7 JULY 1866, Page 12


MR. LOWE is the great reputation of the Session in the House of Commons. No stranger now goes there without first looking for the white gleam, or rather flash, of his striking head, or listening anxiously for the cold sardonic ring of his lucid voice, which vibrates like a glass bell through the House, penetrating it with a shiver of half-mocking intelligence. There has always been a glamour of mischief about his manner, a certain air of luxury in his mode of administering intellectual "punishment " to weaker opponents, and an isolation in his position,—that of a man of brilliant capacities who had disembarrassed himself of most of the ordinary political traditions, and laughed privately at them all,— which, taken together, have up to the present Session robbed him of the opportunity for a first-rate success. Indeed no one can gain a great political success in England by virtue of mere individual power, without also representing, by accident, if not from any deeper cause, a wide-spread and deeply ingrained feeling. Only this Session, since the Reform Bill became a serious question, have the sheen and shimmer of mischievous intellectual scorn with which Mr. Lowe knows so well how to invest equally a traditional Tory sentiment and a sanguine popular enthusiasm, been concen- trated by a great party exigency into a scathing and destructive lightning in the well directed forked flashes of which the Tories have rejoiced, though keen-eyed spectators have seen that even these proceeded more from a negative tone of mind, an electric repulsion for the temper they struck at, than from any living flame of faith in the cause they defended. Mr. Lowe, in the jarring sarcasm with which he ever brings his audience back to the test of immediate utilities and "payment by results," in the warmth of his eulogies on the triumphs of our material civiliza- tion, on the clear and visible advantage of accumulated capital, enlarged manufactures, and unfettered trade, and most of all, in the clear, carefully disciplined, theoretic intellect with which he scoffs at intellectual theory, ridicules intuitive beliefs, and a priori principles of justice, and appeals to the more tangible and coarser fruits of experience, sometimes seems a sort of Parliamentary Mephistopheles, tempting his raw pupils with the Mephistophelian assurance that, after all, intellect is naught, except so far as it leads to enjoyments of sense, or, as Mephistopheles in Faust's pro- fessorial gown says to the poor scholar,

" Gran, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und griin des Lebens goldner Baum." "Theory, dear friend, is poor and grey, you see, And gleen the foliage of life's golden tree."

