Lloyd George: Britain's Great Radical

Long before he began to walk “the corridors of powerin Great Britain, the eminent scientist-novelist Lord Snow came to know many influential Britons. Lloyd George picked him out of a dining room crowd at Antibes because “I thought you had an interesting head.” It was the beginning of a long intimacy, here recounted in one of nine sketches and profiles to be published in the spring by Scribner’s under the title VARIETY OF MEN. Next month the ATLANTIC will print Lord Snow’s recollections of the great mathematician G. H. Hardy.

I MET Lloyd George by sheer accident, and the actual manner of it sounds more improbable than anyone would be prepared to invent. I had gone to Antibes for the Christmas of 1937 and was staving at the Hôtel du Cap waiting for a friend to join me. There, in the same hotel, was Lloyd George, in the middle of a family party. I used to watch him taking a morning stroll through the grounds to Eden Roc; his hair streamed in the breeze, his cloak swung with his lively step, he walked like a strong and active man in middle age (he was seventy-three). I watched him also in the dining room. His party had a table, the star table, in the window corner. The room was large and lofty, and Lloyd George’s laughter filled it. From an obscure place beside the opposite wall, I watched him curiously, thinking of all I had heard and read about him.

On the afternoon of Christmas Day I went for a walk. I was lonely: it was a time in my life when most things were going wrong. As the sun went down, I remember that it was a bright, cold Mediterranean winter evening, with frost glinting blue under the corniche lights.

When I got back to the hotel, the porter called me: there was a message from Major Gwilym Lloyd George. Would I ring him up? As soon as possible?

From the porter’s desk I did so. Major Gwilym was saying amiably that his father had noticed I was alone. Would I care to join their party that night? I was delighted. I was also, as I got ready for dinner, distinctly perplexed. Why ever should this happen? I was a completely unknown young man. Had they mistaken me for someone else?

No, when I arrived down for dinner, Lloyd George greeted me by name, welcoming me as though he had wanted to meet me for years. I said (and meant it) that I was honored. He asked me questions, and I asked some back. It was all easy. He was not a self-conscious man, nor was I.

But none of that explained why I had been invited. When I knew him a little better, I asked him directly why he had picked me out: it was great good luck for me, but why had he done it? He was too good-mannered not to look slightly sheepish. But we were close enough now. and I prodded him. “Well, as a matter of fact,” he said, “I thought you had an interesting head.”

He had, I found, a passion for phrenology. His intuitive judgment of men was of the highest class, and like others of his kind, like one or two great industrialists that I met later, he wanted a pseudoscientific framework for his skill. I had been selected as a subject for cranial investigation.

That did not matter. As we ate our Christmas dinner, he went out of his way to make me happy, and the rest of the party, and incidentally himself. I had been prepared for his charm, but I ought to have known that charm of his quality (which is often the cause of moral reprobation in those who do not possess it) is not simply a trick that one switches on for a purpose. Naturally he often used it for a purpose: he was a professional politician, selfish and ruthless, in love with power. But he was also engaged by human beings: he was capable of detached and humorous interest; he might be selfish, but he wanted to please: he was not self-involved — at times, in a way quite impossible for more sanctimonious men, he could forget himself. As a result he set one talking, and listened, not as a political trick (though it had become first nature to use it as a political trick) but because he liked doing so.

This was one of the roots of his charm. Lord Hankey, who had been Secretary of his Cabinet and who loved and admired him — this was stranger than it seems, since Hankey, beneath a mild and simple facade, was not overgiven cither to love or admiration — once told me during the Second War: “The difference between L.G. and Winston is this. Imagine the subject of balloons crops up. Winston, without a blink, will give you a brilliant hour-long lecture on balloons. L.G., even if he has never seen you before, will spend an hour finding out anything you know or think about them.”

by C. P. Snow

I had several surprises at that first meeting. I had somehow expected him to be a teetotaler. I was relieved to find that this was not so. In fact, he Look a manifest pleasure in choosing the wine. I had not imagined that he was an excellent mimic, or that he was ready to use this talent in recalling historical scenes in which he had taken part. It struck me as odd, though gratifying, to hear the proceedings of the Big Four at Versailles mimicked, in extreme high spirits, by one of them. He was the least pompous of men. He gave me that turn before I had known him a couple of hours.

