Page images
PDF
EPUB

great and noble work. The agitator who divines the real instincts of a people, and judiciously guides their movements to fruition, is one who, call him by whatsoever name we will, is the world's benefactor. Such men perceive the dangers ahead, and are the true pilots in extremity.

The name of Mr. Bright has in certain circles been used as a name wherewith to alarm the timid, and to kindle their prejudices. It has been put forward as a bugbear to frighten people with. The charge is already beginning to excite the derision of those who dive beneath the surface of politics. If sagacity and foresight are titles to statesmanship, then is Mr. Bright a true statesman. For more than a generation he has been the true seer in English politics. He has nearly always been in the right. When we turn for a moment to the great questions of the last forty years—questions affecting Free Trade, India, Ireland, Russia, the American war, the Alabama arbitration, Parliamentary Reform, Church-rates, etc.,—and remember that in regard to them Mr. Bright has been in advance of his age,mour attitude towards him must perforce be that of admiration and gratitude, not of criticism and censure. His political career has been one long struggle for the overthrow of fallacies and disabilities. So far from being a revolutionist,

he claims to be a good Conservative. And in the sense that he is the true Conservative who amends in order to preserve, he is right. Mr. Bright has cut deep into the wounds of the body corporate in order to restore it to health. The commonwealth could only be saved by probing it to its innermost depths. This is the logical defence of Mr. Bright's Liberal yet truly Conservative policy.

The most substantial virtue of a country is in its great men; and if that be so, as we are assured, let us not withhold the honour that is due to them. Greatness in the political world may be independent of politics; it is so in Mr. Bright's case. With whatever side of the House of Commons he had been led to identify himself, he must have added one more illustrious name to the roll of that party. He has preferred morality and justice to all the peerages and all the dynasties that ever existed in the world. Yet although he has ever been the chosen favourite of the democracy, it has been from no unworthy pandering to the passions of the multitude. He has not scrupled to correct their errors, and has educated them in order to raise them. Liberty, as Daniel Webster said, is not lawless. 'It demands checks; it seeks for guards; it insists on securities; it entrenches itself behind strong defences, and fortifies itself with all possible care against the assaults and ambition of passion.' This is the liberty for which Mr. Bright has striven —not the liberty of license, as some have falsely alleged. He has exhibited a manly resistance to all forms of oppression and evil for conscience' sake; but at the same time he has never attempted to uproot the bonds of society; on the contrary, it has been one of his chief ends and desires to harmonize

[ocr errors]

the various classes of his countrymen, not to throw society into disorder, disruption, and anarchy.

If we mistake not, the verdict of history upon Mr. Bright and his career will be such as to warrant our applying to him the words of Antony when speaking his valedictory words upon the great Cæsar :

"The elements
So mix'd in him, that Nature might stand up
And

say to all the world, “This was a man!”' The social and political condition of England has been greatly changed since Mr. Bright entered upon public life; but notwithstanding all these radical reforms—may we not rather say in consequence of them ?—the public institutions of the country are more stable, inore firmly rooted, than they have ever been'; while the loyalty and affection of the people towards the Sovereign of these realms have suffered no diminution.

We cannot expect, perhaps, to retain long amongst us the great survivors of that noble band of reformers who have rendered the past two generations so distinguished in our political annals. When we look forward into the future, also, it is difficult to perceive those who, amongst the rising statesmen of the time, may be capable of wearing the armour of Achilles; but we console ourselves with the reflection that in all times of crisis England has found her master minds. The career of one such we have endeavoured to trace; and so long as virtue, courage, and patriotism retain their significance, so long will these noble qualities continue to be associated with the name of John Bright. He takes rank with the Pyms, the Hampdens, the Miltons, and other incorruptible great men of the past, who, in times of difficulty and of peril, have unswervingly fought the battle of freedom, and asserted the liberties of England.

[ocr errors][merged small]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »