13 MAY 1882, Page 18


occasion, pointed out what seems to us to constitute the literary charm of Lord Beaconsfield's speeches. But Lord Beaconsfield was not merely a brilliant debater ; he was twice Prime Minister of England, and was also for many years the Chief of the Tory party. Officially, therefore, he takes his place in the front rank of British statesmen. What will be the verdict of posterity on him in that capacity ? These two goodly volumes of speeches furnish materials for enabling us to anticipate that verdict with tolerable accuracy. Questions of fundamental importance in foreign and domestic politics were discussed and decided during the Parliamentary life of Lord Beaconsfield. What was his attitude on those questions? Let us begin with domestic politics.

The first testing question in domestic legislation on which Lord Beaconsfield had to take a side was that of Free-trade, and his first utterances were in favort.r of a Free-trade policy. It was not till the year 1843—that is, six years after enter- ing Parliament—that he abandoned Free-trade for what he called "the sacred cause of Protection." Till then he took the line not only of advocating Free-trade, but of prov- ing that Free-trade had always been one of the traditional doctrines of the Tory party. " His opinions on Free-trade and Protection," says Mr. Kebbel, " were not founded on any dis- belief in the economic soundness of the former. But he was irritated by the sophism which represented the Corn Laws as a tax on the food of the people for the benefit of a single class. It was a tax on the food of the people for their own benefit ; for the sake of a great public object ; for the maintenance of a great public institution, of which long experience had taught them the inestimable value,"—namely, a territorial aristocracy. Though Mr. Kebbel tries to evade the conclusion, this really amounts to saying that the necessary food of the population was to be taxed for the sake of a limited and privileged class, Mr. Kebbel, indeed, affirms that Lord Beaconsfield would have at all times admitted that, " in the abstract," Protection was • Selected Spetches of the late Right Honourable the Roil of Beaconsfield. Arranged and Edited, with Introductory and Explanatory Notes, by T. E. Kobbel, M.A. 2 vols. London : Longman. 1::2.

not necessary for the support of the landed interest. " But then, with the removal of Protection must come the removal of those special burdens on the land of which Protection was the only excuse." This is Mr. Kebbel's apology for Lord Beacons- field's vehement defence of Protection from 1843 to 1852. In the latter year, however, Lord Beaconsfield became, for the second time, a convert to Free-trade unconditionally, and the explanation which he gave of his conversion was that " the spirit of the age tends to free intercourse, and no states- man can disregard with impunity the genius of the epoch in which he lives." The Marquis of Grauby (now Duke of Rut- land) retorted that in that case "some reparation was due to the memory of Sir Robert Peel." The retort was unanswer- able, for if "the spirit of the age " justified the conversion of Lord Beaconsfield to Free-trade principles in 1852, the philip- pics against Peel for discerning and obeying the spirit of the age six years earlier became wholly indefensible. The fact is, that Lord Beaconsfield had a definite theory of political conduct, on which he acted consistently through life. According to this theory, it is the business of a statesman to discover what " the people" wish, and to make the popular will rather than his own convictions the motive of his policy. " The people have their passions, and it is even the duty of public men occasionally to adopt sentiments with which they do not sympathise, because

