The Unspeakable Scot

- By Thomas William Hodgson Crosland
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Thomas William Hodgson Crosland (21 July 1865 – 23 December 1924)[1] was a British author, poet and journalist.[2][3] Crosland was born in Leeds in 1865,[2][4] the son of Methodist New Connexion preacher and superintendent of the Prudential Assurance Company William Crosland (son of cloth manufacturer Thomas Crosland, of Isles House, Holbeck, Leeds) and Hannah, daughter of farmer John Hodgson.[5]
It is the Scotchman's boast that the Scotchman has always figured portentously in the councils of the civilised nations. In France, in Germany, and even in unbeautiful Russia, Scotchmen have established themselves and at time and time risen to positions of considerable political power. And if we are to credit Dr. Hill Burton, this has always been an excellent thing for the nations concerned. According to Dr. Burton, if the Scotch did not entirely build up the France of the Middle Ages they had a mighty big finger in the process, and we are asked to believe by the same authority that it is the strain of Scotch blood in the veins of the French which has assisted very materially in[43] making the fortunes of that singularly fascinating and ingenious people.[14] The subject is a large one, and much that is edifying has been written about it, not only by Scotchmen, but by various foreign authors. On the whole, perhaps, Europe has not done so badly with her Scots, the reason being that she never allowed them to be any Scotcher than she could help, and turned them out the minute they became aggressive. In England, however, the more Scotch and the more aggressive the Scot becomes the more we seem to like him. At the present moment England is virtually being run by the Scotch. In the House of Commons the Leader of the Government-and practically the autocrat of[44] the Assembly-is the Right Honourable Arthur James Balfour, a philosopher from Scotland, who is so Scotch that he plays golf. And the Leader of the Opposition, save the mark! of an Opposition which, in a constitution like the British, carries upon its shoulders the heaviest responsibilities, is Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, also a Scotchman, and if the truth must be told, a dullard. And in the way of a third party, which will imperialise with the Government and cackle of reform with the Opposition, we have the Liberal Leaguers, headed by that proud chieftain of the pudding race-the Right Honourable the Earl of Rosebery. So that at the front of each of the three great political forces of Britain-the forces which, when all is said, mean everything to Britain as a nation-there stands firm and erect some sort of a Caledonian. Such a condition of things has never existed in England before, and in the light of recent political happenings it is devoutly to be hoped that it will never exist again. Since Mr. Balfour and Sir Henry[45] Campbell-Bannerman came into the offices they hold, England has been going steadily down-hill. At no period in her history have her enemies been so thick on the ground and so exultant and sure of themselves as they are at present, and at no period in her history has her prestige been at so low an ebb. Politically she has come to count as a little less than France and more than Spain. Formerly she led the nations-now she is content to walk humbly in line with them. Formerly she led the band, now she is merely third trombone player. Formerly, if she went to war, it was with nations of ponderability and for high principles; until the other day, she was draining her best blood and getting rid of one and a half millions of money weekly in a struggle with a handful of freebooters, got up and fomented largely in the interests of the children of Israel. At the time of writing Consols are at 94 and the Income Tax is 1s. 2d. in the pound, which shows what managers the Scotch are. Also Government, in so far as Government means the steady development[46] of the higher interests of the state at home and in the colonies, is at a dead standstill. The march of reform has been checked. Progress in the wide sense of the term is no more thought of. The legislative mill grinds heavily along and the grist amounts to nothing; in the seats of the mighty,-in the seats of Benjamin Disraeli and William Ewart Gladstone,-there blandly smiles Balfour and dodders Campbell-Bannerman. Mr. Balfour, golfer, and, for aught I know to the contrary, curler and hammer-putter, plays what he is pleased to call the game. Now the game is no new thing. Practically it is a development of that childish pastime known as "Jack's on his Island." On Mr. Balfour's island grows the green bay tree of power, and to live snugly under the shade of that tree, no matter what comes, is, in the view of Mr. Balfour, the game. It is with him a question of what can I do for England, having due regard to the exigencies of the game? Hence does he seek and bring along young talent. Having found your young talent,[47] you must make quite sure, not of its talentedness, but of its unwavering disposition to play the game. Will it be loyal to the Balfour? Can you depend upon it to stick by the