Portrait of Lord Halifax

Beverley Baxter June 15 1938

Portrait of Lord Halifax

Beverley Baxter June 15 1938

Portrait of Lord Halifax


Beverley Baxter

A DEEP student of human affairs once said that the great struggles of history were not between Right and Wrong, but between the Right and the Partially Right.

There is a depth of meaning in that remark, and there is no better example of it than the controversy which broke out in Britain following Mr. Eden’s resignation.

Mr. Eden, as we all know, wanted an understanding with Italy but not until the Italian Dictator gave proofs of good faith. v '—v,

Mr. Chamberlain wanted an uno. nding that wiped out the past and was built on a complet, / fresh foundation.

It is useless to say that one was right and the other wrong. Rather it seemed to most of us that Mr. Chamberlain was wiser than the younger man. It was not a choice of two evils but of two plans, both intended to advance European peace.

The real difference between the two men lay beyond the actual striving for an Anglo-Italian pact.

Eden believed in the theory of collective security by a world League of Nations which could number some fifty odd states drawn from every part of the globe.

Chamberlain believed in bringing Germany, France and Italy and Great Britain into a pact of understanding, so that a new European league (not a world league) could be formed round it.

I merely restate the case in answer to those who imagine that Chamberlain has plunged into something that the idealism of Anthony Eden could not have accepted. Sharp as the difference is in the method and the scope of their plans, they both had the same object of pacification.

In the circumstance, the disappearance of Mr. Eden from the Foreign Office was unavoidable. I regret that he chose to go on the day that Hitler publicly derided him, but at least it cleared the way for the swift accomplishment of the Chamberlain plan.

The manner of Mr. Eden’s return to politics has yet to be determined. I am told that the Government wants him to go to Washington as our ambassador until Lord Tweedsmuir’s term as Governor-General of Canada comes to an end, at which time that distinguished author, historian, politician and proconsul will be invited to fill the ambassadorial chair to America.

To my mind, it would be a splendid thing for Eden and Anglo-American relations to take this short tour of duty. His popularity in America would be automatic and genuine. It is true that he would have to resign his seat in Parliament , but on his return he could have the choice of a hundred constituencies. What is more, he would have the benefit of studying Europe from a distance and coming under the influence of the opinion of the New World. After two years he could return to Westminster, having liquidated the embarrassment of his resignation and having acquired a new prestige.

His friends say that Eden will not go abroad. They contend that the reversion of the Foreign Office belongs to him, and that he is willing to wait until that reversion comes due once more.

To return to the Foreign Office? But is there not a Minister there now? And can such a man as Lord Halifax be appointed and removed at will?

I suggest that we turn our eyes away from the dazzling personality of Anthony Eden and discuss what manner of man was chosen to succeed him.

Personal Qualities

THOSE who knew Lord Halifax intimately were not surprised at his decision to take the office vacated by Mr. Eden. He did not want it. He never sought it. He knew that anything in the nature of a personal triumph was out of the question, for the days of triumphs in British foreign policy are a long way back and a long way ahead.

Yet when Mr. Chamberlain asked him to become Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax did not hesitate. “I agree,” he said. He knew that Britain and perhaps Europe

needed him. No other argument would be necessary.

Shortly afterward his appointment was challenged in the House of Commons. To Mr.

Attlee and his colleagues it seemed wrong to have a Foreign Secretary in the House of Lords removed from the machine-gun barrage of Socialist questions.

Mr. Chamberlain rose to reply. Courteously and clearly he explained his problem. Then he glanced at his Front Bench, where the gilded Cabinet birds of paradise sat in their glory.

”1 have a ministry of many talents,” said the Prime Minister, ‘‘but frankly I could not find among my colleagues those peculiar qualities which made Lord Halifax the best man for the position.”

The feathers of the birds of paradise molted noticeably. It is always a difficult moment for the others in a beauty

contest when the judge makes his final choice.

What, then, are these qualities to which Mr. Chamberlain paid such high tribute?

