My Discovery of England
Part 1 out of 3
My Discovery of England, 1922
by Leacock, Stephen, 1869-1944
Introduction of Mr. Stephen Leacock
Given by Sir Owen Seaman
on the Occasion of His First
Lecture in London
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: It is usual on these occasions for the
chairman to begin something like this: "The lecturer, I am sure,
needs no introduction from me." And indeed, when I have been the
lecturer and somebody else has been the chairman, I have more than
once suspected myself of being the better man of the two. Of course
I hope I should always have the good manners--I am sure Mr. Leacock
has--to disguise that suspicion. However, one has to go through
these formalities, and I will therefore introduce the lecturer to
Ladies and gentlemen, this is Mr. Stephen Leacock. Mr. Leacock,
this is the flower of London intelligence--or perhaps I should say
one of the flowers; the rest are coming to your other lectures.
In ordinary social life one stops at an introduction and does not
proceed to personal details. But behaviour on the platform, as on
the stage, is seldom ordinary. I will therefore tell you a thing
or two about Mr. Leacock. In the first place, by vocation he is a
Professor of Political Economy, and he practises humour--frenzied
fiction instead of frenzied finance--by way of recreation. There
he differs a good deal from me, who have to study the products of
humour for my living, and by way of recreation read Mr. Leacock on
Further, Mr. Leacock is all-British, being English by birth and
Canadian by residence, I mention this for two reasons: firstly,
because England and the Empire are very proud to claim him for
their own, and, secondly, because I do not wish his nationality to
be confused with that of his neighbours on the other side. For
English and American humourists have not always seen eye to eye.
When we fail to appreciate their humour they say we are too dull
and effete to understand it: and when they do not appreciate ours
they say we haven't got any.
Now Mr. Leacock's humour is British by heredity; but he has caught
something of the spirit of American humour by force of association.
This puts him in a similar position to that in which I found myself
once when I took the liberty of swimming across a rather large loch
in Scotland. After climbing into the boat I was in the act of drying
myself when I was accosted by the proprietor of the hotel adjacent
to the shore. "You have no business to be bathing here," he shouted.
"I'm not," I said; "I'm bathing on the other side." In the same
way, if anyone on either side of the water is unintelligent enough
to criticise Mr. Leacock's humour, he can always say it comes from
the other side. But the truth is that his humour contains all that
is best in the humour of both hemispheres.
Having fulfilled my duty as chairman, in that I have told you
nothing that you did not know before--except, perhaps, my swimming
feat, which never got into the Press because I have a very bad
publicity agent--I will not detain you longer from what you are
really wanting to get at; but ask Mr. Leacock to proceed at once
with his lecture on "Frenzied Fiction."
I. THE BALANCE OF TRADE IN IMPRESSIONS
II. I AM INTERVIEWED BY THE PRESS
III. IMPRESSIONS OF LONDON
IV. A CLEAR VIEW OF THE GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS OF ENGLAND
V. OXFORD AS I SEE IT
VI. THE BRITISH AND THE AMERICAN PRESS
VII. BUSINESS IN ENGLAND
VIII. IS PROHIBITION COMING TO ENGLAND?
IX. "WE HAVE WITH US TO-NIGHT"
X. HAVE THE ENGLISH ANY SENSE OF HUMOUR?
My Discovery of England
I. The Balance of Trade in Impressions
FOR some years past a rising tide of lecturers and literary men
from England has washed upon the shores of our North American
continent. The purpose of each one of them is to make a new discovery
of America. They come over to us travelling in great simplicity,
and they return in the ducal suite of the Aquitania. They carry
away with them their impressions of America, and when they reach
England they sell them. This export of impressions has now been
going on so long that the balance of trade in impressions is all
disturbed. There is no doubt that the Americans and Canadians have
been too generous in this matter of giving away impressions. We
emit them with the careless ease of a glow worm, and like the
glow-worm ask for nothing in return.
But this irregular and one-sided traffic has now assumed such great
proportions that we are compelled to ask whether it is right to
allow these people to carry away from us impressions of the very
highest commercial value without giving us any pecuniary compensation
whatever. British lecturers have been known to land in New York,
pass the customs, drive uptown in a closed taxi, and then forward
to England from the closed taxi itself ten dollars' worth of
impressions of American national character. I have myself seen an
English literary man,--the biggest, I believe: he had at least the
appearance of it; sit in the corridor of a fashionable New York
hotel and look gloomily into his hat, and then from his very hat
produce an estimate of the genius of Amer ica at twenty cents a
word. The nice question as to whose twenty cents that was never
seems to have occurred to him.
I am not writing in the faintest spirit of jealousy. I quite admit
the extraordinary ability that is involved in this peculiar
susceptibility to impressions. I have estimated that some of these
English visitors have been able to receive impressions at the rate of
four to the second; in fact, they seem to get them every time they
see twenty cents. But without jealousy or complaint, I do feel that
somehow these impressions are inadequate and fail to depict us as we
Let me illustrate what I mean. Here are some of the impressions of
New York, gathered from visitors' discoveries of America, and
reproduced not perhaps word for word but as closely as I can remember
them. "New York", writes one, "nestling at the foot of the Hudson,
gave me an impression of cosiness, of tiny graciousness: in short, of
weeness." But compare this--"New York," according to another
discoverer of America, "gave me an impression of size, of vastness;
there seemed to be a big ness about it not found in smaller places."
A third visitor writes, "New York struck me as hard, cruel, almost
inhuman." This, I think, was because his taxi driver had charged him
three dollars. "The first thing that struck me in New York," writes
another, "was the Statue of Liberty." But, after all, that was only
natural: it was the first thing that could reach him.
Nor is it only the impressions of the metropolis that seem to fall
short of reality. Let me quote a few others taken at random here
and there over the continent.
"I took from Pittsburg," says an English visitor, "an impression
of something that I could hardly define--an atmosphere rather than
All very well, But, after all, had he the right to take it? Granted
that Pittsburg has an atmosphere rather than an idea, the attempt
to carry away this atmosphere surely borders on rapacity.
"New Orleans," writes another visitor, "opened her arms to me and
bestowed upon me the soft and languorous kiss of the Caribbean."
This statement may or may not be true; but in any case it hardly
seems the fair thing to mention it.
"Chicago," according to another book of discovery, "struck me as a
large city. Situated as it is and where it is, it seems destined to
be a place of importance."
Or here, again, is a form of "impression" that recurs again and
again-"At Cleveland I felt a distinct note of optimism in the air."
This same note of optimism is found also at Toledo, at Toronto--in
short, I believe it indicates nothing more than that some one gave
the visitor a cigar. Indeed it generally occurs during the familiar
scene in which the visitor describes his cordial reception in an
unsuspecting American town: thus:
"I was met at the station (called in America the depot) by a member
of the Municipal Council driving his own motor car. After giving me
an excellent cigar, he proceeded to drive me about the town, to
various points of interest, including the municipal abattoir, where
he gave me another excellent cigar, the Carnegie public library, the
First National Bank (the courteous manager of which gave me an
excellent cigar) and the Second Congregational Church where I had the
pleasure of meeting the pastor. The pastor, who appeared a man of
breadth and culture, gave me another cigar. In the evening a dinner,
admirably cooked and excellently served, was tendered to me at a
leading hotel." And of course he took it. After which his statement
that he carried away from the town a feeling of optimism explains
itself: he had four cigars, the dinner, and half a page of
impressions at twenty cents a word.
Nor is it only by the theft of impressions that we suffer at the
hands of these English discoverers of America. It is a part of the
system also that we have to submit to being lectured to by our
talented visitors. It is now quite understood that as soon as an
English literary man finishes a book he is rushed across to America
to tell the people of the United States and Canada all about it, and
how he came to write it. At home, in his own country, they don't care
how he came to write it. He's written it and that's enough. But in
America it is different. One month after the distinguished author's
book on The Boyhood of Botticelli has appeared in London, he is seen
to land in New York very quietly out of one of the back portholes of
the Olympic. That same afternoon you will find him in an armchair in
one of the big hotels giving off impressions of America to a group of
reporters. After which notices appear in all the papers to the effect
that he will lecture in Carnegie Hall on "Botticelli the Boy". The
audience is assured beforehand. It consists of all the people who
feel that they have to go because they know all about Botticelli and
all the people who feel that they have to go because they don't know
anything about Botticelli. By this means the lecturer is able to rake
the whole country from Montreal to San Francisco with "Botticelli the
Boy". Then he turns round, labels his lecture "Botticelli the Man",
and rakes it all back again. All the way across the continent and
back he emits impressions, estimates of national character, and
surveys of American genius. He sails from New York in a blaze of
publicity, with his cordon of reporters round him, and a month later
publishes his book "America as I Saw It". It is widely read--in
In the course of time a very considerable public feeling was aroused
in the United States and Canada over this state of affairs. The
lack of reciprocity in it seemed unfair. It was felt (or at least
I felt) that the time had come when some one ought to go over and
take some impressions off England. The choice of such a person (my
choice) fell upon myself. By an arrangement with the Geographical
Society of America, acting in conjunction with the Royal Geographical
Society of England (to both of whom I communicated my proposal),
I went at my own expense.
It is scarcely feasible to give here full details in regard to my
outfit and equipment, though I hope to do so in a later and more
extended account of my expedition. Suffice it to say that my outfit,
which was modelled on the equipment of English lecturers in America,
included a complete suit of clothes, a dress shirt for lecturing
in, a fountain pen and a silk hat. The dress shirt, I may say for
the benefit of other travellers, proved invaluable. The silk hat,
however, is no longer used in England except perhaps for scrambling
I pass over the details of my pleasant voyage from New York to
Liverpool. During the last fifty years so many travellers have made
the voyage across the Atlantic that it is now impossible to obtain
any impressions from the ocean of the slightest commercial value. My
readers will recall the fact that Washington Irving, as far back as a
century ago, chronicled the pleasure that one felt during an Atlantic
voyage in idle day dreams while lying prone upon the bowsprit and
watching the dolphins leaping in the crystalline foam. Since his
time so many gifted writers have attempted to do the same thing that
on the large Atlantic liners the bowsprit has been removed, or at any
rate a notice put up: "Authors are requested not to lie prostrate on
the bowsprit." But even without this advantage, three or four
generations of writers have chronicled with great minuteness their
sensations during the transit. I need only say that my sensations
were just as good as theirs. I will content myself with chronicling
the fact that during the voyage we passed two dolphins, one whale and
one iceberg (none of them moving very fast at the time), and that on
the fourth day out the sea was so rough that the Captain said that in
forty years he had never seen such weather. One of the steerage
passengers, we were told, was actually washed overboard: I think it
was over board that he was washed, but it may have been on board the
I pass over also the incidents of my landing in Liverpool, except
perhaps to comment upon the extraordinary behaviour of the English
customs officials. Without wishing in any way to disturb international
relations, one cannot help noticing the rough and inquisitorial
methods of the English customs men as compared with the gentle and
affectionate ways of the American officials at New York. The two
trunks that I brought with me were dragged brutally into an open
shed, the strap of one of them was rudely unbuckled, while the lid
of the other was actually lifted at least four inches. The
trunks were then roughly scrawled with chalk, the lids slammed to,
and that was all. Not one of the officials seemed to care to look
at my things or to have the politeness to pretend to want to. I
had arranged my dress suit and my pyjamas so as to make as effective
a display as possible: a New York customs officer would have been
delighted with it. Here they simply passed it over. "Do open this
trunk," I asked one of the officials, "and see my pyjamas." "I
don't think it is necessary, sir," the man answered. There was a
coldness about it that cut me to the quick.
