GOLD WIN SMITH'S CORRESPONDENCE.*
IT is to-day too often the misfortune of departed greatness to suffer from what may, perhaps, be called a certain importunity of admiration. No sooner is a man of any distinction dead than those who honoured him when alive are busy with his memory. If his life has been eventful, the earth has hardly settled over his body before a biography is in the press, or, if he has been a writer, there at once appears a bulky volume of " Literary Remains " or " Correspondence." And yet surely such memorials, however agreeable to piety, run much risk of being superfluous or worse. The man who has done great deeds might well be content that the smaller happenings of his life should pass at once into oblivion; and how many writers are there the more trivial products of whose pen can deserve enduring recollection? An author who has given much to the world is not apt to be miserly of his best, and the rummaging of executors, though it may light on some saleable goods, will hardly discover real treasure, while, unless circumstances are exceptional, there is no reason to suppose that the "correspondence," even of a distinguished man, will contain much that is of permanent value. And in the case of Goldwin Smith why should it be otherwise ? During the period (1870-1910) with which these letters deal he lived in Canada, and so wanted that close personal touch with great affairs and persons which often lends to private correspondence an interest which is wholly apart from intrinsic merit. The subjects, moreover, which he discusses have to do chiefly with political, economic, or constitutional questions, and on these topics his published works are sufficiently explicit. He has said all that he has to say openly and to the world. His letters reveal no new secrets either about himself or others, and chiefly serve to show—what no one ever doubted—that he held in private the convictions be expressed in public, while it must be confessed that, though at times instructive, they form on the whole somewhat melancholy reading.
For Goldwin Smith, as we see him here, is above all things a politician, and a most unhappy politician. He cannot turn his eyes from the world of politics, and, as he contemplates them in the philosophic spirit of a Plato, he finds everything everywhere out of joint. He is a Liberal, and his vote is ever at the service of "a respectable Labour candidate," but he lives in constant dread of " an uncontrolled democracy." " The old Constitution," he writes in 1886, " of King, Lords, and Commons, with all its safeguards, has departed ; no Con- stitution or set of safeguards has taken its place. You have nothing but vast masses of people, most of them ignorant or ill-informed,-entrusted with . the direct exercise of supreme power, and called upon to decide questions which they cannot possibly understand." . Mr. Gladstone has taken up his axe to overthroW whatever is venerable, and Mr. Gladstone, we are told again and again, " represents demagogism in its most powerful, its most malignant, and its most destructive form." Indeed, it is painful—for why reopen old wounds ?—to read the vehement attacks made here by an old friend on the later years of that statesman. " His wickedness—for the ability of • The Correspondence of Goldwin Smith. By Arnold Ilaultain. Illustrated. London: T. Werner Laurie. [18s.]
his speeches shows that wickedness it is, and not insanity— is astounding; and he goes from bad to worse "; " his sense of responsibility is low; there are few who are so sensitively conscientious and few whose conscience is worth so little :'; " he has got Ireland into the most desperate condition, foreign affairs into a sad mess, and steadily plunged the country into a political revolution in face of Irish rebellion and social agitations of the most dangerous kind; and now, while Rome is burning, he plays his theological fiddle." These are specimens of criticism which, we think, might well have been left to the peaceful oblivion of the grave. But., indeed, there are few politicians of whom Goldwin Smith approved. Disraeli and Randolph Churchill he frankly loathes ; " Asquith, Fowler, and Co., as Imperialist Liberals, kill Liberalism with its own sword "; Salisbury " spins diplomatic webs " instead of using his majority to revise the Constitu- tion" ; Balfour " shows weakness with his female suffrage and his bi-metallism"; while Chamberlain as a supporter of the Boer war and Tariff Reform is doubly anathema. "The sinew of English politics seems to be fatally weakened "—that is his constant refrain of lamentation. He sees true statesmanship nowhere, and we live "on the verge of revolution." The party system of government "seems to stand fundamentally con- demned." Reconstruction of the House of Lords " on an elective basis" is the only hope of "escaping a crash," and no one attempts to reconstruct it. " Militarism" prevails along with "Imperial megalomania," and while "we spend millions on Jingoism, a fifth of our people have not bread enough to keep them in health and strength " ; but "let them only do as Mr. Chatnberlain tells them, let them 'think Imperially,' and they will be fed."
