Letters of Travel

Letters to the Family

A Conclusion

Rudyard Kipling

CANADA possesses two pillars of Strength and Beauty in Quebec and Victoria. The former ranks by herself among those Mother-cities of whom none can say “This reminds me.” To realise Victoria you must take all that the eye admires most in Bournemouth, Torquay, the Isle of Wight, the Happy Valley at Hong-Kong, the Doon, Sorrento, and Camps Bay; add reminiscences of the Thousand Islands, and arrange the whole round the Bay of Naples, with some Himalayas for the background.

Real estate agents recommend it as a little piece of England—the island on which it stands is about the size of Great Britain—but no England is set in any such seas or so fully charged with the mystery of the larger ocean beyond. The high, still twilights along the beaches are out of the old East just under the curve of the world, and even in October the sun rises warm from the first. Earth, sky, and water wait outside every man’s door to drag him out to play if he looks up from his work; and, though some other cities in the Dominion do not quite understand this immoral mood of Nature, men who have made their money in them go off to Victoria, and with the zeal of converts preach and preserve its beauties.

We went to look at a marine junk-store which had once been Esquimalt, a station of the British Navy. It was reached through winding roads, lovelier than English lanes, along watersides and parkways any one of which would have made the fortune of a town.

“Most cities,” a man said, suddenly, “lay out their roads at right angles. We do in the business quarters. What d’you think?”

“I fancy some of those big cities will have to spend millions on curved roads some day for the sake of a change,” I said. “You’ve got what no money can buy.”

“That’s what the men tell us who come to live in Victoria. And they’ve had experience.”

It is pleasant to think of the Western millionaire, hot from some gridiron of rectangular civilisation, confirming good Victorians in the policy of changing vistas and restful curves.

There is a view, when the morning mists peel off the harbour where the steamers tie up, or the Houses of Parliament on one hand, and a huge hotel on the other, which as an example of cunningly-fitted-in water-fronts and facades is worth a very long journey. The hotel was just being finished. The ladies’ drawing-room, perhaps a hundred feet by forty, carried an arched and superbly enriched plaster ceiling of knops and arabesques and interlacings, which somehow seemed familiar.

“We saw a photo of it in Country Life,” the contractor explained. “It seemed just what the room needed, so one of our plasterers, a Frenchman—that’s him—took and copied it. It comes in all right, doesn’t it?”

About the time the noble original was put up in England Drake might have been sailing somewhere off this very coast. So, you see, Victoria lawfully holds the copyright.

I tried honestly to render something of the colour, the gaiety, and the graciousness of the town and the island, but only found myself piling up unbelievable adjectives, and so let it go with a hundred other wonders and repented that I had wasted my time and yours on the anxious-eyed gentlemen who talked of “drawbacks.” A verse cut out of a newspaper seems to sum up their attitude:

As the Land of Little Leisure
Is the place where things are done,
So the Land of Scanty Pleasure
Is the place for lots of fun.
In the Land of Plenty Trouble
People laugh as people should,
But there’s some one always kicking
In the Land of Heap Too Good!

At every step of my journey people assured me that I had seen nothing of Canada. Silent mining men from the North; fruit-farmers from the Okanagan Valley; foremen of railway gangs, not so long from English public schools; the oldest inhabitant of the town of Villeneuve, aged twenty-eight; certain English who lived on the prairie and contrived to get fun and good fellowship as well as money; the single-minded wheat-growers and cattle-men; election agents; police troopers expansive in the dusk of wayside halts; officials dependent on the popular will, who talked as delicately as they walked; and queer souls who did not speak English, and said so loudly in the dining-car—each, in his or her own way, gave me to understand this. My excursion bore the same relation to their country as a ’bus-ride down the Strand bears to London, so I knew how they felt.

The excuse is that our own flesh and blood are more interesting than anybody else, and I held by birth the same right in them and their lives as they held in any other part of the Empire. Because they had become a people within the Empire my right was admitted and no word spoken; which would not have been the case a few years ago. One may mistake many signs on the road, but there is no mistaking the spirit of sane and realised nationality, which fills the land from end to end precisely as the joyous hum of a big dynamo well settled to its load makes a background to all the other shop noises. For many reasons that Spirit came late, but since it has come after the day of little things, doubts, and open or veiled contempts, there is less danger that it will go astray among the boundless wealth and luxury that await it. The people, the schools, the churches, the Press in its degree, and, above all, the women, understand without manifestoes that their land must now as always abide under the Law in deed and in word and in thought. This is their caste-mark, the ark of their covenant, their reason for being what they are. In the big cities, with their village-like lists of police court offences; in the wide-open little Western towns where the present is as free as the lives and the future as safe as the property of their inhabitants; in the coast cities galled and humiliated at their one night’s riot (“It’s not our habit, Sir! It’s not our habit!”); up among the mountains where the officers of the law track and carefully bring into justice the astounded malefactor; and behind the orderly prairies to the barren grounds, as far as a single white man can walk, the relentless spirit of the breed follows up, and oversees, and controls. It does not much express itself in words, but sometimes, in intimate discussion, one is privileged to catch a glimpse of the inner fires. They burn hotly.

We do not mean to be de-civilised,” said the first man with whom I talked about it.

That was the answer throughout—the keynote and the explanation.

