The Past and the Present
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 18 May 1933, p. 184-195
Guedella, Philip, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
No line that can be drawn between the past and the present because the past isn't just a thing that ends. The past and the present inextricably intertwined. Past relationships between countries in the Empire that never required anything in writing. What we think of each other. What the speaker heard about Canada during his travels in the United States. The function of the historian in public life. Lessons to be learned from history. The outrages in Germany against the Jews. The Jewish citizens of the British Empire watching the governments and churches of the Empire and the decent public men of the Empire to see how deeply and genuinely resentment against these outrages is felt and expressed. The lack of difficulty in reconciling loyalty to one's faith with loyalty to the British Empire.
Date of Original
18 May 1933
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
Agency street/mail address:

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
May 18, 1933.

LIEUT.-COLONEL GEORGE A. DREW, the President introduced the speaker.

MR. GUEDELLA: Mr. Chairman, My Lord and Gentlemen: Let me add to the kind remarks of my introducer, that today's gathering will, I hope and believe, be a pleasant reminder to you of those other occasions to which he alluded, in that not only you hope the meeting will draw to an early conclusion--your speaker also hopes that it will draw to an early conclusion, not out of any disinclination for the pleasure and honour of your company but, because, as I travelled eastward across this great Dominion, the one thing that is of tremendously good augury for the unshakable future is the fortitude with which its hardy settlers endure the brutalities of public speaking. This appears to be the one region of the world in which audiences hurl themselves, breasts forward, to the spikes of advancing speakers and ask for more! (Laughter.)

Gentlemen, it is very bad for the character of your guests, however valuable your spiritual directors may find it as an endurance test of their own. (Laughter.)

Let me say how much I appreciate the honour of your invitation to be here today. The recognition which it confers and the recognition--if I may turn proudly to a memory of last night--conferred by such an audience as I was privileged to address in the great hall of your University-is a recognition which no man who lives by contact with the men who are his fellow creatures can fail to set a high value on. There is only one form of recognition-and which I am, I hope, this moment in receipt of--which I value more highly' and that is of having my works burned in Germany! (Laughter.) As I sordidly explained last night in terms which may possibly commend themselves to some of the less elevated members of the community who may have crept among you unawares, that is a form of recognition that I value the more because, when Germany passes back from delirium to sanity, they will have to buy another set!

Now, Gentlemen, I told you that I value your invitation and I do, and I value it the more because I don't deserve it. I haven't the slightest claim to address such a distinguished gathering as this in this centre, because, unlike distinguished Englishmen who come to you" I speak for no one but myself--I fill no official position.

There is only one possible difference that I may draw between myself and the majority of the visitors from home. I take it that the greater number of your visitors come to you from the east, straight out from England, and the visitor to Canada straight out from England, I believe, gets the perspective of Canada wrong, as compared with the man whose route has followed the course that mine has. I have been; away from my home since the month of January. I have spent the winter and the spring--if that sudden process which takes place with an almost audible click on this continent may be dignified by the name of "spring"--I have spent the months since January, partly in the United States and partly in Mexico and I have come up through California in your west and sour west. ,

That means that, instead of saying, as the visiting Englishman is so apt to do when he comes straight from home: "This and this, I see, is different from what I left in London". I have been four months away from London and I feel that "this and this and this" in Canada is British and that I' am not on my way home but I am home already!

That is the only claim I can make to the slightest distinction from those more eminent men who have addressed you on greater occasions-that, in spite of the fact that it is dignified by the proceedings of your Annual Meeting, (Laughter,) whose expedition of procedure might profitably be copied by all other legislative bodies within the Empire. (And I have observed no dissent from your respected Prime Minister.) (Laughter.)

Now, Gentlemen, I venture to think that such visits of perfectly plain, undistinguished people, just citizens, are of some service to our common enterprise of an Empire because it is not good--I am not sure that it is even altogether possible--that we should get to know one another wholly by the interchange of visits between our great men who occupy great positions of state. I speak with all possible respect, and most of all to this table of great men who occupy great positions of state and r have already made it plain before another assembly that Any remarks that appear as a derogation of those engaged in politics relates entirely to those engaged in politics in Great Britain, because my respect for Canadian public men is of almost unutterable profundity. Indeed, my respect for some is even greater than my respect for others. (Laughter.)

