The Chancellor of the Exchequer at Criccieth

W. T. Stead (The Review of Reviews, vol. XLII, September, 1910, pp. 227-232

Mr. Lloyd George, although born in Liverpool, was brought up at a pretty Welsh village about a mile from Criccieth. In proof thereof there may be seen incised on the stone of the parapet of the bridge which crosses the river the initials "D.L.G.," which were cut by the boy David when he was about twelve years of age. Some local wiseacre with no historic sense added "M.P." to the boy's initials. As yet we have been spared the prefix of Right Honourable the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is a pity that the boy David did not add the date when he chiselled his initials on the stone. Since that time he has made his mark elsewhere than on a village bridge, but he still remains the idol of his parish and the hero of little Wales.


The old adage, that "a prophet hath no honour in his own country," does not apply to Mr. Lloyd George. On the morning I breakfasted with him on the stoep of his new -house, "the House of the Winds," he received a letter from a Welsh Highlander, one of the mountain men who expressed the delight with which he looked forward to meeting "one who has done so much to trouble the descendants of our oppressors the Normans." In that mountain-top it was evident that the Budget of last year was the long delayed retribution which Wales was at last permitted to exact from her feudal conquerors. As the thoughts of a child are long, long thoughts, so the memories of Highlandmen are long, long memories. In these secluded valleys in the shade of the beetling crags the shepherd broods over the wrongs of his forbears until the days of the Edwards seem but as yesterday, and when he goes to the poll he makes his cross on the ballot paper with the stern delight of the avenger of crimes, all record of which has faded from the memory of the outside world.


In one of the most passionate and effective of his speeches against the false Imperialism which brought upon us the calamity and the crime of the Boer war Mr. Lloyd George showed how keenly he shared this national trait. He recalled to the House the fact that nearly two thousand years ago the Roman galleys had harried the Welsh coasts, the Roman legions had carried the eagles in triumph through the Welsh hills, but to-day the race whose independence they had tried to destroy was teaching the tongue of its former conquerors as a dead language in Welsh national schools. Only a Welshman could fully appreciate the flavour of that bitter taunt at the vanity of the ambition of Imperial Rome. There are few things so fragile as empires, and still fewer that are as indestructible as nationalities.


Mr. Lloyd George's boyhood was spent between Snowdon and the sea. "The mountains look upon Marathon and Marathon looks on the sea." The Welshman is as proud as the ancient Greeks of the stirring memories of ancient combats. He never forgets the stout fight which his ancestors waged against Roman invaders, Irish pirates, and Norman conquerors. The castles from which their Norman masters dominated their forefathers stand in ruins, with the exception of Carnarvon, picturesque monuments of a vanished race. Criccieth Castle, which stands conspicuous on a hill overlooking the bay, once belonged to a knight who did good service for his country on the field of Agincourt. But Agincourt could not perpetuate English domination in France; neither could the massive walls of Criccieth Keep or Conway Castle maintain feudal domination in Wales. Not until the Welsh Tudor had achieved the conquest of England on Bosworth field, as the Norman William had previously achieved a similar conquest at the battle of Hastings, did the Welsh consent to the Union. Since then they have been loyal to the dynasty; and at this moment the Principality is not exactly convulsed, but not a little excited, by the discussion whether the investiture of the heir to the throne as Prince of Wales shall take place at Cardiff or at Carnarvon.


The spirit of Welsh nationality which finds its foremost champion in Mr. Lloyd George would probably have lost its fighting edge but for more recent effort at domination on the part of the heirs of the feudal oppressors. Standing on the Hill of the Winds, Mr. Lloyd George can point out farm after farm from which relatives or friends had been evicted in quite recent times because they dared to vote in opposition to the will of their landlords. A farm to a Welsh tenant was more than a means of livelihood; it was his bank deposit, where he had accumulated the product of the patient labour of years, and what was even more important, it was the centre of all the associations of his family history. An eviction meant financial loss, sometimes financial ruin, and it also meant the laceration of the continuity of domestic life, a rude wrench of the deep-buried roots of the family tree. These sacrifices made by scores and hundreds and thousands of simple folk who were turned out of house and home because they dared not vote against their consciences at their landlords' bidding are to the Welsh merely the latest link in the long chain of tyranny whereby the oppressor has age after age sought to enslave the Cymri. And to this day the insolence which compels the maintenance of the sect of a small minority of the people as the Established Church of Wales rankles in the Welsh mind. The Anglican Church as by law established in Wales is to the Welsh patriot the Gessler cap of the alien oppressor, to which, even on the Sabbath Day, they are compelled to make obeisance. In the native village of Mr. Lloyd George a big chapel on one side of the river overshadows the small church across the bridge. But the Church is by law established the National Church of a nationality which by almost unanimous vote in Parliament has repudiated its pretensions and demanded its disestablishment. On this point the Welshman is implacable.


