Balfourian Dog Days

  • John Charmley
Part of the British Studies Series book series


Lloyd George said of Balfour that he was ‘not a man but a mannerism’. Other contemporaries, like F. E. Smith and Winston Churchill, said of him that his was the finest intellect which had devoted itself to politics in their time; but Balfour’s career suggests that of all the qualities necessary for success in politics, intellect is one of the less important ones. Despite F. E.’s verdict, Balfour’s intellect was not quite as penetrating as he liked to pretend, and he possessed in reality the sort of cleverness which impresses dons (and thus, by extension, later historians). It was once said that Franklin D. Roosevelt possessed a ‘second class intellect with a first class temperament’; we might modify this in Balfour’s case and conclude that he possessed Cambridge cleverness with a second-class temperament. It is usual, when considering his career, to contrast the initial verdicts that he was a lightweight figure — known to some as ‘Pretty Fanny’ — with the sternness he showed as Secretary for Ireland, where he earned the sobriquet ‘Bloody Balfour’, but taking his career as a whole, it is by no means clear that the first opinions were wrong. What Balfour demonstrated in Ireland was not a sternness of resolve, but rather the absence of any human sympathy, a trait which he extended to the rest of his relations with mankind; it was easy to mistake indifference for firmness. But those who trusted Balfour, from Lord Randolph Churchill to Lord Curzon, always found that he let them down; he did so with exquisite politeness, but he did so just the same. It took another exceptionally vain Scotsman, Ramsay MacDonald, to get Balfour right: ‘He saw much of life — from afar.’


Social Reform Liberal Party Conservative Politics Conservative Party Home Rule 
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Notes and References

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    Sir C. Petrie, The Life and Letters of Sir Austen Chamberlain, vol. I (London, 1939 ), p. 142.Google Scholar
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    Julian Amery, Joseph Chamberlain, vol. VI (London, 1969), p. 784.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See G. Phillips, The Diehards (Princeton, 1979), especially Chapter 1.Google Scholar
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    Sir Austen Chamberlain, Politics from Inside (London, 1936), pp. 298–311.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John Charmley 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Charmley
    • 1
  1. 1.University of East AngliaUK

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