Smalley, George W.
CHAPTER IX: Statesmen in Society
STATESMEN IN SOCIETY.
So much, then, for Mr. Gladstone and his social metier. Let me record my ideas on the character and position of the second statesman in the Liberal party. One of the superficial differences between Lord Hartington and Mr. Gladstone is that whereas the latter is in the best society of London and England, the former is of it. If the two were to retire into private life to-morrow, Mr. Gladstone's seclusion would be that of a dignified scholarship, bordered with an academic and even an aristocratic fringe. Were Lord Hartington to do so, the transition would be simply from statesmanship to society; one element only would have dropped out of his life. With the friends and acquaintances of whom he knows most, and who know most of him, he would be as great a man, as considerable a social force, as he now is-some might say even a greater.
As Mr. Gladstone has his resources and occupations in theology, hymnology, and archaeology, so is Lord Hartington fond of society and sport. He is a great noble and a zealous turfite. Five years ago he resigned the stewardship of the Jockey Club to become a Secretary of State. To-day, I think, he would resign, if his sense of pride and public spirit allowed him, the Secretaryship of State to become steward of the Jockey Club. He would not surround himself with savants, scholars, and ecclesiastics after Mr. Gladstone's heart; he would only enter more unrestrainedly into the enjoyments, of which, as matters are, he partakes sparingly. Thus STATESMEN IN SOCIETY.
|he would figure more frequently in that patrician set presided over by the Prince of Wales. He would pay more attention to his stud and his pleasures. The drawing - rooms and dinner - tables, the bright particular stars, of which in the ranks of English womanhood are the Duchess of Manchester, Lady Lonsdale, Lady Charles Bersford, Lady Randolph Churchill, Lady Mandeville, Lady Hamilton, and, when she is in London or England, Lady Kildare, would see him at less frequent intervals than is now possible.|
The society in which Lord Hartington moves, and in which he is most at home, is not primarily political at all, and in his company, politics-as is indeed natural, seeing that there are probably three Conservatives for one Liberal in it-are systematically avoided. It would be too much to say that he enjoys society; he is rather reconciled to it; he acquiesces in it, even as he acquiesces in, and is reconciled to, the politicians with whom he has cast in his lot, the exalted station to which he has been born, and the prospect of the dukedom which awaits him. Lord Hartington's manner is suggestive of a semi-contemptuous protest against everything, politics and society, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. "But," he always seems to be saying to himself, " it is not my fault; how can I help it?" He is the embodiment of e " spleen;" he is the embodiment also of English common-sense. Lord Hartington is often criticised for his manner. Unquestionably it is peculiar. When he enters a room where a party is assembled for dinner-which he seldom does save as the last-comer -he ignores most of those in whose presence he finds himself. Some may fancy he wishes to avoid them; others, more idiotically sensitive, may impute to him a design to cut them. But it is not so; Lord Hartington merely illustrates one of the most pronounced tendencies of English society, viz., to shun demonstrativeness of any kind. He hates, therefore, whether on arriving or leaving a house, to plunge into a perplexing maze of hand-shakings, nods, and bows.
One of my compatriots once fairly summed up the air and demeanor of this distinguished nobleman when he said to an English friend, " What I principally like about your Lord Hartington is his you-be-damnedness." He has hauteur, but he has not insolence; for insolence implies something which is ill-bred or under-bred, and no one can accuse Lord Hartington of being either. He says little, and presents to most people the front of an impenetrable reserve.
|Not infrequently he breaks his silence by a laugh, half hearty, half suppressed, partly cynical and wholly good-natured. He is an Englishman to the back-bone, and he understands and manages, certainly better than Mr. Gladstone, and probably better than any other Englishman could, that peculiar amalgam of prejudice and shrewdness, passion and judgment, emotion and sound sense-the House of Commons.|
To see Lord Hartington at his best, to form an adequate notion of the innate strength of the man, you should watch him at a critical moment in the popular Chamber. The members of this assembly are bound together by a certain organic unity of sentiment which justifies their comparison to a huge animal, subject, as such monsters are, to rapid alternations of excitement and quiescence, phlegmatic indifference and keen attention. When a bore is on his legs, this portent of complex vitality seems to stretch itself out at full length, and only to remind one of its existence by snorts and sibilations of impatience. When it is irritated or disturbed it lashes out with its tail, or its bristles stand up erect on its back, or it hisses between its teeth and threatens to become dangerously unmanageable.
