Page images

John Simon remarks, it ended, in the case of Socrates, in hemlock, which was, after all, not so very terrible a thing for an old man of seventy with a good conscience. Robert Lowe's punishment for making many a pompous burgess write himself down an ass was far more severe; for his fame and reputation—the lasting part of him-were murdered by way of reprisal. From his happy disposition, and the peculiar constitution of his mind, however, the widely-circulated stories as to his overbearing manner and cross-grained nature simply amused him. Writing to his Sydney correspondent on February 1, 1869, he said: 'I can sympathise with Lady Belmore; for all the newspapers, having nothing else to abuse me about, have found out that I have "a fearful temper," and waste a good deal of pity on those who have anything to do with me. . . . A friend of mine was staying at a country house the other day with some people whom I don't know, and they pointed out a perfectly white wood-pigeon which they begged might on no account be shot, because they had named it after me! It is the first time in my life that, to my knowledge, I was ever likened unto a dove.'

I am indebted for the following particulars as to Lord Sherbrooke's behaviour towards deputations, to his then private secretary, Mr. (now Sir) Rivers Wilson. On this point it will be admitted that Sir Rivers Wilson speaks with absolute authority, as he was always present on these occasions, save during a brief illness which kept him away from the office. Sir Rivers says: Mr. Lowe's courtesy was unfailing, but he never forgot for a moment that he was the guardian of the public purse.' If he did not approve of the object sought by the deputation, he never pandered to them or dealt in meaningless generalities, but frankly explained his views and stated the reasons for his refusal. It made no

[ocr errors]

I hold it to be the duty of the person entrusted with public money not to expend it for any other than public purposes.'-Speech at Glasgow, September 26,


difference whether the deputation consisted of political supporters or opponents, whether they were capitalists or working-men, whether composed of noblemen, professors, or shopkeepers.

'I remember,' continued Sir Rivers, 'the influential deputation, introduced by Mr. Prior, on the brewers' licenses and hop duty. Mr. Bass, who was a personal friend of Mr. Lowe, exclaimed: "The license duty is enormous! Why, this year, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, I have had to pay 12,000l., Sir-twelve thousand pounds!"


'Delighted," exclaimed Mr. Lowe as quick as lightning, "to hear of the great expansion of your business, Mr. Bass; the last time you were here it was only ten thousand."'

There was one famous case in which the Chancellor gave grave offence to Colonel Tomline, M.P., who insisted that Mr. Lowe, as Master of the Mint, should convert his silver bullion into coin of the realm. This he declined to do on the plain ground that he did not require any more shillings; whereupon Colonel Tomline forwarded him the following petition, signed by a number of his workmen :

To the Right Hon. Robert Lowe, M.P., Master of the Mint Walton, near Ipswich: November 21, 1870 Sir, We respectfully address you as Master of the Mint, and ask you to consider our case, and relieve us from pauperism.

[ocr errors]

We are strong men, willing to work, and many of us have, for a long time, been employed by Colonel Tomline in reclaiming land from the sea. This is a national as well as a local advantage.

Colonel Tomline is anxious to continue to pay us our wages, and has sent to you standard silver sufficient for 2,000 shillings, which, without giving a reason, you have refused to coin.

The result of your refusal is that we can earn no wages. The national as well as local benefit of our work has ceased. We are forced to be idle, and pauperism increases. The increased rates to relieve this pauperism are paid exclusively by our neighbours, who therefore find their means of employing us reduced.

If, as we are told, you stand in the way of our earning 15s. a week by claiming a more than doubtful, and certainly a dormant Prerogative of the Queen, we respectfully submit that without her

knowledge, and, as we believe, contrary to her wishes, you make a benevolent lady responsible for the misery of many of her subjects. We pray for a favourable and immediate answer that you will coin 2,000 shillings which we may earn.

You cannot imagine the feelings under which strong men pass their idle time, idle because the Queen's Prerogative is claimed to prevent their gaining a livelihood. We cannot describe them. [196 signatures].

To this the Chancellor replied with an enclosure to the working-men that reads like a page out of a 'First SpellingBook;' but the analogy of the pig, while it sent most persons into fits of laughter, made Colonel Tomline furious.

11 Downing Street, Whitehall: November 24, 1870

My dear Mr. Tomline,-I beg to acknowledge the receipt of a petition from some working men lately in your employ, and to enclose an answer which I shall be much obliged to you to communicate to them. I propose to publish the correspondence. Very truly yours,

George Tomline, Esq., M.P.




