Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

unscrupulous advantage of a vote which he had carried by an acknowledged imposition and surprise; of which he was, it may be admitted, unconscious in the first instance, but which he was afterwards brought to comprehend. Parliament was prorogued by commission on the 2d of July.

The session thus closed, with few acts of permanent legislation, was distinguished and enlivened by the strife of contending eloquence, passion, and party. But he who was foremost and most conspicuous in the strife—he who was the object of public hopes and favouring wishes from Cadiz to the Acropolis, - was fast sinking to the grave. The person of Mr. Canning was evidently wasting for some time. The ardour of his mind and the new ambition of his place overcame or concealed from him the inroads upon his health. Parliament had no sooner risen, than his illness became decided. It would seem as if the heat and clangor of debate animated and sustained him beyond nature and his stamina. After some confinement at his own house, he retired for quiet and change of air to the duke of Devonshire's villa at Chiswick; — and here, on the 8th of August, when only four months prime minister, he expired.

This was a melancholy consummation. When he had unmanacled his genius from the jealous inferiority and bad principles of an oligarchy to which a vicious system of government and his own ambition in an evil hour had enslaved him; when he had toiled long, and at last reached the highest sphere of his hopes - but before he could yet enjoy his conquest, or give lustre to his eleva

tion, — his life and genius were extinguished. It is commonly said that Mr. Canning's days were shortened by the ceaseless malice and systematic vexations of his opponents within, and their slanderous scurrility without, the walls of parliament. Where are the proofs or the presumptions? If Mr. Canning had the susceptibilities, he had also the courage and force, of impassioned temperament. There is, doubtless, in the world much of moral anomaly and evil; but it would be too much to suppose that this deadly hold was accorded to grovelling upon superior natures. His death spread disappointment and mourning, not only over his country, but over Europe. England regretted in him the most accomplished orator whom the popular and better spirit of her constitution had yet produced * a minister who could wield the energies

»

masters.

* The following sketch of Mr. Canning as an orator is given by Mr. Therry, in the memoir prefixed to his excellent edition of “ Canning's Speeches :

“ Mr. Canning was the most consummate orator of his country and age. He had cultivated eloquence as a liberal art, with the zeal of a student, and became one of its classic

Some may have exceeded him in particular qualities or powers; but he possessed an assemblage of endowments and acquirements which left all rivalry at a distance. He combined the free movement, spirit, and reality of British parliamentary debate, with the elaborate perfection of ancient oratory. Chatham can be estimated only by tradition and his effects in the absence of all genuine remains. He must have possessed fervour, fancy, a superior reason, and great popular effect; but he exercised an art which he had himself created, and in which he had no rival of the first rank. His theatric delivery, and the lightnings of his eye, astonished and

and sustain the greatness of a free people abroad, and create new resources of advanced civilisation and refreshed industry at home. Liberal Europe

frightened country gentlemen and noble lords to whom eloquence was a novelty and talent alarming. Fox, with the impetuous ardour of liberty, humanity, and his temperamentwith the muscular vigour of his dialectics, simple and unadorned - would be the first orator in an assembly of a free people. Pitt, with his high-sounding amplifications, lofty sarcasms, and imposing manner, was supreme in dictating to a drilled majority or subservient council, and in imposing his authority upon the common order of minds. Burke has bequeathed the eloquence of his meditations, and the oracles of his philosophy, to sages and to posterity. But give Canning * audience meet,' — the select representatives of a civilised free people

:-men capable of feeling deliberative eloquence as a cultivated liberal art,-- and he brought into the field an assemblage of qualities beyond all single rivalry. Fire and imagination like Chatham, with a severer judgment and less artificial delivery; vigorous dialectics like Fox, with more of wit and fancy; dignity of manner, and measured declamation, like Pitt, with a livelier and lighter tone of pleasantry and sarcasm; much of the philosophy of Burke, with less prolixity, and a more scrupulous taste; - these are among the qualities which determine Mr. Canning's place in the first order of orators.

“ He had studied with a congenial feeling those severe and eternal models — the remains of ancient eloquence. His elegance of expression was fastidious, without weakening its force; his wit was not so elaborately, so concentratedly brilliant as Sheridan's — but it was more prompt, redundant, and disposable, and, if it may be so said, more logical. Mr. Canning's reading was extensive and various, and his fancy flitted over history, fiction, and external nature, with quickness and felicity, — for illustration, citation, or metaphor. He had the tact to discern, and the dexterity to expose, what was weak or ridiculous on the adverse side; the art to push an opponent's

mourned in him the British minister who would at least leave the fair chances of combat to liberty and reason against leagued despotism and hireling force.

simile or analogy ad absurdum, or to discover grandeur in what was meant for reproach (as in his retort that Proteus, with the versatility of his shapes, was in every shape the god); and, in fine, to lay bare, by rigorous syllogism, a fallacy in the envelope of a sophism or loose phrase.

“ Mr. Canning not only meditated his speeches, but composed carefully (whether on paper or in his memory matters not) the passages of effect. His exquisite sense of elegance of style, of the precise value of words, and of oratorical collocation and cadence, will be felt and admired in the speeches revised by him, and discerned in those that remain in a state less perfect.

“ Person and delivery are considerable parts of the orator. Mr. Canning's height was of the heroic standard; his form united elegance and strength; his motions and pace were firm and elastic, with a characteristic individualising disregard of all studied grace. His countenance was moulded in the happiest English style — comely, elegant, and simple;' the profile gracefully defined; the face expressive, and mantling, as he spoke, with the changes of sentiment and emotion; the eye large and full, and if not charged with the lightning'sflash, yet beaming with intelligence; the voice strong, flexible, and slightly muffled, so as to impart a softer melody, without affecting its clearness. His port, as he spoke, was sometimes negligent - often admirable— evincing a proud consciousness of the superiority of his cause, or the power of his eloquence.”

CHAP. XXX.

1827-8-1830.

MR. CANNING was the sustaining spirit of the government which he had created. His ministry can scarcely be said to have survived him. It remained a sort of simulacrum of life and force,

“ Andava combattando ed era morte." He was succeeded by lord Goderich as first lord of the treasury.

Lord Goderich, like the Roman emperor, would be deemed worthy of the first place had he not attained it. The duke of Wellington hastily resumed the commandership-in-chief. This determines the value of his declaration, that he was influenced by no personal or private feeling towards Mr. Canning. Possibly he thought so; men are not always the surest judges of their own feelings. He may, therefore, not have been conscious of the envious irritation with which he beheld Mr. Canning's name in Europe wholly eclipse his own. The ascendant of the sabre on the continent, and especially in France, had given way to the civic wreath. Mr. Huskisson succeeded lord Goderich as colonial secretary, with the ministerial lead in the house of commons. The chancellorship of the exchequer was still vacant. It was understood to have been offered to Mr. Huskisson and Mr. Tierney,

« ForrigeFortsæt »