Shall Titles Be Restored?
An answer to John Nelson, who, in MacLean's, March 15, took the affirmative
THE English are not alone in loving a lord and adoring a duke. Walking down the Haymarket, a New York Democrat and I met an average-sized, average-dressed, average-looking man, of whom I said after we passed: “Did you notice that man? He is the Duke of Argyle.” Like a shot the New Yorker chased after the duke and gazed at him, fore and aft. If human capacity were equal to running after a man and being prostrate at the same instant, my friend would have exhibited it. Which leads to reflection as well as to mirth.
Deference to title-holders is instinctively human. We like to bow down to something that is made in our own image. In Czarist days, I met an American resident in Moscow, who, in deference to the prevailing Muscovite worship of titles, carried a card on which was engraved: ‘Alfred M. Hewson, G.A.A.’ He explained that ‘G.A.A.’ signified ‘Good As Any!’
I agree with my friend John Nelson, and one who so earnestly reverences all our holy traditions, Sir George Foster, as to the prevalence of desire for approbation and the marks thereof. But it doesn’t follow that because some tendency is in human nature we must laud, magnify and perpetuate the manifestations of it that grew up with our remote forefathers. The desire for justice was entirely creditable during what some still imagine were the good old days. But we do not clip the ears off too liberal writers about predestination, or pillory critics of the dancing of a queen. Hangings have ceased to be popular spectacles, Convicts are no longer sent to colonies. Justice looks fairer since she espoused Mercy.
In Mr. Nelson’s thin and somewhat pallid plea for a return to what the House of Commons has repeatedly reprobated, there is nothing to suggest a revival of the grovelling manners of inferiors towards superior rank which, not so long ago, seemed to be as much a part of the fitting ordinances of society as the catechism itself. There may be fore-ordinated flunkeys, but most of mankind isn’t built that way. We are still taught, as part of the whole duty of man and woman, to order ourselves lowly and reverent before our betters; but it isn’t done in what a few survivors of the unfittest would call the good old way. The recurring scandals about electioneering purchases out of the Fountain of Honor, through the party whips, in England, make our Nelsons a little shy towards advocating too much recourse to constitutional method.
After all, you cannot dissociate the specially promoted maintenance of an ancient right or rite from the circum-
stances of its origin and flourishment. It is just as pertinent, when it is seriously proposed to revive the granting of titles of honor as a function of Canadian Government, to survey the system of which they are a part, as it was to look over that fertile, weed-stricken field, when the demand for this eradicative manifestation of democracy flowered in our House of Commons during and after the war. What Mr. Nelson calls dervish enthusiasm was the closest-reasoned, best historically-buttressed arraignment of a discredited system that the House of Commons has heard since 1867.
Heaven preserve whatever sense of humor it has vouchsafed to us, even while we mention such grave, far-reaching constitutional questions as are involved in the other side of the Nelsonian pleading for the Restoration of Titles among a people whose elected Parliamentarians, in adequate possession of their faculties, have several times scorned them. But, inasmuch as Knighthood or no Knighthood is, at the pinch, a matter of prerogative, you cannot escape touching it with gravity, however strong the pressure towards the lighter side. That lighter side by the way, is nowhere more charmingly exemplified than in the House óf Lords, where occasionally they look into the mirror, and explode with candor at what they see.
In one of the lordly examinations of the lords’ own lineaments which periodically entertain our kindred over there, Lord Knutsford, whose father was a Colonial Secretary, and who himself has rendered incalculable public service as head of the London Hospital, suggested that the idea of announcing, when an honor is conferred, the reason for its bestowal, should be implemented by adding to the title itself, letters which all who behold the name might understand—‘B.C.’ for instance, indicating ‘Beggar for Charities’, and ‘B.O.’, meaning ‘Bazaar Opener’. If the noble viscount had been altogether imperially-minded he might have suggested ‘T.L.G.’ for ‘Timber Limit Getter’, ‘W.S.C.’ signifying ‘Watered Stock Creator’, and ‘A.T.U.M.’, indicating ‘Ambitious Though Unsuccessful Minister’.
