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Canada and the States By Sir E. W. Watkin Characters: 28582

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


No one aided the cause of Canada more readily than Mr. Disraeli, and I ought to explain how I first gained his confidence and kindness. But Mr. Philip Rose, who was his solicitor, his friend, his executor; who had stuck by him "per angusta ad augusta," was of priceless service in placing before him, from time to time, the facts, affecting Confederation, as I collected them.

My first acquaintance with Mr. Disraeli was the consequence of my connection, as an honorary secretary, with the "Manchester Athenaeum," a literary institute, originated in 1835 by Richard Cobden, on his return from a visit to his brother in the United States, a country at that time on the rage for social clubs with classic names. The "Manchester Athenaeum," owing partly to defective management and architectural costliness, partly to some years of bad trade and deficient employment, and partly to an unfortunate sectarian conflict, had fallen into debt and difficulty; and a few of the younger members, who had profited by the existence of the institution, came to the rescue, and by various methods got rid of its debts, and set it fairly on the way again. One method was, the holding of a great literary soiree in the Manchester Free Trade Hall. The audience was more than 4,000. The President was Charles Dickens.

On the morning of the day before the soiree, which took place on Thursday, the 5th of October, 1843, I received a note, in these terms, from Mr. Cobden:-

"MOSLEY St, "Wednesday.

"Dear Sir,

"Mr. Benj'n Disraeli, the author of 'Vivian Grey,' is at the Mosely

Arms Hotel, with Mrs. Disraeli.

"I wish you would call and invite them to the soiree.

"Yours truly,


"Mr. E. Watkin,

"High St."

I print the note exactly as it was written.

It has appeared to me, since, that Mr. Cobden at that time considered it necessary to identify Mr. Disraeli as Mr. "Benj'n" Disraeli, "the author of Vivian Grey."

I called accordingly, without delay. Mr. Disraeli was out, but I found Mrs. Disraeli at home. She was a little, plain, vivacious woman; one who, like an india-rubber toy, you have only to touch, and it issues sound. But she was obviously no common-place woman. Her comments upon what she had seen already in Manchester were acute, and, at times, decidedly humorous. They were those of a shrewd observer. We became good friends. She promised, both for herself and her husband, to attend the soiree; and, in answer to my further request that Mr. Disraeli would speak, she said, she "could almost promise that he would." The soiree of the next evening was brilliant. Dickens was at his very best; and it must have been difficult indeed to follow so admirable a speaker. But Mr. Disraeli certainly shared the honours and the applause of this great meeting. His speech, in fact, created so decided a sensation that I was asked to invite him to preside at the soiree of the coming year of 1844,-which he did. Few, who heard it, will forget the eloquent oration he delivered. I cannot forbear, out of place as it may seem to some, here to quote the concluding portions of this remarkable address; an address which I have never yet seen amongst the published speeches of Lord Beaconsfield:-

"If my description of what this institution offers to us, if my view of what it in some degree supplies, be just, what, I must inquire, is the reason that an institution, the prosperity of which now cannot be doubted, but so brief a time ago could have been apparently in the last stage of its fortunes? It is not an agreeable task-I fear it may be considered by some an invidious one-if I, who am a stranger among you, shall attempt to play the critic upon your conduct; but I feel confidence in your indulgence. I remember the kindness which has placed me in this honourable position, and therefore I shall venture to express to you the two reasons to which I think the dangerous state of our position must fairly be ascribed. I would say, in the first place, without imputing the slightest fault to the originators of this institution, wishing to be most distinctly understood as not only not imputing any fault to them, but most decidedly being of opinion that the fault does not lie at their door; still I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that, in the origin of this institution, by circumstances not foreseen, and which, certainly, were not intended, a party, a limited, and a sectarian feeling, in some degree pervaded its management. I confess, myself, that it appears to me that it would have been a marvel had it been otherwise. When we remember the great changes that had then but very recently occurred in this country-when we recall to our mind not only the great changes that had occurred, but the still greater that were menaced and discussed-when we remember what an influence is created when local jealousy blends with political passion-it is not difficult to imagine, because there are none of us present but in their sphere must have felt its influence-it is not wonderful that men of different political opinions should look with extreme jealousy upon each other. A combination of peculiar circumstances that created a balanced state of parties in those places where the struggle for dominion and power takes place, very much assisted this feeling; and that such a feeling existed throughout all England in a degree more intense and more virulent than has ever been equalled in the history of this country, I think no man will deny, and all must deplore. For my own part, I really believe that, had that party and sectarian feeling proceeded in the same ratio of virulence it has done for the last twelve or fourteen years, it must have exercised a barbarising influence upon public sentiments and public manners. There are some amongst us now, I know, who believe that the period has arrived when a great effort must be made to emancipate this country from the degrading thraldom of faction-to terminate, if possible, that extreme, that sectarian, and limited view, in which all human conduct is examined, observed, and criticized-to put an end to that exclusiveness, which, in its peculiar sphere, is equally deleterious as that aristocratical exclusiveness of manners which has produced so much evil; and, as far as I can form an opinion, these views have met with sympathy from every part of the country. I look upon it that to-night-I hope I am not mistaken-we are met to consummate and to celebrate the emancipation of this city, at least so far as the Athenaeum extends, from the influence of these feelings. I hope that our minds and our hearts are alike open to the true character of this institution, to the necessities which have created it, to the benefits to which it leads; and happy I shall be, and all, I am sure, who are assisting me this evening, if it prove that our efforts, however humble, may have assisted in so delightful and so desirable a consummation.

