HC Deb 23 March 1925 vol 182 cc45-54

I hope, Sir, with the permission of the House, to make a few observations on the loss the Government and the country have sustained by the death of one of the greatest men and the most vivid personalities of this generation. I do so before this House in the knowledge that there are few here who can remember him in his earlier years, when, as a young man, he was a distinguished Member of this House, and one to whose future everyone looked forward with hope and with confidence. But I am particularly anxious, in a case like this, to try to give Members of the House some impression of the man himself, what lay behind, and what was the real man, which has been somewhat obscured in more recent years when he had withdrawn more from Debates and from appearances in public.

It is difficult for us—who knew Lord Curzon after great honours had come to him, earned during a long life of service—to realise that he started many years ago with few advantages except his natural abilities and such advantages as might have accrued to him from belonging to a noble family. He was, in many senses of the word, a self-made man, because it was his natural ability, his fierce industry, and his courage which made him, from an early period of life, map out the scheme of what he would do. He was the architect of his own fortune; he made his own friends; and he qualified himself for the great tasks of his life, not only by ceaseless study from early years, but by travel in what were then comparatively unknown parts of the world, by books, and by consorting with men of all kinds and in all countries.

His interests were exceptionally wide, and he proceeded to make himself a master of every subject in which his keen mind took an interest. So it is that the death of one primarily known to us as a statesman and a politician leaves more gaps in the public life of this country than would be the ease with almost any other living man. As a student of the classics, a deep student of history, of pictures and of archæology, his loss will be felt as much among the Trustees of the British Museum and the Trustees of the National Gallery as in the Cabinet, and his loss will perhaps be greatest in that Oxford that he loved so much. Oxford, as we know, "whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age," spoke to him as she speaks to all her sons who have ears to hear, and to him perhaps more than most. Especially so, I think, because one of the keys to Lord Curzon's life is to remember that his roots had struck deep into pre-industrial England, and it is from an early England that he drew the sources of his strength. So it was that he had, possibly, less acquaintance with and interest in many of these strange currents of modern life in England, his mind turning naturally more to England in foreign and Imperial polities; and yet—let there be no misunderstanding here—no proposal that could be made for the betterment of our people at home was welcomed more eagerly than by him, in very much the same spirit that it would have been welcomed by young England in the days of Disraeli's youth, of which period, in many ways, he seemed to be, even to-day, a member.

His learning, the learning of years, and the natural aptitude which he had, gave him a power of natural expression, whether in writing or in speech, that would have been remarkable at any time. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of it was that, great as it appeared to us when we heard him speaking in either this House or in another place, his quickness of mind was such that it was no less great when impromptu and without notice. The subject matter and the humour bubbled up afresh, and at a moment's notice.

With that equipment and that training, and with the training he obtained in this House, it is little wonder that he was able to enter upon one of the greatest phases of his life's work in India at so early an age for one occupying a position of such immense authority. There is no doubt that, while he has always been and always was a man whose heart and soul were for England and the Empire, yet his best friends would own that it was India and the East that held his imagination from his early youth until the end of his life. He regarded the presence of the Englishman in India as the presence of a man with a mission, and he regarded him as the servant of our country on a sacred mission. He never flinched from those high ideals and earnest endeavours, and, in spite of all, he held the scales of justice even in that great country.

But there, just as in his life afterwards, and in his political life, while he never sought popularity, he was always grateful for appreciation. He was, it is true, exacting to others, and he demanded a very high standard, but he was not nearly so exacting to others as he was to himself. The standard that he demanded from others he demanded in a triple measure from himself.

But these things that I have said are well known, and they may be found in biographies. But I want, if I may, for a few minutes to try to look a little more under the surface. Lord Curzon was a man who erected a façade about himself, a façade which deceived many people, and was the product of a natural shyness, an intense and exquisite sensitiveness. It is no uncommon thing, as each of us may know in our own lives, and moving among the men we know, that human beings in this world who suffer from sensitiveness do put something between themselves and their fellow men to ward off the shafts which they dread, while underneath there beats the kindest, warmest human heart.

There was a nature, contrary to what many might believe who did not know him, of the uttermost simplicity. The Eternal Boy lived in him until the last week of his life. He was the soul of loyalty to his colleagues, he bore no grudges in political life, he pursued a straight course; and all this in the face of daily and constant physical suffering. Of that many knew nothing, because it was a thing of which he never spoke. But I have seen him at the Cabinet, I have seen him at a dinner party, and if he were not able to have the necessary cushions to support his back, his suffering would be as the suffering of a man on the rack. And that he fought against day by day. When we look back upon him, I feel that what Lord Rosebery said of William Pitt to be so true of him, that, whatever men may feel about his life or his acts, they must be agreed that England had in this generation no more patriotic spirit, none more intrepid, and none more pure.

I want before I sit down to say one or two things that no one but I can say. A Prime Minister sees human nature bared to the bone, and it was my chance to see him twice when he suffered great disappointment—the time when I was preferred to him as Prime Minister, and the time when I had to tell him that he could render greater service to the country as Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence than in the Foreign Office. Each of those occasions was a profound and bitter disappointment to him. But never for one moment when he had faced the facts did he show by word, look or innuendo, or by any reference to the subject afterwards, that he was dissatisfied. He bore no grudge, and he pursued no other course than the one I expected of him—of doing his duty where it was decided that he could best render service.

I felt on both those occasions that I had seen in him—in that strange alloy which we call human nature—a vien of the purest gold. He died as he would have desired, and as we should all desire to die, in harness, a harness put on himself in youth, and worn triumphantly through a long life, a harness which he never cast off until his feet had entered the river. It may well be, when we look back on that life of devoted service to his country, and of a perpetual triumph of the spirit over the flesh, that in some places in this earth, early on that Friday morning, there may have been heard the faint echoes of the trumpets that sounded for him on the Other Side.


I rise to add my voice and the voice of my colleagues to the tribute that has just been paid by the Leader of the House to the late Lord Curzon, and to give expression to our appreciation of a great public servant. It may show his family in what high esteem he was held by the House of Commons. I cannot, of course, enter into those delicate intimacies that the Leader of the House has just revealed. I am afraid that my acquaintance with Lord Curzon was more casual than intimate. I am afraid that I am one of those who only just penetrated that extraordinary armour that the proud and sensitive man so often puts on in order to shield himself from the world, an armour which does more than shield him from the world; as those who have it know only too well, its existence increases some of the misunderstandings that they desire to avoid. But as one who just penetrated, barely penetrated, that armour that was worn by the late Lord Curzon, I did feel that behind it there was the mind, the courage, and the faithfulness of one who was cast in a very large human mould.

Lord Curzon sat at the knee of a generation that sat with stiffer dignity on its chairs than we do and that talked in more sonorous tones than we do. He always reminded me of some of those people whom we have all known who quaintly appear on high days and holidays in garments cut after the fashion of the earlier Georgeans. Lord Curzon's manner always carried us back to the antique. He had a Fine pomposity and a magnificent openness and roundness of demeanour, and when we see them exemplified in men of high dignity, we sometimes wonder if their loss has not been a real loss to the amenities of civilised life. If it be true that the Whigs were distinguished by class exclusiveness, by a conviction that only down their own line the class of governors came, and by a conviction that their own interests were as near as no matter absolutely identical with the interests of the State, and yet, along with this, by a very rigid conception of public honour and public duty, then I think Lord Curzon would not have objected to be enrolled among that very distinguished generation of men.

I saw him in two aspects, both magnificent, both impressive. I saw him as the disciple, the aspostle, and the custodian of our artistic properties, as a lover of art, and a fine appreciator of literature. Then he was, as the Leader of the House expressed it, a boy; the façade fell away and the armour put off. We saw nothing but an absorbed, completely interested connoisseur, one who could talk with openness of mind and geniality of spirit, and in that respect Lard Curzon did a service to the nation which it is very difficult for us at this early moment after his death to appreciate fully.

When I went to India for the first time, in my wanderings I came across magnificent pieces of Indian architecture, sometimes temples, sometimes summer houses, sometimes mere embankments coped with white marble, sometimes palaces, sometimes mere ruins of tombs and remnants like that. Before I had seen many of them I was very much struck with the sort of sacred care that their condition showed. I asked in Madras, I asked in Cawnpore, and I asked at various places who was the custodian of these things, and one and all replied, "His Excellency the Viceroy, Lord Curzon." Lord Curzon has left behind him in India an appreciation of the architecture and the arts of India which would have been very much more dim than it now is had he never gone out as Viceroy.

Then he added to his other great qualities his fine sense of public duty. I have never come across a man who, whatever our differences were and from whatever variety of angles we looked at our various problems, who assumed more readily, and who made you assume, of course, that the first duty of a man who professed to be a public man was to sacrifice everything to his public duty. That was why Lord Curzon would undergo the terrible pain from which he so often suffered and yet do his work.

I think the Leader of the House said something that perhaps I ought to repeat on account of an office which I held quite recently. Lord Curzon was very often blamed—I heard it in India, and I heard it at home—for overworking his subordinates. Those of us who, perhaps, are easier going, understand the complaint, but this may always be said for Lord Curzon: If he overworked anybody, the person he overworked most of all was himself. In the performance of his duty, he confused the hours of night and day—they were all one to him—and nobody can go to the Foreign Office now and look back upon the old files, should anything necessitate their production, without being amazed at the amount of industry, the amount of knowledge, and the amount of patience that are written upon them by the hand of the late Lord Curzon. And so much more as an outsider than my right hon. Friend my tribute to Lord Curzon has to be paid. I am sure that the rebuffs of his exterior will fade and vanish with time and that what will remain will be the memory of a great public servant, a man who never stinted himself in doing his duty to the public, a man who was a fine colleague, a man who was a very high spirit, and had a very noble ideal of public duty which may well be emulated by his successors.


