“THE ARCHES” AND LONDON.
Bagehot had chosen his new home—The Arches—mainly on account of the beauty of the views seen from the house and grounds. From the terrace and the windows of the house the dark green of the fir trees makes the foreground of the scene. Beyond and below the hill, flat meadow lands stretch away for miles and miles, till in the far distance a hazy blue range of hills outlines the sky. Pure and soft is the colouring in this Country of the West. As summer clouds float over the plain, islets of purple shadow are interwoven into the sunlit meadows. On stormy days gales from the south-west sweep up from the Channel across the level, widespread stretch of land. Hurrying clouds, darkening the land as they fly over it, create ever-varying effects of light and shade, such as Turner and Constable depict in their records of driven flights of storm. Specially beautiful is this view on moonlight nights when the shining needles of the black firs catch a glistening sparkle, and the broad expanse beyond and the faint distant hills are bathed in silver sheen, the whole washed over by a soft pale sapphire blue. Bagehot, on his first visit to The Arches, foresaw what a source of enjoyment the views over this wide expanse of earth and sky would prove. The Wordsworthian feeling for the beauty of nature which he possessed as a child never died out. He retained it keenly to the end.
When answering Arthur Clough’s congratulations on his marriage, Bagehot writes: “I am exceedingly obliged for your kind congratulations. We live on the top of a steep hill here, commanding the entire view of a dead flat. We hope that you and Mrs. Clough will come up the said hill and look down on the said flat when you come into the West. You had better take us on the way to Mr. Froude’s.”
A week was passed at The Arches, then the first visit together was paid to the old home, Herd’s Hill. “Mr. Bagehot’s carriage met us,” says the diary, “and the bells rang a peal all the evening to welcome us. Strolled on lawn before dinner. Miss Jones (Walter’s old governess) came first, then Mr. Edward Bagehot, Mary, Barnes Bagehot and Mr. Watson Bagehot dined at Herd’s Hill. Went out on lawn after dinner. Music and cards.” “Next day,” says Diary, “Sat up and Walter stayed at home to receive callers. A great many people came, a circle of fifteen at one time, and had cake and wine and drank our health.” In those parts this sitting up of brides was then considered almost as essential as the service in church. The next event was a family gathering at The Arches, Mr. and Mrs. Bagehot, my father and the bride and bridegroom—followed by a move to 12 Upper Belgrave Street, where we all rejoiced in having Walter and my sister at home again. Parties, balls, entertainments of all kinds followed. On 2nd July there is the following entry in the diary: “Mr. Greg called for Julia and me. We drove to Wimbledon to dine and sleep. Mr. and Mrs. and Miss Cameron dined there. Mrs. Cameron insisted on taking us to see her sisters at Little Holland House. We found a little party, four sisters—Lady Somers, Mrs. Prinsep and Mrs. Dalrymple being there. Miss Treherne (the notorious Mrs. Weldon) sang. Mr. Henry Taylor and Rossetti were there. Mr. Watts’ studio was in the house. Saw his pictures there and in the dining-room.” “Two days after,” the diary states that “Papa, Walter, Julia and I went to Mrs. Prinsep’s garden party at Little Holland House, Miss Treherne sang operatic music with Graziani.” This was the first and last visit to Little Holland House which my family paid.
Then comes an evening at Park Lodge with Arthur Clough and Mr. James Spedding, dinner parties at Belgrave Street for Walter to meet family friends and interesting acquaintances. Among those mentioned in the diary are Matthew Arnold, Sir Charles Eastlake, and the Dowager Lady Glasgow, Sir Arthur Elton, Sir G. Cornewall and Lady Theresa Lewis, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lowe, Lord Gifford and Lord John Hay, Sir Thomas and Lady Fremantle, and many other literary, artistic, and political people. There were also the veteran Sunday callers, Mr. Hayward, Sir Roderick Murchison, Sir William Somerville (Lord Athlumney). In this fashion was Walter passed into the London world. He enjoyed it, but he hardly took to that world as a world, though that world took to him. To several individuals in it he did. Amongst others he made lasting friendships with Matthew Arnold and Sir George Cornewall Lewis. Perhaps the effect produced on him by the society which had no further interest but that of gregarious sociability, was that of drawing too strong a contrast between the possibilities at the home at Herd’s Hill and those of ordinary conditions. Of Mr. Hayward, a professional diner-out, Bagehot said that “he only became decent when the ladies left the room”. Bagehot, himself a brilliant talker, was, in talking, as in all else, of choice taste. Mr. Greg, generally present at the dinner parties in Belgrave Street, was also a notably pleasant talker; but as at Claverton, the mainspring of all that was best in our home life was my father.
A joyous event for me happened on 12th July, 1858. Walter and Eliza returned to The Arches and took me with them. I recall those first twelve days spent there as full of sunshine—sunshine within and sunshine without. Though I was not out and therefore did not assist at the political functions, the importance of official life invaded the social atmosphere at home. Here at The Arches it was different. It was easy-going, and yet stirringly interesting. Walter went as a rule to Bristol early in the morning. Deliberate-minded people descended the hill through the fir wood by a zigzag carriage drive to the road leading to the railway station. Bagehot, very un-banker-like, would vault and scramble down the steep short cuts. He would not return till 5 o’clock in the evening, but the hours between seemed all influenced by the same interest which in him was so vivid. Much reading and pleasure in literature had ever been part of the home life, but it had never steeped the atmosphere as it did here. Politics, and the society which official life entails, had since our childhood always taken a foremost place. The stimulant Walter found in reading books and in writing essays was all the stronger because he took it as the bon-bon after the solid pièce de résistance had been devoured. He maintained that literature should be the play and not the work of life. “You can’t write without having something to say—you can’t have anything worth saying without catching ideas from contact with your fellow-creatures on lines which have a stirring interest to you and to them.” Such was his creed. We at The Arches got the flavour of the bon-bon. This love of books is very contagious. A spell was cast over those days, I remember, by my reading to my sister “Ashford Owen’s” fascinating story, A Lost Love. This book had won the hearts of wise men, such as Tennyson, Sir Henry Taylor, and the Editors of the National Review, where it was noticed in an article published in the second issue, October, 1855, under the title “A Novel or Two”. Strange was the glamour cast over those days by the enthralment of this short story. It made the real world seem somewhat unreal—the unreal real. Daily events were coloured by it. While Walter was away my sister and I took walks, strolling into the valley to the sea, or over the downs above the headlands. And this glamour of A Lost Love wandered with us down to the beach while we sat by the sea, it followed us over the downs where we loitered watching the sun setting behind the Welsh mountains. It was still with us when we sat on the terrace after dinner in the moonlight. In that sweet light air of the uplands the romance of that story invaded everything, weaving itself into the beauty and peaceful feeling of the place.
- Calm and deep peace on this high wold,
- And on these dews that drench the furze,
- And all the silvery gossamers
- That twinkle into green and gold.
- Calm and still light on you great plain
- That sweeps with all its autumn bowers,
- And crowded forms and lessening towers,
- To mingle with the bounding main.
And yet what was there in the little book to do all that? The novel reader of the present day would probably say—Nothing. Truly only the story of the great miracle told with simple, realistic straight-forwardness, as a Greek poet might recount the miracles worked by his gods. The magic wrought in a dull grey life, of an ordinary English girl, by the invasion into it of the ruby-winged Eros; and again, the tragedy wrought in it when life was suddenly emptied of its joy as the bright wings carried the little god out of it. The enchantment of the story must have been in the telling of it—a right telling that meant that a clear-eyed vision had taught the pen of the writer true and strange things—things that happen every day—and taught it how to recount these things so that the reader knew that they were true and yet strange. Well—the ruby wings had carried the little god into Walter Bagehot’s life, and when these things are about in the air it is apt to vibrate with enchantment. Walter’s natural high spirits were always brimming over with quaint humour which brought amusing, uncommon elements into conversation. He was very much interested in his new experiences during the past eighteen months since the first day when he came to Claverton. Apart from the happiness they had brought with them, they were new fields wherein to start the growth of fresh ideas. Every one who belonged to that new life had an interest for him. Whether it was playing billiards, reading aloud, or merely talking—he made himself always excellent company. After finishing an article “Proofs of Religion,” never published, he wrote occasionally for the Economist but nothing else till the autumn. During that summer when at home he rested and enjoyed his happiness.
Soon a change came over the spirit of the dream—a change from “Ashford Owen” to Jane Austen. Mrs. Bagehot was clamouring for Walter and my sister to return to Herd’s Hill, and she invited me also. It was on the 23rd of July, 1858, that we three arrived at the place which has meant home to me more than any other place in the world for many years past.
