Balfour, Arthur James, first Earl of Balfour 1848-1930, philosopher and statesman, was born at Whittinghame (now Whittingehame), East Lothian, 25 July 1848, the eldest son and fourth child of James Maitland Balfour, of Whittinghame, by his wife, Lady Blanche Mary Harriet, second daughter of James Brownlow William Gascoyne-Cecil, second Marquess of Salisbury. His paternal grandfather, James Balfour, younger son of John Balfour, of Balbirnie, after making a fortune as a contractor in India, had purchased the Whittinghame estate; and this passed in due course to his father, James Maitland Balfour, a country gentleman, sometime chairman of the North British Railway, and a member of parliament for Haddington district 1841-1847, but a man of no great mark. Through his paternal grandmother, Lady Eleanor, daughter of James Maitland, eighth Earl of Lauderdale [qv.], he was descended from William Maitland, of Lethington [qv.]; from his mother he inherited the blood of William Cecil, Lord Burghley [qv.]; but, while these sixteenth-century sources of political ability deserve mention, it might be as difficult to trace any resemblance between his character and that of either of those statesmen as between his career and one or other of theirs
By common consent his mother's influence, accentuated as it may have been by his father's premature death in 1856, was supreme in Balfour's early education, for the boy was beyond doubt deeply impressed by a personality at once profoundly religious and brilliantly amusing. Handicapped by short sight and delicate health, he owed less perhaps to Eton, where nevertheless he came under the influence of William Johnson (Cory) [qv.], or even to Cambridge, where from 1866 to 1869 he was a fellow-commoner of Trinity College, than to a home circle of which the indigenous distinction, so to speak, of his brothers and sister, Gerald, the scholar and statesman, Frank, the biologist [see Balfour, Francis Maitland], and Eleanor (Mrs. Sidgwick), subsequently principal of Newnham College, was presently increased by that of his brothers-in-law, Henry Sidgwick [qv.], the moral philosopher, and John, third Lord Rayleigh [qv.], the physicist. In such company Balfour, who secured no more at the university than a second in the moral sciences tripos, shone indeed, but as no bright particular star; and many who saw the modesty of his first beginnings failed wholly to foresee the brilliancy of his final ends. His mind was perhaps too independent for a curriculum; and he was in any case always more interested in finding truth for himself than in learning what others had supposed it to be. For the history of speculation, he declares, I cared not a jot. Dead systems seemed to me of no more interest than abandoned fashions. My business was with the groundwork of living beliefs; in particular with the goodness of that scientific knowledge whose recent developments had so profoundly moved mankind [Theism and Humanism, p. 138]. It followed that his writings showed something less of contact with the old masters and something more of conflict with current theories than was consistent perhaps with the most enduring work. If he thought in any man's tradition, it was in that of Berkeley, of whom he published a study (published originally in the National Review, March-April 1883, reprinted in Essays and Addresses), and whose lucid style and exquisite dialectic seems to anticipate his own. In the harmonies of his thought and language may be caught, indeed, an echo of the eighteenth century, as was proper enough in one whose considered preference [see his essay The Nineteenth Century in Essays and Addresses, 1905, pp. 315 ff.] was for that epoch and whose love of music was stimulated to the uttermost by the oratorios of Handel, a composer possessed, so he maintains in one of his most graceful essays, of a more copious, fluent and delightful gift of melody than any other [ibid. p. 169]. His natural taste was, in truth, for a time characterized by unity and finish; and he clung to its legacy, finding Scott and Jane Austen, Coleridge and Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley to be better companions than authors of more recent repute—than Dickens and Thackeray, than Carlyle with his windy prophesyings or Mill with his thin lucidity. What, intellectually, he was not, was a mid-Victorian. No child of the late 'forties more instinctively reverted to the serene mentality of an earlier period; no man of the early 'seventies prepared himself with less effort to assimilate the scientific knowledge of a later one. He was all his life intermittently concerned to formulate the rational grounds of faith in such a manner as to bring metaphysics back into the scales of common thought and so to recover for physics its proper weight, and no more, in the balances. Two things helped him in this endeavour—a mind untiringly interested in scientific development, of which he kept abreast not by experiment but by reading, discussion, and inquiry, and a style, never trite or precious, but illustrating with no little charm and liveliness the virtue of putting the right word in the right place, and rising in such a passage as that upon the prospect of man in a purely physical universe to an impressive and moving eloquence. The passage mentioned shows, indeed, in the opinion of competent judges, his literary power at its highest, and as such merits quotation here:We survey the past, he wrote, and see that its history is of blood and tears, of helpless blundering, of wild revolt, of stupid acquiescence, of empty aspirations. We sound the future, and learn that after a period, long compared with the individual life, but short indeed compared with the divisions of time open to our investigation, the energies of our system will decay, the glory of the sun will be dimmed and the earth, tideless and inert, will no longer tolerate the race which has for a moment disturbed its solitude. Man will go down into the pit, and all his thoughts will perish. — Matter will know itself no longer. Imperishable monuments and immortal deeds, death itself, and love stronger than death, will be as though they had never been. Nor will anything that is be better or be worse for all that the labour, genius, devotion and suffering of man have striven through countless generations to effect. [Foundations of Belief, pt. i, c. 1.]For all the patent grace and power of such digressions Balfour's real achievement as a metaphysician is not easy to determine, and none the more that his fame as a statesman tended to advertise his work with the vulgar and to depreciate it with the elect. The former took him at his word and proclaimed him without further ado a philosopher; the latter dismissed him without too much consideration as an amateur. His strong conflict was with naturalism; his contention, that the foundations of natural science are no firmer than those of theology, and even perhaps not so firm; his thesis, that Theism clears, instead of confusing counsel. He pushed home these opinions with much ingenuity and without any undue apparatus of technical phraseology; yet the public was long in understanding him. The title of his earliest book—A Defence of Philosophic Doubt (1879)—suggested to those who had not assimilated its contents that he was a philosophic doubter; and, though this was far from being the fact, it was nevertheless true that the position there taken up as regards theology fell something short of that adopted later in his Foundations of Belief (1895) and his Gifford lectures on Theism (1915 and 1922-3)
Very briefly Balfour's argument was this. The theory of knowledge underlying the scepticism of science in regard to religion should in any dispassionate mind produce a similar scepticism as regards science itself. By its attacks upon religion the scientific mind has in fact manufactured a boomerang; and this point was brought out with all Balfour's dialectical ability. It was, however, as he maintained in a reply to his critics delivered near the end of his life before the British Academy [see Proceedings of the British Academy, 9 December 1925], a complete misconception of his meaning to suppose that he had tried to destroy rational values by insinuating philosophic doubts. The aim of his criticism was quite other. The sceptic says, he urged, that, as we can prove nothing, we may believe anything. I say that, as we believe a great deal and intend to go on believing it, we should be well advised to discover on what assumption we may believe it most reasonably
