General Jan Christiaan Smuts

From the L.R. Reeve* collection- this (partly) eyewitness portrait of Jan Smuts, South African and British Commonwealth statesman, military leader and philosopher (1870 - 1950.) His fame may have significantly lessened since Reeve wrote this (about 20 years after Smuts' death).Probably he would no longer be up there with Darwin and Milton..


At least half a dozen books have been written about the late General Smuts, and I am certain that more will continue to be published not only in South Africa, but in England, the United States of America and other countries.
  Due to his early, unusual environment and a formidable, but attractive personality, Smuts possessed a unique quality and became one of the most remarkable men of his generation. No one will ever be able to render a comprehensive account of his notable service to mankind. The most that can be done will be to collect the evidence of many writers, and portray a composite figure.
  I would select for personal interest, the biographies A Sight of General Smuts at Cambridge, and Sarah Gertrude Millen's Life. He was a brilliant scholar, and certainly brought distinction to a great university. I emphasize brought because I find that college guides quite understandably remember to inform visitors of the distinguished men who have graduated.
  At the conclusion of a conducted tour of Christ's College, our guide explained that a college was esteemed 'great' if it had harboured three great men. Two names I recall were Darwin and Milton. On another occasion during a tour round King's the guide didn't let us forget that Rupert Brooke's name was on the Roll of Honour at that famous college; and recently when we were exploring Trinity an official informed us that Lord Butler might be having his lunch at the college within half an hour.
  As for Gertrude Millen's life of Smuts two incidents I remember well were when Smuts informed the author that she could have access to all his documents, and stated that Winston Churchill was worth ten divisions of soldiers.
  Politics alone did not satisfy his questing spirit, for when Opposition Leader in the South African Parliament, he found time to indulge his fondness for philosophy and botany. In 1926 he published Holism and Evolution, but had previously demonstrated his literary ability in his Memorandum, The League of Nations: A Practical Suggestion.
  Altogether he was an inspired genius respected by everybody. Neither Wells, nor even Jules Verne could have imagined a career so varied, or so tempestuous as this eminent South African statesman’s. Farmer, student, barrister at 25, writer, soldier, scientist, founder of a political body called Het Volk, prime minister of the Union, in the government, out of the government, enemy of England, then a loyal friend of England. He was so emphatic in his support that I know of no other overseas statesman who was invited to join the British Cabinet during a war. As his support of England at this time would take at least 80,000 words to describe, I can only declare that wherever he was, he looked a genius and was a fount of wisdom. From the many books and articles I have read I conclude that, for weeks, months, and years, our loyal friend of great distinction, fought many platform battles on our behalf. His announcements and victories may have saved this country from national disaster. No wonder our universities vied with each other to do him honour.
  He was appointed president of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1925, and a few years later became president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held in London because of its centenary. He looked the most majestic president of any society I have ever known. His presidential address was thoughtful and rich in content. The voice could have been that of an Englishman, yet when I subsequently heard him on the radio there was just the trace of an accent.
  When Smuts made his last trip to England he was much thinner, looked decidedly older, but was as happy as ever to be welcomed to England where everyone realized the debt due to one of our best friends. One of his most memorable declarations was to the effect that South Africa was a turbulent, exciting country, but he wouldn't, no he wouldn't have missed it for anything.

* From the papers of the long defunct literary agency Michael Hayes of Cromwell Road S.W.5  - parts of a manuscript memoir by one L.R. Reeve of Newton Abbot, South Devon. Mr Reeve was attempting to get the book (Among those Present: Very Exceptional People) published, but on the evidence of the unused stamp Hayes never replied and  L. R. Reeve published the book himself through the esteemed vanity publisher Stockwell two years later in 1974.

L R Reeve had, in a long life, met or observed a remarkable selection of famous persons. He presents 'vignettes' of 110 persons from all grades of society (many minor or even unknown) they include Winston Churchill, Dorothy Sayers,  H H Asquith, John Buchan, the cricketer Jack Hobbs, J.B. Priestley, H.G. Wells, Marconi, E.M. Forster, Duchess of Atholl, Marie Stopes, Oliver Lodge and Cecil Sharp -- 'it is unnecessary to explain that  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." Reeve states that 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."

Reeve was a teacher throughout his life and deputy head of 3 London schools, headmaster of Loughborough emergency schools, ex-president of London Class Teachers Association  and very early member of the British Psychological Society (55 years)... I calculate he was probably born in about 1900. His style is markedly unexciting but he has much information unavailable elsewhere.. He sent several typed manuscripts to (from the smell) the chain-smoking agent Hayes…

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