Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIV.: PHYSICS AND POLITICS. - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 10 (The Life)
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CHAPTER XIV.: “PHYSICS AND POLITICS.” - Mrs. Russell Barrington, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 10 (The Life) 
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. 10.
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“PHYSICS AND POLITICS.”
In the autumn of 1867, Walter and my sister made a tour in North Devon and Cornwall, revisiting places he imagined in childhood to be the most beautiful in the world. From Boscastle he wrote a letter to the Spectator. In the autumn of 1868 he and my sister spent August and September in the Pyrenees, and from San Sebastian Bagehot sent another letter to the Spectator enthusiastically praising the country and the charm of living under the “Golden Light” of the southern sun. “This north-west corner of Spain,” he wrote, “is the only place out of England where I should like to live. It is a sort of better Devonshire; the coast is of the same kind, the sun is more brilliant, the sea is more brilliant, and there are mountains in the background. I have seen more beautiful places and many grander, but I should not like to live in them. As Mr. Emerson puts it, ‘I do not want to go to heaven before my time’. My English nature by early use and long habit is tied to a certain kind of scenery, soon feels the want of it, and is apt to be alarmed as well as pleased at perpetual snow and all sorts of similar beauties. But here, about San Sebastian, you have the best England can give you (at least if you hold, as I do, that Devonshire is the finest of our counties), and the charm, the ineffable, indescribable charm of the South too. Probably the sun has some secret effect on the nervous system that makes one inclined to be pleased, but the golden light lies upon everything, and one fancies that one is charmed only by the outward loveliness.”
It was while under the spell of this charm that letters arrived from two of Bagehot’s friends, Mr. Chichester Fortescue, (Lord Carlingford) and Mr. A. E. Freeman , the historian, begging him to stand for Mid-Somerset. More than ever, while basking in a southern clime, did he feel disinclined to enter into political or any other conflict; moreover, knowing Somerset as he did, he saw no chance of the Liberals coming in on the Disestablishment of the Irish Church question. He wrote declining to stand, but on his return to Somerset in October he took an active part in helping Mr. Freeman and the other Liberal candidate. He attended their meetings at Glastonbury and took the chair at a Liberal meeting at Lang-port. Before the election, while in London, he had an attack of his old complaint, but sufficiently recovered from it to go to Herd’s Hill for the polling day.
While in London, Bagehot was informed of an incident which had occurred with reference to his standing for Mid-Somerset, and which was the subject of the following letter from him to Mr. Gladstone, dated Windham Club, 19th October, 1868. “Mr. Glyn has just asked me to call in Parliament Street, and has shown me a most extraordinary telegram sent to you from Yeovil in which my name has been used. I cannot conceive its meaning, but much regret that I should have been brought before you in such a ridiculous way.
“I was asked to stand for Mid-Somerset some time ago when I was abroad, and declined, as I have not enough recovered from the illness I had earlier in the year to be equal to such a contest. I only arrived in England three or four days ago, and I have not yet been in the West of England, so what the Yeovil people meant by troubling you I cannot think. I hope you were only amused at such an expression of electioneering zeal.”
The said telegram arrived at Hawarden on a Sunday morning when Mr. Gladstone was in church, and his servant took it to him there. Its import was to beg Mr. Gladstone to induce Walter Bagehot to stand at the coming election. There was undoubtedly no lack of zeal in his countrymen in Somerset to secure him a seat, however little zeal he may have felt himself.
Diary. “30th November, 1868. Mr. Bagehot and Walter drove morning to the polling for Mid-Somerset at Somerton and were much cheered. Defeat of Liberal canditate by 1,550 votes. Mr. Neville Grenville and Mr. Paget therefore elected.” In the previous week Mr. Gladstone had been thrown out in the contest for South-West Lancashire. His pamphlet A Chapter of an Autobiography had just appeared, on which Bagehot wrote a fine and subtly reasoned-out paper for the Economist.
“Mr. Gladstone’s account of his change of opinion on the subject of the Irish Church,” he writes, “is full of character, both intellectual and moral. The intellectual interest lies in the curious process by which the very substance of his present creed on the relation of Church to State is developed from that minute germ of exception to his former creed which he stated to Lord Macaulay in 1839. The moral interest lies partly in the delicate and scrupulous honour by which Mr. Gladstone guarded himself from the danger of succumbing to mere self-interested motives, and partly in the evidence that his intellect was completely moulded into his present opposite views by causes infinitely more powerful than any self-interested motives could possibly have exerted over his mind—namely, that sympathy with the growing political freedom of the day which compelled him year by year to assign an ever-increasing importance to influences wholly unprovided for in his early creed and yet clamorously demanding recognition in any practical view of the future relations between Church and State.”
