RECORD: Martin, A. Patchett. 1893. Life and letters of the Right Honourable Robert Lowe, Viscount Sherbrooke, G.C.B., D.C.L., etc., with a memoir of Sir John Coape Sherbrooke, G.C.B. sometimes Governor-General of Canada. London: Longmans, Green and Co. 2 vols. [Darwin recollections only, vol. 1, pp. 19-20; vol. 2, pp. 198-207.]
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned and OCRed by John van Wyhe 6.2008. RN2
LIFE AND LETTERS RIGHT HONOURABLE ROBERT LOWE
VISCOUNT SHERBROOKE, G.O.B., D.C.L.
WITH A MEMOIE OP SIE JOHN COAPE SHEEBROOKE, Q.C.B. SOMETIME GOVEENOE-GENEEAL OF CANADA
A. PATCHETT MAETIN
IN TWO VOLUMES—VOLUME I.
LONDON LONGMANS, GEEEN, AND CO.
AND NEW YORK: 16 EAST 16th STREET
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schools, always on the look-out to find some excuse to lighten the labours of teaching, have placed cricket at least on a level with the ordinary studies of the place, and the little that is taught is made less in order to indulge the silly vanity of parents, and to open to dulness also its road to fame. A dunce at Euclid, and a dab at taw. I spent the long vacation of 1831 reading mathematics with a tutor at Barmouth, a singularly beautiful place. This expedition was memorable to me for several reasons. In going there we, that is my elder brother and myself, passed over the Liverpool and Manchester Railway a few months after it was opened. People who have been brought up to railways cannot conceive the wonder, delight, and astonishment that such a journey occasioned ; it was as if the Arabian "Nights had suddenly become true. I can never forget the delight of the passage or the agony of thinking how soon it would be over ; then there was the sight of the Menai Bridge, then, and perhaps still, one of the wonders of the world, and as beautiful as wonderful; then the drive under Snowdon with Gray's Ode in my mind, and the glorious sail from Tremadoc to Barmouth across the Bay of Carnarvon. It was Nature and Art opening on us all at once for the first time. Here also, though last, not least, I met with the lady who afterwards became my wife, and who has now for forty years been the faithful companion of my chequered destiny, and to whose zeal, industry, and energy I owe in no small degree such success as I have obtained.
Here I met for the first time the illustrious Darwin. He was making a geological tour in Wales, and carried with him, in addition to his other burdens, a hammer of 14 lbs. weight. I remember he was full of modesty, and was always lamenting his bad memory for languages and inability to quote. I am proud to remember that though quite ignorant of physical science, I saw a something in him which marked him out as superior to anyone I had ever met: the proof which I gave
of this was somewhat canine in its nature, I followed him. I walked twenty-two miles with him when he went away, a thing which I never did for anyone else before or since.
My next vacation I spent in a little farmhouse, about a mile and a half away from Gosport, reading mathematics with Mr. Walker. There were very few steamers on the Solent in those days, so I bought a little boat with a sprit-sail, and amused myself with sailing about, often quite alone. I was often out by myself all night, and cannot imagine how I escaped being drowned, as I had no special knowledge of the management of a boat, and troubled myself very little whether the weather were line or stormy.
In the spring of 1833 I went up for my degree, and took a first class in classics and a second class in mathematics. This was a disappointment to me, for I was sure that I knew enough to entitle me to a first class, though I felt perfectly conscious that I had not brought my knowledge properly out. There were thirteen of us in the first class in classics. Among them stand the names of Liddell and Scott, the present Bishop of London, and Lord Canning. My examination in Divinity was very amusing. It will be remembered that I had made myself rather conspicuous by my speeches in the debating society, and I suppose it is to that that I must attribute the very singular examination to which I was subjected by Mr. Lancaster, one of the classical examiners. It was to the following effect: —
Examiner ; 'Which gave the better counsel to Rehoboam, the old men or the young? '
I: 'The old men. It was quite right to lighten the taxation.'
