TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE DIVISION OF COUNTIES, AND " THE TIMES" NEWSPAPER.
WE are not the only part of the reading and writing public which the very unexpected stand made by the Times on the County
Division clause of the Reform Bill has surprised. It has been noticed by most of our London contemporaries ; it has been ad- verted to in Parliament ; it has been discussed out of Parliament.
It is thus taken out of the rule on which we ordinarily act, of de-
clining, as unprofitable, all mere newspaper controversy. The importance of the clause—the importance of the journal which has pronounced so decided a judgment on it—but above all, the pos- sible consequences of a continued endeavour to provoke agitation,
not only among members, but in the country generally, to the ul- timate success of the Bill—call for deliberate notice.
The first feeling which naturally arises on a view of the case as put by the Times, is one of wonder at the very extraordinary apathy with which the division of counties has been hitherto viewed by the Reformers. It is no new feature in the Bill. In the draught which was published in March, the counties to be divided appear in the same order and number as in that which was pub- lished the other day. The public officers by whom the division is to be made differ; but the division, the manner of it, and the pow- ers of the Commissioners, are the same, and are set forth in nearly the same words. We think we may claim for ourselves the exer- cise of considerable vigilance, and the devotion of no small labour to this great work ; and we believe our zeal will be questioned by none. But we must confess it is not in our pages that any notice will be found of the formidable nature of the division clause. Our watchword—" the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill" —was never meant to be understood, nor do we believe it ever was understood, as comprehending more than the disfranchising and enfranchising and the qualification clauses. These, and in a more especial degree the first and second, we have ever held to be of the very essence of the measure. Neither can it be affirmed that the Relbrmers at large have been more alive to the importance of the clause than we. Among all the pledges given and taken during the late election struggle, we do not know that there is one which has the slightest connexion with the division of counties.
Our readers may recollect the case of the Warwick election, and the catechising to which Sir GREY SKIPWITH was subjected by Mr. PARKES. No one will accuse Mr. PARKES of not knowing the Bill in all its bearings, or doubt his perfect capacity to esti- mate its merits and its defects. That gentleman has been much engaged in election business ; he is an inhabitant of the busy town of Birmingham, where that great Society was first planned and formed, which has more than any other association contributed to excite and keep alive and carry forward Political Reform; be was a freeholder of Warwick, one of the counties proposed to be divided, and thus personally interested in the clause ; yet not a hint of its importance escaped him on that memorable occasion when he pressed his questions on Sir GREY, with a close- ness which even his friends thought savoured of pertinacity. His "whole Bill," like ours, was the disfranchising and enfranchising clauses, and the qualification. But we have a greater witness than either the Spectator or Mr. PARKES, in the Times himself. Did he say one word upon the subject when the Bill was put into his hand? Did he press upon voters its mightiest importance when Parliament was dissolved? Did he ever, even by a hint or suggestion, give the public reason to suspect its importance, before last Wednesday ? He refers, in- deed, generally to observations made in the first seven days of July, and specifically to certain expressions contained in an article which appeared on the 26th July. But, in the first place, when readers are referred, in explanation of a very strong line of argument taken up within eight days, to certain indefinite remarks made three weeks ago, they will naturally think, that if the clause had been condemned as hotly then as it is now, its condemnation would still have been of the latest. Why, they will ask, was not this part of the Bill pointed out and dwelt upon three months ago ? You have allowed Ministers to settle down upon it; you have al- lowed the country to do the same ; why did not you warn both, long before either Schedule A or Schedule B was in discussion? If this were a mere case of newspaper consistency, we would not be at the trouble of discussing it. If the only object to be gained were an exposure of the Times—which is farthest from our thoughts—we would leave it to the enemies of the Times, among whom we assuredly do not rank ourselves. But our charge against that journal is not the silly every-day cavil that it talks differently at different times, on one of the many topics to which the atten- tion of a daily political writer is necessarily directed,—a charge from which no public writer is free. Our accusation is more grave. We accuse the Times—if there be any value in its argu- ments, which we shall by and by consider—of concealing most important truths from the Reformers of England. If it be right to speak out now; it ought to have spoken out at a much earlier pe- riod ; if its early silence was justifiable, itpresent clamour is not justifiable.
