A Book of Words, by Rudyard Kipling

Imperial Relations

MR. PRESIDENT and Members of the Canadian Club: Is this quite fair? It seems to me very unjust, most wrong, that the thousands of men who have fought and toiled and died for our Empire have passed for the most part without human acknowledgement, while a man who has merely caught the popular ear by trying to describe some of their thoughts and ideas should receive such a welcome as this. Well, the reward is not to the man himself. You have done him a great, a very great honour, one which I make bold to hope is not so much to the author whose name I bear as to the ideas that I have been fortunate enough to reflect.

Now the idea of our Empire as a community of men of allied race and identical aims, united in comradeship, comprehension, and sympathy, is no new thing. It grew up in the hearts of all our people with their national growth as the peoples in the Empire grew to the stature of distinct nations. None can say where it was born, but we all know the one man who in our time gave present life to that grand conception. Our children will tell their sons of the statesman who in the evening of his days, crowned with years and honour, beheld what our Empire might be made, who stepped aside from the sheep-tracks of little politicians, who put from him ease, comfort, friendship, and lost even health itself that he might inspire and lead a young generation to follow him along the new path. We ourselves are too near the man and his work to understand the full significance of Joseph Chamberlain. It is the high tradition of our land that in moments of need a man shall not be wanting to do and dare, and if need be to die, for his people. It is the custom of our land to accept that sacrifice as a matter of course — always without thanks, often with ungracious criticism.

But the custom has not weakened the tradition, for in all walks of life in every quarter of the Empire you will find to-day men content — more than content, eager — to endure any hardship, any misunderstanding, for aims that are not even remotely theirs, for objects in which they have no specific interest except the honour and integrity and advancement of their village, their town, their State, their Province, or their country. Now the history of Canada, of all our young nations, as I read it, is the record of just that spirit, the story of just those men, the pioneers who rode out in advance of the community, and who broke the trails for their brothers’ use. And we are so new even now that in every quarter of the Empire to-day you can see those pioneers putting forth on their quests. Behind them lie the little towns, collections of shacks or tin-roofed houses, where they buy their trading outfit and their trading-goods; just such little towns as your superb Toronto once was. The men you know, the men who live in them, will tell you seriously that in a few years they will be second Torontos, second Johannesburgs, second Wellingtons, second Melbournes, as the case may be. And we laugh! Knowing how miracles have been wrought on our own behalf, we cannot conceive that they will be wrought for anyone else.

But we do not laugh a few years later when one of those lonely pioneers rides up to us, the mayor of his city — no mean city — and well on his way to be a millionaire. We laugh still less when his city writes to our dearest rival and wishes to know how soon he can deliver a million and three-quarters city water-mains, with pipes and sewers, as per specification appended. Then we mourn. Then we grieve. Then we say to ourselves, if we had only known, had only guessed, that that dear little jumping-off place to nowhere was going to be what it is, we would have paid it some attention; we would have had more faith in it; and now we should be sharing the contract! But we have only to meet another man, and we go straight away and make the same mistake, laughing at this man on another pony, hailing from another collection of houses which will be another city. Is it possible that any of you as individuals have made that mistake?

Then the question is, are we not in time of peace a little too prone as nations to repeat that blunder in our relations to our fellow-nations throughout the Empire? Put it this way: Are we not each a little too occupied in our immediate present — in time of peace a little too occupied with our immediate present, to take an interest in the potentialities of our neighbours’ future? I say in time of peace, because all the world remembers when one of our community was in distress Canada went to her aid, as Australia went, as New Zealand went, as the Crown colonies went, without one thought of present interests, or politics, or pocket.

And out of that great gathering of our men on the plains of South Africa there was born, I think, a treaty of mutual preference between the various members of that Empire which — I am no diplomatist myself — I think regular diplomatists will find it difficult to annul.

It may be for reasons of her own that, for the time being, Canada will judge it expedient to make her court with older civilisations, to deal, for the time being, with nations of a more amazing present than that which belongs to Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. But I am sure, gentlemen, that if you as business men send out or investigate for yourselves you will find in those countries that I have named the promise of markets worthy of your serious attention. Were I a business man I could show you that as regards our mutual trade we are no more than children playing store on the thresholds of our real markets.

I can put my hand on the map and point to certain countries that I know, and I can show you how the natural resources of such and such areas must create vast and stable industries, rearing up a power on a larger scale than the world has yet witnessed. And the plant for all that power has to be imported from somewhere! I could prove to you how the junction of certain railways and the conditions of certain ports must result in huge commercial centres, clamorous for the luxuries of all the world; how the inevitable growth of population must make a sub-continent of pleasant and luxurious homes in all their varied nature.

I can show you the sites of a chain of cities in the future fed by thousands and thousands of mills. And the plant for the whole of that development has to be imported from somewhere! But I can show you, moreover, in those countries that I have named, the same superb faith in the future, the same audacious handling of time, space, and material, the same humorous, fearless outlook on problems that would make older communities turn grey with hysterics; the same joyful acceptance of the apparently impossible, the same lighthearted victory over it, and, above all, the same deep delight in life and work that Canada has revealed to the world. And how could it be otherwise? The men of these lands have worked out their salvation under skies as bright and with hearts as large as yours.

They have developed and settled, they are developing and settling, vast areas with much the same machinery, moral and physical, as you use. They face the five great problems — I prefer to call them Points of Fellowship — Education, Immigration, Transportation, Irrigation, and Administration. They face them on the same lines as you do. Who, then, in the long run, can better or more understandingly supply their wants than you? Who in the long run can better or more understandingly supply your wants than they? Am I looking too far forward? I think not. A young country must take long views, the same as a young man must take long, very long, views. Our four young nations — the Big Four — have a long, an uphill, and a triumphant road to tread. Go you out, gentlemen, and make sure for yourselves that our roads lie together.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38