« AnteriorContinuar »
recognised without jealousy the talents of others, and even sometimes suppressed an article by himself to insert one by a friend which he considered more effective than his own, or rather than give disappointment.
During the last ten years of his life he had more ease and could take more leisure, although he wrote constantly from sheer pleasure, and laughed at those who anxiously bade him give up work as being too much exertion. Certainly the old buoyancy had abated, the exuberant spirits had diminished; for after the death of one of his sons by drowning, which caused him unutterable grief, he never was quite the same man, although there was still wonderful vivacity and heartiness. Sometimes he went up to London, entering into the most brilliant political circles, gathering clusters of Liberal friends round him, in the lobby of the House of Commons, and at many a club, and getting in Parliamentary coteries refreshment for his jaded political ideas. Not that he considered London journalism itself devoid of narrowness, nor lacking an amount of Cockney arrogance and superfluity of ignorance on unmetropolitan affairs and interests, as if there were no world without Verona's walls.'
In 1869 he visited Egypt, in order to be present at the opening of the Suez Canal, of which he wrote home graphic notes. The incongruities of the scenes and the gravity of the occasion impressed him with equal readiness, and through all the mischances of his journey he carried the same even good nature, whether through the inevitable sickness in the Bay of Biscay, on the third day after which he re-appeared on deck, 'looking purified by suffering,' or during the miseries of Egyptian travelling, through unpopulated places by day, and in populated beds at night. Although as open to see the excellence of foreign ways and scenes as was that candid Aberdonian, who, on first seeing St. Paul's, owned that it made a clean fule o' the kirk o' Fittie,' it may be suspected that he had some sneaking sympathy with the Scotch bailie who, on seeing the majestic Pyramids, asked, 'What idiot biggit thae things?' At any rate he enters extremely rapidly into Thackeray's feelings when, in his book, the novelist said they are very big,' and then dropped the subject and went home again.' He tries his best, however, to write impressively, for he feels bound to say something. And these are the Pyramids is the first thought, if not the exclamation, of every beholder; and in the mere fact that they are the Pyramids, whose history, builders, uses, and age, have baffled human inquiries for generations, is the source of the interest and solemnity with which they are gazed at. You feel that to see them is an event in your life, though you cannot satisfactorily explain to yourself why it should be so '—and so on. Neither do the sandhills, seen as he sails down the canal, impress him deeply when he discovers that these form the land of Goshen: If that land was of old anything like what it is now, depend upon it, that when Joseph invited his brethren to dwell there, he only meant to be upsides with them for their pre
vious maltreatment.' But not lightly did he feel the moment when they arrived at Suez, and, 'glad with grave thoughts,' proved the triumphant success of that great work which brought east and west 8000 miles nearer to each other.
In November, 1872, he went abroad again, but this time it was the first serious attack of his illness which drove him away from Edinburgh at a season when, as in Pope's Castle of Spleen, 'the dreaded east is all the wind that blows,' and sought a warmer climate. For some time he stayed in Arcachon and entered into all the beauties and interests of the place-such as they are. As a sportsman, how pathetically he laments the utter absence of life in the woods. For some years past everybody has been shooting everything, so that now nobody can shoot anything. During three weeks we have seen only one sparrow and heard another; and as to singing birds, such as the lark of which the French cookery book so affectionately says, "This charming songster eats delightfully with bread-crumbs"-it has arrived to them to be extirpated; and when some ignorant gull does appear above the horizon, shots begin going off all along the shore and from patiently waiting boats, as if a regiment of volunteers had broken into file-firing.'
He afterwards passed on to Portugal, whose lovely Cintra he admirably describes; to Spain and northern Italy, with eye more sensitive than most tourists to the beauty of the sunny South. On the whole he was not sorry to quit France, its formalities and its officialism; as many will agree with him that, though they manage things better in France, they manage them a great deal too much.'
Pleasant as idleness and travelling were to him, work and home were pleasanter still, and though a man of cheerful yesterdays and confident to-morrows,' illness was reminding him that life is a very uncertain thing. In the frequent spasms of his complaint he sometimes could only write kneeling. Yet how full of life and energy he was so keen for work, so bright in society, so surrounded by old friends and ready to make new friendships. No one met with more people, and yet it is curious that he was miserably shy of public appearances, he hated to appear on platforms, he was in an agony at the prospect of making an after-dinner speech; and when asked to stand as candidate for the Lord Rectorship of Aberdeen in 1875, he declined the honour at once. But in private he was not shy, and rejoiced in the presence of friends round his table. What a number and variety of faces had appeared there in Ramsay Gardens in old days, at Chester Street in later years, who talked and laughed their best! Thackeray, up in Edinburgh lecturing on The Georges' (when Aytoun bade him 'stick to the Jeameses'), came and was not even cynical; James Hannay, clever and conceited, would tell his most piquant stories and prove his claims to a dormant peerage (which his host remarked 'it would be more to the point if he could prove a dormant half-crown') and then roll off with more than his usual sailor's gait to the 'Courant' office to write a spiteful article on
the editor of The Scotsman;' Mr. Grant Duff would come, fresh from some Elgin oration and with some fresh schemes on European policy; Dr. Robert Lee, of Old Grey Friars, cleverest of ecclesiastics, most liberal of Churchmen, ablest of debaters, would often turn up, his fine intellectual face looking so sharp as he uttered his iced sarcasms at his pre-posterous' brethren in the Church, or as he delicately cut up some pious goose' of a minister who was stirring charges against him of heresy; Captain Burton even appeared in the course of going to and fro on the earth, and would tell some risky tales and utter some wild opinions on polygamy, and leave the impression, as ladies hurriedly left him, that he had on emergency fed on— and rather enjoyed--a fellow-creature; Fitzjames Stephen would appear, not the least fatigued by his defeat at Dundee, having proved too good for the place, and very thankful for his new friend's powerful support; George Combe and Hill Burton of course were of old frequent guests; and Lord Neaves, too, although of a different political faith, who would send upstairs for the presentation copy of his 'Songs,' which he knew was in the house, and give the company the benefit of his own musical interpretations, already very familiar to some of them. Now there came the Liberal whip to talk over political prospects, and get counsel about a new movement; and now local magnates dined who could tell the chances of the next Edinburgh contest or the new water scheme of the Provost; now it was Professor Huxley, so fresh, so unalarming, that, as a clergyman finishes saying grace at dinner, Russel exclaims, 'Halloa, was that you saying grace, Professor?' 'No,' replies he meekly and blandly, 'I trust I know my place in nature.' Russel's house was the meeting place of all sorts and conditions of men-certainly not excluding clergy: dissenting ministers, narrow in doctrine and Radical in politics, holding protection in religion, and free-trade in corn; Broad Church clergy, whom he regarded as rational beings; worthy old moderate divines who were admirable at table and sadly dull in the pulpit, who preached the driest of sermons, and gave the driest of sherry-who, in fact, from the good wine and bad discourses they gave, as Lord Robertson of facetious memory said, 6 were much better in bottle than in wood.'
