- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 12 Mar 1908, p. 188-198
- Hossack, Duncan C., Speaker
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- A word about the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, who will soon be obliged to retire from the high position which he has filled with distinction. Some discoveries about Sir Campbell-Bannerman. The difficult task he faced when he came into prominence in the British Parliament. Subsequent events. Drawing the moral that one of the features of British politics that one ought not, when in power, try to hold office too long. Governments in this country frequently retaining office too long. The balance between the two parties not well maintained. References to Rosebery, Gladstone, Balfour, and Asquith. An examination of Lloyd-George. A description of Arthur Balfour. The unique and wonderful character of Henry Labouchere, the owner of "Truth." A few words about John Morley. Gladstone as the greatest parliamentarian of our time. A word about John E. Redmond, the leader of the Irish Party. The possibility that John Burns may be Chancellor of the Exchequer if Asquith becomes Prime Minister, and more about Burns. Something about Michael Hicks-Beach, who recently retired from the House. The enigma that is Rosebery, who ploughs his lonely furrow. Chamberlain who began life, it is said, as a red republican. The more literary flavour of British politicians as compared with those of Canada or the United States, and to what that is due. The willingness of British politicians to work in an unobtrusive way.
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- 12 Mar 1908
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- BRITISH POLITICIANS.
Address by Mr. DUNCAN C. HOSSACK, of Toronto, before the Empire Club of Canada, on March 12th, 1908.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,-
It is fitting that, at the beginning of this address, something should be said about the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman. Great interest is now taken in the Premiership, because it is understood that Campbell-Bannerman will soon be obliged to retire from the high position which he has filled with distinction. It was supposed, before Campbell-Bannerman came into great prominence, that he would never be more than a second or third-rate politician. He was not credited with any sense of humour. It was supposed that he was a fair specimen of his Scottish compatriots who, it is facetiously said, make a joke with difficulty. But it has been discovered that Campbell-Bannerman has, with many other good qualities, a keen sense of humour. This is characteristic of many of the leaders in Great Britain, and I think that one can hardly succeed in public life unless he has some sense of humour. I was authorized some time ago to visit Knox College, Toronto, and to offer a sum of money to the Students' Missionary Society, the members of which are largely of Scottish descent, provided that they would send forth a missionary who had some sense of humour. It was a difficult problem, but the officers of the Society, said that they thought they could supply what was required, so I paid the money.
When Campbell-Bannerman came into prominence in the British Parliament, he faced a difficult task, a task to which Gladstone himself had been unequal. It was the task of holding together the discordant elements of the Liberal Party, or of bringing together the elements, which had been somewhat separated. You will remember that, when Gladstone retired, Lord Rosebery was, called upon to form a Government, which he did, and the Government lasted a very short time; and it is said that the explanation of Rosebery's going to the country so speedily is to be found in the action of the present Prime Minister -Campbell-Bannerman. The Government was defeated in the House on a measure which he-Campbell-Bannerman--had introduced with regard to military expenditure. It was a very minor measure, and such a defeat would not have been considered, under ordinary circumstances, a real cause for dissolution; but Rosebery had the feeling-and here we find, I think, one characteristic which is most creditable to British statesmen--that, if there were any doubt about the confidence of the people in the Government of the day, the people should be called upon to decide the matter immediately. So there was a dissolution, and the Government went to the country and, as was expected, they were defeated. And if I am to draw a moral (I suppose I might as well make my application as I go along and draw the moral from time to time), I would say that one of the features of British politics which we might very well copy is this-that one ought not, when in power, to try to hold office too long.
Governments frequently retain office in this country too long. The balance between the two parties is not well maintained. The Government is usually, when it goes in, exceedingly strong, and the Opposition very weak; and the explanation is that the old Government remains in until its strength is utterly depleted. The Governments in this country seem to gradually bleed to death until finally, pale and corpselike, they are carried forth to burial; and the result is that it requires a generation for the Opposition to gather new blood and new strength, and in the meantime the Government, which has assumed office in overwhelming strength, unchecked by an Opposition, runs into excess. Campbell-Bannerman assumed office at a most crucial time, but he was equal to the occasion. His strength lies largely in his ability to manage men, and while he is not a great orator like Gladstone and not so subtle as Balfour, he is a great manager of men, and when he resigns office, and it is likely that he will soon be obliged to retire, how long his successor will be able to hold together the somewhat discordant elements of the Liberal Party, who can tell! It is supposed that Mr. Asquith, who is a lawyer, will succeed him. Asquith is fifty-six years of age and still in his prime as a politician. He was junior counsel for Charles Russell in the Parnell-Times case. He is a brilliant lawyer, and few lawyers, brilliant or not, have been successful in a large way as politicians in Great Britain-I make no reference to lawyers in this country. Mr. Asquith does not excel as a politician, using the word in the ordinary sense. He is a hard, stern fighter, but he has not the sunny ways. Some Liberals are wondering at the present time what will be the fate of the Liberal Party when Mr. Asquith, good parliamentarian as he is, becomes Premier. '
I must pass on to others. What shall I say of Lloyd-George? It is said that if he had not been a politician, he would have been a preacher. He is a Welshman with all the fire of the Welsh race. It is said that there are only three or four men in the House today who can really make a great and eloquent speech. John Redmond is one. Lloyd-George is another. He is a comparatively young man; by the way, he also is a lawyer, but he does not practice law. He is too busy with politics and his brother conducts the business for him. Lloyd-George, a Baptist in religion, is one of the great Nonconformist leaders of Great Britain. It is said that the one word which indicates his, ambition, if one word may fill such a large office, is "Wales." His desire is to help his native country. Those who ought to know say that the time is likely to come when Lloyd-George will lead the Liberal Party and possibly be Prime Minister of Great Britain. While it has been said, as I have already remarked, that if he had not been a politician he would probably have been a preacher, he does not parade his religion. There runs, however, a strong vein of moral feeling and principle through many of his speeches. I think that probably he is able to do more as a politician than as a preacher. The two occupations do not seem to go very well together in this country! They do not mix well, but they are said to mingle more harmoniously in Britain. Each profession has its limitations and its peculiar sphere of usefulness. It was John Bright who said: "I consider that when I stand upon a platform, as I do now, I am engaged in as solemn a labour as Mr. Dale (a Birmingham minister) when he addresses his congregation."
I now direct your attention to Mr. Balfour. While they speak of "Pushful Joe" (Chamberlain), the people do not forget "Subtle Arthur." Arthur Balfour is original and almost unique. It is said that in public he speaks as if he had been dragged into the discussion, as if he were constrained to speak of something in regard to which he had no very great feeling, and as, if he would rather be engaged in other employment. It was considered for a long time that he was not capable of any serious work. He plays golf (by the way, so does Mr. Asquith) and those who know best say that when he plays golf he never swears. I have known Prime Ministers in this country about whom that could not very well be said, but I have also known some exceedingly useful men who had that as one of their faults. Mr. Balfour came into prominence as one of the Fourth Party, of whom, I suppose, Randolph Churchill was the leader. He is a college-bred man, a great student, characterized in his religious belief-if he has any religious belief-by an easy kind of skepticism.
I must not forget that man who is riot now in 'the House, who has only recently departed from it, the unique and wonderful character, Henry Labouchere, the owner of Truth. It was said of Horace Greeley, the great editor, that he always backed his opinions with his money; and it has been said of some other editors and proprietors of newspapers that they backed their money with their opinions. There is this difference between a lawyer and an editor: you know who a lawyer is speaking for because usually he sits close to him, but you may not know for whom an editor is speaking. It is sometimes difficult to determine who owns a paper, or in whose interest the editorials are written. There is this, however, to be said about Truth- that you always know who is speaking through that journal-it is always Henry Labouchere. His conversation is in a low voice and people are always eager to hear him. He speaks in a very plain and unostentatious way. He is a very honest man. He is, I think, one of the greatest factors for good that the House of Commons in Britain has ever had. He is a man always looking for experiences, and it is said that the man who looks for them usually finds them. They came to him or he went to them, rapidly. During the war between France and Germany he was an interested observer. He remained in Paris that he might have the experiences of the siege. Rumor says that he travelled with an American circus for a time.
