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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
David Lloyd George (1863–1945)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Parker Thomas Moon (1892–1936)
 
DAVID LLOYD GEORGE was born in Manchester, January 17th, 1863. His father, a wandering Welsh schoolmaster, died when the future premier was barely two years old, leaving Elizabeth Lloyd George almost penniless with two young children. Returning to Wales, the widow found a home with her unmarried brother, Richard Lloyd, the village shoemaker of Llanystumdwy, under whose generous and almost fatherly care the two boys were given such education as the village school afforded and were nurtured in the spirit of rigid Baptist Non-Conformity. As a mere lad, David Lloyd George learned to rebel against the control which the Anglican Church exercised over the education of Baptist and Methodist Non-Conformists in Wales. At the same time, he imbibed from his uncle a bitter hatred of aristocratic English Tories and oppressive landlords. Discontent was rife in Wales. Since the general election of 1868, when the Non-Conformist Welsh tenant-farmers for the first time had mustered courage to vote for Radical, agrarian, Non-Conformist candidates, in place of Tory aristocrats, the Radical and Nationalist agitation had gone steadily forward. It was as the eloquent apostle of Welsh Nationalism, Non-Conformity, and agrarian Radicalism that David Lloyd George made his entry into political life, after a brief but brilliant career as a solicitor, and was elected to Parliament, at the age of twenty-seven years,—“a young man, pale and stooping, and of a lounging gait.”  1
  The young Welsh Nationalist speedily won a reputation for unexampled audacity as well as for fiery eloquence and nimble wit. In his maiden speech in the Commons he had the temerity to cross swords with two of the greatest parliamentarians of the day, Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Randolph Churchill, whom he characterized as “a kind of political contortionists,… who can set their feet in one direction and their head in another, so that no one knows which way they are going.” In opposing the Boer War, which he described as “a fight for 45% dividends,” Lloyd George risked not only his political standing; he placed life itself in jeopardy. At Bangor, after delivering a pacifist speech, he was knocked senseless by a bludgeon blow on the head; at Birmingham he narrowly escaped death at the hands of an infuriated mob by donning policeman’s clothes; but he continued to denounce the war.  2
  After the Boer War, Lloyd George regained popularity and by sheer ability asserted his right to a portfolio in the Liberal cabinet of 1906. As president of the Board of Trade from 1906 to 1908, he evinced unexpected business ability and his achievements—the Merchant Shipping Act, the Port of London Act, the Patents Act, and the railway strike compromise of 1907—won golden opinions even from Conservative businessmen. In 1908 he was promoted to the more responsible office of chancellor of the exchequer, in Mr. Asquith’s Liberal cabinet. The complete record of Lloyd George’s activity from 1908 to 1914 would be a tolerably coherent history of England in those busy years of social-political reform. It was his historic budget of 1909, rejected by the House of Lords, that furnished the occasion for the successful Liberal attack upon the constitutional authority of the upper chamber. Lloyd George himself sounded the “call to arms”:—
          “The rights of the Commons of England to grant supplies and to make the redress of grievances the condition of that grant drenched England with blood. That right is the proud possession of Englishmen. They were pre-eminent in the conflict that won it. It is their noblest tradition, and I do not believe that the dauntless national spirit which won that liberty has become so degenerate that at the call of an effete oligarchy, without striking a single blow, Englishmen of to-day mean to surrender one of the finest and fairest provinces of freedom won by their ancestors.” (Speech at the National Liberal Club, December 3d, 1909.)
In his attack upon the House of Lords, the chancellor of the exchequer gave free rein to the pungent ridicule which is one of the most characteristic traits of his oratory. On one occasion, denying that his budget had proved deleterious to industry or trade, he said:—
          “Only one class of stock has gone down badly. There has been a great slump in dukes. (Laughter and cheers.) They used to stand rather high in the market—(Laughter)—especially in the Tory market; but the Tory Press has discovered that they are of no value. (Laughter.) They have been making speeches. Recently one specially expensive duke made a speech, and all the Tory Press said, ‘Well now, really, is that the sort of thing we are spending £250,000 a year upon?’ Because a fully equipped duke costs as much to keep as two Dreadnoughts—(Laughter)—and they are just as great a terror—(Laughter)—and they last longer. (More laughter.) As long as they were contented to be mere idols on their pedestals, preserving that stately silence which became their rank and their intelligence—(Laughter)—all went well, and the average British citizen rather looked up to them and said to himself—‘Well if the worse comes to the worst for this old country, we have always got the dukes to fall back on.’ (Laughter.)
  “But then came the Budget. They stepped off their perch. They have been scolding like omnibus drivers, purely because the Budget has knocked a little of the gilt off their old stage coach.” (Newcastle Speech, October 9th, 1909.)
After vanquishing the Lords,—by the Parliament Act of 1911, which left the upper house with only a suspensive veto,—the Liberals pressed forward with far-reaching plans of social reform. Lloyd George, “the Orator of the new Social Order,” was ever in the van. He fathered the great National Insurance Act of 1911, protecting the workingman against destitution in time of sickness or unemployment. Most radical of all was Lloyd George’s program of land reform, announced in 1913, to compel noblemen to sell their deer parks for purposes of cultivation, to regulate the price of land, to impose heavier taxes on landlords, to provide homes, gardens, and fair wages for agricultural laborers, and to establish a government department of lands. Angry recriminations were exchanged between Lloyd George and the menaced landlords. Then came the great war of 1914, and all reforms were laid on the table.
  3
  Although he had opposed the Boer War, because he thought it might have been avoided, and above all because he believed in the right of small nations to existence, Lloyd George in 1914 threw heart and soul into the war against Germany. Britain in 1914, he believed, was fighting not to conquer but to defend small nations, to maintain democracy, to crush militarism, to vindicate “the righteousness that exalteth a nation.” For victory in such a cause, no price could be too great. Lloyd George was prepared to pay the price, even if it meant the temporary sacrifice of long-cherished liberties, abandonment of his party, association with his former antagonists. At the outset, as chancellor of the exchequer, he drafted the first war budget, to supply the “silver bullets” which would ultimately defeat Germany. As the most effective popular orator in the cabinet, he mounted the public platform to plead England’s cause and to stimulate recruiting. The crucial task of augmenting the manufacture of munitions—a task upon which hung England’s fate—was entrusted to him in May, 1915, and as minister of munitions he accomplished that task with amazing success. No study was too arduous, if needed to master the technical details of gun-making. At his magic touch hundreds of arsenals sprang into being, and an immense army of men and women set themselves to the work of supplying howitzers and high explosives to the gallant fellows at the front. After the Irish rebellion of Eastertide, 1916, Lloyd George, as “handy man” of the cabinet, was delegated to arrange a settlement of the Irish question by compromise; in this most difficult of all endeavors he had well-nigh succeeded, when the premier, Mr. Asquith, yielded to Unionist solicitations and modified the terms agreed upon, with the result that the whole scheme fell to the ground. Later that same summer, in July, Lloyd George assumed the post of war minister, vacated by Lord Kitchener’s tragic death. Already the newspapers, especially the newspapers controlled by Lord Northcliffe, were beginning to clamor for the advancement of Lloyd George to an even more exalted position of authority. The premier was unsparingly denounced as a temporizing politician, unfit for command in the strenuous exigencies of war. At length, in December, 1916, when popular discontent was at its height and the Allies’ fortunes seemed to have sunk to the lowest depths, Lloyd George demanded the formation of an inner cabinet or war council, and when Mr. Asquith refused, the war minister precipitated a cabinet crisis by resigning. A few days later, Mr. Asquith’s Coalition Cabinet gave place to a “war ministry,” from which Mr. Asquith and Viscount Grey—undeviating Liberals both—were excluded, and in which Lloyd George as premier occupied a position of almost dictatorial power. His closest associates in the “inner cabinet,” curiously enough, were Lord Curzon and Lord Milner, to whom seven years previously he had paid the delicate compliment, “There is one thing in common between Lord Milner and Lord Curzon. They are both very clever men, but they are that class of clever men with every gift except the gift of common sense.” But in a war cabinet, perhaps, “common sense” is less needed than energy. For a war premier, the character of Lloyd George was admirably suited. With the strong qualities of courage, candor, and resourcefulness, he combined a certain ruthless energy—an impetuous and imperious will—which would brook no obstruction in its progress toward the high goal of victory.  4
  No formal literary essays or treatises have ever been indited by David Lloyd George. Besides some early political sketches, we have little from his pen. His great contribution to literature has been made by the living, spoken word. Even so, it must be confessed that none of his speeches possesses the grace of perfect literary finish; for Lloyd George speaks less to win the approval of the critic than to enlist the sympathy of the people. Other orators may excel him in nicety of diction or in felicity of allusion, but no British orator surpasses Lloyd George in the power of persuasion. His caustic wit, his genial broadsides of humor, his lucid expositions of facts and figures, his gusts of scathing invective, and his occasional flights of imaginative eloquence,—all are addressed straight to the heart of the common man. Lloyd George speaks in the undying accents of democracy.  5
 
 
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