Part 6 out of 9
Socialist idea, but of the scientific idea, the idea of veracity--of
human confidence in humanity--of all that mattered in human life
outside the life of individuals. . . . The only real party that
would ever profess Socialism was the Labour Party, and that in the
entirely one-sided form of an irresponsible and non-constructive
attack on property. Socialism in that mutilated form, the teeth and
claws without the eyes and brain, I wanted as little as I wanted
anything in the world.
Perfectly clear it was, perfectly clear, and why hadn't I seen it
before? . . . I looked at my watch, and it was half-past two.
I yawned, stretched, got up and went to bed.
My ideas about statecraft have passed through three main phases to
the final convictions that remain. There was the first immediacy of
my dream of ports and harbours and cities, railways, roads, and
administered territories--the vision I had seen in the haze from
that little church above Locarno. Slowly that had passed into a
more elaborate legislative constructiveness, which had led to my
uneasy association with the Baileys and the professedly constructive
Young Liberals. To get that ordered life I had realised the need of
organisation, knowledge, expertness, a wide movement of co-ordinated
methods. On the individual side I thought that a life of urgent
industry, temperance, and close attention was indicated by my
perception of these ends. I married Margaret and set to work. But
something in my mind refused from the outset to accept these
determinations as final. There was always a doubt lurking below,
always a faint resentment, a protesting criticism, a feeling of
vitally important omissions.
I arrived at last at the clear realisation that my political
associates, and I in my association with them, were oddly narrow,
priggish, and unreal, that the Socialists with whom we were
attempting co-operation were preposterously irrelevant to their own
theories, that my political life didn't in some way comprehend more
than itself, that rather perplexingly I was missing the thing I was
seeking. Britten's footnotes to Altiora's self-assertions, her fits
of energetic planning, her quarrels and rallies and vanities, his
illuminating attacks on Cramptonism and the heavy-spirited
triviality of such Liberalism as the Children's Charter, served to
point my way to my present conclusions. I had been trying to deal
all along with human progress as something immediate in life,
something to be immediately attacked by political parties and groups
pointing primarily to that end. I now began to see that just as in
my own being there was the rather shallow, rather vulgar, self-
seeking careerist, who wore an admirable silk hat and bustled self-
consciously through the lobby, and a much greater and indefinitely
growing unpublished personality behind him--my hinterland, I have
called it--so in human affairs generally the permanent reality is
also a hinterland, which is never really immediate, which draws
continually upon human experience and influences human action more
and more, but which is itself never the actual player upon the
stage. It is the unseen dramatist who never takes a call. Now it
was just through the fact that our group about the Baileys didn't
understand this, that with a sort of frantic energy they were trying
to develop that sham expert officialdom of theirs to plan, regulate,
and direct the affairs of humanity, that the perplexing note of
silliness and shallowness that I had always felt and felt now most
acutely under Britten's gibes, came in. They were neglecting human
life altogether in social organisation.
In the development of intellectual modesty lies the growth of
statesmanship. It has been the chronic mistake of statecraft and
all organising spirits to attempt immediately to scheme and arrange
and achieve. Priests, schools of thought, political schemers,
leaders of men, have always slipped into the error of assuming that
they can think out the whole--or at any rate completely think out
definite parts--of the purpose and future of man, clearly and
finally; they have set themselves to legislate and construct on that
assumption, and, experiencing the perplexing obduracy and evasions
of reality, they have taken to dogma, persecution, training,
pruning, secretive education; and all the stupidities of self-
sufficient energy. In the passion of their good intentions they
have not hesitated to conceal fact, suppress thought, crush
disturbing initiatives and apparently detrimental desires. And so
it is blunderingly and wastefully, destroying with the making, that
any extension of social organisation is at present achieved.
Directly, however, this idea of an emancipation from immediacy is
grasped, directly the dominating importance of this critical, less
personal, mental hinterland in the individual and of the collective
mind in the race is understood, the whole problem of the statesman
and his attitude towards politics gain a new significance, and
becomes accessible to a new series of solutions. He wants no longer
to "fix up," as people say, human affairs, but to devote his forces
to the development of that needed intellectual life without which
all his shallow attempts at fixing up are futile. He ceases to
build on the sands, and sets himself to gather foundations.
You see, I began in my teens by wanting to plan and build cities and
harbours for mankind; I ended in the middle thirties by desiring
only to serve and increase a general process of thought, a process
fearless, critical, real-spirited, that would in its own time give
cities, harbours, air, happiness, everything at a scale and quality
and in a light altogether beyond the match-striking imaginations of
a contemporary mind. I wanted freedom of speech and suggestion,
vigour of thought, and the cultivation of that impulse of veracity
that lurks more or less discouraged in every man. With that I felt
there must go an emotion. I hit upon a phrase that became at last
something of a refrain in my speech and writings, to convey the
spirit that I felt was at the very heart of real human progress--
love and fine thinking.
(I suppose that nowadays no newspaper in England gets through a week
without the repetition of that phrase.)
My convictions crystallised more and more definitely upon this. The
more of love and fine thinking the better for men, I said; the less,
the worse. And upon this fresh basis I set myself to examine what I
as a politician might do. I perceived I was at last finding an
adequate expression for all that was in me, for those forces that
had rebelled at the crude presentations of Bromstead, at the
secrecies and suppressions of my youth, at the dull unrealities of
City Merchants, at the conventions and timidities of the Pinky
Dinkys, at the philosophical recluse of Trinity and the phrases and
tradition-worship of my political associates. None of these things
were half alive, and I wanted life to be intensely alive and awake.
I wanted thought like an edge of steel and desire like a flame. The
real work before mankind now, I realised once and for all, is the
enlargement of human expression, the release and intensification of
human thought, the vivider utilisation of experience and the
invigoration of research--and whatever one does in human affairs has
or lacks value as it helps or hinders that.
With that I had got my problem clear, and the solution, so far as I
was concerned, lay in finding out the point in the ostensible life
of politics at which I could most subserve these ends. I was still
against the muddles of Bromstead, but I had hunted them down now to
their essential form. The jerry-built slums, the roads that went
nowhere, the tarred fences, litigious notice-boards and barbed wire
fencing, the litter and the heaps of dump, were only the outward
appearances whose ultimate realities were jerry-built conclusions,
hasty purposes, aimless habits of thought, and imbecile bars and
prohibitions in the thoughts and souls of men. How are we through
politics to get at that confusion?
We want to invigorate and reinvigorate education. We want to create
a sustained counter effort to the perpetual tendency of all
educational organisations towards classicalism, secondary issues,
and the evasion of life.
We want to stimulate the expression of life through art and
literature, and its exploration through research.
We want to make the best and finest thought accessible to every one,
and more particularly to create and sustain an enormous free
criticism, without which art, literature, and research alike
degenerate into tradition or imposture.
Then all the other problems which are now so insoluble, destitution,
disease, the difficulty of maintaining international peace, the
scarcely faced possibility of making life generally and continually
beautiful, become--EASY. . . .
It was clear to me that the most vital activities in which I could
engage would be those which most directly affected the Church,
public habits of thought, education, organised research, literature,
and the channels of general discussion. I had to ask myself how my
position as Liberal member for Kinghamstead squared with and
conduced to this essential work.
CHAPTER THE SECOND
I have told of my gradual abandonment of the pretensions and habits
of party Liberalism. In a sense I was moving towards aristocracy.
Regarding the development of the social and individual mental
hinterland as the essential thing in human progress, I passed on
very naturally to the practical assumption that we wanted what I may
call "hinterlanders." Of course I do not mean by aristocracy the
changing unorganised medley of rich people and privileged people who
dominate the civilised world of to-day, but as opposed to this, a
possibility of co-ordinating the will of the finer individuals, by
habit and literature, into a broad common aim. We must have an
aristocracy--not of privilege, but of understanding and purpose--or
mankind will fail. I find this dawning more and more clearly when I
look through my various writings of the years between 1903 and 1910.
I was already emerging to plain statements in 1908.
I reasoned after this fashion. The line of human improvement and
the expansion of human life lies in the direction of education and
finer initiatives. If humanity cannot develop an education far
beyond anything that is now provided, if it cannot collectively
invent devices and solve problems on a much richer, broader scale
than it does at the present time, it cannot hope to achieve any very
much finer order or any more general happiness than it now enjoys.
We must believe, therefore, that it CAN develop such a training and
education, or we must abandon secular constructive hope. And here
my peculiar difficulty as against crude democracy comes in. If
humanity at large is capable of that high education and those
creative freedoms our hope demands, much more must its better and
more vigorous types be so capable. And if those who have power and
leisure now, and freedom to respond to imaginative appeals, cannot
be won to the idea of collective self-development, then the whole of
humanity cannot be won to that. From that one passes to what has
become my general conception in politics, the conception of the
constructive imagination working upon the vast complex of powerful
people, clever people, enterprising people, influential people,
amidst whom power is diffused to-day, to produce that self-
conscious, highly selective, open-minded, devoted aristocratic
culture, which seems to me to be the necessary next phase in the
development of human affairs. I see human progress, not as the
spontaneous product of crowds of raw minds swayed by elementary
needs, but as a natural but elaborate result of intricate human
interdependencies, of human energy and curiosity liberated and
acting at leisure, of human passions and motives, modified and
redirected by literature and art. . . .
But now the reader will understand how it came about that,
disappointed by the essential littleness of Liberalism, and
disillusioned about the representative quality of the professed
Socialists, I turned my mind more and more to a scrutiny of the big
people, the wealthy and influential people, against whom Liberalism
pits its forces. I was asking myself definitely whether, after all,
it was not my particular job to work through them and not against
them. Was I not altogether out of my element as an Anti-? Weren't
there big bold qualities about these people that common men lack,
and the possibility of far more splendid dreams? Were they really
the obstacles, might they not be rather the vehicles of the possible
new braveries of life?
