[Frontispiece: Photograph of David Lloyd George]
THE MAN AND HIS STORY
"THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH"
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
LLOYD GEORGE: THE MAN AND HIS STORY
Copyright, 1917, by Harper & Brothers
Printed in the United States of America
Published March, 1917
I. THE VILLAGE COBBLER WHO HELPED THE BRITISH EMPIRE II. HOW LLOYD GEORGE BECAME FAMOUS AT TWENTY-FIVE III. FIGHTING THE LONE HAND IV. THE DAREDEVIL STATESMAN V. THE FIRST GREAT TASK VI. HOW LLOYD GEORGE BROKE THE HOUSE OF LORDS VII. AT HOME AND IN DOWNING STREET VIII. A CHAMPION OF WAR IX. THE ALLIANCE WITH NORTHCLIFFE X. AT HIGH PRESSURE XI. HIS INCONSISTENCIES XII. HOW HE BECAME PRIME MINISTER XIII. THE FUTURE OF LLOYD GEORGE
APPENDIX—MR. LLOYD GEORGE ON AMERICA AND THE EUROPEAN WAR
Mr. Lloyd George gets a grip on those who read about him, but his personality is far more powerful and fascinating to those who have known the man himself, known him during the time his genius has been forcing him to eminence. He does not fill the eye as a sanctified hero should; he is too vitally human, too affectionate, too bitter, and he has, moreover, springs of humor which bubble up continually. (You cannot imagine an archangel with a sense of humor.) But it is this very mixture in the man that holds the character student. Lloyd George is quite unpretentious, loves children, will join heartily in the chorus of a popular song, and yet there is concealed behind these softer traits a stark and desperate courage which leads him always to the policy of make or break. He is flamingly sincere, and yet no subtler statesman ever walked the boards at Westminster. That is the man I have seen at close quarters for years. Is it to be wondered at that he alternately bewilders, attracts, and dominates high-browed intellectuals? Strangely enough, it is the common people who understand Lloyd George better than the clever ones. Explain that how you will.
I have seen David Lloyd George, present Prime Minister of England, as the young political free-lance fighting furiously for unpopular causes, fighting sometimes from sheer love of battle. I have seen him in that same period in moods of persuasion and appeal pleading the cause of the inarticulate masses of the poor with an intensity which has thrilled a placid British audience to the verge of tears. Since then I have seen him under the venomous attacks of aristocrats and plutocrats in Parliament when his eyes have sparkled as he has turned on them and hissed out to their faces words which burned and seared them and caused them to shake with passion. And in the midst of this orgy of hate which encircled him I have seen him in his home with his twelve-year-old blue-eyed daughter Megan curled up in his lap, his face brimming with merriment as, with her arm around his neck, she asserted her will in regard to school and holidays over a happy and indulgent father. That is the kind of man who now rules England, rules her with an absoluteness granted to no man, king or statesman, since the British became a nation. A reserved people like the British, conservative by instinct, with centuries of caste feeling behind them, have unreservedly and with acclamation placed their fate in the hands of one who began life as a village boy. It was but recently I was talking with a blacksmith hammering out horseshoes at Llanystumdwy in Wales who was a school-mate of Lloyd George in those days not so very long ago. The Prime Minister still has his home down there and talks to the blacksmith and to others of his school companions, for he and they are still one people together, with ties which it is impossible for statecraft to break—or to forge. I have met Lloyd George in private, have seen him among his own people at his Welsh home, and for five years as a journalist I had the opportunity of observing him from the gallery of the British Houses of Parliament, five years during which he introduced his famous Budget, forced a fight with the House of Lords, and broke their power. I purpose to tell in plain words the drama of the man as I have seen it.
A year before the war broke out, while he was still bitterly hated by the Conservatives, I was visiting him at his Welsh home near Llanystumdwy and he asked me what I thought of the district. I said it was all very beautiful, as indeed it was. I emphasized my appreciation by saying that the visitors at the big hotel at Criccieth near by were one and all enchanted. They were nearly all Conservatives, I pointed out, and there was just one fly in their ointment. "I know it," said Lloyd George, vivaciously, with a quick twinkle in his eye. "Here's a bay like the Bay of Naples, God's great mountains behind, beautiful woods, and green meadows, and trickling streams—everything the heart of man can desire, and in the midst of it all HE lives." He paused and deepened his voice. "Satan in the Garden of Eden," he said. It was just his twist of humor, but it told a story. Now for the companion picture. The last time I saw Lloyd George was one dark evening in the December which has just gone by. It had been a day of big political happenings; the Asquith Government had resigned, Bonar Law, the Conservative leader, had been asked by the King to form a Ministry and had said he could not do so. Lloyd George's name was being bandied about. In those few fateful hours Britain was without a Government. At seven o'clock I was at the entrance of the War Office at Whitehall. Through the dark street an automobile dashed up. The door was opened, and a silk-hatted man stepped out and passed rapidly into the War Office, and then the little group of bystanders noticed that the footman at the door of the automobile was wearing the royal livery. The silk-hatted visitor was obviously a messenger from King George. Three minutes later the War Office doors swung open and two men came hurrying out. The first was the King's messenger, the second was Lloyd George. The latter's shoulders were hunched with haste, his hat was pressed deep and irregularly over his forehead, his face, set hard, was canted forward. He almost scrambled into the conveyance, and three seconds later the automobile was going at top speed for Buckingham Palace. The King had sent for Lloyd George to ask him to become his Prime Minister.
THE VILLAGE COBBLER WHO HELPED THE BRITISH EMPIRE
One day in the year 1866 a middle-aged cobbler named Richard Lloyd, occupying a tiny cottage in the village of Llanystumdwy in North Wales, had a letter delivered to him by the postman which was to alter the whole of his simple and placid life. It was a letter from his sister and bore melancholy tidings. The letter told how she had lost her husband and how she and her two little children were in distress. She was the mother of the present Prime Minister of Britain. The elder of her two children, then three years old, was David Lloyd George.
Miss Lloyd, the sister of Richard Lloyd, the cobbler, had married, a few years before, a William George who came of farming people in South Wales. A studious young fellow, he had devoted himself to reading, and presently passed the examinations necessary to become a teacher in the elementary schools. The countryside offered him no opportunity of advancement and he migrated to the big city of Manchester, where he secured a position as master in one of the national schools of the district. In Manchester were born two children, the elder of whom, David, was fated in after years to rise to fame. David's birthday was January 17, 1863. Far indeed were thoughts of future eminence from the struggling family during that time in Manchester.
Under the strain of city life the health of William George began to fail. Country-bred as he was, he pined for the open air of the fields and the valleys, and very soon the doctor gave him no choice and told him that if he wished to prolong his life he must leave the city streets. And so it came about that William George and the two children forsook Manchester and went back again to country life in South Wales to a place called Haverfordwest. William George took a farm and for a year or more he and his wife toiled on it. How much of the work fell on Mrs. George can only be guessed, but she must have carried a full share, for her husband's health was undermined, and the home had to be kept up not only for the sake of her husband, but the children as well. She was in delicate health, and her efforts must have been arduous and painful. Withal, destiny had its severest blow still in hand. William George had not recovered his strength; an attack of pneumonia came upon him, and his death occurred some few months after leaving Manchester.
Mrs. George, overwhelmed by the death of her husband, was at the same time faced by financial difficulties and the problem of maintaining the existence of herself and her two children. To carry on the farm single-handed was impossible. There were, moreover, immediate liabilities to be met. She could find no way out, and the upshot was a public auction sale of the farm effects and the household furniture. Three-year-old David, not understanding the tragedy of it all, was nevertheless impressed by the scene on the day the neighbors came to bid for, and to buy, the things that made up his mother's home. Even now he can recall how the tables and chairs from the house, and the plows and harrows from the fields, were scheduled and ticketed in and around the homestead and disposed of by the auction to the highest bidder. He could not understand it, but somewhere deep within the sensitive child was struck a note of pain, the echoes of which have never left him throughout his strenuous life. He felt dimly in his childlike way the loneliness of his mother. He has never forgotten it. Lonely indeed she was. She had but one friend to turn to, and that one friend was her brother, Richard Lloyd, the village shoemaker up in North Wales. To him she wrote and told her story.