When people wish to know a man they are never satisfied till they know his creed, and in the case of Mr. Russel it is not easy to gratify such a wish. To pious temperaments who measure natures by the straitest of rules he was 'a most regardless man;' and in spite of his steady attendance in Old Greyfriars Church, he was asserted, with pious recklessness of assertion, never to be in the house of God; and when he ridiculed clerical folly and sectarian bigotry, they gave him up as lost: truly, as he said, his praise was in none of the churches. Brought up as a United Presbyterian, he died in connection with the Church of Scotland, having with many of its clergy much friendship, and with its general liberality of feeling most sympathy. An Established Church-whose policy he often
condemned, and whose flaws he never wearied of pointing sarcastically out-he yet maintained to be the best safeguard for independence of thought and expression, as lifting its ministers above the servile need of teaching for doctrines of God the commandments of the pews. He did not believe in hard, dry dogmas; he winced under dogmatic assertions which tried to define the incomprehensible and to limit the illimitable; and he did not trust in preachers who professed to know the mind of God when they did not even know their own. The fact is that in him there were, as in most men, two conditions of mind, one that was believing and the other which was doubting. These alternated according to temperament and society, and, like those old-fashioned barometers, with the figure of a man at one end and the figure of a woman at the other, one of which comes out to mark the weather as the other goes in, so according to circumstances and intellectual atmosphere, the feminine belief comes out as the masculine doubt retires. There was much of the old Scotch religious character in Russel to the last. As the language of the Catechism clung to his memory, so the religious associations and beliefs clung to his mind. Amidst all the Bohemian regardlessness of form, there was a deep vein of sentiment, which increased with his years. He loved religious teaching that was simple, and touched with a vein of true feeling, and he always retained a living awe of the unseen and a loving reverence for the Master of our faith. No doubt the articles' he wrote did not exactly square with any articles of faith that men sign. He belonged, according to the saying, to that religion to which all sensible men belong, and which all sensible men keep to themselves.1
His death was unexpected; the symptoms which had startled him ever and anon were becoming more frequent, but yet he had no fear. One day, not long before his death, he had been at the office and had dictated three articles, one of which appeared five months after he had died. On July 18, 1876, when he was looking forward to going to the quiet and pleasant leisure of the country, he passed away, after a short illness, with the suddenness which attends heart disease. As the news of his death quickly sped, it cast a sorrow, sincere and deep, over the country, to which his writings had for a generation, to political friends and foes alike, been a source of never-failing delightfulness. The untiring vigour of his work, the clearness and pith of his style, his skill in political dialectics, his unsurpassed political know
It is useful to track a story to its origin; and as many attribute the saying to which we refer to Samuel Rogers and others, here is the true source, which is found in John Toland's Clidophorus, c. xiii. This puts me in mind of what I was told by a near relation of the old Lord Shaftesbury. The latter, conferring one day with Major Wildman about the many sects of religion in the world, they came to this conclusion at last: that notwithstanding these infinite divisions caused by the interest of the priests and the ignorance of the people, all wise men are of the same religion; whereupon a lady in the room, who seem'd to mind her needle more than their discourse, demanded with some concern what that religion was ? To which the Lord Shaftesbury strait reply'd, “ Madam, wise men never tell."'
ledge, his remarkable powers of sarcasm, his rare sense of the ludicrous, his wit and mirthfulness, were familiar to all readers. The real generosity of nature, the sterling honesty of purpose, the exquisite simplicity of character, the warm, genial, kindly, trustful nature, however, were known most to those who knew him best. Men who have held a prominent place in the world do not like to be forgotten when they die, or to think that their memory will soon pass from the minds of those they leave behind. Such a fate Russel really feared. It is natural truly to wish to be missed for long years to come, and to hope that in many a familiar gathering of old friends,
Amid their good cheer
Some kind heart may whisper
'I wish he were here.'
Amidst the now swiftly thinning ranks of his fast friends, that wish has been felt and uttered many and many a time, with all their heart, since he went away.
H. G. GRAHAM.