CANADA AND THE EMPIRE.
Address by the President, Rev. Professor Clark, D.D., D.C.L.,
at the opening meeting of the Empire Club of Canada,
on Oct. 12th, 1905.
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen,
The subject upon which I desire to address you is that of "Canada and the Empire"; and, I think, that never in the history of our people has there been a moment in which such a subject would have excited a deeper interest or a keener sympathy.
So much, indeed, is this the case that some among us are almost growing weary of the subject as one which needs or even admits of no further discussion. On this point, they are ready to declare, there is no difference of opinion among us. We are all substantially of one mind with regard to our relations with the British Empire. With the exception of a few " cranks " no one thinks of annexation or independence; and the, best answer to these is silence-to leave them alone.
No doubt there is a good deal to be said for such a view of the subject; yet, on the other hand, we have need to watch the currents of thought which have a way of changing, and to make sure that our own sympathies and lines of action rest not on momentary feelings but on deep and broad principles which will stand the test of time and the change of circumstance. It is not so very many years ago that an English statesman could use such language as this: "These wretched colonies will all be independent, too, in a few years, and are a millstone round our neck"; and it is said that at the time of that utterance, some fifty years ago, "Parliament was, as a rule, so little moved by Colonial concerns, that, according to Mr. Gladstone, in nine cases out of ten it was impossible for the Minister to secure Parliamentary attention, and in the tenth case it was only obtained by the casual operations of party spirit."
There is no great danger--there is, we may say, no danger at all--of British public opinion falling so low in the future, but there is some danger of English people so failing to understand the sentiments and aspirations of the Colonies as to run the risk of alienating their affections.
In speaking of the relations between ourselves and the Mother Country some time ago, I ventured to say that we were a very loyal people, but we were also a very sensitive people. Old men and women often fail to understand that words which would pass unheeded by persons of their own age are apt to wound, and sometimes deeply, those who are young and susceptible; and there is a danger that something of the same kind may take place from our people in the Old World failing to understand the effect produced upon ourselves by their words and by their policy.
For these and other reasons it is not unnecessary that we should, from time to time, seriously consider what are the bases of our convictions, our sympathies, and our purposes in regard to the Empire and our relations to the same. And this question may be answered in a narrower or a more extended fashion, according to our point of view. We shall, perhaps, be wiser, if we consider it, as far as possible, in all its various bearings. Certainly the limited, the parochial spirit will not be the best. There is no temper more hurtful than the narrow and the selfish. And those who would bid us think only of ourselves, ignoring the claims of the people from whom we sprang and the interests of humanity at large, are probably our most unsafe guides and our worst enemies.
Well, then, first of all, we are not going to cut ourselves off from the land of our fathers; we are not going to disown the land, or the people, or their history. I remember an American gentleman telling me of the emotions with which he first set foot on the shores of England. He felt an irresistible impulse to kneel down on the soil which was consecrated to him by a thousand traditions and a thousand memories. And I do not wonder--who can speak of it or think of it without profound emotion--that land, that people, that history! Do we think of England? " England," says Byron, " England, thy beauties are tame and domestic," and yet those who have roamed in many lands and have contemplated the fairest sights presented by nature, will tell us that there is nothing lovelier on earth than the hills and vales, the streams and meadows of that land which God seems peculiarly to have blest. Or shall we think of that land, so dear to its own children, which its greatest son described as the
Land of brown heath and shaggy wood, Land, of the mountain and the flood?
or of that sweet country from which the blessed St. Patrick drove forth all mischievous reptiles, which its children delight to designate, "the Emerald Isle"
The first flower of the earth, the first gem of the sea. Shall we turn our backs upon such lands? Shall we not rather make the language of the Psalmist our own
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget her cunning.
And how do we feel, if we turn from the land to the people of know not what answer others may give to this question; but I have, at least, no hesitation about my own. When I stand face to face with this great people, or-if you prefer it-with these great peoples--this great Anglo-Celtic race, to which I claim to belong--rejoicing alike in my Saxon and my Celtic origin--when I contemplate this great people, I feel myself, for the moment at least, larger, truer, stronger, better, than before. And I know not which division of them I love and honour the most.
Kinglake, in his history of the Crimean War, tells us that, in the charge of the Heavy Dragoons at Balaclava, there were two great regiments present, the great Irish regiment of the Innis killings, and the great Scotch regiment of the Greys; there was also a contingent of English Cavalry, the Royals, I think.
Kinglake says, the two great regiments went into the charge in a manner characteristic of the two nations. The Irish went in with a cheer; the Scotch with a low, fierce moan of rapture, the rapture of fighting. He does not tell us how the English went in--probably in grim silence with clenched teeth, gripping their sabres, bearing down--as the others were doing--all that came in their way. Which of them do you admire? All three. Which of them do you prefer? I cannot tell. But this I can say, that I should be proud to belong to any one of the three; and that I regard the combination as presenting a type 0f character such as the world has never otherwise seen. And is this the type of humanity which I am asked to disown? from which I am asked to break myself off? I have no need to hesitate in answering that question.
If I turn from the people to their history, and ask what they have done, I can give no different answer. That land, watered with the tears of penitents and saints, stained with the blood of heroes and martyrs, bears witness to a history which has been a benediction to mankind.
Think of our liberties; think of our institutions; think of our language and literature. These are,possessions which we can only mention. Our liberties! Nowhere else have these words received such complete fulfilment:
For freedom's battle, once begun, Bequeathed by bleeding sire to son, Tho' baffled oft, is ever won.
Our language! the most perfect vehicle known to man for the expression of feeling, for the conveyance of thought-and here I do not forget the beautiful lucidity of the French-the depth of the German-a language equally at home in literature, in science, in every department of human thought and action.
