Masters of Our Fate
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 22 Jan 1937, p. 166-181

Campbell, Sir Gerald, Speaker
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Some differences between the British and the Americans. 1937 as a crucial year to know which way the world is really trending. The way we are today and how we got here. Criticism from both within and without the Empire. How the British Empire survived the War. British justice. American isolationism. The British, regaining the "mastery of our fate."
Date of Original:
22 Jan 1937
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Full Text
Friday, 22nd January, 1937

PRESIDENT: Ladies and Gentlemen: We are honoured today by the official visit of the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, Colonel Bruce. (Applause.) Colonel Bruce is the representative of the Monarchy in the Province of Ontario. He is the person present who is representing the British Throne in Ontario. In the light of past events, I might say with great respect, that the Throne is bigger than the individual. I am going to ask Colonel Bruce to say a few words to us today. I would like you to give him your welcome accordingly: (Applause.)

His HONOUR, COLONEL BRUCE: Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen. I was not aware until a moment ago that I was here officially today. The Club has been very kind to me in inviting me to many of its functions, where I have the opportunity of hearing distinguished speakers on various subjects and where I learn a great deal. I am very happy that they have extended this privilege to me today, so I will be able to learn what Sir Gerald Campbell is going to tell us in a few moments about the future of the British Empire. I had the great pleasure of meeting Sir Gerald a few months ago when the new British ship, the Queen Mary, made its first visit to New York, when my wife and I had the privilege of dining on board. I can speak for you all a very interesting and pleasant half hour when you have the opportunity of hearing from Sir Gerald whom I am sure we welcome most heartily here today.

I thank you for this opportunity of returning thanks for the very many kindnesses of the Empire Club to me, personally. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT : Thank you, very much, Colonel Bruce.

We have the great privilege today of having with us not only His Honour, the Lieutenant-Governor, His Majesty's representative in the Province of Ontario, but we have also His Majesty's Consul-General and representative in New York, in the person of Sir Gerald Campbell. I might say, without flattering New York or boasting about Ontario, that I think we have the two most important representatives of the Sovereign on this Continent.

We welcome you, Your Honour, and we welcome you, Sir Gerald. We welcome all our guests today, more particularly those of the Convention of the Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company, whose courtesy made it possible for us to have this large banqueting hall today.

Sir Gerald Campbell is today our guest-speaker, he needs very little introduction. His service for the British Empire in the Diplomatic Corps has been world-wide. You all know he has acted in this capacity in many parts of this world, more recently in the United States, but before then, in the Congo, in Ethiopia and many other places which few of us have the opportunity to. know very much about. Sir Gerald will address us today on the subject: "Master of our Fates." I am sure he Will tell something of interest to us all and perhaps more, particularly to those of us who believe in the integrity and future of the British Empire. Sir Gerald Campbell!

(Loud Applause.) SIR GERALD CAMPRELL: Your Honour, Mr. President, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen: If any of you are especially interested in thoroughbreds you had better let me out or go, away yourselves because I have got to confess I am a mongrel. I am Scotch, born in England, living in the United States, and I have come here fear twenty-four hours or less, just to tell you something about the Union Jack and I am not sure but that you would be better able to tell me what the Union Jack stands for; however, here I am and I don't have many opportunities of talking to 'my ain folk.' I spoke once in London in a public meeting and I was called to order three times, so I have never spoken there again.

The President has referred to my having been in the Congo. When I was in the Congo I used to lie on my back sometimes, looking at the Southern Cross, which I found rather disappointing, and either thinking over or inventing stories, to tell my family when I got home and when I got home I would start telling them, but sure enough some member of the family would run in to say that the charwoman had got red garters instead of blue, and I would stop describing my hair-breadth escape from a leopard, and we would start talking about the charwoman, or scrub woman, as she is called in the United States. That is one difference between the Americans and us. We call them charwomen, in the United States they are called scrub women.

