« ElőzőTovább »
more than usually momentous announce ment to make, gave notice that the government would forthwith come to the House to ask for exceptional supplies. That was all he said, but as seeming to confirm the news which the evening papers were blazoning forth, it was regarded as certain that the country was actually on the brink of war. Various attempts were made to draw further information; but Sir Stafford Northcote with grave face and solemn mien declined to be drawn.
After this the House, in accordance with its manner, took up the next business, which was the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the best means of conducting public business. To Sir Stafford Northcote as leader fell the duty of making the proposal, which he did in his most matter-of-fact way, as if the echo of the Russian cannon approaching Constantinople had not just been heard in the House. He resumed his seat, and it seemed that matters would go forward in the ordinary course till the hour of adjournment. Sir Stafford was sitting in his usual position on the bench, with arms folded and head downcast, when a letter was handed along the bench till it reached his hand. As he read it, his carefully cultured imperturbability gave way, and he turned and spoke in hurried whisper to Sir Michael Hicks Beach, who sat on one side of him, and Mr. W. H. Smith on the other. The still crowded House looking on and marvelling what this might portend, beheld Sir Stafford rise and hurry out, followed by all the Cabinet ministers present. It was clear that something momentous had happened to demand this instant summoning of a Cabinet Council. What it was leaked out drop by drop in the course of the next few days. But the full story, with Lord Beaconsfield's figure introduced, is told for the first time in Northcote's diary.
The government had received informa: tion that led them to fear that a private arrangement about the Straits would be made between the Turks and the Russians to the exclusion and the detriment of other powers. This was on the Wednesday, and at a Cabinet Council it was decided to ask for a vote of credit, and forthwith to order the fleet to proceed to the Dardanelles. A message conveying this order was sent to Admiral Hornby, and Sir Stafford Northcote, when he took his seat in the House on Thursday afternoon, knew that the fleet was already on its way. The message that came to him on
the Treasury bench, which led to his sud. den departure and thrilled the House with a sense of fresh mystery and apprehension, was a telegram from Mr. Layard announcing that their first impression was entirely mistaken, that the terms of the bases of peace had been agreed to, the final one being that the question of the Straits should be reserved for settlement, not between czar and sultan, but by a Congress. "After a hasty consultation with those of our colleagues who were in the House of Commons," Northcote writes in this interesting, but in Mr. Lang's book undated, entry, "I went up to Downing Street, taking Smith with me. We found Lord Beaconsfield in bed, but quite able to talk over the matter with us. The result was, that we agreed to stop Admiral Hornby before he entered the Dardanelles, where he had been led to expect that he might find orders. Smith despatched an Admiralty telegram at once. It was not in time to stop the fleet, but it brought it back again to the entrance of the Strait." What a picture is here for the hand of the historical painter-Northcote and Mr. Smith bursting into Lord Beaconsfield's bedroom with the news that the British fleet had been sent on a fool's errand; Dizzy sitting up in bed, peradventure in a nightcap, discussing the direful news, and W. H. Smith finally penning the telegram that was to bring back the fleet just as the delighted crews, coming in sight of the Dardanelles, were sharpening their cutlasses and training their guns.
The last touch of absurdity was given to a really critical situation by the arrival on the next day of a correction of Layard's telegram. It was not between the emperor and the Congress that the question of the Straits was to be settled, but between the emperor and the sultan. "How we gnashed our teeth!" writes the gentle diarist. The episode was celebrated in the House of Commons in a verse which had great vogue, though probably Stafford Northcote never saw it:
When Government ordered the Fleet to the
And the Russians were not in the slightest appalled.
And every one says who has heard the debates,
"It's the Cabinet now, not the Fleet, that's in straits."
The post of financial secretary to the Treasury, which Stafford Northcote took
on being elected for Stamford in 1859, is | one that does not fill a large place in public estimation. But it is of prime importance, and has in several modern instances proved the pathway to the highest ministerial post. The financial secretary is practically the business manager of the government in the House of Commons. He edits the orders of the day, is a sort of fag for ministers in charge of bills, and, moreover, has at the Treasury, especially at the approach of budget day, an enormous amount of office work. There could be no better training for a young minister, no post that sooner finds out a man whether he be worth anything or nothing. Stafford Northcote, trained already in the hard school of Mr. Gladstone's workshop, took naturally to the business, and more than justified Disraeli's prescience in selecting him for the post. He was brought early to the front in debate on financial affairs, venturing, not without some shaking in his shoes, to stand up against Mr. Gladstone. This was in 1861, when the famous budget involving the reduction of the paper duties was brought in by Mr. Gladstone. It was in this debate there passed the delightful little correspondence between the late Lord Derby and Lord Palmerston. There was a question whether the budget, of which the secret had been well kept, would deal with the tea duty or the paper duty. Just before Mr. Gladstone rose, a messenger brought to the Treasury bench a note from Lord Derby addressed to the premier. "My dear Pam," the note ran, "what is to be the great proposal to-night? Is it to be tea and turn-out?" Lord Palmerston, reaching out for a sheet of note-paper, promptly wrote back: My dear Derby, you are quite wrong. It is not tea and turn-out; it is to be paper and stationary.
