THE IRISHMEN ON PRIVILEGE.
IF the House had seen the moral advantage to be gained from the unusual incident of Monday night, the step taken by Mr. Sullivan in drawing attention to the unparliamentary language used by Mr. Lopes at Frome in September last, in describing the Irish party of Home-rulers, would have been more eagerly welcomed. It is always pleasant to find those who are least disposed to respect wise conventions appealing to the protection of those conventions. Hitherto, the Irish Members, especially in their " extra-Parliamentary " speeches, have not been the most fastidious and moderate of orators. It was one of the great leaders of the Irish party who signal- feed his attack on the Whigs a generation ago by calling them " the base, bloody, and brutal Whigs," and though Irish temperance of speech, like English temperance of speech, may have made some progress since that era, yet Mr. Gladstone and his Government were certainly not treated with any ten- derness or delicacy during the recent electoral campaign in that country. To have Irish Members earnestly advocating the respectful treatment of political opponents is therefore exceed- ingly encouraging ; and the House of Commons would have done well to regard Mr. Sullivan's appeal with all the more favour, that, at all events, it gave a pledge for the future in the very fact of asking reparation for the past. And for this purpose it was all the better that Mr. Lopes, whose language at Frome was the breach of privilege complained of, was by no means as extravagant as in after-dinner party meetings party language is often apt to be. If it is to be deliberately decided that it is censurable to assert that " the Liberals were allied with a disreputable Irish band whose watchword is ' Home-rule and Repeal of the Union," Mr. Sullivan and his Irish colleagues must be very careful in- deed during the next recess they spend in Ireland what they stay of the parties who oppose Home-rule and Repeal of the Union. At present, indeed, Mr. Sullivan himself seems to be in no danger of indulging in harsh criticism on the Tory party. He is almost as skilful as Sir William Harcourt in praising Mr. Dis- raeli at the expense, and by the help of hardly covert, depreciation
of, Mr. Gladstone. Mr. Sullivan evidently held the imputation of alliance with the Liberal party' to be Mr. Lopes's worst thrust at the Home-rulers. He was full of admiration for Mr. Disraeli's fidelity to his party through a long period of adver- sity, a characteristic over which he thought it quite justifiable for the Tories to "crow lustily," at a time when Mr. Gladstone had left his post at the head of the Liberals. Mr. Disraeli, said Mr. Sullivan, "did not desert his party when it was in sorer straits
n the Liberal party was at the present time." He thought the c ,es might well be proud' of their leader. Nay, not only the 14es, the whole House might be proud of him. " The right honourable gentleman, throughout his career as a statesman, had shown a warm interest in whatever concerned the honour and dignity of that House, which had been the cradle of his ambi- tion and the theatre of his fame,"—a sentence which must surely have made Mr. Disraeli ponder whether he might not hope for a vacancy among the Junior Lordships of the Treasury to offer to Mr. Sullivan. At present, therefore, there is clearly no immediate danger of Mr. Sullivan's committing a breach of privilege by any unmeasured denunciation of the Government. If " breaches of privilege " could be committed by the abuse of panegyric, by the utterance of unmeasured praise which seemed to amount to adulation, there might be some fear for Mr. Sullivan. But, as matters stand, there is hardly any immediate chance of Mr. Sullivan feel- ing himself hampered by his own canons of criticism, or being compelled to withhold expressions in his addresses to his constituents at Louth which would be artistically needful to fill up the measure of his eloquent denunciations of English government. Still we all know that the very men who are most disposed at one time to find unexampled virtues in the heads of Administrations are most apt at other times to find unexampled iniquities in the same Ministers. Hope is always optimist in its view ; disappointment always pessimist. The time may come, and come soon, when it will be convenient to remind Mr. Sullivan and others of the Home-rulers that it is not competent to them, without incurring the penalties of a breach of privilege, to speak of any section of the House of Commons even as "disreputable," and still less of course to in- dulge in any stronger language. It seems to us that that is really a great point gained for Parliament, and especially for Irish Members. If by condemning rash persons like Sir J. D. Astley, Mr. Lopes, and Mr. Hall, who have used improper language con- cerning the Irish Members, we can but induce the Irish Members themselves to copy the reticence of the Psalmist, who resolved to take heed to his ways, that he might offend not with his tongue,' and to keep his mouth as it were with a bridle while the un- godly was in his sight: we should have to boast of no little achievement. The pruning of Mr. Sullivan's own words, during his campaign against Lord Carlingford in Louth, would, we imagine, have been most desirable, not only for the sake of the electors of Louth, but for the sake of his own reputation. It was he, we, remember, who told the supporters of Mr. Chichester Fortescue that the people of Louth would "hunt him from the county," and that "if there is a man in Louth who believes he ought to wear chains on his hands and rings in his ears," he and he alone should " go over to Fortescue." An orator who spoke after that fashion of a leading supporter, if not the author, of the Irish Land Bill, should practise reticence before he preaches it. Indeed, such reticence would answer a double purpose for the Irish Members generally. A great writer has told us. that to prune the words which in us " press and throng," is the best way to condense the thoughts and feelings they express into firm and prudent resolve. If we might be