No political reputation has fluctuated, and been disputed, more violently than that of 'Lord Grey of the Reform Bill'. Soon after his retirement in 1834 the Courier pronounced that no other public man had 'ever had so great a claim to the gratitude of his country'. Less than two years later an ex-colleague, John Cam Hobhouse, commented: 'I am surprised how, by mere fluency of speech and arrogance of manner, this really inferior man has contrived to lead a great party, and to connect his name imperishably with the most splendid triumphs of British legislation.' Seventy years ago the Northumbrian piety of G.M. Trevelyan's Life evoked comments almost as sharp as Hobhouse's. 'When the Almighty wants anything really done,' Augustine Birrell commented in the Nation, 'he creates a man or woman foolish enough to believe that, if the thing were done, all would be right with the world.' 'Mr Trevelyan,' said H.W.C. Davis, 'sees this great whig through a golden haze which softens all asperities, and disguises whatever is irrational in a very complex, rather petulant, and too fastidious personality. Indeed the haze becomes a halo.'
LRB 27 September 1990 | PDF Download