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CHARACTER OF MR. WHITBREAD.*
ANONYMOUS. Any person who casts a careful eye over the House of Commons, will find that the different portions into which society is divided, are tolerably well represented in that assembly. The landed interest,—the mercantile interest,—the privileged orders, and the professions, have all their adequate proportion of advocates to assert their claims : what seems to be wanting, is a class of persons, who, without reference to any partial interests, should speak the sentiments, and uphold the rights of the nation at large. The history of Parliament will supply but few names to whom this description would be applicable.
Mr. Fox, with all his liberal thinking and benevolent feeling, was too much attached to party-views : and Mr. Windham, who has been proclaimed as a complete specimen of the English character, was perhaps the most unnatural compound of heterogeneous qualities, to which the name of Englishman was ever affixed. His brilliant talents,-his manly courage,his cheerful good-nature, will very readily be allowed to be perfectly English. But what shall be said of the oblique sophistries of his understanding, of his want of feeling, and, above all, of that blind misapprehension which induced him to believe that the people of England were a swinish multitude, incapable of reflection, and in whom not even the common and brutal virtue of bravery could be cherished without cock-fights, and bull-bates, and Jew-boxers. It would be easy to enumerate many more inconsistencies of his character ; but enough has probably been said to show, that such a man could not be called the Representative of the English people.
It was to Mr. Whitbread alone, that this title seemed entirely due. He was an epitome of the national character. It was he who represented the straight-forward good sense,—the warmth of heart, sometimes indiscreet, but always generous,—the simple manners, sometimes abrupt, but always kind,—the sturdy honesty, sometimes rough, but always consistent,—the shrewd
* This, and the characters of Romilly, Grattan, Wilberforce, Lord Stowell, Sir Francis Burdett, and Mr. Hume, appeared, originally, in
Examiner” newspaper, and were attributed to Mr. Barnes.
penetration, ever active, but ever candid,—the boldness of spirit, sometimes violent, but always steady —which, altogether, have ever been considered as the infallible marks of a genuine Englishman. His exterior was as English as his mind : his steady eye, his countenance deeply marked with thoughtfulness, but fluctuating with feeling ; his sober gait, his unaffected gestures, even the decided vigorous cast of his person, gave assurance of a man who belonged to a country where the naked soul may yet walk abroad and feel no shame--where, as yet, the artificial mummeries of a corrupt civilization are not necessary for the support of a public reputation ;-where, as yet, there is none of the imbecility of denaturalized states. The very plainness of his person showed, that he was one of that people among whom the consciousness of internal rectitude is esteemed as the surest property and the noblest ornament. I have frequently smiled at an observation of persons whom I have taken with me to hear Mr. Whitbread : they have allowed the energy and acuteness of his understanding,—the honest boldness of his sentiments,—and the tone of feeling which gave an interest to all that he said ;—but they thought him unpolished, deficient in
Alas ! how much they mistook the objects and views of that distinguished Commoner. He did not take his daily seat in the House of Commons, in order to make graceful obeisances, and pronounce pretty periods : he came there to do the business of the nation,-to take care that the common-weal received no injury,—to watch over, and protect the constitution against the intemperance of zeal, and the insidiousness of ambition,-to animate and assist the labours of the honest, — to crush the efforts of the fraudulent and selfish,-to vindicate the oppressed, -to SPEAK TRUTH! To object to a man, occupied in such exalted pursuits, that his manner was not exquisitely polished, was as silly as it would be to complain that Michael Angelo has not the prettiness of Watteau,--that Milton wants the softness of Sedley,—that Newton is not so entertaining as Goldsmith. The manner of Mr. Whitbread seemed perfectly consonant to his objects : he aimed at awakening the attention of the indolent, at rousing the fears of the guilty; and for this purpose, it was essential that he should appear in earnest ;-a conclusion to which few persons would have come, if they had seen him more attentive about the form, than the matter of his speeches. I confess I liked to witness his sharp, sometimes boisterous attacks on the complacent strength of Administration :
he attacked those who were able to defend themselves, and he attacked them in the way best suited to his purpose. I liked his manner, also, because it formed an agreeable contrast to that contemptible namby-pamby gentleness, which is now becoming so fashionable in the House of Commons. Those who wish to form a correct estimate of his character, must not look to two or three particular speeches, but to the whole tenor of his public life. They will then see a consistency of action which is to be found in few other public men: they will see a man, always the strenuous and watchful opponent of Administration, not from any paltry ambition of place, but on the greatest constitutional ground of operating as a check to the natural tyranny of high power : they will see a patriot, who, while his heart glowed at the proud triumphs of his own countrymen, could find leisure to think of the welfare of other nations besides his own : they will see an advocate, ever accessible and ever ready to support the cause of the injured : they will see that union of talent and perseverance,-of justice and courage, of eloquence and sound sense, which makes the cause of truth as irresistible, as it is respectable. People who think only of ministerial majorities, will call this an exaggerated statement, and
