George Canning

British Prime Minister, statesman, and politician (1770-1827)

George Canning (11 April 17708 August 1827) was a British Tory statesman. He held various senior cabinet positions under numerous prime ministers, including two important terms as Foreign Secretary, finally becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for the last 118 days of his life, from April to August 1827.

I can prove anything by statistics except the truth.

Quotes edit

1790s edit

  • The state of the country at present is perhaps the most alarming that it is possible to conceive. The rapid progress of the French arms, and the wide diffusion of French principles, has given to a republican party here such strength and spirit that there is, in my opinion, nothing mischievous and desperate which may not be apprehended from them.
    • Letter to Edward Bootle Wilbraham (4 December 1792), quoted in George Canning and His Friends, Containing Hitherto Unpublished Letters, Jeux D'Esprit, Etc. Vol. I, ed. Captain Josceline Bagot (1909), p. 30
  • [W]hen I see their treatment of Savoy, of Geneva, and in their present threatening of Holland, a system of impudent, savage and profligate warfare, equal to the most tyrannous enterprizes of the most despotic governments—I cannot any longer wish that the Powers of Europe should sit tamely with their hands before them without endeavouring to throw some stop in the way of an insolence and implacability of ambition which is no less dangerous to every other country, than it is irreconcilable with the duty, the policy, and the repeated profession of France.
    • Letter to John Sneyd (12 December 1792), quoted in George Canning and His Friends, Containing Hitherto Unpublished Letters, Jeux D'Esprit, Etc. Vol. I, ed. Captain Josceline Bagot (1909), p. 37
  • As to this Country—though I am not so enthusiastically attached to the beauties of its constitution, and still less so determinedly blind to its defects, as to believe it unimproveable—yet I do think it by much the best practical Government that the world has ever seen—that of America perhaps excepted, and of that indeed it is not quite fair yet to form a decided opinion—I do think it almost impossible to begin improving now, without a risque of being hurried beyond all limits of prudence and happiness, and I do feel such a horror of the 1st. and 2nd. of Septr., and such a distrust of impossibility of erecting and preserving a purer form of Government among a refined, that is to say a corrupt, people, that I cannot but hold it to be the duty of myself and of every other man, according to their respective ability and opportunity, to resist by every honest and prudent exertion any attempt that may be made to assimilate the state of this country in theory or in practice to that of France. And I would resign therefore for the present any propensity that I might entertain to reform—for the sake of securing the existence of the State, till such time as it may set about reforming itself without danger of total confusion.
    • Letter to John Sneyd (12 December 1792), quoted in George Canning and His Friends, Containing Hitherto Unpublished Letters, Jeux D'Esprit, Etc. Vol. I, ed. Captain Josceline Bagot (1909), pp. 37-38
  • I am as ready as any man to allow, that the French are enthusiastically animated, be it how it may, to a state of absolute insanity. I desire no better proof of their being mad, than to see them hugging themselves in a system of slavery so gross and grinding as their present, and calling at the same time aloud upon all Europe to admire and envy their freedom. But before their plea of madness can be admitted as conclusive against our right to be at war with them, gentlemen would do well to recollect that of madness there are several kinds. If theirs had been a harmless idiot lunacy, which had contented itself with playing its tricks, and practising its fooleries at home; with dressing up strumpets in oak leaves, and inventing nicknames for the calendar, I should have been far from desiring to interrupt their innocent amusements; we might have looked on with hearty contempt, indeed, but with a contempt not wholly unmixed with commiseration.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (31 January 1794), quoted in The Speeches of the Right Honourable George Canning. With a Memoir of His Life. Vol. I (1836), pp. 17-18
  • But if theirs be a madness of a different kind, a moody mischievous insanity,—if not contented with tearing and wounding themselves, they proceed to exert their unnatural strength for the annoyance of their neighbours,—if not satisfied with weaving straws, and wearing fetters at home, they attempt to carry their systems and their slavery abroad, and to impose them on the nations of Europe it becomes necessary then, that those nations should be roused to resistance. Such a disposition must, for the safety and peace of the world, be repelled, and, if possible, eradicated.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (31 January 1794), quoted in The Speeches of the Right Honourable George Canning. With a Memoir of His Life. Vol. I (1836), p. 18
  • WE avow ourselves to be partial to the COUNTRY in which we live, notwithstanding the daily panegyricks which we read and hear on the superior virtues and endowments of its rival and hostile neighbours. We are prejudiced in favour of her Establishments, civil and religious; though without claiming for either that ideal perfection, which modern philosophy professes to discover in the more luminous systems which are arising on all sides of us.
  • [T]here is one way of considering what is advantageous to this country, to which I confess I am very partial; and the rather, perhaps, because it does not fall in with the new and fashionable philosophy of the day. I know it is a doctrine of that large and liberal system of ethics which has of late been introduced into the world, and which has superseded all the narrow prejudices of the ancient school,—that we are to consider not so much what is good for our country, as what is good for the human race; that we are all children of one large family;—and I know not what other fancies and philanthropics, which I must take shame to myself for not being able to comprehend. I, for my part, still conceive it to be the paramount duty of a British member of parliament, to consider what is good for Great Britain.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (11 December 1798), quoted in The Speeches of the Right Honourable George Canning. With a Memoir of His Life. Vol. I (1836), pp. 61-62
  • I do not envy that man's feelings, who can behold the sufferings of Switzerland, and who derives from that sight no idea of what is meant by the deliverance of Europe. I do not envy the feelings of that man, who can look without emotion at Italy,—plundered, insulted, trampled upon, exhausted, covered with ridicule, and horror, and devastation;—who can look at all this, and be at a loss to guess what is meant by the deliverance of Europe? As little do I envy the feelings of that man, who can view the peoples of the Netherlands driven into insurrection, and struggling for their freedom against the heavy hand of a merciless tyranny, without entertaining any suspicion of what may be the sense of the word deliverance. Does such a man contemplate Holland groaning under arbitrary oppressions and exactions? Does he turn his eyes to Spain trembling at the nod of a foreign master? And does the word deliverance still sound unintelligibly in his ear? Has he heard of the rescue and salvation of Naples, by the appearance and the triumphs of the British fleet? Does he know that the monarchy of Naples maintains its existence at the sword's point? And is his understanding, and his heart, still impenetrable to the sense and meaning of the deliverance of Europe?
    • Speech in the House of Commons (11 December 1798), quoted in The Speeches of the Right Honourable George Canning. With a Memoir of His Life. Vol. I (1836), pp. 74-75

1800s edit

  • [I]n God's name, Sir, let us look about us! Let us consider the state of the world as it is, not as we fancy it ought to be! Let us not seek to hide from our own eyes, or to diminish in the eyes of those who look to our deliberations for information, the real, imminent, and awful danger which threatens us, from the overgrown power, the insolent spirit, and still more, the implacable hatred of our natural rivals and enemies! Let us not amuse ourselves with vain notions, that our greatness and our happiness, as a nation, are capable of being separated. It is no such thing. The choice is not in our power. We refuge in littleness. We must maintain ourselves what we are, or cease to have a political existence worth preserving.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (8 December 1802), quoted in The Speeches of the Right Honourable George Canning. With a Memoir of His Life. Vol. II (1828), p. 48
  • Away with the cant of "measures, not men!" the idle supposition that it is the harness and not the horses that draw the chariot along! No, Sir, if the comparison must be made, if the distinction must be taken, men are every thing, measures comparatively nothing. I speak, Sir, of times of difficulty and danger; of times when systems are shaken, when precedents and general rules of conduct fail. Then it is, that not to this or that measure, however prudently devised, however blameless in execution, but to the energy and character of individuals, a state must be indebted for its salvation. Then it is that kingdoms rise or fall in proportion as they are upheld, not by well-meant endeavours (laudable though they may be), but by commanding, over-awing talents; by able men.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (8 December 1802), quoted in The Speeches of the Right Honourable George Canning. With a Memoir of His Life. Vol. II (1828), pp. 60-61
  • Look at France, and see what we have to cope with, and consider what has made her what she is? A man. You will tell me that she was great, and powerful, and formidable, before the date of Buonaparte's government; that he found in her great physical and moral resources: that he had but to turn them to account. True, and he did so. Compare the situation in which he found France with that to which he has raised her. I am no panegyrist of Buonaparte; but I cannot shut my eyes to the superiority of his talents, to the amazing ascendant of his genius. Tell me not of his measures, and his policy. It is his genius, his character, that keeps the world in awe. Sir, to meet, to check, to curb, to stand up against him, we want arms of the same kind. I am far from objecting to the large military establishments which are proposed to you. I vote for them with all my heart. But for the purpose of coping with Buonaparte, one great commanding spirit is worth them all.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (8 December 1802), quoted in The Speeches of the Right Honourable George Canning. With a Memoir of His Life. Vol. II (1828), pp. 61-62
  • We are hated throughout Europe and that hate must be cured by fear.
    • Letter to George Leveson-Gower (2 October 1807), quoted in Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England. 1783–1846 (2006), p. 211

