The Case for France
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 25 Oct 1923, p. 266-279
Will, Professor J.S., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The warmest kind of memory of Canada’s conduct in Flanders. Articles that have appeared in Canadian papers which have made the speaker change his mind about the topic of address. The source of such articles. Extracts from the article to which the speaker refers, with regard to the collapse of the Paris Conference. Ways in which such articles entirely misrepresent French sentiment. Poincare’s fitness to represent the French people. The lack of labour troubles in France, with indicators. Some figures to show the cost of living, economic and social conditions in France today. Figures compared with those before the war. Hard times for those with small incomes in France. French finances. An outline of both the British and French thesis with regard to reparations. France’s expedition into the Ruhr and why it was made. The many reasons for the anarchy which seems to characterize Germany at the present. Proof of Germany’s default. Payment by Germany a matter of life and death financially to France. The attitude of France towards England. The harmony of the French and English civilizations as the greatest need of the world. The value of future relations between England and France.
Date of Original
25 Oct 1923
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
Emailinfo@empireclub.orgWWW address
Agency street/mail address

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text

THE CASE FOR FRANCE AN ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR J. S. WILL, B.A., PH.D. Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, October 25, 1923

PRESIDENT WILKINSON introduced the sneaker as one of the Club's own members, and as a member of the staff of the University of Toronto who would speak on a subject of which he had made a first-hand study extending over many years, particularly for the past two years, during most of which time lie had been in France. Professor Will was received with applause.


Mr. President and Members of the Empire Club,--I am very grateful for your President's introduction in which there was at least a certain amount of truth. (Laughter) Perhaps what he said might be considered to be as much against me as for me. When Mr. Wilkinson told you that I had been studying conditions, in France for a great number of years he said what is perfectly true. But you may have the impression that such a close connection for such a considerable period of time may have produced in my mind such a partiality to that country as would make it more or less impossible for me to see her faults. I think, however, I can be fair and I shall try to be fair. It is the business of men in my walk of life to try to be fair even at the risk of being deadly dull. I am accustomed to talking to men not perhaps of the maturity and experience of the men


Doctor Will is a graduate of the Universities of Toronto and Columbia and was formerly a professor in Chicago University. He is now a professor of French Literature in the University of Toronto. Recently he spent over a yeas in literary and historical studies in Europe, especially in France and Germany.


who are before me, but I am under the disadvantage of having talked already This morning for three hours before at least two audiences almost as large as this, if not as young as this. (Laughter)

I have been discourteous enough to change my subject for reasons that have put me in a belligerent mood. Therefore I may not express myself as well as I should have done had I been able to spend a little more time upon the preparation of my new subject. I intended to speak on Canada's debt to France. The phrase, "Canada's debt to France," does not imply that I intended to tell you of any embarrasing obligation owed to France. I think I may say with certain knowledge that Frenchmen feel that if Canada owed France a debt, Canada showed a consciousness of that debt with an ardour and a success and a glory that will not quickly pass away. France retains the warmest kind of memory of Canada's conduct in Flanders. In speaking of France it is usual for men to speak largely of experiences in Paris. I have not come only from Paris. I have spent a great deal of time in that city, where I do my research work, but I speak from a knowledge of men who are not inhabitants of any single city or of any particular region. When I speak of France I speak naturally with a knowledge of men with whom I have eaten day after day for months in Paris, men of political importance and men of scholarly importance, but also with a knowledge of men with whom I ate and worked in certain villages of France, and with whom I worked in certain fields of France. I know the farmer and the little shopkeeper as well as I know the men of the city.

I have changed my subject because of such articles as the one in my mind. It is not the only article of this contentious and vicious nature that I have read in Canadian papers. In certain English papers similar things appear from time to time-quite too frequently. I know the sources of the articles that appear in some of these English papers and they are not creditable to us. They are not in any sense representative of right opinion in France. For the most part they emanate from a gentleman called Joseph Caillaux and his entourage, a man who was suspected of treason before the war while Minister of Finance, and during the war was condemned as a traitor, exiled and deprived of civil rights. He is the man who was willing to make a separate peace with Germany at the expense of Great Britain. This is not a personal judgment, it is a statement of fact.

