Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery

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Archibald Primrose, 5. Earl of Rosebery

Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery (7 May 184721 May 1929) was a British Liberal statesman and Prime Minister, also known as Archibald Primrose (1847–1851) and Lord Dalmeny (1851–1868).


  • Few speeches which have produced an electrical effect on an audience can bear the colorless photography of a printed record.
    • Life of Pitt (1891), reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • [The British Empire is] the greatest secular agency for good now known to mankind.
    • Speech at the unveiling of a bust of the late Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Macdonald at Westminster Abbey (16 November 1892), reported in The Times (17 November 1892), p. 9. Leo McKinstry, Rosebery: Statesman in Turmoil (John Murray, 2006), p. 120.
  • ...that new spirit which is passing from municipal into Imperial politics, which aims more at the improvement of the lot of the worker and the toiler than at those great constitutional effects in which past Parliaments have taken as their pride...It is all very well to make great speeches and to win great divisions. It is well to speak with authority in the councils of the world and to see your navies riding on every sea, and to see your flag on every shore. That is well, but it is not all. I am certain that there is a party in this country not named as yet that is disconnected with any existing political organization, a party which is inclined to say, "A plague on both your Houses, a plague on all your parties, a plague on all your politics, a plague on your unending discussions which yield so little fruit." (Cheers.) "Have done with this unending talk and come down and do something for the people." It is this spirit which animates, as I believe, the great masses of our artisans, the great masses of our working clergy, the great masses of those who work for and with the poor, and who for the want of a better word I am compelled to call by the bastard term of philanthropists.
    • Speech to a meeting at St James's Hall on behalf of the Progressive majority in the London County Council (21 March 1894), reported in The Times (22 March 1894), p. 7.
  • There are two supreme pleasures in life. One is ideal, the other real. The ideal is when a man receives the seals of office from the hands of his Sovereign. The real pleasure comes when he hands them back.
    • Upon the fall of his ministry; said to journalist Sir Henry William Lucy, The Diary of a Journalist (Vol. 1), E. P. Dutton, 1920), p 93.
  • It is always possible that that may happen here which has happened in Belgium—the elimination of Liberalism, leaving the two forces of Socialism and Reaction face to face. Whether that shall happen here depends on the Liberal Party.
    • Letter to Canon Scott Holland (21 August 1895), quoted in D. A. Hamer, Liberal Politics in the Age of Gladstone and Rosebery: A Study in Leadership and Policy (Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 223.
  • It is beginning to be hinted that we are a nation of amateurs.
    • Rectorial Address, Glasgow (November 16, 1900), reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • ...what would be most extraordinary is this, that anybody who considered the state of the Liberal party then [1896] and now should expect me voluntarily to return to the Liberal party. (Laughter.) I left the Liberal party because I found it impossible to lead it, in the main owing to the divisions to which I referred in my letter. (Hear, hear.) 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, I must repeat what I have said on that subject in all my speeches, that for the present, at any rate, I must proceed alone. I must plough my furrow alone.
    • Speech to the City Liberal Club (19 July 1901), reported in The Times (20 July 1901), p. 15.
  • The nation which is satisfied is lost. The nation which is not progressive is retrograding. "Rest and be thankful" is a motto which spells decay. The new world seems to possess more of this quality in its crude state, at any rate, than the old. In individuals it sometimes seems to be carried to excess. I do not by this mean the revolutions which periodically ravage the Southern and Central American Republics. I think more of the restless enterprise of the United States, with the devouring anxiety to improve existing machinery and existing methods, and the apparent impossibility of accumulating any fortune, however gigantic, which shall satisfy or be sufficient to allow of leisure and repose. There the disdain of finality, the anxiety for improving on the best seems almost a disease; but in Great Britain we can afford to catch the complaint, at any rate in a mitigated form, and give in exchange some of our own self-complacency, for complacency is a fatal gift. "What was good enough for my father is good enough for me" is a treasured English axiom which, if strictly carried out, would have kept us to wooden ploughs and water clocks. In these days we need to be inoculated with some of the nervous energy of the Americans.
    • Address as President of the Birmingham and Midland Institute (15 October, 1901).
    • 'Lord Rosebery On National Culture', The Times (16 October, 1901), p. 4.
  • ...what is the advice I have to offer you? the first head is this, that you have to clean your slate. (Cheers.) It is six years now since you were in office. It is 16 years since you were in anything like power, and it does seem to me that under these circumstances the primary duty of the Liberal party is to wipe its slate clean and consider very carefully what it is going to write on it in future (Cheers.)
    • Speech at Chesterfield (16 December 1901), reported in The Times (17 December 1901), p. 10.
