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The Late Earl Of Beaconsfield, Kg

Volume 261: debated on Monday 9 May 1881

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My Lords, I rise to move the Address of which I have given Notice, and which is as follows:—

"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty will give directions that a Monument be erected in the collegiate church of St. Peter, Westminster, to the memory of the late Right Honourable the Earl of Beaconsfield, K.G., with an inscription expressive of the high sense entertained by the House of his rare and splendid gifts, and of his devoted labours in Parliament and in great offices of State; and to assure Her Majesty that this House will concur in giving effect to Her Majesty's directions."
My Lords, very few arguments are required to induce your Lordships to agree to that Motion; and for this reason, and for some others, I shall confine my observations within narrow limits. This is not the time, and I am not the person, to give a biographical sketch of one so well known as Lord Beaconsfield, and it would still less become me to analyze, in any degree, his policy or his political actions. For me to give my approval of these would give a stamp of insincerity to my remarks, which would be displeasing to your Lordships, and which would not be creditable to myself. My Lords, our long experience of Constitutional Government has convinced nearly all Englishmen that Party Government is necessary for the good working of Representative Institutions, and that Party organization is needful in order to establish a strong and efficient Government under the Constitution. But, owing to the same experience, together with other favouring circumstances, there is no country where the relations of political opponents are more free from personal bitterness, none where the readiness is greater at the proper moment to drop Party feelings and exclusively to consider that which is for the national dignity. I believe it is for the dignity of the nation that from time to time, and on exceptional occasions, Parliament should recognize the public services of statesmen, not as a proof of universal approval of the particular policy which they may have pursued, for that would be impossible, but as an acknowledgment of unusual abilities devoted in eminent positions to the service of the State. My Lords, it is impossible for anyone to deny that Lord Beaconsfield played a great part in English history. No one can deny his rare and splendid gifts, and his great force of character. No one can deny how long and how continuous have been his services, both with regard to the Crown and Parliament. I doubt whether to many public men can the quality of genius be more fitly attributed. It was by his strong individuality, unaided by adventitious circumstances, that he owed his great personal success. My Lords, I myself, assisted by some of those social advantages which Mr. Disraeli was without, came into the House of Commons at an early age, and six months before he took his seat in that Assembly. I thus heard him make that speech famous for its failure, a speech which I am convinced, if it had been made when he was better known to the House of Commons, would have been received with cheers and sympathy, instead of derisive laughter; but which, owing to the prejudices of his audience, he was obliged to close with a sentence, which, like a somewhat similar ejaculation of Mr. Sheridan, showed the unconquerable confidence which strong men have in their own power. My Lords, the last time that Lord Beaconsfield spoke in this House a speech of an argumentative character was a few weeks ago. I think it was about 10 o'clock on the second evening of the debate on Afghanistan that Lord Beaconsfield sent me a message saying that he purposed speaking directly. I sent back a strong remonstrance. Two noble Lords who formerly held Office, and a third with remarkable power of speaking, wished to take part in the debate. Lord Beaconsfield, however, persisted, and I thought I was justified in making a rather strong complaint of his having done so. I have since learned with regret that Lord Beaconsfield had, just before he received that message from me, swallowed one drug and had inhaled another drug, in quantities nicely adapted so as to enable him to speak free from the oppression of his complaint during the time that that speech required for delivery. I cannot help thinking that such incidents as these, although not very great in themselves—one at the beginning, and the other at the end of a Parliamentary career which lasted 44 years—were proofs of that determination which he possessed, and that contempt for obstacles which might have alarmed weaker men. My Lords, I remember another small fact connected with this House which appeared to me indicative of Lord Beaconsfield's self-control and his great patience. Almost any man conning into this Assembly as Prime Minister, and with a great oratorical reputation, would have been impatient for an opportunity of display. I dare say your Lordships remember how silent and how reticent Lord Beaconsfield was for two or three months after he came into your Lordships' House; and it was only when an unfounded charge was made against him that he took the opportunity of making a speech by which he immediately obtained that hold over your Lordships' House which he had so long maintained in" another place." Some men exercise influence over others by possessing in a stronger degree the qualities and the defects of those whom they influence. Others produce the same effect from exactly contrary causes. It is probable that Lord Beaconsfield, with few prejudices of his own, and more or less tolerant of those of others, belonged to the latter class. I never knew a greater master, in writing, in speaking, and in conversation, of censure and of eulogy. His long habit of sparkling literary composition, his facility in dealing with epigram, metaphor, antithesis, and even alliteration, gave him a singular power of coining and applying phrases which at once laid hold of the popular mind, and attached praise or blame to actions of the contending Parties in the State. Lord Beaconsfield had certainly the power of appealing in his policy, in his character, and in his career, to the imagination of his countrymen and of foreigners, a power which was not extin- guished even by death. With certain exceptions, Lord Beaconsfield was singularly tolerant with regard to his political opponents, and very appreciative of their merits. I believe no more happy compliment was ever paid to Lord Palmerston and Lord Russell than by Mr. Disraeli in the House of Commons; and I have heard one of Mr. Cobden's dearest friends quote, as the most touching speech he ever heard, the tribute which Mr. Disraeli paid in the House of Commons to his great and victorious Free Trade opponent. I myself can boast of having been treated in this House by successive Leaders of the great Conservative Party in it with great kindness and great fairness; but I am bound to say that by none was that great fairness and forbearance more remarkably displayed than by Lord Beaconsfield during the few years that I had the honour of sitting opposite him, and on some previous occasions with regard to Foreign Affairs. My Lords, the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon), on Thursday, speaking on the authority of an intimate friend, told your Lordships how kind and good-natured a man in private life Lord Beaconsfield was. I believe that to be perfectly true, notwithstanding the singular power of destructiveness which he possessed, and sometimes exercised. I remember being told by one, to whom the constant devotion of Lord Beaconsfield during his life was one of the characteristic traits of his character, that not only was he a kind and good-natured man, but that he was singularly sensitive to kindness shown to him by others. There is one reason, my Lords, why this House should pay respect to the memory of Lord Beaconsfield, which is not altogether of a disinterested character. It has been said of the British aristocracy, sometimes as a matter of praise, sometimes of blame, that they are proud, wealthy, and powerful. There is an element, however, of a democratic character mixed with this aristocratic constitution of the House of Lords, which has certainly added to its wealth and strength, possibly to its pride. It is the unexclusiveness which is peculiar to the Institution. Of the smoothness with which the portals of this Assembly roll back before distinguished men, without reference to caste or to blood, of the welcome which is given to such, of the distinguished place which is assigned to them in our ranks, I know no brighter or more brilliant example than that of Lord Beaconsfield. My Lords, I beg to move the Resolution of which I have given Notice.