To the Working Men who have signed a Petition forwarded to me by Mr. Tomline

My Friends, It is my duty as Master of the Mint to buy silver when I want it to coin into shillings and other silver coins, but not to buy it unless I want it for that purpose, because I have no other use for it.

When Mr. Tomline sent me his silver I did not want any to make into shillings, and so I did not buy it.

But there are a great many people who want silver for different purposes, and other people who buy silver to make a profit by selling it again, and Mr. Tomline might have sold his silver to any of them, and they would have given him in exchange shillings, or perhaps gold, which he would have had no difficulty in changing into shillings.

If a man has a pig to sell and takes it to a town where there are several butchers, the first butcher may, perhaps, not want to buy a pig. But the man does not take his pig home again and say that the butcher has prevented him from selling his pig. He goes to

the other butchers until he finds one that wants a pig, and sells the pig to him.

I am very sorry that Mr. Tomline has ceased to give you employment, but as he could easily, if he chose, obtain 2,000 shillings in exchange for his silver, and, indeed, in many other ways, you must not think that my refusal to buy his silver has anything to do with your distress.

I do not claim for the Queen, in this case, any right except that which is possessed by you and me and Mr. Tomline and all her Majesty's subjects, the right to refuse to buy the things we do not want.

[blocks in formation]

This ludicrous controversy was fought out in the Court of Queen's Bench in the case of Tomline v. Lowe (April 28, 1871), when it was decided against the plaintiff, and the judgment affirmed that while the public had a right to take gold to the Mint to be coined, they had no such right in the case of silver. A still more famous episode was that of Earl Stanhope, who, as President of the Society of Antiquaries, applied for a public grant to make excavations of the tumuli on the plains of Troy. Lord Sherbrooke's reply, which is a masterpiece, gave great displeasure to Lord Stanhope and his colleagues, but its wit and common sense must appeal to every impartial mind.

Right Hon. Robert Lowe to Earl Stanhope

March 10, 1873

My Lord, I beg to acknowledge the receipt of a letter in which your Lordship, as President of the Society of Antiquaries, suggests the exploration of the tumuli on and around the plains of the Troad at the public expense. The object of this enterprise is stated to be the elucidation of the still very doubtful sites. More than 1800 years ago a Roman poet wrote of Troy 'Etiam periere ruinæ.' Your Lordship cites as a case in point the exploration of the Temple of Ephesus. That work was undertaken by the Trustees of the British Museum, not for the purpose of ascertaining the site or the form of the Temple-objects quite beyond the scope of the duties of the Trustees-but for the sake of such relics of ancient art as might be found buried among the ruins. The ascertainment of the site was a mere incident; the main object was the acquisition of specimens of ancient statuary and architecture. The same may

be said of the excavations at Budrum, Priene, Rhodes, and Halicarnassus. In the case of the Troad there is little or no chance of acquiring any possession for the public which would repay the search, and the case must therefore be judged on its own merits and without reference to the researches of the Trustees of the British Museum.

The question then is are excavations undertaken for the purpose of illustrating the Iliad, a proper object for the expenditure of public money? I am sorry to say that, in my judgment, they are not. It is a new head of expense. It has no practical object, but aims at satisfying the curiosity of those who believe that the narrative of Homer was a true history, and not the creation of a poet's imagination.

But while I regret to be unable to accede to your Lordship's suggestion, I submit that there is a way open by which the money may be provided. It is said that the schoolboy enthusiasm of Europe liberated Greece from Turkey. Is not the literary enthusiasm of wealthy England equal to the enterprise of exploring scenes which are ever recurring to the imagination of everyone who has received a classical education? The Daily Telegraph, with my hearty approbation, is exploring, without any assistance from the public purse, the secrets that lie buried under the mounds of Mesopotamia. Shall it be said that a large number of wealthy English noblemen and gentlemen can find no better expedient for the gratification of a liberal curiosity than to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to employ, for its satisfaction, money wrung from the earnings of the poorest of the community?

I sincerely regret that the spirit of Herodes Atticus has not descended to modern times, and feel convinced that if one half the energy which is devoted in attempts to obtain aid from Government were given to create a spirit of private munificence, this, and many similar objects, might be attained with the utmost facility and completeness.

[blocks in formation]

On the other hand, whenever Lord Sherbrooke was of opinion that a grant of public money could be usefully employed for public purposes, he was extremely generous. It is the old story of the man who saves being the friend in need, while the reckless spendthrift has never anything to lend. In the midst of his financial troubles over the Alabama claims

« PreviousContinue »