Historical and Political Essays
by William Edward Hartpole Lecky
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In so vast a field there were, no doubt, many subjects which have been treated with a greater fulness and completeness by other writers. There are some in which subsequent research has gone far to supersede what Milman has written, and inaccuracies of detail not unfrequently crept into his work; but in the truthfulness of its broad lines, in the sagacity of its estimates both of men and events, it holds a high place among the histories of the world. Very few historians have combined in a larger measure the three great requisites of knowledge, soundness of judgment, and inexorable love of truth. The growth and modifications of doctrines and the minutiae of religious controversies were, however, subjects in which he took little interest, and though they could not be excluded from an ecclesiastical history, they are dealt with only in a slight and cursory manner. Those who desire to study in detail this side of ecclesiastical history will find other histories much more useful. It has been said that his work is imperfect as a book of reference, for while the great events and personages are discussed with a fulness that leaves little to be desired, many of the more insignificant transactions or more obscure periods are passed over or barely noticed. Critics of different religious schools have also complained that his mind was essentially secular; that he had a low sense of the certainty and the importance of dogma; that there were some classes of ecclesiastical writers who have been deeply revered in the Church with whom he had no real sympathy; that the spirit of criticism was stronger in his book than the spirit of reverence; that he did not do full justice to the spiritual and inner side of the religion he described. He looked upon it, they said, too externally. He valued it as a moral revolution, the introduction of new principles of virtue and new rules for individual and social happiness. Much of this criticism would probably have been accepted with but little qualification by Milman himself. He would have said that what these writers complained of was in the main inseparable from an historical as distinguished from a devotional treatment of his subject. He would have added that no form of human history reveals so clearly as ecclesiastical history the fallibility, the credulity, the intolerance of the human mind, or requires more imperatively the constant exercise of independent judgment and of fearless and unsparing criticism, and that, if the history of the Church is ever to be written with profit, it must be written in such a spirit. Of his own deeper convictions he seldom spoke; but in the concluding page of his 'Latin Christianity' there is a passage of profound interest. Leaving it, as he says, to the future historian of religion to say what part of the ancient dogmatic system may be allowed to fall silently into disuse, and what transformations the interpretation of the Sacred Writings may still undergo, he adds these significant words:

'As it is my own confident belief that the words of Christ, and his words alone (the primal indefeasible truths of Christianity), shall not pass away, so I cannot presume to say that men may not attain to a clearer, at the same time more full, comprehensive, and balanced sense of those words, than has as yet been generally received in the Christian world. As all else is transient and mutable, these only eternal and universal, assuredly whatever light may be thrown on the mental constitution of man, even on the constitution of nature and the laws which govern the world, will be concentered so as to give a more penetrating vision of those undying truths.... Christianity may yet have to exercise a far wider, even if more silent and untraceable influence, through its primary, all-pervading principles, on the civilisation of mankind.'

Macaulay, speaking of the 'History of Latin Christianity' in his Journal, says, 'I was more impressed than ever by the contrast between the substance and the style: the substance is excellent; the style very much otherwise.' Looking at it from a purely literary point of view it had undoubtedly great merits. Milman had an admirable sense of proportion—a rare quality in history. He was invariably lucid, and it is easy to cull from his history many characters excellently drawn, many pages of vivid narrative, or terse and weighty criticism. Still, on the whole his historic style is on a lower level than that of Macaulay, Buckle, and Froude, though it will compare, I think, not unfavourably with that of Hallam and Grote. The points of controversy are usually relegated to his notes, which contain a great mass of curious learning and excellent criticism. The reader who turns to them from works of the German school will be struck by his strong English common-sense and grasp of facts, and his dislike of subtle far-fetched ingenuities of explanation. He has the crowning merit of being always readable, and his strong sane moral sense never left him. He was probably at his best in the later volumes, when he could treat his subject like secular history and was free from the embarrassing theological difficulties of the earlier portion, and he is especially admirable in those chapters which give scope to his wide literary and artistic sympathies. He was an excellent Italian scholar and keenly sensible of the beauties of Italian literature, and his love of the ancient classics never left him. There was something at once characteristic and amusing in the delight which he again and again expressed, after the termination of his History, at being able to return to them after spending so many years in reading bad Latin and Greek. In taste and character he was indeed pre-eminently a man of letters, and as such he ranks in the first line among his contemporaries.

The outburst of indignation that in some quarters had greeted the first appearance of the 'History of the Jews' was not repeated when that work was republished in an enlarged form. Nor does it appear to have arisen on the appearance of the two later histories. Newman reviewed the 'History of Early Christianity' at great length, speaking with much personal respect of the writer, though he was naturally extremely hostile to its spirit. The difference between the High Church sentiment and the mind of Milman was indeed organic. Milman's own type of thought was formed before the Tractarian movement had begun; the sacerdotal spirit was thoroughly alien to him, and his profound study of ecclesiastical history had certainly not tended to attract him to it. He fully recognised both the abilities and the piety of Newman, and he described his secession as perhaps the greatest loss the Church of England had experienced since the Reformation; but he disliked his opinions, he profoundly distrusted the whole character of his mind and reasonings, and he early foresaw that he could never find a permanent resting-place in the English Church. In the posthumous volume of Essays there will be found a full and most searching examination of Newman's 'Essay on Development,' in which these points of difference are clearly shown. For Keble, Milman entertained warmer feelings. They were contemporaries, and at one time most intimate friends. In the field of sacred poetry they had been fellow-labourers. Keble had succeeded Milman as professor of poetry, and Milman had been one of the few persons who had read the 'Christian Year' in manuscript. When, after Keble's death, a committee was appointed to erect a memorial to his memory, Milman was much hurt at finding that it was determined to give it a distinctly Tractarian character, and that his own name was deliberately excluded. In Milman's last years the Oxford movement had begun to assume its ritualistic form, and questions of vestments and ceremonies and candles came to the forefront. With all this Milman had no sympathy. 'After the drama,' he said of it, 'the melodrama!'

It was a remarkable coincidence that for some years the two deaneries of London were both held by brilliant men of letters and by men with the strongest theological sympathy. A feeling of warm personal affection united Milman and Stanley, and there was something peculiarly touching in the almost filial attitude which Stanley assumed towards his older colleague. In one point, however, they differed greatly. Stanley was a keen fighter. He threw himself into the forefront of ecclesiastical controversies, and was never seen to greater advantage than when leading a small minority, defying inveterate prejudice, defending an unpopular cause. Milman could seldom be tempted to follow his example. He pleaded old age and declining strength, but, in truth, though he never flinched from the avowal of his own opinions, he had a deep and increasing distaste for religious controversies and Church politics. He was rarely seen in Convocation, and he always regarded its revival as a misfortune. He proposed, however, in it a petition for the discontinuance of the use of the State services commemorating the martyrdom of Charles I., the restoration of Charles II., the discovery of the gunpowder plot, and the Revolution of 1688; and Parliament soon after adopted his view. He also sat on the Royal Commission in 1864 for considering the subject of clerical subscription. He took on this occasion a characteristic line, advocating a complete abolition of the subscription of the Articles, and desiring that the sole test of membership of the Church should be the acceptance of the Liturgy and the Creeds. In 1865 he received an invitation, which greatly gratified him, to preach before the University of Oxford the annual sermon on Hebrew prophecy. The sermon was delivered in the pulpit of St. Mary's, where many years before he had been so vehemently condemned for views on the same subject, no one of which, as he truly said, he had either recanted or modified. His sermon was afterwards printed, and would form a worthy chapter of his 'History of the Jews.' In the Colenso controversy he had no great sympathy with either side. Many of Bishop Colenso's arguments appeared to him crude or exaggerated, and he dissented from many of his conclusions, but he considered that he had been treated with gross injustice and intolerance, and he accordingly subscribed to his defence fund. For the rest, he confined his ecclesiastical life as much as possible to his own cathedral, where he presided over the State funeral of the Duke of Wellington, and where he introduced the custom of throwing open the nave to evening services. His last and unfinished work was his 'Annals of St. Paul's,' investigating its history and portraying with his old learning and with much of his old felicity the lives of his predecessors.

