HL Deb 22 March 1850 vol 109 cc1227-38

said, he had already obtained a copy of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, and he now wished to obtain a copy of any report which the Royal Commissioners might have made. He should avail himself of the present occasion to reiterate his former objections to the proposed locality of this exhibition—namely, Hyde Park. He fully concurred with the noble Lord at the head of the Woods and Forests in thinking that Victoria Park would not do for the exhibition; but what objection could there be to select Regent's Park as the site for this great spectacle, where he believed the erection of a building of the necessary dimensions would be attended with little or none of the inconveniences which it must occasion in Hyde Park; for his own part, he could see none, always supposing that the exhibition was to go on. He thought that it would prove a great hardship on some of the middling and on many of the hardworking classes of the country, if the money for the erection of this immense building were to be raised by voluntary contributions. If the object were so purely national, as it was now represented to be by Whigs and Tories, by Free-traders and Protectionists, why should not 40,000l. or 50,000l be contributed towards it out of the public purse? He could state of his own knowledge that many tradesmen and shopkeepers in this great metropolis were putting their names to subscriptions, and consenting to act as committee-men, under a species, he would not say of compulsion owing to the benevolent intentions of those high influences which sanctioned it, but of douce violence, as the French styled it, on the part of their customers. One person, who had subscribed 100l., had said that he could not help doing so, but he would willingly give 200l. more to do away with it altogether, for he was sure such would be the effects of competition, that he should suffer from it materially in his business. Before he sat down he would say a word to his noble Friend behind him (Lord Stanley). He (Lord Brougham) saw that at the meeting held yesterday—not a meeting of 168 peers, but a meeting of 168 mayors—that his noble Friend had said that he (Lord Brougham) had been "somewhat volatile" in his objections to the proposed exhibition. If the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne), or some of the noble Lords whom he saw near him—all grave, stable, solid men, and remarkable for their discretion—had made the charge which his noble Friend had made against him, he should have thought it to be a sarcasm; but when his noble Friend, to whom he did not apply any one of those epithets in the smallest extent or slightest degree, made such a charge against him, he considered it to be a compliment. He might almost consider himself a pupil of his noble Friend. He had certainly gained some knowledge under his auspices and tuition; he might have caught a little, not much, of his nature, for volatile meant flighty. He might be open to a similar charge, but one flight he certainly had never taken, namely, a flight from the House of Peers to the house of mayors—to make an answer, in the house of mayors, to a speech made in his presence in the House of Peers. He would not say how far good communications might improve bad manners, but he might yet improve somewhat in that respect, and take a leaf out of his noble Friend's book. This was really a serious matter—for a species of compulsion, he repeated, was used which was very injurious—and as the intended exhibition was exciting the attention of the whole country, he hoped the Government would take up the subject with the view of considering whether some grant should not be made, so that men might not be fined for their generosity or their actions under pressure.


contended that the noble and learned Lord had somewhat exaggerated the inconvenience which might accrue to the public from erecting this building in Hyde Park. The site proposed for its erection was a narrow slip of grass, nearly opposite to the barracks at Knights-bridge, which was now almost unfrequented. Gentlemen had the privilege of riding there, but it was only during a few days in the year. Some speeches in support of this exhibition had been made last night, which the noble and learned Lord had treated with contempt, but which, in his opinion, were worthy of any place, or of any assembly. He could not but notice some inconsistency between the present proceedings of the noble and learned Lord, and his proceedings at a public meeting at Westminster, where the noble and learned Lord had eulogised this exhibition as one "well calculated to excite our industry and whet our inventive faculties, and increase our skill by competition with other nations; and, above all, to increase mutual good understanding and friendly feeling among all nations—an object which every lover of his country and of his kind ought to promote." He had likewise told that meeting that he had interrupted his judicial labours in the House of Lords to be present at their proceedings, and expressed a hope that they would allow him to retire at once to resume them, "without considering his departure as inconsistent with that feeling of warm interest with which he regarded this proposed exhibition." The noble and learned Lord had likewise told that meeting that he considered it such an auspicious event that he had broken through a rule which he had observed for twenty years preceding, namely, never to accept an invitation to attend a public meeting. The noble and learned Lord then considered this exhibition as a national object, and he supposed that the noble and learned Lord considered it so still, or why was it so important that the noble and learned Lord would defray the expense of it out of the taxes? Now, the speech of the noble and learned Lord, the other night, did not appear to be made for the purpose of furthering the success of the exhibition; on the contrary, it appeared to be an appeal to the worst prejudices of the manufacturing and trading classes, made for the purpose of exciting them against it. He might be deceived in that notion, but such, at any rate, appeared to him to be the tendency of the noble and learned Lord's observations.


