BADHAM'S LIFE OF JOHN DEACON HUME. THE distribution of fame
is a puzzle.
"Reason frowns on war's unequal game,
Where wasted nations raise a single name." Discoverer after discoverer fails or perishes, that the last and lucky adventurer may gain celebrity by following the footsteps, and a wee bit beyond. How many speculators are ruined in the pursuit of an invention, which is either before its time, or stops
short of something to render it available and ' payable while the
credit and profit are carried off by a better judge of times and seasons, or a clever fellow who availing himself of the labours of his predecessors just adds the required improvement. It is the same in intellectual pursuits ; if not, as we think wholly, at least where mental results must as it were be fixed in act. Justinian is a household name through the civilized world as the law reformer, yet how little he really did, or could have done, towards the col- lections of which he reaps the fame ; but he was lucky in the ac- cident of his position, and could give the order. How many sub- ordinate officials, or as our author calls them, "unacknowledged statesmen" have provided the materials for great reforms in policy, and have put them into legislative shape; have aided the
minister by their suggestions andents ; nay possibly have
furnished him with principles as well; the man who really does little more than the display-work carries off the fame, while the laborious merit of him who has rendered the measure possible is known but to few, and that imperfectly.
According to Mr. Charles Badham, his father-in-law, John Deacon Hume, was one of these "unacknowledged statesmen." As far as class goes such is undoubtedly the fact; but in respect to public recognition we think he was an exception. That great undertaking, the consolidation of the Custom-laws, has always been acknowledged as his work, and fair if not even full praise bestowed upon it. His connection with Huskisson's measures of commercial reform is not so distinctly known nor are we sure that Mr. Deacon Hume's merits in this particular are above those of an intelligent and influential assistant. As an official advo- cate of free trade he is patent to the world. Sir Robert Peel, the anti-Corn-law League, and the press in general, have continu- ally quoted him as an unimpeachable authority, on questions of commercial principles. To this, however, circumstances might contribute as much as Mr. Deacon Hume's own desert. Peel and the Free-traders wanted all the practical authority they could get, and here was an official of the longest experience and the safest character—a man, too, who had weeded and consolidated that immense accumulation of more than five hundred years of nib- bish called the Laws of the Customs ; and who had been, too, the associate of Huskisson ; though some fifteen or twenty years earlier that might have been no particular recommendation to the Tories ; but the ribald abuse that was orthodox in 1825 was here- tical in 1840.
It is well that the world's attention should be called to such a man, and that the particulars of his character and career should be preserved in a biography ; although there is not in reality a great deal to tell. His father was an officer in the Customs, first as a deputy Commissioner to a noble Duke, who took the greater part of the profit, and left his depute the work ; subsequently he became Secretary of the Department. John Deacon was born in 1774; educated at Westminster School, where he always thought he (NI Est ir much ; and took a place in the Long Room in 1791. "He tain.ed while he was still young,' says his son-in- law, "speedy 'motion in the Custom-house, and was soon raised to an office of re naibility." This, with the exception that he finally became Comptroller, is all that we learn of his Custom- house career till 1822, when he undertook the consolidation of the laws ; although information more complete and less jejune than this, could have been obtained, from the Custom-house re- cords.
Notwithstanding the shrewdness, sagacity, and power of work possessed by Deacon Hume, we suspect that his real qualification -for his great task consisted in his customhouse experience. He knew the law as it existed in practice, and very probably could have roughly written down a customhouse code "without book." A mere lawyer could have done the thing as a sort of literary task, and probably have done it correctly ; but he could not have possessed the actual knowledge of the working that must have guided Hume through all his labours, and enabled him to give it the living air which characterized it. The terse and clear style your genuine lawyer would not have aimed at. And this hint nueit be borne in mind in further consolidations ; only it may be difficult to get a practising barrister, with the sagacity, sense, and powers of Deacon Hume.
