illness, “I have
learned to live much in the spirit.” That was probably the exact truth.
Things of the spirit were not always more important than the want of
five pounds for a dinner or a holiday, but they did suffice to keep him
taut and resolute in the presence of the sterner trials. “There was good
reason,” says Lord Morley, “to be sure with him that death too was only
a thing in the Natural Order.” It is only fair to add that he himself
faced the approach of the “pitch-black king” with full gallantry. “Going
quickly down,” he said to his old friend not long before the end, but
there was “nothing morbid, introspective, pseudo-pathetic; plenty of
hearty laughter; ...” “no belief in a future existence; are our dogs and
horses immortal? What’s become of all our fathers?”

Such was the strength of the man. But oddly mingled with the intrepid
assurance that could mock at invalidism and decay, and look with
untroubled eye into the dark unknown, was a strange sensitiveness which
he himself would have been the first to satirise in another. All
his life he was tortured with the consciousness that his father and
grandfather had been tailors, and oppressed with a fear that somebody
would discover the dread secret. He made of his origin a mystery which
might pique but always baffled curiosity; and he was continually
wondering whether people considered him a gentleman _de facto_, and
still more whether they suspected that he had not always been one _de
jure_. “H—— is a good old boy,” he writes on one occasion. “He has a
pleasant way of being inquisitive, and has already informed me, quite
agreeably, that I am a gentleman, though I may not have been born one.”
“In origin,” he says again, “I am what is called here a nobody, and any
pretensions to that rank have always received due encouragement.” He not
only kept silence about his birth—which was assuredly his own affair—but
he took active steps to prevent the truth being known. His father—a
handsome, shiftless person who made a failure of his life—was described
in Meredith’s first marriage certificate as “Esquire,” and in a census
paper “near Petersfield” was given as the author’s place of birth. The
Merediths were, in fact, naval outfitters at Portsmouth, and had none
of the “Celtic blood” to which the novelist was fond of making vague
claim. George’s mother died when he was five; the father followed after
various ineffective wanderings; and the boy was left a ward in Chancery,
to be educated and articled to a solicitor out of the poor remnant of the
family fortunes. From all this part of his life he shrank with a horror
at once grotesque and pathetic. There was nothing specially ignominious
in his childhood. There was certainly no ill-treatment; he was rather
petted than otherwise. But he resented the environment thrust on him by
the accident of birth, and, when free of it, avoided all touch with his
remaining relatives.

These facts would not be worth mentioning but for their influence on
Meredith’s life and work. They placed him in general society rather on
the defensive, and perhaps encouraged that haughty shyness which in the
presence of strangers was apt to take the form of an aggressive and
self-conscious brilliance. They explain the peculiar impression given by
so many of his novels, the impression of a man fascinated by aristocracy
and yet a little angry at being fascinated. Despite his Liberalism and
his Democratic professions, this was the thing he liked; he had an
almost sensual pleasure in good company; the very titles of his great
people suggest enjoyment. He himself was an aristocrat in physique;
he had a kingly head and carried it like a king. He was an aristocrat
also in intellect, though here not of the highest rank, which takes its
distinction for granted; it was, no doubt, a dread of commonness that
led him to refine excessively, and no one who dreads to be common wholly
escapes being so. But all this was not solely Meredith’s fault, it was
also the fault of his country. In the France of the fleur-de-lis or the
France of the tricolour the lack of birth would not have irked such a
nature; in Victorian England it became a fact of real importance. It was
the one little insanity of a rather specially sane mind; the one want of
humour in a richly humorous temperament; the one absurd weakness in one
perhaps even too confident in his own strength.



CHAPTER VI

LORD SALISBURY


In the Berlin Conference days Bismarck described Lord Salisbury as “a
lath painted to look like iron.” By the Nineties the sneer had lost point
in every particular. To the dullest it was clear that Lord Salisbury
had not painted himself or got himself painted; whatever the man might
or might not be, he was genuine, incapable himself of pose, and equally
incapable of inspiring others to spread a legend concerning himself. It
was equally clear (though perhaps only to the more discerning) that he
did not “look like iron.” There was not wanting strength of a kind, but
it was a flexible and not a rigid strength. The coarsest of all mistakes
it is possible to make concerning Lord Salisbury is that of regarding
him as an Imperialistic swashbuckler and gambler, ready for all risks in
the pursuit of a “spirited foreign policy.” The Victorian Burleigh was,
in fact, much like the Burleigh of Elizabeth, decisive enough in some
domestic matters, but even excessively cautious in the conduct of foreign
affairs. Though he adopted the Disraelian tradition, his methods were the
very opposite of Mr. Disraeli’s. That great man really enjoyed having
the eyes of all men directed on him in hope or fear. “A daring pilot in
extremity,” he seemed actually pleased with waves that went high, and,
though he might accept “peace with honour,” gave always the impression of
disappointment of a born political artist that it was not reserved to him
to play the part of a second Chatham.

[Illustration: LORD SALISBURY.]

Lord Salisbury, on the other hand, was in essence as pacific as Mr.
Gladstone. In practice he was even more a man of peace, since his caution
took the form of guarding against war, while Mr. Gladstone inclined
rather to the modern “Pacifist” line of calling war “unthinkable”—and not
thinking about it till it came. There were, no doubt, occasions on which
Lord Salisbury’s attitude might seem aggressive and even reckless. He
was severe to Portugal. He was stern and unbending to the South African
Republic. He adopted a high tone towards France over the Fashoda affair.
But in such cases he either regarded the risk as small, or considered the
matters at stake justified the risk, whatever it might be. In general
his policy was one of cautious conciliation, and his main work at the
Foreign Office was the removal, so far as might be, of any causes of
quarrel between ourselves and Germany. The German Empire he equally
feared and admired. France he was inclined to class with Spain among the
“dying nations,” and though, like all the men of his school, he rather
exaggerated the might of Russia, that Power was considered more from the
Asiatic than from the European point of view. Lord Salisbury’s policy
towards France and Russia was fluid and opportunist. He had no objection
to France taking what she liked of the “light soil” of the Sahara; he
was not intolerant of Russian ambitions in Eastern Asia. He was anxious
enough not to be on bad terms with anybody. But if either of these Powers
had thrown out an obvious challenge Lord Salisbury would no doubt have
accepted it. The one challenge he was resolved not to accept was that
of Germany, and the history of the later Salisbury administrations on
their foreign side is in essence the history of elaborate attempts to
buy, as cheaply as possible, a continuance of the sleeping partnership
with Prussia. The price was not onerous during Bismarck’s reign. It
rose sharply under William II, and Lord Salisbury died in the unhappy
certainty that all his attempts to satisfy Germany had failed of their
purpose. The failure was no fault of his. He had carried through in
Africa—a continent “created,” as he said at the Guildhall banquet of the
Diamond Jubilee year, “to be the plague of the Foreign Office”—a network
of treaties and compacts not ill-designed to avert the possibility of
serious wars arising from the unregulated ambitions of European Powers.
But there was more passion than policy in the councils of Berlin, and, to
his deep chagrin, Lord Salisbury was fated to see, before his life ended,
the first steps taken towards a complete reversal of the course he had
consistently followed.

If Lord Salisbury was neither “painted” nor “like iron,” the third
element in the Bismarckian sneer was still more untrue. In the Nineties
it was quite impossible to think of the Conservative leader as a “lath.”
The slenderness of Lord Robert Cecil had gone the same way as his rather
ungainly deportment; the developing statesman had shown how little
youth and spareness of figure may have to do with grace; the developed
statesman illustrated what the author of _Eothen_ calls the majesty of
true corpulence. In Lord Robert Cecil great height, slimness, and the
scholar’s stoop made rather jarringly noticeable that untidiness which
is an abiding Cecilian characteristic; in Lord Salisbury the rounded
shoulders rather added to his impressiveness, as suggesting Atlas loads
of responsibility, while the very massiveness of the figure cancelled the
effect of imperfect valeting. No worse dressed or more majestic figure
was ever seen in the House of Lords, which has never been wanting either
in shabbiness or in distinction. There are some men of great rank who
convey the impression of taking as keen an interest in their kit as that
which animates any shop assistant out for his Sunday. There are others
who give the air of caring little personally about such matters, but of
having an excellent man to look after them. Lord Salisbury suggested
a tailor and valet as little interested in clothes as himself. His
coats always looked as if they had been made on the Laputan system of
tailoring; his trousers bagged like those in the statues of Victorian
philanthropists; his hats were shocking; he even looked sometimes as
if he might have slept in his clothes. Indeed, though the last man
on earth to be a conscious Bohemian, there was a considerable streak
of Bohemianism in Lord Salisbury. In his Fleet Street days he had no
difficulty in accommodating himself to the ways of a race still carrying
on the tradition of George Warrington and Mr. Bludyer. Lord Morley, who
sometimes met him in the waiting-room of a review editor, found in him
a “gift of silence.” But _The Standard_ had, apparently, a more human
atmosphere, and with some of the distinguished writers enlisted under
the banner of Mr. Mudford, the future Prime Minister established genial
relations. Many years after, a fellow-leader-writer was presented to him
at some official garden party. Lord Salisbury, who had a bad memory for
names, and was very short-sighted, was saying the usual formal things
when the sound of the journalist’s voice suddenly brought a flood of old
memories. “Hello, Billy,” he said, shaking hands warmly, “whose turn is
it to pay for the beer?”

Lord Salisbury’s shortness of sight is the explanation of the many
true stories of his not knowing his own subordinates, and talking to a
sporting Peer about military matters under the impression that he was
addressing Lord Roberts. This myopia was a very considerable element in
his life, and accounts in some degree for a detachment which appeared
marvellous to his contemporaries. Not being able to see his audiences,
he could not follow their moods, and so tended exclusively to follow
his own. Thus no man merited less the title of orator. There was a fine
literary quality about his speeches; though he prepared little, and
spoke without effort, the fighting discipline of his journalistic days
made banality or sloppiness impossible to him. The satire which seldom
failed to flavour anything he said was the quite natural emanation of
an ironical mind, and sprang from the same source as his dislike of
declamation, display, or vulgar rhetorical artifice. It was not what
is generally called cynicism; it was rather the protest of a strong,
sincere, and unaffected nature against the humbug rarely absent from
public life. Bad taste, really bad taste, that is to say—the taste which,
to vary the French phrase, leads to artistic crime—was repulsive to him,
and this dislike no doubt sometimes led him to what is more ordinarily
called bad taste: the merciless mockery of pretensions which most people
have agreed to respect. Detesting exaggerated emphasis, he exaggerated
his own avoidance of it; he habitually spoke without gesture, generally
standing motionless as an automaton, his hands hanging lifelessly at his
side. In this position he used, as he called it, to “think aloud,” and
his thoughts often sounded strangely both to friends and opponents. For,
though Lord Salisbury was a real Tory, the tone of his mind was only in
one limited sense conservative. He did want to preserve certain great
things, including, of course, the Church, but he had little in common
with those who oppose an equally stubborn resistance to all innovation.
The doors of his understanding were never closed to the entry of new
ideas, so long as such ideas were concrete and definite; what he did
vehemently resent was “reform” demanded on loose general grounds. Thus
he had no great objection to Parish Councils. True, the old system had
worked fairly well, and very cheaply, and nobody could tell exactly how
ill and dearly the new system would work. But if due cause were shown,
he was not disposed to stand in the way. When, however, the Liberal
leaders argued for Parish Councils, not on the ground that they would
be more efficient or more economical than the old Vestries, but that
they would tend to “brighten village life,” Lord Salisbury’s disgust
flamed out in a characteristic piece of irony. “If the enlivenment of
village life were the object,” he said, “the object would be much better
served by a circus.” Again, he was assuredly not blind to the evils of
over-drinking. But he denied altogether that the way to make men sober
was to make public-houses fewer and less convenient. There had been much
argument in favour of “reducing drinking facilities”; Lord Salisbury
contended that drunkenness was no necessary consequence of drinking
facilities. “There are a hundred beds at Hatfield,” he said, “but I never
feel more inclined to sleep on that account.”

It is probable, indeed, that what he chiefly hated in Liberalism was
that tendency to unreality which is, perhaps, its special danger. Lord
Salisbury did not see a great many things, but what he did see he saw
clearly, and he was specially free from the dangers of self-deception.
Thus he did not see that there was an Irish question; but he did see
quite clearly what Mr. Gladstone would not let himself see, that there
was no English enthusiasm for Home Rule. He did not see that political
arrangements wanted readjusting in correspondence with the immense
material and intellectual revolution in England; but he did see quite
clearly that the English people on the whole preferred a squiredom to a
plutocracy, and were not in the least concerned when the House of Lords
disposed of various pet projects of hasty reformers. When Liberals talked
about the voice of the people and the aspirations of the masses, Lord
Salisbury did not think of the people or the masses; he thought of a
single working-man he had actually seen and spoken to, and, judging the
rest from him, was at least secured against the worst hallucinations.
When some proposal (say Local Veto) was extolled as a boon to the
working-classes, Lord Salisbury again saw in his mind’s eye a quite
ordinary bricklayer or carpenter in a village tavern, and in the strength
of that vision declined to believe that England would rise against him as
one man if the Lords threw out Local Veto on his suggestion. Proceeding
on these lines, he developed an infallible pose for political imposture
and pretence, and a massive disregard of merely noisy agitation. No man
ever paid less attention to the transient manifestations of what is
called public opinion. He was utterly unmoved by the thunders of the
Press and the organised outcry of the platform. When a great procession
marched past Arlington Street to Hyde Park to denounce him, he could
ask his footman (quite sincerely) “What all that noise was about?” The
petulant threats of a disappointed faction, the interested uproar of
sects and cliques, made no impression on his colossal phlegm. But he
recognised at once what he called “the firm, deliberate, and sustained
conviction” of the majority of the nation. “It is no courage—it is no
dignity—to withstand the real opinion of the nation,” so he said in 1868,
after leading a most determined opposition to the Irish Church Bill.
“All that you are doing thereby is to delay an inevitable issue—for all
history teaches us that no nation was ever thus induced to revoke its own
decision—and to invoke besides a period of disturbance, discontent, and
possibly worse than discontent.” Thus, while he understood when to fight,
he also understood when to yield, and his concessions, when he decided
to make them, came with grace and spontaneity. The sword of the House of
Lords was often raised to kill; it was sometimes used to salute; it was
never shaken in unavailing menace.

The peculiar strength and sagacity of Lord Salisbury as a domestic
statesman are best illustrated, not by what happened during his life, but
by what followed his death. For it was the chief part of his success that
nothing particularly happened at home while he was in chief control. The
real history of the time is foreign, colonial, social, and technological
history. In English political history we are mainly in the region of
negatives. Lord Salisbury did not solve the Irish political problem; he
only stifled down an Irish agitation. He did not solve the English social
problem; he only avoided unnecessary troubling of the waters. He did not
make his party the instrument of any great positive work for England; he
only kept it together as the guarantee of stable administration. But the
magnitude of even this negative success was seen by the sharp contrast
of what followed. Within a year of his retirement the Conservative Party
was shattered; within a decade everything he had striven to avoid had
come to pass; Home Rule was again a living issue; the lists were set for
a real battle between the House of Commons and the House of Lords; the
division of England into “classes and masses” was almost complete; the
Church was marked down for what he would have considered a sacrilegious
mutilation. English Toryism in the true sense died with Lord Salisbury.
The thing that succeeded had no convenient name, but its character may
be best indicated by saying that what was specially English was not
specially Tory, and what was specially Tory was not specially English.
But, while the inspiration and effective control of the party passed to
men without interest in Church or land, and with a cosmopolitan (or at
least most loosely Imperialist) rather than an English or even British
point of view, many true Tories remained. These must have recognised,
when Lord Salisbury had gone, the true value of much that had been taken
for granted while he was alive. He originated little; he delayed much
that was good as well as much that was ill; he belonged emphatically to
that class of great men who must be praised rather for what they avoided
than for what they accomplished. But that he was a truly great man, and
not a merely dexterous one, was now clear to those who witnessed the
disaster wrought by a deficiency of character combined with an excess of
ideas and tactical subtlety. Had Lord Salisbury been succeeded by another
in precisely his own image, the political and social convulsions of the
new century would, doubtless, not have been altogether avoided. For there
were forces at work that compelled large changes. But that they would
have come about in gentler fashion is hardly doubtful. For Lord Salisbury
knew as few men did the difference between variable “public opinion” and
the real temper of a nation, between the ditch that can be filled up or
drained and the river which can only be canalised, and he would assuredly
have avoided that constitutional struggle which, degenerating into mere
anarchism, became the prolific parent of so many ills from which the
country suffers to-day. It was a misfortune for more than Conservatism
that his massive wisdom, his shrewd judgment, his cool scepticism, his
contempt of mere ideas, his horror of extremes, his hatred of any kind
of cant and self-illusion, his distrust of zeal and prejudice against
the needless enlargement of issues were not at the service of the
Conservative Party at a time when it needed above all things sane and
strong control.



CHAPTER VII

LORD KITCHENER


At the battle of Omdurman, fought on September 2, 1898, the Dervishes
had 10,800 killed and some 16,000 wounded; the losses of the British and
Egyptian forces amounted to only 47 killed and 342 wounded.

This fact must be borne in mind in considering the character of that
enormous Kitchener legend which grew up—or rather started up almost in
a single night—late in the Nineties. At the beginning of the decade the
name of Herbert Kitchener conveyed nothing to people outside an extremely
narrow military and diplomatic circle; a year or two later vague rumours
of some extremely capable soldier, a discovery of Lord Cromer’s, the very
man to regain the Sudan and “avenge Gordon,” began to circulate; by the
middle Nineties the new Sirdar had established a certain definite repute
as a strong man who would stand no nonsense from anybody, and who had
even terrorised an unfriendly Khedive; in 1896 there began to be talk
about the expedition authorised by the Government on Mr. Chamberlain’s
suggestion; the next two years the papers were at intervals interested
in the building of the desert railway which was to be Kitchener’s
instrument for the reconquest of the Sudan. Then came news, on the Good
Friday of 1898, of a considerable victory at the Atbara; and after, for
some months, there was almost silence. At last it was gloriously broken.
A great battle had been fought and won outside Omdurman, the mushroom
capital of the Khalifa, erected opposite the ruins of Khartoum on the
other side of the Nile. The Dervishes had attacked with all their force;
they had been utterly defeated; and, though the Khalifa and the remnants
of his army had got away, his power had evidently been broken for ever.
Khartoum was ours, Gordon had been splendidly avenged, and the reign of
civilisation in the home of an aggressive barbarism was now assured.
Kitchener, who had planned every detail of the business, and had ended it
by violating the Mahdi’s tomb and throwing the body of the false prophet
(parted from his head) into the Nile, suddenly emerged from the status of
a comparatively unmarked man to that of the “greatest living soldier.”

The first fever had hardly died away when excitement, and with it the
renown of the successful General, was intensified by the great irony
which is summarised in the word “Fashoda.” Kitchener, going forward
on the Nile from Omdurman, was met by a small steel rowing-boat,
which proved to contain a Senegalese sergeant and two men, charged
with a letter from Major Marchand, who had fought his way from the
Atlantic to the Upper Nile, and now lay encamped at Fashoda, right
on the Cape-to-Cairo line. Major Marchand presented his compliments,
congratulated General Kitchener on what he had heard was an uncommonly
fine victory, and would be honoured, charmed, and even ravished to
welcome him at Fashoda under the shadow of the tricolour.

[Illustration: LORD KITCHENER.]

Here was a pretty kettle of fish, with the prospect of a considerable
amount of fat in a truly terrible fire if anything went awry in the
cookery. Kitchener had been tested as a soldier; he was now to prove
himself as a diplomatist. Many a British officer and gentleman, charged
to the teeth with good form, might have started there and then a European
war. But Kitchener, whose manners were sometimes sufficiently brusque
where his own countrymen were concerned, had very fortunately much
tact when dealing with foreigners, and especially when in contact with
Frenchmen. He spoke their language not only accurately but with grace
and fluency, and it almost seemed as if the use of that idiom dissolved
much of the ice which generally abounded in his neighbourhood. During
the Great War not his least service was the establishment of thoroughly
good relations with the French high command; they not only trusted in
him, as one who knew, and knew that they knew, but they liked him. It was
not only that they never forgot that he had been a volunteer in the war
of 1870, but they discovered in the grim Field-Marshal something more
sympathetic than they could find in British officers of ordinarily far
more expansive manner. Kitchener, on his part, had no doubt something in
excess of the natural interest and friendliness which (other things being
equal) most men entertain for foreigners whose language they speak well.
He had a real admiration for French qualities in general, a still greater
admiration for French military qualities in particular, and an admiration
greater still for an individual French soldier so transparently brave and
chivalrous as Marchand. “I congratulate you,” he said, in shaking hands
with the Major, “on all you have accomplished,” meaning the terrible
march across Africa, in which a fifth of Marchand’s little force had
perished. “No,” was the French soldier’s reply, “the credit is not to me,
but to these soldiers,” pointing to his troops. “Then,” said Kitchener in
describing the interview, “then I knew he was a gentleman.”

It was a difficult business, that of getting the gallant Marchand to
consent, helpless as he was, to the replacement of the French by the
Egyptian flag. But the thing was done, and done in such a way that,
though there might be chagrin, there was no hurt of that kind that
festers in a proud heart: years after Kitchener and Marchand could meet
without either feeling the smallest awkwardness. Indeed, not for the
first time, soldiers proved themselves better at the diplomat’s trade
than the diplomats themselves. The real peril of Fashoda was due to
the professional speechifiers; and the embitterment of Anglo-French
relations, which long survived the formal settlement of this affair,
might well have been averted had statesmen, comfortably seated in
palace-offices in a northern latitude, imitated the courtesy and
restraint of two war-worn and nerve-racked men of war, fretted by the
hundred little miseries of one of the most detestable regions of tropical
Africa.

It was Omdurman and Fashoda that made the Kitchener legend, and
Kitchener’s part in the Boer War scarcely added to it. Critics might say
that the dispositions at Omdurman were faulty, and that though Kitchener
was the prince of military organisers, he was not, and never would be,
a great general in the field. The people would not have it. They had
made up their mind that he was a great man; they went on thinking he
was a great man; and many years later, when behind the scenes every
small detractor was sneering at the “Kitchener myth,” the general public
suffered no smallest shadow of doubt to creep over its full faith in
him. He had carried out a clean job cleanly, winding up by a tremendous
and final success a business which had been marked by one tragic failure
after another. He had achieved, for less money than he had promised to
spend, a complete victory, while others had merely added recklessly to
the National Debt while subtracting heavily from the national prestige.
The critics might say that Kitchener had much luck, that he profited by
the efforts of those who preceded him, that means were available for his
campaign which were beyond the reach of others. All this was nothing to
the public. They saw a great success, and they honoured the man who had
accomplished it, all the more because they had been accustomed to connect
with defeat all the place-names in his itinerary of triumph.

But the main point of the whole thing was that summarised in the opening
paragraph: “Dervishes, 10,800 killed, 16,000 wounded; British and
Egyptians, 47 killed, 342 wounded.” Had Kitchener’s victory been dear
in life the whole glamour of the business would have been absent. For
the British people at that time took an interest in war rather like a
virtuous spinster’s interest in wickedness. They liked to hear about
it, to talk about it, to feel the thrill of it. But they did not like
it to come too near their own homes. Their idea of a good kind of war
was one waged against a barbarous foe on a picturesque far-away terrain;
one which would enable the Prime Minister, in proposing the thanks of
Parliament to the successful general, to talk about “thin red lines”
creeping beside gorges that would appal a Canadian trapper, or scaling
mountains which would terrify an Alpine guide, until they had “planted
the standard of St. George upon the mountains of Rasselas,” or some
equally interesting range. They liked the foe to come on bravely but
rather injudiciously, and to be “mown down” by machine-guns that never
jammed. They liked him to be easily surprised and bamboozled, and then
they paid the highest compliments to his “unavailing heroism”; Mr.
Kipling probably compensated him with a poem in cockney dialect. But
if, declining himself to be surprised and bamboozled, the barbarian
succeeded in surprising and bamboozling our own men, we are very apt
to describe the ensuing disaster as a “treacherous massacre.” It was,
perhaps, this dislike of unobliging enemies, no less than our unmixed
joy over the disasters of any foreign force in similar circumstances,
that contributed to the want of affection for us on the Continent.
However that may be, it is certain that a great part of the popularity
of Omdurman was due to the fact that it was an amazingly cheap victory
of discipline and apparatus over barbaric and comparatively ill-equipped
valour; and no small degree of Kitchener’s prestige was accounted for
by the popular comparison of the tiny cost in life of his great feat
with the large outlay, in blood as well as in money, of some of his
unsuccessful predecessors. The fact was of enormous importance, both in
the South African War and later. People always felt that Kitchener could
do things by a kind of magic if they were do-able that way, and were
thus reconciled to heavy loss when it arrived to troops for which he had
responsibility. It was felt that he had no motive but to get results at
the very lowest cost; that he would spare neither himself nor another
in pursuing that purpose; and that no influences of any kind—personal,
political, or social—would ever be allowed to interfere with his ideals
of military economy and efficiency.

The public, as usual, was perfectly right in its instinct in all matters
which it was competent to judge. It was less right, of course, when
it attempted to appraise the military genius of Kitchener. Yet it was
less wrong, probably, than the professed critics who in the Great War
concentrated on the inevitable shortcomings of a man past his prime,
in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by politicians, nervous of
public opinion in a country with representative institutions, who had to
build up from the beginning the immense organisation needed for such an
effort as that to which this country was committed. When all is said of
these shortcomings, the fact remains that the only British soldier who
foresaw the duration of the war, and the means necessary to bring it to a
successful conclusion, was one who had spent only a few months in Europe
since his early manhood, who had never handled white troops on a great
scale, and had had no opportunity of applying himself to those problems
which had been the life-long occupation of German and French generals.
The marvel was not that Lord Kitchener made mistakes, but that he was
able to form so just a judgment of the grand contours of the enormous
affair with which he was called at a moment’s notice to deal. Judged only
by that vast experiment, the greatness of the man is still apparent.
But it would be quite unjust so to judge him. The public instinct was
correct in fastening on the campaign that culminated at Omdurman as a
supreme illustration of his qualities. They were less those of a great
commander in the field than of a patient planner, plotter, and organiser,
a super-sapper and miner, the manager of a great military business. From
first to last he was always the engineer, the mathematician, and the
business man; and if at the last he appeared less a business man than at
the first, it was only because he was that kind of business man who must
have all the threads in his own hands, and the threads of the last great
business were too numerous for any one pair of hands to hold.

It was not so in the Nineties. Then Kitchener had a measurable task
and immeasurable energy; he could do everything himself, and anything
that he could do himself was well done. One most authentic proof of his
greatness was his choice of instruments; “Kitchener’s men” have always
shown themselves good for something, and generally good for most things.
Another was the manner in which he impressed his personality on all
who came near him. It is easy and safe to talk about the absurdity of
the “Kitchener myth” in general society; the experience is much more
embarrassing when an old officer of Kitchener happens to be present.
For the grim man who was so ruthless to incompetence, one might almost
add so cruel to misfortune, the man who treated ill-health as a kind
of crime, and marriage as a kind of treason, somehow managed to get
himself loved. That part of the Kitchener legend which represented him
as without heart or bowels was, indeed, false. He was inexorable in
business, and in general society he always assumed, partly out of shyness
and partly from policy, a defensive armour that was most difficult to
penetrate. But at bottom there was not a little geniality in his nature,
and among intimates he was often cheerful and sometimes garrulous; the
habit grew on him with years, and in most serious times, and in the
midst of intensely serious discussions, he would frequently develop a
curious irrelevancy and small-talkativeness. At no time did he like to
be alone; if he did not talk himself—and sometimes he indulged a mood of
strict taciturnity—he liked to have someone to talk to him. And, being
an autocrat, he always preferred that the somebody should be one who
would not take offence if suddenly snubbed for doing what he was there
to do. There are kings who love the society of great lords as near as
may be to their own station, and there are kings who prefer for their
intimates and confidants men of inferior standing. Lord Kitchener was
a potentate of the latter kind, and for the most part the true man was
only seen by people who were in effect little more than members of his
suite. The chief exceptions were a few favoured generals, and the few
men, and the fewer women, who had the privilege of being his friends in
general society. With such he could be utterly charming; and he had also
a way of getting into the affections of their children: one little girl,
now a mother herself, used always to say her prayers at his knee when
he was a visitor at her father’s house; and the Grenfell boys were on
small-brotherly terms with the grim Field-Marshal. Kitchener, in short,
had a very human heart, and a quite human longing for affection. His
celibacy was partly a matter of accident and partly of principle: he
disliked extremely the idea of a married soldier; he seems to have shared
Athos’ view that a dying warrior should cry with his last breath “_Vive
le roi_,” and not murmur, “Adieu, my dear wife.” Thus in South Africa he
would allow none of the married officers to be joined by their wives,
and once in a general company, on hearing of the marriage of one of his
men, he burst into an angry tirade. With such a view of the vocation of
soldiering, and with the mere fact of so much of his life being passed
in remote places, it is small wonder that his own marrying age went by.
But, though in his later years he may not have regretted the lack of
a wife, he certainly felt the want of children, and realised somewhat
pathetically his own loneliness.

But this gentler side was known to very few indeed, and only guessed by
a few more. To the majority of those who met Kitchener, even frequently
and in some intimacy, he appeared until the very last years of his life a
man of one idea and no emotions. The truth was rather that his emotions
were mostly in complete subjection to his will, while the idea exercised
a despotic domination over his whole being. There was really something
of the old anchorite in this very modern and secular person, and it is
not altogether irrelevant to recall that in his early days he was vividly
interested in small minutiæ of Church ritual.

    “I have heard him indulge in coarse ungentlemanly emphatics,
    When the Protestant Church has been divided on the subject of
      the proper width of a chasuble’s hem;
    I have even known him to sneer at albs, and as for dalmatics,
    Words cannot convey an idea of the contempt he always expressed
      for them.”

The young Kitchener was far from sharing the sentiments of Gilbert’s
latitudinarian hero. He would have discussed albs with fervour, and
dalmatics with reverence, and would have seen nothing more ridiculous
in caring about the size of a chasuble than about the strength of a
platoon. He would have argued, or rather felt, that discipline, dogma—in
other words, shape, consistency, and fighting unity—were as necessary
in affairs of the Spirit as in secular life. In other days and other
circumstances he might well have been either a peaceful abbot or the
head of an order of religious knights; there was deep in his nature
that passion for self-immolation which made the most businesslike
people monks, as well as that passion for meticulous order and method
which made monks the most businesslike people of their time. His other
passions, probably, were not strong; strong or weak, they were wholly
under control. He hated incontinence in any form. The effusive youth who
called him “Kitchener,” and was met with the cool reply “Perhaps you’d
rather use my Christian name,” was not more discouraged than the swearer
of oaths or the teller of profane or unseemly anecdotes. To Kitchener
might be applied the eulogy of Clarendon on Charles I: “He was so severe
an exactor of gravity and reverence in all mention of religion, that
he could never endure any light or profane word, with what sharpness
of wit soever it was covered; and ... no man durst bring before him
any thing that was profane or unclean.” Sir George Arthur has remarked
on the mingled astonishment and irritation with which he listened to a
questionable performance at Cairo, given on an occasion when official
reasons obliged him to be present; and there was something hugely
disconcerting in the manner in which he received a jest of doubtful taste
made in general society. His attitude was too well known for such a thing
to be a possibility among his own intimates.

It has been said that the man who is not afraid to die is lord and
master of all other men. Equally true is it to say that the man who is
not afraid to live according to his own plan will always dominate those
who yield to fashion in opinion, to social modes, or to the weaknesses
of their own natures. Kitchener’s peculiar power was due to his immense
self-discipline. He could hardly be called, in the real sense, a military
genius; Roberts was his superior as an intellectual soldier, and among
his own subordinates there were men more richly endowed even in those
qualities he really possessed in large measure—the qualities of the
organiser which were so signally shown in the long preparations for the
triumph, so swift and sure in its final realisation, of Omdurman. But
other soldiers were sometimes off duty. Kitchener was never off duty. The
moment one task was done he was preparing himself for another; he was
that kind of moral athlete who never permits himself a day’s departure
from strict training. Practically this rigidity has its dangers; there is
such a thing in life, as in sport, as getting stale from over-fitness;
and when the final test of Kitchener’s life came it might perhaps have
been well for him and for others if he had wasted (as he would have
thought it) a little more time during his prime. For, with all his
painfully acquired lore, he lacked the full knowledge of men, and in
whole departments of things he could only oppose an enormous innocence
to people grown old in wile. But in the meantime he gained indefinitely
in influence through his almost inhuman absorption in soldiering, his
complete indifference to money, society, and everything men prize as
soon as their purely material desires have reached saturation point.
He received full credit for the qualities which were really his. He
was conceded some qualities which, in fact, he did not possess. He was
trusted as the final court of appeal on all questions relating to the
East, even those affecting parts of the East with which he was really
not familiar, for it is our habit to think that a man who has lived in
Suez must in some mysterious way know much about Bombay. He was regarded
above all as “straight,” and justly so, for, though habituation to
Eastern conditions had given him in minor matters some touch of Oriental
guile, he was, in all great things, the soul of truth, and in everything
the essence of probity. But there were occasions on which his great
prestige was something of a disadvantage. It was assumed that on all
military and Eastern questions Kitchener must be right and all other men
wrong, and that he must be especially right whenever his opinion happened
to clash with that of a politician. A good many things might have gone
better had not the infallibility of Lord Kitchener become a journalistic
dogma, to be disputed only at the cost of excommunication. In the same
way the magic of his personality was used to give weight to a certain
set of political ideas. It was so used without collusion or privity or
consent on his part; all his life he had an almost superstitious terror
of politics, and no hint of sympathy with one party or reprobation of
another ever crossed his lips. But it is not beyond the ingenuity of
politicians to convey an impression without making a statement, and they
so contrived matters that a good many people, while honouring him as a
soldier and recognising him as a high-minded public servant, watched him
with a certain strained attention. It needed the Great War to reveal
to the working classes the true nature of the man and the absolute
singleness of his aims. Then they were convinced, and he had no heartier
admirers than the working men, who honoured his name, and trusted his
word, above all other war-lords’.

But though Kitchener was in every sense the farthest removed from a
politician, he had many of the qualities of a statesman, and his work at
every period of his career (and at no period more than during the Great
War) cannot be properly measured solely by his military achievements. We
have seen his statesmanship at work at Fashoda, but it had its influence
at every stage of his career. If the Kitchener legend, whatever measure
of falsity mingled with its truth, was of immense value in sustaining
the spirit of England in the great ordeal, it was not less useful in
vitalising the Alliance. Frenchmen felt that they had in Kitchener
someone who understood the real nature of the vast transaction before
them; someone who would not yield to the traditional English conception
of Continental war as colony-seizing and island-collecting, but who, on
the other hand, knew in his very bones that the thing must be fought out
on the main battlefield, and that no showy successes elsewhere would
avail against defeat in that sombre theatre. The visit to Paris, in the
gloomy days before the Marne, was that of a soldier who understood war
on the great scale, and was understood at once by men grown grey in the
study of war of that kind. Kitchener’s work at the War Office can never
be measured by shells and machine-guns; the greatest part of it was that
of a military foreign minister, able to speak a language unknown to a
civilian Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

It is this latent quality of statesmanship which makes one wonder whether
Lord Kitchener would not have done even greater things for the Empire had
it been his lot to spend more time at its heart and less in the outer
marches. But his fate was decided partly by his circumstances and partly
by his peculiar constitution. He could only expect promotion by taking
jobs that nobody else wanted, and he had a horror of cold weather which
would have made continuous residence in a northern latitude insupportable
to him. Once he got the label of the soldier of the outer Empire it stuck
to him, and thus it happened that the Englishman with the broadest
military outlook of his time never faced, until he was called to the
greatest of all tasks, a military problem of the largest kind. His
own view of himself is well known. He looked forward, just before his
death, to tasks rather of a statesmanlike than a military kind; and it
is permissible to distrust that optimism which professed, when the news
of the _Hampshire’s_ loss came, the comfortable belief that he had done
his country all the service of which he was capable. For there was much
in the man which would assuredly not have been useless in the final
liquidation of accounts; and, even had no specific employment been found
for his talents, the mere force of his living example would have been
valuable. In the presence of one who had shown such large fidelity, such
noble disdain of the objects of selfish desire, such self-forgetting
devotion to a trust, it would have been more difficult for faction and
self-seeking to display themselves unashamed. He is too recently dead
for his spirit to work on this generation as it will, doubtless, on men
still unborn. But alive he might have reminded the masses that there can
be true greatness in great place, and people in great place that true
greatness is a matter of a man’s soul and not of his station.



CHAPTER VIII

THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE


There are certain things that come to one only in maturity. One is a
taste for Jane Austen. Another is a correct sense of the meaning and
importance of such men as Spencer Compton Cavendish, Knight of the
Garter, eighth Duke of Devonshire, Marquis of Hartington, Earl of
Devonshire, Earl of Burlington, Baron Cavendish of Hardwicke, and Baron
Cavendish of Keighley.

To a young man in the Nineties the mere fact of the Duke’s importance was
obvious enough. Had he not been in politics time out of mind, ever since
he was twenty-four? Was not his breach with Mr. Gladstone one of the
cardinal facts of modern history? Was he not among the first half-dozen
men accorded the distinction of “first person” reports? Was he not
cartooned and quoted after the manner of the very greatest? But why? The
young fellow of the Nineties saw simply a large dull man, with a large
dull way of talking, a man incapable of saying a witty thing, or doing
a picturesque thing; and in his haste this young fellow declared that
all men were snobs, that the sole secret of the Duke’s influence was his
wealth and position, that if he had been born the son of a clerk he would
never have risen to be more than a clerk, but, being the son of a great
noble, people hastened to find in him qualities which were simply not
there.

And in some ways, no doubt, the young fellow was right. In any station
Spencer Compton Cavendish would have been something, something real
and substantial, something of true human worth, of strong sense, shrewd
vision, and rare fidelity. But it is highly probable that, had he been
born poor, he would never have been heard of beyond the limits of his
parish. For he had few of the qualities, and none of the defects, that
make a man rise. No human being was ever more destitute of vanity,
which is one great motive of pushfulness. Though his sense of duty made
him accept responsibility, he hated it; though he felt compelled to
do much work, he detested exertion; utterance in any kind was painful
to him; he was quite wanting in surface brilliance and in the quality
people call magnetism. Such men do not readily “get on.” They find their
groove, and stay in it. They are too much trusted in the positions they
actually fill for anybody to be anxious to promote them, while their own
laziness, pride, dislike of cultivating superiors, and general capacity
of “consuming their own smoke” all conspire to keep them where they are.
In most business places one will find men almost indispensable in their
special jobs, who are never thought of in connection with a superior
job, partly because it would be troublesome to replace them, partly
because they are bad courtiers, but chiefly from the sheer difficulty of
imagining them elsewhere.

The Duke of Devonshire was a man of this sort. He did not make
himself, and he was not exactly made by circumstances; he was there,
and the circumstances were so, and a process of adaptation, chiefly
unconscious, followed. He might almost be described, politically, as a
natural growth—a kind of tree which went through its destined changes
of development and decay in accordance with a certain principle, but
in obedience to no visible motive. He got himself planted in a certain
soil without much consideration on his own part; he took such firm
root that he could not unplant himself, though he constantly wished
to do so; and thus it arrived that for over fifty years he was the one
permanent feature in a changing landscape. The creatures of the hour, the
beasts of the political field, gathered under him for shade, support,
or convenience, and he gave them what he had to give, almost with the
impartiality of a thing inanimate. But, just as the beech-tree is often
in close association with a herd of swine, but does not follow the swine
when they roam away to an oak, so the Duke remained rooted in the midst
of a constantly changing company; he had all sorts of associates, but he
did not follow them when they sought fresh woods and pastures new; to
the end he remained what he had been from the beginning—the pure Whig. I
remember a poor little Liberal Unionist of the Nineties who complained
that he had been sadly misrepresented. “It is not I,” he used to say—he
was about five feet high, and had a querulous little squeak—“it is not
I who have deserted my party; it is my party that has deserted me.” The
Duke of Devonshire could at any time have said the same thing without
evoking a challenge or even a smile. He did not leave Mr. Gladstone; he
merely stayed where he was. He did not leave Mr. Balfour twenty years
later; Mr. Balfour took up a new position, and the Duke remained in his.
Of all the Liberal Unionists he alone did not suffer “some sea change” as
the result of immersion in the Tory flood. Even Mr. Chamberlain was not
immune; he did not become a Conservative, but he did become a new kind of
Radical. The Duke shed no particle of his old-fashioned Whiggism, with
its distrust of the Crown, the Church, and the people, and its intense
faith in itself. In 1902 he was still conscious of a dividing line
between himself and his Conservative colleagues—a line “imperceptible
to the practised eye” of Lord Rosebery. The line was assuredly there,
real if not obtruded. Lord Salisbury was still too much of a Carolean
theologically and too much of a modernist politically to suit a mind
which envisaged Sir Robert Walpole as the ideal occupant of 10, Downing
Street, and Dr. Thomas Tusher as the proper tenant of Lambeth.

If this immobility had been the result of mere stupidity the young man
of the Nineties would have been justified in his scepticism. But in fact
the Duke was by no means stupid. Or, rather, the fact can best be put in
positive form. While the least clever of men, he had a quite uncommon
gift of true wisdom. He had all the outward marks of dullness. No man
was more completely without colour or atmosphere. A rather abnormal
carelessness in dress contributed to his conventionality rather than
relieved it. He was old-fashioned without a touch of the picturesqueness
of the antique, and untidy without the piquancy of Bohemianism. Some of
his contemporaries had the interest of a well-ordered “period” room;
the Duke gave rather the impression of a furniture broker’s shop full
of miscellaneous Victorian mahogany. His beard—though it had a certain
subtle character of its own, as just a shade different from the growth
of any plebeian, lay or clerical—completed the notion of carelessness
without grace and individuality without distinction. His attitudes
were angular; when he did not sprawl on a bench or in an arm-chair he
leaned up against a pillar or a mantelpiece, and somehow he seemed to
take the colour out of the most glowing examples of stuff and stone.
His expression was habitually dreary, and if by chance he said he was
glad to see you—and very often he did not—you would have had some little
difficulty in believing it had you not reflected that “no Cavendish
tells a lie,” and that he was a most typical Cavendish in that regard.
He suffered from a permanent difficulty of self-expression; the simplest
speech caused him torment, and (though he could be the kindest and most
considerate of hosts) social chit-chat was scarcely less painful. He
was most extraordinarily lazy. He dozed when he could, and yawned when
he could not. His yawn was perfectly impartial—he yawned at friends,
foes, and himself. Once in the middle of his own Army Estimates the fit
came upon him, and he signified in the usual manner his weariness of
the whole performance. This yawn was a thing of wonder, so hearty and
natural that no question of manners arose. It suggested no affront, even
to the most prolix speaker; it was rather a proclamation of privilege,
like the wearing of a hat in the House of Commons. It seemed to say, “I
am a Duke, and (possibly more to the point) a great gentleman, so that
nobody can accuse me of not knowing how to ‘behave.’ But after all what
is the use of owning Chatsworth, Devonshire House, all those Eastbourne
ground-rents, and I really cannot trouble to think what else, if I cannot
be natural? Here I am—heaven alone knows really why—condemned to this
intolerable boredom. I go through it, because I feel somehow that I
ought. But I claim in return the freedom of not pretending that I find
it amusing. Please don’t be offended; I should be sorry if you were.
But if you insist on taking offence I shall sleep none the less soundly
to-night, or—who knows?—ten minutes hence if the fit takes me.”

It is related of the Duke that he once went to another seat in the House
of Lords specially to listen to a speech, and fell asleep there before
five minutes had elapsed. He once gave a reply to a noble lord. The noble
lord was not satisfied, and made a long speech in order to say so. The
Duke fell asleep, but woke automatically (as people do at the end of a
sermon) when the voice ceased. Then he began to read his answer a second
time, but, suddenly remembering what had already happened, abruptly sat
down again without saying another word. And the House (which knew its
Duke) was perfectly satisfied.

How the Duke in such circumstances managed to get the right end of any
controversial stick must ultimately remain a mystery. But that he did
so is a plain fact. For, if a slow thinker, he was a generally clear
one, and, if a painful speaker, he made speeches which never lacked
matter. His was one of those minds on which sophistry has no effect.
He was not incapable of admiring eloquence and ingenuity. His attitude
towards Mr. Gladstone was a singular mixture of reverence and something
not unlike disdain. So much of Mr. Gladstone was admirable, and yet so
much of him simply “would not do for the Duke.” One often sees a shrewd
old Hodge listening to the patter of a cheap-jack at a fair. He enjoys
the jokes, and has a kind of glee in the dexterity, but he is simply not
made to believe in an eighteen-carat gold English lever, jewelled in
thirty-seven holes, for twenty-three and six. The Duke never troubled to
consider every point; he was content to say that it could not be done at
the price, and leave the matter there. And if he would not buy, still
less would he consider any proposal to go into the cheap-jack business
himself; if anybody wanted the Duke as a colleague it was no use to
propose a line in razors made only to sell. The character, of course,
has its defects. The Duke was mainly negative in his wisdom. His belief
in gold might make him unjust to platinum, but he was infallible in
detecting pinchbeck. On things of pure spirit it was useless to consult
him, but on any question which could be weighed in the balance of
common-sense his judgment sought its fellow.

Hence it became a habit of a large number of people, during a long
range of time, to wait till the Duke had declared himself before they
made up their own minds. It sometimes took the Duke a long time to
declare himself. Where, as in the case of Home Rule, the matter was
comparatively simple, no man could be more sharply decisive. It was
impossible for him to undergo any process of self-hypnosis such as that
of which Mr. Gladstone was occasionally capable; he could not understand
the distinction between “war” and “military operations” or between being
“surrounded” and being “hemmed in.” In 1885 he had declared himself
unalterably against Home Rule, and he saw no reason to say another thing
in 1886. But in the matter of Tariff Reform the issue and the man were
both more complicated, and plain “Yes” or “No” harder. The Duke was quite
sure about Ireland; he was less sure about maintaining Free Trade by
reverting at least partially to Protection. He knew Mr. Gladstone to the
bottom; no human being had succeeded in knowing Mr. Balfour. He could
only confess himself at first “completely puzzled and distracted by all
the arguments _pro_ and _con_ Free Trade and Protection.” But, he finally
decided, “whichever of them is right, I cannot think that something
which is neither, but a little of both, can be right.” In both cases
his judgment was an element of great importance, but, while it was of
decisive effect in regard to Home Rule, it exerted less influence on the
latter controversy. The public judged, as usual, rightly. In the one case
Lord Hartington, as a plain and very honest Englishman in close contact
with realities, might be trusted to form at least an interim judgment on
behalf of plain and honest Englishmen in general. But in the other case
the moral factor counted for less, and the intellectual factor for more,
and the prolonged puzzlement of the Duke detracted from his influence
when he finally decided (with infinite agony) on his course.

