British Empire Books

The Leisure of an Egyptian Official

AuthorLord Edward Cecil
Originally Published1921
This publisherParkway
This Edition1996
ISBN No.1-898259-25-9

This book provides an amusing series of anecdotes from one of the most important imperial officials of the early Twentieth Century. The son of a foreign and prime minister, Lord Edward Cecil was very much the product of the establishment. This book provides an interesting angle into the views and duties of an official in his private and public life. This book is a private collection and collation of letters and papers. However, it was very much compiled with a view to entertainment rather than as a serious historical tract.

Set in Egypt, the book is divided into a series of unrelated, but enlightening, personal papers. The first, and longest, section deals is titled My Daily Life and is basically a humorous look at a day in his life. It is revealing in showing the nature of the Egyptian and British relationship in the pre-Great war period. The fiction was that this was a partnership, the reality was that the British government was very much in control of all areas of Egyptian society. One interesting illustration of this fact is when Lord Cecil talks about a Finance Committee that he has to be present at. The Egyptian Prime Minister and his colleagues are all talking about a new location in which to have their meetings. However, after a lengthy discussion, ultimately they all defer to the Crown's representative: Lord Cecil. It's snapshots like this that prove the value of a book like this.

My Daily Life also sheds much light on the social aspects of official life. Luncheons, dinners, parties and sport were all major preoccupations of the soldiers, officials and families in not only bonding together but also in staying aloof and apart from local society. Name-dropping, title-spotting and social positioning were all part of the day to day life of the socially ambitious imperialist (or more often than not his wife). Lord Cecil amuses us with stories of dinner parties, clubs, golf in the desert and the importance of good servants. All invaluable contemporary social commentary for the historian.

One chapter is devoted to his opinions of Lord Kitchener. This brief chapter is a powerful reminder of the power of patronage and the importance of birth for the ruling classes. Lord Kitchener recruited the young Edward Cecil as an Aide-Du-Comp in the early stages of the Sudan campaign. Not because of any brilliance of character so much as Kitchener needed the political support of Cecil's father the Prime Minister. Cecil's character sketch of Kitchener illustrates much of the flawed genius who would become notorious with his performance in The Great War. A stickler for detail, but cold, aloof and insensitive to the feelings of people around him. These would all prove to be deadly traits that many a Great War soldier would concur with.

Returning to the lighter side, a chapter entitled A Day on the Suez Canal gives an account of a controlled explosion that was to take place to extend some of the canal. More witty than revealing - it does still give some hindsight into Anglo-French relations in 1905. These are the days just after the Entente Cordiale. The French are still largely in financial control ofthe Suez canal but, reluctantly, they have to rely on the British for the administration around the canal zone. This chapter illustrates some of the differences that come between the two organisations but how they ultimately succeed together.

The chapter An Official Correspondence is brief enough and witty enough to reproduce in its entirety.

The final section of the book is entitled Going on Leave and is all about his trials and tribulations of travelling back to Britain for his annual leave. It shows us that the Shipping lines of the day were as important as the airlines of these days. Lord Cecil reveals how much of a bore everything is, even when you travel first class. His disdain reveals that he is only doing these things out of a greater obligation to Britain and its Empire. He is an unashamed imperialist who neatly lets us see his views in a slip of the pen talking about Egypt not being full of grateful people being governed by future pro-consuls as if any one ever did like being governed. This one phrase could let our Lord Cecil sleep easily at night, disenfranchise the entire local populace and rationalise the whole Imperial system as a necessary evil that civilises the world. It is for these unintended anecdotes that any historian would do well to read this volume.

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