Continuing his memoirs, Lord Tweedsmuir pictures some of the great men of the Empire who were his inspiration
I HAD ONLY met Lord Milner once before, but the name had been long familiar to me, for at Oxford men spoke it reverentially. He had won every kind of academic honor and had impressed Jowett as the ablest man of his time. He had risen fast in the public service in Egypt and Whitehall; had gone to South Africa with the good will of all parties; had there become the most controversial figure in the Empire, applauded by many as the strong man in a crisis, bitterly criticized by others as bearing the chief responsibility for the war. Here was Plato’s philosopher turned king, a scholar who in his middle forties had made history.
He had a mind remarkable both for its scope and itsmastery over details—the most powerful administrative, intelligence, I think, which Britain has produced in our day. Yet today, after more than a quarter of a century’s friendship, I can see that Milner was bound to have certain limits in negotiation. He was not very good at envisaging a world wholly different from his own, and his world and Kruger’s at no point intersected. There was a gnarled magnificence in the old Transvaal President, but Milner saw only a snuffy, mendacious savage.
Milner detested lies, and diplomacy demands something less than the truth. He was nothing of the countryman, and could not understand the tortuosities of the peasant mind. His spiritual integrity made it difficult for him, when he had studied a problem, to temporize about the solution which he thought inevitable. Such a course seemed to him to involve some intellectual cowardice, some dereliction of duty, and to duty he had a Roman faithfulness.
It is easy to see that he could never have been a popular leader. He profoundly distrusted rhetoric. He had no means of getting his personality across to masses of people, and even if he had had the means, that personality could never have attracted the multitude; it was insufficiently colored, too austere, too subtle. But as an administrator, he had no equal. In South Africa, in a year or two he had rebuilt the land from its foundations and given it the apparatus of civilization. The impress of his strong hand is still on its institutions.
For the better part of three years, I had the privilege of watching this strong mind at work. But I think a higher privilege was that I was brought into close touch with a great character. Milner was the most selfless man I have ever known. He thought of his work and his cause, much of his colleagues, never of himself. He simply was not interested in what attracts common ambition. He could not be bribed, for there was nothing on the globe wherewith to bribe him; or deterred by personal criticism, for he cared not at all for fame; and it would have been as easy to bully the solar system, since he did not know the meaning of fear He was a solitary man; but his loneliness never made him
aloof and chilly, and in his manner there was always a gentle, considerate courtesy. I have worked with him often when he was desperately tired, but I never remember an impatient or querulous word. He was a stern judge of himself, but lenient to other people.
Once I was involved in an unpleasant and rather dangerous business, for which I was not to blame but the burden of which I was compelled to shoulder. I consulted Milner and he gave me the advice which he would have given himself, to go through with it whatever happened; it was the highest compliment I have ever been paid. For the humble and unfortunate he had infinite charity, and out of small resources he was always helping lame dogs. Often he got little gratitude, and when I would remonstrate he had the same answer: “The man’s miserable, and misery has no manners.”
Milner’s friends were his own college contemporaries and the young men whom he gathered round him. In those days we were a very young company, which Johannesburg, not unkindly, labelled the “Kindergarten.” Our doyen was Patrick Duncan, who had been brought out from Somerset House to take charge of the Transvaal’s finances. Milner himself and his personal staff lived in a red brick villa, called Sunnyside, in the suburbs. His military secretary was Major William Lambton of the Coldstream Guards, and his aides-de-camp were Lord Brooke (afterward Lord Warwick) and Lord Henry Seymour. Among the secretaries were Geoffrey Dawson, Lord Basil Blackwood, Hugh Wyndham and Gerard Craig Sellar. There was also a group who had special tasks assigned to them; it included Lionel Curtis, R. H. Brand, Lionel Hichens and Philip Kerr. Hugh Wyndham and I shared a staff cottage at the gate of Sunnyside, but most of my time was spent ranging the country from the Cape to the Limpopo.