It was her letter which Richard Lloyd paused in his work to read that day some fifty years ago. This village cobbler, destined unwittingly to play such an important part in the history of the British Empire, is still alive and hale and hearty, still lives in his old district. I saw him recently, a tall, erect, fearless-eyed man, though in the neighborhood of ninety, perhaps past that age. He had a full beard, snow-white, and a clean-shaven upper lip, reminiscent of the fashion of half a century ago. He lives, of course, in comfort now and enjoys a dignified, happy old age. Vigorous still, he continues to preach in the chapel of the Nonconformist denomination of which he is a member. I tried to picture him as he must have been fifty years back, a studious, middle-aged man, rigidly religious, a confirmed bachelor, dividing his time between his calling, on the one hand, and the study of the Bible, on the other.
He lived at that time a laborious life, frugal by necessity, doing his duty as he saw it, and I dare say he appeared to a casual observer an uninteresting village type, a silent man, sincere in his bigoted way, but colorless as such persons must always be to those of a different class. To me he will remain one of the most interesting men I have ever seen. Richard Lloyd read his sister's letter and formed his resolution. He decided to go to her help. And thus it was he journeyed to South Wales and brought the widow and her two little boys up north to Llanystumdwy, where he lived. He installed them in his cottage, a little two-story residence with a tiny workshop abutting from it at the side where he carried on his shoe-mending. In front the main road ran by, twisting its way through the village, and thence through woods and meadows, and giving access within a mile on either side to park-lands attached to the big country houses of wealthy people to whom the village cobbler was a nonentity and a person of a different order of beings from themselves. They were not to know, these rich neighbors, that the cobbler was bringing for protection to his humble home a child destined to be a Prime Minister of the country. Prime Minister in a crisis of its history.
Of the little family's years of struggle there are a few glimpses. Cheerfully Richard Lloyd bent himself to his self-imposed task of lightening his sister's lot, and Mrs. George worked hard that her children should not suffer from want. There was no money to spare in the household. Mrs. George baked bread so as not to take anything from their small resources for the baker. Twice a week there was a little meat for the family. Subsequently, as the children grew bigger, a tiny luxury was here and there found for them. At Sunday morning breakfast, for example, they received as a treat half an egg each to eat with their bread-and-butter. In the garden behind the cottage vegetables were grown to eke out supplies, and it was one of the tasks of young Lloyd George to dig up the potatoes for the household.
Llanystumdwy, the boyhood home of Lloyd George, is a picturesque village, a mile or so from the sea, nestling at the foot of the Snowdon range. Meadows and woods embower Llanystumdwy. Rushing through the village a rock-strewn stream pours down from the mountains to the sea, with the trees on its banks locking their branches overhead in an irregular green archway. Look westward to the coast from Llanystumdwy and you have in Carnavon Bay one of the finest seascapes in Britain. Turn to the east, and the rising mountains culminate in the white summit of Snowdon and other giant peaks stretching upward through the clouds. Could Providence have selected a more fitting spot for the upgrowth of a romantic boy? Lloyd George's Celtic heart had an environment made for it in this nook between the Welsh mountains and the sea. Little wonder that he has never left the place. At the present time his country house is on the slope overlooking Criccieth, about a mile from the old cobbler's cottage where he spent his boyhood forty years ago.
Lloyd George was sent quite early to the church elementary school with the other village children. There seems to have been nothing of the copy-book order about his behavior, nor are any moral lessons for the young to be drawn from it. He set no specially good example, was not particularly studious, was quite as mischievous if not more so than his schoolmates, and on top of all this—sad to relate after such a record—was practically always at the head of his class. He achieved without effort what others sought to accomplish by hard and persistent work. He just soaked up knowledge as a sponge soaks up water; he could not help it. Out of school hours he was a daring youngster filled with high spirits, and very active. He had dark-blue eyes, blackish hair, a delicate skin, and regular features, and the audacity within him was concealed behind a thoughtful, studious expression—just such a boy as a mother worships. That old Puritan, his uncle, worshiped him, too, though I am quite sure he concealed the fact behind the gravest and sometimes the most reproving of demeanors. An interesting point is that the vivacious and keen-witted child understood and was devoted to this serious-minded uncle of his. Richard Lloyd worked hard to make the boy grow up a straight-living, brave, and God-fearing man, and his influence on his young nephew was strong from the start. There is a story told about this. The children of the village school (which was connected with the Established Church of England) on each Ash Wednesday had to march from the school to the church, and were there made to give the responses to the Church Catechism and to recite the Apostles' Creed. That sturdy Nonconformist, Richard Lloyd, denied the right of the Church of England to force children, many of them belonging to Nonconformist parents, to go to church to subscribe to the Church doctrine. Lloyd George carefully digested his uncle's protest, and went away and organized a revolt among the children. The next time they went to church they refused to make the responses. Lloyd George as the ring-leader was punished, but the rebellion he organized stopped the practice of forcing Church dogmas into the mouths of the children. This is a very suggestive story. I know the main facts to be true because not so very long ago Lloyd George himself confirmed them to me. At the same time I beg leave to doubt whether any great spiritual fervor was the motive power of Master Lloyd George at that time. It was just the first outbreak of his desire for revolt against the powers that be—wicked powers because his uncle had said so—and the satisfaction of that instinct for audacious action which has marked him ever since. To me there was not much of the saint about the boy Lloyd George; he was just a young daredevil—which, on the whole, is perhaps the more attractive.
By the time Lloyd George was ten or eleven years of age his mother and his uncle became filled with thoughts as to his future. They both knew the boy was specially gifted, both realized that unless special effort were made he must inevitably drift from school into the lower ranks of labor, probably that of work on a farm. There were long and anxious consultations between the cobbler and his sister. Finally Richard Lloyd came to a decision, a decision which was to have a lasting effect on the destinies of the British nation. He resolved on a noble act, the nobler in that he had no idea what tremendous consequences would spring from it.
By long years of work and self-denial he had saved a little sum toward his old age. It amounted to a few hundred pounds. It was all he had. He decided to devote that sum toward the making of his nephew, Lloyd George, an educated man, toward putting him in a profession where he might have a chance in the world.
After the great speculation had been decided on it was settled that young David should be brought up as a solicitor. This necessitated not only the provision of certain heavy fees in connection with the examinations, but also time spent in a prolonged course of study. The few hundreds of pounds was a small-enough amount, and it was obvious that it would have to be sparingly expended if it were to cover all that was required. Young Lloyd George was a brilliant youth, but even his brilliancy could not help beyond a certain point. The old cobbler saw one way of economizing. He set himself the task of personally learning the elements of French and Latin in order to impart them to his nephew. I have often imagined the mental agony of the cobbler struggling with those foreign grammars. But he succeeded. His nephew also succeeded. Young George passed his preliminary examination and his intermediate without difficulty. Then while he progressed further he had to have experience in a solicitor's office—which ran away with more money. At twenty-one, however, he was finished, and was admitted a solicitor. All that had been gone through for him to reach this goal is shown by the fact that, having been formally enrolled as a lawyer, he and his family at that time could not raise the three guineas necessary to purchase the official robe without which he could not practise in the local courts. He at once went out and worked in an office and earned that three guineas.
He was now launched in the world. The great adventure of life began almost immediately for him.
HOW LLOYD GEORGE BECAME FAMOUS AT TWENTY-FIVE
The personalities of history flash across our vision like shooting-stars in the sky, emerging from hidden origins, making for their unknown goal with a speed and brilliance at once spectacular and mysterious. They are incalculable forces; we can only look at them and wonder at them. It is futile and quite useless to try to define the secret motive power of these personalities by puny analyses of moral influences and by a catalogue of their feelings and surroundings. They follow their destined course and raise our admiration or our fears and all the while they give us no real clue to the powers within their souls or the end they serve.
There had been many endeavors to link up Lloyd George with certain sets of beliefs; sincere persons have associated his prominence with his Liberalism, with his Nonconformity, with his passion for the interests of the poor, and in these later days with his fervor for national and patriotic effort. As a matter of fact, the framing of his dogmas has had little or nothing to do with the power of the man. He is one of those persons whom nature has made of dynamite; who would have blasted a way for himself in any kind of conditions. It is neither to his credit nor to his discredit that Heaven has given him an individuality which has taken him throughout life to distinction and high achievement. He has always swung to his tasks like a needle to the Pole.
It so happened that by the surroundings of his youth—the piety and pride and modest circumstances of his uncle and his mother—he was early thrown into certain spheres of activity. But these spheres were merely the medium for his powers. A wider survey than that of the enthusiastic Nonconformist or the patriotic Welshman shows that Lloyd George's nature would have cleaved its way like a sword through any obstacle in any cause. He simply could not have helped it. Destiny had set a mark on him from birth.
