Mortimer Menpes.

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and quite enough for my final portrait. As I sketched
him I was actually looking from his face to the room,
and I marvelled that such a man was able to work
among such surroundings, as it seemed a room especially
designed to give one the blues large, unsympathetic,
uncomfortably severe, stocked with books from floor to
ceiling, nothing but books, books, books. No one but
Sir Alfred, who is too absorbed in his work to notice
his surroundings, could, I am convinced, stay in such a
room for two minutes without realising the hopelessness



Sir Alfred Milner

of it all. Heavens ! if he did wake up and look around
him, he would make a bolt for England and not stay
in South Africa another minute, leaving Cape Colony
to take care of itself. However, there he sits at an
enormous desk stocked with documents and manuscripts
of every description, calmly writing on. What a refined
scholarly-looking face it is, so gentle, so kindly, with
large impressive eyes rather hidden by glasses obviously
a student, a man who has lived all his life at his desk ;
there is almost a British Museum air about him it is
impossible to look at Sir Alfred Milner without mentally
placing bookshelves as a background. He is quite a
tall man you do not realise how tall until you see him
standing by one of his A.D.C.s ; for a man who has
lived always at his desk, remarkably upright ; he walks
extremely well, with graceful flowing movements, and
when standing, his hands are always well placed, which
is rare with students, who are usually so awkward. He
is middle-aged with hair just turning grey, very thin
and wiry ; he has the look of a man who is worn out
with care and hard work. His expression in repose is
severe, and the face is swept with perpendicular lines
which all take the direction of up and down ; but the
moment he talks, then the change of expression is so
marked that it is impossible for a painter to attempt to
depict. His manner is kind and gentle, very earnest
and tactful, but he does not strike one as being magnetic
or sympathetic, and one feels sometimes that he would
never be capable of getting out of his own atmosphere
the atmosphere of a student. Sir Alfred kindly gave


War Impressions

me my sittings in his private study, for he was very
interested in my work and I used to sit there sketching
him while he worked. How he worked ! interviewing
people all day long, writing despatches secretaries and
A.D.C.s coming in and out in two continual streams
with messages and bundles of correspondence. No one
in England has any idea how that man works he is the
hardest-worked in all South Africa, for he works not
only all day long but half the night as well. Yet,
although he is so busy, there were moments during the
sittings when we had some very interesting conversation.
We often talked of the veldt, which we both decided
was indescribable. " That is just where the artist has an
advantage over the literary man," declared Sir Alfred,
one day ; " pigment is possible when suggesting the
veldt, but the pen, never." One day, while talking of
my work, Sir Alfred remarked that he thought, in my
drawing of General Pole-Carew, I had idealised the man
too much. "You have drawn an angelic side," he said,
" that I cannot see in the General." I was a little hurt
for the moment at this criticism, and I believe Sir Alfred
noticed it, for he immediately added : " I am hopelessly
critical. I believe I am a born critic, for I always see
the faults in everything " ; and I expressed a fervent
wish that he should not criticise his own portrait too
severely, or, at any rate, not to tell me too frankly what
he thought of it.

One of the best opportunities I ever had for sketch-
ing Sir Alfred in different positions was one sunny
morning on the steps of Government House, while he



Sir Alfred Milner

was delivering a speech to the people just after the relief
of Mafeking, the day that all Cape Town went mad with
joy. He was surrounded by the most extraordinary
collection of people I ever saw a dirty but loyal
crowd. Standing quite close to him was a strange
soiled little child in a kilt carrying a huge banner, a
youngster who always figures in any important function
(why, no one knows), who in processions takes the lead
in a little cart trimmed with evergreens. The child
might, you would think, become conceited in time,
holding such an important position, but not, you are
sure, if it could only see itself. Another of Sir Alfred's
familiars is a dog, a kind of Dandie Dinmont, a strange
specimen which whenever the Governor makes a speech
always comes at the critical moment and squats itself
down at his feet not at all a pretty dog, but an
animal, nevertheless, to whom Sir Alfred is very much

Of course, Sir Alfred and I discussed many topics,
and it was only natural that certain features of our more
immediate surroundings should have engaged our special
attention. For example, just when I was at the Cape,
the town was full of smart Society butterflies and gilded
young staff officers, to whom a garden-party or a
champagne dinner was of infinitely greater moment
than the vast tragedy of the front. I mentioned this
one day to the Governor, and told him how disgusted I
felt so disgusted that, though I had had many invita-
tions to dinner, I had preferred, during a time of
national sorrow, to go quietly to some little out-of-the-


War Impressions

way restaurant, so much like fiddling while Rome
burned did the revolting frivolities of Cape Town in
early January appear to me to be. Sir Alfred, looking
up pale and sad and worn with ceaseless work and
watching, thoroughly agreed with me. He told me
some of his experiences with the ladies to whom I had
referred, which, though troublesome, were sometimes
very amusing. He agreed with me that South Africa
was not the place for women : in fact, women, he said,
gave him a great deal of trouble, especially those who
forced their way to the front. There were women in
South Africa, he told me, who were doing splendid
work, work that would amaze the average woman.
" But," he said, " there are thoughtless women too,
Society women who travel constantly from place to
place without stopping to think that every time they
take a journey, say from here to Bloemfontein, it means
pilot engines and all sorts of extra precautions, which at
a time like this, when every ounce of energy is needed
for the great work we have undertaken in South Africa,
we can ill afford to spare." And here and there, he
told me, women will do extraordinary things. They
will insist on going to Bloemfontein at a time when the
enemy is rife in the country. " Now," he said very
emphatically, "there was one woman who defied the
Commander-in-Chief for two hours. She defied him
for two hours two hours," he kept repeating it
over and over to himself, as though trying to realise
the full presumption of it. Then he turned to me,
and said, in his quiet way, " Now, Mr. Menpes,



Sir Alfred Milner

can you imagine such a thing possible ? Can you
imagine any one here in South Africa daring to defy
the Commander-in-Chief for two minutes ? I can't ;
but it happened it's a fact. And it really was pre-
posterous ! " " Ladies," I observed, " seem to imagine
that this war in South Africa is nothing but a very
large circus got up for their amusement " ; and then I
told him of some ladies I knew at Bloemfontein, who
had asked a General if he would mind taking them out
and showing them the enemy on kopjes ; the General
had to refuse, and delicately explain that if they saw
the Boers it was just possible that the Boers might see
them. " Just fancy," I exclaimed, " attempting to turn
the battlefield into a circus ! " " Well," said Sir Alfred
with a smile, " I have just checked a proposal by a big
London firm to turn it into an excursion. They had
proposed starting cheap excursions to the various battle-
fields ; but that danger is past I arrested it immedi-
ately. We might then have had even greater trouble
than with the women. And, mind you, they proposed
these excursions with the war still in progress : that,
indeed, was to have been part of the attraction." This
idea seemed to amuse him vastly, and we dwelt on it.
We pictured these poor dear tourists wandering about
on the veldt ladies digging with their parasols for
trophies in the way of bullets imbedded in the ground,
or listening to a lecture delivered by their intellectual
ringleader and being suddenly surrounded by a party
of Boers and whisked off to Pretoria there was scope
here for much amusement.
7 97

War Impressions

Sir Alfred was questioning me one morning con-
cerning my different sitters in South Africa, and that
led to a very interesting talk on Mr. Cecil Rhodes,
whom Sir Alfred distinctly admires, so much so that
I sent to him a sketch of the great man, drawn at
Kimberley, with which he was delighted. He also
inquired how I had got on at the front, and if I had
been treated well there. I told him that I had been
treated with every courtesy and kindness except on
one special occasion. I recounted my experiences with
the affected staff officer at Orange River, described in
a preceding chapter.

Sir Alfred smiled, and said that he was only too
glad to have helped to wipe away such an impression.
"But," he continued with a simple generosity that
strongly reminded me of Lord Roberts, "you must
not be too hard on these staff officers. There is a
great difference between the Society drawler, the rather
affected gilt-edged superior person you meet at a
dinner-party in the town here, and the same man as
you will see him a few weeks hence working at the
front, where he has been face to face with death or has
realised the meaning of the word * responsibility ' in its
entirety. I quite agree with Wellington that it is often
the dandies who make the best soldiers in the end, and
it is just these affected young fellows, who naturally
and very properly irritate you to-day, who will perhaps
die the gamest or will really best uphold the highest
traditions of the British army." In a way, of course,
I agreed with the Governor ; but at the same time,



Sir Alfred Milner

when I compared the idle young fellows as they certainly
were while romping about the Cape with the man who
had so eloquently defended them, and was literally kill-
ing himself with work for his country, I felt thoroughly

On my last day in Cape Town, before starting for
Ladysmith, I was very anxious to get in another sitting,
and Sir Alfred suggested that I should come that night
after dinner. " But," I said, " you do not work by
artificial light : you will not be here."

