The Old Hall and the Portraits

As we opened the porch door, on coming back from a walk, we heard the sound of music. The children were dancing in the hall, — the squire’s grandchildren, — led by their young aunt, not many years older than the eldest of them, while their mother played the piano. The hall still kept the main features of the old manor place which Leland had visited. Along the minstrel’s gallery were hung breastplate, steel cap, sword, and other pieces of armor, — not, indeed, of Henry VIII.’s time, but of that of the Commonwealth. The dais was now level with the rest of the floor, and the bay window had become a porch ; but the squint through which the lord could look into the hall, after he had withdrawn to the solar or parlor, might still be seen, though closed by the paneling on the other side, supposed to be the work of Building Bess ; and the lines of a huge Tudor arch showed where the old fireplace had been. The walls were hung with portraits within a range of nearly three hundred years, as the squire had informed me. There was a solemn brightness in his look as he watched the dancers, and then glanced round the walls ; and he remarked, half to himself, “ This makes an old man feel young ; or indeed, not so much young as undying, while the past and the future are centred in the present, in one common life.”

Foster. How many generations are there now here ?

Squire. Living, there are, as you see, three, including myself; in portraits of our family, seven more. That small portrait on panel, of William, Earl of Pembroke, Shakespeare’s W. H., is perhaps rather earlier.

Foster. How does it come here ?

Squire. There was some link of friendship between the Herbert family and that man in Puritan bands and cloak, who was again connected with us.

Foster. I see the Puritan, and also a Cavalier with lace and velvet and flowing locks, while each has by his side a lady, the two being sisters, apparently.

Squire. He was no Cavalier, in spite of his dress, which indeed, as you know, was not peculiar to the Cavaliers even in Charles I.’s days. He is John Strachey, the friend to whom Locke writes from Holland with expressions of affection, and the prospect of talking over many things in “ the parlour at Sutton.” He died young, but the letters between the friends, which are still extant, show him to have been as enlightened as Locke himself. And I like to fancy that the armor still hanging there may have been worn by his father, who was serving with Locke’s father in the regiment of Popham, their near neighbor in those parts. Strachey’s grandfather framed, or helped to frame, the laws of the then newly settled colony of Virginia ; wrote verses prefixed to Ben Jonson’s Sejanus ; and his account of the shipwreck of Sir George Summers, with whom he was at Bermuda, suggested some of the incidents of Shakespeare’s Tempest, taken either from his narrative, or, as the learned Mr. Furness thinks probable, from his own lips. The ladies are the great-granddaughters of Thomas Hodges, whose monument in the parish church of Wedmore, famous for King Alfred’s treaty with the Danes, tells how he, “ at the seige of Antwerpe, about 1583, with unconquered courage, wonne two ensigns from the enemy, where, receiving his last wound, he gave three legacies : his soule to his Lord Jesus ; his body to be lodged in Flemish earth ; his heart to be sent to his dear wife in England. ”

“ Here lies his wounded heart, for whome
One kingdom was too small a roome;
Two kingdoms, therefore, have thought good to part
So stout a body and so brave a heart. ”

The old ladies with prayer-books are the mother and the grandmother of the young ladies and of their husbands. And there, too, is one whose name we know, but nothing more, except that she died unmarried, while her portrait shows a true lover’s knot, and a ring hung round her neck. If the story was one of disappointment and sadness, let us hope that there were peace and contentment in the end.

Foster. Did you keep up your connection with Virginia?

Squire. Yes. Two migrations are recorded in the family pedigree. And though the male line has ended, I still correspond with a worthy representative through the female line. This gentleman opened a communication with me after the war of 1861-65, in the troubles of which he had lost his family pedigree, and asked me to help him to supply its place; and in token of his claim he sent me photographs of the pictures of several of our common ancestors, of which the counterparts are now hanging before you.

Foster. I remember the name of Henry Strachey in Mahon’s History of England and Bancroft’s History of the United States, and in a publication of the New York Historical Society, called The Treason of General Lee. Who was this Henry Strachey ?

