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THE IMPERIAL MAGAZINE.
MEMOIR OF LORD JOHN RUSSELL.
(With a Portrait.) The name of Russell is of such renown in the records of our country, that it will always be respectable, until England shall either sink into despotism, or cease to be a nation. A happy combination of patriotism and loyalty, an attachment to the throne, and an unremitting regard for the rights and welfare of the people, have always been prominent with the Russells through a long line of illustrious ancestry, distinguished for exalted rank and splendid talents, among the patriots, heroes, statesmen, and nobility in the island that gave them birth." Pursuing them along the stream of time, no marks of degeneracy appear. The lustre of the most distant progenitor has never received a tarnish from a numerous posterity; and the subject of this memoir bids fair to transmit the unsullied reputation of his family to generations that are yet unborn.
The ancestors of this illustrious house may be traced back to the fifth year of Henry III., who was crowned in 1216, at which time, Francis Russell is recorded as the constable of Corfe castle. To Henry VII., John Russell was one of the gentlemen of the privy chamber. He was among those who welcomed that monarch on his landing in England, and was esteemed as one of the most accomplished gentlemen of the age in which he lived. His talents and integrity were accompanied with their merited reward. Several offices of state responsibility were committed to his care, and their duties were performed with honourable exactness. By Henry VIII. this gentleman was created Baron Russell of Cheinies, in Buckinghamshire, in 1539. In the following years, when the dissolution of monasteries took place, his lordship procured a grant for himself, and his heirs, of the site of Tavistock-abbey, with all its extensive and valuable appendages. In the succeeding reign, he was created Earl of Bedford, and was sent by Mary as ambassador to Spain, to conduct Philip, her royal consort, to England.
The first Duke of Bedford was William Russell, father of the celebrated patriot whom Charles II. caused to be barbarously beheaded. The father survived this stroke many years, and lived to express his pathetic but indignant feelings to James II., in language that will never be forgotten. When the affairs of this latter monarch, whose influence with his brother had been fatal to the murdered patriot, became desperate, he applied to some of the aged nobility, for advice and aid to retrieve the fortune of his throne; the Duke of Bedford was among those whose favour he solicited. On hearing his application, the venerable duke, in a solemn and impressive tone, gave to the agitated monarch the following remarkable reply—“I am too old and feeble to assist your majesty. I once had a son, who, if living, might have been able to render you some service in this extremity: 20. SERIES, NO. 14.- VOL. II.
your brother gave him an early passport to a better world.” The mortification of the royal applicant needs no comment. The venerable duke survived the Revolution about eleven years; and, on his death, was succeeded in the dukedom by the eldest son of the celebrated patriot whom Charles had beheaded.
The father of the present duke, and grandfather of Lord John Russell, was of high celebrity as a public character. In 1762, he was minister to the court of France; and, at Fontainbleau, signed, in behalf of England, the preliminaries of peace with France and Spain. His eldest son, the Marquis of Tavistock, having lost his life by a fall from his horse in hunting, the ducal honours devolved on his younger brother, who succeeded to them at a very tender age. Advancing, however, to maturity, the splendour of his talents, his agricultural science, and still more powerful example, procured for him the distinguished appellation of the great Duke of Bedford. But, while “ bearing his blushing honours thick about him,” he was arrested by death in the midst of his usefulness, leaving his compatriots to bewail his loss as a national calamity. This disastrous event transmitted the dukedom, with all its honours and emoluments, to their present possessor, the father of Lord John Russell, the subject of this memoir, who is the third son by the first duchess, a daughter of Viscount Farington.
Lord John RUSSELL was born on the 19th of August, 1792, and, during his childhood, was of a weak, and rather delicate frame. In consequence of this deficiency in muscular strength and constitutional energy, instead of being sent to Eton, Winchester, or Westminster, he was placed under the care of the Rev. Mr. Smith, who for many years presided over a seminary of the highest reputation, at Woodnesborough, near Sandwich, in Kent; and by whom he was prepared for the university. Among his associates, while with Mr. Smith, were several distinguished noblemen, who display their splendid talents on the great theatre of politics in the present day.
