Impatient Idealists
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 22 Dec 1942, p. 256-271
Douglas, Dr. Lloyd C., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The American way of life, referring to that of both Americans and Canadians. Thoughts and discussion on humanity, on human progress, on evolution and on evangelism. Such thoughts and discussion are interspersed with illustrations and personal anecdotes for exemplification.
Date of Original
22 Dec 1942
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
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Full Text
Chairman The President, John C. M. MacBeth, Esq., B.A., K.C.
Thursday, December 22, 1942.

MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives us much pleasure and adds greatly to our satisfaction this afternoon to have with us Mr. Lewis, the Organist and Choirmaster of St. Simon's and his Boys' Choir, who are going to carry on for fifteen minutes. It is a great pleasure for us to have you with us, Mr. Lewis.

Several choral numbers were contributed by the Boys' Choir at this juncture in the proceedings.

Ladies and Gentlemen of The Empire Club: Long years ago when political battles were fought on wooden platforms instead of on the air, a speaker, who was being interrupted more than he thought he should be, told his audience that the place to find most sticks was under the best apple tree. This effectually silenced the hecklers. The speaker was a former Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. MacDonald.

Dr. Lloyd C. Douglas has been subject to a considerable amount of criticism for stepping out of the pulpit into the writer's chair. I don't know how large were his congregations in North Manchester, Indiana; in Washington; in Ann Harbor; or even in Los Angeles or Montreal, but I do know that, however large they were, they could not be larger than the congregations to whom he speaks through the written word.

I have read Dr. Douglas' latest book--I trust not his last--and I have enjoyed every word of it, even the odd and rare typographical error, for which of course, Dr. Douglas is not to blame. That blame, Ladies and Gentlemen, rests squarely upon the shoulders of the Publisher, Mr. Thomas Allen, whom, also, we welcome to our board today.

We are inclined to read the four Gospels and the Letters of St. Paul as simply a philosophy of religion and not a flesh and blood story of people who actually lived and moved and had their being, even as we. Mr. Douglas in The Robe makes a period of some two years or so, beginning shortly before the Feast of the Passover at the end of which Christ was crucified, a real period. The whole time becomes alive and we see such men as Christ Himself, Stephen, Paul, Tiberius Caesar, Agrippa, Caligula, and the big fisherman Peter, in the flesh. The whole picture of that time is co-ordinated and made to live. Dr. Douglas' other books have an appeal to certain classes, but this book has an appeal to every class and every reader. I am not a book salesman, but I am interested in the circulation of good literature through our public libraries, and, in speaking of The Robe, I am simply introducing to you Dr. Lloyd C. Douglas, its author.

Dr. Douglas is a son of the manse. As a child he spent much time with his father with whom he used to travel by horse and buggy when sick calls were being made and funerals conducted and weddings celebrated. As Dr. Douglas himself says, he was an old hand at funerals when he was but eight years of age. He received his preliminary training in English and the Classics from his father, on these very frequent journeys, attended a church school, and graduated in Art from Wittenberg College, Springfield, Ohio. After his ordination into the Ministry he became Pastor of Zion Church in North Manchester, Indiana, and has had several other charges, including that of St. James United Church in Montreal.

He was Chaplain of the First Infantry Brigade in Washington, Director of Religious Work at the University of Illinois; Publicity Director for the United States War Work Council and for the Congregational World Movement. He has been a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly and to Scribners Magazine. In 1929 he wrote Magnificent Obsession, a book that ran twelve printings in thirteen months and after four years was still a best seller. That was the time in which he occupied the pulpit of St. James in Montreal. He has been honoured with the Doctorate in Divinity by several colleges.

Dr. Douglas has chosen as the subject of his address "Impatient Idealists", and I have much pleasure now, Ladies and Gentlemen, in asking Dr. Douglas to address us. (Applause.)

DR. LLOYD C. DOUGLAS: Mr. President. Ladies and Gentlemen: It is a very pretty courtesy of you, in the midst of Christmas preparations, to ask me over here to say something. I was so very glad to come. While I am a Yankee by birth, and pretty largely by training and residence, I do have a good many Canadian connections. For instance, three young gentlemen have honoured me by becoming my grandsons. They are Canadians over in Montreal, and I find that they still speak to me and consider me approximately the same way they would if I lived up here.

I have two sons-in-law who are Canadians. Dr. Howard Dawson, of the Royal Victoria Hospital and McGill Medical School is a son-in-law. By the way, you might think it fun to know how my daughter Virginia and Howard got acquainted. Magnificent Obsession has been so pleasantly referred to here, I think I should say when I wrote the book it was strictly experimental. I had never written one before and I didn't know how to do it. A good many, of my critics think I don't know yet. That is alright, because I admit it myself. I am still experimenting, but when I wrote Magnificent Obsession I knew I didn't know how and just proceeded from day to day. And then the little trick of naming characters in a book is not quite so simple as you might think, if you have never tried it. You must avoid using the name of anybody you know, because they will try to associate themselves somehow with this character, and even if the character behaved immeasurably to their credit, they don't like it.

Now, I was about to name a character in Magnificent Obsession and I needed the name of a young doctor who had been given leave on a Fellowship to spend a year in Europe, at Vienna, as it happened, because there was a time when if you hadn't been to Vienna for a little while to study with the doctors, you were hardly fit to put your shingle out. We have changed our ideas about things like that but there was a time, a foolish time, when we thought we had to be polished off over there. This young doctor in the book had taken his young bride along with him and for a little while she had become one of the leading figures in the piece, and now I had got to the point where I had to name these people. I was in Los Angeles that morning and I had a letter from a man in London. It was on hotel stationery, which made me think he didn't live in London, which turned out to be true. He asked me a question about something he had seen quoted from me in a magazine and the reply required only about three lines. He was on the other side of the Atlantic and I was on the edge of the Pacific and I never was going to see him and I knew that his name, Dawson, would be fairly safe to use, so I named my people in the book Dawson.

After the book had been out nearly a year my daughter, Virginia, was in school in Paris and she met a doctor who was doing some special studies in radium at the Madame Curie Institute, for McGill University. They got acquainted with each other and they were married and his name was Dawson, and he was the son of the man who wrote me the letter.

Now, sometimes they accuse novelists of coincidence. I would say this was one of the most spooky and uncanny demonstrations of that much abused strategy that I know anything about, These Dawsons, by the way, are still getting on very happily, and I feel that things have worked out very well indeed.

I have another Canadian son-in-law, a mining engineer out in Nevada. They live out there and I am going to spend New Year's with them. Well, that is enough about me. I am very grateful for the nice commercials you gave me about those books. Every time one of them is sold I get 37y2 cents.

You, Sir, have also pleasantly spoken about the new book, The Robe, and may I pause one moment to say, not in any spirit of advertising, but only because you mentioned it--(Laughter)--Can't you take a joke? after I began work on this thing I found that we needed some maps in the book, a map of the Roman Empire in the first century, and when we got it drawn we discovered it was a map of Hitler's Europe, all but Britain. It ceases at Britain. I think Hitler has given that up. The similarity between the state of the world at that time and ours is shocking. The Roman Empire was gathered up by the same string of causes-ruthless savagery, and the Fifth Columnist activities of Quislings. It came 'about by the same process. Indeed, when I was working on the book sometimes I had a great temptation to peek around the curtain and say, "You will see this thing again sometime". But of course I couldn't do that. It wasn't a tract, it was a novel, and to do that I had to go back to A.D. 37 and unpack, and stay there a couple of years. I got so I was almost tempted to date my own current letters with A.D. 37.

