« PreviousContinue »
with the silver question, entitled A Simple Way out of the Indian Difficulty.' In addition to these, he contributed a thoughtful paper to the Contemporary Review for October 1876, on Vivisection.
On March 31, 1879, Robert Lowe went down to the House of Commons prepared to support the vote of censure against the Government with regard to their South African policy and the conduct of the High Commissioner, Sir Bartle Frere. This vote of censure had been brought forward in the House of Lords by the Marquis of Lansdowne, and it was proposed in the Commons by Sir Charles Dilke, in a long and elaborate arraignment, the clearness and force of which were specially praised by Lowe in his opening remarks. The position was peculiar Sir Bartle Frere had made war on the Zulus without any authority from the Government, and Sir M. HicksBeach had severely censured him, but had expressly declined to recall him. On the second night of the debate, Lowe, who had given much attention to the subject and was altogether opposed to the proceedings of Sir Bartle Frere, rose, and, after speaking for some time with all his old command over the House, stopped abruptly, and began searching among his notes and memoranda, but, though encouraged by the cheers of the House, he after a while desisted and sat down. Mr. Goschen, who was very intimate with Lowe, gives the following account of the episode:
'I was not present in the House, but I met Lowe the next day. I said to him: "I hear that you suddenly felt ill in the House yesterday when you were speaking." "No," he replied, there was no illness: it was only Anno Domini!" "But I heard," I replied, "that your notes got into confusion and that this put you out." "No," said he, "the notes were really a help to me, because I tried to disguise my breakdown by pretending confusion in my papers."
'He told me this,' adds Mr. Goschen, 'with his usual bright
smile, and with that great pluck which sustained him in all his trials.'
Whatever may have been the cause, the effect was altogether temporary; and the collapse was, no doubt, to some extent brought about by over-excitement (for he was very much in earnest on this question), by over-preparation and the existence of ample notes, which were always a hindrance to him. That he retained his vigorous powers of expression, as well as his interest in public questions, is shown by his subsequent contributions to periodical literature; at least half a dozen of his most effective articles in the Fortnightly and Nineteenth Century Reviews having been written after the familiar signature of Robert Lowe had been transformed into 'Sherbrooke.' But though he addressed a great meeting at Grantham, he did not speak again in the House of Commons; for shortly afterwards the dissolution came which brought Mr. Gladstone back to power, and which transferred Robert Lowe to the House of Lords. Up to the very close of his career in the Commons, however, he showed the profoundest interest in the welfare and future of that historic body. As late as April 1880, he contributed to the Nineteenth Century a thoroughly characteristic article, entitled The Docility of an "Imperial" Parliament,' in which he dealt vigorously with Lord Beaconsfield's parliamentary methods, and criticised, with no light hand, a foreign policy that claimed ascendancy in Europe ' without adding a man to our army or a ship to our fleet.'
It is no secret to the friends of Lord Sherbrooke that he consented most reluctantly to accept a peerage. As more than one allusion in this work will show, he was at no time possessed by any democratic bias against the institution of the House of Lords; but personally he would have preferred to remain in the House of Commons, and his acceptance of a peerage was much more to convenience Mr. Gladstone than to
The following letters to his niece, Mrs. Chaworth Musters, and her father, show clearly enough what his feelings were on the subject.
Robert Lowe to Mrs. Chaworth Musters
My dear Lina,-If you mean that I should have been in a much better position had I been offered and accepted office, I quite agree with you; but that was not the case. If you mean that I should have done better either by giving up my seat and putting the University, which had just elected me, to the expense of another election, or that I should have been content to sit behind the people whom I once led and either supported or opposed them, I think you are in error. It is in my opinion better to take a position which had been thoroughly earned and where I can still exercise some influence, than either to withdraw altogether from public life or to have become a frondeur or a mere follower where I once was a leader. I am sorry you do not agree with me.
Robert Lowe to Henry Sherbrooke of Oxton
34 Lowndes Square: May 21, 1880
My dear Henry,-As Vespasian said when he was dying, I am beginning to be a god. That the process is proceeding you will see from the enclosed document, the amount of which I have paid, and which I advise you to keep among your muniments to cool the courage of any of your descendants who may be seized with a desire for similar honours. N.B. The Heralds are still to be paid. I am to be gazetted on Tuesday next, but there is something else, I really have forgotten what, before I can take my seat. I will write as soon as I know myself. I am very much flattered and honoured by your wish to attend the function. For myself, I feel very much as if I had got again into the company of the four neuter verbs of the Latin Grammar,
Vapulo--I am beaten.
Veneo-I am sold.
Exulo-I am banished.
Fio-I am done.
Your affectionate brother,
Viscount Sherbrooke took his seat in the House of Lords on May 28, 1880. It seems to have taken him some time to 'know himself,' as he expressed it; for, writing to Mr. Cotterell
Tupp on June 11, he began to sign as of old, and got as far as 'Robert L,' through which he ran his pen lightly and wrote 'Sherbrooke' underneath. In this letter, also, he distinctly states that he accepted a peerage with reluctance, saying, 'It was the last thing I wanted.'
Two years afterwards Mr. Gladstone offered his old colleague a first-class political pension of 2,000l. per annum, which was at his disposal through the death of Sir George Grey; but this Lord Sherbrooke promptly and emphatically declined. In making the offer Mr. Gladstone spoke in high and generous terms of his old friend and colleague: No one,' he said, 'can question that you have amply made a title so far as service done is concerned.'
IN THE LORDS
As Lord Sherbrooke really entertained a strong objection to. becoming a peer, and felt that by going into the House of Lords he was practically closing his public career, it may be to some a matter for regret that he did not take the advice of his niece, Mrs. Chaworth Musters, and devote the remainder of his days entirely to literary pursuits. It is quite true that, had he been so inclined, he might, after 1880, have given the world a valuable political work, containing the results of his life experience in the working of English parliamentary institutions. His was a mind much given to generalisation, and scattered throughout his Times articles, extending over so many years, as well as in his contributions to the reviews and magazines, one constantly comes across passages and remarks that betoken the original thinker. Moreover, after the passage of the Reform Bill, Robert Lowe in his own mind reviewed many of our time-honoured practices and methods, and found them wanting. A work that should have given us in detail his scheme for converting the House of Lords into a Senate, might have been full of important suggestions; while his hostility to the party system, which appears inseparable from our form of parliamentary government, would seem to demand that he should have suggested for our guidance some workable substitute. Moreover, as he apparently abandoned his original theory of a federal government for the British