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We now arrive at the author's views and intentions connected with the present Memoir; he thus expresses himself :
“Having thus traced the family of the Peels, from its origin to the death of its founder, so far at least as regards its importance, both in a manufacturing and political point of view, we now proceed to direct the attention of our readers to the progress of the present Right Hon. Baronet, a progress which has led to his being placed at the head of the councils of his Sovereign ; and has for the present vested in his hands, and under his control, the destinies of this mighty empire.
“In pursuance of the track which is thus marked out for us, we may observe that the compilation of memoirs, which according to the modern acceptation of that term, seems to mean speculating upon living characters, and the art of displaying their mental forms in a literary mirror, is of all literary attempts the most difficult to perform successfully. That difficulty, however, in the instance before us, greatly recedes, indeed it nearly vanishes, as we shall only consider Sir Robert Peel in that point of view in which he has become so conspicuous; we mean as a statesman.”
The career of Sir Robert from his first entering Parliament in 1810 is now related. His first public act was that of seconding the address, moved by Lord Barnard in answer to the Speech from the Throne.
“The indications of ability which Mr. Peel exhibited on this and some other occasions during the session attracted the attention of the minister, Mr. Perceval, and the result was that before its conclusion he was appointed Under Secretary of State for the Colonial Department; the seals of that department being at the time held by the Earl of Liverpool. And thus, when scarcely of an age which qualified him to sit and vote in the legislature, he became a member of the administration of the day, and had the active duties of a very important branch of the government cast upon him.”
In the formation of a New Administration, consequent on the assassination of Mr. Perceval, May, 1812, we find Mr. Peel's name as “ Chief Secretary for Ireland,” and regarded as the leader of the Anti-catholic party. He proposed a measure for the additional preservation of the public peace in Ireland, which, although strenuously opposed, was ultimately carried.
But it is not our intention to give even a passing notice of the principal events in the life of the Eminent Statesman, whose actions are here recorded at full; but content ourselves with naming some of the most brilliant passages of an existence devoted, from youth upwards, to his Country.
In 1817, the High Church party bestowed on Mr. Peel the strongest mark of their confidence, by returning him for the University of Oxford. After affording strong proofs of extraordinary talent, and fitness for the duties of the Senate, on various occasions, we find him in the February of 1819 elected Chairman of the Committee of Secrecy, appointed to inquire into the state of the Bank of England, in reference to that vital question, the resumption of Cash payments.
This investigation ended in Mr. Peel's moving for leave to bring in a bill to restrain the Governor and Company of the Bank of England from making payments in cash, under certain notices given by them for that purpose.
Though opposed by such men as Brougham, Tierney, and Lord A. Hamilton, the bill ultimately passed, and received the Royal Assent.
In 1821, Mr. Peel made a powerful speech in the House in defence of the Ministers, when the Marquess of Tavistock brought forward a resolution to the effect, that the late proceedings against Her Majesty (Caroline) were not justified by any political expediency, and had been productive of consequences derogatory from the honour of the Crown, and injurious to the best interests of the Country.
In concluding one of the most powerful speeches ever heard within the walls of St. Stephen's, Mr. Peel's arguments proved beyond all doubt that the proceeding against the Queen by Bill of Pains and Penalties was the least objectionable course that could have been adopted.
And such was the effect of his argument, that the motion of the Noble Marquess was lost by a majority of one hundred and forty-six ! A noble and heart-cheering proof that truth will triumph over party feeling, of a vile and despicable character.
In March we find Mr. Peel exerting his powerful energies in combating the friends of Catholic Emancipation. In the memorable debate of the 26th inst. he was opposed by Mr. Canning, and a brilliant opportunity was afforded for trying the mental powers, and eloquence of both these great men.
In 1822, on the retirement of Lord Sidmouth, Mr. Peel became his successor as Secretary of State for the Home Department, and consequently, a Member of the Cabinet. On this occasion the usual forms obliged him to vacate his seat for the University of Oxford, but he was immediately re-elected without the slightest opposition.