It was however in secular literary society that he was most fitted to shine, and there he passed many of his happiest hours. The usual honours of a distinguished man of letters clustered thickly around him. He was a trustee of the British Museum; an honorary member of the Royal Academy; a correspondent of the French Institute. He was also a member of 'The Club'—the small dining-club which was founded in 1764 by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr. Johnson, and which since then has included in its fortnightly dinners the great majority of those Englishmen who in many walks of life have been most distinguished by their genius or their accomplishments. He was elected to it in 1836, three years before Macaulay, and he became one of its most constant attendants. In 1841 'The Club' made him its treasurer, and he held that position for twenty-three years, and presided over the centenary dinner in 1864. He was also an original member of the Philobiblion Society, which has brought together many curious and hitherto unknown documents, and he wrote for it a short paper on Michael Scott the Wizard, who, as he showed, had been once offered the Archbishopric of Cashel. He was never a keen politician, but he was intimate with a long succession of leading statesmen, and he contributed to Sir Cornewall Lewis's 'Administrations of Great Britain' a full and valuable letter on the relations of Pitt and Addington, which was largely based on his own recollections of the latter statesman.

London society in the middle of the nineteenth century was much smaller and less mixed than at present, and there was then a distinctively literary or at least intellectual society which can now hardly be said to exist. The most eminent men of letters came more frequently together. Criticism was in fewer and perhaps stronger hands, and was to a larger extent representative of the opinions expressed in such social gatherings. In this kind of society Milman was long a foremost figure. He had all the gifts that fit men for it—not only brilliancy, knowledge, and versatility, but also unfailing tact, a rare charm of courtesy, a singularly wide tolerance. He was quick and generous in recognising rising talent, and he had that sympathetic touch which seldom failed to elicit what was best in those with whom he came in contact. Few men possessed more eminently the genius of friendship—the power of attaching others—the power of attaching himself to others. In the long list of his intimate friends Macaulay, Sir Charles Lyell, and Sir George Cornewall Lewis were conspicuous. Like most men of this type, he found the multiplying gaps around him the chief trial of old age. Not long before he died there was an exhibition of contemporary portraits, but though Milman went to it he could not go through it. 'When I found myself,' he said, 'surrounded by the likenesses—often the miserable likenesses—of so many I had known and loved, it was more than I could bear.'

An admirable portrait by Watts which is now in the National Portrait Gallery will recall to those who knew him his appearance in old age—his strong masculine features beaming with intelligence, his grand shaggy brows, his bright and penetrating eyes. An illness affecting the spine had bowed him nearly double, and there are still those who will remember how his bent figure seemed projected, almost like a bird in its flight, across the dinner-table, while his eager brilliant talk delighted and fascinated his hearers. In his last years increasing deafness obliged him to narrow the circle of his social life, but he retained to the end all the vividness of his mind and sympathies, and when at length death came in his seventy-eighth year, it found him in the midst of unfinished work. His life was not of a kind to win wide popularity and to give him a conspicuous place among the great masses of his nation, but few English clergymen of his generation made so deep an impression on those who came in contact with them or have left works of such enduring value behind them.


[48] Henry Hart Milman, D.D., Dean of St. Paul's. A Biographical Sketch by his son, Arthur Milman, M.A., LL.D.

[49] Laurence's Life of Sir A. Sullivan, p. 310.

[50] Smiles' Memoirs of John Murray, ii. p. 300.


At a time when the unprecedented increase of gigantic and rapidly acquired fortunes has deeply infected both English and American society with the characteristic vices of a Plutocracy, the profound feeling of sorrow and admiration elicited by the death of Queen Victoria is an encouraging sign. It shows that the vulgar ideals, the false moral measurements, the feverish social ambitions, the love of the ostentatious and the factitious, and the disdain for simple habits, pleasures, and characters so apparent in certain conspicuous sections of society, have not yet blunted the moral sense or perverted the moral perceptions of the great masses on either side of the Atlantic. To this type, indeed, we could scarcely find a more complete antithesis than in the life and character of the great Queen who has passed away. Nothing more deeply impressed all who came in contact with her than the essential simplicity and genuineness of her nature.

She was a great ruler, but she was also to the last a true, kindly, simple-minded woman, retaining with undiminished intensity all the warmth of a most affectionate nature, all the soundness of a most excellent judgment. Brought up from childhood in the artificial atmosphere of a Court, called while still a girl to the isolation of a throne; deprived, when her reign had yet forty years to run, of the support and counsel of her husband, she might well have been pardoned if she often found herself out of touch with large sections of her people, and had viewed life through a false medium or in partial aspects. Yet Lord Salisbury probably in no degree exaggerated when he said that if he wished to ascertain the feelings and opinions of the English people, and especially of the English middle classes, he knew no truer or more enlightening judgment than that of the Queen. She thought with them and she felt with them; she shared their ambitions; she knew by a kind of intuitive instinct the course of their judgments; she sympathised deeply with their trials and their sorrows.

She could hardly be called a brilliant woman. It is difficult indeed to judge the full social capacities of anyone who lives under the constant restraints of a royal position, but I do not think that in any sphere of life the Queen would have been regarded as a woman of striking wit, or originality, or even commanding power. The qualities that made her so successful in her high calling were of another kind: supreme good sense; a tact in dealing with men and circumstances so unfailing that it almost amounted to genius; an indefatigable industry which never flagged from early youth till extreme old age; a sense of duty so steady and so strong that it governed all her actions and pleasures, and saved her not only from the grosser and more common temptations of an exalted position, but also in a most unusual degree from the subtle and often half-concealed deflecting influences that spring from ambition or resentment, from personal predilections and personal dislikes. It was these qualities, combined with her unrivalled experience of affairs, and strengthened by long and constant intercourse with the foremost English statesmen of two generations, that made her what she undoubtedly was—a perfect model of a constitutional Sovereign.

The position of a Sovereign under a parliamentary government like ours is a singular and difficult one. There was a school of politicians who were much more prominent in the last generation than in the present one, who regarded the Sovereign, in political life at least, as little more than a figure-head or a cipher, absolved from all responsibility, but also divested of all power, and fulfilling functions in the Constitution which are little more than mechanical. This view of the unimportance of the Monarchy will now be held by few really intelligent men. Those take but a false and narrow view of human affairs who fail to realise the part which sentiment and enthusiasm play in the government of men; and no one who knows England will question that the throne is the centre of a great strength of personal attachment which is wholly different from any attachment to a party or a parliament.

In India and the Colonies this is still more the case. It is not the British Parliament or the British Cabinet that there forms the centre of unity or excites genuine attachment. The Crown is the main link binding the different States to one another, and the pervading sentiment of a common loyalty unites them in one great and living whole. In foreign politics it cannot be a matter of indifference that a Sovereign is closely related to nearly all the greatest rulers in the world, and in frequent, intimate, unconstrained correspondence with them. This is a kind of influence which no Minister, however powerful, can exercise, and it was possessed by Queen Victoria probably to a greater degree than by any Sovereign on record, for there has scarcely ever been one who included among her relations so many of the Sovereigns of the world. Future historians will no doubt have ample means of judging how frequently and how judiciously it was employed in assuaging differences and promoting European peace. All the great offices in Church and State, all the great distributions of honours were submitted to her; and though in a large number of cases this patronage is purely Ministerial or professional, there are many cases in which the Sovereign had a real voice, and a strong objection on her part was usually attended to. In Church patronage and in the distribution of honours she is known to have taken a great interest, and to have exercised a considerable influence.

The one subject on which the Queen was not always in harmony with her people was that of foreign politics. She and the Prince Consort took a keen interest in them, and during his lifetime she followed very implicitly his guidance. The strong German sympathies she imbued from her own marriage were much intensified by the marriages of her children, and especially by that of her eldest daughter to the heir of the Prussian throne. The influence also of Stockmar, who was the closest adviser of her early married life, was not wholly for good, and the theory which the Prince held that the direction of foreign affairs is in a peculiar degree under the care of the Sovereign, and that the Prince, her husband, should be regarded as 'her permanent Minister,' created during many years much friction. In a constitutional country, where the responsibility of affairs rests wholly on the Minister, who is doubly responsible to the Cabinet and to the Parliament, such a theory can only be maintained with great qualifications.

On the other hand, the government of the country was carried on in the name of the Queen. Foreign despatches were addressed to her and could only be answered with her sanction. The right of the English Sovereigns to be present at the Cabinet Councils of their Ministers was abdicated when George I. came to the throne, but every important departure in policy was submitted to the Queen and required her assent. The testimony of Ministers of all shades of policy supports the belief that this was no idle form. The Queen, though always open to argument and tolerant of contradiction, had her own decided opinions; she exercised her undoubted right of expressing and defending them, and even apart from her royal position, her great experience and her singular clearness and rectitude of judgment made her opinion well worth listening to.

The claim put forward by the Queen in her famous memorandum of August 1850, can, I think, hardly be pronounced excessive. She demanded only that before a line of policy was adopted and brought before her she should be distinctly informed of the facts of the case and of the motives that inspired it; that when she had given her sanction to a measure it should not be arbitrarily altered or modified by the Minister; that she must be kept acquainted with all important communications between foreign Ministers and her own Foreign Secretary, and that the drafts of foreign despatches must be sent to her for her approval in sufficient time for her to make herself acquainted with them. She complained that Lord Palmerston was accustomed to send despatches to the Continent without submitting them, in their last revise, to the Sovereign; that in one case he retained without her knowledge a passage which the Prince Consort had deleted; that he paid little or no attention to the numerous memoranda which were drawn up by the Prince for his instruction; that he of his own will and without any consultation committed his Government, in a conversation with the French Ambassador, to an approbation of the coup d'etat of Napoleon III. If the general line of his policy had been in accordance with the royal wishes, indiscretions of detail could probably have been overlooked, but the Queen and Prince were both undoubtedly on many occasions—and especially in 1848 and 1849—strongly opposed to the policy of Lord Palmerston. In the interests of peace they objected to the remarkably provocative character of his despatches, which excited a degree of animosity and resentment among the Governments of the Continent that has rarely been paralleled—on two, if not three, occasions it brought England into grave danger of a war with France—and which aroused a very widespread indignation among statesmen of his own party at home.

The widely different tone which was adopted by Lord Clarendon and Lord Granville, the open breach between Palmerston and Lord John Russell on account of the way in which the former conducted his foreign policy without consultation with the Cabinet, and the refusal of Lord Grey, in a most critical moment, to take office in a Government in which Lord Palmerston held the seals of the Foreign Office, show how fully in this respect the sentiments of the Queen accorded with those of many of Lord Palmerston's own colleagues. But in addition to mere questions of manner and procedure, there was much in the substance of the policy of Palmerston to which the Queen objected. Her dislike to the Revolutionary element on the Continent, which Lord Palmerston either encouraged or viewed with indifference, her sympathy with the old governments and dynasties, that were so gravely shaken in the year of the Revolution, were very marked. In the disputes between Germany and Denmark on the Schleswig-Holstein question her sympathies, unlike those of her people, were decidedly with Germany, and although she was fully sensible of the misgovernment of some of the Italian States, she was not favourable to that cause of Italian unity which Lord John Russell and Lord Palmerston so strenuously upheld. Her nature, which was very frank, made it impossible for her, even if she desired it, to conceal her opinions, and she devoted much time and pains to making herself acquainted with the details of every question as it arose. She made it a rule to sign no paper that she had not read. She did not hesitate fully to apprise her Ministers of her views when they differed from their own, and she enforced her views by argument and remonstrance. She more than once drew up memoranda of her dissent from the opinions of her Foreign Minister, and insisted on their being brought before the Cabinet for consideration. In the formation of a new Ministry she more than once exercised her power of deciding to whom the succession of the first places should be offered. After an adverse vote of the House of Commons, she considered herself fully authorised to decide whether she would accept the resignation of a Minister or submit the issue to the test of a dissolution, and there were occasions on which she remonstrated with her Ministers on their too ready determination to resign.

At the same time it is certain that the Queen fulfilled with perfection that most difficult duty of an able constitutional Sovereign—the duty of yielding her convictions to those of her responsible Ministers and acting faithfully with Ministers she distrusted. To a Sovereign with clear views and a more than common force of character this must often have been very painful, and to have fulfilled it faithfully and with no loss of dignity is no small merit. It is the universal testimony of all who served her, that no Sovereign ever supported her successive Ministers with a more perfect loyalty or held the scales between contending parties with a more complete impartiality. No one understood better to what point a constitutional Sovereign may press her opinions and at what point she is bound to give way; and while maintaining her rightful authority she never in any degree transgressed its bounds. In the very beginning of her reign she showed this quality in a high degree. She looked up to Lord Melbourne with an almost filial affection, and there were peculiar reasons why his great opponent, Sir Robert Peel, should have been distasteful to her. The dispute about the removal of her Ladies of the Bedchamber, and still more the conduct of Sir Robert Peel in supporting the reduction of the income which the Whigs had proposed for Prince Albert, must have touched her feelings on the most sensitive points, and the stiff, formal, somewhat awkward manner of Peel seemed very little fitted to ingratiate him with a young Sovereign. Yet when the change of Ministry arrived, Peel found no trace of resentment in the Queen. She gave him her complete confidence, and she fully estimated his great qualities. Of all the Ministers who served her there is indeed none of whom she has written in warmer terms. When Lord Palmerston became Prime Minister in 1855 it was contrary to her earnest desire, but when the change was made Palmerston himself acknowledged that he had 'no reason to complain of the least want of cordiality or confidence on the part of the Court.' At the time when she was most opposed to her Ministers, she fully acquiesced in the principle that she must submit all letters on public affairs to them and frame her replies upon their advice. There were constant attempts on the part of foreign Sovereigns who were connected with her to carry on affairs by correspondence with her without the knowledge and sanction of her Ministers, but the Queen steadily resisted them. Anything, indeed, that in any way savoured of intrigue was in the highest degree repugnant to her nature.

She acted in the same way in internal affairs. Few measures that were carried in her time were more repugnant to her than Gladstone's disestablishment of the Irish Church. It abolished an institution of which she was herself the head and which a special clause in the Coronation Oath required her to uphold, and she foretold, not without good reason, that it would not pacify Ireland but would be an encouragement to further agitation. The question, however, had been submitted at a general election to the decision of the country, and after that decision had been unequivocally given in favour of the policy of Gladstone, she frankly accepted it with the assent of the Prime Minister. When a great danger of a conflict between the two Houses of Parliament had arisen, she devoted herself actively in preventing it. She employed for that service the instrumentality of Archbishop Tait—a great statesman-prelate, whose promotion to the see of Canterbury was due to her own personal initiative, contrary to the wish of Lord Beaconsfield, but most fully justified by the result—and it was largely due to the intervention of the Queen that the Church Bill was not thrown out in the House of Lords. She acted in a somewhat similar way with reference to the Franchise Bill of 1884, though on this occasion she does not seem to have disliked the measure, which she urged the House of Lords to accept.

On three very memorable occasions the intervention of the Queen had probably a great effect on English politics. It is well known that at the time when the issue of peace or war with the United States was trembling in the balance on account of the seizure of the Southern envoys on the 'Trent,' the Queen, acting in accordance with the Prince Consort, by softening and revising the language of an English despatch to America, did very much to prevent the dispute from leading to a great war; that in the proclamation which was issued to the Indian people after the Sepoy Mutiny, she insisted on the excision of some most unfortunate words that seemed to menace the native creeds, and on the insertion of an emphatic promise that they should in no wise be interfered with, and thus probably prevented a new outburst of most dangerous fanaticism; that at the time of the Schleswig-Holstein dispute she contributed powerfully and actively to give a turn to the negotiations that averted a war with Prussia and Austria, which, as is now almost universally recognised, could only have led to a great catastrophe.

Whatever opinions may be formed of the merits of the dispute between Denmark and the German powers about Schleswig-Holstein, few persons who judge by the event can doubt that an isolated intervention of England on behalf of Denmark against the combined forces of Austria and Prussia would have been absolutely impotent to effect the object that was desired, and that even if France had consented to join in the struggle it would have led to a military disaster hardly less than that of the war of Sedan. If, contrary to all probability, the combined forces of France and England had proved stronger than those of Austria and Germany, the result could have hardly failed to be that France would have been established on the left bank of the Rhine, and that the treaty of Vienna, which it was one of the great objects of English policy to maintain, would have been torn into shreds.

The dangers, however, of conflict arising from the extreme irritability of English public opinion against Germany on the Danish question, were very great, and there can be little doubt that the personal influence of the Queen with the German Sovereign was an appreciable influence, and it was her desire that a paragraph in the Queen's Speech opening Parliament in February 1864 was erased. Words which contained at least a veiled or attributed threat to Germany were omitted, and instead of them an inoffensive paragraph was inserted expressing the Queen's ardent desire for peace and recording the earnest efforts she had made to maintain it.[51] At the same time when, by the Convention of Gastein in August 1865, the Duchies were severed from the Danish throne and placed in the virtual possession of Prussia and Austria, the protest of Lord Russell against so flagrant a violation of public right, and especially of the right of the people to be consulted on their own destiny, was drawn up with her full assent and indeed in a great measure at her suggestion.[52]

On other occasions her remonstrances were disregarded, and courses were pursued to which she strongly objected. The surrender after Majuba was in her opinion a pusillanimous abandonment of the English flag, and it was with extreme reluctance that she acquiesced in it. Still more vehement were her feelings about the long abandonment of General Gordon in the Soudan. She had been indefatigable in urging on the Ministry of Gladstone the duty of speedy measures for his rescue, and when, owing to the long delay of the Ministry, the most heroic of modern Englishmen perished at Khartoum, her indignation knew no bounds. In a letter to his sisters, burning with mingled pity and indignation, she pronounced his 'cruel though heroic fate' to be 'a stain left upon England,' which she keenly felt. This was one of the few occasions in which she allowed her sentiments in hostility to the policy of her Ministers to appear publicly before the world. In general, she had a profound distrust of the policy and judgment of Mr. Gladstone, and she fully shared the dread with which the great body of English statesmen looked upon the Home Rule policy. It was no new sentiment on her part, for she had lived through the Repeal agitation of O'Connell, and as far back as 1843 Sir Robert Peel had somewhat unconstitutionally declared in Parliament that he was authorised by the Queen to state that she, like her predecessor, was resolved to maintain the Union inviolate by all the means in her power.

There can now be no harm in saying—what when both parties were alive was naturally kept in the background—that the relations of the Queen with Mr. Gladstone were usually of a very painful character. She had personally not much to complain of. The skill and firmness with which Mr. Gladstone resisted the attempts to diminish the parliamentary subsidies for her family were fully and gratefully recognised by the Queen, but the main course of his politics, both foreign and domestic, filled her with alarm, and she never appears to have experienced the attraction which his great personal gifts exercised over most of those with whom he came in immediate contact. The extreme copiousness of his vocabulary, the extreme subtlety of his mind and reasoning, and the imperiousness of temper with which he seldom failed to meet opposition, were all repugnant to her. To those who have experienced the sustained emphasis of language with which Mr. Gladstone was accustomed in conversation to enforce his views, there is much truth as well as humour in the saying which was attributed to the Queen, 'I wish Mr. Gladstone would not always speak to me as if I was a public meeting'; and a little episode which is related by Sir Theodore Martin illustrates the irritation which Mr. Gladstone's methods of business must have caused to a very busy and overworked lady who always loved few words and simple and direct arguments.[53] At all times the Queen had decided political opinions, and the experience of a long reign had given her a large measure of not unjustifiable self-confidence. Few persons had studied as she had during all those years the various political questions that arose, and she had had the advantage of discussing them at length with a long succession of the leading statesmen of England. Under such circumstances her opinions had no small weight, and although in the Liberal Government she gave her full confidence to Lord Clarendon and Lord Granville, she looked with the gravest apprehension on the policy of Mr. Gladstone.

It was a painful and irksome position, but it did not lead the Queen to any unconstitutional course. No public act or word ever disclosed her feelings. It was indeed in most cases very slowly, and in small circles and through private channels, that the convictions of the Queen became known.

At the close of the second Ministry of Mr. Gladstone she at once offered him an earldom, which he refused, and on his death she fully acquiesced in the public funeral in Westminster Abbey, and the Prince of Wales attended it as her representative. In an autograph letter to Mrs. Gladstone she spoke with the deep and genuine warmth that was never wanting in her letters of condolence of her sympathy with the bereavement of that lady. She spoke of his illustrious gifts and of his personal kindness to herself, but it was noticed that no sentence in the letter intimated any approbation of his general policy. 'Truth in the inmost parts' was indeed a prominent characteristic of the Queen, and she wrote nothing which was not in accordance with her true convictions.

There were occasions when she took independent steps, and some of these had a considerable influence on politics. Louis Napoleon was one of the few great Sovereigns who were not related to her, and to few persons could the coup d'etat which brought him to the throne have been more repugnant, but the cordial personal relations she established with him undoubtedly contributed considerably to the good relations which for many years subsisted between England and France. Bismarck detested English Court influence and was greatly prejudiced against her, but he has left a striking testimony to the favourable impression which her tact and good sense made upon him when he first came into contact with her. She possessed to a high degree the power of choosing the right moment and striking the true chord, and she appears to have been an excellent judge not only of the feelings of large bodies of men, but also of the individual characters of those with whom she dealt. She had a style of writing which was eminently characteristic and eminently feminine, and it is easy to trace the letters which were entirely her own. Her letters of congratulation, or sympathy, or encouragement on public occasions scarcely ever failed in their effect and never contained an injudicious word. The same thing may be said of her many beautiful letters to those who were suffering from some grievous calamity. Whether she was writing to a great public character like the widow of an American President, or expressing her sorrow for obscure sufferers, there was the same note of true womanly sympathy, so manifestly spontaneous and so manifestly heartfelt, that it found its way to the hearts of thousands. The tact for which she was so justly celebrated, like all true tact, sprang largely from character, from the quick and lively sympathies of an eminently affectionate nature. No one could have been less theatrical, or less likely in any unworthy way to seek for popularity; but she knew admirably the occasions or the methods by which she could strike the imagination and appeal most favourably to the feelings of her people. She showed this in the very beginning of her reign when she insisted, in defiance of the opinion of the Duke of Wellington, on riding herself through the ranks of her troops at her first review. She showed it on countless other occasions of her long reign—pre-eminently in her two Jubilees and in her last visit to Ireland. It is well known that this visit was entirely her own idea. To many it seemed rash or even positively dangerous. They dwelt upon the bitter disaffection of a great portion of the Irish people, upon the danger of mob outrage or even assassination, upon the extreme difficulty of preventing a royal visit to Ireland from taking a party character and being regarded as a party triumph or defeat. But the Queen, as Sir William Harcourt once truly said, 'never feared her people,' and nothing could be more happy than the manner in which she availed herself of the new turn given to Irish feeling by the splendid achievements of Irish soldiers in South Africa, to come over, as if to thank her Irish people in person, and at the same time to repair in extreme old age a neglect for which she had been often, and not altogether unjustly, blamed. There never indeed was a more brilliant and unqualified success. To those who witnessed the spontaneous and passionate enthusiasm with which she was everywhere greeted, it seemed as if all bitter feeling vanished at her presence; and the Irish visit, which was one of the last, was also one of the brightest pages of her reign. The credit of its most skilful arrangements belongs chiefly to the officials in Dublin, but the Irish people will long remember the patient courage with which the aged Queen went through its fatigues; the tactful kindness and the gracious dignity with which she won the hearts of multitudes who had never before seen her or spoken to her; the evident enjoyment with which she responded to the cordiality of her reception. One feature of that visit was especially characteristic. It was the Children's Review in Phoenix Park, where, by the desire of the Queen, 'some fifty thousand children were brought together to meet her. No act of kindness could have gone more directly home to the hearts of the parents, and it left a memory in many young minds that will never be effaced.

It is rather, however, by the example of a life than by any public acts that a constitutional Sovereign can impress her personality on the affections of her people. Of the reign of Queen Victoria it may be truly said that very few in English history have been so blameless as this, which was the longest of all. Her Court was a model of quiet dignity and decorum, singularly free from all the atmosphere of intrigue and from all suspicion of injudicious or unworthy favouritism. She managed it as she managed her family, with a happy mixture of tact and affection; and though she gave her confidence to many she gave it to such persons and in such a way that it seemed never to be abused. No domestic life could in all its relations have been more perfect, and her love of children amounted to a passion. Among the great female rulers it would be difficult to find one less like Queen Victoria than the Empress Catherine of Russia, but they had this common trait of an intense love of children and a great power of winning their affection. There is a charming letter of Catherine to Grimm, describing her life among her grandchildren, which might almost have been written by the English Queen. Her vast family, spread through many countries, was her abiding interest and delight, and although she had to pay in full measure the natural penalty of many bereavements, she at least never knew the dreary loneliness that clouded the last days of her great predecessor, Elizabeth.