1810s edit

  • I am aware that, in examining any proposition, the object or tendency of which is to introduce change of any description in the constitutions of human society, there are two general considerations, clashing very much with each other, which naturally present themselves to every reflecting mind. The one, the most extensive, perhaps the most popular, is the dread of innovation; the other, the expediency of timely reformation or concession. In reconciling these opposite and conflicting principles, and in assigning to each its due weight in human affairs, consists almost the whole art of practical policy.
    • Speech in the House of Commons in favour of Catholic emancipation (22 June 1812), quoted in The Speeches of the Right Honourable George Canning. With a Memoir of His Life. Vol. III (1828), pp. 298-299

1820s edit

  • The deed is done, the nail is driven, Spanish America is free; and if we do not mismanage our affairs sadly, she is English.
    • Letter to Augustus Granville Stapleton (17 December 1824), quoted in The Later American Policy of George Canning, p. 19
  • I said that it was my object to make his Majesty comfortable and happy, by placing him at the head of Europe, instead of being reckoned fifth in a great confederacy. That the circumstances which gave rise to that confederacy, and justified and held it together were gone by; and that the King of England could not have hung upon it longer without losing all importance, even in the eyes of the other members of it, and without incurring the odium of all other nations; nay, that his share of odium would be greater than that of the four continental Sovereigns; because they, being more or less arbitrary, might be considered as labouring in their vocation, but that the continuance of England as a subordinate part of such a league, would have been considered as depriving them of their natural protection, and would be resented accordingly.
    • Memorandum (27 April 1825), quoted in Augustus Granville Stapleton, George Canning and His Times (1859), p. 438
  • I said that I was aware that the King had been afraid that the steps taken with respect to Spanish America would involve us in a war; that I was perfectly confident that they would not if taken in time... Sir W. K. said that the King had certainly entertained that fear, but was now perfectly satisfied that his fears had been unfounded; that he (Sir W. K.) was certain that, on the contrary, the fear of England was a predominant feeling with the continental Governments. I said that I hoped so; that that was the state to which I had wished to bring things, and that I trusted his Majesty must feel better pleased, upon reflection, to be the object of such fear, than of cajolery and contempt.
    • Memorandum (27 April 1825), quoted in Augustus Granville Stapleton, George Canning and His Times (1859), p. 439
  • I called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old.
    • The King’s Message, Dec. 12, 1826
  • I can prove anything by statistics except the truth.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908) edited by Tryon Edwards, p. 587

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919) edit

Quotes reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Story! God bless you! I have none to tell, sir.
    • The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-Grinder.
  • I give thee sixpence! I will see thee damned first.
    • The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-Grinder.
  • So down thy hill, romantic Ashbourn, glides
    The Derby dilly, carrying three INSIDES.
    • The Loves of the Triangles, line 178.
  • And finds, with keen, discriminating sight,
    Black ’s not so black,—nor white so very white.
    • New Morality.
  • Give me the avowed, the erect, the manly foe,
    Bold I can meet,—perhaps may turn his blow!
    But of all plagues, good Heaven, thy wrath can send,
    Save, save, oh save me from the candid friend!
    • New Morality. Compare: "Defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies", attributed to Maréchal Villars, when taking leave of Louis XIV.
  • No, here ’s to the pilot that weathered the storm!
    • The Pilot that weathered the Storm.

