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brilliant, than was Robert Lowe. His diction,
without being exceptionally choice, was pure and
precise, and his manner had a dignity and weight
which seemed to compel your attention even
when the matter was uninteresting. A voice
naturally neither strong nor musical, and some-
times apt to sound hollow (for the chest was weak),
was managed with great skill ; action and gesture
were used sparingly but effectively, and the tall
well-built figure and strongly-marked, somewhat
Roman features, with their haughty and distant
air, deepened the impression of power, courage,
and resolution which was characteristic of the
whole man.

The qualities of oratory I have described

Lord Chancellor Cairns 189

may seem better fitted to a comparatively sober
and sedate assembly like the House of Lords
than to a changeful and excitable assembly
like the House of Commons. Yet, in point of
fact, Cairns spoke better in the Commons than he
did afterwards in the Lords, and would have left
an even higher oratorical reputation had his
career in the popular House been longer and his
displays more numerous. The reason seems to be
that the heat of that House warmed his somewhat
chilly temperament, and roused him to a more
energetic and ardent style of speaking than was
needed in the Upper Chamber, where he and
his friends, commanding a large majority, had
things all their own way. In the House of
Commons he confronted a crowd of zealous
adversaries, and put forth all the forces of his
logic and rhetoric to overcome them. In the more
languid House of Lords he was apt to be didactic,
sometimes even prolix. He overproved his own
case without feeling the need, which he would have
felt in the Commons, of overthrowing the case of
the other side ; his manner wanted animation and
his matter variety. Still, he was a great speaker,
greater as a speaker upon legal topics, where a
power of exact statement and lucid exposition is
required, than any one he left behind him.

Why, it may be asked, with these gifts, and
with so much firmness and energy of character,
did he not play an even more conspicuous part

190 Biographical Studies

in politics, and succeed, after Lord Beaconsfield's
death, to the chieftaincy of the Tory party ?
The answer is to be found partly in the prejudice
which still survives in England against legal
politicians, partly in certain defects of his own
personality. Although sincerely pious, and ex-
emplary in all the relations of domestic life, he
was ungenial and unbending in social intercourse.
Few equally eminent men of our time have had so
narrow a circle of personal friends. There was a
dryness, a coldness, and an appearance of reserve
and hauteur about his manner which repelled
strangers, and kept acquaintanceship from ripening
into friendship. To succeed as a political leader, a
man must usually (I do not say invariably, because
there are a few remarkable instances Mr. Parnell's
would appear to be one of them to the contrary)
at least seem sympathetic ; must be able to enter
into the feelings of his followers, and show him-
self interested in them not merely as party
followers, but as human beings. There must be
a certain glow, a certain effluence of feeling about
him, which makes them care for him and rally
to him as a personality. Whether Lord Cairns
wanted warmth of heart, or whether it was that an
inner warmth failed to pierce the cloak of reserve
and pride which he habitually wore, I do not
attempt to determine. But the defect told heavily
against him. He never became a familiar figure
to the mass of his party, a person whose features

Lord Chancellor Cairns 191

they knew, at whose name they would cheer ;
and nowadays all leaders, to whatever party they
belong, find a source of strength in winning this
kind of popularity. The quality which Ameri-
cans call magnetism is perhaps less essential
in England than in the country which distin-
guished and named it ; but it is helpful even
in England. Cairns, though an Irishman, was
wholly without it.

In the field of law, where passion has no
place, and even imagination must be content
to move with clipped wings along the ground,
the merits of Lord Cairns's intellect showed
to the best advantage. At the Chancery bar he
was one of a trio who had not been surpassed, if
ever equalled, during the nineteenth century, and
whom none of our now practising advocates rivals.
The other two were Mr., afterwards Lord Justice,
Rolt, and Mr. Roundell Palmer, afterwards Lord
Chancellor Selborne. All were admirable lawyers,
but, of the three, Rolt excelled in his spirited pre-
sentation of a case and in the lively vigour of his
arguments. Palmer was conspicuous for exhaust-
less ingenuity, and for a subtlety which sometimes
led him away into reasonings too fine for the
court to follow. Cairns was broad, massive,
convincing, with a robust urgency of logic which
seemed to grasp and fix you, so that while he
spoke you could fancy no conclusion possible save
that toward which he moved. His habit was to

192 Biographical Studies

seize upon what he deemed the central and vital
point of the case, throwing the whole force of
his argument upon that one point, and holding
the judge's mind fast to it.

