Toward the close of the last chapter I referred to the Raid passing from the forefront of public memory. But though, as a fact, it became blurred in the mind of the people, as a factor in South African history its influence by no means diminished. Indeed, the aftermath of the Raid assumed far greater proportions as time went on. It influenced so entirely the further destinies of South Africa, and brought about such enmities and such bitterness along with it, that nothing short of a war could have washed away its impressions. Up to that fatal adventure the Jingo English elements, always viewed with distrust and dislike in the Transvaal as well as at the Cape, had been more or less held back in their desire to gain an ascendancy over the Dutch population, whilst the latter had accepted the Jingo as a necessary evil devoid of real importance, and only annoying from time to time.
After the Raid all the Jingoes who had hoped that its results would be to give them greater facilities of enrichment considered themselves personally aggrieved by its failure. They did just what Rhodes was always doing. The Boers and President Kruger had acted correctly in this enterprise of Doctor Jameson, but the Jingoes made them responsible for the results of its failure. They went about giving expression to feelings of the most violent hatred against the Boers, and railed at their wickedness in daring to stand up in defence of rights which the British Government had solemnly recognised. It became quite useless to tell those misguided individuals that the Cabinet at Westminster had from the very first blamed Rhodes for his share in what the English Press, with but few exceptions, had declared to be an entirely disgraceful episode. They pretended that people in London knew nothing about the true state of affairs in South Africa or the necessities of the country; that the British Government had always shown deplorable weakness in regard to the treatment meted out to its subjects in the Colonies, and that both Rhodes and Jameson were heroes whose names deserved to be handed down to posterity for the services which they had rendered to their country.
It is true that these ardent Jingoes were but a small minority and that the right-minded elements among the English Colonials universally blamed the unwarranted attack that had been made against the independence of the Transvaal. But the truculent minority shouted loud enough to drown the censure, and as, with a few notable exceptions, the South African Press was under the influence of the magnates, it was not very easy to protest against the strange way in which the Raid was being excused. I am persuaded that, had the subject been allowed to drop, it would have died a natural death, or at worst been considered as an historical blunder. But the partisans of Rhodes, the friends of Jameson, and personages connected with the leading financial powers did their best to keep the remembrance of the expedition which wrecked the political life of Rhodes fresh before the public. The mere mention of it was soon sufficient to arouse a tempest of passions, especially among the Dutch party, and by and by the history of South Africa resolved itself into the Raid and its memories. You never heard people say, "This happened at such a time"; they merely declared, "This happened before, or after, the Raid." It became a landmark for the inhabitants of Cape Town and of the Transvaal, and I could almost believe that, in Kimberley at any rate, the very children in the schools were taught to date their knowledge of English history from the time of the Raid.
The enemies of Cecil Rhodes, and their number was legion, always declared that the reason why he had faced the music and braved public opinion in England lay in the fact that, for some reason or other, he was afraid of Doctor Jameson. I have referred already to this circumstance. Whilst refusing to admit such a possibility, yet I must own that the influence, and even the authority exercised by the Doctor on his chief, had something uncanny about it. My own opinion has always been that Rhodes' attitude arose principally from his conviction that Jameson was the only one who understood his constitution, the sole being capable of looking after his health. Curious as it may seem, I am sure the Colossus had an inordinate fear of death and of illness of any kind. He knew that his life was not a sound one, but he always rebelled against the idea that, like other mortals, he was subject to death. I feel persuaded that one of the reasons why he chose to be buried in the Matoppo Hills was that, in selecting this lonely spot, he felt that he would not often be called upon to see the place where he would rest one day.
This dread of the unknown, so rare in people of his calibre, remained with him until the end. It increased in acuteness as his health began to fail. Then, more than ever, did he entertain and plan new schemes, as if to persuade himself that he had unlimited time before him in which to execute them. His flatterers knew how to play upon his weakness, and they never failed to do so. Perhaps this foible explains the influence which Doctor Jameson undoubtedly exercised upon the mind of Rhodes. He believed himself to be in safety whenever Jameson was about him. And so in a certain sense he was, because, with all his faults, the Doctor had a real affection for the man to whom he had been bound by so many ties ever since the days when at Kimberley they had worked side by side, building their fortunes and their careers.
By a curious freak of destiny, when the tide of events connected with the war had given to the Progressive English party a clear majority in the Cape Parliament, Jameson assumed its leadership as a matter of course, largely because he was the political next-of-kin to Rhodes. The fact that at that time he lived at Groote Schuur added to his popularity, and he continued whilst there the traditional hospitality displayed during the lifetime of Rhodes. That he ultimately became Prime Minister was not surprising; the office fell to his share as so many other good things had fallen before; and, having obtained this supreme triumph and enjoyed it for a time, he was tactful enough to retire at precisely the right moment.
The Raid indirectly killed Rhodes and directly obliterated his political reputation. It lost him, too, the respect of all the men who could have helped him to govern South Africa wisely and well. It deprived him of the experience and popularity of Mr. Schreiner, Mr. Merriman, Mr. Sauer and other members of the Afrikander Bond who had once been upon terms of intimacy and affection with him.
It must never be forgotten that at one period of his history Rhodes was considered to be the best friend of the Dutch party; and, secondly, that he had been the first to criticise the action of the British Government in regard to the Transvaal. At the very moment when the Raid was contemplated he was making the most solemn assurances to his friends—as they then believed themselves to be—that he would never tolerate any attack against the independence of the Boers. If his advice had been taken, Rhodes considered that the errors which culminated at Majuba with the defeat of the British troops would have been avoided. He caused the same assurances to be conveyed to President Kruger, and this duplicity, which in anyone less compromised than he was in regard to the Dutch party might have been blamed, was in his case considered as something akin to high treason, and roused against him sentiments not only of hatred, but also of disgust. When later on, at the time of the Boer War, Rhodes made attempts to ingratiate himself once more into the favour of the Dutch he failed to realise that while there are cases when animosity can give way before political necessity, it is quite impossible in private to shake hands with an individual whom one despises. And that such persons as Mrs. van Koopman or Mr. Schreiner, for instance, despised Rhodes there can be no doubt.
They were wrong in doing so. Rhodes was essentially a man of moods, and also an opportunist in his strange, blunt way. Had the Dutch rallied round him during the last war it is certain that he would have given himself up body and soul to the task of trying to smooth over the difficulties which gave such an obstinate character to the war. He would have induced the English Government to grant to all rebel colonists who returned to their allegiance a generous pardon and reinstatement into their former rights.
Even while the war lasted it is a fact that, in a certain sense, Rhodes' own party suspected him of betraying its interests. I feel almost sure that Sir Alfred Milner did not trust him, but, nevertheless, he would have liked Rhodes as a coadjutor. If the two men were never on sincerely cordial terms with one another it was not the fault of the High Commissioner, who, with that honesty of which he always and upon every occasion gave proof, tried to secure the co-operation of the great South African statesman in his difficult task. But Rhodes would not help Sir Alfred. But neither, too, would he help the Dutch unless they were willing to eat humble pie before him. In fact, it was this for which Rhodes had been waiting ever since the Raid. He wanted people to ask his forgiveness for the faults he himself had committed. He would have liked Sir Alfred Milner to beg of him as a favour to take the direction of public affairs, and he would have desired the whole of the Dutch party to come down in corpore to Groote Schuur, to implore him to become their leader and to fight not only for them but also for the rights of President Kruger, whom he professed to ridicule and despise, but to whom he had caused assurances of sympathy to be conveyed.
During the first period of the war, and especially during the siege, Cecil Rhodes was in Kimberley. He had gone with the secret hope that he might be able from that centre to retain a stronger hold on South African politics than could have been the case at Groote Schuur, in which region the only authority recognised by English and Dutch alike was that of Sir Alfred Milner. He waited for a sign telling him that his ambition was about to be realised in some way or other—and waited in vain. It is indisputable that whilst he was shut up in the Diamond City Rhodes entered into secret negotiations with some of the Dutch leaders. This, though it might have been construed in the sense of treason against his own Motherland had it reached the knowledge of the extreme Jingo party, was in reality the sincere effort of a true patriot to put an end to a struggle which was threatening to destroy the prosperity of a country for which he had laboured for so many years.
In judging Rhodes one must not forget that though a leading personality in South Africa, and the chairman of a corporation which practically ruled the whole of the Cape Colony and, in part, also the Transvaal, he was, after all, at that time nothing but a private individual. He had the right to put his personal influence at the service of the State and of his country if he considered that by so doing he could bring to an end a war which threatened to bring destruction on a land that was just beginning to progress toward civilisation. It must be remembered that his was the only great personality in South Africa capable of opposing President Kruger and the other Dutch and Boer leaders. He was still popular among many people—feared by some, worshipped by others. He could rally round him many elements that would never coalesce with either Dutch or English unless he provided the impetus of his authority and approval. If only he had spoken frankly to the Boer leaders whom he had caused to be approached, called them to his side instead of having messages conveyed to them by people whom he could disavow later on and whom, in fact, he did disavow; and if, on the other hand, Rhodes had placed himself at the disposal of Sir Alfred Milner, and told him openly that he would try to see what he could do to help him, the tenseness of the situation would almost certainly have been eased.