It had been the habit of our sisterhood to read Jane Austen’s books periodically aloud to each other, especially Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and the characters in them had become our intimate acquaintances. The link which bound a firm tie of friendship between Mr. Hutton and ourselves from the first visit he paid us, was created by his solemnly declaiming the opening sentence of Darcy’s famous proposal in Pride and Prejudice—“Long have I struggled!” On arriving at Herd’s Hill it was as if one had stepped back into the world of a hundred years ago, a world of Jane Austen’s novels. A delightful world it was. No place ever possessed a stronger character of its own. It seemed set fixed in its own little frame, so fixed that there was little need of formality. Everyone and everything moved easily within its acknowledged traditions. Everyone was allowed freely to possess his or her individuality, because beyond certain limits it was supposed to be impossible for anyone to pass.
“Mrs. Bagehot met us at the station,” says the diary, “and drove us home in the new carriage.” I fell in love with her at first sight. The vivacity, charm and spontaneity in everything she did and said, the captivating tone of her voice, soft yet vibrating, was irresistible. The old world atmosphere of the place made a quaint setting to her and Walter’s racy talk. When these two were together the fine humour in each was at its best, for, as Bagehot would say, no one ever understood his jokes so well as did his mother. We had been told that Mrs. Bagehot was at times insane, but it was difficult to realise it when with her. You felt so intimately near her, even when she herself spoke of her malady, which she did to myself and my sister, that the home tragedy came to us more as a legend than as an actual fact. To those who have the treatment of this mysterious calamity, the effect produced on his mother by Bagehot’s behaviour towards her might be an interesting study. His attitude prevented her feeling any loneliness or isolation, which is so often felt by those of unsound mind, and which doubtless increases the malady. In his attitude towards her he never let go for an instant the feeling of the natural tie which existed between them—that of the mother and child; he never let her wander out alone into the desert of her aberrations without making every effort to understand them and to discuss them with her. However difficult it might be to catch hold of any ray of reason, he would rarely give up an endeavour to find some common ground to meet on. This merciful tenderness is evinced in many letters he wrote to her when they were apart. They had so much in common that, when well, however great was her affection for Mr. Bagehot, she felt her son’s mind the closer companion to her own. An exciting element in the atmosphere of this ostensibly quiet West Country home, was doubtless produced through the insanity which was so closely allied to genius in Mrs. Bagehot, and the intimate union between her mind and Bagehot’s in whom the genius was unalloyed, united moreover to an extraordinarily sound judgment and sane character. Mr. Bagehot was kind and hospitable, quiet, dignified and reserved. He talked interestingly on serious topics but was otherwise generally silent.
On the first morning of our visit, after Mr. Bagehot and Walter had left the breakfast table, Mrs. Bagehot, as was her custom, began reading the Psalms while the butler cleared away the breakfast, explaining to us that by this means she insured his getting some Bible reading every day. When Sunday came the usual events that had always taken place at Herd’s Hill were repeated. Mr. Bagehot conducted a Unitarian service in the drawing-room which Walter and my sister attended. Mrs. Bagehot and I drove to the beautiful old church on the hill. The quaint little town, the impressive church, the family gathering on the lawn of Hill House after the service where Mrs. Stuckey received us as a kind of Matriarch, were all very new experiences and full of interest. Mrs. Stuckey continued the traditions of her husband, the notable Vincent Stuckey, who received in patriarchal style under the big elm tree and welcomed all comers to Hill House. In the afternoon all from Herd’s Hill except Mr. Bagehot attended the service at Huish Episcopi Church of the beautiful tower, rising barely a quarter of a mile beyond the tower of Langport Church. The service was succeeded by a visit to the Kennels to view Walter’s pack of harriers, a ramble over the grounds of Hill House, and a great deal of conversation with various members of the family. As in Miss Austen’s stories the conversation was very animated, but the subject of conversation did not always appear quite to justify the amount of animation. But also, as in the case in Miss Austen’s books, the fact that the individuality of the speaker was invariably expressed in the language used, gave an interest to any subject. Bagehot made the talk rise to a higher level of humour when he was to the fore, but cheeriness and vivacity were ever present, all the company seeming to be very much interested in everyone else and their concerns. The members of this little social circle seemed to have an extraordinary power of talking for hours together without having any special topic to discuss. There were days when visitors, relations, or old friends from the neighbourhood would arrive at Herd’s Hill at noon, and talk till, and through luncheon—talk till five o’clock tea—talk till dinner and through dinner. There was a pause after dinner for tea, cards and music; then the tray would appear, wine, sandwiches and cake—then family prayers, then a little more talk, and the departure of the guests would not take place long before midnight. What the talk was about it is impossible to recall, but the miracle remains, that, after nearly twelve hours of talking, the company—guests and hosts—did not become either dull, weary or sleepy. Mrs. Bagehot was the worker of the miracle—and she was seventy-two years old on the Friday of that week when I first stayed at Herd’s Hill.
Such were the impressions left after a first visit to Walter Bagehot’s home, impressions which were like those always left by himself—unlike any others. We left after a short visit in order that Bagehot and my sister should welcome our whole family who arrived from London. Riding, music, billiard playing and hilarity went on all through August, after which the bride and bridegroom were allowed to retire into private life, having fulfilled all the duties and functions required of them. On 5th September my sister records in her diary that they dined alone for the first time since the 18th of June.
The intercourse between Clevedon Court and The Arches was frequent. Sir Arthur and Lady Elton were not only themselves cultured and pleasant neighbours, but their guests were also such as Bagehot enjoyed meeting. Mr. Kinglake, Mr. Freeman, Mr. Venables and others of like kind visited Clevedon Court during that autumn. Members of the Bagehot family and old friends, Mr. Greg and Mr. and Mrs. Hutton were among the visitors at The Arches in August. The inexhaustible delights of Pride and Prejudice were for the hundredth time again enjoyed during their stay, Mr. Hutton reading it aloud to us, in, I remember, an emphatic manner which accentuated every humorous point. The whole party moved on from The Arches to Claverton, Mr. Hutton and Bagehot appearing there for the first time with their wives. Later when the Yeomanry were out at Bath a ball was given at Claverton and the Bagehots assisted at that and also at several house parties. It was also while at Claverton in September that Bagehot began writing his article on Dickens for the October number of the National Review.
1859 was a year marked by stirring political events. In the early days of the Session, contrary to the traditions of Tory policy, the Derby administration brought forward a Reform Bill which was frustrated by Lord John Russell’s famous “Resolution”. On all hands it was admitted that the Government could not proceed with the Bill in the form in which it had been presented. Lord Derby then decided to go to the country. The Conservatives were returned with a majority but with an uncertain future. Lord John Russell hurried forward with a programme of reform which Lord Palmerston instantly disavowed. Everything seemed to be at sixes and sevens. Mr. Gladstone made a striking speech which seemed to imply that he belonged to neither party, Liberals nor Conservatives. When, however, on the overthrow of the Government in June, Lord Palmerston was given the task of forming a new ministry, Lord John Russell consented to act under him as foreign minister and Mr. Gladstone accepted the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. Differences and jealousies for the time subsided in order that a Reform Bill should be passed by the Liberal Party. At the general election my father was returned for Devonport at the head of the poll, and when the Whig ministry was formed Lord Palmerston offered him the Presidency of the Board of Works or the Vice-Presidency of the Board of Trade. He accepted the latter, to which was then attached the duties of Paymaster of the Forces and an entrance into the Privy Council.
In the January number of the National Review had appeared an article by Walter Bagehot on “Parliamentary Reform”. The subject was in everyone’s mind and the manner in which it was treated in this study was considered exceptionally able. So much praise was given it that in February Bagehot published it in pamphlet form, adding a note suggested by the events of the previous weeks. The first paragraph of this note shows the line which Bagehot took:
“We shall not,” he writes, “be expected to discuss in a party spirit the subject of Parliamentary Reform. It has never been objected to the National Review that it is a party organ; even periodicals which have long been such, scarcely now discuss that subject in a party spirit. Both Whigs and Conservatives are pledged to do something, and neither as a party have agreed what they would do. We would attempt to give an impartial criticism of the electoral system which now exists, and some indication of the mode in which we think that its defects should be amended.”
Referring to this impartial criticism, Mr. Robert Lowe wrote:—
10th March, 1859.
“My dear Mr. Bagehot,
“Pray accept my best thanks for your excellent article on Reform, which is beyond compare the best I have seen on the subject, and is indeed written with the insight of a statesman and the moderation of a philosopher. At the same time I fear that the passion for equality (the shallowest of all delusions) is so fixed that any attempt to create inequalities between classes in different places would fail, and that a low franchise in some places would only serve as a lever for obtaining it in all. We could not carry it, and if we could we could not maintain the exception. I also think that we could not lot existing boroughs together, because a cry would be raised in favour of larger towns which remained unenfranchised. The truth is the impossibility of carrying out your view is on a sample of that which is coming upon us. Your principles are true but too refined for popular apprehension, and in this, as in so many other cases, we are forced to sacrifice what we see to be right to the incompetency of the tribunal which would decide upon it.
“This does not diminish your merit and I do not doubt that your view will bear fruit in some way or other though not in the direction you propose.
“Remember me very kindly to Mrs. Bagehot, and,
Very truly yours,
Mr. G. Arbuthnot wrote from the Treasury respecting the pamphlet Parliamentary Reform, “Many thanks for your pamphlet which is so sensible that it will please no one”.
Thackeray wrote to Chapman & Hall, who published it: “I hear Mr. Bagehot has written a wonderfully clever pamphlet—Please send me a copy.”
This pamphlet on Parliamentary reform was virtually the work which landed Walter Bagehot into the inner circle of political life. My father writes:—
“12 Upper Belgrave St.
“My dear Bagehot,
“Everyone speaks in the highest terms of your Reform Pamphlet. Gladstone is delighted with it, and in mentioning it last night, not at the moment knowing we were connected, spoke in great praise of your former book, Estimates. Let me have a list of those to whom the Pamphlet was sent. Was one sent to Lord Grey? We are getting into some confusion in the political world about the Reform Bill. The great objection among the Radicals is the non-redivision of the Borough franchise, and among thoughtful politicians the identity of franchise in town and country, on the grounds I put very shortly in a paragraph at the end of Hutton’s article this week. But as things stand these two objections come nearly to the same thing—and Lord John’s Resolution embraces both classes of objectors. If the matter were to be voted on now the Government would be beaten.
“The House is just as bad a one as can be, and I see no good to be done with it. It is rife with jealousy. Gladstone has not pronounced that I have heard of, although he told me last night that he did not like the Bill, and especially the principle of identity of Franchise. He said it was a very different Bill from what he expected. . . .”
When Bagehot and my sister were staying with us in March my father invited those who had expressed special admiration for the pamphlet to meet them at dinner. These included Lord Grey, Lord Granville, Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Robert Lowe, Mr. Cardwell, Mr. Edward Bouverie, Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Sir Richard Bethel, and Thackeray.
Walter wrote from Herd’s Hill to my sister who was with us in London: “I am very glad the party is said to be still coming off. It will really be a very fine collection of public animals. As to reform it will be curious, as Mr. Gladstone is going to vote for the ministry, and Lord Grey has recommended Lord Elcho to vote for them; and all the rest of the Parliamentary party are decidedly for Lord John’s Resolution. I take it is a new idea to have a dinner party of both sides on a division night—particularly a division on a fundamental question ‘affecting the constitution of our country’ as one says in articles, and I hope the novelty will prosper.”
The “novelty” proved a success, and several political dinners and parties at the Gladstones and others followed, but early in April the Bagehots were back at The Arches, he, in his spare moments, reading aloud to my sister the Psalms, Paradise Lost, Matthew Arnold, Shelley, and in no wise regretting the whirl of London. He accepted the position of a literary lion in the world of political magnates with a sense of amusement rather than with any other, I think. He was much interested in all the events connected with his home life. He was fond of driving, so my sister and he decided on having a phaeton and a pair of ponies. “Uncle Reynolds,” my father and Walter were all on the look-out for a suitable pair. On 22nd July, 1859, Walter writes to my sister: “I have done nothing in ponies yet and do not even know what my uncle has done. But I will devote my whole mind to it to-morrow. I will also be painted.” Mrs. Bagehot was desirous of having portraits painted in miniature of Walter and my sister.
In the April of 1859 Bagehot again began writing for the Saturday Review, to which he had not contributed any articles since 1856. He reviewed Lost and Won by Georgiana M. Craik, The Dean, or the Popular Preacher, Rogers’ Recollections, and The Semi-Detached House, by Miss Eden, edited by Lady Theresa Lewis. This last was a book entirely to Bagehot’s taste. Its sparkling dialogue and still more its cheerful and habitual good sense appealed to him greatly. No virtue appealed to Bagehot more than did good sense. Of Lord Stanhope, he admiringly wrote that he had “the cautious scepticism of true common sense,” and shrank “from wonderful novelties”. This was essentially Walter Bagehot’s own attitude of mind.
For the July number of the National Review, 1859, Bagehot wrote the essay on John Milton, which commences with an amusing disquisition on the different methods of treating the art of biography. Notwithstanding Bagehot’s profound appreciation of Milton’s genius, his admiration did not inspire him to treat Milton with solemnity and unalloyed reverence. Delightful spurts of humour abound throughout the essay, especially where he refers to political bias shown in celestial controversies. “I am grinding on at Milton,” he writes to my sister from Herd’s Hill, “and have done ever so much; but it is very bad and will be very long. We have a family party to-day which will spoil the evening, to my intense annoyance, but one ought to be able to endure one’s relations after knowing them so long; but they are ‘co-inhabiting mischief’ here, one sees so much of them.”
Since the first days of acquaintance with Bagehot my father had enjoyed his society. Bagehot also had felt that he derived great advantage from talking out subjects with my father. Each grew to admire and like the other cordially, and an affectionate intimacy sprung up between them. Bagehot possessed to a rare degree those qualities which inspire confidence. Letters written in 1859 prove that my father at that time consulted him with reference to the most private family concerns. This close connection with my father was one of the fortunate events in Bagehot’s life. His feeling for his own father in boyhood and youth was little short of adoration, and he retained great filial admiration and affection for him to the end; but, as seen in his letter to Mr. Hutton, written when the latter was in Barbadoes, he had felt impatient of the teasing restrictions of the minutiæ while learning business with him. He desired more action, and that action on more extended lines. My father had also always possessed the impulse to busy himself not only with the affairs of men, but with the great, the important affairs of men. While in no wise devoid of imagination he had nevertheless an uncommon amount of the intuitive good sense which Bagehot admired so greatly. He had a singularly sane, well-balanced mind, and he treated all subjects with fairness, invariably showing generosity towards the opinions held by others. These qualities, united with a rare gift of exposition, won for him great esteem from all classes. But in common with Bagehot he possessed a force behind these qualities, “the excitement of origination,” and a buoyant hopefulness arising from a sense of power. When very young Bagehot also possessed this buoyancy, but circumstances later had suppressed it. Contact with my father seemed in a measure to revive the youthful spring. He wrote to his friend Killigrew Wait: “In one’s infancy one woke up with a new Weltansicht every morning; my friends say I am too sceptical, but I say that I am only lazy in believing, as I am in everything else. Indeed it seems to me that I do that better than I do most other things.”
My father had never known such periods of apathy nor could he ever have been called sceptical. He was not in the habit of seriously considering questions which did not appeal to him as important, but those which he considered important he would work through in his mind exhaustively until he found a principle on which to form a definite opinion in respect to them, and this opinion he would hold firmly. Though personally extremely modest and reserved, he attacked all public work with an almost exultant confidence and courage, a confidence and courage arising, I imagine, greatly from his power of detaching entirely any personal considerations or inclinations from his duties as an official. As a public servant he rose on to a platform on which he ceased to be anything but a servant to the public. This attitude Bagehot was the first to appreciate. In 1859 my father was fifty-four and Bagehot thirty-three years of age. My father had been in Parliament twelve years, having entered the House of Commons as member for Westbury at the General Election in July, 1847. Bagehot writes in his memoir of my father: “He showed considerable abilities in electioneering, and a close observer once said of him, ‘Mr. Wilson may or may not be the best Political Economist in England, but depend upon it he is the only Political Economist who would ever come in for the borough of Westbury’ ”. There was an autumn session that year. My father soon gained the ear of the House, his speeches on the Navigation Laws, Sugar Duties, and kindred subjects being much approved by both sides of the House. In a published letter to his sister, Disraeli writes at that time referring to a debate on Free Trade, “Wilson very good”. About Easter, 1848, Lord John Russell, then Prime Minister, offered my father office as Secretary to the Indian Board of Control. On his accepting the post, Cobden wrote to Mr. Greg: “Wilson has committed political suicide”. Though my father had been a member of the Council of the Anti-Corn Law League, and spoke at its meetings at Drury Lane with Cobden, Bright, O’Connell, Milner Gibson, and other free-traders, that kind of agitation was not congenial to him. He would say that he should be sorry to see other political questions worked in that way. His mind was of the orthodox Whig type. He called himself a Conservative Liberal. Bagehot’s views and feelings accorded well with those of my father. Common to both was a dignity which made any extravagance in the expression of feeling distasteful.
