English Landscape and Personality
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 6 May 1931, p. 152-159

Lindsay, the Right Honourable Sir Ronald, Speaker
Media Type:
Item Type:
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club.
Some introductory comments about the British climate and weather. A physical, geographical and topographical picture of the English landscape, in some detail. The speaker's thought that there may exist a fair analogy between the political history and condition of England today and its geology. The enclosure in England, described as "the most elementary form of man's interference with the face of the earth," with many examples. The trees of England. The calm and confident demeanour of the British country scene. Some words about the men who inhabit the countryside of Great Britain; about the economic situation they find themselves in, and some historical contributions made by Great Britain and her people.
Date of Original:
6 May 1931
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Full Text
(Before a Joint Meeting of the Canadian Club and the
Empire Club o f Canada.)
6th May, 1931

RT. HON. ARTHUR MEIGHEN, President of the Canadian Club, introduced the speaker, who said:-It is said that England has the best climate in the world, and also the worst weather. And if I may amplify and expand this aphorism, I would do so by pointing out that whip. our little island is well equipped for raising a vigorous race and bringing to harvest the most valuable and important produce of the soil, we must none the less submit to changes of weather so frequent and so capricious that we lack the amenities of countries more favoured, where expectation is not so liable to disappointment. And we may likewise say that while the landscape of England possesses charm of exceptional quality which has always appealed to men of descernment, we have to build our success on very slender foundations. We lack all the features of nature whose scale and magnificence derive from the convulsions of nature. We have no coral reefs or glaciers. We are without eternal snow or tropic vegetation. Our highest mountain would rank as a foothill of the Rocky Mountains, the Thames as a rivulet beside the St. Lawrence, and compared with our red' deer and golden eagles your own great birds and beasts are giants. In everything in which scenery is based on rich and grandiose manifestations, we are unable to compete. Shape, size and form are less prominent with us; indeed we maintain that size is not of crucial importance-that is to say actual size-and that for our effects relative size is sufficient. As the old Scottish proverb says: "A sparrow next the eye is greater than the eagle "on Ben G'hoil."

At the same time the scale of our English landscape, though it may be equable and modest, is not fortuitous. All its main features are the direct outcome of geological factors" well defined in their effects and never relaxing their pressure. The rain, the frost and the winds are ever at work, breaking down the crag and smoothing the hill top; rivers and tides are unceasingly at their task of erosion, sapping the cliff and converting it to a mere slope, or filling the valley with a fertile alluvium. It is worth while to trace the influence of our population on the landscape as we watch it receiving the impress of laborious activity. Of course I refer only to the civilization of the field, not to that of streets, houses, factories and gas works in the towns. The newest method of archaeological research, namely the photograph taken from an aeroplane, shows clearly the outlines beneath the surface of the soil of foundations, earthworks, roads and enclosures at which our ancestors toiled many centuries ago. The lowlands of England which even in historic times used to be covered by a dense and continuous mass of oak, ash and beech forest, have been cleared by the labour of many generations and present today to the eye those green pastures and rich corn lands which constitute the chief charm of our English landscape. Even today the work is still progressing and the labourer is every day striving further to flatten the soil and to remove whatever may tend to impede the easy passage of the plough. The tops of the downs in Southern England still show the scars where primitive men fought their wars or grew their scanty crops; and in the lowland plains an unusual abundance of trees will show you where once a dense forest grew, or you may infer an impassable bog from a muddy field alongside some meandering brook. The landscape of England is a palimpsest on which for centuries man has written history in the sweat of his brow, and on which he is writing it still.