But all this is a far cry from the House of the Winds, where Mr. Lloyd George has built an eyrie for himself and his family. The house stands about a mile from Criccieth railway station. In the rear on a clear day the cone of Snowdon is visible behind the lower hills which, being nearer, somewhat obscure the majesty of the Hill of the Eagles. It is as yet bare of trees. A motor garage in the rear is still in course of building. From the front the eye commands a magnificent expanse of land and sea. To the north and south of the great bay the mountains fling out their long arms to the sea. The wooded slopes from the hills to the shore are rich in beech trees. Pines do not seem to flourish, but there is ample variety of other trees. Criccieth, on the very selvage of the land, nestles at the base of the hill from whose summit the lords of the castle reigned as feudal overlords in times now dim with the purple mist— the mist of centuries and of song. In the garden of the House of the Winds stands a sundial on a slender column of stone surrounded by broken fragments of white quartz that I at first mistook for-white marble. Around the house there is a spacious stoep on the ground-floor, and above a broad verandah.


Within the house I recall but two things—the first, that in my bedroom there lay a leather-bound, gilt-clasped Bible which, on opening, I found was printed in the Welsh language. Mr. Haldane, the preceding occupant of the room, had improved the opportunity afforded by the book in order to take his first lesson in Welsh by translating the first chapter of Genesis into his mother-tongue. I was less resourceful. As an Englishman I may perhaps even have felt towards that Welsh Bible in my bedroom as the Welshman feels towards the Anglican Church established in his country; and who knows but that the book was supplied as a subtle object-lesson to the Saxon visitor? The other thing was an admirable group of stuffed animals which stood on the stairhead, and which I tried to photograph as a contribution to heraldic coat-of-arms for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It consisted of a fox watching, alert and silent, above the burrow of a rabbit, from which the head of poor bunny was cautiously peeping. The fox, like Mr. Lloyd George, was a native of these parts, having been caught on Snowdon. There no mistaking the identity of the rabbit. The group might be labelled "The Budget of 1909," or "The Chancellor and the Taxpayer." My photograph, alas! was fogged owing to the use of an unaccustomed lens.


The day I arrived, like the following day on which I left Criccieth, was one of those flawless summer days when Welsh bays remind one of the Riviera save for a slight haze on the mountains that skirt the horizon. A seven hours' run from Euston on a hot August day is rather tiring, but after a cup of tea I was quite ready to join my host in a ramble through the lanes and woods in the midst of which he had passed his youth.

Very pleasant it was to see the homely, friendly, hearty relations which existed between the redoubtable Chancellor and his old neighbours. Whether it was the Unionist candidate whom he defeated al the polls, or the rustic learned in the art of snatching salmon in forbidden waters, he was hail fellow well met with everyone. It was a lesson in democracy worth going to Wales to see. There is no side about Mr. Lloyd George—no patronage, no consciousness of condescension. He is a man of the people, full of grateful recognition of the services they rendered him in the past and of their friendly intimacy in the present. A delightful footpath through the woods brought us to the bank of a salmon river which leaped and gurgled and purred and sang as it made its way to the sea.

"When I was a small boy," said Mr. Lloyd George, "I always used to declare with absolute conviction that I remembered planting the trees in this wood 'when I was a man.'" As the trees were not more than one hundred years old, there must have been a very short time between Mr. Lloyd George's incarnations if the boy's mysterious saying had any foundation in fact.


When we neared the bridge, with its attendant sentinels, the chapel and the church, Mr. George spoke with much feeling of the immense services which the Nonconformist Churches render, chiefly in the way of catechetical instruction of the young. "In that chapel," said he, "I only learned music on the Sol-fa system." On my remarking that to us in the North of England there seemed a contradiction in terms to speak of a Calvinistic Methodist, for with us Methodists were all anti-Calvinists, Mr. George replied that the Celt was too logical to be anything but a Calvinist if he were a Protestant, or a Roman Catholic if his mind was swayed more by emotion than by reason. Hence in Wales even Methodists had to be Calvinistic.


Standing on the bridge, Mr. Lloyd George delivered himself of a pathetic lamentation over the vandalism of the local authorities, who, in their zeal for change, miscalled improvements, had shorn away the graceful trees which had sprung up round the piers of the bridge, and by cementing its foundations had rendered it impossible for any shrub or tree to restore the beauty which he had admired as a boy and now regretted as a man. A lover of old things, with a fine eye for natural beauty, who would rather run some small risk in the security of a bridge than strip it stark and bare of all the delicate tracery of clinging foliage—such is the Chancellor amid his native hills.


We talked of many things; but being discretion itself, I never asked a question about the Conference. I could only augur from the gaiety and high spirits of my host that if black care sat behind the horseman, he was so far behind as to be for the moment out of sight. It was just before Mr, George made his speech on the Suffragette question, and he had of course much to say on that subject, of which I only remember one point of novelty and importance. He was strongly of opinion that if "C.-B." had been asked to give a day or two days for a full dress debate on Woman's Suffrage in the first session of the late Parliament he would have at once accorded the women the facilities they desired. Another thing that surprised me was his evident conviction that if the Conciliation Bill had been capable of amendment so as to enfranchise the wives of all householders it might have been sent up to the House of Lords without any serious opposition. No doubt the enfranchisement of the wife as joint householder with the husband is logical and just, and it may be that the fight has practically gone out of the opponents of the suffrage; if so their course is clear for next session.


So talking, we came to the wayside cottage, all overgrown with evergreens, in which Lloyd George had been brought up as a boy. It was a two-storey house, one of two standing together, with small windows, clean and neat. It was evidently a place of many memories, of which Lloyd George was not a little proud. And with reason. For in that nest by the roadside the young eaglet had been reared which, after facing many a storm, was now building its own eyrie on the hill-top—loved, hated, admired, and envied of all men. Save his uncle, whose acquaintance I was proud to make, he had but few to help him. In America we read of men who rose from the Log Cabin to the White House as an incentive to the laudable ambition of American youth. Methinks that "From the Wayside Welsh Cottage to Downing Street" would prove quite as great an incentive to our British youth.

The following notes of my pleasant conversation with Mr. Lloyd George must not be regarded in any sense as a formal interview. In substance they express with accuracy the impression the conversation left on my mind. For the form and fashion of the report I am, of course, solely responsible.


Having remarked that I had just come from attending the North Atlantic Fisheries Arbitration at the Hague, Mr. Lloyd George asked for details, and on receiving my report expressed his delight that so long-standing a dispute between the two branches of the English-speaking family was now in a fair way of being satisfactorily settled by an impartial international tribunal after every conceivable argument presented by the ablest counsel on either side had been fully urged and patiently heard. Arbitrations, like lawsuits, cost money. But the price of a single Dreadnought would pay the cost of all the arbitrations under the Hague Convention, "and arbitration end a dispute which war perpetuates" and inflames.

Asked whether he anticipated good results from the Arbitrators' Award, he replied, "Yes, whatever that Award may be. For the question in controversy is in its material importance small, but its latent potentiality of mischief immense. Such disputes are like a grain of sand in the eye; itself almost invisible, it can so inflame the eyeball as to mar clear vision.


"One by one every such outstanding difference, between Britain and America is being disposed of, and I fully share the aspiration recently so eloquently expressed by that great Imperial statesman Sir Wilfrid Laurier, that when controversy ends rapprochement may begin."

"Does rapprochement spell reciprocity?"

"Certainly; I am at one with Sir Wilfrid. I am enthusiastically in favour of everything that will draw the two great halves of the English-speaking world into fraternal union. As a Free Trader and a devotee of international peace I hail every advance towards Anglo-American reunion as a landmark in the path of progress."

"Are you in favour of an Anglo-American Zollverein?"

"What is the use of talking of that when we cannot even get Free Trade within the British Empire? But the freer the trade between us and the United States the less risk of political friction."


I remarked as illustrative of this that the dispute necessitating the present arbitration arose immediately from the action of the Protectionist ring in the Senate, which, by paralysing the efforts of the American Government to admit Newfoundland fish to American markets, provoked retaliatory regulations from Newfoundlanders.

"Yes," said Mr. Lloyd George, "and one of the results to be hoped for from the coming award will be a mutually satisfactory convention for fair trade between the two countries."

"Successive American Administrations," I said, "have desired this. But the desire of the President and his Cabinet, backed by the majority of both Houses of Congress and the moral sentiment of the American people, was baffled by the Protectionist ring, which commanded a sufficient minority in the Senate to reject the Conventions negotiated with Newfoundland."

