HC Deb 15 June 1866 vol 184 cc485-94

rose to make the following Motion:— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to cause to be placed within the precincts of this House, a Bust, offered by his widow, of the late Joseph Hume, esquire, who for nearly forty years ably, laboriously, and disinterestedly served his Country in the House of Commons. He (Mr. Ewart) said, that his only claims to bring the Motion forward consisted in the long personal friendship which had connected Mr. Hume and himself, and in his association with Mr. Hume in many of the labours which he had undertaken and accomplished. It might be truly said that Mr. Hume's life was one of patient devotion and continuous labour, devotion and labour for public objects and in the public cause. One of the characteristics most commonly ascribed to him was economy of the public money, to which he attended with unwearied vigilance. He seemed to have taken as his rule the well-known quotation of Burke— Magnum vectigal est parsimonia; but, though such was the character attributed to him, he did not carry it to an extreme; it was only one among his many good qualities. Though he watched, with unceasing attention, the public expenditure, yet, for a good object, he would bestow the public money with no unsparing hand. He would liberally promote the cause of education, of art, or science, and acting on this principle, he supported an annual grant to that distinguished body, the Geographical Society. One object on which he was intent, in which he was successful, and in which he (Mr. Ewart) had the honour of being associated with him, was the free opening of public places and public monuments to the people. Thus, Hampton Court, Kew, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's, and other places of historical or scientific interest were either thrown open or made more accessible to the public. One of the successful efforts of Mr. Hume was the repeal of the Combination Laws. That repeal set free the disputes between capital and labour. But Mr. Hume was no bigot on either side, and supported the claims of workman and of master with strict impartiality and unprejudiced judgment. With regard to education, Mr. Hume might be commemorated among the founders of the London University, which formed a new era in the history of education in England. But the most important labours of Mr. Hume were devoted to the extension of free trade. Of free trade he was one of the foremost and most successful pioneers. In those early days of commercial reform it might be interesting to hon. Gentlemen opposite to know that a country Gentleman (Mr. Whitmore) led the van among free traders. He (Mr. Ewart) believed there was scarcely another Member of the House surviving except the Speaker and himself, who had supported free trade in its infancy during the early days of Mr. Whitmore, Mr. Hume, and their illustrious leader, Mr. Huskisson. One of the great objects pursued by these early free traders was the opening of the China trade, in which Mr. Hume took an active part. Another object of his reforming zeal was the abolition of private light dues. The right of establishing lighthouses was then a private undertaking, a privilegium, the profits of which accrued to the owners of lighthouses. Mr. Hume succeeded in establishing one uniform and public system of lighting; abolishing the monopolies, and placing the lighthouses of the country under the general guardianship of the Trinity House. Mr. Hume was an early advocate of the repeal of the Navigation Laws, a reform which demanded some courage in its promoters, since they had against them the opinion of the great apostle of free trade, Adam Smith himself. Mr. Hume was also one of the earliest advocates of the repeal of the Corn Laws. As long ago as the year 1829, he proposed a gradual yearly reduction of 1s. a quarter of the duty on foreign corn till it should vanish into nothing. He was also one of the earliest supporters of a system now universally admitted to be the polar star of our colonial policy, the principle of colonial self-government. Perhaps the greatest achievement of his public life was the proposal and Report of the Import Duties Committee, in which he (Mr. Ewart) had the honour of acting with him. That Committee was enlightened by the evidence of another Mr. Hume, James Deacon Hume, of the Board of Trade, the first among the witnesses in favour of the removal of our duties on foreign productions. It was singular that this reform sprung from the practical experience of the Board of Free Trade itself, and the enlightened intelligence of its members. It might be said of them in the words of Moore, that The extinguishers themselves took fire. He (Mr. Ewart) believed that the late Sir Robert Peel owned that his great commercial reforms were based on the evidence and Report of Mr. Hume's Committee. With regard to the public character of Mr. Hume, it was marked by three great qualities, which distinguished and inspired all his actions; public spirit, patient unwearied labour—labor improbus, to borrow a strong expression from Virgil—and moral courage, one of the rarest of political vir- tues. If ever there was a man who, in a good cause, could defy The world's dread laugh, Which scarce the firm philosopher can scorn, that man was Joseph Hume. Mr. Hume, he (Mr. Ewart) believed, never sought office. Gibbon complained that, when he was in Parliament, "his vote was counted in the day of battle, but forgotten in the division of the spoil." Mr. Hume was content to be a pioneer and sometimes to lead the forlorn hope of Reform. It was to him (Mr. Ewart) a melancholy satisfaction to have paid this last tribute to the worth of his lamented friend. With regard to Mr. Hume's private virtues, this was not the fit occasion to record them. But he (Mr. Ewart) should never forget the manly simplicity of his character, his unclouded temper, and the steady warmth of his friendship. He (Mr. Ewart) would only add that he hoped this mode of commemorating Mr. Hume's services would also be the inauguration of a new system of honouring those who, by their conduct in Parliament, have deserved well of their country.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to cause to be placed within the precincts of this House, a Bust, offered by his widow, of the late Joseph Hume, esquire, who for nearly forty years ably, laboriously, and disinterestedly served his Country in the House of Commons,"—(Mr. Ewart,)

