HL Deb 28 March 1889 vol 334 cc993-7

My Lords, since we last met, death has been active and has withdrawn from the stage of public life two men very different in many respects, but with whom and whose acts and whose daily life we were familiar. Mr. Bright's reputation does not belong to this House, yet it would not be fitting that we should go to our business without one word to express our emotion and our grief for the great bereavement which the nation has suffered. My Lords, this would not be the time to review Mr. Bright's public action. It would be impossible to do it without entering into those controversial questions which are little suited to an occasion like this, and we are too near to the scene of dispute and to the passions of the disputants to be able to pass that impartial judgment which posterity and the issue of events will some day pass on the achievements of his political career. But we are not too far distant to be able to admire and regret the man, to appreciate his powers, and to venerate the motives by which he was actuated. I think, besides what judgment may be passed upon his public achievements, there are two special characteristics for which he will be admired and noted in history. In the first place, he was the greatest master of English oratory that this generation has produced, or I may perhaps say several generations back. I have met men who have heard Pitt and Fox, and in whose judgment their eloquence at its best was inferior to the finest efforts of John Bright. At a time when much speaking has depressed and almost exterminated eloquence, he maintained robust and intact that powerful and vigorous style of English which gave fitting expression to the burning and noble thoughts he desired to express. Another characteristic for which I think he will be famous is the singular rectitude of his motives, the singular straightness of his career. He was a keen disputant, a keen combatant; like many eager men, he had little tolerance of opposition. But his action was never guided for a single moment by any consideration of personal or party selfishness. He was inspired by nothing but the purest patriotism and benevolence from the first beginning of his public career to the hour of its close. Before I sit down I must say a word as to another public man, of whom death has robbed us most sadly, and most unexpectedly, within the last few days. The Duke of Buckingham was well known in this House and greatly valued. He had not long occupied that Chair; but he had been in it a sufficient time to conciliate the admiration of all for his strict impartiality, his earnest and assiduous attention to his duties, and his grasp and comprehension of even the smallest details that were brought under his notice. He filled an office of very great importance with uprightness and diligence and with most beneficial effect, and he will long be missed by all those who come to this House for the discharge of the important duties that were committed to his care.


My Lords, your Lordships will allow me to follow in a few short sentences the graceful and touching allusions which the noble Marquess has made to the great losses which we have sustained since our last meeting. The noble Duke, as the noble Marquess stated, has passed away by a sudden and unexpected death. I was not, like the noble Marquess, a political friend and I was not an intimate personal friend, of the noble Duke. But a good many years ago I had the honour of being associated with him upon a Commission of considerable difficulty and importance, and I can say with truth that I never met a man more industrious and more perfectly honourable. There is another matter about which I wish to say one word. When Lord Redesdale died the noble Marquess proposed the Duke of Buckingham as his successor I moved an Amendment proposing another Peer, one who had been a colleague of mine, but who no longer agrees in politics with me; and I stated the reasons why I thought his claims fitted him for the post. That circumstance makes me specially desirous of saying to your Lordships, what it is now impossible for me to say to the noble Duke himself, that since his acceptance of the office, from my own observation, and from what I have heard from others, nothing but the most favourable criticism has been passed, either by Members of this House or by the public, on the manner in which he discharged the duties which your Lordships imposed upon him. My Lords, the noble Marquess alluded to the loss which this nation has sustained in the death of Mr. John Bright, a death which has filled the land with gloom. The noble Marquess—I thought most properly and judiciously—avoided entering into any great detail with regard to his life and career. For myself, I feel it would be idle to dwell upon some of his chief characteristics—his loyalty to his Sovereign, his devotion to his country, and his enthusiasm for everything that he thought consistent with right and truth. The noble Marquess has paid a due compliment to his extraordinary powers of eloquence, to the manner in which, Wending close reasoning with illustration, pathos with humour, he obtained a hold over those whom he addressed which has hardly ever been surpassed. I feel that it would be equally useless for me to allude to his great moral courage, to his dignified simplicity, and, as the noble Marquess says, to the straightness of the course which he ran. There is one point on which, perhaps, I may say a word, for I know more than some of your Lordships about it. I had known Mr. Bright between 40 and 50 years. That acquaintance, with other circumstances, prevented my ever feeling that prejudice which there is no doubt at one time was felt against Mr. Bright. I always felt for him great esteem and regard, and I might mention that even as far back as 1853 I asked Lord Aberdeen why he did not invite Mr. Bright at that time to join the Government. My personal and intimate acquaintance chiefly dates from the time when Mr. Bright took office under Mr. Gladstone. I speak in the presence of noble Lords who are Cabinet Ministers, and of noble Lords who have been Cabinet Ministers. I do not know whether they will agree with me as to one point; but I have found, as a rule, with very few exceptions indeed, that that peculiar sort of intimacy, that sort of esprit de corps, which naturally springs up among men assembled to carry on most important business under the pressure of very great responsibility, has always made me feel a greater liking and a greater esteem than I previously had for those with whom I was associated. Certainly, there never was a case in which this was more so than as regards Mr. Bright. Mr. Bright, quite independent of his powers of eloquence, was a most useful man in the Government to which he belonged. His knowledge and his sympathies were hardly common to the run of English politicians. He had admirable good sense; and, I may say also, it is perhaps remarkable, considering his vigour and the enthusiasm of his character, how great was the moderation of the advice which he gave to his colleagues. I never knew a Member of a Cabinet who acted more as a peacemaker among his colleagues. It takes many years to build up a reputation such as Mr. Bright's. It is a proud thing for a man to have done so. But I must say that it is equally creditable to the nation to which he belonged that they should so unanimously appreciate the reputation which he thus made.