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February 5, 1890

Guardian from London, · Page 21

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Guardian i
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Wednesday, February 5, 1890
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THE GUARDIAN, FEBRUARY 5, 1890. 213 appointed to examine into his administration. It was almost wholly composed of his opponents, and they 8 et to work with the utmost desire to make oat a case against him. But they found it impossible to produce anything but the most trivial and ill-supported accusations, so that their report dropped practically harmless. The charge has come down to posterity chiefly on the strength of a misrepresented saying of his own. He is credited with having said that "every man has his price. What he did say was something very different. «All then men have their price." He was speaking of the so-called patriots, a body of dissentient Whigs, who, chiefly from personal disappointments, had seceded from Walpole's following and, led by the brilliant eloquence of Pnlteney, gave him much trouble in the House of Commons. It was of a particular party, which he knew well, and not of mankind in general, that he uttered the famous apophthegm. His power was really due to far other causes than Parha mentary corruption. It sprang first from his own good sense and sound judgment, secondly from the commanding influence which the recognition of these qualities gave him in the House of Commons, and lastly from the steady support of the Court. This last item was in those days indispensable, and Walpole possessed it throughout. He had a short taste of subordinate office under Godolphin in Queen Anne's reign and shared his fall. During the four years of Tory reaction under Harley and Bolingbroke he was in opposition; but he came in again with George I., and had a share in passing the Septennial Act, which Mr. Gladstone is now so anxious to repeal. It extended the duration of Parliament, which had been limited to three years by an Act of William and Mary, to seven years. Walpole was certainly in the right. The House of Commons was becoming the chief power in the realm, and it was desirable to seoure a greater steadiness and fixity of political action by giving it a longer existence. And Mr. Morley justly recognises that this prolongation of existence was in its turn one of the most important causos of the increase of its power. A quarrel among the Whigs, in which Sunderland and Stanhope succeeded in ousting Townshend and Walpole, again sent the latter into opposition for three years, much against the will of the King, who was most anxious to retain Walpole when ho dismissed Townshend "Vain attempts were made to separate htm from his colleague The tender of his resignation the next morning was followed by an extraordinary scene in the royal closet. The King entreated him not to retire, and put the seals back into his hat. Walpole protested that if as Chancellor of the Exchequer he found money for the warlike designs of Stanhope and Sunderland, he would lose his credit and reputation ; and if, on the other hand, he retained them then he would forfeit the gracious favour of his Sovereign. No fewer than ten times were the seals replaced upon the table. The King at length gave way, and Walpole quitted the closet with tears in his eyes, leaving his master as painfully agitated as himself." His opposition was signalised by the defeat of Lord Stanhope' Bill for limiting the Royal prerogative in the creation of peers which would have had the effect of vesting supreme power practically in the House of Lords instead of the House of Commons. But the bursting of the South Sea bubble in 1721 brought him back to office again triumphantly as " the best man for figures in the House." From that date till 1742, a period of twenty-one years, he was First Minister of the Crown. It is a duration of office unapproached except by the younger Pitt, and even he fell a little short of it. And it was the more noteworthy as the country had just passed through eighty years of revolution, and was even now scarcely safe from the perils of a Jacobite rebellion. Twenty-one years of unbroken quiet was a boon beyond all others necessary to the nation, and this was what Walpole directed all his efforts to securing. But his long course of power was subject to shocks which every now and then seemed to endanger it. George I. and his eldest son followed the normal rule of the House of Hanover in being at deadly feud with each other. Naturally the Prince of Wales went into opposition, and when he succeeded to the throne as George II. Walpole expected nothing but instant dismissal. The dismissal was given, but it was not instant, and the King soon found that he could not do without his father's Minister. More important even than the King's favour was that of his clever and skilful consort, Queen Caroline, and this was given without stint or interruption to Sir Robert. Through her he managed the King -.