The Empire and the century/Rhodes and Milner
RHODES AND MILNER
The Struggle for a South African Union
By F. EDMUND GARRETT
'He came in just after Majuba, and started to build it all up over again.'—Table-talk of Lord Milner.
'They tell me I can only live five years. I don't mean to die; I want to live. But if I go, there is one man—Sir Alfred Milner. Always trust Milner. You don't know yet what you have got in him.'—Table-talk of Cecil Rhodes.
Two names history will not be able to neglect when she tells how the foundations were laid of the third great Colonial Union in the British Empire. Those names (history will round off their titular corners, and brevity pleads for the like freedom here) are Rhodes and Milner. I am asked to contribute a short study of the two careers as they appear to one who had the opportunity of watching them closely in South Africa, especially during the brief but stirring years when they overlapped.
There must be something of telling a story and something of portraiture. There are one or two touchstone aspects in which both men may alike be viewed. We must pause to seize these as the story brings them up, for each in turn. Desultory the plan may well seem; but its aim is to suggest some picture of two of the most interesting political figures of our day, and to project them upon a background which includes, in sweep of broadest distance, the bolder features of the last quarter-century in South Africa. The runners, as in the old Greek race, will carry torches, and pass them on to one another, and it will be seen that the torch is the same torch, but each has his own way of carrying it forward.
One digression may be borne with before the lens is focussed for South Africa. My rather cumbrous title was chosen to emphasize the fact that to the thought of both these men it was never the Transvaal question, or the Cape question, or the Rhodesia question, but always the question of South Africa. And, further (this is the digression), the coming South African Union was always, in the thought of both, part of a definite whole: an Empire-State in which a self-governing and locally independent South Africa would be one of the partners, and to which 'British and Dutch alike could, without any sacrifice of their several traditions, unite in loyal devotion.' The quotation is from a passage in a speech of Milner's, which should become a locus classicus of democratic Imperialism. Of such an organic Empire-State, the Empire as it exists was to both men's thought only the magnificent raw material; and, in Milner's words, 'It is a close race between the numerous influences so manifestly making for disruption and the growth of a great, but still very imperfectly realized conception.' To both, therefore, all devices for working that raw material up, and creating organs of that union, all Imperial defence schemes and Imperial fiscal schemes, were a preoccupation behind and beyond the practical politics of the hour.
To the fiscal scheme, which now divides parties, Rhodes's contribution is well known. Whatever may be thought of it—and the present comment is penned, as to the scientific tariff, from the standpoint of a still unconverted insular sceptic, and as to Zollverein, from the standpoint of a Chamberlainite of 1902, persuaded that 'the Colonies must better their offer'—all candid minds must admit the loss to the discussion of a statesman who approached it from the colonial end in Rhodes's large, yet practical spirit Academic he could not be, for good or evil; but he was equally free from obsessions more likely in a colonial politician. He did not come to economics with a head full of wool or mutton or other vested localisms. He recognised John Bull's burden, recognised the pelican-breast liberality of England's fiscal treatment oi her Colonies since the American loss; and inferred that any Colony earnest to bridge between a producer's policy and the consumer's policy of England should be ready to take the first and the second and the third step before expecting a bargain. That spirit—and it is only the spirit I am discussing—is surely invaluable in a servant or master of colonial electorates. Justly, when displayed in Canada, it excited the Cobden Club to embrace the makers of a preferential tariff. The Canadians were the first to force the door, but Rhodes was before them in hammering at it on behalf of the same principle, which was afterwards in a modified form inserted into the constitution of Rhodesia, and thereby, as Rhodes calculated, stamped upon the future federal constitution of South Africa.
To the scheme of organic union for defence, again, which remains strategically urgent whatever may be done about commerce, Milner contributed a most suggestive word in some remarks to a Transvaal branch of the Navy League. Here, too, the first element to be seized is the Mother Country's pelican-breast liberality, and Milner emphasized the fact that all South Africa, equally with the coast Colonies, depends absolutely on the British navy to keep the seas for its trade and as its first line of defence against invasion.
This Cape Colony and Natal have recognised, not by a localized South African squadron, but by a direct contribution in aid of the British taxpayer. What more obvious for a representative of the Crown than to look forward to the South African Union making much larger strides towards converting the naval dependence into naval partnership? But then—what from a representative of the Crown was less obvious, and should be proportionately more fruitful—Milner went on to emphasize, as a matter of his personal opinion, the inevitable corollary of naval partnership—viz., the creation of some organ of consultation upon world-issues for the sea-united Commonwealth.
That scandalized some home critics. It was not in the Handbook of Official Perorations. But, thus and in other ways did Rhodes and Milner both number themselves of that great unformed party which is neither the ins nor the outs, which touches here the foreign politics of the one, here the home politics of the other; a party to which Imperialism and Carlyle's Condition of the People Question are one and the same business of fitly rearing, housing, distributing, co-ordinating, and training for war and peace the people of this commonwealth; a party which seems to have no name, no official leader, no paper even, but which I believe, when it comes by a soul and a voice, will prove to include a majority of the British in Britain and a still greater majority of the British overseas. Thus, at any rate—for here the digression stops—did Rhodes and Milner relate the South African Union to the Imperial idea; and now to our business in South Africa.
The table-talk citations set out above make a good starting-point. Sharply distinct by training, by temperament, and by the material in which they worked, both men were alike in a quick mutual recognition that left no room for jealousy. On Rhodes's part that really needed some largeness, for the edges of his political breakage were yet raw when Milner succeeded at the Cape: officially, Milner once or twice had to thwart him; unofficially, Milner superseded him also in the character of the strong man to whom English eyes were turned—the man who should reverse that strange persistent trend of things which for twenty years, while materially British brains and British capital and hard work were making the country, had caused Britishers to keep coming off the worse politically. Rhodes accepted supersession. The 'Lost Leader' was content that
'We shall march prospering, not thro' his presence'—
provided only that we marched.
Part I.— RHODES.
Rhodes started uphill. He entered Cape politics in a day when Downing Street and South Africa were sick of each other's very names. The weary Titan who has just poured out two hundred millions was loth to spend another million then. Those were days when Froude, sent out as a missionary of Empire, could publicly advocate Great Britain's retiring from all South Africa except Simon's Bay; when the dictum that there was no more place for direct Imperialism in the country, so often quoted against Rhodes himself, could be echoed, word for word, by a Governor and High Commissioner of the Queen; when even a Wools Sampson could help in a solemn burial of the Union Jack at Pretoria. The Transvaal was gone, and no sooner gone than the Boer junta began to be provided with new sinews of war by the eager toil of British miners. Naturally, legitimately even, it became the focus of ambitions, anti-British because patriotically Republican. The push towards South African Union was as inevitable as the push of a plant towards the sun. But was union to come within or without the Empire? Wealth, power, the lure of beckoning career—these signposts now pointed all to Pretoria, and drew from Cape Colony the ablest and most ambitious of the Queen's young Dutch subjects. On every border bands of patriotic Boers were thrusting outward for expansion: south-east, towards a seaport; northward, towards the unappropriated residue of South Africa; westward, to join hands with Germany and so shut for ever the road to that residue from the British south. What was Rhodes to do?
To meet and baffle these outward thrusts one by one was the first necessity; and that, from the early eighties down to the stoppage of the last earth (the seaward opening) in 1895, he did. Those who know the inside history of those events know best his part in them, which, to be sure, was sometimes not very pellucid to outside gaze. In the west, for instance, direct Imperialists like Warren and Mackenzie, blunt, honest fellows, were quite at cross-purposes with him; but Paul Kruger read his Rhodes aright, if they could not, and in his 'Memoirs' that good hater has put it on record who it was that really shut the Boer kraal, and kept open the British road to the north.
I have seen it suggested that what really kept foreign Powers out of Rhodesia was not Rhodes, but the Moffat Treaty of 1888 and the proclamation of that blessed phrase 'Sphere of Influence.' The criticism could not have been made had the critics known—what does not appear in Blue-Books, but what Lord Rosmead could have told them—who it was that prompted both treaty and proclamation. Rhodes had disclosed his plans, and Sir Hercules Robinson had exacted guarantees that where he planted the flag Rhodes would follow. Something more was wanted than negatives to Kruger and proclamations of spheres. The north must be not only talked about, but taken—occupied, opened up, freed from the yoke of black militarism, settled, developed. Only so could a new world to redress the balance of the old, a counterpoise to the lost Eldorado of the Transvaal, be got ready to fling into the British scale on the day when South Africa should be ready to tremble into union one way or the other. For that millions were needed, and since it was idle in those days—how idle was proved by that old crusader, John Mackenzie—to ask the British Government or taxpayer to find the millions, Rhodes resolved that they should be found by the British (and foreign) speculative investor. He would adapt to the Bourses of the nineteenth century the model which had served the seventeenth and eighteenth to lay British foundations in two hemispheres, from the East Indies to Hudson's Bay. The North Borneo Company, I think, was the modern instance which directly suggested the Charter plan to our young colonist. It was essential to his plan, however, that he should be in a position to underwrite his project, as it were, not only with a large fortune of his own, but by throwing into the scale at critical moments the stake of that vast funded wealth which he created in the Kimberley diamond-mining trust.
