Page:Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, volume 2.djvu/220

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Harcourt
Harcourt
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punishment to those engaged in ship-building for belligerents. He also served on the royal commissions on the laws of naturalisation and allegiance (1870) and on extradition (1878). In 1866 he was made a queen's coimsel, according to Lord Selbome in recognition of his grasp of international law. But a more important recognition of the kind was his appointment in 1869 to the Whewell professorship of international law at Cambridge, which he held till 1887. Throughout that period he delivered lectures at increasingly irregular intervals and occupied rooms in Trinity College which he decorated with elaborate heraldic ornaments.

Meanwhile Harcourt was identifying himself with politics, though he was still reluctant to abandon his career at the parliamentary bar. He was generally reckoned to be independent of party ties, and Disraeli, whom he knew well socially, offered him in 1866 a safe conservative seat in Wales, which he declined. At the outset he chiefly confined his interposition in political discussion to the columns of 'The Times' above his old signature of 'Historicus.' There he urged the co-operation of both parties in passing a reform bill (12 March, 10 April, and 7 May 1866; cf. four letters on parliamentary reform, 4 Feb., 11 April, 2 and 9 May 1867, and on redistribution of parliamentary seats, 24 June). On 27 May 1867 he appealed, through 'The Times,' for the commutation of the death sentence passed on the Fenian convicts, and early in 1869 advocated in the same paper the disestablishment of the Irish Church.

On 29 June 1867 he delivered his first speech in London. The occasion was a public breakfast in St. James's Hall, held in honour of Lloyd Garrison, the American anti-slavery advocate. The chair was occupied by John Bright, and the list of speakers included Lord John Russell, the Duke of Argyll, John Stuart Mill, Lord GranviUe, and George Thompson (Passmore Edwards, A Few Footprints, 1906).

Next year he threw himself with growing energy into the party strife. He advocated the disendowment of the Church of Ireland at a great meeting held on 16 April 1868 in St. James's Hall, under the presidency of Earl Russell, and again on 22 June at a stormy meeting in the Guildhall. At a public breakfast, given to John Bright on 4 June by the Liberal Association, he eloquently acclaimed a new era of reform. On 18 Oct. he addressed a meeting of working men at Birmingham, and on 10 Nov. vigorously supported the liberal candidates for the City at Cannon Street Hotel during the general election. At the same time he agreed to stand for Oxford in the liberal interest in company with Edward Cardwell, the senior sitting member. His tine appearance and admirable platform manner greatly impressed the electors, and the two liberals were ^returned by a large majority (18 Nov.). On 3 Jan. 1870 and in many succeeding years Harcourt delivered to the Ancient Order of Druids at Oxford elaborate addresses on liberal policy which attracted vast public attention. By degrees he wholly abandoned his legal work for politics, and thereby sacrificed 10,000l. a year (Goschen's Life, i. 149). Harcourt's entry into parliament was looked forward to with interest. Gladstone on forming his first government in December 1868 offered him the post of judge advocate general, which carried with it a privy coimcillorship, but Harcourt declined the office because a privy councillorship was held at that time to debar the holder, when out of office, from legal practice. His maiden speech on 23 Feb. 1869, against a proposal to repeal the Act of Anne by which members accepting office under the crown vacate their seats, justified expectations. He was active in the discussion of the Irish Church bill during the session. Gladstone acknowledged his ability as a debater and anticipated for him a great parliamentary career. But Harcourt showed himself no docile party follower, and seated below the gangway, soon constituted himself a constant and candid critic of the liberal government. On 5 March he drew the attention of the house to the absence of any record of election petition judgments, and obtained a promise from the attorney-general to secure and lay them before the house. On the same day he carried a motion to appoint a select committee to inquire into the law affecting the registration of voters. He was appointed chairman of this committee, and its deliberations resulted in the registration of parliamentary voters bill of May 1871. During the session of 1870 he criticised many provisions of the government's Irish land bill, and of their elementary education bill. He opposed any sectarian religious education in the public schools apart from a reading of the Scriptures (cf letters in The Times, 28 March and 10 June), with the result that a clause was inserted forbidding the use of formularism distinctive of any religious sect. He again championed religious equality during the debates on the university tests bill in June, and urged that 'every College