My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) would have been here to take his part to-day if his voice had sufficiently recovered, but in his absence it falls to me to express, in quite a few sentences, on behalf of the Liberals of the House, our desire to be associated in the fullest measure with the tributes which have been paid to this most accomplished and remarkable man. Occasions like these which occur from time to time as great figures pass away are always trying and difficult, very difficult for anybody who is called upon to say anything in the course of our proceedings. The object of all of us is not to indulge in indiscriminate praise, but to select for memory and admiration high and noble qualities which really mark out the particular individual whose loss we deplore. I think I speak for the House as a whole when I say that we feel that that duty has been very admirably discharged by both the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition.

Without attempting at all to rival them or to go over the ground again, let me select two qualities which I have again and again had good reason to mark in the character of Lord Curzon—two qualities which, I think, specially distinguished him, and two qualities which it is well for Members of Parliament to dwell upon and to admire. First, I would put the unremitting and devoted diligence with which he prepared himself for and carried through every task which he undertook. He was a man of the most unusual accomplishments, and he was not likely to be abashed or found wanting because he had to act without full preparation of speech or argument., and yet I doubt if there has been a man in our generation who has more constantly thought it his duty to prepare himself fully for every public task. In a phrase which is very often misquoted, Thomas Carlyle, in his life of Frederick, declares that Genius is a trantscendant capacity for taking trouble first of all. And certainly of all the great public figures of our time, and I should think—if we were to include them—even of past ages, Lord Curzon stands very high, if you apply that test to his public performances. I recall an incident which, perhaps, is the more striking because the circumstances were not in themselves very important. It occurred during the first Coalition Government. Lord Curzon was good enough to undertake the duty of representing the Home Office in the House of Lords, and on three or four occasions when I was Home Secretary matters arose in another place which called for an answer from the Departmental point of view. I shall always preserve, with the most unfailing admiration and respect, a memory of the way in which Lord Curzon, who had much greater matters of real importance to attend to at the time, not only was willing to put himself at the service of the Department, to learn up it might be some quite small and unimportant details, but insisted upon being fully and completely informed of every aspect of the controversy with which he might be called upon to deal. I do not suppose that Lord Curzon ever stamped a, piece of public work. Whether as Chancellor of an ancient University, whether as trustee of the artistic and architectural possessions of the nation, or whether in the varied field of his political activities, he showed from first to last a thoroughness which would have satisfied Mr. Gladstone himself.

The second quality, the only other that I will delay the House to refer to, is one which the Leader of the Opposition has already touched upon in a phrase. It is that quality which justifies acute controversy between honest men; I am rather disposed to say that it is that quality which alone makes public life tolerable. It is the exercise of public spirit; and those of us who may have had most reason from time to time to differ from Lord Curzon in his policy, and, in some respects, in his outlook, were the very first to acknowledge that in him you had a splendid example of high-minded and disinterested public spirit. From his earliest years, by study, by travel, by writing, by taking every possible opportunity of association with affairs, he had prepared himself for the part he was to play. Neither poor health nor disappointed ambition ever dulled the edge of his resolve to devote the best that was in him to the work of the State. We hero in the House of Commons, where he first made his fame and first displayed his remarkable qualities of mind, knowledge and speech—we here to-day not only mourn the passing of a distinguished representative of a great political party, but we deplore a grievous impoverishment to the public service as a whole.


I have hesitated very much whether it would be becoming in me, after the series of speeches that have been delivered, to add a word, but I do so for a special reason, of which I will tell the House presently. I am one who met Lord Curzon when he came, as a fortunate and triumphant youth, to London, and who spent 12 years as his colleague when he was a Member of the House of Commons. Nobody who did not go through these experiences can realise what was the loss to the House of

Commons when he ceased to be one of its Members. I would also add that I owe him innumerable acts of personal kindness, I was never deceived by external appearances, and I had many opportunities of realising the real kindly courtesy and the passionate affections that underlay what the Prime Minister has called his facade of reserve. My real reason, however, for rising, is that, as an English voice and a Scottish voice have been heard, I do not think I would be true to the generous instincts of my own people if I did not join an Irish voice to those of others. We have some quaint prophecies in our Irish history that have an uncanny method of being realised, or seeming to be realised, in future history; and one of these, which rather surprised me, was told me by an Irishman the other day. It was that an old Irish prophetess prophecied that one day an Irishman would be found weeping over an Englishman's grave. To-day I, as an Irishman, weep over a great Englishman's grave.