  • There are a great many Tory Liberals in the Liberal party. There is a Toryism in Liberalism as great and as deep, though as unconscious, as any in the Carlton Club. There are men who sit still with the fly-blown phylacteries bound round their obsolete policy, who do not remember that, while they have been mumbling their incantations to themselves, the world has been marching and revolving, and if they have any hope of leading or guiding it they must march and move with it too. (Cheers.)
    • Speech at Chesterfield (16 December 1901), reported in The Times (17 December 1901), p. 10.
  • The last piece of advice I shall venture to offer the Liberal party is this, that they shall not dissociate themselves, even indirectly or unconsciously, or by any careless words, from the new sentiment of Empire which occupies the nation. To many the word "Empire" is suspect as indicating aggression and greed and violence and the characteristics of other empires that the world has known; but the sentiment that is represented now by Empire in these islands has nothing of that in it. (Cheers.) It is a passion of affection and family feeling, of pride and of hopefulness; and the statesman, however great he may be, who dissociates himself from that feeling must not be surprised if the nation dissociates itself from him. (Cheers)
    • Speech at Chesterfield (16 December 1901), reported in The Times (17 December 1901), p. 10.
  • watchword if I were in office at this moment would be summed up in one single word—the word "efficiency." (Cheers.) If we have not learned from this war that we have greatly lagged behind in efficiency we have learned nothing, and our treasure and our lives are thrown away unless we learn the lesson which the war has given us...last, and, perhaps, greatest of all, there comes a question that underlies the efficiency of our nation...I mean education (loud cheers), in which we are lagging sadly, and with which we shall have peacefully to fight other nations with weapons like the bow and arrow if we do not progress. We have nothing like a national system, but a great chaos of almost haphazard arrangement.
    • Speech at Chesterfield (16 December 1901), reported in The Times (17 December 1901), p. 10.
  • It would have to be considered from the Imperial point of view whether the system of reciprocal tariffs would really bind the mother country more closely with her colonies than was now the Great Britain might have annually to submit to the pressure of various colonies who were discontented with the tariff as then modified and wanted it modified still further. If they considered Great Britain as a target at which all these proposals for modification and rectification would be addressed, he thought it would occur to their Chamber that it would not altogether add to the harmony of those relations to have these shifting tariffs existing between Great Britain and her colonies. (Cheers)...He thought we should have some form of direct representation from the colonies to guide us and advise us with regard to this question of tariffs...Under a system of free trade every branch of industry did not prosper. He was interested in the landed industry (hear), and he did not know that the land industry had prospered particularly under free trade...he thought it could not be denied that under a system of free trade large tracts of country had been turned out of cultivation, that our own food supply had been diminished, and that the population which had been reared in the rural districts had ceased to be reared in those districts...he was not a person who believed that free trade was part of the Sermon on the Mount, and that we ought to receive it in all its rigidity as a divinely-appointed dispensation.
    • Speech to the Burnley chamber of commerce (19 May 1903) in the aftermath of Joseph Chamberlain's speech advocating Imperial Preference tariffs on imports, as reported in The Times (20 May 1903), p. 12. The Times reported Rosebery's speech in third person.
  • Now, what is the policy? It is, so far as we know, to interfere with the established fiscal policy of this country in order to promote the union of the Empire—that is to say, it is to affect gravely, if not to sap, the foundations of the edifice in order to promote the stability of the structure. (Laughter and cheers)...Had free trade failed us in the 57 years of experience we have had of it, had we found ourselves with a shrinking trade, a diminished revenue, a population on the verge of poverty, we should long ago have reviewed the whole system of free trade and reconsidered it. But we find ourselves, so far as all statistics can give us a clue, at a pinnacle of wealth such as no nation of the size has ever reached in the history of the world...The Empire is built up on free trade...your Empire is founded on the condition, and it could not have existed until now except on that condition, that every self-governing part of it shall have the right to work out its own prosperity by its own methods. I do not know why it should enter the heads of any statesman to deny that liberty to the United Kingdom.
    • Speech to the Liberal League on 12 June 1903, repudiating Chamberlain's proposals, reported in The Times (13 June 1903), p. 8.
  • The old Liberal party is drawing to its end. These last two elections, particularly the last, are the Mene Mene Tekel Upharsen of the Liberal banquet. The socialist does not indeed get a majority but while the two old parties are cutting each other's throats, he slips in and will continue to slip in and the encouragement to his party is great. The Liberal party will lose their industrial seats, while the Conservative party, the natural refuge in time of trouble, creams off all who will accept protection.
    • Letter to Sir George Murray (27 July 1907), quoted in McKinstry, pp. 499-500.
