A BOOK OF THE MOMENT.
A.?.r official life of General Botha, Lord Buxton tells us, is in preparation ; his own book is not intended as a biography,. but as a personal study, a tribute to the memory of a close friend. The historical background_ is very fully painted in, for we are given a sketch of the last two decades in South Africa and an account of the five years of Lord Buxton's Governor-Generalship—a valuable account, for too little is known here of the internal difficulties of South Africa during the War years. But the background is not permitted to overshadow the central figure, which is presented with admir- able clearness and with an understanding which comes from intimate knowledge and sincere affection. The subject and the writer are well matched, for Lord Buxton, like Botha, is a countryman: he has the same plain sagacity and undog-
matic liberalism of view, and though he describes himself as a " peaceful man of Quaker ancestry," he can understand the achievements of one who was, among other things, a fine soldier.
I have always thought that Botha was best described in the words which Burke applied to the English people, for he had pre-eminently an " ancient and inbred integrity, honesty, good nature and good humour." He belonged to that rare and most attractive class—the plain man raised to the pitch of genius. If he had not Lincoln's moments of strange sub- limity he had most of Lincoln's other qualities—patience,.
modesty, magnanimity and an unerring eye for facts. He had nothing of the iratellectuel in him, and it is easy to imagine
situations where a subtler brain and a more normal training for statesmanship would have been more effective. As it was he owed much to the colleagueship of Gerneral Smuts, whose brilliant talents supplemented his own. But for the particular task to which he was -called he was ideally suited. He was a born leader of men, both in the civic and military fields, because his qualities of character and brain were the ordinary man's qualities, only on the heroic scale.
To portray such a figure does not need the needle-point of style, for everything about him was broad and simple. He was, to begin with, the incarnation of loyalty and honour.
Having accepted the Peace of Vereeniging and the Act of Union he 'would tolerate no going back. In the Transvaal rising in the autumn of 1914, he was called upon to perform the most distasteful task possible to such a man—to take the field himself against old companions in arms. He never dreamed of hesitating. " It is my duty," he said, " and it is the only thing for me to do. Beyers and De Wet are strong men and have a big following in the country. There is no one else I can put in their place just now, so I must go myself."
When he accepted defeat in 1902 he accepted it without rancour, and devoted himself for the rest of his life to making the two nationalities flow in one stream. Rhodes had seen a vision of a British South Africa, and Kruger of a Dutch South Africa ; Botha's life ideal was a South Africa which would belong to both races. At the same time he was loyal to the traditions of his own people, for he knew that a strong whole depends upon strong units. His vision did nothalt at the shores of South Africa. He believed in the vigorous autonomy of his own country, and no less in the value of the Imperial bond, in the ideal of an Empire invincible through the liberty of its parts. As early as 1911 he dismissed with scorn the notion that South Africa had the option of neutrality in an Imperial war. " Should the day ever dawn when the common Fatherland is attacked, Dutch and English Afrilcanders will be found 'defending the 'Fatherland to the very last." He lived to see the truth of his forecast.
A devout lover of peace, he had a natural talent for strife. There was something fantastic in the fate which compelled
this quiet countryman again and again to take the field— in the Boer War, in the Transvaal rebellion, in the conquest of German South-West Africa. It was a fate which befell other honest men in those parts. Lord Buxton quotes a sentence of General Myburgh, one of the most pad& of men : " I have shot natives, I have shot Englishmen, I have shot Boers. I have shot Germans. and I do not know who I shall be
likely to shoot next" Botha was always very proud of beini a soldier, and few things gave him more pleasure than when in 1911 he was made an honorary General in the British Army.
He was, in his way, a great strategist, with an uncanny power of reading the mind of the enemy. Like all good soldiers, too, he wanted always a fair fight and then a clean peace, such a . peace as he had made himself with Britain. South Africa has gone through many furnaces, and may have more to face, but true to her romantic character, she has a talent for strange and moving reconciliations. Where else would it be possible to find men wearing medals granted by the King for their distinguished service in a war against Britain ?
When after the Treaty of Peace in 1902 Botha took leave
of his staff, he told them : " My days of rest are over. I shall only be able to rest when I am put in my grave." Five years later he became the first Prime Minister of the Transvaal under responsible government ; three years later he was the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa ; four years after that he took the field as a British General against the Ger- man enemy. When his military work was over he had to face three years of political complexity and vexation ; he attended the Peace Conference at Versailles and signed the Treaty on South Africa's behalf ; and then he returned home to die. These seventeen years of British citizenship were years ol splendid achievement both for his own country and the Empire. But the man was even greater than his work. Few statesmen have been so totally untouched by personal am- bition, so incapable of anything narrow or mean or petty, His patience was almost superhuman, and his kindness and courtesy never flagged in the darkest days. Much of his power lay in the fact that he preserved a kind of noble rustic simplicity. He might be soldier and statesman to the world, but at the back of it he was always a countryman, " a farmer," as he described himself, "who used his common sense." Botha had to the full the passionate devotion of his race to the land, and his farm at Rusthof was never long out of his mind. He drew consolation from deep springs of faith and hope, and his courage was therefore in the strictest sense unconquerable.
He was no great orator and never owed his influence to
the art of words, though in conversation he had something of Rhodes's gift of pregnant platitudes. But his great powers had a better means of expression than words, for his person- ality was communicable ; without ri•:ing much he seemed to make himself felt throughout South Africa, the Empire, and ultimately the world. His influence was an indefinable and illimitable thing, stealing like an atmosphere over men's minds. People felt his goodness before they realized his
greatness, and, indeed, the two things were inseparable. South Africa in her long history has had more than her share of misfortunes, but she can set against them the fact that her darkest hours of crisis gave her such a man.