THE MEN OF THE DEBATE. E VERY great debate is a
fresh test of Parliamentary ability and statesmanship ;—it develops the heat by which some of the invisible lines of political character are brought out, and by which the always changing opinion which Parliament forms of its own elements is reconstructed. The debate on the Irish University Bill has of course more especially sifted the claims of the more highly cultivated and academical class of minds to Par- liamentary respect. The question was one on which a few re- spectable borough members like Mr. Pim, the Member for Dub- lin, felt themselves called upon to express their opinions; but the chief part in the debate was very naturally sustained by Oxford, Cambridge, Trinity College, Dublin, and other University men who had long formed careful opinions on the true aim and policy of University education. We are not aware that, with one or two exceptions, it brought any new reputation into prominence. In some respects, a University debate, even when, as in this case, the existence of a Government is known to depend upon it, is not one of the most favourable kind for stimulating men to their highest efforts. Parliament is apt to be languid when the constituencies are languid. Except on the points of concurrent endowment and jealousy of Papal interference and priestly authority, the constituencies of Eng- land and Scotland did not really care anything for the question of Irish education. The former question,—concurrent endow- ment,—was not really raised ; for though the Irish Members pleaded for it, the Government declined to offer it, and the Tories abjured it as a policy that was dead and buried. The whole of the animation of the debate, therefore, was due to the thrusts and parries of the anti-sacerdotalists and the Roman Catholic denominationalists ; and even so, it was obvi- ous enough that the House was not deeply interested in the merits of the struggle, but only in its political issue. This may in some measure account for the rather slender amount of new political force which so great a debate, resulting in the defeat of the Government, elicited. The real test of statesman- ship on such a question as this, was the amount of practical judgment, as distinguished from rhetorical skill, exhibited by the academic critics and advocates of the Bill,—the power to resist the temptation of making a telling point where that telling point was likely to mislead the House ; and we cannot say, on the whole, that there were many men amongst the abler speakers who stood the test. One or two there were.
Lord Edmund Fitzmaurice, whose promise for clearness and effectiveness as a speaker was already well estab- lished, was certainly not one of these. His speech was clever and incisive, but as a test of political judgment and sagacity it was the reverse of reassuring. He was, as Mr. Gladstone intimated in his closing speech, somewhat flippant at his leader's expense,—which in itself, for a Liberal critic of the Bill, showed bad judgment ; like Mr. Fawcett, he made the most of the gagging clauses, putting out of consideration altogether the critical word " wilfully," which governs their whole mean- ing; and he interpreted the clause as to the candidates' right to prefer any theory they pleased of the facts on which they were examined, in a fashion which he well knew it would not bear, and quite ignored the fact that every fair University in the United Kingdom practically does, and must, govern its estimate of the papers of candidates by some such principle. In short, Lord Edmund, who is of course quite young enough to mend
lin this respect, showed that he is as yet only a clever young man, who cares less for a sound political judgment than for a display of oratorical point. Mr. Lewis, the new Orange Member for Londonderry, showed a certain astuteness and skill in his opposition to the Bill which may make him a useful member of the Conservative party, but his speech contained no indication of the higher calibre of political ability. Mr. Fawcett displayed more than his usual heat and force, but even less than his usual amount of calm ness and judgment. His speech was a speech of fierce partisanship and of a certain academical narrowness, and while it will add to the impression of his Parliamentary force, will diminish the estimate of his Parliamentary sagacity, and almost destroy any hope that may have been enter- tained of his capacity for intellectual magnanimity. The Marquis of Hartington rivetted more firmly than ever the impression that., whatever his political power may be, he cannot speak much better than the great Lord Castlereagh ; while Sir M. Hicks-Beach undoubtedly raised the estimate, already high, which the Conservatives have formed of his ability, by his skilful history of the negotiations in 1866 as to the Supplemental Charter, and his suggestion,—tenable enough at that period of the debate,—that the Roman Catholic Bishops were playing a deep game, and not opposing the Bill in earnest. Sir Michael Hicks-Beach is unquestionably one of the rising statesmen of the Conservative party. He has youth, energy, and a fine political scent ; he is practical, clear, and can yet be insidious. Whatever may be his power, as yet unproved, as a colleague and an advocate, he is a dangerous opponent and a strong man. He was for a short time a subordinate member of the Tory Administration of 1867-8, but not being by any means an orator, his power was hardly perceived at that time as it has been perceived since. He is a growing politician.