In the early years of her reign she fully filled her place as the leader of English society. In the plays she patronised, in the art she preferred, in the restrictions of her Drawing Rooms, in the fashions she countenanced, in the intimacies she selected or encouraged, her influence was always healthy and pure, and for some years it powerfully affected the tone of English society. Unfortunately, after the great calamity of her widowhood the nerves of the Queen seem to have been shaken, and though she never intermitted her political duties and spent daily many hours over her correspondence, she allowed her social duties to fall too much and too long into abeyance. She still, it is true, occasionally appeared in public ceremonies. She laid the first stones of several hospitals and infirmaries. She presided over the inauguration of several great industrial enterprises. She sometimes opened Parliament in person, and was sometimes present at military and naval reviews. But she scarcely ever appeared in London, except for a few days. She never appeared in a London theatre. She shrank from great crowds and large social gatherings, and buried herself too much in her Highland home. This is one of the few real reproaches that history is likely to bring against her. Her influence on English society was never wholly lost, and it was always an influence for good, but for many years it was exerted less frequently and less powerfully than it should have been, and the tone of large sections of society lost something by her retirement.

It may be doubted, however, whether this long retirement really injured her in the minds of her people. Her rare occasional appearances had a greater weight, and the depth of feeling exhibited by her long widowhood became a new title to respect. The transparent simplicity and unselfishness of her character were now generally appreciated, and her own books contributed greatly to make her people understand her. It is in general far from a wise thing for royal personages to descend into the arena of literature unless they possess some special aptitude for it. They expose themselves to a kind of criticism wholly different from that which follows them in their public lives—a criticism more minute and often more deliberately malevolent than that to which an ordinary writer is subject. The Queen wrote pure and excellent English and she had a good literary taste, but she certainly could never have become a great writer; and the complete frankness and unreserve of her Journals, as well as their curious homeliness of thought and feeling, were not viewed with favour in some sections of the fashionable and of the literary world. There were circles in which the word 'bourgeois,' and there were others in which the word 'commonplace,' was often pronounced. Yet in this, as on nearly all occasions when the Queen acted on her own impulse, she acted wisely. Her books had at once an enormous circulation, and there can be no doubt that they contributed very widely to her popularity. Multitudes to whom she had before been little more than a name, now realised that she was one with whom they had very much in common. Her evident longing for sympathy produced an immediate response. Her deep domestic affection, her constant interest in her servants, her high spirits, her love of scenery, her love of animals, her power of taking delight in little things, appeared vividly in her pages and came home to the largest classes of her people.

In some respects the Queen was an eminently democratic Sovereign. While maintaining the dignity of her position, rank and wealth were in her eyes always subordinate to the great realities of life and to true human affections. In no one was the touch of Nature that makes the whole world kin more constantly visible. She was never more in her place than in visiting some poor tenant on the morrow of a great bereavement, or uttering words of comfort by the sick bed of some humble dependant. Men of all ranks who came in contact with her were struck with her thoughtful kindness, and her royal gift of an excellent memory never showed itself more frequently than in the manner in which she remembered and inquired after the fortunes and happiness of obscure persons related to those with whom she spoke.

Her religious opinions were brought very little before the public. Beyond a deep sense of Providential guidance and of the comforting power of religion, little is to be gathered from her published utterances; but she seemed equally at home in the Scotch Presbyterian and the Anglican Episcopal Church, and her marked admiration for such men as Dean Stanley and Norman Macleod, and for the preaching of Principal Caird, gives some clue to the bias of her opinions. Her mind was not speculative but eminently practical, and while she patronised good works of the most various kinds, there is reason to believe that those which most appealed to her personal feelings were those which directly contributed to alleviate the sufferings, or promote the material welfare, of the poor. She devoted the greater part of her Jubilee present to institutions for providing nurses for the sick poor, and this is said to have been one of the charities in which she took the warmest and most constant interest.

She is said not to have had any sympathy with the movement for the extension of political power to women, which became so conspicuous in her reign; but her own success in filling for sixty-three years the highest political position in the nation will always be quoted in its support. Considering, indeed, how comparatively small has been the number of reigning female Sovereigns, it is remarkable how many in modern times have shown themselves pre-eminently capable. Isabella of Spain, Catherine of Russia, Maria Theresa of Austria, and our own Elizabeth, all rise far above the level of ordinary Sovereigns. Some of these seem figures of a larger and stronger mould than Queen Victoria, but they governed under very different constitutional conditions, and, with one exception, there are serious blots on their memory. There are few sadder facts in history than that the pure and tender-hearted Spanish Queen should have been deeply tinged with the persecuting fanaticism of her age and country; that she should have consented to the establishment of the Inquisition in Castile, to the expulsion of the Moors from her dominions, to the first law in Europe establishing a practical censorship of the Press. The unscrupulous ambition, the shameless favouritism, the gross personal vices of Catherine, are as conspicuous as her high intelligence, her indomitable will, her majestic commanding power. The reign of Elizabeth is perhaps the most glorious in English history, but the character of that great Queen is lamentably tarnished by waywardness and caprice. Among purely constitutional Sovereigns Queen Anne holds a respectable, though certainly not a brilliant, place, and it may be added that much of the merit of the very constitutional though not very glorious reign of George II. is due to the excellent sense and judgment of Queen Caroline. In spite of the saying of Burke, the age of chivalry is not wholly dead. The sex of Queen Victoria no doubt gave an additional touch of warmth to the loyalty of her people, and many of the qualities that made her most popular are intensely, if not distinctively, feminine. They would not, however, have given her the place she will always hold in English history, if they had not been united with what men are accustomed to regard as more peculiarly masculine—a clear, well-balanced mind, singularly free from fanaticisms and exaggerations, excellently fitted to estimate rightly the true proportion of things.

In the last years of her reign the political horizon greatly cleared. Lord Beaconsfield, during his later Ministries, obtained not only her fullest political confidence, but also won a warmer degree of personal friendship than she had bestowed on any Minister since the death of Lord Melbourne; and her relations with his successor, Lord Salisbury, appear to have been perfectly harmonious. The decisive rejection by the country of the Home Rule policy removed a great incubus from her mind, and she was fully in harmony with the strong Imperialist sentiments which now began to prevail in English thought, and especially with the warmer feeling towards our distant colonies which was one of its chief characteristics. Her own popularity also rapidly grew. She had keenly felt and bitterly resented the reproaches which had at one period been frequently brought against her for her neglect of social and ceremonial duties during many years of her widowhood. Her censors, she maintained, made no allowance for her loneliness, her advancing years, her feeble health, the overwhelming and incessant pressure of her more serious political duties. But her two Jubilees, bringing her once more into close touch with her people, put an end to these reproaches. The Queen found with pleasure and perhaps with surprise how capable she still was of performing great public functions, and the vast outburst of spontaneous loyalty and affection of which she became the object gave her deep and unconcealed pleasure. To those, however, who were closely in connection with her it was touching to observe the gracious and unaffected modesty with which she received the homage of her subjects. Flattery was one of the things she disliked the most, and all who knew her best were struck with the singularly modest view she always took of herself. But blending with this modesty, and even with a shyness which she never wholly conquered, was the craving of a deeply affectionate and womanly nature for sympathy, and this craving was now abundantly gratified.

Still, with all this there was much that was melancholy in her later days. She had survived nearly all the intimacies of her youth. Death had made—especially in very recent times—many gaps in the circle of those who were nearest to her, and several of her children and of her children's husbands had preceded her to the tomb. Her sight had greatly failed. She was bowed down by physical infirmity, and her last year was saddened by a long, sanguinary, and inglorious war. Yet almost to the very end she continued with unabated courage to fulfil her daily task, and there was no sign that she had lost anything of her quick sympathy and her admirable judgment and tact. Her life was a most harmonious whole in which mind and character were happily attuned,

Like perfect music set to noble words.


[51] Queen Victoria, by Sidney Lee, p. 349.

[52] Ollivier, L'Empire Liberal, vii. p. 455.

[53] Sir Theodore Martin was asked by the Queen to give her a precis of a very long and unintelligible letter of Mr. Gladstone purporting to explain the Irish Church Disestablishment Bill (Queen Victoria as I knew Her, by Sir Theodore Martin).—ED.