The faults of the Imperialist movement were obvious enough. The
conception of the Boer War had been clumsy and puerile, the costly
errors of that struggle appalling, and the subsequent campaign of
Mr. Chamberlain for Tariff Reform seemed calculated to combine the
financial adventurers of the Empire in one vast conspiracy against
the consumer. The cant of Imperialism was easy to learn and use; it
was speedily adopted by all sorts of base enterprises and turned to
all sorts of base ends. But a big child is permitted big mischief,
and my mind was now continually returning to the persuasion that
after all in some development of the idea of Imperial patriotism
might be found that wide, rough, politically acceptable expression
of a constructive dream capable of sustaining a great educational
and philosophical movement such as no formula of Liberalism
supplied. The fact that it readily took vulgar forms only witnessed
to its strong popular appeal. Mixed in with the noisiness and
humbug of the movement there appeared a real regard for social
efficiency, a real spirit of animation and enterprise. There
suddenly appeared in my world--I saw them first, I think, in 1908--a
new sort of little boy, a most agreeable development of the
slouching, cunning, cigarette-smoking, town-bred youngster, a small
boy in a khaki hat, and with bare knees and athletic bearing,
earnestly engaged in wholesome and invigorating games up to and
occasionally a little beyond his strength--the Boy Scout. I liked
the Boy Scout, and I find it difficult to express how much it
mattered to me, with my growing bias in favour of deliberate
national training, that Liberalism hadn't been able to produce, and
had indeed never attempted to produce, anything of this kind.
In those days there existed a dining club called--there was some
lost allusion to the exorcism of party feeling in its title--the
Pentagram Circle. It included Bailey and Dayton and myself, Sir
Herbert Thorns, Lord Charles Kindling, Minns the poet, Gerbault the
big railway man, Lord Gane, fresh from the settlement of Framboya,
and Rumbold, who later became Home Secretary and left us. We were
men of all parties and very various experiences, and our object was
to discuss the welfare of the Empire in a disinterested spirit. We
dined monthly at the Mermaid in Westminster, and for a couple of
years we kept up an average attendance of ten out of fourteen. The
dinner-time was given up to desultory conversation, and it is odd
how warm and good the social atmosphere of that little gathering
became as time went on; then over the dessert, so soon as the
waiters had swept away the crumbs and ceased to fret us, one of us
would open with perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes' exposition of
some specially prepared question, and after him we would deliver
ourselves in turn, each for three or four minutes. When every one
present had spoken once talk became general again, and it was rare
we emerged upon Hendon Street before midnight. Sometimes, as my
house was conveniently near, a knot of men would come home with me
and go on talking and smoking in my dining-room until two or three.
We had Fred Neal, that wild Irish journalist, among us towards the
end, and his stupendous flow of words materially prolonged our
closing discussions and made our continuance impossible.
I learned very much and very many things at those dinners, but more
particularly did I become familiarised with the habits of mind of
such men as Neal, Crupp, Gane, and the one or two other New
Imperialists who belonged to us. They were nearly all like Bailey
Oxford men, though mostly of a younger generation, and they were all
mysteriously and inexplicably advocates of Tariff Reform, as if it
were the principal instead of at best a secondary aspect of
constructive policy. They seemed obsessed by the idea that streams
of trade could be diverted violently so as to link the parts of the
Empire by common interests, and they were persuaded, I still think
mistakenly, that Tariff Reform would have an immense popular appeal.
They were also very keen on military organisation, and with a
curious little martinet twist in their minds that boded ill for that
side of public liberty. So much against them. But they were
disposed to spend money much more generously on education and
research of all sorts than our formless host of Liberals seemed
likely to do; and they were altogether more accessible than the
Young Liberals to bold, constructive ideas affecting the
universities and upper classes. The Liberals are abjectly afraid of
the universities. I found myself constantly falling into line with
these men in our discussions, and more and more hostile to Dayton's
sentimentalising evasions of definite schemes and Minns' trust in
such things as the "Spirit of our People" and the "General Trend of
Progress." It wasn't that I thought them very much righter than
their opponents; I believe all definite party "sides" at any time
are bound to be about equally right and equally lop-sided; but that
I thought I could get more out of them and what was more important
to me, more out of myself if I co-operated with them. By 1908 I had
already arrived at a point where I could be definitely considering a
transfer of my political allegiance.
These abstract questions are inseparably interwoven with my memory
of a shining long white table, and our hock bottles and burgundy
bottles, and bottles of Perrier and St. Galmier and the disturbed
central trophy of dessert, and scattered glasses and nut-shells and
cigarette-ends and menu-cards used for memoranda. I see old Dayton
sitting back and cocking his eye to the ceiling in a way he had
while he threw warmth into the ancient platitudes of Liberalism, and
Minns leaning forward, and a little like a cockatoo with a taste for
confidences, telling us in a hushed voice of his faith in the
Destiny of Mankind. Thorns lounges, rolling his round face and
round eyes from speaker to speaker and sounding the visible depths
of misery whenever Neal begins. Gerbault and Gane were given to
conversation in undertones, and Bailey pursued mysterious purposes
in lisping whispers. It was Crupp attracted me most. He had, as
people say, his eye on me from the beginning. He used to speak at
me, and drifted into a custom of coming home with me very regularly
for an after-talk.
He opened his heart to me.
"Neither of us," he said, "are dukes, and neither of us are horny-
handed sons of toil. We want to get hold of the handles, and to do
that, one must go where the power is, and give it just as
constructive a twist as we can. That's MY Toryism."
"Is it Kindling's--or Gerbault's?"
"No. But theirs is soft, and mine's hard. Mine will wear theirs
out. You and I and Bailey are all after the same thing, and why
aren't we working together?"
"Are you a Confederate?" I asked suddenly.
"That's a secret nobody tells," he said.
"What are the Confederates after?"
"Making aristocracy work, I suppose. Just as, I gather, you want to
do." . . .
The Confederates were being heard of at that time. They were at
once attractive and repellent to me, an odd secret society whose
membership nobody knew, pledged, it was said, to impose Tariff
Reform and an ample constructive policy upon the Conservatives. In
the press, at any rate, they had an air of deliberately organised
power. I have no doubt the rumour of them greatly influenced my
ideas. . . .
In the end I made some very rapid decisions, but for nearly two
years I was hesitating. Hesitations were inevitable in such a
matter. I was not dealing with any simple question of principle,
but with elusive and fluctuating estimates of the trend of diverse
forces and of the nature of my own powers. All through that period
I was asking over and over again: how far are these Confederates
mere dreamers? How far--and this was more vital--are they rendering
lip-service to social organisations? Is it true they desire war
because it confirms the ascendency of their class? How far can
Conservatism be induced to plan and construct before it resists the
thrust towards change. Is it really in bulk anything more than a
mass of prejudice and conceit, cynical indulgence, and a hard
suspicion of and hostility to the expropriated classes in the
That is a research which yields no statistics, an enquiry like
asking what is the ruling colour of a chameleon. The shadowy answer
varied with my health, varied with my mood and the conduct of the
people I was watching. How fine can people be? How generous?--not
incidentally, but all round? How far can you educate sons beyond
the outlook of their fathers, and how far lift a rich, proud, self-
indulgent class above the protests of its business agents and
solicitors and its own habits and vanity? Is chivalry in a class
possible?--was it ever, indeed, or will it ever indeed be possible?
Is the progress that seems attainable in certain directions worth
the retrogression that may be its price?
It was to the Pentagram Circle that I first broached the new
conceptions that were developing in my mind. I count the evening of
my paper the beginning of the movement that created the BLUE WEEKLY
and our wing of the present New Tory party. I do that without any
excessive egotism, because my essay was no solitary man's
production; it was my reaction to forces that had come to me very
large through my fellow-members; its quick reception by them showed
that I was, so to speak, merely the first of the chestnuts to pop.
The atmospheric quality of the evening stands out very vividly in my
memory. The night, I remember, was warmly foggy when after midnight
we went to finish our talk at my house.
We had recently changed the rules of the club to admit visitors, and
so it happened that I had brought Britten, and Crupp introduced
Arnold Shoesmith, my former schoolfellow at City Merchants, and now
the wealthy successor of his father and elder brother. I remember
his heavy, inexpressively handsome face lighting to his rare smile
at the sight of me, and how little I dreamt of the tragic
entanglement that was destined to involve us both. Gane was
present, and Esmeer, a newly-added member, but I think Bailey was
absent. Either he was absent, or he said something so entirely
characteristic and undistinguished that it has left no impression on
I had broken a little from the traditions of the club even in my
title, which was deliberately a challenge to the liberal idea: it
was, "The World Exists for Exceptional People." It is not the title
I should choose now--for since that time I have got my phrase of
"mental hinterlander" into journalistic use. I should say now, "The
World Exists for Mental Hinterland."
The notes I made of that opening have long since vanished with a
thousand other papers, but some odd chance has preserved and brought
with me to Italy the menu for the evening; its back black with the
scrawled notes I made of the discussion for my reply. I found it
the other day among some letters from Margaret and a copy of the
1909 Report of the Poor Law Commission, also rich with pencilled
My opening was a criticism of the democratic idea and method, upon
lines such as I have already sufficiently indicated in the preceding
sections. I remember how old Dayton fretted in his chair, and
tushed and pished at that, even as I gave it, and afterwards we were
treated to one of his platitudinous harangues, he sitting back in
his chair with that small obstinate eye of his fixed on the ceiling,
and a sort of cadaverous glow upon his face, repeating--quite
regardless of all my reasoning and all that had been said by others
in the debate--the sacred empty phrases that were his soul's refuge
from reality. "You may think it very clever," he said with a nod of
his head to mark his sense of his point, "not to Trust in the
People. I do." And so on. Nothing in his life or work had ever
shown that he did trust in the people, but that was beside the mark.
He was the party Liberal, and these were the party incantations.
