The Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, Bart., K.C.S.I. - A Judge of the High Court of Justice
by Sir Leslie Stephen
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These characteristics, as I gather both from Mr. Justice Wills and from Mr. Lushington, caused Fitzjames to be the object rather of respect than of general popularity. His friends could not fail to recognise the depth of his real kindness of heart. Mr. Justice Wills refers to one little incident of which my brother often spoke. Fitzjames visited him at the 'Eagle's Nest,' in 1862, and there found him engaged in nursing Auguste Balmat, the famous guide, who was dying of typhoid fever. The natives were alarmed, and the whole labour of nursing fell upon Mr. and Mrs. Wills. Fitzjames, on his arrival, relieved them so far as he could, and enabled them to get some nights' sleep. I remember his description of himself, sitting up by the dying man, with a volume of 'Pickwick' and a vessel of holy water, and primed with some pious sentences to be repeated if the last agony should come on. It was a piece of grim tragedy with a touch of the grotesque which impressed him greatly. 'I never knew anyone,' says Mr. Justice Wills, 'to whom I should have gone, if I wanted help, with more certainty of getting it.' When Fitzjames was on the bench, he adds, and he had been himself disappointed of reaching the same position under annoying circumstances, he had to appear in a patent case before his friend. Fitzjames came down to look at a model, and Wills said, 'Your Lordship will see,' &c. 'He got hold of the hand next his own, gave me a squeeze which I did not forget in a hurry, and whispered, "If you ever call me 'my lordship' again, I shall say something!"' That hand-grip, indeed, as Wills remarks, was eminently characteristic. It was like the squeeze of a vice, and often conveyed the intimation of a feeling which shrank from verbal expression.

It is plain enough that a man of such character would not find some difficulties smoothed for him. He could not easily learn the lesson of 'suffering fools gladly.' He formed pretty strong views about a man and could express them frankly. The kind of person whom Carlyle called a windbag, and to whom he applied equally vigorous epithets, was especially obnoxious to him, however dexterous might be such a man's manipulation of difficult arguments. His talent, too, scarcely lent itself to the art of indirect intimations of his opinions. He remarks himself, in one of his letters, that he is about as clever at giving hints as the elder Osborne in 'Vanity Fair'; of whom Thackeray says that he would give what he called a 'hint' to a footman to leave his service by kicking the man downstairs. And, therefore, I suspect that when Fitzjames considered someone—even a possible client—to be a fool or a humbug, his views might be less concealed than prudence would have dictated. 'When once he had an opportunity of showing his capacities,' says Mr. Lushington, 'the most critical solicitor could not fail to be satisfied of his vigour and perseverance; his quick comprehension of, and his close attention to detail; and his gift in speaking of clear common-sense and forcible expression, free from wearisome redundancy or the suggestion of an irony that might strike above the heads of the jury. He gained the confidence of clients of all sorts—some of curious, impulsive, and not over-strict character, who might, perhaps, have landed a weaker or less rigidly high-principled advocate in serious blunders; and I do not think that he ever lost a client whom he had once gained.' But the first step was not easy. His solitary ways, his indifference to the lighter pursuits of his companions, and his frequent absorption in other studies, made him slow to form connections and prevented him from acquiring early, if he ever fully acquired, the practical instinct which qualifies a man for the ordinary walk of law courts. When, says Mr. Justice Wills, 'he got you by yourself in a corner—with no opportunity of dancing round him—in a single combat of stroke for stroke, real business, conditions defined and mastered, he was a most formidable antagonist, mercilessly logical, severely powerful, with the hand of a giant.' But he was, says the same critic, rather too logical for the common tricks of the trade, which are learnt by a long and persistent handling of ordinary business. He did not understand what would 'go down,' and what was of 'such a character that people would drive a coach and six through precedents and everything else in order to get rid of it.' He was irritated by an appeal to practical consequences from what he considered to be established principles. Then, too, his massive intellect made him wanting in pliability. 'He could not change front in presence of the enemy'; and rather despised the adaptations by which clever lawyers succeed in introducing new law under a pretence of applying old precedents. As I have already said, he was disgusted with the mere technicalities of the law, and the conversion of what ought to be a logical apparatus for the discovery of truth into an artificial system of elaborate and superfluous formalities. His great ambition was (in his favourite expression) to 'boil down' the law into a few broad common-sense principles. He was, therefore, not well qualified for some branches of legal practice, and inclined to regard skill of the technical kind with suspicion, if not with actual dislike. Upon this, however, I shall have to dwell hereafter.

Meanwhile, he was deeply interested in the criminal cases, which were constantly presenting ethical problems, and affording strange glimpses into the dark side of human nature. Such crimes showed the crude, brutal passions, which lie beneath the decent surface of modern society, and are fascinating to the student of human nature. He often speaks of the strangely romantic interest of the incidents brought to light in the 'State Trials'; and in these early days he studied some of the famous cases, such as those of Palmer and Dove, with a professional as well as a literary interest. In later life he avoided such stories; but at this period he occasionally made a text of them for newspaper articles, and was, perhaps, tempted to adopt theories of the case too rapidly. This was thought to be the case in regard to one Bacon, who was tried in Lincoln in the summer of 1857. The case was one to which Fitzjames certainly attached great importance, and I will briefly mention it before passing to his literary career.

Bacon and his wife were tried at London in the spring of 1857 for the murder of their two young children. It was sufficiently proved upon that occasion that Mrs. Bacon (who had already been in a madhouse) committed the crime in a fit of insanity. Bacon, however, had endeavoured to manufacture some evidence in order to give countenance to a theory that the murder had been committed by housebreakers during his absence. He thus incurred suspicion, and was placed upon trial with his wife. It also came out that he had been tried (and acquitted) a year before for setting fire to his own house, and reasons appeared for suspecting him of an attempt to poison his mother at Stamford three years previously. Upon these facts Fitzjames wrote an article in the 'Saturday Review.'[65] He declared that the crime was as interesting, except for the want of dignity of the actors, as the events which gave the plot of some of the tragedies of Aeschylus. It reminded him, too, of the terrible story of 'Jane Eyre.' For we had to suppose either that Bacon suffered by his marriage to a mad woman who had poisoned his mother, burnt his house, and cut his children's throats; or else that the wife's last outbreak had been the incidental cause of the discovery of his own previous crimes. In the last case we had an instance of that 'retributive vengeance' which, though it cannot be 'reduced to a very logical form, speaks in tones of thunder to the imaginations of mankind.'

The case came, as it happened, to the Midland Circuit. Bacon was tried in Lincoln on July 25 for poisoning his mother. Fitzjames writes from the court, where he is waiting in the hope that he may be asked by the judge to defend the prisoner. While he writes, the request comes accordingly, and he feels that if he is successful he may make the first step to fortune. He was never cooler or calmer, he says, in his life, and has always, 'in a way of his own,' 'truly and earnestly trusted in God to help him in all the affairs of life.' He made his speech, and suggested the theory already noticed, that the poisoning might have been the act of the mad wife. The judge paid him a high compliment, but summed up for a conviction, which accordingly followed. Fitzjames himself thought, though he was not 'quite sure,' that the man was guilty. He commented upon the case in another article in the 'Saturday Review,' not, of course, to dispute the verdict, but to draw a characteristic inference. Is it not, he asks, very hard upon a poor prisoner that he should have no better means of obtaining counsel than the request of the judge at the last moment to some junior barrister? They manage these things, he thinks, better in France; though 'we have no reason to speak with disrespect of the gentleman who conducted the case.'

Whatever may have been thought of Fitzjames's judgment in this case, he gradually, as I have said, came to be regularly employed upon similar occasions. By slow degrees, too, more profitable briefs came to him; but he was in the trying position of appearing on a good many occasions which excited much interest, while more regular work still declined to present itself in corresponding proportions. Now and then a puff of wind filled his sails for the moment, but wearying calms followed, and the steady gale which propels to fortune and to the highest professional advancement would not set in with the desired regularity.


