Initiation into English Politics
Initiation into English Home Politics E a r l y in 1896 I was compelled to abandon my studies at the London School of Economics in order to look for some employment. I applied to a scholastic agency, which soon found a place for me in a preparatory school in West London as resident language master. It was in teaching that I learned most of English life. The daily intercourse with about sixty boys between the ages of six and sixteen, the observance of the daily routine of their work and play, the reading of school novels, with their paragon, Tom Brown, and particularly the careful study of elementary school books, brought me in touch with England. I remained in that school to the end of 1897. Those were
the years of the “ Kruger telegram,” the Jameson Trial, the ascendancy of Cecil Rhodes, and the Diamond Jubilee, with Kipling’s “ Recessional.” We read Kipling and more Kipling; I knew many of his Barrack Room Ballads by heart. But most I owe to the elementary Readers. These are, in every country, the best means to learn the character of a nation. Such reading is, in my opinion, an infallible means to a successful study of foreign countries. The ideas and ideals with which a nation endeavours to imbue its younger generation as a preparation for life are the surest indices of its feeling and thinking. The English elementary Readers were more instruc tive to me than Hansard, newspapers, and meetings. The best supplement to the English elementary Readtrs
as a means to get a working knowledge of England, was for me the short book of George Savile, first Marquess of Halifax, called The Trimmer. The few hundred pages left to his countrymen by this wonderfully sagacious political prac titioner contain the essential principles of English statesman ship since the end of the seventeenth century. I am never
tired of admiring them. They contain the concrete lessons drawn from the painfully costly experience of the stormy years of the Civil War, the Cromwellian Dictatorship, and the Restoration. He was the practical artisan of the Glorious Revolution, estimating exactly the length and girth of the constitutional dress necessary for the political body of the England of his time. His lessons form the core of Whig statecraft. Here are some of them, of which I made a note at the time: Never tie reason too closely to principles-in many cases this may be destructive-circumstances must enter in and make a part of them. Positive decisions are always dangerous, especially in politics. Fundamental evils should be stroked away and not violently kicked out. Instruments of power should be made easy; for power even at its best is hard enough to be borne by those under it. The people are never so completely put down but that they will kick and fling if not stroked in season. English laws are trimmers between the excess o f unbounded power and the extravagance of unrestrained liberty. Our Church is a trimmer between the frenzy of the visionary and the lethargy of Romanism. And God Almigh ty Himself acts between His two great attributesHis Mercy and His Justice. I terminated my scholastic career in order to go to Paris
and learn something of the character of France. I felt I was henceforth in spiritual and political contact with English life. An article on “Modern English Imperialism,” written at that time and published in 1898 in Die Neue Zeit, the weekly review of the German Social Democratic Party, contains some of the thoughts which I formed in those years about British politics. The article was widely quoted in Continental periodicals; it is also referred to by Lenin in his essay “ Imperialism,” which he wrote about twenty years later.