Изображения страниц

in the higher part of the press with the discussions in Parliament will feel that there is (of course amid much exaggeration and vagueness) a greater vigor and a higher meaning in the writing than in the speech, - a vigor which the public appreciate, a meaning that they like to hear.

The Saturday Review said some years since that the ability of Parliament was a “protected ability": that there was at the door a differential duty of at least £2,000 a year. Accordingly, the House of Commons, representing only mind coupled with property, is not equal in mind to a legislature chosen for mind only and whether accompanied by wealth or not. But I do not for a moment wish to see a representation of pure mind: it would be contrary to the main thesis of this essay.

I maintain that Parliament ought to embody the public opinion of the English nation; and certainly that opinion is much more fixed by its property than by its mind. The “too clever by half” people, who live in “ Bohemia,” ought to have no more influence in Parliament than they have in England, and they can scarcely have less. Only, after every great abatement and deduction, I think the country would bear a little more mind, and that there is a profusion of opulent dullness in Parliament which might a little - though only a little – be pruned away.

The only function of Parliament which remains to be considered is the informing function, as I just now called it: the function which belongs to it, or to members of it, to bring before the nation the ideas, grievances, and wishes of special classes. This must not be confounded with what I have called its teaching function. In life, no doubt, the two run one into another; but so do many things which it is very important in definition to separate. The fact of two things being often found together is rather a reason for than an objection to separating them in idea: sometimes they are not found together, and then we may be puzzled if we have not trained ourselves to separate them.

The teaching function brings true ideas before the nation, and is the function of its highest minds; the expressive function brings only special ideas, and is the function of but special minds. Each class has its ideas, wants, and notions, and certain brains are ingrained with them. Such sectarian conceptions are not those by which a determining nation should regulate its action, nor are orators mainly animated by such conceptions safe guides in policy; but those orators should be heard, those conceptions should be kept in sight. The great maxim of modern thought is not only the toleration of ev. erything, but the examination of everything: it is by examining very bare, very dull, very unpromising things that modern science has come to be what it is. There is a story of a great chemist who said he owed half his fame to his habit of examining, after his experiments, what was going to be thrown away: everybody knew the result of the experiment itself, but in the refuse matter there were many little facts and unknown changes, which suggested the discoveries of a famous life to a person capable of looking for them. So with the special notions of neglected classes: they may contain elements of truth which, though small, are the very elements which we now require, because we already know all the rest.

This doctrine was well known to our ancestors : they labored to give a character to the various constituencies, or to many of them; they wished that the shipping trade, the wool trade, the linen trade should each have its spokesman, – that the unsectional Parliament should know what each section in the nation thought before it gave the national decision. This is the true reason for admitting the working classes to a share in the representation, at least as far as the composition of Parliament is to be improved by that admission. A great many ideas, a great many feelings have gathered among the town

artisans; a peculiar intellectual life has sprung up among them. They believe that they have interests which are misconceived or neglected; that they know something which others do not know; that the thoughts of Parliament are not as their thoughts. They ought to be allowed to try to convince Parliament; their notions ought to be stated as those of other classes are stated; their advocates should be heard as other people's advocates are heard. Before the Reform Bill there was a recognized machinery for that purpose: the member for Westminster and other members were elected by universal suffrage (or what was in substance such); those members did in their day state what were the grievances and ideas - or were thought to be the grievances and ideas of the working classes. It was the single unbending franchise introduced in 1832 that has caused this difficulty, as it has others.

Until such a change is made, the House of Commons will be defective just as the House of Lords is defective: it will not look right. As long as the Lords do not come to their own House, we may prove on paper that it is a good revising chamber, but it will be difficult to make the literary argument felt; just so as long as a great class, congregated in political localities and known to have political thoughts and wishes, is without notorious and palpable advocates in Parliament, we may prove on paper that our representation is adequate, but the world will not believe it. There is a saying of the eighteenth century, that in politics "gross appearances are great realities.” It is in vain to demonstrate that the working classes have no grievances, that the middle classes have done all that is possible for them, and so on with a crowd of arguments which I need not repeat, for the newspapers keep them in type and we can say them by heart; but so long as the “gross appear

“ ' ance” is that there are no evident, incessant representatives to speak the wants of artisans, the “great reality” will be a diffused dissatisfaction. Thirty years ago it was vain to prove that Gatton and old Sarum were valuable seats, and sent good members : everybody said, “Why, there are no people there;” just so everybody must say now, “Our representative system must be imperfect, for an immense class has no members to speak for it.” The only answer to the cry against constituencies without inhabitants was, to transfer their power to constituencies with inhabitants; just so, the way to stop the complaint that artisans have no members is to give them members, – to create a body of representatives, chosen by artisans, believing, as Mr. Carlyle would say, “that artisanism is the one thing needful.”*

* See Chap. iii. of Carlyle's “Chartism," on out-door relief.

NOTE TO PAGE 182. “Swearing was thought the right and the mark of a gentleman; and tried by this test, nobody who had not seen them could now be made to believe how many gentlemen there were. Not that people were worse tempered then than now; they were only coarser in their manners, and had got into a bad style of admonition and dissent. And the evil provoked its own continuance: because nobody who was blamed, cared for the censure or understood that it was serious unless it was clothed in execration; and any intensity even of kindness or of logic, that was not embodied in solid commination, evaporated and was supposed to have been meant to evaporate in the very uttering. The naval chaplain justified his cursing the sailors, because it made them listen to him; and (Lord Justice] Braxtield apologized to a lady whom he damned at wbist for bad play, by declaring that he had mistaken her for his wife. This odious practice was applied with particular offensiveness by those in authority towards their inferiors : in the army it was universal by officers towards soldiers, and far more frequent than is now credible by masters towards servants." - Lord Cockburn's “Memorials of his Time," Chap. i.

[ocr errors]

VOL. IV.-13



THERE is one error as to the English Constitution which crops up periodically. Circumstances which often though irregularly occur, naturally suggest that error; and as surely as they happen, it revives. The relation of Parliament, and especially of the House of Commons, to the executive Government is the specific peculiarity of our Constitution; and an event which frequently happens, much puzzles some people as to it.

That event is a change of ministry. All our administrators go out together; the whole executive Government changes — at least all the heads of it change - in a body: and at every such change some speculators are sure to exclaim that such a habit is foolish, They say, “No doubt Mr. Gladstone and Lord Russell may have been wrong about Reform; no doubt Mr. Gladstone may have been cross in the House of Commons : but why should either or both of these events change all the heads of all our practical departments ? What could be more absurd than what happened in 1858 ? Lord Palmerston was for once in his life over-buoyant: he gave rude answers to stupid inquiries; he brought into the Cabinet a nobleman concerned in an ugly trial about a woman; he, or his Foreign Secretary, did not answer a French dispatch by a dispatch, but told our ambassador to reply orally: and because of these trifles, or at any rate these isolated unadministrative mistakes, all our administration had fresh heads,—the Poor Law Board had a new chief, the Home Department a new chief,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »