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Chapter XIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9


Deaths during the Year 1865 - Death of Leopold, King of the Belgians: His Life: His Connection with England - Death of Lord Palmerston: Account of his Career: His Early Life in Parliament: He is Tory till 1830: He then joins the Grey Ministry: Palmerston as Foreign Secretary: He becomes Premier: Summing up of his Character - Death of Cobden: Words of Mr. Bright on his Death: His Early Years: His share in the Repeal of the Corn Laws- Sir R. Peel's and Palmerston's Opinions - Cobden's General Views Success of his Free Trade Policy: Monster Subscription for him: Views on Peace and War: The French Commercial Treaty: Aims of his Life.
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Perhaps a greater number than usual of distinguished persons died in 1865. The names of President Lincoln, Lord Palmerston, Mr. Cobden, and Leopold I., King of the Belgians, will occur to every one. Of persons less widely famous, the English army lost one of its patriarchs in Viscount Combermere, and one of its most distinguished officers in General Sir George Brown; science lost Sir William Jackson Hooker; and popular scientific enterprise Sir Joseph Paxton and Sir John Richardson; the Roman Catholics of England lost their Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman; and literature lost its distinguished sons Charles Waterton and Isaac Taylor, and its still more distinguished daughter Mrs. Gaskell. Space does not allow us to give to all these the detailed notice which they deserve, but which perhaps many of them do not require. The names of many still survive in the memory of those whom they influenced during their life. The army is not likely to forget the venerable figure of the Constable of the Tower, the old man who as Sir Stapleton Cotton drove Marshal Soult from the heights of Orthes, and was thanked by Parliament for the capture of Bhurtpore. The successive International Exhibitions, and, above all, the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, are all modelled in the original Hyde Park Exhibition of 1851; and they keep alive, or ought to keep alive, the name of Paxton. All naturalists and all lovers of birds remember Waterton, the " Wanderer in South America," whose wise and amiable fancy it was to fill his park in Yorkshire with birds and animals of every kind, providing for-ach its proper home, and letting no gun or trap disturb their freedom. Isaac Taylor's " Natural History of Enthusiasm " belongs, perhaps, to a generation that has gone by; but the book made its mark, and many of the writers of our own day owe much to this explorer of out-of-the-way fields of thought. Mrs. Gaskell was, on the other hand, of the present, if any writer ever was; in the best sense she may be said to have hit the mind of her time. Her " Sylvia's Lovers" and " Wives and Daughters," which she did not live to finish, remain in the minds of thousands, and rank among the best, most genial, and most honest novels of this age.

But more remains to be recorded of some of those who died in this year - of those, that is to say, whose names fill a prominent part of the public history of the time. Of Lincoln enough has been already said. A word or two may be written about Leopold I., King of the Belgians, who, throughout his long life, was connected with England by political ties; who, as the uncle both of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, stood always, so to speak, near to the English throne; and who, for a short bright space of eighteen months, lived here as the husband of the Princess Charlotte. He was of the Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld family; was closely mixed up with the conduct of German affairs in the time of Napoleon, and after the Peace of Tilsit showed the adaptable nature of his character by becoming an ornament of the Court of the Tuileries. When the war broke out again, he sided with his country, and in 1814 entered Paris with the allied Sovereigns. In 1816, the first year of the Peace, having taken the English title of Duke of Kendal, he was married to the popular Princess Charlotte, only daughter of George IY., and heiress to the throne of England. Every one knows the melancholy story of her death, eighteen months after her happy marriage. Prince Leopold had the sympathies of all England, for not only was his loss the loss of the nation, but he had made himself a personage in the country, and his fine presence and popular ways had gained him many hearts. He remained at Claremont till 1831, when, after declining the Greek crown, he accepted the flattering invitation of the people of Belgium, fresh from their September revolution, and was elected King of the Belgians in the June of that year. He had by no means an easy task to settle himself on the throne; but once settled, he had an untroubled reign. He was a good King, but his name will be remembered less as that of the King of his own country than as that of a kind of general European referee. The fact is, that he supplied a want that the Cabinets of Europe often feel - the want of a man to whom to refer a question before it has grown into a quarrel. He was royal; his character stood very high; he was closely connected both with the English royal family and with that of Louis Philippe; yet he was not powerful enough to be suspected of wishing to turn the troubles of his neighbours to his own account. A Frenchman happily called him " le juge de paix de l'Europe; " and as such he played a far more important part than the King of the little country of Belgium could have been expected to play.

On the afternoon of the 18th of October in this year, the news arrived in London of the death of Lord Palmerston, which had taken place that morning at Brockett Hall, Hertfordshire. Had he lived two days longer, he would have been eighty-one years of age; but for some months the strength of the hale old man had been failing, and for a week it had been pretty well known that the end was near. Lord Palmerston had been for fifty years a personage of such importance in English and even European politics, that his death, however much expected, was deeply felt throughout all classes of English society. All alike regarded it as the end of a political period. What was to follow, some looked on with hope, others with dread, none with indifference.