Your fathers and mine when they came over here to this country developed out of their hardship and their faith and fortitude what came to be known generally as "the American way of life". Now, occasionally I think we bumbled a little in our phrases and sometimes America means the States, but it never has meant that to me, and I don't believe it does to very many of the people with whom I associate. Canada and the States are America, and when I refer to the American way of life, I mean the way of life that our people developed,

Well, they came by an American way of life. It was founded on neighbourliness and indiscriminate generosity and good sportsmanship and social equality, and after a while it became known the world around that this was a great land of opportunity, and migrants came from the four corners of the earth to share our faith and freedom. Some came late and shared the freedom and not the faith, but for the most part the people from whom we in this company derive represented the new way of living. Of course it wasn't too hard for them because this land was a land of rich resources. We had everything on our side. It was easy for us to find a real prosperity. So we developed this American way and after a while we wanted all the other people in the world to share it. We organized missionary endeavours that went through all the world with great success. There never was such a wide variety of implements used--agriculture, medical, educational--what you like. We took the manual arts, we took religion, we took everything we had and scattered it all over the world, hoping people would get a new angle on Christian civilization. We talked about it as "carrying Christian civilization to the people of the whole world". What we were carrying was the American way of life.

After a while we became so confident of what we were doing that it came to pass at the turn of the century that thousands of earnest young collegians in the States and Canada had organized a Student Volunteer Movement, whose slogan was, "The evangelization of the world in this generation", meaning in their generation, and they meant and were entirely in earnest about it.

Then came the first World War and knocked that brave aspiration into a cocked hat. Seeing it was a war to end all wars they accepted it as a righteous necessity and went to it. They said, "If this thing has to be done, we will do it now and get it over with". As we had said about the evangelization of the world, "If the world needs to be evangelized, let us go and evangelize it and be done with it".

Well then after the first World War we decided that we would go back now to our peacetime pursuits as rapidly as possible and we scrapped our armies and scuttled the boats and converted everything into peacetime production. We were never very well fixed to produce implements of destruction, we were very much more concerned with implements of a constructive nature.

And now comes this thing! Not advertised as a war to end all wars, but a confirmation of the fact that the world hadn't got along as far as we thought it had.

We, in this new land, where people had lived in freedom and peace and neighborliness, felt that the world had made a very great deal of progress, but after all we have to remember that it is a great deal easier to be generous and magnanimous and sportsmanly on the banks of the St. Lawrence than it is on the banks of the Danube or the Ganges.

Yes, that old worn-out world, old worn-out soil, old worn-out ideas and old inherited feuds-I suppose we will have to be very patient, but it is very hard to be patient with anything at the beginning of life. At my time of life I am a little more benign about everything. Maybe I am getting lazy, maybe I am becoming philosophical. I can see how we must be patient. The trouble is we wanted too much too soon. We wanted the world to go too fast, we wanted everybody to be like ourselves. We wanted everybody to be happy and free, and a lot of conditions wouldn't permit that in other places. I am not discounting the evil intent of many, many men who have been at the head of the forces that have been trying to tear the world apart, but after all, thousands upon thousands of people over there would love to be happy and love to be free and love to be at peace. They can't very well help the present predicament they are in.

Well, sometimes I have tried to analyze the causes of our impatience. Sometimes I believe evolution befuddled us a good deal. You know, we used to think the human race came to pass by Divine flat, by the creation of a certain man in an ancient garden. Jehovah did something like that, and here was Adam. Then after a few days or a few years for a little indiscretion he was thrown out of the garden and all theology and all culture has been trying to get him back in the garden. That is the short way to put it.

Then along came evolution with a little different idea. Evolution didn't have a man start, full-powered, in the garden. It had him start down with the tadpoles or lower. Then he came through a series of circumstances and environments, and obstacles, and he found that to live in friendship was much better than to live at war, and he came to the point where he developed a new civilization and we got to thinking that evolution had brought us pretty close to the top. We didn't have very much farther to go. We thought we had heard the whistle blow for Utopia. And that wasn't so.

You know, evolution, after all, isn't this benign thing that some people thought. It isn't one undeviating sweep from dust to glory-not by any means. Evolution, if it gets a chance, will throw you. Evolution, if it develops momentum in a certain direction, will keep on going until it has a paralyzing effect.

