THE LAST government in the Western world to possess all the attributes of aristocracy in working condition took office in England in June of 1895. Great Britain was at the zenith of empire when the Conservatives won the General Election of that year, and the Cabinet they formed was her superb and resplendent image. Its members represented the greater landowners of the country who had been accustomed to govern for generations. As its superior citizens they felt they owed a duty to the State to guard its interests and manage its affairs. They governed from duty, heritage and habit—and, as they saw it, from right.
The Prime Minister was a Marquess and lineal descendant of the father and son who had been chief ministers to Queen Elizabeth and James I. The Secretary for War was another Marquess who traced his inferior title of Baron back to the year 1181, whose great-grandfather had been Prime Minister under George III and whose grandfather had served in six cabinets under three reigns. The Lord President of the Council was a Duke who owned 186,000 acres in eleven counties, whose ancestors had served in government since the Fourteenth Century, who had himself served thirty-four years in the House of Commons and three times refused to be Prime Minister. The Secretary for India was the son of another Duke whose family seat was received in 1315 by grant from Robert the Bruce and who had four sons serving in Parliament at the same time. The President of the Local Government Board was a pre-eminent country squire who had a Duke for brother-in-law, a Marquess for son-in-law, an ancestor who had been Lord Mayor of London in the reign of Charles II, and who had himself been a Member of Parliament for twenty-seven years. The Lord Chancellor bore a family name brought to England by a Norman follower of William the Conqueror and maintained thereafter over eight centuries without a title. The Lord Lieutenant for Ireland was an Earl, a grandnephew of the Duke of Wellington and a hereditary trustee of the British Museum. The Cabinet also included a Viscount, three Barons and two Baronets. Of its six commoners, one was a director of the Bank of England, one was a squire whose family had represented the same county in Parliament since the Sixteenth Century, one—who acted as Leader of the House of Commons—was the Prime Minister’s nephew and inheritor of a Scottish fortune of £4,000,000, and one, a notable and disturbing cuckoo in the nest, was a Birmingham manufacturer widely regarded as the most successful man in England.
Besides riches, rank, broad acres and ancient lineage, the new Government also possessed, to the regret of the Liberal Opposition and in the words of one of them, “an almost embarrassing wealth of talent and capacity.” Secure in authority, resting comfortably on their electoral majority in the House of Commons and on a permanent majority in the House of Lords, of whom four-fifths were Conservatives, they were in a position, admitted the same opponent, “of unassailable strength.”
Enriching their ranks were the Whig aristocrats who had seceded from the Liberal party in 1886 rather than accept Mr. Gladstone’s insistence on Home Rule for Ireland. They were for the most part great landowners who, like their natural brothers the Tories, regarded union with Ireland as sacrosanct. Led by the Duke of Devonshire, the Marquess of Lansdowne and Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, they had remained independent until 1895, when they joined with the Conservative party, and the two groups emerged as the Unionist party, in recognition of the policy that had brought them together. With the exception of Mr. Chamberlain, this coalition represented that class in whose blood, training and practice over the centuries, landowning and governing had been inseparable. Ever since Saxon chieftains met to advise the King in the first national assembly, the landowners of England had been sending members to Parliament and performing the duties of High Sheriff, Justice of the Peace and Lord Lieutenant of the Militia in their own counties. They had learned the practice of government from the possession of great estates, and they undertook to manage the affairs of the nation as inevitably and unquestionably as beavers build a dam. It was their ordained role and natural task.
But it was threatened. By a rising rumble of protest from below, by the Radicals of the Opposition who talked about taxing unearned increment on land, by Home Rulers who wanted to detach the Irish island from which so much English income came, by Trade Unionists who talked of Labour representation in Parliament and demanded the legal right to strike and otherwise interfere with the free play of economic forces, by Socialists who wanted to nationalize property and Anarchists who wanted to abolish it, by upstart nations and strange challenges from abroad. The rumble was distant, but it spoke with one voice that said Change, and those whose business was government could not help but hear.
Planted firmly across the path of change, operating warily, shrewdly yet with passionate conviction in defence of the existing order, was a peer who was Chancellor of Oxford University for life, had twice held the India Office, twice the Foreign Office and was now Prime Minister for the third time. He was Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, Lord Salisbury, ninth Earl and third Marquess of his line.
Lord Salisbury was both the epitome of his class and uncharacteristic of it—except insofar as the freedom to be different was a class characteristic. He was six feet four inches tall, and as a young man had been thin, ungainly, stooping and shortsighted, with hair unusually black for an Englishman. Now sixty-five, his youthful lankiness had turned to bulk, his shoulders had grown massive and more stooped than ever, and his heavy bald head with full curly gray beard rested on them as if weighted down. Melancholy, intensely intellectual, subject to sleepwalking and fits of depression which he called “nerve storms,” caustic, tactless, absent-minded, bored by society and fond of solitude, with a penetrating, skeptical, questioning mind, he had been called the Hamlet of English politics. He was above the conventions and refused to live in Downing Street. His devotion was to religion, his interest in science. In his own home he attended private chapel every morning before breakfast, and had fitted up a chemical laboratory where he conducted solitary experiments. He harnessed the river at Hatfield for an electric power plant on his estate and strung up along the old beams of his home one of England’s first electric light systems, at which his family threw cushions when the wires sparked and sputtered while they went on talking and arguing, a customary occupation of the Cecils.
Lord Salisbury cared nothing for sport and little for people. His aloofness was enhanced by shortsightedness so intense that he once failed to recognize a member of his own Cabinet, and once, his own butler. At the close of the Boer War he picked up a signed photograph of King Edward and, gazing at it pensively, remarked, “Poor Buller [referring to the Commander-in-Chief at the start of the war], what a mess he made of it.” On another occasion he was seen in prolonged military conversation with a minor peer under the impression that he was talking to Field Marshal Lord Roberts.
For the upper-class Englishman’s alter ego, most intimate companion and constant preoccupation, his horse, Lord Salisbury had no more regard. Riding was to him purely a means of locomotion to which the horse was “a necessary but extremely inconvenient adjunct.” Nor was he addicted to shooting. When Parliament rose he did not go north to slaughter grouse upon the moors or stalk deer in Scottish forests, and when protocol required his attendance upon royalty at Balmoral, he would not go for walks and “positively refused,” wrote Queen Victoria’s Private Secretary, Sir Henry Ponsonby, “to admire the prospect or the deer.” Ponsonby was told to have his room in the dismal castle kept “warm”—a minimum temperature of sixty degrees. Otherwise he retired for his holidays to France, where he owned a villa at Beaulieu on the Riviera and where he could exercise his fluent French and lose himself in The Count of Monte Cristo, the only book, he once told Dumas fils, which allowed him to forget politics.
His acquaintance with games was confined to tennis, but when elderly he invented his own form of exercise, which consisted in riding a tricycle through St. James’s Park in the early mornings or along paths cemented for the purpose in the park of his estate at Hatfield. Wearing for the occasion a kind of sombrero hat and a short sleeveless cloak with a hole in the middle in which he resembled a monk, he would be accompanied by a young coachman to push him up the hills. At the downhill slopes, the young man would be told to “jump on behind,” and the Prime Minister, with the coachman’s hands on his shoulders, would roll away, cloak flying and pedals whirring.
Hatfield, twenty miles north of London in Hertfordshire, had been the home of the Cecils for nearly three hundred years since James I had given it, in 1607, to his Prime Minister, Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury, in exchange for a house of Cecil’s to which the King had taken a fancy. It was the royal residence where Queen Elizabeth had spent her childhood and where, on receiving news of her accession, she held her first council, to swear in William Cecil, Lord Burghley, as her chief Secretary of State. Its Long Gallery, with intricately carved paneled walls and gold-leaf ceiling, was 180 feet in length. The Marble Hall, named for the black and white marble floor, glowed like a jewel case with painted and gilded ceiling and Brussels tapestries. The red King James Drawing Room was hung with full-length family portraits by Romney and Reynolds and Lawrence. The library was lined from floor to gallery and ceiling with 10,000 volumes bound in leather and vellum. In other rooms were kept the Casket Letters of Mary Queen of Scots, suits of armor taken from men of the Spanish Armada, the cradle of the beheaded King, Charles I, and presentation portraits of James I and George III. Outside were yew hedges clipped in the form of crenelated battlements, and the gardens, of which Pepys wrote that he never saw “so good flowers, nor so great gooseberries as big as nutmegs.” Over the entrance hall hung flags captured at Waterloo and presented to Hatfield by the Duke of Wellington, who was a constant visitor and devoted admirer of the Prime Minister’s mother, the second Marchioness. In her honor Wellington wore the hunt coat of the Hatfield Hounds when he was on campaign. The first Marchioness was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and hunted till the day she died at eighty-five, when, half-blind and strapped to the saddle, she was accompanied by a groom who would shout, when her horse approached a fence, “Jump, dammit, my Lady, jump!”
It was this exceptional person who reinvigorated the Cecil blood, which, after Burghley and his son, had produced no further examples of superior mentality. Rather, the general mediocrity of succeeding generations had been varied only, according to a later Cecil, by instances of “quite exceptional stupidity.” But the second Marquess proved a vigorous and able man with a strong sense of public duty who served in several mid-century Tory cabinets. His second son, another Robert Cecil, was the Prime Minister of 1895. He in turn produced five sons who were to distinguish themselves. One became a general, one a bishop, one a minister of state, one M.P. for Oxford, and one, through service to the government, won a peerage in his own right. “In human beings as in horses,” Lord Birkenhead was moved to comment on the Cecil record, “there is something to be said for the hereditary principle.”
At Oxford in 1850 the contemporaries of young Robert Cecil agreed that he would end as Prime Minister either because or in spite of his remorselessly uncompromising opinions. Throughout life he never bothered to restrain them. His youthful speeches were remarkable for their virulence and insolence; he was not, said Disraeli, “a man who measures his phrases.” A “Salisbury” became a synonym for a political imprudence. He once compared the Irish in their incapacity for self-government to Hottentots and spoke of an Indian candidate for Parliament as “that black man.” In the opinion of Lord Morley his speeches were always a pleasure to read because “they were sure to contain one blazing indiscretion which it is a delight to remember.” Whether these were altogether accidental is open to question, for though Lord Salisbury delivered his speeches without notes, they were worked out in his head beforehand and emerged clear and perfect in sentence structure. In that time the art of oratory was considered part of the equipment of a statesman and anyone reading from a written speech would have been regarded as pitiable. When Lord Salisbury spoke, “every sentence,” said a fellow member, “seemed as essential, as articulate, as vital to the argument as the members of his body to an athlete.”
Appearing in public before an audience about whom he cared nothing, Salisbury was awkward; but in the Upper House, where he addressed his equals, he was perfectly and strikingly at home. He spoke sonorously, with an occasional change of tone to icy mockery or withering sarcasm. When a recently ennobled Whig took the floor to lecture the House of Lords in high-flown and solemn Whig sentiments, Salisbury asked a neighbor who the speaker was and on hearing the whispered identification, replied perfectly audibly, “I thought he was dead.” When he listened to others he could become easily bored, revealed by a telltale wagging of his leg which seemed to one observer to be saying, “When will all this be over?” Or sometimes, raising his heels off the floor, he would set up a sustained quivering of his knees and legs which could last for half an hour at a time. At home, when made restless by visitors, it shook the floor and made the furniture rattle, and in the House his colleagues on the front bench complained it made them seasick. If his legs were at rest his long fingers would be in motion, incessantly twisting and turning a paper knife or beating a tattoo on his knee or on the arm of his chair.
He never dined out and rarely entertained beyond one or two political receptions at his town house in Arlington Street and an occasional garden party at Hatfield. He avoided the Carlton, official club of the Conservatives, in favor of the Junior Carlton, where a special luncheon table was set aside for him alone and the library was hung with huge placards inscribed SILENCE. He worked from breakfast to one in the morning, returning to his desk after dinner as if he were beginning a new day. His clothes were drab and often untidy. He wore trousers and waistcoat of a dismal gray under a broadcloth frock coat grown shiny. But though careless in dress, he was particular about the trimming of his beard and carefully directed operations in the barber’s chair, indicating “just a little more off here” while “artist and subject gazed fixedly in the mirror to judge the result.”
Despite his rough tongue and sarcasms, Salisbury exerted a personal charm upon close colleagues and equals which, as one of them said, “was no small asset in the conduct of affairs.” He gave detailed attention to party affairs and even sacrificed his exclusiveness for their sake. Once he astonished everyone by accepting an invitation to the traditional dinner for party supporters given by the Leader of the House of Commons. He asked to be given in advance biographical details about each guest. At the dinner the Prime Minister charmed his neighbor at table, a well-known agriculturist, with his expert knowledge of crop rotation and stock-breeding, chatted amiably afterward with every guest in turn, and before leaving, beckoned to his Private Secretary, saying, “I think I have done them all, but there was someone I have not identified who, you said, made mustard.”
Mr. Gladstone, though in political philosophy his bitterest antagonist, acknowledged him “a great gentleman in private society.” In private life he was delightful and sympathetic and a complete contrast to his public self. In public acclaim, Salisbury was uninterested, for—since the populace was uninstructed—its opinions, as far as he was concerned, were worthless. He ignored the public and neither possessed nor tried to cultivate the personal touch that makes a political leader a recognizable personality to the man in the street and earns him a nickname like “Pam” or “Dizzy” or the “Grand Old Man.” Not in the press, not even in Punch, was Lord Salisbury ever called anything but Lord Salisbury. He made no attempt to conceal his dislike for mobs of all kinds, “not excluding the House of Commons.” After moving to the Lords, he never returned to the Commons to listen to its debates from the Peers’ Gallery or chat with members in the Lobby, and if compelled to allude to them in his own House, would use a tone of airy contempt, to the amusement of visitors from the Commons who came to hear him. But this was merely an outward pose designed to underline his deep inner sense of the patrician. He was not rank-conscious; he was indifferent to honors or any other form of recognition. It was simply that as a Cecil, and a superior one, he was born with a consciousness in his bones and brain cells of ability to rule and saw no reason to make any concessions of this prescriptive right to anyone whatever.
Having entered the House of Commons in the customary manner for peers’ sons, from a family-controlled borough in an uncontested election at the age of twenty-three, and, during his fifteen years in the House of Commons, having been returned unopposed five times from the same borough, and having for the last twenty-seven years sat in the House of Lords, he had little personal experience of vote-getting. He regarded himself not as responsible to the people but as responsible for them. They were in his care. What reverence he felt for anyone was directed not down but up—to the monarchy. He revered Queen Victoria, who was some ten years his senior, both as her subject and, with chivalry toward her womanhood, as a man. For her he softened his brusqueness even if at Balmoral he could not conceal his boredom.
She in turn visited him at Hatfield and had the greatest confidence in him, giving him, as she told Bishop Carpenter, “if not the highest, an equal place with the highest among her ministers,” not excepting Disraeli. Salisbury, who was “bad on his legs at any time,” was the only man she ever asked to sit down. Unalike in every quality of mind except in their strong sense of rulership, the tiny old Queen and the tall, heavy, aging Prime Minister felt for each other mutual respect and regard.
In unimportant matters of state as in dress, Salisbury was inclined to be casual. Once when two clergymen with similar names were candidates for a vacant bishopric, he appointed the one not recommended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and this being sorrowfully drawn to his attention, he said, “Oh, I daresay he will do just as well.” He reserved high seriousness for serious matters only, and the most serious to him was the maintenance of aristocratic influence and executive power, not for its own sake, but because he believed it to be the only element capable of holding the nation united against the rising forces of democracy which he saw “splitting it into a bundle of unfriendly and distrustful fragments.”