It is at these moments that Lord Hartington asserts his strong ascendency over it. Up to that time he has tolerated its absurdities and viewed with a lenient eye its grotesque petulance. "But now," he seems to say, "he will have no more nonsense." The many-headed brute understands him in an instant. The same rapport is established between him and it as between a fractious lion in the Zoological Gardens and the keeper with the irresistible eye, or between the horse-tamer and the quadruped just reduced to obedience. Phlegm, spleen, and fire are combined in Lord Hartington's composition in the proportions exactly suited to dominate and impress the English people.
One often hears wonder expressed that an aristocrat like Lord Hartington should consent to act with the Radicals and revolutionists with whom it is said he associates. The reason of it is his cynical contempt for his social inferiors, whatever political label they may bear. They are, in fact, in his disdainful estimate, alike canaille; what is there to choose between them ? And the answer which Lord Hartington gives to this question is, " Absolutely nothing." Asked once whether political demonstrations ought not to be forbidden in Hyde Park on Sundays, he replied, STATESMEN IN SOCIETY.
|with a characteristic sneer which had in it nothing that was affected, offensive, or insincere, that he could not for the life of him see why if you were to admit a well-dressed mob into the park on week-days you should exclude from it a less well-dressed mob on the Sabbath. No sentiment could have shown more plainly the opinion he holds of human nature generally, and of English political nature in particular.|
He continues to act with the party of which he is a member for two further reasons-one his honorable sense of loyalty, the other the hard practical sense of the long-headed Anglo-Saxon. It is not in him to desert those with whom he is identified. Were he to do so, with whom could he throw in his lot? Would not his public career be closed? Would he not be surrendering the position which as an English noble he ought to hold? Would he not be untrue to the traditions of his order? Secondly, his worldly wisdom convinces him that to part company with the Radicals would be to efface himself. They are essential to him. Politics with him are not mere matters of opinion, but means to tangible ends. He has nothing of the visionary in his composition. Convince him that a measure of which he disapproves is necessary, and he acquiesces, though doubtless in a grumbling and discontented manner. That is his way. He is the Devil's Advocate of the Liberal party, with a mind quick to raise all sorts of objections, which he formulates in stridently querulous tones.
Is he a popular man? On the whole, yes. First, because he is a lord, the heir to a great dukedom: and Englishmen love a lord. Secondly, because he is fond of the turf, is a man of pleasure, with a dash of libertinism in his composition: and Englishmen like to feel that their leaders have the same passions as themselves. Lord Hartington has never, perhaps, resisted feminine influence with relentless obstinacy, and a few venial escapades of his youth are fondly remembered by his countrymen and endear him to their hearts. The true-born Briton, Puritan and hypocrite as he may be, prone to worship or affect to worship respectability with the same idolatry with which a Greek Christian prostrates himself before his stocks and stones, or a tawny savage before his fetich, still loves a viveur; and the knowledge that Lord Hartington, proud as Lucifer though he may be, reserved, contemptuous, and scornful, is at bottom not absolutely adamant, has something attractive about it for the masses. This, too, was the secret of
|much of Lord Palmerston's popularity, as it was of Lord Melbourne's before him. There is no instance, so far as I am aware, in English politics or English society in which it does, or has done, a man-peer or commoner-any harm to be known that a lady, not necessarily his wife, is, to use the cant term, a factor-or should it not be a factress?-in his existence.|
The ladies who can venture to play this critical and delicate partare very few-must be absolutely sure of their position, and must have the art, which only high station, birth, breeding, or extraordinary natural powers can develop, of never violating appearances or offending decorum. If I may venture upon the difficult task of classifying ladies in London society, I should do it as follows. First come those of the most indisputably aristocratic ton -ladies of birth and title, such as those whose names I have already mentioned and shall have occasion to mention again. It is the rarest thing in the world for any one of these to make openly a faux pas, and the penalty for such a blunder is usually ostracism for life. Place for penitence there is none, and the great lady who, by an indiscretion, has fallen from her high estate has no alternative but partial solitude, if she stays in her own country, or exile to that society which lies perilously close to the borders of the half-world if she goes abroad. She becomes, in a word, declassee. In Paris and Rome, as in many other cities and pleasureresorts of the Continent, instances of these fair patrician exiles are not unknown.
