« PreviousContinue »
SIR GEORGE CORNEWALL LEWIS.
House of Lords, allow of its being at any time broken up and remodelled according to the discretion of the minister in power, and reduce it in fact to the level of a continental life senate. Many members of the House of Commons were likewise afraid of the innovation ; it seemed to foreshadow the possible revival of an ancient principle of Crown nomination which might be applied to the representative as well as to the hereditary chamber, seeing that at one time English sovereigns did undoubtedly assume the right of nominating members of the House of Commons. The Government, who had really no reactionary or revolutionary designs in their mind, settled the matter for the time by creating Sir James Parke Baron Wensleydale in the usual way, and the object they had in view was quietly accomplished many years later, when the appellate jurisdiction of the Lords was remodelled.
Sir George Lewis was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was as yet not credited with anything like the political ability which he afterwards proved that he possessed. It was the fashion to regard him as a mere bookman, who had drifted somehow into Parliament, and who, in the temporary absence of available talent, had been thrust into the office lately held by Mr. Gladstone. The contrast indeed between the style of his speaking and that of Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Disraeli, was enough to dishearten any political assembly. Mr. Gladstone had brought to his budget speeches an eloquence that brightened the driest details, and made the wilderness of figures to blossom
like the rose.
Mr. Disraeli was able to make a financial statement burst into a bouquet of fireworks. Sir George Lewis began by being nearly inaudible, and continued to the last to be oppressed by the most ineffective and unattractive manner and delivery. But it began to be gradually found out that the monotonous, halting, feeble manner covered a very remarkable power of expression ; that the speaker had great resources of argument, humour, and illus
that every sentence contained some fresh idea or some happy expression. It was not very long before an experienced observer of Parliament declared that Sir George Lewis delivered the best speeches with the worst manner known to the existing House of Commons. After a while a reaction set in, and the capacity of Lewis ran the risk of being overrated quite as much as it had been undervalued before. In him, men said, was seen the coming prime minister of England. Time, as it will be seen afterwards, did not allow Sir George Lewis any chance of making good this prediction. He was undoubtedly a man of rare ability and refined intellect; an example very uncommon in England of the thinker, the scholar, and the statesman in one. His speeches were an intellectual treat to all with whom matter counted for more than manner. One who had watched parliamentary life from without and within for many years, said he had never had his deliberate opinion changed by a speech in the House of Commons but twice, and each time it was an argument from Sir George Lewis that accomplished the conversion.
CRIME AND FRAUD.
For the present, however, Sir George Lewis was regarded only as the sort of statesman whom it was fitting to have in office just then ; the statesman of an interval in whom no one was expected to take any particular interest. The attention of the public was a good deal distracted from political affairs by the simultaneous outbreak of new forms of crime and fraud. The trial of Palmer in the Rugeley poisoning case,
the trial of Dove in the Leeds poisoning case, these and similar events set the popular mind into wild alarm as to the prevalence of strychnine poisoning everywhere. The failure and frauds of the Royal British Bank, the frauds of Robson and Redpath, gave for the time a sort of idea that the financial principles of the country were crumbling to pieces. The culmination of the extraordinary career of John Sadleir was fresh in public memory. will be recollected, was the organiser and guiding spirit of the Irish Brigade, the gang of adventurers whom we have already described as trading on the genuine grievances of their country to get power and money for themselves. John Sadleir overdid the thing. He embezzled, swindled, forged, and finally escaped justice by committing suicide on Hampstead Heath. So fraudful had his life been that many persons persisted in believing that his supposed suicide was but another fraud. He had got possession—such was the theory—of a dead body which bore some resemblance to his own form and features ; he had palmed this off as his own corpse done to death by poison ; and had himself contrived to escape with a
This man, it large portion of his ill-gotten money. This extraordinary parody and perversion of the plot of Jean Paul Richter's story of 'Siebenkäs' really found many faithful believers. It is worth mentioning, not as a theory credible in itself, but as an evidence of the belief that had got abroad as to the character and the stratagems of Sadleir. The brother of Sadleir was expelled from the House of Commons; one of his accomplices, who had obtained a Government appointment and had embezzled money, contrived to make his escape to the United States ; and the Irish Brigade was broken up. It is only just to say that the best representatives of the Irish Catholics and the Irish national party, in and out of Parliament, had never from the first believed in Sadleir and his band, and had made persistent efforts to expose them.
About this same time Mr. Cyrus W. Field, an energetic American merchant, came over to this country to explain to its leading merchants and scientific men a plan he had for constructing an electric telegraph line underneath the Atlantic. Mr. Field had had this idea strongly in his mind for some years, and he made a strenuous effort to impress the English public with a conviction of its practicability. He was. received by the merchants of Liverpool on November 12, 1856, in their Exchange Rooms, and he made a long statement explaining his views, which were listened to with polite curiosity. Mr. Field had, however, a much better reception on the whole than M. de Lesseps, who came to England a few months later to explain his project for constructing a ship canal
ATLANTIC CABLE AND SUEZ CANAL.
across the Isthmus of Suez. The proposal was received with coldness, and more than coldness, by engineers, capitalists, and politicians. Engineers showed that the canal could not be made, or at least maintained when made ; capitalists proved that it never could
pay ; and politicians were ready to make it plain that such a canal, if made, would be a standing menace to English interests. Lord Palmerston, a few days after, frankly admitted that the English Government were opposed to the project, because it would tend to the more easy separation of Egypt from Turkey, and set afloat speculations as to a ready access to India. M. de Lesseps himself has given an amusing account of the manner in which Lord Palmerston denounced the scheme in an interview with the projector. Luckily neither Mr. Field nor M. de Lesseps was a person to be lightly discouraged. Great projectors are usually as full of their own ideas as great poets. M. de Lesseps had in the end perhaps more reason to be alarmed at England's sudden appreciation of his scheme than he had in the first instance to complain of the cold disapprobation with which her Government encountered it. The political world seemed to have made up
its mind for a season of quiet. Suddenly that happened which always does happen in such a condition of things -a storm broke out. To those who remember the events of that time, three words will explain the nature of the disturbance. The lorcha Arrow,' will bring back the recollection of one of the most curious political convulsions known in this country during our