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BETWEEN the civilian and the soldier there is a deep gulf fixed. The key to these War Memories of the great Prime Minister is his bitter distrust of everything the military caste holds sacred. To him, generals are obviously fools, and probably knaves. Whenever he sees one he bristles like a terrier. ‘Stubborn miscalculations,’ ‘muddle,’ ’lack of coördination,’‘selfish precipitation of momentous decisions without consultation’ — the hell ’s broth of the War was bubbling over with their ineptitudes, their blunders, and their crimes. The determination to seek a decision on the Western Front was little short of a conspiracy of the ‘Capital Tetter men,’ with their D.S.O.’s and their C.B.’s and their G.C.S.I.’s and all the rest of their sacerdotal paraphernalia. ‘They did not win the War, but they won their War,’ he comments bitterly on their refusal to be diverted by Side Shows. His own restless imagination is full of strategic alternatives. He is a confirmed Easterner, and in the lands which his father used to read aloud of in the family Bible he is most at home. He would turn the Germanic flank on a continental scale.
But, however acridly he criticized, Lloyd George cannot be accused of spending his time bandying disparagements. There is too much mercury in his blood, and always too much work ahead. The financial crisis came, and he saved the City. The munition crisis came, and he saved the Army. The political crisis came, and he saved the country. It is not only that he has the human gift of order which marks the supreme administrator; he has the rarer gift of a divine enthusiasm which permeates the ranks below him, and makes the machine pulsate with a living intelligence.
Once a task was mastered, it lost its fascination for him. Instantly he pressed on to the next. He was hardly a pleasant companion, in spite of his infectious smile and captivating manners — doing his own work superlatively and prodding every colleague less successful than he. For Lord Grey his dislike was little short of malevolence, but in Churchill he recognized a genius of peculiar impudence, to which his own responded.
Of the coup which brought him to the highest place of all, Mr. Lloyd George gives, as befits his theme, a detailed account. All the letters are given in full, and the reader must decide whether it was a band of patriots or a camarilla which gave Great Britain her necessary Prime Minister. But as one ponders that tragical episode, whatever faults may be ascribed to Mr. Asquith, they are redeemed by a certain greatness of soul, a true magnanimity which by temperament and by training his successor was never quite fitted to understand.
The late King Feisal, no inconsiderable judge of men, had this to say: ‘ As it is with one of your famous impressionist pictures, so it is with Lloyd George. He should be seen from a distance.’ In these volumes1 you see him large-scale and close-to. Taken with the two sequels we may expect next year, they furnish the last essential testimony of the famous leaders pleading at the bar of history. They were written by a great man with great faults, and whosoever would judge the truth must read them.
- Volume II was reviewed from the English Edition.—EDITOR↩