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Miscellanies Literary & Historical
By Lord Rosebery in two volumes (1921)

To Lord Rosebery's friends, and to all lovers of good prose, it has long been a matter for regret that it was difficult to obtain anything like a complete set of his literary and historical addresses and occasional writings, or his consent to their republication. Most were out of print; some had been issued only in small private editions; some had never been rescued from the files of the daily press.

Their author has been so good as to yield to my importunity, and permit me to make a collection of these opuscula, he himself standing aside in benevolent neutrality. The responsibility for the selection and for the original importunity is therefore mine.

No speeches dealing with controversial politics have been included. A few notes have been added, and now and then a sentence has been omitted which had a purely local and topical application. Otherwise the chapters are reprinted as they were first spoken or written.


“One of the rarest of all combinations,” says Lord Rosebery in an address now incorporated in these volumes, “is that of a bookish statesman who is at the same time a man of practical business and affairs.” His lordship is himself a remarkable instance of this rare combination. As a Minister, he was distinguished for his grasp of public affairs, but he was none the less a man of literary leanings, with a wide knowledge of books and their authors and a happy faculty of ready reference and apt illustration. An orator in the political arena, he was equally effective in other branches of public speaking, and in his day he was unmatched for the felicity and charm of his platform addresses on themes outside the range of politics. Many of those addresses and of Lord Rosebery’s occasional writings were informative in a high degree, all of them were interesting; and it is well to have them collected in these two volumes. The gathering of them together is the work of Mr. John Buchan, Lord Rosebery having at last consented, on the repeated importunity of Mr. Buchan, to the republication of his miscellanies, “he himself standing aside in benevolent neutrality”; and the collection will be widely welcomed by Lord Rosebery’s admirers and by many others as a fine memorial of a cultured statesman, a literary critic of distinction, and, last but not least, a patriotic and enthusiastic Scot.

The first volume is devoted to “Appreciations”. Lord Rosebery in his hey-day was in great demand as an “occasional orator”—one who could be relied upon to deliver an appropriate address on the unveiling of a statue or other memorial to one of our great departed, or on a centenary or other anniversary; and here we have tributes to men so different in character and in their careers as Cromwell, Burke, Dr. Johnson, Bums, Dr. Chalmers, Thackeray, Mr. Gladstone, and Lord Salisbury. With them may be associated Nelson, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Cecil Rhodes, tributes to whom figure in the second volume under the general classification of “Vignettes”. Appreciations of men so diversified as those just named, even by one so skilled in the art as Lord Rosebery, are necessarily unequal. Perhaps the least satisfying is that on Cromwell, which is too much occupied with the discussion of whether the Protector was or was not a hypocrite. The fullest and most satisfactory appreciation, to our mind, is that of Johnson, in the course of which we have this interesting personal revelation: “I, speaking from experience, can say that in sickness, when all other books have failed, when Dickens, Thackeray, Walter Scott, and other magicians have been useless to distract, Boswell’s book is the only one which could engage and detain the languid attention of an invalid . Frank criticism of some of the illustrissimi otherwise extolled is not wanting. For instance, Lord Roseberry confesses that Stevenson’s “The Master of Ballantrae,” powerful as it is, has never been a favourite of his, because the story is so utterly repulsive — “the conflict of a scoundrel against a maniac narrated by a coward”; and he dwells on certain defects and blemishes in Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” and “Esmond,” in condemnation of which, however, nearly all critics now concur. His lordship, by the way, enunciates a canon of criticism, not quite sound perhaps, but which will comfort many people disturbed by the higher “ethics of criticism” propounded by some modern writers — “One likes what one likes, and one dislikes what one dislikes”. Grouped in the Appreciations we have also memoirs of Sir Robert Peel and Lord Randolph Churchill, which have been already published in book form. Here, perhaps, Lord Rosebery is at his best, due probably to the subjects belonging to the political sphere, in which Lord Rosebery occupied such a distinctive place, and also, in the case of Lord Randolph Churchill, to a personal knowledge founded on intimate friendship. The estimates of the two statesmen are just and discriminating, and they are combined with much sagacious reflection on sundry constitutional questions, such as the working of the Cabinet and the position and functions of the Prime Minister. Hardly anything has been better said of Lord Randolph’s incessant attacks on Mr. Gladstone than Lord Rosebery’s comparison of them to “an audacious light-weight sparring up to a recognised champion”.

