Chamberlain for our Time

Jose Harris

  • Neville Chamberlain. Vol. I: 1869-1929 by David Dilks
    Cambridge, 645 pp, £20.00, November 1984, ISBN 0 521 25724 7

The two things that everyone knows about Neville Chamberlain are that he was the son of Joseph Chamberlain and that he returned from Munich promising peace for our time. Between these two peaks of notoriety his historical reputation stretches dim, grey and obscure. An official biography by Sir Keith Feiling, written during the Second World War when Chamberlain’s reputation was at its lowest ebb, eloquently defended his subject’s personal integrity, but did little to dispel the impression of an essentially private and limited individual who had greatness thrust upon him by the high drama of historical events. Since Feiling wrote, Chamberlain has attracted some interest among historians as a social and administrative reformer; but his image remains that of a man who ‘looked at national politics through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe’. ‘Neville has a retail mind in a wholesale business,’ observed his diametrical opposite, Lloyd George.

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