Page images
PDF
EPUB

violent invective. Perhaps in nothing has Mr. Bright so much power as in his use of sarcasm. The manner in which, by a mere inflection of his voice, he can express the intensest scorn, and so express it as to make his feelings more completely known to his audience than if he spent an hour in trying to explain them, is simply marvellous. We remember one or two instances in which the mere tone of his voice has conveyed an impression of his boundless contempt for his adversary which no language could have expressed half so well.

"But almost directly after the audience has been stirred by the orator's sarcasm, he begins in the calmest and most deliberate manner to tell some story. Mr. Bright is a wonderful story-teller, and some of the best anecdotes and illustrations that have been given to us in modern times have come from him. The story of the old gentleman, for instance, who used to say that a 'hole wore longer than a patch,' is worthy of being placed beside the history of Dame Partington; . . . . and the Syrian monk, to whom 'tears were as natural as perspiration,' are good examples of the ready wit with which he supplies every argument he employs with an appropriate illustration.

"More notable examples of the same quality are to be found in that speech in which he christened the Adullamites, and added a new phrase-'the Cave'-to the vocabulary of party politics. The speech itself was a triumph of humour, nothing in it being more grotesquely irresistible than that never-to-be-forgotten of the 'party of two,' which bore so striking a resemblance to the young ladies' terrier, 'which was so covered with hair that you could not tell which was the head and which was the tail of it.'

"Perhaps none of Mr. Bright's qualities does so much to render him popular, as a speaker, both in the House of Commons and in the provinces, as his humour. And one peculiarity of his humour is, that it always appears to be unconscious. When he is telling one of his best stories, or uttering one of his best sayings, he hardly moves a muscle of his face, and seemingly takes no share in the merriment of his audience."

Mr. Bright rarely indulged in classical quotations, for the reason, probably, that he received his education at Quaker schools and colleges, where the classics were not taught. But his knowledge of English literature was very considerable, and his quotations from the greatest authors were frequent and felicitous.

When Mr. Bright desired to cover with ridicule the faction of which Mr. Lowe was the head, he thought of the escape of David from Achish, King of Gath, and the people who subsequently gathered with him in the Cave of Adullam.

On another occasion when speaking complainingly of the Conservatives, he said that if that party "had been in the wilderness, they would have complained of the Ten Commandments as a harassing piece of legislation."

He called Mr. Disraeli the "mystery man of the ministry." And he said of Sir Charles Adderly in a letter to a friend, "I hope he thought he was speaking the truth, but he is rather a dull man, and is liable to make blunders." Of another man, who boasted that his ancestors came over with the Conqueror, he said, "I never heard that they did any thing else."

Mr. Bright was unable to attend to his parliamentary duties for a short time on account of sickness; a nobleman impudently remarked in public, that, by way of punishment for the use he had made of his talents, Providence had inflicted upon Mr. Bright a disease of the brain. Mr. Bright said, when he resumed his duties: " It may be so, but in any case, it will be some consolation to the friends and family of the noble lord to know that the disease is one which even Providence could not inflict upon him.”

One of the most striking passages to be found in any of Mr. Bright's speeches is the following one, taken from his speech against the prosecution of the Crimean war:

"I do not suppose that your troops are to be beaten in actual conflict with the foe, or that they will be driven into the sea; but I am certain that many homes in England in which there exists a fond hope that the distant one may

return-many such homes may be rendered desolate when the next mail shall arrive. The angel of death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings. There is no one, as when the first-born was slain of old, to sprinkle with blood the lintel and the two side-posts of our doors, that he may spare and pass on; he takes his victims from the castle of the noble, the mansion of the wealthy, and the cottage of the poor and lowly, and it is in behalf of all these classes that I make this solemn. appeal. . . I would ask, I would entreat the noble lord (Palmerston) to take a course which, when he looks back upon his whole political career-whatever he may find therein to be pleased with, whatever to regret-cannot but be a source of gratification to him. By adopting that course he would have the satisfaction of reflecting that, having obtained the laudable object of his ambition-having become the foremost subject of the crown, the director of, it may be, the destinies of his country, and the presiding genius of her councils-he had achieved a still higher and nobler ambition; that he had returned the sword to its scabbard that at his words torrents of blood had ceased to flow-that he had restored tranquillity to Europe, and saved this country from the indescribable calamities of war."

