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Chapter XLIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2


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In 1830, Grote's father died, and the son was left free to act as he chose in political as well as commercial matters. It was the time of the Revolution of July in Paris, and of the beginning of the Reform agitation in England. Grote was well known in the City as a sound man of business, as well as an ardent politician, and his new increase of wealth caused him to be looked upon as a likely man for the representation of the City. But both his wife and himself desired to wait till the " History of Greece," which was to make his reputation, should have at least "begun to appear. Still, he became chairman for the Liberal Committee for the City of London, and kept himself in communication with the popular leaders all over the country. The year 1831 brought him much work and much anxiety, as was natural to so influential a reformer at so trying a time. " The year 1831," writes Mrs. Grote, "has been eventful, and to us excessively laborious. The state of politics continues lowering, though all parties expect to carry ' the bill.' Commerce is especially diseased; profits low, and confidence restricted." Next year, however, in spite of unheard-of difficulties, the Reform Bill was carried; and after the dissolution, Mr. Grote came forward as a candidate for the City. His election address is a vigorous example of the creed of the "Radical" of 1832 - at least of the Radical at the head of a great banking-house. He congratulated the constituency on the passing of the Reform Bill. The next thing, he thought, was to secure triennial elections and vote by ballot. The corrupt influence of the " oligarchical interest " was to be rectified at once; the Church of England was to be examined and reformed; the Taxes on Knowledge and the Corn Laws were to be removed; the East India Company was to be looked to; the Bank of England was to have the sole privilege of issuing notes in London; slavery was at once to be abolished in the colonies; law was to be simplified, education extended, the labouring classes improved and instructed, and the trade of the City of London to be specially attended to. This was the programme of the typical Radical of the year 1832. Not a very alarming one, certainly, as viewed in the light of history. Every important point on which Grote's address dwelt, except that of triennial Parliaments, has been handled by Parliament since 1832, and the decision of Parliament has in every point been as radical as he wished it to be, or more so; and many a measure that has been carried since then would have been regarded by the Radical of 1832 as chimerical and an impossibility.

The result of the election for the City, which was held in December, just after the dissolution, was to place George Grote at the head of the poll by a majority of 924 votes, his total being 8,788. Parliament met in February, and the interval was spent by the new member in carefully preparing a speech on the Ballot, the introduction of which he was to move for in March. The speech met with a success unequalled in the history of maiden speeches, and took rank in the minds of some experienced members, even in that of Mr. Speaker Abercrombie, as one of the two or three best speeches delivered in the House of Commons in that generation. His reputation was made, and within a year we hear of his being offered the important post of Chairman of the Committee on Sinecures, whose sittings resulted in 1,300 useless "places" being swept away. But, as is well known, the course of events during the life of the first Reformed Parliament was not satisfactory to the Ministerialists. It was the time of the Irish Coercion Bill, and of O'Connell's ascendency in the House of Commons. The time was lost in recrimination and fruitless concessions, and the English Radical party gradually fell away from a Ministry which preferred long Irish debates to the proper development of " reformed " principles at home. The result was a dissolution at the end of 1834, and Grote was returned again for the City. He, with the other Radicals, helped to carry the Amendment to the Address which turned out the Whig Ministry. It need not be said that previously he had been with them in their great measures, such as the Poor Law Amendment Act; and in the new Parliament he steadily supported those measures which either contributed, or were thought to contribute, to the interests of the newly enfranchised commercial and working classes. His chief effort was another Ballot speech, as long and remarkable as the first; but he could not help seeing that little by little the party was slipping away, and Whiggism reasserting itself against Radicalism. "I see what we are coming to, Grote," said Charles Buller in 1836; "in no very long time from this you and I shall be left to 'tell' Molesworth! " And, indeed, at the general election which followed the accession of Queen Victoria, Grote's original majority of nine hundred had dwindled down to twenty-three; and the Times, which in 1832 had been at the head of the reforming press, ticketed him as " the representative and peculiar organ of whatever is most chimerical in theory, most reckless in experiment, most fatal and revolting in hostility to our national institutions."

Certainly the current of affairs was not such as to please Grote, or to induce him to keep up his old interest in practical politics. A petition was talked of, and he protested that he would not spend time or money in defending his seat. " Our contemporary politics," he writes in October, 1838, "are in a state of profound slumber, from which, I fear, they are not likely to awake, except to cause us disgust and discouragement. There is nothing in them fit to occupy the attention of a commonplace but sincere patriot, much less of a philosopher." And in accordance with this loss of interest in politics came a renewed interest in books and abstract thought; letters to Mr. Cornewall Lewis, stuffed with Greek and logic; and intellectual converse with savants, French and English. In 1841, at the dissolution caused by Sir Robert Peel's victory over the Whig Ministry, Grote withdrew from Parliament altogether. He could not bear any longer to continue " an unavailing and almost solitary struggle in Parliament," and to sit among a party which, as he thought, was Liberal only in name. Lord John Russell came forward for the City in his place, and just succeeded; but a Conservative reaction had set in, and Peel returned to power. What immediately followed reads like a forecast of 1874. " The decrepitude of the Whigs having long been perceived," wrote Mrs. Grote in a letter to Mr. Senior, " their dissolution was beheld as all in the natural order of things; while the stepping in of the Tories resembled the quiet succession of the heir, on the death of a parent, to his estates and privileges.... Sydney Smith concurs with me in giving the Tories a run of six years before there is any fresh 'upset.' Now that the Whigs are down, everybody finds out how fitting it was that they should resign."