After my preliminary attack on vague democracy I went on to show
that all human life was virtually aristocratic; people must either
recognise aristocracy in general or else follow leaders, which is
aristocracy in particular, and so I came to my point that the
reality of human progress lay necessarily through the establishment
of freedoms for the human best and a collective receptivity and
understanding. There was a disgusted grunt from Dayton, "Superman
rubbish--Nietzsche. Shaw! Ugh!" I sailed on over him to my next
propositions. The prime essential in a progressive civilisation was
the establishment of a more effective selective process for the
privilege of higher education, and the very highest educational
opportunity for the educable. We were too apt to patronise
scholarship winners, as though a scholarship was toffee given as a
reward for virtue. It wasn't any reward at all; it was an
invitation to capacity. We had no more right to drag in virtue, or
any merit but quality, than we had to involve it in a search for the
tallest man. We didn't want a mere process for the selection of
good as distinguished from gifted and able boys--"No, you DON'T,"
from Dayton--we wanted all the brilliant stuff in the world
concentrated upon the development of the world. Just to exasperate
Dayton further I put in a plea for gifts as against character in
educational, artistic, and legislative work. "Good teaching," I
said, "is better than good conduct. We are becoming idiotic about
Dayton was too moved to speak. He slewed round upon me an eye of
I expatiated on the small proportion of the available ability that
is really serving humanity to-day. "I suppose to-day all the
thought, all the art, all the increments of knowledge that matter,
are supplied so far as the English-speaking community is concerned
by--how many?--by three or four thousand individuals. ('Less,' said
Thorns.) To be more precise, by the mental hinterlands of three or
four thousand individuals. We who know some of the band entertain
no illusions as to their innate rarity. We know that they are just
the few out of many, the few who got in our world of chance and
confusion, the timely stimulus, the apt suggestion at the fortunate
moment, the needed training, the leisure. The rest are lost in the
crowd, fail through the defects of their qualities, become
commonplace workmen and second-rate professional men, marry
commonplace wives, are as much waste as the driftage of superfluous
pollen in a pine forest is waste."
"Decent honest lives!" said Dayton to his bread-crumbs, with his
chin in his necktie. "WASTE!"
"And the people who do get what we call opportunity get it usually
in extremely limited and cramping forms. No man lives a life of
intellectual productivity alone; he needs not only material and
opportunity, but helpers, resonators. Round and about what I might
call the REAL men, you want the sympathetic cooperators, who help by
understanding. It isn't that our--SALT of three or four thousand is
needlessly rare; it is sustained by far too small and
undifferentiated a public. Most of the good men we know are not
really doing the very best work of their gifts; nearly all are a
little adapted, most are shockingly adapted to some second-best use.
Now, I take it, this is the very centre and origin of the muddle,
futility, and unhappiness that distresses us; it's the cardinal
problem of the state--to discover, develop, and use the exceptional
gifts of men. And I see that best done--I drift more and more away
from the common stuff of legislative and administrative activity--by
a quite revolutionary development of the educational machinery, but
by a still more unprecedented attempt to keep science going, to keep
literature going, and to keep what is the necessary spur of all
science and literature, an intelligent and appreciative criticism
going. You know none of these things have ever been kept going
hitherto; they've come unexpectedly and inexplicably."
"Hear, hear!" from Dayton, cough, nodding of the head, and an
expression of mystical profundity.
"They've lit up a civilisation and vanished, to give place to
darkness again. Now the modern state doesn't mean to go back to
darkness again--and so it's got to keep its light burning." I went
on to attack the present organisation of our schools and
universities, which seemed elaborately designed to turn the well-
behaved, uncritical, and uncreative men of each generation into the
authoritative leaders of the next, and I suggested remedies upon
lines that I have already indicated in the earlier chapters of this
story. . . .
So far I had the substance of the club with me, but I opened new
ground and set Crupp agog by confessing my doubt from which party or
combination of groups these developments of science and literature
and educational organisation could most reasonably be expected. I
looked up to find Crupp's dark little eye intent upon me.
There I left it to them.
We had an astonishingly good discussion; Neal burst once, but we
emerged from his flood after a time, and Dayton had his interlude.
The rest was all close, keen examination of my problem.
I see Crupp now with his arm bent before him on the table in a way
we had, as though it was jointed throughout its length like a
lobster's antenna, his plump, short-fingered hand crushing up a
walnut shell into smaller and smaller fragments. "Remington," he
said, "has given us the data for a movement, a really possible
movement. It's not only possible, but necessary--urgently
necessary, I think, if the Empire is to go on."
"We're working altogether too much at the social basement in
education and training," said Gane. "Remington is right about our
neglect of the higher levels."
Britten made a good contribution with an analysis of what he called
the spirit of a country and what made it. "The modern community
needs its serious men to be artistic and its artists to be taken
seriously," I remember his saying. "The day has gone by for either
dull responsibility or merely witty art."
I remember very vividly how Shoesmith harped on an idea I had thrown
out of using some sort of review or weekly to express and elaborate
these conceptions of a new, severer, aristocratic culture.
"It would have to be done amazingly well," said Britten, and my mind
went back to my school days and that ancient enterprise of ours, and
how Cossington had rushed it. Well, Cossington had too many papers
nowadays to interfere with us, and we perhaps had learnt some
"But this thing has to be linked to some political party," said
Crupp, with his eye on me. "You can't get away from that. The
Liberals," he added, "have never done anything for research or
"They had a Royal Commission on the Dramatic Censorship," said
Thorns, with a note of minute fairness. "It shows what they were
made of," he added.
"It's what I've told Remington again and again," said Crupp, "we've
got to pick up the tradition of aristocracy, reorganise it, and make
it work. But he's certainly suggested a method."
"There won't be much aristocracy to pick up," said Dayton, darkly to
the ceiling, "if the House of Lords throws out the Budget."
"All the more reason for picking it up," said Neal. "For we can't
do without it."
"Will they go to the bad, or will they rise from the ashes,
aristocrats indeed--if the Liberals come in overwhelmingly?" said
"It's we who might decide that," said Crupp, insidiously.
"I agree," said Gane.
"No one can tell," said Thorns. "I doubt if they will get beaten."
It was an odd, fragmentary discussion that night. We were all with
ideas in our minds at once fine and imperfect. We threw out
suggestions that showed themselves at once far inadequate, and we
tried to qualify them by minor self-contradictions. Britten, I
think, got more said than any one. "You all seem to think you want
to organise people, particular groups and classes of individuals,"
he insisted. "It isn't that. That's the standing error of
politicians. You want to organise a culture. Civilisation isn't a
matter of concrete groupings; it's a matter of prevailing ideas.
The problem is how to make bold, clear ideas prevail. The question
for Remington and us is just what groups of people will most help
this culture forward."
"Yes, but how are the Lords going to behave?" said Crupp. "You
yourself were asking that a little while ago."
"If they win or if they lose," Gane maintained, "there will be a
movement to reorganise aristocracy--Reform of the House of Lords,
they'll call the political form of it."
"Bailey thinks that," said some one.
"The labour people want abolition," said some one. "Let 'em," said
He became audible, sketching a possibility of action.
"Suppose all of us were able to work together. It's just one of
those indeterminate, confused, eventful times ahead when a steady
jet of ideas might produce enormous results."
"Leave me out of it," said Dayton, "IF you please."
"We should," said Thorns under his breath.
I took up Crupp's initiative, I remember, and expanded it.
"I believe we could do--extensive things," I insisted.
"Revivals and revisions of Toryism have been tried so often," said
Thorns, "from the Young England movement onward."
"Not one but has produced its enduring effects," I said. "It's the
peculiarity of English conservatism that it's persistently
progressive and rejuvenescent."
I think it must have been about that point that Dayton fled our
presence, after some clumsy sentence that I decided upon reflection
was intended to remind me of my duty to my party.
Then I remember Thorns firing doubts at me obliquely across the
table. "You can't run a country through its spoilt children," he
said. "What you call aristocrats are really spoilt children.
They've had too much of everything, except bracing experience."
"Children can always be educated," said Crupp.
"I said SPOILT children," said Thorns.
"Look here, Thorns!" said I. "If this Budget row leads to a storm,
and these big people get their power clipped, what's going to
happen? Have you thought of that? When they go out lock, stock,
and barrel, who comes in?"
"Nature abhors a Vacuum," said Crupp, supporting me.
"Bailey's trained officials," suggested Gane.
"Quacks with a certificate of approval from Altiora," said Thorns.
"I admit the horrors of the alternative. There'd be a massacre in
"One may go on trying possibilities for ever," I said. "One thing
emerges. Whatever accidents happen, our civilisation needs, and
almost consciously needs, a culture of fine creative minds, and all
the necessary tolerances, opennesses, considerations, that march
with that. For my own part, I think that is the Most Vital Thing.
Build your ship of state as you will; get your men as you will; I
concentrate on what is clearly the affair of my sort of man,--I want
to ensure the quality of the quarter deck."
"Hear, hear!" said Shoesmith, suddenly--his first remark for a long
time. "A first-rate figure," said Shoesmith, gripping it.
"Our danger is in missing that," I went on. "Muddle isn't ended by
transferring power from the muddle-headed few to the muddle-headed
many, and then cheating the many out of it again in the interests of
a bureaucracy of sham experts. But that seems the limit of the
liberal imagination. There is no real progress in a country, except
a rise in the level of its free intellectual activity. All other
progress is secondary and dependant. If you take on Bailey's dreams
of efficient machinery and a sort of fanatical discipline with no
free-moving brains behind it, confused ugliness becomes rigid
ugliness,--that's all. No doubt things are moving from looseness to
discipline, and from irresponsible controls to organised controls--
and also and rather contrariwise everything is becoming as people
say, democratised; but all the more need in that, for an ark in
which the living element may be saved."
"Hear, hear!" said Shoesmith, faint but pursuing.
It must have been in my house afterwards that Shoesmith became
noticeable. He seemed trying to say something vague and difficult
that he didn't get said at all on that occasion. "We could do
immense things with a weekly," he repeated, echoing Neal, I think.
And there he left off and became a mute expressiveness, and it was
only afterwards, when I was in bed, that I saw we had our capitalist
in our hands. . . .
We parted that night on my doorstep in a tremendous glow--but in
that sort of glow one doesn't act upon without much reconsideration,
and it was some months before I made my decision to follow up the
indications of that opening talk.
