Thomas Barclay.

Thirty years, Anglo-French reminiscences (1876-1906) online

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might be taken for granted : nobody in Alsace
wanted the problems of its political status to be solved
by war. Every Alsatian was sensible enough to see
that to reunite Alsace to France, as the result of a
French victory over Germany, would only move the
spirit of revanche from one side of the Rhine to the
other. Alsatians were not unhappy under the French
regime, with all its faults — one of which was that under
Napoleon III. Alsace had been as much subject to the
French " foreigner " who did not understand their
language as to the German " foreigner " ? now who does
not understand their feelings. The cast-iron Polizei-
V erordnungen of the German regime the Alsatians,
however, find it very hard to bear. But, he added,
the cast-iron method was necessary at first. Under
the French the reins of government had got out of



hand, and at Mulhouse the rowdyism of the " young
bloods " had become scandalous. The Germans soon
put an end to it, and military discipline quenched
their super-abundant high spirits with ruthless
severity. " Na," he wound up, " es ist ja nix
volkommen in der Welt. Die Franzosen sind ei'
gutes aber narrisches Volk. Die Deutschen meinen
es auch gut. Ein bischen narrischer konnten
sie sein." ("Aye, there is no perfection in the
world. The French are good folk, though a bit
crazy. The Germans mean well, but might be a bit

In an Australian matter I had to advise upon at the
beginning of the present century, I had an opportunity
of hearing the views of an Alsatian for whom I was
acting. His firm had its factory in Alsace and a
large place of business in the Quartier du Sentier in
Paris. The French and German consuls were vying
with each other to help him in the Australian city
where the trouble had arisen. He had served as a
volunteer in one of Gambetta's improvised armies
and was still a Frenchman, and in his family in Alsace
kept alive the French tradition, but, he added, that
did not mean that Alsace cherished any desire to be
the subject-matter (Venjeii) of a war. Alsace had
never been so prosperous as she had become. She had
a larger and expanding market for her goods, and
practically no competition in Germany, and abroad
in neutral markets the German Empire was not a
bad trade-mark.

" Then, if there were a referendum, would Alsace
vote for re-annexation to France ? "



" Monsieur," he answered, " Vous me posez une
question bien cruelle ! "

I remember once at lunch M. Grevy discussing a
matter of internal policy on which it was desirable
that two leading men should agree and whose dis-
agreement was a source of embarrassment in the
Republican party.

" Que conseillez vous, Monsieur le President ? "
asked a perplexed statesman.

" Les faire causer."

" Mais ils ne s'entendraient jamais ? "

" C'est une bonne chose meme de constater pour-

It was very wise advice and a coalition followed.

I often wonder whether, if on the same wise plan
four wise Frenchmen and four wise Germans met and
talked over Franco-German relations the result would
be entirely negative, lis ne s'entendraient fas, no
doubt, and yet they might constater pourquoi.

Suppose they met in London as the guests of Lord
Rosebery, one of the wise men of this country and an
independent one. Suppose they did not agree, but
Lord Rosebery, in the abundance of his wisdom,
suggested that they tried again six months or so later,
and that this time they added a few more men to the
council, and if they could not come to a conclusion
they adjourned again and tried a third time, no
results to be made known, no banquets to be given in
their honour, no histrionic mise-en-scene to encourage
interest or criticism !

" A pretty dream ! " as Count Moltke said of trying
to make wars less necessary, but it is not psycho-



logically wrong, if there be any truth in the adage

about forteresse qui parle, femme qui ecoute !

* * * * *

England, it seems to me, is at present in such a
position that she might play the part between France
and Germany that France has played between
England and Russia. Her place in contemporary
diplomacy as the friend of both is unique. May
God give her the statesmen capable of fulfilling the
noblest mission which has ever come within the
scope of her destiny.




One night in October, 1909, in the lift ascending
to my room at the National Liberal Club, I met
Mr. Gulland, M.P., now the Scottish Whip. Gulland
and I had raided the Edinburgh schools together a
couple of years before. We were both educationists,
as all true Scots are. He asked me where I was
going to stand as if it were a foregone conclusion
that I should be a candidate somewhere. As I was
not, he asked me whether he might speak to the
Whips on the subject. The next day I had a
letter from Mr. Pease, the Chief Liberal Whip,
who told me that the Blackburn Liberals wanted a
Liberal candidate to wrest the seat from the Con-
servatives. It is a double-barrelled constituency, which
had been represented by Sir H. Hornsby, who was
retiring, and Mr. Philip Snowden, who represented it
as Labour member. A deputation, headed by my
now good friend, Alderman Hamer, came to see me
in London, and I went down to Blackburn and was
adopted. I had a vague idea that my knowledge of
British international trade relations and foreign policy
might be useful, being, in a sense, unique, and I had
chosen a Lancashire division, though the chances in a
general way were not as great as in some other possible
constituencies. But I had had some experience of
Blackburn men. A couple of years before over a
hundred of its citizens under the guidance of the Rev.



Fred. Hibbert, a leading Congregationalist minister,
an eloquent man of many parts, had visited Paris,
where I had arranged some functions for them. As
president of the International Brotherhood Alliance I
presented them, as I had done in the case of a number
of such visits which had taken place under the patron-
age of the Alliance, to the president and council of the
Corporation of Paris at the Hotel de Ville, an event of
which I found they had retained a lively recollection.
I was elected by a majority of nearly 3,000 and at
the head of the poll, the largest win from the other
side of the whole election. I shall never forget the
cheer that went up in the market-place when the
second letter of my name appeared on the screen (there
was another B among the candidates). For thirty
years no Liberal had sat for Blackburn. Nor shall I
ever forget crossing the seething and cheering masses
on the shoulders of a huge police officer who elbowed
his way through them, nor the hugs of my ladies' com-
mittee, who had worked as only " Lancashire lasses "
can. It was a wonderful result exceeding all expec-
tations, but it would be ungracious not to acknowledge
that it was due to the energy, skill and perseverance
of my committees, both male and female. On the
central committee, Alderman Hamer, J. P., its chair-
man, a shrewd and eloquent speaker, was ably seconded
by Mr. J. W. Marsden, its hon. secretary, Mr. Riley,
the Liberal Agent, Mr. Ritzema and Mr. E. Cooper,
and Mr. James Kay, who attributed some of my
success to my " courteous French manner," that is. the
deference I paid to my opponents and the absence from
my speeches of any abuse of the views entertained by
the other side, which, however, I fear is not specifically
French. Only, as both Lord Robert Cecil and Mr,



Stewart Bowles, my defeated opponents, were equally
courteous and the election throughout was conducted
in the friendly spirit of sportsmen as befitted the
home of the " Blackburn Rovers," the Liberal victory

must be attributed to " merits " all round !

# # # * *

In the House of Commons there was nothing for me
to do that any other member could not do just as well.
The subject in which I was skilled, British foreign
commercial and political relations, was not a Party
matter, and interest in non-Party matters is not only
discouraged but resented by disciplinarians of the
front benches. I have no vocation for idle servitude.
Not that I disagreed from any of the Liberal
policy. My votes were all in accordance with
my conscience, and I only once abstained from
voting with the party, when on one occasion
it sided against the Labour members on the question
of Female Suffrage. This subject I do not regard
as one on which Liberals have any right to demur.
If there is any principle which is at the root of
Liberalism it is respect for the national liberties
and the extension of the franchise to all citizens who
contribute to the nation's work and expenditure. To
exclude women on the ground that men are in the
minority is a monstrous perversion of the sense of
Liberalism, or because they have not had experience
of politics, which they can only get after they are in
possession of the vote, is not worthy of British com-
mon sense. At Blackburn my experience of the
political women-workers was that they were not only
perfectly able to deal with political questions, but
first-rate organisers. Mrs. Cooper, who presided at
many of my meetings, showed herself a thoughtful,



business-like woman who takes the trouble to under-
stand the subjects she deals with before she speaks
upon them. Of Mrs. Snowden, the wife of my fellow-
member for Blackburn, I can say the same, as
I can say it of many other women with whom I
have been brought in contact at Blackburn and
elsewhere in connection with the suffrage question.

The Parliament of January, 1910, lasted barely a
year. I did not stand again, but I made many friends
in my constituency, and on sending in March, 191 2, a
copy of my book on the " Turco-Italian War and its
Problems " to Alderman Hamer, still the chairman
of the Liberal Committee, I received the following
letter, which showed me that the feeling left by our
political association was as warm as ever : —

" My dear Sir Thomas Barclay, — Warmest thanks for the
book just received. It is most kind of you to remember me
in this way and remind me of a friendship formed between
us under circumstances and conditions which must ever
remain of much interest to both of us and a friendship which
I hope and which I feel will last during the remainder of our
lives. I shall read the book with much interest, not only for
its merits, but because of its author, who I am certain is
capable of doing justice to the subject which it deals with.
We are living in stirring times, and it will need all the best men
in the country can do to guide the good old ship from drifting
on the rocks and becoming a wreck. In the midst of it all,
I am sure, Sir Thomas Barclay will play a useful part in bring-
ing it safely into port. With every good wish to youself and
Lady Barclay, in which my dear wife joins, — I am, Yours
sincerely, Edwin Hamer."

My experience in Parliament, though short, afforded
me many points of comparison with my outside but
nevertheless not inconsiderable experience of French
parliamentary practice, and I must say the resem-

T.Y. 321 Y


blances were in some respects quite as surprising as
the differences were interesting.

In common they are both frequently misled by too
exclusive a contact with the capital as to the state of
public opinion. The members of Parliament who
form the fighting party forces are mostly men who
have made a profession of politics and have long been
in the party service, a service so absorbing that they
find it difficult to give time to the study of provincial
conditions and opinion. Their source of information
is mainly the metropolitan newspapers, which give
the news they all must know — the news of the capital,
in which most of them pass their lives and many of
them earn their livelihood.

The man who comes into Parliament late in life,
with but few exceptions, finds himself among men in
office or in expectation of office who have a familiarity
with the inner life of Parliament and readiness in
dealing with questions they have practically created
or selected which he can never hope to rival. Those
who have practical knowledge of the national re-
quirements are dazzled and baffled by these ready-
tongued specialists in parliamentary methods and
usage who profess, and even sometimes seem, to
know more than they do. They find parliamentary
opinion is worked by experienced wire-pullers, and that
the ultimate object of the struggle is to win in the
greatest match of the Empire. The men who play the
game are as honestly patriotic as those who look on.
They do their best for their country, honestly believing
that training in the ways and tactics of Parliament is
the only method of efficiently helping it.

The French Government obtains information about



provincial opinion in principle through the prefets,
who represent it as chief executive officers in every
department (county). As, however, ministries change
too frequently to entail changes of the seventy-two
prefets of France, they are far from being a very trust-
worthy source of information at all times In England
they would be a much more effective source of
information, as they are, for instance, in Hungary,
another highly-developed parliamentary country,
where they are the direct agents of the Government
and keep it informed of local feeling on all proposed

A difference between the Parliament of this country
and that of France is the large contingent of able
men supplied to the French Parliament and ministries
by the Press — men who for a few months have charge
of great departments, sit at cabinet councils, are
honoured as great officers of State, and who, after this
interlude of office, go back to their journalistic duties.
This brings Parliament and Press into close touch.
New men are constantly stepping in and out,
carrying progress from outside into the drowsy
arcana of the ministries, and returning to their
newspapers with a riper knowledge of facts and
conditions, which enables them to spread a greater
spirit of moderation among an impatient democracy.
The result has been a popular understanding of the
national interests and requirements at home and
abroad, especially throughout the provinces, which, I
venture to think, exists in no other country to the
same extent. This has worked out in a great dis-
trust of, and distaste for all " big-stickism," bluff,
jingoism, militant imperialism, " national expan-
sion," etc., and in a conviction that the only

323 y 2


foreign policy of real benefit to the great masses of
Frenchmen is one of peace and amity with France's
neighbours, that, in particular, every cause of friction
between France and Germany must be carefully
avoided, that war, whether successful or unsuccess-
ful, is equally prejudicial to popular liberties, and
that internal development is infinitely more im-
portant to a democracy than military or diplomatic

Yet nothing is nobler than the uncomplaining readi-
ness with which the French have accepted the new
three-years' military service. The gratuitousness of
the sacrifice makes it all the greater.

