‘The Business May Seem Prosaic’; Co-operation by Conference, 1887–1911

  • Nicholas Mansergh


‘Prodigious greatness’ – such were the terms in which Sir John Seeley wrote of England in the widely read and highly influential published version of his Cambridge lectures of the spring of 1881 on The Expansion of England.1’ We seem,’ he reflected, in one of the most quoted (if more questionable) of his sentences, ‘as it were, to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind.’2 It was the peopling, not the conquest, that appeared to him of first importance. The ‘English Exodus’ had been ‘the greatest English event of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’.3 It had brought into being a Greater Britain comprising mother country and colonies of settlement. The growth of that Greater Britain was ‘an event of enormous magnitude’.4 Yet associated with Greater Britain were colonies not of settlement but of conquest, India chief among them, not united to Britain by blood – the strongest of ties – and in that and most other respects on quite a different footing. They were by no means necessarily a source of strength – not even the greatest among them. ‘It may be fairly questioned’, observed Seeley, ‘whether the possession of India does or ever can increase our power or our security, while there is no doubt that it vastly increases our dangers and responsibilities.’5


Prime Minister Foreign Policy Free Trade British Government Canadian Government 
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Copyright information

© Nicholas Mansergh 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas Mansergh
    • 1
  1. 1.St John’s CollegeCambridgeUK

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