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Meanwhile bigger battles than the Budget and bigger game than the landlords had come into view. It was in connexion with the Agadir incident in 1911 that Mr. George made his first appearance on the diplomatic stage. He had not up to that time, as his speeches show, possessed anything but the loosest acquaintance with foreign affairs; his knowledge of history was extremely limited; and the opportunity of picking up information in a Cabinet, where the deeper secrets of international policy were cautiously confined to the knowledge of a triumvirate consisting of Mr Asquith, Lord Haldane, and Sir Edward Grey, was not considerable. Representing, however, as he did, the untutored Radical wing of the Liberal party, which had shown itself unfriendly to the enlarged naval programme of the year before, he was commissioned in the crisis of July 1909, to convey to Germany in a public speech, the significant information that England intended to stand by France in the matter of Morocco. He did his business with effect, but with a still imperfect appreciation of the vast issues drawing swiftly to a head. Although as he sat with Mr Spender in the Orangery at Stuttgart, in 1908, the thought had crossed his mind that Britain might be another Carthage and Prussia another Rome,* still in 1914, and even still in the summer of 1914, he was living in a fool's palace of peace. He took occasion to assure the 'Daily Chronicle in a New Year's Message, in that very year, that our relations with Germany had not for a long while been so friendly; and he defended the size of the German armies as entirely reasonable in the case of a state which had a powerful enemy to face on either hand. So, in the supreme days of July, when the chances of war and peace hung swinging in the balance, his attitude more than any man's is generally believed to have prevented English diplomacy from giving the plain assurance that, if war broke out, England would be found at the side of France. Not in No. 11, Downing Street, but at Lansdowne House was found the high intelligence which perceived the only way-yet that no sure nor certain way-of averting the catastrophe. As things were, the Government, torn by doubt and

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*Harold Spender, David Lloyd George,' p. 331.

harassed by the fear of not being able to carry the nation with it, hesitated and let slip the last rope of opportunity. In so sudden and complex a situation the most experienced judgment might have gone astray; and they were indeed preternaturally wise who saw clearest. But it was not within the compass of Mr George's abilities to be among these wisest. All his subsequent career shows him to have been a born opportunist; and opportunism is the tool of one who gropes and not of one who sees.

Yet what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had it in him to do, he did with diligence and success. The vituperative language which he had once directed at the British he now transferred to the German squirearchy; and English gentlemen, at grips with the Prussian junkers, began to think him a finer fellow than they had once supposed, and a much finer fellow than Mr Asquith with his well-balanced sentences and his well-considered thoughts. Here was laid the foundation of the subsequent extraordinary event, when the Conservative party, which at one time could find no words bad enough to describe the shallowness of Mr George's intellectual equipment and the wickedness of his moral being, suddenly turned round and discovered him to be the one man who could save the country. To understand that complete revulsion of feeling one must always recollect that an academic outlook is to the English foolishness; that they can with difficulty consecrate their best endeavour to any cause which does not wear the appearance of sport; and that Mr George displayed in a high degree, whilst the latest tragedy of Christendom and of civilisation was fought out, the sportsman's humour and the sportsman's sense. It was clear that he meant to bring England out of the scrimmage as top-dog; and a great many men who had disliked him before, now began to feel the charm of his fighting spirit. More and more, after Lord Kitchener was dead, and as Mr Asquith seemed to decline in vigour, his mobile, resilient personality captured the public fancy. He drew, besides, some advantage out of the same business which damned the reputation of his chief. The allegation that the English armies were short of munitions in the spring of 1915, was denied by Mr Asquith at Newcastle on April 20, and in greater detail Vol. 238.-No. 473.


by Mr George in the House of Commons on April 21. They were doubtless alike the victims of Kitchener's inaccuracy; but, while the one bore for long in generous silence the discredit of exposure, the other was soon raised even higher in public esteem by his appoint ment to be the head of a newly-constituted Ministry of Munitions, where his old ability to get things done, his old indifference to what he spent, as well as his quiet harvesting of the fruits of other men's labours alike enabled him to satisfy the public expectation. There can be no doubt that the country owed him a great debt for his energy and more particularly for one memorable, bold decision to order just twice as many shells as the experts had prescribed. It was a debt which neither the debtor nor the creditor forgot.

There was another point in which Mr George seemed to some who came in contact with him to excel the Prime Minister. He had ideas. He was known to be a convinced adherent of the so-called Eastern school of warfare, and he would, if he could, have attacked Austria from the south. As the impasse in the West grew more evident, such notions became increasingly attractive to himself and to others; and when Roumania was borne down by the Austro-German armies in the autumn of 1916, as Serbia had been a twelvemonth earlier, there seemed to be the more reason to suppose that the eastern theatre of the war had been unduly neglected.