He was only seventeen when on a visit to London he went for the first time to the House of Commons to listen to the proceedings from the gallery and here is an abstract from his diary at that period: "Went to Houses of Parliament. Very much disappointed with them. . . . I will not say I eyed the assembly in the spirit in which William the Conqueror eyed England on his visit to Edward the Confessor—as the region of his future domain. O Vanity!" A country youth without money, without prospects, sitting in the exclusive Parliament House of the most exclusive nation of the world, watched the assembly before him and there occurred to him the thought of conquering it single-handed. That is what it came to. Of course his reference is in the nature of a joke. It could hardly be otherwise. But it was a joke which has proved to be a prophecy.
Before he was seventeen Lloyd George had already dived deep into controversy. His school of debating consisted of the cobbler's workshop and the village smithy at Llanystumdwy, where in the evenings young men and old men and a sprinkling of boys used to assemble to discuss in a haphazard way questions of ethics, the politics of the day, and most of all the rights and wrongs of the religious sects to which they respectively belonged. Richard Lloyd, on the one hand, and the old blacksmith, on the other, would stir the discussion now and again with a sagacious word. It is easy to imagine the ripple of musical Welsh which sometimes drowned the tap-tap of the cobbler's hammer, or was submerged beneath the clang of the anvil. The bright eyes and excited faces of these Celts partly illumined by the oil-lamp or by the sudden glow of the blacksmith's furnace must have provided pictures worth record for themselves, quite apart from the personal interest they would now possess.
In the midst of the discussions young David would plunge with a wit and understanding beyond his years, and he stood up to his seniors with both gravity and audacity. "Do you know," said the gray-haired blacksmith to Richard Lloyd one day, "I really had to turn my serious attention to David last evening or he would have got the best of me."
If any of those who read this narrative are beginning to have an idea that this fourteen-year-old boy was by way of becoming a prig they may be relieved by the knowledge that when the youngster was not taking a hand in polemics in the smithy or the cobbler's cottage he was often enough leading the boys of the village into some kind of mischief. One old inhabitant came to have the fixed belief that David was the origin of pretty well all the mishaps in Llanystumdwy. Let a gate be found lifted from its hinges, a fence or hedge broken down, or windows smashed, and the old man had the one explanation, "It's that David Lloyd at it again."
It is important to know that Richard Lloyd, the shoemaker, was not only studious and intelligent, but was independent beyond his class. A kind of benevolent feudalism still existed in the district, and villagers at election time fell naturally into the groove required by the rich landowners and gentlefolk of the neighborhood. Once at an election three or four of the cottagers voted Liberal instead of Conservative. They were promptly turned out of their dwellings. The time came when the shoemaker was the only Liberal voter in the place. He remained quite unshaken by persuasion, influence, or material considerations. Lloyd George even as a young boy gloried in his stalwart uncle. He was rebellious that it should be possible to cow other people, and the knowledge of the prevalent thraldom poured deep into young Lloyd George's soul. This simple religious village folk lived hard, with but a week's wages between them and want, lived, so to speak, on sufferance under the vicar and squire and land-owner, who, while often kindly enough and even generous in their way, expected obedience, and who exacted servitude in all matters of opinion. The big people and the cottage folk were two entirely different sets of beings. What a precipice there was between them can hardly be understood by those who have not passed some time in the village life of Britain. A man who took a rabbit or hare from the preserved coverts of game extending for miles in all directions was rigorously prosecuted as a criminal. A man who took fish from prohibited waters was often a good deal more harshly adjudged than the drunken brute who beat his wife or the assailant in some desperate fight. And let it be noted that these superior people had veritable power of government, for from them were drawn the benches of magistrates—amateur local judges, who sat weekly or monthly, as the case might be, to punish evil-doers of the district. Many of these people in some of the relations of life were quite admirable, but when it came to any question of the protection of privilege, the preservation of property, or the rights in general of their superior class, these landowners were as merciless in the North Wales district as in many other parts of the country. Scorn and rage grew in the heart of young Lloyd George as he realized that these individuals had no claim over their fellows in personal worth or understanding, that they were practically unassailable by reason of their ramparts of wealth, that they lived in comfort, if not in luxury, while those whom they dominated were struggling hard for a bare subsistence. I can imagine the youth reciting the couplet which sets out the position:
God bless the squire and his relations, And keep us in our proper stations.
Worldly knowledge and bookish knowledge were acquired by Lloyd George during the next few years while he was going through his law course in the office of a firm of solicitors in the neighboring little town of Portmadoc. While there he had further opportunity for developing his natural powers of oratory, for he became a member of a local debating society which regularly had set battles on all kinds of topics—political, literary, and social. At twenty-one his preliminaries ended and he became an admitted solicitor competent to practise law and to appear as an advocate in the local civil and criminal courts. He was penniless, he had no friends likely to help him in his profession. But he had confidence in himself. Hidden fires were burning behind those steady dark-blue eyes of his. The office work which he undertook to secure the money to buy his official robe was accomplished with a run. Then he put up a little brass plate announcing to all and sundry in the locality that he was prepared to practise law. Though he had no rich friends, he possessed certain assets in the reputation he had made among the residents of the district by his sparkling good humor, his ready sympathy with distress, and his vivacious wit in debate. Individuals of the humbler class soon began to come to the young solicitor for advice and assistance. He found himself engaged to defend people charged with small offenses before the local magistrates and to fight cases connected with small money transactions before the county court—which was the civil tribunal. Clients found in the young fellow not only a shrewd lawyer, but a friend who entered into their cases with ardor.
He differed from other lawyers of the country towns, men who had grown prosperous in their profession, in so far as he always put up a tremendous fight, whatever the chances of success. He was, moreover, never hampered by deference for the bench. It was the practice of the magistrates, most of them local land-owners and all of them belonging to the propertied classes, to browbeat any local solicitors who showed signs of presumption—that is to say, of independence and lack of what was regarded as proper respect in their conduct of cases before the court. Lloyd George said things and did things which the most experienced and successful solicitors of the district would have shrunk from as ruinous to their business. He made it a practice never to waste a word in any subservience to magistrates who showed an overbearing disposition. The magistrates, to their amazement, found they could not overawe the young upstart. When one realizes the unchallenged caste rule of those local bigwigs and the extraordinary respect which was paid to them by advocates and litigants alike, it is easy to understand the amazement and the shock which came upon them when young Lloyd George not only refused to submit to their bullying, but stood up to them and even thrust wounding words at them. It was an unheard-of proceeding. Some of these magistrates, lifelong supporters of Church and state, must sometimes have wondered why the presumptuous youth was not struck dead by Providence for his temerity. He, on his part, was never so happy as when he was shocking them. Clients quickly grew in number. The farmers found him an enthusiastic defender of their rights, the shopkeepers trusted him with their small business worries, and if there were any poachers to be defended where was there to be found so able, so sympathetic, and so fearless an advocate as young Lloyd George? All this time it must be remembered he was but early in the twenties, little more than a boy.
Many instances might be given of his audacity in the face of the lordly magistrates before whom he appeared. Here is one that is typical. Lloyd George was retained to defend four men who were charged with illegally taking fish from prohibited waters—in other words, accused of poaching, the most deadly sin of all to the owners of the land. The case was tried before a big bench of magistrates, all of them local celebrities. Early in the proceedings Lloyd George put in a plea that the court had no jurisdiction in the matter. In response the chairman—the presiding magistrate—replied grandiloquently that such a point must be decided by a higher court.
"Yes, sir," said Lloyd George, "and in a perfectly just and unbiased court."
The magistrate stared open-eyed at this impudence, and promptly proceeded to put Lloyd George in his place. "If," said he, "that remark is intended as a reflection on any magistrate sitting on this bench I hope Mr. George will name him. A more insulting and ungentlemanly remark to the bench I have never heard during my experience as a magistrate."
"Yes," replied Lloyd George, "and a more true remark was never made in any court of justice."
This was more than flesh and blood could stand. In admonitory tone the chairman said: "Tell me to whom you are referring. I must insist upon your stating if you are referring to any magistrate sitting in this court."
"I refer to you in particular, sir," said Lloyd George.
"Then I retire from the bench," said the chairman, rising from his place. He turned to his fellow-magistrates. "This is the first time I have ever been insulted in a court of justice."
In company with a colleague he left the court. A third magistrate remarked that he could not proceed with the case until Lloyd George had apologized.
"I am glad to hear it," said Lloyd George, imperturbably. Promptly another magistrate went out. One of the few justices remaining repeated the demand for an apology. Instead of apologizing Lloyd George made the following reply; "I say this, that at least two or three magistrates of this court are bent upon securing a conviction whether there is a fair case or not. I am sorry the chairman left the court, because I am in a position to prove what I have said. I shall not withdraw anything, because every word I have spoken is true."