The second order of ladies in London society may be described as the parliamentary, political, and official. These, it is needless to say, are one and all paragons of virtue. Not only no suspicion but no shadow of a suspicion has ever rested upon them. Cornelia herself was not a better mother; Griselda not a more exemplary wife. Their husbands are sometimes peers of inferior degree or of diminished fortunes, sometimes baronets or simply untitled members of Parliament and officials of the Crown. The wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons is at the head of this section of London society, even as the Speaker himself is known as the first commoner in England. The ladies I now mention go to all the entertainments given at the great houses upon State occasions. In their turn they entertain the leaders of their party, the bishop, and the more prominent of the clergy (when these divines happen to be in town), of their diocese the better sort of Civil STATESMEN IN SOCIETY.
|servants. They rise or sink in the scale of social importance according as the party to which their husbands are attached are in or out of office. Officialism is to them the atmosphere from which they derive the nutrition necessary to social existence.|
The third place in this classification may be assigned to those ladies in London society whose position is recognized, who may often be seen at the very first houses in the capital, who are bidden to the banquets given by high ministers of State, ambassadors, diplomatists, nay, royalty itself, but whose position is nevertheless not assured in the same way as that of those composing the two classes previously mentioned. May I venture to indicate the ladies of whom I now speak by the French compound demi-castor-la lionne pauvre would imply more than is necessary. I assume that these have all the advantages of birth and breeding, and upon the rigid propriety of their life who can make any imputation? But somehow or other they are not quite strong enough to lead an entirely unsupported existence, while a London establishment and London toilets are heavy drains upon a limited income. They have, indeed, husbands on whom they can lean, but, alas ! how frequently do the exigencies of business or not the less imperious demands of sport compel that gentleman to be from home! He has a railway concession to negotiate in the East, or property to look after in Siberia, or a vineyard to superintend in Spain, or a tramway to lay down in Damascus. Or else the turf is necessary to him, and there are race-meetings he must attend, and visits at the country houses of noble friends which he must make for that purpose. Or perhaps he cannot breathe freely in the oppressive atmosphere of London. He pines for the air of the moor and the mountain, of the loch and the sea. His enthusiasm is for yachting, fishing, hunting, shooting; and his wife, with noble unselfishness, allows him frequent spells of prolonged liberty. Nor is her temporary widowhood without its consolations. She visits and is visited a great deal. Her house is perfectly appointed. Dinners she does not give, but a few friends occasionally lunch with her, and upon these occasions the company is as much without fear and without reproach as Bayard himself. Moreover she is certain to have one or two stanch lady-friends belonging to the first or the second categories at which I have already glanced. These constitute her protectresses, her guardian angels; and should it ever be unjustly insinuated that she is not exactly as Caesar's wife ought to
|be, their reply is as prompt as it is conclusive. "Poor little woman," they say, "she has been badly treated. She is really the best and stanchest of her sex." To put it differently, she thrives and conquers on the suggestions of persecution. The very mention of her name becomes a tacit appeal to the chivalry of manhood and womanhood. She is one of London society's canonized martyrs. She has passed through the ordeal of that diaboli advocatus who is allowed to have his say before canonization is conceded, and henceforth any attacks made upon her recoil upon the aggressors. She always seems about to topple over the precipice; sometimes she does; usually she contrives to maintain her equilibrium.|
There is a fourth class of ladies, more or less accredited to society in London, differing in some important respects from any of the foregoing. This consists of ladies whose temperament is known as artistic. Sometimes there are elements in their nature or circumstances in their social position and antecedents which establish a link of affinity between themselves and the ladies who belong to any one of the three former orders. That is to say, they may be great ladies in virtue of their birth and relations, or they may be ladies attached to the official and political connection, anxious to strike out a career for themselves and to win a position independent of and additional to that which belongs to them in the natural course of affairs. Or there may be spread over them just that glamour of equivocal, perhaps compromising romance which intensifies the interest it is natural to take in the weaker sex. But art, or possibly science, dominates their whole social environment. They live in an atmosphere of artistic ideals. The society which they entertain and by which they are entertained, if its background derives its hue from the class of which they naturally form part, is shot through by a hue lent to it by the peculiarity, the bizarrerie of their tastes. Possibly some inconsiderate persons may expect me to associate with the classification of ladies in society here given individual names. Most respectfully do I decline to do anything of the sort-for two reasons. In the first place, for those who would recognize the propriety of the names, to mention them is superfluous; the names will occur to them readily enough without being specified. In the second place, to those to whom the classification does not suggest the names, the mere enumeration of them would fail to convey any idea at all.
