« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
MR. BRIGHT is no believer in official reserve. He has said so all his life, and having now, in a certain sense, been placed in office, he keeps faith both with his private convictions and his public professions. The man who has so unreservedly placed the Reform Bill before the people is the man who, if he occupied a post in the government of the country, would let the light of day shine on all its affairs. The publication of the Reform Bill is a judicious as well as an honourable proceeding. If Mr. Bright were a Cabinet minister, or the leader merely of a party in the Parliament, it would scarcely, we dare say, be deemed to be consistent with his position to publish his bill in the columns of the newspapers, before laying it on the table of the House. This proposition, however, does not emanate within the House, but from the people. It will come before Parliament as an instruction from the represented to their representatives. Mr. Bright has caught and fixed the opinions of a large portion of the public—of nearly all, we dare say, who take an active interest in political affairs—and having embodied those opinions in the bill which will bear his name, will be their representative. After the bill shall have been fairly discussed, as to some extent has already been the case, it will be no longer his proposition, but the proposition of the thousands and tens of thousands who will have adopted it. Whatever may be the measures which may be proposed in opposition to it, it will stand alone in this respect. It will go before Parliament as an extensively popular bill; a bill that has been tested and approved by the largest constituencies in the kingdom; a bill which has borne the most searching investigation from the ablest writers and speakers in the country. It will have fixed and crystallized around itself the floating opinions of all classes of reformers, which it may be found very difficult indeed for any other politician to detach. Mr. Bright, therefore, will have this great advantage over others; he will have no public opinion to unmake. They will have to make, and if possible, unmake as well. By the publication of his measure, he has also courted general criticism upon it. He will thus be made aware of its strongest and weakest points, and be fully armed for the further criticism that will await it when it shall come to be laid upon the table of the House. For these reasons we look upon the early publicity that has been given to it as a wise and judicious proceeding, that will add as well to its weight and strength as to its popularity. Nor is it in a less degree honourable. The reformers have placed themselves in the hands of Mr. Bright; he returns their confidence by a candour and openness which do him the highest honour, He has not obtained their trust in order to propose a bill which may or may not be approved by them; but, having obtained it, he retakes their opinion, and will, therefore, go up to the House fully trusted as a man with a measure of which those who trust him will have expressed their thorough approbation. We have to look at the bill itself from the point of view which we have already indicated, namely, its adaptedness to the state of public opinion. Of course, it is not theoretically perfect. It has not been constructed with mathematical precision; nor does it point with absolute accuracy to the pole-star of political truth. But it is, in Mr. Bright's opinion, up to the measure of the intelligence and convictions of the public. It would have been possible—and, indeed, easy—to have framed a Bill more to the mind of the Radical party; but such a bill, if proposed, would have been backed by a comparatively small section of the people, and have had no chance whatever of passing into law. Where, therefore, would have been its use 2 It is true, we could have gone on and allowed public opinion to make further advances, as it would have done in the course of a few more years; but the truth is, we cannot, as a nation, afford to wait this time. We have to look at the state, and, it may be, the danger of public affairs. Having lately “drifted' into one great, expensive, and useless war, we want, at once, a House of Commons that will not allow any ministry to “drift” into another, or retain any proud and haughty ambassador who will excite nations and rulers against each other rather than allow his private malignity to go ungratified. Spending, as we do spend, nearly thirty millions a year for purposes of war in times of peace, we want a House of Commons that will honestly investigate this expenditure; a House that we can trust to make an honest report upon it, and take proceedings accordingly. Justice before the courts of law, and justice being both systematically delayed, and often ruinously expensive, we want a House of Commons that will reform the laws relating to legal proceedings in the higher courts. The system of ambassadorial and consular diplomacy being extremely expensive, and frequently leading to the most mischievous consequences, we want a House of Commons that will inquire whether we need ambassadors or political consuls at all. The public peace, temper, money, and time, being wasted by general political agitations on public questions, such as