Whence derives this raillery against Traditionary Titleism from Knutsford the peer, and Burnham the
Peterboroughian? It comes from a recognition of the unsuitability of artificial distinctions which each decade makes more ancient and less venerable—a recognition that pervades even the melancholy tootling about titling of friend Nelson, and assuages the laments over our present social poverty of those whose itch for titled fame we see and whose plaintive scratch we hear.
None of them, however poignant his yearning, audibly proposes the extension of hereditary titles in Canada. Why not? If Knighthood should floréate again, as the expression of our Britannic genius, and of the King’s beneficent utility to all his people, why should not that benevolence be permitted to express itself in Canada without a banning of baronetcies, baronies, viscounties, earldoms, marquisates and dukedoms? If His Majesty should be begged to dub Sir Mortimer Muskoka, why should he be prohibited from creating the Earl of Coboconk? Why embrace Sir Mort and spurn Lord Cob? If all titles are glorified in London, why, in the name of Imperial solidarity, should any titles be damnified in Ottawa?
Clearly, if we can look at a constitutional point without converting it into a constitutional morass, the answer to such a question touches to the quick, the royal prerogative and the whole question of Canadian development in accord with inherent Canadian genius. Before we come to them, permit a remark or two on Mr. Nelson’s historical and focal accuracy.
Running through his article is a sort of grieved disdain for the speech and action of the House of Commons towards titles. There is also an allegation of historical fact which is not a fact. Mr. Nickle, says Mr. Nelson with strange indiscrimination, led the attack on titles with ‘dervish enthusiasm’. The abrogation of titles has had no foundation in logic, no justification in experience, and has had no vindication in results. This is mere assertorie condemnation, but something else is proferred as statement of fact.
At the time of the debate, in April 1918, Mr. Nelson says:—
‘Hereditary titles had already been abolished . . . While the members were violently denouncing hereditary titles in the session of 1918, Sir Robert Borden astonished the House by disclosing the fact that, months previously, the home government had acquiesced in his advice that not only should no honors or titular distinctions excepting those for military service during the war, be bestowed without the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada, but
no hereditary title whatever should, hereafter, be conferred upon Canadians.’
‘Months previously,’ says Mr. Nelson, ‘the home government had acquiesced in his advice.’ The order-incouncil embodying the Cabinet’s unanimous opinion is dated March 25th. Sir Robert read it to the House of Commons fourteen days later, on April 8th. Had hereditary titles been ‘abolished?’ Hère are Sir Robert's words:
‘With respect to the Order-in-Council I have just read,
I have had communication with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and I am authorized to state this— First, the British Government offers no objection to its publication, provided it is made clear that it is published before they have lime to consider it, and that the whole matter is reserved for personal discussion, after my arrival inEngland this'summer. Second, but in the meantime no honors will be conferred except in accordance with the proposals recapitulated at the end of the Order-'n-Council. They give their assent in that way for the time being, and, as a matter of fact, I do not apprehend that there will be any serious difficulty in obtaining the concurrence of the Crown to the first three proposals. The only difficulty that is likely to occur is with regard to the last of the four proposals. And third—they have not asked me to say this specifically, but I think it is a fair deduction from what has been said— there are grave difficulties as to the fourth proposal, and it raises serious questions affecting the United Kingdom.’
Hereditary Titles Not Abolished?
TN VIEW of this, in Hansard, and in view of the un-
deniable fact that nothing has been done to bar the assumption of hereditary titles now operative in Canada by any of their heirs, it is not accurate to say that hereditary titles were ‘abolished’ in Canada before members of Parliament ‘violently denounced’ them. It is quite true that none has been conferred since the House of Commons did what excites Mr. Nelson’s contempt and sharpens some others’ hunger. But ‘abolished’ is a pretty strong term, and use of it provokes to a presentation of what actually did happen, in order to get a line on what would be likely to occur if the Nelsons continue their assault on the wisdom of two Houses of Commons. The first House, having adopted Sir Robert’s hostility to hereditaries, after a year’s reflection appointed a special committee, and all but unanimously carried its report against front handles of any sort being given to any Canadian names.
I have asked why hereditary titles should not be revived, if knighthoods are to flourish afresh? The answer is embodied in what Mr. Nickle has called ‘one of the finest and most dignified constitutional documents any country could desire.’ The portion of this document now to be quoted is intensely interesting, because it is so much farther-reaching than any of the title-hungerers seem to realize, seeing that, among other things, according to Sir Robert Borden ‘it raises serious questions affecting the United Kingdom’ (and therefore, the Empire). Before quoting, may a listener to the whole debate of which its disclosure was an intriguing part, say it did not seem at the time that its authors were vividly aware of the implications of what they so boldly avowed. Read from ‘one of the finest and most dignified constitutional documents’:—
The Prime Minister is firmly of opinion that the creation or continuance of hereditary titles in Canada is entirely incompatible with the ideals of democracy as they have developed in this country; and that the time has arrived when their heritable quality or effect should be abolished in this Dominion.
‘The hereditary peerage as an institution can find neither historic justification nor scope for usefulness in a state structure and social tradition such as that which now exists in Canada.
‘Consequently, the effect of such an institution in this country is merely on the one hand, to confer and to perpetuate arbitrarily for some members of the community a titular distinction or status of honor, and, on the other hand, to imply a position of special, though ill-defined privilege to which there is not, and cannot be assigned any obligation or function in the activities of Canadian national life.
‘Honors conferred directly upon worthy recipients, under appropriate conditions and by proper authority, will be respected by the community; but a decoration or titular distinction which is attached to the holder, not in recognition of his own services, but merely from the incidence of birth, and which is invested with no special or public duties or responsibilities, will inevitably arouse in this
country a sense of utter incongruity and a feeling of keen impatience.
‘Such an attitude toward a state institution cannot but have unfortunate effects upon the respect and regard in which the State is held; and since the question concerns so intimately the honor, dignity and security of the Crown it becomes the duty of His Majesty’s Canadian Ministers to take immediate and serious notice of it, and to advise an appropriate course to be followed.’
A Bold Indictment
VXTHERE else can you fine so bold an indictment of ’ » what has for centuries been proclaimed as an essential of the British Constitution—the primary estate of the realm, the veritable safeguard of all that used to be cherished by the stern, unbending Tories as the most blessed ingredients of a godly, sober and righteous British national life? Neither Mr. Nelson, nor any of his kindred resurrectionists, as far as we can learn, quarrels with what he calls the abolition of hereditary titles in Canada. He certainly has said not a word against any phase of the Order-in-Council in which Sir Robert Borden and his Cabinet stated their position, as responsible spokesmen for Canada.
Now see the logical sequence of this thoroughgoing repudiation of hereditary privileges in the fourth proposal, which Sir Robert Borden said raises serious questions affecting the United Kingdom. It is:
‘4. Appropriate action shall be taken, whether by legislation or otherwise, to provide that, after a prescribed period no title of honor held by a subject of His Majesty, now, or hereafter, ordinarily resident in Canada shall be recognized as having hereditary effect.’
What does this unique demand really say? It speaks to His Majesty in terms which, for their direct masterfulness, have never been used by any statesmen to their sovereign since Charles the First lost his head. It doesn’t beat around the bush with honeyed phrases, either. Read the first clause: ‘Appropriate action shall be taken.’ Even Sir George Foster said: T stand by and thoroughly agree with the Order-in-Council . . . There is, I think, a very deep and wide feeling among the people against the importation of hereditary titles to this country.’
Paraphrased, this is what the Canadian Cabinet said to King George, without a dissenting voice being raised by any of His Majesty’s faithful commoners.
‘Your Majesty, under indubitable prerogative, you have made barons and baronets of certain Canadians, the heirs male of whose bodies, according to the immemorial usage of the realm, are entitled to bear these titles in perpetuity. We not only think this was an error on your Majesty’s part, but we announce to you that appropriate action shall be taken to cancel these effects of your Majesty’s prerogative. Not only must your Majesty confer no more baronetcies or peerages on Canadian residents, but, should your Majesty so desire to honor any of your subjects domiciled within this Dominion, they shall only be permitted to accept your Majesty’s gracious favor by ceasing to dwell in Canada. In other words, your Majesty’s advisors in Canada insist that no Canadian shall accept any hereditary title from your Majesty on pain of his own successors’ banishment from
their native land. We also demand that none on whom your Majesty, or any of your Majesty’s predecessors, have conferred hereditary honors shall be permitted to remove to this part of your majesty’s dominions, and to use such titles.’