Class war and irreligion were to him the greatest evils and for this reason he detested Socialism, less for its menace to property than for its preaching of class war and its basis in materialism, which meant to him a denial of spiritual values. He did not deny the need of social reforms, but believed they could be achieved through the interplay and mutual pressures of existing parties. The Workmen’s Compensation Act, for one, making employers liable for work-sustained injuries, though denounced by some of his party as interference with private enterprise, was introduced and passed with his support in 1897.
He fought all proposals designed to increase the political power of the masses. When still a younger son, and not expecting to succeed to the title, he had formulated his political philosophy in a series of some thirty articles which were published in the Quarterly Review in the early 1860’s, when he was in his thirties. Against the growing demand at that time for a new Reform law to extend the suffrage, Lord Robert Cecil, as he then was, had declared it to be the business of the Conservative party to preserve the rights and privileges of the propertied class as the “single bulwark” against the weight of numbers. To extend the suffrage would be, as he saw it, to give the working classes not merely a voice in Parliament but a preponderating one that would give to “mere numbers a power they ought not to have.” He deplored the Liberals’ adulation of the working class “as if they were different from other Englishmen” when in fact the only difference was that they had less education and property and “in proportion as the property is small the danger of misusing the franchise is great.” He believed the workings of democracy to be dangerous to liberty, for under democracy “passion is not the exception but the rule” and it was “perfectly impossible” to commend a farsighted passionless policy to “men whoseminds are unused to thought and undisciplined to study.” To widen the suffrage among the poor while increasing taxes upon the rich would end, he wrote, in a complete divorce of power from responsibility; “the rich would pay all the taxes and the poor make all the laws.”
He did not believe in political equality. There was the multitude, he said, and there were “natural” leaders. “Always wealth, in some countries birth, in all countries intellectual power and culture mark out the man to whom, in a healthy state of feeling, a community looks to undertake its government.” These men had the leisure for it and the fortune, “so that the struggles for ambition are not defiled by the taint of sordid greed.… They are the aristocracy of a country in the original and best sense of the word.… The important point is, that the rulers of a country should be taken from among them,” and as a class they should retain that “political preponderance to which they have every right that superior fitness can confer.”
So sincere and certain was his conviction of that “superior fitness” that in 1867 when the Tory Government espoused the Second Reform Bill, which doubled the electorate and enfranchised workingmen in the towns, Salisbury at thirty-seven flung away Cabinet office within a year of first achieving it rather than be party to what he considered a betrayal and surrender of Conservative principles. His party’s reversal, engineered by Disraeli in a neat enterprise both to “dish the Whigs” and to meet political realities, was regarded with abhorrence by Lord Cranborne (as Lord Robert Cecil had then become, his elder brother having died in 1865). Though it might ruin his career he resigned as Secretary for India and in a bitter and serious speech spoke out in the House against the policy of the party’s leaders, Lord Derby and Mr. Disraeli. He begged the members not to do for political advantage what would ultimately destroy them as a class. “The wealth, the intelligence, the energy of the community, all that has given you that power which makes you so proud of your nation and which makes the deliberations of this House so important, will be numerically absolutely overmatched.” Issues would arise in which the interests of employers and employed would clash and could only be decided by political force, “and in that conflict of political force you are pitting an overwhelming number of employed against a hopeless minority of employers.” The outcome would “reduce to political insignificance and extinction the classes which have hitherto contributed so much to the greatness and prosperity of their country.”
A year later, on his father’s death, he entered the House of Lords as third Marquess of Salisbury. In 1895, after the passage of nearly thirty years, his principles had not shifted an inch. With no belief in change as improvement, nor faith in the future over the present, he dedicated himself with “grim acidity” to preserving the existing order. Believing that “rank, without the power of which it was originally the symbol, was a sham,” he was determined, while he lived and governed England, to resist further attack on the power of that class of which rank was still the visible symbol. Watchful of approaching enemies, he stood against the coming age. The pressures of democracy encircled, but had not yet closed in around, the figure whom Lord Curzon described as “that strange, powerful, inscrutable, brilliant, obstructive deadweight at the top.”
The average member of the ruling class, undisturbed by Lord Salisbury’s too-thoughtful, too-prescient mind, did not worry deeply about the future; the present was so delightful. The Age of Privilege, though assailed at many points and already cracking at some, still seemed, in the closing years of the Nineteenth Century and of Victoria’s reign, a permanent condition. To the privileged, life appeared “secure and comfortable.… Peace brooded over the land.” Undoubtedly Sir William Harcourt’s budget of 1894, enacted by the Liberals during the premiership of Lord Rosebery, Mr. Gladstone’s rather inappropriate successor, sent a tremor through many. It introduced death duties—and what was worse, introduced them on a graduated principle from 1 per cent on estates of £500 to 8 per cent on estates of over a million pounds. And it increased the income tax by a penny to eightpence in the pound. Although to soften the blow and equalize the burden it imposed a tax on beer and spirits so that the working class, who paid no income tax, would contribute to the revenue, this failed to muffle the drumbeat of the death duties. The eighth Duke of Devonshire was moved to predict a time which he “did not think can be deferred beyond the period of my own life” when great estates such as his of Chatsworth would be shut up solely because of “the inexorable necessities of democratic finance.”
But a greater, and from the Conservative point of view a happier, event of 1894 compensated for the budget. Mr. Gladstone retired from Parliament and from politics. His last octogenarian effort to force through Home Rule had been defeated in the House of Lords by a wrathful assembly of peers gathered for the purpose in numbers hardly before seen in their lifetime. He had split his party beyond recall, he was eighty-five, the end of a career had come. With the Conservative victory in the following year there was a general feeling, reflected by The Times, that Home Rule, that “germ planted by Mr. Gladstone in our political life which has threatened to poison the whole organism,” being now disposed of, at least for the present, England could settle down sensibly to peace and business. The “dominant influences” were safely in the saddle.
“Dominant influences” was a phrase, not of the Conservative-minded Times, but strangely enough of Mr. Gladstone himself, who was a member of the landed gentry and never forgot it nor ever abandoned the inborn sense that property is responsibility. He owned an estate of 7,000 acres at Hawarden with 2,500 tenants producing an annual rent roll between £10,000 and £12,000. In a letter to his grandson who would inherit it, the Great Radical urged him to regain lands lost through debt by earlier generations and restore Hawarden to its former rank as a “leading influence” in the county, because, as he said, “society cannot afford to dispense with its dominant influences.” No duke could have put it better. This was exactly the sentiment of the Conservative landowners, who were his bitterest opponents but with whom, at bottom, he shared a belief both in the “superior fitness” conferred by inherited ownership of land and in the country’s need of it. Their credo was the exact opposite of the idea prevailing in the more newly minted United States, that there was a peculiar extra virtue in being lowly born, that only the self-made carried the badge of ability and that men of easy circumstances were more likely than not to be stupid or wicked, if not both. The English, on the contrary, having evolved slowly through generations of government by the possessing class, assumed that prolonged retention by one family of education, comfort and social responsibility was natural nourishment of “superior fitness.”
It qualified them for government, considered in England as nowhere else the proper and highest profession of a gentleman. A private secretaryship to a ministerial uncle or other relative could be either a serious apprenticeship for Cabinet office or merely a genial occupation for a gentleman like Sir Schomberg McDonnell, Lord Salisbury’s Private Secretary, a brother of the Earl of Antrim. Diplomacy, too, offered a desirable career, often to persons of talent. The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, when British Ambassador in Paris in 1895, taught himself Persian and noted in his diary for that year that besides reading eleven plays of Aristophanes in Greek, he had learned by heart 24,000 words from a Persian dictionary, “8,000 perfectly, 12,000 pretty well, and 4,000 imperfectly.” Military service in one of the elite regiments of Guards or Hussars or Lancers was an equally accepted role for men of wealth and rank, although it tended to attract the weaker minds. The less wealthy went into the Church and the Navy; the bar and journalism provided careers when earning power was a necessity. But Parliament above all was the natural and desirable sphere for the exercise of “superior fitness.” A seat in Parliament was the only way to a seat in the Cabinet, where power and influence and a membership in the Privy Council, and on retirement a peerage, were to be won. The Privy Council, made up of 235 leaders in all fields, though formal and ceremonial in function, was the badge of importance in the nation. A peerage was still the magic mantle that set a man apart from his fellows. Cabinet office was highly coveted and the object of intense maneuvering behind the scenes. When governments changed, nothing so absorbed the attention of British society as the complicated minuet of Cabinet-making. Clubs and drawing rooms buzzed, cliques and alliances formed and reformed, and the winners emerged proudly wearing fortune’s crown of laurel. The prize required hard work and long hours, though rarely knowledge of the department. A minister’s function was not to do the work but to see that it got done, much as he managed his estate. Details such as decimal points, which Lord Randolph Churchill when Chancellor of the Exchequer shrugged aside as “those damned dots,” were not his concern.
The members of Lord Salisbury’s Government, of whom the majority, though not all, enjoyed inherited land, wealth or titles, had not entered government for material advantages. Indeed, from their point of view, it was right and necessary that public affairs should be administered, as Lord Salisbury said, by men unaffected “by the taint of sordid greed.” A parliamentary career—which was of course unsalaried—conferred, not gain, but distinction. The House of Commons was the center of the capital, of the Empire, of Society; its company was the best in the kingdom. Ambition led men there as well as duty; besides, it was the expected thing to do. Fathers in Parliament were followed by sons, both often serving at the same time. James Lowther, Deputy Speaker of the House from 1895 to 1905 and afterward Speaker, came from a family which had represented Westmorland constituencies more or less continuously over six centuries. His great-grandfather and grandfather each had sat for half a century and his father for twenty-five years. The representative of a county division in Parliament was usually someone whose home was known for seventy miles around as “The House,” whose family had been known in the district for several hundred years and the candidate himself since his birth. Since the cost of candidacy and election and of nursing a constituency afterward was borne by the member himself, the privilege of representing the people in Parliament was a luxury largely confined to the class that could afford it. Of the 670 members in the House of Commons in 1895, 420 were gentlemen of leisure, country squires, officers and barristers. Among them were twenty-three eldest sons of peers, besides their innumerable younger sons, brothers, cousins, nephews and uncles, including Lord Stanley, heir of the sixteenth Earl of Derby, who, after the Dukes, was the richest peer in England. As a junior Government Whip, Stanley was obliged to stand at the door of the Lobby and bully or cajole members to be on hand for a division, though himself not allowed inside the chamber while performing this duty. It was as if he were, wrote an observer, “an Upper Class Servant.” To see “this heir to a great and historic name and a vast fortune doing work almost menial” was testimony both to a sense of political duty and the allure of a political career.
The ruling class did not grow rulers only. It produced the same proportion as any other class of the unfit and misfit, the bad or merely stupid. Besides prime ministers and empire-builders it had its bounders and club bores, its effete Reggies and Algies caricatured in Punch discussing their waistcoats and neckwear, its long-legged Guardsmen whose conversation was confined to “haw, haw,” its wastrels who ruined themselves through drink, racing and cards, as well as its normal quota of the mediocre who never did anything noticeable, either good or bad. Even Eton had its “scugs,” boys who, in the words of an Etonian, were “simply not good form … and if not naturally vicious, certainly imbecile, probably degenerate.” Though a scug at Eton—not to be confused with “swat,” or grind—could as often as not turn out to be a Privy Councillor thirty years later, some were scugs for life. One of Lord Salisbury’s nephews, Cecil Balfour, disappeared to Australia, over an affair of a forged check, and died there, it was said, of drink.
Despite such accidents, the ruling families had no doubts of their inborn right to govern and, on the whole, neither did the rest of the country. To be a lord, wrote a particularly picturesque exemplar, Lord Ribblesdale, in 1895, “is still a popular thing.” Known as the “Ancestor” because of his Regency appearance, Ribblesdale was so handsome a personification of the patrician that John Singer Sargent, glorifier of the class and type, asked to paint him. Standing at full length in the portrait, dressed as Master of the Queen’s Buckhounds in long riding coat, top hat, glistening boots and holding a coiled hunting whip, Sargent’s Ribblesdale stared out upon the world in an attitude of such natural arrogance, elegance and self-confidence as no man of a later day would ever achieve. When the picture was exhibited at the Salon in Paris and Ribblesdale went to see it, he was followed from room to room by admiring French crowds who, recognizing the subject of the portrait, pointed out to each other in whispers “ce grand diable de milord anglais.”
At the opening of Ascot Race Week when Lord Ribblesdale led the Royal Procession down the green turf, mounted on a bright chestnut against a blue June sky, wearing a dark-green coat with golden hound-couplings hanging from a gold belt, he made a sight that no one who saw it could ever forget. As Liberal Whip in the House of Lords, an active member of the London County Council and chief trustee of the National Gallery, he too took his share of government. Like most of his kind he had a sense of easy communion with the land-based working class who served the sports and estates of the gentry. When the Queen presented J. Miles, a groom of the Buckhounds, with a medal in honor of fifty years’ service, Ribblesdale rode over from Windsor to congratulate him and stayed “for tea and a talk” with Mrs. Miles. As he himself wrote of the average nobleman, “the ease of his circumstances from his youth up tends to produce a good-humored attitude.… To be pleased with yourself may be selfish or it may be stupid, but it is seldom actively disagreeable and usually it is very much the reverse.” Despite a tendency of the Liberal press to portray the peerage as characterized “to a melancholy degree by knock-knees and receding foreheads,” the peer still retained, Ribblesdale thought, the respect of his county. Identifying himself with its interests and affairs, maintaining mutually kindly relations toward his tenants, cottagers and the tradesmen of his market town, he would have to seriously misconduct himself before he would “outrun the prestige of an old name and tried associations.” Yet for all this comfortable picture, Ribblesdale too heard the distant rumble and thirty years later chose for the motto of his memoirs the claim of Chateaubriand: “I have guarded that strong love of liberty peculiar to an aristocracy whose last hour has sounded.”
Midsummer was the time when the London season was at its height and Society disported and displayed itself in full glory. To a titled visitor from Paris it seemed as if “a race of gods and goddesses descended from Olympus upon England in June and July.” They appeared “to live upon a golden cloud, spending their riches as indolently and naturally as the leaves grow green.” In the wake of the Prince of Wales followed a “flotilla of white swans, their long necks supporting delicate jewelled heads,” who went by the names of Lady Glenconner, the Duchess of Leinster and Lady Warwick. The Duchess, who died young in the eighties, was, in the words of Lord Ernest Hamilton, “divinely tall,… of a beauty so dazzling as to be almost unbelievable.” Her successor, the Countess of Warwick, “the prettiest married woman in London,” was inamorata of the Prince of Wales and the cause of a famous fracas in which Lord Charles Beresford almost struck his future sovereign. She shimmered before the eyes of a Society journal as “a goddess with a rounded figure, diaphanously draped, and a brilliant haughty beautiful countenance whose fame had penetrated to the dim recesses of the placid country.” She was a Beauty, a magic title of the time that conferred upon its bearer a public character. “Get up, Daisy,” cried her mother when their ship docked after a particularly seasick crossing of the Irish Channel which had left her prostrate, “the crowd is waiting to have a look at you.”
