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funeral. He slept at Newcastle on November 23, after a cold and tiresome journey of fourteen hours and a half; and, leaving the following morning at half-past eight, reached Woburn at eight in the evening.
Such are the wonders of railway travelling. In old times I should . have been all night and all day on the road. . . . I went this morning to the sad ceremony. Lord Holland, Allen, and now Lady Holland are all buried at Millbrook in a small village church, When I remember the many days of youth and manhood I passed with them, it seems as if my life was a dream,
Before returning to Edinburgh, Lord John paid a flying visit to Unsted, where the children had been left, intending to take his eldest step-daughter and his eldest daughter back with him to Scotland. His youngest daughter, however, cried so much at the idea of a fresh separation that, though he said to himself—‘ Now I will show how firm I can be. I will be very hard-hearted,’-—he could not keep it up, and he accordingly carried the child with her sisters to Scotland.
He was at the time in a state of unusual depression. Lady Holland’s death, his wife’s prolonged illness, and other anxieties, were all weighing on his spirits. He wrote from Unsted—
I hope God has in store for us some happy days, but we must be resigned to the disposition He is pleased to make of us. This year has been at trying one; and, when I look at the sofa in this room, I recollect the sad hours you have passed upon it. At the same time you have been able to read and talk, and have had the full enjoyment of your mental faculties throughout your illness. This is a blessing for which we must be thankful.
With such thoughts he set out on his long journey to Scotland, reaching Edinburgh after a week’s absence on November 29.
There was nothing in the newspapers when he left England to make him doubt the expediency of his return to Scotland. Yet at that moment a political crisis was being prepared with startling rapidity, and events were in progress which were almost immediately to necessitate his return to London. And to these events Lord John himself had given an irresistible impulse.
It is not necessary in this memoir to relate the details of the failure of the potato crop in 1845. It is sufficient to say that it convinced the two first statesmen in England that the time for sliding scales and fixed duties was over, and that when famine was in prospect Protection was doomed. Sir Robert Peel hastily summoned the Cabinet to deliberate on the measures required ; while Lord John wrote the following letter to his constituents from Edinburgh :—
To THE ELECTORS OF THE CITY OF LONDON.
GENTLEMEN,—The present state of the country, in regard to its supply of food, cannot be viewed without apprehension. Forethought and bold precaution may avert any serious evils ; indecision and procrastination may produce a state of suffering which it is frightful to contemplate.
Three weeks ago it was generally expected that Parliament would be immediately called together. The announcement that Ministers were prepared at that time to advise the Crown to summon Parliament, and to propose on their first meeting a suspension of the import duties on corn, would have caused orders at once to be sent to the various ports of Europe and America for the purchase and transmission of grain for the consumption of the United Kingdom. An Order in Council dispensing with the law was neither necessary nor desirable. No party in Parliament would have made itself responsible for the obstruction of a measure so urgent and so beneficial.
The Queen’s Ministers have met, and separated, without affording us any promise of such seasonable relief.
It becomes us, therefore, the Queen’s subjects, to consider how we can best avert, or at all events mitigate, calamities of no ordinary magnitude.
Two evils require your consideration. One of these is the disease in the potatoes, affecting very seriously parts of England and Scotland, and committing fearful ravages in Ireland.
The extent of this evil has not yet been ascertained, and every Week, indeed, tends either to reveal unexpected disease, or to abate I in some districts the alarm previously entertained. But there is one misfortune peculiar to the failure in this particular crop. The effect ofa bad corn harvest is, in the first place, to diminish the supply in the market, and to raise the price. Hence diminished consumption, and the privation of incipient scarcity, by which the whole stock is more equally distributed over the year, and the
ultimate pressure is greatly mitigated. But the fear of the breaking out of this unknown disease in the potatoes induces the holders to hurry into the market, and thus we have at one and the same time rapid Consumption and impending deficiency—scarcity of the article and cheapness of price. The ultimate suffering must thereby be rendered far more severe than it otherwise would be. The evil to which I have adverted may be owing to an adverse season, to a mysterious disease in the potato, to want of science or of care in propagating the plant. In any of these cases Government is no more subject to blame for the failure of the' potato crop than it was entitled to Credit for the plentiful corn harvests which we have lately enjoyed.
Another evil, however, under which we are suffering, is the fruit of Ministerial counsel and Parliamentary law. It is the direct consequence of an Act of Parliament, passed three years ago, on the recommendation of the present advisers of the Crown. By this law grain of all kinds has been made subject to very high duties on importation. These duties are so contrived that the worse the quality of the corn the higher is the duty; so that when good wheat rises to 70s. a quarter, the average price of all wheat is 575. or 585., and the duty 155. or 145. a quarter. Thus the corn barometer points to fair, while the ship is bending under a storm.