The main source of the Duke’s influence was, indeed, the general
conviction that, with a masculine but ordinary understanding, he
combined perfect disinterestedness and straightforwardness. This faith
was not based wholly on the fact that he was a great noble; the middle
class might, indeed, have been a little scandalised by the side of him
illustrated in the affair of the napkin-ring. The Duke had seen in the
paper that somebody had given a certain bride a set of napkin-rings. He
worried about the meaning of this until he came across a knowledgeable
man, who, he thought, could explain what napkin-rings were. The
explanation was given that in a certain class of society people did not
use clean napkins for every meal, and that therefore each member of the
family kept a distinctive ring. The Duke remained silent for ten minutes.
Then he suddenly exclaimed: “Good God!” It was certainly not this kind
of aloofness that gave the Duke his power. Nor was it so much to the
point that he was placed, by his rank and wealth, far above all vulgar
ambitions. Many men as rich and as highly placed have been the objects of
sleepless suspicion. Apart from money, there are plenty of temptations
open to rank, and wealth is no guarantee of honesty. The Duke enjoyed
public confidence in an extraordinary degree because it was so very
obvious, not only that he was getting nothing, but that it was impossible
for him to get anything out of politics. His yawn, in fact, was his great
talisman. Everybody knew that if he had consulted his own tastes he
would hardly have stirred beyond his park palings. Everybody knew that
he carried out what he believed to be his political duties just as he
carried out what he believed to be his social duties, not because he got
any pleasure or profit from them, but because the obligations were there
and had to be met. It is said that he once invited the Prince of Wales
to lunch, and then forgot all about it; the Prince presumably arrived to
find Devonshire House fragrant with the ducal equivalent of Irish stew;
while His Grace himself had to be summoned by telephone from his club by
a terrified major-domo. It was part of the Duke’s strength that such a
story could be related of him. The true point was not that he was a great
nobleman, and therefore disinterested; it was that he was from every
point of view uninterested. It was not simply that he had no financial
or social axe to grind; there was no fancy cutlery of the spiritual or
intellectual kind which he desired to sharpen. Men do not always ruin
their country for a fee; they more often do so for a fad. The Duke was
free from all fads, except Whiggism. He had a certain honourable interest
in education. He nourished, in his dry and secretive way, a distinct
love of the arts in general and of certain departments in literature.
But on all public questions he was able to bring his faculties, such as
they were—and it was particularly easy to rate them too lowly—without
subjective disturbance; it may almost be said that he thought _in vacuo_.

Moreover, he was in essence a very ordinary Englishman. With an effort
he might think of himself as a Briton, or as a citizen of the British
Empire. But his inner mind knew nothing of Acts of Union; he was English
and nothing but English. And being very English, it followed that he
cared a great deal about truth and very little about logic, and that
he was much more inclined to follow the beaten track than to initiate.
People felt that he was a safe man, who would not go far, but therefore
could not go far wrong. He once described himself, rather pathetically,
as “the brake on the wheel.” It is a humble, but on occasion a useful,
function, and the sheer unimaginativeness of the man was time and time
again an asset to his country. But such a character arouses no great
enthusiasm, and if the Duke was trusted without limit, he was neither a
popular idol nor the hero of a small circle. He went his way in a certain
detachment, never alone but always a little lonely. Even in his own
houses there was a tendency to regard him as something to gather round
instead of someone to talk to. He might almost be said to fulfil the
function of the dining-table rather than of the host.

The position had its compensations. The Duke was the chartered libertine
of his time. He could go poaching where others could not look over the
hedge. Lord Rosebery’s Derby victories caused scandal among the virtuous
of his party. Nobody troubled about the Duke’s bets or race-horses. He
played bridge for high points, but nobody thought of him as a gambler. He
used emphatic adjectives, without the reproach attaching to the swearer
of profane oaths. It may be an exaggeration to say that whatever the
Duke did was right. But nobody troubled about his doing wrong; no doubt
because people felt that it would not be very much wrong, after all. And
in this their judgment was sufficiently sound. The man was in no sense
a saint or a hero. He never said or did a thing to make a single man’s
pulse beat quicker. He was incapable of the highest in any kind. But
his character, however prosaic, was based on a foundation of granitic
firmness. If not a great man, he was at least a true and honest one.



CHAPTER IX

ARCHBISHOP TEMPLE


It is related of Frederick Temple, when he was Bishop of London, that
he offered two shillings to a cabman who had brought him from somewhere
near Piccadilly to Fulham Palace. The cabman looked at the Bishop more in
sorrow than in anger. “Would St. Porl,” he asked, “if he were alive now,
treat a poor man like that?” “No,” said Temple, “if St. Paul were alive
he would be at Lambeth, and the fare there is only a shilling.”

The wit and the philosophy were equally characteristic of the gnarled old
man who, at a time of life when most people are fit only for the chimney
corner, was still regarded as the strongest prelate on the Bench. Wit,
the wit of the peasant rather than of the courtier—and there is no more
authentic variety—Dr. Temple had in full measure; there was something
reminiscent of Swift in the homely shrewdness of his judgments, and in
the terse vigour with which he expressed them. The peasant predominated
also in his philosophy; the Rugby boy who delivered the famous opinion
that he was “a beast, but a just beast,” was probably not conscious
how very right the description was. Temple had eminently the peasant’s
sense of what was due from as well as to him. He was spiritual kinsman
to that Scottish gardener in Mr. Chesterton’s tale who, being bequeathed
“all the gold of the Ogilvies,” took it all, to the very stopping in
the testator’s teeth, but left everything else. That manner which many
found repellent was not the manner of a really harsh man; Temple could
feel deeply, and the sobs that convulsed him when he heard of Archbishop
Benson’s sudden death were the authentic heralds of a warm heart. But
he had Dr. Johnson’s impatience of “foppish complaints,” of unmeaning
compliments, of the little graces that matter so much with the ordinary
run of men and women. Of work well and truly done he was sufficiently
appreciative, but only sufficiently; after all, good work was the thing
to expect, and why make a fuss about it? When people who had no right
expressed appreciation of himself he snapped savagely. A courtly Rector
once expressed the fear that his lordship must be very tired after such
long and self-sacrificing exertions. “Not more tired than a man ought to
be,” barked Temple. A careful Vicar remonstrated with him for standing so
long bare-headed under a blazing sun. “My skull is thicker than yours,”
was the only reply. Above all, he hated anything suggesting professional
“gush.” At the laying of the foundation-stone of a new church a clergyman
with tendencies that way remarked on the pleasure it must be to him to
take part in ceremonies so eloquent of the extending scope of the Church
in his diocese. “Not at all,” retorted Temple, “at these affairs I get
nothing but cold lamb and ‘The Church’s One Foundation,’ and I’m tired
of both.” Though a connoisseur in vintages, he gave up the use of wine
simply in order to make easier his task as a temperance-worker; but this
self-immolation (and he would have snarled at anybody who praised it as
such) made him only the more acid at the expense of men who seemed to him
to talk exaggerated nonsense about teetotalism as the foundation of all
the virtues.

The truth was that Temple, though of good blood, was himself half a
peasant, and was full of that impatience with any kind of pretence
which comes of close contact with the soil. He had all the peasant’s
pride, together with all the peasant’s contempt for what they call in
the country “mucky pride.” Himself master of a pure and masculine style,
he detested all floridity of speech. To the end of his life his manners
were a little rustic, and he retained that sense of economy (having no
necessary relation to meanness) which is inborn in most country people
above the station of the labourer and below that of the landlord; when
Primate of All England he munched his bun and sipped his milk at a
tea-shop with the more satisfaction for the consciousness that they cost
only twopence; the “tip” he would omit. Curiously enough, this most
English of men was born on soil always Hellenic, and now officially
Greek. Thirteenth of the fifteen children of an infantry officer who
had been appointed Resident of Santa Maura, one of the Ionian Isles,
Temple grew up to speak modern Greek and Italian as fluently as his
mother tongue. His father, able and upright, but of explosive temper,
came originally from the North Country, and belonged to a branch of that
Temple family which, first made illustrious by the husband of Dorothy
Osborne and the patron of Swift, has given so many statesmen to England.
The mother of the future Archbishop was a Cornish woman by blood and
a Puritan by habit and tradition, frugal, pious, authoritative, and
immensely capable. She taught Frederick till he was twelve; and, though
she knew no Latin, and had no notion of the low cunning of Euclid, she
managed to give him a very fair grounding in these and other subjects.
The only drawback of this queer kind of instruction was that the boy was
left to his own devices in the matter of quantities, and years afterwards
the masters at Blundell’s were horrified by his barbaric pronunciation
of the polished tongue of Virgil. After his retirement from the Ionian
Islands, the paternal Temple bought a small farm in Devonshire, but he
could not make it pay, and was forced to take a small appointment in
West Africa, where he died. His widow did her best with the farm and a
small pension, and young Temple learned how to “muck out” pigsties, to
handle stock, and, above all, to plough; years after he could boast that
he could draw as straight a furrow as any man in Cornwall, and when as
an undergraduate he applied for admission to a Chartist meeting he was
allowed to pass the barrier on the testimony of his hands; they were
those of an indubitable manual worker.

Mere hard work and hard living, however, fail to embitter a lad of
healthy mind and body who is conscious of a creditable past and ambitious
of a better future. Temple could bear with stoicism the regimen of dry
bread which the poverty of the family compelled. The only severe wound
was to his pride. “I think the thing that pinched me most,” said Temple
long afterwards, “was to wear patched clothes and patched shoes.” But
even this does not seem to have weighed much; his character was sturdy
and his spirits were high; and the picture we have of him at Blundell’s
is by no means that of the self-conscious poor scholar. Not only was he
a hearty player and fighter, but (on the authority of the head-master)
“the most impudent boy that ever lived”; and the abounding health of his
mind is proved by his detestation of _Swiss Family Robinson_—“a hateful
book,” he calls it, “the liars were so lucky.” At Balliol, where he went
with a scholarship, life was hard; he had no fire in his room even in
the depth of winter, and was known to read under the light of the hall
lamp because he had no oil for his own. The Tractarian movement was
then at its climax; Newman was preaching the last of his sermons at St.
Mary’s before his conversion to the ancient Church. But Temple seems to
have kept his head surprisingly amid all this ferment; he had in truth,
throughout life, something of that calm outlook on religion which struck
young Esmond in Master Thomas Tusher. He believed in Christianity much
as a sound business man believes in double entry, but with conviction
there was no emotion. No man dreamed fewer dreams, partly, no doubt,
because few men did harder work; work kills dreaming, for good as well
as for ill. Outwardly there was little to distinguish Temple from those
great pagans of the eighteenth century who nearly made the Church in
England what the Church in Ireland actually became. But he had somewhere
hidden under the harsh husk of rationalism a little of that wistfulness
which one notes in so many of the nineteenth-century clergy; the thing
is best described by referring to Kingsley’s anxiety to be with the
earliest authorities in theology and the latest authorities in science.
In his earlier life, naturally enough, the tendency to modernism was most
marked. Temple’s orthodoxy was called into question over his contribution
to _Essays and Reviews_, but there seems no reason to suppose that he
departed far from the straight path, and those who have survived to hear
most of the great Christian dogmas attacked in conspicuous Church pulpits
find inexplicable on purely doctrinal grounds the storm which broke when
Mr. Gladstone offered Temple the See of Exeter.

In a wider sense, perhaps, there was a more rational basis for the
outcry. For Temple, with all his good and great qualities, was too little
of the mystic to appeal to those who regarded the Church as something
above and beyond a useful (or even indispensable) organisation. His
sense of professional duty was high, but his mind was eminently that
of a practical man of affairs, and he would probably have acted more
wisely, in other interests as well as his own, if he had remained in the
scholastic work to which the earlier part of his life was devoted. When
he went to Exeter Temple had behind him a great record as an educational
bureaucrat, and a still greater record as head-master of Rugby. But he
had never served as a parish priest; his disposition was aloof, his
temper autocratic, his manner rugged, his voice harsh and rasping; he
had little imagination, and the quality of his mind fitted him more for
politics, for high finance, for law, or even for soldiering than for the
duties of a Christian high priest. A great spiritual leader in the full
sense Temple could never have been. But he “made good” as a Bishop as he
had “made good” as a head-master, and in much the same way. His diocese
became a well-managed school, and his clergy were put in their places
much like the boys of Rugby; some, perhaps, regarded him as a “beast,”
none could call him other than a “just beast” and an energetic one. With
the laity he had a certain popularity, partly because he was severe on
any sacerdotal eccentricities that annoyed them, partly because with
ordinary people he was more prone to unbend than with his professional
brethren. He was at his very easiest in dealing with boys.

The translation to London, after fifteen years in the West, came in the
natural course of events, and the Nineties found Temple well established
at Fulham. He was now an old man, but his power of work was as little
diminished as the angularity of his character. In a single year he
would answer about ten thousand letters, perhaps a third of them in his
own hand; the meetings he attended averaged more than one a day; he
held seventy or eighty confirmations and ordained a hundred and fifty
priests annually, and yet found time for services and addresses for
nearly every day of the year. The masculine strength of his mind, the
beautiful simplicity of his life, won admiration, but Archbishop Benson
had often to deplore the want of that “little more” which would have
been so much in his old friend and ex-principal. “He will not say or
do,” he laments, at the time of the dockers’ strike, “one thing with
the idea that men should think well of him.” “It is very painful,” he
says again, in 1891, “very painful, to see the Lords so unappreciative
of the Bishop of London—the strongest man nearly in the House, the
clearest, the highest-toned, the most deeply sympathetic, the clearest
in principle—yet because his voice is a little harsh and his accent a
little provincial (though of what province it is hard to say), and his
figure square and his hair a little rough, and because all this sets
off the idea of his independence, he is not listened to at all by the
cold, kindly, worldly-wise, gallant, landowning powers.” The Archbishop
was a little cross because during the dockers’ strike Cardinal Manning
managed to figure much more largely than Temple in the public eye. But
this was something like blaming Darwin because he was not Sir Henry
Irving. Temple was Temple, and Manning was Manning; and, if Manning was
wise to be always Manning, Temple was certainly wise to be always Temple.
A histrionic or diplomatic Temple is something from which the very
imagination recoils. And, after all, the gentle Archbishop’s repinings
were hardly justified. The kind of worth which Temple represented rarely
wins enthusiasm, but it seldom fails to gain respect. To suggest that
Temple made any real impression on the great pagan capital would be
absurd; like everybody else who has been called for generations to the
See of London he was mocked by the gigantic hopelessness of his task.
Before London can be made Christian it must be made human, and, though
Londoners remain very human, London had long ceased to be so. “London,”
says an admirer, “expected in Temple a man of grit and steel, and so
it found him.” London, of course, expected nothing, and was in no way
disappointed; it was little more concerned with his coming than with the
appointment of a new magistrate at Bow Street, and little more concerned
with his departure than with the retirement of a Lord Mayor. To London as
London—London, just as ignorant of the men who make its laws as of the
men who tear up its pavements—Temple was exactly nothing. To a great many
people in London he was a name, and to a great many more a character.
To only a tiny fraction of London was he anything else. But here, as at
Exeter, he “made good” in the narrower sense. He organised and energised,
wisely stirred up some dogs which had slept in his predecessor’s
time, still more wisely administered soothing syrup to other dogs too
emphatically awake, put down his foot in some small matters, kept it
discreetly poised in some big ones, and imparted to all who worked under
him something of his own single-mindedness and passion for work.

He was seventy-six when he removed to Lambeth, and could save a shilling
on his cab fare. “I have still five years’ work in me,” he said to a
friend after he had accepted Lord Salisbury’s offer of the Primacy, and
the forecast was almost exact; he died before he had completed his sixth
year as Archbishop. The work was hardly new to him; for years he had been
Archbishop Benson’s chief adviser, and the change was more one of form
than of substance. The duties of the highest ecclesiastical office were
carried through in the same spirit as those which had gone before; in
spite of failing powers the indomitable old man did all that presented
itself as his proper work, and, like the patron of Gil Blas, refused to
recognise that the same Time which had now reduced him to a rebellious
invalidism had had some effect on his sturdy intelligence. He outlived
both the century and the great Queen; it actually fell to him, born under
George IV, to crown Edward VII, and, like Chatham, he was addressing the
House of Lords when he sank under the blow which within a few days ended
his life.

On the broad current of the national life at the beginning of a bustling
new reign, the news of his death caused but a momentary ripple. But far
outside the limits of his own Church and circle there were not wanting
men who felt that a figure had been removed that left none to vie with it
in its rugged and lonely majesty. It was not a time of popularity for the
typical Victorian virtues. It stood to the age that had passed somewhat
as the Regency did to the last phase of the reign of Louis XIV. But those
who read at the close of 1902 the record of the full and fine life that
had begun eighty-one years earlier could only admit that the age must
have been great in which Temple after all never reached quite the first
rank.



CHAPTER X

LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL


In 1880 Lord Randolph Churchill was regarded as a trifler; in 1885 he
was definitely numbered among the three or four men who counted in
British politics; in 1890 he was, politically speaking, a ghost; and in
1895 he died. His whole political career—or at least that part of it
which could distinguish him from the ordinary representative of a family
borough—scarcely extended to fifteen years; the significant part of it
was compressed within five. Yet those five years sufficed to give him an
ascendancy in the Tory Party far more marked than that which Disraeli had
established after decades of laborious application. The moment before his
fall it seemed certain that he, and no other, would shape Tory policy;
that he would, sooner or later, oust the Cecils; that he would get rid of
the Birmingham influence; and that, within some quite measurable period,
he would, with undisputed authority, reign over a Cabinet of young Tories
committed to the task of making actual part at least of the Young England
dream of the great Jew who, with his usual generous appreciation of
youthful talent, had marked Lord Randolph early as one who must, with any
reasonable prudence and industry, play a great part in affairs.

[Illustration: LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL.]

The fall came, and within a few weeks Lord Randolph was in the position
of the unfortunate deer “much marked of the melancholy Jacques.” He was
bankrupt, and shunned by every “fat and greasy citizen” on the look out
for rich pasturage. The men who had trembled before him had begun to
wonder why they could have been so foolishly submissive. Lord Salisbury
congratulated himself on having got rid of a troublesome “carbuncle,” and
inwardly resolved not to run a second risk. Mr. Balfour, who could not
forget the comradeship of the Fourth Party days, was like a good-natured
man who sees an old schoolfellow carrying a sandwich-board in the Strand;
unable to give any real help, he was only too glad to bestow some of
the small change of courtesy, especially when no one in particular was
looking. The ordinary crowd of place-holders and place-seekers passed
by on the other side. In the inner councils of the party there reigned
for a moment a queer kind of glee. It was like the breakfast after a
very disturbed night in a country house. The memory of the fire, or
the burglars, or the Zeppelins, or the ghost which made Lady Polly
scream so dreadfully (and which turned out to be only the under-footman
somnambulating in his pyjamas) gives a peculiar zest to the devilled
kidneys and the grilled sole, and the best appetites belong to those who
were most alarmed. Now, Lord Randolph Churchill was, to the ordinary
Conservative, not one but all of these terrors. He was a fire which had
actually burned many dry sticks, and threatened many more. He had broken
into the Cabinet with a most ingeniously contrived set of house-breaking
implements. He was much in the air, and nobody knew when he was going
to drop things of explosive quality. And he was, in a certain political
sense, a sham ghost and a real under-footman. That “Tory Democracy,”
as old as Bolingbroke and perhaps older, was never much more than a
wraith, and nobody really knew how much substance there was behind the
cunning magnesium glares with which Lord Randolph sought to hypnotise the
masses. But everybody did know that, with all his vigour and ability
and success, there was something, so to speak, unestablished about him.
He was the master of his masters, as a servant may become in certain
circumstances rare in real life but common in fiction; and he used his
power while it remained with him without stint or scruple. But he never
quite consolidated that power; he remained always like the schemer in
the novel, apparently omnipotent but really always fearful of a reverse,
and compelled to go on more and more boldly because to stay still is the
most dangerous thing of all. The first false step was irretrievable,
because there was, after all, nothing to retrieve. Lord Randolph was
not a political investor. He was a margin gambler, constantly putting
his winnings to a new hazard. The game is an exciting one, and while he
continues to win much is heard in praise of the punter’s genius. But one
break will ruin him.

In _Vivian Grey_ Disraeli had prophetically drawn the main lines of the
character and method of his admirer and imitator. Vivian, like Lord
Randolph, went in for politics for the excitement of the thing, and,
also like Lord Randolph, proceeded on the assumption that every man who
seems dull is a dolt. We all know how Vivian fooled and bent to his
purpose the stupid Marquess of Carabas. But when the house of cards went
to pieces it was the clever Vivian who looked chiefly the fool. The
Marquess could go back to his park, his coverts, his stables, and his
cellar; the other hardly knew where to hide. Lord Randolph’s case was
not dissimilar. He used and abused men in many ways more important than
himself, but up to a point he showed great dexterity; his victims were
generally those whom other great people were not unwilling to wound,
though delicate of striking. At last he tried his strength against
equals, or perhaps superiors; he failed, and all dullness extant revelled
in its revenge. It is often stated that his one mistake was that he
“forgot Goschen.” It would be truer to say that he forgot the prudence
which had so far underlain his apparent recklessness. We can hardly
believe that a man of Lord Randolph’s intelligence seriously thought
there would be any difficulty in providing a stop-gap Chancellor of
the Exchequer. Goschen did as well as another, but practically anybody
would do. A turn of history seldom depends on the Goschens, whether in
units, or tens, or hundreds. The decided and important turn that came
late in 1886 was due to quite another personality. It had become a
question between the survival of the Cecils and the Cecil idea and the
survival of Lord Randolph and Tory Democracy. Lord Randolph had sneered
at Mr. Gladstone as “an old man in a hurry.” He himself was still a
young man, by all recent political standards a very young man. He was
only in his late thirties. But he was in an even greater hurry than Mr.
Gladstone in his middle seventies. It is said that after the defeat of
the Salisbury Government in 1885 a friend asked him the course of events.
“I shall lead the Opposition for five years,” he replied. “Then I shall
be Prime Minister for five years. Then I shall die.” Only one-third of
this prediction was fulfilled, but that was fulfilled to the letter, or
rather the figure; the estimate of his span of life was almost exact.
This sense, which oppressed him from an early age, that he had not long
to live, was doubtless the explanation of much. He could not wait; unless
the things he wanted came quickly they were useless. Hence, probably,
his break with the Cecils on a detail of finance. It was a matter in
itself capable of easy accommodation. But the real reasons for the
rupture were real indeed. A very little experience in office had shown
Lord Randolph that, while the substantial men of Conservatism had been
tolerant of, if not actually enraptured with, “Tory Democracy” as a bait
for the voter, the last thing they intended to suffer was Tory Democracy
in terms of legislation. His great Budget at first affected the solid
Tories of the Cabinet much as the glare of the boa-constrictor does the
rabbit. They listened in helpless and fascinated silence to the grandiose
plan, involving much of that “spoliation” so often denounced since in
“revolutionary” Chancellors of the Exchequer, and for a moment it seemed
as if the audacious young Minister had won by the sheer momentum of his
attack. But this dazed half-acquiescence did not long endure. Was it for
this, the country gentlemen asked, that they had beaten the Radicals?
And they shudderingly recalled the recent Dartford speech, in which Lord
Randolph had outlined a programme of reform which _The Times_ described
as “recalling the palmy days of Mr. Gladstone.” So the Dartford programme
was conscientiously emasculated. “I see it crumbling into pieces every
day,” wrote Lord Randolph to Lord Salisbury in November, 1886. “I am
afraid it is an idle schoolboy’s dream to suppose that Tories can
legislate, as I did stupidly. They can govern and make war and increase
taxation and expenditure _à merveille_, but legislation is not their
province in a democratic constitution.”

The great question, of course, was how Lord Salisbury would act. He
was not, on some points, a quite typical Conservative, though his main
object, like that later of Mr. Balfour, was to avoid change as much as
possible. He had been heartily with Lord Randolph in Opposition. He
had approved the Churchillian programme. He was not insensible to the
fact that many of the younger elements in the Conservative Party were
sympathetic to it. But temperamentally Lord Salisbury was averse to the
whole scheme of Tory Democracy, except perhaps as a piece of protective
make-believe. If the “classes and dependents of class” could be persuaded
to accept something that would cover Lord Randolph’s election pledges,
well and good. But if it were a choice between the support of those
classes on the one hand and on the other “trusting to public meetings
and the democratic forces generally to carry you through,” then his
verdict was for “work at less speed and at a lower temperature than our
opponents.” When the Prime Minister had arrived at this decision there
were only two courses open to Lord Randolph. In fact, there was really
only one. For it was not possible for him, as for so many men, to accept
the rebuff with feigned cheerfulness, to eat his own words, to defend a
policy not his own, and adroitly explain away the absence of a policy
that was his. His audacity (so far brilliantly successful), his hot
temper, his proud and intractable spirit, and perhaps, above all, his
slight expectation of long life, forbade his waiting with the patience
of Disraeli for the chances time might bring. It is not surprising that
he decided to leave the Cabinet with the notion of being recalled on
his own terms; the astonishing thing is that a man of so strong a sense
of tactics should on this occasion have played so completely into the
hands of his opponents. The man of strategy placed himself in a position
to receive every kind of fire without the possibility of effective
return. The man of drama contrived to reserve for Christmastime, when no
political explosion can vie in interest with the domestic cracker, the
announcement of his resignation. If he had pondered deeply on the means
of sinking himself deeper than e’er plummet sounded, he could hardly have
chosen, in gross and in detail, a better method. Not Goschen, but his own
rashness, made his fall like Lucifer’s.

The truth, no doubt, was that he seriously miscalculated the strength
of his position. He made the clever man’s mistake of under-rating dull
men, forgetting the patience of their malice and the perfection of their
hypocrisy. There were people with great names and claims, but little
brains, who had cried “Hosannah!” as loudly as any in public, but never
ceased to mutter “Crucify him” in the Carlton Club arm-chairs. He had
invaded all kinds of prescriptive rights, had smothered all sorts of
peddling ambitions, had trodden heavily on the tail of Tadpole and pulled
unceremoniously the nose of Taper. Success like his was bound in any case
to create an imposing array of enemies; he rather unnecessarily assisted
in their manufacture. With intimates, indeed, and those who came into
close official relation with him, he could be charming; his manner ranged
from the airiest and easiest familiarity to an old-fashioned courtesy
rather strangely in contrast with his boyish face and dandyish figure.
But he rarely troubled whether a chance word hurt unimportant people,
and the great misery of politics is that nobody can safely be classed as
unimportant. “Why will you insist on being an Ishmael—your hand against
every man?” asked Mr. Chamberlain (first enemy, then friend, then enemy
again) when, not content with his other troubles, Churchill went out of
his way to attack a warm friend and well-wisher. There was a good deal of
the Ishmaelite in Lord Randolph; his nerves seemed to demand the stimulus
of combat, and in the absence of war he was given to the duel. But other
men have triumphed over equal difficulties, and more is needed to explain
the sudden and final failure of Lord Randolph. That the showy edifice
he had erected disappeared almost as suddenly as the palace of Aladdin
was due as much to the character of the material as to that of the
architect. He had used the actual bricks of nineteenth-century Toryism,
but the mortar he employed was no more binding than snow or butter.
Something very like genius enabled him to make his house look strong and
habitable—so long as it was uninhabited. But with the very day of the
housewarming the mischief began.

The career of Lord Randolph, in short, was founded on a hatred and an
illusion. The hatred was for the middle class. The illusion was that
the Conservative Party was still the party of aristocracy, that the
old quarrel between the landowner on the one side and the banker, the
manufacturer and the tradesman on the other, yet persisted. He failed,
not because he was before, but because he was behind his time. His
dislike of the middle class was seldom hidden. Nearly every contemptuous
figure he invented was suggested either by trade or by the vanities
of rich tradesmen. Mr. Chamberlain, because he had made money and not
inherited it, was attacked for “bandying vulgar compliments” with
the young Earl of Durham. Mr. Gladstone was sneered at for living
in a “castle,” not because he was a Liberal, but because he was of
middle-class origin. A public man of old descent might have amused
himself in chopping down one of his ancestral oaks without scornful
comment from Lord Randolph. But it was intolerable, in the circumstances,
that the forest should “lament, in order that Mr. Gladstone may
perspire.” “Marshall and Snelgrove of debate,” “lords of suburban villas,
owners of vineries and pineries”—a score of such expressions of contempt
for the successful middle-class man could be culled at random from
Churchill’s speeches, and they account for much of the orator’s success
with working-class audiences. But though, in the revulsion against
the views fashionable a little earlier, he could command much popular
applause, though he could inflict great damage on the Liberal claim to
represent the masses, he could, no more than Disraeli, translate his
own dream of “Tory Democracy” into reality. For the Tory Party was now
itself very largely middle class and only very slightly democratic. It
regarded Lord Randolph’s creed much as Lord Palmerston did the Christian
religion—excellent in its own place, but it must not intrude in practical
affairs. The party might have forgiven him if quite convinced of his
insincerity. It destroyed him on the first suspicion that he might
actually be in downright earnest.

It would have been better for Lord Randolph’s fame had Fate struck once
and struck no more. For him was reserved a crueller destiny. The Eighties
saw his brief splendours. The Nineties witnessed only the culmination of
his slow and mournful decline. He himself seems hardly to have been aware
of the ravages which disease and disappointment had wrought on his fine
intellect, and the latter scenes were scarcely less painful to his more
generous antagonists than to the few friends who still refused to believe
that he was an exhausted man and a spent political force. Nobody is more
quickly forgotten than a living politician who has ceased to count, and
when the end came it was with an almost ridiculous sense of remoteness
that the average member of the public read the inevitable homilies on
Lord Randolph’s strange and sad career. He had written his name in water
and builded his house on the sands.



CHAPTER XI

HERBERT SPENCER


I remember hearing a Nonconformist divine of the Nineties denounce the
young man who, instead of taking a class, spent his Sunday afternoon
“reading Herbert Spencer.”

It struck me at the time that the reverend gentleman was fighting an
unusually extinct Satan. For even in the Nineties the number of young men
who desecrated the Sabbath in this particular fashion was very small.
Herbert Spencer had reached the stage of being much quoted and little
read. Indeed, the reverence in which he was held had a strong resemblance
to that which men pay to the departing or the departed. Lord Morley has
quoted a competent critic who warned him, a day or two before the last
volume of Spencer’s work was published, that the system expounded by him
was, if not already dead, at least on the eve of death.

But if that were the case in England, it was by no means so in a country
in which Herbert Spencer had shown from time to time considerable
interest. The new agnostic Empire of Japan had taken most kindly to the
Spencerian philosophy, partly because it was exceedingly prosaic and
partly because it put forward a rather arrogant pretension to finality.
The Japanese is intensely matter-of-fact, which is by no means the same
thing as being practical, and is often the reverse of being practical;
thus a Japanese engineer, in giving an estimate for a factory or a
railway, will often state the cost to a fraction of a farthing—and in
the end prove inaccurate by hundreds of thousands of pounds. This trait
is in no way connected with stupidity: it is part of the character of
a people wholly in love with formality, and dominated by a tyrannical
passion for neatness of arrangement. The Japanese loves to pack his
ideas, and dovetail them with one another, with the same precision with
which he makes two dozen lacquer boxes fit into one, or constructs a
house to hold exactly eight hundred and twenty floor-mats, each of just
the same size, without an inch to spare.

What enchanted the Japanese was Herbert Spencer’s solemn way of assuming
that the heavens and the earth, and all that in them is, all space, all
time, all life, and all humanity could be measured and reckoned up to
a millimetre or a half-centime by his particular philosophical abacus.
During the Nineties the Herbert Spencer school was extraordinarily potent
in Japan. At the head of it was that remarkable man, Professor Fukuzawa,
who, more than any other, was responsible for supplying the moral and
philosophical basis of the new Japanese civilisation. Occasionally the
English master favoured his Oriental disciples with an encyclical,
applauding them for their skill in keeping the masterful European at
bay, and giving them hints as to how best they could realise a perfect
morality unalloyed with the smallest taint of the superstition which
still disgraced (and was almost necessary to) the West. At one time
Herbert Spencer had apparently great hopes that Japan might realise his
ideal of the State in which men are guided wholly by reason—a State
untainted with imperialism, militarism, aristocratic prejudice, or
ecclesiastical faddism.

[Illustration: HERBERT SPENCER.]

Japan’s subsequent essays in self-revelation are a sufficient commentary
on these facts. In one sense Japan may still be called a Spencerian
country; unread here, the philosopher is still conned by hundreds of
thousands of eager students in the Eastern Empire; he has been expanded
and adopted by a whole succession of native pedants. Japan still admires
the synthetic philosophy, but remains aristocratic, bureaucratic,
imperialistic, and militarist. Most truly she does not copy the West, but
makes what she borrows her own. Herbert Spencer, who was really not far
from an anarchist, has been converted into one of the chief buttresses of
the State which is the nearest approach extant to the Prussianised German
Empire.

It must have been something of a shock, for those Japanese who had
grown up in the Spencerian dogma, to meet Herbert Spencer in the flesh.
Baron Kikuchi has recorded an impression of Spencer going on a railway
journey in the Nineties. For such an expedition great preparations were
necessary. A hammock was slung diagonally across a saloon carriage; into
this the philosopher was hoisted just before the train started, and from
its depths he was laboriously recovered at the journey’s end. All this
ritual Baron Kikuchi witnessed at Paddington. “What,” he says, “surprised
the onlooker after seeing the hammock slung and the cushions carefully
packed into it was to see a fresh-complexioned gentleman proceed from a
waiting-room where he had been reclining in an invalid chair, walk nimbly
across the platform, and then be hoisted into the hammock.”

There was at every stage of Spencer’s life this singular contrast between
the self-sufficiency of his speculative habit and his mournful physical
dependence. He lived till his eighty-third year; he was not cursed with
a specially feeble constitution; but he coddled himself into a state
of body which is, to a very considerable extent, an explanation of his
state of mind. The sedentary thinker is prone to two opposite errors.
Like Carlyle, Froude, or Treitschke, he may become an extravagant
admirer of mere strength. Or, perhaps like Mr. Wells, and certainly
like Mr. Galsworthy to-day, he may quite unduly depreciate the value of
the qualities of ordinary mankind. Herbert Spencer’s whole thought was
vitiated by the valetudinarian’s contempt for things in which he could
have little part. He not merely undervalued physical courage; he even
saw in it something ridiculous or indelicate. On the other hand, he
altogether over-appraised the kind of moral courage which reveals itself
in disputatiousness. It was his lot to live in a period when heterodoxy
involved no serious danger or inconvenience, and at the same time earned
for its professor the reputation of intellectual daring and distinction.
Thus he enjoyed most of the luxuries with few of the pangs of martyrdom;
he felt all the thrills of conflict without running any of the risks;
in his kind of warfare the worst that could happen was a hurt to his
feelings, and against that he was protected by a vanity of triple proof.
But thought that involves the thinker in no kind of responsibility tends
to be irresponsible; and though Spencer boasted that he “developed his
ideas rationally”—so that he did not get wrinkled like inferior men “who
think from the outside”—few men were in truth more under the dominion
of prejudice; nearly everything he wrote on matters of human concern
was influenced by the fact that he was excessively vain, timid, and
self-indulgent.

“It was one of my misfortunes,” he wrote in his autobiography, “to have
no brothers, and a still greater misfortune to have no sisters.” Brothers
and sisters are blessings—or otherwise—that the gods give or deny us.
But most men can get a wife if they really want one. Spencer’s lack of
a wife was probably a greater handicap than the absence of brothers and
sisters. For whatever arguments there may be in favour of a celibate
priesthood, the celibate social philosopher most obviously suffers from
a grave disadvantage; he lacks both the knowledge and the discipline
that prevent men of thought becoming mere pedants and theorists. No doubt
a wife would not have helped Spencer to write more profoundly about the
limits of the unknowable. But she and hers would have given him a far
juster impression of a large slice of the knowable. Perpetually lecturing
married, child-rearing, householding, and taxpaying men, Spencer passed
his own life as a fussy bachelor in a succession of boarding-houses, and
can hardly have paid income-tax during a great part of it. We find him as
early as the middle of the century in a “fairly lively boarding-house”
in St. John’s Wood, Huxley having warned him that he must not live a
solitary life. At the beginning of the Nineties he made almost a home in
a quiet street in the neighbourhood of Regent’s Park; but towards the end
of the period (and of his life) he found that gardens and trees were poor
company, and, longing for the breadth and openness of the sea, removed
to Brighton. Wherever he lived, he was something of a tyrant, and very
much of a crank. In his fits of depression he insisted on being carried
upstairs and down in an invalid chair, and seemed never to realise that
his very considerable weight was an unfair burden to a man-servant and
a maid. When he was (or thought himself) ill, his bell was perpetually
ringing. “Few men,” writes (very acutely) one of the ladies who kept
house for him in his seventies, “are so thoughtful and considerate as he
was, or so oblivious to the trouble and inconvenience they cause.”

If there was “never yet philosopher who could endure the toothache
patiently,” there have been many in all times above the smaller miseries
which involve no actual torture. Herbert Spencer was none of these. It
is at once painful and amusing to contrast the tone of his philosophical
dissertations with that of his lamentations over some discomfort
which a normal man would dismiss with an energetic monosyllable. The
mind revealed in the printed page as disdainfully careless of any
consideration but truth, which could face without a shudder the dread
emptiness of eternity as Spencer imagined it, was in private occupied
with all kinds of old-maidish whims. His bed “had to be made with a
hard bolster beneath the mattress, raising a hump for the small of
his back, while the clothes had a pleat down the centre, so that they
never strained but fell in folds around him.” He devoted an enormous
amount of thought to his ear-stoppers; at that time he could not live
out of London, and yet he could not bear the noise of London; so that
he “corked” himself, after the manner of Miss Betsy Trotwood, whether
at the club or at his lodgings. He liked whiting for breakfast, and
disliked haddock, and if haddock were served he was full of complaints
about the “gross defects of integration, co-ordination, or whatever
else the attendant molecular shortcoming might be.” “Moral training,”
he once said, “should come into every branch of education, even that of
cookery.” On a steamer he once created quite a scene because Stilton was
served when he had ordered Cheddar. “Oh, the hardness of heart of these
inveterate men! Oh, the accursed cruelty of their inhuman persecutions!”
exclaimed Mr. Stiggins when informed that he could not have the “wanity”
called pineapple rum with three lumps of sugar to the tumbler. The
great Victorian philosopher was scarcely less eloquent over minute
inconveniences and deprivations.

The Athenæum Club had a large part in his life at this time. Elected at
the age of forty-seven, he served for about seven years on the committee,
but a self-admitted “lack of tact” interfered with his usefulness.
Numberless stories are told of his pettishness when other members
unconsciously offended. He used to drive almost daily from his lodgings
to the Club, but would often stop the cab in the middle of Regent Street
or some equally busy thoroughfare in order to feel his pulse. If it
was regular he went on; if not he gave the order to return home. These
habits of invalidism dated very far back. From the age of thirty, when
he had some sort of nervous breakdown, he was continually engaged in
self-analysis. There appeared to be really nothing very much the matter
with him. “Appetite and digestion,” he himself says, “were both good, and
my bodily strength seemingly not less than it had been.” But he slept
badly: “Ordinarily my nights had from a dozen to a score wakings. For
twenty-five years I never experienced drowsiness.” Possibly if he had
acted a little more on instinct, and a little less on reason, things
would have settled themselves; other people have managed better with
worse handicaps. But he so carefully avoided one thing because he thought
it did him harm, and so sedulously cultivated another because he thought
it did him good, that for him the mere act of living was a business in
itself. Thus he found racquets “conducive to mental calm,” and so played
a game between the intervals of dictation; he dictated because he found
his head would better bear that strain than writing. Sometimes he sculled
in the Serpentine in order to soothe himself into tranquillity; for some
time he took up vegetarianism, thinking it would be beneficial, but found
that he had to rewrite what he had written during the time he was a
vegetarian, because it was so “wanting in vigour.” With the same aim in
view he took up billiards, fished, played cards, and sometimes occupied
himself with a little shopping. We have a glimpse of him seeking a bronze
for his sitting-room, but unsuccessfully, since the last available models
were all French, and “French art, when not frivolous, is obscene.”
His æsthetic instincts were indeed singular; his favourite colour was
“impure purple,” and it is believed that when the blue flowers in his
dining-room carpet faded, he employed a charwoman to stain them with red
ink!

Something of his hypochondriac and introspective disposition was no
doubt hereditary. Spencer describes his forebears as late to contract
marriage, and much given to forecasting—everywhere their record shows “a
contemplation of remote results rather than immediate results, joined
with an insistence of the first as compared with that of the last.”
Thinking, possibly, that this very Spencerian jargon needed translation
into the vernacular, he summarises the whole family character as prone
to “dwell too much upon possible forthcoming events.” Spencer’s father
and grandfather were both schoolmasters, who had never done any kind
of manual work, and he derived from them a hand “smaller than the
average woman’s.” The father, a Wesleyan, who afterwards joined the
Quakers, bequeathed to him a “repugnance to priestly rule and priestly
ceremonies,” and probably something of his disposition to question all
authority. The elder Spencer was, indeed, a curious combination of the
ascetic and the latitudinarian; himself piously self-disciplined, he
disliked applying any sort of coercion to others. Thus novel-reading was
not “positively forbidden” to Herbert, but “there were impediments,”
and he knew nothing in childhood of the stories with which children
commonly become familiar. How much he would have gained or lost by an
occasional thrashing balanced by _Gulliver_ and the _Arabian Nights_ is a
question for curious speculation. In the absence of the thrashing young
Spencer—it is himself who speaks—was guilty of “chronic disobedience,”
and developed his “most marked moral trait—a disregard of authority.” His
uncle, a clergyman, to whom he was sent at the age of thirteen, describes
him as having “no fear of the Lord nor fear of any law or authority.”
On the former point the uncle was an excellent professional judge; on
the latter, the fact that Herbert promptly ran away from the Vicarage,
walking home (a distance of 120 miles) in three days, is sufficiently
indicative. Under the tuition of this orthodox disciplinarian Spencer
acquired some knowledge of mathematics, a little Latin, less Greek, and
scarcely anything besides.

His first idea of getting a living was teaching; but his uncle obtained
him an opening in civil engineering, and he started work on the London
and Birmingham railway. But, as ever, he was much more inclined to teach
other people their business than to learn his own; he objected, also, to
over-work; and it “never entered into his thoughts to ingratiate himself
with those above him.” He was, in fact, quite unfit to be “integrated”—to
use his own favourite expression—in any corporate scheme: too
self-centred, too disputatious, too thoughtful of his own small wants and
comforts. In politics it was the same; he first mixed himself up with the
Chartists, but soon found it necessary to unmix, as the Chartists were
“too fanatical to work with,” and finally decided, no doubt wisely, for
the lonely liberty of letters. It was only by following his trade as an
engineer, however, that he could keep going until, in his twenty-eighth
year, a position on the _Economist_, worth a hundred guineas a year,
enabled him to begin serious work on his _Social Statics_. Like all
his books, this involved him in some first loss; and but for two small
legacies and the little property his father left, he would have been
unable to carry on. He could, of course, have earned money in the way so
many men do—by hack work. But he had no idea of “getting on,” not that
he had any contempt for money, or disdain for the things money buys, but
it was “not worth the bother”; work as work he always disliked. He was
always warning his friends against over-work, and his protests against
bearing any part of the curse of Adam were often nothing but unmanly.
“On the whole,” he wrote to a friend at thirty-one, “I am quite decided
not to be a drudge, and as I see no probability of being able to marry
without being a drudge, why, I have pretty well given up the idea.”

One advantage of not being a drudge was that he could choose his company,
and even “glare” at Carlyle in disapproval of the “absurd dogmas” (so
imperfectly “co-ordinated”) of that sage; another that he could find
leisure to sing part-songs with George Eliot; another that he could
coddle himself to his heart’s content. But such very limited independence
is a little irksome, and now and again he got restive over limited means,
and even took abortive steps to get some Government employment which (at
the public expense) would leave him ample time for his private work.
He was fifty before “adverse circumstances” had ceased to worry him,
and by this time he had advanced far in invalidism. In the Nineties his
work was for all practical purposes over. He had achieved a singular
position. A great legend with the public, he was something of a small
jest with the rather narrow circle of his familiar acquaintance. It was
possible for people who knew only his name and his writings to yield for
his work the admiration it really deserved, not so much for the success
of the achievement as for the splendid audacity (and even impudence) of
the design. The young man who really read him on “Sunday afternoons”
might picture the great sceptic as peering with stern and steadfast
eyes into reality, unafraid of all save intellectual dishonesty. The
enthusiast for social justice might rejoice to see him haling to the
bar of eternal reason (not far from the leader page of _The Times_)
this or that temporary political offender against the laws of correct
“integration” and “co-ordination.” The remote revolutionary struggling
more or less rightly to be free might welcome his as the authentic
voice of intellectual England. But those who knew him mingled a smile
with their reverence. They might recognise his single-mindedness and
his uncompromising “honesty in ideas.” They might value him as a “great
thinker,” while possibly deploring that he was also a crank of the most
voluminous and pertinacious kind. But whether they admired wholly or
with reservations, they could hardly avoid feeling a “very tragical
mirth” over the contrast between the philosophy and the philosopher. The
personality of the preacher, of course, does not affect the truth of
the gospel, but it cannot but affect men’s reception of the gospel; and
it was not easy for those who knew Herbert Spencer intimately, and were
aware how a fast-trotting cab-horse would disorder his pulse for a week,
to take quite seriously all his contributions to the intellectual output
of his time.

As to the philosophy itself, three brief sentences from contemporaries
have a certain justice. “To Spencer,” said Huxley, “tragedy is
represented by a deduction spoiled by a fact.” “Spencer,” said Professor
Sidgwick, “suffered from the fault of fatuous self-confidence.” “You have
such a passion for generalising,” said George Eliot, “you even fish with
a generalisation.”



CHAPTER XII

MR. CHAMBERLAIN AND MR. BALFOUR


The life of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, like that of the Chevalier
d’Artagnan, was spent in three sets of duels. The first was with a great
man’s men; the second was with the great man himself; the third was with
an old friend made out of a still older enemy. The first were duels of
routine, provoking no great feeling—deadly, it might be, but unenvenomed;
the second were duels of policy, in which awe and the instinct of
self-preservation were as much elements as hatred; the third were duels
of fatality, in which a certain courtesy and kindliness had always to be
observed.

For Lord Hartington and such as he Mr. Chamberlain had as little
consideration as d’Artagnan for the Cardinal’s unfortunate Guards;
against Mr. Gladstone himself, though he could not shake off a certain
reverence, he fought with full vigour and single purpose; but when
Destiny ultimately forced him to enter into a contest of blades and
wits with that elegant Aramis, Arthur James Balfour, he found himself
constrained by a hundred scruples and a thousand memories, and, like
d’Artagnan, he failed. The story ran into many chapters, in some of which
the more trenchant swordsman got the upper hand, and in some of which
the more subtle mind triumphed, but in the last chapter of all it was
d’Artagnan who had fallen and Aramis who was only exiled.

[Illustration: JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN.

(_From a photograph by Messrs. Russell_)]

The Nineties saw the beginning of that singular competition between
friendly (or at least not unfriendly) incompatibles which has affected
the whole course of modern history. At the beginning of the decade
Mr. Balfour enjoyed a prestige remarkable enough in itself, but quite
marvellous when it was remembered that only five years before he had been
a comparatively unmarked man, while at the beginning of the Eighties he
was regarded as little more than an elegant trifler. He had seemingly
succeeded in Ireland; Parnell was dead; the formidable solidarity of
the Nationalist Party was no more; the growing recovery of Gladstonian
Liberalism had been fatally interrupted. A strong rival had gone to
pieces through the mental and physical decay of Lord Randolph Churchill;
there were none to compare with Mr. Balfour among the younger men of
Unionism, and the men of the old guard (as was seen when Mr. W. H.
Smith’s death left vacant the leadership of the House of Commons) were
reluctant to place their antique sword-play in disadvantageous contrast
with his neat rapier work. Lord Salisbury was growing old and becoming
more and more the hermit of the Foreign Office; and it seemed only a
matter of a few years before Mr. Balfour would be unchallenged master of
what, since the Home Rule split, was by far the greatest party in England.

