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THE ADMINISTRATION AND OPPOSITION.
BY CYRUS REDDING.
MARKED by the usual premonitory symptoms on the part of the satisfied and dissatisfied divisions of the public, or, as some call them, of the “masses,” the season of parliamentary action recommenced. The party writers out of place treated the world, for some time antecedently to the royal speech, with luminous expositions of the sins of omission and commission by the minister and his friends ; and the same kind of censures were echoed from the other side of the Channel, though from different motives. Here the motive cause was the desire of place; on the other side of the Channel, jealousy of England, and a hatred of free institutions. The attacks of the Conservative party at hom were supposed to be moderated by the apprehension that they might be led into a track tending to their disadvantage, should a freak of fortune " pitchfork” them into office again. They appeared not to have forgotten their indiscretion in handing over Peel to all the malignities of party rage for supporting free trade, and the ill-effect of following the example they denounced before their anathemas had cooled. They foolishly dreamed that they should thus succeed in clinching the rotten nail they had driven to fix themselves in place. They had no qualms of conscience upon their shameless tergiversation. It was an unlucky affair for them, too, that they blundered about the short-sightedness of the people. The wisdom acquired from this morsel of experience made them careful. Until the session opened, they confined their hostility to the discreet choice and use of common-place. Mr. Disraeli's old clothes-bag, emptied and replenished over and over to support his latest change, and the demand for antique fashions in trade and creed, however ragged and timeworn, came to be accompanied with a cry so subdued, that the honourable gentleman's portion of his party had to sustain the rebuke of Major Beresford, the unflinching denizen of the anti-ministerial Monmouth-street, for laxity in his calling. The contracted monosyllable came too faintly upon the ear of that chieftain, before whom even the illustrious Earl of Derby trembled as the rebellious lieutenant played the cat in the dove-house. The living head of the Stanleys must have more than once wished, from his talk, that the contumacious major had been troubled with a sore throat, sooner than have thrown division into a party once so united in inconsistency. The reconcilement which has since crusted over the difference is, we suspect, only chagrin baptised with the name of friendship. Even where the desire of mischief may be common, real cordiality may not always exist. The contumacy of which we speak was a folly without a temptation; as frail an affair as the major's old disciple of that name was as a
With these considerations we do not anticipate a hundredth part of the injury to the ministry from the Opposition that its intentions warrant. There must be something of the popular element in the shaft that is to prostrate an administration in England. The two Conservative factions glued together anew and varnished up, after celebrating their re-alliance, before parliament met, over turtle, until it might be imagined they had been transmigrated into a cooing flock of the feathered tribe of the same name, hob-nobbed each other, and no doubt crowned the glass with the sentiment of “ Speedy place and soon,” as old Sir William Curtis would have phrased it. Nor is this all. The people of England are become as of one mind in regard to the political stolidity of the Opposition party—a stolidity not alone a fault, but a crime where pretension to something better once obtained confidence.
Dismissing the "regular" Opposition, so called to distinguish it from that wavering line of policy which gives or withholds support by fits and starts to obtain a reputation for disinterestedness, we come to the popular feeling: how were matters as to that? There were the customary premonitory symptoms, but not a united opposition to any important measures, except to the income-tax. As usual, before the recess closed, there were certain anti-ministerial exhibitions among those who really believe every grievance can be redressed by a government, and those who, neither believing nor caring about it, must say something to make themselves notorious among their kind. In the first of these categories must be placed a numerous body of builders' workmen out of employ, partly in consequence of the season, and partly generated by the enormous overbuilding continually going forward, as if the metropolis is to extend itself for ever. This, of course, is laid at the door of the government in place of the inclement season, and the continual outlay of capital in buildingspeculations. Then meetings were got up to consider the position of the poor needlewomen-badly enough off, Heaven knows! Of this evil,
bad government” is declared the cause, since, were it not for being illgoverned, England would become a scene of perfect happiness, from John O’Groats to Cape Cornwall. Then some demagogue declares that it is treason towards the people to deny the six points of the charter, and thus keep the nation in its present misery, as no good will accrue until the poorer classes legislate for the rest. Here an orator, who makes a trade of his addresses wherever he can ferret out a discontent, calls for universal suffrage; and there some pardoned felon mounts the rostrum to declare how shamefully the government behaves towards disinterested lovers of their country like himself. Provisions carry a high price--this is the government again, which prevents our sharing as usual in the trivial luxury of apple-dumplings—no matter that the Devon and Hereford orchards failed last year. Ministers combine with the landed interest to keep up the present high prices of provisions—this, while the ports are open, and the duties are no longer existent. If there be monopoly in Mark-lane, or middlemen stand between the slopseller and shirt-making woman-if the carcase monopolist interpose between the grazier and butcher, it is the fault of the authorities-why does not parliament make laws to set all this right? Is not this a proof of bad government? “ Let us get into parliament," cries the Chartist, “we will set all right; put down political economy, and prevent there being a beggar in the land.”
