Man and Empire-Maker
PRINCESS CATHERINE RADZIWILL (CATHERINE KOLB-DANVIN)
With Eight Photogravure Plates
Cassell & Company, Ltd London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne
1. CECIL RHODES AND SIR ALFRED MILNER 1 2. THE FOUNDATIONS OF FORTUNE 17 3. A COMPLEX PERSONALITY 28 4. MRS. VAN KOOPMAN 40 5. RHODES AND THE RAID 50 6. THE AFTERMATH OF THE RAID 69 7. RHODES AND THE AFRIKANDER BOND 82 8. THE INFLUENCE OF SIR ALFRED MILNER 104 9. THE OPENING OF THE NEW CENTURY 120 10. AN ESTIMATE OF SIR ALFRED MILNER 130 11. CROSS CURRENTS 144 12. THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS 157 13. THE PRISONERS' CAMPS 170 14. IN FLIGHT FROM THE RAND 191 15. DEALING WITH THE REFUGEES 202 16. UNDER MARTIAL LAW 214 CONCLUSION INDEX
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THE RT. HON. CECIL RHODES Frontispiece
THE RT. HON. W.P. SCHREINER 32 PRESIDENT KRUGER 68 THE HON. J.H. HOFMEYR 86 THE RT. HON. SIR W.F. HELY-HUTCHINSON 98 VISCOUNT MILNER 132 THE RT. HON. SIR LEANDER STARR JAMESON 148 THE RT. HON. SIR JOHN GORDON SPRIGG 224
The recent death of Sir Starr Jameson reminded the public of the South African War, which was such an engrossing subject to the British public at the close of the 'nineties and the first years of the present century. Yet though it may seem quite out of date to reopen the question when so many more important matters occupy attention, the relationship between South Africa and England is no small matter. It has also had its influence on actual events, if only by proving to the world the talent which Great Britain has displayed in the administration of her vast Colonies and the tact with which British statesmen have contrived to convert their foes of the day before into friends, sincere, devoted and true.
No other country in the world could have achieved such a success as did England in the complicated and singularly difficult task of making itself popular among nations whose independence it had destroyed.
The secret of this wonderful performance lies principally in the care which England has exercised to secure the welfare of the annexed population, and to do nothing likely to keep them in remembrance of the subordinate position into which they had been reduced. England never crushes those whom it subdues. Its inbred talent for colonisation has invariably led it along the right path in regard to its colonial development. Even in cases where Britain made the weight of its rule rather heavy for the people whom it had conquered, there still developed among them a desire to remain federated to the British Empire, and also a conviction that union, though it might be unpleasant to their personal feelings and sympathies, was, after all, the best thing which could have happened to them in regard to their material interests.
Prosperity has invariably attended British rule wherever it has found scope to develop itself, and at the present hour British patriotism is far more demonstrative in India, Australia or South Africa than it is in England itself. The sentiments thus strongly expressed impart a certain zealotism to their feelings, which constitutes a strong link with the Mother Country. In any hour of national danger or calamity this trait provides her with the enthusiastic help of her children from across the seas.
The Englishman, generally quiet at home and even subdued in the presence of strangers, is exuberant in the Colonies; he likes to shout his patriotism upon every possible occasion, even when it would be better to refrain. It is an aggressive patriotism which sometimes is quite uncouth in its manifestations, but it is real patriotism, disinterested and devoid of any mercenary or personal motives.
It is impossible to know what England is if one has not had the opportunity of visiting her Dominions oversea. It is just as impossible to judge of Englishmen when one has only seen them at home amid the comforts of the easy and pleasant existence which one enjoys in Merrie England, and only there. It is not the country Squires, whose homes are such a definite feature of English life; nor the aristocratic members of the Peerage, with their influence and their wealth; nor even the political men who sit in St. Stephen's, who have spread abroad the fame and might and power of England. But it is these modest pioneers of "nations yet to be" who, in the wilds and deserts of South Africa, Australia and Asia, have demonstrated the realities of English civilisation and the English spirit of freedom.
In the hour of danger we have seen all these members of the great Mother Country rush to its help. The spectacle has been an inspiring one, and in the case of South Africa especially it has been unique, inasmuch as it has been predicted far and wide that the memory of the Boer War would never die out, and that loyalty to Great Britain would never be found in the vast African veldt. Facts have belied this rash assertion, and the world has seldom witnessed a more impressive vindication of the triumph of true Imperialism than that presented by Generals Botha and Smuts. As the leader of a whole nation, General Botha defended its independence against aggression, yet became the faithful, devoted servant and the true adherent of the people whom he had fought a few years before, putting at their disposal the weight of his powerful personality and the strength of his influence over his partisans and countrymen. CATHERINE RADZIWILL. December, 1917.
CECIL RHODES AND SIR ALFRED MILNER
The conquest of South Africa is one of the most curious episodes in English history. Begun through purely mercenary motives, it yet acquired a character of grandeur which, as time went on, divested it of all sordid and unworthy suspicions. South Africa has certainly been the land of adventurers, and many of them found there either fame or disgrace, unheard-of riches or the most abject poverty, power or humiliation. At the same time the Colony has had amongst its rulers statesmen of unblemished reputation and high honour, administrators of rare integrity, and men who saw beyond the fleeting interests of the hour into the far more important vista of the future.
When President Kruger was at its head the Transvaal Republic would have crumbled under the intrigues of some of its own citizens. The lust for riches which followed upon the discovery of the goldfields had, too, a drastic effect. The Transvaal was bound to fall into the hands of someone, and to be that Someone fell to the lot of England. This was a kindly throw of Fate, because England alone could administer all the wealth of the region without its becoming a danger, not only to the community at large, but also to the Transvaalers.
That this is so can be proved by the eloquence of facts rather than by words. It is sufficient to look upon what South Africa was twenty-five years ago, and upon what it has become since under the protection of British rule, to be convinced of the truth of my assertion. From a land of perennial unrest and perpetual strife it has been transformed into a prosperous and quiet colony, absorbed only in the thought of its economic and commercial progress. Its population, which twenty years ago was wasting its time and energy in useless wrangles, stands to-day united to the Mother Country and absorbed by the sole thought of how best to prove its devotion.
The Boer War has still some curious issues of which no notice has been taken by the public at large. One of the principal, perhaps indeed the most important of these, is that, though brought about by material ambitions of certain people, it ended by being fought against these very same people, and that its conclusion eliminated them from public life instead of adding to their influence and their power. The result is certainly a strange and an interesting one, but it is easily explained if one takes into account the fact that once England as a nation—and not as the nation to which belonged the handful of adventurers through whose intrigues the war was brought about—entered into the possession of the Transvaal and organised the long-talked-of Union of South Africa, the country started a normal existence free from the unhealthy symptoms which had hindered its progress. It became a useful member of the vast British Empire, as well as a prosperous country enjoying a good government, and launched itself upon a career it could never have entered upon but for the war. Destructive as it was, the Boer campaign was not a war of annihilation. On the contrary, without it it would have been impossible for the vast South African territories to become federated into a Union of its own and at the same time to take her place as a member of another Empire from which it derived its prosperity and its welfare. The grandeur of England and the soundness of its leaders has never come out in a more striking manner than in this conquest of South Africa—a blood-stained conquest which has become a love match.
During the concluding years of last century the possibility of union was seldom taken into consideration; few, indeed, were clever enough and wise enough to find out that it was bound to take place as a natural consequence of the South African War. The war cleared the air all over South Africa. It crushed and destroyed all the suspicious, unhealthy elements that had gathered around the gold mines of the Transvaal and the diamond fields of Cape Colony. It dispersed the coterie of adventurers who had hastened there with the intention of becoming rapidly rich at the expense of the inhabitants of the country. A few men had succeeded in building for themselves fortunes beyond the dreams of avarice, whilst the majority contrived to live more or less well at the expense of those naive enough to trust to them in financial matters until the day when the war arrived to put an end to their plunderings.
The struggle into which President Kruger was compelled to rush was expected by some of the powerful intriguers in South Africa to result in increasing the influence of certain of the millionaires, who up to the time when the war broke out had ruled the Transvaal and indirectly the Cape Colony by the strength and importance of their riches. Instead, it weakened and then destroyed their power. Without the war South Africa would have grown more wicked, and matters there were bound soon to come to a crisis of some sort. The crux of the situation was whether this crisis was going to be brought about by a few unscrupulous people for their own benefit, or was to arise in consequence of the clever and far-seeing policy of wise politicians.
Happily for England, and I shall even say happily for the world at large, such a politician was found in the person of the then Sir Alfred Milner, who worked unselfishly toward the grand aim his far-sighted Imperialism saw in the distance.
History will give Viscount Milner—as he is to-day—the place which is due to him. His is indeed a great figure; he was courageous enough, sincere enough, and brave enough to give an account of the difficulties of the task he had accepted. His experience of Colonial politics was principally founded on what he had seen and studied when in Egypt and in India, which was a questionable equipment in the entirely new areas he was called upon to administer when he landed in Table Bay. Used to Eastern shrewdness and Eastern duplicity, he had not had opportunity to fight against the unscrupulousness of men who were neither born nor brought up in the country, but who had grown to consider it as their own, and exploited its resources not only to the utmost, but also to the detriment of the principles of common honesty.
