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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, June 1924

Lloyd George

page 47

Lloyd George

Le Roi est mort—vive le roi!

The Right Honourable David Lloyd George, M.P., is essentially a man with a past. From his commencement of life in an insignificant Welsh hamlet, he has risen to occupy the traditional dwelling house at No. 10, Downing Street, to be" the pillar of a people's hope, the centre of a world's desire;"and now he is gone—le roi est mort: another is in his place—vive le roi."Whether he has a future left to him or whether great men like great institutions must pass away when their life's work is accomplished, depends on whether he can admit the futility of his present creed and the folly of his past mistakes, and begin again with fresh principles the slow process of gaining the nation's confidence.

He is, as we have said, a man with a past; but it is one of those "storied pasts" that are the peculiar glory of the British race and of British men. He was born at Manchester early in the year 1863, of Welsh parents, and at his father's death, eighteen months later, the family moved to the little Welsh village of Llanystumdwy, there to find a home under the roof of Richard Lloyd, Mrs. George's brother, who divided his time between the humble profession of boot making and the worthy pastime of lay preaching. The income derived from the bootmaking was enough with care and economy to supply the simple wants of the widow and her three children; but "Uncle Lloyd" possessed a hunger for things intellectual—time and again the midnight doctor or early morning wayfarer saw the candle burning in his bedroom window—and he resolved to give his foster-children that opportunity for loss of which he spent his life in unsatisfied longings. Little David was a rapt listener at the village Parliaments in his uncle's workshop, where the evicted farmers and the underpaid labourers gathered in the long evenings to discuss their grievances with the village oracle; he had attended the larger gatherings in the local smithy; he heard with childlike sympathy "the deep sighing of the poor," and sparks of ambition were beginning to smoulder in his mind. "I am going to be a giant like that tree," he would say to his uncle. So young Lloyd George must go to school. He had already acquired a great deal of primitive learning from his self—educated guardian, but the school was the only place where he could hope to climb the barriers which blocked his peasant neighbours from the fuller life of the mind, so to the Established Church School he went, and Uncle Lloyd paid the fees. One of the boys who attended the school with David Lloyd George has declared that David was the quickest of the group; he could do twice as much work as any other boy in the same time. The plain living and high thinking of the cottage home provided him with sufficient stimulus to hard study. It taught him to seize the opportunity that lay within his grasp and to do the duty that was nearest. But if the villagers expected to have the parental pleasure of holding up Lloyd George to their wayward offspring as an example of the ideal youth, some of them were sadly disillusioned. Wherever the ribbons of David's small Scotch cap were seen flying in the wind, somewhere not far behind was his band of gallant-spirited followers; whenever the village mother found her fences laid low, it was "that David Lloyd George."

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When he reached the age of fourteen it became necessary to choose an occupation. The ministry was the obvious choice: it offered a State-endowed, the nearest approach to a royal, road to learning, and a comparatively easy life to follow. But the strict views of the religious seet to which the family belonged proscribed any pay or reward for preaching the Gospel. Richard Lloyd dreamed of a medical career for his nephew—would David like to be a doctor? No, David would not."What he would like was to be" a lawyer like Mr. Goffey," the kind-hearted old family solicit or who had befriended the family at the time of their father's death. The uncle wisely yielded to his nephew's wishes, and David Lloyd George joined the great army of lawyers-to-be.