I don't think that there are many differences between us. Last winter I was addressing a Club in New York and there were a lot of people there; they were all very nice arid attentive except one who every moment kept getting up and interrupting and was continually being pulled down by his coat-tails. He had been down below before dimmer where there was a bar with a piece of railing at the bottom where you put your foot. I think that is the origin of the term 'club foot.' He kept on getting up on both feet, both club, and interrupting what I was trying to say, and I was saying to the Almighty

"O, God, do take me away from this terrible country. I hate America. And please forgive all my sins for which You are keeping me here. I didn't mean to ask that Aunt Bessie's child might be born with a hare-lip. Please make me a good boy and let me go, home again. Amen." And when I had finished my speech, this man lurched up to the head-table and said, "Shake hands with a fellow Britisher."

I talk thus lightly about small differences but as a matter of fact there is a large difference between us and I think we ought to be very thankful that there is because the world would be very dull if we were all the same, especially those who talk the same language, more or less. I often see that visitors from Great Britain get into trouble when they come to America because they don't realize that the Americans are different from them and then, when they find they are, they begin to criticize them and the Americans naturally don't like being criticized. They like to criticize themselves, they don't dike being criticized by other people. In that they are just the same as we are.

Then, also, I think both sides make a mistake in that A will interpret what B is doing, according to his own traditions and upbringing and temperament and so we don't quite always get the right hang of what the other side is doing, with the result that we don't agree with what the other side is doing and that is probably one reason why we don't quite understand each other yet and why we haven't quite got together yet, although both sides keep on saying we ought to get together, especially in these critical times.

It is only a week or two ago that your new Minister in Washington came to New York to a Pilgrims' Banquet, where Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, President of the Pilgrims, spoke of the critical times and interpreted them as being a' time of war between ideas and ideals, between despotism and liberty, and I gathered that he implied very clearly that those who vote for liberty should stand together ins these days like a rock in the sweep of every wind and in the wash of every sea. That would be logical but I think logic has been put 'in the waste-paper basket with sanctity of treaties and we can't find it any more for, if there is any logic, it is somewhat of the surrealist type. I don't know whether you in Canada have yet had the doubtful pleasure of seeing a surrealist exhibition. We have just had one and whereas in the old days when you bought a picture you knew more or less what it was about, although it might be a cabbage or 'it might be a hat, depending on the face underneath, but these surrealists go far beyond anything we have imagined. They take a piece of chewing gum .and put it on the left chest of a flat-footed platypus, which turns out to, be the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, surmounted by the wisdom tooth of a Wisconsin garbage man's unborn child. If it happens to be in New York, the title probably is "Removing Trolley Rails from Madison Avenue."

Now, if I could just sum up the present situation in the world in the same surrealistic logical terms, it comes to something like this: That nations are creating a machinery of defence which other nations say is apt to destroy the chances of peace, so those other nations also create a machinery of defence because they don't trust the other people that that machinery is only for defence but they hope the other people will think their machinery is only for defence and the other people say, 'If you do that we must have more children and therefore we must have colonies for excess population and for raw materials, because if we don't get the raw materials which we want for our machinery of defence, then we have to fight you with our machinery of defence to get those raw materials.' (Laughter.) I don't know whether you got that.

It is an interesting fact that a little time ago, the Carnegie Endowment and the International Chamber of Commerce drew up a very interesting and very researchful report on the question of colonies arid raw materials and that report has been blacklisted in one of the countries which talks so much about colonies and raw materials. They are not allowing their people to read it.

Well, I don't want to be pessimistic or to buy you a drink mixed with the waters of Babylon and to ask you to weep when it won't sit. A French writer said a year or two ,ago, 'our epoch is not particularly gay but it is passionately interesting. It is not a heap of ruins but it is a building-yard in which, to the sound of saws and trowels and hammers, a new world is being erected, and to that we ought to add also the pens and the heads under study damps which are musing, searching and evolving new notions, though I hope those pens and those head will not go too far because if they do, we humble beings cannot always follow or understand them. There is a London Professor who has just complained that in his opinion intellectuals are something like showmen who are planning a circus turn in which elephants fly in formation and they are so keen about the formation that they quite forget the capacity of elephants for aviation.

