It is impossible to read this without warming to Palmerston.
Oct 31, 1857
Rt Hon Sir B Hall
[Commissioner for Public Works, a cabinet post]
My Dear Hall,
I cannot agree with you as to the principle on which you think the grass in the park should be treated. You seem to think it is a thing to be looked at by people who are to be confined to the gravel walks. I regard it as a thing to be walked upon freely and without restraint by the people, old and young, for whose enjoyment the parks are maintained; and your iron hurdles would turn the parks into so many Smithfields, and entirely prevent that enjoyment. As to people making paths across the grass, what does that signify? If the parks were to be deemed hay-fields, it might be necessary to prevent people from stopping the growth of the hay by walking over the grass; but as the parks must be deemed places for public enjoyment, the purpose for which the parks are kept up is marred and defeated when the use of them is confined to a number of straight gravel walks.
When I see the grass worn by foot traffic, I look on it as a proof that the park has answered its purpose, and has done its duty by the health, amusement and enjoyment of the people.
In the college courts of Cambridge a man is fined half a crown who walks over the grass plots, but that is not a precedent to be followed
It is impossible to imagine a Prime Minister writing like that today, or any politician in power coming down on the non-authoritarian side of any argument.
Palmerston would have been absolutely furious at the government’s new secret courts, regarding them as fundamentally un-British. And he would have been quite right. I absolutely cannot believe the “Liberal Democrats” are doing this.
In judging the character of people, it is essential to take into account the environment in which they develop. There is no more convinced anti-monarchist than me, but I did not join in some unkind comments on this blog about the Queen’s recent illness, because I have spent some time with her and think she is a good woman. It is not her fault she was born as she was, and had I been I may well have behaved worse.
I appreciate Palmerston was not a socialist anti-colonialist. But it would have been very strange if he was.