All men, including all philosophers, are, Balfour maintained, believers; and his aim was fearlessly to recognize that all constructive thought rests upon a foundation of faith and is not on that account insecure. A body of beliefs, he pointed out, that can neither be proved nor ignored nor rejected forms the pre-supposition of what is termed scientific knowledge—the belief, for example, in the existence of others as distinct from ourselves, in our power to communicate with them, in our mental resemblance to them, in our occupation of the same physical universe with them, and so forth. Our awareness of other minds, he argued by way of illustration, is not direct but dependent upon observation of or conjecture about their associated bodies. Though inevitable it is not self-evident, is entangled with admissions of faith and theories of knowledge, and lies beyond the sphere of intuitive assurance. Such perceptions, for the rest, are no trustworthy purveyors of information about the character of physical reality. They cannot be treated as a product of evolution, and, if we are to suppose our beliefs upon the way to truth, we are obliged to assume a Power transcending the physical universe. Carrying the attack upon philosophic naturalism into its citadel, Balfour drove home the point that, if naturalism were true, then all the convictions we entertain and all the reasoning by which they are supported must be completely dependent on the preterrestrial distribution of electric charges—entities which are guided by nothing more intelligent than the blind forces of attraction or repulsion and do nothing more purposeful than radiate energy at random through the depths of space. Theories, he submitted, which give this account of their origin are well on the way to suicide. Only let the same rights be conceded by science to the values of goodness and beauty that it is accustomed and compelled to claim for truth, and, not only is the case for naturalism gone, but the whole sphere of human experience is welded into a more coherent whole
Such then was the line of argument, such the pathway of thought that Balfour, had he been left to make a life for himself, would, according to his own belief, have pursued and elaborated. Even as things turned out, his metaphysic possesses for the intellectual development of his age something of the value of a bee-line. Physical science was in fact moving towards a position scarcely distinguishable from philosophic doubt in respect of its theory of knowledge, though neither with his speed nor by his methods. And psychology was presently to sharpen the point of his criticism by raising doubts whether reason can by any rational process clear itself from the suspicion of springing in the last resort from unreasoning impulse. It deserves perhaps to be added that the value of Balfour's apologetic did not go without recognition in the English Church. As Lord Balfour argues in his Gifford Lectures, observes Dr. Inge, what makes Naturalism untenable is that the higher values cannot be maintained in a naturalistic setting. — This is the chief argument in his book, and I think it is valid [W. R. Inge, God and the Astronomers, p. 230]
The influence that diverted Balfour's energies from philosophy to politics was that of his uncle. At the suggestion of Lord Salisbury [the third Marquess, q.v.] he stood for the borough of Hertford and in 1874 entered parliament as a supporter of Disraeli's last administration. So far as the subtlety and versatility of his mind allowed of a party label, he was a conservative, as well by choice as by tradition. ‘Conservative prejudices’, he is reported to have said to Alfred Lyttelton, the best-loved of his men friends, ‘are rooted in a great past and Liberal ones planted in an imaginary future.’ His political talent, however, was of slow growth. His first election-address was without facility and his first parliamentary speech long in coming. He felt diffident and unambitious. But also a far-reaching shadow fell at this time across his path.
In the opening of the year 1875 occurred the death of Miss May Lyttelton, the sister of the remarkable band of brothers who made in their time the fame of their family. Only a month or so earlier Balfour after no little delay had, if not formally, at least in effect, become engaged to her; and this tragic sequel to a reciprocated affection, though it did not absolutely close the door on thoughts of marriage, left him half-hearted or hesitating; and in the event he remained a bachelor.
It was so often discussed, even by some who were well acquainted with him, whether, behind Balfour's easy charm of manner and perfect appearance of interest, there lay any great strength of human feeling, that a word on this point seems to be required. Those who knew him best knew best how deeply he could be moved and how inexhaustible could be his solicitude and his sympathy. A dread, rather than a defect of emotion, explains some part of what was said to the contrary; natural reserve, coupled with a profound dislike of any sort of insincerity in matters of the deepest moment, much of the rest. Yet it may be true to add that in his general attitude towards human life and its conditions there was something less both of passion and compassion than might have been looked for in a man of such fine perception and delicate discernment. ‘Philosophy can clip an angel's wings’, and seldom if ever in his essays or his speeches does he indicate sensibility to the tears of things or lend words to the stammering tongue of humanity. This limitation, whatever its cause, goes some way to explain why, for all his long lifetime of service, his personality never quite captured the public imagination. His appeal was essentially to the few and not the many, to the salon and to the senate rather than to the street: and on more than one critical occasion he showed a lack of what goes by the name of the ‘common touch’.
Though his abilities were such as to have made his reputation in any but a jacobinical society, it must be reckoned a circumstance very favourable to Balfour's career that the public life of the country at the time of his entry into politics was still strongly coloured by aristocratic influences. The landed aristocracy among whom his inheritance placed him had not yet lost its consequence, and the intellectual aristocracy towards which his talents drew him was still gaining in power. But if he found a congenial society, he as certainly founded, though without conscious effort, a congenial clique. The memory of the ‘Souls’ is intimately associated with his name. They formed a coterie for which it might be difficult to find a parallel in English history. Free from any disastrous exclusiveness either social or conversational, interested in really interesting things, alive to the claims of art and not dead to those of morals, blending politics with fashion and fashion with philanthropy, they contrived, without incurring too much ridicule, to sacrifice to Beauty, Truth, and Goodness against a background of west-end dinner-parties and great English country-houses. Of this circle of clever men and often brilliant and beautiful women Balfour seemed made to be the arbiter elegantiarum. The intellectual grace of his appearance, the charm of his manner, the play of his mind, the liberality of his views, the lightness of his touch, all contributed to make him the cynosure of a set whose day-dreams of chivalry and fair women found some sort of expression in the collection of Burne-Jones's paintings that he hung in his London house; whilst his own shattered romance, impoverishing though some felt it to have been to the full development of his character, left him the freer to form and cultivate those great friendships with women which claim some mention in any sketch of his life. Lady Oxford, herself an early friend, has picked out three of these for special notice—those with (Mary) Lady Wemyss, Lady Desborough, and (Alice) Lady Salisbury—and the justice of this choice will be generally agreed to.
An incomparable guest in many well-known houses, an engaging host in his own, a much-prized member of many eminent institutions and learned societies; president of the British Association (1904), of the British Academy (from 1921), of the Psychical Research Society, of the Synthetic Society, and, it might even be claimed, potentially of the Royal Society, since in 1920 he was approached, though without success, on the subject; honorary fellow of his college; chancellor of Cambridge (1919) and Edinburgh (1891) universities; foreign member of the French Academy; Romanes lecturer at Oxford; Gifford lecturer; member of the Order of Merit, and wherever he was, an outstanding figure, exceptionally gifted both as talker and listener, in the conversation piece, Balfour enjoyed a social prestige perhaps unequalled by any statesman since the days of Fox. Of all the eminent men of his day he was possibly the one whom the majority of cultivated people would have preferred to meet and whose opinion in difficult issues they would have been inclined to follow. His indirect influence, imponderable though it is, upon the ‘social tissue’ of his time was thus certainly large; and the depth of his interests was shown in the breadth of his hospitalities. The doors of Whittingehame, where autumn after autumn he was accustomed to entertain a large family circle with the aid of his devoted sister, Miss Alice Balfour, were thrown open to an assortment of visitors as varied as Bergson, the philosopher, Wilfrid Ward, the Catholic apologist, and Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb, the Fabian socialists; whilst with some of his direct opponents in parliament¾with Asquith, with Haldane, and with Morley¾his relations approximated to friendship.
