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Letters and Journals of James, Eighth Earl of Elgin   By: (1811-1863)

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Having been consulted by the family and friends of the late Lord Elgin as to the best mode of giving to the world some record of his life, and having thus contracted a certain responsibility in the work now laid before the public, I have considered it my duty to prefix a few words by way of Preface to the following pages.

On Lord Elgin's death it was thought that a career intimately connected with so many critical points in the history of the British Empire, and containing in itself so much of intrinsic interest, ought not to be left without an enduring memorial. The need of this was the more felt because Lord Elgin was prevented, by the peculiar circumstances of his public course, from enjoying the familiar recognition to which he would else have been entitled amongst his contemporaries in England. 'For' (if I may use the words which I have employed on a former occasion) 'it is one of the sad consequences of a statesman's life spent like his in the constant service of his country on arduous foreign missions, that in his own land, in his own circle, almost in his own home, his place is occupied by others, his very face is forgotten; he can maintain no permanent ties with those who rule the opinion, or obtain the mastery, of the day; he has identified himself with no existing party; he has made himself felt in none of those domestic and personal struggles which, attract the attention and fix the interest of the many who contribute in large measure to form the public opinion of the time. For twenty years the few intervals of Lord Elgin's residence in these islands were to be counted not by years, but by months; and the majority of those who might be reckoned amongst his friends and acquaintances, remembered him chiefly as the eager and accomplished Oxford student at Christ Church or at Merton.'

The materials for supplying this blank were, in some respects, abundant. Besides the official despatches and other communications which had passed between himself and the Home Government during his successive absences in Jamaica, Canada, China, and India, he had in the two latter positions kept up a constant correspondence, almost of the nature of a journal, with Lady Elgin, which combines with his reflections on public events the expression of his more personal feelings, and thus reveals not only his own genial and affectionate nature, but also indicates something of that singularly poetic and philosophic turn of mind, that union of grace and power, which, had his course lain in the more tranquil walks of life, would have achieved no mean place amongst English thinkers and writers.

These materials his family, at my suggestion, committed to my friend Mr. Theodore Walrond, whose sound judgment, comprehensive views, and official experience are known to many besides myself, and who seemed not less fitted to act as interpreter to the public at large of such a life and character, because, not having been personally acquainted with Lord Elgin, or connected with any of the public transactions recorded in the following pages, he was able to speak with the sobriety of calm appreciation, rather than the warmth of personal attachment. In this spirit he kindly undertook, in the intervals of constant public occupations, to select from the vast mass of materials placed at his disposal such extracts as most vividly brought out the main features of Lord Elgin's career, adding such illustrations as could be gleaned from private or published documents or from the remembrance of friends. If the work has unavoidably been delayed beyond the expected term, yet it is hoped that the interest in those great colonial dependencies for which Lord Elgin laboured, has not diminished with the lapse of years. It is believed also that there is no time when it will not be good for his countrymen to have brought before them those statesmanlike gifts which accomplished the successful accommodation of a more varied series of novel and entangled situations than has, perhaps, fallen to the lot of any other public man within our own memory... Continue reading book >>

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