'Great men are the noblest possession of a nation, and are potent forces in the moulding of national character. Their influence lives after them, and if they be good as well as great they remain as beacons lighting the course of all who follow them.’—Mr. Bryce at Springfield, U.S.A. (Lincoln Centenary), February 12th, 1909.
REDVERS BULLER! I care not how many titles and distinctions he bore. It was by this name that we knew and loved him. To us of the 60th he was not the Privy Councillor, not the Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, but simply Redvers Buller, keenest and greatest of Riflemen. It is hard to believe that in this world we have lost him, that we shall no more see that massive figure, that reflective brow, that wonderfully penetrating eye lighting up the kindly countenance, nor hear that voice ever breathing the most profound common sense, whether in homely remarks, in humour, in satire, or in apt repartee.
I cannot pretend to the intimacy with him that many can claim, nor have I known him as long. Still, nearly thirty years have passed since I first met Sir Redvers, when, in the autumn of 1879, immediately after the Zulu "War, he came to stay with the 1st Battalion of the 60th at Winchester. He was not an unusually tall man, but something about him gave the impression of great height and heroic proportions. His features were rugged, yet after a few minutes’ talk the plainness was forgotten in the marvellous strength of expression and in the intellectual countenance. It was not until the autumn of life that the innate kindliness of his nature assumed predominance in softening the harshness of feature.
In December of the following year I met Colonel Buller at a shooting party in a Cornish country house, and then, for the first time, began to know something of him. It happened that one night we went upstairs together and began chatting in his bedroom. What struck me most, both then and ever afterwards, was his extraordinary power of putting one at one’s ease. The enormous difference in our positions was forgotten in an instant, and I felt as though I were talking to my most intimate friend. Hitherto, I had seen that he was a fine shot and noticed that whenever he joined the party in the smoking-room he had a book in his hand, and would often remain absorbed in it regardless of the buzz of conversation around; but now, as he talked, I began to grasp his depth and independence of thought, and his singular power of lucid expression. I felt (and on the few subsequent occasions on which I had any private talk with him I always felt the same) that his conversation was as stimulating to the mind as champagne to the body. It seemed to force the listener to give expression to his own thoughts and ideas; and, however crude those might be, he always paid attention and commented on them with the greatest kindness.