Church-rates, which the mere obstinacy or prejudice of a portion of the Legislature compel to be renewed and repeated year after year, we want, at once, a House of Commons that will so express its opinion and determination to the Government of the day, as to compel its submission to obvious justice and the declared will of the public. There are other and still greater questions than a moderately reformed Parliament would either willingly, or by compulsion of public opinion, be prepared to deal with—such as the Church Establishments of England, Ireland, and Scotland, National Education, and the National Debt. We say, therefore, that as a nation we cannot afford to wait for a greater ripening of public opinion with regard to the suffrage and collateral questions, before these questions can be fairly dealt with. While that public opinion is ripening, justice is being delayed, and extensive injury is being inflicted. We therefore think, that it is most expedient, and, on all grounds, most desirable that we should have at once a reformed Parliament, such as Mr. Bright's bill, if it were carried into law, would secure. We do not want it as the end of the demands of exact justice in the case, but simply and solely as a means to good legislation. That is the one object of the Parliament's existence. If we should be able to secure that—supposing we have not, theoretically, the most perfect form of government—we shall have what will be better—its reality and substance. When a machine answers promptly and effectually the purpose of its existence, we need not be seriously anxious to make all its lines “lines of beauty,” or otherwise to change its shape or fashion. It would be impossible, in the space we have at command in this journal, to enter at any length into the details of the great and comprehensive measure which Mr. Bright has placed before the nation. All that we can or wish to do is, to say how heartily we approve of the general principle en which it has been constructed, and to urge those over whom we may have any influence to do their best in its support. It is remarkable that its destructive portion should be approved by some of the most Conservative writers. This is an indication of the accuracy with which Mr. Bright has read the general public sentiment, and of the real, though naturally partial (we mean not impartial) sense of fitness and appropriateness, and, perhaps, instinctive patriotism that exists in the English mind, simply because it is English. The small boroughs which Mr. Bright proposes entirely to disfranchise are a source of corruption in the body politic. They engender all kinds of diseases, and are perpetual fountains of bad humour, as well as of constitutional weakness. Everybody feels this, and hence the general willingness to be rid of them. Looked at from a sectional point of view, these boroughs serve no one political party's exclusive ends. They are as much at the command of the Tories as of the Whigs, and of the Whigs as of the Tories. Whatever Government may happen to be in power can, if it choose, purchase them. Hence, if they weigh on one side at one time, they compensate their iniquitous partiality by weighing with equal gravity on the other side at another time. So all consent that they should be sacrificed. In the reconstruction of the legislative edifice, Mr. Bright has deferred to the claims—just or merely asserted—of property to a greater degree than we should have expected. We judge this to have been done from a wise deference to public opinion. In England the possession of property is considered to be almost equivalent to the attribute of mere humanity. There is a sense, of course, in which it should have its claims. If the duty of Parliament were only and solely to regulate the direct taxation of the country, people should be represented in it according to their liability to that taxation. If all taxes, for instance, were necessarily ad valorem, the representation should be constructed on an ad valorem basis. On the other hand, if all taxes were necessarily of the nature of a poll tax, representation should be constructed on a numerical basis. But, as taxation and general legislation affect classes in this country very unequally, and as there has been, until lately, a tendency to exempt the rich at the expense of the poor, it is just and wise that there should be a fusion of property and numbers in the constitution of the electoral system. Injustice has been inflicted in the past by giving greater weight to property. Mr. Bright, therefore, has endeavoured to strike an equitable balance between the two claims, and we think he has succeeded to admiration. In no case has he taken population only as the basis of representation, and in no case property only, but both together. The only thing that he has not done is to distinguish between different kinds of property. He has not reckoned land to be worth more than either houses or machinery; nor, of course, is it; and, indeed, for all purposes of public utility and taxation, it is worth less. But the traditional sentiment of England recognises it as of higher value. Mr. Bright has not taken this traditional sentiment into his account, and for this reason this portion of his bill will be unpopular with a large and influential class. We have little doubt