But bad as is the conduct of the English customs men, the immigration
officials are even worse. I could not help being struck by the
dreadful carelessness with which people are admitted into England.
There are, it is true, a group of officials said to be in charge of
immigration, but they know nothing of the discriminating care
exercised on the other side of the Atlantic.
"Do you want to know," I asked one of them, "whether I am a
"No, sir," he said very quietly.
"Would you like me to tell you whether I am fundamentally opposed
to any and every system of government?"
The man seemed mystified. "No, sir," he said. "I don't know that
"Don't you care?" I asked.
"Well, not particularly, sir," he answered.
I was determined to arouse him from his lethargy.
"Let me tell you, then," I said, "that I am an anarchistic polygamist,
that I am opposed to all forms of government, that I object to any
kind of revealed religion, that I regard the state and property
and marriage as the mere tyranny of the bourgeoisie, and that I
want to see class hatred carried to the point where it forces every
one into brotherly love. Now, do I get in ?"
The official looked puzzled for a minute. "You are not Irish, are
you, sir?" he said.
"Then I think you can come in all right." he answered.
The journey from Liverpool to London, like all other English
journeys, is short. This is due to the fact that England is a small
country: it contains only 50,000 square miles, whereas the United
States, as every one knows, contains three and a half billion. I
mentioned this fact to an English fellow passenger on the train,
together with a provisional estimate of the American corn crop for
1922: but he only drew his rug about his knees, took a sip of brandy
from his travelling flask, and sank into a state resembling death.
I contented myself with jotting down an impression of incivility
and paid no further attention to my fellow traveller other than to
read the labels on his lug gage and to peruse the headings of his
newspaper by peeping over his shoulder.
It was my first experience of travelling with a fellow passenger in a
compartment of an English train, and I admit now that I was as yet
ignorant of the proper method of conduct. Later on I became fully
conversant with the rule of travel as understood in England. I
should have known, of course, that I must on no account speak to the
man. But I should have let down the window a little bit in such a way
as to make a strong draught on his ear. Had this failed to break
down his reserve I should have placed a heavy valise in the rack over
his head so balanced that it might fall on him at any moment. Failing
this again, I could have blown rings of smoke at him or stepped on
his feet under the pretence of looking out of the window. Under the
English rule as long as he bears this in silence you are not supposed
to know him. In fact, he is not supposed to be there. You and he each
presume the other to be a mere piece of empty space. But let him once
be driven to say, "Oh, I beg your pardon, I wonder if you would mind
my closing the window," and he is lost. After that you are entitled
to tell him anything about the corn crop that you care to.
But in the present case I knew nothing of this, and after three
hours of charming silence I found myself in London.
II. I Am Interviewed by the Press
IMMEDIATELY upon my arrival in London I was interviewed by the
Press. I was interviewed in all twenty times. I am not saying this
in any spirit of elation or boastfulness. I am simply stating it
as a fact--interviewed twenty times, sixteen times by men and twice
by women. But as I feel that the results of these interviews were
not all that I could have wished, I think it well to make some
public explanation of what happened.
The truth is that we do this thing so differently over in America
that I was for the time being completely thrown off my bearings.
The questions that I had every right to expect after many years of
American and Canadian interviews failed to appear.
I pass over the fact that being interviewed for five hours is a
fatiguing process. I lay no claim to exemption for that. But to
that no doubt was due the singular discrepancies as to my physical
appearance which I detected in the London papers.
The young man who interviewed me immediately after breakfast
described me as "a brisk, energetic man, still on the right side
of forty, with energy in every movement."
The lady who wrote me up at 11.30 reported that my hair was turning
grey, and that there was "a peculiar languor" in my manner.
And at the end the boy who took me over at a quarter to two said,
"The old gentleman sank wearily upon a chair in the hotel lounge.
His hair is almost white."
The trouble is that I had not understood that London reporters are
supposed to look at a man's personal appearance. In America we
never bother with that. We simply describe him as a "dynamo." For
some reason or other it always pleases everybody to be called a
"dynamo," and the readers, at least with us, like
to read about people who are "dynamos," and hardly care for anything
In the case of very old men we sometimes call them "battle-horses"
or "extinct volcanoes," but beyond these three classes we hardly
venture on description. So I was misled. I had expected that the
reporter would say: "As soon as Mr. Leacock came across the floor
we felt we were in the presence of a 'dynamo' (or an 'extinct
battle-horse' as the case may be)." Otherwise I would have kept up
those energetic movements all the morning. But they fatigue me,
and I did not think them necessary. But I let that pass.
The more serious trouble was the questions put to me by the reporters.
Over in our chief centres of population we use another set altogether.
I am thinking here especially of the kind of interview that I have
given out in Youngstown, Ohio, and Richmond, Indiana, and
Peterborough, Ontario. In all these places--for example, in
Youngstown, Ohiothe reporter asks as his first question, "What is
your impression of Youngstown?"
In London they don't. They seem indifferent to the fate of their
city. Perhaps it is only English pride. For all I know they may
have been burning to know this, just as the Youngstown, Ohio, people
are, and were too proud to ask. In any case I will insert here the
answer I had written out in my pocket-book (one copy for each
paper--the way we do it in Youngstown), and which read:
"London strikes me as emphatically a city with a future. Standing
as she does in the heart of a rich agricultural district with
railroad connection in all directions, and resting, as she must,
on a bed of coal and oil, I prophesy that she will one day be a
The advantage of this is that it enables the reporter to get just the
right kind of heading: PROPHESIES BRIGHT FUTURE FOR LONDON. Had that
been used my name would have stood higher there than it does
to-day--unless the London people are very different from the people
in Youngstown, which I doubt. As it is they don't know whether their
future is bright or is as dark as mud. But it's not my fault. The
reporters never asked me.
If the first question had been handled properly it would have led
up by an easy and pleasant transition to question two, which always
runs: "Have you seen our factories?" To which the answer is:
"I have. I was taken out early this morning by a group of your
citizens (whom I cannot thank enough) in a Ford car to look at your
pail and bucket works. At eleven-thirty I was taken out by a second
group in what was apparently the same car to see your soap works.
I understand that you are the second nail-making centre east of
the Alleghenies, and I am amazed and appalled. This afternoon I am
to be taken out to see your wonderful system of disposing of
sewerage, a thing which has fascinated me from childhood."
Now I am not offering any criticism of the London system of
interviewing, but one sees at once how easy and friendly for all
concerned this Youngstown method is; how much better it works than
the London method of asking questions about literature and art and
difficult things of that sort. I am sure that there must be soap
works and perhaps a pail factory somewhere in London. But during my
entire time of residence there no one ever offered to take me to
them. As for the sewerage--oh, well, I suppose we are more hospitable
in America. Let it go at that.
I had my answer all written and ready, saying:
"I understand that London is the second greatest hop-consuming,
the fourth hog-killing, and the first egg-absorbing centre in the
But what I deplore still more, and I think with reason, is the total
omission of the familiar interrogation: "What is your impression of
That's where the reporter over on our side hits the nail every time.
That is the point at which we always nudge him in the ribs and buy him
a cigar, and at which youth and age join in a sly jest together. Here
again the sub-heading comes in so nicely: THINKS YOUNGSTOWN WOMEN
CHARMING. And they are. They are, everywhere. But I hate to think that
I had to keep my impression of London women unused in my pocket while
a young man asked me whether I thought modern literature owed more to
observation and less to inspiration than some other kind of
Now that's exactly the kind of question, the last one, that the
London reporters seem to harp on. They seemed hipped about literature;
and their questions are too difficult. One asked me whether the
American drama was structurally inferior to the French. I don't
call that fair. I told him I didn't know; that I used to know the
answer to it when I was at college, but that I had forgotten it,
and that, anyway, I am too well off now to need to remember it.
That question is only one of a long list that they asked me about art
and literature. I missed nearly all of them, except one as to whether
I thought Al Jolson or Frank Tinney was the higher artist, and even
that one was asked by an American who is wasting himself on the London
I don't want to speak in anger. But I say it frankly, the atmosphere
of these young men is not healthy, and I felt that I didn't want
to see them any more.
Had there been a reporter of the kind we have at home in Montreal
or Toledo or Springfield, Illinois, I would have welcomed him at
my hotel. He could have taken me out in a Ford car and shown me a
factory and told me how many cubic feet of water go down the Thames
in an hour. I should have been glad of his society, and he and I
would have together made up the kind of copy that people of his
class and mine read. But I felt that if any young man came along
to ask about the structure of the modern drama, he had better go
on to the British Museum.
Meantime as the reporters entirely failed to elicit the large fund
of information which I acquired, I reserve my impressions of London
for a chapter by themselves.
III. - Impressions of London
BEFORE setting down my impressions of the great English metropolis;
a phrase which I have thought out as a designation for London; I
think it proper to offer an initial apology. I find that I receive
impressions with great difficulty and have nothing of that easy
facility in picking them up which is shown by British writers on
Ameriea. I remember Hugh Walpole telling me that he could hardly
walk down Broadway without getting at least three dollars' worth
and on Fifth Avenue five dollars' worth; and I recollect that St.
John Ervine came up to my house in Montreal, drank a cup of tea,
borrowed some tobacco, and got away with sixty dollars' worth of
impressions of Canadian life and character.
For this kind of thing I have only a despairing admiration. I can get
an impression if I am given time and can think about it beforehand.
But it requires thought. This fact was all the more distressing to me
in as much as one of the leading editors of America had made me a
proposal, as honourable to him as it was Iucrative to me, that
immediately on my arrival in London;--or just before it,--I should
send him a thousand words on the genius of the English, and five
hundred words on the spirit of London, and two hundred words of
personal chat with Lord Northcliffe. This contract I was unable to
fulfil except the personal chat with Lord Northcliffe, which proved
an easy matter as he happened to be away in Australia.
