The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 9 (February 25, 1927)
The England around us becomes our own England, an England whose chief forces are industry and science, the love of popular freedom and of law, an England which presses steadily forward to a larger social justice and equality, and which tends more and more to bring every custom and tradition, religious, intellectual, and political, to the test of pure reason.—John Richard Green.
From the words of this great historian our thoughts inevitably drift to the famous statesmen who have steered the British ship of state through the troubled waters of the past few centuries and whose work has helped to mould the Empire to its present state of elastic unity. The following sketches contain some glimpses of the leading figures in this gallery of the illustrious.
Sir Robert Walpole.
Sir Robert Walpole was the first statesman in Britain's history to whom the title Prime Minister could properly be applied. He was born at Haughton in Norfolk on 26th August, 1676 and was educated at Eton and Cambridge (King's College). In 1701, at the age of twenty-five, he was elected to the House of Commons as representative for King's Lynn. He soon became a powerful and prominent figure in Parliament and assumed, in 1721, the leadership of the Administration as first Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. For the next twenty years Walpole retained the leadership (the longest period for which the office has been held in the history of England) and guided the fortunes of his country with such fine statesmanship that he kept it prosperous and at peace for almost the whole of that time. “The most pernicious circumstances in which this country can be are those of war,” is one of his famous declarations. In domestic politics he was ever on the side of freedom. It is interesting to note that he is credited with having originated the Saturday half-holiday. A great financier, Walpole rendered conspicuous services to his country after the disastrous financial panic known as the South Sea Bubble. So great was Walpole's fame that the King was wont to say that he could turn stones into gold. Throughout his life Walpole worked to promote the peace of Europe. In Thackeray's words he “gave Englishmen no conquests, but he gave them peace and ease and freedom.” He died on 18th March, 1745.page 18
William Pitt, Earl of Chatham.
William Pitt, first Earl of Chatham, was born on 15th November, 1708. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he entered Parliament at the age of twenty-seven. Pitt soon distinguished himself through his great powers of oratory which he employed in the cause of numerous reforms. In 1746 he became joint vice-Treasurer of Ireland, Paymaster-General of the Forces, and Privy Councillor. Ten years later he was nominated a Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons. By 1760 Pitt, the “Great Commoner,” was the most powerful man in England. He was a thorough patriot, putting his trust in the people who placed their fullest confidence in him. Under his wise leadership Canada was added to the Empire and the power of Britain increased throughout the world. He was a man of great integrity, and, in a corrupt age, had the honourable distinction that he never accepted a bribe. Had Pitt's advice been taken we would not have lost the American colonies, for he opposed the American War with all the eloquence for which he was so famed. Indeed his death was brought about by his insisting on delivering a last oration against this war. England has had no greater Prime Minister than the elder Pitt. He died on 11th May, 1778.
William Pitt, The Younger.
William Pitt the Younger, was the second son of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, and was born at Hoyes on 28th May, 1759. He was a delicate child and his early education was directed at home by his father whose ambition it was that his son should become a great political orator. When thirteen years of age he composed a tragedy, and at fourteen was sent to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. There he graduated and studied law, being called to the Bar in 1780. After a few months practice of law he sought Parliamentary honours and was elected for the borough of Appleby in January, 1781. When Burke heard his first speech he said “It is not a chip of the old block, it is the old block itself.” He was made Chancellor of the Exchequer at the early age of twenty-three and Prime Minister at twenty-four—the youngest Prime Minister the House of Commons has ever known. It was the Younger Pitt's task to govern England during the dangerous period of the French Revolution, a task he carried out with consummate ability. He worked to secure foreign alliances for England so that she should not stand alone in times of peril. He carried a Bill to improve the Government of India, and in 1800 succeeded in bringing about the union of the English and the Irish Parliaments. He also powerfully supported the abolition of slavery. He died on 23rd January, 1806.
William Pitt, The Younger.
Sir Robert Peel was born at Chamber Hall, on 5th February, 1788. He was educated at Harrow, the poet Byron being one of his schoolfellows. He later went on to Oxford where he took a double first in classics and mathematics. Peel early turned his attention to politics, and at the age of twenty-one was elected to the House of Commons as member for Cashel. At twenty-three he was appointed Under Secretary of State for the Colonies which appointment was followed soon afterwards by that of Chief Secretary for Ireland. He was made Home Secretary in 1822, and after many vicissitudes became Prime Minister in 1841. He was a brilliant speaker and exercised immense influence in the House of Commons and throughout Europe. The repeal of the Corn Laws and the establishment of Free Trade as the commercial policy of England were his greatest achievements. Sir Robert Peel also established the metropolitan police, and was responsible for the passing of a measure which improved the criminal laws of his country. Lord Rosebery described him as “one of the princes of mankind.” Sir Robert Peel died as a result of an accident on 2nd July, 1850.
