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Sir Charles Dilke's New Book
"Problems of Greater Britain", in two volumes,
by Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, Bart., reviewed by the Marquis of Lorne (1890)

The survey of mankind from China to Peru is a proverbially comprehensive operation. Sir Charles Dilke has undertaken to do more than this in the two volumes he has published under the title of “Problems of Greater Britain.”

“Greater” than the mother-country in area several of her colonies are. Two of them at least will probably, in another half-century, equal her in population. But for our time, at all events, the United States of America form the only nation mainly of her blood and speaking her tongue which can accurately assume the adjective used by Sir Charles. “Larger” would be a better rendering of the sense of the author of the phrase. “ Larger ” than Britain are many of the countries over which the old union flag waves ; “ greater” they are not, unless area of landed possessions means that which has come to signify more than physical size.

A vast undertaking is Sir Charles Dilke’s survey, and he has carried out his task with his usual painstaking conscientiousness. He has been everywhere. He has talked with all leading men on all important questions touching the present state and future of the countries he visited. He has even taken flying literary photographs of the statesmen of each community, and gives us their portraits as his mental camera caught them in the act of resisting assaults on their offices, or of themselves springing to grasp at power. They are seen in the glory of government and in the temporary shadow of opposition. Perhaps these likenesses are too quickly taken, and the impression recorded on the pages of the book may represent a momentary phase of their political character and action which may fade ; and the page of a future history may show them in more permanent form. It is not to be denied that the pictures given are very graphic, and the author does his best to let us see not only the landscape of the country he describes, but the very men who guide the various commonwealths. Nor is he neglectful of the brighter side of life. If politicians be mortal, he brings before us also the names and attributes of the immortals—the writers and poets who illustrate the life and times of the peoples.

In dealing with the human interests of the contests in the society of the day, he writes concisely and in a style that demonstrates the advantage the author has enjoyed of a long training in a useful political life at home. He can weigh the opinions presented to him, and compare them with experiences gained in Europe. His practical knowledge of the science of government enables him to appreciate to the full the advance made in English-speaking communities over sea in the solution of many problems regarding domestic administration and social comity. Colonists have often in these matters started from points of departure which the Englishman regards as the ultimate aim of his political ambition, and as a goal hardly to be reached in his generation. Having a blank sheet before them, they have been able to make experiments from which “ use and wont,” habit and custom, have hindered their stay-at-home fathers or brothers. In the new lands to which the emigrants went there could be no organized resistance to change in many matters where at home vested interests would have retarded or prevented alterations. Among the settlers there was, therefore, only the conservative sentiment to be reckoned with, and this, having no foundation in property, soon yielded.

Sir Charles Dilke has most interesting chapters on several of the questions which agitate English politics, and are discussed more or less in every civilized state. These often turn on interests that will not cease to agitate man wherever he may live and thrive, for thriving means increase, and increase cannot arise without conflict of interests, and the manifold friction that must come wherever there are numbers. Where there are numbers there will be need, and the survival of the fittest among ourselves is not accomplished without strife and cruelty and passion, any more than in the darker ages when the same struggle went on ; but there was no newspaper reporter to record the reasons for the suppression of the weakest, or the lamentations or the sufferings that accompanied the toil of the strong and the tears of the feeble. Questions regarding labor in its relation to capital; questions regarding free trade and the protection of industries by high tariffs on imported goods; questions of education and the part religious instruction bears; questions of the laws regulating the sale of alcoholic liquors; questions concerning the poor and of the disposal of emigrants,—all of these fall under his eye, and he writes about them with the brevity which is not born of any superficiality of treatment, but springs, rather, from the power of taking up only the salient points of a problem, so that few words go far, and illustrate the stage of the problem which, in its relation to the progress made elsewhere, shall give most instruction.

There is not anything affecting the welfare of the empire as a whole and of its component parts on which he has not something sensible and pertinent to say, and the outspokenness of his remarks is as valuable as the balanced judgment with which he submits them. It is now many years ago that the same author wrote his first book on these and kindred subjects, and the difference in tone is to be noted, especially in connection with the relations existing and likely to exist between the United States and Australia, and between the Americans of the Union and their friends and neighbors in British North America. It is gratifying to find that the ample scope that each nation has on the American continent to work out its destiny is recognized to the full, and that the old idea of enmity arising does not find any echo when he contemplates the condition of affairs at present.