To this political prestige was added a social worship seldom accorded
to statesmen. Mr. Balfour was still young; he was a bachelor; he was
handsome; with the exception, perhaps, of Lord Rosebery, he was the
most generally interesting man in politics. There have been very few
politicians who have held at the same time such a position in many worlds
as that occupied by Lord Salisbury’s nephew at the beginning of the
Nineties.

Mr. Chamberlain, on the other hand, was perhaps less a figure than he
had been five, or even ten years before. Had he died when Parnell did
he would chiefly be remembered now as a politician who, in splitting
his party, had ruined his own career. Partiality or malignity would have
filled in the outline with colours gracious or repellent; he might have
been represented as an honest man who suffered for his integrity, or as
a schemer who overreached himself. But the main fact would have been
clear—that the promise of the Eighties had no more been fulfilled than
that of the Seventies; the great Imperialist we know would have been as
little realised as the great democratic iconoclast who might have been.
It was the Nineties which determined Mr. Chamberlain’s place in history;
had he not reached them, his title to greatness could not be established;
had he not survived them, his stature would be much what it now is. Mr.
Chamberlain’s larger career begins only with his assumption of major
office in 1895; it ends, for all practical purposes, with his resignation
of that office a little more than eight years later. There was an
over-long first act, and a tragically protracted third, but the pith of
the play is the tenure of the Colonial Secretaryship.

One of Mr. Balfour’s weaknesses resided in his inability to encourage,
or even to suffer, friendship on equal terms. This Prince Arthur knew
nothing of the Round Table; his colleagues in the special sense must
always be in every sense his subordinates; and when he found a difficulty
in getting men of strong individuality to accept such a position, he got
over the difficulty by appointing men of no particular individuality.
It was, on the other hand, a main strength of Mr. Chamberlain that he
invited, and even compelled, either full hostility or full friendship.
Those who were against him, were heartily against him; those who were
for him, were for him heart and soul; and the world is happily so
constituted that hearty love nearly always triumphs over hearty hatred.
It was, I imagine, Mr. Chamberlain’s “genius for friendship,” as Lord
Morley calls it, that explained most things that are not accounted
for by his splendid debating powers and his aptitude for moving great
masses of men. Concerning this last faculty, fascinated contemporaries
were perhaps inclined to exaggerate. Beside the Victorian heavyweights
Mr. Chamberlain was no doubt a marvel of demagogic art. He could say
supremely well what the average man felt a difficulty in putting into
words. He was intensely sensitive to changes in public feeling, and
extraordinarily clever in just anticipating them. He had a great knack of
condensing into one sharp and memorable phrase the idea he wanted to sink
deep into the public mind. But he was not an orator in the sense that
John Bright was, and he lacked the capacity of Lord Randolph Churchill,
in his best days, of whipping a popular audience into yelling, laughing,
almost hysterical sympathy. Nor should I place him on a level with the
one living man who always challenges a comparison with him—I mean Mr.
Lloyd George. There are times when the Prime Minister can almost bring
a tear into the most tired old eye, and stimulate to an extra throb or
two the driest of old hearts. The next moment the owner of these organs
may sneer at himself, or at the speaker; but there it is—the effect has
been produced. Personally, I never found Mr. Chamberlain affect me,
though neither old nor incapable of impression, in that way. The thing he
seemed most to lack was glamour. It was present in the solemn periods of
Bright; it was often not absent from the stately cadences of Gladstone;
it was, in another way, felt in the detached mordancies of one Cecil
and the daintily constructed dilemmas of another; Joseph Chamberlain’s
speech wanted it hardly less than Mr. Asquith’s. He had more fire,
energy, and passion, than Mr. Asquith, but hardly more “juice.” He
could say strong (even violent) things, neat things, hard things, fine
things, occasionally even humorous things. But he always (at least, I
found it so) failed to say things that touched what Mr. Guppy called
“chords in the human mind,” or made the hearer feel that there was more
in the speaker than he could ever make articulate. The whole perfection
of his public speaking consisted, indeed, in a quite different kind of
appeal. He depended for his effect on illuminating equally every detail
of the picture he wished to present. His speeches were really verbal
transparencies, with (as in the cinema shows) a very short legend under
each section of the film giving in the clearest possible way the moral
he intended to convey—“Will you take it lying down?” or what not. Now a
transparency can do much, but it cannot raise a true thrill; the “movies”
are capable of everything but moving, and their popularity has probably
much to do with ultra-modern insensibility.

Mr. Chamberlain’s style was exactly fitted for most of his purposes. It
was literary in no contemptible degree—his strong and simple phraseology
appeals more to a present-day taste than the elephantine grandeur of
his older contemporaries—and he had something of a genius for the kind
of epigram which is a real compression of thought, and not a mere
rhetorical trick. But the style was neither a vehicle for profound and
exact thought, nor an outlet for high and splendid feeling. He failed
always when he attempted to deal with a very complex and extensive
theme: his serious Tariff Reform and Irish speeches are, in the reading,
quite thin and inadequate. He failed also when he tried to appeal to the
imponderables: his “illimitable veldt” mood simply would not convince.
But he could scoff as no other; his personal attacks were far more
wounding than Lord Randolph’s, partly, no doubt, because there was behind
them a far deadlier purpose than anyone believed to be present in the
Randolphian impishness; he could impart to what in another man would
have been a mere rudeness something of the terror of the thunderbolt;
and none could work more skilfully on passions which are, in relation to
the higher patriotism, what the camp-follower is to the warrior.

But when all is said, it is possible to maintain that Mr. Chamberlain as
a debater reached far higher levels than any he attained, even at his
highest, as a platform orator. There never was a time when he was not
heard with attention in the House of Commons. One reason was that he was
heartily interested in the place, in its ways and forms, its juntas,
caves, intrigues, plans of obstruction, moves and countermoves, plots and
counter-plots, and “monkey-tricks” of all descriptions; that “industrious
idleness” which repels so many earnest men was to him both important and
amusing. Even the appalling physical atmosphere—the drowned light and the
cooked air—suited his taste. For he was Victorian in his dislike of fresh
air—or at any rate in his independence of it—and he and Lord Brampton,
who shivered whenever an air from heaven penetrated his over-heated
court, might have lived very comfortably together. It was not, perhaps,
quite a coincidence that his favourite flower was the orchid, and that at
Highbury he spent a large part of his leisure in the green-houses. Time
was when he was to pay an appalling price for his aversion to open-air
exercise, but during his years of vigour no man could have suffered less
from those horrible conditions which explain much of the lethargy of the
faithful Commons.

He loved, moreover, the good comradeship that political life engenders;
to a certain type of man it is the main compensation of the career.
There is more zest in broiled bones where plotting is than in a stalled
ox consumed in placidity. None enjoyed better than Joseph Chamberlain
the meal conspiratorial, the meal triumphal, the meal consolatory;
good dining was, indeed, one of his most unfailing pleasures; like
Talleyrand, he might have said, “Show me another which renews itself
three times a day, and lasts an hour each time.” And it must be allowed
that he had the greatest talents both as a host and as a guest. Those who
knew him best acclaim him as a most admirable talker, and withal a fair
and considerate one, never indulging in a conversational solitaire, but
treating prandial chat as a round game in which every player must have
his turn. This genial equalitarianism was one of his great advantages
over Mr. Gladstone, who often failed to make fellow-diners forget his
greatness.

[Illustration: ARTHUR BALFOUR.]

This interest in Parliament and whatever appertained to it was no
doubt a great part of the secret of Mr. Chamberlain’s power over that
assembly. We often forget how large a share mere appetite has in the
realisation of political ambitions, how far the simple capacity of being
and remaining interested will take a man even of moderate capacity. But
another important factor in Mr. Chamberlain’s supremacy as a debater was
the real, if sometimes limited, knowledge he brought to the discussion of
any subject in which he happened to be interested—and he happened to be
interested in most. Deep knowledge, living at the rate he did, he could
hardly hope to attain; at any rate, he seldom attained it. But he had an
almost journalistic faculty of using reference books—reference books,
Dickens, and French novels were almost all his reading. Mr. Balfour
always hated to “prepare.” Mr. Chamberlain would take any degree of
trouble to prime himself with the facts necessary for his purpose; all
other facts, of course, he disregarded. Thus he was always a formidable
man to attack, and as an assailant he was deadly. His sure instinct
for the weak side of an opponent’s case, his command of invective and
destructive analysis, above all, his capacity of fervently and sincerely
hating whatever he temporarily disapproved (even if it had been his
own opinion the day before) gave him a power of which he was himself
probably not fully aware; otherwise, kindly as he was at bottom, he would
scarcely have treated, as he sometimes did, quite petty antagonists with
a severity verging on the inhuman.

It may be doubted, however, whether his qualities of speech, and even his
powers as an administrator, would have sufficed to give Mr. Chamberlain
his immense influence if they had not been supplemented by his knack
of enchaining the personal affections of many kinds of men. There was
a charm about him which is only felt in its highest expression in
relation to a very strong character, but which is apt to be absent in
characters of unusual strength. It was this charm which made the loss of
his intimate friendship the most serious sacrifice John Morley offered
on the altar of political consistency in 1886. It was a charm felt by
all kinds of men who disliked his opinions and distrusted his judgment.
Under its sway came many cool Colonials and still cooler Americans. It
sufficed to keep Mr. Balfour his friend even when he was straining every
faculty of his subtle nature to defeat Mr. Chamberlain’s most cherished
ambitions. Of those associated with Mr. Chamberlain at various times,
only three considerable men—Mr. Gladstone, Lord Hartington, and Lord
Salisbury—seem to have been able to view him with consistent objectivity.
On those who yielded to him their full allegiance his influence was quite
extraordinary. No statesman ever enjoyed such absolutely unquestioning
devotion as that which was yielded to Mr. Chamberlain by Mr. Jesse
Collings and the other members of his personal retinue. On the other
hand, there never was so splendidly steadfast a lord and protector. The
Birmingham communion was as jealous and as generous as that of Rome.
None could be admitted without giving up the last shred of pretension
to independent thought. But once the sacrifice was made there was peace
and security for the true believer. A powerful hand protected, a lavish
hand provided, a paternal hand petted and patted. Mr. Chamberlain was
the safer in making enemies for the solid certainty with which he built
up his friendships, however humble. A tower of strength during his life,
they have ensured his repute since his death.

Before 1895 that repute rested mainly on negatives. There had been,
indeed, an early extra-Parliamentary period of great local achievement;
it was his municipal work which gave Mr. Chamberlain for the rest of
his life the kingship of Birmingham and its hinterland. There had been
some small official work and the much larger prestige (now, however,
largely forgotten on one side and forgiven on the other) of the “ransom”
speeches. But for nearly ten years Mr. Chamberlain had been chiefly
engaged in destructive energies; the duel with Gladstone employed him to
the exclusion of most other things while the great veteran remained on
the ground. It was as late as 1893 that he delivered that taunt—“It is
the voice of a god and not of a man; never since the time of Herod has
there been such slavish adulation”—which caused the famous free fight
in the House of Commons. But by the middle of the decade the Home Rule
fight, for the time, had been fought out. The electors had approved the
slaughter of the Second Home Rule Bill; Mr. Gladstone had disappeared;
Lord Rosebery and Sir William Harcourt were fighting like lion and
unicorn for the shadow of a crown; the task of opposition in a House
overwhelmingly Unionist had been contemptuously left to “C.-B.” The world
was Mr. Chamberlain’s where to choose. He chose the Colonies, and the
portals of the dullest of routine departments at once had to be watched
as if they were those of the ancient temple of Janus. Within a few
months came the Jameson raid; then the whole world held its breath while
an English general and a French major exchanged ironic civilities at
Fashoda; then succeeded the short game of bluff which ended in the long
and bloody game of war with the South African Republics.

We are still too near that event for a judicial finding, and any man’s
view is only a view. The finding, when it comes, is as little likely
to make Paul Kruger the hero as it is to make Joseph Chamberlain the
villain; the affair was no doubt, like most such things, a very mixed
matter. Mr. Chamberlain would probably have taken more pains to avoid war
had the Boer Republics possessed the power of the late German Empire; his
critics would probably have been less numerous and bitter if the affair
had cost ten millions and been over in three weeks. Stones were cast at
him in great quantity, and no doubt some came from hands that had a right
to throw; but some of the largest were certainly hurled by those who
have since laid themselves open to equally serious charges of preferring
the way of war to the way of peace. But, whatever the degree of his
responsibility—and he always manfully accepted full responsibility—we
can with safety acquit Mr. Chamberlain of those motives with which the
ungenerous were eager to credit him. It was assuredly no mere hunger for
applause that hurried him into a war which he imagined would be short,
cheap, and (by all analogy then recent) comparatively bloodless. There
was, indeed, a small, politician-like, electioneering, popularity-loving
side to Joseph Chamberlain, and it is useless (and somewhat ignoble)
on the part of his admirers to ignore it. He was himself far too big
to pretend that it did not exist. He never assumed the virtues he
knew himself not to possess; he went to the opposite, but more manful
extreme, of scorning them. Thus he cared nothing at all about charges
of inconsistency. “What I have said I have said. Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then I contradict myself. I am not a slave to other men’s
theories or to my own past.” Again: “The man who thinks of the future
is a visionary; the man who thinks of the past is a fool; I think only
of the present twenty-four hours.” But if there was in him much of the
empiric, and something of the mere political cheap-jack, there was also
something far larger and finer. He was above all a patriot, and he was
capable, as he showed in his resignation in 1903, of making the heaviest
sacrifices in what he imagined to be the cause of his country.

I have never been able to share or sympathise with Mr. Chamberlain’s
vision of the British Empire; the very thought of it has always filled
me, in fact, with severe depression. It was a sort of Prussian pie
without the crust—and half-baked at that: there was to be restriction,
canalisation, and stereotyping by diplomacy and consent instead of by
militarism and force. England was to be the workshop of the Empire,
with some pleasant rooms over it; the Dominions were to be granaries,
lumber-warehouses, bacon-factories, mines, vineyards, and wool-farms; the
Crown Colonies were to supply sugar and spice and all things nice. It was
a thoroughly Prussian conception, not because it involved cruelty—which,
after all, was only incidental to Prussianism—but because it was at war
with the idea of the natural growth of an immature community towards
full nationhood, with distinctive arts, tastes, and schemes of life
generally. In all his visionary materialism I think Mr. Chamberlain was
most disastrously wrong; it was his whole notion of Imperial relations,
and not his incidental disrespect for the principles of Free Trade,
that seemed to me most inconsistent with his original Liberalism. But
it is questionable whether he was ever a true Liberal; certainly, he
was never a lover of freedom. His Birmingham mayoralty, excellent in
its results, was more or less an amiable dictatorship; and Mr. Russell,
in his _Portraits of the Seventies_, has told us that Gladstone once
likened him to Gambetta, as _un homme autoritaire_. His likeness to Mr.
Lloyd George has often been remarked; in nothing is it more apparent
than in this, that both have such small respect for individual liberty,
and both would much rather reform the people than let the people do
their own reforming. But a democrat Mr. Chamberlain always remained,
even when he was in closest co-operation with the Tory leaders. He never
lost his first interest in the betterment of the working classes; the
sight of preventible misery he hated; and the whole bent of his mind
was humanitarian. But, just as a Liberal is not always a democrat, so
a democrat is by no means always a Liberal. The idea of Liberalism is
giving men freedom to work out their own salvation, with the minimum of
State interference with individual liberty; and in certain cases this may
imply extreme callousness to private misfortune, as well as considerable
favouritism to the top dog. The democratic idea is only concerned with
freedom so long as it is likely to operate for equality; of the three
items in the Republican motto it lays least stress on liberty, and
most on equality and fraternity. Mr. Chamberlain was more inclined to
underline fraternity than the other two. He wanted all Englishmen to be
brothers, but most of them were to be very little brothers.

To such a man, bringing his own atmosphere to the Colonial Office, and
attacking the problems there in his own hastily decisive way, the case
of the Boer Republics must have seemed very feeble. Here they were,
straddling in a spirit of sluttish obstructiveness across the path
of orderly British development; and so long as they remained all our
plans for the good of a whole continent were liable to unsettlement.
All such cases are arguable to some degree. If Ahab had had the good
luck of David we might have heard less about his wickedness and more
about his broad and enlightened statesmanship, as well as about the
sheer unprogressiveness of Naboth. Let us remember how the world rang
with praises of Ahab after his good luck in 1870, before we insist too
strongly on the sacredness of every petty freehold. Mr. Chamberlain, at
any rate, had no difficulty in making up his mind, and when he made up
his mind he was quite sure (for the time being, at any rate) that he had
made it up aright. “Consistency is not so important,” he once said; “the
main point is that we should be always right.” He persuaded himself that
he was always right by resolutely excluding every other possibility.
Except for purposes of invective or banter, he refused to see any
other side of a question than that which he had chosen. He thought in
reason-tight compartments, approaching every matter in turn as if it were
an isolated thing. By so doing he economised energy, and was able to
communicate his own vigour, without appreciable loss, to his subordinates
and instruments. But this driving force was achieved at the cost of much;
he was the first great exemplar of the modern notion that decision and
dexterity in separate matters compensate for the lack of an inspiring
philosophy. Where you want to go is a secondary matter; the main things
are a very fast car and an ability to turn very sharply round corners, so
that if there happens to be a block in front you can dodge up a scarcely
noticed alley on the left.

It was, indeed, the true tragedy of Mr. Chamberlain’s career that, while
he had the fastest of cars, he did not possess a reliable route-map,
and his road in political life was always chosen by instinct, hearsay,
and the like. He turned up any likely-looking road, and then went full
speed ahead until brought to a stop. Now, Mr. Gladstone had a map, and
so had Mr. Balfour. But Mr. Gladstone’s was rejected because it was too
old-fashioned, and gave no account of the more modern routes and places,
and Mr. Balfour’s had the disadvantage that every road led back to the
starting-place. To drop parable, the whole story of the last twenty years
of the nineteenth century might have been different if Mr. Chamberlain
could have co-operated with Mr. Gladstone; that he could not was as much
Mr. Gladstone’s defect as his own. The whole story of the first twenty
years of the twentieth century might have been different if he could
have found in Mr. Balfour’s qualities the full complement of his own;
that also was Mr. Chamberlain’s misfortune rather than his fault. There
was a temperamental bar in the first case, and an intellectual bar in
the second. Mr. Gladstone did not want to move in Mr. Chamberlain’s way
and at Mr. Chamberlain’s pace. Mr. Balfour was firmly convinced of the
foolishness of moving at all, except in the manner known as marking time.
Thus the splendid energy and courage of Mr. Chamberlain, which might
have been extraordinarily fruitful if allied with a more steadfast hold
of political principle, were largely spent in comparative futility. The
greatness that he achieved—and he was, after all, a very great man—was
due rather to the soundness of his instincts and sympathies than to the
sureness of his intellectual processes; if he thought wrong, he had often
a way of guessing right. Some men are too much of the doctrinaire, and
some too little. Joseph Chamberlain was too little.



CHAPTER XIII

OSCAR WILDE


One evening in the early summer of 1895 the newsboys were shouting “All
the winners.” Yet one line on their placards gave the lie to that eternal
cry which mocks the death of great men and the fall of great empires. It
referred to the sentence which, in due time, was to give birth to the one
indisputably genuine and serious thing Oscar Wilde wrote, the _Ballad of
Reading Gaol_.

[Illustration: OSCAR WILDE.]

Oscar Wilde was one of the losers; in the long list of men of genius who
have paid just forfeit it is not easy to think of a more tragic figure.
Others had fallen from greater heights; none had gone more friendlessly
to a lower perdition. For it was the very element of his tragedy that
it could not be shared or alleviated; on the path he had henceforth to
tread there could be no comrade; his offence was one at which charity
itself stood embarrassed, and compassion felt the fear of compromise.
On this very evening theatres were full of people chuckling over jests
of almost wicked brilliance which he had turned and re-turned, polished
and sharpened, with the laborious care of a lapidary, for he worked at
trifles with tremendous earnestness, and the ease of the style was the
reward of immense pains on the part of the writer. One of his comedies
was being actually played in London while the drama of his trial was
proceeding on another stage. Business is business, and managers with
money at stake did not care to withdraw immediately good money-drawing
pieces. But they made a due _amende_ to outraged decency. They played
Wilde’s play, but they struck his name out of the bill. The action might
be mean. But it was understandable. There was no harm in the play, but
the name could then hardly be pronounced without offence.

Even at this distance, when there can be pity without suspicion of
condonation, it is not easy to discuss Wilde as we should any other
author whose influence was considerable in his day and generation. Yet
those who would pass by this ill-starred man of genius because of the
event which interrupted his career as a writer would be acting almost as
foolishly as the absurd people (mostly Germans) who on the same account
yield him a perverse and irrational homage. Wilde was not only important
in himself; he was still more important as the representative of a
mood yet to some extent with us, but extraordinarily prevalent in the
latter years of the nineteenth century. Of this mood he was in letters
the only able English representative. There were many men who thought
his thoughts, and even attempted to write his style. But they are now
forgotten except by the curious; Wilde alone survives. This mood was in
certain aspects one of honesty, in others one of cowardice; it was never
a mood of health. The honesty was negative; it took the form of protest
against certain easy and conventional shams. The cowardice was positive;
it took the form of fearing to stand in competition with great realities.
People like Wilde had sense to detect, and virility to denounce, certain
poor players of old tricks; they had not the courage to be themselves
quite genuine people; they contented themselves on the whole with doing
newer tricks. There was no harm in this in itself. But they had also
much conceit, and so, to impress the public with a due sense of their
importance, they insisted that the tricks of which they were easily
capable were really the only tricks worth doing. Their art was Art
itself, and the only Art.

Now it takes all sorts to make any kind of world, and there is no sense
in expecting an artist whose gift is miniature painting to follow Paul
Veronese. By all means let him sneer at any dull fool who does follow
Paul Veronese. But we shall do well to take very little notice of him
when he says that no picture should be painted on anything larger than
six square inches of ivory. A Japanese _netsuke_ is a pleasing object;
so is Ely Cathedral. Let the _netsuke_ carver have his due credit. But
if he began to talk as if Ely Cathedral were a pretentious vulgarity,
which he himself could easily have built if (in Johnson’s phrase) he
had “abandoned his mind to it,” we should quickly tell him to mind his
own business. But this was very much the pose of Wilde and his school.
They were right in depreciating uninspired imitators of great men. They
were wrong in depreciating all greatness which could not be measured
by their own small tapes. They were especially wrong in declaring that
“popular art is bad art,” and setting up their own literary jade-work,
often graceful and pleasant enough in its own way, as the sole standard
of taste. “Only the great masters of style,” said Oscar Wilde once, “ever
succeeded in being obscure.” If that were literally true he himself,
though self-called a “lord of language,” would have to be denied the
title of stylist, for though he sometimes showed confusion of thought,
and very often said things so silly that one sometimes looks a second
time to see whether they are really meant, he was on the whole quite
extraordinarily lucid. His words, however, though nonsensical in their
literal effect, do mean something and reveal something. Every very
great writer is obscure in the sense that he does somehow contrive to
offer a choice to his reader; thus everybody has his own particular view
of _Hamlet_, and of many individual passages in _Hamlet_, though the
actual obscurities are very few. But Shakespeare never meant _Hamlet_ to
be a mystery to anybody; he meant it simply to be a good play, and one
understandable to every soul in the theatre. Shakespeare was thinking
of his audience as something that was doing him a compliment in coming
to hear his play. Wilde thought of his audience as something that was
complimented by his condescension in amusing it. Shakespeare, in short,
represented popular and obvious art at its highest, and there is no
higher art. Wilde, on the other hand, represented art that was above all
things undemocratic. Its assumption was that whatever is popular must
be vulgar, that whatever is unusual has at least a presumption of being
fine. In such an attitude, whether to life or to art, there is an obvious
spiritual danger, and it is not without reason that most people look for
corruption where there is excessive refinement. After all, all the most
important things men do must be either conventional or monstrous, and
he who consciously strives to be much above the common herd in things
mattering not very much is fatally prone to be dreadfully below it in
things that really do matter. The country or age which can show great art
with a simple and obvious motive is generally healthy. The country or
age which attaches immense importance to the elaboration of trifles for
esoteric appreciation is generally unhealthy. In these matters wherever
there is mystery there is evil.

“The two great turning-points of my life were when my father sent me
to Oxford, and when society sent me to prison.” So says Wilde in _De
Profundis_. His father was an oculist in Dublin, a clever, ill-balanced
man of imperious passions and extravagant habits, who firmly believed
that alcohol had pulled him through a severe illness, and drank freely
on principle. Lady Wilde, poetess and Nationalist pamphleteer, was
disappointed with Oscar in much the same way that Betsy Trotwood was
disappointed with David Copperfield; she wanted a daughter, and, since
Nature had denied her, she sought consolation by dressing, treating,
and talking to her boy as if he had been a girl. It was one of the
innumerable oddities of this lady to pretend descent from great
people—she believed herself to come from a stem of the same tree which
yielded Dante the poet—and the boy was named Oscar because his mother
imagined herself she had some sort of connection with the Royal Family
of Sweden. It was an unwholesome if brilliant atmosphere in which Oscar
Wilde grew up, and the boy early contracted those habits of extravagance
which led him, when a poor man in London, to spend hundreds a year in
the matter of cabs alone. Neither at school nor at Oxford did he take
any interest in sport, but he was devoted to his blue and white china,
his antiques, and his wallpapers. This æstheticism earned him the
resentment of some robust fellow-undergraduates, and he was once tied
up in a rope and dragged to the top of a hill; when released he merely
flicked the dust off his clothes and remarked, “Yes, the view is really
very charming.” Perhaps the most important event of his Oxford life was
the winning of the Newdigate prize. His success decided him to take
up literature as a profession. And in order to make a short cut into
literature he placed himself at the head of the æsthetes, clean-shaven
and long-haired, in “a velvet coat, knee-breeches, a loose shirt with a
turn-down collar, and a floating tie of some unusual shade fastened in a
La Vallière knot,” carrying in his hand “a lily or a sunflower which he
used to contemplate with an expression of the greatest admiration.”

The notoriety naturally following on this masquerade had its advantages
in the way of dinner invitations, lecture engagements, and, to some
extent, the smiles of publishers. But Wilde earned little and had to
spend a good deal in maintaining his position; and, despite a lecturing
venture in America, it was not until his marriage with Miss Constance
Lloyd in 1884 that he settled down to anything like satisfactory
employment. For such a man the post of editor of the _Woman’s World_
could hardly be amusing, and Wilde retained the bitterest recollections
of his connection with journalism. “In centuries before ours,” he once
wrote, “the public nailed the ears of journalists to the pump. That was
quite hideous. In this century journalists have nailed their own ears
to the key-hole. That is much worse.” It was not, in fact, until the
Nineties had well opened that Wilde began to make good and to relieve the
strain on his wife’s little fortune which his extravagant habits caused.
_Dorian Gray_, published in 1891, was a doubtful artistic success and a
quite undoubtful commercial failure. But at the beginning of the next
year _Lady Windermere’s Fan_ at once took the fancy of London. Wilde had
made several attempts to conquer the stage, but partly inexperience and
partly obstinacy had so far stood in his way. “I hold,” he said, “that
the stage is to a play no more than a picture-frame is to a painting.”
But a frame can generally be had to accommodate any picture, and no
stage could properly accommodate some plays. Wilde once argued for the
performance of plays by puppets. “They have many advantages. They never
argue. They have no crude views about art. They have no private lives.
We are never bored by accounts of their virtues, or bored by recitals of
their vices; and when they are out of an engagement they never do good
in public or save people from drowning.... They recognise the presiding
intellect of the dramatist, and have never been known to ask for their
parts to be written up.” A man holding such views—which are really only a
mad extension of a sane position—was likely to remain for long unacted.
But when he left behind him the intricacies of five-act tragedy, and
found his true _métier_ in comedy, his success was instantaneous.

And it was well deserved. The Wilde comedies “date” a good deal. They
are rather monotonous in their brilliancy. There is too much of a
particular trick; one is always expecting the unexpected. The characters
sit round to exchange epigrams rather too much like the Moore and
Burgess Minstrels used to sit round to exchange conundrums, with a “Mr.
Johnson” at one corner and a Mr. Somebody-else at the other. The epigrams
themselves are often forced and sometimes merely foolish. There is little
characterisation; all Wilde’s men are wits or the butts of wits, and his
women, broadly speaking, are unimportant. But when all deductions are
made his comedies are among the best in the language. _Lady Windermere’s
Fan_ was followed a year later by _A Woman of No Importance_, and in 1895
by _An Ideal Husband_ and—the best of the series—_The Importance of Being
Earnest_. From circumstances of considerable embarrassment Wilde suddenly
mounted to high prosperity. But the change was all for the worse. With
his tendencies to physical self-indulgence, a plentiful supply of ready
money tempted him to fatal excess in eating and drinking, and he was a
man to whom exercise of any kind was repellent. On his unsound mental
constitution the brilliance of his position and prospects had an equally
unfortunate effect. He grew fat and bloated in person and absurdly
inflated in conceit. His features, once handsome with the comeliness of
some image on a classic coin, were now puffed and of impure outline,
and the richness of dress which he affected degenerated into a greasy
luxuriousness. He had only three years of prosperity, but those were
enough to show that he had neither the mind nor the physical constitution
to bear success. Even before the tragedy which cut short his working life
his friends had begun to fall away, and it was pretty clear that his
career as a creative artist was likely to be limited.

Of the last chapters of his unhappy history nothing can usefully be
said. The expiation was no less horrible than the sin; his last piteous
work may suggest that there was final penitence and rest. But there
was so much of the artificial in Wilde that it was never quite safe to
infer when he was genuine and when histrionic. Almost his whole life had
been spent in posing. Yet his mind was naturally precise and logical;
with proper discipline it would have been of quite masculine strength.
“There is something tragic,” he once said, “about the enormous number
of young men there are in England at the present moment who start life
with perfect profiles, and end by adopting some useful profession.” He
would have been better with a useful profession. To adapt his own words,
there is something tragic about the enormous number of young men there
are in England at any given moment who start life with some Greek and
Latin, a knack of good form and social dexterity, a more than competent
physique, enough money to enable them to spend a few of their best years
in rather laborious idleness, and no notion of giving the world a full
equivalent of what they propose to take out of it. The number of young
women in much the same case is scarcely less disquieting. The real moral
of Wilde’s tragedy is not the obvious one. It is rather that even highly
gifted people should have some honest trade to begin with, and leave
“art” and “literature” (apart from such branches as are really trades
and handicrafts) until, mayhap, they find themselves positively impelled
thereto. If that were the rule the world would be poorer by some millions
of bad pictures and unpleasant novels, but indefinitely richer in human
cleanliness and honesty.



CHAPTER XIV

SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT


Those who seek the legislative monument of Sir William Harcourt must
examine the Finance Act of 1894, which put real estate on the same
footing as personal in the matter of death duties. A facetious writer
once observed that the principle of graduation so beautifully exemplified
in this measure must have been suggested to Sir William by a study of his
own name, which is an excellent example of ascending values. William and
George are but degrees in the ordinary, but with Venables we definitely
reach the higher level; Vernon is still better, and Harcourt fitly crowns
the whole. The full name, William George Granville Venables Vernon
Harcourt, is the perfection of a _crescendo_; it at once soothes and
stirs like the grand vibrations of organ music; it has the majestic swell
and rhythm of the peaceful ocean.

It is no discredit to Sir William Harcourt that he failed to live fully
up to the more stately standards of this pageant of nomenclature.
Sometimes he was little more than William or George; more often he got
as far as Granville and Venables; it was only occasionally that he
matched the full kingliness of all twelve syllables. His career, like
his name, was a mixture of the great, the almost great, and the almost
ordinary. But while in the name these elements were perfectly blended,
the career somehow lacked balance and unity. Sir William arrived early
at eminence; he was during many years a nearly first-class figure
in English politics; he had gifts, sedulously cultivated, of a quite
splendid type; he was acute, clear-headed, wary, indefatigable; he liked
the game of politics and knew every move in it; his judgment of men and
things was shrewd; he was witty as a Sheridan comedy; he commanded a
capital debating style and a manner of platform speaking which, while
not of the highest, was in its way exceedingly effective. Moreover, he
had no inconvenient moral impedimenta. Mr. Labouchere described him
(approvingly) as a “squeezable Christian,” and therefore fitter for a
Party leader than a “conscientious atheist” like Mr. John Morley. So
well endowed and so little handicapped, he should have been sure of
the best that politics could give. Yet the latter part of his life was
embittered by the sense of failure, and failure of a kind which has no
compensations. For Sir William Harcourt was not one of those happily
constituted people who can enjoy the sunshine as well as another, and yet
get a quiet pleasure out of a rainy day. He attached excessive importance
to the very things that just eluded him, and was complicatedly cross
because they did elude him—cross with circumstances, cross with people
who played him false at the critical moment, and cross with himself
for not being superior to being cross with them. For though he did not
lack magnanimity, and though in the long run he brought himself to act
generously towards more than one who had helped to frustrate his natural
ambition, he could not avoid being hurt and showing that he was hurt.

“You have a Chancellor in your family, and a Lord Lieutenant of Ireland,”
said John Morley to him, in the year 1894, “and you’d like to have a
Prime Minister in your family, and no earthly blame to you.” True, it was
no great thing to be Liberal Prime Minister just then. The estate was
terribly encumbered, and the brokers’ men were already at the door. That
Sir William knew as well as any. But still, if one must be a “transient
and embarrassed phantom,” it was just a little better to be a phantom in
a shooting jacket than a phantom in livery. To don the Primrose livery,
especially, was gall to the proud Plantagenet. He was of very ancient
English and French family, while Lord Rosebery sprang (many years ago,
it is true) from a mere Presbyterian minister; he had been in Liberal
politics when Lord Rosebery was in the nursery; he had loyally supported
Mr. Gladstone through thick and thin; he had never spared himself in the
House of Commons or on the platform; he was conscious of qualifications
with which the Scottish nobleman, with all his graces, could not vie; and
he had every reason to calculate on the support of the Radical wing of
the party, which he had served faithfully, if not always with conviction.
Small wonder that Sir William Harcourt was bitter when with one accord
the men in the inner councils of Liberalism, the new men as well as the
old, the Asquiths and Aclands, as well as the Morleys and Spencers,
turned against him, and towards Lord Rosebery.

We know now that the choice, if the best possible, was still unfortunate.
But in politics the things which seem most obviously unreasonable are
precisely the things which are done for the most serious reasons, and
there were grave reasons indeed against a Harcourt Premiership. Sir
William was endowed with a temperament which sometimes made it hard for
men to work with him, and might well have made it impossible for men
to work under him. He was at once too difficult and too easy. He had a
fatal knack of rousing antagonism, and lacked the force or inclination
to crush antagonism when it arose. He sometimes used language of the
kind that stirs up rebellion in men of the most temperate blood, and,
while sensitive himself, took little thought of the feeling of others.
But, though he thoughtlessly made enemies, he was far too kindly and
warmhearted a man to convert them into victims. Thus he had to meet a
most perilous combination—strong hostility and no serious fear. It would
have been well with him if he could have invoked the argument of terror;
it would have been better if he could have led men in silken bonds. But
he could not dominate, and he could not manage. The lack of tact and
the lack of resolution were both well illustrated over the matter of
the Rosebery Premiership. Sir William Harcourt stood out just enough to
make the position for Lord Rosebery difficult, and gave way just enough
to make his own position impossible. Then he fumed in private over the
arrangements in which he had publicly concurred, and, apart from his
manful work in his own department, played the part of a sulking Achilles.
There were, of course, many excuses. He was getting old. He had no great
enthusiasm for Home Rule, or, indeed, for anything. He was, like the rest
of the Liberal leaders, bitterly disappointed by the size of the majority
of 1892, and incensed by the futility of the task it had in hand; “he
missed,” says Lord Morley, “old stable companions, and did not take to
all the new”; and altogether he might well be oppressed by a sense of
anachronism. For he was a politician of the old school, and the Nineties
were perpetually reminding him that the old school was going, and almost
gone. More an eighteenth-century man than even a nineteenth, with a taste
for elegant scholarship and rotund phrase, he could not feel entirely at
home in a House of Commons which included Mr. Keir Hardie, and jibbed at
Horace. Indeed, whether quite consciously or not, John Morley had, in the
sentence quoted above, put his finger on the trouble. The whole secret of
Sir William Harcourt’s political life was that he was a belated Whiggish
aristocrat trying to realise himself in unfavourable circumstances. The
whole tragedy of Sir William Harcourt’s political death was that the
circumstances were too strong for the ambition. A whist-player of the
gentlemanly old school, he could have borne with philosophy a rubber lost
to a conspicuously better player, or one with a conspicuously better
hand. But it was bitterness indeed to have the card-room turned into a
Bedlam at the exact moment when the last trick looked like being his.

It is no longer easy to understand the kind of man Sir William Harcourt
was. When we speak now of an opportunist in politics we think of a
rather shady person “on the make.” When we speak of an idealist in
politics we think of a rather foolish and impracticable person, a man
of fixed idea, a crank of some kind, who would cheerfully ruin the
country, to say nothing of the party to which he gives preference, for
the mere satisfaction of advertising his fad. Sir William Harcourt had
ideals of his own kind, and even fads. He was a sincere Whig, and a
fanatical Erastian. That he was never quite in the inner Gladstonian
circle is chiefly attributable to his utter hostility to sacerdotalism.
Mr. Gladstone could more easily take to his bosom an unbeliever like
Mr. Morley than an eighteenth-century Protestant like Sir William.
But though a Ritualistic prelate could always rouse him to fury, and
though he could simulate a passion for certain articles in the Newcastle
programme concerning which he poked admirable fun in private, Sir William
was an eminently “practical politician,” and ordinarily his views and
convictions were subordinated to something in his eyes vastly more
important—the due playing of the political game. Yet we should altogether
misunderstand him if we inferred any more affinity to the newer style
of professional politician than to the newer style of political crank.
He was in one sense absolutely disinterested. He could have been a
very rich man had he stayed longer at the Parliamentary Bar. He left
it, in fact, for politics, the very moment he could afford to do so,
and his fidelity to politics kept him a poor man till almost the end of
his life; till, indeed, the death of a nephew left him lord of the rich
and pleasant Nuneham domain. Titular honour attracted him no more than
money. His knighthood had to be forced on him. When he was appointed
Solicitor-General, Mr. Gladstone had to insist on precedent being
followed; Sir William wished to escape an honour suitable enough for
Mayors and other deserving municipal persons, but scarcely fitting a man
of his pedigree. Many years later, much to the delight of his friends in
the House of Commons, he refused a much more considerable distinction
offered by King Edward. It would have been much to him to be Prime
Minister of England; it was nothing to him to be Viscount Harcourt. There
was more pride than humility or democratic feeling in this disregard for
titles; the pride of Sir William Harcourt was as much a feature of him
as his almost gigantic height, his portentous under lip, and his keen
enjoyment of his own jokes. A large part of the man was what had long
been underground; this parson’s son, jests about whose Plantagenet blood
seemed rather unmeaning to the uninitiated, was in very fact enormously
interested in his genealogy. He could boast of a descent as noble as
any in Europe, and though he readily saw the ridiculous side of pride
of ancestry in others he could not help attaching an importance to
himself as _a_ Vernon Harcourt only second to that of being _the_ Vernon
Harcourt. There is a tale of his wearily repeating, with reference to an
absurd person named Knightley, who bored dinner tables with his pedigree,
the lines:

    “And Knightley to the listening earth
    Reveals the story of his birth.”

But Knightley, had he possessed the necessary powers of repartee, would
not have lacked material for effective retort.

Wealth in the real sense being indifferent to him, small honours beneath
his consideration, and overpowering enthusiasm for the greater ideals
foreign to his nature, what remained as the motive power sufficing to
propel the vast bulk of this political galleon through the cross-currents
of over thirty years of varied navigation? The answer would seem to be
sheer love of the game of politics. Sir William Harcourt delighted in
political warfare almost as an end in itself. It would be unjust, no
doubt, to style him a pure opportunist. His course was determined by
a sense of loyalty to his party and by a general appreciation of the
philosophy of Whiggism. He had his early days of Adullamitism, when he
was rather the candid friend than the consistent supporter of his own
leaders. But that was in strict accord with the rules of the game. Once
he ceased to be a free lance he became the staunchest of partisans. His
labours for Liberalism were Herculean. Considered as a mere output of
mental energy his career from the early Seventies to the late Nineties
was amazing. In every fight he was put forward in the fore-front of the
battle, and acquitted himself with astonishing prowess. His sword-play
might lack finesse, but its effect no man could deny, least of all
that man who had to bear the brunt of his sweeping strokes. He rapidly
became one of the greatest of House of Commons debaters, a little given,
perhaps, to the declamatory, but never degenerating into mere verbiage
or claptrap. On the platform he was, perhaps, less successful: he lacked
the gift of emotional appeal, and was wholly wanting in imagination. The
common man could laugh heartily at his quips, could cheer his knock-down
blows, but his pulses were never stirred, and even his intellect was not
conquered. For somehow Sir William Harcourt, with all his energy and
incisiveness, never gave the impression of quite feeling what he said. He
always seemed to be engaged rather in a boxing match than a fight—a match
in which he was, quite indubitably, out to win, but still a match and
not an affair of life-and-death earnestness. Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Morley,
and Lord Rosebery each in their way got where Sir William Harcourt could
never quite reach. He rather resembled, in fact, that kind of actor who
is just a little too stagey for the stage, and is never more theatrical
than when his heart is wholly in a part.

But the most stagey actor may have a very real human side, and Sir
William Harcourt, so generally credited with a cynical outlook on public
affairs, was in his family and social relations the most large-hearted
and genuine of men. It would be a mistake, also, to think of him
politically as a mere gladiator. It was certainly his misfortune that
he had sometimes for party purposes to simulate enthusiasm for causes
he had little at heart. On Home Rule and Local Option he privately
was a Laodicean (if nothing more positive), attempting in public the
ecstasy of a dancing dervish—and, in truth, his figure was ill-adapted
to corybantic zeal. But he did really care for good administration,
sound finance, and the Whig theory of exterior policy. There was pique
in his attitude towards Lord Rosebery, but not pique alone; he saw what
Mr. Gladstone did not see, what the Radicals who gave their voice for a
Rosebery Premiership did not see, that Liberal Imperialism would not do;
those who wanted Imperialism wanted the real article, and would go to
the right shop for it. Indeed, though the last years of his career were
pathetically in contrast with its first promise, they did much to kill
the early legend of the pure opportunist. Sir William Harcourt might be
cynical as to indifferent matters, and undoubtedly many things important
to others were to him indifferent. But beneath the surface there was,
besides much loyalty and generosity to individuals, a larger sincerity,
if not to this idea or that, at least to a general conception which might
be limited, but was certainly not ignoble.



CHAPTER XV

BISHOP CREIGHTON


When Mandell Creighton was Bishop of London it fell to him to admonish
an earnest High Church Vicar, working in the East End, on the subject of
incense. The Vicar, pleading hard for his point, appealed to his record
as a parish priest. “Dr. Creighton,” he said solemnly, “for twenty-five
years I have held here a cure of souls, and——” Before he could finish the
sentence Creighton cut in with a joke. “Cure them, certainly,” he said,
“but surely you need not smoke them.”

The jest was quite in Creighton’s way. It was easy. It was flippant.
It was made at the expense of a rather humourless sincerity. It was
impolitic; in fact, widely repeated, it caused much offence. But it
came into the Bishop’s head, and it had to come out. Creighton might
possess self-restraint in other ways, but the sacrifice of a good thing
was beyond him. Moreover, while ready to make the largest allowances
for great errors and even great crimes, he was incapable of respecting
what he considered mere faddism in religious matters. He had, it seems
certain, religious beliefs of his own, but no religious fancies, and he
was contemptuous of fancies in others, still more contemptuous of fancies
that were rather more than fancies. The priest in the present case was
clearly a fool; who but a fool would remain a priest in Bethnal Green
for twenty-five years? Why not, then, tell him so, if it could be done
with due urbanity and wit? It was the sort of thing Creighton would have
said as an undergraduate at Merton, and to a rather unusual degree he
retained the undergraduate mind throughout life. In full maturity both
his earnestness and his flippancy were less those of manhood than of
very intelligent youth; at sixty he was mentally as fresh as at twenty,
and (it may perhaps be said) as foppish. The foppishness was the more
real because it was unconscious, like the undergraduate’s; Creighton
disclaimed “superiority” in himself, and strongly resented it in others,
but he never lost that combined simper and swagger of the mind which
we are so often persuaded to call Oxford. There could have been no
greater contrast to Temple. Temple said what he had to say, and cared
very little what people thought as to the thing said or the manner of
its saying. Creighton had always some of the eagerness and wistfulness
of the clever young man who feels it incumbent on him to sparkle, and
is troubled with just a doubt whether he has quite “come off.” His
paradoxes are often strongly reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s; they are
not so witty, but have much the same superficial smartness, essential
untruth, and light contempt of average humanity. Wilde would have given a
more dexterous turn to “No people do so much harm as those who go about
doing good,” but the spirit of the thing is quite his, and he might
actually have described an Extension lecture as “a mission to enlightened
greengrocers.” This, of course, was only one side of Creighton’s
character; in other moods he said many wise things, and did things still
more wise. Whether he was a fundamentally wise man is another question.
Wise men have a habit of ceasing to be clever, and especially of ceasing
to be exceptionally educated. Creighton could not help being always a
wit and always a don. As a Christian he was always ready to admit the
equality of men before God. He even erred on the side of minimising the
moral differences between man and man, as in that very unphilosophical
generalisation that “all are so infinitely far from the perfection of God
that little differences do not matter,” which is equivalent to saying
that the light of a lamp is so infinitely less than the light of the sun
that it does not matter whether we have a smoky lamp or not. In this
way, as a Christian, Creighton was fond of showing his indifference to
externals. But as an Oxford scholar he did incline to think too much of
certain small things and too little of certain big things.

There were no two subjects on which he was more prone to witty
depreciation than the clerical mind and the national mind. Yet he was
himself very English, and very Church-of-English. Only in England would
such a man find himself in holy orders; only in England, especially,
would such a man find himself a Bishop. The whole tone of his mind was
secular and humanist; on indifferent things he spoke as an unembarrassed
pagan; when, like an ecclesiastical Wegg, he “dropped” into theology,
the effect was a little awkward. There was no suspicion of insincerity
in Creighton talking about “keeping open the way to Jesus,” and “growing
nearer to God,” but there was (to some at least) a sense of incongruity.
It gave the sort of shock one would feel if Mr. Chesterton went out
dressed like the Rev. R. J. Campbell, or if Mr. Massingham went to a
fancy dress ball in a colourable imitation of a Field-Marshal’s uniform.

One was prepared for everything moral, kindly, and sensible from
Creighton. But to find this very clever man—“for sheer cleverness
Creighton beats any man I know,” said Temple once—really did regard
himself first and foremost as a “pastor of souls,” and was so despite
the neat epigrams, the equally neat gold cigarette case, and the
social _àplomb_, was not a little staggering. His countrymen, stupid
as Creighton always loved to represent them, might at least partially
understand him. It is safe to say no intelligent Italian or Frenchman
would have done so. Such a foreigner would understand well enough a great
Prince of the Church, who might or might not be a Christian. He would
understand a poor saint. He would understand a humanist unbeliever full
of noble sentiment. What he would hardly understand was how a man so very
“broad” managed to confine himself in a “distinct branch of the Catholic
Church.” Still less would he be able to comprehend how a scholar with a
life-long ambition to write a great historical work should be the victim,
in his own words, of a “conspiracy to prevent him from doing so.” But to
the English, and also to Creighton, who loved to satirise the English,
it seemed not unnatural that a man who cared little about any points
of ritual should be constantly adjudicating between the Kensitites on
the one hand and the extreme High Churchmen on the other, or that a man
eminently qualified to write great history in which he was intensely
interested should be set to compose small squabbles in which he was not
interested at all.

Why Creighton took orders was much of a mystery to his set at Merton.
The whole intellectual tendency of the day was towards agnosticism,
and Creighton was very intellectual indeed. But, though Creighton had
little sympathy with “external and mechanical orthodoxy,” and, in the
words of his eulogist, “did not wear his spiritual heart on his sleeve,”
but “reverted to paradox to conceal differences on which he did not
care to insist,” he seems to have remained a convinced Churchman, and
indeed considerably more of a High and less of a Broad Churchman than
he afterwards became. His ambition to be a clergyman dated from early
boyhood; but it would probably not be unjust to suggest that he was
first attracted to the Church less by a spiritual urging than by the
thought that the clerical career would afford him an opportunity for
study and literary work. Creighton’s love for things of the mind was
more Scottish than English; his family was a Scottish family, though
settled in Cumberland; his father, trained as a joiner, had a furnishing
and decorating business; on his mother’s side, he came of yeoman farmer
stock. Healthy but short-sighted, the lad had no recreation but taking
long walks—a habit which persisted and developed in later life (he once
walked from Oxford to Durham in three days)—and his naturally studious
bent was accentuated by this aloofness from the sports of his companions.
The severity of the born student, however, was softened from a very early
age by the taste of the born æsthete; Creighton’s rooms at Oxford, the
moment he got a little money, were beautifully set out with choice little
pieces of old furniture, blue and white china, and flowers arranged on
the most correct principles of the newest school of taste. After his
marriage with Miss Louise von Glehn (who first attracted him by her
youth, her yellow sash, and her interest in his lectures) he removed from
his pleasant rooms to a house in Oxford equally charming in its way, and
the centre of much quiet intellectual junketing. But, though he delighted
in Oxford, he began, as years went on, to think of University as “like
living in a house with the workmen always about,” and the pressure of
his tutorial duties made him long for some less arduous environment in
which to carry out his design of a History of the Papacy. An opportunity
presented itself at the end of 1874. The richest and oldest living within
the gift of Merton, that of Embleton, forty miles north of Newcastle,
became vacant; Creighton made it known that he would be willing to
accept, and the offer was made him. At Embleton, lying on a desolate
part of the Northumbrian coast, Creighton made himself comfortable in the
old fortified vicarage which used to afford shelter to the parishioners
and their cattle during Scottish moss-trooper raids; and here, in the
intervals of attending to not too arduous parish duties, he brought out
the first two volumes of his history. The work at once placed him in
the front rank of serious writers of the day; and the praise lavished
on it was not undeserved. For though the effort to be impartial where
impartiality is impossible gave coldness to the narrative, these volumes,
as well as those which succeeded, showed great learning, a brilliant
power of analysis and exposition, and a rare faculty of imaginative
sympathy. It is a curious testimony to Creighton’s fairness to find Lord
Acton at a later date accusing him of too much tenderness for certain
Popes, while Protestants were complaining that Luther was treated with an
undue lack of reverence.

By this time parochial duties, increasing with the years, began to irk
Creighton as much as the pressure of his tutorial duties had done,
and he was anxious for a change. In 1884 he accepted the offer of the
appointment of Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge; shortly
after he took from Mr. Gladstone a Canonry at Worcester; and in 1890
Lord Salisbury offered him the vacant See of Peterborough. Nearly ten
years before he had been asked if he would like to be a Bishop. “No, I
should not,” he replied, “but if I were offered a Bishopric I should no
doubt take it, because I have got into the habit of doing what is asked
of me.” He was anxious to get on with his history; to become a Bishop
meant the definite sacrifice of further literary ambitions. But though
he thought it “a terrible nuisance,” and his “natural self” abhorred it,
and he considered himself “an object of compassion,” it is probable that
the promotion was not quite so unpleasant as he represented it to many
friends and probably himself believed it to be. For both his worldly and
other-worldly sides the appointment had some compensations. He really did
enjoy society, and he really did feel (singular as it might seem in a man
of his temperament) his mission as a Christian priest. The sense was not
strong enough to make him seek great activities, but it was strong enough
to make him feel it an act of cowardice and self-indulgence to refuse a
call when it came. But it was in the nature of the man to mix up almost
comically his various feelings. At one time we find him lamenting that
living in a Palace will be bad for his children, at another he speaks
of regarding his individual life as simply an opportunity of offering
himself to God, and then we have the following very characteristic
remark: “A good lady said to me the other day, ‘After all, men are more
interesting than books.’ Doubtless this is true, but you can choose your
own books, and you must take your men as you find them.” “My peace of
mind,” he said in the same letter, “is gone; my books will be shut up; my
mind will go to seed; I shall utter nothing but platitudes for the rest
of my life, and everybody will write letters in the newspapers about my
iniquities.” The picture of such a man hesitating between a certain set
of tastes and the call of conscience is perhaps best illustrated in a
story which may or may not be new. One of Creighton’s children was asked
what he was going to do. The reply was, “Father is still praying for
guidance, but mother is packing our boxes.”

Whatever his real qualms, they seem to have been excessive. Once settled
down to his new work, Creighton quite enjoyed himself at Peterborough,
and certainly, by all reasonable standards of episcopal efficiency, was
a success. But his translation to London in 1896 was the occasion of
more complaints in the same key. London was “inhuman”; it required all
his efforts to remain human in such a spot. There were not so many human
beings in London as in Peterborough. He was in “the very centre of all
that was worldly.” He was “exposed to the most deteriorating influences.”
It was “a great nuisance” that he never saw anybody intimately. “Every
ass was at liberty to bray in his study.” He never seemed to be free from
interviewing candidates for ordination. There was no one to be “kind”
to him. But as he became more used to the new conditions the complaints
became less frequent. He felt himself making some impression, not only
on his vast work, but on the vast town. The newspapers recognised the
richness of his personality. The gossips retailed his good things. He
began to feel at home, and within a year of his promotion we find him
confessing that London is “immensely interesting” with its “abundant
life,” which, however, “raises the question—Where is it going?”

If he found London bewildering as well as interesting, London—or that
fraction that troubled about such matters—was also a little puzzled, as
well as interested, in him. There was, indeed, something of the Sphinx
about this long, gaunt figure, with the bearded, spectacled face, harsh
in feature as only northern English faces can be, intrinsically stern,
but generally lightened by a smile half genial and half quizzical.
Rapidly becoming one of the best-known of public men, he was never quite
understood. The man killed himself by hard work; a constitution good
enough to have taken him to fourscore was worn out at less than sixty
by too conscientious efforts to keep pace with the enormous demands
made on his energies. His sermons and addresses breathed much of the
purest spirit of Christian faith, as well as the very soul of Christian
charity. Yet he who laboured so faithfully, and preached so admirably,
often talked nonsense—sometimes good nonsense and sometimes bad—and
showed a quality (some called it playfulness and others flippancy) which
perturbed equally the faithful and the infidel. For orthodox people
could not understand this levity in a serious man, and unorthodox people
seemed to think that a man of his mentality and temperament had no right
to be orthodox. There was in his very toleration something insulting to
enthusiasts. To people who held strong views on some question he felt
to be trivial he could not emit judicious platitudes; his judgment was
generally barbed with a wit that rankled with both sides. One reference
to incense has already been quoted; another was, “Personally I should
say, if they want to make a smell, let them.” That sort of thing does not
satisfy either those who would kindle the fires of Smithfield or those
who would revive the sullen reign of the saints.

The Bishop’s attitude was held very generally to denote the kind of
breadth which is so easy where there is no strong conviction. But this
view was quite erroneous. Creighton’s contempt might be too lightly
expressed, but it was not lightly entertained. He had a reason for
every dislike, and even behind every prejudice. He managed somehow to
reconcile the Catholic view of the English Church with pure Erastianism.
In one place one finds him ridiculing the notion that truth varies with
longitude and latitude; in another he holds that “the general trend of
the Church must be regulated by their (the people’s) wishes,” and that
“the Church cannot go too far from the main ideas of the people”—who
might conceivably, of course, become polygamists and fire-worshippers
fifty years hence. In truth, this great historian often thought as
cloudily and locally as a country curate, and, far more than he was
aware, was influenced by the insularity he so often derided. Where he
did not take the English view he took the German, being soaked, like
most Victorians, in Teutonism; and he really objected to “religious
observances of an exotic kind” less because they were exotic than because
they were Latin.

“The Church of Rome,” he said once, “is the Church of decadent peoples.”
On another occasion he observed that the Roman communion is “a small
body in England, which stands in no relation to the religious life of
the nation.... To join that Church is simply to stand on one side and
cut yourself off from your part in striving to do your duty for the
religious future of your country.” I am not concerned in the sectarian
question involved; I only quote the passages to show that Creighton, with
all his learning and cleverness, could talk solemn nonsense as well as
the lighter kind. Yet he would have been quick to see the logical lapse
of some old barbarian who condemned Christianity as the religion of
under-sized people, or of the Roman governor under Nero who sent saints
to the lions because this new faith of “Chrestus” stood in no relation to
the religious life of a polytheistic Empire, so that for a Roman citizen
to join it was to “cut himself off from his past in striving to do his
duty for the religious future of his country.”

The truth is, of course, that Creighton, disliking Rome and despising the
“dying nations” in her communion, wished to say something nasty without
too much trouble—a natural and perhaps commendable desire. The Ulster
man, when he wants to gratify it, says simply, “To Hell with the Pope”;
Creighton, instead of rising to bad language, sank to bad argument,
and gave the weight of his personality to the once popular doctrine
that a creed is to be honoured in proportion to the wealth and material
prosperity of its professors. Yet on all indifferent matters he would
have been the first to hold that truth is truth if only one man (and he
a scrofulous cripple) believes it, and error error, even though approved
by everybody as tall as Creighton and endowed with the particular code of
good manners which he approved.



CHAPTER XVI

JOHN MORLEY


I remember hearing John Morley—it was then impossible to conceive of him
as containing the germ of John Viscount Morley—addressing one of the
many “flowing tide” meetings which were among the chief public events of
the early Nineties. I can recall nothing of the speech, except that it
was about the Irish question; Mr. Morley had just been over to Ireland,
and some officious policeman had struck him with a baton, or something
of that sort—a proceeding which had naturally annoyed him, and imparted
some acerbity to his remarks. But, of course, the speech was less
interesting than the speaker. This, then, was the great John Morley, who
wrote such beautiful English and spelt “God” with a small “g”—this prim,
frock-coated figure, with an indefinable suggestion of the Nonconformist;
slight, with the stoop of the student; the face deeply indented with
crow’s-feet, but in no sense pallid, rather with the kind of unfresh
floridity so often seen in the Law Courts; a sort of quiet fatigue
pervading the whole, like the American character in Dickens who was “used
up considerable”; the eyes at once keen and weary, like all eyes that
are the overworked instruments of an active brain depending chiefly on
printed matter for its impressions; the forehead well-shaped, but not
impressive; everything about him suggestive rather of completeness than
mass or power; the whole man compact, agile, highly articulate, trained
to the last ounce, notable enough, but hardly great. Not naturally an
intellectual Hercules, one would say; rather an example of the fitness
that comes of a tidy habit of life and regular work at the bedroom
exerciser.

[Illustration: _John Morley. 1888._]

He spoke well, but not very well—nothing like so well as most of the
more considerable politicians of the day. He did not lack vehemence;
indeed—perhaps as a consequence of the baton business—he sometimes
rasped. Neither was there wanting elevation of phrase, though when he
arrived at the rather mechanical peroration I found myself wondering (in
my youthful haste) why great men permitted themselves such banalities.
But there was a lack of all the greater qualities of oratory, and
especially the quality of sympathy; the speaker had nothing in common
with his audience apart from convictions, and those he and they held on
a quite different tenure. Years afterwards I found that John Morley was
far from an ineffective speaker in his own proper place; in the House of
Commons he could often appeal to the heart as well as to the reason, and
when he implored the House of Lords to avoid the “social shock” of the
creation of Peers in 1911 his manner had almost as much effect as his
matter. In the Upper House, indeed, he was almost a greater success than
in the Lower; his audience liked him, and he greatly liked his audience.
“What on earth do you want to go there for?” Mr. Asquith is said to have
remarked when his old colleague suggested that he should sit in the House
of Lords. A few years later he might have seen that the philosophical
Radical was well placed there.

Among men accustomed to recognise distinction John Morley could hardly
fail to be at home, and the longer he represented his Government in
the Lords the better he was liked by his fellow-Peers. But a popular
speaker he never was, and never could be. It is a gift common to some
of the least considerable as well as some of the greatest men; two
of the finest natural orators of the Nineties were members so little
regarded as Mr. Sexton and Sir Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett. But, however it
may be improved by cultivation, or ennobled by great character or great
mentality, it is still a gift, and goes with a type of personality
seldom possessed by the really bookish man. It was at this particular
meeting that John Morley gave away, for those who had eyes to see, a
part of the secret of his comparative failure as a platform speaker.
A vulgar, genial local magnate rose to propose a vote of thanks. He
allotted a few words of second-hand praise to John Morley as man of
letters. He eulogised him as the faithful friend and lieutenant of the
noble and revered leader—(cheers)—the Grand Old Man of Liberalism—(loud
cheers)—William—(cheers)—Ewart—(frantic cheers)—Gladstone—(prolonged and
uproarious cheering). And then he added that Mr. John Morley had one
personal claim above all others to the audience’s respect. It was not
his intellect, though that was brilliant. It was not his party service,
though that was great. It was the quality recognised by every working man
who knew him as “Honest John.”

Mr. Morley winced like a horse stung by a specially noxious gadfly,
shifted uneasily in his seat, and then glanced at the fat and complacent
speaker with a malignity of which he might have been thought incapable.
In that momentary raising of the mask were revealed all the temperamental
difficulties of this intellectually convinced democrat in the presence
of actual living democracy. If John Morley preserved ever a certain
aloofness from the people it was surely in the interests of his faith
in the popular cause. In the presence of Peers and scholars he found no
difficulty in maintaining the purity of his democratic creed. But real
contact with the masses must have been in the long run fatal.

John Morley, indeed, had always rather more than his share of that
shrinking pride, that haughty sensitiveness, which so often characterises
the Liberal intellectual. The typical Tory of the older time was proud,
but in a different way. His hereditary association with “muck and
turnips” gave him a certain contact with realities. His family tree was
in a sense public property; his skeletons were hidden in no obscure
cupboard, but duly displayed for the edification of the public; and he
had no particular objection to people commenting, and even joking, on
certain aspects of his private life. He knew that every disagreement
with his wife, every money quarrel with his son, was the gossip of all
the ale-houses for miles round. He knew that the labourers called him in
private “Old Tom” or something more definitely disrespectful; so long
as they touched their hats in public that did not trouble him. A true
aristocracy must always be shameless. But the circle in which John Morley
grew up was refined and secretive as no other circle on earth; the pride
of the upper classes is comparatively simple; the pride of the middle
class is as nicely compounded as the melancholy of Jacques. It was this
pride, and nothing else, which gave John Morley that reputation of chilly
austerity which was really quite foreign to his character. Many things
otherwise incomprehensible are plain when we recognise that, while he
disliked being called in public “honest John,” and cherished a bookish
middle-class man’s horror of emotion expressed without decorum, he was
always a very social sort of person, with a keen enjoyment of all the
colour and flavour of things. Lord Morley is perhaps best described as
one of those true epicures of life who get the highest it has to offer
at something less than the full price. He could be on excellent terms
with many sportsmen and society people, because they touched his tastes
on points, but he left them as soon as they manifested tendencies to
stubble or covert or dancing-room. He left them thus on no particular
principle, not because he was the victim of any Puritanic fanaticism
against pleasure, but because he personally took no pleasure in such
things: sport and party-going bored him, and his tendency throughout
life was to take as much of the smooth and as little of the rough
of things as he decently could. And, just as he would go off to his
room at a country-house party the moment he had had enough of general
society, so while he stuck to his party manfully in periods of storm,
he generally found some excuse to leave the business to another when
the Liberal ship drifted into the doldrums. But the notion of him as a
bloodless philosopher, a sort of atheistic Puritan, a monster of plain
living and high thinking, a moral sky-scraper of reinforced abstract, is
quite misleading. He speaks of Joseph Chamberlain as having a “genius
for friendship.” He himself had at least much quiet talent in that
direction. Reared in grimy Blackburn, the son of a hard-worked surgeon,
his temperament, naturally sunny and sun-loving, led him to early revolt
against the “unadulterated milk of the Independent word” on which he
was nurtured as a child, and at Oxford we find him musing, in Wesley’s
room at Lincoln, on the rapidity with which the thoughts and habits of
youthful Methodism were vanishing. He had been intended for orders, but
the only foundations on which such a career could be honestly based had
been destroyed in contact with the destructive criticism of the time; the
teaching profession he rejected after a short and painful experience; he
read for the Bar, but, to his “enduring regret,” did not make his way
thither: journalism therefore alone remained—a career which may lead
anywhere or nowhere, but which, as he afterwards reflected, “quickens a
man’s life while it lasts,” though it may kill him in the end.

Morley was not killed by journalism, was rather made by it. Of his
talent for the craft everything requisite has been said; great as
it was, it was perhaps exceeded by his talent for making valuable
friendships. It was journalism, for example, that gave him personal touch
with the greatest formative influence of his life—John Stuart Mill.
The intense admiration of the younger for the older man was natural
enough: Mill had a singularly lovable nature. But there was danger in
the completeness of Morley’s surrender. For Mill was in one sense a
highly amiable Satan; he knew all about the past and present, but had
no sense whatever of the future. The whole philosophy of individualism
is founded on the presumption that the world would always remain much
as it was in the middle of the nineteenth century; Mill does not seem
to have had a suspicion of the way in which capital, taking always the
line of least resistance in the search for profit, would cease in all its
greater manifestations to preserve more than a vestige of its “private”
character. All his theories depend on a balance which was destroyed
within a very few years, historically speaking, of their promulgation;
the balance, namely, of a mob of unrelated capitalists dealing with a
mob of unrelated workers. Morley was a little unfortunate in coming,
like a late investor, into the Mill philosophy at the top of the market;
almost immediately the stock began to decline, and it was to some extent
the inflexibility of economic opinions formed under these auspices that
handicapped him when he arrived at a position of great authority in the
Liberal party.

Nevertheless, in the Nineties all things seemed still possible to John
Morley. He was, as a real and fervent Home Ruler, Mr. Gladstone’s chief
dependence; it was he who bore the main burden of the great Committee
fight on the Home Rule Bill. Mr. Gladstone’s “rapid splendours” implied
an enormous amount of detail work. “It must be rather heart-breaking
for you,” said Mr. Asquith to Morley; “it is brutal to put into words,
but, really, if Mr. Gladstone stood more aside we might get on better.”
“Though putting away this impious thought,” comments Morley, “I could
not deny that a little dullness and a steady flow of straightforward
mediocrity often mean a wonderful saving of Parliamentary time.” With
Sir William Harcourt, again, he was on excellent terms, while keeping up
the most cordial relations with the Rosebery camp. His own work at the
Irish Office—his second experience of that bed of torment—was creditable.
He had lost a seat, but confirmed a reputation, by his refusal to
accept the principle of the eight-hours’ day. With the vulgar he was
accepted, if without enthusiasm, still with respect, and the Liberal
party generally regarded him as one of two possible successors to the
leadership. At this time his name was always associated with that of
Sir William Harcourt; they played the two Cæsars to the Augustus of Mr.
Gladstone. It is just possible that, if the election of 1892 had yielded
a solid Liberal majority of a hundred instead of a strangely composite
and insecure majority of nominally forty, the name of John Morley might
have graced the august list of British Prime Ministers. An inspiring
prospect might have conquered finally the vacillation between politics
and literature which endured through almost all Lord Morley’s active
life. “I wonder whether you are like me,” he quotes Mr. Balfour as once
saying to him; “when I’m at work in politics I long to be in literature,
and vice versa.” “I should think so, indeed,” was Morley’s reply. No
doubt literature was his real business, and he did wrong to desert it
at all. Certainly no man of letters will regret the circumstances which
led him to withdraw awhile to his study to produce that great human
document, glowing with colour and pregnant with shrewd generalisation,
the _Life of Gladstone_. But Morley’s attitude in the Nineties need only
be compared with that of Disraeli during his long period of waiting, for
the difference to be at once manifest between the man of letters who
is incidentally and casually a man of action and the man of action who
is incidentally and casually a man of letters. Both were engaged in an
apparently hopeless struggle. But Disraeli never lost interest in the
fight; he was as resolute and tenacious in the extremes of adversity
as he was dashing and resourceful on the verge of victory. Morley’s
interest, on the other hand, only lasted while he was in office; when
the Rosebery break-up came he ceased to count, and his return to the
Cabinet in 1905 was in a character that would have seemed quaint indeed
ten years before—that of subordinate to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.
There was assuredly nothing discreditable to Lord Morley in his failure
or disinclination to control an unfortunately developing situation. But
his sudden renewal of interest in politics when the once despaired-of
Liberal victory and reunion at length arrived, did suggest once again
what has already been hinted—that he had perhaps too sure an instinct for
the sunny side of the peach.

Lord Morley, in his _Recollections_, quotes Disraeli’s comment on one of
the first Parliamentary speeches of John Stuart Mill. Mill had not gone
far when Disraeli murmured to a neighbour, “Ah, the Finishing Governess.”
Perhaps something of the character inferred was transmitted from Mill to
his disciple. John Morley had the frostiest of spinsterhood’s views on
the importance of being merely immaculate; he could bear the reproach
of barrenness, but shuddered at that of impropriety. Like many maiden
aunts, having no political children of his own to think about, he took an
interest in other people’s; we have seen how assiduously he looked after
the little Benjamin of Mr. Gladstone’s extreme age. But a maiden aunt
is not like a mother, who can never escape from the children. The maiden
aunt can always disappear when she likes to Harrogate or Cheltenham,
there to flirt decorously with other interests. It was thus with John
Morley. While he was always ready to lose his seat rather than depart by
one jot or tittle from his principles, he felt no more call to stand by
his party than the maiden aunt does to stand by the nursery when it has
mumps. Liberalism suffered badly from mumps between 1896 and 1903—years
during which John Morley was on the whole quite pleasantly engaged. He
said what his position demanded during the South African War, but in
such sort that his old and dear friend Chamberlain complimented him both
on his moderation and his courage in championing an unpopular cause.
Meanwhile “C.-B.,” with his “methods of barbarism,” was hardly safe from
mob attack. Yet nobody thinks of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as more
than a quite ordinary politician of the more honest kind, and everybody
thinks of Lord Morley as a stoic hero. For the rest, immersion in the
_Life of Gladstone_ enabled him to escape without reproach from much
active participation in the feuds which rent his party. That great work
was finished in 1903, just at the time Liberalism was beginning to revive
and reintegrate. No other member of the party had passed through the
bad time with less personal discomfort. But the penalty—if penalty it
were—had to be paid. In 1896 John Morley was distinctly _Papabile_. In
1903 nobody could conceive him as Pope.

Lord Randolph Churchill once rallied Morley—it might almost be said
reproached him—with being one of those men “who believe in the solution
of political problems.” The impeachment—in which, marvellous to relate,
Mr. Balfour was also included—was no doubt justified. It would be quite
inexact to say that Lord Morley did not take politics seriously; he
took them very seriously indeed. But there are different degrees of
belief; and the faith which rests on a purely intellectual basis (while
it may well be more stubborn than any other) calls less imperiously for
translation into works than the faith which is held with passion. John
Morley, whatever his “belief in the solution of political questions,”
could bear with perfect philosophy failure to solve them. A Brutus of
political virtue, he was perhaps inclined rather to dine with Cæsar
than to stab him. But, as an Irish critic said of him, in the course
of a glowing eulogy, he also resembled Brutus in his readiness to fall
gracefully on his sword when another would go on fighting for victory.



CHAPTER XVII

W. T. STEAD


It was in the late Nineties that I first met the most talked-of
journalist of his day. Though still on the sunny side of fifty, W. T.
Stead gave the impression of age. His face, where the grizzling beard
did not hide it, was deeply lined, and his movements had that kind of
conscious alertness which, in its contrast with the self-possessed and
even lazy confidence of youth in its physical competence, is a sure
indication of advancing years. He was given to loose home-spuns, which
made his figure appear rather more clumsy than it really was. Nothing in
his negligence of dress, however, suggested the Bohemian; he might easily
have passed, at first glance, for a country tradesman of the less pompous
kind, say, a corn-and-seed merchant in a substantial way.

[Illustration: W. T. STEAD.]

The eyes, however, at once attracted attention. They were neither full
nor beautiful, and one might have known the man all his life without
remembering their precise colour; doubtless they were of some kind
of faded blue or undistinguished grey, like the eyes of millions of
other people in northern Europe. The remarkable thing about them was
negative. They struck one as the eyes of a man who used them for the
special purpose of not seeing. They at once explained what Shakespeare
meant when he likened the poet’s eye to the lunatic’s, and described
it as “in a fine frenzy rolling.” Stead’s eyes did not roll; they were
curiously and brightly still. But they did give the idea of “frenzy”
as Shakespeare used the word—that is to say, of a subjective and not an
objective vision, of a mental excitement, an irritation of the brain,
which prevented the owner seeing things as they were. Stead looked not at
but through one, just as Mrs. Jellyby looked through her visitors at the
coast of Africa five thousand miles away. Whether Stead had at this time
any actual malady of vision I know not; I seem to remember to have read
somewhere that he went in his youth in fear of blindness. But he gave
instantaneously the impression of a man who either cannot see justly or
does not want to—of one, in other words, who is much more interested in
his “view” of a thing than in the thing itself. “Views” belong, in fact,
largely to the province of myopia. That delicate stylist, Lafcadio Hearn,
had to invent a Japan of his own because he never saw the real Japan
in which he spent so many years of his life; and probably much of the
astonishing “viewiness” of modern Germany is simply due to the ravages of
the German printed character on the German professorial eyesight. Stead
was a man of views from the first; his disaster was that, while he began
by possessing views, the views ended by possessing him.

Stead was born in the middle of the nineteenth century at Embleton
Manse, Northumberland, “under the shadow,” as he put it, “of the grey
northern hills.” His father was a Congregational minister; his mother
came of a substantial farming stock. It was the case of a large family
and small means, and, like his brothers and sisters, Stead was chiefly
educated at home; all his formal schooling was gained in two years at
Silcoates, near Wakefield, an establishment for the sons of ministers.
He thus grew up without mental discipline of the more severe kind, and
his natural disposition inclined him to the desultory. An insatiable
curiosity ensured a wide range of reading; a quick brain enabled him to
grasp as much as he wanted to know; but he did not form the habit, and
there was nobody to form it for him, of systematic and thorough study;
always picking and choosing, he got much knowledge, but little sense of
the relation of things. At the same time he was steeped in Nonconformist
mysticism. It has often been observed that beliefs in their old age
tend to become the extreme opposite of what they started to be, and
nineteenth-century Nonconformity, in its loose sentimentality, often
contrasted strangely enough with the hard rationalism of an earlier date.
Here, as in secular things, Stead picked and chose, followed his own
fancies, and used his eyes to see only what he wanted to see. The germ
of that spiritual wildness which distinguished him in his later years is
to be found in his precocious interest in “revivals” and “conversions.”
At twelve he felt himself competent to be a guide to his school-fellows,
and he has himself expressed his indebtedness to Silcoates for teaching
him “three important things—Christianity, cricket, and democracy.”
Democracy he then associated partly with Gladstonian Liberalism, and
partly with Oliver Cromwell, on whom he composed, while still at school,
a warm panegyric which won him a prize of a guinea. Christianity was
best illustrated, in his opinion, by the seventeenth-century Puritans,
who would assuredly have put him in the pillory for his earliest views,
and burned or hanged him for his later addiction to the occult. This
early enthusiasm for Cromwell is interesting as an indication of the
curious fashion in which ideas developed in the almost unhealthily
fertile soil of Stead’s brain. He began by worshipping Cromwell as the
great Puritan in religion and the great democrat (it is extraordinary
how men deceive themselves when they want to) in politics. Then, since
everything in Cromwell must be admirable, he began to admire Cromwell as
a great Imperialist, and so insensibly developed, to the horror of his
early Quaker employers at Darlington, into an Imperialist himself. It is
doubtful whether thought, in the strict sense, had any part in bringing
Stead to this or any other conviction. When he had got an idea into his
head he could, of course, bring a very active and ingenious brain to the
task of developing it. But the idea itself had its source in his taste or
his emotions, if it did not arrive by sheer chance. In some respects he
might be described as a _gamin_ Carlyle. He had much of Carlyle’s faculty
of smelling men and things, so to speak, across long distances of space
and time; Carlyle was all nose and tongue: his nose enabled him to scent
his heroes, and his tongue persuaded incautious people that they were
demigods. To be just, they were generally great men. But even Carlyle
sometimes went wrong, as the best hound will do; and Stead, less gifted,
went wrong much more often. Lord Morley, while paying high tribute to his
“invaluable” qualities as a colleague, hints at “passing embarrassments.”
Such a man was, in truth, ill adapted to run in harness with people more
normally gifted. He had all sorts of superstitions, and it might almost
be said that an article of his would depend on his opening his Bible at
one page and his Bluebook at another.

Mr. Spender, of the _Westminster Gazette_, recently declared that no
man would have repudiated more hotly than Stead the suggestion that
journalism was merely a branch of commerce. And in some sense none
could more truly say that he regarded his profession as “a vacation
abounding in opportunities, but weighted by solemn responsibilities.”
He had a real passion for what he thought was the right; he showed
fine courage in taking up unpopular causes; he sacrificed much for
great ideals, and still more for small eccentricities. But the man
was a most singular combination of the business man and the mystic.
Those who worked with him had much the same sort of shock we feel in
reading the speeches of seventeenth-century Puritan statesmen, who (to
quote Macaulay) talked in Committee of Ways and Means about seeking the
Lord. He might be led to consider a technical problem through reading
the Book of Proverbs, or going to a spiritualistic séance. But to the
problem itself he brought the coldest common sense. He could engineer a
“stunt,” as the modern slang goes, as well as the most cynical living
professor of that art. Such a “stunt” was the cry that sent Gordon to
Khartoum. And even when, as in the “Modern Babylon” articles, his heart
was fully engaged, his method was only distinguishable from that of a
later date by the superiority of his intelligence and his firm sense of
the importance of whatever he happened to say. His egotism was wonderful
and almost touching in its _naïveté_. Lord Morley visited him during his
imprisonment in Holloway, and found him in a “strangely exalted mood.”
“As I was taking my exercise this morning in the prison yard,” he said,
“I asked myself who was the man of most importance now alive? And I
could only find one answer—the prisoner in this cell.” Yet ten minutes
later he might easily have been criticising the “make-up” of a paper,
or discussing the financial possibilities of an abridged edition of the
classics, with Gibbon in twenty pages, _The Republic_ in five, and _Uncle
Remus_ in fifty.

The beginning of the Nineties saw Stead, with the publication of the
_Review of Reviews_, at the very height of his professional prestige.
He had, by his “two keels to one” campaign, established a claim on
the regard of political realists. He had, by his efforts to interest
European monarchs in schemes for the preservation of peace, won the
esteem of those idealists who had perhaps suspected him in his capacity
of Imperialist. He enjoyed, on the one hand, the worship of every
Nonconformist in England, and, on the other, the friendship of Cecil
Rhodes. He exercised, in the sum, an enormous influence on the masses. He
could make an author; he could almost unmake a statesman. There seemed to
be little limit to the development of one whom Lord Morley has described
as “for a season the most powerful journalist in the island.” But just at
this period that eccentricity which had always been a large element in
his character assumed the proportions of a disease. In 1890 he met a Miss
Julia A. Ames, connected with a newspaper in Chicago—“a highly religious
woman, a Methodist, very level-headed, and possessing a great amount of
common sense.” With Miss Ames Stead was strangely impressed, and after
her death in America he essayed communication by “automatic writing”
with her spirit. In this, he was convinced, he attained success, and in
1893 he started a paper called _Borderland_, chiefly for the purpose of
giving the world the “letters of Julia.” He devoted much time and money
henceforth to spiritualism in its various forms, and “Julia’s Bureau” was
established “to enable those who had lost their dead, who were sorrowing
over friends and relatives, to get into touch with them again.”

Inevitably this preoccupation with the occult reacted on Stead’s
reputation as a thinker on more mundane matters, and the end of the
century found a new generation of writers wondering why he still
commanded, if not the old homage, at least the interest of a large
public. The truth was that, though much that Stead stood for had gone
out of fashion, and though the “spook” business was never in fashion in
any popular sense, he did to the end represent certain permanent British
habits of mind. Thus he was thoroughly British in his irresponsible
knight-errantry. I have never been able to understand how _Don Quixote_
came to be written by a Spaniard; the Don is intrinsically as English
as Mr. Pickwick, and I am persuaded that it is not a Spaniard, but an
Englishman, who best understands him; one may go further and say that the
English reader understands him better in the reading than the Spanish
author did in the writing. There was a good deal of Quixote in Stead,
and that made for his popularity. He wandered from question to question,
and from capital to capital, interfering with matters in which he had
strictly no concern, and rousing the tumult he loved. Then, when the
bright eyes of his lady Dulcinea had been sufficiently honoured, he
rode off to other adventures, splendidly unconscious that the affair
after all might not have been disposed of, might even have been made
more difficult, by his chivalrous intervention. The Englishman of that
time was partial to such championship of the afflicted and distressed.
Feeling a responsibility for the morals of the rest of the world, he
preferred, like a good business man, to discharge it as cheaply as
possible, and as leading articles (at the most extravagant valuation)
are considerably cheaper than squadrons and army corps, the tendency was
to exaggerate a little the thunders of the Press. It was then an article
of faith that foreign military ambition was mainly restrained by fear
of _The Standard_, and that foreign striving after liberty was mainly
sustained by the _Daily News_. Thus it was natural that the spectacle of
Stead lecturing Kaiser, Czar, and Sultan should in some degree stir the
pulses of many Englishmen. It was an assertion of our superiority; no
representative of a responsible foreign journal lectured Queen Victoria.
Equally natural was it that Stead himself, finding the Czar indomitably
polite, should infer that he was a sincere friend of peace, and feel
easier about the Finns, or, discovering that the Sultan kept the _Review
of Reviews_ on file, should be inclined to believe that he had done
a real service to Macedonia. Every journalist has something in him of
Mr. Pott, who believed that his articles in the _Eatanswill Gazette_
exercised a decisive influence on national politics. Stead sometimes
seemed to think that taking a holiday was equivalent to going on a
crusade.

Another point on which Stead was in harmony with average sentiment
was his combination of thorough-going Imperialism with thorough-going
anti-militarism. All for omelettes, but unalterably opposed to the
breaking of eggs, he went only a step further than the many who liked
omelettes so long as no eggs were broken except those which might be
picked up cheaply at a “Queen’s shilling” apiece. He quarrelled with
Rhodes over the Boer War—and so his name was struck out of the famous
will—but really Rhodes was not so very far apart from himself; Rhodes,
like Stead, lacked the logic of Imperialists like Lord Milner, who
not only recognised the price of Empire, but wanted to have it (by
conscriptive decree) always ready in the bank. Stead, no doubt, would in
any case have opposed the Boer War as a war; why he should have gloried
in the Boers as Boers was less obvious. But in Kruger, no doubt, he
fancied some resemblance to Cromwell, and the Commandoes, with their
Bibles and “infallible artillery,” reminded him of the New Model.
Stead never took much of the Puritan theology, and it had probably all
volatilised in the course of his feverish life; but instincts are more
stubborn than opinions, and “Brother Boer” was also a brother Puritan.
The furious attack on Rhodes, whom he had previously admired highly, also
on Cromwellian grounds, was treated with high magnanimity. “I want you
to understand,” said Rhodes, meeting him in 1900, “that if in future you
should unfortunately feel yourself compelled to attack me personally as
vehemently as you have attacked my policy, it will make no difference
to our friendship. I am too grateful for all I have learned from you
to allow anything that you may write or say to make any change in our
relations.” The man who could speak thus was assuredly a great one. The
man to whom it was said could not have been small.



CHAPTER XVIII

SIR HENRY FOWLER


On the surface at least there was an incurable ordinariness about Henry
Hartley Fowler, afterwards first Viscount Wolverhampton. His parts,
though sound, were not brilliant; imagination he had none; his voice was
harsh and unsympathetic; his appearance was singularly ungainly, and he
was the sort of man who always looks at his worst when best dressed; he
had absolutely no “way” with him; he rose by unexciting degrees to a
rather dull sort of eminence; and at the best he could only be counted
a first-rate example of the second-rate man. But, as Mr. Arnold Bennett
has found profit in recognising, ordinariness carried to the extreme
becomes very extraordinary, and Sir Henry Fowler, as the end of the
Nineties left him, remains a figure of some significance. It would be a
mistake to consider him, like (say) Mr. Childers, as a mere fragment of
dullness in the mosaic of Victorian politics—a foil for the brilliance of
the gold and lapis lazuli. He was something positive, if sombre and not
very decorative; and he almost perfectly represented a type which must be
understood if we are to make any sense at all of the Victorian time.

Sir Henry Fowler was, I believe, the first Wesleyan to become a Cabinet
Minister and a Peer. His Wesleyanism was one of the main facts about
him. Far more than John Bright he represented English Nonconformity.
Quakerism is in truth not very English, though there can be no doubt
concerning the Englishness of its founder. There is a logical abandon
about it quite out of harmony with the English taste for compromise. The
opposite extreme to Catholicism, it yet resembles Catholicism in basing
itself firmly on certain dogmas, and shrinking from no conclusion that
logically follows such acceptance. Sir Henry Fowler belonged to that more
English school of Nonconformity which is guided much more by taste than
by logic. He had no quarrel with the doctrines of the Church. He loved
its liturgy. He had something like a passion for extreme orderliness in
public worship. When in London he would attend service at St. Margaret’s,
Westminster; he was married by the Church, had his children baptised and
confirmed in the Church, and was himself buried in accordance with the
rites of the Church. Yet he was born and bred a Wesleyan, was the son of
a Wesleyan minister, and the interests of Wesleyanism were one of the
main cares of his life. Such a man would be incomprehensible anywhere
but in England. Here he was only a rather extreme example of a strange
national tendency to choose our religious opinions much as we do our
cigars—by their flavour.

In politics Sir Henry Fowler’s case was much the same. His real nature
was conservative. There was never a less adventurous temperament. His
attitude towards the present was one of despondency, and towards the
future one of apprehension. The most bigoted Tory could not be further
removed than he was from that class of men described by Macaulay as
“sanguine in hope, bold in speculation, always pressing forward, quick to
discern the imperfections of whatever exists, disposed to think lightly
of the risks and inconveniences which attend improvements, and disposed
to give every change credit for being an improvement.” On the contrary,
he was ever the counsellor of caution and the prophet of disaster. He
hugged gloom like a garment. If Conservatives were in office, he feared
for the country; if Liberals were in office his apprehensions were merely
doubled—he feared for his party as well. He could discern readily enough
the imperfections of whatever existed, but even more was he impressed
with the dangers of bringing something else into existence. Thus he was
a Home Ruler in sentiment, but though he believed in the principle he
“also believed in the possibility of buying some things too dear,” and
at the end of twenty years he was more convinced than at the beginning
that the time was not “ripe.” Thus, also, he came into Parliament as
an “advanced Radical,” but he remained in the capacity of a Radical
with much genius for staying in the same place, a Radical at least
implacably opposed to anything like “Socialistic proposals.” A man of
his pessimism and his caution could only be in essence a Conservative.
Whence, then, his position in the fore-front of Liberalism, a position
so considerable that, though he was never a favourite of Mr. Gladstone,
he could not be ignored? The answer is probably that the flavour of
the actual Conservative Party, like the flavour of the actual Church
of England, did not appeal to him. Above all he was a Puritan, and, if
a certain remnant of Puritanism still persisted in the Church, it was
not conspicuous or influential in the Conservative Party. There were,
of course, fox-hunters and men of pleasure on the Liberal side, but in
the main they were rather camp-followers than captains, and they did
not give the party its character. Further, the character of Puritan
also embraced that of iconoclast. Sir Henry Fowler was a little like
the seventeenth-century Puritans in being much more anxious to destroy
symbols than realities. They cut down the thorn of Glastonbury and
dislodged the images of saints, but they left “civil and religious
liberty” in rather more parlous condition than they found it. Their
nineteenth-century representative had no desire to throw down or change
the fabric of English life. But he did wish to chip off all its Gothic
eccentricities (even if they happened to be also beauties), to make it
seemly and prosaic, to harmonise it with his view of the utilitarian.

He was, indeed, that very strange product of the Victorian time, the
matter-of-fact mystic. He believed in the world to come as in something
just as real as a counting-house, and not altogether dissimilar. On the
other hand, nothing outside the counting-house and the world to come had
much reality for him. There was work and there was religion—and beyond
these nothing, or nothing to speak of. Work, of course, in the widest
sense—the satisfaction of certain personal ambitions, the serving of
certain public ends, the rearing of children, the establishment of a
status in life were all included, for this kind of saintliness has no
regard for the “magnificence of destitution”; while it reads its title
clear to mansions in the skies it is equally insistent on an indubitable
freehold of some consequence here below. This mingling of worldliness
and other-worldliness was almost as old as the man. The youth of Sir
Henry Fowler was fully as serious as his manhood. The son of one of the
pioneers of Methodism, who had come early under the influence of the
extraordinary man who was its founder, he was sent to a school for the
sons of ministers at Woodhouse Grove, in Yorkshire, which seems to have
borne to the academy of Mr. Wackford Squeers the same relation that an
original bears to a parody. The discipline was on much the same lines as
that of Dotheboys Hall, and the diet, if more decent, was scarcely more
plentiful. The boys were given one holiday a year, and the only game
was fives. Here, and afterwards in an equally grave London atmosphere,
the lines of the boy’s character were firmly set. Of a naturally clumsy
build and serious disposition, he could hardly, in any circumstances,
have grown up a handy and hearty boy. But with such schooling, and with
his father “stimulating his intellectual powers” during the solitary
midsummer holiday, he rapidly acquired both the virtues and disabilities
which distinguished him through life. At twelve he was already a
political Nonconformist, following with deep attention all debates in
Parliament bearing on Dissent. At the same time the foundations had been
laid of a physical awkwardness and stiffness, a distaste for exercise,
and an incapacity for all the graces of life which for him made work
of some kind the only tolerable condition of existence. His daughter
tells us that he had little use for his hands. He could not throw a
ball or hold a bat, and when he tried to play golf his clumsiness was
extraordinary. The tying of a dress tie was a feat of dexterity he never
mastered. He seldom walked if he could help it, and was never known to
run a step. An idle day was for him one of unmitigated boredom, and he
managed to communicate the weariness of it to those about him. He had a
great dislike for fresh air, and could not endure an open window, whether
at home, or at his office, or even at his favourite chapel. Yet he was
by no means a gloomy domestic tyrant. He had married the woman of his
earliest ambition, apparently by sheer force of character, for she was
wealthy and much courted, and he was a sombre, reserved and heavy-footed
suitor. His children he loved, and they learned to love him. He had a
home in which the last word in Victorian comfort chimed harmoniously
with the last word in Victorian Philistinism. He could even on occasion
drink a glass of wine and take a hand of cards, though he could never
recognise a five of spades at sight; he had laboriously to count the
pips. In his own way he was kindness itself to his family. “Father,” says
the filial biographer already quoted, “always let us have _his_ own way
and gave us everything _he_ wanted. But, although we were only permitted
such pleasures as would recommend themselves to a middle-aged statesman,
ours was nevertheless a very merry home. We laughed at everything and
everybody, especially at our father, and nobody enjoyed such laughter
more than he did. I never knew anyone who so thoroughly appreciated a
joke against himself.” But this unbending came rather late; as a younger
man, with young children, he was hopelessly stiff.

There was withal a massive innocence in the man. Of many of the facts
of life he was more ignorant than seemed possible for any human
being. He could read the naughtiest of novels without seeing anything
objectionable, and indeed would sometimes recommend to young women books
full of suggestiveness which he might have picked up and glanced at
with a certain interest and no understanding. This, of course, was in
the evening of his life, when his daughter’s success as a novelist—a
success which filled him with a certain awed delight—had modified severer
early views of light literature. She relates how he used to read her
manuscripts and offer “superbly useless” advice. Thus in one book there
is the following scrap of conversation:

    “Have they any children?”

    “No, only politics.”

“Father,” says his daughter, “underlined the ‘No.’ ‘I should not say
that; it is too conclusive. I should say ‘_Not yet_.’ And he didn’t
understand why we laughed.”

Such was Henry Hartley Fowler at home. In business his solemnity was
intensified. The shadow of a frustrated ambition hung over all this side
of his life. In his youth he had cast longing eyes on the Bar; it would
have pleased him to reach the Bench after a successful career as an
advocate, and it was with reluctance that he took up the lower branch
of the profession. However, whatever he had to do must be well done,
and he had won a considerable local reputation at Wolverhampton when he
joined a brother Wesleyan, Sir Robert Perks, in establishing an office
in London. The understanding between them was that the firm should never
touch criminal work, that it should have nothing to do with building
societies, that it should not take County Court cases, and that it should
never act for women. This self-denying ordinance did not interfere with
the success of the business. Within four years the firm had its hands
full with Parliamentary Committee work, and the twenty-five years of the
partnership were equally respectable and lucrative.

Meanwhile the second great ambition of Henry Fowler—the first was his
marriage to Ellen Thorneycroft—was being advanced by steady interest
in municipal politics, and in 1880 he became what from his earliest
manhood he had wanted to be, Member of Parliament for Wolverhampton.
Ten years sufficed to build a solid House of Commons reputation and to
form a number of valuable friendships, of which that with John Morley
was perhaps the most constant and intimate. By the Nineties he had
established himself firmly as one of the indispensables of Liberalism.
Yet his position was a little singular. He was not particularly liked
by his chief. He was not especially popular with his colleagues. Apart
from his position as a representative of Nonconformity, he had no sort of
following in the country. He could hardly have maintained himself had he
not been, within his limits, a strong and able man. His main quality was
a cold clearness of head which fitted him to get at once to the heart of
any complicated business matter. Understanding certain things thoroughly
himself, he had the gift of making them understandable to others. His
style of speaking was not attractive; and on the platform he adopted the
attitudes usually associated with a Victorian philanthropist’s statue,
his only gesture being the monotonous sawing up and down of a clumsy
hand. But he “read” well, though rather dryly—never a happy illustration,
or a touch of fancy, or a suggestion of the daintier kind of scholarship;
now and again, however, he would rise to a grave and liturgical kind
of declamation which was not without its impressiveness. He was master
of something which was not perhaps eloquence, but occasionally had
the effect of such—a power of putting a case in such fashion that
even partisans were a little ashamed of resisting it. One of these
sudden splendours arrived opportunely to save the Liberal Government
of the Nineties from defeat. Sir Henry Fowler, who had been bitterly
disappointed by Mr. Gladstone’s gift of the Local Government Board, had
earned his promotion from Lord Rosebery, and was more happily bestowed at
the India Office. Here he had to face a serious crisis. The Viceroy in
Council had decreed, in order to meet a deficiency in revenue, certain
import duties on cotton and cotton goods. Lancashire, always sensitive as
to its Indian market, revolted, and when the Secretary rose the dismissal
of the Government seemed assured. The House would assuredly have been
proof against the best debating effort of Sir William Harcourt, for it
would have regarded such a speech as common form, to be met by common
form in the lobbies. It would probably have been deaf to any pleading
from Mr. Morley, being suspicious of him as a professor of ideals. But
the plain Wolverhampton solicitor managed to carry conviction by a
singular combination of sober reasoning and moral appeal. His very lack
of imagination helped him; it seemed impossible that such a man could be
so moved without the most powerful reasons. “The best part of my speech,”
he said afterwards, “was never delivered, but I saw the tide had turned
and sat down. The art of speaking is knowing when to sit down.”