So far as one knows, no hereditary title was ever extinguished except by death, attainder, or as punishment for treason. The Order-in-Council, with which Sir George Foster thoroughly agreed, struck blows at the royal prerogative, the like of which have never been attempted through any bill of attainder since that which cut off Strafford’s head in 1641. Strafford was executed for subverting the. fundamental laws, and his title automatically lapsed, soon to be revived. Canadian peerages and baronetcies were to be destroyed, without a fault being imputed to their holders or to their bestower. The proposal made to King George, with the imperative ‘shall,’ may have been prudent. It certainly was unprecedented.
No Secret Step
WHAT Mr. Rowell, who told the House that his own views were embodied in the Order-in-Council, called ‘the relinquishment of the Crown of the last prerogative which it has claimed to exercise within the Dominion, apart from the advice of the responsible advisors of the Crown in the Dominion",’ involves 'more than the adoption by a secret cabinet of an order-incouncil assailing the hereditary principle' and secretly presented to the King by a governor-general. The Orderin-Council was read to a crowded House of Commons by the Prime-Minister, in a debate shared in by members of all parties, not one of whom said a word against it; except that it did not go far enough, and that there ought to be an end to all prerogatival titles of distinction.
No one who was there will assert, I think, that any other motion, except one for the abolition of Knighthood as well as peerages, would have carried on that day. The debate was adjourned for six weeks; and then, an amendment going the whole abolitionary distance was defeated only because the Prime Minister threatened to resign if his own proposal to extinguish hereditaries and permit knighthoods, on the Premiers’ advice was defeated.
To most onlookers, as well as to the House, it seemed foolish to declare that the conduct of our end of the war, while the worst German push was on, was less important than compelling the House to express only half its mind. But so it was—so fearfully and wonderfully are policies sometimes affected in fateful times.
There is really no excuse for the sneer that title-giving was stopped by half-hysterical Parliamentarians in a war period when nobody was normal, and when democracy was being defied in the spirit of the Hyde Park orator who cries: ‘Down with heverythink that’s hup.’ A Cabinet Council with Sir Robert Borden, Sir George Foster and other veteran Conservatives in it, was no soap box platoon. A Unionist House of Commons several times considered the matter, and a peace-time House also dealt with it.
•In 1918, the Prime Minister refused to carry on the war if the Commons declared against all titles. In 1919, the House did that very thing, Sir Thomas White, the Acting Prime Minister, consenting. A question the restorationists should ponder as deeply as they ponder anything is whether the House of Commons really reflected public sentiment, even if that sentiment realized the truly revolutionary action of the Cabinet, acting on Sir Robert Borden’s initiative.
You never dispose of a great issue in national expression by listing the supporters of either side. One of the clumsiest habits of many inferior, and some superior, politicians is over-recourse to quotations. Reliance on names is frequently clear proof of an inferiority complex. Many a House of Commons has ridden the wrong horse. Canada has suffered inestimably from public men’s lack of courage to express their real sentiment on great matters. It is, therefore, conceivable that earnest hereditarians were cowed into silence at Ottawa in April and May, 1918; April, 1919, and in 1923, when Mr. Ladner’s restorative motion found only fourteen supporters. If they were, they effectually concealed their identity. You have to look at specific manifestations of non-party judgment, within Parliament, in the light of what is known of a deep and wide sentiment among the general population, and at its expression in the press. Hansard offers abundant proof of the sentiment that governed the House regarding a resolution
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which was moved by a Government supporter, seconded on the Opposition side, and the object of which was supported by every member who spoke. Do Our Names Need Handles?
