LAURIER: A STUDY IN CANADIAN POLITICS
The climb to power.
The life story of Laurier by Oscar D. Skelton is the official biography of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Official biographies of public men have their uses; they supply material for the definitive biography which in the case of a great man is not likely to be written by one who knew him in the flesh. An English public man, who was also a novelist and poet, wrote:
“Ne’er of the living can the living
Too blind the affection or too fresh the grudge.”
The limitation is equally true in the case of one like Sir Wilfrid Laurier who, though dead, will be a factor of moment in our politics for at least another generation. Professor Skelton’s book is interesting and valuable, but not conclusive. The first volume is a political history of Canada from the sixties until 1896, with Laurier in the setting at first inconspicuously but growing to greatness and leadership. For the fifteen years of premiership the biographer is concerned lest Sir Wilfrid should not get the fullest credit for whatever was achieved; while in dealing with the period after 1911, constituting the anti-climax of Laurier’s career, Mr. Skelton is avowedly the alert and eager partisan, bound to find his hero right and all those who disagreed with him wrong. Sir Wilfrid Laurier is described in the preface as “the finest and simplest gentleman, the noblest and most unselfish man it has ever been my good fortune to know;” and the work is faithfully devoted to the elucidation of this theme. Men may fail to be heroes to their valets but they are more successful with their biographers. The final appraisement of Sir Wilfrid, to be written perhaps fifty years hence by some tolerant and impartial historian, will probably not be an echo of Prof. Skelton’s judgment. It will perhaps put Sir Wilfrid higher than Prof. Skelton does and yet not quite so high; an abler man but one not quite so preternaturally good; a man who had affinities with Macchiavelli as well as with Sir Galahad.
The Laurier of the first volume is an appealing, engaging and most attractive personality. There was about his earlier career something romantic and compelling. In almost one rush he passed from the comparative obscurity of a new member in 1874 to the leadership of the French Liberals in 1877; and then he suffered a decline which seemed to mark him as one of those political shooting stars which blaze in the firmament for a season and then go black; like Felix Geoffrion who, though saluted by Laurier in 1874 as the coming leader, never made any impress upon his times. A political accident, fortunate for him, opened the gates again to a career; and he set his foot upon a road which took him very far.