The Mirrors of Downing Street: Some Political Reflections

by A Gentleman with a Duster. New York: G. Putnam’s Sons. 1921. 8vo, xii +171 pp. Portraits. $2.50.
HERE is a series of critical and biographical analyses, set down with a devastating candor never exceeded in the literature of European polities. One after another, thirteen contemporary figures, who have attained distinction in British public life. — among them Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Arthur Balfour, Lord Haldane, Lord Kitchener, Mr. Asquith, and Mr. Winston Churchill; names which, to the general reader, suggest not so much persons as personalities reflected from public mirrors, — pass the ordeal of a gentleman with ‘a duster of honest cotton in his hand,’and an ideal of political honor in his heart. Now it is the dust of popular illusion that is sent a-flying; now the subtle, discoloring stain born of the mirrored character’s own self-illusion; now it is the distorting webs of legend that are ruthlessly torn away. Yet the book is in no sense a pillorying of the great; no vulgar dish of exposé. The analyses of character are done with the delicacy of anetching.
The author of the sketches declares that he prefers to remain anonymous. It is not difficult to see, however, that he is one who had intimate political and social association with the public men of whom he treats; that he is a gentleman, in the English sense of this variable word; and lhat he owes a certain classic nicety of tone and manner to a thorough training in ancient literatures, the Greek, in particular. His politics, so far as one may judge, appear to be those of a University Liberal, who is wisely content to let the new appear as the slow, patiently nurtured fruit of the great tree of time and tradition.
The reader passes from Mr. Lloyd George, who, ‘if he had been able to keep the wings of youth, might have been almost the greatest man of British history,’ to Mr. Arthur Balfour, resembling a ‘lofty spire’ in the fact that his loftiness’ dwindles away to a point which affords no foothold for the sons of man. One may look up to him now and again; but a constant regard would be rewarded by nothing more serviceable to the admirer than a stiff neck.’ As for the Kitchener Legend, it dissolves in this anonymous light like a rather unpleasant bit of snow carried on the boot-heels of Demos into Clio’s drawing-room.
In the sketch of Lord Haldane, however, it is difficult not to feel that personal friendship and esteem have caused the duster-wielding arm to forget a little of its cunning. Were it not for this very evident loyalty, the presentation of Lord Haldane as the man who saved civilization, and whose little British expeditionary force ‘saved France from an overwhelming and almost immediate destruction,’ might be resented.
This earnest, courageous, and readable book is well worth the while of anyone interested either in English public life or in the veritable characters of those who have shaped to-day’s unquiet world. H. B.