Lloyd George Gives Magic to the Parley

Ernest Hemingway

Toronto Daily Star/May 13, 1922

Genoa.—Inside the cool, marble-vaulted entrance of the Royal palace, the magnificently uniformed carabinieri stiffened to a rigid attention, a big limousine slipped quietly into gear and rolled forward from the row of cars parked in the hot sun of the palace courtyard, three photographers squatted and aimed with their Graflexes and David Lloyd George, smiling, assured and beautiful with his fresh young face, his smooth-brushed white hair and his smile-wrinkled eyes, climbed into the car, leaned back, bowed, and the car slid down the driveway and into the street.

I stood and watched the rest of the delegations’ heads come down the steps, get into their closed motorcars and, housed in glass, ride out into the street. Barthou, the Frenchman, looked like the left-hand one of the Smith Brothers of cough-drop fame. Benes, the Czechoslovak premier, looks exactly like a barber-a cropped-headed, rather sullen barber. Stambouliski, of Bulgaria, is a great, thick-bodied, black-headed, fierce-mustached, scowling Buffalo Bill; Viscount Ishii, a small cold-faced Japanese in a morning coat and silk hat; Walter Rathenau, an egotistical, brilliant, perfectly dressed, hawk-faced, bald-headed scientist, contemptuous and confident.

It was a great show and after it was all over and the last limousine had turned into the hot, crowd-lined street and the carabinieri had settled back into the complete erect relaxation of professional soldiers, there was only one of all the statesmen who had come out and ridden away enclosed in glass who had brought any magic with him-and that was Lloyd George.

Yet the photographers that took his picture did not capture any of that magic because Lloyd George does not look like his pictures. It is a second­rate face that photographs best. If you want to prove this, get a close-up, in-the-flesh view of say one of fifty movie stars, or recall how often you have been disappointed in a photograph of your best girl. Lloyd George has no movie face. His charm, his fresh coloring-almost girlish-the complexion of a boy subaltern just out of Sandhurst, his tremendous assurance that makes him seem a tall man until you see him standing beside someone of average height; his kindly, twinkling eyes; none of these show in the photographs.

In public his staff refer to him as the prime minister or Mr. Lloyd George, but in private they speak of him as L.G. The tired, hard-working, serious, shabbily dressed group of British political writers that have been following the prime minister around Europe from conference to conference for the past four years call him George. It is the mark of the greenhorn to call Lloyd George anything but George.

“George has certainly got into a mess now. I don’t see what he is going to do,” said one of these earnest, tired men who has been chronicling the dawn of a new era at the Cannes, Spa, San Remo, Washington, Boulogne, and Genoa conferences. When the Russian-German treaty was signed, L.G. fooled him. He did nothing. After an exchange of acrid notes between the Allies and Germany when an impasse was obviously reached and one side or the other must yield, L.G. simply considered the incident closed—and it was closed. All the flames died clown and the conference went on with its work.

I stood behind Lloyd George at the meeting of the press of all nations that he called when the German-Russian treaty was under discussion. There had been wild rumors about the meeting. Some had it that L.G. was to read the Russians and Germans out of the conference and was calling us all together for the grand breakup speech. As soon as he came into the room-the meeting was held in the same hall of the Palazzo San Giorgio where the conference was opened-it was apparent that the rumor was wrong. L.G. came smiling in his greatest role, that of conciliator, and for an hour and a half he answered written questions submitted to him by the 400 newspapermen that sat at the delegates’ tables and stood massed around the center of the hall.

While the answers, delivered standing in his clear, oratorically modulated voice, were being translated into French and Italian, I watched him studying the pile of papers before him scrawled with questions handed to his table by the journalists. Facing L.G., his white hair carefully brushed back above his ears does not look long. He looks anything but effeminate. But standing close behind him you see that his hair is really as long as Paderewski’s. Just above his collar it is a thick mane that, if it were mussed and not carefully brushed would make a terrific shock.

While I watched Lloyd George studying the questions he would answer -and he answered six out of a hundred or more submitted, and they were very carefully selected queries, such as, “What kind of people do not like this conference?” and, “Does the prime minister believe that the Russians and Germans are seeking to wreck the conference”—a young Italian artist was sketching him. When he finished answering questions and came smiling through the crow, the young artist held up the sketch for him to sign.

Lloyd George smiled, wrinkled up his mustache and the corners of his eyes, as he looked at the sketch and signed it with the boy artist’s crayon.

“There. Will that do?” He handed the sketch pad back to the boy.

“Thank you very much, sir,” said the artist.

I looked at the sketch. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t Lloyd George. The only thing that was alive in it was the sprawled-out signature, gallant, healthy, swashbuckling, careless and masterful, done in a moment and done for all time, it stood out among the dead lines of the sketch—it was Lloyd George.

(Source: Dateline: Toronto. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985)

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