I was also surprised, though in a different fashion, by his taste in reading. History? Yes, of all kinds. Fiction? No, not much. Why not? It made him too sad. This seemed to me so bizarre that I probed a little further. After all, no one had ever accused L.G. of a lack of realism in action, or of not taking a robustly practical view of life and his fellowmen. Most serious novels had sad endings, he explained. He did not like being depressed. So before he read a novel, he inquired about its ending. If it was unhappy, he could not bear to read it.

That was that. It made me feel unlucky in my vocation. Particularly as L.G. blithely assured me that he took a wild West story to bed with him every night of his life.

He did so that Christmas night. Also the remainder of a bottle of champagne. He sang a song in Welsh, and then went upstairs two at a time. It was well before ten, but later than his usual hour for bed. He liked, so he told me, to be in bed by half past nine, read His wild West story for twenty minutes, turn off the lights, and sleep at once and without a break till six. That was his habit. He had been kept awake by a public care only once in his career. I wish I had asked him when it was, but at a first meeting I had not quite the nerve. The U-boats in 1917? The March offensive in 1918? I had a suspicion that it might have been the political coup in 1916.

Anyway, phrenologically or otherwise, I was in favor. I was to join his table so long as I was there, he said. So I had days of his company, and at Easter went back to Antibes, where he was still staying, and talked to him night after night.

I MUST not pretend to an intimacy greater than I possessed. Like many men of immediate spontaneity, he was also deeply cagey. Some things, like politics, he would talk to me nakedly about, some things not at all. On my side, I hadn’t much to give him. Novels he didn’t care much for, and science less. As for dons (I was one at the time), his approval of them was distinctly lukewarm. Who have you got at Cambridge? he once asked me. Crassly, I mentioned the name of Keynes, noticed an unusually flashing eye, and went on in a hurry to pick up the brick. Keynes had once told me, I said, that L.G. was one of the only two politicians he had known who was clever enough to be a first-class academician. This story was entirely true: Keynes was as unfair to politicians as L.G. was to dons.

L.G. was slightly mollified. But then, old wounds gave twinges: the economic consequences of the Peace, donnish gibes, may have come back to memory (he didn’t like criticism any more than any other man). “Keynes,” he cried. “Keynes used to put his head around the door of my room during the war and say our finances wouldn’t last another fortnight.” Keynes was accordingly, so L.G. said, ordered out of the room, not once, but often. I have no idea what substance there was in this anecdote, but at least it indicated that Cambridge dons were not, by virtue of their office, popular. Still, he did not hold my job against me.

Much of the talk was somber. World politics were dark, war was coming; more than once he said: “I have no comfort to give you.” Yet his spirits were so high, his absence of self-pity so complete, that it was great fun — even though there was a generation and a half between us (by a comic fluke, in years to come my son sat in the same form in the same school as his great-grandson), even though our codes of manners belonged to different epochs. I never once heard anyone call him by his Christian name; I believe that only Winston Churchill did so: L.G. strongly objected, with a stiffness odd, one would have thought, for his temperament, and a little old-fashioned even in Edwardian England, to others doing so. So far as he needed a form of address in conversation, which wasn’t often, he used my surname; so far as I needed a form of address, which also wasn’t often, I called him Sir.

A contrast struck me a quarter of a century later, when someone else I knew became Prime Minister — Harold Wilson, who reminded me more of L.G. than any other politician I had met. Forty-eight hours after the election in October, 1964, I was summoned to Number 10. Harold Wilson was sitting alone in the Cabinet Room, in the place in the middle of the long table where his predecessors had sat. I said: “Good evening, Prime Minister.” A slow, steady, unpretending pumalike grin faced me. “It used to be Harold,” he said.

As I say, the resemblance between the two men had often struck me, and was to do so more and more, but L.G. could never have behaved like that.

