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THE RIGHT HON. WILLIAM HUSKISSON,
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR LIVERPOOL.
The statesman whose sudden and lamentable death has rendered him one of the subjects of our present volume, was in many respects the most remarkable person that Parliament had to boast of. Posterity will enquire by what means, one who was sprung from comparatively humble parents, without fortune, without rank, neither supported by powerful friends, nor pushed forward by secret influence, contrived to raise himself to senatorial distinction so high as that which Mr. Huskisson had obtained. And when posterity shall be told that to his talents, and his industry, and his integrity alone, he was indebted for his honours, they will have studied very indifferently the character of the times of their fathers, and will have appreciated very inaccurately the difficulties which oppose the progress even of the highest genius, if they do not conclude that the talents, and the industry, and the integrity of Mr. Huskisson were passing great.
Mr. Huskisson was born at Birch Moreton, in Worcestershire, on the 11th of March, 1770. He was the eldest son of William Huskisson, Esq., a respectable private gentleman, who resided upon his patrimonial estate, called Oxley, in the parish of Bushbury, near Wolverhampton. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of John Rotton, Esq. of a highly respectable family in Staffordshire. In 1774, Mrs. Huskisson died suddenly and prematurely, a few hours after childbirth, leaving four children: namely, William, the subject of this notice ; Richard, who has since died; Samuel, the present General; and Charles, who now resides near Birmingham. Mr. Huskisson, the father, married again after the lapse of some time, and had by his second wife several children, the eldest of whom is Captain Thomas Huskisson, of the Royal Navy.
At his mother's decease, the late Mr. Huskisson was not five years old, and he was placed at an infant school at Brewood in Staffordshire ; when older, removed to Albrighton; and lastly, to Appleby in Leicestershire, where he gave evident promise of the talents by which he was afterwards so eminently distinguished.
Mr. Huskisson's mother was niece to Dr. Gem, a gentleman highly esteemed, as well for his medical skill as for his other scientific and literary acquirements. Dr. Gem had accompanied the Duke of Bedford on the embassy to France in 1762-3; and the society of the men of letters with whom he mixed, and the great facilities which Paris then afforded for the researches of science, decided him to fix his residence in that capital and its vicinity ; paying occasional visits to his friends in England, and to his small family estate in Worcestershire (which, at his death in 1800, he bequeathed to Mr. Huskisson, appointing him also residuary legatee). Dr. Gem always felt great interest in the children of his favourite niece, and having expressed a wish, in consequence of the second marriage contracted by Mr. Huskisson's father, that the two eldest boys should be entrusted to his çare, they were permitted to accompany him on his return to Paris in 1783.
The late Mr. Huskisson was then between twelve and thirteen years old. Dr. Gem attended most carefully to his education; but at that period he was remarkable only as a bashful, diffident, unassuming, and reserved youth; and on this point it may be mentioned, in illustration, that an intimate friend of his, in recently contradicting the erroneous statement that he had been a clerk in a banking-house, said, “I am quite certain he never entered a banking-house, except to fetch the needful; and even of this there is a doubt, for no one would have thought of sending him, as he was too bashful to tell his business.” The statement that he was apprenticed to an apothecary is equally untrue. It was his uncle's intention to make him a physician, with the view of introducing him as his own successor in the appointment attached to the embassy at Paris; but he was from the first, as throughout his life, inclined to “throw physic to the dogs," and the circumstances of the time soon gave him an opportunity of following the bent of his inclination.
His brother Richard, on the contrary, pursued his studies with zeal, and was distinguished for superior skill as a surgeon, which was the line of the profession allotted to him, Sir Astley Cooper, who was a fellow-student with Richard, has been heard to speak very highly of his talents; but his career was brief, and may be told in a few words. He was, in the year 1793, through the then commencing influence of his brother William, appointed a surgeon in the army; and in the summer of the following year he fell a sacrifice to the yellow fever at Guadaloupe.
William was, however, reserved for a longer and more brilliant course ; and it is curious to observe how strongly private and public circumstances concurred in urging him from the path originally marked out for him, to that which led him to political distinction. His uncle and preceptor, Dr. Gem, was a man of rare talents and philosophical mind; he was the intimate associate of Franklin, and all the eminent men of the day ; but he was a severely strict disciplinarian, and, from the oddity of his notions and habits, ill calculated to win a spirit but little predisposed to the laborious study of a somewhat repulsive profession. One instance of his peculiarity may suffice for the present purpose. With him, economy was ever the order of the day ; and from this cause, perhaps, as well as with the view of preserving the elasticity of the mind during the hours devoted to study, it was his habit not to eat any thing whatever until the usual time of dinner, about five or six o'clock in the afternoon. The obseryance of this rule he enforced upon his pupils; and the only mitigation they were allowed, consisted of a scanty portion of bread and fruit, with which they were sometimes permitted to break the miserable monotony of this diurnal penance. Such a system, it may be supposed, was by no means agreeable to the feelings or suited to the constitution of youth ; and it can excite no wonder to state that William Huskisson, after a few years' experience of it, was so much reduced in flesh, that when he visited England his family could scarcely recognise him, and it was only by great care that he was restored to his former vigour.