And the amazing thing is that he did not make the fortune first and then conceive the application of it, as a tired millionaire's hobby. We are familiar nowadays with such an origin for great philanthropic and patriotic schemes. A man makes his millions in exploiting the Turk to lavish them on emigrating the Jew, or emerges from a comer in steel to give off the transmuted metal in a Danaë-shower of free libraries, while philosophers like Mr. John Morley and Mr. Frederic Harrison decorate his brow with chaste wreaths. It is one of the more creditable features of the modern aggregation of wealth; but Rhodes's case was different. The historian will find the evidence ample and conclusive that the dreamy young colonist who built up the De Beers monopoly had already, as an Oxford undergraduate, projected his plan of a life-work for the British Empire; that this daydream supplied his spiritual food throughout the absorbing struggle of the ten years which patience and genius required to create De Beers; and that he emerged from the dust of that squalid arena to fling himself heart-whole into the toil of realizing the dream with the help of the financial weapon which he had framed and tempered for it Many a youth might have said: 'Go to! I will lay up great possessions, that I may then apply them to such and such an ideal.' With how many would the ideal have survived the acquisition?
The financial was only half Rhodes's idea; the other half, which led to his extraordinary career in Cape politics, was concerned with the men rather than the money—the men and the methods of pioneering. It was to draw in the adventurous youth of South Africa, Dutch as well as English, to his adventure under the Union Jack; it was to secure the Cape as a base for Imperial, as against Republican, expansion, by presenting Imperialism as Colonialism and working with colonists on colonial lines. To win and hold Dutch sentiment at the Cape while foiling Dutch ambition in the Republics was Rhodes's problem; and till 1895 he marvellously solved it.
He must have failed if Paul Kruger's statesmanship had looked out upon a wider horizon. There the Boer was found wanting. When the Transvaal ruling families came into their kingdom they forgot their kinsmen in the Colony. They did not remember so only to be anti-England as not to seem anti-Cape. In railways, customs, trade, State employment, they played the German game, the Hollander game, the Portuguese game—everything but the Afrikander game; while Rhodes threw the door of the north wide, and eagerly invited every young Dutchman to share in the work of development. With all his gnarled strength and subtle shrewdness, Kruger lacked Rhodes's sense of the grand scale, his zest in noble giving, his eye to the future. The patriotism of each, underneath its calculating materialism, had a deep spring of fire. In Kruger it was his sombre piety; in Rhodes, a latent poetry and romance, grandiose perhaps, but no whit less genuine. From these deep springs the conceptions of the one drew breadth; of the other, narrowness. And so during the years when the work of white expansion was being completed in South Africa, Rhodes gamed with the Cape Dutch all that Kruger lost, till the last square mile of No-Man's-Land was safe under the British flag.
So for all was success. Not till the struggle over the map gave place to the struggle over civic status did the Rhodes method break down. But the success had a price. The price was a policy within Cape Colony so tender to Dutch prejudices as to gall many English ones. That bring up one of our touchstone aspects. What part was fuse in the fabric of Dutch conciliation which Rhodes built up with the best years of his manhood, and shattered in an hour? It is forgotten now, or, perhaps, by many it was never understood, how much of the sympathy between Rhodes and the colonial Boer was genuine. That long political union was not all a mariage de conveyance. Rhodes was of an ancestry of East Anglian graziers, and the landward strain was strong and native in him. By taste and temperament he was a country squire. From financial and industrial board-rooms; from the close air of Parliaments, where he never seemed at home; from the great mobs of city men or Cape Town electors, which, in late years, he learned to sway, he loved to betake himself to roadmaking among the hanging woods of Groote Schuur, or experimental farming in Rhodesia. Escaped from town to Rondebosch, with the air of a released schoolboy he threw on the old flannels and the shocking bad hat, jumped on the favourite hack, and was off along the flanks of the mountain, riding with a loose Boer seat and daydreaming in the saddle.
In England, if he had never seen a Colony, he would have been in his element as a lord of broad acres, improving the estate, founding industries on it, creating model villages, living on terms half feudal, half democratic, and entailing the estate at the end under strenuous conditions of public duty. He loved landscape, forestry, the farm stud, irrigation, wide views, large maps, an added acre, a new country, the clean, keen air of the veld. And therefore, when Rhodes and an old Dutch farmer came to talk, out on the stoep, they knew each other for kindred spirits. No need for pretence, so long as the talk was left, like a familiar horse, to take its own road. The Dutchmen could feel the soil in his bones, see the horizon in his eyes. Silly people sometimes took his adoption of old Dutch ways, furniture and house-plenishing, for a politic affectation. No; it was as genuine as his passion for Table Mountain or the Matoppos. In the height of his Dutch popularity, there was once some great pilgrimage of colonial Boers to Groote Schuur, when all they heard and saw so captivated them that one veteran suddenly stooped in the grounds, picked up a great rough stone, and cried out that he would hand it down to his remotest descendants as a memento of that day and scene. I do not know whether, after the Raid, that stone came to be converted into a missile. But I remember among the things that pleased the old farmer that day at Groote Schuur was a discussion how best to keep together the old colonial estates, Rhodes deprecating the Dutch way of splitting them up among the cadets of their big families, and praising rather a sort of selective entail. That was derided at the time as an obvious piece of playing to Dutch sentiment. Such a bit of old Toryism could never be Rhodes's natural view! Natural or not, it appeared, as we all remember, in his own will, and is stamped on the provisions under which the Norfolk estate of Dalham Hall is devised to his heirs.
In politics, too, Rhodes's way of looking at many questions was rather like that of the best sort of progressive Cape Dutchman—the sort of Dutchman who really farms, and wants his flocks dipped, and his children schooled, and his natives kept sober, but never names 'Exeter Hall,' 'War Office,' or 'red tape,' except in senses partly interchangeable and wholly pejorative. Into that mould, indeed, Rhodes fitted far more naturally than into the mould of our commercial urban electorates in South Africa, patriotically English as they were, but ridden by newspaper formulas. He was never quite comfortable as the leader of a party with no Dutchmen in it. I remember well his first appearances in the rôle of the out-and-out Progressive party man. He was never word-perfect, and caused the Tadpoles and Tapers sleepless nights. In the grave little Parliament House under Table Mountain many a wistful glance passed in those days between him and certain old Bond stalwarts—wistful not on one side only. But the gulf was fixed.
After all, where he really failed in faithful dealing towards those Dutchmen was just where their own Dutch leaders failed too. It was in keeping back from public expression an essential part of his mind on the great issue between the old and the new population in the Transvaal. On the broader question, 'Under which Flag?' they had never any real excuse for misunderstanding him. Half a dozen blunt speeches, scattered throughout his career, told them plainly enough, even if his whole life-work had not done so, whether the United South Africa of his dreams was within or without the British Empire. But on this Outlander question, where the first tug-of-war was clearly coming, he did fail in the duty of speaking out to his Dutch followers while there was yet a chance of influencing them, and perhaps, through them, their kinsmen. He husbanded is influence, and the spade-work which should have prepared against the brewing storm was left undone. The storm burst and the influence was swept away in one thunderclap.
Nice moralists may blame him for what he did; I have always blamed him rather for what he left unsaid. And if so, there may be no good answer to the reproach of the Dutch rank and file, but there is a fair retort to the Dutch leaders. They, too, saw the storm brewing, knew that the old ought to make terms with the new, even, as we now know, whispered as much with growing urgency into Mr. Kruger's ear. They whispered, but they never spoke out to their own people. If not blind mouths, as Milton called certain negligent shepherds of his day, they were dumb eyes. They, too, husbanded their influence; they, too, left the political spade-work all undone. The result was spade-work of a grimmer kind: the sterile labour of those entrenchments that still scar the veld, and then the fresh graves in the little pieces of enclosed ground on the hillsides. The untaught lesson has written itself out in the long lists of ignorant colonial rebels, who have learnt late in that school whose fees are high. Faithlessness to Afrikander followers used to be the charge against Rhodes in 1896. Better spare bitter names. If we all had our deserts in this tangled business, who—accused or accusers—should escape a whipping?
