Page images

still remain divided, and in a sense hostile communities; while the wider question of the permanency of the tie between the mother-country and the colonies is precisely in the same state as it was when Lord Grey was Colonial Minister, and Mr. Robert Lowe a newly returned colonist from the shores of Port Jackson.

[ocr errors]

We sometimes hear of the schoolmaster abroad;' in this instance he had come home. Of those who listened to Mr. Lowe's speech on the Australian Colonies Bill, a large number took an active and intelligent part in the debates in the two Houses of Parliament. So energetic was Mr. Lowe himself, that he petitioned to be heard at the Bar of the House of Lords. Lord Monteagle supported the petition, but the House declined to grant it. Bishop Wilberforce was particularly vigorous in dissecting the clauses of the Australian Colonies Bill; and it is noteworthy that he stoutly contended for two elective Chambers, as did his friend Mr. Gladstone in the House of Commons. In the course of his reply to the eloquent Bishop, Earl Grey made a pointed attack on Mr. Lowe, clearly showing whom he regarded as his inspirer. Dr. Wilberforce also denounced the proposed Federal Council. Lord Lyttelton and Lord Wodehouse, as well as Lord Monteagle, moved or supported amendments. Later on, Lord Naas, afterwards Earl of Mayo, the brilliant but ill-fated GovernorGeneral of India, displayed great interest on the subject of Colonial reform. All of these had been listeners to Mr. Lowe's masterly address, and it would seem that they had profited by it. In a very short time Robert Lowe was able to expound his views on this and all other public questions in person at St. Stephen's; but there can hardly be a doubt that his first public address made a strong impression among an influential and active section of English public men.

In recording the passage of Lord Grey's Australian Colonies Government Bill through the Commons, Mr. Rusden, the

Australian historian, adds: 'It attracted more attention than Australia has received since Pitt annexed it to the dominions of the Crown.' But Mr. Rusden fails to observe how much of this parliamentary attention' had been created out of doors by the activity of the newly-arrived ex-M.P. for Sydney.

[ocr errors]

Robert Lowe was, indeed, so far at least as Sir William Molesworth and his brilliant band of colonial reformers were concerned, the lion' of the London season. I am indebted to the late venerated Bishop of St. Andrews for a number of interesting communications from a layman of his diocese, Mr. Allan Macpherson, of Blairgowrie, whose pride it is to have been one of the worthy pastoral pioneers of Australia. In 1850, Mr. Macpherson was in London and attended the meeting at which Robert Lowe delivered his luminous and comprehensive lecture. Although associated with the pastoral interests of New South Wales, which Lowe had so strongly attacked, Mr. Macpherson, like many of the genuine, hardworking, cultured squatters, as distinguished from the mere financial speculators and land gamblers of that time, recalls with appreciation and even enthusiasm Lord Sherbrooke's remarkable colonial career. As a barrister, a man of letters, and a member of our old Legislative Council in Sydney, he was alike distinguished. Even then, he was in the truest sense a scholar, a statesman, and an orator; he had, naturally, therefore, friends, admirers, and enemies.'

Mr. Macpherson in the same letter recalls Lord Sherbrooke's early public appearances in London in connection with the Society for the Reform of Colonial Government.

'The last time (he writes) I had the honour of seeing and hearing Lord Sherbrooke was at a whitebait dinner at Greenwich in June 1850, when there were present many well-known friends of the colonies, who have nearly all passed away; amongst others the Bishop of Oxford, Lord Monteagle, Lord Lyttelton, Mr. Adderley, Sir William Molesworth, and

Mr. Joseph Hume. The speech of the evening was undoubtedly that of the then Mr. Robert Lowe.'

[ocr errors]

It would seem clear that almost from the first Lord Sherbrooke must have looked forward to a political career in England. On June 4, 1850, Robert Lowe, Esq., Barrister-atlaw, of 6 Suffolk Street,' was nominated to the Reform Club. His proposer was Mr. Robert Biddulph, an old friend of his mother's family; and his seconder, Lord Marcus Cecil Hill, M.P. He was very promptly elected on June 20, and remained for over twenty years a member of the great Liberal Club. His residence at Suffolk Street was very temporary, for before the close of the year Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lowe had become the tenants of the house No. 6 Eaton Square.

Very early in the following year Lowe wrote a letter to his brother (then Henry Sherbrooke, the squire of Oxton) which shows still more clearly that he was closely watching the movement of public affairs, and, perhaps, already contemplating an active political career in England. Apart from its biographical interest, the letter throws light on the political complications of the time, particularly with regard to the attitude of the landed gentry on the great question of Protection, which their leaders, Lord Derby (then Lord Stanley) and Mr. Disraeli, were about to abandon. Robert Lowe's elder brother (like Mr. Gladstone's) belonged to the opposite political camp to himself; but the following singularly frank and outspoken letter, written though it be, not only from a free trade but from a broadly Liberal standpoint, discloses his deep-seated dislike of demagogueism, and his clear apprehension of the duties, as well as uses, of a landed gentry.

Robert Lowe to Henry Sherbrooke of Oxton (H. P. Lowe).
2 Paper Buildings: February 28, 1851.

My dear Henry,-You will see by the Times that your hopes are nipped in the bud. Lord John returns to power as is generally supposed free from the Greys, with a fresh Budget and a new

and much more stringent measure on Papal aggression. The second article is by a friend of yours-I hope you like the swagger and bounce of it. I condole with you on your defeat, for which I am really very sorry, and still more so to hear that you had made yourself ill by your exertions. If you country gentlemen are not heartily sick of Protection, it is time you were. It puts men of no standing, who make promises to the farmers to realise which would require a state of things little short of Communism, in the place of noblemen and gentlemen. It renders you so powerless in Parliament, that your leader, Lord Stanley-though perfectly willing to give us Protection-could not find any man of talent or character who would incur the discredit of joining him.

If you are determined always to be a cypher and never to have your case fairly examined, you have only to go on as you have begun, and when you have handed over the counties to tenant-farmers and the boroughs to ultra-democrats, you will begin to see that the Constitution requires that the landed gentry should not ostracise themselves. The Government have gone out under circumstances of the most discreditable kind. Never was a fairer opportunity, and yet Lord Stanley-by no means a timid man- -has not dared to form a Ministry or to dissolve. The question is, therefore, lost, and the sooner you treat it as such, the better for you. As to North Notts, nothing would please me personally, in a selfish point of view, better than to see you returned. In my situation such an event would be very advantageous, as your position in London would give me a weight which I do not and cannot hope otherwise to possess. But, nevertheless, I must candidly say that, with your health, your habits, and your estate, I think you would be making a very great sacrifice by going into Parliament, for which you could hardly obtain any equivalent, more especially if you went there neutralized and deprived of all influence or power of political action by anticipation, by being pledged, as of course you would be, to the defunct cause of Protection. I repeat, selfishly I should be delighted, but for your own happiness, I should not venture to advise such a step. As for myself, if I had the good fortune to occupy the position or to hold the opinions which would commend me to that or any other respectable constituency, I should be delighted to enter the House and give up my time wholly to politics. But as that is not the case I must even be content with my own station, and console myself with being tolerably well off as times go.

Your affectionate brother,


On the day when Lowe penned the above letter, Greville records in his invaluable and always interesting Journal:

'Met Gladstone yesterday morning. From the tone of his conversation, his negotiation with Stanley must have been very short indeed. . . . Great excitement at night, and the Whigs in extraordinary glee, foreseeing the restoration of John Russell and his colleagues.'

[ocr errors]

On March 2, Greville makes this entry, after going to the House of Lords: The impression on my mind was that Stanley was sick to death of his position as leader of the Protectionists, and everybody agrees that he has been in tearing spirits these last days, and especially since the announcement of his failure.'

One other point may be noted in Lowe's letter to his brother he had evidently become an occasional contributor to the Times as early as February, though he did not join the staff until April 1851.

Before actually launching himself on the stormy sea of English journalism and party politics, Mr. Lowe reverted to the subject of university reform, to which his attention was attracted by the famous Oxford University Commission of


In the seventh chapter of those graphic Memoirs of the late Mark Pattison, Rector of Lincoln, a most powerful picture is drawn of the condition of Oxford after the rout of the Newmanites, and the incoming of the Liberals.

It was a deliverance from the nightmare which had oppressed Oxford for fifteen years. For so long we had been given over to discussions unprofitable in themselves, and which had entirely diverted our thoughts from the true business of the place. Probably there was no period of our history during which, I do not say science and learning, but the ordinary study of the classics, was so profitless or at so low an ebb as during the period of the Tractarian controversy...

We were startled when we came to reflect that the vast domain of physical science had been hitherto wholly excluded from our programme. . . .

Whereas other reactions accomplish themselves by imperceptible degrees, in 1845 the darkness was dissipated in an instant as by the



« PreviousContinue »