The period that follows speaks, in its strangely pathetic and inspiring scenes, of Richard Lloyd's great-heartedness to his sister and her orphaned children. The first obstacle in the young aspirant's way was the Preliminary Examination. He must know more Latin and more French; he must be able to read the classical authors. The village dominie could carry him no further, and a public school was altogether beyond possibility. Uncle Lloyd was the only tutor available; but he knew neither Latin nor French. Very well, then, he would learn them. So hand-in-hand the uncle and nephew wrestled with dictionaries and grammars, and in the dark winter nights, with the light of a candle, they together spelt out the sentences of Cæesar and Sallust and laboriously read Æsop in French. Pause, 0 ye readers, bursars and scholarship holders, and reflect—reflect upon that great system of free education which teaches everything except resource and industry. Here was a poor village lad, a member of a despised race, speaking a despised tongue, living among peasants on land which was not their own, yet sitting down each night in the stone-floored cottage kitchen to struggle with the terrors of a dead language. Such industry seldom loses its need. When the examination day came Richard Lloyd took his nephew up to Liverpool, the place of trial, and accompanied the boy each day to the examination-room, calling for him each evening. At the end of the week they returned to the village, and soon the news arrived that young Lloyd George had passed. There were five years without earnings to be faced then; but the bootmaker dipped deeply into his small store of savings, and the lad was articled to a country firm of solicitors.

For the next five years David Lloyd George applied his youthful enthusiasm to the study and practice of law, politics and journalism. He worked industriously in the office, and he discussed with much vigour in the town debating society the burning questions of the day (let us hope they were not so burning as to be, like the notions of certain present-day debating societies, distinctly red), and he contributed boyish effusions to the "North Wales Express" under the imposing pseudonym of "Brutus." In due course, he passed his final examinations, and was enrolled as a practising solicitor. He immediately commenced practice, first in his home village and then in the seaport where he had passed his clerkship days. It was then that those tales of woe he had heard in the bootmaker's workshop came back upon him, bringing with them the inspiration of a cause. With his easily-aroused defiance of authority and his gift of clear, forceful speaking, he very shortly became known far and wide as the champion of the oppressed; his fame spread from town to town and borough to borough like the rumour of a coming battle.

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Victoria University College Tournament Representatives, Easter, 1924.

Victoria University College Tournament Representatives, Easter, 1924.

Back Row.—H. L. Richardson. R. M. Campbell. D. Barker. A. D. McRae, M. A. Young, P Martin-Smith. H. J. Lewis, W. P. Hollings, C. R. Lovatt.

Third Row.—M. Leadbetter. C. F. Ball. E. C. Miller. Miss M. Pigou. M. C. Amadio. A. D. Priestley, R. M. Sutherland. Miss O. Sheppard. F. H. Paul. F. S. Hill.

Second Row.—Miss M. Tracy. Miss I. Thwaites. R. R. T. Young, H. McCormick. Miss R. Gardner. Miss E. M. Madeley. L. A. Tracy.

Front Row.—V. F. Coningham. C. W, Davies. J. O. J Malfroy. Crown Studios.

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It was inevitable that in these circumstances he should turn his eyes towards Westminster. But the way was strewn with difficulties—the ancient system of electing the squire, ex officio, as it were, had not died out. To use Lloyd George's own words:"The Tories had not yet realised that the day of the cottage-bred man had dawned."Even the common folk did not altogether approve of the young Cricciethy solicitor as their Parliamentary representative. But the coach of opportunity stopped even before he expected it and he immediately seized the hand-rail and clambered aboard. In an unexpected by-election he defeated a Die-Hard Tory by eighteen votes, and at the age of twenty-seven took his seat in the House of Commons.

Slowly the "pettifogging little Welsh attorney" made for himself a place of renown in Parliament. He was at first not a little chilled by the party atmosphere of the House and its indifference to the great social evils he had come there to remedy. But when the South African War was declared in 1899 he had reached recognition as a future leader of the Liberal Party. Nearly ten years of political life had left his principles untouched. He hastened home from his tour of Canada, and opposed the war with all the vigour and eloquence that was his. He declared it to be the result of bad statesmanship. He had to face many of his fellow-Liberals, including Sir Edward Grey and Mr. Asquith, in bitter controversy. He became unpopular to a degree; but he faced the country. In courage and self-confidence he has never been lacking; and he needed them both here. As time went on, his opposition to the war deepened, and on several occasions he narrowly escaped with his life from the fury of crowds mad with war-passion. In his constituency he seemed to have sacrificed everything. They burnt him in effigy in three of his boroughs, Mrs. Lloyd George was stoned in her motor-car as she was waiting for her husband at one of his stormy meetings. Finally he went down to Nevin, his own special borough, where he was the idol of the populace. They received him in stony silence, but he gained an audience by talking about everything of interest except the Boer War. Then he broke out sternly:—

"See here now—five years ago you handed me a strip of blue paper to give to the Speaker as your accredited representative. If I never again represent these boroughs in the House of Commons, I shall at least have the satisfaction of handing back to you that blue paper with no single stain of blood upon it."

