A Hundred Years Ago
"THE SPECTATOR," FEBRUARY 14TH, 1835.
The Morning Chronicle has supplied the following apt quotation from Swift on the necessity of choosing a Speaker whose opinions concur with those of a majority of the House of Commons. It is taken from his ." Letter to a Member of Parliament," on choosing a new Speaker in 1708; and is to be found at page 264 of the 5th volume of Scott's edition of Swift.
"Can a body, whose mouth and heart must, go so contrariwise, eirer act with sincerity or hardly with consistency ? Such a man is no proper vehicle to, retain or convey the sense of the House, which in so many points of the greatest moment will be directly contrary
to his Perhaps you will tell me, as some have already had the weaknesa, that-it is oflittle importance to either party to have a Speaker of their side, his business being only to take the sense of the House, and report it ; that you often, at Committees, put an able speaker into the chair on purpose to prevent him from stopping a bill: Why, if it were no more than this, I believe I should hardly choose, even among my footmen, such a one to deliver, a message, whose interest and opinion led him to Wish it might miscarry. But I remember to have heard Colonel Birch, of Herefordshire, say, 'That he was a very sorry Speaker whose single vote was not better than fifty common ones. I am sure it is reckoned in England the first great test of the pervaleney of either party in the House. Sir T. Lyttleton thought that a House of Commons with a stinking breath (supposing the Speaker to be the mouth), would go near to infect every thing within the walls, and a great deal without. It is the smallest part..of an able Speaker's business what he forms in the House ; at least, -if he be in with the Court, When it is hard to say how many converts may be made in a circle of dinners or priVate cabals. And you and I easily call to mind a gentleman in that station in England, who, by his own acts and personal credit, was able to 'draw over a majority, and change the whole power of a prevailing side in a nice juncture of affairs, and make a Parliament expire in one party
who had lived in another. .
" I confess, if it were a thing possible to be compassed, it would seem most reasonable to fill the chair with some person who would be entirely devoted to neither party, but since there are so few of that character, and those either unqualified or unfriended, I cannot see how a majority will answer it to their reputation, to be so ill provided of able persons, that they must have recourse to their adversaries for a leader a proceeding of which I never met with above one example, and even that succeeded but ill, though it was recommended by an oracle, which advised some city in Greece to beg a _general from their eneinies,----who, in scorn, sent them either a fiddler or a poet, I have forgotten which ; and so.jnuch I remember, that his conduct was such that they soon grew weary of him."