mained with the government, and was
I might have sung some maiden's wrongs,
I cannot sing of Mary Loring.
These records of his journeyings in foreign parts are among the pleasantest reading in Mr. Lang's book, displaying keen observation, love of nature, a gentle humor, and no inconsiderable literary ability.
When, in 1874, the tide turned again, and the Conservatives came in with a majority that for the first time in the generation placed them in power as well as in office, Stafford Northcote reached his predestined post as chancellor of the exSir Stafford made a speech in opposing chequer. From this date up to the session the budget which secured for him a fore- of 1877, when, in succession to Mr. Dismost position, ardent friends on the front raeli, he assumed the leadership of the bench and its neighborhood comparing House of Commons, runs a period that him with "Gladstone at his best without may be reckoned as the happiest and most Gladstone's temper." After this his ad- prosperous of his public career. He was vance was steady, and even rapid. In always better as lieutenant than captain, 1866, Lord Derby coming in, Northcote ever liking something or somebody other became president of the Board of Trade, than himself to lean against. He started with a seat in the Cabinet. Following on in his new position with one inestimable the secession of Lord Cranborne, General advantage he was personally liked and Peel, and Lord Carnarvon from a Con-respected in the House, much in the same servative government that had carried a way as is Lord Hartington, even a nearer Reform Bill going far beyond that of Lord parallel being found in the case of Mr. W. John Russell, which a year earlier they H. Smith. When the House of Commons had combined to defeat, Northcote, con- likes a man he may, if he has tact and verted by Disraeli's predominance, re- ability, do as he pleases with it. But the
Mr. Bradlaugh offered to take the oath. Another committee was appointed which denied him this privilege. He insisted upon his right. Sir Henry Wolff came to the front, gallantly throwing his body across the passage by which Mr. Bradlaugh would have advanced to the table, and eighteen days after, having seconded the motion to refer the case to a select committee, Stafford Northcote seconded a motion by Sir Henry Wolff declaring Mr. Bradlaugh's seat "vacant as if he were dead." A terrible Nemesis lurked under this action, for out of it was born the fourth party that finally wrecked him, driving him first out of the House of Commons, and finally hustling him out of the ministry.
times were against Northcote. Had he laugh did not belong to the class of come into the office in 1874, matters persons exempted by law from taking the would have turned out very differently. oath as a preliminary to taking a seat The country was weary of the pegging in the House of Commons. Thereupon away that, during the previous six years, had been going on under the dictatorship of Mr. Gladstone. It yearned for rest, and sent to the House of Commons a body of representatives that faithfully reflected its mood. Stafford Northcote, with his kindly ways, his little waggeries, his humdrum speech, his sound judgment, and his irreproachable character, would have been just the man for the sessions of 1874-5. But these fell to the lot of Disraeli, and poor, belated Stafford Northcote was appointed to ride upon the whirlwind and direct the storm that filled the House of Commons in the sessions of 1877, 8, and 9. Abroad, Europe was in flames, all the nations watching the desperate fight between Russia and Turkey, England standing through weeks and months on the very What Stafford Northcote thought and verge of war. At home trade was bad, wrote during the dark period that culmibudgets disappointing, the people discon-nated in a memorable scene one June tented, the Parliament already past its prime. In the House of Commons there were nightly wrangles with the Irish obstructionists, suspensions of members, twenty-six hours' sittings, and chaos generally. Still, Northcote had the strong hand of Lord Beaconsfield behind him, a majority that to the last presented an unbroken front on critical divisions, and, more precious than all, a loyal and united comradeship on the Treasury bench.
evening in the session of 1885, when Sir Michael Hicks Beach deserted him and joined the mutineers under Lord Randolph Churchill, his biographer has found it necessary to omit from his record. Though this was imperative, it is none the less a pity, since it leaves blanks in the most interesting portions of the story. Here and there in the emasculated record there are slight hints of the frame of mind in which Sir Stafford approached his diary. On the 10th of June, 1885, Mr. Gladstone resigned, having been defeated on Sir Michael Hicks Beach's amendment to the budget. Lord Salisbury, after some hesitation, decided to take office, albeit in a minority. On the 13th of June Northcote writes in his diary:
this evening told me of the wish of the With some of them it is a wish to get rid of Carlton that I should go to the other House.
me. With others it is anxiety for my health.
