Page images

powers was more immediately connected with the interests and welfare of England, was at once thrown upon him. We allude, as every one knows, to the sudden death of the Marquis of Londonderry, and the consequent vacancy in the Secretaryship for Foreign Affairs. When this event became publicly known, all England immediately fixed upon Mr. Canning as the only man who was at all competent to the duties of the office; some nécessary delay of course took place, but in a short time the decision of the public was ratified by the Prince Regent, and Mr. Canning accepted the seals of office. It may, indeed, almost be said, that he obtained the office by the choice of the people. The public voice, which was raised loudly on his behalf at that time, has continued to support him in the performances of his official duties up to the present hour; and however fortunate some men may have been in securing the favor of their fellow-countrymen, certainly no one has ever succeeded in doing so in a more extraordinary degree than this truly Right Honorable Gentleman.

Mr. Canning was married in the year 1799, to Miss Joan Scott, whose sister about the same time was married to the then Marquis of Tichfield, now Duke of Portland. These ladies, who had very large fortunes, were the daughters of General Scott. The family of Mr. Canning consists, we believe, of several children; one of his daughters was lately married to the Marquis of Clanrickarde. His eldest son died on the 31st March, 1820, in the nineteenth year of his age; an epitaph to his memory was written by Mr. Canning. In private life, we learn that Mr. Canning is unostentatious himself, and a lover of simplicity in others, easy of access, and distinguished for goodnature and mildness of temper. In alluding to his private history and personal appearance, we are sure that we cannot give a more striking and masterly delineation than is contained in the following paragraph, which is said to be from the pen of a powerful political writer :

“ I saw Mrs. Canning not long after her marriage, and could easily believe, that her fortune, large as it was, had not gained her her husband; for she was a very pretty, gentle, and amiable woman. To be sure there did require something in personal merits to meet those of the husband; for he, according to my judgment, was the very handsomest man I ever saw in my life. Not a“ pretty man,” not a “beauty," not a doll faced dandy; , but sufficiently tall, sufficiently stout, his limbs all at command, his step quick and firm, his voice sound and harmonious, his utterance quick and distinct, his emphasis strong without effort, his hair dark, his eyes bright without being sharp; and what above all things I admire, a set of features, every one of which performed its part in telling you what was passing in the mind.

“ How often have I, when reading his speeches, brought him back to my mind ! In about twenty-two years I have seen him but twice; once in 1817, and once lately. He is grown stout, and somewhat stiffer in his movements; he has lost the hair on the top of his head; but his eyes, and all his features, are nearly the same as ever; his voice is what it was; his habits of sobriety give him vigor, and in all probability will give him long life.”

To this testimony we will add the well-known opinion of Lord Byron. “ Canning,” said Lord Byron, “ is a genius, almost an universal one, an orator, a wit, a poet, and a statesman;" and again, in his Age of Bronze, one of his latest poems, he writes thus :

4. He was

" Yet something may remain perchance to chime
With reason, and what's stranger still, with rhyme;
Even this thy genius, CANNING! may permit,
Who, bred a statesman, still was born a wit,
And never, even in that dull house, could'st tame
To unleavened prose thine own poetic flame;
Our last, our best, our only Orator,

Ev'n I can praise thee.". Of the wit of Mr. Canning, his speeches furnish very many examples, and there are few persons who cannot relate a variety of bon mots which are usually attributed to him; whether truly or untruly, it is difficult to say. We shall only relate two of them, which we believe rest on better authority than the others. Mr. Canning and the Marquis of Wellesley were looking at a picture of the deluge, in which the ark was represented at a distance, whilst an elephant in the foreground was struggling with the rising waters ---" I wonder,” said the Marquis, “ the elephant did not get

a place in the ark.” too late," replied Mr. Canning; " he was detained packing up his trunk.” The other instance of Mr. C.'s ready wit to which we alluded, was occasioned by the publication of a periodical work by the Harrow Boys, in opposition to The Microcosm, which we have before related was published at Eton. The Harrow periodical was adorned with a frontispiece, in which the publications were represented in a balance, the Eton one being made to kick the beam. Upon seeing this picture, Mr. Canning immediately composed the following epigram :

" What mean ye by this print so rare,

Ye wits of Eton jealous ;
Behold! your rivals soar in air,

Whilst ye are heavy fellows." His speeches, as they are printed, are prodigal of metaphor, and distinguished by bursts of extemporaneous energy, which render 'them at the present day, at any event, entirely unequalled. Such they will be found by the mere reader; but how shall we endeavour to describe them, when considered in the only manner which they ought in truth to be regarded, namely, as speeches, properly so called?

Eloquence has been termed “a species of poetry, applied to the particular end of persuasion;" but language is utterly unable to give any adequate idea of what is meant by this word, when it is used as descriptive of the oral productions of celebrated men. What is in print, may be judged calmly and deliberately --it presents itself for criticism, and may be submitted to the test of those rules which are applicable to each particular species of written composition; but such is not the case with the eloquence of the orator, which, like the unstudied harmonies of the Æolian Lyre, is at once independent of all rules, and can be judged only by its effect. Who can circumscribe that which is in itself illimitable? Who can govern the wanderings of imagination, set bounds to the excursions of fancy, or erect a barrier which thought cannot overleap? No man.

