THE sudden loss of Lord Cairns removes one a the sanest of the advisers of the Tory Party,—one to whose lucidity and general ability Lord Salisbury was disposed to defer, evenewhen helimself would otherwise have persisted in that rasher and more logical policy by which Tory principles are so often discredited with a people who love compromise and moderation. Lord Cairns was a wise counsellor, whose knowledge and clearness of head it will not be easy to replace. But it cannot be truly said that he made a strong leader during the short time in which he led the Tory Party in the House of Lords. Except professionally in a legal case, leading was assuredly not his forte. In a man totally without " devil" as he was, there is needful something of health, animation, and of large vitality to make a good leader. A man may dominate his party who, like Air. Disraeli, can always at will make himself feared, without geniality and charm. But if he can neither make himself feared, nor attract by the largeness of his nature, he can never be a good leader ; and Lord Cairns never was a good leader of the Tory Peers, though he was an astute and prudent leader. He excited no enthusiasm, and hardly even much deference. Lord Lytton may generally be trusted to hit the wrong nail on the head when he deals with personalities ; and in his new poem he strays as wide of the mark in his complimentary stanza on Lord Cairns as it is possible for a man, with eyes in his head, but no eyes in his mind, to stray : "From those who forgo to those who wield our laws, Turn where the cheer around the Woolsack rings While, crashing down on some ill-fated cause,
. The massive mace of Caine sternly swings Its ponderous strokes; which yet expose no flaws In his own mail, that round the giant clings Close-rivetted with links of finest steel, Links that no crevice to the foe reveal."
Now, whatever Lord Cairns was, he was not massive. He was strong in his logic, clear in his exposition, keen in his criticism, but not, on the whole, weighty or impressive. He had too much in him of the Scoto-Irish dryness, too much of the professional adviser, too much of the man of talent who felt all the fastidiousness, without feeling the easy assurance, of rank, to take well upon himself the natural authority of a leader. His shrewdness was not genius, and the peculiar cast of his ungenial religion,—earnest as it was,—added no warmth to the rather cold edge of his forensic discrimination. He always spit:, rather as counsel for his party than as politician, though no man really expressed more sincerely his own views.
As good an illustration as we could give of what we mean is afforded by the very successful peroration of the speech Which Sir Hugh Cairns delivgred on the Conservative Reform Bill of 1859, a speech of which Mr. Disraeli wrote to the Queen in the highest terms of praise. In it Lord Cairns attacked sharply Lord John Russell (as he was then called); but the attack was, to our thinking, a masterly forensic attack, —the attack of counsel for the prosecution,—rather than the attack of a vigilant Parliamentary foe who had scrutinised Parliamentary life subtly and constantly from his own point of view :—" The noble lord " [Lord John Russell], he said, " appeals as a proof of his sincerity in his amendment to his long-known and long-tried attachment to the cause of Reform. We all know and admit the noble lord's attachment to this question. But we also know that there is a form of the tender passion which sometimes develops itself in jealousy of any attention to the object of its affection from any other quarter. I think the noble lord exposes himself to some misconstruction on this point. We have heard it said,— 'Strong were his hopes his rival to remove, With blandishments to gain the public love ; To head the faction while their zeal was hot, And popularly prosecute the plot.'
Whether this is so or not, I know not ; but of this I am sure, that the country will ask,—the country has asked already,— what are the real intentions of the noble lord, and what are the objects he proposes to himself in meeting a bill of this kind, not openly, not broadly, but by al ambiguous and most irregular amendment, which commits nobody, and which means nothing that is precise. The people of this country have differed, and they always will differ, about Reform, about theories of representation, about social and domestic legislation of any kind. But there is one subject upon which
Iithe people of this country are entirely agreed. They do not like anything which bears the least appearance of approaching to artifice,—or, I must use a homely phrase, a dodge. They do not like it in business ; they do not like it in politlzs ; but least of all will they admire it in a man who, at a time when the best interests of his country at home, and our most peaceful hopes abroad, demand all the patriotism, all the candour, and all the forbearance of a statesman, approaches the consideration of a great national question like this, not fairly to criticise, not boldly to reject, but cantriving a crafty and catching device to confuse, and if it may be, to dislocate, parties ; and by that confusion and dislocation to secure his own political aggrandisement and private advantage." That is just the sort of attack which an able lawyer would have made for his client under the circumstances ; but it has none of the flavour of singular personal insight which Mr. Disraeli himself would have thrown into it,—none of the eager moral conviction of Mr, Gladstone.
Even in the last speech of his life, the Sabbatatian speech of yesterday fortnight., one felt much more of the acuteness with which Lord Cairns handled his brief than of the deep conviction by which, no doubt, that speech was really inspired. Great lawyers acquire only too soon the art of treating their case as if it were something quite apart from themselves ; and it is this which weakens so much the Parliamentary force of great lawyers' speeches. Lord Cairns, to some extent, even exaggerated this peculiarity. The fastidiousness which was so strong in him, that air even of a precisian which more or less he certainly had,enhanced the tendency of that professional habit which made him look at his case from the outside, instead of presenting himself, as all great Parliamentary speakers do, as part and parcel of that case. The greater Parliamentary orators exhibit the strength of their case by manifesting themselves. Lord Cairns never did this. He handled his brief in a masterly fashion, but he never lid you to believe that his brief had its main support in convictions which had grown with his growth' and strengthened with his strength.
Yet Lord Cairns had all the elements in him for keeping a really effective check on Lord Salisbury. He was as sharp and trenchant in his intellectual discriminations as Lord Salisbury himself, and a great deal more unimpassioned. He had that keen utilitarianism which is so well marked amongst the Scoto-Irish, and which contrasts so strangely with the Irish humour and Irish passion. Lord Lytton tells us that Lord Salisbury could have thrown-out the Irish Land Bill, but that
"A murmur through the host behind bin, flew,"
which warned him that he must not. Thera can be little doubt that that murmur was instigated by Lord Cairns. Keen as was his Conservatism, outraged as were his legal, no less than his political, instincts by that revolutionary measure, no one knew so well as Lord Claims that if it were rejected no landlord in Ireland could be saved from the deluge ; and hardly any one but Lord Cairns could have spoken to Lord Salisbury with the authority to which Lord Salisbury would have deferred. In this way Lord Cairns will be a very great loss to his party. The Duke of Richmond and Gordon is a useful drag on Lord Salisbury ; but Lord Salisbury wants more than a drag, he wants a drag with incisive reasoning powers of his own to command his attention, and the Duke of Richthond and Gordon, sensible al he is in a slow way, has certainly no incisive reasoning powers of his own. Lord Cairns could supply, what no other member of his party had the power to supply, a discriminating drag, a drag which arrested the velocity of Lord Salisbury's own impulse and volition. When flighty followers like Lord Lytton are urging-on their noble leader, it takes followers who can boast of something more than slow sagacity to hold him back. Lord Cairns had an intellect which Lord Salisbury could not help respecting,though he had not the power to make the House of Lords at large appreciate its force. And the next time that Lord Salisbury gets the bit between his teeth, the Tory Party will feel most grievously the loss which the keen east-winds . of 1885 have been the instrument of inflicting on the too heady chief of their otherwise headless party.