LORD JOHN RUSSELL.
THERE is nothing which stern political moralists can say in cri- ticism of Lord John Russell, that Lord John cannot retort upon the English people, without whom he would not be what he is, or have had the power to do what be has done. If he has trifled with a great nation, the great nation is one that has the capacity for being trifled with. If he presumes an easy faith on the part of the British public, the British public returns the compliment by presuming qualities in him which his own actions have been impotent to contradict. Perhaps the British public could not be better impersonated than in Lord Palmerston ; who is clever, with old Tory affections, and yet with modern facilities for receiving new ideas; who mistrusts innovation, though he can lead it—at "request of friends" ; and who has the courage to undertake any- thing, though he is not earnestly despairing should the under- taking fail. The relations of the two statesmen may almost stand to represent the relations of Lord John to the country. They have dismissed each other; but nothing that has passed can keep them separated if reconciliation is a convenience to either of them. Three years ago, when Lord Sohn Russell was in diffi- culties struggling to press forward a Reform Bill that Reform- ers cared nothing about, his noble friend took him unawares upon a collateral issue and most effectually tripped him up. Lord John had to introduce a Militia Bill, as other Ministers have since been obliged ; but, unfortunately for him, he proposed to intro- duce a bill entitled for a " local militia," when the force, as the logical Palmerston discovered, was much more like a "regular mi- litia." So Palmerston, by way of assisting his noble friend and late colleagues to bring in their militia, set them right on princi- ple and moved to omit the word "local"; which he carried against his late colleagues. The offence seemed at the time unpardon- able. Lord John peevishly retorted by moving that "the Chair- man of Committees and Lord Palmerston should be ordered to bring in a bill"; and he at once threw up his post as Premier. The contest was very like some that have followed since. It seemed to be about a word, and yet the whole party re- lations of the two men—the hopes of the Tories that they had re- covered the Foreign Secretary, the hopes of Lord John that he had got the command of the situation to the exclusion of his nearest rival—were staked on the cast of that division whether the bill
should have the word " local" or not. The division was humbug, but it had a grave meaning ; and if the public had some right to complain that statesmen were trifling, undoubtedly the statesmen had a right to retort that the British public is a people that may be trifled with. For this was not the first mystification of the kind. Not to go back to the first half of the century, we find Lord john, in 1851,
resigning because the Commons would not accept his promise of a "more comprehensive measure" in lieu of Mr. Locke King's ten-. pound county franchise. He went out of office, for a fortnigthht, to resume it again with all his colleagues—but not to give the promised Reform Bill.
If we cannot understand the exact tenure of Lord John Rus- sell's position with the public, still more mysteriou!, is the tenure between himself and his colleagues. There was a time when men who entered office together were supposed to have some kind of plighted faith towards each other; insomuch that any constituent member resigning, the others held themselves bound to do so too, or to explain " the reason why." It is not easy, unless we had the fall confessions of the man who has been virtually Premier of this country since 1846, to explain upon what exact principle the new Colonial Secretary stands, or' what is the liaison between him- self and his colleagues. In the December of 1851, Lord Palmer- ston suddenly resigned: he had said something in private about the coup d'etat at Paris, which occasioned Lord John to deliver a lecture to Lord Palmerston, supported by a previous reproof from the Queen. Two months later, it turned out that the difference between the two noble friends was, that Lord John gave an historical and Lord Palmerston a personal approval of the coup d'etat; scarcely a wider difference than that which afterwards enabled Lord Palmerston to retaliate by striking the word " lo- cal " out of his noble friend's Militia Bill. To abandon office, or to assume office, Lord John always seems to regard as his own private concern. He has once and again resigned on a personal impulse, without consulting his colleagues. He re- signed Mr. Strutt, without consulting that respectable gen- tleman, because he wished to shift his friend Earl Granville from an office which he desired for himself. At a time when other leading men made sacrifices to unite a nation- al Ministry under the Earl of Aberdeen, Lord John Rus- sell appeared to have surrendered all his personal pretensions ; but the sequel seems to show that it was only in appear- ance. When the opportunity arrived, Lord Aberdeen was " dismissed by a blow darkly aimed from an official hand." No two men ever acted in better faith towards their Sovereign, the Parliament, and their country, than Lord Aberdeen and the Duke of Newcastle; yet in the late transactions we find Lord John try- ing to procure the cooperation of Lord Aberdeen in ousting the Duke, without frankly consulting the latter; and ultimately ar- ranging that series of moves which ends in thrusting out Lord Aberdeen himself and putting Lord Palmerston in his place. On what public understanding does Lord John return ? Not long since there seemed to be no statesman who had more absolutely for- feited the confidence of the public. When he retired to the back bench, the popular belief undoubtedly was that he had selected his right place. With the aid of Lord Palmerston, he stepped forward to speak for England at Vienna ; and now he resumes his post in the Cabinet as head of the Colonial empire. What he has done in the interval to gain the confidence that he threw away in January, is not patent to the public. If there was then any haste exhibited in abandoning office on some personal impulse, the sequel has not proved that Lord John Russell entertains any graver sense of his own duties and responsibilities now. If opportunities have been offered to him for great actions, he has unquestionably trifled with those opportunities, snatching them or casting them away at the dictate of individual will. A daring man in re- pute, of unmeasured bravery in high-sounding sentences, his resolution fines down in his measures ; and pledges which he accepts on the impulse of the moment have, as we have seen in this rapid glance at his later career, seldom engaged his grave re- gard when subsequent convenience stood in their way. He has done good service when he was supported ab extra : it is probable that his fickleness—his proneness to trifle with the gravest inte- rests and the most difficult situations for his country—would be explained if we knew the pressure that is put upon him personally. There must be a reason why Lord John is no sooner reconciled to himself and returns to his duty than he is welcomed by his consti- tuency and his country. That reason, we conceive, does not lie very deep below the surface. That he is not of a logical mind, is shown by a notable absence of the processes of reasoning in his public speeches. His disposition in many respects (and in saying so we mean only to predicate of him what has been asserted of all " genius ") partakes greatly of the feminine order ; and in accord- ance with that temperament he seems less to hold his convictions by an intellectual working of his own mind than by the sympathy which he has for authority, and the desire which he has always displayed to identify himself with the most lauded imptilses and the great movements of the nation. The coldness, the hauteur, that some have remarked as a characteristic of his exterior bearing, is but a form of mauvaise honte. If there is a great, a patriotic, and a national thing to be done, Lord John wishes to be part of it,—a leading part if he can, a subsidiary part if he can do no better ; and it is this ingenuous fellow-feeling that, whenever he forgives himself and holds out his hand to his countrymen, makes them so ready to take it again.