16 JANUARY 1875, Page 8


THE very frank political autobiography which Earl Russell has just published, under the title of " Recollections," will not greatly modify the public estimate of his political character. He reveals himself in his book with amusing unconsciousness, in all his strength, and all his weakness, and the general im- pression he leaves is almost precisely that which the majority of unprejudiced observers had already formed, the greatest difference, perhaps, being that he was a great deal less conceited than the public—which always fancies-little men conceited, and big men pompous--imagined him to be. Nothing can be more frank and manly than his confessions. He admits iii so many words that the blame of allowing the ' Alabama' to depart did not rest with the Custom-House officials, but with himself ; that he ought not to have waited for the opinions of the Law Officers, but have relied upon that of Sir Robert Collier, and stopped the vessel at once. He admits that in the least intelligible passage of his life, his sudden ejection of Lord Palmerston in 1851, he was greatly in the wrong, and wrong in the very way which a less courageous man would have concealed. Baron Stockmar, he says, " whose memoirs have been published, seems to have acquiesced in the opinion that my conduct on that occasion was dilatory and undecided. My own judgment upon it is that it was hasty and precipitate. I ought to have seen Lord Palmerston, and I think I could, without difficulty, have induced him to make a proper submission to Her Majesty's wishes, and agree to act in conformity with conditions to which he had already given his assent." Considering the comments passed upon Lord Russell's conduct on that occasion, this is generous, while in his final summing-up of his career and its rewards he rises to a higher level of magnanimity than even his friends would have expected :—" My persuasion is that I have been received with quite as much favour as I deserved. I think what I have done well has been honestly supported ; and that where my measures have miscarried, the failure has been owing not to undue animosity or malignant misrepresentation, but to errors which I have committed from mistaken judgment or a mistaken appreciation of facts." He is not hard on Leech for drawing him as the little boy who chalked up " No Popery " on Cardinal Wiseman's door, and then ran away ; he mentions no criticism upon himself except Mr. Disraeli's, and then only by a dignified acknowledgment ; and of his great rival, Sir Robert Peel, he speaks always with grave respect. But there are men who stir him to passion, and it is unfortunate for his full reputation that they are always men who turn him out of power, or keep him out of power, or succeed him in power,— Mr. Lowe, or the other inhabitants of the Cave, or Mr. Glad- stone. He likens Mr. Lowe to Dryden's Achitophel, and evidently believes that in resisting the Reform Bill of 1866,—perhaps the most utterly sincere act of Mr. Lowe's whole life, an explosion of his innermost feeling,—he was fighting for his own personal advantage and interests; while with the Cave of Adullam he can keep no terms whatever. They were a " gang " of " bandits," or rather " three gangs, the first consist- ing of the selfish, the second of the timid, and the third of those who who were both timid and selfish." " There were no doubt some honest men in the Cave of Adullam ; but upon the whole, I have never, in my long political life, known a party so utterly destitute of consistent principle or of patriotic end ; they were indifferent to the state of the suffrage or the disfranchisement of boroughs, provided their own selfish objects were attained. When these bandits, uniting them- selves to the Tories, had put the Government in a minority, the Cabinet thought it right to offer their resignation." The truth seems to be that many of the dwellers in the Cave were Old Whigs by connection or opinion, and that Earl Russell, though he could bear the opposition of Tories and Radicals, or pardon an aristocrat as he pardoned Lord Derby for open departure and defiance, could not endure what he considered a treacherous desertion. A Grosvenor who deserted him was not in his eyes a mutineer, but rather like one who showed the white-feather in the field. He honours Lord Cranborne, Lord Carnarvon, and General Peel for refusing support to Mr. Disraeli when he became too democratic, but can see only baseness in Whigs who formed the same opinion as to their ancient and, so to speak, hereditary leader, himself. He is not much more just to Mr. Gladstone, who, he says, ought to have placed Mr. Cardwell at the Exchequer —he does not suggest an alternative War Minister—who he hints, chose in Mr. Lowe an incompetent Chancellor; who gave Mr. Bruce the Home Office, instead of the Ministry of Education ; who had in Lord Granville a Foreign Sec- retary who submitted his—Earl Russell's—conduct to arbi- tration ; and whom he does not scruple to denounce in terms like these :—" I cannot think that I was mis- taken in giving way to Mr. Gladstone as head of the Whig- Radical party of England. During Lord Palmerston's Ministry I had every reason to admire the boldness and the judgment with which he directed our finances. I had no reason to sup- pose that he was less attached than I was to national honour ; that he was less proud than I was of the achievements of our nation by sea and land ; that he disliked the extension of our colonies ; or that his measures would tend to reduce the great and glorious empire of which he was put in charge to a manufactory of cotton cloth and a market for cheap goods, with an Army and Navy reduced by paltry savings to a standard of weakness and inefficiency." Mr. Gladstone's indifference to foreign affairs is no doubt his defect, but does Earl Russell

seriously mean to say that our Army and Navy were weaker in 1873 than in 1866 ?

