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THE ANTI-PALMERSTON CONFEDERACY.
BY CYRUS REDDING.
The magazine has an advantage over the diurnal press ; like the ephemeron, the latter lives but a day before its successor walks over its remains. The former survives thirty successive days on the library-table, remaining accessible for reference until it is transferred to the shelf. Referring to our last number, we see there anticipated the kind of spirit the Opposition has since displayed. We there stated that the aim of the party led by the placid Earl of Derby and the fixed, " unchangeable” Mr. Disraeli would be revenge, if not victory; and that the Minister would be assailed either for one purpose or the other, even if the assailants became the iconoclasts of their own misshapen gods. We did not bargain for all that since took place, because we should have been reluctant to depress so low on the scale our estimate of the reputation of any public men as they have depressed themselves. We could not imagine the scene recently enacted by four discordant parties, actuated by nearly as many different views, some of whom we believe mistaken, others ambitious; but the fiercest in spleen, if the most imbecile for mischief, considered alone, suddenly reinforced by a party numerically inconsiderable, if ambitious in display of ability. To this the Opposition of which we speak tendered its forgiving embraces on their forsaking the urn of their late master, trampling on their cypress crowns, and consenting to play double-sides amid the popular derision, and significant whispers of jubilee, cajolery,” from their new-old friends, who winked on each other at the same time as the recruits fell into the ranks.
That the Opposition should have been envious at the Minister's success in justifying the public confidence was natural, and death alone extinguishes envy. But the mere exhibition of the feeling, and proceeding to analogous action, are different things. Shattered and discordant, Lord Derby's party in point of strength by no means corresponded either with its blustering attitude, the magniloquence of its intentions, or its desire to effect mischief. When Lord Palmerston, demanded by the popular voice, came into power to restore order from almost remediless confusion, Lord Derby's friends, crestfallen and hopeless, said among themselves : "No matter, if we come in we can effect nothing just now. Let Palmerston do the work. Matters are bad in the Crimea, beyond our skill to cure; he may square them with his experience better than we can; and as soon as he has got all well into trim, let us set at work, undermine, and, kicking him out, direct the machine he has made run smoothly.” Perhaps they calculated even then on gaining over the double-sided party of Mr. Gladstone, displaying thus the measure of their
patriotism, their innate selfishness, and their incompetence, to hold office alone. What cared they for the welfare of the people? They consoled themselves with the hope of profiting from the victory won by others, in the ruin of those who gained it. How mentally small-how murky the spirits of those who exhibited the ære perennius—the everlasting front of brass in contemplating a mode of proceeding so insulting to public opinion, and so bold in violation of honest principle.
We must here do justice to some of the higher-minded Conservatives who followed their leader with reluctance, and to others who refused to follow him at all, by their revulsion to such ungenerous measures, not abandoning their own political sentiments. They could not stoop to dangle in the Derby train through any slough into which its recklessness might lead them. A meeting of the Opposition leaders took place, and after a little politic coquetry on the part of the followers of the late Sir Robert Peel, the defection of Mr. Gladstone and his friends was announced, that gentleman figuring foremost in the harlequinade. We thought of the line spoken by Scaramouche when we heard of the defection of the fair-spoken ex-Chancellor : “Il y a pourtant des jours ou tu es si laid, si laid !
The game opened when the present Chancellor of the Exchequer made his financial statement. Mr. Gladstone now displayed himself, seeing his own prospective financial scheme, which was to be immortal in the idea of the right honourable gentleman, sorely mutilated. Bitter was
itter was the speech delivered upon that occasion. But it was most unreasonable in Mr. Gladstone to imagine that the successors in his old office should follow his measures to the letter. There was, to be sure, the consideration that so far he had supported the ministry. In consequence, he exhibited the cloven foot to its full expansion—“ Reject my old scheme, and I will try and overturn your new one." He had deserted his old friends to vindicate Sir Robert Peel's great national and popular measure, when attacked, both politically and personally, with such malice as no minister ever before encountered, and by an assailant, too, who had repeated every political creed in turn, so that the creed he at present professes became the only one left him, clad as he is in Joseph's coat of many colours. Lashed as poor Sir Robert had been for conferring the inestimable benefit of free-trade upon the nation, how could his small band of friends, the double-sides, do better than join Lord Derby and their late calumniators? They salved their honour, perhaps, by the reflection, that the party to which they had returned was their first love. What if that party had pronounced the national ruin to be free-trade, libelled Peel and his friends for supporting that measure, and declared it hemlock and aconite to the country's prosperity, may not hungry men eat their words ? What if the party got into place for a moment by gorging the morsel it had just declared to be poison, and declared on their consciences they believed it an amazing strengthener of the national vitality? Their political profligacy was so intolerable that even Lord Derby's own parliament turned him out of office, and Lord Palmerston had no occasion, mongrel parliament as it was, to dissolve it. Until Mr. Gladstone found the pear ripe, he preserved his political chastity. At last a too strong temptation led his blushing virtue into the arms of the calumniators of his old friend. Perhaps the honourable gentleman, considering that life is short, and forgiveness a Christian duty, especially when a conveniency, wished to raise himself above the vulgar level. He sighed for a name, like him who set fire to a temple for that purpose. Peel was no more; the dead come not back to tell tales in our time, or upbraid us with fearful truths. The ghost of Banque is a legend.
