Page images
PDF
EPUB

in parliament connected with trade, manufactures, and the working classes, all which he thoroughly understood. He was seated in one of the most remarkable districts of England for the magnitude of its iron trade, while a little way to the north lay the singular space of ground, comprising several large towns, called the Potteries, almost unknown a few years ago to the rest of the country. Lord Hatherton had the sagacity to perceive how remarkably the extension of manufactures and the value of land and its produce acted upon one another. The conveyances of agricultural produce to large manufacturing places was easy and rapid in Staffordshire by canals, even before railways were brought into use. Teddesley, extra parochial, in the parish of Penkridge, or adjoining it, was thus, as it were, invited to improve itself, and its noble-minded owner did not want sagacity to perceive, what neither his own example nor that of others could be brought to credit, that free trade in all commodities was the spur to the increase of the value of landed property, and greatly for the benefit of the nation at large. In vain had the Honourable Charles Villiers for a long season stood almost alone in the House of Commons in bringing this principle before parliament, and supporting it out of doors and in the district of which we are speaking more particularly. This was at a time, too, when Sir Robert Peel could see no benefit from it, although his father had seen it long years before. Lord Hatherton, however, not only saw the great advantage of it, but acted upon the principle as far as possible. He began to restrict his game preserves, and to improve his land. He reflected what markets he had near him, and how facile were the conveyances. With a complete dismissal of all those prejudices embraced in that caricature of sound reason, used upon such occasions, “the wisdom of our ancestors," uppermost in too many stolid heads in those times, his lordship set his shoulder to the wheel, and was amply gratified by the result.

It was at this time, or about twenty-five years ago, that we had first the honour of his lordship's acquaintance, having gone down for the purpose of aiding in the good work, under the support of another nobleman of the same county. Lord Hatherton was at that time exceedingly active in behalf of the free-trade question. Lord Wrottesley, then Sir John, was another powerful supporter, together with Lord Lichfield and the Ansons. It was singular, however, that some men of note in the county of liberal principles in other respects, and who would not openly support Sir Robert Peel in his opposition, remained neuter upon the point of free trade. Not so Lord Hatherton, who, when the battle raged fiercely, comported himself with that calm moderation which is exhibited by those clear-sighted individuals who are conscious of their own strength of argument, and foresee the certainty of an ultimate conclusion to their satisfaction.

Before and while the question was pending, Lord Hatherton not only farmed highly and largely, but he “rolled away in his wheelbarrow," as old Earl Stanhope would have said, a number of petty, injurious, and vexatious legislative measures, which had grown up out of the trading and manufacturing superstitions of the past, for we may not inappropriately denominate them such. He had great weight in committees of

* Mr. Cobden did not make his appearance as another powerful advocate of free trade until long subsequently to Mr. Villiers.

the House of Commons, for he was well read in parliamentary proceedings, and his judgment was excellent. He saw at a glance, before free trade became so heavy a question, what a number of small and vexatious enactments and regulations crippled not only the master manufacturer, but the smaller workmen. He brought in a bill for a change in the old pernicious truck system. He declared that the masters made fifteen per cent. by that abuse. “I know some masters who employ five or six thousand men,” he observed, “who were about to leave off paying in money.” A great sensation, Lord Hatherton observed, “ had been raised by that injurious practice, and it was necessary to relieve the workmen from its baneful and demoralising influence.” His lordship affirmed that the riots at Nottingham, and those of the Luddites in 1812, had their source in the same system.

It was singular that Hume opposed a measure clearly necessary to protect the workmen from injustice, and that Sir Robert Peel, Mr. Sadler, and Mr. C. P. Thompson supported Mr. Littleton. Mr. Hume divided the House against it, but lost his motion. It was upon this bill that Mr. Littleton and O'Connell had a difference. It appeared that some reflections of O'Connell regarding the truck bill were erroneous. The member for Waterford told O'Connell that Mr. Littleton slighted Ireland, or had made use of words to that effect. Mr. Littleton replied that he deemed it a duty, as a public man, to expose such a misrepresentation. It appeared that the member for Waterford, Sir John Newport, if we recollect rightly, had addressed Mr. Littleton, and concluded by asking him if he had any objection to leave Ireland out of the bill; on which Mr. Littleton replied in a negligent way': “Well, I do not care about Ireland ;” meaning, he did not think the measure essential for that country. This was construed by the hot blood of Irishmen at a public meeting into the sense that nobody cared about Ireland in this country. Mr. Littleton replied that he had a right to allude to such a misrepresentation,

“ Have I not a right to complain, that, having done all I could to advance the interests of the Catholics, after the manner in which I have always advanced the interests of Ireland for the last eighteen years, it should now be necessary to defend myself from the charge of caring nothing about Ireland, and of being insensible to the interests of the Irish people. I did not believe that any man could have given utterance to a charge so unjust, so utterly unfounded, and so injurious to my character."

