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were fixed, Somersetshire and Wiltshire great manufacturing counties; the harsher climate of the northern counties was associated with a ruder, a sterner, and a sparser people. The immense preponderance which our Parliament gave before 1832—and though pruned and mitigated, still gives — to England south
of the Trent, then corresponded to a real preponderance in wealth and mind. How opposite the present contrast is, we all know; and the case gets worse every day. The nature of modern trade is to give to those who have much and take from those who have little: manufacture goes where manufacture is, because there and there alone it finds attendant and auxiliary manufacture ; every railway takes trade from the little town to the big town, because it enables the customer to buy in the big town. Year by year the North (as we may roughly call the new industrial world) gets more important, and the South (as we may call the pleasant remnant of old times) gets less important. It is a grave objection to our existing parliamentary Constitution, that it gives much power to regions of past greatness and refuses equal power to regions of present greatness.
I think (though it is not a popular notion) that by far the greater part of the cry for parliamentary reform is due to this inequality. The great capitalists, Mr. Bright and his friends, believe they are sincere in asking for more power for the workingman; but in fact, they very naturally and very properly want more power for themselves. They cannot endure, they ought not to endure, that a rich able manufacturer should be a less man than a small stupid squire. The notions of political equality which Mr. Bright puts forward are as old as political speculation, and have been refuted by the first efforts of that speculation ; but for all that, they are likely to last as long as political society, because they are based upon indelible principles in human nature. Edmund Burke called the first East-Indians “Jacobins to a man,” because they did not feel their “present importance equal to their real wealth.” * So long as there is an uneasy class, a class which has not its just power, it will rashly clutch and blindly believe the notion that all men should have the same power.
I do not consider the exclusion of the working classes from effectual representation a defect in this aspect of our parliamentary representation. The working classes contribute almost nothing to our corporate public opinion, and therefore the fact of their want of influence in Parliament does not impair the coincidence of Parliament with public opinion; they are left out in the representation, and also in the thing represented.
Nor do I think the number of persons of aristocratic descent in Parliament impairs the accordance of Parliament with public opinion. No doubt the direct descendants and collateral relatives of noble families supply members to Parliament in far greater proportion than is warranted by the number of such families in comparison with the whole nation ; but I do not believe that these families have the least corporate character, or any common opinions different from others of the landed gentry, — they have the opinions of the propertied rank in which they were born. The English aristocracy have never been a caste apart, and are not a caste apart now; they would keep up nothing that other landed gentlemen would not: and if any land[ed] gentlemen are to be sent to the House of Commons, it is desirable that many should be men of some rank. As long as we keep up a double set of institutions, - one dignified and intended to impress the many, the other efficient and intended to govern the many,
we should take care that the two match nicely, and hide where the one begins and where the other ends: this is in part effected by conceding some subordinate power to the august part of our polity, but it is equally aided by keeping an aristocratic element in the useful
* “Thoughts on French Affairs," vol. iii., Bobn, page 354 (in substance).
part of our polity. In truth, the deferential instinct secures both. Aristocracy is a power in the 'constituencies': a man who is an Honorable or a baronet, or better yet, perhaps, a real earl though Irish, is coveted by half the electing bodies, and cæteris paribus, a manufacturer's son has no chance with him. The reality of the deferential feeling in the community is tested by the actual election of the class deferred to, where there is a large free choice betwixt it and others.
Subject therefore to the two minor but still not inconsiderable defects I have named, Parliament conforms itself accurately enough, both as a chooser of executives and as a legislature, to the formed opinion of the country. Similarly, and subject to the same exceptions, it expresses the nation's opinion in words well, when it happens that words, not laws, are wanted. On foreign matters, where we cannot legislate, whatever the English nation thinks or thinks it thinks as to the critical events of the world, whether in Denmark, in Italy, or [in] America, and no matter whether it thinks wisely or unwisely, that same something, wise or unwise, will be thoroughly well said in Parliament. The lyrical function of Parliament, if I may use such a phrase, is well done: it pours out in characteristic words the characteristic heart of the nation. And it can do little more useful. Now that free government is in Europe so rare and in America so distant, the opinion - even the incomplete, erroneous, rapid opinion -of the free English people is invaluable: it may be very wrong, but it is sure to be unique; and if it is right it is sure to contain matter of great magnitude, for it is only a firstclass matter in distant things which a free people ever sees or learns. The English people must miss a thousand minutiæ that continental bureaucracies know even too well; but if they see a cardinal truth which those bureaucracies miss, that cardinal truth may greatly help the world.
But if in these ways, and subject to these exceptions, Parliament by its policy and its speech well embodies and expresses public opinion, I own I think it must be conceded that it is not equally successful in elevating public opinion; the teaching task of Parliament is the task it does worst. Probably at this moment it is natural to exaggerate this defect. The greatest teacher of all in Parliament, the headmaster of the nation, the great elevator of the country so far as Parliament elevates it, must be the Prime Minister : he has an influence, an authority, a facility in giving a great tone to discussion or a mean tone, which no other man has. Now, Lord Palmerston for many years steadily applied his mind to giving - not indeed a mean tone, but a light tone, to the proceedings of Parliament. One of his greatest admirers has since his death told a story of which he scarcely sees, or seems to see, the full effect. When Lord Palmerston was first made leader of the House, his jaunty manner was not at all popular, and some predicted failure. “No,” said an old member, “he will soon educate us down to his level; the House will soon prefer this Ha! Ha! style to the wit of Canning and the gravity of Peel.” I am afraid that we must own that the prophecy was accomplished: no Prime Minister so popular and so influential has ever left in the public memory so little noble teaching. Twenty years hence, when men inquire as to the then fading memory of Palmerston, we shall be able to point to no great truth which he taught, no great distinct policy which he embodied, no noble words which once fascinated his age and which in after years men would not willingly let die; but we shall be able to say, "He had a genial manner, a firm sound sense; he had a kind of cant of insincerity, but we always knew what he meant; he had the brain of a ruler in the clothes of a man of fashion.” Posterity will hardly understand the words of the aged reminiscent, but we now feel their effect: the House of Commons, since it caught its tone from such a statesman, has taught the nation worse and elevated it less than usual.
I think, however, that a correct observer would decide that in general, and on principle, the House of Commons does not teach the public as much as it might teach it, or as the public would wish to learn. I do not wish very abstract, very philosophical, very hard matters to be stated in Parliament: the teaching there given must be popular; and to be popular it must be concrete, embodied, short. The problem is to know the highest truth which the people will bear, and to inculcate and preach that. Certainly Lord Palmerston did not preach it: he a little degraded us by preaching a doctrine just below our own standard; a doctrine not enough below us to repel us much, but yet enough below to harm us by augmenting a worldliness which needed no addition, and by diminishing a love of principle and philosophy which did not want deduction.
In comparison with the debates of any other assembly, it is true the debates by the English Parliament are most instructive. The debates in the American Congress have little teaching efficacy: it is the characteristic vice of presidential government to deprive them of that efficacy ; in that government a debate in the legislature has little effect, for it cannot turn out the executive and the executive can veto all it decides. The French Chambers * are suitable appendages to an Empire which desires the power of despotism without its shame: they prevent the enemies of the Empire being quite correct when they say there is no free speech; a few permitted objectors fill the air with eloquence, which every one knows to be often true and always vain. The debates in an English Parliament fill a space in the world which in these auxiliary chambers is not possible; but I think any one who compares the discussions on great questions
* This of course relates to the assemblies of the Empire.