Mr Winston Churchill

Mr Winston Churchill’s speech

From Whitefriars Journal, no. 5, May 1901, pp. 11-12.

This is the text of Winston Churchill’s speech when he was Chairman at the Annual Ladies’ Banquet on 3 May 1901. The toast of ‘Sovran Woman’ was proposed by Dr John Watson (who wrote under the name Ian Mclaren),1 and Dame Marie Corelli2 in her first ever public speech, had responded. Mrs C. N. Williamson3 toast of ‘Mere Man’, to which the Chairman, Friar Winston Churchill MP, responded.

The Chairman, in responding, said: I have on several occasions been asked to do things which have seemed extremely difficult, but I have never been asked to face any task half so formidable as that which my brother Friars have laid upon me in responding for ‘mere man’. We have heard a great deal about women to-night, and man has hardly come into the question at all, so from the charming speeches we have heard I can get nothing to assist me in embarking upon this important subject – few subjects are so important in the world as ‘mere man’. Personally, I confess, if saying so is no insubordination to the rules of the monastery of the White Friars, I think the expression ‘mere man’ is perhaps not altogether well chosen, for it seems to insinuate that the expression ‘sovran woman’ has been used with a somewhat satirical motive.

I said I find great difficulty in discussing the subject. I cannot talk politics, though, after all, man is concerned with politics. The art of governing his fellow men is one of his chief functions, but, of course, in the Hotel Cecil no association with politics at all can be admitted. (Laughter and applause.) I do not see what I can say about man as a writer, for though, undoubtedly, I had better not be drawn into making comparisons, we have a writer here to-night who does not come under the description of mere man, and whose reputation is known from one end of the country to the other. Another great function of man is as a soldier, but I do not see how I can say anything with regard to that now, because, after all, the fighting qualities of men have been rather to the front lately, and I think we have had quite enough of the alarms of war, and shall all turn with considerable satisfaction to the piping times of peace. (Applause.) So I do not see what I can discuss about mere man unless it is his politeness, which seems to me his great feature. (Laughter.) You see he arrived here first, and, as Mrs. Williamson stated, woman came here by his invitation. I must point out that, from the confused recollections I retain of Adam’s diary, if woman at any rate came into the world at Adam’s invitation, he was asleep when it was given. (Laughter.) However, when she came, man, with his customary courtesy, immediately yielded the first place to her, although she was the second to arrive, and she has held it since—the first place in every heart, the last word in every quarrel. (Laughter.) As Miss Marie Corelli has said, sovran woman is queen all round the world, and sovran man, or mere man, as it is put on the toast list, knows it, or, if he does not, is made to know it – (laughter)—-and I think it is very right and proper he should know it. And without in the least denying that fact, I feel, in responding to the toast as a mere man, that I must congratulate the proposer of it upon the many kind things which she has found it possible to say about that insignificant section of the human race which was under consideration, and also personally for the extremely kind way she honoured me by alluding to myself. (Applause.)

The Lord Mayor of London4 proposed ‘The Chairman’, wishing him a happy and prosperous career both as a traveller – for a man who took to travelling seldom or never stopped till time overtook his steps – and also, and especially, as a politician. He thought the chairman was very happily described in the quotation under the toast – ‘You will find this Friar a notable fellow’. (Applause.)

The toast was drunk with musical honours.

The Chairman, in responding, said he devoutly hoped he should travel no more, for the more he travelled the more he had realised that, for those born in England, that country was the only one to live in. And if there was any one part of England he preferred above all others it was London. Snd if there was any one occasion above all the others when he would be in London it was on the occasion of the Whitefriars Club ladies night. (Laughter and applause.) They had their weekly dinners, of course, but without the annual festival at which the ladies were invited it would not be a very human or a vey natural affair. It was only on those occasions that they offered a real representation of the great world outside, for what was life but a judicious – occasionally an injudicious – mingling of the monastery and the convent. (Laughter and applause.) He felt very proud to have been selected to preside on that occasion as the Friar on duty in that particular cloister – (laughter) – and he trusted that the Friars, anthough they met and consulted together austerely and deliberately once a week, would not during the remaining days forget the influence of Sovran woman, to whom rather feebly, but still devotedly, they had tried to show their reverence, and their respect, and their affection. (Applause.)

(The report of each speech was revised by the speaker.)

Winston Churchill MP on Literature and Sir Edward Grey

From the Whitefriars Journal, vol. II, no. 8, April 1905, pp. 172-75.

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

I think I appear to be getting rather a favourite with the Whitefriars Club – (applause) – because I am very often asked to come to dinners and functions which it holds, and I am not only asked to come very often, but I notice when I am invited I am always given the most delightful and pleasant task that could possibly be given to anyone.

I have been asked to propose a good many toasts in the last twelve months, but I can assure you that there is no toast that I have been asked to propose that gives me more real pleasure than the one you have asked me to propose tonight. Sir Edward Grey has achieved rare distinction, and when I found I had to couple his name with the toast of ‘Literature’, I said to myself: ‘Here’s a pretty kettle of fish!’ because Sir Edward Grey has achieved in a single book a very considerable literary reputation. You all of you know of this, at least you who have the opportunities to which the Prior has referred of going to the country, with the book on Fly-fishing5contributed to the Haddon Hall series. So far as angling goes, it is a classic. It is not a book written for the sake of writing. It is a book written by a man who had something to tell, who had examined the subject very closely and who had lived every page he wrote. (Hear, hear.) It breathes the spirit of Hampshire meadows and Northumbrian burns, and if m our modern days anybody can be said to revive the spirit of Izaak Walton it is our distinguished guest tonight.

