Imágenes de página


Henry BROUGHAM is the last among the orators embraced in this collection; and as he is still living, only a brief notice will be given of his life and character.

The family was one of the most ancient in Westmoreland, England. Brougham Castle is older than the days of King John; and the manor connected with it, after passing out of the family for a time, was regained by purchase and entailed on the oldest descendant in the male line. Toward the close of the last century, it fell to a young man who was studying in the University of Edinburgh, and who married, while there, a niece of the celebrated historian, Dr. Robertson. The first-fruit of this union was a son named HENRY, who was born at Edinburgh in 1779.

The family appear to have resided chiefly or wholly in the Scottish capital ; the boy received the rudiments of his education at the High School of Edinburgh, under the celebrated Dr. Adam, and was even then distinguished for his almost intuitive perception of whatever he undertook to learn. “He was wild, fond of pleasure, taking to study by starts, and always reading with more effect than others (when he did read), because it was for some specific object, the knowledge of which was to be acquired in the shortest possible time." We have here a perfect picture of Lord Brougham's mode of reading for life. Eager, restless, grasping after information of every kind, he has brought into his speeches a wider range of collateral thought than any of our orators, except Burke ; and he has done it in just the way that might be expected from such a man, with inimitable freshness and power, but with those hasty judgments, that want of a profound knowledge of principles, and that frequent inaccuracy in details, which we always see in one who reads“ for some specific object," instead of taking in the whole range of a science, and who is so much in a hurry, that he is constantly aiming to accomplish his task in “ the shortest possible time."

He entered the University of Edinburgh in the sixteenth year of his age, and soon gained the highest distinction by his extraordinary mathematical attainments. He gave in solutions of some very difficult theorems, which awakened the admiration of his instructors; and before he was seventeen, produced an essay on the “Flection and Reflection of Light,” which was estimated so highly as to be inserted in the Ed. inburgh Philosophical Transactions. His supposed discoveries, so far as they were correct, proved, indeed, to have been anticipated by earlier writers ; but they were undoubtedly the result of his own investigation; and they showed so remarkable a talent for mathematical research, that he was rewarded, at a somewhat later period (1803), with an election as member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. It is a curious fact that Lord Brougham has again taken up his favorite pursuits in opties at the age of seventy, and made recent communications to the French Institute, from his chateau at Cannes, in the south of France, on the same branch of science which called forth his early efforts in the University of Edinburgh.

Having completed his college course, Mr. Brougham entered with indefatigable zeal upon the study of the law, in conjunction with Jeffery, Horner, and several other young men, who, only a few years after, stood foremost among the leading advocates of the country. He had commenced the practice of extemporaneous speaking some years before in the Speculative Society, that great theater of debate for the University of Edinburgh. He now carried it to a still greater height in the immediate prospect of his professional duties, and “exercised the same superiority over his

youthful competitors (though some of them were then and afterward remarkable for their ability) which he held at a later period as Chancellor over the House of Lords." He was called in due course to the Scottish bar, and commenced business in Edinburgh with the most encouraging prospects of success. In 1803, he published his first work, in two octavo volumes, entitled “ The Colonial Policy of the European Powers,” containing an immense amount of information, and distinguished by the daring spirit of philosophical inquiry which he carried into this vast and complicated subject. He now removed to London, and, in addition to his practice at the bar, entered warmly into politics; producing a volume on the “State of the Nation," which awakened the liveliest interest by its eloquent assertion of Whig principles, and ultimately procured him a seat in Parliament by means of the Russell family. .

