E-text prepared by Al Haines
"Domino" is the pseudonym of Augustus Bridle (1869-?)
THE MASQUES OF OTTAWA
"Wherefore are these things hid?
* * * * *
We will draw the curtain and show you the picture." —SHAKESPEARE.
Toronto: The MacMillan Company of Canada, Ltd., at St. Martin's House. MCMXXI. Copyright, Canada, 1921. By the MacMillan Company of Canada, Limited.
THE PLAY-HOUSE CALLED OTTAWA.
Do not imagine that I spend much time at once in Ottawa. I have never liked the kind of play-house that politicians have made on that glorious plateau in a valley of wonderland with a river of dreams rolling past to the sea. Where under heaven is any other Capital so favoured by the great scenic artist? On what promontory do parliamentary towers and gables so colossally arise to enchant the vision? The Thames draws the ships of the world and crawls muddily and lazily out to sea wondering what haphazard of history ever concentrated so much commerce, politics and human splendour on the banks of one large ditch. Ottawa's house of political drama overlooks one of the noblest rivers in the world, that takes its rise in everlasting hills of granite and pines.
One, Laurier, used to dream that he would devote his declining days to making Ottawa beautiful as a city as she is for the site of a capital. To him as to others, Rome, London, Paris, Vienna, Washington, should all in time be rivalled by Ottawa the magnificent. But the saw-mill surveyors of Ottawa spoiled that when they made no approach to Parliament Hill to compare to the vista seen from the river. Ottawa was built for convenience: for opportunity: for expediency.
Parliament is its great show. Politicians are the actors. Time has seen some interesting, almost baffling, dramas on that hill. No other Parliament stands midway of so vast a country. But there are people who prefer Hull, P.Q., to Ottawa, Ont. We have had some mild Mephistos of strategy up there: some prophets of eloquence: some dreamers of imagination: giants of creative energy scheming how to draw a young, vast country together into nationhood so that the show-men on Parliament Hill might have an audience.
But the Ottawa of to-day is a strange spectacle for the prophets. The great new Opera House is all but finished, when no seer can tell whether the plays to be put on there by the parties of the future will be as epical and worthwhile as those staged by the actors of the past. Imagination was not absent when Ottawa was created. But it needs more than common imagination to foresee whether these political playboys of the northern world are going to be worthy of the great audience soon to arise in the country that converges upon Ottawa.
Sometimes in Parliament you catch the vibration of big momentums in a nation's progress. Voices now and then arise in speech that reflect some greatness of vision. More often the actors are sitting indolently, hearing the clack of worn-out principals whose struts and grimaces and cadences are those of men whose cues should lead them to the dressing rooms, or to the wings, or somewhere into the maze of the back drop where nobody takes part in the show. Or they listen to men whose big informing idea constantly is that all we need to make economic happiness for everybody is to turn out the company now in and get another from the furrows. These latter believe that a nation is a condition of free trade—mainly on behalf of the farmer whose average idea of industry is a blacksmith shop on a farm.
One's head inclines to ache by reason of listening to the three-cornered claque on the Tariff as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Now and again we are inclined to study the men who are elected to Parliament and some of those who gravitate towards Ottawa without the bother of elections. They stimulate interest and challenge criticism, not less because the interest and the criticism come from a seat in the audience rather than from "behind the scenes"—which is not always a disadvantage. While the parliamentarians perform "Promises and Pie Crusts", the wives have their own play—"Petticoats and Power". The stage here is a triangle—Rideau Hall, Chateau Laurier, the Parliamentary Restaurant. At the cafe tables women from all the counties and electoral districts of Canada—many of them French—chatter about the great masquerade up at the Castle, the little-king show which at its best is worth more to Canada than the Senate. The homes of Ottawa are little shows whose players imitate the manners and the accents of the fine people in the Castle, the Restaurant and the Chateau.
"Nothing but a prinked-up panorama!" says the rugged Radical in a coonskin coat, member of a deputation with a railway ticket as long as his pocket. "Poor show! What we want down here is more plain farmers' wives——"
He pauses. This man's first cousin broke away from the farm a generation ago because farmers' wives were too plain, and farmers did so little reading, and the big thinkers and doers all seemed to live in town. As he talks, up dashes a sleigh, jangling its bells and dangling its robes, and from behind the bearskinned driver alights a company that makes his coonskin coat feel clumsy and uncomfortable. He glances up at the great pile of walls on the hill. The hill is alive with fine people. In one of the sleighs a lady bows and smiles—at him! He touches his cap and takes his pipe from his mouth.
"That lady?" he replies to his sleeping-car mate. "Oh, that is the wife of a Senator, used to live in our town. Clever little woman she is, too. They tell me she's writing a novel and that Lady Byng is taking her up. Lady Byng—oh, yes, she writes novels. Good idea. Likely her books won't be quite so rough as some of our Canadian novels are. I like style in a book, all that fine manners stuff; takes your mind off the humdrum of everyday life. Byng—say, that was a wise appointment if ever there was one. My way of thinking, Lord Byng has 'em all beaten since Dufferin. Kings' and queens' uncles and cousins and brothers don't suit this democratic nation like a man who got acquainted with this country before ever he set eyes on it, through the boys he commanded out yonder. Great man! Fit to be Governor-General of a great country, and I won't deny it. No snobbery. Seventh son of an earl, all his life a soldier and a worker. A real man, such as any of us could present to our constituents with pleasure and pride. Tell you what—listen!"
His sleeping-car mate feels a heavy clutch on his arm.
"Remember the old debate we used to have about 'The pen is mightier than the sword'? Well, say—when you get the pen and the sword united in one outfit—what about it? Oh, it's a great show, sure enough. I used to think government was a plain, plugshot business of trade statistics, card indexes and ledgers. But I've come to the conclusion that this old town has to make it a good bit of a social compromise and a show, or it can't be carried on, no matter who does it."
THE UNELECTED PREMIER OF CANADA— RT. HON. ARTHUR MEIGHEN
THE PERFECT GENTLEMAN PREMIER— RT. HON. SIR ROBERT BORDEN
A POLITICAL SOLAR SYSTEM— RT. HON. SIR WILFRID LAURIER
THE GRANDSON OF A PATRIOT— HON. WILLIAM LYON MACKENZIE KING
NUMBER ONE HARD— HON. T. A. CRERAR
THE PREMIER WHO MOWED FENCE CORNERS— HON. E. C. DRURY
EZEKIEL AT A LEDGER— RT. HON. SIR GEORGE FOSTER
A HALO OF BILLIONS— RT. HON. SIR THOMAS WHITE
CALLED TO THE POLITICAL PULPIT— HON. NEWTON WESLEY ROWELL
AN AUTOCRAT FOR DIVIDENDS— BARON SHAUGHNESSY
THE PUBLIC SERVICE HOBBYIST— SIR HERBERT AMES
THE SHADOW AND THE MAN— HON. SIR SAM HUGHES
THE STEREOPTICON AND THE SLIDE— LIEUT.-GENERAL SIR ARTHUR CURRIE
A COAT OF MANY COLOURS— SIR JOHN WILLISON
WHATSOEVER THY HAND FINDETH— SIR JOSEPH FLAVELLE, BART.
NO FATTED CALVES FOR PRODIGAL SONS— HON. SIR HENRY DRAYTON
THE PERSONAL EQUATION IN RAILROADING— EDWARD WENTWORTH BEATTY
A BOURGEOIS MASTER OF QUEBEC— HON. SIR LOMER GOUIN
A POLITICAL MATTAWA OF THE WEST— JOHN WESLEY DAFOE
HEADMASTER OF THE MANCHESTER SCHOOL— MICHAEL CLARK, M.P.
THE SPHINX FROM SASKATCHEWAN— HON. J. A. CALDER
A TRUE VOICE OF LABOUR— TOM MOORE
THE MAN WITHOUT A PUBLIC— SIR WILLIAM MACKENZIE
THE IMPERIAL BRAINSTORM— BARON BEAVERBROOK
THE MASQUES OF OTTAWA
THE UNELECTED PREMIER OF CANADA
RT. HON. ARTHUR MEIGHEN
Once only have I encountered Rt. Hon. Arthur Meighen, Premier of Canada by divine right, not as yet by election. I was the 347th person with whom he shook hands and whom he tried to recognize that afternoon. His weary but peculiarly winning smile had scarcely flickered to rest for a moment in an hour. For the eleven seconds that it was my privilege to be individually sociable with him, he did his best to say what might suit the case. He seemed much like a worn-out precocious boy, of great wisdom and much experience, suddenly prodded into an eminence which as yet he scarcely understood.
I was introduced as—say, Mr. Smith.
"Oh?" he said, wearily. "Yes, I've read your articles. Er—Tom Smith, isn't it?"
But Tom was not the name, I had scarcely time to say, and it made no difference. I should like to have shoo'd away the crowd and let him call me Jake just for a few minutes to get the point of feeling of this young man—though he is nearly 50—on how it feels to be Premier without a general election.
There may not be as much finality, but there is sometimes as much wisdom, in the choice of a leader by a small group as in his election by the people. Majorities frequently rule without wisdom. In accepting the gift of an almost worn-out Premiership and a year later entering the most significant general election ever held in Canada, at least since 1878, Arthur Meighen falls back upon his courage without much comfort from ordinary ambition. He faces a battle whose armies are new, pledged to hold what he has against two enemy groups, and to hold more than John A. Macdonald fought to get, without the sense of one great party against another such as Macdonald had. No Premier ever went into a general election with so little intimate support from "the old party", with such a certainty that whichever party wins as against the others cannot win a working majority without coalition, and with the sensation that the party he leads is already what remains of a coalition.
