Men I Have Painted/Lord Halifax
AT the time of the debate in the House of Lords on the third reading of the Divorce Bill, I was very much interested in the argument of Lord Halifax against the passage of the Bill, and of his final earnest and pathetic appeal to their lordships' House to refuse to give sanction to a measure that was intended to increase the facilities for the commission of what is held to be a sacrilege on any ground but one. "This is probably the last time," said the octogenarian peer, "that I shall ever address your lordships," and, like Chatham when protesting against the separation of the colonies from the Crown, Lord Halifax succumbed to age and weakness, and was carried from the House in an exhausted state.
I did not then think that a few months afterwards my ever-thoughtful friend, Mrs. Drew, would suggest to Lord Halifax that, during his convalescence from an operation for cataract, he might have his portrait painted by me.
When Mrs. Drew told me that I should be expected with my brushes and paints on a certain day, I expressed my pleasure at having the opportunity of meeting such a champion of the sanctity of marriage. My sympathy had always gone out to Josephine because Napoleon had divorced her on such shallow grounds. Had he adopted an heir, as the Roman emperors were not seldom accustomed to do, he very possibly might have saved the Empress from the most humiliating suffering a woman can undergo. When Napoleon took Marie-Louise of Austria to wife, one cannot escape from the thought that he, like Cæsar, allowed social distinction to flower in the field of his amours.
Lord Halifax is a many-sided man of great charm. He was chosen at Oxford, with Mr. W. H. Gladstone, to accompany the Prince of Wales on his first tour of the Continent, in 1857.
Religion is his overmastering passion. As President of the English Church Union, his lifelong passionate desire is the union of the three branches of the Catholic Church—Roman, Anglican, and Greek. It is a significant fact in this age that a host of earnest men of various schools of thought, and from widely different points of view—from that of Lord Halifax and each other—are possessed with this passionate desire for the union of Christendom.
To while away the time as I painted, Mrs. Drew read to us from a character sketch she had written on a statesman of her own day. At Hawarden in 1870, a great friendship had sprung up between members of the Gladstone, Lyttelton, and Balfour families, then meeting for the first time. I gathered that this intimate and exclusive little group of friends was really the nucleus, from 1870 to 1880, of the much larger group of the 'eighties and 'nineties, eventually known as the "souls."
These séances were in every way delightful. The readings freed both the painter and the sitter from the obligation of talking to each other. The light was diffused evenly in a spacious and lofty room from an unusually wide and high window; each one was entertained without the cost of an effort.
There is no weak sentimentalism about the religion of Lord Halifax. He faces the facts of life boldly and fearlessly, and he separates, with an unerring instinct, right from wrong and good from bad.