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His principle was, that any man who embarked in public life ought to take that office which, in the opinion of his colleagues, he could hold with most advantage to the Government and the country. In whatever position he was placed, his sole thought was what he could do for the office and the public - not what the office could do for him. This entire forgetfulness of selfthis absolute indifference to the common incentives of vanity, profit, or ambition, marked to an unexampled degree the character of Lewis. He brought into public life no irritability, and no envy.
His habit was to dismiss, as unworthy of his notice, those adventitious circumstances which are apt to magnify political questions by personal pretensions; and to perform simply his duties, in whatever relation he might stand, to the service of the Crown. Thus it was that on the lamented death of Lord Herbert of Lea, Sir George Lewis consented to pass from the Secretaryship of State for the Home Department to that of War, although the latter office was evidently the office least congenial to his own studies and pursuits. By a melancholy coincidence, this same office of War has twice been vacated since the formation of the present Administration, by the death of two of the most efficient members of it!
Indeed, the striking feature of his character in politics, in literature, and in private life was this honest and straightforward simplicity. Trick or contrivance of any kind was so utterly alien from his nature as never to cross his thoughts. He never suffered party or personal motives to taint or warp his judgment on any question, whether of literature or statesmanship. He would not have thought of outwitting an opponent in public life by subterfuge or stratagem, any more than he would have tampered with a Greek quotation for the purpose of supporting a favourite philological theory. There is a passage in the preface to the little Dialogue now before us, which, like the whole tone of the book, marks well the fair and deliberate character of his mind. He says :
• It is a controversy consisting of a debtor and creditor account; the difficulty lies in striking the balance fairly. The weights in one scale may be less heavy than the weights in the other scale, but they are nevertheless weights. Such is the nature of nearly all moral and political problems.' (P. vii.)
This is no doubt an obvious truth; but there are few men who practically keep this truth before them to the same extent as the author himself did. He never failed to take 'a weight' into account because it was offered to him by an opponent, though he might differ as to the proper value to be assigned to it. Personal feelings and personal enmity had as little to do
with his opinions or conduct as personal interest. He rarely formed an opinion without looking at all sides of the question before him; and without having recourse to all accessible sources of information, which he knew where to find better than most men. He was deluded by no prejudices and jumped at no conclusions, without testing them by the application of sound common sense.
When he had thus formed an opinion, he adhered to it steadily, but not obstinately. He was always open to argument, and he never refused to listen to it because it conflicted with his own view of the case. We cannot confirm these last assertions better than by inserting the following extract from a letter written after his death by a highly cultivated and intelligent American to a friend in England, and received whilst this article is in our hands :
'I knew him but little, but there was one quality in his mind of vast consequence to him as a statesman, and to his country, which was quickly apparent; I mean his instinctive fairness. He was singularly able and willing to change his opinion, when new facts came to unsettle his old one. He seemed to do it too without regret. This struck me the first time I saw him, which was at breakfast at Lord Stanhope's in July 1856, and it was still more strongly apparent the next morning at breakfast at his own house, the conversation on both occasions having been much on American affairs, at the period just before Buchanan's election, and when Walker was making his wild filibustering attempts on the isthmus. And it continued, I think, every time I saw him that summer and the next, down to the last dinner at his house, when we were together. I remember I used to think he had the greatest respect for facts of any man I ever saw, and an extraordinary power of determining from internal evidence what were such. I suppose this meant that the love of truth was the uppermost visible quality in his character.'
Above all, his temper in private and in public life was calm and unruffled, and he bore no malice against any man.
All his instincts and leanings were on the side of gentleness and humanity, but without any taint of morbid sensitiveness. He felt strongly the misery of others, but he never permitted feeling to weigh down reason in the discussion of practical measures. With all this he was conciliatory in his demeanour, and his frankness and openness were the genuine results of his personal character. Office made no change in him. With his old friends he ever remained the same, for his affectionate and kindly nature was unaltered by his accession to the highest place. The scholar and the man of letters with whom he had discussed a point of philology or history always found the same ready attention and the same free intercourse of thought, as if he had still been exclusively occupied with subjects common to both of
them. His keen sense of humour and his genial disposition made his society delightful to those who knew him well. Nor did he show any indisposition to mix in conversation or ordinary talk of a light and humorous kind. His own relaxation, indeed, from the cares of office was a return to studies apparently to many men the most dry and uninviting, but which were to him a source of constant enjoyment. Within a few months of his death he beguiled the tedium of a temporary illness by reading the Greek tragedians with the keenest delight, in the intervals of pain ; this indeed other scholars might have done, but few would have sought recreation after the labours of the Home Office and of Parliament in writing the History • of Ancient Astronomy. Every moment was occupied, and his industry was unceasing, so that it may truly be said, few men have lost so little time between their births and deaths. It should be added that he was singularly methodical in the arrangement of his papers and correspondence.
As a public man, his loss is one of the greatest which the country could have sustained. He was listened to with attention in Parliament, not because he was eloquent, but because he never spoke except when he had something to say. He always expressed sincerely and plainly a view of the subject under discussion, which was the result of information and inquiry digested by common sense and entire honesty of purpose. A good example of the value of his Parliamentary powers may be found in his speech on criminal appeals. There was, moreover, in his mind no tendency to exaggeration of
He never knowingly over-estimated a danger or an advantage, and his wishes and sentiments were evidently controlled by his fairness and his reason. This was especially visible in the consideration of questions connected with the present crisis in America, on which he spoke his mind freely and courageously when he thought there was a danger of precipitate action on our part.
We have left ourselves but little space to dwell on the literary labours of Sir George Lewis, numerous and important as they are. It is not our intention to pass judgment on his writings, or to discuss them critically. Many of them indeed have already been the subjects of articles in this Review and in other periodicals. We begin with those of his productions which appeared as distinct works. His book on the Romance Languages has already been mentioned : a second edition of it was called only a short time before his death. The original work was reviewed in the sixty-second volume of this Journal. In 1836 he published a book on Irish Disturbances and the Irish Church. In 1839,
Mr. Murray printed an excellent little glossary of words used in Herefordshire and the adjoining counties, which was put together entirely by him. In 1841 appeared a volume on the Government of Dependencies, which was noticed in the eighty-third volume of the Edinburgh Review.' Mr. Parker, of Oxford, published in 1846 his edition of the Fables of Babrius;' the work of a finished scholar. His
Essay on the Influence of Authority in matters of Opinion,' printed in 1849, was reviewed by a distinguished contributor to this Journal in our ninety-first volume. The following extract from a letter of the author written in that year, is characteristic and interesting, inasmuch as it shows how little he looked to the temporary popularity of his writings :
I thought I had mentioned to you some time ago that I was writing on the subject of Authority. My book has been favourably reviewed in the "Examiner,” “ Athenæum,” and some other newspapers; and nearly 230 copies have been sold, which, as the subject is not a very attractive one, and the mode of treatment is not intended to be popular, is quite as much as I could hope for.'
In the same letter he stated that he was meditating a work on the Methods of Political Reasoning, which would take him several years, if he was ever able to complete it. His idea was that such a book would dispose of a host of political speculations, by showing that the method of reasoning on which they were founded was radically unsound, without separately refuting the conclusions of each author. This book appeared in two volumes in 1852, under the title A Treatise on the
Methods of Observation and Reasoning in Politics. It is not often that a philosopher who writes on the theory of such subjects has shown that he himself is capable of applying that theory successfully in public life.
In November 1854 he thus described the object and character of his forthcoming work on Roman History :
I have been engaged at review work, and in revising my book on Roman History, and getting it through the press, which is very tedious work, on account of the number and length of the notes. I expect to complete the printing of the first volume (above 500 pages) hy the beginning of next month. My criticism is purely negative. I set up nothing of my own. One of my objects is to show that Niebuhr's reconstructive theories are untenable, as well as the accounts which he sets aside.'
In a later letter he said:
I have been working steadily at my Roman History, and been following Niebuhr through all his wonderful perversions and distortions of the ancient writers.' VOL. CXVIII. NO. CCXLI.
This book was reviewed in the 104th volume of our Journal by a living historian of acknowledged eminence. The first extract given above is extremely important, because it defines accurately the negative character of the work, which has been by the Germans accounted its defect, but which in our opinion is its great and paramount excellence. Sir George Lewis may possibly be wrong in underrating the amount of historical evidence which existed at Rome in the days of Pyrrhus, but the principle against which he has contended is the one usually acted on by the German writers in dealing with such subjects. If the details of a history are incredible in themselves, or supported by insufficient testimony, a German historian will assume the duty, first, of sweeping away the old narrative, and then of framing a new scheme or theory of his own, which has no foundation to rest on except those very authorities whose credibility he has destroyed. Thus, as it has been well put in a memorandum before us
• Mommsen, who does not recognise at all the history of the kingly period, and does not mention the names of the kings except incidentally, still relates the amalgamation of the Palatine and Quirinal cities, and describes at length the earliest constitution, according to his own ideas ; though the only materials which he possesses for such a reconstruction are the very authorities whom he regards as untrustworthy. Against this system Lewis strongly
. protests. He refuses to believe an event unless certified by the testimony of credible witnesses. He will not reject, for instance, the history of Servius Tullius, and yet accept the Servian constitution as an enactment of that king. He denies the right of a historian to proceed upon internal probability when all evidence is wanting. This demand for strict evidence is distasteful to most men. Thus Mommsen, in conversation in England, complained that Lewis treated Livy as a policeman treats a criminal — drags him, as it were, into court, and causes him to be questioned as to the evidence for each fact.'
It is truly added by the writer of the passage just quoted, that when a man of Mommsen's eminence complains of such reasonable rigour, the corrective influence of sound English sense on the treatment of history did not come too soon. Sir George Lewis's book has been translated into German and has reached a second edition in that country, and more copies of the translation have been sold probably than of the original work. We trust the scholars of that country will profit by the lessons which it inculcates.
The · Ilistory of Ancient Astronomy' has appeared so recently that we need only mention it, more especially as it was reviewed in the 116th volume of this Journal. Fault