Earl Russell complains, not querulously, that Sydney Smith's joke about his audacity originated in a joke of his own that he would take the command of the Channel Fleet if duty required it ; but the popular voice, which so instantly caught up and repeated the joke, was guided by a sound instinct. His special quality, or at all events, the quality which seems so special now because there is so little of it, was courage, very often mani- fested in a speech of epigrammatic conciseness. We all re- member how, when the Crimean war had become inevitable, partly through the want of " ring " in his own despatches to Sir Hamilton Seymour, he " accepted his share of the burden and responsibility " of war, and he himself tells us that he was ready in the ' Trent' affair for war with the United States :- "When we first heard of the seizure of the two Confederate Commissioners on board the ' Trent,' Lord Palmerston asked me privately what we should do. I answered shortly, quoting what Grattan said with reference to another power, and on another occasion, ' The United States' Government are very dangerous people to run away from.' Lord Palmerston immediately proposed to the Cabinet to refer to the Law Officers of the Crown the question of the seizure of the two Commissioners which had taken place on board the ' Trent.'" Quite similar in tone, though not involving such consequences, was his reply to the French Government when they showed some disposition to question our right to the whole of the great continent of the South :—" During my tenure of the Colonial Office, a gentleman attached to the French Govern- ment called upon me. He asked me how much of Australia was claimed as the dominion of Great Britain. I answered " The whole,' and with that answer he went away." The dry conciseness of the story is as telling as the story itself. It arises from the same " note " in his character,—that though apparently detesting Catholic doctrine, though labouring even at this day to justify the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill as a mere protest in defence of the prerogative which he intended to leave unexe- cuted, he still proposes, after risking his seat in defence of May- nooth, that the Catholic Church in Ireland should be endowed, advocates the thorough education of priests, and records with evident satisfaction Sir Robert Peel's avowal, made to him at Nuneham, that the general endowment of the Catholic Church in Ireland ought to be proposed. The contrast between such a view as this and his conduct on the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill remains inexplicable, and in spite of a feeble defence—for the Queen's prerogative of making Bishops was never in danger, and she could make an Archbishop of Westminster to-morrow —we cannot avoid a suspicion that the immense immediate popularity he acquired with the unreflecting masses was, at all events, the determining cause of that strange deflection from Whig principles. If it was not, then the cause will scarcely be revealed till the next generation understands what this generation never has understood, the relation of its Premiers to the Palace.

The world must wait for Earl Russell's letters to understand the literary side of his political powers, which has evidently been unduly depreciated by his books. He can observe very closely, and state the result of his observations with singular force and conciseness. We doubt if the wittiest man in Europe could have clenched a very profound observation on the qualities necessary to lead the House of Commons with a better or more concise story than this about Mr. Windham. Macaulay, in a passage in his "Essay on Pitt," says the imperfection of Parliamentary government is that it is government by speaking, and that rulers like Oliver Cromwell or William the Silent could not govern it :- "From long experience in the House of Commons, I think I am entitled to say, that in these remarks Macaulay is greatly mistaken. Charles Townehend and William Windham were listened to in the House of Commons with delight and applause. But there are other qualities which the House of Commons more imperatively requires. They require that the speaker who assumes to lead them should be himself persuaded that the course he recommends will prove beneficial to the country. Mr. Windham was unstable and irresolute. He said one day to Lord Henry Petty, who was sitting beside him, towards the end of his speech,' Which way did I say I would vote ?' Such a man can never lead the House of Commons. Lord Castlereagh was a very tiresome, involved, and obscure speaker ; Lord Althorp was without any powers of oratory ; yet I never knew two men who had more influence in the House of Commons than Lord Castlereagh and Lord Althorp. There are qualities which govern men, such as sincerity, and a conviction on the

part of the hearers that the Minister is a man to be trusted, which have more to do with influence over the House of Commons than the most brilliant flights of fancy and the keenest wit."