Balfour though the heavens fall and it thunder to the tune of Green Sleeves? Anything that will subscribe to the Test Act of the Balfour is young talent. Hence it comes to pass that at the War Office we have had that shallow, dandy Wyndham. He is a protégé of the Balfour, even as the Balfour is the nephew of his uncle. And he plays the game. When matters at the War Office became too vasty for him he was shovelled by the Balfour into the Chief Secretaryship for Ireland. Even the Balfour and his friends are fain to admit that Mr. Wyndham has done no more for Ireland than he did for the War Office. Yet he plays the game, and so does the Balfour, and everything is right as right can be. In Mr. Wyndham's old place at the War Office we have that excellent dabbler, Mr. Brodrick. Mr. Brodrick, like the House of Lords, has always been exceedingly[48] busy doing nothing and doing it very well. Periodically he stands on his hind legs in the Commons and trots out tremendous schemes, all of which end pleasantly in smoke. The rottenness of the British Army is no affair of his; it was rotten when he first made its acquaintance-it will be just as rotten when he leaves Pall Mall. Underneath the terrific expenditure necessitated by the war there are jobs and scandals of the gravest sort, and Mr. Brodrick knows nothing about them. His business is to vindicate the characters of fribbling officers and gentlemen, to lay on praise of the British soldier with a trowel, and to assure the world at large that the persons who have brought charges against army contractors have brought those charges simply because the contractors' names are un-English and consequently not pleasing to the British commercial mind. He it is, in short, who allows himself to be put up as a sort of sand-bag in front of the Government, guaranteed to ward off all attacks by simply sitting tight and remaining as dumb as an[49] oyster. He was no doubt told when he took up his present dignities that the Balfour would expect him to play the game, and, being a good man, he is playing it.
For the rest of them one man only needs be discussed. He is a Birmingham man, Joseph Chamberlain by name. The Balfour took him over from the other side, and, in spite of all his faults, gave him a warm Scotch welcome and set him high in the Balfourian councils. From that day to this the Balfour has looked upon him askance and wished him anywhere but where he is; but the Balfour is Scotch and he lacks the pluck to get rid of the Birmingham gentleman, because it might cost them something. The Birmingham gentleman, knowing the Balfour to be Scotch, defies him.
On the other side, as we have said, there is poor, dear old Sir 'Enry of the double-barrelled Scotch name, which the economical have reduced to C.-B. On the whole, C.-B. is about as pathetic a figure as one can find[50] in history; he is the type and flower of your Scotchman lifted to the pinnacles. Sooner or later he was bound to make a mess of it, and, lacking the blood of Liverpool which delayed Mr. Gladstone's downfall for so many years, he made it sooner. From the first he has been the laughing-stock, not only of the Government, and, for that matter, of Europe, but also of his own party. He lolls enthroned on the front Opposition Bench, shoulder to shoulder with trusty lieutenants who never obey him, and backed up by political friends who put no trust in him. On the day that he took the party by the nose, the party dropped off, and all that remains to C.-B. is the nose. To this relic of ambition realised he clings with true Scottish pertinacity. He has wrapped it up in a napkin and hidden it; probably it will never again be found, inasmuch as C.-B. is invariably too bewildered to know what he is doing. Harcourt bewilders him, Asquith bewilders him, Morley bewilders him, and latterly there has come that crowning bewilderment of them all, Lord Rosebery.[51] C.-B. will go bewildered through whatever remains to him of his term of office, and when Liberalism takes thought to get properly rid of him, he will be more bewildered still. He is too Scotch to perceive that nobody wants him, and if he saw it he is too Scotch to go.
As for Lord Rosebery, the less said about him the better. He is of Scotch stock, and he had the good fortune to be born of an English mother. But the Scotch blood in him, the Scotch ineptitudes, the Scotch lack of force prevail. He does everything by turns and nothing long. Like Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, he failed as a leader. The statesman in him does not possess him; it was a mere detail and a small one. As an active politician he had to look around for a model upon whom to shape himself. No Scotchman can make the smallest sort of mark, whether it be in politics or anything else, without such a model. And in his middle and later periods, at any rate, Lord Rosebery has modelled himself upon Mr.