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Lord Elgin-In Memoriam.
recollections as a spectacle unique and never to be forgotten, as that of the night before does. . . . I confess that it was with something of fear and trembling that I returned to the Sphinx that morning. I feared that the impressions received the night before might be effaced by the light of day—but it was not so. The lines were fainter and less deeply marked, but I found, or thought I found, the same meaning in them still.”
But this elevation of sentiment was not merely one of outward form or expression. Varied, eventful, as was his course,---wrapt up in the intricacies of diplomacy,—entangled in disputes with Canadian factions and Oriental follies, he still kept steadily before him, as steadily as any great philanthropist, or missionary, or reformer that ever lived, those principles of truth and justice and benevolence, to maintain which was his sufficient reward for months and years of long and patient waiting, for storms of obloquy and misunderstanding. Philosophical or religious truth, in the highest sense, he had not the leisure to follow. Yet even here his memoranda, his speeches, we believe his conversation, constantly showed how open his mind was to receive profound impressions from the most opposite quarters; how firm a hold was laid upon it by any truth or fact which it had touched in his passage through the many strange vicissitudes of life. “ If public writers think that they cannot argue with eloquence without showing feeling” (so he spoke at a meeting in Calcutta on the mode in which the Lancashire distress was to be discussed, but how far beyond any such immediate occasion does the wisdom of his words extend !) “then, for God's sake, let them give utterance to their opinions. It would be much better than to deprive us of the spark which concussion with flint may kindle. I would rather myself swallow a whole bushel of chaff than lose the precious grains of truth which may somewhere or other be scattered in it." How exactly the opposite of the vulgar, unreasoning timidity and fastidiousness of the mass of statesmen and teachers and preachers, whose first thought is to suppress all eloquence and enthusiasm from apprehension of its possible accompaniments,—who would willingly throw away whole bushels of truth lest they should accidentally swallow a few grains of chaff. How entirely is the sentiment worthy of those noble treatises which, we have been assured, were his constant companions wherever he travelled, and from which he delighted to read the soul-stirring calls to freedom of inquiry, and resolute faith in truth--the Prose Works of Milton.
But it was in practical life that those qualities came forth in their full energy. Politics, statesmanship, government, were to him a profession, a science, of which he discussed the problems as a philosopher or a scholar would discuss the difficulties of astronomy or of philology. It was thus that he would take upon himself the responsibility of great acts, not merely from motives of passing expediency, but as parts of a system, which appeared to him to impose such a general duty upon him. On two memorable occasions his “political courage” (to use the French expression) reached a point of almost heroic magnitude. One was the determination adopted, with hardly any hesitation, to send back the troops to India, although it was the greatest personal sacrifice which he could have made, for, by depriving himself of his military force, he ran the risk of rendering his mission in China almost powerless. The other was the resolve, executed against all his natural tastes and feelings, and with the full anticipation of the obloquy which it would bring down upon him in Europe, of burning the Summer Palace at Pekin, as the only means, under the extraordinary difficulties which surrounded him, of impressing the Chinese nation with a sense of the atrocity of the outrages perpetrated against their European prisoners.
“Having, to the best of my judgment, examined the question in all its bearings, I come to the conclusion, that the destruction of Yaenming-yaen (the Summer Palace) was the least objectionable of the several courses open to me, unless I could have reconciled it to my sense of duty to suffer the crime which had been committed to pass practically unavenged. I had reason, moreover, to believe that it was an act which was calculated to produce a greater effect in China, and on the Emperor, than persons who look on from a distance may suppose. It was the Emperor's favourite residence, and at its destruction could not fail to be a blow to his pride as well as to his feelings. To this place he brought our hapless countrymen, in order that they might undergo their severest tortures within its precincts. There had been found the horses and accoutrements of the troopers seized, the decorations torn from the breast of a gallant French officer, and other effects belonging to the prisoners. As almost all the valuables had been already taken from the palace, the army would go thus, not to pillage, but to mark by a solemn act of retribution, the horror and indignation with which we were inspired by the perpetration of a great crime. The punishment was one which would fall not on the people, who may be comparatively innocent, but on the Emperor, whose direct personal responsibility for the crime committed is established beyond all question.'
This statement, which forms the close of an able and elaborate argument, which must be read in the original document to be fully appreciated, is perhaps still more forcibly and concisely put in the following private letter :
“We had only a fortnight to make peace in, after the armies Lord Elgin-In Memoriam.
1 Lord Elgin's despatch to Lord J. Russell, dated October 25, 1860.—Correspondence respecting Affairs in China, 1859-1860, p. 203.
obtained the gate of Pekin. It was absolutely necessary, before peace was concluded, to mark our sense of the barbarous treatment to which the prisoners had been subjected. The burning of the palace was an expeditious mode of marking our sense of this crime, and therefore consistent with the speedy conclusion of peace. It was appropriate, because the palace was the place at which the first cruelties to the prisoners were perpetrated, under the immediate direction of the Emperor and his advisers. It was humane, because it involved no sacrifice of human life; no great destruction of property, because the buildings (though styled Palace) were low wooden structures of small value, which had been plundered by the French army before the order for the burning was given.”