Nor assuredly are these constant complaints, of which we quote only a small part, wanting in much truth. Some future historian, as he reviews the record of the past half-century, may very possibly decide that, during a period of unexampled social and economic change, our national politics seem to have. been guided by no clear purpose, that we have drifted along, rather than progressed, and that our political leaders have- been rather adroit partisans and opportunists than wise and foreseeing statesmen. Indeed, even to-day -no dispassionate observer can take note of the degradation of Parliament as a free deliberative and governing assembly without allowing that "as a prophet of evil" Goldwin Smith is more than justified in many of his criticisms. We need, however, not regrets but remedies, not critical but constructive ability ; and. of power either to heal or to build up these letters exhibit almost none. The position of the writer in dealing with political difficulties—and it is the same in regard to religion and education—is almost always negative. He dreams, indeed, as we all dream, of a " national council" which shall be at once Liberal and Conservative, and where none shall be for a party" and all "for the state"; while be longs, as we all long, for the coming of a great ideal leader : but he does not tell us how we are to get these and the like blessings. Here and there, no doubt, comes a hint, as when in almost his latest letter—written to the editor of this paper three weeks before his death—he suggests the creation of an Upper House, "elected as vacancies fell by the House of Commons," or insists as far back as 1893 on "the submission of the question of Home Rule, as a single and distinct issue, by plebiscite to the vote of the people." Beyond this, however, he rarely goes, while it must be added that his judgment as a philosopher is often mastered by his prejudices as a man. For if there is one thought which more than another dignifies our modern politics it is perhaps that of Imperial federation, but to Goldwin Smith it is " a mere chimera, and one which is fast becoming mischievous." Does Canada send us aid in our need, he sees only "the repulsive sight of volunteers going.
mainly from love of sport and excitement, or for the sake of-- medals," and with wearisome iteration he dwells on the neces- sity and justice of that great Dominion being absorbed in the United States, while this is how be writes in 1878 of those efforts which our royal house has constantly made to attach the Colonies by some personal link more closely to the Crown:—
"Flunkeydom here is prepared to throw itself at the feet of Lorne and the Princess. We shall have some sickening scenes. If Mr. W. E. Forster could only have his nose held to Colonial flunkeyism for a few minutes, I think even he would be ready for Colonial emancipation. It is all in ruin. Within ten years, unless
some strange turn of the tide takes place, Canada will be, where she ought to be—in the Union."
But who can trust such a critic and such a seer ? And indeed why, we cannot but ask, should Mr. Haultain have thought it necessary to publish these letters at all? They are written by a distinguished man, and they were written bo distinguished men, whose names are fully recorded by the editor in two pages of his Introduction, but they do not, we think, possess any peculiar distinction of their own. To some elderly folk they will doubtless be of interest, for they will recall—and such recollection is one of the delights of age—many memories of the past, but they contain little that is new or of lasting value, nor, we think, would Goldwin Smith have himself desired their publication. There is a beautiful letter of his own (p. 146) to the widow of Professor Rolleston, in which be deprecates the publication of her husband's Life and letters, pointing out with admirable courtesy that in spite of his scientific eminence his life was uneventful, and that "with work of the highest kind upon his hands " he had not been able to " spare much intellectual power or thought for letters." "The monument," he writes, "of your husband's scientific intellect are the papers which Professor M. has collected"; and the like is true, or even truer, of himself. In the writings he has published he has raised his own monument with his own hand, and we do but "vex his ghost" by piling up a number of seattered and unshaped fragments into a super- fluous and somewhat dreary cairn.