- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 12 Nov 1931, p. 258-274
- Currie, General Sir Arthur W., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Reference to yesterday's Remembrance Day. India and her problems. The difficulty of understanding India and her problems. Mark Twain's description of India. Some historical facts and background in order to understand the situation even in the most sketchy fashion. Recognizing India today as a vastly different thing to what it was when Britain first became associated with it. India when the British first arrived. Mr. Gandhi's view. The speaker's belief that the British have discharged their responsibility towards India better than any other nation would have done, and that the Indians think this as well. Ways in which the British have tried to give India good government and a better, healthier life. The main political question arising from the agitation by the Nationalist party in India for complete self-government to be granted immediately. A detailed discussion of this issue. Canada's wish for India. The different Dominions of our Empire having always had to agitate for autonomous status. The important part now being played by the Indian Congress, begun by an Englishman 45 years ago. The Simon Report and what it set forth in terms of India's period of evolution to responsible government. A hopeful measure of progress at the Conference held in London last winter. India today seething with political unrest. The role of the press. The importance of religion in the lives of the Indian people, whether Hindu or Moslem. The speaker's belief that Communism is responsible for much of the trouble in India. The rise of Japan as a great Asiatic power, and her defeat of Russia in 1904-5 providing much stimulus to the growth of the nationalist movement in India. Growing interaction with the West. Reasons why the best British opinion holds the view that complete self-government cannot be granted at once. Obstacles in the way of independence. The position of the Indian States ruled over by Indian Princes. The sticking point of every Conference: the interests of minorities must not be prejudiced. Hope that the Conference will not fail; that a way out of the difficulty will somehow be found. "India needs the British, and we need India."
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- 12 Nov 1931
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THE POLITICAL SITUATION IN INDIA
AN ADDRESS BY GENERAL SIR ARTHUR W. CURRIE, G.C.M.G., K.C.B., PRINCIPAL OF MCGILL UNIVERSITY.
12th November, 1931
PRESIDENT STAPELLS introduced the guest, General Currie, who was received with loud applause, and said :It is a great honour to have the privilege of speaking to the members of a Club with the tradition, prestige and influence of the Empire Club of Toronto. I could not speak to this Club, nor to any other Club at this time of the year and not appreciate that the memories of most of us recall that yesterday was the anniversary of Armistice Day. I am glad they now call it Remembrance Day, for Armistice Day must forever remain a day of remembrance. Thirteen years have gone by since that memorable day in the world's history. Thirteen years is a relatively long period in the life of anyone. A new generation has arisen which knows but little about the War, yet to many of us here memory brings vividly to our minds the events of that day and the momentous happenings of its early hours. We recall with pride, and we wish we had the power to portray in all their fulness to those who were at that time too young to appreciate them, the examples of magnificent heroism, unselfish sacrifice, and unfaltering devotion to duty of the men of Canada in that epic struggle. (Applause.) At the same time we shudder at and recoil from the recollection of the unspeakable horror" the cruel hardships, and the dreadful suffering of the War, and its aftermath of loneliness, sorrow and broken hearts. Sufficient time
has now elapsed for us to appreciate in all its dread significance the terrible loss both victors and vanquished suffered, in the destruction of life and property. The world's economic ills, staggering and crushing as they are, are more directly traceable to the War than to any other factor. But I did not come to speak to you of these things, though I confess it shocks and saddens me to observe that despite the cruel lessons of the last War there is evidence on every hand of conditions economic, political and nationalistic, similar to those preceding 1914. Yet I cannot pass on without suggesting that to the memory of the Canadian youth, who today sleep their everlasting sleep beneath the mounds of foreign grasses, we bow in silent reverence, grief and pride commingled with God's ancient sacrifice, a humble and a contrite heart.