The reader must not take my words as signifying a sweeping condemnation of the European population of South Africa. On the contrary, there existed in that distant part of the world many men of great integrity, high principles and unsullied honour who would never, under any condition whatsoever, have lent themselves to mean or dishonest action; men who held up high their national flag, and who gave the natives a splendid example of all that an Englishman could do or perform when called upon to maintain the reputation of his Mother Country abroad.
Some of the early English settlers have left great remembrance of their useful activity in the matter of the colonisation of the new continent to which they had emigrated, and their descendants, of whom I am happy to say there are a great number, have not shown themselves in any way unworthy of their forbears. South Africa has its statesmen and politicians who, having been born there, understand perfectly well its necessities and its wants. Unfortunately, for a time their voices were crushed by the new-comers who had invaded the country, and who considered themselves better able than anyone else to administer its affairs. They brought along with them fresh, strange ambitions, unscrupulousness, determination to obtain power for the furtherance of their personal aims, and a greed which the circumstances in which they found themselves placed was bound to develop into something even worse than a vice, because it made light of human life as well as of human property.
In any judgment on South Africa one must never forget that, after all, before the war did the work of a scavenger it was nothing else but a vast mining camp, with all its terrifying moods, its abject defects, and its indifference with regard to morals and to means. The first men who began to exploit the riches of that vast territory contrived in a relatively easy way to build up their fortunes upon a solid basis, but many of their followers, eager to walk in their steps, found difficulties upon which they had not reckoned or even thought about. In order to put them aside they used whatever means lay in their power, without hesitation as to whether these answered to the principles of honesty and straightforwardness. Their ruthless conduct was so far advantageous to their future schemes that it inspired disgust among those whose ancestors had sought a prosperity founded on hard work and conscientious toil. These good folk retired from the field, leaving it free to the adventurers who were to give such a bad name to England and who boasted loudly that they had been given full powers to do what they liked in the way of conquering a continent which, but for them, would have been only too glad to place itself under English protection and English rule. To these people, and to these alone, were due all the antagonisms which at last brought about the Boer War.
It was with these people that Sir Alfred Milner found himself out of harmony; from the first moment that he had set his foot on African soil they tried to put difficulties in his way, after they had convinced themselves that he would never consent to lend himself to their schemes.
Lord Milner has never belonged to the class of men who allow themselves to be influenced either by wealth or by the social position of anyone. He is perhaps one of the best judges of humanity it has been my fortune to meet, and though by no means an unkind judge, yet a very fair one. Intrigue is repulsive to him, and unless I am very much mistaken I venture to affirm that, in the 'nineties, because of the intrigues in which they indulged, he grew to loathe some of the men with whom he was thrown into contact. Yet he could not help seeing that these reckless speculators controlled public opinion in South Africa, and his political instinct compelled him to avail himself of their help, as without them he would not have been able to arrive at a proper understanding of the entanglements and complications of South African politics.
Previous to Sir Alfred's appointment as Governor of the Cape of Good Hope the office had been filled by men who, though of undoubted integrity and high standing, were yet unable to gauge the volume of intrigue with which they had to cope from those who had already established an iron—or, rather, golden—rule in South Africa.
Coteries of men whose sole aim was the amassing of quick fortunes were virtual rulers of Cape Colony, with more power than the Government to whom they simulated submission. All sorts of weird stories were in circulation. One popular belief was that the mutiny of the Dutch in Cape Colony just before the Boer War was at bottom due to the influence of money. This was followed by a feeling that, but for the aggressive operations of the outpost agents of certain commercial magnates, it would have been possible for England to realise the Union of South Africa by peaceful means instead of the bloody arbitrament of war.
In the minds of many Dutchmen—and Dutchmen who were sincerely patriotic Transvaalers—the conviction was strong that the natural capabilities of Boers did not lie in the direction of developing, as they could be, the amazing wealth-producing resources of the Transvaal and of the Orange Free State. By British help alone, such men believed, could their country hope to thrive as it ought.
Here, then, was the nucleus around which the peaceful union of Boer and English peoples in South Africa could be achieved without bloodshed. Indeed, had Queen Victoria been represented at the Cape by Sir Alfred Milner ten years before he was appointed Governor there, many things which had a disastrous influence on the Dutch elements in South Africa would not have occurred. The Jameson Raid would certainly not have been planned and attempted. To this incident can be ascribed much of the strife and unpleasantness which followed, by which was lost to the British Government the chance, then fast ripening, of bringing about without difficulty a reconciliation of Dutch and English all over South Africa. This reconciliation would have been achieved through Cecil Rhodes, and would have been a fitting crown to a great career.
At one time the most popular man from the Zambesi to Table Mountain, the name of Cecil Rhodes was surrounded by that magic of personal power without which it is hardly possible for any conqueror to obtain the material or moral successes that give him a place in history; that win for him the love, the respect, and sometimes the hatred, of his contemporaries. Sir Alfred Milner would have known how to make the work of Cecil Rhodes of permanent value to the British Empire. It was a thousand pities that when Sir Alfred Milner took office in South Africa the influence of Cecil Rhodes, at one time politically dominant, had so materially shrunk as a definitive political factor.
Sir Alfred Milner found himself in the presence of a position already compromised beyond redemption, and obliged to fight against evils which ought never to have been allowed to develop. Even at that time, however, it would have been possible for Sir Alfred Milner to find a way of disposing of the various difficulties connected with English rule in South Africa had he been properly seconded by Mr. Rhodes. Unfortunately for both of them, their antagonism to each other, in their conception of what ought or ought not to be done in political matters, was further aggravated by intrigues which tended to keep Rhodes apart from the Queen's High Commissioner in South Africa.
It would not at all have suited certain people had Sir Alfred contrived to acquire a definite influence over Mr. Rhodes, and assuredly this would have happened had the two men have been allowed unhindered to appreciate the mental standard of each other. Mr. Rhodes was at heart a sincere patriot, and it was sufficient to make an appeal to his feelings of attachment to his Mother Country to cause him to look at things from that point of view. Had there existed any real intimacy between Groote Schuur and Government House at Cape Town, the whole course of South African politics might have been very different.
Sir Alfred Milner arrived in Cape Town with a singularly free and unbiased mind, determined not to allow other people's opinions to influence his own, and also to use all the means at his disposal to uphold the authority of the Queen without entering into conflict with anyone. He had heard a deal about the enmity of English and Dutch, but though he perfectly well realised its cause he had made up his mind to examine the situation for himself. He was not one of those who thought that the raid alone was responsible; he knew very well that this lamentable affair had only fanned into an open blaze years-long smoulderings of discontent. The Raid had been a consequence, not an isolated spontaneous act. Little by little over a long span of years the ambitious and sordid overridings of various restless, and too often reckless, adventurers had come to be considered as representative of English rule, English opinions and, what was still more unfortunate, England's personality as an Empire and as a nation.
On the other side of the matter, the Dutch—who were inconceivably ignorant—thought their little domain the pivot of the world. Blind to realities, they had no idea of the legitimate relative comparison between the Transvaal and the British Empire, and so grew arrogantly oppressive in their attitude towards British settlers and the powers at Cape Town.
All this naturally tinctured native feeling. Suspicion was fostered among the tribes, guns and ammunition percolated through Boer channels, the blacks viewed with disdain the friendly advances made by the British, and the atmosphere was thick with mutual distrust. The knowledge that this was the situation could not but impress painfully a delicate and proud mind, and surely Lord Milner can be forgiven for the illusion which he at one time undoubtedly cherished that he would be able to dispel this false notion about his Mother Country that pervaded South Africa.
The Governor had not the least animosity against the Dutch, and at first the Boers had no feeling that Sir Alfred was prejudiced against them. Such a thought was drilled into their minds by subtle and cunning people who, for their own avaricious ends, desired to estrange the High Commissioner from the Afrikanders. Sir Alfred was represented as a tyrannical, unscrupulous man, whose one aim in life was the destruction of every vestige of Dutch independence, Dutch self-government and Dutch influence in Africa. Those who thus maligned him applied themselves to make him unpopular and to render his task so very uncongenial and unpleasant for him that he would at last give it up of his own accord, or else become the object of such violent hatreds that the Home Government would feel compelled to recall him. Thus they would be rid of the presence of a personage possessed of a sufficient energy to oppose them, and they would no longer need to fear his observant eyes. Sir Alfred Milner saw himself surrounded by all sorts of difficulties, and every attempt he made to bring forward his own plans for the settlement of the South African question crumbled to the ground almost before he could begin to work at it. Small wonder, therefore, if he felt discouraged and began to form a false opinion concerning the persons or the facts with whom he had to deal. Those who might have helped him were constrained, without it being his fault. Mr. Rhodes became persuaded that the new Governor of Cape Colony had arrived there with preconceived notions in regard to himself. He was led to believe that Milner's firm determination was to crush him; that, moreover, he was jealous of him and of the work he had done in South Africa.
Incredible as it appears, Rhodes believed this absurd fiction, and learned to look upon Sir Alfred Milner as a natural enemy, desirous of thwarting him at every step. The Bloemfontein Conference, at which the brilliant qualities and the conciliating spirit of the new Governor of Cape Colony were first made clearly manifest, was represented to Rhodes as a desire to present him before the eyes of the Dutch as a negligible quantity in South Africa. Rhodes was strangely susceptible and far too mindful of the opinions of people of absolutely no importance. He fell into the snare, and though he was careful to hide from the public his real feelings in regard to Sir Alfred Milner, yet it was impossible for anyone who knew him well not to perceive at once that he had made up his mind not to help the High Commissioner. There is such a thing as damning praise, and Rhodes poured a good deal of it on the head of Sir Alfred.