In and out of Adam doorways in Berkeley and Belgrave Squares the constant procession flowed. No one unless dying ever stayed home. The day began at ten with a gallop in the Park and ended at a ball at three in the morning. At a select spot between the Albert and Grosvenor Gates in Hyde Park, a small circle of all the Society that counted was sure of meeting its members on a morning ride or a late afternoon drive between tea and dinner. London had not lost her Georgian air. Window boxes were bright with flowers in houses and squares lived in by the families whose names they bore: Devonshire House and Lansdowne House, Grosvenor Square and Cadogan Place. Splendid equipages filled the streets. Ladies driving their victorias, with a “tiger” sitting very straight with folded arms in the box, gave an extra flick of the whip to their high-stepping cobs as they passed under approving masculine gaze from club windows. Gentlemen sighed and told each other “what a pretty thing it was to see a lovely woman drive in London behind a well-matched pair.” Down another street came trotting the Royal Horse Guards in scarlet tunics and white breeches on black horses with bridles and halter-chains shining and jingling. Tall silhouettes of hansom cabs carried the well-known profiles of statesmen and clubmen on their round of visits to the great houses and to the clubs in Pall Mall and Piccadilly: the Carlton for Conservatives, the Reform for Liberals, the Athenaeum for distinction, the Turf for sportsmen, the Travellers’ or White’s, Brooks’s or Boodle’s for social converse with like-minded gentlemen. The business of government and empire went on in “the best club in London,” the House of Commons, which sat through the season. Its library, smoking room and dining room, its servants, waiters and wine cellars were of a quality befitting the profession of a gentleman. Ladies in wide hats and trailing skirts took tea with members and ministers on the terrace overhanging the Thames where they could look out on the episcopal dignity of Lambeth Palace across the river and gossip about political preferment.
At private dinner tables draped in smilax, with a footman behind each chair, gentlemen in white tie and tails conversed with ladies in clouds of tulle over bare shoulders, wearing stars or coronets in their elaborately piled hair. Conversation was not casual but an art “in which competence conferred prestige.” At the opera, made fashionable by its most energetic patroness, Lady de Grey, Nellie Melba sang love duets in her pure angelic soprano with the handsome idol Jean de Reszke. In the Royal Box glowed a vision in low-cut velvet, Lady Warwick, with “only a few diamonds on her Mephistophelian scarlet dress” and a scarlet aigrette in her hair. A battle array of lorgnettes was raised to see what Lady de Grey, her rival as London’s best-dressed woman, was wearing. Afterwards at Lady de Grey’s parties, called “Bohemia in tiaras,” the guests might include Mme Melba herself and the Prince of Wales and—before his fatal year of 1895—Oscar Wilde. Every night there were political receptions lasting till midnight or dances continuing until dawn. At the top of a sweeping curve of staircase the Duchess of Devonshire or Lady Londonderry, the two arbiters of Society, glittering in diamonds, received a brilliant stream of guests while a major-domo in a stentorian orgy of titles announced, “His Grace … Her Highness … The Right Honorable … Lord and Lady … His Excellency the Ambassador of …” and down in the lamplit square a footman bellowed for some departing Lordship’s carriage.
Society was divided into several sets whose edges overlapped and members mingled. At the head of the “fast,” or sporting, Marlborough House set was the cigar and paunch, the protruding Hanoverian countenance finished off by a short gray beard, the portly yet regal figure of the Prince of Wales. Eclectic, sociable, utterly bored (as was everyone who suffered under it) by the dull monotony of the royal regimen prescribed by his widowed mother, the Prince opened his circle of the nobility to a variety of disturbing outsiders, provided they were either beautiful, rich or amusing: Americans, Jews, bankers and stockbrokers, even an occasional manufacturer, explorer or other temporary celebrity. Professionally the Prince met everybody: among his personal friends he included some of the country’s ablest men, such as Admiral Sir John Fisher, and it was an unkind canard to say he never read a book. True, he preferred Marie Corelli to any living author, yet he read Lieutenant Winston Churchill’s first book, The Malakand Field Force, with “the greatest possible interest” and kindly wrote the author an appreciative note saying he thought “the descriptions and language generally excellent.” But on the whole, in his circle, intellectuals and literary people were not welcome and brains not appreciated, because, according to Lady Warwick, Society, or this section of it, “did not want to be made to think.” It was pleasure-loving, reckless, thoughtless and wildly extravagant. The newcomers, especially the Jews, were in most cases resented, “not because we disliked them individually, for some of them were charming and even brilliant, but because they had brains and understood finance.” This was doubly disturbing because society most particularly did not want to think about making money, only about spending it.
On the right of the sporting set were the “Incorruptibles,” the strict, reactionary, intensely class-conscious long-established families who regarded the Prince’s circle as “vulgar” and themselves as upholding the tone of Society. Each family was encircled by a tribe of poorer country cousins who appeared in London once or twice a generation to bring out a daughter, but otherwise had hardly emerged from the Eighteenth Century. On the left were the “Intellectuals,” or “Souls,” who gathered in worship around their sun and center, Arthur Balfour, nephew of Lord Salisbury and the most brilliant and popular man in London. As a group they were particularly literate, self-consciously clever and endlessly self-admiring. They enjoyed each other’s company in the same way that an unusually handsome man or woman enjoys preening before a mirror. “You all sit around and talk about each other’s souls,” remarked Lord Charles Beresford at a dinner in 1888. “I shall call you the ‘Souls,’ ” and so they were named. An admiral of the Navy and vivid ornament of the Prince of Wales’s set, Lord Charles was not himself one of the Souls, although he had married an unusual wife who wore a tiara with her tea gowns and was painted by Sargent with two sets of eyebrows because, as the painter briefly explained, she had two sets, a penciled one above the real.
The men of the Souls all followed political careers and nearly all were junior ministers in Lord Salisbury’s Government. A leading member was George Wyndham, who had written a book on French poets and an introduction to North’s Plutarch and after serving as Mr. Balfour’s Parliamentary Private Secretary was named Under-Secretary of War in 1898, despite Lord Salisbury’s reluctant remark, “I don’t like poets.” George Curzon, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs and soon to be appointed Viceroy of India, was another Soul, as was St. John Brodrick, a later Secretary for War. Both were heirs to peerages who staged a vain protest against their anticipated fate of enforced removal to the House of Lords. Others were the Tennant connection: Alfred Lyttelton, a champion cricketer who was to become Colonial Secretary and who had been married, before she died, to Laura Tennant; Lord Ribblesdale, who was married to Charlotte Tennant; and the uninhibited third sister, Margot, whose marriage to the outgoing Liberal Home Secretary, Mr. Asquith, was attended by two past prime ministers, Mr. Gladstone and Lord Rosebery, and two future ones, Mr. Balfour and the groom. A particularly admired member was Harry Cust, heir of the Brownlow barony, a scholar and athlete with a blazing wit who on sheer reputation alone, with no previous experience, was asked across the dinner table to be editor of the Pall Mall Gazette; he accepted on the spot and served for four years. Flawed by a “fatal self-indulgence” with regard to women—to whom he was “irresistibly fascinating”—his public career suffered and never fulfilled its early promise.
Society was small and homogeneous and its sine qua non was land. For an outsider to break in, it was essential first to buy an estate and live on it, although even this did not always work. When John Morley, at that time a Cabinet minister, was visiting Skibo, where Mr. Andrew Carnegie had constructed a swimming pool, he took his accompanying detective to see it and asked his opinion. “Well, sir,” the detective replied judiciously, “it seems to me to savour of the parvenoo.”
In the “brilliant and powerful body,” as Winston Churchill called it, of the two hundred great families who had been governing England for generations, everyone knew or was related to everyone else. Since superiority and comfortable circumstances imposed on the nobility and gentry a duty to reproduce themselves, they were given to large families, five or six children being usual, seven or eight not uncommon, and nine or more not unknown. The Duke of Abercorn, father of Lord George Hamilton in Salisbury’s Government, had six sons and seven daughters; the fourth Baron Lyttelton, Gladstone’s brother-in-law and father of Alfred Lyttelton, had eight sons and four daughters; the Duke of Argyll, Secretary for India under Gladstone, had twelve children. As a result of the marriages of so many siblings, and of the numerous second marriages, everyone was related to a dozen other families. People who met each other every day, at each other’s homes, at race meetings and hunts, at Cowes, for the Regatta, at the Royal Academy, at court and in Parliament, were more often than not meeting their second cousins or brother-in-law’s uncle or stepfather’s sister or aunt’s nephew on the other side. When a prime minister formed a government it was not nepotism but almost unavoidable that some of his Cabinet should be related to him or to each other. In the Cabinet of 1895 Lord Lansdowne, the Secretary for War, was married to a sister of Lord George Hamilton, the Secretary for India, and Lansdowne’s daughter was married to the nephew and heir of the Duke of Devonshire, who was Lord President of the Council.
The country’s rulers, said one, “knew each other intimately quite apart from Westminster.” They had been at school together and at one of the two favored colleges, Christ Church at Oxford or Trinity College at Cambridge. Here prime ministers—including Lords Rosebery and Salisbury, at Christ Church, and their immediate successors, Mr. Balfour and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, at Trinity—were grown naturally. The forcing house of statesmanship, however, was Balliol, whose mighty Master, Benjamin Jowett, frankly spent his teaching talents on intelligent undergraduates “whose social position might enable them to obtain high offices in the public service.” Christ Church, known simply as the “House,” was the particular habitat of the wealthy and landed aristocracy. During the youth of the men who governed in the nineties, it was presided over by Dean Liddell, a singularly handsome man of great social elegance and formidable manner who had a daughter, Alice, much admired by an obscure lecturer in mathematics named Charles Dodgson. Activities at the “House” were chiefly fox-hunting, racing, a not too serious form of cricket and “no end of good dinners in the company of the best fellows in the world, as they knew it.”
When such fellows in after life wrote their memoirs, the early pages were thick with footnotes identifying the Charles, Arthur, William and Francis of the author’s school days as “afterwards Chief of Imperial General Staff” or “afterwards Bishop of Southhampton” or Speaker of the House or Minister at Athens as the case might be. Through years of familiarity they knew each other’s characters and could ask each other favors. When Winston Churchill, at twenty-three, wanted to join the Sudan expedition in 1898 over the firm objections of its Commander-in-Chief, Sir Herbert Kitchener, the matter was not beyond accomplishment. Winston’s grandfather, the seventh Duke of Marlborough, had been Lord Salisbury’s colleague under Disraeli, and Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister listened amiably to the young man and promised his help. When it turned out to be needed on short notice, Winston had recourse to the Private Secretary, Sir Schomberg McDonnell, “whom I had seen and met in social circles since I was a child.” Winston found him dressing for dinner and on the errand being explained, “ ‘I’ll do it at once,’ said this gallant man, and off he went, discarding his dinner party.” In this way affairs were managed.
The mold in which they were all educated was the same, and its object was not necessarily the scientific spirit or the exact mind, but a “graceful dignity” which entitled the bearer to the status of English gentleman, and an unshatterable belief in that status as the highest good of man on earth. As such, it obligated the bearer to live up to it. In every boy’s room at Eton hung the famous picture by Lady Butler of the disaster at Majuba Hill showing an officer with uplifted sword charging deathward to the cry of “Floreat Etona!” The spirit instilled may have accounted for, as has been suggested, the preponderance of bravery over strategy in British officers. Yet to be an Etonian was “to imbibe a sense of effortless superiority and be lulled in a consciousness of unassailable primacy.” Clothed in this armor, its wearers were serenely sure of their world and sorry for anyone who was not of it. When Sir Charles Tennant and a partner at golf were preparing to drive and were rudely interrupted by a stranger who pushed in ahead and placed his own ball on the tee, the enraged partner was about to explode. “Don’t be angry with him,” Sir Charles soothed. “Perhaps he isn’t quite a gentleman, poor fellow, poor fellow.”
This magic condition was envied and earnestly imitated abroad by all the continental aristocracy (except perhaps the Russians, who spoke French and imitated nobody). German noblemen relentlessly married English wives and put on tweeds and raglan coats, while in France the life of the haut monde centered upon the Jockey Club, whose members played polo, drank whiskey and had their portraits painted in hunting pink by Helleu, the French equivalent of Sargent.
It was no accident that their admired model was thought of in equestrian terms. The English gentleman was unthinkable without his horse. Ever since the first mounted man acquired extra stature and speed (and, with the invention of the stirrup, extra fighting thrust), the horse had distinguished the ruler from the ruled. The man on horseback was the symbol of dominance, and of no other class anywhere in the world was the horse so intrinsic a part as of the English aristocracy. He was the attribute of their power. When a contemporary writer wished to describe the point of view of the county oligarchy it was equestrian terms that he used: they saw society, he wrote, made up of “a small select aristocracy born booted and spurred to ride and a large dim mass born saddled and bridled to be ridden.”
In 1895 the horse was still as inseparable from, and ubiquitous in, upper-class life as the servant, though considerably more cherished. He provided locomotion, occupation and conversation; inspired love, bravery, poetry and physical prowess. He was the essential element in racing, the sport of kings, as in cavalry, the elite of war. When an English patrician thought nostalgically of youth, it was as a time “when I looked at life from the saddle and was as near heaven as it was possible to be.”
The gallery at Tattersall’s on Sunday nights when Society gathered to look over the horses for the Monday sales was as fashionable as the opera. People did not simply go to the races at Newmarket; they owned or took houses in the neighborhood and lived there during the meeting. Racing was ruled by the three Stewards of the Jockey Club from whose decision there was no appeal. Three Cabinet ministers in Lord Salisbury’s Government, Mr. Henry Chaplin, the Earl of Cadogan and the Duke of Devonshire, were at one time or another Stewards of the Jockey Club. Owning a stud and breeding racehorses required an ample fortune. When Lord Rosebery, having married a Rothschild, won the Derby while Prime Minister in 1894, he received a telegram from Chauncey Depew in America, “Only heaven left.” Depew’s telegram proved an underestimate, for Rosebery won the Derby twice more, in 1895 and 1905. The Prince of Wales won it in 1896 with his great lengthy bay Persimmon, bred at his own stud, again in 1900 with Persimmon’s brother Diamond Jubilee, and a third time, as King, in 1909 with Minoru. As the first such victory by a reigning monarch, it was Epsom’s greatest day. When the purple, scarlet and gold of the royal colors came to the front at Tattenham Corner the crowd roared; when Minoru neck and neck with his rival battled it out at a furious pace along the rails they went mad with excitement and wept with delight when he won by a head. They broke through the ropes, patted the King on the back, wrung his hand, and “even policemen were waving their helmets and cheering themselves hoarse.”
Distinction might also be won by a famous “whip” like Lord Londesborough, president of the Four-in-Hand Club, who was known as a “swell,” the term for a person of extreme elegance and splendor, and was renowned for the smartness of his turnouts and the “gloss, speed and style” of his carriage horses. The carriage horse was more than ornamental; he was essential for transportation and through this role his tyranny was exercised. When a niece of Charles Darwin was taken in 1900 to see Lord Roberts embark for South Africa, she saw the ship but not Lord Roberts “because the carriage had to go home or the horses might have been tired.” When her Aunt Sara, Mrs. William Darwin, went shopping in Cambridge she always walked up the smallest hill behind her own carriage, and if her errands took her more than ten miles the carriage and horses were sent home and she finished her visits in a horsecab.
But the true passion of the horseman was expressed in the rider to hounds. To gallop over the downs with hounds and horsemen, wrote Wilfrid Scawen Blunt in a sonnet, was to feel “my horse a thing of wings, myself a God.” The fox-hunting man never had enough of the thrills, the danger, and the beauty of the hunt; of the wail of the huntsman’s horn, the excited yelping of the hounds, the streaming rush of red-coated riders and black-clad ladies on sidesaddles, the flying leaps over banks, fences, stone walls and ditches, even the crashes, broken bones and the cold aching ride home in winter. If it was bliss in that time to be alive and of the leisured class, to hunt was rapture. The devotee of the sport—man or woman—rode to hounds five and sometimes six days a week. It was said of Mr. Knox, private chaplain to the Duke of Rutland, that he wore boots and spurs under his cassock and surplice and “thought of horses even in the pulpit.” The Duke’s family could always tell by the speed of morning prayers if Mr. Knox were hunting that day or not.
Mr. Henry Chaplin, the popular “Squire” in Lord Salisbury’s Cabinet, who was considered the archetype of the English country gentleman and took himself very seriously as representative in Parliament of the agricultural interest, took himself equally seriously as Master of the Blankney Hounds and could not decide which duty came first. During a debate or a Cabinet he would draw little sketches of horses on official papers. When his presence as a minister was required at question time he would have a special train waiting to take him wherever the hunt was to meet next morning. Somewhere between stations it would stop, Mr. Chaplin would emerge, in white breeches and scarlet coat, climb the embankment, and find his groom and horses waiting. Weighing 250 pounds, he was constantly in search of horses big and strong enough to carry him and frequently “got to the bottom of several in one day.” “To see him thundering down at a fence on one of his great horses was a fine sight.” On one occasion the only opening out of a field was a break in a high hedge where a young sapling had been planted surrounded by an iron cage 4 feet 6 inches high. “There were shouts for a chopper or a knife when down came the Squire, forty miles an hour, with his eyeglass in his eye seeing nothing but the opening in the hedge. There was no stopping him; neither did the young tree do so, for his weight and that of his horse broke it off as clean as you would break a thin stick and away he went without an idea that the tree had ever been there.”
The cost of being a Master who, besides maintaining his own stable, was responsible for the breeding and upkeep of the pack was no small matter. So extravagant was Mr. Chaplin’s passion that he at one time kept two packs, rode with two hunts and, what with keeping a racing stud, a deer forest in Scotland and entertaining that expensive friend, the Prince of Wales, he ultimately ruined himself and lost the family estates. On one of his last hunts in 1911, when he was over seventy, he was thrown and suffered two broken ribs and a pierced lung, but before being carried home, insisted on stopping at the nearest village to telegraph the Conservative Whip in the House of Commons that he would not be present to vote that evening.
George Wyndham, who was to acquire Cabinet rank as Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1902, was torn like Mr. Chaplin between passion for the hunt and duty to politics. In Wyndham’s case, the duty was not untinged by ambition, since he had every intention of becoming Prime Minister. As he likewise wrote poetry and had leanings toward art and literature, life was for him full of difficult choices. A sporting friend advised him against “sacrificing my life to politics and gave Harry Chaplin as a shocking example of whom better things were expected in his youth.” It was hard not to agree and prefer the carefree life when gentlemen came down to breakfast in their pink coats with an apron tied on to protect the chalked white of their breeches, or when on a Christmas night, as Wyndham described it, “we sat down thirty-nine to dinner” and thirty hunted next day. “Today we are all out again.… Three of us sailed away [fifty lengths in front of the nearest followers]. The rest were nowhere. We spreadeagled the field. The pace was too hot to choose your place by a yard. We just took everything as it came with hounds screaming by our side. Nobody could gain an inch. These are the moments … that are the joy of hunting. There is nothing like it.”
Older than fox-hunting, the oldest role of the horseman was in war. Cavalry officers considered themselves the cream of the Army and were indeed more notable for social prestige than for thought or imagination. They were “sure of themselves,” wrote a cavalry officer from a later vantage point, “with the superb assurance that belonged to those who were young at this time and came of their class and country.” In their first years with the regiment they managed, by a daily routine of port and a weekly fall on the head from horseback, to remain in “that state of chronic numb confusion which was the aim of every cavalry officer.” Polo, learned on its native ground by the regiments in India, was their passion and the cavalry charge the sum and acme of their strategy. It was from the cavalry that the nation’s military leaders were drawn. They believed in the cavalry charge as they believed in the Church of England. The classical cavalry officer was that magnificent and genial figure, a close friend of the Prince of Wales, “distinguished at Court, in the Clubs, on the racecourse, in the hunting field … one of the brightest military stars in London Society,” Colonel Brabazon of the 10th Hussars. Six feet tall, with clean and symmetrical features, bright gray eyes and strong jaw, he had a moustache the Kaiser would have envied, and ideas to match. Testifying before the Committee of Imperial Defence in 1902 on the lessons of the Boer War, in which he had commanded the Imperial Yeomanry, General Brabazon (as he now was) “electrified the Commission by a recital of his personal experiences in hand to hand fighting and his theories of the use of the Cavalry Arm in war.” These included, as reported by Lord Esher to the King, “life-long mistrust of the weapons supplied to the Cavalry and his preference for shock tactics by men armed with a Tomahawk.” Giving his evidence “in a manner highly characteristic of that gallant officer … he drew graphic pictures of a Cavalry charge under these conditions which proved paralyzing to the imagination of the Commissioners.” They next heard Colonel Douglas Haig, lately chief Staff officer of the cavalry division in the South African War, deplore the proposed abolition of the lance and affirm his belief in the arme blanche, that is, the cavalry saber, as an effective weapon.
At home in the country, among his tenants and cottagers, crops and animals, on the estate that dominated the life of the district of which “The House” was the large unit and the village the small, on the land that his family had owned and cultivated and rented out and drawn income from for generations, the English patrician bloomed in his natural climate. Here from childhood on he lived closely with nature, with the sky and trees, the fields and birds and deer in the woods. “We were richly endowed in the surpassing beauty of the homes in which we were reared,” wrote Lady Frances Balfour. The stately houses—Blenheim of the Dukes of Marlborough, Chatsworth of the Dukes of Devonshire, Wilton of the Earls of Pembroke, Warwick Castle of the Earls of Warwick, Knole of the Sackvilles, Hatfield of the Salisburys—had three or four hundred rooms, a hundred chimneys, and roofs measured in acres. Others less grand often had been lived in longer, like Renishaw, inhabited by the Sitwells for at least seven hundred years. Owners great and small never finished adding on to or altering the house and improving the landscape. They removed or created hills, conjured up lakes, diverted streams, and cut vistas through their woods finished off by a marble pavilion to fix the eye.
Their homes proliferated. A town house, a family estate, a second country home, a shooting box in a northern county, another in Scotland, possibly a castle in Ireland were not out of the ordinary. Besides Hatfield and his London house on Arlington Street, Lord Salisbury owned Walmer Castle in Deal, the Manor House at Cranborne in Dorsetshire, his villa in France, and if he had been a sporting man, would have had a place in Scotland or a racing stud near Epsom or Newmarket. There were 115 persons in Great Britain who owned over 50,000 acres each, and forty-five of these owned over 100,000 acres each, although much of this was uncultivatable land in Scotland whose income yield was low. There were some sixty to sixty-five persons, all peers, who possessed both land over 50,000 acres and income over £50,000, and fifteen of these—seven dukes, three marquesses, three earls, one baron and one baronet—had landed incomes of over £100,000. In all of Great Britain, out of a population of 44,500,000, there were 2,500 landowners who owned more than 3,000 acres apiece and had landed incomes of over £3,000.
Income taxes were not payable on incomes under £160 and in this category there were approximately eighteen to twenty million people. Of these, about three million were in white-collar or service trades—clerks, shopmen, tradesmen, innkeepers, farmers, teachers—who earned an average of £75 a year. Fifteen and a half million were manual workers, including soldiers, sailors, postmen and policemen and those in agricultural and domestic service who earned less than £50 a year. The “poverty line” had been worked out at £55 a year, or 21s. 8d. a week, for a family of five. Indoor servants slept in attics or windowless basements. Agricultural laborers lived in houses for which they paid a shilling a week, and worked with scythe, plow and sickle in the fields from the time when the great horn boomed at five o’clock in the morning until nightfall. When their houses leaked or rotted they were dependent on the landlord for repairs, and unless the landlord took care of them when their earning power came to an end, they went to the workhouse to finish out their days. Estate servants—grooms, gardeners, carpenters, blacksmiths, dairymen and field hands—whose families had lived on the land as long as its owners, gave service that was “wholehearted and passionate.… Their pride was bound up in it.”
With the opening of the grouse season in August, and until the reopening of Parliament in January, the great landowners engaged in continuous entertainment of each other in week-long house parties of twenty to fifty guests. With each guest bringing his own servant, the host fed as many as a hundred, and on one occasion at Chatsworth, four hundred extra mouths while his house party lasted. Shooting was the favored pastime and consisted in displaying sufficient stamina and marksmanship, assisted by a loader and three or four guns, to bring down an unlimited bag of small game flushed out of its coverts by an army of beaters. From county to county and back and forth into Scotland, their trail marked by thousands upon thousands of dead birds and hares, the gentry were constantly on the move: for shooting with the Prince at Sandringham, for hunting (in blue and buff instead of scarlet coats) with the Duke of Beaufort’s hounds in Wiltshire, for deer stalking amid Scottish lochs and crags and trackless forests (“Keep doon, Squire, keep doon”—his ghillie whispered to Mr. Chaplin, forced to crawl into the open to come within shooting distance of his stag—“ye’re so splendidly built about the haunches I’m afeert the deer will be seeing ye”), for Christmas parties and coming-of-age parties and occasional time out at Homburg and Marienbad to purge satiated stomachs and allow the round to begin again.
Morning was the gentlemen’s time on the moors; ladies came down to breakfast in hats and at afternoon tea reigned in elaborate and languorous tea gowns of, it might be, “eau de Nil satin draped with gold-spangled mousseline de soie and bands of sable at hem and neck.” Formal dinners followed in full evening dress. All day, herds of servants glided silently about, bringing early morning tea and The Times, carrying up bath water and coal for the fireplaces, replenishing vases daily with fresh flowers, murmuring “His Grace is in the Long Library,” sounding gongs at meal times and waiting up to uncorset Her Ladyship for bed.
Each guest at the house parties had his name on a card fitted into a brass frame on his bedroom door and a corresponding card beside the bell indicator in the butler’s pantry. In assigning rooms the recognized, if unacknowledged, liaisons had to be considered. As long as the partners in these intramural infidelities did nothing to provoke a public scandal by outraged wife or cuckolded husband, they could do as they pleased. The overriding consideration was to prevent any exposure of misconduct to the lower classes. In that respect the code was rigid. Within the closed circle of the ruling class the unforgivable sin was to give away any member of the group; there must be no appeal to the Divorce Court, no publicity that would bring the members as a class into disrepute. If, regrettably, a husband refused absolutely to be complaisant and threatened action, all the arbiters of Society, including, if necessary, the Prince of Wales (despite his own hardly faultless record), rallied to stop him. He must not, they reminded him, sacrifice his class to such exposure. It was his duty to preserve appearances and an unsullied front before the gaze of the vulgar. Subdued, he would obey, even at the cost, in the case of one couple, of not speaking to his wife except in public for twenty years.
In their luxurious and lavish world, self-indulgence was the natural law. Notable eccentrics like the nocturnal Duke of Portland and bad-tempered autocrats like Sir George Sitwell and Sir William Eden were merely representatives of their class in whom the habit of having their own way had gone to extremes. But for the majority it was easy to be agreeable when everything was done to keep them in comfort and ease and to make life for the great and wealthy as uninterruptedly pleasant as possible.
The lordly manner was the result. When Colonel Brabazon, who affected a fashionable difficulty with his r’s, arrived late at the railroad station to be informed that the train for London had just left, he instructed the station master, “Then bwing me another.” Gentlemen who did not relish a cold wait at a country station or a slow journey on a local made a habit of special trains which cost £25 for an average journey. There were not a few among them who, like Queen Victoria, had never seen a railway ticket. Ladies had one-of-a-kind dresses designed exclusively for them by Worth or Doucet, who devoted as much care to each client as if he were painting her portrait. “So as to be different from other people,” the English-born beauty, Daisy, Princess of Pless, had “a fringe of real violets” sewn down the train of her court dress, which was of transparent lace lined with blue chiffon and sprinkled with gold sequins.
Fed upon privilege, the patricians flourished. Five at least of the leading ministers in Lord Salisbury’s Government were over six feet tall, far above the normal stature of the time. Of the nineteen members of the Cabinet, all but two lived to be over seventy, seven exceeded eighty, and two exceeded ninety at a time when the average life expectancy of a male at birth was forty-four and of a man who had reached twenty-one was sixty-two. On their diet of privilege they acquired a certain quality which Lady Warwick could define only in the words, “They have an air!”
Now and then the sound of the distant rumble in the atmosphere caused them vague apprehensions of changes coming to spoil the fun. With port after dinner the gentlemen talked about the growth of democracy and the threat of Socialism. Cartoons in newspapers pictured John Bull looking over a fence at a bull called Labour. Most people were aware of problems without seriously imagining any major change in the present order of things, but a few were deeply disturbed. Young Arthur Ponsonby saw every night along the embankment from Westminster to Waterloo Bridge the “squalid throng of homeless, wretched outcasts sleeping on the benches,” and broke with the courtier tradition of his father and brother to become a Socialist. Lady Warwick tried to smother nagging doubts about a life devoted to the pursuit of pleasure in “recurrent fits of philanthropy” which she indulged in from “an impelling desire to help put things right and a deep conviction that things as they were, were not right.” In 1895, on reading an attack by the Socialist editor Robert Blatchford in his paper the Clarion on a great ball given at Warwick Castle to celebrate her husband’s accession to the title, she rushed in anger to London, leaving a house full of guests, to confront the enemy. She explained to him how during a hard winter when many were out of work the Warwick celebrations provided employment. Mr. Blatchford explained to his beautiful caller the nature of productive labour and the principles of Socialist theory. She returned to Warwick in a daze of new ideas and thereafter devoted her energy, money arid influence to propagating them, to the acute discomfort of her circle.
Lady Warwick was a straw, not a trend. As a nation, Britain in 1895 had an air of careless supremacy which galled her neighbors. The attitude, called “splendid isolation,” was both a state of mind and a fact. Britain did not worry seriously about potential enemies, felt no need of allies and had no friends. In a world in which other national energies were bursting old limits, this happy condition gave no great promise of permanence. On July 20, when Salisbury’s Government was less than a month old, it was suddenly and surprisingly challenged from an unexpected quarter, the United States. The affair concerned a long-disputed frontier between British Guiana and Venezuela. Claiming that the British were expanding territorially at their expense in violation of the Monroe Doctrine, the Venezuelans had been goading the United States to open that famous umbrella and insist on arbitration. Although the American President, Grover Cleveland, was a man of ordinarily sound judgment and common sense, his countrymen were in a mood of swelling self-assertion and, as Rudyard Kipling pointed out, for purposes of venting chauvinist sentiments, France had Germany, Britain had Russia, and America had Britain, the only feasible country “for the American public speaker to trample upon.” On July 20, Cleveland’s Secretary of State, Richard Olney, delivered a Note to Great Britain stating that disregard of the Monroe Doctrine would be “deemed an act of unfriendliness toward the United States,” whom he described in terms of not very veiled belligerence as “master of the situation and practically invulnerable against any and all comers.”
This was truly astonishing language for diplomatic usage; but it was deliberately provocative on Olney’s part, because, as he said, “in English eyes the United States was then so completely a negligible quantity” that he felt “only words the equivalent of blows would be effective.” Upon Lord Salisbury who was acting as his own Foreign Secretary they failed of effect. He was no more disposed to respond to this kind of prodding than he would have been if his tailor had suddenly challenged him to a duel. Foreign policy had been his métier for twenty years. He had been at the Congress of Berlin with Disraeli in 1878 and had maneuvered through all the twists and turns of that perennial entanglement, the Eastern Question. His method was not that of Lord Palmerston, whom the Prince of Wales admired because he “knew his own mind and put down his foot.” Issues in foreign affairs were no longer as forthright as in the days of Lord Palmerston’s flourishing, and Lord Salisbury sought no dramatic successes in their conduct. The victories of diplomacy, he said, were won by “a series of microscopic advantages; a judicious suggestion here, an opportune civility there, a wise concession at one moment and a farsighted persistence at another; of sleepless tact, immovable calmness and patience that no folly, no provocation, no blunder can shake.” But he regarded these refinements as wasted on a democracy like the United States, just as he regarded the vote as too good for the working class. He simply let Olney’s note go unanswered for four months.