But I suspect there have crept into this great gathering one or two who, like myself, are just voters--I won't add the painful description "taxpayers", as well, and it is right that we, the ordinary citizens of the Empire, should get to know one another and look one another squarely in the face, and I am not sure that that particular posture of the eye is always attainable by great public men on great public occasions because one eye, at any rate, is sometimes a little apt to stray off the shoulder to see how the followers at home are taking it. (Laughter.)

I need hardly repeat, that my comments are confined entirely to the British participants, but we, the ordinary people of the Empire, owe it to .one another to get to know one another as well as we possibly can. That is why I am so grateful to the Council of National Education for enabling me to make these rapid but very friendly, and some of them very intimate;, contacts, just as I was grateful twenty years ago when a young man at Oxford, for the genius of Cecil Rhodes for enabling some of us to make contacts with you of the Dominions which lasted through life on both sides of the ocean. (Applause.)

You may have thought, as a great audience, I believe, thought last night, that I should never succeed in coming to the point of my observations. The President, on my right, will bear witness that I disappointed the audience by coming to the point, and I hope, if my powers avail, I shall equally disappoint my present hearers.

My point--and it is truer of the Empire than anything else in the world-my point is that for us there is no line drawn" no line that can be drawn between the past and the present because the past isn't just a thing that ends, as I said, like an American winter with a click and then it is summer. The past and the present are things of which the strands are inextricably intertwined, most of all in the make--up of our very modern and very ancient Empire which always defeats its critics and its ill wishers by being full of an ancient tradition when they thought they were going to hustle it into some silly novelty, and being more up-to-date than them when they thought the whole thing was tied up with tradition. (Laughter.)

Now, Gentlemen, I venture to think that there never was a time when we, of the Empire, could look each other, as I recommended we should, more squarely in the eyes, because of the developments in our recent past which affect our present.

What I mean is this: In the recent past and in the distant past of our Empire our relations with one an other-and they were happy relations, uniformly-were regulated on those principles which the lawyers present (and I was, myself, a lawyer before I took to a more respectable way of life) advise their more unscrupulous male clients to regulate their relations with too fascinating ladies-and the principle is that the British Empire was to put nothing in writing. And, very happily, we got along on that basis.

I am bound to confess, as a traveller returning from the United States, and a very profound well-wisher of the United States--no Englishman, no Canadian, no man in the world can ever afford in this interlocking world to be anything but a well-wisher of every other nation in the world, least of all, if I may be personal, as one interested in the last survival of export trade--that of English prose (Laughter.)--nothing I saw during those months was so interesting to a constitutional lawyer as the return of the United States to monarchy in the last two months. (Laughter.) Nothing that T saw there made me a convert to the points of a written constitution.

For the first two months, during January and February, I saw the affairs of a great nation at a great moment of its fortune, and with it, your affairs and our affairs and the affairs of half the world held up by the arbitrary objections of that Constitution which is the one genuine antique in the United States. (Laughter.)

But, in spite of that, Gentlemen, a few years earlier, it was decided, by the wisdom of our Empire in conference that we should be endowed with something in the nature of a written constitution. It was written--I won't say in invisible ink but-very largely by the philosophical intelligence of that great statesman" Lord Balfour, and that document was known to us at home as the Statute of Westminster. I am not here, in the presence of distinguished lawyers and leaders of your public life, going to attempt to explain the meaning--if it has any--of the Statute, but there is just one point in it on which I would invite you to brood for a second--a point which is not, I think, generally apprehended. The point which is generally apprehended is that that Statute was put in the form of law, as good lawyers always do--something which everybody had known for seventy-five years previously--and that was that you, the Dominions, are equal with us, the Mother Country, but what it also provided and what is not, I think,, so generally apprehended, is that now, under that Statute, we, the Mother Country, are equal with you, the Dominions.

There is a great deal in modern anal social emancipation to show that daughters are now as free as their mothers and I sometimes think that a movement might be set on foot for ensuring that mothers should be as free as their daughters, so far as our common enterprise is concerned. That is not law and that is why we can now look one another more squarely in the eye than we ever could and tell each other exactly what we think of each other.

Well, Gentlemen, what do we think of each other? We know what you think of us.

Let me tell you one or two things: One rather unfavourable sample of the British voter is the person who can never be persuaded to do the square thing by Canada--unlike the Canadian voter who can always be depended upon to do the square thing by Canada. What does one British voter think of you?

