THE LITERARY OUTLOOK IN THE EMPIRE.
Address by MR. ARTHUR SPURGOEN, General Manager of Cassels & Co., Ltd., London, England, President of the International Association of Journalists, and President of the London Publishers' Circle, before the Empire Club of Canada,, on May 5, 1910.
President and Gentlemen,
In rising to address you I am reminded of a story which was told in connection with a banquet at which Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was the guest. The chairman at the close of the eating part of the proceedings turned to Mr. Chamberlain and said, "Will you speak now, Mr. Chamberlain, or shall I let them enjoy themselves a little longer?" I feel that a very great compliment has been paid me, gentlemen, by asking me to be your guest today. The feeling of gratification, however, is overshadowed by the very grave news which we have received from the Home-land the last few hours. I am sure the critical illness of His Majesty will send a shock through the whole Empire, because owing to the proper reticence of the newspapers there has been scarcely any allusion made to the illness of the King during the last few months; but those in the inner circle have known that the King's position was very critical, and that it only required an incident similar to that which has just occurred to bring on the gravest symptoms. We must remember that the King is now an old man, and though we can hardly realize it, if he had lived until November he would have been in his loth year; but, apart from his age, the serious illness through which he passed some eight years ago did very much to impair his strength. We must still hope that he may be long spared to reign over us. I am sure this is the sincere prayer of every one of the members of the Empire Club.
During the last few days a remarkable speech has been given by His Excellency the Governor-General of Canada, as he was about to lay down the insignia of his office. It was not the speech of a young man who dreams, or of an old man who sees visions, but the words of a responsible statesman in the prime of life, who takes a wide outlook of things and men. You will remember he made the statement that "The time is coming when Canada will be the Heart, Soul and Rudder of the Empire." I am not quite clear as to the precise meaning of these words, but I am sure we all realize that His Excellency meant there was a wonderful future before this great country here and in the West. There is no doubt of this, gentlemen. You do not want a stranger to come and talk superlative sentences to you-you have a sufficiently good opinion of yourselves, I am quite sure. I find in this City of Toronto one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, a city in which its citizens are as enterprising as its women are beautiful, a city graced with silvery beauty and arboreal charm. One can judge the character of the people by the newspapers which are published here. I have no hesitation in saying you have in Toronto some of the finest newspapers published in the Empire--I do not know any city in the Empire with a similar population that has so many highgrade newspapers published daily as there are in the City of Toronto. Therefore, as you have these fine papers, and as newspapers represent the feelings of the community, Toronto must indeed be a very fine place to live in.
I remember being at the Imperial Press Dinner when Lord Rosebery delivered that memorable "Welcome Home" address which touched the hearts of everybody present, and I am sure will long be remembered by all those who read it throughout the Empire. At that great banquet, one of Canada's sons, Sir Hugh Graham, was chosen by his colleagues to be the mouth-piece for all the Canadian -representatives at the Press Conference. There was no man who occupied a more important position or exercised more influence at that Congress than did one of your Toronto Editors, Mr. J. A. Macdonald. Well, I am glad to tell you, as President of the British International Association of Journalists, that I was charged by my colleagues before leaving England to convey to you their respectful felicitations on the progress made by the Press in Canada in recent years. I feel, gentlemen, that not only have you a great press in Toronto, but there is a patriotic glow which somehow touches an Englishman immediately he arrives here. There is a great deal of cant talked about patriotism. You may not believe in the sentiment of the old-time politicians, "My country right or wrong," but we certainly always believe in the sentiment, "My country, may it always be right."
A friend of mine cycled around the world a few years ago (took him two years to do it) and nothing gave him greater joy as he cycled from continent to continent, and country to country, than when he came across some rural place and saw the emblem of National Sovereignty the Union Jack, and that is the way we all feel, I am sure, whether members of the Empire League in the Old Land, or the Empire Club of Canada on this side of the water. This flag is not simply a rag, but signifies our unity--"My England! My England!" One feels as soon as he arrives in this country as though he were almost in the centre of his own country, and there is a feeling of great, thrilling patriotism which passes, through him.
Well, gentlemen, I should like to know exactly what you think of us. In your speeches you are very kind, in your newspapers very critical, but what is really behind the scenes in this great country concerning the future? I heard a story of an old lady who was very ill. She sent for a specialist, and being very anxious to know exactly what the specialist thought of her case, she arranged to have her sister secrete herself behind the screen in her dining-room when the specialist and family doctor came in to have the examination. The examination took place-here were the doctors, after it was all over, and there was the sister behind the screen in the dining-room. The family doctor looking at the specialist, said
Well! what do you think of her? He replied: "She is about the ugliest person I ever say in my life."
Whereupon the family doctor replied: "Wait until you see the sister!"