For instance, in any good natural history museum you can go and see in a glass case, or spread out all over .a lobby, a reconstructed skeleton of a mastodon. Ages ago the mastodon bred for longer and larger tusks. That was all that mattered-just tusks-and they went around mumbling about tusks and telling their children to avoid having to do with children that didn't have a promise of large tusks, and then were sent to school where they would associate with children of people with larger tusks. They didn't ask about anything but tusks. After a while 'the tusks got so long and heavy that they couldn't keep their hind feet on the ground and the whole thing went out of business.

You will see in the museum a skeleton of a thing called the ship lizard, that bred for long spines. The thing was to see how long a spine you could grow. They started in for defensive purposes and bred for longer spines and longer spines until after a while the centre of gravity was too high and the whole thing capsized and all the better lizards were eaten up by the proletarians.

That thing has been going on in the jungle for a long, long time. Of course it is possible for us to switch from automatic to manual in certain phases of evolution and produce about what we want. Not very long ago in a mid-western university the Animal Husbandry Department announced they were now prepared to offer a custom built hog. They had been breeding for heavier hams and slenderer legs, and just kept on with that treatment until the hogs couldn't get up any more and they had to put their legs back on again.

A few years ago some man made an airship, a heavier than air ship. It developed such strength and speed that it was able to fly over a neighbouring nation with a bellyfull of explosive bombs, and now the thing is for us to breed the bombs out of the airship, because the airship is here to stay and unless we are very careful the bombs will be too. That is part of our job now.

Evolution isn't to be relied upon to carry us forward. Sometimes we have confused the whole business of Christian civilization and evolution, thinking it is maybe all about the same thing. They aren't at all. Evolution is a ruthless thing. The trouble with me is I want to see things happen while I am here. I am the only important thing in the world. The meridians of latitude and longitude bisect underneath my feet. The true north is north of me, and my time is the correct time. That is the kind of fellow I am. That is the kind of fellow you are. That is the way we are rigged up and we don't like to contemplate a world in which we are not present. We want to see things happen while we are here. That is what makes us terribly impatient and restless and unhappy, because we can't see things happen faster. The whole business of time--we dread time because we are in the grip of it.

According to actuarial figures, I have eight years, nine months and sixteen days to go. I may beat that a little because I come from long-lived stock. Or I may not make it because I am still fool enough to drive my own car. The fact is my tenure is rather short. I want to see things happen while I am here. I get dreadfully impatient because things don't happen any faster. One thing we shy off at is time. We don't know anything about time. We won't know anything about time, even in little short sections. You know, you can pick up a colour in your memory and match it at the store down town, and some of you can point to a flag-pole and say, "It is 85 feet", or you can lift a weight and say "It is 82 pounds". Nobody knows anything about the measurement of time. That is because we are afraid of it. We don't like to think about it. An hour at a circus or an hour pacing the floor in front of the surgical operating room is not the same at all. The four years between 18 and 22 are not the same as the four years between 58 and 62. They have no relation at all. Even three minutes--three minutes on the long distance phone, talking to your sweetheart, and three minutes boiling an egg, and three minutes in a ring with Joe Louis--they aren't the same thing at all. Time--we don't know anything about it. How silly we are to try to listen to hear evolution's clock strike, or watch the hands to see if they will move on evolution's dial. O, no, it is slow business. We must be patient. We must wait.

Did you ever go to a Dog Show? O, you must have! Well, did you notice even at the Dog Show that when the judges were coming down the line and were about to approach the little platform where Mr. Throckmorten was about to exhibit his beautiful Irish Setter, Lambie Pie, that he put one hand under his dog's chin, and with his other hand held out the tip of Lambie Pie's tail, which was not a natural stance, or Lambie Pie would have taken it without assistance.

Now, what was going on? Mr. Throckmorten wanted Lambie Pie to stand the way Mr. Throckmorten thought he would stand if he were Lambie Pie.

