Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

THE

NORTH BRITISH REVIEW .

MAY 1864.

ART. 1.- LORD ELGIN-In Memoriam.

It is not the intention of these few pages to give an account even in outline of what England lost in the death of Lord Elgin. Other pens may hereafter describe at length that singular career, which witnessed the successful accommodation of a more varied series of novel and entangled situations than has perhaps fallen to the lot of any other statesman within our own time.

There must be those who remember and who could tell of the reduction of Jamaica to order, after the convulsions of the Emancipation Act, by the youngest Governorever sent out to command a colony. There must be those who know how he stood his ground in Canada against first one and then another turbulent faction, and converted the mass of the population from a state of chronic disaffection to permanent loyalty. There are those who witnessed that decisive stroke by which he sent the troops back from Singapore to Calcutta, in the very crisis of the fate of our Eastern Empire, and, when he landed, found (to use his own famous and long-remembered expression) but “one face in Calcutta unblanched with fear”—the face of the intrepid governor, his own early college friend, Lord Canning,—a meeting how romantic and an issue how momentous ! “ It was he," wrote the gallant and lamented Sir William Peel, “ who made the change in India. It was the Chinese expedition that relieved Lucknow, relieved Cawnpore, and fought the battle of the 6th of December.” There are those who remember how, when, not for the first time, he encountered the terrors of shipwreck, at the Point de Galle, the two ambassadors of England and France sat side by side, unmoved amidst the awful scene, and refused VOL. XL.—NO. LXXX.

т

to leave the sinking ship, inspiring all around them with the cheerfulness and spirit needed for the emergency. There are those who saw him, by that rare union of tact with firmness, of fertile resource with simplicity of aim, which belonged to the character of his race, twice over bring to a prosperous end the stupid and provoking negotiations, and the no less stupid and provoking wars of the most inaccessible and intractable of earthly empires,—who watched the moderation with which he procured the treaty of Tien-tsin, the decisive energy with which he avenged the dignity of England by the destruction of the Summer Palace at Pekin, and received the humiliation of the Chinese Prince in the heart of the Imperial city.

There are those, too, who know what he hoped to have done for India, had his life been spared. There are those—not a few —who looked further forward still, to the time when his long wanderings would at last be over, and he might have returned to have taken his place high in the councils of his country, and given to the solution of the great problems of the government of England, the experience and ability which had been ripened in such lofty positions, in so many a trying situation, in each extremity of the globe.

To these, and such as these, we must leave the delineation of the general policy, and the complicated course, of Lord Elgin's public life.

But it may be possible, within the short compass of the present occasion, to bring back some recollections of his last days, some image of his character as he appeared to those who knew and loved him best, which may fill up the vacant space left by his death, not merely in the memory and the hopes, but in the actual knowledge of his contemporaries. For it is one of the sad consequences of a statesman's life spent, like his, in the constant service of his country on arduous foreign missions, that in his own land, in his own circle, almost in his own home, his place is occupied by others, his very face is forgotten; he can maintain no permanent ties with those who rule the opinion, or obtain the mastery, of the day; he has established no claims on any existing party; he has made himself felt in none of those domestic and personal struggles which attract the attention, and fix the interest, of the common world which forms the bulk of the public opinion of England. For twenty years, the few intervals of his residence in these islands were to be counted, not by years, but by months, and the majority even of those who might be reckoned amongst his friends and acquaintances, remembered him chiefly as the eager student at Oxford, in the happy time when he was devoted, in his undergraduate days at Christ Church, to the pages of Plato, or listened, not without a deep Lord Elgin-In Memoriam.

269

philosophic interest, in the Fellows' Quadrangle at Merton, to the roll of the now extinct theological controversy, then beat by the war-drum of the Tracts for the Times.

It is tragical to think of the curtain thus suddenly dropt over the future of his career in England. It is tragical, also, though in a narrower and more partial sense, to think of the more immediate overcasting of his career in India.

He undertook the Vice-royalty of India, not, it is said, without a dark presentiment that he should never return, but with a clear conviction that the magnitude of the field before him left no choice. Yet of the actual duty imposed upon him, of the actual glory to be reaped, he always expressed himself with a modesty to which his own acts corresponded. “I succeed,” he used to say, “to a great man and a great war, with a humble task to be humbly discharged.” This feeling is well expressed in a letter, which gives at the same time an admirable description of the empire, at the moment when he undertook the government.

“ India was at peace. At peace in a sense of the term more emphatic and comprehensive than it had ever before borne in India. The occurrences which had taken place during the period of Lord Dalhousie's government had established the prestige of the British arms as against external foes. Lord Canning's Vice-royalty had taught the same lesson to domestic enemies. No military operations of magnitude were in progress to call for prompt and vigorous action on the part of the ruling authority, or to furnish matter for narrations of thrilling interest. On the contrary, a hearty acquiescence in the belief that no such opportunities existed, and that it was incumbent upon him, by all practicable means, to prevent their recurrence, was the first duty which the situation of affairs prescribed to a new Governor-General.

“ But while such was the condition of things in respect to matters which have to be settled, if at all, by the arbitrament of the sword, questions of a different class, affecting very important interests, but demanding, nevertheless, a pacific solution, presented themselves for consideration, with a view to definitive action and practical adjustment, under circumstances of very great perplexity and embarrassment. What intensified the evil in many of those cases, was the fact that the points in question bore closely upon those jealousies of race which are the sources of almost all our difficulties in India."

In the spirit thus indicated, he was desirous of postponing the final adjustment of such questions, as those to which he here alluded, until he had made himself thoroughly acquainted with the country and the people. That acquaintance he was gradually acquiring. That result of his labours he was rapidly approaching.

The gallant vessel was steering with her sails full set, right into the haven where she would be. The storm swept over her, from a quarter whence it was least expected. The ship went down within the very sight of the harbour, with all the treasure of experience and wisdom accumulated for the very moment of the arrival which was never to take place.

The sense of his approaching end throws over the retrospect of Lord Elgin's progress northwards from Calcutta through the provinces a melancholy shade, which almost forbids us to dwell upon it in detail. Yet it also imparts a pathetic interest to some of the leading features of his public addresses, and of his personal impressions, which may well find a place in this brief sketch. Such is the allusion to the two distinguished men who had preceded him in his office of Governor-General, in a speech at a dinner at Benares, celebrating the progress of the East Indian Railway S

“In looking over the published report of these proceedings a few days ago, my attention was arrested by an incident which brought forcibly home to my mind one painful circumstance in which my position here to-day contrasts sadly with that which my predecessor then occupied, At a stage in the proceedings of the evening, corresponding to that at which we have now arrived, Lord Canning departed from the routine prescribed by the programme, and invited the company to join him in drinking the health of his noble predecessor, the Marquis of Dalhousie, who had, as he justly observed, nursed the East Indian Railway in its infancy, and guided it through its first difficulties. It is not in my power to make any similar proposal to you now. A mysterious dispensation of Providence has removed from this world's stage, where they seemed still destined to play so noble and useful a part, both the proposer of this toast, and its object; the names of both are written in brilliant characters on some of the most eventful pages of the history of India, and both were removed at a time when expectation as to the services which they might still render to India was at its height. I shall not now dwell on the great national loss which we have all sustained in this dispensation ; but, perhaps, I may be permitted to say that to me the loss is not only a public one, but a private and personal calamity likewise. Both of these distinguished men were my contemporaries ; both, I believe I may without presumption say, my intimate friends. It is a singular coincidence that three successive Governors-General of India should have stood towards each other in this relationship of age and intimacy. One consequence is that the burden of governing India has devolved upon us respectively at different periods of our lives. Lord Dalhousie, when named to the Government of India, was, I believe, the youngest man who had ever been appointed to a situation of such high responsibility and trust. Lord Canning was in the prime of life; and I, if I am not already on the decline, am at least nearer to the verge of it than either of my contemporaries who have preceded

« PoprzedniaDalej »