But I have since pieced together my impressions as conscientiously
as I could and I present them here. If they seem to be a little
bit modelled on British impressions of America I admit at once that
the influence is there. We writers all act and react on one another;
and when I see a good thing in another man's book I react on it at
London, the name of which is already known to millions of readers
of this book, is beautifully situated on the river Thames, which
here sweeps in a wide curve with much the same breadth and majesty
as the St. Jo River at South Bend, Indiana. London, like South Bend
itself, is a city of clean streets and admirable sidewalks, and
has an excellent water supply. One is at once struck by the number
of excellent and well-appointed motor cars that one sees on every
hand, the neatness of the shops and the cleanliness and cheerfulness
of the faces of the people. In short, as an English visitor said
of Peterborough, Ontario, there is a distinct note of optimism in
the air. I forget who it was who said this, but at any rate I have
been in Peterborough myself and I have seen it.
Contrary to my expectations and contrary to all our Transatlantic
precedents, I was not met at the depot by one of the leading
citizens, himself a member of the Municipal Council, driving his
own motor car. He did not tuck a fur rug about my knees, present
me with a really excellent cigar and proceed to drive me about the
town so as to show me the leading points of interest, the municipal
reservoir, the gas works and the municipal abattoir. In fact he
was not there. But I attribute his absence not to any lack of
hospitality but merely to a certain reserve in the English character.
They are as yet unused to the arrival of lecturers. When they get
to be more accustomed to their coming, they will learn to take them
straight to the municipal abattoir just as we do.
For lack of better guidance, therefore, I had to form my impressions
of London by myself. In the mere physical sense there is much to
attract the eye. The city is able to boast of many handsome public
buildings and offices which compare favourably with anything on the
other side of the Atlantic. On the bank of the Thames itself rises
the power house of the Westminster Electric Supply Corporation, a
handsome modern edifice in the later Japanese style. Close by are the
commodious premises of the Imperial Tobacco Company, while at no
great distance the Chelsea Gas Works add a striking feature of
rotundity. Passing northward, one observes Westminster Bridge,
notable as a principal station of the underground railway. This
station and the one next above it, the Charing Cross one, are
connected by a wide thoroughfare called Whitehall. One of the best
American drug stores is here situated. The upper end of Whitehall
opens into the majestic and spacious Trafalgar Square. Here are
grouped in imposing proximity the offices of the Canadian Pacific and
other railways, The International Sleeping Car Company, the Montreal
Star, and the Anglo-Dutch Bank. Two of the best American barber shops
are conveniently grouped near the Square, while the existence of a
tall stone monument in the middle of the Square itself enables the
American visitor to find them without difficulty. Passing eastward
towards the heart of the city, one notes on the left hand the
imposing pile of St. Paul's, an enormous church with a round dome on
the top, suggesting strongly the first Church of Christ (Scientist)
on Euclid Avenue, Cleveland.
But the English churches not being labelled, the visitor is often
at a loss to distinguish them.
A little further on one finds oneself in the heart of financial
London. Here all the great financial institutions of America--The
First National Bank of Milwaukee, The Planters National Bank of
St. Louis, The Montana Farmers Trust Co., and many others,--have
either their offices or their agents. The Bank of England--which
acts as the London Agent of The Montana Farmers Trust Company,--
and the London County Bank, which represents the People's Deposit
Co., of Yonkers, N.Y., are said to be in the neighbourhood.
This particular part of London is connected with the existence of
that strange and mysterious thing called "the City." I am still
unable to decide whether the city is a person, or a place, or a
thing. But as a form of being I give it credit for being the most
emotional, the most volatile, the most peculiar creature in the
world. You read in the morning paper that the City is "deeply
depressed." At noon it is reported that the City is "buoyant" and by
four o'clock that the City is "wildly excited."
I have tried in vain to find the causes of these peculiar changes
of feeling. The ostensible reasons, as given in the newspaper, are
so trivial as to be hardly worthy of belief. For example, here is
the kind of news that comes out from the City. "The news that a
modus vivendi has been signed between the Sultan of Kowfat and the
Shriek-ul-Islam has caused a sudden buoyancy in the City. Steel
rails which had been depressed all morning reacted immediately
while American mules rose up sharply to par." . . . "Monsieur Poincar,
speaking at Bordeaux, said that henceforth France must seek to
retain by all possible means the ping-pong championship of the
world: values in the City collapsed at once." . . . "Despatches from
Bombay say that the Shah of Persia yesterday handed a golden slipper
to the Grand Vizier Feebli Pasha as a sign that he might go and
chase himself: the news was at once followed by a drop in oil, and
a rapid attempt to liquidate everything that is fluid . . ."
But these mysteries of the City I do not pretend to explain. I have
passed through the place dozens of times and never noticed anything
particular in the way of depression or buoyancy, or falling oil,
or rising rails. But no doubt it is there.
A little beyond the city and further down the river the visitor
finds this district of London terminating in the gloomy and forbidding
Tower, the principal penitentiary of the city. Here Queen Victoria
was imprisoned for many years.
Excellent gasoline can be had at the American Garage immediately
north of the Tower, where motor repairs of all kinds are also
These, however, are but the superficial pictures of London, gathered
by the eye of the tourist. A far deeper meaning is found in the
examination of the great historic monuments of the city. The
principal ones of these are the Tower of London (just mentioned), the
British Museum and Westminster Abbey. No visitor to London should
fail to see these. Indeed he ought to feel that his visit to England
is wasted unless he has seen them. I speak strongly on the point
because I feel strongly on it. To my mind there is something about
the grim fascination of the historic Tower, the cloistered quiet of
the Museum and the majesty of the ancient Abbey, which will make it
the regret of my life that I didn't see any one of the three. I fully
meant to: but I failed: and I can only hope that the circumstances of
my failure may be helpful to other visitors.
The Tower of London I most certainly intended to inspect. Each day,
after the fashion of every tourist, I wrote for myself a little
list of things to do and I always put the Tower of London on it.
No doubt the reader knows the kind of little list that I mean. It
1. Go to bank.
2. Buy a shirt.
3. National Picture Gallery.
4. Razor blades.
5. Tower of London.
This itinerary, I regret to say, was never carried out in full. I was
able at times both to go to the bank and buy a shirt in a single
morning: at other times I was able to buy razor blades and almost to
find the National Picture Gallery. Meantime I was urged on all sides
by my London acquaintances not to fail to see the Tower. "There's a
grim fascination about the place," they said; "you mustn't miss it."
I am quite certain that in due course of time I should have made my
way to the Tower but for the fact that I made a fatal discovery. I
found out that the London people who urged me to go and see the Tower
had never seen it themselves. It appears they never go near it. One
night at a dinner a man next to me said, "Have you seen the Tower?
You really ought to. There's a grim fascination about it." I looked
him in the face. "Have you seen it yourself?" I asked. "Oh, yes," he
answered. "I've seen it." "When?" I asked. The man hesitated. "When I
was just a boy," he said, "my father took me there." "How long ago is
that?" I enquired. "About forty years ago," he answered;
"I always mean to go again but I don't somehow seem to get the
After this I got to understand that when a Londoner says, "Have
you seen the Tower of London?" the answer is, "No, and neither have
Take the parallel case of the British Museum. Here is a place that is
a veritable treasure house. A repository of some of the most
priceless historical relics to be found upon the earth. It contains,
for instance, the famous Papyrus Manuscript of Thotmes II of the
first Egyptian dynasty--a thing known to scholars all over the world
as the oldest extant specimen of what can be called writing; indeed
one can here see the actual evolution (I am quoting from a work of
reference, or at least from my recollection of it) from the
ideographic cuneiform to the phonetic syllabic script. Every time I
have read about that manuscript and have happened to be in Orillia
(Ontario) or Schenectady (N.Y.) or any such place, I have felt that I
would be willing to take a whole trip to England to have five minutes
at the British Museum, just five, to look at that papyrus. Yet as
soon as I got to London this changed. The railway stations of London
have been so arranged that to get to any train for the north or west,
the traveller must pass the British Museum. The first time I went by
it in a taxi, I felt quite a thrill. "Inside those walls," I thought
to myself, "is the manuscript of Thotmes II." The next time I
actually stopped the taxi. "Is that the British Museum?" I asked the
driver, "I think it is something of the sort, sir," he said. I
hesitated. "Drive me," I said, "to where I can buy safety razor
After that I was able to drive past the Museum with the quiet
assurance of a Londoner, and to take part in dinner table discussions
as to whether the British Museum or the Louvre contains the greater
treasures. It is quite easy any way. All you have to do is to
remember that The Winged Victory of Samothrace is in the Louvre
and the papyrus of Thotmes II (or some such document) is in the
The Abbey, I admit, is indeed majestic. I did not intend to miss
going into it. But I felt, as so many tourists have, that I wanted to
enter it in the proper frame of mind. I never got into the frame of
mind; at least not when near the Abbey itself. I have been in exactly
that frame of mind when on State Street, Chicago, or on King Street,
Toronto, or anywhere three thousand miles away from the Abbey. But by
bad luck I never struck both the frame of mind and the Abbey at the
But the Londoners, after all, in not seeing their own wonders, are
only like the rest of the world. The people who live in Buffalo never
go to see Niagara Falls; people in Cleveland don't know which is Mr.
Rockefeller's house, and people live and even die in New York without
going up to the top of the Woolworth Building. And anyway the past is
remote and the present is near. I know a cab driver in the city of
Quebec whose business in life it is to drive people up to see the
Plains of Abraham, but unless they bother him to do it, he doesn't
show them the spot where Wolfe fell: what ho does point out with real
zest is the place where the Mayor and the City Council sat on the
wooden platform that they put up for the municipal celebration last
No description of London would be complete without a reference,
however brief, to the singular salubrity and charm of the London
climate. This is seen at its best during the autumn and winter
months. The climate of London and indeed of England generally is due
to the influence of the Gulf Stream. The way it works is thus: The
Gulf Stream, as it nears the shores of the British Isles and feels
the propinquity of Ireland, rises into the air, turns into soup, and
comes down on London. At times the soup is thin and is in fact little
more than a mist: at other times it has the consistency of a thick
Potage St. Germain. London people are a little sensitive on the point
and flatter their atmosphere by calling it a fog: but it is not: it
is soup. The notion that no sunlight ever gets through and that in
the London winter people never see the sun is of course a ridiculous
error, circulated no doubt by the jealousy of foreign nations. I have
myself seen the sun plainly visible in London, without the aid of
glasses, on a November day in broad daylight; and again one night
about four o'clock in the afternoon I saw the sun distinctly appear
through the clouds. The whole subject of daylight in the London
winter is, however, one which belongs rather to the technique of
astronomy than to a book of description. In practice daylight is but
little used. Electric lights are burned all the time in all houses,
buildings, railway stations and clubs. This practice which is now
universally observed is called Daylight Saving.
But the distinction between day and night during the London winter is
still quite obvious to any one of an observant mind. It is indicated
by various signs such as the striking of clocks, the tolling of
bells, the closing of saloons, and the raising of taxi rates. It is
much less easy to distinguish the technical approach of night in the
other cities of England that lie outside the confines, physical and
intellectual, of London and live in a continuous gloom. In such
places as the great manufacturing cities, Buggingham-under-Smoke, or
Gloomsbury-on-Ooze, night may be said to be perpetual.
