WILLIAM WINDHAM AND WILLIAM WILBERFORCE.* THE practice of publishing verbatim
the smallest memoranda of great men, and of expecting general readers to be interested in those very facts the recurrence of which is fatal to the hero- worship of valets, is becoming far too prevalent. Last year Schiller's daughter published an old almanack of her father's, composed almost exclusively of the merest household matters, and passing wilfully over all matters of interest. We might have expected more from a professed diary, and there are passages in this Diary of Windham's worthy of being read for their own merit. Such are the details of the last days of Dr. Johnson, which, how- ever, have appeared already in Croker's Boswell. Such, too, are the searchings of Windham's heart about his own oratory, the account of his visit to the Duke of York's camp in 1794, and many of the incidental allusions to great events and great con- temporaries. Windham's letters are always good, though as many of those published here are prefixed to Amyot's edition of Wind- ham's speeches, they have not the same novelty as the passages we have specified. It is easy to blame the editor for not having adopted any process of weeding, but the truth is that a mere process of weeding would have been unsatisfactory. The Diary should have been used as the ground-work of a life of Windham, for which it affords ample materials. Some day or other it may be used as such a ground-work by some future bookmaker, and the same amount of matter may be extracted from Wind- bam's Diary as Mr. Colquhoun has extracted from the published papers of Wilberforce.
Such a prospect is far from cheerful. But the responsibility rests with those who shoot their materials, instead of putting them into shape. In the present instance Mrs. Baring's course was clearly pointed out by her predecessor. The Diary of Windham was at one time committed to the hands of the late George Ellis, and Mr. Ellis began to write a preface giving his views of the Diary and the way in which it should be treated. He talked at first of suppressing only the very few passages which it might be
• The Diary of the Righi. Bon. William Windham. 1784 to 1810. Edited by Mir. Henry Baring.
William Wilberforcet his Friends and his Times. By John Campbell Colqnhoun. London: Longman*.
deemed imprudent to draw from their concealment, but it soon appeared that this was not enough. Many things which were well worth noting at the time had become wholly unimportant ; much that was once clear had now become obscure ; while, from the fragmentary nature of the Diary, links and illustrations seemed indispensable. Mr. Ellis's judgment of the Diary as it lay before him, and as we regret to say it now lies before the public, expresses our opinion exactly :- " Mr. Windham was in the habit of registering, day by day, the names of all the persons whom he met at the tables of his friends and acquaint- ances, as well as of the guests whom he invited to his own ; and, indeed, there are many volumes of his journal which contain very little else. He has thus furnished us with a muster-roll of his contemporaries, comprehending, probably, every individual with whom he associated during a long series of years; but a muster-roll unaccompanied, in almost any instance, by the slightest comment. Such a list, it is true, was a sufficient aid to his memory, since the names of persons who were familiarly known to him could require no further designation. Yet it may seem strange that he, who, though shrinking from dispute and controversy, was particularly fond of rational discussion, and who, at the hours of study, delighted to unravel whatever appeared most entangled in subjects of science or of literature, should suddenly dis- miss from his mind the topics with which it had been so strongly occu- pied in society. It may be thought odd that, whilst employed in com- mitting to paper much that was certainly trivial, he should, in scarcely any instance, attempt to perpetuate the scenes in which he had received both amusement and instruction. It may excite some surprise that whilst many of his intimates were dropping into the grave, he was not induced to sketch, for his own satisfaction, some memorial of those whom he had been accustomed to meet with pleasure, but could hope to meet no more. The answer is, that the daily toil which he had im- posed upon himself was a daily conflict with all his natural propensities. Whilst occupied in tracing the waste of a life which he considered as unusually precarious, dissatisfied with his past exertions, and looking with melancholy forebodings to the future, it was not likely that his mind should be directed to any extrinsic objects, or that his feelings should be much awakened to sympathy."
It is still less likely that our feelings, some fifty years after the Diary breaks off, should be any more awakened to sympathy.
