Page images

sively from the pure wells of English undefiled. Milton and the Bible are his unceasing study. There was a time when it was rare to find him without Paradise Lost in his hand or in his pocket. The use of Scriptural imagery is a marked feature of his orations, and no imagery can be more appropriately employed to illustrate his views; for Mr. Bright, in all his grand efforts, rises far above the loaded, unwholesome atmosphere of party politics into the purer air and brighter skies of patriotism and philanthropy. We may differ about his means or measures, but no one can differ about the aim, when he puts forth his strength to raise Ireland, or India, in the scale of civilization, to mitigate the evils of war, or to promote the spread of toleration and Christian charity throughout the world. Mr. Bright can speak extempore, and with much incisiveness on such occasions—as witness one of his speeches during the Crimean war; but his finest efforts are prepared. In common with all the great ancient and modern orators, he devotes time and care to the preparation of his speeches on all those occasions when the subject is worthy of his powers; but the great charm of his oratory is that, although his matter is prepared, it is given with a freshness and warmth of colouring which make it appear spontaneous.

He has much fancy and vivacity; and his universal sympathies invest his speeches with a wide and permanent claim upon the world's attention. As.compared with Mr. Gladstone, who has all the treasures of classical lore at his command, he lacks comprehensiveness and variety in treatment. But those who are in the habit of assuming that Mr. Bright's knowledge of the literature of his own country is confined almost exclusively to Shakespeare and Milton —with of course a profound knowledge of the Bible -commit a grievous error. There is scarcely an English poet, or a writer of prose, with whose works he is not largely familiar ; and he can draw at will and with facility from this great storehouse of intellectual wealth. For a generation back, the House of Commons always filled immediately the news reached the lobbies that Mr. Bright was 'up.' He had always something to say, and in this respect he may be imitated with advantage by younger and more garrulous speakers. The great art of legislative oratory is to have something to say, and to know when to say it. Let these conditions be observed, and the House will speedily recognize its duty, and will listen. The simplicity of Mr. Bright's language is another point worthy of note : he has shown the mighty but neglected power of words of one syllable ; and thus, while enlisting the attention of the most intellectual and the refined, he at the same time secures a still larger audience amongst the masses. It has been well remarked that his natural gifts have been both modified and expanded by study, and that in his eloquence he goes to the primary roots of things : he gets hold of eternal principles. Facts occupy a subordinate position in his oratory; but they are always at command, and whenever they are used, they have the awkward merit for his opponents of being perfectly irrefragable.

Mr. Bright is unquestionably a fine humourist. His humour is of that rich and mellow kind which pervades the pages of the quaint old writers. Lord Beaconsfield, when provoked, was a master of sarcasm; Lord Sherborne, when goaded by stupidity or what he regards as prejudice, can call into exercise a power which, like the lightning, has a withering and blasting influence; but neither of these statesmen, nor indeed any other public speaker of our time, with the exception perhaps of Mr. Spurgeon, has the same full, genial, and flowing humour. Take some examples of this.

There have been few happier strokes of Parliamentary humour in our time than Mr. Bright's comparison between Lord Beaconsfield and the quack at the country fair, who sold pills which were good against earthquakes. To an observation that the ancestors of a particular gentleman had come over with the Conqueror, he replied that they never did anything else. Then there was the comparison of Mr. Lowe and Mr. Horsman to a Scotch terrier; the epithet of the Adullamites; and the description of Mr. Disraeli as the 'mystery man' of the Ministry. The reader will find the numerous speeches given in the course of this work prolific in examples of humour.

As regards other personal characteristics, it may be mentioned that Mr. Bright is as earnest in his



pleasures as he has been in his work. He is passionately fond of the country, and especially of the grand scenery with which the Scotch Highlands abound. He can, as is well known, throw a fly with any one, and wait with a patience as exemplary for the fish to rise. In his younger days he was a proficient swimmer; and as far as indoor recreations are concerned, he can play a more than creditable game at billiards. His love of humanity needs no insisting upon; but he has also a great affection for the animal creation-dogs being his special favourites. He has that devoutness so highly esteemed by the poet, which consists in loving all things both great and small.'

But we are more immediately concerned with his moral characteristics. Who can but admire his unswerving advocacy of the principles of individual and national justice, duty, and righteousness? The just have no fear; and his motto, ‘Be just, and fear not,' indicates the spirit in which he has always endeavoured to act. We may apply to him the words which Shakespeare makes Cominius utter respecting that noble Roman, Coriolanus :

It is held
That valour is the chiefest virtue, and
Most dignifies the haver ; if it be,
The man I speak of cannot in the world

Be singly counterpoised.'
Even his enemies admire the moral courage of Mr.
Bright; it is a valour that is both unmistakable and
ennobling. It is his very devotion to the right which

[ocr errors]

has led to the charge of intolerance being brought against him. But his intolerance is only the intolerance against wrong. He has a large and catholic nature, but he revolts against insincerity and buffoonery in politics. He thinks the right should be seen at once always, and is impatient when it is not perceived, or wilfully obscured. His sternness and intolerance are but those strong virtues which distinguish all reformers. The Puritans were stern, and in the eyes of the Cavaliers the most intolerant race upon the face of the earth ; but they lived in stern times, and had stern work to do. So as regards Mr. Bright. When he began public life there were many abuses to be rectified, and that hydra-headed monster, Monopoly, required to be hurled down and destroyed. This was not work to be accomplished in kid gloves; it required men of earnest purpose, strong wills, and large hearts; and these were forthcoming in Mr. Cobden, Mr. Bright, and other leaders who fought by their side.

It has further been charged against Mr. Bright that he has been an agitator. He admits the impeachment; for it is one into which no element of shame or regret can enter. Agitation has at certain periods in our history-even in the present century

-been absolutely necessary for the prosperity and the very safety of England. The agitators for slavery emancipation, Catholic emancipation, Free Trade, Reform, and other social and political measures affecting Great Britain and Ireland, did

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »