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Administration at the head of which I consented to be placed ; and, being made aware that you had communicated to me the particulars of that conversation, he expressed his earnest desire that I should, in justice to himself, acquaint you at once with my having seen him, and with what he had settled. I must say that, retaining, notwithstanding what you say, my own opinion on the whole subject, it is with considerable reluctance that I comply with his request; but I could not do otherwise.-Sincerely
Some of Lord John's friends, however, were not ready to consent to their leader's supersession : and Sir Francis Baring, in particular, made the following vigorous protest against it :— Critchell: October 22, 1852.
My dear Lord, It may be very absurd to talk about combinations of which one may never be asked to form one. But there is a remark in your letter received this morning which I cannot pass over without a word. I do not quite understand the full meaning of your assent to Lord Lansdowne being at the head of a new Government. If you mean that you are prepared to act under Lord Lansdowne, as nominal head, for the purpose of conciliating feelings and making a strong Government, I can only say that, without discussing the wisdom of such an arrangement, you will have shown yourself ready to make a sacrifice such as few men would make, and which I do not think any man could have asked or expected you should have made. If it is intended that a Government should be formed of the Liberal party in which you are not to be included, I can only say, with every respect to Lord Lansdowne, that I have long looked up to you as the ablest advocate of the principles which I profess; that I cannot feel confidence in a Government from which you are excluded ; and when I consider the reason I will not be a party to ostracise our best leader because Lord Palmerston desires it. -I am, my dear Lord, yours very sincerely,
Such was the state of affairs at the opening of Parliament. It is hardly necessary to relate how, on the first available night of the session, Mr. Villiers brought forward some resolutions declaring the Act of 1846 to have been ‘a wise, just, and beneficial' measure; how Mr. Disraeli, objecting to ‘these odious epithets,’ offered to accept a colourless declaration in favour of Free Trade; how the difference was ultimately adjusted by the adoption of an alternative which was suggested by Lord Palmerston; how Mr. Disraeli–this preliminary obstacle surmounted—was forced to disclose his hand and to produce his Budget; how his plausible and effective statement was torn to shreds by Mr. Gladstone's instructed eloquence; or how the Government was finally defeated, and at once resigned office. The final division took place on the morning of the 17th of December. Two days before Lord John had spent a night at Woburn, where his brother had invited him to meet Lord Lansdowne and Lord Aberdeen. The three statesmen had therefore an easy opportunity for arranging plans and smoothing difficulties. But, important as their conversation must have been, more significance attached to a question put to Lord John by the Duke. The Duke asked his brother what course he thought the Queen ought to take in the event of the resignation of the Ministry. Lord John replied that he thought she should send for Lord Lansdowne and Lord Aberdeen. Lord John did not know—when he answered the question, or indeed till three days later—that the Duke had put it to him at the Queen's own desire; and he not unnaturally felt, when he gained the knowledge, that his brother had not treated him quite fairly in concealing this fact from him. The Queen acted on the advice which she thus received, and sent for the two peers whom Lord John had indicated. Lord Lansdowne, who had already reached his seventy-third year, was laid up with gout and was unable to obey the Queen's summons. Instead of doing so, he sent a letter to the Queen, expressing his own strong disinclination to accept office, and recommending her to ‘desire Lord J. Russell and Lord Aberdeen to meet and to determine what arrangement of persons and situations would be best with the double view of official aptitude and of selecting those whose appointments would be most gratifying to the feeling of the friends and supporters of both parties.” Before the Queen received this letter, Lord John had engaged in further conference with Lord Aberdeen, and had told him that, though he could say nothing decisive, he thought he should accept office under him." Cheered by the result of
the interview, which took place on the 18th of December, Lord Aberdeen, on the following morning, went to the Queen and accepted her commission to form a Government.
Reflection, however, made Lord John doubt whether he had strength to discharge the heavy duties of the Foreign Office (the post which he would otherwise have preferred) while he was acting as Leader of the House of Commons. But, while he was harassed by these doubts, he received the following appeal from the Queen —
Osborne : December 19, 1852.
The Queen has to-day charged Lord Aberdeen with the duty of forming an Administration, which he has accepted. The Queen thinks the moment to have arrived when a popular, efficient, and durable Government could be formed by the sincere and united efforts of all parties professing Conservative and Liberal opinions, The Queen, knowing that this can only be effected by the patriotic sacrifice of personal interests and feelings to the public, trusts that Lord John Russell will, as far as he is able, give his valuable and powerful assistance to the realisation of this object.