And now to my subject. You have encouraged me to say something to you about India and her problems. A few months ago these occupied the front pages of all the newspapers throughout the English-speaking world, and while they have been overshadowed by other problems which pressed for immediate solution in the old country itself, the problems of India are there still, unsolved, and almost as insoluable as ever. Before I arrived in India, I had read much about the country and its political difficulties. I thought I knew something about them, but the more I learned the more I appreciated now much there was to learn and how little I really knew and understood. You will therefore believe me when I say that I am not speaking with any pretence of authority, although I hold very positive convictions about some things. The country itself is so vast, its enormous population so mixed, of so many different races, creeds, castes and stages of civilization and prosperity, its problems so many and varied, its political affairs so intricate and involved" that one hesitates to speak at all about them, and I do so with very great diffidence. You remember Mark Twain's description of India in his "More Tramps Abroad": "This is indeed India! The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech" mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays -bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations-the one, sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse" would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined."
There are certain historical facts which must be borne in mind if we are to understand the situation even in the most sketchy fashion, and the first is to recognize that India today is a vastly different thing to what it was when Britain first became associated with that country. I am told that there is no word in any Indian language meaning "India"; there was a Hindustan, but Hindustan was not India. It has been the British who have made India, preserved it, consolidated all its provinces into that thing we now call "India". (Applause.) No Indian has ever ruled all India, and there never was a united India until Britain made it so. The Mogul Emperors, the most powerful of all Princes, were Moslems-Mohammedans-and came in from Persia, first over-running the northern provinces and afterwards extending their interest further south, but none of them, even the most powerful, ever held sway over the territory we now call India. I wish I had time to trace the history of Britain's association with India" to discuss with you how the inhabitants of a small island in the North Atlantic, five thousand miles away, should be the dominant power in a land of three hundred and fifty million people. Britain went to India for trade, and not for conquest, not as a result of a definite desire deliberately carried out. They had no ulterior desires; they did not seek domination; they tried to avoid it. They went as traders only; commerce was their business. I have always thought that Britain looked upon the governing of colonies as a bit of a nuisance; only lately have they been seized with the importance of Dominions, and they have never known of their own accord how to govern Dominions. One of the greatest fallacies ever uttered is that the British have a genius for government-they have not, they never had. They may have a genius for the science of government, but not for governing. If they have ruled successfully, it is because they did not govern. The British Empire has no constitution. Some Englishmen, like Pitt, may have thought of conquest; but Clive, the victor of Plassey, vigorously opposed the idea. Certainly the East India Company, who received the first trade franchises, was in violent opposition to any such idea or intention.
When the British went to India, the great Mogul Empire was disintegrating, and this breaking up meant disorder in India generally. Such central control as there was broke down; there was no stability in the land, men became a law unto themselves, powerful Princes seized what they could, quarrelled amongst themselves, and the great Empire dissolved into a number of warring states, the battleground of warring chieftains. War has never created a good condition for trade. European traders had to protect themselves and their property, alliances were inevitably formed with the different Princes, the English getting the protection of one on consideration that they would help against another, who would probably ally themselves with the French or Dutch. The final struggle came, and the British were victorious. Little by little" and almost unconsciously, but inevitably, the march across India began, accelerated or retarded by French, Dutch and native hostility, for which England was not always to blame. Perhaps England would have been, or should have been, satisfied with her trading posts, but in the history of nations that has always been found impossible. It seems there is no way of protecting your frontiers unless you advance a little further into the neighboring country to keep the native tribes quiet, and so you find yourselves forced to choose between two alternatives-either to abandon your frontier to perpetual disturbance, or to plunge deeper and deeper into barbarous countries. Such has been the fate of every nation which has found itself in a similar position. All have been forced by imperious necessity into this onward march, where the greatest difficulty is to know where to stop. What drove the British forward was the need for security. They wanted trade; they could not have trade without security. If Indian powers could not give security, they must give it themselves. The call for order and security was, and is today, the compelling cause of British dominion in India" and had it not been British it would have been French or Dutch.
