Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Sir Robert Peel
By Lord Beaconsfield (18041881)
From Lord George Bentinck (Life)
AS an orator, Sir Robert Peel had, perhaps, the most available talent that has ever been brought to bear in the House of Commons. We have mentioned that both in exposition and in reply he was equally eminent. His statements were perspicuous, complete, and dignified; when he combated the objections or criticised the propositions of an opponent he was adroit and acute; no speaker ever sustained a process of argumentation in a public assembly more lucidly, and none as debaters have united in so conspicuous a degree prudence with promptness. In the higher efforts of oratory he was not successful. His vocabulary was ample, and never mean; but it was neither rich nor rare. His speeches will afford no sentiment of surpassing grandeur or beauty that will linger in the ears of coming generations. He embalmed no great political truth in immortal words. His flights were ponderous; he soared with the wing of the vulture rather than the plume of the eagle; and his perorations when most elaborate were most unwieldy. In pathos he was quite deficient; when he attempted to touch the tender passions, it was painful. His face became distorted, like that of a woman who wants to cry but cannot succeed. Orators certainly should not shed tears, but there are moments when, as the Italians say, the voice should weep. The taste of Sir Robert Peel was highly cultivated, but it was not originally fine; he had no wit, but he had a keen sense of the ridiculous, and an abundant vein of genuine humour. Notwithstanding his artificial reserve, he had a hearty and merry laugh; and sometimes his mirth was uncontrollable. He was gifted with an admirable organ; perhaps the finest that has been heard in the House in our days, unless we except the thrilling tones of OConnell. Sir Robert Peel also modulated his voice with great skill. His enunciation was very clear, though somewhat marred by provincialisms. His great deficiency was want of nature, which made him often appear even with a good cause more plausible than persuasive, and more specious than convincing. He may be said to have gradually introduced a new style into the House of Commons, which was suited to the age in which he chiefly flourished, and to the novel elements of the assembly which he had to guide. He had to deal with greater details than his predecessors, and he had in many instances to address those who were deficient in previous knowledge. Something of the lecture, therefore, entered into his displays, and his style may be called the didactic.