On the morning of the 20th, on which he received the Queen's letter, Lord John carried his doubts to Lord Lansdowne. While the two friends were discussing the question, Mr. Macaulay was announced, and the whole circumstances were laid before him. Mr. Macaulay threw in all the weight of his eloquence on the Queen's side, and perhaps he never made a more decisive or more dexterous speech than that which he delivered in Lord Lansdowne's library. Recollecting that Lord John, in speaking of the Duke of Wellington at Stirling, had said in September—
While many of the qualities which he possessed are unattainable by others, there are lessons which we may all derive from the life and the actions of this illustrious man. . . . It may never be given to another man to hold the sword which was to gain independence for Europe . . . but there are qualities which the Duke of Wellington displayed of which we may all act in humble imitation. That sincere and unceasing devotion to our country—that honest and upright determination to act for the benefit of the country on every occasion
clear that Lord Aberdeen, believing perhaps that hesitation was equivalent to acceptance, regarded Lord John's accession to office as settled.
VOL. II. M
—that devoted loyalty . . . these are qualities that are attainable by others, and . . . which should not be lost as an example.’’
—Mr. Macaulay pressed home this argument with great force. To quote his own account :— I reminded him that the Duke of Wellington had taken the Foreign Office after having been at the Treasury, and I quoted his own pretty speech on the Duke. “You said, Lord John, that we could not all win battles of Waterloo, but that we might all imitate the old man's patriotism, sense of duty, and indifference to selfish interest and vanities when the public welfare was concerned ; and now is the time for you to make a sacrifice. Your past services, and your name, give us a right to expect it.’
Moved by the arguments of the most eloquent talker in England, Lord John retired from the interview ; and, after some consideration, offered to lead the Commons, and to sit in the Cabinet, but without office. He wrote on the 22nd of December to Lord Aberdeen— I should have been willing to accept the seals of the Foreign Office under you, had my health admitted of my doing so. But I feel that a laborious office, with the conduct of the business of the House of Commons, is more than I ought to undertake.
During the two following days this offer was discussed and rediscussed among the projectors of the new Administration. Most of Lord Aberdeen's friends, and many of Lord John's, held that the arrangement was both new and unconstitutional ; and they deprecated it on this ground. But Lord John could reasonably reply that the alternative which seemed otherwise open to him—that he should hold the seals of the Foreign Office, the most laborious department of the State—was impracticable. Since 1827 no man had led the House of Commons and transacted the duties of that department. Since 1853 no other man has attempted it. Lady John, writing privately to her sister, declared that the Foreign Office, even without the leadership of the House of Commons, would kill her husband in six months. And Lord John himself, when he had contemplated taking the Foreign Office four years before, had thought it impossible that he
* I have substituted the exact words of the Stirling speech for the reference to it which Mr. Macaulay inserted in his diary.
should continue in the Commons, and had meditated a reluctant migration to the leisure of the Lords. But this was not all. Since 1853 England has been so accustomed to septuagenarian Prime Ministers that age has ceased to be regarded as a disqualification for work. But age was considered a much more serious drawback in the middle of the century. Mr. Macaulay told Sir Robert Peel in 1846 that no man had ever led the House of Commons after sixty years of age; and, though the great historian's memory was for once at fault, it was quite true that no man sixty years old had led the House of Commons during the preceding one hundred years. Sir Robert himself had been so impressed by this circumstance that he had asked the Queen never again to offer him office. But Lord John in December 1852 had already completed his sixtieth year; he was two years older than Sir Robert Peel had been at his fall, and he was constitutionally and physically frailer than any of his leading contemporaries. It was surely, under such circumstances, in no sense surprising that he should have hesitated to assume the lead of the Commons and the management of the most laborious department of the State. Men might differ on the propriety of Lord John's decision to enter the Cabinet, but no man had the right to question Lord John's reluctance to accept work which he felt was beyond his powers.
Ultimately, after three days' discussion, a compromise was effected. Lord John agreed to take the Foreign Office for a few weeks, resigning it, at his own option as to time, to Lord Clarendon. This arrangement, which of course compelled him to vacate his seat, and to submit himself for re-election to his constituents, was rendered more agreeable to Lord John by Lord Aberdeen's intimation that he proposed ultimately, if possible, to retire in Lord John's favour, and by the suggestion (which Lady John, at any rate, understood that Lord Aberdeen had agreed to) that in the meanwhile Lord John should have a general superintendence over all the departments."
* It is worth while making these two points quite clear, as a good deal turns
on them. With regard to the first, the Duke of Bedford, writing to Lord Aber
deen on December 21, 1856, said, ‘I remember your having told me, when you