— "' If,' he said,' I have had the merit of giving any good advice to the King, all the merit of making him take it, madam, is entirely your own, and so much so, that I not only never did do anything without you, but I know I never could.' " It was no wonder, therefore, that when the Queen died in 1737 the power of Walpole began to be shaken. All the enmities which gather round a long possession of office had accumulated, and were ready to overflow; the nation itself, refreshed by thirty years of unbroken peace, was growing weary of the monotony, and ready to indulge the warlike propensities which had been BO long suppressed; the old hatred of Spain was revived by the commercial ambition which longed to share her West Indian trade; and the incident of " Jenkins' ear " put the whole country in a flame. Walpole had always steadily worked for peace:— t "' Madam,' he said complacently to the Queen one morning (1734) there are fifty thousand men slain this year in Europe, and not one Englishman.' " But he bowed to the storm, vainly hoping to direct it, and accepted the war with Spain. It was the signal for his own downfall. No people will tolerate—as Mr. Morley urges from the instance of Lord Aberdeen in the Crimean War—that a war should be carried on with half a heart. Walpole had no heart for the war, and his popularity for the moment—though only for the moment—was gone. His adversaries seized the favourable opportunity, destroyed his majority, and forced him to resign He retired into the House of Lords with the title of the Earl of Orford, withdrew to the splendid mansion which he had built for himself at Houghton, though he did not cease to keep a close watch on the turns of fortune in the political arena. But a fever of war and glory was setting in, which would have been wholly alien to his nature, and it is perhaps as well for his fame that his removal from the world followed so close upon his retirement from the House of Commons. Three years of inactivity were all that were allowed him. He died on the 18th of March, 1745, after enduring great suffering from the cruel malady of stone. Whatever we may think of his private character, there can be no doubt that he did good service to England. His chief defect, the total absence of enthusiasm or any loftier aim than the material happiness of his fellow- countrymen, waa most serviceable at that partionlar juncture. And his merits, for the particular work which he had to do, are clearly and foroibly brought out by Mr. Morley. He has drawn, as he could hardly fail to do, a most interesting portrait of a character which, if not admirable, has at least left its stamp on history, and merited from its students the just appreciation which he has given it. Bp oiled her biography as a work of art. She has introduced a mass of matter which a less affectionate and more disortet writer would have rejected; many quite trivial incidents long letters on private business, elaborate discussions of current politics, highly interesting to relatives and friends of her father and family, but not likely to be read by outsiders. But the re is plenty of cream for those who know how to skim it. A Southern Planter. By SUSAN .DABNEY SMEDES. John Murray. Having been read and praised by Mr. Gladstone, this biography of a Southern planter is sure to receive from tho British public that attention which it failed to attract some years ago when it was published under a slightly different title. What says Mr. Gladstone about it?— " It teaches a lesson, always useful, of caution to be observed, and of justice to be rendered, in passing judgment on the character, whether of an individual or of a class, which has had tho misfortune to stand in association with a system justly condemned." Because a planter in the Southern States was an owner of slaves it does not follow that he was a merciless tyrant or a greedy sweater of unpaid labour. We are not to derive our only notion of the life on a slave estate from the more sensational scones in " Uncle Tom's Cabin." That is the effect of a caution which can never be superfluous. Mr. Gladstone has the best reason for knowing that heated philanthropists who dislike a system are apt to include in their denunciations all the persons who support it. Thomas Dabney, the father of his biographer, was a member of a good Virginian family, born in 1798 (two years before the death of Washington).. He migrated to Mississippi, bought a large cotton plantation, and lived for many years on a largo and liberal scale : he would help a poor man by giving him a horse ; ho permitted one of his sons who was studying for the law to spend at least §1,000 a year in tho purchase of books; to prevent a friend from bankruptcy he sent a blank cheque which was to be honoured up to the amount of $30,000, the balance then standing in his name at the bank. But when the war broke out between the North and South his means were badly crippled, and after the peace he was almost ruined by tho treachery of a friend for whom he had acted as surety. Although he was then far advanced in years, he determined to pay every penny of his debts; by rigid economy and hard work he succeeded in his object a few years before his death. While hia creditors remained unsatisfied he denied himself what were almost the necessaries of life, and did not shrink at seventy years of age from taking lessons in the manual work which must have been as distasteful as it was strange to the man who had been the master of many slaves. Tho best evidence of his kindness ia the fact that many of the slaves who had been liberated after the defeat of the Southern States were slow to leave him. And when the old Master