This [ABian] manner, as I understand it, has its roots in an attitude of mind--an attitude of convinced superiority which insists in the first place on complete detachment from the enthusiasms of the human race, and in the second place on keeping the vulgar world at arm's length.
It is an attitude of mind which a critic or a cynic might be justified in assuming, for it is the attitude of one who desires rather to observe the world than to shoulder any of its burdens; but it is a posture of exceeding danger to anyone who lacks tenderness or sympathy, whatever his purpose or office may be, for it tends to breed the most dangerous of all intellectual vices, that spirit of self-satisfaction which Dostoievsky declares to be the infallible mark of an inferior mind.
To [Mr. AB] this studied attitude of aloofness has been fatal, both to his character and to his career. He has said nothing, written nothing, done nothing, which lives in the heart of his countrymen. To look back upon his record is to see a desert, and a desert with no altar and with no monument, without even one tomb at which a friend might weep. One does not say of him, "He nearly succeeded there," or "What a tragedy that he turned from this to take up that"; one does not feel for him at any point in his career as one feels for [Mr. X] or even for [Lord Y]; from its outset until now that career stretches before our eyes in a flat and uneventful plain of successful but inglorious and ineffective self-seeking.
There is one signal characteristic of the [ABian] manner which is worthy of remark. It is an assumption in general company of a most urbane, nay, even a most cordial spirit. I have heard many people declare at a public reception that he is the most gracious of men, and seen many more retire from shaking his hand with a flush of pride on their faces as though Royalty had stooped to inquire after the measles of their youngest child. Such is ever the effect upon vulgar minds of geniality in superiors: they love to be stooped to from the heights.
But this heartiness of manner is of the moment only, and for everybody; it manifests itself more personally in the circle of his intimates and is irresistible in week-end parties; but it disappears when [Mr. AB] retires into the shell of his private life and there deals with individuals, particularly with dependants. It has no more to do with his spirit than his tail-coat and his white tie. Its remarkable impression comes from its unexpectedness; its effect is the shock of surprise. In public he is ready to shake the whole world by the hand, almost to pat it on the shoulder; but in private he is careful to see that the world does not enter even the remotest of his lodge gates.
"The truth about [AB]," said [X], "is this: he knows there's been one ice-age, and he thinks there's going to be another."
Little as the general public may suspect it, the charming, gracious, and cultured [Mr. AB] is the most egotistical of men, and a man who would make almost any sacrifice to remain in office. It costs him nothing to serve under [Mr. Z]; it would have cost him almost his life to be out of office during a period so exciting as that of the Great War. He loves office more than anything this world can offer; neither in philosophy nor music, literature nor science, has he ever been able to find rest for his soul. It is profoundly instructive that a man with a real talent for the noblest of those pursuits which make solitude desirable and retirement an opportunity should be so restless and dissatisfied, even in old age, outside the doors of public life.