6 FEBRUARY 1897, Page 9


WE greatly regret to observe that Sir George Trevelyan's retirement from the representation of Glasgow is due to ill-health. We trust, however, that the ill-health will soon pass away with the greater tran- quillity of his life, and that the world may be the gainer by his disburdenment of Parliamentary and political cares, if, as we sincerely hope, it leads to his resumption of those less harassing, and yet perhaps more enduring, efforts of the intellect and imagination which resulted in such delightful works as the " Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay " and the study of " The Early Life of Charles James Fox." Sir George Trevelyan's career as a states- man began in 1868, and be has had ,Cabinet rank since 1884. Doubtless he has bought a good deal of even literary experience,—at an immense cost,—by his political career, by the very severe purgatory of Jiis Irish Secretaryship, by the hesitations and anxieties of 1886 and the following year, and by the general turmoil of mind which a Parliamentary life necessarily involves, and which seems to have something like a fatal fascina- tion even for men who, like Sir George Trevelyan, need a. certain quiet for the bringing out of their highest and most brilliant powers. We often wonder why the political fever so frequently seems to take a. strong hold of men who have been early inoculated with what should be the protection,—what doctors call the prophylactic,—of a literary genius. We suppose it must be that, in England especially, the universal admiration for the life of action is so contagious and so enthralling that it perverts even the imaginations of men who were meant to cultivate the gifts which bestow a literary vision,—a vision rarely if ever compatible to the fullest extent with a life of perturbation and hurry, and more or less precipitate judgment. In England at least, it is com- paratively a very rare thing for a really great literary man to achieve a great political career. Of course, Sir George Trevelyan's uncle, Lord Macaulay, who was a very great literary man, achieved a brilliant Parliamentary reputation, though not exactly the name of a great statesman ; and Mr. Disraeli, who was a considerable though certainly not a first-rate literary man, achieved a political career much greater than that which he could ever have attained by his rather moderate literary gifts alone. But if one runs over the political story of the last century, we can place the finger on no other figure which has been really great in both departments. Burke, Pitt, Fox, Sir Robert Peel, Canning, Charles Earl Grey, Lord Althorp, Lord Melbourne, Lord John Russell, Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Lord Palmers- ton, Lord Derby, Mr. Gladstone, Lord Salisbury,—to say nothing of some whose political reputations are still half-moulded, like Sir William Harcourt, Mr. Balfour, Mr. John Morley, Mr. Asquith, Lord Rose- bery,—none of these have yet achieved the double reputa- tion in any unquestionable shape. Burke was never a great statesman, though his was one of the very greatest names in political literature. Canning wrote some of the most brilliant squibs in our language, but hardly left a literary name. The most memorable of our statesmen cannot claim a high place in pure litera- ture at all. Pitt, Sir Robert Peel, Lord Althorp, Lord Melbourne, Lord John Russell, Lord Palmerston, Mr. Gladstone, Lord Salisbury, have almost as little claim to a purely literary reputation as the Lord Aberdeen of 1853. Mr. Gladstone has written one or two brilliant essays, but his name as an orator, and his influence as a statesman, will always so far surpass anything he has had time to do in literature, that he will hardly be remembered as an author, while he will shine as what astronomers call a mighty " periodic " star in our political history, a star that waxed and waned and waxed again, and "flamed in the forehead of the morning sky." Perhaps Pitt and Peel and Palmerston will be remembered as the three most generally acknowledged, though not the highest, fixed reputations of the century between 1790 and 1890, though Mr. Gladstone in the brilliance and periodic lustre of his popular influence may have outshone them all. Lord Beaconsfield, so far as we can see, remains the only conspicuous statesman who, without his literary talent, would never have attained the front rank, and yet could never have attained that rank by virtue of his not very great literary genius alone. His tenacity, audacity, and political imagination carried him to the top, but without a considerable fertility in epi- gram and literary invention, that tenacity, audacity, and political imagination would never have created for themselves the chance to gain full recognition in the political world.

