Page images

Oxford laurels; that studies merely linguistic and literary could give no immediate help to the pressing wants of the masses of mankind; that science, such as he had only of late known to exist, was henceforth to be the chief helper of man. In later years the Medical Department derived much advantage from Mr. Lowe's intimate knowledge of its history, and from his sympathy with the spirit of its work. Early in his Chancellorship of the Exchequer, when we had become aware that circumstances were rapidly tending to make large demand on us for an extension and systematisation of our inspectorial service, he at once recognised that provision ought to be made for a considerable increase of the departmental staff; and the necessary measures for moving Parliament to grant that provision were cordially and effectually promoted by him. Through him, too, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Medical Department obtained, in 1870, the inestimable privilege of a settled organisation for Laboratory Researches in aid of its practical work; for, under his auspices, Parliament then approved "auxiliary scientific investigations" as a separate item in our departmental estimates, and thenceforth adopted the practice of granting for them annually a subsidy of 2,000l. This grant, comparable in principle to those which the Admiralty had long administered for the promotion of astronomical and meteorological science, was very greatly to be valued; not merely in relation to the immediate uses of the department which received it, but as representing also a British contribution to world-wide scientific interests.

At that time the Local Government Board which now exists had not yet come into being. From the date of Mr. Lowe's initiative, twelve years previously, the Medical Department had been advancing consistently on the lines of development then laid down for it; and it had now attained such ripeness of organisation that only slight addition to its inspectorial staff was wanting to complete its ideal of adequacy for the functions it expected to fulfil. The object had been to fill

[merged small][ocr errors]

a previously ascertained important void in the machinery of the central civil service, by the creation of a reporting and administrative department which should have State-Medicine as its specialty, and should be distinctively connected with the Medical Profession by having a member of that profession as its chief officer. Provision for the autonomy of the new department, and for its exercise of new functions in the civil service, had had to be made in a spirit both circumspect and comprehensive. The conception to be realised was that of a Department which, with scientific equipment fully up to the standards of the time, and with freedom from bias as absolute as that which governs the administration of justice in courts of law, should diligently study all matters of concern to the Public Health; should keep itself accurately informed of all material facts regarding disease and causes of disease prevalent in the country, or threatening invasion of the country from abroad; should take direct administrative action in matters of a medical kind wherein Parliament had appointed it to administer; should afford to other departments of the civil service such assistance as they might need in relation to medical questions in their respective spheres of responsibility; and should at appointed times report to Parliament the proceedings it had taken, the information it had gathered, and the recommendations it would offer, on the matters which Parliament had entrusted to its care. Mr. Lowe was the statesman to whom, almost uniquely, we were indebted for entertaining that conception of a Central Medical Department in the public service, and for enabling it to be for the most part realised. That in later times leading features of the conception have been sacrificed is the outcome of other intentions than Mr. Lowe's. The Local Government Board Act of 1871, promoted by Mr. Stansfeld, and under which he became first President of the new Board, enabled him to initiate an administrative policy under which, in 1876, the Medical Department of the Privy Council came to an end; leaving

only some of its duties to be fulfilled, more or less dependently, by medical functionaries under the Local Government Board. On grounds which I trust I have set in clear light in my printed volume,' I am strongly of opinion that the objects for which the public service requires a central medical department are not attained, and are not likely to be attained, under those official conditions which dependence on the Local Government Board has involved, and that the politicians of 1871-6 did ill for this branch of administration when they abandoned the principles on which Mr. Lowe had acted.'

Op. cit. ch. xv.

[blocks in formation]

In the year 1856, Robert Lowe purchased a cottage in the Surrey Hills, with some few acres of land, in a good position overlooking the Caterham valley, at a point opposite to the pleasant little village of Warlingham. Here, adding to the original cottage, he developed an unpretentious but comfortable and most friendly country house; and he and Mrs. Lowe indulged their fancy in laying out the grounds and planting the Wellingtonia gigantea and other trees. This little estate he called Sherbrooke, from the family name; and here he spent all his available time when his political duties did not necessitate his residence in London. In course of time his intimate friends came to look upon this pleasant home in the Surrey Hills with even greater liking than Lowndes Square. For here, even when holding arduous office, the distinguished statesman would unbend and entertain his friends and associates. The house was often full of interesting people; the great Whig ladies, as Mr. Edmund Yates once set forth in the World, had an unbounded admiration for Mr. Lowe, who was, in fact, always a prime favourite with clever and brilliant women of any or no shade of political opinion. When one hears in some ill-informed quarter of Lord Sherbrooke's want of manners or roughness of demeanour, it is quite amusing to turn to the letters of refined and highborn gentlewomen who knew him intimately and found him as kindly and considerate on all occasions as he was ever brilliant

and charming in conversation. No one could have been brought into personal relations with him without being struck with amazement at the caricatures of his personal appearance which still pass current among ill-informed persons. Despite the absence of expression from his half-closed eyelids, he had a strikingly handsome face, and a noble head worthy of the chisel of an antique sculptor. It is not often that men, particularly of the scholarly type, indulge in admiration of masculine beauty, but I have heard one of Lord Sherbrooke's old Oxford pupils, who is still living, declare that it was simply a pleasure to him to gaze at his tutor, for he had the face and head of a Greek god.' This may, perhaps, sound somewhat hyperbolic, but no one could meet Lord Sherbrooke without being struck by the dignity of his bearing and his intellectual countenance. One can only wonder at the portraits which, as Sir John Simon says, have not even the merit of caricature.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Mr. Justin McCarthy, the Irish leader, is perhaps the most prominent sinner in this respect; for one would imagine that from his former coign of vantage in the gallery,' he possessed distinct advantages for sketching a faithful likeness. Of course, from his extreme shortness of sight, Robert Lowe was at great disadvantage in manipulating papers or deciphering notes; but, so far from being awkward, his skill in certain sports bore remarkable evidence to his activity. Few people of his age, even possessing good eyesight, would have cared to cycle with him among the Surrey Hills. Mr. McCarthy's attempt at a portrait errs in every particular: he refers to Lowe's voice as harsh and rasping; as a matter of fact it was clear and penetrating, and at times thrilling, when he was under the sway of some strong emotion. In ordinary conversation it was singularly pleasant, with that perfection of utterance in which every vowel and consonant is fully sounded, yet without affectation or a trace of effort. Mr. McCarthy writes that Lowe's memory was not good; it was, on the contrary, during almost the whole of his public life marvellously tena

« PreviousContinue »