The Apple Cart and the British Empire
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 15 Jan 1931, p. 14-25
Colbourne, Maurice, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
References to "The Apple Cart" and recent world events. A summary of the kind of future which the British Empire faces, according to Bernard Shaw and "The Apple Cart." Response to "The Apple Cart" in the United States as witnessed by the speaker. Learning to grin and bear Bernard Shaw's critical faculty, with example. Ways in which the speaker's production of the play will differ both from the English and American versions. The hope for an overture specially composed for "The Apple Cart" and written in Canada. The significant absence of any mention of war in the play. Some quotations from Shaw. Some revelations of Shaw himself in "The Apple Cart." Some words on the Empire.
Date of Original
15 Jan 1931
Language of Item
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Full Text
15th January, 1931

LIEUT.-COL. GEORGE A. DREW, Vice-President was in the chair. He introduced Mr. Maurice Colbourne who said: Please allow me to say at the outset, on behalf of Mr. Barry Jones and myself that in coming back to Canada and to Toronto, and in coming to be guests of honour before the Empire Club, we are in a very real and personal sense, coming back home. (Applause.) I understand that when the title of the present talk was suggested and approved, one dissenting member of your Committee said, "Why 'The Apple Cart and the British Empire' when a better title would be, 'The Apple Cart, the British Empire and the Encyclopedia Brittanica?"' (Laughter.) So I feel that at any rate one person present is in sympathy with the task which I have the pleasure of performing today, although it is an easier task than that which you kindly set me last year,, when we spoke just of Bernard Shaw and the British Empire.

As to that talk of last year I have in mind a matter of pride and a matter of apology. The matter of pride is that we were not so far off the lines in concluding that Bernard Shaw was, after all, fit to live, because since that time he has actually been offered a title. He has refused it because he did not think it would sit well on his shoulders, and he wants his works to go down to posterity under the name by which they are known to the generation of today. When a reporter saw Mr. Shaw and suggested that His Majesty the King was going to offer him a title and make him a Lord Somebody, to keep company with his friend Lord Passfield, Shaw replied, "Well, I have not heard anything about it yet, but I tell you what I will do; if I can think of a title that is more famous than Bernard Shaw I will give the matter my serious consideration". (Laughter.)

My apology with reference to last year's speech is a most heartfelt one. When we were deciding it was because Bernard Shaw was not an Englishman that he was permitted to live in London and dictate how the Empire should live-an the same lines that we English allowed anybody except an Englishman to come and be our Prime Minister-I gave a long list of Prime Ministers who were not Englishmen, and I omitted to mention that grand man, the late Right Honourable Andrew Bonar Law. (Applause.) In your annual volume I was careful to insert that as a footnote.

I think the first thing that struck me about "The Apple Cart" was the extreme topicality of the play. So topical is it that on its first production King Magnus, the hero, was instantly identified with Marshall Pilsudski of Poland. Then, on the 21st of last October there appeared in the world's newspapers a dispatch from Spain saying, in effect, that certain speeches made by King Alphonso had caused a sensation throughout the country. His remark to the Engineers-that it does not matter very much whether there is a republic or a monarchy in Spain, because the essential thing is to work for the good of the country-was interpreted as a warning that the monarch will not submit to a Republican onslaught without putting up a vigorous fight in defense of the Crown. Those of you who have read or seen "The Apple Cart" will at once recognize that that is an integral part of its plot-King Magnus precipitates the dramatic crisis by making just such a speech. Then, passing over the recent affairs in Italy and the Hitler elections in Germany, both of which can be interpreted in the light of "The Apple Cart," we come nearer home to one of the other parts of the Empire" and find that during the recent "schimmozzle", as I may call it, over the appointment of the Australian Governor General we have an absolute identification with part of "The Apple Cart's" plot. It was to me an intense delight that the announcement of Lord Willingdon's appointment as Viceroy was couched in terms which were different from those used to announce the appointment of the Governor General of Australia, and we can say, "God speed Lord Willingdon, and God be with him". (Applause.)

Prof. William Lyon Phelps, of Yale University, a month ago wrote that during the past year he had had the pleasure of meeting in person two of the greatest men in the world, Mr. Edison and Mr. Shaw, and he found the same thing characteristic of both of them, namely, a constant forward-looking, and letting the past take care of itself. He said that Edison was as interested in his future experiments on rubber as though he were a child with a long life before him" whilst Bernard Shaw talked about nothing but what was actually happening now or would happen in the future; he never mentioned the past. In fact, Bernard Shaw in his own words said that "The Apple Cart," the action of which takes place around the year 2000, "is a warning to those who still dream the old dreams."