the people must have leaders." The opinions and prejudices of the Crown " were another influence to which " a rising statesman " must yield. On taking office, therefore, a states- man ought not to trouble himself too much about his previous opinions, the only question being " whether his present policy be just, necessary, expedient; whether at the present moment he is prepared to serve his country according to its present necessities." This is a sufficient explanation of Lord Beaconsfield's alternate advocacy and denunciation of Free- trade. There was a vein of consistency through all his inconsistencies, and Mr. Kebbel misses the point when he sets himself to defend his hero for " changes of opinion on the gravest questions which can occupy the attention of public men," on the plea that "statesmen of eminence, and living statesmen among the number," have also changed their opinions on grave questions of policy. The charge against Lord Beacons- field is not that he changed his opinions, but that he changed his policy without changing his opinions, yet persisted in asserting that there was no change at all. Nobody would have complained of him, for example, for changing his mind on the ques- tion of Parliamentary Reform ; what irritated people was that he changed backward and forward several times, and still " piqued himself " on his consistency. In 1859 and 1865 he declared em- phatically that "the franchise in boroughs should not be lowered." His policy was " a lateral, and not a vertical, extension of the franchise," " which would absorb the best of every class," and exclude the "indiscriminate multitude." That was also the ground on which he opposed Mr. Gladstone's Reform Bill of 1866, and it was the basis on which he rested his own Bill in 1867. But when that Bill was completely transformed by the adoption, one by one, of Mr. Gladstone's amendments, so that "nothing remained of the original Bill," as the Duke of Buceleuch bitterly complained, " but the first word ' whereas,' " Lord Beaconsfield averred, with grave countenance, that his policy had always been a vertical extension of the franchise, in order to bring within the pale of the Constitution the indis- criminate multitude, and not a select band, consisting of " the best of every class." " Over-refinement and over-education," he now declared, " lead very often to a perversity of opinion and an affectation of philosophy that does not deal with those vigorous and robust principles " which are characteristic of the indiscriminate multitude. Therefore he thought that " the destiny of the Empire is safer in their hands than it would. have been in a more contracted circle, probably of a more refined and delicate character." And he went on to ridicule the policy "of what you call a moderate reduction of the fran- chise," which would have given votes to "a favoured portion of the working-classes," " a sort of Pretorian Guard," to the exclu- sion of the masses. " This proposal, in different shapes and different degrees, was constantly before Parliament. We were highly opposed to it, since we believed it was a dangerous policy, and we saw greater peril to the institutions of the country in admitting a small and favoured section of that kind into the political arena than in appealing to the sympathies of the great body of the people." Surely never was so audacious a state- ment made within the walls of the House of Commons. It

was only a few months before that he denounced the doctrine which he now claimed as his own, and as the heirloom of the Tory party, and stigmatised the speech of Mr. Gladstone, from which he plagiarised it, as a speech which " based the title of admission to the suffrage on the rights of man."

It is probable that on this and on other questions Lord Beaconsfield's own esoteric convictions were in harmony with Mr. Gladstone's policy. But then " the people have their pas- sions, and it is even the duty of public men occasionally to adopt sentiments with which they do not sympathise, because the people must have leaders." This is the rule which Lord Beaconsfield laid down for his political guidance when he entered public life, and he faithfully adhered to it to the close of his career. Mr. Kebbel somewhat timidly defends it, by saying that it " was notoriously the case with Sir Robert Peel and Roman Catholic Emancipation." But there is really nothing in common between the two cases. Sir Robert Peel changed his opinions and his policy, and avowed the change. Lord Beaconsfield suddenly adopted the policy of his oppo- nents—a policy which he had always denounced, and on account of which he had, the previous year, succeeded in ousting Mr. Gladstone from office—and declared that the policy had always been his own. Does not Mr. Kebbel see that this is a totally different matter from such changes of opinion as those of the late Lord Derby, Mr. Gladstone, and others P It is even different from Lord Beaconsfield's own change of policy—there was pro- bably uo change of opinion—on the still unsolved problem of governing Ireland. In a speech in 1844 he advocated strongly, and with statesmanlike sagacity, the policy of governing Ire- land according to Irish ideas. " Ireland has a starving popula- tion, an absentee aristocracy, an alien Church, and the weakest executive in the world. That is the Irish question." Most true, and Mr. Disraeli's advice was, in effect, " Get rid of all those English institutions which you have forced on that country." But when he became the leader of a great party, and found that " the people had their passions " still, he humoured their passions, and preached the very doctrines which he had exposed and denounced as a private Member of Parlia- ment. The prescience of his reference to Ireland in his letter to the Duke of Marlborough has been much quoted and much belauded of late. Unfortunately for that view, there is a later speech which throws considerable doubt on the prescience. The letter to the Duke of Marlborough was written in March, 1880, and in the following July Mr. Gladstone pressed the Compensation for Disturbance Bill on Parliament, on the ground that Ireland was " within a measurable distance of civil war." " We have no evidence of this desperate state of things," replied Lord Beaconsfield, in his speech on the Bill in the House of Lords ; and on his advice the Bill was thrown out, to the avowed joy of Mr. Parnell, wbo was thereby made master of the satiation, till the Land Act began to tell on the feelings of the Irish tenantry. This seems to us a sorry proof of Lord Beaconsfield's sagacity in diagnosing the condition of Ireland.

