The Parrot

Poem 41

26 November 1903        

(Attribution uncertain)

    [“I object to protection and preference in any shape or form. What was the tradition of the last two generations? It was a tradition of free trade.” The condition of the country (the Duke continued) was never more prosperous, and no upset of fiscal traditions was required.—The Duke of Devonshire at the Queen’s Hall 1—a spot famous for its Little England meetings. 2]

 

Where the pro-Boers Stead and Sauer 3
From the platform used to glower
At the wicked British Army
In its Greater England war,
Perched the ducal bird with others
Of the brood of parrot brothers,
Who believe it best to slumber
Lest “Your food should cost you more.”

“Little England! Would you serve her?”
So they squawked in frantic fervour.
“Then compose yourself on cushions,
And emit a happy snore;
If you show a sign of waking
Old traditions you are breaking,
And it’s reasonably certain
That ‘Your food will cost you more.’

“Let our brood of parrot chickens
Shun the man who plays the dickens
With the state of rest and quiet
Which we all are anxious for;
Joe, regardless of our soothings,
Still believes it right to do things!
Let us crush him with a chorus
Of ‘Your food will cost you more’.”

Shall we follow their suggestion,
Shall we drop the fiscal question
Till the alien claps the shutters
On the front of John Bull’s store? 4
Not for birds whose sole prescription
For success is a prediction
That repose is all that’s needed, 5
Lest “Your food will cost you more.”


    We have received from a free trade correspondent, who, however, owns to kindly feelings towards us, a “message to the bird”, which runs as follows:

Silly Parrot! stop your screeching,
You annoy us with your preaching.
Oh! you phonographic bore!
You deceive the world to thinking
That free-traders now are sinking
To free-fooders and no more!

 1

The Duke of Devonshire addressed a meeting of the Unionist Free Food League at the Queen’s Hall on 24 November 1903. He referred to a tradition of free trade in a passage in his speech in which he attacked the Prime Minister for failing to enunciate a clear policy and defended his decision to resign from the government. His declared his objection to protection in a later passage dealing with Chamberlain’s policy. As on other occasions, the preamble to the poem takes extracts from a speech out of context and out of order. It also misrepresents the Duke, who made no specific mention of the “condition of the country”.

 2

For “Little England”, see poem 33 fn 03

Queen’s Hall, in Langham Place, was primarily a concert hall but it also hosted political meetings and was the venue for a number of meetings organised by the South Africa Conciliation Committee and other bodies who sought a peaceful end to the war against the Boer republics in South Africa. The Hall no longer exists, having been destroyed by an incendiary bomb in May 1941.

 3

William Thomas Stead (1849-1912) was a journalist, editor and social reformer. From 1880, he worked for the Pall Mall Gazette, which he edited from 1883-89. In 1990 he founded the monthly Review of Reviews, of which he remained the editor until his death; he also founded the American Review of Reviews. Stead was a pacifist and a vigorous peace campaigner. On 21 March 1899 he spoke at a meeting in the Queen’s Hall which was organised on behalf of the International Crusade of Peace. Before and during the Boer War, his condemnation of British military action gained him the label of "pro-Boer". After that war, he continued to take part in various peace movements and conferences and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1912, he was invited to New York to address a meeting on “the World’s Peace” but he never arrived: the vessel on which he sailed was the Titanic.

Jacobus Wilhelmus Sauer (1850-1913) was a South African politician and statesman. He was elected to the Cape Colony parliament around 1875 and served continuously until 1904. He was a minister in the governments of Cecil Rhodes, from 1890-93, and W P Schreiner, from 1898-1900. During the Boer War, Sauer attempted to persuade Cape Dutchmen not to rebel against the Crown, though his enemies claimed that in private he was an active supporter of the rebels: his brother was imprisoned for 12 months as a rebel. In March-April 1901, Sauer and another Cape politician, John X Merriman, visited England, hoping to present the case for peace at the bar of the House of Commons, but they were refused a hearing and public meetings that they addressed—including one at the Queen’s Hall on 19 June 1901—were disrupted by noisy protesters. Sauer lost his seat in parliament in 1904 but regained it in 1908, when Merriman became premier of the Cape Colony and Sauer once again became a minister. He was one of the Cape delegates to the National Convention that led to the Union of South Africa, and he served as a minister in the first national government until his death.

Stead and Sauer never shared the platform at a public meeting, and the only meeting that Stead was reported to have addressed at Queen’s Hall took place before the start of the Boer War.

 4

A reference to the song, “The John Bull Store&rdquo (see poem 25 fn 03).

 5

This alludes to Lord Rosebery’s speech at Leicester on 6 November (see poem 36).