- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 17 Feb 1910, p. 149-160
- Ross, P.D., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Ways in which the Imperial Press Conference is a dead thing. Other issues arising in Canada and England which have put the Conference well out of mind. But some things to be said about it, some morals to be drawn from it. One of the dominant impressions produced that of the diminutiveness of the country of England. Some personal reminiscences and anecdotes of the speaker's experiences. One feature of the Conference to make Canadians acquainted with Australians, South Africans, and New Zealanders, and with other Canadians. The trip arranged by the Glasgow Corporation. Who and what was heard during the three weeks of the Conference. The message from Lord Rosebery: For her own salvation, England must look to herself, and failing that she looks to you." The moral that the British political genius seized the occasion with characteristic intention; the basic political British idea being free speech and appeal to public opinion. Lord Rosebery's oratory skills and the effect he produced. Response to Mr. Balfour's address. A story told by Lord Crewe. The parade of the fleet at Portsmouth. Some dollar figures to reflect the costs of the British Navy. The great industries, the great waterways, the great mills, the great educational institutions seen by the Press Conference. The question of paupers, the unemployed, of drink, and of the slums. Remembering that these are comparative questions as regards the conditions which surround them, and comparative as regards efforts which are being made to overcome them. The speaker's impressions of what he saw in England relative to these issues. Some statistics and historical background of these matters. The personnel of the Imperial Press Conference. Leaving England more warmly British at heart. Feeling a new pride in the British name, a new pride in the British fame, a new determination to help it out if we could, and a new hope and a new confidence in an enduring British Empire of world-wide partnership.
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- 17 Feb 1910
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- Full Text
- SOME DEDUCTIONS FROM THE IMPERIAL PRESS CONFERENCE.
An Address by MR. P. D. Ross, Chief Editor of the Ottawa Journal, before the Empire Club of Canada, on Feb. 17, 1910.
Mr. President and Members of the Empire Club,
I beg to thank you for the invitation to come here today to say something about the Imperial Press Conference of last summer. The Imperial Press Conference, in a sense, is a dead thing. The world moves, and since that Conference we have had other issues arising in Canada and England which have put the Conference pretty well out of mind. But, perhaps, there are some things to be said about it, some morals to be drawn which are worth drawing, and I won't attempt to give you any account of the Conference, nor any description that might interest only its members, but will try to mention some of those things from which there are deductions to be drawn.
Hustled through England as we were, one of the dominant impressions produced was of the diminutiveness of the country. I sat in a motor car with one of our hosts who has a place near the south coast of England and he remarked that if the police would allow him, he had a friend in Wales with whom he would like to have lunch occasionally. His car was running at that time on the Southampton road at a speed of 56 miles an hour and was capable of more, and it would have been quite possible for him to take breakfast on one coast of England, to run across England at its widest part, take lunch and be back for dinner, or from the southmost coast of England to the northernmost you can go between daylight--and sunset in an average car. I mention these particulars because you might otherwise have an idea that, perhaps, I was stretching a point; and I had an illustration of the fact that sometimes one's hearers think you are stretching a point in an experience I had in Glasgow. Having been speaking there in response to the toast of the Conference, I had mentioned that one good feature of that Conference was not only to make Canadians acquainted with Australians, South Africans, and New Zealanders, but to make them acquainted with each other; that there were some of my colleagues from Canada whom I had not known by sight before coming to England; that one on the Pacific coast, Mr. Nelson of Victoria, when we were both at home, was as far from me as Egypt was from England; and that on the other side, my colleague, Mr. Macdonald, from Halifax, was as far from me as Russia was from Glasgow. And after the banquet was over, one of our Scotch hosts, who had been dining pretty well, came along and held out his hand and said
"Man, I congratulate ye on your speech, but I wadna like to hae ye sweer to all ye said."
"Well," I said, "You can measure it on the map."
He said, "I will."
The next day we were taken on a trip by the Glasgow Corporation. This gentleman was on board, and he had not forgotten the night before. He said, "I measured that on the map. I put one corner of Canada down on Egypt and it stretched across the Mediterranean and across Europe and across England and jutted out a thousand miles into the Atlantic Ocean." That was an excellent illustration of what this country means. And when we consider, we who know our own resources, that we have a country of that size, we need not be afraid to undertake any reasonable share in co-operating in the defence of the British Empire.
