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Woburn, August 18, 18o3.-—This is my birthday. I am eleven years old, 4 feet 2 inches high, and 3 stone I2 lbs. weight. The Duchess gave me a Shakespeare. It is a very hot day. Mr, Thornton and Mr. Higgins came here to-day; there was a ball in the evening.
The little boy who made this, the first, entry in his first journal was destined to lead the House of Commons for a, longer period than any other successor of Mr. Pitt, and to become twice Prime Minister of England.
It is the common practice of biographers to anticipate the story of their hero’s life by tracing the achievements of his immediate ancestors; and this custom, which is perhaps jus-, tified by the increased attention which thoughtful men are paying to the modern doctrine of heredity, may at first sight seem peculiarly applicable to the present memoir: for, if the qualities of a man be really derived from his forefathers, the eminence of Lord John Russell may be traced to circumstances antecedent to his birth. It is at least a striking circumstance that the statesman, who throughout his life was the uncompromising champion of civil and religious liberty, should have been the descendant of men one of whom was sacrificed by
VOL. I. A
autocracy on the scaffold, and another of whom is described, on the high authority of Mr. Lecky, as ‘the first Lord Lieutenant [of Ireland] who showed himself unequivocally in favour of a relaxation of the penal code.’
Yet, if an introduction of this kind may be defended at first sight as appropriate, it may be rejected, on second thoughts, as unnecessary. It would be superfluous to cumber a work which is intended to be concise with information easily accessible elsewhere. The fame of the Russell who drained the Bedford Level, and of the Russell who perished on the scaffold, is part of the history of the seventeenth century. One at least of the Russells, who succeeded to the honours of the family in the eighteenth century, is not likely to be forgotten : for the Letters of Junius preserve, if they distort, the character of the fourth Duke of Bedford, who, from the fall of Walpole to the rise of Rockingham, exercised a commanding influence on English politics.
The fourth Duke of Bedford died in 1771. Four years before that date his eldest son, Lord Tavistock, had been thrown from his horse and killed. By his wife, a daughter of the second Lord Albemarle, Lord Tavistock had three sons. The eldest, Francis, fifth Duke of Bedford, born in 176 5, succeeded to the dukedom in 1771, and died unmarried in 1802. The second, John, born in 1766, became sixth Duke on his brother’s death. The third, William, a posthumous child, was murdered by his valet, Courvoisier, in 1840.
John, the second son, who succeeded unexpectedly to the dukedom in 1802, married in 1786 Georgiana, a daughter of the fourth Lord Torrington. This lady presented him with three sons: Francis, who will appear in these pages as Lord Tavistock, and seventh Duke of Bedford, born in 1788; George William, commonly knOWn as Lord William Russell, born in I790, the father of the present Duke of Bedford, of Lord Arthur Russell, and of the late Lord Ampthill; and John, the subject of this memoir.
After her youngest son’s birth, Lady John Russell suffered from confirmed ill-health. In a letter, which is undated, but which was probably written in 1796, she says to her sister, Lady Weymouth :— '
Ill'health, like every other misfortune, brings with it the consolations which enable us to support it. To you I appear more tO be pitied than I really am ; and I am sensible that I have acquired a melancholy way of expressing myself, for which I am very blamable. Indeed, my Isabella, I ought to be happy, and if I am only resigned it is a fault. I deserve no pity. I am surrounded with advantages of every sort. If there is a character on earth who deserves the reverence of mankind, it is the man to whom I am united. His principles are superior to those of every person whom I ever met with; and if I was but half as good as him, I should deserve all that your partial friendship says of me. Heaven grant him a long life, for certain I am that it will grow every day more useful to his fellow-citizens. Not so with mine, 'sweet Isabella; it is unfortunately bowed down—bent like the willow never to rise again; but at least, whilst it lasts, 1 have the comfort of knowing, from the calmness that I inwardly experience, that, however unworthily I may have passed my useless life, the not having done any wicked action leaves to the mind
What nothing earthly gives or can destroyI
Lady John Ruisell unfortunately transmitted the ill-health from which she suffered to her youngest son, who was born in Hertford Street in 1792. But perhaps this very circumstance made him her favourite child. She certainly won his love. In his old age, in 1871, he said :~
I was very fond of her. I used to call her in the morning, and from that hour during the whole of the day she showed me the utmost affection. I used to delight in reading to her ‘ Plutarch’s Lives’ in the morning.1
To complete the picture of his early life, it may be well to quote the conclusion of the sentence :—
In the middle of the day I worked at a little garden, following the directions which my father gave me in a little almanack,
1 This and the succeeding quotations are taken from a memorandum dictated by him to Lady Russell in 1871,
partly in print and partly written by him for me. 'The place Iremember. where I passed my early childhood was Stratton Park1 in Hampshire, where Lord and Lady Russell passed many happy years ; but when I was about eight years old Stratton was sold by my uncle Francis, Duke of Bedford, and Oakley in Bedfordshire was lent to my father instead. I never liked Oakley so well.
