FIVE years ago British public opinion was coming to regard the League of Nations as something more than a visionary’s ideal. There were then apparent the first stirrings of that surging wave of confused thought which in recent months has carried England to the brink of war in pursuit of peace.
At that time there emerged from obscurity a figure youthful, handsome, and debonair, devoting himself energetically and almost exclusively to the furtherance of the League’s designs. It was the figure of Captain Anthony Eden, M. C., entering the government and coming for the first time before the nation’s gaze as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He was a young man among staid elders who seemed to be breaking through the barriers of political and diplomatic caution, bent upon imposing on the world the pacific will of Britain.
The title of his military rank spoke of his service in the Great War. He was not of that company of pacifists, internationalists, and ‘advanced’ thinkers who for a decade previously had been commonly associated with the League. He had fought on the Western Front and had won an award for valor. His boyish appearance and his military record commended him at once to the post-war youth and the depleted generation of veterans. The newspapers, quick to catch the tenor of the public mind, told his story in appreciative articles. Newsreel films pictured him stepping from railway trains and aeroplanes on his journeys across Europe, walking the streets of Continental capitals, and talking with foreign statesmen — tall and athletic in build, energetic and charming in manner.
Through the years since 1931 he has worked outside the contentious sphere of domestic politics. Political reputations have risen and fallen. Ministers, young and old, have been made and broken. But he has continued his labors with growing prestige, giving expression by his every action to the nation’s yearning for peace.
Promotion has come to him rapidly. The men ahead of him have fallen from his path — first Sir John Simon, passing unlamented; then Sir Samuel Hoare, whose meteoric career across the diplomatic heavens ended in a catastrophic combustion.
He stands now before the expectant eyes of the world, taking thought in the short time before action will be demanded of him. Captain the Right Honorable Robert Anthony Eden, Member of His Britannic Majesty’s Most Honorable Privy Council, Member of Parliament . . . His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. . . .
He appears to his countrymen as a watchman surveying from an eminence the war clouds hist gathering on the European horizon. A courageous smile plays on his lips as he looks out with good-natured, bespectacled eyes; and to those about him he speaks words of hope and resolution. He inspires confidence, even enthusiasm in great numbers. But there are those who ask one another whether, when the call comes, he will display the qualities of wise statesmanship which will certainly be demanded of him.
Anthony Eden comes of one of those old county families which have given England her governing classes from one generation to another. There were Edens in Durham County as far back as in the fourteenth century, and in 1672 King Charles II conferred a baronetcy on the house. Members of the family have followed one another to represent the shire at Westminster as Cavalier, as Tory, and as Conservative. The present family seat is Windlestone, a Georgian mansion set in a wooded park at Ferry Hill in South Durham. Beyond the park stretch eight thousand acres of the family estate, now scarred on the surface and honeycombed beneath by colliery workings.
There Anthony Eden was born on a summer day thirty-eight years ago, son of Sir William Eden, seventh baronet. His father was nearing his fiftieth year at the time of Anthony’s birth; he had already seen service as a cavalry officer, and had retired to the pursuits of country life and the indulgence of artistic tastes. He was a water-color painter of repute whose works hung in the principal galleries of London and Paris. Magistrate, master of hounds, keen shot and renowned boxer, he combined the temperament of an artist with the hard-riding habits of a country squire. He had also a certain eccentricity of manner which was apt to show itself in outbursts of uncontrollable bad temper. Sir William’s wife, daughter of an Indian administrator, was a famous beauty of the county and the Court in the later Victorian period. From her and Sir William, Anthony Eden has inherited many of his most distinctive qualities. To them he owes his handsome features and athletic figure, and also a dilettante’s taste for art and letters.
But the young Anthony was no spoiled child. He was the fourth of five children, the eldest of whom was a sister ten years his senior. The lash of his father’s tongue descended on him from time to time in moments of irascibility, and he was subject to healthy teasing by his sister and brothers. His schooling began at the age of nine, when he was sent to a conventional preparatory school in Surrey.
Little is recalled by his masters and school fellows of his years at school. They were undistinguished by anything save a taste for divinity, which was viewed with stern disfavor by his father. He went to Eton at the age of thirteen, and was placed with the other newcomers of average attainment in the middle fourth form. There he worked industriously and behaved quietly, seldom making himself conspicuous either by prowess or by misdeed. He had won house colors for football and was beginning to show form as an oarsman when war broke out in August 1914.
The Great War smote the Eden family a cruel blow. The eldest boy, John, went to France with a cavalry regiment to be killed in action within a few months. The second son, Timothy, being in Germany at the outbreak, was interned. The fourth son, a naval cadet of fourteen years, soon went to join the Fleet. Sir William Eden, overcome by these griefs and anxieties, survived his eldest son by only a few weeks. By this merciful release he was spared the distress of hearing in June 1916 that his youngest boy had been killed at the Battle of Jutland, while still only sixteen years old.
