« ForrigeFortsæt »
the proudest which an Englishman could enjoy, was that it seemed to hold out to me the gratifying prospect that in serving my king I should better be able to serve my country. These confident words were uttered on the evening of Friday the 26th November 1830. On the 15th November 1834, not quite four years afterwards, the 'Times ' newspaper announced that the Whig cabinet, of which the noble and learned lord was so able and eminent a member, had been summarily, almost insultingly, turned out of office by the king; and so thoroughly had those few years of power, whether by his own fault or the people's caprice, stripped the ejected chancellor of the popularity he had before enjoyed, that his fall alone, of all the cabinet, excited neither sympathy, regret, nor indignation. And so deeply rooted has proved this disfavour, indifference, ingratitude, or whatever else it may be called, that although the dismissed ministry was not long afterwards restored to office by the House of Commons, and that the Whigs have since, with the exception of Sir Robert Peel's last great administration, continued in the enjoyment of power, Lord Brougham, with his formidable oratorical and debating talents as brilliant and effective, his all-embracing industry as unflagging, as ever, has never been invited to re - enter the cabinet; and perhaps stranger still, no general desire that he should resume his place in the royal councils has been heard from the people with whom he was once so powerful and popular! How may we account for this extraordinary change ? Must we ascribe it, with Lord Brougham's thorough-going partisans, to the mean and rancorous jealousy of former colleagues, impatient of his manifest superioríty—the scandalous misrepresentations of a truculent and mendacious press, and the undiscerning, unreasoning caprice of a fickle people? Or, adopting the assertions put forth by his lordship’s habitual detractors, must we say that his splendid and mighty efforts to loosen the bonds of the slave, his vehement denunciation of fraud and oppression, his strenuous advocacy of extended popular rights and the diffusion of popular instruction, were all mere promptings of a restless and insatiable vanity, to gratify which he would and did sacrifice the cause of progress, and the best interests of a people whom he only looked upon as the instruments of an intolerable, self-seeking ambition, and unhesitatingly abandoned the moment his selfish purpose was achieved? A heavy charge !one easily made; and however essentially false, not difficult to be showily supported by one-sided and garbled views and quotations of the acts and speeches of a public man who has been busily engaged in the political struggles and vicissitudes of the last forty years of change and strife!
Is not the truth rather that Lord Brougham and the more eager, impatient reformers were mutually self-deceived; that he was never half so popularly disposed, in a democratic sense, as they-misled by occasional bursts of fiery eloquence—believed him to be; and that he, if not mistaken in the direction of the tide of popular opinion, underrated its depth, constancy, and force; and in endeavouring to arrest its progress at the limits which he thought desirable, found himself tossed aside, with no other resource left but to rail at the power of a movement which he had neither desired nor anticipated, and no longer possessed strength to guide or to control ? Add to this an inveterate habit of indulging in exaggerated
active, cruel and undiscriminating sarcasm, together with a few eccentric
peculiarities of manner and expression, and you have a sufficient key to Lord Brougham's public character and conduct, to the secret of his popularity and unpopularity, without the necessity of seeking for it in groundless hypotheses of personal unworthiness, and selfish disregard of party and national obligations. This at least is our impression. Whether the reader, after glancing over the following slight sketch of the noble and learned lord's literary, forensic, parliamentary, and judicial career, will arrive at the same conclusion, we cannot of course venture to predicate; but at all events we can confidently promise that it shall not be exaggerated or distorted in outline, nor falsely and delusively coloured or disguised.
