George Joachim Goschen, First Viscount Goschen

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THE RIGHT HONOURABLE George Joachim Goschen, First Viscount Goschen, M.A., L.L.D., D.C.L., F.R.S., P.C. (10 August, 1831 – 7 February, 1907) was a Liberal Unionist statesman and First Lord of the Admiralty from 1895 to 1900.

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Life & Career

This article may temporarily contain text from an edition of the Dictionary of National Biography which is in the Public Domain.

George Joachim Goschen, born on 10 August, 1831 at his father's house in the parish of Stoke Newington, was eldest son and second child in the family of two sons and five daughters of William Henry Göschen, a leading merchant of the City of London, by his wife Henrietta, daughter of William Alexander Ohmann. His youngest brother, Sir William Edward Goschen, became British ambassador at Berlin in 1908. The father was son of Georg Joachim Göschen, an eminent publisher and man of letters at Leipzig, the intimate friend of Schiller, Goethe, Wieland and other ‘heroes of the golden age of German literature’ (see LORD GOSCHEN, Life and Times of Georg Joachim Göschen, 1903). In 1814 young William Henry Göschen came to London, where, with his friend Henry Frühling from Bremen, he founded the financial firm of Frühling & Göschen. A man of strong character, great industry, and deep religious convictions, he found time throughout an exceedingly busy life to indulge his love of literature and his taste for music.

From nine to eleven (1840–2) Goschen attended daily the Proprietary School at Blackheath. Thence his father sent him for three years to Dr. Bernhard's school at Saxe Meiningen. During this period he only once visited England, usually spending his holidays with his German relations. His father, who intended his son for a business career, now thought he perceived in him qualities which would ensure success in public life in England. For this end it was desirable that young George should mix more than he had yet done with English boys; and it was with the view of making an Englishman of him that he was sent in August, 1845 to Rugby entering the house of Bonamy Price, afterwards professor of political economy at Oxford.

After his first year, Goschen grew to like his surroundings and to be popular with his schoolfellows. He rose to be head of the school, and in that capacity he made his first reported speech, on the occasion of the resignation of the headmaster, A. C. Tait (afterwards archbishop of Canterbury). Amongst the boys he had been already recognised as the best debater in the school, especially in reply. Though his rise in the school had been rapid, it was not till June 1848 that he achieved positive distinction by winning the prize for the English essay; and shortly afterwards the English prize poem for the year. In 1849 he won the Queen's medal for the English historical essay; and in 1850, the prize for the Latin essay, "Marcus Tullius Cicero."

In the autumn of 1850, after a couple of months of travel on the continent, Goschen entered Oxford as a commoner of Oriel. He failed to win scholarships at University and Trinity, but in 1852 his college awarded him an exhibition. Though in the technical Oxford sense his scholarship was not considered pre-eminent, he obtained a double first in classical honours, with the general reputation in 1853 of having been "the best first in." At the Union he won great fame by his speeches on political and literary subjects; and in his last year was president of that society.

In the previous year he had founded the Essay Club, of which the original members were Arthur Butler, first headmaster of Haileybury, Charles Stuart Parker of University, H. N. Oxenham, the Hon. George Brodrick, W. H. Fremantle of Balliol, and Charles Henry Pearson (cf. Memorials of Charles Henry Pearson, 1900). Having graduated B.A. in 1853, Goschen entered actively into the business of his father's firm, by whom in October, 1854 he was sent to superintend affairs in New Granada, now part of the United States of Colombia. After two years in South America he returned home, and on 22 September, 1857 married Lucy, daughter of John Dalley, a marriage which greatly conduced to the happiness of his future life. He now energetically devoted himself to business in London, rapidly making a reputation with commercial men, amongst whom he was known as the "Fortunate Youth." When only twenty-seven he was made a director of the Bank of England.

