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The popular idea of Johnny [wrote Mr. Motley] is of a cold, cynical, reserved personage. But, in his own home, I never saw a more agreeable manner." His society [writes Sir W. Harcourt] was singularly attractive. The great memories that gathered round him; his sense of humour, as he recounted the stories of the past; his big mind, in a small body, as he walked about at Pembroke Lodge in his large white hat; his true deliberation of spirit, and undaunted pluck; .composed a very striking whole.
In fact, his wide reading, his long experience, his hearty appreciation of all that was good, made him a delightful companion. In conversation, he had the capacity which stood him in such good stead in debate; and Sir James Mackintosh used to cite as an example of a witty saying the definition of a proverb which Lord John gave one morning at breakfast— “One man's wit, and all men's wisdom.”
* Motley's Correspondence, i. 300.
* Life of Mackintosh, ii. 473. . In his later life Lord Russell was rather jealous of the fact that his claim to be the author of this famous saying was questioned, and, as the controversy respecting its parentage has lately been revived, it is well to show how the error of ascribing it to another arose.
DEANERY, WESTMINSTER: March 3, 1873.
MY DEAR LORD RUSSELL,-I heard the other day from Mr. Lecky of a perplexity occasioned to you by an expression in Dean Milman's Essays which I believe I can solve.
In one of these essays there occurs the definition of a proverb as ‘One man's wit, and many men's wisdom, which is quoted as ‘erroneously ascribed to an eminent living statesman.”
It so happens that many years ago, when I was at Canterbury, Sir Robert Inglis, speaking of this definition, said (as I understood him) that he had been in the house—wherever it was—when you brought down the definition (if I remember right) to breakfast. Having always had this in my recollection, I asked Dean Milman why he had said ‘erroneously.” “I said no such thing, he replied, ‘I said “ascribed to an eminent living statesman;" and “erroneously.” was put in by the Editor of the Quarterly. The Editor, at this time, was Mr. Elwin, and the next time I met him I asked him why he had inserted it. I forget exactly his answer; but it was to the effect that he had a strong impression of having seen the definition in some French writer, I think Montaigne. There the subject dropped. I have thought since that it could never have been in a French writer, because, as I remember Guizot once remarking to me, there is no French word for what we in modern English mean by “wit.'
But my object in writing was to clear our dear old friend at St. Paul's of any doubt or disregard of the tradition which ascribes the definition to you. Yours sincerely, A. P. STANLEY.
~ With such qualities as these it was no wonder that Lord John's society was sought and valued. Young and old found an equal welcome at Pembroke Lodge; Lord John's nature, indeed, like good wine, mellowed with advancing age, and “as he grew old, he took more and more pleasure in the society of all who came to him.’ A great authoress has told her readers that it is better sometimes not to follow great reformers of abuses beyond the threshold of their homes. But, if this be true of other men, it is emphatically untrue of Lord John. It is precisely to Lord John's home that every biographer of Lord John who understands his business must desire to take his readers. No doubt
it is well to show him—
But it is still better to see him by his own fireside, or with his wife, his children, and his servants. What Lord John was to his servants two little incidents may show. (1) Travelling in Switzerland in his old age, he was seized with illness, and his valet explained his anxiety to his medical adviser" by saying, “I love every hair of his head.’ (2) In the autumn of 1888, his youngest daughter took her old nurse to a local lecture on Mr. Carlyle. The lecturer excused his hero's domestic troubles by declaring that it was natural that great men, whose minds were absorbed by public anxieties, should be sometimes irritable and impatient at home. And the old nurse, who had only known one great man, expressed her indignation that any one should suppose that great men were not great in their home life. What Lord John was to his wife and his children only they can tell; but the perfect confidence which wife and husband had in one another, the constant happiness which they derived from one another's society, may be, at any rate, inferred by one who has had the privilege of access to their * Dr. Anderson of Richmond, who was travelling with the Russells, and who
was “for twenty years the medical adviser and the valued and trusted friend of the family.”
private correspondence, and her private journals. As for Lord John's children, they brought him all their childish troubles, and confided to him all their childish thoughts. He was never, in his busiest days, so busy that he had not time to devote to them. In 1846, when he was charged with the formation of a Ministry, he stopped at Wimbledon on his way from Osborne to London, and had a game of ball with his boy. And in the spring of 1865, when most men thought that the Foreign Minister was engrossed with the affairs of his office, his youngest daughter, who was laid up with illness, had more pressing work for him, sending him from her bed the following note:— I am very sorry to say that the canary you gave me is dead.
