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France, has at other times been united with similar manners. There was more than this. There was a spirit of justice and generosityeven of tenderness—and, in some cases, a delicacy of feeling which we are accustomed now to associate only with temperance and purity. There was also a very cultivated taste, derived from a far more extensive knowledge of the classics than is to be found in these days—a love of poetry and history-and, above all, an enthusiastic worship of liberty.
How came this strange worship of liberty among this exclusive and luxurious aristocracy? Originally, perhaps, as the result of faction. Excluded from power, and deprived of popularity by misfortunes and mistakes, which it would take too long to mention, the Whigs had been driven in their adversity to fall back upon their original principles. The debating instinct of their great Parliamentary leader seized upon the cry of liberty as a weapon of warfare in the House of Commons, and the cause which he advocated was so congenial to his frank and generous nature that he embraced it enthusiastically, and imparted his enthusiasm to his friends.
I will not pursue these thoughts further, but the circumstances of a man's early life have such influence in moulding his character, that even in such a slight sketch as this it may not have been out of place to call attention to the state of that society, with its vices and its redeeming qualities, in the midst of which William Lamb grew up.
He went to Eton in 1790, and to Cambridge in 1796. In 1797 he was entered at Lincoln's Inn, but without leaving Cambridge. In 1798 he won a prize by the oration on 'The Progressive Improvement of Mankind,' alluded to by Fox in the House of Commons.
In 1799 he went to Glasgow to Professor Millar's, from whose house he wrote, during this and the following year, several letters to his mother which still exist. They show the keenest interest in politics, and an enthusiastic admiration for the French, and they are not entirely free from a slight taint of that apparent want of patriotism which infected the Liberal party at that time, and which did it such irreparable damage. It is only fair to say that there is an entry written in a note-book a few years later, showing how keenly he appreciated and lamented this political error, and that, throughout the whole course of the Peninsular war, he expresses the warmest wishes for the success of the British arms, and for those of our allies in Germany.
His career at the bar was brief and uneventful, and, by the death of his elder brother, he shortly became heir-apparent to his father's title and property.
We now come to a most important event; important to all men in his case particularly so-and attended with almost unmitigated evil.
On the 3rd of June, 1805, was solemnised the marriage of William
Lamb with Lady Caroline Ponsonby. It is heartless, unnecessary, and altogether wrong to expose the dreariness, and the pain, and the ridicule of an ill-assorted marriage. Too many particulars of this unhappy union have already found their way into print. Lady Caroline was a woman of ability, and, I suppose, a certain amount of charm, but nobody who reads her works, or her letters, or the accounts of her conduct, can doubt that she was partially insane. Of her husband it is enough to say that whatever his faults may have been of over-indulgence at certain times, and perhaps an occasional outbreak of a passionate temper at others, he was on the whole singularly tender and kind and considerate. He was always honourable and gentleman-like, and he bore his burden with a brave and manly spirit. But for twenty years his life was embittered, his ability repressed, and even his credit with the world temporarily impaired.
I have said that the evil which attended his marriage was almost unmitigated, but there was one compensation. He was driven into seclusion. Whole days were passed in his library, and it was during these years that he acquired habits of reading which were never afterwards abandoned, and that he accumulated much of that vast store of learning, that large knowledge of all subjects ancient and modern, sacred and profane, which formed a continual subject of astonishment to those who knew him in later life.
After endless quarrels and reconciliations tbey were regularly separated in 1825, but he was with her at her death-bed two years later, and she expired in his arms.
Though he was a member of the House of Commons for many years, and occasionally spoke, he cannot be said to have acquired any distinction in that assembly; but his abilities had always been recognised by leading men, as may be shown by the fact that he twice refused office during that period.
His public career began in 1827, when he accepted, in Canning's Administration, the post of Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
It is difficult to form a just opinion of him as he appeared to his contemporaries at this time. Mr. M'Cullagh Torrens has done justice to his high character, his clear intellect, and his broad, sound, and sensible views of men and things. Lord Melbourne's relations must always feel grateful to Mr. Torrens for so clearly bringing forward this side of his nature, and perhaps also for not attempting to delineate those characteristics which required to be touched with a more delicate hand. The uncontrolled flow of humour, and originality, and mischief, might easily have been perverted in the description into buffoonery or jauntiness, from which no man was ever more free. The paradoxes might have appeared as an ambitious effort to astonish and to draw attention when considered separately from the simple and spontaneous manner in which they were uttered. They were saved
from this, as all good paradoxes are, not only by the manner, but by each one of them containing some portion of the truth which is generally overlooked, and which was then for the first time presented to the mind in a striking and unexpected way.
But though any attempt to describe the charm of Lord Melbourne's society would probably lead to disastrous failure, and must not therefore be attempted, it is important to bear in mind that this extraordinary charm was the one great thing that remained impressed upon the mind of all who had communication with him.
Sparkling originality, keen insight into character, a rich store of information on every subject always at hand to strengthen and illustrate conversation, exuberant vitality, and, above all, the most transparent simplicity of nature; these, from what I have heard, must have been his principal characteristics. I am bound to add that he often shocked fastidious people. He never spoke without swearing, and he was often very coarse in his remarks.
There was indeed in his remarks and in his whole character not only a wayward recklessness which was natural to him, but a touch of cynical bitterness which contrasted strongly with the nobleness and generosity of the original man. The nobleness and generosity were, I say, original. The scenes which surrounded him in his early years, and still more that unhappy married life to which I have already alluded, may account for the remainder.