Contact with the active political world through this congenial intimacy with my father gave a fresh impetus to Bagehot’s life. He had reached a landing place where—to quote his own words respecting William Pitt—he had “received the inestimable permission to be himself”. Bagehot had begun life playing the rôle of a remarkably clever boy, adored and admired by his parents; he had surpassed all his fellow-students at the Bristol College, and found himself in a class by himself; he had been looked on as a sort of demi-god by his fellow-students at University College, London; he had studied law, and hated it—was called to the Bar, and left it. He then found himself learning business in the rural West Country and failing to give satisfaction in its very rudiments. His real powers crept out at intervals in articles published in the Prospective Review which his parents read because they were his; probably no one else in or near Langport even glanced at them. He hunted over the country in good comradeship with country gentlemen who had but the vaguest idea that he had ever written anything—(he had written “Hartley Coleridge,” “Bishop Butler,” and “Shakespeare—the Man”). A few old friends, Mr. Hutton, Mr. Roscoe, Mr. Osler kept up from afar the tradition in his own mind that he had certain gifts; and somewhat later, Matthew Arnold, not knowing who he was, had read him, and hailed him from afar as a fellow-creature. But he passed his everyday life ostensibly as one belonging to a very ordinary species, who enjoyed no intellectual exaltation among his fellows—no cheers from the public. In his essay on William Pitt he describes what the views of his past and present must have been in those years when he was hidden away learning business at Langport.
“Most boys are conceited; most boys have a wonderful belief in their own power. At sixteen, said Mr. Disraeli, every one believes he is the most peculiar man who ever lived. And there is certainly no difficulty in imagining Mr. Disraeli thinking so. The difficulty is, not to entertain this proud belief, but to keep it; not to have these lofty visions, but to hold them. Manhood comes, and with it come the plain facts of the world. There is no illusion in them; they have a distinct teaching. The world, they say definitely, does not believe in you. You fancy you have a call to a great career, but no one else even imagines that you fancy it. You do not dare to say it out aloud. Before the fear of ridicule and the touch of reality, the illusions pass away, and with them goes all intellectual courage. We have no longer the hardihood, we have scarcely the wish to form our own creed, to think our own thoughts, to act upon our own belief; we try to be sensible, and we end in being ordinary; we fear to be eccentric, and we end in being commonplace.”
The Saturday Review (Saturday Reviler as it was then called) did its work with Bagehot for a time, and accentuated the “fear of ridicule”. But happiness came into his life, and with it some of the old spring and heartiness of high spirits; and he looks back on his foe with a just estimate of how little the world’s real progress is affected by this cultured reviling.
“The Saturday Review is remarkable as an attempt on the part of ‘university men’ to speak on political topics and social difficulties of the time. And what do they teach us? It is something like this: ‘So-and-so has written a tolerable book, and he would call attention to the industry which produces tolerable books. So-and-so has devoted himself to a great subject, and we would observe that the interest now taken in great subjects is very commendable. Such-and-such a lady has delicate feelings, which are desirable in a lady, though we know that they are contrary to the facts of the world. All common persons are doing as well as they can, but it does not come to much after all. All statesmen are doing as ill as they can, and let us be thankful that that does not come to much either.’ We may search and search this repository of the results of ‘university teaching’ for a single truth which it has established, for a single high cause which it has advanced, for a single deep thought which is to sink into the minds of its readers. We have, indeed, a nearly perfect embodiment of the corrective scepticism of a sleepy intellect. ‘A.B. says he has done something, but he has not done it; C.D. has made a parade of demonstrating this or that proposition, but he has not proved his case; there is one mistake in page 5, and another in page 113; a great history has been written of this or that century, but the best authorities as to that period have not been consulted, which, however, is not very remarkable, as there is nothing in them.’ ”
As nothing is more depressing than living with a mind not set on the square—so to speak—one which never seizes things as they exactly are, or imagines them as they truly could be, so there is nothing more exhilarating than intimate contact with a mind that in great and small matters alike always sums up right. Such was my father’s. His sensibilities had never been nipped by any such sceptical influence as that of the Saturday Review; he had never suffered from the fear of ridicule; he had never enjoyed the distorting luxury of being in the position of an only child, and the centre of home adoration. Nothing great had been expected of him. He was one of fifteen brothers and sisters, and had had with them to share a fifteenth part of very sound and wise training and education, and a discreet affection appropriate to the Quaker temperament. In working his way through life his spirit had never been maimed at any time by the iron entering into the soul. His own qualities had had free play, and through them chiefly he had secured a distinguished position in the political world. To sum up—it was a happy turn of fortune for Bagehot to have made a close friendship with a nature which restored to him something of the confidence and hopefulness of youth. About my father the breath of success seemed to be in the very air, and it was precisely this exhilarating quality which stimulated Bagehot, and allowed him “the inestimable permission to be himself”.
Further he enjoyed our family life. He would say that both Claverton and Upper Belgrave Street were good places because “both mind and body were so well attended to”. My father’s strong family affections appealed to Bagehot. From our early childhood my father would share with us all his own interest in public questions. All that was passing in the world of politics we, as children, knew at first hand from him. He would take us long walks on Sunday afternoons, and tell us all that was happening inside and outside the House of Commons. No less had Bagehot’s father from his childhood discussed every important public question with him. By reason of all this Bagehot felt he fitted well into his new family, and assuredly he was greatly welcomed by every member of it.
During a time I spent at The Arches in May, 1859, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Clough paid a visit to the Bagehots. Mr. Clough was very silent. Crabb Robinson described him as “that admirable and accomplished man—you know whom I mean—the one who never says anything”. I do not know how he did it, but though so silent, Arthur Clough inspired Bagehot to talk his best. He said few words, but those few made Bagehot eloquent. Everything about Mr. Clough, I remember as being rounded, the shape of his head, his eyes, his intonation—all was rounded, nothing angular.
On returning to London, Bagehot made the acquaintance of Charles Villiers, Sir James Lacaita, M. de Rémusat and many other well-known men. My mother gave a ball, and Walter took me to the opera, a great concession on his part, the stage in any form being distasteful to him. In those days he looked upon actors and actresses as pitiable people who made fools of themselves. He had never, like Matthew Arnold, come under the influence of a really great artist like Rachel. If he had, he might have thought differently of the whole tribe. He invited our family to a fish dinner at Greenwich to meet some of his old friends. I remember the evening as very delightful. Mr. Justice Quain was especially vivacious on the occasion. Attached to every event of that year is a special and melancholy interest. It was the last summer we passed all together.
At this moment in July, when stirring events were imminent in our family life, Walter Bagehot heard of the death of his friend William Roscoe. For some weeks he had been ailing. Subsequently, while being nursed at Mr. Osler’s house at Richmond, typhoid fever declared itself, and he succumbed on July the 30th. Mr. Hutton and Walter Bagehot equally felt his death as a great personal sorrow. Mr. Hutton wrote in the Memoir which prefaces Mr. Roscoe’s collected works: “I never knew any other man whose death could have made so deep a rent in the hearts and lives of other men outside the circle of his own family. . . . There were several, I believe, who would have been really more elated by his success than by their own; who, had he gained a poet’s fame, would have felt their own life brighter, and who have lost in him one of the main vital springs of their own happiness.” Bagehot wrote in a letter which Mr. Hutton affixed to the Memoir: “I have said that I do not think he was very exactly adapted to a barrister’s occupation, and he certainly had no love of an advocate’s life. . . . But in one respect he always seemed to me to resemble the greatest of English advocates, Erskine. There was, we are told, a sort of casual perfection about the common manner of the latter; Mr. Wyndham said that all his motions were ‘like those of a blood-horse’; there was an unconscious finish about them, which fascinated juries and attracted every one about him. For me, at least, Roscoe had just that fascination.” Bagehot ends the letter with: “All this will seem to you, as it does to me, very superficial; and I could have wished to go into the deeper parts of the character I have been speaking of . . . I hoped to have said something of his rare critical powers; of the partially developed gift of poetry which was in him; of his delicate but firm, pure but sensitive moral nature; of his peculiarly uncomplex religion; but I have not been able to say what I want. There was a sort of refined simplicity about him which made all he did, said or believed, characteristic of him, but which I cannot describe. I feel I could not say what I wish, and do not like to run any risk of leaving an impression which would be false. And this feeling of the peculiar circumstances comes upon me more and more. How strange it is that you should be writing, and I should be contributing to his life! All the strange things that have ever happened to me do not at this moment seem as strange to me as that. Not so many years ago, he seemed to have much more life than any of us. ‘But what is before us we know not; and we know not what shall succeed.’ ”
A prophetic note rings in those last words. Mr. Hutton, whose health caused great anxiety to Bagehot and Roscoe during many years, survived Walter Bagehot twenty years, and Roscoe thirty-seven years.