Here therefore I leave the story of his main profession to take up his work in other capacities. When he left Cambridge, the 'Morning Chronicle' was passing through a short phase of unprofitable brilliancy. It had been bought by the 'Peelites,' who are reported to have sunk as much as 200,000l. upon it. John Douglas Cook was editor, and among his contributors were Maine and others of Fitzjames's college friends. Naturally he was anxious to try his hand. He wrote several articles in the winter of 1851-2. 'The pay,' says Fitzjames, 'was very high—3l. 10s. an article, and I thought that I was going to make a fortune. I was particularly pleased, I remember, with my smartness and wit, but, alas and alas! Cook found me out and gradually ceased to put in my articles. I have seldom felt much keener disappointment, for I was ardently desirous of standing on my own legs and having in my pocket a little money of my own earning. I took heart, however, and decided to try elsewhere. I wrote one or two poor little articles in obscure places, and at last took (as already stated) to the "Christian Observer." 'I took great pains,' he says, 'with my articles, framing my style upon conveyancing and special pleading, so that it might be solid, well-connected, and logical, and enable me to get back to the Paradise of 3l. 10s. an article, from which, as I strongly suspected, my flippancy had excluded me.' 'Flippancy' was clearly not in his line. Besides the 'Christian Observer,' I find that the 'Law Magazine' took a few articles from him, but there is no trace of other writings until 1855. In that year was published the first number of 'Cambridge Essays,' which, in alliance with a series of 'Oxford Essays,' lived for a couple of years and contained some very good work. Maine became first known to the public by an article upon Roman Law contributed in 1856, and a study of Coleridge's philosophy by Professor Hort, another apostle, is one of the best extant discussions of a difficult subject. Fitzjames, in 1855, wrote a characteristic article upon 'The Relation of Novels to Life,' and in 1857 one upon 'Characteristics of English Criminal Law.' The articles roused some interest and helped to encourage him.

Meanwhile the 'Morning Chronicle' had changed hands, and its previous supporters set up the 'Saturday Review,' of which the first number appeared on November 3, 1855. John Douglas Cook, who took command of the new adventure and brought some followers from the 'Morning Chronicle,' was a remarkable man in his way. He was one of the innumerable young Scots who go out to seek their fortune abroad. He had received some appointment in India, quarrelled with his employers, and came home on foot, or partly on foot, for his narratives of this period were generally, it was thought, marked rather by imaginative fervour than by a servile adherence to historic accuracy. He found work on the 'Times,' supported Mr. Walter in an election, was taken up by the Duke of Newcastle, and was sent by him to inquire into the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall. He then appeared as an editor, and, if he failed in the 'Morning Chronicle,' made ample amends by his guidance of the 'Saturday Review.' He was a man of no particular education, and apparently never read a book. His language and manners were such as recalled memories of the old days of Maginn and other Bohemians whose portraits are drawn in 'Pendennis.' But besides other qualities which justified the friendship and confidence of his supporters, Cook had the faculty of recognising good writing when he saw it. Newspapers have occasionally succeeded by lowering instead of raising the standard of journalism, but the 'Saturday Review' marked at the time as distinct an advance above the previous level as the old 'Edinburgh Review.' In his fifteen years' editorship of the 'Saturday Review,' Cook collected as distinguished a set of contributors as has ever been attracted to an English newspaper. Many of them became eminent in other ways. Maine and Sir W. Harcourt were, I believe, among the earliest recruits, following Cook from the 'Morning Chronicle.' Others, such as Professor Freeman, Mark Pattison, Mr. Goldwin Smith, Mr. John Morley, the late Lord Justice Bowen, and many other well-known writers, joined at different periods and with more or less regularity, but from the first the new journal was wanting neither in ability nor audacity.[66] Two of the chief contributors who became close friends of Fitzjames's enjoyed a reputation among their friends altogether out of proportion to their public recognition. The first was George Stovin Venables. He was a fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. He had been a first-classman in the Classical Tripos of 1832, when he was placed next to W. H. Thompson, afterwards Master of Trinity. He too was an apostle and an intimate both of Tennyson and Thackeray. Indeed, the legend ran that it was his fist which, at Charterhouse School, had disfigured Thackeray's nose for life. He was tall, strikingly handsome, and of singularly dignified appearance. Though recognised as an intellectual equal by many of the ablest men of his time, he chose paths in which little general reputation could be won. He made a large income at the parliamentary bar, and amused himself by contributing regularly to the 'Saturday Review.'[67] Stories used to be current of the extraordinary facility with which he could turn out his work, and I imagine that the style of the new periodical was determined more by his writing than by that of any of his colleagues. The political utterances were supposed to be supercilious, and were certainly not marked by any fiery enthusiasm. Venables had an objection to the usual editorial 'we,' and one result was that the theories of the paper were laid down with a certain impersonal pomp, as gnomic utterances of an anonymous philosopher. I need not, however, discuss their merit. Venables wrote, if I am not mistaken, some admirable literary criticisms, and claimed to have been one of the first to recognise the poetical merits of his friend Tennyson, and, after a long interval, those of Mr. Swinburne, whom he regarded as the next legitimate heir to the throne. Venables was warmly beloved by his intimates, and Fitzjames through life frequently declared that he felt for him a kind of filial affection.

The other Saturday reviewer with whom he became specially intimate was Thomas Collett Sandars. He was a Balliol scholar and a Fellow of Oriel, and is known as an editor (1853) of Justinian's 'Institutes.' It is, I am told, a useful textbook, but the editor makes no special pretensions to original research. Sandars was at one time a professor of Constitutional Law in the Inns of Court, but he was much occupied in various financial undertakings and did little to make himself known to the outside world. He was a man, however, of great literary taste, and overflowing with humorous and delightful conversation. He survived my brother by a few months only, and in the interval spoke to me with great interest of his memories of the old 'Saturday Review' days. He was in early days on most intimate terms with Fitzjames; they discussed all manner of topics together and were for some time the two principal manufacturers of what were called 'middles'—the articles which intervened between the political leaders and the reviews of books. These became gradually one of the most characteristic facts of the paper, and, as I shall presently explain, gave an opportunity of which Fitzjames was particularly glad to avail himself.

The first contribution from Fitzjames appeared in the second number of the paper. For a short time its successors are comparatively rare, but in the course of the following spring he begins to contribute regularly two articles a week, and before long there are sufficient indications that the editor looks upon him with favour. Articles running to a length of four columns, for example, show that he was not only pouring himself out pretty freely, but that his claims upon space were not grudgingly treated. In March 1856 he says that he is 'very nervous' about his articles and doubtful of Cook's approval, but in the same month he is greatly cheered by a conversation upon the subject with Maine, and begins to perceive that he has really got a permanent footing. He used to tell a story which I cannot perfectly recollect, but which was to the following effect. He had felt very doubtful of his own performances; Cook did not seem at first to be cordial, and possibly his attempts to 'form a style' upon the precedents of conveyancing were not altogether successful. Feeling that he did not quite understand what was the style which would win approval, he resolved that, for once, he would at least write according to his own taste and give vent to his spontaneous impulses, even though it might be for the last time of asking. To his surprise, Cook was delighted with his article, and henceforward he was able to write freely, without hampering himself by the attempt to satisfy uncongenial canons of journalism.[68]

However this may be, he was certainly writing both abundantly and vigorously during the following years. The 'Saturday Review,' like the old 'Edinburgh,' was proud beyond all things of its independence. It professed a special antipathy to popular humbugs of every kind, and was by no means backward in falling foul of all its contemporaries for their various concessions to popular foibles.

The writers were for the most part energetic young men, with the proper confidence in their own infallibility, and represented faithfully enough the main current of the cultivated thought of their day. The paper had occasionally to reflect the High Church proclivities of its proprietor, but the articles showing that tendency were in odd contrast to the general line of argument, which more naturally expressed the contempt of the enlightened for every popular nostrum. Fitzjames, in particular, found occasions for energetically setting forth his own views. He had, of course, a good many chances of dealing with legal matters. He writes periodical articles upon 'the assizes' or discusses some specially interesting case. He now and then gets a chance of advocating a codification of the laws, though he admits the necessity of various preliminary measures, and especially of a more philosophical system of legal education. He denounces the cumbrous and perplexed state of the law in general so energetically, that the arguments have to be stated as those of certain reformers with whom the paper does not openly identify itself.

As became a good Saturday reviewer, he fell foul of many popular idols. One regular chopping-block for irreverent reviewers was Dr. Cumming, who was then proving from the Apocalypse that the world would come to an end in 1865. His ignorance of Greek and of geography, his audacious plagiarisms from E. B. Elliott (a more learned though not a much wiser interpreter), and his insincerity, are denounced so unsparingly as to suggest some danger from the law of libel. Dr. Cumming, however, was wise in his generation, and wrote a letter of such courteous and dignified remonstrance that the 'Saturday Review' was forced to reply in corresponding terms, though declining to withdraw its charges. The whole world of contemporary journalism is arraigned for its subserviency to popular prejudices. The 'Record' is lashed for its religious rancour, and the 'Reasoner' for its vapid version of popular infidelity, though it is contemptuously preferred, in point of spirit, to the 'Record.' Fitzjames flies occasionally at higher game. The 'Times,' if he is to be believed, is conspicuous for the trick of spinning empty verbiage out of vapid popular commonplaces, and, indeed, good sense and right reason appear to have withdrawn themselves almost exclusively to the congenial refuge of the 'Saturday Review.'

