6 SEPTEMBER 1913, Page 13


[TO THE EDITOR 01 THE "SPECTATOR."] SIR,—In the interesting article on " Friends : Active and Passive," in your issue of August 23rd, you refer to cases in which wives have a " windward " or protective attitude towards their husbands, and you add that we never find this state of things " depicted among the early Victorians." Perhaps the case of Mrs. Edmonstone in " The Heir of Redclyffe" may be cited as an exception to this broad statement. But on the main question your contributor is right, as may be attested by those of us who are old enough to remember the 'sixties. At that time I asked an old friend of my father's (since made a peer by Gladstone) whether he had ever thought of sending his clever daughter to college. His answer was, in effect, " She never made the suggestion to me, and, to be frank, I am glad she did not. If she distinguished herself at Oxford or Cambridge, and then, after acquiring strong literary tastes, became the wife of a fool, would not the marriage be an eye- sore ?" In fact, he thought that, if a couple was thus unequally yoked together, the twofold personality, so to call it, would at once seem top-heavy and might end by toppling over.

Perhaps in my youth Lady Palmerston was the most helpful of the wives of great men ; and she may even have become, next to the great Queen herself, the chief stateswoman of the Victorian epoch. Through the accident of a family connexion, I was admitted to her hospitality on one or two occasions. The last of these was shortly before Lord Palmerston's death ; and I remember then finding it hard to realize that the weak and meek-looking old man was the same whose voice had seemed to dominate the House of Commons

in a speech which I had heard a year or two before. It was at home that Lady Palmerston was in her element. Her tactful authority lay in the borderland between society and politics ; and she knew it. Personally, being then very young, I bad only a slight and, if I may so say. a green-room acquaintance with the political actors of whom I was bearing so much. My knowledge of the nature and causes of the Palmerstonian ascendancy was mainly derived from others, especially from a Conservative Member of Parliament with whom I was intimate, and whom I understood to speak as an eyewitness. A Whig barrister having rendered a signal service to his chief, Lady Palmerston at her next reception greeted him with a double handshake, and thanked him with the utmost warmth and delicacy. My informant, sorely against the grain, capped this narrative with a contrasting one. He told me that a Tory orator— probably either Copley or Thesiger—bad bestowed high and discerning praise on his chief, "the Rupert of debate." Lady Derby had to make her acknowledgments, but the task was performed with a somewhat chilling politeness. Of course, her lack of warmth was unintentional, bat it was a foil to the graciousness of her rival, whose savoir faire, or, rather, savoir remercier, tempts me to adapt a Virgilian phrase by saying, " Notum prudens quid femina possit."—I am, Sir, &c.,


Athenaeum Club, Pall Nall, S.W.