TOPICS OF THE DAY.
STRIFE AND PEACE.
THEHouse of Lords is getting quite an adept in the sensa- tion drama. On Tuesday night the curtain fell on a most stormy and exciting scene. It seemed to everybody that their Lordships were about to be logical, and act in real con-
sistency with the strong language which they have been using for months past in relation to the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Irish Church. When the curtain fell, the attitudes of various noble Lords was in the highest degree dramatic. There, in the foreground, was the tall dark figure of the Marquis of Salisbury, shaking the finger of scorn in the most contemptuous fashion at the Prime Minister, attributing all the mischief to the perverse disposi- tion of his one "arrogant will," and giving grating utterance as he did so, to the scoff, "In the labyrinth of that mind I am lost." In the background, on the same side, was the austerely rebuking figure of Earl Grey, stooping menacingly forward, and asserting with that characteristically earnest and tragical scowl of his at the Ministerial benches, that Her Majesty's Government were all acting a part ; that their motive was a petty desire for a triumph over the House of Lords ; that they were "comparatively indifferent as to the passing of the Bill, unless they can pass it in such a manner as to gain a triumph over this House, and subject it to humiliation and degradation in the eyes of the public." On the other side was the Duke of Argyll, proud, stern, defiant, with his back set, like James Fitz-James's, against a rock, crying in effect, "Come one, come all ! this rock shall fly from its firm base as soon as I.!"
—and there was Lord Hatherley weighing Lord Salisbury, with severe mien, in the scales of justice, and referring him to Shakespeare's scornful remedy for the cure, or rather for the suffocation, of a "gibing spirit." A little apart from the group,—something like where the exulting little boy stands throwing up his cap and occasionally standing on his head in delight during a London street row,—was the Earl of Winchil- sea, screaming out that Mr. Gladstone was in effect the Jack Cade of the moment, "the master of the moment was not always a wise man,—Jack Cade, for example, was once master of the moment." And separate from all these, white with emotion and responsibility, was Lord Granville, suspending the séance, and announcing the awful necessity of "consulting his colleagues" before proceeding further with the Bill. So fell the curtain on Tuesday night, and awful was the hush with which the public waited for the issue during the inter- vening Wednesday ; but Mr. Milbank in the Commons just suggested the air of melodrama hanging over the whole affair by asking the Speaker, amidst loud cheers from the Ministerial benches, whether, "in accordance with the rules
of the House, any apology or redress can be demanded in this House from a Peer who in his place in the Upper House uses
language insolent towards the Prime Minister as leader of a great party, and insulting to the dignity of the House of Commons.' The mere suggestion that the Marquis of Salis- bury might be summoned to the bar of the House to apologize for his sins, cheered though it was by the Liberal party, had clearly in it that flavour of exaggeration proper to melo- drama.
And accordingly, when the curtain rose again on Thursday all was changed. In the interval it seems that the same thought had struck Lord Cairns which struck the young lady in the burlesque, "Let us swear eternal friendship!" The House of Lords was once more at peace with the country, in con- cord with the House of Commons, in amity with the Ministry, in love with itself. Lord Granville, beaming forth his usual placid radiance, explained that the Cabinet had not thought it right to take so formidable a step as dropping the Bill on
a mere amendment in the preamble, and after intimating that he had come to some arrangement with the leader of the
Opposition, he made a formal motion, and left Lord Cairns to explain. Then burst forth Lord Cairns in all the splendour of a conqueror who has achieved that greatest of conquests, the conquest over himself. He threw himself on the favour of the House for a somewhat irregular statement. He explained that he had concluded a sort of Villafranca conven- tion with his noble friend on the morrow of the great Conservative victory of Tuesday night. He, like Napoleon, was scared at his own triumph. He, unlike Napoleon, was so scared at his own triumph that he was going to give up all he had gained rather than persist in claiming it. He bore high testimony to the conciliatory disposition of the Ministerial leader in that House.
