5 DECEMBER 1885, Page 16



THIS is a remarkable sketch of a very wonderful man,—a man wonderful for his courage, wonderful for his steadfastness, wonderful for his cheerfulness, wonderful for his achievements, wonderful for the general breadth of his sympathies, and wonderful, too, for the marked limitation of his intellectual and moral interests, even more wonderful in this respect, we think, after his blindness shut out so much of the external world from his immediate reach than before. Doubtless, Mr. Stephen would have added to the general interest of his book if he had dwelt less on the course of Mr. Fawcett's external work as a politician, and more on the thoroughly manly and yet thoroughly secular mind, to the concentrated vigour of which that work was due. We should have liked more private cor- * Life of Henry Fawcett. By Leslie Stephen. With two Portraits. London: inith, Elder, and Co. respondence and less politics. Mr. Fawcett seems to us very nearly the ideal of what man should be if Mr. Stephen's own philosophy of ethics were adequate and covered the actual range of man's nature. Mr. Fawcett's was a singularly healthy and a singularly cordial mind, ever eager to expand its range of sympathies, ever steadfast in fidelity to its old ties. He was cheerful even to buoyancy, in spite of his blindness, and quite as much so after the blow fell as before it was threatened. He openly avowed that he treasured his enjoyments, and said, indeed,—" There is only one thing I ever regret, and that is to have missed a chance of enjoyment." And Mr. Stephen adds, that "he would seriously ponder at the end of a frost whether he could not have contrived another hour's skating." "He intended, he would tell me, to live to be ninety, and to relish every day of his life." After his blindness he deliberately learned to smoke, on the ground that this was one of the enjoyments which a blind man could enjoy as much as a man with sight. All this has a little too much of enlightened self-interest in it for any philosophy but the utilitarian. Yet Mr. Fawcett was so happily constituted that nothing seems to have given him more genuine pleasure than visiting friends who were sick or miserable, and whom he could manage to cheer. No one could have called him selfish. He had a buoyancy of nature which made it an enjoyment to him to raise, as it were, the temperature of other men's happiness, by lending a little of the vitality of his own. Then for the poor he felt the heartiest sympathy, and was eager to do all in his power to add to their happiness, and this he thought he could do best by adding to their independence. He talked to men of all classes with as much freedom and as much bonhomie as Sir Walter Scott, and gave them the perfectly true impression that he enjoyed their society, which, of course, was quite enough to make them enjoy his. And yet he was in many respects a very limited man ; indeed, mach of his strength probably arose from his limitation. Mr. Stephen admits, and even dwells upon, this

fact :—

"His complete satisfaction with the Cambridge system limited any inclination which he may have had to extend the area of his studies. He worked hard after his degree ; but he did not make many excur- sions into new fields. His own education had been limited ; his ten- dency fell in with the general disposition of the society to which he belonged. Cambridge men were rather proud of their limitations. The limitations represented contempt for mere intellectual frippery and empty pretence. It was exceptional for a don of that day to extend his inquiries into new fields of speculation. He was content to make his knowledge more thorough within the accepted sphere, without annexing new regions of thought. Whether from this or from other causes, Cambridge was curiously indifferent to certain controversies. It is strange to turn from the Cambridge of this period to the Oxford so vividly described by the historians of the Newman generation. It is like passing to the history of a remote century or a different civilisation. Theological diecossion had doubt- less (as Pattison's memoir has lately told us) ceased to excite the old interest at Oxford itself. At Cambridge it was difficult to realise that such controversies could ever have occupied any reasonable mind. Arguments upon the merits of alchemy would hardly have been a greater anachronism at Cambridge than argument about the Via Media, or the rival claims of Reason and Authority. We had, of course, our High-Churchmen and our Evangelicals, and I have no reason to doubt that the great majority did more than simply acquiesce in the creed to which they were pledged. But there was no active spirit of theological investigation. The cardinal virtue in such matters, aocording to us, was a common sense which might be taken to imply a liberal and tolerant spirit or simple indifference. Indifference was certainly the characteristic of Fawcett's inner circle and of Fawcett himself. There were, in fact, wide spheres of thought which he scarcely oared to enter. Once, when directly asked for his opinion upon a question which to most philosophers seems to be of primary importance, he replied with his usual simplicity, 'I never could bring my mind to take any interest in the subject.' Within a certain limit Fawcett's mind was sur- prisingly active and powerful. I have never known a man to whose judgment I should have more readily deferred in all matters in which he was really at home. But his mental activity was strictly confined within certain limits. His want of interest in the questions generally called philosophical was no doubt due in part to his perception of the familiar fact that such questions are never finally answered and have no immediate bearing on the questions which must be answered. That consideration, however, would have failed to deter any man who had the natural aptitude for an inquiry which to men so qualified is delightful in itself, even where they are convinced beforehand that the inquiry must be fruitless of any definite result. Fawcett's intellect was not of the type which would prefer the search after truth to the truth itself."