In 1822 Mr. Peel introduced to the House his proposed renewal of the Alien Bill, and during his speech cited the fact of General Gourgaud having visited this country, not as a home or as an asylum, but in order to make it the scene of his abominable designs.
Mr. Peel clearly proved that an Alien Bill, instead of operating as a terror upon Foreigners, had quite an opposite effect, for in the year 1818 no less than Twenty-two Thousand Aliens had visited this country, when the former Bill connected with them existed, and was in full operation.
When Mr. Bennett, in his absolute wisdom, moved a resolution to the effect that “The respect and solemnity which by ancient custom was observed at the funerals of Queens of England, had been unnecessarily and indecorously violated at the funeral of her late Majesty Queen Caroline,” the triumphant refutation given by Mr. Peel, had not only the effect of negativing the motion without a division, but drew from Dr. Lushington, who had been Caroline of Brunswick's legal adviser, such admissions as completely to nullify the statements upon which this sapient motion had been founded.
We remember the Funeral well, and the host of vile scoundrels, the very dregs of the people, who forced the remains of their idol through the City, merely because it was in defiance of the Law and to the extinction, for the time being, of good order.
In 1823, the interference of France by the invasion of a large military power then in Spain tending to overset or materially alter the internal Government of that country was matter of discussion in the House. On the second evening of the debate, Mr. Secretary Peel, in a luminous and argumentative speech, explained the policy of the British Cabinet as concerned the existing state of affairs in Spain and France. During its progress the Secretary was loudly and repeatedly cheered, and sat down amidst the general plaudits of the House. A third evening was devoted to the debate, when the Opposition, clearly perceiving that the Ministers would command an immense majority, principally to be attributed to the eloquence of Mr. Peel, attempted to induce Mr. Macdonald to withdraw his motion, but a Division being demanded, Ministers had the proud satisfaction of recording a Majority of Three hundred and fifty-two! This glorious triumph had the effect of silencing their adversaries upon the question.
Another debate upon the Catholic Question was rendered remarkable by the warm eulogy pronounced on Mr. Peel by Mr. Brougham,
““If,' said Mr. Brougham, 'the other Ministers had taken example by the single-hearted, plain, manly, and upright conduct of the Right Honourable Secretary for the Home Department, who had always been on the same side of the question, never swerving from his opinion, but standing uniformly up and stating it; who had never taken office upon a secret understanding to abandon the question in substance, while he continued to sustain it in words; whose mouth, heart, and conduct had always been in unison on the question, -if such had been the conduct of all the professed friends of Emancipation, he should not have found himself in a state almost bordering on despair with regard to the Catholic Claims.'”
This night was also rendered memorable in the annals of Parliament, by the somewhat intemperate language of Mr. Canning, who, forgetting his own dignity and that of the House, whilst Mr. Brougham was speaking, hastily left his seat, exclaiming,
“ I rise to say that that is false!”
The Speaker of course interfered, and both parties were about to be committed to the Sergeant at Arms, when, by a stroke of Generalship on the part of Sir Robert Wilson, the matter was hushed up.
We have thus hastily glanced at the proof sheets of the First volume of this extraordinary and valuable work. It has been to us a source of much regret that the late hour at which it reached us, has not afforded us time to pay the volume that attention it so richly merits, but we trust to make some amends by our notice of the Second, as we shall hardly rest till we have had the satisfaction of perusing it.
DRUMMOND OF HAWTHORNDEN AND BEN JONSON. How pleasing is the juxtaposition of these two illustrious names. How redolent of sweet fancies and elegant expression. All the sensations that can enchant, all the graces that captivate,-the charms of nature, and the perfections of art,-float through the mind at sight of them. What an appreciation of existence had the men of these times. How complete was the development of their faculties. How fully were they men.
The most laboured history ever penned, the most careful biography ever compiled, could never give half the forceful reality that the rough notes by Drummond, of their conversations, have of the meeting of these fine spirits. We see them at once; we are bodily with them, and two hundred and twenty years that yawned between us are annihilated. There they are, the rough, coarse, rockye faced ” Ben of 46 years of age, and the gentlemanly, well born Drummond of 34, in high discourse of Genius, Beauty, and Nature.
Thanks to that Boswell spirit, which arising (however it may be sneered at) out of a true feeling and homage for genius, has taken the stilts off biography and history, and brought us face to face, and slipper to slipper, with the real great ones of the earth.
The Shakespeare Society has already done much service to the lovers of our old literature by the publication of their previous works, but never more than in the present instance. Mr. Laing, the editor, deserves especial thanks; and the notes by Mr. Payne Collier, and by Mr. Peter Cunningham, have added a fund of anecdote and illustration.
As but few persons are acquainted with this rare piece of ancient reminiscence, we shall give a copious account of it, more especially as the book can only be obtained by the members of the Shakespeare Society, the subscription to which, by the way, is only twenty shillings per annum.
Mr. Laing, after observing that “ Few documents connected with literary history have recently occasioned greater, and, at the same time, more useless and unprofitable controversy, than Drummond of Hawthornden's Notes of Conversations with Ben Jonson," proceeds to give an account of the work as follows:
“Jonson died at London on the 6th of August, 1637, and Drummond survived to the 4th of December, 1649.
“In 1711, there was published at Edinburgh an edition of Drummond's VOL. XCVI.
works, both in prose and verse. His son, Sir William Drummond, who still survived, and had preserved his father's papers with religious care, communicated them to the editor of the volume, supposed to be Thomas Ruddiman the grammarian, or to Bishop Sage, who is said to have furnished the biographical account of the author, and the historical Introduction. Among those papers were the original Notes by Drummond of his Conversations with Ben Jonson. Unfortunately, as it has proved, the editor, instead of giving a correct copy of these Notes, or Informations, gave merely an abstract, which he entitled "Heads of a Conversation betwixt the famous Poet Ben Jonson, and William Drummond, of Hawthornden, January, 1619,' but which left it very doubtful what might be the precise extent and nature of the original. Unfortunately, also, this paper was occasionally employed to asperse Johnson's character, and some scurrilous additions were interpolated by the anonymous editor of Cibber's Lives of the Poets, the better to serve such a purpose.
“That Drummond committed to writing such recollections of his conversations with a person of so much eminence as the English Dramatist, can excite no surprise: it is what hundreds of persons before his time and since have done with impunity in similar circumstances. That he was actuated by any unworthy motive, is neither confirmed by internal evidence, nor by any proper use that can be made of such notes. It is strange, however, to find a person of so much natural acuteness and sagacity as the editor of Massinger and Jonson, speaking of Drummond as decoying Jonson under his roof,' as 'betraying the confidence of his guest,' as publishing his remarks and censures, without shame,' and such like assertions."
We have not interrupted Mr. Laing's statement with any remarks, because we are sure every one would be desirous to know the history of this curious volume. With respect to Gifford's virulence and violence of feeling and expression, we must say we think far too much leniency has been shown to it. Whether this has arisen from forbearance or terror, it may be difficult to decide. Gifford exercised, in his life, a very strong and undue influence in the literary world; and having acquired the character of a satirist, he seemed determined to maintain it by a more than usual asperity and ferocity. His situation, as editor of the Quarterly, gave him a strong position ; and one portion of the literary men appeared to have adhered to him from terror, whilst another were persecuted into obscurity. It seems to be high time that his character and talents should be duly estimated. Of his original works, none seem to have a hold on the public; at least, if we may judge by a very excellent test, namely, the demand there is for them. They have not been reprinted for many years. Surely, as a commentator, he has been very much overrated, and he has justly been accused of sacrificing truth to the maintenance of his own virulent prejudices. He had all the acerbity attributed to Dr. Johnson, but there is no life in four volumes to prove him the wit and the philanthropist. He struck such terror into literary men, that even now there seems to be a hesitation in speaking of him as he deserves. That he had talents, none can deny ; but that his statements are not to be impugned, and bis judgments reversed, is absurd to assert. Perhaps no man ever wrote so much with so much talent, and yet left so little that is worth preserving. Let us get rid of the bugbear of his name and the terror of his memory. Mr. Laing has ably and temperately exposed him as relates to his attack on Drummond.