When Queen Victoria came to the throne there were many men of the highest order of ability in both Houses of Parliament. Lord Brougham was, perhaps, the strongest man in the House of Lords, so far as eloquence and energy and passion can constitute strength. But he was a man of fitful temperament, and just now he was very much out of temper with the Whig party and therefore with Lord Melbourne. In 1830, as we have seen, he was made Lord Chancellor; and when the Whig Ministry was reconstructed in 1835 his name was passed over and he was left out of office. From that time Lord Brougham passed into what might be called independent opposition. He was inclined to oppose anybody and everybody; perhaps his genius and his temper fitted him better for opposition than for any other part. There was for a long time much conjecture as to the reasons which inspired the Whig statesmen when they deliberately passed over Lord Brougham's name in the re-composition of their Ministry. One surmise has always been that Lord Brougham's wild eccentricities and unbearable temper made him unsuitable for any Cabinet office. Indeed, it was believed by many that his intellect was liable to be suddenly clouded over by fits and starts, as the intellect of the great Lord Chatham was said to have been at more than one epoch of his life. Brougham's great rival in the House of Lords was John Singleton Copley, Lord Lyndhurst, whom we have met before in the course of this narrative.
Lyndhurst was the son of a celebrated painter who lived in Boston in America, where young Copley was born a year before the time when the tea ships were boarded in Boston Harbour and their contents spilt into the water. The family came over to England, and young Copley applied himself to the study of law, and rose in his profession until he had taken its highest honours, and he became Lord Chancellor. He was the only man in the House of Lords at the time of Queen Victoria's accession who could fairly have stood up and contended against Brougham. He was, unquestionably, one of the most effective debaters of the age, which included the best of Robert Peel's career, the great successes of Lord Palmerston, the eloquence of such men as Gladstone and Disraeli, Cobden and Bright. He was not merely the rival, but often the contrast to Brougham; for while he had all Brougham's passion for work, and no amount of toil at the Bar, on the Bench, or in Parliament ever seemed to weary him, his style was singularly unlike that of Brougham. Lyndhurst had a clear, melodious, and penetrating voice, a style singularly direct and effective, without superfluity of words or exuberance of gesture. He was absolutely free from any of Brougham's extravagance of rhetoric; he was as smooth and graceful as Brougham was rough and ungainly; he had none of Brougham's passion, but he had none of Brougham's strength of conviction. He had now settled down to be a regular Tory, one of the successful order who always expect office when their party is in power, and are always expected to take a leading share in opposition when their party is out of power. It might have puzzled the keenest observer to say why Lyndhurst was a Tory rather than a Whig; and if events had put it the other way, it would be just as puzzling to say why he should be a Whig rather than a Tory.
He did not seem to have any strong convictions except such as were forced upon him by the necessity of taking a leading part in debate on the Tory side. The beauty, purity, and keenness of his style made the listener sometimes think of a sparkling, swift-running stream. Some of his admirers had gone so far as to rank him with the highest parliamentary orators known to English history. The lurking doubt in the minds of others, who were also his warm admirers, was whether he could be described as, in the highest sense, an orator at all. The criticism of a man who was undoubtedly a great parliamentary orator, was that Lyndhurst maintained too constantly the same high level of excellence in his speeches to have those highest qualities of eloquence which come like the poet's sudden flash of inspiration, and are not always to be summoned and set in array at the speaker's will. Lyndhurst lived to a great old age and kept up his faculties to the very last. The writer of this volume can never forget the last speech he heard Lyndhurst make. It was delivered in the House of Lords during the session of 1860. It was a masterly display of argument and of eloquence, delivered in a voice which made itself easily heard by the remotest listener in the galleries of a Chamber which was not then, as it is not now, thought highly of for its quality in the conveyance of sound. It would have been a powerful and brilliant speech for a man of forty; and it was spoken on the eve of Lord Lyndhurst's eighty-ninth birthday.
These were the two great debaters in the House of Lords when Queen Victoria came to the throne. Lord Stanley was still in the House of Commons; had he been then in the House of Lords three men and not two would have contested for the palm in eloquence. The House of Lords, of course, remained the same as it had been during the reign of William IV. The House of Commons was a new assembly. According to the rule which prevailed at the time, and which was not altered until many years later, a dissolution of Parliament had to take place at the opening of every reign; and a new House of Commons had to be elected. In this new House of Commons the Tories made a slight improvement on their position. There was an uncertainty in the public mind which the demeanour and the ways of Lord Melbourne only tended to increase, as to the relative merits of the Whigs and Tories, as to the real difference, in fact, between a Tory and a Whig. This condition of things naturally gave an advantage to the Tories. Reformers can hardly be enthusiastic unless when they are quite certain that their leaders are full of reforming energy; and there was only one Liberal leader, Lord John Russell, in whom the outer public felt any confidence of this kind, and Lord John Russell's manners were somewhat cold and distant, and were not calculated to make any direct appeal to popular enthusiasm. At this time Lord John Russell was leader of the Ministerial party in the House of Commons; and Sir Robert Peel was leader of the Opposition. Peel had not then come near to the zenith of his fame; he proved himself afterwards to be one of the greatest parliamentary orators and one of the greatest statesmen of his time; but at the opening of the Queen's reign he was only at the opening of his real career. Lord John Russell and Sir Robert Peel were destined to be opposing leaders in the House of Commons almost down to Peel's death. If Peel became Prime Minister, Russell became leader of the Opposition in the Commons. When Russell became Prime Minister, Peel fell back into the place of leader of the Opposition. Their political lives for many years formed a great parliamentary duel, like that between the younger Fox and the younger Pitt, like that between Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli at a later day. The most remarkable figure in the House of Commons, if we leave out the leaders on both sides, was that of O'Connell, the great Irish tribune, whose colossal form was sure to attract in a moment the attention of all strangers in the galleries of the House. His leading colleague in Irish, politics was Richard Lalor Shell, a man to whom both Gladstone and Disraeli at different times ascribed the palm of highest eloquence, but who only left behind him a memory which is curiously fading out in our days. There were many men of high literary position in the new House of Commons, and some who were destined to win a literary repute before long.