Page images

the Bill will pass the Commons. I want the country to have another year to consider it. Any settlement (so-called) which is founded on a rank reduction of the borough franchise would be no settlement at all. It would not be a compromise, but a capitulation. How many times was the French Revolution declared to have reached its term, and the ground began to sink again next day! I am sorry I am not to see you on your way through, and sorry you have to go to Vichy. I hope you are well advised; I should have thought Carlsbad more likely to suit you. Give my love to my

[blocks in formation]

My dear Mrs. Billyard,-We have just fitted another arrow to the bow, the result is to be next Monday. We have a fair chance of success this time, but I find people just as mean and just as hard to keep up to the mark here as in Australia, and as they are of course richer and more independent, their meanness is all the more disgraceful. I have reached a position I never expected in my wildest dreams to attain. . . . You know I never was very ambitious and always cared more for the fight than for the prize. You will see in my speech several things which will not much please my friends in Australia. I have another speech to make on Monday, not prepared yet; things are so important here that I cannot trust to the inspiration of the moment as I used to do in Sydney. Always most sincerely yours,


The arrow to the bow here referred to, meant either Sir Rainald Knightley's motion or the resolution of Captain Hayter, which ran as follows:

That this House, although desirous that the subject of franchise and the redistribution of seats should be considered together, is of opinion that the system of grouping proposed in the present Bill for the redistribution of seats is neither convenient nor equitable, and that the scheme is otherwise not sufficiently matured to form the basis of a satisfactory measure.

[ocr errors]

May 16, 1866. General Peel, whom I met to-day, is confident that the House of Commons will throw out the Reform Bill; but Mr. Lowe says that he has no material to work with, as people are so full of crotchets.' Memoirs of an Ex-Minister.

On the adjourned debate on Captain Hayter's resolution, May 31, 1866, Robert Lowe delivered the third of his philippics against the Russell-Gladstone Reform Bill. Many of his friends considered that this speech was on the whole his finest effort. He began in a very measured way by stating that Mr. Gladstone proceeded with the Redistribution of Seats Bill on no fixed principle. It put him in mind of the lady who wrote to a friend to ask how she was to receive a particular lover, and the answer was: 'As you receive all your other lovers.' As Mr. Gladstone declined to explain the principle of his measure, Lowe said that he must try to puzzle it out for himself. He then discussed the principle of equal electoral districts, which he thought must make us the slave of numbers—' very good servants but very bad masters.' He himself would advocate making fresh constituencies, with the view of giving more variety and life to the representation of the country, and thus making the House what the country is a collection of infinite variety of all sorts of pursuits and habits.' The path of danger lay in uniformity and monotony of representationthe inevitable outcome of the domination of mere numbers. Then something should be done to moderate the expenses of elections. He instanced a few large boroughs-Stafford cost 5,400l.; Stoke-on-Trent, 6,2001.; Sunderland, 5,000l.; and Westminster 12,000l. These figures represented the aggregate expenses of all the candidates. Lowe thus continued ::

I wish to call particular attention to the case of Westminster, not for the purpose of saying anything disagreeable to my honourable friend (Mr. J. Stuart Mill), for we know he was elected in a burst-I will say a well-directed burst-of popular enthusiasm. That was honourable to him and honourable to them, and I have no doubt that in the course of the election all that could be done by industry and enthusiasm was accomplished gratuitously: and I am sure that my honourable friend did not contribute in any way to swell any unreasonable election expenses. His election ought to have been gratuitous; but mark what it cost-2,3021. I believe it did not cost him 6d. He refused to contribute anything, and it was very much to the honour of his constituents that they brought him

in gratuitously.

But look to the state of our election practices when such an outburst of popular feeling could not be given effect to without that enormous sacrifice of money.'

He then glanced at the Counties: the northern division of Durham cost 14,6201.; South Lancashire, 17,000l.; the North Riding of Yorkshire, 27,000l.— all legitimate expenses, but by no means the whole expense.'

[ocr errors]

This state of things, he said, was not favourable to a genuine aristocracy, but it was favourable to a plutocracy, working upon a democracy.' Such frightful expenses excluded many of the best men in the community from taking any part in its government. To devise some scheme of redistribution that would tend to diminish the expense of elections would be in the nature of true constitutional reform. He then went on to quote from a work of Lord Russell's, which contained a number of statements wholly at variance with the policy of his Reform Bill. This was one extract: Dr. Temple says in a letter to the Daily News, "I know that when Emerson was in England, he regretted to me that all the more cultivated classes in America abstained from politics because they felt themselves hopelessly swamped."

