FROM THE HEART OF THINGS
AN ADDRESS BY A. BEVERLEY BAXTER, M.P.
Thursday, September 9th. 1937
PRESIDENT: Your Honour, our Guests and Gentlemen: As this is the first meeting in the thirty-sixth year of the Empire Club of Canada, I have been asked to advise you that the Year Book will go forward to the members this week, and I am pleased to say it will show the Club in a very strong position. Last year we added over two hundred members to our roll and I think they all must be here today. The financial position is much stronger than it has been in many years.
On May 11th, the following cable was forwarded to the High Commissioner for Canada in London:
"On behalf of the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, please convey to Their Majesties, King George, the Sixth, and Queen Elizabeth, on the occasion of their Coronation, the Club's loyalty and wish that they may enjoy a long and happy reign." (Applause.)
I have the honour to read the reply: "I am commanded to convey the sincere thanks of the King and Queen to the members of the Empire Club at Toronto for messages of loyal assurances on the occasion of Their Majesties' Coronation, contained in your telegram.
Yours very truly,
A. H. L. Hardage."
This communication comes from the heart of things, as does our guest speaker today. (Applause.) We welcome Mr. Baxter as a distinguished Canadian and we, in Toronto are justly proud of him and grateful that he has consented to give us his time on this all too short holiday of his. This large attendance, Sir, speaks for your popularity and the esteem in which you are held. Some have come to remember you by your writings during the war, under the name of "Sinbad, the Sapper," which articles, I believe, started you on your literary career. Others, too, honour you as a distinguished journalist and author and some as a Member of the Mother of Parliaments. All of which has shown me that you need no long introduction to this audience.
I have the very great pleasure of calling on Mr. A. Beverley Baxter, whose subject is, "From the Heart of Things." (Applause.)
MR. A. BEVERLEY BAXTER: Your Honour, Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: When every year the prospect of a holiday becomes one of the domestic issues of the Baxter family in London, we plan to go to the Pyramids of the south of France or to chance our luck to Tokio, or something, and almost every year that nostalgia for Canada over-rules our European temptations, so once more we have come back on our annual holiday to the place of our birth, (Applause) to renew again that contact with the realities of things which somehow mysteriously lies only in the soil of one's native land.
Now, when I am in England I say to my English friends, "There is an honesty about the very seasons in Canada. In the winter it is cold. In the summer it is hot." I think you may have overdone the honesty in August this year, but there is a vitality and a reality about Canada which is good to come back to and, Gentlemen, I am delighted to find my native Province of Ontario thoroughly embroiled in an old fashioned election. I come from a part of the world where parliamentary government is disappearing on every hand, where there is only one party in the State, sometimes not hardly a party but one man. Gentlemen, I like two parties in the state. If we are going to have a dictator, let us have an alternative dictator and, Gentlemen, I am old fashioned enough to believe that in a large city two morning newspapers are better than one. I say that, Gentlemen, without any comment at all upon the excellence of the one that it is holding up its solitary position so nobly.
But I can't tell you how pleased I was because I spent the first morning when I came to Toronto with Sir James Dunn and I listened to his wisdom as he described Mr. Mitchell Hepburn to me-a man with the vision of a George Washington, the uprightness of a telegraph post, the austerity--(I hope I am not getting the descriptions mixed) (Laughter)--a man who had saved Ontario from real revolution and various other things.
Then, I went away and hardly had I left the superior presence of my friend, Sir James, when I ran into my old friends, Fred Morrow and Don Hogarth, and they took me to one side and they told me about Mr. Earl Rowe--a man with the vision of Abraham Lincoln, as upright as two telegraph posts. I thought, how fortunate a province that has a choice from two such paragons. With also the Independent (Colonel Drew) in the wings.
(Applause.) Gentlemen, one more word about your own situation here. In the ignorance of my youth a few years ago here I said that I thought the elections here were rather disgraced by the rough and tumble epithets. (Applause.) Gentlemen, I apologize. Let us have all the quarrelling on the platform you can think of, as long as it is good and healthy and I rejoice that in Ontario the ballot counts for something. That is democracy. The right to choose your masters, and the right to fire your masters if you don't like them.
Now, Gentlemen, the title of my address to you is, "From the Heart of Things." When I sent that title to your Club, to whom I am very grateful for allowing me to address you today, it seemed a safe title because London is still the heart-beat of the world. I had no idea that in the brief time from my arrival the situation in Europe should have taken on so sinister and so serious a turn.
When Trotsky wrote his memoirs, he started with a sentence that is, I think, terrific in its impact upon the reader. That opening sentence of Trotsky's Memoirs is, "It is the march of events." It is the march of events. When you look back upon the history of Europe since the War, or just before the end of the War, we see it now, not as a jig-saw puzzle, but a plan, as if some Satanic influence, some Satanic hand was directing every move which would culminate in a situation such as today. We look back now to 1917, upon the collapse of the Czarist Regime in Russia. It seemed then not very important. Russia was a long way off. Today we have that difficult, impenetrable Continent of Russia which no man clearly understands yet. We see in Kremlin a dictator with his smoldering revolver, living. by fear, fear in his own heart, fear in his people's hearts, and what is the answer?
You switch down to the Treaty of Versailles, I am afraid one of the greatest tragedies of history as we look back upon it. It was not easy, not easy in the temper of that time.
We look back upon the desertion of the League of Nations by America, a country like the United States that has done so much for humanity and yet, perhaps, by that one single act of political manoeuvre, made inevitable the collapse of Europe.
So, we go on down the line where we see the collapse of democracy in Europe and the rise of Hitler. Hitler didn't create the situation. The situation created Adolf Hitler. So we make a mistake in critisizing the man as somebody who created the situation.
We see the comic opera abdication of Alphonso of Spain. A good newspaper story-very spectacular and no lives lost. It involved personalities which newspapers loved. Who could see that Spain would become that conflagration from which the sparks would be driven by the wind across the frontiers toward the rest of Europe?
And so on to the march into the Ruhr by France. They wanted to punish Germany by getting the coal out of the mines. Did they produce the coal? Yes, a certain amount, but they also dug from the earth suspicion and hatred which will not die for a long time.
So, we see these moves now culminating in today. Gentlemen, is there any hope of averting the war which threatens at this moment? Not with confidence, but with faithI must repeat those words-not with confidence but the instinct of faith, I believe this war will not happen. (Applause). I believe it for two reasons. I have tried hard the last forty-eight hours to think what logic could apply to offset the forebodings of one's instinct. It seems to me there axle two things which may prevent this conflagration spreading. One, oddly enough, is Germany. Hitler is not a one-man dictator. He is surrounded by three very wonderful men, very clever men--Herr Schacht, who knows the imminence of German bankruptcy; Von Blomberg, who knows that the German army is still eighteen months, technically, behind the French army; Von Neurath, the most experienced diplomat since Bismarck that Germany has produced, who knows that the history of the world is that not yet has any nation challenged Great Britain and survived.
We, in England, would like very much to work toward an Anglo-German approachment. It is impossible not to see the brutality of the German character. There is the brutality, you cannot deny it. When you think of the other day, when the Deutchsland was bombed by a Spanish aeroplane and Germany's reply was to open fire on the two battleships, upon an undefended port, and put to death four or five hundred women and children, with eyes out and entrails out, it is a terrible example, but brutality is not the only characteristic of the German people. Sometimes we forget that European liberalism had its birth in Germany, not very many years ago because the history of the German Empire is brief. Not so many years ago this land, that produced Beethoven and Wagner and Mendelssohn and Goethe and Schiller, looked as if it were to launch a liberalism that would create a new Europe. Bismarck, himself, said, "I do not fear any bullet but I fear the music of Richard Wagner." I can't believe that that Germany is entirely dead. It seems to me, therefore, that we can look upon Germany--I hope so, I cannot speak with confidence and you must realize it would be presumptuous of me to speak with confidence on such a subject--and I believe in spite of all the evidence that Germany may steady this situation.
Gentlemen, the other quality, the other power which may steady the situation is Great Britain. I have not come for any purpose of Imperial propaganda. That would be unworthy of a man coming back to his native place. The British nation has made mistakes. It must take its responsibility for those mistakes, but for the last twelve or fourteen year's, since Bonar Law came to power, Great Britain has exerted nothing upon the world that has not been fine, unselfish and idealistic. (Applause.) It is so easy to picture Great Britain as a millionaire, possessed of more than her share of the world's wealth, ready to intrigue, ready to act like a Pharisee, ready to be a hypocrite to save that ill-gotten wealth. Nothing is more false than that picture of the British people.