Now all these complainings are the result of an ignorance which it is the custom to flatter, and of the use of the word “people” without defining the term. This increase of complaints is always observable just before parliament assembles. No well-informed persons of any political colour support them until they take an aspect of truthfulness. Abettors echo such complaints, false or true, make a profit by them, and run mis
taken persons deeper into error as to their foundation. The session once commenced, the mistaken ascriptions die off, or become absorbed in topics resting on a better foundation, or originating in parliament itself. For many of the evils of which complaint is thus made, our rapid increase in numbers is the cause, combined with our insular position, which prevents the exit of a superfluous population, without the condition of possessing sufficient wealth to transport themselves to vacant lands.. Could the labourer put his foot at once from England upon the shores of Canada or Australia, we should hear less of the sufferings of the poorer classes. We want elbow-room for our population; but this is a different question from that before us, too voluminous for further comment.
The House met at the period fixed, and the union of the Opposition sa lately divided was tested. In the House of Lords, the Earl of Derby spoke with that reckless eloquence which for many years he has exhibited; at one time in support, at another in opposition to almost every sentiment and every political party; to-day a Whig, to-morrow a Tory, or one knows not what--a singular example of political incon: sistency. It might be supposed that, from his lordship’s small reputation in the public view as a politician, he would be more careful in husbanding it. To do all the mischief possible in damaging an opponent may be a principle in a time like our own, when Christianity is so much im. proved ; but it argues a forgetfulness inexcusable not to recolleet that mischief is too precious a thing to throw away. His lordship’s censures were confined to declamatory assertions, and to giving advice to his brother peers to demand a pledge for the repeal of the income-tax in 1860; a point not at all relevant to the debate before the House. The royal speech was declared “meagre;'as if royal speeches were intended to be much otherwise. Pity 'tis, 'tis so;" but it is a separate question about changing such speeches into manifestoes or statements de omnibus rebus. His lordship alluded to the King of Siam as one monarch with whom we were at peace, as if he were the only, sovereign amiable towards us. He declared we were to blame for the part we had acted in the cases of Neufchâtel and Naples, in regard to Italian liberty, and the bombardment of Canton; in fact, for everything. Our foreign affairs were all sources of misgiving to his lordship. It is unfortunate that some statesmen proceed to such lengths in their assaults of an oppo nent, that, like certain historians, they will deliberately deviate from the correct line to satisfy their antipathies, and to serve their own purposes even justify Satan's first rebellion. The royal speech has, from long custom, become little more than a form, of which it is competent, we imagine, for any peer to propose an alteration into a document long enough to fill a blue-book. To lay open the prospective objects of the eabinet would be exceedingly inconvenient to any administration, if it were only for the premature questionings which it would occasion from members at all times and seasons. Lord Derby must have known this; and if his lordship did not all the world dids, and that if he himself were in Rome he would do as Rome does. Of what value, then, were his lordship’s arguments? Could they hold water even before the senators of Gotham? The effort of Earl Grey, by moving an amendment, did not help the Opposition, the non-contente in number being nearly thriee the contents.
Mr. Disraeli, in the Lower House, evidently took his clue from the noble lord at the head of the Opposition. No doubt they had talked the matter over beforehand--all was concocted for the occasion, so far; at least, as to secure getting both on the back of the same hobby. Not in his wonderful plotless stories did Mr. Disraeli, in playing his part; draw more largely on imagination, as he was happily told by Lord Palmerston, in answering charges heard of by the House that evening for the first time. What was it but “imagination" that made England -thank Heaven! it was a flight of fancy_the" instigator." of a permanent guarantee of Austria's Italian dominions, or of a secret treaty made at her instanee.” to that effect, covering her rulers with disgrace. This was the gist of the charge made to stigmatise the government. A military convention between two powers, known to a third, never acted upon, from the contingency on which it was based never occurring--that
, of a war between Austria and Russiamma thing gone by. What was the motive of the revival but to darken the conduct of Mr. Disraeli's political opponents? It would have been little short of infamy for the ministers of England to have secretly instigated a treaty giving up Italy to Austria, with the avowal of an opposite feeling to the British people. The instigation of such a treaty by the ministry, and England's guarantee to it; were equally a romance. In the support of such an act;,
His reasons were fancies,
Which nobody can deny, might well be applied to Mr. Disraeli's speech, so happily put together, “ so clever," as the ladies always say of the last novel published. Deeply imbued with the speaker's energy of manner, it was further enlivened at the reflection of his friends having become one and indivisible again. It was undoubtedly one of his loftiest essays, well argued in the absence of foundation. Nothing, indeed, could be more in character, more attractive, and more ostensibly earnest. Nothing indicated the bygone disciple of O'Connell, or of Lord George Bentinck, the last of the “heroes.” - The honourable gentleman's talent, happiness of allusion, and eloquence, wanted nothing but the unimportant auxiliary of. fact, some scintillation of truthfulness to win all sorts of praises. The premier was only home secretary when so heavily charged. Was this little fact forgotten in the fire of the orator?
It was of no moment whether the convention was signed or not by the two Powers, because it was never operative. Lord Palmerston's mistake as to the signature he himselfrectified. Why pertinaciously seek to impart life to a caput mortuum? What construction can be put on such an aet by people who have not Mr. Disraeli's bitterness of place-disappointment to prick the sides of their intent?” In concocting a charge against a minister in power, it is well to be consistent, to master every phase of a case, and not to imagine that a public servant,, who fills so high a position, is placed there only to be baited from spleen or for party amusement. The attacks of the Tory leader in the Commons wanted substance; they were niggling and petty; they dropped through the sifter, and the fire died out, for want of honest fuel, after a flare-up that portended a mighty conflagration.
We want to see the business of the country proceed, and the Houses of Parliament scenes of debate for the general good, not arenas for the declamation of party errors.
From whence could Mr. Disraeli have obtained the matters to which he gave the colouring of facts, calculated to wound his antagonists? Had the honourable gentleman considered, as the on dit of the crowd, the source from whence he inferred that there had been conferences between Lord Clarendon and Count Cavour regarding Italy, and that while those conferences were in progress, the Italian dominions of Austria had been guaranteed to her by a secret treaty with France, fully approved by England, he had acted wisely. Nothing could be more improbable, to an intellect uninflamed with an overdose of party zeal, than such a story. Those who make reckless assertions, if sincere, show that they have so little judgment that they place it at the mercy of an easy credulity. What minister in this country would dare the hazard, at least since the death of Lord Londonderry, of venturing such an act? Yet Mr. Disraeli averred it as a fact. It was used in the same way in the House of Lords, by the leader of the Opposition there. Time was that in the British senate assertions were considered unimpeachable truths; and there was little chance of a debate upon mere rumours, the absurdity of which at once spoke their worthlessness. On the wars in Persia and China the changes were rung against the minister, while the papers regarding both were not before the House. It is allowable, perhaps, that wrong motives should be attributed to the party in power, when truth is so much out of sight. It is the price to be paid for a high position; but it is not just that the country should be imbued with false ideas upon measures that are of importance to its welfare, because the feeling of political enmity must be gratified, before grounds either for praise or censure can be correctly known. Mr. Disraeli must have some weight attached to his name, talents, and position. He must hold them all cheap-a most injurious thing. Perhaps the friends of the honourable gentleman think nothing of a name in public life. They have a precedent. There was a Bishop of Cagliari, whose name was Lucifer, in the fourth century.
The late war was not begun by the ministers who brought it so triumphantly to a conclusion. Lord Palmerston came into power
under singular circumstances. His lordship had to conduct the government at a moment when the utmost confusion reigned in more than one department connected with the military service. Gradually measures were amended, the previous deficiencies made up, the demands for reparation supplied, complaints, except as regarded the ill-direction of their duties by some of the military leaders, were no longer heard. All proceeded in a smooth and noiseless manner, and but for the expenses we should have scarcely felt that hostilities existed. A slight difference between the belligerents was treated of by a conference, which, for want of other matter, was tortured into an accusation; the mere existence of the conference being made a charge for want of something of a more serious character with which to taunt the
When Lord Palmerston came into office he was borne in upon the shoulders of the people. The court had little relish for a minister whose popularity_was an offence to some foreign powers, and whose notions were too English for monarchs who rule with absolute sway. He was,