« السابقةمتابعة »
And in another respect this biography has been unfortunate. It has been kept back too long. The Reform Act of 1867 has shed a painful light on the Reform Act of 1832, and has exhibited in real life what philosophers said were its characteristic defects. While these lingered in the books they were matters of dull teaching, and no one cared for them; but now Mr. Disraeli has embodied them, and they are living among us. The traditional sing-song of mere eulogy is broken by a sharp question. Those who study that time say, “Althorp, you tell us, passed the Bill. It was his frankness and his high character and the rest of his great qualities which did it. But was it good that he should have passed it ? Would it not have been better if he had not possessed those fine qualities? Was not some higher solution possible ? Knowing this Bill by its fruits, largely good, but also largely evil, might we not have had a better Bill? At any rate, if it could not be so, show why it could not be so. Prove that the grave defects in the Act of 1832 were necessary defects. Explain how it was that Althorp had no choice, and then we will admire him as you wish us.' But to this biographer—a man of that time, then in the House of Commons on the Whig side, and almost, as it were, on the skirts of the Bill—such questions would have seemed impossible. To him, the Act of 1832 is still wonderful and perfectthe great measure which we carried in my youth ; and as for explaining defects in it, he would have as soon thought of explaining defects in a revelation.
But if ever Lord Althorp's life is well written, it will, I think, go far to explain not only why the Reform Bill was carried, but why that Bill is what it was. He embodies all the characteristic virtues which enable Englishmen to effect well and easily great changes in politics: their essential fairness, their • large roundabout common sense,' their courage, and their disposition rather to give up something than to take the uttermost farthing. But on the other hand also he has all the characteristic English defects: their want of intellectual and guiding principle, their even completer want of the culture which would give that principle, their absorption in the present difficulty, and their hand-to-mouth readiness to take what solves it without thinking of other consequences. And I am afraid the moral of those times is that these English qualities as a whole-merits and defects together-are better suited to an early age of politics than to a later. As long as materials are deficient, these qualities are most successful in hitting off simple expedients, in adapting old things to new uses, and in extending ancient customs; they are fit for instantaneous little creations, and admirable at bit-by-bit growth. But when, by the incessant application of centuries, these qualities have created an accumulated mass of complex institutions, they are apt to fail, unless aided by others very different. The instantaneous origination of obvious expedients is of no use when the field is already covered with the heterogeneous growth of complex past expedients; bit-by-bit development is out of place unless you are sure which bit should, and which bit should not, be developed; the extension of customs may easily mislead when there are so many customs immense and involved subject can be set right except by faculties which can grasp what is immense and scrutinise what is involved. But mere common sense is here matched with more than it can comprehend, like a schoolboy in the differential calculus ;-and absorption in the present difficulty is an evil, not a good, for what is wanted is that you should be able to see many things at once, and take in their bearing, not fasten yourself on one thing. The characteristic danger of great nations, like the Romans, or the English, which have a long history of continuous creation, is that they may at last fail from not comprehending the great institutions which they have created.
No doubt it would be a great exaggeration to say that this calamity happened in its fulness in the year 1832, and it would be most unfair to Lord Althorp to cite him as a complete example of the characteristics which may cause it; but there was something in him of those qualities, and some trace in 1832
of that calamity-enough in both cases to be a warning. Only a complete history of the time can prove this; but perhaps in a few pages I may a little explain and illustrate it.