He was a member of the Washington Legation for some years. His experiences have given him character. He is always composed, never ruffled. He is a jester and he teaches moral lessons by his jests. It was said by an actor, of preachers in general, that they always speak the truth as if it were fiction but that actors speak fiction as if it were truth. Labouchere is an exception to both these rules--he speaks truth in such a way that, while it is winged by a jest, people always know that it is meant to be the truth. He is a man who has made money out of newspapers. I do not know much about newspapers but I am aware that some have not always been profitable. When his daughter was, married, he gave her, it is said, $7,000,000. Rumour savs it was paid in cash. I have heard it said that that is the only safe way to receive it. I am sure some of you will feel sorry when I tell you that he has only one daughter! There came an Englishman into the Legation at Washington, one day, and in a rather pompous way asked for the British Minister. Labouchere, who was sitting in his office and who was a member of the Legation, said that the Minister was riot in at the time, and the visitor declared in a brusque way that he would sit down and wait until he did come in. Labouchere went on with his letters and his smoking and the time slipped away. The Englishman, after a long wait, became somewhat ruffled. At length Labouchere began to close his work and prepare to leave the office, and the Englishman, referring to the Minister, asked: " Where is he?" Labouchere said:
I should think that about this time, as he left New York about the middle of last week, he will be pretty nearly across to England." (Laughter.) Labouchere loves his joke, but he is a man of great sincerity and has done much for independence of thought in Britain.
A few words about John Morley. He is an agnostic, and he is elected in Great Britain. There, when the people want a man for Parliament, they consider his fitness for Parliament, and they do not worry very much about his religious views. Mr. Morley met evil fortune at the beginning of his career. He was a great figure in the world of literature, and people had the impression that a writer was useless in any other occupation. He tried for a seat in Parliament on several occasions. The first time he was a candidate was twenty years before he was elected. I think it is Whitcomb Riley who writes about the man who bides his time:
" Who bides his time, he tastes the sweet
Of honey in the saltest tear,
And, tho' he fares with slowest feet,
Joy runs to meet him drawing near."
This experience does not apply to political life. The candidate who seeks a constituency and bides his time does not have much joy running to meet him. Morley finally succeeded in obtaining a seat in the House, and to the surprise of many of his, friends he was a great success as a parliamentarian. Probably he will be longest remembered for his literary work. He wrote the best "Life of Cobden," ever written and probably the best "Life of Gladstone," which has ever been or ever will be written. Morley's opinion of Gladstone is the one that in the main will very largely prevail, although some think that his opinion of that great parliamentarian is too high.
Gladstone was the greatest parliamentarian of our time. I do not say orator, because he was not as great an orator as Bright. I do not say statesman, because there may have been greater. There will be a difference of opinion in regard to his character, for in some respects he was an enigma. But will not all agree that he was the greatest parliamentarian of his time? If Gladstone had lived in the Orient he would have been a great Prophet. If he had lived in Mahomet's time, I do not believe we would have heard of Mahomet. I think he would have had more virtues than Mahomet and as great a faculty for leading men. He had the power to arouse men, and he had this trait also, that he was always able to persuade himself, and, I think, in all sincerity, that whatever he did was a religious act. It is a happy faculty. It was said by a witty Irishman that Gladstone always had an ace up his sleeve. At the psychological moment that ace came forth, and Gladstone always believed that it was a providential arrangement. Lord Salisbury described him as a great Christian. All depends on Salisbury's view of Christianity. When all has been said and done, no charge remains against Gladstone's private character; his life was pure; sins of the flesh he apparently had none; sins of the spirit, his enemies say, he had. He was a great character, the greatest parliamentarian of his age.
Now, perhaps, I ought to say a word about John E. Redmond, the leader of the Irish Party. If you were to hear Mr. S. H. Blake in one of his kindly moods, you could almost persuade yourself that you were listening to the voice of John E. Redmond. Parnell did not appreciate Redmond, although Redmond served him faithfully, and, when Parnell's difficulty occurred, Redmond remained with the minority who supported Parnell, while Dillon became the leader of the Irish Party. Redmond followed Parnell through everything, right to the end. It is said of a great Canadian statesman that he did not appreciate very highly the support of men who always followed him when he was right, but he did appreciate the men who followed him when he was wrong. Whether Redmond believed that Parnell was right or wrong, he followed him. As an example of political self-sacrifice, we will with difficulty find an equal to John Dillon who represented the majority of the Irish Party. He waived his claim to leadership that there might be union, and Redmond became leader of the United Irish Party. Redmond, it is said, is one of the three or four men who can make a really eloquent speech in the House of Commons. His speech is rather old-fashioned, but it is real eloquence. He has developed into a great parliamentarian and a great leader.