I find my thoughts lingering about the Pentagram Circle. In my
developments it played a large part, not so much by starting new
trains of thought as by confirming the practicability of things I
had already hesitatingly entertained. Discussion with these other
men so prominently involved in current affairs endorsed views that
otherwise would have seemed only a little less remote from actuality
than the guardians of Plato or the labour laws of More. Among other
questions that were never very distant from our discussions, that
came apt to every topic, was the true significance of democracy,
Tariff Reform as a method of international hostility, and the
imminence of war. On the first issue I can still recall little
Bailey, glib and winking, explaining that democracy was really just
a dodge for getting assent to the ordinances of the expert official
by means of the polling booth. "If they don't like things," said
he, "they can vote for the opposition candidate and see what happens
then--and that, you see, is why we don't want proportional
representation to let in the wild men." I opened my eyes--the lids
had dropped for a moment under the caress of those smooth sounds--to
see if Bailey's artful forefinger wasn't at the side of his
The international situation exercised us greatly. Our meetings were
pervaded by the feeling that all things moved towards a day of
reckoning with Germany, and I was largely instrumental in keeping up
the suggestion that India was in a state of unstable equilibrium,
that sooner or later something must happen there--something very
serious to our Empire. Dayton frankly detested these topics. He
was full of that old Middle Victorian persuasion that whatever is
inconvenient or disagreeable to the English mind could be
annihilated by not thinking about it. He used to sit low in his
chair and look mulish. "Militarism," he would declare in a tone of
the utmost moral fervour, "is a curse. It's an unmitigated curse."
Then he would cough shortly and twitch his head back and frown, and
seem astonished beyond measure that after this conclusive statement
we could still go on talking of war.
All our Imperialists were obsessed by the thought of international
conflict, and their influence revived for a time those uneasinesses
that had been aroused in me for the first time by my continental
journey with Willersley and by Meredith's "One of Our Conquerors."
That quite justifiable dread of a punishment for all the slackness,
mental dishonesty, presumption, mercenary respectability and
sentimentalised commercialism of the Victorian period, at the hands
of the better organised, more vigorous, and now far more highly
civilised peoples of Central Europe, seemed to me to have both a
good and bad series of consequences. It seemed the only thing
capable of bracing English minds to education, sustained
constructive effort and research; but on the other hand it produced
the quality of a panic, hasty preparation, impatience of thought, a
wasteful and sometimes quite futile immediacy. In 1909, for
example, there was a vast clamour for eight additional Dreadnoughts--
"We want eight
And we won't wait,"
but no clamour at all about our national waste of inventive talent,
our mean standard of intellectual attainment, our disingenuous
criticism, and the consequent failure to distinguish men of the
quality needed to carry on the modern type of war. Almost
universally we have the wrong men in our places of responsibility
and the right men in no place at all, almost universally we have
poorly qualified, hesitating, and resentful subordinates, because
our criticism is worthless and, so habitually as to be now almost
unconsciously, dishonest. Germany is beating England in every
matter upon which competition is possible, because she attended
sedulously to her collective mind for sixty pregnant years, because
in spite of tremendous defects she is still far more anxious for
quality in achievement than we are. I remember saying that in my
paper. From that, I remember, I went on to an image that had
flashed into my mind. "The British Empire," I said, "is like some
of those early vertebrated monsters, the Brontosaurus and the
Atlantosaurus and such-like; it sacrifices intellect to character;
its backbone, that is to say,--especially in the visceral region--is
bigger than its cranium. It's no accident that things are so.
We've worked for backbone. We brag about backbone, and if the
joints are anchylosed so much the better. We're still but only half
awake to our error. You can't change that suddenly."
"Turn it round and make it go backwards," interjected Thorns.
"It's trying to do that," I said, "in places."
And afterwards Crupp declared I had begotten a nightmare which
haunted him of nights; he was trying desperately and belatedly to
blow a brain as one blows soap-bubbles on such a mezoroic saurian as
I had conjured up, while the clumsy monster's fate, all teeth and
brains, crept nearer and nearer. . . .
I've grown, I think, since those days out of the urgency of that
apprehension. I still think a European war, and conceivably a very
humiliating war for England, may occur at no very distant date, but
I do not think there is any such heroic quality in our governing
class as will make that war catastrophic. The prevailing spirit in
English life--it is one of the essential secrets of our imperial
endurance--is one of underbred aggression in prosperity and
diplomatic compromise in moments of danger; we bully haughtily where
we can and assimilate where we must. It is not for nothing that our
upper and middle-class youth is educated by teachers of the highest
character, scholars and gentlemen, men who can pretend quite
honestly that Darwinism hasn't upset the historical fall of man,
that cricket is moral training, and that Socialism is an outrage
upon the teachings of Christ. A sort of dignified dexterity of
evasion is the national reward. Germany, with a larger population,
a vigorous and irreconcilable proletariat, a bolder intellectual
training, a harsher spirit, can scarcely fail to drive us at last to
a realisation of intolerable strain. So we may never fight at all.
The war of preparations that has been going on for thirty years may
end like a sham-fight at last in an umpire's decision. We shall
proudly but very firmly take the second place. For my own part,
since I love England as much as I detest her present lethargy of
soul, I pray for a chastening war--I wouldn't mind her flag in the
dirt if only her spirit would come out of it. So I was able to
shake off that earlier fear of some final and irrevocable
destruction truncating all my schemes. At the most, a European war
would be a dramatic episode in the reconstruction I had in view.
In India, too, I no longer foresee, as once I was inclined to see,
disaster. The English rule in India is surely one of the most
extraordinary accidents that has ever happened in history. We are
there like a man who has fallen off a ladder on to the neck of an
elephant, and doesn't know what to do or how to get down. Until
something happens he remains. Our functions in India are absurd.
We English do not own that country, do not even rule it. We make
nothing happen; at the most we prevent things happening. We
suppress our own literature there. Most English people cannot even
go to this land they possess; the authorities would prevent it. If
Messrs. Perowne or Cook organised a cheap tour of Manchester
operatives, it would be stopped. No one dare bring the average
English voter face to face with the reality of India, or let the
Indian native have a glimpse of the English voter. In my time I
have talked to English statesmen, Indian officials and ex-officials,
viceroys, soldiers, every one who might be supposed to know what
India signifies, and I have prayed them to tell me what they thought
we were up to there. I am not writing without my book in these
matters. And beyond a phrase or so about "even-handed justice"--and
look at our sedition trials!--they told me nothing. Time after time
I have heard of that apocryphal native ruler in the north-west, who,
when asked what would happen if we left India, replied that in a
week his men would be in the saddle, and in six months not a rupee
nor a virgin would be left in Lower Bengal. That is always given as
our conclusive justification. But is it our business to preserve
the rupees and virgins of Lower Bengal in a sort of magic
inconclusiveness? Better plunder than paralysis, better fire and
sword than futility. Our flag is spread over the peninsula, without
plans, without intentions--a vast preventive. The sum total of our
policy is to arrest any discussion, any conferences that would
enable the Indians to work out a tolerable scheme of the future for
themselves. But that does not arrest the resentment of men held
back from life. Consider what it must be for the educated Indian
sitting at the feast of contemporary possibilities with his mouth
gagged and his hands bound behind him! The spirit of insurrection
breaks out in spite of espionage and seizures. Our conflict for
inaction develops stupendous absurdities. The other day the British
Empire was taking off and examining printed cotton stomach wraps for
seditious emblems and inscriptions. . . .
In some manner we shall have to come out of India. We have had our
chance, and we have demonstrated nothing but the appalling dulness
of our national imagination. We are not good enough to do anything
with India. Codger and Flack, and Gates and Dayton, Cladingbowl in
the club, and the HOME CHURCHMAN in the home, cant about
"character," worship of strenuous force and contempt of truth; for
the sake of such men and things as these, we must abandon in fact,
if not in appearance, that empty domination. Had we great schools
and a powerful teaching, could we boast great men, had we the spirit
of truth and creation in our lives, then indeed it might be
different. But a race that bears a sceptre must carry gifts to
It does not follow that we shall be driven catastrophically from
India. That was my earlier mistake. We are not proud enough in our
bones to be ruined by India as Spain was by her empire. We may be
able to abandon India with an air of still remaining there. It is
our new method. We train our future rulers in the public schools to
have a very wholesome respect for strength, and as soon as a power
arises in India in spite of us, be it a man or a culture, or a
native state, we shall be willing to deal with it. We may or may
not have a war, but our governing class will be quick to learn when
we are beaten. Then they will repeat our South African diplomacy,
and arrange for some settlement that will abandon the reality, such
as it is, and preserve the semblance of power. The conqueror DE
FACTO will become the new "loyal Briton," and the democracy at home
will be invited to celebrate our recession--triumphantly. I am no
believer in the imminent dissolution of our Empire; I am less and
less inclined to see in either India or Germany the probability of
an abrupt truncation of those slow intellectual and moral
constructions which are the essentials of statecraft.
I sit writing in this little loggia to the sound of dripping water--
this morning we had rain, and the roof of our little casa is still
not dry, there are pools in the rocks under the sweet chestnuts, and
the torrent that crosses the salita is full and boastful,--and I try
to recall the order of my impressions during that watching, dubious
time, before I went over to the Conservative Party. I was trying--
chaotic task--to gauge the possibilities inherent in the quality of
the British aristocracy. There comes a broad spectacular effect of
wide parks, diversified by woods and bracken valleys, and dappled
with deer; of great smooth lawns shaded by ancient trees; of big
facades of sunlit buildings dominating the country side; of large
fine rooms full of handsome, easy-mannered people. As a sort of
representative picture to set off against those other pictures of
Liberals and of Socialists I have given, I recall one of those huge
assemblies the Duchess of Clynes inaugurated at Stamford House. The
place itself is one of the vastest private houses in London, a huge
clustering mass of white and gold saloons with polished floors and
wonderful pictures, and staircases and galleries on a Gargantuan
scale. And there she sought to gather all that was most
representative of English activities, and did, in fact, in those
brilliant nocturnal crowds, get samples of nearly every section of
our social and intellectual life, with a marked predominance upon
the political and social side.