Examiner: 'Did not Solomon obtain large revenues by commerce?'
I: 'I don't think so. Princes have, as Adam Smith tells us, always been bad traders ; we do not know what he exported to Ophir, but he brought back gold and silver, mere articles of luxury, and monkeys and peacocks, not, I apprehend, a very profitable consignment.' (A laugh.)
Examiner: 'Still, the country is described as being very
prosperous under his government, and the revenue is described as being large.'
I: 'Yes, but then only see how it was squandered : there was the Temple, the Golden Throne, and the Sea of Gold, and the lions, and the cherubim, and the mercy seat.'
Examiner: 'Still, that hardly hears out the opinion of the old men.'
I: ' No, sir. There was besides the support of 300 wives and 700 concubines. We often see a man ruined by one wife : surely a thousand women were enough to ruin a whole country.' (A general roar of laughter.)
Examiner: 'Thank you, sir. Your examination has been very pleasing.'
I was examined in The Knights of Aristophanes in the well-known passage where the rather striking defects of the sausage seller are proved to be so many recommendations for the trade of a demagogue ; and, finally, a pro-proctor, who had caught me out in some small delinquency a few months before, selected from Juvenal the passage :—' Ebrius et petulant qui nullum forte cecidit.'
I was very well pleased with all this, because I felt sure that unless they had intended to give me a first class, they would not have introduced this scene of high jinks mixed up with party politics into the schools, and thus given me the opportunity of saying that my speeches at the Union had lost me my class. This was about six months after the passing of the Reform Bill, and it is only fair to acknowledge the good humour with which the whole affair was treated. It gave, perhaps, rather a false eclat to my performance, and was doubtless the means of obtaining for me the further questionable advantage of a large number of private pupils, which, as will be seen, had a considerable influence on my future destiny, and by no means altogether for good.
I ought to have mentioned that Mr. Woods, a member of University College, took a first class at the same time. The College ought to have been much obliged to us, for they had not had a first class for nine years, and we had not the slightest
LIFE AND LETTERS
RIGHT HONOURABLE ROBERT LOWE
VISCOUNT SHERBROOKE, G.G.B., D.O.L
WITH A MEMOIR OF SIR JOHN COAPE SHERBROOKE, G.C.B. SOMETIME GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF CANADA
A. PATCHETT MARTIN
IN TWO VOLUMES —VOLUME II.
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
AND NEW YORK : 15 EAST 10'" STREET
All rights reserved
cious and accurate. Neither Mr. Lowe nor any other human being could have held in his memory the vast array of figures needful for the financial statement of a Chancellor of the Exchequer ; and here he was at a distinct disadvantage when he had to refer to columns of figures which he could decipher only with great difficulty. But it would be the testimony of all the trained officials who worked under him at the Treasury, that he had a thorough mastery over the intricacies of our national finance. It would not be worth while thus picking to pieces the misstatements of one of Lord Sherbrooke's caricaturists, did not Mr. McCarthy claim to rank as an historian of our own times. His portraits of his distinguished contemporaries have been widely accepted, bat certainly his sketch of Low-e almost shakes one's faith in history itself.
Let us turn to the testimony of one or two intimate friends, who still regard the hours passed at Sherbrooke as among the most pleasant of their reminiscences. Blanche, Countess of Airlie thus records her impressions of Lord Sherbrooke : ' What a personality his was ! My father always loved to meet him ; the cleverer the man, the more enchanted he was with his ready wit, his inexhaustible memory, and his power of argument; his benevolent nature always took away any sting which a somewhat caustic tongue might inflict. He loved society and conversation, and said it inspired him—women's society and women's talk above all. If he had not been so indulgent, how would one have dared to measure oneself with him, and just say all that was in one's mind? '
It is ever the same story from those who knew him as he was; nor would the matter be worth consideration, but that people still have an unreasoning belief in mere print, as if in these days it were not almost as easy to print lies as to utter them.
