- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 22 Nov 1917, p. 36-44
- Finley, John Houston, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The speaker's experience of being seized as a possible spy in France during a journey at night on the day War was declared by England. Good reasons why we should be fighting in France. The speaker's declaration of himself as a representative not of president Wilson, but of those two million children and teachers in that State which is nearest to the audience, New York; those who subscribed and secured the second Liberty Loan of $38 million. A word about the mobilization of England and of France as a background for what those in the State of New York are trying to do. The speaker's experience in Oxford and Cambridge before and after the War began. Losses of men from Cambridge and Oxford. Ways in which Cambridge has mobilized herself. The speaker's experiences on the night of the 4th of August, on which War was declared. Some words on mobilization. Some personal reminiscences and stories of some of the men the speaker met. The issue of conscription. Concluding with a reading of a definition of the distance between this side of the water and the other from a French school girl in one of the Lycees in Paris which the speaker visited. Some words of tribute from the speaker to those who have died in the War.
- Date of Original
- 22 Nov 1917
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- THE UNITED STATES AND THE WAR
AN ADDRESS BY JOHN HOUSTON FINLEY, LL.D.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
November 22, 1917
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--In France, making a journey at night on the day War was declared by England, I was seized as a possible spy, carried into the guard house, and after a time one of the gendarmes or soldiers noticed that I had a little military ribbon that showed appreciation of something I had done, and when he asked me, "Why have you that?" I could not think of any reason. I think I may tell you, without boasting, that it was this-I helped France-at any rate some people in France, because only a small part of France was in my audience-to remember that she had in a sense given the two great valleys, the valley of the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi valley--had evoked them from the unknown, as it were,--and had given them to the world. I hope that France and those of French origin here will not forget that. I once went from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico following the wake of the French explorers; and while in France I visited the places where some of those explorers and priests wereborn. I went, for example, to Laon, and saw the cathedral, and went to find a place where he was born who was the one to discover the river Mississippi on which I was born, for I am very grateful to him that he discovered
Mr. John Houston Finley, LL.D., is one of the most potent factors in the public life of the United States. The Emperor of Japan has invested him with the "Order of the Rising Sun," and France has conferred upon him the "Legion of Honour." Besides being an author and publicist, he is one of America's most powerful orators.
that river and made it possible that I should be born there. I wanted to find the birthplace of Marquette in that little town of Laon; he came out to this region to preach to the savages the gospel of Christ, to those who had never heard of it. Well, it is about time that we were rescuing that place where Pere Marquette was born from the savagery that has descended upon Europe, a savagery that is more barbarous than any that the Indians practised out here in the early days. I think that we are prepared to work together to wipe away that stain upon Laon. I went to see the place where Colbeare was born; his was the first name given to that river. Then I went to St. Eau, where the name of Marquette was first put on the French page. There is very good reason why we should be fighting together to recover those places yonder. Of course, that is not the greatest reason, but that is one special reason.
I have not come with any special message from the Government. I used to be a pupil of President Wilson, and if he had known that I was coming, he would perhaps have taken time to give me just a word to carry to you; but I could not bother him. If I represent anybody it must be those two million children and teachers in that State which is nearest to you. I think my message from them to you must be the message I sent to Gen. Pershing last Friday, as follows:-"The children and teachers of the State of New York together subscribed and secured for the second Liberty Loan $38,000,000." In sending that message to Gen. Pershing I said, "We are back of you and your men" and I can give that message to you--we are back of you and your men.