Lord Rosebery has had an experience which is surely unique. He has been Lord Rector of all the four Scottish Universities and is now Chancellor of the University of Glasgow; he has, as he himself phrases it, “lived many rectorial lives”. His four Rectorial addresses and his address as Chancellor of Glasgow University occupy a very large part of the second volume of the “Miscellanies”. Although Lord Rosebery declares that “The most dismal moment that can occur in a man’s life is the moment when he is about to deliver a Rectorial address,” his own efforts go far to negative the presumptive corollary that they must form dismal reading. These addresses really constitute, in some respects, the most important and the most inspiring sections of Lord Rosebery’s literary output, dealing, as they do for the greater part, with various features of Scottish history and character, and containing fervid appeals to the youth of the country. The undergraduates of Aberdeen were the first to honour Lord Rosebery, electing him Lord Rector in 1878, when he was only thirty-one years of age. His address, delivered in 1880, dwelt on the importance of the University teaching of history, especially of Scottish history, and deplored the fact that in all our Scottish Universities there was then no provision for the teaching of Scottish history—a defect, however, which has been largely remedied since. The Edinburgh address (1882) dealt with “The Patriotism of a Scot,” and was an argument for the preservation of the distinctive national character; the truest patriotism of every Scot, he maintained, was to be capable and reliable. Much the same idea—the service rendered to one’s country in faithfully following one’s profession—underlay the Glasgow address (1900), although its subject, “Questions of Empire,” was of much wider range. The St. Andrews address (1911) was delivered on the occasion of the five hundredth anniversary of the foundation of that University, and was, almost of necessity, influenced and coloured by the anniversary note. It bears the allusive title of “The Struldbrug” (borrowed from “Gulliver’s Travels”) and depicts in a very graphic manner the course of Scottish history which the first Lord Rector in 1411 would have witnessed had he been a Struldbrug and had lived down through the centuries. Seldom, indeed, have the picturesque episodes in Scottish history and the transformations that have taken place in the condition of the people been so brilliantly summarised as in many passages in this admirable address, an address which will bear more than one reading. In his address as Chancellor of Glasgow University (1908), Lord Rosebery reverted to the theme of “The Formation of Scottish Character,” pleading strenuously for the cultivation of the Scottish characteristic of self-reliance, which he contended was the heart of Scottish independence and Scottish success. These various addresses are supplemented, in a sense, by one on “The Union of England and Scotland” delivered to the Edinburgh Philosophical Institute, and another on “The Service of the State ” delivered to the Associated Societies of Edinburgh University. All these addresses contain many eloquent passages, but, for a specimen, we content ourselves with a few sentences from the Aberdeen address, which are as pertinent to-day as when delivered forty years ago:—

Let me point out one more inducement to the study I advocate. You are in the city perhaps most calculated to give an interest to the study of those times, for surely no place ever suffered so much for its prominence. From the time that the Covenanting Commissioners refused to drink the cup of Bon Accord, and were followed by Montrose with an army which slaughtered the dogs which had been made the innocent instruments of satire, this unhappy city was compelled to undergo as many outward changes of compliance as the Vicar of Bray or Bobbing John of Mar. In those days the greatest seat of learning in Scotland, it was the fate of Aberdeen, as of Leipsic, to learn that a famous and hospitable University is no protection against siege or outrage. Your well-sacked city, surviving the successive onslaughts of Malignants and Covenanters and impartial Highlanders, remains a noble monument of the stirring and perilous past of our country.

Around you learning spreads her various wares; you have but to pick and choose. You are the generation that holds for the present the succession to the long roll of famous men who have adorned this University. They have handed to you the light; it is for you to transmit it. The vestal lamp of knowledge may flicker, but it never dies; even in the darkest hours of dormant civilisation, it found loving hands to cherish and to tend it. To you that lamp has been given by those who have watched over it in these ancient colleges. I hope and believe it will not wax duller in your hands, but rather that you will show forth its radiance in whatever part of the world you may be called upon to wield that influence which every educated man must exercise.

Volume 1  |  Volume 2

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