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GLADSTONES PANEGYRIC ON BRIGHT., Issue 7922, 1 June 1889, Supplement
GLADSTONES PANEGYRIC ON BRIGHT.
EULOGIES IN THE HOUSE,
[From Ouk Special Correspondent.]
London, April 5. “ The hush of a grand solemn and memorable occasion ” lay on the House of Commons on Friday afternoon last, when Mr Gladstone, pale and sad, but in excellent voice and full possession of all his marvellous oratorical powers, rose to pay generous tribute to the memory of John Bright. Mr W. 11. Smith, as leader of the House, naturally opened the proceedings, but recognising that his was not the speech for which the densely crowded chamber waited expectantly, confined himself to a few sympathetic sentences: “ Mr Bright’s honesty of purpose, his zeal, his energy, his character inspired admiration, and carried the force of conviction frequently with his words to the masses of the people. Few men within the last forty-five years have exercised an equal charm or a greater influence in this House. Few men have had deservedly greater influence in the country than the late Mr Bright possessed. His failing—if it was a failing—was the intensity of faith he possessed in the principles he advocated. . . . Mr Bright has left behind him a memory that will live in the hearts of men long, long after this Parliament shall have passed away.” The effect of Mr Smith’s words was not very happy. That he meant them sincerely one felt sure; but ho read from notes, stumbling and faltering strangely for so practised a speaker. Every eye was now turned on the Grand Old Man, who rose from his seat amidst subdued cheering. Mr Gladstone said : I trust I may receive the permission of the House to add a few words to what has been said so well and with such deep sincerity by the right hoa. gentleman upon an occasion of peculiar interest. I cannot help saying at the outset of the few remarks which I may be led to make that I think Mr Bright has been in a very remarkable degree happy in the season of his removal from among us —felix in opportunitate mortis. He has lived to witness the triumph of almost every great cause—perhaps I might say of every great cause—to which he had specially devoted his heart and mind. He has lived to establish a special claim to the admiration of those from whom he had differed through a long political life by his marked concurrence with them upon the prominent and dominant question of the hour; and while he has in that way additionally opened the minds and the hearts of those from whom he had differed to an appreciation of his merits, I hope and I think that I may venture to say that he lost nothing by the want of concord on a particular subject, which wo so much lamented—he lost nothing in any portion of the party with which he had been so long associated of the admiration and the gratitude to which they have felt him to be so well entitled, I do not remember that on any occasion, from the lips of any single individual since Mr Bright came to be separated from the great bulk of the Liberal party on the Irish question, there has proceeded a word, and I would say a question—l do not say as to bis motives, for that would have been ridiculous in the highest degree—but any single word of disparagement as to the course which he took. I may say, for my part, I make this acknowledgment, that I have not through my whole political life fully embraced what I take to be the character of Mr Bright, and the value of that character to the country. I mention this because it was at a particular epoch—the epoch of the Crimean War—that I came more fully to understand than I had done before the position which was held by him and by his eminent—l may go a step further and say hia illustrious—friend Mr CobJcn. These men had lived upon the confidence, the approval, and the applause of the people. The work of their lives had been to propel the tide of public sentiment. Suddenly they came upon a great occasion upon which they differed from the vast majority of their countrymen. I myself was one of those who did not agree witli them in the particular view which they took of the Crimean controversy ; but I felt profoundly, and I have never ceased to feel what must be the moral elevation of the men who, having been nurtured through their lives in the atmosphere of popular approval and enthusiasm, could, at a moment’s notice, consent to part with the whole of that favor which they had heretofore enjoyed, and which their opponents might have dreamed was to them as-the very breath of their nostrils. They accepted undoubted unpopularity with regard to that war, and, although I believe that many have since changed their opinion with regard to it, it undoubtedly commanded, if not the unanimous, yet the enormously prevailing approval and concurrence of the people. At that time it was that, although we had known much of Mr Bright, we learned something tnoie. We had known his great mental gifts and powers ; we had known his courage and hia consistency; we had known his splendid eloquence, which then was or afterwards came to be acknowledged as the loftiest that has sounded within these walls during this generation. But we had not till then known how high was the moral tone of these popular leaders of men, and the splendid examples they could set to the whole of their contemporaries and coming generations of readiness to part with all the sympathy and all the support they had held so dear for the sake of a right aud conscientious conviction. Well, sir, I will not dwell upon the gifts of Mr Bright, which are as w r ell known to the members of this House as to myself—excepting in one, and what may be thought a minor, particular, which I cannot help allowing myself the gratification of recording. Mr Bright was —and he knew himself to be, and delighted in being—one of the