Sure enough, there he was when I called that evening,
seated at the same desk and working harder than ever.
I had expected to get a splendid night effect, thinking
that there would probably be an oil reading-lamp on the
desk. Instead of that the room was flooded with raw,
badly -shaded, incandescent light, making everything
look just as blue and unsympathetic as ever. But
after a time I forgot my disappointment, and thought
only of my subject ; and all the light I saw seemed to
be reflected from the luminous head of the High
Commissioner. This was the last time I ever saw
Sir Alfred Milner, and I stayed until late that night,
sketching him. He was terribly busy, I remember,
for it was just after the relief of Mafeking and on the
evening of a very busy day.

That night there was one of the most touching
incidents that I have ever witnessed. All the evening
clerks and A.D.C.s had been coming in and out in two
continual streams with large bundles of correspondence
for the Commissioner's superintendence, and the pile of


War Impressions

letters by his side, all to be read that night, was reaching
abnormal proportions. Sir Alfred's face was becoming
drawn and pale with fatigue, when a wretched clerk
came staggering in with a still larger batch, ready to
dump it down on the pile, and I felt inclined to shed
a tear as Sir Alfred wearily put out his hand and
murmured, " Enough enough ! "




IT was at the Sanatorium in Kimberley that I first met
Mr. Rhodes. The siege had just been raised. I had cut
across-country in a Cape cart from Jacobsdal with two
correspondents, and had arrived at Kimberley on the heels
of General French, dirty and tired, after many unpleasant
experiences, having narrowly escaped getting into the
Boer lines, and having had to drag the cart along bodily
by day and sleep under it by night. We went straight
to the Sanatorium, an hotel that Mr. Rhodes had kept up
all through the siege for the benefit of his friends, and
were welcomed hospitably by Mrs. Maguire and invited
to stay to luncheon. I shall never forget that meal,
because we had green corn and butter ; and I remember
carelessly stroking my butter on my corn, just as I
would in London, little realising that I was stroking on
gold, for butter at that time was literally worth its
weight in gold. I gathered that Mr. Rhodes himself
had not suffered very severely from famine, considering
that this luncheon was on the last day of the siege, when
every one outside the Sanatorium was eating horseflesh,


War Impressions

camels, and siege soup it would take a bold man
indeed to venture a description of what that soup was
made of: I know the man who designed it, and he
could never be persuaded to divulge the recipe. I sat
next Mr. Rhodes during luncheon, and had a good
opportunity of studying the great man. That day he
seemed bubbling over with mischief, and took a wicked
pleasure in quizzing one of his guests, a well-known
member of Parliament he made a regular butt of the
poor man, and never seemed tired of trotting him out
and making him contradict himself, especially delighting
in getting him to talk of his various adventures on land
and sea. On one occasion, by very dexterous question-
ing the poor young man was made to state that he had
once ridden 500 miles in two hours. I have lunched
with Mr. Rhodes many times ; and he is always the
same, always getting an immense amount of fun out of
one or another of his guests.

When you first see Mr. Rhodes you think " What
an enormous man ! " He seems to tower above every
one else ; but, curiously enough, his stature is not over
the average. It is the head that is so big, like the
head of some great lion full of brain and capacity. He
is all head it seems to fill the room. The face is like
the face of Nero on a coin strong and determined,
with a mouth like iron. In repose his expression is
very severe ; but when he is talking the lines of the
face turn up and the eyes look down benignly upon you.
One realised how those lines could tighten and the blue
eyes become like burnished steel, and that at times he