Fortunately, Sir Alfred was sufficiently conscious of the rectitude of his intentions and far too superior to feelings of petty spite. He never allowed himself to be troubled by these unpleasantnesses, but went on his way without giving his enemies the pleasure of noticing the measure of success which, unhappily, attended their campaign. He remained inflexible in his conduct, and, disdaining any justification, went on doing what he thought was right, and which was right, as events proved subsequently. Although Milner had at last to give up, yet it is very largely due to him that the South African Union was ultimately constituted, and that the much-talked-of reconciliation of the Dutch and English in Cape Colony and in the Transvaal became an accomplished fact. Had Sir Alfred been listened to from the very beginning it might have taken place sooner, and perhaps the Boer War altogether avoided.
It is a curious thing that England's colonising powers, which are so remarkable, took such a long time to work their way in South Africa. At least it would have been a curious thing if one did not remember that among the first white men who arrived there Englishmen were much in the minority. And of those Englishmen who were attracted by the enormous mineral wealth which the country contained, a good proportion were not of the best class of English colonists. Many a one who landed in Table Bay was an adventurer, drawn thither by the wish to make or retrieve his fortune. Few came, as did Rhodes, in search of health, and few, again, were drawn thither by the pure love of adventure. In Australia, or in New Zealand or other colonies, people arrived with the determination to begin a new life and to create for themselves new ties, new occupations, new duties, so as to leave to their children after them the result of their labours. In South Africa it was seldom that emigrants were animated by the desire to make their home in the solitudes of the vast and unexplored veldt. Those who got rich there, though they may have built for themselves splendid houses while they dwelt in the land, never looked upon South Africa as home, but aspired to spend their quickly gained millions in London and to forget all about Table Mountain or the shafts and factories of Johannesburg and Kimberley.
To such men as these England was a pretext but never a symbol. Their strange conception of patriotism jarred the most unpleasantly on the straightforward nature of Sir Alfred Milner, who had very quickly discerned the egotism that lay concealed beneath its cloak. He understood what patriotism meant, what love for one's own country signified. He had arrived in South Africa determined to spare neither his person nor his strength in her service, and the man who was repeatedly accused both by the Dutch and by the English party in the Colony of labouring under a misconception of its real political situation was the one who had from the very first appreciated it as it deserved, and had recognised its damning as well as its redeeming points.
Sir Alfred meant South Africa to become a member of the British Empire, to participate in its greatness, and to enjoy the benefits of its protection. He had absolutely no idea of exasperating the feelings of the Dutch part of its population. He had the best intentions in regard to President Kruger himself, and there was one moment, just at the time of the Bloemfontein Conference, when a modus vivendi between President Kruger and the Court of St. James's might have been established, notwithstanding the difficult question of the Uitlanders. It was frustrated by none other than these very Uitlanders, who, fondly believing that a war with England would establish them as absolute masters in the Gold Fields, brought it about, little realising that thereby was to be accomplished the one thing which they dreaded—the firm, just and far-seeing rule of England over all South Africa.
In a certain sense the Boer War was fought just as much against financiers as against President Kruger. It put an end to the arrogance of both.
THE FOUNDATIONS OF FORTUNE
It is impossible to speak of South Africa without awarding to Cecil Rhodes the tribute which unquestionably is due to his strong personality. Without him it is possible that the vast territory which became so thoroughly associated with his name and with his life would still be without political importance. Without him it is probable that both the Diamond Fields to which Kimberley owes its prosperity and the Gold Fields which have won for the Transvaal its renown would never have risen above the importance of those of Brazil or California or Klondyke.
It was Rhodes who first conceived the thought of turning all these riches into a political instrument and of using it to the advantage of his country—the England to which he remained so profoundly attached amid all the vicissitudes of his life, and to whose possessions he was so eager to add.
Cecil Rhodes was ambitious in a grand, strange manner which made a complete abstraction of his own personality under certain conditions, but which in other circumstances made him violent, brutal in manner, thereby procuring enemies without number and detractors without end. His nature was something akin to that of the Roman Emperors in its insensate desire to exercise unchallenged an unlimited power. Impatient of restraint, no matter in what shape it presented itself, he brooked no resistance to his schemes; his rage against contradiction, and his opposition to any independence of thought or action on the part of those who were around him, brought about a result of which he would have been the first to complain, had he suspected it—that of allowing him to execute all his fancies and of giving way to all his resentments. Herein lies the reason why so many of his schemes fell through. This unfortunate trait also thrust him very often into the hands of those who were clever enough to exploit it, and who, more often than proved good to Rhodes' renown, suggested to him their own schemes and encouraged him to appropriate them as his own. He had a very quick way of catching hold of any suggestions that tallied with his sympathies or echoed any of his secret thoughts or aspirations.
Yet withal Rhodes was a great soul, and had he only been left to himself, or made longer sojourns in England, had he understood English political life more clearly, had he had to grapple with the difficulties which confront public existence in his Mother Country, he would most certainly have done far greater things. He found matters far too easy for him at first, and the obstacles which he encountered very often proved either of a trivial or else of a removable nature—by fair means or methods less commendable. A mining camp is not a school of morality, and just as diamonds lose of their value in the estimation of those who continually handle them, as is the case in Kimberley, so integrity and honour come to be looked upon from a peculiar point of view according to the code of the majority.
Then again, it must not be forgotten that the first opponents of Cecil Rhodes were black men, of whom the European always has the conception that they are not his equals. It is likely that if, instead of Lobengula, he had found before him a European chief or monarch, Rhodes would have acted differently than history credits him to have done toward the dusky sovereign. It is impossible to judge of facts of which one has had no occasion to watch the developments, or which have taken place in lands where one has never been. Neither Fernando Cortez in Mexico nor Pizzaro Gonzalo in Peru proved themselves merciful toward the populations whose territory they conquered. The tragedy which sealed the fate of Matabeleland was neither a darker nor a more terrible one than those of which history speaks when relating to us the circumstances attending the discovery of America. Such events must be judged objectively and forgiven accordingly. When forming an opinion on the doings and achievements of Cecil Rhodes one must make allowance for all the temptations which were thrown in his way and remember that he was a man who, if ambitious, was not so in a personal sense, but in a large, lofty manner, and who, whilst appropriating to himself the good things which he thought he could grasp, was also eager to make others share the profit of his success.
Cecil Rhodes, in all save name, was monarch over a continent almost as vast as his own fancy and imagination. He was always dreaming, always lost in thoughts which were wandering far beyond his actual surroundings, carrying him into regions where the common spirit of mankind seldom travelled. He was born for far better things than those which he ultimately attained, but he did not belong to the century in which he lived; his ruthless passions of anger and arrogance were more fitted for an earlier and cruder era. Had he possessed any disinterested friends capable of rousing the better qualities that slumbered beneath his apparent cynicism and unscrupulousness, most undoubtedly he would have become the most remarkable individual in his generation. Unfortunately, he found himself surrounded by creatures absolutely inferior to himself, whose deficiencies he was the first to notice, whom he despised either for their insignificance or for their mental and moral failings, but to whose influence he nevertheless succumbed.
When Cecil Rhodes arrived at Kimberley he was a mere youth. He had come to South Africa in quest of health and because he had a brother already settled there, Herbert Rhodes, who was later on to meet with a terrible fate. Cecil, if one is to believe what one hears from those who knew him at the time, was a shy youth, of a retiring disposition, whom no one could ever have suspected would develop into the hardy, strong man he became in time. He was constantly sick, and more than once was on the point of falling a victim of the dreaded fever which prevails all over South Africa and then was far more virulent in its nature than it is to-day. Kimberley at that time was still a vast solitude, with here and there a few scattered huts of corrugated iron occupied by the handful of colonists. Water was rare: it is related, indeed, that the only way to get a wash was to use soda water.
The beginning of Rhodes' fortune, if we are to believe what we are told, was an ice machine which he started in partnership with another settler. The produce they sold to their companions at an exorbitant price, but not for long; whereafter the enterprising young man proceeded to buy some plots of ground, of whose prolificacy in diamonds he had good reason to be aware. It must be here remarked that Rhodes was never a poor man; he could indulge in experiments as to his manner of investing his capital. And he was not slow to take advantage of this circumstance. Kimberley was a wild place at that time, and its distance from the civilised world, as well as the fact that nothing was controlled by public opinion, helped some to amass vast fortunes and put the weaker into the absolute power of the most unscrupulous. It is to the honour of Rhodes that, however he might have been tempted, he never listened to the advice which was given to him to do what the others did, and to despoil the men whose property he might have desired to acquire. He never gave way to the excesses of his daily companions, nor accepted their methods of enriching themselves at top speed so as soon to be able to return home with their gains.