Lord Granville had consented to soften the fall of the Lords and their leader, by consenting to at least four minute- alterations of absolutely no moment, —the drift of which he explained, and we will presently explain also. There- upon arose a great voice of mutual congratulation and peaceful bleating of mutual applause. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave up the Ulster glebes, congratulated himself on having, on the whole, concluded a respectable bargain for the Church, and solemnly blessed the peace (invoking a deep. curse on voluntaryism in a loud aside,' notwithstanding)- Lord Carnarvon, who alone had gained something in the direc- tion of his special amendment, blessed the peace and did not curse voluntaryism. The Marquis of Salisbury (who had got nothing) acquiesced somewhat ungraciously because he could. not help himself. Lord Grey, relenting austerely, withdrew rather equivocally his imputations on the character of the Government, indicating, however, not obscurely, that Lord Granville's charity had covered a multitude of Mr. Glad- stone's sins. Lord Russell gave an old man's whispered bless- ing to the arrangement, and no doubt intimated that Lord Somers, Mr. Fox, and others were looking on with benignant though invisible approbation. Viscount Halifax stretched out his hands over the Government and the Opposition alike. The Duke of Marlborough was deeply affected at the ability and generalship shown by Lord Cairns. Lord Malmesbury and Lord Harrowby and Lord Stanhope followed in the same idyllic strain. Lord Fingal and Lord Athlumney gave the pact their formal adhesion in the name of Catholicism and of Ireland. Everybody came down with their little offering of admiration to the conciliatory spirit of Her Majesty's Govern- ment, and to the wise and prudent resolution of "the noble and learned lord." Lord Cairns himself rose again to bear witness tn the self-sacrifice of the Irish Bishops. It appears that quite a long time ago,—bef ore the second reading in the Lords,—they had voluntarily expressed their willingness to sacrifice their political peerages, to jump into the chasm which was opening at their feet,—if only by doing so they could gain an additional penny for their Church. Unfortunately, the House of Lords. had itself expressed so strong an opinion that the leap in question could not be voluntary,—must be involuntary—that they had not been able to make this act of self-devotion the subject of a transaction. Still, there to their credit was the unselfish disposition evinced before the temper of the Lords. was known. In short, anything so soothing as the transforma- tion from the austere wrath of Tuesday night, that stern delight of warriors in foemen worthy of their steel, to the. genial joy and soft delights of the reconciliation of Thurs- day, when everybody fell metaphorically on everybody else's neck,—especially on "the noble Earl's who represents the Government in this House," and "the noble and learned lord who has shown such temper and skill in this negotia- tion,"—we do not remember in the whole course of our political
experience. Probably in the whole range of the various kindly and amiable affections of the Anglo-Saxon race,—and what race has kindlier affections at bottom 9—there is no soft place so soft as the delight in compromise for its own sake,—the idyllic and almost pastoral simplicity of the joy with which men chronicle the surrender of their own position, if they can only plead the excuse of a partial surrender of their opponents' position as their motive.
In this case it was very partial. What the Ministry sur- rendered was a mere excuse to salve the consciences of the Opposition in giving up an untenable post. The curates' salaries are not to be deducted from the commutation for benefices, unless the curate's salary had been returned to the
ecclesiastical tax for five years consecutively. The seven per cent. additional to be conceded when four-fifths of the clergy of any diocese consent to commute is to be given if only three- fourths so consent, and another five per cent., making twelve per cent. in all, is to be added. Again, a clergyman is to be
allowed to commute as regards his tithe-income, even though
he elects to except the life-tenancy of his glebe-house and garden from the commutation,—i. e., he is to have the selfish
motive against commutation a trifle diminished. As to the surplus clause, the declaration devoting the surplus to the relief of such "unavoidable calamities" as are not already relieved out of the poor-rates is to stand, but the special
appropriations to particular institutions under this head are to be voted by Parliament in future years,—a dangerous
arrangement, which opens the prospect of many a disgraceful Parliamentary scramble, but not one materially different from that last agreed to by the Commons, which placed these appro- priations under Orders in Council, which, however, could not
take effect till they had been for some six weeks before Parlia- ment, and not objected to by Parliament. The surplus clause is still very unsatisfactory, but it does not appear that any appreciable concession has been made on it since the Bill left the Commons.
The net result of tha peae-k•raears, then, to. be this,---that the Ministry have abated their price by an infinitesimal sum to make a loophole for thee dignity of the Lords, and the Lords have accepted the loophole with enthusiasm, and *crept through it with unaffected joy. Well, that is a profoundly English encl, to a menacing situation.. The English people thoroughly enjoy an all-but catastrophkwhich fails of being a catastrophe because principle breaks down under the strain, and that is what they extol as statesma4ship. We have no objection-,t ll, so long as the principle which breaks down at the last moment is not our principle but the principle of the enemy,—and that is the case in this instance. It will in any case be an immense relief to the country to have got this big question settled after some fashion at least, and virtually settled in a single session.