Mortimer Menpes.

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he was a lover of Art and Nature.

Lord Roberts's self-control during the battle was
almost astounding. Not a muscle of his face was seen
to relax ; it was only by observing him closely that I
could detect a slight nervous movement of the hands.
I know nothing of soldiering : I cannot attempt to
criticise either the work of Lord Roberts or that of
Lord Kitchener. They say that Lord Roberts is
brilliant at executive work. I know nothing of that,
and I do not pretend to : I simply think of them as
men, as human beings, and give my vivid impressions of
these two, as I saw them that brilliant sunny day on the
kopje at Osfontein. When Lord Kitchener enters a room
every one pulls himself together and comes to attention.
When Lord Roberts enters a room the conversation is
arrested in the same way ; but every one looks fondly
at him, and murmurs, " What a dear ! " I maintain
that the man whom every one thinks a " dear " the
man who appeals to the tender side of one's nature is




Lord Roberts

of far more value in the world, and has more real
influence over his men, than he who makes men
shiver and drags them together like a bundle of dried
sticks. You hear amazing stories of how Lord
Kitchener will suddenly enter a club in Cape Town,
or the Mount Nelson Hotel, in mufti, and with a
few words of command will sweep the place of young
staff officers who are more or less idling away their
time, giving them the choice of starting for the front
or for England within twenty-four hours. These
stories may be true, and they may not ; but they
might well be, for that procedure would be more or
less in sympathy with the bearing of the man. One
hears from officers and men alike that every one is
afraid of him ; but I do not think that fear necessarily
means strength in the true sense of the word.

I was interrupted in the middle of my reflections by
a loud boom ! boom ! Almost upsetting my paint-
box, " What's that ? " I asked of a correspondent near
by. "Why, can't you see? Look down at the base of
the kopje ! " I looked down, and saw some 4.7 naval
guns really doing splendid work. This meant more
excitement for the enthusiastic telescopists ; and for
some time after the first firing not a telescope was

All this time I had been working leisurely at Lord
Roberts and his staff. My battle-pieces I had planned
to paint later in the day, when there would perhaps be
something to see. I had made slight sketches of artillery
and troops passing and repassing at the foot of the


War Impressions

kopje ; also little slight studies of things that were
happening at the moment. I saw no fight that was
all miles away yet I was in the thick of a battle, they
said. No matter : later, doubtless, the battle would
be nearer ; then I should do my big work then

g uns Like a flash an officer, a friend, came up

to me. "Well, painter," he said, "are you going to
stay on here ? " " Rather ! That is, I shall go off and
come again to-morrow." " What do you mean, man ? "
laughed my friend. "To-morrow? Goodness knows
where we shall be to-morrow ! The battle is over :
they are retiring ! " I was bitterly disappointed. " I
thought I should have got my best subjects here to-
morrow," I murmured dolefully. " No," said the
officer : " they have flown. Three hours from now we
shall be flying after them." " O ! " I said, and packed
up my box.

And so it has been all through with this modern
warfare : you can't honestly paint a battle-piece nowa-
days. You see very little of the fighting. You see
the effects of a battle, men mangled and villages
destroyed ; but as to seeing the enemy, that is an absolute
impossibility, even through a telescope. The saying
is quite true that a modern battle reduces itself to one
man and a puff of smoke or rather one man and no
smoke, the powder being smokeless.

When I arrived at the Presidency to make my second
sketch of Lord Roberts, I was very shy and unnerved.
This time I was by myself: I had not my friend
Admiral Maxse to help me. Also, during the period




Lord Roberts

that had elapsed since my first sitting and this one, I
had had time to realise the great privilege it was to have
Lord Roberts as a sitter. My friends had impressed
this upon me so much that they had produced quite a
state of fever.