"Now that is one of the reasons, and one of the principal reasons, why I believe a blight seemed to have fallen over our fortunes. I think at the same time that there is another cause that has exercised an injurious effect upon the position, until recently, of this institution. I think that a limited view of its real character has been taken even by those who were inclined to view it in a spirit of extreme friendliness. It has been looked upon in the light of a luxury, and not of a necessity-as a means of enjoyment in the hour of prosperity, from which we ought to be debarred when the adverse moment has arrived; so that, when trade was prospering, when all was sunshiny, a man might condescend to occupy his spare hours in something else than in a melancholy brooding over the state of the country-that, when returns were rapid, and profits ready, one might deign to cultivate one's faculties, and become acquainted with what the mind of Europe was conceiving or executing; but these were delights to be reserved only for those chosen hours. Now that, I am bound frankly to say, is not the view which I take of this question-not the idea which I have formed of the real character of the Manchester Athenaeum. I look upon it as part of that great educational movement which is the noble and ennobling characteristic of the age in which we live. Viewing it in that light, I cannot consent myself that it should be supported by fits and starts. The impulse which has given us that movement in modern times, is one that may be traced to an age that may now be considered comparatively remote, though the swell of the waters has but recently approached our own shore. Heretofore society was established necessarily on a very different principle to that which is now its basis. As civilization has gradually progressed, it has equalized the physical qualities of man. Instead of the strong arm, it is the strong head that is now the moving principle of society. You have disenthroned Force, and placed on her high seat Intelligence; and the necessary consequence of this great revolution is, that it has become the duty and the delight equally of every citizen to cultivate his faculties. The prince of all philosophy has told you in an immortal apophthegm, so familiar to you all, that it is now written in your halls and chambers,-'Knowledge is power.' If that memorable passage had been pursued by the student who first announced this discovery of that great man to society, he would have found an oracle not less striking, and, in my mind, certainly not less true; for Lord Bacon has not only said that 'Knowledge is power,' but living one century after the discovery of the printing press, he has also announced to the world that 'Knowledge is pleasure.' Why, when the great body of mankind had become familiar with this great discovery- when they learned that a new source was opened to them of influence and enjoyment-is it wonderful that from that hour the heart of nations has palpitated with the desire of becoming acquainted with all that has happened, and with speculating on what may occur? It has indeed produced upon the popular intellect an influence almost as great as-I might say analogous to-the great change which was produced upon the old commercial world by the discovery of the Americas. A new standard of value was introduced, and, after this, to be distinguished-man must be intellectual. Nor, indeed, am I surprised that this feeling has so powerfully influenced our race; for the idea that human happiness is dependent on the cultivation of the mind, and on the discovery of truth, is, next to the conviction of our immortality, the idea the most full of consolation to man; for the cultivation of the mind has no limits, and truth is the only thing that is eternal. Indeed, when you consider what a man is who knows only what is passing under his own eyes, and what the condition of the same man must be who belongs to an institution like the one which has assembled us together to-night, is it-ought it to be-a matter of surprise that, from that moment to the present, you have had a general feeling throughout the civilized world in favour of the diffusion of knowledge? A man who knows nothing but the history of the passing hour-who knows nothing of the history of the past but that a certain person, whose brain was as vacant as his own, occupied the same house as himself, who in a moment of despondency or of gloom has no hope in the morrow because he has read nothing that has taught him that to-morrow has any changes-that man, compared with him who has read the most ordinary abridgment of history, or the most common philosophical speculation, is as distinct and different an animal as if he had fallen from some other planet, was influenced by a different organization, working for a different end, and hoping for a different result. It is knowledge that equalizes the social condition of man-that gives to all, however different their political position, passions which are in common and enjoyments which are universal. Knowledge is like the mystic ladder in the patriarch's dream. Its base rests on the primaeval earth-its crest is lost in the shadowy splendour of the empyrean; while the great authors, who for traditionary ages have held the chain of science and philosophy, of poesy and erudition, are the angels ascending and descending the sacred scale, and maintaining, as it were, the communication between man and heaven. This feeling is so universal that there is no combination of society in any age in which it has not developed itself. It may, indeed, be partly restrained under despotic governments, under peculiar systems of retarded civilization; but it is a consequence as incidental to the spirit and the genius of the Christian civilization of Europe as that the day should follow night, and the stars should shine according to their laws and order. Why, the very name of the institution that brings us together illustrates the fact-I can recall, and I think I see more than one gentleman around me who equally can recall, the hours in which we wandered amid

