Daily Express, Thursday, October 15, 1903

Poem 14

(Attribution uncertain)



  “I am a poor-spirited creature . . . but if this policy is carried out . . . we should be engaged in battle with the whole civilised world.”—Lord Rosebery 1 at Sheffield. 2


In the garden of the Durdans, 3
Bent with philosophic burdens,
I observed the Parrot resting,
And a coronet he wore. 4
With a smooth and “courtly diction” 5
He was murmuring the fiction
Of the brood of little Parrots,
That “Your food will cost you more.”

“Bird,” I said, “you argue soundly
As to art: and talk profoundly
Upon books, and education,
Like a public orator; 6
But when popping from your burrow,
And abandoning your furrow, 7
Do not fog the British people
With your ‘Food will cost you more.’

“Though a nervous bird you may be,
I would back a British baby,
If he thought the best of fortune
For the Empire was in store.
Not to wince because some nation
Might express disapprobation—
So abstain from panic squawking
That ‘Your food will cost you gore.’

“You have ceased to be a leader
Since you passed as a seceder
From the councils of your party, 8
Who are feeling rather sore;
Now your criticisms bore us,
And the Empire cries in chorus
That your silence is far better
Than ‘Your food will cost you more.’ ”



Lord Rosebery is the Liberal statesman and former Prime Minister, Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847–1929). From the death of his father, in 1851, to the death of his grandfather, the 4th Earl, in 1868, he was known by the courtesy title of Lord Dalmeny. He succeeded Gladstone as Prime Minister, on the latter’s retirement in March 1894, but continual dissension within the Cabinet led him to lose interest in running the government and in June 1895 he used a defeat on a trivial piece of legislation as an excuse to offer the Queen his resignation.


On 13 October 1903 Rosebery addressed a meeting of the Liberal League, of which he was president, at the Albert Hall in Sheffield. His words are quoted here slightly inaccurately and out of context.


The Durdans was Rosebery’s house at Epsom, Surrey. Rosebery bought it in 1874 and it was there that he died. The house still survives and both it and the stables that he had constructed in the grounds are now listed buildings.


See poem 7, note 1. An earl’s coronet consists of a circlet surrounded by eight strawberry leaves and eight silver balls (known as ‘pearls’) on raised stalks.


Rosebery referred, in his speech, to his “courtly diction”.


The journalist and future newspaper editor J. L. Garvin, in an unsigned essay entitled “The Disraeli of Liberalism” in the January 1899 issue of the Fortnightly Review, wrote: “If there were a Public Orator of the Empire, Lord Rosebery would be the immediate and the ideal selection.” Garvin intended the phrase as a compliment, and it was frequently used as such, but the Daily Express employs it sarcastically.


On 19 July 1901, in a speech at a meeting of the City Liberal Club, Rosebery told his audience: “I must proceed alone. I must plough my furrow alone.” This is thought to be the first public usage of the phrase “plough my own furrow”.


Rosebery led the Liberal party from his accession as Prime Minister, in March 1894, until October 1896, when he resigned the leadership. He became increasingly disenchanted with the Liberals and distanced himself from the party.