Whenever I see Meighen I feel like hastening home to "cram" on citizenship for an examination. I behold in him picnics neglected and even feminine society deferred for the sake of toiling up a political Parnassus. In his veneration for constituted authority I can comprehend something of the Jap's banzais to the Mikado before he commits harikari.
Whatever there is, or is not, in the character of Arthur Meighen, he has a draw upon other men. Any public task that he has in hand looks like a load that challenges other men to help him lift. A really intelligent camera would show in his face a mixture of wholesome pugnacity, concentration of thought and feminine tenderness. He feels like a big intellectual boy who unless mother looks after him will get indigestion or neurasthenia. Sometimes men pity their leaders. Meighen, with his intensity and his thought before action looks such a frail wisp of a man. The last time I saw him in public he was bare-headed on an open-air stage, a dusky, lean silhouette against a vast flare of water and sky. On the same spot less than two hundred years ago, that singular, overbuilt top head and sharply tapering, elongated oval of a face might have been that of some aristocratic red man, deeply serious on the eve of a tribal war.
The little blank spots in Meighen's temperament are things that people like to talk about; when the same idioms in an average man would be set down as mild insanity. Rumour says for instance that every now and then he must be watched for fear he go to Parliament without a hat. Why not? It is only a British custom to wear a hat in the Commons except when making a speech. A bareheaded, even a bald-headed, Premier may be a great man. Meighen's negligence in the matter of a hat perhaps comes of the bother of finding the clothes-brush at the same time. Since Mackenzie Bowell, Canada has never had a Premier so naturally oblivious of sartorial style; though his later appearances suggest that even he has fallen into the mode of well-dressed Premiers. In his early law days at Portage it is said that one evening when Mrs. Meighen was at a concert, he was given the first baby to mind, that when the baby cried he marked a paragraph in a law book he was reading, stole into the bedroom and took the baby over to a neighbour's house; that when he was asked later where the infant was he gradually remembered that he had put the child somewhere—now where was it? There is some other half forgotten tale of the strange garb in which he turned up at a friend's wedding, even before he was famous enough to be able to do that sort of thing with any degree of contempt for the conventional forms.
If Meighen remains Premier of Canada long enough, no doubt some really apocryphal yarns will arise out of these little idiosyncracies, just as legends wove themselves about John A. Macdonald, and Laurier. I remember that the clothes Meighen wore the day I shook hands with him were dingy brown that made him look like a moulting bobolink; that he had not taken the trouble to shave because a sleeping car is such an awkward place for a razor, and it is much better for a Premier to wear bristles than court-plaster. Some one will be sure to remark that the Premier travels in a private car. Arthur Meighen never seems like that sort of Premier. One would almost expect him to choose an upper berth because some less lean and agile person might need the lower.
No doubt much of Meighen's democratic gaucherie about garments was abandoned at the Imperial Conference. He never could have worn a dingy brown suit when he got the freedom of London. Upon some State occasion the Premier may have worn the Windsor uniform. Not without scruples. That uniform may not misbecome constricted Mr. Meighen more than it did the spare Mr. Foster, or the lean Mr. Rowell. But the Windsor uniform spells conformity, colonialism, Empire—not commonwealth. And Mr. Meighen went to London to represent the Commonwealth of Canada.
We were told by cable that the Premier took part in most of the sports on board ship, and of course lost most of the events. Well, there is no harm in a Premier beginning to be whimsically athletic near fifty. But, unless now and then he could manage to win something it was obviously only an attempt to make him interesting to the cables, on the principle that a polar bear is prodded in a cage to make him perform for the "lidy".
Weeks before he went the Premier foreshadowed the attitude he would take at the Conference. Again and again it was repeated as he slowly left the country, even pausing at Quebec to say it again; and thereafter the cables took it up, repeating it over and over, until the people of Canada began to suspect that the correspondents were almost as hard up for news as some of them were during the war. Mr. Grattan O'Leary knew he had a difficult character to popularize on the cable; a man who until he became Premier, outside of Parliament was as diffident as the hero in "She Stoops to Conquer"; at High School in the little stone town of St. Mary's, Ont., so studious that he never could catch a baseball that wanted to drop into his pocket; at college immersed in mathematics, at Osgoode in law; as a young man opening a forlorn office in Portage, still a sort of lariat town, when Meighen was shy of even a family saddle-horse.
In Portage Meighen lived in a weather-boarded frame house, during the time when in bigger Western towns other politicians were putting up little palaces, causing their electoral enemies to wonder where they got the money. In Ottawa when he became Premier he lived in one of the plainest houses, with no decorative fads, no celebrated pictures, not much music, but plenty of room for the juveniles; described by a political writer who was there the evening of the appointment as "just comfortable." He was at home that evening, discussing simply a number of public matters, but not a word about the Premiership, till as the visitor was rising to go and said, "Oh, by the way—permit me to congratulate you," Meighen broke into his bewildered smile and said bluntly, "Thanks!" He was not outwardly impressed by the least impressive Premiership that ever happened. The nation had nothing to do with it. Meighen had not been elected. He had drafted no platform before he became Premier. He did it afterwards. All that happened was a change of captains on a ship.
Meighen had been spiritual adviser to Borden in other remakings of his Cabinet. This time he was not consulted. Sir Robert never had such a predicament. In the words of the old song, "There were three crows sat on a tree." The names of the crows were—White, Meighen, Rowell. Their common name was Barkis. Which should it be? White echoed—Which? So did they all. Great affairs are sometimes so childlike. Meighen was willing to accept White as Premier. White had been for years in the spotlight. Did he hope, or expect, that Sir Thomas would refuse? We are not told. But he must have surmised. In any case White was off the ship.
The choice came down to two. Here again it was a spotlight man—or Meighen. Rowell had become famous when Meighen had not; but he was a converted Liberal, and of only three years' experience. The necessity was obvious. Sir Thomas, declining the leadership, must have recommended Meighen, much to the Premier's joy.
Yes, it was time for a leader. Mr. Rowell was out—and off the ship. Happily there were no more crows on the tree, or Meighen would have been forced to hold an election in order to get a Cabinet.
However, the three of them consented to remain in the crew, until further notice. Thus much was settled. Meighen should lead,—but what? As yet little more than a hyphenated and quite stupid name, which had never yet resolved itself into a platform. But the name and the platform were both as clear as the constitution of the party, in which, under the political microscope, there was clearly discernible a Unionist Centre, a Tory Right and a Liberal left.
"Lacks solidarity," mutters Meighen. "Looks like tick-tack-toe. But wait."
The third disturbing feature was the condition of the country. From his wheel-house Meighen could see many clouds. The Reds, whom he had ruthlessly handled in the Winnipeg Strike; the rather pink-looking Agrarians; the Drury Lane coalition of farmers and labourites in Ontario; Quebec almost solid Liberal behind Lapointe; Liberals angling for alliance with Agrarians; Lenin poisoning the Empire wells of India with Bolshevism; League of Nations every now and then sending out an S.O.S., interrupted in transit by Lord Cecil or Sir Herbert Ames; and—not least threatening of storms but if properly negotiated favourable to this country on the Pacific issue—Mr. Harding busy on a "just-as-good" substitute for the League of Nations with Washington as a new-world centre when Mr. Meighen had hitherto neglected to advocate a Canadian envoy to that Capital.
Having scanned all these weather signals, Mr. Meighen decided that diplomacy for the present was dangerous and that boldness was better. In his programme speech at Stirling he divided the nation into two groups—that of authority and order to which he belonged, and the heterogeneous group of incipient anarchism to which belonged all those who did not agree with him.
Having done this with such further definition of his programme as might be necessary, the Premier took a trip to the West to prepare the way for Sir Henry Drayton's tariff tour. He went to that land of minor revolutions as a representative of government by authority, high tariff, conscription during the war, the Wartime Elections Act, and a minimum of centrality in the Empire as opposed to a maximum of autonomy. It was a disquieting outlook. But Westerners love to hear a man hit hard when he talks. Meighen has often been bold both in speech and action. In the Commons last session he paid his respects to Mr. Crerar by calling the National Progressives "a dilapidated annex to the Liberal party." Which adroit play to the gallery with a paradox came back in the shape of a boomerang from a Westerner who called the Government party "an exploded blister." On a previous occasion talking to the boot manufacturers in convention at Quebec he took a leap into the Agrarian trench with this pack of muddled metaphors. "I see the Agrarians a full-fledged army on the march to submarine our fiscal system."
Epigrams like these do not make great Premiers. But they are the kind of schooling that Meighen had. In his young parliament days he was an outrageously tiresome speaker. He heaped up metaphors and hyperboles, paraded lumbering predicates and hurled out epithets, foaming and floundering. He had started so many things in a speech that he scarce knew when or how to stop. Commons, both sides, rather liked to hear him struggle with his verbiage. Later he developed the rapier thrust, some snatches of humor, a trifle of contempt. He learned the value of playing with a rhetorical period that he might later leap upon a climax. Frank B. Carvell was periodically egged on to bait the member of Portage. He did it well. I recall once when the member for Carleton was spluttering vitriolic abuse at the member for Portage that Meighen muttered, "Oh, you wait. I'll get you." Which he did—immediately. Young Cicero had his Catiline.
