The day may come when he may be able to spend but little of his time at his Highbury home, but he has children who will keep the house inhabited and well aired if he himself does not. His eldest son, Mr. Austen Chamberlain, M.P. for one of the Worcestershire divisions, is in training to walk in his father’s footsteps, and to see eye to eye—or I might say eye-glass to eye-glass—with him in matters political. What the future of this eldest son may be it is not for me to forecast. He has made an exceptionally good start, but he will have his work cut out to follow successfully in the tread of such an able and distinguished father.
When people see Mr. Chamberlain pere in such prosperity, flourishing like a green bay tree, with a country house that has cost a fortune, a town house to maintain, and plenty of money to do a fair amount of globe-trotting, they wonder and ask how did he get such a lot of money? Well, I cannot say, because I do not know, and if I did know I should not tell. Doubtless he had something considerable from his father, who must have been well off, but as there were some seven children to share what was left by the late Mr. Chamberlain it may be assumed it was not simply what he inherited that made him rich.
Doubtless his wealth was chiefly acquired by his shrewdness, business capacity, and enterprise when he was a member of the firm of Nettlefold and Chamberlain, and probably when he retired from that prosperous business it was with a sum of money which would, perhaps, make some of us blink with envious surprise if we knew the figure.
It is no secret that when he was engaged in business Mr. Chamberlain adopted a policy which created much comment at one time, and was, indeed, rather severely criticised. It was understood that he had set his heart upon making the trade of his firm as much of a monopoly as possible, and to this end he made it known to his local competitors that they must sell their businesses to him or be prepared for certain consequences if they did not.
Such a course of action was regarded as somewhat tyrannical, especially by those directly concerned, and it made bad blood for a time between Mr. Chamberlain and some of those with whom he was associated in public work. After a while his trade opponents came to the idea that it would be better to surrender at discretion than to enter into conflict with a firm that was in such a strong position, and had such a big war chest at its disposal.
It is hardly necessary to go into the merits of this trade question, or, indeed, to say anything about it now, as it is all a matter of ancient history. Indeed, I only refer to the matter because it formed an incident in Mr. Chamberlain’s Birmingham career and left its mark upon the business that went up and the businesses that went down. Moreover, it is a little instructive and edifying, as showing how Mr. Chamberlain’s combative nature manifested itself in his everyday life. He recognised, as other men have done, that business is not a matter to be played with, and that trade is in fact a commercial conflict in which one must whip and the other be whipped, and as he felt himself in a strong position, was on the box and had the whip in his hand, he was resolved to drive and to choose the pace and the road.