Mr. Gandhi says that this policy was all wrong, and that the English should have been satisfied with their trading posts and trading treaties, leaving the government of the country to the Indian who would fight it out until one native power became supreme. He asks what would the English people have thought if at the time of the Wars of the Roses, a Continental power-say France-had stepped in and by alliance with one party or the other had finally found itself in possession of the governing power. He asks would the English ever have been satisfield if that had happened or would they feel that, taking advantage of their internal difficulties and strife, a foreigner had usurped a place never rightfully his. There is something in what he says but we mush take things as we find them today. As I said before, the British made and preserved India, and I for one believe that they have discharged their responsibility towards India better than any other nation would have done, and I believe the Indians think so too. (Applause). From Warren Hastings on, the British have tried to give India good government. I do not for a moment contend that many mistakes, great and small, have not been made, or that many oppressive acts were not committed" but after all is said and done, the British have given India the greatest boon of allPeace, and with that unspeakable boon have come many material advantages. From the earliest, they have encouraged education by the establishment of schools and universities. By this encouragement of education they have made a rod for their own backs, because as is so often the case, the principal agitation for self-government and complete independence, for the fulfulment of nationalistic aims and desires, comes from those who have passed through the universities, "that melancholy army o f those who, having sacrificed much to go through the scholastic curriculum, find at the end that their country offers there no employment." I think that here lies one of the primary causes of discontent. India has been largely ruled by the Anglo-Indian Civil servants, on the whole men of superior education, well trained for their job, with high ideals as to their conduct and responsibilities but yet a fairly close corporation. I remember my first meeting with the late Viceroy, Lord Irwin, in 1921, when he was UnderSecretary of State for the Colonies; Sir Robert Falconer and I called on him and suggested the throwing open of the Indian Civil Service to Dominion and Colonial university graduates. We did not get much encouragement. There is no doubt that graduates of Indian universities feel that they are now unfairly treated and that if the British were out of India many more positions would be theirs. The British have always been in favour of increasing the number o f Indians employed in government positions. From the earliest days many prominent English administrators have looked forward to the time when Indians themselves would fill the principal offices of government.
The British have made a splendid contribution to India's welfare by introducing a modern medical service which has largely checked the ravages of malaria, cholera, smallpox, plague, leprosy. They have organized famine relief and fought disease scientifically; the increase of thirty-two million in India's population in the last ten years testifies to the value of their efforts. They have opened up the land and have reclaimed millions of acres, making them available for farming; through the encouragement of better farming methods, millions of acres of land have been brought under irrigation and made to yield two or three and even four crops a year as compared with one crop in old days. These irrigation works have greatly increased the country's wealth-the Scinde irrigation project when completed will be the largest of its kind in the world. Despite all this it must be remembered that the Indian farmer-and 90% of India's population are farmers-is the most conservative in the world, and his betterment is retarded by the hostile propaganda of Indian agitators. The British have established many new industries, coal mines, iron mines, wool and cotton mills, jute, tea and coffee. These give employment to hundreds of thousands, but the Indian does not take kindly to modern industrial life. When I was in Bombay the cotton mills were closed and the workers' tenements deserted. They preferred to live in their old rough shelters. The British have opened up the country by building roads and railways. I am told there are 40,000 miles of the latter and I know that the humblest peasant can travel in comfort. To our simple minds the above mentioned results of British rule would seem to be blessings, calculated to increase the country's prosperity and add to the well-being of her people, but the Indian agitator would have you believe that India is being ruined by these things, that it would have been better if India had not enjoyed the peace the British have brought, but had continued to be the scene of war, turmoil and strife, that probably God intended the country to be swept by pestilence, plague and famine and that deep, dark illiteracy should always prevail. There has never been any idea of the enslavement of Indians or the exploitation of India. The control has been paternal and benevolent The British are willing to hand over to India the control of her own affairs as soon as that can be done without risk of civil war, caste or religious tyranny, or the wronging of minorities and humbler classes who cannot protect themselves. (Applause).
