But it is a new Lloyd George who stepped from unofficial to official stewardship of England: a Lloyd George with the firebrand out of his being, purged of bitter revolt, chastened and mellowed by the years of war ordeal. Out of contact with mighty sacrifice has come a kinship with the spirit. He is to-day like a man transformed. “England hath need of him.”
There are those who see in the new Lloyd George a Conservative in evolution. But whatever the political product of this change may be, it represents the equipment necessary to meet the shock of peace. For peace will demand a leadership no less vigorous than war.
The lowly lad who dreamed of power amid the Welsh Hills is to-day the Hope of Empire.
VIII—From Pedlar to Premier
The great General who once said that war is the graveyard of reputations might have added that in its fiery furnace great careers are welded. Out of the Franco-Prussian conflict emerged the Master Figure of Bismarck: the Soudan brought forth Kitchener and South Africa Lord Roberts. The Great Struggle now rending Europe has given Joffre to French history and up to the time of this writing it has presented to the British Empire no more striking nor unexpected character than William Morris Hughes, the battling Prime Minister of Australia—the Unknown who waked up England.
Even to America where the dramatisation of the Self-made Idea has become a commonplace thing the story of his rise from pedlar to premier has a meaning all its own. Elsewhere in this book you have seen how he stirred Great Britain to the post-war commercial menace of the German. It is peculiarly fitting therefore that this narrative, dedicated as it is to the War after the War, should close with some attempt at interpretation of the personality of the man who sounded its first trumpet call.
Like Lloyd George, Hughes is a Welshman. These two remarkable men, who have done so much to rouse their people, have more than racial kinship in common. They are both undersized: both rose from the humble hearth: both made their way to eminence by way of the bar: both gripped popular imagination as real leaders of democracy. They are to-day the two principal imperial human assets.
Hughes will tell you that he was born frail and has remained so ever since. This son of a carpenter was a weak, thin, delicate boy, but always a fighter. At school in London he was the only Nonconformist around, and the biggest fellows invariably picked upon him. He could strike back with his fists and protect his narrow chest, but his legs were so thin that he had to stuff exercise books in his stockings to safeguard his shins.
Hughes was trained for teaching, and only the restlessness of the Celt saved him from a life term in the schoolroom. At sixteen he had become a pupil instructor. But the sea always stirred his imagination. He would wander down to the East India Docks and watch the ships load with cargoes for spicy climes. One day as he watched the great freighters a boy joined him. He looked very sad, and when Hughes asked him the reason he said he wanted to go home to visit his people, but lacked the money.