Yet L.G. was a radical to his bones, and in a profound sense his radicalism never left him. It is now common form to say that L.G. was the better politician, Churchill the greater statesman. There, I confess, my own predilections make me have my doubts. It would be perverse not to agree that Churchill had the more rigid and upright character, but I should have thought that it was equally perverse not to agree that L.G. had by far the deeper social insight. A progressive-minded man will blind himself to some of L.G.’s faults; a romantic, magnanimous reactionary will do the same for Churchill. It is pleasant to think, though, that they were close friends through all the turbulence of their careers, right up to L.G.’s death. L.G. seems to have been (as Lady Asquith of Yarnbury fairly but disapprovingly reports) the only political figure in the country whom Churchill regarded with veneration. For years he was Churchill’s teacher. In return, Churchill saved him in the Marconi scandal, which might have been political ruin. When L.G. became Prime Minister, he took a comparable risk and paid that debt in full.

Often they were allies, two of the toughest allies who can ever have worked together in politics; often they were closer than allies, in a game where friendship doesn’t enter much. Toward the end, when Churchill came to power and L.G. was old, ill, and alienated from the war, Churchill still tried to bring him back to public life. It brought a gleam of pleasure into those pathetic last years: “The Prime Minister has made me honorable offers,” L.G. liked to say.

When I was talking to him a little earlier, and he was still in full vigor, he often spoke of Churchill. He spoke always in the same tone. It was a tone curiously mixed, of affection, quasi-respect, and a kind of mockery. He admired Churchill’s strength, his power, his inventiveness, his undefeatable intransigence — but, with a kind of Welsh malice (which often made me feel that he was looking at Englishmen through a foreigner’s eyes), he thought him a bit of an ass. “The trouble with Winston” (I don’t think that my memory is playing me tricks;

I am almost sure that he usually referred to Churchill by his Christian name), he said, “is that he’s always taking action. He will insist on getting out his map of the Dardanelles, and think where that landed us. And after the war I had to think what to do with him. I wanted him in my Cabinet, of course; but what’s the safest place after a war for a man who will get out his maps? Minister of War, of course, I thought. He’ll be safe there. But was he? Before I could look round, he’s got out his maps of Russia and we were making fools of ourselves in the Civil War.” (He was not given to regrets about the actions of his governments, but this was one that he came back to.) “When that was over, he got out his maps again. This time he got out his maps of Greece and Turkey, and that brought my tottering administration to a close.”

IT WAS partly an accident of birth that gave a singular quality to L.G.’s radicalism. He was born Welsh, and he spoke Welsh: as I have indicated, he saw England and the English class structure as a foreigner sees it. He never liked it, any more than his friend Beaverbrook, another foreigner, liked it. He chose never to be inside. He became one of the kings of this world, but there lurked within him the resentment of his upbringing, of a poor people outside the fringe, of a despised culture, of the Chapel against the Established Church.

That may have been a political advantage: it was easier for him, all through his life, to identify himself with the poor and put-upon than it has usually been for Englishmen, even those born as humbly as he was. But he also had what may have been a disadvantage: he was brought up in agricultural Wales, in as near an approach to a peasant society as Britain had preserved. This reinforced a strain of his radicalism; he knew in his flesh and bone what an agricultural laborer feels toward a landowner. But it also set him at an angle from the emerging new radicalism of his time — which otherwise he was superabundantly equipped to understand, mold, and use. For years, right up to 1914, he was the only powerful politician with a voice that went deep into the population; but after 1918, with the rise of the Labor Party, such a voice could only have full resonance if it spoke to and for the industrial working class. That L.G.’s could not do.

Still, from the time he entered Parliament in 1890 as an obscure Welsh attorney up to the beginning of the war, he was the effective spokesman of the country’s left. Both in opposition and in government he used this position with consummate political skill. He fought his contemporary battles — against the Boer War, against the Conservative Education Bill of 1902 —just as in 1966 he would have been fighting against the Vietnamese war and educational segregation. And he performed more powerfully than any of his latter-day successors. He was, it is clear, a supreme orator, better on the platform than in the Commons.

As soon as he got into the Cabinet, in the Liberal government of 1906, he showed the full range of his gifts. He had been a great tribune, but he was also a great minister. He had the extreme advantage of believing in what he was doing: that is, he believed — with all the rancor of past poverty, with the fellow feeling for the unprivileged that he never quite forgot — in what we should now call the welfare state. Rather strangely, he had picked up his first administrative ideas in Prussia; as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he forced them through. To the end of his life, this was the achievement he liked to talk of.

