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HE HISTORY OF THE WHIG MINISTRY OF 1830 TO THE PASSING OF THE REFORM BILL.*
WRITERS who in England have
aspired to shine in history, have Imost invariably chosen an epoch ar remote, or at least somewhat renoved from the strife and contenion of personal passions. Thus ibbon selected the period of the lecline and fall of the Roman Em>ire: thus Burke, in his Abridgment f English History, proceeded from he invasion of Julius Cæsar to the end of the reign of King John: thus Robertson chose the period of Charles V. Thus, too, in our own day, Lingard, Brodie, Macintosh, Hallam, Macaulay, and Mahon, have all selected epochs from eighty to two hundred years removed from us. The late Mr. Adolphus, whose History of the Reign of George the Third may be regarded very much in the light of a party pamphlet, in his first edition of that work, published in 1805, it is true brought events down to 1783, two-and-twenty years removed from the time at which he wrote. But most people have felt that the events he described were too recent to be commented on by even a generally impartial writer, and the fact that the volumes were done to order at the request of the late Lord Sidmouth has deprived them, in a great degree, of authority.
We are aware that among our neighbours on the other side of the Straits of Dover no such theory or practice prevails in reference to historical composition. Thiers and Mignet wrote the history of the first French Revolution at a period of little more thirty years after it had commenced, and when many of the actors were still living. The History of the Consulate and the Empire, by Thiers, Capefigue, and others, was composed within thirty years of the greater part of the stirring scenes described; while the
History of the Restoration, by Lacratelle, Capefigue, Vaulabelle, and Lubis, touched on times still more recent than the Empire. We do not say that these works are not written as fairly as they could be written at any time by the authors of them. We merely maintain, that if this system of contemporary history has its advantages, it has its inconveniences too.
This Mr. Roebuck very fairly admits in his preface to the volumes before us. He allows the passions and prejudices which must of necessity affect a contemporary. He allows the difficulty he must encounter when endeavouring to learn the secret history connected with the events he describes. He allows the personal antipathies or predilections that must bias him, but then he truly observes that the bias that results from peculiar views of philosophy and morals, is an infirmity besetting men of every age and country; and therefore it is that we find as much warmth, and to use the words of Mr. Roebuck, as much acrimony evinced in discussions on the parties of ancient Athens as on those of modern England. The late Mr. Mitford imported, indeed, many of his ultraTory views into his History of Greece, and Grote, notwithstanding his generally impartial and wellbalanced judgment, is occasionally influenced (how can it be otherwise?) by the peculiar opinions he professes in 1850, in his estimate of men and things belonging to earlier and more heroic ages. It is quite true, that to enable posterity to write the history of any period, contemporary evidence is needed. As Mr. Roebuck remarks, that evidence cannot well be deemed complete unless it be subjected to contemporary cross examination; but this cross exami
*The History of the Whig Ministry of 1830 to the passing of the Reform Bill. By John Arthur Roebuck, M.P. 2 vols. John W. Parker and Son, West Strand, 1852. VOL. XLV. NO. CCLXVII.
nation, so to speak, is almost always afforded by the newspapers, the journals, the pamphleteers, and the partisans of the time; and the historian in carefully sifting these is generally enabled, on a balance of testimony and motives, to winnow out the true from the false-the probable from the improbable. Such a system as this, adopted after an interval of a dozen, or, as in the case of Mr. Roebuck, after an interval of twenty years, is clearly better than rushing into print with the hot haste of Lamartine, in reference to events that occurred only two or three years ago, and in which events he himself was the most prominent actor. Let a man be as destitute of vanity, vain-glory, and self-esteem as he may, a system of writing contemporary events in this wise is not desirable. The events are too recent, the passions excited by them too fierce and vehement, to allow of the calm temperance of mind, not merely befitting, but absolutely indispensable, to the proper performance of the task.
Mr. Roebuck, however, is not in the same category as Lamartine. He was not an actor in the scenes he describes. He was not a member of the cabinet, or in any way connected with the administration that passed the Reform Bill; nor even a member of the parliament to which it was submitted. Mr. Roebuck did not become an M.P. till the Reform Bill was the law of the land, and since that time twenty long years filled with stirring events have rolled over our heads. He may consequently be supposed, to use the language of the law, to stand unindifferent as he stands unsworn,' and though a man of strong opinions and convictions, he is neither unfit nor incapable to pronounce a just verdict.
Some of the qualities necessary for an historian Mr. Roebuck possesses in an eminent degree. He is a man of great moral courage and_considerable energy of purpose. He is frank and fearless in the expression of his opinions. He is the slave of few prejudices, and of cant and conventionalities he is the determined opponent. However mistaken he may be in some of his opinions we believe him to be thoroughly sincere and honest, to be above lending him
self to the petty intrigues and pr sonalities of a party or a fart Somebody said that an historin should be of no country or of a party, to which it was rejoined, i him rather be without place or wh out pension. Mr. Roebuck is in a great degree divested of many those prejudices which cling to a islanders in spite of all our efforts To a moderate infusion of these pr judices either in a book or pampal we do not object, but the misforte is that we often find them put forth with too Islandish an intensity. ▲ considerable portion of Mr. B buck's life was spent out of Engl in a colony not far removed from the United States. To this circumstance may be, we think, attributed a good deal, if we may use an Americanist of his 'go-a-headishness,' and of the intrepid and independent spirit antagonistic to shams and to all the solemn and pompous forms trivialities in which your mobs commonplace people so intense delight. Independently of this cha racter of mind well fitted to da with political history, Mr. Roebari possesses other valuable qualities for his self-imposed task, some natura -some acquired. His intellect clear and of considerable streng He is a man of keen and prong perception, of very considera acumen, and a logician of no mean order. This enables him to si evidence with considerable skill, enables him to unravel perplexed facts to detect motives and to discrimina character. His narrative is clear. perspicuous, and forcible, entirely divested of ornament or ambitions phraseology. But though either turgid or obscure, Mr. Ro buck occasionally lacks fire and enthusiasm. There is neither heat nor glow in his pages. The narrative is clear, cold, and somewhat judicial in tone, and therefore passionless. E tirely destitute of fancy or imag nation, Mr. Roebuck deals neither in tropes nor in metaphors. He is throughout downright as Shippen with the plainness of Swift, Defoe, and Cobbet, without the humour and cynicism of the first, the raciness of the second, or the occasionally pic turesque and often graphic style of the third. Mr. Roebuck's per formance, though somewhat plain,
unadorned, and inartistical, is nevertheless very readable. The style is clear, forcible, and good, without being either brilliant or harmonious. By the great mass of the people to whom it is addressed it will be possibly more relished because of the utter absence of rhetorical artifice or ornament. Men accustomed to Gibbon, to Robertson, to Macaulay, or to Mahon, to the stately periods of Sallust, or to the epigrammatic style of Tacitus, may find less plea sure in the periods of Mr. Roebuck than in their favourite and more ornate authors. But the man of busi
ness, who lives in this positive worka-day world, is sure to prefer the unadorned style of the member for Sheffield.
It may be remarked, that the political views and the acts of Mr. Roebuck's public life may induce many not to resort to his pages. They who so act, will be guilty of a double injustice: first, to themselves; next, to the author. We ourselves opened the volumes before us with every desire to strictly scrutinize, and to receive with caution, the statements, as well as the judgments on men and things of one who might be supposed prejudiced or partial. But we must say, Mr. Roebuck is not justly open to the charge. He is almost uniformly distinguished by eminent fairness, and by a strong and, it appears to us, a conscientious and most praiseworthy sense of justice. He will be read by the most prejudiced Tory, at the first opening, with caution and reserve. But when this worthy laudator temporis acti discovers the spirit of candour and justice in which the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel are treated, he must admit that the openly-avowed and thoroughly well-known political opinions of Mr. Roebuck do not interfere to prevent him from doing justice to men diametrically opposed to him.
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In reference to the Reform Bill, Mr. Roebuck has had special knowledge and peculiar means of information laid open to him. True, he may be, and possibly is, with all these advantages, shut out from an acquaintance with facts, and is precluded from the open use of evidence which may be freely communicated
when all the actors in the scenes. described shall have passed away. It is, therefore, not merely possible, but almost certain, that the facts and testimony and general evidence must be, in some degree, incomplete. But Mr. Roebuck contends, and with reason, that the publication of a narrative thus necessarily imperfect must, if it excite discussion-and discussion it cannot fail to excitebring out the truth at last, and put it on record.