It is curious to speculate now in what form the crisis would have come if Rhodes had stood aside and let Johannesburg be. What hurried him was not fear of the Kruger junta alone, nor of the cosmopolitan Rand alone, but of an anti-British bargain between the two—a great industrial Republic working to unite South Africa outside the Empire. Kruger was no such Machiavelli. How easy it would be to avoid our own blunders if we could only foresee those of the other side! Rhodes failed to foresee that the old Boer caste would reject terms to the end, and that Dr. Leyds and the rest of the clever fools from Holland, instead of rising to the conception Rhodes dreaded, would waste their shallow talents on the back-stairs of European chancelleries. It is often said that had there been no Raid there would have been no war. That is the old unhistorical trick of picking out one effect in a chain of effects and calling it the cause. It is sometimes added that Rhodes planned the Raid with that purpose. I do not think any historian will take that view. He might have sat still and let the drift to war go on its own way. But war at the best must mean throwing all his patient past and his plans under the trampling hoofs of violence. It meant making himself unnecessary. No; the case with Rhodes was that he saw the crisis hurrying past him, and could not bring himself to let its threads slip out of his own hands; so he dashed at the runaway—and failed. He did not make the weather, but, like Kruger, when he cried, 'Let the storm burst!' he wanted to ride the whirlwind and direct the storm, if storm there was to be. So the politician turned raider. It is often argued that common standards of right and wrong cannot apply to such Uebermenschen as a Cavour, a Bismarck, or a Rhodes. It may well be so; but it does seem as if the one or two things in Rhodes's character and career which mere burgess rectitude, whether called unctuous or not, would deem to be against the rules were those for which the bills came in most punctually, and had to be most dearly paid. The things that only success could have justified were precisely those that failed and upset all the rest The parts of his work which then held firm, the traits in his character that stood out calm above the wreck, were those which show the man in as fine a light as the statesman, and need no apology for either. I present the copybook moralist with the hint.
Rhodes was given scant time to retrieve, but it was crowded with matter. The 'facing the music' at Westminster, the forlorn hope in Cape politics which his close friend was to take over and carry to success after his death, the peacemaking indaba in the Matoppos, the strangely appealing last scenes and legacy to Oxford and Empire—these are material for the biographer, to make his plot in sober truth more romantic than a novel, but must not tempt us away from the main thread of our story. We have traced the long career of patient reticence; we have tried to account for the one blunder of haste. We must now follow the torch as it passed to other hands; but in leaving Rhodes, 'let me,' in a phrase of his own, 'give you a thought,' which those who seek a clue to his character may find suggestive. Raid or no Raid, there was a sense, a somewhat tragic sense, in which Rhodes was always a man in a hurry. To the consciousness that life was not long enough for the chosen life-work there was added the knowledge that his own life was almost certain to be cut short. Not in the East only is man liable to receive in mid-career the sudden arbitrary-seeming message to bid everything good-bye. The specialist doctor, with his 'bad prognosis,' is the mute with the bowstring of our Western life. The message acts variously on various men. Balzac, in 'La Feau de Chagrin,' has made a classic study of the effect on one kind of temperament; Rhodes was of sterner stuff:
'Life piled on life
Were all too little; and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence. … Vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself!'
So he with Ulysses. The message could not daunt, but perhaps it hurried him. Under threat of death he first went to South Africa. Again, and yet again, in his most strenuous and confident years a grim reminder came, and breathed into his work a kind of hungry fever; in the closing years he learned to look certitude quietly in the face. Thus to his own eye he was ever that 'old man planting oak saplings,' of whom he once spoke in a passage quite home-spun, but surely most touching. I, at least, know none other in his speeches that so appeals. And, indeed, when the biographer comes to seek for some one central thread on which the best and the worst of Cecil John Rhodes may alike be strung, something which makes both consistent, I think it is here that he may find it. He had no time, therefore he shunned delights and lived laborious days; he had no time, therefore he fell to the one fatal temptation, that of the short-cut. I often find myself applying to him those quaint, fine lines of Marvell's 'To his Coy Mistress.' Rhodes's mistress was a cause, a dream, the destiny of a continent; and sometimes, when the date for realization was pushed further off by a mutiny of native warriors or of parliamentary mugwumps, by a rinderpest, or a red-tape delay, or a war, I have seemed to detect in his grumble or impatient fling the very note of the delayed lover:
This coyness, lady, were no crime …
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than Empires, and more slow …
But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near,
And yonder all before us lie
'Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near' is exactly what Rhodes seemed always to be hearing. Often he would try, with sudden passionate intensity, and in words considerably less choice than Marvell's, yet poignant, too, in their way, to make that sound audible to others—persons with indolent delays, tiresome doubts, perhaps (let us confess) tiresome scruples. Only towards the end he learned at last a certain manly, if rather wistful, patience.
Part II.— MILNER.
A cool head and a fresh initiative—those were the crying needs of the High Commissionership in 1897 when Milner stepped into it out of Somerset House.
The old landmarks of Imperial policy in South Africa were no longer standing. Rhodes was down. Doornkop, as a name for false start and failure, had replaced Majuba. Lord Rosmead, lost without Rhodes, ill, aged, and broken with responsibility, had gone home to die. In the race for union the vantage of the moment was anti-Imperial. Kruger held the lead if he had known how to use it. On the map England stood well. There Rhodes's work could not be undone; and in population we were creeping up. But that was all neutralized by a singular racial disparity in political status; and here, as we have seen, the Rhodes method had broken down. On our part of the map the Dutch unit counted double: he was a citizen, even over-represented; on the Boer part of the map the Britisher was not allowed to count at all. The taxation without representation from which America revolted was a trifle beside the Outlander's. And here fleecer and fleeced were not of the same but of rival races, not sea-sundered, but elbow to elbow. Armed with the proceeds of the fleecing, the Boer overlords, not yet prepared to dictate union on their own terms, were enforcing, at any rate, disunion and European intrigue as the alternative, and familiarizing young South Africa with the spectacle of British citizenship at a disadvantage. If the future was to be left to peaceful, natural forces, those forces must first be liberated. Such was the crux confronting Milner. The solution—'Equal rights for every civilized man'—had been formulated by Rhodes at the moment of his fall. It remained for Milner to apply it. How?
Direct Imperialism was supposed to have gone to the scrap-heap a decade since. Rhodes's colonialism, as we have seen, had just followed it Milner decided first to give the colonial method one more chance. He began hopefully—worked, as no predecessor had done, at the Dutch language, both High Dutch and the Cape taal; studied, as nobody else has ever done, the Dutch vernacular press; talked with leading Dutchmen and travelled hundreds of miles among the farmers, with whom, in Cape Colony, as recently in the Transvaal, he got on excellently. He soon saw the need of the moment. The storm-clouds were banking up; if the Dutch of the Colony were to be roused to the danger and their duty, the need was not smooth sayings, the well-worn cliches of Government House, but 'straight talk.'
On this matter of faithful dealing one thing is certain. Let them say what they will of Rhodes, the charge of not being 'straight with the Dutch' is one which calumny itself can hardly bring against Milner. No husbanding influence, for him, at the price of a neglect of urgent duty. He had borne witness at the Jubilee to Dutch loyalty—the personal loyalty of Dutch colonists to Queen Victoria. That was a genuine sentiment. Had it all evaporated in a feu de joie on Queen's Birthday, or was it of such stuff as would stand in a day of trouble? Was loyalty to the Queen only valid unless and until the call came to choose between it and loyalty to Paul Kruger? If so, the Queen's representative could not count on it for any help in the hard task before him of securing justice while keeping peace. If otherwise, now was the time to show it He invited them to throw over that old tradition—'The Republics, right or wrong!' and substitute for it the principle, 'Rights for the British in the Republic like those which Dutchmen enjoy in the Colonies. He granted fully the claim of kinship, but he asserted that of allegiance, and called upon the Dutch colonists by timely mediation to reconcile and fulfil both. Such in essence was the famous 'Graaff Reinet speech' of 1898. A Cape Governor, in the heart of a Dutch district, suggested the point of view, seemingly a novel one, that they should think of England not as a debtor for their loyalty, but as a generous creditor for their freedom. What a stir it made! What a tale of a tradition of mealy-mouthed officialism is told by the mere fact of that stir! It stands as a historic appeal, that fell, alas! mainly on deaf ears.