From the first moment that he set foot on African soil Rhodes succumbed to the strange charm the country offers for thinkers and dreamers. His naturally languid temperament found a source of untold satisfaction in watching the Southern Cross rise over the vast veldt where scarcely man's foot had trod, where the immensity of its space was equalled by its sublime, quiet grandeur. He liked to spend the night in the open air, gazing at the innumerable stars and listening to the voice of the desert, so full of attractions for those who have grown to discern somewhat of Nature's hidden joys and sorrows. South Africa became for him a second Motherland, and one which seemed to him to be more hospitable to his temperament than the land of his birth. In South Africa he felt he could find more satisfaction and more enjoyment than in England, whose conventionalities did not appeal to his rebellious, unsophisticated heart. He liked to roam about in an old coat and wideawake hat; to forget that civilisation existed; to banish from his mind all memory of cities where man must bow down to Mrs. Grundy and may not defy, unscathed, certain well-defined prejudices.
Yet Cecil Rhodes neither cared for convention nor custom. His motto was to do what he liked and not to trouble about the judgments of the crowd. He never, however, lived up to this last part of his profession because, as I have shown already, he was keenly sensitive to praise and to blame, and hurt to the heart whenever he thought himself misjudged or condemned. Most of his mistakes proceeded from this over-sensitiveness which, in a certain sense, hardened him, inasmuch as it made him vindictive against those from whom he did not get the approval for which he yearned. In common with many another, too, Cecil Rhodes had that turn of mind which harbours resentment against anyone who has scored a point against its possessor. After the Jameson Raid Rhodes never forgave Mr. Schreiner for having found out his deceit, and tried to be revenged.
Cecil Rhodes had little sympathy with other people's woes unless these found an echo in his own, and the callousness which he so often displayed was not entirely the affectation it was thought by his friends or even by his enemies. Great in so many things, there were circumstances when he could show himself unutterably small, and he seldom practised consistency. Frank by nature, he was an adept at dissimulation when he thought that his personal interest required it. But he could "face the music," however discordant, and, unfortunately for him as well as for his memory, it was often so.
The means by which Cecil Rhodes contrived to acquire so unique a position in South Africa would require volumes to relate. Wealth alone could not have done so, nor could it have assured for him the popularity which he gained, not only among the European colonists, but also among the coloured people, notwithstanding the ruthlessness which he displayed in regard to them. There were millionaires far richer than himself in Kimberley and in Johannesburg. Alfred Beit, to mention only one, could dispose of a much larger capital than Rhodes ever possessed, but this did not give him an influence that could be compared with that of his friend, and not even the Life Governorship of De Beers procured for him any other fame than that of being a fabulously rich man. Barney Barnato and Joel were also familiar figures in the circle of wealthy speculators who lived under the shade of Table Mountain; but none among these men, some of whom were also remarkable in their way, could effect a tenth or even a millionth part of what Rhodes succeeded in performing. His was the moving spirit, without whom these men could never have conceived, far less done, all that they did. It was the magic of Rhodes' name which created that formidable organisation called the De Beers Company; which annexed to the British Empire the vast territory known now by the name of Rhodesia; and which attracted to the gold fields of Johannesburg all those whom they were to enrich or to ruin. Without the association and glamour of Rhodes' name, too, this area could never have acquired the political importance it possessed in the few years which preceded, and covered, the Boer War. Rhodes' was the mind which, after bringing about the famous Amalgamation of the diamond mines around Kimberley, then conceived the idea of turning a private company into a political instrument of a power which would control public opinion and public life all over South Africa more effectually even than the Government. This organisation had its own agents and spies and kept up a wide system of secret service. Under the pretext of looking out for diamond thieves, these emissaries in reality made it their duty to report on the private opinions and doings of those whose personality inspired distrust or apprehension.
This organisation was more a dictatorship than anything else, and had about it something at once genial and Mephistophelian. The conquest of Rhodesia was nothing in comparison with the power attained by this combine, which arrogated to itself almost unchallenged the right to domineer over every white man and to subdue every coloured one in the whole of the vast South African Continent. Rhodesia, indeed, was only rendered possible through the power wielded in Cape Colony to bring the great Northward adventure to a successfully definite issue.
In referring to Rhodesia, I am reminded of a curious fact which, so far as I am aware, has never been mentioned in any of the biographies of Mr. Rhodes, but which, on the contrary, has been carefully concealed from the public knowledge by his admirers and his satellites. The concession awarded by King Lobengula to Rhodes and to the few men who together with him took it upon themselves to add this piece of territory to the British Empire had, in reality, already been given by the dusky monarch—long before the ambitions of De Beers had taken that direction—to a Mr. Sonnenberg, a German Jew who had very quickly amassed a considerable fortune in various speculations. This Mr. Sonnenberg—who was subsequently to represent the Dutch party in the Cape Parliament, and who became one of the foremost members of the Afrikander Bond—during one of his journeys into the interior of the country from Basutoland, where he resided for some time, had taken the opportunity of a visit to Matabeleland to obtain a concession from the famous Lobengula. This covered the same ground and advantages which, later, were granted to Mr. Rhodes and his business associates.
Owing in some measure to negligence and partly through the impossibility of raising the enormous capital necessary to make anything profitable out of the concession, Mr. Sonnenberg had put the document into his drawer without troubling any more about it. Subsequently, when Matabeleland came into possession of the Chartered Company, Mr. Sonnenberg ventured to speak mildly of his own concession, and the matter was mentioned to Mr. Rhodes. The latter's reply was typical: "Tell the —— fool that if he was fool enough to lose this chance of making money he ought to take the consequences of it." And Mr. Sonnenberg had to content himself with this reply. Being a wise man in his generation he was clever enough to ignore the incident, and, realising the principle that might is stronger than right, he never again attempted to dispute the title of Cecil John Rhodes to the conquest which he had made, and, as I believe, pushed prudence to the extent of consigning his own concession to the flames. He knew but too well what his future prosperity would have been worth had he remembered the document.
A COMPLEX PERSONALITY
Rhodesia and its annexation was but the development of a vast scheme of conquest that had its start in the wonderful brain of the individual who by that time had become to be spoken of as the greatest man South Africa had ever known. Long before this Cecil Rhodes had entered political life as member of the Cape Parliament. He stood for the province of Barkly West, and his election, which was violently contested, made him master of this constituency for the whole of his political career. The entry into politics gave a decided aim to his ambitions and inspired him to a new activity, directing his wonderful organising faculties toward other than financial victories and instilling within him the desire to make for himself a name not solely associated with speculation, but one which would rank with those great Englishmen who had carried far and wide British renown and spread the fame of their Mother Country across the seas.
Rhodes' ambitions were not as unselfish as those of Clive, to mention only that one name. He thought far more of himself than of his native land in the hours when he meditated on all the advantages which he might obtain from a political career. He saw the way to become at last absolutely free to give shape to his dreams of conquest, and to hold under his sway the vast continent which he had insensibly come to consider as his private property. And by this I do not mean Rhodesia only—which he always spoke of as "My country"—but he also referred to Cape Colony in the same way. With one distinction, however, which was remarkable: he called it "My old country," thus expressing his conviction that the new one possessed all his affections. It is probable that, had time and opportunity been granted him to bring into execution his further plans, thereby to establish himself at Johannesburg and at Pretoria as firmly as he had done at Kimberley and Buluwayo, the latter townships would have come to occupy the same secondary importance in his thoughts as that which Cape Colony had assumed. Mr. Rhodes may have had a penchant for old clothes, but he certainly preferred new countries to ones already explored. To give Rhodes his due, he was not the money-grubbing man one would think, judging by his companions. He was constantly planning, constantly dreaming of wider areas to conquer and to civilise. The possession of gold was for him a means, not an aim; he appreciated riches for the power they produced to do absolutely all that he wished, but not for the boast of having so many millions standing to his account at a bank. He meant to become a king in his way, and a king he unquestionably was for a time at least, until his own hand shattered his throne.
His first tenure of the Cape Premiership was most successful, and even during the second term his popularity went on growing until the fatal Jameson Raid—an act of folly which nothing can explain, nothing can excuse. Until it broke his political career, transforming him from the respected statesman whom every party in South Africa looked up to into a kind of broken idol never more to be trusted, Rhodes had enjoyed the complete confidence of the Dutch party. They fully believed he was the only man capable of effecting the Union which at that time was already considered to be indispensable to the prosperity of South Africa. Often he had stood up for their rights as the oldest settlers and inhabitants of the country. Even in the Transvaal, notwithstanding the authority wielded then by President Kruger, the populace would gladly have taken advantage of his services and of his experience to help them settle favourably their everlasting quarrels with the Uitlanders, as the English colonists were called.
Had Cecil Rhodes but had the patience to wait, and had he cared to enter into the details of a situation, the intricacies of which none knew better than he, it is probable that the annexation of the Transvaal to the British Empire would have taken place as a matter of course and the Boer War would never have broken out. Rhodes was not only popular among the Dutch, but also enjoyed their confidence, and it is no secret that he had courted them to the extent of exciting the suspicions of the ultra-English party, the Jingo elements of which had openly accused him of plotting with the Dutch against the authority of Queen Victoria and of wishing to get himself elected Life President of a Republic composed of the various South African States, included in which would be Cape Colony, and perhaps even Natal, in spite of the preponderance of the English element there.
