CONSPICUOUSLY absurd among spurious phrases is the remark that no man is indispensable. The mere mediocrity, doubtless, is what he is because we may regard him as a “standardized” man. He is interchangeable at any moment with his like. Every personality that counts is unique. In public affairs the truly great man is, in the strictest sense, indispensable, and leaving him unemployed is like leaving Niagara unharnessed.
Now, in intellect, fibre, vision, in the deep and controlled passion which goes with natural fidelity of purpose and sustains the moral vitality of a man through the effort of years, the characteristics of Lord Milner are nothing less than those of greatness. Among the ordinary race of politicians who rise to high office by luck, talent, or connection he stands apart, but he stands like Saul.
England is not so poor in men, even upon the Unionist side in politics, as she sometimes affects to think. But were our reserves of personality even
richer than they are, we could no more do without Lord Milner than the continent of big things can duplicate Niagara. Yet the revival of his star is a little curious, for it followed a short period of eclipse, which was somewhat his own fault. It is hardly a twelvemonth ago since Taper and Tadpole shook their heads upon the subject and looked extremely solemn and very wise. At one time they had been indiscriminate in the praises of the ex-High Commissioner. Now
they felt a change of wind. They
ceased to mention him in public and commenced to whisper about him in private. Several names were mentioned for the Colonial Office in the next Administration, but not his. It was said that he did not get on well with Mr. Balfour, and that in a perverse and unyielding mood he might hold altogether aloof from the next Unionist Government.
Quite in the last few weeks the miasma of all this opportunist gossip has been swept away. Taper and Tadpole have veered again. This time their forecasts for Lord Milner’s future are wholly favorable. They recognize, what the whole Unionist Party feels, that Lord Milner, if health be granted to him, will be the braincarrier of Imperial policy for the next twenty years. Within that time the Empire as it exists will assuredly be mended or ended.
Lord Milner cannot be less than second even in the next Unionist Government. In any Unionist Government thereafter he will probably be first, and this because Mr. Chamberlain’s mantle has unmistakably fallen upon him. While other politicians have been necessarily entangled in all the miscellaneous matters of passing controversy, Lord Milner, with that concentrated look of his, has devoted himself with all his extraordinary power of unsparing application and continuous thought to the study of the Imperial problem in all its main aspects.
“Seekest thou great things, seek them not.” In the spirit of that searching counsel Lord Milner is steeped. Because no vulgar ambition is his, he is the greater, and the great things must come to him. This has been proved recently in a very interesting way. The key to political power in this country is the confidence of the colonies That was Mr. Chamberlain’s possession. It is now Lord Milner’s; but he has suddenly secured it without searching for it. He went to Canada, not at all with any self-conscious design of magnifying his influence at home. He went there just to see the land, and to convince the people of the Dominion of the earnestness of our purposes. Yet the journey was from every point of view a master-stroke, such as no merely egoistic politician could have devised, for no less profoundly sincere mind could have created an equal moral effect across the Atlantic.
The task of our generation is to save the Empire that Chatham won. And it will be saved, if at all, precisely where it was won. In Chatham’s
time the fight for British America was 128
the fight for the world. In our time the question of Canada is the question of Empire.
For Canada is the keystone. Pull that out, and the whole fabric of the Empire crashes. Either there will be established within the next few years an Imperial Union upon the basis of commercial preference, or there will be set up as between the republic and the Dominion a process of tradereciprocity leading gradually but inevitably to the creation of one vast North American Zollverein, stretching from Panama to the Yukon, which would reduce the relative naval and commercial power of the Mother Country to insignificance for ever. That and nothing less is the issue that trembles in the scales. We cannot be certain that the Imperial cause will not kick the beam. The next general election in this country—dangerously delayed, in any case, as it now promises to be—will resolve the doubt for good and all.
Meanwhile every feather's weight of influence that the Mother Country can throw into the balance on the right side is valuable. Every sovereign invested in Canada tells. Visits paid by English statesmen might have been made to tell enormously. There were no such visits. Canada, which may be reached comfortably in a week, was as consistently ignored by our public men as though it were in Jupiter or Saturn. And yet, as has just been explained, Canada holds the casting vote in a cause as momentous as history has ever decided. That casting vote will decide absolutely whether the Empire is to be organized or dissolved, and whether the Mother-country can maintain, even into the second quarter of the twentieth century, her place as a Great Power, as well as whether Canada is to retain and develop her own splendid national identity or to be merged at last in a wider United States.
Lord Milner’s journey broke the traditional boycott. He went from ocean to ocean before opening his mouth in public. Then he went back from shore to shore, making speeches in the chief centres of Canadian life and thought. It was speaking such as Canada had never heard before. Pascal’s words apply to Lord Milner as exactly as they can ever have apphed to anyone. He has “the eloquence which scorns to be eloquent.” He is not rhetorical, yet he is not cold. He is profoundly earnest, yet he is not vehement. He is not elaborate, yet he is thorough. Fundamental brainwork is the very stuff of his speeches; and yet it would be impossible to conceive a stranger simplicity of words. Lord Milner is ordinarily no orator. He said years ago when he was a parliamentary candidate that before the divine fire possessed him “he had to be hit in the eye.” That is still true. And then, indeed, his academic restraint departs, all his powers are liberated, and he. is extremely formidable. When he is moved no man can be more moving. Lord Milner’s speeches in Canada were a public education. They revived the Imperial cause. At a critical moment, upon the very eve of tariff revision in Washington, they saved the immediate situation. The Dominion will not, for some time yet, conclude with the United States any reciprocity arrangement to the prejudice of preference. But the second “missionary of Empire,” fit successor to the first, not only revealed to the people of the Dominion the real state of public opinion in this country. He revealed himself.
Lord Milner came back a few weeks ago with the confidence of Canada behind him. Consider what
that means. In South Africa even the Dutch, now that they have taken over the government, are finding that they must build more and more to Lord Milner’s designs and upon the solid foundations he laid. He is far nearer to Australian ideals, military and social, as embodied by a man like Mr. Deakin, than is any other English statesman.
In Egypt he acquired an unsurpassed insight into the whole spirit and system of our Eastern administration, and thus he “divines India” as Alexander Hamilton divined Europe, to recall Talleyrand’s celebrated phrase. And now he has the special support of the community holding the casting vote in the whole Imperial problem—Canada. If national military training were the first constructive work of the Unionist Party, Lord Milner and no other would be the next War Minister, for he is far more competent than any other man to make an end of make-believe, and once for all to create a new military system upon a broad national basis. As preference comes first, as that cause must be won before the ground can be cleared for other issues, Lord Milner’s destiny is determined. Were he in the House of Commons he would be beyond all question Chancellor of the Exchequer.
But though it cannot fall to him on the floor of the House of Commons to fight and carry the tariff, he will have, with Mr. Balfour, the chief hand in framing it. Lord Milner, as Secretary of the Colonies, must hold a place no less commanding in the next Unionist Cabinet than Mr. Chamberlain held in the last.
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