All these famous men were raised to the judicial
bench. Rolt remained there for a few months
only, so his time was too short to permit him to
enrich our jurisprudence and leave a memory of
himself in the Reports. Palmer sat in the House
of Lords from his accession to the Chancellorship
in 1872 till his death in 1896, and, while fully
sustaining his reputation as a man of eminent
legal capacity, was, on the whole, less brilliant as a
judge than he had been as an advocate, because a
tendency to over-refinement is more dangerous
in the judicial than in the forensic mind. He
made an admirable Chancellor, and showed him-
self more industrious and more zealous for law
reform than did Cairns. But Cairns was the
greater judge, and became to the generation
which argued before him a model of judicial ex-
cellence. In hearing a cause he was singularly
patient, rarely interrupting counsel, and then only
to put some pertinent question. His figure was
so still, his countenance so impassive, that people
sometimes doubted whether he was really attend-
ing to all that was urged at the bar. But when
the time came for him to deliver judgment,
which in the House of Lords is done in the form
of a speech addressed to the House in moving

Lord Chancellor Cairns 193

or supporting a motion that is to become the judg-
ment of the tribunal, it was seen how fully he had
apprehended the case in all its bearings. His
deliverances were never lengthy, but they were
exhaustive. They went straight to the vital prin-
ciples on which the question turned, stated these
in the most luminous way, and applied them with
unerring exactitude to the particular facts. It is
as a storehouse of fundamental doctrines that his
judgments are so valuable. They disclose less
knowledge of case-law- than do those of some other
judges ; but Cairns was not one of the men who
love cases for their own sake, and he never cared
to draw upon, still less to display, more learning
than was needed for the matter in hand. It
was in the grasp of the principles involved, in
the breadth of view^ which enabled him to see
these principles in their relation to one another, in
the precision of the logic which drew conclusions
from the principles, in the perfectly lucid language
in which the principles were expounded and
applied, that his strength lay. Herein he sur-
passed the most eminent of contemporary judges,
the then Master of the Rolls, for while Jessel had
perhaps a quicker mind than Cairns, he had not so
wide a mind, nor one so thoroughly philosophical
in the methods by which it moved.'

1 Sir (1. JcsseTs eldest son has been good cnc)UL;h to inform nic that his
father liad the warmest admiration for Cairns, heirii; accustomed to say that
Lord Ilardwicke was the greatest jud{^e of tlie eighteenth centiu)-, and Lord
Cairns of the nineteenth. AWc /u Stroud Edition.


194 Biographical Studies

Outside the spheres of law and poHtics, Cairns's
only interest was in religion. He did not seem,
although a good classical scholar and a competent
mathematician, to care either for letters or for
science. But he was a Sunday-school teacher
nearly all his life. Prayer-meetings were held
at his house, at which barristers, not otherwise
known for their piety, but believed to desire
county court judgeships, were sometimes seen.
He used to take the chair at missionary and
other philanthropic meetings. He was sur-
rounded by evangelisers and clergymen. But
nothing softened the austerity or melted the ice
of his manners. Neither did the great position
he had won seem to give a higher and broader
quality to his statesmanship. It is true that in
law he was wholly free from the partisanship
which tinged his politics. No one was more
perfectly fair upon the bench ; no one more
honestly anxious to arrive at a right decision.
And as a law reformer, although he effected less
than might have been hoped from his abilities or
expected from the absolute sway which he exer-
cised while Chancellor in Lord Beaconsfield s
Government from 1874 to 1880, he was free from
prejudice, and willing to sweep away antiquated
rules or usages if they seemed to block the
channel of speedy justice. But in politics this
impartiality and elevation vanished even after he
had risen so high that he did not need to humour

