By Kees van Hoek
AT the height of the Munich
crisis, six years ago, I happened to spend the week-end in the palette' and paradisical Lago Maw giorc home of Emil Ludwig, best-selling biographer of famous men. The house party came to talk of great leaders, and we discussed, in between last-minute news bulletins from all over the continent, who among living statesmen could be called truly great already. There was no Irishman present, yet everyone of us listed Eamon de Valera among the very few contemporaries
who have wrought the deepest and most beneficial impact on the lives of their people, on Inc state of their country.
Remembering conversations in Moscia brings vividly back to my mind how our host argued that a biography should mat be purely objective in the sense ot a cold factual account, as that is the historian's task in an entirely different sphere. 'rho biographer is foremost the man of letters, the sensitively registering artist, who should not write about a subject whom he does not wholly admire; the per feet biography is written from " inside the skin " of the men portrayed.
Mr. M. J. MacManus* has brought uncommonly good qualifications to this task. He is one ot Ireland's most distinguished journalists and, as Literary Editor of de Valera's own daily The Irish Press, one of the ablest advocates of the Government party. Hence his life of the Irish leader is throughout a work of praise ; yet it is in no sense blind following, but reasoned endorsement born from complete understanding of a straight-cut policy in the pursuit of which de Valera never wavered.
It Carries One Away
This is a book which carries one away. When I had finished it, as I did in one long spellbound evening, 1 felt myself wishing that I was rich enough to put a copy in every Irish—and English—house. The warm, pulsating narrative is, of course, set by the tempo of de Valera's career, which even in retrospect reads like the scenario for a thrilling film.
There is the mere boy of three returning to his mother's land and homestead; thirty years later the painstaking, patient teacher who walks out of his training college classroom one day to be a Commander on the barricades the next; to hold the most strongly defended rebel post of the capital city rising in revolt, the last to surrender. " Traitor l" yelled the die-hard press, an insult which the Irish sage G. Bernard Shaw punctured for all time when he declared: " 1 cannot regard as a traitor any Irishman taken in a fight for Irish independence against the British Government, a tight which was a fah fight in everything except the inhuman odds my countrymen had to face."
His sentence to death commuted to penal servitude, de Valera was shipped with manacled hands to his fast English jail, Dartmoor Maidstone and Lewis, Pentonville and Lincoln were to follow—as later, to till the bitter chalice to the brim—Dublin's own Arbour Hill and Belfast. Yet this quarter of a century since, de Valera has been one of the great makers of history.
Modern Scarlet Pimpernel
First in his escapes, which read like a modern Scarlet Pimpernel, • as from Lincoln Jail or from British-occupied Ireland when already President of the Republic, the stowaway in the stokehole of a Liverpool boat received on arrival in New York the delirious welcome of hundreds of thousands with the freedom of the greatest city of the New World. Then in his sorrows, when his Treaty negotiations in London under the double-dealing of a Liberal Premier and the sharp practices of Conservative politicians, were bullied and tricked into signing a dictated treaty. A war-weary Ireland ratified it by the barest majority. and thus a civil war became inevitable, a battle of brother against brother which de Valera never wanted, and repeatedly but vainly tried to stop.
Very few statesmen in hiStory have ever been able to stage so completely a comeback from the political wilderness, into which great man are often hunted, as de Valera, when the ablest Irish parliamentarian since Parnell. realising that politics arc the art of the possible, founded in 1925 the Fianna Fail Party. Seven years later it swept into power, and after twelve of the most difficult and in many ways most revolutionary years, it has never stood stronger, as the recent Kerry by-election proves, holding a vast over-all majority throughout the county. With all the exactness of the mathematician de Valera undid from 1932 on es Premier all the streaks which his ministers had accepted in 1921 when he was President. The impossible Oath of Allegance—fteland is a Sovereign State not a Colony gratefully grown up to Dominion—the unfair Land Annuities, the obnoxious Governor-Generalship, the dangerous reserved military and naval strongholds.
lie gave Ireland her own Constitution, worthy of its moving preamble the most truly Catholic document in worldly affairs ; he nipped a Fascist movement in the bud, so thoroughly that sonic of its Blue Shirt stalwarts can now pose as the paragons of democracy; he created the conditions which made neutrality possible and workable -a policy which his adversaries have wholeheartedly supported, though some of their parry-political sallies have not always been too helpful.
On the world scene the youngster of rural Bruree's tiny school rose to President of the League of Nations, where his opening address was hailed as the best Geneva speech ever, by such widely diverging organs as the London Daily Herald and the New York Tirnes.t It is a crude irony of history that the statesman who warned (again and again, and in no unmistakable terms—as his recently published speeches show) that the vacillating policy of the Great Powers would lead to war, was expected as a matter of course to side with those who had scorned his warnings.
Mr. MacManus covers a wide canvas and, however clear every detail, never does the reader lose the thread in the consistency of a sure policy securely followed. It is a picture which abides everywhere in strokes as warm yet deft as, for instance, these few lines when the' Truce is declared:
, it came into force at noon.
As the Angelic% bells rang inert took off their hats and prayed that out of the Truce would conic a lasting peace. The boys of the Flying Columns came down front the hills into the little towns arid villages, where they were welcomed with bands and banners, They, the fighters, were glad of the respite—many of them looked on the Truce as no more than thatriM they sang the " Soldiers' Song" at the cross-roads In the sunny even. ings of that marvellous summer of 1921. But they did not forget the falkn, and there were long processions. led by the wailing of pipes. when they brought home front the bogs and the mountains the bodies of their comrades who had been hurriedly buried during the dark nights of the Terror."
It is also a book which explodes sky high the queer notions which pet vial with those who have only seen pictures of Mr. de Valera in his long black over coat, his deeply-lined face set. Only the other day the American journalist Liebling in The Road Bark to Paris compared General de Gaulle to Mr. de Valera in "Iberian/I pride and suspicion of people around them." I cannot speak for the General—whom I greatly admire all the same—but having a journalist's intimate knowledge of Ireland over some fifteen years, I can vouch that Ireland's leader is the most courteous and simple of men, the most honest and the straightest of statesmen that I have ever met, inspiring more than respect, affection, in fact, devotion—as Mr. MacManus's book proves.
No Hatred Existed
There is only one more point that I would like to make. For some years I was engaged on writing the life of that great Boer Statesman, Dr. Leyds, Pre
sident Kruger's right-hand man. In the last. winter of his long life I met him
almost every day, at his beloved Cap St. Martin, This man who knew better than any survivor the infamy of the imperialist war against the Boer Republics, had yet no hatred against the English because as he put it. " so many Englishmen had refused to endorse their Government's ignominy."
Mr. MacManus makes it clear that hatred never existed in the mind of Eamon de Valera—it was shown to the world once more in the tribute which the Chief of the Government of Ireland paid to Great Britain in his reply to the American Note on the Axis Diplomats in Dublin, maim this year. But why I thOught of Dr. Leyds' tribute to the English. when reading this hook which does not sugar the pill of British sins aoinst Ireland. of imperialist rape of democracy, of a great Power bully* a small State—is the essential honestly in English public life which makes it possible that this book is published unabridged by a leading London publisher. 'that would not be possible in some other countries, but that is why I cherish democracy.
I Eanron de Valera. By M. J. MacManus. (Gollanea, lis. 6d.) t Peace and War. Speeches by Mr. de Valera on International Affairs. (Gill, Dublin, 25. 6d.)