One of Meighen's best speeches now will rank with the best in any country where dignity has not quite deserted the art of parliamentary oration. But he is rather too fond of picturesque language to make a really great speech. He has a strong intellectual grasp of what he wants to say and a high moral measure of its significance to the nation; but for a Premier he is too prone to lapse into the lingo of partisan debate which in Canada—since the battering days of the giants that followed Confederation—has not been on a very high level. Meighen's best speeches are temperamentally big, but he has yet made no great speech which will live, either in whole or in part, as a glorification of his country. It takes a Lincoln or a Roosevelt to be in high office and say things that palpitate in the heart of a crowd. Wilson did; but he was dangerous. You judge a man in high office by words and deeds. Lincoln was great in both. Lloyd George is great in either, but not always in both at once. Macdonald could thrill a crowd with a homely epigram and turn his hand to a vastly national piece of work. We have yet to be sure that Meighen can be as big in action as he has sometimes been in speech.
Unless one is too easily mistaken, the Imperial Conference imparted a steady sense of responsibility to Arthur Meighen that he rather lacked when he took office. He found himself in a very uncomfortable spotlight. He had not been used to measuring his words to suit such momentous occasions; nor accustomed to realizing how small the greatest men and the most impressive human arrangements are when you get to the centre and no longer have the perspective. He represented the oldest self-governing Dominion. A word misplaced might make a vast difference. He realized the significance of the event—especially before an election. He was never able to keep out of his mind what might be happening at home in such places as Medicine Hat. The issues which he discussed were big. He handled them worthily, with a due admixture of boldness and caution.
It was no time for mere sentiment, but for careful deliberation of matters that lay beyond Canada, beyond the Empire, in the danger zones of world politics, more especially of the Orient. The status of Canada as a nation north of the United States depended in that case vastly more upon a definition of Japanese and Pacific policy than upon any heroic allusion to the Great War. No man could have traversed this precarious business with more insight into the probable effect of what he had to say upon the Empire, the United States, and his own electoral prospect in Canada. The day after his announcement of a general election this year the Premier spoke to an open-air crowd at the Canadian National Exhibition. He chose the Imperial Conference, and mainly the Pacific issue, as his theme. In twenty minutes of unrelieved, almost solemn seriousness, he made that weighty business interesting to a crowd not too friendly in politics, with scarcely a gesture, speaking direct to the people instead of using the amplifier tube, making himself heard and understood with the clarity of studious conviction and straight mastery of all the links in his logic.
And Meighen knows how to lead. His bewildered smile is a prelude often to a strong move in action. Older and wiser men learn to love this lean wildcat who knows the strategic spots in the anatomy of the foe; who can spit scorn at the Agrarians and venomous contempt at the Liberals; who dares to glorify a government of authority and of force as though it were a democracy; who can hold the allegiance of some Liberals and lose that of few old Tories. He has earned that allegiance. He carried his load in the war. Long enough he lay up as the handy instrument of a clumsy Coalition, as before that he had been dog-whip for the Tories. When Premier Borden wanted a hard job well done he gave it to Meighen, who seldom wanted to go to Europe when he could be slaving at home.
Fortunately for Meighen he had been but a year in office when Opportunity came to him with a large blank scroll upon which he might write for the consideration of other people his views about, "What I Think of Canada as a Part of the Empire."
No law examiner at Osgoode ever offered him such a chance to say the right thing wrongly or the wrong thing first. It was a fascinating topic. Other Premiers had done such things off-hand, almost impromptu as it seemed, and inspired by merely patriotic sentiment. This was a notice that the Premier of Canada could speak his mind in advance, or if he so preferred, wait till the Conference of Premiers opened and spring a surprise. Meighen lost no time in deciding to prepare for the N.L.C. party a brief on Imperial relations. Here was a thing out of which he could make capital—for Canada and the party and the coming elections. And if ever Meighen had delved for material he did it now. He was going to the Imperial Conference of Premiers with a mandate—to help define Canada's position in the great Commonwealth about which Mr. Lionel Curtis had written two large books and the Round Table had published forty-four numbers since 1910; when nobody had as yet issued the one clear call for Canada. Foster, Borden, Rowell—since Laurier and Macdonald—had all taken a hand in this. But there was some new way to state the case that would—or might—seem as large and strong for Canada at the Imperial Conference as the voice of either Borden or Rowell had been at the Peace Conference or the Geneva Assembly.
The Premier could picture Sir Robert scanning his manifesto to the British press; Sir George, his old mentor of speechmaking in the House, comparing it to what he used to say for Joe Chamberlain; more clearly than all, Mr. Rowell himself, who for two years in the Cabinet had a monopoly of that great subject to which he had devoted clear thinking, concise language, and some diplomacy.
The author of "Polly Masson" might have drawn from the new Premier on this subject some such confessions as are suggested in the following imaginary, but not improbable interview.
Mr. Meighen, intensely revising his manifesto for the cables looks up and says:
"Er—what did you remark?"
"That you were about to say——"
"Was I? Oh, yes—about the Round Table. On three legs. Hasn't even as much stability as the Canada First minority—most of whom are not in Quebec. These are the negligible but uncomfortable extremists."
"Ah! Then you are of the moderate majority?"
"You mean I used not to be. Well, events move fast. Men change with them. I have been called a Tory."
"Yes, a tariff Tory."
"A moderately high tariff—sufficient unto the day."
"Quite so. But not a tariffite in sentiment."
"Tariffs are not properly sentiment. They are business."
"But Joe Chamberlain sentimentalized the tariff. He was even willing to have free trade in the Empire to get an Imperial zollverein against the rest of the world."
"Why mention Chamberlain? Are you—twitting me?"
"Because he afterwards wanted an Imperial Cabinet. And if I'm not mistaken you began to learn parliamentary speeches from one George Eulas Foster only a few years after he stumped England for the Chamberlain idea."
Meighen smiles; that wan but wholesome illumination of a thought-harassed face.
"Hasn't the old flag been some sort of issue in every Federal election since Confederation?" he is asked.
"Of course. No Federal election can be held in this nation, except by virtue of the B.N.A. Act, and every election carries with it an inferential challenge to amend the Act. Macdonald settled that—by a grand compromise with Quebec."
"But—as a Canadian first."
"Granted. But he also said in 1891—mm—now what did he say?"
"A British subject I was born——"
"And a British subject I will die. In his day—well said."
"You will not say that in 1922?"
"Probably not. Subjects do not vote in true democracies. Events change men——"
"And parties. Even Premiers?"
He turns his spindling anatomy about in the chair, suddenly rises and darts to a bookshelf, seizes a book and flicks over the pages.
"After all," with a yawn, "we have now and then to go back to Laurier, the biggest if not the greatest autonomist of all Premiers—though Sir Robert Borden years ago spoke at Peterborough quite as broadly, if less eloquently. Here it is—spoken during the war by Laurier. 'We are a free people, absolutely free. The charter under which we live has put it into our power to say whether we should take part in such a war or not. It is for the Canadian people, the Canadian Parliament and the Canadian Government alone to decide. This freedom is at once the glory and the honour of Britain which granted it and of Canada which used it to assist Britain. Freedom is the keynote of all British institutions?'"
The clock ticks louder. It is time to go.
"Tell me, Mr. Meighen, is it not after all the mandate of Canada's part in the war that stands behind the attitude you are bound to take at this Conference?"
"You mean that if Canada had not gone to war magnificently as she did, the war—might have been lost?"
"Essentially that. Hence the new nationhood of Canada born of the war. You, or any other leader, even as Tory or as clear Grit, would not foist upon this free nation any issue which does not do justice to the sense of nationhood begotten by the war. Would you?"
"I will say—no."
"Then as to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance?"
"Canada must be free, because she has a vital interest in the American aspect of such an Alliance that even Britain has not. This nation is the electric transmission transformer between Britain and the United States. There is a Pacific zone of policy in which Canada has a big stake."
"I see. Now as to the next election?"
The Premier rises: now thinner and more intense than ever.
"My friend—just this. The solidarity of the British Commonwealth League of Nations is at the root of the welfare of the civilized world. In every nation of this League, no matter by what party label the Unionist cause is identified in the baggage room, it is a matter of vital importance to the solidarity of the League that such party should remain or go into power. So—I hope to get from the Conference such a reasonable endorsation of Canada's stand on the main issues that our party here——"
He pauses and gazes fixedly at a large map of Western Canada. The visitor imagines that he is looking at Portage, his home town.
"Er—you were saying, Mr. Meighen?"
"Medicine Hat," he answered vacantly. "Somehow, you know—I wish Kipling had never made that remark about Medicine Hat,—'all hell for a basement.'"
"You don't worry about the Hat just because there's going to be a bye-election while you're away?"
"No,—for I know pretty well that I won't hold that seat. What worries me is the fool use that some people will make of a freak election as a forerunner of doom. However, as I was saying about the Conference—I hope to get such a reasonable endorsation of Canada's stand on the main issues that our party here can work to victory advantage in the next election. I may as well be honest. Arthur Meighen, Premier, has not yet been elected. But he intends to be, because he ought to be, because the party he leads can do this country more good for the next few years than anything else in sight; because the party which carried the war and the re-establishment has been given a new lease of life, at least some vision, and a vast deal of experience which Canada is going to need from now on more than she can ever need the wholesale patent nostrums of millennial doctors who think the plough-handles are a sign manual of a new efficiency in government. We all know what is happening to Russia. I'll be perfectly frank, and say that I fear this young nation may be induced to scrap experience for experiment—which above all times would at present be the inauguration of an economic system for which the nation is not prepared, for which it has not been educated, and because of which it cannot afford to take for its education the bitter experience which too often succeeds glittering experiment. What the world needs to-day is economic justice, not economic revolution. No nation in the world has a better chance than Canada for sound economic justice to all that makes her the world's young leading democracy. But economics isn't everything. Good-night."