He brought out strongly the inconsistencies of Mr. Gladstone and Earl Russell with regard to the pocket boroughs. As we know, he was not particularly keen about the disfranchisement of Calne, but in a kind of parody of Mr. Gladstone's own defence of such small boroughs, he made use of an illustration which should have appealed to the essentially theological mind of his opponent: If you are to be influenced by respect for traditions and by veneration for antiquity, perhaps Calne should have some claim, because it was there that the memorable encounter is said to have taken place between St. Dunstan and his enemies, which terminated in

Compare Lowe's own election expenses, when he was returned by a 'burst of popular enthusiasm for Sydney. Vol. i. p. 363n.

the combatants all tumbling through the floor with the exception of the Saint himself.

' And I may remind you that, in our own times, Calne was represented by Dunning, by Lord Henry Petty, by Mr. Abercromby (for some time Speaker of this House), and by Lord Macaulay.'

Lowe said in his blunt fashion that the main object of this Reform Bill was to render it impossible for any other than a Liberal Government to exist in this country for the future. Who can doubt that the chief reason for introducing it, as well as the subsequent Derby-Disraeli Bill, was to 'dish' the opposite party? peroration:

He closed with the well-known eloquent

To our hands at this moment is entrusted the noble and sacred future of free and self-determined government all over the world. We are about to surrender certain good for more than doubtful change; we are about to barter maxims and traditions that have never failed for theories and doctrines that never have succeeded. Democracy you may have at any time. Night and day the gate is open that leads to that bare and level plain, where every ant's nest is a mountain, and every thistle a forest tree. But a Government such as England has, a Government the work of no human hand, but which has grown up the imperceptible aggregation of centuriesthis is a thing which we only can enjoy, which we cannot impart to others, and which, once lost, we cannot recover for ourselves. Because you have contrived to be at once dilatory and hasty heretofore, that is no reason for pressing forward rashly and improvidently now. We are not agreed upon details, we have not come to any accord upon principles. To precipitate a decision in the case of a single human life would be cruel. It is more than cruel-it is parricide in the case of the Constitution, which is the life and soul of this great nation. If it is to perish, as all human things must perish, give it at any rate time to gather its robe about it, and to fall with decency and deliberation.

[ocr errors]


Oh! that's sudden! spare it! spare it!

It ought not so to die.'

In consequence of Lord Grosvenor's declaration, that owing to the state of foreign affairs he should not vote against

the Government, Captain Hayter's resolution was withdrawn on June 4.

Robert Lowe to Henry Sherbrooke of Oxton.

British Museum: June 9, 1866.

My dear Henry,-Many thanks for your letter, which I ought to have answered before; but I have been so busy. A great country like this cannot well be ruined without a great deal of time wasted in attack and defence. It seems, however, pretty well decided now. The cowards and waverers seem all to have gone to the side of the Government, and last Thursday shows that we have no other tactics left us but those of delay. It is to me one of the bitterest disappointments I ever had in my life, though I have two consolations

(1) that I have done my best to prevent it; (2) that personally I have gained much fame and respect. They say that I am the only person who has come out of it quite creditably. I hope you have received my last speech, for most people say (much to my surprise) that it is much the best of the four. I am glad you like the Irish one. Tua res agitur. The plan of Government is to bribe the Irish, who support them, with the spoils of the Irish landlords and the destruction of the present plan of Irish education. It is all of a piece.

I am very glad that Vichy seems likely to do you good. If it suits the family constitution, I will try it myself the first time I feel ill-which I suppose I shall some day. Pray go and see Auvergne, Cantal, and Le Puy. There is no country that I ever saw that took my fancy more. The road from Clermont to Lyons is wonderfully rich and beautiful, especially just when the corn is getting ripe. My wife is very poorly.

Your affectionate brother,


[ocr errors]

On June 18, Lord Dunkellin's amendment, That the proposed 71. borough franchise be a rating qualification,' was carried against the Government by a majority of eleven. On June 25, Earl Russell and Mr. Gladstone announced that they had tendered their resignation to the Queen. Between those two dates Lowe wrote the following letter to Sydney.

Robert Lowe to Mrs. Billyard.

June 21, 1866.

My dear Mrs. Billyard,-I have made another speech since I wrote to you, which people say is the best of the four. Since then

« PreviousContinue »