It is said that John Burns may be Chancellor of the Exchequer if Asquith becomes Prime Minister. Of course we are not now forming Governments, and that statement is merely rumour. John Burns has had a wonderful career. Born on the south side of London, he left school when he was about ten years of age. He was very poor and after a great struggle qualified as an engineer, then became an engineer on one of the Niger boats, returned to Europe and spent all his money in touring the Continent. When his money was exhausted, he settled down as a practicing engineer in London. The people of his class, at that time, had no votes. He began to go about, speaking and declaiming, and became a great popular orator.. He is short, swarthy as a Spaniard, and of great physical strength. So wonderful is his strength that he can perform feats hardly to be credited. In due time he was elected to Parliament by the constituency in which he was born. He was also a member of the London Council. He developed very rapidly in the House of Commons, and his great characteristic, which is moderation in all things, became apparent. He is usually willing to compromise. He is said to be a most successful man on important committees. He has represented his constituency ever since his first election. He was with those who did not hold the opinion of the majority of Britishers in regard to the Boer war, but his constituency sustained him through all vicissitudes and continued to support him in Parliament. He is there great part of Gladstone's policy left out; and he underrated Campbell-Bannerman's capacity. The latter, developing wonderfully and unexpectedly, proved himself to be a really good party leader and kept Rosebery out of office. This is given as the explanation.
What of Chamberlain? He began life, it is said, as a red republican. He came from Birmingham, and John Bright used to say: "You might as well take a glass of water out of the sea and expect to find it fresh as to take a man out of Birmingham and not expect to find him. radical." He was looked upon as, uncouth and dangerous, and, when it was known that he was elected, people awaited in dismay his entrance upon Parliamentary duties; and when he arose in the house, tall, spare and exceedingly well-dressed, with a gentle voice that almost seemed to purr, one good old squire, the story goes, said that he looked like a ladies' doctor. Chamberlain, on the first occasion of his speaking, made a reputation, and everybody knew that an exceedingly able man had entered Parliament. He has changed his opinions; so have other men. Gladstone changed his views. We cannot always see behind the scenes and understand the springs of human action. Those who disliked Chamberlain, and in particular I may refer to the Irish Party, say that he is a renegade. It seems to me that the best defense of his change of view is given in "The Life of Lord Randolph Churchill." If one reads that book, he will modify his views, if he has been severe upon Chamberlain for changing his opinions. Chamberlain is an exceedingly able debater, or was until he became infirm. Latterly, as you all know, he has had a firm belief in a larger Imperialism; and if one reads British politics with an unbiased mind, he will come to the conclusion that the Empire, if it is to make progress, or if it is to retain its present influence, must possess an Imperial spirit, larger, freer, more potent, than it has ever known.
Of British politicians it may be said that frequently their speeches have a more literary flavour than the speeches we hear in Canada or the United States. The British politician has more leisure than the Canadian and more time for literary study. British politicians are willing to work in an unobtrusive way. There is a great love of the spectacular in--well, as you are Canadians, I will say in the United States. Many people will do nothing unless they are in the limelight. The British politician seems to be willing to work in an unobtrusive way and to do unappreciated work. On this side of the sea we like big things-we like the spectacular. How we value the Niagara Falls? Rightly so! It is a great heritage, and it will with its power, turn the wheels of a thousand mills. We admire the Falls on account of the obtrusive and spectacular. There is not so much praise for the little rills that have for a hundred years refreshed our meadows and gladdened and made green the dusty ways. The best service is often the--unobtrusive and unappreciated. This the British politician seems willing and happy to render.
It appears that British politicians of both parties do not cling so desperately to office as politicians in Canada. The darkest pages of our history had not been written, had leaders been willing to resign when popular favour had departed. Such desperate attempts as have been witnessed on this side of the sea have not been made in Britain to sustain by unworthy means Governments which have forfeited all right to popular support. Perhaps for this reason the average British Parliamentary term is brief. It may be said that in the main the British politician will do his duty rather than strive for personal benefit or power. In this we see not the least of the factors which have made the British Parliament the greatest the world has ever known.