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What I particularly observed in the public life of Lord John you once told me you liked his former name and title—was a moral tone, a conscientious feeling, something higher and better than is often found in the guiding principles of our most active statesmen; and for this I always admired and reverenced him.
On the same day Lord Houghton wrote—
Lord Russell has ever been to me the highest and most complete statesman of my generation. He is the only one whom I have known in whom the worth and dignity of the man never lost by public life and the conduct of national affairs.
IF the preceding chapters of this book have failed to describe the character and career of the statesman with whom they have been concerned, it is hopeless for their author to attempt, in the few pages which are still left to him, to give life and distinctness to the portrait. The narrative might at once be closed if it were not necessary to gather up a few dropped or missing threads, and weave them into the story; and if it were not right to offer, in doing so, a few general observations on Lord John Russell's private life and public Career. On public grounds Lord John stands before posterity in a double capacity. He was not merely a distinguished statesman ; he was a voluminous author. If, indeed, he had deserted, as he once thought of abandoning, politics for literature, it is not likely that he would have acquired fame. His best works would, no doubt, have brought credit to any writer. But their warmest admirers will hardly number them among the classics. Those of Lord John Russell's books which still survive are read because they were written by Lord John Russell; and the light which the author sheds is lustre borrowed from the eminence of the statesman. It is as a man of action, and not as a man of letters, that Lord John will descend to posterity; and it is by his achievements in Parliament, and not by the productions of his pen, that he must ultimately be judged. The first reflection on his Parliamentary career which will occur to most people is the time over which it extended. He was a member of the Legislature for sixty-five years. No previous statesman of equal eminence had served his country for anything like the same period ; and no period of equal importance had ever before occurred in the history of the world. When Lord John Russell entered Parliament, the power of the first Napoleon was unbroken. When he died the Second Empire was a thing of history. At the beginning of his career Europe was the appanage of sovereigns; at the close of it the fairest parts of it were the heritage of peoples. The modern doctrine of nationality had asserted itself against the principles of the Holy Alliance; and Emperors and armies had given way before the impulse of populations. In the changes which had thus been accomplished, not merely on the map of Europe but in the Governments of Europe, Lord John had almost uniformly been on the side of liberty. At the beginning of his career he had devoted some of his first literary earnings to the relief of a people whom he had thought oppressed. In the closing years of his official life he had laboured for the cause of Italy with a zeal and with a success which have few parallels in British history. Yet, though the part which he played in foreign affairs was large and notable, his fame must ultimately rest on domestic legislation. During the course of his Parliamentary career a revolution was effected in domestic policy; and in this revolution there can be no doubt that Lord John Russell was the chief actor. In 1813, when Lord John Russell entered Parliament, the government of the empire was virtually in the hands of a few hundred persons who had seats in the House of Lords or who nominated the majority of the members who sat in the House of Commons. The chief prizes in State and Church were reserved for the relatives, the friends, or the acquaintances of the ruling class. The narrowest religious prejudices influenced legislation. A Roman Catholic was ineligible both for office and Parliament. A Nonconformist could only hold office because the Legislature was in the habit of annually indemnifying him for breaking the law. A Jew was disabled from acquiring real estate. There seemed no prospect of remcdying these disabilities. Public meetings, except those authoritatively constituted, were held to be illegal; their organisers were frequently subjected to prosecution for high treason. Lord John Russell's first effective speech in Parliament was in opposition to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. He returned to the House in 1819 to oppose the measures by which Lord Liverpool's Administration endeavoured to curb the press and restrict public meetings. The punishments imposed by law were brutal. The criminal code was written in characters of blood, and proved inefficacious to repress crime. Women could still be flogged at the cart-tail; men could still be placed in the pillory; no reasonable secondary punishment had been invented. The modern policeman had not replaced the old Dogberry. My Lord Tom Noddy went to see the last forger publicly executed. Her Ladyship probably attended the service in Newgate on the Sunday which preceded his execution. Debtors languished in prison ; real estate was not liable for debt. The bull ring, the prize ring, and the cock pit were favourite places of resort among rich and poor. There was no provision for the education of the people. There were no free libraries, no public galleries, no rational amusements for the masses. The commercial legislation of the country was founded on a policy of restriction. Dear corn and low wages were the chief objects of the Legislature. The dwellings of the people were undrained, ill ventilated, and perhaps abutted on a graveyard in which every fresh interment exposed the . remains of those who had gone before to the noisome and overcrowded plot which was called God's acre. The Poor Law, instead of promoting thrift, was used to encourage extravagance. The men who had the largest families, the women who had most illegitimate children, were the favourites of the rates. In many parts of England rates were commonly paid in aid of wages. Such was the England which Lord John Russell found. The introduction of a ‘not into most of the preceding sentences will portray the England which he left. People are apt to dwell on the material progress of the sixty-five years which were covered by his Parliamentary career, and to remind one another that, while at the beginning of it men could not travel faster than the Pharaohs, before the close of it electricity and steam had almost annihilated space and time; but they too frequently forget that the legislative and moral advance was as remarkable as the national progress,
and that most of the reforms which were accomplished in this period owe their inception or their completion, more or less directly, to Lord John Russell. In organic Reform Lord John accomplished almost all that he desired ; and, in his old age, lived to see younger men push his principles to extremes which he had not contemplated, and which he did not wholly relish. He undoubtedly shared Lord Grey's desire to make the Reform Act a final measure; and he risked popularity and office—while Lord Melbourne's Administration lasted—for the sake of maintaining a settlement to which he considered himself pledged. In later years, when he again reverted to the subject, all his various proposals were framed on the model of the Act of 1832; and he seemed more anxious to amend any casual defects in that measure, or to extend its operation a little further, than to devise a large and comprehensive scheme of representative Reform. Hence, on organic questions, he displayed, in his later years, an almost Conservative dislike of extensive changes; and he subjected himself to the reproach, or, as some people will think, to the praise, that he retained at eighty the opinions which he had successfully asserted at forty years of age. But on other matters his views enlarged with the increase of years. He displayed an unusual capacity, for an old man, to adapt himself to the conclusions of a younger generation ; and, on questions connected with the Church, with education, with the treatment of crime, with the management of finance, and with the freedom of commerce, he could act at eighty, as he acted at forty, with those who were in the van of the Liberal party. It is neither the wish nor the object of the present writer to prove that in what he thus did and thought Lord John was always right. He wrote himself in 1869, ‘ I have committed many errors, some of them very gross blunders; ' and there are undoubtedly passages in his biography which show that he had no better claim than other men to infallibility. But even in those instances on which most people will think he was mistaken—the publication of the Durham letter in 1850, the junction with Lord Aberdeen in 1852, and the unfortunate, and even disastrous, change of opinion in 1853