Lord Salisbury's nature is traversed by a vein of contempt for STATESMEN IN SOCIETY.
|the rest of the world, as pronounced as that of the future Duke of Devonshire. But the scorn of the Tory leader is of a more intellectual quality. Not that he lacks the sentiment of pride of birth, though he conceals it with an air of deferential courtesy which has reminded some of his friends of the family physician. His appearance is imposing. Tall, strongly built, with something of the scholar's stoop in his shoulders, with well-cut features, and a face largely covered with black hair, with a manner half mysterious, half melancholy, he is to the eye much the sort of person whom a milliner's girl might conjure up to herself after a course of novelreading as a typical nobleman - the patrician genius of melodramatic romance. He has few, if any, intimate friends. Lady Salisbury, who enjoys the position, without perhaps the ideal aptitudes, of a grande dame-a keen politician and accomplished litterateur, gracious, kindly, amiable, if not a finished hostess-is his sole and paramount Egeria.|
Though Lord Salisbury himself wants those qualities which distinguish the statesman who is the leader of men from the politician and the pamphleteer, the debater, the epigrammatist, the journalist, it may be that he will yet make his mark as a great minister. At present he is admired, but he does not attract. The field is still open to him, and if he can once settle to his satisfaction that the game is worth the candle, and that it is premature to despair of political life-if, in a word, he can subdue his disdain for his inferiors, and temper his pessimism by a certain infusion of faith in human nature and in his fellow-countrymen; if he can stoop to a plebeian House of Commons, and simulate as much interest in his humble and, it may be, vulgar followers as in his laboratory at Hatfield-for Lord Salisbury is a man of science as well as of letters-he may accomplish the greatest things.
Sir Stafford Northcote, Lord Salisbury's colleague in the management of the Conservative party, is a curious compound of the government official, the academic, the country squire. In the first of these capacities he is admirable. He was apprenticed to Mr. Gladstone as his private secretary, and the lesson taught him by that master of finance he has no more forgotten than he has been able to shake off the ascendency of the teacher, or to present himself in any other attitude than that of the pupil. In action and in speech, he is full of the caution and hesitation of an Oxford scholar. He is as terror-stricken at the idea of responsibility, as impotent to
|face an emergency and to turn it to good account, as the most timid and procrastinating of Whigs. The utmost praise which can be given to him as a leader of the Conservative opposition is that others might have done worse. He is supposed to be a safe man. It is a question of opinion whether that is a term of merit or reproach.|
Socially his manner is not good. He is alternately gauche and pedantic, familiar and distant. It has never occurred to him to adopt any system of social procedure. He has not given a moment's thought to the laws which sway society, although he is, in his own judgment, formed for society, a ladies' man, fascinating, irresistible, with a dash of Don Giovanni in his composition. When I speak of his social manner, I refer to his demeanor in London drawing-rooms and clubs. In the country, and especially in his own western shire of Devon, he is extremely popular, affable, humorous, even facetious, cracking his jokes at the covert-side, the life and soul of a farmer's ordinary on market-day. Altogether, a droll mixture of the Treasury clerk, Sir Roger de Coverley, and the pantaloon on the pantomimic stage.
It must be confessed that, with a few exceptions, the other members of the Conservative party are somewhat deficient in human interest. Among the peers, the Duke of Richmond, of whom I have said something before now, is a stolid, sensible John Bull. Lord Cairns is a great lawyer, a capital orator, a first-rate debater; but his health is feeble. He is without the aristocratic descent which Tory peers, whatever they may say to the contrary, demand in their chief, and his legal eminence and legal habits of mind are against him. Lord Cranbrook, both as speaker and party tactician, is full of fire; but he is descending into the vale of years, and lives less in the present than in the past. He is a splendid declaimer, but too vehement and impulsive for a statesman.
Lord Carnarvon has considerable qualities. As administrator of a department, and as the author of official statements, whether oral or written, he has few superiors. Very cultivated and refined, he has a manner which is too mincing to inspire confidence. Moreover, his action is apt to be incalculable. He is the victim of a mental and moral eccentricity, partly natural and partly the result of the hot-house air in which he was from a boy brought up. As a consequence, he has developed a self-sufficiency STATESMEN IN SOCIETY.