THE PERFECT GENTLEMAN PREMIER
RT. HON. SIR ROBERT BORDEN
Here is a modest, honourable man who saw his duty to the nation and the emergency never more clearly than he knew his own defects. Canada never before had a mediocrity of such eminence; a man who without a spark of genius devoted a high talent to a nation's work so well that he just about wins a niche in our Valhalla—if we have one. It was the war that almost finished Borden; and it was the war that made him.
Canada has been governed by strategy, imagination, and common sense. We have had Macdonald, Laurier, and Borden. The first finished his work, the second wanted to, and the third had finished his work two years before he resigned office.
Sir Robert Borden was the only man in the world Premier both when the war began and when it ended. Of all Premiers of Canada he was the least like a Canadian, and he achieved European fame with less title to personal greatness than either Laurier or Macdonald. For the crowd there never was an inspired moment in Sir Robert's life, nor ever one when he did not try to do his whole duty. He never interested the people and did not always hold the profound allegiance of his party. Yet there never was a public man in Canada to whom the average politician would as soon take off his hat in absolute respect for his moral purpose, integrity, fair-mindedness and sense of honour. There was enough morality wasted in the equipment of R. L. Borden to have supplied the lack of it in some of his heterogeneous followers. But it was morality that he could not transmit except by silent influence.
Other celebrated Premiers had governed by the personal method. The moral law was written all over Borden. He was a walking decalogue. He worked for the good of the country without detriment to the Conservative party. But there never was any Borden Mount of Transfiguration. He never could lead except when he was considered by the Majority to be right. In the war he took refuge in the nation, and its patriotism. But for the war one doubts that Sir Robert would ever have won any title to fame.
The man's whole makeup is a sort of righteousness. He had no use for the mirror more than to adjust his necktie and his hair, of which a woman writer said:
"That wonderful hair of his must have brought the unctuous fingers of many masters, spiritual and otherwise, down upon it in commendatory pats. . . . I daresay that it was his mother's pleasure in it and the way she enjoyed running her fingers through it that made him realize—subconsciously at least—that his hair was a very magnificent asset." The writer also described the garden of the Premier—his wonderful roses; how he talked about the personalities of the wild flowers so dear to his soul, and the perversities of the wild cucumber—but amiably declined to say a word about the destinies of nations.
Laurier had his flute. Borden should not be denied his wild garden. I used to think, watching the Premier in the House, that he would make a splendid bronze bust of an Egyptian god.
But the man never could dress for the part of leader. He needed too much grooming. He must always be immaculate. A trifle of neglige would have ruined his career.
We never heard of his "iron hand within the velvet glove." He had neither the hand nor the glove. He was an influence; never a power. Even when the stage was all set for a show Sir Robert could not take the spot-light. He did not abhor the calcium; he merely did not know what to do when it was on. During the tour which preceded the triumphal election of 1911 he was strong enough to win the country and weak enough to pose for oratorical photographs of Sir Robert swaying a crowd—on the roof of a Toronto hotel. Those photographs were published as authentic pictures of the Premier in action.
But real action seldom happened to Premier Borden. He never could invent occasions. He had no craft to play the game, no intuition to penetrate into the conscience of a lukewarm supporter or of a man whose policies and programmes might bedevil the union of the party. On his tour in 1915 when, after seeing and hearing more of the realism of war than any other man in the country, he undertook to translate his emotions to crowds of people here, he was compelled to use the tomtom-on-the-Midway performances of R. B. Bennett, at a time when dominating men of both parties put their political makeups into their pockets in order to do honour to the tragic cause of which on behalf of the nation he was the spokesman.
Political history is very largely a chronicle of stupendous noises, of pageants and tumults and shoutings, of strategies and manoeuvres, secret conclaves and cabals, of sinister intrigues and specious platitudes in parliament to cover them up, and of occasional great episodes when the leader feels called to vindicate himself and his followers. Most of these emotional experiences seem to have been denied to Sir Robert.
I daresay it was mainly his lack of imagination. Borden must, "work for the night is coming." The day's work was often bigger than the man.
His advent to the leadership was a moral makeshift. His defeat of Laurier in 1911 was not a triumph for anything that might be called Bordenism. His conduct of the political side of the war was creditable, at times splendid, never consummately wise, never heroic. His exit was as uneventful as his advent. Sir Robert had more than finished his work.
The Conservative party as such carries no indelible imprint from the man who for nearly a quarter of a century led it. He led it by going alongside. He was not a great partisan. He had no overwhelming and audacious bigotries.
Borden was the first Conservative leader of note who never could play the ace of Quebec. The Laurier Cabinet knew how to play politics by imagination. Borden had nothing but a demoralized remnant, which the Liberals pillaged when they discarded Free Trade, helped themselves to a high, virtually protective, tariff for revenue only, took a reef out of the Tory "old flag" monopoly by establishing the British Preference and sent a contingent to the South African War in the name of Empire. Laurier was master in Quebec, in the new West whose two new Provinces he created, in immigration, in great railways, in a deeper St. Lawrence, in flamboyant adventures with great harbours, in the Quebec Bridge. Borden as yet was master of nothing. Such brilliance and success had never been confronted by such a demoralized party and so much drab common sense in a leader.
Sir Robert's Premiership was a desperate inheritance. The direct plunge into the Naval Aid Bill was a badly staged attempt to capitalize the reaction against restricted reciprocity. That first session of the Borden Parliament goes on record as the most complete one-act farce ever inflicted upon a patient country. The Imperial issue was a play to the gallery, and it is the one clear issue that seems to remain of all the Borden idea.
Sir Robert in his whole life never constructed an epigram. His two great predecessors had made several. Epigrams sometimes outlive policies. He never delivered a great passionate speech. He had opportunities but could not meet them. Fine speeches enough, to be sure; many of them instinct with a sort of ethical nobility; but a great palpitating speech, never.
It is not likely that if left to the logic of ordinary evolution Sir Robert ever would have recreated his party even on Imperial issues; or convinced the West that Conservatism was not merely anti-agrarian; or shewn Quebec that Conservatives in the second decade of the twentieth century are better Laurentians than the Liberals by preserving better the anti-continental idea. Such things call for leadership by imagination and a Cabinet of strong men. Sir Robert had neither. Even in the House he was not the party leader. Conservatism established by Macdonald as a great system of damnation to the Grits, was on the low road to extinction. It was not in the power of Robert Borden to save it. The country was swept by a new Liberalism that by astute manipulation had kept sympathetic both manufacturers and radicals.
Long before the war came, Canada recognized in Mr. Borden a Premier who knew the meaning of moral caution so well that he knew not boldness at all except that his cause was right. Borden had the ethical stolidity of Asquith without the latter's personal weaknesses or his powers of oratory. He needed somebody with him as stage manager and makeup artist. Even his virtues might have been advertised with effect—though as a rule, except in characters like Lincoln, it takes the perspective of time to put those into a poster. So eminently respectable; so high in honour; so fair in judgment; so irresolute in action; so defective in imagination; so content to be overshadowed by lesser men in his own party even though he never was intimidated by bigger men in the Opposition: such, so far as we could see him before the war, was Sir Robert Borden.
Platitudes lay in wait for the Premier to utter them. Only by an effort of will could he lift them to a plane of high interest. He could sketch great issues with the solemn hand of a great preacher pronouncing a benediction; but he never could utter an aside, or crack a joke, or tell a story, or forget that once upon a time Fate had picked him to be a leader and so help him he would go through the motions of shepherding while the other men were the real collie dogs of the flock. If only Borden could have broken some bucking broncho, or worn some new kind of bouquet, or invented some imitation of a brazen serpent to hold up, the people and the party might have got hold of him and followed him.
Such was Premier Borden before the war, and so he remained, but under a magnifying glass, afterwards. The war was a godsend to the Government. It drove out alleged dissension in the Cabinet and gave the party which had met defeat in the Naval Aid Bill a chance to perpetrate something which no Parliament would dare try to defeat. Sometimes I almost think Borden was for short periods in the war a truly great man—in the eyes of the angels. He had known the war was coming; he had said so. There was a secret plan of action on file in the Archives months before it came. Not his to exult in I-told-you-sos to the leader opposite who had mitigated the menace. He rose to his programme of duty. He did not even wait till Britain declared war, but cabled assurances of aid on August 2nd, 1914. Special Parliament was assembled. The hour had struck. A Halifax writer present at the Khaki Parliament says:
"Sir Wilfrid easily bore off the honours in oratory. It was a great occasion and he rose to it. . . . Sir Robert is no orator, but he spoke in straight man-fashion of the great crisis. The climax of his speech was a solemn warning of the dark days to come 'when our endurance will be tried.'"
Had the Premier issued a referendum in that first month of Canada's going to war he would have wept at the amazing number of Noes from the Province in which Laurier was born, and the provinces in the Far West which he had created; in the one, obvious indifference whatever the cause; in the other enmity from the Nationals whom Laurier had imported to make Liberal voters. Even in the rural areas, traditionally the stronghold of Liberalism, indifferentism was the rule; and in the city of Kitchener where Laurier had politically baptized Mackenzie King, his successor, there was almost a state of civil war.