And our literature! But here I am all but silent; for I cannot, in a few words, tell of the glories of Shakespeare and Chaucer and Spenser and Milton and Coleridge and Tennyson and many more.
If any there be whose nature is not thrilled by such memories, of such an one, we can only take up the language 0f Scott, and say
The wretch, concentred all in self, Living shall forfeit fair renown, And doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.
This Empire then, to which we belong, is worth preserving, worth adorning, worth handing on to posterity.
Spartan nactus es: hanc exorna,
is true of the British Empire as of Sparta.
How do the words of our great dramatist come back to us:
This Royal throne of Kings, this sceptred 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 the silver sea. This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
But for all this we do not forget our own land, in which we have our life and maintenance and work. We, too, are willing to adopt the motto of " Canada first," for our first duty lies at our own doors; but we are so far from thinking that the fulfilment of the duty to the Empire will prove any detriment to Canada, that we are certain the reverse will be the case. We cannot do our duty to Canada without doing our duty to the Empire. When we most truly serve the one, we shall best serve the other.
And let us ask candidly: What shall we gain by breaking off our connection with the Mother Country? What good thing could we then possess which is not now within our reach? What is there that a well ordered government provides for those who live under its influence which we do not possess? Life, liberty, free scope for the exercise of all our powers, equitable laws enforced with justice and clemency. We cannot complain of our laws, for we make them ourselves, and we can alter them when we like. Has any one, whether a citizen of our commonwealth or a visitor from another land, complained that they are oppressive or unfair?
If anything can be thought of as an occasion of complaint, it is that we do not pay for our own protection; and the most thoughtful and honourable men among us are now often reminding us of this duty, and of the obligation to the performance of it.
As regards our national importance, who can believe that it would be enhanced by our ceasing to be a portion of that glorious Empire on which the sun never sets? I am not forgetting the potentialities of this great Dominion. They are vast, immense beyond the power of any of us to estimate. But I am not persuaded that they will be sooner or more perfectly realized by our separation from Great Britain.
Besides, this is not the whole of the question. It is the opinion of some of the wisest men among us that separation from Great Britain would involve absorption into the great Republic t0 the south of us. It is even the opinion of some few among us that such extinction of our individual national existence would be a benefit t0 us. Now, I must confess that I have a great admiration for the United States of America. I should be a fool if I had not. Moreover, I have a great esteem and affection for many of the citizens of that great country. But, apart from all sentiment--if it is possible to divest oneself of sentiment--I cannot see what we should gain by such a change and I can see that we should lose much.
Let it be considered for a moment, that we have had a choice of ways of government. We might, to a large extent, have adopted the type of government which lies to the south of us, or, we might have followed the way of the Mother-land. We have taken the latter course for the most part, deliberately, of our own free choice. Why should we abandon this choice? Why should we enter upon paths which we have deliberately avoided? I can see no answer to such a question, but that which bids us be true to our own traditions. I may be wrong. Time will show whether I am right or wrong. But at any rate I am expressing the settled convictions of an overwhelming majority of my fellow-citizens; and I am satisfied that they are resolved to give practical expression to them. What we have we mean to keep. Like the barons under King John: " Nolumus leges Angliae mutari." We have no mind to have the laws of our country changed.
But there is something else to be said on this subject. To what has our argument tended? We have been protesting against the idea of the dismemberment of the British Empire. Such an idea is intolerable to us as men sprung from the soil on which that Empire has its foundation. It is intolerable to us as Canadians, bound by sacred ties to our Mother land. But it is more than this. It tells us of that which, in our conscience we believe, would be a grievous injury to the whole human race. And this is an aspect of the question which, as Christians, nay, as members of the great human family, we have no right to ignore. We are all members one of another. We can set no bounds to our interest in mankind, to the duties which we owe to our race; and we have each of us to determine what shall be our relation to this duty. Shall we repeat the language of Cain: "Am I my brother's keeper?" or shall we adopt the words of a great American and say
My country is the world; my countrymen are mankind?
To ask such questions is to answer them. It is impossible for us to be insensible to anything which contributes to the well-being of our fellowmen, and it is no spirit of boastfulness, it is the utterance, of truth and soberness that declares that of human institutions none has been so beneficial to mankind as that type of civilization which has been realized in the Constitution and history of the British Empire. Our fathers have not only gained liberty for themselves; they have also set an example to the nations of the earth. They have taught them to discriminate between liberty and license. They have taught them how to contend for a rational and permanent liberty, how to exercise it, how to preserve it.
Look abroad upon the civilized world and ask from whence its inhabitants have learned their lesson; and you are led back to those little islands in the northern seas, where freedom has been, if not born, at least cradled, nurtured, and brought to maturity.
I ask myself what nation, what people on the face 0f the earth could be benefited, what people would not be injured by the downfall or degradation of the British Empire?
I have hardly left myself time to refer to schemes and suggestions for the strengthening of our connection with the Empire. One of these, brought forward by a member of the Imperial Parliament, an ex-Minister of the Crown, has recently received a large amount of attention in Great Britain; and I think I may say that, in its main lines, it has the sympathy 0f men of wisdom and experience among ourselves. That the Mother Country should arrange to give some kind and degree of preference to her colonies and dependencies-that these children of the great Mother should offer advantages to the nation from which they sprung--this seems to most of us one of the most reasonable ideas, and I do not despair of seeing something of the kind accomplished, even before my own life shall end.
But, however, this may be, I believe that the great forces now in motion are tending not to separate and isolate us, but to bind us more closely together; and we, for our part, and I speak for the overwhelming majority of Canadians, are resolved that we will help on that movement with all our might.
It has been said--Every Canadian is a Briton and every Briton who sets his foot on Canadian soil is a Canadian. By our loyalty to the one country we prove our loyalty to the other. God grant that we may be worthy of both!