I was met by one of the A.D.C.s, and shown into
a large reception-room a kind of double drawing-
room, with huge-patterned, viciously-coloured wallpaper.
Here, in this extremely vulgar room, I waited for half-
an-hour until Lord Roberts was ready to receive me.
Here I was left by the officer who conducted me in,
seated on an uncomfortable curly sofa an Early Vic-
torian sofa and told to wait. But this half-hour was
not wasted ; nor was it altogether disagreeably spent, for
I was occupied in studying a group of idlers, mostly staff
officers and men of high social position dukes, princes,
peers, foreign attaches, all wandering about aimlessly
with nothing in the world to do. It was a sorry sight,
at a time like this, when men were badly needed ; and
I pitied these poor fellows ; to watch them struggling
to create work was quite sad. Suddenly you would see
a man who had been looking vacantly out of the window,
hands in pockets, swerve sharply round on his heel and
rush to a desk, secure several sheets of paper and a quill
pen, press the nib on his nail to test its quality, dip it
vigorously in the ink, give it a little shake, and then
nibble the end of it thoughtfully. He would nibble
and nibble until all inspiration seemed to die away.
He would look scowlingly at his paper, then at his
pen ; gaze on the ceiling and all round the room ; and


War Impressions

eventually end by putting down the pen and strolling off
with the Cape Times under his arm. It was not only
one man that I saw going through this queer perform-
ance it was half-a-dozen men during my half-hour
in this " Hall of Idlers," as I dubbed it. There were
many desks in the room, and men were continually
rushing up, anxious to write down as quickly as possible
their fleeting inspirations. Some actually got as far as
covering a page or two ; but it never went farther than
the waste-paper basket.

Before I was aware that my time was up, my officer
entered to escort me to Lord Roberts. Here was a
contrast no idlers, no triflers, but real workers follow-
ing the example set by their chief. Every man worked
his hardest. I noticed an anxious, careworn look on
Lord Roberts' s face as I entered a look which deepened,
as I observed him closely, into severe lines. Yet to a
casual observer there might have appeared to be no
alteration, for he spoke just as charmingly and was just
as much interested.

Being a painter, and accustomed to the study of
faces, I quickly noticed his preoccupation, and felt that
it would be only kind to cut the sitting short. There
was some excuse for Lord Roberts's anxiety. It was
just at the time of the trouble with the Bloemfontein
waterworks, and the bridge that had been blown up :
there was cause for worry. Whenever I came to
sketch Lord Roberts I found him working. He rarely
seems fatigued. You would see him walking in the
evening, perhaps with Colonel Chamberlain, his mill-


Lord Roberts

tary secretary, always with a few of his staff, talking
enthusiastically all the time. Suddenly, while walking
at great pace, he would stop, bend his little dapper
figure, one hand on his hip, and trace a map of his plans
in the dust of the road, his officers anxiously stooping
over the dusty little design while their chief enthusi-
astically explained every aspect of this new development
step by step, prodding vigorous little holes in the ground
to explain critical situations. Only once in South Africa
did I see Lord Roberts really done up. That was at
Driefontein, on the march, when, to the dismay of the
whole brigade, Lord Roberts suddenly dismounted and
sat down on the stoep of a little farmhouse with his head
between his hands, thoroughly tired out. I remember
watching him from a distance ; the sight of this tired
little figure, physically worn out and frail, giving way
only for one moment, made me shudder : " O, if your
strength were to give way ! " I thought. " If you were
forced to relax the hold you have on this war, what
would happen ? Who could take up your work ? No
one ! " The possibility could not bear thinking of, and
I shook off this nightmare as Lord Roberts mounted his
horse and the brigade moved on.

During the many times that I have had the privilege
of sketching Lord Roberts I have naturally had to wait
in the halls and drawing-rooms at the Presidency, and
have had a splendid opportunity of studying the various
members of his large staff and their eccentricities. They
were eccentric ! Hitherto I had always waited in the
Hall of Idlers ; but now their idleness bored me ; it got
6 81