"It is much easier," he replied, "in every country to impose an impost than to get rid of it. A tax on imports is like a fish-hook. It goes in easily enough, but the vested interest which it creates in the protected industry renders it very difficult to get it out."


"From which I take it that you are as staunch a Free Trader as ever?"

"No," said Mr. Lloyd George; "not as staunch, but stauncher. To say as staunch is to understate the case. Everything that has occurred since Tariff Reform was voted down in 1906 has gone to strengthen our faith in the principle of Free Trade. Every doleful prediction of our adversaries has been falsified by the facts. Never in the whole course of our history has our trade been greater. In face of hostile tariffs we have more than held our own, and however you measure it, Free Trade Britain leads the world in trade. The most remarkable thing is than in the last few years we have increased our trade even more with countries which have hostile tariffs than we have with many of our Colonies."

"That is the fact as it is in itself," I said, "but it is not the fact as it appears to many people both at home and abroad."


"But how can it be otherwise," he retorted, "when you have the whole energy of a great Party concentrated upon the monstrous—nay, the almost treasonable—task of convincing the world that the British nation is effete, that our trade is dying or dead, and that our industrial supremacy is so hopelessly gone that we can no longer hold our own in our own home markets without the aid of a protective tariff? As I have said, we are, without Protection, more than holding our own in the tariff-barred open market. Was there ever such an unpatriotic task undertaken by any Party?-and this, too, by the Party which plumes itself on a monopoly of patriotism. If you cry stinking fish long enough enough before your own your own shop-windows, even your own shopmen will in time begin to think that the fresh caught salmon have an ancient and fish-like smell. Since Mr. Chamberlain gave the cue, the Tariff Reformers have been doing little else than cry stinking fish before John Bull's shop morning, noon, and night. But at last the impudent conspiracy of that lying claque is pretty well exposed, and its authors are on their way to the pillory—which is their proper place. Great Britain was never so prosperous as it is to-day, in spite of all their attempts to destroy our credit and injure our trade."


"But there is still pauperism—still unemployment?"

"True; but the misery of the sufferer is not embittered by the knowledge that his privations are artificially increased by laws made in the interest of corporate greed or protected monopoly. You have only to read the literature of discontent in protected countries to see the difference it makes. A bad harvest will always pinch the belly with the screw of dearer bread, but a protective tariff gives the screw an extra turn. But worse even than that is the indirect burden which Protection throws upon the poor."

"To what do you allude?"


"To the wasteful, ruinous, suicidal competition in armaments. In the grammar of ruin there are three degrees: Positive, Protection; Comparative, Armaments; Superlative, War. Why are armaments excused? Because tariff war, which is almost universal outside Britain, may lead to war of the other kind. Nations make war for markets, desiring to close those markets to their rivals. Every Protectionist in our country assumes that every foreigner is in trade not a customer to be sought, but an enemy to be fenced off. Hence a mood of mind is produced in which war seems natural and inevitable, and hence also come those bloated armaments which are the curse and the disgrace of our civilisation."

"You speak bitterly."

"And I feel bitterly. As Chancellor of the Exchequer I have had to raise £25,000,000 extra taxation, and I have been more vehemently abused for performing that duty than any Chancellor of Exchequer in history—as if I were personally responsible for every penny of the expenditure! Every penny of that was needed for Social Reform, for Old Age Pensions, for Labour Exchanges, for insurance against sickness and unemployment, and a host of other most necessary measures. But out of every penny Social Reform can only get a halfpenny; the other halfpenny goes in Armaments. For the 12½ millions applied to the alleviation of human misery, the amelioration of the lot of the disinherited of the world, what might not have been done! But on the whole of that 12½ millions is seized and spent on powder and shot, on battleships which—"

"But, Mr. George," I ventured to interrupt, "you don't deny that the expenditure on Dreadnoughts was necessary?"


"No; or I would not have been responsible for raising the money for them. But the necessity is artificial. It is not in the nature of things. We cannot disarm in the midst of an armed camp. Any remedy must be international, and we are not merely willing but eagerly anxious for an international arrangement by which we could arrest this headlong race to destruction. But when we have piped to other nations they would not dance to our music. Nay, they have even misconstrued our invitation to cover an insidious design to balk their legitimate desire for self-protection, or as an intimation that the pace was getting too hot for us, and that they had only to keep on to see us drop out of the race. This naturally makes us chary of making new overtures for any international agreement on the subject of armaments. And until such an arrangement is arrived at we have no option but to go on sadly but with unflinching resolution to maintain the comparative preponderance of naval strength which for a hundred years has been recognised by friends and foes alike as the irreducible minimum of our national security."


