Page images
PDF
EPUB

in literature, in mathematics, in science, the manifold talents which delighted while they controlled the England of 1830, came at last to be merely a member of the peerage, outliving himself and surviving into a later generation as a memento of his own inconsistencies.

If this will explain or suggest why the judgments passed upon a most extraordinary man have been so diverse, it will have its own excuse for attempting to take its place with other explanations where none are adequate. It is impossible to judge such a man as Brougham by ordinary standards. Except Benjamin Franklin, no statesman of modern times has had such a diversity of gifts or has shown such an easy mastery of the agencies through which mind controls other minds and the material world around it. He had Franklin's strong love for science. The two men illustrate the same astonishing versatility, the same strong desire to apply knowledge so as to make it of immediate practical advantage; the same ability in public affairs, the same determination so to live as to leave the world after them better, freer, and more comfortable than they found it. Yet Brougham invented no bedroom stoves and sent no kites to heaven to call down social, political, and economic revolutions out of the clouds. Lacking this gift of Franklin's, he had others which Franklin had not. He set himself to become the greatest orator in the public life of England, and succeeded. He worked as deliberately to acquire a "genius for oratory) as Franklin worked to make his open stove ventilate a bedroom. He succeeded as well. When he "learned by heart” the great orations of men whose eloquence had swayed crowds with the masterful power which mind when freely expressed always exerts, it was not to imitate but to assimilate. When he defended Queen Caroline, when he denounced the lash in the British army, when he plead for the liberation of British slaves, when he opposed himself to every enemy of progress, making himself the mouthpiece of the aspiration of the Wilberforces and the Howards, surrendering his voice to be the voice of those who are themselves speechless because of oppression, it was not Cicero, not Demosthenes, not any framer of classical periods, speaking to times of which classical modes are no longer a part, but the very deepest aspiration of the times themselves, the very highest inspiration which the present can catch from the future it is to achieve by its struggles and its sacrifices.

In the noble climax of his speech at Liverpool in 1812, after having denounced Pitt for the war upon America, Brougham said that his own proudest ambition was to be looked upon by posterity as the friend of liberty and peace.

This ambition he has realized. From 1808, when he was admitted to the bar of England, until after the struggle over the Reform Bill of 1832, he was a great and growing force for the progress of England, not merely in power, but in all that makes civilization. He forced the fighting for the abolition of degrading punishments in the army and navy; he compelled public attention to English slaveholding and English complicity in the slave trade until the demand for action could not be evaded; he dared the displeasure of the court and won the lasting enmity of the King by taking the part of the unfortunate Queen Caroline, and at the same time he was experimenting in optics, studying mathematics, and writing scientific papers for the English Royal Society or the French Academy of Sciences.

Seeing him passing in a carriage one of his acquaintances said of him, with that resentment genius often challenges from those it seeks to benefit: “There go Solon, Lycurgus, Demosthenes, Archimedes, Sir Isaac Newton, Lord Chesterfield, and a great many more, all in one post-chaise.»

If he invited such scoffs by the very eagerness of his intellectual grasp, if finally through the arrogance of attempting everything, he lost the substance for the shadow of attainment, he had achieved in the meantime more in his own lifetime than it could happen to men of normally active intellect to achieve if they lived to double his great age. It has been said that he left nothing of permanent value in literature, but his “Statesmen of the Time of George IV.' has the rare power of compelling the reader who begins it to go on. The sketches, though they may be called nothing but sketches, have in them the life of times of which Brougham was a part, and they go with his speeches to make his intellect intelligible, not merely in its methods, but in its essence. At his best, when he was doing the work which made him great, he was not critical but constructive in his processes. His mind was creative, assimilative, ready to take from every source, no matter how humble, that which gives strength and originality. The same quality made Burke a great orator as it made Shakespeare a great poet. In spite of such weaknesses as grew on Brougham until they made him powerless to realize himself in action, it made him great - so great that when his detractors call him a failure in all the climaxes of his efforts, it is enough to answer that the world has grown more through such failures than it has through the best successes of those who dared not take such risks as he dared at the expense of failure.

W. V. B.

AGAINST PITT AND WAR WITH AMERICA
(Delivered at the Liverpool Election, Friday, October 8th, 1812)

