Men I Have Painted/Mr. Asquith

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Men I Have Painted by John McLure Hamilton
Mr. Asquith

Hamilton Men I Have Painted 072f Mr Asquith.jpg


It is probably more than mere imagination to believe that men of the same type follow the same career—that a priori a priest looks like a priest, a soldier a soldier, a lawyer a lawyer, and so on. It is more difficult to believe that men change in facial form and expression in accordance with their manner of life, their trend of thought, or their daily occupation. And it is almost impossible to believe that a man may grow to look like another after many years of close association in the same career, when at its beginning there existed no resemblance between them.

An anatomist may tell you that when the human brain reaches its fifteen-power standard (its maximum growth, at the age of twenty) the cranium, or bone box that contains it, will not grow more. It delights me, lover of inequality that I am, to inform the anatomist that there is no standard at all for a few exceptional brains, that they go on increasing the number of the cells of the cerebrum until, at a great age, physical decay begins; and, in order to accommodate these new cells, the cranium itself expands and grows.

This expansion and growth in the size of the head is more marked, perhaps, in successful statesmen and politicians than in other men. Herbert Spencer attributes success to the strength of our emotions. I do not know if statesmen are more emotional than other men, but from a study of their heads, in conjunction with my observation of the kind of mental activities required of them, I should say that an intensive cultivation of memory and of memory cells gives the explanation for the growth of the head, and in part explains their success.

Artists and scientists, who generally have small heads and small brains, must not take up their cudgels at this, because an instant's reflection should reassure them. Memory is not reason; memory is merely a collection of objects and images stored away for use. The collection may be interesting and amusing, but it is only like a jumble of carved stones for a Gothic building, of little value until co-ordinated and correlated and cemented together by something more than mere intelligence.

The need for a comprehensive memory is paramount in a man who attains to the dominant position of Prime Minister of England. It is not a debatable assertion that the memory of Mr. Gladstone was and that of Mr. Asquith is surpassingly great, their brains unusually large, and that there was a gradual increase in their size. And it is still more remarkable that I have seen pictures of the two statesmen that bear a kind of resemblance to each other, although there is no resemblance between the two men.

Mr. Asquith appears to me to be more human than Mr. Gladstone. This may be considered a compliment to both men in proportion to the quality of the meaning attached to the word by the reader. But the position they have both occupied among men was so much above the others that any close judgment upon their respective characters will have to be rendered when time shall have placed them among the few other figures in history of equal stature.

At "The Wharf" Mr. Asquith showed only the human side. There he was the man among men—affable, kindly, full of bonhomie, and intensely interested in the real things of life. He made an admirable sitter, complying graciously with every desire, and never for a moment showed a sign of fatigue, or of a wish to be somewhere else.

Although the moment was an historic one, as Mrs. Asquith's Autobiography was about to appear, life proceeded with unruffled calm, and Lucy, Mrs. Asquith's sister, and I painted in peace, under the interested eye of "Margot" herself.