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Ian D. Colvin

Rhodes Keeps His Terms

But I would give a false idea of Rhodes's life if I told the story of these seventeen years as if diamonds and the making of wealth were his only or even his chief interest. It is strange, it is almost miraculous, that in the first half of that time Rhodes should be living the life of the Oxford undergraduate, and in the second half, of the South African statesman. Rhodes never cared for money either for itself or for the pleasure it is fabled to give. He sought for money to accomplish his ends, and these ends were not selfish, but nothing less than the good of his country. There is warrant for saying that in the early seventies he had already determined to devote his life to the service of the Empire, and to the end this remained his single aim. And with this devotion to the cause of England, he loved her soil and her people, and he loved the honour and learning of Oxford. I do not know how he came to fall in love with Oxford, for Bishop's Stortford is on the way to Cambridge and his father was a Trinity College man. But Rhodes loved beauty, he loved caste, he loved tradition, he loved the poetry, or, as might be said, the soul of Old England. And all this is to be found, as some think, in richest measure under the royal towers of Oxford. Cambridge holds a more austere and Puritan tradition, and Rhodes was a humanist. He belonged to the age not of Cromwell, but Elizabeth. He had the chivalry, the poetry, the vast and human conceptions of our English Renaissance. So I think in spirit he was drawn to Oxford.

Oriel was his college. He matriculated on 13th October 1873, and kept the Michaelmas term. He was there through three terms in 1876, spending the long vacation at Kimberley; in 1877 he kept all four terms, but again went to Kimberley for the long vacation. In 1878 he kept three terms before returning to South Africa, and in 1881, a marvellous year, he took his seat in the Cape Parliament in April, and graduated at Oxford in December. He was not a worker at Oxford; perhaps he looked upon it as a delightful holiday. He was taken for "a good, quiet fellow, with the instincts of an Englishman," and attained a modest degree of eminence as Master of the Drag Hunt in 1876. One college friend quoted by Michell says: "I remember he was keen on polo, which was not so common in those days. I went with him to a wine, and was amused to notice how much older in manner the other undergraduates were than Cecil. They were full of that spurious wisdom assumed by many young men as a defensive armour, an armour he did not require." It is, indeed, amusing to think of him discussing life and politics with the undergraduate upon equal terms, and then returning to Africa to hold his own against some of the ablest financial and political minds of his generation. "We used to chaff him," says another, "about his long vacation trips to South Africa, when he always cheerily replied that we would be surprised one day at developments there." It was a double life, but, as we shall see, it had a single purpose.