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saw nothing that was mean or unworthy. This
sincerity and freshness made his character not
only manly, but lovable and beautiful, beautiful
in its tenderness, its loyalty to his friends, its
devotion to truth.

His conscientious anxiety to say nothing more
than he thought was apt to make him an em-
barrassing ally. It happened more than once
that when he came to speak at a public meeting
on behalf of some enterprise, he was not content,
like most men, to set forth its merits and claims,
but went on to dwell upon possible drawbacks
or dangers, so that the more ardent friends of
the scheme thought he was pouring cold water
on them, and called him a Balaam reversed. In
a political assembly he would have been an enfant
terrible whom his party would have feared to put
up to speak ; but as people in the diocese got to
know that this was his way, they only smiled at
his too ingenuous honesty. As he spoke with no
preparation, and was naturally impulsive, he now
and then spoke unadvisedly, and received a good
deal of newspaper censure. But he was never
involved in real trouble by these speeches. As
Dean Stanley wrote to him, " You have a singular

2o6 Biographical Studies

gift of going to the very verge of imprudence and
yet never crossing it."

No one will wonder that such a character, set
in a conspicuous place, and joined to extraordinary
activity and zeal, should have produced an im-
mense effect on the people of his city and diocese.
Since Nonconformity arose in England in the
seventeenth century, no bishop, perhaps, indeed
no man, whether cleric or layman, had done so
much to draw together people of different religious
persuasions and help them to realise their common
Christianity. Densely populated South Lanca-
shire is practically one huge town, and he was its
foremost citizen ; the most instant in all good
works ; the one whose words were most sure to
find attentive listeners. This was because he
spoke, I will not say as a layman, but simply
as a Christian, never claiming for himself any
special authority in respect either of his sacer-
dotal character or his official position. No English
prelate before him had been so welcome to all
classes and sections ; none was so much lamented
by the masses of the people. But it is a signi-
ficant fact that he was from first to last more
popular with the laity than with the clergy. Not
that there was ever any slur on his orthodoxy.
He began life as a moderate High Churchman,
and gradually verged, half unconsciously, toward
what would be called a Broad-Church position ;
maintaining the claim of the Anglican Church to

Bishop Fraser 207

undertake, and her duty to hold herself responsible
for, the education of the people, and upholding
her status as an establishment, but dwelling little
on minor points of doctrinal difference, and seem-
ing to care still less for external observances or
points of ritual. This displeased the Anglo-
Catholic party, and even among other sections of
the clergy there was a kind of feeling that the
Bishop was not sufficiently clerical, did not set full
store by the sacerdotal side of his office, and did
not think enough about ecclesiastical questions.

He was, I think, the first bishop who greeted
men of science as fellow-workers for truth, and
declared that Christianity had not, and could not
have, anything to fear from scientific inquiry.
This has often been said since, but in 1870 it was
so novel that it drew from Huxley a singularly
warm and impressive recognition. He was one
of the first bishops to condemn the system of
theological tests in the English universities. He
even declared that "it was an evil hour when
the Church thought herself obliged to add to or
develop the simple articles of the Apostles' Creed."
These deliverances, which any one can praise
now, alarmed a large section of the Church of
England then ; nor was the bishop's friendliness
to Dissenters favourably regarded by those who
deny to Dissenting pastors the title of Christian

' He \\r,s liiinsclf unarc thr.i iliis causetl (lisplcasurc. In his latest

2o8 Biographical Studies

The gravest trouble of his life arose in connec-
tion with legal proceedings which he felt bound
to take in the case of a Ritualist clergyman
who had persisted in practices apparently illegal.
Fraser, though personally the most tolerant of
men to those who differed from his own theologi-
cal views, felt bound to enforce the law, because
it was the law, and was at once assailed unjustly,
as well as bitterly, by those who sympathised with
the offending clergyman, and who could not, or
would not, understand that a bishop, like other
persons in an official position, may hold it his
absolute duty to carry out the directions of the
law whether or no he approves the law, and at
whatever cost to himself. These attacks were
borne with patience and dignity. He was never
betrayed into recriminations, and could the more
easily preserve his calmness, because he felt no