I must add that this charm of manner and conversation was set forth to the utmost advantage by a beautiful voice and a prepossessing personal appearance. He was tall, strong, and of vigorous constitution, brilliantly handsome, even in old age, with a play of countenance to which none of the pictures or prints of him which exist do the smallest justice.
It may easily be believed that with a people like the Irish a man like this immediately became extremely popular; and the solid abilities of a genuine statesman were speedily recognised by his colleagues.
Even at this period, with Lord Wellesley as Viceroy, the principal business in Ireland was transacted by the Chief Secretary, though this Minister was not then, as he has frequently been since, in the Cabinet. Lord Wellesley, accustomed to a far different position in India, was occasionally somewhat sore at the false relation in which he stood to his nominal subordinate; though this was made as endurable as possible by the tact and fine feeling of William Lamb, who was constantly reminding the Ministers in England of the consideration due to a veteran statesman, whom fate had placed in so disagreeable an office, and offering to send back despatches to be rewritten.
The short Administrations of Canning and Goderich were uneventful in Ireland, and early in that of the Duke of Wellington Lamb resigned. He came away with an increased reputation. His extreme facility of access, and his delight in talking openly with people of all parties, had made him much liked; and even his very indiscretions seem to have told in his favour.
On the 22nd of July, 1828, he became Lord Melbourne by the death of his father.
In Lord Grey's Administration of 1830 he was made Home Secretary. His appointment to so important an office without any public reputation as a man of business, and without any Parliamentary distinction, shows conclusively what a high opinion had been formed of his abilities by those in authority. But by the world at large he seems to have been still looked upon as an indolent man, and to have caused some surprise by the vigour and ability which he displayed in dealing with the very serious disturbances which at this time broke out in many parts of the country. This unexpected vigour, joined with the calmness and good sense which he was already known to possess, made his reign at the Home Office very successful, and he had an opportunity of particularly distinguishing himself by his firmness and discretion in dealing with a monster deputation from the trade unions shortly before he was called to fill a still higher position.
In 1834, on the resignation of Lord Grey, he was sent for by the King. He formed a Government from his existing colleagues, and from that period, with the exception of a short interval, he remained Prime Minister of England for seven years.
The political history of these seven years has been written over and over again. It was a history to which the Liberal party cannot look back with much satisfaction, and the memory of the Prime Minister suffers unjustly in consequence. It was one of those strange periods of reaction which are so familiar to the student of English political life, when the country was becoming daily more conservative in its views and feelings. Then, as at other similar periods, the Liberals were obstinately unwilling to believe the fact. While the bulk of the electors were ever more and more anxious for repose, ardent politicians were racking their brains for new stimulants, and seeking what reforms they could propose and what institutions they could attack in order to arouse the flagging energies of their supporters. They mistook a real wish to be left quiet for a disgust at not being led forward, and as the activity of Lord Melbourne in his Cabinet was chiefly displayed in restraining the restlessness of the more impetuous of his colleagues, he became responsible in the eyes of some for the want of progress; while the nation at large accused him, in common with the rest of his Government, of continually catching up without serious consideration or depth of conviction any policy which might be likely to bring a momentary popularity to the Ministry.
In regard to this last accusation we must remember that Lord Melbourne was only one of the governing committee of the country, primus inter pares. It is only a very strong and very popular Prime Minister who can be more than this. His influence, as I have said, is believed to have been a restraining one. We know the mistakes to which he was a party, but we shall never know how many he may have prevented.
After all said against it, this period of seven years was neither unfruitful in wise legislation nor inglorious to the country. Without endangering peace, we maintained the high position of England in Europe, and, though many measures were prematurely introduced and hastily abandoned, a long list may be made of very useful ones which were passed.
What were Lord Melbourne's real political convictions? Some have said that he was in his heart a Conservative. He was undoubtedly less advanced in his opinions than many of his colleagues, and he sometimes exhibited a half laughing, half sorrowful disbelief in the result expected by others from constitutional changes. This, coupled with a love of mischief, and a delight in startling people, made him appear less advanced than he was; as when he said about Catholic Emancipation that all the wise men in the country had been on one side of the question and all the fools on the other, and that the fools had turned out to be right after all; when he told some ardent reformer that the men who originated the Reform Bill ought to be hanged on a gallows forty feet high; and when he remarked to Lord John Russell that he did not see that there was much use in education, illustrating his remark by reference to a popular and successful, but not highly instructed, family. These sayings, however, did not express his real convictions. His was essentially that kind of mind which sees clearly both sides of a question. His position would naturally have been very near the border line which divides the two parties, and on which it is impossible for any public man in England permanently to stand, but it would have been under any circumstances on the Liberal side of that line.
As leader of the House of Lords he was on the whole successful, certainly not the reverse. But he had the misfortune to be opposed and most bitterly attacked during a great part of his administration by the two greatest orators of the day, and he received little support from his own side. Of his speaking it has been said that if it had been a little better it would have been quite first-rate. He never prepared a speech, and he hesitated a good deal except when under the influence of excitement. But at his worst he was always plain, unpretending, and sensible, and his voice and appearance were of themselves sufficient to command attention. When roused he could be forcible and even eloquent for a few minutes, and he always gave the impression that he only wanted rousing to become so. The most powerful of his opponents never could feel sure that he might not at