On November 3, 1868, Mr. Bright was presented with the freedom of the city of Edinburgh, and in 1869 he accepted office as president of the Board of Trade. He was appointed to the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster in August, 1873, and held that post till the dissolution of the Liberal Government, February, 1874. Mr. Bright's name was also identified with a scheme for the reform of the electoral representation.

Mr. Bright was robust of frame, broad-shouldered, broadchested, and of graceful manners. He had a broad, full, decidedly Saxon face. His forehead was broad and high. His brows were dark and heavy. His eyes were a keen, tender blue, full of "sweet gravity, and wonderfully intellectual." They could flash fire, or melt into tears, and captivated all who came within the sphere of their influence.

"His mouth," says a writer, who gave a description of him before his death, "though large, is firm and indicative of the greatness of his heart, and has an expression of good humour. The lips have, in their fleshy and massive outline, abundant marks of habitual reflection and intellectual occupation. The streak of the unfaded rose still enlivens his cheeks. When animated during a speech his comely Saxon features brighten into unmistakable beauty, and when seen in the profile are even finer than when viewed from the The whole has an expression of fine intellectual dignity, candour, serenity, and lofty, gentlemanly repose.' Mr. Bright was a philanthropist in the true sense of that term. He devoted the best years of his life to the study of the causes of human misery and degradation, and he honestly advocated such measures as he deemed best calculated to ameliorate the condition of the poor and oppressed. But, he at the same time, recognised the fact that property owners have rights which should be respected. As to the wisdom of the legislative remedies which he proposed for the cure of the diseases of the body politic, which he conceived to exist, there is a wide difference of opinion, but all agree that Mr. Bright was sincere in his convictions.

Patriotism, and deep earnestness, were the chief features of Mr. Bright's strength as an orator, but his oratorical success was due not to one or two qualities, but to a combination of qualities like the light and shade of a picture. His speeches had fervor, force, reason and passion, and touched the heart, conscience, and intellect, of his hearers.

His memory was extraordinarily tenacious, and allowed nothing to escape which he had once given due consideration. His information upon subjects with which a statesman should be familiar is said to have been wide and accurate.

Although, usually, his style was chaste and simple, yet when the subject permitted, his poetical diction imparted warmth and brilliancy to facts, which would have been dull if treated by a less skilful speaker. At times, however, his language was, to the objects of his attacks, distressingly plain. The following extract from a speech delivered in

1868 is an example in point. Mr. Bright said: "One of the candidates for the inferior position of minority member for Birmingham complained on a recent occasion that I had not read the speeches of his colleague in the candidature, and that I had not, in duty bound, undertaken to answer him. The fact is I am too busy in these days to dwell very much on works of fiction. The speeches of Mr. Lloyd are what I call dull fiction, and the speeches of his colleague, though not less fiction, are certainly of a more sparkling and sensational character."

Soon after his death, which took place on the 7th day of March, 1889, the following tribute was paid to Mr. Bright, by his political associate and personal friend, Hon. W. E. Glad

stone:

Mr. Gladstone, upon rising, was received with cheers. He said:

"Mr. Bright has been, to a very remarkable degree, happy in the moment of his removal from among us. He lived to see the triumph of almost every great cause to which he specially devoted his heart and mind. He has established a special claim to the admiration of those from whom he differed through his long political life by marked concurrence with them upon the prominent and dominant question of the hour. (Hear! hear!') While he has in that way opened the minds and hearts of those with whom he differed to appreciation of his merits he has lost nothing by that concord with them on the particular subjects we so much represent. Though Mr. Bright came to be separated from the great bulk of the liberals on the Irish question, on no single occasion has there been any word of disparagement. I acknowledge that I have not, through my whole political life, fully embraced the character of Mr. Bright and the value of that character to the country. I say this because it was at the particular epoch of the Crimean war that I came more to understand than before the position held by him and some of his friends and the hold they had laid upon the confidence of the people. I was one of those who did not agree with the particular views he took of the Crimean

« PreviousContinue »