Godfather of populism: The rabid reign of Horatio Bottomley.

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Author: Neil Berry
Date: Apr. 9, 2021
From: TLS. Times Literary Supplement(Issue 6158)
Publisher: NI Syndication Limited
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,875 words
Lexile Measure: 1370L

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On November 14, 1919, a year after the Armistice that ended the First World War, D. H. Lawrence took a train from London to the English south coast, boarded a ship for France and bade his native land a bilious goodbye. With his wife Frieda, who had gone on ahead of him, he was to embark on a life of wandering, and become the sort of peripatetic human excoriated by Britain's former prime minister, Theresa May, as a "citizen of nowhere". It is true that he never ceased to feel English to the core--in an age when "England" served as a byword for "Britain" in its multinational totality, he cried that he was "English, English in the teeth of England, English in the teeth of all the world". Yet current manifestations of ethno-nationalism would surely have nauseated him. Although far from denying Germany culpability for the First World War, he believed it sprang no less from the spiritual degeneracy of his own people. Sailing away on a winter's day, he pictured England as an "ashgrey" coffin sinking slowly into the sea. And he had evolved a particular, implacable loathing for a certain xenophobic super-patriot who had gained great personal popularity by demonizing the Germans: Horatio Bottomley.

Barely remembered now, Bottomley (1860-1933) was the archetypal British demagogue, the godfather of today's anglocentric populists. Only one person loomed larger in British public life during the war: David Lloyd George, the Welsh Liberal politician who, in 1916, became prime minister of Britain's wartime national government. To Lawrence, Bottomley and the "Welsh Wizard" were fellow mountebanks. While both projected themselves as humbly born tribunes of the people, Lawrence believed that their elevation spelled the debasement of democracy, the eclipse of the "finer in spirit" by the "mean and paltry in spirit".

A businessman who became Liberal MP for Hackney South, Bottomley was chiefly known as the editor of John Bull, the chauvinistic weekly paper aimed at working men who liked beer and sport and sweepstakes. Born in east London but brought up in a Birmingham orphanage, he styled himself as the "MP for the man in the street". While he did demonstrably assist the hard-pressed, the only cause he consistently championed was his own.

When it came to fusing self-advertisement with the pursuit of profit, he has had few rivals. Journalism and politics aside, he was known as an owner of racehorses, as a trader in publishing companies and gold mines, and as a self-educated lawyer who repeatedly conducted his own defence in potentially ruinous law suits. A born orator, Bottomley won libel actions galore against people who claimed he had swindled them. Prior to 1914, the public knew him as a shady middle-aged showman with a penchant for champagne and glamorous women. But the war changed everything. After initially misjudging the bellicose public mood, he stepped forward as the embodiment of the British bulldog spirit. On platforms all over Britain, as well as in his paper, he celebrated the war as the "Dawn...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A658753510