From this time onwards Grote was the man of letters, pure and simple. It is true he kept to his colours, politically; he posted, for instance, all the way from Cornwall to London to vote for Mr. Pattison, in an election for the City. But the " History of Greece " became practically what it had long been secretly, the object of his life. The first two volumes were brought out in March, 1846, and at once made a great stir in the world of scholars. " I have been familiar with the literary world," said Mr. Hallam, " for a very long period, and I can safely affirm that I never knew a book take so rapid a flight to the highest summits of fame as George's new 'History of Greece.' " He had letters from all quarters congratulating him, one of the most interesting feeing from Bishop Thirl wall, who frankly owned himself outdone by the new historian. He continued to work very steadily, seldom giving less than eight hours daily to the book, for by this time he had resigned all connection with the bank, and was free to study or write as he chose. The work went on so rapidly that in 1850 we hear of the ninth and tenth volumes being almost ready for the press, although the preparations of new editions of the early volumes kept pressing upon his time. From this date there is little in his life that need be recorded in a general History. His time of action was over; his opinions, philosophical as well as political, had been long formed; and his time was now incessantly spent in writing. The History grew apace. In April, 1853, the eleventh volume appeared, and on the 23rd December, 1855, the last proofs of the twelfth and last volume - that on which Grote had spent most time and trouble - were returned to the printer. " To me," said the Bishop of St. David's, in a letter to Grote, " that will be the most precious volume in my library.*' He was made a trustee of the British Museum, and in 1864 the much-coveted position of "Foreign Associate" of the French Institute was conferred upon him, in succession to Lord Macaulay. The post, however, in which he came most before the public eye was that of Vice-Chancellor of the University of London. Ever since the foundation of that body he had taken the most vivid interest in it, and in its history; he had been one of its earliest promoters, and one of its original senate. He had been possessed, in common with many of the Liberal party of his time, with an earnest desire to establish some university in England where the highest education should be given, wholly independently of religious denominations; as in 1827, when the plan first took actual shape, it was wholly out of the question to attack the monopoly of the Church of England in the older universities. The Gower Street institution was planned and carried out, and Grote, for the rest of his life, was with it heart and soul. In 1862, he was made Yice-Chancellor of the University of London, which by this time had become distinct from University College, and throughout his tenure of that office he strenuously endeavoured to carry out the original design of the university. In 1865 he finished his elaborate work on "Plato, and the other Companions of Sokrates," which, with the " Aristotle," was to form the supplement to the " History of Greece." Four years later his name was brought once more before the political world. Mr. Gladstone offered him a peerage, but, partly from the associations of his "radical" youth, and still more from the crowd of occupations with which his hands were full, he declined the offered honour. He had his work at the London University and the British Museum to attend to; "and," said he, "I am engaged in a work on Aristotle, forming a sequel to my work on Plato; and as I am thoroughly resolved to complete this, if health and energy be preserved to me, I feel that (being now nearly seventy-five) I have no surplus force for other purposes." The "Aristotle" came out, but not during the author's lifetime. In the spring of 1871 he began to decline rapidly. " Early in June a marked change supervened, and at the end of three weeks his honourable, virtuous, and laborious course was closed, by a tranquil and painless death, on the morning of the 18th of June, 1871." He was buried in Westminster Abbey, on the " learned side]" of Poet's Corner. " Camden and Casaubon look down upon the grave, and Macaulay lies a few feet distant."