A lively interest in games and music added pleasing traits to a figure in every aspect possessing the charm of the amateur and eluding the provincialism of the expert; and the great worlds of learning and of leisure marked with equal satisfaction the versatile politician listening rapt to an oratorio of Handel, or celebrating victory, not undemonstratively, at the close of an Eton-and-Harrow cricket match. For the rest, golf and lawn-tennis, which he continued to play almost to the close of his life, rounded off the tale of Balfour's recreations.
There can be little doubt that the exceptional position which he occupied in the intellectual and social life of his time tended on the whole to fortify Balfour's influence in politics; and the growth of the one needs to be remembered in considering the advance of the other, with which this account will now be exclusively concerned. In the course of a six-months' tour round the world with her brother, Spencer, after Miss Lyttelton's death, Balfour visited the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. His parliamentary career opened with his return. In 1876¾on 10 August¾picking his occasion so as to test his powers before the smallest possible audience, he made his maiden speech on the subject of Indian currency with the House in committee. In 1877 he recommended the grant of university degrees to women. In 1878 he produced his first attempt at legislation by the introduction of a Burials Bill which, however, was ‘talked out’. It is, perhaps, of more consequence that in this year he became Salisbury's parliamentary private secretary and in that capacity attended the Congress of Berlin (June-July 1878). It was, however, the conservative disaster at the general election of March 1880 that first brought him into notice. He had retained his seat at Hertford, though only by a small majority, and in the new parliament became associated with the meteoric ‘Fourth Party’, sometimes described, but not altogether correctly, as ‘a party of four’, since Balfour's real allegiance remained with his uncle, who presently succeeded Beaconsfield in the conservative leadership.
The Irish question was at this time fast becoming the central issue in politics; and on 16 May 1882 Balfour spoke with telling effect on the so-called Kilmainham Treaty, stigmatizing it, to Gladstone's indignation, as ‘an infamy’. Though his speaking lacked fluency, his power of argument made from that date a growing impression. His speech in favour of a conservative amendment requiring a two-thirds majority before the new expedient of the closure could be employed was particularly remarked, and the more that it brought him into conflict with Lord Randolph Churchill, the Fourth Party leader. A deeper rift, however, between these associates presently appeared. The interregnum as regards leadership had plainly to be terminated if the conservatives were to regain power. Churchill saw this, as he also saw that power itself was destined to pass from parliament to the constituencies; and, in the guise of the champion of ‘Tory-Democracy’, he attempted to transfer the seat of party sovereignty from the Central Committee, of which Salisbury defended the traditional rights, to the National Union of Conservative Associations. During the struggle Balfour, as the friend of one protagonist and the nephew of the other, occupied a mediatorial position, not without adding to his own consequence in conservative counsels; and this consequence was further augmented by the fact that the motion which brought about the downfall of Gladstone's administration was planned in his house, no. 4 Carlton Gardens (June 1885). In the formation of the so-called ‘ministry of Caretakers’ which followed, he seems to have given further assistance in dealing with Churchill, who went to the India Office, whilst he himself became president of the Local Government Board, an appointment that he filled for six months without any particular distinction.
At the ensuing general election (December 1885) Balfour was returned in East Manchester, for which constituency he sat continuously until 1906. The liberals, however, were in general victorious. Gladstone, for reasons tactically prudent, if morally questionable, had made no clear declaration of policy about Ireland before the polling, and a short period of confusion, during which Balfour as his uncle's nephew became the recipient of confidences both from Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain [q.v.], resulted. The first Home Rule Bill was, however, eventually introduced in April 1886 only to be rejected by the House of Commons in June. A general election followed; and a clear majority against Home Rule was returned, though no majority was secured by any single party. In the ensuing conservative administration, which depended upon liberal-unionist support, Balfour filled the recently created post of secretary for Scotland. The crofters' agitation against rent was at that time at its height. He dealt firmly and effectively with the Scottish Land League which was active in Skye and elsewhere; the secret of his success, if there was one, lying in his resolve to recover for the law its lost prestige. In November 1886 he was given Cabinet rank, and in March 1887 he was offered the Irish chief-secretaryship. He hesitated, consulted Sir William Jenner about his health, which was passed as sufficient, and finally accepted. The country saw with something like stupefaction the appointment of the young dilettante to what was at the moment perhaps the most important, certainly the most anxious office in the administration. Salisbury knew, however, very well what he was about.
The celebrated Irish ‘plan of campaign’ for the reduction of rents by the intimidation of landlords had at this juncture already been launched, and an Irish Crimes Bill, to run for a term of unlimited duration, had been drafted in reply (March 1887). Balfour, whilst yielding to liberal sentiment by abandoning the proposed removal to England of the venue of trials by jury, took power to ‘proclaim’, or in other words to suppress, the National League in any district where he thought this desirable, and made use of these powers in August 1887. But the real tug-of-war came in September with the prosecution, under the Crimes Act, of William O'Brien [q.v.]. Violence was met with force; and the sanguinary result, though only two rioters appear to have been killed, won for the Irish chief secretary the title of ‘Bloody Balfour’.
The ‘resolute government’ which was the foundation of Lord Salisbury's Irish policy achieved its purpose; and the Crimes Act was eventually suspended in every district of Ireland. Constructive measures were not, however, wanting. A Light Railways Act was passed with especial reference to the west of Ireland (1889). A Congested Districts Board was set up to deal with the difficulties of the poorer parts of the country (1890). A Land Purchase Act (1891) attempted to encourage peasant proprietorship and to reduce the scandal, by no one resented more deeply than by Balfour, of the unjust or absentee landlord. And a Catholic college, endowed by the state except only in respect of the teaching of dogmatic theology, would, but for the opposition that it aroused in different quarters, have formed another feature of Balfour's administration. His personal triumph was indubitable. He had put his views into effect in spite of the resistance of what at the end of his life he declared to have been ‘in some respects the most brilliant parliamentary party which the British system of representative government has ever produced’ [Chapters of Autobiography, p. 191]. But if the tactics and eloquence of the Irish were well calculated to bring out Balfour's political ability, their ‘miscellaneous scattering of violent adjectives’, as Lady Oxford has called it [More Memories, p. 99], was not less well calculated to make his political fortune. The House admired the fine courage, the imperturbable temper, the exquisite irony which he opposed to the terrorism and invective of his opponents; and upon the death of Mr. W. H. Smith in October 1891 the leadership in the Commons, with the office of first lord of the Treasury, fell to him almost as a matter of course. Mr. Goschen was the only possible alternative, but for various reasons not an acceptable one. An interesting situation had now arisen with uncle and nephew respectively in command of the conservative forces in their different Houses; and it was none the less interesting that nothing like it had occurred, unless in the case of Pelham and Newcastle, since, under another queen, Burghley and Cecil had held the chief offices of state. The combination worked well and was not without its bearing upon the fact that the opening of the twentieth century saw the prime minister still a member of the House of Lords.