The subject of the Imperial Press Conference is so large as regards the experience we had and the morals to be drawn, that it is difficult to know where to begin. During the three weeks of the Conference we heard practically every big man in England in the political line, every big man in the newspaper line, many of the great Generals and Admirals, and a good many of the leading men in industry and commerce. We heard them all in the space of three weeks, and speaking to us, not in any perfunctory way, but on matters of great moment. And it was a little surprising to us in the Conference that this great attention should be so, because we of the Conference realized that in a measure we were mere accidents, that individually we did not amount to a great deal, being only units drawn from dozens of other men of our own class in our respective countries, and it was difficult for us at first to understand the reason why we were made so much of and why all these leaders of English public opinion took the trouble to do us honour; why we were given a triumphal march across England, and why there was a parade, for our inspection, of the most powerful naval armament that ever rode the waters of the ocean. The key was given at the first big occasion of the Conference-the inaugural banquet at London--where Lord Rosebery spoke, and after picturing the armed camp of Europe said to us: "Tell your people of the pressure that is being put upon this little England to defend herself, her liberties and yours. Take this message back with you, that this Mother-Country is right at heart, that there is in her no weakness and no failing, and that she rejoices to renew her youth in her giant Dominions beyond the seas. For her own salvation, England must look to herself, and failing that she looks to you."
These words gave us a cue to the treatment which was being handed out to us. We had come at a critical juncture, when England was stirred up for exceptional international reasons. We of the Press Conference, did not amount to a great deal in ourselves, but we could be made use of as a megaphone, as it were, to reach the Empire-and we were. The moral I take from that is, that the British political genius seized that occasion with characteristic intention, for the basic political British idea is free speech and appeal to public opinion.
I have heard most of our great public speakers, Laurier, Foster. Tupper, Sir John Macdonald, Chapleau. I have beard Mr. Bryan, the greatest orator across the line, Mr. Roosevelt, Mr. Root, Mr. Taft, and I heard in England nearly all the great public speakers there. Lord Rosebery is the king of them all as an orator. He -produced an effect upon us at that inaugural banquet which was almost, in a sense, as mysterious as he is himself. When he was through there was a lump in my throat and I found that many of my fellow delegates had been similiarly affected. "When the thing was over, Lord Rosebery, who had come out of the invisible to speak at that banquet disappeared again into the invisible. We never heard anything of him again in connection with the Conference or in other public affairs. Of the other public men we heard we were not impressed by them as orators, though we were very deeply impressed by their personalities, and by what they said--particularly by Mr. Balfour and Sir Edward Grey, and the style of these men was typical of the English public style as we found it.
When Mr. Balfour started addressing us at the Constitutional Club in London, for the first few minutes the sensation was one of disappointment. He started out in a sort of conversational way. They you began to realize that what he was saying was extremely compact and logical, that he was steering towards a certain point. Later, you felt that he was feeling that every word was of great consequence to those who were listening, and to England and to Europe. And when he was through, while he did not put a flourish or a florid phrase into his speech, you felt that you had listened to one of the great personalities of the time, and that if any ordinary after-dinner speaker were to get up and attempt to speak in the ordinary flamboyant manner, you would feel like throwing a brick at him.
The whole English public speaking was of that character. I think in all of our experience there, we heard only one after-dinner story. As it happened, that was a pretty good one, or perhaps it appealed to us as newspaper men. It was a story told by Lord Crewe. He said that he had a friend, an English Peer, who had given all his life to the development of Jersey cows. He had spent a great deal of time, and money, and energy in trying to develop a cow which would give a larger quantity of milk than anybody else's cow could give, and he thought that he had succeeded pretty well, until one day he picked up an American newspaper and read of a cow in New Jersey which was giving day in and day out about 50 per cent. more milk than his cow. The Peer mentioned this to Mr. Evarts, who was the United States Ambassador in London. Evarts said, "I don't see why you need to worry. Surely you don't think it is possible that any English cow could give as much milk in an English bucket as an American cow can give in an American newspaper? (Laughter.)
The biggest thing we saw in England, and the most impressive, was the parade of the fleet at Portsmouth. The Admiralty gave us a special train from London to see that parade. It was a large train; quite a number of English people going down as well as members of the Press Conference. I was sitting in one of the cars when a short gentleman came in, in a blue serge suit, straw hat, turn-down collar and bow tie. He said to the porter, "Have you a spare seat in this car?" "No," was the somewhat curt reply, "Try some other car, please." The short gentleman turned without comment, (although I think there were vacant seats, and that he suspected it) and went out. We got to Portsmouth and were escorted across the docks to our special steamer, when I noticed the same gentleman coming along with us, and I thought he had made a mistake. We filed on board and he got on with the rest of us and went up to the bridge. I was standing close by when he said to the captain, "They are all on now, captain, look sharp, be off." It was Sir John Fisher, the first Lord of the Admiralty. Now, this proved to be, as we thought, rather typical of the British Navy. There was no style, no pretence, no affectation--officers and men alike were all business-like and matter of fact, entirely free from gold lace and flummery. They were keen, sharp, hardlooking men, officers and sailors all, the sort of men who give you the impression, even if you know nothing of ships and machinery, that no opponents they might meet would have the better of them in personnel. One of our fellows remarked, "I don't know what the Russian Navy is like, but I bet the Japs wouldn't have a picnic with these men."