—instead thereof.


said, it had been his good fortune to enjoy the acquaintance of Mr. Hume for twenty-five years, and he rejoiced that at last in that scene of his labours there was a sense of his services to his country. Mr. Hume's native town had erected a statue to him in gratitude for the distinction he conferred upon it; and the people of England had by a penny subscription raised an amount which enabled the trustees to have Mr. Hume's portrait painted, which was now in the University of London, and also to found a scholarship of Political Economy in that University. He quite agreed with his hon. Friend that no man laboured for the public service with a more entire absence of self. By his influence with both sides of the House he might have obtained honorary distinctions, and it was to be regretted that it had not been thought worth while to pay him even the empty compliment of making him a member of the Privy Council. Sir Robert Peel, although opposed to him in politics, declared that he was the most useful Member the House of Commons had had during the time he had been in it. He thought it could not fail to be a great gratification to the widow and family of Mr. Hume if this Motion should be accepted by the House.


said, it would give great pleasure to the people of Scotland if this Motion were acceded to. Having had the honour of the friendship of Mr. Hume during the last thirty years of his life, and being well acquainted with his public services, he desired to make one or two observations on the subject before the House. He knew how anxious he was in the labours he undertook for the public service only to discharge his duty, and how entirely free he was from any kind of selfishness or party feeling; and he held that the House would do itself honour and pay a deserved compliment by acceding to the proposition of his hon. Friend (Mr. Ewart). If ever there was a man who deserved well of his country for singlemindedness, integrity, and a desire to promote the public welfare that man was Joseph Hume. He was never characterized by rancour or selfishness, and towards his political opponents his conduct was considerate and generous.


said, that having had the honour of being a Member of that House in the time of Mr. Hume, he felt impelled to add his testimony to the character of so distinguished a man. No Member ever did so much to save public money and to induce economy and a watchfulness over the public expenditure as Mr. Joseph Hume; and one proof of his worth was that now that he was gone none had arisen to fill his place. He held that the House would do credit to itself by acceding to the proposition.


said, he willingly indorsed all that had been said in praise of Mr. Hume, but he would ask the House to consider whether the mode of doing him honour was one which should be adopted as a matter of course, and constitute a precedent for future occasions. Hitherto when the House thought it right to honour one of its Member, everything had been done at the public expense and by the action of that House. In the present case, however, the Motion was not that the House should take some action to do Mr. Hume honour of its own motion and its own capacity, but that it should receive a bust offered by his family. Nothing of the kind had ever been done before, and he thought they should be careful how by accepting this offer they set up a precedent which might be inconvenient on some future occasion. He did not see how, if they accepted this, they could afterwards refuse similar offers from the families of Members who had occupied distinguished positions within the House. When a monument was put up in that House it should be, he contended, the work of the House alone.