Lord Chancellor Cairns 195

the passions or confirm the loyalty of his own
associates. He seemed to be not merely a party
man, which an English politician is forced to be,
because if he stands outside party he cannot effect
anything, but a partisan that is, a man wholly
devoted to his party, who sees everything through
its eyes, and argues every question in its interests.
He gave the impression of being either unwilling
or unable to rise to a higher and more truly
national view, and sometimes condescended to
arguments whose unsoundness his penetrating
intellect could hardly have failed to detect. His
professional tone had been blameless, but at the
bar the path of rectitude is plain and smooth, and
a scrupulous mind finds fewer cases of conscience
present themselves in a year than in Parliament
within a month. Yet if in this respect Cairns
failed to reach a level worthy of his splendid
intellect, the defect was due not to any selfish
view of his own interest, but rather to the narrow-
ness of the groove into which his mind had fallen,
and to the atmosphere of Orange sentiment in
which he had grown up. As a politician he is
already beginning to be torgotten ; but as a judge
he will be held in honourable remembrance as
one of the five or six most brilliant luminaries
that have adorned the English bench since those
remote days ^ in which the beginning of legal
memory is placed.

^ The rt'it;n of King Richard llic I'irsi.


James Fraser, Bishop of Manchester from 1870
till 1885, was born in Gloucestershire, of a Scottish
family, in 1818, and died at Manchester in 1885/
He took no prominent part in ecclesiastical politics,
and no part at all in general politics. Though
a sound classical scholar in the old-fashioned
sense of the term he won the Ireland University
Scholarship at Oxford, then and still vthe most
conspicuous prize in the field of classics he was
not an exceptionally cultivated man, and he never
wrote anything except official reports and epis-
copal charges. Neither was he, although a ready
and effective speaker, gifted with the highest
kind of eloquence. Neither was he a profound
theologian. Yet his character and career are of
permanent interest, for he created not merely a new
episcopal type, but (one may almost say) a new
ecclesiastical type within the Church of England.
Till some sixty or seventy years ago the
normal English bishop was a rich, dignified, and
rather easy-going magnate, aristocratic in his
tastes and habits, moderate in his theology, some-

^ Two Lives of Dr. Fraser have been published, one (in 1887) by
the late Judge Hughes, the other, which gives a fuller impression of his
personal character, by the Rev. J. \V. Diggle (1891).


Bishop Fraser 197

times to the verge of indifferentism, quite as much
a man of the world as a pastor of souls. He had
usually obtained his preferment by his family con-
nections, or by some service rendered to the court
or a political chief perhaps even by solicitation
or intrigue. Now and then eminence in learning
or literature raised a man to the bench : there
were, for instance, the "Greek play" bishops,
such as Dr. Monk of Gloucester, whose fame
rested on their editions of the Attic dramatists ;
and the Qtiartei'ly Revieiv bishops, such as
Dr. Copleston, of Llandaff, whose powerful pen,
as well as his wise administration of the great
Oxford College over which he long presided,
amply justified his promotion. So even in the
eighteenth century the illustrious Butler had
been Bishop of Durham, as in Ireland the
illustrious Berkeley had been Bishop of Cloyne,
But, on the whole, the bishops of our grand-
fathers' days were more remarkable for their
prudence and tact, their adroitness or supple-
ness, than for intellectual or moral superiority to
the rest of the clergy. Their own upper-class
world, and the middle class which, in the main,
took its view of English institutions from the
upper class, respected them as a part of the solid
fabric of English society, but they were a mark
for Radical invective and for literary sneers.
Their luxurious pomp and ease were incessantly
contrasted with the simplicity of the apostles and

igS Biographical Studies

the poverty of curates, and the abundance among
them of the gifts that befit the senate or the
drawing-room was compared with the rarity of the
graces that adorn a saint. The comparison was
hardly fair, for saints are scarce, and a good bishop
needs some qualities which a saint may lack.