I was very much struck with something that Reverend Fallis said here the other day: "The British people are a people acutely conscious of their destiny under God." There is almost no sacrifice that Britain will not make for the appeasement of Europe and Great Britain has endured such slights, such calumny, such sneers, as has been very hard for a proud nation to take and all the time it has exerted this restraining, this magnificent patience. Britain realizes, more than any other nation that what happens to one nation happens to all mankind. Britain has a great sense of the centuries, a great sense of the past, a great sense of the future and my hope is that Britain may act as the restraining force upon this situation.
Gentlemen, that brings me to the subject, that part of my address to you, that the expression of all this is the British House of Commons or, perhaps, in fairness to Lord Queensborough, recently one of my fellow-guests with His Honour, we must let the House of Lords in somewhere and we call it the British Parliament.
Gentlemen, I think you will understand when I say it was not without some emotion that I stepped for the first time as a Member upon the floor of the House of Commons. I need not apologize before you because I think all of you would have experienced a similar feeling. I had a ticket for many years in the press gallery and attended many debates, but it is one thing to look down upon it and another to be a part of it, however insignificent, and I think I felt a little bit like a rookie from a minor baseball team must feel when he takes his seat with the New York Giants. He may be sold to the minor league some day, but he is there for the moment. It is a very small place, you know. In the House of Commons in England we sit very close to each other. We are not as fastidious as you are in Ottawa where you have a separate desk. We believe we think faster if we sit close to each other. At any rate we are mote likely to think together.
Standing there on this little sacred plot of ground which is called the House of Commons, and seeing Lloyd George, Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin, and the rest-well, there you are. There is the confession of the Toronto boy to you. I felt, "I am in the Big League, boys!"
I must say it has been a most remarkable experience because it has been an intensely dramatic parliament, the one elected in 1935. In one year we buried one King, we passed the Abdication of the second one, and there was the crowning of a third. In one year I swore allegiance, as a member of the House of Commons, to three Kings. It has been a very dramatic session.
But there are three things which have struck me most about the House of Commons. These three words I must get right. Its fairness, its magnanimity and its democracy. (Applause.) Now, if I can give you an example of what I mean by its fairness. We had a very terrible coal disaster in one of the collieries in England, where something like 278 men met a dreadful death and there was a Government enquiry. Finally, the result of the enquiry was placed in the hands of the members of the House of Commons and we held a debate upon it and the debate was opened by David Grenfell, from the front bench of the Socialist Party. David Grenfell worked in the mines when he was eleven years of age. He educated himself to become a Mine Manager and is now one of the most respected men in the Socialist Party of England. It looked as if the case against the Manager was very bad in this report. David Grenfell rose to his feet and with a fairness which nobody can exaggerate, asked the House to recognize the position of the owners and the Manager's. He did not try to underestimate the tragedy of the men who had died but he pleaded for the hard times that the industry had gone through, for the lack of capital, for these owners to reconstruct their mines. He did not excuse the owners, but if we were going to punish them, he pleaded at least we must try to understand their point of view. It was a magnificent speech and deeply moved the House. Then, he was followed by Osbert Peek, a very rich young colliery owner from the North, and Peek got up, went over the points excusing the Managers which Grenfell had made, and it looked as if he were going to take advantage of Grenfell's speech to plead for the Managers, and suddenly he stopped and he said, "I am a colliery owner. Naturally, I have great sympathy with those who operate the collieries of this country, but if that report concerned any colliery over which I had control, I would stand in this House, ashamed to look any man in the face." It was a great but not unusual moment in the House of Commons, where the workman pleaded from the point of view of the employer and the employer repudiated the case of his fellow employers. That is part of the genius of that strange country of England.