Much worse things befell him in the closing chapter of his life which opened with the Parliament of 1880. At the general election the Conservative party had received a crushing blow, and the whirligig of time once more brought Mr. Gladstone on to the Treasury bench with a majority greater than ever. Stafford Northcote took up the leadership of the opposition, and at the outset decidedly scored. It is true, though now generally forgotten, that he stumbled under compulsion into the position he assumed in respect of the Bradlaugh incident. When, on the 3rd of May, 1880, the first working day in the new Parliament, Mr. Bradlaugh presented himself and claimed the right to make affirmation, Lord Frederick Caven dish, on behalf of the government, moved the appointment of a select committee to I have [he writes] offered either to do this consider the matter and report. Stafford or go to the Upper House, taking the India Northcote, as leader of the opposition, thinks best. I have not much heart in the Office. I have offered to do whatever he seconded the motion, and it seemed at the matter. This has apparently been my last time as if the incident had closed in night in the House of Commons. I have sat orderly fashion. The committee was ap-in it rather more than thirty years, and it has pointed, met, and decided that Mr. Brad- become part of my life.
Two days later Lord Salisbury proposed that he should take the post of first lord of the Treasury and lead the Commons. On this there is a pathetic entry in the diary, showing how nearly the wounded heart had come to breaking.
As it turned out, he visited the House | call, he died - the only dramatic personal once again, entering quietly from behind incident in a placid life. the speaker's chair at half past four on the afternoon of the 19th June. His friends Stafford Northcote was a good man on the back beaches caught sight of him rather than a great one. As Mr. Lang and raised a cheer. It was taken up below finely says in the introduction to his biogthe gangway, where at that time the Irish raphy, there were no shining peaks nor members and the fourth party sat to- unfathomed depths in his mind; he was gether. From the benches which the Lib- especially equable. Equability is a great erals thronged, jubilant though defeated, gift in the House of Commons, which, applause burst forth, and for several mo- prone to be storm-tossed, likes to find a ments the House rang with cheers. This leader who stands unmoved. Mr. Disraeli was the parting farewell. Sir Stafford had this gift, and Mr. Gladstone has it Northcote passed out never to return. not. Stafford Northcote, thanks to a genHe forthwith took his seat in the House tle nature and supreme sweetness of of Lords as Earl of Iddesleigh, holding Cabinet rank with the honorable but not physically or mentally exhausting post of first lord of the Treasury.
He was practically shelved, and would have been comparatively happy had his life now quietly ebbed out. When, how ever, the Conservative government, allied with Lord Hartington's party, were confirmed in power after the general election of 1886, Lord Iddesleigh, always ready to serve, accepted the Foreign Seals. Once more times were quieter, and if he had been left alone he had still another chance. But the malign influence of the fourth party still pursued him. When, on the eve of Christmas, 1886, Lord Randolph Churchill threw up his office as chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the House of Commons, a reconstruction of the ministry became necessary. Stafford Northcote was, as usual, promptly to the fore, ready to sacrifice himself, if that were any use to the party. It would have been bad enough if his offer had been accepted in the usual form, and decent excuse made in the public ear for getting rid of the faithful servant of thirty years. As it happened, he, in common with the million readers of the penny press, learned from an outside source that his resignation had been accepted, and that his career was closed. No murmur escaped his lips. The news was confirmed in the afternoon by a telegram from Lord Salisbury, followed by a letter received on the next morning. To this Lord Iddesleigh replied that he cheerfully accepted the premier's decision.
In the next week he went up to London to pack up his papers at the Foreign Office. Thence he walked across Downing Street to see Lord Salisbury, doubt less with intent to assure his noble friend that it was all of "no consequence." There, sitting in an anteroom waiting his
temper, had it in large degree. It was
But equability is, after all, superficial. Disraeli was equable and something more; Northcote was equable, but there was something lacking; and when storms broke, his equability turned out to be painfully like weakness. He was prudent, experienced, suavely wise, but not strong. An excellent pilot in moderately fair weather, but, as was shown when the fourth party grew into full development, not the pilot who could weather the storm. As he once half humorously, wholly pathetically said, he was " lacking in go." The House esteemed him personally liked him, probably beyond all others but, though he was nominally leader through three sessions, it was really never led by him.
