THE CHANCELLOR'S RETIREMENT.
ARUMOUR which ever since the commencement of the Session may be said to have been in the air suddenly took shape this week, and provoked demi-official contradic- tions substantially confirming its accuracy. The Morning Post, around which a faint aroma of its former Ministerial connection still clings, announced on Monday morning that Lord Hatherley had placed his resignation in the hands of the Premier, and continued to hold the Great Seal only pend- ing his successor's appointment. The plea of failing eyesight, which was known to have a foundation in fact, gave a certain exactitude to a statement not otherwise inconsistent with the probabilities of the case. But it was necessary, we presume, from a regard for official proprieties, that the report, though admitted to be probable, should be condemned as " absolutely inaccurate." Though " unauthorised," the statement of the Morning Post is, by the admission of those who most severely criticise it, no more than " premature ;" and now that due tribute has been paid to etiquette, it is permissible to discuss, as in fact every one has been doing during the week, the consequences of the step which the Lord Chancellor has resolved to take. So indisputable is the fact of Lord Hatherley's determination, that his successor has been publicly named, his claims canvassed, and the influences of the change upon the position of the Government universally debated. Mr. Gladstone, doubtless, has not formally accepted Lord Hatherley's resignation, but it is plain that the Chancel- lor's intention to resign is understood by the Government, and that the completion of his wishes is delayed only until arrangements have been made for Sir Roundell Palmer's acceptance of the Great Seal.
When Mr. Gladstone's Government was in the hey-day of youth and vigour, no member of it bore away higher and purer honours than Lord Hatherley. If, after his long retire- ment from public affairs, his name, justly distinguished in the Chancery Courts, seemed strangely enlisted in the ranks of Liberal statesmen, the new Chancellor soon gave proof not only of the genuine fibre of his Liberalism, but of powers to influence the public mind and to carry conviction in political controversy with which he bad scarcely been credited. Some men more eminent in the vulgar sense of the word might have been chosen by Mr. Gladstone for the office, but no one, not even Sir Roundell Palmer himself, could have lent to the Liberal party during the difficulties of the Irish Church con- test such moral support. The character of Lord Hatherley soon became familiar to the country, and even those who differed with him could admire the fervour of his faith, the ardour of his passion for justice, and the scorn for everything ignoble and selfish that seemed to breathe through his direct and unadorned eloquence. It was due, probably, to Lord Hatherley's personal influence more than to that of any other individual, that the opposition on moral grounds to the passage of the Irish Church Bill was so feeble in the House of Lords. Nor was the effect upon the serious thought of the orthodox classes throughout the kingdom less powerful. It was impossible to know Lord Lord Hatherley, or even to form a conception of his character from reports of his published speeches, without believing in his intense sincerity, and a feeling diffused itself that a cause which he, and such as he, defended with earnest conviction could not be wholly the selfish and faithless stroke of policy that Lord Salisbury denounced. The reputation of the Chan- cellor may be said to have reached its culminating point at the close of the Session which witnessed the disestablishment of the Irish Church. In the following year, the questions of
general policy which occupied Parliament were less in need of that support which Lord Hatherley was best fitted to afford, —the sustaining force of a disinterested zeal and a stainless fame. The details of the Irish Land Bill were not those which he could illuminate, and the Education Act was not endangered in the Upper House. Unfortunately, the Chan- cellor had time enough to busy himself with a measure of Law reform which, though innovating enough to alarm legal Conservatives like Sir George Jesse], who believe in the per- fection of the present system, mocked the hopes of true re- formers with the most illogical compromises and the most in- significant alterations of procedure. The subject was shelved for a year, but in the present Session Lord Hatherley again attempted to grapple with a question which the Attorney- General thinks no one save a Lord Chancellor had a right to touch. The attempt to found a new Appellate Court on the lines of Lord Hatherley's Bill was, of course, vain ; the mat- ter was referred to a Select Committee of the Lords, who have distorted the Appellate Jurisdiction Scheme into some- thing, if possible, more feeble and impracticable than that produced by the Chancellor. It may be doubted whether Lord