ENTLEMEN, I told you last night when we were near the head U of the poll, that I, for one at least, would neither lose heart

in the conflict, nor lower my courage in fighting your battles, nor despair of the good cause although we should be fifty, a hundred, or even two hundred behind our enemies. It has happened this day that we have fallen short of them, not quite by two hundred, but we have lost one hundred and seventy votes. I tell you this with the deepest concern, with feelings of pain and sorrow which I dare not trust myself in attempting to express. But I tell it you without any sensation approaching to despondency. This is the only feeling which I have not now present in my breast. I am overcome with your unutterable affection towards me and my cause. I feel a wonder mingled with gratitude, which no language can even attempt to describe, at your faithful, unwearied, untamable exertions in my behalf of our common object. I am penetrated with an anxiety for its success, if possible more lively than any of yourselves can know who are my followers in this mighty struggle - an anxiety cruelly in. creased by that which as yet you are ignorant of, though you are this night to hear it. To my distinguished friends who sur. round me, and connect me more closely with you, I am thankful beyond all expression. I am lost in admiration of the honest and courageous men amongst you who have resisted all threats as well as all bribes, and persevered in giving me their free un. bought voices. For those unhappy persons who have been scared by imminent fear on their own and their children's behalf from obeying the impulse of their conscience, I feel nothing of resentment- nothing but pity and compassion. Of those who have thus opposed us, I think as charitably as a man can think in such circumstances. For this great town (if it is indeed to be defeated in the contest, which I will not venture to suppose), for the country at large whose cause we are upholding — whose fight we are fighting - for the whole manufacturing and trading interests — for all who love peace - all who have no profit in war-I feel moved by the deepest alarm lest our grand attempt may not prosper. All these feelings are in my heart at this momentthey are various, they are conflicting, they are painful, they are burthensome, but they are not overwhelming, and amongst them all — and I have swept round the whole range of which the human mind is susceptible — there is not one that bears the slightest resemblance to despair. I trust myself once more in your faithful hands; I fling myself again on you for protection; I call aloud to you to bear your own cause in your hearts; I implore of you to come forth in your own defense, for the sake of this vast town and its people, for the salvation of the middle and lower orders, for the whole industrial part of the whole country; I entreat you by your love of peace, by your hatred of oppression, by your weariness of burthensome and useless taxation, by yet another appeal to which those must lend an ear who have been deaf to all the rest; I ask it for your families, for your infants, if you would avoid such a winter of horrors as the last. It is coming fast upon us; already it is near at hand; yet a few short weeks and we may be in the midst of those unspeakable miseries, the recollection of which now rends your very souls. . If there is one freeman amongst this immense multitude who has not tendered his voice, and if he can be deaf to this appeal, if he can suffer the threats of our antagonists to frighten him away from the recollection of the last dismal winter, that man will not vote for me. But if I have the happiness of addressing one honest man amongst you, who has a care left for his wife and children, or for other endearing ties of domestic tenderness (and which of us is altogether without them ?), that man will lay his hand on his heart when I now bid him do so, and with those little threats of present spite ringing in his ear, he will rather consult his fears of greater evil by listening to the dictates of his heart, when he casts a look towards the dreadful season through which he lately passed, and will come bravely forward to place those men in Parliament whose whole efforts have been directed towards the restoration of peace and the revival of trade.

Do not, gentlemen, listen to those who tell you the cause of freedom is desperate; they are the enemies of that cause and of you, but listen to me,- and I am one who has never yet deceived you,- I say, then, that it will be desperate if you make no exertions to retrieve it. I tell you that your language alone can betray it, that it can only be made desperate through your despair. I am not a man to be cast down by temporary reverses, let them come upon me as thick and as swift and as sudden as they may. I am not he who is daunted by majorities in the outset of a struggle for worthy objects,- else I should not now stand here before you to boast of triumphs won in your cause. If your champions had yielded to the force of numbers, of gold, of power,- if defeat could have dismayed them, then would the African slave trade never have been abolished, then would the cause of reform, which now bids fair to prevail over its enemies, have been long ago sunk amidst the desertions of its friends; then would those prospects of peace have been utterly benighted, which I still devoutly cherish, and which even now brighten in our eyes; then would the orders in council which I overthrew by your support, have remained a disgrace to the British name, and an eternal obstacle to our best interests. I no more despond now than I have done in the course of those sacred and glorious contentions, but it is for you to say whether to-morrow shall not make it my duty to despair. To-morrow is your last day; your last efforts must then be made; if you put forth your strength the day is your own; if you desert it, it is lost. To win it, I shall be the first to lead you on and the last to forsake you.

Gentlemen, when I told you a little while ago that there were new and powerful reasons to-day for ardently desiring that our cause might succeed, I did not sport with you; yourselves shall now judge of them. I ask you,- Is the trade with America of any importance to this great and thickly peopled town? [Cries of, “Yes, yes!”] Is a continuance of the rupture with America likely to destroy that trade? [Loud cries of, “It is, it is! ”] Is there any man who would deeply feel it, if he heard that the rupture was at length converted into open war? Is there a man present who would not be somewhat alarmed if he supposed that we should have another year without the American trade? Is there any one of nerves so hardy, as calmly to hear that our government has given up all negotiation, abandoned all hopes of speedy peace with America ? Then I tell that man to brace up his nerves; I bid you all be prepared to hear what touches you all equally. We are by this day's intelligence at war with America in good earnest; our government has at length issued letters of marque and reprisal against the United States. [Uni. versal cries of, “God help us, God help us!”] Aye, God help us! God of his infinite compassion take pity on us! God help and protect this poor town, and this whole trading country!

« PreviousContinue »