MR. LLOYD GEORGE has now been a member of the British House of Commons for forty years. For seventeen of those years he held high office, and for six of them he was a dominating influence, not only in his own country, but in Europe. He entered Parliament when he was twenty-seven, and his rise was rapid. He became Minister of the Board of Trade under Campbell-Bannerman at forty-three, Chancellor of the Exchequer under Asquith at forty-five, the first Minister of Munitions at fifty-two, Minister of War and then Prime Minister at fifty-three, after which he remained practical dictator till he was fifty-nine, when he fell -- fell like Lucifer, as his enemies tell us, never to rise again. Of that no one can yet be sure, but in any case it is the career of a remarkable man that we are now considering, a man who for a time guided his country's destinies and whom no future historian can overlook.

Like other men, he must be judged as a whole, and in speaking of his nature one must always keep in mind that it is not English but Welsh. Though he happened to be born in Manchester (1863), both his parents were entirely Welsh, and he passed his childhood and youth in a Welsh village with the typically Welsh name of Llanystumdwy, in Carnarvonshire. Owing to his father's early death, he was placed under the care of his mother's brother, Richard Lloyd, bootmaker and unpaid preacher, belonging to the sect of Baptists called "Campbellites" or "The Disciples of Christ." Thus by association he acquired a genuine sympathy with the working people, a contempt for the aristocracy of birth (there are few aristocrats in Wales), and a hostility to all clericalism, especially to that of the Established Church of England in Wales. He also imbibed a tendency to temperance drinks, for the Welsh as a whole are given to teetotalism, perhaps because they doubt their own powers of resistance to temptation.

But more important than these external influences was the Welsh nature bred in his flesh and bones. That nature is so widely different from the English that we may admire its qualities from a distance, but can seldom feel quite at home with it. The Welsh possess a power of rhetoric which we in England like to listen to but instinctively distrust. Regardless of mere details and barren facts, it soars to heights of language and imagination which we cannot hope to reach. Seizing the emotion of the moment, it relies for persuasion upon passion rather than evidence, and kindles enthusiasm by excited appeals to abstract principles of acknowledged splendor. Quick to catch a passing suggestion, it shifts with ease from one position to another and if a contradiction is involved, the rapidity conceals it from the audience, and from the speaker also. These characteristics of quickness, imaginative power, and frequent instability are often found in the Welsh nature as well as in the public utterances of the Welsh, and they puzzle the comparatively slow and concrete English mind.

Add to that our perplexity at the ancient British language. Like most Welshmen, Mr. Lloyd George is bilingual, accustomed from childhood to regard English as a useful secondary language, but speaking Welsh as his mother tongue. It has been said that he may talk English to an Englishman, but all the time he is thinking in Welsh. That again puzzles English people, who are very seldom capable of conversing freely in any language but their own, and even that with reserve, difficulty, and many errors. To talk to a man who by nature speaks another language of which we are entirely ignorant, as we all are of Welsh, is like talking to a foreigner through an interpreter. We are never quite sure how much is being omitted or inserted, and so a sense of distrust arises, and perhaps to this distrust is partly due the evil reputation that the Welsh have long suffered among us. It is seen in the common name of "welsher" for a swindler on the Turf, and in the children's nursery rhyme, "Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief." But that charge of "sharp practice" is probably also derived from ancient suspicions existing among the dwellers along the Welsh marches of Cheshire, Hereford, Monmouth, and, as I myself have known, in Shropshire.

So it was that, on entering English public life, Mr. Lloyd George had to contend against a certain suspicion as a Welshman given to rhetoric, unstable, untrustworthy, a foreigner, a Dissenter, an upstart from the working classes, a man who had never enjoyed such advantages as the English public schools and our ancient universities can offer; and on that account undisciplined, incapable of the "team work" demanded by cricket and football, and untrained in the English spirit of "good form" and "playing the game."

