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Lord John could have had very little doubt as to what his father would think best. Lord Tavistock had gone to Cambridge and received only a ‘pretended education.’ The Duke declared that ‘nothing was learned in the English universities ; ’ and, welcoming his son’s altered views, applied to ‘Professor Playfair to receive him into his house at Edinburgh; and, without personally giving him instruction, to superintend and direct the course of his studies at the university.’
Lord John soon discovered the advantages of the arrangement. In his own words, dictated to Lady Russell :—
Professor Playfair was one of the most delightful men, and at the same time one of the most profound mathematicians of his age and country. The simplicity of his manners and the eleva_ tion of his sentiments were very striking. He was a very zealous lover of liberty; and I hwe often heard him say that if we could be governed by angels it would be a misfortune for mankind, as they would thereby be induced to dispense with those exertions of mind and heart which are the causes of the greatest works of science and of letters, and of the noblest efi'orts in behalf of the freedom, improvement, and civilisation of the world,
And in the preface to ‘Recollections and Suggestions’ he wrote of his stay in Edinburgh :-
There I had my studies directed and my character developed by one of the best and the noblest, the most upright, the most benevolent, and the most liberal of all philosophers. ’
Lord John reached Edinburgh in the autumn of r809 ; he left it in the summer of 1812. During this period Mr. Playfair’s house was his usual residence, and at his table he was introduced to the society which has invested the Edinburgh of the closing years of the eighteenth and the opening years of the nineteenth century with an interest for all reflective persons. While Lord John was at Edinburgh, Dugald Stewart and Playfair were attracting by their reputation men of promise to its university; Jefi‘rey was editing the Edinburgh Review,_Scott was an occasional visitor to the town, over whose natural beauties he has thrown a halo of romance; Hope was pre
siding over the Court of Session, Lord Cockburn was practising at the bar 3 and Henry Mackenzie was reposing in the autumn of his life on the reputation which ‘The Man of Feeling’ had won him in his youth. Such were some of the men whose memory even now gives an interest to the‘Edinburgh which Lord John knew. And, if Edinburgh itself were the centre of an intellectual society which no other town of its size could have afforded, the University of Edinburgh was the scene of busy labour and speculatiVe investigation. Sir James Mackintosh had said of it nearly a quarter of a century before, and the description was still applicable :—
It is not easy to conceive a university where reading was
more fashionable, where indolence and ignorancewere more disreputable. Every mind was in a state of fermentation.
In the winter of 1809—10 Lord John studied in the class of ethics or moral philosophy when Dugald Stewart was professor. On Stewart being temporarily incapacitated from ill-health, he continued these studies under Dr. Thomas Brown ; and on Dugald Stewart’s return to his class-room, he was selected by his fellow-students to present him with an address (drawn up by a committee over which Lord John had himself presided) ' congratulating him on the recovery of his health, and expressing the feelings that had been excited by the labours of his substitute. Stewart finally retired from his professorial duties at the close of the winter session of r809-ro. In the session of 1810—11 Lord John attended the lectures of his successor, Dr. Thomas Brown, as well as those of Professor Playfair on physics or natural philosophy. In the session of 1811-12 Lord John resumed his attendance on Professor Playfair’s lectures, and also attended the lectures of Professor Hope on chemistry. He finally left the university at the end of this session without taking his degree. But ‘in the early part of this century, graduation in arts was almost dormant in the University of Edinburgh.’ 1 ,
1 Iam mainly indebted both for the facts and language of this paragraph,
and for much that follows about the Speculative Society, to the researches which have been kindly made for me by Professor Fraser.
It will be seen that the course of studies which Lord John pursued at Edinburgh differed widely from the training which he would have received at either of the great English universities at this time ; just as the intellectual activity of the northern capital contrasted favourably with the torpor which then unfortunately characterised too frequently the course of study at Oxford and Cambridge. Intellectual activity, moreover, was promoted at Edinburgh by the existence of societies, connected with the university, and admirably designed to develop the training of its students. Among these the Medical Society had the advantage of age; but the Speculative Society had a i more direct influence on Lord John Russell's future.
