MR. AYRTON is a man of very considerable ability, who fully deserved the trial which be has received and is receiving in the Ministry, but the more we see of him as a Minister, the less, hitherto, we are disposed to predict for him a career at all commensurate with the minuteness and variety of his political knowledge, and the sharpness of his political criticism. The truth is, that he puts forth a great repellent force, and no attractive force whatever. Like an electric eel, he temporarily disables antagonists by the shock and jar of the influence which he radiates. But he has no following, and probably never will have. He dwells on none of the political ideas and none of the political impressions by which men are bound together and animated in a common cause. He seems to emulate the reputation of a kind of political Serjeant Snubbin. On a very memorable occasion he snubbed the Queen ; he has frequently snubbed the House of Lords; and his habitual practice is to snub the House of Com- mons. It is evidently a treat to him to snub new members, even if they be on his own side,—as a new member who took his side a year or two ago on a question affecting the houses of the poor can testify. He is never reluctant to snub old mem- bers, as some of the members for Finsbury and the City can testily; and in his address at the Tower Hamlets on Monday. he took occasion to snub, with a great appearance of zeal and appetite, the newspaper press of this country, the late Ministry, apparently even the present Ministry, and, with most pertinacity and (we must add) most justice of all, an important section of his own constituency. Now, a man of this kind is an un- pleasant antagonist, but can never be a leader. No great leader, however superficially curt and ungenial,—not even though he be as curt and ungenial a leader as Lord Russell,— can be without a certain depth of loyalty to some great political tendencies or ideas round which men can no more help collect- ing than steel-filings can help collecting round a magnet. The chief leaders have always shown this loyalty, and generally have shown in addition a certain comprehensiveness of view, and capacity to recognize what is right and generous in public opinion, which is closely connected with bonhomie and poli- tical charity, if it is not of its very essence. But not only the greater leaders, like the late Sir Robert Peel, and Lord Russell, and Lord Palmerston, and Mr. Disraeli, and Mr. Gladstone, have shown this comprehensiveness of political insight, this sympathetic temperament,—in their political creed if not in their personal relations,—it is impossible not to notice precisely the same quality in men of the second rank who have aspired most successfully to the sort of position now held by Mr. Ayrton. For example, Mr. Walpole, Sir Stafford North- cote, nay, even Sir John Pakington on the one side, Mr. Goschen, Mr. Forster, Mr. Stansfeld on the other, find it altogether impossible ever to speak in the merely contentious and snubbing vein. They always recognize and appreciate what is just in an antagonist's case ; they take a real hold, so far as they can, of the position of their opponents, and appreciate it before they refute it. Their intellects are not of the carping and snubbing order. They have no objection to a caustic reply if it be effective, but they know that mere snubbing seldom, if ever, is effective.
Now, it is the great weakness of Mr. Arton's that this state of mind is not his. He boasted to the electors of the Tower Hamlets truly enough that his was not a parochial "record," that he was, in some sense, a citizen of the world, who had travelled a good deal, and seen something of what had gone on beyond the limits of the Tower Hamlets. But no man was ever less mellowed by travel. Most men who have seen much,—" cities of men, and councils, governments,"— though they learn to smile at local prejudices and preposses- sions, learn at the same time to live and move in an atmo- sphere of common sense, and what may be called common wisdom, which teaches them to apprehend almost instinctively
the force of what is sound in popular opinion, as well as the weakness of what is unsound. Mr. Ayrton is either destitute of this latter power, or, from the extreme acrimony of his intellectual disposition, appears to be so. Look, for instance,. at the almost ridiculous narrowness of his reply to the criti- cism—in itself perfectly sound and reasonable, though, of course, not final—that Mr. Layard's special studies and tastes had fitted him better in one important respect,-- namely, as a judge of public architecture and ornamentation, —to be the First Commissioner of Public Works in London, than Mr. Ayrton's special acquirements have fitted Mr. Ayrtonr to be in that respect. Any man of broad sense would have conceded the point at once, but contended that this could not be the sole consideration in assigning such an office, and not always even the most weighty,—that financial knowledge andj ability was a matter almost equally important, and that some- thing must always be conceded to a necessity of which the public- can be no judges at all,—the perfect connection and conjunction. of the personal cogs and hinges of an administration. But Mr. Ayrton has not the easy and placid sort of wisdom which would induce him, while smarting under the annoyance of depreciating comparisons, to make such a rejoinder as this. Indeed, whether vexed or not vexed, Mr. Ayrton has a pleasure in disparagement which induces him almost uniformly to ignore the better side of any case he criti- cizes, and to exaggerate its worse side. He fastens upon the phrase 2Edile,' which has been loosely applied to the First Commissioner of Works, and harps upon the erroneous.. character of the analogy implied. "There was a certain sort of people in this country who had been educated at our public- schools and Universities, and who, instead of looking at matters as they stand in the present day, began by