That Rhodes might have achieved such a success is scarcely to be doubted, and personally I feel sure that there had been moments in his life when the idea of it had seriously occurred to him. At least I was led to think so in the course of a conversation which we had together on this subject a few weeks before the Boer War broke out. At that moment Rhodes knew that war was imminent, but it would be wrong to interpret that knowledge in the sense that he had ever thought of or planned rebellion against the Queen. Those who accused him of harbouring the idea either did not know him or else wished to harm him. Rhodes was essentially an Englishman, and set his own country above everything else in the world. Emphatically this is so; but it is equally true that his strange conceptions of morality in matters where politics came into question made him totally oblivious of the fact that he thought far more of his own self than of his native land in the plans which he conceived and formulated for the supremacy of England in South Africa. He was absolutely convinced that his election as Life President of a South African Republic would not be in any way detrimental to the interests of Great Britain; on the contrary, he assured himself it would make the latter far more powerful than it had ever been before in the land over which he would reign. By nature something of an Italian condottieri, he considered his native land as a stepping-stone to his own grandeur.
For a good many years he had chosen his best friends among Dutchmen of influence in the Cape Colony and in the Transvaal. He flattered, courted and praised them until he quite persuaded them that nowhere else would they find such a staunch supporter of their rights and of their claims. Men like Mr. Schreiner,[A] for instance, trusted him absolutely, and believed quite sincerely that in time he would be able to establish firm and friendly relations between the Cape Government and that of the Transvaal. Though the latter country had been, as it were, sequestrated by friends of Rhodes—much to their own profit—Mr. Schreiner felt convinced that the Colossus had never encouraged any plans which these people might have made against the independence of the Transvaal Republic. Rhodes had so completely fascinated him that even on the eve of the day when Jameson crossed the Border, Mr. Schreiner, when questioned by one of his friends about the rumours which had reached Cape Town concerning a projected invasion of the Transvaal by people connected with the Chartered Company, repudiated them with energy. Mr. Schreiner, indeed, declared that so long as Mr. Rhodes was Prime Minister nothing of the kind could or would happen, as neither Jameson nor any of his lieutenants would dare to risk such an adventure without the sanction of their Chief, and that it was more to the latter's interest than to that of anyone else to preserve the independence of the Transvaal Republic.
[A] Now High Commissioner for the Union of South Africa.
Talking of Mr. Schreiner reminds me of his sister, the famous Olive Schreiner, the author of so many books which most certainly will long rank among the English classics. Olive Schreiner was once upon terms of great friendship with Mr. Rhodes, who extremely admired her great talents. She was an ardent Afrikander patriot, Dutch by sympathy and origin, gifted with singular intelligence and possessed of wide views, which strongly appealed to the soul and to the spirit of the man who at that time was considered as the greatest figure in South Africa.
It is not remarkable, therefore, that Rhodes should fall into the habit of confiding in Miss Schreiner, whom he found was "miles above" the people about him. He used to hold long conversations with her and to initiate her into many of his plans for the future, plans in which the interests and the welfare of the Cape Dutch, as well as the Transvaalers, used always to play the principal part. His friendship with her, however, was viewed with great displeasure by many who held watch around him. Circumstances—intentionally brought about, some maintain—conspired to cause a cooling of the friendship between the two most remarkable personalities in South Africa. Later on, Miss Schreiner, who was an ardent patriot, having discovered what she termed and considered to be the duplicity of the man in whom she had so absolutely trusted, refused to meet Cecil Rhodes again. Her famous book, "Trooper Peter Halkett of Mashonaland," was the culminating point in their quarrel, and the break became complete.
This, however, was but an incident in a life in which the feminine element never had any great influence, perhaps because it was always kept in check by people anxious and eager not to allow it to occupy a place in the thoughts or in the existence of a man whom they had confiscated as their own property. There are people who, having risen from nothing to the heights of a social position, are able to shake off former associations: this was not the case with Rhodes, who, on the contrary, as he advanced in power and in influence, found himself every day more embarrassed by the men who had clung to him when he was a diamond digger, and who, through his financial acumen, had built up their fortunes. They surrounded him day and night, eliminating every person likely to interfere; slandering, ridiculing and calumniating them in turns, they at last left him nothing in place of his shattered faiths and lost ideals, until Rhodes became as isolated amidst his greatness and his millions as the veriest beggar in his hovel.
It was a sad sight to watch the ethical degradation of one of the most remarkable intelligences among the men of his generation; it was heartrending to see him fall every day more and more into the power of unscrupulous people who did nothing else but exploit him for their own benefit. South Africa has always been the land of adventurers, and many a queer story could be told. That of Cecil John Rhodes was, perhaps, the most wonderful and the most tragic.
Whether he realised this retrogression himself it is difficult to say. Sometimes one felt that such might be the case, whilst at others it seemed as if he viewed his own fate only as something absolutely wonderful and bound to develop in the future even more prosperously than it had done in the past. There was always about him something of the "tragediante, comediante" applied to Napoleon by Pope Pius VII., and it is absolutely certain that he often feigned sentiments which he did not feel, anger which he did not experience, and pleasure that he did not have. He was a being of fits and starts, moods and fancies, who liked to pose in such a way as to give others an absolutely false idea of his personality when he considered it useful to his interests to do so. At times it was evident he experienced regret, but it is doubtful whether he knew the meaning of remorse. The natives seldom occupied his thoughts, and if he were reminded in later years that, after all, terrible cruelties had been practised in Mashonaland or in Matabeleland, he used simply to shrug his shoulders and to remark that it was impossible to make an omelette without breaking some eggs. It never occurred to him that there might exist people who objected to the breaking of a certain kind of eggs, and that humanity had a right to be considered even in conquest.
And, after all, was this annexation of the dominions of poor Lobengula a conquest? If one takes into account the strength of the people who attacked the savage king, and his own weakness, can one do else but regret that those who slaughtered Lobengula did not remember the rights of mercy in regard to a fallen foe? There are dark deeds connected with the attachment of Rhodesia to the British Empire, deeds which would never have been performed by a regular English Army, but which seemed quite natural to the band of enterprising fellows who had staked their fortunes on an expedition which it was their interest to represent as a most dangerous and difficult affair. I do not want to disparage them or their courage, but I cannot help questioning whether they ever had to withstand any serious attack of the enemy. I have been told perfectly sickening details concerning this conquest of the territory now known by the name of Rhodesia. The cruel manner in which, after having wrung from them a concession which virtually despoiled them of every right over their native land and after having goaded these people into exasperation, the people themselves were exterminated was terrible beyond words. For instance, there occurred the incident mentioned by Olive Schreiner in "Trooper Peter Halkett of Mashonaland," when over one hundred savages were suffocated alive in a cave where they sought a refuge.
Personally, I remain persuaded that these abominable deeds remained unknown to Mr. Rhodes and that he would not have tolerated them for one single instant. They were performed by people who were in possession of Rhodes' confidence, and who abused it by allowing the world to think that he encouraged such deeds. Later on it is likely that he became aware of the abuse that had been made of his name and of the manner in which it had been put forward as an excuse for inexcusable deeds, but he was far too indolent and far too indifferent to the blame of the world, at these particular moments to disavow those who, after all, had helped him in his schemes of expansion, and who had ministered to his longing to have a kingdom to himself. Apart from this, he had a curious desire to brave public opinion and to do precisely the very things that it would have disapproved. He loved to humiliate those whom he had at one moment thought he might have occasion to fear. This explains the callousness with which he made the son of Lobengula one of his gardeners, and did not hesitate to ask him one day before strangers who were visiting Groote Schuur in what year he "had killed his father." The incident is absolutely true; it occurred in my own presence.
At times, such as that related in the paragraph above, Rhodes appeared a perfectly detestable and hateful creature, and yet he was never sincere whilst in such moods. A few moments later he would show himself under absolutely different colours and give proof of a compassionate heart. Generous to a fault, he liked to be able to oblige his friends, or those who passed as such, while the charitable acts which he was constantly performing are too numerous to be remembered. He had a supreme contempt for money, but he spoiled the best sides of his strange, eccentric character by enjoying a display of its worst facets with a "cussedness" as amusing as it was sometimes unpleasant. Is it remarkable, then, that many people who only saw him in the disagreeable moods should judge him from an entirely false and misleading point of view?
Rhodes was a man for whom it was impossible to feel indifference; one either hated him or became fascinated by his curious and peculiar charm. This quality led many admirers to remain faithful to him even after disillusion had shattered their former friendship, and who, whilst refusing to speak to him any more, yet retained for him a deep affection which not even the conviction that it had been misplaced could alter. This is a remarkable and indisputable fact. After having rallied around him all that was honest in South Africa; after having been the petted child of all the old and influential ladies in Cape Town; after having been accepted as their leader by men like Mr. Schreiner and Mr. Hofmeyr, who, clever though they were, and convinced, as they must have been, of their personal influence on the Dutch party and the members of the Afrikander Bond, still preferred to subordinate their judgment to Rhodes'; after having enjoyed such unparalleled confidence, Rhodes had come to be spurned and rejected politically, but had always kept his place in their hearts. Fate and his own faults separated him from these people of real weight and influence, and left him in the hands of those who pretended that they were attached to him, but who, in reality, cared only for the material advantages that their constant attendance upon him procured to them. They poisoned his mind, they separated him from all those who might have been useful to him, and they profited by the circumstance that the Raid had estranged him from his former friends to strengthen their own influence upon him, and to persuade him that those who had deplored the rash act were personal enemies, wishful for his downfall and disgrace.