He speaks very ably on the eastern question, as the continued advance of Russia towards our Indian Empire in connection with Russian designs in Turkey, must still be called. The problem of imperial defence in case of any general or long-continued war must always greatly hinge upon this matter, and the testimony he bears to the greater preparedness of the colonies to defend themselves in case of foreign attack shows what long steps have been taken in this direction since the date of his last book.

But for our cousins under the stars and stripes this general question does not present so immediate a topic of interest as does that which affects more nearly the course of trade and political relations between Canada and her southern neighbor. We all know that the prevalent belief in the States is that, although the time may not be very near, yet ultimately all Anglo Saxons in North America will range themselves under the banner of one huge republic. This idea is most sedulously fostered by a patriotic press in the States. But is it wise that the truth should thus be hidden away, and that to counteract such beliefs it should be held necessary at Ottawa to pass a unanimous vote through both houses of the Legislature expressing a desire of Canadians to live their national life without the aid of political connection with the Republic ? Surely there is room enough and to spare for each. The existence of a political state to the north, apart from, but friendly to, the States, can never be a menace to any institutions loved and valued to the south of the imaginary line. If the South, with different domestic institutions, and possessing largely an element of alien blood, would have been a menace,no sensible and patriotic American can for one moment look upon Canada in any such light. She is not powerful enough to be other than a good neighbor, nor has she ever in modern history had any wish but a heartfelt desire for the prosperity of the Union, among whose citizens so many of her own are happily domiciled. Any conflict would be as bad as a civil war, and neither country has a tendency to repeat any experiences it may have gone through of that nature.

The absolute freedom enjoyed by the Canadians from any interference in their affairs on the part of the mother-country is the very antithesis to the fatal conduct pursued by George III/s ministry in reference to the American colonies. The crowned republic of the north can depose a government whenever it suits it to do so, and need not wait four years before a policy is changed. The risks attendant on the connection with the parent state are very small, and where they exist a feeling to bear and to share them has always manifested itself at the first appearance of danger. Sir Charles observes that a great deal has been done to secure to the country a defensive force, but this force has been raised, and is gradually being strengthened by the superior training of officers and men; not from any apprehension of attack from the south, but because it is deemed to be only consistent with the dignity of a gay nation that the military tastes among her youth should be allowed to flow in the legitimate channel which is afforded by annual camps and rifle-matches. It is the same spirit which keeps alive the militia of each State in the Union, and it would be as reasonable to argue that the militia of Ohio is a threat to the citizen soldiery of a neighboring commonwealth as to suppose that Canada’s militia deems an attack to be possible from that of New York. It is also because Canada intends to bear her part in furnishing the proper quota for the defence of the whole of the glorious empire to which she has always been freely and honorably linked that she enrolls her manhood under the flag that recalls to her that she “too is heir of Runny mede, and Shakespeare’s fame and CromwelFs deed are not alone her mother’s.”

It is good for all concerned that these things should be as widely known as possible, and it is a very doubtful species of patriotism that bids the “ enterprising journalist ”of the States suppress the proof of it, and admit to the columns of his newspaper paragraphs totally unwarranted by fact, and sent to the editor by some “sorehead” who deems the sincerest flattery to a great neighbor to lie in the act of forwarding what amount to calumnies of the people among whom he may have found a home or temporary abode in the north.

Our author says:

“That Canada has a prosperous future before her there can be no doubt. Of aU the lands under a temperate climate to which British emigrants can go. North America is by far the most accessible. The emigrants are still too few, but they soon multiply, for Canada produces men on the scale on which she produces timber, and the Canadian population increases by natural growth at a wonderfuUy rapid rate. Of 5,000,000 of people in Canada, 4,000,000 are native-born ; a very different state of things from that existing in Australia.”

This fact is one bearing on the growth of a national spirit—the growth of a nation sheltering itself under the free alliance with the mother-land until able to call the connection that which it now is in all but in name—an independent alliance. If wrong had been done, that alliance would not now be sought, and the pride in the founding of a new nation is one that will bear her onward in the path that she has chosen. Budget statements show what an in crease of wealth is slowly accruing, and the opening-up of the prairie country in the west, and the piercing of the Rocky Mountains and of the Alpine chains lying to the west of them by the Pacific Railway, have given the country good harbors on the Pacific, and the certainty of a fair share in the commerce coming from Asia.

