NEWS OF THE WEEK.
FATAL week to Protection ! The new great men, for all their freshness, have waxed faint—have yielded their strongest posi- -tioni without fight, or defended the indefensible, and been beaten. The new Tariff was taken up by the House of Commons on .Monday; :and it-passed the preliminary stage of the Committee on the same evening:. The general duties on corn had been af- firmed on the previous Friday, and the House resumed at the articles of maize and buck-wheat. The position of the Protection- ists 1was curiously characteristic in several particulars. Mr. .Philip Miles, with eloquent emotion, proclaimed the dangers to be feared from maize. It is- almost as nourishing as wheat—no- body 'knows how many millions of bushels are produced in the United States—it can be sold for twenty shillings the quarter— with a little wheat it makes admirable bread, and as a dish cookery can give it the highest relish : the danger of letting in -such a thing is frightful—the English people will eat it ! You see, in order to make protection of wheat and British corn complete, not only ought foreign wheat, oats, and so forth, to be kept out of the market, but so ought anything else which the people can use in place of wheat. As' wages are very low, and as maize will as- similate nearly as well as wheat—make nearly as much chyle— nearly as much good flesh and blood—although it is not quite so nice; the English working classes will be very apt to eat it instead wheat'; and thus the whole advantage to the wheat-growers, of keeping wheat in England at a price not lower than rather a dear level, will be frustrated. To prevent such a defect in pro- tection, Mr. Miles would prevent those people with low wages from getting at that grain, so cheap and profitable to the human stomach. Can a proposition more selfishly indecent be conceived? Yet is Mr. Miles no bad man : he would not do what many odious villains in the shape of commissaries and ship provision con- tractors have done, make a profit by stinting the quantities or serving bad meat to soldier and sailor : he would almost revolt at his own proposition put nakedly—that is to keep the people on short commons, or at least to stint their plenty, in order to keep up the income of land- but he is shocked at the converse pro- posal to increase plenty for the people—to give them enough and to spare. The fact is, that the course of events has betrayed -the Protectionists into pushing their own doctrines to a reductio ad absurdum.
That done, the conduct of the party was still characteristic : they gave up further opposition. They will prevent all the plenty they can ,• but if the Legislature will permit plenty, they can't help it. They only " thank-God there is a House of Lords. Among the articles retained in the Tariff unreduced, is the duty on foreign books ; which Mr. Ewart proposed to abolish. Minis- ters, however, resisted the motion. They pleaded the revenue derived from the item. The paltry amount of that revenue is the answer : it is but 10,0001. Then they pleaded the policy of re- taining the duty in order to some manceuvering in favour of international copyrights : they would remit the duty on the books of countries whose Governments establish international copyrights with us. The manceuvre is an impolitic resort to paltry inducements where the highest kind should alone be advanced. If international copyrights are good things, let England herself establish them, set the example alone, and illustrate by that generous and national patronage of literature the advantages of such a policy. But the retention of the duty cannot thus be justified : international copyright is not so im- portant a matter as the general ingress of foreign literature into a literary country. Somebody pleaded the excise-duty on English paper, said that the duty on foreign books was a fair set-off against that duty, and complained that to remove the impost
would be unfair to the English bookseller. That plea also is nonsense. Foreign books cannot in any way compete with English books in England. The sale of a foreign book can never be such as to interfere with the business and profits of the native publisher. The effect of the duty is not merely to restrict the circulation of many works that find the readiest demand in this country, but, by reducing the sale of most works, i
even of note, to nil, t disheartens the bookseller, prevents his importing any but the most popular works, and often creates almost insuperable obstacles in the way of obtaining some pro- ductions in this country. We observe that a protective contem- porary deprecates free trade in books, and predicts that only the very worst kind would be imported : he ought to know that the worst books are now the easiest to get; it is the best--the most re- condite, erudite, and laborious works—which it is really difficult to procure. Even the consideration of the money paid in duty is something to the poor class of authors. But in truth, books are not a proper article to appear in the tariff at all. In the volume, spiritual things happen to assume a material form ; and when a tax is levied on the paper and binding, toll is charged upon mind. The duty on books is one reason why English literature is so in- sulated—why there is so little flow of Continental thought into this country. It helps to keep our literature merely English, while it should be European. Ministers made one more plea : to meddle with that item would multiply points of controversial -difference in Parliament, and thus multiply the chances adverse to the whole measure. That plea, no doubt, is valid—now : it will not avail when Mr. Ewart ishall next bring forward the subject. The state of education, or rather of ignorance., in Wales, is to be made the subject of inquiry. Mr. Williams wished the Crown to appoint a special commission to investigate the subject and