THE PAST MASTERS: Politics and Politicians 1906-1939 by Harold Macmillan

THE PAST MASTERS: Politics and Politicians 1906-1939

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With the last installment of his six-volume memoirs behind him (At the End of the Day, 1974), completing the epochal review of his rise and reign at 10 Downing Street, Macmillan now adds this informal, pictorial history of the giants and pygmies of his youth. Among the ""firmly sculptured figures"" the most magnetic is still Lloyd George, the Welsh changeling who won a war and lost a party. Baldwin and Chamberlain seemed faltering, hesitant figures in the Thirties--and despite Macmillan's unruffled civility, they still do. Churchill at the time gave little indication of his future powers but ""anyone thrown into [his] presence felt immediately treated as an equal, encouraged to argue and debate."" The political valuations are, on the whole, quite unoriginal, though one is momentarily brought up short by the estimation of Ramsay MacDonald: ""by temperament he was a romantic. . . . he had a natural tendency toward martyrdom."" Macmillan is beholden to Lloyd George for his pointers on how to make a speech: ""Never say more than one thing. . . . When you are a Minister two things, and when you are a Prime Minister, winding up a debate, perhaps three."" Toward the end Macmillan, the consummate pragmatist, permits himself a little melancholic brooding on ""the decay of the old moral system"" and contemplates possible ""desperate remedies""--i.e., a Coalition government--in the event that Britain's economic decline worsens. But chiefly this looks back with measured pomp and circumstance.

Pub Date: May 5th, 1976
Publisher: Harper & Row