War Impressions

on my nerves, this constant atmosphere of idleness ;
and I determined on my last sitting to spend my time
in what was called the inner hall. In passing I glanced
in at my idlers. They were just as many as before.
Following the A.D.C., I entered a great cold bleak hall
with a marble floor everything was marble, even the
seats everything was cold, chilly. I sat down shivering
on one of the icy seats, quite prepared to wait some
hours, and my glance fell on an appallingly embarrassing
statue of a lady in the middle of the hall a modern
French statue. This statue, I soon learnt, was mistress
of this marble hall. She ruled it with a magic sway ;
every one was more or less demoralised by her. Scouts,
soldiers, idlers, generals, she hypnotised them all. An
officer dashing through on important business, as he
neared the middle of the hall, would be arrested in his
career, look up, blink, shake himself, and pass on his way.
Every one was affected by her some unconsciously,
but none the less affected. The worst case I ever
saw was that of a scout, a rugged, manly fellow one
of Rimington's Tigers, brought in by an officer, bearing
important news. The officer left him to fetch Lord
Kitchener. Poor fellow ! how I pitied him standing in
the middle of that bleak hall, brought sharply up to
attention by the side of the slightly draped monarch
so conscious of her presence every nerve strained to
look smart and answer promptly ; while his eyes in-
voluntarily strayed round towards her, blinked, and
looked straight ahead again cruel woman ! Presently
Lord Kitchener was seen striding down the hall on




Lord Roberts

business bent ; round went the scout's head and back
again, like that of a nodding mandarin. Even while
Lord Roberts was interrogating him, he could not keep
his eyes off her ; his agony was pitiful there was no
end to the havoc that wicked woman wrought.

This central hall was very different from the Hall of
Idlers. It was full of work and intense excitement.
Volunteer officers escorted in Rimington scouts bearing
important news ; tattered and torn people brought in
the atmosphere of the veldt with them. Yet even
here there were idlers. Groups of officers drifted in from
the drawing-room men with complexions, decorative
men, lounging about in groups talking to one another.
Scraps of conversation from them floated to where I sat
on my icy seat. One dapper officer would say, while
stifling a yawn, " Do you think that medicine has arrived
yet ? " Then there would be a general smile : medicine
meant champagne. " No ; but we had a case of cod-
liver oil sent up yesterday " more smiles : medicine,
champagne cod-liver oil, champagne. Then "Very
amusing the ladies were, very amusing ! Wanted
me to take them out to look for Boers. Devilish
difficult to make them understand it was impossible."
"You know, really it's rather a bore having ladies at
the front rather in the way. It's all very well at Cape
Town ; but we don't want them here." " Are the
fairies going to lunch at your camp to-morrow ? "
" Hang it all ! they are. I expect they'll want the
Chief to take them out and show them some Boers.
Upon my word, they are treating this war as if it


War Impressions

was a circus ! " " By the way, have you got any
missing-dot twopennies ? " " No ; didn't know there
was a missing dot in the twopenny." " Well ! look
here : let's stroll round to the Post Office and see if
we can't get some." Such was the sort of conversation
in the inner hall. Apropos of missing dots : nearly
every officer in the army is a stamp collector. I have
heard of one officer's wife who is now building a
country-house with the proceeds of some of these
missing dots.

In the midst of this idle talk, Lord Kitchener would
appear on the scenes. In an instant all conversation
stopped, and there was only the sound of the click of
heels as the officers, like one man, drew themselves up
and saluted. Every soul in that hall drew up to atten-
tion as Lord Kitchener passed ; even civilians seemed
to straighten themselves. So it always is : wherever
Lord Kitchener goes his presence works like magic on
the men about him ; whether in Cape Town or on the
march, a look from Lord Kitchener was enough to
straighten the back of every laggard. No officer in the
British army, not even Lord Roberts himself, is held
in such mortal fear.

I always remember the last sitting Lord Roberts
was kind enough to give me, because of an interesting
talk we had about General and Mrs. Cronje. Lord
Roberts was anxious to know if I had painted these
celebrities when they were at Klip Drift with the 4000
prisoners. I had made one or two slight sketches of
the General while he was being escorted into camp by



Lord Roberts

the C.I.V. ; but he was not feeling particularly happy
at the time, and there would have seemed a want of
fitness in asking him to come out of his tent and pose
for me on the veldt. As to Mrs. Cronje, I had heard
different descriptions of her. Some said that she was
stout ; others, that she was dainty and gem-like. My
curiosity was aroused : I felt I must paint her. " But,"
I said, " I couldn't pluck up the courage to do it."
" Why ? " enquired Lord Roberts. " Well, she was
hopeless as a bit of decoration : I couldn't see her as a
picture at all." Then Lord Roberts, always kind and
courteous, said, with a smile, " Well, you could hardly
expect the poor woman to look decorative after living
in the trenches at Paardeberg for that length of time.
No woman in the world, after that terrible ordeal, could
look anything but ragged." It was little touches like this
his championing of poor old Mrs. Cronje that gave
one an insight into the chivalrous nature of Lord
Roberts. Once, when he was reviewing the troops
just arrived from India, I was greatly struck by his neat
young little figure. No man sat his horse so well as
Lord Roberts. I talked to the men in camp afterwards ;
they were all enthusiastic about their Commander-in-
Chief, and I should think that there was not one
but would remember every detail of Lord Roberts's
visit to them that day. Everywhere one sees the same
hero-worship. Perhaps one of the prettiest sights in
the world was to watch Lord Roberts taking his evening
walk in front of the Bloemfontein Club. The square
would be thronged with people, crowding and pushing,