Quotes about Canning edit

  • The right hon. gentleman knows what the introduction of a great name does in debate, how important is its effect, and occasionally how electrical. He never refers to any author who is not great, and sometimes who is not loved—Canning, for example. That is a name never to be mentioned, I am sure, in the House of Commons without emotion. We all admire his genius; we all, at least most of us, deplore his untimely end; and we all sympathize with him in his fierce struggle with supreme prejudice and sublime mediocrity, with inveterate foes and with—"candid friends." The right hon. gentleman may be sure that a quotation from such an authority will always tell. Some lines, for example, upon friendship, written by Mr. Canning, and quoted by the right hon. gentleman! The theme, the poet, the speaker—what a felicitous combination! Its effect in debate must be overwhelming; and I am sure, were it addressed to me, all that would remain for me would be thus publicly to congratulate the right hon. gentleman, not only on his ready memory, but on his courageous conscience.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, speech in the House of Commons (28 February 1845), quoted in Selected Speeches of the Late Right Honourable the Earl of Beaconsfield, Volume I, ed. T. E. Kebbel (1882), pp. 72-73
  • He had much more in common with Pitt than any one else about him, and his love for Pitt was quite filial, and Pitt's feeling for him was more that of a father, than a mere political leader. I am sure that from the first, Pitt marked Canning out as his political heir, and had, in addition, the warmest personal regard for him.
    • John Hookham Frere, note of some recollections (1844–1845), quoted in The Works of John Hookham Frere in Verse and Prose, Now First Collected With a Prefatory Memoir by His Nephews W. E. and Sir Bartle Frere (1872), p. xxvii
  • Mr. Canning, an old representative of Liverpool, whom I rejoice to say my father brought to Liverpool, emancipated this country from its servitude to the Holy Alliance; and for so doing he was more detested by the upper classes of this country than any man has been during the present century.
    • William Ewart Gladstone, speech in Liverpool (28 June 1886), quoted in W. E. Gladstone, Speeches on the Irish Question in 1886 (1886), p. 294
  • Who e'er ye are, all hail! – whether the skill
    Of youthful CANNING guides the ranc'rous quill;
    With powers mechanic far above his age,
    Adapts the paragraph and fills the page;
    Measures the column, mends what e'er's amiss,
    Rejects THAT letter, and accepts of THIS;
    • William Lamb, ‘Epistle to the Editors of the Anti-Jacobin’, Morning Chronicle (17 January 1798), quoted in Wendy Hinde, George Canning (1973), p. 59
  • The reception they have met with has been of the most enthusiastic description. One instance alone will suffice for the Fact. You, Sir, are styled even in the Senate, by all the Officers of State, the Redeemer of Chile.
    • Mr Nugent, the British consul to Chile, to Canning after the publication of the Polignac memodrandum (30 July 1824), quoted in Harold Temperley, 'French Designs on Spanish America in 1820–5', The English Historical Review, Vol. 40, No. 157 (January 1925), p. 46
  • [I]f I might be allowed to express in one sentence the principle which I think ought to guide an English Minister, I would adopt the expression of Canning, and say that with every British Minister the interests of England ought to be the shibboleth of his policy.
  • The real key to Canning's policy is that, though emotional on the surface, it was intellectual in its aims and design. It was, in truth, "a system of policy" profoundly matured in time of enforced idleness, fortified by knowledge of history and international law, and practically applied to the conditions of the time. And these principles, he considered, were sufficient for the time being. Their nature may be indicated in a few words: no Areopagus, non-intervention; no European police system; every nation for itself, and God for us all; balance of power; respect for facts, not for abstract theories; respect for treaty rights, but caution in extending them. Provided it is sovereign and observes diplomatic obligations, a republic is as good a member of the comity of nations as a monarchy. "England not Europe"; "Our foreign policy cannot be conducted against the will of the nation"; "Europe's domain extends to the shores of the Atlantic, England's begins there." England's function is "to hold the balance between the conflicting principles of democracy and despotism," to mediate between two hemispheres, and to bring the New World (pace Monroe) into connection with the Old.
    • Harold Temperley, The Foreign Policy of Canning, 1822–1827: England, the Neo-Holy Alliance, and the New World (1925), pp. 470-471

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