defended the consistency of his past and present conduct. He still believed that the exhibition would do great good. The manufacturers would gain by the exhibition of foreign ingenuity, which would enable them to strike out new lights, and add fresh improvements to their former inventions. Their gain, however, would only be gain in the long run; presently their profits would be diminished, as prices would be reduced, but ultimately they might be benefited by the result. He had been repeatedly thanked by the shopkeepers and tradesmen of the metropolis for the warning he had given them as to the effects which they might expect from foreign competition. The noble Earl appeared to suspect that his objects were of a personal nature, arising from pressure from without. Now, that pressure was one of his greatest gratifications, for it showed that he had obtained, and still possessed, the confidence of his fellow-countrymen. He had already said, that he would not himself subscribe to the funds out of which the expenses of this exhibition was to be defrayed, for he did not consider it to be a fit subject for voluntary subscriptions. It was invidious, in men of their Lordships' rank in life, to subscribe towards that which would be immediately beneficial to themselves, and which must for a time be prejudicial to all manufacturers and shopkeepers.


said, it was a remarkable circumstance that there was not a class in the country which had not put forward some of its most prominent members to aid in carrying out this exhibition in a manner worthy of the high auspices under which it originated, and of the benevolent and sagacious Prince who had first suggested it. When he looked at the public expressions of approval emanating from the most distinguished men both of this and of the other House of Parliament, from the heads of the municipal bodies of the empire, and from the great body of our countrymen in all ranks and in all stations, he saw incontestable proofs that the great mass of the British community was determined to give its cordial co-operation to this exhibition; and, as the events of yesterday had been alluded to, he might be permitted to observe that it was an example unparalleled in the city of London. It would form a remarkable epoch in its history, for on no former occasion had any public banquet in the city of London been attended by so peculiar an assemblage of persons of high distinction in their various stations and pursuits. The venerable head of our Church was present, not less distinguished for his high rank than for his sound learning and sincere piety. There were present some of the first statesmen of every shade of political party—there were present some of our most eminent merchants, there were present also the living representatives of British industry from every town and corporation in the country. These all assembled at that banquet to declare their deliberate conviction, speaking not only for themselves, but also for their constituents, friends, and fellow-labourers, that this undertaking orinated in patriotic motives, and was dictated by really enlightened wisdom. It would be productive of results honourable to the country, beneficial to all its interests, and more especially beneficial to the interests of those working classes with whom the noble and learned Lord opposite had hitherto identified himself in a most honourable manner, and for whose interests he had expected that the noble and learned Lord would have been, on this occasion, a zealous advocate. With regard to the observations which had been made on the speech of the noble and learned Lord at the meeting at Westminster, he had only to say, that as a member of the Commission he had felt it his duty to attend that meeting, and it had, in consequence, surprised him exceedingly to hear the noble and learned Lord now denouncing, by every means in his power—and his means were very formidable—the proposal of carrying out this exhibition by the voluntary subscriptions of the public. The noble and learned Lord was singular in that opinion, for almost every deliberative community in the country, from the highest down to the very lowest, had declared itself in favour of supporting this exhibition by means of private contributions. It had, he repeated, surprised him exceedingly to find that the noble and learned Lord, after having attended the meeting in Westminster, which was called to originate a public subscription, and after having proposed one of the resolutions, and after having expressed so earnestly his concurrence with its object, and after having apologised for coming so late, and retiring so early, and after having declared that he had suspended his judicial labours in the House of Lords, to enable him to take a part in their proceedings, and after having expressed his earnest hope that his early retirement from the meeting would not be construed as indicating any lukewarmness or want of sympathy in the objects of the meeting—it had indeed surprised him exceedingly that the noble and learned Lord should have turned round so suddenly to denounce the voluntary subscriptions which were required for the support of the exhibition. Under such circumstances, he thought that the epithet of "somewhat volatile," which had been attached last night to the noble and learned Lord's name was not altogether unreasonable. It was easy to throw out objections, and to find fault, the reply to which would involve much tedious explanation, but their Lordships had already had a sufficient warning not to yield lightly to the hasty propositions of the noble and learned Lord, who had that very evening confessed that on a former occasion he had thrown out a very ill-considered suggestion respecting the practicability of making the Victoria Park available for this exhibition, and who now proposed to transfer it to the Regent's Park. The first proposition of the noble and learned Lord was, that the building, which he said would interfere injuriously with the lungs of this great metropolis, should be transferred from Hyde Park to Victoria Park, that was, from a site in a park more peculiarly devoted to the recreation of the higher classes of society, to a site in a park given almost exclusively to the lower. The Commission had not proceeded hastily or without deliberation on these points. It was deeply impressed by a sense of the responsibility which rested upon it. It had received suggestions from scientific men of the most eminent reputation, and it had selected the present site in conformity with their almost unanimous decision. It had determined to carry out this exhibition in such a manner as would render it a memorial worthy of the age in which we lived, and as a lasting proof of the sympathy of the rich in the interests of the poor, and more particularly of the sympathy felt in their welfare by one who now stood nearest to the Throne, and who day by day was drawing more closely the ties which would bind him to the hearts and affections of his adopted country. The question as to the site in Hyde Park had been referred in the first instance to a building committee, which had reported to the commission favourably regarding it. The objection to fixing the site in Regent's Park was, that that park was not level ground, but of an undulating character; that it was wet and damp, and must be drained before it could be used for building purposes; and that it was, moreover, the favourite resort of the middle and working classes for air and recreation, whilst the site selected in Hyde Park was almost exclusively the resort of the wealthier. The site which the Commissioners had chosen was a space free from the resort of the lower classes, and though it was sometimes occupied by the wealthier, it was only just that they should surrender their advantages for the benefit of the poor, and not that the poor should surrender theirs for the benefit of the rich. It would be an appropriate and gracious concession on the part of the upper classes. This very day the Commissioners had sat in deliberation on the subject. The several mayors of the different muncipal towns in the three kingdoms had attended to share in their councils; and they had endeavoured to impress on the Commissioners the propriety of a temporary surrender by the richer classes of society of the conveniences which they derived during a few months of the year from the use of that part of Hyde Park. The site in Hyde Park was also a site which could be most easily restored to its original condition. The noble and learned Lord on a former evening had expressed a fear that the building would be a permanent structure. He could assure the noble and learned Lord that there was no intention of erecting a structure of that character. On the contrary, the building erected would be of a nature to be removed with the greatest case, and would not form a lasting incumbrance on the park. Everything that had occurred since this exhibition had been in contemplation justified him in thinking that it would be carried out in such a manner as would be in conformity with the wishes of our most gracious Sovereign, and realise the intentions of the illustrious Prince, whose proud office it was to promote the progress of industry and to sympathise with the wants and wishes of the working classes. The undertaking had still difficulties to contend with; but he trusted that with steady perseverance it would triumph over them all—that it would carry its designs into effect so as to do honour to British industry and to show British sympathy for the industry of other nations—and that it would consolidate and strengthen now and for ever all those amicable relations between the various countries of the world which arise from the mutual interchange of their respective productions, and which must tend to bind nations together in lasting peace and unity.