The elections went against the Government, and the Queen telegraphed for Mr. Gladstone, who was at Hawarden when this summons to Windsor arrived. On Mr. Disraeli taking the town by surprise and resigning at once after the elections had gone against him, Bagehot wrote in the Economist: “Mr. Disraeli’s resignation is a singularly graceful act. We were about to go through a laborious formality of which every one knew the end, but which every one fancied to be necessary. From meetings, declarations, and pledges—binding because new—it was certain what the judgment of Parliament on the late Ministry would be, and to require that Parliament should go through long nights and long speeches to register the decision was childish. Mr. Disraeli has many defects but he has one merit; when he means a thing he knows how to do it. He has saved the nation the painful spectacle of a solemn farce by not waiting to be ejected when they knew he must go . . . Mr. Disraeli’s resignation is, as we have said, most good and excellent; nevertheless, those who know what the power of the Crown once was in England, and how much it has declined even during the present reign, will have read with a curious interest Mr. Disraeli’s ‘memorandum’ in the Times. We should like to know what George IV. or even William IV. would have said to the announcement of his resignation in a newspaper before his successor had reached Windsor. To George III. the idea would have been incredible. ‘No Minister,’ he would have said, ‘could commit such an indiscretion. If he did, he must be for ever excluded from public circles.’ Yet such is the change of times, not any one now notices the incongruity or much thinks of the Queen in the matter.”
Though Bagehot’s health had from boyhood been delicate he was attacked by the first serious illness of his life in December, 1867, when he was forty-two years of age.
Returning on Christmas Eve from the midnight service at St. Alban’s, Holborn, he caught a chill which developed into a severe attack of internal inflammation. Our old friend of Westbury and Claverton days, Mr. Orby Shipley, was working at that time with Mr. Maconochie at St. Albans, and about to become engaged to be married to my sister Zoe.
Diary. “Zoë and Matilda went to Vespers at St. Albans at 8 o’clock with Mr. Orby Shipley. Walter and Emmie joined them for the midnight Mass, which was very beautiful.”
Walter’s illness was very persistent; great weakness followed, and serious relapses recurred during January and February. While he was laid up he was visited often by Mr. Hutton and other friends, among them Sir John Lubbock, Matthew Arnold, Mr. Forster and Mr. Sanford. He felt often two weak even to read—the first time in his life when he had found himself unable to do so. He managed nevertheless to write a letter to Mr. Hutton to be forwarded to the graduates of the London University on the Disestablishment of the Irish Church and on Education generally.
When he had sufficiently recovered to travel, he and my sister went to spend a month with his parents at Herd’s Hill, and on 24th March moved on to Lyme Regis, a place immortalised by Miss Austen in Persuasion. It was from the curious jetty which forms a breakwater called The Cobb that the wilful Louisa insisted on jumping down and, alighting on her head, lost consciousness, and thereby complicated the situation. To Lyme Regis, Lord and Lady Chatham would frequently drive from Burton Pynsent, and their eldest son, the second Lord Chatham, studied there with a retired officer of the army.
Diary. “We left Langport 3 for Lyme Regis, stopped at Axminster for tea and to write letters, sending off revise of second number Physics and Politics for Fortnightly Review. Reached Lyme Regis at 7. 27th March. We drove to Axminster before lunch to send the Money Article for Economist.”
Even at Lyme Regis, Walter continued to have slight relapses. He never, in fact, fully regained the strength he lost by this illness, and he found it necessary to engage an assistant editor to aid him in the work for the Economist. He was most fortunate in securing the services of Mr. Robert Giffen (Sir Robert Giffen) who, in every sense, proved to be the right person for the post.1 Sir Robert Giffen’s writings on Bagehot after his death prove that he had justly estimated the powers of his chief and had discerned the ever-expanding quality of Bagehot’s genius.
Two marriages in our family took place in the summer of 1868. On 9th June, in St. Albans Church, Holborn, my sister Zoë was married to Orby Shipley, and on 1st July in St. Peter’s, Eaton Square, I was married to Russell Barrington. Walter fathered both events, taking all the trouble of the business arrangements upon himself, and also “giving us away”.1
The week after our wedding Walter and my sister came to stay with us at Sonning on the Thames where we were passing our honeymoon in the old Manor House, where fuchsias and old-fashioned flowers grew tall in the garden. We rowed most of the day on the river. On our first Sunday there we walked along its bank with Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, who was intimate with some members of the Barrington family. He had preached in the morning at the Sonning Church, and scolded the farmers, I remember, for always grumbling at the weather.