My Lords, the noble Earl, in the graceful language with which he has moved the erection of this last and melancholy tribute to a political opponent, justly said, not only that contested questions were in no degree affected by the action that he or your Lordships might take, or by the language that he used, but also that not many words were needed to commend this Motion to the acceptance of Parliament. My Lords, it is true that in this case not many words are needed; because one of the most striking phenomena attending on Lord Beaconsfield's brilliant and remarkable career has been the deep interest with which, through his illness and after his death, his fate was followed, not only by his own friends and adherents, but by men of every class and degree in this country, and by distinguished men of great influence and power in other countries also. My Lords, whatever else may be said of the deceased statesman, this, at least, can never be gainsaid—his memory will ever be associated with many and great controverted issues; but the historian must always add that, when the fierce struggle was over, and the great career was closed, there was no doubt what the verdict was of his countrymen upon the services he had rendered. This unanimity of opinion with respect to one whose measures were necessarily much contested will suggest various explanations. That his Friends and Colleagues should mourn his loss and regard his memory is only too natural. I have not the same title to speak on this subject as many of those beside me have, because my close political connection with him was comparatively recent. But it lasted through anxious and difficult times, when the character of men is plainly seen by those who work with them. And upon me, as I believe upon all others who have worked with him, his patience, his gentleness, his unswerving and unselfish loyalty to his Colleagues and his fellow-labourers, have made an impression which will never leave me as long as life endures. But these feelings could only affect the limited circle of his im- mediate adherents. The impression which his career and character have made on the vast mass of his countrymen must be sought elsewhere. To some extent, to a great extent, no doubt, it is due to the peculiar character of his genius—to its varied nature, to the wonderful combination of qualities which he possessed, and which rarely reside in the same brain. To some extent it is also due to the circumstances to which the noble Earl has gracefully and eloquently alluded—the social difficulties of his early life, and the stead fast perseverance by which they were overcome. These facts were impressed on his countrymen, who love to see exemplified that open career to all persons, whatever their initial difficulties may be, which is one of the characteristics of their institutions of which they are most proud. They saw in Lord Beaconsfield's life a proof that whatever difficulties may attend the beginning of a man's fame, if the genius and perseverance are there, the most exalted position and the widest influence are open to any subject of the Queen. But there was another cause. Lord Beaconsfield's leading principles with respect to the greatness of his country, more and more as life went on, made an impression on our country. Zeal for the greatness of England was the passion of his life. Opinions might differ, and did differ, deeply as to the measures and steps by which expression was given to that dominant feeling; but more and more as his life went on and drew near to its close, as the heat and turmoil of controversy were left behind, as the gratification of every possible ambition negatived the suggestion of any inferior motive, and brought out into greater prominence the sacredness and strength of this one intense feeling, the people of this country recognized the force with which this desire dominated his actions, and they repaid it by an affection and reverence which did not depend upon, nor had any concern with, their opinion as to the particular policy pursued. My Lords, this was his great title to their attachment—that above all things he wished to see England united, powerful, and great. The questions of interior policy which divided classes, he had to consider them—he had to form his judgment upon them and take his course accordingly; but it seems to me he treated them always as of secondary interest, compared with this one great question—how the country to which he belonged might be made united and strong. The feeling which he showed was repaid to him abundantly; and it is because this conviction spread itself to all classes—both among those who were his friends and those who were his opponents—that this Vote which has been moved by the noble Earl, and which I have risen to second, is no expression of any Party or sectional feeling, is no representation of any opinion upon any controverted question, but is the homage and recognition of an united people to the splendid genius and the magnificent services they have lost.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty will give directions that a Monument be erected in the collegiate church of St. Peter, Westminster, to the memory of the late Right Honourable the Earl of Beaconsfield, K.G., with an inscription expressive of the high sense entertained by the House of his rare and splendid gifts, and of his devoted labours in Parliament and in great offices of State; and to assure Her Majesty that this House will concur in giving effect to Her Majesty's directions.—(The Earl Granville.)

My Lords, I think it would be very natural if, after the two able speeches to which we have listened, this Motion should be at once agreed to; but I should be making a great sacrifice to my own feelings were I not on this occasion to express my opinion, not upon the great talents and political powers of Lord Beaconsfield, but upon the virtues of his private life, and the remarkable and laudable lines he has always followed both as regards his friends and his foes. My excuse, my Lords, for speaking of him is the intimate acquaintance I had with him. I knew Lord Beaconsfield at an earlier period than my noble Friend—before he had been a Minister. I was a Member of the first Cabinet in which he sat. I was with him in four Cabinets afterwards. I was in the last Cabinet as in the first; and, with all that constant occasion of knowing him well, of seeing him, hearing his sentiments, and observing his manner and character. I must say I have not known a more complete character as far as regarded the good-nature, amiability, and sincere friendship which he always displayed. Men who Lave seen him sitting in this place, where he gained so much honour, might naturally think that, with his un- moved countenance, with not a shadow upon his cheek, however he might have received the thrusts of the greatest gladiators of the day, he was a man without the common feelings of human nature. But that was not the case. I knew no man who felt disappointment more, or so much enjoyed triumph. It was his indomitable courage which enabled him to master his features, as it supported him through all the difficulties of his career. He had every domestic virtue which I consider a man need have. He was supported—fortunately for him, for he always said so—by a most amiable and devoted wife, to whom he was himself equally devoted. He has often told me that without her fortitude and great devotion to him, encouraging him when he was disappointed, and sharing with him his triumphs, he could not have succeeded in life as he had done. I remember, when at last he was deprived of the support of his wife, he said to me with tears in his eyes—"I hope some of my friends will take notice of me now in my great misfortune, for I have no hope; I have now no home; and when I tell my coachman to drive home, I feel it is a mockery." Lady Beaconsfield was equally devoted to him. I recollect a remarkable story, which illustrates this devotion; it is one which your Lordships have, perhaps, heard; but he told it to me himself. One day, when Lord Beaconsfield was driving to the House of Commons, having a very important speech to make, the servant, in closing the door of the carriage, shut it on Lady Beaconsfield's finger. She had the courage not to cry out or say a word, and not to move until he was out of sight, lest it might disturb him and interfere with the speech he had to make. A very short time before his death an incident occurred which showed the extraordinary courage and perseverance which existed in his character. I was walking with him, and we met an old friend, a gentleman who had formerly been very active in public life, and who had reached the age of 84, and was still looking, for that age, very young. Lord Beaconsfield said to him—"How is it you maintain your youthful appearance and your health in the way you do?" Our friend answered—"My Lord, by enjoying all the repose I can." I could not attempt to give your Lordships an idea of the tone in which Lord Beaconsfield ex- claimed—"Repose! good Heavens! repose!" I think his manner and intonation impressed one more than anything else with the invincible power of work—his determination never to give way while he could do work in the service of his country—which he possessed. It was with great satisfaction that I heard the Motion made by my noble Friend. My noble Friend behind me (the Marquess of Salisbury) has said most truly that one of the most powerful passions of Lord Beaconsfield's breast was the desire to maintain the power and the honour of England; and therefore it is our duty, and a most melancholy duty it is, to raise a monument to this great and distinguished Englishman. On question, agreed to, nemine dissentiente. Ordered that the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.

House adjourned at a quarter before Six o'clock till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.