"Fields that cool Ilyssus laves.

At least, there is my honorable friend the member for Stockport (Mr. Cobden), who has a lively recollection of that classic stream, for I remember one of the most effective allusions he made to it in one of the most admirable speeches I ever listened to. But, notwithstanding that allusion, I would still appeal to the poetry of his constitution, and I know it abounds in that quality. I am sure that he could not have looked without emotion on that immortal scene. I still can remember that olive-covered plain, that sunset crag, that citadel fane of ineffable beauty! That was a brilliant civilization, developed by a gifted race more than two thousand years ago, at a time when the ancestors of the manufacturers of Manchester, who now clothe the world, were themselves covered with skins, and tattooed like the red men of the wilderness. But influences more powerful even than the awful lapse of time separate and distinguish you from that race. They were the children of the sun; you live in a distant, a rugged, and northern clime. They bowed before different altars; they followed different customs; they were modified by different manners. Votaries of the Beautiful,

they sought in Art the means of embodying their passionate conceptions: you have devoted your energies to Utility; and by the means of a power almost unknown to antiquity, by its miraculous agencies, you have applied its creative force to every combination of human circumstances that could produce your objects. Yet, amid the toil and triumphs of your scientific industry, upon you there comes the undefinable, the irresistible yearning for intellectual refinement-you build an edifice consecrated to those beautiful emotions and to those civilizing studies in which they excelled, and you impress upon its front a name taken from-

"Where on AEgean shores a city rose,

Built nobly, dear the air, and light the soil,

Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts

And eloquence."

Beautiful triumph of immortal genius! Sublime incentive to eternal fame! Then, when the feeling is so universal, when it is one which modern civilization is nurturing and developing, who does not feel that it is not only the most benevolent, but the most politic thing you can do to avail yourselves of its influence, and to direct in every way the formation of that character upon which intellect must necessarily now exercise an irresistible influence? We cannot shut our eyes any longer to the immense revolution. Knowledge is no longer a lonely eremite, affording a chance and captivating hospitality to some wandering pilgrim; knowledge is now found in the market-place, a citizen, and a leader of citizens. The spirit has touched the multitude; it has impregnated the mass-

"--Totamque infusa per artus,

Mens agitat molem, et magno se corpore miscet.

