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second time. But Ministers who were behind the scenes knew that the second reading of the measure was not the most critical stage, and they dreaded the alterations which might be made in the Bill in committee. Their fears were well founded. On May 7 Lord Lyndhurst moved the postponement of the disfranchising clauses till the enfranchising clauses had been considered, and carried his motion against the Government by 151 votes to 116.
The immediate consequence of the vote [wrote Lord John'] was a meeting of the Cabinet to consider their new position. With the exception of the Duke of Richmond, the Cabinet were unanimous in thinking that no course was left to them but that of proposing to the King to sanction a creation of peers sufficiently numerous to overbear the opposition of the Lords. The King, however, shrank from the alternative now proposed to him. Lord Lyndhurst was sent for, and informed that the King was determined, if possible, to form a Government on the principle of carrying an extensive reform in the representation of the people. The Duke of Wellington informed Lord Lyndhurst that he would endeavour to form a Government in compliance with the King's wishes. But Sir Robert Peel declined to make himself responsible for a Bill which, in his opinion, as he had often and publicly declared, would entail great calamities on the country.
The excitement throughout the country caused by the knowledge that the Whig Ministers had resigned, and that a Tory Government was in process of formation, made the Duke of Wellington's attempt hopeless. Lord Ebrington carried an address imploring 'his Majesty to call to his councils such persons only as will carry into effect, unimpaired in all its essential provisions, that Bill for reforming the representation of the people which has recently passed the House of Commons.' And on the following Monday, May 14, Mr. Baring, who was supposed to have accepted office in the new Ministry, intimated clearly that the attempt to form a Cabinet would not be proceeded with.2
1 The text is compressed from Lord John's own account in Recollections and Suggestions, p. loo sq.
* It was in this debate that Lord John, after paying a high compliment to Sir
This confession forced the King to recall his old Ministers, and the Cabinet unanimously resolved that Lord Grey should not return to office unless he were 'armed with the power to create peers in a number sufficient to carry the Bill should any of its essential provisions be interfered with in its further progress through the House of Lords.' This power was not exercised. The King used his private influence to secure the passage of the measure, and a sufficient number of Tory peers was induced to stay away, and thus render the opposition of the remainder nugatory. Lord John thought it very questionable 'whether the manner in which the vote of the House of Lords was nullified by the compulsory absence of a great many of the majority was not more perilous for their authority than the creation of peers which the Cabinet of Lord Grey proposed.' And he went on to declare, in a passage which shows how much more clearly he understood the principles of constitutional government than most of his contemporaries:—
It seems to me that a House of Lords sympathising with the people at large, and acting in concurrence with the enlightened state of the prevailing wish, represents far better the dignity of the House, and its share in legislation, than a majority got together by the long supremacy of one party in the State, eager to show its ill-will by rejecting Bills of small importance, but afraid to appear, and skulking in clubs and country houses, in face of a measure which has attracted the ardent sympathy of public opinion.1
Tory peers, however, 'skulked in clubs and country houses,' and the Bill passed triumphantly through committee without much debate, and with no important alteration. It was read a third time by a majority of eighty, and on June 5 Lord John had the satisfaction of asking the Commons to agree to the amendments, which were little more than formal and verbal,
Robert Peel, said that' he was sure that the Right Hon. Baronet would not form part of a Cabinet into which honour could not enter.'—Hansard, xii. 930. Cf. Recollections and Suggestions, p. 107. 1 Ibid, p. no.
made by the Lords. Two days afterwards the Bill received the royal assent.1
Lord John's share in the Reform Act was celebrated by the third Lord Lyttleton in the following verses:—
In England's worst days, when her rights and her laws
Were spurned by a Prince of the fell Stuart line, A Russell stood forth, to assert her lost cause,
And perish'd, a martyr at liberty's shrine. The smell of that sacrifice mounted to Heaven;
The cry of that blood rose not thither in vain; The crime of the tyrant was never forgiven;
And a blessing was breathed on the race of the slain. Dethroned and degraded, the Stuart took flight,
He fled to the land where the Bourbon bore sway,
And in exile and sorrow it wither'd away.
Which for virtue and courage umivall'd has shone,
Still loved by the people, revered by the throne. And see where in front of the battle again
A Russell, sweet liberty's champion, appears; While myriads of freemen compose his bright train,
And the blessing still lives through the long lapse of years.
While England was celebrating the triumph of Reform, one of the greatest of modern authors, stricken to the death, was embarking on a little steamer on the Rhine and coming home to die. He reached London on the evening of June 13, and remained at an hotel in Jermyn Street, too exhausted to be carried further till the beginning of July. The newspapers, fresh from the conflict on Reform, teemed with paragraphs about the health of Sir Walter Scott, and one 'well-meaning' though 'ill-informed' writer suggested that travel had exhausted his resources, and that his physical weakness was aggravated by a sense of pecuniary embarrassment. The paragraph
1 It ought perhaps to be added that Lord John took a very active part in the legislation which may be described as supplemental to the Reform Act, and specially in the Division of Counties and Boundaries of Boroughs Bill—a measure of which he had charge.
'caught the attention of some members of the Government;' and in consequence Mr. Lockhart, the poet's son-in-law, 'received a private communication that, if the case were as stated, Sir Walter's family had only to say what sum would relieve him from embarrassment, and it would be immediately advanced by the Treasury. The then Paymaster of the Forces, Lord John Russell, had the delicacy to convey this message through a lady with whose friendship he knew us to be honoured.'1 The offer was gratefully refused, but posterity will do well to recollect that the statesman in the hour of his greatest victory was not unmindful of suffering worth, and to acknowledge that such acts as these, and not mere political triumphs, form
That best portion of a good man's life,
1 Lockhart's Life of Scott, ch. Ixxxiii.
The second Parliament of William IV. was dissolved in December 1832. The great measure which had been passed during its short existence had made Lord John Russell the most popular man in the country. Whatever credit attached to Lord Grey in the one House, or to Lord Althorp in the other, the people, as a whole, deemed the Reform Act as his work. Its success, they thought, was largely due to the persistent manner in which he had advocated Reform from 181910 1830. The heat of the struggle had been borne by him; and, if the crown of victory had been awarded by popular vote, it would have been placed on his brow.
In such circumstances, Lord John's re-election was certain. He paid his constituents the compliment of going down to Devonshire in September. But Mr. Moore, who met him at Bowood in October, and who returned with him to London, recorded that 'he was in excellent spirits after his canvas;' and again that he 'was very agreeable, laughed like a schoolboy half the time.' During their journey to London the two friends 'never ceased talking on one subject or another the whole way." Mr. Moore, who had always regarded the Reform Bill with alarm, declared that he retained his opinion 'as to the rashness of giving so much to the people.' But Lord John replied that—
So faf from its being rash, he thought it the most prudent thing they could have done. It was a very different measure they had to take of the quantum of Reform necessary when in and out. While in opposition, they were obliged to take what they could get; but, when in power, and called upon to originate