"It is a game of beggar-my-neighbour, at which, if the peoples were wise, their Governments would not play."

"In beggar-my-neighbour it is a question as to which player is first played out. Our naval supremacy, living as we do from day to day on food brought from oversea, and with no conscript army of millions to defend our country, is a matter of life and death. We do not argue about it. We maintain it, and must go on maintaining it, against all challengers, even if it comes to the spending of our last penny. But those who delude themselves into imagining that we are nearer our last penny than our Protectionist neighbours should not forget that so far we have at least paid our way without having to borrow money with which to build ships—which is more than some of them can say. And although he who goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing, and we shall keep on paying our way from day to day out of revenue, nevertheless if the beggar-my-neighbour game is to be played out to the bitter end we have still the untouched reserve of a naval loan available to fall back upon—a resource of which our competitors have long ago had to avail themselves. No; whatever the croakers may say, we are not going to hoist the White Flag of Surrender over the citadel of Free Trade; nor are we going, from lack of pence, to risk the absolute immunity from invasion which is one of our most priceless national assets. We are open for a deal; we are anxious for a deal. But no matter how heavily we may be pressed we shall never be driven to surrender a position which, our rivals themselves being judges, is essential for our continued existence as an independent State. The basis of any such deal must of necessity be the maintenance of that immunity. That we cannot risk by any arrangement. Such proposals lead not to peace, but to war."


I mentioned the resolution passed by Congress in favour of a Commission of Five to consider and report upon the best means to promote international peace and the arrest of armaments.

"I am very glad to hear it," said Mr. Lloyd George. "I welcome that and every other attempt that is being made to move in the direction of the International World State. Especially do I welcome such an initiative from the United States, and so far as I personally am concerned I would eagerly emulate her good deeds by supporting the appointment of similar Peace Commissioners in Britain. Think for a moment what might not be effected for the welfare of mankind if the Empire and the Republic together were to address themselves to the solution of the great problems that make for the world's peace. No other State could regard such an alliance as a menace to its safety or to its independence. It would be an Anglo-American Insurance Corporation against international anarchy, international brigandage, international lawlessness in any part of the world. Its moral influence would be immense."

"You would not object to admitting other partners?"

"Not at all. Let them all come in! But the English-speaking States would form the nucleus. It would grow like a snowball. For all the forces of the modern world are in its favour."

"And the basis of this Insurance Corporation?"

"The independence and integrity of all nations, the status quo, the open door, and all disputes to be sent to arbitration—including those affecting national honour, as President Taft has so courageously declared."


"And how would you compel recalcitrants to obey?"

"That is a subject too wide to be discussed now. But even if we were not able to create an international police force—as the four Powers have created a naval force in Crete, and all the great Powers created a military force in China for the relief of Pekin (sic) —the resources of civilisation would not necessarily be exhausted. The financial, commercial, and industrial interdependence of all nations is so great that it might not pass the wit of man to devise means of pressure quite as effective and much less barbarous than war."

I assented heartily. "The boycott is the coming weapon. If Canada, the United States, and the Argentine closed their markets, and would neither buy nor sell to any Power that refused arbitration, war between England and Germany would be impossible."


"But why talk of war between two great friendly kindred nations? I prefer much the friendly rivalry of peace. More and more do I perceive how much we can learn from each other. At this moment I have special Commissioners studying in France, Germany, America, and elsewhere the results of the social and legislative experiments made in these countries in the solution of the problems with which we are about to deal. Before I framed my Budget I personally visited four great German cities to study the working of their system of taxing the unearned increment of land. Before I introduce my proposals for the readjustment of Imperial and local taxation, or for insurance against unemployment, I hope to be able to publish a Blue-book summarising the results of foreign systems, as I did in the case of the increment tax. When we come to deal with railways I shall have the reports of experts on the experience of the German and American systems, which stand at the opposite poles. And as far as possible I try to see the results of their working with my own eyes. I am just now about to start on a European tour, in which I hope to learn much."

"Have you ever visited the United States?"

"Alas! no," replied Mr. George. "I should very much like to go. But," he added, with a humorous twinkle, "there are so many Welshmen in the State! I fear I should have no time to see America!"

But I venture to predict that it will not be long before Mr. Lloyd George will find it necessary to visit that greatest of all laboratories for the making of political and social experiments that the world has ever seen.


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