Australia and the Empire/Sir Henry Parkes in England
SIR HENRY PARKES IN ENGLAND.
If, as I venture to think, an Imperial lesson may be learned from the Colonial public career of Lord Sherbrooke, so too may we perhaps learn something from the "impressions of England" formed during a prolonged visit by the present Prime Minister of New South Wales.
It is always good "to see ourselves as others see us"; but this is especially the case, it seems to me, with the members of so vast and so widely divided an Empire as ours.
There was never a time when a certain class of successful colonist did not come "Home"—as he fondly calls the mother-country—to fashionably flicker out his latter days. "A good deal of London flesh," once said Sir Archibald Michie, "is Australian grass." But a very different type of colonist, especially within the last few years, has been in the habit of coming to England, as a bird of passage merely, always regarding his particular Colony as his real "home." The recent Colonial Exhibition at South Kensington brought a good number of such visitors to England. Still more important from a political point of view was the subsequent assembling of the Colonial Conference under Sir Henry Holland, now Lord Knutsford. Then we had in London a number of prominent Colonial public men, each of whom regarded his individual colony as his true sphere of public labour, and none of whom desired to be merged in the ordinary ruck of the purely British population. From an Imperial point of view, the opinions that these men brought to Downing Street, and still more those that they carried back from that arcanum, must be regarded as of the very first importance. Still, after mature consideration, I have chosen rather to take my sketch of the "Australian in England" from a period sufficiently remote to give the effect of perspective.
Over a quarter of a century ago a pair of very remarkable Australian colonists visited England in the capacity of Emigration Commissioners. Had they been ordinary individuals they would doubtless have been styled Emigration agents, but they were prominent politicians; and prominent politicians, even in the most democratic communities, are wont to bestow upon themselves high-sounding titles, just as in England they raise one another to the Peerage. These two gentlemen were Mr.—now Sir—Henry Parkes, G.C.M.G., the present veteran Prime Minister of New South Wales, and the late Right Hon. William Bede Dalley—then plain Mr. Dalley, but who was to become the first Australian Member of the Privy Council—an unique distinction bestowed upon him for sending a Colonial contingent to the support of the British troops in the Soudan.
During the visit of Mr. Parkes and Mr. Dalley to England, from the autumn of 1861 to the summer of 1862, the former, it seems, contributed a slender series of monthly letters to the columns of the Sydney Morning Herald, Quite apart from any mere literary merit, these letters have a distinct sociological value as a record of the fresh impressions made on the mind of a colonial politician of exceptional ability, on his return, after an absence of twenty years, to his native land. It is perhaps due to the English reader that a few preliminary remarks should be made concerning the personality of their Australian visitor and critic. I believe that Sir Henry Parkes is one of that small band of public men at the Antipodes who would have made not merely an evanescent mark in the House of Commons, but who, in time of trial or at a national crisis, might have left a name in the history of his country. I would here remark that Mr. Froude's brilliantly written and otherwise deservedly popular Oceana, to my mind, conveys a very false impression as to the worth and relative importance of Colonial public men. Mr. Froude professes to write merely of the men with whom he actually came in contact, and as he was only some six weeks all told on the vast Island-Continent, he seems to have decided, not without wisdom, to glean his information from the Viceroys, and the one or two chief politicians in office. Mr. Dalley, who at this time was in the throes of sending the Soudan contingent, naturally appeared a much more important figure to Mr. Froude than Sir Henry Parkes, who was in the cold shade of unpopular opposition. Similarly in Victoria, Mr. Froude has much to say about the mere passing politicians of the hour, but did not, I believe, meet such a quite exceptional public man as the Hon. George Higinbotham, the present Chief-Justice, who is about the last person in the world to offer himself as a subject even to the most celebrated of literary limners. To revert to Sir Henry Parkes, who, I must say, does not receive justice at the hands of Mr. Froude, I repeat that he is, and has been for many years, the most remarkable public figure in New South Wales.
