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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Modern English Statesman
By Justin McCarthy (1830–1912)
 
From ‘A History of Our Own Times’

“UN-ARM, Eros: the long day’s task is done, and we must sleep!” A long, very long day’s task was nearly done. A marvelous career was fast drawing to its close. Down in Hertfordshire Lord Palmerston was dying. As Mirabeau said of himself, so Palmerston might have said: he could already hear the preparations for the funeral of Achilles. He had enjoyed life to the last as fully as ever Churchill did, although in a different sense. Long as his life was, if counted by mere years, it seems much longer still when we consider what it had compassed, and how active it had been from the earliest to the very end. Many men were older than Lord Palmerston; he left more than one senior behind him. But they were for the most part men whose work had long been done,—men who had been consigned to the arm-chair of complete inactivity. Palmerston was a hard-working statesman until within a very few days of his death. He had been a member of Parliament for nearly sixty years. He entered Parliament for the first time in the year when Byron, like himself a Harrow boy, published his first poems. He had been in the House of Commons for thirty years when the Queen came to the throne. He used to play chess with the unfortunate Caroline of Brunswick, wife of the Prince Regent, when she lived at Kensington as Princess of Wales. In 1808, being then one of the Lords of the Admiralty, he had defended the Copenhagen expedition of the year before, and insisted that it was a stroke indispensable to the defeat of the designs of Napoleon. During all his political career he was only out of office for rare and brief seasons. To be a private member of Parliament was a short occasional episode in his successful life. In the words of Sa’dī, the Persian poet, he had obtained an ear of corn from every harvest….  1
  No man since the death of the Duke of Wellington had filled so conspicuous a place in the public mind. No man had enjoyed anything like the same amount of popularity. He died at the moment when that popularity had reached its very zenith. It had become the fashion of the day to praise all he said and all he did. It was the settled canon of the ordinary Englishman’s faith, that what Palmerston said England must feel….  2
  Privately, he can hardly have had any enemies. He had a kindly heart, which won on all people who came near him. He had no enduring enmities or capricious dislikes; and it was therefore very hard for ill-feeling to live in his beaming, friendly presence. He never disliked men merely because he had often to encounter them in political war. He tried his best to give them as good as they brought, and he bore no malice. There were some men whom he disliked, as we have already mentioned in these volumes; but they were men who for one reason or another stood persistently in his way, and who, he fancied he had reason to believe, had acted treacherously towards him. He liked a man to be “English,” and he liked him to be what he considered a gentleman; but he did not restrict his definition of the word “gentleman” to the mere qualifications of birth or social rank. His manners were frank and genial rather than polished; and his is one of the rare instances in which a man contrived always to keep up his personal dignity without any stateliness of bearing and tone. He was a model combatant: when the combat was over, he was ready to sit down by his antagonist’s side and be his friend, and talk over their experiences and exploits. He was absolutely free from affectation. This very fact gave sometimes an air almost of roughness to his manners, he could be so plain-spoken and downright when suddenly called on to express his mind. He was not, in the highest sense of the word, a truthful man; that is to say, there were episodes of his career in which for purposes of statecraft he allowed the House of Commons and the country to become the dupes of an erroneous impression. Personally truthful and honorable of course it would be superfluous to pronounce him. A man of Palmerston’s bringing-up is as certain to be personally truthful as he is to be brave, and to be fond of open-air exercise and the cold bath. But Palmerston was too often willing to distinguish between the personal and the political integrity of a statesman. The distinction is common to the majority of statesmen: so much the worse for statesmanship. But the gravest errors of this kind which Palmerston had committed were committed for an earlier generation….  3
  His greatest praise with Englishmen must be that he loved England with a sincere love that never abated. He had no predilection, no prejudice, that did not give way where the welfare of England was concerned. He ought to have gone one step higher in the path of public duty: he ought to have loved justice and right even more than he loved England. He ought to have felt more tranquilly convinced that the cause of justice and of right must be the best thing which an English minister could advance even for England’s sake in the end. Lord Palmerston was not a statesman who took any lofty view of a minister’s duties. His statesmanship never stood on any high moral elevation. He sometimes did things in the cause of England which we may well believe he would not have done for any consideration in any cause of his own. His policy was necessarily shifting, uncertain, and inconsistent; for he molded it always on the supposed interests of England as they showed themselves to his eyes at the time. His sympathies with liberty were capricious guides. Sympathies with liberty must be so always where there is no clear principle defining objects and guiding conduct. Lord Palmerston was not prevented by his liberal sympathies from sustaining the policy of the Coup d’État; nor did his hatred of slavery, one of his few strong and genuine emotions apart from English interests, inspire him with any repugnance for the cause of the Southern slaveholders. But it cannot be doubted that his very defects were a main cause of his popularity and his success. He was able always with a good conscience to assure the English people that they were the greatest and the best—the only good and great—people in the world, because he had long taught himself to believe this, and had come to believe it. He was always popular, because his speeches invariably conveyed this impression to the English crowd whom he addressed in or out of Parliament. Other public men spoke for the most part to tell English people of something they ought to do which they were not doing, something which they had done and ought not to have done. It is not in the nature of things that such men should be as popular as those who told England that whatever she did must be right. Nor did Palmerston lay on his praise with coarse and palpable artifice. He had no artifice in the matter. He believed what he said; and his very sincerity made it the more captivating and the more dangerous.  4
  A phrase sprang up in Palmerston’s days which was employed to stigmatize certain political conduct beyond all ordinary reproach. It was meant to stamp such conduct as outside the pale of reasonable argument or patriotic consideration. That was the word “un-English.” It was enough with certain classes to say that anything was “un-English” in order to put it utterly out of court. No matter to what principles, higher, more universal, and more abiding than those that are merely English, it might happen to appeal, the one word of condemnation was held to be enough for it. Some of the noblest and the wisest men of our day were denounced as “un-English.” A stranger might have asked in wonder, at one time, whether it was un-English to be just, to be merciful, to have consideration for the claims and the rights of others, to admit that there was any higher object in a nation’s life than a diplomatic success. All that would have made a man odious and insufferable in private life was apparently held up as belonging to the virtues of the English nation. Rude self-assertion, blunt disregard for the feelings and the claims of others, a self-sufficiency which would regard all earth’s interests as made for England’s special use alone,—the yet more outrageous form of egotism which would fancy that the moral code as it applies to others does not apply to us,—all this seemed to be considered the becoming national characteristic of the English people. It would be almost superfluous to say that this did not show its worst in Lord Palmerston himself. As in art, so in politics, we never see how bad some peculiar defect is until we see it in the imitators of a great man’s style. A school of Palmerstons, had it been powerful and lasting, would have made England a nuisance to other nations…. We have no hesitation in saying that Lord Palmerston’s statesmanship on the whole lowered the moral tone of English politics for a time. This consideration alone, if there were nothing else, forbids us to regard him as a statesman whose deeds were equal to his opportunities and to his genius. To serve the purpose of the hour was his policy. To succeed in serving it was his triumph. It is not thus that a great fame is built up, unless indeed where the genius of the man is like that of some Cæsar or Napoleon, which can convert its very ruins into monumental records. Lord Palmerston is hardly to be called a great man. Perhaps he may be called a great “man of the time.”  5
 
 
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