This is only in parenthesis: I don't know whether any of you saw the advertisement in the London Times--I am surprised at the London Times--in which Lord Berners offers for sale two elephants and a young rhinoceros. The young rhinoceros is house-trained.

Well, I wonder what is the question we are asking of ourselves today. I know some of you and I know most of me is just a bewildered child, trying to find on what to concentrate, wanting some direction in which to go. All I hear is people, talking and talking, like I am, to beat the band, and not telling me in the least where to go. In fact, the jungle is very full of words, to quote Kipling, which sound like one thing arid mean another. But I do think the undergrowth of the jungle is possibly getting thinner and if you read speeches, being made over on the other side of the Atlantic, you will find it has now got down to the simple issue of butter versus guns. Some people prefer guns and, as I hinted, they want their women to bear as many children as possible so long as the children are all sons, who will fit a shirt arid become soldiers later on. Other people prefer butter and do not mind whether their women bear children or not so long as the ones they do bear are good. I would like to remind the former of a remark made by Field Marshall Robertson, after the war, when he said, three bombardments--and we know three bombardments form a very small part of the total number--three mere bombardments cost $260,000,000. And what couldn't you or I do with one hundredth of that amount?

I do think the year 1937 is going to be a very crucial year. I think perhaps before it is over we shall know which way the world is really trending 'but don't let us just be hasty and blame conditions. "Men, at some time are masters of their fate; the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves," and ourselves, I take to mean the more or less human beings who create conditions and must abide by those conditions which they create.

You see, we were given various things when we were born. Take the invention of the wheel, for instance. The wheel is supposed to be probably one of the most important inventions there ever was. In the old days it helped the husbandman to till the soil and if he had a willing nag it also helped him to get home to his wife and the kids and a clean shirt, if he wanted one. Probably he only wanted food and the wife probably wondered why he was called a husbandman. Nowadays, under our intoxication of speed we .are using the wheel chiefly to destroy other human beings. My famous namesake, Sir Malcolm Campbell, said when he was going a mile in the quickest time on record it took him seven miles to get up his speed and seven miles to stop the car after the speed had been attained. I don't know why he came all the way to New York to tell us that. The taxi drivers are doing it all the time. (Laughter.)

Then, another great invention was the printing press. It gave us the Bible, it gave us Shakespeare, it gave us very many good things, but nowadays it is giving us magazine writers who also have a wife and some kids and who want a clean shirt arid a 'coupla' dimes to spend (spelled c-o-u-p-l-a) and they write all sorts of things about things they don't know at all and I suppose they hope their readers don't know anything about them, and that their readers will have a 'coupla' drinks before they read them.

Also, we have got the radio. The radio ought to bring us nearer together. It does bring us nearer together but, unfortunately, it keeps us apart also anal it amplifies the creakings and the groanings which always went on but which now we hear so clearly, and we don't Tike the people who creak and groan; and as for those voices over the radio, I think if Joan of Arc had heard them she would have strangled herself at birth. (Laughter.)

Both the printing press and the radio have brought us into this area of publicity. I remember when, referring again to the Congo, the Governor-General came to where I was stationed. I called on him and I didn't know whether he would return the call in uniform or not. If he were in uniform, naturally I wanted to put mine on; if necessary, and not if not necessary, because we were on the equator and uniforms are very hot. I sent one of my boys right to the end of the road where the GovernorGeneral was staying and I said, "If the big white man comes out with a big knife on his side and something funny on, his shoulder, tap your shoulder, and another boy will tap his, and then the next boy will tap his, and the boy at the gate will come and tell me and I shall know what clothes to put on." I waited an awful longtime and finally the first boy returned, all out of breath, and I said, "What are you out of breath for?" He said, "The big white man has nothing on. He is washing his face."

