Select Page

Speech Before
the English-Speaking Union

April 20, 1922 — English-Speaking Union, New York City 



I am not really afraid to speak here to-night. I was a little afraid last night — I didn’t know quite whether New York audiences would be as kind as Plymouth audiences. I see that they are much the same. They forgive my short-comings in the way of scholarly attainments or oratorical orations when they see that you are speaking from your heart. I usually do speak from my heart. It has been a safer guide to me than my head and here to-night it’s easy, for surely no people on earth have understood a woman’s heart better than the English-speaking nations.

Last night I told the women voters that I was not a person but a symbol — a sort of connecting link between the English-speaking people, a frail link perhaps, but a link that is stronger than it looks. It is a strange thing that England’s first woman member of Parliament should have come from England’s first colony. I doubt if the first English woman to land in Virginia was less expected on these shores than the first Virginian woman to land in the House of Commons was expected on that floor. However, in spite of having neither beads nor fire-water, the natives were amazingly kind to the Virginian settler. It is all very picturesque when one thinks of it historically but very ordinary when it is done. History, I think, is more romantic to read than to make, and I apologize now to future little school girls for having added another question to the endless questions which still haunt me when my mind turns back to the long list of historical personages, varying from Lucretia Borgia down to Susan B. Anthony.

I have been asked what was my visit here for. Cannot a person come home without being suspected of deep and ulterior motives? I may tell you at once I am not on a mission to promote better understanding between England and America. No person, however keen about it, can do much in that line. Things which are worth while are made by something better than missions or treaties. They are made only by great ideals in the hearts of the common people. I don’t even believe that trade agreements will succeed in promoting a better understanding. But I do say that if the greatest Commonwealth of Nations the world has ever seen and the greatest Federation of States the world has ever known, cannot be brought together by some common cause, of human hope and purpose, then I personally should feel like the Queen of Sheba — the spirit would go out of me. I do believe that these two nations are bound together by a common cause and that a common cause of human hope and purpose, and this purpose is peace on earth and good will towards all men.

The Washington Conference was not a surprise to me. I knew that England was not a militarist nation any more than America was, and I knew too, that once they talked things over they would see the utter futility of building battleships against one another. America and England should have the largest fleets because they will certainly use them more as policemen than as fighting forces. After all, when England had the greatest navy in the world she never used it except to keep the freedom of the seas. I often wonder whether Imperialist Germany might not have treated the Monroe Doctrine like a scrap of paper had her fleet been the strongest in the world. However, I don’t want to go back to an ancient grudge. It’s hopeless trying to go forward when you are looking backward. It is a great mistake to keep such things alive; it only means more trouble and surely there is enough trouble in the world now without looking backward.

America, I am told, draws back with horror when she looks at Europe. I don’t blame her. Certainly it is a sad enough sight to make one draw back from. I cannot believe, though, that standing back is the right way to help, and I don’t believe, that any part of the world can go forward in the truest sense while another part is suffering desperately. The war has shown us that the world was really round and inter-dependent. I am struck more and more by the way in which the stock of moral good-will on both sides is still thwarted by the extent of mental misunderstanding. This not only hinders the recovery of hundreds of millions of people from all the mischiefs of the war but works new mischief of its own. I am thinking now not so much of America and Britain, who have had their heart-to-heart explanations at the Washington Conference, with an effort which ought to make their relations fool-proof, in spite of the small people who are so blinded by their fear, or envy and hate, that they would do all in their power to pull them apart. But I am not afraid of them — I am only sorry for them. There is nothing more pitiful than people who are moved by envy or hate and there is nothing weaker than people who fear. Envy and hate are the most blinding things on earth and it is only people with vision who never perish. When I talk of misunderstanding I am thinking of Europe.

I believe that in parts of America there is an impression that Europe is not getting on with the peace, that she still has large armies, still fights and at the same time cries out for help. Russia and France still have great armies and this naturally makes the smaller States arm too. Of course it is all desperately disappointing to some of us. We had hoped that this was a war to end wars — I think it has ended the biggest war, yet there seem to be a few private wars going on and still a great deal of fear and hatred left. Perhaps conferences will succeed where wars have failed. We all hoped great things of Genoa and I only wish that America had been there to lend her moral support. As things are going it might have made a great difference. I am sure her reasons for not being there must be very good and that her heart is on the side of those who want lasting peace. That misrepresented and much despised League of Nations has already prevented three small wars, it has registered over one hundred treaties, has repatriated nearly four hundred thousand prisoners — not a bad record for only half a League. I think it is enough to make every woman in America want to join it in some form or other, certainly any of those who have had sons in the war. It is the memory of the anguish of the mothers and fathers who watched for four years which gives me the courage to speak plainly here to-night. You see, the anguish in a mother’s heart is felt in all other mothers’ hearts over the world, even though they be enemy aliens. I was told to be careful, which gives me the courage to speak plainly. Why careful? I have not anything to say that would hurt anyone in America and I only want to say what may help thousands of people in less fortunate countries than America. Anyhow I do believe America likes people to say what they mean and care about. No one could say that America does not care about Europe. Look at the way the American Relief Committee is helping Russia. It is the admiration of the whole of England and often I have heard it referred to in the House of Commons. Yet I don’t believe that the greatest philanthropy in the world can add much to the permanent reconstruction of the world and that is what the world needs more now than anything — reconstruction. It is all very well to hear people talk of European entanglements but the world is already tangled, and we have to think of a plan to disentangle ourselves. No one could think that English fathers and mothers ¾ with nearly eight hundred thousand sons who will never return — would want to join in a League which would entangle them or anyone else in the war. The English know enough about wars never to want to fight or to see anyone else have to fight. These mothers and fathers think as I feel sure the fathers and mothers of America do, that the safest and sanest way to get out of wars is to join some sort of Association of Nations for peace. The Washington Conference shows us what can happen when great countries with great ideals get together. The difference between people with ideals is simply the difference between Pagans and Christians — a Pagan is a man whose standard of right does not extend beyond his own interest. A pagan state is a state whose standard of right does not extend beyond its own interest. Now we Anglo-Saxons rather pride ourselves that our civilization was built of Christianity. If that is the case, there is no doubt that a lot of pagans have slipped in among us — perhaps they have often been proselytizing. Don’t let us be proselytizing too far, don’t let us forget the faith of our forefathers. It must have taken tremendous faith mixed with a double dose of courage to have crossed the Atlantic in a shell of a boat — yet they did. They were not pagans. Civilization was never made by pagans, yet civilization was nearly destroyed by them. We cannot give them a second chance. It is wonderfully helpful to look back and see the kind of men in all countries who have made the civilization. They were not men who carried a grudge, they were not men who hated, but men with an inner consciousness of what man really is capable of, men who realized that life is only redeemed by a purpose bigger than themselves and a love which passeth all understanding.



Source: Library of Southern Literature, Compiled Under the Direct Supervision of Southern Men of Letters (Atlanta: The Martin & Hoyt Company) 1923, pp. 18-23.