Further, he was after power, the real power, the top place. He wouldn’t have been in politics if he hadn’t wanted the power, nor would anyone else of his quality. He knew that he was in a tricky, but ultimately strong, tactical position. The government — incidentally a very gifted one, though still oligarchic — was mildly, very mildly, reformist. He stood on its extreme left. To the left in England, just beginning to murmur, he was the one guarantee of hope. A powerful politician in such a government, on the left of his Cabinet colleagues known to be on the left, is going to attract maximum hatred. But he also has two sources of strength. L.G. knew this, both by instinct and calculation. He told me so thirty years later. He may have been rationalizing a little, but I think it was not all hindsight.

The first advantage is obvious enough: unlike his colleagues, he had an extra source of support — he could strike responses outside Parliament, outside conventional politics, in what L.G. himself would have called “the country.” The second advantage is more subtle. In any reformist government a certain number of its members would half like to be more on the left than they actually are. That appears to have been true of some of L.G.’s colleagues. He stood for causes which made them feel guilty. He acquired the moral initiative. It is significant, though L.G. did not say this, that Churchill, not an impressionable character, in no conceivable sense a man of the left, became full of respect for L.G.’s social insights, and for years followed his lead.

In this position, as I have just said, he was bound to attract maximum hatred. Conservative society is quick to spot its most dangerous enemy and on the whole fairly shrewd about identifying him. For many years in conservative circles L.G. was the most hated man in England, much as in similar American circles Franklin Roosevelt was the most hated man in the United States.

The hatred had been accumulating since L.G. entered the Commons, long before he was in office, although it was most intense between 1906 and 1914. It was, in its root, political hatred, but he gave his enemies some extrapolitical excuses to hang on to. The most genuine of the excuses was the Marconi scandal in 1912, where he behaved with a folly which even now is hard to understand. The story is well known. The Cabinet had knowledge that a government contract was to be placed with the English Marconi Company; the managing director of this company was Godfrey Isaacs, the brother of Sir Rufus Isaacs (later Lord Reading), the Attorney General. Rumors went around that Rufus Isaacs, Lloyd George, and the Chief Whip of the government party had, on the strength of this inside knowledge, been speculating in the company’s shares. The rumors were formally denied in the House of Commons by Sir Rufus Isaacs. This denial was factually accurate. But no one thought it worthwhile saying that Rufus Isaacs had bought 10,000 shares of the new issue of the firm’s American subsidiary, and had sold 1000 each to the other two.

These transactions were made openly, without any attempt at concealment. It was such an imbecile thing to do that all concerned must have been innocent. But it nearly ejected L.G. out of politics for good. For, as anyone but a future Lord Chief Justice might have divined, the story duly came out. Partisan feeling was acute, and the Conservatives handled their attack clumsily, on plain party lines; if they had been more judicious, it would have been harder for L.G. to survive. As it was, he had to rely on the absolute fighting loyally of Winston Churchill, one of the better allies in this kind of corner, and on the calm Olympian support of Asquith, who might, if Ire had been a less magnanimous man, have disinterested himself and so, passively and without effort, have got rid of his most dangerous rival.

It is a not displeasing coda to the story that when the accounts for the whole transaction were totted up, all three men turned out to have lost money.

The Marconi affair was one gibe against L.G. The other, less dangerous but longer lasting, was women. Early in his career he had been mentioned in a divorce case: a woman signed a confession that on February 4, 1896, at her home in Montgomeryshire, she committed adultery with Lloyd George. L.G. produced to Counsel the parliamentary division lists which showed that on February 4 he had been voting in the Commons lobby until the early morning. Well, that was that. But, through much of his career, similar charges kept recurring. Baldwin and other Tories called him the Goat. Since his death there have been accounts of a life of extravagant womanizing.

There is no need to regard those accounts as the concrete truth. Nevertheless, L.G. was fond of women. Many eminent politicians, of whom Churchill was one, have no use even for women’s company; with L.G. the opposite was true. For me, at least, this softened him, made him more complicated and more likable. And it was easy to imagine that to many women, particularly to intelligent women, he had been one of the most attractive of men. For weeks I saw Frances Stevenson near to him. In 1911, when he was Chancellor, she became his secretary at the age of twenty-three.

