Andrew Lang.

Life, letters, and diaries of Sir Stafford Northcote, first Earl of Iddesleigh online

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Online LibraryAndrew LangLife, letters, and diaries of Sir Stafford Northcote, first Earl of Iddesleigh → online text (page 1 of 43)
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and was loyal in all things, where his honour did not de-
cline to follow, to his party leaders. This life of ours is
a compromise, above all within the lines of party, and to
compromises he was not recalcitrant.

The successes of his life, apart from what he certainly
cared for least, his own party advancement, were of two
kinds. In business he was unsurpassed. From his first
work on the Navigation Laws to his conduct in negotiating
the Washington Treaty, or to his last criticism of a Bud-
get, his services were always inestimable. They were less
showy, perhaps, than they were of true value to the State.
His frankness, which did not harm his astuteness and
clearness of vision — his admirable temper, and his good-
humour, made him a master in all negotiations, whether
foreign or domestic. His geniality and fairness, again, and
his lifelong friendship with his early leader, the opponent
of his later life, enabled him, as we have said, to ease the
terrible strain of politics. The same qualities accompanied
him, of course, in his discharge of local and personal duties
as a magistrate, a landlord, a kinsman, and a friend.

His atfections were immutable rather than picturesque :
he was the most constant of friends, and the most trust-
worthy of allies. In his private friendship, it was his
singular fortune to be attached with an almost equal affec-
tion to two men, in all respects each other's opposites,


jMr Gladstone and Mr Disraeli. The pain which politi-
cal differences cause in private friendship was felt, and
indeed once expressed by him, in language of emotion
beyond what English reserve is often wont to employ.
This is not a matter on which much should be said ; but it
may be stated that in the domestic affections and in some
private friendships of Sir Stafford Northcote, the poetry of
his nature declared itself, and was to be known by those
wlio had the right to know it. His loyalty to his sovereign
was " the constant service of the antique world."

Such, as one gathers from the remains of his life, was
Sir Stafford Northcote. Perhaps his character would yield
few secrets or none to a more minute research : it was all
open to the sun ; there were, apparently, no hidden folds
and intricate passages in his nature. It was plain, manly,
simple — untouched by any affectation, unembittered by
any unfulfilled aspirations or desires. We may certainly
call him happy.

The records of such a character, even when concerned
with great affairs, cannot be among the most romantic.
Neither can they possibly charm us, like the story of great
genius, with its glance into the ideal and the unattainable,
with its gloom and glitter, with the magic of its power
over men and over the fortunes of nations. Sir Stafford
was no heaven-born leader : he overcame no scarcely sur-
mountable difficulties ; he was the loyal servant of the
State, he guided it towards no new destinies. It may
even be said that his example of rectitude and true hu-
man charity is less enticing, because to him his conduct
was so easy. When once he had passed out of the
thoughtlessness of early boyhood, it seems as if, unlike
the rest of us, he had to fight no temptations. In one of
his letters he says that he is half ashamed of being so
easily happy. But an example of happiness like his has
in no time, and least of all in ours, been so common or


SO conspicuous that we need regret his genius for felicity.
It was really nothing short of genius, and to this he owed
his freedom from temptations. He had no vague desires,
no vain regrets : he lived in his work and in his home, un-
disturbed, as it were, by the passions. That " passionless
bride, divine tranquillity," which the Eoman poet so pas-
sionately and so vainly wooed, gave herself unbidden to
him. "We watch and envy him, whose nature made him a
source of peace in warring times ; we envy, but we cannot
imitate. The gifts of character, of courtesy, of purity and
peace which were his by nature, as the gifts of force and
victory are in the lot of others, we can admire, and we
can strive in some degree to approach ; but, like any other
natural endowments, they are not to be wholly won l^y
discipline and labour.

The biographer has attempted here to give the sum of
his impressions, and to offer the sketch of a character as an
introduction to the record of a life. On the whole subject
of biography it would not be diihcult and it might be
pleasant to write at length. In this, as in everything, the

Online LibraryAndrew LangLife, letters, and diaries of Sir Stafford Northcote, first Earl of Iddesleigh → online text (page 1 of 43)