« PreviousContinue »
ON THE TIMES
In the month of April, 1851, Robert Lowe joined the staff of the Times, under Mr. John Walter, whose editor was that remarkable man, John Delane.
Much has been written, and still more has been said, about the unique position which Delane as editor of the Times occupied for over thirty years in the social and political world. There has never been anything in this country to compare with it either before or since. This was in part owing to the supreme position which the Times had achieved under his immediate predecessors, but it was quite as much due to the remarkable qualities of the man himself. Delane was what is called a born editor; he had the true journalistic nose for scenting out news, and the true editorial eye for discerning the worth and mental capacity of other men. Over and above that he had the feeling of profound interest and personal pride in his journal that a mitred abbot of the middle ages had in his monastery; and was equally prepared to stand up for its rights and privileges, and to fight for its power and aggrandisement against all comers. He was, of course, a terrific worker, and even when enjoying what Disraeli used to term his social honours, he never for a moment forgot that his one aim in life was to keep the Times at the head of the journalism of Europe.
Much was made, both by his friends and enemies, of the
fact that he had the ear of Lord Palmerston. Men whom he opposed, or whose particular fads he declined to patronise, used to declare that he was 'nobbled' by Lady Palmerston's hospitality; but this, though often repeated, even by such men as Cobden and Bright, was never believed by anyone really behind the political scenes of that time. In fact-and it is a social phenomenon in the annals of English journalism -John Delane mixed with the great political nobles of the Palmerston epoch, on terms of perfect equality, and was constantly consulted by the Ministers of State at critical moments.
Robert Lowe commenced his labour as a regular Times leader-writer on April 4, 1851, with an article on 'Chancery Reform.' Before taking a rapid survey of his first year's contributions to the Times, it may be as well to point out how splendidly endowed and admirably equipped he was for this not altogether new field of intellectual labour. He had reached the mature age of forty; had not only achieved a brilliant record at Oxford by his easy mastery of those branches of study which then led to academic distinction, but by his subsequent years of patient and painful tuition had so thoroughly and indelibly imprinted these studies on his active brain and retentive memory, that, unlike the majority of distinguished University men, he never forgot a tittle of what Alma Mater had taught him. In addition to this, as the testimony of his friends and college contemporaries shows, Robert Lowe had all his life pursued independent and often recondite studies; thus he not only read Hebrew with ease and pleasure, but Sanskrit, and he had not only studied German but he knew Icelandic.
On those great departments of human thought and activity, Law, Commerce, and Education, Robert Lowe was, as few newspaper writers have ever been, an authority. He was not only a brilliant practising barrister, but a profound student of law and jurisprudence; he had given much time and attention to the subjects of trade, commerce, and finance, and here his
Australian experience as a legislator and fiscal reformer was of great value; while on the subject of education his whole academic as well as his colonial career was one long training.
It was his complaint in after years, as all the world knows, that his own education had been too purely literary, and that those responsible for it had neglected the more practical achievements of modern science. He had probably first felt this deficiency when he became closely intimate with William Sharpe Macleay in Sydney; but it was not until he was brought into official relations with Sir John Simon at the Board of Health, that he fully realised his want of early scientific training. Marvellous as it seems, Sir John Simon declares that Lord Sherbrooke, in spite of his sadly deficient eyesight, took sedulously to the microscope and bent his mind to various branches of physical research and investigation.
With this one single drawback, that of an imperfect scientific education, which nearly all his contemporaries shared with him, Lowe must have been, when Delane secured his services as a leader-writer for the Times, the most powerful and best trained intellectual athlete who has ever in this country entered the arena of journalism.