Besides the Reform Bill, two other topics were arousing great interest in the public mind during the spring and summer in 1859—the Mutiny Bill and the war between France and Italy against Austria. In April Lord Stanley had announced the necessity of raising £7,000,000 in the London market to meet the strain on the Indian finances caused by the Mutiny. Before the Bill had time to pass through the Parliamentary forms, it was asserted by the best authorities that the projected loan must be increased to £12,000,000. It was beginning to be gravely considered whether the resources of India itself should not be made to meet future liabilities, and the idea that a political financier should be sent out from England to cope with the difficulty was taking a definite form. My father’s first post in Lord John Russell’s Government having been Secretary of the Indian Board of Control, he knew much about India and entered with keen interest into the discussion. On 28th June is found the following entry in the Diary: “Papa arrived from Devonport at 3.30, the express having stopped for him at Yatton. We talked of India all the evening.” On the 22nd of July, Bagehot wrote to my sister from London: “Your father gives a very amusing account of the interior of the Board of Trade, but he thinks more of India than of anything else.” On 27th July, Sir Charles Wood, then Secretary of State for India, offered to create for my father the post of Financial Member of the Supreme Council in India, and on 1st August my father accepted it. On 1st August also Sir Charles Wood produced his Indian Budget, in which there was no attempt to conceal the difficulties of his case. The Times thereupon announced my father’s appointment.
“The Indian Finance Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
“We have authority for stating that the Right Hon. James Wilson has consented to go to India as a Member of Council and also as Chancellor of the Indian Exchequer. Mr. Wilson’s position towards the Governor-General and the Cabinet in the latter capacity will be similar to that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer bears at home to the Government and the Cabinet. The task which the new Member of Council has before him is certainly not a very hopeful one, but Mr. Wilson will carry with him to India habits of business and a financial ability hitherto but too rarely exhibited on the banks of the Hooghly, and if he succeeds in making India solvent, and in proving that she can pay her way, he will have rendered a public service which cannot be too highly appreciated. One element of success he will certainly carry with him in the full confidence and support of the Home Government; and having secured that, we trust that the sacrifice he is about to make will meet with its reward in the return of financial prosperity to our Indian dominions.”
Bagehot keenly realised the great sacrifices my father was making in taking this step, but I do not believe when he accepted the office they even crossed my father’s mind. Bagehot saw clearly that with another step forward my father would occupy a place in the Cabinet. He had great weight in the House of Commons. His character, his exceptional power of speaking and of elucidating clearly the points of a difficult question, and his untiring energy and power of work, had secured for him a distinctly unique position in the political world. Bagehot wrote in his Memoir of my father: “He was able to do an important work better than any one else could do it, and, in English public life, real work rightly done at the right season scarcely ever fails to meet with a real reward”. And again of his power of converting those who held contrary opinions to his own by the “vigorous simplicity of his arguments,” Bagehot writes: “It penetrated where it could not be expected to penetrate. The Duke of Wellington was, perhaps, more likely to be prejudiced against a theoretical Political Economist than any eminent man of his day; he belonged to the ‘pre-scientific period,’ he had much of the impatient practicality incident to military insight; he was not likely to be very partial to the ‘doctrines of Mr. Huskisson’; nevertheless the Duke early pointed out Mr. Wilson’s writings to Lord Brougham as possessing especial practical value; and when the Duke at a much later period was disposed to object to the repeal of the Navigation Laws, Mr. Wilson had a special interview to convince him of its expediency.”
My father had formed several very intimate personal friendships with the politicians of the day. There exists a large packet of letters from Sir George Cornewall Lewis to my father which proves how intimate they were. My father had filled the post of Secretary of the Treasury in a manner which had changed for good the whole working of the office. Naturally very few who knew my father at the Treasury are now alive. I asked one of the few, Lord Welby, to write down any recollections he might have of him, and he has most kindly sent me the following letter:—
“11 Stratton Street,
12th January, 1913.
“Dear Mrs. Barrington,
“I entered the Treasury as a junior clerk in the summer of 1856. Your father was then Financial Secretary of the Treasury, having been appointed to that post at the end of 1852, when Lord Aberdeen formed the Coalition Government. Mr. Wilson remained Financial Secretary under Lord Palmerston, and he went out with him in 1858. He had therefore an unusually long tenure of that post, I think longer than any one since the Reform Bill. In the fifties the post of Financial Secretary to the Treasury was, if not the first, at least as good as any out of the Cabinet. At that time the functions of Government were very restricted, and the middle-class régime, then supreme, had no liking for a widening of Government interference. The Administrative Departments, then the Home Office, the Board of Trade, the Poor Laws Board, were not in prominence. On the other hand, the country was only beginning its great recovery from the calamities and the sufferings which the war had inflicted on the people. The Public was really interested in Finance. Sir Robert Peel had been the great Economical Minister of the Treasury, and the Treasury power of controlling expenditure was very great. The Treasury itself was divided into two branches, (1) Financial, (2) Control. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was the Executive head of the Treasury, and the Financial Secretary of the Treasury was his lieutenant. Chancellors were chiefly interested in the finance side, and the Financial Secretary of the Treasury was contented with the control of expenditure. This control was summed up in the formula, ‘Treasury consent is necessary to every measure increasing or tending to increase the public expenditure’. The powers actually exercised by the Financial Secretary were very large. He was in the main judge as to questions of control which should be reserved for the Chancellor. Your father wielded these powers with great freedom and effect for between five and six years. A rapid and indefatigable worker, he was the chief organiser of the public service in that time. These were days before shorthand or typewriting, and I remember with wonder the extent and amount of the minutes and memoranda which he wrote with his own hand. I have said that I entered the Treasury as a junior in 1856. I had, therefore, no personal knowledge of Mr. Wilson at that time, but for years and years in organisation of the service, the lines which he had laid down were so to speak a bulwark of fortification, and what he called the ‘forma paper’ of a subject, that is its file, commonly commenced with a remark in his rapid but somewhat difficult-to-follow hand. He was a keen practical man of business, and I remember a reform of the Treasury Department which he carried out, turning a sleepy office of eighteenth century type, into what was, for that time, an active office with greater opportunity for the clerks to learn their work and fit themselves for responsibility. Your father served, during their Ministry, under Mr. Gladstone till 1855, and then under Sir George Cornewall Lewis. The story was that when he was pressing the Treasury reform on Sir G. Cornewall Lewis (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), who was not an active administrator, the latter said, ‘You see, Wilson, you are an animal, I am only a vegetable’.
“Your father was not only an active and very capable financial administrator, but he took great interest, as you know, in Currency questions, taking the side opposed to Peel, Overstone and Sir Charles Wood.
“Looking back from the beginning of the twentieth century, I have always considered your father the most vigorous and most efficient Financial Secretary of the Treasury we have had. Perhaps there might be question between him and Huskisson, though I feel convinced that as administrator he was the best.
“Yours very truly,
In his memoir of my father Bagehot writes: “On two occasions during the tenure of office at the Treasury, Mr. Wilson was offered a different post. In the autumn of 1856 he was offered the Chairmanship of Inland Revenue, a permanent office of considerable value then vacant, which he declined because he did not consider the income necessary to him, and because (what some people would think odd) it did not afford sufficient occupation. It was a ‘good pillow,’ he said, ‘but he did not wish to lie down’. The second office offered him was the Vice-Presidency of the Board of Trade in 1855. . . . He had, however, secured so firm a position in official circles by his real efficiency, that the dispensers of patronage were, as he believed, likely to give him whatever he desired as soon as the exigencies of party enabled them to do so.”
Doubtless in going to India my father left much that was of sterling worth to him; a life of earnest activity in the House of Commons, a family life in England which was a delight to him, relations for whom he always retained a tenacious affection, old and new friends, and companionship with Bagehot and with three of his daughters. The severing from all this my father certainly felt, but there was important work to be done and he felt capable of doing it. That clenched the matter; there was no hesitation.
Before leaving England my father travelled to his birthplace, visited all his relations and many friends, and places where he could obtain information on points useful to him in the work before him. He was entertained at banquets and receptions given in his honour at Manchester and elsewhere. He returned to Claverton for a few days’ rest before starting.