In 1861 he achieved wider fame by publishing his Theory of the Foreign Exchanges (5th edition 1864), a treatise which won the attention of financial authorities and business men all over the world, and which has been translated into the principal languages of Europe. In 1863, a vacancy having occurred in the representation of the City of London, Goschen was returned unopposed as a supporter of Lord Palmerston's government. His views were those of a strong liberal, as liberalism was understood in those days; and he pledged himself to the ballot, abolition of church rates, and the removal of religious disabilities. On the latter subject, the abolition of tests in the universities, he took a leading position in the House of Commons, fiercely contending with Lord Robert Cecil (afterwards Lord Salisbury), who struggled hard to maintain the old close connection between the universities and the Church of England. At the opening of the session of 1864 Goschen achieved a marked success in seconding the address to the speech from the throne. But the pains which he took to distinguish his position in the liberal party, especially as regards foreign policy, from that taken up by Richard Cobden and John Bright, called forth, not unnaturally, vigorous remonstrance from the former.[1] Before parliament was dissolved (July, 1865), Goschen's knowledge of commercial matters, his brilliant speech on the address, and his ability in fighting the battle against tests, had given him a good standing in the House of Commons; and when the new parliament met, Lord Russell, who had succeeded Lord Palmerston as prime minister, invited him to join his ministry as Vice-President of the Board of Trade (November 1865); and two months later to enter his cabinet as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (January, 1866). On the same day Lord Hartington (afterwards Duke of Devonshire), with whom in after years Goschen was to be closely associated, entered the cabinet for the first time.

Goschen now retired finally from business and from the firm of Frühling & Göschen, and henceforward devoted himself wholly to a political career. In the short-lived ministry of Lord Russell, and on the front bench of opposition during the Derby-Disraeli government which succeeded it, Goschen took an active part with Gladstone and other leading liberals in the reform struggles of the day. At the dissolution of 1868, standing as a strenuous advocate of Irish disestablishment, he was returned again for the City, this time at the head of the poll; and on Gladstone's forming his first administration, Goschen entered his cabinet as president of the poor law board. There he showed great zeal as a reformer of local government (see his remarkable Report of the Select Committee of 1870), and in substituting methodical administration for the chaotic system, or want of system, which had grown up. On the health of H. C. E. Childers breaking down, Goschen was appointed in March, 1871 to succeed him as first lord of the admiralty, a department which at that time was subjected to much public censure. Here his administration proved extraordinarily successful in restoring the general confidence and in winning the enthusiastic admiration of the naval service. In 1874 the unwillingness of Goschen and Cardwell to reduce the estimates for 1874–5 below what they considered the needs of the country required was an important element in determining Gladstone's sudden dissolution (January 1874). This resulted in the advent to power for six years of Disraeli, and accordingly Goschen, who was again re-elected for the City, found himself for the first time in the House of Commons one of a minority, which on Gladstone's withdrawal was led by Lord Hartington.

Until 1880 the interest of the public and parliament was mainly occupied with foreign affairs, and Goschen as a leading member of the liberal party was in continual consultation with Lord Hartington and Lord Granville on the serious condition of things in eastern Europe. His great position as a financier and a man of business, and his more than ordinary acquaintance with foreign politics, had led to his being chosen by the council of foreign bondholders, with the approval of the foreign office, and at the invitation of the viceroy of Egypt to proceed to that country, which was in a state bordering on bankruptcy, to investigate and report upon the financial position. With M. Joubert, representing the French bondholders, Goschen proceeded to Cairo, their joint efforts resulting in the promulgation of the Khedivial decree of 16 Nov. 1876, the Goschen decree, as it came to be called.[2]