Not altogether so, however. People may talk now as if Milner had never tried to influence the Dutch, or, trying, had wholly failed to gain their confidence. But that will not do, since a chance of war has broken into the post-bags of Dutch leaders, and a Blue-Book shown the world the terms in which they wrote from Colony to Republic at the time of the Bloemfontein Conference. We thus have it beyond dispute that before Milner went to meet President Kruger he had convinced the Cape Dutch leaders, who had come into personal contact with him, that he was honest, that he preferred peace, that he was not prepared to pay all prices for peace, and, lastly, that, unlike Sir Bartle Frere, he had the British Government and people behind him. And of these things they advised Presidents Steyn and Kruger, who went their own appointed way. If Milner failed with the Dutch, in this, at least, he succeeded beyond any predecessor: he opened the lips of the Dutch leaders in Cape Colony, To open the ears of the Dutch leaders in the Republics was beyond him; and beyond any man was it (since not even to gods is it given to undo the East) to make that secret and temporizing voice, wrung from Cape Dutch politicians, penetrate to the dumb masses of their countrymen—the men on whose consensus really hung the issue of peace or war, and who had to decide it without ever having heard the truth—except from Milner.
Rhodes used to be blamed for courting the Dutch. Milner was blamed for not courting them. The candid will admit that as Governor at the Cape he held the constitutional balance even, and that in his more autocratic office in the Transvaal he did not let the natural sulks of the Dutch leaders or the loud nearness of Johannesburg affect a readiness, an eagerness even, to do what little the bad times allowed for the Dutch rural interest. Road and railway plans showed him more than once as Member for the Veld rather than as Member for the Mines. The candid will admit this; but even the candid may add that in matters not so easy to schedule there has been a change from what recent predecessors had made the regulation manner towards the Dutch. A popular conciliatoriness that only just missed the apologetic had become a fashion, almost (what diplomatic ententes cordiales so easily do become) a pose.
In the main they were right, these predecessors. It is a question of occasion and of atmosphere. There are times (as in South Africa in the eighties) when a prodigal son returning from estrangement is rightly greeted with some effusiveness, even though the brother who never strayed be moved to priggish complaints that 'loyalty does not pay.' There is a time, again (as in South Africa in the nineties), when anything like fussy conciliation is 'the worst way in the world,' in Milner's own apt words, 'to impress or to win over a strong, a shrewd, and an eminently self-respecting people.' At such a time the Dutch prodigal who purports to have sown his Republican wild oats and come home to stay is rightly looked to by a Governor for some better proofs of filial loyalty than that of always passing up his plate for more; and the fatted calf is replaced, as in time it must have been in the parable, by cold mutton rigidly shared with the loyalist brother.
Of course, after the falling on necks and feasting, after the best robe and the ring, the change to a Government House ordinary strikes a chill. It is the prodigal's turn to cry favouritism. There is a calling of such names as official pedant,' and (how does it run?) 'racial autocrat,' and 'callous satrap.' Such terms must provoke a smile from all who have any personal knowledge of Milner. That sympathetic charm to which statesmen of both parties bore witness in sending him forth from London eight years ago was not a thing to lose its quality in shipment across the Line, as perishable wines do. The soundness and bouquet were all there when the vintage was landed. To the last, occasions for delicacy or fine human feeling were to him opportunities; witness, for instance, the obsequies of Paul Kruger. The changed relation with the Dutch is not denied; but it was a corollary, not an aggravation, of the changed policy.
From the moment when Milner pronounced for intervention there was but one merging issue in party politics, and the King's representative was ipso facto a partisan. If history justifies Abraham Lincoln on the broad issue of the American Civil War, it will scarcely waver because his name was execrated by Southern planters. As mere Governor, Milner might have dined the Dutch, and read the King's Speech, and ridden to hounds with the most popular of them, as, indeed, he did. As High Commissioner he held an office unique in the Empire and at a unique juncture. Instead of amiably eliminating the Imperial factor to salvoes of the Afrikander Bond, it fell to him to assert that factor as the one untried key to the problem. Events made him the agent—nay, the tutor—of the British people in its great issue with the Boer people. Precisians used to shake their heads over the phrase 'Milner's policy.' 'Say Salisbury's policy, Chamberlain's policy, the Government's policy,' cried they; 'but Milner's? Grossly unconstitutional!' Perhaps; but the phrase roughly embodied the facts, which were made, not by lawyers, but by the unusual moment and man. Milner's has been as individual a path among our civil servants as that of Rhodes among our politicians. Each had his day of dictatorship in the old Roman sense—a broad commission to see that the Imperial Commonwealth took no hurt.
In short, it is as unreasonable to blame Milner for not conciliating the Dutch into Imperialism in 18971899 as it is to blame him for not coaxing Mr. Kruger into abdication when in June, 1899, at last they came to conference. Critics suggest that if Milner at Bloemfontein had abandoned dialectics for true diplomacy—if Mr. Chamberlain somewhat later had said, 'Ah, my kind Christian friend!' instead of talking about a squeezed sponge—the prejudices dear to the strong old Dopper as life would have melted away.
Such critics do not know their Kruger nor their Boer. The Dutchman is not, like the Irishman, a creature of sentiment. Providence in its infinite indulgence has spared us the task of reconciling any race which combines both the Dutch and the Irish gifts of recalcitrance. Our redoubtable Dutch fellow-subject is a practical fellow. He knows what he wants. Give it him, and you may call him a squeezed sponge or a scalene triangle, and welcome. Insist on his giving it to you, and he will dislike you, even if you say that he prevail and sing more sweetly than the nightingale. The most that can be expected of him is to admit of Milner, as the schoolboy of Dr. Temple, 'A beast, but a just beast.' One half South Africa learnt to regard Milner's character with love and reverence. With wounds yet fresh, it was not in human nature that the feeling of the other half should be the same; but if with them the love was hate, at least for reverence we need read nothing meaner than respect, and the foe who has mastered respect is halfway to a friend.
We have examined Milner's handling of the Dutch, as we did Rhodes's. Now for that other touchstone—the charge of being a man in a hurry. Granted that the Dutch were not to be won over, might they not have been left to time?
Against Milner this charge of hurry and lack of humane scruple can easily be brought home if you can prove one thing, to be defined presently. It is not enough to show that he led his country open-eyed into the war. That, which is said of various men according to the needs of the attack, is true of him—at least as true as of Mr. Chamberlain; for the dispatches hint one moment of tension when the Colonial Secretary (or the Cabinet) wavered and the High Commissioner stood firm—none, I think, when the rock was at Downing Street and the reed at Cape Town. The mischief once diagnosed, Milner never shrank from the surgery. He was not of those who said that Kruger would never fight, nor yet of those (if such there were) who promised a promenade to Pretoria. But when a tooth must out, and by the old way, the surgeon who refuses to promise painless dentistry does so not because he is inhumane, but because he is honest. When it came to peacemaking, the Boer bargainers had stiffer work with Milner than with Kitchener, and their friends here were ready with the reason. The warrior, generous and humane, was contrasted with the 'frigid satrap.' Those who embarrassed the hardest-headed of our soldiers with these gushing diplomas had execrated him as a barbarian a few years before for the posthumous decapitation of the Mahdi. Milner also, by an odd coincidence, once had to do with a decapitation of a dead rebel chief. It was shortly after he became Governor at the Cape. The act was that of a popular Volunteer officer, and Milner insisted on Ministers cashiering him for it. I cite the forgotten incident, of course, purely ad hominem for the detractor. Lord Kitchener's action either at Khartoum or at Vereeniging is not under discussion. But there was enough to suggest, what experience since the peace has amply proved, that it was the longer view, not the harder heart, that made Milner stand like steel for terms that would not compromise the future, when Kitchener, utterly 'fed up' (in army slang), was thinking rather how to get the weary thing done with, and on to the next labour of Hercules in India.
A Bishop in the House of Lords—one recalls Lord Goschen's generous resentment—charged Milner personally with apathy about the sickness in the concentration camps. When the War Office Commission of ladies looked into the facts on the spot, they soon found that, personally as officially, the Lead of all the devoted workers who spent themselves in setting right the camps was throughout Milner. It is visible enough in their report (Cd. 898, 1902). Reparation for witness borne unjustly could not, to an eminent Christian gentleman, be anything but a gracious pleasure. So far, I believe, the Bishop has denied himself the luxury. Self-denial is also a Christian grace: hardly, in this case, the more winning one.
No, neither hurry nor inhumanity is proved by Milner's policy having led open-eyed to war. For that you must prove something different and definite—viz., that the object of the policy could have been attained in peace. This, of course, plenty of our glib censors are ready to assert. The Transvaal situation was bad, they grant you—so bad, indeed, that it could never have lasted; and, in fact (the evidence for this next is never vouchsafed), it was coming to an end of itself. All that was needed was to leave Boer and Outlander to stew in their own juice (well, in the Outlander's juice, at any rate), and somehow, some day, freedom would have slowly broadened down from precedent to precedent. That is how Englishmen got popular rights from Englishmen, and so, by a historical law, they would ultimately have got them from Boers. I count—any Liberal must count among his acquaintance—plenty of good people who hold all this to be clear beyond argument. Not only stalwarts of the caucus, like Blow and Crewdson, to whom the term 'Randlords' came like a mental labour-saving machine, but Fellows of their college and drawing-room intellectuals: Cockshaw, the Professor, to whom Liberalism is an exact science; and McFadden, to whom it is an emotion in a vacuum; and Henn, and Scuttermore, and Whymper of Magdalen, who belong to what a friend of mine calls the 'Peace to the Knife' party; and Patterworthy, who would like to subject all British acquisitions since (say) the Peace of Amiens to redistribution by a committee of Swiss jurists; and the Rev. Adderley Gall, who used to call for cheers at the National Liberal Club when Boer successes were reported, put on crape after Vereeniging, and was much disappointed, when he met the Boer Generals, with the tameness of their rancour. The view was developed to its full logic (if the reader allows one more type-personification) by Molyneux Dodley-Cottle (author of 'Submeanings of Maeterlinck,' 'A Pathology of Capital,' 'Ethics of a Nut Dietary,' etc.), whose pamphlet on the war proved that reform would have come, without any unkindness, if only British South Africans had shut their eyes tight and willed that it was coming.
These gentlemen were not living in the Colonies. To Milner the politics of Christian Science were not open. He had to act in South Africa, and upon facts. What he saw was that the admitted bad was not growing better, but worse. By bad, I mean bad for the status of British subjects, and for the British, as opposed to the Republican, trend of union. So far from freedom broadening down, the precedents, which came thick and fast, were all the other way. As for historic law, and the natural adjustment between town and country, he judged that the adjustment was likely to follow a new law of its own, where country meant a homogeneous and hostile race perfectly armed, organized as a rude standing army, and bred in traditions of triumphant militarism.
Ah, but (we are told) he should have waited for the young generation. Were not young Afrikanders growing up who had education and could understand the inevitable forces at work? Odd as it may seem, the educated young Afrikanders did not consider these forces inevitable. They thought the Republican would be—or they could make it—me winning cause in South Africa. Test it in the concrete. Take a case wholly favourable, you would have said—a clever, ambitious young Afrikander of high character who was making his choice just when Milner came to Cape Town—Mr. J. C. Smuts. Born and bred a Cape Colonist, Mr. Smuts was loyal, of course—it seems but the other day he took honours at Cambridge. He chooses Pretoria. In a year or two behold him State Attorney: honest, competent, acridly Republican, talking (like General Trepoff) of reform, but as careful as he, or as Kruger himself, that reform should not touch the tap-root of exclusive power; next, counsel for reform (the Trepoff kind) at the Bloemfontein Conference … next, before the war ends, a Commandant spiritedly raiding his old Colony. And to-day? To-day Mr. Smuts is civis Britannicus once more. A great career in politics is assured to him by his talents and the title of a Boer ex-General; a great career at the Bar by his talents and the eager retainers of Johannesburg. He accepts the new order, quotes Schopenhauer to inquiring pro-Boers, and corresponds with the High Commissioner on the requirements of a truly democratic suffrage. Of course, he is loyal; English admirers quote his speeches, sombrely pledging his faith to the logic of the stricken field. Do I impugn it? Not at all. My question is, on the contrary, How far would England have got with that young man by any other logic? How far by 'waiting a generation'?
General de Wet's war book affords a similar startling sidelight—one among many thrown by the war—upon the unconscious undercurrent that flowed in Dutch minds in the years before it The famous chief writes freely of colonial 'treason' and 'traitors.' He does not mean the Cape rebels who joined the Boers; nor does he mean the 'tame Boers,' in army slang, who joined the British. He means colonists who stood to their allegiance and fought He means all colonial-born men, whether Dutch or English by extraction, who bore arms against the Republics. To De Wet these are traitors, against whom he cannot enough express his honest indignation. Traitors to what allegiance? Why, for bold spirits like De Wet, that pan-South African Republic embracing the Colonies, that dream which, we are told, would have died out if we had but waited, was already no dream, but a living reality imposing an allegiance of its own and abrogating all others! 'But will the dream die out now?' So some objector may ask—someone who takes a faint-hearted view of the war, and a still more faint-hearted view of the peace. There is a sense in which I, for one, hope that dream will never die out, but that little by little, under the anodyne spell of free self-government, the sturdy souls who cherish it will come to feel that the dream is realized, as nearly as it could ever be outside dreamland, in a South Africa which is united, is a 'crowned Republic,' and is as much theirs as ours.
That lies on the knees of the gods. What is certain is that when Milner came on the scene the two wrestling ideals had reached deadlock. The time was past for palliatives such as the Smutses and Reitzes would gladly have consented to—removal of the corruptions and stupid scandals of Government without real change of the bases of power. So far had things drifted that any sincere reform must involve an abdication of the Boer Government and look like an abdication of the Boer people. This was as clear to the Boers as to the rest of us; and what Milner found was that South Africa contained no inner force capable of making them consent to it. He inferred that the force must be applied from without. Before the negotiations it was arguable that the Boer might surrender his monopoly without the war alternative. The negotiations made it clear that he would only surrender it on that alternative; the war, that he preferred the alternative to the surrender. Milner, with that keen level gaze of his, foresaw as much from the moment when the old Boer and the young faced him across the table at Bloemfontein. He read the old peasant who had grown gray in evading and defying England by turns. He read the educated young Afrikander, the acrid little Republican who accompanied Mr. Kruger as lawyer-clerk, and whose almost cynical burlesque of a charter of enfranchisement was ready cut and dry in their pockets. He came out and paced alone for some time, grave and very pale. Should he, as men who were the eyes and the voice of England had felt bound to do before him, join in a paper make-believe, throw upon Time the onus of proving paper to be only paper, and so put off the evil day? 'After all,' a shrewd Dutch leader remarked to me at that time, 'his diplomatic reputation depends on his getting something out of the old man and putting the best face on it' Milner considered all that while he paced, pale and solitary, with bent head. Then he re-entered the Conference room, firm and erect. His verdict was formed—'complete failure,' as he telegraphed to a friend—and his diplomatic reputation must just fare as it might. All that remained now, beyond certain talk, was to make the Boers feel that, give or refuse, they could no longer evade: refusal would mean playing double or quits for South Africa. He made them feel it. They decided, as they had the right to do, to play; and they lost.
The next period of Milner's career bristles with controversy, only less than the period leading up to the war; and I wish to grapple with the points most controverted first. Let us begin with his advice on the Suspension Question. Milner, like Rhodes on his death-bed, advocated that the Cape Constitution, which the war had practically suspended, should be suspended formally until the completion of the after-war settlement. The advice was overruled, and to-day we can all, wise after the event, prove the advice a mistake. Some mistakes there must be marked up against a man shouldering Milner's responsibilities in such a whirlpool of problems as the South Africa of the last eight years; but let us examine this one in the light of the facts, not as they present themselves now, but as they presented themselves then. There were two or three measures indispensable from the Imperial point of view to make the after-war situation in Cape Colony a tolerable one. No one will deny that Equally, no one will assert that those measures could ever have passed the then existing Cape Parliament if the majority of Dutch members had stood to their own expressed views and sympathies. If Milner despaired of the Dutch majority, he had seen its chosen head, Mr. Schreiner, after efforts which Milner alone could estimate, despair of the Ministry which that majority had created. And no wonder! What sort of Treason Court could men be expected to set up to disfranchise their own constituents—in some cases to try themselves? To judge by their speeches, what called for a penal Bill was the martial acts of loyalists; what called for indemnity was the martial acts of rebels. In the end, happily, under sobering influences, of which the half-unsheathed blade of Suspension was not the least, they did, under protest, legislate the Imperial minimum. By a series of Parliamentary 'flukes' the Bills passed. And since then there has followed, by the greatest fluke of all, something not indeed indispensable to the situation, but carrying it at last out of the region of flukes into one rather less breathless: I mean the success of the Progressive or Imperialist party at the Cape General Election. In calling the success of my political friends a fluke, I mean no injustice to the work and organization which won the success, nor to the fine temper and modesty and manliness which have gone to make up that happy surprise—the leadership of Dr. Jameson, which, after one great and fruitful voyage, seems likely to be scuttled in port by one of these petty local rivalries which are the curse of English politics in South Africa, Nor, in describing as a fluke certain Acts passed by the preceding Sprigg Ministry, would I detract from the credit due to the Dutch members, my late Parliamentary colleagues, for their ultimate sacrifice, no easy one, to expediency and moderation. But my point is—and no one who knows the Cape lobbies and Cape constituencies will contest it—that these successive triumphs of the statesmanship of the odd-man-out on poll or division list amounted to a series of flukes, a run of luck, on which a betting man would not have cared without heavy odds to risk his money. Such a run might come off—it did come off; but in Milner's view it was not a thing on which he could advise the Home Government beforehand to stake vital interests.