And yet we see men with a very large amount of literary genius, like Sir George Trevelyan and Mr. John Morley, abandoning the field in which they are absolutely sure of a success more or less brilliant, for a field in which success is in the highest degree doubtful, and even if partially secured is far more likely to be transient, and what is, we think, much more important, far less likely to be permanently useful to their country, than the success which was well within their grasp. It seems to us almost certain that the really massive English statesmen, states- men like Walpole in the last century and Peel in this, far surpass in permanent political usefulness the few great literary statesmen. Even Mr. Gladstone, with all his miraculous force of character and oratorical splendour, will probably be estimated in the next century more highly for what he has done as Peel's successor, what he has done to set English finance on its true basis, than for his rather comet-like orbit in domestic politics. It is steady, firm, plodding states- men who leave the deepest imprint on the English mind. The literary man when he takes up politics always, or almost always, seems to lack continuity and sobriety of purpose. His eyes wander to all points of the compass. His imagination is always bent on " visualising," as the phrase is, the situation around him, which is not really half so important for any political purpose, as the power to seize hold of all the practical reforms immediately needful, and to carry them through with a patient and sometimes almost dumb fidelity. The literary mind is distracted, and not seldom even betrayed, by its keenness to see all the picturesque and effective aspects of a question as temporary opinion will see them. It is a sort of laborious instinct, rather than brilliant literary insight, which achieves the greatest things in politics. As a politician Sir George Trevelyan will perhaps deserve to be remembered best for the tenacity with which he pressed the extension of household suffrage to the counties. That was essential to satisfying the claims of justice as between the urban and the rural constituencies, and has solidified the English democracy, though it introduced for a time an uncertainty and something like sensationalism into the outcome of General Elections. But when Sir George Trevelyan came to the consideration of a great and sudden change in policy, like the Home-rule proposal, it was evident that his instinct failed him, and his literary imagination disturbed him, and that he fluttered to and fro like a bird whose nest has been robbed, and did not so much make up his mind as let his mind make up him. It is the instinctive politicians who sway English politics for good, while literary politicians seldom have strong instincts. Their graphic imagination disturbs them. Evidently Sir George Trevelyan dwelt much on what England owed to the Liberal party, and could not persuade himself that Mr. Gladstone, with so many of the old Liberal party behind him, was not really to be followed as the true guide in that matter. He wavered and wavered, and when he took what we believe to have been the wrong line, took it too late to inspire confidence in any one, least of all, possibly, in himself. From the time when he got into the Cabinet, he was more or less played out as a statesman, and has never exerted any considerable political influence since. We only wish he had returned to literature eleven years ago, and we should certainly have gained, even in the opinion of his own party, more than we should have lost.

The case of Mr. John Morley, our other great literary statesman, is different. No one can accuse him of anything like literary fluctuation. It was he, we imagine, who turned the scales in favour of Irish Home-rule, and it is certainly he who has been the head and heart of the English Home- rule party in Parliament since Mr. Gladstone's retire- ment. His literary insight, which is great, has helped him to see that hesitation in politics is almost always fatal, and that you had better fail in pressing a cause which you have honestly adopted than allow yourself to think you have been precipitate in judgment. But, tenacious as Mr. Morley has shown himself, he has never yet given the impression of a statesman who has followed sagacious impressions derived from practical experience rather than the guidance of abstract ideas. As in his book against Compromise, he has never had the English dread of going too far, unless, indeed, in his evident dislike to " Home-rule all round," to which his logical intellect seems—at least if we may judge from his most recent speeches—to be at length driving him. And in his foreign policy he has certainly shown all the characteristics of an abstract and an unpractical states- man. He reminds us of the French doctrinaires in politics, rather than of Sir Robert Walpole, of whose sagacitv he has given us so admirable a study. And we suspect -that he will be remembered more as the great illustration of Mr. Gladstone's gift for manifesting at a late age, something like humble discipleship to one of his juniors, a gift rare indeed in the later life of men of genius and seldom politically trustworthy, rather than for his own political career.