I remember sitting in one of the recesses at the end of the big
saloon with Mrs. Redmondson, one of those sharp-minded, beautiful
rich women one meets so often in London, who seem to have done
nothing and to be capable of everything, and we watched the crowd--
uniforms and splendours were streaming in from a State ball--and
exchanged information. I told her about the politicians and
intellectuals, and she told me about the aristocrats, and we
sharpened our wit on them and counted the percentage of beautiful
people among the latter, and wondered if the general effect of
tallness was or was not an illusion.
They were, we agreed, for the most part bigger than the average of
people in London, and a handsome lot, even when they were not subtly
individualised. "They look so well nurtured," I said, "well cared
for. I like their quiet, well-trained movements, their pleasant
consideration for each other."
"Kindly, good tempered, and at bottom utterly selfish," she said,
"like big, rather carefully trained, rather pampered children. What
else can you expect from them?"
"They are good tempered, anyhow," I witnessed, "and that's an
achievement. I don't think I could ever be content under a bad-
tempered, sentimentalism, strenuous Government. That's why I
couldn't stand the Roosevelt REGIME in America. One's chief
surprise when one comes across these big people for the first time
is their admirable easiness and a real personal modesty. I confess
I admire them. Oh! I like them. I wouldn't at all mind, I believe,
giving over the country to this aristocracy--given SOMETHING--"
"Which they haven't got."
"Which they haven't got--or they'd be the finest sort of people in
"That something?" she inquired.
"I don't know. I've been puzzling my wits to know. They've done
all sorts of things--"
"That's Lord Wrassleton," she interrupted, "whose leg was broken--
you remember?--at Spion Kop."
"It's healed very well. I like the gold lace and the white glove
resting, with quite a nice awkwardness, on the sword. When I was a
little boy I wanted to wear clothes like that. And the stars! He's
got the V. C. Most of these people here have at any rate shown
pluck, you know--brought something off."
"Not quite enough," she suggested.
"I think that's it," I said. "Not quite enough--not quite hard
enough," I added.
She laughed and looked at me. "You'd like to make us," she said.
"I don't think you'll go on if you don't get hard."
"We shan't be so pleasant if we do."
"Well, there my puzzled wits come in again. I don't see why an
aristocracy shouldn't be rather hard trained, and yet kindly. I'm
not convinced that the resources of education are exhausted. I want
to better this, because it already looks so good."
"How are we to do it?" asked Mrs. Redmondson.
"Oh, there you have me! I've been spending my time lately in trying
to answer that! It makes me quarrel with"--I held up my fingers and
ticked the items off--"the public schools, the private tutors, the
army exams, the Universities, the Church, the general attitude of
the country towards science and literature--"
"We all do," said Mrs. Redmondson. "We can't begin again at the
beginning," she added.
"Couldn't one," I nodded at the assembly in general, start a
"There's the Confederates," she said, with a faint smile that masked
a gleam of curiosity. . . . "You want," she said, "to say to the
aristocracy, 'Be aristocrats. NOBLESSE OBLIGE.' Do you remember
what happened to the monarch who was told to 'Be a King'?"
"Well," I said, "I want an aristocracy."
"This," she said, smiling, "is the pick of them. The backwoodsmen
are off the stage. These are the brilliant ones--the smart and the
blues. . . . They cost a lot of money, you know."
So far Mrs. Redmondson, but the picture remained full of things not
stated in our speech. They were on the whole handsome people,
charitable minded, happy, and easy. They led spacious lives, and
there was something free and fearless about their bearing that I
liked extremely. The women particularly were wide-reading, fine-
thinking. Mrs. Redmondson talked as fully and widely and boldly as
a man, and with those flashes of intuition, those startling, sudden
delicacies of perception few men display. I liked, too, the
relations that held between women and men, their general tolerance,
their antagonism to the harsh jealousies that are the essence of the
middle-class order. . . .
After all, if one's aim resolved itself into the development of a
type and culture of men, why shouldn't one begin at this end?
It is very easy indeed to generalise about a class or human beings,
but much harder to produce a sample. Was old Lady Forthundred, for
instance, fairly a sample? I remember her as a smiling, magnificent
presence, a towering accumulation of figure and wonderful shimmering
blue silk and black lace and black hair, and small fine features and
chins and chins and chins, disposed in a big cane chair with wraps
and cushions upon the great terrace of Champneys. Her eye was blue
and hard, and her accent and intonation were exactly what you would
expect from a rather commonplace dressmaker pretending to be
aristocratic. I was, I am afraid, posing a little as the
intelligent but respectful inquirer from below investigating the
great world, and she was certainly posing as my informant. She
affected a cynical coarseness. She developed a theory on the
governance of England, beautifully frank and simple. "Give 'um all
a peerage when they get twenty thousand a year," she maintained.
"That's my remedy."
In my new role of theoretical aristocrat I felt a little abashed.
"Twenty thousand," she repeated with conviction.
It occurred to me that I was in the presence of the aristocratic
theory currently working as distinguished from my as yet
"You'll get a lot of loafers and scamps among 'um," said Lady
Forthundred. "You get loafers and scamps everywhere, but you'll get
a lot of men who'll work hard to keep things together, and that's
what we're all after, isn't ut?
"It's not an ideal arrangement."
"Tell me anything better," said Lady Forthundred.
On the whole, and because she refused emphatically to believe in
education, Lady Forthundred scored.
We had been discussing Cossington's recent peerage, for Cossington,
my old schoolfellow at City Merchants', and my victor in the affair
of the magazine, had clambered to an amazing wealth up a piled heap
of energetically pushed penny and halfpenny magazines, and a group
of daily newspapers. I had expected to find the great lady hostile
to the new-comer, but she accepted him, she gloried in him.
"We're a peerage," she said, "but none of us have ever had any
nonsense about nobility."
She turned and smiled down on me. "We English," she said, "are a
practical people. We assimilate 'um."
"Then, I suppose, they don't give trouble?"
"Then they don't give trouble."
"They learn to shoot?"
"And all that," said Lady Forthundred. "Yes. And things go on.
Sometimes better than others, but they go on--somehow. It depends
very much on the sort of butler who pokes 'um about."
I suggested that it might be possible to get a secure twenty
thousand a year by at least detrimental methods--socially speaking.
"We must take the bad and the good of 'um," said Lady Forthundred,
courageously. . . .
Now, was she a sample? It happened she talked. What was there in
the brains of the multitude of her first, second, third, fourth, and
fifth cousins, who didn't talk, who shone tall, and bearing
themselves finely, against a background of deft, attentive maids and
valets, on every spacious social scene? How did things look to
Side by side with Lady Forthundred, it is curious to put Evesham
with his tall, bent body, his little-featured almost elvish face,
his unequal mild brown eyes, his gentle manner, his sweet, amazing
oratory. He led all these people wonderfully. He was always
curious and interested about life, wary beneath a pleasing
frankness--and I tormented my brain to get to the bottom of him.
For a long time he was the most powerful man in England under the
throne; he had the Lords in his hand, and a great majority in the
Commons, and the discontents and intrigues that are the concomitants
of an overwhelming party advantage broke against him as waves break
against a cliff. He foresaw so far in these matters that it seemed
he scarcely troubled to foresee. He brought political art to the
last triumph of naturalness. Always for me he has been the typical
aristocrat, so typical and above the mere forms of aristocracy, that
he remained a commoner to the end of his days.
I had met him at the beginning of my career; he read some early
papers of mine, and asked to see me, and I conceived a flattered
liking for him that strengthened to a very strong feeling indeed.
He seemed to me to stand alone without an equal, the greatest man in
British political life. Some men one sees through and understands,
some one cannot see into or round because they are of opaque clay,
but about Evesham I had a sense of things hidden as it were by depth
and mists, because he was so big and atmospheric a personality. No
other contemporary has had that effect upon me. I've sat beside him
at dinners, stayed in houses with him--he was in the big house party
at Champneys--talked to him, sounded him, watching him as I sat
beside him. I could talk to him with extraordinary freedom and a
rare sense of being understood. Other men have to be treated in a
special manner; approached through their own mental dialect,
flattered by a minute regard for what they have said and done.
Evesham was as widely and charitably receptive as any man I have
ever met. The common politicians beside him seemed like rows of
stuffy little rooms looking out upon the sea.
And what was he up to? What did HE think we were doing with
Mankind? That I thought worth knowing.
I remember his talking on one occasion at the Hartsteins', at a
dinner so tremendously floriferous and equipped that we were almost
forced into duologues, about the possible common constructive
purpose in politics.
"I feel so much," he said, "that the best people in every party
converge. We don't differ at Westminster as they do in the country
towns. There's a sort of extending common policy that goes on under
every government, because on the whole it's the right thing to do,
and people know it. Things that used to be matters of opinion
become matters of science--and cease to be party questions."
He instanced education.
"Apart," said I, "from the religious question."
"Apart from the religious question."
He dropped that aspect with an easy grace, and went on with his
general theme that political conflict was the outcome of
uncertainty. "Directly you get a thing established, so that people
can say, 'Now this is Right,' with the same conviction that people
can say water is a combination of oxygen and hydrogen, there's no
more to be said. The thing has to be done. . . ."
And to put against this effect of Evesham, broad and humanely
tolerant, posing as the minister of a steadily developing
constructive conviction, there are other memories.
Have I not seen him in the House, persistent, persuasive,
indefatigable, and by all my standards wickedly perverse, leaning
over the table with those insistent movements of his hand upon it,
or swaying forward with a grip upon his coat lapel, fighting with a
diabolical skill to preserve what are in effect religious tests,
tests he must have known would outrage and humiliate and injure the
consciences of a quarter--and that perhaps the best quarter--of the
youngsters who come to the work of elementary education?
In playing for points in the game of party advantage Evesham
displayed at times a quite wicked unscrupulousness in the use of his
subtle mind. I would sit on the Liberal benches and watch him, and
listen to his urbane voice, fascinated by him. Did he really care?
Did anything matter to him? And if it really mattered nothing, why
did he trouble to serve the narrowness and passion of his side? Or
did he see far beyond my scope, so that this petty iniquity was
justified by greater, remoter ends of which I had no intimation?
They accused him of nepotism. His friends and family were certainly
well cared for. In private life he was full of an affectionate
intimacy; he pleased by being charmed and pleased. One might think
at times there was no more of him than a clever man happily
circumstanced, and finding an interest and occupation in politics.
And then came a glimpse of thought, of imagination, like the sight
of a soaring eagle through a staircase skylight. Oh, beyond
question he was great! No other contemporary politician had his
quality. In no man have I perceived so sympathetically the great
contrast between warm, personal things and the white dream of
statecraft. Except that he had it seemed no hot passions, but only
interests and fine affections and indolences, he paralleled the
conflict of my life. He saw and thought widely and deeply; but at
times it seemed to me his greatness stood over and behind the
reality of his life, like some splendid servant, thinking his own
thoughts, who waits behind a lesser master's chair. . . .
Of course, when Evesham talked of this ideal of the organised state
becoming so finely true to practicability and so clearly stated as
to have the compelling conviction of physical science, he spoke
quite after my heart. Had he really embodied the attempt to realise
that, I could have done no more than follow him blindly. But
neither he nor I embodied that, and there lies the gist of my story.
And when it came to a study of others among the leading Tories and
Imperialists the doubt increased, until with some at last it was
possible to question whether they had any imaginative conception of
constructive statecraft at all; whether they didn't opaquely accept
the world for what it was, and set themselves single-mindedly to
make a place for themselves and cut a figure in it.
There were some very fine personalities among them: there were the
great peers who had administered Egypt, India, South Africa,
Framboya--Cromer, Kitchener, Curzon, Milner, Gane, for example. So
far as that easier task of holding sword and scales had gone, they
had shown the finest qualities, but they had returned to the
perplexing and exacting problem of the home country, a little
glorious, a little too simply bold. They wanted to arm and they
wanted to educate, but the habit of immediate necessity made them
far more eager to arm than to educate, and their experience of
heterogeneous controls made them overrate the need for obedience in
a homogeneous country. They didn't understand raw men, ill-trained
men, uncertain minds, and intelligent women; and these are the
things that matter in England. . . . There were also the great
business adventurers, from Cranber to Cossington (who was now Lord
Paddockhurst). My mind remained unsettled, and went up and down the
scale between a belief in their far-sighted purpose and the
perception of crude vanities, coarse ambitions, vulgar
competitiveness, and a mere habitual persistence in the pursuit of
gain. For a time I saw a good deal of Cossington--I wish I had kept
a diary of his talk and gestures, to mark how he could vary from day
to day between a POSEUR, a smart tradesman, and a very bold and
wide-thinking political schemer. He had a vanity of sweeping
actions, motor car pounces, Napoleonic rushes, that led to violent
ineffectual changes in the policy of his papers, and a haunting
pursuit by parallel columns in the liberal press that never abashed
him in the slightest degree. By an accident I plumbed the folly in
him--but I feel I never plumbed his wisdom. I remember him one day
after a lunch at the Barhams' saying suddenly, out of profound
meditation over the end of a cigar, one of those sentences that seem
to light the whole interior being of a man. "Some day," he said
softly, rather to himself than to me, and A PROPOS of nothing--"some
day I will raise the country."
"Why not?" I said, after a pause, and leant across him for the
little silver spirit-lamp, to light my cigarette. . . .
Then the Tories had for another section the ancient creations, and
again there were the financial peers, men accustomed to reserve, and
their big lawyers, accustomed to--well, qualified statement. And
below the giant personalities of the party were the young bloods,
young, adventurous men of the type of Lord Tarvrille, who had seen
service in South Africa, who had travelled and hunted; explorers,
keen motorists, interested in aviation, active in army organisation.
Good, brown-faced stuff they were, but impervious to ideas outside
the range of their activities, more ignorant of science than their
chaffeurs, and of the quality of English people than welt-
politicians; contemptuous of school and university by reason of the
Gateses and Flacks and Codgers who had come their way, witty, light-
hearted, patriotic at the Kipling level, with a certain aptitude for
bullying. They varied in insensible gradations between the noble
sportsmen on the one hand, and men like Gane and the Tories of our
Pentagram club on the other. You perceive how a man might exercise
his mind in the attempt to strike an average of public
serviceability in this miscellany! And mixed up with these, mixed
up sometimes in the same man, was the pure reactionary, whose
predominant idea was that the village schools should confine
themselves to teaching the catechism, hat-touching and courtesying,
and be given a holiday whenever beaters were in request. . . .
I find now in my mind as a sort of counterpoise to Evesham the
figure of old Lord Wardingham, asleep in the largest armchair in the
library of Stamford Court after lunch. One foot rested on one of
those things--I think they are called gout stools. He had been
playing golf all the morning and wearied a weak instep; at lunch he
had sat at my table and talked in the overbearing manner permitted
to irascible important men whose insteps are painful. Among other
things he had flouted the idea that women would ever understand
statecraft or be more than a nuisance in politics, denied flatly
that Hindoos were capable of anything whatever except excesses in
population, regretted he could not censor picture galleries and
circulating libraries, and declared that dissenters were people who
pretended to take theology seriously with the express purpose of
upsetting the entirely satisfactory compromise of the Established
Church. "No sensible people, with anything to gain or lose, argue
about religion," he said. "They mean mischief." Having delivered
his soul upon these points, and silenced the little conversation to
the left of him from which they had arisen, he became, after an
appreciative encounter with a sanguinary woodcock, more amiable,
responded to some respectful initiatives of Crupp's, and related a
number of classical anecdotes of those blighting snubs, vindictive
retorts and scandalous miscarriages of justice that are so dear to
the forensic mind. Now he reposed. He was breathing heavily with
his mouth a little open and his head on one side. One whisker was
turned back against the comfortable padding. His plump strong hands
gripped the arms of his chair, and his frown was a little assuaged.
How tremendously fed up he looked! Honours, wealth, influence,
respect, he had them all. How scornful and hard it had made his
I note without comment that it didn't even occur to me then to wake
him up and ask him what HE was up to with mankind.
One countervailing influence to my drift to Toryism in those days
was Margaret's quite religious faith in the Liberals. I realised
that slowly and with a mild astonishment. It set me, indeed, even
then questioning my own change of opinion. We came at last
incidentally, as our way was, to an exchange of views. It was as
nearly a quarrel as we had before I came over to the Conservative
side. It was at Champneys, and I think during the same visit that
witnessed my exploration of Lady Forthundred. It arose indirectly,
I think, out of some comments of mine upon our fellow-guests, but it
is one of those memories of which the scene and quality remain more
vivid than the things said, a memory without any very definite
beginning or end. It was afternoon, in the pause between tea and
the dressing bell, and we were in Margaret's big silver-adorned,
chintz-bright room, looking out on the trim Italian garden. . . .
Yes, the beginning of it has escaped me altogether, but I remember
it as an odd exceptional little wrangle.
At first we seem to have split upon the moral quality of the
aristocracy, and I had an odd sense that in some way too feminine
for me to understand our hostess had aggrieved her. She said, I
know, that Champneys distressed her; made her "eager for work and
"But aren't these people real?"
"They're so superficial, so extravagant!"
I said I was not shocked by their unreality. They seemed the least
affected people I had ever met. "And are they really so
extravagant?" I asked, and put it to her that her dresses cost quite
as much as any other woman's in the house.
"It's not only their dresses," Margaret parried. "It's the scale
and spirit of things."
I questioned that. "They're cynical," said Margaret, staring before
her out of the window.
I challenged her, and she quoted the Brabants, about whom there had
been an ancient scandal. She'd heard of it from Altiora, and it was
also Altiora who'd given her a horror of Lord Carnaby, who was also
with us. "You know his reputation," said Margaret. "That Normandy
girl. Every one knows about it. I shiver when I look at him. He
seems--oh! like something not of OUR civilisation. He WILL come and
say little things to me."
"No, politenesses and things. Of course his manners are--quite
right. That only makes it worse, I think. It shows he might have
helped--all that happened. I do all I can to make him see I don't
like him. But none of the others make the slightest objection to
"Perhaps these people imagine something might be said for him."
"That's just it," said Margaret.
"Charity," I suggested.
"I don't like that sort of toleration."
I was oddly annoyed. "Like eating with publicans and sinners," I
said. "No! . . ."
But scandals, and the contempt for rigid standards their condonation
displayed, weren't more than the sharp edge of the trouble. "It's
their whole position, their selfish predominance, their class
conspiracy against the mass of people," said Margaret. "When I sit
at dinner in that splendid room, with its glitter and white
reflections and candlelight, and its flowers and its wonderful
service and its candelabra of solid gold, I seem to feel the slums
and the mines and the over-crowded cottages stuffed away under the
I reminded Margaret that she was not altogether innocent of unearned
"But aren't we doing our best to give it back?" she said.
I was moved to question her. "Do you really think," I asked, "that
the Tories and peers and rich people are to blame for social
injustice as we have it to-day? Do you really see politics as a
struggle of light on the Liberal side against darkness on the Tory?"
"They MUST know," said Margaret.
I found myself questioning that. I see now that to Margaret it must
have seemed the perversest carping against manifest things, but at
the time I was concentrated simply upon the elucidation of her view
and my own; I wanted to get at her conception in the sharpest,
hardest lines that were possible. It was perfectly clear that she
saw Toryism as the diabolical element in affairs. The thing showed
in its hopeless untruth all the clearer for the fine, clean emotion
with which she gave it out to me. My sleeping peer in the library
at Stamford Court and Evesham talking luminously behind the
Hartstein flowers embodied the devil, and my replete citizen sucking
at his cigar in the National Liberal Club, Willie Crampton
discussing the care and management of the stomach over a specially
hygienic lemonade, and Dr. Tumpany in his aggressive frock-coat
pegging out a sort of copyright in Socialism, were the centre and
wings of the angelic side. It was nonsense. But how was I to put
the truth to her?
"I don't see things at all as you do," I said. "I don't see things
in the same way."
