Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Very different was the fate of Mr. Canning. His political opinions may not have been very different from Lord Castlereagh's, but his generous nature and splendid genius prevented his falling into the other's blunders. This eminent man, the greatest statesman that Great Britain has possessed in the present century, was saved by the death of his rival from closing his life as an Indian satrap. For many years he had been overshadowed by smaller men, and now began the career which he ought to have entered upon many years before. He broke loose from the Holy Alliance, protested against the invasion of Spain, and placed Great Britain at the head of those liberal ideas which it had hoped finally to crush out in the two-southern peninsulas. Mr. Canning also instilled a new and far different life into the old tory cabinet. He was too discerning to believe that the repressive system of the previous thirty years could, with safety, be followed longer; too kind-hearted not to loathe oppression and injustice; and, fortunately, too poor and too disconnected with the aristocracy to have any personal interest in the maintenance of abuses. He was undoubtedly a conservative, but his conservatism bore as little affinity to that of Lords Eldon and Sidmouth as theirs did to Lord Burghley's. Had he been in power in 1831, we firmly believe he would have been a reformer. Such was the opinion of Lord Palmerston, who probably knew more of Mr. Canning's private opinions than any other man.

He was too shrewd and discerning to have made the Duke of Wellington's foolish and uncalled-for declaration against change in the representative system; he was too broadly national and too exalted in his views of public duty to allow himself in an awful crisis to be trammelled by past pledges and opinions, or by any absurd ideas of allegiance to party. Few will now deny that in 1831 the choice was limited between reform and revolution. The Duke of Wellington (who, Mr. Disraeli says, never understood the English people) did not see it; Lord Lyndhurst did not want to see it, but we believe Sir Robert Peel's mind was opening to this fact, although he trembled at it; and Mr. Canning would have perceived it at once. So would Sir Robert Walpole, or either of the Pitts.

The whigs have instanced Canning's unpopularity with his own party as a proof that the tories are as exclusive as themselves in their choice of leaders. But we think his unpopularity cannot justly be ascribed to this, although his

[ocr errors]

enemies among the tories may have sometimes alluded to it. Mr. Canning's family was quite as good as the Duke of Wellington's or Lord Castlereagh’s, and much better than Mr. Addington's or Sir Robert Peel's. Those whig Brahmins who assailed him so unjustly in 1827 were probably the inen who felt most keenly the degradation of permitting the son of an actress to become prime minister. Mr. Canning was not a man to be very popular beyond the circle of his friends. His brilliant oratory was less fitted for the bucolic comprehensions of country squires than the ungrammatical, clumsy, but intelligible common sense of Lord Castlereagh ; and he probably displayed his contempt for their honest stupidity at times in a most unwise manner.

His too frequent pleasantry offended the grave, his sarcasm wounded the sensitive, and his broad liberal principles of statesmanship alarmed all who were afraid of change. Neither did the whigs do him justice. They could not understand how such a man could remain in the tory ranksan anomaly that seriously threatened their mouoply of liberalism and sound principles of government. But their most grievous complaint against him was his acceptance of office in 1807. The king dismissed the whig ministry because they would not give certain pledges regarding the Roman Catholic disabilities. Mr. Canning, although he was strongly opposed to these disabilities, joined the succeeding cabinet, for doing which he was charged with deserting his principles for office. But we think the charge most unjust. Considering the unsound mind of George the Third, it might well be doubted whether it was wise to press upon him the subject that had already once driven him mad, instead of postponing it till after his death. It was sure to cause a quarrel, in which he was almost equally sure to be supported by the country. Such, we take it, was Mr. Pitt's opinion, and such the opinion of Mr. Fox, who had determined to postpone the question. So also thought Mr. Canning. Lord Grenville and Lord Grey thought otherwise, and beautiful work they made of it in attempting to put their opinions in practice. Those who have attacked Mr. Canning for this overlook the fact that upon every other question he differed widely from the whigs, and probably thought their general policy most pernicious; and his subsequent differences with his colleagues related solely to matters of administration. There is no proof that Mr. Canning ever compromised his opinions re: garding religious disabilities. To these he sacrificed popularity with the larger part of his countrymen, and many years of supreme official power. He never attempted the military method of removing them, so successfully tried by the Duke of Wellington in 1829; but to have attempted that would have been as rash for him as to have taken command of the allied armies at Waterloo.

Far inferior as he was to Mr. Canning, Lord Grenville filled nearly as large a place in the eyes of his countrymen. He came from an official family, which for fifty years had formed almost a party by itself; his father was the prime minister of stamp act notoriety ; his maternal grandfather was Sir William Wyndham, the justly celebrated tory leader. He was cousin to Mr. Pitt, and almost every one of his relatives held high office. He too was a man of unquestionable ability, of eminent accomplishments, and of great parliamentary and official experience. He rose rapidly in Mr. Pitt's first administration, until he became the second person in it. In political opinions he undoubtedly more nearly agreed with Mr. Pitt than with any one else. He agreed with him on the engrossing subject of the French war; he never showed that he held the whig views regarding parliamentary reform. His famous protest against the corn-laws does not contain a word in which Mr. Pitt could not have coincided. All this makes his separation from the latter in 1804 most difficult to explain on any high ground. Both wished Mr. Fox to be a member of the ministry; the king would not agree to it, and Mr. Pitt did not press it further. Lord Grenville thereupon separated from his benefactor and joined the whigs, as did all the

powerful Grenville connection.

This conduct admits of but one satisfactory explanation. Lord Grenville already aspired to the premiership. He could not forget that he was a Grenville, and therefore entitled to it; and he hoped, that had Mr. Fox joined the ministry, the personal rivalry between him and Pitt would oblige the latter to give up his claim to the office of prime minister. That he expected the premiership would fall to himself or to his brother is now well known. Disappointed in this, the Grenvilles joined the whigs, and Lord Grenville enjoyed the object of his ambition for a few months. During the tottering administration of the Duke of Portland and Mr. Percival, while it was expected that the crown or the regency would soon devolve upon the Prince of Wales, who had heretofore been a vehement whig, the Grenvilles remained true to their whig allies. When, however, Lord Liverpool's ministry became firmly seated in power, when the unexpected hostility of the prince deprived the whigs of all hopes of office during his life as well as his father's, the Grenvilles gradually separated from them, and finally, after a good deal of quarrelling about their price, again joined the tories. Their course throughout was cordially approved by the leader. For these reasons we think Lord Grenville is open to the charges of inordinate ambition and gross ingratitude in his conduct in 1804. As a statesman, he proved an efficient lieutenant, but we think he signally failed as a commander.

Lord Grey figures too prominently in these essays to allow us to omit mention of him, but his name is so exalted that it is with diffidence we attempt a word of comment. His parliamentary talents have been seldom equalled, and he joined to them a lofty personal character and undoubted ability as a statesman. It was his fate to spend his entire life in opposition, excepting a year of office in Lord Grenville's government, and four years in his own. For a man of brilliant parts, who has determined to devote his life to politics, to join a party in an almost hopeless minority, and to cling to its principles through more than forty years of adversity, withstanding innumerable temptations to compromise with his opponents su far as to obtain an opportunity of serving his country in office, requires political integrity of a rare order, and deserving of earnest admiration. All this Lord Grey did. His voice was constantly and persistently raised against arbitrary government, and oppressive measures, when it required great nerve to open one's mouth at all against the government, when a liberal was regarded as little better than a traitor, and was even shunned in private life. Lord Grey has had his reward in the reverence still felt for his memory, and in his name having become synonymous with stainless purity of character and love of freedom.

It may seem invidious to speak of his faults, but it is necessary to an understanding of his career. He certainly was not always wise in opposition; as a minister his failings are still more glaring. We think, as we have before mentioned, that Lord Grenville and he were unwise in quarrelling with the king in 1807. The negotiations of 1812 are still more damaging to their reputations. But the great trial of Lord Grey's statesmanship came in 1832. His ministry had carried the Reform Bill, in doing which it had displayed no little resolution, but otherwise the task had required and called forth no very remarkable qualities. When this had

been accomplished, nothing could exceed the hesitation shown by the premier. His financial policy was a failure, his cabinet was torn by dissension, and notwithstanding his large majority it was broken up in little more than a year. He had a difficult task before him, but not more difficult than many

others have had ; not more so than Mr. Pitt's, in 1784, or Sir Robert Peel's, in 1835. There have been weak prime ministers in the present century: the Duke of Portland, Lord Goderich, Lord Melbourne, Lord Aberdeen; but Lord Goderich is the only one who has made so signal a failure as Earl Grey. This may in part be accounted for by his limited official experience. A life of opposition is not a good preparation for administration. But we are even then at a loss to discover evidence of the eminent statesmanship claimed for Lord Grey by his whig admirers.

Nor was Lord Grey without the faults of the whig aristocracy. He was proud, haughty and exclusive. His attack upon Mr. Canning, in 1827, was so ungenerous, so cold and so bitter, that it will always be regarded as a serious blemish on his character-one that has never been satisfactorily explained, if it does not prove that he was incapable of high magnanimity, and generous sympathy. We fear jealousy had some share in it. Lord Grey's intense whig and aristocratic feelings became very apparent in office. He confined himself, as far as he could, in appointments to the pure whig blood ; and disliked even his able Canningite allies. His nepotism, too, was the cause of much scandal. He provided well for himself and his family. His year of office in 1806 was sufficient to turn the family barony into an earldom. He had not become fairly seated in the premiership before he conferred upon himself the ribbon of the garter, without waiting for a vacancy in the order. His intimate relatives warmed in the ministry. His brother was made a bishop, and he showered honors, lucrative offices, and military and naval appointments upon sons, cousins, and other relations. The English had been accustomed to something of the kind under the tory rule, but were disgusted at the rapacity of a minister whose motto was “ Peace, retrenchment, and reform,” but who, in this fault, surpassed his predecessors.

The limits of a review article will not allow us to enlarge upon the later statesmen of England, and perhaps it would be well to omit them altogether. Sir Robert Peel and Lord John (now. Earl) Russell were so many years the rival leaders

« VorigeDoorgaan »