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From the old dog : being the letters of the Hon. --- ---, ex prime minister to his nephew online

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Tom the
)ld Dog

letters of
an Ex-Prime Minister
to his Nephew






The courtesy of Mr. Macleod, Managing Diredlor
of The {Bulletin and The Lone Hand, in permit-
ting the author to use for these letters, in another
form, some matter of his previously published in
The {Bulletin and The Lone Hand, is acknowledged
with thanks.







Melbourne :

All Rights Reserved

First Edition August I.



By Way of Introduction ... ... ... 1

On Newspapers ... ... ... ... 5

On "Manner" ... ... ... ... 13

On the Disadvantages of Being Too Serious ... 19

On the "Good" Man in Politics ... ... 27

On Titles ... ... ... ... 43

Concerning Economy ... ... ... 51

On the Foundations of Democracy ... ... 59

On the Duties of a Whip ... ... ... 7l

On Our Australian Type ... ... ... 81

Foreign Politics and a W T hite Australia ... 93

On Flag Flapping... ... ... ... 105

On Food Fads ... ... ... ... 113

On Socialism ... ... ... ... 121

The Woman Question ... ... ... 127

On Being Local and Narrow ... ... 137

On the Fiscal Issue ... ... ... 145

On Defence ... ... ... ... 151

L' Envoi 157

13.1 "




SYDNEY, 3/1 -.

My Dear Jack : You ask my advice as to whether
a young man in your position should go into poli-
tics. By which I know that you have been captured
by a party organiser, have chosen your constitu-
ency, have approached for secretary an ideal man,
"who knows the opinion of every man in the dis-
trict," and are now deep in calculations as to the
least amount of drink on which the great heart of
the people can be raised to a proper appreciation of
your noble purpose. From me you want not advice,
but encouragement a few platitudes on your
patriotism and the glory of our representative

Take them as written, my dear boy, and I pro-'
mise that in the improbable event of my being then
alive I shall head the subscription to solace your
impoverished old age, when you have done with
politics and politics with you.

I shall only venture on one bit of warning. Don't
marry. The politician who marries is a bigamist.
He is wedded to politics, pledged to the faithful
wooing of a constituency, devoted with passionate
charm to gratifying the whims of the public more
witchingly capricious than any woman.

1 B


Would you give rare vintages to the palate of
an opium-eater? As well that as marry a good sort
of woman to a politician. Her mind, as she dons
her bridal robes, meditates on nice dresses, a hus-
band who belongs to her, a serene home life, some
play for the little coquetries that are life to the
feminine sex. She may get the nice dresses; but
she will feel that even they are looked upon with the
jaundiced eye of Party, and that the Opposition is
taking a terrible revenge on her husband by cen-
suring her blouses. All the rest of a happy wife's
life will be lost to her. The home of the politician
is rarely anything but a house of turmoil. The
battle cries of the hustings are yelled in at the
windows. The husband is ever a slave of his Party
and his constituents, called hither and thither by
any vagrant freak. And the little wiles of a
wife the dainty expression in civilised human life,
of the pretty gambolings of the devoted tigress
all these are utterly lost on a man who is meeting
with that sort of thing, in coarser guise, at every
turn of his life. You will notice that successful
politicians are always successful lady-killers.
Politics is gallantry played on a bigger scale. Your
leader of Parliament, I should fancy, is an adorable
lover, a keen blade worthy of any Helen's steel.
But as a husband! the politician has no business
being a husband.

I dare say you will be mentally throwing instances



at me Disraeli's wife, who is said to have ejacu-
lated to a mixed company, on being asked to
admire the beauty of a Venus Aphrodite, "But you
ought to see my Dizzy in the bath-room;" Glad-
stone's wife, who made him tea and read his
speeches with patient devotion; and so on. Indi-
vidual exceptions do not affect the general rule.
The politician may marry a perfect wife, who will
be satisfied with the fraction of his life he can give
to her, who has the patient strength to see his
name and her name placarded with pitiless con-
stancy in the newspapers, who can do without the
intimate hours of the family. But that is rare:
further it is an excellent woman sadly wasted.

Ordinarily, the politician marries a good sort of
woman, makes her fairly miserable, and leaves her
a poor widow. Or he marries a poor sort, who
pulls him out of the straight track with her miser-
able little social ambitions and jealousies.

No, my dear boy, go into politics if you must;
but don't marry.

I suppose you are getting your photograph taken
now in a serious, thoughtful pose at the sugges-
tion of that ideal secretary of yours, and No,

pardon the raillery of an old man, who has seen
much of the game in the past. I don't mean to
grizzle. Good luck and good wishes, whatever you

do, from

Your affectionate old uncle.




SYDNEY, 12 /I/-.

My Dear Jack : Well, of course, I knew you would
take it in that spirit, or I should not have so written.
I would rather quarrel with my cook than with you,
and, really, I believe you may find a certain kind
of happiness in politics. It's a great game a
great game billiards, tiger-shooting, actress-
courting, and war rolled into one fascination.

As to "giving you the advantage of my ripe ex-
perience'.' fudge, my lad, fudge. But it is, perhaps,
true that you would benefit from a frank statement
of my opinion on some subjects not written for
your acceptance, but just by way of a few hints
as to the track I travelled perhaps a quite wrong
one. So fire away with your questions, and I shall
answer as well as I can. But you must just let me
babble on as I wish. I will not undertake to keep
any bounds. And if I, now and again, as is sure,
get up on the stump, and write to you in the
measured periods of an address to the electors, that
you must put up with. So it is agreed.

You start with a good one. "What should be
your attitude to the press?"


Do you recollect the Roman Emperor who wished
that all Rome had one neck, so that he might cut
through it with a blow? Rome hadn't, and if I
recollect aright, he neglected the obvious alternative,
and didn't placatingly stroke the many-headed
creature on its numerous necks; and, so neglecting,
he came to misery. As a politician, the press is
your enemy. It will praise you when you are ex-
alted, and the praise will make you giddy, and
bring you down. It will keep you down when you
are humbled. But the press has many heads, my
boy. If you are wise, you will pat them as indus-
triously as you can. But, of course, you won't be
wise. The papers will abuse you. You, in return,
will abuse the papers. Both of you will obligingly
forget the past, when friendship is convenient in
the present.

What will annoy you particularly will be the
humorous gags the press indulges in as to the
public man's life. Just when you feel galled about
the collar, and sick of the whole political business,
with its infernal worries, you will find in the daily
newspapers a picture, drawn in glowing colours, of
the high life of the politician a chicken and cham-
pagne existence amused by chicanery and billiards,
its most serious energies devoted to the pursuit of
"perks." Rather by implication than by direct
tatement, but none the less surely, you will see the

rn told that Parliament is a body which exercises


its power to impose taxes mainly for its own selfish
gratification, the Treasury being a vast money
reservoir into which is drawn as much as possible,
so that when the sternly necessary costs of govern-
ment are met, the politicians may wallow in the

As a politician, you must be content to work for
small wages for the State, and be always con-
fronted by the accusation that you are working
selfishly for yourself. You will eat reproaches with
your bread, and insults will fill your cup.

But, my dear nephew, don't worry unduly. It's
really only part of the game. You, on your side,
probably will retort some day by strained diatribes
about the tyranny of the press.

If you want it, here's my serious opinion, for
what it is worth that the modern newspaper is
developing into a force antagonistic to modern
democracy, and that one will in time destroy the
other. Balzac, in "Un Grand Homme de Province
a Paris," puts in the mouth of one of his charac-
ters: "Journalism comes first to be a party weapon,
and then a commercial speculation, carried on
without conscience or scruple, like other commercial
speculations. ... A newspaper is not supposed
to enlighten its readers, but to supply them with
congenial opinions. . . Napoleon's sublime aphorism,
suggested by his study of the Convention, 'No one
individual is responsible for a crime committed col-


iectively,' sums up the whole significance of a
phenomenon, moral or immoral, whichever you
please. However shamefully a newspaper may
behave, the disgrace attaches to no one person. . .
We shall see newspapers, started in the first in-
stance by men of honour, falling sooner or later
into the hands of men of abilities even lower than
the average, but endowed with the resistance and
flexibility of indiarubber, qualities denied to noble
genius; nay, perhaps the future newspaper proprie-
tor will be the tradesman with the capital sufficient
to buy venal pens." There is a large amount of
truth in that, and nowadays the position is com-
plicated by the fact that news is as much a neces-
sity to civilised man as bread. So the newspaper
must be read.