In a position as intermediary between two adversaries who required his advice and influence to smooth the way toward a settlement of the terrible South African question Rhodes could have done incalculable service and added lustre to his name. But he did not, and it is not without interest to seek the reason why the Colossus was not courageous enough to embark upon such a course. Whether through fear of his actions being wrongly interpreted, or else because he did not feel sure of his ground and was apprehensive lest he might be induced to walk into a trap, Cecil Rhodes never would pronounce himself upon one side or the other. He left to well-wishers the task of reconciliation between himself and his enemies, or, if not that, at least the possibility for both once more to take common action for the solution of South African difficulties. The unfortunate side of the whole affair lay in the fact that the Boer and Bond leaders each remained under the impression that in the Raid affair it was against their particular body that Rhodes had sinned, that it was their cause which he had betrayed. Accordingly they expected him to recognise this fact and to tell them of his regret.
But this was not Rhodes' way: on the contrary, he looked to his adversaries to consider that they had wronged him. Both parties adhered firmly to their point of view; it was not an easy matter to persuade either of them to take the initiative. Each very well knew and felt it was an indispensable step, but each considered it should be taken by the other.
This brings me to make a remark which probably has never yet found its way into print, though some have spoken about it in South Africa. It is that Cecil Rhodes, whilst being essentially an Empire Maker, was not an Empire Ruler. His conceptions were far too vast to allow him to take into consideration the smaller details of everyday life which, in the management of the affairs of the world, obliges one to consider possible ramifications of every great enterprise. Rhodes wanted simply to sweep away all obstacles without giving the slightest thought to the consequences likely to follow on so offhand a manner of getting rid of difficulties.
In addition to this disregard of vital details, there was a tinge of selfishness in everything which Rhodes undertook and which gave a personal aspect to matters which ought to have been looked upon purely from the objective. The acquisition of Rhodesia, for instance, was considered by him as having been accomplished for the aggrandisement of the Empire and also for his own benefit. He sincerely believed that he had had nothing else in his mind when he founded the Chartered Company, than the desire to conquer a new country and to give it to England; but he would certainly have felt cruelly affronted if the British Government had ever taken its administration into its own hands and not allowed Rhodes to do exactly what he pleased there. He loved to go to Buluwayo, and would spend weeks watching all that was being done in the way of agriculture and mining. In particular, he showed considerable interest in the natives.
The Colonial Office in London was treated by Cecil Rhodes with the utmost disdain on the rare occasions when it tried to put in a word concerning the establishment of British rule in the territories which he gloried in having presented to the Queen. It was sufficient to mention in his presence the possibility of the Charter being recalled to put Rhodes into a passion. No king or tyrant of old, indeed, treated his subjects with the severity which Rhodes showed in regard to the different civil officials and military defenders of the Rhodesia he loved so much and so unwisely.
It is curious that Rhodes never allowed speculation a free hand in Rhodesia as he had done at Kimberley or at Johannesburg. He was most careful that outsiders should not hear about what was going on, and took endless precautions not to expose the companies that worked the old dominions of poor King Lobengula, to the sharp criticism of the European Stock Exchanges. Their shares remained in the hands of people on whose discretion Rhodes believed that he could rely, and no one ever heard of gambling in scrip exciting the minds of the inhabitants of Buluwayo or Salisbury to anything like the degree stocks in Transvaal concerns did.
In Rhodesia Rhodes believed himself on his own ground and free from the criticisms which he guessed were constantly uttered in regard to him and to his conduct. In the new land which bore his name Rhodes was surrounded only by dependants, whilst in Cape Colony he now and then came across someone who would tell him and, what was worse, who would make him feel that, after all, he was not the only man in the world, and that he could not always have everything his own way. Moreover, in Cape Town there was the Governor, whose personality was more important than his own, and whom, whether he liked it or not, he had to take into consideration, and to whom, in a certain sense, he had to submit. And in Kimberley there was the De Beers Board which, though composed of men who were entirely in dependence upon him and whose careers he had made, yet had to be consulted. He could not entirely brush them aside, the less so that a whole army of shareholders stood behind them who, from time to time, were impudent enough to wish to see what was being done with their money.
Nothing in the way of hampering critics or circumscribing authorities existed in Rhodesia. The Chartered Company, though administered by a Board, was in reality left entirely in the hands and under the control of Rhodes. Most of the directors were in England and came before public notice only at the annual general meeting, which was always a success, inasmuch as no one there had ever ventured to criticise, otherwise than in a mild way, the work of the men who were supposed to watch over the development of the resources of the country. Rhodes was master, and probably his power would have even increased had he lived long enough to see the completion of the Cape to Cairo Railway, which was his last hobby and the absorbing interest of the closing years of his life.
The Cape to Cairo Railway was one of those vast schemes that can be ascribed to the same quality in his character as that which made him so essentially an Empire Maker. It was a project of world-wide importance, and destined to set the seal to the paramount influence of Great Britain over the whole of Africa. It was a work which, without Rhodes, would never have been accomplished. He was right to feel proud of having conceived it; and England, too, ought to be proud of having counted among her sons a man capable of starting such a vast enterprise and of going on with it despite the violent opposition and the many misgivings with which it was received by the general public.