George Grote, the celebrated historian of Greece, was one of the Members for the City of London, and was one of the earliest and most thorough advocates of the ballot system in parliamentary election. Edward Lytton Bulwer, afterwards Lord Lytton, famous as a popular novelist, sat as an advanced Radical, a position he gradually relinquished in the course of years for a sort of picturesque Conservatism, which might have suited his own hero Ernest Maltravers. Mr. Disraeli had entered Parliament for the first time, after more than one unsuccessful venture. He had not come in as a Tory, but as a man with a political creed all of his own making; he had accepted the support of O'Connell, and had described himself in a letter to a distinguished Radical leader as one whose strong point was sedition. Mr. Disraeli, it need hardly be said, soon dropped sedition and Radicalism, and became even a more picturesque Tory than Ernest Maltravers ever could have been. Mr. Gladstone had been five years in Parliament when he was again elected to the House of Commons at the opening of the reign. He had not, as yet, made any real mark in the House; and Disraeli had not as yet delivered his first speech there. Lord Palmerston was Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and sat, of course, in the House of Commons, being only an Irish Peer. No one then suspected Palmerston of anything like the capacity for the work of the Foreign Office, and for parliamentary debate, which he afterwards proved himself to possess. Charles Buller, a man of great ability, with a knowledge of the principles of political economy very rare in those days, was looked upon as one of the great rising lights of Parliament, until a premature death suddenly blew out the light. Mr. Cobden had been a candidate for the Borough of Stockport, but was defeated at the polling and did not enter the House until some years later. Bright had not at that time come forward as a candidate. Macaulay and Roebuck happened, by what might almost be called an accident, to fail in obtaining seats at the General Election. Joseph Hume, the great advocate of economy and of all economic reforms, was in the House, a man of genuine ability and absolute integrity of purpose, but a heavy and confused speaker, of whom O'Connell humorously observed that Hume might make a good speech if only he would endeavour to finish one sentence before beginning the next but one after.
Richard Cobden. 1804-1865.
Mr. Charles Villiers was a member of that Parliament - Charles Villiers who only died lately, just after the celebration of his ninty-sixth birthday. Sir Francis Burdett was a member, and so, too, was William Smith O'Brien, then only known as a Tory landlord of the highest class, whose political career closed after the ill-fated Irish insurrection of 1848 - a man of honour, a thorough gentleman, and a true patriot, although not gifted with the genius of leadership or even with the practical common sense which must go in any path of politics to make a successful leader. That was in every way a remarkable House of Commons which was summoned together on the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne. Lord Melbourne in the one House and Lord John Russell in the other had a difficult task to carry on the work of Government in the face of an Opposition so strong in leadership, in capacity, and even in numbers. Lord Melbourne and his Government were placed between two fires, between the Tories, who were opposed to all reform, and a number of the more advanced Radicals, who wanted more reform than the Ministry was able to give, and who wanted reform to move on at a rapid pace. The country in general was crying out for more reform and more; and Lord Melbourne had not the energy or the genius to promote the measures of change which were everywhere demanded by the Liberal party out of doors. Lord Melbourne's Government tried several measures of improvement in various directions, political and social; and now that we can look back upon what they did accomplish we can see that some of the measures they introduced belong strictly to the great reforming movement, and must always have a place in history. Some of these reforms have already been described by anticipation when they were simply further developments of the good work done by former Liberal Administrations.
But, on the other hand, there was undoubtedly a wave of reaction coming up. This is a phenomenon which is always to be seen by any one who follows closely the course of modern English history. This principle of action followed by reaction, is as inevitable as the ebb of a tide following its flow. The unconcerned outer public have a way of soon becoming tired of reforms moving on at a rapid pace; and there is a tendency in all men who are not the active followers of a great principle or a great cause, to think that enough has been done for a time, and to fall into the mood of the lotus eaters described in Tennyson's poem, who asked for nothing but to be let alone. Lord Melbourne had to contend against this temper, into which so many of the public, and nearly all of what is called society, had begun to settle down. He had to contend also against the dissatisfaction of some of the leading men who were still nominally counted as among his followers, and he had to deal with an Opposition reinforced by the recent elections, and led by so consummate a statesman and parliamentary debater as Sir Robert Peel. The Ministry began to sink lower and lower in public estimation, and everybody knew that their sand was fast running out. To add to Lord Melbourne's troubles, he had to deal with a crisis in Jamaica, which required, above all things, promptness and energy. This difficulty arose out of the wise and just and philanthropic measures which had been taken to put an end to the system of slavery in the West Indian islands. After the abolition of slavery the planters of Jamaica were unwilling and unable to reconcile themselves to the new condition of things. They could not understand that they were henceforth to regard their former slaves as now their equals before the law.