"Think of the poor," said Margaret, going off at a tangent.
"Think of every one," I said. "We Liberals have done more mischief
through well-intentioned benevolence than all the selfishness in the
world could have done. We built up the liquor interest."
"WE!" cried Margaret. "How can you say that? It's against us."
"Naturally. But we made it a monopoly in our clumsy efforts to
prevent people drinking what they liked, because it interfered with
"Oh!" cried Margaret, stung; and I could see she thought I was
talking mere wickedness.
"That's it," I said.
"But would you have people drink whatever they pleased?"
"Certainly. What right have I to dictate to other men and women?"
"But think of the children!"
"Ah! there you have the folly of modern Liberalism, its half-
cunning, half-silly way of getting at everything in a roundabout
fashion. If neglecting children is an offence, and it IS an
offence, then deal with it as such, but don't go badgering and
restricting people who sell something that may possibly in some
cases lead to a neglect of children. If drunkenness is an offence,
punish it, but don't punish a man for selling honest drink that
perhaps after all won't make any one drunk at all. Don't intensify
the viciousness of the public-house by assuming the place isn't fit
for women and children. That's either spite or folly. Make the
public-house FIT for women and children. Make it a real public-
house. If we Liberals go on as we are going, we shall presently
want to stop the sale of ink and paper because those things tempt
men to forgery. We do already threaten the privacy of the post
because of betting tout's letters. The drift of all that kind of
thing is narrow, unimaginative, mischievous, stupid. . . ."
I stopped short and walked to the window and surveyed a pretty
fountain, facsimile of one in Verona, amidst trim-cut borderings of
yew. Beyond, and seen between the stems of ilex trees, was a great
blaze of yellow flowers. . . .
"But prevention," I heard Margaret behind me, "is the essence of our
I turned. "There's no prevention but education. There's no
antiseptics in life but love and fine thinking. Make people fine,
make fine people. Don't be afraid. These Tory leaders are better
people individually than the average; why cast them for the villains
of the piece? The real villain in the piece--in the whole human
drama--is the muddle-headedness, and it matters very little if it's
virtuous-minded or wicked. I want to get at muddle-headedness. If
I could do that I could let all that you call wickedness in the
world run about and do what it jolly well pleased. It would matter
about as much as a slightly neglected dog--in an otherwise well-
My thoughts had run away with me.
"I can't understand you," said Margaret, in the profoundest
distress. "I can't understand how it is you are coming to see
things like this."
The moods of a thinking man in politics are curiously evasive and
difficult to describe. Neither the public nor the historian will
permit the statesman moods. He has from the first to assume he has
an Aim, a definite Aim, and to pretend to an absolute consistency
with that. Those subtle questionings about the very fundamentals of
life which plague us all so relentlessly nowadays are supposed to be
silenced. He lifts his chin and pursues his Aim explicitly in the
sight of all men. Those who have no real political experience can
scarcely imagine the immense mental and moral strain there is
between one's everyday acts and utterances on the one hand and the
"thinking-out" process on the other. It is perplexingly difficult
to keep in your mind, fixed and firm, a scheme essentially complex,
to keep balancing a swaying possibility while at the same time under
jealous, hostile, and stupid observation you tread your part in the
platitudinous, quarrelsome, ill-presented march of affairs. . . .
The most impossible of all autobiographies is an intellectual
autobiography. I have thrown together in the crudest way the
elements of the problem I struggled with, but I can give no record
of the subtle details; I can tell nothing of the long vacillations
between Protean values, the talks and re-talks, the meditations, the
bleak lucidities of sleepless nights. . . .
And yet these things I have struggled with must be thought out, and,
to begin with, they must be thought out in this muddled,
experimenting way. To go into a study to think about statecraft is
to turn your back on the realities you are constantly needing to
feel and test and sound if your thinking is to remain vital; to
choose an aim and pursue it in despite of all subsequent
questionings is to bury the talent of your mind. It is no use
dealing with the intricate as though it were simple, to leap
haphazard at the first course of action that presents itself; the
whole world of politicians is far too like a man who snatches a
poker to a failing watch. It is easy to say he wants to "get
something done," but the only sane thing to do for the moment is to
put aside that poker and take thought and get a better implement. . . .
One of the results of these fundamental preoccupations of mine was a
curious irritability towards Margaret that I found difficult to
conceal. It was one of the incidental cruelties of our position
that this should happen. I was in such doubt myself, that I had no
power to phrase things for her in a form she could use. Hitherto I
had stage-managed our "serious" conversations. Now I was too much
in earnest and too uncertain to go on doing this. I avoided talk
with her. Her serene, sustained confidence in vague formulae and
sentimental aspirations exasperated me; her want of sympathetic
apprehension made my few efforts to indicate my changing attitudes
distressing and futile. It wasn't that I was always thinking right,
and that she was always saying wrong. It was that I was struggling
to get hold of a difficult thing that was, at any rate, half true, I
could not gauge how true, and that Margaret's habitual phrasing
ignored these elusive elements of truth, and without premeditation
fitted into the weaknesses of my new intimations, as though they had
nothing but weaknesses. It was, for example, obvious that these big
people, who were the backbone of Imperialism and Conservatism, were
temperamentally lax, much more indolent, much more sensuous, than
our deliberately virtuous Young Liberals. I didn't want to be
reminded of that, just when I was in full effort to realise the
finer elements in their composition. Margaret classed them and
disposed of them. It was our incurable differences in habits and
gestures of thought coming between us again.
The desert of misunderstanding widened. I was forced back upon
myself and my own secret councils. For a time I went my way alone;
an unmixed evil for both of us. Except for that Pentagram evening,
a series of talks with Isabel Rivers, who was now becoming more and
more important in my intellectual life, and the arguments I
maintained with Crupp, I never really opened my mind at all during
that period of indecisions, slow abandonments, and slow
CHAPTER THE THIRD
At last, out of a vast accumulation of impressions, decision
distilled quite suddenly. I succumbed to Evesham and that dream of
the right thing triumphant through expression. I determined I would
go over to the Conservatives, and use my every gift and power on the
side of such forces on that side as made for educational
reorganisation, scientific research, literature, criticism, and
intellectual development. That was in 1909. I judged the Tories
were driving straight at a conflict with the country, and I thought
them bound to incur an electoral defeat. I under-estimated their
strength in the counties. There would follow, I calculated, a
period of profound reconstruction in method and policy alike. I was
entirely at one with Crupp in perceiving in this an immense
opportunity for the things we desired. An aristocracy quickened by
conflict and on the defensive, and full of the idea of justification
by reconstruction, might prove altogether more apt for thought and
high professions than Mrs. Redmondson's spoilt children. Behind the
now inevitable struggle for a reform of the House of Lords, there
would be great heart searchings and educational endeavour. On that
we reckoned. . . .
At last we talked it out to the practical pitch, and Crupp and
Shoesmith, and I and Gane, made our definite agreement together. . . .
I emerged from enormous silences upon Margaret one evening.
She was just back from the display of some new musicians at the
Hartsteins. I remember she wore a dress of golden satin, very rich-
looking and splendid. About her slender neck there was a rope of
gold-set amber beads. Her hair caught up and echoed and returned
these golden notes. I, too, was in evening dress, but where I had
been escapes me,--some forgotten dinner, I suppose. I went into her
room. I remember I didn't speak for some moments. I went across to
the window and pulled the blind aside, and looked out upon the
railed garden of the square, with its shrubs and shadowed turf
gleaming pallidly and irregularly in the light of the big electric
standard in the corner.
"Margaret," I said, "I think I shall break with the party."
She made no answer. I turned presently, a movement of enquiry.
"I was afraid you meant to do that," she said.
"I'm out of touch," I explained. "Altogether."
"Oh! I know."
"It places me in a difficult position," I said.
Margaret stood at her dressing-table, looking steadfastly at herself
in the glass, and with her fingers playing with a litter of
stoppered bottles of tinted glass. "I was afraid it was coming to
this," she said.
"In a way," I said, "we've been allies. I owe my seat to you. I
couldn't have gone into Parliament. . . ."
"I don't want considerations like that to affect us," she
There was a pause. She sat down in a chair by her dressing-table,
lifted an ivory hand-glass, and put it down again.
"I wish," she said, with something like a sob in her voice, "it were
possible that you shouldn't do this." She stopped abruptly, and I
did not look at her, because I could feel the effort she was making
to control herself.
"I thought," she began again, "when you came into Parliament--"
There came another silence. "It's all gone so differently," she
said. "Everything has gone so differently."
I had a sudden memory of her, shining triumphant after the
Kinghampstead election, and for the first time I realised just how
perplexing and disappointing my subsequent career must have been to
"I'm not doing this without consideration," I said.
"I know," she said, in a voice of despair, "I've seen it coming.
But--I still don't understand it. I don't understand how you can go
"My ideas have changed and developed," I said.
I walked across to her bearskin hearthrug, and stood by the mantel.
"To think that you," she said; "you who might have been leader--"
She could not finish it. "All the forces of reaction," she threw
"I don't think they are the forces of reaction," I said. "I think I
can find work to do--better work on that side."
"Against us!" she said. "As if progress wasn't hard enough! As if
it didn't call upon every able man!"
"I don't think Liberalism has a monopoly of progress."
She did not answer that. She sat quite still looking in front of
her. "WHY have you gone over?" she asked abruptly as though I had
There came a silence that I was impelled to end. I began a stiff
dissertation from the hearthrug. "I am going over, because I think
I may join in an intellectual renascence on the Conservative side.
I think that in the coming struggle there will be a partial and
altogether confused and demoralising victory for democracy, that
will stir the classes which now dominate the Conservative party into
an energetic revival. They will set out to win back, and win back.
Even if my estimate of contemporary forces is wrong and they win,
they will still be forced to reconstruct their outlook. A war
abroad will supply the chastening if home politics fail. The effort
at renascence is bound to come by either alternative. I believe I
can do more in relation to that effort than in any other connexion
in the world of politics at the present time. That's my case,
She certainly did not grasp what I said. "And so you will throw
aside all the beginnings, all the beliefs and pledges--" Again her
sentence remained incomplete. "I doubt if even, once you have gone
over, they will welcome you."