The Government recognised that my father was making a sacrifice in going to India. It was intimated to him that on returning after five years, he would not have to seek for a seat in the House of Commons, as one would be provided for him in the Upper Chamber. The Economist my father left in Bagehot’s hands, Mr. Hutton still remaining the editor. My sister Julia and myself (I being then considered too young to go to India) he entrusted to the Bagehots’ care. Two days after my father accepted the post created for him in the Supreme Council, one of my sisters was married at Claverton to William Stirling Halsey, of the Indian Civil Service, whom my father later appointed as one of his private secretaries. My father and Walter returned together to London directly after the wedding. Shortly before the start was made for India, Walter wrote to my sister, “Your husband is very tired, I sat up late with your father about his will which was a cheerful topic, and I have been to the City to-day and since gone poney hunting with Mr. Reynolds.
On 20th October a small steamer took us three miles down the Southampton Water where the Pera was moored. It was on the deck of that ship that those who stayed behind saw my father for the last time.
Even through the stirring events of those last days Bagehot had contrived to write three articles for that week’s Economist. A great event, the entire uprooting of our family life, had come and gone. It seemed to have been followed by a lull. On leaving Southampton, while the Pera was ploughing the ocean and getting into rough water in the Bay, our quartet, the Bagehots, my sister Julia and I, crossed over to Cowes and explored with leisure the Isle of Wight. There was much rain, and much reading aloud in the evenings. As a finale to our excursion we witnessed a record storm which made us tremble for those at sea. On wandering down to the beach one morning from the hotel at Freshwater, we found the fishermen in all haste pushing and hauling up their boats inland through the shingle. We asked them what was the matter. They looked up and pointed to the sun. A great halo surrounded it, and an ominous brightness lighted the sky. A high sea was running. Every minute the wind was increasing in force, and the waves bounded with fury on to the shore, throwing flakes of froth far inland. Bagehot’s spirits rose. He thoroughly enjoyed a tumult in the elements. He got us into an open carriage and we set off for the Needles to see the storm at its best. It was bright overhead, but the force of the wind was terrific. Immense waves clashed violently against the Needles, tossing volumes of mist against the cliffs and up into the air. We could not stand upright. Walter alone was quite happy, crawling and clambering over the downs to the cliff’s edge. He was greatly amused at my indignation at being buffeted about by the elements and at the hem of my silk basque being ripped into shreds. It was most uncomfortable, still no one could help laughing if Walter was amused, seeing that his moods were so contagious. He became particularly happy, when there was any excitement or risk in a situation. The coachman who drove us thought there was a danger of his conveyance being turned over by the wind, and had refused to keep the hood up. After returning to the hotel, while we were lunching, the waiter informed us with an air of importance that Mr. Tennyson and his two sons had been down to the beach to watch the storm, adding: “We shall doubtless have it all in the Times to-morrow”. Such were his views as to the duties of a Poet Laureate! Incidents such as these are vividly remembered because they were spiced with a choice flavour such as few have the power of infusing into daily events, a power richly possessed by Walter Bagehot. To feel dull or even passive when he was on the scene was impossible. The puzzling mixture in him of the boy, overflowing with high spirits, and the very wise man, itself provoked a speculative kind of amusement.
We returned to The Arches in November, and again read A Lost Love aloud, and Bagehot began writing his article on the “History of the Unreformed Parliament and Its Lessons” for the January number of the National Review. At no time of his life was the strain of work greater than it was from this November, 1859, to the spring of 1861. He never appeared overburdened by it and never failed to be good company, but he suffered not infrequently from headache, and would lie down constantly after his work. Considering the amount of travelling his work entailed, it is remarkable that he yet found time to get through the close brain work which his writing involved. While living at The Arches, banking, the business at The Bridge, the management of the Economist and the editing of the National Review necessitated, as a rule, daily railway journeys either to London, Bristol or Langport, and would have filled to the full the life of an ordinary hard worker. But Bagehot would, over and above all this, write at least two articles each week in the Economist, and an article for the National Review every other quarter. In December, 1859, he also undertook to examine the candidates for the Joseph Hume Scholarship at University College, London.
On 28th December, 1859, at the age of fifty-nine, Lord Macaulay died. A short but striking paper appeared in the Economist of the 31st, written by Bagehot. The appearance of the History had greatly interested both Mr. Hutton and Bagehot, and in 1856 Bagehot was inspired to write his notably stimulating essay on Macaulay in the National Review. It is as a statesman and as an orator that Bagehot treated Macaulay in the Economist. He writes: “There are not many occasions in political life when full-length portraiture, either of principles or facts, is wanted, or is likely to be successful. Lord Macaulay’s successes are all of this class. He was a politician for great occasions,—when the magnifying character both of his intellect and his imagination could be brought into play with effect, when he might safely be permitted to draw the attention of his hearers to a first principle, bid it expand before their eyes in every direction, and fill all their minds with homely and vivid illustrations of its worth. This kind of power is sometimes very useful, especially when a simple political principle which has grown tiresome and commonplace is to be defended. There are scarcely any of Lord Macaulay’s most splendid and effective speeches which do not owe their effective character to some form of this power. When religious toleration had become so hackneyed a word that it rather annoyed men of liberal minds even to be obliged to defend it, Lord Macaulay delighted in expounding its merits and recalling its full meaning, till it had as new and curious an interest to the minds of his readers or his audience as the commonest texture acquires when you see it beneath the glass of a microscope. He could write in favour of the civil privileges of the Jews with power and force when to every other mind the question was worked utterly dry. His speech on the Dissenters’ Chapels Bill was one of the most effective of his orations. In short, his greatest triumphs were gained by bringing to bear on hackneyed, though only half-known, principles of popular right, the influence of his vivid and powerful imagination.”
A migration from The Arches to Herd’s Hill took place at Christmas and in February one to Paris. It was while we were in Paris that Bagehot wrote the tribute to William Roscoe which Mr. Hutton annexed to the memoir of their mutual friend. This memoir prefaced the collection, in two volumes, of Mr. Roscoe’s poems and prose writings which appeared in the spring of 1860, edited by Mr. Hutton.
Madame Mohl and her milieu were, as ever, the greatest attraction for us in Paris. Ida von Mohl, our life-long friend, had married, and was no longer acting as her aunt’s lieutenant. Her sister Anna, afterwards the wife of the famous Von Helmholtz, reigned in her stead. Many of our friends and acquaintances gathered together on the Friday evenings at 120, Rue du Bac. Lady Augusta Bruce, who first met her husband, Dean Stanley, in the famous Salon; our old friend Mr. Frederick Locker of Claverton days, who married Lady Augusta’s sister, Lady Charlotte Bruce; the De Tourguenieffs, who had freed the slaves on their estates in Russia, hence could no longer reside there and had taken refuge in the Quartier St. Germain; all these with many others gathered at that time to the bidding of the fascinating, quaint, kindly genius of the great-little Madame Mohl on Wednesday and Friday evenings. It was the erudite host himself who had most attraction for Bagehot. The dry humour and profound learning of this Oriental scholar had been discovered by Bagehot on his first visit to Paris in 1851, in the days of the Coup d’État. On the occasion of this second visit, Bagehot became intimate with him. Almost daily intercourse took place between M. and Mme. Mohl and our party during our stay in Paris. Breakfast and dinner parties were given in the Rue du Bac for Bagehot to meet M. de Montalembert, M. d’Haussonville, M. de Lavery, Mignet, Giroult, Lomenie and other distinguished people. The De Tourguenieffs were generally among the guests at these entertainments. While in Paris Bagehot prosecuted his acquaintance with M. de Rémusat. He and my sister dined with our old friends M. and Mme. Drouyn de l’Huys. M. Drouyn de l’Huys had stayed with my father and mother at Westbury when he was French Ambassador in England. All this Paris society Bagehot enjoyed. Intellectual attainments secured at once in the Paris of that day a welcome into the best social life of the place. The Parisian was then more logical than the Londoner. . Literary distinction was in theory esteemed and admired in both capitals, but the proof of this admiration was more forthcoming, and with a more sympathetic and intelligent interest in the Paris society of those days than it was in the London world.
From Paris the Bagehots travelled to Düsseldorf to consult the famous oculist, the Holfrath Loens. Both were troubled by head and eye-ache, and to both alike was prescribed that white lotion so well known in those days as the cure-all. At Cologne, on the return journey, Bagehot found a letter from Mr. Hutton, proposing that he should stand as a candidate for Parliament for the London University. Bagehot thought over the idea while travelling home, and decided against standing. However, at Herd’s Hill, where he went on arriving in England, he found his parents anxious that he should do so. He therefore telegraphed to Mr. Osler to keep the candidature open till he returned to London. On 31st March, at a meeting of the London University graduates, Bagehot proposed Sir John Romilly as their candidate. They, however, chose Bagehot on that occasion. The matter was, however, finally settled at a meeting held in the Freemasons’ Tavern, when it was decided by a majority of four in favour of Sir J. Romilly against Bagehot. Walter had written from London to my sister: “The tide is setting in favour of Romilly as I always said it would”.