In short he came among us as a foreigner, a "little Welsh attorney," and we English are distrustful of foreigners in high office; as we were of Disraeli, for instance, though he was born and bred in England and did not think in any language but ours. In a less degree we were distrustful of Milner because he was reputed to have German blood, and was at all events brought up in Germany till he went to Oxford. That he possessed the "Celtic charm" in a high degree, and was a conscious expert in its use, did not improve Mr. Lloyd George's position; for it was the conquering English who drove the Celtic fringe into Wales, and remained the dominant race. His eloquent references to mountain valleys and the glamor of sunrise upon the hills were exhilarating to the few of us whose fathers, like my own, had dwelt among mountains, but to the ordinary English of the plains suggested little but tourist resorts or theatrical backgrounds.

It so happened that the unknown and, from the English point of view, half-educated little Welshman entered Parliament at a time of rapid transition. The mighty shadow of Mr. Gladstone's name was fading. Lord Salisbury, the last of the aristocratic statesmen, was nearing his end. Joseph Chamberlain was becoming the dominant influence, and though Chamberlain had much in common with Mr. Lloyd George -- his unaristocratic origin, his want of the higher English education, and his contempt of accepted tradition, which in earlier years had prompted an attack upon the monarchy itself under the venerable figure of the Great White Queen -- as regards the two main objects of Chamberlain's policy, Mr. Lloyd George stood in violent opposition. Those two main objects were the conquest of the Boer Republics and, later, the introduction of Protection in the guise of Imperial Tariff Reform.

It was in his opposition to the Boer War that Mr. Lloyd George first gave public evidence of his courage and his rhetorical power. It needs courage to stand firmly against popular outcry while a war is actually in progress, and the friends and relations of the people are dying in battle or in hospital far away. As to rhetorical power, I think the most eloquent speech I ever heard was delivered by Mr. Lloyd George during the Boer War itself (June 19, 1901). A peace meeting was being held at the Queen's Hall in London, and popular rage against all "pro-Boers" had risen to such a pitch that a huge and violent mob surrounded the Hall, making approach dangerous. Having emerged from the siege of Ladysmith and witnessed the occupation of Pretoria, I had been recalled to London for a brief interval in the false belief that the war was over, and so I was able to be present when Mr. Lloyd George entered at last and was received with rapture as the rising hope of our defiant and rebellious party.

He was in those days exactly the man for the occasion -- courageous, enthusiastic, indifferent to consequences, and convinced of the righteousness of his cause. His eloquence soared ever upward and upward, like an eagle's flight when he rises in vast and spiral curves. It was indeed a superb display of oratorical grandeur such as no Englishman since Gladstone could have attempted. When he concluded, the whole audience rose in an ecstasy of applause, and though I was so torn and battered by the crowd outside that I reached my newspaper office in Fleet Street with the appearance of a shipwrecked sailor, I consoled myself with the thought that we advanced Liberals had gained an ally of incalculable power.

The English people bear no rancor, and when the Boer War was over Mr. Lloyd George was at once forgiven for his pacifism, just as Mr. Ramsay MacDonald was forgiven for his opposition to the far more terrible war of 1914 to 1918 -- so entirely forgiven that he became Prime Minister only ten years after that war was declared. Mr. Lloyd George was even accepted, though with some hesitation, by the Liberal Imperialists, led by Asquith, Grey and Haldane, and was wholeheartedly welcomed by Campbell-Bannerman, the Liberal Prime Minister of 1906, who at once appointed him to high office. For the next eight years, under that great statesman and under Asquith, also great in his deliberate and unenthusiastic manner, he devoted himself to those social reforms which he has told us have always lain closest to his heart. As Minister of the Board of Trade, and then as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he succeeded in passing the National Health Insurance Act and his famous Budget of 1909, the opposition to which in the House of Lords almost led to their extermination. It was then that, speaking at the Limehouse Town Hall in the East of London, he denounced the Lords with such vigor that for some years the word "Limehouse" suggested scurrilous vituperation, as when, to show the absurdity of primogeniture, he observed that one does not select the best of a litter by taking the first-born pup.