  • It is by self-reliance, humanly speaking, by the independence which has been the motive and impelling force of our race, that the Scots have thriven in India and in Canada, in Australia and New Zealand, and even in England, where at different times they were banned. As things are we in Scotland do not take much or even ask much from the State, but the State invites us every day to lean upon it. I seem hear the wheedling and alluring whisper, "Sound you may be; we bid you be a cripple. Do you see? Be blind. Do you hear? Be deaf. Do you walk? Be not venturesome; here is a crutch for one arm. When you get accustomed to it you will soon want another, the sooner the better." The strongest man, if encouraged, may soon accustom himself to the methods of an invalid; he may train himself to totter or to be fed with a spoon. The ancient sculptors represent Hercules leaning on his club; our modern Hercules would have his club elongated and duplicated and resting under his arms. (Laughter.) The lesson of our Scottish teaching was "Level up"; the cry of modern civilization is "Level down; let the Government have a finger in every pie," probing, propping, disturbing. ("Hear, hear," and laughter.) Every day the area for initiative is being narrowed, every day the standing ground for self-reliance is being undermined, every day the public infringes, with the best intentions, no doubt, on the individual. The nation is being taken into custody by the State. Perhaps the current cannot now be stemmed; agitation or protest may be alike unavailing; the world rolls on, it may be part of its destiny, a necessary phase in its long evolution, a stage in its blind, toilsome progress to an invisible goal. I neither affirm nor deny. All in the long run is doubtless for the best; but, speaking as a Scotsman to Scotsmen, I plead for our historical character, for the maintenance of those sterling national qualities which have meant so much to Scotland in the past. (Cheers.)
    • Speech to Glasgow University (12 June 1908), reported in The Times (13 June 1908), p. 12.
  • This is not a Budget, but a revolution; a social and political revolution of the first magnitude.
    • Letter to the The Times attacking the "People's Budget" (22 June 1909), p. 8.
  • is a revolution without any mandate from the people. (Cheers.) Now, gentlemen, it is in the first place a revolution in fiscal methods...this Budget is introduced as a Liberal measure. If so, all I can say is that it is a new Liberalism and not the one that I have known and practised under more illustrious auspices than these. (Cheers.) Who was the greatest, not merely the greatest Liberal, but the greatest financier that this country has ever known? (A voice, "Gladstone.") I mean Mr. Gladstone. (Cheers.) With Sir Robert Peel—he, I think, occupied a position even higher than Sir Robert Peel—for boldness of imagination and scope of financing Mr. Gladstone ranks as the great financial authority of our time. (Cheers.) Now, we have in the Cabinet at this moment several colleagues, several ex-colleagues of mine, who served in the Cabinet with Mr. Gladstone...and I ask them, without a moment's fear or hesitation as to the answer that would follow if they gave it from their conscience, with what feelings would they approach Mr. Gladstone, were he Prime Minister and still living, with such a Budget as this? Mr. Gladstone would be 100 in December if he were alive; but, centenarian as he would be, I venture to say that he would make short work of the deputation of the Cabinet that waited on him with the measure, and they would soon find themselves on the stairs and not in the room. (Laughter and cheers.) In his eyes, and in my eyes, too, as a humble disciple, Liberalism and Liberty were cognate terms. They were twin-sisters. How does the Budget stand the test of Liberalism so understood and of Liberty as we have always comprehended it? This Budget seems to establish an inquisition, unknown previously in Great Britain, and a tyranny, I venture to say, unknown to mankind...I think my friends are moving on the path that leads to Socialism. How far they are advanced on that path I will not say, but on that path I, at any rate, cannot follow them an inch. (Loud cheers.) Any form of protection is an evil, but Socialism is the end of all, the negation of faith, of family, of prosperity, of the monarchy, of Empire. (Loud cheers.)
    • Speech in Glasgow attacking the "People's Budget" (10 September 1909), reported in The Times (11 September 1909), pp. 7-8.
  • I used to dislike the Whigs but in my years of loneliness I have come to the conclusion that they governed England better than anybody else. They thought our their measures carefully and adapted them to their times and generation. They were not heroic but they were wise. In modern days we see much heroism but little wisdom.
    • Letter to Strachey (19 October 1921), quoted in Leo McKinstry, Rosebery: Statesman in Turmoil (John Murray, 2006), p. 526.
  • Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery said: "The Prime Minister [Ramsay MacDonald]...circulated pamphlets by the thousand in German against our contention. It is terrible to think that such a man should be in high office with the support of anybody in this country".
    • Letter to Lord Stamfordham, the King's secretary (20 February 1924), quote in Leo McKinstry, Rosebery: Statesman in Turmoil (John Murray, 2006), p. 526.

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