THE LESS DIGNIFIED ASPECTS OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS.
House of Lords has been lately described by an able- essayist as one of those dignified' elements of the Con- stitution the value of which resides, in great measure at least, in
the imaginative effect. produced by hereditary nobility on the minds of ordinary men,—an effect which, it is justly contended; is at least more noble, because more human, than the worship of were wealth ; for wealth is merely an external appendage to men, while the grandeur of hereditary descent is, even so far as it is an illusion, at least an illusion attaching to persons and not to things. The House of Lords, in their State robes on grand occa- sions receiving the Queen, as they did on Tuesday afternoon, might strengthen this impression of their value as one of the dig- nified elements in the Constitution. And the grotesque scene which the rush of the unruly Commons to the Bar always presents, seems almost specially intended to set off the dignity of the Peers in high relief against the vulgarer aspect of the Lower House. But the House of Lords transacting its regular duties, even when closely packed, even on occasion of a great debate, does not pro- duce any strong impression of dignity on the mind, certainly not so much, we think, as the House of Commons on a critical debate or a Budget night. On Tuesday night the House of Lords was unusually crowded. Several noble lords wholly un- known to the public, and even to the reporters, addressed the House. They bad a great subject, too, in which the rural magnates were profoundly interested,—the Cattle Plague. The Opposition benches were as alive with animation as a swarm of bees just about to hive. The Ministerial benches were tolerably well filled. The quadruple file of Bishops, in their Episcopal vestments and their serene repose,—though on a full night like Tuesday they always give something of the impression of elderly choristers, and suggest a faint expectation of music,—certainly add a new scenic effect wanting in the Commons, and by reminding us that the debates, even .on such earthly subjects as oxen, are conducted under the consecrated gaze of so large a corps of spiritual obser- vation, realize for us more fully that what is done and said in that assembly is a spectacle to angels as well as to men. Then whatever else the House of Lords is, it is undoubtedly an assembly of gentlemen. There is no danger of having the dignity of the assembly impaired, as it occasionally may be in the Commons, by dropped h's or other vulgarisms of expression.
Still, notwithstanding all these advantages in tone and spectacle, there is a specific difference between the dignity of the House of Lords and the dignity of the House of Commons,—between the dignity of eminent speakers in the Lords and of eminent speakers of corresponding rank in the Commons,—which is not in favour of the nobler assembly. The chief reason is of course the con- sciousness on all hands that the centre of political gravity is not here, but in the Lower House, and that consequently the speeches made are altogether of less account, not telling directly on the management of the helm of the State, but only indirectly,— scarcely more perhaps than speeches at the most influential class of public meetings tell thereupon,—in other words, much more by their general effect on public opinion than by their immediate effect on the assembly to which they are addressed. This impres- sion is inevitably forced upon the mind before a great debate in the Lords has proceeded for an hour. There is a carelessness in meeting the onset of a formidable speaker, nay, a carelessness of manner in the mode of that onset itself, a sense of irresponsi- bility even among such as " seem to be pillars," and if there is eagerness at all among them,'a sort of eagerness uncurbed by the anxiety attaching to weighty issues. It is remarkable, too, that this specially applies to the speakers originally trained in the Commons,—and of course this includes quite the most important class of all. They miss the weighty atmosphere of responsibility to which they were once so accustomed, and seem to be unable accurately to adjust the rhythm of their wings to the rarer air in which they find themselves. It would be but a poor illustration of this to remark that Lord Derby's manner, for instance, has a certain unweighty, tilting-for-amusement air about it, even in the delivery, of his most trenchant blows; for that may
belong to -.the character .of the man, and was possibly not very different in the House of Commons. Nor. is it perhaps much that Lord .Rassell, after so Jong _a career in the. Lower
House4. is-evidently demoralized by the House of .Peers, and seems not to care a feather about his replies, though his manner is. that of a maawho has cared very much once, and who remembers earing, and knows how to care. But-take Lord Granville, who has been twenty years in the Peers, after only ten years in somewhat subor- dinate offices in the Commons. His manner is precisely that of an accomplished, well informed talker in a political salon. He is not too sure and precise as to his facts. He speaks somewhat generally,—with real interest of course, but rather with the bland interest of a host in the subjects which interest his guests, than the interest of one whose mind is absorbed in a momentous political issue. We do not deny that.there is a sort of dignity in this, but it is not the highest or most impressive kind ; it is social and not moral dignity, of theaff able and not of the weighty kind, the dignity of grace not the dignity of earnestness. There is something, too, in the mere arrangement of the Peers which suggests this easy drawing-room standard of dignity. The Cross benches which shade off one party into the other by providing places for those who, like the Prince of Wales or Earl. Grey, belong to neither, and the bench running from the tableof the House to its upper end, which is a convenient post for those who care to watch closely peers speak- ing from--the cross benches or At the table, all give something of the variety of arrangement-and attitude, and the distributed company air, of a drawing-room, with its lounges, and ottomans, and easy, unsymmetrical arrangements. Those- few 'peers whose manner has the practical weight and impressive air of official responsibility so