Mr. Lowe's ability is no new discovery to the House. The new point is, as we said, the accident (in some sense) that has enabled him to use that ability in defence of a great, and united, and com- pact constitutional party in the side of which he had previ- ously been a festering thorn, and this without even the least infidelity to his own sceptical and materialistic principle. The Revised Education Code was his great battle-ground with the very party of which he is now the trusted independent adviser, and yet the Revised Education Code proceeded on the very principle which he is now striving to apply in resisting Reform. The certificated schoolmasters, the country clergy, and as much as any the Con- servative squires who drove him from office, assailed him, when he first announced the educational principle of "payment by results," as a cruel, destructively utilitarian Radical, who never hesitated to strike at either privileges or rights in the interest of what he called "common sense," and who was willing to trample out all the tender, delicate growths of that refined culture which tells on education indirectly, socially, and almost invisibly, and which cannot be gauged by the size of schools or the success of pupils. And they were right in their conception of him, though wrong in withstanding him on that particular measure. But the time came when Mr. Lowe, without deviating a hairsbreadth from the principle on which ho fought the education reform,—the pure utilitarian principle of " payment by results,"—has enlisted from the very ranks which then fought most furiously against him an enthusiastic following, by making the very same principle tell, or seem to tell, in favour of Conservatism, in favour of the repre- sentative system as it is, and against all change. Nor has the con- sistency been only apparent. On all great questions alike Mr. Lowe has been and is guided by the same idea, by calculations of tangible and material prosperity as the test of political truth, and has shown himself anxious to keep all the power he can in the hands of the most calculating classes,—the classes most alive and susceptible to visible and tangible, most indifferent and obtuse to spiritual and ideal, consequences. Of course there are, there always must be, plenty of like-minded men in the House, but what has made Mr. Lowe remarkable is the swift intellectual insight, the varied attainments, the sarcastic wit, the theoretic understanding, the imaginative vivacity, which he has placed at the service of the principle which he adopts, and which those who possess them almost always use rather to depreciate than to magnify materialistic and utilitarian progress. It is the curious flashes of high intellectual power on behalf of so common-place, and even so vulgar a principle, the exquisite temper of the blade which springs from so coarse a handle, the highly disciplined intellect which makes light of high intellectual discipline, that give the unique character to Mr. Lowe's position. For it is not in Mr. Lowe a misanthropic cynicism striking a blow in dis- gust at its own heart, which induces him to praise wealth, and. property, and all that is tangible in civilization, while he makes. sport of tradition, and sentiment, and popular enthusiasm, and all that is ideal in politics. As far as we can see, his conviction is. genuine, and is not due to the mere restlessness of intellectual disappointment with higher things. He has spoken with as much power against the aspirations of Irish tenant farmers, in favour of the landlords and the influence of landed property in Ireland, as be has in England against the working class and in favour of the middle class. And why? Because he regards the landlords of Ireland as a more shrewd, calculating, prosperous class, possessed of a far keener sense of the material value of property than Irish tenant farmers. What is the true secret of his evidently keen. aversion to the working class in England ? That he regards. them as likely to be influenced by sentiments, ideas, enthusi- asms, God knows what, anything but obvious utilitarian calcula- tion. " It is not the educated and reflective," he said, in the most remarkable passage of his recent speeches, " who are influ- enced by ideas, but the half-educated and the unreflective; and if you show to the ignorant, and poor, and half educated, wrong, injustice, and wickedness anywhere; their generous instincts rise within them, and nothing is easier than to get up a cry for the redress of these grievances. We feel the injustice, too ; but we. look not merely at the injustice itself, we look before and after at the collateral circumstances, at what must happen to trade, revenue, and our own position in the world, and we look also to what must happen to the very poor persons themselves before we commit our- selves to a decided course. Persons, also, who have something to lose are less anxious to lose it than those who have little at stake often, even though these last may by the loss be reduced to abso- lute poverty." In other words, Mr. Lowe is in favour of the class which calculates most, and calculates by preference its material interests,—or, as he elsewhere calls it, the middle class, which stands between the very highest in whom riches, pride, and high blood often subdue the sensitiveness for material consequences, and the poorest, in whom the sense of the value of property is but half developed, and unable to fight with advantage against popular sentiments and ideal enthusiasms. Mr. Lowe showed the same strong bias in a still more remarkable form in his curious eulogy about two months ago on the Civil Engineers, and his high com- parative estimate of the applied sciences and practical arts which engineers are obliged to master, as compared with the classical and logical or purely scientific and intellectual culture of the Univer- sities. Of the study of ancient languages he spoke contemptuously as "a minute analysis of the forms of expression and the modes of thought which were used by people many thousand years ago, and concerning which there was much controversy, and no cer-

tainty could be arrived at,"—while "the studies of civil engineers were not only as wide as the domain of nature, but their area was continually increasing with a rapidity no one could gauge. The civil engineers were the heirs of all the ages, and the field of their investigation was boundless." " He hoped if ever the day arrived when the Universities, rising to the true level which they should occupy, became really national establishments, the science of engineering would be admitted to at least a perfect equality with every other branch of knowledge." The tubular bridges, electric telegraphs, express trains, monster steamships deserve, Mr. Lowe tells us, to rank as the high-tide marks of human progress ; the sciences which enable us to make them, to be thought of as the noblest departments of human culture ; and the political constitu- tion which most actively promotes them—the political constitution which gives the greatest impulse to physical yrosperity and enter- prise,—to be cherished as the highest achievement of human sagacity in the department of political wisdom.