1 02


The Right Honourable Cecil Rhodes

could be very formidable indeed. He does not care two
straws about his personal appearance, and generally
wears a rough tweed coat that seems to have been
dragged on through sheer force with the buttons invari-
ably hitched up to buttonholes that were never meant
for them, a cobalt blue necktie, and white flannel trousers,
which were so conspicuous as to be a great source of
worry to his friends in Kimberley, who were in constant
terror of his being sniped by the Boers so much so
that they hired a man to follow him at a distance for
protection. One day, while on horseback, Mr. Rhodes
realised that he was being followed, and led his body-
guard such a chase (galloping all over Kimberley) that
the poor man at last sank exhausted on the wayside.
Then Mr. Rhodes turned round, and asked him savagely
if he " had had enough."

It is difficult to gauge the character of a man like
Mr. Rhodes, because there never was a man so full of
violent contrast. He is the roughest man possible, and
amazingly animal, yet as delicate and sensitive as a
school-girl, and strongly spiritual. I have never seen a
man look more angry than Mr. Rhodes, and almost at
the same moment I have seen tears shining in his
eyes. To know the real Rhodes, your thoughts must
run parallel with his ; otherwise he will close like an
oyster. I have spent many days with him in Kimberley.
I have seen him in all his many moods. I have learnt
to know the man himself, not the rough exterior that
he presents to the world ; and I have learnt to like
him. He is a giant, dwarfing the strongest man


War Impressions

capable of almost any emotion capable of any mortal

Mr. Rhodes is a very busy man ; yet he found time
to give me many sittings, both in the garden and in his
study. He will never be painted other than full-face.
He considers that a man looks you straight in the face ;
therefore paint him so no profiles for him. He is
palpitating with sympathy, loves Nature and naturalness,
loathes hypocrisy, and will never stand affectation in
any one. Yet he is a man of many moods, and at times
can be almost brutal. I learnt this on several occasions ;
but only one was a personal experience. It was several
days after that famous luncheon that has always remained
in my memory because of the butter and green corn.
I had begged the privilege of sketching Mr. Rhodes,
and he had very kindly consented ; but, not knowing
his little eccentricities, I was rather astonished when, as
I took out my paint-box to begin the portrait, he rose
in a very dignified way, drew himself up to his full
height, and said, " Sir, do you intend to paint me full-
face ? If not, you don't paint me at all unless it is the
back of my head." Then he flung himself back in his
chair, broadside on, looked me full in the face, and
growled, " Now begin." But I did not know how to
begin I was so much upset. However, when I realised
that Mr. Rhodes was just as embarrassed as myself, and
that a great deal of this roughness was to cover an
almost childish shyness, I felt less uncomfortable, and
was able to go on with my work : Mr. Rhodes at
heart is an exceedingly shy man. Yet how different



The Right Honourable Cecil Rhodes

he was next day when I sketched him in his study at
the Sanatorium ! We were both talking of growing old.
As I sat by this great man and heard him talk, I realised
the horror he had of it. I thought of the work he
had set himself to do ; I realised that he certainly was
not getting younger ; the pathos of the thing almost
overpowered me ; and I burst out with, " Rhodes, you'll
never be old. Your mind is young, and you are young :
you must always be a boy ! " I felt I must say so, and
I felt I must think so ; and I believe I did at the time.
Rhodes loved me for it, and kept repeating in an
exultant way, " I am a boy ! I am a boy ! Of course
I shall never get old ! " He drew himself up, this huge
body of his, and said, " I never felt younger."

Then I talked of the romance of life, and at that
moment I felt that I could talk of my work as a
painter ; and Rhodes listened delightfully, simply
because my thoughts ran parallel with his. Good
Heavens ! if they hadn't he wouldn't have listened for a
second. " Of course, I am romantic," he said. " Why
do I love my garden ? Because I love to dream there.
Why not come and dream with me in my garden at
Kenilworth ? Come to-morrow morning ! " I went
in the morning, and did dream with Rhodes for hours.
Yes : certainly it was for hours, for we had no breakfast
that morning, I remember. That day no trace of the
harsh, imperial Rhodes showed itself, but only the
artistic and the sympathetic ; and here was this great
financier dreaming and loving his garden as only an
artist could.


