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ambitions. So great were his industry and his knowledge that he was convinced that he could render useful public service in any high position, and to his friends he made no secret of it. He was under no illusion but that India would wear him out physically ; yet, being anxious to serve his country thereafter in what he believed would be the principal theatre of operations, he preferred to accept (on becoming Viceroy) the title of an Irish Peer which would enable him to return, at the end of his foreign service, to the House of Commons. Surely a man whose ambitions were less nobly born would have chosen, as one might legitimately suppose he might have chosen, a peerage of the United Kingdom which would have made his political future a certainty. No; I do not believe that he had much personal ambition, except to serve his country and to guide the plough, to which he had set his hand, straight to the end of the furrow, no matter at what cost to himself. And in this respect Curzon was, not unlike the late Lord Morley of Blackburn, whose ambition, whether it was personal or otherwise, it puzzled even the most intimate of his friends to fit in with the other traits of an austere and simple character. His own observations on this particular quality of ambition, which may be magnificent or mean according to circumstances, are quoted in General J. H. Morgan's book about him:
'It is always the most difficult thing in the world to draw a line between arrogant egoism on the one hand, and on the other the identification of a man's personal elevation with the success of his public cause. The two ends probably become mixed in his mind and, if the cause be a good one, it is the height of pharisaical folly to quarrel with him because he desires that his authority and renown shall receive some of the lustre of a far shining triumph.'
But for his family, and for his family name, I think Curzon was ambitious: to add something to its fame, and so to leave behind him an imperishable sign of the recognition that he had won by his services to the Empire to which he devoted his life.
This brings one to think, very naturally, of the disappointments to which a man of high ambition must be subject in this imperfect world. Curzon certainly loved praise and recognition from quarters which he thought were qualified to bestow either the one or the other; and, on more than one occasion, he felt deeply and bitterly that he had been badly treated at the hands of those from whom he had expected better things. It was not, I think, until his health began to break down in India that he became so sensitive to the question of rewards for his services; but after his return, and until my closer intimacy with him ended, I always felt that he was under the impression that he was in a kind of way a public failure and that, in political life at any rate, every man's hand was against him. Indeed, just before he left India, he seemed to forbode something of this kind in a letter which he wrote to me:
* I feel as if I should be rather out of it when I come back; out of touch, unrecognised and almost unknown.'
Of this period in his career I shall have something to say later on, but I do not want to omit some earlier disappointments of which he often used to speak, as though they were among the challenging events in his early life which spurred him on to that habit of incessant hard work which ultimately broke him down. Once, for the purposes of some article that I was writing about him, he jotted down for me some notes on his early struggles at Oxford which may not be without interest to those who knew him well :
• When I went up to Oxford I resolved to win a University prize, but disappointment was in store. I tried for the Lothian prize, but was proxime accessit. I tried for the Chancellor's Latin Verse Prize--with the same result. The next year I went in again for the Lothian and won it with an essay on Sir Thomas More, which was written in lodgings at Cairo and in a Cook's steamer on the Nile. I sent it home by post and read of my success in a café at Buda Pesth.
•The chief History Prize at Oxford is the “Arnold” which is open to M.A.'s, and for which Bryce wrote his “Holy Roman Empire." I had no thought of entering for this, never having taken the History School. But one day in December 1883, happening to be in the Bodleian Library, I saw one of the competitors taking notes—the man who was second to me when I won the Lothian. He meant to avenge the defeat! This was not to be stood. I went straight to London, lived there alone for fifteen weeks, spending the day in the British Museum and working from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily. I took down the unfinished essay to Oxford on the day on which it had to be handed in at midnight and continued writing until then. I took it over to the Old Schools and rang up the janitor (who was in bed) as the clock struck 12. I apologised for waking him on the ground that it was the winning essay. It was.
"I think the greatest disappointment in my early life was just missing my
“ first” in the Final Schools at Oxford. I afterwards heard the story of this misfortune: two names were in doubt, another man's name and mine. My Balliol tutor happened to be one of the examiners and could not, owing to a very proper rule, adjudicate on my merits. The papers of the other candidate were therefore submitted to him. If he passed, then we were both to get our “first.” If he did not, we were both to lose. The verdict was negative, and by his unconscious axe my head fell.'
In a scholar of Curzon's attainments it is no wonder that he should have felt this disappointment deeply at the time, but his election soon afterwards to a Fellowship at All Souls' must have gone far to console him. A year or two passed and he received the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society. Then he was elected to Parliament and entered upon the career of his life. Success crowned his first year as a Minister, and it was not until he had been Viceroy for some time that he began to feel that his work, or part of it, was misunderstood or disapproved of at home. One letter of his, written to me in June 1903, after some strong criticism had been passed on his treatment of the 9th Lancers, shows how the iron could pierce his soul. He writes:
• Nobody seems to know at home that the 9th Lancers' punishment was Sir Power Palmer's (then Commander-inChief in India). He proposed it and, in a matter of military discipline, of course we all agreed. Then he slipped away and left me to bear the whole burden. The affair was much worse than we have ever allowed, for the sake of the Army, to get out; and yet I am blamed as though I had laid hands upon the Ark of the Covenant.'
Another source of disappointment to him was the reluctance which he felt was shown by his fellowcountrymen in England and in India to show any enthu
siasm for his scheme of a stately edifice in Calcutta to commemorate the long and glorious reign of Victoria, Queen Empress. He writes :
• Everybody seems to combine to place obstacles in my way of popularising the scheme, so that I almost regret having taken it up. I have to do the whole thing myself; every article, every letter, every appeal. The work is overwhelming. They appear to think that I have a splendid Committee to do everything for me. But there are not ten men in India who know the difference between a Gainsborough and an Angeli, or between Michael Angelo and Onslow Ford.'
But these chagrins and others like them, which preyed upon a mind already pre-occupied with a sense of growing isolation and advancing ill-health, were as nothing to the disappointments which were in store for him when he had laid down the burden of Viceroyalty and returned home. There he found that his support of Younghusband's Thibetan expedition and Treaty, and his disagreement with the Government of India at home over Lord Kitchener's position in the Indian Cabinet, had lost him not only the support of His Majesty's Conservative Government, but even the good-will and friendship of some of his oldest colleagues in Parliament. This, too, he seems to have anticipated in some measure, for he wrote me in August of 1905 :
'I have resigned three times, but they will not let me go. At the same time they will not give me full support: partly because they are so frightened of the other man (Kitchener] and partly because they have never made up their mind whether they want a military dictatorship or not I am longing to get away.'
At this distance of time, it is vain to rake over the ashes of that dead controversy and to recall the poignant feelings which it aroused not only in the Conservative party but also in the circle of Curzon's closest friends. It is sufficient to know that, after the lapse of years, most of the wounds in that acute campaign were healed, and, I hope, all the old friendships were renewed. But the days of his disappointment were not over. He had arrived in England just before the General Election at the end of 1905, too unwell to take any part in it, and forbidden by his doctors to contest any of the safe seats that were offered to him. This was another blow, and one which rendered void the sole reason why he had preferred to be given an Irish Peerage. For the first time for many years he was not in the fore-front of the battle, but only a spectator at the debacle of the party to which he belonged. He wrote me an account (I was in India at the time) of the new Parliament, in which he observed :
‘Everybody notes the ability and sincerity of the Labour Party and the arrival of a new Tory light named Smith, who has sprung up with a brilliant first oration, from Liverpool.... Everyone in England talks, chatters, gossips, shouts. Nobody does anything. It is far niente without the dolce.'
This was just about the time when, after the new Prime Minister had got into the saddle, Curzon most naturally expected that he would be offered a peerage of the United Kingdom in recognition of his record services to the Empire as Viceroy of India—a recognition of a kind which had invariably been bestowed on his predecessors in that office, and had not been hitherto dependent upon the political complexion of the party in power. Yet this well-merited honour was denied him by the late Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, who admitted openly that it would give offence to the Radical Party, and took shelter behind the argument that he would not do for Curzon what the Conservative Government, which was in power when he resigned the Viceroyalty, had omitted to do.
In arriving at this decision, it may now perhaps be stated, Sir Henry took the grave step of declining to accept the suggestion of His Majesty that this honour should be conferred, and of refusing to comply with the request of his colleague, Mr Morley,* who also intervened on Curzon's behalf. It is characteristic of his innate sense of the proprieties that he firmly declined to let these facts be known publicly during his lifetime and suffered silently under the taunts of certain newspapers that he was trying to coerce the Prime Minister of the day into giving him a Peerage. At that time I had several letters from him referring, inter alia, to this matter. I quote from one of them :
* Mr (afterwards Lord) Morley was then Secretary of State for India.