22 JANUARY 1921, Page 6


IT may turn out to be for the best that M. Peret failed to form a Ministry. If he had succeeded his Govern- ment would no doubt have been a Ministry of all the Talents, but the followers would very likely have been too strong for the leader. M. Peret failed, apparently, because M. Poincare and M. Viviani were unwilling to take the offices offered to them. M. Poincare has very decided views about the proper attitude of France towards Germany, and, without discussing the matter, we may say that if he had become Minister for Foreign Affairs it would have been difficult to preserve any continuity with the policy so far adopted by M. Millerand. M. Millerand and Mr. Lloyd George have certainly struck between them a tolerable working arrangement for dealing with Germany ; it is as good a policy of mutual tolerance and understanding as we are likely to get, and in our udgment it is important that we should stick to it. M. Poincare stipulated that if he entered M. Peret's proposed Ministry he must be Minister for Foreign Affairs. Every Englishman who has watched the career of M. Poincare recognizes in him a great Frenchman and a very sincere man ; but, things being as they are, we see a better prospect of an easy co-operation between Great Britain and France under M. Briand, who will be his own Foreign Minister.

M. Briand has often been described in this country as a typical " strong man " of politics. The description is derived, no doubt, from the memorable occasion when he ended a railway strike by the masterful expedient of calling up for service the Army Reservists—of suddenly requiring the railway strikers to act in their capacity as sol- diers. The duty of the soldier was naturally destructive of the passive resistance of the striker, and the whole structure of the very formidable railway strike fell into ruins. But, though that was undoubtedly the act of a strong man, it is quite misleading to speak of M. Briand as being the type of strong man. The typically strong man is for ever dealing in the simplest and most positive political terms • he is terse, plain, and severe • and he ever wears upon his brow, so to speak, the threat, " I would an I could." At hardly any point does M. Briand correspond to that definition. He is a man of subtlety, tactfulness, and a certain dreaminess. Being a Celt—for he is the son of a Breton innkeeper—he is proud of his souplesse. He has strewn his official path with such phrases as uppaise- ment and bonnes volontts. If he has an appearance, as he often has, of indifference or lethargy, it is a deceptive appearance, because he is one of those men who work easily. While he is applying his brain to a subject he has a great power of concentration. It may be that the refusal to be worried—the appearance of calmness amid the mutterings of the storm—is a sell-protective habit deliberately acquired. But it is probably quite natural, like M. Briand's disinclination to anger or bitterness. He would rather pretend politely that little divides his own policy from that of some notorious fool than expend upon the fool such devastating ridicule as would pour in a scorching stream from M. Clemenceau.

The present writer happened to see M. Briand in the French Chamber of Deputies at one of his great moments. M. Briand was being hotly attacked. The air was filled with shouts and interruptions—political projectiles which came screaming from almost every group in the Chamber. Even M. Briand's special supporters seemed ready to abandon him. Meanwhile M. Briand sat unperturbed, or, since we cannot know what is going on inside any man's mind, let us say rather seemingly unperturbed. When his time to answer his critics came he walked to the tribune, a grey-complexioned man without either energy in his step or fire in his face. Yet he had not uttered half a dozen sentences before he was a transformed being ; the happiness, the vigour, and the persuasiveness of his words —persuasiveness always just outbalancing the vigour— were matched by perfectly appropriate and graceful gesture. He is undoubtedly one of the three or four foremost orators of the world. On the occasion which we have just described he turned the danger into a personal triumph. Many times during his career one has inevitably compared him and his Parliamentary power with Mr. Lloyd George and his obviously similar power. Such power, of course, has its pitfalls, the chief of which is that a statesman may consent to opportunism—to patching up the difficulties of the moment by spell-binding arts and by debating skill instead of taking the long view and thinking out durable principles.

When M. Briand embarked upon his political career as a briefless barrister he was a revolutionary. He preached destruction of the existing system ; he preached resistance to military service ; he preached a form of anti-clericalism which superfluously involved religion in the condemnation of clericalism. But violence of phrase is the common form of the clever young French politician with his foot on the first rung. Nothing very much mattered in M. Briand's career till he became Minister of Education under M. Sarrien. Then he had to put into effect the law separating Church and State. M. Comber and other anti - clerical champions had charged the atmosphere with prejudice and intolerance — a riot of bigotry against bigotry—which utterly confused the means and the end of the Separation Law. M. Briand, directly he took the matter in hand, showed himself humane, accom- modating, tactful. Every one was astonished, for nobody had expected it. Many of the most bitter anti-clericals were recalled to the fact that, after all, their job was to enable the Church materially to exist under its.own manage- ment and not to put out the lights of Heaven. M. Briand appeared in a different capacity when he settled the railway strike of 1910 in the manner we have already described. The familiar rule of politics, that experience brings moderation, is perfectly illustrated in M. Briand. Responsibility has made him a trimmer in the good sense. During the war few statesmen in France were more bravely set upon solving the German difficulty for ever by an unequivocal victory. He spoke of victory in the darkest hour. What we hope for and expect now is that his strong recognition of what the Prussian spirit means, combined with his maniere dome, will produce a policy towards Germany of precisely the right spirit—provided always that the two distinguished Celts who now lead Great Britain and France respectively can avoid the inherent failings of their temperaments.