That revival within the Church of England
which went on in various forms from 1800 till
1870, at first Low Church or Evangelical in its
tendencies, latterly more conspicuously High
Church and Ritualist, began from below and
worked upwards till at length it reached the
bishops. Lord Palmerston, influenced by Lord
Shaftesbury, filled the vacant sees that fell to him
with earnest men, sometimes narrow, sometimes
deficient in learning, but often good preachers, and
zealous for the doctrines they held. When the
High Churchmen found their way to the Bench,
as they did very largely under Lord Derby's and
Mr. Gladstone's rule, they showed as much theo-
logical zeal as the Evangelicals, and perhaps more
talent for administration. The popular idea of
what may be expected from a bishop rose, and the
bishops rose with the idea. As Bishop of Oxford,
Dr. Samuel Wilberforce was among the first to
make himself powerfully felt through his diocese.
His example told upon other prelates, and prime
ministers grew more anxious to select energetic
and popular men. So it came to pass that the
bishops began to be among the foremost men in

Bishop Fraser 199

the Church of England. Some, like Dr. Magee
of Peterborough, and afterwards of York, were
brilliant orators ; some, like Dr. Lightfoot of
Durham, profound scholars ; some, like Dr.
Temple of Exeter, able and earnest adminis-
trators. There remained but few who had not
some good claim to the dignity they enjoyed.
So it may be said, when one compares the later
Victorian bishops with their Georgian predeces-
sors, that no class in the country has improved
more. Few now sneer at them, for no set of men
take a more active and more creditable part in the
public business of the country. Their incomes,
curtailed of late years in the case of the richer
sees, are no more than sufficient for the expenses
which fall upon them, and they work as hard as
any other men for their salaries. Though the
larger sees have been divided, the reduction of
the toil of bishops thus effected has been less than
the addition to it due to the growth of popula-
tion and the increased activity of the clergy. The
only defect which the censorious still impute to
them is a certain episcopal conventionality, a dis-
position to try to please everybody by the use of
vague professional language, a tendency to think
too much about the Church as a church establish-
ment, and to defer to clerical opinion when they
ought to speak and act with an independence
born of their individual opinions. Some of them,
as. for instance, the three I have just mentioned,

2 00 Biographical Studies

were not open to this reproach. It was one
of the merits and charms of Fraser that he was
absolutely free from any such tendency. Other
men, such as Bishop Lightfoot, have been not
less eminent models of the virtues which ought
to characterise a great Christian pastor ; but
Fraser (appointed some time before Lightfoot)
was the first to be an absolutely unconventional
and, so to speak, unepiscopal bishop. His career
marked a new departure and set a new example.

Fraser spent the earlier years of his manhood
in Oxford, as a tutor in Oriel College, teaching
Thucydides and Aristotle. Like many of his
Oxford contemporaries, he continued through life
to think on Aristotelian lines, and one could trace
them in his sermons. He then took in succession
two college livings, both in quiet nooks in the
South of England, and discharged for nearly
twenty years the simple duties of a parish priest,
unknown to the great world, but making himself
beloved by the people, and doing his best to
improve their condition. The zeal he had shown
in promoting elementary education caused him to
be appointed (in 1865) by the Schools Inquiry
Commissioners to be their Assistant Commis-
sioner to examine the common-school system of
the United States, and the excellence of his report
thereon attracted the notice of the late Lord
Lyttelton, one of those Commissioners who were
then sitting to investigate the state of secondary

Bishop Fraser 201

education in England. His report long remained
by far the best general picture of i\merican
schools, conspicuous for its breadth of view, its
clearness of statement, its sympathetic insight
into conditions unlike those he had known in
England. On the recommendation (as has been
generally believed) of Lord Lyttelton and of the
then Bishop of Salisbury, who was a friend of
Dr. Eraser's, Mr. Gladstone, at that time Prime
Minister, appointed him Bishop of Manchester
in 1870. The diocese of Manchester, which
included all Lancashire except Liverpool and a
small district in the extreme north of the county,
had been under a bishop who, although an able
and learned man, capable of making himself
agreeable when he pleased, was personally un-
popular, and had done little beyond his formal
duties. He lived in a large and handsome
country-house some miles from the city, and was
known by sight to very few of its inhabitants.
(I was familiar with Lancashire in those days, for
I had visited all its grammar-schools as Assistant
Commissioner to the Commission just referred
to, and there was hardly a trace to be found in
it of the bishop's action.) Fraser had not been
six months in the county before everything was
changed. The country mansion was sold, and he
procured a modest house in one of the less fashion-
able suburbs of the city. He preached twice
every Sunday, usually in some parish church, and