Among the brilliant women of this century who knew Robert Lowe well, was the Hon. Mrs. Norton, who has left on
record her impressions of him in these words: 'I read Lowe's speech with interest and admiration as I do all ho says or writes. His opinions on education are the real root of all progress and all reform in its best theoretical and only practical sense. I always have thought him the pleasantest giver-out of knowledge among the many intellectual men I have consorted with—without effort, not making you feel that lie knows so much, as that yon know something more every time you talk to him. It is as good for the mind to be with him, as they say it is for the lungs to walk among the pines—a sort of vague improvement in one's general condition of thought without having to be dosed with hard teachings and obvious correction of one's deficiencies.' It would be difficult to improve on this picture.
Some little time after the American tour with Sir Douglas Galton, that eminent writer, Mr. Goldwin Smith, was staying with the Lowes at Sherbrooke. Mr. Goldwin Smith, who knew Robert Lowe very well indeed, is hardly to be outdone, even by Mrs. Norton, in his appreciation. He writes from Toronto : ' Little remains save the general recollection of a most powerful and brilliant mind richly stored, of caustic wit, and great conversational gifts. As a public man I suppose he would be allowed by all fair judges to have been as honest as he was able and eloquent. There was not a touch about him of the demagogue . . . the country has reason to wish that such a man were in the House of Commons now.'
Mr. Goldwin Smith, in a subsequent communication,records an Irish tour which he made in company with Mr. and Mrs. Lowe, and in the course of his narrative he furnishes the correct version of a famous story which, as generally related, exhibits Lord Sherbrooke's wit at the expense of his good feeling. ' One anecdote' (writes Mr. Smith) ' I see going the round which I can give you in an authentic form and free from a disagreeable innuendo. Mr. and Mrs. Lowe and I
were staying with Lord Cardwell—Mr. Cardwell as he then was—in the Chief Secretary's Lodge at Dublin. The English marriage service was the subject of conversation. Lowe said in his dashing way that it was full of nonsense. " Why " (he exclaimed, turning to his wife), " it made me say to you, ' with all my worldly goods I thee endow,' when I had no worldly goods wherewith to endow you." " Ah, Robert" (she replied), "but then there were your brains!" "Well" (he said), " all the world knows that I did not endow you with them." '
' The current version of the anecdote' (continues Mr. Goldwin Smith) ' is such as to imply that Lowe spoke contemptuously of his wife. Nothing of the kind; it was a mere joke, at which she laughed as heartily as the rest of us.'
This Irish tour seems to have been a very merry holiday; for Mrs. Lowe, as long as she retained her health, was always full of fun. One little incident during their visit to Ireland lives in Mr. Goldwin Smith's memory ; it is very characteristic and speaks volumes. One morning he started off early from the Lodge into Dublin, leaving Lowe and his wife playing croquet—a game which had then just come into vogue. When he returned late in the afternoon he found them still playing, and Mrs. Lowe said they had only stopped for a short time for lunch.
Like most of Lowe's visitors in Surrey, Mr. Goldwin Smith had to submit to be driven at a rattling pace by his host down the steep lanes by Warlingham and Caterham, and through the narrow, crowded streets of Croydon. It was miraculous how Lord Sherbrooke contrived to see, but it was mainly a question of courage and perfect nerve. Mrs. Lowe was a tremendous partisan whenever her husband was in any way concerned. On one occasion John Bright, who at times lacked savoir vivre, quite lost his temper under her pungent thrusts. Disraeli had, of course, much more of the ways of the man of the world, but after the Reform Bill of 1867 he and the Lowes
It is a rather curious circumstance that both Mr. and Mrs. Lowe took a profound interest in Darwin. In his brief autobiography, Lord Sherbrooke has recorded his feelings on first seeing that great man. One would not at the first blush expect to find such a deep feeling of veneration for Charles Darwin on the part of a statesman and man of affairs. But there was in Robert Lowe that love of truth for its own sake, which throughout life made him always turn to the achievements of science with the greatest respect. This was the tie that bound him to William Sharpe Macleay of Sydney, and in later life to Sir John Simon, and other patient investigators and students of nature. For no one had he a more sincere regard than for the late Professor Sharpey, the patriarch of English physiology, whom he described as ' after the old Greek type.'
When Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, in 1859, both Lowe and his wife were completely fascinated by it. With regard to science in all its branches, Lowe was always the humblest of learners; not only was he without mental arrogance or even ordinary assurance, but he went about asking guidance of those friends who had devoted their lives to scientific research. ' He was always' (writes Sir John Simon) ' so teachable;' a strange and suggestive word to be applied to one who, in the political arena, was never wanting in self-confidence. Mrs. Lowe seems not to have been a whit behind him in her interest concerning The Origin of Species, the far-reaching nature of whose cosmic speculations might well have perturbed and excited her mind. The world has now settled down to some kind of hazy acceptance of the doctrine of evolution; but when Charles Darwin published his great work, many persons besides Mrs. Lowe must have felt that the old teleological conception of life and nature would no longer stand the test of scientific investigation. In her anxiety on, the subject, she promptly consulted the two persons whose judgment and ability she and her husband held in the highest esteem. Forthwith she posted The Origin of Species to Sir George Cornewall Lewis, and wrote to Mr. William Macleay in Sydney, requesting each of them to give her his opinion of the work. At a distance of thirty years, men of much commoner mind have advanced perhaps to a clearer perception of Darwin's aim and teaching; but these hitherto unpublished
criticisms of the one epoch-making book of this century may still be read with interest, and are certainly among the curiosities of Darwinian literature.
DARWIN'S 'ORIGIN OF SPECIES'
Sir George Cornwall Lewis to Mrs. Lowe.
Kent House: February 27, 1860.
Dear Mrs. Lowe,—I return with many thanks the book which you had the kindness to lend me. I have read the whole of it with much interest, but the author has entirely failed in convincing me of the truth of his opinions, so far as they are new and intelligible. I regard the subject of his enquiry, the origin of species, as unphilosophical and impenetrable. He writes about species, but never determines what a species is; he objects to the received definition, but substitutes none of his own. He uses the phrase 'Natural Selection' in half a dozen different senses. Sometimes he applies it to a case when the animals themselves make a selection; sometimes to cases where they are passive, or even reluctant, and are operated on by external causes. Whatever value the book has is confined to the light which it sheds upon the causes which limit animal population. But this light is shed incidentally, for the author impairs the value of his own remarks by confounding the causes which kill individuals with those which exterminate an entire species. A species may be kept constantly within the limits indicated by its potential capacity of multiplication, without being in danger of extinction :—Because birds eat worms, it does not follow that worms will be annihilated. In my opinion he has entirely failed in showing that the various causes which he calls 'Natural Selection' have operated upon the animal kingdom, or determines the number of species within the period over which the exact knowledge of man extends. The writer is a man of talent and ingenuity, with a turn for bold speculation and a great command of facts. He is, however, deficient in clearness and soundness; he may suggest to others, but he cannot discover and prove. His mind is of the German type, speculative, laborious, and unsound.
Yours very truly, G. C. Lewis.
In the case of William Macleay, it would seem that Lowe himself must have written to him on political affairs, dwelling
on the rapid advance of democracy. Mrs. Lowe, however, evidently devoted her communication mainly to Darwin, as will be seen from the elaborate nature of Macleay's reply.
DEMOCRACY AND DARWINISM
W. S. Macleay to Robert Lowe.
Elizabeth Bay: May 1860.
My dear Lowe,—I have received by the last mail your letter of 17th of July, and Mrs. Lowe's of 10th Feb. I am grieved at the political prospects which both present. The tendency of the present generation of politicians to surrender everything to the many-headed monster appears to me to be nearly as rife in England as it is in the Colonies. Well, I thank Heaven for having lived neither to feel the heel of the military despot nor the brutality of the mob.
I have enjoyed the best part of that circle which it appears fated that mankind must go round. There is nothing here to interest you now, for almost all those friends whom I used to meet round your hospitable table at Nelson Bay are either gone to Europe or to their graves. It is lucky for me, therefore, that both you and Mrs. Lowe have given me the subject of this letter in asking me for my opinion of Darwin's book. To me, now on the verge of the tomb, I must confess the subject of it is more interesting than either the extension of British commerce or even the progress of national education. This question is no less than 'What am I ?' 'What is man?' a created being under the direct government of his Creator, or only an accidental sprout of some primordial type that was the common progenitor of both animals and vegetables. The theologian has no doubt answered those questions, but leaving the Mosaic account of the Creation to Doctors of Divinity, the naturalist finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. For, either from the facts he observes, he must believe in a special creation of organised species, which creation has been progressive and is in now in full operation, or he must adopt some such view as that of Darwin, viz. that the primordial material cell of life has been constantly sprouting forth of itself by 'natural selection' into all the various forms of animals and vegetables. Darwin, indeed, for no reason that I can perceive, except his fear of alarming the clergy, speaks of a Creator of the original material cell.
But there appears to be very little necessity for His existence, if it be true, as Darwin says, that this material cell can go on by itself
eternally sprouting into all the animals and vegetables that have existed or will exist.
Again, if this primordial cell had a Creator, as Darwin seems to admit, I do not see what we gain by denying the Creator, as Darwin does, all management of it after its creation. Lamarck was more logical in supposing it to have existed of itself from all eternity— indeed this is the principal difference that I see between this theory of Darwin's and that of Lamarck, who propounded everything essential in the former theory, in a work now rather rare—his Philosophie zoologique.
But you may see an abridgment of it in so common a book as his Histoire Nat. des animaux vertebres, vol. i., pp. 188, at seq.—Edit. 1818, where the examples given of natural selection are the gasteropod molluscs. It is the system also, with some small alterations, of the Vestiges of Creation, a work which I recollect telling you at the time is more incorrect as to facts and therefore valueless, however attractive it may be in style. Darwin, on the other hand, like his predecessor Lamarck, is a most able naturalist; and though I agree with what Mrs. Lowe tells me is the opinion of Sir R. Murchison, viz. that his facts are not always sound ; still, quite enough of them are so far unexceptionable as to entitle his lucubrations—however preposterous—to our respect, if not to our assent. It remains, therefore, for those who are conversant with natural history to determine: first, whether he has drawn his facts fairly, and, second, whether he has not cushioned many facts which make against his theory. For my part, I think that his facts may be interpreted another way, and that he has not stated many things that bear on his subject. Above all, I dislike his favourite form of question,'Why should the Deity have interfered in such and such a case?' Or 'Why did He not?' Moreover, I care little for his sneers at the only answer which we short-sighted mortals can give to such questions—viz. that 'It was because Providence so pleased.' Of his three kinds of selection by which he says the world is managed without special interference on the part of a Creator, I only believe in the variation of species by 'human selection,'—i.e. human selection operating within certain limits assigned by the Creator. As for his two other kinds of 'selection' by which he accounts for all the species of animals and vegetables—viz. sexual selection and natural selection, I find them quite impossible to digest. Natural selection (sometimes called 'struggles' by Darwin) is identical with the 'Besoins des choses' of Lamarck, who, by means of his hypothesis, for instance, assigns the constant stretching of the neck to reach the acacia leaves as the cause of the extreme length of it in the giraffe; much in the same way the black bear, according to Darwin, became a whale, which I believe as little as his other assertion that our
progenitors anciently had gills—only they had dropped off by want of use in the course of myriads of generations. As for his sexual selection, it is the only original invention of the three. It is truly Darwin's own, and if anyone can believe, that the sexes of every animal were originally alike: that the cock, for instance, owes his comb, wattle, and other distinguishing marks to the taste of the hens who have constantly sought such a type to breed from—why, all I can say is that such a believer must have a very wide swallow.