|and independence which assert themselves at the moments most inconvenient for his political friends. He is too largely preoccupied by domestic solicitudes. He has married a second time, and seems to take the same interest in the young family he is now rearing as a bibliophilist in his books, or a connoisseur of vintages in his cellar. The first Countess of Carnarvon was a notable specimen of the English fine lady, and, had she lived, his subsequent career and character might have been different. Nevertheless, though he wants both grip and grit, he is, and will be, indispensable to any Conservative Cabinet that may be formed. He is rich and hospitable, and, while far too fond of surrounding himself by second-rate satellites who play upon his vanity, is a dispenser of useful bounties to aspiring Conservatives, who like to feel that their host is a nobleman.|
Lord Lytton is almost too various, too cosmopolitan, seriously to take rank as a Conservative statesman. His manners are a cross between those of the Parisian petit maitre and the dandy diplomatist of Great Britain. The ladies whom he honors by his observations or his flattery pronounce him a singularly charming man. He has also been a successful one. As Viceroy of India he was unpopular, save with his favorites, and, as few other Indian Viceroys have done, succeeded without much effort in setting the society of England's Asiatic empire by the ears. His temperament is pre-eminently that of the poet and writer. His despatches, transmitted with exuberant frequency to England, were models of ornate rhetoric, elegant and fairly lucid statement, and of a length entirely unprecedented. As a speaker he is voluble and sometimes effective. He belongs by taste to the world of art and the drama ; it is the irony of nature and the accidents of his position which have contributed to make him an aspirant for political place. He is a troubadour among officials, a pilgrim of passion in an age of uncompromising and prosaic fact.
There are several engaging noblemen in the Conservative party who ought not to be ignored. Lord Abergavenny is, in his way, a potentate, a keen politician, though seldom or never speaking in Parliament; always over head and ears in work and engagements, though there never seems any particular reason why he should trouble himself to do anything; a friend and patron of Mr. Spofforth, erewhile a party manager, with a passion for pulling the political wires and for returning members of the complexion he
|approves to the House of Commons. He believes, and whatever action he takes embodies this belief, that politics ought, even in this democratic age, to be kept as much as possible a game, the players in which are the heads of the great titled houses, while the rank and file of parties are the pawns they move. Lord Abergavenny is not only a puissant noble, but a popular landlord and what the English familiarly call a capital fellow.|
Lord Latham is the possessor of an historic title and the noblest beard cultivated by any English peer. Lord Barrington is rather a skilled observer of the game of politics than a man who takes a very active part in them. He reverences, but not slavishly, the memory of his late chief, Lord Beaconsfield, and lie criticises the shortcomings of his successors in an airily sagacious manner. Lord Rowton, Lord Beaconsfield's former secretary and ame damnee, visits the peers' chamber somewhat fitfully, and supports with grace and even hilarity the burden of an honor unto which he was not born. Lord Wharncliffe and Lady Wharncliffe are both bulwarks of the Tory party, but politics are with them subordinated to their cares of and position in society; and perhaps they are never more happy than when they are presiding over one of their beauty dinner-parties at the family mansion in Curzon Street.
I am afraid I have said little or nothing about the great dukes of England. But, with one or two exceptions, a duke in society is a rarity. I have never seen the Duke of Leeds or the Duke of Manchester in my life. The Duke of Argyll is magnificent as an orator and politician, and in the former capacity always gives one the idea of a Scotch dominie in a fine frenzy. The Duke of Devonshire is very little in London. The Duke of Northumberland among the Tories is only visible upon State occasions. The Duke of Abercorn lives, I think, entirely in the bosom of his family. The Duke of St. Albans is a cheery, sensible, sagacious, most kindhearted man of business, and the husband of the most charming of Duchesses. The Duke of Marlborough has material in him for half a dozen reputations. He is a chemist, mathematician, traveller, and linguist. He studies politics with aids to knowledge that few men possess. He can both write and speak. Existence is still before him, and with concentration and the ballast which experience ought to supply he will make his mark and become a force to be reckoned with.
The most attractive figure among the younger members of the STATESMEN IN SOCIETY.