It cannot be denied that there are great difficulties belonging to the task which Mr. Roebuck has imposed on himself. There are necessarily passion, prejudice, and conflict of testimony to deal with; and it is only by means of comparisons, explanations, and friendly cross-examination, that truth can be attained. No doubt the author of these pages has had to deal with multifarious and diverse testimony. The evidence of to-day sometimes has flatly contradicted that of yesterday; but we verily believe that in these conflicts Mr. Roebuck has judged fairly, without favour or affectionwithout passion, and with less of prejudice than is usually found in a man of political convictions so strong, outspoken, and manifestly so sincere. It is a proof of Mr. Roebuck's thorough independence of mind, that he has often arrived at conclusions in direct opposition to those formed by friends who have been most liberal in enabling him to compose the work before us. Among these, it is well known to Mr. Roebuck's friends and acquaintances, and, indeed, to the political world generally, that Lord Brougham has been the most confiding; and it is a curious and note-worthy circumstance, that in his estimate of the character of King William the Fourth, Mr. Roebuck has spoken in a way wholly opposed, he saysand we entirely believe him-to every opinion that he has ever heard Lord Brougham express, when discussing the character of his royal master. Lord Brougham is known to describe William the Fourth as straightforward, frank, and just-as in fact the Sailor King, as the public were wont to call his Majesty, in the period of the Reform fever. But from this estimate of the de
ceased monarch, Mr. Roebuck wholly differs. We believe the honourable and learned member for Sheffield has had no materials for forming a judgment other than those open to most well-informed, observing, and reading men, yet he does not hesitate to pronounce that William the Fourth was very weak, and very false; that he was " a finished dissembler,' and always bitterly hostile to their great measure of Reform. According to Mr. Roebuck, the king pretended to have unbounded confidence in the Whigs, and great respect for their opinions, even while he was plotting their overthrow, and adopting every means to depreciate them in the estimation of the world. A heavier charge than this it is impossible to bring against a monarch. We conceive, ourselves, that the charge is too broadly and generally made. At the first moment of popular joy and effervescence, we believe the king to have been favourably disposed, or at least, not doggedly and diametrically opposed to, the measure of Reform. William the Fourth loved popularity, loved to be greeted and applauded in the streets, loved to be cheered and toasted at dinners, in public places, and in the theatres, as the Reformer King, who desired the happiness and liberty of his people. His Majesty was pleased, thoroughly pleased, with the robust and somewhat frank and over-familiar demonstrations of the masses, as the people were then called. But when the monarch came to know that the great body of the peerage, that the great mass of the aristocracy that the church, the army, and the navy-and that the fairest part of the creation, almost without exception, were totally opposed, and, where not totally opposed, neutral, cold, or unfriendly to Reform, he began to pause. On every side, from his courtiers-from foreign ministers and princes-from peers, peeresses, churchmen, chaplains, generals, admirals, lords and ladies of the bed-chamber, he heard complaints and sinister forebodings, and fears of revolution and change. No wonder, therefore, that the monarch was confounded and perplexed, that he recoiled from trying an experiment to which he had at first given countenance. When many among
the wealthy and well to do of th middle and shop-keeping class wa not without their misgivings (whit they expressed audibly, both in povate and in public), it does seem very wonderful that a king not confessedly of the strongest is tellect, should have his apprehensin excited by exaggerated fears sti season when the late Mr. Thom Creevy, of facetious memory, formerly member for Liverpool, d scribed every man who had a watch. or even a chain, dependent from his fob, as opposed to the bill.
The author of the volumes befin us does not take this view, which some would call indulgent, som plausible, and many true. Mr Roebuck contends that the doc ments which he has seen relating immediately to the king-and le specifically speaks of letters writte for the most part, at his majesty' command, or at his dictation-h led him to the conclusion that the king was not merely hostile, but in sincere.
Mr. Roebuck admits that Lai Brougham, who had abundant op portunities of approaching his sore reign, does not share his opinion is to the king. The offhand, hearty manner of the king, he says, inposed upon his chancellor; and though he asserts that the capacity of the monarch was notoriously o temptible, and that Lord Brougham could not believe himself the dupe of parts so inferior, yet that, in truth, he was deceived, and was really the dupe. The trained artifice of a mean spirit,' says Mr. Roebuck, misled and cajoled the confiding generosity of a great and powerful mind.' For ourselves, we cannot accept this theory. We con ceive it somewhat harsh and some what mistaken. That King William was a vain and weak man is now generally admitted. What, then, more natural than that, beset as he was from all sides-by foreign, by back-stairs, and domestic influ ences, by obsessions at home and abroad-he should have wavered, vacillated, and even regretted that he had yielded the slightest countenance or assent to the question of Reform? According to the statement of Mr. Roebuck, it is the opinion of Lord Brougham that