LIFE OF LORD SALISBURY.*
LADY GWENDOLEN CECIL has received so many congratulations that we are almost afraid of wearying her if we speak our mind about her book. Yet we must. If not, our readers might mistake our position and mistake our reticence in praise for a tepid censure. The present writer has read almost, all the big political biographies that have appeared in the past twenty years, and he can say with conviction that he has never seen abler or more dexterous handling of material than that shown by Lady Gwendolen. She knows when to be short and when to be full. She comprehends exactly what is trivial and what of consequence. Yet she never runs into the other extreme— that of leaving out the human touch for fear that somebody might call it trivial, though in fact it is not. More biographies have been ruined by the fear of being thought trivial than by almost any other cause.
Lady Gwendolen also observes a just proportion. In a work thronged_ with figures so great, so interesting, so vital as those with whom Lord Salisbury came in contact, there was a pressing
• Life of Robert Marquis of Salisbury. By his Daughter, Lady Gwendolen Cecil. LI volt, Lorldon ; Hodder and Stoughton. [42s. net.]
temptation before her to wander into side-paths and to paint other pictures than that upon which she was dutifidly engaged.
She has not yielded even to the temptation to draw Disraeli at full length. She has very properly shown him to us as ho affected her father and her father's character and actions. But, though these are great qualities and enable her to surmount many literary difficulties, she has achieved an oven higher success. She has managed to analyse and to set forth Lord Salisbury's Eastern policy with clearness and certainty, and she has done it by comparatively few strokes of her brusli. By this we mean that she has not stopped the course of her narrative to write a general dissertation on the break-up of tho Turkish Empire, but has still kept her eye upon tho object—. the record of Lord Salisbury's life. As difficult as the abstrac- tion of the essence of the Eastern question is her account of her father's estrangement from Lord Derby. Most memorable of all is the way in which she shows how her father's strong and instinctive dislike of Disraeli melted, first into admiration, and then into affection. Lord Salisbury was intellectually, morally and politically an exceedingly fastidious man. A very little " put him off " in the political arena. Ho not merely disliked political sensationalism, political braggadocio, politic-id posing in the abstract, but evidently felt when they erne practised a genuine sense of nausea.
No wonder, then, that Disraeli's public form gat on his nerves and made the subtle Imperial adventurer his political li's!s noire. Yet, when Cabinet office brought Lord Salisbury into elect, contact with his chief, this fastidiousness, this genuine incom-
patibility of temper, as one would naturally have called it, quite disappeared. Lord Salisbury learnt by practice the great lesson that men, when you lams them, are almost always different from what they seem at long range, and generally far better. Indeed, we might apply here a saying which the present writer remembers Lord Cromer quoting to him as one of the most useful and most luciferous of the many wise things said to him by Lord Salisbury. Some particularly difficult problem had arisen, or apEeared likely to arise in the future, in regard to Egypt. Lord Salisbury cheered the man on the spot as follows -• A range of mountains looks in the distance like an absolutely impassable barrier. Yet when you get up to the foot of the hills you are sure to find a pass through."
This might be applied with equal truth to men. They may look like icebergs, or morasses, or tombstones, or orang-outangs, or mules, or even boa-constrictors when seen in the distance.
but when you get close to them you find they are quite as human as you are yourself, and as often as not as generous and as likeable as you thought them detestable. At any rate, Lord Salisbury found that Disraeli, as a colleague, was a very different man from Disraeli using his rapier or his cloak and dagger on the floor of the House of Commons. His policy was far less shoddy or less immoral than his speeches had allowed it to be supposed. Lord Beaconsfield specially moved the admiration as well as the gratitude of Lord Salisbury by the fact that he trusted him absolutely. He might help him with encouragement and advice, but he made no attempt to take control out of
his hands. He did not pull at the driver's elbow, and he liked quick and definite decisions.
Though Lord Salisbury, as his daughter points out, often erred by doing things for himself which ought to have been done by others rather than run the risk of orders being misundeisteoci, he could and often did leave things to the men en the srot, and knew how to support a subordinate wholeheartedly when under fire. She tells us an admirable story in illustration of this quality:— " Never jog a man's elbow when he is holding the reins," w a favourite maxim. In his work at the Foreign Office it wr' necessarily of rare application. His relations with Lord Cromer in Egypt were a case in point, but more illustrative because not associated with such an exceptional personality was an incident which belonged also to a much later date than tho events new under consideration. It occurred in connection with Zanzillir before British control had become complete there. An einc1- geney had arisen with the suddenness familiar in half-barbiurs countries : a palace revolution, the insurgence of a fanatical mob, a small white colony placed in immediato danger during tho hours that must elapse before a hastily summoned inan.et- war could reach the coast. Hurried decisions had to be takc,1 between alternative courses of menace, negotiation, compromise. The British representative was absent on leave and a young 00 quite untried official was in command. He telegraphed ir,1 news home with his suggestions as to the way in which the emergency was to be met, and waited, according to 1115 51,1 subsequent account, in acute anxiety for the reply. 11110 !.culd a subordinate of his known inexperience expect from authority conscious of the imperial interests which it represented, and of the necessity for preparing beforehand for its own parka- mentary defence ? Non-committal advice, carefully balanced, impracticably correct, coupled probably with warnings as to the responsibility which would be incurred by any failure of achieve- ment on the ono hand, or lack of caution displayed on the other. The burden was already heavy, such a response would make it overwhelming. But the telegram found Lord Salisbury on his holiday in France, and the answer was flashed back in his own characteristically direct language : Do whatever you think best. Whatever you do will be approved, but be careful not to undertake anything which you cannot carry through.' rweuty years later the recipient could not speak without emotion of tho courage and strength inspired by this challenge of a trust without reserve."