A bishop may be a power outside his own
religious community even in a country where

Charge, delivered some months before his death, he said : "I am
charged, amongst other grievous sins, with that of thinking not unkindly,
and speaking not unfavourably, of Dissenters. I don't profess to love
dissent, but I have received innumerable kindnesses from Dissenters.
Why should I abuse them ? Why should I call them hard names ?
Remembering how Nonconformity was made no doubt sometimes by
self-will and pride and prejudice and ignorance, but far more often by the
Church's supineness, neglect, and intolerance in days long since gone by,
of which we have not yet paid the full penalty though, as I have said,
I love not the thing, I cannot speak harshly of it."

That a defence was needed may seem strange to those *wIio do not
know England.

Bishop Fraser 209

the clergy are separated as a caste from the lay
people. Such men as Dupanloup in France show
that. So too he may be a mighty moral and
religious force outside his own religious com-
munity in a country where there is no church
established or endowed by the State. The
example of Dr. Phillips Brooks in the United
States shows that. But Dupanloup would have
been eminent and influential had he not been a
clergyman at all ; and Dr. Brooks was the most
inspiring preacher and the most potent leader of
religious thought in America long before, in
the last years of his life, he reluctantly consented
to accept the episcopal office. Fraser, not so
gifted by nature as either of those men, would
have had little chance of doing the work he did
save in a country where the existence of an
ancient establishment secures for one of its diQfni-
taries a position of far-reaching influence. When
the gains and losses to a nation of the retention
of a church establishment are reckoned up, this
may be set down among the gains.

If tjie Church of England possessed more
leaders like Tait, Fraser, and Lightfoot the
statesman, the citizen, and the scholar in the
characters and careers of all of whom one finds
the common mark of a catholic and pacific spirit,
she would have no need to fear any assaults of
political foes, no temptation to ally herself with
any party, but might stand as an establishment

2IO Biographical Studies

until, after long years, by the general wish of her
own people, as well as of those who are without,
she passed peaceably into the position of being
the first in honour, numbers, and influence among
a group of Christian communities, all equally free
from State control.

Eraser's example showed how much an attitude
of unpretending simplicity and friendliness to all
sects and classes may do to mitigate the jealousy
and suspicion which still embitter the relations of
the different religious bodies in England, and
which work for evil even in its politics. He
created, as Dean Stanley said, a new type of
episcopal excellence : and why should not origin-
ality be shown in the conception and discharge of
an office as well as in the sphere of pure thought
or of literary creation ?


Sir Stafford Northcote (born i8iS, died 1887)
belonged to a type of politician less common
among us . than it used to be, and likely to
become still more rare as England grows more
democratic the county gentleman of old family
and good estate, who receives and profits by a
classical education at one of the ancient uni-
versities, who is at an early age returned to
Parliament in respect of his social position in
his county, who has leisure to cultivate him-
self for statesmanship, who has tastes and
resources outside the sphere of politics. Devon-
shire, whence he came, has preserved more
of the old features of English country life
than the central and northern parts of England,
where manufactures and the growth of popula-
tion have swept away the venerable remains of
feudalism. In Devonshire the old families are
still deeply respected by the people. They are
so intermarried that most of them have ties of

^ A Life of Lord Lddcsleigh, wriiieii l)y .Mr. Andrew Lang;, presents
Norllicote's character and career with fairness and discrimination.

2 12 Biographical Studies

kinship with all their neighbours. Few rich
parvenus have intruded among them ; society is
therefore exceptionally easy, simple, and unosten-
tatious. There is still a strong local patriotism,
which makes every Devonshire man, whatever
his political prepossessions, proud of other Devon-
shire men who rise to eminence, and which
exerts a wholesome influence on the tone of
manners and social intercourse. Northcote was a
thorough Devonshire man, who loved his county
and knew its dialect : his Devonshire stories,
told with the strong accent he could assume,
were the delight of any company that could
tempt him to repeat them. He was immensely
popular in the county, and had well earned his
popularity by his pleasant neighbourly ways, as
well as by his attention to county business and
to the duties of a landowner.