"I would yet say one word to those for whom this institution is not entirely but principally formed. I would address myself to that youth on whom the hopes of all societies repose and depend. I doubt not that they feel conscious of the position which they occupy-a position which, under all circumstances, at all periods, in every clime and country, is one replete with duty. The youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity; but the youth I address have duties peculiar to the position which they occupy. They are the rising generation of a society unprecedented in the history of the world; that is at once powerful and new. In other parts of the kingdom the remains of an ancient civilization are prepared ever to guide, to cultivate, to influence, the rising mind; but they are born in a miraculous creation of novel powers, and it is rather a providential instinct that has developed the necessary means of maintaining the order of your new civilization than the matured foresight of man. This is their inheritance. They will be called on to perform duties-great duties. I, for one, wish, for their sakes and for the sake of my country, that they may be performed greatly. I give to them that counsel which I have ever given to youth, and which I believe to be the wisest and the best -I tell them to aspire. I believe that the man who does not look up will look down; and that the spirit that does not dare to soar is destined perhaps to grovel. Every individual is entitled to aspire to that position which he believes his faculties qualify him to occupy. I know there are some who look with what I believe is short-sighted timidity and false prudence upon such views. They are apt to tell us- 'Beware of filling the youthful mind with an impetuous tumult of turbulent fancies; teach youth, rather, to be content with his position-do not induce him to fancy that he is that which he is not, or to aspire to that which he cannot achieve.' In my mind these are superficial delusions. He who enters the world finds his level. It is the solitary being, the isolated individual, alone in his solitude, who may be apt to miscalculate his powers, and misunderstand his character. But action teaches him the truth, even if it be a stern one. Association affords him the best criticism in the world, and I will venture to say, that if he belong to the Athenaeum, though when he enters it he may think himself a genius, if nature has not given him a passionate and creative soul, before a week has elapsed he will become a very sober-minded individual. I wish to damp no youthful ardour. I can conceive what such an institution would have afforded to the suggestive mind of a youthful Arkwright. I can conceive what a nursing- mother such an institution must have been to the brooding genius of your illustrious and venerated Dalton. It is the asylum of the self- formed; it is the counsellor of those who want counsel; but it is not a guide that will mislead, and it is the last place that will fill the mind of man with false ideas and false conceptions. He reads a newspaper, and his conceit oozes out after reading a leading article. He refers to the library, and the calm wisdom of centuries and sages moderates the rash impulse of juvenescence. He finds new truths in the lecture-room, and he goes home with a conviction that he is not so learned as he imagined. In the discussion of a great question with his equals in station, perhaps he finds he has his superiors in intellect. These are the means by which the mind of man is brought to a healthy state, by which that self-knowledge that always has been lauded by sages may be most securely attained. It is a rule of universal virtue, and from the senate to the counting-house will be found of universal application. Then, to the youth of Manchester, representing now the civic youth of this great county and this great district, I now appeal. Let it never be said again that the fortunes of this institution were in danger. Let them take advantage of this hour of prosperity calmly to examine and deeply to comprehend the character of that institution in which their best interests are involved, and which for them may afford a relaxation which brings no pang, and yields information which may bear them to fortune. It is to them I appeal with confidence, because I feel I am pleading their cause-with confidence, because in them I repose my hopes. When nations fall, it is because a degenerate race intervenes between the class that created and the class that is doomed. Let them then remember what has been done for them. The leaders of their community have not been remiss in regard to their interests. Let them remember, that when the inheritance devolves upon them, they are not only to enjoy but to improve. They will one day succeed to the high places of this great community; let them recollect those who lighted the way for them; and when they have wealth, when they have authority, when they have power, let it not be said that they were deficient in public virtue and public spirit. When the torch is delivered to them, let them also light the path of human progress to educated man."

As time went on, I had many interviews and conversations with Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli. I learned to appreciate, more and more, that the oddities attributed to the latter were mainly of society manufacture; while her fine qualities had been kept in the background by the over- shadowing ability, and prominence, of her husband. She was a devoted wife, and the soul of kindness to every one she liked or respected. Peace and honor to her memory.

In the sad years which followed my misfortune of 1846, previously alluded to, it was enough for me, wearily, to get through the work of the day, and then to return to a home where there has always been sympathy, kindness, and cheerfulness in the darkest and most anxious hours of laborious and self-denying lives. In those years I rarely saw any of my old friends of prominence and station. My wife and I lived the lives of recluses until clouds ceased to lower. Health became restored, a moderate and augmenting fortune, laid in the foundations of carefulness, came to us; and we at last emerged into daylight, again.

When in Parliament, in 1857, I made a speech in the House of Commons, which some thought timely, upon the then pressing question of Indian railways. Mr. Disraeli did me the honor to listen to what I had to say. After his lamented death, one of his executors handed back to me, in an envelope, endorsed in his own hand, the letters which I had written to him in the years of the Manchester Athenaeum.

I may add, that Mr. Disraeli's ear was always open to me during the struggles for the Intercolonial Railway as a means, and the Confederation of the British Provinces in America as the great end, of our efforts. He was strongly in favour of Confederation; and, just as we owe the establishment of a Crown Colony in British Columbia to the sagacity of Bulwer Lytton, so we owe the final realization of Confederation, through the passing of an Act by the Queen, Lords, and Commons of Great Britain and Ireland, to the Government, no less sagacious on this question, of Lord Beaconsfield.