It was a pleasant and most varied company, wonderfully well agreed, for, having a great deal to do, we did notgetin each other’s way. Loyalty to Milner and his creed was a strong cement which endured long after our South African service ended, since the Round Table coterie in England continued the Kindergarten. When I look back upon that companionship my feelings are like those in Thackeray’s “Bouillabaisse” ballad and Praed’s poem on his Eton contemporaries, for since those days “the world hath wagged apace.” Lionel Curtis, having arranged the affairs of South Africa, India, China and Ireland, is now a philosopher on the banks of the Cherwell; Lionel Hichens is head of a great shipbuilding firm, and Robert Brandanillustrious London banker; Philip Kerr is Lord Lothian, a publicist of international repute, and now British Ambassador at Washington; Patrick Duncan is the present GovernorGeneral of South Africa; Geoffrey Dawson has for many years controlled The Times: Henry Seymour had a distin-
guished War record, finishing as a brigadier-general, and has commanded his own regiment, the Grenadier Guards...
South African Post
\ >fY NOMINAL post was that of assistant private J-Vi. secretary, but, apart from drafting a certain number of dispatches, I had none of the ordinary secretarial duties. In that strenuous time it was a case of all hands to the pump, and I was given a series of emergency tasks which were intended to prepare the ground for a normal administration. Since the war had smashed the old machine, it meant starting at the beginning and dealing in bold improvisations. Not many young men with an academic past are given such a chance of grappling with the raw facts of life. Mistakes were many, for the road was largely unmapped and we had to proceed by trial and error. But the worst blunder would have been supineness, and we were not supine.
My first job was to take over on behalf of the civilian government the concentration camps for women and children established by the army. These at the start, in spite of the best intentions, were no better than lazar-houses, for to bring people accustomed to living far apart into close contact was to invite epidemics. When we took charge the worst was over, and in our period of administration we turned them into health resorts, with the assistance of officers seconded from the Indian Medical service and a committee of English ladies under Darne Millicent Fawcett. The camps gave us a chance, too. of laying the foundations of a new system of elementary education. It was a queer job for a young man, whose notions of hygiene to begin with were of the sketchiest, and to whom infantile diseases were as much a mystery as hyper-space. The word of a bachelor carried no weight with the Boer mothers, so, in order to speak with authority, I had to invent a wife and a numerous progeny.
Next, with the end of the war in sight, we had to prepare for the repatriation of the Boer inhabitants from the commandos, the concentration camps, and the prisoner-of-war camps overseas. This was a heavy business, and it had to be done at racing speed. Since so much of the land was devastated, huts and tents and building material had to be provided in vast quantities; transport, too; horses and mules and cattle; seeds and every kind of agricultural implement; as well as rations for many months. Simultaneously with this work I was instructed to prepare schemes of land settlement for newcomers, and the nucleus of a department of scientific agriculture.
So before I had been many months in the country I had the problem of the land fairly on my shoulders, and had to
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spend much of my time on the road. Long before the war ended I was travelling far and wide, often in areas where fighting was going on, and I was fairly often in difficulties. I have ridden many miles faster than I cared, to avoid losing my breeches to a commando whose clothing had given out.
In South Africa I first came in touch with the men of the Dominions—South Africans of the various irregular corps, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. Batches of them were seconded to assist me in various jobs, and I had their company in many star-lit bivouacs. I had regarded the Dominions patronizingly as distant settlements of our people who were making a creditable effort under difficulties to carry on the British tradition. Now I realized that Britain had at least as much to learn from them as they had from Britain. I found something new to me, something in their outlook at once imaginative and realistic which I had never met before. They were an audacious folk, very ready, if need be, to throw rule and convention overboard, and often I was saved by their sagacious lawlessness. Yet in a sense they were stiffer traditionalists than the British. They combined a passionate devotion to their own countries with the vision of a great brotherhood based on race and a common culture, a vision none the less real because they rarely tried to put it into words. I began to see that the Empire, which had hitherto been only a phrase to me, might be a potent and beneficent force in the world.
