صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

his conclusion was likely enough to be wrong, for he was arguing rightly on incomplete premises. But no one could gainsay the correctness of his inference from what he did see; he was the soundest judge of probability we have ever known. The facts being admitted to be so and so, what will be the consequence of those facts ? upon this question, few judgments, if any, in England were better than that of Sir George Lewis.

It is this judgment of probability which makes the man of business. The data of life are accessible, their inference uncertain; a sound judgment on these data is the secret of success to him who possesses it, and the reason why others trust him. It is this that men call a sound understanding; it is this that Napoleon had in mind when he said that a man should be carré à la base.*

To this straightforward simplicity of understanding, Sir George Lewis added the most complete education perhaps of any man of his time. He did not believe in what has been called speciality; at least he confined it to the lower grades of practical life and literary labor. He has observed :

“The permanent officers of a department are the depositories of the official traditions ; they are generally referred to by the political head of the office for information upon questions of official practice: and knowledge of this sort acquired in one department would be useless in another. If, for example, the chief clerk of the criminal department of the Home Office were to be transferred to the Foreign Office or to the Admiralty, the special experience which he has acquired in the Home Office, and which is in daily and hourly requisition for the assistance of the Home Secretary, would be utterly valueless to the Foreign Secretary or to the First Lord of the Admiralty. . . . The same person may be successively at the head of the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, and the Admiralty; he may be successively President of the Board of Trade and Chancellor of the Exchequer : but to transfer an experienced clerk from one office to another would in general be like transferring a skillful naval officer to the army, or appointing a military

"Square at the bottom."

engineer officer to command a ship of war. A similar distinction may be observed in other branches of practical life. Thus, an architect may direct the execution of different classes of buildings; he may give plans for palaces, churches, courts of justice, bridges, private dwellings: but the subordinate workmen whom he employs retain their separate functions unchanged, - a carpenter does not become a mason, a painter or glazier does not become an ironmonger or plasterer."'*

He sincerely believed (and perhaps acted to excess on the belief) that a well-educated man was competent to undertake any office and to write on any subject. He would have acknowledged the truth of the saying, that the end of education was to make a good learner. He was at the day of his death perhaps the best learner in England; there was no sort of definite information, whether relating to public business or to books, which he did not know how to acquire and where to find. Some public men may know where to find as much political information; some scholars may know where to find as much learned information : but what other man knows so precisely the best sources of both kinds of knowledge?

He had a nearly perfect mastery over the keys of knowledge. He derived from Eton and Oxford a perfect knowledge of the classical languages, and he extended it to the day of his death. An article published in Notes and Queries within a week or two of that time showed that he had read Mr. Freeman's history, I-a rather formidable work, relating to the Ætolian and other Greek leagues, which was only then just published, and which is as much as many busy men read in ten years. Many English statesmen have been good classical scholars, and it is happily not difficult for those who have once well learned the languages of antiquity to retain a familiarity with its masterpieces. The very business of life, indeed, adds to these masterpieces an additional charm; for it reveals touches of discerning thought and traits of external human knowledge which the writers learned from experience, and which no one can appreciate without it. Mr. Pitt, Mr. Canning, Lord Grenville, the Marquis Wellesley, and many others of our conspicuous statesmen, have had this sort of scholarship; the knowledge of the classics was to them an intellectual luxury. But Sir George Lewis had a far more laborious scholarship than this: he had read, and knew, not only the classical writers themselves, but also terrific German treatises, in many volumes and upon the worst paper, about the classics, which no intellectual voluptuary would touch or look at.

* Not discoverable. — ED. + Third Series, iii. 281.

I“ History of Federal Government." The perusal of this able work affords no proof of classical knowledge; but the matter of Lewis's critique does. – ED.

In addition to his Eton and Oxford scholarship, Sir George Lewis was excellently well acquainted with modern languages, and had a fair knowledge of mathematics. But a mere enumeration of this kind does not in the least give a notion of the sort of knowledge he had : a phrase, not of the purest English, alone expresses it, it was a knowledge which “turned up” everywhere. Hardly a subject could be started on which he could not throw an unexpected light, and to which he could not add some new fact. The sort of way in which this happened is aptly enough illustrated by Lord Stanhope's “Miscellanies,” published last year.

