1902 Encyclopedia > Earl of Derby

Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby
British statesman

EDWARD-GEOFFREY SMITH STANLEY, FOURTEENTH EARL OF DERBY, Baron Stanley of Bickerstaffe, and a baronet (1799-1869), born at Knowsley in Lancashire, on the 29th March 1799, was the eldest son of Lord Stanley, who afterwards (1834) became the thirteenth earl of Derby. The title in the direct line of succession to which he was thus born ranks second in precedency among the earldoms in the peerage of England. He was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he distinguished himself as a classical scholar, though he took only an ordi-nary degree on quitting the university. In 1819 he ob-tained the Chancellor's prize for Latin verse, the subject being " Syracuse." He gave early promise of his future eminence as an orator, and it is said that in his youth he used to practise elocution under the instruction of Lady Derby, his grandfather's second wife, who as Miss Eliza Farren had been a celebrated actress. With such an in-clination and aptitude for public speaking, the heir to an ancient title was only fulfilling his natural destiny in seeking a seat in the House of Commons, and of course he had no difficulty in finding one. In 1820, soon after he had attained his majority, he was returned for Stockbridge in Hampshire, one of the nomination boroughs whose electoral rights were swept away by the Reform Bill of 1832, Stanley, like several others who entered parliament by means of them, being a warm advocate of their destruction. It may appear somewhat strange that he should have remained for four years, so far as is known, a silent member ; but the representative of a pocket borough had no constituency to consider, and there was not in those days the incentive to frequent speaking that is now fur-nished by full daily reports of the debates circulating through the entire country. His maiden speech was de-livered early in the session of 1824 in the debate on a private bill for lighting Manchester with gas. Although the sub-ject can scarcely have given scope for any high flight of oratory, the speaker was warmly complimented by Sir James Mackintosh, one of the first authorities in the House, who welcomed him as an accession to the Liberal ranks, and Hansard reports the speech as characterized by " much clearness and ability." His second appearance was made in connection with a subject—irrepressible as it proved, though he always did his utmost to repress it—which was afterwards to determine more than one important turning point in his political career, and to call forth his last utter-ance in parliament. It is noteworthy also as an early exhibition of the Conservative instinct whose growing strength led gradually to an entire change of his political position. On the 6th May 1824, he delivered what seems to have been a vehement and eloquent speech against Joseph Hume's motion for a reduction of the Irish Church establishment, maintaining in its most conservative form the doctrine that church property is as sacred as private property. From this time his appearances became frequent; and he soon asserted his place as one of the most powerful speakers in the House. Specially noticeable almost from the first was the skill he displayed in reply. Macaulay, in an essay published in 1834, remarked that he seemed to pos-sess intuitively the faculty which in most men is developed only by long and laborious practice. " Indeed, with the exception of Mr Stanley, whose knowledge of the science of parliamentary defence resembles an instinct, it would be difficult to name any eminent debater who has not made himself a master of his art at the expense of his audience."

In the autumn of 1824 Stanley went on an extended tour through Canada and the United States in company with Mr Labouchere, afterwards Lord Taunton, and Mr Evelyn Denison, afterwards Lord Ossington. In May of the following year he married the second daughter of Edward Bootle-Wilbraham, created Baron Skelmersdale in 1828, by whom he had a family of two sons and one daughter who survived, besides three children who died in infancy.

