THE SATURDA 1' REVIEW ON LORD RUSSFJ , T, T HE Saturday Review
of last week wrote, what is very unusual with it, an article on Lord Russell which was not merely petty and spiteful, but petty and spiteful without that amount of common candour and common sense with which men of the world usually season their bitterest attacks, since they know that, except by the help of such candour and sense, they fail to obtain an attentive hearing even for their most telling sarcasms. It is not because we believe that this very savage and yet rather feeble attack on Lord Russell will get much serious consideration from the public that we wish to say a few words in answer to it on a statesman who has earned so many great claims on our gratitude, in spite of the serious political blunders of which he has undoubtedly been guilty. But such an attack as this,—so furious and so blind,—reminds us of the public duty of showing our greater statesmen some gratitude while they live, and not reserving it altogether for their obituaries. If the feeble-forcible invective of the Satur- day Review had been published on occasion of Lord Russell's death, all England would have been indignant. We cannot see why it should be less resented because it happens to appear at a moment when the subject of it is still capable of feeling pain from the literary vitriol-thrower, than it would be if the burning and blinding fluid had been sprinkled over a corpse. When a paper of high culture, ability, and influence writes of such a man as Lord Russell that it is almost true to say of him that he touched nothing which he did not disfigure,—that is what is conveyed, we suppose, by the assertion that " the reverse " of the saying "Nihil tetigit quod non ornavit" is almost true of Lord Russell,—that " find- ing Liberalism all but marble, he has left it mire and clay," —that he has been " cold, dictatorial," " dull, unsympathetic, and pompous" as a statesman, the last epithet at least being singularly ill chosen for the curt, crusty, acute style of Lord Russell's statesmanship,—perhaps the Saturday Review meant a trifle priggish which is a very different thing, and much less hollow ;—that his career has been "an ample succes- sion of occasions for failure, occasions which he has made the most of,"—finally, that " he has lived longer than the ordinary age of man only to discredit principles and break up associations which it had taken two centuries of struggle and difficulty to organize,"—when such a paper as the Saturday Review writes thus of a statesman like Lord Russell, it is time, we think, for those who do not wish to see public gratitude quite out of date to say something of the greater aspects of Lord Russell's political life, and prove that we see through the petty malice of such a criticism as this by something more than contemptuous silence.
When the Saturday Reviewer restrains his positive hatred for a moment to contrast Lord Russell unfavourably with his
great (chiefly because successful) predecessor," he no doubt reflects better the immediate impression of the public mind than by all this pseudo-epigrammatic vituperation. No doubt in some great qualities Lord Russell was Lord Palmer- ston's inferior. He was his inferior in personal generosity as a party leader. He was his inferior, we think, in the kind of pluck which is needful to stem the tide of temporary un- popularity and disgust. Lord Russell has always had a ten- dency to turn with a turning tide. He would not have gone to Compiegne like Lord Palmerston, at the very time when he had fallen from power in consequence of too close an adhesion to the policy of the Emperor of the French. He gave voice to the first childish burst of rage against the Papal aggression in 1850, and he sank his voice again with the sink- ing voice of the public, directly he was aware that the spasm was over. He deserted his colleagues in 1855 at the first breath ssf popular rage against the mal-administration of the army in the Crimea ; he burst forth with the first notes of the ex- plosion of popular indignation against Russia for her treat- ment of Poland in 1863, and collapsed when he found that the public opinion would not sustain him in anything more than angry speech ; he threatened as all England was threaten- ing when Austria and Prussia broke faith with Denmark in 1864, and humiliated himself as all England humiliated herself when it appeared that we should have to go to war alone for Denmark or not at all. In all these instances, and in the tendency which they all exhibit to follow rather than to guide popular feeling, to recede with it as well as to advance with it no doubt Lord Russell has shown himself Lord Palmerston's inferior. He has shown less tenacity of individual judgment whenever there has been any danger of a temporary breach between his own views and those of the public. But admit these two points of real inferiority to Lord Palmerston, inferiority in personal generosity as a party leader, and in tenacity of individual judgment when public opinion seemed to turn against him, and yet we do not doubt for a moment, we should question whether any competent and impartial critic could doubt, that Lord Rumill's name as a statesman will rank far higher with the future historians of our time than Lord Palmerston's. The latter no doubt died at the climax of his popularity, while Lord Russell has long culmi- nated, and long been on the decline. But compare the sub- stantial achievements of the two statesmen, nay, compare even their political characters apart from their achievements, and it is scarcely possible to hesitate for a moment as to which of the two weighs the heavier in English history. Lord Pal- merston's personal achievements are at most three—his defeat of the French policy in Syria in 1840, of the Russian policy in Turkey in 1853, and the alliance with the Emperor of the French by the help of which the last success was achieved.