MRS. VAN KOOPMAN
Among those with whom Rhodes had been intimate from almost the first days of his establishment in Cape Town and his entrance into political life was a lady who, for something like half a century, had been enjoying an enviable position throughout almost the whole of South Africa. Mrs. van Koopman was a Dutchwoman of considerable means and of high character. She was clever, well read, and her quick intelligence allowed her to hold her own in discussion upon any subject against the most eminent men of her generation. She had never made a secret of her Dutch sympathies, nor of her desire to see her countrymen given equal rights with the English all over South Africa. She was on excellent terms with President Kruger, and with President Steyn, whose personality was a far more remarkable one than that of his old and crafty colleague.
The leading South African political men used to meet at Mrs. van Koopman's to discuss the current events of the day. It is related that she was one of the first to bring to the notice of her friends the complications that were bound to follow upon the discovery of the gold fields, and to implore them to define, without delay, the position of the foreign element which was certain to move toward Johannesburg as soon as the news of the riches contained in that region became public property.
If the English Government had considered the matter at once the complications which arose as soon as companies began to be formed would have been less acute. The directors of these concerns imagined themselves to be entitled to displace local government, and took all executive power into their own hands. This would never have happened if firm governmental action had been promptly taken. The example of Kimberley ought to have opened the eyes of the Mother Country, and measures should have been taken to prevent the purely commercial domain of the gold fields from assuming such strident political activities, and little by little dominating not only the Transvaal Republic, but also the rest of South Africa.
Mrs. van Koopman had cherished a great affection for Rhodes. Her age—she was in the sixties—gave an almost maternal character to the tenderness with which she viewed him. He had made her his confidante, telling her all that he meant to do for the welfare of the land which she loved so dearly. She thought he looked upon South Africa with the same feelings of admiration as she did.
The strength of her belief led Mrs. van Koopman to interest all her friends in the career of the young Englishman, who appealed to her imagination as the embodiment of all that was great and good. Her enthusiasm endowed him with many qualities that he did not possess, and magnified those which he really had. When he consulted her as to his future plans she entered closely into their details, discussed with him their chances of success, advised him and used all her influence, which was great, in winning him friends and adherents. She trusted him fully, and, on his part, whenever he returned to Cape Town after one of his yearly visits to Kimberley, or after a few months spent in the solitudes of Rhodesia, his first visit was always to the old and gentle lady, who welcomed him with open arms, words of affection, and sincere as well as devoted sympathy. She had always refused to listen to disparagement of her favourite, and would never allow any of the gruesome details connected with the annexation of Rhodesia to be recited in her presence.
In Mrs. van Koopman's eyes there was only a glorious side to the Rhodesian expedition, and she rejoiced in the renown which it was destined to bring to the man who had conceived and planned it. She fully believed that Rhodes meant to bring English civilisation, English laws, the English sense of independence and respect for individual freedom into that distant land. The fact that lucre lay at the bottom of the expedition never crossed her mind; even if it had she would have rejected the thought with scorn and contempt.
Although the attacks upon Cecil Rhodes increased day by day in intensity and in bitterness, Mrs. van Koopman never wavered in her allegiance. She attributed them to jealousy and envy, and strenuously defended his name. Mrs. van Koopman, too, rejoiced at any new success of Rhodes as if it had been her own. She was the first to congratulate him when the dignity of a Privy Councillor was awarded to him. After the Matabele Rebellion, during which occurred one of the most famous episodes in the life of Rhodes, Mrs. van Koopman had been loud in her praises of the man whom she had been the first to guess would do great things.
The episode to which I refer, when he alone had had the courage to go unattended and unarmed to meet the savage chiefs assembled in the Matoppo Hills, had, by the way, done more than anything else to consolidate the position of the chairman of De Beers in South Africa.
During the first administration of Cape Colony by Mr. Rhodes, when his accession to the premiership had been viewed with a certain suspicion by the Dutch party, Mrs. van Koopman made tremendous efforts to induce them to have full confidence in her protege. And the attempt succeeded, because even the shrewd Mr. Hofmeyr had at last succumbed to the constant entreaties which she had poured upon him. Thenceforward Mr. Hofmeyr became one of Mr. Rhodes' firm admirers and strong partisans. Under the able guidance of Mrs. van Koopman the relations between the Dutch party and their future enemy became so cordial that at last a singular construction was put upon both sides of the alliance by the opponents of both. The accusation, already referred to, was made against Rhodes that he wished to make for himself in South Africa a position of such independence and strength that even the authority of the Queen might find itself compromised by it. As has been pointed out, the supposition was devoid of truth, but it is quite certain that the then Premier of Cape Colony would not have objected had the suzerainty been placed in his hands by England and British rule in South Africa vested solely in his person.
During a brief interval in his political leadership Rhodes pursued his work in Rhodesia. In those days the famous British South Africa Company, which was to become known as the Chartered Company, was definitely constituted, and began its activity in the new territories which had come under its control. Ere long, though, the tide of events brought him again to the head of the Government. This time, however, though his appointment had been considered as a foregone conclusion, and though very few had opposed it, he no longer met the same sympathetic attention and co-operation which had characterised his first administration of public affairs. The Colony had begun to realise that Mr. Rhodes alone, and left free to do what he liked, or what he believed was right, was very different from Mr. Rhodes under the influence of the many so-called financiers and would-be politicians who surrounded him.
An atmosphere of favouritism and of flattery had changed Rhodes, whom one would have thought far above such small things. Vague rumours, too, had begun to circulate concerning certain designs of the Chartered Company (one did not dare yet mention the name of its chief and chairman) on the Transvaal. Rhodes was directly questioned upon the subject by several of his friends, amongst others by Mr. Schreiner, to whom he energetically denied that such a thing had ever been planned. He added that Doctor Jameson, of whom the man in the street was already speaking as the man who was planning an aggression against the authority of President Kruger, was not even near the frontier of the neighbouring Republic. The mere idea of such a thing, Rhodes emphatically declared to Mr. Schreiner, was nothing but an ill-natured hallucination to create bad blood between the English and the Dutch. His tone seemed so sincere that Mr. Schreiner allowed himself to be convinced, and voluntarily assured his colleagues that he was convinced of the sincerity of the Prime Minister.
The only person who was really alarmed at the persistent rumours which circulated in Cape Town in regard to a possible attack in common accord with the leaders of the Reform movement in Johannesburg against the independence of the Transvaal Republic was Mrs. van Koopman. She knew Rhodes' character too well not to fear that he might have been induced to listen to the misguided advice of people trying to persuade him that the Rhodesian adventure was susceptible of being repeated on a larger and far more important scale, with as much impunity and as little danger as the other one had been. Alarmed beyond words by all that she was hearing, she determined to find out for herself the true state of things, and, trusting to her knowledge of Rhodes' character, she asked him to call upon her.
Rhodes came a few afternoons later, and Mrs. van Koopman closely questioned him on the subject, telling him of the tales which were being circulated not only in Cape Town, but also at Kimberley and Buluwayo and Johannesburg. Rhodes solemnly assured her that they were nothing but malicious gossip, and, taking her hands in his own, he repeated that all she had heard concerning the sinister designs he was supposed to be harbouring against the independence of the Transvaal had absolutely no foundation. To add force to his words, he continued that he respected her far too much to deceive her willingly, and that he would never have risked meeting her and talking with her upon such a subject had there been the slightest ground for the rumours which were disturbing the tranquillity of the inhabitants of Cape Town. When he left her Mrs. van Koopman felt quite reassured.
Next morning Mrs. van Koopman told her anxious friends that she had received such assurances from Rhodes that she could not disbelieve him, and that the best thing which they could do would be to contradict all statements on the subject of a raid on the Transvaal that might come to their ears. This occurred on an after-Christmas evening of the year 1895.
When the decisive conversation which I have just related was taking place between Mrs. van Koopman and Cecil Rhodes, Doctor Jameson and his handful of eager adventurers had already entered Transvaal territory. The Raid had become an accomplished fact. It was soon realised that it was the most deplorable affair that could have occurred for the reputation of Cecil Rhodes and for his political future. The rebound, indeed, was immediate; his political career came to an end that day.
The person who was struck most painfully by this disgraceful and cryingly stupid adventure was Mrs. van Koopman. All her illusions—and she had nursed many concerning Rhodes—were destroyed at one blow. She never forgave him. All his attempts to bring about a reconciliation failed, and when later on he would fain have obtained her forgiveness, she absolutely refused all advances, and declared that she would never consent willingly to look upon his face or listen to his voice again. The proud old woman, whose ideals had been wrecked so cruelly, could not but feel a profound contempt for a man who had thus deliberately lied to her at the very time when she was appealing to his confidence. Her aristocratic instincts arose in indignation at the falsehoods which had been used to dupe her. She would not listen to any excuse, would not admit any extenuating circumstances; and perhaps because she knew in the secret of her heart that she would never be able to resist the pleadings of the man who had thus deceived her, she absolutely refused to see him.
Rhodes never despaired of being restored to her favour, and would have given much to anyone able to induce her to relent in her judgment as to his conduct. Up to the last he made attempts to persuade her to reconsider her decision, but they all proved useless, and he died without having been able to win a forgiveness which he craved for many years.