Before we answer

that question come along with me to the Foreign Office and we shall have a look at Lord Halifax in his room. Unlike his predecessors, his table is not at one end of the room. It is in the centre, a homely, simple arrangement which gives the effect of a library. The Foreign Secretary greets us with rather a shy smile and then, adjusting his glasses, sits down and waits for us to begin. I imagine that he always makes the other man lead.

One notices with sympathy that his left arm is useless, like that of the Kaiser, and his right hand per forms its tasks of taking a cigarette and lighting it with that dexterity which nature always brings to offset a loss.

Now we have put our case. Lord Halifax comes out of the clouds and looks at us to make quite sure that wre have concluded.

“Yes,” he says. His voice is impressive. It is rather deep and well upholstered. There is nothing stringy or breathy about it. It is a voice.

"Yes.” D>rd Halifax studies us without malice or modesty. “There is undoubtedly a case to lxmade for your point of view.” His hand reaches to his glasses and they are lowered half an inch on the bridge of his nose. That is a concession to our side of the case.

“As a matter of fact.” his deliberate voice resumes. “Yours is a case that would probably win in a court of law.”

The glasses come down another half inch. Dird Halifax considers the aspect of everything for a moment, then removes t hem and waves them in a slow circle in front of

his nose*.

“I quite see your point,” he says. There is a pause. Apparently he has no intention of proceeding with the subject any further. His face sinks into a gentle melancholy. Adjusting his glasses, he leans over his table as if to see what is next on his engagement pad.

“Beyond its plausibility,” he remarks without looking up, “your case is preposterous and mendacious.”

I am not sure that Lord Halifax is even aware of that mannerism, but it is characteristic. When he opens fire it is always from a masked battery. His opponent, who has been lulled into a false security, is caught unawares. If Lord Halifax ever tells a foreign ambassador that we have decided to declare war, it will come as an aside from among the papers on the table.

He is not spectacular. He neither inspires publicity nor likes it. The newsreels cannot fatten on his carcass, and the gossip writers will not find him an answer to the paragraphists’ prayer.

Yet he has a personality that dwarfs others around him. One has a feeling that here is a man of fine intellectual achievement, a spirit of good will to men, a sense of pity for the troubled children of the world.

A Shy Back Bencher

TO FIND the secret of this personality, 1 suggest we go back for a moment to a lanky boy at Eton feeling rather shy and looking a little foolish in his Eton jacket because of his height. His physical infirmity limits his activities on the playing fields, so that he is not spoken of with any particular reverence by his schoolmates of that period. Unlike Byron who won imperishable fame by being chosen for the Eton Eleven (a fame that has not been destroyed even by his poetry) Lord Halifax (he was then the Hon. Edward Wood) left no other record than the simple admission, “Educated at Eton.”

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London Letter

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From Eton he travelled the well-worn path to Oxford. It is almost the only path that leads to the rich orchards of public life. Occasionally a Chamberlain or a Lloyd George reaches higher than the rest, hut the plums that are both tasty and within reach fall naturally to the EtonOxford brigade.

At Christ Church, Oxford, young Edward Wood did very well indeed. His sense of background was enriched by the spires, and his love of learning was not frustrated as vigorously as it had been at Eton.

As a result, he took a first history and was elected a Fellow of All Souls.

Still we can discover few signs of a man of destiny. There are no sparks from the anvil as in the case of the glittering “F. E. Smith” or the magnificent John Simon. Edward Wood looked as if he would not he more than just another man of character and culture who would find his way into the backwaters of our national life, and leave the heat of the noonday sun to the mad dogs of jxrlitics.

Appearances were deceptive, however. Young Mr. Wood intended to make for the main stream of events. First, however, he married. His bride was Lady Dorothy Onslow, the younger daughter of the Earl of Onslow. Then he moved on Westminster, and in the fateful election of 1910. when political destinies were in the melting pot, he won the decision at the Ripon Division of Yorkshire.

He made no particular impression on the House, however. That was the period when Arthur Balfour’s regime was totter-

ing to an end, when Walter Long and Austen Chamberlain struggled for the leadership of the Tory Party and accepted Bonar Law as a compromise, when Lloyd George was applying the whip to tradition and privilege, when Winston Churchill shared the limelight with the Irish party, j and when Asquith held aloft the banner of j triumphant Liberalism. No wonder that a rather shy Back Bencher looked on and felt that where so many stars were gathered together there was no chance for a beginner.