There were in that review at Portsmouth, one-hundred and forty-four ships of war with forty-two thousand men on board. It was the Home Fleet of England, the section of the Navy ready to go into action on an hour's notice. There are other British fleets, but every ship in that fleet had been started within ten years. Every ship had been launched within seven. The cost of these one-hundred and forty-four vessels was $450,000,000. The annual cost of the British Navy, the current cost of maintenance, is $90,000,000 a year, so that during the past ten years, if we consider merely the cost of that fleet and the annual maintenance of the navy, Britain- has put up for Naval defence in ten years; $1,500,000,000, where we in Canada have put up-not as many cents! And we in Canada propose during the next four or five years to spend a couple of million dollars a year where the British programme embraces, besides the $90,000,000 annually for maintenance, a construction cost of probably $200,000,000. In other words in the next four or five years the British people will put up from $800,000,000, to $1,000,000,000, on the Navy, and we will put up about $10,000,000. They will put up about Too times as much as we will. They have perhaps six times our population.
The Press Conference saw the great industries, the great waterways, the great mills, the great educational institutions. I want to hurry on to speak of another matter-the reverse side of the picture--the question of paupers, and the unemployed, and of drink, and of the slums. The first thing, it seems to me, we have to re, member in discussing a question like that, is, that it is a comparative question-that no man is justified in looking at one side of the shield and giving to the world the impression, without examination of the comparative facts, that that is the striking side of the shield. All questions of human distress are comparative in two ways, comparative as regards the conditions which surround them, and comparative as regards efforts which are being made to overcome them. Now, with that as a prelude, I will give you my impressions of what we saw in England on this question. But I would like to emphasize, first, exactly what a tremendous industrial centre Great Britain is, and it is not easy to realize. I sat next the Chief Engineer of the Manchester ship-canal at a luncheon at the City Hall in Manchester, and he said to me, "Have you been much through this district?"
"No," I said, "we came yesterday from Sheffield by motor, and my chief surprise was that there were so few people around."
He said, "If you take a compass, place one leg where we sit and describe a radius of forty miles with the other, you will have the most thickly-populated part of the earth's surface."
I said, "Do you mean to say more populous than London and its neighbourhood?"
"Yes, a radius of forty miles from this point here, takes in from ten to eleven millions of people. The same radius from any point in London may take in eight or nine millions."
He added: "You have Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, and a whole lot of other manufacturing cities. It is a fact, that this is the most thickly-populated part of the surface of the earth." And of course, it is a part of the surface of the earth which is occupied by industrial effort, which necessitates a very large manufacturing population and which is probably and 'necessarily accompanied by more or less human distress, owing to such an aggregation being affected constantly and seriously, by fluctuations in trade and business. Similiar conditions prevail everywhere in Britain. In Glasgow they pointed out to us one shipyard which was idle and they stated that it had been idle for a few months, but expected to resume shortly with one of the new Dreadnoughts. I asked how many men were employed, and they said, "six thousand," which means a population of thirty thousand people for temporary reasons. These were in distress at that moment. Then we saw at Sheffield, a branch of the Vickers-Maxim Works, a company which employ 25,000 first-class mechanics, meaning a population of 125,000 people dependent upon that single industry, and if, through lack of brains at the head of the industry, or through trade conditions, that industry were to collapse, it alone would produce .a large amount of distress. England is full of these things, so that any' fluctuations in business must necessarily produce a considerable amount of distress. One recalls the Scotchman who was arguing with a neighbour from Europe about what Scotland had done in the world, and the other man said to him, "The statistics of illegitimacy in your country are higher than in mine." And the Scotchman said, "may be--but there is always more dirt around a steam-engine than around a teapot." England is a mighty steam-engine.
I have no wish for a moment to minimize any distress that exists in England or to say that there is not enormous room for good work, for organized effort there to meet the social wrong. But after noting on my return to this country that one of my colleagues, Dr. Macdonald of The Globe, had published the impression, (given me the impression, perhaps I should say)--that poverty, pauperism, drink, were a cancer eating into England, constituting good cause for apprehension as to England's decadence, I was staggered, and after I read his article, I took the trouble to go a little into the statistics of these things.
Let us take pauperism first. There are today, forty-five million people in the British Isles, and the appalling figure of a million paupers. If you consider that figure alone, then perhaps you might feel, like Dr. Macdonald, that this thing is almost hopeless. But, if you look back fifty years to the decade between 1850 and 1860, you will find that though the population was half what it is now, pauperism was greater; that there were more paupers, more people receiving charitable relief then than now, though the population has doubled; that thus during the past fifty years the proportion of pauperism has enormously decreased; that the decrease has been steady and proportionate; and you will find this further, that, whereas fifty years ago, of the pauperism of England, 13 percent was adult male pauperism, today the percentage is only 3 percent of adult male pauperism-in other words that only one-quarter as many able-bodied men receive pauper assistance in England today as did fifty years ago.
