IN this book I have described the development of the character of an unique personality given exceptional opportunities, of Jan Christian Smuts, the South African.
I have described frankly and without bias. I claim no close friendship with Smuts. The friendship of a biographer with his subject is a disadvantage. It ties his hands. It biases his opinions. It gives him a view out of perspective, because it is too close. If he knows him only at one particular stage of his life, and not from birth to death, he sees the whole man in terms of this one stage, which is probably when he is already a grown man, and successful and set in his ways.
Without it I have been able to stand well back and to study Smuts with an unprejudiced eye. I have worked through vast quantities of books and documents, together with his own writings and speeches. I have visited South Africa and watched him in the House of Assembly, at dinners, at receptions, at private luncheons. I have visited his birth-place, his school and college, the houses he has lived in, and his places of work. I have discussed him with his associates and with his opponents, with his admirers and with his detractors in England, France, and South Africa. I have been able to talk with men and women who have known him at each stage of his career, and so to give me vivid and authentic descriptions of his manners and actions.
In South Africa politics are a personal, a family affair, and produce the intense hostility and the equally intense advocacy of a family. As coming from the outside I was, in South Africa, able to study him without being influenced by local politics or local feeling; and I have refused to be influenced by the hatred of his enemies or the homage of his admirers.
Much of what I have written will not please his admirers, but Jan Christian Smuts is a great man. The history of modern South Africa is the story of Jan Christian Smuts battling with his enemies. His influence in England, in Europe, in the British Empire, and in International Affairs has been immense.
Out of the Great War little remains. The peace treaties have been dishonoured; the ideals for which my generation died physically and morally have been found to be follies, Dead Sea fruit, ashes in the mouth; the generals, admirals, and statesmen have been written off as fools or knaves: out of all that tremendous struggle there remains untouched by the fury of the iconoclasts only one man, Jan Christian Smuts.
Much flabby nonsense has been written about him, but as a great man he does not need to have his reputation shored up, as some showy but rotten building needs to be shored up with beams, with fables of virtues he does not possess, or with unreal sentiment and unreasoning partisanship. His reputation can stand on the firm foundations of his real qualities and achievements, and those foundations are of steel.
Verbal informants—who were legion—I cannot quote or thank personally, for in many cases this would prejudice their interests. But if any reviewers of this book or private critics should doubt the evidence of my facts, I am willing to supply them with chapter and verse if they will write to me.
I have avoided any use of the word Boer. Literally it meant "Farmer", but in the war of 1899 it was used as a term of opprobrium for the Dutch, and its use in this book would therefore today confuse the reader. Afrikander is the modem term for a South African born of Dutch parents. This too begins to change, and the people of South Africa call themselves English — or Dutch-speaking South Africans.
In order to render them into intelligible English, here and there I have had to adjust the wording of quotations of translations from Dutch documents. These have been done in collaboration with a Dutch-reading professor.
The Orange Free State was for a short time called the Orange River Colony. To avoid confusion I have called it throughout the "Free State."
At one time there was an English party called the Unionists. They had no similarity with the party of that name in England, and I have called them "the English Party" to avoid confusing the reader in England.