There are no doubt gaps in the story, as I have
told it, of Anglo-French relations during the thirty
years I played a part in them, but my story,
imperfect as it may be, will show how difficult it
is even for the ablest statesmen and diplomatists
to foresee not only the lateral influences of their
policy, but even its direct consequences. The proper
training of the man who has to assist in the manage-
ment of the foreign relations of his country has
become one of the most perplexing problems of
modern diplomacy. Criticism is often a cheap
method of self-flattery. Few critics in this country
have had the responsibility of helmsmen. In France
it is different, and that the preference in the filling of
the posts of the French Foreign Office is often for
men who have not passed their lives at a desk at home
or been tied to a hierarchic and social routine abroad,
but have had the wide and rude experience of jour-
nalism, is perhaps a sign of coming changes. For



" what France does to-day, the rest of the world
begins to do to-morrow " is almost a truism.

The entente has brought Englishmen and Frenchmen
into such closer contact than ever before, that old
popular delusions about each other are gradually
disappearing. Not only the old caricature types have
disappeared from the comic newspapers on both sides
of the Channel, but even the sturdy old popular
delusion common among northern peoples, especially
the English and the Germans, that the French are im-
moral is dying out. The delusion arose from the con-
fusion of morality and conventionality. English and
German conventionality conflicted with a character
which was straightforward, unconventional, and free
from that hypocrisy and sham sentiment which shocks
the French when they first come into closer touch
with it in other countries.

But French character, too, has undergone

" What," I recently asked a distinguished French
friend who had spent some time in England and has
a tendency to admiration for everything English, " do
you regard as the keynote in English character." He
had no hesitation — " Frivolity." We are to a French-
man " a frivolous people " — we who used to apply
that qualificatif to the French.

" You do not consider them as serieux as the
French ? " [In French serieux has a different sense
from that of the English term " serious" Serious is
an external, serieux a subjective quality.]

" No, the English are not serieux."

" And the French ? "



" They have become so. Misfortune and conscious-
ness of national responsibility have made them so.
The second Empire had the benefit of the surviving
frivolity of a past age. The war of 1870 extinguished
it, and now the French are the most serieux nation in
the world."

So now Englishmen go to France to think and
Frenchmen come to England to laugh !

A commonplace about France is to speak of French
want of enterprise. Analysed, this amounts to saying
the French are provident, realistic and non-gambling.
That they are provident is an axiom. They are
realistic in the sense that they have a gift for seeing
things within the range of their vision as they are,
and a distrust of things beyond its range. And few
even of those who gamble at the gambling table stake
more than a trifle of their savings and the gambling
stops at the table. In business there is little gambling,
little demand for new markets for the same goods and
a pious respect for a steady profit, however small.
And yet it is not accurate to say in general terms that
the French lack enterprise. They lack the enterprise
of the Englishman who, manufacturing certain goods,
is constantly obliged to extend the area of his sales.
The energy the Englishman expends in extending his
sales, the Frenchman expends in the creation of
novelties. His joy (with many exceptions, no doubt)
is not in seeing his business expand so much as in its
being unique. To produce the most original design,
the most beautiful colours, the strongest material, the
best, whatever it is, of its kind gives the genuine
Frenchman a happiness for which wealth beyond
abundant comfort has no equivalent.