. . . . .
I had written the whole of the above chapter and looked on it as
finished when I realised that I had made a terrible omission. I
neglected to say anything about the Mind of London. This is a thing
that is always put into any book of discovery and observation and
I can only apologise for not having discussed it sooner. I am quite
familiar with other people's chapters on "The Mind of America,"
and "The Chinese Mind," and so forth. Indeed, so far as I know it
has turned out that almost everybody all over the world has a mind.
Nobody nowadays travels, even in Central America or Thibet, without
bringing back a chapter on "The Mind of Costa Rica," or on the
"Psychology of the Mongolian." Even the gentler peoples such as
the Burmese, the Siamese, the Hawaiians, and the Russians, though
they have no minds are written up as souls.
It is quite obvious then that there is such a thing as the mind of
London: and it is all the more culpable in me to have neglected it in
as much as my editorial friend in New York had expressly mentioned it
to me before I sailed. "What," said he, leaning far over his desk
after his massive fashion and reaching out into the air, "what is in
the minds of these people? Are they," he added, half to himself,
though I heard him, "are they thinking? And, if they think, what do
I did therefore, during my stay in London, make an accurate study of
the things that London seemed to be thinking about. As a comparative
basis for this study I brought with me a carefully selected list of
the things that New York was thinking about at the moment. These I
selected from the current newspapers in the proportions to the amount
of space allotted to each topic and the size of the heading that
announced it. Having thus a working idea of what I may call the mind
of New York, I was able to collect and set beside it a list of
similar topics, taken from the London Press to represent the mind of
London. The two placed side by side make an interesting piece of
psychological analysis. They read as follows:
THE MIND OF NEW YORK THE MIND OF LONDON
What is it thinking? What is it thinking?
1. Do chorus girls make 1. Do chorus girls marry
good wives? well?
2. Is red hair a sign of 2. What is red hair a
temperament? sign of?
3. Can a woman be in 3. Can a man be in love
love with two men? with two women?
4. Is fat a sign of genius? 4. Is genius a sign of fat?
Looking over these lists, I think it is better to present them
without comment; I feel sure that somewhere or other in them one
should detect the heart-throbs, the pulsations of two great peoples.
But I don't get it. In fact the two lists look to me terribly like
"the mind of Costa Rica."
The same editor also advised me to mingle, at his expense, in the
brilliant intellectual life of England. "There," he said, "is a
coterie of men, probably the most brilliant group East of
the Mississippi." (I think he said the Mississippi). "You will find
them," he said to me, "brilliant, witty, filled with repartee." He
suggested that I should send him back, as far as words could express
it, some of this brilliance. I was very glad to be able to do this,
although I fear that the results were not at all what he had
anticipated. Still, I held conversations with these people and I
gave him, in all truthfulness, the result. Sir James Barrie said,
"This is really very exceptional weather for this time of year."
Cyril Maude said, "And so a Martini cocktail is merely gin and
vermouth." Ian Hay said, "You'll find the underground ever so handy
once you understand it."
I have a lot more of these repartees that I could insert here if
it was necessary. But somehow I feel that it is not.
IV. -- A Clear View of the Government and Politics of England
A LOYAL British subject like myself in dealing with the government
of England should necessarily begin with a discussion of the
monarchy. I have never had the pleasure of meeting the King,--except
once on the G.T.R. platform in Orillia, Ontario, when he was the
Duke of York and I was one of the welcoming delegates of the town
council. No doubt he would recall it in a minute.
But in England the King is surrounded by formality and circumstance.
On many mornings I waited round the gates of Buckingham Palace but I
found it quite impossible to meet the King in the quiet sociable way
in which one met him in Orillia. The English, it seems, love to make
the kingship a subject of great pomp and official etiquette. In
Canada it is quite different. Perhaps we understand kings and princes
better than the English do. At any rate we treat them in a far more
human heart-to-heart fashion than is the English custom, and they
respond to it at once. I remember when King George--he was, as I say,
Duke of York then--came up to Orillia, Ontario, how we all met him in
a delegation on the platform. Bob Curran--Bob was Mayor of the town
that year--went up to him and shook hands with him and invited him to
come right on up to the Orillia House where he had a room reserved
for him. Charlie Janes and Mel Tudhope and the other boys who were on
the town Council gathered round the royal prince and shook hands and
told him that he simply must stay over. George Rapley, the bank
manager, said that if he wanted a cheque cashed or anything of that
sort to come right into the Royal Bank and he would do it for him.
The prince had two aides-de-camp with him and a secretary, but Bob
Curran said to bring them uptown too and it would be all right. We
had planned to have an oyster supper for the Prince at Jim Smith's
hotel and then take him either to the Y.M.C.A. Pool Room or else over
to the tea social in the basement of the Presbyterian Church.
Unluckily the prince couldn't stay. It turned out that he had to
get right back into his train and go on to Peterborough, Ontario,
where they were to have a brass band to meet him, which naturally
he didn't want to miss.
But the point is that it was a real welcome. And you could see that
the prince appreciated it. There was a warmth and a meaning to it
that the prince understood at once. It was a pity that he couldn't
have stayed over and had time to see the carriage factory and the
new sewerage plant. We all told the prince that he must come back
and he said that if he could he most certainly would. When the
prince's train pulled out of the station and we all went back uptown
together (it was before prohibition came to Ontario) you could feel
that the institution of royalty was quite solid in Orillia for a
But you don't get that sort of thing in England.
There's a formality and coldness in all their dealings with
royalty that would never go down with us. They like to have the
King come and open Parliament dressed in royal robes, and with a
clattering troop of soldiers riding in front of him. As for taking
him over to the Y.M.C.A. to play pin pool, they never think of it.
They have seen so much of the mere outside of his kingship that
they don't understand the heart of it as we do in Canada.
But let us turn to the House of Commons: for no description of
England would be complete without at least some mention of this
interesting body. Indeed for the ordinary visitor to London the
greatest interest of all attaches to the spacious and magnificent
Parliament Buildings. The House of Commons is commodiously situated
beside the River Thames. The principal features of the House are the
large lunch room on the western side and the tea-room on the terrace
on the eastern. A series of smaller luncheon rooms extend
(apparently) all round about the premises: while a commodious bar
offers a ready access to the members at all hours of the day. While
any members are in the bar a light is kept burning in the tall Clock
Tower at one corner of the building, but when the bar is closed the
light is turned off by whichever of the Scotch members leaves last.
There is a handsome legislative chamber attached to the premises from
which--so the antiquarians tell us--the House of Commons took its
name. But it is not usual now for the members to sit in the
legislative chamber as the legislation is now all done outside,
either at the home of Mr. Lloyd George, or at the National Liberal
Club, or at one or other of the newspaper offices. The House,
however, is called together at very frequent intervals to give it an
opportunity of hearing the latest legislation and allowing the
members to indulge in cheers, sighs, groans, votes and other
expressions of vitality. After having cheered as much as is good for
it, it goes back again to the lunch rooms and goes on eating till
It is, however, an entire exaggeration to say that the House of
Commons no longer has a real share in the government of England.
This is not so. Anybody connected with the government values the
House of Commons in a high degree. One of the leading newspaper
proprietors of London himself told me that he has always felt that if
he had the House of Commons on his side he had a very valuable ally.
Many of the labour leaders are inclined to regard the House of
Commons as of great utility, while the leading women's organizations,
now that women are admitted as members, may be said to regard the
House as one of themselves.
Looking around to find just where the natural service of the House
of Commons comes in, I am inclined to think that it must be in the
practice of "asking questions" in the House. Whenever anything goes
wrong a member rises and asks a question. He gets up, for example,
with a little paper in his hand, and asks the government if ministers
are aware that the Khedive of Egypt was seen yesterday wearing a
Turkish Tarbosh. Ministers say very humbly that they hadn't known
it, and a thrill runs through the whole country. The members can
apparently ask any questions they like. In the repeated
visits which I made to the gallery of the House of Commons I was
unable to find any particular sense or meaning in the questions
asked, though no doubt they had an intimate bearing on English
politics not clear to an outsider like myself. I heard one member
ask the government whether they were aware that herrings were being
imported from Hamburg to Harwich. The government said no. Another
member rose and asked the government whether they considered
Shakespere or Moliere the greater dramatic artist. The government
answered that ministers were taking this under their earnest
consideration and that a report would be submitted to Parliament.
Another member asked the government if they knew who won the Queen's
Plate this season at Toronto. They did,--in fact this member got
in wrong, as this is the very thing that the government do know.
Towards the close of the evening a member rose and asked the
government if they knew what time it was. The Speaker, however,
ruled this question out of order on the ground that it had been
The Parliament Buildings are so vast that it is not possible to
state with certainty what they do, or do not, contain. But it is
generally said that somewhere in the building is the House of Lords.
When they meet they are said to come together very quietly shortly
before the dinner hour, take a glass of dry sherry and a biscuit
(they are all abstemious men), reject whatever bills may be before
them at the moment, take another dry sherry and then adjourn for
The public are no longer allowed unrestricted access to the Houses
of Parliament; its approaches are now strictly guarded by policemen.
In order to obtain admission it is necessary either to (A) communicate
in writing with the Speaker of the House, enclosing certificates
of naturalization and proof of identity, or (B) give the policeman
five shillings. Method B is the one usually adopted. On great
nights, however, when the House of Commons is sitting and is about
to do something important, such as ratifying a Home Rule Bill or
cheering, or welcoming a new lady member, it is not possible to
enter by merely bribing the policeman with five shillings; it takes
a pound. The English people complain bitterly of the rich Americans
who have in this way corrupted the London public. Before they were
corrupted they would do anything for sixpence.
This peculiar vein of corruption by the Americans runs like a
thread, I may say, through all the texture of English life. Among
those who have been principally exposed to it are the
servants,--especially butlers and chauffeurs, hotel porters,
bell-boys, railway porters and guards, all taxi-drivers, pew-openers,
curates, bishops, and a large part of the peerage.
The terrible ravages that have been made by the Americans on English
morality are witnessed on every hand. Whole classes of society are
hopelessly damaged. I have it in the evidence of the English
themselves and there seems to be no doubt of the fact. Till the
Americans came to England the people were an honest, law-abiding
race, respecting their superiors and despising those below them.