I will tell you about my dog. He is a Boxer, a very friendly fellow. His name is Marcus. Marcus is a privileged dog, if ever there was one. Our family is more or less demobilized and when the children are all gone people get silly about a dog or a cat or almost anything--maybe a bird. Well, Marcus is a privileged dog. He has a zipper on his mattress to facilitate the refilling with cedar shavings. His food comes from a dog delicatessen and is delivered in a blue delivery waggon, with gold letters on the side that says, "Doggie Dinnie". And his food costs more than my board did when I was in college. Marcus has had some cosmetic surgery to improve the appearance of his ears and his tail. He was not consulted about this, either before or after. We never learned how he felt about it. Apparently he was not resentful because he is very amiable, especially when he is out playing in the mud, although that may not be intentional.

Marcus has learned some little tricks. He will retrieve a ball. We say, "Go, get your ball, Marcus--"sickeningly sweet, as if we were talking to a baby or a radio audience. He goes and gets his ball. He doesn't know it is his ball. Maybe he thinks it is our ball, and that he is entertaining us. He will jump up through a hoop if you have a piece of candy in the other hand. He is a privileged dog, I tell you. He probably has a higher standing of living than almost any dog 25 years ago, and certainly than any dog in Tunisia today.

Well, it is a dreadful thing when you have done too much of everything for a dog like that and go out some time in the afternoon looking for him and find him at your neighbour's, with his hind quarters protruding from their garbage can. Then we begin to think about all the investment we made in Marcus, all the little acts of kindness and friendship, how we came to his relief when he needed us. There was never an emergency when we were not there standing by him, and to be let down like that! We are ashamed we ever had any part in his life. But after all, whose fault is that? Certainly not Marcus. His behaviour is about normal for a dog. The trouble is we want Marcus to act the way we think we would act if we were dogs.

Now, I hope I am drawing no invidious comparisons when I say, for instance, that the little people in the Pacific to whom we carried machinery of all sorts, and education and hospitals and everything--thinking that maybe because they wore our clothes they shared our idealism--were interested in breeding for heavier tusks and larger spines all the time, that they didn't want our idealism. They never had the slightest notion of accepting it.

Well, that is a pretty serious disillusionment. But after all, who is that joke on? It is on us. We meant it well but we expected too much, as at home we probably expected too much of Marcus.

Then there was another bright nation on whom we had counted for a very considerable amount of participation in the world culture, and we found out that really they didn't share our idealism at all. They weren't looking for the same things.

I got talking to a doctor the other day about insulin and if you had never done anything else here but insulin, it wouldn't have been a bad job. We got talking about insulin, and he said, "You know all the time those men in Toronto were working on that chain of experiments on insulin, the Germans were following the same string of experiments, and the Germans didn't get it and the Canadians did get it and the reason was because the Germans were examining the precipitate for the makings of their serum and the Canadians were examining the filtrate.

And then he went on to say, "I think that is what is the matter along the line. The Germans have been throwing the valuable things away. They have been keeping the wrong thing."

One way to look at human progress is as if it were set up on a series of planes, and in that progress there will be a half dozen generations laid end to end in which era they will be doing about the same things. They will be born in grandfather's house and take a great pride in tradition. They will organize constitutions, charters, creeds and conventions, and that will be all very nice. And then someday. some Tuesday, about two, when nobody is looking for it, everything goes to pieces at once, and they start up on a 45 percent grade to another plane.

O, that will be tough for a time. Maybe for four or five years, maybe for ten or twenty, or occasionally for a hundred. Then, eventually, they come out on another plane, write off their losses, tie tip their bruises, thank God for a short memory, and start in on another plane, and there settle down again and begin to have respect for schools and banks and churches and universities, and they adopt some new constitutions and charters and creeds and conventions, and carry on for about four or five or six generations. Then when everything is going very peacefully, very smoothly, and life has taken on orderly ways and settled down to little groups of traditions which they rely on, then they want to be careful, because some unannounced day, another Tuesday, they will start on another grade.

Now, we are taking one of those grades, and the question isn't: Are you coming along? The question is

How are you coming along? Are you going to regard it as a cross to bear or a game to play? Are you going to say, we have come to a crisis, or are you going to say this is one step on the way up toward some stupendous dawn?

