How Ce­cil Rhodes left his mark

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective -

You never know what your most en­dur­ing legacy will be. Ce­cil Rhodes, a mega­lo­ma­niac if ever there was one, thought that giv­ing his name to a coun­try — Rhode­sia — would be his most last­ing memo­rial. “They can’t take a coun­try’s name away,” he is said to have pro­nounced shortly be­fore his death at the beginning of the 20th cen­tury. Rhodes was not known for be­ing naive: Had he not van­quished his ri­vals so that most of South Africa’s vast min­ing wealth was un­der his con­trol, all the while hav­ing a spec­tac­u­lar po­lit­i­cal ca­reer that saw him prime min­is­ter of the Cape Colony when he was in his early 30s and sub­stan­tially ex­pand­ing the pink of the Bri­tish Em­pire on the maps of the world? But we who lived in that cen­tury when coun­tries’ names fell like ninepins know bet­ter. They could and did take the name of his coun­try away: Zam­bia and Zim­babwe are there to mock his naivete in this one sphere at least.

But a man like Rhodes was de­ter­mined to have a legacy one way or an­other and he was bound to get one. He knew that his heart was dis­eased and that it would kill him be­fore long. He had no de­scen­dants or loved ones to pro­vide for, so his enor­mous for­tune would give him an­other means to leave his mark on this earth: The schol­ar­ships that bear his name. So it is en­tirely fit­ting that Philip Ziegler, that peer­less writer about great Bri­tons — he is the of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­pher of Lord Mount­bat­ten and of King Ed­ward VIII (Duke of Wind­sor) among oth­ers — should ti­tle his ex­haus­tive and en­light­en­ing study of the Rhodes Schol­ar­ships “Legacy.”

There seems to be no as­pect of th­ese schol­ar­ships — their in­tent, their func­tion, their evo­lu­tion in 105 years that they have been awarded — that Mr. Ziegler does not il­lu­mi­nate in his dense study. But it is not all dry stuff: There are fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters through­out the story, start­ing of course with the colos­sal fig­ure of Rhodes and con­tin­u­ing with the trustees he chose to over­see the pro­gram, and their suc­ces­sors over the suc­ceed­ing decades. Wills are gen­er­ally thought to be pretty dull stuff, with all that le­gal phrase­ol­ogy and care­ful lan­guage — un­less of course you are a ben­e­fi­ciary! — but not the one be­long­ing to Rhodes.

Mr. Ziegler prints the whole doc­u­ment, along with the cod­i­cils added af­ter it was drawn up in 1899, three years be­fore Rhodes’ death; and it is redo­lent with the per­son­al­ity of the man. When he says that he does not want his schol­ars to be “merely book­worms” and calls for them to be ath­letes as well, and to exhibit such qual­i­ties as “man­hood, truth, courage, de­vo­tion to duty, sym­pa­thy for and pro­tec­tion of the weak, kind­li­ness, un­selfish­ness, moral force of char­ac­ter,” not to men­tion the all-im­por­tant at­tribute of lead­er­ship, you see the im­print of an ex­traor­di­nar­ily com­plex hu­man be­ing. And what is per­haps most in­ter­est­ing is the promi­nence of al­tru­is­tic and even knightly qual­i­ties for which Rhodes had lit­tle time or in­cli­na­tion in his own life and ca­reer, known for ruth­less­ness above all. Yet he had al­ways been a strange mix­ture: Af­ter mak­ing his first for­tune, he took time off to study at Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity be­fore re- turn­ing to Africa and more money mak­ing and em­pire build­ing. So it is not sur­pris­ing that the Rhodes schol­ars were ex­clu­sively bound for Ox­ford.

So the schol­ar­ships were set in his mold and also its op­po­site. He was very spe­cific as to where his schol­ars would come from: South Africa and Rhode­sia, Canada, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, New­found­land, Ber­muda and Ja­maica. And also the United States, with the ex­press pur­pose of even­tu­ally bring­ing it back into the Bri­tish Em­pire! No kid­ding, he re­ally be­lieved this. Well, it may have bred many an An­glophile, (like long­time Arkansas se­na­tor William Ful­bright, the ar­chi­tect of the schol­ar­ships bear­ing his name that are at once an homage and a ri­val to Rhodes’), but I doubt that in­clud­ing the United States has brought it any closer to re­join­ing what it fought a hard war 230 years ago to es­cape. Mr. Ziegler is very in­ter­est­ing on the Ger­man Rhodes schol­ars, who were sus­pended twice as a re­sult of the 20th-cen­tury’s World Wars and were ap­par­ently al­ways the odd men out in this an­glo­phone pro­gram.

Rhodes schol­ar­ships may not have kept the Bri­tish Em­pire alive, but there is no doubt that they have con­trib­uted to a close­ness be­tween Bri­tain and its for­mer pos­ses­sions all over the globe. In an age when their im­pe­rial con­nec­tions are anath­ema, the schol­ar­ships flour­ish still, ex­panded now to in­clude In­dia and other parts of Africa ex­cluded by Rhodes. Rhodes would prob­a­bly dis­ap­prove of some of this broad­en­ing and would doubt­less be deeply dis­ap­pointed that the Bri­tish Em­pire is gone for­ever. But prag­ma­tist that he al­ways was, he’d be de­lighted to know that this legacy of his at least was flour­ish­ing even when it turned out that they could in­deed erase his name from map and at­las.

Martin Ru­bin is a writer and critic in Pasadena, Calif.

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