There is a very old adage in England: "Put your ear to door or wall and you will hear no good at all." I believe it would do us all good, Canadians, publishers, and leading business men, represented here today, to know the seal sentiment concerning the duties to the Mother Country by this part of the Empire. It is a good many years since one of the Presidents of the United States said that politics were dominated by private avarice, and that the atmosphere was thick and fat. I sometimes wonder whether there is any great change since those words were uttered in 1835. Yet I believe, gentlemen, that although we live in this age of the "Almighty Dollar," and sometimes are accused of being too materialistic, and that we are more concerned with the things of this world--the things that are, than with things that are not-I believe that deep down in the hearts of the people there is a growing desire to bring more joy and happiness into the lives of their fellows.
I suppose men could rightly be divided into two classes--Hedonists, whose sole aim in life is to gratify their personal desires, and Altruists, who think and act for the good of others. Notwithstanding the fact that the Hedonist may make the greatest show, and perhaps gain wealth, John Ruskin was right when he said: "There is no wealth but Life-Life including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest 'who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others." That is the finest sentiment ever expressed in writing, and I believe mankind in civilized communities is acting upon it to a very large extent today. As the poet put it
"I, Galahad, saw a Grail,
A Holy Grail descend upon the shrine,
And in the strength of that
I rode forth."
Gentlemen, these words, expressing as they do the source of real strength, came to me as I came into your city. There is a growing reason why we should realize we are our Brother's keeper. I had never heard of your novel method of advertising in such a way as to make men notice and assist in connection with a city organization. This present movement of the Y. M. C. A. strikes me as one of the most remarkable I ever witnessed. We have something to learn in the Old Country in advertising. When in the course of a few days $600,000 can be raised that is, indeed, a great success. It proves that men are thinking not alone of the "Almighty Dollar."
Was it not an eastern orator who said, "Sell wine and buy Lillies for souls have needs as well as bodies," and that brings me to ask what important part literature has played in national and local life. What is literature? What is it doing? We are told that a nation can be judged by the songs it sings and the books' it reads, and I feel that standing here as a representative of a firm which for 6o years, in the heart of the City of London and under the shadow of St. Paul's, has been advertising cheap and good books; that I am entitled to say a word on behalf of good literature in its most strenuous form in the present day. Now what is Canada trying to do in regard to this great subject? I am not going to try and review the literature of the Empire in the short time at my disposal, but will say a few words on the subject of what part Canada is going to take in the literature of the empire. My honest impression is that you are simply on the verge of a wonderful and amazing development in regard to literature in this country. You have got the men and women, the material, the atmosphere and locale, for great and historical works and books. When I say books I am referring to works of fiction for the moment. I believe that Canadian writers within the next few years will make such contributions to the literature of the Empire as to be the source of amazement to us all.
I do not know whether I am right or wrong, but it may be that the opinion held of some writers by their fellow-citizens may explain why Canadian writers have not come to the front sooner. A friend of mine last year was in the back-woods somewhere, and was asked by a man: "What do you do for a living?" to which he replied: "Write books." The man looked at him in amazement and said, "Well, but what do you do seriously?" and he replied: "Write books." Thinking my friend must be in a very bad way, he asked him to go to the prayer meeting with him, and he very kindly prayed for him, and told the Lord that "his friend here had brains of a sort, but would He teach him to do something serious in life." I think this is the opinion of some people, and judging by some books perhaps they are not far wrong. These are some extraordinary things published, and one has sympathy with the editor who received a poem entitled, "Why do I live?" The editor wrote back, "Because you sent it by post instead of bringing it.
Now there is a great deal published, of course, that is far beneath the standard with us, and I own up to it. No longer do we live in the golden age of the literary geniuses of the Victorian era--they have passed away, and we have no men of their standard among us, tho' we still have some wonderful writers in England and some in this country. I do not know a writer whose books are more popular than Ralph Connor's, and it is a great tribute to his genius, that, residing in Winnipeg, his books are as popular in England as they are in Canada. I don't know whether you have all read Miss Montgomery's book, Anne o f the Green Gables, but I think this is one of the most interesting books published in Canada, and I am sure that the writer, who lives in Prince Edward Island, is going to be one of the peers of literature in days to come. I don't know whether you claim Sir Gilbert Parker now as a Canadian writer. He holds a conspicuous place in politics as well as in the field of literature and, if certain changes take place in the Government, he will likely take a still higher place. There are other men of renown like Dr. Drummond and writers of national history and poetry.
Too much credit cannot be given the Canadian soldiers who came to the support of the Mother Land in the time of her need. It will make a bright page in history for all time to come; it has done more to bring Canada and Great Britain closer together than perhaps we realize. It is not forgotten on the other side of the water. In England the people are writing and talking about Canada continually. There is much to make a publisher like myself enjoy in this, for the more that is read about Canada the more people will come here, and the more books we will sell. Some few years ago when we (Cassells & Co.) decided to open a Canadian branch, people laughed, but they don't laugh at us today. As you are interested in different walks of life, I am primarily interested in Learning, which I feel is going to be increasingly in demand, and will be one of the greatest things in the future. Now I have spoken 21 minutes by the clock, and I wish to thank you for your kind reception. I will always cherish the memory of May sixth nineteen hundred and ten, when I was the honoured guest of the Empire Club of Canada, in the City of Toronto.