The Mirrors of Downing Street eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 117 pages of information about The Mirrors of Downing Street.

CHAPTER VI

MR. ARTHUR BALFOUR

     "A sceptre once put into the hand, the grip is instinctive; and he
     who is firmly seated in authority soon learns to think security and
     not progress, the highest lesson of statecraft."
—­J.R.  LOWELL.

In one of the Tales Crabbe introduces to us a young lady, Arabella by name, who read Berkeley, Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke and was such a prodigy of learning that she became the wonder of the fair town in which, as he tells us, she shone like a polished brilliant.  From that town she reaped, and to that town she gave, renown: 

  And strangers coming, all were taught t’admire
  The learned Lady, and the lofty Spire.

One feels that in Mr. Balfour there is something of both the learned Lady and the lofty Spire.  He is at once spinsterish and architectural.  I mean that he is a very beautiful object to look at, and at the same time a frustrated and perverse nature.  Moreover his learning partakes of a drawing-room character, while his loftiness dwindles away to a point which affords no foothold for the sons of man.  One may look up to him now and again, but a constant regard would be rewarded by nothing more serviceable to the admirer than a stiff neck.  He points upward indeed, but to follow his direction is to discover only the void of etheric vacancy.  Like his learning, which may astonish the simple, but which hardly illuminates the student, his virtues leave one cold.  Someone who knows him well said to me once, “He is no Sir Galahad.  Week-ending and London society have deteriorated his fibre.”

He began life well, but he has slackness in his blood and no vital enthusiasm in his heart.  His career has been a descent.  He has taken things—­ethically and industrially—­easily, too easily.

It is a pity that Nature forgot to bestow upon him those domestic motions of the heart which humanize the mind and beautify character, for in many ways he was fitted to play a great part in affairs of State and with real emotion in his nature would have made an ideal leader of the nation during the struggle with Germany.  He is a conspicuous example of the value of sensibility, for lacking this one quality he has entirely failed to reach the greatness to which his many gifts entitled him.

Few men can be so charming:  no man can be more impressive.  His handsome appearance, his genial manner, his distinguished voice, his eagerness and playfulness in conversation, all contribute to an impression of personality hardly equalled at the present time.  He might easily pass for the perfect ideal of the gentleman.  In a certain set of society he remains to this day a veritable prince of men.  And his tastes are pure, and his life is wholesome.

A lady of my acquaintance was once praising to its mother a robust and handsome infant who could boast a near relationship with Mr. Arthur Balfour.  “Yes,” said the mother, with criticism in her eyes and voice, “I think he is a nice child, but we rather fear he lacks the Balfourian manner.”  Even in childhood!

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The Mirrors of Downing Street from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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