\yHAT, then, does this unanimity * ' about hereditary titles in Canada really mean? What is the case against restoration from the point of view of a citizen who finds no fetish in democracy; and increasingly values the contribution of the Past to the Present and Future? The whole question hinges upon the faithfulness of Sir Robert Borden’s description of the Canadian superfluity of hereditary honors. Of course, therestorator comes back and says: ‘But nobody wants hereditary honors; all we ask is that Canadians shall not be debarred from accepting knighthoods from His Majesty.’ The question is very meagrely represented in such a fashion. If the case for baronetcy fails, the case for knighthood fails also. The problem is not ‘Shall we have a caste limited to one life in one family’, but ‘Shall we have a caste at all?’ Much nonsense is loosed to the effect that opponents of titles want a deadly dull mediocracy in appearance, which will betoken a pitiful mediocrity in service. The notion represents an engaging absence of penetration into the social processes which belong to this restless, but rather satisfactory era. The differences between us are differences of point of view, of attitude of mind, of facility in in reading signs of the times. Who would seriously propose to import as an expression of North American democracy, the Order of the Qarter, with its five officers, including Garter King of Arms? whom the veterans of the House of Commons, who always regard the thrice-bowing Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod with undisguised hilarity, would surely christen Garter King of Calves? Titles belong to a past age; as ignorance does. A few persons among us think popular education, as we have it, is an awful waste of wisdom. They are the mental heirs of a friend of my father who detested the Elementary Education Act of 1870, which established an approximation to national education in England. “What will this sort of thing bring us to?” he fulminated. “It won’t be long before you can’t leave a letter on your dining table because the parlormaid will be able to read it.” The powerful repudiation of the hereditary principle in the Borden Orderin-Council of March 25,1918, applies with such force to the place of the peerage in the British Constitution that it is not surprising when some fearful feudal follower reminds you of James the First’s answer to the objectors against the episcopacy in Scotland;—“No bishop, no king,” “Cut out the hereditary principle and you must logically repudiate the monarchy,” says the trembling stickler for use and wont.
Happily, we are not ruled by ramrod logic, but by resilient commonsense. The Kingship works. The hereditary principle of the House of Lords loafs. The value of the Kingship to the Brittanic nations has so visibly increased that it is stronger every year. Nobody professes that value for the hereditary quality of the peerage, or for the creation of Canadian knights.
Every contribution to the excellence of the state made by barons, little barons or knights could be just as well given if their names were unembelished. There isn’t a plausible pretence for going back to where we were, except the mingled hopes and fears of good souls who learn, with venerating longing, that James the First made two hundred knights during his progress
from Edinburgh to London, in 1603, and dubbed four hundred more within the next three months.
Mr. Nelson ends his threnody by proclaiming that the abolition of titles (meaning knighthoods) has had no justification in experience and no vindication in results. For this abolition to have had no justification in experience must mean that the country has suffered something because the knightly crop has failed. Where are the painful fruits of this minusness? Are they not confined to certain hungers in certain qaurters, of which too little cannot be said. And if there has been no vindication of the minusness what more could you expect than that we have thus far endured it without any visible sign of the state tottering to its fall? Who says that ‘change and decay in all around he sees’ because no knights have seen the King on bended knees?
To be serious, the calamity over which Mr. Nelson becomes so touchingly disconsolate, can only be visualized if somebody points out that Canada has suffered great deprivations in services because some men’s hope of titular reward in this life was cruelly extinguished nine years ago. Is the goodly estate of men of wealth, and of women married thereto, to be measured by a cartoon in which a row of opulent infants stand in the market place, bawling; T help the poor, and I want a TITLE’; T built a hospital, and will enter it if you don’t give me a FEUDAL CANDY’; T refuse to go into the government unless I can come out with a KNIGHTHOOD’; ‘My wife won’t let me take the job unless they’re going to call her LADY?’
The title-eers’ case is that public service should be rewarded as of old, and that the hope of reward should be held up as an inducement to public service, and that if such a hope is not allowed to spring within the Canadian breast, the milk of human kindness will dry in the veins of opulence. If there is a class of Canadians in whom such considerations govern their disposition to serve their country, it is pertinent—it may even be merciful—to beg their attention to a little recent and remote history.
A dozen years ago most of us grey fellows, including our excellent friends who are now fearful that feudalism will utterly vanish from the earth, were beseeching boys of twenty to stand up before the fire of Germany in defence of Canadian democracy. We said to them: ‘Here is a great service you may render your country. You shall receive one dollar and ten cents a day, plus clothes and food, and residence in dugouts; but it is a great and glorious service, nevertheless.
