Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fire of Genius

The Lauriers. Library and Archives Canada Image.

This snippet is from Maclean's 1911 "the Four Lauriers" an essay that claims that there are at least four sides to the Laurier personality: the Laurier in 'hostile' Ontario; the Laurier in Quebec; the Laurier in Parliament; and the Laurier in his private office. This part is the Quebec part: Laurier would lose the election that year. In my novel Flo in the City, I have Margaret see him at the 1908 Tercentenary. She did attend, but was more interested in the Prince, I think.

The second Laurier that claims attention is the Laurier in Quebec. He has all those other heroes of that hero worshipping province , Lafontaine, Cartier, Mercier, Champlain, beaten a mile. Leaving the navy and individual politics out of the question, he unites all qualities the French demand of their public men, grace, distinction, eloquence and stage presence. He is a man to turn and look at in any company in the world. He might be taken for a great poet, a great actor, a great statesman. And any guess would be a good one, for he needs to be all three in his business. At all events, it is Quebec’s boast that you couldn’t mistake him for a little man anywhere. He is greater than the clergy; greater than that mauvais sujet Henri Bourassa; greater even than Quebec, for he thinks in half continents and Quebec thinks only for herself.

His name is music in the Quebec believer’s ear, for after all is said and done it is a French name and honor to Laurier is honor to the race. Envious people say that what Laurier gets in Quebec is divine homage such as the ancient Romans paid their emperors...

Sir Wilfrid himself is not without a sense of his own value with his own people. Being twitted once by a platform opponent, he quoted the words of a French philosopher, who, when asked what he thought of himself, replied “Very little when I judge; very much when I compare.”

Sir Wilfrid loves his Quebec and his Quebec loves him. And of all places in it he loves most its quaint old capital city, which was the beginning of Canada. The reason Sir Wilfrid loves Quebec is because it is soaked in history. Every foot of it is sacred ground; every inch of it teems with sentiment. The world is ruled by sentiment and there is no place in the world where sentiment is better conserved and oftener used than in Quebec. Politicians have to grasp this point at the start or they don’t go far – in Quebec. In Ontario they call it rhetoric and sniff at it, in Quebec they speak of it as the fire of genius and warm themselves at it. Sir Wilfrid is a great orator of the kind Quebec likes. Critics say that his English is better than his French – and that may be.