Henry Lord Brougham and Vaux, although essentially the architect of his own fortunes and position, claims to be descended from a very ancient if not very distinguished family. The genealogists trace his descent from the De Burghams, an English territorial family settled in Cumberland and Westmoreland long before the Slys and others came in with the Conqueror. Where Brougham Hall now stands, Walter de Burgham in the time of Edward, Saint and Confessor, was possessed of the manor of De Burgham. In Henry II.'s reign Odard de Burgham distinguished himself from the crowd of forgotten nobodies by incurring with others a heavy fine for unworthily surrendering the castle of Appleby to the Scots. Setting, however, aside these and other dim traditions, it appears certain that one Henry Burgham or Brougham did really marry, towards the close of the seventeenth century, 'the fair Miss Slee, daughter of Mr Slee of Carlisle, a jovial gentleman of three hundred a year.' It is also sufficiently clear that the Broughams were high sheriffs of Cumberland in the reigns of George. I. and II. This ancient stock, somewhat shorn it should seem, not of its honours but of its manors—a more tangible loss—intermarried by its representative, Henry Brougham of Scales Hall, in Cumberland, and Brougham Hall, Westmoreland, with a highly-respectable Scotch family; the said Henry having espoused, on the 22d August 1777, Eleanor, only child of the Rev. James Syme, by Mary, sister of Dr Robertson, the historian of Charles V. and America. This marriage had numerous issue, the eldest of whom was Henry, afterwards Lord Brougham and Vaux, and Lord High Chancellor. He claims also to be heir-general and representative of the ancient and noble House of Vaux. His motto, discovered by the Heralds Office to be the ancient one of his House, is ‘Pro rege, lege, grege;' and his crest is a hand and arm in armour holding a luce, argent: on the elbow a rose, gules. He was born in St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, on the 19th September 1779, and received his preliminary education at the High School of that city. When only fifteen years of age he entered the university. An insatiable thirst after and love of knowledge, a singular power and aptitude for acquiring it, combined with unbounded selfconfidence, appear to have characterised him from the first dawn of his discursive, ambitious, and splendid career. He was little more than sixteen when he transmitted to the Royal Society a paper describing a series of experiments in optics, and an exposition, more showy and pretentious than sound and philosophical, of the principles which govern that science. The Royal Society thought sufficiently well of the paper to print it in the ‘Philosophical Transactions' of 1796. They conferred the same honour in 1798 upon a dissertation he sent them on Certain Principles in Geometry.” These precocious labours called forth replies and refutations from Professor Prevost of Geneva and others; and the youthful sciolist was soon busily engaged in a Latin correspondence with philosophers of European reputation, on multifarious scientific questions, most of which he is said to have treated with his accustomed brilliance and audacity. Neither was European travel, such as then could be obtained, wanting to the development of his lively intellect. He made a tour through the northern countries of the continent in company with Mr Stuart, afterwards Lord Stuart de Rothsay, and on his return was duly called to the Scottish bar, where he practised with fair success till the year 1807, when he finally took up his abode in London.
Many and various were the modes by which, in addition to the study and illustration of Scots and civil law, he kept his restless energies in full activity. He was a distinguished member of the Speculative Society of Edinburgh-a school of exercise for embryo orators and essayists connected with the university of that city-over which the great success in afterlife of several of its members has thrown a lustre it did not probably in itself deserve. The aspect of the time was troubled and stormy. Constituted authorities were angered and dismayed at the moral phenomena which everywhere gleamed through the thick darkness generated by centuries of leaden despotism and inert social apathy and ignorance, now bursting into baleful and destructive flame, and now sending forth a holy, regenerative light. In Scotland, as elsewhere, alarmed officials were fulminating decrees of fine, imprisonment, transportation, against the favourers of the new opinions with merciless severity — a comparatively modern illustration of an old truth, that fear is always cruel. The natural consequence in such a state of society as that of Edinburgh ensued: reprobation of the errors or faults of the sufferers was lost in the indignation excited by the excess of punishment inflicted. The leading spirits of the Speculative Society kindled into ardent Whiggism, and for a time perhaps something more; and when sufficiently matured in intellectual power, started in 1802—with the assistance of that prince of argumentative humorists, the Rev. Sydney Smith-the world-famous 'Edinburgh Review;' the first number of which
• Waved its light wings of saffron and of blue' under the reverend gentleman's guidance, and at once soared into a far higher region of critical disquisition than the then feeble and drowsy arbiters of literary fame had ever striven, or indeed had power to reach. Henry Brougham, it is known from a paper communicated to Mr Robert Chambers by Lord Jeffrey, did not contribute to the first three numbers, in consequence of the repugnance of Sydney. Smith to admit him as a member of the critical confederacy, he, Smith, having ' so strong an impression of Brougham's indiscretion and rashness.' After the third number, however, he was admitted, and,' adds Lord Jeffrey, 'did more work for us than anybody.' To be sure he did: it would not have been at all surprising if he had volunteered to do it all, editorship included! Amongst the multifarious contributions of Mr Brougham appeared the much-talked-of notice, in 1808, of Lord Byron's 'Hours of Idleness & rather smart piece of writing, but which would have perished and been
forgotten with other ephemeræ of the season, had it not been for the angry response