Born over seventy years ago, of humble parents, under the shadow of Stoneleigh Abbey, Sir Henry Parkes received the rudiments of his education at the village school in the beautiful county of Shakespeare and George Eliot. Like almost all those adventurous spirits who have left their mark in the annals of Australia, he migrated thither in his early manhood. His long public career in New South Wales has been one of ceaseless strife and frequent vicissitude, and it is no secret that as in the case of greater statesmen he has shown himself more capable of controlling the affairs of the community than of managing his own. Quickly emerging from obscurity in the then rising city of Sydney, Parkes proved his strength when there were at least two giants in the land—Robert Lowe, then in the early vigour of his splendid intellect, with fame and fortune to achieve, and William Charles Wentworth, whose genius was quite as commanding, and perhaps more statesmanlike. After the return of Lowe to England and the retirement of Wentworth, it was inevitable that a man with the political instincts and combative attributes of Parkes should quickly come to the fore under the free constitution which Wentworth had devised for the colony.
Standing well over six feet in height, with his large leonine head, and huge shaggy locks now whitened by half a century of strenuous public life. Sir Henry Parkes presents a striking and commanding figure. Far from the fashion-plate type, either in face or form, this Australian, even when seen in the most aristocratic of London drawing-rooms, commands the glances of admiration; for his appearance is neither commonplace nor conventional, and in his manner there is no vestige of vulgarity. The man's mind too, distorted as it has often shown itself by the born politician's insatiable love of power and popularity, is in many respects large and even catholic in its aims and predilections. I have only to add that Sir Henry Parkes has been three times Prime Minister of New South Wales, and that now, in his seventy-fourth year, he again grasps in his capable hands the helm of public affairs in that great dependency.
Let us turn now to the old files of the Sydney newspaper, and see what picture this even then distinguished Australian formed of the England of twenty-five years ago, when Lord Palmerston, in his eightieth year, was jauntily governing the country, with Mr. Gladstone as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Disraeli as leader of the Opposition; when the Prince Consort's sudden death left the Queen a bereaved woman, and removed from the conduct of England's complex affairs a most clear, searching, and unbiassed intellect; when the grand vitality of Lord Brougham was fast flickering out like a spent flame, while Bright and Cobden were in the zenith of their political activity; when Carlyle and Tennyson were on the rising tide of literary pre-eminence—and when our kinsmen of America were rent asunder by the most Titanic Civil War in the annals of mankind.
The English reader will be good enough to bear in mind that the mission of Messrs. Parkes and Dalley to England in 1861-62 was to induce emigrants to select Australia as their future home. Sir Henry's series of letters open with a suggestive reference to the re-awakened antagonism throughout England to democratic institutions, which he regards as a result of the American Civil War.
"The civil discord in America," he observes, "to an extent unjust to the Americans, has repelled and partly terrified the public mind; and anything that was felt to savour of American democracy, would, I verily believe, be ill-received in any great gathering of the people. The other day I heard a popular lecturer, Mr. George Dawson, discoursing to an audience of at least a thousand persons on the American troubles, and he indulged in some sharp ridicule of universal suffrage, which was received with loud cheers and merriment. The same indifference to what would have elicited a tempest of cheering from any meeting a few years ago, was manifested a night or two back at a great meeting assembled to hear an address from one of your Colonial Commissioners, Mr. Parkes."
"I suppose," he continues, with the charming insouciance of newspaper anonymity, "Mr. Parkes considered it part of his duty to describe the political institutions of the colony, and though his address was well received and frequently applauded, when he explained that the Legislative Assembly was elected by manhood suffrage and the ballot, not a single cheer was heard. Mr. Parkes was addressing at least 5000 people, chiefly Birmingham artisans, who, twenty-two years ago, waged civil war for the five points of the People's Charter."
Such an experience was well calculated to make the Australian orator, who has always been a Liberal of what Mr. Chamberlain would call "the older and the nobler type," pause and ruminate as to whether there was a widespread Conservative reaction in England. He noted with a politician's eye the currents and variations of public opinion. He observed, for instance, notwithstanding the matchless platform oratory of John Bright, that he received "no such ovation as Russell, Palmerston, Carlisle, Stanley, Lytton, Pakington, who seemed the ascendant stars." Cobden he heard bitterly reviled at a table-d'hôte, and no indignant voice raised in his defence.
"To my mind," remarks the sturdy Australian, "there is something of glaring injustice towards the men who have sprung from the people's own ranks, and of degrading fickleness of opinion in the people themselves in this apparent mistrust and neglect of their old friends." He tries to console himself with the somewhat bitter reflection that "it is not conservative reaction in the old party sense of the term, but the action of a shopocratic conservatism of modern growth, combined with a sprinkling of flunkeyism and a larger leaven of political infidelity." The writer explains that by this last phrase he means that the intelligent English artisans had come to see that "political agitation very inadequately supplies the daily wants of a family, and ministers but little to the enjoyment of life."
