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[and] in what they wished to do, and would have done if they had acted on their own mindsutterly wrong. This is the clearest test of the “modern spirit”; it is easier here to be sure it is right than elsewhere. Commerce is like war: its result is patent. Do you make money or do you not make it? There is as little appeal from figures as from battle. Now, no one can doubt that England is a great deal better off because of Free Trade; that it has more money, and that its money is diffused more as we should wish it diffused. In the one case in which we can unanswerably test the modern spirit, it was right, and the dubious upper House - the House which would have rejected it if possible - was wrong.
There is another reason: the House of Lords, being a hereditary chamber, cannot be of more than common ability. It may contain - it almost always has contained, it almost always will contain-extraordinary men; but its average born law-makers cannot be extraordinary. Being a set of eldest sons picked out by chance and history, it cannot be very wise. It would be a standing miracle if such a chamber possessed a knowledge of its age superior to the other men of the age; if it possessed a superior and supplemental knowledge; if it descried what they did not discern, and saw truly that which they saw indeed but saw untruly.
The difficulty goes deeper. The task of revisingof adequately revising - the legislation of this age is not only that which an aristocracy has no facility in doing, but one which it has a difficulty in doing. Look at the statute book for 1865, — the statutes at large for the year; you will find, not pieces of literature, not nice and subtle matters, but coarse matters, crude heaps of heavy business. They deal with trade, with finance, with statute-law reform, with common-law reform; they deal with various sorts of business, but with business always: and there is no educated human being less likely to know business,
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worse placed for knowing business, than a young lord. Business is really more agreeable than pleasure; it interests the whole mind, the aggregate nature of man, more continuously and more deeply: but it does not look as if it did ; it is difficult to convince a young man who can have the best of pleasure that it will. A young lord just come into £30,000 a year will not, as a rule, care much for the law of patents, for the law of "passing tolls," or [for] the law of prisons; like Hercules, he may choose virtue, but hardly Hercules could choose business, - he has everything to
allure him from it and nothing to allure him to it. And even if he wish to give himself to business, he has indifferent means: pleasure is near him, but business is far from him. Few things are more amusing than the ideas of a well-intentioned young man, who is born out of the business world but who wishes to take to business, about business; he has hardly a notion in what it consists. It really is the adjustment of certain particular means to equally certain particular ends; but hardly any young man destitute of experience is able to separate end and means. It seems to him a kind of mystery; and it is lucky if he do not think that the forms are the main part and that the end is but secondary, - there
are plenty of business men, falsely so called, who will advise him so. The subject seems a kind of maze. “What would you recommend me to read ?” the nice youth asks: and it is impossible to explain to him that reading has nothing to do with it, - that he has not yet the original ideas in his mind to read about ; that administration is an art as painting is an art, and that no book can teach the practice of either.
Formerly this defect in the aristocracy was hidden by their other advantages. Being the only class at ease for money and cultivated in mind, they were without competition, and though they might not be (as a rule, and extraordinary ability excepted) excellent in state business, they were the best that could be had. Even in old times, however, they sheltered themselves from the greater pressure of coarse work: they appointed a manager - a Peel or a Walpole, anything but an aristocrat in manner or in nature to act for them and manage for them; but now a class is coming up trained to thought, full of money, and yet trained to business. As I write, two members of this class have been appointed to stations considerable in themselves, and sure to lead (if anything is sure in politics) to the Cabinet and power. This is the class of highly cultivated men of business, who after a few years are able to leave business and begin ambition. As yet these men are few in public life, because they do not know their own strength. It is like Columbus and the egg once again: a few original men will show it can be done, and then a crowd of common men will follow. These men know business partly from tradition, and this is much : there are University families - families who talk of fellowships, and who invest their children's ability in Latin verses as soon as they discover it; there used to be Indian families of the same sort, and probably will be again when the competitive system has had time to foster a new breed: just so there are business families to whom all that concerns money, all that concerns administration, is as familiar as the air they breathe. All Americans, it has been said, know business, - it is in the air of their country; just so certain classes know business here, and a lord can hardly know it, - it is as great a difficulty to learn business in a palace as it is to learn agriculture in a park.
To one kind of business, indeed, this doctrine does not apply; there is one kind of business in which our aristocracy have still, and are likely to retain long, a certain advantage: this is the business of diplomacy. Napoleon, who knew men well, would never if he could help it employ men of the Revolution in missions to the old courts: he said “they spoke to no one, and no one spoke to them,” and so they sent home no information. The reason is obvious: the Old World diplomacy of Europe was largely carried on in drawing-rooms, and to a great extent, of necessity still is so.
Nations touch at their summits. It is always the highest class which travels most, knows most of foreign nations, has the least of the territorial sectarianism which calls itself patriotism and is often thought to be so. Even here, indeed, in Eng
, land the new trade class is in real merit equal to the aristocracy; their knowledge of foreign things is as great, and their contact with them often more: but notwithstanding, the new race is not as serviceable for diplomacy as the old race. An ambassador is not simply an agent; he is also a spectacle. He is sent abroad for show as well as for substance: he is to represent the Queen among foreign courts and foreign sovereigns. An aristocracy is in its nature better suited to such work: it is trained to the theatrical part of life; it is fit for that if it is fit for anything.
But with this exception, an aristocracy is necessarily inferior in business to the classes nearer business; and it is not, therefore, a suitable class, if we had our choice of classes, out of which to frame a chamber for revising matters of business. It is indeed a singular example how natural business is to the English race, that the House of Lords works as well as it does. The common appearance of the “whole House” is a jest, - a dangerous anomaly, which Mr. Bright will sometimes use; but a great deal of substantial work is done in committees, and often very well done. The great majority of the peers do none of their appointed work, and could do none of it; but a minority-a minority never so large and never so earnest as in this age — do it, and do it well. Still, no one who examines the matter without prejudice can say that the work is done perfectly: in a country so rich in mind as England, far more intellectual power can be and ought to be applied to the revision of our laws.
And not only does the House of Lords do its work imperfectly, but — often, at least — it does it timidly. Being only a section of the nation, it is afraid of the nation; having been used for years and years on the greatest matters to act contrary to its own judgment, it hardly knows when to act on that judgment. The depressing languor with which it damps an earnest young peer is at times ridiculous. “When the Corn Laws are gone, and the “rotten boroughs,' why tease about Clause ix. in the Bill to regulate Cotton Factories?" is the latent thought of many peers. A word from the leaders, from “the Duke" or Lord Derby or Lord Lyndhurst, will rouse on any matters the sleeping energies; but most lords are feeble and forlorn.
These grave defects would have been at once lessened, and in the course of years nearly effaced, if the House of Lords had not resisted the proposal of Lord Palmerston's first Government to create peers for life. The expedient was almost perfect. The difficulty of reforming an old institution like the House of Lords is necessarily great: its possibility rests on continuous caste and ancient deference; and if you begin to agitate about it, to bawl at meetings about it, that deference is gone, its peculiar charm lost, its reserved sanctity gone. But by an odd fatality, there was in the recesses of the Constitution an old prerogative which would have rendered agitation needless; which would have effected without agitation all that agitation could have effected. Lord Palmerston was now that he is dead, and his memory can be calmly viewed — as firm a friend to an aristocracy, as thorough an aristocrat, as any in England; yet he proposed to use that power. If the House of Lords had still been under the rule of the Duke of Wellington, perhaps they would have acquiesced. The Duke would not indeed have reflected on all the considerations which a philosophic statesman would have set out before him, but he would have been brought