Lord Beaconsfield's speeches on foreign policy need not de- tain us. We will test his statesmanship iu that respect by two examples. The first is his line of action in relation to the Franco- German war. lir. Gladstone's Government, it will be remembered, met the mutual recriminations of the two belligerents, in respect to Belgium, by obtaining their signatures to a tripartite treaty, which bound either of them to join Great Britain in defending Belgium, in case of any attack upon its independence by the other. And to support this policy, Mr. Gladstone obtained a vote of £2,000,000 from Parliament. But this was not enough for Lord Beaconsfield. He developed his own policy in a set speech, and that policy consisted of an alliance with neutral Powers in a demonstration of "armed neutrality," having for its object the imposition of terms on the combatants, at the discretion of this armed league. This would have been Lord Beaconsfield's policy in 1870, had he then been in office, and its most probable result would have been a general European war. Fortunately, Lord Beaconsfield was in opposition, and another policy prevailed. The independence of Belgium remained inviolate, and the war was kept within the frontiers of the two combatants. The next European complication of the first magnitude found Lord Beaconsfield in office, with a powerful majority in both Houses of Parliament ; and of his policy on that occasion history will say that, but for him, all the advantages of the Berlin Treaty, and some others besides, would have been gained without a war ; there would have been no war

in Afghanistan, and England would now be upwards of £30,000,000 richer, in addition to being spared the incalculable in- direct loss resulting from the injury to trade and commerce caused by a policy of brag and sudden surprises. The settlement of the Treaty of Berlin is simply the policy recommended by Mr. Gladstone in 1876, somewhat mutilated and deformed. And even so, it required Mr. Gladstone's return to office to carry out those portions of the Treaty of Berlin in which Russia was not specially interested. The " strong place of arms " which, through the wisdom of Lord Beaconsfield, we now possess conditionally as tributaries of the Sultan, for safeguard- ing India and regenerating Turkey, and which was to be a mine of wealth for British enterprise, costs us £90,000 a year, without any compensating advantage what- soever. And this is the solitary gain which we owe to Lord Beaconsfield's foreign policy, by way of set-off against a vast expenditure in money and blood, besides a crop of international animosities.

On the whole, we do not think that Lord Beaconsfield's name will go down to posterity as that of a great statesman. His fame will live as a brilliant debater and a sparkling writer; but his only claim to constructive statesmanship was the Reform. Act of 1867 and the Treaty of Berlin, and neither of them was his own. That he might have established a title to the rank of great statesmanship is possible enough, if his lot had been cast in other circumstances. But he was in a false position. A Tory democrat himself, detached from party prejudices, he found himself at the head of a great territorial aristocracy, whom even his genius would find it impossible to educate on the lines of the " Asian principles " which filled his own imagination. There are plenty of indications in these volumes of how far beyond the ken of his party his own vision occasionally extended, and with what scorn he sometimes re- garded the fetters which their prejudices imposed upon him. But "the people must have leaders," and Lord Beaconsfield was content to wear his fetters in return for being the chief of the proudest aristocracy in the world. He might have achieved a statesman's reputation on more than one occasion by a sacri- fice like Peel's, but he preferred another part, and probably achieved the highest prize he ever aimed at.

It only remains to add that Mr. Kebbel has discharged his editor's part with taste and with good-feeling.