The Rt. Hon. Edwin Samuel Montagu, who died here on Nov. 15, had a rich and versatile personality. I will attempt to give a brief outline of his life, so that the Jews in America may know of the career of this “poet among the statesmen of modern times”, as he has been called by the “Jewish Guardian”.
Edwin Samuel Montagu was born on February 13th, 1879, as the second son of (Sir) Samuel Montagu, afterwards Lord Swathling, and Ellen, daughter of Louis Cohen. Thus, he came on both sides of political stock. His father sat in the House of Commons for many years as Liberal member from Whitechapel; his uncles, Lionel and (Sir) Benjamin Cohen, were successively Conservative members of the House. Far stronger than the talent for finance, with which he was commonly and justly credited, was the political talent which he derived from both sides of his family.
At school Edwin Montagu is remembered as rather outgrown, with the beginning of his familiar stoop already noticeable. Often he was a little late for meals, to his father’s visible annoyance, which was quickly softened by paternal pride in the egg, or skin, or specimen which the boy pulled out of his pocket as his newest trove. For he had a strong taste for natural history. His reputation as an ornithologist led to his appointment, in 1920, as a Trustee of the British Museum, and he had acted as Chairman of a Departmental Committee on bird-preservation.
He went to Trinity College, Cambridge, with a reputation as a scholar of varied interests, and already as a Liberal by conviction. His year of office as President of the Cambridge Union was the beginning of a series of successes, which included, in 1906, his election, just before his 27th birthday, as Liberal M. P. for the Chesterton (now Cambridgeshire) Division.
Mr. Asquith, a frequent visitor at the Montagus’ house (Sir Samuel was raised to the peerage in 1907), had had many opportunities of observing the brilliant promise of its youthful scion; and, on taking office as Chancellor of the Exchequer, under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, he appointed Edwin Montagu to be his unpaid private secretary. A few years later, in 1910, when Mr. Asquith was Prime Minister, the private secretary and personal friend became Under-Secretary of State for India.
Here began the twelve hurried years, which included, of course, the searching ordeal of he Great War, into which Edwin Montagu crowded the various stages of a career, which slower minds of Longer-sighted statesmanship have required a lifetime to elaborate.
In 1914 he was appointed Financial Secretary to the Treasury. In January, 1915, he became a Privy Councillor, and entered the Cabinet in the following month as Chancellor of the Duchy of lancaster. A year or so later, after the death of Farl Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, and the consequent transfer of offices, Montagu was appointed Minister of Munitions, in succession to Mr. Lloyd George, with a seat on the War Committee of the Cabinet.
Mr. Montagu’s public career ended when he retired with other members from Mr. Asquith’s cabinet when the latter was succeeded by Mr. Lloyd George as Prime Minister.
A man of great charm in private life, Montagu married, in 1915, the Hon. Venetia Stanley, a daughter of the fourth Baron Sheffield, and Mrs. Montagu complied with the provisions of the first Baron Swaythling’s wish by being received into the Jewish religion on the eve of her wedding. There is one-child of the marriage, a daughter.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.