The main political question arises from the agitation by the Nationalist party in India for complete self-government to be granted immediately. The demand is that India shall be allowed to manage her own affairs, both provincial and federal. Not only that, but that she shall be publicly recognized before the eyes of the world as competent to settle these affairs. There are those who make this plea on the grounds of national pride and national sentiment, while the thought of others is directed to the fulfillment of concrete policies -they have in mind. The main weight of opinion behind this agitation crystallizes in that body known as the Indian Congress, now headed by Mr. Gandhi. It is interesting to note that it was begun by an Englishman more than 45 years ago. But, granted self-government, what machinery of government shall be set up to take the place of that which now functions? All political parties in Great Britain and in India are in agreement as to the propriety of the principle of granting India self-government. All are not in agreement as to whether India is yet ready for self-government. The ability to govern must precede the right to self-government. Let me repeat, however, that it is the policy of all political parties in Great Britain to allow India's political status in the Empire to correspond with the status of a Dominion when that can be safely done without prejudice to the welfare of India herself, and the welfare of the British Empire. With a desire, even an agitation, for self-government on the part of India we of the Dominion. must sympathize. I felt that I spoke the sentiments of my Canadian fellow-countrymen when at New Delhi, on the occasion of the unveiling of the Dominion Column, I assured India that Canada erected the Column as a mark of the esteem, the sympathy, and the affection entertained by the people of Canada for the people of India, and as a pledge of our goodwill, our interest and our support in all that makes for the peace, prosperity and well-being of that land. I assured them that Canada wished for India an ever-increasing, ever-ascending growth, a fulfillment of all her worthiest hopes and desires, and a warm welcome among the coterie of nations that makes up the British Empire. (Applause).
The different Dominions of our Empire have always had to agitate for autonomous status. It is my opinion that Great Britain never would have granted our present status unless we had pressed for it, and it is my proud conviction that the autonomous state we now enjoy was largely won for Canada by the sacrifices made by her sons on the battlefields of Europe in the cause of Empire defense and Empire integrity. I for one have never found fault with our statesmen who urged that acknowledgement on the part of the Mother Country. It was a delicate issue even among our own people. When one, advocated a strengthening, rather than a weakening of the Empire ties" he was at once attacked by the extremist, who accused him of desiring to make Canada merely a vassal state, cringingly subservient and hopelessly subordinate to the will of Britain; and when one advocated the development of a more sturdy and independent Canadian spirit, he was assailed and condemned as an annexationist or a separatist, yet both advocacies largely mean one and the same thing. Great Britain is stronger today among the nations of the world, and Canada is stronger too, because we have agreed that Great Britain and the Dominions are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to the other in any aspect of our domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. So, I say, we can fully sympathise with a movement in India looking for self-government. We want that to be brought about by constitutional means, and we want India to remain within the Empire. (Applause). Many Englishmen associated with the administration of India during the past hundred years have advocated the gradual relinquishment to India of the government of that country.
The body known as the Indian Congress, now playing such an important part in the negotiations, was begun by an Englishman forty-five years ago. Many Englishmen have been identified with the Congress, and it was only when that body advocated the independence of India, her severance from the British Empire, when strikes and riots, bloodshed and murder, occurred, as a result of policies advocated by Congress leaders, that Englishmen withdrew. In this connection it is interesting to note that in his address to Cambridge students a few days ago Mr. Gandhi threatened that unless self-government was granted immediately he would advocate the renewal of the boycott, picketing, hostile propaganda and all those other things which led to riot and bloodshed before and will again. The Congress has always been a self-chosen body. What proportion of Indian opinion it represents, I don't know-neither does any one else; though British authorities regard the Congress leaders of sufficient worth and importance to consult freely with them. There is no doubt that many cultured Indians, good friends of India and loyal subjects of the Empire" are to be found in the Congress, while, on the other hand, some of them are radicals, hot-headed, fanatical, hypocritical and disloyal.
The first very definite and singularly important pronouncement by the British Government regarding the approach to self-government was the Montagu-Chelmsford Report, adopted by the British Parliament in 1918. The impetus given to the movement by the adoption of that report has never since been under control. It has not yet definitely been determined whether it will lead to a crash or not. To the majority of the Indian Nationalists the British Government has moved too slowly. Many earnest men of vast experience in India, with a deep knowledge of political history and government, men warmly sympathetic to India's desires, regarding the Indians with feelings of deep affection, think that Great Britain could not with safety have moved more rapidly than she has done in the last twelve years--(applause)--they entertain grave fears lest an acceleration of the evolution should do more harm than good;, and set back, maybe for decades, the achievement which both parties have in view. The Simon Report, which I commend to your attention, set forth, with many convincing reasons, that the period of evolution must be protracted. The Viceroy, Lord Irwin, than whom India has never had a more devoted servant or a more sincere friend, in his official comments on the Simon Report, confirms that .body's opinion that the changes must inevitably take considerable time before responsible government is achieved, and says: "There are undeniable obstacles to the attainment of complete self-government." Yet he pleaded that these obstacles be not used for the purpose of delaying the progress of India, and asked that a genuine attempt be made to overcome them. He adds
"It is clear, as the Statutory Commission have been careful to point out, that this ideal is at present distant, and that the federation of Greater India, to which they looked forward, cannot be artificially hastened."