But the fervour of the Hughes programme prevented the Premier from taking stock of the nation. He permitted Hughes to treat Quebec as an automatic part of Canada at war—which it was not; and he failed to use even the Machiavellian energies of Bob Rogers in getting a line on the psychology of the West, supposed to be useful only in elections. Sir Robert had long known of the menace of Germany, and his Naval Aid Bill was one proof that he knew. But he did not understand the menace of disunited Canada. There never was in Ottawa any informing vision of Canada at war. Canada, in fact, was not at war. Political feuds were indeed forgotten; thanks to a noble-minded Premier that was natural enough. But had there been a national poet then big enough to translate into great verse the true spiritual state of Canada, he would have written with poignant sadness about Quebec; perhaps a few verses on the overwhelming British-born majority in the First Contingent. He would have explained that being a native son of Canada, whether you were English or French by extraction, did not of itself lead to enlistment in the ranks. The Premier should have known whether Sam Hughes was awarding patronage by making officers from the Conservative party or whether according to his own statement he was doing just the opposite. In fact it was the Premier's business to see that the Minister of War pursued neither policy.
But with the Hughes flares all about him it was hard for the Premier to see the nation; most of all Quebec. In this matter of the two Canadas, Sam Hughes saw his opportune duty and he did it. Sir Robert saw his and shrank from it, not weakly but blindly. Quebec should have been the instant objective of all the wisdom in Canada's Cabinet. Except for one or two grand battalions and a minority of broad-minded French-Canadians, Quebec was not at war, as part of united Canada. Banging the drum and blowing the bugle in Quebec was as wrong in strategy as to send Bob Rogers down to exorcise, as he did in 1915, the phantom of conscription. Sir Robert knew that even in civil times his Government was electorally ignored on the St. Lawrence. How much more in a time of unpopular war? Was it not clear that every hurrah for the Empire in Ontario, every fresh battalion mustered and drilled in Toronto, every troopship down the St. Lawrence, was a nail in the coffin of Quebec's potentiality in the war?
Yes, Sir Robert Borden knew that. He knew that Laurier was sulking like Cassius in his tent; that he was gnawing himself over the failure of his own predictions about the peace welfare of the world as well as for his own defeat in the election of 1911; that the man of the "sunny ways" was becoming a reactionary and a cynic, an old leader of great power, which he was willing to use to the utmost for the prosecution of the war had he been in office, but in opposition was manacled by a sense of futility against forces in Quebec which he understood and feared far more than did the Premier.
No doubt the Premier traversed all this, many a time and in great concern. And it may be that he saw so sharply into the sad hopelessness of it all that he decided not to ask Laurier for advice, or even suggestion. Such is lack of imagination.
Laurier had his day in the grand expansion of the country. Borden would have his, in the sacrifices and moral energies of the dark days to come. It was a greater thing to be Premier in war than ever it had been in peace. Canada was a greater land in action on the West front than ever she had been stringing railways, settling farms and building towns on the frontiers. The more Canada went to the front of her own free will, the greater she seemed abroad. The credit of this nation at war went up in London and Paris much faster than its investment credit had ever gone on the exchanges. The further one got from Ottawa the greater the country seemed. A Canadian Cabinet Minister meeting a British Minister in London could talk for an hour on the wonderful war character of this country. London was the centre of gravity of the west front, and of Canadian Ministers. The Premier spent almost half his time in or near London, whenever summoned, or whenever politic to go—to a place where the rancours of Ottawa were all buried in the grand cause. The Premier of Canada sometimes went to London when he would rather have stayed at home; more often when he felt that it was emotionally bigger to be Premier in London than in Ottawa. He was more honoured in war than Laurier had been in peace. He would have been a better Canadian had he stayed in Ottawa more. But there were many Canadians who were more concerned about how to help Foch and Lloyd George win the war in Europe than about how to knuckle down to common business at home. The trek to England and to Europe became a fad. The nations went world crazy. Premiers neglected to "saw wood." It was a matter for gratitude that they did not parade in khaki.
Premier Borden's lingering objection to Coalition here, even after it was established in London, did him no credit. He was displeased when the Chairman of the Imperial Munitions Board, back from a business conference in London, asked if the Premier had any objection to his stating the case for the need of Coalition at a public dinner. Of course the Chairman was out of order. But he was talking business, not politics.
The war was not going well. The British part of it was badly enough bedevilled by distance and differences of opinion between various Dominions without the distraction of party politics.
But for the great services of win-the-war Liberals the Military Service Act might have disrupted the Coalition even when it came. It was an extreme measure; much more hazardous here than in Britain—except for Ireland, of which we wanted no imitation in Quebec. There were times when Sir Robert longed for the wings of a dove. His offer of Coalition came at a time when he knew Laurier would refuse it. Conscription he carried out as a necessity. He never wanted it. No Premier of a free-will nation would. There were bigoted anti-Quebeckers who would have had compulsion from the first to show the French that Canada was greater than Quebec. But if Canada had sent conscripts in 1915 what would have become of the glory of the Canadian army? The argument that it was the best men who were killed, thereby robbing the nation of its flower, is thoroughly ignoble. Canada has never regretted that her best men died first, or that the Premier delayed conscription until it was inevitable. Canada does regret that the Government did not until too late, attempt to make any national register of the strength of this nation as had been done in England before conscription came as the final result. To have applied conscription before the United States went to war would have driven thousands of slackers across the border. Enough went as it was in the fear that conscription was coming.
The bilingual bungle in the Commons was even worse than the bad feeling over conscription. In this debate the angry French element in the House were a bad commentary on the still hopeful minority of broadminded French-Canadians who wanted to carry on the honour of Courcellette. The controversy over titles was no feather in the cap of the Premier, who made a bad fist of defending a practice the most glaring instance of which was the creation of hereditary titles in a democratic country.
Canada's "dark days" were fast coming. The resignation of Hughes was due before it came. The Premier's patience was scarcely any longer a virtue in this case, when four months after the declaration of war he had been compelled to make a diplomatic visit to Toronto's war camp in order to smooth out the troubles created by his "Chief of Staff."
From that time on to the end of his career we had the spectacle of a Premier overburdened and weary in his office, bewildered by the insistent advices of other men and sad over the failure of even conscription, in the face of such wastage, to get Canada's 5th Division into the field without weakening the four divisions we had. The Union Government was too heavy a load for so weary a man to carry. It had done its work, most of it well, some of it too late. The head of it was worn out. He was away much for his health, more for service in Europe, coming back to reconstruct his Cabinet, with the aid of Meighen, then away again. He had lost Hughes, Rogers, Crerar, Cochrane.
The strong men he had left, except Meighen, White and Foster, were Union Liberals.
Why did the Premier not himself resign? His work was done. His Union Government had finished the work which the nation gave it a mandate to do.
The answer must be in Sir Robert's own conviction that as a Premier of Canada he still had a great work to do in Europe in the settlement of peace. That work he did, some of it much more ably than much he had done at home. We had to read the headlines diligently to see where next Canada's mobile Premier would be needed in the adjustments of peace. More of the answer might be found in the doubt as to whether any man in Canada clearly knew what the Government's work, and therefore its mandate, would be. It was a time of upheavals when any nation with a Government carrying on its work constructively according to programme might have been glad to escape the further upheaval of a general election. But political parties have usually been profiteers in the emergency of a nation. Did the Premier fear that his resignation would force an election before the new party was ready? We are not told. Under pressure he called a caucus in 1919 to determine the programme of whatever party he had in the Union. The caucus determined nothing. Did he hope to carry on until the legal expiry of his term in 1922, thereby evening up with the Liberals who wanted to bring on an election in 1916?
This also we do not know. Sir Robert was a weary and baffled Premier. He did not know how to let go. Once even his faltering hand was off, who was to succeed him? There were three men to consider.
The man's work was done. He knew it. Much of it had been nobly done. He knew that the nation was sure of this. And he now understands that even with the failures and the weaknesses of his administration, both as Conservative and Unionist Premier, we cordially concede to this high mediocrity a place in our critical affairs only second to the credit that he gained in England and in Europe as the head of a nation that had gloriously fought and magnificently won—in the war.
Canada never had as great and noble a servant, who failed so conspicuously on personal grounds to be the nation's master. But there were elements in the patriotic servant-hood of R. L. Borden, higher than the political masteries of more brilliant men.
A POLITICAL SOLAR SYSTEM
RT. HON. SIR WILFRID LAURIER
Fifty years from now some Canadian Drinkwater, charmed by the eloquent perspectives of time, may write an "Abraham Lincoln" string of personal scenes from the lives of Wilfrid Laurier and John A. Macdonald. The narrative will thus begin in the very year that the story of Lincoln ends, and it will carry on down just fifty years in our national history to the time when Wilfrid Laurier, passionate student of the Civil War, reached the end of his climax in the affairs of Canada and the Empire. But the poet who does this must be inspired; because no young country at that period of time in the world had had two such remarkable men as contemporaries, and political foes, and lucky is the nation which at any period has such a man as Laurier.
Outwardly Laurier's political career was complex where Macdonald's was simple. John A. was as great a Canadian as Laurier; but in the simpler times in which he lived he had less cause to be puzzled by the web of fate and of political cross-currents at home and abroad, even though he was immensely more baffled by politicians and party emergencies.
Laurier swung in a great romantic orbit of political sentiment, vaster than that of any other statesman we ever had. For the fifteen years up till about 1906, he seemed like the greatest man ever born a citizen of Canada. Before that period he was a romance. After it he was a national hallucination. The last three years of his life he was a tragedy.