It is hard to say whether that passage is in its essence apologetic or triumphant. Perhaps Mr. Stephen would have preferred that Mr. Fawcett should have taken in those deeper problems an interest sufficient to induce him to examine them,— that is, if he had arrived, like himself, at generally negative con- clusions. At least,,we infer this from the curious blending of sar- cam at the deeper, and we will say the far nobler, Oxford studies, with the tone of half apology for Mr. Fawcett in which Mr. Stephen writes. But unquestionably it was the complete limita- tion of Mr. Fawcett's mind to the practical issues with which he felt he could grapple, which gave him his singular capacity for dealing with them. He was never haunted, apparently, by any doubts as to the sufficiency of the ultimate premisses on which political and economical problems virtually rest ; whereas if he had had Mr. Stephen's general acquaintance with the difficulties at the bottom, he might very probably have betrayed Mr. Stephen's permanent spirit of dissatisfaction with those who took a different view of the matter from himself. Mr. Fawcett's unique strength lay, we suppose, in that extraordinary con- fession of his that he never could bring himself to take any interest in a subject which Mr. Stephen describes as seeming to be "of primary importance to most philosophers." Yet it is wonderful enough that to a man evidently of cordial affections and the most hearty benevolence, questions which, we suppose, must involve the destiny both of the individual and of the race, should have been so utterly destitute of significance.

One of the most curious problems in the story of this singular man's life is the account to be given of his quite unique courage. Every one knows how he skated, and rode, and fished after his misfortune as well as ever he could while in full enjoyment of his sight. Many might say that this was greatly due to a deficiency of imagination, since a powerful imagination might have rendered such pleasures utterly impossible to any person of vivid fancy, and, therefore, of vivid dreads. But though it would be hard to say that Mr. Fawcett's imagination was a brilliant one,—certainly his eminence as a writer and speaker is not due to imaginative qualities,—it is very difficult to conceive that a man could be deficient in imagination who could see a brilliant sunset so vividly through the description of another, that he was compelled to have recourse to dates in order to determine whether it had occurred before he lost his sight or since. Yet this we have on his own authority :—

" I know from my own experience that the happiest moments that I spend in my life are when I am in companionship with some friend who will forget that I have lost my eyesight, who will talk to me as if I could see, who will describe to me the persons I meet, a beautiful sunset, or scenes of great beauty through which we may be passing. For so wonderful is the adaptability of the human mind that when, for instance, some scene of great beauty has been de- scribed to me, I recall that scene in after years and I speak about it in such a manner that sometimes I have to check myself and con- sider for a moment whether the impression was produced when I had my sight or was conveyed by the description of another."

It is hardly possible that the man who so thoroughly realised

the visions presented to him only through the descriptions of another could have been deficient in that vigorous power of presenting to his own mind possible dangers which it must have taken the most solid and tenacious courage to overcome.

As a politician, we all know and respect Mr. Fawcett, though there are portions of his career when, in the opinion of the present writer, he fell into error, partly no doubt through the very natural instinct which impels a strong man to make his powers felt in debate, and partly for the very reason which made him so strong, that he had but a limited insight into the issues before him. For example, we think that his attack on the Irish University measure of 1873, and his Policy in relation to Trinity College, Dublin, were great misfortunes for Ireland, as well as for the Liberal Party of that day ; and again, that his criticisms on Mr. Forster's Education Act have been proved by experience to be, on the whole, unfounded. On the other hand, his efforts to preserve the commons from enclosure were not only most strenuous and successful, but invaluable ; and his adminis- tration of the Post-office was as advantageous to the public service as it was creditable to himself. No doubt it may be said that on one or two subjects, on the subject of the act of Prerogative, by which the House of Lords was prevented from nullifying the decision of the House of Commons to abolish Army Purchase,—a matter very poorly and inadequately dis- cussed by Mr. Stephen,—and on the subject of the so-called representation of minorities, Mr. Fawcett's line may fairly be described as doctrinaire. But there are great qualities in the man who founds himself so thoroughly on principle that even when his principles are only justified by a somewhat narrow experience, he is still pertinacious in maintaining them ; for it is not given to many, men to discriminate so clearly between genuine principles and the doctrines of a clique, as to be ready to sacrifice the latter, without being also sometimes persuaded to give up the former. No one could accuse Mr. Fawcett of being an Opportunist; and it is the vice of Opportunism into which some of the most skilful and acute of our modern Liberals are but too likely to fall.

Yet, many as were Mr. Fawcett's public services, we doubt whether he did any service to the public so great as he rendered by showing them how possible it is for a blind man to turn his privation into a source of strength greater even than his loss, and to set the example to the world at large of a courage and cheerful- ness quite unexampled even amongst those who have no such privation to contend against, and also of consideration for others that was all the greater for the consciousness of needing con- sideration for himself. The strictly biographic part of this book is so interesting that we heartily wish it had been very much fuller, and that the political portions had been propor- tionately curtailed.