But over and above all these reasons for this strange condition of English public opinion, the Australian shrewdly detected the rooted dislike of Republican America, heightened into hysteria by the spectacle of the terrible internecine conflict. It is certainly a singular illustration of the law of reflex action that, owing to the American Civil War, the two Australian Emigration Commissioners should have been so completely baffled in England. The most influential English journals pointed to the struggle across the Atlantic as the inevitable outcome of a state of things where one man was, at least in theory, as good as another. What America to-day is, argued these wiseacres, Australia will become to-morrow.
Clearly, this pair of Commissioners from a far-off democratic colony had come to England—"Home," as they affectionately termed it—at a very untoward time. Famine stalked abroad in the land, yet the people turned a deaf ear to the eloquent pair who would fain have charmed them away to the antipodean land of plenty. But the Emigration Commissioners though baffled were not beaten, and the readers of the Sydney journal were assured, by its energetic correspondent, that Mr. Dalley, all undaunted, was "agitating the home counties"; while "Mr. Parkes was moving about in the manufacturing districts."
Perhaps History presents no other record of a mission, undertaken by men of such peculiar fitness for it, that ever failed so utterly. It has been asserted, probably with some slight exaggeration, that Messrs. Parkes and Dalley did not induce a single English family to emigrate to Australia. A friend of Mr. Dalley used to repeat a story which that admirable raconteur was fond of relating on his return to Sydney. He had been dining at a pleasant parsonage in Kent—for though of an alien faith, the brilliant Australian-Irishman was partial to the society of that all but extinct type of English cleric who knew his Aristophanes better than his Chrysostom, and who was in reality the clean and decorous Anglican analogue of that historic clerical worldling, the "French Abbé" of the last century. The evening wore merrily on without so much as an allusion to the great emigration question. Suddenly, prompted by a sense of duty, or perhaps by a vision of his colleague's greater success as a fisher of men in the crowded streets of Birmingham and Manchester, Mr. Dalley said:—
"Cannot you help me in selecting some really deserving fellows in your parish who would be likely to make good colonists?"
The jovial parson paused, to give the subject thought, toying lightly with his glass of port.
"I know no one," said he, after a while, "except old Briggs; he is getting on in years, and is very asthmatic, and too fond of malt liquor. I think, perhaps, we could spare him."
After this Mr. Dalley gave over haunting parsonages as a means of finding "hardy pioneers to people the waste places of his great colony.
Reverting to Sir Henry Parkes' letters, there seems to me a real historic interest in his conviction that his want of success was the result of the American Civil War. Sir Henry himself held very strong opinions concerning that awful fratricidal quarrel. He took his stand beside John Bright, who, on the question of the dismemberment of the United States, as on that of the separation of Great Britain and Ireland, may be regarded as the true representative of the English-speaking world. Hardly a letter that Sir Henry sent off to Sydney but was filled with expressions of profound sympathy for the North. As we know there was a very large number of high-minded and intelligent Englishmen whose sympathies were just as strong on the other side; the late Mr. A. Beresford Hope, for instance. We know that after his own country and his Church, the warmest sympathies of that generous, high-minded English gentleman were given to the Southerners, who, in his eyes, were the Transatlantic Cavaliers fighting for their rights against the aggressive, narrow-minded, shop-keeping Puritans of New England. Sir Henry Parkes, however, like the rest of us who are at all in earnest, could only see his own side of the question. But his letters throw a vivid sidelight on public opinion in England a quarter of a century ago, which, I think, is not without interest to Englishmen, Americans, and Australians of to-day.
"It is curious to note," he writes, "the ill-informed and ill-natured remarks on the Civil War in America which are made among the trading classes. If you meet with a manufacturer or a travelling factor in a hotel or railway carriage, he is sure to amuse you with some clumsy and ignorant attempt to ridicule the Americans, and it always turns out that their greatest blunder and greatest crime consists in not sending their cotton to England and in not taking England's manufactures. Until of late I had lived under the impression that the Americans had a deal to answer for in cherishing a bad feeling towards England, which was entirely unjustified by the disposition of the English people towards them; but a worse spirit than anything I have ever read of in America is constantly displaying itself among the factory squires and shopocrats of England, while the sympathies of the aristocracy are undisguisedly offered to the rebellious Southerners. And it is remarkable how little original thought appears to be expended on this fratricidal war. Liberal journalists and popular lecturers repeat each other without end; but no one thinks it worth his while to investigate the causes of the quarrel with earnestness, and place the whole case before the public in the light which the history of the last five-and-twenty years might throw upon it."