Yet the tragedy kept on smiling. Half a century of smiles. We never had a statesman who could smile so potently. Never one with such mellifluous music in his voice, such easy grace in his style, such a cardinal's hauteur when he wanted to be alone, and such a fascinating urbanity when he wanted to impress a company, a caucus or a crowd. The Romist whom Orangemen admired, the Frenchman who made an intellectual hobby of British democracy, the poetic statesman who read Dickens and re-read in two languages Uncle Tom's Cabin and sometimes played the flute, and the Premier of a bilingual country who had a passion for the study of the war which emancipated the negro, was the kaleidoscopic enigma of Canadian public life.
Laurier was nearly all things to all men. He was sometimes many things to himself. He idolized himself and laughed at himself. He venerated British institutions and passionately loved Quebec. He came to his flowering period in a party of Free Trade and went to seed in a party committed to a species of protection. He spoke English as fluently as Bach wrote fugues, and with more passion and beauty of utterance than any of our English-Canadian orators. One moment he could be as debonair as Beau Brummel, the next as forbidding and repellent as a modern Caesar. He was consistently the best-dressed public man in Canada. A misfitting coat to him was as grievous as a misplaced verb in a peroration. He superficially loved many things. Life was to him, even apart from politics, a gracious delight. He knew how to pose, to feign affability and to be sincere. With more culture Laurier would have been the most exquisite dilettante of his age. But he cared little for poetry in verse, not much for fine music, had small taste for objets d'art or the precious in anything. His greatest affection was in his home, his greatest charm in fine manners, his master passion in speech, and in managing Cabinets to win elections for the party which to him meant a greater and more inspiring Canada. We have had better debaters; but never a man except himself who in the House could make a sort of grand music out of an apologetic oration on National Transcontinental grades.
A writer who at various periods of time was very intimate with Laurier thinks he was a man of deep emotions. This may be doubted. A man who talked so easily and was so exquisitely conscious of himself could scarcely be considered spiritually profound. Other men and events played upon him like the wind on an Aeolian harp. He was tremendously impressionable; and by turns grandly impressive. A personal friend relates how a man with some experience as a critic of drama—probably himself—went to see Laurier by request for a talk on the political situation; how Laurier invited him to a chair and immediately took one beside him an inch or two lower so that his own face was on a level with the visitor's; how for some minutes he sat feeling the power of this actor who tried to persuade him to run as a Liberal candidate, and when he rose again seemed taller and more aloof than ever.
That is acting. Some other man might have done the same thing and made no impression. Laurier could perform obvious tricks with a consummate grace. And he performed many. There never was a moment of his waking life when he could not have been lifted into a play. His movements, his words, his accent, his clothes, his facial lineaments were never commonplace, even when his motives often may have been. He was Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun; poetry and charm all the days of his life.
During the ridiculous deadlock on the Naval Aid Bill, when his supporters went so grotesquely far as to read the Bible to talk out the Bill, he was away from the House for a week, reported as quite ill, in reality having a very delicious time at home reading light literature. The day he came back the news of his coming was heralded to the Commons. The benches were packed. Not till they were all full, every Minister in his place, every page at attention and the House like a pent-up Sabbath congregation, did the then leader of the Opposition make his grand, swift entry, bowing with courtly dignity to the Speaker and taking his seat amid a claque from his supporters, in which even the Tories felt like joining.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier had the infallible knack of adjusting his makeup, not always himself—to any occasion from which he could extract profitable publicity, or upon which he could do some charming thing for somebody else. He is reputed once to have worn overalls among a gang of timber-jammers, but he felt rather ridiculous and soon took them off. Interviewed abed in his private car at a railway station by a political friend, he suddenly became conscious of his pyjamas and rolled back into the bedclothes with a smile. He was not happy in deshabille. Entertained at an arts luncheon in 1913, he made the most of a very Spartan meal, consented with much dignity to exchange his plate of cold beef for another man's cold mutton, listened with great gravity to a short programme of music, asked the names of the composers and the players and spent most of his brief speech denying that he was anything but a philistine in art, and pledging himself if ever he was Premier again to do more for Canadian art than had ever been done before. In conversation at a friend's house with a stranger he claimed that at college he was always a "lazy dog." Visited once by an agent who tried to sell him a phonograph, he consented to play the flute for a record; after listening to the record and being assured that it was a faithful replica of his own performance and asked if now he would not buy the machine, he answered gravely, "No, I think I will sell the flute." This story may be apocryphal, but it is delightfully true to character.
On one of the thousands of "occasions" in a career that was almost perpetual drama he was buttonholed in his office by an American reporter who, having been warned that the Premier of Canada never gave interviews, boasted that he would break the rule. After half an hour the American reporter came out to his confreres of the press gallery, sat down at a typewriter, lighted three or four cigarettes, nervously aware that he was being watched for the forthcoming article, and after spoiling a number of sheets and tearing them all up he confessed, "Well, boys, I thought I was pumping Laurier, but it's a cinch he spent most of my time pumping me."
To the Liberal press gallery men he was as much a captain as he was to his followers in the House. He gave them daily audience during the Session, very often in a group, and at such times he usually asked, "Well, boys, what's the news?" He wanted good news; and many a reporter tricked up the truth now and then to give it to him. Informed once that "Bob" Rogers had vehemently in his office denied any cabal in the Cabinet against the Premier he swiftly replied, with that splendid, satirical smile, "Well, the fact that Bob Rogers says there is none would convince me that there probably is."
Laurier was the kind of man to whom other people naturally happened. He was a human solar system in which many kinds of people wanted to gravitate, even to the ragged little girl on the prairie who picked him the wild flowers that he wore in his coat as far as she could see him on the train platform. He discovered early in life that he could interest other people much as some men find out they can juggle or sing. It was a fatal gift. Laurier was far too long in this country, much too interesting. Women in Ottawa could make delirious conversation out of how this man at 72 got into a taxi. He was more phenomenal to English than to French. He never cultivated Paris and would not have been at home there. At Imperial Conferences and Coronations he was an Imperial matinee idol in London. In Ontario he was regarded with much the same awe as the small boy views the long-haired medicine man. To the Quebecker he was the grand magic; until Bourassa came, irresistible, incomparable on stage. But Laurier had no great intensity; no Savonarola gift to sway a crowd; he just charmed them; when they came to remember his song—what was it? Earlier in life he was a sort of Ulysses, led by magic. He loved the petit ville of Lin where he was born. But it was too small for him. He was lured into studies, to college, to the bilingual university McGill, to law, to discourse with learned Anglo-Saxons, to the study of British Government by democracy, to the translation of himself into English. The translation, which was almost a masterpiece, made him the first and perhaps the last French Premier of Canada, and in many respects the greatest Premier we ever had.
This alone was something. Speaking their own tongue, Laurier could impress the English. He could tour Ontario and feel grandly at home in the Liberal shires, among the men of the Maple Leaf. He could follow one of his two transcontinentals up the Saskatchewan, and to multitudes of many nations led from Europe by his own immigration policy conduct a Pentecost for the two new Provinces. He could fling magic over Manitoba, and on the Pacific he had power. But in Nova Scotia he could never equal the memory of Joseph Howe, a greater orator than Laurier.
What this man's sensations were as he studied himself in the art of politics may be compared to what an English Canadian of similar temperament would feel like if he could fling a spell over Quebec. Laurier made a second conquest of Canada. He took a great Cobden party from Edward Blake and made it almost protectionist, Imperial and his own. He grafted a sort of Liberalism on to polyglot nationalities. In about the same tenure of power he created a personal ascendancy the equal of Macdonald's, in a nation almost twice as big and much more complex. In ten years he changed the face of Canada as no Premier had ever done before or ever can do again. He was looked at in Imperial London as though he were the joint picturesque descendant of Wolfe and Montcalm, with a mandate to make Canadian Liberalism an instrument of Empire, a bi-racial Government a final proof of the eternal wisdom of the British North America Act, and a measure of reciprocity a safeguard of Anglo-American entente.
So the son of the village surveyor from the tin-spired parish of St. Lin had made himself very nearly monarch of all he surveyed, with the notion that his right there was none to dispute. Sprung from the most backward province in Confederation, he pushed Canada forward with hectic speed, not counting the cost, nor caring what the end might be, so long as he died Premier of a prosperous nation and therefore happy.
At about the age of sixty a reaction came over Laurier; first noticeable in less enthusiasm and more reticence at the Imperial Conferences. The French-Canadian who had lost a segment of his idolatrous following in Quebec because of clashes with the clergy and the sending of a contingent to the South African War, began to resist the cold machinations of the Chamberlain group. He began to see Empire, not as a commonwealth of democracies, but as domination from Downing Street. At home he was shrewd to observe that the Canada of his own domination was a complex of many "nationals," only a few of which were historically rooted in the Anglo-Saxon idea. He saw that the bigger half of this Canada was arising in the West, which he believed he had truly because politically created; and the West had but a slender minority of people to whom the Maple Leaf meant anything.
If the party which he also had recreated into a Laurier Liberal party was to continue dominating Canada until white-plumed Laurier had finished his work, it must be by a stronger leverage than Imperialism. He had managed to hold Quebec, which now thanks to himself and Lomer Gouin, was almost solidly Liberal. The prairie farmers he must not lose. And the grain growers were not keen about an England which bought their wheat at open world prices in competition with cheap wheat countries like Russia, and their cattle at prices dictated by the Argentine; when both cattle and wheat were cheapened to the producer by the long-haul railways which Laurier and the Tories had built.
