The Minister for England Lord Palmerston. By W. Baring Pemberton.
(Batchworth Press. 25s.) Hat der Teufel einen Sohn So ist er sicher Palmerston !
To the European monarchist Palmerston played that role of arch-mischiefmaker which Bonaparte had been 'for an earlier generation of English nursemaids and their charges. To Kossuth and Mazzini he was a stout if sometimes inconsistent champion; a hope of liberty in a Europe enslaved. However little he wished it, Lord Palmerston became identified with the great upsurge of liberalism in mid-nineteenth-century Europe; so long as he remained in power the revolutionaries believed that England would extend to their nascent movements, if not support by arms, at least benevolent neutrality.
Can Palmerston rightly be called a supporter in principle of continental liberalism ? Certainly at home his attitude towards Reform wavered between out-and-out opposition and the luke- warm support of one who fears that otherwise far worse will follow. Certainly, too, he never sought to lead England in a crusade against the despots of Europe, to advance " like a knight-errant of civilisation, forcing institutions on other coun- tries." The real .policy of England, he declared, was " to be the champion of justice and right .. . not becoming the Quixote of the world, but giving the weight of her moral sanction where- ever she thinks . . . that wrong has been done."
How far Palmerston adhered to this ' real policy ' and how often he strayed from it into ill-conceived adventures and patriotic follies, Mr. Pemberton has made it his especial busi- ness to determine. Lord Palmerston dominated English foreign policy at a time when our power and prestige were at their zenith. Can he be said to have marshalled those resources behind a consistent and high-minded policy so that England exercised the greatest possible influence abroad ? Or did he fritter them in vainglorious gestures and ill-judged threats ? In his three hundred and fifty pages the author has assembled much information and produced a sensibly proportioned work. But when he arrives at the fundamental questions which he himself has posed then he fails to face- them squarely. The exposition is competent but the reader looks in vain for any far-reaching or conclusive judgements. It is a hopeless task," writes the author, "to compress a life of Lord Palmerston within the compass of a single volume . . . which will satisfy the requirements at once of the scholar, the student and the general reader of historical biography." Between these three stools, elegantly but perceptibly, Mr. Pemberton has fallen. The scholar, as the author would be first to admit, requires a degree of original research and original judgement which is not attempted here. For the student the work is convenient and concise, well suited to examinations: but most will probably continue to draw their substance from Mr. Bell and Sir Charles Webster and their entertainment from the more irresponsible but sometimes vividly revealing pages of Mr. Guedalla.
As for the general reader of historical biography—this work is hardly suitable for him. Writing of one of the most dramatic and vital figures of the nineteenth century the author has omitted to give his subject any life at all. Even in the great crescendos of his career Mr. Pemberton's Palmerston remains a shadowy pen-holder or a disembodied voice. Everything about Lord Palmerston was extrava- gant; his arrogance and his humanity, his loves and his hates, even his longevity. He possessed, wrote Sir Charles Webster, "an ardour and power of work which has hardly ever been equalled"•' he could speak without a" notefor nearly five hours and swing the House of Commons and the country to his side; at seventy-nine he rode thirty miles in a day and was involved—albeit innocently—in an amatory scandal. Above all, he spoke with the voice of the people, his hopes and ideals were theirs, his victories were over their enemies. In Lord John Russell's phrase he was "The Minister for England." Often wrong-headed, often perverse, often obstinate, yet never in anything petty or inconsiderable; Lord Palmerston emerges from Mr. Pember- ton's pages as just another dim Victorian daguerreotype, a representa- tion in which all the features are accurately presented and yet the spirit hopelessly unheeded.