William Beveridge: A Biography

By Jose Harris | Go to book overview

5
BEVERIDGE AND HIS CIRCLE Friends, Fabians, and the COS

1

WHEN Beveridgeresigned from Toynbee Hall he was still only twenty-six years old, but he was already recognized as a leading figure in London social administration -- as was shown when the newly established Central (Unemployed) Body elected him at the head of its poll for co-opted members in December 1905. Physically he was still very youthful in appearance, about five feet ten inches tall, with a 'boyish face, clear complexioned and fair, a pair of steady grey eyes, and the quiet clear-accented speech of the Balliol graduate'.1Contemporaries noted that he had a powerful social conscience and 'high ideals';2but they noted also that there was something 'un-English' about him, something rather Germanic in his passion for precision and contempt for inefficiency. 'Mr Beveridge, as Englishmen go, is very free from either sentimentality or partisanship,' commented Robert Ensor; 'he clings almost ruthlessly to facts and logic.'3He is very systematic,' wrote another observer; 'he can seldom be caught out on a point of logic. . . but he underestimates the human factor.'4When Beatrice Webbfirst met Beveridgeshe commented rather caustically on his 'ugly manners', by which she almost certainly meant, not that he was discourteous, but that he was dogmatically convinced that he was right.5 To his intimate circle of friends he was boyish and exuberant, but to outsiders he was rather reserved and gave the impression of being cold and overbearing. In private life he was affectionate and tender-hearted, the 'slave and jester of small children', with a fondness for dogs, old ladies, and romantic novels;6but he was very severe on any signs of 'sentimentality' in public affairs. A few years earlier he had criticized himself for an excessive 'desire to please',7but this characteristic was evident only to his closest friends. In public life he showed little talent or inclination for ingratiating himself with persons in power, and he was

____________________
1
Daily Mail, 13 Oct. 1909.
2
BP, IIb, Henry Goudy to WHB, 22 Apr. 1906.
3
Manchester Guardian, 9 Feb. 1909, review by R. C. K. Ensorof WHB's Unemployment: A Problem of Industry.
4
Economist, 27 Feb. 1909.
5
B. Webb, Our Partnership( 1948), p. 309.
6
BP, IIa, WHB to ASB.
7
BP, IIa, WHB to Jeannette Beveridge, 6 Mar. 1898.

-98-

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