This was really too much. All the lot of the magistrates went out, their departure being accompanied by the few barbed words from the young advocate. What happened when the magistrates got together outside the courtroom can only be guessed. They must have had a painful discussion among themselves, because presently four of them came in and rather meekly said they would try the case, though they again made a protest to the effect that Lloyd George really ought to apologize. Of course he did not do so.
It was when Lloyd George was twenty-five and was already a highly popular figure throughout a large part of Wales that he sprang suddenly into a wider notice and may be said to have had for the first time the eyes of the whole country centered on him. Wales is a country of Nonconformists who attend religious services in their own chapels and do not—at least the great majority of them—belong to the Established Church of England. The state Church, however, is implanted throughout the country, and it is only to be expected that local friction should sometimes arise.
In a village at the foot of Snowdon an old quarryman died, and before he passed away expressed the wish that he should be laid by the side of his daughter, who was buried in the graveyard of the Church of England. The Church clergyman would not consent to the Nonconformist rites being performed if the old man were buried where he desired to be. The old man, he said, could not be placed by the side of his daughter, but must be buried in a remote portion of the graveyard reserved for unknown people and for suicides. The Nonconformists of the village were outraged at the suggestion. They went to young Lloyd George and asked his advice about the matter. Lloyd George plunged deep into legal enactments, into the local conditions, and all the facts pertaining to the case. Then he delivered a characteristic judgment. "You have the right," he said, "to bury this man by the side of his daughter in the churchyard. If the clergyman refuses you permission proceed with the body to the graveyard. Take the coffin in by force, if necessary. If the churchyard gates are locked against you, break them down." The villagers faithfully followed the suggestion of the young lawyer. They took the body to the churchyard—I believe Lloyd George accompanied them—and they broke down the locked churchyard gates, dug a grave for the old man by the side of his daughter, and buried him there. The Church authorities were scandalized and an action at law was the result. It was heard in the local county court before a judge and jury. Lloyd George defended the villagers, and the jury, influenced by his speech, returned a verdict in their favor. The judge, however, said that Lloyd George was wrong on a point of law and decided the case on the side of the Church. Lloyd George instantly said that the matter could not rest, and on behalf of the villagers he appealed against the decision to the Lord Chief Justice in London. The case was heard by the Lord Chief and another judge, and they came to the conclusion that the jury's decision was right, that the county-court judge was wrong, and that Lloyd George was perfectly correct on the point of law in connection with which he had been overruled.
Lloyd George was twenty-five when he secured this triumph. All the public were interested in the case, and in the Welsh townships and villages his name flamed out like a beacon.
FIGHTING THE LONE HAND
Lloyd George was twenty-five when his fight for the burial of the old quarryman lifted him to the public notice of the country at large. The year was a fateful one for him in other respects. For two or three years before this he had been speaking at public meetings, securing more and more confidence as he realized his powers. He became the banner-bearer for the allied causes of democracy, a free Church, and the rights of Wales as a nation. His compatriots rallied round him as their forefathers had rallied round Owen Glendower centuries before.
Working early and late, Lloyd George united his professional engagements with appearances on the public platform. He was already rousing those eddies of hatred and that personal devotion on which he has been borne to fame. Furiously he flung himself into attacks on the classes from which his political opponents were drawn. He adopted new methods, he heeded not convention, made always for the thickest of the fray. All the time there was mixed with his fervor an element of shrewdness. It was this shrewdness, for instance, which sent him to a big gathering of his political opponents, where he sat quietly in a back seat in order to learn what they had to say about him, and listened to their abuse with keen satisfaction. Gleams of ambition must have been shooting in upon him by this time. It was impossible that he had not thoughts of a bigger future for himself, and yet it came as a thunderclap to him when he heard that he, a youthful free-lance, had been adopted by the Liberal associations of the district to be their candidate for Parliament at the next election. It may be imagined with what zest under this stimulation he carried on his preparations for the contest whenever it should arise. The constituency—Carnarvon Boroughs—comprised a group of towns and a large number of villages. It included castles and mansions and great estates; a considerable portion of the general body voters were associated with the landowners and aristocrats. Lloyd George must have felt it was a pretty hopeless fight, but a fight, nevertheless, which he would enjoy.
There is one other event to chronicle during this year when he reached the age of twenty-five. Upon the mountain slopes beyond Llanystumdwy was a spacious old farm-house, the home of a sweetly pretty Welsh girl named Maggie Owen. How or when Lloyd George first met her is not recorded, but in the course of his diary we come across a significant entry just before this time. The diary refers to a meeting of a debating society in which he had taken part, and goes on to relate "Took Maggie Owen home." It is hard to imagine young Lloyd George anything but an impetuous lover. His suit progressed, and in this same fateful year of 1888 he was married. It may be said in passing that never was a happier union, and that in the hard and adventurous life that lay before the young politician he found in Mrs. George a true companion. Marriage seemed to strengthen his ambition, and his vision began to spread over the general field of politics instead of remaining exclusively, as hitherto, fixed upon projects of special, if not of exclusive, interest to Wales. Nevertheless he continued the leading figure in the fight for reforms in his native country. A good deal of his enthusiasm, for example, was expended on Church disestablishment in Wales—that is to say, the separation of the English Church from state support and state endowment, in view of the fact that the majority of the people were Nonconformists, and that it was unfair to impose upon them an unwanted and costly church which they had to help support even though they were Nonconformist enthusiasts. There is nothing like a religious controversy to stir feelings strongly, and the conflicts in the campaign for disestablishment were very bitter. Lloyd George's chief opponent on the other side was the Bishop of St. Asaph, a prelate of the Church of England, himself a Welshman and a very able man. He gave the promoters of disestablishment some hard knocks, and it is related of him that he was particularly effective in one of the districts. Accordingly, the Nonconformists there brought down Lloyd George to speak at a public meeting in order to counteract the bishop's influence. Lloyd George himself tells the story of how he was introduced at that meeting by the chairman, a leading deacon of the village. "We have suffered much of late from misrepresentations," he said. "The Bishop of St. Asaph has been speaking against us and we all know that he is a very great liar. Thank God we have a match for him here to-night in Mr. Lloyd George." In later years when Lloyd George and the bishop became good friends in spite of their differences of opinion, it was hard to decide which of them enjoyed this story most.
Lloyd George began to speak everywhere, at street corners, in conventicles, in the market-places, at mass-meetings in the public buildings, and his peculiar oratory secured him larger and larger audiences and aroused attention, sympathetic or hostile, all over the constituency. Many who were lukewarm and went to hear him out of curiosity were swung by his personality into being supporters. He had always his own natural style of talk. Possessing a musical and clear voice, he never strained for effect, rarely used a rotund sentence, but talked to his audiences in a red-hot conversational kind of way, his heightened feelings finding expression in a sibilance which always touched the nerves of his hearers. He seldom interrupted interrupters, finding it more effective to let them speak and then to deal with them in his own special manner when they had finished. There were occasionally exceptions to this, however. In the course of one of his speeches he exclaimed, "What do my opponents really want?" A husky, hostile voice from the crowd broke in, "What I want is a change of government." "No," said Lloyd George; "what you really want is a change of drink." Another time he had begun a sentence with the words "I am here," when an opponent in the crowd shouted, "So am I." "Yes," said Lloyd George, "but you are not all there." One of his best retorts in his early days was to a Conservative who came to a Liberal meeting determined to stand no nonsense. "We must give home rule," declared Lloyd George, "not only to Ireland, but to Scotland as well, and to Wales." "And home rule for hell," shouted a man in the audience. "Quite right," said Lloyd George; "let every person stick up for his own country."
A hard-working young professional man, Lloyd George was in for a heavy fight and, in the opinion of many, a hopeless fight, when the election came two years later. It was a dramatic chance that selected for his Conservative opponent the squire of his native village, the dignitary to whom Lloyd George as a village lad used to touch his hat. Fierce excitement ranged throughout the election fight. In the result Lloyd George snatched victory by just a handful of votes, his poll being one thousand nine hundred sixty-three against the Conservative total of one thousand nine hundred forty-five. Lloyd George was twenty-seven at the time of this triumph and became known as "the boy politician." There were many sneers among his opponents, who pointed out that this fluent young demagogue had now reached the end of his tether. In the environment of the House of Commons, among really clever men, he would sink to the natural inconsequence from which a series of fortunate accidents had lifted him. And indeed it was not unnatural for even the sympathetic observer to feel that perhaps this was the end of Lloyd George, that the ability which he undoubtedly possessed and which had carried him a considerable distance was not the ability which could do any more for him. He had projected himself out of the congenial surroundings wherein his talents had proved of avail, but, like a spent rocket, he would now rapidly come to earth.
It would have been inconceivable to many of his friends and to all of his opponents that this twenty-seven-year-old M. P. should have regarded himself as but on the threshold of his work, should have looked upon what he had achieved merely as preliminaries to his rarely serious efforts in life. They would have smiled indulgently or ironically if they had been told at this period the story of Lloyd George's diary entry after his first visit to the House of Commons at seventeen. Probably no person on earth but his wife knew the steely determination behind her husband's impetuosity.
The young M.P. took his seat in the House of Commons on April 17, 1890. A Liberal Government was in power. Gladstone, over eighty years of age, was at the head of it. Political giants whose reputation had reached young Lloyd George through the newspapers were scattered along the two front benches. He sat himself down on one of the back seats and proceeded to look at these men in action and to weigh them up. He formed some judgments about them. Here is what he wrote about Mr. Asquith in the course of some work for a Welsh newspaper a little later on: "A short, thick-set, rather round-shouldered man with a face as clean shaven as that of the most advanced curate, keen eyes and a broad, intellectual forehead—he speaks clearly and emphatically. He sets out his arguments with great brilliancy and force." Little did the young M. P. think that in the years to come he would be supplanting this man as Prime Minister of the country.
Right from the start Lloyd George set himself to acquire the methods and fashions of the House of Commons, with all the involved procedure. He wanted to avoid the obvious pitfalls. Presently he essayed a speech, and though he confessed himself as nervous, he did well, and members spoke highly of his first effort. It is as well to say here that the House of Commons quickly cuts short the ambitions and hopes of many young men who on the strength of platform popularity look for triumph at Westminster. The House of Commons, whatever may be its drawbacks, has some human qualities, is kindly to beginners, has a respect for sincerity, an undisguised yawn for bores, and a cold contempt for swollen-headed young members who try to impress it with their capacity. When once a member has passed the stage of initial forbearance due to a new-comer, there grows upon him the fact that the House of Commons is indeed the most critical assembly in the world. There are always within it many who have secured their places by money or influence, but they are in the minority, and the House, as a whole, including even these rich men, has never any respect for moneyed men as such, pays no special deference to the person of lordly birth within its walls. A member is judged absolutely on what he is himself. The two most popular and respected members in the strangely mixed House of Commons I watched for years were Mr. Thomas Burt, the father of the House, who had been a working miner, and that ardent and lovable Irish Nationalist, Mr. Willie Redmond—both men having secured in extraordinary measure the personal affection of the whole House. In some respects, therefore, the House is like a big public school, and Conservatives and Liberals, notwithstanding their political differences, are welded together by a common instinct so far as the domestic character of the Chamber is concerned.
The peculiar atmosphere was not lost upon Lloyd George, and he diligently attuned himself to the new medium. This would have been unavailing if there had been nothing in his speeches, but it was soon realized that here was an interesting new member, a man inexperienced in some directions, but with bold thoughts, apt phrases, and an almost unpleasant sincerity. He did not take the House by storm, but still he was listened to. He quickly developed. Within a year his name was frequently in the newspapers as one of the guerrilla fighters below the gangway who gave the Government no peace.
Lloyd George had made up his mind about the statesmen in the House and had come to a decision that not even the strongest of them was unassailable. Gladstone led the Government and Lloyd George was his nominal follower, but on individual matters the young M. P. opposed his chief. It was rather like a fox-terrier standing up to a lion. Gladstone had an incomparable prestige, the result of a continuous half-century of work for his country, including four periods as Prime Minister. Probably three-quarters of the six hundred and seventy members of the House of Commons, many of them old politicians, would have been nervous about tackling Gladstone, who, despite his eighty years, was still a terrific force in debate, possessing an eagle mien which subdued opponent and recalcitrant supporters alike. Young Lloyd George refused to be cowed even by Gladstone.
Wales was pressing for the disestablishment of the English Church within its borders, and Lloyd George with two or three other Liberal members bitterly protested about the postponement of this reform. Difficulties of immediate parliamentary action, the urgency of other legislation, the opposition from powerful sections of the House, all these things were nothing to Lloyd George; what he wanted was the disestablishment of the Church in Wales. Frequently the Prime Minister in the British Parliament ignores the attacks of the lesser men. Gladstone could not ignore Lloyd George. He had to answer him. Sometimes he condescended to berate him, much to the enjoyment of the assembly. Lloyd George always came up unhurt, alert, and persistent.
In 1892 Mr. Gladstone retired, and his place at the head of the Liberal Government was taken by Lord Rosebery. Lloyd George, in his efforts to secure the early passage of the Welsh disestablishment bill, continued to strike hard at his nominal chief until in 1894 came the end of this particular sphere of his operations, for the Liberal Government was turned out and a Conservative Government put in its place. This, however, was Lloyd George's real opportunity. Independent as he had been in the ranks of his own party, he now found far greater scope as a foe in opposition to Ministers in power. He went for them, tooth and nail, making a dead set at Chamberlain, who had taken Gladstone's place as the leading figure in the House of Commons. Chamberlain himself had fought his way up. Those who have seen Chamberlain will never forget him—the long, strong face, the steady, hard eyes, the straight-cut mouth, the rigidly erect, slim body, the unfailing single eyeglass, and the orchid in his buttonhole making a picture which can never be disassociated from will-power, a mind cold and clear, a lucid gift of speech, unflinching courage, and a savage contempt for weakness or inefficiency. He had against him in the House of Commons some able critics, but not more than two or three could really stand up to him in argument. I believe there was not a single one even of these who dared to take off the gloves to him in real fighting earnest. Lloyd George went into opposition with his eyes fixed on Chamberlain.
From that time onward Lloyd George deliberately fought the Birmingham statesman on every possible opportunity. In committee, during question time, at set debate, he pursued him unremittingly. Chamberlain tried at first to shake him off with a scornful word or two. But Lloyd George was not to be dismissed as so many others had been. He returned to the attack like a hornet. He was never appeased, never in doubt, never content. Chamberlain had presently to take real notice of him. He turned on the Welshman and with ferocity held him up to scorn and ridicule—not a difficult task for such a man as Chamberlain, especially as the majority of the House of Commons were his followers. Lloyd George certainly had his bad times then. Sometimes his facts would be proved awry and his arguments fallacious and he would be harried with merciless sarcasm. He would, in effect, be smashed to pieces. To the amazement of every one he refused to understand that he was smashed. After any and every attack he would be swiftly on his feet, hurling forth fresh accusatory words and ignoring the punishment he had just received—would be himself the scourger of sin. Sometimes he even took to imitating Chamberlain's own methods, and pointing a finger at his distinguished victim, would hiss out his charges word by word with a vibrant slowness. Even the impassive Chamberlain used sometimes to color a little under this mimicry. If ever a man went thoroughly out of his way to be hated it was Lloyd George. But he gained way. Once under an unsparing attack by Lloyd George, Chamberlain winced, leaped to his feet, and asked permission to make a second speech in reply. That was the first occasion which caused members to say among themselves that Chamberlain, gladiator that he was, had met his match in Lloyd George.
THE DAREDEVIL STATESMAN
What was the underlying motive in Lloyd George during those years of feverish combat? Why should he have gone out of his way to deal injury and to incur enmity? Why was he always in the pose of rebel even when his friends were in power? Was he anything more than a clever young politician seeking notoriety by espousing unpopular courses whenever there was a chance to strike a blow at those high in authority? They are justifiable questions, and they can be answered quite shortly. Heaven had given Lloyd George, together with much impulsiveness, the most sensitive of souls and a kindly heart, together with the imagination of a poet. Even when he was a boy resentment blazed from him as he realized the injustices which were suffered by the poorer people, people who could not raise their voice to protest and who went on in stolid resignation from childhood to the grave. The example of his mother, a patient and noble woman, struggling with fate for the sake of her children, was ever before him. He saw his uncle, a sturdy Puritan of high character and intelligence, looked down upon, or at least disapproved of, because of his religious and political opinions, and this in spite of the fact that Richard Lloyd's beliefs sprang from selfless emotions and held him in an upright life. As Lloyd George grew older and mingled with the world he saw how oppression, active or passive, often went with wealth and power, and that not only material sustenance, but education and even the right to think, was denied the vast preponderance of the population by those who through inheritance, accident, or hardihood had secured the good things of the earth. Every nerve within him quivered in revolt. And even before he realized the full extent of the powers that lay within him his ardent spirit was leaping forward to fight what he regarded as the great giants of evil—the systems and the customs which gave individuals the power to hold down those who could not help themselves. He loved his native land passionately and was saturated with religious feeling, and he was strung with indignation that the state Church system of England should continue to be forced upon a nation of Nonconformists, with its resulting social influence on the people of his land. He was stirred to the depths by the lives of poor people among whom he had lived his most impressionable years. Enraged at the mental and moral attitude of the rich Conservatives who placidly assumed that Providence meant them to rule the earth and all the lesser horde to bow down to their inspired will, he was dissatisfied with the stolidity and lethargy of the official Liberal party, although he himself was a Liberal. When the Boer War broke out his sense of chivalry and justice was outraged at the thought that a great people like the British nation should attempt to crush a tiny pastoral race, even under some provocation. Thus from the start he devoted himself passionately and whole-heartedly to the side of the under dog.
Incidentally in this single-handed fight he took a sardonic delight in shocking those pillars of society who to him were symbols of the existing order of things. Fiercely he smashed away at idols, however highly placed, however much revered. At all times and in all circumstances he was regardless of consequences to himself, a fact which, together with his gifts, secured for him a certain measure of concealed respect even from those who hated him most. Withal, throughout these years of destructiveness his mind was working toward the formation of a new order of things. Behind and beyond all his Ishmaelitish tactics there were thoughts of a reconstruction. He may have been right or wrong in his courses. At any rate, it is necessary in a sketch of his career to set out the connecting links in years of activity which to a casual observer may seem disjointed, variable, and erratic.
A notable incident in his career was when, with practically the whole country inflamed against him, owing to his attitude on the Boer War, he decided to go down to Birmingham, the seat and stronghold of Joseph Chamberlain, and address a public meeting in support of his anti-war policy. Friends tried to dissuade him. He was not to be dissuaded. Preparations were quickly set afoot in Birmingham to break up his meeting. When the evening arrived so great were the hostile crowds around the town hall, so high their temper, that the chief constable of the city begged Lloyd George not to risk himself on the platform. Lloyd George would have none of his suggestion. He went to the hall, and his appearance was a signal for a riot such as had been unknown for a generation at a public gathering in Britain. In a frantic fight by the Chamberlain supporters to reach the platform the sympathizers with Lloyd George were trampled down. Furniture was broken up, windows were smashed, several people were seriously injured, and one man was killed. Lloyd George was smuggled out of the hall in a policeman's uniform.
England rang with the story of the happenings on that night in Birmingham. Lloyd George was called a coward and sneered at for allowing himself to get away in disguise, and if poisonous words could have checked a man's career he would have been finished from that time. A few days after the riot an M. P. met Joseph Chamberlain in the lobby of the House of Commons and said to him, "So your people didn't manage to kill Lloyd George the other night?" "What is everybody's business is nobody's business," said Chamberlain as he passed on.
It is a tribute to Lloyd George's power among his own people in Wales that when an election took place in the middle of the war he retained his seat in Parliament. You get a touch of the kind of man in the words he spoke to his supporters in the course of his speech after the declaration of the poll. "While England and Scotland are drunk with blood, the brain of Wales remains clear, and she advances with steady step on the road to progress and liberty."
The Conservatives remained in power to the end of 1905, and in the beginning of 1906 there was a general election which returned to power a strong Liberal majority augmented by some thirty Labor members. A vigorous spirit was sweeping through the Liberal ranks. New men had sprung to the front to take the place of those who had dropped out by death, old age, or the feeling that modern thought was too advanced for them. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, a pawky old Scotsman who became the Liberal Prime Minister, did not confine the members of his Cabinet to the respectable leaders of old time, but brought in new blood, among his selections being Lloyd George. This promotion was unexpected by the public. Lloyd George had made a big reputation in Parliament, but it was always that of the free-lance. On vital questions of principle he was as free from control by the Liberals as by the Conservatives. He was known as an untamed guerrilla, and that was all. There were many shrugs of the shoulder, many doubtful whispers, at the hazards which Campbell-Bannerman was taking in putting such a person into the Cabinet. True, he was but one of the lesser appointments—namely, that of president of the Board of Trade—but was he capable of even that responsibility? Had he any capacity at all as an administrator? These were the doubts pretty freely expressed in political circles when the appointments to the new Cabinet were announced.
It is significant of the reserves in Lloyd George that from the time he took his place among the line of Ministers on the Treasury bench he began to show signs of qualities unsuspected. Gone was his combativeness. He answered questions about his department with urbanity, replied to criticism with courtesy and painstaking detail. Out of the House he devoted himself assiduously to learning the intricacies of his department. Very soon reforms began to be manifested. The Board of Trade, an old and historic department, largely bound up with red tape, became the most unconventional office in Whitehall. Moreover, the activities of the Board of Trade began to get an importance in Parliament that they had never hitherto possessed. Novel measures were brought in by Lloyd George and, what was more surprising, were successfully piloted into law by him. His grasp of detail, his unfailing tact, his readiness to meet reasonable objections, all contributed to the result. I do not mean that he was always suave, because occasionally biting sentences would make themselves felt as of old, but wherever courtesy and politeness were forthcoming from opponents he returned them in full measure. Responsibility was certainly having its effect on him.
He passed the Patents and Designs Act, formulated to compel manufacturers holding British patents to make their goods in Britain instead of abroad, and he passed also the Merchant Shipping Act, for the purpose of giving British sailors better food and healthier conditions of life. While the Board of Trade was thus forging its way in public estimation it suddenly became the most important Government department in the country. The railway men all over the lines planned a strike to get more pay, a strike which would have dislocated if it had not stopped all the trains in Britain. It is the business of the Board of Trade to handle labor disputes. Lloyd George was at once in the vortex. To the surprise of some, he took no extreme view, but considered it his duty as a Minister first of all to keep the railways running for the benefit of the community as a whole, and then after that to secure some arrangement, if it were possible, by which the lot of the railway men could be bettered. He flung into the struggle for compromise the whole of the ardor which for years past he had devoted to combat, and after ceaseless struggles with both sides during some days and nights lie was successful in fixing up a scheme under which the railways were continued in operation, and the men got a good deal of what they asked for. All sections praised him, and the new Lloyd George was acclaimed as something of a revelation.
His tenure as president of the Board of Trade was his first experience as Cabinet Minister. He, nevertheless, established innovations the thought of which would have given respectable and long-established statesmen a shudder. He cared not a rap for convention. He was not in the least afraid of his permanent officials, who so often control their department and their political chief with it. A Cabinet Minister in Britain is hedged with a certain divinity and is almost unapproachable except under stated conditions. Lloyd George bewildered people with his approachability, his unpretentiousness. During the strain of the railway struggle he would exchange a cheery word with the waiting newspaper reporters as he passed them on going in or out of his office, an unheard-of thing for a Cabinet Minister to do. The second day was cold and inclement when he stopped among them as he approached the Board of Trade entrance. "There is no need for you gentlemen to wait outside here in the cold. Come inside and I'll find you a room," he said. He caused a comfortable apartment to be set aside for them during their vigil, and each afternoon he caused tea and cigarettes to be sent down to them to beguile the long period of waiting. Here is another little story of his early days of office. A railway smash at Shrewsbury resulted in the death of twenty people and the injury of a great many more, and in accordance with the usual practice the Board of Trade sent down immediately an inspector to investigate the cause of the accident. But on this occasion not only did the inspector go down to Shrewsbury, but his chief, the president of the Board of Trade, also, quite a novel course for a high and mighty Cabinet Minister. I was present as a journalist and remember seeing Lloyd George walking along by the side of the dismantled lines, threading his way through the wreckage, putting questions to the railway officials, and generally seeking to probe out on his own account how the affair occurred. On behalf of a score of special correspondents who had come down from London, I stopped Lloyd George in the street as he was walking to his hotel to ask him about the official inquiry. "Is it to be held in private, as usual?" I said. "No," replied Lloyd George. "The inquiry will be in public. Here are twenty people killed and the country has the right to know why they were killed." That was the way he used to break precedents. Next day we all went down to the Raven Hotel, the appointed place, and the inspector proceeded with his work of examining witnesses. Lloyd George sat by his side. I felt sorry for that inspector—who usually was monarch of all he surveyed. He was a man of dignified and leisurely manner. Lloyd George cut in and took the examination of witnesses out of his mouth and, figuratively speaking, turned them inside out in trying to get the facts. He did not consider the position of the inspector one bit. But he made the inquiry a very interesting one.