O'Connell made an apology, expressing his regret that he should have misunderstood the honourable member, though it had at the time the effect upon his mind which he had ascribed to it. We do not call to remembrance any other instance in which Mr. Littleton's equable temper was ever tried in the House of Commons. He was of all men the most self-sustained and amiable, punctual in everything, and, with his quiet, firm line of conduct, little calculated to excite political animosity, except on the part of antagonists the most exceptionable.

The manufacturers of Staffordshire must long retain a grateful memory of his lordship, if it were only for his success in putting down extentsin-aid. He had in his operations here to combat one of the most obsti. nate and wrong-headed of officials, in days when men of common sense, seeing such men in public posts, exclaimed, as of the fly in amber,

The thing we know is neither rich nor rare,
But wonder how the devil it got there!

It was a proof not only of Mr. Littleton's sense of justice, but of his patient perseverance, at last successful by the aid of a strong party of friends pertinaciously keeping their object in view. In local undertakings throughout the county in which he resided, it need not be recorded that he was active and energetic. Iu canals, railroads, and all that could promote the general interests of the people of all classes, his lordship was foremost. Chairman of some of the most important undertakings, he considered as well all that was submitted to him by those who were inventors or projectors of anything conducive to the public benefit. He reformed the local currency by his influence, which at one time was little more than tradesmen's tokens under a certain value, and, in short, brought his own clear intellect to bear upon questions, the benefit or the reverse of which involved no light responsibility. He was before his earlier friends generally in his view of political measures, particularly those who seemed only to feel their way and go onward more upon the prompting of instinct than reason.

Mr. Littleton had been one of the more strenuous advocates of parliamentary reform. He saw quite enough under the existing system to convince him of the necessity of a measure which caused the most flagrant abuses. He advocated religious freedom, and ardently supported Catholic emancipation. He was, in fact, a sincere reformer at a time when the clamour was heard on every side of constitutional ruin, on the part of those who did not really understand, or would not do so, in what the constitution consisted. To this he was uniform in giving his support. There is something noble in that consistency which, seeing almost insurmountable obstacles in its way, when compelled to pull up the reins, will not retrograde ; that has the conviction it will conquer* in the end, and therefore seldom fails to do so; that can face a reverse with an unshaken spirit, and renew the contest with more than Antean freshness.

That the subject of these observations should have rejoiced at the accession of Mr. Canning to office can hardly be doubted. He saw in that accession the destruction of the hopes of a party whose measures had been as much opposed to the spirit of the age as to the dictates of reason. Whether Mr. Littleton was aware that, at the moment, the tocsin had sounded the knell of extreme Toryism, it is not for us to say. That he supported the measures for the relief of Ireland, whether brought in by his own party or the Tories, was a matter of no question under that quiet, determined spirit of patriotism which marked all his public conduct, shone throughout his whole career, and put to shame, by its own unpretending nature, the waverers and time-servers that were continually crossing his path. There is no higher source of honest exultation for mortal man, than when standing on the verge of life, and casting a retrospective glance towards conduct and action fast fading in the distance, he can say to himself, “I have acted strictly in accordance with both feeling and honour in my passage thus far. I have endeavoured to do my best with the talent that my master entrusted to me. I can only charge myself with those failings inseparable from the nature of man, but in my public duties I have a clear breast." How few statesmen can make such a declaration. Lord Hatherton was one of the few by whom we do not

* Possunt quia posse videntur.

hesitate to express a belief that declaration might have been honestly made.

