Balfour: The Last Grandee

Ferdinand Mount writes:

On a cycling holiday in Scotland A.C. Benson went to meet Arthur Balfour at Whittingehame. The prime minister was out practising on his private golf course. They saw him ‘approaching across the grass, swinging a golf club – in rough coat and waistcoat, the latter open; a cloth cap, flannel trousers; and large black boots, much too heavy and big for his willowy figure. He slouched and lounged as he walked. He gave us the warmest greeting, with a simple and childlike smile which is a great charm.’ Even across the width of a fairway, the author of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ was already melting under the impact of A.J.B. Lord Vansittart, a junior at the Foreign Office when Balfour was foreign secretary, confessed that he found it ‘hopeless to avoid devotion’. The secret of Balfour’s charm was his nonchalance. Staying cool seemed to be his only rule. Vansittart thought that he viewed events ‘with the detachment of a choirboy at a funeral service’. Almost alone among politicians, he was indifferent to what his colleagues, the public or posterity thought of him or his policies. He kept no diary, made no attempt to preserve his papers.

(LRB 20 March 2008)