which it elicited from the enraged author, and the striking contradiction given to the prediction of the critic by the poet's subsequent success. The criticism was, however, substantially just, contemptuously expressed as it may be. The noble lord's juvenile volume contained no indication of the fervid genius he afterwards displayed; and a critic not professing to be endowed with second-sight must surely be excused for not discerning in the sentimental prettiness of the 'Hours of Idleness' the developed beauty and passion of “The Giaour,' or the haughty misanthropy and eloquent scorn of the Childe Harold.' The brief review is written in a tone of light badinage which Brougham was often very happy in. The best hit is the passage we subjoin, relative to the author's implied claim to admiration on account of his verses having been written at a very early age. This juvenile plea is handled with considerable humour :- The law upon this point,' says the reviewer,' we hold to be perfectly clear. It is a plea available only to the defendant; no plaintiff can offer it as a supplementary ground of action. Thus if any suit could be brought against Lord Byron for the purpose of compelling him to pay into court a certain quantity of poetry, and judgment were given against him, it is highly probable that an exception would be taken were he to deliver for poetry the contents of this volume. To this he might plead minority; but as he now makes voluntary tender of the article, he has no right to sue on that ground for the price in good current praise should the goods be unmarketable. There was nothing very truculent or savage in this, and a laugh would have been a far better answer than the elaborate bitterness of the · English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,' which, clever as it may be, certainly did not prove the ' Hours of Idleness' to be a work of genius. Had Byron lived, he would long since have discovered that, although happening to be quite right in the particular instance under discussion, the judgment of his early censor as regards ' poetry' was of very little worth. Of this we shall have presently to offer proof; but in the meantime we must turn from these by-paths of non-political literature, into which Lord Brougham only occasionally digressed, till the multiplying shadows of the giant years he had passed, and the more and more distinct echoes of his daily lonelier footfall, gave solemn warning of his near approach to the setting sun—to the broad high-road of his crowded public life. In 1803 he published a treatise in two volumes, on the Colonial Policy of the European Powers,' which attracted a good deal of attention. In this work the most careless eye will readily discern the germ of those peculiarities of temperament, thought, and style, which afterwards developed themselve into such luxuriance. Vigour and facility of expression, bitter sarcasm, exaggerated statements, and singular brilliancy of illustration, run through volumes intended to elucidate and enforce a theory of colonial policy which subsequent events have deprived of all interest or present applicability. The burning indignation afterwards displayed by Lord Brougham in his speeches denouncing negro-slavery is very coldly if at all manifested in this work; indeed one or two of the passages were frequently quoted against him, during the struggle for slave-emancipation, as evidence of his opinion of the natural inferiority and subjection of the coloured race to the white. This, though literally, is not morally accurate. The book was
written solely with a view to enforce the policy, on the part of the European powers, of putting down the slave-trade, the success of which efforts, amongst other advantages, would, he contended, “ render all the planters more careful of their stock, and more disposed to encourage breeding:' the diminished supply would, he also thought, have the ultimate effect of bringing the slaves into ' the same condition as the bondsmen of ancient Europe and the slaves of the classic times.' The question of negro-slavery, as afterwards raised in this country, is not discussed in the book.
Whilst thus writing and reviewing, Mr Brougham continued to practise at the Scottish bar, and gradually acquired a reputation, if not as a remarkably sound lawyer, still as a bold and able speaker. On one occasion he appeared before the House of Lords as one of the counsel in the case of Lady Essex Ker, involving the title and estates of the dukedom of Roxburgh. At last, impatient of the slow progress he was making, and believing London presented a more ample field for the profitable exercise of his peculiar talents than the northern metropolis afforded, he entered himself at Lincoln's Inn, and was in due course called to the English bar, at which he soon acquired a considerable practice. Shortly before taking
his abode in England he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1810 Mr Brougham was heard at the bar of the House of Lords two days consecutively, as counsel for certain London, Liverpool, and Manchester merchants against the celebrated Orders in Council, issued in retaliation of Napoleon's Berlin and Milan decrees, which, besides establishing a paper-blockade of Great Britain and its dependencies, forbade the continent—then for the most part at the feet of the French emperorto have any commercial intercourse whatever with the hated and dreaded English. The retaliatory Orders in Council declared all the coasts of France, and those of every country under Bonaparte's control, to be in a state of permanent blockade, and empowered the British cruisers to capture any neutral vessel which should attempt to enter any of the enemy's ports
, until after touching at a British port and paying heavy duties on articles not contraband of war. The legitimate law of blockade is well known. It is that only an efficient, real blockade, by a sufficient number of vessels to practically enforce it, is valid and legal. Mere paper-decrees, or an insufficient force to fairly carry out its ostensible purpose, international law does not recognise as constituting a valid blockade. It is clear, therefore, that even Great Britain, with the thousand vessels of war she had then in commission, could not fulfil the requisite legal conditions ; and as for the decree of France, it was simply an absurdity. Not only were the Orders in Council manifestly unjust in regard to neutrals, but they operated most injuriously upon the export of English merchandise to America, whose lucrative carrying-trade was crippled by the British cruisers. Remonstrances poured in on all sides, and an angry spirit was evoked in the United States, which ultimately found vent in the subsequent absurd and purposeless war. Speaking in the House of Commons upon the subject in 1812, Mr Brougham drew the following picture of the distress of the cottonweavers and spinners consequent upon the ministerial Orders :—The food which now sustains them is reduced to the lowest kinds, and of that there is not nearly a sufficient supply; bread, or even potatoes are now out of the question; the luxuries of animal food, or even milk, they have long