There is, however, no shrine sacred to the vulgar in which the writer delights in playing the part of iconoclast so heartily as in that represented by the comic literature of the day. This sentiment, as I have said, had grown up even in Eton schooldays. There was something inexpressibly repugnant to Fitzjames in the tone adopted by a school of which he took Dickens and Douglas Jerrold to be representatives. His view of the general literary question comes out oddly in the article upon 'The Relation of Novels to Life,' contributed to the 'Cambridge Essays.' He has no fear of modern aesthetes before his eyes. His opinion is that life is too serious a business for tomfoolery and far too tragic for needless ostentation of sentiment. A novel should be a serious attempt by a grave observer to draw a faithful portrait of the actual facts of life. A novelist, therefore, who uses the imaginary facts, like Sterne and Dickens, as mere pegs on which to hang specimens of his own sensibility and facetiousness, becomes disgusting. When, he remarks, you have said of a friend 'he is dead,' all other observations become superfluous and impertinent. He, therefore, considers 'Robinson Crusoe' to represent the ideal novel. It is the life of a brave man meeting danger and sorrow with unflinching courage, and never bringing his tears to market. Dickens somewhere says, characteristically, that 'Robinson Crusoe' is the only very popular work which can be read without a tear from the first page to the last. That is precisely the quality which commends it to this stern reader, who thought that in fiction as in life a man should keep his feelings under lock and key. In spite of his rather peculiar canons of taste, Fitzjames was profoundly interested, even in spite of himself, in some novels constructed on very different principles. In these early articles he falls foul of 'Mdme. de Bovary,'[69] from the point of view of the simple-minded moralist, but he heartily admires Balzac, whom he defends against a similar charge, and in whose records of imaginary criminals—records not so famous in England at that time as they now are—he found an interest almost equal to that of the 'State Trials' and Palmer's case. He could also, I must add, enjoy Dickens's humour as heartily as any one. He was well up in 'Pickwick,' though I don't know whether he would have been equal to Calverley's famous examination-paper, and he had a special liking for the 'Uncommercial Traveller.' But when Dickens deserted his proper function Fitzjames was roused to indignation. The 'little Nell' sentimentalism and the long gallery of melodramatic deathbeds disgusted him, while the assaults upon the governing classes generally stirred his wrath. The satire upon individuals may be all very well in its place, but a man, he said, has no business to set up as the 'regenerator of society' because he is its most 'distinguished buffoon.' He was not picking his words, and 'buffoon' is certainly an injudicious phrase; but the sentiment which it expressed was so characteristic and deeply rooted that I must dwell a little upon its manifestation at this time.

The war between the Saturday reviewers and their antagonists was carried on with a frequent use of the nicknames 'prig' and 'cynic' upon one side, and 'buffoon' and 'sentimentalist' upon the other. Phrases so employed soon lose all definite meaning, but it is, I think, easy to see what they meant as applied either by or to Fitzjames. The 'comic writers' for him were exponents of the petty and vulgar ideals of the lower middle classes of the day. The world of Dickens's novels was a portrait of the class for which Dickens wrote. It was a world of smug little tradesmen of shallow and half-educated minds, with paltry ambitions, utter ignorance of history and philosophy, shrinking instinctively from all strenuous thought and resenting every attack upon the placid optimism in which it delighted to wrap itself. It had no perception of the doubts and difficulties which beset loftier minds, or any consciousness of the great drama of history in which our generation is only playing its part for the passing hour. Whatever lay beyond its narrow horizon was ignored, or, if accidentally mentioned, treated with ignorant contempt. This was the spirit which revealed itself in the paeans raised over the Exhibition of 1851, accepted by the popular voice of the day as the inauguration of a millennium of peace and free trade. But all its manifestations were marked by the same narrowness. The class had once found a voice for its religious sentiments in Puritanism, with stern conceptions of duty and of a divine order of the universe. But in its present mood it could see the Puritan leaders represented by a wretched Stiggins—a pothouse Tartufe just capable of imposing upon the friends of Mrs. Gamp. Its own religion was that kind of vapid philanthropic sentiment which calls itself undenominational; a creed of maudlin benevolence from which all the deeper and sterner elements of religious belief have been carefully purged away, and which really corresponds to the moods which Mr Pickwick stimulated by indulgence in milk-punch. When it came face to face with death, and sin, and suffering, it made them mere occasions for displays of sentimentalism, disgusting because such trifling with the most awful subjects shows a hopeless shallowness of nature. Dickens's indulgence in deathbeds meant an effeminate delight in the 'luxury of grief,' revolting in proportion to the solemnity of the topic. This was only another side of the levity with which he treated serious political and social problems. The attitude of mind represented is that of the ordinary newspaper correspondent, who imagines that a letter to the 'Times' is the ultimate remedy for all the evils to which flesh is heir. Dickens's early novels, said Fitzjames, represented an avatar of 'chaff'; and gave with unsurpassable vivacity the genuine fun of a thoroughbred cockney typified by Sam Weller. Sam Weller is delightful in his place; but he is simply impertinent when he fancies that his shrewd mother wit entitles him to speak with authority upon great questions of constitutional reform and national policy. Dickens's later assaults upon the 'Circumlocution Office,' the Court of Chancery, were signal instances of this impatient, irritable, and effeminate levity. Fitzjames elaborated this view in an article upon 'the license of novelists' which appeared in the 'Edinburgh Review' for July 1857. He fell foul of 'Little Dorrit'; but the chief part of the article referred to Charles Reade's 'Never Too Late to Mend.' That novel was briefly a travesty of a recent case in which a prisoner had committed suicide in consequence, as was suggested, of ill-treatment by the authorities of the gaol. The governor had been tried and punished in consequence. Fitzjames gives the actual facts to show how Reade had allowed himself, as a writer of fiction, to exaggerate and distort them, and had at the same time taken the airs of an historian of facts and bragged of his resolution to brand all judges who should dare to follow the precedent which he denounced. This article, I may notice, included an injudicious reference to the case of the Post Office and Rowland Hill, which was not, I believe, due to Fitzjames himself, and which enabled Dickens to reply with some effect in 'Household Words.' Dickens's attacks upon the 'Circumlocution Office' and its like were not altogether inconsistent with some opinions upon the English system of government to which, as I shall have to show, Fitzjames himself gave forcible expression in after years. They started, however, from a very different point of view, and for the present he criticised both Dickens and some of the similar denunciations contained in Carlyle's 'Past and Present,' and 'Latter-day Pamphlets.' The assault upon the 'Circumlocution Office' was, I doubt not, especially offensive because 'Barnacle Tite,' and the effete aristocrats who are satirised in 'Little Dorrit,' stood for representatives of Sir James Stephen and his best friends. In fact, I think, Dickens took the view natural to the popular mind, which always embodies a grievance in a concrete image of a wicked and contemptible oppressor intending all the evils which result from his office. A more interesting and appropriate topic for art of a serious kind would be the problem presented by a body of men of the highest ability and integrity who are yet doomed to work a cumbrous and inadequate system. But the popular reformer, to whom everything seems easy and obvious, explains all abuses by attributing them to the deliberate intention of particular fools and knaves. This indicates Fitzjames's position at the time. He was fully conscious of the administrative abuses assailed, and was as ardent on law reform as became a disciple of Bentham. But he could not accept the support of men who thought that judicious reform could be suggested by rough caricatures, and that all difficulties could be appreciated by the first petty tradesmen who encountered an incidental grievance or by such summary remedies as were to be suggested off-hand by anonymous correspondents. The levity, the ignorance, the hasty and superficial irritability of these reformers, their enormous conceit and imperturbable self-complacency revolted him. English life he declared in the 'Edinburgh Review' is 'too active, English spheres of action too wide, English freedom too deeply rooted, to be endangered by a set of bacchanals drunk with green tea and not protected by petticoats. Boundless luxury,' he thought, 'and thirst for excitement, have raised a set of writers who show a strong sympathy for all that is most opposite to the very foundations of English life.' The 'Saturday Review' articles enlarge upon the same theme. He will not accept legislators whose favourite costume is the cap and bells, or admit that men who 'can make silly women cry can, therefore, dictate principles of law and government.' The defects of our system are due to profound historical causes. 'Freedom and law and established rules have their difficulties,' not perceptible to 'feminine, irritable, noisy minds, always clamouring and shrieking for protection and guidance.' The end to which Dickens would really drive us would be 'pure despotism. No debates to worry effeminate understandings, no laws to prevent judges from deciding according to their own inclination, no forms to prevent officials from dealing with their neighbours as so many parcels of ticketed goods.'[70]

These utterances show the combination of the old Puritanic leaven, to which all trifling and levity is hateful, and the strong patriotic sentiment, to which Dickens in one direction and the politics of Cobden and Bright in the other, appeared as different manifestations of a paltry and narrow indifference to all the great historic aims of the national life. Now, and to some degree always, he strongly sympathised with the patriotism represented by Macaulay.

I need only notice at present certain theological implications. The positivists were beginning to make themselves known, and, for various reasons, were anything but attractive to him. He denounces a manifesto from Mr. Congreve in January 1857, and again from the patriotic side. Mr. Congreve had suggested, among other things, the cession of Gibraltar to Spain, in accordance with his view of international duties. The English nation, exclaims Fitzjames, 'cannot be weighed and measured, and ticketed, and classified, by a narrow understanding and a cold heart.' The 'honest and noble passions of a single nation would blow all Mr. Congreve's schemes to atoms like so many cobwebs. England will never be argued out of Gibraltar except by the ultima ratio.' These doctrines, he thinks, are the fruits of abandoning a belief in theology. 'We, too, have a positive philosophy, and its fundamental maxim is that it is wise for men and nations to mind their own business, and do their own duty, and leave the results to God.' The argument seems to be rather questionable; and perhaps one which follows is not altogether satisfactory, though both are characteristic. The Indian Mutiny had moved him deeply, and, in an article called 'Deus Ultionum'[71] he applies one of his doctrines to this case. He holds that a desire for revenge upon the perpetrators of the atrocities (of which, I may observe, exaggerated accounts were then accepted) was perfectly legitimate. Revenge, he urges, is an essential part of the true theory of punishment—a position which he defends by the authority of Bishop Butler. The only alternative is the theory of simple 'deterrence,' which, as he holds, excludes every moral element of punishment, and supposes man to be a mere 'bag of appetites.'

I have dwelt upon these utterances, not, of course, to consider their value, or as representing his permanent conviction, but simply as illustrating a very deeply rooted sentiment.

His work in the 'Saturday Review' did not exhaust all his literary activity. Between 1856 and 1861 he contributed a few articles to the 'Edinburgh Review,' of which I have already mentioned one. He very naturally turned to the organ in which his father's best-known writings had appeared, and which still enjoyed a high reputation. I believe that the 'Edinburgh Review' still acted upon the precedent set by Jeffrey, according to which a contributor, especially, of course, a young contributor, was regarded as supplying raw material which might be rather arbitrarily altered by the editor. I express no opinion as to the wisdom of that course; but I think that, as a matter of fact, it alienated this contributor in particular. Meanwhile, the father in whose steps he was treading was constantly giving him advice or taking counsel with him during these years. He praised warmly, but with discrimination. The first article in the 'Edinburgh Review' was upon Cavallier, the leader of the Protestant revolt in the Cevennes. The subject, suggested, I fancy, by a trip to the country taken in 1852, was selected less with a view to his own knowledge or aptitudes than by the natural impulse of a young writer to follow the models accepted in his organ. He had selected a picturesque bit of history, capable of treatment after the manner of Macaulay. 'I have read it,' says my father, in words meant to be read to Fitzjames, 'with the pleasure which it always gives me to read his vigorous sense, clear and manly style, right-minded and substantially kind-hearted writings. My respect for his understanding has been for a long time steadily increasing, and is very unlikely to be ever diminished.... But I shall best prove that respect by saying plainly that I do not like this paper as well as those in which he writes argumentatively, speculatively, and from the resources of his own mind. His power consists in reasoning, in the exposition of truth and fallacies. I will not say, for I do not know, that he wants the art of story-telling, but, taking this as a specimen, it seems to me deficient in the great art of linking together a series of facts in such a manner that the connection between them shall be at once perceptible to the most ignorant and inattentive reader, and shall take easy and irresistible possession of the mind. That is Macaulay's pre-eminent gift.' He goes on to apply this in detail. It may be useful to point out faults now; though his criticisms upon anything which Fitzjames may publish in 1890 shall be 'all saccharine.'

In a letter of April 27, 1856, he shows an alarm which was certainly not unnatural. Fitzjames has been writing in the 'Saturday Review,' in 'Fraser,' the 'National Review,' and elsewhere, besides having on hand a projected law-book. Is he not undertaking too much? 'No variety of intemperance is more evidently doomed to work out its own ill-reward than that which is practised by a bookseller's drudge of the higher order.' He appeals to various precedents, such as Southey, whose brain gave way under the pressure. Editors and publishers soon find out the man who is dependent upon them for support, and 'since the abolition of West India slavery the world has known no more severe servitude than his.' 'Can a man of your age,' he asks, 'have the accumulated capital of knowledge necessary to stand such a periodical expenditure?' 'What I have read of your writing seems to me to be singularly unequal. At times it is excellent in style and in conception, and evidently flowing from springs pure, copious, and active, and giving promise of great future eminence. At other times the marks of haste, of exhaustion, and being run out of breath, are perceptible to an eye so sensitive as mine is on this subject. I see no reason why you should not become a great writer and one of the teachers of your country-folk, if you will resolve never to write except from a full mind—which is just as essential to literary success as it is to success in singing never to sing but out of well inflated lungs.' He ends by the practical application of an entreaty to make use of the family purse.

The reference to a law-book is explained by a correspondence which is going on at the same period in regard to various literary proposals. My father sketches several plans; he disapproves of a technical treatise, in which he thinks that Fitzjames would be at a disadvantage from the inevitable comparison with his uncle, the serjeant; but he advises some kind of legal history, resembling Hallam's history inverted. In the proposed book the legal aspect should be in the foreground and the political in the background. He expounds at length a scheme which has not been executed, and which would, I think, be exceedingly valuable. It was suggested by his own lectures on French history, though it must be 'six times longer and sixty times more exact and complete.' It is to be a history of the English administrative system from feudal times downwards, giving an account of the development of the machinery for justice, revenue, ecclesiastical affairs, war, trade, colonies, police, and so forth. Each chapter should expound the actual state of things, and trace the historical development of one department, and would involve a variety of parenthetical inquiries, which should be carefully subordinated to the main purpose. Various hints are given as to the course of investigation that will be necessary. Fitzjames began to work upon this scheme; and his opening chapters fill two or three large manuscript books. The plan was abandoned for one more suitable to his powers. Meanwhile, the literary activity which had alarmed his father was not abated, and, indeed, before very long, was increased.


Another employment for a time gave him work, outside both of his professional and his literary career, though it remained something of a parenthesis. On June 30, 1858, a royal commission was appointed to investigate the state of popular education. The Duke of Newcastle was chairman and the other members were Sir J. T. Coleridge, W. C. Lake (afterwards Dean of Durham), Professor Goldwin Smith, Nassau Senior, Edward Miall, and the Rev. William Rogers, now rector of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate.[72] The Duke of Newcastle was, as I have said, the patron of the editor of the 'Saturday Review,' and perhaps had some interest in that adventure as in the 'Morning Chronicle.' He probably knew of my brother through this connection, and he now proposed him, says Mr. Rogers,[73] as secretary to the commission. The commission began by sending out assistant-commissioners to the selected districts: it afterwards examined a number of experts in educational matters; it sent Mark Pattison and Matthew Arnold to report upon the systems in Germany, France, and Switzerland; it examined all the previous reports presented to the Committee of the Privy Council; it collected a quantity of information from the various societies, from the managers of government, naval and military schools, from schools for paupers and vagrants, and from reformatories; it made an investigation into the state of the charitable endowments, and it compiled a number of statistical tables setting forth the results obtained. 'The man to whom more than to anyone else the country owed a debt of gratitude,' says Mr. Rogers, 'was Fitzjames Stephen.... Though under thirty, he brought to the task a combination of talents rarely found in any one individual. To his keen insight, wide grasp, accurately balanced judgment, and marvellous aptitude for details, was due much of the success with which we were able to lay down the future lines of popular education. I have often thought it strange that this recognition has not in time past been more publicly made.'

The Commission lasted till June 30, 1861. It published six fat volumes of reports, which are of great value to the historian of education. The progress made in subsequent years gives an appearance of backwardness to what was really a great advance upon previous opinion. The plan of compulsory or free education was summarily dismissed; and a minority of the Commission were of opinion that all State aid should be gradually withdrawn. The majority, however, decided that the system rather required development, although the aim was rather to stimulate voluntary effort than to substitute a State system. They thought that the actual number of children at school was not unsatisfactory, and that the desire for education was very widely spread. Many of the schools, however, were all but worthless, and the great aim should be to improve their quality and secure a satisfactory teaching of elementary subjects. They proposed that provision should be made for allowing the formation of boards supported by rates in towns and counties; and that the national grant should be distributed on better principles, so as to secure more efficient results. As Mr. Rogers points out, the 'revised code' soon afterwards issued by Mr. Lowe, and the principles adopted in Mr. Forster's Act a few years later, carried out, though they greatly extended, the proposals of the Commission.