I so far agree with what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Darby Griffith), that I think that this Motion ought by no means to pass as a matter of course. In this case the House of Commons ought to exercise its duty under a great sense of responsibility, and with considerable care and scruple. But the question really is whether the circumstances of the case are such as to justify the Motion made by my hon. Friend. There is, perhaps, no department of the duties of the House that requires nicer consideration than that of the modes in which it shall pay honour to its most distinguished Members after they have ceased to belong to it. But for my own part, I think I have observed there are no duties of the House in which it shows more consideration and a greater capacity for preserving the line of prudence and wisdom than in those very duties which require so much delicacy and care. I am not in the least afraid that from our acceding to the Motion of my hon. Friend (Mr. Ewart) we shall be involved in future embarrassment; because, while I admit that these are cases which hardly allow of being dealt with by a general rule, I think there is in the House abundant ability and abundant disposition to judge each case as it arises according to the circumstances, and every probability that a judicious opinion will be arrived at. Therefore, by no means as a matter of course, but after careful consideration, I, for one, and, I may say, on the part of the Government, give a cheerful assent to the Motion of my hon. Friend. I have listened with great pleasure to the speech of my hon. Friend. If any particular type of character is to be judged and estimated according to the rarity of its appearance, in my opinion, as tested by such a rule, the character of Mr. Hume will stand very high. I know not whether we may not compare him favourably in that respect even with the long series of most distinguished men in other times who have exercised great influence and occupied a commanding position in Parliament. A succession of those men, at all events, down to our own time has never failed; but a succession of men like Mr. Hume will be more difficult to sustain. Mr. Hume was without predecessor, and, as has been truly said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeen (Colonel Sykes), he is without a successor. This is no small tribute—on the contrary, it is perhaps the highest tribute that can be paid to his memory. Indeed, it is, I think, ample justification for the Motion of my hon. Friend, and it may serve to allay the fears and the apprehensions of those who may think that such Motions are likely to be made too often in consequence of the precedent we are now about to sanction. I will not advert to the other name which has been mentioned in the course of this discussion, and which differs in many respects from Mr. Hume's, though illustrious in my opinion in the annals of this country. There is no conflict, no collision between them—each has had his own province and his own work; and that work has been executed in such a manner that I can wish nothing better for ourselves than that we may be enabled to do likewise. To every word of the speeches of my hon. Friends in eulogy of Mr. Hume, I, for one, render a deliberate and a conscientious assent. I think I have scarcely known—I do not know that I ever knew a character upon the whole more remarkable. Among his many excellent qualities were his courage, his patience, his rigid vigilance his strong unfailing sense of duty, which no one could fail to observe; but these qualities, which are rarely to be found in combination, were found in Mr. Hume combined with others which, perhaps, still more remarkably gave his character stamp and rank, and made it not only a single but an eminently finished character—I speak of Mr. Hume's extraordinary kindliness of spirit. Although for nearly forty years he was involved in the turmoil of political strife and even in the most worrying and irritating details of public business, he never departed from that genial cheerful spirit which always characterized him. Again, although Mr. Hume was a fervid economist, he was a discriminating economist; and no one could do a greater injustice to his memory, when a supposed want of efficiency is discovered in a public department, than to attribute it, as many at various times have done, to what they deemed the ill-judged economy of Mr. Hume. Those who watched the career of Mr. Hume know that nothing in him was more remarkable than the conscientious care with which he endeavoured to adapt his judgment to the merits of each case. Personal illiberality or harshness was a thing entirely foreign and abhorrent to his nature—the efficiency of our establishments was the object of which he never lost sight. As has been said to-night, with clearness of view and determination he took part with the foremost in the great controversies of the age, and upon questions relating to Colonial Government, Navigation Laws, and the Corn Laws, he saw the full truth at a moment when it had hardly dawned on the horizon. Yet Mr. Hume was content to forego the notoriety or celebrity, which attends the pursuit of objects such as these, and to leave to others those spheres of usefulness in which the applause of the public forms the immediate reward of public men, and to devote days and nights, months and years, an enormous proportion of the labours of a long life, to the most irksome details, not only a thankless task in itself, but in each producing the smallest immediate effect. What could be hoped from the multitude of points he took up—from the battles he fought and gained? One day he gained a few hundred pounds, another day he gained a few thousands of pounds, and another he established a stricter rule in place of a laxer one—in every form endeavouring to improve the administrative Departments of the Government. These are just the things which in their collective results are invaluable, but which taken singly draw no observation, and attract no gratitude. In my opinion, it indicated on the part of Mr. Hume that he had attained to a very high moral eminence when he passed by the more attractive portions of the domain offered to public men which are to a greater degree connected with public celebrity, and to devote himself by choice to labours of that character the reward of which was his own sense of having performed a public duty, and in which he must have known very well that there was little else in the way of immediate reward. That character and that repute never can fail, but on the contrary will rise higher from year to year; because it is time that is the test of all characters and reputations; it is time that detects the false and puts its seal upon the true. It is solidity of character, solidity of qualities in a public man, which really insure his permanent fame and permanent place in the recollection of his countrymen. Of course, I do not mean to assert that I agreed then or should agree now with all the views put forward by Mr. Hume; but as one who had an opportunity of observing, especially during the period that I was conversant with the administration of affairs in this country, the qualities of his mind and the qualities above all which he displayed in his character of a Member of Parliament, I will say that never did I give an assent with greater satisfaction to any Motion before the House than I now give my entire assent to the Motion of my hon. Friend.


thought it much to be regretted that a discovery of the merits of great public men was not earlier made. Year after year Mr. Hume had combated every species of opposition; and, at that time, to say a word in his favour was almost to lower oneself in the eyes of society. Those who were now struggling against similar difficulties, and whose names, nevertheless, would go down to posterity as benefactors of their kind, should derive comfort and hope from the eulogies which, if tardily, yet ably and eloquently, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had bestowed on the exertions of Mr. Hume.


also expressed his regret that for Mr. Hume, upon whom an elaborate eulogy had just been pronounced, more respect was not testified while he was still alive. It was known that he would have felt much gratified had his services been acknowledged even by an honorary distinction; but they were allowed to pass wholly unnoticed by an ostensibly Liberal Government. With all the singleness of purpose for which he was celebrated, Mr. Hume was a strong party man, and once declared that he would "vote black was white to keep the Whigs in office;" the requital which they gave being to habitually heap obloquy upon him. Acknowledgment of error came better late than never; but the right hon. Gentleman himself (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was a Member of the Cabinet which declined to accord to Mr. Hume the Privy Councillorship which it was well-known that it would have been gratifying to himself and the members of his family to have received.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to cause to be placed within the precincts of this House, a Bust, offered by his widow, of the late Joseph Hume, esquire, who for nearly forty years ably, laboriously, and disinterestedly served his Country in the House of Commons.—(Mr. Ewart.)

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