This defect was pointed out many years ago by writers on the Corn Laws, and was urged upon the attention of the House of Commons when the present Act was under consideration. >
But I confess that on the general subject my views have in the course of twenty years undergone a great alteration. I used to be of opinion that com was an exception to the general rules of political economy ; but observation and experience have convinced me that we ought to abstain from all interference with the supply of food. Neither a government nor a legislature can ever regulate the corn market with the beneficial effects which the entire freedom of sale and purchase are sure of themselves to produce.
I have for several years endeavoured to obtain a compromise on this subject. In 1839 I voted for a committee of the whole House, with the view of supporting the substitution of a moderate fixed duty for the sliding scale. In 1841 1 announced the intention of the then Government of proposing a fixed duty of 8s._ a quarter. In the past'session I proposed the imposition of some lower duty. These propositions were successively rejected. The present First L0rd of the Treasury met them in 1839, 184.0, and 1841 by eloquent panegyrics of the existing system—the plenty it had caused, the rural happiness it had diffused. He met the proposition for diminished protection in the same way in which he had met the offer of securities for Protestant interests in 1817 and 1825—in the same way in which he met the proposal to allow Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham to send members to Parliament in 1830.
The result of resistance to qualified concessions must be the same in the present instance as in those I have mentioned. It is no longer worth while to contend for a fixed duty. In I84r the Free Trade party would have agreed to a duty of 8s. a quarter on wheat, and after a lapse of years this duty might have been further reduced, and ultimately abolished. But the imposition of any duty at present, without a provision for its extinction within a short period, would but prolong a contest already sufficiently fruitful of animosity and discontent. The struggle to make bread scarce and dear, when it is clear that part, at least, of the additional price goes to increase rent, is a struggle deeply injurious to an aristocracy which (this quarrel once removed) is strong in property, strong in the construction of our legislature, strong in opinion, strong in ancient associations, and the memory of immortal services.
Let us, then, unite to put an end to a system which has been proved to be the blight of commerce, the bane of agriculture, the source of bitter divisions among classes, the cause of penury, fever, mortality, and crime among the people.
But if this end is to be achieved, it must be gained by the unequivocal expression of the public voice. It is not to be denied that many elections for cities and towns in 1841, and some in 184.5, appear to favour the assertion that Free Trade is not popular with the great mass of the community. The Government appear to be waiting for some excuse to give up the present Corn Law. Let the people, by petition, by address, by remon_ strance, afford them the excuse they seek. Let the Ministry propose such a revision of the taxes as in their opinion may render the public burdens more just and more equal; let them add any other provisions which caution and even scrupulous for~ bearance may suggest; but let the removal of restrictions on the admission of the main articles of food and clothing used by the mass of the people be required, in plain terms, as useful to all great interests, and indispensable to the progress of the nation.— I have the honour to be, Gentlemen, your obedient servant,
. RUSSELL. EDINBURGH : November 22, 1845. J
The letter had been hardly completed when Lord John left Edinburgh to attend Lady Holland’s funeral; he left it with Lady John to copy and send to the Morning Chroniele, and he read it for the first time in' print in his own house in Chesham Place. Writing thence to Lady John, he noticed that the Cabinet had met. But he added that he assumed that it had met to discuss the Oregon question. He could not, of course, know that the Minister had already proposed to suspend the Corn Laws, to summon Parliament, and to deliberately review the whole question of agricultural protection. He could not foresee that his own letter was destined to quicken his rival’s action; that the Minister, unable to carry with him a united Cabinet, was on the eve of resignation; and that her Majesty was about to charge him with the task of forming an Administration.
Nine days after Lord John’s return to Edinburgh, on December 8, while he was reading to his wife the proofsheets of the article which he had written for the Edinburgh Review, he received the Queen’s summons to repair to Osborne, where she was residing, as she desired to see him ‘ on matters of great importance.’ He set out on the following morning, slept that night at Newcastle, and reached Chesham Place on the 10th.
CHESHAM PLACE: Decemher 10, 1845.
I got here at half-past eight, after a rapid journey by railroad. As we came along all the passengers were very anxious to know the news, and bought newspapers. . . . I played the innocent looker-on. It is very sad, this moment, when many will think me at the height of my ambition. But when I think of you and your many trials, and the children with their ailments to distract you when I cannot share your anxieties—it is all very sad. I doubt too of the will of the country to go through with it; and then I shall have done mischief by calling on them.
I saw Mr. Bright at one of the stations. He spoke much of .the enthusiasm. God save and preserve us all. I hope to hear good accounts of you and Toza.1