Balfour, however, was not at his best in the early days of his leadership. He gave the impression of being a less hard worker than his immediate predecessor; and he certainly did not think more about politics outside working hours than he must. But, if sometimes a hesitating speaker, he showed himself no less a master of debate¾as distinct, that is, from eloquence,¾in a House which still contained Gladstone, than a master of the subject which now had Gladstone's and indeed all men's attention. It is, of course, impossible to trace in detail his tactical moves in the great parliamentary game. It must suffice to say that at the general election of July 1892, when the Gladstonians were returned to power, Balfour kept his seat by a reduced majority; that, after a period of opposition, during which Gladstone's second Home Rule Bill was defeated in the Lords, the unionists came back in July 1895 with a majority of over 150; and that in the coalition government which followed, Balfour again became first lord of the Treasury with the leadership in the Commons. His work in this capacity was heavy, various, and of varying merit. In 1896 he piloted into port an Irish Land Bill and an Agricultural Derating Bill, but the Education Bill of that year suffered shipwreck, not without reflecting upon his political management nor, it might be added, without causing him to reflect upon the educational complexities that had led to his failure. In 1897 a Workmen's Compensation Act and in 1898 an Irish County Councils Act were the principal features of unionist policy. Then in October 1899 came the Boer War.
In regard to South African affairs Balfour showed in private some disposition to sympathize with the Jameson Raid (December 1895), to criticize the handling by Mr. Chamberlain of the diplomatic negotiations which preceded the outbreak of war, and to condemn Sir Redvers Buller's conduct of the military operations. These views naturally found no public utterance; and indeed his loyalty to Chamberlain at this time was the making of their subsequent good relations. His individual contribution to the prosecution of hostilities must be sought in his serenity and decision in council¾a serenity and decision of particular value during the crisis, which eventuated in the dispatch of Lord Roberts to take over the supreme command (December 1899). On the platform, however, Balfour, failing not for the last time to catch the public mood, did himself less than justice; and to the anxious eyes of the crowd his nonchalance looked too much like flippancy. Yet upon no man's mind was the great lesson of that war more deeply impressed; and a searching and continuous attention to the problem of military efficiency forms thenceforward a marked feature of his political activity.
At the so-called ‘khaki’ election of October 1900, which resulted in the return of the unionists with a slightly reduced but still very powerful majority, Balfour nearly trebled his own figures at East Manchester. He was nearing the apex of his fortunes, and when, in July 1902, after the conclusion of peace, Salisbury resigned the premiership, the succession fell to him with the full assent of the Duke of Devonshire and of Chamberlain. The recognition of his qualities was ample; yet his position from the first was as much weaker than his uncle's as a majority inherited is a worse title to power than a majority newly won at the polls. Moreover, even as Balfour came into office, the seeds of his difficulties were being sown. The Imperial Conference, that year assembled, passed a resolution in favour of granting preferential duties to the Colonies; and Chamberlain, before he left for a visit to South Africa at the close of the year, sought a Cabinet decision on the issue. The policy agreed upon was to maintain the existing shilling duty upon corn but to remit it in respect of the Empire. Mr. C. T. (afterwards Lord) Ritchie [q.v.], however, whom Balfour had made his chancellor of the Exchequer, was temperamentally antipathetic to his chief and dogmatically attached to free trade. His budget speech (23 April 1903) revealed his sentiments; and his budget proposals repealed the corn-duty. Feeling rose quickly. Balfour tried to allay it by suggesting that the duty might be reimposed as part of some larger policy. But Chamberlain, though not apparently with deliberate purpose, brought the issue to a head by a speech at Birmingham on 15 May; and the battle was joined between the tariff reform and free trade sections of the unionist party. In these circumstances Balfour's attitude was governed by two considerations, the one, to keep the party together, and the other, to secure what he defined as ‘liberty of fiscal negotiation’. As his memorandum on the subject shows, he believed that retaliatory duties against the foreigner would promote freedom of trade; and for the imposition of these he held the country to be already prepared. Before, however, the grant of preferential treatment to the Colonies, involving as it must some taxation of food, was made, he considered that a period of propaganda was required; and he attempted, therefore, to treat ‘preference’ as for the time outside the sphere of practical politics.
These views were not deficient in lucidity; nor was Balfour lacking in firmness in his handling of the situation. Reluctantly convinced, however, by the pressure put upon him that tariff reform must be withdrawn from the category of open questions, he insisted still that his own policy as regards ‘preference’ must prevail amongst the members of his administration. Chamberlain made no complaint of this procedure but was not himself more willing to forgo the advocacy of preferential tariffs than were Ritchie, Lord George Hamilton, and Lord Balfour of Burleigh to abandon their opposition to retaliatory duties. The disruption of the Cabinet became, therefore, inevitable; and Balfour determined that neither body of dissentients from his own views should gain any advantage from it. But, whilst parting with the extremists, he continued to do his utmost to minimize the party cleavage. He attempted, and for a short time successfully, to retain the Duke of Devonshire, a free-trader; and on the other hand, whilst accepting Joseph Chamberlain's resignation, he made it clear to him that he intended Austen Chamberlain to be Ritchie's successor at the Exchequer. Then, on 14 September, at a meeting of the Cabinet, at which his memorandum Economic Notes on Insular Free-Trade (subsequently published) formed the chief item on the agenda, he¾in Devonshire's phrase¾‘summarily dismissed’ Ritchie and Balfour of Burleigh. To his regret a speech of his at Sheffield (1 October) caused Devonshire's resignation to follow.
Balfour's administration now entered upon its most difficult phase. The party friction, adversely affected by his own unfortunate, though unavoidable, absence from the debate on the royal address in February 1904, developed rapidly; and the division-lists discovered a wide rift in the unionist ranks. He attempted to mark time, going only so far in the October of that year as to say that, if returned to power, he would summon a colonial conference of which the recommendations were only to be adopted if approved at another election. But, if Balfour had the caution of Fabius Cunctator, Chamberlain had all the energy of an old man in a hurry; and the nation watched with growing impatience the two years' delay in giving battle.
Balfour's procrastination was doubtless due in part to his perception that there were other things besides tariffs to be considered. His administration was, in fact, making its mark both in domestic and foreign policy to a degree but little observed; and he was anxious, so far as possible, to consolidate its achievements. In the military reconstruction which the lessons of the South African War had rendered necessary, he had interested himself, as well in regard to general matters, as more particularly in regard to the rearming of the field artillery with the eighteen-pounder gun (December 1904) and the formation of the Committee of Imperial Defence (December 1902-March 1903), of which he gave some account in speeches at Liverpool (13 February) and in the House of Commons (5 March). Both these preoccupations found full justification a decade later; and the Committee, providing as it does for a consultative, non-party council of experts and statesmen assisted by a secretarial staff, has long taken its place amongst British political institutions. Its fortunes, however, like those of the gun, were none too well assured even so late as the date of Balfour's resignation in 1905. Evolved from the old Defence Committee of the Cabinet and entrusted with the continuous survey of defensive problems of a mixed political, military, and naval nature, it must always be reckoned a remarkable proof of his patriotic foresight. For the first time in history the leaders of rival political parties were enabled to associate in the work of public defence without the difficulties of public debate or the obscurities of private conference.