Squire. There is his portrait, — a good one, by Northcote. When Lord Howe and Admiral Howe were sent out to put down the American patriots, Henry Strachey was sent with them as secretary to the commission. General Lee, a soldier of fortune, was the next in command under Washington, having so great a reputation that there had been some thought of giving the first command to him instead of to Washington. He was surprised and taken by Colonel Harcourt, and during his imprisonment proposed a scheme to the English commissioners for bringing back the country into complete submission to England, which Mr. Moore justly calls by the name of “treason.” Although many important papers relating to American independence have been carried off from this house, we have still a large number of interesting documents connected with the period, as also with the negotiations for peace in 1782, the calendars of which fill several pages of the appendix to the sixth report of the Historical MSS. Commission of 1877. It was the same Strachey who negotiated the Peace of Versailles, which recognized the independence of the United States. I have all the papers, from the secret instructions of Lord Shelburne to the bills for post horses between Calais and Paris.

Foster. Why did Lord Shelburne send another envoy, when Oswald was already representing the British government in the negotiations ?

Squire. He had been instructed by Fox; and after Fox had retired from the ministry, on the death of Lord Rockingham, Shelburne, now become prime minister, sent Strachey to strengthen the hands of Oswald, whom he thought hardly a match for Franklin, Gay, and Adams, and who, in his anxiety for peace, “went before” the American commissioners, as Lord Shelburne expressed it. We have a story that Oswald had his papers ransacked while he was at the opera, and that Strachey, to avoid such a risk, always carried his in his pocket. In the archives at Washington there is a once secret diary of John Adams during these negotiations, in which he says, “Strachey is as artful and insinuating a man as they could possibly send ; he pushes and presses every point as far it can possibly go; he has a most eager, earnest, pointed spirit.” But the rivalry or hostility between Fox and Shelburne may have had something to do with the double negotiations. Fox was ready to give Shelburne the character portrayed in the caricature of the Rolliad : —

“ A noble Duke affirms, I like his plan :
I never did, my lords, I never can;
Shame on the slanderous breath which dares instill
That I, who now condemn, advised the ill.
Plain words, thank Heaven, are always understood.
‘ I could approve,’ I said, but not ‘ I would.’
Anxious to make the noble Duke content,
My view was just to seem to give consent,
While all the world might see that nothing less was meant.”

We have a tradition that when Lord Shelburne was forming his ministry, Fox met Strachey one Sunday afternoon at Hay Hill, and asked him what he expected for himself, he being then secretary of the treasury. On his replying, " Lord Shelburne says I am to keep my office,” Fox rejoined, “ Then, by God, you ‘re out.” But Fox was wrong, for Shelburne made Strachey an under-secretary of state, and sent him, as I have said, to carry forward the Versailles negotiations.

Foster. Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice, in his Life of Lord Shelburne, has clearly shown, and history now recognizes, that Shelburne’s uncertain political action was not dishonesty, but a Hamlet-like habit of looking too much at all sides of every question. It would be harder to justify Fox’s coalition with Lord North. But was not this Strachey also the Indian secretary of Clive, whose fine portrait by Dance you have here, and that seems to me to be the original, of which I think there is more than one replica ? I remember that Clive, in his defense before the House of Commons, said that, of the many services which George Grenville had done him, none was greater than that of recommending Henry Strachey to him.

Squire. Yes. And Dance’s portrait corresponds with what we otherwise know of Clive. He was coarse, unscrupulous, intolerant of opposition, and, I think we must say, somewhat rapacious, though he himself “ wondered at his own moderation ” when he looked back on the treasures of Moorshedabad, of which he did not appropriate the whole. But he was also of far-seeing as well as military genius ; and he did not hesitate to set public above private interests, as when he declared war against the Dutch in India, at a moment in which they held the bills which represented his whole fortune; and he was capable of warm and faithful friendship. He was a sort of Bismarck.

Foster. What a number of false accounts of his death there have been, from the contemporary letters of Horace Walpole and the sayings of Dr. Johnson down to Notes and Queries, only a year or two ago, which I think you have more than once written to set right!

Squire. I took down my account from the mouth of the late Sir Henry Strachey, who had it from his mother, who was in the house at the time. Clive suffered, till he would endure it no longer, from a painful disease, of which he says, in a letter which I have : ” How miserable is my condition! I have a disease which makes life intolerable, but which my doctors tell me will not shorten it one hour.”

Foster. You spoke of Clive’s political genius ; you attribute to him the foundation of our Indian empire, the expansion of which has been equaled by its stability, — a stability which could, at the end of a hundred years, stand such a test as the mutiny of 1857.