Well, now, gratitude and appreciation of conventions apart, I will pay you the compliment of saying what is really in my mind. Canada has been naturally and inevitably and rightly, a very great deal in my mind within the last few months, not only because I knew and was eager in the knowledge that I was to have a chance of visiting the Dominion, but also because I was in the United States during those weeks of tension and turmoil which ended in the week's closing of every bank in that great Republic--an event, if I may say, of which the grave significance appears to be in some danger of escaping even the acutest minds in the country that was subjected to that terrible test. I cannot help feeling if the United States had contained a larger element of that Scottish population among which I now live and move, there would have been a deeper apprehension of the moral gravity of permitting the banks of a country to close for a week. There is a tendency to ride a little too gallantly, I think, from that terrible and significant event, but during those days Canada was much in my mind because, moving up and down the States, listening to conversations in railway trains, conducted on that more social pattern that you in this country prefer, in which it is impossible not to listen to conversations, I never got away very long from the name of Canada because in every one of those conversations, sooner or later, a man said, "The banks have not closed in Canada", and at that moment, believe me. it was a matter of some pride to an Englishman to be. able to claim some small degree of relationship with you.

And, Gentlemen, in all seriousness, believe me, nothing has done more to impress the world, outside of your borders, with the stability and the soundness and the wisdom of your building-a slower building, it may be, but a more stable building-than the comparison between the destiny of your financial institutions in the dreadful winter that has passed and the fate that has overtaken, apparently greater institutions in another country.

Be careful to understand me: I am not rejoicing over, the troubles of another country. None of us are foolish enough to do that but I am saying that your slower rate of progress and your sounder achitecture and your deeper foundations have found abiding testimony in the events of the blasting winter, economically, of 1933, and that, any citizen of the Empire is entitled to take pride in.

Now, you won't get from men of my age and generation anything except Imperialism, for the simple reason that I am of the generation of people who, as small boys at the time of the Diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria, were boys at that time the Empire passed into the stage of pageantry and we were boys only a little less small at the time of the South African War when the Empire passed from the stage of pageantry into the stage of sacrifice and fourteen years later we were still young men when it passed into a still deeper stage of sacrifice.

Now, from people of that age you won't get anything except faith in the Empire because of the facts and the surroundings and the air we have breathed since we were born and trained. As for us, we don't argue about the Empire; it is like the weather--we acquiesce in it. It is there. And the important thing for you to realize is that in England faith in the Empire is not a matter of party creed with this party or that party. r have no party opinions when r stand here, outside of my own country. It is a thing common to all of us. There are things that we disagree about. There are things that you disagree about, I hope. And above those things we all disagree about in our respective countries is our faith in each other and our faith in a common undertaking.

It would be fatal if you were to let us believe that faith in the Empire is a matter of one group of Canadians, however public-spirited and however sound their political Principles, because it is not true. And it would be equally fatal if we were to let you believe that faith in the Empire is a thing confined to any one group of Englishmen, because it is not.

I am a man of political opinions at home which are a matter of importance to nobody-not even to the people I have asked to return me to parliament from time to time. My views are not, on all sorts of matters, identical with those whose faith is as strong as, but no stronger than my own. I am not here to talk politics. If f am here in any character, it is as an historian, but there is one observation I can't help making as an historian. I think that the function of the historian in public life, and I believe he has one, is to offer-I won't presume to say to Canadian politicians, because the book of history lies open before them--which way up it is, I don't know, but it is open (Laughter)-but if we offer to our own masters at home such guidance as we can on events of the past, we may help them to guide their path through the more troubled events of the difficult present.

One simple fact about the past sometimes chimes in my mind with a rather unpleasant note. It is this: that only one Empire in the past ever elected to build itself upon a basis of strict, rigid and inflexible relations. That was the Empire of Spain which you will not find on the map if you look for it today. T suspect that that is a broad lesson which may be of some value to some of us. I don't put it forward today in that sense; I put it forward merely to show you the opinions of a man whose opinions on means may not be the same as many in his own country and yours, yet who believes the end, which is the keeping together and the greater power of our Empire, is the one thing we must attain. (Applause.) Let us argue about the means; there is no dispute as to the end. (Applause.)

As to the end, I would only say this: I believe that so, long as the word "Empire" remains as it has been for a hundred and fifty years, synonymous with opportunity, it will go unchallenged to greater strength but be very careful how you make the word "'Empire" synonymous with restriction of opportunity, because then you will set critical minds to work in your own community and in other Empire communities beyond the sea.