"That hardly matters."
I made an effort to resume my speech.
"I came into Parliament, Margaret," I said, "a little prematurely.
Still--I suppose it was only by coming into Parliament that I could
see things as I do now in terms of personality and imaginative
range. . . ." I stopped. Her stiff, unhappy, unlistening silence
broke up my disquisition.
"After all," I remarked, "most of this has been implicit in my
She made no sign of admission.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"Keep my seat for a time and make the reasons of my breach clear.
Then either I must resign or--probably this new Budget will lead to
a General Election. It's evidently meant to strain the Lords and
provoke a quarrel."
"You might, I think, have stayed to fight for the Budget."
"I'm not," I said, "so keen against the Lords."
On that we halted.
"But what are you going to do?" she asked.
"I shall make my quarrel over some points in the Budget. I can't
quite tell you yet where my chance will come. Then I shall either
resign my seat--or if things drift to dissolution I shall stand
"It's political suicide."
"I can't imagine you out of Parliament again. It's just like--like
undoing all we have done. What will you do?"
"Write. Make a new, more definite place for myself. You know, of
course, there's already a sort of group about Crupp and Gane."
Margaret seemed lost for a time in painful thought.
"For me," she said at last, "our political work has been a religion--
it has been more than a religion."
I heard in silence. I had no form of protest available against the
implications of that.
"And then I find you turning against all we aimed to do--talking of
going over, almost lightly--to those others." . . .
She was white-lipped as she spoke. In the most curious way she had
captured the moral values of the situation. I found myself
protesting ineffectually against her fixed conviction. "It's
because I think my duty lies in this change that I make it," I said.
"I don't see how you can say that," she replied quietly.
There was another pause between us.
"Oh!" she said and clenched her hand upon the table. "That it
should have come to this!"
She was extraordinarily dignified and extraordinarily absurd. She
was hurt and thwarted beyond measure. She had no place in her
ideas, I thought, for me. I could see how it appeared to her, but I
could not make her see anything of the intricate process that had
brought me to this divergence. The opposition of our intellectual
temperaments was like a gag in my mouth. What was there for me to
say? A flash of intuition told me that behind her white dignity was
a passionate disappointment, a shattering of dreams that needed
before everything else the relief of weeping.
"I've told you," I said awkwardly, "as soon as I could."
There was another long silence. "So that is how we stand," I said
with an air of having things defined. I walked slowly to the door.
She had risen and stood now staring in front of her.
"Good-night," I said, making no movement towards our habitual kiss.
"Good-night," she answered in a tragic note. . . .
I closed the door softly. I remained for a moment or so on the big
landing, hesitating between my bedroom and my study. As I did so I
heard the soft rustle of her movement and the click of the key in
her bedroom door. Then everything was still. . . .
She hid her tears from me. Something gripped my heart at the
"Damnation!" I said wincing. "Why the devil can't people at least
THINK in the same manner?"
And that insufficient colloquy was the beginning of a prolonged
estrangement between us. It was characteristic of our relations
that we never reopened the discussion. The thing had been in the
air for some time; we had recognised it now; the widening breach
between us was confessed. My own feelings were curiously divided.
It is remarkable that my very real affection for Margaret only
became evident to me with this quarrel. The changes of the heart
are very subtle changes. I am quite unaware how or when my early
romantic love for her purity and beauty and high-principled devotion
evaporated from my life; but I do know that quite early in my
parliamentary days there had come a vague, unconfessed resentment at
the tie that seemed to hold me in servitude to her standards of
private living and public act. I felt I was caught, and none the
less so because it had been my own act to rivet on my shackles. So
long as I still held myself bound to her that resentment grew. Now,
since I had broken my bonds and taken my line it withered again, and
I could think of Margaret with a returning kindliness.
But I still felt embarrassment with her. I felt myself dependent
upon her for house room and food and social support, as it were
under false pretences. I would have liked to have separated our
financial affairs altogether. But I knew that to raise the issue
would have seemed a last brutal indelicacy. So I tried almost
furtively to keep my personal expenditure within the scope of the
private income I made by writing, and we went out together in her
motor brougham, dined and made appearances, met politely at
breakfast--parted at night with a kiss upon her cheek. The locking
of her door upon me, which at that time I quite understood, which I
understand now, became for a time in my mind, through some obscure
process of the soul, an offence. I never crossed the landing to her
In all this matter, and, indeed, in all my relations with Margaret,
I perceive now I behaved badly and foolishly. My manifest blunder
is that I, who was several years older than she, much subtler and in
many ways wiser, never in any measure sought to guide and control
her. After our marriage I treated her always as an equal, and let
her go her way; held her responsible for all the weak and
ineffective and unfortunate things she said and did to me. She
wasn't clever enough to justify that. It wasn't fair to expect her
to sympathise, anticipate, and understand. I ought to have taken
care of her, roped her to me when it came to crossing the difficult
places. If I had loved her more, and wiselier and more tenderly, if
there had not been the consciousness of my financial dependence on
her always stiffening my pride, I think she would have moved with me
from the outset, and left the Liberals with me. But she did not get
any inkling of the ends I sought in my change of sides. It must
have seemed to her inexplicable perversity. She had, I knew--for
surely I knew it then--an immense capacity for loyalty and devotion.
There she was with these treasures untouched, neglected and
perplexed. A woman who loves wants to give. It is the duty and
business of the man she has married for love to help her to help and
give. But I was stupid. My eyes had never been opened. I was
stiff with her and difficult to her, because even on my wedding
morning there had been, deep down in my soul, voiceless though
present, something weakly protesting, a faint perception of wrong-
doing, the infinitesimally small, slow-multiplying germs of shame.
I made my breach with the party on the Budget.
In many ways I was disposed to regard the 1909 Budget as a fine
piece of statecraft. Its production was certainly a very unexpected
display of vigour on the Liberal side. But, on the whole, this
movement towards collectivist organisation on the part of the
Liberals rather strengthened than weakened my resolve to cross the
floor of the house. It made it more necessary, I thought, to leaven
the purely obstructive and reactionary elements that were at once
manifest in the opposition. I assailed the land taxation proposals
in one main speech, and a series of minor speeches in committee.
The line of attack I chose was that the land was a great public
service that needed to be controlled on broad and far-sighted lines.
I had no objection to its nationalisation, but I did object most
strenuously to the idea of leaving it in private hands, and
attempting to produce beneficial social results through the pressure
of taxation upon the land-owning class. That might break it up in
an utterly disastrous way. The drift of the government proposals
was all in the direction of sweating the landowner to get immediate
values from his property, and such a course of action was bound to
give us an irritated and vindictive land-owning class, the class
upon which we had hitherto relied--not unjustifiably--for certain
broad, patriotic services and an influence upon our collective
judgments that no other class seemed prepared to exercise. Abolish
landlordism if you will, I said, buy it out, but do not drive it to
a defensive fight, and leave it still sufficiently strong and
wealthy to become a malcontent element in your state. You have
taxed and controlled the brewer and the publican until the outraged
Liquor Interest has become a national danger. You now propose to do
the same thing on a larger scale. You turn a class which has many
fine and truly aristocratic traditions towards revolt, and there is
nothing in these or any other of your proposals that shows any sense
of the need for leadership to replace these traditional leaders you
are ousting. This was the substance of my case, and I hammered at
it not only in the House, but in the press. . . .
The Kinghampstead division remained for some time insensitive to my
Then it woke up suddenly, and began, in the columns of the
KINGSHAMPSTEAD GUARDIAN, an indignant, confused outcry. I was
treated to an open letter, signed "Junius Secundus," and I replied in
provocative terms. There were two thinly attended public meetings
at different ends of the constituency, and then I had a
correspondence with my old friend Parvill, the photographer, which
ended in my seeing a deputation.
My impression is that it consisted of about eighteen or twenty
people. They had had to come upstairs to me and they were
manifestly full of indignation and a little short of breath. There
was Parvill himself, J.P., dressed wholly in black--I think to mark
his sense of the occasion--and curiously suggestive in his respect
for my character and his concern for the honourableness of the
KINGHAMPSTEAD GUARDIAN editor, of Mark Antony at the funeral of
Cesar. There was Mrs. Bulger, also in mourning; she had never
abandoned the widow's streamers since the death of her husband ten
years ago, and her loyalty to Liberalism of the severest type was
part as it were of her weeds. There was a nephew of Sir Roderick
Newton, a bright young Hebrew of the graver type, and a couple of
dissenting ministers in high collars and hats that stopped halfway
between the bowler of this world and the shovel-hat of heaven.
There was also a young solicitor from Lurky done in the horsey
style, and there was a very little nervous man with a high brow and
a face contracting below as though the jawbones and teeth had been
taken out and the features compressed. The rest of the deputation,
which included two other public-spirited ladies and several
ministers of religion, might have been raked out of any omnibus
going Strandward during the May meetings. They thrust Parvill
forward as spokesman, and manifested a strong disposition to say
"Hear, hear!" to his more strenuous protests provided my eye wasn't
upon them at the time.
I regarded this appalling deputation as Parvill's apologetic but
quite definite utterances drew to an end. I had a moment of vision.
Behind them I saw the wonderful array of skeleton forces that stand
for public opinion, that are as much public opinion as exists indeed
at the present time. The whole process of politics which bulks so
solidly in history seemed for that clairvoyant instant but a froth
of petty motives above abysms of indifference. . . .
Some one had finished. I perceived I had to speak.
"Very well," I said, "I won't keep you long in replying. I'll
resign if there isn't a dissolution before next February, and if
there is I shan't stand again. You don't want the bother and
expense of a bye-election (approving murmurs) if it can be avoided.
But I may tell you plainly now that I don't think it will be
necessary for me to resign, and the sooner you find my successor the
better for the party. The Lords are in a corner; they've got to
fight now or never, and I think they will throw out the Budget.
Then they will go on fighting. It is a fight that will last for
years. They have a sort of social discipline, and you haven't. You