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beneficial arrangements, what advantageous legislation, they have accomplished? Have they reformed Parliament P Have they revised Parliamentary oaths? Have they educated the country? Have they even educated Scotland 2 What corrupt constituencies have they punished?
Lord John declared in reply that Mr. Disraeli seemed
to consider that motions, in which the character and the institutions of the country are involved, constitute a game in which it is perfectly competent to him to embarrass the Government when he can; to utter his sarcasms, to come down with his taunts, and not to consider what important consequences will follow. If the right hon. gentleman can find that his party will go with him upon a great question, upon which a Government must stand or fall, let him take that course and act as his predecessors have done. But, if there is a question upon which he and his party are really not bound by any principle of theirs to oppose the Government, . . . let them act with that regard to character and to integrity of conduct which have distinguished their party in former times.
Mr. Disraeli was not likely to stop his taunts in consequence of an appeal of this character. The forms of Parliament gave him an opportunity for reply, and he amused the House by arguing that, as the Government had been defeated on many measures of first-rate importance, Lord John was bound to tell the House
what is the character of the great question which he wants the decision of the House to be asked upon . . . I need not remind the House that, generally before the Reformed Parliament, which he [Lord John] wishes to reform again, and since the Reformed Parliament, whenever any Government has found itself in extreme difficulty—not perhaps in as frequent minorities as the present Government, for in this respect its fortune is peculiar and unprecedented . . . they have gone to some eminent man on their side, such as Lord Ebrington, and said, “This is intolerable, this is painful, this system of constant minorities . . . . and we call upon you as one of our most distinguished supporters to come forward . . . . and propose a vote of confidence in the Administration.' . . . And this is the course which the noble Lord ought to pursue if he means to have the confidence of the House of Commons proved in the present Government. . . . I do not want the opinion of the House of Commons to be tested, or else I would ask the House to express an opinion on the subject. I do not wish to disturb the Government. I admire their powers of sufferance. I am willing, as one of a grateful community, to do justice to their patriotism. Sir, when the Coalition Government was formed, I was asked how long it would last, and I ventured to reply, “Until every member of it is, as a public character, irretrievably injured.’ In other and happier days Lord John would have seen in such language an opportunity for combat, and have even welcomed the attack of an adversary whose rapier was as keen as his own. In 1854, dissatisfied with his own position, and worn out with private care and public anxiety, he had no heart for the fray. Writing that evening to the Queen an account of what had passed, he could not refrain from expressing his mortification and disclosing his wounded feelings, while the next morning he sent a note to Lord Aberdeen :—
The present position of parties in the House of Commons makes it incumbent upon me to ask you to relieve me from the duties of leader on behalf of the Government in that House.
The frequent defeats we have sustained, the number of measures we have been forced to withdraw, and the general want of confidence which prevails among the Liberal party, form a sufficient motive and justification for the step I now take.
You have been, on the other hand, successful in the House of Lords. This only makes it more incumbent upon me to be the first to move. The weakness of the Government lies in the House of Commons, and a change of leader may remedy the defect.
The Queen sent a very kind and sensible reply begging Lord John not to show by his manner that Mr. Disraeli had succeeded in producing feelings of mortification; while Lord Aberdeen answered—
I have been surprised and distressed at receiving your letter, and trust that a little reflection may enable you to take a different view of the course which it will be best for you to pursue. . .
In the result it was decided to hold a meeting of the supporters of the Government at the Foreign Office, in which Lord John had the opportunity of explaining to them that, unless the Government were better supported, it could not go on. And with this compromise Lord John was so far satisfied that he was again persuaded to withdraw his resignation.
VOL. II. Q
When Parliament was released from its labours, Lord John took his wife and children down to Yorkshire, and obtained some weeks of sorely needed rest at Filey and Scarborough. The corporation of Scarborough welcomed him with an address, in which, after alluding to his own great services, they could not resist adding a word for their own town and its exemption from cholera; referring, with the natural instincts of a community dependent on visitors, to the excellent sanitary condition of the borough. Lord John's reply was very happily worded :—
You have the happiness to enjoy the advantages of a healthy position, and an exemption, which I trust may long continue, from epidemic disease. Your vigilance as a municipality will, I doubt not, be exerted to mitigate those evils which grow with the growth, and strengthen with the strength, of our proud and populous cities.
So long as I am allowed to take a part in the proceedings of Parliament, my attention will be directed to the task of domestic improvement. Progress is conservative of institutions such as ours, which are founded on the principle that the liberties of the kingdom are the birthright of the people.
