21 NOVEMBER 1885, Page 4



THE Parliament of 1880 died on Wednesday ; but its epitaph cannot be written, for no man knows, or thinks he knows, exactly what it did. It will live in history on account of two enterprises rather than acts, and the enterprises have still to produce the results by which they will be judged. It was a bold Parliament, and it did two bold, not to say daring, things. It made a determined effort to settle the Irish agrarian question by what was really a revolution in tenure, the sub- stitution of a "Law of the Maximum " as regards rent for the ancient law of free contract ; and it transferred the control of the State from the middle and artisan classes to the body of the people. It did not, indeed, establish manhood suffrage in words, but it did in reality, for while five men in every seven received votes, the other two have only to take up the most ordinary responsibilities of citizen- ship in order to obtain them. The effect of the first change we do not know, for while it soothed the discontent, it increased the land-hunger of the Irish peasant ; and the effect of the second we cannot know, for it has not 4,egun to operate. It will begin to operate on Monday, when the first election will be taken ; and the result, as it gradually unfolds itself through the following fortnight, will be watched with a passion of interest unequalled in our time. Mr. Talbot, of Margam, or even Mr. Gladstone, may remember a similar con- dition of dismayed or exultant anticipation ; but for most men, even of mature years, the grand Election of 1832, when the middle class took up the burden of State, which for half a century it carried so bravely and on the whole so unselfishly—nothing in history has been finer, for example, than its fiscal policy—is but a long-past incident in the annals of the Kingdom. All eyes, therefore, are fixed on the coming struggle ; and unless we greatly mistake the signs around us, perhaps a majority of the reflective, certainly a majority of those who are at once reflective and fairly well-off, look forward to the result with a certain amount of inner trepida- tion. Whether they accept or whether they reject the central idea of Democracy—and thousands of Englishmen accept it as true, without a spark of enthusiasm for what they regard as the hard truth—they watch with a sense of fear to see what Demos, the new Sovereign, be he legitimate monarch or not„. will do with his new power.

Nor is this fear, though we believe it to be unfounded, in the least degree " ridiculous," as so many papers are asserting. Every plunge into the unknown ought to have something terrible in it to politicians, and while nothing is so unknown as a people, no people is more unknowable than the English. Conservative to the core on subjects, they of all peoples effect the largest changes most quietly, making revolutions by formal Bills, and destroying institutions by resolution ; and they, the most staid of all the nations, are of all the most liable to be swept by momentary gusts of emotion. Their situation is as separate as themselves. Alone among mankind, the English masses now possessing all power possess no fixed property, dwell in houses which are not their own, till the land of other men, and, though a race of money-makers and traders, do not possess any strong instinct of thrift. Deeply impressed with the notion of property, they alone override it out of pity for the poor ; and intensely in- dividual, they trample on individuality when the public is, or fancies itself, upon the other side. Only in England has the poor man a legal right to maintenance, and in England the one thing that instantly breeds a riot is a rich man's in- terference with a right of way. It is only natural that the well-to-do, aware of these contradictions, aware, too, that leading Radicals are appealing both to the pas- sion of pity and to the thirst for comfort, doubting whether they quite know the people, and questioning whether history is not broken when suffrages are made so wide, should look forward to the future with something of the dismay which best expresses itself in the sentence,—" Sup- pose it should be a levelling Parliament." Suppose the people regard institutions or even property-rights as barriers flung up across a right of way. That feeling, which has a solid founda- tion in this, that the conditions are unknown, is deepened by the personal distrust which, rightly or wrongly, the more moderate Liberals feel towards the leader of the Liberal Left, who, they say, is still an unknown quantity, and by the genuine fear—born, like the rest, of fear of the un- known—lest the mass-vote should prove to be hostile

to the Establishment. It is foolish to call a fear of that kind, which affects the future of an ancient Church, and directly touches in one way or the other the deepest senti- ments of every man in the Kingdom, ridiculous. It is the most justifiable, as well as natural, fear in the world, and makes it the duty, as well as the predisposition, of every man who entertains it, to watch the outturn of these elections as he never watched before. The Church will not be touched by this. Parliament ; but this Parliament will tell us all much of the feeling of the new Sovereign, and it is on his feeling, as well as on his orders, that all must ultimately depend. So far from thinking apprehension unreasonable, we do not see how any man who understands the enormous results at stake—results inferior only to the independence of the nation— can watch these Elections without something• of the feeling that so many Radicals decry. If the majority is small, Mr. Parnell holds the balance of power in the Empire. If the Radical majority is immense, Mr. Chamberlain, with his new- ideas, must be the leading figure in politics. If the new Mem- bers are disestablishers, the work of defending the Church may become all-absorbing. Surely these issues are important enough to excuse a little quaking. One may be very certain of British-strength and British valour, and yet anxiously scan the record of a battle for evidence of the behaviour of new recruits.