I shall read extracts from the article that I have referred to. Speaking of the collapse of the Paris Conference it says:

"How could an Entente Cordiale exist when for the school of political adventurers and journalistic agitators now dominant in France, the mere fact that Britain favoured any proposal was good and sufficient reason for opposing it? The fact is, that French chauvinists of the type of Poincare are so vain that the mere thought that France was assisted to victory by other nations rouses in them angry resentment against those very nations. . . Throughout the war Poincare was President of France; he was at that time regarded by the abler men of his own nation with contempt. He had nothing but criticism to offer of all the measures by which victory was ultimately achieved. If the powers of his office had not been strictly limited by the French constitution he would have been a serious obstuctionist. Like Woodrow Wilson he is an academic egotist.

He is the gentleman who proposes that Europe shall remain an armed camp, the destructive critic of all settlements--the man who is out to make mischief wherever he can, whether on the Bosphorus or on the Rhine.

It is certain that until too late Poincare, like many others, was blind to the state of unpreparedness of the country of which he was the official head. The utter wrong-headedness and inadequacy of the French plans of defence in case of war, which cost France fully as many casualties as German valor, must however, be laid at the door of pre-war politicians like Poincare.

Perhaps not in our time but in the next generation, politicians of the school typified by Poincare will get--the war they seemingly crave. Then the vilification of Britain and all other Anglo-Saxon nations will suddenly cease. Then British virtues will be rediscovered. Then will come again the whining appeal to English-speaking nations to rally and help save the sacred soil on which a million men of British blood laid down their lives. But what will the answer be?"

I am a British subject, as much a British subject by birth and training as any of you, and I can not be accused of being anti-British when I characterize statements like these as gratuitously insulting and viciously false in every line, as entirely misrepresentative of French sentiment as they can possibly be.

Reading that article and one or two others is the reason for changing my plan today. What about Poincare as a man fit to represent the French people and as ably representing the French people? Poincare has been a barrister in Paris for forty-five years. He has been a member of parliament for thirty-five years. He has been Minister of Education twice, Minister of Foreign Affairs twice, Minister of Finance twice, Prime Minister twice, and President once. That is a long career. It is a career of almost steadfast service of the people, crowned by the highest honours in the gift of the French people, and rewarded by a popularity in France accorded to few public men anywhere. Poincare in his policy is not a blind tool of any set of men. He is not a blundering politician, nor an ignorant manipulator of blind forces, and he is certainly not a fanatical hater of Germany, much less of Great Britain. All Frenchmen do not see eye to eye with Poincare. But he has united behind him most of the many factions in the French Chamber of Deputies, and he represents on the whole, French opinion. I am conscious of your being able to say to yourselves: so much the worse perhaps for Poincare. But not so fast nor so suddenly. Poincare is supported in the House by the great nationalistic group which is a fusion of many groups. He has behind him also the Royalists, of whom he is accused sometimes of being the weak tool, and the Radical Socialists. The latter are led by a man called Herriot, who in my judgment has the greatest chance of being PoincarOs successor. Herroit has always seen the necessity of pledging himself to essentially the same foreign policies as those followed by Poincare. "The Radical Socialists," he said, "persist in believing that a check in the Ruhr would be a disaster for France, and that all parties must unite their efforts to avoid it. The Radicals give their explicit adhesion to the protest of the government rejecting any proposition that would tend to reduce the claim of France upon Germany without relieving its debt towards England and United States." As for the former, the Royalists, a group that think in eighteenth century terms, they are estimable men but without a chance of realizing their political ambitions, a small faction that would be at once overwhelmed at the polls or anywhere else if they were so unwise as to attempt to realize their reactionary ambitions. Poincare has certainly no interest in currying the favor of these quixotic upholders of a forlorn hope.

Many of you have felt, as I have felt, the joy of entering the broad reaches of the St. Lawrence River and sailing past the natural palisades on right and left until you reach the wide sweep of the upper river near Montreal, and of thus getting back from a distracted Europe into a country that is largely free from social strife, from political disturbances and from labour troubles. Happy Canada! The only other country in the world that is comparable to Canada in these respects is France. There are no labour troubles in France. Lately there have been a few evidences of dissatisfaction, such as the seamstresses' strike in Paris, such as the threatened strike of bank clerks and government officials. But there are no labour troubles, using the word labour in the sense in which we understand it on the whole. Everyone in France is working. Not merely every man, the women are working as well as the men. The women are working as they never worked before in a country in which the women always worked. Before the war there were in round numbers perhaps ten million workingmen in France of military age. There are now in the neighbourhood of seven million. It is therefore necessary that this deficiency created by the war be made up, and it is being made up by the women who are doing postal work, cab work, street-cleaning work, and other work of many sorts, in addition to the work they always done in the fields and elsewhere.