“I recall the sensitive face, with deep furrows between the eyes, the eyes themselves, in which was all knowledge of human nature, grave and gay almost simultaneously: eyes which, when they scrutinised you, convinced you that they understood all the workings of your heart and mind, sympathised with your difficulties, set you in a place apart. The broad brow; the beautiful profile — straight nose, neat resolute chin. And a complexion as young and fresh as a child’s. But there was something more even than this which distinguished him from all other men I had ever met — from all men whom I ever did meet thereafter — a magnetism which made my heart leap and swept aside my judgment.”

A man would be hard to please if he wanted more than that — from an exceptionally clever and charming young woman. From that day she devoted her life to him. After his first wife died, when he was near his own death, he married her.

POLITICIANS can get divorced without ruin nowadays, but they have become more disciplined in their financial behavior. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, anyone behaving as Rufus Isaacs, L.G., and the Chief Whip behaved over the Marconi shares would be out of politics now without a question asked. No modern minister would dare to have dealings in any business where government was remotely concerned, or, if he is prudent, any other speculative dealings at all. He would not even let his wife go shopping in an official car. In all these ways we have become financially puritanical to the limit. It may seem finicky, but I am sure that it is an unmitigated gain.

The group of military leaders whom L.G. had to use when he seized the power in 1916 were remarkably, and almost disastrously, less disciplined than Churchill’s a quarter of a century later. It is easy to say, from the viewpoint of our different society, that L.G. ought to have avoided Passchendaele, and if necessary, sacked Haig; if L.G. had done so, he would have been got rid of himself. As he used to say, they all made every imaginable error, and finally won the war. And he had seized the power both for its own sake and — politicians have to be given credit for what they aim at — to do just that.

The details of the intrigue which ousted Asquith are now well known: Beaverbrook’s is the most vivid account of any coup in high-level politics, written by the supreme middleman, the secret operator, and in the end, the fall guy. Once he had served his purpose, he too was thrown out — and his rueful, sardonic observations of his own fate are the best part of the story. For a more objective version one has to read Roy Jenkins’ biography of Asquith. It is not desirable to be oversubtle about L.G.’s part in arriving in the top place. One night, Hankey, who saw it all happening, was asked why L.G. found it necessary to become Prime Minister. Hankey had two voices: one was that of the trained and superdiscreet Cabinet Secretary, muted, Polonius-like. In that he answered, “Because of the consciousness of his great powers.” Hankey’s second voice, which he kept for privileged occasions, was simple and down to earth; in that voice he answered, “Because he wanted the job.” Both comments were true.

Hankey said something more. He was the last man to indulge in hero worship; he was the one person in high places throughout 1914 to 1918 who had a professional knowledge of war; about war and the influence of personalities upon it, he took a severely Tolstoyan attitude. Yet he said that if L.G. had not become Prime Minister, he did not believe that the war could have been won.

No one doubts that L.G. and Churchill are the greatest War Ministers Britain has produced. I have heard arguments as to which was the greater, but those arguments don’t seem to me to have much meaning. The circumstances of the two wars, the part that Britain played in them, were radically different. In the First War Britain was the senior partner. In fact, one can draw a not too farfetched comparison between the roles of L.G. and Clemenceau in that war, and those of Roosevelt and Churchill in the Second. L.G. and Roosevelt are in many respects comparable figures: irregular, radical reformers in peacetime, hated by the right wing, made to transform themselves into war leaders. Neither had any detailed military knowledge, both had excellent strategic judgment. On the other side, Churchill and Clemenceau, the junior partners, were the incarnation of conservative nationalist patriotic will. Between L.G. and Roosevelt, at any rate, some of the political and psychological resemblances seem to go deeper.