Now, come to the question of drink. Tourists go through Glasgow on a Saturday evening and come back with eyes bulging, proclaiming the impression that all Scotland gets drunk at the week-end, and I have no doubt there is an enormous amount of drinking in Glasgow, but anyone who says drinking prevails in Great Britain to such an extent as to undermine the energies of the people--that drink here is a more serious thing than in other countries--is wrong, if official statistics are reliable, for the statistics contradict it. The drink bill of England per head is no more than that of the United States per head; and as a matter of fact, of all the great nations of civilization, England and the United States stand at the head if the statistics of drink are correct--with the exception of Canada. Canada is the most sober country in civilization, England and the United States come next. The drink bill of Great Britain is less per head than that of Germany, France, or Austria.
Take the question of sanitation. In 1891, the British Government started collecting statistics of the overcrowding in England--that is, the number of tenements or buildings in which there were more than two occupants to each room. They have kept the statistics since. The figures for 1907, show that while the population had increased three and a half millions approximately since 1891, the number of people living in overcrowded houses was six hundred less than in 1891.
If you take the question of health, because we are told, to use Dr. Macdonald's words, that masses of the people of the Mother Country look "helpless, hopeless and anaemic;" the statistics of longevity, which are necessarily dependent on the statistics of health, show that the British people are among the healthiest of all nations. The mortality of England is about fifteen per thousand, which is about the same as that of the United States and less than that of Germany or France. If you take the question of wages, statisticians assert that during the past fifty years the wages of British workmen have increased on the average eighty-one percent, while the cost of necessaries of life has grown by barely ten percent more than it was fifty years-ago.
No nation with a cancer eating at its heart, of crime and poverty, pauperism and disease, could be prospering tremendously. Great Britain does so prosper. The British income tax, fifteen years ago, was levied on $3,500,000,000. Last year with no new methods of application or collection, the income tax was levied on $5,000,000,000. In fifteen years the taxable income of the British people has increased $1,500,000,000. If you were to capitalize that at 3 percent, the wealth of the British people is shown to be greater by the enormous, the almost inconceivable figure of $50,000,000,000 than it was fifteen years ago. Whether we consider such figures as applying to the poor or the wealthy, surely there is no fear of British decadence. Surely there is no need to apprehend that that little England is now dying whose few millions of people living in these small islands in the North Sea have been able in the past by their brains and energy and courage, to spread their dominion-and their freedom--over one-quarter of the habitable globe! Surely we can believe that proclamation of that greatest of English orators, "Tell your people the Mother Country is right at heart, that there is in her no weakness and no failing."
I have not spoken so far of the personnel of the Imperial Press Conference. It was impossible to be with that considerable assemblage of fine fellows from Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, South Africa, India, Ceylon, the Straits' Settlement, as well as Jamaica, Newfoundland, and Canada, without feeling a new pride in the British stock both from what we saw of each other and what we saw of England. Most of us came home far warmer Imperialists at heart than we had been before; some of us who had not been Imperialists were converted. I remember one illustrative incident after the banquet at which Mr. Balfour spoke. Of course many of these speeches dealt with the question of Colonial relations with the Mother Country, but we heard no one in England who did not consider the relations of the Colony to the Mother-Country to be the relations of equals, and no one expressed this more forcibly than Mr. Balfour. Speaking at the luncheon given us by the Conservative members of Parliament, he said: "There was a time when the relations, between the Mother Country and the offspring of the Mother Country were those of parent and child. No politician today holds that view. Everybody, so far as I know, recognizes the fact that the parental stage is past. We have now arrived at the stage of formal equality, and no one wishes to disturb it." We were filing out of the dining-hall afterwards, when one of my Liberal colleagues, a staunch Radical who had been, like some others, a little suspicious of this whole affair, this Press Conference, a little inclined to think it a jingo scheme, came up to me and said, "It is all right; they have the right idea--and we'll stand by them." He was converted by his experience from a rather lukewarm critic into a warm Imperialist.
As I say, both from what we saw and heard in England, and what we saw of each other, we all left England more warmly British at heart. England with her multitudinous presentation of the monuments and memorials of her great past, went deep to our hearts. We perhaps did not feel that we wished to become fused or too closely identified with some of her caste or class institutions. We did feel, nearly all of us, the desire more than ever to remain leagued with her courage and energy and honesty, with her independence and self-reliance, with her great history, her great literature, her great and sane freedom. We left England, most of us I know, feeling a new pride in the British name, a new pride in the British fame, a new determination to help it out if we could, and a new hope and a new confidence in an enduring British Empire of world-wide partnership.