But greater changes were in store for- him than the removal from Stratton to Oakley. He was sent to what he himself called ‘a very bad private school at Sunbury.’2 There he received the only letter from his mother which is preserved. It is written on a little sheet of notepaper, with a blue pattern on the border; and the envelope, which matches the paper, is addressed ‘To the best of all good little boys J. R.’ It is as follows :—
i thank you, my dearest, for your dear little letter. I am glad you like school, and I hope you will try to learn, as nothing but the necessity of learning could make us part with such a dear good little boy. Therefore, my love, pray study, give your whole attention to your different lessons, and we shall once more be happy together. I miss your clear voice when I wake, and I regret you every moment of the day. Soon I hope to see you, and to hear a very good account of you from Dr. Moore and Mrs. Moore, to whom I beg you will give my compliments.v God bless you, my love. Your papa says you was very good on the road, and very pleasant. Give my love to dear William.
It was at this school that his brother William and he ‘were suddenly afliicted’ by the news of their mother’s death on October 11, 1801.
A mother’s loss leaves a lasting impression even on the mind of a little child of nine. But perhaps his uncle’s death,
1 Stratton is now the property of Lord Northbrook.
2 I have found on the last page of an old MS. book a list of the boys at Dr. Moore’s School, Sunbury, April I, 1800. The list includes the names of Lord John's two elder brothers, but not his own, and was presumably written in the book by one of his brothers immediately before Lord John was sent to Sunbury. The list is a long one. and many names in it, FitzRoy, Seymour, Bridgeman, Acland, Mildmay, Stanhope, Churchill, &c., prove that the school was a. fashionable one. In r836 one of the ushers at this school wrote to Lord John for pecuniary help. His private secretary suggested a civil refusal, but Lord John endorsed the letter, ‘ I will send a draft.‘ . '
in the folloWing spring, and the change of life which it entailed on the family, may have served partially to distract the thoughts both of the widower and his children. Thenceforward their father was Duke of Bedford, and owner of the vast possessions which had accrued to the Russells by grants, marriages, and purchases; and his sons, instead Of passing their holidays at Oakley, came home either to Woburn or London.
In the year which followed his accession to the title, and in the second year of his widowhood, the Duke married a second time. The new wife—another Georgiana—was a dau'ghter of the fourth Duke of Gordon; In due time-she presented her husband with a very large family of seven sons and three daughters. It is more to the purpose of this memoir that she proved an affectionate stepmother to her husband’s children.
About two months after his father’s second marriage Lord John began the journal, the first entry in which has been inserted at the commencement of this chapter.
The following extracts are also taken from it. Each extract is a complete entry for the date to which it refers.
Woburn, [Honda], August 29, I803.—-I went out hunting today for the first time in my life, with Tavistock’s harriers. we set off at four o’clock in the morning, and went to a little wood (of which I don’t know the name), where we were joined by Mr, Moore. We found nothing there. We looked about the most likely places. Mr. and Lady Fanny Ponsonby, Mr. and Mrs. Whitbread, Mr. Bennet, Mr. Gilpin, Mr. Gunning, the Duke of Manchester, Mr. Atkin, and Mr. Peirce, an Etonian, all came here to-day from Southill, except the Duke of Manchester. A very hot day. We went to Crawley—Moore too—where we at length found a bare, but soon lost it in consequence of the bad scent.1
Woburn, Saturday, September Io.—Hot. I went out shooting to-day with Tavistock, Lord Preston, and William. There were
1 Southill is Mr. Whitbread's seat in Bedfordshire. Lady Fanny should, I presume, be Lady Mary Ponsonby. The wife of the Mr. Ponsonby who afterwards led the Opposition was a Lady Mary Butler.