You have your great future; we have our great future. I never believe in this nonsense about an old country and a young country. All countries are the same age--about between forty-five and fifty which is the age of those of the people responsible for most of the vital decisions in them. Our two young countries have their great futures. Let us see to it that we do nothing, either of us, that is going to restrict the two great futures of those two young countries. Let our ships draw together to ride out the economic storm but let us do nothing that drives either your ship or our ship off the natural course. Now, that is a lesson of history-a lesson of Spanish colonial history. (Applause.)

One other lesson I would like to offer with all humility which I believe the historian can offer to the public men of the world and it is this: Public men in and outside the Empire should not run away with the idea that because they are facing great problems, they are, themselves, great men. No one in this room, except the trained historians and the Prime Minister--who is the receptacle of all knowledge-can tell me who was the Prime Minister of England at the time of the Battle of Waterloo. He faced a great problem; he was the man who won the war--Lord Liverpool. No one had ever heard of Lord Liverpool; Even Lord Liverpool had hardly heard of Lord Liverpool. And who were the Chancellors of the Exchequer--no one is greater in our day than the Ministers of Finance-in those days, who were the Chancellors of the Exchequer who led us through the trials and troubles which faced us after that war? Who has ever heard of Mr. Vansittart and Mr. Robinson. They were great Chancellors.

I would like the names of Lord Liverpool and of Vansittart and of Robinson written among the names of all the great men of the past today, so that our public men would recognize that what they owe to the world is td take council of what is best in their country and not to run away with the impression that because they are facing great problems they are, themselves, supermen.

Good Heavens, a little man standing with his back to a great wall of rock with a blazing wood fire in front of him, will find that the higher the fire leaps, the taller is the shadow of the little man cast on the rock, but he is still the same size. (Applause.)

That, I believe, is a lesson which might be learned in every Cabinet and every Chancery in the world, today. Nothing is more awful than the monomania of personal greatness which seems to be hurrying what was once a great and civilized country that we all respected, although we fought it, and fought it hard, down a terrible slope back into the Middle Ages, and that is Germany. There is a country which has apparently decided that the best way to go forward is to go backward-backward down the familiar slope of religious and racial persecution. Now, Gentlemen, we can't stop any country from going to Hell its own way, but we can, at least, say what we know and that is, if a country follows that path there is nothing to stop it except the bump at the bottom and when it gets there it will find the pieces of Spain which went the same road four hundred years ago.

That is a terrible piece of personal mania from which we hope that what was once an intelligent people will soon clear its eyes and clear its mind.

My own disabilities--they would be in Germany; as I happen to live in the British Empire, they are merely my pride--puts me in a position of some special delicacy in referring to that situation, but I would like to say this and it is for you to realize it: Your Jewish fellow citizens in the British Empire are watching the governments of the Empire and the churches of the Empire and the decent public men of the Empire, to see how deeply and genuinely you feel resentment of this set of outrages. We are watching. We have seen the consciousness of Christendom flame into indignation over the persecution of Christians. We are waiting to see whether you equally resent the persecution of people equally religious, but of another faith. I say that in all seriousness because, to us, it is a very cruel time and a very testing time.

We have no difficulty in reconciling our loyalty to our own faith with loyalty to the Empire. No faith has any difficulty in reconciling its loyalty with its British loyalty.

But I can not help saying what I have, not only because of the time, but because of that personal mania, that pitiable object which appears to be erected as a substitute for Odin or whatever God Germany now worships, and which indicates so admirably what I wanted to say to you about the importance of public men not letting themselves go to their own heads m moments of national crisis.

Now, Gentlemen, that is a lesson which the historian can teach the public man out of his silent records. That is the very humble duty which I want the historian to render and it is, in the sense of that public duty, a very small one and very ill-performed, that I have tried to talk to you today.

And, let me end as I began, by expressing my extreme appreciation of such a hearing from such a gathering. (Prolonged Applause.)

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 Past and the Present

No line that can be drawn between the past and the present because the past isn't just a thing that ends. The past and the present inextricably intertwined. Past relationships between countries in the Empire that never required anything in writing. What we think of each other. What the speaker heard about Canada during his travels in the United States. The function of the historian in public life. Lessons to be learned from history. The outrages in Germany against the Jews. The Jewish citizens of the British Empire watching the governments and churches of the Empire and the decent public men of the Empire to see how deeply and genuinely resentment against these outrages is felt and expressed. The lack of difficulty in reconciling loyalty to one's faith with loyalty to the British Empire.