When he finally replied on November 26 it was to remark coldly that “the disputed frontier of Venezuela has nothing to do with any of the questions dealt with by President Monroe” and to refuse flatly to arbitrate “the frontier of a British possession which belonged to the Throne of England before the Republic of Venezuela came into existence.” He did not even bother to obey diplomacy’s primary rule: leave room for negotiation. The rebuff was too much even for Cleveland. In a Message to Congress on December 17 he announced that after an American Committee of Inquiry had investigated and established a boundary line, any British extension over the line would be regarded as “wilful aggression” upon the rights and interests of the United States. Cleveland became a hero; a tornado of jingoism swept the country; “WAR IF NECESSARY,” proclaimed the New York Sun. The word “war” was soon being used as recklessly as if it concerned an expedition against the Iroquois or the Barbary pirates.
Britain was amazed, with opinion dividing according to party. The Liberals were mortified by Lord Salisbury’s haughty tone, the Tories angered at American presumption. “No Englishman with imperial instincts,” wrote the Tory journalist and novelist Morley Roberts in the inevitable letter to The Times, “can look with anything but contempt on the Monroe Doctrine. The English and not the inhabitants of the United States are the greatest power in the two Americas; and no dog of a Republic can open its mouth to bark without our good leave.” If the tone was overdone, the outrage was real. Although the absurdity of the issue was recognized on both sides of the Atlantic, belligerence surged and blood boiled. Aggressiveness born of power and prosperity was near the surface. The quarrel was becoming increasingly difficult to terminate when happily a third force caused a distraction.
No one was more useful as a magnet of other nations’ animosities than that catalyst of his epoch, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Forever spoiling to emphasize his own and his country’s importance, to play a role, to strike a pose, to twist the course of history, he never overlooked an opportunity. He hankered to be influential and usually was.
On December 29, 1895, the long-standing conflict between the Boer Republic of the Transvaal and the British of the Cape Colony was broken open by the Jameson Raid. Nominally under British suzerainty but virtually independent, the Boer Republic was a block in the march of British red down the length of Africa and an oppressor of the Uitlanders within its borders. These were British and other foreigners who, drawn by gold, had flocked to, and settled in, the Transvaal until they now outnumbered the Boers, but were kept by them without suffrage and other civil rights, and were seething with grievances. Inspired by imperialism’s impatient genius, Cecil Rhodes, Dr. Jameson led six hundred horsemen over the border with intent to bring about an uprising of the Uitlanders, overthrow the Boer government and bring the South African Republic under British control. His troop was surrounded and captured within three days, but his mission released a train of events that was to take full effect four years later.
For the moment it provided the ever alert Kaiser with an opening. He telegraphed congratulations to President Kruger of the Boer Republic on his success in repelling the invaders “without appealing to the help of friendly powers.” The implication that such help would be available on future request was clear. Instantly, every British gaze, like spectators’ heads at a tennis match, turned from America to Germany, and British wrath was diverted from President Cleveland, always unlikely in the role of menace, to the Kaiser, who played it so much more suitably. In helping to bring on the ultimate encirclement that he most dreaded, the Kruger telegram was one of the Kaiser’s most effective efforts. It revealed a hostility that startled the British. From that moment the possibility that isolation might prove more hazardous than splendid began to trouble the minds of their policy-makers.
The year 1895 was prolific of shocks, and one that shook society unpleasantly occurred two months before the Conservatives took office. The trial and conviction of Oscar Wilde under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, for acts of gross indecency between males, destroyed both a brilliant man of letters and the mood of decadence he symbolized.
The presumption of decay had been heavily reinforced two years earlier by Max Nordau in a widely discussed book called Degeneration. Through six hundred pages of mounting hysteria he traced the decay lurking impartially in the realism of Zola, the symbolism of Mallarmé, the mysticism of Maeterlinck, in Wagner’s music, Ibsen’s dramas, Manet’s pictures, Tolstoy’s novels, Nietzsche’s philosophy, Dr. Jaeger’s woollen clothing, in Anarchism, Socialism, women’s dress, madness, suicide, nervous diseases, drug addiction, dancing, sexual license, all of which were combining to produce a society without self-control, discipline or shame which was “marching to its certain ruin because it is too worn out and flaccid to perform great tasks.”
Wilde, conforming to the duty of a decadent, was already engaged in destroying himself. In his role of aesthete, voluptuary and wit, he had hitherto been protected by the enamel of success. His incomparable talk enraptured friends as his plays did the public. But his arrogance as artist became overweening and his appetites uncontrolled, so that he grew fat and loose and heavy-jowled and, as a friend remarked, “all his bad qualities began to show in his face.” Nor did success satisfy him, for satiety required that he must taste the ultimate sensation of ruin. “I was a problem,” he said in sad self-knowledge, “for which there was no solution.” He precipitated his own arrest by taking action for libel against the Marquess of Queensberry. The ensuing trials tore away Society’s screen of discretion and gave everyone a shuddering look at the livid gleam of vice: panders, male prostitutes, hotel-room assignations with a valet, a groom, a boat-attendant picked up on a beach, and blackmail. No charges were brought against Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the Marquess of Queens-berry, the flowery and seductive young man who shared these practices as well as Wilde’s company and affections. Nor had there been any charges when Lord Arthur Somerset, a son of the Duke of Beaufort and a friend of the Prince of Wales, had been found in a homosexual brothel raided by the police in 1889. He had been allowed to take himself off and live comfortably after his fashion on the Continent while the Prince had asked Lord Salisbury that he might occasionally be permitted to visit his parents quietly in the country “without fear of being apprehended on this awful charge.”
Frank Harris, then editor of the Fortnightly Review, thought that the solidarity of the governing class would close protectively around his friend Oscar in the same way. He supposed that aristocratic prejudice was a matter of favoring the exceptional over the common and would operate equally for the lord, the millionaire and the “man of genius.” He was mistaken. Wilde had done the unforgivable in forcing public notice of his sin. And as artist-intellectual caught in scarlet depravity he evoked the howl of the philistines and plunged the British public into one of the most virulent of its periodic fits of morality. The judge was malevolent, the public vituperative, the society which he had amused turned its back, cabbies and newsboys exchanged vulgar jokes about “Oscar,” the press reviled him, his books were withdrawn from sale and his name pasted out on the playbills advertising The Importance of Being Earnest, his brightest diamond, then playing to enchanted audiences. His downfall, said the gentleman-Socialist H. M. Hyndman, “was the most grievous thing I have ever known in the literary world.” With it was dissipated, in England, if not on the Continent, the yellow haze of fin de siècle decadence.
Lord Salisbury’s appointment of a Poet Laureate at the end of the year could not have provided a greater contrast in men of letters or done more to re-enthrone Respectability. Since the death of Tennyson in 1892, the post had remained vacant because neither Mr. Gladstone nor Lord Rosebery, who took their responsibility to literature seriously, could find a worthy successor. Swinburne, owing to his distressing habits and opinions, was, regrettably, “absolutely impossible” (although Mr. Gladstone “admired his genius”), William Morris was a Socialist, Hardy was known so far only by his novels and the younger poetic talents tended to wear the colors of the Yellow Book and the Mauve Decade. The young Anglo-Indian, Rudyard Kipling, in his Barrack Room Balladsof 1892, had certainly sounded a virile and imperial note but in a rather rough idiom, and neither he nor W. E. Henley nor Robert Bridges was considered. All other candidates were mediocrities, one of whom, Sir Lewis Morris, offered an opening to what a contemporary called “the most spontaneously witty thing ever uttered in England.” Morris, author of an effusion entitled The Epic of Hades, who wanted the Laureateship badly, complained to Oscar Wilde in the days before his ruin, “There is a conspiracy of silence against me, a conspiracy of silence. What ought I to do, Oscar?” “Join it,” replied Wilde.
On the principle that, like bishops, one Laureate would do as well as another, Lord Salisbury, when he became Prime Minister, appointed Alfred Austin. A journalist of deep Conservative dye, founder and editor of the National Review, Austin was also the producer of fervent topical verse on such occasions as the death of Disraeli. When a friend pointed out grammatical errors in his poems, Austin said, “I dare not alter these things. They come to me from above.” He was a tiny man—five feet high—with a round face and neat white moustache who, as a contributor of articles expounding Conservative foreign policy which he signed “Diplomaticus,” was personally acquainted with the Prime Minister and a frequent visitor to Hatfield. He had begun his career as a correspondent in the war of 1870 by gaining an interview with Bismarck at Versailles, and thirty years later was forced to the painful conclusion that Germany, in her wars of 1859–70, had “unquestionably resorted to means which one could not conceive Alfred the Great or any modern British minister employing.” His most popular work so far had been a prose book on English gardens, but within two weeks of his appointment as Laureate, he exceeded expectations with a poem in The Times celebrating Dr. Jameson’s exploit:
There are girls in the gold-reef city,
There are mothers and children too!
And they cry, Hurry up! for pity!
So what could a brave man do?…
So we forded and galloped forward,
As hard as our beasts could pelt,
First eastward, then trending northward,
Right over the rolling veldt.…
Some echo of the hilarity this provoked reaching the Queen, she queried Salisbury, who had to admit that her new Laureate’s first effusion was “unluckily to the taste of the galleries in the lower class of theatres who sing it with vehemence.” Salisbury never bothered to explain his choice of Austin beyond an off-hand remark once that “he wanted it”; but if the choice did not honor British poetry, it was a shrewd match of the British mood.
The Englishman, as an American observer noticed, felt himself the best-governed citizen in the world even when in Opposition he believed the incumbents were ruining the country. The English form of government “is the thing above all others that he is proud of … and he has an unshakeable confidence in the personal integrity of statesmen.” Austin reflected that comfortable pride. In the radiant summer of Jubilee Year, 1897, a visitor found him in linen suit and panama hat, sitting in a high-backed wicker chair, on the lawn of his country home enjoying conversation with Lady Paget and Lady Windsor. They agreed that each person should tell what was his idea of heaven. Austin’s wish was noble. He desired to sit in a garden and receive a flow of telegrams announcing alternately a British victory by sea and a British victory by land.
It was easy to make fun of Alfred Austin, with his small size, large pomposity and banal verse, and many did. Yet in his Jubilee wish there was something simple and devoted, an assurance, a complete and happy love and admiration for his country, a noncognizance of wrong, which expressed a mood and a condition which, like Lord Ribblesdale’s appearance, were to become beyond recapture.
The House of Lords, now that the Conservatives had replaced the Liberals, could lean back comfortably and follow its natural bent, which was to do as little work as possible. In the last years of the Liberals it had roused itself to “stop the rot” induced by Radical legislation and had thrown out an Employers’ Liability Bill, a Parish Councils Bill designed to make local government councils more democratic, and finally the Home Rule Bill. In the last speech of his career on March 1, 1894, Gladstone had solemnly warned that differences of “fundamental tendency” between the two Houses had reached a point in the past year which required that some solution would have to be found for “this tremendous contrariety and incessant conflict upon matters of high principle and profound importance.” Proposals for reform of the Upper House to redress the imbalance when a Liberal Government was in power and thus remove the grounds of criticism had been many. But now that a state of happy harmony had succeeded conflict, the urgency relaxed, Gladstone’s warning was forgotten and the Lords could resume their customary quiescence.
Out of 560 members, many “backwoods” peers, as they were called, never took their seats at all. Others appeared only at times of crisis and hardly more than fifty regularly attended the sessions. It was, said Lord Newton, “the most good-natured assembly that exists,” hearing out speakers who would not be listened to for five minutes in the Commons. Its debates were “always polite” and conducted with a restraint which seemed to show “detachment almost amounting to indifference.” Party animosity was concealed “under a veil of studied courtesy.” It was not a stimulating audience, especially to Liberals, whose leader, Lord Rosebery, complained that “every auditor gives the impression of profound weariness and boredom.”
While Lord Salisbury was Prime Minister the House of Lords was entirely under his dominance, although its official ruler was the Lord Chancellor, who acted as Speaker. This office was now held by Lord Halsbury, born a commoner, by name Hardinge Giffard, a member of one of the oldest families in England. Its founder had fought at Hastings and was later created Earl of Buckingham by William Rufus. Although the title died out in the next generation, the family persisted with vigor if not riches and the sprightly Lord Chancellor, seventy-two at this time, lived to be ninety-eight. A stubby Pickwickian figure with short legs, red cheeks, white tufts of hair over his ears and a humorous expression, Lord Halsbury, despite his genial manner, was a hard opponent, implacable at the bar, with a relentless memory. He wore a frock coat, a square-topped derby hat, a “true blue” Tory tie and, according to a younger member of the Upper House, “invariably objected on principle to all change.” Owing to meagre family finances, he had been educated at home by his father, a barrister and editor of a high Tory daily paper, the Standard, who gave him lessons in Greek, Latin and Hebrew until 4 A.M. and was so upright that he refused an offer from the Duke of Newcastle, an admirer of his paper, to put his three sons through Oxford. The youngest son went through Merton College nevertheless, rose rapidly to the top of the legal profession, acquiring wealth and friends on the way as well as the accusation from some quarters that he “filled his great office with jolly cynicism” and made unscrupulous use of the Bench for political patronage. However, when from among many rival claimants he was named Lord Chancellor, making him the highest-ranking personage after the royal family and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the “Carlton Club supported him to a man,” and Lord Coleridge, the Lord Chief Justice and a Liberal, wrote, “Your politics are of course unintelligible to me but in everything else, as a scholar, a gentleman and a lawyer, there is no one fitter to be our head.”
Two high-ranking peers in Lord Salisbury’s Cabinet, the fifth Marquess of Lansdowne and the eighth Duke of Devonshire, were both Whigs of pedigree and converts to the Conservatives. Lord Lansdowne, the Secretary for War, was an aristocrat who looked it every inch. Smooth and cold as polished stone, elegant, correct and courteous, he was an obvious choice for the great ceremonial posts and had been Governor-General of Canada at thirty-eight and Viceroy of India at forty-three. His family name was Fitzmaurice. In the Twelfth Century the first of his line had settled in Ireland in county Kerry and the current Marquess was twenty-eighth Lord of Kerry in the direct male line. He was one of those Anglo-Irishmen, said the Spectator in commenting on the quality of Lord Salisbury’s Government, “who can rule by a sort of instinct.” The instinct had flourished in his great-grandfather, the first Marquess, who as Earl of Shelburne had been a secretary of state under George III, and had served briefly as Prime Minister in the last year of the war with the American Colonies. The same instinct carried his grandfather, the third Marquess, to the Home Office and other posts in six governments between 1827 and 1857, after which he had declined to be Prime Minister and had refused a dukedom. The present Marquess seemed to his brother-in-law, Lord Ernest Hamilton, to be “the greatest gentleman of his day,” who in any international competition for gentlemen must surely be nominated the British representative.
Senior to, and even grander than, Lansdowne—but wearing the patrician air without self-consciousness—was Spencer Compton Cavendish, eighth Duke of Devonshire, probably the only man in England both secure enough and careless enough to forget an engagement with his sovereign. Edward VII, having informed the Duke that he proposed to dine quietly with him at Devonshire House on a certain day, duly arrived, to the consternation of the household, for the Duke was not at home and had to be hurriedly retrieved from the Turf Club.