He had the time-honoured training of the
good old English type, was a schoolboy at
Eton, went thence to Oxford, won the highest
distinctions as a scholar, and laid the founda-
tions of a remarkably wide knowledge of modern
as well as ancient literature. He served his
apprenticeship to statesmanship as private secre-
tary to Mr. Gladstone, who was then (1843)
a member of Sir Robert Peel's Government.
When the great schism in the Tory party took
place over the question of free trade in corn, he
was not yet in Parliament, and therefore was

Sir Stafford Northcote 213

not driven to choose between Peel and the
Protectionists. In 1855, when he first entered
the House of Commons, that question was settled
and gone, so there was no inconsistency in his
entering the Tory ranks although himself a
decided Free Trader. He was not a man who
would have elbowed his way upward. But elbows
were not needed. His abilities, as well as his
industry and the confidence he inspired, speedily
brought him to the top. He was appointed
Secretary to the Treasury in 1859, entered the
Cabinet in 1866, when a new Tory Ministry
was formed under Lord Derby ; and when in
1876 Mr. Disraeli retired to the House of Lords,
he became, being then Chancellor of the Ex-
chequer, leader of the majority in the House
of Commons, while Mr. Gathorne Hardy, the
only other person who had been thought of
as suitable for that post, received a peerage.
Mr. Hardy was a more forcible and rousing
speaker, but Northcote had more varied accom-
plishments and a fuller mastery of official work.
Disraeli said that he had " the largest parliament-
ary knowledge of any man he had met."

As an administrator, Sir Stafford Northcote
was diligent, judicious, and free from any taint
of jobbery. He sought nothing for himself;
did not abuse his patronage ; kept the public
interests steadily before his mind. He was con-
siderate to his subordinates, and gracious to all

2 14 Biographical Studies

men. He never grudged labour, although there
might be no prospect of winning credit by it.
Scrupulous in discharging his duties to his
party, he overtaxed his strength by speaking
constantly at public meetings in the country, a
kind of work he must have disliked, and for
which he was ill fitted by the moderation of his
views and of his language. Parliament is not a
good place for the pursuit of pure truth, but the
platform is still less favourable to that quest. It
was remarked of him that even in party gather-
ings, where invective against political opponents
is apt to be expected and relished, he argued
fairly, and never condescended to abuse.

As a Parliamentarian he had two eminent
merits immense knowledge and admirable
readiness. He had been all his life a keen
observer and a diligent student ; and as his
memory was retentive, all that he had ob-
served or read stood at his command. In
questions of trade and finance, questions which,
owing, perhaps, to their increasing intricacy,
seem to be less and less frequently mastered
by practical politicians in England, he was
especially strong. No other man on his own
side in politics spoke on such matters with equal
authority, and the brunt of the battle fell on
him whenever they came up for discussion.
As he had now his old master for his chief
antagonist, the conflict was no easy one ; but he

Sir StafFord Northcote 215

never shrank from it. Not less remarkable was
his alertness in debate. His manner was indeed
somewhat ineffective, for it wanted both force
and variety. Sentence followed sentence in a
smooth and easy stream, always clear, always
grammatically correct, but with a flow too equably
unbroken. There were few impressive phrases,
few brilliant figures, few of those appeals to
passion with which it is necessary to warm and
rouse a larg-e assemblv. When the House p^rew
excited at the close of a long full-dress debate,
and Sir Stafford rose in the small hours of the
morning to wind it up on behalf of his party, men
felt that the ripple of his sweet voice, the softness
of his gentle manner, were not what the occasion
called for. But what he said was always to the
point and well worth hearing. No facts or
arguments suddenly thrown at him by oppo-
nents disconcerted him ; for there was sure to
be an answer ready. However weak his own
case might seem, his ingenuity could be relied
upon to strengthen it ; however powerfully the
hostile case had been presented, he found weak
places in it and shook it down by a succession
of well-planted criticisms, each apparently small,
but damaofinp- when taken all toi/ether, because
no one of them could be dismissed as irrelevant.