It would be neither possible nor advisable to give in this history a very elaborate account of Lord Palmerston's life. It has been told in the history of English politics during the long half-century which followed the death of Pitt. During all these years he was in the front rank of English politicians; during many of them, the years of his tenure of the Foreign Office, to the nations of Europe England meant Palmerston. It will be enough, then, if, remembering his close connection with the general history of England for so long a time, we note briefly the outlines of his life and of his political character.

He was born in 1784, in Westminster, and was the eldest son of the second Viscount. His name was Henry Temple, and the titles to which he succeeded at his father's death, in 1802, were those of Viscount Palmerston of Palmerston, county Dublin, and Baron Temple of Mount Temple, county Sligo, in the peerage of Ireland. He died a member of the House of Commons, his Irish peerage not entitling him to a seat in the Upper House. He was educated at Harrow, where Byron was a schoolfellow of his; and then both at Edinburgh and Cambridge. He took his M.A. degree in 1806, from St. John's College; and immediately afterwards declared his bias for political life by contesting the University against the newly appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Henry Petty, afterwards Marquis of Lansdowne. The success which smiled on him in the future was absent here; he was beaten, not this year only, but the next, in his candidature for the University, and had to enter Parliament as a plain borough member, taking his seat for the close borough of Bletchingley in 1807. His advance was rapid. The next year saw him a Junior Lord of the Admiralty; and the next, 1809, Secretary-at-War, in place of Castlereagh. It sounds strange that, in the thick of the Napoleonic wars, the War Office of England should have found itself directed by a young man of twenty-five, with no experience of camps, and but little experience of public life. Yet so it was; and none of the Tory Premiers, from Mr. Perceval to the Duke of Wellington, from 1809 to 1828, was able to dispense with his services in that department. He showed, indeed, his best qualities in it, and developed them: he worked incessantly; he set confusion straight; he organised military finance; his ready sympathy and good-nature led him to a careful regard of the comforts and welfare of the soldiers. He proved himself, in other words, a first-rate departmental head. More than this, he carried out in his measures of military organisation - no doubt under Wellington's influence - the same theory of England's proper position which afterwards, when embodied in foreign policy, had such an effect on the conduct of public affairs. Partly from a still unextinguished fear of France, partly from being so long accustomed to war, partly, beyond doubt, from an unworthy fear of the consequences of general distress at home, the Tory leaders of 1816 and the following years kept up the army almost to a war footing. The War Minister was the mouthpiece of their counsels. " Would it," said Lord Palmerston, in 1816 - " would it be a wise or expedient course, under these circumstances, to abdicate the high rank we now maintain in Europe, to take our station amongst secondary powers, and confine ourselves entirely to our own island? n This view was the view he held, however much checked by colleagues and public opinion, till his death; and the view meant that diplomacy and military force were to continue to play into one another's hands. In this spirit the English War Office was conducted while Lord Palmerston held it; and though he seldom spoke on matters outside his department, on military questions he was always ready to speak and declare his views. He was not one of the extreme reactionists of those times, the Castlereaghs and the Sidmouths, who crushed the too real cries of distress by Peterloo massacres and tyrannical " Six Acts;" but we cannot clear him of the responsibility of acting with them as colleague. With them, too, he acted in the case where the Life Guards fired upon the people of London at the funeral of Queen Caroline. Throughout he acted, or allowed himself to act, as an agent of Castlereagh; abroad, dissenting in but a half-hearted way from the monstrous doctrines put forth by the European despots in the Congress of Lay bach; and at home supporting a policy not only of military predominance, but of military repression. But on one question his instincts got the better of him; on the Catholic question he was Liberal, though there, too, in a characteristic way. Indeed, before the question came prominently forward, he had been, if not Liberalised, at least Canningised. Canning's biographer has described his party as " a middle party, with ' ~No Reform ' inscribed on one side of its banner, and ' Free Trade and Catholic Emancipation ' on the other." Palmerston went with Canning for many years; and when Canning died Palmerston continued to hold his views. He did not take office under the Duke of Wellington; for one year he was in modified opposition. Then, in 1830, the Grey Ministry came into power; the long Tory reign (for Canning was, after all, a Tory) was broken, and the day of Whig Ministries dawned. Palmerston had been speaking often in the preceding session on foreign questions, keeping the unwilling Tory ministers up to their pledges in opposing the claims of the Bourbon usurper Miguel in Portugal, and in supporting the rights of Greece to her own territory. When Lord Grey came into office, it was with Lord Palmerston as Foreign Secretary.