This alone would have been sufficient to give him a distaste for medicine ; but it was mainly to the exciting state of public affairs at the time that the alteration in his course of life was attributable. There was then a spirit abroad which was well calculated to arouse the enthusiasm of youth, and, with a power almost irresistible, to draw the mind from sober studies to the pursuit of objects which, in perspective, were surrounded by dazzling glories, replete with soul-exciting grandeur, and pregnant with benefit to mankind. The triumphant struggle of America independence had kindled a flame which spread from end to end of the civilised world with astonishing rapidity, and which found in France a ripe and redundant harvest of food. Situated as he was, it is scarcely matter of wonder that young Huskisson caught the contagion ; that the talismanic name of liberty aroused him; and that the bashful, diffident, and reserved youth started at once into the warm assertor of the people's rights. With all the ardour natural to his years, of which he had then numbered but nineteen or twenty, he entered into the feelings of the Revolutionary party, and became a warm supporter
of principles and theories, which subsequent experience, and a more matured mind, taught him to regard as visionary and dangerous. He was not, however, as has been asserted, a member of the Jacobin Club, nor did he approve of their violent and anarchical doctrines. He was one of those who sought only a salutary change in the Government. The mistake on this point, which furnished his political opponents with apparent grounds for stigmatising him as “an Ultra Liberal, and a furious Democrat,” arose from his being a member of a Society in Paris, entitled “ La Société de 1789,” or “Le Club de Quatrevingt-neuf;" but that society was established by seceders from the Jacobin Club, and in opposition to it. Its object was to protect and defend the original principles of the Revolution of 1789; principles which the Jacobin Club had, by its founders, been intended to promote, in opposition to the more democratic views which that Club afterwards adopted. We have seen, in a collection of pamphlets, a speech which Mr. Huskisson, on the 29th of August, 1790, addressed to “ Le Club de Quatre-vingt-neuf.” The subject of it is the policy of an additional issue of assignats; and the manner in which that subject is treated would not have disgraced the more matured knowledge and judgment of the Right Honourable Gentleman. What he says of paper-money is incontrovertible; and the only evidence of an excessive liberalism in the speech is a recommendation to meet the wants of the state, not by an issue of depreciated paper, but by the sale of national property.*
The only other Association with which Mr. Huskisson was at that time connected was “ The London Corresponding Society,' amongst the supporters of which were many men whose loyalty and patriotism cannot be doubted; and it would be unfair to argue, as has been attempted, that Mr. Huskisson's sentiments at
* It having been stated that Mr. Huskisson had fraternised with the Jacobin Club, he some years ago addressed the following letter to a friend :
“ MY DEAR SIR, — Many thanks for your very kind letter. I am aware how industriously the calumnies to which you refer have been circulated by malevolence, and I am equally aware that in many instances they have unwittingly been received as truth.
“ I never was in the Jacobin Club but once in my life. I went there as a spectator, and in company with the late Mr. Windham and the late Lord Chichester, (and also, it appears, the present Sir John Thomas Stanley, of Cheshire,) who were about as good Jacobins as myself.
“ The club was an object of curiosity to foreigners; and in the indulgence of that curiosity we went to one sitting, as we might have gone to a bull-fight in Spain. Voila tout. But every man who aspires to distinction in public life must lay his account to be assailed with such unfair weapons. Yours very sincerely,
" W. HUSKISSON, « C. Gardens, July.”'
that time were incompatible with a faithful allegiance to the British monarchy. This point was candidly and satisfactorily explained by Mr. Huskisson, in his address to the electors of Liverpool, at the election of 1823. From that explanation, it appears that Mr. Huskisson did not long continue his connection with the Club, and, indeed, he was soon by circumstances called upon to make a more profitable use of his time and talents.
During his residence in France Mr. Huskisson had become a perfect master of the French language ; and the interest he took in public affairs had made him familiar with the intricacies, condition, and general bearings, of the several parties in Paris. He had also turned his attention to the study of international policy and commerce; his thorough knowledge of which afterwards enabled him to take so distinguished and active a part in the affairs of his own country. These qualifications for office, so well adapted to the times, did not escape the notice of Lord Gower (the present Marquis of Stafford), the British Ambassador, to whom he had been introduced by Dr. Warner, Chaplain to the Embassy. Dr. Warner was the friend of Dr. Gem, and had thus become acquainted with the promising talents and pleasing manners of young Huskisson; and having mentioned him in terms of high commendation to Lord Gower, his Lordship desired that he should be presented to him ; and his Lordship’s private secretary being prevented by illness from attending to his duties, Mr. Huskisson was offered the situation. He readily embraced the opportunity, and, attaching himself to the establishment of the Ambassador, relinquished totally the study of medicine. Thus began Mr. Huskisson's acquaintance with Lord Gower and Lady Sutherland, who, from that time to the day of his death, a period of forty years, continued to honour him with their friendship and confidence ; whilst he never ceased to hold in grateful remembrance that kindness which had encouraged the early efforts of his mind and talents.
On being appointed Private Secretary to Lord Gower, Mr. Huskisson occupied apartments in the Ambassador's Hotel, and became a member of the family. Upon the return of Lord Gower to England, in 1792, Mr. Huskisson accompanied him, and continued to pass the greatest part of his time with his Lordship, and in his society. Soon after Mr. Dundas expressed to Lord Gower his wish to select some gentleman of abilities, who perfectly understood the French language, in order to assist in the projected arrangement of an office for the affairs of the emigrants who had taken refuge in England. Lord Gower immediately mentioned