TOPICS OF THE DAY.
MR. DISRAELI'S LETTER. THAT hustings eloquence should tend to become violent, and even a little vulgar, after a great reduction of the franchise, was perhaps inevitable. A very able witness who appeared before the last Commons Committee on cheap literature made a remark which did not deserve to be so soon forgotten. He alleged that as we descend in the scale of culture, a literary blow, to do either good or evil, must become harder ; that to call men names through telling epigrams is useless, and must be superseded by direct denunciation ; that where a gentleman would call his opponent slightly presuming, a blacksmith would call him a bumptious beggar, both meaning the same thing. We suspect this is true of the hustings, whenever the suffrage is lowered ; that the liking for " shotted speeches " is becoming stronger, and that the desire to speak them has been intensified by one operation Of the Ballot. You can't shy rotten eggs at ballot-boxes, and the disposition increases to use phrases which are really nothing but the equivalent of rotten eggs. At least, we cannot otherwise account for the astonishing violence of some recent speeches, now authorised and encouraged by the leader of Opposition. When a man, for instance, like Sir A. Slade, a soldier, a gentle- man, and a man with a name to preserve, calls a man like Mr. James a " mere slave of Mr. Gladstone "—who would gladly have sent him to Putney two or three times last session—and charged the Liberals, who are actually risking everything to keep up religious education, with " wishing to bring up the young as atheists and devils," he is not talking politics, or dis- playing any intellectual appreciation of either foes or friends, but merely flinging rotten eggs at his opponents' waistcoats. They may hit, but they are not arguments. The assertion that the Liberals were responsible for the early closing of public-houses was a little better, because though the Tories did, as Mr. James explained, introduce that measure, it was favoured by members of the Government, who thought the Victuallers wished it ; but to say that Liberals passed party penal laws is, again, merely an egg. What laws did they pass which could fairly be so described ? We are not quarrelling with Sir A. Slade for the coarseness of his language. That is, within limits, a matter for his own consideration, for if the labourers ever come to the front as candidates, we shall have plenty of rough speaking, and curiously enough, of rough humour,—a quality which, when Mr. Henley leaves it, will have almost have disappeared from the House of Com- mons, to the great injury of its representative character ;—but we do complain of him, and in a far higher degree of his leader, of lowering politics by substituting violent and non- sensical abuse for political thought. Any Mrs. Prig can call any Mrs. Gamp an atheist and a devil, but not even Sweedlepipes would consider that an argument. Any cabman can abuse " those base, bloody, and brutal Whigs " as O'Connell used to do, but no cabman could have uttered some of the terrible epigrams which were for years the war-cries of his party. Sir A. Slade will find it now to his advantage, even when seeking a Southern borough, or denouncing a policy whose first principles he has never heard, to stand away a little further from his lowest electors. The winners in politics, after all, are the men who think, not the men who, hating mob government, suit their oratory, their statements, and their jokes to that mob's notion of aggressive eloquence. A rascally joke by some unknown Liberal at Dover is believed to have kept scores of Liberals from the poll, and these fierce misstatements, though, of course, not so offensive, exercise very nearly the same result.
Sir A. Slade, however, is pardonable compared with Mr. Disraeli. A squire on the stump is not expected to know much, or to be very guarded in his language, and he may honestly have known nothing at all about education ; but the leader of Opposition, the inevitable next Premier, is a different person, and Mr. Disraeli, of all leaders of Opposition and all Premiers, should avoid flinging, not eggs, for they may hit, but carrots, the only vegetable—as was once explained, we think, in a novel of his own--worthless in an election row. He has risen through his intellect, not his brawn. True, he attacked Sir R. Peel with personalities rarely equalled in debate ; true, also, that he once lashed one of his party, John Wilson Croker, nearly unto death ; and true, also, that he considers debate, as he told the House of Commons, only enlivened by invective. But then the epigrams which made Peel wince were speeches condensed into one morsel, the very essence of malignant wit ; the lash laid so severely on to Rigby would have been power- less to hurt a better man, and his remark on invective was intended to punish a speaker whom he did not deem worthy of a serious reply. The flavour of intellectual power was in them all, and opponents, while resenting, could' not avoid enjoyment. There are speeches of Mr. Disraeli's which are as enjoyable as his novels, as full of epigram and' satire, as full, too, of that good-nature which hitherto has preserved him from anything like the active hatred of Liberals. But his last manifesto, issued just before the Bath election, is a mere call to boys at a fair ; it has not a trace of brain in it, and is written as if he had just poured the best of himself into a novel, could find no, more, and so gave his Bath correspondent nothing but a little abuse of the Government he refused to supersede.. " For nearly five years," he says, " the present Ministers have harassed every trade, worried every profession, and assailed or menaced every class, institution, or species of property in the country. Occasionally they have varied this state of civil warfare by perpetrating some job which has outraged public opinion, or by stumbling into mistakes which have been always discreditable, and sometimes ruinous. All this they call a. policy, and seem quite proud of it ; but the country has, I think, made up its mind to close this career of plundering and blundering." It is not for us to answer seriously those accu- sations, grave as they are, when levelled by one party against the other, for they are already answered by the Times, which. asks why Mr. Disraeli did not stop the "the plundering and blun- dering " when he had the opportunity ; and by the Daily News,. which inquires with sarcastic coolness whether Mr. Disraeli proposes to alter one of the laws or measures which he con- demns as so immoral. If the Gladstone Government has plundered, Mr. Disraeli's duty is to guide the country to resti- tution ; if it has blundered, his place is to repair that misfortune to the nation. Our part is to complain that he has by such a manifesto lowered the whole tone of political warfare, has, given a mot d'ordre for rotten eggs instead of epigrams, broken earrote instead of political speeches. He is in the position of a conqueror marching slowly to what he believes will be a victory, and he poses himself for supremacy in the attitude of the man on the far edge of the crowd who has just launched the: last carrot, which has broken in his hand. We all remember the Naval Chief, for Hannay has embalmed him, who had for his battle-cry only a hearty " daamn ;" but that is not the precise pose the world expected of Mr. Disraeli,—gladia- tor, if you will, in the great combat, though he seldom hopes the audience will turn down their thumbs upon, the vanquished, but at least one who declines to do battle with the mud of the arena,—a prize-fighter, but a trained one. His very existence, his raison d'gtre, depend on his being the head of a party so far below him in intellectual grasp that they must follow, while rejecting him ; and yet, after a long silence—most unusually long, even for him—he comes out with a manifesto which any of his rank and file, his "fine brute votes," could have written with more evidence of capacity. "Bible and Beer " is not a touching, though it may be an effective war-cry ; but it is at least better, because shorter, than his badly-rhymed piece of nonsense which the crowd of roughs—for whom, we presume, it is meant— cannot even shout. It is no mere passing mistake, either, that he has made, for Mr. Disraeli has studied cry- making as a fine art, has taught us all in " Coningsby " how invaluable is antithesis in that most useful manufacture, and has expressed in words readers have not forgot the necessity of pithiness in a cry. He even perhaps exaggerates the import- ance of such auxiliaries, for he has, in this instance, tried to- take the work out of the hands of Tadpole and Taper, and has descended into the arena—his special arena—himself, and has utterly failed. He has "meddled and muddled " like an Old Whig, and has been besides, what they never were, a visibly vulgar artist. "Plundering and blundering." That is not a cry, but only a carrot.