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108

WIT AND POLITICS.

country gentlemen could not believe that this consummate wit was based upon the most solid sense; could not understand that logical reasoning was not incompatible with arrowy keenness of satire. Again : Canning

. was one of the most reckless of politicians. Lord Beaconsfield has always kept his epigrammatic powers well under control ; has never, or seldom, let them loose when or where they could injure himself or his party. But Canning flung his wit at everybody, as a child throws a handful of fireworks among a crowd, and cared not to remember that some of those whom he assailed might hereafter be useful as friends or formidable as foes. Pitt, whose favourite disciple he was, suspected him of several attacks

upon

himself during the dull reign of the Addington Cabinet of mediocrities. That he should have risen to power,

in spite of the vindictive feelings he so carelessly provoked, is a significant testimony to the real force and weight of his character, as well as to the conspicuous importance which, in a parliamentary Government, attaches to rhetorical ability.*

)

* In Mr. Plumer Ward's novel of De Vere,' Canning is elaborately portrayed under the name of Wentworth. “It is not easy,” says the novelist, “to describe this amiable and accomplished person. His mind was an assemblage of all that could excite, and all that could soothe; his heart, the seat of an ambition, belonging, as it were, to himself; equally above stooping to court a people, and which in fear of either could affright. With all this his feelings were attuned to friendship, and his intellect to the pleasures of elegant cultivation. Thus he shone alike in the tumult of party, and the witchery of letters. In these last, he had been beautifully distinguished, and had had many amiable associates, before he acquired his political eminence.

“In the senate, his eloquence rose like a mountain river, taking its rise from reason, but swelling its impetus by a thousand auxiliary streams of wit and imagination, which it gathered on the way. It is, indeed, difficult to say whether his wit or his reason predominated; for such was the effect of both united, that never was reason so set off by wit, or wit so sustained by reason. The one was a running fire, flashing from right to left over the whole field of argument, so as to embarrass and paralyze his antagonists; while the other, when seriousness was resumed, struck down everything that opposed, with the force of thunder (a).

CANNING'S DOMESTIC POLICY.

109

George Canning can hardly be called a great statesman. His domestic policy was never very clearly defined. It depended too much on the chances and changes of the hour, and showed an ignorance or a want of fundamental principles. His conduct was always influenced by a double current of feeling; reactionary at home, he was liberal abroad. Allowance must be made for the fact that he was brought up in the school of Pitt in Pitt's later period, when that Minister had discarded the progressive

“But he had a more powerful recommendation still to the favour of his auditors, whether in the senate or elsewhere. His politics, as his heart, were truly, I might say insularly, British ; and though he contemplated and understood the Continent as well as any, and better than most who went before him, of the Continent it was his principle to steer clear, except in so far as it was connected with Britain. This did not fail to 'buy him golden opinions with all sorts of persons'; and he wound up all by a staunch adherence to his personal friends, not one of whom he had ever been known to fail, or to abandon. This made him the most loved for his own sake, of all the leaders of his time out of the House, while in it he reigned without struggle or compeer,-nihil simile aut secundum.

(a) Moore, who heard Canning speak on Lord John Russell's Reform Motion, April 25th, 1822, says:-"He far surpassed every thing I had expected from him. It was all that can be imagined agreeable in oratory ; nothing, certainly, profound or generalising; or grand or electric; but for good taste, for beauty of language, for grace, playfulness, and all that regards manner and display, it was perfect.”—Memoirs of Thomas Moore,' ed. by Earl Russell, iii. 346.

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IJO

CULTURE AND CONSERVATISM.

tendencies of his earlier career. And it may also be conceded that, towards the close of his life, he gave indications of the adoption of broader views and more generous sympathies. But for the most part he figured as an opponent of reform, whether civil or religious. We do not think his heart was in this work. It was forced upon him, we suspect, by the exigencies of his position. Perhaps we may fairly speak of him, in his later days, as a Liberal wearing Tory colours; as a general who armed his troops to defend fortresses which he wished to see captured.

