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The resignation of Lord Russell in the summer of 1866 not merely ended the short-lived Administration of which he was the chief; it proved in the result the termination of an official career which had commenced more than a generation before in the Government of Lord Grey. In one sense Lord Russell was amply vindicated. The breeze of popular opinion, for which he had vainly waited since 1849, freshened after his fall into a gale. The apathy of Southern England ceased with his resignation. Before a month was over, the railings of Hyde Park had given way to the pressure of a mob; men of all parties were aroused to the conviction that Reform was a subject to be treated and not to be trifled with ; and in 1867 a Conservative Administration brought forward a larger and more comprehensive measure of Reform than any which Lord Russell had ever contemplated. Thus, though it was not given to Lord Russell to be the author of a second Reform Act, the passage of the second Reform Act vindicated his prescience and proved the truth of his principles.
In other respects, Lord Russell's second Administration will not attract much notice from the historian. It will be chiefly recollected for its failures, and not for its accomplishments. It failed to avert the Prusso-Austrian War, just as it failed to carry its own great measure. It could not claim in its short existence that it had secured peace on the Continent, or that it had made any notable addition to the Statute Book.
Those then who judge by results will pass rapidly over the short months during which Lord Russell's second Administration lasted, and dwell rather on the other periods of his career during which he rendered great and important services to his country.
THE fall of the Russell Administration in the summer of 1866 terminated—so it proved—the official career of the subject of this memoir. Within a few weeks of completing the seventy-fourth year of his age, he had long passed the period at which men usually look for retirement. Thenceforward his life was to be free from the cares of office. But, though his career as a Minister was at an end, his activity as a statesman had not ceased. At intervals, which were to become gradually less frequent with the advance of years, he emerged Irom his retirement to support the cause of civil and religious liberty, whether at home or abroad, to which his life had been consecrated. Like the well-bred hunter in his secluded paddock, he was stirred by the whimper of the hound and the music of the horn; and, with pen and with voice, came forward again and again to promote the cause of progress, to encourage the oppressed, to denounce the oppressor. The twelve years, however, which Lord Russell was still to live can be briefly described. Biography should occupy itself with the growth of youth and with the achievements of maturity, and should dwell lightly on the decline of age; and, though the lamp still burned clearly, though the brain was still active, one chapter may contain all that it is necessary still to relate of Lord Russell's career. As Lord Russell withdrew more and more from political pursuits, he addressed himself more actively to his literary studies. In 1866 he completed the ‘Life of Mr. Fox,’ which
had been interrupted by his accession to office. In 1868 WOL. II. 433 2 E
he printed three letters to Mr. Chichester Fortescue on ‘The State of Ireland.” In the same year he consulted Messrs. Longman on the propriety of publishing anonymously some imaginary colloquies between Bishop Burnet and Archbishop Tillotson on the Athanasian Creed. Messrs. Longman referred the manuscript, without revealing the secret of the authorship, to a clergyman of broad views and literary distinction who is still alive, and the opinion of this gentleman on the book—
It is a work which I should like to see both published and popular; but I do not anticipate for it any marked success, although I do not suppose it can be a failure—
is still preserved with the original manuscript.
Lord Russell did not publish the colloquies. Influenced, perhaps, by the opinion of Messrs. Longman's reader, he abandoned his intention. But he incorporated what he had to say on dogmatic Christianity in the remarkable volume of essays on ‘The Rise and Progress of the Christian Religion in the West of Europe from the Reign of Tiberius to the Council of Trent.” An anonymous reviewer said of this book on its publication that
Many are the points of view from which minds, weighted with the complex results of an age eminently inquiring and resolutely scientific, have contemplated the mysterious import of Christianity; but no previous writer has been led to look at it through the prism of concrete Constitutionalism, and to reduce the history of its world-wide evolutions into a handy manual of Whig principles.
The sneer, if it were applicable at all, can only apply to the two concluding essays in the volume, in which Lord Russell made the mistake of the child who is ignorant of perspective and attached an undue importance to objects which looked large because they happened to be near. The remaining essays are not susceptible to the same reproach. No doubt, like all Lord Russell's historical works, they are founded not on original research, but on other men's researches. No doubt, too, occasional repetitions offend the taste, and perhaps reveal the weight which advancing age was imposing on the octogenarian author. But nevertheless they form an admirable account of the ‘transformation’ which Christianity had undergone.
1 This is the title of the first edition.
Christ had told His Apostles to preach a religion of love; it had been perverted into a religion of logic. St. John, St. Paul, and Christ Himself had called for sympathy; St. Athanasius and St. Thomas Aquinas relied on a syllogism.
The preparation of this work did not exhaust Lord Russell's literary labours. In 1870 he published selections from his speeches between 1817 and 1841, and from his despatches between 1859 and 1865. To the speeches he prefixed a long introduction of 17o octavo pages; to the despatches a shorter preface of 58 pages. In the following year he composed an excellent essay of 96 pages on the foreign policy of England from 1570 to 1870. Four years later he published two pamphlets on education, in which he advocated the institution of free schools; and he brought his long literary labours to a conclusion with the best known of his later works, his ‘Recollections and Suggestions. In the preface to this book, however, he acknowledged that he found his memory was beginning to fail, and that he had therefore copied the account of his earlier recollections from the details which he had given five years before in the introduction to his speeches.
Whatever may be thought of the ‘Recollections and Suggestions’ as a literary work, it breathes from the first page to the last the same spirit of liberty which had actuated its author throughout his long life. “There is nothing so conservative as Progress:’ such—so he said in his old age—was the first advice which he gave as Prime Minister to the Queen. ‘There is nothing so conservative as Progress: such is the last sentiment which his pen records.
But perhaps, in an autobiographical sense, the most interesting part of the ‘Recollections and Suggestions’ is the motto which Lord Russell placed on his title-page:—
Not heaven itself upon the past has power:
For the interest which attaches to the quotation arises from the circumstance that thirty-eight years before Lord John had applied the same lines to himself in his speech at Bristol. There, while expatiating on the reforms which the Whig Ministries of Lord Grey and Lord Melbourne had accomplished, he had quoted from memory, for he gave it imperfectly, Dryden's couplet. But if in 1835 he had already cause to be satisfied with the hour which he had lived, the career with which this book has been occupied had hardly begun. For twenty consecutive years after the Bristol speech Lord John was to lead the Liberal party in the House of Commons. For twenty years he was to fill the highest offices in the State. For thirty years, in the language of the ode which Dryden has thus translated for us, he was to be by turns the favourite and the victim of fortune; and if in his old age he could look back with calm satisfaction at the second hour he had lived, his friends could claim for him that he could shroud himself in his own manly integrity. A narrative of Lord Russell's literary pursuits during the closing years of his life must not distract attention from more personal matters. On his leaving office in the summer of 1866 his wife wrote in her diary—
John so well and happy that my joy at his release becomes greater every hour. There is a sense of repose that can hardly be described : abounding happiness at his honourable downfall that , cannot be uttered.
A few weeks after the resignation of the Government, Lord Russell turned his back on London, and took his wife down with him to Endsleigh. They had gone there first together after the fall of Lord Melbourne; they were returning after his own final retirement. During the few days in which they were the guests of the Duke of Bedford, Lord Russell found leisure to compose, and read, an address at the Town Hall of Tavistock, the town which more than half a century before had first chosen him as its representative.
Lord Russell was, however, already contemplating a much