« PreviousContinue »
something that could create, subvert, or reform; an understanding, a spirit, and an eloquence to summon mankind to society, or to break the bonds of slavery asunder, and rule the wildness of free minds with unbounded authority; something that could establish or overwhelm empire, and strike a blow in the world that should resound through its history.”
Grattan died in 1820, and twenty years later, in 1844, another great English writer, Lord Macaulay, wrote a world-famous passage upon the great Lord Chatham in the Edinburgh Review:
Chatham sleeps near the northern door of the church, in a spot which has ever since been appropriated to statesmen, as the other end of the same transept has long been to poets. Mansfield rests there, and the second William Pitt, and Fox, and Grattan, and Canning, and Wilberforce. In no other cemetery do so many great citizens lie within so narrow a space. High over those venerable graves towers the stately monument of Chatham, and, from above, his effigy, graven by a cunning hand, seems still, with eagle face and outstretched arm, to bid England be of good cheer, and to hurl defiance at her foes.
“The generation which reared that memorial of him has disappeared. The time has come when the rash and indiscriminate judgments which his contemporaries passed on his character may be calmly revised by history. And history, while, for the warning of vehement, high, and daring natures, she notes his many errors, will yet deliberately pronounce that, among the eminent men whose bones lie near his, scarcely one has left a more stainless and none a more splendid name.”
It is a great race, Antony, that can produce a man of such a character as Chatham, and also writers who can dedicate to him such superb tributes as these.
Macaulay's prose has been much criticised as being too near to easy journalism to be classed among the great classic passages of English; but this much must be recognised to his great credit-he never wrote an obscure sentence or an ambiguous phrase, and his works may be searched in vain for a foreign idiom or even a foreign word. He possessed an infallible memory, absolute perspicuity, and a scholarly taste. He detested oppression wherever enforced, and never exercised his great powers in the defence of mean politics or unworthy practices.
Such a writer to-day would blow a wholesome wind across the tainted pools of political intrigue.
We can salute him, Antony, as a fine, manly, clean writer, who was an honour to letters.
Your loving old
MY DEAR ANTONY,
Born in the same year as was Grattan, namely, in 1750, Lord Erskine adorned the profession of the Bar with an eloquence that never exhibited the slight tendency to be ponderous which sometimes was displayed by his contemporaries.
Grace and refinement shine out in every one of his great speeches.
He was a young scion of the great house of Buchan, being the third son of the tenth Earl. After being in the Navy for four years he left it for the Army, and six years later he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, and took his degree; thence he came to the Bar in 1778, and at once displayed the most conspicuous ability as an advocate. He appeared for Horne Tooke in a six-day trial for high treason, which ended in an acquittal.
In 1806 he became Lord Chancellor and a peer.
I quote an indignant warning to the aristocracy of England which flamed forth in one of his great speeches:
“Let the aristocracy of England, which trembles so much for itself, take heed to its own security; let the nobles of England, if they mean to preserve that pre-eminence which, in some shape or other, must exist in every social community, take care to support it by aiming at that which is creative, and alone creative, of real superiority. Instead of matching themselves to supply wealth, to be again idly squandered in debauching excesses, or to round the quarters of a family shield; instead of continuing their names and honours in cold and alienated embraces, amidst the enervating rounds of shallow dissipation, let them live as their fathers of old lived before them; let them marry as affection and prudence lead the way, and, in the