« AnteriorContinuar »
into resolutions upon which the wisest and readiest of mankind would hardly pause and ponder too long. But when all is determined, when every moment's delay is fraught with peril, then comes uncertainty and irresolution. They never pause until the season has arrived for action, when all faltering, even for the twinkling of an eye, is fatal, then it is that they relapse into supineness and inactivity-look around them and behind them, and everywhere but before them, and sink into repose as if all had been accomplished at the moment when everything remains to be done. If I were to ransack all the records to which I have ever had access of human conduct in administering great affairs, whether in the annals of our own time or in the ages that are past, I should in vain look for a more striking illustration of the Swedish Chancellor's famous saying to his son, departing to assist at a congress of statesmen, '1, fili mi, ut videas quantula sapientia regatur mundus.'»
Well might Lord Melbourne condemn, in terms of dignified reproval," the torrent of invective and sarcasm with which the noble and learned lord had overwhelmed the officers of her Majesty's Government, and that most laboured and most extreme concentration of bitterness which had been poured forth on this occasion."
It is pleasant to turn from this disagreeable spectacle to a brighter aspect of his indefatigable activity. As President of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (founded in 1826), he did good work; the publication of the Penny Magazine and the Penny Encyclopædia, gave the first impulse to a beneficent movement which, in our own time, has attained to almost colossal proportions. He wrote leading articles and pamphlets, and contributed with Briarean activity to the Edinburgh Review. The mistrust, however, with which the editor and the chief writers in that timehonoured organ of Whig politics regarded him, "is developed in a letter from Lord Macaulay to Macvey Napier (20th July, 1828):
“As to Brougham,” he writes, “I understand and feel for your embarrassments. I may, perhaps, repine too much; but I should say that this strange man, finding himself almost alone in the world, absolutely unconnected with either Whigs or Conservatives, and not having a single vote in either House of Parliament at his command except his own, is desirous to make the Review his organ. With this intention, unless I am greatly deceived, after having during several years contributed little or nothing of value, he has determined to exalt himself as if he were a young writer struggling into note, and to make himself important to the world by his literary services. And he certainly has succeeded. His late articles have very high merit. They are, indeed, models of magazine writing as distinguished from other sorts of writing. . His wish, I imagine, is to establish in this way such an ascendancy as may enable him to drag the Review along with him to any party to which his furious passions may lead him ; to the Radicals ; to the Tories ; to any set of men by whose help he may be able to revenge himself on old friends, whose only crime is that they could not help finding him to be an habitual and incurable traitor."
It will be seen that if Brougham did not love the Whigs, the Whigs had no love for Brougham ! But to stigmatise him as “an habitual and incurable traitor” is, I think, an exaggeration. His temperament was not that of a traitor; he was mentally and morally incapable of carrying on a subtle, continuous, and protracted conspiracy. His desertion of the Whigs was due to the angry impulse of an excitable man of great parts and greater vanity. Conceiving himself to have been ill-used and humiliated by them, he was anxious to be revenged, and to show them that he would be as potent as an enemy as he had been as an ally. And after all, we must remember that to the cause of education, of law reform, of popular enlightenment, he was never unfaithful, not even in his wildest anti-Whiggish moods. Nor did he swerve in his advocacy of Free Trade, and that, too, at a time, when by the Whig leaders themselves it was only partially accepted and imperfectly understood (1839).
I have not thought it necessary to dwell upon his rivalries and contentions with Lord Lyndhurst and Lord Campbell. They made no mark on the history of the time, and had no important or permanent results. That Brougham was frequently in the wrong may be admitted ; but Lord Campbell, in his malicious biography of his “noble and learned friend,” has abundantly proved that the ex-Chancellor had very good reason for doubting his sincerity. We do not believe that Brougham, with all his faults—and they were many—would ever have stooped to Campbell's malignant meanness; or that if he had survived Campbell, he would have disgraced himself by flinging mud upon his grave.
In 1840, Brougham purchased a small estate near Cannes, in the south of France, and built upon it a convenient residence which he called by the name of his well-loved daughter-Château Eleanor Louise. There he spent several months every year to the close of his busy life—not forgetting to pay a regular visit to Paris, that he might attend the meetings and take part in the scientific deliberations of the Institute; for with all his political, judicial, and parliamentary labours, he found time, or made time, to continue his literary and scientific pursuits. In the Lords, while having few opportunities of attacking a ministry which, in its incapacity and
negligence, was always laying itself open to attack, he continued to advocate the repeal of the Corn-Laws, a more expeditious administration of criminal justice, the reform of charitable trusts, and kindred subjects. When Sir Robert Peel came into power in August, 1841, Brougham warmly supported him, and when the Corn Law Abolition Bill came before the Lords in 1846, passed upon the great minister a fine eulogium :
“I should fail of discharging a duty which I owe as a citizen of this country, and as a member of this House-a debt of gratitude on public grounds, but a debt of strict justice as welldid I not express my deep sense of the public virtue, no less than the great capacity and the high moral courage which my right honourable friend at the head of the Government has exhibited in dealing with this question. He cast away all personal and private considerations of what description soever, and, studiously disregarding his own interest in every stage and step of his progress, he has given up what to a political leader is the most enviable of all positions—the calm, unquestioned, undivided support of Parliament; he has exposed himself to the frenzy of the most tempest-troubled sea that the political world in our days perhaps ever exhibited. He has given up what to an ambitious man is much — the security of his power; he has given up what to a calculating man is much-influence and authority with his party; he has given up what to an amiable man is much indeed - private friendships and party connections; and all these sacrifices he has voluntarily encountered, in order to discharge what (be he right or be he wrong) he deemed a great public duty. He, in these circumstances—he, in this proud position-may well scorn the sordid attacks, the wretched ribaldry with which he is out of doors assailed, because he knows that he has entitled himself to the gratitude of his country, and will leave—as I in my conscience believe-his name to after ages as one of the greatest and most disinterested ministers that ever wielded the destinies of this country.”
There is an evident ring of sincerity in these words which are not less honourable to Brougham than to Peel,
Some ridicule was excited in 1848 by one of those escapades into which his restlessness and mental excitability sometimes impelled him. After the deposition of Louis Philippe, and the establishment in France of a Republican Government, he announced himself as a candidate to represent the department of Var (in which his château was situated in the National Assembly. But he soon discovered that he must first become naturalised, and addressed the necessary form of application to the Minister of Justice. Great was his chagrin when he learned that he would have to abandon "all titles of nobility, all privileges and advantages,” which he possessed as an Englishman; that he would have to cease to be an Englishman before he could become a Frenchman. He wisely decided that le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle, and returned to his duties in the House of Lords.
In the following year he demonstrated the flexibility of bis genius by lecturing before the Institute, in French, on the result of a long series of experiments which he had made upon light. The worst of it was that, in science as in so much else, his knowledge was not profound, and he fell into errors which the exaggerated character of his pretensions made all the more deplorable.
But our space is wholly inadequate to a yearly chronicle of all the sayings and doings of this extraordinary man, and we must pass rapidly onward to the close of his tumultuous career.
This is all the more easy, because he promised so much and performed so little. He was always introducing bills which perished stillborn, and motions which he never carried to a division,