I think it would be interesting if we summarized very quickly the kind of future which the British Empire faces, according to Bernard Shaw arid "The Apple Cart." The play has it that in the centre of the Empire, in England, there is still a Cabinet, and there are still women in the Cabinet, showing an increase in the female population of the Cabinet of the year 2000 of 100% over the female population of that Cabinet today; in other words, there are two women in the Cabinet of "The Apple Cart"

(Laughter). Private enterprise is still going strong, and England contains the best-paid proletariat in the world. The England of that day has taken the example of the late Lord Birkenhead to heart. You will remember how a few years before his death he deserted the woolsack for the city board-room, and his example was so successful that in the year 2000 you find nobody going into politics who thinks he can do better for himself by going into business. Of course I do. not know whether that holds good today or not, but if so" it is aggravated and intensified in the year 1990 or 2000. Last, and certainly not least, the English parlor-maid has taken to winning all the prizes in the International beauty competitions (Laughter). And there are certain differences in the architectural features the country of which Ely Cathedral perhaps will stand as an example. The American Ambassador tells King Magnus that he was "brought up in the shade of Ely Cathedral, the removal of which from the County of Cambridge to New Jersey was one of the great achievements of my grandfather." (Laughter.)

The League of Nations Navy-I am still dealing with the play-patrols the oceans and the seas, and there has been a certain amount of change in the geographical nomenclature-France and Germany, for instance. The Ambassador says in reply to King Magnus--"Oh, I suppose you mean, by Germany, the chain of more or less Soviet Republics between the Ural Mountains and the North Sea; and France, by which I take it you mean the Government at New Timgad, is too busy in Africa to fuss about what is happening at the end of your little Channel Tube; so long as Paris is full of Americans, and Americans are full of money, all's well in the west from the French point o f view." (Laughter.)

Then the Throne is there" and on it there sits a king and his consort, and the British Empire is still going strong. It is going so strong that the United States of America. feel impelled to tear up the Declaration of Independence, and want to re-join the British Empire. (Laughter and Applause). This is a proposal which does not meet with the unqualified approval of King Magnus, and which arouses the wrath of the Powermistress-General; and then, Bernard Shaw-who has castigated England for nearly half a century-proceeds at last to castigate the United States. Indeed one of the most Shavian remarks in the play is that of this British-born and British-bred Powermistress-General, who says, "What they call an American is only a wop pretending to be a Pilgrim Father". (Laughter.)

I must say that during my recent tour in the United States, its length and breadth, north and south, where I came across "The Apple Cart" frequently, I felt bound to take off my hat to the sense of humor which prompted audiences first of all to gasp for a second on hearing that line; then to break out into uncontrollable laughter; and at the end of perhaps fifteen seconds, fifty percent of the audience would applaud with their hands, and from one to one and a half percent would emit a gentle hiss. (Laughter.)

The only thing to do with Bernard Shaw when he makes a remark like that is, after all, to grin and bear it; and though I speak as a member of a community which has learned to grin and bear it for nearly half a century, we must allow Bernard Shaw his critical faculty, and allow him to indulge his fancy in the way that suits him best. One of the typical little instances of this is the way he dealt with English education one day when he had consented to speak for an hour before a meeting on the subject "What is wrong with English Education?" On his way to the meeting he had an accident, and when he arrived there was only a quarter of an hour left. The audience had beep waiting for three-quarters of an hour. Bernard Shaw, full of apology rushed on to the platform and said how sorry he was that he had met with the accident, and exclaimed, "I am afraid there is only time to tell you what is right with English Education". (Laughter).

Your Chairman has been so kind as to mention Barry Jones and me with reference to our production of "The Apple Cart," and perhaps I should be discourteous if I did not reply to his very kind welcome and to his remarks. I think the way in which our production will differ both from the English and American is in this respect. The English production boasted an actor English-born to play the English King; the American production boasted a very fine actor" American-born, to play the English King. Now, I think we shall not only go one better than the American production, but that we shall go one better than the English production, too, because we have somebody to play the King who boasts that he is not an Englishman, but a Guernseyman, and who boasts further that Guernsey is the only country which, with the help of William the Conquerer in 1066, conquered England (Laughter); I refer, of course, to Barry Jones, with whom, himself consenting, we are going to put into a uniforms-which was not done in the American production. I think that is right speaking Shavianly, because there is almost a new political party in the year 2000, called Ritualists, and it is in that connection we feel that mankind in the next generation or two will realize more and more the importance of uniform, (especially if there is no war between then and now to remind us of that importance), and how a uniform can infuse a corporate spirit into the people who wear it. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why great bodies of men like the Shriners, let us say, like to put on uniforms-because uniforms do inculcate that corporate spirit, and make you feel, more than you would in your ordinary day clothes, that you are members one of another.