2 02 Biographical Studies

spent the week in travelling up and down his
diocese, so that the days were few in which he
was not on the railway. He stretched out the
hand of friendship to the Dissenters (numerous
and powerful in the manufacturing districts), who
had hitherto regarded a bishop as a sort of natural
enemy, gained their confidence, and soon became
as popular with them as with the laity of his
own Church. He associated himself with all
the works of benevolence or public utility which
w^ere in progress, subscribed to all so far as his
means allowed, and was always ready to speak
at a meeting on behalf of any good enterprise.
He dealt in his sermons with the topics of the
day, avoiding party politics, but speaking his
mind on all social and moral questions with a
freedom which sometimes involved him in passing
difficulties, but stimulated the minds of his hearers,
and gave the impression of his own perfect
candour and perfect courage. He used to say
that as he felt it his duty to speak wherever he
was asked to do so, he must needs speak without
preparation, and must therefore expect sometimes
to get into hot water ; that this was a pity, but
it was not his fault that he was reported, and
that it was better to run the risk of making
mistakes and suffering for them than to refuse
out of self-regarding caution to give the best of
himself to the diocese. He had that true modesty
which makes a man willing to do a thing im-

Bishop Fraser 203

perfectly, at the risk of lowering his intellectual
reputation. He knew that he was neither a deep
thinker nor a finished preacher, and was content
to be what he was, so long as he could perform
the work which it was in him to do. He lost
no opportunity of meeting the working men,
would go and talk to them in the yards of the
mills or at the evening gatherings of mechanics'
institutes ; and when any misfortune befell, such
as a colliery accident, he was often among the
first who reached the spot to help the survivors
and comfort the widows. He declared his sym-
pathy with the agricultural labourers in their strike
for higher wages at a time when hardly any one in
his class thouorht of doinof so. He made no differ-
ence between rich and poor, showed no wish to be
a guest in the houses of the great, and treated the
poorest curate with as much courtesy as the most
pompous county magnate. His work in Lanca-
shire seldom allowed him to appear in the House
of Lords ; and this he regretted, not that he
desired to speak there, but because, as he said,
" Whether or not bishops do Parliament good,
Parliament does bishops good."

Such a simple, earnest, active course of conduct
told upon the feelings of the people who read of
his words and doings. But even greater was the
impression made by his personality upon those
who saw him. He was a tall, well-built man,'

1 lie was a ;^ock1 juclt^e of horses, and had i;i youth been foiul of hunling.

2 04 Biographical Studies

erect in figure, with a quick eye, a firm step, a
ruddy face, an expression of singular heartiness
and geniality. He seemed always cheerful, and,
in spite of his endless labours, always fresh and
strong. His smile and the grasp of his hand
put you into good-humour with yourself and the
world ; if you were dispirited, they led you out
of shadow into sunlight. He was not a great
reader, and had no time for sustained and search-
ing thought ; yet he seemed always abreast of
what was passing in the world, and to know w^hat
the books and articles and speeches of the day
contained, although he could not have found time
to peruse them. With strong opinions of his own,
he was anxious to hear yours ; a ready and eager
talker, yet a willing listener. His oratory was
plain, with few flights of rhetoric, but it was direct
and vigorous, free from conventional phrases,
charged with clear good sense and genuine feel-
ing, and capable, when his feeling was exception-
ally strong, of rising to eloquence. He had a
ready sense of humour, the best proof of which
was that he relished a joke against himself.^

^ A clergyman of his diocese had once, under the greatest provoca-
tion, knocked down a person who had insulted him, and the bishop wrote
him a letter of reproof pointing out (among other things) that, exposed as
the Church of England was to much criticism on all hands, her ministers
ought to be very careful in their demeanour. The offender replied by
saying, " I must regretfully admit that being grossly insulted, and forget-
ting in the heat of the moment the critical position of the Church of
England, I did knock the man down, etc." Eraser, delighted with this
turning of the tables on himself, told me the anecdote with great glee, and
invited the clergyman to stay with him not long afterwards.

Bishop Fraser 205

However, the greatest charm, both of his pubHc
and private talk, was the transparent sincerity
and honesty that shone through it. His mind
was Hke a crystal pool of water in a mountain
stream. You saw everything that was in it, and

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceStudies in contemporary biography → online text (page 12 of 29)