I am going to allow myself a chauvinistic aside. In the First War, as I say, Britain was the senior partner. We were much richer than the French. We produced most of the munitions, and by the end, the larger number of fighting troops. The French took, both absolutely and in proportion to the population, the heavier casualties. Therefore, it would have been intolerable for the French not to have a Frenchman as supreme commander. In the Second War, the United States was the senior partner. They were much richer than the British. They produced most of the munitions, and by the end, the larger number of fighting troops. The British took, both absolutely and in proportion to the population, the heavier casualties. Therefore it would have been intolerable for the Americans not to have an American as supreme commander. In precisely what circumstances would an Englishman have got the job?

Neither L.G. nor Roosevelt had any detailed military knowledge. Churchill had a great deal. It is arguable which is the better equipment for the supreme political leader in times of war. Of the political leaders in the 1939-1945 war, only Churchill, Hitler, and perhaps Stalin (who seems to have had first-class military judgment) took a detailed interest, not only in strategy, but in tactics and weapons. In Hitler’s case, he was often wiser than his soldiers; but when he went wrong, he went catastrophically wrong. As for the AngloAmerican side, the thorough critical examination has yet to be made. At this distance it looks as though the curious equipoise between Roosevelt listening to his military and Churchill talking actively to his worked, within the human limits, very well — better than the ramshackle arrangements of 1914—1918, which happened, we must remember, when only a few oddities like Hankey had the faintest conception of the meaning of total war.

L.G. had none of Churchill’s passion for the military art; but his mind — despite, or perhaps because of, his leaps of imagination — was level, critical, quantitative. When I was talking to him, he was engaged heart and soul in the Spanish Civil War; this was the last radical cause of his life; nevertheless, on the military events his judgment stayed detached. I was involved myself, at least as much as he was. Morning after morning we studied the news. Even after Teruel, he would not let me have false hopes. He could not sec how the Russian aid to the government could balance the German aid to Franco; the puzzle was, what the Germans and Russians were playing for.

Sometimes, from a private intelligence service which he maintained, he received his own information. By the spring of 1938 it was uncomfortable to hear. Yet, still buoyant, he would cheer me up with gibes about military communiqués. The main principle in reading them, so L.G. said, was to remember that it is difficult to lie when one knows for certain the unpleasant truth. That is, a military headquarters will not normally claim a town it is nowhere near; nor thousands of prisoners if it has captured none. But when it has nothing to go on, as in “losses inflicted on the enemy,” or “aircraft brought down in the sea,” or “damage inflicted by bombing,” it will lie with the utmost enthusiasm. “Look for the prisoners.” “Look for the places!” “Pay no attention to the rest!” L.G. exhorted me. I found this instruction valuable, though at times discouraging, between 1939 and 1945.

Soon after I met him he told me that he had received an invitation from the Spanish government: would he take up office in Barcelona and become a kind of Superminister of Supply? He told us this as though he had still not made up his mind; we even discussed whom we might recruit if he said yes. But reluctantly, I knew it was a daydream. Perhaps he was older than he seemed; certainly he was too realistic to fling himself into something like chaos, from which there was no chance of emerging on the winning side. He did not want a messy failure. I did not know then, and have not discovered since, the details of the invitation. It is not mentioned in anything written about him. But my memory is clear. He may have been embroidering somewhat, but with me he discussed the proposition as I have recorded.

Of course, he could not have gone. The whole habit and passion of a lifetime prevented it. He was totally involved, while with masterly military detachment he instructed me about the Spanish war, with the chessboard of English politics. Even then, in his seventies, when there was no realistic chance of his ever ruling again, he could not repress the springs of hope. I remember the result of a by-election coming through, and L.G. was overjoyed. “I hear the government arc taking it very seriously,” he said. He was radiant with malicious pleasure at Chamberlain’s expense: L.G. despised him more than any other man alive (“A narrow thin mean skull! A narrow thin mean man!”).

He was radiant not only with malicious pleasure, for there were calculations running through his mind. There might still be a swing. There could be sudden changes even in parliamentary democracies: a move here, a move there; it was a long chance, but it might still come off. There was still the faintest flicker of a hope. For days the result of that by-election was more vivid to him than anything in the world. I thought that the pursuit of power could be a passion more preoccupying and more irresistible than passions of the flesh. But at that time intellectual persons, having ceased to be prudish about sex, had become idiotically prudish about power. This passion, at its most grandiose, got linked more closely than the sexual passion to a kind of supreme vanity. That was true of L.G. For he, the most subtle and proficient of flatterers, himself constantly required flattery. Like Rutherford, he was vain on the grand scale.

This specific flaw was partly responsible for the trouble which he had got into the year before I met him, and which hag-rode him for the rest of his life. In 1936 he went to Berchtesgadcn to meet Hitler. We know more about Hitler now than we did then; in the circles in which I moved, we had judged his dangerousness accurately enough, but we did not realize that he was a man of evil genius. We were inclined to think that face-to-face he would be slightly comic. It is clear that he was not in the least comic; he could be terrifying even to very tough men (Molotov, the toughest of the tough, seems to have been one of the few who were quite unmoved). He could also, when he cared, exercise great charm. At this Berchtesgaden meeting, he both outcharmed and outflattered L.G. There is no doubt that L.G. came away admiring and bemused.

It was, however, not only Hitler’s flattery which made him willing to admire. He was, as I have said, an irregular radical all through his life, but had never found an intellectual form for his politics. Churchill, for instance, had a rigid and pious reverence for the parliamentary process. This might be old-fashioned, but it gave him an honorable base. L.G. had no such reverence; and he had escaped the influences that trade unionists or ordinary left-wingers were brought up under, which, whatever their faults, gave them a steady insight into what National Socialism really meant. L.G. in his anarchic, rebellious way searched for those parts of it which had a radical tinge, and he could find some.

The saddening result was that he felt ambivalent about Germany until the war began, and for some time afterward. He was firm, and more than firm, over Spain; he was firm about Italian fascism, which he detested; he was firm about getting rid of Chamberlain in 1940, when he made the last of his great Commons speeches. But though sometimes he made it seem otherwise, he would not take an official part in the war. True he was old, but Churchill and Beaverbrook, loyal as ever, went right beyond the edge of duty to bring him in. Partly, perhaps, to recall the glory of the First War, but much more because Churchill wanted his gifts, calculating that doubts would disappear, fire would burn up again, because he was in action. That might have turned out true, but L.G. would not come in. He liked being asked; he gave various excuses for saying no, among them the valid one that he would face, in Chamberlain, implacable hostility in the War Cabinet. In secret, he never meant to join.

As he grew older, he was the victim of his own realism. In 1940 he could see no prospect of winning the war. He had affection for Churchill, but not the respect that Churchill had for him. He believed that the government would be discredited. It is possible he still thought that when the government was discredited, he would be called back to power at last.

In 1941, before Russia was brought into the war, he said in Parliament that he could see no end to the war and no hope. At that time there was no realistic hope. But, if it had been the First War, he would have subdued his realism. In the spring of 1941 one did not need realism. It would have been the worst of guides: that is why the country was lucky to have Churchill.

Then, at last, when Russia and the United States were fighting, L.G. had become too old to care much. Soon afterward he was diagnosed as having cancer, though he was not told. Just once, on the day of the invasion of France, his old spirit flared up, and he went to the House of Commons, happy about the war after all his doubts, to congratulate his old and stubborn friend.

Those last years were sad. Yet he could forget — as I often heard him forget — the chessboard of power and his own contrivances past and present. He could talk about the world history of his own time and about the future with a beautiful detachment. I have always remembered one night in the great drawing room of the Antibes hotel; down below, beyond the grounds, beyond Eden Roc, we could hear the sea, thudding, sucking.

We were alone. L.G. was talking of his place in history, of how he would be regarded mainly as one of those who tried to soften the class struggle. And people who wanted the class struggle naked would come down against him, and others would be for. He would get some attention for his part in the Great War — the 1914-1918 war (this conversation took place in 1938). But nothing of that counted much, L.G. was saying, against the great movements in history. None of our struggles mattered much, wars or revolutions or what you will, as compared with the sheer biological and geographical facts. Whatever happened, in two hundred years, perhaps sooner, the balance of the world would have changed. The industrialization of Russia was taking place; India would follow, perhaps China, within a hundred years. (Note the time scale, and the precedence of India over China. He would certainly, if speaking now, shorten the first and change the second.) Whatever governments presided over the operations, these changes would make our local concerns look no more significant than the Wars of the Roses.