Sir Robert Peel,
page 7 of 7
Sir Robert Peel was suddenly called away in the midst of his fame and power, and the manner of his death was unexpected and sad. He had left his London residence at his usual hour for his forenoon ride. Calling first at Buckingham Palace to inscribe his name in the Queen’s visitors’ list, he proceeded up Constitution Hill, when he met one of Lord Dover’s daughters, who was also on horseback. Advancing to meet her his horse shied at some object and threw him over its head. Dr. Foucart, of Glasgow, who was on the spot, came up, and, asking Sir Robert if he was much hurt, received a distressful reply in the affirmative. The statesman then fainted, when he was at once taken home in a carriage, and Sir James Clark, the eminent physician, sent for. From the first there was no hope, and the distinguished man lay insensible for several hours. A few moments before death he regained consciousness and recognised Lady Peel, his devoted wife, by his bedside, muttered the words “God bless you!” then peacefully passed into his long, last sleep.
The appalling blow fell on the nation like a thunder-peal, and his friends and political foes alike — personal foes he had none — were stricken with a great and abiding sorrow. He had obtained the crowning desire of all great heroes, either statesmen or warriors, that of dying in harness. In the House of Lords, Earl Russell passed an eloquent eulogium on him, and strongly advocated the raising, at once, of a national memorial to him in Westminster Abbey. In the House of Commons Gladstone paid him a high tribute, concluding with the words, “I will only, Sir, quote these most touching and feeling lines, which were applied by one of the greatest poets of this country to the memory of a man, great indeed, but yet not greater than Sir Robert Peel:—
“ ‘Now is the stately column broke,
The beacon light is quenched in smoke;
The trumpet’s silver voice is still,
The warder silent on the hill.’ ”
Sir Robert Peel was, without doubt, a great and honest servant of the State. He was ever anxious to learn what was demanded by the public interests, and ready to carry such into effect, in spite of party hindrances or opposing factions. Never was there politician that yielded more to conscientious conviction, or sacrificed more for ends that he regarded as great and good.
In all his public career and private life he was greatly strengthened by an able and most devoted wife, the daughter of General Sir John Floyd. She out-lived him only a few years. The distinguished name inherited by their children is still associated with public honours. His eldest son, the third Sir Robert, was Secretary of the Russian Legation, and in other positions has rendered service to our country. The second son, Frederick Peel, M.P. for Warwick and Leamington, is Speaker of the House of Commons.