Anyhow, in the November of that year a plot to get rid of Mr Asquith was hatched among the magnates of the Press, who are the Pretorians of our time and country; and in this plot Mr George did not shrink from participating. But he owed more, perhaps, to the Prime Minister than the Public fully appreciated, and he conceived the idea of leaving him the ornaments whilst depriving him of the realities of power. Though he may very well never have heard of a roi fainéant or a maire du palais, it was, in fact, such a relationship as that in which these stood to one another, that he proposed to establish between himself and his old friend. Mr Asquith was too clever a man not to perceive for what rôle he was being cast in

* See on this General Mahon's article in the Edinburgh Review,' October 1919.

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the proposed dispensation. Whatever changes are made in the composition and functions of the War Committee,' he wrote to his ambitious subordinate on Dec. 1, 'the Prime Minister must be its chairman. He cannot be relegated to the position of an arbiter in the background or a referee to the Cabinet.' This was good constitutional doctrine; but it was not the doctrine of the Minister of Munitions or of the Pressmen behind him. Deft hands wove more closely the meshes of the web in which the Prime Minister was struggling. On the morning of Dec. 4, 1916, the 'Times' announced that Mr Lloyd George had proposed to the head of the Government the creation of 'a small war-council, fully charged with the supreme direction of the War,' adding the information that Mr Asquith was not himself to be a member of it. The statements were correct, but their juxtaposition was misleading. The Prime Minister, whilst surrendering the chairmanship of the Committee, had carefully reserved to himself the 'supreme and effective control of war policy'-a reservation which he apparently intended to secure by a system of close daily supervision and by a veto. The parties to this confidential arrangement had been Mr Asquith, Mr Bonar Law, and Mr Lloyd George; but how it came to the ears of the Press was never precisely disclosed. Yet that somebody had disclosed confidences was sufficiently obvious, and that that somebody was Mr George was generally suspected.

If the original project of Mr George and his confederates had been realised, not only were Liberals of the stamp of Lord Grey and Mr McKenna doomed, but so, also, was Mr Balfour, whom Mr George, as some correspondence since published makes quite certain, was bent upon expelling from the Admiralty and excluding from the War Committee. Had the threatened Ministers seen eye to eye, the projected coup d'état could scarcely have succeeded, but in fact their feelings were divided. The Liberal group, on the one hand, urged Mr Asquith to retain the chairmanship of the War Committee which he had consented to give up, and thus gave Mr George an opportunity of forcing matters to a head, whilst Mr Balfour, on the other, gave

* See for this Walter Roch, 'Mr Lloyd George and the War,' p. 179.


at least a tacit countenance to the party which thought the Prime Minister no longer equal to his office. Thus, when Mr Asquith, under the influence of his Liberal colleagues, resigned, doubtless in the full expectation of returning to office by so much the more powerful that the incapacity of Mr George to form an administration had been demonstrated, the action of Mr Balfour, who was convinced of the Prime Minister's insufficiency, upset such calculations. Invited, as is supposed, by Mr Bonar Law to strengthen the embryo Government by his adhesion, the Minister whom Mr George had considered incapable of directing the Admiralty was forthwith entrusted with the conduct of the Foreign Office. account for this curious development might puzzle the unworldly, but will not embarrass the wise. For the inclusion of Mr Balfour in his Cabinet enabled Mr George to include le beau monde among his supporters; and it is le beau monde, if the French aphorism is right, which governs the world.



There are straight ways of dealing with men whose colleague one is, but whose capacity one doubts. It was generally considered that Mr George's methods had been not a little circuitous. But, if that be true, one must also remember that the longest way round is often the shortest way home. Without awaiting an adverse vote in Parliament, without stopping to consult the country, without seeking to test opinion, by the power of the Press and with the good-will of a few Press-Magnates, Mr George had unmade a leader to whose generosity and abilities his tributes are on record. So great a violation of the decencies of the Constitution had not lately occurred; and his proceedings approximated so nearly to a coup d'état as to deserve the name. It is doubtless in some ways a fanciful parallel that has been drawn between him and Prince Louis Napoléon, but there is at least this amount of truth in it-that England, too, has had her days of December. They were not, indeed, long remembered amid more tremendous international events, but they left their mark upon the Constitution. For the new Prime Minister was more powerful and more autocratic than his predecessors, and, except only in the case of Mr Balfour, was believed to pay comparatively little attention to his colleagues' opinions, though the

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