Stoop, Chaucer, stoop;
Keats, Shelley, Burns bow down.
And who did not share the feeling of Mark Pattison at the pitiful anti-climax? “There certainly is something about Tennyson,” he said, “that you find in very few poets; in saying what he says in the best words in which it can be said, he is quite Sophoclean. But this business of the peerage! It is really so sad that I hardly like to speak of it. Compare that with Milton’s ending and mark the difference.”
But it is the corrupting effect of titles on the national currency that is their real offence. They falsify our ideals. They set up shams in place of realities. They turn our minds from the gold to the guinea stamp and make us worship the false idols of social ambition. Our thinking as a people can’t be right when our symbols are wrong. We can’t have the root of democracy in our souls if the tree flowers into coronets and gee-gaws. France has the real jewel of democracy and we have only got the paste. Do not think that this is only a small matter touching the surface of our national character. It is a poison in the blood that infects us with the deadly sins of servility and snobbery. And already it is permeating even the free life of the Colonies. If I were an Australian or a Canadian I would fight this hateful taint of the old world with all my might. I would make it a criminal offence for a Colonial to accept a title. As for us, I know only one remedy. It is to make a title a money transaction. Let us have a tariff for titles. If American millionaires, like Lord Astor, want them let them pay for them at the market rate. It would be at least a more wholesome method than the present system. And it would bring the whole imposture into contempt. Nobody would have a title when everybody knew what he had paid for it. It is a poor way of getting rid of the abomination compared with the French way, but then we are some centuries behind the French people in these things.
“I have spent a large part of my life in advising business men how to get out of their difficulties,” said Mr. Asquith the other day. It was a statement wrung from him by a deputation which was inflicting on him the familiar talk about lawyers and the need of “business men” to run our affairs. I suppose there has been no more banal cackle in this war than the cackle about a “business Government” and the pestilence of lawyers.
I am not a lawyer, and have no particular affection for lawyers. I keep out of their professional reach as much as possible. But it is as foolish to ban them as a class as it would be to assume that a grocer or a tailor is a great statesman because he is a successful grocer or tailor. Running an empire is quite a different job from running a grocery establishment, and it is folly to suppose that because a man has been successful in buying and selling bacon and butter for his own profit he can ipso facto govern a nation with wisdom and prudence. Who are the most distinguished grocers of to-day? They are Lord Devonport and Sir Thomas Lipton. Both excellent men, I’ve no doubt. But would you like to hand over the Premiership to either of them? Now, would you?