Squire. After Clive had defeated Suraj-oo-Dowlah, and set up Meer Jaffier in his place, he left the East India Company’s factory at Calcutta to carry on their trade, as before, under a native, though now not only friendly but subservient prince. But the sudden acquisition of such enormous wealth by Clive and his colleagues in that war had excited a mad lust for a like acquisition of wealth by the company’s servants left by Clive in the management of the Bengal factory. The East India Company in Leadenhall Street allowed each of its servants in Bengal to carry on some private trading for himself, and now, in defiance of the opposition of the governor, Vansittart, who was, if I remember rightly, supported by no one but young Warren Hastings, they converted this private trade into a system of mere extortion and robbery of the Nawab and his subjects. Meer Jaffier was superseded by Cossin Ali, whom they hoped to make a more subservient tool; but he, too, after efforts at conciliation which it is quite pathetic to read of, was obliged to make a stand for the rights of his people. War began, and the directors at home, alarmed at the danger of a return to a state of things like that from which Clive’s victory at Plassey had saved them, sent him out again, in 1765, to restore order. He reinstated Meer Jaffier in the Nawabship ; but he saw that the relations of the company to the native rulers of Bengal had become so changed that they could no longer be merely those of merchants trading in a foreign country, but must of necessity give those merchants a share in the political government of that country. Under the Mogul sovereigns, the diwan, or collector of the revenues, shared some branches of the civil government of the province with the Nawab, and Clive, by obtaining from the Mogul Emperor the office of diwan for the company, made that beginning of political responsibilities, as well as rights, which was to lay the foundations of our future empire in India.

Foster. What were the next stages of the structure raised on this foundation ?

Squire. The Mogul empire was in ruins. It is always best to keep old forms as far as possible, and to make the new life seem at least to grow out of them, though it can no longer be infused into them. It is our English way, and Clive took it when he obtained the diwanee from the sovereign who had still the nominal right to grant it. But the government by the Nawab, of which it was the complement, had become little more than a sham ; and, under Warren Hastings, this, toq, was absorbed into the English rule in Bengal, because Hastings found that in no other way was any tolerable administration of justice possible. But there was no resting here. As the once strong empire of the Moguls fell to pieces, the general anarchy gave opportunity for the rise of that terrible race of conquerors and plunderers, the Mahrattas. Hastings saw that the British territory must be overrun, and perhaps swallowed up in its turn, by these locusts, if no adequate defense were provided, and he resorted to the alliance with the Nawab of Oude, which led to the Rohilla war, which he held to be justified in honor and justice no less than by expediency. His object was to interpose a strong native state between the Mahrattas and the British province. If the Rohilla chiefs had been faithful to their treaty with Oude, Hastings would have supported their alliance; but when the Rohillas opened their country to the Malirattas for the invasion of Oude, which must have been followed by that of Bengal, he held himself called on by expediency, while not forbidden by good faith and honor, to give the Nawab of Oude effectual support in the conquest of the Rohillas, who in fact had no right but that of recent conquest.

Foster. After the complete vindication of Hastings by Sir James Stephen and Sir John Strachey from the charges brought against him, they can hardly be renewed by any future historian ; but it is very difficult to understand how those charges could have been made by Burke, more or less sanctioned by Pitt, and adopted as veracious history by Mill and Macaulay.

