[“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!


The Unionist Free Food League held a meeting at the Queen’s Hall on 24 November 1903. Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Charles Ritchie, Lord George Hamilton and Lord Balfour of Burleigh were on the platform, and the Duke of Devonshire (who was making his first public speech since resigning from the government) and Lord Goschen were the main speakers.

The Duke attacked the Prime Minister for failing to enunciate a clear policy, and defended his decision to resign from the government. He referred to Balfour’s speech at Sheffield on 1 October (see poem 04 fn 01):

He [Balfour] asked himself, did he desire to reverse fundamentally the fiscal tradition of the last two generations? What is the tradition of the last two generations? It is the tradition of free trade. He has imputed to me a controversial subtlety in detecting imaginary heresies [see poem 07 fn 07] [. . .] If protection is a heresy, then I say that protection is a reversal of the tradition which he refers to, and the heresy, if it be a heresy, stands confessed.

And he concluded:

I am not prepared to tender an expression of unqualified confidence in the policy of the Government, of which I do not feel that I have any adequate knowledge, and as to which I also confess that I entertain some grave misgivings.

He then turned to Chamberlain’s policy:

But if I have some misgivings as to the policy of the Government there is another policy which I think I do understand, and which I do not distrust, but which I am prepared with all my might to oppose. [. . .] One of the reasons why I have joined this league is that I believe the taxation of food is the keystone of this whole policy to which I take exception. I object to protection and to preference in any shape or form. [. . .] The ideas which seem to lie at the root of this policy are ideas which seem to belong to some other world than that in which we live. We find by every test which we can apply that our country is growing in prosperity. We are told that it is being ruined. [. . .] on every side and on every hand we see evidence of a thriving and active industrial life. And we are told that we are in a state of stagnation.

The comment about the “condition of the country” does not occur in that form in the Duke’s speech and misrepresents his argument.


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, including many organised by women’s suffrage societies. It 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.


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, when he temporarily lost his seat. He was Secretary for Native Affairs in 1881-4 and in 1890 was asked to form a government, but was unable to do so, instead becoming Colonial Secretary in the government of Cecil Rhodes from 1890-93. From 1898-1900 he was Minister of Public Works in the government of W P Schreiner, but helped to precipitate the fall of the government when he opposed the punishment of Cape rebels: his brother was imprisoned for 12 months as a rebel. 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. 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 Minister of Public Works. He was one of the Cape delegates to the National Convention that negotiated the Union of South Africa, and in the first national government he served under General Botha as Minister of Railways, then as Minister of Agriculture; at the time of his death he was Minister of Justice and Native Affairs.

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.


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


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

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