There are many signs that the question of old-age pensions is destined to assume a great prominence in England; although it is probable that the large increase of national expenditure which is certain to follow the unhappy war in South Africa may, for some time, postpone actual legislation on the subject. The generation has passed away which witnessed the enormous abuses of Poor Law relief that existed, under the old English Poor Law, before 1834, and the rapid diminution of pauperism that was effected by the sterner administration introduced in that year.

The principles of poor-law relief which were then recognised by the best minds in England have been somewhat forgotten. These principles were that, while in England provision is made for the support of all who are absolutely destitute, it is of the utmost importance that on the whole the condition of the pauper should be a less eligible one than that of an independent labourer; that nothing should be done that could diminish habits of thrift, forethought, and steady industry among the poor; nothing that could weaken their sense of the necessity of providing for their latter days, or of their duty of supporting, when they have the means, their aged parents and relations. In accordance with these principles it was laid down that outdoor relief should be either absolutely refused to the able-bodied or only granted under most exceptional circumstances; that the workhouse test, with its stringent, deterrent discipline, should be steadily maintained; that relaxations and special favours granted out of public funds should be limited, as far as possible, to cases of special calamity which it was impossible for any prudence or foresight to have averted.

It would certainly be a great exaggeration to say that these principles have disappeared. Indeed, the robust, independent, self-respecting character which it was the object of the Manchester School to encourage is abundantly displayed in the gigantic Friendly and other working-class Co-operative Societies which have so largely increased in England during the last half-century. Two of these Friendly Societies—the Manchester Unity and the Foresters—have each of them more than seven hundred thousand members on their roll. At the same time, it is equally certain that in many quarters a different, and, in my opinion, very dangerous, spirit prevails. In England as elsewhere there is an increased tendency to aggrandise the functions of the State and to look to State aid or State control rather than individual or co-operative effort as the remedy of every evil. Social questions have assumed a greater prominence in politics; and, with the lowering of the franchise, the vague State Socialism, which, in different degrees, pervades most working-class politics, has given a bias to both parties in the State. It has become prominent in every election and has produced many rash pledges.

The close connection between taxation and representation, which was once considered the cardinal principle of English Liberalism, has, in a marked degree, diminished, both in Imperial and local taxation. It used to be contended that those who chiefly paid should chiefly regulate, and that taxation should be as much as possible the voluntary grant of the taxpayers, restricted to their common purposes. But in many quarters a different belief has grown up. It is held that in the hands of a democracy taxation should be made the means of redressing the inequalities of fortune, ability, or industry; the preponderant class voting and spending money which another class are obliged to pay. The income-tax is so arranged that a large majority of the voters are exempt from its burden; a highly graduated system of death duties is now nearly the most prominent of our Imperial taxes; and the Local Government Act of 1894 has placed local taxation on the most democratic basis. The latter has given the power of voting rates to many who do not pay them; and, by abolishing the nominated, or ex-officio, guardians, and the plural voting of the larger ratepayers, it has almost destroyed the influence of property on local taxation.

At the same time the doctrine has arisen, and is now sedulously propagated in England, that the State ought to undertake to provide at the public expense for all old persons, or at least for all deserving old persons, who have not succeeded in obtaining a sufficient livelihood for themselves; that this provision should not be regarded as an eleemosynary grant, but as a positive right; and that, in order to free it from the taint of pauperism, and take away from the recipient all reluctance to receive it, a new fund should be created, entirely distinct from poor-law relief, and administered by some other tribunal than the poor-law guardians.

The claim has been supported on another ground. The immense improvement of the material condition of the English working classes during the last half-century is beyond all question; but it is much more evident among the young and the strong than among the old. The intense competition of modern industry, stimulated to the highest point by free trade, by the factory system, and by the vast development of machinery, has expelled the old and feeble from some of its most important fields; and the influence of trade-unions in enforcing, in each trade which they can control, a uniform and minimum wage, has obliged the employer to employ only the most efficient labour.

The old man who could once easily obtain a little work at low wages now finds it much more difficult; and the recent legislation compelling the employer to compensate his workmen for all accidents that take place in his employment, even when those accidents are in no degree due to any negligence on his own part or on that of his servants, has acted in the same direction. Such serious obligations have been thrown on the employer in the more dangerous trades, that he is obliged in self-defence to restrict himself to the workmen who are least liable to accidents; and they are naturally those whose strength, activity, and eyesight are at their best. Among the recipients of poor-law relief the proportion of men over sixty-five is enormously great; and some figures which, in 1893, were brought before the Commission on the Aged Poor, made a great impression on the country. It was stated that in a single year 29.3 of the whole population over sixty-five were in receipt of poor-law relief in England and Wales; and assuming that a third part of these old persons belonged to the well-to-do, it was calculated that not much less than three in seven must fall into the ranks of pauperism.

There has been much controversy about the accuracy of this statement; and, even if it be admitted, a good deal has been said to attenuate its force. In the poor-law system as it was reformed in 1834, it was a first principle that the workhouse, with its painful and degrading associations, was to be the chief form of poor-law relief, and that outdoor relief should only be granted on exceptional occasions and on stringent conditions. This provision has been gradually relaxed. Outdoor relief, which, in the eyes of the poor, carries with it very little of the discredit and dislike that gathers round the workhouse, is now by far the larger part of poor-law relief; and in many districts it is administered with great laxity.

It has been proved by the clearest evidence that the immense majority of the aged and deserving poor who are in receipt of poor-law relief only receive it in the form of outdoor relief, and very often only in the form of medical relief, and that if they go to the workhouse it is only when their peculiar circumstances make it desirable for them to do so. Wherever a more stringent system of relief is imposed, pauperism invariably and rapidly decreases; and Mr. Loch, the Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society, has collected much evidence to show that, on the whole, old-age pauperism is diminishing, though it has not been diminishing at the same rate as pauperism under the age of sixty. The administration of the workhouses has also greatly improved; and the poor-law infirmaries are becoming hospitals which are largely resorted to in time of sickness by many who might easily avoid them. On the whole, old-age destitution is, and must be, a grave question for philanthropists; but there has been great exaggeration about its magnitude and its hardships.

The expediency of devising a new and better method of providing for the destitute aged poor of deserving character has long been smouldering obscurely in English politics; but it obtained a real importance for the first time when a very strong Royal Commission, under the presidency of Lord Aberdare, was appointed, at the beginning of 1893, to inquire into the question. After long and careful inquiry, and after hearing a great multitude of witnesses, this Commission reported in the spring of 1895. The majority of the members, while recommending various reforms in the administration of the poor-law, reported decisively against any system of old-age pensions, either in the form of endowment or assisted assurance, as likely to do more harm than good; but a minority, which derived special importance from the presence of Mr. Chamberlain, refused to accept this decision as final, and urged that the question should be submitted to a smaller body of experts. In the election which took place in 1895 the question appeared frequently upon the platform, and many members on both sides of politics pledged themselves on the subject.

The weight which is always attached to the speeches of Mr. Chamberlain gave a great impulse to the movement. He never countenanced the idea of universal old-age pensions, which was already advocated by many; but he strongly maintained that special provision, apart from the poor-law and in the shape of pensions, might, and ought to, be made for the old and deserving poor; he expressed his belief that such a measure 'would do more than anything else to secure the happiness of the working classes'; and he suggested as the most feasible scheme that 'whenever a man acquires for himself in a Friendly Society or any other society a pension of 2s. 6d. a week the State should come in and double that pension.' Mr. Chamberlain, however, did not insist on this precise proposal; but he gave the question a great prominence; and among politicians on both sides there was a manifest tendency to make party capital out of it.

A purely non-party Committee, presided over by Lord Rothschild, and consisting mainly of distinguished financial authorities connected with the permanent Civil Service, and therefore removed from active politics, was appointed in 1896, in accordance with the recommendation of the Aberdare Commission, to inquire especially into the question of old-age pensions; and it reported in a document of conspicuous ability. It was unanimous in condemning as impracticable or dangerous all the schemes for such pensions that were brought before it; and it fully confirmed the views of the preceding Commission. The report, and the evidence on which it is based, clearly show the ways in which measures intended for the benefit of the working class may prove in the highest degree injurious to them.

If the matter could have been decided by pure reasoning, this report might have been generally accepted as decisive. But many of the supporters of the Government had at the election made speeches in favour of old-age pensions. One of its most powerful members had thrown his weight into the scale. The idea had taken hold of great sections of the working classes. The trade-unions, that see in increasing old-age poverty the chief drawback to their policy of enforcing in each trade a uniform and minimum wage, were naturally delighted that the State should undertake, out of public funds, to remove their difficulty. A number of Bills dealing with the question had been introduced into the House of Commons by private members; and the reluctance of the Government to take it up had become a favourite form of party attack. The Government acted as perhaps most Governments, under the circumstances, would have done. While refusing to give any pledge, and repudiating any sympathy with the idea of universal pensions, and insisting that an encouragement of thrift should be an essential condition of any old-age pension scheme, they refused to admit that a false departure had been made; and they appointed a new Committee—of which the writer of these lines was a member—to report upon the best means of improving the condition of the aged deserving poor, and upon the feasibility of dealing with their case by old-age pensions.

Mr. Chaplin, the President of the Local Government Board, an experienced and very popular member of the Cabinet, presided over the Committee; and the fact that he drew up the report of the majority gave that report its chief political importance. The Committee consisted largely of members who had already committed themselves deeply in favour of old-age pensions; and it will hardly be disputed in England that it carried with it much less financial and political weight than its predecessors; and that the majority report—which was carried by 9 to 4—is more remarkable for the boldness of its recommendations than for the cogency of its reasoning. It completely, and almost contemptuously, discarded the conclusions of the majority of the Aberdare Commission, and the unanimous opinion of the Rothschild Committee; and it recommended that old-age pensions, derived in part from Imperial and in part from local sources, and varying from 5s. to 7s. a week, should be granted to all the deserving poor who had attained the age of sixty-five and whose incomes did not exceed 10s. a week. It proposed that these pensions should be granted by committees established in every poor-law union and elected by the poor-law guardians; that they should be revised every three years; and that they should be distributed through the agency of the post-office.

On the great difficulties that seemed so formidable to its predecessors it touched very lightly. How many of the poor were likely under the proposed system to become pensioners, and what burden of taxation was likely to be thrown on the State, were questions that were put aside as irrelevant to the inquiry. To meet the enormous difficulty of deciding upon the real merits, and of investigating the real circumstances, of the great masses of independent and industrious labourers who live in the manufacturing towns, or are constantly moving from one great centre of population to another, and circulating in quest of work through the whole extent of the Empire, it was suggested that the relief be confined to those who were resident in a single locality; and it was pointed out that a number of charities, endowed out of old legacies or donations, and applying to particular classes or districts, had come to be administered by the Charity Commissioners, and that in this restricted field they had been able to convert a large part of the income at their disposal from doles into permanent pensions.

The thrift test and the character test, which previous inquirers had found it almost impossible to establish on a satisfactory basis, were defined on the loosest lines. The pensioner must not, during the preceding twenty years, have been sentenced to penal servitude or imprisonment without the option of a fine; he must not, during the same period of time, have been in receipt of poor-law relief 'other than medical relief or unless under circumstances of a wholly exceptional character'; and he must have 'endeavoured to the best of his ability, by his industry and by the exercise of reasonable providence, to make provision for himself and those immediately dependent on him.'

The extreme vagueness and the extreme elasticity of such provisions are sufficiently manifest; and it is difficult to see how they can give any real assistance in practical legislation; while they leave the door open to the largest and most lavish expenditure. I have endeavoured in a minority report to deal with these questions at somewhat greater length than my present space will admit; but a few pages may suffice to give an outline of the case of those who believe the new policy to be both mistaken and dangerous.

Nothing is more certain or more cheering in the condition of modern England than the extraordinary diminution that has taken place, during the present generation, in pauperism. It began with the reform of the poor law in 1834; and although it has been found possible to relax greatly the stringency of the poor-law regulations that were then made, it has steadily continued. Much of this is due to the increase in the rate of wages which has taken place in most departments of English industry, and which has been accompanied by a great decrease in the cost of most of the chief necessaries of life, as well as by a considerable reduction in the hours of work. Sir Robert Giffen, in the very remarkable paper which he published, in 1883, on the condition of the working classes in England during the preceding fifty years, has shown that in every class of work in which it is possible to make a comparison the wages of the labourer have in these fifty years risen at least 20 per cent., and in most cases between 50 and 100 per cent.; and he has clearly demonstrated that no other section of the community has obtained so large a proportion of the increase of the national wealth, and improved in so great a degree in material prosperity.

But the mere increase of wages is but one element of this improvement. The very mainspring of the prosperity of the great masses of the British working classes is to be found in their increased sobriety, and in the habits of thrift and providence that have followed the spread of education. The statistics of the Friendly Societies, the Industrial and Provident Societies, the Building Societies, the savings-banks, and of countless other institutions, created by voluntary working-class effort for the purpose of insuring against sickness or death, and providing working-class investments, attest in the clearest manner the rapid growth of provident and thrifty habits among the wage-earning classes. In no other respect is the improvement of the nation so marked and so indisputable and no element in the national character is more important to its prosperity and to its enduring greatness. In the evidence that was brought before our Committee, it was shown that since 1849 the pauperism of Great Britain had been reduced from 62.7 per 1,000 to 26.2 per 1,000, if lunatics and vagrants are included, to 22.8 per 1,000, if lunatics and vagrants are excluded.

The first, and most vital, condition of any sound legislation for the relief of poverty is that it should not impair these industrial qualities, or weaken these vast voluntary organisations of self-help which are their result. Can it be said that the old-age pension policy is compatible with this condition?

It proposes to open, in addition to the existing system of poor relief, a new fund, amounting to many millions of pounds a year, and drawn from compulsory taxation for the purpose of subsidising simple poverty; a fund to which it is to be rather creditable than otherwise to resort; a fund which is intended to deal, not with exceptional calamity, but with that which springs from the mere efflux of time, and which is, beyond all others, the most normal and most easily foreseen. It proposes to teach the whole working population to look to the State, and not to themselves, for the provision for their old age, and for the old age of those who might be dependent on them, and thus to destroy the most powerful of all motives to thrift—the very mainspring of productive and self-sacrificing industry. And it proposes to do this at a time when wages are higher than they have ever been before; when voluntary societies for securing the poor from want are flourishing and increasing as they have never done before; when the rapid decline of pauperism is one of the most marked and most universally recognised signs of national improvement. Can it be seriously believed that the addition of many millions a year to the State funds directly employed in the relief of poverty will, in the long run, tend to diminish pauperism or to encourage self-reliance and thrift?

Mr. Chamberlain and the other more considerable advocates of old-age pensions clearly see that if such pensions are to be of real value they must discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving; and they believe that they may have the effect of stimulating, instead of weakening, thrift. For this purpose several schemes have been devised.

The most popular Continental method of achieving this end is by a law obliging the working man in early life to insure against old age, and by supplementing the income derived from this insurance by a State subsidy. In Germany, where this system is actually carried out, the old-age pension is derived from three sources—viz. compulsory insurance by the workers, compulsory contribution by the employer, and a State subsidy. Compulsory insurance found for many years a powerful English advocate in Canon Blackley; and it has been recommended by a recent inquiry in Holland, which, however, refused to propose any system of old-age pensions. According to the best accounts, the German system has been far from successful either economically or politically; and it has certainly not prevented Socialism from becoming one of the great dangers of the State. Into this question, however, it is needless to enter, as it is now universally admitted in England that compulsory insurance for old age is an impossibility; for it would certainly be repudiated by the working classes.

A large group of proposals are to the effect that old-age pensions should be granted to all poor persons over the age of sixty-five whose total income is less than 10s. a week, provided that a certain portion of that income consists of a fixed annuity acquired by their own industry and thrift. It is urged that in most of the great branches of industry a deserving man in his earlier and stronger years could easily earn such an annuity; and it is suggested that the State should double it, or add to it sufficient to make it up to 10s. a week, or supplement it by a fixed grant of 2s. 6d., or 5s., or even 7s. a week.

The objections to such schemes are very serious. It is obvious that if they encourage a workman to save up to the amount required to secure a pension, they would have a directly opposite effect as soon as that amount had been attained. The first result of any addition to his income would then be to disqualify him for a pension. It is also obvious that the pensioner of sixty-five would have a strong inducement to abstain from the work he could easily do, and that if he continued to do it he would compete on exceptionally favourable terms with the workman who, though he had passed the prime of life, was not yet entitled to a pension, restricting his means of employment and beating down his wages. Many of the most necessitous and deserving poor would also be left unrelieved.