Another thing we hope to have is an overture specially composed for "The Apple Cart;" an overture written in Canada, and I hope in Toronto. Sir Edward Elgar offered to write the overture; he and Bernard Shaw are great friends, and Bernard Shaw wrote back that he was delighted and honoured, and his only fear was that it would be such a glorious thing that it might possibly upset "The Apple Cart." (Laughter.)

One of the interesting things about the play is that there is no war mentioned in it. There is no reference to any war which took place between the year 1931 and the year 2000. That, to me, is a tremendously significant thing, and with your permission I do not think it is out of place that I should call attention to the subject of war in general in this year 1931 when we are speaking of the British Empire. I imagine that in some of our bones we are still ashamed of the shambles which were created only so few years ago, and I believe Shaw thinks that we shall still be so ashamed of them in 2000 that he has refrained from breaking out into the fever of war between now and then. One phrase of the author of "All Quiet on the Western Front" has stuck in my mind; he coined and popularized the phrase, "The Lost Generation"-by which we can presume he meant anyone who in 1914 was between the ages of say fifteen and thirty-five. There are myriads of members of that generation still walking the earth today. We talk about the cruelty and suffering of war, and all that side of it, yet as we all know and feel, there is something in the military march that stirs the blood nobly; there is something glorious and noble in war, because war does evoke the qualities of heroism and courage and self-sacrifice. In 1887, the year of the Queen's jubilee, a poem was written which reads as follows

From Clee to heaven the beacon burns,
The Shires have seen it Plain,
From north to south the sign returns Anal beacons burn again.
Look left, look right, the hills are bright,
The dales aye bright between-
Because 'tis fifty years tonight
That God has saved the Queen.
Now, when the flame they watch not towers
Above the soil they trod.
Lads, we'll remember friends of ours
Who shared the work with God.
To skies that knit their heart strings right,
To fields that bred them brave,
The saviours come not home tonight;
Themselves they could not save.
It dawns in Asia, tombstones show,
And Shropshire names are read,
And the Nile spills its overflow
Beside the Severn's dead.
We pledge in peace, by farm and town,
The Queen they served in war
And fare the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.
God save the Queen, we living sing,
From height to height 'tis heard,
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads o f the Fifty-third.
Oh God will save her, fear you not,
Be you the men you've been-
Get you the sons your fathers got
And God will save the Queen.

There is-we cannot deny it, and we do not want to deny it something that war does evoke, which is a glorious and a noble thing; and I think our problem to-clay is not to harp upon the cruelty and sufferings and barbarity of war, but to try to find something else, some substitute which will in peace-time evoke those very qualities of heroism, of courage, and self-sacrifice. (Hear, hear, and applause.) On such a sombre note it seems curious perhaps to return to Bernard Shaw. But he is such a wonderful pillar, and in returning to him I will quote, from one of his works, this splendid paragraph

"This is the true joy of life; the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrapheap; the being a force of nature, instead of a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not make you happy. I must take myself as I am, and get what work I can out of myself. For I tell you that as long as I can conceive something better than myself I cannot be easy unless I am striving to bring it into existence or clearing the way for it. That is the law of my life"

But it is so dull to wage this kind of war, unrecognized, without even the glamour of a uniform to encourage one, and then to die unsung. But then, Bernard Shaw is a very brave and persistent man.

You may wonder what, if any, special revelation there is of Bernard Shaw himself in "The Apple Cart." I think it was Mr. Shaw's secretary who confided to Barry Jones this summer, when Bernard Shaw was out of the room-"You know, 'The Apple Cart' is full of little tiny quips that are jokes between Mrs. Shaw and myself. For instance the King sends all his love-letters unread straight to the Queen because he thinks they would amuse her"-and the Secretary did something to the expression of her face by which Mr. Jones felt that even in that trivial reference there was a small piece of autobiography. (Laughter). I also understood that the secretary, although her instructions are to open all his letters, knows which letters to leave unopened for Mr. Shaw himself to open. (Laughter). But I thinly the greatest things that strike one in "The Apple Cart," from an autobiographical point of view, are the good manners of the King" and therefore of Bernard Shaw. For instance, the King says:-"Oh, no, I never fight. But I sometimes win".