A surprising and hopeful measure of progress attended the Conference held in London last winter. As a consequence, hopes were raised which, I feel, cannot be fulfilled as soon as the enthusiasts wish. With Lord Irwin, I feel that we should spare no efforts, and even take some risks, in order to arrive at a constitutional solution which will give reasonable scope to the ideas and aspirations that are moving India today. The question is not only a delicate one, it is fraught with grave dangers, and requires statesmanlike handling by honourable, well-intentioned men, among whom fanatics have no place.
India is seething today with political unrest, concerning which considerable unanimity of opinion prevails amongst the Indian population-a unanimity that is strengthened by family castes and family attachments, and also because the dominant power in India is in the hands of an alien race, and this gives opportunity for racial appeal-something not unknown in our own country. Naturally, that opinion is more articulate in the larger towns, where you find the educated classes, but even land holders and the agricultural workers, mostly illiterate, and normally holding conservative views, are being stirred by paid propagandists and agitators. These agricultural people have as yet no informed, or, at most, only a hazy conception of the political problems of India. Yet they are a great potential mass, because they are easily roused to mob demonstration and violence by communistic propaganda and religious appeal. It is particularly on the latter ground that Mr. Gandhi moves them. In all this propaganda the press plays a great part, and India is no different from other places, in that the majority of the people take their opinions ready-made from the press. On the British side very little effort is made to counteract the influence of the hostile press. There is no doubt that much money is spent on anti-British propaganda. Where it all comes from I do not know, but I venture to assert that much of it comes from outside India. Yet it is a fact that Indian business men, particularly those of Bombay, have given financial assistance and moral support to the civil disobedience movement-a movement clearly in defiance of the law, and something which should normally have no attraction for those whose interests depend on stable and peaceful conditions.
In the lives of the Indian people, whether Hindu or Moslem, no interest is so intense and vivid as religion. Regarding that, they are very emotional, even fanatical. We sometimes hear Indians spoken of as if they were heathens; they are not; they are non-Christian, but that does not mean that they are nonreligious. Certainly the majority of them are extremely religious, and it was the power of religion that enabled Mr. Gandhi, during the non-cooperation movement ten years ago, to rouse and sway the masses to a degree hitherto unknown. It is the veneration in which he is held for his ascetic life that makes his appeal so powerful. The great mass of Hindus regard him as a saint, just as the great mass of Chinese venerate Sun Yat Sen. Mr. Gandhi's second appeal is to those whose interests are predominantly agricultural. The people are constantly urged not to pay their taxes. How any country is to be 'run if taxes are not paid, I do not know; but these poor ignorant people are asked to believe that they are taxed largely because an alien people administers the affairs of the country.
I am firmly of the opinion that Communism is responsible for much of the trouble in India. The world of Communism prefers unrest in India, and that world is our enemy, spiritually and materially. (Applause). Then there is the genuine influence of nationalist ideas. With that I have every sympathy, and there is no doubt that among the educated classes in India there has been evoked a considerable degree of national consciousness; that it is a natural and honourable result of education and economic development. Another result is a greater self-respect, and a demand for equality of treatment and status with the western world. There is no doubt too, that the rise of Japan as a great Asiatic power, and her defeat of Russia in 1904-5, provided much stimulus to the growth of the nationalist movement in India. During this century the stream of Western thought has more and more caught India in its current. Intercourse with the West has grown, Indians travel more, and I am afraid see many things in the social life of the countries visited of which they do not approve. The movies have greatly lowered their respect for Western people. And again, Indians are fully conscious of the part they played in the War. They were very loyal during the War, and are deserving of every praise. All these things have helped the growth of the nationalist movement, and have made the Indian people extremely sensitive to any illformed judgments which might appear to indicate a lack of trust, or to indicate that the Indian people are an inferior race.