I had met Cecil Rhodes several times in England. He knew that he was dying, and he did not want to die. He asked me my age. “You will see it all,” he said bitterly, “and I won’t, for I am going out.” He gave me various pieces of advice. One was to beware of the vain man. “You can make your book with roguery,” he said, “but vanity is incalculable—it will always let you down.” He died at his cottage near Cape Town during my first months in Africa, and his funeral in the Matoppos hills and the publication of his will were events which for the moment switched our attention away from the war. He impressed me greatly—the sense he gave one of huge but crippled power, the ready voice and the banal words in which he tried to express ideas which represented for him a whole world of incoherent poetry. I did not know him well enough to like him or dislike him, but 1 felt him as one feels the imminence of a thunderstorm.
But I did not realize the greatness of his personality until I had been some time in the country. Then I found that in all sorts of people—simple farmers and transport riders, commonplace businessmen, Jewish financiers who otherwise would have had no thought but for their bank accounts, even trivial, intriguing politicians—he had kindled some spark of his own idealism. He had made them take long views. Common as their minds might be, some window had been opened which gave them a prosI>ect. They had acquired at least a fragment of a soul. If it be not genius thus to brood over a land and have this power over the human spirit, then I do not understand the meaning of the word . . .
Dream of Empire
TN SOUTH Africa I recovered an experi•*ence which I had not known since my childhood—moments, even hours, of intense exhilaration, when one seemed to be a happy part of a friendly universe. The cause, no doubt, was largely physical, for my long treks made me very fit in body; but not wholly, for I have had the same experiences much later in life when my health was far from perfect. They came usually in the early morning or at sunset. I seemed to acquire a wonderful clearness
of mind and to find harmony in discords and unity in diversity, but to find these things not as conclusions of thought, but in a sudden revelation, as in music or poetry. For a little, beauty peeped from the most unlikely wrappings and everything had a secret purpose of joy. It was the mood for poetry had I been anything of a poet.
Looking back, I find my South African memories studded with those high moments. One especially stands out. I had been plowing all day in the black dust of the Lichtenburg roads, and had come very late to a place called the Eye of Malmani— Malmani Oog—the spring of a river which presently loses itself in the sands of the Kalahari. We watered our horses and went supperless to bed. Next morning I bathed in one of the Malmani pools—icy cold it was—and then basked in the early sunshine while breakfast was cooking. The water made a pleasant music, and near by was a covert of willows filled with singing birds. Then and there came on me the hour of revelation, when, though savagely hungry, I forgot about breakfast. Scents, sights and sounds blended into a harmony so perfect that it transcended human expression, even human thought. It was like a glimpse of the peace of eternity.
There are no more comfortable words in the language than Peace and Joy, which Richard Hooker has conjoined in a famous sentence. Peace is that state in which fear of any kind is unknown; but joy is a positive thing; in joy one does not only feel secure, but something goes out from oneself to the universe, a warm possessive effluence of love. There may be peace without joy, and joy without peace, but the two combined make happiness. It was happiness that I knew in those rare moments. The world was a place of inexhaustible beauty, but still more it was the husk of something infinite, ineffable and immortal, in very truth the garment of God.
I learned a good deal in South Africa, and the chief lesson was that I had still much to learn about the material world and about human nature. 1 discovered that there was a fine practical wisdom which owed nothing to books and academies. Above all I ceased to be an individualist and became a citizen. I acquired a political faith. Those were the days when a vision of what the Empire might be made dawned upon certain minds with almost the force of a revelation. Today the word is sadly tarnished. Its mislikers have managed to identify it with uglinesses like corrugated iron roofs and raw townships, or, worse still, with a callous racial arrogance. Its dreams, once so bright, have been so pawed by unctuous hands that their glory has departed. Phrases which held a world of idealism and poetry have been spoilt by their use in bad verse and in after-dinner perorations. Even that which is generally accepted has become a platitude. Something like the sober, merchandising Jacobean colonial policy has replaced the high Elizabethan dreams.
