HC Deb 07 July 1913 vol 55 cc61-4
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

We should not, I think, be doing justice to the feelings which are uppermost in many of our hearts if we passed to the business of the day without taking notice of the fresh gap which has been made in our ranks by the untimely death of Mr. Alfred Lyttelton. It is a loss of which I hardly trust myself to speak, for apart from ties of relationship, there had subsisted between us for thirty-three years a close friendship and affection which no political differences were ever allowed to loosen or even to invade. Nor can I better describe him than by saying that he perhaps, of all men of this generation came nearest to the mould and ideal of manhood which every English father would like to see his son aspire to, and if possible, to attain. The bounty of nature enriched and developed not only by early training but by constant self-discipline through life, blended in him gifts and graces which, taken alone, are rare, and in such attractive union are rarer still. Body, mind and character—the school-room, the cricket field, the Bar, the House of Commons—each made its separate contribution of faculty and of experience to a many-sided and harmonious whole. But what he was he gave—gave with such ease and exuberance that I think it may be said without exaggeration that wherever he moved he seemed to radiate vitality and charm. He was, as we here know, a strenuous fighter. He has left behind him no resentments and no enmity—nothing but a gracious memory of a manly and winning personality, the memory of one who served with an unstinted measure of devotion his generation and his country. He has been snatched away in what we thought was the full tide of a buoyant life, still full of promise and of hope. What more can we say? We can only bow once again before the decrees of the Supreme Wisdom. Those who loved him—and they are many—in all schools of opinion, in all ranks and walks of life, when they think of him will say to themselves—

  • "This was the happy warrior; this was he
  • Whom every man in arms should wish to be."


We are very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for a reference so eloquent, so sincere and so touching, for the Friend whom we have loved and whom we have lost. As the Prime Minister concluded, what can we say more? It is two or three weeks ago that it fell to the lot of my right hon. Friend to move the rejection on the Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill, when he was mourning the loss of a valued colleague and a dear friend. It will soon be my duty to move the rejection of the same Bill on the Third Reading, when our hearts are heavy because another comrade has fallen out of our ranks. That subject was the keynote of the political life of both our colleagues. It was in Ireland that Mr. Wyndham's chief work was done; it was in connection with the Bill which we are to discuss to-day that Mr. Lyttelton departed from the political traditions, in which he had been brought up, and broke the spell which had been cast upon him by his affection and reverence for the great personality of Mr. Gladstone. This is no small controversy. It is as real as anything which ever divided political parties. But in spite of its reality, do not these events recall to our minds words once used by Burke under similar circumstances, words which, like the flash of insight, tear the veil for a moment, if only for a. moment, from our eyes, "What shadows we are and what shadows we pursue." The Prime Minister has spoken from a knowledge far longer than mine—though. I think he scarcely knew him better—of the nature, sincere, generous and lovable, of Mr. Lyttelton. He had a wide outlook; he had a fairness of mind which are rare in political controversy. He had also great abilities, greater, I think, than was represented even by his reputation in this House, for his modesty and diffidence exceeded even his ability. The great position to which he had attained, both in this House and out of it, was due not so much to ability as to character, which still counts, and I hope will always count, for more in our political life than even ability. There are many men of whom we can say with confidence that they would never do a mean action. There are some men, but they are few, of whom we know not only that they would not, but that they could not do anything small or mean, and Mr. Lyttelton was one of these. I recall to-day a conversation I had with him some eighteen months' ago which in the light of the duty in which we are now engaged makes for me a sad reminiscence. Shortly after my right hon. Friend had given up the Leadership of our party it was my duty to second in this House a vote of condolence. I rather dreaded it, and as I entered the House I met Mr. Lyttelton to whom I spoke. His reply was characteristic of the sincerity and the good feeling which were the foundation of his nature. "Say only what you feel, and it does not matter how you say it." I say only what I feel now that we on these benches have lost a loyal colleague, and a true and unselfish friend, and that all of us in this assembly have lost a fellow Member who did honour to the House of Commons, and

whose death to those who knew him well—and the Prime Minister's speech shows that they were not confined to this side of the House—leaves a blank which for us will not be filled.