I have often thought that there may exist a fair analogy between the political history and condition of England today and its geology, though as I am neither an historian nor a geologist I cannot feel sure that I have any proper warrant for my theory. Speaking geologically, we can still see on our country side the traces of cataclysms which occurred many aeons ago-marks of bygone earthquakes, floods and eruptions-but we can boast of none such today. We have no tornados, our floods only flood our cellars, our earthquakes are a jest, and our volcanoes are as extinct as the plesiosaurus. Our nearest approach to a convulsion of nature occurred in 1839 when a landslip occurred in Devonshire and some forty acres of fair land proceeded to slide down towards the sea, but in so leisurely and dignified a manner that the geologists of the time were impressed by the seemliness and decorum of nature's behaviour. And so too with our political condition of today, of which" however, I speak in historical and not in geological terms. We have had our invasions and irruptions. In the past our state has suffered from wars and civil wars, and our political institutions from rebellion and from revolution, but our last rebellion was two hundred years ago and really cost very few lives, and our last revolution was longer ago still and was bloodless; and just as our landscape stretches out before us in its smooth and gently rolling outlines, so the structure of our political and social institutions stands free from the menace of any cataclysm and subject only to those changes which the painstaking care of conscientious men may introduce, to adapt it to modern requirements and to increase its capacity to provide yet better government for our population.

Most of my listeners today must know England already and even those of you who have visited it once only will agree with me that the enclosure is the most far reaching feature of our scenery. The enclosure is the most elementary form of man's interference with the face of the earth. It may be a primitive fortress, or it may be just a corner of ground hemmed in by a turf fence; in any case it is a simple and universal expedient. It is an assertion of personal initiative and responsibility. It creates a reserve, and provides for the safety of family, crop or live stock. It is almost the first mark in the progression of the nomadic tribe towards the status of fixed residence. And nearly all our English landscape is cut up into small enclosures. Yet it is curious how often this apparent mutilation of a countryside is not only unobjectionable, but even an enrichment of the scene. And the reason is that this work of man's hand has made no breach of homogeneity. The dry stone wall is racy of the soil, made up of stones gathered on the spot, and the hedge grows from cuttings of hawthorn growing by the wayside. The cottages and farm buildings are likewise constructed of local material and are simple in outline, as authentic as the walls and hedges round the field, and all combine into a natural and harmonious whole. I will gladly pay a tribute to the practical virtues of a wire fence, but I think none of you will look without pleasure at an old fashioned snake fence even though it does take up a lot of ground and though it may harbour a forest of weeds; but it is native to the soil of Canada just as hedges and dry stone walls are to the soil of England, and for beauty's sake we are fortunate in that our ancestors built us nearly all the walls and hedges we require before barbed wire was invented.

Of forest, as you in Canada understand the word, we in England have nothing at all, because in so densely populated a country there is no room for such spacious luxury; but of trees we have many, and, growing isolated as they do, they assume forms of extraordinary grace and beauty. We may claim that the trees of England are our very own addition to the landscape, and even though many perished during the war, they still lend to our scenery an appearance of woodland. One of the Prime Ministers of a great Dominion on his first visit to England a good many years ago, when travelling from the sea coast to London by train" said he had been struck by three things in our countryside. First the vivid greenness of the grass which gave the impression of pastoral wealth; secondly the solidity of hedge and fence, which gave security to the farm stock and made it unnecessary to watch the animals. Finally, he said, "As I looked forward I expected always to be coming to a big forest, but it never arrived-I never got there." He then realised that at a distance the hedgerow trees, the narrow belts of timber, occasional woods and casual planting round every village gave the illusion of a closely wooded country.

How calm is the demeanour of our country scene, how confident its aspect! The rise and fall of the land is equable, the profile of the landscape fluent, with no abrupt or unexplained accidents. Though adventurous, our people have been home loving and have left they seal of their affections on the country side. Our horizons are calm; our rivers silent streams, in harmony with the easy gradients they skirt. But equable as the English scenery is, unemotional compared with the more striking landscapes of other lands" we never admit that it can be tame or monotonous just because it is not turbulent or despotic. It resembles ourselves in being sober, consistent and staunch. It is intimate and unostentatious. If a sympathetic observer will cross-examine the view and interrogate the village he will find how thoughtful has been the addition made by man to the charm of nature. And in the countless still unspoilt townships of England, where the church, the manor house, the village green and the smithy blend into one harmonious whole, he will find the village- carpenter or wheelwright working with the confidence of the true artist, and the local craftsman still taking a pride in conscientious labour and good workmanship. Here still is the home of those excellent qualities and virtues which made of us explorers in the days of Queen Elizabeth, shopkeepers in the more strenuous era of Napoleon, and stout honest fellows ever since.