They had never been corrupted by money and their employers extended
to them in this regard their tenderest solicitude. Then the
Americans came. Servants ceased to be what they were; butlers were
hopelessly damaged; hotel porters became a wreck; taxi-drivers turned
out thieves; curates could no longer be trusted to handle money;
peers sold their daughters at a million dollars a piece or three for
two. In fact the whole kingdom began to deteriorate till it got where
it is now. At present after a rich American has stayed in any English
country house, its owners find that they can do nothing with the
butler; a wildness has come over the man. There is a restlessness in
his demeanour and a strange wistful look in his eye as if seeking for
something. In many cases, so I understand, after an American has
stayed in a country house the butler goes insane. He is found in his
pantry counting over the sixpence given to him by a Duke, and
laughing to himself. He has to be taken in charge by the police. With
him generally go the chauffeur, whose mind has broken down from
driving a rich American twenty miles; and the gardener, who is found
tearing up raspberry bushes by the roots to see if there is any money
under them; and the local curate whose brain has collapsed or
expanded, I forget which, when a rich American gave him fifty dollars
for his soup kitchen.
There are, it is true, a few classes that have escaped this contagion,
shepherds living in the hills, drovers, sailors, fishermen and such
like. I remember the first time I went into the English country-side
being struck with the clean, honest look in the people's faces. I
realised exactly where they got it: they had never seen any Americans.
I remember speaking to an aged peasant down in Somerset. "Have you
ever seen any Americans?" "Nah," he said, "uz eeard a mowt o' 'em,
zir, but uz zeen nowt o' 'em." It was clear that the noble fellow
was quite undamaged by American contact.
Now the odd thing about this corruption is that exactly the same idea
is held on the other side of the water. It is a known fact that if a
young English Lord comes to an American town he puts it to the bad in
one week. Socially the whole place goes to pieces. Girls whose
parents are in the hardware business and who used to call their
father "pop" begin to talk of precedence and whether a Duchess
Dowager goes in to dinner ahead of or behind a countess scavenger.
After the young Lord has attended two dances and one tea-social in
the Methodist Church Sunday School Building (Adults 25 cents,
children 10 cents--all welcome.) there is nothing for the young men
of the town to do except to drive him out or go further west.
One can hardly wonder then that this general corruption has extended
even to the policemen who guard the Houses of Parliament. On the
other hand this vein of corruption has not extended to English
politics. Unlike ours, English politics,--one hears it on every
hand,--are pure. Ours unfortunately are known to be not so. The
difference seems to be that our politicians will do anything for
money and the English politicians won't; they just take the money
and won't do a thing for it.
Somehow there always seems to be a peculiar interest about English
political questions that we don't find elsewhere. At home in Canada
our politics turn on such things as how much money the Canadian
National Railways lose as compared with how much they could lose
if they really tried; on whether the Grain Growers of Manitoba
should be allowed to import ploughs without paying a duty or to
pay a duty without importing the ploughs. Our members at Ottawa
discuss such things as highway subsidies, dry farming, the Bank
Act, and the tariff on hardware. These things leave me absolutely
cold. To be quite candid there is something terribly plebeian about
them. In short, our politics are what we call in French "peuple."
But when one turns to England, what a striking difference! The
English, with the whole huge British Empire to fish in and the
European system to draw upon, can always dig up some kind of
political topic of discussion that has a real charm about it. One
month you find English politics turning on the Oasis of Merv and the
next on the hinterland of Albania; or a member rises in the Commons
with a little bit of paper in his hand and desires to ask the foreign
secretary if he is aware that the Ahkoond of Swat is dead. The
foreign secretary states that the government have no information
other than that the Ahkoond was dead a month ago. There is a distinct
sensation in the House at the realisation that the Ahkoond has been
dead a month without the House having known that he was alive. The
sensation is conveyed to the Press and the afternoon papers appear
with large headings, THE AHKOOND OF SWAT IS DEAD. The public who have
never heard of the Ahkoond bare their heads in a moment in a pause to
pray for the Ahkoond's soul. Then the cables take up the refrain and
word is flashed all over the world, The Ahkoond of Swat is Dead.
There was a Canadian journalist and poet once who was so impressed
with the news that the Ahkoond was dead, so bowed down with regret
that he had never known the Ahkoond while alive, that he forthwith
wrote a poem in memory of The Ahkoond of Swat. I have always thought
that the reason of the wide admiration that Lannigan's verses
received was not merely because of the brilliant wit that is in
them but because in a wider sense they typify so beautifully the
scope of English politics. The death of the Ahkoond of Swat, and
whether Great Britain should support as his successor Mustalpha El
Djin or Kamu Flaj,--there is something worth talking of over an
afternoon tea table. But suppose that the whole of the Manitoba
Grain Growers were to die. What could one say about it? They'd be
dead, that's all.
So it is that people all over the world turn to English politics with
interest. What more delightful than to open an atlas, find out where
the new kingdom of Hejaz is, and then violently support the British
claim to a protectorate over it. Over in America we don't understand
this sort of thing. There is naturally little chance to do so and we
don't know how to use it when it comes. I remember that when a chance
did come in connection with the great Venezuela dispute over the
ownership of the jungles and mud-flats of British Guiana, the
American papers at once inserted headings, WHERE IS THE ESSIQUIBO
RIVER? That spoiled the whole thing. If you admit that you don't know
where a place is, then the bottom is knocked out of all discussion.
But if you pretend that you do, then you are all right. Mr. Lloyd
George is said to have caused great amusement at the Versailles
Conference by admitting that he hadn't known where Teschen was. So at
least it was reported in the papers; and for all I know it might even
have been true. But the fun that he raised was not really half what
could have been raised. I have it on good authority that two of the
American delegates hadn't known where Austria Proper was and thought
that Unredeemed Italy was on the East side of New York, while the
Chinese Delegate thought that the Cameroons were part of Scotland.
But it is these little geographic niceties that lend a charm to
European politics that ours lack forever.
I don't mean to say the English politics always turn on romantic
places or on small questions. They don't. They often include
questions of the largest order. But when the English introduce a
really large question as the basis of their politics they like to
select one that is insoluble. This guarantees that it will last. Take
for example the rights of the Crown as against the people. That
lasted for one hundred years,--all the seventeenth century. In
Oklahoma or in Alberta they would have called a convention on the
question, settled it in two weeks and spoiled it for further use. In
the same way the Protestant Reformation was used for a hundred years
and the Reform Bill for a generation.
At the present time the genius of the English for politics has
selected as their insoluble political question the topic of the
German indemnity. The essence of the problem as I understand it
may be stated as follows:
It was definitely settled by the Conference at Versailles that
Germany is to pay the Allies 3,912,486,782,421 marks. I think that
is the correct figure, though of course I am speaking only from
memory. At any rate, the correct figure is within a hundred billion
marks of the above.
The sum to be paid was not reached without a great deal of
discussion. Monsieur Briand, the French Minister, is reported to have
thrown out the figure 4,281,390,687,471. But Mr. Lloyd George would
not pick it up. Nor do I blame him unless he had a basket to pick it
Lloyd George's point of view was that the Germans could very properly
pay a limited amount such as 3,912,486,782,421 marks, but it was
not feasible to put on them a burden of 4,281,390,687,471 marks.
By the way, if any one at this point doubts the accuracy of the
figures just given, all he has to do is to take the amount of the
indemnity as stated in gold marks and then multiply it by the
present value of the mark and he will find to his chagrin that the
figures are correct. If he is still not satisfied I refer him to
a book of Logarithms. If he is not satisfied with that I refer him
to any work on conic sections and if not convinced even then I
refer him so far that he will never come back.
The indemnity being thus fixed, the next question is as to the method
of collecting it. In the first place there is no intention of
allowing the Germans to pay in actual cash. If they do this they will
merely inflate the English beyond what is bearable. England has been
inflated now for eight years and has had enough of it.
In the second place, it is understood that it will not do to allow
the Germans to offer 4,218, 390,687,471 marks' worth of coal. It
is more than the country needs.
What is more, if the English want coal they propose to buy it in
an ordinary decent way from a Christian coal-dealer in their own
country. They do not purpose to ruin their own coal industry for
the sake of building up the prosperity of the German nation.
What I say of coal is applied with equal force to any offers of food,
grain, oil, petroleum, gas, or any other natural product. Payment in
any of these will be sternly refused. Even now it is all the British
farmers can do to live and for some it is more. Many of them are
having to sell off their motors and pianos and to send their sons to
college to work. At the same time, the German producer by depressing
the mark further and further is able to work fourteen hours a day.
This argument may not be quite correct but I take it as I find it in
the London Press. Whether I state it correctly or not, it is quite
plain that the problem is insoluble. That is all that is needed in
first class politics.
A really good question like the German reparation question will go
on for a century. Undoubtedly in the year 2000 A.D., a British
Chancellor of the Exchequer will still be explaining that the
government is fully resolved that Germany shall pay to the last
farthing (cheers): but that ministers have no intention of allowing
the German payment to take a form that will undermine British
industry (wild applause): that the German indemnity shall be so
paid that without weakening the power of the Germans. to buy from
us it shall increase our power of selling to them.
Such questions last forever.
On the other hand sometimes by sheer carelessness a question gets
settled and passes out of politics. This, so we are given to
understand, has happened to the Irish question. It is settled. A
group of Irish delegates and British ministers got together round a
table and settled it. The settlement has since been celebrated at a
demonstration of brotherhood by the Irish Americans of New York with
only six casualties. Henceforth the Irish question passes into
history. There may be some odd fighting along the Ulster border, or a
little civil war with perhaps a little revolution every now and then,
but as a question the thing is finished.
I must say that I for one am very sorry to think that the Irish
question is gone. We shall miss it greatly. Debating societies
which have flourished on it ever since 1886 will be wrecked for
want of it. Dinner parties will now lose half the sparkle of their
conversation. It will be no longer possible to make use of such
good old remarks as, "After all the Irish are a gifted people,"
or, "You must remember that fifty per cent of the great English
generals were Irish."
The settlement turned out to be a very simple affair. Ireland was
merely given dominion status. What that is, no one knows, but it
means that the Irish have now got it and that they sink from the
high place that they had in the white light of publicity to the
level of the Canadians or the New Zealanders.
Whether it is quite a proper thing to settle trouble by conferring
dominion status on it, is open to question. It is a practice that
is bound to spread. It is rumoured that it is now contemplated to
confer dominion status upon the Borough of Poplar and on the
Cambridge undergraduates. It is even understood that at the recent
disarmament conference England offered to confer dominion status
on the United States. President Harding would assuredly have accepted
it at once but for the protest of Mr. Briand, who claimed that any
such offer must be accompanied by a permission to increase the
French fire-brigade by fifty per cent.
It is lamentable, too, that at the very same moment when the Irish
question was extinguished, the Naval Question which had lasted for
nearly fifty years was absolutely obliterated by disarmament.
Henceforth the alarm of invasion is a thing of the past and the navy
practically needless. Beyond keeping a fleet in the North Sea and one
on the Mediterranean, and maintaining a patrol all round the rim of
the Pacific Ocean, Britain will cease to be a naval power. A mere
annual expenditure of fifty million pounds sterling will suffice for
such thin pretence of naval preparedness as a disarmed nation will
have to maintain.