It may be said, if the advice was a mistake, it was a double mistake to advise publicly; it certainly was so, if Milner had been troubling about personal prestige. He knew the Suspension Movement was a forlorn hope; backed by his name, one to conjure with among the doubtful, it just might succeed: failure must mean rebuff. He knew that, and chose to shoulder the responsibility. That mistake at least was characteristic.
The next controversy, since it still burns in England, must detain us rather longer. Is Chinese Labour a mistake? Nothing went so near to shake or strain that peculiar personal authority which Milner had come to wield throughout the Empire as when he nailed the yellow colours to his mast. One consideration may save our breath upon this tortured issue: it is that Milner stands to be judged by the event, and the event is month by month unfolding itself. Either, as some say, Chinese labour is an expedient which the Transvaal will abandon after a brief experience; in that case, it is superfluous to ponder what might be its ultimate effects socially, while economically it will have served its turn if it has 'stayed the rot' and tided the country over the Kaffir labour crisis. Or, in the other event, the likelier on the whole, the Chinese experiment is destined to a longer continuance, long enough to make its secondary effects worth considering; in that case Milner has given his enemies the hostage of a direct prediction, and the figures are filed for reference. The tide of white immigration into the Transvaal, especially of white men with families, will save or sink him, so far as this question is concerned, as mathematically as an Egyptian Budget depends on a good or bad Nile. Let the white tide sink with the rising of the yellow one, as opponents say it will, and Milner as a prophet is self-condemned. Let the two rise together, as he declares they must, with certain broad effects upon the ratio, not of white to colour, but of British to Boer, and Milner is vindicated. Or, if not that—for this policy has had breathed against it
'Twenty-nine distinct damnations,
One sure if another fails'—
at any rate, in that case, the heart will die out of the anti-Chinese cry throughout the Empire as it has died already in South Africa. I do not mean by this that no importance attaches to the other objections which have been raised, moral or constitutional; but only that, on the assumption stated, means will somehow be found to meet these in the case of the indentured Chinamen, as in the case of the indentured Indians on whom Natal depends, or as in the case of the pre-existing Kaffir labourers on the Rand itself, most of whom are temporary human exports, forwarded without wives, from Portuguese Africa, and all of whom are, in a degree only less than the Chinamen, and under our pledge to the Boers must remain, Gibeonites, helots, persons in a non-civic status.
It is natural that the hostility should die harder in parts of the Empire which are innocent of colour problems, and therefore unhardened to the makeshifts which such problems everywhere impose. South Africans are familiar with a polity built in distinct layers and exhibiting the rights of man in distinct stages of development. People in England, and practically in Australia, are not. Allowance should be made for that. Are not most South Africans outside Natal anti-Indian? Were not all South Africans anti-Chinese till quite recently? If they are converted to the expedient now—and the conversion is admitted by a hostile witness whom both sides respect—it is not because they like the addition to the racial and civic variegations of their country for its own sake, but because they recognise it as the solution of a crisis which could not wait With Milner, whose business it was to find the solution, and whose habit it is to face facts, the recognition was swifter, but the stages of it were the same which South Africa has travelled after him. The crisis which converted him was a double one, economic and political. The economic crisis could not wait, because the commercial, industrial, even the agricultural, prosperity of the whole of South Africa is nowadays so bound up with that of the mining industry that, with the Rand halting, South Africa could not recover from the war. Some critics reason as if the country might have been kept waiting indefinitely for the ideal solution; as if, after all the suffering of the war. South Africa might fitly have been prescribed a long diet of bread of affliction and water of affliction to cool the warlike passions. The gold, they point out, would not have run away. This may be nigh philosophy, but the truth is South Africa could no more afford to be philosophic about the Rand labour problem than Lancashire about a cotton shortage, or Wales about a coal strike. Equally, the political crisis could not wait. The necessary period of autocratic rule should be got through quickly and easily. To let depression drift unrelieved into bankruptcy was at once to make the period odious and indefinitely to prolong it. 'Obviously,' in Milner's own words, 'the interest of the Mother Country must be to grant self-government as quickly and completely as possible'; but even the most impatient agree that to this there are in common-sense and prudence a few conditions precedent, of which the first concerns the strength of that pacific army of occupation, the British population on the goldfields. In Milner's ears the thunder of the mine batteries spoke more for the future than the thunder of the guns. The harsh but wholesome din of 'stamps,' not the clack of tongues, was the right music for this intermezzo, and business, not politics, the right motif. Thus the mines became the first of British interests, and the industrial—or, if you will, the 'capitalist'—policy, became the broad Imperial policy.
In a labyrinth of questions there is generally one in which the practical statesman detects the clue to all the rest. At Bloemfontein it was Franchise. Here it was Labour. By whatever path the problems of the hour were approached—revenue, war contribution, public works, commercial and agricultural distress, the unemployed question, the British immigration question, the Responsible Government question—Milner found ever the same impasse and the one exit. With a great mining expansion, all was possible; without it, nothing. The Labour Commission made it clear that the one key to such expansion was some reinforcement of the African supply of unskilled labour. Unskilled, therefore (in a colour country) coloured; extra-African, therefore Asiatic; Asiatic, therefore (by universal consent) stringently restricted in the interest of the skilled white workman—such was the logic of hard facts. Granting the facts correct (and Milner is not an inquirer easily duped), what escape was there from Milner's conclusion? Granting the case for prompt relief, add that no other form of relief equally prompt was even suggested, and the strongest objection to the Chinese Ordinance is confessed, not absolute, but relative. One escape there was—yes. Wrapping our white robes about us, we might beat a hasty retreat, and 'throw the responsibility on the colonists' own shoulders.' Such a way of 'saving face' would have secured comfort, it seems, to some British consciences. It would have been, at any rate, appropriately Chinese. I have written in vain if the reader needs any exposition why it was not recommended by Milner.
'This is all very well, but hard logic isn't everything. We thought the war was to make South Africa free and British, and now the white South Africa we have heard of turns out to be a community propped up on black and yellow labour!' The appeal, like Mr. Swinburne's 'Before a Crucifix,' is poignant:
'Was it for this—that slaves should be—
Thy word was passed to set men free?
But behind it there is a perfect ganglion of misconceptions. To begin with, a White South Africa must be meaningless upon lips which in the same breath are for sweeping away as semi-servile the difference in status which white minority rule presupposes. What does a White South Africa mean, then, to South Africans? It means a South Africa of white civilization—white rulers and brain-workers and craftsmen, white professional and business men, white skilled workmen, white overseers of the unskilled. It has never yet meant a South Africa of white unskilled labour, whether British or other. Can anyone honestly say that he rushed to arms for the late war on some prospectus of a White South Africa in this latter sense? If so, he was the dupe of his own singular misinformation. In these days the more elementary facts and figures about the Colonies are iterated in school primers and tit-bitted in the papers. To be sure, they who write the papers do not always read them, or some able editors would know better than to denounce Milner for saying that there is no room in South Africa for a white proletariat. If Milner did say so, his infamy, as usual, is that of facing the facts. There is no room simply because the proletariat is there already, and is black. Africa is neither Europe nor quite Asia, but between the two. The population of South Africa, to the extent of some seven-eighths, consists of natives, mainly of negroid race, enjoying full physical vigour. Can able editors project a future for those black masses aloof and apart? Where are you to find place for them in the white industrial scheme, if not as unskilled labour? That is where the line has been roughly drawn hitherto; and philanthropy, while aiming to fit the exceptional black to rise above it, has by no means aimed at intermixing the white below that line. To try that is to butt up against an unwritten social law which everybody who has studied it, either in the breach or the observance, is agreed wisely to let alone; while to escape by substituting whites wholesale implies a revolution in the whole economic system of the country, from Cape Town Docks, where you first encounter the muscular, cheery, sweating Kaffir, away to the Zambesi. A white man's living wage is just four to five times a Kaffir's. That is the gulf between the two standards of wants. Does anybody expect the working man to make it even a shilling less in the name of white immigration? Is the capitalist, then, expected in the same name to recast his business on the basis of paying a white man a minimum of nine or ten shillings a day for work the Kaffir does at two shillings?
