TOPICS OF THE DAY.
A FORECAST OF THE SESSION.
Tit, guests at the Fishmongers' dinner on Thursday did not tell us much. Most of the Ministers were there, and most of them held their tongues. Mr. Gladstone intimated that the disestablishment of the Irish Church would require many Bills ; but everybody who had studied the subject carefully knew that before, and those who had not were interested rather in the character than the number of the clauses to be carried. Mr. Bright, in the worst speech he ever made in his life, perhaps the only one not followed by a cheer, told an aristocratic audience, in reply to the toast of "Commerce," that he thought Bishops overpaid by the liberality, if not the credulity of the people,—an opinion which, delivered on such an occasion and in such a place, displayed at once his consistency and his want of tact. Mr. Lowe complained that officials objected to any saving of Government stores, "say pens," as being "mean," and ridiculed the demand for profitless expenditure on public buildings, which were only defended by the saying, "a thing of beauty is a joy for ever" ; but people were quite aware before that Mr. Lowe disbelieved in architecture as well as classical education, and objected to offer mankind either bread or a stone. Mr. Cardwell said the Army would fight anybody if ordered, and Mr. Childers affirmed that the Navy had always done its duty, and altogether the oratorical credit of the evening must be assigned to Mr. George Moore, the Prime Warden, who, besides saying the regular platitudes as nicely as if he believed them all, contrived to put in an effective protest against any proposition for making the estates of the Fishmongers' Company useful to human beings. The guests separated, little enlightened by their meeting, to compare Mr. Disraeli's bumptiousness in the same hall with Mr. Gladstone's simplicity, to repeat the significant little sentence about the Sovereign, "who associates herself with the convictions as well as the affections of her people," and to speculate on the reasons which have apparently induced Providence to declare against the Minority Clause by removing Mr. Bell.
It was perhaps quite as well not to talk much about the corning Session. The Queen's Speech is to be read on Tuesday, dramatic effect is useful even in ceremonials, and with due allowance for that "unforeseen which always arrives," the business of the Session is pretty clearly marked out. There is the Irish Church for the grand subject, and as the Irish Church is to be treated tenderly, and tender execution is an operation requiring deep knowledge of surgery, the debates are certain to occupy the greater portion of the time at the Ministerial disposal in one session. There are many who think it will occupy two, but fortunately the human mind, and especially the British mind, has a capacity of weariness of ecclesiastical details ; and if Mr. Gladstone will only use his majority, and remember, for once in his life, that there are human beings who cannot be convinced by argument, however eloquent, or however conclusive, we do not despair that the Session may see the end of an institution which is a huge injustice, and a discussion which is an even huger bore. The majority with which he will meet Parliament has rather increased than diminished during the recess, and the only serious danger to the great scheme is that of an interminable squabble over details which it would be far better to remit to the Free Anglican Assembly, which, under one form or another Parliament must create. Everything else, except, again, the unforeseen, will of course be postponed if necessary to this great subject, but still, apart altogether from the regular business, such as the budget, which will make or mar Mr. Lowe, and which, as he has Abyssinia to pay for, will be a Budget of unusual importance ; and the estimates, over which we foresee a serious fight, the Services objecting, like the Clergy, to be disendowed, there will be business enough before the House to secure an industrious and, it may well be, a most valuable session. Some sort of Education Bill is sure to be discussed, and, indeed, Mr. Austin Bruce has formally promised the Scotch, who always manage to get what they want,—because they always know what it is,—that they shall have their Bill for the improvement of primary education. The Scotch are not given to chattering, and have the inconceivable advantage of a single creed ; but it will be necessary to link the new scheme to an existing ecclesiastical system ; and as Scotland is probably on the eve of a great ecclesias tical change, some care will have to be used that the two movements in progress should not clash. Then Mr. Bruce has also promised a measure for increasing the hold of the respectable over the habitually criminal classes ; and as that measure, however justifiable or however needed, must be more or less of an innovation, not only on our law, but on certain) principles of our law, it is sure to encounter some antagonism. It will, moreover, bring up the whole question of the police of our great cities, and with it that immense subject, now at last in competent hands, our system of local taxation. We do not expect any general reform in that matter this year, but we may have, as we think, must have, a bill for London, a commission for England, and some declaration of the ideas which the first Cabinet elected by household suffrage entertains upon the whole matter. The county members cannot sit still if they would whenever there is a chance for that discussion ; the metropolitan members are nearly as deeply interested, and the House is pledged to its lips to restore the suspended vitality of that unhappy being so misunderstood. in the flesh, so restless in Hades, that dreaded foe to the Constitution and the Church,—the Compound Householder. There will be discussion enough and to spare about him, even if the greater question, greatest perhaps of all our remaining financial questions, the just incidence of local taxation, be postponed for a time. The pressure of all these topics will not be diminished by the fact that they must all originate in the House of Commons, the only great bill which as far as yet appears will begin in the House of Lords being the Chancellor's new measure in bankruptcy, a measure which, as Lord Hatherley is sure to have a prejudice in favour of the Eighth Commandment,—which every Bankruptcy Bill must, more or less, suspend in the "interest of credit,"—is certain to be very thoroughly debated. The Lords, however, will have the cream of discussions on Foreign Policy, which may be grave, as Lord Clarendon has to defend his course in the Greek affair,—a disagreeable business, as he must be quiet about its most serious incidents, even if he knows them, which is unlikely ; has to state the change he has introduced into our relations with China, and explain how far he has fallen into Mr. Burlinghame's trap, and how far Mr. Burlinghame into his ; and has to prove to a House which understands diplomacy that Lord. Stanley's policy in the Alabama Convention was, if not strikingly energetic, at least sound and wise. Other topics still more important than any of these may be, for aught. we know, within the Cabinet programme ; but all these have been officially or semi-officially mentioned in speeches, or replies to deputations ; and all these, it should be remembered. are in addition to the regular work of the Executive chiefs, to little affairs like the quarrel between Canada and the Hudson's Bay Company anent their right to territories not much larger than France, Spain, and Austria ; like the price to be paid for
the Telegraphs, which has risen to a preposterous figure ; like the assistance to be granted to Irish Railways, which are cry ing aloud for help ; like the guarantee to be given or refused to New Zealand, like the reorganization of the Civil Service, and like the conversion which seems inevitable of the State Savings' Banks into omnipresent banks of deposit.
There is enough to do to keep Parliament in good health, even without recording dreams, and we have more than usual confidence that Parliament will do it. It is a new Parliament, it should be a fearless one, and its action will be very little hampered by the dread of the "interests," which have never recovered the collapse of the paper fortunes caused by the failure of Overend, Gurney, and Co. The grand danger of the Session is that all its great measures, and more particularly the measure the House was elected to carry, involve details so minute and, to certain persons, so interesting, that action may be lost sight of in unintermittent discussion, that night after night will be wasted about clauses which follow of necessity from principles already accepted. Great tact and great firmness will be required to keep the House to its task, and great forbearance and energy within the House itself. Of the tact and the firmness we are nearly secure, and the forbearance and the energy may also be displayed if the House will but remember that the one doubt in the public mind as to parlia mentary government, the one cause which is so visibly alarm
ing the " philosophers " who influence the masses, is the excessive, sometimes the intolerable, lumberingness of its
action. That doubt signified nothing while the evil could be explained to be a result of a restricted suffrage, but it may matter much now that the nation, for the first time in its history, directly legislates for itself.