Anthony Eden remained at Eton until he came of age for military service on his eighteenth birthday in 1915. He then joined the Army, and in September of that year was commissioned with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He went to France in the spring of 1916, and saw active service for the remainder of the war. By a strange irony he, who was later to become identified so closely with the ideal of peace, first rose above the level of mediocrity as a soldier. He was appointed adjutant at the age of nineteen, being at that time the youngest officer in the Army to hold the rank. He went first to Ypres, where he won the Military Cross for gallantry, and was afterward transferred to the Somme. He earned rapid promotion and served for a time on the staff of General Lord Plumer. Before his twenty-first birthday he had been given the rank of captain and posted as brigade major to the staff of his brigade. An impression of extreme boyishness lingers in the memories of those who met him in France. Neither the grim background of carnage in which he moved, nor the heavy drooping ‘military’ moustache which he then affected, served to dispel the impression.
He was still only twenty-one years of age when the war ended, and he returned to England to find the family he had left sadly shrunken. His father and two of his brothers had passed away. He showed in later years how much he missed the young brother who had died at Jutland when he named one of his own sons Nicholas in remembrance of him. His elder brother Timothy, who had served with the troops in France after two years’ internment in Germany, had now succeeded to the baronetcy and was thenceforward to pursue a life very similar to their father’s. Anthony Eden went to Oxford University, there to read in the most academic of schools — the school of Oriental Languages.
Oxford in those years immediately following the Armistice had much of the comradeship of the Army. It was crowded with young officers, come from the trenches to resume their interrupted studies. The rules of the university were relaxed to enable them to make an easy transition to the life of ordered citizenship which not many of them had known. Few gave themselves to serious studies. They mostly took up subjects of practical utility, and, disdaining honors, were content with ‘pass’ degrees.
Anthony Eden withdrew from the common life of those days. He studied diligently, took little or no part in the social life of the university, and moved among an exclusive coterie of kindred spirits who sought relief in the arts. Although a member of Oxford University Dramatic Society, he seldom attended and took no part in its activities. He had already decided to seek a career in politics; but he ignored the usual channels of aspiring politicians. He was not a member of the Union Debating Society, nor of any political club. He did not write for Isis, the undergraduate journal, and did not devote himself seriously to games. He took the degree of Bachelor of Arts with first-class honors in his third year.
Anthony Eden’s first adventure in politics was in 1922, the year in which he left Oxford. He then made a forlorn fight against a Socialist coal miner in the Spennymoor division of his native county of Durham. He undertook the contest more for the experience it would afford than from hope of being elected. But its interest to-day is that it was the occasion of his first professions of political faith. He declared his allegiance to the Conservative Party in uncompromising terms at the meeting at which he was adopted candidate for the election. ‘I am a Conservative, always have been a Conservative, and expect to die a Conservative,’ he told the meeting. The first Socialist Government of Great Britain was shortly to take office, and the clash between capitalism and socialism was at its height. On this issue he declared himself thus: ‘When every worker is an active capitalist, and every capitalist an active worker, the Conservative ideal will have been achieved.’
The Treaty of Versailles was then being assailed as an unduly harsh imposition on Germany. France’s insistence on full reparation payments, culminating in the French occupation of the Ruhr, had brought the subject into prominence. On these questions he held the orthodox Conservative view of the time, championing the Treaty and insisting that Germany, as a defeated nation which had precipitated war, must be made to pay for its ravages. The international unrest caused by the Chanak affair was also in the public mind at the time, and there is a familiar note in his remarks on this subject. He constantly reiterated that Britain’s mission was to remain a stable cornerstone of peace amid all this disturbance abroad. But in this again he was only voicing orthodox Conservative sentiments of the day.
Nor has he since displayed any great originality of thought. The development of his political ideas since the war has been that of the greater number of his countrymen. He has, in short, undergone a typical Conservative metamorphosis.
About the time of the Spennymoor election he became engaged to Beatrice Beckett, daughter of a North Country family of bankers. He married her in 1923, on the eve of his second election campaign. He sacrificed his honeymoon to the campaign; but he won his return to Westminster. He was returned for Warwick and Leamington, a district with which he had family connections through the marriage of his sister into the family of the Earls of Warwick. There was a strong family flavor about this election, since his Socialist opponent was the then Countess of Warwick, his sister’s mother-inlaw.