Despite his new manner on the Treasury bench in the House of Commons Lloyd George had lost none of the freshness and suppleness of mind which had distinguished him as a free-lance, and as he proceeded to do unexpected things it became apparent he was going to be as vital a figure in office as he had been on the back benches. Traces of appreciation showed themselves in public comment, though his ancient enemies, the Conservatives, held their dislike in reserve, and had some forebodings in their hearts about the future. They knew quite well by now that this Welshman could not be read at a glance.
Bits of the old Adam began to show up in Lloyd George's speeches as he lent his aid on the platform in support of Liberal proposals. I remember that at this time there was still a good deal of talk by the Conservatives of tariff reform—that is to say, of the imposition of import duties for protection and revenue purposes. The Liberals were against the proposals, fought them strongly, and indeed by their attitude had won a good deal of support in the election which returned them to power. Lloyd George made some of his flaming speeches in support of free trade against protection. Then came one night when the Board of Trade Minister had to speak in the House of Commons as a defender of the Government policy against a motion put forth by the Opposition in favor of tariff reform. After speakers on both sides had debated the topic for some hours it was Lloyd George's duty to wind up the discussion for the Government. When he rose there was much excitement on both sides and a good deal of shouting and counter-shouting. Remarks were thrown across from the Opposition benches indicating that Lloyd George's speeches about the evil of tariff reform on the Continent had been exaggerated. "I have been challenged," he said, "with regard to statements as to the food of the poorer people in Germany, and I am going to give now, not my opinion, but some hard facts." He held up a blue book. "This volume is the last annual report of the Consul-General in Germany. The facts which I shall quote are his facts, not mine. If you will not take my word, you will at any rate be able to take his word." He turned to a marked page. "Let us see what he says about a typical center, the city of Chemnitz. Here are some interesting figures as to what the poorer class eat in this tariff-reform paradise of Chemnitz." He proceeded to read extracts. I cannot recall the extra figures, but Lloyd George's phrases ran something like this: "This report states that in Chemnitz last year there were sold in the shops two thousand tons of horse-flesh. These are not my figures, mind, but those of the Consul-General. I commend the figures to excited members opposite. But horse-flesh is not the only thing the people through the pressure of tariff reform are compelled to eat in Chemnitz. They even eat dog-meat." (Cheers from the Liberals and derisive shouts from the Conservatives.) "The Consul-General states that one thousand tons of dog-meat were consumed in Chemnitz last year." (More shouting from both sides.) "But there is even worse to come." Lloyd George's voice took on a note of gravity, and the House hushed itself to listen. "Not only horse-flesh, not only dog-meat, but five hundred tons of donkey-flesh were sold in Chemnitz last year." He swung his finger along the line of Opposition leaders and paused. "The fact has a tragic significance for right honorable gentlemen who want to introduce tariff reform into this country."
Then his speech had to be suspended for a full minute.
At this time the cause of tariff reform was going rapidly downhill. Austen Chamberlain, the son of Joseph Chamberlain, strove hard to keep it to the fore, and frequently at intervals in the House of Commons the protectionist proposals were brought forward. Lloyd George had a characteristic word to say about the situation one day. "I do not blame Mr. Austen Chamberlain for sticking to his father. But the considerations which have made him protectionist are not fiscal, but filial. History ever repeats itself, and the boy still stands on the burning deck."
By rapid steps Lloyd George became the outstanding figure of the Government in which he occupied a comparatively minor position. Soon he was as prominent in Britain as, when a youth, he was prominent in Wales. Hardly a week passed in which he was not by his daring speeches or actions raising storms of anger among opponents or choruses of approval among the advanced Liberals. Vital force radiated from him. When Campbell-Bannerman died in 1908 and Asquith, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, became Prime Minister, it was on Lloyd George that his choice fell as the new Chancellor. The public, dazzled at Lloyd George's swift rise, withheld their judgment as to the wisdom of Mr. Asquith's experiment in this elevation of the Welshman to the post of second statesman in the United Kingdom. As for Lloyd George himself, he took up the position with calmness and a gleaming eye. At last he had his hand on the helm.
THE FIRST GREAT TASK
The biggest day in Lloyd George's life until he was called upon by the King to form a Government was Thursday, April 29, 1909. On that day he presented to Parliament and the country his first Budget—the framework of taxation and legislation which was to be the foundation of a new social system in Britain—which incidentally was to break the power of the House of Lords and to lead to such a storm among all classes that the aid of the King himself had to be invoked in order to carry out the plan of the Welsh statesman.
A dramatic situation had arisen at Westminster. Up to 1906 when the Liberals were returned by a large majority the Conservatives, with the exception of a short break, had been in power for twenty years. Another generation of the people had come to adult life since the early eighties when the Liberals were last in real power, and a new set of Liberal statesmen with advanced ideals had been put into office. The exultation among the forces of progress was great. The hot hopes were to have a speedy quenching. The laws of England are passed by the joint consent of the King, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The House of Commons is an electoral body, but the House of Lords has a hereditary membership, descending from father to son. Of the six hundred members of the House of Lords five hundred are Conservatives. The Conservative minority in the Commons, faced with startling Liberal reforms, called to their aid the five hundred stalwarts in the Lords, and the consequence was that the sweeping measures introduced by the Liberals were promptly thrown out by the Lords. Thus an intolerable situation presented itself to the Liberal majority chosen by the nation to direct its Government.
Lloyd George, on being appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, at once set himself the task of meeting the difficulty, and there were weapons to his hand. He planned not only an elaborate scheme of reform, but also the means of putting it into execution in face of the House of Lords. The ostensible function of the Budget is to provide a schedule of taxation for the coming year in order to meet the current needs of the country. Lloyd George's plan was to put forward his own conception of "the needs of the country" and then to raise the money on account of them. He purposed to bring about a wholesale readjustment between rich and poor and to use the readjustment as a basis for developments in the future. That was his bold and carefully devised plan of action. It will be asked at once why the Lords could not frustrate this intention as well as those embodied in the other Liberal bills they had thrown out. This was the reason: the Lords were prevented by the constitution from altering money bills sent up to them by the Commons, though they might do what they liked with other bills. The people provided the taxes, the Commons are elected by the people, and the power of the purse possessed by the Commons gives the people the command in affairs of state. As long ago as the time of Charles II. this rule about the Commons and Lords with respect to money supplies was emphatically laid down. Lloyd George's scheme was to wrap up social changes in his Budget and to dare the Lords to meddle with them, inasmuch as they were part and parcel of a money bill.
The country had no idea of this deep-rooted plan. Something sensational was expected of Lloyd George, but his proposals, it was thought, would be of a purely financial nature, including, possibly, heavy taxation of rich people and relief of the indirect taxation of the poor. As a matter of fact, Lloyd George, walking over from Downing Street to the House of Commons on that Thursday afternoon, had three secrets in the leather despatch-case he carried in his hand. One was the amount of money he was going to raise, the second the sources from which he was going to obtain it, and third the way in which the money was to be spent. Those of us who saw him walking briskly across Palace Yard that afternoon in company with Mr. Winston Churchill little thought that the small brown despatch-case held plans which within three years were to alter vitally the constitution of the United Kingdom as it had existed for eight hundred years.
The national financial position was known in the morning before Lloyd George made his speech. The amount needed for the current year by the country for the army, navy, civil services, and social relief was 164,152,000 pounds. The revenue to be expected on the existing basis of taxation was 148,390,000 pounds. A deficit of nearly 16,000,000 pounds had, therefore, to be provided for. In addition, in the framing of this as of other Budgets, regard was necessary to the automatic increase of certain expenditures in coming years, increases which must be met by the expanding capacity of schemes of revenue. (Though the Budget is an annual affair, a good many of its features are necessarily continuing.) After all this has been taken into account there must be remembered that Lloyd George was planning still further expenditure. He had therefore to get piles of money from somewhere or other and to make sure of it in increasing volume as years went on.
I was present in the House of Commons to describe the Budget scene. The Chamber was packed and was quivering with excitement when at four minutes to three, during the preliminary business, Lloyd George, with a red despatch-box in his hand, came into view from behind the Speaker's chair, and passed with alert and nervous steps to the place on the Treasury bench reserved for him between the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, and Mr. Churchill. I can see Lloyd George now as he sat bolt-upright with one knee crossed over the other, waiting for the moment when the chairman should call on him. His face was pale and his eyes were rather dull. He looked a little overwrought. He was feeling the tension; so much was obvious. I remember wondering if he had reached the limit of his strength, whether he was really big enough in spirit for the ordeal that lay before him.
