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THE circumstances of Lord John's retirement in July 1855 differed widely from those which had marked his resignation in the previous February. In February grave dissatisfaction with the policy of the Ministry had led to his withdrawal from office. In July he was in full accord with his colleagues. It is impossible to read the correspondence with Lord Aberdeen which preceded one event without pain. The letters in which Lord John and Lord Palmerston recorded their reluctant decision to part company can give the reader nothing but pleasure. Whatever differences may have separated Lord Palmerston from Lord John in previous years, no trace of them rankled in the breast of either on their separation in July 1855. Towards the other members of the Cabinet, with perhaps one exception, Lord John bore nothing but good will. Of Lord Clarendon, for a time, he entertained other feelings. He thought that the Foreign Minister had aggravated his difficulties by neglecting to obtain Prince Gortchakoff’s formal adhesion to the four points before he set out for Vienna; that he had placed him in a false and embarrassing position by springing on him the neutralisation proposal; though he acquiesced in Lord Clarendon's refusal to produce all the
Vienna correspondence, he considered that his own letters,
had not been given in sufficient detail; and that the fact that he had only adhered to the Austrian proposal for the sake of securing Austrian co-operation had not been sufficiently
emphasised. Some traces of the bitterness which he felt can be detected by any one who reads with care a speech which he made at the close of the session on the conduct of the war. These feelings, however, soon wore away; and, before the autumn was over, Lord Clarendon and Lord John were again corresponding on their former terms of intimacy." Lord John undoubtedly resented the conduct of inferior members of the Government. He naturally thought that, after his great services, he should not have been condemned by his former followers almost without a hearing. But, though he felt bitterly the conduct of those whom he had regarded as his friends, he carried with him into his retirement that calm demeanour which enabled him to conceal his sense of the wrong; and, without attempting to remonstrate or to reply, waited patiently for the reaction which his own conscience told him must ultimately come. No man had ever earned retirement better. It was nearly five-and-twenty years since he had first accepted office under Lord Grey; and his friends had placed him in a situation for which his frail and feeble constitution, it was hoped, would be equal. During the interval, which had since passed, he had done harder work than any member of the House of Commons. For nearly twenty out of the five-and-twenty years he had been a Minister of the Crown; for fourteen he had led the House of Commons; for nearly six years he had led the House of Commons as Prime Minister. He had fairly won a right to the rest which had at last been forced on him. And the respite was in another sense welcome. Lord John could not look back at the history of the three preceding years without seeing that he had occupied a false position. His acceptance of office under Lord Aberdeen, almost forced on him by the solicitations of his friends and his sovereign, had led to nothing but embarrassment and difficulty. While he remained in office, experience had already shown that he could not recover the influence which he had lost. It was essential, for the sake of his own reputation, that he should pass a definite period as an independent member of Parliament. For nearly four years Lord John remained out of office; " but this period of release from official work was anything but one of idleness. Lord John's literary instincts were so strong that they were certain to assert themselves at a fresh opportunity. At the time of his retirement the heavy task, which he had undertaken in 1852, of editing Mr. Moore's Memoirs, was practically finished; the final volume was in the printer's hands. The duty, to which he had concurrently committed himself, of editing Mr. Fox's correspondence, was approaching completion; while, as for minor literary labours, such as prefaces and introductions to other people's works, they were—like silver in the days of Solomon—of not much account in the life of Lord John." The gradual conclusion of these labours suggested to him another work; and it occurred to him very naturally that, after editing Fox's letters, he had peculiar qualifications for writing his life. Sir George Lewis, whom he consulted on the subject, advised him to expand his project into a History of England from the Peace of Paris in 1763 to the Peace of Paris in 1815; and Lord John thus disposed of the suggestion:—
1 The overture came from Lord John. On the news of the fall of Sebastopol he wrote to Lord Clarendon and told him what, in his opinion, the Government ought to do. Lord Clarendon replied that he had read Lord John's letter to the Cabinet, where it had been received with cheers from all quarters.