looking back to see what was done two or three thousand years ago in Greece or Rome, and unless things were now managed as was. the case in those remote ages, they thought them all wrong. Those people might be said to live in a world of their own, and having discovered that a certain officeraperformed the- functions of an redile 2,000 years ago, they said he ought to- perform the like functions now in this metropolis, and that he not qualified to do so. He did not believe that any sensible body of Englishmen, who did not belong to that school, would agree with that ; and he might tell them that the duties of his office did not in the least resemble those discharged many centuries ago by the Roman 33diles. His duties were, in fact, of a very simple nature. But there were people very fond of what was called art, and some of them were very artful people too, judging from the way in which they write anonymously in the newspapers, and they said he- ought to be an architect, a surveyor, a sculptor, a painter, a gardener,--whether a flower, an ornamental, or a market- gardener did not much matter,—also a builder, or anything else they liked to propose. Well, he was bound to say, he did not understand, and had not been brought up to any of these callings,"—but he did understand paring down estimates and. checking accounts, seeing that too much money was not spent, and that the public got "full value for their money," and that was what he was about to undertake. Now nothing could better illustrate the cavilling propensity of Mr. Ayrton, than this answer. It betrayed, very injudiciously, the irri- tation the public criticisms had caused him, and yet, while denying all validity to those criticisms, it substantially con- firmed them. Mr. Ayrton says that the duty of the First Commissioner of Public Works is not to be a great adept in the arts of public building and ornamentation, but to employ. those who are. And pray how is he to judge between the better and worse of these, if he knows of no criterion by which- to judge between the better and the worse ? He says, again, that his duty is to see that the people get "full value for their money," and how is he to know that, if he is no judge at all of the comparative merits of the different ways in which, a given sum of money can be spent so as to produce the maximum of artistic effect. In point of fact, the analogy be- tween the First Commissioner of Works and the Roman 2Edile is complete as to the only two points on which the analogy was, ever insisted upon,—authority to judge, if not finally, at least provisionally, between different modes of satisfying given public- wants, and authority to decide finally on the choice of the pro- fessional men to be actually employed in erecting the works determined on. Did anyone ever question, for instance, that Lord John Manners had full authority to select provisionally the style of the designs for the new University of London, or that his judgment was only overruled by a very exceptional- expression of adverse opinion in Parliament, of which the
opinion of his successor, Mr. Layard, was perhaps the most important element ? Does anyone doubt for a moment that Mr. Ayrton's good or bad taste will be exercised and tested in the same way? Mr. Ayrton himself does not doubt it, though it suits him for the moment to seem to assert that mere financial sagacity will enable a man to decide,—as between various schemes of equal costliness, and between various architectural styles,—which of them all will contribute most to the splendour and enjoyability of the metropolis. That sort of assertion is not the assertion of a man conspicuous for a wisely impartial or cosmopolitan judgment, but of one only too apt at the temporary cavils of debate.
But Mr. Ayrton did not confine himself on Monday to snubbing his newspaper critics and the admirers of Mr. Layard. He also snubbed the late Ministry for its excessive expenditure, —apparently at least some of the present Ministry for " clutch- ing" somewhat tardily at the items of a policy which he him- self had long advocated, such as the disestablishment of the Irish Church "as the best means of maintaining themselves in the good graces of their countrymen," and lastly, though most justly of all, a considerable section of his own constituents for their Pro- tectionist fallacies on the subject of reciprocity. We should be very sorry to depreciate the courage of any Member of Par- liament who openly and frankly resists the pressure of his constituents, and insists on exposing their mistakes. But it is impossible to ignore Mr. Ayrton's pleasure in adverse remark. It is his weakness to prefer, for its own sake, adverse. to favourable criticism. It is his still greater weakness to prefer, for its own sake, what we may call political remark, to the exposition of political principle. He has never yet made a speech in Parliament, as far as we remember, on the essen- tial principle of a great political question. He has never yet shown that his interest in principles is even as deep as his interest in technical details. Even when addressing his con- stituents on the hustings, it is the same. He passes over his substantive creed with a mere credo, and devotes all his energy to the little excrescences of erroneous interpretation. He not only "believes in the contrary," but the contrary in which he believes is often a petty and insignificant contrary, which
• is hardly worth the trouble of exposition. His political mind wants sap, and, like many minds which want sap, it is apt to be gritty, and resemble strongly political sand-paper. With a great deal of respect for Mr. Ayrton's diligence and force in mastering so large a mass of detail against which the nature of common politicians is apt to revolt, we hardly expect great things of any sort from him, because he is always showing himself both too carping for influence over men, and too minute and circumstantial for a grasp of principle or a mani- festo of faith.