HL Deb 24 March 1908 vol 186 cc1178-83

My Lords, I venture to ask your Lordships to allow me to interpose for a few moments before we proceed to the discussion of the public business on the Paper in order that I may express, as I am sure I may, on behalf not only of myself and my colleagues, but also of your Lordships' House, the deep sorrow and regret with which we have learned this morning of the death of one of the foremost Members of the House—the Duke of Devonshire. The Duke of Devonshire occupied a great position in this House and in this country for many years, but that position was due not so much to his ancient lineage or his historic name, nor yet to his great territorial possessions, as to the deep impression he made on his countrymen by the character which he always bore. If we look back to those now somewhat distant days when, in 1864 I think it was, the Duke of Devonshire first entered upon official life, and when I was first associated with him—he was Under-Secretary at the War Department at that time—and watch the course of his career down to the present moment, I must say that we shall consider that we are only expressing what will turn out to be the general feeling of the country when we pay every possible respect to his memory.

My Lords, it was the fate of the Duke of Devonshire during his career to be associated with men of various political opinions; but all of us, whether we were his colleagues or his opponents, were always, I am confident, ready to admit, to acknowledge, and to admire the perfect integrity of his conduct. The Duke of Devonshire had no personal objects to pursue. He was animated throughout his public life by no petty or personal ambitions; but, as we all believe, aye, and as we all know, by an earnest and conscientious desire to promote what he in his conscience believed to be for the best interests of his country. Therefore it is that we do but voice the public opinion of the land when we express to-night the sense which we feel that there has been taken from us under the providence of God one of the most eminent of our Members. It was not so much by gifts of eloquence, it was not so much by the commanding qualities which some statesmen possess, that the Duke of Devonshire exercised his influence over his countrymen. It was rather because every man felt the strongest conviction of the straightforward sincerity of his public life. Therefore I feel, though I am little fitted at this moment to discharge this duty, that I should have failed in what your Lordships would have expected of me if I had not made these observations.


My Lords, the noble Marquess who leads the House has expressed in thoughtful and appropriate words sentiments which are felt not only in all parts of this House, but, I venture to say, in all parts of the country. We who sit on these benches greatly appreciate his testimony to the many great qualities by which the late Duke of Devonshire was distinguished. I am reluctant to add much to what the noble Marquess has said for many reasons, which, I think, your Lordships will understand. If one can imagine such a thing, one might almost say that the Duke of Devonshire himself would not have wished this occasion to be one for any elaborate panegyric. But, my Lords, how much might be said, if this were the occasion to say it, of his long and useful public career; how much might be said of his services in the House of Commons, in which he led his party during times of great difficulty and when critical problems were engaging the attention of that Assembly; how much might be said of the services which he rendered in this House, where, as the noble Marquess truly said, he was always regarded as one of its foremost Members. But what, I think, most engages our thoughts at this moment is that inflexible integrity, that simplicity of character, which so eminently distinguished him, and to which the noble Marquess so well bore witness. I doubt whether we are yet in a position to estimate correctly the place which will be assigned to the Duke of Devonshire by those who will write the history of the age in which he lived. He owed that position not to any particular achievement on which you can put your finger, not to any great measures on the Statute-book which will hereafter be associated with his name, not even to his ability as a speaker in Parliament or on the platform. His speeches, indeed, held the attention of those who listened to him, not so much on account of his eloquence as because of his invariable fairness and his ability to do justice to the arguments of those who differed from him. The place of the Duke of Devonshire will, I think, belong to him because he embodied in an eminent degree characteristics which in the opinion of the people of this country most entitle a public man to the admiration of his fellow citizens: uprightness of character, fearlessness of temperament, and that strong common sense and caution which so peculiarly distinguished him. It was the possession of these qualities that gained for the Duke of Devonshire the esteem of his countrymen; and, because he possessed them in so high a degree, I doubt whether any Englishman ever had a much stronger hold upon the confidence of all classes in the community. Of the Duke of Devonshire's personal qualities I cannot trust myself to speak. Those who, like the noble Marquess and myself, have enjoyed his friendship and have worked with him as colleagues, are aware how well he knew how to engage not only the respect but the affection of those who were brought into contact with him. My Lords, we on this side of the House thank the noble Marquess for the generous words which have fallen from him.