Before his removal to London, he united with the companions mentioned above in establishing the Edinburgh Review. He was for nearly twenty years one of its most regular contributors ; and to him more than any other man was the work indebted for its searching analysis, its contemptuous and defiant spirit, its broad views of political subjects, and its eloquent exposition of Whig principles. Its motto,' whether selected by him or not, was designed to justify that condemnatory spirit which is so striking a trait in his character. A great part of his life has been spent in beating down; in detecting false pretensions whether in literature or politics ; in searching out the abuses of long established institutions; in laying open the perversions of public charities; in exposing the cruelties of the criminal code; or in rousing public attention to a world of evils resulting from the irregularities in the administration of municipal law. The reader will be amused to trace this tendency of his mind, in turning over the four octavo volumes of his speeches as edited by himself, and observ. ing their titles. We have “Military Flogging," with an exposure of its atrocities" Queen Caroline,” defended at the expense of her husband—"The Durham Clergy," lashed unmercifully for their insulting treatment of the Queen—"The Orders in Council," with the folly of abusing the Americans because they had suffered from the abuse of France—"Agricultural Distress” and “ Manufacturing Distress," as resulting from the rashness and incompetency of ministers—“Army Estimates,” under which millions were lavished for mere military show in time of peace—"The Holy Alliance,” with its atrocious attack on the constitutional government of Spain through the instrumentality of France—“The Slave Trade”-“The Missionary Smith," murdered in Demerara under a false charge of having excited insurrection—"Negro Apprenticeship,” its inadequacy and folly—"The Eastern Slave Trade,” or the cruelty and guilt of transporting coolies from Hindostan to be made laborers in the West India Islands—“Law Reform"_" Parliamentary Reform"—“Education," and the abuse of Educational Charities—“Scotch Parliamentary and Burgh Reform”—“Scotch Marriage and Divorce Bill,” showing that the existing laws are “the worst possible” -"The Poor Laws,” with “the deplorably corrupting effects of this abominable system”_"Neutral Rights," exposing their invasion by Great Britain—"Administration of Law in Ireland,” showing that " she had received penal statutes from England almost as plentifully as she had received blessings from the hands of Providence"-"Change of Ministry in 1834,” with the gross, glaring, and almost incredible inconsistencies of Lord Wellington—"Business of Parliament,” or “the abuses which prevail in the mode of conducting its business”—“Maltreatment of the North American Colonies”—“The Civil List,” or men's voting an allowance to the Queen “under the influence of excited feelings, and without giving themselves time to reflect." No orator certainly, since the days of Pym and Charles I., could furnish such another list.

1 “Judex damnatur dum nocens absolvitur," the judge is condemned when the guilty is suffered to escape.

The character of his eloquence corresponds to the subjects he has chosen. “Fa fierce, vengeful, and irresistible assault,” says John Foster, “ Brougham stands the foremost man in all this world." His attack is usually carried on under the forms of logic. For the materials of his argument he sometimes goes off to topics the most remote and apparently alien from his subject, but he never fails to come down upon it at last with overwhelming force. He has wit in abundance, but it is usually dashed with scorn or contempt. His irony and sarcasm are terrible. None of ou orators have ever equaled him in bitterness.

His style has a hearty freshness about it, which springs from the robust constitution of his mind and the energy of his feelings. He sometimes disgusts by his use of Latinized English, and seems never to have studied our language in the true sources of its strength-Shakspeare, Milton, and the English Bible. His greatest fault lies in the structure of his sentences. He rarely puts forward a simple, distinct proposition. New ideas cluster around the original frame-work of his thoughts; and instead of throwing them into separate sentences, he blends them all in one ; enlarging, modifying, interlacing them together, accumulating image upon image, and argument upon argument, till the whole becomes perplexed and cumbersome, in the attempt to crowd an entire system of thought into a single statement. Notwithstanding these faults, however, we dwell upon his speeches with breathless interest. They are a continual strain of impassioned argument, intermingled with fearful sarcasm, withering invective, lofty declamation, and the earnest majesty of a mind which has lost every other thought in the magnitude of its theme.

Lord Brougham has been in opposition during the greater part of his political life. He came in as Lord Chancellor with Earl Grey at the close of 1830, and retained his office about four years. Of late he has withdrawn, to a great extent, from public affairs, and spent a considerable part of his time on an estate which he owns in the south of France.

The following comparison between the subject of this sketch and his great parliamentary rival will interest the reader, as presenting the characteristic qualities of each in bolder relief from their juxtaposition. It is from the pen of one who had watched them both with the keenest scrutiny during their conflicts in the House of Commons. The scene described in the conclusion arose out of a memorable attack of Mr. Canning on Lord Folkestone for intimating, that he had “truckled to France." “The Lacedæmonians," said Mr. C., “ were in the habit of deterring their children from the vice of intoxication by occasionally exhibiting their slaves in a state of disgusting inebriety. But, sir, there is a moral as well as a physical intoxication. Never before did I behold so perfect a personification of the character which I have somewhere seen described, as' exhibiting the contortions of the Sibyl without her inspiration. Such was the nature of the noble Lord's speech.” Mr. Brougham took occasion, a few evenings after, to retort on Mr. Canning and repeat the charge, in the manner here described : but first we have a sketch of their characteristics as orators.

