« PreviousContinue »
from the public figure that I have attempted to sketch -friendly, affectionate, and brimming over with the joie de vivre : the man who could keep a table in a roar of laughter, who loved good cheer and good talk, who was quick to see the comic side of himself and of everybody else, who entered into the fun of games and of sport with the same zest and enthusiasm as he displayed in exploring the sources of the Oxus or in negotiating a treaty. In his own family life, of which I was privileged to see a good deal both at home and in India during the lifetime of the first Lady Curzon, he was wonderfully attractive-a devoted husband and father, as well as a perfect host. And when that divinely happy marriage was dissolved by death, after months of illness and patient suffering, I was in Scotland for a month with him, the unavailing witness of a brokenhearted misery and distraction whose equal I hope never to see again. But this unveiling of the man's real self was quite unknown to the guests whom, at that same time, he invited to shoot on the moors. To them he was the genial host, the delightful raconteur, the keen sportsman, whose one idea it appeared to be to get the maximum of enjoyment for his friends out of the long autumn days upon the hills.
Without these few hours of daily exercise and fresh air I believe he would have utterly collapsed, both mentally and physically. The strain and the solitude of living without one who had been at his right hand during the years of his greatest political triumphs were intolerable to him; she had shared alike his successes and his sorrows; in moments of despondency she had cheered, in the hour of victory she had steadied, in the day of doubt her calm and wise advice had been the best among his counsellors. Surely it has seldom been the lot of any man to have been twice so blessed in marriage. Yet when, in the course of time, he married again, he found the very helpmate that he so sorely needed; the beauty that he desired, the companionship that he craved, the sympathy and the affection which he had lacked for so long. It is not for me to dwell further upon the subject of Curzon's great and perhaps his only happiness in later life, which was entirely due to one who made his life her life, his friends her friends, and who brought sunshine and hope in fullest measure to a husband whose appreciation of her devotion was her great reward.
The public will never know, and probably would not believe if they did know, how boyishly he enjoyed practical jokes of the harmless and amusing variety. I remember one evening, not long after I entered Parliament, when the House of Commons was indulging in an all-night sitting; it was long after midnight and Curzon had just finished his official work in the little room below stairs, then allocated to the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. In that room there happened to be a chair whose seat, as he discovered, was certain to give way whenever it was sat upon. To my surprise he decided to give a small party, resembling an Oxford Wine,' to which his particular friends should be invited one by one and should be persuaded to occupy the collapsible chair, with the inevitable and disconcerting result. One after another his guests arrived from upstairs in answer to his pressing invitation; one after another they subsided on to the carpet amid the hilarious cheers of their predecessors in misfortune; but the culminating point was reached when Haldane (whom Curzon had nicknamed Aristotle') fell through the chair and became inextricably fixed in its frame. That was the clou de la soirée which was unanimously voted an enormous success.
On another occasion we were shooting partridges at Hackwood and had luncheon in a schoolmaster's house which adjoined the school. During the time that we were lunching, the dominie appeared and asked our host to go to the schoolroom and say a few words to the children, which he accordingly did. On his return he told us that he had informed the scholars that Sir Robert Baden Powell was one of his guests next door, and that, as Chief of the Boy Scouts, he would address the local troop in a few minutes' time. He indicated that Lord Newton, who was one of the guns, was to impersonate the General! Most reluctantly this was done ; but the tables were very neatly turned when Lord Newton (in his unique but famous impersonation) informed the troop that he had persuaded the school
master to grant them an extra half-holiday—which Curzon invited them to spend in the grounds of Hack. wood Park! It was a capital revenge which nobody enjoyed more than the victim.
The lighter side of life, when it showed in sharp contrast to the serious work upon which he was engaged, always appealed to his acute sense of humour. Once I was present in his room in Calcutta when a keen young journalist from the Daily Telegraph' was shown in. He was desperately anxious to get the Viceroy's permission to enter Afghanistan-a journey which I believe no Englishman had performed since Curzon himself. After a long and friendly palaver, Curzon pointed out that the thing was impossible since, at that time, Afghanistan was in a state of considerable unrest. He regretted his decision, but there it was—final. The press-man was not unduly grieved, for he had still one shot in his locker which he immediately discharged at the Viceroy's head : But here I have a letter from Lord Burnham asking you to do this very thing for me. I am sure you won't refuse.' To which Curzon most genially replied: 'I am really extremely sorry; but you have as much chance of entering the Kingdom of Heaven with a leaf of the Old Testament as you have of getting to Cabul with a letter from Lord Burnham.'