When Goschen returned to England, Gladstone's anti-Turkish agitation was at its height. In 1877, when Lord Hartington accepted on behalf of the Liberal Party the policy pressed upon parliament by Sir George Trevelyan, of equalising the county and borough franchise, Goschen's strong sense of duty compelled him to protest against what he believed must lead to the complete monopolising of political power by a single class of the community. This difference with his political friends as to a main ‘plank’ of the party ‘platform’ proved to be a turning-point in his career. At the general election in April 1880 Goschen, who had retired from the representation of the City of London, was returned for Ripon. The electorate repudiated Lord Beaconsfield, and Gladstone at the head of a large majority again became prime minister. Goschen felt it incumbent upon him to hold aloof from the new administration. Gladstone offered him the vice-royalty of India, which he declined. He consented, however, to go in May, 1880 on a special and temporary mission to Constantinople as ambassador to the Sultan, without emolument; retaining, with the approval of his constituents, his seat in the House of Commons.

The object of the British government was to compel the Turks, by means of the concert of Europe, to carry out the stipulations of the treaty of Berlin as regards Greece, Montenegro and Armenia, and to get established a strong defensive frontier between Turkey and Greece. Goschen has recounted at length the difficulties he encountered, and has described his interviews with Prince Bismarck at Berlin, and the negotiations at Constantinople with the representatives of the great powers.[3] His mission lasted for a year, and in June 1881 he was again back in London, receiving the congratulations of Gladstone and Granville upon the successful accomplishment of a most difficult task.

In the political situation at home he found much that he disliked. The fight over the Irish land bill was virtually at an end. A fierce struggle was raging between the government and the followers of Parnell, and Goschen felt it right at such a time to do what he could to strengthen the executive against the forces of disorder. In June 1882 he declined Gladstone's invitation to join his cabinet as secretary of state for war. In November 1883 Gladstone pressed him strongly to accept the speakership of the House of Commons, which he also declined, partly because he felt that his short sight would prove a disqualification for the successful performance of the duties of the chair. In truth Goschen was becoming more and more dissatisfied with the position of the liberal party, in which he feared the rapid growth of the influence of the advanced section led by Mr. Chamberlain and Sir Charles Dilke. He set himself to strengthen Gladstone against radical influences, and to secure for the present and future that due weight within the party should be given to moderate liberalism. But though disapproving much in Gladstone's conduct of affairs—foreign policy, Ireland, Egypt, South Africa—he was by no means disposed to place unlimited confidence in the conservative leader, Lord Salisbury. The ambition and influence of Lord Randolph Churchill in Goschen's eyes still further weakened the claims of party conservatism to the public confidence. He had, moreover, been disappointed that his own stand against a democratic franchise had found no conservative support. In January 1885 Goschen withdrew from the Reform and Devonshire Clubs; and his speeches to great meetings in the country gave further evidence of the independent standpoint he had now assumed. By moderate men of all parties those speeches were welcomed and admired.

The last session of the parliament elected in 1880 was momentous. In February 1885 came the news of the fall of Khartoum. A motion of censure on the Gladstone government was defeated only by fourteen votes, and Goschen voted in the minority. In June a combination between conservatives and Parnellites defeated the government on a clause of the budget. Goschen voted with the government. Lord Salisbury at once became prime minister, and Lord Randolph Churchill leader of the House of Commons.

The city of Ripon, which Goschen represented, was to lose its separate representation under the Reform Act of 1885, and an influential committee in Edinburgh invited Goschen to become a candidate for one of the divisions of that city at the coming general election. During the following autumn Goschen's speeches in Scotland and elsewhere made a great impression on the public (Goschen's Political Speeches, Edinburgh, 1886). Their high tone, their clear reasoning, the independent and disinterested character of the speaker, and the absence of claptrap or appeal to unworthy motives, were a refreshing contrast to much of the platform oratory of the day. At the same time the late ministers were freely disclosing their individual views to the public. Mr. Chamberlain was the spokesman of extreme radicalism, and found in Goschen his chief antagonist. Lord Hartington, whose allegiance to the liberal party had never wavered, spoke out as essentially a leader of moderate liberals, whilst Gladstone by studied indefiniteness endeavoured to keep all sections of liberals united under his ‘umbrella.’ Parnell threw the whole voting power of Irish nationalists on to the side of the conservatives. And though little was said about it at the general election, Goschen clearly saw that Parnell's policy of home rule, and Gladstone's line with reference to it, were the questions of the future. In vain he sought (July 1885) from Gladstone some explanation of his views (Life of Lord Goschen, vol. i. chap. ix.).