[52] Augustine Birrell, and as is usual with Scotchmen, he has practically ousted Mr. Birrell from the position of wit-monger to the Liberal party. In the House of Commons Mr. Birrell made a reputation, not because he was a statesman or an orator, but because he had a habit of firing off a kind of loose wit which passes in the House of Commons for epigram. When he spoke, the House was sure to be in a roar within the half-hour, and one or two of the phrases he made became texts for leader-writers and made good "quote" in Liberal speeches. With true Scottish enterprise, Lord Rosebery determined to be a second and a greater Birrell. He has succeeded. In the House of Lords he enjoys a reputation for saying things. He is also credited, as was Mr. Birrell, with a nice taste in letters. And, like Mr. Birrell, he is not infrequently asked down to Little Puddlington in order to help in the celebration of the centenaries of Little Puddlington's locally born geniuses. He dare no more make a serious speech, either in the House of Lords[53] or at Little Puddlington, than he dare call Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman out of his name. Fireworks are expected from him, and if they were not forthcoming, there would be no Lord Rosebery. He passes for a great empire builder, and along with the worthy Dr. Jameson he figures among the executors of the late Mr. Rhodes's will. He is the founder and President of the New Liberal League, which will have nothing to do with Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, but his personal friendship with Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman continues, and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman is certainly not mentioned in Mr. Cecil Rhodes's will. In effect, Lord Rosebery amounts to little more than nothing. The Liberal League, which was to make a great to-do in most matters appertaining to Liberalism and government, fizzled like a bad squib for three or four weeks, and then Lord Rosebery went to Nice. That is exactly the man. When his time comes, when the country wants him, when Liberalism wants him,-when, in fact, anybody[54] wants him,-he says, "Yes, yes, I am here," and immediately starts either for Nice or Epsom. Scotch modesty overcomes him. Scotch caution says, "You know you are a fool; be careful to avoid ultimate risks." Scotch cowardice says, "If you go into battle you may get hurt. Nice is much nicer." In newspaper columns Lord Rosebery's speeches read admirably, providing you do not study them too closely, but any person who has been present in the House of Lords what time his Lordship was on his legs must have gone away with shattered illusions. Even as C.-B. stutters and blunders and grabs for his words in the circumambient air, so Lord Rosebery cackles and sentimentalises. In appearance he is of about the build and body of a draper. His voice is that of an anæmic curate. There are always tears in it at the wrong places, and on the whole it makes you laugh. And having spoken, he trots out like a Scotch sparrow, and with hat a-tilt and arms under his coat-tails poises himself perkily on the steps of the entrance[55] to St. Stephen's Hall, and waits for his carriage to take him off to the station, and so to Epsom or Nice. On the turf his reputation is exactly the same in kind as his reputation in politics. He is as variable as the shade and as changeable as the moons. Sometimes he does brilliant things, but he cannot keep them up. In brief he is half Scotch and half soda.
It is to these redoubtable Scotch persons that England is looking for good government, and hence it comes to pass that of late she has had to govern herself. Out of Scotchmen you can get little that is business-like and little that is dignified, at any rate where statesmanship is concerned. Their ambitions are illimitable, but their powers of execution not worth counting. They will fight from behind cover to more or less bitter and ignominious ends, but, like the Boer farmers, to whom in many large respects they bear the most striking resemblances, they never know when they are beaten, and their warfare deteriorates into mere brigandism and[56] filibustering. When Britain was ruled by Englishmen she wore the epithet Great by good right; since she has been ruled by Scotchmen she has well nigh lost it.

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Word Lists:

Text : a book or other written or printed work, regarded in terms of its content rather than its physical form

Scotch : decisively put an end to

Dullard : a slow or stupid person

Ineptitude : lack of skill or ability

Cackle : make a harsh, raucous sound when laughing

Trombone : a large brass wind instrument with straight tubing in three sections, ending in a bell over the player's left shoulder, different fundamental notes being made using a forward-pointing extendable slide.

Trowel : a small handheld tool with a flat, pointed blade, used to apply and spread mortar or plaster

Freebooter : a pirate or lawless adventurer.

Unwavering : steady or resolute; not wavering

Illimitable : without limits or an end


Additional Information:

Rating: B

Words: 2526

Unique Words : 839

Sentences : 142

Reading Time : 11:13

Noun : 759

Conjunction : 250

Adverb : 149

Interjection : 0

Adjective : 158

Pronoun : 223

Verb : 367

Preposition : 334

Letter Count : 10,923

Sentiment : Positive / Positive / Positive

Tone : Neutral

Difficult Words : 490

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