No one, however, who thinks of Mr. Lowe's principles as having their roots in a rather low utilitarian system of politics, can fail to be struck by the striking contrast between his political creed and that of Mr. J. S. Mill, the great champion of the utilitarian system of ethics on which Mr. Lowe builds, the most deadly antagonist of those principles of intuitive morality and natural justice against which Mr. Lowe inveighs, the most eminent exponent of that science of political economy by which Mr. Lowe loves to test the worth of political classes. Both have great powers of sarcasm, yet Mr. Lowe's sarcasm is the inversion, as it were, of Mr. Mill's sarcasm. The one mocks at failure, the other at that which falsely calls itself success. Mr. Lowe scoffs like a man of the world at the poorer classes, under various forms, now asking if the principles of the Reform party would not warrant a Beast parliament such as we hear of in Reineke Fuchs, now, again, reminding them that the poor would be kept better aware of their own power than " Curran's fleas, who, if they had been unanimous, would have pushed him out of the bed." Mr.

Mill, on the other hand, strikes upwards in the social scale with his sarcasms, explaining gravely, for instance, that he never said " that almost all Conservatives were stupid, but only that almost all stupid people were Conservatives," and that this, so far from being a reflection upon them, is a great tribute to the enormous power of the party ;—or remarking on another occasion, that though the working classes made up 26 per cent. of the borough registers and " had all this power of shaking our institutions, they so obstinately persisted in not doing it, that honourable gentlemen are quite alarmed, and recoil in terror from the abyss into which they have not fallen." There is the same contrast in the tone of the two men on their favourite common science, political economy.

Mr. Lowe never misses an opportunity of making it enforce the principle of the 'devil take the hindmost;' Mr. Mill never misses an

opportunity of making it enforce the principle that competition is not, though it may be necessary to, progress; and that the highest state of society is very probably the stationary state, in which so much is gained for true moral leisure and generous humanities that wealth ceases to accumulate and different sections of society to " higgle " for its division. The true difference between the two men as thinkers is that Mr. Lowe, plunging deeply into the selfish struggles of the world, and clambering with hardy arm and physical strength, as it were, above it, has come out with a shrewd contempt for what he has seen, and falls back on the physical strengths of the universe, including of course physical science as the most potent part of physical strength, as laying the foundation of all things,—while Mr. Mill, who has lived the life of a student, and risen to the surface of political life by virtue of the generous admiration with which many of his thoughts have filled the minds even of those who do not concur in his philosophy, has kept his faith in humanity fresh, in spite of a theory which traces back its best elements to rather poor and pale beginnings. Thus Mr. Lowe's sarcasm is produced by the friction of a highly dis- ciplined intellect drawn swiftly and closely over the superficial facts of life, and bringing out that half musical, half shrill and discordant sort of sound, thrilling to the very blood, which you draw with a wet finger from the edge of a finger glass,—Mr.

Mill's by the warm friction of a delicate, sensitive, moral tempera- ment, with the same surface, producing a multitude of bright electric sparks and no dissonances,—his fine intellect serving after all more to account for, or at most modify, his creed•and prepos- sessions, or rather faith, than to determine them.

Mr. Lowe is really far the more dangerous man of the two, even to Conservatives, though the quiet country rector did decide with so much surprise, on reading one of his late speeches, that " Property, then, has nothing to fear from him,"while manyscores of pages could

be quoted from Mr. Mill's works showing that "property" has some- thing to fear from Mr. Mill. For though on the whole Mr. Lowe's respect for physical power, success, and prosperity has thrown his influence into the scale of wealth as against poverty, yet the very same feeling induces him to make light of all idealities, senti- ments, and obligations, and so to dissolve the very moral cement of society, while Mr. Mill, who loosens stones in the structure here and there, and now and then removes mortar which is sound and binding enough, yet uses his whole influence to rebuild and re- cement the structure he attacks, and so greatly deepens the general sense of disinterested social duties. Thus Mr. Lowe defends the cita- del of the Constitution with an engine the mere vibration of which threatens its foundations more dangerously than ten of Mr. Mill's assaulting parties, which would at most only effect breaches in the walls, and afterwards multiply greatly the number of those anxious to repair and to defend them.