The old rivalry between the English and the French races always exists, but the French section can be counted as a solid gain, for they are too much in love with the privileges granted to them to desire any other alliance than that which has secured to them their “ institutions, tongue, and laws.” The French element are not only free from interference with the customs handed down to them from their ancestors, but they exercise a notable weight in the national councils, and no less than three of the federal cabinet ministers are usually direct representatives in each government of the aspirations of their more immediate countrymen. In the same way the leading constituents among the people are, generally, specially represented in the cabinet, so that every considerable section of the country can make its desires known in the “ inner circle."

“The tone of politics," says Sir Charles, “is, on the whole, higher in Canada than in the United States, and there is less abstention from politics among some of the best men than is the case across the border." It is true, as he says, that,

“generally speaking, the main difference between the Canadian Constitution and that of the United States is that in the newer confederation the central power is far stronger as compared with the Provincial legislatures and executives. . . . Mr. Goldwin Smith asks what confederation has done for Canada, and I cannot but think that the very existence of Canada at the present day as a powerful self-governing community is an answer. . . . Canadian confederation is declared by Sir Henry Parkes [of New South Wales] to be the mode) on which the future institutions of the British States of Australia are to be built up.”


“Canada has successfully passed through the * birth crisis * in which Australia finds herself at the present time. It is a commonplace of political discussion in the British colonies of the South Seas that separatist feeling must spring up as the popu lation becomes less and less British-born and more and more Australian-born; . . . but in Canada the population has become Canadian to a far greater extent than the population of the most Australian colonies is Australian. The British-born English and Scotch element in Canada is extremely small as compared with that in Queensland or in New South Wales; but Canada, owing, I think, to the success of federal institutions, is, in spite of the neighborhood of a rival and attractive English-speaking power, less separatist in feeling than is young Australia. The effect of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway has been great in knitting together the various portions of the Dominion. . . . Although the success of Canadian confederation, considering the difficulties of race, of religion, and of geographical conformation, has been as remarkable as that of the Swiss Confederation, Canada should imitate Switzerland in another matter if she wishes to remain a self-respecting and independent power, and should bring her brave citizen soldiery into a condition more closely resembling that of the Swiss in number and training.”

It is a fact, and may be held by some of your readers to denote the “contrariety" of the northern mind, that the abrogation of the Reciprocity Treaty which has for many years existed between the United States and Canada, to the great advantage of both, has been a material factor in the increase of confidence among Canadians in their power to stand alone. That treaty allowed a comparatively free exchange of goods across the border, and the cessation of the liberty led largely to the popularity of the Canadian national policy, which has created a vast number of manufactories throughout the provinces. The increase in such establishments in the older provinces has been most marked, and Manitoba is rapidly following their lead, and is founding factories that will supply the needs of the Northwest.

“The majority of the present Dominion Opposition,” says our author, “are in favor of commercial union between Canada and the United States, but not in favor of political union. Commercial union, of course, implies Free Trade in favor of a nation under another flag, and differential duties as against the mother-country. There are obvious drawbacks to the adoption of this policy, but so difficult is a per-* manent continuance of the present state of things, if Canada refuses to provide adequately for her defence, that it is possible that people in the mother-country might resign themselves to this curious and anamalous arrangement.

As to political union, 66 it may be said at once that the Liberal Opposition at Ottawa repudiate the idea ” (as, of course, does the government), and there is “ but a small section of the electorate who are open advocates of annexation or absortion by the United States. ... In the case of annexation or absorption, the democracy of Ontario would have but little weight at Washington, while under the existing system it is dominant at Ottawa. . . . The power of the President and the absence of Ministerial responsibility to Congress are . . . not regarded with favor/’

He continues: “ It would not appear that across the border there is any strong feeling in favor of annexation ”; and it may be added that any such policy in Canada is at once regarded at any election as an absolute bar to the success of any candidate who may espouse such sentiments. Nay, more, there is no doubt that the partial espousal of the cry of “imperial federation” would not have had half the success it has had, were it not that it is considered as a protest against any scheme that would lead, however remotely, to a diminution of the independent position now occupied by Canada. Some men speak as if the empire would “burst up” if some great scheme of general and close federation be not soon adopted ; but there is a middle way, and one that will probably be adopted—namely, the securing of the defence of each portion of the empire ; the adoption of means of more intimate intercourse between the leading men ; the taking in hand by common consent of the expressed wishes of each member of the empire; and the furtherance of arrangements in regard to commercial intercourse between the various large sections, whose leaders have common ideas regarding the good of a certain amount of protection for the encouragement of industries, where these have not been planted under conditions of freedom from an overawing competition by older and richer companies.