He was in no degree a Parliamentary orator, though, as Disraeli once in conversation with him shrewdly argued, that is no disadvantage to a leader of the House of Commons. Disraeli's idea, which he certainly carried out in his own case, was that the leader of the House should be, not unable, but unwilling to speak. Stafford Northcote had a logical mind, and was lucid alike in the arrangement of his argument and in its setting forth. But be was not what is known in the House of Commons as an attractive speaker, much
less an orator. His abounding good sense | the memory of the great emperor, and also prevented him from essaying parts he was to the little marble statuette of him on not qualified to fill. I do not remember the nursery chimneypiece. It stood with his closing any of his more important folded arms contemplating the decadence Parliamentary speeches with attempt at of France, black and silent and reproachperoration. He just talked to the House, ful. France was no longer an empire, perhaps not without suspicion of prosi- only a kingdom just like any other counness, and when he came to the end of what try; this fact I and the cook bitterly rehe had to say, or found his audience yawn-sented. Besides the statuette there was ing, he stopped. He had a good voice, a snuff-box, belonging I know not to which in marked degree shared his characteristic of equability. His gestures whilst speaking were few and mechanical. His principal one was imitated from the worst in usage by Mr. Disraeli. Sometimes, in comparatively involved passages of his speech, whilst thinking out his argument, Mr. Disraeli had acquired a habit of pinning his elbows to his sides, and waving out his open hands, as if he were splashing some one with water. Northcote picked up this trick, and used to enforce his argument with its inadequate assistance.
The House of Commons, to tell the truth, did not particularly care for his ordered speech; but it had thoroughly gauged his character, and held him in higher esteem and in warmer affection than, in his time, it has bestowed upon much more brilliant men.
HENRY W. Lucy.
From Macmillan's Magazine.
I BEGAN life at five or six years old as a fervent Napoleonist. The great emperor had not been dead a quarter of a century when I was a little child. He was certainly alive in the hearts of the French people and of the children growing up among them. Influenced by the cook we adored his memory, and the concierge had a clock with a laurel wreath which from some reason kindled all our enthusiasm.
As a baby holding my father's finger I had stared at the second funeral of Napoleon sweeping up the great roadway of the Champs Elysées. The ground was white with new-fallen snow and I had never seen snow before; it seemed to me to be a part of the funeral, a mighty pall indeed spread for the obsequies of so great a warrior. It was the snow I thought about, though I looked with awe at the black and glittering carriages which came up like ships sailing past us, noiselessly one by one. They frightened me, for I thought there was a dead emperor in each. This weird procession gave a strange importance to
whom, that was a treasure of emotional awe. It came out on Sundays, and sometimes of an evening just before bedtime. At first as you looked you saw nothing but the cover of a wooden box ornamented by a drawing in brown sepia, the sketch of a tombstone and a weeping willow-tree, nothing more. Then if you looked again, indicated by ingenious twigs and lines there gradually dawned upon you the figure, the shadowy figure of him who lay beneath the stone. Napoleon, pale and sad, with folded arms, with his cocked hat crushed forward on his brow, the mournful shade of the conqueror who had sent a million of other men to Hades before him.
As we gazed we hated the English. It is true I was very glad they always conquered everybody, and that my grandpapa was a major in the army; but at the same time the cook and I hated the perfidious English, and we felt that if Napoleon had not been betrayed he would still have been reigning over us here in Paris.
Every day we children used to go with our bonne to play around about the Arc de Triomphe near which we lived, and where, alternating with ornamental_rosettes, the long lists of Napoleon's battles and triumphs were carved upon the stone. The bonne sat mending stockings upon one of the stone benches which surround the arch, we made gravel pies on the step at her feet and searched for shells in the sand, or when we were not prevented by the guardian, swung on the iron chains which divide the inclosure from the road. We paid no attention whatever to the inscriptions, in fact we couldn't read very well in those days. We hardly ever looked at the groups of statuary, except that there was one great arm carrying a shield, and a huge leg like the limb in the Castle of Otranto which haunted us, and which we always saw though we tried not to see it. I never remember being very light-hearted laughing at my play up by the arch, a general sense of something grim and great and strange and beyond my small ken im pressed itself upon me as we played