It was interesting to watch him as he sat on
the front bench, with his hat set so low on his brow
that it hid all the upper part of his face, while the

2i6 Biographical Studies

lower part was covered by a thick yellowish-brown
beard, perfectly motionless, rarely taking a note
of what was said, and, to all appearance, the most
indifferent figure in the House. The only sign
of feeling which he gave was to be found in
his habit of thrusting each of his hands up the
opposite sleeve of his coat when Mr. Gladstone,
the only assailant whom he needed to fear, burst
upon him in a hailstorm of declamation. But
when he rose, one perceived that nothing had
escaped him. Every point which an antagonist
had made was taken up and dealt with ; no point
that could aid his own contention was neglected ;
and the fluent grace with which his discourse
swept along, seldom aided by a reference to
notes, was not more surprising than the unfailing
skill with which he shunned dangerous ground,
and put his propositions in a form which made
it difficult to contradict them. I remember to
have heard a member of the opposite party
remark, that nothing was more difficult than to
defend your argument from Northcote, because
he had the art of nibbling it away, admitting
a little in order to evade or overthrow the rest.

So much for his parliamentary aptitudes, which
were fully recognised before he rose to leadership.
But as it was his leadership that has given him a
place in history, I may dwell for a little upon the
way in which he filled that most trying as well
as most honourable post. He led the House

Sir Stafford Northcote 217

that is to say, the Ministerial majority for four
sessions (1877- 1880), and the Tory Opposition for
five and a half sessions (1880 to middle of 1885).
To lead the House of Commons a man must have,
over and above the qualities which make a good
debater, an unusual combination of talents. He
must be both bold and cautious, combative and
cool. He must take, on his own responsibility,
and on the spur of the moment, decisions which
commit the whole Ministry, and yet, especially if
he be not Prime Minister, he must consider how
far his colleagues will approve and implement his
action. He must put enough force and fire
into his speeches to rouse his own ranks and
intimidate (if he can) his opponents, yet must
have regard to the more timorous spirits among
his own supporters, going no further than he
feels they will follow, and must sometimes throw
a crafty fiy over those in the Opposition w^hom
he thinks wavering or disaffected. Under the
fire of debate, perhaps while composing the
speech he has .to make in reply, he must
consider not merely the audience before him
but also the effect his words will have when
they are read next morning in cold blood,
and, it may be, the effect not only in England
but abroad. Being responsible for the whole
conduct of parliamentary business, he must keep
a close watch upon every pending bill, and de-
termine how much of Government time shall be

2i8 Biographical Studies

allotted to each, and in what order they shall be
taken, and how far the general feeling of the
House will let him go in seizing the hours usually
reserved for private members, and in granting or
refusing opportunies for discussing topics he would
prefer to have not discussed at all.

So far as prudence, tact, and knowledge of
business could enable him to discharge these
duties, Northcote discharged them admirably.
It was his good fortune to have behind him in
Lord Beaconsfield, who had recently gone to the
House of Lords, a chief of the whole party who
trusted him, and with whom he was on the best
terms. The immense authority of that chief
secured his own authority. His party was as
the Tory party usually is compact and loyal ;
and his majority ample, so he had no reason
to fear defeat. In the conflicts that arose
over Eastern affairs in 1877-79, affairs at some
moments highly critical, he was cautious and
adroit, more cautious than Lord Beaconsfield,
sometimes repairing by modeu&te language the
harm which the latter's theatrical utterances
had done. When a group of Irish Nationalist
members, among whom Mr. Parnell soon came
to the front, began to evade the rules and
paralyse the action of the House by obstruct-
ive tactics, he was less successful. Their
ingenuity baffled the Ministry, and brought the
House into sore straits. But it may be doubted

Sir Stafford Northcote 219

whether any leader could have overcome the
difficulties of the position. It was a new
position. The old rules framed under quite
different conditions were not fit to check mem-
bers who, far from regarding the sentiments of
the House, avowed their purpose to reduce it to
impotence, and thereby obtain that Parliament
of their own, which could alone, as they held,
cure the ills of Ireland.