|Conservative party is beyond doubt that of the Duke of Marlborough's brother, Lord Randolph Churchill. With his audacity, his insouciance, his impetuosity, his vehemence, and his occasional coolness, more exasperating than his vehemence-in a word, with his fresh and vivid personality, he stands out in delightful relief from among the humdrum mediocrities- decorous, plausible, heavy-by whom he is surrounded. His political life is one of perpetual war. He is either assaulting the enemy from without, or assailing his friends within. The sword he wields is doubleedged, and directly it has smitten a foe, hip and thigh, it recoils to cleave the skull of an associate. Sir Richard Cross and Mr. W. H. Smith are commonplace Englishmen of the middle class- bourgeois nonentities whom Disraeli used to find convenient as a foil. Lord John Manners is the very pink and quintessence of a Tory gentleman, getting on in years; a chivalrous spirit, incapable of doing or thinking a mean thing, and without any of the qualifications which the leader of a party ought to possess. Sir Michael Hicks-Beach is reputed to be a strong man. He has a will and a temper of his own, a fine presence, a good voice, a tenacious and penetrating intellect, and a natural appetite for work. Lord George Hamilton was once described by a high authority-the present Lord Sherbrooke-as the best of the young men who had entered the House of Commons during his time. But he has done little more than prove himself industrious, a dashing but uncertain speaker, apt at arithmetic and statistics. Mr. Edward Stanhope is intelligent, but prim. Mr. James Lowther resembles an overgrown school-boy, and his character is summed up in the familiar abbreviation of his Christian name, "Jim."|
Mr. Gibson and Mr. Plunket are two pleasant, popular, and accomplished Irish lawyers, each presenting a marked contrast to the other. Mr. Gibson is famous for his white head, his fluent, fearless utterance, his Irish brogue, his spirit and energy, and, in all matters outside the region of his professional or local knowledge, his neverfailing inaccuracy. When, for instance, he essays, as he sometimes does, to speak upon questions of foreign policy, he may be expected, before he has been on his legs five minutes, to perpetrate some error which raises a laugh and spoils an argument. He has all the fire of his race in its most developed form, says droll things in a droll way-sometimes sententious, at others purely frivolousis a capital companion, and universally liked.
Mr. Plunket is a man of more polished manner, more subtle intellect, and a far higher gift of parliamentary oratory. His speeches are invariably welcomed in the House of Commons, and lie has a slight hesitation in his voice, of which he often makes a consummately artistic use to accentuate his points. But he has two failings: the first the bigotry of an Irish Protestant, which he may suppress, but of which he can never divest himself; the second an incurable love of ease. He gives up to pleasure what was meant for politics: and as he has the taste, so he is often overcome with the languor and the lassitude of the refined voluptuary. He is a great diner-out and a finished mimic.
Lord Randolph Churchill is of a fibre and is cast in a mould different from any of these. For some years he had a difficulty in inducing people to take him seriously. It was only when he made it clear, by the applause which his speeches on platforms received, that he was a personage in the country that his leaders considered it worth their while to treat him, as one who might some day be their equal. He is on the lips of all men. Every feature of his countenance and characteristic of his costume would be recognized by the multitude in any town in England. Music-hall songs have been composed in his honor, his name is the cue for admiring laughter in farces or opera-bouffes, the London cabmen and omnibus drivers are as well acquainted with him by sight as with Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Henry Irving.
It is a face and a figure which once seen are not easily forgotten. The largely developed and carefully tended mustache, to the growth of which, by constant manual treatment, a peculiar turn and shape have been given; the large, restless, prominent eyes, observing everything, watching an adversary in the House of Commons, or a hostile disputant in private argument, as a cat does a mouse; the forehead somewhat low, but broad and massive, with the perceptive organs above the eyes almost abnormally developed; the pallid, bloodless skin; the manner alternating between excess of listlessness and excess of excitability; the temperament proud, highly strung, keen, sensitive, disdainful, forgiving, revealing itself in every movement of the body, nay, in the very fashion in which the cigarette smoke is inhaled; the toilet sombre in color, careful, and in good taste-these are the outward and visible signs of a character remarkable and interesting.
Lord Randolph Churchill is a combination of coolness and of STATESMEN IN SOCIETY.
|nervousness, of dignity and impudence, of real earnestness and of cynical indifference to everything but the whim of the moment. He is always on the wings of elation or in the depths of depression, and when he takes the calm and collected view of affairs, which the statesman ought always to be able to command, it is because something has occurred to damp his hopes. To be collected or tranquil it is necessary that he should be pensive also. He reminds one of a child who, when he does not happen to be making a noise, is ill.|
Yet he is not quite as impulsive as he seems. He has a far keener eye to effect, and judges more deliberately the means necessary to produce any given effect, than those who watch him casually might think. From this it follows that he has made comparatively few mistakes. When the newspapers in their articles, or society through its more staid and severe members, have remonstrated with him on his sallies and his outbursts, it is probable that the critics have been wrong, and Lord Randolph Churchill has been right. A politician who is playing for his position must not stick at trifles, and the politician who aims at supremacy in a democratic age must do something which will impress the democracy with the effigy of himself. So far as principles are concerned, the only approach to them with which Lord Randolph Churchill can be credited is a hasty generalization from experience and expediency, which is always liable to be upset by a negative instance. As he himself has said, the business of an opposition is to oppose, and it is only as a member of opposition that he has yet proclaimed his qualifications to the English people. To borrow a metaphor of the national game, he has shown that he can bowl; it yet remains to be seen whether he can bat.