Viscount Palmerston was born at Broad-lands, on 20th October, 1784, and was educated at Harrow, Edinburgh and Cambridge. He was elected to Parliament as member for Newport in the Isle of Wight at the age of twenty-three being at once appointed a Lord of the Admiralty. Two years later he was offered the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer which he did not accept. He accepted, however, the Secretaryship at War, and served in this capacity with great ability and efficiency for nearly twenty years. In 1830 he became Foreign Secretary, and immediately confirmed the independence of Belgium, an action which was to mean so much to future history. For the next eleven years, and again from 1846 to 1851, he was recognised as one of the greatest Foreign Ministers in Europe. “His policy raised the prestige of England to a height which she had not occupied since Waterloo.” He preserved peace, rendered notable services to oppressed peoples, worked for the suppression of the slave-trade and for the reduction of the working hours of women and children. He was Home Secretary in 1852–3, and from 1855 to 1858 and 1859 to 1865 he was Prime Minister. Viscount Palmerston held political power for forty-seven years and died on 18th October, 1865, full of years, of dignities and honours.
Benjamin Disraeli (Earl of Beaconsfield).
Benjamin Disraeli was born in London on 21st December, 1804, and was educated at private schools at Islington, Black-heath and Epping. His first speech in the House of Commons was received with considerable hostility which drew from Disraeli the memorable words “I sit down now, but the time will come when you will hear me.” He became Prime Minister in 1868, and again in 1874. One of Disraeli's wise strokes of policy was to secure for the Empire the chief influence in the Suez Canal by the purchase of the Khedive's shares at a cost of £4,000,000. Another characteristic stroke was to bestow on the Queen the title of Empress of India. Through his great knowledge of the world and of men he scored many a diplomatic triumph for England. The phrase “Peace with Honour” was coined by him as expressive of his victory at the Congress of Berlin where, besides other concessions, he secured Cyprus for the Empire.
His bewildering genius was freely acknowledged. In moving an address to the Crown for a monument to Beaconsfield in Westminster Abbey, Gladstone referred to his “extraordinary intellectual powers, his strength of will, his long-sighted persistency of purpose” and said that “his career was in many respects the most remarkable in Parliamentary history.” He died on 19th April, 1881.
William Ewart Gladstone.
William Ewart Gladstone was born on 29th December, 1809, and was educated at Eton and Oxford where he gained high scholastic honours. At the age of twenty-three he entered Parliament as Conservative member for Newark. In 1843 he became a member of the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. With the coming into power of the Liberal Party in 1868 he became Prime Minister and put through the fampus Education Act of 1870 and other measures of reform. In 1874, for reasons of age—he was then sixty-four—Gladstone retired from politics and devoted himself to literature. Moved, however, by aspects of the Eastern question, he renewed his interest in politics and in 1879 commenced his famous Midlothian campaign, which culminated in 1880 in his becoming Prime Minister for the second time. In 1885 he was defeated in the Commons over the issue of Home Rule, yielding place to Lord Salisbury. However, he became Prime Minister again in 1886, and for the fourth time in 1892, at the age of eighty-two. Gladstone administered the affairs of state and devoted himself to the advancement of social reform with a courage and a genius seldom surpassed. He was a profound classical scholar, a writer and linguist, and one of the greatest orators of his day. After his death on 19th May, 1898, a grateful country laid him to rest in its Valhalla, Westminster Abbey.
Earl Balfour was born on 25th July, 1848, at Whittinghame, in Haddingtonshire. He was educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1874 he was returned to Parliament unopposed, as Conservative member for Hertford. He was Prime Minister from 1892 to 1905. In 1916 he became Foreign Secretary under Mr. Lloyd George. As Foreign Secretary his consummate tact and skill were of immense value to the allied cause not only in his mission to the United States in connection with that country's entry into the European War, but later at the Paris Peace Conference and at the Washington Conference where he was one of Britain's delegates. His latest notable work for the Empire was at the Imperial Conference of 1926 when the famous declaration of Dominion Status was made, placing each one of Britain's Dominions on an equality with the Mother Country—one of the most impressive developments of modern British history. Earl Balfour is one of the most accomplished speakers and thinkers in the Empire. He is seventy-eight years of age.
Lord Oxford And Asquith.
Herbert H. Asquith was born at Croft House, Morley, in Yorkshire on 12th September, 1852. He was educated at home and at the City of London School, and later at Balliol College, Oxford. He had a distinguished University career and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1876. He entered Parliament in 1886 as member for East Fife and very soon his able speeches brought him into prominence. He became Home Secretary in 1892, a position he filled with great distinction. In 1905 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer and put through the Old Age Pensions Act. On the death of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1907 Mr. Asquith became Prime Minister which position he occupied for the next nine years—some of the most momentous years through which the Empire has passed. When he relinquished the office of Prime Minister in 1916 in favour of Mr. Lloyd George, he delivered a speech in the Commons which was described by Mr. Redmond, the Irish leader, as a masterpiece of “magnanimity, reticence, and patriotism.” Mr. Asquith (now Lord Oxford and Asquith) is recognised as one of the greatest parliamentarians of our time. His conduct of the country's affairs in her days of crisis, his patriotism and impassioned eloquence in her cause, have secured him an enduring place in the gallery of great British Statesmen. He is seventy-four years of age.
Mr. Lloyd George.
Mr. Lloyd George was born on 17th January, 1863, in Manchester, and was educated at the National School at Carnarvon. He entered Parliament in 1890 where his powers of lucid and earnest speech created an immediate impression. In 1905 he became President of the Board of Trade with a seat in the Cabinet. He was made Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1908, and besides other great reforms he passed, before relinquishing this office, his famous National Insurance Bill. When the Great War broke out in 1914 he was recognised in Britain as the “man of the hour.” By his magnetic powers of speech, by his vigour and resourcefulness he stirred the nation to a consciousness of its peril, speeded up its war activities and welded it into a coherent organisation for the defeat of the Central Powers. He became Prime Minister of the Coalition Government in 1916, and, continued with unabated courage and persistency to prosecute the war to final victory, which largely through his splendid services was achieved for the allied cause in November, 1918. At the termination of the Paris Peace Conference (at which he was the chief British delegate) he was the idol of the whole Empire. He received the Order of Merit in 1920. Mr. Lloyd George is sixty-four years of age and is Leader of the Liberal Party in the present House of Commons.
James Ramsay Macdonald was born in dire poverty, at Lossiemouth in October, 1866. His schooling was of the scantiest, but he early developed a taste for good literature, through the assiduous study of which he was enabled to lay the foundations for a good general culture. Going up to London at nineteen years of age, friendless and without means, the next few years of his career were years of struggle. By sheer strength of will he continued to read and ultimately was led into fields of journalism. With the foundation of the Independent Labour Party in 1893 (of which he was Chairman from 1907 to 1910) commenced his definite association with the politics of labour. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1906 and the “keen eye of Joseph Chamberlain at once detected a coming man.” He subsequently became Leader of the Independent Labour Party in the House of Commons and in August 1914 was offered a seat in the Cabinet. This, however, he did not accept. He continued to lead his party in the Commons and in January, 1924 was invited by His Majesty the King to form a Cabinet. As Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary he concentrated on European affairs, and during his term of office did much to bring order out of the political chaos of Europe. Mr. Ramsay Macdonald is a writer and speaker of rare eloquence and at the present moment is Leader of the Labour Opposition in the House of Commons.
The Right Hon. Stanley Baldwin.
The Rt. Hon. Stanley Baldwin was born on 3rd August, 1867, and was educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He entered Parliament in 1908 as member for Bewdley and became, in 1916, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Mr. Bonar Law. Twelve months later he was appointed Junior Lord of the Treasury. In 1921 he became President of the Board of Trade, in 1922 Chancellor of the Exchequer and in 1923 Prime Minister and Leader of the Unionist Party. The General Election in December, 1923, which was fought on the great issue of protection versus free trade resulted in his defeat at the polls, but in 1924 he again became Prime Minister, which high office he still holds. Among his distinguished services to Britain may be mentioned his mission in 1922 to the United States, having for its specific object the settlement of our War Debt to that country. “We want to pay and mean to pay,” he said, but he reminded America that the fate of humanity depended upon Anglo-American co-operation—that heavy and rapid debt liquidation would depress the British market for American products which would be a disadvantage to both countries. Mr. Baldwin impressed America with his candid statement of the case, with the result that the period for payment of the debt was extended from twenty-five years to fifty years, and the interest rates were reduced considerably. Mr. Baldwin does not possess any of the arts of oratory which have made some of his predecessors famous, but he does possess the qualities which mark him out as a great leader. “All his actions and words,” says his latest biographer, Mr. Adam Gowans Whyte, “are the outcome of an intense appreciation of the human factor, and a conviction that leadership is, in its ultimate form, simply an appeal to the best elements in our common humanity.”
The Right Hon. Stanley Baldwin.
And when I ask myself what I mean by England, when I think of England when I am abroad, England comes to me through my various senses; through the ear, through the eye and through certain imperishable scents. I will tell you what they are, and there may be more among you who feel as I do. The sounds of England—the tinkle of the hammer on the anvil in the country smithy, the corncrake on a dewy morning, the sound of the scythe against the whetstone, and the sight of a plough team coming over the brow of a hill—the sight that has been seen in England since England was a land. The wild anemones in the woods in April, the last load at night of hay being drawn down a lane as the twilight comes on, when you can scarcely distinguish the figures of the horses as they take it home to the farm, and, above all, most subtle, most penetrating and most moving, the smell of wood smoke coming up in an autumn evening, or the smell of the scutch fires: that wood smoke that our ancestors, tens of thousands of years ago, must have caught on the air when they were coming home with the result of the day's forage, when they were still nomads and when they were still roaming the forests and the plains of the Continent of Europe. These things strike down into the very depths of our nature and touch chords that go back to the beginning of time and the human race, but they are chords that with every year of our life sound a deeper note in our innermost being.
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Can we not get out of our minds in industry, as we are trying in connection with national affairs, that absurd old-fashioned idea that fighting alone is the key to the problem of British industry?—Stanley Baldwin.