That is about the way we are today. We can hardly get into bed without somebody poking a camera through the window and taking pictures of us. Personally, I don't think it is very pleasant. I would like to get into bed just as I am. Then, the result of all this publicity is that people--I am not blaming magazine writers especially--a lot of people are pulling up the roots of plants in order to see how the roots are going on and plants don't like roots being pulled up in order to see how things are going on; and I think one of the roots that is pulled up and it doesn't want to be pulled up is this particular root of the British Empire. Once the root has been pulled up then these Kleig lights are turned on it and limelight is not good for roots that want to stay in the ground. The result is we are getting a lot of criticism, both within and without the Empire. I don't in the least mind the criticism within the Empire, I only hope it is constructive for constructive criticism is good for the health and the welfare of any one or any institution. But I see, of course, the criticism that comes from without the Empire and I am not sure whether the mentality of the present day doesn't tend to make that criticism destructive, for the simple reason we have got to the stage of life now where when, if we buy an automobile we run it for 2,000 miles arid then turn it in, and buy another automobile, and we are getting disrespect for old friends. If you have an automobile that is an old friend you tinker with it, you take it to pieces, you leave out a part or you put a part in in the wrong place, but that old friend is always patient and it goes on working, in spite of whatever you do to it.

In New York and in America, generally, there is absolutely nothing I can talk about nowadays. Everything is so delicate or so dangerous that I just can't talk about anything so I talk about something, which is the British Empire, and I find Americans extraordinarily kind when I talk about the British Empire; at least they listen. They may go away making remarks which I don't hear, but they are very kind and they seem interested in the British Empire, and I believe it is not as a result of anything I have done oar said, it is a result of the Empire itself and the way it is standing the test of time. I believe Americans, as a whole, are thinking more highly of it than they ever did before. (Applause.)

Of course, all of you know that America was once, or as we call it in America, the United States was once part of the British Empire. She decided to cut herself off frown it and had a War of Independence which was won on the playing fields of Harvard. After that and for very many years, I think, the Empire was regarded as something rather sinister and some people are left who still regard the Empire as something rather sinister. Not long ago at a large meeting which was addressed by a prominent Englishman, an American was asked to return thanks to him. I don't think he returned thanks in a very nice way. He got up .and he said he had listened to the speaker with much interest but he wished to remind his audience that British idealism is always tainted with self interest, suggestive of British Imperailism. The entire audience, which was half asleep all the way through the speech of the distinguished Englishman, woke up and applauded and applauded and held their hands ready to applaud again whatever this man said. I began to get a little worried about it. It seemed to me at first that people don't think so much about idealism. I don't think so much of it nowadays myself. It is a kind of catch-word, like 'civilization' which seems to be just a generic term to cover a multitude of sins, arid all it amounts to is plumbing and birth control and the Book-of-the-Month-Club. It is evidently just a veneer, and when you scratch veneer you find there is very little underneath, as we found when things began to happen in Spain. But British Imperialism worried me a little bit more because it seemed to be a slogan which had a stigma.

The following story doesn't refer to it much at first; it does in the end. One very beautiful New Year's Day, I might have been playing golf, because it was New Year's Day which is a holiday in the United States, but I had to stand for an hour and half in a quiet stall in the cathedral of St. John the Divine, over the dead body of an Armenian Bishop, and as there was no cover on the coffin I saw quite a lot of him. That Armenian Bishop was a naturalized British subject, who had lived in Great Britain quite a long time before he came to the United States, and in the United States he was very worried indeed, because the Armenians had divided themselves into two sections and each section had a different flag and at the meetings he attended, especially one 'in Chicago, if the wrong flag was flown, according to- the audience, there was a row. He came tome and said,. "I am really afraid of my life. I think they are going to do something to me if this goes on." I thought it over and I said, "How about this? This is the United States and a good many of these Armenians are American citizens. You are in the United States, why not simply fly the Stars and Stripes and no Armenian flag at all." I considered that a brain wave, and that was done at the next meeting. The following Sunday, as the Armenian Bishop was walking in procession up the central aisle of his church, five Armenians sprung upon him, put a butcher's knife in his tummy, and I was standing over him for an hour and a half on New Year's Day. The point of the story is that as, I left the Cathedral, I, in common with everybody else, the hundreds and hundreds that were there, was handed a pink leaflet, saying that the Armenian Bishop was the victim of British Imperialism.