The Speculative Society was founded in 1764 by six young gentlemen who were at that time members of the university. Of the original founders three were still living when Lord John reached Edinburgh. One of them, William Creech, was a bookseller in the city; the second, Allan Maconochie, was adorning the Scotch Bench as Lord Meadowbank; and the third, John Bruce, was professor of logic at the university. The society was composed of thirty young men, who were elected by ballot, and were compelled to attend one evening a week during the winter and spring months, when an essay. was read by a member, and a debate on some historical, literary, or political subject ensued. A certain period of attendance as an ordinary member, with the discharge of the duties attached to that position, qualified for extraordinary privilege, which exempted the member from compulsory attendance, but left him free to attend the meetings of the society. Lord John Russell was admitted to the society on April 24, 1810, on the same day as his friend Lord Killeen.l
The meeting of the Speculative Society at which Lord John was thus elected was the last of the session of 1809—10. He could not, in any circumstances, have taken his seat till the following November, and, as a matter of fact, the minutes of the society show that he did not attend any of its meetings until December II, and that he was absent from illness on
1 Lord Killcen was the eldest son of Lord Fingall.
each of the four meetings in January 1811, and on the first meeting in February: so severely did his sickly constitution interfere with his studies and with his amusements. During the rest of the session he took part in debates on the justice, of the war of 1793 ,1 on the conduct of Queen Elizabeth to Queen Mary 5 and on the imprisonment of Gale Jones.2 He opened a debate on the education of the poor; and he wrote and read a paper on the proceedings of the Spanish Cortes?’ from September 24 to November I 5, 1810, which is still preserved among the documents in the possession of the family.
In the session of 1811—12 he was still more active. On December 3 he was elected one of the five presidents of the society; on the same day he was appointed to serve on a small committee to draw up the list of questions for weekly discussion. He was a constant speaker at the society’s debates, discussing purely abstract questions—such as the policy of Alcibiades—and matters of urgent importance, such as the emancipation of South America, the expedition to Copenhagen in 1807, the expediency of Indian missions, the desirability of a legal provision for the poor, the value of Magdalen asylums, and the prospects of the Spanish War. He decided by his casting vote as Praeses that the possession of Canada was of use to Great Britain ; and at the close of the session he drew up and spoke the valedictory address, receiving the thanks of the society for doing so.
1 His father wrote to him, ' I like the account of your maiden speech at the Speculative Society much, and I believe it frequently happens to young speakers to forget the best part of their intended speeches.‘ Mr. Greville has left on record a very severe opinion of the sixth Duke of Bedford—‘ A more uninteresting, weak-minded, selfish character does not exist.I I have only to do with the Duke as Lord John's father, but my perusal of his letters to his son has led me to form a very different opinion of him.
2 Gale Jones, secretary to the Corresponding Society, was committed to Newgate by the House of Commons in 1810 for publishing a scurrilous placard.
3 Lord John forwarded a copy of this paper to his father, who wrote to him on March 2!, 1811—‘ I like your essay on the Cortes very much, particularly the last part of it. Your own reflections are just and sensible, and fraught with a thorough knowledge of the science of political liberty.’
And again on April 5—‘ I have again read your essay on the Cortes, and I assure you I like it still better on the second reading; it is really excellent.‘
VOL. I. D
It is evident, therefore, that Lord John’s career in the Speculative Society anticipated the success which he subsequently achieved in the House of Commons.1 His active brain, however, was not entirely occupied with the labour of a university or the duties of a debating society. In the spring of 181 I he wrote for the ‘Whig Register ’ 2 along and important article on Parliamentary Reform. Starting with Mr. Dunning’s famous proposition that the power of the Crown ought to be diminished, he argued that it could be effectually controlled by the reform of the House of Commons. ‘No great and sudden change’ should, however, be made.
We should add cautiously and gradually to the power of the people till it could again make head against the Crown. . . . We
1 Amidst his other work Lord John found leisure for his old pursuits. At the commencement of the session of 1810 Lord Porchester moved for an inquiry into the fatal VValcheren expedition, and carried his motion by 195 to 186 votes. This unusual Whig victory inspired Lord John to write a parody of Lochiel': Warning, in which Mr. Rose plays the part of the wizard and Mr. Percevnl that of Lochiel. The two hundred M. P.'s in the concluding line of Lord John's parody are, of course. the majority of 195.
'Tis a sunset of jobs gives me mystical lore,
2 The article is headed ‘ Whig Register No. 3,’ and Lord John in 1857 added a note, ‘ probably written in 1810.' I cannot find, after careful inquiry both in the British Museum and at Edinburgh, that any such periodical as the ‘ Whig Register ' was ever published. I assume, therefore, that Lord John gave the name to a series of MS. articles written for his own advantage. I have found another article, headed 'Whig Register,‘ on the conduct of the Prince Regent, among Lord John's papers.