It is impossible to say precisely what share my brother had in these results. I find, however, from a correspondence with his old friend Nassau Senior, that he was an advocate of the view finally adopted by the Commission. He also prepared the report, of course under the direction of his superiors, and the labour thrown upon him during the three years of this occupation must have been considerable. He was, however, writing with his old regularity for the 'Saturday Review,' and was attending sessions and circuits with slowly improving prospects. In a letter written at this time I find him remarking that he is at work all the day and half the night. This is in reference to a case with which he was much occupied during 1858-9, and which is characteristic enough to deserve a few words. His articles in the 'Saturday Review' show the keen interest to which he was aroused by any touch of heroism. He is enthusiastic about arctic adventure, and a warm review of Kane's narrative of the American expedition in search of Franklin brought him the friendship of the author, who died during a visit to England soon afterwards. Another arctic explorer was Captain Parker Snow, who sailed in the search expedition sent out by Lady Franklin in 1850. The place in which the remains were afterwards discovered had been revealed to him in a dream; and but for the refusal of his superior officer to proceed he would have reached the spot. In the year 1854 Captain Snow was sent out by the Patagonian Missionary Society to the place where the unfortunate Allen Gardiner had been starved to death. His crew consisted entirely of 'godly' sailors, who, he says, showed their principles by finding religious reasons for disobeying his orders. Finally Captain Snow was dismissed by an agent of the Society, and, as he maintained, illegally. He published an account of his explorations in Tierra del Fuego, which Fitzjames reviewed enthusiastically. It was long, he said, since he had seen a 'heartier, more genuine, nobler book'; he was tempted to think that Captain Marryat and Kingsley had 'put their heads together to produce a sort of missionary "Peter Simple."' This led to a long correspondence with Captain Snow, who was trying to enforce his claims against the Missionary Society. Fitzjames strongly advised him against legal proceedings, which would, he thought, be fruitless, although Captain Snow had a strong moral claim upon the Society. Captain Snow, however, was not easy to advise, and Fitzjames, thinking him ill-treated, obtained help from several friends and subscribed himself to the Captain's support. After long negotiations the case finally came into court in December 1859, when Fitzjames consented to appear as the Captain's counsel, although he had foreseen the unsuccessful result. He continued to do what he could for the sufferer, to whose honourable, though injudicious conduct he bears a strong testimony, and long afterwards (1879) obtained for him a pension of 40l. from the Civil List, which is, I fear, Captain Snow's only support in his old age.[74]

In August 1859 Fitzjames was made recorder of Newark. The place, which he held till he went to India in 1869, was worth only 40l. a year; but was, as he said, a 'feather in his cap,' and a proof of his having gained a certain footing upon his circuit. It gave him his first experience as a judge, and I may mention a little incident of one of his earliest appearances in that character. He had to sentence a criminal to penal servitude, when the man's wife began to scream; he was touched by her grief, and left a small sum with the mayor to be given to her without mention of his name. The place was, it seems, practically the gift of the Duke of Newcastle; and Bethell, then Attorney-General, wrote to him in favour of Fitzjames's appointment. I am not aware how Bethell came to have any knowledge of him; but Fitzjames had formed a very high opinion of the great lawyer's merits. He showed it when Bethell, then Lord Westbury, was accused of misconduct as Lord Chancellor. He thought that the accusations, if not entirely unfounded, were grossly exaggerated for party purposes. He could not persuade the 'Pall Mall Gazette,' for which he was then writing, to take this view; but upon Westbury's resignation he obtained the insertion of a very cordial eulogy upon the ex-chancellor's merits as a law reformer.

The appointment to the recordership was one of the last pieces of intelligence to give pleasure to my father. Fitzjames had seen much of him during the last year. He had spent some weeks with him at Dorking in the summer of 1858, and had taken a little expedition with him in the spring of 1859. My father injured himself by a walk on his seventieth birthday (January 3, 1859), and his health afterwards showed symptoms of decline. In the autumn he was advised to go to Homburg; and thence, on August 30, he wrote his last letter, criticising a draft of a report which Fitzjames was preparing for the Education Commission, and suggesting a few sentences which would, he thinks, give greater clearness and emphasis to the main points. Immediately afterwards serious symptoms appeared, due, I believe, to the old break-down of 1847. My father was anxious to return, and started homewards with my mother and sister, who had accompanied him. They got as far as Coblenz, where they were joined by Fitzjames, who had set out upon hearing the news. He was just in time to see his father alive. Sir James Stephen died September 14, 1859, an hour or two after his son's arrival. He was buried at Kensal Green, where his tombstone bears the inscription: 'Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.' The words (from Joshua i. 9) were chosen because a friend remembered the emphasis with which my father had once dwelt upon them at his family prayers. With the opening words of the same passage my brother concluded the book which expressed his strongest convictions,[75] and summed up his practical doctrine of life. What he felt at the time may be inferred from a striking essay upon the 'Wealth of Nature,' which he contributed to the 'Saturday Review' of September 24, 1859.[76] It may be considered as a sermon upon the text of Gray's reflections in the 'Elegy' upon the 'hearts once pregnant with celestial fire' which lie forgotten in the country churchyard. What a vast work has been done by the unknown! what must have been the aggregate ability of those who, in less than thirty generations, have changed the England of King Alfred into the England of Queen Victoria! and yet how few are remembered! How many actions even, which would be gladly remembered, are constantly forgotten? 'The Indian Empire,' he says characteristically, 'is the most marvellous proof of this that the world can supply. A man died not long ago who, at twenty-five years of age, with no previous training, was set to govern a kingdom with absolute power, and who did govern it so wisely and firmly that he literally changed a wilderness into a fruitful land. Probably no one who reads these lines will guess to whom they allude.' I can, however, say that they allude to James Grant Duff (1789-1858), author of the 'History of the Mahrattas,' and father of his friend Sir Mountstuart. Fitzjames had visited the father in Scotland, and greatly admired him. His early career as resident of Sattara sufficiently corresponds to this statement. It is well, as Fitzjames maintained, that things should be as they are. Fame generally injures a man's simplicity; and this 'great reserve fund of ability' acts beneficially upon society at large, and upon the few conspicuous men who are conscious of their debt to their unknown colleagues. It would be a misfortune, therefore, if society affected to class people according to their merits; for, as it is, no one need be ashamed of an obscurity which proves nothing against him. We have the satisfaction of perceiving everywhere traces of skill and power, proving irrefragably that there are among us men 'who ennoble nearly every walk of life, and would have ennobled any.' A similar tone appears in the short life of his father, written in the following year. True success in life, he says, is not measured by general reputation. Sir James Stephen's family will be satisfied by establishing the fact that he did his duty. It was an instance of 'prosperity' that his obscurity 'protected him, and will no doubt effectually protect his memory against unjust censure and ignorant praise.'

The deaths of two old friends of his father's and his own marked the end of the year. On December 20, 1859, he hears of the death of John Austin, and proposes to attend the funeral, 'as there were few men for whom I had more respect or who deserved it more.' His admiration for Austin was at this time at its warmest.[77] Macaulay died on December 28, 1859; and on January 5, 1860, Fitzjames writes from Derby, where he has been all night composing a 'laudation' of the historian for the 'Saturday Review.'[78] It is 7.45 A.M., and he has just washed and dressed, as it is too late to go to bed before court. 'Tom Macaulay,' as has been seen, had been a model held up to him from infancy, and to the last retained a strong hold upon his affectionate remembrance.

Fitzjames was now completing his thirty-first year, and was emerging into a more independent position. He was in the full flow of energetic and various work, which was to continue with hardly an intermission until strength began to fail. At this period he was employed in the Education Commission, which for some time was meeting every day; he was writing for the 'Saturday Review' and elsewhere; he was also beginning to write an independent book; and he was attending his circuit and sessions regularly and gradually improving his position.[79] The story thus becomes rather complicated. I will first say a little of his professional work during the next few years, and I will then mention three books, which appeared from 1861 to 1863, and were his first independent publications; they will suggest what has to be said of his main lines of thought and work.


His practice at the bar was improving, though not very steadily or rapidly. 'Those cases, like Snow's or Bacon's,' he observes (Dec. 17, 1859), 'do me hardly any good.... I am making a reputation which would be very useful for an older man who already had business, but is to me glory, not gain. I am like a man who has good expectations and little or no income.' Still his position is better: he has made 100l. this year against 50l. the year before; he is beginning to 'take root,' especially at sessions; and he 'thoroughly delights in his profession.' In March 1860 he reports some high compliments from Mr. Justice Willes in consequence of a good speech; and has had inquiries made about him by attornies. But the attornies, he thinks, will have forgotten him before next circuit. There never was a longer hill than that which barristers have to climb; but 'it is neither a steep nor an unpleasant hill.' In July 1861 he was appointed to a revising barristership in North Derbyshire by Chief Baron Pollock, and was presented with a red bag by his friend Kenneth Macaulay, now leader of the circuit. He makes 100l. on circuit, and remarks that this is considered to mark a kind of turning-point. In 1862 things improve again. In July he is employed in three cases of which two were 'glorious triumphs,' and the third, the 'Great Grimsby riot,' which is 'at present a desperate battle,' is the biggest case he has yet had on circuit. The circuit turns out to be his most profitable, so far. On October 20 he reports that he has got pretty well 'to the top of the little hill' of sessions, and is beginning, though cautiously, to think of giving them up and to look forward to a silk gown. In 1863 he has 'a wonderful circuit' (March 20) above 200l., owing partly, it would seem, to Macaulay's absence, and too good to be repeated. In the summer, however, he has the first circuit in which there has been no improvement. On October 25 he is for once out of spirits. He has had 'miserable luck,' though he thinks in his conscience that it has been due not to his own fault, but to the 'stupidity of juries.' 'There is only one thing,' he says, 'which supports me in this, the belief that God orders all things, and that therefore we can be content and ought to take events as they come, be they small or great. Whenever I turn my thoughts that way it certainly does not seem to me very important whether in this little bit of a life I can accomplish all that I wish—so long as I try to do my best. I have often thought that perhaps one's life may be but a sort of school, in which one learns lessons for a better and larger world, and if so, I can quite understand that the best boys do not get the highest prizes, and that no boy, good or bad, ought to be unhappy about his prizes. There are things I long to do; books I long to write; thoughts and schemes that float before me, looking so near and clear, and yet being, as I feel, so indistinct or distant that I shall never make anything of them. Small ties and little rushings of the mind, briefs and magazine articles, and their like, will clog my wheels day after day and year after year. Yet I cannot altogether blame myself. Looking back on my life, I cannot seriously regret any of the principal steps I have taken in it. Still I do feel more or less disquieted or perturbed—I cannot help it.' Some uncomfortable thoughts could hardly fail to intrude at times when the compliments which he received from the highest authorities failed to be backed by a corresponding recognition from attornies; and at times, I suspect, his spirits were depressed by over-work, of which he was slow to acknowledge the possibility. To work, indeed, he turned for one chief consolation. He refers incidentally to various significant performances. 'Last night,' he writes from Derby, April 10, 1862, 'I finished a middle at two; and to-day I finished "Superstition"' (an article in the 'Cornhill') 'in a six hours' sitting, during which I had written thirty-two MS. pages straight off. I don't feel at all the worse for it.' On Nov. 14 following he observes that he is 'in first-rate health.' He wrote all night from six till three, got up at 7.30, and walked thirty-one miles; after which he felt 'perfectly fresh and well.' On Jan. 13, 1863, he has a long drive in steady rain, sits up 'laughing and talking' till one; writes a review till 4.45, and next day writes another article in court. On July 17, 1864, he finishes an article upon Newman at 3 A.M., having written as much as would fill sixteen pages of the 'Edinburgh Review'—the longest day's work he had ever done, and feels perfectly well. On March 13, 1865, he gets up at six, writes an article before breakfast, is in court all day, and has a consultation at nine. Early rising was, I think, his commonest plan for encountering a pressure of work; but he had an extraordinary facility for setting to work at a moment's notice. He had a power of eating and sleeping at any time, which he found, as he says, highly convenient. He was equally ready to write before breakfast, or while other people were talking and speechifying all round him in court, or when sitting up all night. And, like a strong man, he rejoiced in his strength, perhaps a little too unreservedly. If he now and then confesses to weariness, it never seemed to be more than a temporary feeling.

Of the cases in which he was engaged at this period I need only mention two—the case of Dr. Rowland Williams, of which I shall speak directly in connection with his published 'defence'; and the case of a man who was convicted of murder at Warwick in December 1863. The fellow had cut the throat of a girl who had jilted him. The facts were indisputable, and the only possible defence was insanity. Kenneth Macaulay and Fitzjames were counsel for the defence, but failed, and, as Fitzjames thought, rightly failed, to make good their case. He was, however, deeply moved by the whole affair—the most dramatic, he says, in which he had been engaged. The convict's family were respectable people, and behaved admirably. 'The poor mother sat by me in court and said, "I feel as if I could cling to anyone who could help him," and she put her hand on my arm and held it so that I could feel every beat of her pulse. Her fingers clutched me every time her heart beat. The daughters, too, were dreadfully moved, but behaved with the greatest natural dignity and calmness.' After the conviction Fitzjames felt that the man deserved to be hanged; but felt also bound to help the father in his attempts to get the sentence commuted. He could not himself petition, but he did his best to advise the unfortunate parents. He used to relate that the murderer had written an account of the crime, which it was proposed to produce as a proof of insanity. To Fitzjames it seemed to be a proof only of cold-blooded malignity which would insure the execution of the sentence. He was tormented by the conflict between his compassion and his sense of justice. Ultimately the murderer was reprieved on the ground that he had gone mad after the sentence. Fitzjames had then, he says, an uncomfortable feeling as if he were partly responsible for the blood of the murdered girl. The criminal soon afterwards committed suicide, and so finished the affair.


I turn now to the literary work which filled every available interstice of time. In the summer of 1862 Fitzjames published 'Essays by a Barrister' (reprinted from the 'Saturday Review'). The essays had appeared in that paper between the end of 1858 and the beginning of 1861. From February 9, 1861, to February 28, 1863, he did not write in the 'Saturday Review.' A secession had taken place, the causes of which I do not precisely know. I believe that the editor wished to put restrictions, which some of his contributors, including Fitzjames, resented, upon the services to be rendered by them to other periodicals. The breach was eventually closed without leaving any ill-feeling behind it. Fitzjames at first felt the relief of not having to write, and resolved to devote himself more exclusively to his profession. But before long he was as hard at work as ever. During 1862 he wrote a good many articles for the 'London Review,' which was started as a rival of the 'Saturday Review.' He found a more permanent outlet for his literary energies in the 'Cornhill Magazine.' It was started by Messrs. Smith & Elder at the beginning of 1860 with Thackeray for editor; and, together with 'Macmillan's Magazine'—its senior by a month—marked a new development of periodical literature. Fitzjames contributed a couple of articles at the end of 1860; and during 1861, 1862, and 1863, wrote eight or nine in a year. These articles (which were never reprinted) continue the vein opened in the 'Essays by a Barrister.' His connection with the 'Magazine' led to very friendly relations with Thackeray, to whose daughters he afterwards came to hold the relation of an affectionate brother. It also led to a connection with Mr. George Smith, of Smith, Elder & Co., which was to be soon of much importance.

The articles represented the development of the 'middles,' which he considered to be the speciality of himself and his friend Sandars. The middle, originally an article upon some not strictly political topic, had grown in their hands into a kind of lay sermon. For such literature the British public has shown a considerable avidity ever since the days of Addison. In spite of occasional disavowals, it really loves a sermon, and is glad to hear preachers who are not bound by the proprieties of the religious pulpit. Some essayists, like Johnson, have been as solemn as the true clerical performer, and some have diverged into the humorous with Charles Lamb, or the cynical with Hazlitt. At this period the most popular of the lay preachers was probably Sir Arthur Helps, who provided the kind of material—genuine thought set forth with real literary skill and combined with much popular sentiment—which served to convince his readers that they were intelligent and amiable people. The 'Saturday reviewers,' in their quality of 'cynics,' could not go so far in the direction of the popular taste; and their bent was rather to expose than to endorse some of the commonplaces which are dear to the intelligent reader. Probably it was a sense of this peculiarity which made Fitzjames remark when his book appeared that he would bet that it would never reach a second edition. He would, I am sorry to say, have won his bet; and yet I know that the 'Essays by a Barrister,' though never widely circulated, have been highly valued by a small circle of readers. The explanation of their fate is not, I think, hard to give. They have, I think, really great merits. They contain more real thought than most books of the kind; they are often very forcibly expressed; and they unmistakably reflect very genuine and very strong convictions. Unluckily, they maintain just the kind of views which the congregation most easily gathered round such a pulpit is very much inclined to regard with suspicion or with actual dislike.

An essay, for example, upon 'doing good' is in fact a recast of the paper which decided his choice of a profession. It is intended to show that philanthropists of the Exeter Hall variety are apt to claim a monopoly of 'doing good' which does not belong to them, and are inclined to be conceited in consequence. The ordinary pursuits are equally necessary and useful. The stockbroker and the publican are doing good in the sense of being 'useful' as much as the most zealous 'clergyman or sister of mercy.' Medicine does good, but the butcher and the baker are still more necessary than the doctor. We could get on without schools or hospitals, but not without the loom and the plough. The philanthropist, therefore, must not despise the man who does a duty even more essential than those generally called benevolent, though making less demand on the 'kindly and gentle parts of our nature.' A man should choose his post according to his character. It is not a duty to have warm feelings, though it may be a misfortune not to have them; and a 'cold, stern man' who should try to warm up his feelings would either be cruelly mortified or become an intolerable hypocrite. It is a gross injustice to such a man, who does his duty in the station fittest to his powers, when he is called by implication selfish and indifferent to the public good. 'The injustice, however, is one which does little harm to those who suffer under it, for they are a thick-skinned and long-enduring generation, whose comfort is not much affected one way or the other by the opinion of others.'

This, like Fitzjames's other bits of self-portraiture, is not to be accepted too literally. So taken, it confounds, I think, coldness and harshness with a very different quality, a want of quick and versatile sympathy, and 'thickness of skin' with the pride which would not admit, even to itself, any tendency to over-sensibility. But it represents more or less the tone which came naturally to him, and explains the want of corresponding acceptability to his readers. He denounces the quality for which 'geniality' had become the accepted nickname. The geniality, whether of Dickens or Kingsley, was often, he thought, disgusting and offensive. It gives a false view of life. 'Enjoyment forms a small and unimportant element in the life of most men.' Life, he thinks, is 'satisfactory' but 'enjoyment casual and transitory.' 'Geniality,' therefore, should be only an occasional element; habitually indulged and artificially introduced, it becomes as nauseous as sweetmeats mixed with bread and cheese. To the more serious person, much of the popular literature of the day suggests Solomon's words: 'I said of laughter, it is mad; and of mirth what doeth it?' So the talk of progress seems to him to express the ideal of a moral 'lubberland.' Six thousand years of trial and suffering, according to these prophets, are to result in a 'perpetual succession of comfortable shopkeepers.' The supposition is 'so revolting to the moral sense that it would be difficult to reconcile it with any belief at all in a Divine Providence.' You are beginning, he declares after Carlyle's account of Robespierre, 'to be a bore with your nineteenth century.' Our life, he says elsewhere ('Christian Optimism'), is like 'standing on a narrow strip of shore, waiting till the tide which has washed away hundreds of millions of our fellows shall wash us away also into a country of which there are no charts and from which there is no return. What little we have reason to believe about that unseen world is that it exists, that it contains extremes of good and evil, awful and mysterious beyond human conception, and that these tremendous possibilities are connected with our conduct here. It is surely wiser and more manly to walk silently by the shore of that silent sea, than to boast with puerile exultation over the little sand castles which we have employed our short leisure in building up. Life can never be matter of exultation, nor can the progress of arts and sciences ever fill the heart of a man who has a heart to be filled.' The value of all human labours is that of schoolboys' lessons, 'worth nothing at all except as a task and a discipline.' Life and death are greater and older than steam engines and cotton mills. 'Why mankind was created at all, why we continue to exist, what has become of all that vast multitude which has passed, with more or less sin and misery, through this mysterious earth, and what will become of those vaster multitudes which are treading and will tread the same wonderful path?—these are the great insoluble problems which ought to be seldom mentioned but never forgotten. Strange as it may appear to popular lecturers, they do make it seem rather unimportant whether, on an average, there is a little more or less good nature, a little more or less comfort, and a little more or less knowledge in the world.' Such thoughts were indeed often with him, though seldom uttered. The death of a commonplace barrister about this time makes him remark in a letter that the sudden contact with the end of one's journey is not unwelcome. The thought that the man went straight from the George IV. Hotel to 'a world of ineffable mysteries is one of the strangest that can be conceived.'

I have quoted enough from the essays to indicate the most characteristic vein of thought. They might have been more popular had he either sympathised more fully with popular sentiment or given fuller and more frequent expression to his antipathy. But, it is only at times that he cares to lay bare his strongest convictions; and the ordinary reader finds himself in company with a stern, proud man who obviously thinks him foolish but scarcely worth denouncing for his folly. Sturdy common sense combined with a proud reserve which only yields at rare intervals, and then, as it were, under protest, to the expression of deeper feeling, does not give the popular tone. Some of the 'Cornhill' articles were well received, especially the first, upon 'Luxury' (September 1860), which is not, as such a title would now suggest, concerned with socialism, but is another variation upon the theme of the pettiness of modern ideals and the effeminate idolatry of the comfortable.

These articles deal with many other topics: with the legal questions in which he is always interested, such as 'the morality of advocacy' and with the theory of evidence, with various popular commonplaces about moral and social problems, with the 'spirit-rapping' then popular, with various speculations about history, and with some of the books in which he was always interested. One is the 'laudation' of Macaulay which I have noticed, and he criticises Carlyle and speaks with warm respect of Hallam. Here and there, too, are certain philosophical speculations, of which I need only say that they show his thorough adherence to the principles of Mill's 'Logic' He is always on the look-out for the 'intuitionist' or the believer in 'innate ideas,' the bugbears of the Mill school. In an article upon Mansel's 'Metaphysics' he endeavours to show that even the 'necessary truths' of mathematics are mere statements of uniform experience, which may differ in another world. This argument was adopted by Mill in his 'examination of Sir W. Hamilton's philosophy.'[80] I cannot say that I think it a fortunate suggestion; and I only notice it as an indication of Fitzjames's intellectual position.

The 'Cornhill' articles had to be written under the moral code proper to a popular magazine, the first commandment of which is 'Thou shalt not shock a young lady.' Fitzjames felt this rather uncomfortably, and he was not altogether displeased, as he clearly had no right to be surprised, when Mr. George Smith, the proprietor of the magazine, suggested to him in December 1862 the superior merits of 'light and amusing' articles, which, says Fitzjames, are 'just those which give me most trouble and teach me least.' They are 'wretched' things to occupy a man of 'any sort of mind.' Mr. Smith, as he says a year afterwards, is the 'kindest and most liberal of masters,' but he feels the drudgery of such work. Reading Bossuet (February 28, 1864), he observes that the works are so 'powerful and magnificent in their way' that they make me feel a sort of hatred for 'the trumpery that I pass my time in manufacturing.' It makes him 'sad to read great books, and it is almost equally sad not to read them.' He feels 'tied by the leg' and longs to write something worth writing; he believes that he might do more by a better economy of his time; but 'it is hopeless to try to write eight hours a day.' He feels, too (July 21, 1864), that the great bulk of a barrister's work is 'poor stuff.' It is a 'good vigorous trade' which braces 'the moral and intellectual muscles' but he wishes for more. No doubt he was tired, for he records for once enjoying a day of thorough idleness a month later, lying on the grass at a cricket match, and talking of prize-fighting. He is much impressed soon afterwards by a sermon on the text, 'I will give you rest'; but his spirits are rapidly reviving.

In March 1865 be says, 'I cannot tell you how happy and prosperous I feel on the whole.... I have never felt so well occupied and so thoroughly fearless and happy on circuit before.' This was partly due to improvement in other respects. Circuits were improving. He had given up the 'Cornhill,' and was finding an outlet in 'Fraser' for much that had been filling his mind. Other prospects were opening of which I shall soon have to speak.


I go back to another book which was closely connected with his professional prospects and his intellectual interests. His 'Defence of Dr. Rowland Williams' appeared in the spring of 1862, and represented some very energetic and to him intensely interesting work. Certain clergymen of the Church of England had discovered—what had been known to other people for several generations—that there were mistakes in the Bible. They inferred that it was desirable to open their minds to free criticism, and that the Bible, as Jowett said, should be read 'like any other book.' The result was the publication in 1860 of 'Essays and Reviews,' which after a time created a turmoil which seems a little astonishing to the present generation. Orthodox divines have, indeed, adopted many of the conclusions which startled their predecessors, though it remains to be seen what will be the results of the new wine in the old bottles. The orthodoxy of 1860, at any rate, was scandalised, and tried, as usual, to expel the obnoxious element from the Church. The trial of Dr. Rowland Williams in the Arches Court of Canterbury in December 1861 was one result of the agitation, and Fitzjames appeared as his counsel. He had long been familiar with the writings of the school which was being assailed. In 1855 he is reading Jowett's 'Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans,' and calls it a 'kind, gentle Christian book'—far more orthodox than he can himself pretend to be. Characteristically he is puzzled and made 'unhappy' by finding that a good and honest man claims and 'actually seems to possess a knowledge of the relations between God and man,' on the strength of certain sensibilities which place a gulf between him and his neighbours. He probably met Jowett in some of his visits to Henry Smith at Oxford. At the end of 1861 and afterwards he speaks of meetings with Jowett and Stanley, for both of whom he expresses a very warm regard.