Squire. It is difficult. They had before them all the evidence that we have now, if they chose to examine it; and not one of them, whether as statesman or historian, had any right to make and maintain such charges without such examination. It seems to me no justification, nor even excuse, for Burke to say that he was carried away by his hatred of injustice and oppression, and sympathy with the oppressed, and that he thus became the victim of the malignity of Francis, and of his own imagination and rhetoric. Such excuses may serve an illinformed private person, but not a great statesman and leader of men. The same may be said of Pitt, if he believed the charges, as he said; while still more unworthy of him are the suggestions that he was willing to let the opposition waste their energies on such a subject, and that he was jealous of the favor which Hastings received from the king and the chancellor. James Mill I knew, and his treatment of Hastings, though fatal to the character of an accurate and impartial historian, is less hard to explain. His disposition was, like that of Francis, malignant. Coulson asked Peacock of him, “Will he like what I like, and hate what I hate?” and Peacock replied, “ No, he will hate what you hate, and hate what you like.” His temper was eminently destructive. He did some good service in the pulling down and destroying of much that was utterly corrupt and bad in our political and social condition, but when good and evil were intermixed, he saw only the evil; and he habitually imagined it even where it did not exist. Above all, he hated all men in authority. When he wrote his history of India, he was prepared to see the government of India by the company and its servants in the worst possible light. No historian is really and completely impartial; he necessarily collects his materials in the light of some preconceived theory or plan. Those extracts from the evidence as to the government of Hastings, which are now shown to be garbled by separation from their suppressed context, no doubt seemed to him the salient parts, because they supported his foregone conclusions ; and he was probably unconscious of dishonesty when he afterwards marshaled and embodied them in his history. While we condemn his want of impartiality and the want of wisdom in his reflections, we must not overlook the skill with which he compressed the substance of a volume into a few pages, or the brilliancy with which he described a battle. Then as to Lord Macaulay, the actual working of the judicial code which he compiled and constructed for India has proved him to be a great jurist; but now that the glamour of his rhetoric has faded into the light of common day, and we see him as he is, we know that he was the most brilliant of rhetoricians, that his great acquaintance with books was always made subservient to his imagination and his rhetoric, and that his gorgeous essays on Clive and Hastings in particular are merely imaginative reproductions from the pages of Mill, and with no authority beyond his. It is a pity that such wealth of historical imagination as Lord Macaulay possessed was not more wisely husbanded and expended by him for the benefit of others ; for without the help of the historical imagination no real study of history is possible.

Foster. I dare say you remember the dignified but friendly expostulation of Sir William Jones in reply to Burke’s insolent threat that, if he heard of his siding with Hastings, he would do everything in his power to get him recalled ? The letter is characteristic of the writer, — kind-hearted, genial, learned, overflowing with intellectual activity, and a love of display of all these merits which is pleasing from its simplicity.

Squire. Chaucer’s description of the Sergeant of the Law still suits the great lawyer even to his love of display, — étalage, as the French call it: —

“ No where so busy a man there n’as,
And yet he seemed busier than he was.”

Foster. And how gracefully he turns his expostulation into a compliment, declaring that if he was ever unjustly attacked (as in fact Burke had threatened to attack him), he was sure that his friend would pour, in his defense, the mighty flood of his eloquence, like ‘Aσσυρíου ΠΟΤΑΜΟȊΟ μεγας ῥόος! The letter is in the third volume of Burke’s correspondence, edited by Lord Fitzwilliam; but where does the Greek come from ? I have looked in vain for it.

Squire. From Callimachus’s Hymn to Apollo. The passage runs thus : —

‘Aσσυρíου ποταμοȋο μέγας ῥόος, άλλà τà πολλà
λύματα Υη̑ς καì πολλòν έϕ‘ ὔδατι συρϕετòν ἕλκει.

While we talked, the children left off dancing, and stayed playing in the hall, while the two ladies joined us as listeners. The younger now said to her father, “What does that mean? You know, father, that you did not send me to Girton or Somerville Hall.”

The squire replied gravely, —

“ ‘ Madam, the sentence of this Latin is,
Woman is mannes joy and mannes bliss.’ ”

“But,” rejoined the young lady, “Mr. Foster has just said that the words are Greek; and though Greek of Girton “is to me unknowe,” you have taught me to understand Chanticlere’s Latin translation.”

Squire. Well, the sentence of the Greek, in such English as I can muster, is:

“ Great is the flow of the Assyrian river;
But on its waters it brings down much filth,
The offscouring of the land.”

There is at least this resemblance between the quotations of Chanticlere and Sir William Jones, that each of these polite gentlemen conveys a reproof in the guise of a compliment; and I can tell you a story which shows that the latter, no less than the former, enjoyed the humor of his covert allusion. My uncle told me that, when he was a young Bengal civilian, he went with some of his fellows to dine with Sir William Jones. After dinner, the judge told them of his having received from Burke a most unbecoming message of threats of what he would do if he heard that he (Sir William Jones) dared to side with Hastings. “ But,” he went on, “ I answered him by sending him these lines from Callimachus.” Here he repeated some Greek lines, and continued : “ Perhaps you may not remember them” (“Of course,” interposed my uncle, “we had never heard of them”), “but their purport is this: ‘The Euphrates is a noble river, but it rolls down all the dead dogs of Babylon to the sea.’ ”

Foster. Rather a free translation, but very terse and epigrammatic.