Thus situated in regard to the state of the two great parties in the House, one slightly reinforced, those of less importance could only operate by throwing their strength on one side or the other, according to the prevalence of certain opinions or interests, as has been too often a custom among political men enamoured of strange, but profitable, doctrines.
The division on the finance question overthrew Mr. Gladstone's hopes at the opening of the confederacy. Its first effort was defeated by a majority of eighty in favour of the government, notwithstanding the honourable gentleman's eloquence, for he is unquestionably an eloquent speaker. He had in vain ambled over to the camp of his late enemies and upheld the glory of political adulteration. It must have been an afflicting reflection to himself that his desertion of Lord Palmerston was thus profitless, he gaining nothing more than an enrolment of his achievement among
the deformities of statesmen. We can fancy the right honourable gentleman justifying himself in his closet, and soliloquising : - Have they not become free-traders since the death of my dear friend, Sir Robert? What were their motives to me formerly, if they agree now ?" Chewing the cud of his disappointment, we hear him add, “Does not my right orthodox faith teach me to forgive all men everything (except heresy) ? And the step I have taken, is it not right orthodox, religious, good? What casuist will dispute its goodness with me? I should like to meet him !” We can fancy the self-satisfaction conferred by such a sense of a good” act. We remember Canning's facetious simile in exposition of the word “good :"
So youthful Horner roll’d the roguish eye,
And cried in self-applause-"How good a boy am I!" This defeat in the Commons was followed by one proportionably disastrous in the House of Lords. A majority voted against a motion of Lord Derby, equivalent to a censure upon ministers for the outbreak with China. The result showed that the Opposition had no chance of success there. The desire of office was too clearly the paramount object of the anti-ministerialists, and the Chinese war their cheval de bataille. The true merits of the case had little to do in the question. In vain the head of the versatile house of Stanley tried to make the worse appear the better reason ; his lordship argued well for one who embraces the expedient of preference to that of right, and deems it more likely to profit from chance than the fastidiousness that reconciles its pursuits to fairness or consistency. The feebleness of his lordship's followers in the argument, and his own unscrupulous bitterness of spirit, as usual, were visible impediments to his object. His speech, reckless and eloquent, half angry from having a certain taint of incredulity of success, arising, we presume, from the recollection of many lost games of fast and loose, was striking, It showed how well words may be made use of to conceal hopes and make ambition plausible in vain :
So down the hill the Derby dilly glides,
Scanty of passengers, save chance outsides. Unluckily a majority of thirty-six in the way upset the vehicle.
The speeches of the law lords were only remarkable for their coinci
dence with the interests of the side of the House upon which they sat. The conviction drawn from such speeches, by those unlucky enough to go to law, that the opinions of lawyers upon the statutes are as variable as the weather, is not very consoling. Lord Lyndhurst showed no diminution of power or ability in arguing on the side of his latest political affection. The Bishop of Oxford spoke against the government, as might be expected, considering how much certain recent episcopal appointments must be considered as retarding the march of Oxford towards Rome, viâ Littlemore. Vain was the prelatical thunder to prevent a division favourable to Lord Palmerston's cabinet. What “ bell, book, and candle” might have done after times past so wielded, we do not presume to guess. Lord Derby took nothing by his labour but the consolatory application to himself once used by Falstaff: “ It was my vocation, Hal!"
Thus far things bore an aspect highly favourable to the administration, supported as the foregoing divisions were by the unmistakable feeling of the public.