I used to know Mrs. van Koopman well and to see her often. I admired her much, not only on account of her great talents and of her powerful intellect, but also for the great dignity which she displayed all through the Boer War, when, suspected of favouring the Dutch cause to the extent of holding communications with the rebels all over the Cape Colony, she never committed any indiscretion or gave cause for any direct action against her. For some time, by order of the military authorities, she was placed under police supervision, and her house was searched for papers and documents which, however, were not found—as might have been foreseen.
All through these trying months she never wavered in her attitude nor in her usual mode of life, except that she saw fewer people than formerly—not, as she used playfully to say, because she feared to be compromised, but because she did not wish to compromise others. More than once during my visits I spoke to her of Mr. Rhodes and tried to induce her to relent in her resolution. I even went so far as to tell her that her consent to meet him would, more than anything else, cause him to use all his influence, or what remained of it, in favour of a prompt settlement of the war in a peace honourable to both sides. Mrs. van Koopman smiled, but remained immovable. At last, seeing that I would not abandon the subject, she told me in tones which admitted of no discussion that she had far too much affection for Rhodes not to have been so entirely cut to the core by his duplicity in regard to her and by his whole conduct in that unfortunate matter of the Raid. She could trust him no longer, she told me, and, consequently, a meeting with him would only give her unutterable pain and revive memories that had better remain undisturbed. "Had I cared for him less I would not say so to you," she added, "but you must know that of all sad things the saddest is the destruction of idols one has built for oneself."
This attitude on the part of the one friend he had the greatest affection for was one of the many episodes which embittered Rhodes.
RHODES AND THE RAID
After the Raid, faithful to his usual tactics of making others responsible for his own misdeeds, Cecil Rhodes grew to hate with ferocity all those whose silence and quiet disapproval reminded him of the fatal error into which he had been led. He was loud in his expressions of resentment against Mr. Schreiner and the other members of the Afrikander party who had not been able to conceal from him their indignation at his conduct on the memorable occasion which ruined his own political life. They had compelled him—one judged by his demeanour—to resign his office of Prime Minister at the very time when he was about to transform it into something far more important—to use it as the stepping-stone to future grandeurs of which he already dreamt, although he had so far refrained from speaking about them to others. Curious to say, however, he never blamed the authors of this political mistake, and never, in public at least, reproached Jameson for the disaster he had brought upon him.
What his secret thoughts were on this subject it is easy to guess. Circumstances used to occur now and then when a stray word spoken on impulse allowed one to discern that he deplored the moment of weakness into which he had been inveigled. For instance, during a dinner-party at Groote Schuur, when talking about the state of things prevailing in Johannesburg just before the war, he mentioned the names of five Reformers who, after the Raid, had been condemned to death by President Kruger, and added that he had paid their fine of twenty-five thousand pounds each. "Yes," he continued, with a certain grim accent of satire in his voice, "I paid L25,000 for each of these gentlemen." And when one of his guests tactlessly remarked, "But surely you need not have done so, Mr. Rhodes? It was tacitly admitting that you had been a party to their enterprise!" he retorted immediately, "And if I choose to allow the world to think that such was the case, what business is it of yours?" I thought the man was going to drop under the table, so utterly flabbergasted did he look.
It is, of course, extremely difficult to know what was the actual part played by Rhodes in the Raid. He carried that secret to the grave, and it is not likely that his accomplices will ever reveal their own share in the responsibility for that wild adventure. My impression is that the idea of the Raid was started among the entourage of Rhodes and spoken of before him at length. He would listen in silence, as was his wont when he wished to establish the fact that he had nothing to do with a thing that had been submitted to him. Thus the Raid was tacitly encouraged by him, without his ever having pronounced himself either for or against it.
Rhodes was an extremely able politician, and a far-seeing one into the bargain. He would never have committed himself into an open approval of an attempt which he knew perfectly well involved the rights of nations. On the other hand, he would have welcomed any circumstance which would result in the overthrow of the Transvaal Republic by friends of his. His former successes, and especially the facility with which had been carried out the attachment of Rhodesia to the British Empire, had refracted his vision, and he refused—or failed—to see the difficulties which he might encounter if he wanted to proceed for the second time on an operation of the same kind.
On the other hand, he was worried by his friends to allow them to take decisive action, and was told that everyone in England would approve of his initiative in taking upon himself the responsibility of a step, out of which could only accrue solid advantage for the Mother Country.
Rhodes had been too long away from England, and his sojourns there during the ten years or so immediately preceding 1895 had been far too short for him to have been able to come to a proper appreciation of the importance of public opinion in Great Britain, or of those principles in matters of Government which no sound English politician will ever dare to put aside if he wishes to retain his hold. He failed to understand and to appreciate the narrow limit which must not be overstepped; he forgot that when one wants to perform an act open to certain well-defined objections there must be a great aim in order eventually to explain and excuse the doing of it. The Raid had no such aim. No one made a mistake as to that point when passing judgment upon the Raid. The motives were too sordid, too mean, for anyone to do aught else but pass a sweeping condemnation upon the whole business.
If he did not, Rhodes ought to have known that the public would most certainly pass this verdict on so dark and shameful an adventure, one that harmed England's prestige in South Africa far more than ever did the Boer War. But though perhaps he realised beforehand that this would be the verdict, he only felt a vague apprehension, more as a fancy than from any real sense of impending danger. He had grown so used to see success attend his every step that his imagination refused to admit the possibility of defeat.
As for the people who engaged in the senseless adventure, their motives had none of the lofty ideals which influenced Rhodes himself. They simply wanted to obtain possession of the gold fields of the Transvaal and to oust the rightful owners. President Kruger represented an obstacle that had to be removed, and so they proceeded upon their mad quest without regard as to the possible consequences. Still less did they reflect that in his case they had not to deal with a native chief whose voice of protest had no chance to be heard, but with a very cute and determined man who had means at his disposal not only to defend himself, but also to appeal to European judgment to adjudge an unjustifiable aggression.
Apart from all these considerations, which ought to have been seriously taken into account by Doctor Jameson and his companions, the whole expedition was planned in a stupid, careless manner. No wonder that it immediately came to grief. It is probable that if Rhodes had entered into its details and allowed others to consult him, matters might have taken a different turn. But, as I have already shown, he preferred to be able to say at a given moment that he had known nothing about it. At least, this must have been what he meant to do. But events proved too strong for him. The fiasco was too complete for Rhodes to escape from its responsibilities, though it must be conceded that he never tried to do so once the storm burst. He faced the music bravely enough, perhaps because of the knowledge that no denial would be believed, perhaps also because all the instincts of his, after all, great nature caused him to come forward to take his share in the disgrace of the whole deplorable affair.
Whether he forgave Doctor Jameson for this act of folly remains a mystery. Personally I have always held that there must have un cadavre entre eux. No friendship could account for the strange relations which existed between these two men, one of whom had done so much to harm the other. At first it would have seemed as if an individual of the character of Cecil Rhodes would never have brought himself to forgive his confederate for the clumsiness with which he had handled a matter upon which the reputation of both of them depended, in the present as well as in the future. But far from abandoning the friend who had brought him into such trouble, he remained on the same terms of intimacy as before, with the difference, perhaps, that he saw even more of him than before the Raid. It seemed as if he wanted thus to affirm before the whole world his faith in the man through whom his whole political career had been wrecked.
The attitude of Rhodes toward Jameson was commented upon far and wide. The Dutch party in Cape Town saw in it a mere act of bravado into which they read an acknowledgment that, strong as was the Colossus, he was too weak to tell his accomplices to withdraw from public sight until the ever-increasing difficulties with the Transvaal—which became more and more acute after the Raid—had been settled in some way or other between President Kruger and the British Government. Instead of this Rhodes seemed to take a particular pleasure in parading the trust he declared he had in Doctor Jameson, and to consult him publicly upon almost all the political questions which were submitted to him for consideration. This did not mean that he followed the advice which he received, because, so far as I was able to observe, this was seldom the case.
To add to the contrariness of the situation, Rhodes always seemed more glad than anything else if he heard someone make an ill-natured remark about the Doctor, or when anything particularly disagreeable occurred to the latter. An ironic smile used to light up Rhodes' face and a sarcastic chuckle be heard. But still, whenever one attempted to explain to him that the Raid had been an unforgivable piece of imprudence, or hazarded that Jameson had never been properly punished for it, Rhodes invariably took the part of this friend of his younger days, and would never acknowledge that Doctor Jim's desire to enter public life as a member of the Cape Parliament ought not to be gratified.
On his side, Doctor Jameson was determined that the opportunity to do so should be offered to him, and he used Rhodes' influence in order to obtain election. He knew very well that without it his candidature would have no chance.
Later on, when judging the events which preceded the last two years of Rhodes' life, many people expressed the opinion that Jameson, being a physician of unusual ability, was perfectly well aware that his friend was not destined to live to a very old age, and therefore wished to obtain from him while he could all the political support he required to establish his career as the statesman he fully believed he was. In fact, Doctor Jameson had made up his mind to outlive the odium of the Raid, and to become rehabilitated in public opinion to the extent of being allowed to take up the leadership of the party which had once owned Rhodes as its chief. By a strange freak of Providence, helped no doubt by an iron will and opportunities made the most of, Jameson, who had been the great culprit in the mad adventure of the Raid, became the foremost man in Cape Colony for a brief period after the war, while Rhodes, who had been his victim, bore the full consequences of his weakness in having permitted himself to be persuaded to look through his fingers on the enterprise.
