Little Stories of the Simple New Brunswick Boy Who Remained Simple Even in Greatness.
A. BEVERLEY BAXTERDecember11923
Intimate Memories of Bonar Law
Little Stories of the Simple New Brunswick Boy Who Remained Simple Even in Greatness.
A. BEVERLEY BAXTER
FIFTY-FIVE years ago. when the first November snow of winter was covering the rugged lonely places of New Brunswick, a boy of ten years of age, a tall, shy boy, with a strangely wistful smile, might have been seen making his lonely way along the village road that led to his father's manse. Fifty-five years ago yet in that village faint memories of him stil linger and are told and retold by the bumble firesides there.” So writes A. Beverley Baxter, also a Canadian, in the London Sunaday Express, and he continues: To-morrow, in Westminster Abbey, that boy. grown to man’s estate, will be carried to rest among the immortal great Eyes that never saw him will weep for a friend who is gone, and the heart of a mighty people will gather his name to its keeping for evermore.
Late begrudged him little—life spared him little The highest honor that can ne won by a subject of Great Britain was h» when alive. The highest honor the • aticn can bestow upon its illustrious dead will be his to-morrow. Great things these, yet this man endured such sorrow's and oneiineos as few are called upon to know. In his later years he walked with grief, and ne went to his death by the path of unutterable agony.
Irecalling some homely memories of Vir Bonar Law 1 do not want to pose *s fefs intimate friend. He was a man of 'e* tVendships. Yet I saw him frequently d~.i under varying circumstances, and the mpressions gathered now constitute for ma strangely simple yet vivid and unbroken story. Perhaps, in recalling some of those impressions. I may be able to explain something of a personality that was so fine, yet so unspectacular, that the public who admired and loved him for his character knew almost nothing of him as a mar.
1 iike to think of him the first time I saw
It was in 1920. The Coalition was tottering to what seemed an immediate •atastrophe. Mr. Lloyd George was ianiing the world somewhere in Europe. On the 3torm-swept bridge Mr. Bonar Law was keeping the ship away from the rocks, tireless, skilful, powerful. At the height of the crisis, the House adjourned as usual on Friday On Saturday I motored out to Lord Beaverbrook’s country house and found that every one was on the tennis courts.
When I reached the courts I caught my first glimpse of Mr. Bonar Law. He was engaged in an energetic but restrained argument at the net the restraint being mostly on his side) with his host. I hesitated to interrupt them, because obviously the discussion was important, and resumably political. At last Bonar Law rought the debate to a close with a finality that could not be questioned.
“It was out,” he said, suavely but firmly. ‘‘The ball was distinctly out There is no use your making a case to the contrary, because there is the mark, and I abide by it.”
Trivial, I know, but I like to remember him for his vigorous health then, his zest for the game, and also because it was my first intimation that statesmen, even at moments of crisis, are not very different from the rest of us.
He played tennis as one would have expected him to play—cautiously, with never a double fault, without any fancy serves or killing strokes, but with a most exasperating patience and an unerring instinct for placing the ball in a spot most awkward to his opponent.
Then one Saturday in March 1921, he seemed to have recovered his vitality. He won three sets, and those playing with him were delighted to see him a3 he had been before. It seemed as if the streams of energy were reawakening within him. At the end of the game he walked down to the house for tea, and half an hour or so later I saw him there.
A dreadful change had come over him. He was sitting by' the window, and his face had a grey pallor about it that spoke of the breaking point. Sorrow and suffering and indescribable fatigue were written there.
Four days later he sent his resignation
as leader of the Conservative wing of the Coalition.
The streets were placarded with only one newsbill The political clubs were hot with rumor. Every' possible interpretation was put on the resignation. Intrigues and counter-intrigues sprang up like mushrooms. The political pot boiled over. The consensus of opinion was that it was the culmination of a Conservative plot to wreck the Coalition.
And at No. 11 Downing street, a weary, wistful figure sat oblivious to it all. “/ am qiiite worn out," he had written to the Prime Minister.
That was all.
From then on Mr. Bonar Law, it will be remembered, was mostly abroad recuperating his shattered strength. For the first time in many years he gave himself up solely' to his love of chess and tennis and the company of his children. He was never happy away from his family, a fact which made the death of his two sons in action poignantly tragic, and probably this interlude between his retirement and re entry' held more hours of contentment for him than he had known for many years.
But destiny had marked him for her own. His rest was to be only a respite. The nation was crying for a leader, and there was no voice but his to answer.
Reluctantly he came back. Gravely but remorselessly he spoke the words which hurled the Coalition out of power in a single day.
A few weeks later I saw him again at the same country house. I was curious to see in what way he had altered. It was inconceivable to me that any man could assume the trappings of the supreme office of the Crown without showing some change in his personality.
Mr. Bonar Law had not altered in the slightest. He was still “Bonar,” the name by'which every one spoke of him, whether they knew him intimately or little. Perhaps if there was any difference at all it was that, as he said goodbye, he made more certain that there was no one in the room with whom he did not shake hands —for he never forgot anyone, and when he smiled and said good-bye there was a charm and simple graciousness about him that was unforgettable.
Perhaps I may be excused if I tell another tennis anecdote which may bring out the strange unpretentiousness of his personality.
One Sunday, about a month after the meeting I have just described, I was playing tennis on Lord Beaverbrook’s court in town. My opponent was a young chap, and we had just started our second set when Mr. Bonar Law, with his daughter Catherine, his son Anthony, and his son-in-law, Sir Frederick Sykes, arrived in tennis costume.
I at once went over and offered the court to the Prime Minister.
“No, no,” he said, with that soft persuasive Scottish voice that was so soon to leave him completely. “I wouldn’t think of taking the court from you. Go on and finish your set. Do.”
He was so concerned about interrupting our game, and so self-effacing that actually I returned to the court and was about to serve when, fortunately, I came to my senses.
We left the court at once. It seems incredible that we could have contemplated anything else. Yet those who knew “Bonar” will perhaps understand. Less than a month afterwards he sat in
the House of Commons unable to answer questions. His voice had become inaudible, yet party dissension had left his Government so ill equipped that he did not dare to leave the front bench, directing his forces through his lieutenants—even in his silence the greatest political strategist of many years.
The last time 1 saw Bonar Law was in Westminster Abbey, where to morrow lie begins his long, long sleep.
It was at the marriage of the Duke of York. The wonderful old church was Piled with men and women conscious of their dignity and position. The sun gleamed through the windows on a blaze of uniforms and gorgeous gowns. Generals from India puffed out their chests and stroked stupendous moustaches. Eminent politicians in their uniforms nodded right and left as they came in, knowing that they were known to all. Peers of higher degree and peers of lesser degree took their places with that assurance which was their birthright.
Then Mr. Bonar Law entered wearing
his privy councillor’s uniform. He walked slowly up the aisle, and his fine presence, with the gentle, thoughtful stoop of his shoulders, would alone have made him a remarkable figure even in that gathering. But there was more than that. There was an indefinable greatness about the man that dwarfed those around him. It was not the greatness of power, nor birth, nor riches, but the greatness of simplicity. Looking at him, there came a strange thrill and a stranger sympathy that left many eyes touched with tears. He was of the people. That was his inheritance and his strength. Our hearts went out to him, for by his greatness he had made us great.
And to morrow he returns to the Abbey to rest, to sleep among the historic great. The sound of his favourite psalm will echo through the aisles. Men and women will bow their heads in homage, and tears will speak the sorrow of their hearts.
And in the little village of New Brunswick, where the first November snow is beginning to fall, they will talk of the boy with the wistful smile who walked alone on the road that led to his father’s manse.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.