Otherwise the Canadians are as human as the rest of us to evade or deny a plain issue. The duty of developing their country is always present, but when it comes to taking thought, better thought, for her defence, they refuge behind loose words and childish anticipations of miracles—quite in the best Imperial manner. All admit that Canada is wealthy; few that she is weak; still fewer that, unsupported, she would very soon cease to exist as a nation. The anxious inquirer is told that she does her duty towards England by developing her resources; that wages are so high a paid army is out of the question; that she is really maturing splendid defence schemes, but must not be hurried or dictated to; that a little wise diplomacy is all that will ever be needed in this so civilised era; that when the evil day comes something will happen (it certainly will), the whole concluding, very often, with a fervent essay on the immorality of war, all about as much to the point as carrying a dove through the streets to allay pestilence.

The question before Canada is not what she thinks or pays, but what an enemy may think it necessary to make her pay. If she continues wealthy and remains weak she will surely be attacked under one pretext or another. Then she will go under, and her spirit will return to the dust with her flag as it slides down the halliards.

“That is absurd,” is always the quick answer. “In her own interests England could never permit it. What you speak of presupposes the fall of England.”

Not necessarily. Nothing worse than a stumble by the way; but when England stumbles the Empire shakes. Canada’s weakness is lack of men. England’s weakness is an excess of voters who propose to live at the expense of the State. These loudly resent that any money should be diverted from themselves; and since money is spent on fleets and armies to protect the Empire while it is consolidating, they argue that if the Empire ceased to exist armaments would cease too, and the money so saved could be spent on their creature comforts. They pride themselves on being an avowed and organised enemy of the Empire which, as others see it, waits only to give them health, prosperity, and power beyond anything their votes could win them in England. But their leaders need their votes in England, as they need their outcries and discomforts to help them in their municipal and Parliamentary careers. No engineer lowers steam in his own boilers.

So they are told little except evil of the great heritage outside, and are kept compounded in cities under promise of free rations and amusements. If the Empire were threatened they would not, in their own interests, urge England to spend men and money on it. Consequently it might be well if the nations within the Empire were strong enough to endure a little battering unaided at the first outset—till such time, that is, as England were permitted to move to their help.

For this end an influx of good men is needed more urgently every year during which peace holds—men loyal, clean, and experienced in citizenship, with women not ignorant of sacrifice.

Here the gentlemen who propose to be kept by their neighbours are our helpful allies. They have succeeded in making uneasy the class immediately above them, which is the English working class, as yet undebauched by the temptation of State-aided idleness or State-guaranteed irresponsibility. England has millions of such silent careful folk accustomed, even yet, to provide for their own offspring, to bring them up in a resolute fear of God, and to desire no more than the reward of their own labours. A few years ago this class would not have cared to shift; now they feel the general disquiet. They live close to it. Tea-and-sugar borrowing friends have told them jocularly, or with threats, of a good time coming when things will go hard with the uncheerful giver. The prospect appeals neither to their reason nor to their Savings Bank books. They hear—they do not need to read—the speeches delivered in their streets on a Sunday morning. It is one of their pre-occupations to send their children to Sunday School by roundabout roads, lest they should pick up abominable blasphemies. When the tills of the little shops are raided, or when the family ne’er-do-well levies on his women with more than usual brutality, they know, because they suffer, what principles are being put into practice. If these people could quietly be shown a quiet way out of it all, very many of them would call in their savings (they are richer than they look), and slip quietly away. In the English country, as well as in the towns, there is a feeling—not yet panic, but the dull edge of it—that the future will be none too rosy for such as are working, or are in the habit of working. This is all to our advantage.

Canada can best serve her own interests and those of the Empire by systematically exploiting this new recruiting-ground. Now that South Africa, with the exception of Rhodesia, has been paralysed, and Australia has not yet learned the things which belong to her peace, Canada has the chance of the century to attract good men and capital into the Dominion. But the men are much more important than the money. They may not at first be as clever with the hoe as the Bessarabian or the Bokhariot, or whatever the fashionable breed is, but they have qualities of pluck, good humour, and a certain well-wearing virtue which are not altogether bad. They will not hold aloof from the life of the land, nor pray in unknown tongues to Byzantine saints; while the very tenacity and caution which made them cleave to England this long, help them to root deeply elsewhere. They are more likely to bring their women than other classes, and those women will make sacred and individual homes. A little-regarded Crown Colony has a proverb that no district can be called settled till there are pots of musk in the house-windows—sure sign that an English family has come to stay. It is not certain how much of the present steamer-dumped foreign population has any such idea. We have seen a financial panic in one country send whole army corps of aliens kiting back to the lands whose allegiance they forswore. What would they or their likes do in time of real stress, since no instinct in their bodies or their souls would call them to stand by till the storm were over?

Surely the conclusion of the whole matter throughout the whole Empire must be men and women of our own stock, habits, language, and hopes brought in by every possible means under a well-settled policy? Time will not be allowed us to multiply to unquestionable peace, but by drawing upon England we can swiftly transfuse what we need of her strength into her veins, and by that operation bleed her into health and sanity Meantime, the only serious enemy to the Empire, within or without, is that very Democracy which depends on the Empire for its proper comforts, and in whose behalf these things are urged.

Letters of Travel    |     Sea Travel

Back    |    Words Home    |    Kipling Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback