« PreviousContinue »
No. 485.-JULY, 1925.
Art. 1.-GEORGE CURZON.
I HAD often thought, years before George Curzon passed away, how difficult a task it would be to write an adequate Biography of him; almost impossible for one who knew him well, and quite beyond the power of even the most gifted writer who had never met him. For be was a man of so many parts ; quite exceptionally endowed in so many ways. It was only very gradually that one got to realise the depth of his knowledge in State-craft, in Scholarship, in Geography, in Art and Letters. I may be wrong, or I may be prejudiced, but I cannot name any English public man of the 19th century, or before that, whose mind and whose output covered so wide a range of culture, not even Mr Gladstone or Lord Salisbury, the greatest of them all. And so I came to think that, in order that full justice should be done to so remarkable and so many-sided a figure, the only satisfactory biography could be supplied by a symposium of friends and colleagues and experts, each writing his own account of the conversations he had had with, and of the letters which he had received from George Curzon, from the time he left Oxford in 1884 up to the day of his death forty years later. The man was so vital in all that he said and in all that he wrote; but, so far as I know, he never said or wrote all to any one of his friends. One could fancy that his mind was built like a ship, in watertight compartments; no one friend could pass from one compartment of it to another at his own will and pleasure; he was admitted only into those sections of the vessel wherein he and Curzon had a community of interests. I feel that we all knew him differently: some in politics,
Vol. 245.—No. 485.
some in literature, some in Art; but all as friends, to whom he gave, and from whom he expected, the best there was to give. This modest account of him, then, has no ambition wider than this: to set down my appreciation of George Curzon during the thirty years that I knew him. The reader will realise that, in the course of those years, I became well aware of the defects in his character of which his enemies made so much during his lifetime. There is no necessity in this place to enumerate or to dwell upon these, which become almost insignificant when weighed in the balance against his achievements, but which loom very large in the opinion of those whose main goal is popularity. His failings certainly did alienate from him a good many people who would have liked to be his friends, but who had neither the patience nor the inclination to differentiate the manner from the man, and this is always to be regretted. But such as they were, they were superficial faults; and we may make a present of them, without being much the poorer, to those who care to judge a great man solely upon his temperamental shortcomings.
The first time I ever saw George Curzon was in the playing fields at Eton on a fine summer evening whilst a school match was in progress. I was then attached to the British Embassy in Berlin and he was a member of Lord Salisbury's Government. Alfred Lyttelton and St John Brodrick were his companions, and they were joined by two of our old Eton masters, Arthur Ainger and Walter Durnford. I was glad to see in the flesh a man of whom I had heard so much : the Etonian who had been sent up for good' more often than anybody before or since his time, except Bishop Welldon: the pride of Balliol, and one of the most distinguished Oxford men of his day : the explorer whose travels were the subject of world-wide comment, the rising hope of the Tory party who had just been appointed Under Secretary for India. At that first meeting there was no trace of the 'superiority' recorded in a quatrain which stuck to him like a burr through life; on the contrary, I was attracted by his natural geniality and friendliness towards a much younger and quite obscure person like myself. During the next two years I met him only occasionally at the house of mutual friends, where his
gaiety of spirits, intrepid conversation, and brilliant wit made him the natural leader of all his contemporaries, both men and women. Those were the halcyon days of the Crabbett Club and of the Souls,' whose revels in the country and festivities in London were the talk of the town'; but whose chic was that none of their dazzling extravagances were ever recorded in the daily Press.
In 1895 I was returned to Parliament, and Curzon asked me if I would like him to suggest to Lord Salisbury that I should become an assistant private secretary at the Foreign Office, in which capacity I could be his (Curzon's) parliamentary secretary in the House of Commons-he then being Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. To this Lord Salisbury consented, and, in the next three years, our new friendship was well and truly laid on the firm basis of work and play. He always reminded me of some outstanding figure of the 18th century, both in manner and appearance: somewhat stately in deportment and address, spacious in his ambitions and ideas. He was correct' almost to a fault; a master of punctilio, of courtly phrase, of the mot juste. I dare say that this feature in his character made him seem aloof and unapproachable to those who did not know him: in his habit, for example, of calling all those who worked in his office Mr or Sir somebody, long after most chiefs would have dropped the formal prefix. Once I asked why he adopted that rather distant form of address, and he replied that he thought it was easier to keep to it always than to drop it, and then resume it if relations became strained. Again, the architecture he preferred, the sumptuous style of interior decoration that he followed, was always in the 'grand manner'; too grand for comfort some of us used to think. His manner of speaking, too, was polished and rotund, whether in public or in private, except of course with his intimates. It was new and far from disagreeable to the House of Commons, few of whom had heard Mr Gladstone, the last of the orators of the old school. It was impressive in his after-dinner speeches and upon academic occasions; but was not popular with public audiences, who are generally impatient and not a little mistrustful of ornate periods.
There was, however, another George, far removed