When at some future day Mr. Chamberlain’s life comes to be fully written, it will probably be noted as something remarkable that he should have done so much, and achieved such a position, while yet only a young man. For be it remembered, that after he had been for three successive years Mayor of Birmingham, had carried out the large and important schemes associated with his name, and had become one of the representatives of the town in Parliament, he was only forty years of age. It will also be noted that very soon after making his appearance in the House of Commons he quickly got his foot on the ladder and rapidly mounted the rungs that lead to pre-eminence, and in a very few years attained the position of Cabinet Minister.
What more he might have done for Birmingham it is impossible to conjecture had he remained longer our local leader. But he was called up higher. Perhaps this was lucky for him. The great enterprises, or at least some of them, were only fairly started when he relinquished his grasp of them, and it remained to be seen whether they were to prove all they had been painted. If they succeeded, nothing could deprive him of the honour and glory of having inaugurated them. If they failed, it was in his power to say that had he remained to carry them out the results would have been altogether different.
The working-out of some of his larger schemes and undertakings created, as I have already intimated, considerable soreness and friction in various quarters. They brought hardship on many persons and produced, at any rate for a time, considerable ill-feeling and discontent. The piper had to be paid for the great enterprises he had set afloat. With regard to the gas and water purchases, the former has returned a profit to the tune of L35,000 to L40,000 a year, and is now (in 1899) realising about L50,000 per annum. The profits of the water scheme are still more or less prospective, whilst the gains to be realised by his great Improvement Scheme are in the dim and distant future.
Any adverse criticisms on these undertakings do not now directly affect their author. He has taken up national in place of local work, and he has left others in Birmingham to carry out more or less ably what he so successfully began. Some of us are occasionally inclined to think that his brilliant example and career have inflamed some of our remaining public men with a desire to do heroics, and to follow his lofty lead in the way of promoting large schemes.
For instance, the city is now committed to a huge expenditure for the purpose of bringing a supply of water from Mid-Wales. There was considerable opposition to this very costly project, but it was at last carried, though only the future can decide whether it will prove to be an altogether wise and prudent, not to say profitable, undertaking. Experts and some far-seeing men are confident as to its future benefits. We are to have a good supply of excellent water, and we are to save a great many