That does sound far-fetched but it actually happened only about two years ago and it made me think what do people think about British Imperialism and what is the good or rather what is the harm of these slogans? So I have been quite busy in my speeches because I have nothing else to talk about explaining that I and men of my age and generation have done very little to acquire 'acquire' is a better word than grab'-to acquire the British Empire--(I don't include the mandates which are given under the League of Nations;) we have done very little to acquire that British Empire and so we rightly regard it as an inheritance as .a great inheritance and as a trust of souls which we have inherited and we believe that some more worthy mortar than conquest or profit now holds its bricks together.

How did the British Empire survive the War? It survived the war because it has a principle of 'Vitality which other Empires may have lacked and that is the spirit of liberty, and the Empire will only last so long as it remains one of the world's guardians of liberty, with enough elasticity to change with a changing world as after the War, when the British Commonwealth of Nations came into existence.

You see, in the old days in earthquake belts, houses and hotels and office buildings mostly fall down and great was the loss of life but now in a city on an earthquake belt an architect so builds buildings that the buildings will swing with the quake and that is how we have got to treat the British Empire today, that it may swing with a quake, because the whole world is an earthquake belt.

Well, I have promised, I don't know how it is going to work out, in a year or two I have got to retire on account of old age-I hope I will get a pension, I am sure to have an enlarged liver, sometimes called the white man's burden--when I retire I have promised to conduct Americans on tours through the British Empire, so long as they pay their own fares. I won't necessarily bring them up to Canada because they know this Dominion pretty well, but I want to take them to some of the more out of the way parts, to some places where people don't go so often. I am going to get them to promise not to preach new isms when we get to a small village, say, in Nigeria, to bring in subscription forms for the aforesaid Book-of-the-Month Club, because it won't be understood. I want to show them some of these men of ours who are administering justice and trying to teach the natives justice and trying to train them toward democracy, even though the word, democracy, is not in their vocabulary, and is very difficult to translate. I don't know if any of you have been in the out-of-the-way parts. You can see every day, before a small but with practically no shade and perhaps just one tree, a young man in khaki shirt and shorts, surrounded by natives in every shape and size and-dress, I was going to say but they haven't got any-and he is administering justice, simply by listening to the story of the man who is on trial before him. If he listens to the story right back to the great great grandmother, he can swing that man from the highest tree, and he knows he has had justice. If he once interrupts the trial, even though the man knows he is guilty, he is not satisfied with the penalty. That is how we administer justice in the out-of-the-way parts of our Empire and that is one of the reasons why I thrill when I see the Union Jack and why I thrill when I come up here and see the Union Jack flying from the first building.

I hope I am not boring you by giving an account of my stewardship, but I felt I ought to do that when I came home.

'Well, well, the world must turn upon its axis and all mankind turn with it, heads or tails, and live or die, make love and pay our taxes and as the veering wind shifts, shift our sails;' but I do hope we are not going to lose our principle of vitality. I do hope we are not going to lose our nerve with all this limelight turned upon us for it was a loss of nerve that lost the Greeks their Empire; and I hope we are not going to lose our character, that intangible thing that gets formed while we are at school and in the years just after we leave school and we don't know how it has been formed but we and all who see know it is there. Some of us wonder what the patron saint, Saint George, saved. I think it was His girl's character. If he hadn't I doubt whether she would have remained in the headlines. I also wonder sometimes what she wore and how she wore and how George got sainted, but that is another story.

I sometimes am afraid because we get defeatist Britishers coming to America, occasionally even members of Parliament, who came over during the depression and told the Americans that the Old Country was 'down and out and, naturally, when Americans hear prominent men tell that, they begin to believe it. The Old Country, used in the sentimental term, pmts the accent on the 'Old,' but a country is just the age of its machinery and the men who run that machinery .and I fancy over in Great Britain the machinery is showing that it is pretty good and that the men and women who are running it are just in the middle of a vigorous prime of life. I did forget one thing. In my last few minutes I would dike to say I forgot to dwell upon that self-interest which the speaker I referred to mentioned. Well, we are all self-interested. You are self-interested, I am self-interested. All God's chillun are self-interested. Even the little old lady who sits at the end of the fourth pew in the centre aisle of the church every Sunday morning is self-interested. We all are, but I do think the self-interest of the British Empire runs along safe lines because it runs along the lines of peace and trade and those are safe lines because as long as men are engaged in legitimate interests, in the interests of trade, they don't want to go to war and they don't want their rulers to send them to war, and they don't want their rulers to be forever building more and more armaments and spending money for doing that, and I think American, self-interest runs along very nearly, if not quite, the same lines as ours does. In fact, they run along parallel lines. The only pity about parallel lines is they are very beautiful but they don't meet. As you have heard and read, America insists she doesn't want any foreign entanglements and she doesn't want to be entangled in war. We think she is very lucky and, possibly, very wise not to, want any entanglements and I hope she will be able to get away with it. Galsworthy said that Britain is twenty odd sea-miles more idealistic than Europe and the United States is three thousand sea-miles more idealistic than Europe, so she will, if she possibly can, keep out of all entanglements that lead to war. But I think we of the British Empire ought to entangle her in peace or, if she thinks we are putting anything over and she would like to do the entangling, I have told her the British Empire will be back of her and at each side of her, helping the cause of peace because that is exactly what we want.

I do feed, seeing it is so important, seeing that the existence of our race depends on it, we ought to put aside the petty plaints of Americans who never will like Britishers and Britons who never will like Americans--they are not so numerous after all--and we ought to try and merge our self-interest, especially in order to try our level best to strengthen the peace of the world. (Applause.)

There is one more thing. Coming back home, I would like to say that living over there I have reached one conclusion, that is that never has there been a time in our history when the British Empire should to its own self be true; it is most important in these days. Sometimes, I dare say, we get disheartened, sometimes we are apt to lose confidence, but when we do let's remember we are not required to face such problems as our fathers faced and as our fathers surmounted. You know so well, you who know and read the history of this great Dominion, the difficulties and the problems your fathers surmounted in far less favourable circumstances than those which we can enjoy, with far fewer resources, but possibly with greater strength and will power, because they believed in something greater than themselves and we are so busy that it is sometimes difficult for us to believe in anything at all. But they won out and they won out because they had faith and not fear. They were 'men with hearts of vikings and the simple faith of a child and we are going to maintain the traditions they gave us, the Empire they gave us, the glory of our inheritance. We are gong, sincerely and conscientiously, not smugly, for Heaven's sake, not smugly, but sincerely and conscientiously to strive toward a sound and lasting recuperation after the vicissitudes of these last twenty odd years, and a greater social charity, determined to retain or, if we have lost it just for the moment, to regain the 'mastery of our fate.'

(Applause, prolonged.) PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, this is the first occasion on which I have been warned in advance as to how not to express a vote of thanks. Sir Gerald-you have told us of the Chairman who in thanking a speaker woke up the audience and destroyed the effect of the speech by his comments, I am so now warned that I am not going to make any comments on the wonderful, serious speech you have made, and in this audience I can't see anyone who needs waking up. I am only going to say that we have great thanks to offer you for coming here today and giving us, particularly the members of the Empire Club but undoubtedly all of us in this country, the medicine you have given so that we may take seriously the problems of the Empire. The fact that the medicine, the pills you have given us were sugar-coated with a beautiful sense of humour makes them all the more effective. I thank you, on behalf of all the members of the Empire Club and the guests here assembled.

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Masters of Our Fate

Some differences between the British and the Americans. 1937 as a crucial year to know which way the world is really trending. The way we are today and how we got here. Criticism from both within and without the Empire. How the British Empire survived the War. British justice. American isolationism. The British, regaining the "mastery of our fate."