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towards myself, I feel a consolation in having this public opportunity to express.
Only at our last meeting we were still admiring his eloquence and the earnestness with which he appealed to you to uphold, by your exertions and personal sacrifices, what was to him the highest object—the honour of his country; he met you the following day, together with other Commissioners, to confer with you upon the details of our undertaking; and you must have been struck, as everybody has been who has had the benefit of his advice upon practical points, with the attention, care, and sagacity with which he treated the minutest details, proving that to a great mind nothing is little, from the knowledge that in the moral and intellectual, as in the physical world, the smallest point is only a link in that great chain, and holds its appointed place in that great whole, which is governed by the Divine Wisdom.
The constitution of Sir Robert Peel's mind was peculiarly that of a statesman, and of an English statesman: he was liberal from feeling, but conservative upon principle. Whilst his impulse drove him to foster progress, his sagacious mind and great experience showed him how easily the whole machinery of a state and of society is
deranged, and how important, but how difficult also, it is to direct its further development in accordance with its fundamental principles, like organic growth in nature. It was peculiar to him, that in great things, as in small, all the difficulties and objections occurred to him first; he would anxiously consider them, pause, and warn against rash resolutions; but having convinced himself, after a long and careful investigation, that a step was not only right to be taken, but of the practical mode also of safely taking it, it became to him a necessity and a duty to take it: all his caution and apparent timidity changed into courage and power of action, and at the same time readiness cheerfully to make any personal sacrifice which its execution might demand.
Gentlemen, if he has had so great an influence over this country, it was from the nation recognizing in his qualities the true type of the English character, which is essentially practical. Warmly attached to his institutions, and revering the bequests left to him by the industry, wisdom, and piety of his forefathers, the Englishman attaches little value to any theoretical scheme. It will attract his attention only after having been for some time placed before him; it must have been thoroughly investigated and discussed before he will entertain it. Should it be an empty theory, it will fall to the ground during this time of probation; should it survive this trial, it will be on account of the practical qualities contained in it; but its adoption in the end will entirely depend upon its harmonizing with the national feeling, the historic development of the country, and the peculiar nature of its institutions.
It is owing to these national qualities that England, whilst constantly progressing, has still preserved the integrity of her constitution from the earliest times, and has been protected from wild schemes whose chief charm lies in their novelty, whilst around us we have seen unfortunately whole nations distracted, and the very fabric of society endangered, from the levity with which the result of the experience of generations, the growth of ages, has been thrown away to give place to temporarily favourite ideas.
Taking this view of the character of our country, I was pleased when I saw the plan of the Exhibition of 1851 undergo its ordeal of doubt, discussion, and even opposition; and I
hope that I may now gather from the energy and earnestness with which its execution is pursued, that the nation is convinced that it accords with its interests and the position which England has taken in the world.
VOU have been very kind in responding with 1 so much warmth to the toast which your President has just proposed to you, and he will allow me to thank him very cordially for the flattering expressions which he used towards myself in introducing to you that toast.
I shall feel very happy if the future should prove that the Great Exhibition, to which all nations have so generously contributed, should, amongst other advantages which I firmly hope will result from it, likewise tend to assist in the promotion of the Fine Arts in this country, of which you are the representatives; and I feel proud that we can show to the many foreigners who are now visiting our shores specimens of British art such as these walls display.