Mammy said I [had] better write to tell you. I should like very much if you would come up to talk about it.
Lord John's intense love for wife and children may be said to have occasionally interfered with his efficiency as a public man. When domestic trouble was heavy on him, he was always disposed to look with despondency on public affairs; and it was not perhaps an altogether accidental circumstance that crises in the Cabinet had a tendency to synchronise with anxiety at home. Writing to his wife from Windsor in April 1847, he said—
Baron Stockmar came in and asked me what had made me so low yesterday evening. I was obliged to say that it was your not
being so well. He could not imagine so simple a cause, and thought that there must be something wrong in the state of
Europe. While, in the following year, writing from Balmoral, he said to Lady John—
I do not envy the Queen anything she has, except the rosy cheeks of Prince Alfred. Our poor boy is so different, and gets so depressed and unstrung.
When trouble came upon him he was frequently prostrated by the blow. “Jesus wept, so ran his consolatory note to his son-in-law Mr. Villiers after the Bishop of Durham's death—
Jesus wept; and these natural sorrows must be indulged before, they can be checked.
In periods of sorrow and in joy he sought in religion consolation and encouragement. His views on the highest subjects with which man's mind can occupy itself were not perhaps thought out with the accuracy of a metaphysician. He probably was not sorry to leave a great deal unsettled and vague. He never seriously addressed himself to the questions which have agitated Christianity in our own times. He accepted Jesus Christ as the Divine Founder of a religion of love; he regarded the Bible as the word of God. To the last hour of his life he looked back with satisfaction to the share which he had himself had in terminating the monopoly of printing it in Scotland. A visitor at Pembroke Lodge noticed that the only book on his library table was an old Bible Society's Bible bound in sheepskin. He could not understand the complicated dogmas of other Christians. He detested the doctrines of Rome, and the pretensions of the High Church party in the English Church. He frequently spoke of them in language which could not fail to give offence.
There is, there is, one primitive and sure
Such were the lines which he quoted with approval in the third letter to Mr. Chichester Fortescue. Lady Russell wrote—
His religion was as simple and true as everything else about him. He deplored the earthly and sectarian trappings by which man has disfigured Christianity—the multiplication of creeds, dogmas, ceremonies in the Church of England; her assumption. of sanctity as the special depositary of truth; the narrowness of spirit which has made her through all history the enemy of free thought and progress. He was very severe on the wearisome and irreverent repetitions in her services . . . he disliked the reading
of the Commandments, one of which—the fourth—not one of those who prayed to obey it meant to obey. . . . There was, I need hardly say, much that he heartily loved and admired in the liturgy. The thanksgiving prayer was especially dear to him . . . Baptism he, of course, considered merely as an outward sign. He had himself never been confirmed, but did not trouble his mind about the petty superstition which would have made this an obstacle to his joining in the Lord's Supper. This rite was to him nothing but a simple remembrance of Christ's last supper and death." He thought the English Catechism wholly unfit for children, and vehemently disliked the dogmatic parts of it. His thoughts and opinions were not to be bounded or cramped by the regulations of any one sect built up by man. He looked forward to a day when there would be no priests, or rather when every man would be a priest, and all superstitious notions—such as is implied in the notion that only a clergyman ought to perform certain offices of religion —should be cast aside by Christian men for ever.
In practice, however, Lord John showed a greater tolerance than might be inferred from some of his opinions or writings. When he was in London he usually attended the services at St. Paul's, Knightsbridge, or at Belgrave Chapel. It would have been difficult to select two churches, within a reasonable distance of Chesham Place, representing more opposite poles of thought. But he did not confine himself to places of worship within the pale of the Church. Lady John and he went sometimes to hear the great Nonconformist preachers; while occasionally, like most men of deep religious feeling, he recognised that public worship does not constitute the highest form of devotion. Sitting one Sunday among his trees and his flowers, with his daughter and his grandchildren around him, he said to Lady Russell, “It conduces much to piety not to go to church sometimes.’ Such is a rough sketch of Lord Russell's religious views. 1 Writing to Lady Victoria Villiers in 1866, Lord Russell said, ‘About his and your views on the Eucharist, every one must judge for himself how far he believes in the spiritual presence of Christ in the Holy Communion. Without questioning your belief, I am inclined to think that every act of kindness and love and charity to our fellow-creatures obtains the special blessing of God and
Christ—that the merciful shall obtain mercy; and those who forgive trespasses of others may hope forgiveness of their own.” *