(Editor’s note: Arthur Meighen served briefly as Prime Minister in 1920 and 1926, yet dominated Parliament for a generation as the most fearsome debater of his era. He was “an exasperating opponent,” Mackenzie King wrote in his diary. A newspaperman wrote of Meighen in 1935, “He has never been able to resist making a sharp remark even when the circumstance required a dull one.”
Meighen died in 1960; no sound records of his Commons speeches exist. The last survivor of Meighen’s intimate circle, his son-in-law Donald Wright, passed away in 2006 at 98. In his last interview, with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan on April 7, 2003, Wright recounted his memories of the nation’s 9th Prime Minister. Following is a partial transcription of his remarks)
He was really a farmer. He was born on a farm, and anytime we were driving someplace he would say, “Don, take the back roads.” He wanted to see the cornfields, for miles and miles. He loved that.
As a boy he’d walked from farm to farm selling milk, and walked his whole life – six miles a day. He said to me, “That’s the only time I have when I can think and nothing bothers me.” He’d walk at a good half-pace, but definitely with a purpose. He’d lean forward slightly. He loved walking, and he loved walking by himself.
He was tall and very, very thin, 128 pounds. When he was young he used to put on two sets of underwear to make his legs bigger. But he had a presence. He came into a room and you would immediately look at him – his eyes, his stride. He was always in charge.
He loved to play bridge to relax. Once a month he played with friends and kept the scores in his head. Brilliant, oh, he was brilliant. And the way he spoke was fantastic. He’d address a meeting and start out soft, so the audience had to lean in to hear him. Then by God they would hear him. And what he did with words and thoughts. The thoughts that came out of that mind.
That’s Arthur Meighen. He could be brutal, but he could be smooth. What a man. He would lace into you if he didn’t agree with you completely, but if he knew there was a little thread of an idea there, then he would join it with his threads.
I think he was brutal in debate when he thought it was necessary. I think Billy King was afraid of him; he was afraid to debate Arthur Meighen on the floor of the House of Commons. He could slay Mackenzie King – oh, completely slay him.
King was a politician. Arthur Meighen was a statesman. This was Arthur Meighen; this is the guy with a fantastic brain. He’d put ideas together and it would be beautiful. I loved him, and he loved me.