natural •to the House of Commons, will be usually found to be men whose political education has been almost or wholly confined to the Upper House, and who have never been demoralized by feeling the broad distinction between the influence of the two audiences,—as, for instance, the Duke of Argyll and the Earl of.. Carnarvon, neither of whom have, we believe, known at- all, or at least known for any time, what a difference of specific gravity there is between the atmosphere of the Houses. It you take a head and lungs used to this lower earth to . the thin atmos- phere of the highest Himalayas, or even of the Alps, they miss the, additional pressure so much that none of the bodily functions trained to the one ever seem to go on quite steadily in the other. But no doubt creatures native to such an atmosphere would rely as much on the degree of pressure there still is, as we do, without knowing . it, on the weight of our heavier air. Perhaps Lord Grey, who, for a long time, as Lord Howick had great influence in the Lower House, is an exception. His speeches are still all that they were in weight and gravity. But then Lord Grey ad- dresses the pure reason. He is scarcely conscious of the special character of his audience at all. We are not quite sure that he would not speak with much the same weight and gravity to ' two or three boys in a corner,' as Athenian men of the world used to say of Socrates, as to either the House of Commons or Howe of Lords. The dignity of the House of Lords, such as it is, is certainly not the dignity of deliberate movement and anxious forethought. It is the easy dignity of station, aware that no one can question its right to say what it does, and that the consequences of imprudent speech are not in that assembly very momentous. This is one of the reasons which often give to the foreign-policy debates of the Lords an air of greater manliness and frankness than to those of the Commons. The peers feel that the decision is not with them, and they can unburden their hearts without anything like the same danger of launching the country into war. Mr. Gladstone, or even Mr. Disraeli, at a critical moment would choose his words, as a man walking on an insecure plank over a great abyss would choose his steps. But the Lords can say their say, and each of them only feel liberavi =imam meam ' when he has said it.. The •Commons cannot always, afford to liberate their souls.
But there is another somewhat. different cause which dimi- nishes the dignity of the House of Lords, and which was perceptible enough on Tuesday night. They not only do not feel the respon- sibility of Government upon their shoulders to steady their judgments, but they are not even a general meeting in which all interests. and classes are assembled, but a special meeting of a particular interest, the landed interest. Consequently when they come to subjects in which, as landed gentlemen, they are deeply versed, and by which they are deeply affected, they remind an observer,—not in superficial manner or in outward show, it must be adinitte.d,—but still strongly, more of a meeting of Trades Union l
Operatives than of the HFuse of tioinnions. The country gentle- -men in the Lower Holum area very strong phalanx- and a verr- united phalanx, and fret as much under a calamity-affecting their -- interest as the Peers themselves ; but they speak in the presence of other interests as great as . their-own, and this influence- telLi on their demeanour. The fratiseof Lords have a fir', greater feeling of liberty, and when they are touched. in their property they are much more apt to be. almost red-(or the opposite of 'red; whatever that may be) in their language than the country gentlemen in the House of Commons. The Duke of Rittland on the cattle plague the-other day went, .to.usel Hosea, Biglow's expressive language, " thrashing round like a short-tailed bull in- Si-time." The Earl- of. Winchilsea, though he used thelight comic tone of bitter chaff, reminded; an impartial observer a good. deal of the- kind of fun which Mr. Conolly, the excellent Irish bricklayer, who addresses .. Trades Unionist reformers with great vivacity and effect, pokes at the Government, in his speeches. Then -look Attthe.-military: interest of the Upper House, which is. no less marked . and unre- pressed in its freedom of expression. -than its property interest. Viscount Melville's tirade against. the • Government for " the greatest crime committed by. any Government since the murder of Admiral Byng" in sending out the Jamaica Commission, was quite unrivalled by the violence of anything said 011` the opposite side at the famous Exeter Hall meeting, where "the eight miles of dead bodies," and Mr. Gordon's letter to his-wife printed on black-- edged paper, were used with such theatrical effect.. Both •military feelings and property feelings are poured• oat inthe House of Lords with a fervour of unrestrained impulse which completely banishes: the sense of dignity, and excites the kind-of smile with which we listen to an impassioned artizan orator on the wrongs-of the people. A House representing alniost a single uniform interest; is quite unfitted for that form of intellectual dignity •-which carefully; measures its words so as to produce the maximum of effect on other and different interests.
And as the sense of responsibility, and thenice dilerimination of other phases and moods of thought, are two of the most -essential elements of intellectual gravity and dignity, the House of Lords in a great debate certainly is less impressive and weighty than the Commons. Even the sense of great social importance may add to this effect. For a man with some self-distrust will hesitate more about letting the lighter vapours of his thought escape freely into the general atmosphere, than one who cannot conceive their produc- ing a ludicrous effect. There is a slight tendency to vapour about the Peers, which the strong condenser of an uncongenial tempera-. ture among the other great interests of the Commons effectually checks. Such speeches as the Earl of Winchilsea's or Viscount Melville's, remind one of the scream with which steam escapes through the safety-valve of a locomotive. For some purposes the House of Lords is the safety-valve of the landed and military interests. But then waste steam peeping with a shriek through a safety-valve is not exactly a symbol of dignity.