It will be worth your while to consider the genesis
of the newspaper and its present organisation.
Originally there were two forms of journals the
news-letter, which was a record of gossip collected
in the town and distributed in the country; and the
pamphlet, which was an argument on some political
subject. About the right to publish and circulate
pamphlets arose the great struggle for the "liberty
of the press" (you'll have to talk, of course, in
public occasionally of that "historic fight for human
liberty"). With the growth of civilisation, the two
forms of journal began to merge into one, and to
become the modern newspaper, partly made up of



news, partly of comment. The next stage of de-
velopment was the advertisement. Newspaper
change marched then with rapid feet towards the
modern daily paper, purporting to be mainly a
newspaper, but giving with the news much com-
ment, and depending for its existence on the adver-
tising support it gets.

The company-owned newspaper was the next
phase. It established the newspaper as a purely
commercial and money-making institution. Few
men who invest in the stock of a public company
consider that they have embarked their honour
with their allotment fee; the average clergyman will,
without a qualm, take dividends from a company
which draws an income from the sins of the slums;
the man who would blush to sweat his individual
employee cannot see it as his duty to concern him-
self as to the wages paid by the 'bus company or
the coal-mining company in which he has invested
a few pounds. So the journal owned and con-
trolled by a joint-stock company loses the restraint
of individual ownership. It may be blessed with
directors who take a proper view of their responsi-
bilities, not merely as dividend-seekers, but as
leaders of public opinion. But as a rule the direc-
tors will study only dividends, the dividends from
the paper and the dividends from their other enter-
prises, which the paper can assist. The joint-
stock newspaper is, in short, owned by a trades-



man without even the check of having his name up
over the door. He may sell light-weight news,
adulterated news, or plain lies; may withhold what
should go to the public; and not have to face even
the ignominy of personal association with his mis-
deeds. Absolutely his only check is the maxim
that "honesty is the best policy." And is it

If like Balzac, I am allowed to prophesy, I think
I can see a future development when "news" and
"comment" will be strictly dissociated, and we'll
have two sorts of newspapers those confined to
news and those dealing in comment and criticism.
I am afraid, even if the change comes in your time,
it won't help the poor politician much. The com-
ment papers with no check of facts at all will be
the harshest of critics.

But, my dear boy, to paraphrase Machiavelli, try
to be friendly to the newspapers except when it is
manifestly to your advantage to be otherwise.
Many a political reputation has been helped by a
judicious challenge of the press.

Affectionately yours,






SYDNEY, 4/2/-.

My Dear Jack: About "manner" what can I
say, except that you must be affable and haughty,
frank and reserved, bright and dull, solemn
and frivolous. "All things to all men,"
is the motto of the successful politician.
But I think it is safe to warn you against
being brilliant. That is a mistake in politics.

"Brilliant" is always associated with "unreliable"
in the public mind. You may be humorous in a
very obvious and respectable and commonplace
way occasionally; but beware of wit. Of course,
eloquence is a good thing. But it is not essential
to the real leader. Notice that the popular mind
is very liable to moments of illumination, when
sophistries are swept away, gabblers confounded,
and clean, blunt honesty enthroned in power.
This is particularly so at times of crisis, of
national danger and difficulty. Then the glory
of "gab" is for a while obscured, and the people
turn to a Washington, who never made a joke, and
lacked even that most essential qualification of
the politicians the power to tell a lie; or (in
lesser circumstances) to a dour, silent Parnell.
Great occasions are, fortunately, apt to pro-



duce great men equivalent to them; when the
need arises, the strong man appears "the
proof of the race ajid of the ability of the
universe; and when he appears, "the old cus-
toms and phrases are confronted, turned back, or
laid away." And notice how, very often, he
is the quiet, nay, dull man. The "funny" politician
seldom is allowed to obtrude when really serious
matters come to the front. He is merely "the
comic relief" of the drama of government.

And we are enough British in our blood here in
Australia to rather suspect brilliance; and so, my
dear Jack, beware of being brilliant, in public life
at any rate; keep your wit for the dinner table.