The liquidation of the South African War formed another of Balfour's anxieties. Whilst the situation there, as the liberals saw, eventually demanded the bold generosity of a grant of self-government¾a grant which, when the time for it came, he made the mistake of opposing with vigour¾the introduction of Chinese labour on the Rand, unavoidable though it seems to have been in the actual circumstances, stood in some need of defence against doctrinaire denunciation. Again, in the matter of education the Bill, which Balfour had introduced in March 1902 and carried largely by his own efforts to the statute book against a great clamour of opposition, led by Mr. Lloyd George within and by Dr. John Clifford [q.v.] without the House, required the undenominational criticism of time to establish its merits. With the possible exception of the Licensing Act of 1904, into which also he put much personal work with a view to securing both the reduction of licences and the equitable compensation of publicans, it was perhaps the most important piece of legislation that Balfour was ever directly concerned with; and its provisions, controversial as they appeared to be at the date of their enactment, have survived, broadly speaking, a quarter of a century of widespread change. Conceived in conjunction with Sir Robert Morant [q.v.] and designed to secure to every parent, so far as possible, the kind of religious teaching he desired for his child, the new settlement provided rate-aid for voluntary schools, whilst substituting a committee of the county council for the former school board as the local education authority. Though the actual issue has largely lost interest, Balfour's defence of his action, published among his Essays and Addresses under the title of ‘Dr. Clifford on Religious Education’, may still be read with pleasure. It is a small masterpiece of very delicate and finished irony, and shows, perhaps better than anything else that he wrote, what he was capable of in this vein.
It was, however, in regard to foreign policy that Balfour most feared a change of government. His experience of foreign affairs dated back to the days when his uncle during illness or absence would entrust him with their temporary conduct. The inception of the Franco-British entente, which followed quickly upon Salisbury's retirement, represented, however, a striking departure in policy from nineteenth-century tradition. Balfour and the foreign secretary, Lord Lansdowne [q.v.], appear, it is true, to have envisaged the diplomatic understanding with France rather as a method of settling old disputes than of providing new defences; and it was only after they had left office that military conversations between the Powers concerned were formally initiated. The fact remains that it was Balfour's administration which for better or worse abandoned the time-honoured plan of an England holding the diplomatic balances in Europe by virtue of sea power for that of an England with its weight, both naval and military, thrown into one of the scales. A memorandum of Balfour's, furnished at Mr. Winston Churchill's request to Sir Edward Grey in 1913, shows, however, that he fully realized the dangers involved in the policy of an entente, and would have preferred a defensive alliance governed by the principle that the fulfilment of its pledges could not be claimed unless the party claiming were ready to submit a case for arbitration. This preference for clear rather than obscure commitments was exemplified in Balfour's treatment of the Far-Eastern alliance with Japan which he had inherited and was resolved, if possible, to renew before quitting office. The outbreak of war between Russia and Japan in 1904 merely intensified his purpose, since he wished to demonstrate Great Britain's fidelity as an ally whilst the outcome was still uncertain. Negotiations for the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Agreement of 1902 were therefore initiated in the beginning of 1905 and carried to a successful conclusion in the following summer. Any project for a better understanding between Britain and Russia became dormant in these circumstances. The countries were, in fact, in consequence of the Dogger Bank incident, within an ace of war in October 1904. Balfour's private correspondence with Lansdowne indicates, moreover, a grave suspicion of Russian designs in India and an almost uncanny intuition of such a deal between Russia and Austria in the Near East as was later concluded at Buchlau (1908). His personal orientation, in the strict sense of that word, was therefore only towards Japan, whilst his occidentation, if the word may be allowed, was as certainly towards the United States. He was able before the end of his life to give effect to both these feelings in the Washington Naval Agreement of 1921, though the resulting collapse of the Anglo-Japanese alliance showed clearly enough that it was not possible for England, at any rate at that time, to look both to the East and to the West.
As the year 1905 drew to a close, it became increasingly obvious that the tale of Balfour's administration was told and that the nation had tired of the telling. By November, in default of a fiscal truce within the party, he was ready to make an end, and, after considering the respective merits of dissolution and resignation, elected for the latter. On 4 December he resigned the premiership¾an office for which he had provided a constitutional recognition and official precedence previously unknown. For three years and a half he had served as the prime minister of a sovereign whose great qualities were too different from his own to make close sympathy or understanding easy.
The storm now fell in full strength upon a minister whose record in regard to national defence was little known, in regard to education widely resented, and in regard to foreign policy imperfectly understood. Even amongst his supporters Balfour's governing resolve to avoid the mistake of Peel and to maintain at all costs the unity of his party was taken for evidence of vacillation. Two incidents had further accentuated the general discontent with his administration. His imprudent extension of the term of office in India of Lord Curzon [q.v.] eventuated in an unseemly dispute between the viceroy and Lord Kitchener [q.v.]; and his reluctant assent to George Wyndham's wish to have Sir Antony (afterwards Lord) Macdonnell [q.v.] appointed as undersecretary in Ireland resulted, unfairly enough, in his being himself charged with deserting a friend.
In the general election of January 1906 the conservative disaster at the polls was complete. Balfour himself was defeated at East Manchester by nearly 2,000 votes; and his following in the House was reduced to a very small remnant. A safe seat, however, was offered him as member for the City of London, and on 12 March he returned to the House, where in spite of the historic attempt of the new prime minister (Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman) to discredit him (‘enough of this foolery’) his ascendancy in debate was quickly regained. An exchange of letters with Chamberlain reaffirmed fiscal change as the first plank in the unionist platform, but into a detailed programme of economic policy Balfour wisely refused to be drawn. He recognized in the increased representation of labour in parliament the advent of a new era; and he saw the supreme business of his party as that of enabling the ship of state to ride the coming storm. Whilst conservative dissatisfaction with his leadership culminated in the cry that ‘Balfour must go’, that leadership was directed towards the preservation of a common front in both Houses against legislation calculated, as he saw, to force the question of the House of Lords into the forefront of the battle. He is thus to be found putting up a good fight in the Commons against the Education Bill of 1906, the Licensing Bill of 1908, and the budget of 1909, holding as he did that the rights of parents in regard to religion were attacked by the first, the rights of property by the second, and the rights of the constitution, through the insertion of land valuation clauses in a Finance Bill, by the third. In due course he approved the rejection of the budget by the peers (November 1909) and defended their action as ‘abundantly justified’.
The general election of January 1910 which followed, made the Irish nationalists masters of the situation. Resolutions, however, restricting the veto of the House of Lords so as to allow of the passage of a Home Rule Bill were only just carried and the delayed Finance Bill passed, when the death of King Edward VII in May 1910 changed the mood of the nation. The inception of a new reign invited a party truce; and a conference of party leaders met on 17 June and sat until 10 November. Of this conference Balfour was a leading member; and his ability made a deep impression even upon his opponents. The apparent issue upon which the negotiation broke down lay between the liberal plan of resorting to a general election in the event of an irreconcilable difference between the two Houses over constitutional questions and the conservative preference for a referendum. Balfour, however, would, it appears, have yielded the point, if all possible Home Rule bills, and not only the forthcoming one, had been placed within the scheduled category of constitutional measures compelling an appeal to the constituencies.
Towards the close of the conference and on Mr. Lloyd George's initiative, Balfour entered upon an informal, secret negotiation for a settlement of the outstanding political issues in the national interest by the formation of a coalition government. Whilst not altogether unsympathetic, Balfour, haunted as he was by the spectre of Peel, eventually refused to entertain a scheme involving so large a sacrifice of party principles and so great a breach of party ties. To the charge, subsequently brought against him by Mr. Lloyd George, of having made a great refusal he might, perhaps, have replied that he had avoided a great betrayal. A reference to the experienced judgement of Mr. Akers-Douglas had in fact confirmed his opinion that the project was not only impracticable but rendered impossible by the initial difficulty of forming a coalition ministry to put it into effect.