Rhodes never recovered any real political influence, was distrusted by English and Dutch alike, looked upon with caution by the Cape Government, and with suspicion even among his followers. The poor man had no friends worthy of the name, and those upon whom he relied the most were the first to betray his confidence. Unfortunately for himself, he had a profound contempt for humanity, and imagined himself capable of controlling all those whom he had elected to rule. He imagined he could turn and twist anyone according to his own impulses. In support of this assertion let me relate an incident in which I played a part.
When the Boer War showed symptoms of dragging on for a longer time than expected, some Englishmen proposed that Rhodes should be asked to stand again for Prime Minister, to do which he resolutely refused. Opinions, however, were very much divided. Some people declared that he was the only man capable of conciliating the Dutch and bringing the war to a happy issue. Others asserted that his again taking up the reins of Government would be considered by the Afrikander Bond—which was very powerful at the time—as an unjustifiable provocation which would only further embitter those who had never forgiven Rhodes for the Raid.
A member of the Upper House of Legislature, whom I used to see often, and who was a strong partisan of Rhodes, determined to seek advice outside the House, and went to see an important political personage in Cape Town, one of those who frequented Groote Schuur and who posed as one of the strongest advocates of Rhodes again becoming the head of the Government presided over by Sir Alfred Milner. What was the surprise of my friend when, instead of finding a sympathising auditor, he heard him say that he considered that for the moment the return of Rhodes at the head of affairs would only complicate matters; that it was still too soon after the Raid; that his spirit of animosity in regard to certain people might not help to smooth matters at such a critical juncture; and that, moreover, Rhodes had grown very morose and tyrannical, and refused to brook any contradiction. Coming from a man who had no reason to be friendly with Rhodes, the remarks just reported would not have been important, but proceeding from a personage who was continually flattering Rhodes, they struck me as showing such considerable duplicity that I wrote warning Rhodes not to attach too much importance to the protestations of devotion to his person that the individual in question was perpetually pouring down upon him. The reply which I received was absolutely characteristic: "Thanks for your letter. Never mind what X—— says. He is a harmless donkey who can always make himself useful when required to do so."
The foregoing incident is enlightening as to the real nature of Cecil Rhodes. His great mistake was precisely in this conviction that he could order men at will, and that men would never betray him or injure him by their false interpretation of the directions which it pleased him to give them. He considered himself so entirely superior to the rest of mankind that it never struck him that inferior beings could turn upon him and rend him, or forget the obedience to his orders which he expected them to observe. He did not appreciate people with independence, though he admired them in those rare moments when he would condescend to be sincere with himself and with others; but he preferred a great deal the miserable creatures who always said "yes" to all his vagaries; who never dared to criticise any of his instructions or to differ from any opinions which he expressed. Sometimes he uttered these opinions with a brutality that did him considerable harm, inasmuch as it could not fail to cause repugnance among any who listened to him, but were not sufficiently acquainted with the peculiarities of his character to discern that he wanted simply to scare his audience, and that he did not mean one single word of the ferocious things he said in those moments when he happened to be in a particularly perverse mood, and when it pleased him to give a totally false impression of himself and the nature of his convictions in political and public matters.
It must not be lost sight of when judging Mr. Rhodes that he had been living for the best part of his life among people with whom he could not have anything in common except the desire to make money in the shortest time possible. He was by nature a thinker, a philosopher, a reader, a man who belonged to the best class of students, those who understand that one's mind wants continually improving and that it is apt to rust when not kept active. His companions in those first years which followed upon his arrival in South Africa would certainly not have appreciated any of the books the reading of which constituted the solace of the young man who still preserved in his mind the traditions of Oxford. They were his inferiors in everything: intelligence, instruction, comprehension of those higher problems of the soul and of the mind which always interested him even in the most troubled and anxious moments of his life. He understood and realised that this was the fact, and this did not tend to inspire him with esteem or even with consideration for the people with whom he was compelled to live and work.
Men like Barney Barnato, to mention only this one name among the many, felt a kind of awe of Cecil Rhodes. This kind of thing, going on as it did for years, was bound to give Rhodes a wrong idea as to the faculty he had of bringing others to share his points of view, and he became so accustomed to be considered always right that he felt surprised and vexed whenever blind obedience was not given. Indeed, it so excited his displeasure that he would at once plunge into a course of conduct which he might never have adopted but for the fact that he had heard it condemned or criticised.
It has been said that every rich man is generally surrounded by parasites, and Cecil Rhodes was not spared this infliction. Only in his case these parasites did not apply their strength to attacks upon his purse; they exploited him for his influence, for the importance which it gave them to be considered by the world as his friends, or even his dependants. They appeared wherever he went, telling the general public that their presence had been requested by the "Boss" in such warm terms that they could not refuse. It was curious to watch this systematic chase which followed him everywhere, even to England. Sometimes this persistency on the part of persons whom he did not tolerate more than was absolutely necessary bored him and put him out of patience; but most of the time he accepted it as a necessary evil, and even felt flattered by it. He also liked to have perpetually around him individuals whom he could bully to his heart's content, who never resented an insult and never minded an insolence—and Rhodes was often insolent.
Another singular feature in a character as complex as it was interesting was the contempt in which he held all those who had risen under his very eyes, from comparative or absolute poverty, to the status of millionaires possessed of houses in Park Lane and shooting boxes in Scotland. He liked to relate all that he knew about them, and sometimes even to mention certain facts which the individuals themselves would probably have preferred to be consigned to oblivion. But—and here comes the singularity to which I have referred—Rhodes would not allow anyone else to speak of these things, and he always took the part of his so-called friends when outsiders hinted at dark episodes which did not admit of investigation. He almost gave a certificate of good conduct to people whom he might have been heard referring to a few hours before in a far more antagonistic spirit than that displayed by those whom he so sharply contradicted.
I remember one amusing instance of the idiosyncrasy referred to. There was in Johannesburg a man who, having arrived there with twenty-five pounds in his pockets—as he liked to relate with evident pride in the fact—had, in the course of two years, amassed together a fortune of two millions sterling. One day during dinner at Groote Schuur he enlarged upon the subject with such offensiveness that an English lady, newly arrived in South Africa and not yet experienced in the things which at the time were better left unsaid, was so annoyed at his persistency that she interrupted the speaker with the remark:
"Well, if I were you, I would not be so eager to let the world know that I had made two millions out of twenty-five pounds. It sounds exactly like the story of the man who says that in order to catch a train at six o'clock in the morning he gets up at ten minutes to six. You know at once that he cannot possibly have washed, whilst your story shows that you could not possibly have been honest."
I leave the reader to imagine the consternation produced among those present by these words. But what were their feelings when they heard Rhodes say in reply:
"Well, one does not always find water to wash in, and at Kimberley this happened oftener than one imagines; as for being honest, who cares for honesty nowadays?"
"Those who have not lived in South Africa, Mr. Rhodes," was the retort which silenced the Colossus.
This man of the get-rich-quick variety was one of those who had mastered the difficult operation of passing off to others the mines out of which he had already extracted most of the gold, an occupation which, in the early Johannesburg days, had been a favourite one with many of the inhabitants of this wonderful town. One must not forget that as soon as the fame of the gold fields of the Transvaal began to spread adventurers hastened there, together with a few honest pioneers, desirous of making a fortune out of the riches of a soil which, especially in prospectuses lavishly distributed on the London and Paris Stock Exchanges, was described as a modern Golconda. Concessions were bought and sold, companies were formed with a rapidity which savoured of the fabulous. Men made not only a living, but also large profits, by reselling plots of ground which they had bought but a few hours before, and one heard nothing but loud praises of this or that mine that could be had for a song, "owing to family circumstances" or other reasons which obliged their owner to part with it.
The individual who had boasted of the intelligent manner with which he had transformed his twenty-five pounds into two solid millions had, early in his career, invested some of his capital in one of these mines. Its only merit was its high-sounding name. He tried for some time without success to dispose of it. At last he happened to meet a Frenchman, newly arrived in Johannesburg, who wanted to acquire some mining property there with the view of forming a company. Our hero immediately offered his own. The Frenchman responded to the appeal, but expressed the desire to go down himself into the shaft to examine the property and get some ore in order to test it before the purchase was completed. The condition was agreed to with eagerness, and a few days later the victim and his executioner proceeded together to the mine. The Frenchman went down whilst Mr. X—— remained above. He walked about with his hands in his pockets, smoking cigarettes, the ashes of which he let fall with an apparent negligence into the baskets of ore which were being sent up by the Frenchman. When the latter came up, rather hot and dusty, the baskets were taken to Johannesburg and carefully examined: the ore was found to contain a considerable quantity of gold. The mine was bought, and not one scrap of gold was ever found in it. Mr. X—— had provided himself with cigarettes made for the purpose, which contained gold dust in lieu of tobacco, and the ashes which he had dropped were in reality the precious metal, the presence of which was to persuade the unfortunate Frenchman that he was buying a property of considerable value. He paid for it something like two hundred thousand pounds, whilst the fame of the man who had thus cleverly tricked him spread far and wide.