Context: It was said in 12 Against the Gods which was published in 1929.

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    Reading the quote in context, I don't think Bolitho is referring to a specific person, but to an idea. This is not historical writing, but persuasive writing. – Mark C. Wallace May 26 at 17:59
  • Cagliostro perhaps. "Cagliostro turned his head irritably towards his national and hereditary ambition; the status of a retired millionaire." – Tomas By May 26 at 18:09
  • @TomasBy In the context, I think Bolitho would also have mentioned that he died in prison, so I doubt it's him. – Amused May 26 at 18:19
  • @MarkC.Wallace I doubt that that's the case. No evidence on my side, but it doesn't feel right – Amused May 26 at 18:21
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    @TomasBy: I see. No Garibaldi or Burton or Van Gogh, yet Catiline, Isabella Duncan and Woodrow Wilson. The author's loony. – Pieter Geerkens May 26 at 18:59

I vote for Cecil Rhodes.

First, the author, William Bolitho Ryall was a South African, as was Rhodes.

Second, Rhodes was mightier than most of the others, insofar as he had a (former) country, "Rhodesia" named after him. (Alexander the Great "only" had cities like Alexandria named after him; Napoleon, "nothing".) Although technically just a wealthy private citizen, Rhodes basically ran his personal fortune as a "supranational" entity that dabbled in international affairs. (Think of George Soros and his private "war" with the Bank of England in the early 1990s.) Rhodes hired a mercenary force that basically started the Boer War.

On the more constructive side, he conceived the idea of a "Cape to Cairo" transcontinental railway under British control. He is the reason why the British empire in Africa extends north from South Africa to the future Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe, Zambia). This became a reality after World War I when Britain captured intervening German territory in modern Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to connect to Egypt and the Sudan.

The winding down of the Boer War coincided with his personal "twilight," and his last public acts were "academic," establishing the "Rhodes scholarship" and donating land to the University of Cape Town. After the high drama of this earlier life, the substantial realization of his goals (and the slight chance before his death that they might fail), made him a "nervous, banal, millionaire."

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  • How could Rhodes reasonably be called an adventurer, though? – jamesqf May 27 at 3:38
  • @jamesqf: Are you kidding? He launched the deBeers Diamond Co. and "cornered" the diamond market in Kimberly, he led expeditions as far north as modern Zambia, he organized a private "police" force that crushed the "natives" in "Rhodesia," basically his own private "country," and tried to do the same to the Boer settlers in "their" (two) Republics, ultimately leading to their conquest by Britain and "merger" into South Africa. No private citizen could have done more, and very few potentates. He was NOT a "white collar" worker except at the very end. – Tom Au May 27 at 3:53
  • True, but how does that make him an adventurer, rather than a talented and rather ruthless businessman? I think of adverturers as more in the mold of say Richard Burton en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Francis_Burton and James Brooke en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Brooke – jamesqf May 27 at 16:13
  • @jamesqf: He was an adventurer because he did all of the above personally, on the ground, not from an "office." (Unless you consider a deep underground mine an office.) Not enough adventure for you? John Paul Getty participated in drilling his own oil wells. The thing that separates Rhodes from your examples is his better business sense. – Tom Au May 27 at 16:28

There is a more subtle tragedy that waits for adventurers than ruin, penurious old age, rags, contempt. It is that he is doomed to cease to be an adventurer. The law of his morphology is that, setting out a butterfly, he is condemned when his development is ripe to become a caterpillar. The vocation of adventure is as tragic as that of Youth ; its course is parabolic, not straight; so that at a certain point it leads back to the cage again. The greatest adventurer that ever lived ended as a nervous, banal millionaire. joshvahvmphreys.com/

Google books has a more extensive quote, but google books makes it nearly impossible to reference the quote. Bolitho repeatedly refers to "the adventurer" as an abstract figure, not as a specific individual.

There appears to be an argument that this is L Ron Hubbard, but quite frankly I haven't the patience to read any argument that includes the name L Ron Hubbard. There are better things to do with my time. There are counterarguments at GerryArmstrong

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  • +1 because I think you are probably right with "Bolitho repeatedly refers to "the adventurer" as an abstract figure, not as a specific individual.", but that's just my opinion (which is why I've voted to close this question). – Lars Bosteen May 27 at 2:39
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    Couldn't be Hubbard, because (per the OP) the book was published in 1929, when Hubbard (born 1911) would have been 18 years old. Nor, at least from what I read, was he much of an adventurer - 3rd rate SF writer, failed naval officer, &c. – jamesqf May 27 at 3:43

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