“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).


On 13 October 1903 Rosebery addressed a meeting of the Liberal League, of which he was president, at the Albert Hall in Sheffield. The words (mis)quoted here occur in a passage that referred to Ritchie’s Croydon speech (see poem 11 fn 02):

I can truly say that the prospect of having much worse relations with the United States, much worse relations with France and Russia, is not in the slightest degree to me an allurement to pursue this new adventurous policy. Of course I may be wrong. I am a poor-spirited creature. I do not wish to be at war with the whole world; but I am confident of this, that if this policy carries out all that those who believe in it think it will carry out with regard to our relations with foreign nations, we should be not long after its inception engaged in a battle with the whole civilized world . . .


The Durdans was Rosebery’s house at Epsom, Surrey. Rosebery bought it in 1874 and it was there that he died.


See poem 07 fn 01. An earl’s coronet consists of a circlet surrounded by eight strawberry leaves and eight silver balls (known as ‘pearls’) on raised stalks: in two-dimensional representations (eg on armorial bearings), four leaves and five pearls are visible.


Rosebery began his speech with:

Well, what do you think of it all? What do you think of it all—that is what I want to know? I would much rather hear that than make you a speech this evening; and I will tell you why. Because I think I know what is passing in all your minds, and I am quite sure that in the rugged, forcible Yorkshire dialect, which can compress so much into so few words, you would express a great deal better what I think than I can do in my own more 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, Rosebery addressed a meeting of the City Liberal Club. He told his audience:

I left the Liberal party because I found it impossible to lead it, in the main owing to the divisions [within the party] [. . .] The Liberal party in that respect is no better now, but rather worse; and it would indeed be an extraordinary evolution of mind if, after having left the Liberal party on that ground, I were to announce my intention of voluntarily returning to it in its present condition. No, gentlemen, so far as I am concerned, [. . .] for the present, at any rate, I must proceed alone. I must plough my furrow alone. [. . .] but before I get to the end of that furrow it is possible that I may find myself not alone. [. . .] If it be not so, I shall remain very contentedly in the society of my books and my home.

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.

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