Hatherley bad at any time the true reforming instinct in dealing with the framework of our judicature. It is not un- likely that he dreads any effective alteration of the existing distribution of power, as likely to be more injurious, by giving possibly an irreparable shock to the priceless and unique standard of character we have obtained in every part almost of our legal system, than could be compensated for by any possible reduction of the enormous burden which the costli- ness of our law imposed upon the people. At any rate, he has shown no capacity for comprehending what legal reform means, much less for carrying it out. But Lord Hatherley's failure to grasp law reform, though it might have slowly undermined his reputation, would have given ground for no general belief in the weakness of his fine character, if an extravagant passion for economy had not disfigured all his plans. Wherever he could cut down the salary of a judge, an officer of court, or even a clerk, he did not scruple to do so, effecting some petty saving which might have been con- spicuous enough to figure in the triumphs of an office subject to Mr. Lowe's severe rule, but insignificant when compared with the total cost of our Legal Establishment. Lord Hatherley ought surely to be aware that the lawyers are the last men to tolerate the inroads of official parsimony. He must under- stand that the honourable allegiance which the nation pur- chases at present from those who labour in the Courts of law, and whichis the main guarantee for the purity of our judicial system, would soon disappear if there were to be perpetual squabbles over judges' salaries and clerks' fees. An instance of this unfortunate tendency led to the failure of the attempt to get judges of the first rank for the Judicial Courts of the Privy Council. And by a curious retribution, the difficulties in which the Chancellor became thus involved induced Lord Hatherley to beconie a partner in that singular outrage on common-sense and plain dealing, the Collier appointment. Into the circumstances of that disagreeable affair it is unneces- sary to enter. It is enough to say that the casuistry which beguiled both the Premier and the Chancellor would have failed to enthral intellects less subtle and, at the same time, less penetrated with a just conviction of their own sincerity. But though the honesty of the Chancellor was not impeached by any fair critic during this unpleasant controversy, his fit- ness for the rough game of practical politics came to be very generally doubted ; and this doubt probably has had a share in bringing about the determination which has now been made public. The weakness of the Lord Chancellor's eyesight gives him, unfortunately, a real ground for asking relief from official toils, but this cause, it is clear enough, did not operate alone.
There seems to be no question in any quarter that Sir Roundell Palmer will succeed to Lord Hatherley's place. Of course, there can be no dispute as to his fitness, and even accord- ing to the strictest official etiquette Sir Roundell has a claim to the succession. But for his difference with the Cabinet on the Irish Church question, he would now be on the woolsack, and since this question has been removed from the sphere of practical politics, he has occupied a somewhat anomalous position as adviser of and sponsor for the Ministry. His influence was invoked in defence of the Government in the discussion of the Royal Warrant abolishing Purchase, and of Sir Robert Collier's appointment. He was called in to act for the Government in the Alabama negotiation, and on all the political questions that have lately arisen the weight of his high character and of his influence in Parliament has been thrown on the side of the Ministry. It is only fitting that this power should be accompanied with responsibility ; and as Chancellor, Sir Roundell Palmer will not be a wasted force. His persuasive eloquence, always gathering force from the sub- dued tone of moral energy and deliberate conviction—not unlike Lord Hatherley's in this—will be serviceable among the Peers, where Liberal oratory has not the same predomin- ance it possesses in the Lower House. What is more important is that Sir R. Palmer has shown in all his allusions to law reform—though these have been few and cautious—a breadth of view which leads us to expect from him a large measure, taking up at least all the ground the Judicature Commission has occupied. He would be found, if we are not mistaken, a strong supporter of the policy of breaking down the barriers between law and equity, the crucial question in law reform. His courage and temper have been shown by the bold fight he has made for the deliverance of legal educa- tion from the thraldom of the Inns of Court monopoly. In some directions it might be discovered that his strength was added to the Conservative elements in the Cabinet, but on his own ground he would prove, we are assured, not merely officially, but in spirit, a law reformer.