Sir Robert Stout, P.C., K.C.M.C., D.C.L., L.L.D. : his early life, ministry and character (1931)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameMaster of Arts
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
AuthorsHamlin, Reginald Henry Jamesshow all
For presenting this subject, no apology is necessary. While the history of New Zealand is read, Sir Robert tout’s name will not be forgotten. But the purpose of this dissertation and the length and varied interests of Sir Robert’s life precluded my attempting his complete biography. Rather have I aimed at depicting his character –at “transmitting his personality, striving always to write the truth, the whole truth and nothing by the truth.”
At the commencement of the research I stood, as it were, upon a peak in Darien and beheld an endless ocean of material, and to the novice, the apparent infinity of it was extremely disconcerting. Never was that “rigid selection and lavish rejection” of which Sir Sidney Lee speaks more essential. I finally decided that no analysis of Sir Robert Stout’s qualities could be intelligible which did not include some study of his early life; and in concentrating upon his period of work as Prime Minister of New Zealand rather than upon his earlier or later political career I did so, believing that during those years, when holding the chief position of power in a constitutional government, he had the greatest opportunity for free self-expression. Moreover an examination of his life in that period served a double purpose. It enabled one to estimate some of his services for New Zealand, although it involved attention, in the background, to the general contemporary conditions and the state of the political parties than in existence.
From a man’s conception of life, his knowledge, his predominating tastes, his habitual occupations and his principles of conduct we are told, an impression may be formed of his character. Therefore I deemed it necessary to include some treatment of my subject’s writings, for like Emerson whom he admired, Sir Robert Stout seldom repressed the desire to express his thoughts on paper.
I was fortunate in being able to get in touch with numerous relatives, friends, and colleagues, and although care had to be taken in accepting their statements (- I had to guard against their natural partiality for him of whom they spoke-) their world-pictures at times brilliantly illuminated the personality I was studying. A further difficulty soon became apparent. From a continual study of a fascinating life, one is apt unconsciously to abandon truth, walking into the pitfall of idolatry. I have taken then for my first commandment those words used satirically by Gilbert.
“From bias free of every kind. This trial must be tired,”
As Stout’s early life was not spent in New Zealand it was necessary to rely largely upon autobiographical materials for the first chapter. These materials were as far as possible first verified from the accounts of friends and relatives, and I also compared one autobiographical note with another. Some help was gained from the panegyrics published at the time of Sir Robert Stout’s death, but as they suffered obviously from the characteristic defects of all panegyrics were of lesser value.
For the years 1884-87 useful portraits of our subject (in common with all public men of note) were painted from day to day by the Parliamentary Reporters of the various larger newspapers in New Zealand, though, of course, their brushes were seldom washed thoroughly of party colours. By remembering this fault and comparing one with another, I found the special reporters’ columns helpful.
As the chapters covering these years are intended to be as much a study of Sir Robert Stout’s political outlook and character as an account of the work of the Stout-Vogel Ministry a chronological (not too strict) instead of the apparently more logical thematic treatment has been employed. It is desirable that we see clearly the effect of the stimuli of events on the statesman’s qualities and capacities and it appeared to me that through the mists of the former method rather than behind the clouds of the latter, would our view be least obscured.
At Sir Robert’s residence in Wellington there is a valuable body of material – letter-books, pamphlets in manuscript form, nearly every letter of importance that he received, diaries, newspaper cuttings, his school books, photos, the files of the “Echo” newspaper which he edited etc. etc. This material was so enormous in quantity and so lacking in arrangement that, to have made a thorough use of it would have necessitated my residence in Wellington for a long period. In the several short sojourns I was able to make there, I could do no more than choose those parts of the material which I thought would be of the greatest value to me. Much therefore had to be ignored.
During one of these visits, I with Sir Robert Stout’s son, Mr. Olaf Stout, was fortunate enough to discover accidentally the journal written by Sir Robert from day to day on the voyage to New Zealand. I considered it an important “find” for it is an ideal thumbnail sketch of his character, and on that account it is appended. To me it reflects beam from almost every facet of his nature. In it one can see displayed his youthful energy, his love of freedom, natural optimism, absorbing interest in religious matters, courage, independence, mental alertness and kindness of heart. Even his interest in politics and disapproval of the drinking of alcohol is there shown. Its egotism, because only slight, is pardon-able in an ambitious youth.
The greatest difficulty was experienced with regard to the length of the thesis and the work has been condensed and further condensed from its original size until that part of it which remains unused is considerably larger than that which is presented.