His sympathies, real or affected, are popular; his personal predilections are exclusive. If he has some of the arts of the demagogue, he has much of the hauteur of the noble. He resents familiarity, and he has a pretty power of making that resentment felt by impertinent intruders who presume upon the most superficial acquaintance with him. As a speaker he is forcible, impassioned, always effective, and sometimes eloquent. His facility of expression is astounding, and nothing is more noticeable in him than the literary quality of his rhetoric. He is quick as lightning in repartee, and, whether in social conversation or in the desultory wrangles of the House of Commons, the rejoinder follows upon
|the attack with the same celerity with which the thunder succeeds the flash. It would be too much to say that he is a master of epigram, though the English apply that expression to many persons who deserve it infinitely less. But he has an inexhaustible fund at his disposal of original and audacious antitheses, of strange combinations of words and ideas, of bizarre involutions of phrase, which are no bad substitutes for epigram. The tone of his voice is powerful, though rather uncertain, and he speaks with something more than a suspicion of the aristocratic lisp.|
In private life he is agreeable, hospitable, and sumptuous in his ideas of hospitality. His love for display and magnificence is only tempered by the perfect taste of Lady Randolph Churchill-one of the most accomplished women in London society, a finished artist and musician, and a perfect dresser-and himself. Everything in the Randolph Churchill establishment is comme il faut. The dinners are never too large or too long. The dishes are always the best of their kind-perfect simplicity combined with the highest merit. Matters, too, are arranged on a princely scale, for Lord Randolph Churchill has all the inclinations of a grand seigneur. His house is one of the few which possesses the electric light. It costs him about fifteen times as much as any other mode of domestic illumination. But what of that ? It was the thing to have, and his Lordship had it accordingly. I hope I shall not be accused of disrespect if I dare to compare him to Sarah Bernhardt. He has something of the genius, much of the emotional excitability, much of the same combination of opposite qualities, that belong to the incomparable artist who weds a husband for the sake of a caprice. Like her, he can be strenuous, energetic, industrious. In his case, as in hers, it is equally impossible to predict what he may do under any given but unexpected conditions. The love for the magnificent and the superb is not more developed in the one than in the other. Each is the child of passion and whim, and each is also breathed upon by the divine afflatus of that indefinable something which men call genius.
is now, I believe, some seven- and thirty years of age. He is thoroughly range. He has left behind him the social dissipations of youth, and it may be that he has shaken off the political extravagances of that chartered period of existence. His health has improved, though it still requires looking after. He cannot, I take it, during the Parliamentary session
|afford to lead the two lives which Lord Hartington can manage without any inconvenience. It is reported of Lord Hartington that some years ago-I think in the summer of -he actually succeeded in getting to bed soon after midnight. Before he had successfully courted his first slumber he was roused by a message from Downing Street. He has not since repeated the vain experiment of early bed-going, which, according to an English proverb, is one of the secrets of success.|
With it is quite different. During the parliamentary session he orders his life with an exclusive regard to the exigences of politics. He entertains splendidly, and is splendidly entertained by others. But when he is not kept up late at Westminster he wooes slumber at the first opportunity, and when he can snatch a day's rest he spends it in the delicious languor of doing nothing except the smoking of cigarettes and the reading of French novels. The two most normal phases of his existence are those in which he is expending force in great efforts, or recruiting and recuperating himself after the efforts have been made. Fortunately for him, he has arrived at a period of life when he understands something of the doctrine of the economy of strength. He avoids bores, and though for the sake of pleasing his friends he will strain a point and assist at entertainments which are a pain and weariness to him, he quits the scene of tedious distraction betimes, and contrives to enjoy more of the solace of seclusion than most people. Formerly he used to be a great hunter and a keen whist-player; now his two chief occupations when he is on holiday are angling and the cultivation of nirvana.