On the 1st July, there is a notice in the Times of a proposi- tion by Mr. STRICKLAND, and of one by MT. PAGET, connected With the division clauses. Both of these propositions have been Withdrawn. What does the Times say of them ? An oracle could not express itself more guardedly. "We ourselves wish to deliver no opinion on the subject, but we think that the suggestion deserves mature consideration." This, be it recollected, was writ- ten not while Schedule A or Schedule B was under discussion, but three days before the second reading. The Times sneered at a contemporary, the other day, for professing his inability to un- derstand the reasons of the Times' conduct ; but surely he did not expect, from these inexpressive generalisms, that any human being was to infer his present hostility to the division clause, or, from the statement that he wished to deliver no opinion, that he enter- tained an opinion so very decided as he now advocates.
The notice above cited is the only one which occurs in the first seven days of July. But though we find nothing in the first seven or in the first twenty days of July which would have led us to an- ticipate the strong remonstrances in which the Times has indulged since the 1 1 th of August, there are abundance of indications of an op- posite kind. The sources whence the aristocracy may derive comfort under the alterations in the Bill are carefully pointed out early in July. A letter from a certain M. N., dated 12th July, complains of the disfranchisement of freeholders of towns ; which, had it been persisted in, must have gone to aggravate the mischiefs which the- Times conjures up, for it greatly narrowed the independent con- stituency. Yet, of this writer the Times observes, " We cannot say we concur in his reasoning, or in the view which he takes of the question." Again, on the 19th July, in an article strongly deprecating delay, the " matter" of the Bill is set forth as that to which the attention of its friends should alone be directed, and what is the matter ? It is defined to be—" the setting at rest the facts on which the right of representation is to be taken away or awarded in the case of each district or borough." This is not very clear, but by no torture can it be made to include the division of counties ; that is, none of the " facts on which members are taken away or awarded."
Then comes the passage, in an article ofJuly 26th, which has been quoted by the Times in triumphant vindication of its con- sistency.
" Numberless propositions have been made to us, with regard to those portions of the Reform Bill which may be termed the reconstructing. clauses ; and they will, doubtless, be well worth considering at the proper time : but, first of all, we must witness the admini4ration of a complete quietus to Schedules A and B. Let not the country think of any secondary objects until after the complete demolition of the enemy's force : the import- ant questions of county di visions, qualifications, and so forth, will then, claim, and obtain their hearing."
Now, had the recent argument of the Times been taken up at the beginning, and only dropped while the Schedules were under- discussion, or had it even been taken up the moment they were disposed of, there might have been sonic force in the inference- which is drawn from these expressions ; but then, the first obscure notices of its purposes would have long preceded the first seven days of July, and its attempts at fulfilling them would have be- gun. on the 3rd August, not on the 11th. But we deny that in the expressions above given there is the slightest indication of any such purpose as it is now said was entertained ; and we deny this, not on any doubtful interpretation of the words themselves, but on the authority of the words that follow. The Times does not quote,. and therefore we must quote, the close of the article as well as its beginning. The close runs thus : " Above all things, let us be- seech the real friends of the Bill not to split with each other upon any part of it, or upon any question arising out of it. Leave every thing to Ministers, and let them be responsible for every thing." There is no reservation here, and the language is as- decided as it is unreserved.
But there are remarks still more recent than these, which are directly calculated to blind the public to the long-cherished opi- nions of our contemporary in respect of this clause. It was no further gone than the 8th of the present month, Monday sennight, that he was remarking with wonder on the pertinacity with which
the Anti-Reformers sttchled for ancient landmarks. Could any have imagined, after this, to hear from himself a pathetic ap- peal against the disturbance of ancient landmarks, and an eloquent commentary on the aphorism, Stare super antiquas vias The same -article contains matter yet stronger. " Some of the most important clauses," it proceeds, "have now received the sanction of the Committee." What were the important clauses that remained, it might be asked ; and to this a distinct answer is given. "After a debate on the 10/. qualification, which has been already sufficiently discussed, the remaining provisions of the measure need not occupy much time, as they consist chiefly of regulations, or modes of executing the provisions and objects previously agreed to." Now, will the Times tell us, the electors. of England, that after such expressions as these, we ought to have been prepared, within three days, to find one of those pro- visions "which needed not to occupy much time"—which was merely "a regulation or mode of executing provisions previously agreed to"—designated as "very objectionable," and one "that ought not to be persevered in ?" that if persevered in, "it would be quite as well, perhaps better, for the people of England to have twenty-five rotten boroughs restored from Schedule A ?" that it was, "beyond comparison, more pernicious than the rotten bo- roughs?" above all things, were we prepared to be told that the Times "had more than once expressed his disapprobation of the clause ?" Does our contemporary nod ? or is it only we who dream?