On the other hand, the effect of culture, at least of a special kind of literary culture, is undoubtedly conservative. The imagination, touched by the picturesque associations that invest ancient institutions, so acts upon the judgment that it has neither the will nor the power to rightly estimate their defects. The tower may be a ruin; but who would demolish it when, with its garniture of wild flowers and ivy leaf, it forms so romantic an object ? Much must be forgiven, however, to the Minister who so boldly assailed and broke down the power of the Holy Alliance * ;

Mr. Canning had been, from his first introduction into Parliament, a follower of Pitt, and had po political connection with the Whigs. He was a determined opponent of Parliamentary Reform, and had defended the existing constitution of the House of Commons in some of his most elaborate and effective speeches. But he was a man of far more knowledge and capacity than Lord Castlereagh; of a more elastic understanding and of a more independent judgment. He could appreciate more quickly and truly the changes in the circumstances of the times, and adapt himself to them with greater readiness. His views of foreign politics were more national, and less identified with those of the great despotic Courts—with that system which, in the phraseology of the day, was called the Holy Alliance. His political connection, moreover, lay among persons of more liberal views in commercial and financial affairs.”—Sir G. CORNEWALL LEWIS, • Administrations of Great Britain,' p. 428.

* 66

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CANNING’S FOREIGN POLICY.

CANNING

III

a

sion;

to the Minister who recognised the duty of England to promote the diffusion of free institutions; to the Minister who delivered Portugal from the disgrace of a Bourbon inva

to the Minister who assisted the American colonies of Spain in asserting their independence; to the Minister who emancipated the Hellenic people. Rightly has it been said that no English statesman of modern times has left on the Continent of Europe a name so closely identified with a great and generous policy. No English statesman has so clearly perceived that the true interests of Great Britain are indissolubly intervoven with the interest of freedom, truth, and justice. And our foreign policy can never be worthy of a free and powerful people except when it works on the lines laid down by Canning, and aims at the objects which to Canning were so dear. *

George Canning was born in London on the 11th of April, 1770. His father, a man of some literary ability, had led a chequered and romantic life; had been a barrister, a poet, a pamphleteer, and a wine merchant, and in each capacity had failed. His mother, Miss Costello, had married this clever, careless, unfortunate " ne'er-do-well” in 1768. She came of a respectable Irish family, and possessed considerable personal attrac

* Lord Dalling, no incompetent critic, describes Canning's foreign policy as "a policy for giving England a great and proud position,--for giving to Englishmen a glorious and respected name; for safeguarding our shores by the universal prestige of our bravery and our power ; for limiting the ambition of rival states, without needlessly provoking their animosity; for showing a wish to conciliate wherever moderation is displayed, and for displaying a resolution to resist when conciliation is repulsed—a great policy, with which the people of England will ever sympathise, and by which the permanent interests of England will best be preserved.”

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CANNINGʻS MOTHER.

tion. A year after her son's birth she became a widow ; and in order to support herself and child adopted the stage as a profession. Her first appearance was made at Drury Lane, on the 6th of November, 1773, in the character of “Jane Shore." But, though a beautiful woman, she proved to be an indifferent actress, and failing to gain the applause of metropolitan audiences, she limited her ambition to the provinces. Unfortunately for herself, she came into contact with a handsome dissipated actor and manager, named Reddish, whom she was induced to marry. His career of profligacy and drunken excess was terminated by brain disease, a few years after their marriage, and he had made her so unhappy by his life that she had no cause to regret his death. Continuing to perform at provincial theatres Mrs. Reddish found her way to Plymouth, where she made the acquaintance of a Mr. Hunn, a respectable silk mercer. He made her an offer of his hand, and it was accepted. But this third marriage proved as unfortunate as her preceding ventures. Mr. Hunn failed in business, and his wife was compelled to return to the boards. He, too, attempted the stage; but with such ill-success that he was glad to retire into a mercantile situation. In this he died, leaving his widow with two daughters and a son.

George Canning, meanwhile, had been rescued from a life of poverty and constant change by the benevolence of an uncle, Mr. Stratford Canning, a banker and an old Whig, who took charge of the boy on condition that he was withdrawn from intercourse with his mother's connections. He settled upon him a small estate, which

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