I might say a word about the mobilization of England and of France, as a background for what we are trying to do in the State of New York. I was in Oxford about a fortnight before the War began, and in Cambridge about a fortnight after it began. In Oxford there was the calm of the cloister, and there were those memorials, dim with years, of scholars, of statesmen, of poets, even of princes; and there were conventions there that seemingly paid no attention to the outside world. But Cambridge, which only six weeks before had been, I fancy, like Oxford, was filled with soldiers, with men in khaki; there were 30,000 Territorials encamped in and about Cambridge two or three weeks after the War began. Those men marched through the streets of Cambridge; they rowed on the river Cam, and it seemed almost a sacrilege when they washed the dust from their faces at the end of the day in those waters. I wanted very much to visit one of the colleges there, but I could not visit Trinity because it was being put in readiness for use as a hospital. I saw a few men in learned garb going about, and at the Inn, or whatever it is called, I heard a few young men talking about Philosophy or Science; but for the most part the glory of the old colleges of Newton and Milton was darkened by the preparations for the grim game of war out on the sodden fields of Flanders. One incident gave suggestion of this preparedness. I went into St. John's College and there found hanging upon the wall a portrait of him who has written the greatest satire, so Augustine Birrell has said, since Gulliver's Travels. It was a portrait of Samuel Butler, painted by himself,--and I think he must have been rather kind to himself in making this portrait. for I have seen one of him in his later years, and he was not as handsome as he was in this picture,--the man who was--the author of "Orepon"--Mr. Locke knows that book if no one else does--the book in which he makes this satire of his own country and of his own mother, the University college. You remember he pictures the way in which the criminals are treated as the sick, and the sick as the criminals; and in that line are the colleges-of course that is an imaginary sequence-Colleges of Unreason, colleges in which students are plucked because of their insufficient trust in the printed word, and are promoted for excellence in vagueness; colleges, as he says, in which intellectual overindulgence is looked upon as the most pernicious form of excess; colleges that promote the growing of individual happiness, and all that sort of thing-I would not attempt to reproduce the entire book here. Here was this man who had satirized the teaching of his own college and university, and I wondered why the mother could let his portrait hang there-the portrait of this man who had rejected all her classic discipline and all her worship of the past, so to speak. But all that is now changed, and if he could look out of the window, he would see those men passing in khaki, some of them graduates of this very college, those men who had gone out to prove the fallacy of their so-called unpractical training. I could not tell you what the university men of England have done. The other night I heard the brave story of what Canada's university men have been doing, from Sir Robert Falconer, but I read in "The Times" as long ago as June or July, 1915, that approximately 8,850 Cambridge men had gone out into the War, and of that number about 250 had been killed and 450 wounded, this appalling mortality being due to the fact that those men had taken positions of danger voluntarily as platoon commanders. Since then I am told the numbers have gone up,--this heroic percentage of mortality. What is true of Cambridge is true of Oxford, which hardly dares to count her dead, and I heard a man in Balliol who said there were only 60 men in the classes there, and most of them came to their classes in khaki.
There was another paragraph in that report, and it was equally stirring-that a complete list has been made of the men who are in residence still in Cambridge, and each man has indicated how he thinks he can make himself useful for the good of his country. Cambridge has mobilized herself. That was to me a most stirring picture. Mobilization suddenly became the first word in the vocabulary of Europe. I heard that in France they no longer note the days of the week and the months, but date everything from the first day of mobilization. Mobilization suddenly leaped to a new significance, a universal and exalted use. On the night of the 4th of August, on which War was declared, I had to cross the Channel from England to France to get a boy of mine who was living in a French family in the war zone, and on the way I was in a compartment with five Frenchmen and a Russian, all going back to service. I saw a thousand men standing on the wharf at Boulogne, and in half an hour they had disappeared. I had to walk about 40 miles to get to the place nearest where my boy was, and I could see the preparations going on. When I got to Dieppe, on the sea coast, I found the peasants on the patrol; they had gotten up still earlier in the morning, and there they were with their horses and carts that had been commandeered for service. When I got back to England and Scotland it was the same. I remember in Edinborough the Cameronians marching to the stirring music, behind the bagpipes there, and the little flirt of a skirt and the quirk of the arm,-certainly a most spirited sight,--their sporrans showing. The next day they had disappeared; the pipes had ceased to sound, and, their sporrans were hidden by khaki so that they could crawl in the fields. These are just incidents in that great mobilization, which meant the transformation from a peace to a war footing. That is what it was technically, but as a matter of fact it was something far deeper than that; it was a sudden forgetting of oneself and one's own affairs in the selfless service. In some instances the men did not even go back to their houses to tell their families or to change their clothes; they simply went to the places of rendezvous. and they let the return of their garments tell that they had gone. This mobilization was swift. It was complete; it was heroic; it was as if the spirit had swept across Europe to the sea, from the Ural Mountains to the sea. Mobilization is directive; mobilization is mobility with a clear, common, destinated--I suppose Presbyterians would say a predestinated point.
President Wilson in his halcyon academic days repeated a story of a mule being transferred down the Mississippi Valley with a tag about his neck indicating his destination, but in crossing the river he got the tag in his mouth and swallowed it, and one of the deck hands suggested, "Dat 'ere mule done eat up whar he was gwine to." I always hesitate to use that story, and I should not repeat it if President Wilson had not told it in those days that were not so sober; but I think democracy is proving that she can mobilize, that she can bring all her forces together to a common end. Mobilization is simply the process by which the mob becomes transfigured into something more than the sum of its individuals, just as a human body becomes a spirit when he speaks some divine word or does some great deed. The great problem is to find out to what extent the mobility of the individual should be restrained, should be destinated; and the great question that is being discussed on the other side is whether a highly organized and nefariously directed system of individual predestination shall govern this world, or whether there shall be a social system in which the individual shall have mobility, but in which the individual shall be ready at all times, whenever called upon, to give himself for the common good; and that is our only salvation.