I often heard him tell this story, and also another one in which, most unwillingly, I was a principal actor. We were
on tour in Burma, and travelling from Mandalay to Lashio on the Western Chinese frontier. My shortcomings were early apparent to the Viceroy. In the first place, as we walked over the famous Gokteik bridge, I entirely declined to look over from that dizzy height into the ravine below. He was equally determined that I should do so. The controversy ended by my lying flat on my stomach, one leg being firmly held by His Excellency and the other by his Private Secretary, Sir Walter Lawrence, until I had surveyed the distant scene : one glimpse was enough for me. But unfortunately, short as was the period of tension, it was long enough for this ridiculous episode to be immortalised in a photograph which was constantly exhibited to Curzon's endless amusement and to my own annoyance. But worse was to come : when we reached rail-head we were all mounted on stout little Burmese ponies and cavalcaded off through the jungle to Lashio—the Viceroy and the principal members of his staff riding at the head of this imposing procession. All went well until my pony took fright and bolted, first into the jungle and then back on to the road, dashing through the Viceroy's party and scattering his escort right and left. My discomfiture was complete; I quite expected to be relieved from further attendance upon His Excellency, for the irruption was as undignified as it was unrehearsed. Instead of which, as my pony galloped away, I heard peals of laughter from Curzon who, when we met again at our halting-place, chaffed me unmercifully, and for years afterwards repeated the story of my equestrian defects.
His letters to me from India were always brightened with anecdotes of an amusing kind; the natives' English used to appeal irresistibly to his sense of humour. One story was of a Bengali who begged that, on account of his youth, some sentence of punishment might be revised
-and then added his version of an unknown proverb, in order to touch a Viceregal heart: 'In our youth we sow seeds; in our age we cut corns.' The banners which were strung high across the path of the Viceroy's passage constantly raised a grateful smile. Here is one, for example: God bless our horrable lout,' which was the nearest they could get to 'honourable Lord’; and another, requiring a note to explain that the native was trying to emulate the British habit of expressing wellknown terms by initials only: 'Let us give a good W.C. [i.e. welcome to our popular A.G.G.' And so I might go on, as could every member of his staff, to give unending examples of his careless gaiety and unrestrained humour when divested, even for an hour or two, of the burden of pomp and circumstance. It is only from those who were in daily contact with him, in labour and in leisure, that the world could learn the manner of man he really was.
In the notes which follow I have written frankly of Curzon as I knew him at work, in sorrow and in joy. To me he was a friend of friends, absent or present. Even at the highest pressure of his work, after the great Durbar in 1903, he found time-not only to send
a silver flagon as an offering to his godson, our eldest boy, but to write an admirable couplet in Latin to be inscribed upon it:
'Fontibus immerso sanctis dedit hoc tibi Curzon
Qui modo votorum sponsor et obses erat.' Later on, greatly daring, I asked him to look through the proof-sheets of a book of Indian Impressions which I hoped to publish, and I begged for criticism and advice. Within a fortnight I had twelve sheets of quarto paper returned to me, closely written and containing invaluable suggestions of which I eagerly availed myself. Such things, little things they may be, touch one, and are gratefully remembered, especially when 80 many people believed him to be incapable of them. And the foregoing were no isolated instances of his friendship. Life has its vicissitudes for all of us, and he followed mine with the loyalty of a brother, with letters of congratulation when things went well, with words of sympathy and advice in days of adversity. How could one fail to be devoted to such a man?
The reader of this article must not be disappointed if he fails to find in it either a biography, a record of his public work, or even a complete appreciation of Curzon's career and of his manifold activities. Of many of them, as I have explained, I knew nothing that was not known to the general public: nothing of his work as Chancellor of the University of Oxford, nothing of his experiences as a traveller, nor of his years as President of the Geographical Society; nothing of his counsel as a Trustee of the British Museum and as a member of the British Academy. Of these things I hope that others
. will write from the personal point of view, and especially of his war-work in the Cabinet, and of his leadership of the House of Lords. His ultimate biographer will have, as I began by saying, a difficult task to fulfil; but it will be made easier for him, whoever he may be, if he is assisted by the private testimonies of personal friends.
It has often been said, and with much truth, that Curzon was difficult to work with; but that does not mean that he was a disagreeable chief. One has to realise that, from his earliest years of manhood, he had