How this work was accomplished it is desirable to know but difficult to learn, as authorities differ. Sir James Stephen, in that admirably finished literary essay of his, which he spoke off
• The Life of James Deacon flume, Secretary to the Board of Trade. By Charles Badham, 51.A. Published by Smith and Elder. last week at the Law Reform Association and whose only fault is that it exemplified every error it professed to warn the world against, thus tells the story. When Mr. Huskisson was President of the Board of Trade, the abridg- ment of the laws of customs which we had in use then was a volume as bulky as one of the heaviest of the statutes at large, and was printed ex- actly in the same close type. A most formidable volume ! Public opinion required, and our chief decided, that this vast carcase should be boiled down to its essences. With that view James Deacon Hume was summoned to Whitehall from the Customhouse of the port of London of which he was then comptroller. I cannot undertake to say what instructions, written or oral, were addressed to him by Mr. Huskisson ; but, from my frequent offi- cial intercourse with Mr. Deacon Hume on the subject, I am well convinced that his instructions were very general and very brief. His proceedings, however' were sufficiently characteristic. He began by exiling himself from ins family, whom he sent to France. He then took a lodging in Parliament Street, and became invisible to mankind. At length, after many months, he reappeared at Whitehall, bringing with him a small loosely printed octavo volume, which did not contain nearly as many words as any single number of Blackwood's Magazine, but which yet did contain the whole of the laws of customs which he (Mr. Hume) thought it worth while to preserve. That little volume, word for word, as it came from Mr. Hume's pen, was then transplanted into the statute-book. To that import- ant work Mr. Huskisson lent the authority of his great name, and he res- cued it from all the mutilations to which it would otherwise have been sub- ject in its passage through the House of Commons, and which, there, would have been pleasantly called amendments."
We fear that neither editor, nor platform orator, nor " gens togate in Westminster Hall, nor " gens non-togata" in Parlia- ment, when addressing Demos, have ever been much looser in statement in so short a compass. According to Mr.. Badham, the idea of the consolidation was Hume's own, and the Treasury his supporter, Huskisson, so far from originating the plan, having neither care for nor faith in it. "Mr. Huskisson, probably from his deeming it a hopeless undertaking, did not appear at the out- set to be very solicitous as to the result. No one, however, more sincerely felt and acknowled its value, as soon as it was accom- plished." (Page 23.) Huskisson's aid and influence in getting the bill through Parliament might be great; but Herries had charge of it. Many months" is not an exact account of time; it was the labour of some three years. The illustration from Blackt000d's Magazine and the supernatural "invisibility "seem to belong to that class of "telling effects," to which Demos, be- yond all doubt, is treated by artists of every kind. The plain tale, we believe, to be, that when Deacon Hume was relieved from his Customhouse duties by Treasury order, he took cham- bers in Parliament Street, worked hard, and well into the night, but did not rise very early; and so far from the incessant labour intimated in the extract, he soon found it advantageous to make Saturday a holiday in addition to Sunday : the work went on better for the relief. He also made excursions to France.
When this magnum opus was completed, the author was re- warded by Parliament with 6000/., but he returned to his post at the Customs ; though he was in frequent communication with Huskisson at the Board of Trade. In this department he was ap- pointed joint Secretary in 1828 (? 29), the office Mr. Badha.m says being created expressly for him. He retired from his post in 1840 on a pension of 1500/. a year, and died in January 1842. He mar- ried in 1798, and had twelve children, of whom eight, all daugh- ters, lived to womanhood.
The little there was to tell of the life, is not told in the best and clearest manner. Instead of a continuous narrative, the story is constantly interrupted as if on system. Mr. Hume was the means as a trustee, of detecting the Fauntleroy forgeries ; and that affair comes in as an episode. Letters to the newspapers and other writings, with extracts from Mr. Hume's examination before Com- mittees are inserted by wholesale ; though they rather belong to his works than his life, and should have appeared as an appendix. Smaller affairs are continually thrown in, and there is a want of clearness in the narrative throughout : no one for instance would gather from these pages that Mr. Hume never served under Hus- kisson at the Board. of Trade, the latter having quitted that office (and indeed official life altogether) before Mr. flume went there. Yet with so much that is needless there is little that is thoroughly done. Even the personal characteristics and family anecdotes are not very numerous or well-presented ; but we give a few de- scriptive of his personal habits.
The Duke and his Deputy.—" When the Secretaryship of the Customs, worth at that time above 20001 a year, became vacant, Mr. Pitt, the Minis- ter of the day, selected Mr. James Hume [the father] to fill the office : a circumstance which surprised and gratified him, for he had no patron, and it was entirely unsolicited on his part. This deserves to be mentioned, as it is a sort of parallel to the manner in which his son was afterwards ad- vanced ; and a parallel to which Mr. Deacon flume himself very often re- ferred. He was fond of relating the following anecdote in connection with his father's appointment. When Mr. Pitt gave him the place, he went to communicate the intelligence to the Duke of — . The latter, however, instead of expressing pleasure that one who had served him ably and faith- fully for many years should have met with such good fortune, only regarded the matter as it affected himself; and he exhibited much dissatisfaction that his own interest had not been considered in the arrangement."