These examples also indicate that though he was cautious to excess when he had time to deliberate (for his logical powers, and his command over language tempted him to refine), yet his decision could be as prompt as a soldier's when the occasion demanded it; and if he was satisfied of the correctness of his cause, he would accept the full responsibility of it, in spite of all opposition. His clearness of view, under these circumstances, admitted of no confusion, and his power of expressing what he saw was equal to the clearness with which he saw it. There are men, deeply versed in public affairs, in whom caution almost takes the place of genius, and admits of no other rival quality. Such might to some appear to have been the character of Lord Elgin. But had he been so ruled by this predominant faculty, he would assuredly never have ventured on the organization of Canton by the hazardous but successful appointment of a temporary Chinese governor, nor would he have faced the complicated difficulties that presented themselves in his adventurous voyage of discovery up the Yang-tse-kiang river, nor would he have marched on Pekin with that military ardour, which made the French soldiers exclaim, that he ought to have been an “officier de dragons.”
These statesman-like gifts, however, are not those which fill the largest space in his character to those who knew him best. He possessed in an eminent degree the rare quality-rare in the political world, rarer still perhaps in the religious world -of a strong overruling sense of the justice due from man to man, and from nation to nation.
Wherever he went (and it was his fate that in the four different spheres in which his lot was cast, the same relations were constantly reappearing) it was his fixed determination that the interests of the subject races should be protected from the impatience or violence of his own countrymen,--the emancipated slaves of Jamaica, the French Canadians, the Chinese in VOL. XL.-NO. LXXX.
their dealings with the European residents, the Indian population in its dealings with the Anglo-Indian conquerors.
That he had no bloodshed on his hands was his pride in Canada. “No human power shall induce me to accept the office of oppressor of the people," was his sincere resolve in China. The order to burn the Imperial Palace at Pekin was wrung from him by the severest sense of the necessity of the crisis. When in India, the protection of the Indians was the constant source of solicitude to him. The stern determination with which he carried out the execution of an English soldier for causing the death of a native, was of itself enough to mark his strong sense of what was due from the Viceroy of India to the interests of the conquered race. “ His combination of speculative and practical ability,” so wrote one with deep experience of his mind, “ fitted him more than any man I have ever known, to solve the problem how these subject races are to be governed.” It may be that in these acts he merely served to represent the growing humanity and justice of the age. But it is a great boon to mankind when the best tendencies of the age find a congenial soul in which to take root and bear fruit; and such a soul, in every sense, was that of Lord Elgin.
It might almost be said that the sense of responsibility for the classes confided to his charge, especially of those who were comparatively friendless, was to him
a kind of religion, an expression of his sense of the justice and love of God for all His creatures. And it may be remarked how, from this religious sense of the duty devolved upon him, it came to pass that, if there was any subject which more strongly moved his indignation than another, it was the sight, whether in foreign lands or in our own, of Christianity invoked, or of the influence of the teachers of religion brought to bear, against the general claims of justice and humanity on behalf of those who might be regarded, in race, or religion, or opinion, aliens from ourselves.
There is one final tribute which, at least in these pages, may be offered without affectation to his memory. Wherever else he was honoured, and however few were his visits to his native land, yet Scotland at least always delighted to claim him as her own. Always his countrymen were proud to feel that he worthily bore the name most dear to Scottish hearts. Always his unvarying integrity shone to them with the steady light of an unchanging beacon above the stormy discords of the Scottish church and nation. Whenever he returned to his home in Fifeshire, he was welcomed by all, high and low, as their friend and chief. Here at any rate vere fully known the industry with which he devoted himself to the small details of local, often trying and troublesome business; the affectionate confidence Lord Elgin-In Memoriam.
with which he took counsel of the fidelity and experience of the aged friends and servants of his house ; the cheerful contentment with which he was willing to work for their interests and for those of his family, with the same fairness and patience, as he would have given to the most exciting events or the most critical moments of his public career. There his children, young as they were, were made familiar with the union of wisdom and playfulness with which he guided them, and with the simple and self-denying habits of which he gave them so striking an example. By that ancestral home, in the vaults of the Abbey Church of Dunfermline, would have been his natural resting-place. Those vaults had but two years ago been opened to receive the remains of another of the same house, his brother, General Bruce, whose lamented death also in the service of his Queen and country—followed immediately on his return from the journey in which he had accompanied the Prince of Wales to the East, and in which he had caught the fatal malady that brought him to his untimely end. "You have lost a kind and good uncle, and a kind and good godfather,”—so Lord Elgin wrote to his little boy, who bore the same name as the General,—"and you are now the only Robert Bruce in the family. It is a good name, and you must try and bear it nobly and bravely as those who have borne it before you have done. If you look at their lives you will see that they always considered in the first place what they ought to do, and only in the second what it might be most pleasant and agreeable to do. This is the way to steer a straight course through life, and to meet the close of it, as your dear Uncle did, with a smile on his lips.” By few could General Bruce's loss have been felt more than by Lord Elgin himself. “No two brothers,” he used to say, “were ever more helpful to each other.” The telegram that brought the tidings to him at Calcutta was but one word. “And yet,” he said, “ how much in that one word! It tells me that I have lost a wise counsellor in difficulties, a staunch friend in prosperity and adversity, one on whom, if anything had befallen myself, I could always have relied to care for those left behind me. It tells, too, of the dropping of a link of that family chain which has always been so strong and unbroken.” How little was it foreseen then, that of that strong unbroken chain, his own life would be the next link to be taken away. How little was it thought by those who stood round the vault at Dunfermline Abbey, on the 2d of July 1862, that to those familiar scenes, and to that hallowed spot, the chief of the race would never return. How mournfully did the tidings from India reach a third brother in the yet further East, who felt that to him was due in great part whatever success he had experienced in life, even from the time when, during the elder