HC Deb 22 February 1866 vol 181 cc910-8

Monument to Viscount Palmerston considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


Mr. Dodson—I rise, Sir, for the purpose of placing in your hands the Resolution of which I have given notice— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will give directions that a Monument be erected in the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter, Westminster, to the memory of the Right honourable Viscount Palmerston, with an inscription expressive of the Public admiration and attachment, and of the heavy loss which the Country has sustained by his death; and to assure Her Majesty that this House will make good the expenses attending the same. And, Sir, I need hardly say that I anticipate the unanimous assent and approval of the House. It is, indeed, true, and more than this, it is rather a marked feature of our habits, that the occasions on which Parliament has been asked to present addresses or to take other measures contemplating the erection of monuments at the public charge, for the Civil servants of the State, have been very rare. The general rule of England is to leave it to friends and to the impartial estimate of public opinion to determine upon and select those memorials which may be due to the fame, the virtues, and the performances of the dead. But in certain, cases Parliament has thought fit, upon strong grounds, narrowly and well-defined, to depart from its usual reserve, and to make the nation, through the medium of its vote, the organ for expressing its opinion of those who have passed from among us, by means of a public monument. As far, Sir, as I know, there have been within the last 100 years but three of these monuments—three, I mean, as applicable to Civil servants of the State. In the case of Lord Chatham and in that of Mr. Pitt votes of this kind were passed, and they were passed for men who, as historical figures, tower above all their contemporaries. It was done also in the case of Mr. Percival, who, like Lord Chatham and Mr. Pitt, was Prime Minister of this country, who lost his life in the actual discharge of his duty, in a manner to signalize the occasion which naturally drew from Parliament some marked and striking expression of the public feeling. In the case of Mr. Canning there was no public monument. Another method was adopted by the Government and the Parliament of the day for testifying the sentiment which the nation entertained. And now, Sir, we come to the case of Lord Palmerston, and I think there can be little doubt—I believe there can be no doubt in the minds of any who hear me—that the Government have judged wisely, and have but answered the general anticipation, in the proposal which they now make. Lord Palmerston, like the three men whom I have named, was Prime Minister of this country; and although he did not attain to that dignity until what is with most men the declining age of three-score years and ten, yet long before that time he had been one of the most eminent, one of the most famous, of the Civil servants of the State; and after he had attained to it, it was his lot to hold it for a period of nearly ten years—a period longer than that for which it had been held, I think, by any Prime Minister, except two, during a century. But it was not only the time for which he held that high dignity, although that of itself constitutes a marked distinction in the case of Lord Palmerston—it was the general position which he held in the view of the Parliament and the country, the place which he established for him- self in the feelings and the recollections of his countrymen, that have led to the making of this proposal. Sir, on this occasion it would be an entire departure from usage, and from a usage founded upon prudence, if I were to attempt by a single word that I might say to make this tribute the tribute of a Ministry or of a party, instead of being, as it really is and should be, the tribute of a Parliament and a nation. I will refer but to two points which I think were truly national in the career of Lord Palmerston. It was his happy lot as Foreign Minister and as Prime Minister of this country to be closely associated with that remarkable extension of constitutional freedom in Europe which has been among the happy characteristics of the present age. I need not speak of Belgium; I need not speak of the Peninsula; but as to Italy I will venture to say that Lord Palmerston was one of the first and most prophetic of those who in England discerned the growing and gathering destinies of that country; and I believe it would not be extravagant to say that in that kingdom his name may claim a place by the side and on a level with that of her most distinguished patriots. It was the lot of Lord Palmerston to be the Minister who brought to an honourable conclusion a war taxing severely the energies of his country—a war undertaken for no narrow, selfish, or interested purposes, but aiming solely at preventing a breach of those principles which are necessary for the safety, the peace, and the well-being of Europe. It happened, and fortunately happened, that this war was arrested at an early stage—at a stage when the resolution of the country was, as it were, but stirred from its depths, and the resources of the country were perfectly unbroken. The English people were contented to stop in their career, and to receive with entire satisfaction the conclusion of a peace, moderate, wise, and considerate in its terms; and I believe I may say that they were led in no small degree to that favourable view of the negotiations and the termination of the war by the confidence which they reposed in the nobleman then at the head of the Government. But, Sir, there was another topic of life-long interest to Lord Palmerston, most thoroughly national in its character, most vitally associated with English history, which it would be unpardonable not to mention on this occasion. I mean the deep, the unfailing in- terest which, at all times, and in every position, Lord Palmerston exhibited, not by words merely, but by actions, in the fate of the unhappy African race, whose history is for the most part written only in blood and in tears. It is needless to go back upon detail. Happily, as there is nothing more truly brilliant, so there is also nothing more conspicuous and better known in his career than the fact that in every step of negotiation and of policy the mind, the heart, and the voice of Lord Palmerston were ever enlisted on behalf of that long down-trodden, but we trust at length, rising race. While, Sir, I think the House will agree with me that it is desirable to avoid all doubtful ground, I yet presume to say that Lord Palmerston had the reward of his untiring zeal, his immense energy, and his long-continued labours in an amount of public admiration and attachment (to use the language employed in this Address)—I might perhaps substitute for attachment even a still warmer term—I certainly may say in addition to admiration and attachment, in an amount of public trust—such as upon the whole, when we consider its extension throughout the country and its duration over so many years, has surpassed that which has fallen to the lot of any other statesman of our time who has borne office under the Crown. It would be a great-mistake to suppose that this attachment was limited to any class, any party, or any portion of the community. It prevailed in the upper class, among the aristocracy of the land, to whom by blood and by character Lord Palmerston belonged; it pervaded the powerful and intelligent middle class of the country: it descended into the ranks of humble and honest labour. In all of these—nay, I would venture to say, in all of these alike—his character and services were favourably and warmly appreciated, in, I believe, a higher degree and for a longer time than those of any other Civil servant of the Crown. Sir, in this place, too, it is impossible not to cast back a thought on the influence he here exercised. There was connected with that influence something which it would be unpardonable altogether to pass by. All who knew Lord Palmerston knew his genial temper and the courage with which he entered into the debates in this House; his incomparable tact and ingenuity—his command of fence—his delight—his old English delight—in a fair stand-up fight. Yet. notwithstanding the pos- session of these powers, I must say I think there was no man whose inclination and whose habit were more fixed, so far as our discussions were concerned, in avoiding whatever tended to exasperate, and in having recourse to those means by which animosity might be calmed down. He had the power to stir up angry passions, but he chose, like the sea-god in the Æneid, rather to pacify. Quos ego—sed motos præstat componere fluctus. The position of Lord Palmerston in this House was, I may add, not due to any laboured or artificial rhetorical effort-There are, however, many now present who recollect the Session of 1850, and who then learnt to what a height of real and solid excellence the Parliamentary oratory of Lord Palmerston could attain. The occasion to which I refer was a great one. We were all arrayed on one side or the other. I myself was humbly placed in the ranks opposed to him; but I never can forget the sentiments of admiration with which I—not differing from those around me, but merely sharing their opinion—listened to him throughout that long summer night as with unparalleled courage and with extraordinary clearness, force, and felicity of argument he went point by point through the foreign policy of England, that is to say, through the politics of the world, and satisfied the House on the points of controversy which had been raised. Sir, the character of Lord Palmerston as an orator—his character as a statesman—his character as a man, are not to be determined by me. I cannot, however, help adverting to what I always regarded as one of the most remarkable qualities of his speaking, though, perhaps, the words in which I express my idea on the subject may raise a smile, so much may they seem to wear the appearance of a simple matter of course. That which, in my opinion, distinguished Lord Palmerston's speaking from the oratory of other men, that which was its most remarkable characteristic, was the degree in which he said precisely that which he meant to express. I have never seen—I may be wrong, but I do not think I have ever seen that precision of measure—that strict identity between the process of the mind—which is during the address of a public speaker to his audience always in advance—and the terms and accents which the tongue employs for the purpose of conveying his meaaning to their intelli- gence, preserved and maintained so completely as in the case of Lord Palmerston. As I have already said, it is not our manner to endeavour to draw a portrait of a de parted statesman on such occasions as the present; and in this instance it is all too soon to make any such attempt. That is the business of the public opinion of the country, and of those who will hereafter record the transactions of the times in which Lord Palmerston bore so conspicuous and distinguished a part, and of whose history he made himself so essential and in separable a portion. But we have all seen, and we must, I think, desire to record, now that it associates itself not merely with an admiring but somewhat of a tender feeling, the extraordinary courage and the almost unexampled force of will by means of which Lord Palmerston was enabled to undertake for the first time the office of Prime Minister and the leadership of this House at the age of seventy, and to discharge the duties belonging to those arduous positions until he had passed four score years. For my own part, I cannot help saying that I believe they are mistaken who attribute only to the Providential blessing of a good constitution the ability of Lord Palmerston, while out of doors he performed the laborious duties of his high office, to set indoors to younger men the example of indefatigable attention to the public business. I am convinced it was the force of will, the sense of duty, and the determination not to give in, that enabled him to make himself a model for all of us who yet remain to follow him with feeble and unequal steps in the per formance of some of the duties which it fell to his lot to discharge. His was that force of will which did not so much struggle against the infirmities of old age as repel them and keep them at a distance. One other quality there is which Lord Palmerston'possessed which I may mention without the smallest risk of stirring up a single painful emotion, upon which it is most delightful to dwell, and which is the last I shall mention. It is this, that he had a nature incapable of enduring anger or the sentiment of wrath. There may be those who would lead us back to the old philosophical puzzle which many hon. Gentlemen must remember, that as there is no virtue without self-denial, and that as in a perfectly good man there is no self-denial needed to be virtuous, virtue dies at the moment when it attains its perfection. But the true answer to that puzzle in the case of Lord Palmerston is, that this freedom from wrathful sentiment was not the result of painful effort, but the spontaneous fruit of the mind, the noble gift of the original nature—a gift which, beyond all others, it is delightful to observe and to record in those to whom it belongs. It is delightful to remember it in connection with him, who has been taken from us, with whom we are no longer connected except in the endeavour to profit by his example wherever it can lead us in the path of duty and right, and to bestow on his memory that tribute of admiration and affection which it deserves at our hands. On these grounds, Sir, I venture to recommend the Resolution which I have risen to propose to the friendly and, I think I may add, the warm and enthusiastic notice and approval of this House. The rest I leave to the historian, who will hereafter record more fully the deeds of Lord Palmerston, and, above all, to the admiring and affectionate recollection of a proud and grateful nation. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the following Besolution:— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will give directions that a Monument be erected in the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter, Westminster, to the memory of the Right honourable Viscount Palmerston, with an inscription expressive of the Public admiration and attachment, and of the heavy loss which the Country has sustained by his death; and to assure Her Majesty that this House will make good the expenses attending the same.


I had hoped, Sir, that this Motion might have been seconded by some one who had the honour of sharing the private friendship of Lord Palmerston, and at the same time his political confidence. But as no one has risen, I cannot without great reluctance permit a proposal of this character to pass in absolute silence in this House, as if we on these Benches did not join in the Address to the Crown and the vote to which we are asked to assent with entire cordiality. Whatever differences of opinion there may be on political questions, the memory of sixty years of public service—always distinguished, sometimes illustrious—cannot be allowed to be cherished merely by an admiring or even a grateful country. It is under such circumstances most fitting and most proper that in the chief sanctuary of the realm there should be some outward and visible sign to preserve the memory of a statesman of whom it may be said that he combined in the highest degree two qualities which we seldom find united—energy and experience. I will not touch upon the personal qualities of the man, In this present Parliament I have already presumed to speak of them; I will only say that they were most engaging. I trust, Sir, that the time may never come when the love of fame shall cease to be the sovereign passion of our public men. But, Sir, I still think that statesman is peculiarly to be envied who, when he leaves us, leaves not merely the memory of great achievements, but also the tender tradition of personal affection and social charm.

Question proposed.


said, he wished to put in a plea that the monument should be worthy of the great man whom it commemorated, and of the noble pile in which it was to stand. The allegories and monstrosities which pleased our ancestors now palled upon our taste. The present was the time to show that a monument to a great man in Westminster Abbey might be a memorial of the man, and yet not an eye-sore or a disfigurement to the grand building in which it should be placed. Now was the time for the Government to show that the sculptor's art does not consist in allegories, clouds, nymphs, and cupids. Let the work be worthy of the age in which we affect such superiority to our ancestors.


I have to make an apology to the House for a strange error on my part. I mentioned three precedents, but I entirely omitted to refer to the precedent of Sir Robert Peel, who is a distinguished example, as he, like Lord Palmerston, had long been Prime Minister of this country.


After what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) who has preceded me, anything which I may say cannot add to the unanimity with which the House is about to vote this monument; but I do think it necessary to express a hope that no unseemly and unreasonable delay may take place in its execution and erection. Twelve or thirteen years ago a monument was voted to the memory of the great Duke of Wellington. Where is that monument, and what security have we that it will ever be erected? I wish to express a hope that we may be informed when that monument will be completed, and that no such unseemly delay will attend the erection of the monument for Lord Palmerston.

Resolution put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.