3 DECEMBER 1948, Page 12



ON December 3rd, 1874, Mr. Winston Churchill received his first mention in The Times newspaper : he was four days old. It is curious to reflect that a Victorian, on reading this announcement, would probably have exclaimed, "I see that the Duke of Marl- borough has had a dear little grandson I" He would not have said, "I see Randolph Churchill has had a son! "—since Lord Randolph at that date was practically unknown, or known only as a young man of fashion who hunted his own pack of harriers at Blenheim. It was not indeed till 1878 that Lord Randolph began to take a direct interest in his duties and opportunities as member for Woodstock ; and it was not until the session of 188o that the Fourth Party emerged. It is difficult for us, who belong to a less placid generation, to realise the actual excitement which Lord Randolph's sudden irruption into politics aroused in the Victorian world. People woke up one morning to learn that this almost unknown back-bencher had accused Mr. Sclater-Booth, the President of the Local Government Board, of being "a crowning dishonour to Conservative principles." He had gone further ; he had made personal remarks regarding Mr. Sclater-Booth which were so true and virulent that his unhappy victim retired thereafter to the tranquillity of the Upper House and became the first Lord Basing. It was with mingled feelings of horror and delight that our grandfathers and fathers realised that the age of political invective was about to return ; the elderly squirmed on their seats, the young rubbed their hands. Within a few months almost there was Lord Randolph hacking at the dead branches of Conservatism and infusing new sap into the younger shoots. It was indeed a triumphant performance, and one which those who witnessed it were never to forget.

• * * * * It was not only that Lord Randolph attacked Mr. Sclater-Booth in terms such as were unusual in the mouth of an Etonian. It was that he had employed an unexpected phrase, the phrase "Conservative principles." What, after all, were Conservative principles ? The older men, if pressed to define the point, might have mumbled something about stability, order and the avoidance of trouble. But to the younger men such static ideals must have seemed jejune indeed. How exciting to find a man of ardour asserting that such principles really existed, that they were creative and progressive and that they could be adapted increasingly to the needs and conditions of the time! Had I been a young Conservative in those days I should have been galvanised by the cries of "Tory Democracy" and "Trust the People." I should have accorded to Lord Randolph a passionate adherence, I should have been entranced by his aggressiveness and power, and I should have regarded his sudden eclipse both as a personal and as a national tragedy. It seems strange to me, reading the parliamentary history of those times, that Lord Randolph did not attract to himself a larger and more lasting cohort of fellow adventurers. Eldon Gorst, although true to the principles of Tory Democracy, more or less petered out and ended as an unsuc- cessful Liberal candidate. Drummond-Wolff retired from politics and ended his career as an indolent and urbane Ambassador. And Arthur Balfour, who at the height of the battle had done little more than loll in and out of the Fourth Party, developed upon wholly different lines. It remained for Winston Churchill, fifteen years later, "to lift again the tattered flag which I found 'lying on a stricken field."

Is it that Conservatism (and I should not seek to deride it on this impartial page) is by its very nature precluded from developing dynamic energies ; that its appeal is to experience rather than to experiment, to repose rather than to adventure, to relaxation rather than to strain ? The weakness of all Conservative revivalism—of Young England, of Tory Democracy, perhaps even of the Industrial Charter—is that it tends to lose its initial rapture and to become prematurely middle-aged. Is it that the Conservative principle is in fact the principle of conservation, is less a creed than an attitude of mind, and is in fact based rather on the human need for tranquillity than upon the equally human need for change ? It may be owing to this that the Conservative Party have never felt completely com- fortable under dynamic leadership, and that they prefer the sedate to the restless. One may well suppose that the more elderly members of the Party heaved a sigh of relief when Lord Randolph retired from the scene. And we cannot forget that the majority of the Conservative Party were happier with Baldwin than they ever were with Winston Churchill. The impatient vitality of Lord Randolph, the restless visions of his son, may have been out of harmony with the true Conservative principle which in its essence appeals to more sedentary minds. And if this be true, then the exhaustion engendered by the dynamic legislation of the last three years may have created among the public a mood of lassitude from which the Tory Party (whatever be its programme, platform and promises) is likely to profit. Were I a Conservative candidate (which I am not) I should rely rather upon inspiring confidence than arousing hopes. I have a feeling that the public as a whole are desperately desirous of a little legisla- tive repose.

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During those six tremendous years when Lord Randolph was fighting his fierce battle for Tory Democracy, his son was playing with tin soldiers or seeking to master the intricacies of the Latin tongue. Lord Randolph did not live to read more than the first uncertain words of the great epic which his son was to contrive. It was indeed a cruel denial of poetic justice which deprived Lord Randolph of the solace of seeing the pattern of his own triumphs and disappointments repeated upon so vast a scale ; or of witnessing in his old age this vindication of the Churchill motto—" fiel pero desdichado "—" faithful although unfortunate." It would have been a delight for him, as his own strength faded, to watch the vigour with which his son snatched up the tattered flag, to recognise again the same pugnacity and ardour, to see his own life being re-enacted on a more triumphant scale. Mr. Churchill's pietas in regard to his father has been impressive ; it is one among the many Roman qualities which he possesses. But whereas Lord Randolph's middle years were clouded with illness, his son has become rejuvenated by every decade that passes by. To rfuture generations he will of course figure as a great leader in two highly dangerous wars, as the prophet whom the people heeded not until the danger came. What I wonder is whether, our grandchildren will retain any memory of the exuberance oi his zest ; of that superb vitality which will leave behind it whole epochs of history, whole galleries of pictures, whole libraries of books ; of that formidable and yet, entrancing personality which turns a conversation into a feat of oratory and can play with bricks as contentedly as any chid. How difficult it is for posterity to recapture the essence of personality ; to catch the inflexions of Dr. Johnson's voice or to have some intimation of the compelling charm of Charles James Fox. It would be sad indeed if the actual strangeness of Mr. Churchill were to escape posterity ; if he were to become a- mere effigy of greatness such as Pitt or Chatham, from which his strange, his disconcerting, idio- syncrasies were left out.

* * * ,* There may be moments when Mr. Churchill asks himself whether he has in fact carried the tattered flag of Tory Democracy quite so far as his father would have wished. His energies have been diverted by other and far more arduous campaigns. It may be even that Conservatism does not require any battle flag today but only a woollen muffler. , In any case his achievement, and the gratitude which we feel for ii, should by now be beyond any party prejudices or affections. And men of all parties should unite in thanks to the little boy who received his first, but not his last, mention in The Times newspaper on this day seventy-fou- years ago.