It is quite unnecessary, my Lords, for me to say a word either as to the objects of the Royal Commission, or as to the site of the exhibition, under any circumstances, after the able and excellent speech just delivered by the noble Lord who has just addressed you for the first time. I hope, however, that I may be excused by your Lordships and by my noble and learned and very grave and discreet Friend, if I say that he has greatly exaggerated the importance of the expression used by me at a festive meeting last night, when I characterised him by an epithet which, I am sorry to find, has occasioned him some disquietude. Last night, in combating an erroneous impression sought to be inculcated into the minds of the tradesmen and shopkeepers of London, that their pecuniary interests would suffer by the introduction of goods not for sale but for exhibition in the year 1851, I certainly did regret that that impression had received encouragement and support from my noble, learned and "somewhat volatile" Friend. I did use those expressions because I certainly saw some sudden inconsistency and change of opinions and views on the part of my noble and learned Friend in the language which he used at the Westminster meeting, and in that which he addressed to you the other night in his place in Parliament. I really thought that my noble and learned Friend would have taken my expression as a compliment, falling, indeed, below the amount of praise which is due to him, and very unequal to the merits of the individual to whom I applied it. On the point of acute-ness, activity, rapidity, and pungency, sal volatile is nothing when compared with my noble and learned Friend. You may put a stopper of glass or leather on a bottle of sal volatile, or any other ethereal essence; but I defy any human power, even that of my noble and learned Friend himself, to put any stopper, either of glass, or leather, or any other material, over the activity, ingenuity, and pungency of his mind, I will do him the justice to say that I believe that his activity and energy of mind, and that his wit and readiness of humour, are as active and as pungent as any volatile essence; but that they are either offensive or acrimonious is that which no man in his senses will ever assert, and which I shall at all times be prepared to deny. I hope that the long friendship which has existed between us will not be disturbed for a single moment by the expression I used. [Lord BROUGHAM: Hear!] For, henceforward, I shall form a more correct estimate of his character. I shall look on him, hereafter, not as one of those great, rapid, and energetic men, who can make any question important, and who are capable of dealing and taking a part in any and every question, even though they come one after another with such velocity as to seem not continuous questions but only one question; but I shall look on him as a man of a grave, serious, plodding, and rather slow and heavy nature, not hasty in taking up a subject, nor in laying it down, nor in expressing his opinions upon it—never expressing an opinion on any point which he has not well weighed previously—not taking up many subjects at once, but taking up all separately, and making himself fully and entirely master of one before he adventures on another—content with one at a time, and never hazarding a judgment upon every subject without hearing and without examination, and discreet enough never to speak on any Motion, unless he has previously considered it in every light and in every bearing. And even if my noble and learned Friend should hereafter say anything calculated to disabuse me of that opinion, I shall attribute it to my own want of judgment, and that what appears to be inconsistent with that opinion is not really inconsistent with it. But my noble and learned Friend must forgive me for saying that when he means to speak seriously he should take care that no doubt can exist as to his intentions. If my noble and learned Friend will put himself under my tuition—and, considering the constancy with which he favours us with his company on this side of the House, I may perhaps venture to give him one hint—it is that when my noble and learned Friend favours us with his sincere opinions, he should not give them so much an air of irony, and that when he wants to promote an object like the exhibition of 1851, he should not throw out a sarcasm that is calculated to deter people from supporting it. Because, while he tells the tradesmen of this metropolis that the object which this exhibition is intended to promote is really for their benefit, he couches his ideas in such expressions that a really contrary impression is created, and it is supposed that my noble and learned Friend is really of opinion that they are great fools if they suffer themselves to be deluded by it, and that they are going to do that which is really injurious to their interests. If my noble and learned Friend will adopt my advice in future, and separate that which is serious from that which is ironical, he will avoid such misconceptions as have prevailed upon the present occasion. If his real desire was, as he says, to promote the objects of this great exhibition, I very much regret that my noble and learned Friend did not last night avail himself of the opportunity which was afforded him of accepting the invitation of the Lord Mayor, when we might have thanked him for the effective aid with which he has, it appears, endeavoured to promote its ultimate success by the speech he delivered the other night in this House.


