HL Deb 13 April 1885 vol 296 cc1435-9

Your Lordships will not, I am sure, think it presumptuous in me if I ask your permission to say one word with regard to the great blow which has been inflicted upon this House by the death of Earl Cairns. I could have wished to bear testimony myself to his worth as a man, to his greatness as a lawyer, to his eminence as a politician; but I prefer to use words of more authority. I hold in my hand a letter from the Lord Chancellor, which, after a touching allusion to the great calamity which he himself has sustained, goes on thus:— I should like you to say that I am among those who feel this loss deeply both upon public and private grounds; and if I were not myself suffering under the severest affliction, I should desire, from my place in the House, to endeavour to pay that tribute to the late Earl's great qualities and great virtues which nearly 40 years of constant intercourse on terms of friendship never interrupted would perhaps have qualified me to pay. I feel, my Lords, that these are words which all your Lordships will endorse, and it seems to me that in these sad circumstances it is singularly pathetic and strikingly indicative of the charac- ter of the two men—this simple tribute from Lord Selborne to his Friend and great rival who has passed away.


My Lords, the noble Ear], in the exercise of his position of Leader of this House, has paid in a fitting and graceful manner a tribute to the qualities and virtues of the statesman and lawyer whom we have lest. All that he says from a public and general point of view, we, who have lost, not only a great public example, a great ornament to the Assembly to which we belong, but a friend, a counsellor, and a comrade of many years' standing, re-echo—we re-echo his words and the words of the Lord Chancellor with a peculiar feeling of the acuteness of the bereavement, if I may use the word, which has happened to us. Lord Cairns had an eminence not very often granted to a single man—he was equally great as a lawyer, as a statesman, and as a legislator. In all these three capacities his memory will live in the minds of his fellow-countrymen, and will leave its mark on history. To us the loss is very severe indeed. No one but those who have sat in Council and worked with him can thoroughly appreciate the inestimable value of his calm, judicial mind, even on the most burning questions of politics, and the wonderful grasp with which he perceived at once all the bearings of the most complicated facts, and all the lucidity with which he marshalled the arguments and considerations to which it was necessary to give attention, and which fell from his mouth, as it seemed, at once naturally and without effort into their proper place, and made all that seemed before obscure and difficult as simple and clear as daylight. The loss of such a counsellor at such a time is the heaviest burden and blow that could be inflicted upon a political Party. On behalf of that Party I thank the noble Earl for the touching language he has used with respect to Lord Cairns. His death leaves a void not easily supplied in the debates and proceedings of this House, and which can never be replaced in the services which it was in his power to render to the Friends with whom he acted for so many years.


My Lords, I desire to add my testimony to that of the noble Earl and noble Marquess as to the public loss which everyone on both sides of this House will admit has been sustained by the death of Lord Cairns. To his great public gifts ample justice, and no more than ample justice, has been done by the language of the noble Earl and noble Marquess who respectively lead those great political Parties into which this country is divided. But for his own domestic bereavement, we should have heard from the lips of the Lord Chancellor in this House, with an eloquence all his own, whose knowledge was equalled by few and surpassed by none, what the Profession of the Law had lost, and we should have heard it from a man who, while at the Bar, was Lord Cairns's constant rival and also his constant friend. To the language which we have heard from the noble Earl and noble Marquess, and to that which has been read from the Lord Chancellor, no words of mine can add. But as one who in this and the other House of Parliament has watched his career, who in the course of years has been occasionally engaged with him or against him in the practice of the Law, and who has listened to him with infinite intellectual pleasure on many occasions, I wish to say a few words, though I can add nothing to the universal feeling which has found expression here and "elsewhere" as to his great and commanding qualities. It is perfectly true, as the noble Marquess has said, that he had a mind powerful enough to throw light and order into the most intricate and complicated, facts, while he could unweave the subtlest web of argument; and yet he never wasted time or words, but grasped more firmly than most men the subjects with which he had to deal. He could make them more intelligible and clear than others, and at times he rose to an eloquence severe, but always elevated and striking. But it is in another aspect that I would wish to say a few words of my departed Friend. As one who, though not much younger in years, but still junior and inferior to him in the great Profession to which we belonged, always opposed to him in politics, and having very little with him in common except a love of letters and an ardent desire to maintain and advance the great Profession of the Law, I may be allowed to say that in Lord Cairns was always to be found a powerful yet generous antagonist and foe. Whenever he hit a blow he could not help hitting hard, but it was always hitting fairly. He never used language which envenoms debate, but never strengthens argument. The proud and lofty nature of Lord Cairns recoiled from stooping to such things. There is another matter in which I am able to bear the highest possible testimony to the character and integrity of Lord Cairns. It chanced from circumstances with which I need not trouble your Lordships that when I was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas Lord Cairns often consulted me as to judicial appointments which he had to fill, and which had been usually filled by members of the Common Law Bar, with whom in the nature of things he could not himself have had much personal acquaintance. I do not for a moment suggest that he always took my advice. Lord Cairns was too great a man, he had too independent a mind, not to rely in the last resort upon his own judgment. He used the judgment of other men as materials to form his own. But this I may say, as those who knew him best must know, that he was always guided by the severest integrity, and always animated by a single-minded desire to do his duty as he understood it. It might be said that by those on both sides who disposed of judicial appointments politics have for many years been disregarded; but anyone acquainted with public affairs must know that it is not an easy thing to resist the importunities of men who perhaps from the nature of the case are not aware of the great public mischief that is done by incompetent persons acting in a judicial position. I may venture to say that Lord Cairns paid marked disregard to the importunity of such men, and would not appoint anyone whom he did not believe to be fully competent. In one case I suggested to him to fill a judicial position one whose competence no one who knew him would venture to deny, and he declined to appoint him. I may speak of the case now without risk of doing any harm. I suggested that the late Mr. Benjamin should be appointed to the Bench—a man whom I was anxious to have seen among the Judges of England, and who to my knowledge would have felt himself honoured by being placed among them. But Lord Cairns refused to consider his claims, and he refused on grounds which I can- not help admitting were at the time urgent and forcible, and would by most men be held to be conclusive. I am sure that in not appointing that eminent person Lord Cairns acted against his own wishes and on the purest and most patriotic motives. There is one other matter to which I will allude. I have seen it stated—where in other respects ample justice was done him—that Lord Cairns was cold and ungenial in manner, and that he had very little or no sense of humour. That was not my experience. I do not pretend to the honour of his intimacy; but I can say from what I knew of him that I always found him most cheerful and amusing, and there were few men who had a keener sense of humour. His literary and classical acquirements I often had occasion to admire, as also the extent and accuracy of his reading and the correctness of his literary judgment. Lord Cairns, I dare say, was a man who did not readily give his heart. He certainly seemed of a somewhat reserved manner; but when he gave his heart at all he gave it thoroughly. Twice it has come under my own observation that he had a serious difference with a man inferior to himself in every respect, and on both those occasions it was Lord Cairns who first came forward with a frank admission of mistake, and with an earnest desire to continue the friendship, which was not only touching and honourable, but which showed that he was as good and as generous as he was great and commanding. As long as I live I shall be proud to think that I could call my Friend the great man we have lost.

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