War Impressions

when Lord Roberts's little figure was seen advancing
towards the Club. In an instant, like a body of trained
soldiers and quicker than a crowd melts before royalty,
this huge body of people would spring back, leaving a
large clear pathway for the little monarch. It was
curious to watch how, though the square was filled with
the most interesting people, the pick of nations, every
eye was concentrated on one figure pacing thoughtfully
up and down. One could see no one else. It was all so
natural there was no limelight, no seeking to occupy
the centre of attention. I have often thought, while
standing on the stoep of the Club, of how many of our
leading London actors would love to occupy such a
position on the stages of their theatres : yet, with all
the limelight shining on their chests, and all their
dexterous placing, they could never produce the effect
that Lord Roberts did in that square at Bloemfontein.
His influence over people is quite extraordinary. I
have had the chance of talking to Boer Commandoes,
Free State farmers, all types of the enemy ; and they
have all said kind things of Lord Roberts. I have
never heard a word against him from any one. Now
and then people have criticised Lord Roberts's conduct
in relation to South Africa, saying that he is too lenient
with the enemy, and that if he had been more severe
the campaign would have been shorter. With these
critics I totally disagree. The qualities that they com-
plain of in Lord Roberts are just the qualities that have
helped perhaps more than any other force to make
possible the pacification of the two republics. There is



Lord Roberts

no living general who could have done his work better
than Lord Roberts ; and as for his handling of this
campaign, it has been the most perfect bit of work
possible. He has never shirked his duty ; and, now
that the campaign is drawing to a close, and one can
look back at it to a certain extent in perspective, one
realises how stupendous this work has been.



WHEN I returned to Cape Town from Bloemfontein I
was anxious that Sir Alfred Milner should sit for me ;
but I did not know how to approach him. I tried
friends who knew him very well ; but somehow or
other they were unable to help me. Cape Town just
then was full of gaieties : there were so many dinner-
parties to attend to that I suppose I should not have
expected help. Still, so determined was I to succeed that
I took the matter into my own hands, and marched
up to Government House one Sunday afternoon,
determined to ask the Governor's permission myself.
Instantly all difficulties vanished. I was interviewed
by an A.D.C., and told that Sir Alfred would be
pleased to sit to me. The A.D.C. knew my work,
and if I would call the next morning at nine o'clock
he would arrange for a sitting in Sir Alfred's own study.
I arrived next morning, carrying my paint-box
under my arm, and was shown into an ante-room to
await my audience with the Governor. It was a
billiard-room shall I ever forget it ? Every minute



Sir Alfred Milner

I stayed there made me feel more and more depressed
and miserable. It was the typical Government room,
uncomfortable and terribly unsympathetic. The walls
were hung with sporting prints and caricatures of Sir
Alfred Milner and his staff. It was these caricatures
that upset me more than anything. They were pictures
of men with big heads and little bodies looking like
great tadpoles. They seemed an attempt at Vanity
Fair cartoons, feeble copies of "APE," attempts at
clever impressions ; in this case the artist's only idea of
a caricature appeared to be a photograph of a man's
head attached to a very small body, pictures terrible to
live with, enough to throw any one with an artistic
soul, obliged to look at them, into the depths of
despair. Then, there were trophies, trophies every-
where, barbaric shields nailed to the walls with arrows
stuck over the top, guns suspended at ridiculous angles,
things for which architecturally there was no excuse.

However, just as my nightmare had reached its
summit the A.D.C. entered, and conducted me to the
presence of the Governor. As we entered a tall figure
rose up from an enormous desk where he had been
writing. This cold, quiet, sedate figure in the chilly,
icy Government room somehow filled me with a sense
of awe, and seemed even more unsympathetic than the
caricatures in the ante-room. The great room with its
hundreds of books that lined the walls ; the bare tall
windows where the light shone in garishly ; the very
papers that littered the desk all were cold and bluey in
colour, and even the delicious peeps of sunlight and


War Impressions

green trees that one caught through the windows only
served to accentuate the dreariness of the interior.
The Governor himself was cool in colour ; his thin
scholarly face looked like the finest ivory browned with
age ; his hair was of a silvery colour ; his eyes had a
glint of steel ; his clothing was sad, without a touch of
warmth ; his very manner was cool, courtly, and polite.
When the A.D.C. left us I felt that I also must freeze.
Yet there was a touch of sympathy in Sir Alfred him-
self. When he smiled the change was extraordinary.
It transformed the whole face, and made it sweet and
gentle. But directly I saw that smile I realised the
difficulty I should have in painting Sir Alfred Milner.
While as a man I rejoiced at the change, as a painter
I was dismayed at the thought of depicting such an
expression ; and I anticipated much the same difficulty
that I had with Mr. Arthur Balfour, for the two men
are curiously alike in many ways. I noticed that the
colouring of the skin, or rather the lack of colouring,
was the same ; the quality of the hair, the brilliancy of
the eye, the mobile face and expression when talking,
the same lack of magnetism and apparent naturalness
and certain little eccentricities (such as the crossing of
the legs and the doubling up of the body while writing),
altogether Sir Alfred Milner might well be taken for
Mr. Arthur Balfour's double. When I mentioned this
great similarity to him, he said, " Do you think so ?
That is strange ! I have been told that many times,
and by another artist my dear old friend, the late
Sir Edward Burne-Jones."



Sir Alfred Milner

Sir Alfred Milner talked delightfully to me, and his
great charm of manner soon weaned me from my unsym-
pathetic surroundings and made me feel myself once
more. He talked of my work, which, he said, he knew
very well ; and, as if to prove his statement, he showed
to me a drawing that had been given to him by Lady
Edward Cecil as a birthday present. This reassured me,
and I was able to talk quite naturally, finding in Sir Alfred
a very sympathetic listener. He seemed to be terribly
busy. Clerks and A.D.C.s were continually flitting in
and out of the room, bringing large bundles of corre-
spondence and laying them on his desk ; several people
were waiting for an audience in the ante-room ; and
still he talked on while the pile by his desk mounted
higher and higher, until I thought it must surely be
impossible for one human being to cope with such a
mass. He talked of the war, the Boers, the veldt, all
as it seemed to me, in a wonderfully indiscreet manner ;
but after sketching him several times I realised that in
reality he had told me nothing. The moment you
enter the room he gauges you, and allows himself only
a certain amount of space (as it were) in which to talk.
In that space he is perfectly natural and indiscreet ; yet
never by any chance does he go beyond it, so that after
you leave him you discover that it is you who have
been indiscreet, rather than he. It is this quality that
has made him so successful in his post of High

However, to the portrait ! " Now," he said, " how
shall I pose ? " This with the air of a man who is

War Impressions

prepared to do gracefully that which is distasteful to
him. When I said that I would much rather that he
did not pose at all, but simply allow me to sketch him
working at his desk just as he was, he seemed intensely
relieved, and settled down to his work with something
like a sigh of relief. All that morning I sat sketching
him in his study ; and I begged Sir Alfred to forget my
presence entirely, which he very soon did, only looking
up now and then to ask some graceful question con-
cerning my work, and even by that slight action creating
a new picture which I seized as rapidly as I could.
My chief difficulty in painting Sir Alfred Milner was
his expression, which varied with every minute : now
it was sad, now severe, sometimes with a strange
melancholy, but creating every time a totally different
picture. He seemed to me a kaleidoscope of subtle
expressions, and it was only through dashing off very
swift impressions by well-placed lines that I was able
to catch the fleeting expressions at all sometimes with
only two or three lines, but all suggestive and natural,

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Online LibraryMortimer MenpesWar impressions, being a record in colour; → online text (page 6 of 15)