Looking at the faded old colonial newspaper on which these words appear, how vividly one realises that there was something more than mere empty compliment in the felicitous phrases of the Mayor of New York, who, in congratulating the Queen on her Jubilee, recalled the fact that it was largely through the personal influence of herself and the Prince Consort that England had not thrown herself into this great struggle on the side of the South. One must also pay a tribute to the masculine common-sense of Sir Henry Parkes, who not only declined to go with the stream, but did not suffer his judgment to be distorted by the two Englishmen, for whom, in literature and politics, he then felt supreme admiration—I allude to Thomas Carlyle and Mr. Gladstone. As we all know, the dire catastrophe of a war between Great Britain and America was almost precipitated by the seizure of Slidell and Mason by the United States frigate San Jacinto from off the British ship Trent. Sir Henry Parkes' letter, dated December 24th, 1861, was written just as this startling news was brought to Southampton. In the same budget he bewails the death of the Prince Consort, and in plain words, not devoid of pathos, depicts the effect of these tidings on the people of England.
"This will be a solemn Christmas Eve in England. Thousands of artisan families will meet it with the bitter prospect of want and starvation blanching their cheeks, and very many of their employers will hardly be able to turn their gaze from the brink of ruin on which they stand to the objects of grief and apprehension which weigh down the public mind. Breaking through the commercial gloom, every hour and from every quarter, have come of late the discordant notes of warlike preparation, and the heavy tolling of the bell of death. Never, perhaps, was the nation in a more sorrowful mood, and never had it deeper cause for sorrow. Let us reason as we will, we cannot free ourselves from the painful consciousness that we are about to plunge into a fratricidal war—about to vindicate our honour in the shadow of the blood-red banners of slavery. Bold and boastful as is the language of the London Press, it is easy to see that there is a tremor in the writer's hand. Every second morning a tone of misgiving seems to soften the reckless bravery of the Times. It will not do; people cannot satisfy their consciences, though goaded on by the sense of insult, that it is a high Christian thing to burden the nation with debt, and to spill the nation's blood on the wrong side of the American civil broils. At first the sense of wrong sent every man's hand to the sword-hilt. But the hard logic of consequences has tempered men's minds wonderfully during the last three weeks. Those who are little affected by feelings of brotherhood, or sympathy with freedom, see reason to pause in the loss of trade and the increase of taxation, and I doubt much whether if war be declared it will long remain a popular war."
This letter, we must bear in mind, was being penned at the time when the British Cabinet were hastily summoned to consider the affair of the Trent. The writer was fully aware that a Privy Council, attended by the Queen, was held at Windsor three days after the news of the seizure of Slidell and Mason had reached England, and that, on the same day, a Queen's Messenger left London with a despatch for Lord Lyons. Above all, he was not likely to forget that Lord Palmerston was the Prime Minister. To the eyes of the Australian, indeed, war seemed imminent. He weighed the pros and cons with a judicial hand. But on the whole he evidently came to the conclusion that the war party would carry the day, unless the two men, taken from the deck of a British ship, were given up to the British Ambassador. The whole affair, as we know, passed away like a summer cloud; the two Southerners were surrendered by the American Government to Lord Lyons, and duly resumed, on board the war-ship Rinaldo, their voyage to England, where their mission ended in failure. But the words of Sir Henry Parkes must have made a profound impression in Sydney a quarter of a century ago; for, be it remembered, this was before the era of the submarine cable, and the anxious colonists had to wait a month, sitting as it were in outer darkness, between each flash of intelligence, knowing not what fate was in store either for the mother country or themselves.