But in those days things were different. It was an inspiration for youth to realize the magnitude of its material heritage, and to think how it might be turned to spiritual issues. Milner, like most imperialists of that day, believed in imperial federation. So did I at the start; but before I left South Africa I had come to distrust any large scheme of formal organization. I had begun to accept the doctrine which Sir Wilfrid Laurier was later to expound; that the Dominions were not ready for such a union and must be allowed full freedom to follow their own destinies. But, on the main question I was more than a convert, I was a fanatic.
But I dreamed of a world-wide brotherhood with the background of a common
race and creed, consecrated to the service of peace; Britain enriching the rest out of her culture and traditions, and the spirit of the Dominions like a strong wind freshening the stuffiness of the old lands. I saw in the Empire a means of giving to the congested masses at home open country instead of a blind alley. I saw hope for a new afflatus in art and literature and thought. Our creed was not based on antagonism to any other people. It was humanitarian and international; we believed that we were laying the basis of a federation of the world.
The result was that my notion of a career was radically changed. I thought no more of being a dignified judge with a taste for letters, or a figure in British politics. I wanted some administrative task, some share in the making of this splendid commonwealth. I hoped to spend most of my life out of Britain. I had no desire to be a pro-consul or any kind of grandee. I would have been content with any job, however thankless, in any quarter, however remote, if I had a chance of making a corner of the desert blossom and the solitary place glad. . . .
The Middle Years
THE YEARS from 1903 to 1914, a truce for Britain between two campaigns, are, for the historian, the germinal period of the Great War, but to some of those who lived through them they rather seemed an empty patch.
I had looked forward in South Africa to spending the next decade in foreign service. When I returned to England late in 1903 it was in the expectation of going soon to Egypt, where Lord Cromer had selected me for an important financial post; buj the home authorities declined to ratify his choice, no doubt rightly, on the ground of my youth and inexperience. So I was compelled to go back to the bar, where, with much restlessness and distaste, I continued for the next three years.
My chief work was the preparation of a law book. I asked Lord Haldane’s advice, and he suggested a study of that intricate and evasive topic, the liability to the British tax of income earned abroad. So I published in 1905 a monograph on the taxation of foreign income, which for many years was the only work on the subject, and which I am proud to think that great man, F. W. Maitland, pronounced a workmanlike performance.
Those years were not the pleasantest in my life. South Africa had completely unsettled me. I did not want to make money or a,reputation at home; I wanted a particular kind of work which was denied me.
I had lost my former catholicity of interests. I had no longer any impulse to write.
I was distressed by British politics, for it seemed to me that both the great parties were blind to the true meaning of empire. London had ceased to have its old glamour.
In the autumn of 1906 my unsettled years came happily to an end, for I became engaged to Susan Grosvenor, and we were married in the following July. I had no longer any craving for a solitary life at some extremity of the Empire, for England was once more for me an enchanted land, and London a magical city. I think that, in spite of my many friends and interests,
I had been suffering from loneliness, since my family were 400 miles away. Now I acquired a vast new relationship—Grosvenors, Wellesleys, Stuart-Wortleys, Lytteltons, Talbots—and above all I found the perfect comrade. I have been happy in many things, but all my other good fortune has been as dust in the balance compared with the blessing of an incomparable wife.
Just before my marriage I changed my profession, and at the invitation of my Oxford friend, Thomas Arthur Nelson, became a partner in his publishing firm, one of the oldest in Britain, which had its headquarters and its printing works in Edinburgh, and branches in London, New York, and throughout the Empire.
For ten years I was associated with
Tommie Nelson in business, and I cannot imagine a happier companionship. But. looking back, I can see that I was never quite at ease about him. I felt that he was fitted for greater things than anything I could foresee. About some people one has that consciousness of powers too big for their environment. A life of great domestic happiness, innumerable friends, a world enlivened and comforted by his presence— it would have seemed enough for most people, but it seemed too little for Tommie . . . Then came the War and the old life passed away in a night.