These considerations can only interest Americans who take a wider interest in the future of Anglo-Saxon communities than can be embraced by a mere consideration of British-American relations. The lesson, however, that was first taught to Britain by her American subjects—namely, that nothing should be done without their concurrence and consent—is a lesson that has been gratefully learned and taken to heart by the statesmen of the old country.

“It seems of little use,” says Sir Charles, “to discuss the details of schemes for the future government of the Empire, involving a closer connection between the mothercountry and the colonies than that which exists at present, unless colonial feeling generally would tolerate an attempt to draw more taut the ties that bind the component parts of the Empire to one another. ... It has been shown [in my work] that many of the leading colonists and distinguished politicians that Greater Britain has produced are in favor of Imperial Federation; but it has been seen that some of the communities they represent on other questions seem on this one disinclined to follow their lead, and that in the last two years there has been in the eastern Australian colonies a marked change in the direction of opposition to* the idea of Imperial Federation.”

It is probable—nay, certain—that in this sentence too much stress is laid on a passing phase of feeling, which may have shown a reaction following on the energetic initiative which sent a regiment to fight in the Soudan. The Soudan was not popular in Britain itself. Yet Australia, owing to the amount of trade that passes through the Suez Canal, was interested in British power in the Red Sea. Such changes of popular sentiment in regard to wars will always take place, and their influence is not permanent.

We may see from the memoirs of Lord Albemarle that the soldiers who fought and conquered Napoleon at Waterloo were coldly received on their return to England, simply because the English people were for the moment tired of the war, and apathetic because it had lasted so long. And yet no one would draw from this circumstance an augury that the British people would never be ready to fight another Waterloo. It may be safely asserted that whenever the old coantry is hard-pressed there will arise in her support a feeling among the colonies that would make them proud to share in a dozen Waterloos. It would be a dangerous game for any power to “ twist the old lion’s tail ” too severely. They who are furthest removed from temporary causes of discontent connected with her domestic politics would be the first in the field to avert the extinction of her power. Robert Peel said of Lord Palmerston when most opposed to him : “We are all proud of him.” Just so would hundreds of thousands say, “We are all proud of her,” if the old mother-land should suffer serious peril.

I believe that a very large contingent of those who would come to her aid would come from the United States, just as a formidable Canadian contingent would be glad to fight, as they did fight the battles of the United States in the war of 1860—*64. “ Blood is thicker than water ” is an axiom that is more enduring even than “ Trade follows the flag.” When, as in the case of Canada, the strain of blood brings with it memories of heroic sacrifices endured for principle and faith, any flight from loyalty to these motives of action becomes a treason to the highest inspirations of human conduct. We are the honored friends of the Americans because we respect them and believe that they respect us.

Sir Charles Dilke, a Liberal in British politics, and a man not inclined to give tradition too much reverence, shows himself in this book as faithful a patriot as he is a skilful writer and observer, and it is best for his American friends to note that he “ goes solid ” for empire, and has as redoubtable a sense of the great future awaiting a union of the commonwealths under the British crown as the strongest Tory squire in green England it-self. His travel and intercourse with our colonists have made him an Imperial-Federationist in the best sense—namely, that of inculcating in his countrymen a wish to know the desires of their fellow-citizens over sea, and to bid them “take occasion by the hand to make the bounds of freedom wider yet.”

Americans at least will not grudge us the belief that those wide realms of liberty are not unfitly symbolized by the flag which preserves to us the memories alike of those centuries when they and we were one people, and of those more recent times when our progress was hailed with sympathy by the sons whose destiny had bade them separate from us. Just as in the Samoa hurricane the progress of the “Calliope” against the storm was greeted by the cheers of the American sailors, so will our path against dangers be watched with a fellow-feeling by the great mass of the noble American nation, of whom it is our proudest boast that they have sprung from the same ancestors, and are working out a kindred future of good to all minkind. We shall not allow any “red herring ” of small fishery discord to be dragged across that trail.


Problems of Greater Britain
in two volumes by the Right Hon. Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, Bart.
Volume 1  |  Volume 2

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