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Mr. Chamberlain’s associates.

Having spoken of his brethren, I may now refer to one or two of Mr. Chamberlain’s friends and associates. Among these I will specially mention Mr. Jesse Collings, Mr. Schnadhorst, and Mr. Powell Williams. Mr. Collings, like Mr. Chamberlain, is a stranger within our gates. He is a Devon man by birth, but as a comparatively young man he came to Birmingham, and he not only came but he saw and he prospered. He entered local public life about the same time as Mr. Chamberlain, and they soon became kindred spirits. From the first Mr. Chamberlain seemed to take a special fancy to Mr. Collings in American phrase, he “froze to him.” They became a sort of David and Jonathan company limited, and although each of the partners may have preserved a certain amount of independence and individuality, in many things they pulled together in their work and policy like one man.

When Mr. Chamberlain took leave of local municipal life and went up higher, Mr. Collings was not long in following him, and now both have been for some years very familiar figures in Parliament. Since they first entered public life both men have in some ways mellowed down. Compared with what they once were, their foes at any rate say, they have both lost colour. They were once ripe, full-bodied Radicals, and now they are tawny Liberals, who have been bottled late but bottled.

Although time and experience may have taught Mr. Collings many things, he probably retains more of the old Radical Adam than does Mr. Chamberlain. At one time he was regarded by some of his opponents as a political fire-eater a democratic despot who would have decapitated kings and queens without a tinge of remorse, and slain wicked Tories with the sword. He was, however, never the ungenial, self-seeking, aggressive person some of his foes may have fancied him. He was always an affable, pleasant, agreeable man, who could be civil and even polite to his adversaries, especially when political fighting was not going on in front. But, as I have said, he has toned down during late years and has learned, as many other men have done, that there are large lessons to be learnt by experience, and that there is some virtue in expediency.

Of course a good deal of mud has been flung at Mr. Collings by some of his local friends in consequence of what they consider his political perversion, but I don’t know that much of it has stuck to him. With some of his former allies it is not so much that he may have become more temperate in his views, or that he did actually abandon his absolute freedom and take a Government office. They might have forgiven these little backslidings, but in their eyes he sinned past redemption when he consorted with titled people, broke the bread of kings, and even suffered himself to be entertained at Sandringham. These were offences outside forgiveness in the eyes of some few of his former associates. With Mr. Chamberlain, however, as his friend and prototype, he probably feels that he can afford to smile at the sneers and jeers of those who, not being able to make much way up the political ladder themselves, take their revenge by pelting those who are climbing their way towards the top.

Among Mr. Chamberlain’s working associates, Mr. Powell Williams has been a sort of “surprise packet.” Poets, we are told, are born, and not made, but Mr. Powell Williams seems to have been made, and not born. At least, no one seems to know anything much about his early career. He appeared to burst upon the municipal horizon all at once, like a meteor emerging from outer space, but when he came in contact with the Corporation atmosphere he soon became ignited and fired by municipal enthusiasm, and, encouraged by those who perceived his capacity, he rapidly began to be a conspicuous luminary in our local Forum. He quickly distinguished himself in the matter of local finance, and indeed soon became Birmingham’s Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Without being a brilliant or learned orator, Mr. Powell Williams had the gift of fluency, and he could generally be reckoned upon to get up at a moment’s notice and make an effective speech. He could also do a little fighting if it came in his way, and in the course of his Town Council career he had one or two pretty bouts with some of his opponents. When he is not on the war horse he is a pleasant, intelligent, un-sour man, with a touch of smartness and humour which give point to his words. As is now well known, Mr. Williams was returned to Parliament for one of the Birmingham divisions. He became the successful helmsman in London of the central organization of the Liberal Unionist party. On the formation of the Government in 1895, to the surprise of many of his friends and acquaintances, he became a member of the administration. It was believed that he was well taken in tow by Mr. Chamberlain, but it may with truth, perhaps, be added that by his own energy and ability he placed himself in a prominent position where he could hardly be overlooked.