After ten years of struggle and experiment,
drastic remedies for obstruction were at last
devised ; but in the then state of opinion within
the House, those remedies could not have been
carried. Members accustomed to the old state ot
things could not for a good while make up their
minds to sacrifice part of their own privileges in
order to deal with a difficulty the source of which
they would not attempt to cure. On the whole,
therefore, though he was blamed at the time,
Northcote may be deemed to have passed credit-
ably through his first period of leadership.

It was when he had to lead his party in
Opposition, after April 1880, that his severest
trial came. To lead the minority is usually easier
than to lead the majority. A leader of the
Opposition also must, no doubt, take swift de-
cisions in the midst of a debate, must consider
how far he is pledging his party to a policy
which they may be required to maintain when
next they come into power, must endeavour to

2 20 Biographical Studies

judge, often on scanty data, how many of his usual
or nominal supporters will follow him into the
lobby when a division is called, and how best he
can draw off some votes from among his opponents.
Still, delicate as this work is, it is not so hard as
that of the leader of the Government, for it is
rather critical than constructive, and a mistake
can seldom do irreparable mischief. Northcote,
however, had special difficulties to face. Mr.
Gladstone, still full of energy and fire, was
leading the majority. After a few months
Lord Beaconsfield's mantle no longer covered
Northcote (that redoubtable strategist died
in April 1881), and a small but active group
of Tory members set up an irregular skirmish-
ing Opposition on their own account, paying
little heed to his moderate counsels. The Tory
party was then furious at its unexpected defeat
at the election of 1880. It was full of fight, burn-
ing for revenge, eager to denounce every trifling
error of the Ministry, and to give battle on small
as well as great occasions. Hence it resented
the calm and cautiously critical attitude which
Northcote took up. He had plenty of courage ;
but he thought, as indeed most impartial ob-
servers thought, that little was to be gained
by incessantly worrying an enemy so superior
in force and flushed with victory ; that prema-
ture assaults might consolidate a majority within
which there existed elements of discord ; and

Sir Stafford Northcote 221

that it was wiser to wait till the Ministry should
begin to make mistakes and incur misfortunes in
the natural course of events, before resumino- the
offensive against them. There is a natural tend-
ency to reaction in English popular opinion, and
a tendency to murmur against whichever party
may be in power. This tendency must soon
have told in favour of the Tories, with little
effort on their own part ; and when it was already
manifest, a Parliamentary attack could have been
delivered with effect. Northcote's view and plan
w'ere probably right, but, being too prone to yield
to pressure, and finding his hand forced, he
allowed himself to be drawn by the clamour of
his followers into aggressive operations, which,
nevertheless, himself not quite approving them,
he conducted in a half-hearted way. He had
not Mr, Gladstone's power of doing excellently
what he hated to have to do. And it must be
admitted that from 18S2 onwards, when troubles
in Ireland and oscillations in Egyptian policy
had besfun to shake the credit of the Liberal
Ministry, he showed less fire and pugnacity than
the needs of the time required from a party
leader. In one thino- the vounof men, who,
like Zulu warriors, wished to wash their spears,
were right and he was wrong. He conceived
that frequent attacks and a resort to obstructive
tactics would damage the Opposition in the eyes
of the country. Experience has shown that

222 Biographical Studies

parties do not greatly suffer from the way they
fight their Parhamentary battles. Few people
follow the proceedings closely enough to know
when an Opposition deserves blame for prolong-
ing debate, or a Ministry for abuse of the closure.
So, too, in the United States it would seem that
neither the tyrannical action of a majority nor
filibustering by a minority shocks the nation.

Not only was Northcote's own temper pacific,
but he was too sweetly reasonable and too dis-
passionate to be a successful leader in Oppo-
sition. He felt that he was never quite a
party man. His mind was almost too judicial,
his courtesy too unfailing, his temper too un-
ruffled, his manner too unassuming. He did not
inspire awe or fear. Not only did he never
seek to give pain, even where pain might have
been a wholesome discipline for pushing selfish-
ness he seemed incapable of irritation, and
bore with vexatious obstruction from some
members of the House, and mutinous attacks
from others who belonged to his own party,
when a spirit less kindly and forgiving might have

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceStudies in contemporary biography → online text (page 13 of 29)