said: After a noble Lord in this House and a Royal Commissioner have made my speech the subject of remark, the courtesy of either House of Parliament would allow me the privilege of explaining. My noble Friend has given me his advice, on the use of the figure of irony. Now, I hope my noble Friend will permit me in return to give him a piece of advice, which I do with the greatest earnestness and sincerity of purpose, and with the kindest and most benevolent feeling to him which I can possibly entertain, when I say to him, not always when you are present and hear an argument which you think inconclusive—always when you are present and hear an opinion which you think erroneous—ever when you are present at a debate where an individual openly, above board, and frankly comes forward, and in the presence of those who are supposed to hold different opinions, delivers his sentiments, states his feelings, propounds his reasons, and supports his opinions—ever (and this is an inflexible rule), if you differ with him, if you disapprove the course he is taking, if you despise his authority, if you charge him with inconsistency, if you feel that he is not saying here what he has said elsewhere, at another time or place—then ever and always at once come forward, attack him, defend yourself, and do not wait until the day after, and then, having been silent when he spoke, and having failed to get up, to put him on his defence, to give him an opportunity of explaining himself if he has been obscure—of reconciling himself if he has been inconsistent—of defending himself if what he has said is defensible—instead of that, do not take the opportunity, three miles off, and the day after, and before other people, and when he is not there, to set people laughing at him. My noble Friend may say that no harm was done, and I agree with him; but I must take the liberty of saying, that there is nothing so easy as to raise a laugh against an absent man, nothing so safe as joking about him when he is not there, nothing so secure as to set people laughing at his expense when he is somewhere else. It is the safest kind of joking, and the easiest. Why does not my noble Friend think that I could have raised the laugh against him if I had said of him last night, "He's tumbling at the Mansion House, for the amusement of 160 mayors of the provincial towns?" It would, I admit, have been the dullest possible joke—almost, not quite, as dull as my noble Friend's own joke last night—but still there was no denying it that, dull and stupid as the joke would have been, it would have been successful in exciting a laugh; and that the reporters would have written after it, "A laugh," or "Laughter," I have no doubt whatever. I must say that the noble Lord (Lord Overstone), who has addressed the House to-night for the first time, has delivered himself in a manner creditable to himself. He has shown himself capable of giving us that information which few men possess in a greater extent, and he has also shown himself capable of supporting any side of any question. But the noble Lord will forgive me for saying that when one person attacks another, he ought to take great care as to his accuracy, and still greater care that he does not persist in attributing to that person views which he has disclaimed—views which he has categorically and most significantly and perfectly intelligibly disavowed. The rule is—and the noble Lord, as an experienced Member of this or the other House, will pardon me for apprising him of it—not to impute anything to a person that he denies to have said. And this is a rule of common sense, of courtesy, of common fairness, and of candour, never to impute anything to any man after he has disclaimed it. When the explanation was given to me by my noble Friend (the Earl of Carlisle), I was convinced that I was wrong in one point, and I retracted what I had said about the Victoria Park; and, having done so, it is not right in any noble Lord to come down afterwards and then charge me with having rashly made a suggestion about the Victoria Park. When my noble Friend told me the extent of the Victoria Park and the inconvenience of holding the exhibition there, I at once gave it up. Then as to the Westminster meeting, the resolution I there proposed was, that the presence of scientific men, makers of machinery, artists, and others, who might attend the exhibition from other countries, would greatly benefit us, and that they, again, would benefit by the interchange of ideas on that occasion. Since then a new light has been shed upon the subject, which has made me think that a subscription is not the proper course, but that a public contribution, and not private subscriptions, ought to be the mode of raising the funds for this exhibition. Since that Westminster meeting I have received many communications, and since I addressed your Lordships the other night, I have received a great many more from tradesmen and professional persons, complaining of the injurious effect of the canvass for subscriptions, and these have changed my views, and have made me unfavourable to private subscriptions for accomplishing the object in view. I cannot vie with the noble Lord (Lord Overstone) in his glowing panegyric on all the parties concerned, from the most rev. Prelate to the illustrious Consort of Her Majesty—I cannot pretend to vie with him in the gorgeous eloquence of his boundless panegyric on all sects of persons, touching all manner of things. He is a grand, a mighty, eulogist—a wholesale dealer in praise. I content myself with giving my simple adhesion, and, it is sufficient for me, in my plain way, to say—not vieing with him, as I have said—to state that no one can have a higher respect than I bear towards that illustrious Prince, of which I have given proof on many occasions to the utmost extent of my limited means. And that respect and esteem have been, I will say, greatly increased by the more recent conduct of the Prince—I mean with respect to the interest he has taken in the condition of the working classes at those meetings which he has attended, so that it is difficult to know which most to admire, the sound judgment or the benevolent feelings of the Prince. I have always admired his prudence in a position of a delicate and difficult nature; and I have of late seen cause to admire his feelings on matters of a still higher kind.

Subject dropped.