At the general election of 1826 Stanley renounced his connection with Stockbridge, and became the repre-sentative of the borough of Preston, where the Derby in-fluence has usually, though not invariably, been paramount. The change of seats had this advantage, that it left him free to speak against the system of rotten boroughs, which he did with great force during the Beform Bill debates, without laying himself open to the charge of personal inconsistency as the representative of a place where, according to Gay, cobblers used to "feast three years upon one vote." In 1827 he and several other distin-guished Whigs made a coalition with Canning on the de-fection of the more unyielding Tories, and he commenced his official life as under-secretary for the colonies. Whether the coalition arrangement would have proved stable had its distinguished leader survived is more than questionable, but it was entirely broken up by his death in August of the same year. Lord Goderich, who had been Stanley's chief at the Colonial Office, succeeded to the premiership, but he never was really in power, and he resigned his place after the lapse of a few months without venturing to meet parliament. During the succeeding administration of the duke of Wellington (1828-30), Stanley and those with whom he acted were in opposition. His robust and assertive Liberalism about this period sounds some-what curiously to a younger generation who knew him only as the very embodiment of Conservatism. They can find little of the earl of Derby except his characteristic force of expression in the conviction uttered by Stanley, " that the old and stubborn spirit of Toryism is at last yield-ing to the liberality of the age—-that the Tories of the old school, the sticklers for inveterate abuses under the name of the wisdom of our ancestors, the laudatores lemporis acti are giving way on all sides." Even the most retrograde political party, however, makes distinct progress almost in spite of itself as the years pass on, and Lord Derby might very well have main-tained that the Toryism he represented in his ma-turity was not the Toryism he had denounced in his youth.

By the advent of Lord Grey to power in November 1830, Stanley obtained his first opportunity of showing his capacity for a responsible office. He was appointed to the chief secretaryship of Ireland, a position in which, as it turned out, he found ample scope for both administrative and debating skill. On accepting office he had, according to the usual practice, to vacate his seat for Preston and seek re-election; and it must have been peculiarly mortify-ing to one of his high spirit that, in spite of his family influence and growing reputation, he alone of all the members of the new ministry in the Lower House failed to secure his return. He was defeated, and the defeat was doubtless rendered more bitter by the fact that his opponent was the Radical "orator" Hunt. The contest was a peculiarly keen one, and turned upon the question of the ballot, which Stanley refused to support. He re-entered the house as one of the members for Windsor, Sir Hussey Vivian having resigned in his favour. In 1832 he again changed his seat, being returned for North Lancashire, which he continued to represent until his elevation to the House of Lords.

Mr Stanley was one of the most ardent supporters of the great measure which has made Lord Grey's administra-tion the most memorable of the present century. Of this no other proof is needed than his frequent parliamentary utterances, which were fully in sympathy with the popular cry " The bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill." Reference may be made especially to the speech he delivered on the 4th March 1831 on the adjourned debate on the second reading of the bill, which was marked by all the higher qualities of his oratory. More than thirty years later, when he was premier, he was again called upon to deal with the question, and he had states-manship enough to settle it on a permanent basis; but the incertitude with which he then took what he himself in a well remembered phrase called " a leap in the dark " was in curious contrast to the clear conviction with which he advocated the earlier measure.

Apart from his connection with the general policy of the Government, Stanley had more than enough to have employed all his energies in the management of his own department. The secretary of Ireland has seldom an easy task; Stanley found it one of peculiar difficulty. The country was in a very unsettled state. The just concession that had been somewhat tardily yielded a short time before in Catholic emancipation had excited the people to make all sorts of demands, reasonable and unreasonable. As one result of that concession these demands were now permitted to be urged on the floor of the House by the most eloquent and the most widely popular representative Ireland has ever possessed,—one, too, whose hatred of the " base, bloody, and brutal Whigs " seems to have totally unfitted him for judging Whig measures fairly. Problems of great practical difficultyin connection with the land and thechurch pressed for solution ; and the alarming increase of agrarian outrages demanded even more urgently the instant applica-tion of vigorous measures of repression. Mr Stanley's conduct in these trying circumstances showed that he had the spirit that rises with difficulties. Undaunted by the fierce denunciations of O'Connell, who styled him Scorpion Stanley, he discharged with determination the ungrateful task of carrying a Coercion Bill through the House. Parlia-ment has probably seldom witnessed warmer or more per-sonal encounters than those which took place about this time between the Liberator and the Irish Secretary, and seldom has an official position been more gallantly defended. It was generally felt that O'Connell, powerful though he was, had fairly met his match in Stanley, who, with invec-tive scarcely inferior to his own, evaded no challenge, ignored no argument, and left no taunt unanswered. The title " Rupert of Debate " is peculiarly applicable to him in connection with the fearless if also often reckless method of attack he showed in his parliamentary war with O'Connell. It was first applied to him, however, thirteen years later by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton in the following passage of The New Timan ;—_" One after one the lords of time advance ; Here Stanley meets—here Stanley scorns the glance! The brilliant chief, irregularly great, Frank, haughty, rash,—the Rupert of debate."

The best answer, however, which he made to the attacks of the great agitator was not the retorts of debate, effective though these were, but the beneficial legislation he was instrumental in passing. Two of his measures deserve special mention. He introduced and carried the first national education act for Ireland, one result of which was the remarkable and to many almost incredible phenomenon of a board composed of Catholics, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians, harmoniously administering an efficient education scheme. He was also chiefly responsible for the Irish Church Temporalities Act, though the bill was not introduced into parliament until after he had quitted the Irish secretaryship for another office. By this measure two archbishoprics and eight bishoprics were abolished, and a remedy was provided for various abuses connected with the revenues of the church. As originally introduced, the bill contained a clause authorizing the appropriation of surplus revenues to non-ecclesiastical purposes. This had, however, been strongly opposed from the first by Stanley, and several other members of the cabinet, and it was withdrawn by the Government before the measure reached the Lords. There was therefore no ground for the charge of inconsistency brought against Stanley, when a year later he seceded from the cabinet on the proposal being renewed.

In 1833, just before the introduction of the Irish Church Temporalities Bill, Stanley had been promoted to be secretary for the colonies with a seat in the cabinet, In this position it fell to his lot to carry through parliament a measure which is one of the abiding glories of English legislation. The agitation for the emancipation of the slaves had been mainly the work of others whose names have become historical in connection with it; but to Stanley belonged the honour and privilege of bringing it to a successful practical issue in the pages of the statute book. The speech which he delivered on introducing the bill for the emancipation of the slaves in the West Indies, on the 14th May 1833, was one of the finest specimens of his eloquence. It showed a philanthropic spirit and a love of freedom which proved him to be a not unworthy associate of Clarkson, Wilberforce, and Buxton, and it was admirable for the clear statement of the somewhat complicated arrangement by which the all but unanimous wish of the nation was to be carried out. The latter quality was still more conspicuous in committee, through which Stanley carried the measure with the firmness and tact of true statesmanship.

It has already been said that the Irish Church question determined more than one turning-point in Mr Stanley's political career. The most important occasion on which it did so was in 1834, when the proposal of the Government to appropriate the surplus revenues of the church to educational purposes led to his secession from the cabinet, and, as it proved, his complete and final separation from the Whig party. In the former of these steps he had as his companions Sir James Graham, the earl of Ripon, and the duke of Richmond. Soon after it occurred, O'Connell, amid the laughter of the House, described the secession in a couplet from Canning's Loves of the Triangles; — '' Still down thy steep, romantic Ashbourne, glides The Derby duly carrying six insides."

Stanley was by no means content with marking his disapproval of the conduct of the Government of which he had been a member by the simple act of withdrawing from it. He spoke against the bill to which he objected with a vehemence that showed the strength of his feeling in the matter, and against its authors with a bitterness that he himself is understood to have afterwards admitted to have been unseemly towards those who had so recently been his colleagues. The language of one speech deserves to be quoted as a good specimen of what he could do in the way of invective when he chose. " Plunder," a term very familiar in more recent debates on the same long-vexed question, was perhaps the mildest word he used. The course followed by the Government was " marked with all that timidity, that want of dexterity, which led to the fail-ure of the unpractised shoplifter." His late colleagues were compared to " thimble-riggers at a country fair," and their plan was " petty larceny, for it had not the redeeming qualities of bold and open robbery."

In the end of 1834, Lord Stanley, as he was now styled by courtesy, his father having succeeded to the earldom in October, was invited by Sir Robert Peel to join the short-lived Conservative ministry which he formed after the resignation of Lord Melbourne. Though he declined the offer for reasons stated in a letter published in the Peel memoirs, he acted from that date with the Conservative party, and on its next accession to power, in 1841, he accepted the office of colonial secretary, which he had held under Lord Grey. His position and bis temperament alike, however, made him a thoroughly inde-pendent supporter of any party to which he attached him-self. When, therefore, the injury to health arising from the late hours in the Commons led him in 1844 to seek elevation to the Upper House in the right of his father's barony, Sir Robert Peel, in acceding to his request, had the satisfaction of at once freeing himself from the possible effects of his " candid friendship " in the House, and at the same time greatly strengthening the debating power on the Conservative side in the other. If the premier in taking this step had any presentiment of an approaching difference on a vital question, it was not long in being realized. When Sir Robert Peel accepted the policy of free trade in 1846, the breach between him and Lord Stanley was, as might have been anti-cipated from the antecedents of the latter, instant and irreparable. Lord Stanley at once asserted himself as the uncompromising opponent of that policy, and he became, as his position warranted, the recognized leader of the Protectionist party, having Lord George Bentinck and Mr Disraeli for his lieutenants in the Commons. They did all that could be done in a case in which the logic of events was against them, but their watch-word of Protection was never to become more than a watchword. It is one of the peculiarities of English politics, however, that a party may come into power because it is the only available one at the time, though it may have no chance of carrying the very principle to which it owes its organized existence. Such was the case when Lord Derby, who had succeeded to the earldom on the death of his father in June 1851, was called upon to form his first administration in February 1852. He was in a minority, but the circumstances were such that no other than a minority Government was possible, and he resolved to take the only available means of strengthening his position by dissolving parliament and appealing to the country at the earliest opportunity. The appeal was made in autumn, but its result did not materially alter the position of parties. Parliament met in November, and by the middle of the following month, the ministry had resigned in consequence of their defeat on the clever but financially unsound budget proposed by Mr Disraeli. For the six following years, during Lord Aberdeen's " ministry of all the talents " and Lord Palmerston's premiership, Lord Derby remained at the head of the opposition, whose policy gradually became more generally Conservative and less distinctively Protectionist as the hopelessness of revers-ing the measures adopted in 1846 made itself apparent to all but the most reactionary. In 1855, he was asked to form an administration after the resignation of Lord Aberdeen, but failing to obtain sufficient support, lie declined the task. It was in somewhat more hopeful cir-cumstances that, after the defeat of Lord Palmerston on the Conspiracy Bill in February 1858, he assumed for the second time the reins of government. Though he still could not count upon a working majority, there was a possibility of carrying on affairs without sustaining defeat, which was realized for a full session, owing chiefly to the dexterous management of Mr Disraeli in the Commons. The one rock ahead was the question of Reform, on which the wishes of the country were being emphatically ex-pressed, but it was not so pressing as to require to be immediately dealt with. During the session of 1858 the Government contrived to pass two measures of very considerable importance, one a bill to remove Jewish disabilities, and the other a bill to transfer the government of India fiom the East India Company to the Crown. Next year the question of parliamentary reform had to be faced, and, recognizing the necessity, the Government intro-duced a bill at the opening of the session, which, in spite of, or rather in consequence of, its " fancy franchises," was rejected by the House, and, on a dissolution, rejected also by the country. A vote of no confidence having been passed in the new parliament on the 10th June, Lord Derby at once resigned.

After resuming the leadership of the Opposition Lord Derby devoted much of the leisure the position afforded him to the classical studies that had always been con-genial to him. It was his reputation for scholarship as well as his social position that had led in 1852 to his appointment to the chancellorship of the university of Oxford, in succession to the duke of Wellington; and perhaps a desire to justify the possession of the honour on the former ground had something to do with his essays in the field of authorship. These were made at first with a diffidence that contrasted strongly with his boldness in politics. His first venture was a poetical version of the 9th ode of the 3rd book of Horace, which appeared in Lord Ravensworth's collection of translations of the Odes. In 1862 he printed and circulated in influential quarters a volume entitled Translations of Poems Ancient and Modern, with a very modest dedicatory letter to Lord Stanhope, and the words "Not published" on the title-page. It contained, besides versions of Latin, Italian, French, and German poems, a translation of the first book of the Iliad. The reception of this volume was such as to encourage him to proceed with the task he had chosen as his magnum opus, the translation of the whole of the Iliad, which accordingly appeared in 1864. The fact that it speedily passed through six editions is, of course, not so unequivocal a proof of its literary merit as would have been the case had the work proceeded from an author of less social distinction, but it has considerable significance. Tried on its merits, the most severe critic could not pronounce the work a failure. That it was not a complete success was due principally to the facts that the author had not caught the difficult secret of the management of the metre he chose—blank verse,— and that he was unable to divest himself of the diffuseness and of the modern cast of thought and style of expression natural to the parliamentary orator.

During the seven years that elapsed between Lord Derby's second and third administrations an industrial crisis occurred in his native county, which brought out very conspicuously his public spirit and his philanthropy. The destitution in Lancashire, caused by the stoppage of the cotton-supply in consequence of the American civil war, was so great as to threaten to overtax the benevolence of the country. That it did not do so was probably due to Lord Derby more than to any other single man. From the first he was the very life and soul of the movement for relief. His personal subscription, munificent though it was, represented the least part of his service. His noble speech at the meeting in Manchester in December 1872, where the movement was initiated, and his advice at the subsequent meetings of the committee, which he attended very regularly, were of the very highest value in stimulating and directing public sympathy. His relations with Lancashire had always been of the most cordial description, notwithstanding his early rejection by Preston; but it is not surprising that after the cotton famine period the cordiality passed into a warmer and deeper feeling, and that the name of Lord Derby is still cherished in most grateful remembrance by thousands of the factory opera-tives.

On the rejection of Earl Russell's Reform Bill in 1866, Lord Derby was for the third time intrusted with the formation of a cabinet. Like those he had previously formed it was destined to be short-lived, but it lived long enough to settle on a permanent basis the question that had proved fatal to its predecessor. The "education" of the party that had so long opposed all reform to the point of granting household suffrage was the work of another; but it is understood that Lord Derby fully concurred in, if he W9s not the first to suggest, the statesmanlike policy by which the question was disposed of in such away as to take it once for all out of the region of controversy and agitation. The passing of the Reform Bill was the main business of the session 1867. The chief debates were, of course, in the Commons, and Lord Derby's failing powers prevented him from taking any large share in those which took place in the Lords. His description of the measure as a " leap in the dark," was eagerly caught up, because it exactly represented the common opinion at the time,—the most experienced statesmen, while they admitted the granting of household suffrage to be a political necessity, being utterly unable to foresee what its effect might be on the constitution and government of the country.

Finding himself unable, from declining hsaltb, to en-counter the fatigues of another session, Lord. Derby resigned office early in 1868. The step he had taken was announced in both houses on the evening of the 25th February, and warm tributes of admiration and esteem were paid by the leaders of the two great parties. He was succeeded by Mr Disraeli, to whom he yielded the entire leadership of the party as well as the premiership. His subssquent appearances in public were few and unimportant. It was noted as a consistent close to his political life that his last speech in the House of Lords should have been a denunciation of Mr Gladstone's Irish Church Bill marked by much of lfis early fire and vehemence. A few months later, on the 23rd October 1869, he died at Knowsley.
Lord Derby was one of the last and most brilliant repre-sentatives of a class which seems to have become extinct, for the time at least, if the sharp differentiation of human pursuits that has now established itself has not rendered it impossible that it should ever again exist. Politics is now a distinct and exclusive profession ; the number of those to whom, like Lord Derby, it is the main without being the all-absorbing interest of life seems to become fewer year by year. There still remain one or two noted statesmen who are also noted authors, but of the life of many interests embracing public affairs, scholarship, litera-ture, society, sportsmanship, and estate management, Lord Derby was almost the last specimen. Of another class, which will have ceased to exist when one or two more have passed away, he was also among the last and best ; he was a master of the all but lost art of parliamentary oratory. On this point it is enough to quote the testimony of two most competent witnesses. Sir Archibald Alison, writing of him when he was in the zenith of his powers, styles him " by the admission of all parties the most perfect orator of his day." Even higher was the opinion of Lord Aberdeen, who is reported by the Times to have said that no one of the giants he had listened to in his youth, Pitt, Fox, Burke, or Sheridan, " as a speaker, is to be compared with our own Lord Derby, when Lord Derby is at his best." (w. B. S.)

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