And although the "Old Man" had scant knowledge of business, he had the wisdom of the serpent to translate the signs of the times; yet lacking somehow the vision to foresee that a play for the western vote by a measure of reciprocity would resolve itself into a boomerang at the polls. Laurier had a wonderful Canadian vision. In 1904 he refused a Liberal M.P. from the Pacific Federal interference in the Oriental problem, saying, "The day will come when we shall be glad of Japanese warships on our Pacific coast." Yet in 1912, in a letter to a friend, he gravely minimized the German menace. He understood America and Asia better than Europe. His vision was keener in power than in defeat.
And then the war, which in a few strokes finished the almost complete picture of Laurier. His support of the Government in going to the aid of Britain was at first a flash of the old generously impulsive Laurier who loved England. That love he never lost. He expressed it in the House down near to the end of the war. He loved England a thousand times better than some Englishmen do. For the Empire it is doubtful if he was ever profoundly enthusiastic except as he saw in it the glorious evolution of self-governing democracies such as Canada, his first love. He understood this country. It is not remarkable that he did. Any public man of Canada should. But Laurier's love for his own country was of an especially intense character, because it was for a long while so deeply romantic.
As he grew older the original veneration he had for England as the mother of democracy was more and more transferred to Canada as an experiment in that form of government. The more he won elections, the greater grew his passion for democracy and for interpreting his native land. The pity is that a man cannot go on winning and losing elections without suffering some damage to his clear love of country. The highest patriot is he who knows best how to lose himself and his election, all but his conscience and his cause, for the sake of the land he loves. Laurier did not remain till the end of his life the highest patriot. Weary as he is said to have been of public life as far back as 1905, he was lured into winning more elections by the adulation of his followers and his own love of swaying men as a master, until elections with him became a habit and the loss of one a tragedy.
And even the war which shook so many men's love of country to the depths—some of them over the precipice of profits, others to the passionate heights of sacrifice—did not obliterate in Laurier the fatal desire to win elections. One has almost to cease thinking to remember that Wilfrid Laurier did hope that an election would yet be held during the war that would return him to power. The failure of the Government in the war would be largely the fault of Quebec which he still in large measure controlled. He held that ace. And when the time came he would play it. The Premier wanted no advice from him. Laurier offered him none.
When the bilingual dispute was transferred to the Commons, Laurier took the only side consistent with his character and his career. He avowed his belief, as always, in Provincial rights, but he asked Ontario to use its strength with clemency. Even with an element of bitterness he did not lose his dignity. But the fine sparkle of the Laurier we all knew was gone. He was beset with complexities and contradictions. The one simple thing about him was his hope to finish his work by winning another election. In the debate on the Nickle motion for the abolition of any further king-made aristocracy in Canada, he was an acidulous old cynic, offering to go and burn his title in the market place if certain others would do likewise. Those photographs of Laurier in the Windsor Uniform, making him look like a refulgent relique of the court of Louis XIV. were no longer prized in the family album. Away with them!
Poor, splendid old man! Even in his crotchets and quavers he was charming. To the very last he could rise in the Commons and with a voice as thick as wool make members opposite fancy they were hearing great music.
In 1916 an artist painted a portrait of Laurier to hang in the Legislative halls of Quebec, where the sound of his magic voice had first been heard in parliamentary speech. The artist began to paint the Laurier of "the sunny ways." The old man corrected him. "No, if you please," he said gravely, "paint me as a ruler of men."
It was the Cardinal speaking; the man who had disciplined more Cabinet politicians than even Macdonald, the master of Cabinets; the old man who remembered the power of an earlier day.
Early in 1917 he was offered coalition by the Premier. He refused. Laurier knew that coalition meant conscription, and conscription meant dragooning Quebec.
It came home vividly to the old leader in Opposition, whatever it may have done had he been in power, that to advocate conscription would drive Quebec into the camp of Bourassa from which he and Lomer Gouin had between them managed to save a large majority of French-Canadians. The struggle of Bourassa to oust Laurier began with the Boer War. It was fated not to end until either leader or the other should quit. Before the war Bourassa was flamboyant and defiant. After it began he was openly and brazenly disloyal, when the doctrines he preached were inflammably acceptable to people uneducated to citizenship in so conglomerate a thing as Empire. The easiest thing in the world is for a high wind to sweep a prairie fire. The war and Bourassa together had the power to sweep Quebec, had Laurier and Gouin shown signs of yielding to the demand for conscription. I am told that Laurier personally believed in conscription but saw this terrible danger of disrupting the nation over Quebec. The war only had staved off the Irish question, a conference on which was in session when war was declared. Laurier dreaded the spectre of a second Ireland in Quebec. He knew all the forces and how they would operate. By his own methods, mistaken or otherwise, he had spent most of his life to achieve unity. He dreaded to see that unity imperilled. I think he would have been glad to see Quebec enlist as Ontario and other Provinces had done. That was impossible. Conscription was a menace in Quebec to the man who had failed to estimate the jack-boot menace in Germany, but who had not failed to oppose the idea that navalism in England was as bad as militarism anywhere.
No judgment of Laurier, when it comes to be adequately made by the historian, can fail to take account of this sentiment in an old leader to whom the unity of Canada had become an obsession far transcending his original passion for the solidarity of Empire.
The Winnipeg convention of 1917 was a piece of almost calculated cruelty on the part of men who should have known that the old chief's day was politically done. His party which for years he had penetrated with his personality was slipping into disunion. Vaguely he knew that the western wing of it was almost gone over to Radicalism such as he could not control. But in Ottawa there was an even more direct split. There, conscriptionist Liberals called the Convention for the purpose of proclaiming win-the-war independence of Laurier and considering Coalition on its merits. But the western Liberal machine captured it by a fluke. For a few days the old chief dreamed that the West had rallied to his standards. Then he awoke to the reality that even in the east he was head of a divided house.
The man who in 1916 had been painted as a ruler of men found in that summer of 1917 the Win-the-War Liberals deserting him, some of them with sobs. They loved him well. He was the old king. Conscription was now the issue. The Government had decided upon it late in 1916. In 1917 the Military Service Act was brought down in the House. Laurier knew at what it was most directly aimed—Quebec. He fell back on the ruse of invoking the Militia Act which called for defence only. There was no defence. He knew it. He moved for a Referendum, knowing that in the West, sore over the Wartime Elections Act, and in Quebec, and in the absence of the soldier vote it might carry by a majority sufficient to defeat the Government, to force an election and send him back to power. He was beaten. Conscription became the law. To enforce it came the Coalition. The election was held. The Liberals were again beaten—partly by men from their own ranks.
Still the old king hung on. He was now too old to let go. Even the Coalition might fail. Or the war might be ended And then——? The last fighting act of his life was to call the Ottawa Liberal Convention, of the men who had not abandoned his colours; the men for whom he was not still holding the open door. But a few months before he died here he was "up on his toes," as George Graham said of him, sending out battle calls for some election that must come now. The war was over; the army coming home. The Coalition's day was "done." Those stalwarts must return to the fold.
But most of them came not. There was still work for them to do, and surely no haste for an election.
What? No more elections for Laurier? Not one more chance, after all the waiting, for him to finish his work? Poor old infatuate! splendid even in his illusions. There was no work for Laurier to do now. There was no room for him to do it if there had been. There were few to follow him except in Quebec—for in his dotage he would not believe that the West had so forsaken him.
In a few months he was dead. And when dead, once again men forgot their political opinions and for a brief while somehow worshipped the memory of the man whose life was almost the coming true of a dream, whose work was never done, whose evening of life was a tragedy. And case-hardened politicians who had borne the burden and the heat of the day with Laurier, wept.
But the power of Laurier is not dead. In the long perspective of history the figure of this great Canadian, with his "sunny ways" and his bewildering Atlas load, will stand out vividly when many of his successors will be scarcely visible in the haze.
THE GRANDSON OF A PATRIOT
HON. WILLIAM LYON MACKENZIE KING
In December, 1913, there was a Literary Society dinner in the University of Toronto at which Sir Wilfrid Laurier was the guest of honour and speaker on "Democracy." My own seat at a table was next to a restless, thick-bodied, sparse-haired man who seemed younger than his years and to whom I had not been introduced. During the hour that Laurier spoke this man continued to lean over the table so as to catch a view of his fascinating face. He interested me almost as much as did the speaker. I had never sat beside such an irrepressible vitality. Like a bird to a succession of swinging boughs, he hung upon the golden utterances of his old chieftain and political mentor concerning a subject so poignantly dear to the experiences of one and the imagination of the other.
First impressions are sometimes reversed on closer acquaintance. I was uncomfortable beside Mackenzie King, but interested. On a latter occasion I was still more interested, and rather more uncomfortable. The early impression remained, that he had very little faculty of restraint—what scientists call inhibition.
That occasion will not soon fade from memory. Often I can hear in imagination a thousand students singing "Vive le roi! vive le compagnie!" before the fine old leader spoke, and that earnest, hectic disciple joining in. When I discovered who he was I ran back in fancy to the time when Mackenzie King was a student at that same university. At that time William Mulock was Vice-Chancellor and became keenly interested in the brilliant young student of economics with whose father he had attended law school. King entered the University the year that the chief author of the National Policy died. He graduated one year before Laurier became Premier, in the golden age of Liberalism triumphant, when "freer" trade was emerging as a symbol of that brand of democracy in opposition to free trade in a minority. How we have fallen upon evil days! Farmers' sons at college no longer regard free trade as the forerunner of political absorption by the United States, but as the vindication of the farmer as a group in government.