Squire. Yes; and while the latent irony in the four Greek words of compliment in the letter is revealed in their context, it is an irony so fine that if Burke recalled the context he could hardly have resented it. And then we have the good judge quietly enjoying his own wit and learning, while he told his young guests the real meaning of his quotation. I ought to tell you that this dinner-table incident must have been eight or nine years after the date of the letter.

Foster. Though Sir William Jones lived before Bopp and Max Müller and the age of scientific philology, his Oriental learning, resting on his classical and modern European scholarship, must have had a great influence on those young men who went out from school, at the age of fifteen or sixteen, or even earlier, to spend their lives in India, in the civil or military service of the company.

Squire. I think and read of the men of that generation with ever new wonder and admiration alike for their moral and their intellectual virtues. As I remarked just now, the conduct of the company’s servants in India after Clive left, in 1760, was infamous. Under Clive’s second administration, followed by that of Hastings, there was considerable improvement, while under the governorship of Cornwallis and Sir John Shore both the services rose to that high condition and character which they have ever since maintained, and which I believe have never been equaled in the history of the world for incorruptibility, high-mindedness, and commanding genius in all the arts of peace and war; and all this with a corresponding love of letters and literary culture.

Foster. The personal character and influence of Lord Cornwallis and Sir John Shore must have had a good deal to do with this general devotion of character.

Squire. No doubt. I remember the younger Charles Buller saying to me that his father, a Bengal civilian of that time, was not a man of specially high sentiment, but that in any doubtful question he would have been sure to ask himself, “ What would Lord Cornwallis have thought of it ? ” And what a meaning and force there must have been in the words of Sir John Shore to my own father when he first came to India, — “ Don’t call them ‘ black fellows.’ ” Mountstuart Elphinstone arrived in India just as Cornwallis was leaving it; but in him we have the very flower and fruit of this period in the highest perfection. When the young civilian rode all through the bloody battle of Assaye by the side of General Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington that was to be, and at the storming of Gawalgarh, the latter said that Elphinstone had mistaken his vocation, which should have been that of a soldier. But he soon showed himself equally fitted for the work of a diplomatist, in the midst of the intricacies of the policy of Lord Wellesley in its contention with that of the Mahrattas. In the negotiations which ended by his cutting a way with his little force through the army of the Peishwa at Poonah, he showed himself alike a diplomatist and a soldier. In the reorganization of the central provinces and as governor of Bombay, — and he might have been governor - general, had his health allowed, — he proved himself to be no less able as an administrator and a ruler of men. And you must not forget his literary culture and love of books, Greek and Latin, English and Italian, which supplied him with examples of action as well as language in which to describe it; while his Persian studies awakened sentiments deeper than those of the classical poets, and at the same time gave him, as it had given Hastings, the great practical advantage of being able to conduct the business of the hour with the native statesmen in their own diplomatic language. The life of Elphinstone, as told by Colebrooke, and again by Cotton, has all the charm of a romance, and yet it is the record of an actual life of hard work. I knew him well; as my father’s lifelong friend he was the hero of my boyish imagination, and after his return from India till his death I shared in that affectionate friendship by which he endeared himself to all who knew him. At Assaye, Gawalgarh, and Poonah he showed himself to be “ worthy,” in Chaucer’s sense of the word: and in every other respect he realized Chaucer’s ideal of “ a very perfect gentle knight.” He was “ in his port as meek as is a maid,” — meek in his unaffected humility ; and indeed you may take Chaucer’s description, word by word, and you will find the counterpart in Elphinstone as he actually was.

Foster. You remind me of Elphinstone’s own eulogy on Sir Barry Close, and of the lament of Sir Bors over the body of Sir Launcelot. But what is your judgment of the Indian policy of Lord Wellesley?

Squire (pointing to a full-length portrait of a soldier). If that man could come down and speak, he could answer your question better than I can.

Foster. The portrait looks like a Romney, but who is the man ?

