SMUTS left Groote Schuur with little regret. He had lived there for long periods alone, while his family remained on the farm at Irene. He had only camped in the big house, a lone man in a wilderness of fine rooms and beautiful things and luxury. These he neither understood nor desired. He preferred the roughness and the discomfort of his farm with the veld wide open round him on every side. Now that he was out of office, he spent much of his time there.
At Irene he could live as he wished. In his office he was always correctly and carefully dressed. On the farm he wore ancient clothes, a dilapidated pair of trousers, and a khaki shirt open at the neck. He got up early, drank two or three mugs of coffee, and went off on a horse to look round at the thousands of trees he had planted, the avenue of maples, the willows down by the stream, the fruit trees of all sorts, and his field of lucerne, and his prize cattle and breeding bulls; and to talk with his stockmen and labourers. He came back to the food of the veld Dutchman, rough and sustaining, and then went to a big room which he had made into a study and lined the walls with shelves full of his books. Here he sat and read, and no one dared to disturb him. He read heavy official books, textbooks, reports, equally heavy philosophic treaties, mixed in with histories and some literature-American, German, and English. He kept up a large correspondence with many friends in England about the League of Nations, the Peace Treaties, and the problems of Europe. He saw visitors reluctantly and usually with some suspicion, wondering what they wanted.
As when a young student, his real hobby was still the study of grasses. He was not moved by their beauty, nor by the wonder of their fertilisation. He studied them with a museum brain. He went on long treks to collect them, dried them, searched amongst them for new species, and catalogued and classified these by their Latin names into their families and sub-families. In this his knowledge was complete and exact.
He was not worried for money. For years he had drawn the salary of a cabinet minister. He had good assets, and a second farm in the Western Transvaal. Even if he had been short he would not have allowed thoughts of money to worry him. Book-keeping and accounts wearied him to distraction. He had no idea of the position of his own personal finances, and he ignored any reference to it from his wife or the bank. They would muddle along somehow, he said. He ran Irene with princely gestures, buying expensive cattle, which rarely paid, and experimenting in new manures and new machinery, which paid even less. For his own personal wants he needed little money. Except for his longing, the longing of every Dutchman, to own land, he wished to possess nothing. A bed, a rough table, rough clothes, rough food, an old wooden chair with a leather seat made by his father, a few books, and some writing material, and he was satisfied. He was almost free from possessions. His family were as simple in their needs and tastes as he was, a haphazard, veritable circus of a family, who filled the house and looked on him with awe and, as he once said himself, "My children treat me as a distinguished stranger." Many a man with half his income and none of his position had more comfort and more refinement in his home.
Mrs. Smuts kept the house and boasted that they lived as veld Dutch and that she was proud to be the wife of a Dutch farmer. She was a shrewd, capable woman, without any pretensions or artificialities. She was always ready to give hospitality or to help any neighbour who was in need. She cared little for dress or appearances. Had she decked herself out and varnished her nails she would have shocked herself as much as Smuts. Ever since those first days in Stellenbosch, when they had walked sedately side by side under the oak trees up the street to the college, she was the only person with whom Smuts could relax completely, be himself, and be natural. He discussed all his difficulties with her, and she gave him sage advice. She had still no liking for the English. The tragedies of the war with the English had burned far more deeply into her memory than into the memory of Smuts. None the less she never stood in his way when he wished to deal with the English, and after his defeat in 1924 she came out actively to help him keep the connection with the British Empire. When he went abroad, she preferred to remain in South Africa. When he was in his most difficult moods, she knew how to handle him. She looked up to him with the same steady devotion with which she had looked up to him in the first years of their marriage. He was to her "The old Baas." When he was sunk in despair and ready to give up she could still rouse him and draw him back, revived and ready to fight again.
Whenever overworked in his office, badgered too severely by his enemies, or with things going wrong, Smuts had often spoken with pleasure. of the days when he would be able to retire, to return to Irene to farm and read and sit in peace and to think. But now that he could do these things, he found that they rapidly palled. He was not at heart a farmer. He was a politician. But the rough and tumble of leading the Opposition, the political meetings in the country, and the constant speaking against the policies of the Government, and not fighting for his own, were not what he wanted. He wanted to be back in the saddle, controlling, overworked, badgered, dealing with masses of problems and difficulties, deciding the lives of other men, and guiding South Africa in the way she should go. He soon grew restless. He planned out far-reaching schemes, but he had no power to carry them out.
He went for long walks, either in the veld beyond the farm or climbing in some mountain district, pacing solidly along,, hour after hour, often alone, or, if with companions, a little way ahead, saying little, and, if spoken to, gruff and even morose. He was thinking. To crystallise the ideas that hung as if in solution in their minds, other men had to talk or to write and rewrite. Smuts walked, and while he walked his subconscious mind chewed over facts and the theories fed to it from his memory and his brain digested them and formed them into the bones and flesh and skin of complete and concrete ideas. So that when he came to speak or to write he did not hesitate.
To fill his time and absorb some of his restless energy he wrote and published a philosophical treatise, Holism and Evolution. He had been pondering the theory since the days when as a student he had studied Walt Whitman. "It has been," he wrote, "my companion throughout a crowded life." He had drafted it during the first session he had sat in opposition. It contained his philosophy of life, the conception which had directed his political efforts, and it was begotten out of his own character.
His philosophy was based on Evolution. Its name he took from the Greek words to holon, The Whole, and defined it as a primary law "according to which Evolution is a rising series of wholes, of which man is the highest." The Universe, he explained, was a process which consisted of creating larger and better wholes. The atom was a whole, but as an organism it contained a small extra force, or credit, which dragged it always towards and made it tend to coalesce with other atoms, and together they produced larger and better wholes, which in turn, though they were themselves perfect wholes, tended to coalesce with other wholes and make even greater wholes; and the process, beginning at the atom, or before the atom, continued until it reached the apex of perfection in human personality.
He believed that this process, "applied, beyond the domain of biology . . . to human associations, like the State." He had, therefore, laboured to make the provinces of South Africa, which each in themselves were complete wholes, coalesce into the larger and better whole of the Union of South Africa, which again coalesced with the other Dominions and Colonies into the British Empire, which in time should coalesce with other nations into the League of Nations. Here was the thread that held together and made a chain of all his variegated political efforts.
This process, he explained further, was in action throughout the Universe. It was dependent on an inherent impulse or a living purpose existing in everything. Yet in his Universe there appeared to be no need nor even room for God. There was a design, but no Designer. A purpose, but no directing Brain. There might be a permeating influence that might vaguely be labelled "God," but there was no personal God interested in men. In Smuts' philosophy there was, for the ordinary man, no God.
Smuts' philosophical treatise showed his immense knowledge of facts and theories, and how subtly and powerfully he could weave these together to prove his idea. He spoke of it as "a new religion," but as an explanation of politics it seemed to offer a complicated explanation of a simple and normal historical process—of states combining for security or for common interests, and it did not explain why they broke up as easily as they combined.
And as the creed of Smuts, which welled up out of his very being, it was Smuts himself, for it was based on a stupendous intellectual arrogance. It was the Philosophy of Supreme Human Arrogance. He proclaimed "Human personality is the summit of perfection." He had none of the humility of the psalmist when he cried out, "Oh, God! What is man that Thou art mindful of him?" Here was the arrogant boast of Lenin and the belief of Mustafa Kemal. "Man is the prophet of his own perfection."
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