Now, I say the next quality is magnanimity. Perhaps I might cite as a case of that, the fascinating and imponderable personality of Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill is the ablest parliamentarian of our day, a man of unbounded vitality, of great vision, of every quality that the fairies could bestow upon him, but judgment. When Mr. Chamberlain formed his Administration recently, his new Administration, Churchill had great hopes that the Government would use his undoubted genius, because it is undoubted, but once more he was passed over and left the free lance of politics. The most powerful private member but still out of the Government, and you will remember, just before Mr. Chamberlain formed that Administration--must be careful because he is my Leader--he had just brought in one of the rottenest taxes that ever was. The soldiers would use a better word-my old friends down here. He brought in an impossible profits tax as Chancellor of the Exchequer, which his own supporters refused to accept because there, again, the British House of Commons has a very curious habit of accepting leadership just so long as leadership is what it wants. Then it says to the Leader, "I am very sorry. You have got to take that back." So the Party told Mr. Chamberlain he had to withdraw -the profits tax, and Mr. Chamberlain stuck to his guns. It was humiliating, something he didn't want to do. Finally, after many days debate it reached its climax, and up got Winston Churchill, and I must say my heart bled for Mr. Chamberlain. Mr. Churchill was in grand form-something like Tommy Farr was the other night. Mr. Churchill, with a gesture of his hands, they are always going out in front when he is feeling good, turned toward the Prime Minister, three yards away and I thought the Prime Minister was going to have the pummelling of his life. I must explain. If in the British Parliament you stutter, your future is certain. If you can add to that a lisp, there is practically no height to which you cannot attain. And Winston Churchill both stutters and lisps. The value, I may explain, of the stutter is that it is like hurling the javelin. It goes round and round and round and when it goes it is devestating when it arrives. But, Churchill, turning to Mr. Chamberlain, said, (I don't think I will attempt the lisp and the stutter but you will agree it was there) "I do hope that the Prime Minister will not stand upon his dignity. I can understand how he has brought in this tax and doesn't want to let it go, but I do assure him that his dignity will not be hurt if he withdraws it. On the contrary, I ask him to cast his mind back to his immediate predecessor, Mr. Baldwin, now Lord Baldwin, did Mr. Baldwin object to saying he was wrong? Why, almost every day he came to the House of Commons and admitted he was wrong and with every admission that he was wrong his prestige grew to such heights that it became blasphemy to criticize him. And I assure the Prime Minister that I, myself, have been not without triumphs of this nature. When I was Chancellor of the Exchequer I brought in a most excellent tax, called the 'kerosene tax'. It hurt nobody, it produced the money, it was magnificent. Having brought it in, I went down to the country to survey at a distance my own masterpiece. When I got there the telephone went and it was the Chief Whip and I went to receive the congratulations of the Chief Whip, and he said, "Hey, come on back." I said, 'What is the trouble?' He said, 'The Party is after you. They won't have it.' So, I came back to London, walked into the House of Commons, saw Mr. Snowden, with his gleaming eye and his notes and I knew he was going to attack me, Mr. Speaker, I withdrew the tax. And that night my reputation was higher than it had ever been."
Well, with this speech he created such a magnanimity, if you like, such humour, it was a brilliant speech. The House was laughing all the way through it. But it was a brilliant speech designed for one purpose, to create the atmosphere in which Chamberlain could withdraw that tax. That was done by a man deliberately refused admission to the Cabinet two days before.
Now, as I near the end of my talk, if you will permit me, I will give you what I think is a very interesting case of the very genuine democracy of the House of Commons. The House of Commons is a little bit like the army in a war. You can't hide your basic quality from the men around you. They know you, no matter how you act. They know if you are a humbug, they know if you are playing some little game. You can't fool the House of Commons. Heredity, wealth, position count for nothing in that place. I do say if the descendents of a great Salisbury turns out to be a first rate politician, then the House is glad. I grant you that. They love to see the families of political importance going through and continuing to play their part in public life, but position itself and wealth count for nothing.
As an example of this: One day Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, on behalf of the Government, had brought in something to do with the unemployed and a furious debate broke out. I must say the Socialists put their case very we'll indeed, and it was becoming quite uncomfortable for the Government, when suddenly Jimmy Maxted of Glasgow-I think most of you know about him-rose with a great fierceness and started to attack the Government and finally he said, "And to think that this measure should have been introduced by a man like Mr. Ramsay MacDonald-thrown up by the people." And at this, the Marquis of Titchfield, who is about six foot ten, has an enormous voice, and will be the Duke of Portland when his father dies, looked up and said, "We are all thrown up by the people," and so startled the House that even Jimmy hardly knew what to say and he said, "Well, surely my noble friend wouldn't suggest he has been thrown up by the people?" "Yes," said the Marquis, "I have been thrown up by my own constituents to be a member of this House." Then he laid a very clever trap for him. He said, "You wouldn't suggest you have been thrown up in the same way as the Right Honourable gentlemen on the front bench? "meaning not from such lowly depths?" "No," said Titchfield, "I certainly haven't been thrown to such heights as the Right Honourable gentlemen but in my own humble way, I have been thrown up." That was the end of that debate.