was engaged in his brave struggle with poverty he received many signs of their continued affection and unabated respect. An amusing instance was afforded by a freedman whoso behaviour as a slave had been remarkably independent, not to say offensive. But when his old master's family were reduced to poverty he threw into his carriage " all the deference that could be expressed in one human body." Occasionally he would bring his humble offerings, which he attempted to conceal:—• " As suon as his bag of melons, peaches, and roasting ears was found, he would be seined with regret at having brought them. " ' Don't look at dem things,' he would cry, snatching the bag, that wo might not see the contents. ' 1 dunno what I bring 'em for. Dey ain't htten' for marster an' my youug ladies. Here, lemme throw 'em 'way. Dey aiu't fitton' for nothin'. I know you got plenty of them.' " lie always brought things that he know we did not have, but this feigned belief that his master was as woll off as ever was soothing to George's pride." Thomas Dabney doesnot seem to have found much difficulty in managing his slaves. Like many other masters (thousands of them, says Mrs. Smedes), he could not bear the idea of punishing people with whom he had to associate every day. Nor would he sell them unless they were absolutely unmanageable and doing mischief amongst their fellow-servants. He did not like to break up the family life. For the same reason he was unwilling to hire them out. But as the human nature of negroes is far from being perfect, the work of keeping order on a largo plantation was by no means light, and it was said that the mistress of a plantation was the most perfect slave upon it. If her bad servants were not sold or freed there was only one course remaining ; she had to endure them and make the best of them—a problem not unknown to our own grandmothers before railways and registry offices gave us the doubtful boon of the month's warning or the mouth's wages. . The slaves were nursed and doctored in their sicknesses, comforted in their troubles, reconciled in their quarrels, and kept in their places, all by the master and mistress. When all the slaves had been made free, one of them, the daughter of a slave mother not able to support herself by work, evidently anxious to make the best of a bad job, made the following remarks:— "' Law, I tells eberybody" dat mammy is jes' as well off as she was in slavey times,' her daughter has said in seeing clothing and provisions sent to her mother at stated intervals. ' Law, mammy don't hab no trouble like we all, 'cuz de white folks don't forgit her.' " It must not be supposed that Mrs. Smedes, in presenting us with the amiable aspect of slavery, is sighing after a " domestic institution " which was abolished partly from the instincts of a generous philanthropy, partly from the dictates of political expediency. General Sherman is reported to have said that he would never be contented until he had brought every Southern woman to the washtub. The speech rankled in the hearts of Southerners; but Mrs. Smedes declares that very few of them would consent to restore, if they could, the institution which they fought to maintain. It would be pleasant, if space allowed us, to quote some of Mrs. Smedes's amusing illustrations of negro comicality, negro pretentiousness, and negro fidelity. But the love and admiration which the writer feels for her father and her hero, justified as they are by his character and career, have to some extent} R^ia," NOVELS. If, as we believe, Miss Cotterell ia a new writer, we welcome her with much warmth into the ranka of novelists. Strange Gods (1), although it has certain very obvious faults, is without doubt a striking book, written throughout in a finished easy style whioh carries the reader pleasantly along, and tells the story with much vivacity and brilliancy. It is not very much of a story to tell, for it deals only with the life of Jenet Minors, of her engagement to Blase Chetwynd, the man she does not care for, and her runaway marriage with Tristram, the middle-aged scholar and recluse, whom she has learnt to love. Nor, except for the elopement, are the incidents in any way sensational; garden parties, picnics, and the ordinary events of country life are described, but they are described with a lightness and finish which in most oases leave nothing to be desired. The two principal characters, Blase and Jenet, are drawn with admirable truth and vigour; every scene in which they appear is instinot with life and reality, and every descriptive touoh is true to nature. Jenet herself is one of the most fascinating heroines we have seen for a long time; her simplicity, waywardness, and brightness, together with the depth and truth of her character, combine to make her a most enchanting being. The description and analysis of her nature, and of its gradual development, are sometimes quite masterly. Blase, too, is good. It is a very clever and striking study, this of the imperious, passionate young fellow who, although he loved Jenet madly, yet looked on her at firBt " merely as an adjunct to his own life, just a pretty desirable something that he wanted for his own," but who rises from this strong, but selfish and almost savage passion, through suffering, to the knowledge that the truest love contains within it the power of