Having won his way to the House of Commons, he settled down in London, taking a house in Chelsea so as to be among friends with congenially artistic tastes. He divided his time for the next three years between attendance at the House of Commons, journalism, and travel. In the House he spoke prosaically on subjects of which he had special knowledge. He gave close attention to military questions and Near Eastern affairs. He spoke often, also, on matters connected with the preservation of the nation’s art treasures and the conservation of the countryside. His journalistic work was done mostly for the Yorkshire Post, a prominent provincial newspaper in the North of England, in the ownership of which his father-in-law is associated. His writings were mostly literary and artistic criticisms.
In 1925 he set out on a journey round the world which occupied the greater part of the year. He had already traveled widely in Central Europe during his Oxford days, having once gone as far afield as Constantinople with a select company of friends. The opportunity for his world tour came to him through the Yorkshire Post, which offered to appoint him its representative at the Imperial Press Conference at Melbourne. On the outward journey he traveled across Canada, visiting Honolulu and the Fiji Islands. He returned by way of Ceylon and the Red Sea, stopping for a time to improve his knowledge of the Near East. He wrote a book describing his experiences on his return, for which he obtained a preface by Mr. Stanley Baldwin, then Prime Minister. The book was largely devoted — characteristically enough — to an appreciation of the scenic beauties he had witnessed.
There are two courses of action open to a young member of the British House of Commons, ambitious to serve his country and himself, when his party holds power. Either he must take up the position of a critic within the fold, standing firmly against the natural tendency of all British administrations to compromise with opposition, or he must obediently do the will of his seniors. He must rely for advancement either on pressure of party opinion from below or on official favor from above. Anthony Eden chose the latter course, and consistently adhered to it. His reward came in 1926, when he was chosen by Sir Austen Chamberlain, then Foreign Secretary, to be his Parliamentary Private Secretary. The Parliamentary Private Secretary is the minister’s factotum. He loses the last vestiges of personal freedom and seldom appears in the public eye. It is customary for him even to forgo the right of speaking in the House, lest an inadvertent word should embarrass the minister. His compensation is a foothold in his chief’s department, the handling of his papers, and a valuable insight into the administrative methods of Whitehall.
From 1926 until the fall of Mr. Baldwin’s Government in 1929, Anthony Eden was unobtrusively gaining experience in the conduct of Foreign Office business at the feet of Sir Austen Chamberlain. He also gained the esteem of his chief in those years — a circumstance which was afterward to prove a decisive factor at a critical juncture in his career.
For the next two years Anthony Eden sat in a humble place among the Conservatives on the opposition benches in the House of Commons, playing for the first time the rôle of critic of the government. As one of the junior spokesmen of the party on foreign affairs he developed a combative style of oratory, illuminated by occasional flashes of caustic wit, which he is now able to use with effect when defending government policy from the Treasury bench. Diligent study of his subject was a quality which was then beginning to attract to him the attention of political observers. But as yet he remained an obscure figure, unknown to the public at large, for whom few of his associates would have prophesied a spectacular rise to international fame.
Anthony Eden was on holiday with his family on the Yorkshire moors, in August 1931, when the second Socialist Government was suddenly seized with its death agonies. A summons from Mr. Baldwin brought him to London, and he joined the first National Government as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Two more years were still to pass before his approach to fame; but in those years fortune favored him as she favors only the chosen of the gods.
The first acute phases of the economic crisis which had brought the National Government into being passed away, and as they passed the nation turned its attention ever more toward Europe. There ominous things were afoot. Hitler’s National Socialist movement was growing from strength to strength in Germany. French fears and suspicions were growing too. The long struggle of the Disarmament Conference at Geneva to save the world from a new race in armament building was approaching its climax. At the head of the Foreign Office was the tall figure of Sir John Simon, renowned as a great legal brain, in the heyday of his fortune.
But Sir John Simon had not been happily placed at the Foreign Office. His reputation as a lawyer proved a serious handicap in his dealings with foreign statesmen; the subtle acuteness of his mind bred mistrust. His plans went awry. He failed to carry conviction in the House of Commons. Meanwhile, in sharp contrast, Anthony Eden was developing a habit of forthright, confident speech. He was, moreover, proving himself a gifted diplomat, able to turn to full advantage in international negotiation his winning style and appearance and his faculty for clear thought.
There arose a demand for Sir John Simon’s removal from the Foreign Office. But Sir John was unwilling to leave, and strongly placed in the government as head of its Liberal wing. The demand gathered strength and insistence; it had to be placated. And when at last a move was made it took the form of promotion for Anthony Eden. On New Year’s Day, 1934, he was appointed Lord Privy Seal with the status of a senior minister, and entrusted particularly with the conduct of international negotiations.