On that "solemn Christmas Eve" Sir Henry did not close his budget without giving his fellow-colonists a timely warning. In emphatic words he pointed out that the British statesmen and journalists, who were so loudly clamouring for war with America, took no heed whatever of the defenceless condition of the Australian colonies. He could only charitably think that the sudden appearance of Yankee armed cruisers in the waters of Port Jackson and Hobson's Bay had never even been dreamt of by these bellicose Englishmen; but he added:
"You may depend upon it that if England and America plunge into a great naval war, American privateering will exceed anything of the kind known of other countries in former times. There are thousands of men who sail under the stars and stripes who possess the adventurous spirit and desperate courage which fit the privateer for his peculiar kind of aggressive operations in a naval war. You had better lose no time in preparing for your defence. Do not lull yourselves into a false sense of security by depending too much upon the naval superiority of England. … Sydney and the surrounding district ought to muster five thousand volunteers."
In the same letter Sir Henry records, not without pathos, the death of Prince Albert. All that he says concerning the bereaved Queen and her departed consort is in excellent taste, but I prefer to present his stray comments on the men and events that fell more directly under his own searching eyes. In a letter dated February 28, 1862, he gives a full account of the opening of Parliament, and makes some interesting remarks on the great and little parliamentarians of the day. His description of Disraeli's speech, considering the writer's pronounced Liberal proclivities, is certainly conceived in a generous spirit. After disposing of its earlier portion, with the dubious compliment that "no man could have contrived to say nothing with more adroitness or more show of profundity," he pays this high tribute to its closing eloquence:—
"With faltering voice he passed on to the great sorrow of the nation, and as he took up his new subject the true orator appeared. His voice scarcely rose above a mournful whisper—so tremulous with feeling and yet so clear—and his words were of the simplest and fittest as he spoke of the true worth of the departed Prince, and of the immeasurable greatness of the nation's loss. Every breath communicated its pathetic tones to every heart among his listeners as he recounted the many virtues that survived to perpetuate the memory of the dead; and when he had concluded with a soul-touching allusion to the grief of the Queen, one felt that the strain of eloquence which had just ceased was of that order which could never be given to others in written words."
Of Lord Palmerston's speech in reply to Mr. Disraeli, the Australian parliamentarian is somewhat contemptuous. "Your Mr. Cowper," he observes, with an adroit hit at a very capable rival Sydney politician, "might have said all that the Prime Minister of England said, and said it with quite as much oratorical effect. But there was this difference between Lord Palmerston's commonplaces and Mr. Cowper's: the old English Minister knew exactly the limits within which he must confine himself, and seemed perfectly to know the temper of his audience and the state of feeling outside."
The minor lights that attempted to shine that evening, notably Sir Robert Peel (Sir Robert fils, of course), struck him as beneath contempt.
On a subsequent evening he attended the House of Commons in order to hear a debate of special interest to himself and his colonial readers. It was the debate raised by Mr. Arthur Mills, then member for Taunton, on the question of Colonial defences. At this time Professor Goldwin Smith was raising the great controversy as to the mutual benefits that would flow from England's recognising the complete independence of her self-governing colonies. The discussion in Parliament was devoted to the minor point of the advisability of withdrawing English troops from these dependencies. Sir Henry confesses himself little edified, and was compelled to beguile the tedium by counting the House, which, however, was an easy task, for, "including Mr. Childers," there were only twenty-seven present. All the time, he tells us, he was on the qui vive to hear the once famous author of Sam Slick, "with his Nova-Scotian instincts," on this Colonial question; but when Haliburton rose "he said just nothing, and that nothing in as uninteresting a way as any other old gentleman with a portly figure and well-used countenance could well adopt."
It is characteristic that Sir Henry Parkes devotes little of his correspondence to the great Exhibition of 1862. As a newspaper correspondent for the time being, he recognises his remissness, saying that he was never fond of running with the crowd, but that when the "Japanese Ambassadors and Honourables from the Antipodes" have stared at everything to their fill, then he may go to South Kensington. In the meantime, he travels about from town to town, at one time seeing the widowed Queen pass through Stafford on her way to the Highlands, at another, encountering Prince Arthur, "a fine little boy of twelve," at Gloucester. In his general survey of the social condition of England he seems to have been much struck by the large and increasing number of societies among the working classes for their self-improvement. Next to this, he notices the movement for extending the sphere of employment among women, and singles out Miss Emily Faithfull as its leading pioneer. Among politicians he seems to have conceived a special affection for Cobden, chiefly, I think, because he had sprung from the ranks. "No man," he writes, "has more of that inspiring simplicity of manner, and that calm, almost spiritual, earnestness of purpose, which, combined with comprehensive thought and the patient power of labour, are sure to gain the moral mastery. In his case these qualities illuminate enduring public services and a reputation already historical."
