[The Duke of Devonshire asks Unionists to “decline to give their support in any election to Unionist candidates who express their sympathy with the policy of Mr Chamberlain.” 1 This, says the “Westminster Gazette”, 2 amounts to saying “Don’t vote for Dr Rutherfoord Harris in Dulwich, don’t vote for Major Coates at Lewisham.” 3]


From his slumbers slowly waking
Came the ducal bird, forsaking
That repose the Earl was certain
We were all most anxious for. 4
For his mind was concentrated
On a subject which he stated
To be briefly, “Down with Joey! 5
Or ‘your food will cost you more’.”

“Sit on Coates, and as for Harris
Let the fellow go to—Paris.”
So he screamed while fiscalitis
He produced at every pore.
Never man will ever move him,
Never argument can soothe him
Since he set about this screeching
That “your food will cost you more”.

When you tell him that starvation
Threatens half our population
He repeats forgotten phrases
Which he heard long years before.
When you speak to him of dumping
He replies by simply thumping
On a barrel, and declaring
That “your food will cost you more”.

Seek repose, oh Freer-Fooder!
Cease to be a sly intruder
On the councils of the leaders 6
Whom you loved in days of yore.
This affair’s not one of party, 7
And to keep the Empire hearty
Men must act instead of squawking
That “your food will cost you more”.


The Times reported on 12 December 1903 that it had received from the Unionist Free Food League a copy of a letter sent by the secretary of the League to one of its correspondents, a Mr W E Ball. The letter read:

I am directed by the Duke of Devonshire to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 9th inst, and to say that, as president of the Unionist Free Food League, he is of opinion that an elector who sympathizes with the objects of that league would be well advised to decline to give his support at any election to a Unionist candidate who expresses his sympathy with the policy of Mr Chamberlain and the Tariff Reform League.


The Westminster Gazette was founded in 1893 by Sir George Newnes as a Liberal evening paper and gradually assumed a position as the principal outlet for Liberal thought in London. Its first editor was Edward Tyas Cook, who left in 1895 to become editor of the Daily News and was replaced by J Alfred Spender. The Westminster Gazette was particularly noted for the political cartoons of F Carruthers Gould, several of which appeared in each issue. One of Gould’s favourite subjects was Joseph Chamberlain: during the Boer War and the fiscal debates of 1903-04, almost every issue featured at least one Gould caricature of Chamberlain. Unlike many of its contemporary newspapers, the Westminster Gazette followed a literary and political tradition of “gentlemanly journalism” and despite its Liberal bias it had a reputation for a high standard of judicious political and literary criticism.


By-elections were taking place in Dulwich and Lewisham following the deaths of the sitting members of parliament; both seats had been held by Unionists with substantial majorities. In both constituencies the Unionist candidates, while stating that they supported government policy, had expressed sympathy with Chamberlain’s proposals and both candidates had received messages of support from Chamberlain. In the event, the Duke of Devonshire’s intervention had no effect: at Dulwich, where 10,201 votes were cast, Dr Rutherfoord Harris, the Unionist candidate, was returned with a majority of 1,437; at Lewisham, Major E F Coates held the seat for the Unionists with a majority of 2,012 in a total poll of 13,406 votes. The Daily Express, in its reporting of the election results, did not label the candidates as “Unionist” and “Liberal”; it identified them as “Tariff Reformer” and “Free Trader”.


There is the possibility of confusion here because the notion of “repose” is being associated with two different personages. The “ducal bird” is the Duke of Devonshire, who had a reputation—not entirely warranted but given considerable currency via the caricatures of F C Gould (see above)—for dozing at inopportune moments (see poem 01 fn 09), while “the Earl” refers to the Earl of Rosebery, who, in November, had called for “commercial repose” (see poem 36 fn 01).


The Duke of Devonshire was president of the Liberal Unionist Association and Joseph Chamberlain was its vice-president. In effect, as the writer of a letter to the editor of the Times pointed out on 22 December, the Duke was calling on members of the Association to abstain from voting for any candidate who supported the views of its vice-president.


Although the injunction “Cease to be a sly intruder / On the councils of the leaders” appears to be directed at the Duke of Devonshire, the phrasing is very similar to the final stanza of poem 14 where the Earl of Rosebery is the subject. The similarity is strengthened by the references to “party” and “Empire” in both poems.


As if to show that he too thought the affair was “not one of party”, the Times of 17 December reported that the Duke of Devonshire had caused another letter to be issued in his name, this time addressed to the Liberal candidate contesting a by-election at Ludlow, Shropshire, where—as at Dulwich and Lewisham—the sitting member, a Liberal Unionist, had recently died and the Unionist candidate had declared himself to be a Chamberlain supporter. The Liberal candidate also received a letter of support from Winston Churchill, who was, at least nominally, still a member of the governing party. Ludlow voters of a Unionist persuasion thus found themselves being urged by the Liberal candidate either to follow the advice of a member of their own party and vote against the Unionist candidate, or to follow the advice of another member of their party—one who, until a few months earlier, had been a senior member of the Government—and at least abstain from voting for the government candidate. Once again, however, the Duke’s intervention had no effect: the Unionist candidate was returned with a majority of 970 on a turnout of 7,816 voters.

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