During these years he also launched rather vague schemes for Land Reform and the relief of unemployment by road-making, an idea that has persisted in his mind, though futile for its purpose.

In 1907, by sheer persuasive eloquence he averted a serious threat of railway strike, and all through those years his reputation as an energetic and imaginative reformer stood high, though the Marconi incident of 1912 gave it a severe shock. The charge was that Mr. Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer) and Sir Rufus Isaacs (Attorney General, now Lord Reading) had used their early knowledge as Ministers to invest large sums in a Marconi Company of which Mr. Godfrey Isaacs, brother of Sir Rufus, was Managing Director. I cannot imagine why the accused for a time kept silence upon the vital fact that their shares were taken in an American company and not in the English. Nor can I give much weight to the excuse put forward by Mr. Lloyd George that he was a poor man -- an excuse equally valid for most pickpockets and burglars. But when both had expressed contrition for their foolish mistake the House of Commons acquitted them of evil intent, and the scandal gradually died down.

Far more damaging to Mr. Lloyd George's character and reputation, in my opinion, was his behavior towards the woman suffrage movement, which raged with increasing intensity during the years of the Liberal administration from 1906 to the outbreak of the war. I recognize the difficulty of his situation. He always gave himself out as a supporter of the suffrage, but for nearly all that time he was serving under Mr. Asquith, who was an open and obstinate opponent. Mr. Lloyd George could plead that he did not care enough about the cause to split the party on it, or to sacrifice for it his own future career. One must make allowances for party loyalty and for the personal ambition natural to eminent and successful politicians.

But these laudable, or at all events common, motives drove him to twist and wriggle and prevaricate, to make fair promises and to withdraw them, to raise no protest against the abominable treatment of the Suffragettes in prison, and when at his meetings the women made the demand for constitutional rights, to hound his stewards on by his commands to "fling them out ruthlessly," as the obedient stewards did with every form of violence and brutality at Limehouse, Llanystumdwy, and the Albert Hall (December 5, 1908). These actions disappointed me in the man. They proved that at a crisis he could not be counted upon to maintain his own convictions if they threatened his own advantage. What was more serious, they shook my faith in all political leaders.

The outbreak of the Great War in August 1914 swept away all other records and considerations. To Mr. Lloyd George it brought a change in convictions and the finest opportunity of his life. He had always been a pronounced pacifist, and but for the German invasion of Belgium he might have considered it his duty to join the tiny band of pacifist politicians, like Lord Morley and Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. Such an action would have involved a period of violent unpopularity and a serious check to personal ambition. But the violation of Belgian neutrality supplied to him as to many others a sufficient and even an honorable reason for plunging into the stream of warlike enthusiasm. Thenceforward the pacifist became the advocate of war to the extreme limit, the opponent of all negotiation, the popular champion of "a fight to a finish" and the "knock-out blow."

It was characteristic that one of his first ideas in the war was to restrain the drink traffic by a scheme of national purchase, and equally characteristic that, owing to the general opposition, he flung the scheme aside and threw himself into supplying the shortage of high explosives and shells in general. When the quarrel between Lord Fisher and Mr. Winston Churchill at the Admiralty forced Mr. Asquith to consent to a Coalition Government, Mr. Lloyd George handed over the Exchequer to Mr. Reginald McKenna (an arrangement full of future troubles), and was appointed the first Minister of Munitions. He held that office for little more than a year, but I think that year was the most vital of his life. One of his resolute detractors has written: "Mr. Lloyd George was seen at his best in his appreciation of the vast scope of the problem to be tackled, in his persistent endeavor to carry the Trade Unions with him, in his wide schemes for promoting the social welfare of his workers, in the courageous and inspiring tones in which he asked for effort and sacrifice from all."[i]