Nevertheless, as we have said, we do not ourselves entertain these fears. That the new Parliament will do some strong things, and it may be strong things we shall dislike, is very probable ; but we do not believe it will cause a break in the stream of history. The Parliament of 1832 did not, though it was elected after a far more violent revolution, and was exposed to indefinitely greater temptations. It never touched property ; it attacked no rightful vested interest ; it did not even expel the Bishops, just then the most detested men in the country, from the House of Lords. It went about its work, and this Parliament will go about its work, and find in work a cure for any "headiness " of ideas with which it may be cursed. To an immense extent,. it will be compelled to trust old leaders, whose experience will rapidly modify the over-eager aspirations of the new men. They will find, like all other Englishmen, that big things are difficult to do ; that to realise an Address is like realising the theory of a life,—a work of time, of patience, and of slow modifications in the theory ; and that the obstacles to be over- come are endless. In this very Parliament the first man who rushes forward will stumble over the Irish wire across the door- way, and find that unless he will face the dull, dreary, and dangerous work of a thorough reform of Procedure, he cannot in any direction advance one step. Inside the question of Procedure lies the question of Ireland, and Ireland soon makes of Radicals statesmen only too Conservative. So far from dim questions like Disestablishment coming up, the House of Commons will be fortunate if it gets to County Government, or has well begun the enfranchisement of the land, before the end of the Session. Half the momentum, if that is what is feared, will be over before Procedure is reformed, and weary legislators have settled to their constructive work, by which time their leaders will have learned much,—the difficulty of governing at all for one thing, the necessity in a campaign of keeping officers- in heart as well as men, the impossibility of winning battles by proclamations. English legislation is work, and hard work ; and when men settle to work, it is only on rare occasions that they are revolutionary. The mere brigading of the new men, the mere effort to change them from a formless crowd into officered regiments, will pro- duce a hundred compromises, and reveal much more than a hundred, probably three hundred, separate degrees of enthu- siasm. When the obligation to keep step is imperative, it is not the longest legs which can or do settle the marching pace. The new men, too, are Englishmen, and they will neither abolish the Ten Commandments, nor break with ancient precedents, nor be content- to leave all judicious men standing aghast and angry at their rapid rush. The new House of Commons, conscious of irresistible force and unim- pregnable moral right, may be harsh with opposition from outside, but, unopposed, it will, we may be sure, march quietly forward along the ancient ways.

For the motive-power will wish that. There, after all, lies the real security. There never has been in history a people so nearly homogeneous as the British, so com- pletely realising what Mr. Gladstone meant in his cele- brated saying,—" They are our own flesh and blood." The differences of condition are infinite, but the differ-

enees of aspiration are few. The whole people desire dignity in the world, but do not care to get it by oppression. They all seek material happiness, but do not feel it is happi- ness if it is obtained by stealing. They all want to be free, bat not to be free of the law, which they all take to be a pro- tenting, and not a hostile, influence. They may not have fixed property ; but they all wish to have it, and do not want to see its possession made worthless before it has come to them. They are of a hundred Churches ; but they are all either a little religious, or imbued with a feeling that they like their neighbours to be so. The bricklayer who drank all Sunday, but defended his vote against opening Museums by the statement that he was a respectable man, and that he should " vote for God having his rights, like anybody else," was the very embodiment of one side of the British character. The bulk of the British people will no more legislate against property, or against the average conception of right and wrong, than will their kinsfolk in Massachusetts, in Toronto, or in Melbourne, or than they have voted here at home. The masses have always had all power in their hands. There has never been a moment when they could not have upset everything, have refused taxes, repudiated rent, or redivided the land, and they have not even cried out for the doing of those things. Is it because their power has been regulated, and formalised, and moderated, that they are suddenly to break all the traditions of their lives, and turn their orderly kingdom into a bear- garden, where force alone is to be safe ? We believe none of it, believe that if every Member were a Liberal to-morrow Englishmen would remain what they are,—a multitude of ordinary persons seeking ordinary things in an ordinary way, with a faint desire for more light, and a fixed intention of doing only things defensible before the bar of a fairly enlightened conscience. That is a wide limit of action, no doubt ; but it does not include the kind of legislation about which many excellent people are just now very naturally, but rather unreasonably, distressing themselves.