[My Lords, I ought perhaps to apologise for intruding on your attention to-night when the two Leaders of the House have] spoken so well of the character of our late friend. But it seems to me seemly that there should be a voice raised from the bench which he himself occupied and from one who was associated with him for many years, though perhaps not nearly so long as the noble Marquess opposite. I would add what may seem a jarring note. I did hope and expect, though I do not know the precedents, that this House would be moved to adjourn to-day as a mark of respect for the late Duke. Our business is not so pressing that it could not wait for twenty-four hours, and as the only token of respect which we can show to the man who died this morning it would be, it seems to me, a fitting and not an excessive tribute to pay to him. If no one else will move the adjournment, I shall do so when I sit down. I am sure that it was with a bitter ping tint all your Lordships read the sudden and terrible news this afternoon of the Duke of Devonshire's death. I was returning from a Committee of which the Duke was a member, and in which, though his illness did not permit him to tike part in its deliberations, he felt a deep and sensible interest. It is not for me to-night to speak of him as a friend. He was the friend of many here. No more loyal, no more honest, no more unselfish and devoted friend could any man have. Nor is it my purpose to speak of his position in the various relations of life which he was called upon to fill. He was the best and most generous of landlords; he was a high-minded, enthusiastic sportsman; he was a devoted husband; he was kind to all with whom business or society brought him in contact; and he was the most magnificent of hosts. But there have been many in his high position who have been all these things, and many who have shared with him the title in which I think he would have taken the most pride—that of being an English gentleman. More than that, he was one of the great reserve forces of this country. He had filled many offices with great capacity and great industry. Injustice was done, I think, both to his capacity and to his industry by those who did not know him. But it is not even on that that I wish so much to dwell. He was no orator. I do not know any man who spoke with so much previous anguish or so much misery at the time as the late Duke of Devonshire. His speeches were not always enthralling to listen to, though they were listened to with veneration and respect. They were read all over the country as the speeches of no other private person were read, and were read for their close argument and reasoning power. We could have spared a dozen more facile rhetoricians for one speaker such as the Duke of Devonshire. What was conspicuous in him, as has been noticed by my noble friend behind me, was the transparent simplicity, candour, and directness of his character. He had reticences, but they were the reticences of shyness and not of subterfuge. When the Duke discussed any public question with any friends you felt that he was trying to divest himself of prejudices, trying to arrive at the truth and the kernel of the matter, and that, even if he had to change his opinion in the course of discussion, which he was not ashamed to do, he arrived at a conclusion which he believed to be right, and adhered to it against all odds and in all circumstances. It is men of that kind that form the glory of our country. We have many statesmen who occupy high office or who have occupied high office; and other countries have these. But few countries have men of high capacity, with every temptation to sloth, who devote themselves to the service of their country without the slightest ultimate personal object or ambition. That was the Duke of Devonshire's proud position, and it was for that reason, I think, that the country always sought his judgement and opinion on current events, and why he will leave after him a memory which even men of more conspicuous genius have failed to bequeath. He bore a proud name. There was no prouder name in this House than the name of the Duke of Devonshire. His forefathers have rendered at various times inestimable service to the State; but I greatly question whether in all that long and illustrious line any one of the Dukes or of the Cavendishes will have left a name more trusted and beloved, more justly trusted and more justly beloved, than that Duke whom we mourn to-day. My Lords, I am in your hands, but I desire to move the adjournment of the House.

Moved, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Earl Rosebery.)


I did not think when I spoke a short time ago of taking the step which has been taken by my noble friend, of moving the adjournment of the House, because as far as I had been able to ascertain I did not think it would be in accordance with precedent to do so. I think on an occasion of this kind, when we are striving to do unanimous honour to a member of this House just deceased, it is better to follow precedents that have been set than to strike out a new course. But as the noble Lord has thought fit to move the adjournment of the House, it seems to me that we should be wanting, or might be supposed to be wanting, in respect to the memory of the Duke of Devonshire if we did not assent to the Motion.

On Question, agreed to nemine dissentiente.

House adjourned at ten minutes before Five o'clock, till Tomorrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.