On 10th February, 1860, Mr. Gladstone had delivered his great Budget speech. “A very different one,” writes Bagehot in the Economist of 11th February, “from that which he expected to propose at the present time when he brought forward his last great Budget in 1853.” Bagehot took this speech as the text for his July article in the National Review. His title, however, is “Mr. Gladstone,” and his intention was to solve, as far as possible, the problem “Mr. Gladstone”. “Mr. Gladstone is a problem,” he writes. The criticism of the Budget proper appeared in an article in the Economist by Bagehot. The article in the National Review begings with: “We believe that quarterly essayists have a peculiar mission in relation to the characters of public men. We believe it is their duty to be personal. . . . We allow that personality abounds already, that the names of public men are ever on our lips. Some deliberate truth should be spoken of our statesmen and if quarterly essayists do not speak of it, who will?”
In none of Bagehot’s writings is found a finer discrimination, a truer imagination, more illuminating humour or subtler power of analysis, than in this exploration into the nature of an interesting, peculiar—to many exasperating—statesman. The seemingly incompatible, and certainly inconsistent creeds which Mr. Gladstone professed during various phases of his career, Bagehot goes far to explain by digging deep down to their foundations.
With insight and skill he weighs in one scale the noble and grand features of Mr. Gladstone’s genius, in the other “his greatest peculiarities” which “have helped him to annoy the old Whigs, confound the Country gentlemen, and puzzle the nation generally”. “They have,” Bagehot goes on to say, “contributed to bring on him the long array of depreciating adjectives, ‘extravagant,’ ‘inconsistent,’ ‘incoherent’ and ‘incalculable’.” Enthusiastic in his admiration, Bagehot is emphatic in exposing the elements of inconsistency in Mr. Gladstone’s schemes. He writes:—
“It is needless to say Mr. Gladstone is a great orator. . . . The most sincere admirers and the most eager depreciators of Mr. Gladstone are agreed on this point, and it is almost the only point on which they are agreed. . . . Mr. Gladstone has, beyond every other man in his generation, what we may call the oratorical impulse. . . . He has the didactic impulse. He has the ‘courage of his ideas!’ He will convince his audience. He has a nature, as Coleridge might have said, towards his audience. He is sure, if they only knew what he knows, they would feel as he feels, and believe as he believes. And by this he conquers. This living faith, this enthusiasm, this confidence, call it as we will, is an extreme power in human affairs. One croyant, said the Frenchman, is a greater power than fifty incrédules. In the composition of an orator, the hope, the credulous hope, that he will convince his audience, is the primum mobile, it is the primitive incentive which is the spring of his influence and the source of his power. Mr. Gladstone has this incentive in perhaps an excessive and dangerous measure. Whatever may be right or wrong in pure finance, in abstract political economy, it is certain that no one save Mr. Gladstone would have come down with the Budget of 1860 to the Commons of 1860. No other man would have believed that such a proposal would have a chance. Yet after the warning—the disheartening warning of a reluctant Cabinet—Mr. Gladstone came down from a depressing sick-bed, and semi-bronchitis hovering about him, entirely prevailed for the moment, and three parts conquered after all. We will not say that the world is given to men of this temperament and this energy; on the contrary, there is often a turn in the tide, the ovation of the spring may be the prelude to unpopularity in the autumn; but we see that audiences are given them; we see that unimpressible men are deeply moved by them—that the driest topics of legislation and finance are for the instant affected by them—that the prolonged effects of that momentary influence may be felt for many years, sometimes for centuries. The orator has a dominion over the critical instant, and the consequences of the decisions taken during that instant may last long after the orator and the audience have both passed away.
“Nor is the didactic impulse the only one which is essential to a great political orator; nor is it the only one which Mr. Gladstone has. We say it with respect; but he has the contentious impulse. He illustrates the distinction between the pacific and the peaceful. On all great questions, on the controversies of States and Empires, Mr. Gladstone is the most pacific of mankind. He hates the very rumour of war; he trusts in moral influence; he detests the bare idea of military preparations. He will not believe that preparations are necessary till the enemy is palpable.” (How convincingly the truth of these words was proved years after Bagehot’s death, when the Gordon tragedy took place.) . . . “At the present moment no Englishman, not Mr. Bright himself, feels so little the impulse to arm. He will not believe in a war till he sees men fighting. He is the most pacific of our statesmen in theory and in policy.
“When you hear Mr. Gladstone, he is about the most combative. He can bear a good deal about the politics of Europe; but let a man question the fees on vatting, or the change in the game certificate, or the stamp on bills of lading—what melodious thunders of loquacious wrath! The world, he hints, is likely to end at such observations, and it is dreadful that they should be made by the honourable member who made them,—by the honourable member who four years ago said so-and-so, and five years before that moved, etc. etc. The number of well-intentioned and tedious persons whom Mr. Gladstone annually scolds into a latent dislike of him must be considerable. . . . No one, indeed, half guides, half follows the moods of his audience more quickly, more easily, than Mr. Gladstone. There is a little playfulness in his manner, which contrasts with the dryness of his favourite topics, and the intense gravity of his earnest character. He has the same sort of control over the minds of those he is addressing that a good driver has over the animal he guides: he feels the minds of his hearers as the driver the mouths of his horses.
“The species of intellect that is required for this task is pre-eminently the advocate’s intellect. . . . We scarcely think, with Mr. Gladstone, that this style of oratory is the very highest, though it is very natural that he should think so, for it exactly expresses the oratory in which he is the greatest living master. Mr. Gladstone’s conception of oratory, in theory, and in practice, is the oratory of Pitt, not the oratory of Chatham or of Burke; it is the oratory of adaption. We do not deny that this is the kind of oratory which is most generally useful, the only kind which is commonly permissible, the only one which in general would not be a bore; but we must remember that there is an eloquence of great principles which the hearers scarcely heed, and do not accept—such as, in its highest parts, is the eloquence of Burke—we must remember that there is an eloquence of great passions, of high-wrought intense feeling, which is nearly independent of the peculiarities of its audience, because it appeals to our elemental human nature—which is the same, or much the same, in almost every audience, which is everywhere and always susceptible to the union of vivid genius and eager passion. Such as this last was, if we may trust tradition, the eloquence of Chatham, the source of his rare, magical, and occasional power. Mr. Gladstone has neither of these. Few speakers equally great have left so few passages which can be quoted—so few which embody great principles in such a manner as to be referred to by coming generations. He has scarcely given us a sentence that lives in the memory; nor is his declamation, facile and effective as it always is, the very highest declamation: it is a nearly perfect expression of intellectual sentiment, but it wants the volcanic power of primitive passion.
“The prominence of advocacy in Mr. Gladstone’s mind is in appearance, though not in reality, diminished by the purity and intensity of his zeal. There is an elastic heroism about him. When he begins to speak, we may know that we are going to hear what we shall not agree with. We may believe that the measures he proposes are mischievous; we may smile at the emphasis with which some of their minutiæ are insisted upon; but we inevitably feel that we have left the ordinary earth. We know that high sentiments will be appealed to by one who feels high sentiments; that strong arguments will be strongly stated by one who believes that argument should decide controversy. We know that we are beyond the realm of the Patronage Secretary, we have felt behind us the doctrine that corruption is the ruling power in popular assemblies, that patronage is the purchase-money of power. We are not alleging that in the real world in which we live there is some truth—more or less of truth—in these lower maxims; but they do not rule in Mr. Gladstone’s world. He has—and it is one of the springs of great power—a real faith in the higher parts of human nature; he believes, with all his heart and soul and strength, that there is such a thing as truth; he has the soul of a martyr with the intellect of an advocate. . . .
“The great faculties we have mentioned give Mr. Gladstone, it is needless to say, an extraordinary influence in English politics. England is a country governed mainly by labour and speech. Mr. Gladstone will work and can speak, and the result is what we see. With a flowing eloquence and a lofty heroism; with an acute intellect and endless knowledge; with courage to conceive large schemes, and a voice which will persuade men to adopt those schemes—it is not singular that Mr. Gladstone is of himself a power in parliamentary life. He can do there what no one else living can do.
