The Mirrors of Downing Street by Harold Begbie


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Page 1

In this work of helping to adjust the present urgent problems of the
world, England is demanding cooperation from America. America could not
if she would, and would not if she could, escape her responsibilities,
as the strongest nation in the world, a nation standing for the rights
of men, for leadership in the family of nations. With these joint
responsibilities resting upon England and America, the personalities of
the men who have during the past few years had in their hands the
direction of the affairs of the United Kingdom and of the great British
Commonwealth must possess an assured interest for every intelligent

The clever author of _The Mirrors of Downing Street_ has brought
together a series of critical and biographical studies, presented as
"reflections" from the mirror in the Imperial council chamber, of
thirteen typical Britons who have done noteworthy work during the years
of the war and who are now grappling with the problems of the peace. The
name of the author is not given, but he is evidently one who has had
intimate personal association with the statesmen and administrators
whose characters he presents. These analyses are not always sympathetic,
and we are not prepared to say that they will be accepted as final. They
are, however, based upon full knowledge of the conditions and a close
personal study of the men. Intelligent Americans will be interested in
the opinions held by a clear-headed, capable English writer of the
characters of leaders like Mr. Asquith, Lloyd George, Mr. Balfour, Lord
Robert Cecil, Winston Churchill, and others, and they will find in these
pages first-hand information and clever and incisive studies of
noteworthy men whose influence has counted, and is still to count, in
shaping the history of Britain and of the world.


NEW YORK, December, 1920.


Let me say that I hope I have not betrayed any confidences in these

Public men must expect criticism, and no criticism is so good for them,
and therefore for the State, as criticism of character; but their
position is difficult, and they may justly complain when those to whom
they have spoken in the candour of private conversation make use of such
confidences for a public purpose.

If here and there I have in any degree approached this offence, let me
urge two excuses. First, inspired by a pure purpose I might very easily
have said far more than I have said: and, second, my purpose is neither
to grind my own axe (as witness my anonymity) nor to inflict personal
pain (as witness my effort to be just in all cases), but truly to raise
the tone of our public life.

It is the conviction that the tone of our public life is low, and that
this low tone is reacting disastrously in many directions, which has set
me about these studies in political personality.

There is too much dust on the mirrors of Downing Street for our public
men to see themselves as others see them. Some of that dust is from the
war; some of it is the old-fashioned political dust intended for the
eyes of the public; but I think that the worst of all hindrances to true
vision is breathed on the mirrors by those self-regarding public men in
whom principle is crumbling and moral earnestness is beginning to
moulder. One would wipe away those smears.

My duster is honest cotton; the hand that holds it is at least clean;
and the energy of the rubbing is inspired solely by the hope that such
labour may be of some benefit to my country.

I think our statesmen may be better servants of the great nation they
have the honour to serve if they see themselves as others see
them--others who are not political adversaries, and who are more
interested in the moral and intellectual condition of the State than in
the fortunes of its parties.

No man can ever be worthy of England; but we must be anxious when the
heart and centre of public service are not an earnest desire to be as
worthy of her as possible.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 5th Jun 2020, 21:13