Henry Newbolt

Mr Henry Newbolt on ‘Our Club’

From Whitefriars Journal,vol. II, no. 8, April 1905, pp. 182-83.

On 10 March 1905 on the occasion of the Club’s Annual Dinner, held at the Empire Hall, in the Trocadero, Friar Winston Churchill, M.P., proposed the toast of ‘Literature’, coupling with it the name of Sir Edward Grey, M.P., who then spoke.

It was at the conclusion of Sir Edward Grey’s speech that the former Prime Minister, the 5th Earl of Rosebery entered. The Prior took the occasion of a momentary interval to propose his Lordship’s health, which was cordially honoured. Lord Rosebery was not pressed to respond, and, in signing his name in the visitors’ book, he signalised his silence by writing the words ‘Rosebery (dumb)’. He took his seat between Sir Edward Grey and Friar Winston Churchill. Mr Henry Newbolt then rose to toast ‘Our Club’.
He said:
“It is not every man who would turn up at a dinner after being informed that he was to follow Mr Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey. But as so poor a thing as one who has been called a poet must follow somebody through the mazes of this world – especially through the mazes of this political world – if I must follow anyone, I shall be happy to follow Sir Edward Grey anywhere. As for Mr Winston Churchill, I have rather preceded him, since my opinions were what they are when his perhaps were not yet so. But I am glad now to follow Mr Winston Churchill, especially as it has become safer to do so since the second reading of a Bill to legalise conspiracy. (Laughter.) In submitting this toast of ‘Our Club’ since I am not a member of the Whitefriars Club, I am, I am afraid, required to do the impossible. At least, I thought it was impossible till I read this morning the speech of a very distinguished statesman, now happily present, who, not being a member of the constituency which he was addressing, nevertheless succeeded by an effort of the imagination in putting himself, throughout his long and brilliant speech, in the position of a voter of the City of London. Following that great example, I propose to divest myself of my character as an ordinary citizen, and to invest myself with the imaginary character of a member of the Whitefriars Club: I propose to inquire from that standpoint what it is that the Whitefriars Club exists for. It might be said – I am not sure that it has not been said by enemies of the Club – that the typical White Friar takes this view of his institution : ‘I wish to dine; I cannot dine in dulness. When I have dined, call in giants and let them play before me.’ (Laughter.) That is a view which only an outsider could take. It is a view which was taken on a conspicuous occasion in history, but those who took it were called Philistines, therefore it cannot be taken here. The true White Friar says, rather, ‘I must dine; I cannot dine alone.’ There are here tonight two distinguished politicians who have on separate occasions complained of loneliness – one of ploughing a lonely furrow, the other, on a later occasion in the House of Commons, that he was a somewhat lonely politician, and he was not much consoled when the House roared at him, ‘Not now!’ (Laughter.) No White Friar desires to be in a condition of intellectual loneliness and isolation. And for a White Friar it is necessary that he should be in touch with and know the men he writes about, in order to write of them with greater frankness and good humour, and it is because our Prior has studied them so well that he treats of them not only with so much wit but with so much good humour and good sense. By way of amusement he enables one to take a more sound and wholesome view of public affairs. This desire to be in touch with men of all kinds is the principle of the White Friars, and that being so, I find it an easy and a congenial task to propose to you this toast. Speaking, therefore, in my imaginary character as a White Friar, I invite you to drink heartily to the welfare of ‘Our Club’. (Applause.)”