self-sacrifice. The love-making and-the conversations are all excellent. In the earlier part of the book J enet shows a delicious freshness and spirit, while her love scenes with Tristram are admirablo in their pathos and tenderness. The other characters vary considerably in merit. Evelyn Chetwynd, with his beauty, languor, self-satisfaction, and " onyx eyes full of the yearnings and passions of two romantic grandmothers and scores of other tender and eloquent things he had never dreamt of," is fair; Mr. Minors, too, is good ; Tristram, like his book, is conventional ; and the two old maids, Miss Cnrzon and Miss Sampson, are far too much alike in their sourness, coldness, and desire to make mischief. The authoress should work up the secondary characters with much more caro, so as to make them living individuals, and not types. Some of her slightly sketched characters, such as Lady Barbara Minors, are excellent. Sho errs, too, very gravely in the tone of her references to religion. They are ignorant and flippant, and it might be said of her, aa it is of one of her characters, that she is " not very clear on either the history or the peculiar tenets of Christianity." Miss Cotterell ought to know that to write as she does is not only to err against religion, but against art, which latter she will probably consider the severer criticism of the two. Mr. Blackmore has accustomed his readers to look in hia novels for great finish and really good and careful work, and in this respect no one will be disappointed by Kit and Kitty (2). There is a steady, workmanlike style about it which is certainly a contrast to that of the hurried, unfinished, sketchy books which many even of the better novelists of the present day shower upon the world. Mr. Blackmore's characters are carefully drawn ; every detail is attended to and, so far as possible, made to harmonise with the author's conception of each personage. In fact, this almost becomes a fault, for the characters are described in too great detail for the amount of action that is to be required of them ; the story is somewhat independent of the actors, who have all the qualities for taking part in the development of the plot, but, as a matter of fact, really influence it very little. Of the hero this is very specially true, but heroes are always diffi cu 11 people to manage, especially when they tell their own story. Still Kit is a very useless personage ; when " his Kitty," aB he is always calling her, disappears, he does nothing whatever to find her, in fact, he does his best to prevent her being found by always losing his head at the critical moment, rather after the manner of the heroes in various French novels; his outbursts of anger or of too great eagerness generally just prevent the revelation which he was hoping for. There is one moment, however, where he commands all our sympathy, and that is when he leads the villain Donovan three times round the room by the noso, after having previously put on a garden glove for the purpose. Mr. Blackmore is always at his best with his middle -claBs and poor people ; when he gets to the upper class the descriptions become rather wild and stagey, and his characters resemble more the lords and ladies of melodrama than those of real life. Uncle Corny, the market-gardener, is admirably drawn, so are all the minor folk of Sunbury, so is Sam Henderson; while, on the other hand, the Coldpeppers and Bnlwrags are all rather imaginary and unreal. The story turns on the love of Kit, the market-gardener's nephew, for Kitty, the daughter of a good but foolish scientific man, who has succeeded in making his own and his daughter's life miserable by marrying a second wife. This lady and her son Donovan are the villains of the story, and by their machinations poor Kit and Kitty are separated and made miserable. But the vengeance which overtakes them is both original and terrible, though it is, we suppose, probable that this is only the first of many such incidents, and that lepera will soon become as common in novels as clergymen who have doubts as to the truth of Christianity. Of the two the former are, perhaps, on the whole, preferable. The fault of the story lies in the utter absurdity of the device adopted to induce Kitty to leave her husband. It really would hardly pass muster in a farce, and it absolutely spoils what is otherwise the powerful and dramatic end of the book. Nor is Donovan's action at the last altogether in keeping with his character. But in spite of all criticism the book is an extremely good one, interesting, well written, and very pleasant to read. There is a delightful freshness and vigour about its tone, and the descriptions of the garden and the various incidents connected with market gardening are all very characteristic and good. Mr. Blackmore speaks of these things as one who knows, and there is in consequence a life about all his narrative which gives great charm to the book. There is a ring of truth and of reality about " Stepniak's" novel (3) whioh makeB it very impressive, whatever may be the feelings produced by the narrative and the condition of things (1) Strange Gods. By CONSTANCE QOTTKEELI,, Three Vols. Bentley. (2) Kit and Kitty: a Story of West Middlesex. By R. D. BLACKMOBE. Three Vote. Sampson Low. (3) The Careerfy a Nihilist. By STEPHIAK, Author of "Underground Walter Sootfc.