permitted to offer a suggestion to the Irish patriots,—that is the sort of process which we should gladly see going on in their breasts. Their language is too apt to be stronger than their purpose, their rhetoric more "glowing," as Mr. Disraeli called Mr. Sullivan's, than their prin- ciples. Certainly every opportunity should be eagerly welcomed of doing everything to promote this very de- sirable condensation of verbose rhetoric into strong practical resolve. And in order to bring home to Irish Members their own responsibilities in this way, hardly any better means than an appeal by them to Parliament to censure such comparatively mild excesses of speech as that of Mr. Lopes could be desired. At the same time, we think some one should have pointed out to Mr. Sullivan that it is a little in- 46nsistent, not to say discreditable, to be so very fastidious as to the violence of language, and apparently so lenient as to violence of deed. It is now clear that Sir J. D. Astley was not threatened into withdrawing the language he had used about a "pack of rascals " among the Irish Members,—it is clear that he
withdrew the language without receiving any threat, because he himself saw that it was improper, unjustifiable, and wrong. But so far as Mr. Sullivan's account of the matter went, one would have supposed that that orator did not disapprove at all of the bit of bullying braggadocio in the way of a challenge of which he gave the rather mythical history,—for we are bound to say that he appears to have exaggerated the bullying in question, since in the letters reproduced by Sir J. D. Astley there does not appear to have been any trace of a challenge. Still, Mr. Sullivan described, whether truly or erroneously, a somewhat coarse challenge, and described it without a hint of disapprobation,—indeed, as if he would not have disapproved a crime committed to avenge a folly. That is a somewhat Irish mode of enforcing reticence, somewhat like justifying a burglary to remedy a theft. We look back, therefore, to Monday's debate with more satis- faction in relation to its possible results in moderating Irish vituperation, than to any effect it is likely to have in England. But we do not on that account deny that Mr. Disraeli is quite right in referring to the " conventional " excesses of speech at party banquets during the recess with something of reproof. Perhaps if he himself had not set the example of accusing his opponents of a policy of " plunder," there would be more Members anxious to obey his precept. Where Mr. Disraeli leads the way, Sir J. D. Astley, Mr. Hall, and Mr. Lopes may fairly be expected to follow. Nor do we think that they have much surpassed their leader in the strength of their language of invec- tive. The worst of this language is that directly it once becomes evident, as Mr. Disraeli obviously sees it to be evident, that the language of political invective is used in a purely conventional sense, and not in the sense which the words convey when used in relation to any but political subjects, strong language not only loses the power to excite strong feeling, but it introduces a sense of insincerity into the whole life of political discussion, and thereby attenuates the significance of language which is really sober and pertinent. For our own parts, we think it very unfortunate that English Members should persist in describing Irish Members by contemptuous terms which not merely raise a feeling of animosity between two great sections of the Legislature, but greatly diminish the effect of serious English criticism on Irish politicians. When Irish Members are told, as Mr. Hall (M.P. for Oxford) seems to have told some of them, that they are not " fit " to be members of a British Parliament, or when Conservative Members call them a " dis- reputable band," and a pack of "scoundrels," it is simply im- possible, even after these expressions are withdrawn, that they can attach any importance to the opinions of the class who utter them. Men are not so humble-minded as to respect the opinions of persons who thoroughly despise them. Indeed, if they believe, as the Irish Members, of course, do believe, that these expressions show a gross and almost crass prejudice, it is a matter of course that they will attribute the opinions of the same persons on a subject like Home-rule not to any political sagacity, but to gross and crass prejudice likewise. If we wish our opinions to weigh with others, we do not begin by giving evidence that we are the victims of a violent prepossession, but by showing that we are capable of understanding their ideas. We cannot say that it is possible at present for either the English or the Irish Members to have great faith in the rationality of their fellow-legislators on the subjects at issue between the two countries. The Irish Press and the Irish agitators habitually use language concerning English selfishness and obstinacy which quite equals the outbreak of Sir J. D. Astley, without being so fairly and candidly withdrawn; while the English Members and the English Press delight in using a scornful and taunting tone towards Irish aims, and the mode Irishmen take of attaining them, which, as addressed to the representatives of a weaker State, is perhaps even more irritating. If Mr. Sulli- van's speech should prove the beginning of a little self-control and reticence on both sides (which, as far as Mr. Sullivan him- self is concerned, we should be glad to see extended to his rather lavish praise, as well as to his coarse censure),—if Irish- men would abstain a little from trailing their coats and from brandishing their shillelaghs, and if Englishmen would throw a little less of bumptious insularity and arrogance into their after- dinner talk, it is just possible that we might in time come to understand each other rather better. Both English and Irish Members might perhaps discover by a little practical experi- ence that respect for others, so far from being inconsistent with self-respect, is apt to increase it. It is those who habitually ignore the claims of others who are generally the most suscep- tible and sensitive as to their own.