There are not then labour troubles in France. This is not due to the fact that the labouring man is absolutely happy, nor to the fact that wages have kept pace with the cost of living. Wages in France have increased, naturally enough. It is difficult to say how much, so widely do wages vary in different sections of the country. Foreign labourers get now from eight to eighteen francs a day; carpenters and other skilled labourers from twenty to thirty francs a day. That is to say, wages have increased from two to three times while the cost of living is ever mounting. One receives the impression from many people here as well as from many newspapers, that France is in a period of extreme prosperity and that with gay thoughtlessness, with flags waving and trumpets playing she is marching towards another war. The truth is, there is nothing militaristic about France. There is nothing imperialistic. There is nothing "fistic" whatever about France at the present minute. The last thing she desires is war. Nor is she strikingly prosperous although she is intensely busy.

The wages of labourers in France then have gone up perhaps three times. What about the cost of living? Government reports tell us that the cost of living if represented by 100 in July, 1914, was represented by 520 to 525 in July, 1923. Thus the cost of living has gone up at least 51/4 times. These figures represent wholesale prices. When articles of food or other articles reach the consumer it is evident that the index figure is much higher than 5 or 51/4.

Now the cost of living in this country as compared with the cost of living before the war has gone up about twice. Costs follow about the same curve always in England, the United States and in Canada. In France they have reached a much more serious condition. Costs have gone up in a way that is not at all accurately represented by the decline in the value of the franc. And if the cost of living is not higher in France it is simply because she has reduced her imports and is trying to live on what she produces. She can not, however, produce quite enough to go round. For example she does not produce enough wheat, and last year she bought two billion hundred weight. She paid for this at the rate of seventy francs to the pound, instead of twenty-five. The result is that the cost of bread in France is about 11/4 francs, or 25 cents per pound.

In the meantime there are a great many French sufferers from this situation. But the Frenchman who suffers does not, so to speak, leave off his socks so that others may pity him. He darns his socks and continues to wear them. The French women instead of buying new dresses, make over their old ones. I have seen women lately in France who were wearing dresses made from material of seventeen or eighteen years ago. These are simple examples of economy and thrift characteristic of the French people. As in all the countries of the world hard times have worked havoc with small incomes in France. France was once a paradise for the man with the small income. Before the war Frenchmen with an income of 1,000 france, or 3,000 francs, or 5,000 francs, could live happily in France. On 1,000 francs he could live in the country; on 3,000 francs in a small city; on 5,000 france in Paris. But those conditions exist no more. People with such incomes have disappeared from the category of the leisured class. Belonging naturally to the middle class by education, tradition and temperament they have now joined the labouring classes.

Let us come to the question of French finances. How is the country making ends meet? The answer is that France is not making ends meet at all, any more than most other countries. The French budget fails to balance by about 20 billion francs. This situation affects French action in external affairs, and as a result of French advances to Germany is bound up absolutely with the question of reparations and inter-allied debts.

In regard to reparations may I outline the British thesis on the one hand and the French thesis on the other. The British say Germany is bankrupt. It makes no difference how she became bankrupt. If Germany is crushed there is no possibility of getting anything from her, therefore we must save Germany. Our debt to United States must be paid. If Germany pays, so much the better. Whether she does or not we want our money. The amount of the allied debt to us, over and above the amount of our indebtedness to the United States; will be reduced according to Germany's failure to pay.

This sounds like a fair proposition. But M. Poincare retorts: "In addition to our debt to Britain we owe two billion and a half of dollars to the United States. How are we going to pay this? If we arrange to settle the debt by itself without reference to reparations this means that we recover nothing from the devastator to re-build those regions that were destroyed in the common cause." He says also that trusting to the Treaty of Versailles, and the Frenchman has not merely a very logical mind but a legalistic mind, and believes in the validity of agreements, trusting to the Treaty of Versailles we have advanced 100 billion francs for the restoration of these regions and we shall be obliged to pay out 100 billion more for their complete restoration. Where are we going to get these 200 billion? With a budget that does not balance, to a large extent because of these advances to Germany, and because Germany was avoiding every serious attempt to put her fiscal system on a sound basis that would enable the business of the country to be carried on and reparations to be paid, Poincare went into the Ruhr.

I am not at all capable of discussing the Ruhr question in its complete economic aspects. I am not an economist in any sense of the word. I can only give a point of view. Poincare went into the Ruhr not because he was crazed with fear as our newspapers often assert. He did not go into the Ruhr with militaristic ambitions. He has denied in speech and in writing that France wished to stay in the Ruhr. He did not go into the Ruhr expecting to extract sums of money from Germany. In January last, on the eve of entering the Ruhr, Poincare said he did not expect to get much from this expedition. With an expenditure of 50 million francs a month France lost greatly during the first months of occupation. By the end of September the figures stood something like this: expenses of occupation, 625 million; gross returns, upwards of one billion. So that France has made ends meet in the Ruhr even while during a part of this time she was shipping considerable coal and coke to German industries.

France embarked upon this expedition not because she expected to get definite reparations from the Ruhr, but in order to show that Germany was voluntarily defaulting. For four years she had refrained from any action at the express request of England. She entered the Ruhr to take the only guarantees that were left for her to take. She knew that her action was at least two years too late. If she waited longer it would be altogether too late and Germany would profit finally by allied hesitation as she had been long profiting by allied division.

The break-up of Germany has been attributed to this invasion of the Ruhr by France. But the anarchy which seems to characterize Germany at this minute is due to many causes. It is not due to the fact that the French are in the Ruhr. This invasion is certainly one of the aggravating causes, but it is not the only one. The disasters of Germany are traceable to many currents, some of which were evident before 1914. In the first place there is the Pan-German movement, which has continued in Germany in spite of the fall of the Kaiser. The fact that the emperor has disappeared does not mean that the Pan-German movement exists no longer. It means simply that its significance has been changed and that its influence is an element of discord in the country torn also by nationalist pretentions. It is a movement that is not merely opposed to the disintegration of the present German union, but is opposed as well to the division that was made by the Treaty of Versailles of the Austro-Hungarian kingdom. It is a movement that is opposed also to what its members call the treasonous practices of the social democrats at the time of the Armistice. It is maintained that the social democrats betrayed Germany at the Conference of Versailles, at the Conference of St. Germain, and at subsequent Conferences. Hostility to the social democrats is part of the Pan-German movement, and conduces to the destraction of the country. Pan-Germanists are also extremely hostile to the operations of the great financial magnates who now practically own Germany, and who have formed the greatest business combination in the history of the world. A great part of their hostility to these men is due to the fact that the latter are practically all of the Jewish race. These are some, but only some of the causes other than the Ruhr of the distractions and divisions with the German Republic.

France has proved to her own satisfaction, if not to that of others, that Germany has willfully defaulted. The facts that I have been giving to you are quoted largely from the publications of the German League of the Rights of Man. This League has also stated that the industrialists of the Ruhr, for example, were, at the end of last year before France moved into the Ruhr, in default of taxes to the Reich to the extent of 20 billion gold marks. No attempt is made to collect these arrears, and the system of taxation in itself is a thoroughly derisory one. In general, although it is difficult to make any definite or reliable statement owing to the constant fluctuation and depreciation of money values from day to day, the German business man, taking the figures as at March last, when for the moment, the mark was stabilized, in general the German business man pays 10 per cent. in taxes, where the Englishman is paying 60 percent, and the Frenchman 40 per cent. Moreover, the same League maintains that assessments are in the same way unbelievably low, as much as 1/300 of the assessable value of property.

France went into the Ruhr then not merely to show that Germany was defaulting but, to use a hackneyed expression, to develop in Germany the will to pay. She went into the Ruhr also because she herself was determined to live. Payment by Germany is a matter of life and death financially to France. This is the root of her action. The fact that this will to pay is being developed in Germany is seen by the publication of the German League to which I have referred, and from which I have quoted facts and figures. Responsible Germans, at the present minute, according to reports in our papers, are calling for a definite reform of the fiscal system of their country and for agreement with France and for the adequate taxation of the great industrialists.

