The desponding tone of your letter, yesterday, although I do not believe it was otherwise than the effect of weakness, makes me rejoice at my escape a thousand times more than I should otherwise have done. I reflect on the misery I should have felt with every moment of my time occupied here in details of appointments, while my thoughts were with you.... The Queen and the Prince have behaved beautifully throughout.
Lady John Russell to Lady Mary Abercromby
MINTO, December 24, 1845
You will not be surprised that a great deal of the time which I meant to devote to you this morning has run away in talk to my husband. You will see by the Times what the cause of the failure is: Lord Grey’s refusal to belong to the Ministry if Lord Palmerston was at the Foreign Office—a most unfortunate cause, we must all agree, but in the opinion of Papa and many other wise people, a most fortunate occurrence on the whole, as they considered it next to impossible that such a Ministry as John could have formed would have been strong enough to be of use to the country.
My husband, who is no coward, sees it differently, and thinks that with a united Cabinet he might have gone on successfully and carried not only Corn Law Repeal, but other great questions; though the probability was that they would only have carried that and then gone out. But even that would have been something worth doing, and better and more naturally done by Whigs than Tories. One good thing is that John has returned in excellent spirits. All his personal wishes and feelings were so against taking office at present, and the foretaste he had of it in this lonely and most harassing fortnight was so odious to him that his only feeling at first when he gave it all up was pure delight; and he slept, which he had not been able to do before. It certainly was a terrible prospect to us both—one immovable in Edinburgh, the other equally immovable in London—and it required all my patriotism to wish the thing to go on.
If it had gone on, the name of Lord John Russell would be now more often on men’s lips. Peel’s popular fame rests upon the abolition of the Corn Laws, Lord John’s upon the first Reform Bill. It was but an accident—Lord Grey’s objection to Palmerston at the Foreign Office—which prevented the name of Lord John Russell from being linked with those of Cobden and Bright, and imperishably associated with both the great measures of the nineteenth century.