“But the effect of these peculiar faculties is by no means unmixedly favourable. In almost every one of them some faulty tendency is latent, which may produce bad effects—in Mr. Gladstone’s case has often done so, perhaps does so still. His greatest characteristic, as we have indicated, is the singular vivacity of his oratorical impulse. But great as is the immediate power which a vehement oratorical propensity, when accompanied by the requisite faculties, secures to the possessor, the advantage of possessing it, or rather of being subject to it, is by no means without an alloy. We have all heard that Paley said he knew nothing against some one but that he was a popular preacher. And Paley knew what he was saying. The oratorical impulse is a disorganising impulse. The higher faculties of the mind require a certain calm, and the excitement of oratory is unfavourable to that calm. . . .
“Nor is cool reflection the only higher state of mind which the oratorical impulse interferes with; we believe that it is singularly unfavourable also to the exercise of the higher kind of imagination. Several great poets have written good dramatic harangues; but no great practical orator has ever written a great poem. The creative imagination requires a singular calm: it is ‘the unravished bride of quietness,’ as the poets say, ‘the foster-child of silence and slow time’. No great work has ever been produced except after a long interval of still and musing meditations. The oratorical impulse interferes with this. It breaks the exclusive brooding of the mind upon the topic; it brings in a new set of ideas, the faces of the audience and the passions of listening men; it jerks the mind, if the expression may be allowed, just when the delicate poetry of the mind is crystallising into symmetry. The process is stayed, and the result is marred.
“Mr. Gladstone has suffered from both these bad effects of the oratorical temperament. . . .
“We have now reached the term of the destructive period. We cannot abolish all our laws; we have few remaining with which educated men find fault. The questions which remain are questions of construction—how the lower classes are to be admitted to a share of political power without absorbing the whole power; how the natural union of Church and State is to be adapted to an age of divided religious opinion, and to the necessary conditions of a parliamentary government. These, and such as these, are the future topics of our home policy. And on these the voice of the nation will never be very distinct. Destruction is easy, construction is very difficult. A statesman who will hereafter learn what our real public opinion is, will not have to regard loud agitators, but to disregard them; will not have to yield to a loud voice, but to listen for a still small voice; will have to seek for the opinion which is treasured in secret rather than for that which is noised abroad.”
When Bagehot thus analysed Mr. Gladstone’s gifts and character the statesman was at the zenith of his fame. In after years, referring to Mr. Gladstone, Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff says: “Of him, too, Bagehot writes much and wisely. It is easy for us who have seen how all ended, to form a judgment of that notable person; but Bagehot in 1860, at a moment when Mr. Gladstone was at his very best, wrote as follows: ‘If Mr. Gladstone will accept the conditions of his age; if he will guide himself by the mature, settled, and cultured reflection of his time, and not by its loud and noisy organs; if he will look for that which is thought rather than for that which is said, he may leave a great name, be useful to his country, may steady and balance his own mind. But if not, not. The coherent efficiency of his career will depend on the guide which he takes, the index which he obeys, the δα#x03af;μων which he consults.’ ”
Mr. Gladstone had been very much impressed by Bagehot’s writings, and the year before Bagehot wrote this article had expressed his admiration and had sought Bagehot’s acquaintance. All intercourse between himself and Bagehot would have been obviously of advantage to the latter, seeing that Mr. Gladstone was Chancellor of the Exchequer and Bagehot director of the Economist. That he wrote these criticisms at that particular moment, is a clear proof—were proof wanting—of his absolute, disinterested independence.
If Bagehot was courageous, Mr. Gladstone was generous in his view of this outspoken criticism of himself. After receiving from my sister the volume of reprinted essays which contained it, published after Bagehot’s death, he wrote: “Some of the articles are not new to me. I remember feeling, and I still feel, how true the article on myself is in the parts least favourable to my vanity. . . . Undoubtedly your husband was a man of most remarkable gifts, and among them was a singular discernment as to public characters, and a not less excellent faculty for embodying the results in literary form.”
Nine years later, introduced by my friend Mrs. Nassau Senior, I visited Watts at what was left of Little Holland House. It was all in tatters, Watts and his studios alone remaining to tell of the past revelries by night and by day of the “Kingdom of Pattledom”. You could hardly drive up to the old battered thatched porch, so busy were the roadmakers metalling Melbury Road.
The critic of the National Review could not make up his mind whether “Ashford Owen” was a man or a woman, but ended his criticism by “This is not our last parting, we trust, from ‘Ashford Owen,’ ” but alas! it was. Years after those first days of sunshine at The Arches I met the writer. It was a woman. I asked her why she had never written another story. “But I did, it was so bad—I never speak of it. It was a crime!” To have created one single gem in literature of the quality of A Lost Love would condone for many crimes.
Mr. Robert Lowe was then Vice-President of the Council of Education. From 1868 to 1873 Chancellor of the Exchequer. On retiring from the House of Commons he was created Lord Sherbrooke.
Auditor of the Civil List, and considered the most able clerk of the Treasury of his time.
Afterwards created Lord Westbury as Lord Chancellor.
See “William Pitt,” National Review, 1861.
See Essay on Mr. Gladstone.
See National Review, July, 1861.
Essay on Mr. Gladstone, National Review, July, 1860.
The Duke and my father would at times meet in the Hamilton Gardens. I recollect very clearly one little incident, happening when my sisters and I were small children, which was very characteristic of the Duke. We were living in Hertford Street and passed most of our play-time in the Hamilton Gardens. One summer evening the Duke and my father were walking together up and down the gravel paths, the Duke leaning on the arm of his beautiful daughter-in-law. We were trying with more ambition than knowledge to fly kites. The Duke saw we were doing it all wrong. Breaking away from Lady Druro and my father he walked briskly across the lawn and showed us the proper way in which to fly kites, and watched the result with a keen interest. Under his guidance this was entirely successful, and the kites flew up in the air as high as Apsley House.
Some members of the family of Kilvert, well known in Bath, lived at Claverton in 1859. In 1860 Mrs. Kilvert sent our family the following entry from her Diary. “ ‘Mr. A. called on us on his way to Mr. Duckworth’s seat, Orchardleigh. We had much interesting talk on the past, present and future state of India. He said he had had a very long night’s conference with our kind friend and neighbour, the Rt. Hon. James Wilson, when he had a public reception given him at Manchester this month, just previous to his embarkation for Dublin, whence he was so good as to write to me a friendly note in acknowledgment for my brief “sketch” of our mutual friend Mrs. Fry, which had followed him to the Castle of Dublin. Mr. A. said of Mr. Wilson, “he was one of the great-minded men of the day”. Mr. Kilvert had ever admired his kind, simple, self-possessed manners when our neighbour at Claverton Manor. A very few days, perhaps hours, before he took his final leave of that beautiful home, he walked down Claverton Hill and entered the vestibule steps. I heard the voice of a stranger talking to our servant. Mr. Kilvert, knowing his voice, instantly came forward and led him into the bow room. He cast his eye on the walls with evident emotion, and there was the best engravings of his early and beloved friends, Mrs. Fry, Joseph John Gurney and Sir Robert H. Inglis. Some deep chord was touched by these remembrances, rendered unspeakably dear by the wrench he was enduring in quitting his own native land. He told me the following circumstances: “When I was at school Mr. J. Gurney gave me and several other boys a theme on three great attributes of God, viz.: the Omnipotence, the Omniscience, the Omnipresence, divided into the three subjects, and for the best paper he offered a prize, which I was happy enough to win”. Mr. Wilson was touched by my intimate knowledge of Mrs. Fry, and said she had sent to him on the very first notice she had received of the calamity in her husband’s affairs. He repeated with admiration, “I can never forget her!” His conversation was friendly in the extreme to Mr. Kilvert. His approaching untried task in a far land called out our warmest feelings. His were deep, manly and solemn when we bade him adieu. His strength seemed derived from his devotion to the full development of the vast resources of India in her new position, and having long and thoroughly investigated what could be known of his task, he looked at her every interest. His persevering integrity and industry had raised him to high distinction. Without sons but blessed with all the charities of domestic life, surrounded by the refinements which wealth confers, he has only the great aim of doing to mankind an enduring service. He seems to have prepared his mind for conflicts in this untried field of labour. His late calm retreat must have been a refreshment to his mind, which knew but little rest by day or night. He crosses the ocean in a martyr’s faith. We shall watch with great anxiety his course: the result of his plans will be the work of time and the wisdom of his agents.—Adelaide Sophie Kilvert.’
“There the scene closes. Memory holds fast the now changed field—Semper fidelis. This very slight trace of a few minutes spent in conversation with a great and good man I extract from my Diary, in which the final record must find a place which is here not inserted, and which my sad thoughts anticipated but too truthfully.”
“Speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Finance of the Year and the Treaty of Commerce with France, Delivered in the House of Commons on Friday, 10th February, 1860. Corrected by the Author.”