Naturally enough, he never again reached the level of his Indian days,
for he was seventy-six when he entered Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman’s
Cabinet, and even an older man politically than he was physically. There
was in the late Nineties a momentary idea of making him Sir William
Harcourt’s successor. But he was neither a force with the people nor a
favourite with the clubs; the gift of small talk was not his, and he
had neither the capacity nor the wish to cultivate arts foreign to his
nature. The ruler of men must be either a man or a riddle. Sir Henry
Fowler lacked humanity, and everybody knew the answer to him.



CHAPTER XIX

AUBREY BEARDSLEY


Aubrey Beardsley represented most authentically a special aspect of
the Nineties. There were two main attitudes in the thought of the
period. Most that was virile was Imperialistic; Mr. Kipling was but the
greatest of a whole school, and Mr. Chamberlain did not so much form
an Imperialistic party as place himself at the head of a party already
formed. There was much that was admirable in this enthusiasm, but it
tended, like most enthusiasms, to a certain falsity of view. Mr. Balfour
has remarked on the difficulty of finding any enthusiast who will tell
the simple truth, and the constant contemplation of maps coloured red
undoubtedly led to failure to appreciate the other colours of the
palette. Too much stress was laid on Medicine Hat and Bulawayo; the
silent men with strong chins, who passed their lives predominating over
people black, brown, and yellow, were somewhat too readily assumed to be
the only people who mattered; and, just as the earlier nineteenth-century
industrialist had looked only to more machinery to cure the ills much
machinery (working fatalistically) had already created, so the late
nineteenth-century Imperialist, while conscious that everything was not
lovely in East Ham, could only think of making things right with another
slice of East Africa.

[Illustration: _Aubrey Beardsley_

(_From a photograph by F. H. Evans._)]

But this school was in the main healthy; perhaps its chief weakness was a
too conscious health; it thought too much of muscle and chest expansion,
and forgot that a man has a soul to be saved as well as a biceps to be
flexed. But it is more reasonable to take pride in a strong arm than
to glory in a weak lung, and the simplest of the Imperialists had the
advantage over the most complex of the Decadents, in that a real sanity
underlay their incidental extravagances. They might be too fond of one
monotonous colour scheme of red, white, and blue, but it did stand for
something recognisable. But the Decadents, finding satisfaction only in
art tints, went on mixing and re-mixing the primary tints until they got
to something very like mud-colour, and even to mud itself. These people
stood for something which can perhaps be best described as a revolt
without a standard, a rebellion without object or hope. They were in arms
against everything that had happened, but had no idea whatever of what
they wanted to happen. Indeed, they appeared to be pretty certain that
nothing genuine could happen. They seemed to be really impressed by the
accident that they were near the end of a century. Two French expressions
occur with disheartening frequency in the periodicals of the time. One
is _chic_ and the other _fin-de-siècle_. Closely consorting with these
invaders was the native (or rather American-English) adjective “smart,”
usually used in conjunction with the substantive “set.” It was the whole
duty of a “smart set” (literary or otherwise) to be _chic_, and true
_chic_ could only be attained by being _fin-de-siècle_. So all to whom
fashion was of importance, since they could not help being Victorian and
nineteenth-century, deliberately set about wearing the livery of the
period inside out or upside down, deriding what they could not change.
There was a curiously impotent restlessness among the intellectuals of
the period, like that of people imprisoned in a waiting-room during a
block on the railway, or in a country house on a wet Sunday. When people
are tired of sitting still, and cannot summon resolution to go out for
a walk, they are apt to depreciate the furniture and take it out of the
cushions; and the Decadent movement was really an assault on Victorian
console tables and antimacassars by men and women who had grown too soft
in Victorian easy chairs.

Aubrey Beardsley was very typical of the Nineties in his unenjoying
luxuriousness, his invalid indecorum, his trammelled originality,
and his pert pessimism. He was in pictorial art much what Wilde was
in literature, except that he possessed a certain conscience of the
hand, so to speak, a pride and care for technical quality, which few
considerable draughtsmen lack, while Wilde, though an artist also, lacked
such fastidiousness, and was just as pleased with a cheap victory as
with a dear one. Both he and Wilde were in revolt against convention,
but each would have died rather than do anything naturally. Both were at
war with the great Victorian commandment of decorum, but both respected
slavishly the little law of a little clique. Both suggested the futility
of all things, the one in the most precious prose, the other in the most
austerely thought-out design. Both offended against all laws, human and
divine, in order to be brilliant and exceptional, and both were under the
thraldom of taboos with the force of the Decalogue and crotchets elevated
to the dignity of a religion. Each was guilty of most extraordinarily bad
taste, not a simple but a complex bad taste, reminiscent of the decaying
Roman world; there was something barbaric in their over-sophistication,
and something common in their over-refinement. They were much as a woman
who turns up in a diamond tiara at a village penny reading, or a man
who wears his orders at the dinner table of an intimate friend. Both
had a curious delight in mere richness; that purring satisfaction of
Wilde in a mere catalogue of precious stones—you will find it in _The
Picture of Dorian Grey_—is paralleled again and again in the joy with
which Beardsley elaborates gorgeous stuffs in his designs. And in the
work of both is that rather indescribable thing I have spoken of as a
revolt without a standard and without a hope. Neither knew quite where
he expected to get; the main thing was to do something that shocked the
orthodox. It was a feature common to many quite different people. The
Socialists, for example, fought without making the smallest provision for
a victory; they were content to make victory seem worthless to the party
in possession. Mr. Shaw was most intent on showing that the system in
being did not and could not work; he was far less interested in proving
his own case. Conservatism was content with Liberal failure; it had no
particular formula of its own. Novelists drank absinthe with perhaps
a faint hope that they might write like Guy de Maupassant, but with a
much stronger wish that they would be saved from writing like Sir Walter
Besant.

Pessimism is always barren; a pessimism which needs continual conscious
cultivation is merely ridiculous. Aubrey Beardsley was saved from being
merely ridiculous by that conscience of the hand to which I have alluded.
He might have been Mr. Shaw’s model for the character of Dubedat, the
invalid artist of _The Doctor’s Dilemma_, who had every fault but
treason to the truth of line and the “might of design.” Indeed, only
a real passion for his art could have enabled him to compress so much
achievement into so short a space of time. At the beginning of the
Nineties he was unknown; the decade was little more than half completed
when he died; yet in the interval he had become the most discussed
artist in England, and had made for himself a place in English art
which is still notable. He was gifted with a fatal precocity. Born and
educated at Brighton, he lived during his earlier years the unwholesomely
pampered existence of an infant phenomenon. It was, however, music and
not draughtsmanship which brought him this early notice; such things as
survive from his ’teens and earlier are in no way remarkable. It was not
until he had been working for some time in an insurance office in London
that certain drawings, done in his spare time, were put prominently
before the world by the discrimination of a critic. In a moment the
unknown youth became famous, and the short remainder of his life was a
struggle to get through the commissions showered on him. He had so far
had no sort of training; he now made some attempt to learn the grammar of
his art, but his attendance at the chosen studio was extremely desultory,
and he might almost be said to be entirely self-taught. He was a strange
mixture of industry and slackness. Under the inspiration of an idea, he
would shut himself up for days in his rooms, with the blinds drawn and
the electric light on, working at designs in a sort of concentrated fury.
Then for weeks he would idle or worse than idle, while the publishers
raged over broken engagements. For he retained his passion for music;
he liked society in which he could exercise a kind of hard wit which
was his; he had a fancy for becoming a man of letters; and places where
modish men and women were to be seen were frequented partly because he
liked the surroundings for themselves, and partly because they gave him
types and ideas.

Beardsley had one great talent apart from the mere mastery of line.
Over-civilised himself, he was unequalled in suggesting the tragedy of
over-civilisation, though quite possibly he did not feel it. He could
portray with remorseless truth, though in a convention as strict as
that of an old Chinese artist, certain types of modern men and women.
He is the limner of the pinched soul, the pampered body, the craving
without appetite, the animalism without animal health. At Brighton,
even as a boy, he must have studied with close attention those types
which are easily lost in a great city, but are isolated at the seaside
as on a lighted stage, and, dominating nature as actors do their
scenic properties, give the impression that large fortunes and small
passions are the stuff life is made of. To Beardsley the greater light
and the less only existed as astronomical facts of minor interest; his
real element was the arc-light of the street or the shaded glow of
the interior. There is a sense of joyless depravity about his men and
women, as if vice were a routine, and even a solemn social ritual; and
his illustrations of the “Morte d’Arthur” are made ridiculous by the
perpetual recurrence of the haggard eyes and small, evil features of
people Beardsley had studied in a Piccadilly restaurant or the Casino
at Dieppe. Anachronism, so often the joy and life of literature, is no
necessary fault in the decorative artist, and nobody need quarrel with
Beardsley for taking liberties with the gowning of Isolde. But it was
an anachronism without excuse to swap souls as well as dresses. The
chief fault was with those who commissioned him to do work for which he
was unfitted. An artist who really loved the domes and minarets of the
Brighton Pavilion should have been manifestly out of the running for the
illustration of the heroic.

Those who think of genius as a form of disease of course connect the
radical unhealth which is the stamp of everything Beardsley did with the
physical malady which claimed him as an early victim, forgetting that
many men with much the same peculiarities have lived to a good old age
with no trouble more serious than an occasional indigestion. If he were
an invalid, Beardsley, like Stevenson and Henley, was a virile one, and
it may be doubted whether the lines of his career were predestined for
him by his phthisical disposition. His disease was very far advanced
before it left any considerable mark on his work, and it might almost
be said that up to the end he was making progress. A more reasonable
explanation of the peculiar flavour of his work is to be found in the
reaction of a highly individual mind to an intellectual fashion. The
fashion came from France, and was the result of the defeat of 1870; it
was born on the other side of the Channel of a quite explicable despair,
but adopted on this side of the Channel only for wantonness. After the
terrible year, the French could no longer pretend to one sort of primacy
in Europe, but a primacy of some kind seems to be necessary to the life
of France, and so the French intellectuals pretended to a primacy in
decay. The arguments, unconsciously worked out, seemed to run something
like this: “We, the French, are the most civilised race of mankind. We
have been beaten by healthy barbarians. We are doomed to be beaten again,
some time or other, by the same healthy barbarians. Health is the quality
of barbarism. Let us, therefore, make a boast of our unhealth, and if
it does not exist let us make a false pretence of it. The tricolour is
lowered. Let us raise the yellow flag of the lazar-house.” The yellow
flag was accordingly unfurled, and the Yellow Book was the answering
signal in England. Most that was unwholesome in England in the Nineties
was French in origin, and most that was unwholesome in France sprang from
a poisoned wound then only twenty years old. Beardsley was Beardsley
chiefly because Bismarck was Bismarck.

Fate denied Beardsley any chance of outgrowing what may possibly have
been after all only the mood of youthful cynicism. His health broke down
definitely in the spring of 1896, and the next two years were a mournful,
hopeless, and rather lonely struggle against increasing weakness. He took
refuge for the winter at Bournemouth, where he lived in a house called
“Muriel,” of which he wrote to a friend: “I feel as shy of my address as
a boy at school is of his Christian name when it is Ebenezer or Aubrey.”
A few months later his troubled spirit sought repose in the Roman
Catholic Church; he made his first confession in March, 1897. Commenting
somewhat earlier on a priest who was also a painter, he had remarked:
“What a stumbling-block such pious men must find in the practice of
their art”; now he observed of Pascal that “he understood that to become
a Christian the man of letters must sacrifice his gifts, just as Mary
Magdalene must sacrifice her beauty.” “The most important step of my
life,” he said of his conversion. “I feel now like someone who has been
standing waiting on the doorstep of a house upon a cold day and who
cannot make up his mind to knock for a long while. At last the door is
thrown open, and all the warmth of kind hospitality makes glad the frozen
traveller.”

An improvement in his health enabled him to go abroad during the summer.
But the approach of autumn gave him warning that hopes were illusory; at
Mentone he was too ill to touch paper, and he died in the early spring of
1898. Six years had comprised the span of his artistic life, and two of
them had been spent in continuous illness.



CHAPTER XX

LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH


When any man declaims “Fiat justitia, ruat cœlum,” it is not easy to
avoid the suspicion that (whatever his passion for principle) he is
pretty sure that the heavens will not fall. If the heavens did fall
he would forget all about the fine “quillets of the law.” Any woman,
according to Beckie Sharp, can be good on a sufficient income; and
with men, also, the love of principle thrives best in comfortable
surroundings. The true test of honesty is not whether a man will resign
an Under-Secretaryship rather than give his vote for a measure he
disapproves: he may be rather tired of being an Under-Secretary. The true
test is whether he will pay a bill when he has to go without a week’s
dinners to do it. There are no doubt men who pass that test; they should
be honoured, though by the nature of things they seldom are: it is not
that kind of principle which wins fame or money. The kind of sacrifice
to principle which wins reverence is that which is often really not much
sacrifice at all. We applaud a man for being specially and splendidly
honest when the fact is only that he can afford to be unusually stubborn.

[Illustration: LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH.]

Lord Courtney of Penwith is an example of inflexible principle in
politics. In these days we are apt to think of him as representing a
rare type. But it is in fact a quite common type in certain conditions;
that it is not commoner to-day may be explained not by any general
deterioration of human nature, but by the excessive seriousness of the
times. When we condemn an age as immoral we should often be more just to
call it unfortunate. There is no reason, for example, to believe that the
general character of upper-class Englishmen in 1665 was really baser than
that of upper-class Englishmen in 1635. But in the singularly peaceful
and prosperous atmosphere of the early years of Charles I people were
able to indulge their consciences to the point of faddism; the time was
one of what we should call cranks—Calvinistic cranks, ritualistic cranks,
anti-Shipmoney cranks, Filmerite cranks—all so stiff with principle
that they rejected the very notion of compromise on matters essentially
capable of accommodation. On the other hand, after painful experience
of what principle carried to extremes may mean, the men of 1665 erred
in the opposite direction of believing all principle to be a mistake: a
generation of opportunists succeeded that of purists. In the same way the
long Victorian peace produced a race of public men who, like John Bright,
made of principle an idol, and were constantly dodging in and out of
office, like the figures in an old-fashioned weather-glass, according as
their love of influence or their dislike of certain things happened to be
uppermost. They gained a great fame as specially honest men; and they are
constantly quoted against their successors, as Pitt was quoted against
Walpole. But Lord Rosebery was right in thinking of Pitt as a luxury only
to be afforded once in a way, and we could ill bear the expense of many
Brights. The moral splendour of him is no doubt a national asset, but it
had to be paid for; his fame as the man of conscience was achieved at
some cost to the community; many a question bequeathed to us from that
time might have been settled had he and some others denied themselves
one of their two great luxuries—the enjoyment of being powerful and the
enjoyment of feeling sinless. When we compare the robust honesty of some
great Victorians with the supple temper of present-day politicians, we
should be just to our own people. We should remember that the heavens
appeared to be quite a fixture in Victoria’s time, while latterly they
have really looked like tumbling about our ears.

Should an intellectual conviction be always regarded as a moral
imperative? If we think a thing is wrong in the sense of being
politically inexpedient, should we risk the existence of all sorts of
other things, which we think right, in order to save ourselves from the
stigma of inconsistency or lack of principle? On the answer depends
largely our judgment of men like Lord Courtney. To a certain class of
mind he represented, almost more than any man after the death of Bright,
the unspoiled hero in politics. To me he is not a hero. I have tried
extremely hard to think of him as one, and indeed he was not deficient in
something closely resembling heroism. After he had made himself modestly
comfortable in life, he scorned worldly advantage if it could only be
gained at the cost of conscience. He might have been all sorts of things
with a little more compliance, a little less loyalty to his tyrannical
inward monitor. On all questions he took his own view, and if that view
led him into the wilderness, into the wilderness he went, sturdy and
uncomplaining. His abilities entitled him to look forward to the very
highest positions in the State. The Chancellorship of the Exchequer was
easily within his reach, and he might even have become, in due course,
Prime Minister. Instead, he filled one or two minor places in a Liberal
Administration, was for a few years Chairman of Committees of the House
of Commons, failed to get elected Speaker, and finally accepted that
coronet which is for larger men something like the link-extinguisher
still seen on old London houses—it marks the end of the journey. The
career, relatively to the man, was a failure. Of course, it was in some
sense a failure far more honourable than many glittering successes, for
Courtney failed because he would not succeed by embracing the philosophy
expressed in the lines:

    “The Lord in His mercy He fashioned us holler
    In order we might our principles swaller.”

But the question of proportion always arises, even in questions of
morals. One honours a man who yields his own life rather than consent to
be a liar in the real sense of being a betrayer. But one does not honour
a man who sacrifices, not merely himself, but others, because he will
not sully his lips with a very innocent fib. The Early Christian who
went to the lions rather than deny his faith was admirable. The Early
Christian who sent a comrade to the lions because he would not say “Not
at home” to the Prætorian centurion was less admirable. So, before we are
quite lost in admiration over Lord Courtney’s renunciation, it is just
as well to recall what was the cause of it. It was his enthusiasm for
Proportional Representation, which politicians generally shorten into
“P.R.” because the name is as difficult of pronunciation as the thing
itself is of popular comprehension. In 1884 Mr. Gladstone brought in a
Redistribution Bill; Mr. Courtney wanted it to be accompanied or preceded
by a measure embodying the “true principle of representation,” of which
his appreciation was even then “more than thirty years old.” So while Mr.
Gladstone went his own course, Mr. Courtney would not go with him; and
the two parted with mutual compliments; those on Courtney’s side contrast
rather piquantly, in their almost exaggerated respect, with his downright
statement a few years later that Mr. Gladstone was a “superannuated old
goose.”

Now consistency is certainly important; proportional representation is
no doubt important too. But the consistency of Leonard Courtney rather
recalls the virtue as developed in Dr. Sangrado, who believed in bleeding
and hot water as a cure for everything, and in that belief “made more
widows and orphans than the siege of Troy.” It will be remembered that
Gil Blas once roused a certain doubt in his master by advising him to try
chemical preparations, if only for curiosity. “But,” said the doctor,
“I have published a book, in which I have extolled the use of frequent
bleeding and aquæous draughts; and wouldst thou have me go and decry my
own work?” “You are certainly in the right,” rejoined the accommodating
Gil Blas, “you must not give your enemies such a triumph over you; they
would say you are at last disabused, and therefore ruin your reputation;
perish rather the nobility, clergy, and people, and let us continue
in our old path.” There was always something of this self-indulgent
recklessness of consequence in the conscientiousness of Leonard
Courtney and the school of which he was almost the latest important
representative. “Let my name be blighted, provided France be free,” cried
Danton. “Reputation—O what is the reputation of this man or of that?”
That is the point of view of the hero-blackguard whom great emergencies
so often call forth. “Let what will happen, so no man can call me untrue
to my principles,” is another point of view, that of the man who cannot
be quite fully a hero because he is constitutionally incapable of being
the least bit of a blackguard. Thin partitions divide heroism and
blackguardism; all space lies between them and the great kingdom of the
smug. The best of the smug can rise to very considerable heights, but
their fastidiousness prevents them achieving the splendour of perfect
selflessness; they might be content with the locusts and wild honey of
desert exile, but they could not do without a toothbrush. Lord Courtney
was not afraid of the desert. He could live without popularity and often
went out of his way to flout the herd. He never feared the consequences
of being right. But a greater man would have been less timorous of the
consequences of being occasionally a little wrong. He would, over a
dozen questions—this business of the franchise, for example, Ireland,
South Africa, and the Great War—have struck a balance between opposing
considerations, and in no case would he have cast into either scale the
thought of his own reputation. He would not thus have been false to
himself. But he would have been truer to greater interests than himself.

It may perhaps be said that the real hero of Courtney’s life was not
himself, but his father. At least it is true that to his father he owed
the possibility of exhibiting on a considerable stage those qualities
which might otherwise have made him only a rather crotchety clerk or the
more cavilling kind of accountant. Without the paternal self-sacrifice
Courtney, if still inclined to public life, might no doubt have become
a village Hampden, a parochial “character,” and a terrible thorn in the
side of some Board of Guardians. But he certainly would not have arrived
by the broad road of the University to distinction in the greater life
of the nation. To many by far the most interesting part of Mr. Gooch’s
admirable _Life_ will be the pages which deal with the West-country
home of the Fifties, from which young Courtney emerged to fight his way
in the world. His father was manager of Bolitho’s Bank at Penzance:
a quiet, reserved, intellectual, and rather depressed man, weighed
down with responsibility both in his office and his home; one of those
poorer middle-class fathers to whose devotion and vicarious ambition
the nineteenth century owed so many of its most remarkable minds. Both
he and Mrs. Courtney were Puritans, and their views united with their
circumstances to make the home one of Spartan discipline and simplicity.
But, if the father did not indulge his children, he literally lived for
their futures, and pinched himself woefully to secure them a footing on
the main staircase of life. When he left school young Courtney entered
the bank. The prospects in the service of the Bolithos were not alluring,
and partly with some vague idea of “getting on,” partly through a real
hunger for the things of the mind, he read in his spare time, with a
system unusual in youth. Thus equipped, in 1851 he won a sizarship at St.
John’s, Cambridge, and as a result he was awarded in the course of four
years Exhibitions amounting in the aggregate to about £170. He might, of
course, just as well have had one shilling if his father had not come
to his help; it was the defect then, as now, of our higher educational
system that it gave no chance to the really poor. To find the sinews
of war the elder Courtney had to borrow from the bank, and there is a
singular pathos in the letters of the father, anxious that his son should
have his full chance, but worried over the cost of the experiment of
converting an obviously efficient young clerk into something incalculable
and possibly not at all satisfactory. The father is “a little surprised”
at the first bill, but wishes his son not to be “oppressed by the fear”
that he is running his father too hard; “go on with your studies as
coolly and quietly as possible, expend what is needed, and let me find
the means of keeping up the race.” But he cannot help thinking that
the strain is cruel. “Let no one,” he adds, “laugh you into an expense
which a few minutes’ consideration may point out as unnecessary. Do not
be ashamed of saying you are poor. If any man wishes to bear you down
with his riches and expenditure, let him alone, or crush him down by
intellect. Go on with a quiet, calm dignity, and in a short time no one
will ask you whether your allowance be £50 or £500 per annum.”

When Courtney got the Second Wranglership his admirable parent did not
“feel that elation some may imagine”; all this, he pointed out, was not
the conclusion but the beginning of a career. “It seems,” he remarked,
“you must go on very parsimoniously for the next twelve months, but
do not on any account go in debt. I would rather screw up tighter at
home”—where things were terribly tight already. Young Courtney was
rapidly justifying himself. But even when there came a Fellowship of £160
a year the poor bank-manager refused to rejoice utterly. “Your mother
often observes whatever your gains they seem to be always swallowed
up.... Consider the position of the family if anything should happen to
me. I do not mean to be a miserly niggard, but do not consider a thing
necessary because someone richer than yourself has it. The great curse of
the times is the desire of cutting a dash, being in appearance something
you are not in reality.... I have written this because I find myself
unable to do what I could formerly accomplish with little difficulty.”

It is the old story of the brilliant performer in the field and the
humble munition-maker at home; behind every shining success lies years,
and perhaps generations, of obscure effort; and the feet of the mighty
tread now on dead men’s bones and now on the bodies of the living. The
greatest sacrifices incidental to Courtney’s career were after all not
his own.

The scholastic career did not attract, and Courtney decided for London
and the Bar. How a man of his character, with a rigidity so often
displayed in excess, conceived of law as his appropriate element is
something of a mystery. Probably at this time his chief idea was still
“getting on”; but the choice of the profession in which of all others
a man has to be supple and accommodating is nevertheless singular in
a person of Courtney’s moral and mental make-up. Nor is it easy to
understand how Courtney, in after years so inflexible, could get on well
with _The Times_ under Delane, who “expected writers to reflect with
fair closeness his spirit”—a spirit which was certainly in most respects
as far removed from that of the mature Courtney as anything could well
be. Yet Courtney did get on with _The Times_ and Delane exceedingly
well. He was, indeed, found impossible and “hopelessly wrong” in his
attitude towards the Germans in 1870; he opposed the annexation of
Alsace-Lorraine, while Delane was wholly for Germany and _væ victis_;
but on the whole he seems to have accomplished with fair closeness the
“reflection” of Delane’s views, and was even anticipated as that great
editor’s successor.

The one hopeless “wrongness” which stands out in Courtney’s journalistic
record was not only honourable to himself, but prophetically
characteristic. He represented at once the least and the most amiable
sides of the old Liberal philosophy. His faith in individualism was not
only hard and narrow; it sometimes positively verged on the barbarous.
He talked, indeed, much excellent sense concerning Socialism and “social
reform,” about the need of individual sobriety, prudence, and industry,
and the folly of expecting any one political device to supply their
place. But his satisfaction with the free operation of competition, his
impatience with any attempt to temper it, were marvellous. “I am not
for helping the weak,” he said once; “I wish to remove impediments,
to help those who are helping themselves.” He never seems to have
reflected that his own success simply depended on the principle of
“helping the weak,” and that it was an object for which public means
might have sufficed just as well as the cruel impoverishment of the
self-sacrificing father who pinched and tormented himself to give an
industrious and intelligent boy what every industrious and intelligent
boy, of any class or condition, should receive as a right. In this, as
in other things, he was in his later years the most prophetic and alert
representative of the “Benthamee” philosophy against which Carlyle raved.
But there was a noble side to this rather arid faith, and Courtney was
on that side, as on the other, its complete exponent. He could not see,
or would not see, that complete liberty to the strong, the removal of
all “impediments” in the way of those who “help themselves,” means in
practice the depression and enslavement of the weak. But when the weak
had ceased even to be nominally free, when they wore a brass collar
like Gurth’s, instead of an invisible collar (though stronger and
more throttling), wrought in the factories of Circumstance, his voice
was raised with an old-prophetic fervour in their defence. To him the
oppressed nation’s cause was as sacred as that of the obviously oppressed
individual’s. It is true that his vision was somewhat partial and
occasionally faulty. He had the prejudice of a Protestant in most Irish
matters. He undoubtedly misinterpreted the spirit of the South African
oligarchy, just as he misunderstood the spirit of the German nation when
he urged as early as 1915 the possibility of an honourable and stable
accommodation. But, however mistaken, he was always in these greater
matters animated by a very noble spirit—the spirit which, in spite of
its many limitations, lent a moral dignity to the old Liberalism. It is
no doubt unfortunate that that spirit may be so easily confused with
another, that the generous tolerance of other national aims may be
construed as indifference to one’s own country’s welfare, and that the
attitude of universal benevolence can so often seem to consist with a
practical repudiation of the obligation of the patriot. But, if Lord
Courtney incurred the reproach of loving every nation but his own, the
fault was simply with his manner. At heart he had nothing in common with
any of those anti-patriots who used his great name and fame.

Yet, with the widest charity, it cannot be said that his latest
appearances in public were happy. And if on specific occasions he was far
from helpful, in general his helpfulness was diminished by an exaggerated
sense of the respect due to his own convictions. “My opinion, right or
wrong,” may be not less pernicious an attitude than “My country, right or
wrong,” and there were times when Lord Courtney’s passion for principle
was scarcely distinguishable from mere obstinacy. He would have left
a higher fame had it been his lot, as it was Bright’s, to live wholly
through a period of comparative calm. But in the years when a kind of
moral arthritis had stiffened joints never very supple, he came against
really big things undreamed of in his political philosophy, and there was
something at once grotesque and tragic in his application to them of a
formula equally inappropriate and inadequate. It was even a misfortune
for the moral ideals that he held aloft that they were sustained by one
whose mode of thought was obviously no less antique than the Pickwickian
blue coat with brass buttons and the canary-coloured waistcoat which
proclaimed him the man of a past time.



CHAPTER XXI

THOMAS HARDY


It is no exaggeration to say that for many people the publication of
_Tess of the D’Urbervilles_ was the most important event of the Nineties.

For nearly twenty years the name of Thomas Hardy had been associated
with a constantly ascending literary reputation. _Under the Greenwood
Tree_, emerging modestly in 1872, was practically unnoticed despite
its merits, and the bulk of a small edition found its way to that
graveyard of authors’ hopes, the threepenny tray of the second-hand
bookshop. But there it chanced to meet the eye of Frederick Greenwood.
Naturally attracted by its name, he bought the book, at once recognised
its great merit, sought out the author, and gave him opportunities of
serial publication which he would otherwise have lacked. Thus favoured,
Thomas Hardy produced during the Seventies and Eighties a great mass
of consistently high work. But it was not till 1891 that he won full
recognition from the greater public.

There are two tests which a work of the imagination must pass before it
can be called successful in the highest and best sense. It must satisfy
the critical. It must appeal to the uncritical. The thing which the
connoisseur alone can appreciate is often fine art; it is seldom truly
great art. The thing which may momentarily capture the crowd may be pure
rubbish; it is only just to say that most of the crowd are well enough
aware that it is nothing more; having an appetite for anything readable
they accept it on the countryman’s principle that some beer is better
than other beer, but that there is no bad beer. But when the connoisseur
can find no great flaw, and the crowd feels a compelling charm, we are
most surely in the region of the greatest. Sometimes, as in the case of
the Bible, of _Gulliver_, and of _Hamlet_, the crowd and the critics make
their discoveries simultaneously; sometimes, as in the case of _Pilgrim’s
Progress_, a book is prized by blacksmiths and cowmen long before its
genius is recognised by the refined. _Tess of the D’Urbervilles_ was
an instance in the former kind. All but a few critics at once declared
that it was the best achievement so far of a very fine writer; the crowd
agreed (and signified the same in the usual manner) that it was a very
capital story, only spoiled (from their point of view) by the extreme
dismalness of its philosophy.

[Illustration: THOMAS HARDY, O.M.]

One of the main facts concerning Thomas Hardy is that he began life as
an architect. The first work from his pen was a prize essay on “Coloured
Brick and Terra Cotta Architecture,” written while he was still studying
in London under Sir Arthur Blomfield. This was in 1863, when Hardy was
only twenty-three years old; it was not until 1871 that he published his
first novel, the very curious and interesting _Desperate Remedies_, and
only in 1874 did he consider his prospects as a writer sufficient to
justify final choice in favour of the literary calling. He had written
much during his life in London, but chiefly verse. The fact, together
with that of his professional training, is significant. Mr. Hardy has
remained, I think, first an architect and next a poet; in all his work
the first quality is power of design, and the second form and discipline
in expression. His great contours are as true as the sweep of a line of
classic pillars; his details have the finish of Greek statuary. In most
“collected works” the one thing evident is a lack of unity, not only of
manner but of essence. But in the Wessex novels the most casual reader
is struck with the continuity of the inspiration. There is, of course,
a change from the vernal freshness of _Under the Greenwood Tree_ to the
autumnal gloom of the pure tragedies, but the change is like that of the
natural seasons; we have only different aspects of the same climatic
scheme. There is an increasing sense of mastery over material as the pen
grows in dexterity, but the material is chosen and disposed on principles
as clearly indicated in the first of the series as in the last. It is as
if Mr. Hardy had conceived his literary life much as Haussman conceived
a great Paris thoroughfare, as if he had seen before him in the early
Seventies a long avenue of lofty and level achievement, rising to a
lordly eminence fit to display the masterpieces of his maturity. It is
hard to think of another example in English of consistency so complete;
in fact, it is hard to think of Hardy as of the true fellowship of
English writers, though his themes are so emphatically of the English
soil. He is, at bottom, more an old Greek than a modern Briton.

We have here the architect. In the finish of the details we have the
poet. Those who think of the Muse as a dishevelled harridan may dispute.
But those who regard the poet as bound, like any other kind of artist,
to observe the conventions attaching to his medium will agree that the
discipline gained in versification is observable in all Hardy’s prose.
It is not that he makes ostentatious chase of the “right word.” Any word
which will serve his purpose well enough he uses, just as the bricklayer
does not discard a brick which happens to be a millimetre or so out
of the true; such finicky fastidiousness he rightly feels is for the
amateur, and not for the craftsman. But the word, like the brick, must
be right enough, and there must be no question as to the way it is built
into the sentence, or the way the sentence is built into the page, or
the page into the chapter, or the chapter into the book. That great
critic, Mr. Curdle, spoke of a “universal dove-tailedness” as the mark of
the artist. I can think of no more fitting description of the perfection
of Mr. Hardy’s literary joinery.

A word may be said of the material. Mr. Hardy was born near Dorchester,
where he still lives, and has lived ever since he forsook London in
yet early life. Anyone who called on him would find a man of very
ordinary appearance in a very ordinary house. I remember one young
London journalist who, greatly daring, did so call on him round about
his seventieth birthday in order to discuss (with a view to subsequent
publication) how it feels to be seventy and a classic. Hardy—whom Mr. H.
G. Wells described as a “grey little man”—received this adventurer with
a mechanical courtesy, veiling inflexible disapproval. No man can be
more amiable, in conversation or correspondence, to those who have some
sort of right, as Wessex compatriots or fellows of the craft, to claim
his attention. But none can be more drily discouraging to impertinence.
On this occasion the dry mood naturally prevailed. The visitor explained
that he wanted a “story.” The author pointed to the landscape from the
window, intimated that it had already afforded plenty of material for
one writer, and that its capacities were still unexhausted and perhaps
inexhaustible. But, when the visitor explained that he had not come
down from London to write about scenery, Mr. Hardy not merely declined
to be “interviewed,” he even showed (or simulated) an incapacity to
understand what “interviewing” was, or how any human being could be
possibly interested in the private affairs of a mere writer of books.
There are, indeed, few lions so determinedly unleonine. But, in his
capacity of a citizen, Mr. Hardy is by no means unsocial. Party-going
has never appealed to him. But he has a quiet gift of friendship, and
some sense of public obligation. He used to occupy a fairly regular seat
on the county Bench, and has written pleasantly of his experiences as a
Justice Silence. He has taken much interest in local performances of his
own novels in dramatised form. He is a great lover of the local museum.
Most, indeed, that concerns his fellow-townsmen is not altogether alien
to him. He could not have written so well about Wessex if he had not been
a great artist in words. But neither could he have written so well had he
not been, most intensely, a Wessex man. Dorset is still, in the main, one
of the least changed of English counties, and the glittering modernities
of some of its seaside places only give ironic emphasis to that sense one
gets of the Roman pavement on which all the later civilisations rest. It
is this sense that pervades all the Wessex novels. Mr. Kipling stands for
the idea of horizontal extension; we learn from him how wide a place is
the world, and how tiny a place our own particular spot in the world. Mr.
Hardy stands for the idea of vertical extension; he shows us that on a
half-acre plot we can reach the centre of everything, provided we go deep
enough. Tess is only a village girl, but the forces that made her, and
will presently rend her, are older than those bones which are still dug
up, in company with coins of Claudius or Hadrian, just beneath the turf
of a Wessex field. The Dundee marmalade pot which she dedicates to the
poor little heathen child which the curate would not bury in consecrated
ground is one with the tear jugs in the Dorchester Museum. The coarse
seducer is related to the Norman ancestors of Tess, who, rollicking
home from a fray, dealt hard measure to some rural damsel of their day;
the shame-bought parasol is brought into congruity not only with the
Bournemouth esplanade but with the relics of human sacrifice which for
unknown ages have caught the first beams of the sun on Salisbury Plain.
There is nothing of archæological priggishness in Mr. Hardy; but there
is a deep sense of the unity of past and present, and if his novels are
not crowded with living beings they hold a teeming population of ghosts.
It is the speciality of a man living in a cemetery. Durdles, with his
intimacy with the “old ’uns,” might have written thus if he had enjoyed a
literary gift.

I believe it was Mr. Gardiner who, quoting some genius for summary
classification, divided writers into “dismal coves” and “cheerful
blokes.” Mr. Hardy has in certain moods a sense of the lights as well
as the shadows of life: some of his earlier novels have the freshness
and the open-air pleasantness of a good Morland, and, though I can never
feel at home with his higher-class people, he can be fairly humorous in
reproducing the talk of the poor. But in general he is not a cheerful
bloke. Others have made themselves ridiculous in their resolve to secure
a happy ending at all costs. Mr. Hardy is never ridiculous; he has the
undeviating dignity of an undertaker’s man. But if he ever arrives at
the point where a less consummate master would infallibly be ridiculous,
it is always in his determination to wring our bosoms like so much
washing when he might well have let us off with a slighter pang. It
may, for example, have been necessary to kill poor Tess: she is marked
for slaughter in the first chapter. But it was not necessary to make
such dreadful sport with her. The author accuses the Immortals. But the
Immortals never wrought this infamy; they might have killed her, but with
a certain sense of what was due to her dignity. It was Mr. Hardy who
treated her with as little respect as a gamekeeper does a stoat.

Mr. Chesterton, with the severity of the optimist, has dealt sternly
with Mr. Hardy the pessimist. While George Meredith sought the lonely
but healthy hills, Mr. Hardy “went botanising in the swamp”; and it was
a thousand pities that the man with the healthy and manly view of life
had the crabbed and perverse style, while the man with the crabbed and
perverse view of life had the healthy and manly style. For Mr. Hardy,
according to Mr. Chesterton, expresses in perfect English the meditations
of “the village atheist brooding and blaspheming over the village idiot.”
This would seem a little sweeping. Yet most readers must sometimes have
been conscious of a doubt of the perfect wholesomeness of the limpid
stream Mr. Hardy offers for their refreshment; its clear sparkle is
reminiscent of those springs which (the scientists tell us) abound in
carbonic acid gas, and (the old inhabitants hint) come from suspiciously
near the place of dead men’s bones.

It is good that we should all be reminded, especially those of us who
live on little islands of comfort and complacency, of the sea of misery
in which so many swim desperately and ultimately founder. But is it good
that we should be told, in very beautiful English, that the victims of
such misery are simply the sport of the Immortals, that man struggles
for ever helplessly in the grip of Fate, that this helpless struggle has
been going on for all time, and that it will go on for all further time?
Dickens, the unrepentant optimist, was like a jolly man in a tap-room who
leads the chorus of roysterers, insists that milk-punch is the jolliest
thing imaginable, snaps his finger at last week’s dun and to-morrow’s
headache, and intimates that it would be folly (and even sin) to go home
till morning—at any rate until justice has been done to the bitter ale
and broiled bones which the thoughtful landlord has in view for the small
hours. But half-way through the revel this jolly person, going outside
for a moment, comes across a starving waif. He returns at once to his
boon companions, makes their hearts bleed with his pathos (which is
none the less roughly effective because it is a little tinged with the
milk-punch), organises a “whip-round” of a few shillings each, and so
does really simplify the problem of that individual waif. True, only a
very insignificant impression has been made on the mass of unseen misery.
But the one item of visible misery has been relieved, and (perhaps more
important) a disposition has been created on a number of not unpleasant
people to recognise and relieve misery when they see it.

But Mr. Hardy, the pessimist, his beautiful style never vulgarised and
his fine intellect never flustered by milk-punch, has no such effect.
He deftly exhibits his samples of hell, intimates that there is a quite
unlimited stock fully up to specification, and rather hopes that he
will be able to show you something even more striking by the opening of
the spring season. Tess is not bad. But “Jude the Obscure” has also his
points; in fact, the wholesale house for which we travel is not to be
surpassed for variety and quality of misery. Somebody accused Carlyle (I
think) of bringing a load of woe to one’s doorstep and leaving it there.
Mr. Hardy does not exactly leave it. He is far more thoughtful than that.
He rings the bell, explains with perfect charm and lucidity every item
in the pack of trouble, and carefully explains to the householder that,
however mean he may feel, it is no good his trying to do anything. That
highly human (and not undesirable) instinct of Mr. Snagsby to try on all
occasions what a half-crown will do is frozen by a sense not only of
helplessness but almost of impiety. Is not one even a presumptuous worm
to think of opposing a miserable thirty pence to the implacable operation
of Circumstance?

Mr. Hardy’s depression steadily grows as he gets older. There is, it is
true, much bitterness in his more youthful poems. But it is the sort of
bitterness that goes with clever youth. A somewhat more buoyant note
distinguishes the work of his early manhood; but with middle age the
shadows deepen, and a deep and almost unrelieved sadness broods over
all. It would be untrue to say that Mr. Hardy has no humour; is there
no humour in that question of the rustic, in defending the ways of
Providence, “D’ye think the man’s a fool?” But it is scarcely untrue to
say that Mr. Hardy’s humour is commonly as depressing as his gloom; it
has much the same mournful effect as those infrequent flashes of the
comic spirit which emphasise the determined dismalness of Mr. Galsworthy.
Mr. Hardy’s humour has nothing sunny in it; it is rather like the
arc-light which, on a frosty night, makes us see the cold as well as
feel it. One can hardly recall another great English novelist who has
no hearty, genial, enjoying laugh in him. But one can find many foreign
counterparts to Mr. Hardy, ancient and modern; if he seems colder than
they, it is only a question of climate. It is often chilly round the
Mediterranean, but one can do without a fire; in England one wants, if
not the grateful open blaze, at least some efficient system of central
heating. Reading much Hardy has the effect of sitting in a beautifully
furnished room on a February day without a fire; but the simile is not
quite exact—there should be all the elements of the fire, except the heat.

Possibly it is in the very gentleness of Mr. Hardy that we may look for
the secret of this pessimism. His detestation of any form of cruelty
may have embittered his indictment of the cruelty of Fate. In one of
his books he dwells for a moment on the pain of a wounded pheasant, and
turns away with an imprecation against its wounders. But there would
be no pheasants without shooters, and most pheasants live happily and
die painlessly. Equally are Tess and Jude the exceptions. It is the
defect—and even the artistic defect—of Mr. Hardy that he manages to
convey the impression that they are the rule.



CHAPTER XXII

EARL SPENCER


In a famous passage Lord Morley of Blackburn referred to a meeting during
the early Nineties in the famous library at Althorp:

“A picture to remember. Spencer with his noble carriage and fine red
beard. Mr. Gladstone, seated on a low stool, discoursing as usual,
playful, keen, versatile; Rosebery, saying little, but now and then
launching a pleasant _mot_; Harcourt, cheery, expansive, witty. Like a
scene from one of Dizzy’s novels, and all the actors men with parts to
play.”

The scene is now almost as distant as one from a Sheridan comedy. The
Earl is dead; the library is in exile; the whole scheme of things to
which both belonged has passed away. The very type of aristocracy which
Earl Spencer so worthily represented seems tending to extinction; it
has at any rate become of less and less account in politics. But even
if it should, by some miracle, regain something of its old importance,
it can hardly occupy its old position. There may be room in the future
for the Tory magnate of the older kind; but the Whig aristocrat seems
to be gone for ever. In the Nineties, though somewhat decayed, he was
still powerful. The Home Rule split had robbed the Liberals of many great
names, but there were still a few old Whig Peers, and the very fact of
their diminished numbers added to their influence in the Party. Among
these great nobles there was none who stood higher than John Poyntz, Earl
Spencer. His adhesion to Home Rule was for many the greatest argument
in its favour, the more especially because he had shown during his term
of office in Ireland that he could be relentlessly firm in upholding
authority and making war on crime.

[Illustration: EARL SPENCER.]

Even those most bitterly opposed to the policy, and most disdainful of
men who had turned when Mr. Gladstone said “turn,” had to pause when they
reached, on the list of noble Home Rulers, the name of Earl Spencer.
For he was, in truth, the last man to be influenced either by vague
sentiment, or by those calculations of personal profit and loss which so
often determine the course of a politician. His mind was solid and rather
prosaic, and his parts were not quick, but he had in a rather special
degree the sort of “horse sense” for which the Duke of Devonshire was
distinguished—the sense which acts as a brake rather than as a motive
power. It was a thoroughly English mind, with all its limitations and
much of its strength, and it was none the less strong because it found
a considerable difficulty in expression. Lord Spencer was a very bad
speaker; if he had had even an ordinary degree of command over words he
would almost certainly have succeeded Mr. Gladstone as Prime Minister.
But he never got beyond the fluency necessary to any man who has to
take a part in public business; the coining of a phrase was beyond him,
and though he could make a point well enough in debate, he was quite
destitute of power over a popular audience. The fact, however, increased
rather than diminished his influence over a certain minority, and he was
undoubtedly the most powerful counter-poise on the Home Rule side to the
weight of the Duke of Devonshire. His character and position, of course,
helped. He was not, like the head of the House of Cavendish, indifferent
to politics; he had ambitions, and would have been glad to satisfy them.
But he was wholly free from one set of weaknesses, and far above one set
of temptations. He had a constitutional disdain for the kind of tricks to
which some great nobles descend in their avarice of power, while his high
rank and great possessions secured him against the temptations of mere
avarice of place.

In Earl Spencer, indeed, the Whig noble was seen at not far from his
best, and it was not difficult for those who knew him to understand why
the Whiggish oligarchy so long held its own in this country. It was not
in the smallest degree “democratic.” No men ever more hated democracy,
no men ever fought more successfully against democracy, than the Whigs.
Burke, for example, regarded the “swinish multitude” very much as an old
Greek might have regarded the slave population of his time. But there was
also the same sort of equality between the Whigs as that which existed
between the free citizens of the ancient world. They played their part
on a high stage, and indulged an unmitigated contempt for those who were
on the ground. But once a man was admitted to this jealous society he
was given the full freedom of it. He was admitted as an equal, and not
as a lackey. It was thus that Whiggism was able to command the services
of great intellects. It was thus that almost all great history was for
many years written in most unfair glorification of Whigs. It was this
liberality that long permitted Whiggism to be as illiberal as it liked
in other matters. Toryism was less wise. It tended to treat intellect
as a common thing meant for common use. The priggish and mediocre
Addison was made a Whig Secretary of State. The great Swift got an Irish
Deanery. Macaulay died a Peer, and lives as a classic. The men who (less
efficiently, it is true) did for Toryism the work Macaulay did for
Whiggism were unmarked in their lives and forgotten in their deaths.
The Tory philosopher was treated as a valet, and consequently few men
above the mentality of the valet became Tory philosophers. The tradition
on both sides weakened as the years went on. The Whig Peer of the
Nineties would have sniffed at much of the company at Holland House. The
Tory Peer of the Nineties would have considered Mr. Lecky an extremely
respectable man, worthy of some sort of place at his dinner-table, even
on an important night. But we have only to think of the long, sincere,
and equal friendship between Earl Spencer and John Morley to be reminded
of the great difference between the parties. There were writers on the
Tory side not inferior in intellect and scholarship to the son of the
Blackburn doctor. Some of them, possibly, were more fitted for active
political life. But none of them was ever considered in competition with
those “claims which cannot be ignored.” It was not until Mr. Chamberlain
joined a Conservative Cabinet that a young man like Sir Alfred Milner,
with nothing but his brains to recommend him, caught the eye of a
colleague of the Cecils.