With respect to Mr. Schnadhorst, there can be no question as to Mr. Chamberlain’s prescience in judging of the capabilities of men, and his quick appreciation of Mr. Schnadhorst’s attributes is a case in point. The pre-eminence this latter-named gentleman attained in the political world was somewhat of a surprise to many of his old friends, and probably not least of all to himself. Doubtless at the beginning of his career he little dreamt that owing to his being taken in hand by men of influence; to unforeseen circumstances in the evolution of political affairs; and also, it must be admitted, to certain capabilities of his own, he would attain to the position of importance he somewhat quickly reached, and his name become a synonym for systematic political organization.

I knew Mr. Schnadhorst long before he blossomed out into fame. He struck me, and doubtless others, as being an intelligent, good, easy-mannered man, with a touch of “Sunday schoolism” in his character and manner. He was not brilliant, and he did not appear to be burdened with much originality. He seemed to be a pointless sort of man, apparently destitute of any keen sense of humour; a spectacled, sallow, sombre man, who would have been an ornament to a first-class undertaker’s business. Certainly he was not one who, by his smartness, wit, cleverness, and courage would have tempted anyone to say, “There is the great political organizer of the future.”

In his earlier life and in his own particular line of business he was not a conspicuous success. His heart was not in it or his hand either. Speaking from my own experience, he made me about the worst fitting coat I ever wore. Mr. Chamberlain, however, took his measure more successfully than he himself took other people’s, in a sartorial sense, and soon saw that he would make up into something useful if the cutting out was done for him.

Mr. Schnadhorst as a young man began by taking a keen and intelligent interest in local public life. He came under the eye of Mr. Chamberlain, who quickly perceived that he possessed certain qualities which would prove useful and valuable if properly employed. He saw in him a man of aptitude and capacity, who had the suaviter in modo, even if he had not much of the fortiter in re a man of method, persuasiveness, and industry, with a cool head, a safe temper, and a calm mind.

Of Mr. Schnadhorst’s possession of the last-named qualities I once had a striking proof. It was on the occasion of one of Mr. Gladstone’s visits to Birmingham. A great political meeting was held in Bingley Hall, and the immense gathering was in a fever of excitement. I remember speaking with Mr. Schnadhorst in the course of the evening, and was greatly struck by his self-possessed, quiet, easy manner. So far from being affected by the intense enthusiasm and feverish excitement that prevailed, he was just as cool and collected as though the occasion was some little tea party affair or a ward meeting, instead of the greatest indoor political demonstration ever held in Birmingham.

As already stated Mr. Chamberlain quickly perceived and plumbed to the bottom Mr. Schnadhorst’s capabilities, and as he was bent on solidifying and systematising, or, in other words, “caucusing” the Liberal party in Birmingham, he thought he saw in Mr. Schnadhorst the organising mind and methodical skill that would be eminently useful in carrying out the work. Nor was he wrong. Mr. Schnadhorst proved to be all that was expected of him, and the political world knows the rest. How he became the great political machinist of his day, and how, by his zeal, ability, and method, he elevated “caucusing” or party “wire pulling” into a recognised system I had almost said a political science.

Circumstances have changed since that period. Mr. Chamberlain made Mr. Schnadhorst, but Mr. Schnadhorst turned his back upon his maker. He was probably actuated by conscientious motives and convictions, although professional politicians may not, as a rule, be credited with being greatly overburdened with conscientious scruples. Still, Mr. Schnadhorst was, I think, generally credited by those who knew him with being an upright, earnest, honest man, so he may well be allowed the benefit of the doubt.

It must, I think, have cost him a struggle to part company with such a man as Mr. Chamberlain with one who had put him in the way he should go, and which led him to such a commanding position of influence and importance. Anyway, from whatever motive, he was induced to forsake the rising star in the political firmament, and to worship Mr. Gladstone, the setting sun. The sun went down below the horizon, but we saw how Mr. Schnadhorst continued to work his political orrery with the major and minor planets, the shooting stars and comets, that shone at Westminster with such varied lustre, or wished to shine there if they could.