Well, I am afraid the latter part of my address has taken on something of the character of anecdotes, but I think these little stories may give a little inside glimpse of the day by day fascination of being in a place that is at once so human, so democratic and so pregnant with history.
Now, if I may just come to the end of my talk to you. I want to come back once more to the question of our own feelings toward Europe and Britain at the present time. Earl Grey, when he was Sir Edward Grey said something in t g r ¢ which I suppose will live for all time for what you might call the tragic beauty of the words. He said, when the news came that Germany was mobilizing and had rejected the British ultimatum, "The lamps of Europe are going out one by one and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." I think his prophecy has proved so terribly true, but if I could leave this thought with you today: We cannot content ourselves, those of us whose national destinies have been cast in happier moulds than those of the people of Europe, we cannot content ourselves with the curse of Mercutio. It isn't enough to say, "A plague on both your houses!" No man can live to himself alone and no nation can live to itself alone. (Applause.)
I was in Washington a few days ago and I had a long talk with Mr. Cordell Hull, when I was there. Washington is in a state of nerves. Washington, with its United States, with its protection of the Pacific and its still vast protection of the Atlantic is like a country that feels itself on the eve of a St. Bartholmew. I don't think I am exaggerating. They fear something unseen. They can't put it into words. I am not quoting Mr. Cordell Hull now. This is from many conversations I had in Washington and New York. There is a state of tension in America which I doubt exists at this hour in Britain and part of it, to my mind, is that policy of isolation, of cutting yourselves off as a nation from the problems of the outer world and concentrating on your own problems until your own problems rise up to destroy you. You cannot live by yourselves alone. What a pity, what a pity, Gentlemen, that this nation of the United States, this so great a nation which means so much to the destiny of ourselves and Canada and the world, what a pity that at this moment it wouldn't gamble upon high-minded and safe and idealistic intervention in Europe! Must the whole of the cares and the problems of Western civilization rest forever upon the little Island of the United Kingdom? It isn't fair!
But there is this much, if Grey said that the lamps of Europe are going out one by one, the lamps of democracy are still burning even if they are flickering somewhat at this time, the lamps are still alight in the countries which live under the protection, at any rate, under the dignity, of British citizenship. Those of you who sometimes think this Imperialism is a cheap word and that Imperial as grandizement is something unworthy, why not think of the countries of the British Empire and of the United States, with all its troubles, as countries in which the lamps are still alight and, Gentlemen, you can help in Canada so much. I don't mean by that that you can translate that into arms of artillery or such things. I don't mean that at all. The people of Britain have grave doubts--Anthony Eden is carrying far too big a task for a man of his years but doing it very bravely and very well-Eden and Chamberlain are carrying particularly heavy tasks--if sometimes they could feel, as they do, but if they could feel even more certain that in Canada those of us who are Canadians trust the British Government supremely.
Therefore, I would end my talk to you with these words and I say this as one who in his affection puts Canada first. To me Canada is my native land and I shall be very unhappy if anything ever severs me from my close association with my own people here, but I say this as a Canadian to Canadians, I urge you to trust the spirit of Britain. I urge you, Gentlemen, to strengthen the spirit of Britain for, believe me, the burden that Britain carries is very great. (Prolonged Cheers.)
PRESIDENT: Mr. Baxter, we do trust and we will help. Thanking you very much on behalf of The Empire Club of Canada for this wonderful address, and on behalf of our guests and the radio audience, may I wish you and Mrs. Baxter an enjoyable holiday in Canada, continued success in the Big League, and a safe return to the heart of things.
The meeting is adjourned. (Applause.)
BEVERLEY BAXTER--On leading Canada.
"I had the honor of addressing a large gathering of the Empire Club in Toronto on this visit. It was a heartening and inspiring experience. Here was an audience not only of one's fellow countrymen but one's fellow Torontonians, anxious that the returning peregrinating prodigal should do his best, eager to acknowledge merit if it appeared, ready to forgive any oratorical mishaps, swift to react to humor or irony, and not ashamed to be moved if the speaker spoke with sincerity. Only in Vancouver and Glasgow have I found gatherings which matched the qualities of this one in Toronto."--MacLean's Magazine, Nov. 15, 1937.