Let us first get, both as more instructive and as less tedious than analysis, a picture of the man as he stood in the principal event of his life. A good drawer has thus painted him. Lord Jeffrey, the great Edinburgh Reviewer, who was an able lawyer and practical man of business in his day, though his criticism on party has not stood the test of time, was Lord Advocate in the Reform Ministry of 1830, and he is never tired of describing Lord Althorp. “There is something,' he writes, “to me quite delightful in his calm, clumsy, courageous, immutable probity, and it seems to have a charm for everybody. “I went to Althorp,' he writes, ' again, and had a characteristic scene with that most honest, frank, true, and stout-hearted of God's creatures. He had not come downstairs, and I was led up to his dressing-room, with his arms (very rough and hairy) bare above the elbows, and his beard half shaved and half staring through the lather, with a desperate razor in one hand, and a great soap-brush in the other. He gave me the loose finger of his brush hand, and with the usual twinkle of his bright eye and radiant smile, he said, “You need not be anxious about your Scotch Bills to-night, for we are no longer his Majesty's ministers."' And soon after he writes again, at a later stage of the ministerial crisis, “When they came to summon Lord Althorp to a council on the Duke's giving in, he was found in a shed with a groom, busy oiling the locks of his fowling-pieces, and lamenting the decay into which they had fallen during his ministry.' And on another occasion he adds what may serve as an intellectual accompaniment to these descriptions : “Althorp, with his usual frankness, gave us a pretended confession of his political faith, and a sort of creed of his political morality, and showed that though it was a very shocking doctrine to promulgate, he must say that he had never sacrificed his own inclinations to a sense of duty without repenting it, and always found himself more substantially unhappy for having employed himself for the public good.' And someone else at the time said, • The Government cannot be going out, for Althorp looks so very dismal. He was made (as we learn from this volume) a principal minister, contrary to his expectation and in opposition to his wish. He was always wanting to resign ; he was always uncomfortable, if not wretched; and the instant he could do so, he abandoned politics, and would never touch them again, though he lived for many years. And this, though in appearance he was most successful, and was almost idolized by his followers and friends.
At first this seems an exception to one of Nature's most usual rules. Almost always, if she gives a great faculty she gives also an enjoyment in the use of it. But here Nature had given a remarkable power of ruling and influencing men-one of the most remarkable (good observers seem to say) given to any Englishman of that generation ; and yet the possessor did not like, but, on the contrary, much disliked to use it. The explanation, however, is, that not only had Nature bestowed on Lord Althorp this happy and great gift of directing and guiding men, but, as if by some subtle compensation, had added what was, under the circumstances, à great pain to it. She had given him a most sluggish intellect-only moving with effort, and almost with suffering-generally moving clumsily, and usually following, not suggesting. If you put a man with a mind like this-especially a sensitive, conscientious man such as Lord Althorp was—to guide men quickly through complex problems of legislation and involved matters of science, no wonder that he will be restive and wish to give up. No doubt the multitude wish to follow him; but where is he to tell the multitude to go? His mind suggests nothing, and there is a pain and puzzle in his brain.
Fortune and education had combined in Lord Althorp's case to develop his defects. His father and mother were both persons of great cultivation, but they were also busy people of the world, and so they left their son to pick up his education as he could. A Swiss footman, who did not know English very well, taught him to read, and was his sole instructor and most intimate associate till he went to Harrow.' His father, too, being a great fox-hunter, the son clearly cared more for, and was more occupied with hounds and animals, as a young boy, than with anything else ; and he lived mainly with servants and people also so occupied, from which, as might be expected, he contracted a shyness and awkwardness which stayed with him through life. When he went to Harrow, the previous deficiencies of his education were, of course, against him, and he seems to have shown no particular disposition to repair them. As far as can now be learnt, he was an ordinary strong-headed and strong-willed English boy, equal to necessary lessons, but not caring for them, and only distinguished from the rest by a certain suppressed sensibility and tenderness, which he also retained in after years, which softened a manliness that would otherwise have been rugged, and which saved him from being unrefined.
At Cambridge his mother, as it appears, suddenly, and for the first time, took an interest in his studies, and told him she should expect him to be high at his first college examination. And this seems to have awakened him to industry. The examination was in mathematics, which suited him much better than the Harrow classics, and he really came out high in it. The second year it was the same, though he had good competitors. But there his studies ended. His being a nobleman at that time excluded him from the university examinations, and he was far too apathetic to work at mathematics, except for something of the sort, and his tutor seems to have discouraged his doing so. Then, as since, the bane of Cambridge has been a certain incomplete and rather mean way of treating great studies, which teaches implicitly, if not plainly, that it was as absurd to learn the differential calculus in and for itself as it would be to keep a ledger for its own sake. On such a mind as Lord Althorp's, which required as much as possible to be