Lord Randolph Churchill has a large share of that personal power so difficult to define, so easy to feel, so essentially magnetic in its operation, which enables an individual to assert himself as a leader of men. If there resides in him a strong repulsive force, if he offends as often as he conciliates, that suggests only the other side of those attributes in virtue by which he draws many persons to himself. Mere jealousy sufficiently explains why some of his own party in the House of Commons are permanently estranged from him. Yet could there be a greater tribute to his innate potency than that even these feel his fascination ? Among his opponents this fascination is an admitted fact. Mr. Chamberlain, notwithstanding one or two little ruptures of intimacy, is his firm and warm admirer. Nor has he made any abiding enemies even
|among politicians who belong to his own party. He has indeed established a little party of his own. The droll thing is that the most useful and obedient members of it are two gentlemen considerably Lord Randolph Churchill's seniors in years and in experience.|
Mr. Gorst is an extremely clever man; the same thing may be said of Sir Henry Drummond-Wolff, who is, indeed, one of the historic personages of his time. The former is an eminent mathematician and a fair linguist, of well-balanced mind, and a keen eye for the points which in a controversy can be best made against an antagonist. The latter commenced life as a diplomatist. In that capacity, and by virtue of his family relations-he is on the maternal side a Walpole-he formed an extensive, miscellaneous, and panglot acquaintance. He has a mind stored with anecdotes suitable for various tastes. He is one of the few men in England who can tell a story equally well in French and in his own native tongue. He is therefore much in request in society, and frequently to be met with in the best houses. He can be at times exceedingly amusing, but there are occasions when he appears to be sunk in an atrabilious gloom. This is not due to the depressing influence of years, for Sir Henry Wolff, if he has rather more than completed his half century, preserves the guileless delight in existence of a child, and has the exquisite pink-and-white complexion of which a young lady in her teens might be proud.
The explanation, I am disposed to think, is that, notwithstanding any disbelief in human nature and human institutions which he jauntily parades; notwithstanding his tendency to treat everything as a joke or as a peg on which to hang a bonne histoire, he has always on his lips the exclamation with which Pitt is said to have died, " 0 my country!"
Sir Henry Wolff is a man greatly misunderstood. He is a patriot in the guise of a cynic; a moral philosopher and reformer who presents to society the front of an Epicurean indifferentist. He is at heart profoundly concerned for the state of the nation. Superior to parties, although a loyal Tory, he has ever before him the image of his fatherland. The frivolity and the social corruption of the age often cause his brows to be overcast, and even when he most successfully attempts to drown his solicitude in mirth and pleasantry, I have noticed a shadow pass over his countenance, like the cloud which is mirrored in a sunlit lake, and which tells me that a STATESMEN IN SOCIETY.
|lofty melancholy has marked him as her own. At such times his thoughts lie too deep for tears and far too deep for words. He is rent by conflicting emotions. He is divided between anger at the social and political offences of the day and bland compassion for the offenders.|
Mr. Gorst succeeds in maintaining a more unruffled calm. If he does not sparkle like Sir Henry Wolff, he is without his moody and dejected moments. His voice is smooth and flute-like, and he can say the most incisive things in the softest tones. Both of these gentlemen are the counsellors and lieutenants of Lord Randolph Churchill, who has profited in turn from the advice and varied knowledge of each. But it would be a mistake to suppose that Lord Randolph has ever subordinated himself to them, or that the initiative has not been his. Another member of the little coterie over which he presides, although not bound to him by the ties of a political allegiance so close as Sir Henry Wolff and Mr. Gorst, is Mr. Arthur Balfour, an elderly young gentleman of singularly charming manners, pleasant and well-bred appearance, over six feet in height, and with legs whose length he is not always able to control. He is a metaphysician, a writer, a cogent and clearvisioned arguer, a nephew of Lord Salisbury, whose habit he can reproduce with felicitous fidelity.
|View all images in this book|
|Chapter I: The Court and Royal Family|
|Chapter II: The Princes and Royal Dukes|
|Chapter III: Cosmopolitanism of London Society|
|Chapter IV: Diplomatists and Their Hosts|
|Chapter V: Some of Society's Sets|
|Chapter VI: Society in Town and Country|
|Chapter VII: Lawyers, Judges, Doctors, Divines, and Soldiers in London Society|
|Chapter VIII: London Society, Politics and Politicians|
|Chapter IX: Statesmen in Society|
|Chapter X: Senate and Salon|
|Chapter XI: Litterateurs in Society -Journalism|
|Chapter XII: Actors, Actresses, and Artists in Society|