TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE USES OF THE L1JLL.
IT is quite a refreshment to live through a week in which there has, so far as we know, been not a single " extra-Parliamentary" oration, and even in Parliament nothing more than those mechanical self-repetitions of themselves by the Opposition inquisitors and orators which we might expect in the last days of an unusually tedious Session, when the deep-rooted habit of months compels them to spring to their feet to exercise for the last time that privilege of cavil from which for a quarter of a year to come they will be cut off. There is a real sense of rest in the blankness of the newspapers, in the substitution of chat for indignation in the leading articles, in the discus- sions about rabbit-farming, and poultry, and eggs, and fruit, which have succeeded to the discussions about Tipperary and East Galway and Mr. Justice Harrison, • and the Maltese marriages and the cession of Heligoland. .Rabbit-hutches and cottage-made butter touch one with a feeling of idyllic peacefulness after Irish dynamiters and Welsh fury against tithes ; and the wearied political mind begins to recover its sense of the true insignificance of insignificant things, and of just indifference to those numerous storms in a puddle by which, of late, political equanimity has been unduly disturbed. Still, the lull will do harm and not good if it simply results in a sort of wearied falling back into political apathy, and a reluctance to enter once more with energy and fresh- ness on the great issues of the day. A democracy that has allowed its chief political interests to leak away is about the most dangerous of powerful instruments. Like a boiler without water in it, it may get heated without any means of carrying off the heat, and then the first jet of political argument that touches it will cause a dangerous explosion. The very worst effect that the lull could produce would be to render the local leaders of political life torpid and indifferent. Energetio conviction, and eagerness to spread conviction, are of the very essence of healthy democratic politics, and we by no means desire to see the lull in poli- tical controversy extend till it becomes anything approach- ing to indifference to the political campaign which is so rapidly approaching. The lull would do harm and not good if it tended in any degree to empty politics of its higher interests, to make men careless as to the results of the next General Election, to abate the earnestness of their efforts to rouse the multitude to the vast import- ance of the decision which must now within a year, or at most two, be registered at the polls.
What, then, may the lull do for us ? In the first place, it may give us a glimpse of the forest of which we have lately seen nothing in consequence of the multitude of the trees. In the breathing-space it affords, we may be able to see how the many and monstrous exaggerations of the significance of the most trivial incidents have all furnished us with illustrations of that necessary tendency to magnify details which the disintegrating policy sets in motion. You cannot set before yourself the absolute duty of transforming a province into a nation, without, as an almost logical consequence, striving to magnify everything which goes on in a province till it assumes the proportions of a national crisis. Wales has swelled visibly before our eyes as a natural consequence of Ireland's having assumed such gigantic proportions. Even Scotland, in spite of its great inheritance of caution and sagacity, has begun to treat political infinitesimals as if they were finite quantities, and to discuss the pensions of policemen as if they were matters on which the fate of the Empire depends. The County Councils take up the same strain, and pose as if a tyrant were oppressing them, only because Parliament does not abandon all county questions to their absolute discretion. And if the District Councils contrive to come to the birth, we shall soon find the District Councils hectoring the County Councils, as the County Councils hector the House of Commons. The lull will enable us to see that there is a method in all this madness ;—that, as the frog swells him- self out, his native pond becomes to him an ocean, every islet in it a continent, and every reed on the banks a stately tree, while the adjacent country is more and more ignored, and the traffic of the external world is regarded with majestic indifference, as something which ought to accommodate itself to the needs of the lesser world within reach. As the din of political personalities ceases, we begin to see that the pettiness of the matters which have been the occasion of so much passion, is not accidental; that it has arisen logically enough from the moral necessity of making more than they deserve of provincial issues, and subordinating the welfare of the whole to the welfare of minute sections which are jealous of the whole.
In the next place, the lull will help us,—will help, we trust, both parties, and may help them equally,—to get rid as far as possible of all the rancour of personal bitterness before the eager contest begins again. Not that we would have that contest less eager, less vigorous, less of a. serious fight, but that we should like to see it purged as com- pletely of mere personal animosities and recriminatious. as any grand contest between political human beings ever can be. We are afraid that it is neither possible nor desirable to expunge the use of terms of moral reproach from our warfare. The Gladstonians must think,—we may almost say, ought to think, if they are to defend their position with any heart,—that there is real tyranny in refusing to let Ireland govern herself. The Unionists do think and ought to think, on the other hand,. that there is real disgrace in letting the Irish Unionists suffer under the cruel intimidation of the Irish Nationalists. We cannot water down the issue between the two parties to a mere matter of divergent judgment. The issue is really a moral issue, and we would not have it minimised. But we would have the leaders on both sides clear their minds as completely as they can of mere rancour, of that angry disposition to find original sin in everything which the enemy says and does, which is apt to spring up in men's minds after a long series of irritating en- counters, in which both sides have sometimes smarted from the alertness of their foe. During the fray, rancour is hardly to be altogether avoided by the majority of combatants. After the battle, rancour should and may be extinguished, while a deliberate fairness and candour might take its place.
Again, the lull is very favourable for the appreciation by both sides of the mistakes which they have themselves made, and for the resolve to avoid similar mistakes in future. The Ministerialists cannot deny that in the present state of the House of Commons they have attempted too much, and underrated the immense resisting power of the minority. The Opposition can scarcely deny that they have lost favour with the country by carping too much, and, inventing criticisms on the Government which have a very strong flavour of unreality,—such, for instance, as the celebrated attack on Lord Salisbury for doing by Bill what he might have done over the head of Parliament by the prerogative of the Crown. We believe that a, resolute concentration of purpose by both parties on the chief points of their differences, would not only bring the issue more distinctly before the people, but would also tend to improve their position with the people. It is a mistake to suppose that the English constituencies do not appreciate moderation in expression as well as tenacity in purpose. The Government would have gained and not lost, for instance, during the Parnell Commission controversy, if they had plainly regretted the unjust sus- picions to which the forged letters had subjected Mr. Parnell, and had made him a manly amende for the suffer- ing to which he had been subjected. And the Opposition would have gained and not lost if they had accepted candidly the effort of the Government to save the public: property in tithes, and had offered their hearty support to it, though of course with any qualifications as to the details of the Bill before the House which they may have thought proper to suggest. It is not true,—in England at least,—that it is the true policy of the Opposition to oppose, or of the Government to humble the Opposition. It is the true policy of the Opposition to oppose anything which it regards as injurious to its own principles, and to give a, hearty concurrence to what it approves. It is the true policy of the Government to give way to the Opposition wherever it can do so without a dereliction of principle. It is the duty of each party to stick firmly to its principles, but not to push those principles beyond their real and natural scope. If the lull allows both parties to review their own mistakes in a candid spirit, it will do a great deal more good, than if it only serves to enable them to heighten the passion and intensify the sensational character of the political crisis.