The Master of us all admonished us to be of a little more stability in our attitude toward what He called the Kingdom, the coming in of the type of life that would make for freedom and peace and joy. He said there would always be some people who would be exalted almost unto hysteria by some bright moments, some apparent victory, some portent of good news, and they would say, "Here comes the Kingdom".

And then another cloudy day comes along, when Marcus has been in the garbage again, and we are disillusioned, and everything gone to pieces, we say, "There goes the Kingdom".

Jesus said every man would be in charge of his own. little Kingdom. He can gladly watch it come or he can sadly watch it go. It is his and he can do what he likes with it. (Applause.)

MR. JOHN C. M. MACBETH: Ladies and Gentlemen

Dr. Douglas, it is taking two of us today properly to thank you, Sir--the present President, to introduce you; and the Immediate Past President, to thank you. I am going to ask Mr. Sanderson, Chief Librarian of the City of Toronto, Immediate Past President of the Club, to thank you for your address. (Applause )

MR. C. S. SANDERSON: Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: Coupling Mr. MacBeth's reference to me as the Immediate Past President with Dr. Lloyd Douglas's, Sir, I would almost say reminiscences of primitive life, reminds me that T had always been led to believe that an Immediate Past President was one of the lowest forms of animal life.

Sir, I am glad that you don't share that view, because it gives me the happy opportunity of saying to Dr. Douglas, or behalf of this audience, and on behalf of that enormous audience which has been listening to him on the air, as nice a "Thank you" as I can. I do it, Sir, happily and gladly, because of my feeling of personal regard.

I don't know how you do it. I am sure every one in this room has been studying your personality whilst you talked, but somehow you do manage to create and spread and make everyone feel that atmosphere of kindheartedness and geniality which is you. And that you should come and talk to us just at this Christmas time and bring us this kind of feeling is a particularly great favour to The Empire Club of Canada.

Then, Sir. I don't know what one should say about your address. You have given us thoughts to ponder. The keynote of your talk is patience, understanding, the thought of the other fellow's point of view, and I think, Sir, it is quite right that many of us do not think of the working man, except when he is out of work. Perhaps many of us do not think enough about Christianity, except at church time, and perhaps many of us do not think enough about the less fortunate in the world, except at Christmas time, and you have done that brilliant thing without talking about Christmas. You have left us with a Christmas atmosphere.

The President referred to your book. I think, Sir, I would like to say that though it is a religious book, it is not a religious book. Though it is an historical book it is not an historical book, because it is much more than that. It is a human book and it has pathos, it has drama, and it has, as you confessed yourself to me a little while go--some months ago--it also has a stream-lined conversation, and I think I might let this audience in on what may be a secret. They can tell how appealing the book is when we know it will be featured as one of the leaders of the cinema features in a relatively short time.

So I am happy today, Sir, to be able to say "Thank you" to an author who at first challenge walked right into the centre of the halls of literary fame, yet, Sir, a famous author who is unchanged, unspoiled, has no self-conceit, has no self-pride, is just himself, never changing, an author we are glad to know, a man we are glad to know, a man we are better for knowing, and Ladies and Gentlemen, a man I think we are better for having listened to today. (Applause.)

Mr. Joan C. M. MACBETH: Ladies and Gentlemen

As most of you know, we publish these addresses in the form of a Year Book at the end of each season. Last season we published this book, the Addresses 1941-42. It was the product of much patience, much work, and I want on behalf of the Club to present to you, Dr. Douglas, one of these books. You will carry it away with the portrait of the Immediate Past President. The portrait was made by the Chairman of our Speakers Committee this year, Mr. Eason Humphreys. I have much pleasure, on behalf of the Club, in presenting you with this book.

And Mr. Lewis, we have a copy of this book also for you. We thought you might be interested in it. On behalf of the Club I have much pleasure in presenting you with a copy of the last Year Book.

The meeting is adjourned.

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Impatient Idealists

The American way of life, referring to that of both Americans and Canadians. Thoughts and discussion on humanity, on human progress, on evolution and on evangelism. Such thoughts and discussion are interspersed with illustrations and personal anecdotes for exemplification.