Once the acute stage of his illness over, Bagehot wrote much during the year 1868. Besides continuing the chapters of Physics and Politics, and writing an article entitled “Matthew Arnold on the London University” for the Fortnightly Review, his pen was prolific in utterances in the Economist on questions which came before the House during the spring, summer and autumn sessions, and on International Coinage. On the disestablishment of the Irish Church, the subject of the letter he wrote to the graduates of the London University while he was ill, he felt strongly. In the House of Commons, the struggle for and against was chiefly sustained by speeches from Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli. In the House of Lords, according to Bagehot, Lord Carnarvon made the really great speech on the question. The article which appeared in the Economist on this speech supplies the clue that explains the strong attachment which Bagehot and Lord Carnarvon had for one another, though their political views were not the same. Both possessed that quality of mind ascribed to Bagehot by Matthew Arnold—“a concern for the simple truth,” and such purity of aim eliminated in both any partiality tainted by self or party interest. It raised debate from the level where it is weighted by prejudice to that inspired by moral and intellectual insight. Of Lord Carnarvon’s speech on the Disestablishment of the Irish Church,1 Bagehot writes: “Only Lord Carnarvon’s speech had the clear impress of perfect impartiality and deliberate consideration, as well as great ability; he alone spoke in the tone of an umpire who admitted the full force even of those arguments the guidance of which he nevertheless could not accept because he felt the greater force of those of the opposite drift. The regret Lord Carnarvon expressed that ‘there should be anything like an appearance of party action,’ because ‘Ireland learns, as she has learned on previous occasions, that she apparently gains more by partisanship and vehemence than she does by the wisdom of the Imperial Legislature,’ is a very just matter for regret. Unfortunately, it is one which almost uniformly results from party government, because no wholesome reform has any chance unless it is taken up warmly by one or other of the two parties, and nothing, as a rule, is taken up warmly by either of the two parties, unless it is a battle-cry against the other.
“. . . Lord Carnarvon is quite right in saying that it is very material alloy of any good which Mr. Gladstone’s policy may effect, that it teaches Ireland how much more she can gain from ‘partisanship’ than by the impartial conscientiousness of Parliament. Nor was Lord Carnarvon less wise in rejecting the idea that this disestablishment of the Protestant Church in Ireland will be any panacea to remove Irish discontent. That it will remove some widespread discontent, that it will give an earnest of our wish to be just, we of course believe. But it is most true that it will leave us ‘face to face with still larger and more important social questions’. And if we shrink from acknowledging this,—if we allow ourselves to suppose for a moment that the Irish difficulty would be surmounted when the National property is taken away from the Church of a small minority, we should be making this concession of practice an intellectual mischief to ourselves, and a source of bitter disappointment afterwards. It is only by those who clearly define to themselves what may fairly be expected, and what cannot fairly be expected from this change, that the true advantage can be taken of the step which Mr. Gladstone proposes, and which the House of Peers has refused to take. Again, we think it is equally true that we must deduct, as Lord Carnarvon bids us, from the advantages of what we are doing, the tendency to diminish loyalty amongst the section of the population which is now the only heartily loyal section, and perhaps also the tendency (though of this we are much more doubtful) to favour Ultramontane tactics which this apparent victory of theirs may produce. All these admissions of Lord Carnarvon’s, so far from diminishing the weight of his conclusion, give it tenfold force, because they show how truly and honestly he had weighed the real reasons against it. His exposition of the reasons for the Bill was less elaborate, because in fact the reasons are so very simply .”
In answer to a letter Bagehot wrote congratulating him on his speech, Lord Carnarvon wrote: “Your very kind note was most welcome. There is no one whose opinion I value so highly, and—being greatly dissatisfied as I was—with what I said on Monday night, I was proportionately pleased with the view that you took of my speech.”
The year 1869 began by Walter being summoned on 2nd January to Langport to help his father in the home trouble. He was ailing himself often during this year, and in March went to Weston-super-Mare to seek health. He never however ceased work.
In April he wrote an article on “The Indian Budget” praising Sir Richard Temple, then Indian Chancellor of the Exchequer, for his courage in having insisted that the income tax, which my father had in the first instance imposed, should not be taken off, though it was very unpopular. Bagehot writes: “It is a wise tax, because it accustoms the people to the only form of demand which can be relied on in an emergency, and helps to remedy the great economical evil of India, the comparative exemption of the wealthy from taxation. It is no doubt very unpopular, but it will be least unpopular while it is so low, and Sir R. Temple has shown a true courage in facing the unpopularity when he had not the excuse of absolute necessity, but saw his way to do a great service to the State.”
On the death of Lord Derby, in the autumn of 1869, Bagehot wrote an instructive article in the Economist which, like those on Lord Herbert, Cobden, Lord Palmerston, Lord Brougham, gave in less than two columns of the paper an epitome of Lord Derby’s career, his special powers, the place he held in his own party, and the peculiar merits which secured for him the leadership of that party.
Bagehot’s articles in the Economist on Statesmen had a special value at the moment they were written. They gave to current events an historic importance. The exact reason why famous politicians are famous is apt to be a somewhat vague quantity in the public mind. A column or two in the Economist by Bagehot dispels this vagueness and gives an epitome of a career on comprehensive lines, but in so concise a form that it lodges firmly in the memory. For instance—Lord Palmerston dies and he explains the particular place he held among great politicians by meeting the exact requirements of our national character, and Bagehot emphasises this national character with extreme ability. Lord Brougham dies, and by giving a graphic description of the “misused trial time of the Tory party in England” from 1815 to 1832, Bagehot shows how such conditions gave “ ‘Henry Brougham,’ as men used to call him,” his chance and developed his special gifts.1
In the end of July, 1869, Walter was again ill, but did not lie up. He was brave—indeed rash in the treatment of his own health: unless absolutely obliged he never gave in, and but most rarely gave up working. Diary. “1st August. Walter very poorly—saw Dr. Garrod, small dinner-party at home. Mr. Charles Villiers, Sir Frederick Peel, Sir Richard Temple, and Mr. Somerset Beaumont. 3rd August. Walter still at home poorly. He saw Mr. Giffen and Mr. Somerset Beaumont in his room.” On the 4th of August he was out again, and on the 5th my sister left London for Spa with my mother and sister Julia to take the baths, it being arranged that Walter should join her later to make a tour in Germany. However, a week after she had left I received a telegram—“I am ill—will you come and nurse me”. My husband and I were staying in Hertfordshire with my father-in-law at Watton Rectory. It was ten o’clock, and we were at family prayers, I remember, when the alarming telegram arrived. My husband started at once, but only arrived at Upper Belgrave Street at five o’clock next morning. I followed by earliest train next day. We found Walter very ill and all the best-known doctors away taking their holidays. However my husband secured Dr. Garrod’s understudy. Walter was a delightful patient, always good company, though often in great pain. I read poetry to him and he dictated his Economist articles to me. They came out with great ease, and though so ill, it seemed no difficulty to him to use his mind. As soon as he could be moved, we took him to our house on Wimbledon Common. He was still very weak, but took drives on the Common which revived him, and by the end of a month from the time this serious illness began, he was able to join my sister at Ostend. Diary. “30th August. I left Spa at 11.30. Mamma, J. and M. saw me off. Spent seventeen hours in waiting-room at Brussels and reached Ostend at 8. Found Walter at the Hotel de Prusse on the shore, looking very delicate after his month’s illness.” Instead of taking the intended tour in Germany the Bagehots returned to England, for Walter to give his evidence at Bridgwater, where the Bribery Commission was sitting.
[Page 401, line 2 from foot,]for A. E. Freeman read E. A. Freeman.
[Page 404, line 5 from foot,]for two read too.
[Page 408, line 23,]for simply read simple.
[1 ] Sir Robert Giffen gave valuable help to Mr. Hutton in editing the Economic Studies, the work Bagehot did not live to complete. In the Prefatory note Mr. Hutton writes of “the most valuable help of Mr. Robert Giffen, the head of the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade, who, during the last years of Mr. Bagehot’s life, had a better knowledge of his economic mind than any other person. . . . It only remains for me to express my hearty gratitude to Mr. Giffen for his willing and most important help, without which I should have felt no little hesitation in deciding on the true sequence of some passages in this volume.”
[1 ] Whenever Walter was on the scene, and whatever the occurrence might be, some funny little incident would happen connected with him which tickled the fancy and gave a welcome quaint flavour to the solemnities. Such incidents remain fixed fast in the memory whatever else is forgotten. On the day of my marriage, after returning from the church, we (the bride and bridegroom) retired with Walter into his study to sign our wills and eat a quiet luncheon, there being at the breakfast a vast assemblage of relations and old friends. The wills, however, were not forthcoming. Walter had had charge of them, but at the critical moment could not produce them. Ultimately they emerged from the butler’s pantry. “The wills are found,” he said. “They went down to be brushed with my evening clothes.”
[1 ] See Economist, 4th July, 1868.
[1 ] Bagehot had more exhaustively treated the character and career of Lord Brougham eleven years previously, in his essay in the National Review.