Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

began to talk to the whole party, and in French, all of us
being genuine English ; and I was told his French was
execrable. He had followed the Russian army into France,
and seen a good deal of the great men concerned in the war.
Of none of those things did he say a word, but went on,
sometimes in English and sometimes in French, gabbling
about cookery and dress and the like. At last he paused for
a little ; and I said a few words, remarking how a great
image may be reduced to the ridiculous and contemptible by
bringing the constituent parts into prominent detail, and
mentioned the grandeur of the Deluge and the preservation
of life in Genesis and the Paradise Lost, and the ludicrous
effect produced by Drayton's description in his Noah's Flood :-
“. And now the beasts are walking from the wood,

well of ravine, as that chew the cud.
The king of beasts his fury doth suppress,
And to the Ark leads down the lioness ;
The bull for his beloved mate doth low,
And to the Ark brings on the fair-eyed cow,' &c.

Hereupon Lord —— resumed, and spoke in raptures of a picture which he had lately seen of Noah's Ark, and said the animals were all marching two and two, the little ones first, and that the elephants came last in great majesty and filled up the fore-ground. Ah! no doubt, my lord,' said Canning ; 'your elephants, wise fellows! stayed behind to pack up their trunks ! This floored the ambassador for half an hour."

[ocr errors]

CHARACTERISTICS.

Here is a deprecatory summary, from the Westminster Review:

“Mr. Canning, as an orator, and as a statesman, never reached beyond mediocrity. As an orator he was showy, superficial, flippant, and eminently wanting in a severe and masculine taste. His orations were made up of gewgaw patches of glittering tinsel, of sparkling epigrammatic points and wellmanaged addresses to the vulgar prejudices of his vulgar audience. But his was not a generalising mind; he was incapable of examining a question with the sole view of ascertaining the truth and acquiring knowledge, useful to other men as well as to himself. At no time would he strike his own interests out of consideration, and to collect, weigh, and compare the whole of the interests belonging to any matter. His pretension to general views was solely in words; he employed wide and general expressions ; nothing was evidenced thereby but a vagueness of conception and a want of power or inclination to render that conception clear and definite; no one speech he ever uttered contained any originality of views, or any completeness of knowledge. He, to an eminent degree, possessed the art of a rhetorician ; could, with a small stock of ideas, make a great appearance of intellectual resources, could fill the ear without informing or satisfying the understanding, could mislead though he could not instruct.”

MR. CANNING AS AN AMPHITRYON.

Mr. Canning's fund of animal spirits, and the extreme excitability of his temperament (it is stated in the Quarterly Review) were such as invariably to hurry him, nolentem volentem, into the full flush of conviviality. At the later period of his life, when his health began to break, he would sit down with an evident determination to be abstinent, partake sparingly of the simplest soup, take no sauce with his fish, and mix no water with his wine, but as the repartee began to sparkle, and the anecdote to circulate, his assumed caution was insensibly relaxed, he gradually gave way to temptation, and commonly ended by eating of everything, and taking wine with everybody, the very beau idéal of an amphitryon. Yet this is emphatically disputed by Lord Brougham.

Sydney Smith ludicrously compared Canning in office to a fly in amber: “Nobody cares about the fly; the only question is How the devil did it get there ? Nor do I attack him " (continues Sydney)" from the love of glory, but from the love of utility, as a burgomaster hunts a rat in a Dutch dyke, for fear it should flood a province. When he is jocular, he is strong, when he is serious, he is like Samson in a wig. Call him a legislator, a reasoner, and the conductor of the affairs of a great nation, and it seems to me as absurd as if a butterfly were to teach bees to make honey. That he is an extraordinary writer of small poetry, and a diner-out of the highest metre, I do most readily admit. After George Selwyn, and perhaps Tickell, there has been no such man for the last half century.”

MR. CANNING AND HIS SERVANT.

Mr. Canning had a faithful college servant, who became much attached to him. Francis, for such was his name, was always distinguished by his blunt honesty and his familiarity with his master. During his master's early political career, Francis continued to live with him. Mr. Canning, whose love of fun was innate, used sometimes to play off his servant's bluntness upon his right honourable friends. One of these, whose honours did not sit very easily upon him, had forgotten Francis, though often indebted to his kind offices at Oxford. Francis complained to Mr. Canning that Mr. W. did not speak to him.