I have now made you an address about English scenery and I have enjoyed speaking to you about it because I am country bred myself and there is nothing I love so much as the English countryside. And now, as there are still two or three minutes during which a speaker may legitimately detain his audience, I will allow myself to say just a very few words about the men who inhabit this countryside. I have often heard it said that England is past her prime and that she is on the downward grade. Maybe you have heard it said here in Canada and if so I admit that I am not surprised, because there are lots of people who say it aloud in England. Let me beg you to take these melancholy prognostications with a proverbial pinch of salt. Fifteen years ago, when your divisions were fighting in France,, did your men think that the British soldiers in line with them showed any marked signs of degeneration? Or the civil population of the United Kingdom behind the line? And what can have happened in the interval to turn that population into the downward path? I am aware that we carry a staggering load of debt, and our taxes are, I believe, higher than those of any other country. We make the heavens ring with our cries of indignation, especially when our taxes are increased. But one hundred years ago when we emerged from the Napoleonic wars-an era of stress no less terrible than that which we have lately gone through-our burden of debt and tax, proportionately to our wealth, was certainly greater than it is today, and with all our protestations the Englishmen of today are no less ready and able than our ancestors to shoulder the burden until we can lighten its weight; and we are yearly lightening this weight. You may have seen in the papers that the British Government this year is facing a deficit. A deficit generally means expenditure in excess -of income, but this is a strange deficit we are facing. Our income has largely exceeded our expenditure and all that has happened is that we paid off last year on the strictest basis of accounting only thirty-five million dollars of debt instead of the very much larger amount we had hoped.

There is yet another kind of tax we pay in England which cannot be assessed in terms of money and which perhaps is a greater drain on the country than any money impost. For two hundred years we have sent the best of our sons and daughters out of the British Isles on the service of the Empire, largely as administrators and traders and, in the past, still more largely as settlers. And let me say that when I look upon this great Dominion and think that we of the British Isles have taken so large a part in creating this magnificent stock of men, then I feel that, so far from regretting, we shall always feel proud of having paid our contribution. Still this tax has always been a heavy one, and its weight has been increased in these years by the loss in war of 900,000 men in the flower of their age. Yet the old stock at home still breeds true. The strength of a nation lies not in its armies or navies, not in its gold and credit, not in its material wealth, but in its men and women, in their strength of character, in the sanity of their outlook, in their civic virtue and fortitude. These qualities are still honoured and practised in the old country, and the young generation is growing up in the old tradition of honest courage, and well able to carry high the torch of Empire. Study the men and women of England as you will, and you will find that the heart of the Empire still beats strong and true. (Applause.)

H. G. STAPELLS, president of the Empire Club, voiced the thanks of the meeting in these words: "Just as scientists have persuaded us that potent substances are often condensed into meagre proportions, and the most insignificant muzzle sometimes made to belch forth a most convincing power, so I would persuade His Excellency that behind these enfeebled words of mine is the vast spirit of these two Clubs, a spirit of admiration and respect now coupled with a deep sense of gratitude that we should have been privileged to hear this most revealing address. His Excellency has revealed himself as having a worthy affection for that incomparable English countryside,-an affection shared by many here today. His Excellency has revealed himself as of that stock he mentioned, whose breed is the highest of the high, in whose hands the torch of -the Empire is forever safe. His Excellency has revealed himself in a more subtle manner. If there were no "Who's Who", he would be recognized readily as a diplomat of the first water, for while undertaking to speak to us upon English landscape, he has in fact delivered a most convincing address upon the basic and future greatness of England. It is our most sincere hope that His Excellency may carry back with him to Washington as profound an impression of our gratitude, as the impression with which he now leaves us. I have the honour to extend to him our most sincere thanks." (Applause.)

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English Landscape and Personality

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club.
Some introductory comments about the British climate and weather. A physical, geographical and topographical picture of the English landscape, in some detail. The speaker's thought that there may exist a fair analogy between the political history and condition of England today and its geology. The enclosure in England, described as "the most elementary form of man's interference with the face of the earth," with many examples. The trees of England. The calm and confident demeanour of the British country scene. Some words about the men who inhabit the countryside of Great Britain; about the economic situation they find themselves in, and some historical contributions made by Great Britain and her people.