He was sixty-two in 1895, tall and bearded, with heavy-lidded eyes in a long Hapsburg face and a straight, lordly, high-ridged nose. Formerly Lord Hartington during his thirty-four years in the House of Commons, he was now Lord President of the Council in Salisbury’s Cabinet. He owned 186,000 acres and had an income of £180,000 from land alone, not counting investments. Though famous for his lassitude, he had managed to serve in more Cabinet offices under more governments than any man living: as First Lord of the Admiralty under Lord Palmerston, Secretary for War under Lord John Russell, Postmaster-General, Secretary for Ireland, for India and again for War in successive Gladstone governments. A familiar sight coming down Whitehall was Lord Hartington driving himself to the House in a light phaeton with a careless hold on the reins, a large cigar in his mouth and a collie sitting next to him.
He had played a leading role in growing opposition to Mr. Gladstone in the two crises of the eighties that broke apart the Liberal party: the imperialist issue over General Gordon’s expedition to the Sudan and the Irish issue over Home Rule. Though he was not one of the polished and impassioned orators, his speech in 1886 announcing his break with Gladstone made a profound impression. By stating plainly that men could not remain in the false position of continuing to support a government, even of their own party, whose principles they disapproved, he gave, said a member, “a new sense of duty and a new power of action to hundreds of men throughout the country.” Henry Chaplin thought the speech ought “to make you Prime Minister for certain.” Some years earlier the Queen, in her stubborn effort to avoid the inevitability of Mr. Gladstone, had already asked Lord Hartington to form a government; but he had refused, bowing to Gladstone, who, he knew, would not serve except in first place.
In the opinion of Mr. Balfour, an expert, Lord Hartington was “of all the statesmen I have known … the most persuasive speaker,” less for his words than for the character behind them. He made every listener feel that here was a man “who has done his best to master every aspect of this question, who has been driven by logic to arrive at certain conclusions, and who is disguising from us no argument on either side.… How can we hope to have a more honest guide?” It was this quality, said Balfour, which Hartington possessed “in far greater measure than any man I have ever known,” which gave him his great influence with the public, made him indispensable to governments and, whether in the Cabinet, in Parliament, or on the public platform, “gave him a dominant position in any assembly.”
The Duke would have preferred to be anywhere else, for he undertook the hard work and confining hours of government office more from duty than desire. But he was requited by the feeling of sovereign and country that he was one of the pillars on which the state reposed. “The Queen cannot conclude this letter,” Victoria wrote to him in 1892, “without expressing to the Duke … how much she relies on him to assist in maintaining the safety and honor of her vast Empire. All must join”—she finished in simple summary of her faith—“in this great and necessary work.”
The Duke joined with no visible zest. “Never angry though often bored,” according to one friend, “he takes things very easy indeed,” according to another. Some said his lethargy was laziness, others that it was a well-considered reluctance to hurry; in either event it was underlined by a habit of going to sleep in the midst of things. Even his own speeches bored him and once when speaking on the Indian budget he paused, leaned over to the colleague nearest him on the bench, and suppressing a yawn, whispered, “This is damned dull.”
His only passion was for his racing stud, although he also maintained, whether from passion, habit or indolence, a thirty-year liaison with “one of the handsomest women in Europe,” as she was when the affair began, the domineering, ambitious, German-born Louise, Duchess of Manchester. Her first Duke disappointed her by impoverishing himself, but obedient to his caste, refrained or was persuaded to refrain from bringing any unpleasant public action, leaving his wife and Lord Hartington to enjoy both each other and an unassailable moral and social position. When Manchester died, his widow married the Duke of Devonshire in 1892 just after he had succeeded to his title. Thereafter known as the “Double Duchess,” she continued to exercise her formidable talents toward her major goal, that of making her husband Prime Minister.
The Duke did not give her the necessary help. He was not the kind in whom a burning ambition for the highest post erases every other consideration. When, after he had led the Liberal Unionists out of the party, Lord Salisbury twice offered to serve under him, he again refused, not yet prepared for coalition. By 1895, however, the split between moderate and radical Whigs having widened and the habit of voting in concert with the Tories having made a bridge, the Duke with four other Liberal Unionists crossed over it to serve under Lord Salisbury.
This was the Conservative—now Unionist—Government which took office in June, 1895. A delicate situation was expected at Windsor when the Duke and the other former Liberals, arriving as members of Lord Salisbury’s Ministry to receive their seals of office, would pass their former colleagues on the way out. To avoid embarrassment, the Queen’s Private Secretary tactfully arranged that the outgoing Liberals should deliver up their seals at 11 A.M. while the new ministers waited in another drawing room until their predecessors had left. All would have gone off smoothly but for the Duke, who, arriving late as usual, missed the designated waiting room and met his old associates coming out, who peppered him with taunts about his new friends. “No face was more suited to a difficult situation,” wrote a witness, for the Duke, quite unperturbed, “passed through them with his mouth wide open and his eyes half closed.”
The Cavendishes stemmed from an ancestor who had been Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. His son John was the man who killed Wat Tyler, for which he was knighted on the spot by Richard II, while the father was seized elsewhere by the mob and beheaded in revenge. Dutifully, if none too enthusiastically, the Cavendishes down through the centuries helped to govern the country. The fourth Duke served briefly as Prime Minister in 1756–57, while Pitt and Newcastle were feuding, but resigned as soon as he could be replaced. His brother, Lord John Cavendish, was twice Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which capacity Edmund Burke praised him for his “great integrity … and perfect disinterestedness” but wished that Lord John could be “induced to show a certain degree of regular attendance on business” and be allowed only “a certain reasonable proportion of fox-hunting” and no more. The fifth Duke excelled by marrying the ravishing Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, whom Gainsborough painted in a pale shining glow against storm clouds, and Reynolds painted laughing with a full-skirted baby on her knee. Her beauty and irresistible charm came in the same excess as her gambling debts, which cost her husband £1,000,000. Fortunately, the Cavendishes were one of the two or three richest families in the kingdom. When his steward regretted to inform the fifth Duke that his heir, the Lord Hartington of that day, was “disposed to spend a great deal of money,” the Duke replied, “So much the better; Lord Hartington will have a great deal of money to spend.”
In the Duke of 1895, neither fortune, nor position as eldest son, nor disinclination to exert himself, nor desire to follow his heart upon the turf were enough to outweigh in him “certain hereditary government instincts.” He felt that “he owed a debt to the State that must be paid.” This sense of obligation, remarked on by all who knew him, originated not only in family estate but also in a consciousness of superior ability. His father, a student of mathematics and the classics, known as the “Scholar” Duke, had educated him at home. Later at Trinity College, Cambridge, despite an idle, sporting, sociable life among the “tufts,” Lord Hartington was the only one of his set to take an Honours degree, a second class in the mathematical tripos. He entered Parliament at twenty-four and achieved his first Cabinet office at thirty. His brother, Lord Frederick Cavendish, also undertook a political career, and in 1882, on his first day as Chief Secretary for Ireland, was assassinated in Phoenix Park in Dublin. The killing of an English minister of the Crown by Irish malcontents created a sensation as great as the death of General Gordon at Khartoum. Whether because of his brother’s murder or some other less obvious reason, the Duke made a habit of always carrying a loaded revolver about with him, and this was a constant source of worry to his family. “He was always losing them and buying new ones,” wrote his nephew, “and there were no less than twenty of them knocking about Devonshire House when he died.”
With the advent of the Duchess, an indefatigable hostess, Devonshire entertainments became the stateliest in Society. Every year on the opening of Parliament, the Duke and Duchess gave a great reception. Every year on Derby Day, Devonshire House, filled with roses and June flowers from the Duke’s gardens, was the scene of a sparkling ball. Before the ball, the King gave a dinner to members of the Jockey Club at Buckingham Palace while the Queen came to dine with the Duchess. In Jubilee Year of 1897 the Devonshire fancy-dress ball was the most famous and lavish party of the era. At Chatsworth in Derbyshire, home of the Cavendishes for four hundred years, house parties reached their peak with the annual visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales, which continued when they were King and Queen. Every royal comfort was anticipated and satisfied, including the presence of the King’s mistress, Mrs. Keppel, brilliant in diamonds, with whom, according to Princess Daisy of Pless, “the King has his bridge in a separate room while in other rooms people are massed together also of course playing bridge.”
Built of the golden stone of the district, Chatsworth was surrounded by an Eighteenth Century park designed by Capability Brown. Luxury was everywhere. Cascades rippled over a series of stone steps six hundred feet long copied after the Renaissance water-landscaping of Italy. A copper willow tree, by an ingenious mechanism, could weep water from every leaf. Elaborate and exquisite garlands of flowers and fruit carved in wood festooned the walls. The library and collection of pictures and sculpture were on a princely scale like the Medicis’ and administered almost as a public trust. Curators in the Duke’s employ kept them open to scholars and connoisseurs, made new purchases and liberally loaned the treasures to exhibitions. The Chatsworth Memling went to Bruges, its Van Dycks to Antwerp, and all year the house was open to the public, who tramped through the halls in thousands. The Duke liked to watch them, and thinking his face as unknown to them as theirs to him, would stand, unconscious of being recognized, “wondering why the housemaid who acted as guide and the whole party had suddenly stood still and were staring at him.” Though racehorses were more to him than books, he once astonished his librarian who was showing him his own first edition of Paradise Lostby sitting down and reading it aloud from the first line with simple pleasure, until the Duchess came in and, poking the Duke with her parasol, remarked, “If he reads poetry he will never go for his walk.”
He was bored by pomp and hated pomposity. When the King decided to make him a Grand Commander of the new Victorian Order, the Duke, “in his sleepy way,” asked the King’s Private Secretary, Sir Frederick Ponsonby, what he was supposed to do with “the thing.” “Anyone less anxious to receive an order I have never seen. He seemed to think it would only complicate his dressing.” At the rehearsal for King Edward’s coronation in 1902, at which the appearance of the peers wearing coronets with morning dress produced a comical effect, the Duke arrived late as usual and, with his right hand in his trouser pocket and an inexpressibly bored look on his face, strolled about the stage at the bidding of the Earl Marshal. He liked old baggy, casual clothes, never took the slightest trouble with his guests, deliberately ignored those who might prove tiresome, and once, when a speaker in the House of Lords was declaiming on “the greatest moments in life,” the Duke opened his eyes long enough to remark to his neighbor, “My greatest moment was when my pig won first prize at Skipton Fair.” His favorite club, after the Turf, was the Travellers’, known for exclusiveness and an atmosphere of “solemn tranquillity” in which reading, dozing and meditation took precedence over conversation. For the disagreeable task of speaking at public meetings he trained himself by a method he once revealed to the young Winston Churchill when they were appearing together at a Free Trade meeting in Manchester. “Do you feel nervous, Winston?” asked the Duke, and on receiving an affirmative reply, told him, “I used to, but now, whenever I get up on a public platform, I take a good look around and as I sit down I say, ‘I never saw such a lot of damned fools in my life’ and then I feel a lot better.”
When he chose he could be “the best of company,… delightful to talk to,” that is, if conditions were right. At a dinner party in 1885 he arrived tired and hungry after a long day in Committee and sulked in silence when the first courses proved to be fancy but insubstantial French dishes instead of the solid fare that he liked. When a roast beef was brought in, he exclaimed in deep tones, “Hurrah! something to eat at last” and thereafter joined in the conversation. A fellow guest, the writer Wilfred Ward, noticed that in every case where he differed from Mr. Gladstone, who was of the company, Lord Hartington “put his finger on the weak point in the logic which Mr. Gladstone’s rhetoric tended to obscure.” Eighteen years later Ward met the Duke again at the British Embassy in Rome and confronted by a blank face reminded him of the place of their previous meeting. Thereupon the Duke exclaimed with feeling, “Of course I remember. We had nothing to eat.” The inadequate French dishes, as Ward told the story, “had dwelt in his mind for nearly twenty years.”
After succeeding to the title in 1891, he still returned, unlike Salisbury, to visit the House of Commons and “could generally be seen yawning in the front row of the Peers’ Gallery” on the nights of big debates. As Duke he had more work to do than ever. He owned estates in Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Cumberland, Sussex, Middlesex and Ireland and personally went over all accounts of his properties and all important questions with his estate agents. He was Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire, Chancellor of Cambridge University, President of the British Empire League and patron of various clerical livings to which he had to make appointments. He was director or chairman of various companies in which he had investments, including two railway lines, a steel company, a waterworks and a naval construction company. Though he distrusted his knowledge of business, “once he got a grip of a subject,” according to one of his staff, “then no one was better able to confute a false argument or to see what the real point was.” His mind worked slowly, and if he did not understand a matter at once, he would insist on its being thrashed out all over again until it was clear to him. He performed all his functions while continuing to maintain that he was happiest with his racing stud at Newmarket. Once at Aix-les-Bains he met W. H. Smith, then Conservative Leader of the House of Commons, and promptly sat down to talk politics for half an hour, saying, “it was pleasant in a place like this to have some work to do.” It is possible he would have been more bored out of office than in.
To the Conservative Government of 1895 he brought, besides long experience and the prestige of his name and rank, an immense fund of public confidence banked over the four decades of his career. His disinterestedness was beyond question. So obviously was he above private ambition, wrote the editor of the Spectator, “that no one ever attributed to him unworthy motives or insinuated that he was playing for his own hand. If anyone had ventured to do so, the country would simply have regarded the accuser as mad.” When the Duke took a position, people felt they had been given a lead. He never became Prime Minister or won the Derby but “no one,” said The Times, “had a greater authority in moulding the political convictions of his countrymen.” He remained vaguely puzzled by the extent of his own influence. “I don’t see why I should tell the people what I should do if I had the vote,” he protested. “They will do what they think right and I shall do what I think right. They don’t want me to interfere.” And when the Prince, who, no less than his subjects, relied on the Duke’s judgment of men and issues, consulted him as arbiter of delicate social matters, he complained, “I don’t know why it is but whenever a man is caught cheating at cards the case is referred to me.” He had become, through a combination of heritage and character, a keeper of the national conscience. When a Presence was required for a solemn or ceremonial occasion, the solid, rather melancholy dignity of the Duke fulfilled the need. He was, Lord Rosebery said, “one of the great reserve forces of this country.”
Among Lord Salisbury’s ministers who took their seats in 1895 on the Government Front Bench in the House of Commons were two baronets, the ninth and sixth of their lines, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Sir Matthew White Ridley, Home Secretary. The former, tall, thin and austere, was an arch Conservative, a champion of the Church of England and of the landowning class, known as “Black Michael.” Tart and sharp-tongued, he once, after reading over a Liberal member’s remarks on his budget, said to his secretary succinctly, “Go and tell him he is a pig.” Beside them sat the two squires, Mr. Henry Chaplin and Mr. Walter Long, representatives of the landed gentry, the old untitled aristocracy who “scorned a peerage but made it a point of honor to stand for their county at the first general election after they came of age.” Mr. Long, President of the Board of Agriculture and youngest member of the Government at forty-one, “never said anything in his life that anybody remembered.” He “gently dozes,” as an observer saw him, “his arms folded, his head sunk back upon a cushion, his ruddy October face giving a touch of color to the scene,” while the older Mr. Chaplin “vigorously, wakefully, alertly guards the Empire against the knavish tricks of the Opposition.”
Mr. Chaplin at fifty-four, with his magnificent stature, big handsome head, long nose, prominent chin, sideburns and monocle, was a marked personality, one of the most popular men of his generation, “easily recognizable, familiar to the public. Everyone knew him by sight.” He was the visible symbol of the English country gentleman. His post was the Local Government Board, which dealt with the poor law, housing, town planning, public health and municipal government. Its functions were best described by Winston Churchill, who, on being offered the post in 1908, said, “I refuse to be shut up in a soup kitchen with Mrs. Sidney Webb.” Chaplin performed its duties and those of M.P. with tremendous gravity. He regarded himself, as did his constituents, as the bulwark of the essential Britain, and used to practice his speeches behind hedges the better to do credit to his role. His jovian thunders, the noble sweep of his arm as he spoke from the Front Bench, said a witness, expressed, not vanity, but “the calm, ineradicable conviction of the ruling class.” Undaunted by the most abstruse problems of government, he would tackle the tariff or the Education Bill in the same spirit as a difficult ditch in the hunting field and even undertook the fervent advocacy of bimetalism as a cure for economic ills. Once after a two-hour discourse on this recondite subject, he mopped his brow and leaning over to Mr. Balfour, asked, “How did I do, Arthur?”
“Splendidly, Harry, splendidly.”
“Did you understand me, Arthur?”
“Not a word, Harry, not a word.”
Arthur Balfour, prince of the Cecil line, nephew of the Prime Minister and his political heir apparent, artist of debate and idol of Society, was the paragon of his party and its official Leader in the House of Commons. He was forty-seven in 1895 and, when his uncle retired in 1902, was to succeed him as Prime Minister. Over six feet tall, he had blue eyes, waving brown hair and moustache, and a soft, bland face that might have seemed vulnerable if it had not been smoothed to an external serenity. His expression was gentle, his figure willowy, his manner nonchalant, but there remained a mystery in his face. No one could tell what banked fires burned behind it or whether they burned or even if they existed.
Rarely seen to sit upright, he reclined in indolent attitudes as close to the horizontal as possible, “as if to discover,” wrote Punch’s parliamentary correspondent, “how nearly he could sit on his shoulder blades.” In him all the gifts of privilege had combined. He had wealth, blue blood, good looks, great charm and “the finest brain that has been applied to politics in our time.” He was a philosopher on a serious level whose second major work, The Foundations of Belief, published in 1895, was read by the American philosopher William James with “immense gusto. There is more real philosophy in such a book,” he wrote to his brother Henry, “than in fifty German ones heaped with subtleties and technicalities.”
Although ultimately aloof and detached, Balfour had a winning manner that encircled him with admiration. His charm was of the kind that left everyone feeling happy who talked with him. “Although he was the best talker I have ever known,” said John Buchan, “he was not a monopolist of the conversation but one who quickened and elevated the whole discussion and brought out the best of other people.” After an evening in his company, wrote Austen Chamberlain, “one left with the feeling that one had been at the top of one’s form and really had talked rather well.” Political opponents were affected no less than allies. He was the only Conservative to whom Gladstone in debate accorded the term usually reserved for members of his own party, “my honourable friend.” Women succumbed equally. “Oh dear,” sighed Constance Lady Battersea after a visit to his home in 1895, “what a gulf between him and most men!” Margot Asquith found his “exquisite attention” and “lovely bend of the head,” when he talked to her, “irresistible”; so much so that earlier, when she was Margot Tennant, and herself a social star of high voltage, she had “moved heaven and earth,” according to Lady Jebb, to marry him. Queried on the rumor of this marriage, Balfour replied, “No, that is not so. I rather think of having a career of my own.”
As the eldest son of Lord Salisbury’s sister, Lady Blanche Balfour, he was named Arthur for the Duke of Wellington, who acted as his godfather. On the paternal side the Balfours were of ancient Scottish lineage, their fortune having been made in the late Eighteenth Century by Arthur’s grandfather, James Balfour, a nabob of the East India Company. James acquired in Scotland an estate of 10,000 acres, at Whittinghame overlooking the Firth of Forth, which became the family home, as well as a deer forest, a salmon river, a shooting lodge, a seat in Parliament and a daughter of the eighth Earl of Lauderdale as wife. A daughter of this marriage, Balfour’s aunt, married the Duke of Grafton, so that along with the Salisbury connection, Balfour, as a friend said, “can call cousins with half the nobility of England.” His younger brother Eustace subsequently married Lady Frances Campbell, daughter of the Duke of Argyll, granddaughter of the Duke of Sutherland, niece of the Duke of Westminster and sister-in-law of Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria.
Balfour’s father, also an M.P., died at thirty-five, when Arthur was seven, leaving Lady Blanche, in whom the Cecil streak of religious feeling was particularly marked, to govern her family of five sons and three daughters. Besides teaching Arthur to admire Jane Austen and her brother’s favorite, The Count of Monte Cristo, she also communicated the Cecil sense of duty. When her son at Cambridge became enamored of philosophy and wished to make over his inheritance to a brother in favor of the studious life, she scolded him severely for poor spirit in wanting to shirk the responsibilities of his position.
At Trinity College, where Balfour read Moral Science, his failure to take a First did not depress his imperturbable good nature or good spirits. He was, wrote Lady Jebb, the doyen of Cambridge society, “a young prince in his way and almost as much spoiled.” Of his four brothers, Frank was a professor of embryology who according to Darwin would have become “the first of English biologists” if he had not been killed climbing in the Swiss Alps at the age of thirty-one; Gerald, superbly handsome, was, according to Lady Jebb, “the most superior man I ever met,” although her niece thought him “the most conceited”; Eustace was merely average and Cecil was the bad apple in the barrel, who died disgraced in Australia. But Arthur, decided Lady Jebb, was “the best in a family all of whom are best,… a man that almost everyone loves.” She thought his nature, however, was “emotionally cold” and that his one essay in love, with May Lyttelton, sister of a Cambridge friend and Gladstone’s niece, who died when she was twenty-five and Balfour twenty-seven, had “exhausted his powers in that direction.” This was the accepted supposition in later years to explain Balfour’s bachelorhood. In fact, it was not so much that he was emotionally cold as that he was warmly attached to his complete freedom to do as he pleased.
Among his friends were two of Trinity’s outstanding scholars: his tutor Henry Sidgwick, later Professor of Moral Philosophy, and the physicist John Strutt, later third Baron Rayleigh, a future Nobel prize winner and Chancellor of the University, each of whom married a sister of Balfour. At that time, when to be an intellectual was to be agnostic, Balfour’s inherited religious sense caused his Cambridge friends to regard him as “a curious relic of an older generation.” His Society friends, on the other hand, when he published his first book, A Defence of Philosophic Doubt, in 1879, assumed from the title that Arthur was championing agnosticism, and when his name was mentioned, “they went about looking very solemn.” In fact, by expressing doubt of material reality, the book was paradoxically asserting the right to spiritual faith, a position more explicitly stated in his later book, The Foundations of Belief. At Whittinghame, which was run for him by his maiden sister, Alice, and shared by his married brothers and their numerous children, he read family prayers every Sunday evening. Steeped in the Hebraism of the Old Testament, he felt a particular interest in the “people of the Book” and was concerned about the problem of the Jew in the modern world. His niece and biographer in her childhood imbibed from him “the idea that Christian religion and civilization owes to Judaism an immeasurable debt, shamefully ill repaid.”
He was the most dined-out man in London. Blandly ignoring the implacable rule that required the Leader of the House to be in his place throughout a sitting, he would often disappear during the dinner hour, reappearing shamelessly some hours later in evening dress. Every diary of the time finds him at house parties and dinner parties: “at the Rothschilds,” wrote John Morley, “only Balfour there, partie carrée, always most pleasurable.” He was one of twenty men at dinner at Harry Cust’s, where the talk was so absorbing that when the house caught fire upstairs the dinner continued while the footmen passed bath towels with the port for protection against water from the firemen’s hoses; he was at Blenheim Palace with the Marlboroughs in a party including the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Curzons, the Londonderrys, the Grenfells and Harry Chaplin; he was at Chatsworth with the Devonshires in a party including the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, Count Mensdorff, the Austrian Ambassador, the ugly, fascinating and ribald Marquis de Soveral, Ambassador of Portugal, the de Greys, Ribblesdales and Grenfells; he was at Hatfield with the Salisburys in a party including the Duke of Argyll, Mr. Speaker Peel and his daughter, Mr. Buckle of The Times, George Curzon and General Lord Methuen; he was at Cassiobury, home of Lord Essex, one Sunday at the end of a brilliant London season, when Edith Wharton, arriving for tea, “found scattered on the lawn under the great cedars the very flower and pinnacle of the London world: Mr. Balfour, Lady Desborough, Lady Elcho, John Sargent, Henry James and many others of that shining galaxy, so exhausted by their social labors of the past weeks … that beyond benevolent smiles they had little to give.”
Most often Balfour was to be found at Clouds, home of the baronet Sir Percy Wyndham and favored country house of the Souls. Among their congenial company the particular attraction for Balfour was Lady Elcho, one of the three beautiful Wyndham sisters, with whom, though she was the wife of a friend, Balfour pursued a discreet affair over a period of some twelve years, of which the letters survive. Sargent, when he painted the sisters in 1899, was hampered by no such compelling realism as affected him in the matter of Lady Charles Beresford’s eyebrows. The group portrait of Lady Elcho, Mrs. Tennant and Mrs. Adeane, gowned in porcelain whiteness and draped in poses of careless but haughty elegance upon a sofa, is a dazzling dream of feminine aristocracy.
The ladies of the Souls, in conscious reaction to the Victorian feminine ideal, determined to be intellectual, to be slim and likewise to allow themselves a new freedom of private morality. Their only American member, the beautiful Daisy White, wife of Henry White, First Secretary of the American Embassy, was once congratulated by a friend on not allowing herself to be changed by “all those people who have lovers.” In this activity the Souls were no different from the more philistine members of the Prince of Wales’s set. All were engaged in the same open conspiracy in which Society managed to depart from Victorian morality without deserting propriety. Balfour’s liaison with Lady Elcho was for a while serious enough to cause their friends some anxiety. The feelings of the husband, Hugo, Lord Elcho, heir of the Earl of Wemyss and a member, though a silent one, of the same circle, are unknown. The affair, like the Duke of Devonshire’s, was the permitted excursion of a person of character and position sufficiently lofty to be above reproach.
When Balfour first entered Parliament at twenty-six from a family-controlled borough, it had been less from personal desire than from ordained fate as an eldest son and a Cecil. By the time he moved into Downing Street in 1895 as First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House, in lieu of his uncle, who preferred to live at home, the passion for politics latent in his blood had grown with growing skill and power. Yet it did not disturb his temperamental detachment. When meeting criticism he would regard it, not as something to resent, but as a thing to be examined like an interesting beetle. “Quite a good fellow,” he would say of an opponent, “has a curious view, not uninteresting.” He was at heart both a conservative who wanted to retain the best of the world he knew and a liberal with, as his sister-in-law remarked, “a sympathetic outlook for all progress.” People felt in him “a natural spring of youth,” in the words of one friend, and a “freshness, serenity and buoyancy” in the words of another. Later, as Prime Minister, he was the first in that office to go to Buckingham Palace in a motorcar and the first to go to the House of Commons in a Homburg hat.
He thought of himself as belonging to the younger generation of Tories who recognized the necessity of responding to the rising challenge of the working class. Yet bred as they were in privilege they could not, when issues came to a test, range themselves on the side of the invaders. In his first years in Parliament, Balfour had joined the four “Radical” Tories of the Fourth Party led by Lord Randolph Churchill. They occupied the Front Bench below the gangway and Balfour sat with them, because, he said, he had room there for his legs, but the choice indicated a point of view. The Fourth Party were gadflies in the cause of what was called “Tory Democracy,” the belief that the rising political power of Labour could be harnessed in partnership with the Tories. If Labour, stated Lord Randolph in 1892, found that it could “obtain its objects and secure its own advantage” under the existing constitution—which it was the Tories’ business to preserve—then all would be well; but if the Conservatives stubbornly resisted these demands in “unreasoning and shortsighted support of all the present rights of property,” then Labour would be ranged against them. Since the Tories were a minority in the country, it was incumbent on them to enlist in their support “a majority of the votes of the masses of Labour.”
Balfour was never thoroughly persuaded of this convincingly worded argument, any more than, when it came to a practical test, was Lord Randolph himself. In the abstract, Balfour believed in democracy and extension of the suffrage and in improvement of working conditions and of the rights of Labour but not at the cost of breaking down the walls of privilege that protected the ruling class. Here was the fundamental difficulty of Tory Democracy. Its advocates thought it possible to meet the demands of the workers while at the same time preserving intact the citadel of privilege, but Balfour suspected the bitter truth of history: that progress and gain by one group is never accomplished without loss of some permanent value of another. He continued to express his belief that Socialism would never get possession of the working classes “if those who wield the collective forces of the community show themselves desirous … to ameliorate every legitimate grievance.” But when it came to specific acts of amelioration he was not enthusiastic or deeply concerned. “What exactly is a ‘Trade Union’?” he once asked a Liberal friend. Margot Asquith said to him that he was like his uncle in having a wonderful sense of humor, literary style and a deep concern with science and religion. Was there any difference between them? “There is a difference,” Balfour replied. “My uncle is a Tory—and I am a liberal.” Yet the fact that his uncle remained undisturbed by Balfour’s early association with the Tory “Radicals” and that the perfect confidence between them remained unclouded suggests that there was a basic identity of belief stronger than the difference.
Balfour seemed an enigma to his contemporaries because his nature was paradoxical, his opinions often irreconcilable, and because he did not see life or politics in terms of absolutes. As a result, he was often charged with being cynical, and people who looked at the world from a liberal point of view thought him perverse. H. G. Wells portrayed him as Evesham in The New Machiavelli. “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.… Did he really care? Did anything matter to him?” Winston Churchill, too, once used the word “wicked” in speaking of him to Mrs. Asquith. She thought the secret of Balfour’s imperturbability in a crisis was that he did not “really care for the things at stake or believe that the happiness of mankind depends on events going this way or that.” Balfour did, in fact, hold certain basic convictions, but he could see arguments on both sides of a matter, which is the penalty of the thoughtful man. On one occasion, arriving for an evening party at a great house whose staircase split in twin curves, he stood at the bottom for twenty minutes trying to work out, as he explained to a puzzled observer, a logical reason for taking one side rather than the other.
In 1887 Salisbury’s surprising appointment of his nephew to the difficult and dangerous post of Chief Secretary for Ireland was expected to prove a fiasco. Balfour was then regarded as a languid intellectual whom the press delighted to call “Prince Charming,” or even “Miss Balfour.” Ireland was seething in its chronic war between landlord and tenant made fiercer by agitators for Home Rule. Police daily evicted tenants unable to pay their rent and were in turn bombarded with stones, vitriol and boiling water by the mob. The memory of Lord Frederick Cavendish’s fate five years earlier had been kept fresh by continued assaults and “everybody right up to the top was trembling.” Balfour, ignoring threats to his life, astonished both islands. He said he intended to be “as relentless asCromwell” in enforcing the law and as “radical as any reformer” in redressing grievances with regard to the land. His resolute rule “took his foes by surprise,” wrote John Morley, “and roused in his friends a delight hardly surpassed in the politics of our day.” It made him a popular celebrity and brought him in one bound to recognition as “Bloody” Balfour in Ireland and as the coming natural leader of his party in England.
In 1891, on the resignation of W. H. Smith as Leader of the House, he succeeded by unanimous choice. As Irish Secretary, his absolute disregard for personal danger had revealed a courage—or absence of fear—that his contemporaries had not suspected. George Wyndham, then serving as Balfour’s Private Secretary, wrote from Dublin that the Irish loyalists’ admiration for him was “almost comic” and ascribed it to the fact that “great courage being so rare a gift and so large a part of human misery being due to Fear, all men are prepared to fall down before anyone wholly free from fear.” Winston Churchill ascribed Balfour’s lack of nerves to a “cold nature” but acknowledged him “the most courageous man alive. I believe if you held a pistol to his face it would not frighten him.”
