24 JULY 1869, Page 13



SIR, —Permit me to offer you my sincere thanks for daring to hint that the "grate" question is, after all, nothing more than a flirt- ing question. Now, flirting is all very well in its proper place, notwithstanding the vulgarity of the word and thing, for no man of any real refinement or distinction ever flirts, however openly and sincerely he may show by his respect, attention, and conver- sation the pleasure and delight he feels in the society of the women in whose society he may happen to be.

But, conceding the privilege of vulgarity to "flirt," I venture with all respect to submit that the Lobby of the House of Commons is not the place for its disp]ay,—Mr.Layard and the " puppies" of the House of Commons notwithstanding.

Allow me to cite a case in point. Two or three weeks ago, after waiting I may say months, I at last succeeded in getting my wife's name down for the honour of sitting behind the notorious grate. It was the first time she bad ever attended a debate in the House of Commons. The night was a good one. The subject interested her deeply. Most of the leading members spoke. She knew them nearly all by sight. She understood everything that was going on (so far as she was permitted to hear it), and her enjoyment would have been perfect but for one circumstance. The lobby had in fact, in your own words, been converted into a "flirting lobby." One of the—I am happy to say—not very numerous puppies of the House of Commons had introduced two empty-headed and noisy girls into the lobby, for the purpose of flirting with them, and there he sat, with brief intervals, literally the whole night of the debate. Two other girls were walking up and down at the back of the lobby, talking aloud with perfect unconcern, and a group of four persons 'also talking at the top of their voices in a further corner. If my wife leant back in her chair, the loud and empty twaddle of this empty and vulgar party prevented her from hearing a single word of the debate. In order to hear at all, she was compelled to sit forward, with her face in the grating, to her great discomfort and fatigue. What would otherwise have been a delight- ful evening, long to be remembered, was turned into a prolonged drudgery. I assure you, Sir, there is not one word of exaggeration in what I say ; and if I appear to you to be writing with some warmth, I am at no pains to conceal my utter contempt and indignation at the way in which this question is treated. There are hundreds, I may say, within the mark, thousands, of women in London who, without being in any sense political blue-stockings or possessed with any rights-of-woman crotchets, are nevertheless sufficiently cicilized to take a real and sincere interest in great national questions. Can anything be more respectable, can anything be more laudable, amiable, and welcome, than that such persons should be enabled to attend the debates of the House of Commons, with some moderate degree of facility, dignity, and comfort, and under circumstances which would protect them from the impertinent vulgarity of those who move heaven and earth to be taken to the lobby of the House of Commons by a Member of Parliament, yet when there, who have neither the decency nor the wit to be silent?

The truth is, and it is nothing wonderful, that those who really would appreciate a debate in the 1-louse of Commons are elbowed out of the way by the froth of the London matrimonial market, mothers and girls without education, without knowledge, without ideas, without principles, except of the most copy-book description, whose life is spent in riding up and down Rotten Row during the day, and crowding reeking routs during the night, and the men who abet them are those who virtually seem to think that the nearer woman's wits are kept at harem-point, the nearer society is likely to run at epicurean-level. To my mind there is something revolting in the fact that out of all the mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters of 658 Members of the House of Commons, barely a couple of dozen can attend at a time, penned behind a grate like Turkish women, practically to bear nothing, while in the House of Lords probably two-thirds of all the peeresses, if not all, could and can attend any debate in perfect comfort and publicity. —