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The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.

Chapter XLVII.Farewell To England

page 369

Chapter XLVII.Farewell To England.

"Farewell: a word that must be, and hath been —
A sound that makes us linger: yet— Farewell!"

The Newark election convinced Sir George Grey that his plans were distasteful to the Liberal leaders. His own health was affected, and the worry and strain of the last eighteen months, combined with the rigour of the English climate, had affected him considerably. He began to long for the clear skies and the balmy atmosphere of his island home in the Pacific. He believed also that reforms in Britain might be accomplished from the Colonies as readily as from the centre of England itself. He was strengthened in this belief by the fact that the New Zealand Constitution had been obtained by pressure from without, and he saw that it had borne good fruit in Canada.

The pamphlet which he had written upon the subject of Home Rule for Ireland had been discussed by a mutual friend with Mr. Gladstone. Afterwards his friend conveyed to him the fact that Mr. Gladstone, and indeed the leaders of the Liberal party generally, were disturbed by his persistence, and disposed to treat his efforts as embarrassing to the Liberal party, and inimical to its interests. It was represented to him that Mr. Gladstone pointed out that, in addition to the disestablishment of the Irish Church, he was, in conjunction with Mr. Bright, preparing a large and page 370liberal measure in relation to Irish land, which would effectually dispose of the difficulties of Irish government, and meet the first demand of the Irish people.

Considering these facts, some members of the Liberal party urged that the extreme measures proposed by Sir George Grey would be likely to disturb and harass the Liberals, and might possibly cause division amongst their ranks, and delay or defeat the successful carrying out of the measures which that Government proposed, by raising hopes of still more liberal plans. If Sir George Grey was not disposed to rely altogether upon Mr. Gladstone's own opinion, he was to be assured that Mr. Bright, whose sound and critical judgment was scarcely equalled in the Kingdom, fully concurred in the wisdom of the steps being taken, their absolute suitability for the wants of Ireland, and their entire sufficiency to achieve all that was necessary to be done.

Sir George's mind was soon made up. He was determined that he would give no cause of accusation by his own conduct. If the Liberal party, speaking through its leaders, was determined not to assist him in the great measures he proposed, he would return to New Zealand He had at any rate seen the tide turn in regard to the dismemberment of the Empire. He had obtained the sympathy of many in his advocacy of a true policy of emigration, and he had left on record a common-sense and just proposal for the local self-government of Ireland.

Indeed, though he knew it not, the great principles for which he had striven were all made certain of accomplishment. The power of the economists to dismember the Empire was shattered. The ground was broken for the inauguration of a future system of State colonisation, and with the publication of his short "Act for the Parliament of the Kingdom of Ireland," the future consummation of that also was probably assured.

Around all these questions the angry storms and passions of party strife might rage. The selfishness of human nature, the lust of power, the pride of hereditary superiority, would indeed delay their fulfilment; but the seed was sown. That seed was life-bearing and must germinate. No man would now dare, openly and seriously, to advocate the disruption of the Empire; and though well nigh fourscore years of age, Sir George Grey yet trusts to see page 371the initiation of a wise system of Imperial colonisation, and a provincial Parliament sitting in College Green.

In 1870 he left the shores of England to return to New Zealand.

Although saddened and dispirited at seeing no visible fruits of his labours in England, Sir George Grey was yet able to look back with pleasure on many meetings with old friends, on much pleasant social and scientific intercourse with the leaders of thought, and on many new and enduring friendships made.

His presence in England had been early utilised by the devotees of science and literature. Thus, on March 15th, 1869, Professor Huxley wrote:

My dear Sir George Grey,—Our first Ethnological meeting here the other night went off so well that we are disposed to add to the three which we had already arranged to hold a fourth on the Ethnology of Polynesia. We propose to hold the meeting on the 11th of May, and my present purpose in writing to you is to beg to be allowed to announce a communication from you, short or long, but the longer the better.

"Maori Sagas" would be a splendid subject, and one which would be abundantly illustrated by the mere crumbs from your table.—Ever yours, very faithfully,

T. H. Huxley.

In continuance of the same subject came the following:

April 28th, 1869.

My dear Sir George,—I am particularly obliged to you for sending me the title of your paper in time to enable me to announce it last night. The topic you have chosen is profoundly interesting, and I have no doubt there will be a great attendance to hear you.

…The Council wish me to precede you with a few remarks about Polynesia generally; and the Bishop of Wellington will follow you. You will represent the "secular arm" between science and religion.—Ever yours very truly,

T. H. Huxley.

Grey's ardent devotion to scientific research was singularly illustrated immediately prior to his departure from England. Among other subjects of study to which he had paid much attention was that of the nature and composition of ether and its connection with and relation to electricity. He became convinced of the laminiferous structure of ether, and the positive and negative qualities of alternate strata.

If the was right in this, gravitation did not exist. It was an unnecessary conception, called into existence when the qualities of the ether were unknown. The theory of gravitation declared that page 372every body in the universe attracts every other body with a force which varies inversely as the square of the distance. This was but half the truth. The theory of electricity, based on a compound ether, declares that the force, whether attraction or repulsion, varies inversely as the square of the distance. This is the whole truth.