Within ten minutes the formal business of the day was over, and the chairman, standing up on his dais, announced, "Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer." Lloyd George rose to the table. He seemed almost an insignificant figure in the midst of the crowded assembly. Members were filling all the seats, some squatting on the steps of the Speaker's chair, others standing together in the space below the bar at the farther end of the House. The galleries banked overhead were occupied by distinguished visitors, foreign ambassadors, members of the House of Lords, ladies of title, distinguished men of thought and action. It was such an audience as is given to but few men in a lifetime.
In low voice and conversational phrase Lloyd George began his speech. He told of the money that had to be raised, but he did not stop at the narrative of what may be called ordinary expenditure. He told how the primary duty of a rich nation was to help those who had been exhausted, to give a chance to the downtrodden. He related some of the things he had in his mind—the insurance of workmen against illness and unemployment, the payment of pensions for persons over a certain age. He told of how unemployment might be largely eliminated by developments in the countryside, through new methods of agriculture, through light railways, through afforestation, through stock-breeding, through the reclamation of land. Efforts in these directions would not only help a great many of the population at the present time, but would provide enormously increased opportunities for coming generations. He proposed that part of the money of the year should be taken up with these projects.
Very soon he swept into the explanation of how new money was to be raised. It was necessary to set up a system which would, year by year, produce an increasing supply of money. When Lloyd George came to the point of his actual proposals you could have heard the slightest rustle of an order paper, so keen were the silent Commons. He was going to raise the income tax, he said, the existing impost on incomes of 160 pounds a year and over. He was going to put a super tax on rich people, those who had 5,000 pounds a year or more. He was going to make big additions to the duty charged on great estates when they changed hands.
Demand after demand he showered on the rich and comfortable. The assembly, expecting surprises, had them in abundance. The Chancellor drew sheaf after sheaf of notes from the red despatch-box on the table in front of him and explained with an air of intensive reasonableness the huge sums he proposed to draw from the property-owners in the country. New inroads were to be made on the profits of land and liquor. Coal-mines were to pay royalties. People were to be taxed when they became rich without any effort on their own part, but by fortunate accident in the increased value of special localities. There was to be a complete valuation of every yard of land in the country as the basis for developments to come.
Although the money to be raised that year by these new proposals would not much more than cover what was required by immediate necessities, the taxation was such as to multiply in product as years went on. Finally the motive behind the revolutionary Budget of Lloyd George came in the concluding words of his speech. "It is essential that we should make provision for the defense of our country. But, surely, it is equally imperative that we should make it a country even better worth defending for all and by all. And it is that this expenditure is for both these purposes that alone can justify the Government. I am told that no Chancellor of the Exchequer has ever been called upon to impose such heavy taxes in a time of peace. This, Mr. Chairman, is a war Budget. It is for raising money to wage implacable warfare against poverty and squalidness. I cannot help hoping and believing that before this generation has passed away we shall have advanced a great step toward that good time when poverty and wretchedness, and the human degradation which always follows in its camp, will be as remote from the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests."
It took a day or so for the full effect of the Budget to be understood. And then enthusiasm rose in the breasts of Liberals and Labor men, while the middle and upper classes poured forth outcries and protests. As the proposals were discussed in detail, feeling arose on both sides, and Lloyd George was variously described as a genius who was laying the foundation of a new Britain and a predatory politician out to catch votes. Throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom his name was on the lips of all, either in execration or in praise.
The greatest Parliamentary fight of a generation began to take form in the House of Commons. The Conservatives, led by Mr. Balfour, put up an obstructive fight to every line and almost every word of the finance bill which was founded on the Budget. Departmental duties all day, the onward fight with his finance measure throughout the night and often the early hours of the morning, became the routine of Lloyd George's life. I have seen him at the table at the House of Commons at seven o'clock in the morning, with ashen face and burning eyes, after a week of all-night sittings, persuading, explaining, and arguing with determined opponents of his measure. Often enough in these fatiguing morning hours there would be sitting up behind the grille in the ladies' gallery an anxious, but proud, woman watching the Welsh statesman at the table. It was Mrs. George, the pretty Maggie Owen of years before whom the young Welsh solicitor had taken from her father's farm.
In justice I ought to summarize in a few sentences written at the time the attitude of the opponents of the Budget. "Why put forward these extraordinary changes? Here was an unequaled nation, the richest and greatest in existence, which by its character and energy had built up an empire reaching across the globe, with Parliamentary institutions which were the admiration of every state. The millions of our population were welded in a common sentiment, unsurpassed since history began, making unshakable the foundations of our nationality. We had fought our way to modern conditions very slowly, and now, class for class, we were perhaps the most contented and prosperous people on the face of the earth. Admitted that we had vast crowds of silently enduring poor. (The poor we have always with us, as has every great nation.) But the way to ameliorate the evils among them was not to disturb the comfort, convenience, or property of the rich, but to increase the prosperity of rich and poor alike by putting a tax on foreigners' goods coming into this country, thus providing revenue and increasing home manufactures at one stroke. That was the course to pursue, not to disturb the elaborate and happy system, the pride of the world, by sudden incursions into the liberty of the individual and by depredations on the privileged in order to benefit the unhappy. Property, whether obtained without effort or built up by the hardest of labor, had its inalienable rights, and violently to outrage those rights was not only unjust to the persons chiefly concerned, but dangerous to the state at large."
The campaign which was set in motion against Lloyd George has not been equaled in violence since the old free-speaking days of a century ago. He was called a vulgar Welsh attorney. He was accused of having every kind of attribute which was contemptible and hateful. One of the things urged against him was that he was no gentleman and could not understand the feeling of gentlefolk, owing to his unfortunate upbringing. His opponents thus attacking him went into paroxysms of rage over a speech he made at Limehouse in the East End of London, where he defended his Budget. The Limehouse speech has become famous as an example of Lloyd George's oratory. I give a few extracts to enable an idea to be formed about it.
"The Budget is introduced, not merely for the purpose of raising barren taxes, but taxes that are fertile taxes, taxes that will bring forth fruit—the security of the country which is paramount in the minds of all, provision for the aged and deserving poor. It was time it was done. It is rather a shame for a rich country like ours, probably the richest country in the world, if not the richest the world has ever seen, that it should allow those who have toiled all their days to end in penury and possibly starvation. It is rather hard that an old workman should have to find his way to the gates of the tomb, bleeding and footsore through the brambles and thorns of poverty. We cut a new path through, an easier one, a pleasanter one, through fields of waving corn. We are raising money to pay for the new road, aye, and to widen it, so that two hundred thousand paupers shall be able to join in the march. There are many in the country blessed by Providence with great wealth, and if there are among them men who grudge out of their riches a fair contribution toward the less fortunate of their fellow-countrymen, they are shabby rich men.
"We propose to do more by the means of the Budget. We are raising money to provide against the evils and sufferings that follow from unemployment. We are raising money for the purpose of assisting our great friendly societies to provide for the sick, the widows, and the orphans. We are providing money to enable us to develop the resources of our own land. I do not believe any fair-minded man would challenge the justice and the fairness of the objects which we have in view of raising this money. But there are some who say that the taxes themselves are unjust, unfair, unequal, oppressive, notably so the land taxes. They are engaged, not merely in the House of Commons, but outside the House of Commons, in assailing these taxes with a concentrated and sustained ferocity which will not even allow a comma to escape with its life.
"We claim that the tax we impose on land is fair, just, and moderate. They go on threatening that if we proceed they will cut down their benefactions and discharge labor. What kind of labor? What is the labor they are going to choose for dismissal? Are they going to threaten to devastate rural England while feeding themselves and dressing themselves? Are they going to reduce their gamekeepers? That would be sad. The agricultural laborer and the farmer might then have some part of the game which they fatten with their labor. But what would happen to you in the season? No weekend shooting with the Duke of Norfolk for any of us. But that is not the kind of labor they are going to cut down. They are going to cut down productive labor—builders and gardeners—and they are going to ruin their property so that it shall not be taxed. All I can say is this: the ownership of land is not merely an enjoyment, it is stewardship. It has been reckoned as such in the past, and if they cease to discharge their functions, which include the security and defense of the country and the looking after the broken in their villages and neighborhood, those functions which are part of the traditional duties attaching to the ownership of land and which have given to it its title, if they cease to discharge those functions, the time will come to reconsider the conditions under which land is held in this country. No country, however rich, can permanently afford to have quartered upon its revenue a class which declines to do the duty which it is called upon to perform. And, therefore, it is one of the prime duties of statesmanship to investigate those conditions.