As was said above, Grote was a man eminently representative of his age. For the first twenty years of his public life he was known as the "Philosophic Radical;" for the last twenty years he was known simply as the "Historian of Greece." But he was the same man throughout, and both his radicalism and his historical work were based on the same foundation, namely, the resolve to admit nothing, whether political institution or historical statement, without testing it by a positive standard. In politics, he was merciless in his application of the Benthamite standard of utility; in history, he was as merciless in his refutations of such writers as Mitford, by appealing to contemporary evidence. In politics, although he thought himself a failure, it is plain that to a great extent, and in the long run, he succeeded. The course of English politics during the last fifty years has in most essential points followed the line which Bentham laid down, and which Grote and his other pupils practically worked for. But Grote's success in history has been far more thorough than this. His enormous industry, his clear intellect, his sober sense, worked together to produce a book which among histories written by Englishmen can only be compared with that of Gibbon. No future historian of Greece, as has often been said, can help basing his work upon Grote's volumes; and no extension of our knowledge can have any other result than to show us how wisely and exhaustively Grote used the materials that were open to him. It is true that in the " History," as in the works on the Greek philosophers, the last touch is wanting; the glow of imagination is absent, or only visible now and then. One misses the magic play of genius which is above all things necessary to a historian of Greece. To write the history of the most poetical people the world has ever seen, a man must be himself a poet; and to criticise Plato adequately, one should start with some other design than that of proving that Plato was a Benthamite without knowing it. Few people who have read the " History of Greece " attentively can have helped regretting that the author's mind had not rather been turned to the study of the history of Rome. There, among the Scipios and the Catos, the Gracchi and the Caesars, he would have found characters more really congenial than among the impressionable, many-sided Athenians, " ever delicately moving through most translucent air." And yet, perhaps, it is ungrateful to say even this in judging the historian to whom every student owes so much. When all has been said that can be said against the " History," it remains a magnificent memorial of English work and modern knowledge; of work done and knowledge acquired in no favoured academic atmosphere, but amid the bustle of public life or in the solitude of the country, with no aim save the single aim of doing something for humanity.

Sir William Denison, a younger brother of the well- known and greatly respected Speaker of the House of Commons, succumbed to an attack of bronchitis in the autumn of this year. In a warlike generation Sir William, whether as a ruler or as a general, would have probably attained to high distinction; but his stern and imperious nature did not well adapt him to the democratic habitudes and general license of an age of peace; and though he tried hard to enter upon the paths of popularity, like other colonial governors, he was not pliable enough to succeed. But for this very reason, those who knew him well, and most of all those who served under him, treasure his memory with a reverence which, for them, no time can weaken. Denison was a man incapable of an equivocation, incapable of an act of meanness; high courage, justice, self-command, and indomitable perseverance, were stamped on every lineament of that severe and speaking countenance, and seemed to animate that compact and massive frame. His chief defect as a ruler was a proneness to be sarcastic and contemptuous, which he did not take pains enough to conceal; for though his contempt was seldom if ever directed against an object undeserving of it, yet the great severity of his natural character sometimes incapacitated him from seeing mitigating circumstances or features in the conduct or the person that he scorned. He was not known outside his own corps, the Royal Engineers, when, in 1846, Mr. Gladstone, then Colonial Secretary, having requested the commanding officer of the corps to recommend to him an engineer officer to succeed Sir Eardley Wilmot in the governorship of Tasmania, Sir John Burgoyne named Captain Denison. Appointed governor, he took out as his private secretary a brother officer, Charles Stanley, the youngest son of the Bishop of Norwich, a man whose genial qualities, sincerity, and genuine kindness were too soon lost to his friends by an untimely death. Since the year 1841, Tasmania had been made the sole receptacle of the convicts transported from Great Britain and Ireland. Each year between 4,000 and 5,000 criminals were landed on the shores of the colony; and although they were subjected to a strict and well-considered discipline, and life and property were - as the writer can attest from personal knowledge - on the whole wonderfully secure in every part of the island, yet there can be no question that to the labouring classes, and to children in every class, close contact with so many persons whose past lives were full of sinister and miserable experiences could not but tend to moral deterioration. This was keenly felt by a large and ever-increasing party among the colonists, and they commenced, in concert with the other Australian colonies (which at this time, with the exception of Western Australia, were all opposed to the admission of convicts), an agitation which aimed at inducing the mother country to abandon transportation to Australia altogether. Sir William Denison, on the other hand, regarding himself as an imperial officer, and the transportation of convicts to Tasmania as a part of the imperial policy towards the colony which he was sent to administer, had no sympathy with the views of the abolitionists; nor did he hesitate freely, and, perhaps, with something of contempt, to express his dissent from them. This attitude of their Governor provoked the colonists; and the consequence was that all through his term of office Denison, though himself one of the most high-minded and conscientious of men, was distrusted and disliked by the worthiest of the Tasmanian settlers. Yet he accomplished, in the eight years of his rule, much for the material rind moral welfare of the colony. He extended roads, founded a new dock at Hobart Town, promoted strenuously the education of the poor, and laboured perseveringly and successfully to place the Orphan School (a noble institution near Hobart Town, for the training and support of the orphaned and destitute children of convicts) on a sound footing of efficiency. In 1854, Sir William Denison was removed to Sydney, New South Wales, with the title of Governor- General of the Australian Colonies. The system of responsible government having been introduced in all our principal colonies about this time, the office of governor was shorn of much of its importance. Little more than routine executive duties are now left to the governor of a British colony. He " reigns, but does not govern;" and the uneventful period during which Sir William "reigned" at Sydney presented, we believe, little for his biographer to record. In 1860, he was appointed Governor of Madras. From the date of his return to England, in 1866, he did not emerge from a private station; but the clearness of his mind and the vigour of his character were well known to the Government; and he was appointed shortly before his death one of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the Pollution of English Rivers, a post well suited to his active and energetic temperament.

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