What then is the attitude of France towards England? I do not know whether that means much to you, but it means a great deal to me. One hears and sees a great deal concerning the bitterness and hostility of Frenchmen to England. I read you at the beginning an example of the extraordinary hostility displayed by Englishmen to France. Of the hostility of France to England I ran across no trace. I saw disappointment and bitterness but no hostility. The bitterness that exists in Frenchmen's minds towards the English is based upon her feeling that she has been denied the one thing that she needed, and that the English might have given her, namely, moral support. France says that from 1918 to 1922 she kept her hands off Germany at the request of England, hoping that in that way something might have been done. She could maintain that attitude no longer. She says that her finances are in a perilous position. Her expenses can not be met unless she gets reparations. She has already advanced too much to Germany for this purpose. She must be remunerated in some way or other. She can not make ends meet until she hears from Germany. England maintains that if she persists in her course it means bankruptcy to Germany, but France says that if Germany does not pay, it is bankruptcy for herself. Which do you prefer, says France to England, Germany bankrupt or France bankrupt? To all Frenchmen it is apparent that England prefers the bankruptcy of France. And Frenchmen can not understand why her sometime ally should favour, morally or otherwise, their sometime common enemy. That is putting the question as much in a nutshell as I can without wearying you with details.

It is then not a sentimental question with the Frenchmen. It is not a vague indulgence in a romantic wish that the world be made a world fit to live in. The question for France is: what will make the world fit to live in? The answer is, as always, a realistic answer. The world can not be a place fit to live in if we deny our obligations to our fellowmen. Honesty and probity must be the basis of business life, in the case of the nation as well as in the case of the individual. That is all Frenchmen are working for. If England had given to France her moral support instead of giving it to Germany, the moral support that France looked for, and I think rightly looked for, if the moral influence of England had been thrown clearly on the side of France, as I think France had a right to expect, the invasion of the Ruhr would never have taken place and the reduction of demands upon Germany would have been met to almost any extent that England could reasonably have demanded. Not only that, Germany would have tried to make a settlement long ago.

Such is the attitude of France. And I ask you to consider the significance of cordial relations between France and England. I am not the apostle of anything. I am too young to be an apostle of anything I don't believe. (Laughter) But the point is this: France says English civilization is above all the greatest civilization in the world. Ours is at least next. The harmony of these two civilizations is the greatest need of the world.

The life of a people is not a life of thirty years, it is the life of one thousand years, of two thousand years, of many thousands of years, and the view of the mentality of the people that takes into consideration the life of one generation only is a false one. Any legislation that is based on the present moment only is a legislation that should never be on the statute books. We can judge rightly and legislate rightly only by understanding the traditions of our country, the history of our race and the temperament of our people. In discussing them the relations between France and England and the value of future relations between these countries it is necessary to review the history of the two races. Without approaching such a broad question let us go back a thousand years in the history of France and England. A constitutional lawyer like Maitland can say something like this: the Norman Conquest, that is to say the French Conquest of England made the English race and gave to the English race all those elements of order, and organization, and of law that the English race possesses now in such a high degree.

If the fusion of France and England resulted then in a splendid civilization, what might not the harmony of France and England achieve at this time and for all future time? If we adopted the French tongue for one-quarter of our speech, for the language which we use is at least 20 percent. French, if we adopted the French tongue and many elements of French civilization one thousand years ago and developed it in our own way to the creation of our present great civilization, would it not be worth while to try to understand better those who are akin to us in blood, in language and traditions, and to give them our sympathetic understanding? The future of the world is in the hands of a combination like France and Germany, or France and England. A combination between France and Germany is not an impossible thing and would be the greatest menace to Anglo-Saxon interests. An English-French combination would certainly mean the industrial and economic and political peace of the world.

Gentlemen, I thank you for your patient hearing, all the more that I am sure many of you do not agree at all with what I have been saying. (Laughter and applause)

PRESIDENT WILKINSON conveyed the thanks of the Club to the speaker.

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


The Case for France

The warmest kind of memory of Canada’s conduct in Flanders. Articles that have appeared in Canadian papers which have made the speaker change his mind about the topic of address. The source of such articles. Extracts from the article to which the speaker refers, with regard to the collapse of the Paris Conference. Ways in which such articles entirely misrepresent French sentiment. Poincare’s fitness to represent the French people. The lack of labour troubles in France, with indicators. Some figures to show the cost of living, economic and social conditions in France today. Figures compared with those before the war. Hard times for those with small incomes in France. French finances. An outline of both the British and French thesis with regard to reparations. France’s expedition into the Ruhr and why it was made. The many reasons for the anarchy which seems to characterize Germany at the present. Proof of Germany’s default. Payment by Germany a matter of life and death financially to France. The attitude of France towards England. The harmony of the French and English civilizations as the greatest need of the world. The value of future relations between England and France.