Found among the Reeve* papers this short memoir of Lord Haldane - i.e. Richard Burdon Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane KT, OM, PC, KC, FRS, FBA, FSA (1856 – 1928) an influential British Liberal Imperialist and later Labour politician, lawyer and philosopher. As with many of Reeve's pieces he had never met the man but had seen him give speeches at congresses and describes his speaking style well. He writes '...many have known have not known me. All of them I have seen, most of them I have heard, and some of them have sought information, even advice from me." For Reeve the unifying qualification all these people have is '… some subtle emanation of personality we call leadership, and which can inspire people to actions unlikely to be undertaken unless prompted by a stronger will.'
When one begins to delve into the pages of great books of reference, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, there are times one stops at a certain page and reads with an increasing sense of wonder and respect. I was looking for Haldane, and as I read the wonder grew. So this was the man treated so contemptuously by most of us during the First World War!
I claim no laurels for being among the minority when the bitter controversy was in full flood, for I knew many with a similar opinion. Asquith’s "Wait and See" caused one of the most ridiculous slogans in my memory; and I never did feel that Haldane deserved all the acrimony he encountered for a number of years. But as Lloyd George once said to a delegation concerning mob violence, "You can’t do anything while people are like that. You must just wait until they calm down and come to their senses."
Most of us know that Haldane's remark, "My spiritual home is Germany," created the rumpus;
but I was unaware that he earned first-class honours in Philosophy at Edinburgh and that at Gottinge he studied under the great scholar Lotze.
As a politician he had a satisfying run of 25 years, being a Liberal Member of Parliament for Haddingtonshire, and becoming Secretary for War in 1905 under Campbell Bannerman. In 1906 under Asquith, there were assembled probably the most capable cabinet ministers of any age, with such well-known names as Masterman, Runciman, Lloyd George, McKenna, Churchill and Samuel; Haldane was again Secretary for War. Indeed, immediately after the 1906 election the Daily Dispatch declared that Asquith's team was so strong that he would find it difficult to manage such a forceful cabinet. History records however, that Asquith shaped very well with his colleagues.
Under such conditions Haldane steadily forged his way under stiff opposition, with schemes of high purpose such as a comprehensive reorganization of the British Army; an Officers' Training Corps, a Special Reserve, a Territorial Army, a Genera! Staff, and suggested a Dominions' Conference. This led to an Imperial General Staff, and among other new ventures which he might have reported to his recording angel were a National Physical Laboratory at Teddington, a special committee to study aircraft and aerial navigation, and a balloon factory at Farnborough. It is not to be wondered that when the hurricane of controversy began to subside he was acclaimed by shrewd public men as our greatest war minister since Cardwell.
Such are the main lines connected with his genius as a secretary for war; but he was more than a great initiator of military progress: he was a barrister, taking silk in 1890; and some of his judgments based on philosophical deductions connected with the law lifted him to the top rank of British jurists. This fact sometimes makes me wonder why Ramsey Macdonald when Prime Minister, made him Lord Chancellor. Did he think that Haldane was the best possible man for such a high office, or was he telling the world that Haldane was no pro-German? When Baldwin became Prime Minister he invited the same old Liberal to continue: either as Lord Chancellor or Chairman of the committee of Imperial Defence – I am not sure which. Was Baldwin making a grand gesture on his belief in the integrity of Haldane by asking him to continue in his responsible office? It should not be forgotten that when Asquith formed his coalition ministry and gave no office to the eminent Scotsman, Haldane was then awarded the O.M.
I am sure few people think of Lord Haldane as an author. His kind of literature was for men of great intellect. Pathway to Reality, The Reign of Relativity, The Philosophy of Humanism, are only in small doses for me, but they are the mark of a great man, and must have caused a multitude of arguments and discussions in many clubs, common rooms, and seminars of universities, not only throughout the English-speaking world, but in philosophical circles abroad.
But Haldane's interest in mental processes was not confined to the highest reaches of thought. At one period he was Chancellor of Bristol University; and he was a great believer in Adult Education, especially the W.E.A. movement which never failed to receive whole-hearted response when any appeal was made to him by pioneers of the new educational structure.
He had perhaps reached the emeritus stage when I first saw him. It was at the International Congress of Philosophy at Oxford. At the time probably about 65 years of age, he walked the full length of the hall at New College, a bent, shambling figure, the picture of a feeble octogenarian at least; and I wondered at the time whether national cruelty was the cause of his physical deterioration. Now I do not think so. Certainly he must have experienced long periods of despondency and disappointment over his unpopularity. But after all he was a philosopher, and must have been gladdened by the many friends and acquaintances who were steadfast in their loyal defence of a much misunderstood man.
He received so many honorary degrees in his later days that I have wondered whether some of them, admittedly deserved, were given partly as a soother, and at the instigation of influential friends. Whether my theory is true or false, I can testify that he could still enjoy really happy moments. When he spoke at Oxford on Relativity he was obviously a happy man. His was the most cheerful speech at the congress. He was witty. He was fluent; and one marvelled at his mental powers. Also he was obviously sincere when he declared in his thin, high-pitched voice that he had thoroughly enjoyed the Oxford meeting.
He was a great man. Thoughtful Scotsmen in their castles, or crofters' cottages, must all claim that Lord Haldane was one of the most remarkable sons Scotland has ever known in her proud history.
* see footnote to previous entry (Salter)