Of Mr. Horsman, whose speech was certainly, on the whole, the most prominent feature of the debate, there is very little fresh to say. He is one of the characterless orators of Parlia- ment, a first-rate speaker whose individuality is not strong, a man whose sayings produce their effect not by what they represent in himself, but by their skilful adaptation for disturbance,—a speaker who, like a boy with a cask of gun- powder, wields a weapon far more dangerous than him- self. In strong contrast to Mr. Horsman's mischievous deliverance, the one remarkable political force on the Liberal side developed by the debate, was that indicated in the speech of Dr. Lyon Playfair. He has been long known as a very able man, but it was not till last week that he had made a speech of the first class, and of the first class even more for its force of character than for its force of oratory. As a speech it was able enough, but more able as a gauge of statesmanship,—moderate where there was a strong temp- tation to want of moderation,—impartial where there was great motive for partiality, —restrained where there was room for passion,—comprehensive in its survey where there were
plenty of traps for detailed criticism and baits for plausible invective. No speech in the whole debate put the considera- tions against the Bill with half the fairness or half the force.
And the manner of the speaker was strong, earnest and sustained, though without anything that could exactly be called fire,—conveying the impression of a mind really at work, an intellect really reasoning with the House, not indulging in any personal feat of eloquence or display. We are much mis- taken if Dr. Lyon Playfair, though not as young as might be wished for a Ministerial career,—he is, however, only 54,— does not in time prove himself to be a considerable Liberal Minister, if he chooses that career, as well as a very impres- sive Parliamentary speaker.
Of the other leading figures of the debate there is little new to be said, for they are mostly figures whose political powers have been already amply gauged. Mr. Vernon Harcourt did not surpass himself. He was as usual clever, as usual pompous, more than usually prudent, and perhaps more than usually dangerous. Dr. Ball was himself in his somewhat fitful delivery,—sometimes shouting and sometimes whispering,—in his clever hits, his powerful brogue, his advocate's eloquence, indeed in everything, ex- cept his air of deference to the Prime Minister, which, con- sidering the strength of his opposition to the Bill, was notable enough. Mr. Bernal Osborne was, as usual, jocose, but, as an Irish Member, was more than usually instructive ; for Mr. Osborne had to put himself into an attitude of mind not quite natural to him, and the effort improved his speech. Mr. Cardwell was, as usual, too smooth and conciliatory, giving an effect of concession even to weakness which lost the Government several Irish votes. Mr. Bouverie was Mr. Horsman over again, with somewhat less of the orator and somewhat more of the candid Whig friend. And the two great leaders were what they usually are,—Mr. Disraeli amusing and not at all in earnest ; Mr. Gladstone very eloquent and very happy in his gentle castigations of the Liberal deserters. Of the Irish Members, by far the most instructive speakers were Sir R. Blennerhassett, Mr. O'Reilly, and Sir D. Corrigan. The Member for Galway showed unusual courage in supporting the Bill against the anger of the Irish Bishops, and his lore on the subject of European Universities, together with his happy humour, gave very great interest to his general defence of the Government proposal. Mr. O'Reilly delivered an exposition of the state of learning in the Queen's University, which, if it prove to be accurate, as we believe it is, will not soon be forgotten either in Ireland or in this country ; and Sir D. Corrigan made a moderate speech in very pleasing style. On the whole, how- ever, the debate did not elicit by any means as much new political force as such debates usually do. Dr. Lyon Playfair is the only comparatively new political figure who comes out of it in strong relief with high promise of statesmanship.