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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Haldane, Richard Burdon Haldane, 1st Visct.

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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica
Haldane, Richard Burdon Haldane, 1st Visct.

HALDANE, RICHARD BURDON HALDANE, 1st Visct. (1856-), British statesman, philosopher and lawyer (see 12.831), was raised to the peerage in March 1911, while still Secretary of State for War; and he was appointed at the same time, on account of his eminence in the legal profession, a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. That eminence was further recognized, in June 1912, by his elevation to the woolsack in succession to Lord Loreburn. His six and a half years' tenure of the secretaryship for war had resulted in the fashioning of a small expeditionary force always ready for war, and in the creation of a territorial army, which was far more efficient than the old Volunteers. During his three years' occupancy of the Lord Chancellorship Lord Haldane presided over the highest court of appeal with dignity and efficiency. He did an unusual thing, as Chancellor, by leaving the country and putting the great seal in commission in the autumn of 1913, in order to go to Canada and address the Bar Association at Montreal.

In the years before the World War, he had come mainly before the public as the strong opponent of Lord Roberts' campaign for compulsory service, which would divert, he considered, money and attention from the navy, Britain's chief defence; and as the apostle of better relations with Germany, a country which he knew well, which he regarded as his “spiritual home,” and where he had many friends. While still Secretary of State, he made a mysterious journey to Berlin in Feb. 1912, at the direct invitation, it was said, of the Kaiser, whom he had entertained at lunch on his visit to England in the previous year. In Berlin he had conversations with William II. himself, and with the Chancellor and othef ministers. Mr. Asquith at Cardiff, in the October after the war began, revealed the negotiations which passed with Germany in the year 1912—presumably at this visit. The British Cabinet formally assured the German Government that Britain would neither make, nor join in, any unprovoked attack on Germany. But the German Government asked Britain for an absolute pledge of neutrality if Germany were engaged in war—a demand which, of course, could not be conceded. After this rebuff Lord Haldane ceased to advocate in public a rapprochement with Germany; but he did not abandon his hopes, and the outbreak of war was for him a peculiarly bitter disappointment. He witnessed with legitimate satisfaction the smoothness and promptitude with which the expeditionary force he had done so much to equip was put in the field in France; but he regretted that Lord Kitchener preferred to create a new army rather than expand the Territorials. He sat on the War Council which Mr. Asquith created in Nov. 1914. But his association with the conduct of the war soon ended. The prejudice which his German affinities had raised against him in the public mind caused him to be left out of the first Coalition Ministry in 1915, and he did not return to office. His services to statesmanship and philosophy were recognized, on his retirement, by the bestowal of the Order of Merit.

After 1915 Lord Haldane ceased to take a prominent part in politics. So far as he intervened in them at all, he appeared to be moving from his old Liberal position and inclining rather to the Labour platform; so much so that it was currently reported that, if Labour formed a Ministry, he would be ready to hold the chancellorship in it. But he mainly occupied himself with his judicial duties as an ex-Chancellor, with the promotion of schemes for the improvement of national education, and above all with his philosophic studies. He published a comprehensive philosophical work, The Reign of Relativity, in 1921, on a subject which had occupied him for over 40 years; and he has told the world that the work was projected “on the day of my release from office as Lord Chancellor in 1915.” It was natural that, when Prof. Einstein came to England in June 1921 to lecture on his revolutionary theory of relativity, he should be Lord Haldane's guest and lecture under Lord Haldane's chairmanship. Lord Haldane was chancellor of Bristol University, had held the rectorship of Edinburgh University, and been the recipient of many honorary degrees. (G. E. B.)