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Herbert Samuel

( Originally Published 1907 )

AT an Eighty Club dinner not long ago I was seated beside the Chairman, who chanced to be Mr. Herbert Samuel. It was what is known as a House Dinner an occasion of more or less informal debate on a given political subject of the moment. Those who desire to speak are requested to send up their names to the steward, who, on this occasion, was myself. As in-variably happens at Eighty Club functions, there was an abundance of men ready to talk, for political speaking is the raison d'être of the Club. The names were put down in order and handed to the Chairman. He took them, and, turning to me, said, " You will speak." I replied that I had no intention of speaking. " Oh yes," said Mr. Samuel, "you must speak." And he inserted my name high up on the list. I laughed and took an opportunity of putting my pen through the name. He smiled, took up his pen, and restored it. " I am serious," I said. " So am I," he replied. When the list was exhausted as far as my name I said, " Please pass my name." Without turning he announced me to follow. And I obeyed.

I do not mention this incident in any spirit of retaliation, but because it illustrates the character of Mr. Herbert Samuel better than anything I can recall. He is implacable and masterful--a man clothed in a suit of impenetrable mail. It is his golden rule to have his own way, not for selfish reasons, but because it is the right way. Argument is wasted on him, entreaty breaks helplessly at the foot of his frozen purpose. He hears your arguments with a polite air of having heard all of them from the beginning and found them worthless. He listens to your appeals with the chill calm of an iceberg. It would be easier, I think, to extract tears from the Cromwell statue than to extract from Mr. Samuel a concession which he did not wish to make.

If one were asked to find the antithesis of Mr. Balfour in the House of Commons, one would turn, I think, to Mr. Samuel. With Mr. Balfour all is speculative and formless. There is nothing fixed and absolute. He is stricken with the paralysis of in-decision. Mr. Samuel, on the other hand, makes decision a habit of mind. I imagine he has a settled conviction about everything under the sun. If there is anything about which he has no settled conviction then it is outside the range of his interests and does not exist for him. He is one of those men whose minds are always " made up." You do not see them in the process of being " made up." It is as though they were " made up " to start with on the basis of some absolute formula which leaves nothing more to be said. Everything is chose jugée. In Mr. Samuel's precise and profusely pigeon-holed mind there is no room for hesitation about conclusions, because there is no room for doubt about facts.

There is nothing of the Oriental man of mystery about Mr. Samuel; but one would have to search long and industriously to discover the reality that dwells behind this perfectly equipped defence. Most men have their moments of unofficial freedom moments, after dinner, for example, when they throw off the mask and delight to be gloriously indiscreet. Holmes says that every man has two doors to himself, one which he keeps open to the world, and another through which only the privileged are permitted to enter, or which is opened in moments of deep feeling or generous confidence. In the case of Mr. Samuel one feels that the key rusts in the lock of that secret door. " He has made discretion into a fine art," said one of his colleagues to me.

He is the type of efficiency. There is no more industrious man in the Ministry, none whom you find more completely equipped in knowledge or in clear-cut, decisive opinion. No matter what subject you raise bearing on his department, you find that this undemonstrative, wise young man is prepared to crush you with Blue Books you have never heard of, and experiences of places where you have never been. When I met him at the Sweated Industries Exhibition, the impression left was that of a man who had nothing to learn on the subject. He had studied it in the East End; he had studied it on the Continent years before; he could tell you more than you could ever hope to know. You felt humbled and cheap.

In this enormous capacity for mastering the details of a subject, this enthusiasm for the letter, as it were, he is typical of his race. The genius of the Jew is the genius for taking infinite pains. He may Iack inspiration, but his power of application, his mastery of the letter, gives him a knowledge that is more potent than inspiration. Where the " book " is concerned, he is unrivalled. He stakes out a " claim with calculating confidence, and develops it with an unremitting industry and an unimpassioned concentration that assure success. He gets up his subject with a thoroughness that the Englishman rarely imitates. Lasker has not the fascination of Morphy, or even of Pillsbury; but he is the greatest chess-player that ever lived, for he " knows chess as no man ever knew it before. The Jew rarely produces great art or great music; but he is supreme in his knowledge of those realms. It is nearly always a Jew who is the expert Shakespearean scholar, just as it is always a Jew who will decide the authenticity of a Van Eyck or a Botticelli. When one of the Rothschilds advised Buxton on his career, he warned him against scattering his energies. " Concentration," he said, " is the one road to success in business; dispersion the one certainty of failure. Stick to brewing and you will be the first brewer in London. Take up banking, shipping, commerce, and your name will soon appear in the Gazette." It was the Jew revealing the secret of the astonishing success of his race.

Mr. Samuel's faculty for mastering detail was revealed in the Children's Bill, which Mr. Herbert Gladstone surrendered entirely to his hands. No more humane measure has ever been before Parliament, and certainly Parliament never saw a measure more ably handled, both in the House and in Committee. It was impossible to find a flaw in the workmanship, and Mr. Samuel's skill in Committee won the rare distinction of a dinner in honour of his success. It was the success of one who has in remarkable combination the suaviter in modo and the fortiter in re. He is thrice armed, for he adds to knowledge rare astuteness and blameless temper. It is impossible to trip him up, either in fact or in feeling. He has the enormous advantage of always knowing more about his subject than his opponent, and that is a great aid to serenity of temper. " There are two ways of governing men," said Disraeli in one of his novels. " Either you must be superior to them, or despise them." Mr. Samuel has adopted the better way.

His philosophy of conduct, I take it, is similar to that of Mr. Chamberlain. It was the practice of Mr. Chamberlain to come into counsel with everything cut and dried. It was his role to " put things through." He knew that men are always ready to follow anyone who will tell them what to do. " l see how things go in the Cabinet," said Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman on one occasion, after he had been called in by Lord Salisbury to advise in regard to some Royal and non - party question. " Lord Salisbury explains that nothing can be done, and that, even if anything could be done, it would probably be a miserable failure. And then he calls on Mr. Balfour to say a few words, and Mr. Balfour's head ascends into the clouds and he invests the subject with a delicate haze, after which : ' Perhaps the Colonial Secretary has a suggestion,' says the Premier. And Mr. Chamberlain comes forward prompt and practical, with his scheme down in black and white, and his mind made up, and—the thing is done." As in the Cabinet, so on committees and councils of all sorts. One of the governors of the Birmingham University tells that on one occasion Mr. Chamberlain startled the meeting by saying that what the University wanted was a Siena tower. "A Siena tower!" exclaimed his colleagues in alarm. " What we want is a chair for this and a chair for that, and--" " What we want is a Siena tower," said Mr. Chamber-lain icily, as though he were speaking through the twittering of sparrows, " and "—putting his hand in his pocket—" to save time I have had some drawings prepared." And, says the informant, we found our-selves outside half an hour later, having agreed to the erection of a Siena tower which none of us wanted, at a cost of £50,000, which we hadn't got, and which we needed for the equipment of the University. Those who have acted on committees with Mr. Samuel will recognise the likeness. He also comes, as it were, with his design for a Siena tower in his pocket. He does not say much. He is quiet and unobtrusive as the talk wanders on around him. Then, at the perfectly chosen moment, he interposes with chill incisiveness and enormous gravity, and you feel that an end has come to the vapourings of irresponsible frivolity. Perhaps you feel that the incisiveness is studied and the gravity a little excessive; but that does not diminish the impression. A keen blade has been suddenly run through a bag of idle wind. He conveys no impression of enthusiasm and is as free from passion as an oyster. He will never give his leader or his party a moment's disquiet, for he will never depart a hair's-breadth from the path of strict correctitude. He says exactly the right word in exactly the right accent. His work is done without a flaw, and if his manner lacks a little the spontaneous warmth that takes men captive, it has the unruffled and considered courtesy that sheds a certain grave decorum, not to say solemnity, over your intercourse. " Manners," said Emerson, " were invented to keep fools at a distance," and though Mr. Samuel would not put it so crudely as that, he probably agrees with the sentiment.

I have been told by one who was a comrade of his in childhood that his favourite amusement was politics, and that when other boys were reading Ballantyne he was reading Blue Books. For him, indeed, one can conceive no

youth of roselight and romance wherein
He dreamt of paynim and of paladin

no time when he cherished a sentiment or coquetted with an illusion. One can imagine him as a boy at University College School planning out his future with the quiet certitude of a athematical mind engaged on an easy negotiable proposition, and, having planned it, working silently and unceasingly for its accomplishment. It is characteristic of his assured restraint that, ambitious as he is, he has never sought to force the pace of his progress. No extravagance of speech or action is ever associated with his carefully considered career. He does not thrust himself into the limelight. He is content to be forgotten. He knows the power of discreet silence as the man of taste knows the value of the blank space on the wall.

Among the potentialities of the Liberalism of the future he and Mr. Masterman are among the most considerable. They represent respectively the science and the sentiment of politics sense and sensibility. The one is intellect; the other emotion. It would be hazardous to cast the horoscope of Mr. Masterman. He is the wind that bloweth where it listeth, indifferent to theories, impatient of slow processes, governed only by a compelling passion for humanity the dreamer of dreams and the seer of visions. It remains to be seen what effect office will have upon a temperament which seems better fitted to inspire than direct. Mr. Samuel's path is as defined and absolute as a geometrical line. He is the artificer of politics, confident of his aim, master of himself and his materials, secure in his opinion, in-flexible in purpose a splendidly efficient instrument, but never an inspiration.

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