Such are the heroic revolutions, social and economic, which it is suggested that Milner should have forced upon a staple industry in a time of struggling recovery after war. He decided otherwise. Of all men, he was the least likely—much less likely than some of his Australian critics have shown themselves in Australia—to forget the Imperial aspects of British immigration. But the British workers whom he sought were not drifting casuals, but men who would settle and bring up families in the country. And that these could only be skilled men at skilled wages I will cite a hostile but candid witness. Mr. Thomas Burt, M.P., writes in 'A Visit to the Transvaal':
'The pay for white unskilled labour on the mines has generally been about 9s. to 10s. per day, while skilled white workers have received from 17s. to 20s.—some of them much more. Now, while 9s. per day would be regarded as a very big wage for an unskilled labourer in England, it is little more than a living wage, even for a single man, in and around Johannesburg. For a married man with a family such a wage is wholly inadequate.'
It is a bachelor white proletariat, then, that Milner is censured for not promoting. Strange, since the censors would have the Chinese coolie wived almost whether he will or no.
We can now sum up on the whole question of Milner's so-called capitalism. 'Hand and glove with capitalists' is the hostile phrase. Hand and glove with the mining industry would express his avowed policy; and we have traced its reasoned grounds. His work for the mines was as much for the miners as for their employers—nay, more, for to him the miners represent the British vote. Against the employers evidence can be quoted out of their own mouths that they would rather not see too big a workman's vote along the Rand; they fear trades unions and labour politics. Milner's preoccupation was obviously something quite different: it was to balance the Boer vote at the poll, and nobody imagines that he counted on doing that with a register of millionaires.
Is it suggested, then, that he should not have taken counsel with the heads of the industry, but rather with the hands? That there is sterling stuff in the British mechanics of South Africa was proved in the war. The engine-drivers and railway hands lived an epic of quiet everyday heroism. But in the ranks of labour in the Transvaal Milner did not find any advanced development either of union or of political leadership. There was a backwardness, which Mr. Burt notices and deplores. I do not mean on the Chinese question merely. On that there has been no clear and consistent voice either way. I mean all round. Bring it to the test of actuality. Try to exemplify the broader statesmanship of labour which Milner (presumably) ought to have called in as against the class interest or narrower local interest of capitalist counsels. I doubt if anyone would care to name any actual Transvaal Labour leader, and compare in this sense the line such a leader actually took on test questions with the line actually taken, say, by a typical 'Randlord' like Sir Percy Fitzpatrick. Such questions, I mean, as the war contribution, the 10 per cent. profit tax, or that novel and provident piece of State socialism which has secured to a Colony for the first time the lion's share of the profits of a diamond mine. The truth is that, especially in the Transvaal, the skilled workman is a bit of a capitalist himself, and the real dividing-line is between those in each class who have the quickening touch of public spirit and those who have not. Milner simply enlisted that spirit where he found it, disregarding class.
There are working men, no doubt, especially while hard times last, who fondly recall piping times under Kruger, and wish they could have them back, 'grievances and all.' Mr. Burt cites one such with a complaisance which I find puzzling. The fatted helot is not the type of artisan citizen which Mr. Burt affects at home. He should have compared notes about that man with some keen democratic politician of Transvaal domicile. Would that he could have done so with his fellow Tynesider and Radical, the late C. R. Dodd! Light would then have been thrown upon that breach between home and colonial Liberals which Lord Rosebery lately deplored. So, too, there are certain capitalists who sigh for the back-stairs of the old regime. Those whom one sees quoted by English Liberals with seeming approval on such matters as war contribution are mostly of this school. Those of us who know their record, and remember with what groaning winches, if at all, they had to be dragged mto line for reform, are not surprised that they grudge its price. The mingled exactions and concessions of Kruger's days were really more in their atmosphere than the direct taxation of Milner's. But we can all see that this spirit of 'hang-the-franchise' and 'make-your-pile-and-quit' is the selfsame spirit in Mr. Burt's workman and in these cosmopolitan capitalists. Why, if in them it is the essence of all that is ignoble and unpatriotic, does it become in a British-born artisan something to be quoted with respect by a British democratic leader? Against them both set such a typical 'Randlord' as the one I instanced. Nothing of the cosmopolite about him! A South-African-born colonist, full of old Barberton and Bush-veld memories, who risked his neck for politics in the reform days and is heart and soul in the future of the country. Most of the same claims can be made for others as typical, like Sir George Farrar and Mr. Abe Bailey. How many Rand working men have served so long a civic apprenticeship to the Transvaal?
To conclude this part of the subject, I will only add that those who fancy Milner's a likely temperament for 'a capitalist tool' should study the quiet firmness with which he crushed the incipient agitation against his enforcement of the 10 per cent. profit tax. That incident makes its own comment upon the parrot-cry. The same cry was screamed at the Jameson Ministry at the Cape. They answered it with such a graduated income tax as Liberalism in England cannot yet boast of. I ask my English Liberal friends, who call my Cape Progressive friends 'the capitalist party,' when they will be able to show the like. Graduated death duties are their top mark in democratic finance so far; and it is worth recalling that that instrument was shaped for them, as Sir William Harcourt handsomely testified, by the hand and brain of Milner.
The thread of our story can now run to a finish, disencumbered of controversy.
After his labours at Vereeniging for a secure peace, labours which proved not less anxious and critical than those which preceded the war and dogged it to its close, Milner girded up his loins for a work as great and more congenial. With relentless industry, that labor improbus which stamps all he undertakes, he plunged into the heart of the chaos left by war and began to build the new order. The task was a heroic one. Everything cried out to be done at once, and there was no civil service and no tradition. Milner's plans, long pondered, were projected on large and noble lines. All the world counted on a flowing tide as the natural sequel to peace and to the British flag—that great commercial asset, as Rhodes, in an absurdly misrepresented phrase, with just pride described it. The main concern was how to make the sluices of the State big enough for the tide to flow in. Then came the check. All the world proved wrong. Instead of tide, it was ebb, ebb, till it touched the lowest low water-mark of local experience.
At first, speed had to be everything, economy nothing—now it was all the other way. Everything had to be improvised all over again on a humbler scale, and to a chorus of grumbles about extravagance, parsimony, disproportion, round pegs in square holes, and all the voces populi of a time of retrenchment. The solution of the labour trouble was only reached after a long and wearing controversy, and, meanwhile, finance became a formidable problem. Milner had not served for nothing in Egypt and at Somerset House; he made ends meet and carried on. But the opportunity of hard times was golden for all natural foes of the new Administration. It was not lost on the Boer Generals, nor on the Boer pastors, ever the chief cherishers of the sacred embers of race-feeling. Some promising cries were started. Milner was abundantly justified of his foresight in insisting that there should be nothing implied, but everything in black and white, in the terms of peace. Happily, the Boers were busy, like thrifty men, in getting the most they could out of repatriation funds, loans, and advances. They echoed the cries, but stuck to business, and, on the whole, disappointed nobody except our own 'pro-Boers,' those strange persons who talk so much about 'miscalculations,' but who had to learn from the peace that it is they who miscalculated the Dutch temper, just as they learnt from the war that it is they who miscalculated the English. On the other hand, the quarter where economic disappointment was bound to tell most was among the Administration's natural friends. Johannesburg split into parties. It was no longer possible to say that for the first time on record the Dutch were divided and the British united. The solid and soberer part, probably the larger, remembered the pit from which they had been digged, and who digged them. They recognised the stern overshadowing conditions, which must, in this case, check and school the natural precocity of British colonists in outgrowing Imperial leading-strings. Others, at one time the most vocal, became the pupils (or, as they claim, the teachers) of the Boer pastors and ex-Generals; and many were those who vented their disappointment, if not on Milner personally, freely and loudly on 'Milner's young men.' For the public service, Milner was accused of a leaning to young, well-educated Englishmen, raw to their work and to the country. His 'Balliol kindergarten,' as a wag called it, insured a sharp break with old, bad traditions, and it produced some brilliant successes; but no doubt the rawness had its own drawbacks. Post-haste appointments, in any case, had to yield some percentage of failures; but the few conspicuous ones, oddly enough, were not among the 'high-salaried novices' of the outcry (whose services, if retrenched, were apt to be promptly snapped up at salaries as high or higher by business houses), but among tried men who, in the war, had emerged as conspicuous administrative successes. So exacting were the changed conditions, I am enough of a democrat to find a certain satisfaction in believing that capable autocracy has its points of weakness to set off those of admitted strength in the comparison with the popular machine. If the latter is apt to turn too quickly upon an impugned and struggling servant, the former, unless Russian or Oriental, is apt to be over-loyal to fidelity. The new Administration's critics complained that Milner was so. He expected much of his men, and got much; but he gave as loyally. Grounds for grumbling no doubt there were. 'I myself,' says Milner, 'could point out more mistakes than any of the cavillers.' But when all is said, the practical test remains. 'By their fruits ye shall know them.' Milner and his men, official and unofficial—for we must not forget his success in drawing on the best men of all classes for his representative advisers—took over the country 'a total wreck, with half its population in exile.' They found its railways and telegraphs a battlefield, and left them better than they had ever been in peace. They extended them by hundreds of miles and repaired roads by hundreds of leagues. They laid out two to three millions in building town schools and farm schools, hospitals and orphanages and prisons, dwellings for teachers and magistrates and police. They brought the Statute-book from a jumble to a model. They found free municipalities nowhere, and created them for every town. They started expert departments, studied irrigation, founded experimental farms, brought in breed-stock, planted forests. They actually doubled the country's record in the number of children being taught in the free schools. In a word, they found a Colony without the running plant of civilization, and in three years' work created it. 'Rough, but not scamped,' is Milner's summary of the work's quality; its amount speaks for itself. Milner left it to speak when hard times blew a gust of unpopularity. He is one of those
'Whose blood and judgment are so well co-mingled
That they are not a pipe for Fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please.