This thing too, came as a surprise, or at least a surprise to the
general public who are unaware of the workings of diplomacy. Those
who know about such things were fully aware of what would happen if a
whole lot of British sailors and diplomatists and journalists were
exposed to the hospitalities of Washington. The British and Americans
are both alike. You can't drive them or lead them or coerce them, but
if you give them a cigar they'll do anything. The inner history of
the conference is only just beginning to be known. But it is
whispered that immediately on his arrival Mr. Balfour was given a
cigar by President Harding. Mr. Balfour at once offered to scrap five
ships, and invited the entire American cabinet into the British
Embassy, where Sir A. Geddes was rash enough to offer them champagne.
The American delegates immediately offered to scrap ten ships. Mr.
Balfour, who simply cannot be outdone in international courtesy,
saw the ten and raised it to twenty. President Harding saw the
twenty, raised it to thirty, and sent out for more poker chips.
At the close of the play Lord Beatty, who is urbanity itself,
offered to scrap Portsmouth Dockyard, and asked if anybody present
would like Canada. President Harding replied with his customary
tact that if England wanted the Philippines, he would think it what
he would term a residuum of normalcy to give them away. There is
no telling what might have happened had not Mr. Briand interposed
to say that any transfer of the Philippines must be regarded as a
signal for a twenty per cent increase in the Boy Scouts of France.
As a tactful conclusion to the matter President Harding raised Mr.
Balfour to the peerage.
As things are, disarmament coming along with the Irish settlement,
leaves English politics in a bad way. The general outlook is too
peaceful altogether. One looks round almost in vain for any of those
"strained relations" which used to be the very basis of English
foreign policy. In only one direction do I see light for English
politics, and that is over towards Czecho-Slovakia. It appears that
Czecho-Slovakia owes the British Exchequer fifty million sterling. I
cannot quote the exact figure, but it is either fifty million or
fifty billion. In either case Czecho-Slovakia is unable to pay. The
announcement has just been made by M. Sgitzch, the new treasurer,
that the country is bankrupt or at least that he sees his way to make
it so in a week.
It has been at once reported in City circles that there are "strained
relations" between Great Britain and Czecho-Slovakia. Now what I
advise is, that if the relations are strained, keep them so. England
has lost nearly all the strained relations she ever had; let her
cherish the few that she still has. I know that there are other
opinions. The suggestion has been at once made for a "round table
conference," at which the whole thing can be freely discussed without
formal protocols and something like a "gentleman's agreement"
reached. I say, don't do it. England is being ruined by these round
table conferences. They are sitting round in Cairo and Calcutta and
Capetown, filling all the best hotels and eating out the substance of
I am told that Lloyd George has offered to go to Czecho-Slovakia.
He should be stopped. It is said that Professor Keynes has proved
that the best way to deal with the debt of Czecho-Slovakia is to
send them whatever cash we have left, thereby turning the exchange
upside down on them, and forcing them to buy all their Christmas
presents in Manchester.
It is wiser not to do anything of the sort. England should send
them a good old-fashioned ultimatum, mobilise all the naval officers
at the Embankment hotels, raise the income tax another sixpence,
and defy them.
If that were done it might prove a successful first step in bringing
English politics back to the high plane of conversational interest
from which they are threatening to fall.
V. - Oxford as I See It
MY private station being that of a university professor, I was
naturally deeply interested in the system of education in England.
I was therefore led to make a special visit to Oxford and to submit
the place to a searching scrutiny. Arriving one afternoon at four
o'clock, I stayed at the Mitre Hotel and did not leave until eleven
o'clock next morning. The whole of this time, except for one hour
spent in addressing the undergraduates, was devoted to a close and
eager study of the great university. When I add to this that I had
already visited Oxford in 1907 and spent a Sunday at All Souls with
Colonel L. S. Amery, it will be seen at once that my views on Oxford
are based upon observations extending over fourteen years.
At any rate I can at least claim that my acquaintance with the
British university is just as good a basis for reflection and
judgment as that of the numerous English critics who come to our side
of the water. I have known a famous English author to arrive at
Harvard University in the morning, have lunch with President Lowell,
and then write a whole chapter on the Excellence of Higher Education
in America. I have known another one come to Harvard, have lunch with
President Lowell, and do an entire book on the Decline of Serious
Study in America. Or take the case of my own university. I remember
Mr. Rudyard Kipling coming to McGill and saying in his address to the
undergraduates at 2.30 P.M., "You have here a great institution." But
how could he have gathered this information? As far as I know he
spent the entire morning with Sir Andrew Macphail in his house beside
the campus, smoking cigarettes. When I add that he distinctly refused
to visit the Palaeontologic Museum, that he saw nothing of our new
hydraulic apparatus, or of our classes in Domestic Science, his
judgment that we had here a great institution seems a little bit
superficial. I can only put beside it, to redeem it in some measure,
the hasty and ill-formed judgment expressed by Lord Milner, "McGill
is a noble university": and the rash and indiscreet expression of
the Prince of Wales, when we gave him an LL.D. degree, "McGill has
a glorious future."
To my mind these unthinking judgments about our great college do
harm, and I determined, therefore, that anything that I said about
Oxford should be the result of the actual observation and real
study based upon a bona fide residence in the Mitre Hotel.
On the strength of this basis of experience I am prepared to make the
following positive and emphatic statements. Oxford is a noble
university. It has a great past. It is at present the greatest
university in the world: and it is quite possible that it has a great
future. Oxford trains scholars of the real type better than any other
place in the world. Its methods are antiquated. It despises science.
Its lectures are rotten. It has professors who never teach and
students who never learn. It has no order, no arrangement, no system.
Its curriculum is unintelligible. It has no president. It has no
state legislature to tell it how to teach, and yet,--it gets there.
Whether we like it or not, Oxford gives something to its students, a
life and a mode of thought, which in America as yet we can emulate
but not equal.
If anybody doubts this let him go and take a room at the Mitre
Hotel (ten and six for a wainscotted bedroom, period of Charles I)
and study the place for himself.
These singular results achieved at Oxford are all the more surprising
when one considers the distressing conditions under which the
students work. The lack of an adequate building fund compels them to
go on working in the same old buildings which they have had for
centuries. The buildings at Brasenose College have not been renewed
since the year 1525. In New College and Magdalen the students are
still housed in the old buildings erected in the sixteenth century.
At Christ Church I was shown a kitchen which had been built at the
expense of Cardinal Wolsey in 1527. Incredible though it may seem,
they have no other place to cook in than this and are compelled to
use it to-day. On the day when I saw this kitchen, four cooks were
busy roasting an ox whole for the students' lunch: this at least is
what I presumed they were doing from the size of the fire-place used,
but it may not have been an ox; perhaps it was a cow. On a huge
table, twelve feet by six and made of slabs of wood five inches
thick, two other cooks were rolling out a game pie. I estimated it as
measuring three feet across. In this rude way, unchanged since the
time of Henry VIII, the unhappy Oxford students are fed. I could not
help contrasting it with the cosy little boarding houses on Cottage
Grove Avenue where I used to eat when I was a student at Chicago, or
the charming little basement dining-rooms of the students' boarding
houses in Toronto. But then, of course, Henry VIII never lived in
The same lack of a building-fund necessitates the Oxford students,
living in the identical old boarding houses they had in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries. Technically they are called "quadrangles,"
"closes" and "rooms"; but I am so broken in to the usage of my
student days that I can't help calling them boarding houses. In many
of these the old stairway has been worn down by the feet of ten
generations of students: the windows have little latticed panes:
there are old names carved here and there upon the stone, and a thick
growth of ivy covers the walls. The boarding house at St. John's
College dates from 1509, the one at Christ Church from the same
period. A few hundred thousand pounds would suffice to replace these
old buildings with neat steel and brick structures like the normal
school at Schenectady, N.Y., or the Peel Street High School at
Montreal. But nothing is done. A movement was indeed attempted last
autumn towards removing the ivy from the walls, but the result was
unsatisfactory and they are putting it back. Any one could have told
them beforehand that the mere removal of the ivy would not brighten
Oxford up, unless at the same time one cleared the stones of the old
inscriptions, put in steel fire-escapes, and in fact brought the
boarding houses up to date.
But Henry VIII being dead, nothing was done. Yet in spite of its
dilapidated buildings and its lack of fire-escapes, ventilation,
sanitation, and up-to-date kitchen facilities, I persist in my
assertion that I believe that Oxford, in its way, is the greatest
university in the world. I am aware that this is an extreme statement
and needs explanation. Oxford is much smaller in numbers, for
example, than the State University of Minnesota, and is much poorer.
It has, or had till yesterday, fewer students than the University of
Toronto. To mention Oxford beside the 26,000 students of Columbia
University sounds ridiculous. In point of money, the 39,000,000
dollar endowment of the University of Chicago, and the $35,000,000
one of Columbia, and the $43,000,000 of Harvard seem to leave Oxford
nowhere. Yet the peculiar thing is that it is not nowhere. By some
queer process of its own it seems to get there every time. It was
therefore of the very greatest interest to me, as a profound scholar,
to try to investigate just how this peculiar excellence of Oxford
It can hardly be due to anything in the curriculum or programme of
studies. Indeed, to any one accustomed to the best models of a
university curriculum as it flourishes in the United States and
Canada, the programme of studies is frankly quite laughable. There
is less Applied Science in the place than would be found with us
in a theological college. Hardly a single professor at Oxford would
recognise a dynamo if he met it in broad daylight. The Oxford
student learns nothing of chemistry, physics, heat, plumbing,
electric wiring, gas-fitting or the use of a blow-torch. Any American
college student can run a motor car, take a gasoline engine to
pieces, fix a washer on a kitchen tap, mend a broken electric bell,
and give an expert opinion on what has gone wrong with the furnace.
It is these things indeed which stamp him as a college man, and
occasion a very pardonable pride in the minds of his parents.
But in all these things the Oxford student is the merest amateur.
This is bad enough. But after all one might say this is only the
mechanical side of education. True: but one searches in vain in
the Oxford curriculum for any adequate recognition of the higher
and more cultured studies. Strange though it seems to us on this
side of the Atlantic, there are no courses at Oxford in Housekeeping,
or in Salesmanship, or in Advertising, or on Comparative Religion,
or on the influence of the Press. There are no lectures whatever
on Human Behaviour, on Altruism, on Egotism, or on the Play of Wild
Animals. Apparently, the Oxford student does not learn these things.
This cuts him off from a great deal of the larger culture of our
side of the Atlantic. "What are you studying this year?" I once
asked a fourth year student at one of our great colleges. "I am
electing Salesmanship and Religion," he answered. Here was a young
man whose training was destined inevitably to turn him into a moral
business man: either that or nothing. At Oxford Salesmanship is
not taught and Religion takes the feeble form of the New Testament.
The more one looks at these things the more amazing it becomes that
Oxford can produce any results at all.