At first I saw nothing of him and we did not meet until the autumn of 1916, during the later stages of the battle of the Somme. He was having a trying time, with a number of observation posts to look after, and no kind of home anywhere. He was happier when, in early 1917, he entered the Tank service. When I used to visit Hugh Elles’ mess at Bermicourt I found that he had recovered his youth. But that youth was near its close, for in the first day of the battle of Arras he was killed instantaneously by a long-distance shell. I had todo a good deal of searching before I found and identified his grave. His death made a bigger hole in the life of Scotland than that of any other man of his years.
In business I found that I had a reasonable amount of leisure, for my firm was well organized and I had able colleagues. We were a progressive concern, and in our standardized Edinburgh factories we began the publication of cheap books in many tongues. On the eve of the War we must have been one of the largest businesses of the kind in the world, issuing cheap editions of every kind of literature, not only in English, but in French, German, Magyar and Spanish, and being about to start in Russian. I had opportunities for European travel, and, when our children were young, my wife and I visited the Balkans and Constantinople, Spain, Portugal, the Canaries and the Azores; we had a wonderful yachting trip in the Aegean and along the Dalmatian coast; we went to Norway to fish; and we had part of a summer in the Bavarian highlands. But most of our holidays were spent in Scotland.
I FOUND another way of using my leisure. In the spring of 1911 I became the Conservative candidate for the counties of Peebles and Selkirk, a constituency which then stretched from within a dozen miles of Edinburgh to within twenty miles of the border.
I went into politics with a queer assortment of interests. I hoped to see the Empire developed on the right lines; the Dominions enabled to grow into self-conscious nations; emigration undertaken as a reasoned policy, fully planned at each end, and not as a mere overspill of population. Then I wanted something done about re-settling the land of Scotland.
I came of a Liberal family, most of my friends were Liberals, I agreed with ninetenths of the party’s creed. Indeed, I think that my political faith was always liberalism—or rather “liberality,” as Gilbert Murray has interpreted the word. But when I stood for Parliament it had to be the other side.
Old electioneering tactics can interest nobody, and they never greatly interested me. What made my work as a candidate a delight was the people I moved among.
I did not want to be just any kind of Member of Parliament; I wanted to represent my own folk of the border. They had the qualities I most admired in human nature: realism colored by poetry, a stalwart independence sweetened by courtesy, a shrewd kindly wisdom. To the first quality the ballads bear witness, to the second the history of Scotland. As examples of the third let me tell two stories: Mr. Gladstone once paid a visit to a Tweedside country house, and in the afternoon went out for a walk and came to a gate which gave upon the glen. It was
late in November, a snowstorm was threatening, and the sheep, as is their custom, w'ere drawing out from the burnside to the barer hill where drifts could not lie. An old shepherd was leaning on the gate, and to him Mr. Gladstone spoke in his high manner. “Are not sheep the most foolish of all animals? Here is a storm pending, and instead of remaining in shelter they are courting the fury of the blast. If I were a sheep I should remain in the hollows.” To which the shepherd replied, “Sir, if ye were a sheep ye’d have mair sense.”
Heckling, on the borders, is carried, I think, to a higher pitch of art than anywhere else in Britain. It is pursued for the pure love of the game, and I have known a candidate heckled to a standstill by his own supporters. Mr. Lloyd George’s Insurance Act had just been introduced, and at a meeting at remote Ettrickhead the speaker was defending it on the ground that it was a practical application of the Sermon on the Mount. A long-legged shepherd rose to question him, and the following dialogue ensued :
“Ye believe in the Bible, sir?”
"With all my heart.”
“And ye consider that this Insurance Act is in keepin’ with the Bible?”
"Is it true that under the Act there’s a maternity benefit, and that a woman gets the benefit whether she’s married or no?” “That is right.”