“Canning was airy, open, and prepossessing; Brougham seemed stern, hard, lowering, and almost repulsive. Canning's features were handsome, and his eye, though deeply ensconced under his eyebrows, was full of sparkle and gayety ; the features of Brougham were harsh in the extreme : while his forehead shot up to a great ele. vation, his chin was long and square ; his mouth, nose, and eyes seemed huddled together in the center of his face, the eyes absolutely lost amid folds and corrugations; and while he sat listening, they seemed to retire inward or to be vailed by a filmy curtain, which not only concealed the appalling glare which shot from them when he was aroused, but rendered his mind and his purpose a sealed book to the keenest scrutiny of man. Canning's passions appeared upon the open champaign of his face, drawn up in ready array, and moved to and fro at every turn of his own oration and


Ele te

cu tra

Tout este

every retort in that of his antagonist. Those of Brougham remained within, as in a citadel which no artillery could batter and no mine blow up; and even when he was putting forth all the power of his eloquence, when every ear was tingling at what he said, and while the immediate object of his invective was writhing in helpless and indescribable agony, his visage retained its cold and brassy hue ; and he triumphed over the passions of other men by seeming to be without passion himself. When Canning rose to speak, he elevated his countenance, and seemed to look round for applause as a thing dear to his feelings; while Brougham stood coiled and concentrated, reckless of all but the power that was within himself.

"From Canning there was expected the glitter of wit and the glow of spirit--something showy and elegant; Brougham stood up as a being whose powers and intentions were all a mystery—whose aim and effect no living man could divine. You bent forward to catch the first sentence of the one, and felt human nature elevated in the specimen before you ; you crouched and shrunk back from the other, and dreams of ruin and annihilation darted across your mind. The one seemed to dwell among men, to join in their joys, and to live upon their praise ; the other appeared a son of the desert, who had deigned to visit the human race merely to make it tremble at his strength.

“The style of their eloquence and the structure of their orations were just as different. Canning arranged his words like one who could play skillfully upon that sweetest of all instruments, the human voice; Brougham proceeded like a master of every power of reasoning and the understanding. The modes and allusions of the one were always quadrable by the classical formulæ ; those of the other could be squared only by the higher analysis of the mind; and they soared, and ran, and pealed, and swelled on and on, till a single sentence was often a complete oration within itself; but still, so clear was the logic, and so close the connection, that every member carried the weight of all that went before, and opened the way for all that was to fol. low after. The style of Canning was like the convex mirror, which scatters every ray of light that falls upon it, and shines and sparkles in whatever position it is viewed; that of Brougham was like the concave speculum, scattering no indiscriminate radiance, but having its light concentrated into one intense and tremendous focus. Canning marched forward in a straight and clear track; every paragraph was perfect in itself, and every coruscation of wit and of genius was brilliant and delightful; it was all felt, and it was felt all at once : Brougham twined round and round in a spiral, sweeping the contents of a vast circumference before him, and uniting and pouring them onward to the main point of attack.

"Such were the rival orators, who sat glancing hostility and defiance at each other during the session of eighteen hundred and twenty-three-Brougham, as if wishing to overthrow the Secretary by a sweeping accusation of having abandoned all prin. ciple for the sake of office; and the Secretary ready to parry the charge and attack in his turn. An opportunity at length offered. Upon that occasion the oration of Brougham was disjointed and ragged, and apparently without aim or application. He careered over the whole annals of the world, and collected every instance in which genius had prostituted itself at the footstool of power, or principle had been sacrificed for the vanity or the lucre of place; but still there was no allusion to Canning, and no connection, that ordinary men could discover, with the business before the House. When, however, he had collected every material which suited his purpose—when the mass had become big and black, he bound it about and about with the cords of illustration and argument; when its union was secure, he swung it round and round with the strength of a giant and the rapidity of a whirlwind, in order that its impetus and its effects might be the more tremendous; and while doing this, he ever and anon glared his eye, and pointed his finger, to make the aim

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

and the direction sure. Canning himself was the first that seemed to be aware where and how terrible was to be the collision ; and he kept writhing his body in agony and rolling his eye in fear, as if anxious to find some shelter from the impending bolt. The House soon caught the impression, and every man in it was glancing fearfully, first toward the orator, and then toward the Secretary. There was, save the voice of Brougham, which growled in that under tone of muttered thunder which is so fearfully audible, and of which no speaker of the day was fully master but himself, a silence as if the angel of retribution had been flaring in the faces of all parties the scroll of their personal and political sins. The stiffness of Brougham's figure had vanished; his features seemned concentrated alrnost to a point; he glanced toward every part of the House in succession ; and, sounding the death-knell of the Secretary's forbearance and prudence with both his clinched hands upon the table, he hurled at him an accusation more dreadful in its gall, and more torturing in its effects, than had ever been hurled at mortal man within the same walls. The result was instantaneous—was electric. It was as when the thunder-cloud descends upon the Giant Peak; one flash—one peal—the sublimity vanished, and all that remained was a small and cold pattering of rain. Canning started to his feet, and was able only to utter the unguarded words, 'It is false."' to which followed a dull chapter of apologies. From that moment the House became more a scene of real business than of airy display and angry vituperation.”

« AnteriorContinuar »