In November, 1885 Goschen, supported by moderate Liberals and Conservatives, won an easy triumph in East Edinburgh over an advanced radical candidate. The effect, however, of the general election as a whole was to make it impossible for either of the great parties to hold power without the assistance of the Irish nationalists. Hence a remarkable development of the party position occurred. The majority of the liberal party coalesced with Parnell and his followers; and Gladstone was placed in power to carry out the policy of home rule. Goschen threw himself into the struggle for the union with conspicuous ability and zeal. With Lord Hartington he formed and inspired the liberal unionist party, and brought about that alliance with Lord Salisbury which was essential if the union was to be saved. At the great meeting at the Opera House on 14 April, 1886, the first outward sign of this new alliance, Goschen's speech was the one that most deeply stirred the enthusiasm of his audience. In the House of Commons and all over the country he did battle for his cause with a fiery impetuosity which hitherto had hardly been recognised as part of his character. His hope that Lord Hartington should be the centre and leader of a strong body of moderate opinion was now realised. But the division in the liberal party was not so much between those who were known as whigs and radicals, as between unionists and home rulers; and thus many of the strongest radicals, such as Mr. Chamberlain and John Bright, were amongst Lord Hartington's most vigorous supporters. The union triumphed in the House of Commons, where Gladstone's home rule bill was defeated on 7 June, 1886, and when the unionists secured a majority at the General Election in July, Lord Salisbury formed a conservative administration. In East Edinburgh, however, Goschen was defeated by the home rule candidate, Dr. Wallace; but he did not relax his efforts outside the House of Commons in the unionist cause. On Lord Randolph Churchill's sudden resignation (20 December, 1886) of the Chancellorship of the Exchequer in Lord Salisbury's government, and the lead of the House of Commons, Goschen, with the approval of Lord Hartington, accepted the offer made to him by Lord Salisbury to enter his cabinet as Lord Randolph's successor, W. H. Smith at the same time undertaking to lead the House of Commons.

Goschen's accession to the ministry at this crisis was of the greatest importance in keeping the Unionist government on its feet. He met, nevertheless, one more personal reverse, in his failure to win back from the liberal home rulers the Exchange division of Liverpool (26 January, 1887). A fortnight later he was elected by a majority of 4000 for St. George's, Hanover Square, a seat which he retained till he went to the House of Lords. Henceforward, as a member of the Salisbury government, sharing the responsibility of his colleagues, Goschen necessarily played a less individual part than heretofore in the public eye, though he took a prominent share in the fierce conflicts inside and outside parliament against the powerful home rule alliance between Liberals and Irish nationalists.

For six years in succession he brought forward the budget, meeting with much skill the steadily growing expenditure of the country, whilst boasting with truth that at the same time he was gradually reducing its debt. His most memorable achievement whilst Chancellor of the Exchequer was his successful conversion of the national debt in March, 1888 from a 3 per cent. to a 23/4, and ultimately a 2½ per cent. stock. The great courage and ability required to carry through this operation received the recognition of political opponents, including Gladstone, not less than of his own friends. During the Baring crisis in November, 1890 his courage and firmness as finance minister were again demonstrated. The situation was saved; whilst he absolutely refused to yield to pressure to employ the funds or credit of the state to buttress up the solvency of a private institution.[4] In the same year a good deal of unpopularity fell to Goschen's share, resulting from the "licensing clauses" (ultimately abandoned) which it was proposed to introduce into the local taxation bill, for providing out of taxes on beer and spirits a compensation fund to facilitate the reduction in the number of public-houses.

