HC Deb 12 February 1857 vol 144 cc532-5

said: Sir, I rise to ask the hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth whether the report of a speech of his (made on the 7th of January, at Saltby, near Birmingham), which appeared in The Times newspaper, be correct, especially those passages which refer to the Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, M. de Morny, and the Prince de Ligne?


said, Sir, my hon. Friend has asked me a question, and I hope the House will allow me to say a few words in explanation. It is said that it has been "arranged"—and the word is a heavy one—to put a question to me whether a speech reported to have been delivered by me at Saltby is correctly reported in The Times. Now, I do not think, perhaps, that this is quite the tribunal in which I ought to be called to account for expressions used in another place, and totally unconnected with the business of this House. At the same time, I am quite ready to accept the challenge of the hon. Gentleman, and I am quite prepared to give him every facility for obtaining the most accurate information on this most important subject. The hon. Gentleman asks me whether I delivered the speech at Saltby which appeared in The Times. I beg to say that I did deliver that speech as the guest of the hon. Member for North Staffordshire. He invited me to attend a meeting on the occasion of the inauguration of the Saltby Literary and Scientific Institution, and I addressed that meeting. I admit that I am not in the habit of reading reports of speeches of mine after they are delivered. I generally rest satisfied with the favourable impression that I produce at the time. It is, therefore, rather difficult for me at this distance of time to pledge myself to the exact accuracy of every word that appears in that report. I believe I spoke for nearly two hours and a-half without notes, so that it is rather difficult for me to say whether that report is precisely correct. But this I am prepared to say, that such is the ability, the acknowledged ability, and impartiality with which the leading journal reports the proceedings of public meetings that I am quite prepared to accept the entire responsibility of every single sentence, except a particular phrase relating to a matter of merely personal interest, which I do not think I used, but which, if I had used, I should have been equally prepared to accept the entire responsibility of. I am sure that the House, as a great deal has been said about this speech, will give me ten minutes for a few remarks on it. I am very glad indeed to offer some explanation, as my phrases have been tortured a good deal from their true meaning, and a meaning has been given to them that I never intended to convey. I did address the meeting at Saltby, and, as a great deal of comment has been made on my words, it will perhaps be right, as I occupy a public situation, to put them in their true and proper light. I am very sorry—I do regret that any inconvenience should have arisen from any expressions that may have fallen from me, and which have been misinterpreted on that occasion. It is very far from my wish, and I think I may say from my nature—and I am known to many Members of this House—to cause unnecessary pain to any one. But these sentences have been very greatly twisted—twisted improperly: and I would refer particularly to the allusions to the Count de Morny, the Grand Duke Constantine, and the Prince de Ligne. As regards the Count de Morny, I absolutely repudiate having said anything about him which night not have been said by any gentleman with reference to any friend or acquaintance of his own. I said that he was le plus grand speculateur de l' Europe. Now, I did not intend to imply anything detrimental to his honourable character by that phrase; and immediately on my arrival in town, when I heard that these expressions had been noticed, I wrote to Count de Morny to say that certainly envy and malice had done their best to twist these expressions of mine into something odious to him, but that I repudiated saying a single word against his character or the position he occupied. Now, I could not say more than that. As regards the Grand Duke Constantine, that is another matter. I certainly said that the appearance of the Grand Duke Constantine did not quite impress me with the feeling that I was looking at a "frank and open-hearted sailor." I said that; but those words were not mine; they had been used by the gallant Admiral sitting there (pointing to Sir Charles Napier), and in using them I did not mean to say one word against the Grand Duke Constantine, or any other member of the Royal family of that country. On the contrary, when I said that he did not give me the impression of being "a frank an open-hearted sailor," I meant that he gave me the impression of being a man of great powers of mind. What I intended to convey was, that he was not merely a simple sailor, but a man of greater grasp of mind. As regards the Prince de Ligne, I accept the responsibility of every phrase that I used. I certainly did say— and I should be sorry to cause any unnecessary pain to any one—but I was talking in a familiar way, and I did use the expression that he was "as stiff and starched as the frill of Queen Elizabeth." I cannot, however, accept the responsibility of every word in the report. I see my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Adderley), who was chairman of the meeting, and I must appeal to him and to Lord Lyttelton, who was also present, whether a single word fell from my lips that might not have found an echo and expression in the mouth of the most straight-laced gentleman in this House. All I can say is that if, in the opinion of the hon. Gentlemen who may have considered this question—if in the attempt, the innocent attempt, I made to paint a few light and airy sketches of character—to, as Pope said, "hold the mirror up to nature" and Catch the manners living as they rise"— if I have erred in the good opinion of those whose good opinion I honour and value, and whose judgment has weight, I beg to say, on this public occasion, as an earnest of the sincerity of my feelings, that, though I do not feel that I did err, still, if I did err in their opinion, I now offer the most ample expression of regret, and that is the most fitting amende honorable that I can offer.