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legislation, which we can connect with or can trace to Lord Chatham, who was the most celebrated minister of England during the last century. There have been a greater number of important Acts of Parliament passed in the last twenty years than in the previous hundred and twenty. The people of England, a hundred years ago, and their Parliament also, were habitually satisfied with their existing institutions: they did not care to abolish any of these, or to introduce any new ones. Accordingly, when the minister at that time had bought his majority, he had nothing to do with it except to keep himself minister.
On the whole, therefore, we do not think that our old system of representation is entitled to the credit, which it has often received, for causing and maintaining strong administrations. The ingenious devices which it contained seem to us to have failed whenever they were really wanted; and we conclude, from the entire history of the last century, that governments were then only strong when public opinion was definite and decided, and when that is so they will be strong now.
The only one of our questions as to our old system of representation that is still unanswered is, What was the degree of its suitability for training and developing statesmen ? Lord Macaulay has in more than one part of his writings expressed a doubt whether all representative systems are not in this respect defective. They require, he says, that an influential statesman should be an orator, and especially a ready and debating orator; and this he considers is inexpedient. He appears to believe, both that the practice of debating injures the intellect, and that the conviction of its necessity makes a statesman prize and practise qualities which are not essential to his true calling in preference to those which really are so. He believes that the statesman is induced to think more of the House of Commons, and of the effect which his measures would produce there, than is desirable; and also that the habit of defending those measures by very questionable arguments disorganises the intellect of a statesman and renders it much less fit than it would otherwise be for the investigation of important truths. There is doubtless some truth in these ideas; the practical working of a representative government often tends to produce these hurtful effects
upon the minds of the statesmen who are eminent under it. And not only so. All free governments are to some extent unfavourable to much originality of mind in their influential statesmen. They necessitate an appeal to the people ; and the mind of the people is almost by definition ordinary and commonplace. The opinions of the majority of mankind almost necessarily partake of these qualities; and those who have to please
that majority must in all ages, to some extent, cultivate them. And these are serious disadvantages. But, on the other hand, it may be fairly believed that no system which has yet been devised secures for the most eminent statesmen in a nation so large a number of great qualities as are necessary for the prime minister under a well-developed system of parliamentary government. It is true, that a man who is eminent in that position may not be in the least eminent in abstract or original reflection ; it is possible that he may be beneath the average capacity of men in that respect. But, on the other hand, this defect is not peculiar to a parliamentary system of government. No device has yet been suggested for securing the supremacy in the state to persons capable of original thought. A prime minister under a parliamentary constitution must have a very great number of other great qualities. He must be a man of business long trained in great affairs; he must be, if not a great orator, a great explainer; he must be able to expound with perspicuity to a mixed assembly complicated measures and involved transactions; he must be a great party leader, and have the knowledge of men, the easy use of men, and the miscellaneous sagacity, which such eminence necessarily implies ; he must be a ready man, a managing man, and an intelligible man: and under no other system of government with which we are acquainted is there any security that all these, or an equal number of other, important qualities will constantly be found in the ruler of a nation. All these qualities the system of representation which existed in England during the last century secured to the utmost. We might easily run over the names of the eminent statesmen whom it produced: but it is needless ; we know that they were eminent, and we know that they were many:
A claim has often been made on behalf of the old close boroughs, that the number and the greatness of these statesmen is due to them. A very long list of the names of the statesmen who were brought into Parliament during the last century by those boroughs is set forth, and it is alleged that the excellence of these great statesmen was a conspicuous advantage which resulted froin the machinery that introduced them to public life. But to this argument there will be found, when the subject is narrowly examined, to be several important qualifications.
In the first place, a great number of remarkable men undoubtedly came into Parliament under the old system of representation by means of the close boroughs, simply and solely because that was at that time the readiest and simplest mode of coming in. If any other mode had been the readiest, they would have availed themselves of that instead. Take the case of Sir Robert Walpole. Had any man that ever lived more of the qualities, the good and the bad qualities, of a great popular candidate? He was genial, sagacious, and unsensitive. He would have managed the mob, and managed the attorney, and managed the electors, better almost than any other of our remarkable statesmen ; yet he came in for a close borough. Circumstances threw that mode of entering public life into his path, and he took advantage of it immediately; but if the system of representation then prevailing in England had been a different one, he would have taken advantage of that also. We must not give the close boroughs a peculiar credit for all the eminent statesmen who entered into the House of Commons by ineans of them, but only for such of the great statesmen as, from the nature of their mind and the peculiarity of their circumstances, would most likely not have entered Parliament in any other way; and these are not many.