The constitutional battle was therefore resumed. In November 1910 the prime minister, Mr. Asquith, obtained from King George V a pledge to create a sufficiency of peers to carry the Parliament Bill in the event of a favourable response at the polls and, with this pledge in his pocket, appealed to the country. In Balfour's view no guarantee of the sort was constitutionally required until a constitutional crisis had actually arisen and unless the sovereign had no alternative ministry, and, when in July 1911 he learnt that the king's pledge had already been obtained, he summoned a ‘shadow’ cabinet to consider the situation. Some of his colleagues were for resistance to the Bill; others for surrender. The split spread to the party; and a ‘die-hard’ revolt was added to a tariff reform division.
Concerned with practical consequences and anxious always to save the Crown from criticism, Balfour had little sympathy with those who regarded the issue as one of high principle and were resolved to die fighting. As he saw things, their action was merely theatrical since they were powerless to stop the impending change in the status of the Upper House and could only aggravate its incidents. The ‘die-hards’ were, however, unconvinced and carried their opposition to the Bill to a division (10 August). Balfour suffered so keenly from this rejection of his advice as to feel that it put a term to his leadership. At Bad Gastein, which he visited in August, he reviewed the position; in September, upon his return to England, he discussed it with the party organizers; in October he took his decision; and in November he resigned.
The effect of this step was striking. Freed from the trammels of circumstance, his high character, his vast ability, his rare distinction quickly stood out; and as a statesman he now began to receive the recognition which had been refused him as a leader. It happened that the Irish question was once again in the centre of the political stage. There were none on either side of the House who could rival him in knowledge and experience of it, and there were few anywhere who understood so well as he how far beyond any liberal solution of the problem the passions, now fiercely clashing, had carried the issue. He did what he could in a crisis not of his making, recommending the division of Northern and Southern Ireland; emphasizing the view in his Nationality and Home Rule (1913) that the Irish national spirit would rest content with no half-measures of separation; advising the opposition not to incur responsibility, by any amendment of the government's amending Bill, for the delimitation at the eleventh hour of a boundary between North-East Ulster and the rest of Ireland; and even holding himself in readiness, should the king desire to take a last opportunity of testing English opinion, to resume office, with or without Lord Rosebery as his colleague, in a ‘ministry of Caretakers’.
It was just at this juncture that the outbreak of the European War (28 July 1914) suppressed all smaller quarrels. Balfour turned his mind at once to the new issues. He gave his assurance of support to the bolder section of the Cabinet in the hour of decision, accepted, at the king's wish, when England became involved in the conflict, a seat on the committee of the Prince of Wales's Fund for the relief of distress; resumed, at the prime minister's request, membership of the Committee of Imperial Defence; and assisted in the preparation of plans for dealing with the civil population in the event of coastal raids. From November 1914 he attended the meetings of a ‘war-council’ or ‘inner cabinet’ convened by the prime minister at 10 Downing Street, thus involving himself in responsibilities scarcely compatible with the position of an ex-minister in opposition. This state of things was, however, of no long duration. Shortage of munitions and dissensions at the Admiralty led in May 1915 to the formation of a Coalition government, in which Balfour became first lord of the Admiralty, the only ‘heavy administrative office’, so he told the prime minister, for which he could usefully be responsible.
Mr. Lloyd George in his War Memoirs [vol. ii, p. 1017] has conveyed the impression that the minister whom he afterwards placed at the head of the Foreign Office was incompetent for the work of the Admiralty. This was not the opinion of those who saw Balfour there at close quarters. Behind characteristically indolent postures he brought to bear upon the issues submitted to him so penetrating a judgement that it was possible for the secretary at that time to the department to assert that ‘at the Admiralty it was felt that, if Balfour personally did not favour any particular action or policy, there was no need for further inquiry’. His speech introducing the navy estimates (7 and 8 March 1916) showed according to the same authority ‘as much knowledge of the important questions of naval administration as the speeches of any of his predecessors with more advantages on their side of time and political conditions’. It showed, too, incidentally and in reference to Mr. Churchill a mastery of debate and delicacy of sarcasm equal to anything he had displayed in his prime.
Balfour, in fact, though he attempted no departmental reorganization, believing as he did that the existing system worked well if wisely handled, dealt effectively in a series of board meetings with various matters of naval policy requiring regulation and decision, and quickly restored serenity to a department distracted by the differences between his predecessor, Mr. Churchill, and Lord Fisher [q.v.]. Two considerable events fell within his term of office¾the withdrawal from Gallipoli, the wisdom of which he had doubted, and the battle of Jutland (31 May 1916). The former was faultlessly executed. The communiqué in which he announced the news of the latter drew, however, much criticism upon his department. Drawn up in his hand and but slightly modified after consultation with his naval advisers, it was dispatched, notwithstanding statements to the contrary, without reference to the secretary to the Admiralty or to Mr. Churchill, and gave the public, as he always maintained it should have done, the unvarnished truth, yet at the same time certainly disseminated a false impression of disaster that was only by degrees removed as the sufficiency of the naval success became plain. A lull followed the engagement, but the German submarine menace was none the less growing; and in November 1916 Balfour created a special department to deal with it. Both Mr. Asquith and Sir Edward Grey, however, were anxious for some change of personnel in the naval membership of the Admiralty Board, and before the fall of the first Coalition, Admiral Jellicoe had been appointed to succeed Sir Henry Jackson [q.v.] as first sea lord. Whether this new combination of talent would have resulted, as one well-qualified observer believed, in a more rapid suppression of the submarine attack cannot be determined, for the downfall of the Asquith administration was coincident with it.
Balfour had nothing to do with organizing the cabal which ousted Asquith from power, but he seems to have taken no exception to it, and his decision to give it countenance was momentous for England and, still more, for Europe. A certain modesty and moral simplicity characteristic of him were apparent in his conduct. In his view the sole question to be considered was how the War might be most efficiently carried on and, once he had satisfied himself that Mr. Lloyd George was of all men available the best qualified for the task, he was characteristically indifferent to all personal considerations, such as that minister's recent but unsuccessful attempt to remove him from the Admiralty. His assistance was undoubtedly essential to the formation of the new Coalition, for without it the administration must have lacked sufficient support in influential conservative quarters. In the new distribution of departments he was given the Foreign Office. His presence there had the greater consequence that, with the break-up of the Asquith government, British counsels had lost the diplomatic experience and moderation both of Lansdowne and of Grey.
The association between the new prime minister, Mr. Lloyd George, and the foreign secretary, which during the late crisis had issued in a marked personal sympathy, was as the meeting of two currents, one turgid and strong, the other refined to a crystal clarity. It was easy to see from the first that the prime minister had planned such a dyarchy in foreign affairs as had not previously been known to the constitution. An amateur foreign office, irreverently termed the ‘garden-suburb’, arose in the precincts of 10 Downing Street; and by this means Mr. Lloyd George exercised a direct as well as indirect and constitutional influence upon foreign affairs. Balfour's importance to the prime minister and ready access to his presence modified the immediate effect of such a system, but its ultimate consequences were apparent at the Peace Conference, where Balfour's position contrasted unfavourably with that of Castlereagh at Vienna or Salisbury at Berlin.