“D’ye approve of that?”
“With all my heart.”
"Well, sir, how d’ye explain this? The Bible says the wages of sin is death and the Act says thirty shillin’s.”
During those years I moved among a good many social groups. I had friends in commerce and finance, in the Army and Navy and Civil Service, in most branches of science and scholarship, and especially in the law and politics. But as a writer it was my misfortune to be too little in the society of writers. This was partly due to my preoccupation with other interests. My upbringing never gave me the chance of the pleasant bohemianism associated with the writer’s craft. As a publisher I came to know many authors, English and French, but it was only a nodding acquaintance. I must confess, too, I fear, that I rarely
found a man of letters who interested me as much as members of other callings. A writer must inevitably keep the best of himself for his own secret creative world.
rTvHE PEOPLE I saw most of were the politicians, and politics in the circles in which I dwelt were an absorbing topic. The assumption then seemed to be that the fundamentals of politics were fixed and much the same as they had always been, and that disputes were only about pace and emphasis. There was little consciousness that new facts were emerging in all quarters, social, political, economic, religious, which required a new interpretation, that all our problems needed a fresh analysis, and that the most venerated principles must be rethought and restated. The world was undergoing mysterious chemical combinations in which no element was left unchanged. The constituents of society were being altered, both in proportion and quality. The old economics were going out of date, since they were deductions from a state of things which had ceased to be. Current beliefs in every department were imperceptibly changing, and what was true of Britain was not less true of the world at large.
The imperception of the nation was reflected in the Government. That Government contained, I think, as high an average of ability as was ever found in a British Cabinet. Its members were admirably fitted to carry on; they were not so well fitted to foresee and originate. Haldane was different, but he was absorbed in his department, and Mr. Churchill, too, had definitely become a specialist. Two men, Edward Grey and Asquith, set the tone of the administration. Both were in the great tradition of our public life. Grey had some of the qualities of the Lord Althorp of the First Reform Bill, and as Foreign Secretary something of the patient sagacity of Lord Salisbury. Half a century earlier he would have been a very great Foreign Minister, but he was a man of an era, and that era had passed. The position of Britain in Europe had radically changed, and the old business of wise compromise and nice adjustment was out of date. New, strange, inconsequent forces were at work
to upset the old balances. He felt these forces but he did not understand them— perhaps no man did. When the crisis came he was, in my belief, as adequate to it as was possible for any British statesman cast in his mold. What was needed was a different mold, something like the desperate boldness of Cromwell or Chatham.
The Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, had in his character every traditional virtue, dignity, honor, courage, and a fine selflessness. In temperament he was alert, equable and generous. He was a most competent head of a traditional Government and a brilliant leader of a traditional party. But he was firmly set in the old ways, and the master of an expertise which was fast losing its meaning. Like his colleagues he was immensely intelligent, but he was impercipient. New facts made little impression on his capacious but insensitive mind. His Irish policy ignored the changed situation both in the south and north of Ireland, and was a score of years out of date. He had no serious philosophy to meet the new phenomena in the world of labor and in the national economy. He was most at home in the cause which had always engaged his party, the furtherance of political freedom, but it was a cause which had become for the moment of lesser importance.
The outbreak of war found me a sick man. A combination of family anxieties and public activities had played havoc with my digestion, and the remedy was either a major operation or a long spell of rest. I was thirty-eight and well over the age for enlistment, and in any case no recruiting office would accept me. So I went to bed for the better part of three miserable months, while every day brought news of the deaths of my friends. In the spring of 1915 I was convalescent and was able to act as the Times correspondent at the Front until after the battle of Loos. Then I was annexed for a short season by the Foreign Office. In 1916 I was at last commissioned as an officer in the Intelligence Corps, and was in France until the early part of 1917, when I was recalled to a post under the War Cabinet. I obtained leave to have the necessary operation and thereafter was engaged in intelligence work at home until the Armistice.
To be Continued