It was not only that the Whig magnate was ready to admit any sufficiently
able man to the freedom of his circle. He habitually showed also the rare
magnanimity—or rare sagacity—of submitting to the domination of men whom
he had made, and men who could never, without his acquiescence, have
entered into serious competition with himself. Disraeli was almost the
solitary instance of the middle-class man rising to supreme position in
Toryism, and that triumph was achieved by a patient contempt of slight
and sneer, of haughty superiority and mean ingratitude, which could be
only possible to a very exceptional nature. On the other side, one man
after another of no great wealth or birth swayed Cabinets consisting
largely of great lords. Earl Spencer’s loyalty to Mr. Gladstone is highly
typical of the tradition. He formed and maintained sturdily his own
views on matters he felt himself competent to judge, and indeed it was
his stubbornness in the matter of the Navy Estimates that led to his old
chief finally relinquishing office. But if the positions had been more
than reversed, if he had possessed Mr. Gladstone’s splendid powers and
his own ample patrimony and patrician prestige, he could not have looked
for more devoted or more disinterested service than he gave, or for a
more complete absence of personal self-seeking or disloyal intrigue.

Earl Spencer, indeed, carried almost to excess the disposition to
subordinate his personal feelings to considerations of party welfare.
He was assailed, during his Irish period, by the foulest slanders and
the most furious invective. All unmoved, he proceeded, within the law,
but also with the full vigour of the law, to suppress the murder gang
which in the early Eighties almost threatened the dissolution of Irish
society. His dealing with the Invincibles was a model for the imitation
of all statesmen responsible for the restoration of law and order in
a distracted country. He aimed at nothing but what it was clearly his
duty to compass, and what he aimed at he struck dead, with the slow but
inexorable certainty of a fate. In the performance of this duty nothing
moved him. But when it was all over, and he had followed his party in
their conversion from the policy of coercion to the policy of concession,
he appeared on the same platforms with the men who had formerly assailed
him with groundless slander and measureless abuse. This magnanimity,
which his critics called rather a carelessness of personal dignity, was
characteristic of the man, and we might almost say of the Whig in the
man. He could not have felt pleasure in the “union of hearts.” But he was
ruled by the almost instinctive Whiggish subordination of private feeling
to public (or at lowest to party) interest.

The Whig could be, and often was, extraordinarily covetous. He could be,
and often was, more solicitous concerning his party than his country,
or, rather, he was too much accustomed to think of the prosperity of
his party as identical with that of his country. But he was, generally
speaking, loyal to his ideas and to the institutions which stood for
his ideas, and he understood, better than his opponents, what it meant
to play for a side. Whigs quarrelled fiercely among themselves after
the enemy was beaten; before a still formidable foe they possessed a
rare instinct of discipline. So long as the nineteenth-century Liberal
Party was mainly Whiggish it was mainly victorious; and it was no merely
reactionary inspiration which made Whiggism regard Radicalism as on the
whole a deadlier enemy than Toryism; the Radical was not so much a rebel
against the social scheme as against the Party Whip. Whiggism would
probably have conquered Radicalism and continued to give its own impress
to the Party but for the Home Rule split. But that convulsion left so few
great Whig families on the Liberal side that the influence of those who
remained was chiefly personal. So long as men like Earl Spencer lived
they were able to preserve to some extent the character of the Party. But
they left no successors. Nothing is more remarkable than the dying out of
political talent among the landed classes during the last twenty years;
and it is perhaps not altogether fanciful to connect it with the decline
of the Whigs, who, in their palmy days, not only maintained themselves in
full efficiency, but acted as a sort of pace-maker for their opponents.
The Whig nobility was never numerically in a majority, but it commanded
the greater part of aristocratic talent, and it created a certain spirit
of emulation among young Tories. But when the Whigs went over to the
Tory Party this stimulus was wanting. There was really no need for any
strenuous contest of wits in the Upper House; still less was there any
necessity for Party discipline. No doubt henceforward existed as to the
result of a party division, and though it might be desirable to justify
by argument the course decided by numbers, no case is likely to be either
attacked or defended with full vigour and acuteness when the speaker
knows that no single vote will be affected by his eloquence or his logic.

The House of Lords, it is true, is still by no means destitute of ability
and experience in public affairs: in many respects it has degenerated
less than the elective chamber. But the qualities which make men
pre-eminent in counsel and debate are now almost a monopoly of Peers who
have served in the House of Commons or in high places under the Crown.
Further, the cadets of the noble houses show an increasing disinclination
to enter politics, and a decreasing ability to satisfy such ambitions
even when they are present. Glance at the personnel of the present
Government, compare it with any Government of the nineteenth century, and
the first thing to strike one is the political decline of the historic
families. If the Liberal Party alone were affected, the fact might be
attributed to the mere advance of opinion in that Party. But on the
whole the Liberals retain more distinguished men of old family than the
Conservatives. The House of Lords was never more of one complexion. There
never was a Tory majority in the Commons so large and so compact. Yet
those very critics on the Tory side who are for ever urging that the real
Tories should show their strength are forced ruefully to admit that from
both Houses it would be difficult to pick a Government of indubitable
orthodoxy which should also be a Government of reasonable efficiency.
Territorial Toryism has almost suffered the fate of those ancient
monsters which, in a world of which they were unchallenged masters,
developed such bulk and inertia as actually to die of over-weight and
under-intelligence. In this case the intelligence has not exactly died:
it has been diverted to other things. In the old days the ordinary
course of a young man was first to take up politics as a game, and then
to adopt it as a vocation. The game lost interest when the sides became
grotesquely unequal, and the vocation is no longer felt.

A man like Earl Spencer is, therefore, not merely rare in present-day
politics; he is almost unknown. The Peers who still take an interest
in the affairs of the nation are not territorial, but rather urban and
even suburban Peers. That, as in the case of Lord Curzon, they may
occasionally be able to boast great descent is not to the point; their
tastes are those of the town and not of the shire. They are not likely,
like Walpole, to open their huntsman’s or gamekeeper’s letters before
attending to official correspondence. It is true that the sort of man
Earl Spencer was—and he was once the ordinary type of great lord in
politics—is still to be found, but you shall hardly find him in affairs.
And he has, perhaps, a little coarsened; he has grown too horsey, and
lost his old taste for things of the mind. Earl Spencer was Master of the
Pytchley, and astonished John Morley by the zest with which he set out on
a fourteen-mile drive to the meet on a pouring wet morning, after being
up half the night talking politics. But he was also the owner of a great
library which he was perfectly able to appreciate—a library with which he
parted, not in order to make money, but simply because he felt that such
priceless books should be at the public disposal.

The great Whig nobles of a former generation were, even the greatest of
them, by no means beyond criticism. They often took a selfish view of
public questions. They often lacked imagination and sympathy. They were
many of them most complacent pagans. Most were quite horribly calm over
things like the Irish famine and the industrial shames of Great Britain.
But it is not easy to point to any age or country which afforded better
examples than the best of them of the cultivated mind in the sound
body, of powers mental and physical carried to their highest pitch of
development, of refined virility and calm strength. And of the type Earl
Spencer was not the least worthy representative.



CHAPTER XXIII

SIR H. M. STANLEY


Sir Henry Morton Stanley made a double appeal to the imagination of
the early Nineties. He represented both the old romance of adventurous
travel and the new romance of mechanical efficiency. It was his luck to
do considerable things exactly at the time when exploration had become
scientific, but had not ceased to be picturesque. A generation before
there was glamour, but little good business, in the conquest of the wild;
on the whole the betting was decidedly on the wild. A generation later
the glamour had largely departed, though the business was very good
business indeed. But in the high and palmy days of Stanley the explorer
had the best of both worlds. He was admired as a disinterested knight
errant, and rewarded handsomely for not being one.

To-day the public is a little cynical on the whole subject. It is not
so much that the world has grown smaller; the world is still a very
large place. It is not so much that danger has been eliminated; it has
in some ways been notably increased. But the very completeness of a
modern exploration boom defeats part of its purpose. So far as it sets
out to make the restless hero an efficient money-maker for himself and
others it generally succeeds mightily. So far as it sets out to make
the restless hero a demigod it invariably fails; it makes him, instead,
something very like a bore. The public reads all about book rights,
serial rights, cinema rights, oxy-hydrogen lecture rights. It reads all
about the restless hero’s wife, the restless hero’s child, the restless
hero’s mother, the restless hero’s schoolmaster, until it begins to be
thoroughly tired with the restless hero even before he has started for
the North Pole or the South, for some unpleasant range of mountains or
some still more unpleasant expanse of swamps. This fatigue, of course,
does not prevent much enthusiasm when the restless hero returns,
particularly if he fails interestingly to do what he said he was going
to do; the public is apt to be calmer if he succeeds to the foot of
the letter. This enthusiasm means nothing in particular. The public
will always consent to be worked up into a due state of frenzy over a
returning hero; merely the chance of a “rag” is for great numbers of
mysteriously constituted people too precious to miss. But the restless
hero will deceive himself if he takes this worship too seriously; the
public will equally worship any American cinema actor. Neither the hero
nor the cinema actor, however, will be allowed to become, as of old, the
“lion of the season.” The modern public may be silly in choosing its
idols. It shows common sense in throwing them aside the very moment they
cease to amuse.

In the Nineties there was already visible a good deal of this modern
tendency to get crazes very badly and tire of them very quickly. But
the “lion of the season” still existed, and Stanley, on his return from
the Emin Pasha relief expedition, was a lion indeed. It is curious, at
this time of day, to recall the origin of this, the last of Stanley’s
great marches through the African wild. One Edouard Schnitzer, known as
Emin Pasha, had been stranded in Equatorial Africa after the capture of
Khartoum by the Mahdi. Why any large body of Englishmen should have been
interested in this man it is not easy to say. But towards the end of 1886
there was a considerable agitation for an expedition to discover the
fate of Emin, and (if he proved to be alive) to rescue him. Who better
for this task than Stanley, “the man who found Livingstone”? There was
no better-known story than that of Stanley and Livingstone. Every child
was familiar with the woodcut of two men—one in a sun-helmet, the other
in a cap—each with his adoring bevy of blacks, shaking hands with each
other; underneath was printed Stanley’s “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”
Every magazine reader of more mature years knew the whole story—how
James Gordon Bennett, of the _New York Herald_, “a tall, fierce-eyed,
and imperious-looking young man,” saw Stanley in Paris, and told him to
“find Livingstone.” Expenses? “Never mind about expenses. When you have
spent your first ten thousand, draw on me for another ten thousand. When
that is gone, draw on me for another; when that is gone, draw on me for
another; draw what you like, but find Livingstone.” That was the story
in its perfect dramatic form; the real story was a little different.
Bennett told Stanley to go, but no terms were actually settled, and
the explorer, who had already “made good” as a newspaper correspondent
for Bennett in Abyssinia, found no money for him at Zanzibar, and had
actually to contract a loan from the United States Consul there. But
naturally the ideal account of the transaction obtained full currency.
The nineteenth century had a pathetic faith in its Press, and even in the
American Press; and it revelled in the vision of one strong, silent man,
by the power of a mighty banking account, hurling a second strong, silent
man across a dark continent to the succour of a third strong, silent
man. These things no longer thrill; there are so many men now still
stronger and more silent, so many banking accounts still more mighty.
But to Victorian civilisation the romance of millionaire whims was yet
enchanting; and James Gordon Bennett, though he persisted in living to
be an oddity, never quite lost the splendour of his “find Livingstone”
heroism.

As for Stanley himself, the expedition covered him with enduring glory.
Every British boy born in the late Sixties and Seventies was familiar
with his haggard but resolute features, and knew by heart the singular
story of his life. It was the kind of story that impresses itself
indelibly on the imagination of youth. Stanley’s name, of course, came to
him only in mature life. He was born John Rowlands, the son of a farmer
near Denbigh. His father he never knew; during his childhood he only saw
his mother once, in the workhouse of St. Asaph, whither she had come with
two other of her children; she would not recognise him, and when, after
his first return from America, he paid her a visit, it was only to meet
with a cold repulse. John Rowlands had been left as an infant in charge
of his grandfather, Moses Parry, then living within the precincts of
Denbigh Castle. On the death of this old man he was transferred to the
care of an ancient couple, two of his uncles guaranteeing a maintenance
allowance of five shillings a week. This at last failed, and the child
was taken to the St. Asaph Union Workhouse; he was then in his sixth
year. Young Rowlands in these dismal surroundings suffered all the pangs
possible to a boy of keen sensibilities and strong natural affections
who finds himself the victim, not only of privation and humiliation,
but of actual tyranny. His schoolmaster was a one-handed monster named
Francis, who seems to have been as bad as anybody in Dickens. “No Greek
helot or dark slave,” says Stanley in his Autobiography, “ever underwent
discipline as the boys of St. Asaph under the heavy, masterful hand
of James Francis. The ready back-slap in the face, the stunning clout
over the ear, the strong blow with the open palm on alternate cheeks,
which knocked our senses into confusion, were so frequent that it was a
marvel that we ever recovered them again. Whatever might be the nature
of the offence, or merely because his irritable mood required vent, our
poor heads were cuffed and slapped and pounded until we were speechless
and streaming with blood. But, though a tremendously rough and reckless
striker with his fist or hand, such blows were preferable to deliberate
punishment with the birch, ruler, or cane, which with cool malice he
inflicted.... If a series of errors were discovered in our lessons, then
a vindictive scourging of the offender followed until he was exhausted or
our lacerated bodies could bear no more.”

It is a testimony to the toughness of child nature, though none to
the management of this brutal institution, that of Stanley’s thirty
school-fellows one lived to be a wealthy merchant, another to be a
clergyman, a third to be a colonial lawyer, and a fourth to become
a man of large fortune overseas. But the iron entered deeply into
young Rowlands’ soul, and the most constant motive in his life was to
obliterate the stigma of pauperism. His connection with the workhouse
abruptly terminated when he was about fifteen. He turned on the brutal
master, gave him a severe thrashing, ran away, got first a place as a
pupil teacher, then worked as a farm-boy, a haberdasher’s boy, and a
butcher’s boy, until at last, at Liverpool, he obtained a job on an
American sailing-ship. At New Orleans, tired of the brutality he had
experienced in a voyage of eighty-three days, he ran away from the ship,
and the same day chanced across the man who was to become his adopted
father, a Mr. Stanley, who, once some sort of minister, was now a
commercial traveller. No more striking tribute has ever been paid to the
influence of American institutions than that of the ex-workhouse lad from
England. “The people I passed,” he says, “appeared to me nobler than any
I had seen. They had a swing of the body wholly un-English, and their
facial expressions differed from those I had been accustomed to. I strove
to give a name to what was so unusual. Now, of course, I know that it was
the sense of equality and independence that made each face so different
from what I had seen in Liverpool. These people knew no master, and had
no more awe of their employers than they had of their fellow-employees.”
At the same time he could not help feeling “a little contempt” for the
extreme touchiness which was the defect of these high qualities. In a few
weeks he had himself acquired a good deal of the American spirit; the
servile taint was eradicated; and the temper and aptitudes which had been
so long suppressed expanded in the “felicities of freedom.”

Mr. Stanley soon after lost his wife—whom young Rowlands describes
as having taught him “the immense distance between a lady and a mere
woman.” This bereavement induced him to adopt the young Englishman,
and he performed the ceremony in due form, filling a basin with water
and baptizing the erstwhile John Rowlands as Henry Morton Stanley.
“The golden period of my life,” says Stanley, “began from that supreme
moment.” For the first time in his life he had a proper outfit of
clothes, and was introduced to the amenities of civilised life. But his
adopted father did not long survive, and in the meantime the Civil War,
in which Stanley saw service on both sides, had broken out. When peace
was declared, Stanley, who had suffered extraordinary vicissitudes of
fortune, took advantage of a chance introduction to the New York Press
to embark on the career of free-lance journalism. His great chance as a
war correspondent came with the Abyssinian War. Gordon Bennett thought
American interest in Abyssinia too slight to justify the expense of
a special correspondent, but agreed to pay for any matter accepted
if Stanley cared to defray his own charges. Stanley agreed to this
discouraging proposal, and by good luck and management gave the _New
York Herald_ the first news of the capture of Magdala and the fall of
King Theodore. The Livingstone adventure followed, and he was a made
man. Livingstone, when found, was content to remain where he was, and
there were some wicked people who suggested that so far from Stanley
discovering Livingstone, it was Livingstone who discovered Stanley. But,
though the wound of such injurious suggestion rankled for many years,
Stanley fully established himself both with the geographers and the
general public. His expedition across Africa in 1870—he had just before
accompanied Sir Garnet Wolseley on the Ashanti campaign—raised, however,
some controversy as to his methods; he was charged with harshness to his
men, with keeping aloof from his officers, and with employing slaves.
Such criticisms, which had more or less followed all Stanley’s feats,
were specially loud after the first enthusiasm over the success of the
Emin Pasha expedition had died down. It was successful in much the
same sense as the finding of Livingstone. Emin Pasha was found, but he
did not at first want to be rescued; and when, a little later, he had
trouble with his Egyptian officers and elected to return with Stanley
to the coast, he promptly went over to the Germans, whose service he
entered. This fact, the other fact that Stanley failed to see any fault
in Emin’s conduct, and the further fact of the massacre of Stanley’s
rearguard, which he had virtually abandoned in order to push on to Emin,
rapidly cooled the great explorer’s popularity. There soon began a bitter
controversy over the fate of the rearguard. Stanley, in attacking his
critics, assailed the memory of Major Barttelot, who had been left in
charge of the ill-fated party. His critics retorted with a charge of
carelessness and mismanagement, and the effect of this wrangle was to
throw a good deal of light on Stanley’s methods.

The natives of the Lower Congo gave him a name which signified “Breaker
of Rocks,” and in doing so proved themselves no mean judges of character.
Stanley was not a cruel man nor an unprincipled, and Sir Garnet Wolseley
has spoken of his high courage and unruffled calm in positions of danger.
But he was not in the position of a soldier in charge of a military
expedition; he acted only occasionally in a quasi-military capacity;
more often he travelled as a civilian, and sometimes as in every sense
a private person. This circumstance he seems to have overlooked. “My
methods,” he said, in expressing the hope that it would be his to follow
Livingstone in opening up Africa to the “shining light of Christianity,”
“will not be Livingstone’s. Each man has his own way. His, I think, had
its defects, though the old man personally had been almost Christ-like
for goodness, patience, and self-sacrifice. The selfish and wooden-headed
world requires mastering as well as loving charity; for man is a
composite of the spiritual and earthly.” We have here the sharp contrast
between the earlier and later nineteenth-century schools of exploration,
the school of the gospel and the school of the gatling gun. Stanley had
his own conception of religion; in his way he was a decidedly pious man;
his workhouse wretchedness had inclined him to seek the Father of the
fatherless; he had resumed in later life the prayerful habits of his
boyhood, and he devoted some considerable time in his first trans-African
tour to converting a ruling chief to Christianity. But there was more of
Calvin than of Christ in his faith, and more of the Old Testament than
the New.

With the completion of the Emin Pasha expedition he retired on his
laurels, married, and went into politics. But, though after a first
unsuccessful attempt he got himself returned for North Lambeth, he
quickly found how hard is the political path of an elderly man who has
achieved distinction in other walks. He could not get into Parliamentary
ways, and even when he spoke on subjects he perfectly understood he had
the usual vice of the “man on the spot.” He could not help lecturing, and
lecturing is one of the things the House of Commons will not tolerate. If
the House did not think too well of him, he certainly thought exceedingly
ill of the House. He describes it as “a gigantic apparatus for frittering
away energy and time.” No politician claimed his undiluted admiration;
curiously enough, Mr. (now Lord) Haldane came nearest to his notion of a
capable and earnest man. It was the old quarrel of the man of action with
the place of talk—a matter on which, as on most, there are things to be
said on both sides.

One curious thing may be recalled concerning him. He was often to be seen
at public dinners. But nobody ever saw him eat anything; every dish went
away untasted.



CHAPTER XXIV

JUSTIN McCARTHY


I first met Justin McCarthy in the schoolroom of a little Gloucestershire
village. It was during the short-lived “union of hearts” between the
General Election of 1886 and the general upset which followed the Parnell
divorce case. Justin McCarthy was appearing on the platform of a popular
county member of that time, one Arthur Brend Winterbotham, a fine
specimen of the more hearty type of middle-class Liberal. Winterbotham
had the reputation of a shrewd man of business; he was a Stroud Valley
weaver in a highly comfortable way. But on the platform one would imagine
that he had no thought but for the People—“the People, Lord, the People,
not Crowns, not Kings, but Men”; to use one of his favourite quotations.
In politics he was a perfect Lawrence Boythorne of a man, irresistible
in his frank good-humour; his silence was one expansive smile, and
his speaking one melodious roar. His strong and splendid voice had a
wonderful trick of falling when he spoke of the tears Liberalism intended
to dry if it could only get hold of an official pocket-handkerchief; it
vibrated with splendid scorn when he exposed the democratic pretences of
the Tories. He was never more effective than when reading a newspaper
extract; he seemed to be able to impart the dignity of Isaiah to
something in the _Daily News_. To hear him quote an enemy’s speech, and
add, “‘Loud cheers,’ gentlemen! The newspaper says ‘loud cheers’—but were
they the cheers of agricultural labourers?” was a liberal education in
platform style. And each of his chins—he had a number—was worth hundreds
of votes.

[Illustration: JUSTIN McCARTHY.]

On this occasion he gave a real rousing speech on Ireland. He remarked
several times that his blood boiled. His voice trembled when he spoke
of evictions. It rose to bugle tones when he denounced Mr. Balfour’s
“bayonets and battering rams.” He spoke of Home Rule as the one great
Liberal policy. And then the Chairman called on Mr. Justin McCarthy with
a certain embarrassment, as if he had an idea that he was a celebrity of
some kind, but did not quite know his claim to fame (which was probably
the fact), as “one who had fought and suffered for the cause of tortured
Erin.” And Mr. Justin McCarthy, a gentle-mannered little man, with timid,
spectacled eyes, a scholar’s diffidence, and one of those beards which
give the impression that their purpose is less to advertise virility
than to conceal a feminine softness which might be too apparent with
a clean-shaved face, delivered, without a gesture or an exaggeration,
the most moderate speech I have ever heard on the Irish question. It
had no perceptible effect, except that the blacksmith in the back
benches, who had fiercely interrupted Mr. Winterbotham—he was a Tory, as
became a shoer of the horses of the nobility and gentry—began to snore
heavily about half-way through. But, whenever I have since heard people
talk about the emotional and unreasonable Irishman, and the strong,
passionless, unsentimental Englishman, I have always seen in my mind’s
eye the strenuous Gloucestershire cloth-weaver and the mild Irish scholar
side by side. And I have never been able to acquit the English Liberal
of those days of a great responsibility. It was not, perhaps, wholly his
fault. Assuredly he meant no harm. But he did nevertheless a mighty evil.
His well-intended sentimentalities were taken in earnest by an intensely
earnest people. Then awkward things happened, and it appeared exactly
how much clear thought and sincere conviction lay beneath all the loose
talk about “living to see the day, when the clouds should pass away, and
the sun of freedom shine again on Erin’s land.” It was seen that Parnell
was in essence right—that the Liberals would do exactly what they were
forced to do, that when the Irish question was “up,” Home Rule would
be “practical politics,” but that when Ireland was out of the picture,
Home Rule would be out of the Liberal programme. On the other hand, the
Conservatives, when they promised coercion, invariably fulfilled their
promises most conscientiously. So the fatal legend grew up that the
English could only be trusted to “deliver the goods” when they took the
form of handcuffs.

Englishmen often think of the Southern Irishman as a clever child. I
will not discuss that view. But those who held it would have been wise
to consider how logical children are in their own way, what an awful
sense they have of the nature of a bargain, how hard it is to restore
their faith when once shattered. You and I may quite easily forget
that we have promised wide-eyed innocence, aged five, an elephant for
Christmas. But wide-eyed innocence will not forget the fact, or accept
our lame explanations that we really could not get the elephant, because
some still wider-eyed innocence had thrown itself on the floor and
screamed till it was black at the mere suggestion of such a present.
Half the Irish trouble is this exaggerated logicality on the part of
the Irishman, child or no child, and this happy-go-lucky, hand-to-mouth
spirit of compromise and procrastination on the part of the undeniably
mature and businesslike Englishman. We, as a practical people, seldom
set our hands to a business document without intending to carry it out.
But we have a nasty habit of signing intellectual promissory notes
without the smallest idea of meeting them. When it is a question of
money, our undertaking to pay “this first of exchange” in ninety days
is the best security of the kind in the world. But an English Minister
will cheerfully say, “We are all Socialists now,” or tell Labour to be
“audacious,” or speak in favour of nationalisation of the coal mines,
or give his “personal pledge” that food shall not cost more, without
the smallest sense of responsibility. Now, the Irish are not the best
people in the world with whom to do money business; but they do take
ideas seriously. And if they have been promised an elephant, they expect
an elephant. It is no use arguing with them that the elephant would be
a white elephant, that an elephant in Ireland would not be nearly so
well suited to the bogs as a stork, that so dangerous a brute is no fit
plaything for children of the flighty Celtic temperament. They keep
repeating (with some passion) that an elephant they have been promised,
that an elephant they will have, and that they won’t be happy (or let
anyone else be) until they get it. And they become noisier than ever when
told that they “only do it to annoy,” and that everybody knows the last
thing they really want is the elephant.

I have chosen Justin McCarthy, from a knot of Irishmen who occupied a
considerable place in the politics of the Nineties, because he seems
to me a figure worth the study of those Englishmen who are inclined in
their haste to dismiss Irish agitation as an insincere and artificial
thing. There could hardly have lived a man less inclined by nature for
the rough-and-tumble of politics. His every instinct was literary. A good
library satisfied almost every craving except that for an occasional
quiet little dinner with people capable of talking interestingly about
Shakespeare and the musical glasses. His love of humane learning was
proclaimed at an age when the ordinary boy of his position—he was born
in “genteel poverty” which grew in poverty and lost in gentility as his
easy-going dilettante father, who had occupied the post of clerk to the
Cork City magistrates, came down in the world—was chiefly engaged with
marbles and whip-top. “We were nearly all poor,” he says of his school
set, “but we all belonged to families in which education counted for
much, and where scholarly studies found encouragement.... We could read
our Latin and make something of our Greek, most of us could read French,
some few Italian, and many of us were taking to the study of German.”

It was natural that a lad whose own degree in such a circle is indicated
by Lord Moulton’s statement that “McCarthy was the best all-round scholar
he knew” should drift into the literary career. Long before he was
twenty McCarthy, on whom the support of the family now depended, was
working as a reporter on the staff of the _Cork Examiner_ at a salary of
£1 a week. But Irish journalism was then—possibly still is—too hungry
a business to detain long an ambitious and capable man, and it was not
many years before McCarthy left it behind. Establishing himself first in
Liverpool and afterwards in London, he soon attained a certain position
in the republic of letters. In 1868 he went to America, had considerable
success, and was told, by one who had power behind him, that he might
have the post of United States Minister to London if he would remain
and be naturalised. By this time, however, he had decided that his main
business in life was to work for Irish Nationalism, and he decided that
this could be better done as a British subject.

In 1879 he was returned for Longford, and shortly after was elected
Vice-Chairman of the Nationalist Party. He entered the House of Commons
with a “profound respect” for its constitution and history. Unlike those
Irishmen who saw in the House only an alien instrument of oppression,
he had always regarded it as a “powerful agency in the development of
constitutional and religious equality,” and his “main desire” in public
life was “to see the establishment of such an institution in Ireland for
the government of the Irish people by the Irish people.” The vision of
Irish independence never floated before his mind’s eye; he was content
with “a compromise which should give to Ireland the entire management
and control of her own legislation while she yet remained a member of
the British Imperial system.” That there was perfect sincerity in these
professions may be inferred, not only from the character of Justin
McCarthy’s public career, but from the tone of his _History of Our Own
Time_. An English Unionist might possibly be as fair in writing a history
of Ireland; probably he would not. But it would be miraculous if such a
man could dwell on the deeds of Sarsfield with enthusiasm equal to that
which inspires Justin McCarthy in paying tribute to the splendours of the
British Army. But this same man, with his gentle and peace-loving nature,
took his part in the drudgery of obstruction under Parnell, and had his
turn in being “suspended.” “It was not very pleasant work,” he admits,
“for one who had been for more than a quarter of a century a resident of
England, and had formed many very close friendships and some relationship
there, and had been doing his best to win for himself a position in
English literature and journalism.” But, however unpleasant it might be,
every Irish member had to take his fair share in the work of obstruction;
and he did it knowing that it was only a means to an end. Under the
leadership of Isaac Butt an Irish night had been simply a Scottish night
with a brogue. Obstruction forced the Irish question on the attention of
the English people.

Just before the Parnell divorce suit came to shatter so many things,
McCarthy had come to believe that the main trouble was over, and that,
in his own words, “an Irish Nationalist member was henceforward to be a
welcome associate in the great progressive work of English politics.”
But the Liberal conversion, like all wholesale conversions, was not much
more than skin-deep. At the best it was a conversion of sentiment; at the
worst a conversion of expediency. There was a good-natured acquiescence
on the part of the rank-and-file, an acquiescence not always good-natured
on the part of the subordinate leaders. Mr. Gladstone was in earnest; one
or two of his lieutenants were in earnest; the party generally was like
the Roman masses under Constantius and Julian, ready to deride the gods
or stone the saints as the people in authority wished. The foundations of
the policy were laid in sand, and it could not stand the stress of the
storm caused by the O’Shea divorce suit.

It was a curious example of the irony of circumstance that brought the
cold and silent Parnell into conflict with the genial and chatty man of
letters who had been hitherto his devoted factotum. But when the issue
was joined McCarthy showed that he also could be inflexible. Parnell
bitterly described him, on his election as chief of the Nationalist
Party, as “just the man for a tea-party,” and assuredly he was the last
person to enjoy an atmosphere of vendetta. But, while it was a “cruel
stroke of fate” that compelled him to stand forth as the opponent of
Parnell and John Redmond, his resolution was firm from the moment that
Parnell issued the manifesto which he believed would be fatal, unless
counteracted, to the Home Rule cause. And if it was ironical that
McCarthy should be pitted against Parnell, it was still more ironical
that Parnell should be defeated by McCarthy; that he was defeated was
made evident some time before his stormy career ended.

But the struggle was scarcely less disastrous to the victor. Writing
was McCarthy’s only means of living, and the demands on his time made
writing difficult. His work for Ireland, moreover, involved him in
serious financial loss, and when he resigned the chairmanship he was
virtually ruined both in health and estate. His last years were spent in
invalidism in Westgate, with the pressure of want driving his tired brain
and enfeebled physique to a too copious output of novels, historical
studies, and newspaper articles. An act of political generosity on Mr.
Balfour’s part at length lightened the burden, and from 1903 to his
death in 1912 he enjoyed a Civil List pension of £250 a year. McCarthy
was greatly touched by this tribute from one whom he had consistently
attacked. But the attacks, however trenchant, had never been marked by a
tone of personal bitterness. That was not in McCarthy’s nature. But for
the cursed spite of politics he could never have indulged a more serious
quarrel than those which arise between amiable scholars over a disputed
reading or a historical doubt. And even in politics he could combine
perfect firmness of principle with a certain large charity. Nothing
further from the stage Irishman of English fancy could be imagined than
the modest and agreeable man of letters, courtly after the older manner,
soft in step and gentle in voice, with only a slight and agreeable trace
of brogue, who was so often to be met with at all sorts of neutral
dinner-tables during the Nineties. But he was in his way as indomitable
an Irish Nationalist as any of those unhappy fellow-countrymen whose
death on the scaffold it was his mournful duty as a historian to
chronicle. His sacrifices would have been little felt had the cause
triumphed to which he devoted the best years of life; things being as
they were, he could not but think that talents which might have given
him a much higher rank in literature had been frittered away in a great
futility.

It is only necessary to compare the Irish Nationalist represented—at
the best, it is true—by Justin McCarthy with the Irish Nationalist
represented to-day by “President” de Valera in order to realise the
mischief wrought rather by levity than ill intent. The impotence of
the Nationalist Party in the Nineties made it a negligible ally and
a negligible enemy, and both English Parties hastened to forget that
there was an Irish question. Thus the opportunity of a settlement in the
absence of agitation passed, and when, with restored Irish unity, a new
demand arose, the atmosphere was in the nature of things unfavourable
to statesmanlike handling. The “Union of Hearts,” had it been a real
thing, might well have worked a cure for Irish ills. Being in the main an
unreal thing, it but added to Irish embitterment. And to-day we know the
greatness of our gain.



CHAPTER XXV

LORD LEIGHTON AND G. F. WATTS


The Nineties were rich in painters of all kinds. People bought pictures
then, and all sorts of pictures; in those days of still happy and
careless barbarism there was no veto on any school, and one could
hang things of almost any school in almost any surroundings. The
influence of the Prince Consort was not altogether dead, and people
unashamedly admired the picture with a story, as well as the portrait
with a likeness. So the older-school painters were still for the most
part extremely comfortable. Herkomer and the other standard portrait
painters covered acres of canvas annually; Alma-Tadema brought yearly an
extra polish to his marbles; the silver birch of MacWhirter put forth
fresh leaves every spring; “Derby Day” Frith survived, and even did
some little work, to remind the world of the brave days of victorious
sentimentalism; at Christie’s, Goodall, Maclise, and Landseer still
won the dealers’ respect; J. C. Horsley, protesting against the nude,
was only mildly laughed at as “Clothes-Horsley.” Millais, cured of his
pre-Raphaelite enthusiasms, was now more of the old gang than the new.
But Mr. Sargent, the Sandow of the brush, proved that the public was by
no means illiberal; it was just as much pleased to be artistically hit
between the eyes as to be tickled. Whistler, still unaccountably reckoned
by many a mere fop—so strong was the influence of a Ruskin yet in the
flesh—was busy making cloudy masterpieces and clear-cut enmities, and a
whole school of morbidity danced in grisly sort round the early tomb of
Beardsley.

[Illustration: LORD LEIGHTON.

(_From a portrait by J. McLure Hamilton._)]

If among all the considerable painters of the Nineties I distinguish
Leighton and Watts, it is not because I think them possessed of the
greatest talents, or even the most interesting personalities, but because
they seem between them to represent rather specially what sharply marked
off the art then passing away from what has taken its place. Both were
very much of the nineteenth century in the largeness of their ideas and
their sense of the importance of their mission. In many ways there could
have been no two men, and no two craftsmen, more distinct. Both were
picturesque and stately figures. Both had features cast in the noblest
mould; the grand-ducal geniality of Leighton was not less impressive in
its kind than the frozen though gentle austerity of Watts. In any circle
each took quite naturally a commanding position—Leighton as a kind of
king, Watts as a kind of priest. Each was at bottom shy, though both were
immovable in their opinions in any company. But spiritually they were
so utterly unlike that the one served as a foil to the other. When they
were together—they were early friends, and the friendship lasted till the
end of Leighton’s life—they might have served as models for an allegory
after Watts’s own heart. Leighton was the epicurean, Watts the stoic.
Leighton represented the world at its gracefullest, Watts the travail
of the spirit. Of Leighton it might be said that he would have been a
better painter could he have thought of something really worth painting.
It may certainly be said of Watts that he was at his best when he was
under no obligation to decide what was worth painting. His painfully
meditated allegories might now be spared without too considerable a pang;
his portraits, simply as documents of the time, could not. But, strongly
as they differed in other ways, both men illustrated in a remarkable
degree the curious seriousness and arrogance characteristic of the
Victorians. Leighton conceived that the painter should be very much of
the gentleman. Watts conceived that the painter should be very much of
the preacher. Neither felt that he had any affinity to the workman. When
I say seriousness, I do not mean that either was a prig; I only mean that
each had a profound conviction that the painting of easel pictures is
an immensely important thing, whereas the painter of to-day of anything
like equal stature would be the first to say that, while he paints easel
pictures for a living, they are about as important as chocolates, cigars,
liqueurs, circulating library novels, and vintage wines—things, that
is to say, to titillate individuals rich enough to afford them. When I
say arrogance, again, I do not mean that they were vulgarly conceited:
Watts revealed a beautiful humility, and Leighton was always bemoaning
his inadequacy. But both were full of the notion that the artist is in
the world to teach something, if it is only deportment, and should be
respected as a teacher. Both would have rebelled against the suggestion
that the artist is a workman, and that it is his sole business, as it is
any workman’s, to make the best use of his material.

It is not to the present purpose to adjudicate between the didactic
and the ultra-technical ideas of art; the question, moreover, is by
no means so simple as many of the controversialists have made it;
no Victorian was ever fool enough to believe that bad technique was
excused by good ethics, and it may be doubted whether any sane person
on the other side ever believed—though some apparently sane persons
have occasionally said—that technique is an end in itself. Grant that a
painter has essentially the same problem, and is essentially the same
kind of craftsman, as the bricklayer; grant that ethical painting is
as absurd as ethical bricklaying, we are still far from admitting the
wilder developments of “art for art’s sake.” The bricklayer’s business,
after all, is to build houses for men and styes for pigs, and not simply
to play the wizard—or the fool—with his material out of mere joy in his
dexterity. So the painter, too, has a task to perform, and if he does
not perform it, if he leaves unachieved the main and obvious purpose,
then he has failed, whatever incidental miracles he may have performed.
The difference between the Victorians and their successors is not to be
measured by the stupidest of one age and the maddest of the other. Yet
the difference is there, it is really considerable, and it is, I think,
in the main the difference between the first and second generation of
agnosticism.

The great Victorians were in general agnostics; Watts certainly was one.
They were of an age when every advance in science seemed to confirm the
philosophic rationalism of the eighteenth century. But they retained much
of the spirit of faith. We have all seen those ingenious advertisements
which command us to “watch the letters in red” and then close our eyes.
When we obey the advertiser, and do close our eyes, the image of the
object is still visible, though we no longer see the object itself.
But, if the eyes remain closed for a little while, the image fades
completely away. This may serve to represent the difference between the
Victorians and ourselves. They were, as a whole, no longer believers in
the sense that Dante and Bunyan were believers. But some, while confining
themselves by no dogma, still persuaded themselves that they believed,
and yet more reverenced still what they would not believe. Dickens
represents the one type, Huxley the other. It is very singular to note
how in Dickens rationalism jostles with his instinctive respect for the
greater Christian dogmas. He talks about “the world that sets this right”
as simply as about the world that wants setting right. Yet (as in the
case of Joan of Arc) he is downright angry over people who would suggest
that a miracle is possible. When he writes from the heart he accepts as a
little child the greatest of all miracles; when he writes with the head
he is as scornful as Voltaire, and scarcely less ribald.

We are conscious of this double mood through most of the nineteenth
century, and it explains much of the characteristic Victorian limp.
The giants of those days nearly all had one intellectual leg shorter
than the other; in poise they looked majestic, but whenever they got
excited the effect was always a little laughable. Thus Carlyle suddenly
forgets that he is a sort of Hebrew prophet, and runs after Newman or
the Pope, throwing mud, for all the world like a small boy at Portadown.
Thus Kingsley, one moment quite big and universal, is the next moment a
shrill sectarian. Thus Tennyson descends abrupt from Virgilian grandeur
to suburban prejudice. So many of the great Victorians seemed to be
really so anxious to believe in God, and so afraid that it was not an
advanced thing to believe, that the fear of dogma and the yearning for
faith caused them perpetually to wobble. Their attitude to all sorts
of questions was one of what may be called violent indecision, and
people now seem agreed to call it contemptible. But, whatever it was, it
determined the character of nearly all Victorian things, and among them
of much Victorian painting.

When men believe seriously they are generally not too serious about
their beliefs; witness the mediæval faith and what seems to us the
mediæval profanity. When a man is happily married to a woman, he does
not spend his time paying her high-flown compliments; he takes it for
granted that she loves him and knows that he loves her. There are
exceptions, of course, like Warren Hastings, who in old age called his
wife (epistolarily and to herself) “his elegant Marian.” There are
exceptions also among religious people; just as there are some husbands
who seem only visitors in their own houses, so there are some saints who
are never quite at home in their faith. The rule, however, is that the
man who is married to a woman, and the man who is married to a creed,
act like spouses and not like sweethearts. But just as usually we may
be sure that a man has not quite made up his mind to commit himself to
matrimony with a girl if he still treats her with grave gallantry and
composes laborious sonnets to her eyebrows, so we are seldom far wrong
in assuming that the man who talks too solemnly about the beauty of a
creed is already inclined to regard it as a myth. Tennyson, for example,
could not have been so ceremonious with Arthur and his knights if he
had truly felt them as real people. And if this half-faith tends to an
unbalanced solemnity, it inclines a man also to an exaggerated sense of
responsibility and to that kind of humility which is really a form of
presumption. The man of firm faith realises his own insignificance, and
is content to leave much to God. The man of no faith, and no hankering
after faith, washes his hand of things in general, and “eats his pudding”
without any kind of uneasiness. But the man of half-faith is exceedingly
prone to imagine himself consecrated to set everything right, except
possibly himself. We, having lost that half-faith of the Victorians,
having no longer imprinted on our minds the image of things at one time
very real, have little sympathy with their ideals and perplexities, and
therefore a very imperfect understanding of their performances. We see
their inconsistency of thought and feeling, and do little justice to
their honesty of purpose. We sneer at their pomposity, but fail to see
that it was the effect of their immense sense of their accountability—to
someone or something they were not quite sure about.

In Watts this sense of accountability was a dominating fact; it is
the inner stuff of everything he did. But even Frederick Leighton,
a man of much lighter make, was penetrated with an immensely serious
conviction of the importance of the mission of painting in general, and
of himself as a painter in particular. Leighton belonged immediately to
the upper middle class, but the family was originally noble, and he could
trace his descent through the female line to a considerable mediæval
family in Shropshire. He was the son and the grandson of a doctor. His
grandfather attained such a degree of professional eminence as to gain
appointment as Court Physician to the Czar Nicholas, and but for the
accident of a delicate constitution his father would have continued in
Russian employment. This ill-health, and the consequent necessity for
climate-hunting, led to a life of genteel vagrancy, and before Frederick
Leighton had reached the age of a fifth-form lad he had seen many
countries, and had acquired that fluent command of French, Italian, and
German which distinguished him as the best linguist who ever presided
over the Royal Academy. His general education was not neglected; at
seventeen he was a good classical scholar, and he used to say afterwards
that he then knew more of anatomy than when he became President.

[Illustration: G. F. WATTS IN HIS STUDIO.]

Though his taste for art was early manifested, his father intended
him for medicine, and it was with some reluctance that he at last
consented to recognise facts, and permit the lad to enter on a course of
serious study. In view of the seignorial grace of Leighton’s maturity
it is a little piquant to find that his style as a young man caused
great distress to his mother. “My child,” she writes just before
his twenty-fourth birthday, “your manners are very faulty, and I am
consequently much disappointed. You take so much after me, and my nearest
relations had such refined manners, that I made sure you must resemble my
father and brothers. There is, however,” she adds cheeringly, “nothing
whatever to prevent your becoming a gentleman.” One is almost tempted
to believe that one of the lady’s near relatives was Mrs. Nickleby, and
another perhaps Mrs. Micawber. She certainly recalls those ladies not
only in her excessive reverence for her family, but in her apparent
incapacity to come to a clear judgment on the facts before her. For it is
impossible to believe that at any time a man so gifted as Leighton could
have been boorish: a good profile is generally worth a hundred primers on
etiquette.

At twenty-five Leighton exhibited the picture which brought him a sudden
fame, the immense canvas of Cimabue’s Madonna being carried in triumph
through the streets of Florence to the Church of Santa Maria Novella.
In the Academy of 1855 this work attracted great attention, and Queen
Victoria bought it for the considerable price of six hundred guineas.
“A huge thing which everybody talks about,” Rossetti describes it; “the
R.A.’s have been gasping for years for someone to back against Hunt and
Millais, and here they have him, a fact that makes some people do the
picture injustice in return.”

The Cimabue was painted in Rome, where the young artist had for some
years enjoyed himself in the Bohemian society which Thackeray deals with
so happily in _The Newcomes_, qualifying himself for association with
hirsute genius by growing a full beard and a “feeble moustache.” He
now returned to London to make the most of his success. But he showed
no eagerness to pass through all the doors obligingly thrown open to
him, and it is rather curious that a man who became afterwards so
complete a social success incurred resentment on the ground of what was
interpreted as a supercilious aloofness. The truth was that his health
was not strong, and that he always had to pay dearly for late hours and
contact with general society. Indeed, this physical inadequacy was one
of the main facts of his life: devotion to the social duties of the
Presidency ultimately killed him, and it is hardly fanciful to suppose
that a constitutional lack of vigour was responsible for one feature of
his art which must have struck the most casual observer. “I have not
and never shall have,” he wrote of himself, “enormous power.” He put
into all his works the very best that was in him; Watts himself was not
more conscientious; and among all modern painters there was none more
ambitious. He deliberately challenged comparison with the masters of the
golden age of Italian art; indeed, Leighton’s natural bent was to the
grand manner, and in the matter of composition he had a real affinity
with the great men he admired. But, apart from unfortunate methods of
manipulation learned from his German masters, there was almost always a
certain deficiency or a certain exaggeration peculiar to inherent want of
power, which must either under-do or over-do.

But if he were not quite a great painter he was certainly a great
President. The Academy never had a chief who better looked, spoke, and
played the part. By the Nineties his excessive labours as President
had told on his never robust health, and for some years he had had
warnings of angina pectoris. But nothing would induce him to restrain
his activities within the limit which advancing years had inexorably
fixed; the life of the valetudinarian was impossible for him. So the
round of speeches, dinners, soirées, and receptions, was kept up almost
to the last, though the haggard face satirised the light grace of his
manner and the rather theatrical showiness of his dress. Leighton had
long been a baronet; it was one of the distresses of his life that Watts
refused a like honour. On January 1, 1896, he was created a Peer, and
twenty-four days later the public learned, with something of a pang, that
he was dead. His last spoken words were in German, and there was some
appropriateness in the fact, for no little of German pedantry tinctured
his classical enthusiasms. But in character and sentiment he was wholly
English, and in nothing more English than in his regrets that one cannot
have one’s cake and eat it. He achieved a social position never before
occupied by a British painter; he won the worship of innumerable friends;
he did an enormous amount of work at a generally high technical level.
Yet, two years before his death, he told a friend, “I have never got what
I most wanted in this world.” The “what” he did not indicate.

“His was a nature the most beautiful of any I have ever known,” was
Leighton’s epitaph by his friend Watts. Leighton died long before he had
become old-fashioned. It was Watts’s fate to linger in a world of which
he could not possibly have approved. The recluse of Limnerslease—the very
name smacks eloquently of the Victorian mood—seemed to those who caught
a glimpse of him like some stern old Puritan brooding in retirement over
the jiggings and Jezebelisms of the Restoration. The nineteenth-century
seriousness which Leighton had, but could put on and off like a garment,
was the very soul of Watts; he was probably the most serious painter
who ever lived. That nineteenth-century “cheek” which made Leighton
pit himself against all the old masters on their own ground was wildly
exaggerated in Watts; he set himself to paint things which were to be not
only the greatest of paintings, but the most powerful of sermons—sermons,
too, addressed not to a sect or even a faith, but to the whole human
race, now and yet to be. Mr. Chesterton, I think, has remarked in his
interesting monograph on Watts that he avoided of set purpose all
conventional imagery, from the cross downwards, so that his allegories
should have universal appeal, and should be intelligible to the cultured
Bantu or Papuan of five thousand years hence who happens to disinter
them from the ruins of the Tate Gallery. The painter who takes his work
like that may be, as Watts was, humble as a human individual, but as an
artist we can only feel his colossal arrogance.