Edward Wood found solace in the company of another Back Bencher of the Party who had entered Parliament two years earlier. I íe was an (xld sort of fellow, half country squire and half poet. His name was Stanley Baldwin.

“I hate politics,” said Baldwin

‘‘They are a bit trying,” murmured Mr. Wood as they sat in the smoke room and looked at the Thames.

Mr. Wood had another friend. He was a fellow Etonian, a dark, energetic, vital young man who was born to command. His name was George Lloyd and he had entered Parliament for West Staffordshire in the same vintage year of 1910. For reasons that Í have already given, Mr. j Lloyd and Mr. Wood had plenty of time to ¡ talk, and their discourse was on the future of the Conservative Party. It is one of the inevitabilities that it is during periods of opposition that parties always concern themselves with their future. It might not be a bad idea if some consideration were given to it when they are in office.

Mr. Lloyd was not the kind of politician

to be content with talk. He felt that something must be done about it. Whereupon Mr. Wood and Mr. Lloyd wrote a joint book on the subject. It is interesting to picture the philosopher and the man of action in collaboration in those days when one sees them in later years as implacable enemies over the fate of an Empire— the one. Viceroy of India and the other a great proconsul in the shadows.

Back From the War

"D UT AT this stage we must bring in that factor which is inseparable from the biography of any statesman of the day. I refer to the war that broke u{?on the world, severing companionship«, breaking and making careers, blinding the eyes of some and opening a new world to the eyes of others. It came like the wind, and at the end the reputations of pre-War years were gone with the wind.

Mr. Wood, despite his infirmity, was an intrepid rider. He rode gallantly in the hunting field, and in the War he mounted a horse and went to France with the Yorkshire Dragoons. He was mentioned twice in dispatches, and ended up as colonel of his regiment.

A good soldier, a considerate officer and a brave man. But there were thousands to whom that description would apply. He had made no mark in his four years of Parliament. He had done well but not brilliantly in the War.

Unlike the characters in Wagner’s “Ring” who are always preceded by a special musical motif, it is difficult to find any warning shadows in the earlier stage of Lord Halifax’s career. At the same time, men of position and character are not so numerous that they can be left on the side forever.

Mr. Wood returned to Westminster. There he found the Coalition Government in a sort of consumptive brilliance. All governments are born to die. but Mr. Lloyd George and his glittering Ministry were approaching their end in a state of fevered pulses that gave them the deceptive assurance that they would live forever.

Stanley Baldwin was President of the Board of Trade, disillusioned, his soul seared by the horror and obscenity of the War, and his heart sick with the manœuvres of politics. He and Edward Wood resumed their friendship and mourned the death of idealism. Again and again Mr. Baldwin wanted to give it all up, but his wife urged him to “stick it for one more year.”

In 1921, however, Mr. Wood was given junior office. He was made Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Colonies, a post which entails much hard work but gives a Minister little chance to impress the House of Commons. I imagine that Mr. Baldwin urged the appointment, although this is mere surmise, or at least not more than deduction, on my part.

Then came the fateful Carlton Club meeting when the Tory Party threw off the yoke of the Coalition and before nightfall saw their leader, Mr. Bonar Law, established as Prime Minister in the place of Mr. Lloyd George. Mr. Baldwin went to that meeting determined to speak against Lloyd George and leave politics forever. He never dreamed that his valedictory speech would prove a prelude to his own premiership.

Edward Wood was completely with him in spirit. If Mr. Lloyd George had won the day—and it was a very near thing— there is hardly any question but that the two friends would have left the political scene together.

Instead, they enjoyed the fruits of unexpected victory. Stanley Baldwin was made Chancellor of the Exchequer by Mr. Bonar Law, and Edward Wood was given the congenial post of President of the Board of Education. Never was a man more suited to a task by temperament and training.

Bonar Law, wearied by his War effort and heartbroken by the death of his two elder sons, gave way under the strain and

died. Mr. Baldwin became Premier, while the future Lord Halifax found himself in a position of influence far beyond that of his official appointment. As a Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin preferred the counsel of those who felt and thought like himself. While not a deeply religious man in the literal sense, he was much impressed by Mr. Wood’s open devotion to the Church, to his teaching and practicing of Christianity, and his belief in the efficacy of prayer.

We now see Edward Wood as a force behind the scenes—not in the manipulating of Ministers but in influencing the course of policy at its source. The public were unaware of him. The newspapers made nothing of him. His fellow Ministers looked upon him as a pilgrim who was merely tarrying in the Commons for a spell.

Earl Baldwin, however, possessed a puckish as well asan idealistic mind. Those whom the gods love die young. Those whom Mr. Baldwin loved he made Minister for Agriculture—always the most thankless task in the Administration. He did it with W. “Shakespeare” Morrison, his white-headed boy, in his last Cabinet reshuffle. He did it with Edward Wood when the Conservative Party came back to power in 1924, after the Zinoviev letter had thrown out the Socialists. Perhaps it was the Baldwin conscience determined to demonstrate that one could not enjoy his affection without its afflictions.

Mr. Wood nearly made a success of Agriculture. If that is an overstatement, let it be modified to the simple record that farmers grumbled less during his short regime than they usually do.

But his fate was not to be decided in the plowed fields of the countryside. India was casting its shadow over the British Raj. Mahatma Gandhi, with his fleshless body and his adroit mind, was rousing the slumbering political consciousness of India’s teeming millions.

Shadows of another rebellion flitted across the sun-scorched face of India. Local politicians, as shrewd as any of their European brothers, saw the opening of the golden gates of opportunity. The assassin’s bullet shattered the air, the surging mobs gathered like herds of their own sacred cows and opposed authority with their mute and passive stolidity.

“Edward,” said the Prime Minister, “I want you to go to India.”

Fine Record in India

TO BE a Viceroy of India! How many ambitious men have dreamed of that as the climax of life’s glories? To be more regal than Royalty, to move like a god among the prostrate masses, to be military and civil head of a subcontinent, to receive the tribute of princes whose palaces had risen from the pages of Oriental romance...

Not only that. To follow in the footsteps of Canning, Elgin, Lvtton, Lansdowne, Minto, and Curzon ! And all this while yet a commoner.

”1 hate display and ceremony,” Wood told his friends, “hut I think that I may be able to do some useful service there for humanity.”

That was more or less the last utterance of the Hon. Edward Wood. Just as in the case of John Buchan who was made Lord Tweedsmuir before he reached Ottawa as Governor-General, so the retiring Minister for Agriculture was created first Baron Irwin.

It takes the public a long time to get to know a name and a long time to forget it. The man on the street learned that Lord Irwin was now Viceroy of India and simply said that he had never heard of him. This name changing is certainly one of the perplexities of our public life. Who would have suspected that when our ambassador, the Earl of Perth, began the conversations with Signor Mussolini, he was actually our old friend Sir Eric Drummond of the League of Nations?

Lord Irwin’s administration of India created a deep rift of controversy. The Diehards died harder than ever. Mr,

Churchill saw in Lord Irwin’s reforms the beginning of disaster, the Conservative Party racked with dissension, the idealists sang Irwin’s praise in a very high key. and the retired colonels in the Pall Mall clubs developed an alarming degree of purple.

When the situation in India was most acute. Lord Irwin had a long conference with Gandhi. It seemed impossible to reach any compromise, and at last Gandhi rose. “I must consult the Congress leaders,” he said. The interview had failed. Any practiced negotiator knew that the game was up. In some way. by some stroke of genius, Gandhi must be prevented from going back to the firebrands.

“I am glad that you are going back to consult your leaders,” said Lord Irwin. “I shall pray for God’s blessing on your deliberations.”

Gandhi the mystic. Gandhi the idealist, Gandhi the politician, went out and pondered over this strange happening. Hitherto he had always thought of British officials as men who offered justice at the point of the bayonet. This tall Englishman with the sad and gently humorous face was something different, something he could understand.

At any rate Gandhi came back and agreed to go to London and attend the Round Table Conference in London. That was the end of Gandhi’s power as a jx>tential Indian Hitler or Lenin—however you may choose to regard it.