I can only assume from the favour which this book has received from the English public, that either they do not understand the tenour of it, or that what is termed Revealed Religion, and particularly the Mosaic account of the Creation, sits somewhat uneasily on the minds of a great many thinking persons. The theory is almost a materialist one—nay, even so far atheistic that, if it allows of a deity at all, He has been ever since the institution of the primordial type of life fast asleep. This living cell of matter, on the other hand, has been constantly and actively sprouting forth by natural selection into all the forms of animals and vegetables that ever have existed or will hereafter exist. All special interference of a Creator with it Darwin repeatedly denies. I am myself so far a Pantheist that I see God in everything: but then I believe in His special Providence, and that He is the constant and active sole Creator and all-wise Administrator of the Universe. Darwin seems at times to have been led to his most wild conclusions by his anxiety to avoid the constant and special interference of a Creator. He parodies your legal axiom, and says, De minimis non curat Dens. But there can be nothing great or small in respect to the absolute. The microscope shows infinity on one side as the telescope does on the other. In comparison to the infinite absolute, the wart on my hand, each hair on my head, the sparrow on the housetop, must be as important as Jupiter or the sun. And it is an absurd notion which Cudworth had to combat that God is too great to meddle with trifles, or, to use Darwin's instance, to be the cause of the colour on a pigeon's wing.
My notion of omnipotence is that it interferes with everything to the most minute atom of dust, and I see no difficulty in believing its constant and special management of all things and all events. May I take one of Darwin's stumbling-blocks; for instance, I see no difficulty in believing that the original of all mammals were created with navels, or, if you please, without them. For I daily witness monstrosities and malformations which I attribute to the direct will of the Creator, and not to the accidental, abortive, or depraved sprouting of the material cell. In fact, I am no believer in the doctrine of Chance, but think that everything is provided, even to the black tuft of hair on the breast of the turkey-cock. Moreover, I believe it to
have been provided by God, and not, as Darwin says, produced by the taste of turkey-hens continued through many generations. By the way, how did these same turkey-hens come by this unvarying taste for the black tufts of hair on the breast of their mates? At questions of this kind we shall always arrive, even if we adopt Darwin's theory of sexual and natural selection. And the answer to such questions will, I suspect, invariably amount to the admission of an external and special interference. To conclude: It is far easier for me to believe in the direct and constant government of the Creation by God, than that He should have created the world and then left it to manage itself, which is Darwin's theory in a few words. Nevertheless, Charles Darwin is an old friend of mine and I feel grateful to him for his work. I hope it will make people attend to such matters, and to be no longer prevented by the first chapter of Genesis from asking for themselves what the Book of Nature says on the subject of the Creation.
I have now complied with your and Mrs. Lowe's requests. I could say much more if I entered into the examination of Darwin's facts, or rather the facts on which he founds his theory, but I must have already tired you—I only wish I had your gift of writing tersely —sed non cuivis. This letter is for Mrs. Lowe as well as you, so pray tell her, with my affectionate regards, that I trust she will tell me whether she agrees with Darwin's notions or with mine, i.e. saving intact her own saving faith in the Bible story of six days and the concluding apple.
Ever, my dear Lowe,
Affectionately your friend,
W. S. Macleay.
But lighter matters than either democracy or Darwinism would often beguile the leisure of the active-minded statesman in his pleasant country house. Robert Lowe had a turn for versification, and if asked for a poem by any of his friends, he would comply with the request. The Duchess of St. Albans has been good enough to copy the following lines from the album of her mother, the late Mrs. Bernal Osborne.
Lines on Australia. Written in Mrs. Bernal Osborne's Autograph-booh.
They told me of a glorious land
Beyond the heaving main, And they who touched its happy strand
Should never want again.
Of Charles Darwin he spoke in a strain of respect which he would not have employed towards any other living person
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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
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