Although it is true that in the more flourishing trades men could easily in early life save out of their wages a sufficient sum to acquire this annuity, there are large fields of industry in which such a saving would be almost or absolutely impossible. We have had melancholy evidence of how utterly insufficient most forms of women's wages are to provide the needed margin. The same thing is true of the agricultural labourer in the more depressed districts in England and in large tracts of Ireland and Scotland. Even in the more remunerative employments innumerable special circumstances would prevent a thrifty and deserving man from obtaining this annuity. Certainly no one is more deserving of compassion and State aid than the widow and young orphans of a working man; but the scheme we are considering would not only not help them, but would most seriously injure them. It is a direct incentive to the workman to sink his savings in an annuity which would terminate with his own life.

The whole policy, indeed, of attempting to turn all working-class savings into this one channel is a false one; and it has been shown that no kind of saving is in fact less popular among working men than the purchase of a deferred annuity. I may here be allowed to quote a few lines from my own report:

'In the infinitely various conditions of a working-man's life thrift will take many forms, and an attempt to prescribe a single form is eminently injudicious. The whole life-plan of a farmer whose farm will remain with him to the end will be different from that of an artisan or a domestic servant whose power of earning a livelihood depends entirely upon his physical strength. The former will probably find it most profitable to expend his savings on the improvement of his farm. Where the system of peasant proprietorship prevails most agricultural thrift is directed to the purchase and enlargement of farms. In Ireland it is largely directed to the purchase of tenant right, or to enabling the younger members of the family to emigrate.

'Nor is it true that even the artisan will find the purchase of an annuity the best thing to be aimed at. To buy a house or some furniture; to start a small business; to expend his savings in tiding over periods of slack or failing work; to avail himself of the advantage which some fluctuation in the market gives to the man who can transport himself promptly to a new locality or a new business is often far more to his advantage. Above all, money expended in settling his family is often his best policy as well as the course which is most beneficial to the community. At present a large proportion of working men look forward to their children to help them in their old age, and make it a main object of their lives to place them in a position to do so. It does not seem to me a wise thing for the State either to emancipate children from this duty or to induce every married working man to sink his savings in an annuity which will end with his life and from which his widow and children can derive no benefit. It is certainly not for the advantage of the country that in selecting between alternative ways of providing for old age he should be induced to choose that which throws the greatest burden on the State. With the vast increase of population, with the great fluctuations of modern industry, and with the rapid development of the colonies, it is extremely desirable both in the interest of the working men and of the State that they should be induced to transfer themselves from congested towns and from exhausted industries to new fields. A general pension system would certainly contribute most powerfully to prevent them from doing so.'

It has been proposed by others that the pension fund should be placed in the hands of Friendly or Benefit Societies, and that they should be intrusted with its administration, or that subscription to such societies for a certain number of years should be taken by the State as the thrift test. On the first proposal it is sufficient to say, that these great voluntary societies are themselves opposed to it; for if they were directly subsidised by the State, they would be obliged to submit to a State control of their management and their finances which they do not desire. It is observed that only a very small proportion of the subscribers to these societies ever find it necessary to come upon the poor rates; and if a system of old-age pensions were confined to these limits, it would act in the most unequal manner. Their members are drawn in a far larger proportion from the lucrative and flourishing trades than from those which are struggling and underpaid. Few women belong to them. In Ireland, which is the poorest part of the Empire, Friendly Societies scarcely exist; and the same thing is true of large districts in Wales and Scotland. The main result of such proposals would be to concentrate the new State fund for the relief of poverty on the richest parts of the Empire, and on the trades that need it the least.

The extreme difficulty of finding any efficient test of thrift is very evident; and those proposed by a large number of the advocates of old-age pensions are so easy as to be almost worthless. Some consider it sufficient that a man has for a certain number of years not been in receipt of poor-law relief, except medical relief or relief granted under 'exceptional circumstances.' Others would accept the mere fact that a man has lived to be sixty-five, as the drunken and disreputable workman seldom lives so long. A large number of resolutions have condemned Mr. Chaplin's report on the grounds that old-age pensions ought not to be confined to the 'deserving' poor; that they ought to begin at an earlier age than sixty-five; that they ought to be administered by a body totally unconnected with the poor law, so as to carry with them no taint of pauperism or eleemosynary relief. They ought, it is said, to be universal; to be looked on as a matter of strict right; to be considered as of the same nature as the pension given to the soldier or the Civil Servant.

It is obvious that all this may carry us very far. It is estimated that some of the most popular proposals would involve an annual expenditure of considerably more than twenty millions of pounds—making allowance for the saving that might be effected in the ordinary poor-law relief, but not counting the cost of administration. And this expenditure would be a growing one; and once accepted it could hardly be withdrawn. The vast addition to the national debt that might follow a great European war or the great shrinkage of the national income that might easily follow some revolution in trade or manufacture, might render the burden of taxation incomparably more serious than at present; but once the great mass of the population had learned to regard State support in old age as their normal prospect and their inalienable right, it would be impossible, without producing a social revolution, to recede. All the advantages gained by generations of economical administration of the national finance would be nullified; while the certain result of this crushing addition to taxation would be to weaken incalculably the spirit of thrift, providence, and self-reliance, and at the same time to lower wages, by removing one of the great considerations by which they are regulated. And this reduction of wages would fall not only on the recipient of the pension, but also on multitudes who would never live to attain it. Nothing can be more certain than that a general system of pensions attached to the labour of the wage-earner must lower wages, at least among all those who are approaching the pension age; while it would prevent or retard their natural increase over a far wider area.

It would also most certainly bring with it the gravest danger of corruption. It would not be easy to secure the pure and the impartial administration of these vast funds; but the political dangers would be much more serious. It is proposed that the pension system should be first introduced on a small scale, but gradually extended till it included all the aged poor, or at least all who were deserving. Such a question would infallibly pass into the competitions of party warfare. It would become in most constituencies one of the most prominent of electioneering tests. Rival candidates would be competing for the votes of a wage-earning electorate who had a direct pecuniary interest in increasing or extending pensions and in relaxing the conditions on which they are given. Can it be doubted that in many cases their first object would be to outbid one another, and that national and party politics would soon be forced into a demoralising race of extravagance?

I cannot conclude without protesting against the supposition that those who think with me are indifferent to the great evil of old-age destitution and propose nothing for its relief. The committees which have most clearly pointed out the dangers of old-age pensions have also urged, that within the lines of our present poor-law system it is quite possible to do much, by an improved classification, to distinguish among the recipients of poor-law relief between the respectable and the worthless. Much has already been done, and in the most important unions the guardians have introduced a large amount of classification by merit. As I have already said, the immense majority of the respectable aged poor are now relieved only in their own homes or in comfortable infirmaries. The severe test of absolute destitution has in practice been greatly relaxed; there is a legal provision preventing those who are receiving help from Friendly Societies from being disqualified for relief; husbands and wives are no longer separated in the workhouse; and in some unions of which we had evidence much more has been done. This, however, depends too much on the will of particular Boards of Guardians, and there are in consequence great inequalities of treatment. The condition of the deserving poor may be greatly improved by relaxation in points of hours, discipline, and visitors, and by workhouse arrangements securing more universally that paupers who have lived respectable lives should not be obliged to mix with the drunken, the disreputable, and the hopelessly idle. And, though extensions of outdoor relief should be carefully watched, and entail great dangers, yet under wise and strict administration something more may be done in this direction.

But all this should be regarded as essentially poor-law relief, and not as the recognition of a claim of right for services supposed to have been rendered to the community. No form of State Socialism is more dangerous than the doctrine which has been countenanced by Prince Bismarck, and which is making many disciples in England—namely, that an industrious man, who has pursued his course in life with perfect independence, made his own contracts, chosen his own work, and been paid for it by stipulated wages, is entitled, if he fails in obtaining a sufficiency for his old age, to be placed as a 'soldier of industry' in the same category as State servants, and to receive like them, not on the ground of compassion, but of right, a State pension drawn from the taxation of the community. There is no real analogy between the relief that is very properly granted to such workmen in their destitution, and the pensions—largely of the nature of deferred pay—that are given by the State or by private employers, under the terms of distinct contracts, and for specific services duly rendered, to those who have entered into their employment and placed themselves under their control.

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