Deacon Hume's Maxim for Promotion.—" There was a maxim which he often repeated, namely, that if a man wishes to be advanced upon the ground of merit, he must not content himself with merely doing his duty : he must be ready at all times to do more than his duty : to assist every one who needs his assistance, and to extend as far as possible the field of his usefulness. This he considered to be a solid groundwork for official worth and reputa- tion, which was sure to be obtained by attention and persevering industry in the public service."
The Duke of Wellington's First Thought.—" Mr. Hume was present upon that sad occasion [Mr. Huskisson's death.] He had travelled to Liver- pool with a large party, including several members of the Government, in order to witness the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, on the 15th of September 1830. • * * • The Duke of Wellington was one.
It was on this day that he [or any onel travelled for the first tune upon a railway. As soon as the train was fairly in motion, he made the soldierly and characteristic remark, This would be very effective for the conveyance of troops.'"
-Deacon Sun:eon Peel and the Tories, 1836.—" Politics are at this time a disagreeable topic to a man who is of no party. I see such great faults in my old friends the Tories, that I cannot travel by their side. I have heard it said that Peel is ready to bid very high in the auction of Liberalism if any opening should occur. This may be good tactics for a party man, and all fair, for what I know; but my idea is that the Tories should have been liberal a little sooner—or, rather, a great deal sooner ; and when I compare what they are ready to do with what they have refused, my mind recoils at the terms in which they continue to abuse the Whigs: I say this may be all very right and fair with parties, but a common man like myself, with one plain subject before him, cannot chime in with such modes of proceed- ing. I cannot take up a new station with every move. The Tories have flilly recognized the necessity of progress ; and they seem to me to keep al- ways one or two steps behind the Whigs, only for the sake of a point of dis- tinction for a grand quarrel."
Personal Traits.—"His conversation was varied and animated, abound- ing with lively repartee humour, and ready wit; oftentimes there was a sportiveness, almost akin to mischief, in his humour. In the difficult art of telling a story he particularly excelled. Avoiding the least approach to any premature merriment, every particular was related in terms the most con- cise and picturesque ; and when he came to the point, there was invariably a twinkle in his eye, imparting an effect which no words could equal. For music he had no taste; he might be saidto be almost insensible to its charms. He would occasionally, though rarely, lay aside the pursuit of the Severer Science,' and unbend his mind over a novel of Sir Walter Scott.
• S S• •
"Mr. Deacon Hume was extensively consulted by persons who needed ad- vice under difficult circumstances ; and he was always ready to afford them the benefit of his counsel. If any married man repaired to him respecting pecuniary embarrassment, he would inquire whether his wife was aware of his position ? If the reply was in the negative, he would answer, Then I must have nothing to say to you.' We much' doubt, however, whether he was one of those who would, under any circumstances, have confessed with Sir Samuel Romilly, there is nothing by which I have through life profited more than by the just observations, the good opinions, the sincere and gentle encouragement of amiable and sensible women :' for the temper- ament of the men was very different, and, with all his benevolence, it must be admitted that the sterner stuff' was not altogether omitted in his com- position.
Those who were connected with him by the ties of relationship, when in his presence were not altogether free from, what for the want of a more appropiate word we must call, a feeling of fear.
"lie had an aversion to sitting for his likeness ; no portrait of him con- sequently exists. In person he was of about the middle stature ; his fea- tures were strongly marked ; his forehead high and intellectual ,• his eye singularly expressive ; it might be said to be a light hazel, but the colour it was not easy to define, so constantly did it vary with each particular ex- pression. His voice was pleasing, of small compass, indeed, but well suited to conversation, in which he largely indulged; there was a keen sense of the ludicrous, and he had a merry laugh. His gait was uncommon : it was rapid and firm, indicative at once of decision and precision. He was slightly, though very slightly, old-fashioned in his attire which increased rather than lessened his gentlemanly appearance. Like his schoolfellow, the late Sir Francis Burdett, he continued to wear top-boots until they became singular. There was, in short, an individuality about him which no one could fail to observe."