“Mr. Windham,” writes Lord Stanhope, “in his speech of Dec. 9, 1803, observes of the Martello towers that they were so called from a place of that name in Corsica ; and I have quoted that sentence from him in my “Life of Pitt.' Since my own publication, however, there has been suggested to me, by a very high authority upon all such subjects, a derivation far more probable than Mr. Windham's, and certainly, as I conceive, the right one.


Right Hon. Sir George C. Lewis to Earl Stanhope.


April 2, 1862. "The origin of Martello towers I believe to have been, that when piracy was common in the Mediterranean, and pirates like the Danes made plundering descents upon the coasts, the Italians built towers near the sea in order to keep watch and give warning if a pirate ship was seen to approach the land. This warning was given by striking on a bell with a hammer ; and hence these towers were called torri da martello, The same to the same.

May 7, 1862. “I think that I have discovered, with the assistance of a friend, the origin of Windham's statement respecting Martello towers. An attack was made on the tower of Mortella, in Corsica, by the British forces both by sea and land, in February, 1794 ; the tower was taken after an obstinate defense, but the two attacking ships were beaten off. The circumstance is likely to have given rise to the confusion between Martello towers generally and this tower of Mor


And Lord Stanhope adds some additional facts showing that the derivation suggested by Sir George C. Lewis was correct.

Again, in page 40, Lord Stanhope gives an extract from a letter of Sir George Lewis :

“Lord Grenville told my father that Pitt had formed a plan for abolishing all customs duties, and that he would have carried it into effect if the war of the French revolution had not broken out, which defeated all his financial and commercial schemes. Lord Grenville said that the amount of the public expenditure at that time rendered such a plan quite feasible."

These are two instances casually occurring in one little volume. But any one who knew Sir George Lewis would know that miscellaneous odd facts of this sort were accumulated in his memory, to what seemed an infinite number, and were at once brought out when they could be useful in illustrating any. thing.

As a writer this great knowledge, especially when connected with the strong love of bare truth which led him to acquire that knowledge, was not advantageous to him. He gave a mistaken credit to his readers : he fancied they loved fact and truth as much as he did. “Woe to the writer,” goes a wise saying, “that exhausts his subject: his readers are exhausted first." Sir George Lewis always exhausted his subject if he could, and you could not have persuaded him not to do so. In proposing the dowry of the Princess Royal, he amused the House of Commons by an elaborate reference not only to the dowry of George III.'s daughters, who seemed quite far enough back for an impatient audience that wanted its dinner, but also to a perfectly forgotten Princess Royal who was George III.'s aunt. Most of his books are too full of citations and explanations; and to the last he would have been more read and more influential if he had thought often of Sydney Smith's precept, “Now, member Noah, and be quick.'

But though a tendency to overlay a subject with superfluous erudition was one of Sir George Lewis's defects, the possession of that available erudition was one of his greatest powers. In the present day, the usefulness of a public man is largely measured by the number of subjects which he can get up: Sir George Lewis could get up any subject; there was no probable topic on which he could not form, from the very best sources, with ease and pleasure, a clear, determinate, and exact opinion. His memory helped him ; it has been compared to Macaulay's, - not that it was equal to such marvelous displays, but that it contained as much or nearly as much miscellaneous knowledge. And there was this peculiarity in it :- Macaulay's memory, like Niebuhr's, undoubtedly confounded not unfrequently inference and fact; it exaggerated; it gave not what was in the book, but what a vivid imagination inferred from the book. Sir George Lewis had none of this defect: his memory was a dry memory, just as his mind was a dry light; if he said a thing was at page 10, you might be sure it was at page 10. Somebody called him “a sagacious dictionary," and there was felicity in the expression.

Apart from this massive simplicity of understanding, and this immense accumulation of exact knowledge, there was nothing very remarkable in Sir George

« السابقةمتابعة »