Whatever differences there may exist as to the South African War, no one disputes that Mr Lloyd-George has gained great political distinction during the last two years. Hitherto, his fame was mostly conﬁned within the borders of Wales; and, perhaps, some future historian will say that Wales blundered in not asserting a monopoly over Mr George’s talents such as Ireland has always asserted over her most brilliant sons. But Wales’ loss has been England’s gain, and at a time of great political dearth in political leadership, it has been no small help to English Radicals that they should receive such a timely reinforcement.
When Mr Lloyd George emerged from boyhood, his uncle was ambitious that he should enter some profession. The law presented itself as the easiest, and, with the help of his uncle, Mr Lloyd-George was able to serve his articles. He and his brother passed through the necessary training, and settled down in Criccieth as professional solicitors in a small way of business. It was the time of Tory supremacy. The political representation of Wales had long been in the hands of the Conservatives, with the exception of a few weak-kneed, elderly Whigs. But Young Wales was on the warpath, and, already, that movement had begun which has regenerated the Welsh Party, and given the succession to youth and enterprise. The question most to the front in the latter eighties throughout North Wales was that of the tithes. The attempts of the Church to assert their claims to the utmost had awakened a spirit of bitter resentment among the people. This frequently took the form of forcible resistance to the claims of the tithe-owners. The result was that the owners appealed to the law, and many of the farmers and peasants were brought into court. Mr Lloyd George took up their cases, and it was in the zealous and successful defence of the farmers and peasants of Carnarvonshire that he ﬁrst earned his reputation as a speaker. It was in the Carnarvonshire Courts that he ﬁrst displayed those qualities of dash and energy which have since made him famous. His legal reputation quickly spread through Carnarvonshire, and a happy chance enabled the Liberals of the day to adopt him as their champion. In 1890, a by-election occurred at the Carnarvon Boroughs, which had hitherto been held securely by the Conservatives. Several names were brought forward in the Liberal Association for the candidature, and among them was that of young Lloyd-George. He was but 26 years of age, and it was natural that the older men should raise many objections to the nomination of a mere youth for an important Welsh constituency. Until quite recently, he had scarcely been heard of, and it seemed a very rash thing to take him on such slender credentials. But it was always the good fortune of Mr Lloyd-George that his own friends have believed in him more than his acquaintances. They all supported him on this occasion, and proved sufﬁciently in earnest to carry the point. The Tories put up a powerful candidate to oppose him in the chief local landlord, Mr Hugh Ellis-Nanney, and, for a few weeks, the eyes of the country were centred upon the ﬁght. The issue hung in the balance, and it seemed scarcely possible that Mr Lloyd-George should succeed. Finally, he gained the seat by a bare majority, and thus went into the House of Commons at an age when many men have scarcely emerged from a university. His record since 1890 is probably in the minds of all my readers, and a few words will sufﬁce to sum it up here. Its main feature has undoubtedly been his manful championship of the cause of Welsh nationality – his attack on the Welsh Church, his defence at all times of Welsh Nonconformists, his zeal for unsectarian education, his passionate love for his own people.
He has fought election after election in the Carnarvonshire Boroughs, gradually increasing his majority in the face of most hostile forces. Often have his foes prophesied defeat, but always in vain. His chief opponent has retired into private life, with a consolatory knighthood. Sir John Puleston, a powerful Tory knight, came, saw, and was conquered. Now, ambitious young Tories shirk the task of assailing the Carnarvon Boroughs. Across the water from Criccieth you can see the hills of Merionethshire, which invite Mr Lloyd-George to a safe seat and easy repose. But that would be to repeat the blunder of Antaeus. Wisely he remains on his own ground, and knows that every effort spent on his native soil adds to his strength at Westminster. From each election he goes back to Parliament stronger; and never stronger than at the Election of 1900, when, in spite of all sinister hopes, he went back with a doubled majority.
For a young man of 37, this is surely a remarkable career. Here is a man without university training, without high birth, without riches, who has already climbed to a high political reputation. What is the secret of his power? I answer – Character. Mr Lloyd George has now plenty of self-acquired culture. He has read many books, and he has travelled much during the last ten years. But all these things are but the trappings – the garnishings of the real man. His root-power lies far beyond anything that is received by training or education. It lies in a certain fund of unexhausted strength, a certain fount of aboriginal power. He is not yet ‘sickled o’er with the pale cast of thought’. Take a recent event in his career – the purchase of the Daily News. While all the wise men of the Liberal Party were shrugging shoulders and drawing long faces, when experience and prudence were being recruited to swell the forces of despair, when all the warriors were gazing hopelessly at the apparently impregnable fortresses of Fleet Street, the young shepherd went apart, and took his two smooth stones from the brook. It is thus that the giants are killed and the heights conquered – by not believing them to be unconquerable. Thus, action has its root in faith, and hoary wisdom is ashamed. It is said that when a friend protested to Mirabeau that a thing was impossible, he replied angrily, – ‘Do not utter that foolish word in my presence’. In that, at any rate Mr Lloyd George is like Mirabeau. He has cut out the word ‘impossible’ from his vocabulary.
But the audacity of Mirabeau was the audacity of contempt and pride. It was beaten by the facts. The audacity of Lloyd George has a deeper root. He believes in the goodness of men. He believes that in the worst pass you can always rally the good in man if you call it out in the right way. He can remove mountains because he believes in humanity.
(Harold Spender, ‘Mr D. Lloyd George MP’, Young Wales, March 1901, pp. 67–9 [Tip: daliwch Ctrl a chliciwch dolen i'w agor mewn tab newydd. (Cuddio tip)] )