( From a photograph by Messrs. Russell & Son.) H. R. H. The Prince Of Wales. 1841.
(From a photograph by Messrs. Russell & Son.) H. R. H. The Princess Of Wales. 1844.
England lost one of her famous sons the very day after Captain Speke's death, by the passing away at Florence of Walter Savage Landor, poet, essayist, and scholar. Landor had been for some time self-exiled from his native country, and was a resident of Florence, where he died. He was in his ninetieth year when he ceased to live. He must be assigned a place among men of genius. His ways were somewhat eccentric; and he was given to discovering and cherishing grievances, and with such a temperament was naturally apt to get involved in personal quarrels. But he had a thoroughly noble nature; and he left to his native country and to all lovers of literature a bequest of exquisite prose and of noble verse.
The year 1863 saw also in its later days the death of another great Englishman. On the morning of Christmas Eve, 1863, Thackeray was found dead in his bed at his house in Kensington. He had suffered much from malarial fever caught in Rome some years before; and he had indeed little spared himself in his devotion to the literary work which he loved so well. He will rank among the greatest of English novelists. He was only in his fifty-third year when he died. As his friend and literary rival Charles Dickens put it in a touching tribute of regret: " The same mother who had blessed him in his first sleep, blessed him also in his last".
In the meantime the long career of Lord Palmerston was drawing to a close. Palmerston had returned to office in 1859 as Prime Minister by virtue of a sort of compromise among the leaders of the Liberal party. Disraeli, foreseeing that a Reform Bill must come before very long, tried his hand at a sort of Reform scheme, which proved a grotesque failure in the House of Commons. It was all made up of what Mr. Bright called "fancy franchises," and took no account whatever of the whole mass of the working classes who were left out in the cold by the Great Reform Bill of 1832. Disraeli's measure was rejected by a large majority in the House of Commons on the motion of Lord John Russell, and the Conservative party appealed to the country. The General Election gave the Liberals a majority, but not what is called a "working majority " - not a majority large enough to enable them to have their own way and to defy their political opponents. Then it was that by the compromise among the Liberals Palmerston was considered the man most likely to carry on the Government with success, and he therefore became Prime Minister in the new administration. Hut he had no hold over the rising Liberals in or out of Parliament. He never ceased to be popular in the House of Commons, because he always kept the House in good humour by his high spirits, his capital jokes, and his pleasant, easy, rollicking way of taking things in general. Men like Cobden and Bright put up with him because they thought he might be induced to support some schemes of financial reform which were dear to them, and also because Mr. Gladstone had taken office under him as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
William Makepeace Thackeray. 1811- 1863.
Gladstone, who was by far the greatest financial statesman the country had seen since the death of Sir Robert Peel, succeeded during 1860 in carrying a measure which enabled the French people to get many of our manufactured articles without paying a heavy duty on them, and allowed the English people to obtain the light and wholesome wines of France at a much cheaper price than before by the great reduction of the duty. The introduction of these light wines was a very successful attempt to bring about a wholesome change in the drinking habits of the people of these islands. The heavier wines, the ports, into the manufacture of which brandy entered largely, were commonly discarded for cheap, light, and healthful clarets. The effect of the change may be seen to this day. This financial arrangement with France, and the commercial treaty which embodied it, were the result of what may be called a private negotiation between Louis Napoleon, Emperor of the French, and Richard Cobden. The suggestion came originally from Mr. Bright, but Cobden carried it into effect. He went over to Paris, entered into long conversations with the Emperor of the French, and succeeded in convincing him that much benefit would arise to the people of both States from the adoption of a commercial treaty. No Englishman but Mr. Cobden could possibly have managed the business with so much success. His intimate knowledge of the commercial affairs of both States, his wonderful gift of persuasive argument, his sweet and genial temperament and his absolute sincerity, made him a power in dealing with the prejudices of statesmen and classes on both sides of the Channel. He had the cordial assistance of Prince Napoleon, the Emperor's cousin, and of Michel Chevalier, the French political economist.
Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Cobden, and Mr. Bright may be said to have carried the measure in the House of Commons. Lord Palmerston probably did not care much about the whole business, but he had no particular objection to it, and he allowed Mr. Gladstone to have his own way. In the same session, 1860, Mr. Gladstone carried through the House of Commons his great measure for the abolition of the duty on paper, which was rejected by the House of Lords, but which the House of Lords found it impossible to resist when Mr. Gladstone pressed it upon them in the following year. We shall have something to say about this great reform when we come, later on, to speak of Mr. Gladstone's whole career; for the present we are merely concerned with the closing years of Palmerston's administration. Palmerston, in fact, was maintained in power by the financial reforms of Mr. Gladstone, and by the support which, because of those reforms, men like Cobden and Bright gave to the Palmerston Government. Palmerston had offered office to Cobden, but Cobden did not see his way to accept it: Cobden had differed too often and too long from Lord Palmerston on great questions of public policy to feel inclined to attach himself to Lord Palmerston's Ministry, even with Mr. Gladstone as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Meanwhile new ideas, new conditions of public feeling, and a renewed earnestness for popular reform were coming into force, and Lord Palmerston had little sympathy with them. He was beginning to belong to an old-fashioned period of political life, and did not feel inclined to take up with any new notions which were likely to give him trouble. He never was a statesman who took very exalted ideas of a statesman's duty; and, as has been said already, his great interest had never been with questions of domestic policy, and he had rather a dislike to be troubled with the business of domestic reform. He was growing old. Although to the end his mind never lost its elasticity, and his movements kept an almost juvenile springiness, and his intellect was not dimmed in the least, yet, during the later part of the session of 1865, those who came into close association with him noticed that time and work were telling on him.