As to the other works which Sir Edward Grey has contributed to English literature, his works on history, on Arabian art and Spanish armour, his poems and his philosophical treatises (laughter) I need not speak of them at any great length, because anyone of you who has a library or has access to a library – and who, in these days of Mr. Andrew Carnegie’s uninvited philanthropy, has not? – (laughter) –everyone of you is just as well qualified to speak on these works as I am. I pass to two aspects of Sir Edward Grey’s character, which, perhaps, are not altogether relevant to his literary character. I am told there never was a salmon or a trout who could resist his advances – (laughter) – no matter how fast the river may be flowing (I am rather ignorant of this subject) – (laughter) – or how muddy or clear the water may be – (laughter) – or whether it be full of water or there be very little water – (laughter) – and I have heard great complaint made on both occasions, for my experience of fishermen is that the river is always in bad order when they go out – (laughter) – he has got a fly, and a particular kind of cast, that will catch any fish, however often he has been hooked before; and, however often he has bitten the fly (if it is the technical expression) – (laughter) – Sir Edward Grey may be relied upon to bring him safely home in a basket. (Laughter and applause.)

You have mentioned the importance of fishing as a recreation of politicians. There are many recreations which a politician should seek, because his life is the most severe and most miserable of any class of our fellow subjects. Most of them take to golf, because, no doubt, it inculcates the quality of restraint – of restraint of language. (Laughter.) Fishing inculcates a still more valuable quality. Lord Beaconsfield was once asked what was the most necessary qualification for a Prime Minister. He replied ‘In the first place, patience; in the second, patience; and in the third, patience.’ No better method of acquiring patience could be found than a prolonged and careful pursuit of fishing. I am quite sure those who enjoy that sport are able to get more pleasure out of less appearance of pleasure than any other class of sportsmen in the world. (Laughter.) At the Whitefriars Club we have no politics. We never discuss politics, though we sometimes allude to them; we never criticise politicians, though we invite them to dinner. (Laughter.) Only last time we had Mr, Lloyd-George in a non-political capacity – which is a rather rare capacity for him to attend a public function in. (Laughter.)

We have welcomed some of the most distinguished of his Majesty’s Ministers. I forget their names – (laughter) – but I daresay you remember them, and we should, quite irrespective of party, be delighted to welcome the others – some because we should rejoice to think their official duties no longer kept them away. (Laughter.) But Sir Edward Grey is also a fisher of men. As a politician he has done a great deal to raise the reputation of members of the House of Commons. They are supposed to be such a stupid lot, so incapable of attending to business and settling the smallest question of importance in a sensible manner, that we are told the offices of State ought to be filled by persons brought in from the great commercial enterprises all over the country, but in Sir Edward Grey you, have an example of a man who carries the war into the enemy’s camp. He is a politician taken, from the House of Commons and put into one of the greatest and most responsible positions in this country as the chairman of an important English railway. His piscatorial pursuits remind one that baiting the hook is not unknown in the House of Commons, Sometimes, we bait it with Free Food – (laughter) – sometimes we bait it with sugar. (Laughter.) All sorts of bait are used, and the same politician does not always use the same bait. Mr Chamberlain has used many baits in his time. One has been immortalised by the Prior of this evening as the Long-Spoon bait. (Laughter.) Mr. Wyndham has used co-ordination bait with great success, or it would have been a great success if the fish had not mistaken it for devolution and spat it out. (Laughter). Mr. Gladstone did not use a bait and a rod at all. He had a net that he cast round a great many fish and took them all with a certain amount of noise. The Prime Minister is partial to ‘trimmers’, and he always uses a double-pronged hook with ambiguous barbs. (Laughter.) Last, but not least, my right hon. friend differs from all these because he baits his hook with good taste, good sense, and good courage. (Hear, hear.)

I have not known my right hon. friend for a long time as a political associate, but I have known him long enough to feel the greatest respect for his judgment, his political instinct, and the high principles which he introduces and maintains in our public life. I remember last session when we had a weakness for sitting up late, and for keeping others sitting up late, it was Sir Edward Grey who alone upon the front Opposition Bench was always in his place ready to lend that air of dignity and decorum which is very often required by those who sit below the gangway. He comes to you not only with a reputation which appeals to the past, but he comes to you with a considerable share of the hope of the future.

The confidence of the people of Great Britain is very rarely and very guardedly bestowed. There are many men in whom they take an interest, many of whom they have hopes and expectations, but there are very few to whom they extend their hope and their trust. In the guest of the evening, whose health I propose to you, you have a man whom the people of Great Britain regard not only with hope and expectation, but to whom they have accorded a very generous, and I believe lasting measure of confidence and respect. (Applause.)

1 The Rev. Dr John Watson (1850-1907) minister of Sefton Park Presbyterian Church, Liverpool 1880-1905, and at this time moderator of the English Presbyterian Church

2 Marie Corelli (1855-1924) Born Mary Mackay, illeg. d. of Dr Charles Mackay and his servant Elizabeth Mills, began her career as a musician, hence her change to a more colourful name, but found her metier as a novelist with A Romance of Two Worlds (1886) and became a bestselling author, writing 25 published novels, including one that appeared after her death.

3 Charles Norris Williamson (1859-1920) and his wife Alice Muriel Williamson (1869-1933) were a writing duo of novels and travel works.

4 Alderman Frank Green (1835-1902), a paper merchant. He was a widower, and the duties of Lady Mayoress were undertaken by his daughter. His wife was the daughter of Joseph Haydn, author of The Dictionary of Dates. He was created a baronet on 9 November in the 1901 Birthday Honours List.

5 Sir Edward Grey, Fly Fishing, London: J. M. Dent, The Haddon Hall Library, 1899.