It is curious to notice that twenty-five years ago this Australian in England should ask who is to govern the country half a dozen years hence. "The old statesmen are dying off. The next six years will make terrible havoc with the- names that have been most familiar to the ears of the last two generations. As they descend into the valley of shadows, where are the men of calm strength and vigour coming up the other side of the hill bearing the standard of either party?" He prophesied that if the hand of death should spare them, Cobden, Gladstone, and Stanley would combine and govern England. Clearly, with all his ability, Sir Henry had not the gift of prophecy; and little did it occur to him that he would live to see Bright and Gladstone marshalling opposing forces, and both still swaying vast multitudes of their countrymen in this year of grace 1888.
One of the most pathetic incidents recorded in these letters is that of Lord Brougham's inaugural address to the Social Science Congress, delivered at Exeter Hall on June 5th, 1862. It is rather painful reading, but my sketch would be incomplete without it:—
"I had never heard Lord Brougham speak, and was very anxious to listen to that voice, of the force and vehemence of which I had heard such glowing descriptions. Accordingly, I got to Exeter Hall full three-quarters of ah hour before the time of meeting, and selected my own position in a line with the chair, and not more than five seats from the platform. It was considerably past the appointed time when the statesman-philosopher made his appearance amidst a burst of hearty and grateful cheers. He walked along the front of the platform with bowed head and tottering step, never raising his eyes, and he took his seat with evident difficulty. After some preliminaries he rose slowly, and with a painful effort, and commenced reading his address from manuscript. His voice was so harsh and indistinct that I could not hear one word in three throughout the delivery, and the exertion necessary for this was so severely felt that he was compelled to resume his seat before many leaves were turned over. In asking for this indulgence, he spoke in what appeared to me a tone of mortified pride, and with a manner so confused that the meeting did not instantly comprehend his meaning. When the sad meaning flashed upon them, every person present seemed to join in a burst of assenting sympathising cheers. But the illustrious Brougham is not the man of iron frame which his admirers have represented him to be, and which it would accord with our feeling of wonder at his prodigious labours in times past to believe him to be, A careful reading of the address he delivered on this occasion will, I fear, lead to the conclusion that his noble intellect is also giving way. Its style for the most part is coarse and declamatory, while nothing could be more inconsequential than some of its reasonings."
Sir Henry saw Lord Brougham on two subsequent occasions; once when he was conducted by Dr. Travers Twiss and M. Garnier Pagès into the room at Burlington House set apart for the International Law Section of the Congress. On that occasion M. Garnier Pages, we are told, delivered an animated speech in favour of International Law Reform, which roused Lord Brougham to express his admiration of the "extraordinary eloquence" of the French orator, who was formerly "one of the seven Kings of France." A few nights after this, Lord Brougham officiating with Lord Shaftesbury and others as the hosts, received some three or four thousand guests at the Social Science Soiree at the Palace of Westminster. "I saw him," writes Sir Henry, "as late as eleven o'clock in conversation with the aged poet, Dean Milman, and, notwithstanding the fatigues he had undergone, he looked much fresher than at Exeter Hall."
Our Australian in England gladly availed himself of an opportunity to witness the ceremony of conferring the D.C.L. at Oxford upon Lord Palmerston and other distinguished men, on July 2d, 1862, Sir Henry seems to have been somewhat disgusted with the horse-play of the undergraduates, but what distressed him most was their enthusiasm on behalf of the Southern States.
"The name of Disraeli brought down a thundering cheer, but Jeff Davis and the Southern States were responded to still louder; Mr. Gladstone, though the University's own member, was not cheered." In addition to Lord Palmerston, Sir James Outram, Sir Roundell Palmer, Professor Wheatstone, and Henry Taylor, were to receive the D.C.L.
"The names of Palmerston and Outram were enthusiastically and repeatedly cheered, but the others did not appear to be objects of special favour. … The announcement of Henry Taylor's name was followed by the not very complimentary inquiry, 'Who is he?' I felt myself somewhat honoured by being permitted to inform a veritable Master of Arts that Henry Taylor was the author of Philip Van Artevelde. I think I never saw so glorious-looking a man as Henry Taylor. His head is large and finely formed, with massy silvery hair, a long waving lock in front being quite golden. His forehead is broad and lofty, his eyes full, his cheeks inclining to florid. The lower part of his face is covered by a long flowing beard, which singularly befits his noble countenance, beaming with an expression of mingled power and benevolence."