No one puts this matter in such a clear light as the late Walter Bagehot in his brief Study,' written in 1871, entitled 'Mr. Lowe as Chancellor of the Exchequer.'1
His career at Oxford was unusually long; he was not a mere student who took high honours. After that he stayed several years as a working tutor, and has described to a Royal Commission how steadily he worked for ten hours a day as a 'coach,' and how little in consequence he accepts the romance' of tuition. And the inevitable result has been that Mr. Lowe has become a scholar, not only as young students become such, but as men of maturer years who mean to earn money by it, become scholars. . . . After leaving Oxford, Mr. Lowe made himself not only an excellent English lawyer, but an admirable general jurist. He is acquainted not only with the technicalities of English law, but with the structure of
Biographical Studies, by the late Walter Bagehot, edited by R. H. Hutton
other systems of law, and with the principles of scientific jurisprudence. He has studied what Bentham said 'law ought to be,' and what Austin said law 'must be.'
Of all Delane's great feats on behalf of the Times, perhaps the greatest was securing the future Chancellor of the Exchequer as a regular contributor. Lord Beaconsfield referred to himself on one occasion as a gentleman of the press'; but this must be taken in a Pickwickian sense. In an amateur way, he may have projected an unsuccessful journal, and occasionally contributed to, or inspired,' certain other newspapers. Mr. Gladstone could, perhaps, make out a stronger claim if, as generally alleged, he was one of the founders of the Guardian; and many another English public man has been in some way connected with the newspaper press. But Lowe, in contradistinction to the mere amateur, was for a term of years, like Mr. John Morley and Mr. Leonard Courtney, a hard-working professional journalist.
Lowe was a contributor to the Times from 1851 to the close of 1867, or, indeed, the beginning of 1868; though in the latter years his articles were comparatively infrequent. At first, however, he wrote with great regularity, sometimes even two leading articles on the same day. Mrs. Lowe became again a most constant and willing amanuensis. When, on the sudden receipt of important intelligence from any part of the world, Delane would despatch a special messenger to Lowndes Square after midnight, Mrs. Lowe would spring out of bed and write to his dictation, whilst the emissary waited for the rapidly filled slips. But in the articles themselves there are few signs of hasty production; they are, as a rule, models of sound common sense and lucid exposition, enriched with appropriate and telling illustrations, and with apt quotations ranging from Homer to Charles Dickens.
Lowe's first contribution to the Times, as already stated, was on Chancery Reform-then a burning question. He was, as he understood it, a thorough-going Liberal all his life,
but he was never a partisan; and though many advanced Radicals of the present day would off-hand dub him a Whig, he himself was never a member of the inner conclave of the great Whig families, whom he, in fact, denounced as strongly as ever he denounced the Tories, and whom he disliked almost as much as he disliked demagogues.
There was one proposal in Lord John Russell's scheme of Chancery Reform which lent itself, as if devised on purpose, to Lowe's peculiar powers of Socratic irony. This was the proposal to transfer the ecclesiastical patronage of the Lord Chancellor to the Prime Minister.
It will be a sacrifice certainly to the Premier to undertake the distribution of so many good things, but, fortified by the consideration of the relief which his own absorption of these good things must necessarily yield to the Chancellor, Lord John Russell is willing, like another Curtius, to fling himself into the gulf of Chancery patronage. We only wonder that, actuated by the same generous spirit of enthusiasm, Lord John Russell has not undertaken to relieve the Chancellor from the receipt of his salary, as well as the bestowal of his livings. To receive and spend so large a sum of money as the salary of a Lord Chancellor must be a great distraction to a mind so fully preoccupied, and the maxim Aliena negotia curo excussus propriis might seem to suggest that the best way to fix a man's attention on other people's affairs was to leave him none of his own to manage. We should therefore suggest, as an improvement on the Ministerial scheme, that the Lord Chancellor should be received as a parlour boarder or postulant in the house of the Prime Minister, and should be there fed, clothed, and taken care of, and that in consideration of this the said Prime Minister should be entitled to receive the Chancellor's salary.
In a more serious strain the writer then proceeded to deal with the question of Government patronage in general, and church benefices in particular. The line of argument and illustration adopted by him will surprise those persons who have always regarded him as a pure Whig. There are many who, to this day, would positively declare that Lord Sherbrooke's views on English history were merely a transcript of the views of Macaulay. Nothing could be further