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Speech

Hawke's Bay Centenary, Napier

Issue date: 
Saturday, 1 November 1958
Speaker: 
Viscount Cobham, GCMG, TD

The Larger Loyalties

Sherlock Holmes once said that "the language of Bradshaw was nervous and terse, but limited." Exactly the same remark applies to the speeches of Governors-General.

For such a one a speech is an intellectual exercise, akin to the physical one of sword-dancing: he is permitted movement but not latitude. Subjects political and controversial are barred against him, with the result that, since politics now invade every nook and cranny of our lives, and since, where politics are to be found, there will their bedfellow controversy be also, his lot is an unenviable one. Especially is this so when he is supposed to be able to speak appropriately and convincingly at the opening of a Rotary conference, the dedication of a new museum or library, at a congress on eugenics, of give a symposium on the probable future of the human race.

On this occasion, however, my talk is an easier one. Although I am aware that there are some of my most distinguished Ministers present, whose claims to the honour of replying to your amiable words far exceed my own, I will endeavour to tread the oratorical tightrope of propriety in finding suitable expressions of gratitude for your hospitality.

Hawke's Bay, more than any other province in New Zealand, reminds me of my native Worcestershire. Not, indeed, the northern part of the county over which the sulphurous haze of the Black Country still hangs and thickens the sky, but the south where the pastures are lush and full of clover and the water-meadows which line the banks of Avon slope gently upward to the plum and apple orchards of the Evesham Vale.

My wife and I lived there for a time, fruit-farming, and an idyllic existence we found it. Stanley Baldwin, another Worcestershire man, used to tell the story of how he once asked a Black Country woman how her three sons were faring. "Two of them are alive," she replied. "The other is farming somewhere near Pershore."

I hope that you will acquit me, Mr Mayor, of any intention of having a sly dig at the hard-working farmers of your beautiful province. The ignorant town-dweller always imagines that a farmer's life consists in watching the power of growth and the natural increase of his stock turn themselves into a large bank balance at the end of each succeeding year. Unfortunately, there is a bit more to it than that.

I always sympathise with the old village who had a beautiful garden. One day the rector passed by and complimented the old man on his garden. "Aye," the old fellow replied. "I've certainly warked mortal hard at it, and I've done it all myself." "With the help of the Almighty," said the rector reprovingly. "Well, I dunno about that," said the old man dubiously, "you oughter 'ave seen it when the Almighty 'ad it to isself."

Perhaps in our heart of hearts all of us would confess to loving our own piece of land, whether it be in town or country, better than any other: but I cannot fore the life of me understand why this love should be in any way exclusive. A man may be a good Englishman although he is a patriotic son of Worcestershire. So also a man may be a fervent citizen of the British Commonwealth, and at the same time a patriotic Australian or New Zealander, and both will have a warm feeling of community with the United States and the whole of the great Anglo-Saxon community of the world.

Democratic government and the rule of law are the two priceless gifts that England has given the world - or rather passed on to the world from the sources from which they sprang, Greece and Rome. Enemies of Great Britain talk as though her colonial achievements have been one long record of robbery and exploitation; this is to vilify all that has been done for 200 years by men of integrity and courage, who selflessly endured exile and hardship while bringing law and order to lands which had never known either.

Too many people regard democracy as the "open sesame" to level uplands of peace, justice and prosperity. Too few realise that of all systems of government it is the hardest to operate, and makes the sternest demands upon both Government and people.

For hundreds of years, the English soil was prepared to receive the democratic seed, enriched throughout the centuries by the blood and toil of those heroic men and women who fought tyranny in every form. "Would twenty shillings have ruined Mr Hampden's fortune?" asked Burke. "No! But the payment of half twenty shillings, on the principle it was demanded, would have made him a slave."

The analogies between cricket and democratic government are closer than many people realise. The one great lesson which some years' membership of the M. C. C. Committee taught me was this: That you cannot put right the ills that beset a game by merely changing the rules. If the game is played by rogues then, whatever the rules, they will spoil it.

This is equally true of democracy: Good government never arises from a mere "system," but from the fact that those who govern are good men.

"Unless humanity is intrinsically decent, heaven help the world indeed," wrote Van Wyck Brooks recently, "for more and more we are going to see man naked. There is no stopping the world's tendency to throw off imposed restraints, the religious authority that is based upon the ignorance of the many, the political authority that is based on the knowledge of the few. The time is coming when there will be nothing to restrain men except what they find in their own bosoms, and what hope is there for us then, unless it is true that, freed from fear, men are naturally disposed to be righteous and just?"

The British men and women who sailed 100 years ago to these beautiful and distant lands sought new freedoms - freedom from landlord and industrialist, freedom from the enclosure of land, freedom from want and squalor and congestion. By their honest toil, their faith and their courage, they founded a new nation. They built their houses on the good volcanic rock and their lives upon the rock of the Christian Church.

Your local records tell of people who had been meeting regularly for Divine Service before November, 1858. They met in the school in Napier, in a store at Clive, under a shop verandah at the Port. Men in New Zealand's history worshipped God in the school house which had never even been painted when it was lost by fire in 1862. By 1862 there were three churches in Napier and one in Waipawa.

Some of us obey the Preacher's injunction to "remember our Creator in the days of our youth." Youth is the time of uncertainty, sometimes of despair, when we feel that a surer hand than we know is needed to lead us up the massive rock-face that lies in our path. It is when we have attained the height that we tend to forget the guiding hand that made possible the ascent and imagine in our ignorance and pride that we alone accomplished the feat.

Of all the hymns of Empire that have ever been written, I like the Recessional best, except for one verse, which I believe Kipling in his later years would gladly have rewritten. But the lines which ring out most poignantly are the last two -
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!

The British Commonwealth is still, at its best, a manifestation of what we understand knighthood to have implied - valour and gentleness combined in an effort to right great wrongs and succour the helpless. Even when King Arthur was defeated at Camian, three knights survived - Sandde Byrd, who was too beautiful to strike, Morvan ap Taged, so ugly that all fled at the sight of him, and Glewleryd Gardelrawr (an obvious ancestor of Mr Peter Jones), who was too strong for anyone to tackle.

This legend contains the whole truth. England, beautiful in many ways, ugly in some, and still strong, lies at the centre of the great Commonwealth of freedom-loving peoples who together represent the greatest hope for the survival of knighthood and the future development of mankind.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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