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PERSONAL REMINISCENCES OF MR BRIGHT., Issue 7915, 24 May 1889
PERSONAL REMINISCENCES OF MR BRIGHT.
[From Our Special Correspondent.] London, March 29, Almost all the leading dailies of Wednesday and Thursday contained “personal reminiscences ” by old friends or colleagues of the People’s Tribune. I have selected a few of the most interesting. A sympathetic writer in the ‘ Daily News ’ writes thus : It was upon books and literary subjects generally that he chiefly liked to talk. His knowledge of English literature was in certain directions wonderfully _ wide ana deep. He was very fond of reciting favorite passages from the poets he loved so well. One evening in the spring of last year, shortly before his illness began, I was sitting beside him in the smoking room at the Reform Club, when ho began to talk about English hymns and hymns writers. By-and-bye, carried away by his theme, he repeated to me many of his favorite hymns. As he recited them in measured tones, the charm of that beautiful voice which had so often thrilled the House of Commons, and subdued a hostile majority, made itself felt even in a duo smoking room, and from all parts of the room men drew quietly near to the spot where we were sitting, and listened with bated breath as the old man eloquent repeated verses of a kind which, I fear, arc not often to be heard within the walls of a club. There is not an English writer now living who would not be the happier if he could write as well as Mr Bright habitually spoke. For his words, even in the most commonplace conversation, were chosen so well that as he talked you seemed to be listening to some masterpiece of our literature. , No one ignorant of Mr Bright a _ early training will quite comprehend the distinction which this gave to bis private and political life. To understand his very noble character one should read that which, with him, was next to the Book of Books*— ‘Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind,’ by Jonathan Dymond, who died in 1828. “1 heauthonty of civil government,” says Dymond, ‘ is a subordinate authority. If any cause the magistrate enjoins that which is prohibited by the moral law, the_ duty of obedience is withdrawn. There is in our day no such a thing as a moral plenipotentiary.” . ... Always a delightful companion with those whom he knew or whom he bad any reason to esteem, he was in his earlier years somewhat unapproachable —a little apt to look upon strangers who sought to interview him with suspicion. Doubtless this was in part duo to his experiences in the days when he was so hotly abused by a certain section of London society and the London Press, and when a Newcastle journalist went so far as to suggest, in anticipation of a visit which he was about to pay to Alnwick, that it would be well if some Northumbrian farmer were to horsewhip him publicly. He was very apt to resent attempts made by mere selfseekers to force themselves upon his notice, and no blandishments of flattery which might be used on such occasions had any effect upon him. Mr Bright had a largo store of personal stories relating to his own adventures as a private individual —stories of his voyage to the East nearly fifty years ago, and of his experiences as a Lancashire manufacturer. One of the incidents which he recalled to a friend not long before his illness began was his journey from London to Manchester with a raving madman, who whilst the train was running between Euston and Rugby produced a razor and began to flourish it in a frantic fashion before Mr Bright’s eyes. The manner in which the latter soothed his fellow-traveller and succeeded in inducing him to part with his dangerous weapon, afforded in itself a sufficient refutation of the calumny once circulated by his bitter Tory opponents to the effect that Mr Bright was devoid of personal courage. Mr Bright’s regard for _ Lord Hartington was no new matter. This is the story of how their real intimacy began. There was an accidental meeting about thirty years ago at the King's Arms, in Lancaster, and Lord Hartington, then quite new to Parliament, spoke despondingly to the Anti - Corn Law orator of his own gifts and political prospects. Lord Hartington did not think he could ever win a leading position. Mr Bright, for whom tho calm and stately character of Lord Hartington had great attractions, encouraged him with references to Lord Althorp’s gradual mastery of tho House of Commons, and from that evening, as the Liberal Unionist leader will admit, they became fast friends. He was a delightful talker ; could sustain a monologue for an hour. Yet it is said he declared his speeches were all carefully prepared. On gone occasion a young lady friend, admiring his wonderful flow of polished phrases and happy thought, remarked to him over the dinner table that it must be a pleasure to him to deliver a speech. “ Pleasure !” he replied, “ why I have been miserable for a month because I have to speak to-night!” The nervous strain over, he was as “joyous as a schoolboy.” “I feel fit for anything,” he remarked after his last great speech in tho Town Hall.
Men have often spoken of John Bright’s “ intolerance,” but I do not think that anyone _ who knew him in the intimacy of private life was at all conscious of that intolerance, for though he was vehement enough when he denouncing certain persons and certain incidents in the political history of his time, there was so much of genial human kindness, so much, too, of a thoroughly English humor in his ideas, that the edge was taken off the bitterness of his denunciations, and you felt that you would not be unwilling to be denounced by him yourself, if only he would show the same charitable spirit towards you. His letters unhappily were not—could not be—accompanied by the bright smile, the half-tender, half-humorous inflection of the voice which attended his spoken utterances when he was d soussing a policy he disliked, and they thus conveyed an entirely erroneous impression to the mind of the reader. No one, for example, who has hoard him during the last two years speaking of Mr Gladstone can entertain the notion — Which might easily be gathered from his letters that there was any personal animosity towards the great statesman on the part of Mr Bright. There was a deep regret but no bitterness in his feeling about him. On the contrary, on many occasions during the past_ two years, I have heard him break out into the warmest praises of Mr Gladstone as a man, as an orator, as a statesman. After pronouncing some glowing eulogium upon the Liberal leader, Mr Bright would shake his head sadly and murmur, half to himself, “ Oh, why, why has he done such a thing us this ? I cannot understand it—l really cannot.”
PERSONAL REMINISCENCES OF MR BRIGHT., Issue 7915, 24 May 1889
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