The change of government meanwhile afforded no spectacular successes. During 1917 the submarine trouble grew at sea, differences between the prime minister and the generals accentuated the difficulties of carrying on hostilities, and the land operations were overshadowed by the slaughter at Passchendaele (August). The entry of the United States into the War, which came early in the year, needed, however, only to be developed to make victory sure. Balfour, to his lasting distinction, seized a diplomatic opportunity which he of all men living was best qualified to use. On 14 April 1917, after ascertaining that his visit would be welcome to President Woodrow Wilson, he sailed for the United States at the head of a diplomatic mission. His enthusiasm for an understanding between the two Anglo-Saxon peoples put a spur to his tact and ability. He made good friends with Wilson, charmed the Americans generally by the grace of his manners, and delivered memorable speeches both before Congress and at Washington's grave. His diplomatic achievement was consummated by the intimation, unofficially conveyed to the president, of the existence of those secret treaties with Russia and Italy which ran counter to the principle of nationality and so to American policy. In brief his mission had secured a success which stood the Allies in good stead as American credit, shipping, and soldiers became increasingly needful, whilst on a longer view it seemed to have laid the foundation of just such a fusion of Anglo-Saxon sentiment as Balfour had long had at heart.
In foreign policy in general Balfour's achievement is less assured. Both the progress of the War and the versatile energy of the prime minister drove him continuously towards those very things which his memorandum for the Cabinet of 4 October 1916 (published in Lloyd George's War Memoirs, vol. ii, pp. 884-886) shows that he had wished to avoid, namely, the humiliation of Germany, the dissolution of the Dual Monarchy, and the peril of a pan-German state incorporating or seeking to incorporate a purely German Austria. A stronger diplomacy might perhaps have made more of the Austrian peace move (1917), a subtler one might perhaps have gauged the Bolshevist mentality better; and some uncertainty of aim may be inferred from the countenance, long unsuspected, which he gave to the publication, if not the contents, of the famous ‘peace letter’ of Lord Lansdowne [q.v.] of November 1917 by referring its writer to Lord Hardinge, at that time permanent under-secretary for foreign affairs. It might indeed be difficult to say whether his foreign policy was in the tradition of the old Europe or of a new order founded, at least in theory, upon nationality, democracy, a league of nations, and an open diplomacy. Salisbury's large wisdom and Mr. Lloyd George's vivacious versatility seemed to dispute possession of a mind constitutionally cool and unfailingly receptive.
One decisive move which he himself rated as his great achievement, did, however, characterize Balfour's tenure of the Foreign Office. Ever since a conversation with Dr. Weizmann at Manchester during the throes of the general election of 1906, he had been keenly interested in Zionism; and intercourse with Mr. Justice Brandeis in America had strengthened his faith in its political value. In November 1917 he triumphed over opposition both within and without the Cabinet and issued the so-called Balfour Declaration in favour of a Jewish national home in Palestine. The project finally took shape at the Peace of Versailles. Under a British mandate from the League of Nations the Jews were established in the Holy Land on equal terms with the existing inhabitants, and, though Arab feeling was aroused to such a degree as to endanger Balfour's personal safety when he visited Damascus in 1925, the experiment proved so popular among the Jews that at the hour of his death Jewry mourned him with honours perhaps never before accorded to a Gentile.
‘It was not so much the war as the peace that I have always dreaded,’ Balfour told Lady Wemyss on the evening before he left for the Peace Conference at Paris in January 1919. The two English ministers were lodged in the Rue Nitot, the prime minister on the first, the foreign secretary on the second floor. During the inaugural period of the Conference the two ministers sat alike in the so-called ‘council of ten’, which contained both the heads and the foreign ministers of the five great, victorious delegations. This period, which lasted for a month from the middle of January 1919, closed with the temporary absence of President Wilson in America, Lloyd George in England, and Clemenceau in bed, and was followed by an interval of three weeks (16 February-8 March) during which Balfour dominated the situation. He altered it vastly for the better, so much so indeed that Clemenceau on recovery named him the Richelieu of the Congress. ‘Whereas in the middle of February’, remarks Mr. Churchill, ‘the work of the Conference was drifting off almost uncontrollably into futility, all was now brought back in orderly fashion to the real’ [W. S. Churchill, The Aftermath, vol. v, p. 190]. Its commissions, spurred on by this new pressure, had, in other words, got through their work and reported. On the return of Mr. Lloyd George, however, and in consequence of a leakage of information, a ‘council of four’ was superimposed, with the foreign secretary's full approval, upon the original council of ten. From that time Balfour, whilst as foreign minister he retained his seat on the latter (known thenceforward as the ‘council of five’) and both by reason of the proximity of his lodgings to those of the prime minister and his prominence on the British Empire Committee remained acquainted with the general course and conduct of the negotiations, no longer participated in the principal discussions and was not in every case made aware of impending decisions, even when of grave moment. The extent to which he thus abrogated his office may be inferred from a statement which he made towards the close of the Conference to his colleague, Lord Robert Cecil, to the effect that, not having been consulted on some point or another, he should not defend the Peace Treaty, which, he added, was not of his making. But even if this obiter dictum ought not to be pressed, though in fact it does not lack corroboration, as evidence of his secondary position, the extraordinary circumstance that the Foreign Office apparently worked on the assumption that a peace was to be negotiated, whereas in the event the terms intended for negotiation were dictated without serious discussion or amendment, would still indicate, conclusively enough, the limitations of his influence. To such a degree, then, but at such a price may Balfour's direct responsibility be reduced for a treaty which cannot readily be reconciled with the British tradition of 1814, the British purpose in 1914, the conditions of the Armistice, the aspirations of a League of Nations, or his own, in general, conciliatory dispositions. Had he, however, been in a position to insist upon the conclusion which he desired, of a preliminary agreement imposing a naval and military, and perhaps outlining a territorial, settlement, and had he also concerned himself more with the economic and financial aspects of the peace to be negotiated, the outcome might, perhaps, have been happier.
The signing of the treaty with Germany on 28 June 1919 left Balfour again at the head of the British delegation; and the Treaty of St. Germain with Austria, which followed on 10 September, was his particular contribution to the settlement. Prejudiced by certain previous decisions of the council of four, it cannot be said to have avoided the danger that he had early signalled of a small Austria exciting sentiments both of affinity and cupidity in a great German neighbour. In the retrospect, indeed, Balfour was accustomed to defend the geographical aspect of the peace terms in general by arguing that the frontiers approved could not in practice have been bettered. His apologists may, however, prefer to dwell upon the terrific strain that his office had imposed upon a man now over seventy. There can in fact be little doubt that he felt the conduct of foreign affairs, involving as it did at Paris a social side which he was not the man to wish to avoid, to be getting beyond his strength; and this notwithstanding that, when he left for Paris, Lord Curzon had been inducted as acting foreign secretary at Whitehall. With the conclusion of the Austrian treaty he resigned (24 October 1919), retaining a place in the Cabinet as lord president of the council.
Balfour's association with foreign affairs was, however, by no means finished. In November 1921 he figured as leading British delegate at the Washington Conference which resulted in a Five-Power treaty for a measure of naval disarmament and a Four-Power compact of good understanding in the Pacific, but which also eventuated in the termination of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1905. Then, in August 1922, he gave his name to the British note which he had drafted recommending a general cancellation of war debts as part of a general settlement. And finally, in the October following, as British representative at Geneva, he carried, largely by his own efforts, a scheme, which was successfully put into effect, for the financial rehabilitation of Austria under the auspices of the League of Nations. It might be added that a few weeks earlier he had taken together with Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Churchill the grave responsibility of issuing a communiqué committing Great Britain to resist the crossing of the Straits at Chanak by the Turkish forces.
The same year 1922 brought him, in March, the K.G. and, in May, an earldom. He elected to call himself Earl of Balfour and, as a second title, Viscount Traprain. Thenceforward he figures as an elder statesman, yet¾although the fall of Mr. Lloyd George, by whom he stood, a little rushed perhaps by circumstance, in the political crisis of 1922, threw him for a time out of office¾not as one on the retired list. As lord president of the Council he was included in Mr. Baldwin's second administration from 1925 to 1929 and in that capacity took occasion to show his abiding sense of the overshadowing importance of physics in relation to politics by the foundation of the Committee of Civil Research, a body conceived on the same lines as the Committee of Imperial Defence but designed to give to men of science direct access to ministers as well as to co-ordinate scientific investigations throughout the Empire. But of his imperialist outlook those years contained another proof. The so-called Balfour Definition (1926)—embodied in the report of the Inter-Imperial Relations Committee of which he acted as chairman—gave expression to the view that positive ideals and free institutions formed the basic principle of the British Empire and so paved the way for the Statute of Westminster (1931) which recognized the equal status, both in domestic and foreign affairs, of the Colonies with the mother-country. Here was evidence enough that the eye of his mind was not dimmed, even if his bodily strength had abated. Yet there were some who thought that his career should have been earlier closed, some, not without influence in the matter, who would have liked to see him end his life, as but for the War he had himself dreamed that he might do, as head of his old Cambridge college. So graceful a tribute to his life-long interest in all that made for education might, had circumstances allowed it to take effect, have saved him from any ministerial association with the grant of Home Rule to Ireland; an association plainly inconvenient, to say no more, and imperfectly explained away by the fact of his absence in America at the date of its occurrence.
Balfour died at Fisher's Hill, his brother's house near Woking, 19 March 1930, and was buried at Whittingehame with the rites of the Church of Scotland, to which, though without any exclusive attachment¾for he was a communicant also in the Church of England¾he belonged. His metaphysical studies had satisfied him that personal immortality was implicit in the very structure of man's being. Not less did his patriotic achievement satisfy his contemporaries that political immortality was assured to the spacious record of his life. Yet his place amongst his compeers is no easy one to determine. He was a first minister in King Edward VII's piping times of peace, first lord of the Admiralty when the drums of war were beating at their loudest, foreign secretary at the greatest peace congress, or more strictly conference, the world has ever seen; yet it would be too much to say that he shone with Pitt's beacon-light, burned with Chatham's incandescent fire, or got Europe back to work with Castlereagh's laborious patience. Accomplished parliamentarian as he was, he had neither Canning's gift of speech nor Peel's grand manner. A conservative leader, and very loyal to his trust, he made no such impression, as Salisbury's, of sagacious strength or, as Disraeli's, of romantic vision. His political genius was in fact essentially transitional, evolutionary, and in that sense creative; nor, if it had been other, could he have worked so well in turn with Salisbury, with Chamberlain, and with Lloyd George. It was of a piece with this that he rose by opposing in Ireland the very principle of nationality which he ended by advocating in Palestine and saw in these apparently contrary purposes his own two chief achievements. Yet this seeming inconsequence was not in his case incompatible with a deeper intellectual integrity. For the rapier with which he had first opened the world's oyster seemed, when laid aslant the imperial and constitutional problems of his time in later life, to turn to a fine edge of light cutting their knots and tangles. The native propensity towards mediation which set a limit to his powers of leadership, increased the range and finish of his thoughts; and in a period of unexampled change and far-reaching confusion his serene and luminous cast of politics frequently exemplified the instinctive courtesy of an even mind observing the golden mean. In no derogatory sense, then, he possessed, as John Morley noticed, something in common with Halifax, the ‘trimmer’¾the Halifax, that is, of Macaulay's portrait with ‘his keen, sceptical understanding, inexhaustibly fertile in distinctions and objections; his refined taste; his exquisite sense of the ludicrous; his placid and forgiving, but fastidious temper, by no means prone either to malevolence or to enthusiastic admiration’, the Halifax of whom Walter Raleigh, the critic, observed that ‘his importance may well be measured by this, that it never depended on the office that he held’. Yet when all the claims of contrast and comparison have been satisfied, Balfour remains, in the eyes at least of many who knew him, a unique figure¾one of those rare men, indeed, about whom it may be said without rhetorical exaggeration that neither his own generation nor another will look upon his like again.
There are several portraits of Balfour at Whittingehame¾by George Richmond in the 'seventies, by Ellis Roberts in 1890, by P. A. László in 1908, by Sir William Rothenstein in 1923, by Sir James Guthrie in 1927. The Carlton Club contains a full-length portrait painted in 1908 by J. S. Sargent; Trinity College, Cambridge, a portrait in his D.C.L. robes by László, and Eton College one by Fiddes Watt. A bust by Onslow Ford is also at Whittingehame. A cartoon appeared in Vanity Fair 27 January 1910.
Balfour was succeeded as second earl by his only surviving brother, Gerald William (born 1853). Blanche E. C. Dugdale, Arthur James Balfour, First Earl of Balfour, 2 vols., 1936, written with intimate knowledge based upon the author's contemporary memoranda. Balfour's own Chapters of Autobiography (edited by Mrs. Dugdale), 1930, though only a fragment put together in his last illness, has also great importance for the student of his life and character. His Essays and Addresses, 1893 (3rd edition 1905) and his Essays Speculative and Political, 1920, contain autobiographical matter and illustrate the development of his views. The student of his philosophy will need to consult his Defence of Philosophic Doubt, 1879 (new edition 1920), his Foundations of Belief, 1895 (8th edition 1901), and his Theism and Humanism and Theism and Thought¾the Gifford lectures which he delivered in 1915 and 1922-1923 respectively.
Estimates of and allusions to Balfour can be found in such contemporary biographies and recollections as Lady Gwendolen Cecil's Life of Robert, Marquis of Salisbury, vols. iii and iv, 1931 and 1932; J. L. Garvin's Life of Joseph Chamberlain vol. iii, 1934; War Memoirs of David Lloyd George, vols. i-iv (to 1917), 1933-1934; Sir Austen Chamberlain's (forthcoming) Memoirs; (Margot) Countess of Oxford and Asquith's Autobiography, 1922, and More Memories, 1933; Viscount Esher's Journals and Letters, ed. M. V. Brett, vols. i and ii, 1934. Sir Ian Malcolm, who was one of Balfour's political secretaries, published in 1930, Lord Balfour: A Memory, which deserves notice, as does an article in Ten Personal Studies, 1908, by Wilfrid Ward. The present Lord Rayleigh has dealt with the scientific aspect of Balfour's activities in a short obituary notice prepared for the Royal Society, and reprinted under the title Lord Balfour in his relation to Science, and Mr. John Buchan (Lord Tweedsmuir) with his literary style in an article in Homilies and Recreations, 1926. For the episode of the Lansdowne ‘peace letter’ of 1917 see The Nineteenth Century and After, March 1934 (article by Lord Lansdowne); and in regard to Balfour and the Peace Conference Mr. Harold Nicolson's Peacemaking 1919, 1933, will be found useful.
Contributor: A. Cecil.