Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE TRIBUTE AT HEREFORD TO SIR G. C. LEWIS. (1864.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 4 (Political, Literary, & Literary Essays)
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THE TRIBUTE AT HEREFORD TO SIR G. C. LEWIS. (1864.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 4 (Political, Literary, & Literary Essays) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 4.
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THE TRIBUTE AT HEREFORD TO SIR G. C. LEWIS.
The following is a shorter article, written in the Economist newspaper by Mr. Bagehot, on occasion of the unveiling of the memorial to Sir G. Cornewall Lewis at Hereford in the autumn of 1864. This article, which appeared on the 10th September in that year, seemed to Mr. Hutton either supplementary to, or a very interesting expansion and illustration of, the longer paper. Mr. Hutton therefore included it in his edition of Mr. Bagehot’s works.—E. Bagehot.
Nothing could be in more perfect taste than the proceedings at Hereford on the uncovering of the statue of Sir George Lewis. These local events are local casualties. It is impossible to foretell whether the principal local person is not a loquacious fool of good intentions who will say just what he should not, or whether he is a man of feeling and judgment, who will say what he should say with taste and propriety.
There is nothing which Sir George Lewis would so much have disliked as an exaggerated éloge over his grave; those who knew him would have had his quiet smile of utter contempt present to them while they read it. Happily nothing of this sort was attempted. The sober and modest nature of the man was duly honoured in the quiet and unobtrusive nature of the remembrance.
Both Mr. Clive and Lord Palmerston spoke of Sir George Lewis with guarded care, as English gentlemen wish to be spoken of, as one English gentleman, therefore, should speak of another. Sir George Lewis had no enemies, but, if he had, no enemy could have taken a just exception to the praises of his friends. He would have exactly desired this. He cared very little, perhaps nothing, for passing popularity; he would have been prepared with various classical quotations upon the mutability of the vulgar judgment, but he would have greatly valued a restrained expression of deep respect by neighbours and friends who knew him well; he would have believed that they were the legitimate “authority,” the persons who ought to speak on that matter.
It is very curious that Lord Palmerston, who spoke, so to say, Sir George Lewis’s epitaph, should have had the slowest, and that Sir George Lewis should have had the most rapid, political rise of our time. Unquestionably, Lord Palmerston is in some sense a buoyant man, and Sir George Lewis was in some sense a heavy man, yet the latter came to the surface far quicker. Lord Palmerston was a quarter of a century in Parliament before he was anything at all—before he was any more than a subaltern official; Sir George Lewis was only thirteen years in Parliament altogether, and in that time he was Secretary of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Secretary for War, and had acquired the perfect respect and confidence of the House of Commons. He finished his whole career as a statesman in about half the number of years that it took Lord Palmerston to become a statesman at all.
The causes which so much delayed Lord Palmerston’s rise are not to the present purpose, but the cause which so much accelerated that of Sir George Lewis is very simple. He had, above every other statesman of the age, the gift of inspiring confidence. Coleridge said of Southey that he inspired every one with a confidence in his reliability, and this is an almost exact description of Sir George Lewis. Political opponents and political friends both felt that he had fairly applied a strong and unfettered mind to vast accumulated information, and that his measures were the result of that application. People thought twice before they opposed a grave and businesslike measure, proposed by Sir George Lewis in that grave and business-like manner.
In one most important respect he was like Lord Palmerston, though in every other most unlike. His opinions were always plain and simple opinions. People who went to him with the notion that he was a great philosopher and scholar were often puzzled at his plainness. They expected something farfetched and recondite, and certainly they did not get it. He held as a principle that difficult schemes, fine calculations, unintelligible policies, were, as such, beyond the range of popular government. Perhaps too he hated them as if they were a kind of mysticism. At all events, a person who could not understand Sir George Lewis’s conversation on political business, must have been unfit for every kind of business. It had exactly the homely exactitude that English people like. We have heard it remarked of Sir Robert Peel’s speeches that he generally made a remark which seemed to have been left by every one on purpose for him; it was so sensible when made, that every one believed he could have made it. It was much the same with Sir George Lewis. What he said seemed so credible and sensible that in an hour or two you were apt to believe that you had always thought so.
Possibly this distinctness of aim has been rather deficient in our policy for a year past. We certainly believe that Sir George Lewis could have cross-examined Lord Russell on the Danish policy rather acutely. “What,” he would have said, “is the object you desire? When you are agreed on that, we will discuss the modus operandi; but it is a mistake to deliberate on expedients when there is a fundamental discrepancy respecting ends.” At any rate we should like to hear Lord Russell answer Sir George Lewis on this subject. This need of a definite aim ran through all his speculations. To take an example from the foreign politics now most interesting to us—American politics: “I have never,” said Sir George Lewis in a letter of March, 1861, now lying before us, “been able, either in conversation or by reading, to obtain an answer to the question, What will the North do if they beat the South? To restore the old Union would be an absurdity. What other state of things does that village lawyer, Lincoln, contemplate, as the fruit of victory? It seems to me that the men now in power at Washington are much such persons as in this country get possession of a disreputable joint-stock company. There is almost the same amount of ability and honesty.” After nearly three years of experience it would be difficult to describe Washington more justly.
But we do not cite the instance to prove Sir George Lewis’s power of prediction, so much as to prove his unfailing desire for a distinct aim.
The political precision of Sir George Lewis is peculiarly English, but it is not at all more English than his scholarship. Persons who do not read such books may fancy that “scholars’ books” are much the same in all countries. But such is not the case. Mr. Grote’s History, to take an instance, could no more have been written in Germany than Bacon’s Novum Organon could have been written by Socrates. That history belongs to the intellectual atmosphere of England as plainly as our Parliamentary debates. There is in it the constant sense of evidence, the habitual perception of tested probability, which the atmosphere of a free country produces and must produce. Sir George Lewis’s books have this instinctive sense of the real value of evidence even more than Mr. Grote’s. He could not help feeling it; he did not wish to forget it, and he could not have forgotten it if he had wished.
Sir George Lewis is gone, but he has left a remembrance in many minds which will not grow cold while they are still warm. For many years it will to many be much to have known one who was learned and yet wise, just but yet kind; considerate and observing, and yet never in the least severe.