say, that too much importance has been attached to the labours of this distinguished member. They have not thoroughly considered the subject. Mr. Whitbread could not indeed command a majority of votes, but he could, and I will venture to say did, on most important occasions, command a majority of opinions. Above all, he commanded and guided the sense of the nation :-a force ten times more powerful than the House of Commons, because it always, directly or indirectly, influences the conduct of that assembly. To this the proudest minister is forced to bow: with reference to this, he fabricated every measure: a piece of meditated tyranny was clipped away from this law; a patch of desirable fraud was torn off from that arrangement; and corruption itself was quietly purged of the most acrid particles of its poison. Such is the power of a great moral check, when directed by an able and honest man! Nay, such was the attention of Mr. Whitbread to every branch of Parliamentary business,—such was his acuteness, and such his fearlessness, that I have no doubt, that many a dirty parish or country job was stripped of half its intended baseness, lest it should have been noticed and denounced by that vigilant and upright Commoner. This
was an elevation of dignified usefulness, to which the most sanguine ambition could hardly have hoped to aspire : and to this proud height he raised himself by the sheer force of consistency. His talents were great, but talents, unsupported by the public esteem, are of no real value. There was a quickness, a dexterity, and an energy about his understanding, which made him one of the best and most formidable debaters in the House. He detected a sophistry with the ken of an eagle, and broke in pieces a falsehood with the vigour of a lion. moreover, the most eloquent speaker in the House, if eloquence consist, not in ornamented sentences, but in the language which, coming from the heart, never fails to touch the heart. His speeches afforded a most refreshing contrast to the mild circumlocutions of government harangues, and the gaudy rhetoric of theatrical declamation. Before his matter had made an impression, there was a warmth and earnestness about his tones, which roused and interested all his auditors. They listened, and were charmed with the manly spirit of his sentiments, and the simple strength of his diction : instead of the cold artifices of composition, he gave them the natural dignity of impassioned thinking: for the splendid figures of speech, he gave them the pure brightness of the image of truth.
Some persons may regret that Mr. Whitbread did not attain any of the usual objects of ambition : but could any peerage or blue ribbon be equal to the dignity of having been hailed by the universal people, as the people's guardian ! His
eye watched for the good of the nation : its eye was ever fixed upon him with a proud and admiring confidence. The people are never ungrateful, but cheerfully give to every merit its due reward. The successful warrior reaps wealth and honours : the skilful negociator may, if he please, enjoy the same recompense for his labours : but England reserved its full tide of gratitude, affection, and esteem, for that man who, through twenty years of arduous conflict, vindicated the rights of freedom and humanity, and whose successful toils justly entitled him to be called HER GREATEST AND MOST USEFUL CITIZEN !*
* Mr. Pitt's sincerity in support of the Abolition of the African SlaveTrade, and the Emancipation of the Catholics, has been often doubted. In turning over a file of old Newspapers, the Editor met with the following observation in a Speech of Mr. Whitbread, which for the honour both of the Great Commoner, and the Prime Minister, he takes leave to insert. The subject of debate was the Catholic Question :—“As to the
CHARACTER OF SIR S. ROMILLY.
ANONYMOUS. SIR SAMUEL ROMILLY was one to whom no rank could give additional lustre, and from whose character, to take away a sentiment or an action, would be to detach a jewel from a crown ;—such was the general consistency and harmony of its parts. As this introduction seems to portend a very encomiastic description, I will, before I proceed, show that I am perfectly aware of the failing usually imputed to this excellent lawyer. He was said to be easily irritated ; and it must be confessed, that the tone in which he opened his enlightened plans to the House, frequently indicated wounded feelings ; or seemed to imply that he should consider any opposition as something worse than mere difference of opinion. I have little doubt that a more conciliating manner would have been more effectual for his purposes; for great bodies of men, like individuals, must be flattered into goodness : anger and reproach should be extended only to old offenders who are past all
I was sorry, therefore, to see a defect in Sir Samuel, which may have been some impediment to his objects ; but I think it may be easily explained, and even justified. A benevolent man, who is on the watch to be useful, whether he retires to solitary reflection, or walks abroad among his fellowcreatures,-can hardly pass an hour in which some circumstance shall not present itself to disturb and agonize his feelings. If he is not, what many kind-hearted men are, constitutionally careless; if, on the contrary, he is of a contemplative cast, he finds it impossible to disengage the painful idea from his mind : it haunts his dreams, and even his pleasures : distresses upon distresses accumulate before his recollection or his imagination, till he is irritated into a state
authority of Mr. Pitt," observed Mr. Whitbread, “it might as well be said that he was insincere in supporting the measures for the Abolition of the Slave-Trade, because he had not submitted any plan to the Cabinet for that purpose. He would say that it was impossible for any individual, who had heard the divine effusions of that great man, either on the Slave. Trade, or on the Catholic Question, to believe that he was insincere." The country was deprived of the services of this truly great and good man (Mr. W.) in 1815. Taking bim “all in all,” he did not leave one equal behind him in the British dominions !