To the clamour of short-sighted impatience—and Johannesburg, though to him personally loyal, is not the home of patience—he was deaf even when it was swollen by some who in less searching times had been loud in eulogy. How popular, and for a departing dictator how easy, to make a premature concession to the Responsible Government party! He was stone to the temptation—he would not even, as I think he might well have done, withdraw before he left that armoury of special powers against sedition, which he had long been able to leave rusting. No; all the more tempting fruit he would leave ripening for his successor. Lord Selborne's task, so well begun, will be perhaps the easier for it. And, in the end, Milner had his reward. When the time came to leave, the community he had served took thought and suddenly found its voice. There was one of those great lifting waves of deeper feeling in which the cavils and dissensions of the hour are drowned, and Milner laid down his office heartened by such a demonstration as neither he nor South Africa is likely to forget. His countrymen in that part of the Empire have ranked him among the great proconsuls. I believe that time and a wider tribunal will confirm their verdict.
In Milner's farewell speeches—strangely impressive to those who heard them, and in their pregnant plainness the best commentary offered yet by mend or foe upon his work in the Transvaal—there was one note of personal regret, one sigh of disappointment. Men, he said, would probably choose to remember him in connection with the war, and he would rather they connected him with the tremendous effort made to build up a national fabric after the peace. The passage is suggestive. One recalls how it was the real ambition of William Pitt the younger to reform his country's finance, though a hard fate compelled him instead to be the figurehead of an exhausting national struggle and the theme of Coleridge's ghastly lampoon, 'Fire, Famine, and Slaughter.' 'His enthusiasm,' in Lord Rosebery's words, 'was all for peace, retrenchment, and reform. … He had the consciousness of a boundless capacity for meeting the real requirements of the country '; but he was reserved for a sterner task, glorious indeed, but one that involved 'wrecking his whole financial edifice … postponing and repressing all his projected reforms.'
To Milner's own mind his South African career should have had two chapters. The first we have traced. To secure that the coming union should be within, not without the British Empire, and to inspire and weld into one convinced, high-tempered whole the British in South Africa, in Great Britain, and throughout the Empire, till that issue was decided—this chapter Milner completed; and any man might be content to live by it. But Milner aspired to a second chapter, beside which, could it have been fully written, the former should have seemed, as it will some day seem in the history of the country, a mere prologue, a destructive though necessary interlude. To complete the fabric of union, to celebrate what might be called the Dutch-English house-warming, and leave the South African people installed in the charge and governance of its own future—this is denied him. Like Rhodes, he has had to leave for other hands the setting of the coping-stone upon that fabric—nay, he does not claim to have earned it above the foundations; and, hater of glozing as he is, he makes no secret of his feeling that to this part of his task his countrymen have yet to do full justice. They will be readier to do it, no doubt, when the economic revival already traceable as the belated reward of his last efforts goes pulsing full through all the arteries of South African lire. He had every temptation to hold on till then, if it had been physically possible. But it was not to be. The opportunity of a lifetime, Milner's opportunity as an Ædile on the grand scale, has ebbed away. For that, statesmanship needs to be able to bring to yoke Pharaoh's fat kine, the years of plenty; and all that Milner has had to inspan has been the lean, the lean, and again the lean. No Assouan Barrages for him! In the south of Africa as in the north he has had to prepare surpluses for those who follow, not to enjoy them himself. The economic world-currents that govern depression and recovery are leisurely and incalculable. It is a tide that takes its own time to ebb and flow. Sensitive to ill it may be: a war, a broil, a rumour can retard it; but hasten it will not, for any man, neither to enable an overworked High Commissioner to see the fruit of his hands and bring his sheaves with him, nor to relieve an English-speaking community, good at work but less good at waiting, which has had to bear, sometimes with little to sustain it beyond his example, so long a strain on its loyalty. Through weary years the traders and workers of South Africa have been watching for the turn of that tide, and only heard
'Its melancholy, long withdrawing roar
… down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
'Fancy quoting Matthew Arnold to describe a slump!' sneers somebody. Pray, sir, were you ever a young colonist trying to build up a home in a new country? The tide is turning at last, but too late for many smaller men, and too late for Milner. The undertow has tired him out.
In irrigation, in forestry, in communications, above all, in land colonization, his full plans would have changed the face of the country. Some of them, perhaps, may never be realized now; the day of opulence will come, but not the day of opulent dictatorship; they will remain like those massive stone zimbabwes out in the African veld, which time and nature cannot obliterate, but on which posterity will never build. But much is well begun, and abides the coming of the better years for triumphant completion. In education of every grade; in local government; in the administrative frame and scaffolding; in all his essays towards a broad working compromise upon those questions of colour which are the despair of theorists and dangerous sport of local factions, English, African, Australian, and Indian, each too narrow to consider the others or the Empire; in customs union, a federal step; in the approach to railway union, another federal step; in the Intercolonial Council which he unflinchingly maintained as being, despite its unpopularity with the impatient, the one step possible at this stage towards making federation organic; last, not least, in the settlement of the bases of representation for the new interim constitution upon lines which do not compromise the future—a service second only to that rendered at Vereeniging over the terms of peace—in all this, I believe, Milner's lines have been well and truly laid, and, as in Rhodes's apologue of the avenue of osk saplings, those who come after will not greatly alter those lines. At least, if Milner has had to share Pitt's disappointment, he must be allowed to share Pitt's title of the 'pilot who weathered the storm.' Nor will men who know hesitate to apply to him also certain words that were used of William Pitt the elder, that warrior invalid. The eight years of Milner's South African service were hard years for those who bore responsibility, even if of iron frame. They pulled down Rhodes and the veteran Kruger. They made wrecks of Mr. Steyn and Mr. Reitz. They left the Unionist war Ministry a prey to the flaccid exhaustion which ever since has benumbed British politics. In Milner they strained well-nigh to breaking-point a physical constitution notoriously unequal to the will that drove it. The ageing tale of them is scored very legibly on the long, lean face, with its look of watchfulness. But all who during those hard years had to do with him, be they soldiers or civilians, will echo of Milner what was said of Chatham: that 'no one ever left his cabinet without feeling himself a braver man.'
- Johannesburg, March 31, 1905.
- If Sir Charles Warren desires (as he clearly needs) more light on Rhodes's part in the obscure Cape politics of that period, he might seek it from an unimpeachable witness like Sir James Rose-Innes.
- F. H. P. Creswell, 'The Chinese Labour Question from Within,' p. 89.
- Speech at Johannesburg, March 31, 1905.
- The three speeches are issued in a sixpenny reprint by the Imperial South African Association, 66, Victoria Street, Westminster.