‘We hope you will come back, if not in full vigor and strength, at least without enough shrapnel in you to make it impossible for you to work. But you must be willing to live in hell and die in torture, and all the time prepared for your name to disappear from among the living, though it may be graven in stone outside a graveyard.
‘Here, my boy, is the enlistment paper. Sign it, and God bless you. Don’t become dissatisfied with a dollar ten per diem. Patriotism is its own highest reward— let that be the thought in your mind if you should find yourself bleeding and helpless on your back, in No Man’s Land, gazing wistfully at the ghostly moon.’
Long before we hurried Henry to the Hun, society was extremely different from what it is now. Kings could scarcely read. The learning of a great lord was less than that of a modern child. His behavior would have scandalized an Eskimo. Warfare was the norm of governance. The paramount doctrine was that man should look down on man, because disdain and not love was the fulfilling of the law. The lord held the wash basin for the king. The serf abased himself before the lord. The serf was told that his hatred belonged to a barbarous foreigner now across the border, whom he would one
day be glad to fight. The most civilized nations were governed through the unquestioning obedience as to life and liberty of the many to the mighty.
‘Noblesse oblige’ was a beautiful sentiment, with many unbeautiful emanations. It begot the stilted age of chivalry, which kept the populace in pitiful ignorance and woeful subjection. Our history has been one long process of deliverance from the bondages of Yesterday. In the Providence of God, changes were wrought which gave political freedom to the serf and humble scholarship to the tiller of the soil. When political freedom had dawned new lands were possessed by the children of those who had suffered in the old. In this country, the man who farmed the land was also its owner. That this is true to-day is our deepest-rooted title to distinction throughout the world.
It was here that the first great measures for the extinction of slavery in British colonies were taken. It was here that the lesson was taught to the Empire which the War of Independence had failed to teach—that British citizens, to be governed well, must be absolutely self-governed. We rejoiced in world-wide Britannic unity during the Great War. It could never have been if responsible government had not been achieved at great price, by those who, with axe and plough, were creating communities out of the fearsome forest.
We led the Western Hemisphere into the fight that was to save and establish Democracy throughout the world; and to destroy finally the divine right of Kings to create lords who might lord it over their fellowmen.
This is our Diamond Year of Jubilee, We must commemorate the real makers of Canada more than we magnify the politicians. A mordant-tongued preacher, asked to express the national gratitude to the electioneerers, managed four lines and then quit, cold:—
“For grand old parties God we thank.
“Though sometimes weak and often rank,
“They’ve all professed His will to do,
“And doing it have done us too.”
Begin to commemorate the Sixty Years and you must consider what preceded, and what has most distinguished them. Your homage is then gratefully paid to the pioneers, of whom the female of the species is more noble than the male. Their company is still a great Canadian multitude. What they did before Confederation was glorious. What they have done since is stupendous.
The infant Dominion was, indeed, an unexampled rural state. Its constitution was something new in the history of empires. Its first national achievement surpassed anything ever done by child or giant among the nations. Within a thousand days of its nativity, the Dominion annexed over two million square miles of territory, wherein during our time, two unique phenomena in nationbuilding have unfolded themselves to the half-attentive regard of our own people.
The tiller of the soil, who is also the owner of the soil, has done creative work in economics which can be matched in no other similar climatic area of the planet. Monumental of his industry is a network of railways which are to-day far exceeding our fathers’ dreams. Again, as a mere by-product of his labor, he has made of Vancouver one of the great grain-shipping ports of the world—the only great grain-shipping port on the Pacific Ocean in America or Asia.
He has organized himself into Big Business, until he owns vaster granaries than have ever been gathered into one general control. He has projected himself into affairs of government as no tiller of the land ever dreamed of doing until he showed the way. When Knighthood was in Flower, the Peasant’s Revolt in England forever placed the beacon fire upon Continued on page 55
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the husbandman’s Golgotha—a warning against the folly of exalting the few while the many might pay them tribute in mind, body and estate.