MY DEAR LEWIS,- . . . I have thought much of your suggestion of giving an account of our whole history from 1763 to 1815, instead of hanging all my remarks on the biography of Fox. But, although I might have attempted such a task twenty years ago, or even in 1841, I must now confess non eadem atas, not mens ; and, if I can extend and connect Mr. Fox's life, so as to bring in his speeches and letters, it is as much as I can hope to accomplish. Besides, biography has no dignity, and neither forces one to insert long and tiresome accounts of battles (except in case of a General), nor to omit small and interesting details. Mahon, though intentionally fair, is trifling and depreciating ;
1 Lord John wrote in 1853 a preface to the letters of Rachel Lady Russell, and in 1854 he edited, or at any rate wrote a graceful introduction to, his sisterin-law's (Mrs. Grove Cradock's) Calendar of Nature. Mrs. Grove Cradock was the Miss Lister whose letters in 1840 and 1841 have already been given.
and, if I can raise biography as much as he lowers history, I think I shall have done much. Besides, it is well to have a hero, and a hero with a good many faults and failings. Pitt's ambition was unscrupulous; but his other failings were confined to a love of strong liquor. Heaven save us from such another Minister ! . . .—Yours, J. R.
The biography which was thus projected is one of the best known of its author's works. Since Sir G. Trevelyan has only carried his own narrative down to 1774, it is practically the only life of the great Whig statesman. It is not only the best known, but it is also one of the best, of its author's productions. One of the greatest masters of the English language has lately said that Lord John was one of the few men of his time ‘able to write a sentence so naturally that it recalled the very sound of his voice.’" Perhaps of all its author's works the ‘Life of Fox’ is the one which most naturally illustrates this saying. Whether he is reading the political history which it comprises, or the personal and literary details which form so agreeable a feature in the concluding volume, the reader feels that he is not merely engaged on a ‘Life of Mr. Fox, but that he is listening to Lord John. This feature in the book may be a merit or a demerit. Authors of less distinction are wise to sink their personality in their subject, and to let their hero speak instead of using their own voice. But when Prime Ministers become authors, a contrary rule, if not ogically permissible, has at least its advantages. It is very interesting to know what Mr. Fox thought of the ‘Odyssey’ or the ‘Task’; but it is quite as interesting to learn what Lord John thought of Mr. Fox.
The first volume of the “Life’ was published in 1859; the second in 1860. Official labours deferred the publication of the third, which did not appear till 1866. But the preparation of this work formed Lord John's chief occupation during his four years of immunity from official toil. Other labours, however, of a similar character, diversified his studies. In November 1855 he delivered a lecture on the obstacles which have retarded moral and political progress to a company of 4ooo persons assembled under the auspices of the Young Men's Christian Association in Exeter Hall; in May 1856 he delivered another lecture to his old constituents at Stroud on the study of history; in the autumn of 1857 he attended and spoke at the first meeting of the Social Science Congress at Birmingham; and in the following October he presided over the second meeting of the Congress at Liverpool. The addresses which he made on these several occasions must have required both thought and time. The first of them was subsequently published, and will repay perusal, especially by those who wish to understand its author's opinions. The main obstacle to moral and political progress was, in Lord John's opinion, the abuse of the functions of Government. The attempt of authority to suppress inquiry and to direct opinion had interfered, over and over again in the world's history, with improvement; and progress, therefore, depended on that civil and religious liberty which was both the basis of the lecturer's creed and the object of his career. In certain countries, however, the human conscience was no longer shackled by Government or by laws. In these, Lord John added—probably with special reference to his audience—other obstacles to moral and political progress remained. The vice of intemperance, the want of education, were interfering with the advancement of the poor; just as sensuality, excess, selfishness, evil-speaking, and want of charity were retarding the development of the rich. Civilisation had shown, in the days both of Augustus and of Louis XIV., that it was powerless to deal with these evils.
1 Kinglake, Hist, of Crimean War, viii. 87.
It is to Christian principle, Christian morals, and a Christian spirit, that we must look for a better and higher civilisation than any that has been attained. . . . Some there are who shut their eyes to one truth lest it should impair another that they deem more sacred. But one truth can no more quench another truth than one sunbeam can quench another sunbeam." Truth is one,
1 The metaphor, as it originally stood, was more elaborate, and referred to the inability of one ray of light to quench another ray, or of one sound to destroy