One of those men who crossed the Channel with me was a maker of meerschaum pipes who had a little shop in London. I think he was not obliged to go, but he had a son out in Australia who could not come, and so he was going, leaving his little family, and going to find his uniform and his quota somewhere. He was one of those selfless patriots losing himself in his country's cause. I may refer to him as a concrete illustration of that abstract principle that I have stated, going out unhesitatingly and without question, and without making any boast of his patriotism or heroism. He even admitted a bit of fear, saying, "Well, I don't care if it doesn't come to bayonets." I make that illustration graphic to myself when I say, every man should have an imaginary uniform-let us say we cannot have the other sort-always ready for him in a locker or in some house or place of rendezvous which he can put on when called upon to perform some public duty. today I am a maker of meerschaum pipes, if you please, or I am- a surgeon who is in his laboratory, and who goes to serve in one of the hospitals at Lyons. Tomorrow night I put on this invisible garment, or it may be a visible one, and I go off to do my public duty in War or in peace. The next day I come back and am at my pipes again, or at my desk, or at my work as a surgeon, and so on. That is an illustration of the social system or political system as you may call it, that we must have; one must be ready always; there must be individual mobility-freedom to move as much as possible-but at the same time a readiness on the part of everyone to give himself when the time comes. The weaving of that uniform must begin in youth, and that is the background of what we are doing in New York State. I will say that, before the law was passed, I objected to military training in the schools; I thought that was not to be a part of our curriculum, but I urged what was afterwards made law without a dissenting voice, that every child in New York State eight years of age or older, boy or girl, in the elementary or secondary public or private schools must have physical training as part of education. Every school in the State is now pledged to see that that provision is made. That was the beginning. I cannot dwell upon the wholesome influence of making the children of the State happier men and women. Another Bill was passed providing for military training of boys who were not at work. I objected to that on the ground that it was undemocratic, but the Bill was passed and applied to about 25,000 boys, who were about all we could find. That law was amended last winter and made to apply to boys in the State between sixteen and nineteen, with the proviso that this military training requirement which was not to exceed three hours per week, might be met by such educational training or educational experience as would prepare boys of those ages to serve the State in some useful way in the maintenance of defence, first of all in the promotion of public safety and the conservation and development of the resources of the State, or in the construction and maintenance of public works. There you have 350,000 boys who are, in a way, drafted, conscripted. Of course they are conscripted for their elementary school training; they are now conscripted for their physical training, and they are conscripted to prepare themselves to perform service to the State in some useful way. If a boy is not in an essential industry or in preparation for one, then he must be undergoing his physical training. Our greatest problem in the State at the present time is the education of children or youth, but it is the most significant. It was William James who gave that idea to me in his wonderful essay on the Moral Equivalent of War, and the idea that was in the head of a philosopher has at last gotten into concrete expression in the law of New York State.
In closing, I want to read a definition from a French school girl in one of the Lycees in Paris which I visited, and I cannot think that there has been a better definition or estimate of the distance between this side of the water and the other or of the distance from one side of that enemy's mine to the other:--"It was only a little river, almost a brook. It was called the Yser. One could talk from one side to the other without raising one's voice; and the birds could fly over it with one sweep of their wings; and on the two banks there were millions of men, one turned toward the other, eye to eye. But the distance which separated them was greater than the stars in the sky; it was the distance which separates right from injustice. The ocean is so vast that the sea-gulls do not dare to cross it.
During seven days and seven nights the great steamships of America, going at full speed, drive through the deep waters before the lighthouses of France come into view; but from one side to another the hearts are touching." I wish that letter might be printed and circulated throughout Canada.
I wrote, a little time ago, my tribute to your sons and your brothers, and those on the other side. This was before we ourselves got into the War. I have taken a rather gruesome incident from the life of the monastery of St. Francis of Assizi, where, when one brother dies, another who was so fond of him that he did not know how to express his sorrow, asked the Superior that he might have the skull of his brother who had gone, that he might make two cups, two porringers, from which he might have his daily food and drink. I. have taken that incident as giving point to what I want to say. This is addressed to one of your sons or brothers:
Brave fellow, who has died for others' sake
In some wet, putrid trench or blasted field,
I beg of earth thy skull, that it may be
For me a deathless symbol of thy virtue.
I'd make of this, thy crown, two porringers,
One for food, and one for drink, that I,
Touching in hunger or in thirst their rims
May learn to face my ills without complaint
Shun softness, luxury, and cultured ease
In the close comradeship of fearless men
In such democracy as fears no foe
Endure misfortune without bitterness,
And fight as bravely for my troubled land
And thou, O valiant one, hast fought for thine.
I'd scour all Europe's battle field to find
Such cups in which to drink my country's health.
But now our cups are flung there beside yours, we take these precious vessels of our common offering and at your side, with sad but proud hearts, drink to the health of our beloved neighboring man and that of suffering humanity.