From being a serf the man behind the plough became the foot soldier of industry owning nothing, not even the right to secure his old age against appalling penury. When the colonial era began, the parent state thought only of exploitation in subordination. But freedom is a breeding mother. Those who had begun to know her on one side of the Atlantic were bound to help her bring forth after her kind, on the other. The new birth for freedom in this land was predestined to mean the greater death for feudalism, and its picturesque but unlovely genuflexions, howe’er so velveted they may be. We have scarcely begun to appreciate the greatness in human evolution which is imbedded in the story of the creation of Canada. But it expresses itself even though we do not detect its richer cadences.
Mr. Nelson hears about the debates at Ottawa—the first and second discussions of the Nickle motion; the appointment and report of the Special Committee, whose advice was taken to ask the King to make neither knights nor barons in our midst; and the Ladner attempt, in 1923, to induce the House to walk backwards. He calls Nickle’s erudition and perception ‘dervish enthusiasm,’ although they drew unfeigned admiration from all who witnessed a memorable contribution to Parliamentary eloquence. He talks of the ‘violence’ of members who gladly heard Sir Wilfred Laurier say he would be willing to burn his title with others, and who, later, heard of Sir William Mackenzie’s whole-hearted endorsement of the Laurier attitude. He writes as if democracy had become dishevelled and hardly knew what it did.
It is always easy to call devotion dervishry and to deride conviction as violence. The like temper would have condemned the vehemence of those who called for the extinction of rotten boroughs, who assailed slavery, who preached outdoors to the colliers, who wrote the Grand Remonstrance, who landed themselves at Smithfield, who unchained the Bible, and who marched to Blackheath and the Savoy.
The Canadian House of Commons is better than most of the criticism flung at it. There was a deep undertone at Ottawa when titles were discussed in a nonparty air. It warms the cold and rigid script of Hansard. The testimony of members to the faithfulness with which they were reflecting public opinion, when they endorsed the Prime Minister’s attack upon hereditary distinctions, or went farther, is without parallel in contemporary Parliamentary history.
Quotations used in speeches reached loftier ground than is customarily attained in debate. After dinner on the first day, three different members used
different stanzas of the inspired farmer’s ‘A man’s a man for a’ that’—which Richardson of the Winnipeg Tribune aptly called a great declaration of independence. There was some fun in the speeches, but neither violence nor claptrap.
If Sir Robert Borden’s and the Cabinet’s philippic against hereditary titles in Canada reflected the national temper towards old world superfluity, and if the Commons’ action in requesting the King to forget his creative function towards Canada results, four years later, in only fourteen members voting for the return to pre-war conditions, what impulse ,is it that tries to put our Egypt on the screen in this Notable Year, and finds a Nelson for its announcer? Momentarily one does not hazard an answer, because every mention of 1867-1927 is provocative of more constructive meditation.
Let any of us ponder what he shall write or speak, or what he would like to hear, next First of July, in exaltation of our country’s past, in duty to her present, and in sure and certain hope for her future. Will he devote a division of his deliverance to ‘What we owe to Titles?’
Let him start to think out some way by which the richest, the most eminent among us, may best commemorate this stage of our international emergence. Will he dream of revising titles as the incentive to honoring those the fruits of whose labors we have so fortunately inherited? He will have more discernment than to suppose that you can dignify Canada in any more appropriate manner than by searching for the motors of her own genius, which are within herself and neither across the sea nor in the worn-out Past.
Nobody could seriously propose to mark this year by a return to a practice by which a man, say, who gave Five hundred thousand dollars to a hospital is reminded of his generosity, every time the postman calls or a porter opens his hand. Once that kind of tribute to the vanity of human wishes was congruous. Now, it is ridiculous.
We make no mistake in bringing our expressions of values up to date. Thousands of women and men are rendering very much greater, much more selfless service to the state, than many who fill the stage because they can write big checks. Their checks are blessed indeed, but the more they care for service the less will they think of being paid for it in deferences which do not really defer.
The greatest service that can be rendered the people of Canada just now, is to help them to realize the splendor of their own creative story, the telling of which ennobles their own flesh and blood; and enlarges the anchorage for the patriotism of myriads of Canadians who are yet to be. The Nelsonian return to titles would be a return to Coloniality, which is not what he wants. When we get together we learn that what our people desire above all things is Canadianity.