The effect of the comparison is heightened by the peculiar position
occupied at Oxford by the professors' lectures. In the colleges of
Canada and the United States the lectures are supposed to be a really
necessary and useful part of the student's training. Again and again
I have heard the graduates of my own college assert that they had got
as much, or nearly as much, out of the lectures at college as out of
athletics or the Greek letter society or the Banjo and Mandolin Club.
In short, with us the lectures form a real part of the college life.
At Oxford it is not so. The lectures, I understand, are given and may
even be taken. But they are quite worthless and are not supposed to
have anything much to do with the development of the, student's mind.
"The lectures here," said a Canadian student to me, "are punk." I
appealed to another student to know if this was so. "I don't know
whether I'd call them exactly punk," he answered, "but they're
certainly rotten." Other judgments were that the lectures were of no
importance: that nobody took them: that they don't matter: that you
can take them if you like: that they do you no harm.
It appears further that the professors themselves are not keen on
their lectures. If the lectures are called for they give them; if
not, the professor's feelings are not hurt. He merely waits and
rests his brain until in some later year the students call for his
lectures. There are men at Oxford who have rested their brains this
way for over thirty years: the accumulated brain power thus dammed
up is said to be colossal.
I understand that the key to this mystery is found in the operations
of the person called the tutor. It is from him, or rather with him,
that the students learn all that they know: one and all are agreed on
that. Yet it is a little odd to know just how he does it. "We go over
to his rooms," said one student, "and he just lights a pipe and talks
to us." "We sit round with him," said another, "and he simply smokes
and goes over our exercises with us." From this and other evidence I
gather that what an Oxford tutor does is to get a little group of
students together and smoke at them. Men who have been systematically
smoked at for four years turn into ripe scholars. If anybody doubts
this, let him go to Oxford and he can see the thing actually in
operation. A well-smoked man speaks, and writes English with a grace
that can be acquired in no other way.
In what was said above, I seem to have been directing criticism
against the Oxford professors as such: but I have no intention of
doing so. For the Oxford professor and his whole manner of being I
have nothing but a profound respect. There is indeed the greatest
difference between the modern up-to-date American idea of a professor
and the English type. But even with us in older days, in the bygone
time when such people as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were professors,
one found the English idea; a professor was supposed to be a
venerable kind of person, with snow-white whiskers reaching to his
stomach. He was expected to moon around the campus oblivious of the
world around him. If you nodded to him he failed to see you. Of money
he knew nothing; of business, far less. He was, as his trustees were
proud to say of him, "a child."
On the other hand he contained within him a reservoir of learning
of such depth as to be practically bottomless. None of this learning
was supposed to be of any material or commercial benefit to anybody.
Its use was in saving the soul and enlarging the mind.
At the head of such a group of professors was one whose beard was
even whiter and longer, whose absence of mind was even still greater,
and whose knowledge of money, business, and practical affairs was
below zero. Him they made the president.
All this is changed in America. A university professor is now a busy,
hustling person, approximating as closely to a business man as he can
do it. It is on the business man that he models himself. He has a
little place that he calls his "office," with a typewriter machine
and a stenographer. Here he sits and dictates letters, beginning
after the best business models, "in re yours of the eighth ult.,
would say, etc., etc." He writes these letters to students, to his
fellow professors, to the president, indeed to any people who will
let him write to them. The number of letters that he writes each
month is duly counted and set to his credit. If he writes enough he
will get a reputation as an "executive," and big things may happen to
him. He may even be asked to step out of the college and take a post
as an "executive" in a soap company or an advertising firm. The man,
in short, is a "hustler," an "advertiser" whose highest aim is to be
a "live-wire." If he is not, he will presently be dismissed, or, to
use the business term, be "let go," by a board of trustees who are
themselves hustlers and live-wires. As to the professor's soul, he no
longer needs to think of it as it has been handed over along with all
the others to a Board of Censors.
The American professor deals with his students according to his
lights. It is his business to chase them along over a prescribed
ground at a prescribed pace like a flock of sheep. They all go
humping together over the hurdles with the professor chasing them
with a set of "tests" and "recitations," "marks" and "attendances,"
the whole apparatus obviously copied from the time-clock of the
business man's factory. This process is what is called "showing
results." The pace set is necessarily that of the slowest, and thus
results in what I have heard Mr. Edward Beatty describe as the
"convoy system of education."
In my own opinion, reached after fifty-two years of profound
reflection, this system contains in itself the seeds of destruction.
It puts a premium on dulness and a penalty on genius. It circumscribes
that latitude of mind which is the real spirit of learning. If we
persist in it we shall presently find that true learning will fly
away from our universities and will take rest wherever some individual
and enquiring mind can mark out its path for itself.
Now the principal reason why I am led to admire Oxford is that the
place is little touched as yet by the measuring of "results," and by
this passion for visible and provable "efficiency." The whole system
at Oxford is such as to put a premium on genius and to let mediocrity
and dulness go their way. On the dull student Oxford, after a proper
lapse of time, confers a degree which means nothing more than that he
lived and breathed at Oxford and kept out of jail. This for many
students is as much as society can expect. But for the gifted
students Oxford offers great opportunities. There is no question of
his hanging back till the last sheep has jumped over the fence. He
need wait for no one. He may move forward as fast as he likes,
following the bent of his genius. If he has in him any ability beyond
that of the common herd, his tutor, interested in his studies, will
smoke at him until he kindles him into a flame. For the tutor's soul
is not harassed by herding dull students, with dismissal hanging by a
thread over his head in the class room. The American professor has no
time to be interested in a clever student. He has time to be
interested in his "deportment," his letter-writing, his executive
work, and his organising ability and his hope of promotion to a soap
factory. But with that his mind is exhausted. The student of genius
merely means to him a student who gives no trouble, who passes all
his "tests," and is present at all his "recitations." Such a student
also, if he can be trained to be a hustler and an advertiser, will
undoubtedly "make good." But beyond that the professor does not think
of him. The everlasting principle of equality has inserted itself in
a place where it has no right to be, and where inequality is the
breath of life.
American or Canadian college trustees would be horrified at the
notion of professors who apparently do no work, give few or no
lectures and draw their pay merely for existing. Yet these are
really the only kind of professors worth having,--I mean, men who
can be trusted with a vague general mission in life,
with a salary guaranteed at least till their death, and a sphere
of duties entrusted solely to their own consciences and the promptings
of their own desires. Such men are rare, but a single one of them,
when found, is worth ten "executives" and a dozen "organisers."
The excellence of Oxford, then, as I see it, lies in the peculiar
vagueness of the organisation of its work. It starts from the
assumption that the professor is a really learned man whose sole
interest lies in his own sphere: and that a student, or at least the
only student with whom the university cares to reckon seriously, is a
young man who desires to know. This is an ancient mediaeval attitude
long since buried in more up-to-date places under successive strata
of compulsory education, state teaching, the democratisation of
knowledge and the substitution of the shadow for the substance, and
the casket for the gem. No doubt, in newer places the thing has got
to be so. Higher education in America flourishes chiefly as a
qualification for entrance into a money-making profession, and not as
a thing in itself. But in Oxford one can still see the surviving
outline of a nobler type of structure and a higher inspiration.
I do not mean to say, however, that my judgment of Oxford is one
undiluted stream of praise. In one respect at least I think that
Oxford has fallen away from the high ideals of the Middle Ages. I
refer to the fact that it admits women students to its studies. In
the Middle Ages women were regarded with a peculiar chivalry long
since lost. It was taken for granted that their brains were too
delicately poised to allow them to learn anything. It was presumed
that their minds were so exquisitely hung that intellectual effort
might disturb them. The present age has gone to the other extreme:
and this is seen nowhere more than in the crowding of women into
colleges originally designed for men. Oxford, I regret to find,
has not stood out against this change.
To a profound scholar like myself, the presence of these young women,
many of them most attractive, flittering up and down the streets of
Oxford in their caps and gowns, is very distressing.
Who is to blame for this and how they first got in I do not know.
But I understand that they first of all built a private college of
their own close to Oxford, and then edged themselves in foot by foot.
If this is so they only followed up the precedent of the recognised
method in use in America. When an American college is established,
the women go and build a college of their own overlooking the
grounds. Then they put on becoming caps and gowns and stand and look
over the fence at the college athletics. The male undergraduates, who
were originally and by nature a hardy lot, were not easily disturbed.
But inevitably some of the senior trustees fell in love with the
first year girls and became convinced that coeducation was a noble
cause. American statistics show that between 1880 and 1900 the number
of trustees and senior professors who married girl undergraduates or
who wanted to do so reached a percentage of,--I forget the exact
percentage; it was either a hundred or a little over.
I don't know just what happened at Oxford but presumably something
of the sort took place. In any case the women are now all over the
place. They attend the college lectures, they row in a boat, and
they perambulate the High Street. They are even offering a serious
competition against the men. Last year they carried off the ping-pong
championship and took the chancellor's prize for needlework, while
in music, cooking and millinery the men are said to be nowhere.
There is no doubt that unless Oxford puts the women out while there
is yet time, they will overrun the whole university. What this
means to the progress of learning few can tell and those who know
are afraid to say.
Cambridge University, I am glad to see, still sets its face sternly
against this innovation. I am reluctant to count any superiority in
the University of Cambridge. Having twice visited Oxford, having made
the place a subject of profound study for many hours at a time,
having twice addressed its undergraduates, and having stayed at the
Mitre Hotel, I consider myself an Oxford man. But I must admit that
Cambridge has chosen the wiser part.
Last autumn, while I was in London on my voyage of discovery, a
vote was taken at Cambridge to see if the women who have already
a private college nearby, should be admitted to the university.
They were triumphantly shut out; and as a fit and proper sign of
enthusiasm the undergraduates went over in a body and knocked down
the gates of the women's college. I know that it is a terrible
thing to say that any one approved of this. All the London papers
came out with headings that read,--ARE OUR UNDERGRADUATES TURNING
INTO BABOONS? and so on. The Manchester Guardian draped its pages
in black and even the London Morning Post was afraid to take bold
ground in the matter. But I do know also that there was a great
deal of secret chuckling and jubilation in the London clubs. Nothing
was expressed openly. The men of England have been too terrorised
by the women for that.
But in safe corners of the club, out of earshot of the waiters and
away from casual strangers, little groups of elderly men chuckled
quietly together. "Knocked down their gates, eh?" said the wicked
old men to one another, and then whispered guiltily behind an
uplifted hand, "Serve 'em right." Nobody dared to say anything
outside. If they had some one would have got up and asked a question
in the House of Commons. When this is done all England falls flat
upon its face.
But for my part when I heard of the Cambridge vote, I felt as Lord
Chatham did when he said in parliament, "Sir, I rejoice that America
has resisted." For I have long harboured views of my own upon the
higher education of women. In these days, however, it requires no
little hardihood to utter a single word of criticism against it.