But this arrogance was the great fact of the time. When I see a Watts
picture—I am not speaking of his admirable portraits, but of his didactic
allegories—it seems to conjure up, not so much the noble reflections
that appear to rise in some other men, but odd memories of all sorts of
Victorian things. I think of Kingsley setting out to crush the unbeliever
and solve the social problem by writing _Hypatia_ and _Alton Locke_; of
Herbert Spencer (when his circulation did not give him too much trouble)
confidently measuring the Knowable and the Unknowable with his synthetic
inch-tape; of Browning settling the nature of Providence in an abrupt
sentence and then going jollily off to dinner; of Tennyson dismissing
the French nation with a wave of his kingly hand as victims of “red-fool
fury”; of Carlyle hurling thunderbolts at everybody who did not feel like
a Scotch peasant or think like a German philosopher. These Victorians
were wonderful men and did wonderful things, and we have not earned the
right of easy scorn for them and theirs. But in few ages have men, almost
all of whom were bewildered in one way or another, been so supremely
confident of their power to settle everything. The nineteenth century,
in fact, left nearly everything unsettled through that wondrous faith in
the power of talk. It hated dogma, and gave birth to perhaps the most
dogmatic people who have ever lived.

The mixture of humility and audacity in Watts was partly of the time
and partly of his nature, but also partly of his circumstances. Watts
lived all his life in the kind of detachment which, while it makes men
personally shy and diffident, gives them a gigantic confidence in their
own ideas. He was a born draughtsman: he never remembered the time he
could not draw. But he had scarcely any formal education in art before
he won with his cartoon of “Caractacus” the scholarship which permitted
him to study in Italy; and no master, dead or living, ever seems to
have exerted any real influence on his style. He had many friends and
comrades, but only one real hero, Tennyson, with whom he could not
compete, and who could not compete with him. Sympathies he had with many
movements and many kinds of men, even on certain points with politicians
and publicists whom he must have regarded generally with a certain
distaste; something of a Radical in politics and much of a Puritan in
temperament, he occasionally intervened in political and social causes
on which he felt strongly. But he led no one, and he allowed no one to
lead him; acknowledging no master, he left no pupil. This isolation was
favourable to an exaggeration of the general tendency of the Victorian
great men to take themselves with immoderate seriousness, and the
solemnity of Watts was a little oppressive to the natural man who chanced
to come into his majestic presence. He had to be a very bold youngster
who could venture on any flippancy within the range of “those pure eyes,”
which, in company with a nose of splendid line, a fine white beard,
and a black silk skull-cap, suggested the “perfect witness,” if not of
“all-judging Jove,” at least of the very archetype of a Puritanical
Evangelical Chairman of Quarter Sessions.

If Watts was a great painter, he was assuredly a greater man, and one
really felt in his presence the vastness of the possibilities of the
race. But as a small human individual one also felt very small indeed.
That is the effect of the Puritan. Probably most people felt small when
they met Milton. But I can imagine that nobody could be in the same room
with Shakespeare without feeling great.



CHAPTER XXVI

CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON—WILLIAM BOOTH


I have remarked in another place that the man who takes his religion
too seriously stands suspect of not quite believing in it. Those who
are never troubled with doubts are prone to a wild hilarity which often
exposes them to the charge of irreverence and coarse handling of sacred
things. Since Nonconformity has widened, and new theologies have been
propounded, it has become almost oppressively refined. When it was very
narrow and dogmatic, and assured of itself, its chief exponents were
often condemned as vulgar people. They were not really vulgar; they were
only so much on terms with their belief that they could take liberties
with it and all things.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a man of that type. He was an unlearned
man, and if he had been learned it is not at all likely that he would
have been a profound or exact thinker; it is much more probable that he
would have been dulled into mere mediocrity. But if he did not know much
of bookish things, he knew a good deal about things in general, and he
knew (or thought he knew) absolutely one thing in particular, namely,
that he was right in his conception of the purpose of Providence. It
was this certitude, rather than any ingrained coarseness, that made
him so boisterous and rollicking in his dealings with the most solemn
subjects. He looked on “soul-saving” with the same sense of reality that
a bricklayer looks on bricklaying, and he joked about it as a bricklayer
jokes when anything funny is suggested to him by an incident in his work.

Spurgeon did not survive long into the Nineties, but his influence did
not altogether cease to count till the end of the decade. By the new
century it was dying, and to-day it is dead—at any rate, so far as the
high places of Nonconformity are concerned. The name Spurgeon is Dutch,
and the great preacher was a Hollander in his remote origin; he descended
from a refugee who came to this country to escape the Alva persecution.
Spurgeon’s father was an Independent Minister, and he himself was
“converted” by the Primitive Methodists, but at an early age he embraced
the Baptist faith, and he preached as a Baptist his first sermon,
delivered at sixteen, in a Cambridgeshire cottage. His family wished
him to have some sort of “college” education, but he went his own way,
believing then as always that practical work in “soul-saving” was more
important than scholarship.

He was little more than a boy when he gained fame as a London preacher,
addressing congregations of ten thousand at the Surrey Music Hall
before the Metropolitan Tabernacle was built for him. His style was
then very theatrical: a foreign scoffer remarked that his denunciations
of the stage must have been prompted by jealousy, since he was himself
so consummate an actor. In later years he relied less on meretricious
effects and more on his essential earnestness, but to the end he took
any liberties that occurred to him with his subject or his audience. In
other respects he changed little or nothing. Through all the Darwinian
controversy he remained unmoved by the arguments which flurried so
many theological dovecotes. “Huxley and Darwin,” he would say, “can go
to—their ancestors the monkeys,” and he would pause wickedly after the
“to” for his congregation to titter. With the Higher Criticism, as with
evolution, he would have no truck whatever. But against the Church he
had no particular feeling; he read the Anglican divines much as another
man might read Confucius, thinking them curious and interesting people
from whom something might be learned. To the students of the Camberwell
College, indeed, he recommended a book of Anglican sermons. Its author,
he said, had been a parson, still worse a bishop, but despite these grave
disadvantages had been a worthy and able man. In later years he even
withdrew from the Liberation Society, apparently because he felt that his
fellow-Dissenters were on the whole readier than the Church to fall in
with what he called “down-grade” tendencies in biblical criticism. For
the same reason he even withdrew from the Baptist Union. “If,” he said,
“you preach what is new, it will not be true; if you preach what is true,
it will not be new.” For Rome, Spurgeon never pretended tolerance. When
another Baptist owned that during a visit to France he had been present
at the Mass, and “had never felt nearer the presence of God,” Spurgeon
replied that it was a good illustration of the text, “If I make my bed in
hell, behold, Thou art there.” It was, no doubt, his hatred of Rome that
led him in 1886 to become a Liberal Unionist.

His Radicalism, however, had always been of a peculiar kind. He did not
believe in “trusting the people,” since most of the people were miserable
sinners. He was not a Pacifist. “Turn the other cheek,” he used to say,
“but if that is smitten too, another law comes in; you must either go
for your man or get away from him.” It was long, also—not, indeed, until
he grew gouty—before he could be got to adhere to the teetotal movement,
while he simply jeered at an anti-tobacco crusade. Spurgeon himself
liked a good cigar; was in no way an ascetic; lived in style at Norwood,
and used to drive to the Tabernacle in a turnout which would have done
credit to a stockbroker. On the other hand, he was the unrelenting
foe of the theatre, and he denounced dancing as having cost the first
Baptist his head. There was, indeed, in him a great deal more of the old
hard-headed than of the new soft-hearted Puritan. His only departure
from the seventeenth century was in the matter of his jocularity. It was
natural with him—perhaps an inheritance from some jovial Hollander of the
Jan Steen type—but it was also carefully cultivated. He kept an immense
library of funny books to draw on for pulpit use, and was never more
carelessly happy in the telling of a story than when he had studied it in
all its bearings the night before. He never hesitated to use slang when
it seemed to him effective; witness the following:

“It is always best to go where God sends you. Jonah thought he would go
to Tarshish instead of Nineveh, but when the whale got hold of him he was
sucked in.”

“Though you are teetotallers you must all come to your bier at last.”

“To some people Bible reading is like flea-catching; they pick up a
thought here and there, hold it between finger and thumb, and then hop on
somewhere else.”

“Seek to possess both unction and gumption.”

These sentences were addressed to candidates for the Baptist
ministry. It is noteworthy that in such Spurgeon always assumed a
lack of refinement—an assumption which would be hotly resented by the
Nonconformist student of to-day. Especially irritating would be his
advice never to drop an aspirate; to the importance of the initial “H” he
was continually reverting. In deeper matters he was insistent on eternal
punishment; to question hell was to question the Scripture. But he used
to say that no doubt God would show “every consideration” to those
predestined to damnation—how he never explained in detail. He would have
been very angry with feminism if it had been an important thing in his
day; woman, he thought, should be kept in her place; and he despised the
man who was swayed by his wife. He was fond of pointing out that most of
the troubles of the Hebrew patriarchs could be traced to their too much
marriage.

And the rest of the acts of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the wideawake that
he wore, the clerical coat that he would not wear, the puns and money
that he made, the stones that he weighed, and the spiritual bread that
he dispensed, the sermons that he preached, the 30,000 printed copies a
week that he sold, the men that he knew, those that he consorted with,
and those that he assailed mightily—are they not written in chronicles of
Nonconformity? In due time Charles Haddon Spurgeon died, and was gathered
to his fathers, and nobody reigned in his stead, and of the mighty house
that he did not build nothing is written anywhere, for, with all his
brightness and breeziness and firm faith and sturdiness and trite common
sense, he lacked all the qualities that go to the building of anything
but a reputation. He had a voice, and after that little.

[Illustration: GENERAL BOOTH.

(_From a portrait by J. McLure Hamilton._)]

       *       *       *       *       *

But for just that which Spurgeon wanted William Booth would have been
another Spurgeon. But to his faith and enthusiasm he joined something not
at all common among religious enthusiasts in this country. His heart was
a chaos of crude and uncontrolled emotionalism, but he had the head of
a ruler. It is a common reproach against English Protestantism that it
does not understand how to harness spiritual energy. Of that art William
Booth was a master, and in more favouring circumstances he would probably
have been included in the list of founders of mighty religious orders.
It is tempting to speculate what might have been the present position
of the Salvation Army had Booth, who was brought up as a member of the
Church of England, and had certainly no enmity to that Church, been
encouraged to pursue his work within its communion. Left to himself, he
was unable to provide his organisation with that firm philosophical basis
which seems a necessary condition of permanence in a religious society.
He could invent a hierarchy, but he had to borrow a theology; and the
raggedness of his dogmatic formation was in pathetic contrast with the
splendid “dressing” of his human cohorts. He could offer a dram to the
spiritually fainting, but man cannot live by stimulants alone, and the
Salvation Army had little more in the way of spiritual nutriment to offer
those who began to hunger for something more solid. Its only expedient
was to join the excitement of definite work to that of cloudy religion.
The Army tended even in Booth’s lifetime to become more and more an organ
of social endeavour and less and less a definitely Christian thing; it
was in its lay and not in its religious character that it won during the
Nineties the goodwill of countless excellent pagans, and was patronised
by precisely the same sort of people who had at first assailed it as the
blasphemous travesty of a sect.

“A bawling, fanatical, send-round-the-hatical, pick-up-the-pence old
pair.” So were Booth and his devoted wife described by _Truth_ in the
early Eighties. Fifteen years later the old “General,” now a widower,
was never mentioned in a reputable paper without profound respect. The
inverted commas had long disappeared, and even Royalty condescended to
compliment him on his fine work for the “submerged tenth.” But all this
recognition was really a sign of failure. Or, to put the matter less
crudely, it was a sign that the secondary object of the Army had become
more important than its primary aim. Booth had set out first of all to
save men’s souls, and some people threw cabbage stalks at him, while
others flung him jeers and slanders. The applause only came when it was
evident that, with the incidental disadvantage of brass bands and a crazy
vocabulary of enthusiasm, the Army was very useful for distributing soup
and getting firewood chopped.

Booth proved how thin are the partitions dividing the excess of democracy
from autocratic rule. His government was at first purely paternal.
When the family got too large for his personal rule he had to delegate
authority, but every officer whom he put in a position of trust was
given plenary power to the extent of his commission. “Government by
talk” he had tried and put aside. “This method of work,” he said, “will
never shake the Kingdom of the Devil”; and so he adopted the military
system. In this he was probably only following the suggestion of his own
imperious nature. But if he had been actuated by the deepest craft he
could hardly have hit on a more certain method of keeping his converts
together. Men and women care a great deal less for liberty than for
domination; they will accept most cheerfully subordination for themselves
if it affords them a present chance or a sure prospect of exercising
despotic sway over others. “From the moment,” says Booth, “of our
adopting the simple method of responsible and individual commands and
personal obedience our whole campaign partook of a new character; in
place of the hesitation and almost total want of progress from which
we have been suffering, every development of the work leaped forward.”
The brass band, the flag, and the red jersey probably had comparatively
little to do with the Army’s success. These were useful to attract
attention, and may perhaps have allured some simple-minded and very
unæsthetic people. But apart from the deeper spiritual elements, the
main point, I imagine, was the fascination of authority. Comfortable
people, accustomed to deference throughout life, have little conception
of the hunger for respect which reigns among those who seldom get it.
Indeed, half our social troubles would be over if the “better” classes
could grasp the simple fact that the “lower” classes are much more
sensitive than themselves on all points of dignity. To a mere factory
hand, man or woman—it was a novelty of the Army that it put the sexes
from the first on an exactly equal footing—it was luxury to put off
insignificance with the work-day clothes and put on importance with the
Army uniform. In the Booth hierarchy there was room for the pride of the
wretched and the ambition of the destitute.

It was the great talent of Booth to put to use the most unlikely things.
His use of vulgarity was very characteristic. The vulgarity of some other
popular preachers of the time was a natural emanation. But Booth was not
naturally vulgar; no man could be with such a profile. He had really fine
manners; to a king he would talk as if he were an old king himself; and
there was never a suggestion in his intercourse with the greatest either
of bumptiousness or servility. The vulgarity of his methods was of set
purpose, like St. Francis’s hostility to worldly culture, and, though
it was at once common form to inveigh against the coarse profanities of
a Salvation Army meeting, I have found highly sensitive people far less
repelled by their wildest extravagances than by the much more ordinary
irreverence of the regulation “revivalist.” It might not be true to say
that while others vulgarised sacred things Booth sanctified vulgarity.
But it is true that, if one might sometimes smile at his audacities, they
never made one shudder.

In other conditions, as I have said, Booth might have won immortality
as a saint of the Church. In still other circumstances he might have
been a most considerable statesman. His _Darkest England_ is much more
than a philanthropic manifesto. The schemes outlined in it for dealing
with unemployment by training and emigration are eminently wise and
practical, and, if it is permissible to indulge a regret that his great
qualities were not available for the Church, it may also be suggested
that something was lost by the failure of politicians to make fuller use
of his remarkable insight and experience concerning social problems. The
inspiration on these matters gradually passed from him to the Webbs. It
was not, probably, a change for the better. For though Booth was quite
hard-headed in these concrete matters, he had also that wisdom of the
heart in which Fabianism was deficient. He would say, and quite justly,
in reply to those who argued that the Army attracted people too lazy for
regular work, and actually created a class of unemployables, that John
Jones was outside in the street, without work or food, and something
must be done for him at once; it was useless to wait for a social
revolution. But he was under no illusions as to the nature of existing
society. “There are many vices,” he wrote, “and seven deadly sins;
but of late years many of the seven have contrived to pass themselves
off as virtues. Avarice, for instance, and Pride, when re-baptised
Thrift and Self-Respect, have become the guardian angels of Christian
Civilisation, and as for Envy, it is the corner-stone upon which much
of our competitive system is founded.” Again: “I am a strong believer
in co-operation, but it must be co-operation based on the spirit of
benevolence. I don’t see how any pacific readjustment of the social and
economic relations between classes in this country can be effected except
by the gradual substitution of co-operative associations for the present
wages system.” Assuredly the man who wrote these things was something
more than a fanatic.

Booth’s decision with regard to his children’s education was most typical
of the man. Certain friends offered to pay the expenses of a University
training for his eldest son. No, said Booth; he should enlist in the
Army at an early age, and go through the usual Salvation training. Booth
was not stupid, and could have had none of the stupid man’s contempt
for education. But he seemed to be a little afraid of it, and from his
own point of view who can say he had not reason? In the same spirit
the Churchmen of the Renaissance fought against the teaching of Greek,
not because they were all fools, but because some of them foresaw the
dangers that actually followed. Booth was perhaps not wrong in suspecting
that the higher education of his time, while making a man cocksure
about things now debatable or disproved, would tend to make him dubious
or indifferent about things which in his view permitted neither of
incertitude nor of lukewarmness.

But if he hoped thus to secure to the thing he had made the vitality he
had temporarily imparted to it, the hope was doomed to be disappointed.
It could hardly be fulfilled, in any case, if the Army was to continue
in isolation; for the Army was an order rather than a sect, with a
discipline rather than a creed, and in the absence of its creator’s
inspiration its tendency must have been to harden into formalism. That
process had, indeed, begun even before the General’s death. It was
suggested above that during the Nineties the Salvation Army was wounded
by kindness. In the days of its persecution it was at least free; it
had the feeling that it might just as well be hanged for a sheep as
a lamb. But when the suburbs threw bouquets instead of stones the
Salvationists found that the respect of the respectable is a chain. They
were henceforth fettered. They could expand, but they could not change.
The movement was canalised and stereotyped; it had won recognition as a
useful social adjunct, and it had to live up to its reputation. It became
static in everything but its statistics. Gradually its tunes have grown
old-fashioned; its uniforms are one with the tight military trouser and
the bustled skirt; the _War Cry_ is as definitely a paper with a past as
_Reynolds’s_ or the _Referee_. In its way the Army, no doubt, does as
much good as ever. But the limits of that good are known. And it keeps
nobody awake at night thinking of what might happen with the ferment of a
revolutionary Christianity working among the English poor.

Booth was a great man of his kind—greater far than most of the Right
Honourables and Right Reverends of his day—and it was a mighty thing that
he built from defaced stones and nameless rubble rejected by all others.
But he was too honest to fabricate a new religion, and a religious order
implies a Church to order it.



CHAPTER XXVII

SOME LAWYERS


Dim enough now is the memory of the Parnell Commission. There are few
who, without reference to record, could give an intelligent summary of
the findings of the unhappy judges whom political exigency condemned for
over a year to take “evidence” concerning a vast amount of miscellaneous
matter incapable of legal proof.

But from the general vagueness of that dreary inquiry there still stand
out in sharp and abrupt relief two main figures. One is that of an ageing
man, bald and bowed, of a threadbare respectability; respectability,
indeed, is the only real thing about him, and to that god he is presently
to make the last sacrifice. Richard Pigott was not, one imagines,
a specially bad man. But, unfortunately for himself, there was the
necessity for him and his to live respectably, and his situation and
endowments did not permit him to live at once respectably and honestly.
He had no kind of settled calling behind the wall of which he could
fruitfully cultivate such small talents as he possessed. In a shop or an
office he might have carried his little battle of life to the point where
one may at least make terms of dignity with Death. But he had strayed
into one of the dangerous trades. Journalism abounds in perils to all
men; it is quite fatal to the man who lacks both scruple and ability.
Richard Pigott was a bravo with the parts of a small shopkeeper. One
of Fagin’s pupils let others take the risks and glory of burglary; his
specialty was the “Kinchin Lay,” or snatching pence out of the hands
of small children. Pigott belonged to the “kinchin lay” of political
journalism; his business was that of furtive slander and timid lying.
He was only used by his employers for jobs which bigger if not more
scrupulous men would disdain; and as these jobs were neither numerous nor
lucrative he had sunk in middle life to all sorts of miserable stratagems
to keep his small pot boiling. On such service, however, or the pretence
of it, Pigott acquired a certain standing with propagandist auxiliaries
of the Unionist Party, and was eventually employed to collect evidence
connecting Parnellism with crime. He was paid a guinea a day; expenses
were liberally defrayed, and for the first time for many years the poor
hack found himself in clover. During a considerable period he enjoyed
himself at first-class hotels in Ireland, Great Britain, and on the
Continent. But as time went on his patrons, disappointed with the tame
and inconclusive character of the “evidence,” hinted that something much
more sensational was wanted, or supplies would be stopped. Pigott saw
before him a new plunge, perhaps this time without hope of re-emergence,
into the penury from which he had momentarily escaped. The prospect was
too bleak, and he decided that, whatever happened, his employers must be
satisfied, and the essential something must be supplied. So he forged
certain letters purporting to be written by Mr. Parnell—letters which, if
genuine, would have proved Parnell’s privity to the Phœnix Park murders,
and branded him as a man merely infamous. These letters had been printed
in facsimile as Parnell’s; they were supported by all the prestige of a
great newspaper; and probably a majority of people in this country still
believed they were really Parnell’s when Richard Pigott first stood up to
face the cross-examination of Sir Charles Russell.

Those who sat through that cross-examination will never forget it. It
is usual to describe such a spectacle as dramatic, and in a sense this
spectacle was. It was, however, the drama not of the theatre, with its
surprises and quick alternations, but of one of those gigantesque novels
of Victor Hugo which depict some devoted wretch overwhelmed by the slow
march of an unrelenting destiny. For two days Pigott saw closing round
him, thread by thread and mesh by mesh, the net from which death was the
sole escape. At first he was moderately glib and composed. But as the
cross-examination proceeded the miserable man showed in the contortion
of his features, in a brow dank with perspiration, in whitened face and
trembling limb, the agony that oppressed him. It was a sight to awaken
compassion even in those who had suffered most from his villainy. In his
easiest moments Sir Charles Russell was sufficiently formidable. “A more
frigid-looking man,” says his Irish biographer, “it had never been my
fortune to behold.” His eyes were of the kind that take in everything and
give out nothing; in one mood they seemed to search the very soul of his
interlocutor, in another they were capable of the kind of ferocity that
has the effect of physical shock. It is said that an unfortunate suitor
lost his wits at the glare of Jeffreys, and those who had to do with
Russell could find no great difficulty in believing the legend.

Not a few judges, fenced round with scarlet dignity, felt the terror of
Russell’s manner, and as for the solicitors who brought him briefs, “the
way he treated them,” says a contemporary, “won’t bear repeating.” Those
who knew him best declared that his roughly imperious manner concealed
a kind heart. But there was no cross-examiner at the Bar whose very
personality was more likely to strike awe into the heart of a witness
with something on his conscience. His strong features—there was something
a little sinister in their expression, the effect, so far as I remember
him, of a very decisive nose just a little out of the straight—could wear
a positively terrifying expression; it was hard to say whether his voice
was most deadly when it sank to a menacing whisper or when it boomed
out in tones of thunder; but above all there was the sense almost of an
elemental force, as resistless and unrelenting as the bog which engulfs
the incautious traveller.

There is no need to describe in detail how the wretched Pigott, entrapped
and bedevilled till there was no possible escape, broke down under that
pitiless torture, made confession during the adjournment of the court,
fled the country, and finally ended his earthly troubles with a suicide’s
bullet. But those two days, in the words of Lord Rosebery, brought
Russell at a bound “from a solid reputation to supreme eminence.” Russell
was not exaggerating when, in his subsequent speech for Parnell, he
claimed to have reversed the whole position, placing in the dock those
who had so far been the prosecutors. “When I opened this case, my lords,”
he began in low conversational tones, “I represented the accused.” Then,
suddenly allowing his voice to reach its full volume, and pointing a
minatory finger to the place occupied by the Attorney-General—Sir Richard
Webster—he cried, “Now we are the accusers, and the accused are there.”
It was a moment of intense drama. There was little in what was said.
But the manner and the effect were marvellous; the whole thing was a
triumph, not of eloquence, or of intellect, but of that mysterious force
we call personality. Russell, indeed, was no great orator, even in the
law courts, and as a political speaker he was very far from successful.
But he was, in his own proper way, a great person, and something akin
to genius enabled him to achieve, with less obvious endowments than
many other lawyers—for he was wholly deficient in wit, and was not
exceptionally subtle, or exceptionally learned, or exceptionally gifted
in words—a position as an advocate unequalled in his time. During the
Nineties his earning capacity was far beyond that of any other lawyer. As
early as 1874, when little more than forty, he was making an income of
over ten thousand a year; after the triumph of the Parnell Commission the
value put on his services mounted abruptly, and in his last full year of
practice at the Bar his fees amounted to over £22,000.

It was a weakness of Russell to boast that he was a pure “Celt,” by which
he probably meant a pure Irishman. But he was really of Anglo-Norman
ancestry, the descendant of one Robert de Rosel who accompanied Strongbow
on the expedition which brought Ireland under the English Crown. His
family was in comfortable circumstances, devoutly Catholic, and inclined
to things of the mind. Of the children only Charles followed a secular
career. His brother Matthew rose to distinction in the Society of Jesus;
his three sisters became nuns. There is a story that the two boys were
once cut off by the rising tide in Carlingford Lough. Matthew prayed;
Charles whistled. The whistle was heard, and the boys were rescued.
But Charles Russell would at no time have suggested that the appeal to
human aid was more efficacious than the prayer. For he was, in his own
way, not less devout than his brother the Jesuit. The great advocate,
gorged with suitors’ gold, the politician for whom Mr. Gladstone strained
every nerve to secure the Lord Chancellorship, the man of pleasure so
well known wherever horses ran or cards were played, was in many ways a
very different person from the Belfast solicitor of the Fifties and the
struggling barrister of the early Sixties. But his religion remained a
constant with Russell, and, though it was a shock to him to find his
daughter, like her aunts, determined to take the veil, he accepted the
situation with grace, and his letter yielding to her wishes was as
tender and delicately expressed a renunciation of a father’s natural
hopes as can be found in the language. His religious bias was rather
quaintly illustrated in his views on divorce, not so much on the thing
itself as on the attitude of parties towards it. He had no objection to
a woman seeking relief from the Courts; but he thought she ought to wear
black when doing so. He was always annoyed by a gaily dressed petitioner.
“They may not be sorry,” he used to say, “but they should at least
pretend they are sorry.”

Russell’s fame as an advocate wholly overshadowed his reputation as a
politician. He was twice Attorney-General; he had a place of importance
in the inner councils of the Liberal Party; and he spoke with industry
and intelligence wherever he was wanted to speak. But he was not at
his happiest either in the House of Commons or on the platform. With
fellow-members of Parliament he was too haughty, and with popular
audiences too cold and formal, and his mind had neither the breadth nor
the geniality for the part either of a statesman or a demagogue. But as
Lord Chief Justice he notably falsified the saying that a great advocate
seldom makes a great judge. Some of his faults of manner remained. He
was sometimes a little arbitrary, and often not a little rough. But he
had the one great quality of getting straight, through all kinds of
incidental and irrelevant matter, at the heart of a case; and the trial
of Dr. Jameson showed his iron disregard for mere popularity. Standing
between the Jury and public opinion, he permitted them no loophole for a
verdict of acquittal. Four years afterwards he said: “Public opinion was
apparently exasperated because any sentence had been passed at all. When
I tried them people said I was too hard on them. Now people say I was not
hard enough.” Lord Russell as a judge and a Peer turned to account the
considerable knowledge of the seamy side of business life he acquired in
his early years as a solicitor and as an advocate appearing chiefly in
commercial suits, and one of his latest acts was the introduction of a
Bill to deal with the evil of secret commissions. “He was struck down,”
wrote a great lawyer after his death, “before the full measure of his
powers as a law reformer and administrator could be felt.”

Essentially a man of action, finding little solace in literature or
art, his amusements were of the more frivolous kind. He was fond of
racing, boxing, theatres, and billiards, and had a passion for cards that
sometimes made him indifferent in what company he played. On one occasion
this habit exposed him to a cutting retort. A young Guardsman staying
at the same hotel had been asked to make one of a hand at whist. But
Russell, whose partner he was, soon found that the soldier was very drunk
indeed. He bore for a while the erratic play, but at last threw down his
hand, exclaiming, “This is not whist; it is tomfoolery.” The Guardsman,
quite unabashed, told him to “keep his hair on.” Any kind of familiarity
was intolerable to Russell, and this insolence at once threw him into
a towering rage. “Do you know who I am, sir?” he demanded, with that
savage glare that had frightened so many reluctant witnesses. But the
soldier faced him as coolly as he would have done a battery. “Know you!
Of course I do. But remember, my man, you’re not in your silly old police
court now.” This was precisely the kind of answer which left Russell
helpless. For, though his tastes were a little ordinary and his manner
rather rough, he was incapable of the verbal coarseness which is in some
cases the only rational alternative to silence. Anything savouring of
brutality or looseness was intolerable to him, and it is said that nobody
ever dared twice to tell a doubtful story in his presence. He contributed
little to the jollity of the Bar mess on circuit, and in ordinary society
was inclined to silence, though he could occasionally tell well enough a
story of the kind he liked.

Mr. Balfour is credited with saying once that if he and Lord Randolph
Churchill had gone to the Bar they must have made forty thousand a
year instead of the twenty thousand or so which then represented the
high-watermark of forensic success. Few would go so far as to make such
a claim. But most people must sometimes have wondered, in watching the
great barrister in an unfamiliar environment, how much of his eminence
is due to sheer intellect. Certainly very few high reputations in the
Courts are increased in politics, and those barristers who do succeed in
the House of Commons are generally rather lightly regarded in the Law
Courts. Lord Russell was an example of the great lawyer who is also a
great personality but is hardly a man of great general elevation. His
mind, though vigorous and acute, was essentially narrow; the sap of
his intellect was directed almost exclusively to things immediate and
practical. On all general questions he lagged behind the opinion of his
time. Thus, though he early took a keen interest in Irish politics, and
in his later years seldom spoke on anything but Home Rule, his conversion
to that cause did not ante-date Mr. Gladstone’s. He had always held that,
if Home Rule was necessary, it must come gradually through extensions
of local government, but he did not regard it as necessary. Yet he had
no difficulty in following Mr. Gladstone when the split came. The truth
was that, considered from a worldly point of view, he was mainly a
professional man, with professional ambitions and professional thoughts,
and politics were to him, rather more than to most lawyers, a means of
rounding off his career as an advocate. At the same time, he had no
small share of the temperament that made so many of his family embrace
a religious life. Money and position were realities; so was religion;
other things were less real. It is a temperament puzzling to people in
Protestant countries, who understand neither the griping materialism
of the Papist peasant nor the scarcely less materialistic mysticism of
the Papist peasant’s brother who happens to be a saint. But it is a
temperament very Irish, and Russell, though his frigidity made him most
unlike the “typical” Irishman of our conceptions, was an Irishman to the
core.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lord Russell’s contemporary and rival, Sir Richard Webster, who succeeded
him as Lord Chief Justice under the title of Lord Alverstone, was in
every way his opposite. Russell had personality and a touch of genius;
Webster was wholly destitute of atmosphere. Russell often carried judge
and jury with him by sheer momentum; with Webster it was dogged that did
it. Russell, if not excessively Irish on the surface, was, for good or
ill, wholly un-English in any part of him; Webster was a most authentic
specimen of the Englishman in his least exciting aspect. He was the
kind of man who has always been a source of splendid strength to this
country—the man who can ever be depended on to do good, honest, sterling
work, and is never under suspicion of dangerous brilliance. Whether the
task be trying a murderer, or ruling an Eastern province, or running
a civil service department, or writing a column for _Punch_, it is to
men like Webster that our confidence is mainly given, and we are never
really easy unless they are in a majority. Webster happened to go in for
law, his family circumstances tending that way. But when Lord Salisbury
suddenly brought him into politics, making him a law officer before he
had a seat in the House of Commons, he at once attained the same sort of
success in Parliament that he had achieved at the Bar. If he had gone
from Trinity College, Cambridge, to Trichinopoly, it would have been the
same. Such men as Webster never fail, even as comic singers. Webster sang
a very excellent comic song, and would often do so in congenial company,
even after he had reached the Bench. And he ran a capital mile race, was
great over hurdles, played a good game of cricket, cycled much when the
bicycle was out of fashion, and to the end of his life read the sporting
papers with at least as much interest as the _Law Times_.

In a word, there was much health in him, and quite as much ability
as he wanted for his purpose. The one thing he lacked was a touch of
distinction. That horrible word “level-headed” was not inapplicable
to him. If Webster was never, in any circumstances, below a certain
standard, he paid the penalty of never rising above it. Nobody ever
said, nobody ever did, fewer notable things. He had some very big jobs
as an advocate: he led for the Crown before the Parnell Commission; he
prosecuted Jabez Balfour, the Liberator swindler; he prosecuted the
authors of the Jameson Raid; he served as junior to Russell in the
Behring Sea arbitration; and he was leading counsel for this country in
the Venezuela arbitration. The praise showered on him for his conduct of
these great international cases was undoubtedly deserved. But the quality
of the praise is worth notice. “The care and preciseness with which
he prepared the cases,” says an authority, “bore traces of tremendous
labour. Unlike the American lawyers, who dealt principally in general
propositions, Webster advanced no point that could not be legally
supported and defended.” Webster was, in fact, an almost perfect specimen
of the matter-of-fact British lawyer who, having a complete contempt
for first principles, and a vast reverence for precedent and punctilio,
is “greatly trusted and respected by solicitors.” He was helped by a
ponderously earnest and almost prayerful manner, which suggested that
a certain moral obliquity, and an element not quite English, you know,
resided with the side opposed to him.

       *       *       *       *       *

If Sir Richard Webster had been just a little more “English,” a good deal
less able, and far less learned, he might have made another Mr. Justice
Grantham. There was just the sort of resemblance between the two men
that obtains between a first-rate portrait and a very wild and wicked
caricature. Both were intensely Conservative, intensely respectable,
intensely unimaginative, intensely moral and well-meaning. But Mr.
Justice Grantham, like necessity, knew no law, while Lord Alverstone knew
a great deal; and Lord Alverstone had the judicial temperament in full
measure, while Mr. Justice Grantham could not, without severe mental
discomfort, listen to more than one side of a case. His ordinary course
was to take a glance at both litigants; that was generally sufficient,
but if both seemed equally objectionable he might be impelled to take
sides according as he liked or disliked counsel. Taking a side was
quite necessary to him. I remember one case in which he suffered, for
quite a little time, the agonies of choice. The issue lay between an
Englishman who had become some sort of heathen and a naturally black and
heathen man. As an intensely religious English gentleman Sir William
Grantham was bound to disapprove very strongly of anybody who threw
away the advantages of having been born a “happy English child.” But at
least equally he did not like colour. For about a quarter of an hour
his bosom was torn by conflicting feelings; then he made up his mind
that the calls of blood were paramount, and for the rest of the hearing
went strongly against the hapless dark-skinned litigant. Judicially Sir
William Grantham was simply the Great Reversible. Personally he was an
extraordinarily good-hearted man, and those who had least respect for
his judicial qualities were among his warmest friends. There was not a
dry eye in the Law Courts when it became known that he had been called
before the highest of all tribunals.

       *       *       *       *       *

A very different type of lawyer was Sir Francis Jeune, the famous
President of the Divorce Court. A handsome, bearded man, with features
of a slightly Semitic cast, and courtly manners not quite English—he
was born in Jersey, though little of his life had been spent there—he
was, both professionally and socially, one of the best-known figures
of the Nineties. His wife, the widow of a Peer’s younger son, was a
great entertainer, and her fondness for everything either “smart” or
intellectual was a considerable factor in breaking down the barriers
which still existed between “the classes” and mere talent or mere money.
Judges seldom make much figure in society; and in the Nineties there
still clung to them as a class much of that Bohemian character which
derived from the days when Circuit duty implied a lengthy banishment
from London and a rough bachelor life in the Assize towns. Mr. Justice
Hawkins, later Lord Brampton, was not perhaps quite typical of his
brethren, and the exaggerated untidiness of Lord Justice Vaughan
Williams was exceptional. But not less exceptional was the combination
of scholarliness and mondaine aplomb of Sir Francis Jeune. As a divorce
judge he had a perfect style; it could hardly have been beaten by the
bedside manner of a Royal physician. It was a delight to hear him
interpreting the degree of affection implied in a wife’s reference to
her husband as “my dear little black piggie.” No man was more apt in
discussing the psychology of sex. In one case he showed, by a wealth of
refined analysis and historical allusion, how while it was quite possible
for a man to be in love with two women at the same time, and leave each
in the belief that she was the sole mistress of his heart, no woman
was capable of such liberality or such dissimulation. He was a great
advocate of temporary separation as a possible cure for ills matrimonial;
“absence,” he held, “often made the heart grow wiser.” A rigid moralist
might have ventured the criticism that the delightful man-of-the-world
way in which Sir Francis dealt with suits and suitors was prejudicial
to the interests of marriage; a divorce as managed by him seemed so
entirely ordinary and innocent an affair. But, suave as he was, he could
be strong on occasion, and he once committed a Duchess to prison with
the most perfect and relentless good breeding. Ordinarily he shunned the
rôle of judicial humorist; Mr. Justice Darling was then a very young
judge, and the older jesters were of the coarser genre. But occasionally
a good thing came out accidentally. Thus it was once pointed out that he
had joined in prayers at the Archbishops’ Court, whose competence was
impugned in the case then being argued. “Yes,” said Sir Francis, “but I
prayed without prejudice.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The name of Lord Coleridge has a very far-away sound; yet, though he was
born in 1820 and called in 1847, he was still a great figure in the early
Nineties. It was a majestic sight to see him rise sweepingly from the
Bench at the close of a sitting. He was six feet three in height, erect
and sturdy, though not corpulent, and this tall column of manhood was
crowned by an appropriately noble capital; his head was large and finely
shaped, and his features, while strong and significant, were suffused
with a benignancy of expression which might be occasionally misleading.
For he could say very nasty things in his gentle and delicately modulated
voice—a voice the beauty of which Sir Charles Russell had never known
surpassed. As a cross-examiner he had shown deadly power in his days of
advocacy. The smashing of the Tichborne pretender had been one of his
great forensic feats; during the larger part of the cross-examination
his drift was not generally appreciated, but when he sat down the fraud
was completely unmasked, and at the subsequent trial for perjury it was
found that Coleridge had, in the words of a commentator, “stopped all
the earths.” He died in the spring of 1894, after over twenty years in
the great post of Lord Chief Justice. He was undoubtedly a very great
judge, but, being on a large scale all round, his faults were not exactly
small. His temper was despotic, his language could be bitter, he had
many dislikes, and was at once subtle and indiscreet. A fondness for
society, going with a disposition to fall foul of many units in society,
naturally led to many collisions, and he was as constant in his feuds as
in his friendships. Even in his old age he could, if the matter were of
sufficient importance, rouse himself to great mental efforts. But those
who saw him presiding over his Court in the early Nineties were chiefly
conscious of dignified somnolence, and the alertness and vitality of his
successor, Russell, seemed almost indecent after the repose that had
reigned so long.

Lord Coleridge was one of those lawyers who retain their political
prejudices in unmitigated form after translation to the Bench; he was
to the last as dogmatic a Liberal as Grantham was a Conservative. Thus
in 1892 he wrote to a correspondent, “I am out of politics, of course,
but I would go far and do much to destroy the Unionists. To them and
them alone is due coercion and all the train of evils and the denial of
obvious and safe improvements in England and Scotland. I have no feeling
against the Tories; there must be such people in every old-established
and aristocratic country, and they at least are honest and act steadily
on principle. But a Unionist who pretends to be and calls himself
a Liberal, and who for seven long years has voted for everything
reactionary and entirely opposed to his creed—I have no patience with
these men.” We hear much now about the degradation of the Press. Lord
Coleridge thought the solemn London papers of the early Nineties, though
“rather better educated” than the American, “to the full as vile,” and
“with a swagger and insufferable pretence and self-assertion” from which
American journalism was free. Moreover, the “Court and aristocracy
degrade the independence and corrupt the manners of the vast numbers who
are brought within their influence.” It can be well understood that a man
holding such opinions, and expressing them with such vigour, was only
popular among those who thought with him. For the rest, Lord Coleridge
was fond of good pictures, good music, good living, and good stories. He
was not himself the hero of many anecdotes, but one may serve. He was
sitting in Court with Mr. Justice Groves one day when a slip of paper was
handed up to the Bench conveying the news of a most unexpected judicial
appointment. Groves exclaimed, “Well, I _am_ damned.” “My learned
brother,” said Coleridge, “I do not indulge in profane language myself,
but if you would repeat that word it would really relieve my mind.”

       *       *       *       *       *

No survey of the legal landscape of the Nineties would be complete
without some reference to that most individual figure, Sir Frank
Lockwood. Of middle-class Yorkshire birth, Lockwood inherited from his
father a facility in caricature and from his mother a keen sense of
humour. He was meant for the Church, and sent to Cambridge with orders
in view. But his lively nature rebelled against this decorous career,
and after he had taken his degree and spent a little time in tutoring he
decided to go to the Bar. His first case was a formal appearance to give
consent on the part of a certain corporation; the fee was three guineas
for the brief and one guinea for consultation. A rather testy judge
remarked on the unnecessarily large number of counsel appearing. “You,
sir,” he demanded, turning to Lockwood, “what are you here for?” “Three
and one, m’lud; merely three and one,” was the soft answer, which did not
turn away judicial wrath, but did attract professional attention to the
young barrister.

Lockwood is a singular and almost unique example of a barrister making
a very creditable success by abandoning himself frankly to the very
side of his temperament which would seem least likely to help him in
so grave a profession. He throve on a studied light-heartedness. His
parts were not specially quick; he had a fundamental common-sense, but
little more, and if he had taken himself quite seriously it is likely the
legal world would have taken him quite lightly. But it was not easy for
judges or witnesses or jurymen to resist the fascination of his cheery
presence and genial humour. His jokes were always cracked with a shrewd
eye to business, and many of them would not have sounded very amusing
outside a court of justice. But they were above the ordinary level of
forensic humour, and there came to be a recognised “Lockwood brief.” The
character of a jester was also useful as leading to a wide journalistic
renown. “Lockwood’s latest” went the rounds as merrily as the sparkling
witticisms of the facetious lodger of Mrs. Todgers. The paragraphists
were delighted to narrate how Lockwood, seeing a Scottish host sign for
himself and his wife in the traditional Highland way, “Cluny and Mrs.
McPherson,” himself wrote, “26, Lennox Gardens, S.W., and Mrs. Lockwood.”
With equal glee they told how Mr. Lockwood went to a chapel where his
Nonconformist friend, Mr. Samuel Danks Waddy, Q.C., was advertised to
give a brief, bright, and brotherly address, and how Waddy turned the
tables on him by solemnly giving out that “Brother Lockwood would now
lead in prayer.”

“It amuses my friends very much,” said Mr. Peter Magnus when telling
Mr. Pickwick that his initials were P.M., and that in notes to intimate
friends he sometimes signed himself “Afternoon.” Mr. Pickwick was
secretly “envious of the ease with which Mr. Magnus’s friends were
amused,” and no doubt a professional merry-maker must have sighed over
the inexpensive triumphs of Sir Frank Lockwood. But the thing did what
it was intended to do, and on the strength of his caricatures and his
jokes, far more than by any conspicuous ability, Lockwood climbed to a
Recordership, a seat in Parliament, a good social position, and finally
the Solicitor-Generalship.

His early death seemed the more pathetic because of his intense enjoyment
of life and the unusual bounty with which Fate had so far treated one who
was after all but a light-weight. He had always been a little nervous
about his physical health and not a little anxious lest his professional
standing should diminish. Thinking thus, he had his eye on the Bench.
Lord Halsbury, whose professional sympathies were even stronger than his
political prejudices, was favourable, and called on him during the last
month of his life. But it was too plainly evident that Lockwood’s course
was run, and the well-meaning visit could have no result. “He must have
felt,” said Lockwood to Mr. Birrell a day or two later, glancing at his
own wasted frame, “that I should make an excellent puisne judge.”

Lockwood’s personal opinion of litigation is perhaps worth quotation.
“Never by any chance,” he wrote to a relative, “become involved in
any difficulties which will bring you into a court of law of higher
jurisdiction than a police court. An occasional drunk and disorderly
will do you no harm and only cost you five shillings. Beyond a little
indulgence of this kind—beware.”



CHAPTER XXVIII

OLD AND NEW JOURNALISTS


What we do, are, and suffer journalistically was determined for us in the
Nineties. The decade was the meeting-ground of opposing forces, and the
battle between them was largely fought to a decision before the end. In
1890 the old “solid” journalism—and it was very solid indeed—decidedly
enjoyed pride of place; the newer journalism was not too firmly
established; the newest journalism had conquered but an insignificant
portion of the weekly Press, and had gained no daily representative.

Ten years later the whole scene was changed. The old journalism was
manifestly stricken to death, though it took an unconscionable time
to die. The newer journalism—its most typical representative was _The
Star_—had advanced but slightly. The newest journalism—that of Alfred
Harmsworth and his imitators—was in the heyday of youthful vigour, very
much alive, and perpetually kicking. It is not easy to find a parallel
to a change so swift, so silent, and so complete—a change, moreover, so
powerful and various in its effect, for the newest journalism, with its
loud and simple Imperialism, its indifference to party ties, its lack of
interest in moral or religious questions, its intense concern in wealth
and the manifestations of wealth, has contributed as much as anything
to the digging of that great spiritual gulf which separates us from the
Victorian time.

At the beginning of the Nineties the older newspaper Press seemed to
enjoy all the prestige which had been its since Gladstone made a cheap
Press possible. The “great dailies” were not largely circulated, as
circulations now go; they were very cheaply conducted, by all modern
standards of expenditure; they had few interests, apart from politics;
they do not seem, to one who turns over the yellow files, conspicuously
well written. But they commanded an almost idolatrous respect. The
average of British mankind took his paper not much less seriously than
his passbook, and rather more seriously than his Bible. The journalist
himself might still, perhaps, be rather lightly regarded; there might be
men still who, like George Warrington, blushed when they confessed to
making an honest living out of pen and ink.

    “I write,” said Warrington. “I don’t tell the world that I do
    so,” he added with a blush. “I do not choose that questions
    should be asked; or perhaps I am an ass, and don’t wish it to
    be said that George Warrington writes for bread.”

But the same Warrington—a much more delicious snob than any in his
creator’s special book on that species—could indulge in such a rhapsody
on the Press as the following:

    They were passing through the Strand as they talked, and by
    a newspaper office, which was all lighted up and bright.
    Reporters were coming out of the place, or rushing up to it in
    cabs; there were lamps burning in the editors’ rooms, and above
    where the compositors were at work; the windows of the building
    were in a blaze of gas.

    “Look at that, Pen,” Warrington said. “There she is—the great
    engine—she never sleeps. She has her ambassadors in every
    quarter of the world—her couriers upon every road. Her officers
    march along with armies, and her envoys walk into statesmen’s
    cabinets. They are ubiquitous. Yonder journal has an agent, at
    this minute, giving bribes in Madrid, and another inspecting
    the price of potatoes in Covent Garden. Look! Here comes the
    Foreign Express galloping in. They will be able to give news to
    Downing Street to-morrow; funds will rise or fall, fortunes be
    made or lost; Lord B. will get up, and, holding the paper in
    his hand, and seeing the noble Marquis in his place, will make
    a great speech; and—and Mr. Doolan will be called away from his
    supper at the back kitchen; for he is the foreign sub-editor,
    and sees the mail on the newspaper sheet before he goes to his
    own.”

That was the feeling about the Press in Thackeray’s time, and it was
still the feeling in the early Nineties; the sense of something almost
superhuman in its intelligence. Thackeray, as a kind of gentleman,
heartily scorned the newspaper people with whom he was thrown into
professional contact, but he had a vast respect for the final result of
all their efforts. To-day Thackeray, however gentlemanly, would not be
ashamed to acknowledge being or knowing a leader-writer, but on the other
hand he would sneer (as a fashionable thing to do) at the Press as an
institution. Thirty years ago the actual Thackerayan view prevailed on
both points, if a little weakened. There was still almost a sacredness
attaching to serious print. Men were so anxious to respect the Press
that they frowned on any tendencies to levity which might occasionally
be found. A journal purporting to give news and views had gravity
forced upon it. It is true that a great deal of licence was allowed
to the comic and periodical Press, which was, on the whole, much less
decorous than that of to-day. These publications, indeed, seemed to be
tolerated rather on the old respectable principle that, since there must
be wickedness, it is well to give it a definite outlet, so as to avoid
the evils of general contamination. These papers were, so to speak,
the journalistic _filles de joie_ who, by the sacrifice of their own
reputation, safeguarded the vestal innocence of the responsible sheets.
In their pages the reader could, if his tastes lay that way, find all
the spice, suggestiveness, and scandalous piquancy he wanted. In the
great dailies all was propriety and dullness. They were the work of the
shorthand reporter and the leader-writer. Home news meant Parliament,
public meetings, and police court “intelligence.” Foreign news meant (to
quote Mr. Balfour) the “dull and doubtful details of the European diary
daily transmitted by ‘our special correspondent.’” Leaders, broadly
speaking, meant comment on the speeches and the despatches.

The old journalism had a great tradition behind it. It was never, indeed,
quite what its eulogists would have us believe. There never was a time
when the feet of advertisers were not beautiful upon its staircases.
There never was a time when the proprietor thought of his paper purely as
a public institution. Indeed, the fact was rather that the proprietor was
so much of a tradesman that he restricted himself to the commercial side
of his venture. There were exceptions, of course, like some of the Walter
family, who took a very living interest in policy. But as a rule the
great newspaper plutocrat had little social ambition, and less interest
in home or foreign politics. Such a man knew that he was a Conservative
and a Churchman, or that he was a Liberal and a Nonconformist, or that
he was a Secularist and a Radical, or that he was a “kind of a plaid.”
But he did not greatly trouble about specific things political: he left
that to his editor. He “set” a general policy, and then looked round for
someone to carry it out: the someone soon showed whether he was going to
be a success or a failure. If he were a failure, the proprietor had the
misery of another trial; if he were a success, another name was added to
the list of “great editors.” The proprietor occasionally asked him to
dinner, much as Mr. Bungay asked his contributors to “cut mutton” with
him; but for months together the editor dictated policy without a hint
from above.

A man thus working for a mere salary—and that not exactly a princely
one, for Mr. Mudford’s five thousand a year on _The Standard_ was almost
the plum of the profession—might, one would think, get into all sorts of
bad courses in thus working practically without supervision. He might
well become a drunkard, or a lazybones, or a venal scoundrel. In fact,
every editor was a model of probity, and almost all the editors showed
great energy and ability. Commonly they developed a most romantic loyalty
to their papers and proprietors, and generally ended by dying of sheer
exhaustion in their service. But this was not the Victorian editor’s only
loyalty. Even more striking was his sense of what was due to the public.
He felt in his very marrow the obligation to serve the public to the best
of his ability, both as regarded information and counsel. If he thought
the mass of the public was right from his political standpoint, then it
must be kept intelligently right; if it was wrong, then it must be argued
out of its error. But he held it as a cardinal principle that the public
must not be merely bamboozled, still less misled by sheer lies, and
knowingly he never published false or distorted information. His comments
might be partial, but his news was honest. Such an editor never boasted
himself as a person of special integrity; on the contrary he generally
spoke in private with extreme cynicism, and was as far removed from
priggishness as a man could well be. Yet few bishops, priests, or deacons
held so firmly to professional duties and decencies.

It was part of the character of these men to be anonymous. Inside their
offices they were autocrats; outside they were less than nobodies; they
did not properly exist at all. Delane, ubiquitous and social-minded,
was the exception. The rule was rather represented by Mudford of _The
Standard_, who would see nobody at his office, and, when a Cabinet
Minister once pursued him to his private house, called to his servant
from the dining-room, “Tell Lord —— I am not at home.” Mudford’s offices
in Shoe Lane were fitted up with all sorts of secret passages to
enable him to enter or leave without notice, and though, by a perfect
intelligence service, he knew everything that was going on, he was
himself as invisible as the Mikado of old. Next to the editors, the
chief personages of the “great dailies” were the leader-writers. They
were often socially better known as individuals than the editor. But it
was considered bad form to be aware of their professional pursuits, and
nobody was supposed to notice if at a certain hour a particular man,
known to write for the Press, disappeared like the ghost of Hamlet’s
father when the cock crew. The old leader-writer generally belonged to
the class of man who, with a little more ambition and some money or
great family connection, would have gone into politics. He had usually
done well at his university. He knew a good many people of the “right”
sort. He belonged to a good club when it was something to belong to
almost any club. He was paid well. He was, on the whole, very lightly
worked, and his duties were no less pleasant than easy. Small wonder,
therefore, that newspapers had a large field of selection, and that
leader-writers grew grey in the service of particular papers. Almost
the only survival of this interesting class now active in the Press is
Sir Sidney Low, the author of _The Governance of England_ and a number
of other valuable works. The technique of daily writing probably never
reached a higher perfection than with him; he had a most uncanny power of
producing, as fast as his pencil (for he eschewed the pen, fountain or
otherwise) could travel over paper, an article strong in common sense,
coherent in argument, abounding in incidental felicities of quotation and
illustration, and delightful in its easy freedom and picturesqueness.

A rather heavier weight was the late Mr. S. H. Jeyes, who was for long
associated with Sir Sidney Low on _The Standard_. Jeyes was happy in
being exactly suited temperamentally to his medium. I could never think
of Sir Sidney Low as a true Conservative; but the other was as good a
specimen of the natural Tory as ever existed. His was not the Toryism
of mental inertia, still less of stupidity, for he had a brain of the
very first quality, and in spite of a tendency to indolence got through
an enormous deal of work; but both his temper and his philosophy of
life were wholly Conservative, and the Gladstonian Liberal, I fancy,
aroused in him an almost physical repulsion. Like Carlyle, he was much
more tolerant of the Mountain than of the Gironde, and a real Bolshevist
would probably have affected him less unfavourably than a constitutional
Socialist of the type whom the Bolshevist swallowed. He commanded a style
of massive strength, and had a curiously impressive way of smashing
some small antagonist in a line, much as one might settle the hash of
an annoying insect, and then passing on in careless unconcern to a
more important person or matter. Perhaps the mordancy of his style was
increased by his studies of Juvenal, of whose satires he has left an
extremely lively translation; he loved the Latin idiom, which he could
use with almost as much freedom as English, and his own manner savoured
of classic severity and compression. He lived just long enough to see the
beginning of the end of _The Standard_, to which his best years had been
devoted.

A feature of the old daily papers was a “light” leader on a literary
or general subject; here the hand of the political leader-writer was
seldom used, though Sir Sidney Low, whose range was extraordinarily wide,
has done some very charming things in this genre. A famous contributor
of _The Standard_ was Alfred Austin, whom many thought better in his
workaday prose than in his occasional verse. Austin seldom stirred from
his place near Ashford, in Kent, and was perhaps the only leader-writer
whose contributions were habitually transmitted by wire. Another charming
writer of these fancy leaders was Andrew Lang. Mr. Hutchinson has dealt
with him in a charming sketch in his _Portraits of the Eighties_, but
Lang’s hand was still discoverable by the discerning in the _Daily News_
of the earlier Nineties.

Such in the main was the “great daily”: an affair of a “great editor,”
talented leader-writers, and a few highly-paid correspondents in certain
big capitals. The rest of the staff were nobodies, inferior in education,
in social standing, and in professional status; and there was a sort
of Chinese wall, moral and sometimes even physical, between them and
the aristocrats. This rigidity was unfavourable to progress, and it so
happened that about the beginning of the Nineties the supply of really
“great editors” fell short. Mr. Buckle, of _The Times_, might, indeed, be
accounted such, but he had special difficulties in his way—perhaps the
chief of them was the great blow of the Pigott forgeries—and among the
controllers of the other “great dailies” (except the _Daily Telegraph_,
which has always been peculiar in having a most active and vigilant
proprietorial element) there was none of quite the same calibre as the
Mudfords and the Delanes. There was thus a deadness about the Press which
positively invited the invasion of a robust competitor.

The first who made a burst into that silent sea was Mr. T. P. O’Connor
with _The Star_; Mr. W. T. Stead’s experiments with the _Pall Mall
Gazette_ were not of long duration, and the enterprise of _The Echo_,
one of the earliest pioneers of popular journalism, was not specially
distinctive. _The Star_ may be taken as typical of the newer journalistic
school of the early Nineties. In those days it was a strange blend
of seriousness and flippancy. To the rather stodgy decorum of the
old-established papers it opposed a curiously insincere rowdyism. I say
“insincere,” but perhaps the better adjective would be “forced.” _The
Star_ was really not at all vulgar. On its literary side it stood for
the very opposite of vulgarity; the true vulgarity was on the side of
the staid and respectable critics. And in politics it was mainly for all
that was honest and of good report; one might smile at the enthusiasms
of a purely Cockney print for “Home to the village and back to the
land,” but one could not accuse it of an unworthy or trivial outlook.
But it tried with extraordinary strenuousness to give the impression of
vulgarity. In dealing with the gravest matters it affected a riot of
titular fantasy tending to scandalise the steady-going. On the whole,
it clung to the narrow range of subjects affected by the older papers,
but it dished up the meetings and despatches piping hot and with a
_sauce piquante_ of “bright” headline. The news of the “Wife Murder
at Stepney” might be substantially the same as in the ordinary paper,
but _The Star_ sought to induce cheerfulness by heading the paragraph
“Bullets for Mother.” A criminal who cut his throat while trying to
escape from the police was described as “A Scarlet Runner.” But this
jocularity was often too abstruse to be really popular. _The Star_
was staffed chiefly by clever and rebellious young men, most of whom
have since done well for themselves and perhaps for others, and they
were incorrigible in inferring, not only much mental alertness in their
readers, but a considerable acquaintance with the dead languages and
the French and English classics. Thus, if there happened to be a strike
of bakers settled by compromise, the glad news was pretty sure to be
announced under the headline “_Dough ut des_,” which might have delighted
a frivolous man of education, but could hardly have failed to leave the
ordinary proletarian (supposed to be the main support of the paper)
in a state of angry mystification. Suppose, also, that some gorgeous
Maharajah happened to come over to one of the recurrent royal pageants,
dropping diamonds wherever he went—“Lo! The Rich Indian,” the predestined
headline, might tickle an idle man who remembered the original quotation
and recalled the rest of the couplet. But to the brewer’s drayman
it would seem a mere gratuitous silliness. It was this disastrous
cleverness, perhaps more than anything else, which prevented the ultimate
victory resting with the newer journalism, and left the way open to the
newest school.

The newer journalism, however, set many of the fashions that still
prevail to-day. It broke up the old anonymity of the Press. Few people
would have been able at that time to say who edited _The Times_, _The
Standard_, or _The Morning Post_, who wrote those charming things on
golf and Shakespeare and the musical glasses, or who was responsible
for exalting “The Bells” or decrying “Ghosts.” But everybody knew that
Mr. T. P. O’Connor started _The Star_, that Mr. Bernard Shaw “did” the
music for it, that Mr. A. B. Walkley “did” the drama, and that Mr.
Ernest Parke, after a very short time, inherited Mr. O’Connor’s mantle.
The name of Mr. Parke at once suggests what was perhaps the feature
which most strongly differentiated the journalism of the early Nineties,
new or old, from that which was seen clearly to be most successful at
the end of the decade. I mean its unashamed preaching, its conviction
that it had a mission, and its content to risk being a bore if only
the mission could succeed. Ernest Parke was—I speak of him in the past
tense, though he happily remains in the present, because, while he is
still hale and vigorous, his massive and once golden head is no longer a
common object of the Fleet Street landscape—a journalist of a type now
hardly existent. To begin with, he was an extraordinary judge of ability
of any kind, and managed to surround himself, at singularly low cost for
the most part to his principals, with young men who have since either
earned distinction in letters or have gone to form the _cadres_ of all
the chief newspaper staffs of London. In the second place he contrived to
maintain all the realities of the sternest discipline with all the forms
of anarchy. The shyest new arrival soon fell into the habit of calling
him by his surname, and making jokes (not excluding practical jokes) at
his expense. Yet the terror of being found out by him in any slackness
or stupidity lay on the oldest inhabitant as much as on the rawest
recruit. He contrived to give the journalistic calling all the zest of
a joke with all the earnestness of a religious vocation. His interests
were singularly wide. Himself very far removed from the scholarly, he
had the keenest appreciation of all the newest things in literature and
the arts, and there was no better rough judge of good, sound writing. On
the other hand, he had the capacity of feeling deeply on all sorts of
odd things to which the bookish man is commonly indifferent. He could
work himself up—or perhaps he did not need working up—into a state
of frenzy over the “guzzling” and junketing propensities of various
public or semi-public bodies in the City of London. He waged deadly
war against all ill-treatment of animals. A workhouse “scandal” would
move him to extraordinary indignation. A police court sentence which
appealed to him as unjust or cruel would rouse all the generous Quixote
as well as all the original savage in him. But he did not, by any means,
think parochially—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that, if
he thought parochially, he made the whole world his parish. Something
happening in Russia would excite him no less, in given circumstances,
than something happening in Mile End. He kept his eye as vigilantly on
the iniquity of the Turk as on the shiftiness of a minor Minister or
the advertisements of a bucket-shop fraud. The memory of his long duel
with the Rockefellers over “low-flash oil” still lingers with the older
inhabitants of Fleet Street. I happened to be out of England for some
years while this crusade was proceeding. My last uncloudy impression of
the Old Country was a placard at Southampton with some such words as
“Nearing Victory over Low-Flash,” and my first clear impression on my
return was another placard at Tilbury (a rather depressed-looking and
washed-out placard) bearing the legend “Another Low-Flash Horror—How
long, Oh Lord, how long?”—or words to that effect.

A vague and even rather bewildered kindness of heart, a noble indignation
against any sort of oppression, corruption, or insolence, a general
sympathy with the under-dog anywhere and everywhere—these Ernest Parke
had in common with a number of men who, lacking the essential sanity
which was at the bottom of his very English temperament, drifted into
mere faddism, humanitarian eccentricity, and anti-nationalism: the sort
of men who, to quote Mr. Chesterton, would first ask us to eat nothing
but vegetables, then tell us that it was wicked to consume even grass,
and finally ask, in a flush of noble sentiment, “Why should salt
suffer?” But Mr. Parke may well serve as the representative of a whole
class of editors, flourishing in the Nineties, who were not afraid to be
bores, and (by some miracle) succeeded in escaping the usual fate of the
bore. In ordinary life the man who insists on expounding his view of a
certain set of questions is shunned like the plague: business interest,
blood relationship, deep-seated esteem suffice not to win him toleration.
A boring newspaper is easier to avoid than a boring individual; the
remedy is simply not to buy it. The only conclusion, therefore, is
either that the public of that day enjoyed “damned iteration,” or that
the “damned iteration” was done with great art. The contrast between
the preaching journalism of the Nineties and the preaching journalism
of to-day cannot be better exemplified than by the history of two
agitations. In the Nineties there was an agitation against the Turk. The
British public was called on to express its feeling concerning a great
massacre of Armenians. It was invited to condemn “the dripping sword of
Abdul the Damned.” Now the Armenians, though an ill-used, were a very
far-away people; not one out of a thousand Englishmen had ever seen an
Armenian, or even framed any clear picture of the nature or geographical
disposition of an Armenian. Yet, after some weeks of newspaper agitation,
the whole country was ringing with indignation against the Sultan, and
Lord Rosebery’s retirement was hastened by the incompatibility between
his views on these massacres and those of the great majority of the
Liberal Party.

Contrast this agitation with that concerning recent Irish administration.
Ireland lies a few hours from England, and vast numbers of Englishmen
have friends among the Irish. The Irish question is not a remote affair
of foreign politics, but is most intimately connected with all our great
interests, as well as all our party feuds and intrigues. Whatever be
the exact truth about the situation, it is certain that the state of
Ireland has long been worse than it has ever been within living memory,
and it is equally certain that for a hundred years no such allegations
have been made against a British Government in regard to Ireland as the
allegations that are made to-day. But the newspapers which have the
clearest political interest in agitation do not agitate. Apparently
they are not without the wish to agitate, for they occasionally publish
strongly-worded articles. What they have lost is less the spirit than
the knack of agitation. That knack consists in merciless and unremitting
repetition, in what the ordinary man calls “rubbing it in.” The facts
have to be made clear, not once or twice, but seventy times seven.
The public has to be given no chance of forgetting and no excuse for
misunderstanding. The paper that would succeed in agitation must, in
short, be prepared to make itself a very serious bore. It must be
prepared to lose something in order to gain something. It must be ready
to sacrifice any reputation it may have with office boys and millinery
hands, who are not and cannot be made interested in politics. It must
even reconcile itself to the loss of a nice balance of headlines on
its main news page. Now the modern editor is far too much of an artist
to make these sacrifices. He is prepared to give Ireland some sort of
show if Ireland happens to be much in the picture. But even then the
eternal test match and the never-remitting golf championship cannot be
banished to the sporting page, and prominence simply must be found for
the pathetic little story about the “Thousand Million Dollar Baby,”
while the demands of local interest compel due attention to “Spooks in a
Norfolk Rectory,” and “Cat at an Eastbourne Whist Drive.” So Ireland’s
tale of woe flows through the paper like an Australian river. It is
easily traceable to the extent of a column; with some little difficulty
one finds an inch and a half of it under “Rembrandt for Ninepence” two
columns away; the mystery thickens when, referred to “continuation on
page seven,” one finds nothing there but a company meeting and “Are we
Immodest?” (continued from page eight); but finally the residue of the
Irish revelations is, by a lucky chance, run to ground on the City page
between “Butter Quiet” and “Copper Uneasy.” This is what happens when
Ireland is uppermost. At other times just nothing happens. When Ireland
does not deserve an important headline Ireland does not get one, and the
perfunctory paragraph is relegated to some back page, where a provincial
tennis match crowds it out.

Now the editor of the Nineties had none of this excessive respect for the
momentary and this strange disregard for continuity. Nor was he in the
smallest degree concerned about the symmetry of his news page. His main
idea was to make an impression, and an impression he certainly made. The
truth is that he felt himself less an artist in newspaper technique than
a prophet; often a Nonconformist by extraction, sometimes a secularist of
that Victorian type which was really more religious than the orthodox,
he was consumed with the idea that it was his business to put the world
right, and if he thought the world could be put a little more right by
letting an article run to five good columns, he could not bring himself
to hack it into two poor columns. He would rather leave out something
about a dog swallowing a will.

Curiously enough, the only newspapers which have not lost the knack of
propaganda are those which, in their origin, represented the revulsion
against propagandist journalism, and set out to supply simply “what the
public wants.” What I have called the newest journalism of the Nineties
(that is, the most solidly established journalism of to-day) has none of
the moral fervour of the Parkes and Steads. But it understands as well
as they did the importance of “rubbing it in”; and modern history might
well have run a far different course had such mastery of method been
associated with a more stable political philosophy.

This newest journalism is the child of two men—Alfred, Viscount
Northcliffe, and Mr. Kennedy Jones, M.P. The soul of it belongs to the
one, the body of it was moulded by the other. There were immediate
imitators, careful but uninspired, like Sir Arthur Pearson, and in the
long run all sorts of old papers abjectly copied the methods which had
brought them discomfiture. Other magnates, endowed with more character,
adopted the spirit while imparting to their productions a rather more
masculine note. But on the whole the great revolution in the Press
since the Nineties took its form from the personality of these two
men. The journalism represented by _The Star_ was half a joke and half
a crusade, with a commercial side to it. It was meant to pay, and no
doubt did pay up to a point; but its main motive was hardly a purely
commercial motive. The newest journalism, on the other hand, was frankly
businesslike: it set out to industrialise Bohemia, and succeeded. It was
as businesslike as a tea-shop: indeed, its progress was very like that of
the great tea-shop concerns. The tea-shops started with the lightest of
refreshments; the newest journalism started with the lightest of reading.
The tea-shop concerns went on extending and experimentalising until they
embraced every branch of the trade; they bought up old concerns and
started new ones; but to every acquisition and departure they imparted
something of their own original character. It was the same with the
newest journalism. Starting on crackers and sherbert, it worked its
way to fifteen-course dinners and vintage wines. But it has retained
throughout a certain singularity; and that singularity is the complete
standardisation of things of the spirit. The newer journalism carelessly
made a joke, sniggered over it, and then forgot all about it. The very
new journalism, on the contrary, treated a joke as a very serious thing,
in which it was right—a joke is a very serious thing. It decided against
certain classes of jokes. There must not be jokes about Nonconformists:
many advertising agents are Nonconformists. There must not be jokes
about Jews: many Jews are wealthy and prone to advertising; was not the
first advertisement on record that of a Frankfort Jew? Jokes against
“aliens” are, of course, permissible. On the whole, there must not be
jokes about the Church of England, though that is a less serious matter.
There must not be “unpleasant” jokes; otherwise the babies’ foods and
the condensed milks will not come into the advertising columns. Finally,
by a process of exhaustion, the right kinds of jokes are reached, and
by due experiment (prize competitions and the like) conducted with all
the seriousness of a Home Office analysis, it is found which particular
kind of joke brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number. This
discovery made, the joke is made the subject of mass production, and vast
stocks are poured out until the bookstall agents recommend a change. It
is much the same with news; the experts can tell within five hundred
the circulation effect of an ordinary murder, a “mystery,” a “poison
mystery,” a “poison mystery” with a “money motive,” a “poison mystery”
with a “love motive,” a divorce case with two eminent co-respondents and
no particular point, and a divorce case with one quite undistinguished
co-respondent and a strong “heart interest.” The business mind only
begins to haver when it reaches the rarefied atmosphere of high politics.
It inclines to the view that, war apart, foreign news is only useful
to give a certain distinction to a paper, but that home politics may
occasionally furnish the raw material for a really effective “stunt.”

The victory of the newest journalism over the old and the rather new is
only part of the general victory of standardisation and mass production
over the older and more individual enterprise. Everybody knows all about
what it has given the public—how it has placed every village much on a
news equality with the great towns, how it has given vastly increased and
diversified news services, how it has spread the habit of reading (if
not of thinking) over great classes which never glanced at a book or a
newspaper. It is not my business to discuss all this, which belongs to
the new century. More to the present purpose is to indicate what it has
destroyed, but what was still living and vigorous in the Nineties.

In the first place, it has destroyed that singular thing called editorial
responsibility, to which I alluded above. In the second, it has given the
newspaper the flickering unsteadiness of a cinema film, instead of the
fixity appropriate to the printed page; the paper amuses and interests
more, but instructs and leads far less. In the third, it has undoubtedly
debased the taste for really good and especially for really thoughtful
writing. But, above all, it has tended to render obsolete the prophet in
print, the man who feels a vocation to right wrongs, to preach crusades,
or to insist, in season and out, on the importance of principle. Such men
are now scarcely found in modern daily journalism, and if they were never
so numerous they would find difficulty in getting a hearing. They linger,
with increasing difficulty, on the weekly papers; they seem doomed to
eventual extinction; but when they go the world will be the poorer for
their loss. In the Nineties a notable specimen of this kind of man,
notable but perhaps scarcely brilliant, was Sir Thomas Wemyss Reid, the
first conductor of _The Speaker_, which attempted to be to Gladstonian
Liberalism what _The Spectator_ was to Unionism. His warm friend, Lord
Rosebery, has paid him as noble a tribute as journalist ever earned from
man of affairs. “His ideal of friendship,” says Lord Rosebery, “was
singularly lofty and generous. He was the devoted and chivalrous champion
of those he loved; he took up their cause as his own, and much more than
his own; he was the friend of their friends, and the enemy of their
enemies. No man ever set a higher value on this high connection, which,
after all, whether brought about by kinship, or sympathy, or association,
or gratitude, or stress, is, under Heaven, the sweetest solace of our
poor humanity; and so it coloured and guided the life of Wemyss Reid. His
chief works were all monuments to that faith; it inspired him in tasks
which he knew would be irksome, and which could scarcely be successful,
or which at least could ill satisfy his own standard. This is a severe
test for a man of letters, but he met it without fail.” It was perhaps
this sympathy, as well as his discrimination, which enabled Reid to
gather round him so brilliant a group of contributors; among them were
Mr. John (now Lord) Morley, Mr. J. A. Spender (the present editor of the
_Westminster Gazette_), Mr. Herbert Paul, Mr. James (now Lord) Bryce, Sir
Alfred Lyall, Mr. Augustine Birrell, Mr. Frederic Harrison, Mr. James
Payn, Mr. Henry James, Mr. (now Sir) J. M. Barrie, and Mr. A. B. Walkley.

Wemyss Reid detested above all things what was then called the new but
what I have called the newer journalism; he would have hated still more
the newest journalism; and he gave John Morley advice (which was at the
time rather resented) to keep strict control over the activities of W.
T. Stead. He did not believe in government by newspaper, and Stead’s
essay in connection with the mission of General Gordon more than ever
convinced him that the proper function of the Press was rather to check
Ministers than to dictate their policy. His _Speaker_ was ultimately not
a success, and if he is noted here it is chiefly because the journalistic
ideas for which he stood, as well as his politics, are still represented
by one of the most brilliant of his younger colleagues, Mr. J. A.
Spender, who now directs the _Westminster Gazette_, and there exemplifies
his old chief’s horror of sensationalism and love of balance.



CHAPTER XXIX

SOME ACTORS


Theatrically the Nineties were less interesting than the preceding
decade. The Eighties saw the great glories both of the Savoy and the
Lyceum; they might be likened to a glorious May and a blazing June;
the Nineties were rather a tired late summer fading into an inglorious
autumn. There was little new, and the old was not quite at its best.

Perhaps it was the discovery by a large class of a new pleasure that
chiefly contributed to make the theatre of thirty and forty years ago
an institution only second in interest to politics. The theatre-going
habit has now become general; the theatre itself tends to be a specialist
interest—like sport. Certain classes of young people have their pet
pieces and actors, and perhaps lavish on them just as much worship as
their grandfathers and grandmothers did on Irving and Ellen Terry, on
Grossmith and Jessie Bond, on Hare, and Wyndham, and Toole. But no actor
or actress commands the same general adoration that was rendered to the
great stage people of the golden age when the cinema and the standardised
music-hall were still unborn. The most splendid first night is only
an item in the morning’s news. In the old days it competed seriously
with a despatch from the Front or the speech of a Prime Minister. I can
well remember the appearance of the daily papers on the morrow of a new
Gilbert and Sullivan opera. The sketch of the plot and extracts from the
libretto occupied perhaps three columns; another couple of columns were
devoted to the score; perhaps another one and a half to the dresses and
the “brilliant house.” It is true that we have no Gilbert and Sullivan
to-day. But if both were with us in the happiest inspiration of their
whole collaboration it is inconceivable that they should occupy such a
space in the public eye. The viands of the Eighties and Nineties may be
equalled again; after all, with the solitary exception of light opera,
they were not specially wonderful. It is the appetite that we seek in
vain. The English people were then, theatrically speaking, children, and
had the zest of the child. They have since grown up, and, while leaning
more on stronger drink, find the tipple less exhilarating.

       *       *       *       *       *

How much of the earlier glories of the Lyceum were due to the fascination
exerted by Miss Ellen Terry, and how much to the genius of Henry Irving,
must always remain a matter of opinion. But concerning Irving’s greatness
there can be only one view. There were all sorts of things he was not. He
was not a good judge of a play; whenever he forsook the straight path of
Shakespeare he tended woefully to the pretentious or the trivial. He was
in some ways not even a good actor; his mannerisms were often unpleasing,
and his declamation was sometimes absurd. He was not, probably, a man
of very high general intellect. But one thing Irving undoubtedly was:
he was great—as great in his own line as Gladstone in Gladstone’s. He
dominated the stage as no other man did in his time, or has done since,
and he raised the whole public conception of the profession to a level
before undreamed of. The diaries of Macready are full of lamentations
concerning the hard fate which condemned an authentic public school boy
to a degrading servitude. When Irving sent his own boys to Marlborough
the arrangement seemed perfectly natural, and when they left nobody was
astonished that they should follow their father’s instead of the more
“reputable” careers which Macready eyed with envy.

This elevation of the stage was very largely Irving’s personal work, and
it was a work which no common man could have achieved. Irving was a most
uncommon man. Though natural and unaffected in private, he impressed
everybody with whom he came in contact, and was almost more eloquent in
his silences than in his speech, excellent as that was. He was a quite
incomparable host, and no man ever received so various a society: nearly
everybody who was anybody knew Irving. The Emperor Frederick and Mr.
Gladstone were among the many distinguished people who at one time or
another “went behind” at the Lyceum, and the list of those who partook
of Irving’s “chicken and champagne”—to quote a long-lived remark of a
rather ill-natured critic—would swell to the limits of a select “Who was
Who.” For instance, at the Diamond Jubilee in 1897 he entertained all the
Colonial Premiers, Indian Princes, and visitors from overseas who had
been mentioned in the official lists!

All this lavish hospitality meant the spending of money, and money could
only come by labour. As he went on, Irving put a greater and greater
strain on his nervous system, and, made of steel as he seemed in his
prime, he suffered heavily in later years for his prodigal expenditure
of energy. His luck turned about the middle of the Nineties; a seemingly
slight accident cast him aside for best part of three months, involving
a heavy loss; a year later he suffered heavily by the burning of his
stage properties; still another year, and he was stricken with an
illness which left a permanent mark on his physique and his spirit. For
some years an overpowering depression rested on him, a sense of tragic
disappointment, and it was only when he had reached the confines of
old age that his old serenity returned. But even in the heyday of his
success he never showed more essential gallantry than in the last fight
against embarrassment, infirmity, and (in a sense) solitude. He had not
been spoiled by his successes, and he remained above his reverses. He
should have died, considering the vast sums he received, a rich man—his
last tour in America yielded him, for example, a net profit of over
£32,000—but, if he was “unsatisfied in getting,” he was too princely in
bestowing to save money. Himself temperate, sparing in diet, satisfied
with moderate lodgment, without vices or personal extravagances, and
no gambler, he literally showered money on all pursuits and projects
tending to increase the finish of his own productions or to improve the
standing of the stage in the eyes of the world. He was the first to
translate into terms of gorgeous expense Mr. Crummies’s faith in “real
water—splendid tubs.” In his plays no detail was omitted. For _Becket_ he
obtained the services of a high Roman Catholic dignitary to secure that
the cathedral scenes, while impressively realistic to the general, should
not offend the religious susceptibilities of the understanding. This
devotion to stage upholstery set a vicious fashion of subordinating the
picture to the frame, the actor to the scenery, and in the end it nearly
ruined Irving. But it had its due effect in raising the stage in public
estimation; clearly anything which wanted so much capital could not be
quite disreputable.

       *       *       *       *       *

Irving was survived nearly a year by his old friend Toole. Like Irving,
Toole started as a London clerk, but, while Irving to the last retained
some small trace of his native province, Somersetshire, Toole was wholly
Cockney. The pair met at Edinburgh in 1857, and the friendship then
formed lasted undiminished till Irving’s death. When Toole was told the
news he said quietly, “Then let me die too.” Toole’s chief triumphs
came before the Nineties, and the young people who saw him for the few
years before his retirement could hardly comprehend the legend that had
gathered round his name. Still less could they appreciate the stories of
his rather naïve fooling in private. But then, all humour is a mystery,
and people who “sneer when you inform them that a door may be a jar” will
roar their sides out at something no more complex, but more modish.

       *       *       *       *       *

Irving, much as he had to do with the making of the modern stage, smacked
a good deal of the floridity of an earlier period. Sir John Hare was more
typical of modern finish; his acting in _A Pair of Spectacles_ set a
standard that may often have been equalled by the polished comic actors
of to-day, but has hardly been excelled. Hare got so much in the habit
of playing old gentlemen’s parts that he had the credit of being much
more advanced in years than he really was. He was once at dinner where
Mr. Gladstone was also a guest. “Who is that?” whispered Gladstone to his
hostess. “Hare? Oh, yes, yes, yes. I once met his father, the manager of
the Garrick.”

Hare belonged to a distinctly higher social class than either Irving
or Toole. So also did Sir Charles Wyndham. The son of a London doctor,
he had received a first-rate education, and practised for some time as
a doctor before going on the stage. A handsome person, great vivacity,
and a well-bred lightness of touch made him a king of comedy, and his
tradition is still one of the strongest inspirations in the modern
theatre.

       *       *       *       *       *

No account of the entertainers of the Nineties would be complete without
reference to a form of amusement which, though it still exists in a small
way, was in its biggest way thirty years ago. Its chief exponents were
Corney Grain and George Grossmith. The German Reed entertainments have
now a very far-away sound; the sight of the name gives the same sort
of feeling as the sign over some old-fashioned confectioners’, “Routs
Catered For.” Yet German Reed was very much alive in its time. It could
not be otherwise with the aid of so very vital a person as the gigantic
Corney Grain. Grain, who was intended for the Bar, reached the stage by
easy stages of amateurism and semi-professionalism, and his career was
complicated by a difficulty of classification. At first the Press would
barely notice him, because the musical critics said he was not Music, and
the dramatic critics said he was not Drama, and everybody agreed that
he was not Art. The German Reed entertainment, however, at last found
its public—a very peculiar one, very proper, very middle-class, and very
much intrigued with what were supposed to be the ways and humours of
a superior order of society. It is a public now very largely extinct;
people want either stronger or more delicate meat. But those days were
different. They were the days when nigger minstrels were a considerable
“financial proposition.” I remember well the Press agent of one famous
troop complaining to a Brighton newspaper that they had received scant
notice during the visit of Sarah Bernhardt. “If it were a circus I could
understand, but fancy playing second fiddle to that Frenchwoman!” he
remarked in high dungeon. Both with the minstrels and with German Reed
people could be sure of a due censorship of jokes and songs; they could
enjoy all the luxury of wickedness without wickedness itself. “Thank you,
Mr. Grain,” said a bishop once at the end of a performance, “I have been
not only amused, but—edified.”

George Grossmith also tended to edification. In physique he was the exact
opposite of Corney Grain, wizen and under-sized, and once when they
appeared together—the rivals were very excellent friends—Grain ended a
scene by picking up Grossmith and carrying him off the stage like a baby.
George Grossmith was the son of one of those curious men who supply the
newspapers with police court reports; the business is largely hereditary,
and in this case the son began life as assistant to his father. Police
courts, however, rarely sit late, and the “liners” have considerable
leisure to follow any other occupation. Grossmith _père_ was already
established as a lecturer and entertainer, and it was quite natural that
the two sons—George and Weedon—should follow in his footsteps. In the
late Seventies George attracted the notice of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and as
a result had a run of twelve years in Savoy Opera. Gilbert was at first
violently opposed to the introduction, but had to acknowledge that it
was a great success, though he could never refrain from an occasional
tilt at what he considered the vulgarities of Grossmith’s style. In a
certain part Grossmith received a box on the ear from one of the female
characters, and used to fall head over heels on the stage. “I should
be very much obliged if you would omit that piece of business, Mr.
Grossmith,” suggested Gilbert. “Why? I get a tremendous laugh with it,”
pleaded the actor. “So you would if you sat down on a pork pie,” retorted
Gilbert, who could never bear that applause should be diverted from his
“book” by mere “gag.”

It was just at the end of the Eighties that Grossmith left the Savoy
for the business of “society entertainer” on the Corney Grain plan. He
made an immediate success, the best tribute to which may be quoted;
it was that of a girl at a Yorkshire seaside place: “Oh, how we did
laugh! It was laugh, laugh, laugh! All the people kept laughing, and
then we laughed. Then the people laughed again, and so did we, and when
we got home we laughed more than ever, for none of us knew what we had
been laughing at.” But for that happy weakness of human nature, fewer
professional funny men would pay super-tax.



BIBLIOGRAPHY


In a work like the present, where personal impressions are so largely
mingled with the results of general and special reading, it is not
easy to give the authority for every statement. Specific borrowings
are indicated in the text. The author, however, would like to add an
acknowledgment of his general obligation to the following:

    “Recollections.” Lord Morley.

    “Life of Archbishop Temple.” Seven Friends.

    “Life of Sir Frank Lockwood.” Augustine Birrell.

    “Cecil John Rhodes.” Sir Thomas E. Fuller.

    “Early and Late Work of Aubrey Beardsley.” H. C. Marrillier.

    “Last Letters of Aubrey Beardsley.” Rev. John Gray.

    “Fifty-two Years in Fleet Street.” Sir John Robinson.

    “Life of Lord Courtney.” G. P. Gooch.

    “Life of an Irishman.” Justin McCarthy.

    “Memoirs of Eight Parliaments.” Sir H. Lucy.

    “Men and Manners in Parliament.” Sir H. Lucy.

    “Portraits of Statesmen.” Justin McCarthy.

    “Portraits of the Sixties.” Justin McCarthy.

    “Portraits of the Seventies.” G. W. E. Russell.

    “Portraits of the Eighties.” Horace G. Hutchinson.

    “London Days.” Arthur Warren.

    “Lord Russell of Killowen.” G. Barry O’Brien.

    “Autobiography.” Herbert Spencer.

    “Home Life with Herbert Spencer.”

    “Lectures and Address.” Mandell Creighton.

    “Mandell Creighton.” Louise Creighton.

    “Letters of George Meredith.”

    “George Meredith: His Life and Friends in Relation to His
    Work.” S. M. Ellis.

    “Thomas Hardy.” Annie Macdonnell.

    “Thomas Hardy.” Harold Child.

    “Figures et Caractères.” Henri de Regnier.

    “Oscar Wilde.” R. H. Sherrard.

    “A Society Clown.” George Grossmith.

    “Autobiography.” Richard Corney Grain.

    “Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving.” Bram Stoker.

    “G. F. Watts.” G. K. Chesterton.

    “Life, Letters, and Work of Frederick, Baron Leighton.” Mrs.
    Russell Barrington.

    “Life of Lord Randolph Churchill.” Winston Spencer Churchill.

    “Autobiography.” H. M. Stanley.

    “Darkest England.” William Booth.

    “Lord Coleridge.” Ernest Hartley Coleridge.

    “Bench and Bar.” J. A. Strahan.

Some of these portraits originally appeared in _The Outlook_.



INDEX


    A

    Alma-Tadema, Sir L., 248

    Alverstone, Lord (Sir R. Webster), 274, 279 _et seq._

    Ames, Julia, 179

    Armistead, Mr. (afterwards Lord), 45

    “Art for art’s sake,” 137 _et seq._, 250, 251

    Ashmead-Bartlett, Sir E., 166

    Asquith, H. H., 125, 165

    Atbara, battle of, 69

    Austin, Alfred, 295


    B

    Balfour, A. J., 122 _et seq._, 42, 47, 85, 89, 106, 170, 192, 246,
      278, 291

    Balfour, Jabez, 280

    Barnato, Barney, 31, 34

    Barttelot, Major, 236

    Beardsley, Aubrey, 192 _et seq._, 249

    Beit, Alfred, 34

    Bennett, James Gordon, 232, 233

    Benson, Archbishop, 94, 98, 99, 100

    Besant, Sir W., 195

    Bismarck, Prince Otto, 14, 60, 198

    Blomfield, Sir A., 212

    Boer War, 131 _et seq._, 172, 181

    Booth, William, 264 _et seq._

    Bottomley, H., 52

    Bradlaugh, Charles, 16

    Brampton, Lord (Sir H. Hawkins), 127, 282

    Bright, John, 125, 183, 201, 210

    Brighton Pavilion, 197

    Browning, Robert, 258


    C

    Campbell, Rev. R. J., 156

    Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H., 28, 130, 171, 172, 191

    Carlyle, Thomas, 177, 258

    Chamberlain, Joseph, 122 _et seq._, 42, 69, 85, 108, 109, 168, 172

    Chant, Mrs. Ormiston, 24

    Chesterton, G. K., 93, 216, 217, 257

    Churchill, Lord Randolph, 102 _et seq._, 41, 47, 123, 125, 172, 278

    Collings, Jesse, 129

    Cory, William, 19, 20

    Courtney of Penwith, Lord, 200 _et seq._

    Creighton, Bishop, 154 _et seq._

    Creighton, Mrs., 160

    Curzon, Marquis, 228


    D

    Darling, Sir Charles, 283

    Delane, Thaddeus, 208, 290

    Devonshire, Duke of, 83 _et seq._, 122, 222

    Dickens, Charles, 251, 252

    Disraeli, Benjamin, 45, 171


    E

    Edward VII, King, 90, 100, 150

    Eliot, George, 120, 121

    Emin Pasha, 231, 236


    F

    Fashoda, dispute between France and England, 70, 71

    Finance Act (1894), 145

    Fowler, Sir H. (Lord Wolverhampton,) 183 _et seq._

    Frith, W. P., 248

    Fukuzawa, Professor, 112

    Fuller, Sir Thomas, 37


    G

    Galsworthy, J., 219

    Gardiner, A. G., 216

    Gladstone, W. E., 41 _et seq._, 14, 15, 20, 25, 26, 61, 65, 88, 89,
      97, 109, 128, 129, 130, 135, 149, 150, 152, 169, 170, 185, 190,
      203, 222, 224, 225, 245, 275, 278, 289, 310

    Gooch, C. P., 205

    Gordon, General, 33, 178, 317

    Goschen, J., 105

    Grain, Corney, 312, 313

    Grantham, Sir W., 281, 284

    Greenwood, Frederick, 211

    Grossmith, George, 308, 313, 314

    Groves, Mr. Justice, 283


    H

    _Hampshire_, loss of, 82

    Haldane, Viscount, 238

    Harcourt, Sir W., 145 _et seq._, 42, 130, 170, 190, 191

    Hardie, Keir, 15, 148

    Hardy, Thomas, 211 _et seq._

    Hearn, Lafcadio, 175

    Henley, W. E., 197

    Herkomer, Sir H., 248

    Home Rule, 25, 26, 27, 46, 47, 48, 65, 89, 130, 148, 152, 169, 221,
      222, 226, 239 _et seq._

    Huxley, Professor, 14, 44, 251, 261


    I

    Imperialism, Mr. Chamberlain and, 132

    Irving, Sir H., 308 _et seq._


    J

    Jameson, Dr., 36, 37, 276, 280

    Japan, influence of Herbert Spencer on, 111 _et seq._

    Japan, war with China, 13

    Jeune, Sir Francis, 282, 283

    Jeyes, S. H., 294, 295

    Jones, Kennedy, 303


    K

    “Kaffir Circus” Boom, 30

    Kikuchi, Baron, 113

    Kingsley, Charles, 97, 252

    Kipling, Rudyard, 30, 192, 215

    Kitchener, Lord, 69 _et seq._

    Kruger, President, 131


    L

    Labouchere, Henry, 146

    Lang, Andrew, 295

    Leighton, Lord, 248 _et seq._

    Livingstone, David (found by Stanley), 232, 236, 237

    Lloyd George, David, 133

    Lockwood, Sir Frank, 285 _et seq._

    Lords, House of, 227

    Low, Sir Sidney, 294, 295


    M

    McCarthy, Justin, 239 _et seq._

    MacWhirter, J., 248

    Mahdi, tomb desecrated, 70

    Manning, Cardinal, 99

    Marchand, Major, 70 _et seq._

    Maupassant, Guy de, 195

    Meredith, George, 50 _et seq._, 217

    Mill, John Stuart, 15, 169, 171

    Millais, J. E., 248, 255

    Milner, Lord, 181, 224

    Morley, John (now Viscount), 164 _et seq._, 26, 48, 54, 57, 111, 124,
      129, 146, 149, 152, 177, 189, 190, 221, 224, 228

    Moulton, Lord, 243

    Mudford, William, 292, 293


    N

    Newcastle Programme, 48, 149

    Nineties, general aspect of, 11 _et seq._

    Northcliffe, Viscount, 280, 303 _et seq._


    O

    O’Connor, T. P., 296

    Omdurman, battle of, 69, 74, 79

    O’Shea divorce suit, 245


    P

    Papacy, History of, 158, 159

    Parke, Ernest, 297

    Parnell, C. S., 41, 123, 245, 272, 274

    Perks, Sir R., 189

    Pigott, Richard, 271 _et seq._


    Q

    Queen Victoria, 13, 39


    R

    Redmond, John, 245

    Reid, Sir T. Wemyss, 305, 306

    Rhodes, Cecil, 30 _et seq._, 179, 181, 182

    Ritualism, 154, 162

    Roberts, Earl, 79

    Rosebery, Earl of, 19 _et seq._, 42, 85, 92, 123, 130, 147, 148, 152,
      170, 171, 190, 306

    Rossetti, D. G., 255

    Ruskin, John, 248

    Russell, G. W. E., 133

    Russell of Killowen, Lord, 271 _et seq._, 283, 284

    Russell, Rev. Matthew, 275


    S

    Salisbury, Marquis of, 60 _et seq._, 14, 41, 85, 100, 103, 279

    Salvation Army, 264 _et seq._

    Sargent, J. S., 248

    Shaw, G. B., 195, 297

    Smith, W. H., 123

    Spencer, Earl, 221 _et seq._

    Spencer, Herbert, 111 _et seq._, 258

    Spender, J. A., 177, 306, 307

    Spurgeon, Charles Haddon, 260 _et seq._

    Stanley, Sir H. M., 230 _et seq._

    Stevenson, R. L., 197

    Synthetic philosophy, criticism of, 121


    T

    Temple, Archbishop, 93 _et seq._, 156

    Tennyson, Lord, 52, 252, 253, 258

    Terry, Miss Ellen, 308, 309

    Thackeray, W. M., on journalism, 289, 290

    Thorneycroft, Ellen (Lady Wolverhampton), 189

    Toole, J. L., 308, 311, 312

    Tory democracy, 106, 107

    Toryism, changes in character of, 67, 68, 227


    U

    Uganda, addition to Empire, 13


    V

    Valera, de, “President,” 247


    W

    Waddy, S. D., Q.C., 286

    Walkley, A. B., 297, 306

    Watts, G. F., 248 _et seq._

    Webb, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney, 268

    Wells, H. G., 214

    Whiggism, affected by Home Rule, 226, 227

    Whistler, J. McNeill, 248

    Wilde, Lady, 140

    Wilde, Oscar, 136 _et seq._, 155, 194

    Williams, Lord Justice, 282

    Winterbotham, A. B., 239

    Wolseley, Lord, 236, 237

    Wyndham, Charles, 308, 312

_Printed in Great Britain by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and
Aylesbury._





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Portraits of the Nineties" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home