War Impressions

It was then that he talked of that plan of his to
plant an avenue, called Siege Avenue, in remembrance
of the Siege of Kimberley. It is to be a mile in length,
for coaches -and -four to drive through abreast an
avenue of vines covering trellises grown so as to form
an arch. On either side of the vines are to be planted
pepper trees for the sake of their beautiful berries, orange
trees, and eucalyptus this last to protect the orange
and pepper. " What do you think of that ? " asked
Mr. Rhodes. " Superb ! " I exclaimed. " Gorgeous ! "
Then in the midst of all this beauty a monument is to
be erected in memory of the men who fell in the defence
of Kimberley, a monument of marvel which Mr. Rhodes
described in this way : "It is to be white marble
brilliant white. I thought of using the lion as a
scheme of decoration perhaps lions supporting pillars.
Should we have a roof or just a group, a cluster of
pillars ? " " Before we talk of the roof, Mr. Rhodes,
let us talk of the pillars," I said. " You don't seriously
intend using the lion as a scheme of decoration ? You
spring this animal upon me to draw out my opinion as
a painter. No : you mean the Sphinx : that creature,
with the clear-cut, simple lines, suggests the great
Rhodes far more than the curly lion." " Yes : you're
quite right," said Rhodes : " it must be the Sphinx."
Shortly afterwards, when I arrived at Cape Town, I
learnt that Mr. Rhodes had sent his architect, Mr.
Herbert Baker, to Egypt to study the Sphinx ; and I
realised that he had not lost time. We were sitting in
his garden that morning, Rhodes and I, drinking in the

1 06


The Right Honourable Cecil Rhodes

beauty of the scene before us, when he suddenly said,
" Why do you like my garden so much ? Why does
it appeal to you ? " I said that it was the contrast that
appealed to me the contrast between the vivid green
of the garden and the khaki veldt that acted as a back-
ground. I said to him, " Take that garden, beautiful
as it is, and plank it down in Surrey : it would lose
half its charm. I love it because it is a bit of artistic
placing. Now, you, Mr. Rhodes, understand the value
of placing and contrast." " Yes : you're right," he ex-
claimed. " That's the word : it's contrast " ; and he
kept repeating " Contrast ! yes, of course : the con-
trast," until, by the end of the morning, he had said
" contrast " at least a dozen times. Next day a friend
of mine in Kimberley told me that Mr. Rhodes had
got a new word, " contrast." " O yes," I said : " I

While I was in Kimberley there were continual
quarrels between the volunteers and the regulars over
precedence and little technicalities. The regulars held
on to the Red Book for dear life ; the volunteers, being
without a Red Book, had only their common-sense to
cling to.

It was in the midst of all these petty quarrels that
Rhodes determined to make himself a Colonel ; and a
Colonel he became. His first field day was characteristic
of the man. He appeared, of course, in uniform, but
ill-fitting and badly buttoned, and swung himself on
to his horse, both legs on one side, and literally sat
there as comfortably as a flower-woman might sit on a


War Impressions

kerbstone, and addressed the troops. Never in this
world did a man look less like a soldier ; yet never
was a man more capable. It was very amusing to
hear him cross-questioning a soldier, and putting him-
self in a strong position by saying, " I am only an
amateur, you see, and don't understand soldiering " ;
and then, on the top of that, he would paralyse the
man with his real technical knowledge.

During one of the many sittings that Mr. Rhodes
was kind enough to give me, he talked very freely of
the muddling way in which a great deal of the war was
carried on, and especially of the treatment of himself
by the military in Kimberley. He told me that he had
once inspired an article in a newspaper there. It was a
leading article. The military authorities were aroused,
and threatened to imprison the editor. Mr. Rhodes
suggested that, since he had inspired the article, it would
surely be more satisfactory to them to imprison him.
He added that it disgusted him to think that this
frivolous detail was occupying all the attention of the
military when there was very serious work to be done.
" Look at the way the Boers are handling ' Long
Tom ' ! " he burst out. " Why, they have got it planked
on top of a rubbish heap ! Fancy one of our officers
thinking of placing a gun on a rubbish heap ! He
would say it couldn't be done : the Red Book never
mentioned anything about rubbish heaps being suitable

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Online LibraryMortimer MenpesWar impressions, being a record in colour; → online text (page 7 of 15)