Sivut kuvina
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

country for anything like the same period; and no period of equal importance had ever before occurred in the history of the world. When Lord John Russell entered Parliament, the power of the first Napoleon was unbroken. When he died the Second Empire was a thing of history. At the beginning of his career Europe was the appahage of sovereigns; at the close of it the fairest parts of it were the heritage of peoples. The modern doctrine of nationality had asserted itself against the principles of the Holy Alliance; and Emperors and armies had given way before the impulse of populations. In the changes which had thus been accomplished, not merely on the map of Europe but in the Governments of Europe, Lord John had almost uniformly been on the side of liberty. At the beginning of his career he had devoted some of his first literary earnings to the relief of a people whom he had thought oppressed. In the closing years of his official life he had laboured for the cause of Italy with a zeal and with a success which have few parallels in British history. Yet, though the part which he played in foreign affairs was

large and notable, his fame must ultimately rest on domestic

legislation. During the course of his Parliamentary career a revolution was effected in domestic policy; and in this revolution there can be no doubt that Lord John Russell was the chief actor. In 1813, when Lord John Russell entered Parliament, the government of the empire was virtually in the hands of a few hundred persons who had seats in the House of Lords, or who nominated the majority of the members who sat in the House of Commons. The chief prizes in State and Church were reserved for the relatives, the friends, or the acquaintances of the ruling class. The narrowest religious prejudices influenced legislation. A Roman Catholic was ineligible both for office and Parliament. A Nonconformist could only hold office because the Legislature was in the habit of annually indemnifying him for breaking the law. A Jew was disabled from acquiring real estate. There seemed no prospect of remedying these disabilities. Public meetings, except those authoritatively constituted, were held to be illegal; their organisers were frequently subjected to prosecution for high

treason. Lord John Russell's first effective speech in Parlia-Y. ment was in opposition to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus

Act. He returned to the House in 1819 to oppose the measures by which Lord Liverpool's Administration endeavoured to curb the press and restrict public meetings. The punishments imposed by law were brutal. The criminal code was written in characters of blood, and proved inefficacious to repress crime. Women could still be flogged at the cart-tail; men could still be placed in the pillory; no reasonable secondary punishment had been invented. The modern policeman had not replaced the old Dogberry. My Lord Tom Noddy went to see the latest murderer publicly executed. Her Ladyship probably attended the service in Newgate on the Sunday which preceded his execution. Debtors languished in prison; real estate was not liable for debt. The bull-ring, the prize-ring, and the cock-pit were favourite places of resort among rich and poor. There was no provision for the education of the people. There were no free libraries, no public galleries, no rational amusements for the masses. The commercial legislation of the country was founded on a policy of restriction. Dear corn and low wages were the chief objects of the Legislature. The dwellings of the people were undrained, ill ventilated, and perhaps abutted on a graveyard in which every fresh interment exposed the remains of those who had gone before to the noisome and overcrowded plot which was called God's acre. The Poor Law, instead of promoting thrift, was used to encourage extravagance. The men who had the largest families, the women who had most illegitimate children, were the favourites of the rates. In many parts of England rates were commonly paid in aid of wages. Such was the England which Lord John Russell found. The introduction of a “not” into most of the preceding sentences will portray the England which he left. People are apt to dwell on the material progress of the sixty-five years which were covered by his Parliamentary career, and to remind

[ocr errors]