We are told in a note that the administrator in question was Mr. Basil Cave, C.B., now our Consul-General in Algiers.
We shall make no attempt to give a general view of Lord Salisbury's character either by summary or by quotation. That must come when the full tale is told in the concluding volumes. We may, however, quote an admirable incidental description of Lord Salisbury as chief of a great department, which occurs in the middle of Lady Gwendolen's second volume. It is an excellent example of her style, and can be cited as a proof, if any proof were wanted, that we have not exaggerated in praising her literary powers :-
" Ho was by no means an ideal chief, though he satisfied some requirements of the character. His personal relations with those who worked under him were throughout of an unclouded frienclli- nes3—in many instances a warmer description would be justified. Ho left the permanent chiefs of his department in practically full control of its minor affairs—his industry was not the product of any interest in detail as such. While taking full cognizance of everything, and resenting efforts to withdraw oven the most unimportant matters altogether from his notice, ho interfered very little in their decision. Occasionally, in the red ink reserved for the Secretary of State's contributions, there would appear on the docket, underneath the decorous suggestions of under- secretaries or heads of department, some briefly ironic and unconventionally worded comment. But that was all. As towards his personal staff he had certain idiosyncrasies which made service difficult. His courtesy, though it won their hearts, added complications to his relations with them. In some ways he expected too much from them, but he claimed nothing from them as of right. He would seldom explain how ho wanted a thing done, assuming, so his wife used to declare of him, a special inspiration in those who worked for him—but ho still more rarely complained if it was not done to his liking. Failure would only bo realized by his silently doing the task himself on the next occasion. His sensitiveness to even tho possibility of interrup- tion has been spoken of. His private secretaries' right of entrance to his working-room, necessary as it was to the fulfilment of their duties, was a constant source of affliction to him. But to tell them so would have been uncivil, and he therefore had recourse to various ingenious expedients for eluding them. He would transfer his work to unexpected rooms where they would not be likely_ to look for him, devise reasons requiring their presence at the Office while he remained at home, or excuses for detaining them in London while he escaped to Hatfield. Those who had served him long enough for comprehension would try tactfully to second his efforts—keeping out of his way as much as possible and making surreptitious assaults upon his papers during his temporary absences. It was a game of hide-and-seek between chief and staff comically incongruous to their avowed relations. But his real defect, and one which was a cause of chronic complaint among all those who worked for him, was his unwillingness or incapacity to delegate responsibility, even of the most limited kind, in the larger questions which he kept in his own hands. Ho must not only direct a policy, he must take every step in its pursuit. He must himself consult the original sources of information and select the facts on which to base his action, and must then decide upon it without the disturbance even of suggestion from outside. He once asked one of his sons whether, when occupied with some problem, he really found any of the advantage generally claimed for ' talking it over ' with a friend, and was evidently surprised at being answered in the affirmative. For himself, he said, until his mind was clear upon point, he much preferred not to speak of it to anyone—the intrusion of other men's ideas at that stage was only confusing to him. In the same way, when a decision had been come to, it must be defined in his own language and pressed upon the acceptance of others by his own arguments. At no stage did ho Seem capable of profiting by the assistance which a public man generally expects from his staff. This pervading and exclusive aplf:dependence was a real misfortune. Acting under material limitations of time and physical strength, it compelled him to %Toro matters in which—especially after he became Prime Minister—his interposition would have been useful, and, through the constant strain which it imposed upon his faculties, it probably !shortened the period of his intellectual prime if not of his life itself. He was continually being remonstrated with on this subject and his answer was always the same. If he had more leisure he might devolve his work—as it was he was too busy not to do it himself. His diplomatic correspondence heirs' to elucidate the paradox of this defence."
Before we leave this fascinating book we may note one of the Mat*. Ways in which contemporary rumour often proves to have been unjustified. The present writer well remembers how, when Cyprus was occupied, everybody said that the occupation was a personal act of Disraeli, because in Tancred he had said or hinted that Cypnis ought to belong to Britain as " a places of arms " from which the route to India could be protected. It turns out, however, that the person who suggested the taking over of Cyprus from the Turks was not Lord Beaconsfield, but Lord Salisbury. Once more circumstantial evidence, however strong it may seem, is shown to be capable of error.