After leaving Filey, Lord John before settling at Pembroke Lodge paid a series of visits at Castle Howard, Harewood, Woburn, and Clifton (the Dean of Bristol's "); and during the last of these visits he was entertained at a civic banquet by the corporation of Bristol, and he delivered an inaugural address to the members of the Bristol Athenaeum.” While Lord John was still at Filey news arrived of the landing in the Crimea, the Battle of the Alma, the reported capture of Sebastopol, and the flank march. Members of the Ministry naturally received these tidings with great satisfaction. To Lord John they brought an additional consolation. During his stay in the North he crossed England and spent a few days on the lakes on his way to Minto. He was persuaded to address a meeting at Skelwith Bridge, on the occasion of the opening of a new school; and there Mrs.
Fletcher—as she relates in her autobiography—renewed an acquaintance with him which had commenced more than forty years before in Professor Playfair's company at Edinburgh. - Mr. Gilbert Elliot, a distant cousin of Lady John. * It was in this address that Lord John expressed his regret at ‘the want of a true national history which would do justice to our struggles for religion and For, brooding over the results of the last session, the divisions in the Cabinet, and his own position, he continued to desire the independence which he could only gain by severance from the Administration. It was almost impossible, however, for him to leave his colleagues during the crisis of a campaign : but the prospect of military success afforded him an opportunity of escaping from a situation which had become embarrassing. He announced his intended resignation to Lord Clarendon, who, replying on the 25th of September, wrote—
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I was very sorry to get your letter yesterday, but I quite agree with you that, if the Government is to be broken up, the best time would be immediately after success at Sebastopol. It would be the fairest course towards our successors; and, what is of far more importance, would give them a chance to carry on the war successfully. That must be our first thought.
While Lord John was still hoping for success at the seat of war he drew up a memorandum, which he apparently refrained from circulating, but which is worth quoting as containing his opinions:—
Chesham Place : October 18, 1854.
It is presumed that no one would wish to see, still less to take part in, a repetition of the session of 1854. The numerous defeats sustained by the Government, the rejection or withdrawal of measures of great importance mentioned in the Queen's speech, could not again happen without great injury to parliamentary government, and much discredit to those who should remain in office in defiance of intelligible proof of their not possessing the entire confidence of the House of Commons. . . .
It is worth while then, before another session is commenced, to examine the causes of so lamentable a state of public affairs.
One supposition may as well be mentioned at the outset of the inquiry.
Lord John Russell has been so long the leader of the House of Commons that—like Sir Robert Walpole—he may at any time fall before the public lassitude. Many of his opinions are old-fashioned and out of date. He has offended some by his zeal for Parliamentary Reform ; others because their private interests have not received from him the attention they thought their due ; add to this the extreme divergence of views entertained by supporters of Government, and the certainty of offending some of them by the line adopted or the language held by their recognised leader.
If this be the evil, the remedy is at hand. Lord John Russell has only to retire and take his seat on the back benches.
Lord John then went on to specify other difficulties connected with the attitude of the House of Commons on particular questions, and added—
All these various causes have contributed to shake the Ministry. And the capture of Sebastopol will not repair the injury that has been done.
But Sebastopol was not taken. On the contrary, in the middle of November very different news reached this country. The allied armies, instead of capturing the town by an attack from the north, were slowly preparing to besiege it from the south. At Balaclava and at Inkerman they had been themselves assailed by superior forces of the enemy, and had suffered losses which they could ill endure. Neither Ministers nor the public were unaware that the expeditionary force, intended to carry a town by coup de main in the early autumn, was unprovided with the equipment for a siege or with the necessaries for a winter campaign. The people and the press, confronted with failure and apprehensive of disaster, denounced the supineness of the Ministry; and Lord Minto, whose advice had influenced Lord John on more than one critical occasion, wrote to his son-in-law —
November 16, 1854.
My dear Lord John, Even Pembroke Lodge is too distant to enable you to learn how very great is the clamour and indignation gathering against the Government for its neglect of timely and sufficient exertion in the conduct of this war. The want of supreme directing authority and of a commanding influence in the Cabinet is rung in our ears from all quarters, and the feeble apologies of the “Morning Chronicle' only make the case worse by its summary of the very insufficient reinforcements either sent out or intended.
We are playing for too great a stake to allow any personal scruples or considerations to lose us the game.—Yours affectionately,
Moved by this letter, Lord John reverted to the advice which he had given six months before for the concentration of responsibility in the Secretary of State for War; and, writing