Who can forget Sir Henry Taylor's own account of Lord Palmerston's behaviour on this occasion, when Professor Wheatstone expounded to him the wonders of Telegraphy? "The man of science was slow, the man of the world seemed attentive; the man of science was copious, the man of the world let nothing escape him; the man of science unfolded the anticipated results—another and another, the man of the world listened with all his ears; and I was saying to myself, his patience is exemplary, but will it last for ever? When I heard the issue—' God bless my soul, you don't say so! I must get you to tell that to the Lord Chancellor!' And the man of the world took the man of science to another part of the room, hooked him on to Lord Westbury, and bounded away like a horse let loose in a pasture."
The Australian "Sir Henry" was not privileged to witness this scene, but how he would have enjoyed it! Lord Palmerston's irresistible jauntiness, however, made its due impression upon him. "As he brushed past where I was standing, I could not help admiring the animal spirits mantling his cheeks—more like the glow of youth than the complexion of fourscore years. He was visibly moved by his reception. I saw him later in the day driving through Oxford in his red gown, and he seemed as hilarious as a boy of fifteen."
It is curious, and even affecting, to notice how lovingly this world-worn colonist and man of affairs regarded English rural sights and sounds, after an absence from them of twenty years. His final letter, indeed, is entirely devoted to them, and is headed "Rural England and the Railways." He tells his readers that when he emigrated to Australia there were only two railways in operation in England, and he feared that their extension might have defaced and driven away the sweet familiar sights and sounds of English country life. To his great delight he found this to be a delusion. He notices how familiar the partridges, and the wild creatures of the field and copse, have become with the flaming iron-horse, so that they "seldom leave their haunts, or quicken their pace, at his coming." So he found it with pheasant, fox, and hare. "The railway team is the same to them as the winds and the lightnings."
"And the flowers," he bursts out, "the sweet familiar flowers of an English spring! They have seized upon the railways as part of their rightful heritage. In all directions the deep slopes, where the railway spans some valley, are thickly starred with the pale primrose, and the maidenly cowslips nod to the passengers from the brows of the cutting through the gentle hills. … The railways do no more than run their fine lines through the rural landscape, making sunny banks for the flowers and shrubs most loved by the English people. Though places which have a name in history are undoubtedly visited by a larger number than formerly, I am inclined to think there are many nooks and corners of rural England which are more secluded from the world now than when the world's travellers had to journey by the common road."
With a personal apology to Mr. Ruskin, we must here part with the distinguished Australian, who surely in fancy was for a while once again a Warwickshire lad.
I have had a purpose in view in emphasising Sir Henry Parkes' impressions of English public opinion at the time of the American Civil War. Some of the quotations from his letters that I have given—and there is much more and even stronger writing to be found in the originals—might well have been supposed to emanate from the indignant pen of some itinerant New-Englander. Yet Sir Henry Parkes knew no country but England up to the time of his early manhood, and since then his career has formed a part of the history of a great English colony.
To my mind, the passing impressions of such an Australian in England are of intrinsic historic value. Being removed from the unconscious partiality even of the cultured Englishman, and free from the unsympathetic superciliousness of the "intelligent foreigner," they are allied to the impartial judgments of posterity. Viewed in this light the sympathetic comprehension displayed by the Australian politician towards America is perhaps a fore-glimpse of the time when the various communities of the Old and the New Worlds, which speak the English tongue, and are mainly of English race, shall, under whatever number of local governments, be as one people and as one nation.
- A selection of these Letters was published by Messrs. Macmillan in London under the title Australian Views of England.
- Tennyson and Carlyle might also be cited. "Spent the evening at the house of Mr. Woolner, sculptor, with Tennyson, a quiet, simple man, who smoked a pipe and drank hot punch with us. He deplores the American War, and talks of the Yankees, whom he detested."—Diary of J. R. Thompson, Lippincott's Magazine, November 1888.
- See Mr. Hurlbert's severe censure of Mr, Gladstone:—Ireland under Coercion, Prologue p. xxix.