At the end of 1891 Mr. Arthur Balfour succeeded to the leadership of the House of Commons[5]; but the days of the unionist ministry were already numbered, and the general election of the following June placed Gladstone once more in power. Over the home rule bill of 1893 the old controversy of 1886 was revived in all its bitterness, and Goschen was again in the front rank of the combatants. In opposition, he formally joined the Conservative Party, became a member of the Carlton Club, and repeated with undiminished power the efforts he had made nine years before to sustain the cause of the union. This time, however, Gladstone's policy was accepted by the House of Commons; but only to be rejected by the House of Lords, who were supported by the country at the general election of 1895.

Lord Salisbury's new administration was joined by Lord Hartington, Mr. Chamberlain, and other Liberal Unionists, whilst Goschen to his great satisfaction went to the admiralty (June, 1895), where twenty years before he had won well-earned fame. His last period at the admiralty, which lasted till the Autumn of 1900, was eventful; for though the country remained at peace with the great powers of the world, our foreign relations at times became severely strained. Difficulties connected with Venezuela, Crete, Nigeria, Port Arthur, Fashoda, and German sympathy with President Krüger, brought the possibility of rupture before the eyes of all men. Goschen felt that a very powerful British navy was the best security for the peace of the world, as well as for our own protection, and the vast increases of our naval establishments and the consequent growth of naval estimates were generally approved. The strain of these five years told upon his strength. The death of Mrs. Goschen in the Spring of 1898 had been a heavy trial; and the weight of advancing years determined him to retire from office before the approaching General Election. Accordingly on 12 October, 1900, to the regret of the public and the naval service, he resigned. On 17 December he was raised to the House of Lords as Viscount Goschen of Hawkhurst in the County of Kent.[6]

The remainder of his life Lord Goschen hoped to spend mainly at Seacox Heath, his home in Kent, with more leisure than he had found in the past for seeing his family and friends, for indulging his strong taste for reading, and for attending to the interests of his estate. In 1903 he published the life and times of his grandfather, on which he had long been engaged; and in 1905 a volume of Essays and Addresses on Economic Questions. This last consisted of contributions to the Edinburgh Review and of addresses read to various bodies and institutions at different times, and of valuable comments by the author on the further light that the lapse of years had thrown upon the subjects treated. On the death of Lord Salisbury, Goschen was chosen chancellor of Oxford University (31 October, 1903), and devoted himself with energy to the interests of the university. He had been made hon. D.C.L. of Oxford in 1881, and hon. LL.D. of Aberdeen and Cambridge in 1888, and of Edinburgh in 1890.

Goschen's political life was by no means over. When in 1903 Mr. Chamberlain's fiscal policy was announced, causing rupture in the ministry and the unionist party, Goschen again came to the front as one of the foremost champions of free trade. He had, as he said, worked out these financial and commercial problems for himself; and accordingly he joined the Duke of Devonshire and other free-trade unionists in a vigorous effort to defeat a policy certain, in his opinion, to bring disaster on the nation. In the House of Lords and in the country, till the general election of January 1906 had made free trade safe, he threw himself into the conflict with much of his old energy and fire; and in the new parliament he once more solemnly warned conservative statesmen against the danger of identifying their party with the fiscal policy of Mr. Chamberlain. During the remainder of the session, he took part occasionally in the proceedings of the House of Lords, showing none of the infirmities of age excepting that his eyesight, never good, had deteriorated. On 7 February, 1907 he died suddenly in his home at Seacox, and was buried at Flimwell. Goschen left two sons and four daughters. His elder son, George Joachim, succeeded to the viscountcy.

Goschen showed throughout the whole of his career a remarkable consistency of character as a statesman, notwithstanding the fact that part of his official life was passed under Gladstone's, part under Lord Salisbury's leadership. Always moderate in his opinions, which were the outcome of honest and deep investigation, he disliked the exaggerations of party protagonists, and was as vehement in support of moderation as were the extremists on either side in fighting for victory. At the head of great departments, his industry, his grasp of principles, his mastery of details, and his determination to secure efficiency were conspicuous. But in the pressure of administrative work he remembered that his responsibilities as cabinet minister were not limited to his own department, and in all matters of general policy, especially as regards foreign affairs, of which he had exceptional knowledge, his counsels carried great weight. His courage and independence won him in a high degree the respect and confidence of his countrymen; and Queen Victoria placed much reliance on his judgment and his patriotism. Nature had not endowed him with the qualities that make an orator of the first rank. His voice was not good, nor his gestures and bearing graceful. Yet he proved again and again on public platforms that he possessed the power not only of interesting and leading men's minds but also of stirring their enthusiasm to a very high pitch. He never spoke down to his audience, or appealed to prejudice, but exerted himself to lead them to think and to feel as he himself thought and felt. His speeches very frequently contained some turn of expression or phrase which caught the public ear and for the time was in everyone's mouth. In 1885, "He would not give a blank cheque to Lord Salisbury." In his great fight against Irish nationalism, "We would never surrender to crime or time." In the fiscal controversy, "He would be no party to a gamble with the food of the people."

Goschen throughout his life did much useful public work outside the region of active politics. He had become an ecclesiastical commissioner in 1882. From its initiation in 1879 Goschen was a vigorous supporter of the movement for the extension of university teaching in London, and for many years he gave great assistance to the movement. With him the loss of office never meant the cessation of employment. In his private life his personal qualities and sympathetic nature won for him a large circle of real friends, whilst in society at large a strong sense of humour, his wide general knowledge of men and books, his power of conversation and of promoting good talk in others, made him highly valued. In his own house in the country and in London, where he delighted to gather round him friends and acquaintances, he carried the intenseness of interest characteristic of his working hours into the amusements of the day. It was not for the purposes of breadwinning alone that he set a high value on education. "Livelihood is not a life," he said to the Liverpool Institute (29 Nov. 1877, on Imagination). "Education must deal with your lives as well as qualify you for your livelihoods." He knew from his own experience how much education had done for his life outside those regions of business and politics where his chief energies had been spent.

A portrait in oils by Rudolf Lehmann (1880) is in the possession of the present viscount and is now at Seacox Heath; a second, by Mr. Hugh A. T. Glazebrook, is at Plaxtol, Kent, in the possession of his daughters. A cartoon portrait of Goschen by "Ape" appeared in Vanity Fair in 1869.

See Also

Footnotes

  1. Life. I. p. 71.
  2. Cromer. Modern Egypt. I. pp. 13–15.
  3. Life of Lord Goschen. I. Chap. VII.
  4. Life. II. Chap. VII., and note in Appendix III. by Lord Welby
  5. Life, II. p. 186 seq.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 27257. p. 8538. 18 December, 1900.

Bibliography

  • "Death of Lord Goschen" (Obituaries). The Times. Friday, 8 February, 1907. Issue 38251, col A, p. 4.
  • Elliot, Hon. Arthur D. (1911). The Life of George Joachim Goschen First Viscount Goschen, 1831–1907. Vol. I. London: Longmans, Green and Co..
  • Elliot, Hon. Arthur D. (1911). The Life of George Joachim Goschen First Viscount Goschen, 1831–1907. Vol. II. London: Longmans, Green and Co..
  • Goschen, Viscount (1903). The Life and Times of Georg Joachim Göschen, Publisher and Printer of Leipzig, 1752-1828. Vol. I. London: John Murray.
  • Goschen, Viscount (1903). The Life and Times of Georg Joachim Göschen, Publisher and Printer of Leipzig, 1752-1828. Vol. II. London: John Murray.


Political Appointments
Preceded by
The Rt. Hon. The Earl Spencer
First Lord of the Admiralty
1895 – 1900
Succeeded by
The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Selborne

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