Were it possible



to do so, eloquence would be no more. It is in freedom alone that it exists. A slave can no more be eloquent, than the sun's orbit could yield us light and warmth if that luminary were quenched. Ocean, earth, and air---the universe, with all that it contains, must be set before the mind of him who desires to attain eloquence; with liberty for thought to wander where it will; and he who by curious observation most illustrates the subject of his discourse, will be esteemed the most eloquent. To be coldly, grammatically correct, is not to be eloquent. Nor does eloquence consist in the rapid and vehement utterance of dull common-place, or of mere trite, every-day observation---no, such speeches may be listened to with calmness, perhaps with patience, but the man who is truly eloquent; stands amongst those who hear him as a God, rivets their attention, stirs up their souls even to enthusiasm, leaves them no time for judgment or reflection, hurries them on from thought to thought, from illustration to illustration, until, at length, the long suppressed emotion acquires a force which cannot be restrained, and the whole auditory bursts into a shout. Is this a mere ideal representation? Who has not felt his breath quicken, his heart beat more rapidly? Who has not seen his neighbour stand with fixed eye and open mouth, eagerly catching every word to which some illustrious man gave utterance? And who does not feel pride when reflecting that our country can boast of men whose spirit-stirring eloquence is not surpassed, even by the most celebrated orators of antiquity? Amongst the men of such a description, of whom we can at present boast, the name of Canning stands proudly pre-eminent, for a vigorous and manly eloquence; an eloquence which delights, astonishes, and awes; replete with beauty, and distinguished by propriety and sublimity of illustration. Witness his burst of enthusiasm when addressing the House of Commons shortly after the battle of Vittoria. “I see,” said he, anticipating the consequences of that glorious victory, in something like prophetic strain, “I see the towers and battlements of ancient institutions emerging from the mist.”—The House had been listening to his address with the most intense silence; but in aʼmoment, as if by electricity or predetermined consent, a burst of admiration and applause rendered the conclusion of the sentence completely inaudible. We know that passages like these, and some others we are about to quote, lose the greater part of their charm, when viewed on paper, unaccompanied by the animated and animating delivery of the orator from whom they emanate. Perhaps there is not so noble a sight as that of a graceful and eloquent speaker taking captive, as it were by force, the souls of those around him---but all cannot be present on such occasions, and it is for the absent that we more especially write, warning them to bear in mind, that the witchery, the fascination of eloquence, consists almost as much in the flashing of the eye.--the music of the voice the propriety of the gesturethe palpable inspiration of the whole man-charms which memory can with difficulty retrace, and language cannot describe---as it does in the words which were uttered, the only relics of the sublime and splendid scene which we can record.

In selecting from Mr. Canning's published speeches one which will give the best idea of his peculiar eloquence, we do not know that we could choose a better specimen than the address which he delivered at Plymouth, in the year 1823, upon the occasion of being presented with the freedom of that town. The speech is throughout one of singular excellence; but the allusion which is made at the conclusion of it, to the ships at anchor near the town, perhaps has never been equalled in the peculiar aptness with which it illustrates the question upon which he treats. It is impossible to select any part of this address without destroying its effect; we therefore insert the whole of it.

“ Mr. Mayor, and Gentlemen,-I accept with thankfulness, and with greater satisfaction than I can express, this flattering testimony of your good opinion and goodwill. I must add, that the value of the gift itself has been greatly enhanced by the manner in which your worthy and honorable Recorder has developed the motives which suggested it, and the sentiments which it is intended to convey.

“ Gentlemen, your Recorder has said very truly, that whoever in this free and enlightened State aims at political eminence, and discharges political duties, must expect to have his conduct scrutinized, and every action of his public life sifted with no ordinary jealousy, and with no sparing criticism ; and such may have been my lot as much as that of other public men. But, gentlemen, unmerited obloquy seldom fails of an adequate, though perhaps tardy, compensation. I must think myself

, as my honorable friend has said, eminently fortunate, if such compensation as he describes has fallen to me at an earlier period than to many others; if I dare flatter myself (as his partiality has fattered me), that the sentiments that you are kind enough to entertain for me, are in unison with those of the country; if, in addition to the justice done me by my friends, I may, as he has assured me, rely upon a candid construction, even from political opponents.

“ But, gentlemen, the secret of such a result does not lie deep. It consists only in an honest and undeviating pursuit of what one conscientiously believes to be one's public duty-a pursuit which, steadily continued, will, however detached and separate parts of a man's conduct may be viewed under the influence of partialities or prejudices, obtain for it, when considered as a whole, the approbation of all honest and honorable minds. Any man may occasionally be mistaken as to the means most conducive to the end which he has in view ; but if the end be just and praise-worthy, it is by that he will be ultimately judged, either by his contemporaries or by posterity. (Much applause.)