that he will be compelled, to some extent, to submit to the force of this opinion, not because it is a just opinion—it is the very reverse—but because, and only because, it possesses the high and authoritative sanction of tradition. The chief difference between the bill of the ‘Times’ newspaper, of the 22nd of January, which we take to represent the Palmerstonian politics, and Mr. Bright's bill, consists in this recognition. The ‘Times’ would apportion a large number of seats to the counties, evidently on the theory that possessors of real or freehold property should rank higher in the political scale than possessors of personal property. The ‘Times, however, forgets that a £10 county franchise is proposed as a constituent portion of the new Reform Bill. Without that its own bill would be a rank Tory bill—with it it would do comparatively little harm. The new £10 county constituency would be substantially a Liberal constituency, and we have no doubt its influence on the House would be Liberal. Always, of course, supposing that we have the ballot, for an extended franchise minus the ballot would be but extended corruption. There is room for amendmentin the list of Mr. Bright's new constituencies, as well as in his dealing with the Irish boroughs. We can, however, well understand, and highly appreciate, the motive that, as we judge, has led him to adopt a lower and less arithmetical basis for Ireland. It is a country that has an historical claim not merely upon our justice but upon our generosity. We have impoverished and depopulated it, and we ought not now to punish it for its thinness and poverty. This we imagine to be the feeling which has induced Mr. Bright to commit an apparent inconsistency, and to forego his own rules of action in this case. It is an inconsistency equally honourable and just. We have thus, in general terms, indicated our opinion with regard to the construction and bearing of Mr. Bright's great national measure. Of just idea, of magnificent proportion, of conscientious purpose, and admirably adapted to accomplish the great end which its author and its supporters have in view, it will, if it should be passed, tend as well to elevate and dignify as to righten and consolidate the nation. The remaining events of the month may be dismissed in few lines. January opened with threatenings of war; it closes with mingled murmurings of hope and fear concerning the peace of Europe. The Dictator of France has-so it is said—succumbed to the force of public opinion, and promises peace. How little his words are trusted may be seen from
the state of the funds in every capital. We would, however, show no suspicion of him—for to do that would only be to drive him to the course we deprecate. Our best and wisest conduct will be, to be ourselves sincere. We are bound to treat him as we have found him, until we find him to be different. We have no business, as a Government, with the man; only with the Emperor. If he prove false to us we shall be prepared. No man or nation that is true to itself is ever overcome. Our strength lies in our national sincerity. Diplomatists and statesmen have misrepresented the nation's character, and injured its reputation; but the people have commonly discredited their acts and repudiated their doctrines. In dealing with other Governments, we are often unfortunate and culpable in having bad representatives; but the heart of the nation is commonly right, and will usually dictate a right course of action. There is, after all, no country—excepting, perhaps, Prussia—that is truer to itself and its allies, and therefore no country that is possessed of so much moral strength and influence. If we must take part in another war this will be our greatest defence. But there is not a joint in the armour of France that is not loose because of sin. The same remark holds good concerning India. We sinned, and we have suffered; we repented, and we are regaining our position. In a few months we shall probably be stronger in our rule than we have ever been. How soon have the leaves of the year begun to fall! Mary Wordsworth—Dora's mother—is dead; she who so tenderly and gently broke the intelligence of approaching death to the poet, by giving it as glad tidings in the words, “William, you are going to meet Dora!’ and Harriet Martineau, who lived to write her eulogy, is now the sole, solitary, desolate one of the once charmed circle of Windermere. Bettina d'Arnim, Goethe's child-friend, is also no more among the living. Henry Hallam, who for more than forty years has been the Master of English historical literature, has also done his work, and gone to rejoin that gifted son whose epitaph is ‘IN MEMORIAM. If such things there be, what meetings yearned over for months and years, will these three deaths bring about! And John Watson has also gone—struck down in vigorous manhood by a single blow ! In other cases, we regret our loss as we regret to miss a stately tree from a great but distant landscape; in this case we mourn to lose the personal teacher, and mourn to know that to many no gain here will be held to compensate for this abrupt deprivation of the scholar, preacher, and friend.
*...* A subscriber requests us to state, that he will pay a shilling for a copy of this journal for February, 1856. Address to the Editor,