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MEMBER FOR KIDDERMINSTER
EARLY in the year 1852 Robert Lowe casually met an old and intimate Oxford friend, the Rev. David Melville, now Canon of Worcester, near his own residence in Eaton Square. After a cordial greeting his friend asked him what he was doing. 'Writing for the Times,' he replied. But you ought to be in Parliament,' remarked the other. That's very easily said,
but how am I to get there?' was the rejoinder. I will come and see you to-morrow, and perhaps remove your difficulty'; and so they parted.
It so happened that Lowe's friend was staying with the then Lord Ward, afterwards Earl of Dudley, at Dudley House. Not merely from his territorial position in Worcestershire, but mainly from his wise and generous assistance in promoting the staple industry of Kidderminster, Lord Ward's political influence was then paramount in that borough. This was before the days of joint-stock enterprises and limited liability companies; and it is well-nigh impossible for us to realise what the support of a great nobleman's wealth and influence meant to the struggling industry of a country town. By supplying funds, which none of the Kidderminster manufacturers could then command, Lord Ward rescued the carpet trade of the town from entire annihilation. Steam had already elsewhere superseded the handloom, and it was only through this nobleman's timely subsidy that Kidderminster was enabled to acquire, before it was too late, the services of this all-powerful agency.
When Robert Lowe called on the following day at Dudley House, he was introduced to its owner, and the question of the vacant seat at Kidderminster was broached then and there. Lord Ward quickly perceived that his visitor was a man of no common attainments, and without more ado he stated that he was quite favourable to the proposal of introducing him to the borough. They proceeded to Witley Court -the seat of the Dudleys in the county of Worcester-and Robert Lowe, under these most favourable auspices, straightway entered on his canvass for Kidderminster.
The election took place on July 10, 1852, when Lowe was opposed by a Conservative candidate in the person of a Mr. Best, a local lawyer. Though a complete stranger, but owing of course to the influence of Lord Ward, Lowe was returned by a majority of 94, the polling being
At the large public dinner given to celebrate Lowe's return, his friend, Canon Melville, in proposing his health, said that, though he knew prophecy was rash, he ventured to predict that the man whom they had honoured by their choice that day, would go straight into office, and he could not predict when he would come out again.' This proved truer than most predictions, especially those made at political banquets; for in Lord Aberdeen's Government, Lowe became Secretary to the Board of Control, and with the exception of two brief periods was in office-whenever his party were-to the close of his House of Commons career.
It was an especially exciting and troublous time when Robert Lowe first took his seat in Parliament. The late Earl
of Derby was Prime Minister, with Benjamin Disraeli as his Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader in the House of Commons. The great battle of the Corn Laws had been fought and lost; Sir Robert Peel had died unexpectedly owing to a fall from his horse; and Lord George Bentinck had passed
away prematurely two years before the man whom he and Disraeli so bitterly assailed. Shortly after Parliament assembled the Duke of Wellington was buried, with an Empire's lamentation,' in the crypt of St. Paul's. Thus the political stage was, as they say of the mimic one, 'waiting.' The nation, which in this case formed the spectators of the drama, were not kept long in suspense.
After the general election which landed Mr. Lowe in the House of Commons as member for Kidderminster, it was soon apparent to the dullest of mortals, that in addition to the three recognised parliamentary chieftains-Lord Palmerston, Lord Derby, and Lord John Russell-there were now two gladiators in the arena whose achievements and prowess would shortly arrest all eyes. These, of course, were Benjamin Disraeli, the most romantic and unaccountable figure in English parliamentary history, and William Ewart Gladstone, who was then member for the University of Oxford and the foremost personality among the little band of Peelites who, small as they were in numbers, held the balance of power in their hands.
Greville penned a particularly pessimistic account of the General Election of 1852. In his opinion the unsolicited return of Macaulay for Edinburgh was the only creditable incident in the campaign. Nowhere else,' he remarked, 'have character and ability prevailed against political prejudices and animosities. Distinguished men have been rejected for mediocrities, by whom it is discreditable for any great constituency to be represented. The most conspicuous examples of this incongruity have been Lewis in Herefordshire, Sir George Grey in Northumberland, and Cardwell in Liverpool. Pusey was obliged to retire from Berks, and Buxton was beaten in Essex, victims of Protectionist ill-humour and revenge.'
This seems somewhat too sweeping, although Greville by no means exhausts the list of notable parliamentarians who
were defeated at the polls. There were also Lord Mahon, Sir George Clerk, and Mr. Horsman.
But Mr. Gladstone was returned for Oxford by an increased majority, and his great rival easily held his own in the county of Bucks. Milner Gibson, Bright, and Cobden still sat on the Radical benches; and as we have seen, Robert Lowe, who soon proved himself more than the equal in parliamentary skill and acumen of any of the rejected candidates, now found his way into the House of Commons.
It may be noted in passing that with regard to the triumphant return of Macaulay for Edinburgh, Lowe took a far more accurate measure of its importance than did the shrewd and rarely too enthusiastic Greville. Contrasting the election addresses at Manchester and Edinburgh in a remarkable article in the Times, Lowe pointed out how the former looked to the future, while the latter was only a splendid literary echo of the past. He even found fault with Macaulay's famous speech in returning thanks from the hustings-able and elegant as it is, we seek in vain for any deeper insight, any more comprehensive generalisation than would be afforded by the Whig creed of Lord Grey and Lord Althorp in 1832. . . . The orator does not seem to have realised the fact that the days of a purely Whig administration are gone by, and that whatever form the deluge which is to succeed Lord Derby is to leave behind it, there is none so improbable as a restoration of the family system of government.'
Parliament assembled on November 4, and seven days afterwards it was formally opened by Her Majesty in person. The Speech from the Throne, as might be imagined after such an election, fought for the most part on Protectionist issues, dealt largely with the great agricultural problem-' how to enable the country to meet successfully that unrestricted competition to which Parliament in its wisdom has decided that it should be subjected.' The hand of Disraeli, who saw that the large towns and the growing tide of Radicalism would prove too
strong for the landed proprietors and the farmers, may be very plainly traced throughout this Royal document. That most astute and tactful of men showed still more clearly that he considered Protection a lost cause and that 'the game was up,' when shortly afterwards he introduced his famous but ill-fated Budget.
The fact is, as must always be the case while human nature continues a constant factor, the history of England at this time was largely shaped by the personal rivalry of the two distinguished men who were by nature, training, and temperament so utterly opposed that they could never in the free play of such a Constitution as ours work together for the common good. Much has been said as to what might have happened had Mr. Gladstone remained in the Conservative ranks to which his early associations and predilections seemed to point as his rightful and permanent place. Had he joined Lord Derby and been in Disraeli's position as Chancellor of the Exchequer, there can hardly be a doubt that the history of the succeeding forty years would have run on quite different lines
Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere.
Yet we have it on the testimony of Greville and others that serious attempts were made by Lord Derby, as late as 1858, to induce these two remarkable men to run in double harness; while in 1862 Disraeli himself wrote to Mr. Gladstone's friend, Bishop Wilberforce :
'I wish you could have induced Gladstone to have joined Lord Derby's Government, when Lord Ellenborough resigned in 1858. It was not my fault that he did not: I almost went on my knees to him.'
Mr. Gladstone's latest biographer, Mr. George Russell, becomes very satirical over this imploring attitude of Disraeli; but an impartial study of that strange and powerful character reveals the fact that he was not wanting in magnanimity. However that may be, the House of Commons for the next thirty years was destined to be the arena of one long desperate