I think the following letters reflect no discredit upon my motives,- neither self-seeking nor selfish. At the same time they are further evidence of Mr. Disraeli's thorough kindness and feeling of justice towards all who had, in his judgment, "deserved well of their country."

"LONDON, "3rd August, 1867.


"On my return from Scotland yesterday I learnt, confidentially, that you had been good enough to propose to present my name to the Queen for the honour of knighthood, in consideration of my services in connection with the union of the British North American Provinces under the Crown, and with their Intercolonial Railway. And I see that a semi-official statement to that effect is in some of the papers. Will you permit me to thank you very sincerely for such a recognition of the services of a political opponent whose known opinions will protect him from the suspicion of receiving, and you from that of giving, an unworthy reward.

"But the mail brings me tidings from Canada which convince me that the French Canadian population at large look upon the course pursued towards Messrs. Cartier and Langevin in the recent distribution of honors as an act of indifference towards themselves. It might be possible, therefore-but you will be the best judge-that the honor now proposed for me might lead to an aggravation of this feeling of dissatisfaction, which arises at the very inopportune moment of the birth of the 'new Dominion.'

"I think, therefore, that I should be as deficient in public duty as in generosity, if I did not evince my gratitude for your unsolicited remembrance by saying that, should the difficulty I allude to be found really to exist, I shall not feel myself slighted or aggrieved should your kindness proceed no further, pending such an unfortunate state of feeling.

"I ought to add, that my late most kind and indulgent friend, the Duke of Newcastle, suggested some little time before his death an even higher reward for the services, which he alone knew the real extent of; but at my request it was postponed until-all the manifold difficulties being one by one cleared away-the great question of policy which he had so much at heart should be finally realized in legislation.

"Having thus been led almost, to rely upon some adequate recognition of several years' gratuitous and arduous exertion on both sides of the Atlantic, I feel the sacrifice I propose to make. But a desire to avoid aggravating this unfortunate misunderstanding induces me to trouble you now.

"I have the honour to be, dear Sir,

"Yours very faithfully and obliged,



"DOWNING STREET, S.W. "August 8, 1867.


"I have had the honor of receiving your letter of the 3rd instant, in which you refer to the rumoured intention of Her Majesty's Government to recommend your name to the Queen for the honor of knighthood, in consideration of services connected with the International Colonial Railway, and the influence of that undertaking on the union of the British North American Provinces; and in which you state your apprehension, that such an intention, in consequence of the recent intelligence from Canada with respect to the distribution of honors, might prove embarrassing to the Government.

"Under that impression you have, in a manner highly creditable to yourself, and most considerate to the Government, stated that you should not feel yourself slighted or aggrieved, if the views of Her Majesty's Government towards yourself were not proceeded with pending such an unfortunate feeling in Canada.

"It is quite true that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to recommend to Her Majesty to confer the honor of knighthood on you, in consideration of your services in question, thereby, as they believe, fulfilling the purpose of the late Duke of Newcastle, when his Grace was Secretary of State for the Colonies; but Her Majesty's Government, appreciating your motives in the suggestion which you have made, are of opinion that it may be expedient to suspend, for a time, conferring a distinction on you which, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, might occasion a painful, though an unfounded, feeling of jealousy.

"I have the honor to remain,

"Dear Sir, yours faithfully,


"E. W. WATKIN, Esq., M.P."

Time went on, and, one morning in the summer of 1868, I received this letter:-

"10, DOWNING STREET, WHITEHALL, "August 11, 1868.


"The Queen has been graciously pleased to order, that letters patent should be prepared, to confer the honor of knighthood on Mr. Watkin, the Member for Stockport.

"As I know you take a great interest in the welfare of that gentleman, I have sent you this line, that you may be the first to know the distinction that awaits him.

"Sincerely yours,



I may also add a curious bit of history of a personal character.

Mr. Disraeli was returned to Parliament, in 1837, for Maidstone, mainly, by the exertions and influence of his agent, Mr. Richard Hart, the eminent solicitor. Mr. Hart was my friend and agent on my return for the borough of Hythe, in 1874, and in 1880.

Mr. Hart had many interesting reminiscences of Mr. Disraeli to recount, and some day, in a more appropriate place, I hope to be able to recount them.

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