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THE TRIBUTE AT HEREFORD TO SIR
G. C. LEWIS.
NOTHING could be in more perfect taste than the proceedings at Hereford on the uncovering of the statue of Sir George Lewis. * These local events are local casualties : it is impossible to foretell whether the principal local person is not a loquacious fool of good intentions, who will say just what he should not, or whether he is a man of feeling and judgment, who will say what he should say with taste and propriety.
There is nothing which Sir George Lewis would so much have disliked as an exaggerated éloge over his grave; those who knew him would have had his quiet smile of utter contempt present to them while they read it. Happily, nothing of this sort was attempted; the sober and modest nature of the man was duly honored in the quiet and unobtrusive nature of the remembrance.
Both Mr. Clive and Lord Palmerston spoke of Sir George Lewis with guarded care, as English gentlemen wish to be spoken of, - as one English gentleman, therefore, should speak of another. Sir George Lewis had no enemies; but if he had, no enemy could have taken a just exception to the praises of his friends. He would have exactly desired this. He cared very little, perhaps nothing, for passing popularity; he would have been prepared with various classical quotations upon the mutability of the vulgar judgment: but he would deeply value a restrained expression of deep respect by neighbors and friends
Sept. 10, 1864.
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who knew him well; he would have believed that they were the legitimate “authority,” the persons who ought to speak on that matter.
It is very curious that Lord Palmerston, who spoke (so to say) Sir George Lewis's epitaph, should have had the slowest, and that Sir George Lewis should have had the most rapid, political rise of our time. Unquestionably, Lord Palmerston is in some sense a buoyant man and Sir George Lewis was in some sense a heavy man; yet the latter came to the surface far quicker. Lord Palmerston was a quarter of a century in Parliament before he was anything at all, — before he was any more than a subaltern official ; Sir George Lewis was only thirteen years in Parliament altogether, and in that time he was Secretary of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Secretary for War, and had acquired the perfect respect and confidence of the House of Commons. He finished his whole career as a statesman in about half the number of years that it took Lord Palmerston to become a statesman at all.
The causes which so much delayed Lord Palmerston's rise are not to the present purpose, but the cause which so much accelerated that of Sir George Lewis is very simple: he had, above every other statesman of the age, the gift of inspiring confidence. Coleridge said of Southey that he inspired every one with a confidence in his reliability;* and this is an almost exact description of Sir George Lewis.
Political opponents and political friends both felt that he had fairly applied a strong and unfettered mind to vast accumulated information, and that his measures were the result of that application. People thought twice before they opposed a grave and business-like measure, proposed by Sir George Lewis in that grave and business-like manner.
In one most important respect he was like Lord Palmerston, though in every other most unlike: his
*“Biographia Literaria," Chap. ii..
THE TRIBUTE AT HEREFORD TO SIR G. C. LEWIS. 267
opinions were always plain and simple opinions. People who went to him with the notion that he was a great philosopher and scholar were often puzzled at his plainness: they expected something far-fetched and recondite, and certainly they did not get it. He held as a principle that difficult schemes, fine calculations, unintelligible policies, were as such beyond the range of popular government; perhaps too he hated them as if they were a kind of mysticism. At all events, a person who could not understand Sir George Lewis's conversation on political business must have been unfit for every kind of business; it had exactly the homely exactitude that English people like. We have heard it remarked of Sir Robert Peel's speeches, that he generally made a remark which seemed to have been left by every one on purpose for him : it was so sensible when made that every one believed he could have made it. It was much the same with Sir George Lewis : what he said seemed so credible and sensible that in an hour or two you were apt to believe that you had always thought so.
Possibly this distinctness of aim has been rather deficient in our policy for a year past; we certainly believe that Sir George Lewis could have cross-examined Lord Russell on the Danish policy rather acutely. “What,” he would have said, “is the object yoų desire? When we are agreed on that, we will discuss the modus operandi; but it is a mistake to deliberate on expedients when there is a fundamental discrepancy respecting ends.” At any rate, we should like to hear Lord Russell answer Sir George Lewis on this subject. This need of a definite aim ran through all his speculations. To take an example from the foreign politics now most interesting to us, - American politics :
“I have never,” said Sir George Lewis in a letter of March, 1861, now lying before us, “been able, either in conversation or by reading, to obtain an answer to the question, What will the North do if they beat the South? To restore the old Union would be an absurdity: what other state of things does that village lawyer, Lincoln, contemplate as the fruit of victory? It seems to me that the men now in power at Washington are much such persons as in this country get possession of a disreputable joint-stock company : there is almost the same amount of ability and honesty." After nearly three years of experience, it would be difficult to describe Washington more justly; but we do not cite the instance to prove Sir George Lewis's power of prediction, so much as to prove his unfailing desire for a distinct aim.
The political precision of Sir George Lewis is peculiarly English; but it is not at all more English than his scholarship. Persons who do not read such books may fancy that “scholars' books” are much the same in all countries; but such is not the case. Mr. Grote's history, to take an instance, could no more have been written in Germany than Bacon's “Novum Organum” could have been written by Socrates: that history belongs to the intellectual atmosphere of England as plainly as our parliamentary debates; there is in it the constant sense of evidence, the habitual perception of tested probability, which the atmosphere of a free country produces and must produce. Sir George Lewis's books have this instinctive sense of the real value of evidence even more than Mr. Grotes; he could not help feeling it; he did not wish to forget it, and he could not have .forgotten it if he had wished.
Sir George Lewis is gone, but he has left a remembrance in many minds which will not grow cold while they are still warm. For many years it will to many be much to have known one who was learned and yet wise, just but yet kind; considerate and observ. ing, and yet never in the least severe.
ADAM SMITH AS A PERSON.
(1876.) OF Adam Smith's political economy almost an infinite quantity has been said, but very little has been said as to Adam Smith himself; and yet not only was he one of the most curious of human beings, but his books can hardly be understood without having some notion of what manner of man he was. There certainly are economical treatises that go straight on, and that might have been written by a calculating machine; but the “Wealth of Nations” is not one of these, any one who would explain what is in it and what is not in it must apply the “historical method,” and state what was the experience of its author and how he worked up that experience. Perhaps, therefore, now that there is a sort of centenary of Adam Smith, it may not be amiss to give a slight sketch of him and of his life; and especially of the peculiar points in them that led him to write the book which still, in its effects even more than in its theory, occupies mankind.
The founder of the science of business was one of the most unbusinesslike of mankind: he was an awkward Scotch professor, apparently choked with books and absorbed in abstractions; he was never engaged in any sort of trade, and would probably never have made sixpence by any if he had been. His absence of mind was amazing. On one occasion, having to sign his name to an official document, he produced not his own signature, but an elaborate imitation of the signature of the person who signed before him; on another, a sentinel on duty having saluted him in military fashion, he astounded and