frame a measure, but Sir James Graham - disarmed the zeal of the mover by consenting to a special inquiry by some of the School Inspectors under the Education Committee of Privy Coun- cil. The inquiry is needless. Except among the urban and edu- cated classes, the people of Wales are still restricted to the use of a barbarous language ; one which has no acquired riches, no modern literature—no literature at all deserving the name ; a mere household and traditionary tongue, fitted for -mountain hinds—and fitted to keep them mountain hinds. The prevalent ignorance has practical results of the worst kind. Law proceed- ings are conducted through an unintelligible medium. A case was mentioned by Mr. Duncombe in another debate : one of the jurors who tried the Monmouthshire rioters was so ignorant as not only to be unable to write, but he did not know his own name ; he did not know whether it was "John Christopher" or "Chris- topher John." Through a similar ignorance wrong verdicts have been returned and recorded ; and, if we mistake not, men have been hanged or transported through a mistake of the jury. The ignorance, therefore, is notorious : a commission might as well be appointed to inquire into the truth of Queen Anne's death. But the inquiry is a device to gain time : the Ministry has not in itself sufficient machinery to dispose of the work that presses upon it, and any additional burden is naturally staved off for the moment. We can understand and sympathize with that. If, however, the ignorance of Wales is notorious, the way to remedy it is not equally clear. What would be the best method of intro- ducing better knowledge into Wales—a method suited to the na- ture and circumstances of the people t Probably no competent person could answer off-hand. If the Inspectors—assuming them to be qualified—were set to investigate that question, some real good might be done by the inquiry : Ministers would gain their time, but the time would not be wasted even for the purposes of Welsh education. Wales suggested the subject of another debate; recalling memo- ries of less happy times—the last clouded years of the Whig rule. Mr. Thomas Duncombe, in the name of three millions of petitioners, demanded a pardon for Frost, Williams, and Jones, the ringleaders of the Newport insurrection. Two main pleas were advanced for the prayer. The conviction, it is said, was illegal, because an objec- tion taken at the trial would have been valid if it had been. put forward in time. That plea is fallacious. The objection was a pure technicality : in the endeavour to afford every facility to the prisoners, a Crown lawyer committed a pardonable excess of duty, and in doing so was guilty of an informality. The in- formality might have caused the trial to be postponed, but it was not found out at the proper stage, and the objection was urged too late : the technical objection was met by a technical flaw an. the manner of urging it ; one technicality was met by another. There is neither technical nor practical injustice there. Then it is said that "the millions" wish it, and Government must grant it. Not if "the millions" are wrong. If the whole country has determined as a matter of will, that Frost and his companions
be released, no doubt the whole country can effect that release by deposing from office any Ministry that refuses it, and appointing a Frost-releasing Cabinet. Short of that compul- sion, the Government is right to refuse a step in the pro- priety of which it cannot concur. The petitioners do not urge their claim with all the force of obvionely good. information : for instance, one of the petitions stated, by way of an example in clemency, that Mr. O'Connell had been pardoned ;—which is not true. In O'Connell's case the law took its course, and the technical course of law liberated him : in the Newport case the law took its course, and condemned the prisoners. Thus far the course of the law was free ; but then there was interference. To what effect ?—to temper the rigour of the law. If the law had had its full course, the prisoners would have been hanged : their sentence was commuted to transportation. No case was made out for a full pardon. Revolution may set aside law ; but while law rules it must be vindicated. There was nothing in the case of either of the convicts—no singular ignorance or mental sim- plicity—no youth—no misguiding by others—no redeeming trait of noble conduct—nothing to turn aside the due course of justice, even if it had run its unimpeded course : but such is not the fact ; we have seen that the convicts are now daily enjoying the Crown's mercy. The second reading of Mr. Watson's bill, to abolish the tradi- tional penalties against Roman Catholics which still slumber on the statute-book unrepealed, occasioned rather an interesting de- bate, signalized by the excellent feeling which gains ground in the House of Commons. Lord Morpeth made one of his gene- ralizing but not ineffective appeals to the principles of humanity, and exhorted the House to leave the control of Jesuitry rather to the writings of Pascal and Michelet than to penal laws. Sir James Graham spoke in a similar strain. Liberality on this point has grown to be a matter of course. _ Another attempt to improve the law is rather singular in its .application, for it is partly the reform of a law which does not exist but is to be ; although, no doubt, it also improves ex- tant statutes. One great evil in Ireland is the intimidation of witnesses for the prosecution in criminal cases : to protect them was one object of Lord St. Germans's " Coercion " Bill, by estab- lishing certain stringent rules in " proclaimed " districts: Lord Denman makes such protective rules general; thus applying a more adequate remedy for the prevalent evil, and at the same time preventing the invidious distinctions likely to be involved in the working of the other act.