This is one great qualification. A still more important one remains. A great number of able men came into Parliament formerly who do not appear there now, because there was a motive to enter it at that time which does not now exist. Public life was in the last century not only a career, but a livelihood. It was possible to make a subsistence, and even a fortune, by it. Take the case of the first Lord Liverpool: he was a man of no extraordinary genius or unequalled abilities; he was simply a man of plain, strong, ordinary understanding; he had good sense, and good habits of business: he had no qualities which a very great number of young men in every generation may not be sure that they have. Nevertheless he began life with scarcely any money, he passed a long life in the service of the State, he lived in affluence, and he provided amply for his family. The possibility of such a career could not but render public life in the highest degree attractive. Fortune as well as fame were, it was evident, to be obtained in it by sound abilities and good management. In consequence, a very great number of young men were glad to enter Parliament; and if the same incentives had been continued to the present day, when education is so much more general, and social advantages so much more diffused, it is difficult to say how much that number might not have been by this time augmented. If the places and pensions, the patent offices and the sinecures, from which the profitableness of public life was derived, were still in existence, very many of the ablest, the most cultivated, and the most interesting young men in every generation would be desirous to enter Parliament. They would throng any avenue which was open for their purpose; they would address, and perhaps not unsuccessfully, the electors of
boroughs, whether small or large; they would attempt to gain a share of our county representation, exclusive as that still in some degree is. We perhaps are not likely to see again in England a time when public life will afford the means of subsistence, as well as the opportunities of ambition. We do not, on the whole, regret the change that has taken place. We do not say that it should be lamented; but it has its disadvantages. The public cannot expect to be so well served by its statesmen now that it is served gratuitously, as it was when it paid highly for their services. Instead of the number of remarkable statesmen who were introduced into the House of Commons by means of the close boroughs being so great as to excite our wonder, we may rather be surprised that it was not greater. The incentives to a public career were then so strong, that we may wonder that more remarkable persons did not enter upon it. The close boroughs must have been almost as much an impediment as an aid, or the number of statesmen attracted in the last century to the service of the nation must have been much larger than in fact it was.
Such was in part the case. The close boroughs did not, in truth, introduce conscientious and scrupulous men to an attractive position in public life. The position of a member nominated to the representation of a close borough by its proprietor was a position of dependence. He was an employé. He had to vote as often as, and just as, the owner of the borough told him. If he did not do so, he might at the next election be excluded entirely from public life, or be obliged to search through the list of the borough-owners for a new patron. Even when the member for a close borough was permitted to exercise his own judgment, the public would scarcely believe that he was so. They attributed all which he did to the influence of the proprietor of his seat; and if there chanced to be an apparent difference of opinion, they were more disposed to attribute some sinister design to the owner of the borough than any substantial independence to the member for it. The votes of a nominated member were not regarded as his own, even when in fact they were so. As we might expect, persons of high character and sensitive nature shrank from this dependence. They could not endure that it should be said that they had no control over the course which they adopted in politics; the possibility of the supposition that they must vote according to the edict of some one else was nearly as odious as the having so to vote. A curious example of this inevitable tendency in men of high and susceptible natures may be found in the life of Sir Samuel Romilly. He avowedly preferred the purchase of a seat to a position in which he might
be imagined to be dependent. He preferred to be the member for a borough which was publicly known to be commonly venal, to being the member for a borough of which a nobleman or gentleman who took a genuine interest in politics was the proprietor. He preferred its being known that he had bought his seat, to the possibility of a suspicion that he held it upon a tenure of base service. In very many cases, which cannot now be known by us, an analogous feeling must have prevented shrinking and delicate men from occupying the seats for rotten boroughs, or from associating with the great noblemen who owned them. Aristocratic patronage is never very pleasant to men of this character; and it is unendurable to them that such patronage should be the basis of their career, and an essential pre-requisite to their habitual life. Exceptional instances apart, the close boroughs were rather an obstruction than an opening to persons of original minds and delicate dispositions.
Nor was it natural that the owners of boroughs should commonly desire to introduce such men. If these proprietors had views of their own, they selected men who would give effect to those views; and these would ordinarily be men of pliant characters and unsuggestive intellects. If such proprietors had no opinion, they ordinarily put the seat up to auction in the market, and got as much money as they could get for it. Nor,
, in the few cases in which great noblemen introduced men of the highest order of minds into Parliament, and in which they treated them with tenderness and delicacy, were they by any means disposed to admit them to an equality with themselves, or with the near connections of great families. They reserved high office as much as possible for themselves, and for those who mingled by birth in their own society; and believed that they had done much in giving the opportunity of a public career and the profit of a minor place to able men of humbler station whom they had brought into the House of Commons. The Rockingham party, the best party that ever was composed of the associated proprietors of close boroughs, thus treated Mr. Burke, who was the greatest man who ever sat for a close borough. We cannot but be indignant at such conduct; we cannot help saying that it showed high-bred exclusiveness, and aristocratic narrowness of mind: but we also cannot help perceiving that it was natural. The same thing would be sure to happen again in any similar circumstances. The owners of seats inevitably believed that they were theirs; that they, and that men of their family and their station, had an evident right to enjoy whatever was most desirable in the consequences
of them. They believed that they had a right to their own, and