Squire. He is Colonel William Kirkpatrick, another of those men of action and of culture of whom we were just now talking. He was first military, and then political secretary to Lord Wellesley ; and it is said (I do not remember where) that when Lord Wellesley (then Lord Mornington), on his way out, found him on sick leave at the Cape, his plans of policy were materially modified, or even changed, by what he learned from Kirkpatrick. Lord Wellesley may have been as ambitious and unscrupulous as Mill depicts him; but when I contrast the condition of the two hundred and fifty millions of men, women, and children under British rule or influence at the present day with the terrible devastation and misery under which all India lay while the power of the Mahrattas and the Pindarees remained unbroken, I am very little inclined to condemn a policy which did so much to carry forward the beneficial work which was not possible without the destruction of those powers of evil.

Foster. Who is that man in the naval uniform of the last century, over Clive’s portrait ?

Squire. Admiral Watson, who took Clive’s force from Madras to the Hoogly, and supported his military operations in Bengal. His name always reminds me of an instance of the difference of an incident as related by the dignified Muse of History and as told by Jack to Harry as it actually happened. In Orme and other historians you will find that Admiral Watson assisted the operations for the attack on Calcutta by landing a party of sailors from the ships; but it has come to me in tradition that “ Old Benn ” (a member of the Calcutta factory, and afterwards Sir John Walsh, by virtue of the sign manual) told young Harry, “ We sent to Watson to let us have some of his sailors, and he answered, ‘ I will send the men, but don’t make jackasses of them.’ Now, the very thing we wanted them for was to make jackasses of them ; ” that is, to drag up the guns.

Foster. Is that bit of paper with some minute writing on it, which I see in a glass case, one of your Indian relics ?

Squire. You can hardly read it without a magnifying-glass, but it is a letter from my father’s half-brother, Robert Latham, to his mother, from the prison of Hyder Ali at Bangalore. Latham was a Madras civilian who volunteered for service in the war with Hyder. He was in Colonel Baillie’s detachment, and was among the survivors of that desperate contest of so many hours, against overwhelming numbers, which Mill has so graphically described. They endured a rigorous imprisonment in irons for three years and a half. This letter could reach its destination only by being, as you see, so written that it could be conveyed secretly out of the prison, inclosed in a quill.

Foster. I remember that the correspondence between the governor-general and Elphinstone, in those last days of his residency with the Peishwa at Poonah, had to be carried on by quills. But does Latham tell much of his imprisonment ?

Squire. We have his story after he was again free ; but there is something pathetic in the fact that this letter from the poor fellow tells nothing of his imprisonment except that he had then been eighteen months in chains, but of the grief with which he thinks of his want of love and duty to his mother in his past life. She was a stern woman, although very kind to her grandchildren, of whom I was one. But, stern as she was, we may hope that she did not receive this letter with the hardness recorded of the mother of another of those prisoners of Hyder, of whom it is told that when she heard that her son was chained to a fellow-prisoner, she only observed, " The man who’s chained to our Davie will have a gey hard time of it.”

Foster. Hurrell Froude said that a country house was of use because it was a place where you could keep things which you did not like to destroy, though they were not worth preserving; but I should rather say, where you can keep things worth keeping, but which would, without its help, be destroyed.

Squire. I often think so. This old house is of no importance in itself, — it is no Longleet or Hatfield, — yet it touches the main course of English history, from the time of Edward the Confessor to the present day, at many minute points. The little brook which you see there from the terrace has no name, and it runs into a river not known out of the county ; but that stream runs into the Avon, and the Avon into the Severn, which pours the waters of its smallest tributaries into the Atlantic with its own. And so long as the old walls remain there will be two or three persons in each generation in whom they will awaken and keep alive a sense of the reality of English history which cannot be got by books alone.

Foster. Then do such thoughts make you say, when you look at these portraits, as the monk said to Wilkie when looking on Titian’s Last Supper in the Escurial, “ These seem to me the real men, and we the shadows ” ?

The children were still playing in the hall. The squire looked at them and at his daughters, and answered : “ I can hardly agree with the old monk, while I have these witnesses to the reality and the worth of our actual life. Yet his words were not without meaning.”

Then the elder lady went back to the piano, and played and sang The Fine Old English Gentleman, while her sister joined in the refrain. Their eyes met those of their father; and he smiled approvingly, but I fancied with more thought of the singers than of the song, though he liked that, too.

Edward Strachey.