He now began a series of diplomatic journeyings across the Continent which held him continually in the public eye. He traveled frequently between London, Paris, and Geneva, and less often to Berlin and Rome, on pacific missions loudly heralded in the press. His reputation and popularity grew rapidly. He was described by a French delegate at Geneva as ‘that terrible young man who wants peace.’ A glamour attached to him; he captured the imaginations of large numbers of his countrymen. In June 1934, public sentiment was recognized, and Anthony Eden was sworn a member of the Privy Council.
There is an instinctive tendency among Englishmen to dislike meddling by their government in Continental affairs. The policy and outlook with which Anthony Eden had become identified were, therefore, not universally popular; but he escaped all criticism of this nature, since at that time he had no direct responsibility. He was not yet a member of the Cabinet. Criticism was directed rather to the government as a corporate entity, or launched on the luckless head of Sir John Simon. Even the opposition Socialists found it the part of discretion to leave Anthony Eden unassailed.
An unusual honor was paid him in the autumn of 1934, when he was entertained by the governments of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark as a mark of their appreciation of his work at Geneva. And in the spring of the following year he undertook the most spectacular of his diplomatic journeys. From Paris and Berlin he went on to Moscow, and returned through Warsaw and Prague. At every capital he was welcomed by the citizens and entertained by the head of the state. He arrived home suffering from heart strain, and was compelled to rest for six weeks.
By the time he was once more at work, the demand for Sir John Simon’s removal from the Foreign Office had been revived in strength. Moreover, the General Election of last November was then in sight, and a reconstruction of the ministry had been decided upon to give it an air of novelty in its appeal to the country. And so Sir John Simon was transferred to the Home Office in July, and Sir Samuel Hoare replaced him at the head of the Foreign Office. But Anthony Eden was given another step in promotion. He was taken into the Cabinet and given the specially created office of Minister without Portfolio for League of Nations Affairs.
For a year previously the members of the government had been noting with growing concern the rapid acceleration of rearmament on the Continent, but they had continued their policy of altruistic example to the world by neglect of the armed forces of Great Britain, without informing public opinion of their apprehensions. Consequently, when the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia turned to war, they were called upon by the country to take an active part in League intervention, for which they did not consider themselves to be adequately equipped. It was not fear of the outcome of a possible conflict with Italy which weighed with them; but the grave danger that any loss of fighting power, however small, might give to arming Germany an irrecoverable advantage.
An inflamed and ill-informed public opinion, acclaiming Anthony Eden as its hero, demanded resolute action. But it fell to Sir Samuel Hoare to steer a course which, while satisfying the demand, would effectually preclude any risk of warlike adventures in the Mediterranean.
Concentration of the British Fleet in the Mediterranean and the simultaneous efforts of Anthony Eden at Geneva to rally a united front of League Powers failed to intimidate Mussolini. Arrogant and cavalier treatment of the British Ambassador in Berlin sounded a new note of warning, and Sir Samuel Hoare sought safe retreat in the illomened Hoare-Laval peace terms. The Cabinet, including Anthony Eden, approved the terms. But still no word of explanation was offered to the public.
The country rose up in angry outcry against the proposed settlement. At the head of the movement which gave it expression in Parliament stood Sir Austen Chamberlain. The pressure grew and the government yielded, performing the undignified evolution of repudiating the terms it had approved only a week earlier. Sir Samuel Hoare resigned as a necessary consequence. Sir Austen Chamberlain, stern veteran of politics, was master of the situation for a day. The impulse to which the government had yielded had been directed by him. His will must be done. Mr. Baldwin summoned him, consulted with him, and, on December 23, appointed Anthony Eden to be Foreign Secretary in the place of Sir Samuel Hoare.
The rise of Anthony Eden must be ascribed mainly, though by no means solely, to his own good fortune and the misfortunes of others. He has been favored in birth, wealth, and circumstance. But he has applied fortune’s gifts to good advantage, and has added to them his own industry.
The task before him is greater than any he has yet faced. He has now to devise his policies, as well as to execute them. Henceforward he w ill be directly answerable for all he may do, and on his shoulders will lie a dreadful responsibility. The gathering forces abroad which he must struggle to hold in peace are not such as one man can subdue; but the influence of the British Foreign Secretary is great, and at any moment it may prove decisive.
The decision of Great Britain, last among the nations, to restore her armed forces for defense of the Empire and fulfillment of international obligations will give the voice of Anthony Eden an authority in the councils of Europe with which none of his predecessors have spoken since the war. By that measure his responsibility will be greater than theirs. All the energy and ability that are in him, all his hereditary aptitude for the handling of public affairs, he must summon to aid him until Europe shall recover her sanity, or the war clouds burst in a deluge of blood.