When left to themselves, the French develop
naturally in this direction, as I saw some years ago
at Caudry, near St. Quentin. It was an old market
town before railways began to change the grouping
of population and alter the centres of distribution of
produce. The numerous hostelries which composed
it ceased to be required by men who could use the
railway, if even they required to come to market at
all, and the peasant innkeepers were faced with a
ruinous fall in the value of their properties. One of
them who had seen the looms of St. Pierre de Calais
at work started a " Jacquart," and began to make
tulle at a time when the frill mania had created a
demand for it out of proportion to the supply. One
after another of the innkeepers followed his example,
and when I visited Caudry in 1885, the town was like
an American embryonic city. These peasants had
all become manufacturers. Few if any of them
could write without great difficulty, and none had any
notion of book-keeping. A Nottingham man, many
years ago, had settled at St. Quentin as a manufacturer
of Nottingham goods. His son, Edwin Cliff, whom
I knew, became for all practical purposes a French-
man, President of the Chamber of Commerce, Judge
of the Tribunal of Commerce, and one of the leading
citizens of the ancient city. To him the Caudry
people addressed themselves to get the necessary
yarn, and a trade in Lancashire yarns grew up in
St. Quentin. Mr. Barlow, of Messrs. Barlow and
Jones, of Manchester, and I went to Caudry together
on business in connection with one of these St. Quentin
middle-men, who had died and left his accounts in a
muddled condition, and saw this interesting proof that
Frenchmen have no lack of enterprise when pressed



by necessity. It was odd to see these rough fellows
extract from under the mattress a large, bulging,
weather-beaten envelope containing letters, bank-
notes, acceptances and slips of paper covered with
cryptic memoranda of their transactions. They
wrote few, if any, letters for the very good reason
I have given, and a man had to be found at St
Quentin to take the orders and collect payment in
bank-notes, for such a thing as a cheque was still
unknown at Caudry. But they were all scrupulously
honest, and in spite of their primitive methods,
if mistakes were made, it was not they who made

In private money matters the French are honest,
and though saving (to a fault), and clannish, where the
greater things of life are concerned, they are a generous,
honourable, high-minded people. In the course of my
now many years of active public life in both countries
I have had opportunities of seeing how Frenchmen
(with a few exceptions) cordially and gratefully
acknowledge services rendered to them and disdain
to deck themselves with borrowed plumes, or take the
credit of work in which they were mere official
nominees, or carefully conceal from the public eye the
real worker or workers. Nor do the French regard a
man who is not making money or place for himself out
of the good work he is doing or trying to do as a sort of
lunatic. In Ibsen's " Enemy of the People " Dr. Stock-
mann rises immediately in the esteem of his class
when he is supposed to have revealed the insanitary
condition of the baths for the purpose of depreciating
the shares and buying them in cheap. It is not only



in Norway that such people are to be found, but they
truly do not abound in France.

A French friend, editor of one ot the great French
reviews, on the other hand, remarked to me one day
that even in the worst days of anti-English feeling in
France there was always at the back of every French-
man's head a deep respect for the " solid " qualities of
England and Englishmen. They never really thought
England perfide. They only really thought England
profoundly and consistently egoistical. Her unswerv-
ing determination to let no considerations affect certain
principles in her policy, such as that a man whose feet
touched British soil or a British ship was free, that
even a fugitive criminal could only be dealt with
according to the forms of justice, that aliens and
British subjects were equal before the law, etc., made
her a model for all political thinkers and reformers.
The Englishman's manly vindication of his rights,
the history of his conquest of political freedom,
his proud free-trade, his free colonies, the immense
latitude left to all nationalities within his vast
empire, his unconscious assumption of superiority,
his cool and disdainful indifference to danger, the
manliness of English boys, the love of sport of the
men, the robust dignity of the women, the distinction
of British character, its very arrogance, the general
living up to this character, the unbending assertion
of British interests as a holy heritage to be handed
down intact to posterity — all these things have made
the name of England in France a thing per se. To
them she owes her prestige throughout the world,
and all the " Dreadnoughts " of Christendom will not
give any other Power such a place under the sun as



Online LibraryThomas BarclayThirty years, Anglo-French reminiscences (1876-1906) → online text (page 23 of 29)