In September of that year, while we in the Dardanelles were lost in neglect and were called upon to sacrifice two of our divisions to support Mr. Lloyd George's belated idea of saving Serbia from conquest, he made a famous speech at the Queen's Hall in London, calling for a new dedication of spirit "to the great everlasting things that matter for a nation -- the great peaks of honor we had forgotten -- duty, patriotism, and, clad in glittering white, the great pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a ragged finger to heaven." There is a touch of the familiar Welsh scenery in the metaphors, and in the guise of our immense taxation that great pinnacle of sacrifice still points its ragged finger to heaven, as it will continue to point for many generations. For Mr. Lloyd George's expenditure upon munitions, camps and workmen was not merely profuse; it was utterly reckless. But perhaps he was right to disregard all future encumbrances in his one desire to defeat the enemy. At all events, if Mr. Lloyd George was "the man who won the war," it was to his labors in this year that the title is due.

Few men know the right time to die, and the few who know it do not die. But if Mr. Lloyd George had known, that was the right moment for him to disappear. His service as Minister of Munitions marked the top of his life's ladder. He still had the highest office before him, but after the summer of 1916 his character and reputation suffered some decline.

After Kitchener's tragic death, Mr. Lloyd George stepped up from the Munitions, where his success was evident, to the War Office, where he was bound to fail, partly because his head was full of amateur strategy, such as the landing at Saloniki, and partly because he was there confronted by Field Marshal Sir William Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, a proved soldier, having no patience with amateurs. It was a disastrous year, chiefly marked by the utter collapse of Rumania, and the increasing impotence of Russia.

The gloom of the situation, the appalling losses on the Somme, the threat of the submarine warfare, the obvious friction between the War Minister and the General Staff, the secret letter of Lord Lansdowne to the Cabinet suggesting that the time for negotiations had come, all gave occasion for what Mr. Asquith called "a well-organized, carefully engineered conspiracy" to get rid of him. The purpose was industriously furthered by Lord Northcliffe in the Times and the Daily Mail. Mr. Lloyd George then saw his opportunity and sprang. He proposed a War Council of three or four members, Mr. Asquith being deliberately excluded. He even resigned. He protested loyalty with tears in his eyes. One afternoon he refused the Premiership. That evening he consented, if Mr. Asquith would resign. No more treacherous insult was ever offered to a great statesman than was then offered to Mr. Asquith. As a true patriot and unselfish gentleman he quietly withdrew.

The weekly paper, the New Statesman, appeared with the heading "Had Zimri Peace?" The rest of the quotation is "Who slew is master." But the article itself was omitted and underneath the heading followed a column-and-a-half of blank. Certainly the modern Zimri had no peace. The first year of his office was the most disastrous in our history. The Russian revolution and withdrawal of the Russian army enabled the Germans to bring round vast reinforcements to the western front. The Italians were utterly defeated at Caporetto. Passchendaele ended in failure with enormous loss. Mr. Lloyd George surrounded himself with a host of young people encamped in Downing Street, sometimes known as the Garden Suburb, sometimes as the Kindergarten. He was apparently engaged in designing all manner of strategical schemes, which the professional soldiers scornfully condemned. He pinned his hopes on the French general Nivelle, the most conspicuous failure in the war. He refused reinforcements to Haig up to the very crisis of March 1918, when, simply for want of men, the thinly extended line of the 5th Army was driven back almost to Amiens.

The gradual arrival of our American allies, the unity of command under Foch as demanded by Haig, the errors of Ludendorff in his overwhelming advance, the starvation and the plague of deadly influenza in Germany, all contributed to the turning of the tide in July and August of 1918. But of the triumphant movements of Haig's forces, and especially of the 4th Army under Rawlinson, Mr. Lloyd George seems to have taken no notice, though that was the final and most decisive contest of the war. It was not in perception of the realities of war that his true capacity lay. His quarrel in the previous spring with General Sir Frederick Maurice, Director of Military Operations, who had dared to contradict Mr. Lloyd George's estimate of our forces in France, ended in the dismissal of a fine soldier and an unselfishly courageous man, and the credit did not lie on the side of the Prime Minister.