I repeat, the Nationalist movement in principle is honourable, and with it no self-respecting people can find fault, certainly not we British people. It is the manner of carrying the reform through" and the rate at which it can be accomplished, that causes the differences of opinion. The British wish to go about it slowly, methodically, taking care that all obstacles are clearly understood and their removal provided for. The extremists in India, principally found amongst the younger men, are not satisfied with self-government as we understand that term. They demand independence, full and complete-breaking away from the British connection. They are not averse to resorting to methods of terrorism. They believe that India must go through a period of bloodshed, such as China has gone through, before she is to be free to achieve her destiny. They call this the period of sacrifice, and fanatical people are prone to listen to such an appeal. Such men are enemies; and it is idle to expect to come to terms with them. The best that can be hoped for is that in time they may see that more can be achieved by constitutional means than by endeavouring to wreck the constitution. There can be no doubt too that the best educated Hindus support the aim of the Nationalist movement, though it is only fair to add that they deplore the methods of non-cooperation, passive resistance, picketing, etc., and all other forms of violence.
I wish the time at my disposal would permit me to enlarge upon the reasons why the best British opinion holds the view that complete self-government cannot be granted at once. There are the problems of the army, the measures that are necessary to ensure internal tranquillity, the necessity of seeing that the finances of India, and its credit in the markets of the world are kept on a sound basis, and that its commercial and tariff policy is sane. Surely our Empire is profoundly concerned with what India's foreign policy is, with the risk of war always involved.
Another obstacle about which I must say something before I conclude is the position of the Indian States ruled over by Indian Princes. Do you know that one-third of India in area, and nearly a quarter of the population, is under the rule of Indian potentates, with many of whom Great Britain has a separate treaty? These States are more than 560 in number, but vary enormously in size and importance. The Princes have the power of life and death over their "children", as the inhabitants are called-there is no such word as "subject" in their language. In a federated India, these people would no longer be subjects to the State; they would be subjects of India, and the Princes would .be shorn of their power. Are they likely to be willing to give that up to a legislature composed in part of races they have despised for centuries? The proud Princes of the north have little respect for a Bombay rabble or the babu of Bengal. How to deal with these States is an obstacle to immediate solution" but it is also for us a safeguard, a brake upon a too hasty agreement with idealists and fanatics. But you will say, the representatives of the Indian Princes at the Imperial Conference agreed to the principle of federation. They did, with reservations. What these reservations are I do not know. I think I know two very good reasons why they agreed, but I shall not mention them now. The Indian Prince has always been a very loyal friend of the Empire. Many of them are very highly educated, enlightened men, full of interest in the welfare of their people. Some, of course, are not, but the Indian Prince has a great part to play in the India of the future.
The Round Table Conference at present in session has shown us more clearly than ever that one of the greatest obstacles in the way of granting complete self-government at once is that the interests of minorities must not be prejudiced. Here is the sticking point in every Conference. The British Government says to the 'Indian delegates, "This is a purely Indian matter; settle it among yourselves", and up to this date they have not arrived at any agreement. The Hindu delegation say to the British Government, "You outline a basis of settlement, and we will tell you if it is satisfactory," thus putting the entire onus on the British, who would be held to blame for any non-settlement--clearly unfair to the British. In India there are now more than 220,000,000 Hindus and 70,000,000 Moslems, who are different in race and religion and who, deep down in their hearts, dislike and mistrust each other. The Moslems will not willingly submit to a central government elected by an overwhelming Hindu majority. Each fears that if the other gains power, that power will be used to its own exclusive interest, and history seems to justify that suspicion.
Let us hope, however" that the Conference will not fail, that a way out of the difficulty will somehow be found. India needs the British, and we need India. It will mean much for the peace of the world if a solution acceptable to both countries is the result of the Round Table Conference. (Loud applause.)
Rev. Provost Cosgrave expressed the thanks of the Club for the clear, interesting and most instructive address.