The same quality gave him mastery in debate. Sure of his own powers, he feared no opponent or embarrassment. According to Morley, he operated on Dr. Johnson’s principle that “to treat your adversary with respect is to give him an advantage to which he is not entitled.” He debated with “dauntless ingenuity and polished raillery.” Although in public he rarely indulged in hurtful sarcasm, his private epigrams could be sharp. He once said of a colleague, “If he had a little more brains he would be a half-wit.” In the House he maintained toward opponents an almost deferential courtesy, and when under bitter attack by the Irish members, would sit quietly with a placid smile, and when he rose to reply, demolish them with words which had the effect “of a bullet on a bubble.” Yet it was not done without strain. He confessed to a friend that he never slept well after a rough night in the House. “I never lose my temper but one’s nerves get on edge and it takes time to cool.” He admired Macaulay, finding his narrative irresistible and his style a delight. His own speeches, delivered without notes, were unstudied yet perfectly finished. Lord Willoughby de Broke, an active young member of the other House, who liked to come over to listen to Balfour, said the pleasure lay in hearing “ideas and arguments being produced in exactly the right sequence without any appearance of premeditation, the whole masterly process of thought, argument and phrasing being carried out with such consummate skill and such perfect ease, that to witness the exercise of the art was sheer delight.”
Balfour was careless of facts, unsafe with figures, and memory was not his strong point, but he surmounted this weakness by a technique that never failed to amuse the House. When dealing with a complicated bill he would take care to be flanked by a knowledgeable minister such as the Home Secretary or Attorney-General, and if he floundered over details his colleague could whisper a correction. As described by Sir Henry Lucy, parliamentary correspondent of Punch, Mr. Balfour would pause, regard the colleague with a friendly glance tinged with gentle admonition, and say, “Exactly.” At the next mistake and whispered correction, he would repeat the performance with a sterner note in his “Exactly,” conveying the impression that there was a limit to toleration in these matters and the colleague could be forgiven once but he really must not go on blundering.
Promptness was not one of his virtues and often he would come lounging gracefully in when Questions were almost over. He effected a revolution by changing the Wednesday short sitting of the House to Fridays for the sake of the weekend, an institution which he, in fact, invented to allow time for his golf. “This damned Scotch croquet,” as a disgusted sportsman called it, owed its popularity to Balfour’s influence. With perfect insouciance and contrary to all custom, he played it even on Sundays except in Scotland and such was his magnetism that Society followed where he went, and so the custom of the country-house weekend was born. He neither shot nor hunted but in addition to golf played vigorous tennis, bicycled whenever possible, on occasion twenty miles at a stretch, and indulged a guilty passion for the thrilling new experience of the motorcar. His idea of distraction was not everyone’s. When visiting his sister, Lady Rayleigh, and asked by her what he would like in the way of entertainment, he replied, “Oh something amusing; get some people from Cambridge to talk science.” Music was another enthusiasm. He wrote an essay on Handel for the Edinburgh Review, and went on a musical tour of Germany during which he charmed that difficult relict Frau Wagner.
His nonchalance and languid air covered an immense capacity for work. Besides leading the Government in the House of Commons he frequently doubled for his uncle at the Foreign Office. When in 1902 Salisbury retired, Lord Esher felt that his absence would be made up by “the supreme energy of Arthur.” To conserve energy Balfour transacted as much business as possible in bed and rarely rose before noon.
He read incessantly: a book on science was propped open on the mantelpiece while he dressed, a detective story lay on his bedside table, the shelves of his private sitting room were stacked with volumes of philosophy and theology, the overflow was piled on the sofa, periodicals littered table and chairs and his sponge was used to support the reading of French novels in his bathtub. He never read the newspapers. Overnight guests found he did not even subscribe to them, a negligence for which he was scolded by Mr. Buckle, editor of The Times. Once the journalist, W. T. Stead, in conversation with the Prince of Wales, remarked that Balfour was a good man to have at one’s back in a fight but he was a little too indifferent. “Ah,” replied the Prince, nodding, “he never reads the papers, you know.”
The Prince never cared for Balfour, who, he felt, condescended to him. Queen Victoria on the other hand admired him. On a visit to Balmoral, reported Sir Henry Ponsonby, Balfour discussed matters with the Queen, “showing where he differs from her in a way which makes her think it over.… I think the Queen likes him but is a little afraid of him.” The younger Ponsonby considered him a great success with the Queen, “although he never seemed to treat her seriously.” The Queen set down her own opinion in 1896 after a talk with Balfour on Crete, Turkish horrors, the Sudan and the Education Bill. She was “much struck by Mr. Balfour’s extreme fairness, impartiality and large-mindedness. He sees all sides of a question, is wonderfully generous in his feelings toward others and very gentle and sweet-tempered.”
The supremacy and security of that time had not long to endure, and Balfour had weaknesses which, as the century turned over into less indulgent years, were to become apparent. Including the weaknesses, he was in character and attributes the final flower of the patrician and of him might have been said what Proust’s housekeeper, Celeste, said on the death of her employer, “When one has known M. Proust everyone else seems vulgar.”
Not since Rome had imperial dominion been flung as wide as Britain’s now. It extended over a quarter of the land surface of the world, and on June 22, 1897, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, its living evidence marched in splendid ranks to the Thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s. The occasion being designed to celebrate the imperial family under the British Crown, none of the foreign kings who had assisted at the Golden Jubilee in 1887 were this time invited. In their place, carriages of state carried the eleven colonial premiers of Canada, New Zealand, the Cape Colony, Natal, Newfoundland and the six states of Australia. In the parade rode cavalry from every quarter of the globe: the Cape Mounted Rifles, the Canadian Hussars, the New South Wales Lancers, the Trinidad Light Horse, the magnificent turbaned and bearded Lancers of Khapurthala, Badnagar and other Indian states, the Zaptichs of Cyprus in tasseled fezzes on black-maned ponies. Dark-skinned infantry regiments, “terrible and beautiful to behold,” in the words of a rhapsodic press, swung down the streets in a fantasy of variegated uniforms: the Borneo Dyak Police, the Jamaica Artillery, the Royal Nigerian Constabulary, giant Sikhs from India, Houssas from the Gold Coast, Chinese from Hong Kong, Malays from Singapore, Negroes from the West Indies, British Guiana and Sierra Leone; company after company passed before a dazzled people, awestruck at the testimony of their own might. At the end of the procession in an open state landau drawn by eight cream horses came the day’s central figure, a tiny person in black with cream-colored feathers nodding from her bonnet. The sun shone, bright banners rippled in the breeze, lampposts were decked in flowers and along six miles of streets millions of happy people cheered and waved in an ecstasy of love and pride. “No one ever, I believe, has met with such an ovation as was given me,” wrote the Queen in her Journal. “Every face seemed to be filled with real joy. I was much moved and gratified.”
Already for some months there had been an aura of self-congratulation in the air, “a certain optimism,” said Rudyard Kipling, “that scared me.” It moved him to write, and on the morning after the parade the stern warning of “Recessional” appeared in The Times.Its impact was immense—“The greatest poem that has been written by any living man,” pronounced the distinguished jurist, Sir Edward Clarke. Yet however solemnly people took its admonition, how could they believe, as the ceremonies and salutes continued and top-hatted personages came and went to the Imperial Conference in Whitehall, that all this visible greatness was really “one with Nineveh and Tyre”?
On October 11, 1899, a distant challenge, which had been growing stronger ever since the Jameson Raid, became explicit and the Boer War began. “Joe’s War,” Lord Salisbury called it in tribute to the aggressive role of the cuckoo in his nest, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary. Although he had started life as a Radical Liberal among men opposed on principle to imperialism, Mr. Chamberlain had since learned to “think imperially,” as he put it. It was a change of mind easily understood in a man with his keen sense of opportunity, for in the last twelve years alone, territories equal to twenty-four times the area of Great Britain had been added to the Empire. On joining the Government of 1895, Chamberlain had chosen the Colonial Office in the conviction that here was the key to empire and “manifest destiny,” a categorical imperative that was just then directing American eyes toward Cuba and Hawaii and stimulating Germans, Belgians, French, and even Italians, to join in the scramble for choice cuts of Africa.
Chamberlain was a man of surpassing force, ability, and a consuming ambition which had never been satisfied. Not born to the landowning class, he had perfected an appearance of authority and poise that was distinctly his own. He had sharp, rather elegant features, eyes that revealed nothing and jet-black hair smoothly brushed. His face was a mask adorned by a monocle on a black ribbon; his tailoring was faultless, adorned by a daily orchid in his buttonhole. Having made sufficient fortune as a manufacturer of screws in Birmingham to retire from business at thirty-eight, he had become Mayor of his city, where his accomplishments in education and other social reforms had won national attention. Wasting no time, he had entered Parliament at forty as member for Birmingham, became a vehement spokesman of the Radicals, denouncing aristocrats and plutocrats as ardently as any Socialist, and quickly achieved Cabinet office as President of the Board of Trade in Gladstone’s Ministry of 1880. A hardhitting, cool and masterful character whose popularity in the Midlands swung many votes, he was a political factor to be reckoned with and saw himself as Gladstone’s successor. But the Grand Old Man was in no hurry to have one, and Chamberlain, too impatient to wait, found reason in the Home Rule issue to leave the party with a considerable following. In preparing for the election of 1895 the Conservatives were glad, if nervous, to attach him. He did not share the patrician’s indifference to public opinion, but in mannerisms and dress, played up to it, making himself a memorable personality. To the public he was “Pushful Joe” the “Minister for Empire” and the best-known figure in the new Government.
Only Lord Salisbury remained unimpressed. “He has not persuaded himself that he has any convictions,” he had written to Balfour in 1886, “and therein lies Gladstone’s infinite superiority.” Balfour, characteristically, was kinder but plain. “Joe, though we all love him dearly,” he wrote to Lady Elcho, “somehow does not absolutely or completely mix, does not form a chemical combination with us.” This was not surprising. Chamberlain had not been to public school or the University (that is, Oxford or Cambridge), where, as Lord Esher remarked, “everyone with his capacity learns self-restraint,” and was not even a member of the Church of England. He nevertheless moved suavely among his new associates and was seen entertaining to tea on the terrace of the House of Commons a large party that included three duchesses. He could certainly never be accused like Balfour of being too indifferent. Chamberlain was always in the grip of one passionate conviction or another which he would pursue, while he held it, with ruthless intensity. But he lacked a permanent, rooted point of view. Though only five years younger than Salisbury and twelve years older than Balfour, he represented the forces and methods of a new time to which Salisbury’s Government was essentially opposed. “The difference between Joe and me,” said Balfour, “is the difference between youth and age: I am age.” Balfour had behind him the long stability of belonging on top; Joe was the new tycoon in a hurry. The ways in which they did not “mix” were fundamental.
For the present the collaboration between Chamberlain and his new colleagues was mutually loyal. When his hand was suspected behind the Jameson Raid and the Liberals made furious accusations, the Government closed ranks around him and a parliamentary committee of investigation found itself unable to trace anything definite back to the Colonial Office. Joe emerged with power undiminished and aggressiveness undimmed. “I don’t know which of our many enemies we ought to defy,” he wrote to Salisbury after the Kruger telegram, “but let us defy someone.” As the minister in charge of the increasingly inimical negotiations with the Boer Republic, his favorite method, reported Balfour to Salisbury, “is the free application of irritants.” While these were taking effect an old defeat was avenged: in 1898 Kitchener retook Khartoum and raised the British flag over the grave of General Gordon. Farther up the Nile, at Fashoda, a French military expedition penetrating the Sudan was confronted eye to eye by the British and, after a period of suspense during which the French recognized realities, withdrew without the firing of a shot. Britain’s unpopularity rose with her prestige.
Then came the Boer War. The British Army, on which years of splendid isolation had conferred a certain rigidity, was revealed fully prepared for the Crimean War and it met a series of defeats. The Boers, it turned out, possessed cannon from Krupp’s and Creusot and their gunners were often German or French. President Kruger had used the reparations awarded for the Jameson Raid to buy artillery, Maxim guns and large stores of rifles and ammunition in preparation for the ultimate clash of arms. In one “Black Week” of December, 1899, Lord Methuen was defeated at Magersfontein, General Gatacre at Stormberg, and Sir Redvers Buller, the Commander-in-Chief, at Colenso with the loss of eleven guns, leaving Kimberley and Ladysmith invested. At home, people were stunned with unbelief. The Duke of Argyll, who was in his last illness, never rallied from the shock and died murmuring Tennyson’s line on the Duke of Wellington, “Who never lost an English gun.”
With Black Week went the last time Britons felt themselves unquestionably masters of the earth. And the point was brought home when the Kaiser, a few months later, was able to insist successfully on a German commander for the expedition embarking to punish the Boxers at Peking. True, it was a largely German effort, the main British force being already on the spot, but Salisbury objected on principle. It was a British characteristic, even if unreasonable, he told the German Ambassador, “not to endure the command of a foreigner.” But he could not afford at that moment to court a conflict which might result in help for the Boers and was forced to acquiesce.
In the new year, with new vigor, reinforcements and a new commander-in-chief to replace the disastrous Buller, the war gradually came under control. Mafeking was relieved in May, 1900—to the accompaniment of hysterics at home—Lord Roberts entered Pretoria in June and the annexation of the Transvaal was proclaimed on September 1 in the belief that only mopping-up was left. On a wave of renewed self-confidence and good spirits, the Conservatives called for a renewed mandate in what was known as the “Khaki” election in October. Using the slogan, “Every seat won by the Liberals is a seat won by the Boers,” they were comfortably returned to office. But though patriotic fervor was dominant, there was a current of antipathy to the war which came not only from “Little Englanders” of the orthodox Gladstone tradition but more particularly, this time, from an uneasy sense of ignoble motive, a glitter of the gold mines of the Rand, an aura of predatory capitalism, commercialism and profit. Opposition to the war provided a cause in which a young M.P., David Lloyd George, made himself known, although he did not go so far as to oppose annexation but only to propose negotiation to stop the war.
There were many inside and outside the Government who awaited the approaching Twentieth Century with certain illusions lost which were never to be restored. Lady Salisbury, shortly before she died in November, 1899, said to a young relative, “The young generation may criticize us as they like; will they ever provide anything as good as what we have known?”
The year 1900, rather than 1899, the Astronomer Royal had decided, after much weighing of the pros and cons, was the hundredth and last year of the Nineteenth Century. The moment of its passing was at hand; the end of the most hope-filled, change-filled, progressive, busiest and richest century the world had even known. Three weeks after it closed, on January 24, 1901, Queen Victoria died, redoubling the general sense of an era’s end. Lord Salisbury, tired of office, wanted to go too, but felt he could not untilvictory, still elusive in South Africa, was won. It came finally in June, 1902, and on July 14 Lord Salisbury stepped down. Again was felt the somber consciousness of something coming to an end: an Authority, a type, a tradition had departed. A French paper, Le Temps of Paris, still smarting from the humiliation of Fashoda, said, “What closes today with Lord Salisbury’s departure is a whole historic era. It is ironic that what he hands on is a democratized, imperialized, colonialized and vulgarized England—everything that is antithetic to the Toryism, the aristocratic tradition and the High Church that he stood for. It is the England of Mr. Chamberlain, not, despite his nominal leadership, of Mr. Balfour.”
Queen Victoria, Lord Salisbury and the Nineteenth Century were gone. A year before she died, the Queen, returning on her yacht from a visit to Ireland, was disturbed by rough seas. After a particularly strong wave buffeted the ship, she summoned her doctor, who was in attendance, and said, in unconscious echo of a distant predecessor, “Go up at once, Sir James, and give the Admiral my compliments and tell him the thing must not occur again.”
But the waves would not stand still.