A Liberal in the modern sense of the term, a nonintervention or commercial Liberal, Lord Palmerston never was; and hence his reign at the Foreign Office was a very different thing from that of many of the Foreign Ministers who succeeded him. Lord Grey's term of office ended in 1834; then followed a year of Tory power, under Sir Robert Peel; and in 1835 Lord Melbourne began his six years' Whig administration, during the course of which came the death of William TV. and the accession of Queen Victoria. Lord Palmerston succeeded, as a matter of course, to his old office, that of Foreign Secretary, and he found plenty of work. The Greek question, the Portuguese and Spanish questions, the Polish question, the Circassian question, had occupied him in his previous term of office. His treatment of them had made him known throughout Europe; while at home he had to bear the unceasing attacks of Mr. Urquhart, " the Russophobist," who at one time was for impeaching Palmerston on the charge of receiving bribes from the Czar. Now he found himself face to face with the Czar, and his gigantic game of chess with Nicholas forms, one may say, the remaining history of his foreign policy. So far as the Eastern question is concerned, that policy was inaugurated by the treaty in which the five great Powers, in 1841, agreed to a protectorate over Turkey, and culminated in the Treaty of Paris, in 1856, after the Russian War. As incidents in this general policy come his Persian manoeuvring in aid of Shah Muhammed, and his opposition to Meliemet Ali, Pasha of Egypt, in his designs upon the Turkish throne - pieces of policy successful and even brilliant at the time, but leading us in the one case to the disastrous Afghan War, with the Khyber Pass for its climax, and in the other to the war in the Crimea. Yet Palmerston did not oppose Nicholas when opposition might have helped the cause of progress and civilisation. He let the Czar extinguish Poland in 1830; and he spent tens of thousands of English lives and a hundred millions of money in preventing him giving the coup de grāce to the effete Ottoman Empire in 1854.

Sir Robert Peel became Prime Minister for the second time in 1841, and Lord Palmerston went into opposition with his colleagues. As yet he was not, however, the leader of his party in the House of Commons; Lord John Russell - partly no doubt from the weight of his family name, and partly from his many illustrious services to the popular cause - still had, and till 1855 continued to have, precedence over him. But Lord John Russell, whose forte never been criticism, left the House before the session ended, and gave over his functions for a time to Lord Palmerston. But few important performances marked the new part that Lord Palmerston played. In those days at least he preferred to keep to foreign policy; he was a born diplomatist; he liked to have his finger, or at least his eye, upon every political transaction from China to Peru. When he went back again, in '42, to the post of Opposition critic of the foreign policy of the Government, he found congenial occupation. The Foreign Minister was Lord Aberdeen, the best, but hardly the wisest, and certainly not the most successful, of men. It was the time of the " Ashburton Capitulation," the treaty with the United States which settled the boundary of Canada and the state of Maine. That treaty was neither the first nor the last treaty that has been signed between England and the United States; and its characteristics were those of almost all the treaties from the days of Lord Cornwallis to the days of the Marquis of Ripon. That is, it gave everything and took nothing. It achieved without arbitration what was achieved for the San Juan Boundary with arbitration; and Lord Palmerston was very angry. His speech in condemnation of the treaty will always be held to be one of his principal parliamentary utterances. But on the great Free Trade question he went cordially with Sir Robert Peel; and, indeed, these years of non-official life, from 1841 to 1846, are among those to which a biographer of Lord Palmerston looks back with the greatest pleasure. He did good work by his speeches and votes, and his exuberant activity - " mischievous activity," as Mr. Roebuck called it - was quieted for a time. He came in again and took his old place when Lord John Russell succeeded Peel; and thenceforward till his death, except during Lord Derby's two short reigns, and during a few months in 1851, he was in power. Cracow annexation, Spanish marriages, the general revolutionary disturbances of 1848 - these were what occupied his official thoughts while he was at the Foreign Office. He was Home Secretary under Lord Aberdeen; and when that Ministry fell, the veteran Palmerston, seventy years of age, and a member of Parliament of forty-nine years' standing, became Prime Minister. His after-history is too well known ta require much comment. His too ready recognition of the author of the coup d'etat had cost him his seat in the Cabinet in 1851; in 1858, a bill, which some called truckling to the same man, cost him and his Ministry their offices. This was the "Conspiracy to Murder" Bill, aimed against persons like Orsini. It was lost by a majority of nineteen, and Palmerston resigned. He came in again, after the Derby Ministry had been beaten on the Reform Bill, in June, 1859; and from that time till his death he continued to be Prime Minister.

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Pictures for Chapter XIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9

King Leopold I
King Leopold I >>>>
Funeral of Lord Palmerston
Funeral of Lord Palmerston >>>>

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