Conference With Hitler

T DO NOT propose to take sides on the

Irwin reforms, as that is not the purpose of this article. They are still a matter of acute dissension, and their justification must depend on developments.

At the age of forty-nine Lord Irwin’s return to England was both cheered and booed at Victoria Station. A number of the Punjab community in London garlanded him with flowers, while Mr. Wedgwood Benn, Mr. Arthur Henderson. Lord Sankey and Mr. George Lansbury welcomed him on behalf of the Government of the day. The Leader of the Opposition was there too, Mr. Stanley Baldwin.

The King made him a Knight of the Garter, and a statue was erected in his honor at Delhi. The man who cared nothing for ceremony was enduring a considerable amount of it.

“Although I have come home,” said the returning Viceroy, “I have left part of my heart in India. It beats there for a great country which I hope to see win through to a partnership in our Imperial future; an India shaping its own internal destinies under the guidance of Great Britain and with her co-operation and confidence.”

The High Churchman who had won honors at Oxford and had played a man’s part in the War had become a figure of importance in the public life of his country.

As soon as he could he left London and journeyed to Doncaster to visit his ninetytwo-year-old father. The affection between father and son was deep and sincere. In India Lord Irwin wrote constantly to him. and their reunion was a great joy to them both. First, however, the man who hated ceremony had to submit to a civic reception at Doncaster and then a “Young England” scene at Hickleton Hall, the family residence, where Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, villagers and tenants welcomed the wanderer home.

Less than three years later, on the day that Lord Irwin was to have received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Liverpool University. Viscount Halifax died and the degree was conferred in the absence of the recipient.

The grand old peer had led an honorable and upright life, and he died in the faith that he was going to the God whom he had served on earth.

Lord Irwin was not the eldest son; actually he was the fourth son. but the eldest surviving one. Thus did Ixjrd Irwin disappear from the scene like the Hon. Edward Wood. Instead, there was a

Viscount Halifax whom the public did not know and had never heard of.

He was appointed Chancellor of Oxford University in the same year that he inherited the title, but it was not until 1935 that he reappeared on the political scene when he became leader of the House of Lords.

That is not a post that attracts the limelight. It is true that when Mr. Chamberlain was chosen by his Party to succeed Earl Baldwin it was Lord Halifax who presided, but he was unknow n to many members of the Party.

Then a few months ago he blazed into the headlines. An evening newspaper in London came out with spectacular headlines and declared that Lord Halifax was going to Germany to talk to Herr Hitler.

There were clumsy official attempts to deny the story. It was explained that Lord I lalifax. who himself is a master of hounds, w'as going to Berlin to attend a hunting exhibition. If in the course of his visit he should happen to meet those well-known sporting figures, Herr Hitler and General Goering, that would be one of those coincidences beyond human control.

Mr. Eden, who was away, returned to London in a towering rage and proferred his resignation. He saw the writing on the wall, but Mr. Chamberlain poured oil on his troubled emotions and Eden agreed to carry on.

Lord Halifax went to that quiet retreat of Herr Hitler’s at Berchtesgaden, where amid the scent of flowers and the murmur of the breeze in the trees, the German leader prepares his famous Saturday matinees for Europe.

No one quite knows what happened. Perhaps neither Halifax nor Hitler was quite sure. It was probably a study in atmosphere by two mystics.

Nevertheless Ixird Halifax must have convinced Mr. Chamberlain that an understanding was (X)ssible. Otherwise he would hardly have chanced his place in history on the policy that drove Mr. Eden from the Cabinet and precipitated a political crisis of the first magnitude.

Now Lord Halifax sits in the House of Lords, the man who must try to steer a straight course in waters that are furious with tempest and full of dangerous shoals.

He will not panic. Nor will he lack strength if the pursuit of peace fails. The public will never know him, and his critics will not understand him.

But he will not shirk nor ask for sympathy. With his one good arm he will point humanity to higher things, he will pray for guidance as he did in India, and if he ever finds an afternoon free in the hunting season he will ride to hounds and take the stiftest jumps like a boy who feels the wine of youth inflaming his veins.