Mr. Cobden having moved a resolution condemning the Chinese war, Mr. Disraeli, with breathless eagerness and his accustomed tenacity of the principle of “any means to an end,” declared the vote should be considered one of censure on ministers. What the honourable gentleman saw could not be carried by his own party in a straightforward line, he adroitly hoped to obtain by one that was crooked. The motion of Mr. Cobden had a different object in view, namely, to condemn all war. On this ground, from forty to fifty members voted with Mr. Cobden, who would not vote from Mr. Disraeli's object any more than for his resumption of the Chancellorship of the Exchequer. He knows this, and the weakness of his own political animalculæ; but with his customary aim of revenge, if not victory, he turned the motion to account by the aid of those who repudiated his doctrines. Besides Mr. Cobden's peace party, there was that of the late friends of Sir Robert Peel. They dried up their liquid sorrows-sorrows like those of the dame of Ephesus. Solaced by the consideration of their old love, all past quarrels were forgiven. This last party, on the eve of fusion, consented to be swallowed up or amalgamated with the more numerous body attached to Lord Derby's standard and that of his man Friday in the Commons. Mr. Gladstone, this band of “heroes,” as Mr. Disraeli would phrase it, must cause two leaders hereafter in the House to one party, for there cannot but be a rivalry between such ambitious personages. The one character so profitable to study for the inconsistency of an unprincipled political career, and the other in addition to that virtue, as a beautiful example of the transitory nature of political weeping.
Unluckily, the object of Mr. Cobden was to support his Peace Society ideas, which cannot be realised, let the honourable gentleman and his friends think as they may; we sincerely wish they could. The Petersburg embassy from Birmingham to the Czar Nicholas had no effect on the late war. The pugnacity of man, like that of insects and animals, is a part of his nature: a puzzle to the good in the ordination of the mundane economy. In the present case, the philanthropic Tartar Yeh, who, with his
name, so well answers the Quakers “Day” in the matter, became the adopted of well-meaning and too sanguine oppositionists, especially where bobea and souchong were likely to be troubled. How it might be if
cotton were at stake in the question we presume not to decide. As it was, the wrongs of Yeh with the Opposition should be put into Sapphic verse by the idle laureate, to accompany the “Needy Knife-grinder” of the Eton boys. The pathetic was never brought in before for so fraudulent a purpose as composing a parliamentary majority, nor were white handkerchiefs in double allowance so much in request, undertaker fashion, as while Yeh's woes were recounting. The tears of Mr. Gladstone and his friends, dried from excess of grief for Peel's treatment by the Opposition, would have flowed afresh but for the exhaustion of their stock, and the great Yeh of Canton would have had their benefit. Happy martyr Yeh, so to move a European senate-an incident that can only be derived from his Tartar nourishment on mare's milk through a long ancestry, and to repasts on saddled steak. British sympathy with horses no one can deny, after Palmer's execution, nor the generous and gentle nature of the nobler animal of the two. Mr. Gladstone must have felt this when he took his friends across the House, with “Newly Let" chalked on their backs, and affected to regard Mr. Cobden as an ally—a chieftain to whom they looked with most complacent countenances, in the hope of permanent aid towards future majorities. What did it matter that they formerly rubbed their noses against the moon when the plebeian freetrader was mentioned, born to ruin the landed interest—but now! who was not eager to coalesce with Mr. Cobden? Who of them did not think he would be a tower of strength to their cause ? there of those who looked so scornfully a little while ago at the honourable gentleman, who would not fraternise with him ?
We shall soon have “ The Cobden” to follow “ The Coningsby” by Mr. Disraeli. No accession of strength must be scorned in the hope to overturn an administration under which England signally flourished and triumphed, while in wealth and prosperity standing at a height before unequalled in her glorious annals. But the confederacy will not be strengthened by Mr. Cobden in the way the Disraelites desire. Some of them, indeed, deny any desire of combination. They assert that the late appearance of it was a spontaneous union, the result of a natural sensibility for an unfortunate Tartar, the revered and injured Yeh, handed over by the ministry to those tigers Bowring and Seymour. The feeling of an indignant humanity alone bound the anti-ministerialists together in spontaneous sympathy. The meeting at Lord Derby's, therefore, seems to have occurred exactly as happened with the burglar of the sister island, who, breaking into a house at midnight, and being asked how he got in, declared it was by accident. Their spontaneity of motive, too, reminds us of the three strangers to each other who went to steal a calf, met for the purpose at the right spot, at the same moment, with unparalleled unanimity of purpose, and then agreed to carry off the animal jointly, however they might settle about the spoil afterwards.
Mr. Gladstone's resignation to a fusion with his old calumniators is worthy of his forgiving faith. He continually reminds us of Congreve's Maskwell as to his part in the farce he enacted. “ Excellent Maskwell, thou wert certainly meant for a statesman or a Jesuit, but thou art too honest for one, and too pious for the other.”
Mr. Disraeli clings to his hope of place like his circumcised but indescribable hero Alroy. That son of Abraham or Ismael-we do not know