The effect was electrical. The whole audience rose to its feet with a shout; he had won back their allegiance.

Mr. Lloyd George's life so far would provide splendid material for a Plunket Medal oration. But harrow and alas for the transience of human loyalty! He continued his devotion to "the cause" until August, 1914. During 1912 and 1913 he announced his intention of carrying through a much-needed reform of the antiquated English land laws by giving effect to the conclusions of the Land Committee. Shortly before, he had pushed through both Houses the famous Insurance Bill, providing relief in cases of unemployment or sickness. But in 1914 came another war. At first Mr. Lloyd George opposed it; then news of the invasion of Belgium's neutrality came, and he swung over to the other side. We believe he was sincere; would that he had remained as sincere when the real facts, one by one, were brought into the daylight. Once decided, however, all his Celtic fire and confidence were thrown into page 50 what he believed to be a defence of the right. But if one were to examine his public speeches and the reports of his private interviews, one would find, we think, that the love for a small nation which led him raging into the conflict was gradually but completely swallowed up in his hatred of the foe. On his appointment to the Ministry of Munitions he threw his whole mind into the one pursuit—the manufacturing of war material. He made a private collection of flamethrowers, bombs, and shells, which he kept in the basement of the old Metropole Hotel. He showed a friend one day a row of model shells, rising one by one to a giant's height. He lingered halfway along the row and put his hand on one: "When I started the Ministry our shells went only as high as this. The German shells went to the top of the range."

"If I never again represent these boroughs in the House of Commons, I shall at least have the satisfaction of handing back to you that blue paper with no single stain of human blood upon it."

"The Cause" has suffered a change.

At the Peace Conference Mr. David Lloyd George let slip his greatest opportunity. It is true that he faced almost insuperable obstructions—M. Clemenceau is reported to have said in one of his speeches," President Wilson talks like the good Christ, but acts like Lloyd George."Conciliation with such a firebrand is difficult—but the obstructions stopped short of the absolutely insuperable, and if the delegates had met in a neutral city, farther removed by time and distance from the horrors of that last strenuous year, they could have created, perhaps, a sane and a just peace. As it was, they carried the dash and glamour of war with them into the Conference chamber, and disaster was the result. Having succeeded in war, Mr. Lloyd George failed in the greater tasks of peace, and it was not long before his end came. Of course, he has never meant any great harm. He has been ready at all times to issue statements of good intentions: they would make a wonderful pavement.

He is now a man of the past. It is a glorious past, in some respects, indeed; but he is shut off from all that by his gross mistakes. If he wishes to regain the confidence of the British nation, he must make confession full and free, and come before the people with a new charter of liberty in his hand. The old one is torn beyond hope of repair. He had a cause, but it was narrowed down until it became lost in the worship of office; and now that defeat has come, his refusal to accept it in a straightforward manner seems to place him beyond recovery. His early political life showed such promise that one might have thought he was to take his place in the narrow ranks of the truly great, that he

Could by industrious valour climb
To ruin the great work of time,
And cast the kingdoms old
Into another mould.

But his subsequent conduct has shown that he is of an age and not for all time; his later achievements testify eloquently to the deceiving power of words, and his fall supplies proof of the saying of a great Englishman:"The mind is the man. If that be kept pure, a man signifies somewhat; if not, I would very fain see what difference there is betwixt him and a beast. He hath only some activity to do some more mischief."