Mackenzie King is a man about whom nobody ever could have a lukewarm conviction. He is either cordially liked or disliked. More than most other men in public life he has become the victim of violent opinions. For this he is temperamentally responsible. People consistently decline to reason about him. They speak of him vehemently. His dominant note of character is rampant enthusiasm. King is always intensely in love with whatever interests him. His enthusiasms are not so much on the surface for many people, as underneath for causes—and for a few men. Gifted with an uncommon capacity for absorbing impressions and collecting data for research, he has made himself a sort of pathological study to other people. In mastering economics he has himself been enthralled by his own enthusiasm.
At the time of Laurier's speech on democracy King was peculiarly enthusiastic about John D. Rockefeller, Jr., head of the Rockefeller Foundation. But he had lost no jot of his fervent admiration for Laurier in Ottawa and was still passionately devoted—as he remains—to Sir William Mulock, his political godfather. Nobody has ever criticized him for his ardent discipleship to the two older Canadians. There is an old-fashioned spontaneity about this mutual regard much above the common commercial admiration of one man for another in business. Many have blamed King for his attachment to Rockefeller, and have used that connection to his detriment as Liberal leader.
In April, 1920, he was flatly accused of having been an absentee from Canada during the war, employed by the Rockefeller interests and so "entangled in the octopus" that as leader of the Liberal party he would become a menace to Canada. It was the old bogey of continentalism in a new setting, and it took Mackenzie King twelve pages of Hansard to make his defence in the House. The incident forms a hinge to a career which is worth a brief survey.
King was born in Berlin, Ontario, son of a subsequent lecturer in law at Osgoode Hall and of a daughter of William Lyon Mackenzie. At the University of Toronto he was one of the '95 group that included also Hamar Greenwood, Arthur Stringer, and the late Norman Duncan and James Tucker. There was a rebellion during that period in which there is no record of the grandson of a glorious rebel having taken part. At college he displayed a passion for pardonable egotism in which there were elements of a desire for public service. The Family Compact at Ottawa must have interested him. Liberalism, as understood by the Laurier group, was emerging from the disreputable mess known as continentalism, fathered by Goldwin Smith, who was beginning to be estimated for what he really was, a brilliant philosophical pamphleteer bent upon the obliteration of Canadian nationality.
After graduation King went for a brief term on the staff of the Toronto Globe. In that year the Liberals came into power. King was engaged by Sir William Mulock, Postmaster-General, to inquire into sweatshop methods in contracts for postoffice uniforms. No man could have done it better. He had a native appetite for that sort of investigation, and he was helping to establish the new Liberalism.
For the next four years King was out of the country. Had he followed the academic fashion of that period he would have been in training to become a citizen of the United States. Chicago University, built by John D. Rockefeller, attracted him first; Harvard next. He was still studying economics. No other Canadian had ever spent so much time and talent on this subject. At Harvard he became a Lecturer, and was sent to Europe to investigate economic conditions. While there he got a cable from the Postmaster-General of Canada, who had created the Department of Labour as an adjunct to the postal department, and established the Labour Gazette, and wanted a deputy who should edit the Gazette and look after the details of the office. King courteously declined, saying that he could not accept until the expiry of his contract with Harvard. The salary of the Deputy-Minister of Labour was $2,500 under a man whom he tremendously admired, and as yet with no clear ambition to become a member of the House led by the man whom he was afterwards to worship, and to succeed.
There is no proof that Laurier took any uncommon interest at this time, as he afterwards did, in the Deputy-Minister of Labour, though he noticed that the young man was making a great success of his work. Much if not most of King's tuition in politics at this stage came from William Mulock, who as a member of the Commons in Opposition, had fathered the fair trade resolution in Convention and did much to convert the Liberal party from free to "freer" trade.
In the eight years up till 1908, by experience with conditions, King made himself master of the subject which was later to appear in his book, "Industry and Humanity." He was repeatedly made chairman of this or that mission, board, and commission at home or abroad, to get the true facts about labour, immigration and employment. By a sort of genius for conciliating groups, even when he antagonized individuals, he became for a time the world's most successful mediator in labour disputes. Industrial warfare had not as yet adopted the trench system. Direct action, the One Big Union, the sympathetic strike and collective bargaining were scarcely dreamed of, though anticipated in the philosophy of Karl Marx, as yet not transplanted to America. Socialism, as expressed by Henry George, whose "Progress and Poverty" was a classic in King's college days, was the most radical element with which the young Deputy had to deal. But the Government's policy of foreign labour nationals being gradually absorbed into labour unions made Canada, in proportion to population, a very difficult country in which to act as conciliator.
During his eight years as Deputy, King was made two offers, each of which illuminates the criticism that in the war he was only a nominal citizen of Canada. A group of Canadian employers, recognizing his success as a mediator, offered him $8,000 a year to act on their behalf with the heads of labour. Without consulting his chief, King declined the offer. He said that he preferred the $2,500 from the Labour Department, where he could be independent of either one side or the other. Later President Eliot, of Harvard, on the death of the man who occupied the chair of political economy, offered King the post, pointing out that his duties would keep him but six months a year in Boston. The salary was at least twice what he was getting in Ottawa. Again without consulting his chief, King declined, on the pretext that he had no desire to leave the useful work he was doing for the Ottawa Government to become a citizen, even of eminence, in the United States. During the same period he was asked to act as conciliator in a great mining strike in Colorado, when violence and murder were the law, and when the result of his action led to the enactment of a successful arbitration measure by the Government of Colorado.
All this was prior to King's election as member of the House of Commons. Eight years as Deputy in the Department of Labour, he stepped into the Commons and the Ministry of Labour with exceptional qualities to succeed. His record as Minister was the natural but uncommon sequel to his experience as Deputy. King was so long the one man whose whole time was spent in the effort to reconcile industry and humanity in Canada that it seems hard to recollect that he spent but three years as Minister. During that time, as well as before it, he became the ardent disciple of Laurier. While there was great advantage in having spent so many years as Deputy, it is a pity for the sake of the young leader's subsequent elevation that he did not come under the spell of the old chieftain as a candidate before Laurier had begun to grow cynical in office. In 1908 Laurier had been at least three years tired of public life when there was no man to succeed him, and when, as often as he expressed his weariness of trying to govern a nation so temperamentally difficult as Canada, he was tempted by the adulation of his supporters to try again, until winning elections for the sake of remaining in power became a habit.
Admiration such as King felt for Laurier made criticism impossible. He worshipped Laurier. In this he was not alone. Older men than King, among his colleagues, shared the same spell-binding sentiment. And there was no member of the Cabinet who grieved more than King at the defeat of Laurier in 1911.
Here begins the Standard Oil story. The Montreal Gazette, in a report of two speeches made at a certain club, published an accusation that King had "deserted Canada in her hour of crisis in search of Standard Oil millions."
As similar statements may be made during the election campaign, it is fair to know the facts. King was employed by the Rockefeller Foundation, not by Standard Oil. The connection is merely one of cause and effect. The Foundation spends on the wholesale betterment of humanity the multi-millions which Standard Oil accumulated from the people. The theory of justification here is that the people would have spent these millions foolishly, whereas the Foundation spends them well. There is some truth in the theory. King was engaged solely upon the industrial relations programme of the Foundation, with special reference later to industries of war, and with permission according to his own stipulation to conduct his researches in Ottawa from which in the ten years between 1911 and 1921 he has been absent only upon special occasions. He was in the unusual position of working in Canada and being paid in the United States, for researches of benefit to the cause of American industrial relations during the war. His book, Industry and Humanity, which is the literary form of those researches, was all written in Ottawa.
These are respectable facts; the only objection to which is that the full statement of the apologia occupies twelve pages of Hansard and must have taken at least two hours of Parliamentary time. The original accusation was a malicious stupidity. The vindication was a confessional in which the Liberal leader told the House every item that he knew. Half the number of words would have been twice as effective.
This introduces my second impression of the Liberal leader, two years after the outbreak of war, at midnight in a baronial farmhouse in North York, Ont. He had been addressing a political meeting in a school-house some miles away. There was a golden harvest moon and the scene from the spacious piazza overlooking the hills of York was a dream of pastoral poetry. Suddenly motor headlights flared out of the avenue and from the car alighted the same restless man whom I had met three years before at the dinner to democracy. In a very little while we both became so interested in what he had to say that neither of us cared to go to bed.
Next day I found him still more interesting. He spoke with bubbling frankness and uncontrolled fervour about many things and certain people, chief among whom was John D. Rockefeller, Jr. He described the young magnate's trip into Colorado during a recent great strike, an itinerary planned on purpose that the son of John D. Rockefeller might get a first-hand knowledge of what conditions actually were, what the labour leaders thought, and what sort of people they might be. With graphic interest he described the young financier's reception by the miners, the speech he made, the big dance in which he took part, the camps and mines he visited; a picture of capital conciliating labour such as seldom comes to notice outside the pages of a novel. He made no effort to eulogize himself. He was absorbed in generous admiration for the other man and with enthusiasm for the glorious chance that Rockefeller seemed to have to make a new Magna Charta of brotherhood between Capital and Labour. In this he was a tremendous idealist. In many respects one was forced to regret that the world somehow did not seem quite so full of brotherly intention as Mr. King said that it was.
"The common ground of both capital and labour is humanity," he said over and over in various form. "The antagonism of each will be forgotten when both unite in an effort to forward the interests of the whole community without which neither can prosper."