one another that, while at the beginning of it men could not travel faster than the Pharaohs, before the close of it electricity and steam had almost annihilated space and time; but they too frequently forget that the legislative and moral advance was as remarkable as the national progress, and that most of the reforms which were accomplished in this period owe their inception or their completion, more or less directly, to Lord John Russell. In organic Reform Lord John accomplished almost all that he desired; and, in his old age, lived to see younger men push his principles to extremes which he had not contemplated, and which he did not wholly relish. He undoubtedly shared Lord Grey's desire to make the Reform Act a final measure; and he risked popularity and office—while Lord Melbourne's Administration lasted—for the sake of maintaining a settlement to which he considered himself pledged. In later years, when he again reverted to the subject, all his various proposals were framed on the model of the Act of 1832; and he seemed more anxious to amend any casual defects in that measure, or to extend its operation a little further, than to devise a large and comprehensive scheme of representative Reform. Hence, on organic questions, he displayed, in his later years, an almost conservative dislike of extensive changes; and he subjected himself to the reproach, or, as some people will think, to the praise, that he retained at eighty the opinions which he had successfully asserted at forty years of age. But on other matters his views enlarged with the increase of years. He displayed an unusual capacity, for an old man, to adapt himself to the conclusions of a younger generation; and, on questions connected with the Church, with education, with the treatment of crime, with the management of finance, and with the freedom of commerce, he could act at eighty, as he acted at forty, with those who were in the van of the Liberal party. It is neither the wish nor the object of the present writer to prove that in what he thus did and thought Lord John was always right. He wrote himself in 1869, ‘I have committed many errors, some of them very gross blunders; and there are undoubtedly passages in his biography which show that he had no better claim than other men to infallibility. But even in those instances on which most people will think he was mistaken—the publication of the Durham letter in 1850, the junction with Lord Aberdeen in 1852, and the unfortunate, and even disastrous, change of opinion in 1853—he acted on what he genuinely thought at the moment was the .interest of the Church, the Crown, and the country. His head may have been in error, but his heart was sound. Administrative ability unfortunately attracts less attention than Parliamentary eloquence, and the capacity which a man displays in his office is forgotten when the generation of those who work under him passes away. It would otherwise be remembered to Lord John's credit that no man in the present century has acquired greater reputation as a Minister. He was one of the best Secretaries of State that ever entered the Home Office; and, in his short career at the Colonial Office, he displayed a breadth of view and a sobriety of judgment which promised to make him the greatest of Colonial Ministers. He was never satisfied with discharging the mere details of his office. His great speech on colonial policy in 1850, which is in reality an elaborate treatise on the rise, progress, and future of the colonies, is an eternal proof of the thoroughness with which he had thought out every portion of the subject; while the continuous efforts which he made at the Home Office for the more rational treatment of crime by the construction of better prisons, by the introduction of improved prison discipline, by the gradual abolition of transportation, and by the establishment of a rural police, again afford a decisive proof that his desire was not merely to administer, but to improve, what he found. Perhaps modern England owes as much to the improvements which he thus introduced as to the passage of the Reform Act. As Foreign Minister Lord John displayed equally great gualities. No man ever fell on more critical times, and no man ever achieved a more brilliant success than Lord John's * Italian policy secured. * His despatches on this question, and !" on other subjects, are, in many ways, remarkable. They frequently read like political essays rather than official documents, and they commonly contain the doctrines, or, as hostile critics would say, the platitudes, of the Whig creed. Some of them are unusually long. But their length is always attributable to the matter which they contain, and not to mere diffuseness of style. Few men of his generation could express so much by voice or pen in so few words as Lord John; and, on those occasions on which he was lengthy, it will almost invariably be found that he was so because he had a good deal to say, and not because he took a long time in saying it. The characteristics which are visible in his despatches may be traced in his speeches. Many of them read like careful essays, pregnant with thought and matter. Occasionally, indeed, they teem with platitudes, which sound like extracts from a political commonplace book. But it is due to their author to remember that sentences which sound like platitudes now were far from being platitudes when they were first uttered. The doctrines which are accepted as truisms to-day have been made truisms by Lord John Russell's insistence. * It was, however, rather in debate than in exposition that Lord John showed to most advantage. His full mind, his ~ mature knowledge, and his long practice made him a most capable debater. He rarely missed the strong point of his own case, or the weak point of his adversary's; and both in public discussion and in private conversation he had the knack of grappling with the centre of a subject which is as serviceable as it is unusual. He was, too, quick, as well as dexterous, in reply. Mr. Gladstone quoted his retort to Sir F. Burdett— ‘The honourable member talks of the cant of patriotism; but * , there is something worse than the cant of patriotism, and that is the recant of patriotism’ –as an example of readiness in debate; while Sir Robert Peel said that, though bludgeons

* The stcry is told in Mr. Frith's Memoirs, ii. 258. But the repartee had been given before in Fraser's Magazine for June 1845.

« EdellinenJatka »