“ Gentlemen, the end which I confess I have always had in view, and which appears to me the legitimate object of pursuit to a British statesman, I can describe in one word. The language of modern philosophy is wisely and diffusely benevolent; it professes the perfection of our species, and the amelioration of the lot of all mankind. Gentlemen, I hope that my heart beats as high for the general interest of humanity--I hope that I have as friendly a disposition towards other nations of the earth, as any one who vaunts his philanthropy most highly; but I am contented to confess, that in the conduct of political affairs, the grand object of my contemplation is the interest of England. (Much applause.)

" Not, gentlemen, that the interest of England is an interest which stands isolated and alone. The situation which she holds forbids an exclusive selfishness; her prosperity must contribute to the prosperity of other nations, and her stability to the safety of the world. (Bursts of applause.) But, intimately connected as we are with the systenı of Europe, it does not follow that we are therefore called upon to mix ourselves on every occasion, with a restless and meddling activity, in the concerns of the nations which surround us. It is upon a just balance of conflicting duties, and of rival, but sometimes incompatible, advantages, that a government must judge when to put forth its strength, and when to husband it for occasions yet to come.

“Our ultimate object must be the peace of the world. That object may sometimes be best attained by prompt exertions---sometimes by abstinence from interposition in contests which we cannot prevent. It is upon these principles that, as has been most truly observed by my worthy friend, it did not appear to the government of this country

to be necessary that Great Britain should mingle in the recent contest between France and Spain. (Applause.)

“Your worthy Recorder has accurately classed the persons who would have driven us into that contest. There were undoubtedly among them those who desired to plunge this country into the difficulties of war, partly from the hope that those difficulties would overwhelm the Administration ; but it would be most unjust not to admit that there were others who were actuated by nobler principles and more generous feelings, who would have rushed forward at once from the sense of indignation at aggression, and who deemed that no act of injustice could be perpetrated from one end of the universe to the other, but that the sword of Great Britain should leap from its scabbard to avenge it. (Applause.) But as it is the province of law to control the excess even of laudable passions and propensities in individuals, so it is the duty of Government to restrain within due bounds the ebullition of national sentiment, and to regulate the course and direction of impulses which it cannot blame. Is there any one among the latter class of persons described by my honorable friend (for to the former I have nothing to say), who continues to doubt whether the Government did wisely in declining to obey the precipitate enthusiasm which prevailed at the commencement of the contest in Spain? (Applause.) Is there any body who does not now think, that it was the office of Government to examine more closely all the various bearings of so complicated a question, to consider whether they were called upon to assist a united nation, or to plunge themselves into the internal feuds by which that nation was divided---to aid in repelling a foreign invader, or, to take part in a civil war. (Applause.) Is there any man that does not now see what would have been the extent of burdens that would have been cast upon this country? Is there any one who does not acknowledge that under such circumstances the enterprise would have been one to be characterized only by a term borrowed from that part of the Spanish literature with which we are most familiar, ---Quixotic ; an enterprise, romantic in its origin, and thankless in the end ? (Much applause.)

“But while we thus control even our feelings by our duty, let it not be said that we cultivate peace, either because we fear, or because we are unprepared for, war; on the contrary, if eight months ago the Government did not hesitate to proclaim that the country was prepared for war, if war should be unfortunately necessary; every month of peace that has since passed, has but made us so much the more capable of exertion. The resources created by peace are means of war. (Applause.) In cherishing those resources, we but accumulate those means. Our present repose is no more a proof of inability to act, than the state of inertness and inactivity in which I have seen those mighty masses that float in the waters above your town, is a proof they are devoid af strength, and incapable of being fitted out for action. You well know, gentlemen, how soon one of those stupendous masses, now reposing on their shadows in perfect stillness ;---how soon, upon any call of patriotism, or of necessity, it would assume the likeness of an animated thing, instinct with life and motion ;---how soon it would ruffle, as it were, its swelling plumage ;---how quickly it would put forth all its beauty and its bravery, collect its scattered elements of strengih, and awaken its dormant thunder. (Loud and continued thunders of applause.) Such as is one of these magnificent machines when springing from inaction into a display of its might---such is England herself, while apparently passive and motionless she silently concentrates the power to be put forth on an adequate occasion. But God forbid that that occasion should arise. After a war sustained for nearly a quarter of a century---sometimes single-handed, and with all Europe arranged at times against her or at her side, England needs a period of tranquillity, and may enjoy it without fear of misconstruction. Long may we be enabled, gentlemen, to improve the blessings of our present situation, to cultivate the arts of peace, to give to commerce, now reviving, greater extension and new spheres of employment, and to confirm the prosperity now generally diffused throughout this island. of the blessing of peace, gentlemen, I trust that this borough, with which I have now the honor and happiness of being associated, will receive an ample share. I trust the time is not far distant, when that noble structure of which, as I learn from your Recorder, the box with which you have honored me, through his hands, formed a part, that gigantic barrier against the fury of the waves that roll into your harbour, will protect a commercial marine not less considerable in its kind, than the warlike marine of which your port has been long so distinguished an asylum, when the town of Plymouth will participate in the commercial prosperity as largely as it has hitherto done in the naval glories of England. [The Honorable Gentleman sat down amidst bursts of cheering, which lasted for several minutes.]

« PreviousContinue »