Secondly, there is an example of the tactful way in which the King does-and therefore the way in which Bernard Shaw would-control the Cabinet, and I think it is intensely autobiographical, because one of the Cabinet accuses the King of jesting, just as the world is still accusing Shaw of jesting and of not being serious. The King says, "If you may use your thunderbolts, may I not carry my little pop-gun of the Veto, and strut up and down with it for a little?" One of the Cabinet says, "This is not a subject for jesting," and the King quickly answers, "I am not jesting, Mr. Nicobar; I am trying to discuss our differences in a good-humored manner; do you want me to lose my temper and make scenes?"

The third instance is the way in which the King refuses to allow his favourite to persuade him to drown his Queen, or desert her, or shoot her, or divorce her. He will have none of them, and the less he listens to these disgraceful proposals the more infuriated his charming favourite becomes, until the King has to, put his foot down, and he does so, in the following words:

"Do not let us fall into the common mistake of expecting to become one flesh and one spirit. Every star has its own orbit; and between it and its nearest neighbour there is not only a powerful attraction but an infinite distance. When the attraction becomes stronger than the distance the two do not embrace; they clash together in ruin. We also have our orbits, and must keep an infinite distance between us to avoid a disastrous collision. Keeping our distance is the whole secret of good manners, and without good manners human society is intolerable sad impossible."

Having delivered this charming speech the King says, comfortably, "How nice I feel!" We should all feel nice when we are unwillingly pursued by a lady who has no business whatever to pursue-herself being a married woman and we being married too-if instead of telling her, as we probably would" to go to blazes we could say something like that. (Laughter.)

So I come to what I may call my peroration, and I feel that this is in keeping both with "The Apple Cart," which is after all a play of the future of the British Empire, and the Empire itself; and I would say this: If uniforms of war ill befit us in these scarred and struggling times, we can yet wear the badge of our Empire in our hearts, and fight for King and Country in peace as in war. In its essentials I believe that fight to be one for an ideal and a system of justice; I believe that our ideal and our system differ from those of other lands, and that our fight will be to keep out the social evils of thuggery, racketeering, and graft, which have no lot or part in our ideal or system of justice but which, once in" spread as fast as the most virulent disease and are far harder to eradicate.

Likewise I believe there is more freedom in our Empire than in the Republic across the way. I speak advisedly after thirteen weeks tour there; and I feel I can say this freely because they themselves are talking and thinking of little other than lawlessness and freedom. They seem to rest content with the word such as freedom or liberty rather than to wish to translate it into their lives. But the justice and the freedom we have is not an imposed thing. It is a grown thing, a pliant, humane and gentle thing, the fruit of centuries of experience. And that experience, amid a continual seeming mess of makeshifts, compromises and muddles, began, and still continues, in a small island which, geographically speaking, Ontario could support on its lap. It bears a dear name

"This royal throne of Kings, this sceptr'd isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war; This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in a silver sea, This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Well, things have changed since the days of Richard II and Shakespeare. The monarchy is a constitutional one; the seat of Mars sounds more like an insult to some Balkan ,state; and now that men fly, England is more likely to be a target than a fortress. But to my mind Shakespeare's words are real, none the less, because there is such a things as the reality of the past. It is a reality that lives in our blood, in the blood of the race, in the blood of all of us here. And we carry away all that glorious past with us; we regard it not as a burden but as a ballast, as we stand on the bridge of the ship of State facing the unknown and the uncharted future.

Now, in the chartroom of that ship a man called Bernard Shaw has installed himself without a by-your-leave, or without signing on. Shall we treat him as a stowaway? Shall we put him in irons, or let him bide ? Many will say, "Oh, let him bide,, because after all he is only a poor mad crazy fellow who spends his time in piling up apples in an apple cart and balancing them dexterously on the top of his nose." I think we can take up that challenge of madness and say, "Well, if Bernard Shaw is mad, what about our world to day?" If it is a question of madness, I would say with Saint Joan and Bernard Shaw, "Very well, we want a few mad people now, because look where the sane ones have brought us!" (Loud applause.)

The Chairman voiced the thanks of the Club to the speaker.

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The Apple Cart and the British Empire

References to "The Apple Cart" and recent world events. A summary of the kind of future which the British Empire faces, according to Bernard Shaw and "The Apple Cart." Response to "The Apple Cart" in the United States as witnessed by the speaker. Learning to grin and bear Bernard Shaw's critical faculty, with example. Ways in which the speaker's production of the play will differ both from the English and American versions. The hope for an overture specially composed for "The Apple Cart" and written in Canada. The significant absence of any mention of war in the play. Some quotations from Shaw. Some revelations of Shaw himself in "The Apple Cart." Some words on the Empire.