Directly after the Armistice Mr. Lloyd George set about the ruin of the old Liberal party, to which, as he pointed out, he had belonged "from the moment he was able to lisp the accents of his wild tongue." In that enterprise he was entirely successful. Stationed with the British army of occupation at Cologne, I heard of his various manœuvres in the "coupon election," when he excluded from his candidates all Liberals of Cabinet rank and all who had not supported him in his quarrel with General Maurice. He promised to bring the Kaiser to trial, to make Germany pay the whole cost of the war (which in his airy way he put at £24,000 million), to keep Britain for the British as a home for heroes, and regenerate the whole of our social system. To their credit, the Labor members withdrew from the Coalition, and joined in a feeble Opposition with the poor relics of what had been Mr. Lloyd George's own party, all their other leaders gone.

Then followed Versailles, and the sowing of dragon's teeth for the crop of future wars. I can well believe that Mr. Lloyd George set out for the Paris Conference with every intention of moderation in dealing vengeance upon a fallen enemy. But his mind was fluid. His ignorance of Europe was surpassed only by President Wilson's, and he was confronted by M. Clemenceau, whose mind was fixed and knowledge complete. Against the Frenchman's granite resolve the flighty Welshman's suggestions or pleadings beat in vain, and the curse of Versailles was laid upon this country equally with the rest of Europe. Only the United States escaped, and even the United States has not been able to stand apart from the misfortunes of the whole civilized world. When it was rumored that the Prime Minister was showing signs of reason and moderation at Versailles, a telegram from 370 of his new supporters in Parliament at once brought him home in agitation to protest that his purpose was as ruthless as ever.

After Versailles, Mr. Lloyd George assumed the Emperor. In London he withdrew more and more to the limits of his Garden Suburb in Downing Street, like one more honored the less seen. But abroad he instituted a series of royal processions to one conference after another, the greatest and the most disastrous of them being that at Genoa in 1922, when, close behind his back, the Germans and Russians concluded a secret agreement for mutual service. During those few months of personal rule he allowed Mr. Churchill to engage upon the futile and expensive interference with Russia's internal politics, he abandoned the wretched Armenians to the tender mercies of the Turks, and encouraged the Greeks to persist in their hopeless attack upon the rising Turkish power in Asia Minor and so to expose themselves to the hideous massacres at Smyrna.

But in my opinion by far the most hateful of the Prime Minister's actions at this time, or at any time, was his treatment of Ireland. I speak with knowledge, for I was in Ireland during the execution of the "reprisals" permitted to the lawless bands of the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries. The policy of reprisals during 1920 and the first half of 1921 was almost as atrocious as anything I have seen in the subject states of Turkey or in Tsarist Russia, and for that policy Mr. Lloyd George must be held responsible. It was only when his military and police agents, and his former Liberal colleagues, together with Archbishops, Cardinals, and Conservative members of his Coalition firmly protested that he suddenly abandoned the methods of barbarism and arranged the series of negotiations with leading Irishmen which at last led to the Treaty of December 6, 1921 -- a treaty according Dominion Status far beyond all previous demands of Irish leaders.

The Treaty was strongly advocated by Lord Birkenhead, as though in reparation for his violent opposition to Southern Ireland ten years before, but it was far from pleasing to other Conservatives in the Coalition. The futility of the much-advertised Conferences increased their dissatisfaction. So did the appalling disasters of the Prime Minister's Near Eastern policy -- disasters which even a private person like myself, or anyone else who had known the Turks and Greeks in war, clearly foresaw. Add the utterly shameless sale of "honors" (i.e. titles of nobility) at fixed rates organized by Mr. Lloyd George's agents for the creation of that mysterious "fund" amounting to a vast sum, and put to uses never yet openly explained. Here were plenty of reasons for a breach in any Coalition. As Mrs. Asquith (now Lady Oxford, a strongly prejudiced witness, I admit) wrote of Mr. Lloyd George and the Coalition when it began: "Neither his personal charm, infinite persuasiveness, the quick changes of an agile mind, nor his eloquent speeches on the British aristocracy had captivated the confidence of the Conservative Party."