“ Pooh !" said Mr. Canning, “it is all your fault; you should speak first; he thinks you proud. He dines here to-day-go up to him in the drawing-room, and congratulate him upon the post he has just got.” Francis was obedient. Surrounded by a splendid ministerial circle, Francis advanced to the distinguished statesman, with “How d'ye do, Mr. W.! I hope you're very well-I wish you joy of your luck, and hope your place will turn out a good thing.” The roar, of course, was universal. The same Francis afterwards obtained a comfortable berth in the Customs, through his kind master's interest. He was a staunch Tory. During Queen Caroline's trial, he met Mr. Canning in the street. “Well

, Francis, how are you?" said the statesman, who had just resigned his office, holding out his hand. “It is not well, Mr. Canning,” replied Francis, refusing the pledge of friendship, “it is not well, Mr. Canning, that you should say anything in favour of that "-"But, Francis, political differences should not separate old friends-give me your hand.” The sturdy politician at length consented to honour the ex-minister with a shake of forgiveness. It is said that Mr. Canning did not forget him when he returned

to power.

CANNING'S PUBLIC LIFE. In De Vere, or the Man of Independence, the public dwelt with keen interest on a portraiture of Mr. Canning, whose career was then about to close in his premature death, the contention in the mind of this statesman between literary tastes and the pursuits of illustrious ambition is beautifully delineated in one passage, which has often been quoted. It represents a conversation between Wentworth (Canning), Sir George Deloraine, a reserved and sentimental man, and Dr. Herbert. The occasion of the conversation was Wentworth’s having observed Deloraine coming out of Westminster Abbey by the door at Poets' Corner. Meeting at dinner Sir George is rallied by Wentworth on his tastes for the monuments of departed genius, which he defends; and he goes on to add, “It would do all men of power good if you were to visit them, too, for it would show you how little more than upon a level is often the reputation of the greatest statesmen with the fame of those who, by their genius, their philosophy, or love of letters, improve and gladden life even after they are gone.” The whole company saw the force of this remark, and Wentworth not the least among them. You have touched a theme,” said he, “which has often engaged me, and others before me, with the keenest interest. I know nothing so calculated as this very reflection to cure us poor political slaves (especially when we feel the tugs we are obliged to sustain) of being dazzled by meteors."

A PENSION WELL APPLIED.

When Mr. Canning retired from the office of UnderSecretary, in 1801, he settled upon his mother, of whom he was exceedingly fond, the pension of £500 a-year, to which he was entitled. He paid her an annual visit at Bath, and made it a rule, with which no engagements were allowed to interfere, to write to her every Sunday, even during his embassy to Lisbon, when there was usually an interval of several weeks between the mails, the Sunday letter was never omitted, and the packet frequently brought four or five together.

QUEEN CAROLINE AND MR. CANNING. When Queen Caroline returned to England Mr. Canning was in office. In a speech which he delivered on the king's message respecting her rival, he spoke of her Majesty as

the grace, life, and ornament of every society in which she appeared,” and states that in 1814 he had advised her to go abroad, as he saw that “faction had marked her for its own. It was generally supposed that this more than respectful language gave offence to the king, and soon after, making another speech, on June 5, 1826, in which he declared that towards the illustrious personage who was the object of the investigation he felt an unaltered regard and affection, he resigned the Presidency of the Board of Control.

Government opened the session of 1817 with a

• Green Bag.” This bag, a true Pandora's box, contained threats of every mischief-assassination, incendiarism, insurrection, in their most formidable and infuriated shapes.

One conspiracy was a model that deserves to be set apart for the use of future conspirators or statesmen. It comprehended the storming of the Bank and the Tower, the firing of the different barracks, the overthrow of everybody and everything, even the great and massive bridges which cross the Thames, and which were to be blown up as a matter of course ; but the traitors were pious and brave men, relying almost wholly on their courage, so that only two hundred and fifty pikes and some powder in an old stocking had been provided to secure the success of their undertaking.

“Mr. Canning's description of the American navy (in 1812) as 'half a dozen fir frigates, with bits of bunting flying at their heads,' excited the American nation more than any actual grievance, and caused in a great measure the bitterness of that contest in which we were so insolent and so unsuccessful. His propensity to jokes made him also many enemies in private life. The late Duke of Bedford told a friend of mine that Mr. Canning, when staying with a party at Lord Carrington's (a few weeks after Lord C. had been made a peer by Mr. Pitt), wrote in chalk on the outside of the hall door the following lines :

“One Bobby Smith lives here,

Billy Pitt made him a peer,

And took the pen from behind his ear.' This unnecessary impertinence, I have heard, Lord Carrington never forgave.”Historical Characters.

“Mr. Canning was always young. The head of the sixth form at Eton-squibbing the Doctor,' as Mr. Addington was called ; fighting with Lord Castlereagh; cutting jokes on Lord Nugent; flatly contradicting Lord Brougham; swaggering over the Holy Alliance; he was in perpetual personal quarrels, one of the reasons which created for him so much personal interest during the whole of his parliamentary career. Yet, out of these quarrels, he always came glorious and vic

3

VOL. I.

« ForrigeFortsett »