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Cheerful Yesterdays


page vii


It has so often been said that America is the Land of Opportunity that some of us are in danger of forgetting that this title—and I know of no nobler one—belongs of older right to our own Empire. The British Empire even to-day yields to no other comity of States in the possibilities it affords to energetic and brilliant youth of every class to achieve fortune, rank, and fame. This is its most compelling claim to our patriotism; the demonstration of true democracy; the foundation of our greatness as a people. And because of this I especially welcome the publication of the memoirs of Mr. Justice Alpers.

Oscar Thorwald Johann Alpers was born at Copenhagen, in Denmark, on January 28th, 1867. When the boy was only eight years old and spoke not a word of any language but his own, his father, true to the Viking instincts of his race, saw a vision of fortune regained in a new world. With his wife and two children he set sail for New Zealand. The whole wealth of the family when they set foot on shore at Napier was only fourteen pounds.

The boy began to earn his own living at the age of twelve, in a strange country speaking a strange page viiitongue, without friends, without influence, without means. In the sequel, forty-five years later, he took his seat on the Bench of the Supreme Court as a Judge. These memoirs show what striving, what trials, what industry, courage, integrity, and ambition went to the making of so magnificent a career.

Then, in the very moment of triumph, he was struck down by Fate. He had surrendered a growing practice at the Bar to assume the honour of a Judgeship, despite the fact that three children of tender age were dependent on his salary. After a few happy months he knew himself afflicted with the cruellest of all scourges—cancer. There followed a grave operation, a year of fluctuating hopes, and then—as he wrote to me only last October in a letter brimful of the cheerful courage with which he bore his sufferings—"leave of absence."

His only anxiety was the future of his family. There is no pension or other provision in New Zealand for the widow or children of Judges. But I am loath to believe that the Dominion will fail to make adequate provision for the dependents of one whose career has done it so much honour.1

Alpers began the dictation of these memoirs to his wife eight days after the operation. The finger of death was already pointing to him when he ended them. "My book, if it is published at all, will, I fcar, be posthumous," he prophesied in his last paragraph. His foreboding was realised. Before the manuscript reached the publishers in page ixLondon, "leave of absence" had been given him, and the cables announced the passing of this brave and distinguished life.

I confidently recommend his book to the Press and to readers of all ages as a worthy record of a fine personality and a valiant career, and as a tribute both to a vigorous Dominion and to an Empire proud to number among its foster-children such men as Oscar Alpers.


December 1927.

1 The New Zealand Government has given the widow a gratuity of £1,500, thus fulfilling Lord Birkenhead's prophecy.