It is like throwing half a brick through the glass roof of a
conservatory. It is bound to make trouble. Let me hasten, therefore,
to say that I believe most heartily in the higher education of
women; in fact, the higher the better. The only question to my
mind is: What is "higher education" and how do you get it? With
which goes the secondary enquiry, What is a woman and is she just
the same as a man? I know that it sounds a terrible thing to say
in these days, but I don't believe she is.
Let me say also that when I speak of coeducation I speak of what
I know. I was coeducated myself some thirty-five years ago, at the
very beginning of the thing. I learned my Greek alongside of a bevy
of beauty on the opposite benches that mashed up the irregular
verbs for us very badly. Incidentally, those girls are all married
long since, and all the Greek they know now you could put under a
thimble. But of that presently.
I have had further experience as well. I spent three years in the
graduate school of Chicago, where coeducational girls were as thick
as autumn leaves, and some thicker. And as a college professor at
McGill University in Montreal, I have taught mingled classes of
men and women for twenty years.
On the basis of which experience I say with assurance that the thing
is a mistake and has nothing to recommend it but its relative
cheapness. Let me emphasise this last point and have done with it.
Coeducation is of course a great economy. To teach ten men and ten
women in a single class of twenty costs only half as much as to teach
two classes. Where economy must rule, then, the thing has got to be.
But where the discussion turns not on what is cheapest, but on what
is best, then the case is entirely different.
The fundamental trouble is that men and women are different creatures,
with different minds and different aptitudes and different paths
in life. There is no need to raise here the question of which is
superior and which is inferior (though I think, the Lord help me,
I know the answer to that too). The point lies in the fact that
they are different.
But the mad passion for equality has masked this obvious fact. When
women began to demand, quite rightly, a share in higher education,
they took for granted that they wanted the same curriculum as the
men. They never stopped to ask whether their aptitudes were not in
various directions higher and better than those of the men, and
whether it might not be better for their sex to cultivate the things
which were best suited to their minds. Let me be more explicit. In
all that goes with physical and mathematical science, women, on the
average, are far below the standard of men. There are, of course,
exceptions. But they prove nothing. It is no use to quote to me the
case of some brilliant girl who stood first in physics at Cornell.
That's nothing. There is an elephant in the zoo that can count up to
ten, yet I refuse to reckon myself his inferior.
Tabulated results spread over years, and the actual experience of
those who teach show that in the whole domain of mathematics and
physics women are outclassed. At McGill the girls of our first year
have wept over their failures in elementary physics these twenty-five
years. It is time that some one dried their tears and took away
But, in any case, examination tests are never the whole story. To
those who know, a written examination is far from being a true
criterion of capacity. It demands too much of mere memory,
imitativeness, and the insidious willingness to absorb other people's
ideas. Parrots and crows would do admirably in examinations. Indeed,
the colleges are full of them.
But take, on the other hand, all that goes with the aesthetic side
of education, with imaginative literature and the cult of beauty.
Here women are, or at least ought to be, the superiors of men.
Women were in primitive times the first story-tellers. They are
still so at the cradle side. The original college woman was the
witch, with her incantations and her prophecies and the glow of
her bright imagination, and if brutal men of duller brains had not
burned it out of her, she would be incanting still. To my thinking,
we need more witches in the colleges and less physics.
I have seen such young witches myself,--if I may keep the word: I
like it,--in colleges such as Wellesley in Massachusetts and Bryn
Mawr in Pennsylvania, where there isn't a man allowed within the
three mile limit. To my mind, they do infinitely better thus by
themselves. They are freer, less restrained. They discuss things
openly in their classes; they lift up their voices, and they speak,
whereas a girl in such a place as McGill, with men all about her,
sits for four years as silent as a frog full of shot.
But there is a deeper trouble still. The careers of the men and
women who go to college together are necessarily different, and
the preparation is all aimed at the man's career. The men are going
to be lawyers, doctors, engineers, business men, and politicians.
And the women are not.
There is no use pretending about it. It may sound an awful thing to
say, but the women are going to be married. That is, and always has
been, their career; and, what is more, they know it; and even at
college, while they are studying algebra and political economy, they
have their eye on it sideways all the time. The plain fact is that,
after a girl has spent four years of her time and a great deal of her
parents' money in equipping herself for a career that she is never
going to have, the wretched creature goes and gets married, and in a
few years she has forgotten which is the hypotenuse of a right-angled
triangle, and she doesn't care. She has much better things to think
At this point some one will shriek: "But surely, even for marriage,
isn't it right that a girl should have a college education?" To which
I hasten to answer: most assuredly. I freely admit that a girl who
knows algebra, or once knew it, is a far more charming companion and
a nobler wife and mother than a girl who doesn't know x from y. But
the point is this: Does the higher education that fits a man to be a
lawyer also fit a person to be a wife and mother? Or, in other
words, is a lawyer a wife and mother? I say he is not. Granted that
a girl is to spend four years in time and four thousand dollars in
money in going to college, why train her for a career that she is
never going to adopt? Why not give her an education that will have a
meaning and a harmony with the real life that she is to follow?
For example, suppose that during her four years every girl lucky
enough to get a higher education spent at least six months of it
in the training and discipline of a hospital as a nurse. There is
more education and character making in that than in a whole bucketful
But no, the woman insists on snatching her share of an education
designed by Erasmus or William of Wykeham or William of Occam for
the creation of scholars and lawyers; and when later on in her home
there is a sudden sickness or accident, and the life or death of
those nearest to her hangs upon skill and knowledge and a trained
fortitude in emergency, she must needs send in all haste for a
hired woman to fill the place that she herself has never learned
But I am not here trying to elaborate a whole curriculum. I am only
trying to indicate that higher education for the man is one thing,
for the woman another. Nor do I deny the fact that women have got to
earn their living. Their higher education must enable them to do
that. They cannot all marry on their graduation day. But that is no
great matter. No scheme of education that any one is likely to devise
will fail in this respect.
The positions that they hold as teachers or civil servants they
would fill all the better if their education were fitted to their
Some few, a small minority, really and truly "have a
career,"--husbandless and childless,--in which the sacrifice is
great and the honour to them, perhaps, all the higher. And others
no doubt dream of a career in which a husband and a group of
blossoming children are carried as an appendage to a busy life at
the bar or on the platform. But all such are the mere minority, so
small as to make no difference to the general argument.
But there--I have written quite enough to make plenty of trouble
except perhaps at Cambridge University. So I return with relief to my
general study of Oxford. Viewing the situation as a whole, I am led
then to the conclusion that there must be something in the life of
Oxford itself that makes for higher learning. Smoked at by his tutor,
fed in Henry VIII's kitchen, and sleeping in a tangle of ivy, the
student evidently gets something not easily obtained in America. And
the more I reflect on the matter the more I am convinced that it is
the sleeping in the ivy that does it. How different it is from
student life as I remember it!
When I was a student at the University of Toronto thirty years ago,
I lived,--from start to finish,--in seventeen different boarding
houses. As far as I am aware these houses have not, or not yet,
been marked with tablets. But they are still to be found in the
vicinity of McCaul and Darcy, and St. Patrick Streets. Any one who
doubts the truth of what I have to say may go and look at them.
I was not alone in the nomadic life that I led. There were hundreds
of us drifting about in this fashion from one melancholy habitation
to another. We lived as a rule two or three in a house, sometimes
alone. We dined in the basement. We always had beef, done up in
some way after it was dead, and there were always soda biscuits on
the table. They used to have a brand of soda biscuits in those days
in the Toronto boarding houses that I have not seen since. They
were better than dog biscuits but with not so much snap. My
contemporaries will all remember them. A great many of the leading
barristers and professional men of Toronto were fed on them.
In the life we led we had practically no opportunities for association
on a large scale, no common rooms, no reading rooms, nothing. We
never saw the magazines,--personally I didn't even know the names
of them. The only interchange of ideas we ever got was by going
over to the Caer Howell Hotel on University Avenue and interchanging
I mention these melancholy details not for their own sake but merely
to emphasise the point that when I speak of students' dormitories,
and the larger life which they offer, I speak of what I know.
If we had had at Toronto, when I was a student, the kind of
dormitories and dormitory life that they have at Oxford, I don't
think I would ever have graduated. I'd have been there still. The
trouble is that the universities on our Continent are only just
waking up to the idea of what a university should mean. They were,
very largely, instituted and organised with the idea that a
university was a place where young men were sent to absorb the
contents of books and to listen to lectures in the class rooms. The
student was pictured as a pallid creature, burning what was called
the "midnight oil," his wan face bent over his desk. If you wanted to
do something for him you gave him a book: if you wanted to do
something really large on his behalf you gave him a whole basketful
of them. If you wanted to go still further and be a benefactor to the
college at large, you endowed a competitive scholarship and set two
or more pallid students working themselves to death to get it.
The real thing for the student is the life and environment that
surrounds him. All that he really learns he learns, in a sense, by
the active operation of his own intellect and not as the
passive recipient of lectures. And for this active operation what
he really needs most is the continued and intimate contact with
his fellows. Students must live together and eat together, talk
and smoke together. Experience shows that that is how their minds
really grow. And they must live together in a rational and comfortable
way. They must eat in a big dining room or hall, with oak beams
across the ceiling, and the stained glass in the windows, and with
a shield or tablet here or there upon the wall, to remind them
between times of the men who went before them and left a name worthy
of the memory of the college. If a student is to get from his
college what it ought to give him, a college dormitory, with the
life in common that it brings, is his absolute right. A university
that fails to give it to him is cheating him.
If I were founding a university--and I say it with all the
seriousness of which I am capable--I would found first a smoking
room; then when I had a little more money in hand I would found a
dormitory; then after that, or more probably with it, a decent
reading room and a library. After that, if I still had money over
that I couldn't use, I would hire a professor and get some text
This chapter has sounded in the most part like a continuous eulogy
of Oxford with but little in favour of our American colleges. I
turn therefore with pleasure to the more congenial task of showing
what is wrong with Oxford and with the English university system
generally, and the aspect in which our American universities far
excell the British.
The point is that Henry VIII is dead. The English are so proud of
what Henry VIII and the benefactors of earlier centuries did for the
universities that they forget the present. There is little or nothing
in England to compare with the magnificent generosity of individuals,
provinces and states, which is building up the colleges of the United
States and Canada. There used to be. But by some strange confusion of
thought the English people admire the noble gifts of Cardinal Wolsey
and Henry VIII and Queen Margaret, and do not realise that the
Carnegies and Rockefellers and the William Macdonalds are the
Cardinal Wolseys of to-day. The University of Chicago was founded
upon oil. McGill University rests largely on a basis of tobacco. In
America the world of commerce and business levies on itself a noble
tribute in favour of the higher learning. In England, with a few
conspicuous exceptions, such as that at Bristol, there is little of
the sort. The feudal families are content with what their remote
ancestors have done: they do not try to emulate it in any great
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