In October 1922 they rebelled, and Mr. Lloyd George's period of supremacy suddenly ended. The election gave the Liberal Party only 55 members, and those divided among themselves. For one cause or another this remarkable man, who seemed formed by nature and upbringing to guide the progressive movement in this or any country, had brought to ruin the great historic party of progress. The ultimate reason I believe was expressed in a letter sent to Mr. Asquith (Lord Oxford) when Mr. Lloyd George refused to attend a meeting of Liberals to discuss the "General Strike" of 1926. A body of the leading Liberal members of Parliament wrote: "We have done our best in the interests of Liberalism to work with Mr. Lloyd George in the councils of the party, but we cannot feel surprised at your feeling that confidential relations are impossible with one whose instability destroys confidence."

So now, after the election of 1929, he stands as nominal leader of something under 60 in a House of 615, and most of those distrustful and disgruntled.

"Fallen cherub, to be weak is miserable, Doing or suffering." But Mr. Lloyd George, though fallen, is not exactly weak. He waits his moment to spring, and whenever he chooses to spring, down falls the present Labor Government. Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike, he sniffs at the sops held out by the Labor Ministry -- Alternative Vote, Free Trade, or what-not -- and bides his time. The Liberal Party still contains men of outstanding integrity and political wisdom -- Sir John Simon, Sir Herbert Samuel, Mr. Runciman, and others. It is a party of generals without troops, but Mr. Lloyd George remains Commander-in-Chief. He holds the balance, always threatening to turn the scale for Labor's defeat but uncertain whether he hates the Socialists of Ramsay MacDonald's party more than the Protectionists and landowners of Mr. Baldwin and the Lords. I cannot imagine that he hopes ever in his lifetime to see the party triumphant at the polls, or even running second. But he holds the power of a king-maker, though he will not again be king. He can enjoy the "Schadenfreude" of dragging down other Governments, and I can hardly doubt that he will indulge in that enjoyment within the next six months.

As for the grand old Liberal Party, once led by Gladstone, Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith, it still raises the flag of freedom in trade and in public life, but its battle cries are old-fashioned and rouse no enthusiasm. The leader may continue to pour out programs in green books, yellow books, orange books or what you will, but he is discredited, and all the works of a discredited man share his discredit. His withdrawal to the House of Lords as Lord George of Llanystumdwy would be of service to Liberalism, and he would enter that aristocratic assembly as the alarming ghost of Achilles among Trojan shades.

But one must not end with mere disparagement towards a conspicuous man when he is down. I would rather recall the words of my friend Mr. Alfred Spender, for so many years editor of the Westminster Gazette, a politician of unshakable balance and moderation, who has written in his book "The Public Life": "He dazzled by his inventiveness, his quickness, his seeming recklessness of consequences, his lavish distribution of favors, his ruthlessness in discarding unsuitable tools, his insatiable zest in the playing of political games, and his hypnotic influence over his pawns. . . . The virtues of the old school -- delicacy, dignity, patience, reticence -- were not alone sufficient to find salvation in these days. Men who rode roughshod over political precedents and scruples, and conducted politics as the soldiers waged war, played, it may be, an indispensable part. For good or evil Lloyd George appealed to the martial spirit of his countrymen as few other civilians during twenty of the most critical months of the war."

That is a queer eulogy upon a pacifist, but it is true. Mr. Lloyd George has displayed real greatness at three periods of his life: once when he confronted all the power of Joseph Chamberlain and the Imperialists during the Boer War; again when by his Budget of 1909 he started a social revolution; and finally when as Minister of Munitions he threw himself heart and soul into the enormous task of saving our army in France. Few men could hope for three finer achievements, and in fifty years the rest will be silence.

[i]"Mr. Lloyd George: a Study," by Sir Charles Mallet, p. 56.

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  • HENRY W. NEVINSON, well known as a traveller and war correspondent for various British periodicals; author of "Changes and Chances," and a long list of other works
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