chief guardians among us of the purity of the English tongue. Ho knew how the character of a nation is associated with its language ; and as he was in everything an Englishman, profoundly attached to the country in which he was born, so the tongue of his people was to him almost an object of worship; and throughout the leng course of his speeches it would be difficult, hardly possible, to find a single case in which that noble language —the language of Shakespeare and of Milton did not receive worthy illustration from his Parliamentary utterances. There is another circumstance, better known to me than perhaps to any other person, which I must give myself the pleasure of relating. Everyone is aware of his objection to office. Office had no attraction for him, but, perhaps, hardly any of those who hear me can be aware of the extraordinary efforts which were required to induce Mr Bright under any circumstances to become a servant of the Crown. It was in the course of ISGB, with regard to the Irish question, and when especially the fate of the Irish Church hung in the balance, that it was my duty to propose to Mr Bright that he should become a Cabinet Minister. I do not know that I ever undertook so difficult a task, but this I do know, that from eleven o’clock at night till one o’clock in the morning we steadily debated that subject, and it was only at the last moment that it was possible for him to set aside the repugnance that he bad felt to do anything which might, in the eyes of anyone, even of the more ignorant of his fellow countrymen, appear to
detract in the slightest degree from that lofty independence of character which he had heretofore maintained, and which, I will venture to say, never till the end of his career was for a moment in doubt. It was the happy lot of Mr Bright to unite so many intellectual gifts that, if we bad had to dwell upon them alone, we should have presented a dazzling picture to the world. But it was also his happier lot to teach us moral lessons—by the simplicity, by the consistency, by the unfailing courage and constancy of his life to present to us a combination of qualities moral in their character that carry us at once into a higher atmosphere. The sympathies of Mr Bright were not strong only, but active. They were not only sympathies which could answer to the calls made upon them, but they were the sympathies of a man who sought far and near for objects upon which to bestow the inestimable advantage of his eloquence and his courage. In Ireland, in days when the support of the Irish race was rare • in India, where support of the native race’was rarer still ; in America, at that time Mr Bright, foreseeing probably the ultimata issue of the great struggle of 1861, stood as the representative of an exceedingly small portion of the educated community* of this country, though undoubtedly ho represented a very large part of the national sentiment—in all these cases Mr Bright went far outside the necessities of his calling. Not only the subjects which demanded his attention as a member of the House, but whatever touched him as a man, whatever touched him as a subject, whatever touched him as a member of the great Anglo-Saxon race—all these questions, unasked, obtained not only his sincere and earnest advocacy, but his enthusiastic aid. And all the causesthat are associated with the names to which I Have referred, as well as many others, obtained from his powerful advocacy and assistance distinct advance in the estimation of the world, distinct progress on their road towards triumphant success. It has thus come about that we feel that Mr Bright is entitled to a higher eulogy than any that can be due to intellect, or any tiiat can be due to success. Of meresuccess he was indeed a conspicuousexample ; in intellect ho might lay claim to a most distinguished place. But the character of the man lies deeper than his intellect j lies deeper than his eloquence, lies deeper than anything that can be described or perceived on the surface. The supreme eulogy which is his due I apprehend to be this : that he lifted political life to a higher elevation and to a loftier standard, and that he has thereby bequeathed to his country the character of a statesman which can bo made the subject not only of admiration, and not only of gratitude, but even what I do not exaggerate in calling, as it has been well called already by one of hia admirers, the object of reverential contemplation, The right hon. gentleman said that he trusted there would be no note of dissonance in the sense which the country, in their hearts, entertained of the claims, the merits, and distinction of Mr Bright. I may safely say that on that score' all apprehensions may be dismissed. In the encomiums which have sprung up from every quarter there is no note of dissonance ; there is no discordant minority, however small. The sense of his countrymen is a sense of their unanimity—it goes through the length and breadth of the land. Ido not know that any statesman of my time has ever had the happiness of receiving on his removal from this passing world the honors of an approval at once so enthusiastic, so universal, and so unbroken, and yet none could better have dispensed with the tributes of the moment, because the triumphs of his life were triumphs recorded in the advance of his country and in the condition of its people ; and his name remains indelibly written upon the annals of this Empire—aye, indelibly written upon the hearts of that great and ever-spreading race to which he belonged, in whose wide extension he rejoiced, and whose power and prominence he believed to be full of promise and full of glory for the best interests of mankind.—(Loud cheers.)
GLADSTONES PANEGYRIC ON BRIGHT., Issue 7922, 1 June 1889, Supplement
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