Naturally, entries such as " Don't recollect what I did to-day," seem to us sheer waste of printing materials, but there are many others telling us equally little, and yet tantalizing into the bargain_ When Windham notes down, "Learnt some anecdotes of Dr. Johnson's life ;" " Had breakfast with Sir Joshua Reynolds ;" " Dined at Adam Smith's ;" when we find him invited by Mrs. Siddons to tea and a little music, or witnessing a passage at arms between Sheridan and Dr. Parr, we look for something more than the bare fact that such things happened. It may be significant of Windham's feelings for Pitt that Pitt's death is passed over in silence, but we know that Windham, as a Norfolk man, had the highest regard for Nelson, and we wonder at the short announce- ment, "The account of Lord Nelson's death and victory." On the next page Windham goes to Nelson's funeral, and sits between Fox and Sir Walter Scott, but all he tells us is, " Not impressed throughout so much as I ought." Considering the opinion of Windham's oratory held by his contemporaries, some of the entries about his own and other men's speeches are curious. The effect of his maiden speech was satisfactory to himself ; "My mind was so light, and my powers so active and vigorous, that no undertaking appeared difficult. It is strange that an exercise of powers of which previously one might have been pretty certain should have produced such effects ; yet certain it is that life appeared dressed in new colours, and I myself to be endued with new capacities of enjoyment." Another time, however, he says, " I argued most vilely," a confession which might well be made by some of our present orators, but will not, we fear, be found in their diaries. Windham is extremely modest in the comparison of his own speeches with those of Sir Philip Francis :—
" I have seldom found myself more clear than daring my visit to him, and afterwards, till I went to the House ; but somehow, by the time I got there, my mind had got into some disorder, and my spirits into some agitation ; and by the time Burke had finished, I found myself in no good state to speak. The same state continued, though with a little amendment, till the time of my rising ; yet I contrived somehow to steady and recover myself in the course of speaking, and so far executed what I had prepared, that I conceive it to be fashion to talk of what I did as rather a capital performance. 'Tis a strong proof on what cheap terms reputation for speaking is acquired, or how capricious the world is of its allotment of it to different people. There is not a speech of mine which, in comparison of one of Francis's, would, either for lan- guage or matter, bear examination for one moment ; yet about my per- formances in that way a great fuss is made, while of his nobody speaks a word."
And again :- "It certainly seems to me very odd, and is a proof how much the notion of a speech raises in people's imagination the value of what it consists, that anything I have ever said in the House should have been thought of a second time. Much of the praise given on these occasions certainly depends on the circumstances and estimation of the speaker. Let any one remember the reception and examine the language and matter of
any of Francis's speeches, and then say what the proportion is, on
matters of this sort, between praise and merit. Francis's speeches are regular compositions, exhibiting in many parts great force of thought, and conceived throughout in language peculiarly elegant and energetic. I know not any one whose speeches, in respect of clearness and force of diction can stand in competition with Francis's. What I have said at any time must come infinitely short, since I should despair very much even of writing such language. What I have said can, in fact, rise to no higher character than that of a few loose points, acutely argued and sometimes forcibly expressed."
Being thus admitted behind the scenes, hearing the judgments passed on himself by the great orator, we form a new opinion of
the value of his Diary. So far indeed the Diary is valuable, that to those who have patience to read it, and some familiarity with the character of its writer, there will be many passages of great interest which could have come to light in no other way. Those we have cited about his speeches are examples, but not the only examples. How well we see the Windham of Macaulay—the finest gentleman of the age, his form developed by every manly exercise, his face beaming with intelligence and spirit, the ingenious, H the chivalrous, the high-souled Windham—in many of the more careless entries. Of course the finest gentleman of the present age would be ashamed to do much that was natural to his Geor- gian compeer, and now that prize-fighting has become a trade the chivalrous spirit has departed from it. But in Windham's day it seemed graceful to patronize the Ring, even when " the mischief done could not have affected the most tender humanity." We find Windham present on many other occasions, once when the victim was a soldier, " who showed upon his back floggings which he had received to a distinguished amount." He hurries up to town in order to write a letter to the papers, " to take off, as far as one could, the effect of the accident at Brighton of the death of a man in a boxing match." And the finest gentleman of his age was equally partial to bull-baiting, on which he made two speeches in the House of Commons. In a letter written in 1801, full of gloomy anticipations for Europe, he says, " I should rejoice in your bull-baiting, if I could rejoice in anything. I defy a person to attack bull-baiting and to defend hunting." Perhaps the humanity of a future age may take this sentence for its motto.
Lavater said of Windham that he did not choose to do anything which he was not conscious of doing well. Something of this runs through the Diary. There is an air like that of Ephraim Jenkinson, in the Vicar of Wakefield, who, when challenged to controversy, would smile, shake his head, and say nothing, by which the Vicar understood that he could say much if he thought proper. This comparison will seem irreverent to the admirers of a great states- man, but besides being true, it is justified by the terms in which Windham speaks of the Vicar of Wakefield. " A most absurd
book," he says, "with hardly anything to carry it through but the name of the author, or to reconcile the reader to it but the catas- trophe giving such full measure of happiness to the good, and such proper punishment to the wicked and worthless. Tiresome dis- putations, false opinions, uninteresting digressions, improbable incidents, nothing perfectly right even where it cannot be said to
be violently wrong ; the very humour being little more than a good attempt, and never being quite successful." How we have changed since 1808 ! Who would pen such a sentence now ? We should as soon expect to see grave statesmen on their way home from a debate pelting each other with stones as they came through the park, and with oranges on reaching St. James's Street.
In all the points on which we have touched there is a very marked contrast between the two men whose names we have coupled at the head of this article. We might find an equally strong contrast between the two books we have placed at the foot of the page. The one is compressed, the other is flabby. The one leaves us to evoke the interest it ought to give us, the other lays so much stress upon what should be interesting that it over- shoots the mark. The style of the Diary is often weighty, and if it disappoints our expectations it does not lower our opinion of the writer. We cannot say this of Mr. Colquhoun, and we will there- fore not pursue the parallel.