THIRTY-FIVE years have passed since Sir Edward Grey left the office of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, which he had held longer than any man in Britain's history, in the middle of the world war which was the climax of his life's work for peace. It was Grey who determined the form of the French-Russian-British Entente, as it was Grey who was held responsible when the arrangements which he had made failed to restrain the Central Powers. He was pursued by a volley of abuse from a generation of critics: "weak," "stupid," "vacillating," "an amateur diplomat." Shaw's gibe set the fashion on both sides of the Atlantic: "an incompetent Machiavelli."
Events disposed of the abuse. The generation of the twenties condemned Grey for failure to maintain British neutrality in the First World War; in that era of debunking, "the German menace" became the favorite myth. Even so able an historian as Harold Nicolson found the Germans under Hindenburg and Ludendorff merely rather admirable Elizabethans. In due course Hitler's demonstration of what German domination of Europe actually meant put an end to this interpretation, and the publication of G. M. Trevelyan's biography, "Grey of Fallodon," on the eve of the Second World War, gave us Grey at his full stature. Nevertheless, history seems still to treat Grey paradoxically. Though his political judgment was in important respects more penetrating than that of any major statesman of his time, and the fineness of his character is everywhere generously recognized, who names this Foreign Minister "great"?
Edward Grey was drawn into the field of foreign relations by his appointment as Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord Rosebery, in Gladstone's Ministry of 1892. He was 30. He had earlier served as Private Secretary to Sir Evelyn Baring (later the famous colonial administrator, Lord Cromer) and then to H. C. E. Childers, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The brilliantly-gifted Rosebery, then engaged in a sharp inter-party conflict with the Little Englanders among the
Loading, please wait...