During the latter part of 1861 he was hard at work upon the preparation of his speech on behalf of Dr. Williams, which was published soon after the trial. Without dwelling at any length upon the particular points involved, I may say that the main issue was very simple. The principal charge against Dr. Williams was that he had denied the inspiration of the Bible in the sense in which 'inspiration' was understood by his prosecutors. He had in particular denied that Jonah and Daniel were the authors of the books which pass under their names, and he had disputed the canonicity of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Fitzjames lays down as his first principle that the question is purely legal; that is, that it is a question, not whether Dr. Williams's doctrines were true, but whether they were such as were forbidden by law to be uttered by a clergyman. Secondly, the law was to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles, the rubrics, and formularies, not, as the prosecutors alleged, in passages from Scripture read in the services—a proposition which would introduce the whole problem of truth or error. Thirdly, he urged, the Articles had designedly left it open to clergymen to hold that the Bible 'contains' but does not 'constitute' the revelation which must no doubt be regarded as divine. In this respect the Articles are contrasted with the Westminster Confession, which affirms explicitly the absolute and ultimate authority of the Bible. No one on that assumption may go behind the sacred record; and no question can be raised as to the validity of anything once admitted to form part of the sacred volume. The Anglican clergy, on the contrary, are at liberty to apply criticism freely in order to discriminate between that part of the Bible which is and that which is not part of divine revelation. Finally, a long series of authorities from Hooker to Bishop Hampden is adduced to prove that, in point of fact, our most learned divines had constantly taken advantage of this liberty; and established, so to speak, a right of way to all the results of criticism. Of course, as Fitzjames points out, the enormous increase of knowledge, critical and scientific, had led to very different results in the later period. But he argues that the principle was identical, and that it was therefore impossible to draw any line which should condemn Dr. Williams for rejecting whole books, or denying the existence of almost any genuine predictions in the Hebrew prophecies without condemning the more trifling concessions of the same kind made by Hooker or Chillingworth. If I may remove one stone from the building, am I not at liberty to remove any stone which proves to be superfluous? The argument, though forcible and learned, was not in the first instance quite successful. Dr. Williams was convicted upon two counts; though he afterwards (1864) succeeded in obtaining an acquittal upon them also on an appeal to the committee of the Privy Council. Lord Westbury gave judgment, and, as was said, deprived the clergy of the Church of England of their 'last hopes of eternal damnation.' On the last occasion Dr. Williams defended himself.

The case increased Fitzjames's general reputation and led to his being consulted in some similar cases, though it brought little immediate result in the shape of briefs. For my purpose the most important result is the indication afforded of his own religious position. He argues the question as a matter of law; but not in the sense of reducing it to a set of legal quibbles or technical subtleties. The prosecutors have appealed to the law, and to the law they must go; but the law secures to his client the liberty of uttering his conscientious convictions. Dr. Williams, he says, 'would rather lose his living as an honest man than retain it by sneaking out of his opinions like a knave and a liar.'[81] He will therefore take a bold course and lay down broad principles. He will not find subterfuges and loopholes of escape; but admit at once that his client has said things startling to the ignorant, but that he has said them because he had a right to say them. The main right is briefly the right to criticise the Bible freely. Fitzjames admits that he has to run the risk of apparently disparaging that 'most holy volume, which from his earliest infancy he has been taught to revere as the choicest gift of God to man, as the guide of his conduct here, the foundation of his hopes hereafter.'[82] He declares that the articles were framed with the confidence which has been 'justified by the experience of three centuries,' and will, he hopes, be justified 'so long as it pleases God to continue the existence of the human race,' that the Scripture stands upon a foundation irremovable by any efforts of criticism or interpretation.[83] The principle which he defends, (that the Bible contains, but does not constitute revelation) is that upon which the divines of the eighteenth century based their 'triumphant defence of Christianity against the deists' of the period. I am certain that Fitzjames, though speaking as an advocate, was also uttering his own convictions in these words which at a later period he would have been quite unable to adopt. I happened at the time to have a personal interest in the subject, and I remember putting to him a question to this effect: Your legal argument may be triumphant; but how about the moral argument? A clergyman may have a right to express certain opinions; but can you hold that a clergyman who holds those opinions, and holds also what they necessarily imply, can continue, as an honest man, to discharge his functions? As often happens, I remember my share in our talk much more clearly than I remember his; but he was, I know, startled, and, as I fancied, had scarcely contemplated the very obvious application of his principles. I have now seen, however, a very full and confidential answer given about the same time to a friend who had consulted him upon the same topic. As I have always found, his most confidential utterances are identical in substance with all that he said publicly, although they go into more personal applications.[84] The main purpose of this paper is to convince a lady that she may rightfully believe in the doctrines of the Church of England, although she does not feel herself able to go into the various metaphysical and critical problems involved. The argument shows the way in which his religious beliefs were combined with his Benthamism. He proves, for example, that we should believe the truth by the argument that true belief is 'useful.' Conversely the utility of a belief is a presumption that it contains much truth. Hence the prolonged existence of a Church and its admitted utility afford a presumption that its doctrines are true as the success of a political constitution is a reason for believing the theory upon which it is built. This is enough to justify the unlearned for accepting the creed of the Church to which they belong, just as they have to accept the opinions of a lawyer or of a physician in matters of health and business. They must not, indeed, accept what shocks their consciences, nor allow 'an intelligible absurdity' to be passed off as a 'sacred mystery.' The popular doctrines of hell and of the atonement come under this head; but he still refers to Coleridge for an account of such doctrines, which appears to him 'quite satisfactory.' The Church of England, however, lays so little stress upon points of dogmatic theology that its yoke will be tolerable. Combined with this argument is a very strong profession of his own belief. The belief in a moral governor of the universe seems to him as ennobling as all other beliefs 'put together,' and 'more precious.' Although the difficulty suggested by the prevalence of evil is 'inimical to all levity,' yet he thinks that it would be 'unreasonable and degrading' not to hold the doctrine itself. And, finally, he declares that he accepts two doctrines of 'unspeakable importance.' He prays frequently, and at times fervently, though not for specific objects, and believes that his prayers are answered. And further, he is convinced of a 'superintending Providence' which has throughout affected his life. No argument that he has ever read or heard has weighed with him a quarter as much as his own personal experience in this matter.

The paper, written with the most evident sincerity, speaks so strongly of beliefs which he rarely avowed in public that I feel it almost wrong to draw aside his habitual veil of reticence. I do so, though briefly, because some of his friends who remember his early orthodoxy were surprised by the contrast of what they call his aggressive unbelief in later life. It is therefore necessary to show that at this period he had some strong positive convictions, which indeed, though changed in later years, continued to influence his mind. He was also persuaded that the Church of England, guarded by the decisions of lawyers, could be kept sufficiently open to admit the gradual infusion of rational belief. I must further remark that his belief, whatever may be thought of it, represented so powerful a sentiment that I must dwell for a little upon its general characteristics. For this reason I will speak here of the series of articles in 'Fraser' to which I have already referred. During the next few years, 1864 to 1869, he wrote several, especially in 1864-5, which he apparently intended to collect. The most significant of these is an article upon Newman's 'Apologia,' which appeared in September 1864.

Fitzjames had some personal acquaintance with Newman. He had been taken to the Oratory, I believe by his friend Grant Duff; and had of course been impressed by Newman's personal charm. Fitzjames, however, was not the man to be awed by any reputation into reticence. He had a right to ask for a serious answer to serious questions. Newman represented claims which he absolutely rejected, but which he desired fully to understand. He had on one occasion a conversation which he frequently mentioned in later years. The substance, as I gather from one of his letters, was to this effect: 'You say,' said Fitzjames, 'that it is my duty to treat you and your Church as the agents and mouthpiece of Almighty God?' 'Yes.' 'Then give me anything like a reasonable ground for believing that you are what you claim to be.' Newman appears to have replied in substance that he could not argue with a man who differed so completely upon first principles. Fitzjames took this as practically amounting to the admission that Newman had 'nothing to say to anyone who did not go three-fourths of the way to meet him.' 'I said at last,' he proceeds, '"If Jesus Christ were here, could He say no more than you do?" "I suppose you to mean that if He could, I ought to be able to give you what you ask?" "Certainly, for you profess to be His authorised agent, and call upon me to believe you on that ground. Prove it!" All he could say was, "I cannot work miracles," to which I replied, "I did not ask for miracles but for proofs." He had absolutely nothing to say.'

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