Removing from Woodnesborough to the University of Cambridge, Lord John Russell applied to his studies with such commendable assiduity, that he soon matured and completed an education, of which a solid foundation had been previously laid by his preceptor, Mr. Smith. It does not appear that his lordship's attention was so directed to any particular subjects, as to preclude a general acquaintance with others. With the great and leading principles of legislation, history, commerce, science, philosophy, and law, his mind was rendered so familiar, that in either department his talents could not fail to command a very high degree of respect. It is by this general knowledge, that he has been able to bring forward in the house of commons a measure, which, whatever may be its ultimate issue, will cause his name to be enrolled in the archives of national immortality.
Lord John Russell first made his appearance in parliament in the year 1819, as member for the county of Huntingdon, which he continued to represent until 1826. Very early in his parliamentary career, he evinced his attachment to those liberal opinions for which his ancestors had invariably been distinguished ; and, on all suitable occasions, supported them by talents every way worthy of his illustrious house, to whose immortal honours he has ever since continued to make important additions. Ministerial ascendancy, and unconstitutional legislation, were the first objects of his attack; and the modest and unassuming demeanour which invariably marked his conduct, procured for him an influential station among the senators of his country. The proud and glorious example of Charles James •Fox appeared always in his view; and, instinctively taking possession of the seat of that renowned statesman, which had been vacated by his death, he avowed his determination to carry on that hostility against political corruption, which that champion of reform and freedom had so happily, though unsuccessfully, commenced, but in which he persevered to his latest days.
Keeping his great and leading principles constantly in view, about the middle of December, his lordship, having previously given notice of his intention, introduced his first motion on parliamentary reform. This was accompanied with a speech, which at once breathed conciliation, firmness, and moderation. The subject was of national importance, which, combined with the manner and arguments of the speaker, .commanded in the house a degree of attention, which many veteran members frequently sought in vain. ." It was impossible," he said, “not to perceive, that there were two parties in the house, between whom there prevailed at that moment an extreine degree of irritation; the one urging unreasonable demands, and the other meeting every demand with a peremptory denial—the one claiming unknown privileges and imaginary rights, and the other ready to cast into oblivion all those ancient liberties which our ancestors had shed their blood to establish, and ready to endanger them for ever, in order to obtain a temporary security and qualification !"
His lordship then adverted to the notorious abuses of small boroughs, and defended a recommendation to grant the elective franchise to such populous towns as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, and Halifax. Having descanted on these topics, he concluded by proposing four resolutions--the first, against bribery and corruption in general; the second, against the continuance of the representation for any place convicted of these evils; the third, expressive of the duty of the house in these respects; and the fourth, that the borough of Grampound in Cornwall should be made the first example of deprivation. These resolutions were seconded by Lord Normanby; but Lord Castlereagh having proposed going into committee on the last resolution alone, without entering on the great question of parliamentary reform, the delinquency of Grampound became an object of such attention, that the other resolutions were immediately withdrawn, and guilty Grampound was summoned to the bar. Lord Russell accordingly gave notice, that he should move on a given day, for the disfranchisement of this rotten Cornish borough.
During the interim, Lord Russell took occasion to animadvert on some branches of the civil list, in which he thought considerable retrenchment might be made. Ancient usage, he thought a bad foundation for any office that had no connexion with utility, or the dignity of the crown ; otherwise he saw no reason why his majesty should not still retain a royal fool, and have a regular allowance of straw for his bed, and litter for his chamber, as in days of
yore. On the 19th of May 1820, the bill for disfranchising detected Grampound was brought in without opposition, but the second reading produced å lengthened debate-not whether Grampound was innocent or guilty, for, on the ground of corruption, the evidence was complete ; but whether the elective right should be given to some large unrepresented town, or that Yorkshire should enjoy the precious boon. Lord Eldon, indeed, contended, strenuously and warmly, in behalf of the unbribed, or rather undetected, electors of Grampound; being unwilling to involve the innocent with the guilty. Lord Russell, on the contrary, exerted himself in favour of Leeds. But both these propositions were resisted by the house, which finally decided in favour of York.