There is no doubt that the Dano-German fiasco in 1864 was as much due to Lord Palmerston as to Lord Russell. The one talked as big in the House of Commons—the " Cambyses' vein," Mr. Disraeli called it—as the other wrote in his des- patches. But the diplomatic triumph over the French policy for Italy in 1860 was certainly due more to Lord John Russell than to Lord Palmerston. No Foreign Minister was ever better abused than he during that important year, and though cordially supported by his chief, the Prime Minister, all the most important despatches of that period were unmistakably due to Lord John Russell's keen sympathy with the popular Italian cause. And for the American foreign policy of the Liberal Government during the difficult and dangerous time of the Civil War, Lord Russell was far more responsible than Lord Palmerston. It was his thorough sympathy with the freemen of the North that alone averted a serious quarrel between England and the United States, at a time when Lord Palmerston took no pains to conceal that all his private sym- pathies were with the Confederates. If the achievements of the two men were estimated only by the success of their foreign policy, we should say that Lord Russell's, in spite of the Polish and German fiascos, had been as successful, if not more fruitful of permanently great results, as Lord Palmerston's. The " meddle-and-muddle " policy was more or less common to both. But in saving Italy from Confederation and sub- servience to France, and in saving England from a war with the Free States of America, Lord Russell has achieved more than will balance Lord Palmerston's political successes in Syria, in Turkey, in Greece. And the reason is that Lord Russell's successes were founded on a more tenacious and intense sympathy with the cause of popular self-government than Lord Palmerston's. The questions of Syria and Turkey were questions of a traditional foreign policy, those of Italy and America were questions of constitutional principle. There was a wire of popular creed at the bottom of Lord Russell's most successful Foreign-Office achievements which was wanting in Lord Palmerston's, whose creed was never half so strongly and vividly defined, or based on strong genuine principle, as Lord Russell's.
But if we turn away from foreign policy, who can doubt for a moment that Lord Russell has achieved far more that is durable for England than his great' contemporary, and again for the same reason, because there is more Liberal root in him by far than there ever was in Lord Palmerston. When we talk of the Reform Bill as Lord John's only achievement, we forget both what the Reform Bill meant, and also all the other great constitutional struggles on the principles of Toleration coeval with Reform and of the same proper stock, which Lord John did so much to carry. While Sir Robert Peel resisted, or in the case of Catholic Eman- cipation, turned at the last moment, while Lord Palmer- ston was generally indifferent except to the principles of Mr. Canning and Mr. Huskisson, Lord Russell was fighting for twelve, almost hopeless, years against the prejudice and narrow violence of the party of privilege. No doubt he felt that he had a rising tide of political feeling under him, but it is one of the great tests of true statesmanship to be aware of this, and resolutely believe in it while no ostensible sign of progress can be seen on the surface of the political world. Lord Russell's youth achieved more for England than the whole career of any other statesman with whom he can be compared. If he has been slow to anticipate many of the subsequent changes that resulted from the reform of Parlia- ment, he at least provided the organism of all subsequent improvement ; and the same may be said of what he did to repeal the political disabilities of Roman Catholics and Dis- senters. These were both of them root-reforms, and it has always been in the tenacity with which he has held fast to a few great fundamental principles that Lord Russell has shown his political superiority to contemporary statesmen. His views have Often ripened far more slowly, and yet have sometimes ripened far too soddenly under the exigencies of party jealousy, as, for example, in the case of his Anti-Corn Law declaration ift 1845. But he has held by the root of political truths with far more tenacity than his great rivals, even when he has shown least capacity to water and foster it into fruitful bearing.
On the whole, with all his shortcomings,—curt, domineering, self-important as he undoubtedly is, Lord Russell has shown more of the love for freedom as freedom, apart from the mere prosperity which freedom brings, than any other statesman of our own day. The late Sir Robert Peel changed his principles as soon as he distinctly saw that they were lead- ing to wrong consequences ; Lord Palmerston did not need to change, but stack to a policy which was founded more in tradi- tion and general sagacity than in principle at all ; Mr. Gladstone has widened his sympathies rather than his principles with a widening experience ; but Lord Russell alone of recent English statesmen has seemed to know more clearly what is meant by popular duties and rights than by popular progress and pros- perity. His intellect is not flexible and far-reaching. He cannot adapt himself easily to new modes of conceiving old truths. But there is more hard political faith at the bottom of him than of all the other statesmen of the day ; and therefore he has done so much. He may have been very narrow, cold, and imperious, but his narrowness has at least kept him from all flirtation with a narrowness greater than his own,—his cold- ness has been exclusive to the exclusive,—and if he has been imperious, it has always been on behalf of the people.