Another point: above all things, play the game.
You will find in public life a curiously rigid, clubby
sort of tradition about confidences. Members on
opposite sides of the House talk quite freely among
themselves when off the floor of the House, confi-
dent that confidence will be respected. That really
is necessary. Social life would begin to become
impossible if the eye of favour fell on the informer
who listens, with a view to future unfriendly use,
to what his friend or his guest, or his host, or his
fellow-member says when he has got into his con-
versational dressing-gown and slippers, and reckons
that he can stretch his tongue at ease.

There are times when we must have freedom
of talk or civilisation begins to fail and our



steps are turned backward to the primitive
troglodyte life, when man gnawed his dinner
in guarded seclusion because it was not safe
to do otherwise. Minister Branton, on the
floor of the House discreet, cautious, a sentry
ever on his mouth, gets to the supper-room
and reckons at once that guard can be relieved and
dismissed for the night. He is among friends, or
at least acquaintances, not informers among
people who will play the game by social and not
legal or business rules. His tongue may wag a
little; he can neglect to weigh every word in the
scales of caution before utterance. He may take
off his collar, so to speak, and roll in the grass, or
on the carpet. He doesn't think of spies, because
it is "the club," and if, perchance, a vagrant
thought suggests caution, he dismisses it promptly.
To carry tittle-tattle outside would be an unutter-
ably mean thing, searing the offender with the
brand of scorn an impossible thing.

Among politicians the tradition is strong to keep
up this feeling of confidence. The spy or the in-
former is admitted to be a fact, but a monstrous
fact, to be viewed with abhorrence, and to be cut
off from the social life of which he is unworthy.
Thus civilisation guards itself, and must guard
itself, for if there were no circumstances of privi-
lege, men would meet only on terms of armed
neutrality, and life would drift back to savagery.



There are, of course, no absolutely definite rules
on which your conduct in the House in this regard
can be guided. Men in every walk of life, of decent
taste, know, instinctively, how not to be a spy or
informer. But here can be suggested one guiding
rule: If your fellow member speaks under circum-
stances which he thinks private, you must, as a
man, respect what he says as a confidence, and not
repeat, even if you consider the occasion public.
And add to this: When in doubt, shut up.

Oh, my boy, shutting up is a great accomplish-
ment, even for politicians. Had I my way, I'd
teach every boy at school to shut up in at least
three languages.

Don't make personal attacks in Parliament or
on the platform. Consider every man as being as
decent and honourable as yourself he usually is
until you have it proved quite palpably that :.

I think that is all on the point of "manner."
Yours affectionately,

P.S. I see you are going to many the girl, and
she is "going to take an interest in your public
life." Bless you, my children! Of course, I didn't
mean too seriously what I wrote at first, and of
course I know you wfll make her happy. (Incon-
sistency is one of the habits I learned as a





SYDNEY, 3/5/-.

My Dear Jack: Oh, no, I wouldn't have you too
serious. Perhaps to become Prime Minister you
would need to be dull. But why be Prime Minister
at the price? Don't take too literally what I said
about manner. You know I am all for cheerfulness.

If you feel that way, aim at becoming in the
next Cabinet the Minister for Music and Red
Umbrellas. In a community where so much is done
by politics, that seems to be the best practical
method of driving away the unnecessary lugubrious-
ness which afflicts this continent that sad spirit
which has been imported and acclimatised from a
damp Northern Ocean country along with the rabbit
and the Scotch thistle. Let our sadness and
brownness, our glumness and moodiness, be dealt
with by Acts of Parliament and Supreme Court
regulations. Another Cromwell is called for a
constitutional Cromwell of cheerfulness and
roystering good humour a Cromwell without a



wart or a penitential psalm in his whole nature, to
bring to the scaffold the reigning gloom, and knock
the heads off every solemn frock-coated statute and
bell-toppered dull convention, and instal in the
glow of the Australian sun, Music and the Red

It will be your first duty as such Minister the
champion of pure cheerfulness, the revolutionary
anti-gloom hero to look to the houses of the
people, to open up their windows and to surround
their walls with flower-beds. Then to the clothes of
the men, stripping off the black coats, smashing
down glossy stove-pipe hats, scattering around
Panamas, sombreros, boaters, cow-boy hats, lavish-
ing flannels, linens, and scarfs of silk; not interfer-
ing lightly with the garments of the women, which,
thanks to Fashion, are generally bright enough-
music in their silken rustle, glow of pink pearls and
young rosebuds through the white samite of their
muslin sleeves. Still, even in the sacred matter of
feminine clothes, you would have to interfere to
some extent. No lady with unduly thin arms
should be allowed to wear transparent sleeves.
Exceedingly fat ladies should not be permitted to
wear biack. In gay stripes or bright pinks they
look, at the worst, humorous; in black they look
unpleasantly like sexton beetles, and would cast a
gloom over any Red Umbrella.


Then, as the Minister for Music and Red Um-
brellas, turn to the streets, frowning down the
packing-case style of architecture; insisting on a
little glow of mosaic and fresco on the walls of
public buildings, suggesting flat roofs; setting up
here and there a restaurant on a building-top I5oft.
high, where, among the upper breezes, food might
be eaten, and tea or wine sipped to the splash of
fountains and the whispers of wind-shaken palms;
smiting the smoke-stacks which pollute the air with
carbon that should be pot-boiling, as Israel smote-
the Amalekites; and strewing trees everywhere.

Then to the parks, to ask sternly why the untidy
and the funereal should be ever the most favoured
of trees Moreton Bay figs, cypresses, dull pines
and firs, suggesting deaths and tears and the trap-
pings of woe. Why should we weep so much in our
vegetation? Why not plant more frequently trees
that will smile in Spring with young tender green,
and laugh outright ia Summer with rich spread of
glossy leaves, and glow in Autumn with red and
gold, and in Winter meekly and modestly undress,
saying to mortals that now they will want a little
undiluted, unshaded sun, and that no kindly tree
would stand in the way.

The evergreen trees, too often the ever-brown-
green trees, are all very well in their way. Our
native gum, with its mysterious reticence, its air of
tender pathos, is the very tree when the best girl



has smiled on the other fellow and the mind is
tuned to soft repinings. But, in addition to gums,
there should be the note of Music and Red
Umbrellas in a recreation park, trees that flaunt and
flame, that glow and gladden native acacias and
cedars and pittosporums, and sterculias with their
wealth of red coral, and imported beauties such as
the jacaranda, and those cherry and peach and pear
trees which, by luxurious education, have become
the exquisites of their kind, and refuse the labour
of bringing forth fruit, spending their whole time in
dressing themselves with fine blossoms. What blue
devil can live before a tree, a whole tree, ablaze
like an azalea in a sunny corner, towering up
to the sky with a mass of color on every spire?

Shrubs and climbers and runners which flower
freely are delightful, and must not be neglected, but
a tree, a real forest giant, all aflower that is exhila-
rating, intoxicating. Going down Sydney Harbor
to Manly, some day, you may see the giant jaca-
randa of the Botanical Gardens in all its purple
pomp, lifting an exquisite tower of light and per-
fume to the heavens. As Minister for Music and
Red Umbrellas, you would see to it that such a
sight was visible in many other places, and that
when it was not the jacaranda's visiting day it
would be the pink peach-blossom's or the white
rcacia's or the red flame tree's.

Unfortunately, as Minister for Music and Red


Umbrellas, you would have to touch upon religious
questions. That is always a nuisance. But no
community dedicated to a life of cheerfulness could
afford to allow its parks and its streets to be dese-
crated by the damnatory denunciations of the epi-
leptic forms of religion. Cheerful preachers and
cheerful singers certainly, but all persons wish-
ing to gloat over their neighbours' coming
tortures in fire would be relegated to gal-
vanised-iron receptacles. On a hot day, there's
a lot of sense of reality for material-hellites
to be found in a galvanised-iron conventicle.
Such organisations as the Social Purity Brigade
of the Tenderloin district (which reckoned that
there was no need to be gawky even if one were
holy, and that a little frisky frivolity with a pretty

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Online LibraryFrank FoxFrom the old dog : being the letters of the Hon. --- ---, ex prime minister to his nephew → online text (page 1 of 8)