The first half is gravity being incessantly exercised by suns, planets, and smaller celestial bodies, all of which by their rapid revolutions as they travel through space, continually by friction create electricity and give rise to vast electrical discharges, from which emanate light, heat, and other phenomena.

The influence of electricity upon the germination and development of life became in his mind intimately connected with this ether discovery which he believed he had made.

Both in England and on his return to New Zealand he discoursed with several scientific friends upon these subjects, and mentioned to them the arguments which had suggested themselves to his mind, and the results at which he had arrived. One of the first persons to hear Sir George speak of his theory was the great astronomer, Proctor. Several gentlemen now living remember conversations with Sir G. Grey on the subject in the years 1875 and 1876.

In 1889, one of these, upon reading Mr. Lodge's work in the Nature Series on "Modern Views of Electricity," was so struck by the verification of Grey's ideas, communicated to him fifteen years before, that he noted the passages and sent the book to Sir George in Auckland. Other friends, also, on seeing Mr. Lodge's book, remembered Sir George's conversations with them at that time, and wrote reminding him of their occurrence.

The value of this discovery, which has been variously and partially attributed to Mr. G. F. Fitzgerald, Mr. Hicks, and Sir William Thompson, is alleged by scientists to be beyond calculation. Mr. Lodge, at the conclusion of the preface to his elaborate and clever book, after speaking of this "Theory of Free Ether," thus writes:

The Theory of bound Ether and of Matter must next follow, and thereby, in addition to all optical and electrical phenomena, gravitation and cohesion must be explained too. Then must be attacked the specific differences between various kinds of matter and the nature of what we call their "combinations."

page 373

When this is accomplished, the complex facts of chemistry will have been brought under a comprehensive law. The next fifty years may witness the tremendous victories in great part won.

While leading the agitation against the abandonment of the colonies, and in favour of a national system of colonisation, Sir George, besides addressing great meetings in different parts of England and Scotland, spoke also to very large assemblages in the metropolis. It was after one of these addresses at the Lambeth Baths that the late Governor of New Zealand mot an old friend under peculiar but pleasant circumstances.

One among several speakers for the evening, his speech being ended and having another appointment, Sir George Grey left the hall, and wandering through some intricate passages, found himself at length in a narrow street, the name and situation of which wore entirely unknown to him.

A stranger in that part of London, he did not know in which direction lay his path. He could see no policeman of whom to make enquiries, and he did not like to ask any chance passer by. While thus hesitating, his attention was attracted by the opening of a door, and the sudden darting of a somewhat bright light from within across the roadway. The clatter of many feet and the sound of many voices drew his attention still more strongly.

Involuntarily he walked to the half-open door, and for the purpose of enquiring his way, entered the room. It contained a number of young men—clerks, shopmen, and respectable artisans— each with his bundle of books: evidently an evening class composed of youths who, unable to pursue their studies in the day time, thus gathered together in the evenings, in a sort of advanced school or college. The intelligence and good humour dwelling upon their faces pleased their self-invited visitor greatly.

Before he had time to make known the intention with which he had thus suddenly intruded upon them, Sir George was still more pleased, for in the tutor of this class, standing at the head of the table, he recognised none other than his old New Zealand friend, Mr. J. E. Gorst.

As in New Zealand this gentleman had given his time and attention to the performance of public duties and the training of the young without payment or any pecuniary reward, so in London page 374he had unselfishly devoted one or two evenings a week to the instruction of these young men, his only reward being the consciousness of duty performed.

As Sir George and Mr. Gorst met and clasped each others hands, the students, with looks of surprise, departed. Sir George's memory few back to that time when Rewi had issued the death warrant against his present companion, and he rejoiced to find that in London, as truly as in the Waikato, his friend pursued the same quiet path of unostentatious and self-denying usefulness.

Living at Kensington, and absorbed in his Parliamentary duties, Mr. Gorst yet came up regularly one or two evenings every week to conduct the studies of this class.

Throughout Sir George's election contest, Mr. Edward Jenkins, the author of "Ginx's Baby "was his warm supporter and most active worker. An extract from one or two of his letters will show the feelings with which he regarded Sir George Grey.

A letter dated May 17th, 1870, was accompanied by a copy of "Ginx's Baby," which he told Sir George in great jubilation had been pronounced by Dr. Ivingsley, "next to 'Lothair, the greatest book out for many a day." The author went on to give an idea of a new book he was contemplating, "Ex Cathedra." In another letter, written on May 19th, Mr. Jenkins said:—"I cannot thank you enough for your delicate kindnesses, which give me proof that the old Christian chivalrousness of strong to weak is not everywhere extinct, though fast becoming fossil to this generation. In a later letter he wrote of a friend who showed him great hospitality on Sir George's introduction:—"He did not think 'Ginx's Baby' worth reading, but he treated the author with great consideration. That lucky book has reached a fifth edition, and will shortly reach a sixth. I was astonished on my return to find your early prognostications verified, and the book in every man's mouth. Tennyson, Arthur Helps, Sir Henry Holland, Lawrence Oliphant, and a host of others, have testified their admiration in an unmistakable way. If it will only wake men's minds to the necessity of acting, 1 shall be happy." When he heard that Sir George Grey had determined to leave England, he wrote that no one would ever know how many hopes for England had perished in his heart at the news.