There was no moral cowardice in his character about that reform from which men of more renown would have shrunk. How Burke would have discharged a more than volcanic fury of anathemas upon such a sweeping measure, and Windham have again invoked the bull-baiters and cock. fighters of the “good old times,” to perform a Hockley Hole lustration for the introduction of such an innovation upon the good old constitution. Mr. Littleton, who knew his countrymen well, and was not for denying them the right which belonged to them, upon the clearest grounds of usage and the constitution, had no fear upon the subject of the restoration contemplated by Lord Grey, even had it gone to the full extent which that noble reformer originally contemplated. In the part he took more immediately as the chief in the laborious portion of desig. nating the limits of the places represented, he performed his task, in conjunction with his coadjutors, with his usual assiduity. He was, indeed, one of the leading reformers of the time, invaluable to the ministry from bis fidelity to his party, the enlightened character of his views, his close attention to business, and his knowledge of the different phases of feeling and usage in the agricultural and manufacturing districts.

Lord Hatherton was not only an invaluable public man in a political sense, an carnest liberal, but a thorough adept in all that concerned the agricultural and manufacturing interests of his native land. He farmed largely, and was in a continued interchange of discoveries and improvements with the more noted agriculturists of his time. He was a good scholar, and possessed an excellent library at Teddesley, where he usually kept up his general and Christmas hospitality in particular, in the true style of an English country gentleman, a position in life of which, if all so circumstanced were duly sensible (o fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint Agricolas !), they would thank God for their lot.

Mr. Littleton was chief secretary for Ireland under the lord-lieutenancy of the Marquis Wellesley, whose daughter was his first wife, and by whom he left a son, Edward Richard Littleton, his successor in his title and estates. Never was there a more difficult time for the fulfilment of both offices than that of his Irish appointment. The agitation for the repeal of the Union was at its height. The lord-lieutenant and secretary were alone in agreement. There were differences in the cabinet, O'Connell wielding all his weapons of annoyance, not without effect. The ruling powers on the spot saw no need of that apprehensive policy which they feared could only tend to exacerbate, and remonstrated unsuccessfully against renewing the coercion bill. The ministry itself was by no means a compact body in agreement, even upon main points. During this emergency, Lord Stanley and other members of the cabinet retired; among them was Sir James Graham. Lord Stanley, since the Earl of Derby, it was said, gave way to the old cry of “the Church in danger," among other reasons, real or affected, for his desertion of his old principles and friends. In the end, the obnoxious act was introduced, and the consequences foreseen ensued.

It was during these perplexities of the cabinet that Mr. Littleton was accused of making known to O'Connell, in an indiscreet way, at a personal meeting, the disunited state of the cabinet. O'Connell turned the result to his own advantage. Mr. Littleton had been too open in dealing with a crafty politician, the whole breed of which, in all lands and times, have rarely indeed hesitated to sacrifice a confiding disposition if a profit could be made of it. There was about Lord Hatherton exactly that principle of honour and kind confiding disposition, of which a fully ripe diplomatist or minister, not, like Moloch, unversed in wiles, might sooner make a victim, than of one of his own wary and circumventing temper. It was not possible for Mr. Littleton to do otherwise than give up his post, and the retirement of the ministry followed.

He held no office under Lord Melbourne's administration, though he sat for South Staffordshire. He soon after received the peerage, and certainly no one who had a value for such an honour more deservedly merited it for his public services. It was in 1835 that he was created Baron Hatherton. He was subsequently appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Staffordshire, the duties of which office he performed for between eight and nine years, with his customary assiduity.

Lord Hatherton married a second time, in 1852, Mrs. Davenport, the relict of Edward Davies Davenport, Esq., of Caperthorne, a lady well meriting his lordship's choice, by rendering to him and partaking in return those consolations and comforts which sweeten the later period of human existence, when the days come upon our humanity in which it proclaims it has comparatively so little pleasure.

We know not the exact nature of the complaint which deprived a host of friends and well-wishers, if it were only from the kindliness of his nature, of his lordship's presence. A knowledge of twenty-five years gives us some ground to form an estimate of human character, and we can only look back upon that term with a saddened feeling, and deeply regret his country should have been deprived of him at a time when human life, it has pleased God, has become more protracted than in the days of our fathers. If the manners and feelings of an open-hearted nobleman, one who honoured the peerage much more than the peerage could honour him; if candour, incapacity of craft, generous emotions, a high sense of duty, and strict performance of it; if urbanity of manner, joined with great aptitude for public business, and a sound judgment, a spirit incapable of guile, and a clear understanding of the true interests of the country, were united in any individual character to so great a degree as in Lord Hatherton, the example must be rare, and the magnitude of such a loss be indeed largely felt. We have never encountered—we own it-a second example in any walk of life that can be styled his lordship's parallel in those points by which he was most generally known and best estimated.

« EelmineJätka »