Imágenes de páginas

was near. There was no surprise when the news came next day that Palmerston was dead. He died on October 18th. Had he lived only two days longer he would have completed his eighty-first year. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, with public honors, on October 27th. No man, since the death of the Duke of Wellington, had filled so conspicuous a place in the public mind. No man had enjoyed anything like the same amount of popularity. He died at the moment when that popularity had reached its very zenith. It had become the fashion of the day to praise all he said and all he did. It was the settled canon of the ordinary Englishman's faith that what Palmerston said England must feel. To stand forward as the opponent, or even the critic, of any. thing done or favored by him was to be unpopular and unpatriotic. Lord Palmerston had certainly lived long enough in years, in enjoyment, in fame. It seems idle to ask wha. might have happened if a man of more than eighty could have lived and held his place in active public life for a few years

But if one were to indulge in such speculation, the assumption would be that in such an event there must have been some turn in the tide of that almost unparalleled popularity and success. Fortunate in everything during his later years, Lord Palmerston was withdrawn from chance and change just when his fortune had reached its flood.

It is hardly necessary to say that the regret for Palmerston was very general and very genuine. Privately, he can hardly have had any enemies. He had a kindly heart, which won on all people who came near him. He had no enduring enemies or capricious dislikes; and it was therefore very hard for ill-feeling to live in his beaming, triendly presence. He never dislikes men merely because he had often to encounter them in political war. He tried his best to give them as good as they brought, and he bore no malice. There were some men whom he disliked, as we have already mentioned in these volumes, but they were men who for one

reason or another stood persistently in his way, and who he fancied he had reason to believe had acted treacherously toward him. He liked a man to be “ English," and he liked him to be what he considered a gentleman; but he did not restrict his definition of the word “gentleman” to the mere qualifications of birth or social rank. His manners were frank and genial rather thau polish:d ; and his one of the rare instances in which a man contrived always to keep up his personal dignity without any stateliness of bearing and tone. He was a model combatant; when the combat was over, he was ready to sit down by his antagonist's side and be his friend, and talk over their experiences and exploits. He was absolutely free from affectation. This very fact gave sometimes an air almost of roughness to his manners, ho could be so plain-spoken and downright when suddenly called on to express his mind. He was not in the highest sense of the word a truthful man; that is to say, there were episodes of his career in which, for purposes of statecraft, he allowed the House of Commons and the coun. try to become the dupes of an erroneous impression. Personally truthful and honorable of course it would be superfiuous to pronounced him. A man of Palmerston's bringing up is as certain to be personally truthful as he is to be brave, and to be fond of open-air exercise and the cold bath. But Palmerston was too often willing to distinguish between the personal and political integrity of a statesman. The distinction is common to the majority of statesmen; so much the worse for statesmanship. But the gravest errors of this kind which Palmerston had committed were committed for an earlier generation. The general public of 1865 took small account of them. Not many would have cared much then about the grim story of Sir Alexander Burnes's dispatches, or the manner in which Palmerston had played with the hopes of foreign Liberalism, conducting it more than once rather to its grave than to its triumph. These things lived

only in the minds of a few at the time when the news of hig death came, and even of that few not many were anxious to dwell upon them. It was noticed at the time the London newspaper which had persistently attacked his policy and himself since the hour when it came into existence appeared, in deep mourning the day after his death. Some thought this show of regret inconsistent; some declared it hypocritical. There is no reason to think it either the one or the other. Without retracting one word of condemnation uttered concerning Palmerston's policy, it was surely natural to feel sincere regret for the death of one who had filled so large a space in the public eye; a man of extraordinary powers, and whose love for his country had never been denied. “Dead! that quits all scores!" is the explanation of the gypsy in “Guy Mannering"-only a simple untaught version of the “ sunt lach-rymæ rerum" of Virgil, which Fox quoted to explain his feelings when he grieved for the death of the rival whose public actions he could not even at such a moment pretend to approve.

Whether Lord Palmerston belonged to the first order of statesmen can be only matter of speculation and discussion. He was not afforded any opportunity of deciding the question. It was the happy fortune of his country during all his long career to have never been placed in any position of organic danger. Not for one moment was there any crisis of the order which enables a man to prove that he is a statesman of the foremost class. It would be almost as profitable to ask ourselves whether the successful captain of one of the Cunard steamers might have been a Nelson or a Columbus, as to ask whether under the pressure of great emergency Palmerston might have been a really great statesman. It we were to test him by his judgment in matters of domestic policy, we should have to rate him somewhat low. The description which Grattan gave of Burke would have to be

versed in Lord Palmerston's case. Instead of saying that

“he saw everything; he foresaw everything," we should have to say he saw nothing; he foresaw nothing. He was hardly dead when the great changes which he had always scoffed at and declared impossible came to pass. Marshal MacMahon once said that in some given contingency the chassepots of the French soldiers would go off of themselves. Such seemed to be the condition of the very reforms which Palmerston had persuaded himself to regard as un-English and impossible. They went off of themselves, one might say, the moment he was gone. Nor was it that his strength had withstood them. If he had been ten years younger they would probably have gone off in spite of him. They waited out of courtesy to him, to his age, and to the certainty that before very long he must be out of the way.

But of course Lord Palmerston is not to be judged by his domestic policy. We might as well judge of Frederick the Great by his poetry, or Richelieu by his play. Palmerston was himself only in the Foreign Office and in the House of Commons. In both alike the recognition of his true capa. city came very late. His parliamentary training had been perfected before its success was acknowledged.

He was therefore able to use his faculties at any given moment to their fullest stretch. He could alway count on them. They had been so well drilled by long practice that they would instantly come at call. He understood the moods of the House of Commons to perfection. He could play upon those moods as a performer does upon the keys of an instrument. The doctor in one of Dicken's stories contrives to seem a master of his business by simply observing what those around the patient have been doing and wish to do, and advising that just th se things shall be done. Lord Palmerston often led the House of Commons after the same fashion. He saw what men were in the mood to do, and he did it; and they were clear that that must be a great leader who led them just whither they felt inclined to go. The de

scription which Burke gave of Charles Townshend would very accurately describe what Lord Palmerston came to be in his later days. He became the spoiled child of the House of Commons. Only it has to be added, that as the spoiled child usually spoils the parent, so Palmerston did much to spoil the house that petted him. He would not al. low it to remain long in the mood to tolerate high principles, or any talk about them. Much earnestness he knew bored the house, and he took care never to be much in earnest. He left it to others to be eloquent. It was remarked at the time that “the prime minister who is now, and has been for years, far more influential in England than ever Boling. broke was, wielded a political power as great as any ever owned by Chatham or Pitt; as supreme in his own country as Cavour was in Sardinia; holding a position such as no French statesman has held for generations in France has scarcely any pretention whatever to be considered an orator, and has not during the whole course of his long career affixed his name to any grand act of successful statesmanship." Lord Palmerston never cared to go deeper in his speeches than the surface in everything. He had no splendid phraseology; and probably would not have cared to make any display of splendid phraseology even it he had the gift. No speech of his would be read except for the present interest of the subject. No passages from Lord Palmerston are quoted by anybody. He always selected, and doubtless by a kind of instinct, not the arguments which were most logically cogent, but those which were most likely to suit the character and the temper of the audience he happened to be addressing. He spoke for his hearers, not for himself; to affect the votes of those to whom he was appealing, not for the sake of expressing any deep irrepressible convictions of his own. He never talked over the heads of his audi. ence, or compelled them to strain their intellects in order to keep pace with his flights. No other statesman of our time

« AnteriorContinuar »