WE were a little amused last week with a correspondence of no particular importance which found its way into the Standard. Mr. Cadman, the well-known Rector of Holy Trinity, Marylebone, has, it appears, presented his son to a living, and was forthwith attacked by some observer, who may or may not have fixed on his own preferable candidate, with a charge of nepotism. The charge did not matter a straw, as everybody who knew Mr. Cadman's character and career knew perfectly well that he either thought his son the fittest man for the cure, or felt that he had a right to give the living to any fit man he would ; but the accusation so angered a friend of the Rector, as to elicit a whimsically strong defence. He did not attempt to defend either father or son, but quoted the late Dean Hook to show that, in the judgment of that exceptionally able and upright man, Mr. Cadman could have done nothing else, it being the moral duty of a patron, when deciding between qualified candidates for a good thing, to prefer his kinsfolk
to strangers. We certainly cannot go quite that length, holding that when claims are really equal, it may often be the duty of the bestower of patronage to seem, as well as be, rigidly upright ; but on one side we sympathise with the Dean. There is quite as much weakness as virtue in the slightly affected horror of nepotism which has mastered our public men, and which begins to make kinship, or even friendship, with any of them a positive, and sometimes a very painful, disqualification for remunerative posts. There is such a moral offence as nepotism, no doubt, and it may, under certain circumstances, be a very bad one, a deliberate betrayal of a trust, which ought to be more sacred because it is not guarded by law, for the purpose of securing family advantage. That was the offence of which Popes were accused when the word was first invented. Being debarred from mar- riage, their feeling of family pride, so strong in all Sovereigns in that age, fastened itself upon their nephews or their illegiti- mate children, and they alienated the property either of the State or the Church to found great fortunes in their favour. The practice caused frightful scandal, because the Popes were expected to be above family affections, but we suspect the odium was not in all cases fully justified. There were some atrocious cases, especially in the Borgia family, but we rather fancy that many Popes, worried as they were by the old nobles of the Patrimony, felt the political necessity of creating great nobles to counterbalance them, and, naturally enough, chose out for the new inajorats the only men they could trust, several of whom, again, were sincerely faithful to the Papacy. (Historians are rarely quite just to the intellect of the Popes. We have seen it made a charge against them, for instance, that they sold exemptions from the taxes. That seems at first sight greedy statesmanship, and so it would be now ; but at the time it was nothing more than an unscientific method of raising money by the sale of terminable annuities. An exemption is an annuity with this difference, which the wretched finance of the day did not regard, that the interest may vary. Secular Sovereigns have tried much less defensible expedients.) However that may have been, the man who sells for gain patronage placed in trust with him is an immoral man, and a man who breaks trust on his son's behalf does sell patronage for gain ; but then, it is necessary to ex- amine the conditions of the trust. Every man is a trustee, more or less, of his wealth ; but nobody expects a man, in distributing his own wealth, to prefer strangers to his kinsfolk. A may be a banker upon whose probity thousands of families depend ; or B a landholder with whose generous management the fate of thou- sands is bound up ; but the case must be most extreme in which a father is held blameable for bequeathing his position to his son, even if he does not approve him. In general opinion, he is held even bound to do it ; and the opinion is, at all events, thus far just, that long-continued and permitted expectancy, if sanctioned by usage, constitutes very nearly or quite a claim of contract. There is, therefore, a trust under which nepotism is justifiable ; and it covers, we think, not only property, but those cases—now excessively rare in England, but once exceedingly common — in which patronage was regarded on all hands as part of the patron's pay. That certainly was the case with some of the old sinecures. The great officers to whom such patronage occasionally fell had no means of abolishing such sinecures, and gave them, there- fore, to their own kinsfolk, like any other windfalls. It would have been nobler if they had distributed them to the advantage of the State—for example, Burke ought to have had one, in-
stead of becoming a burden on the Marquis of Rockingham—
but Parliament did not think so, and a trustee will hardly be less self-interested than the subjects of his trust think that he ought to be. One man was as good as another for a sinecure, and if the Clerkship of the Pells fell to Lord Ellenborongh, why should not the Law family have it P That state of affairs has been swept away—rather injudiciously, for the old sinecures, if consolidated, would have made a fund for meritorious but impecunious public servants—but what is precisely the nature of the trust at present ?
Clearly, to begin with, that no public office shall be given to anybody who is unfit to hold it. This is recognised even in private life, one partner in a firm not being expected to job for his kinsfolk to the detriment of other partners without their previous consent ; and in public life it may be taken as an inflexible rule. Hardly any public service is held to justify the appointment of a fool, merely because he is connected
with the doer of that service, to a public post ; and the rule is now, we imagine, very rarely broken. It is evidently just, it is one which opinion can enforce, and, except in rare cases, where an unconscientious man legally owns his patronage, it is always observed. Envious clerics mutter sometimes that if that is true, Bishops' sons-in-law are never fools ; but then, you see, the answer is obvious,—" That is just so, they never are." But though efficiency is indispensable, the trust may demand some- thing more, and very often does. It may be intended that a vacant office shall invariably be given not only to a fit man, but to the fittest, it being either an office requiring a picked man, or an office intended to reward long service. If the trust is broken in the interest of nepotism in the former way, the nation suffers ; and if in the latter, the Service suffers, its best men losing heart. Well, we should say that under such conditions the patron was bound to choose the best man, but was not bound to forget that the choice was left to his intelligence, and that his intelligence might be greatly helped by intimate personal knowledge. The kinsman or friend might, merely on account of kinship or frieudzhip, be the best candidate, a rule certainly true if harmonious co-operation happens to be of the essence of success, while he always must be the candidate of whom the patron is most secure. The qualification should not weigh for too much ; but it is very often a real one. It is pro- bable that Count Herbert Bismarck is the only confidential agent with whom Prince Bismarck could work smoothly ; and if so, the trust reposed in him binds the Prince, for any office involving confidential agency, to prefer his son. His duty under those circumstances is nepotism, an incident by no means so uncommon as it is the fashion of the day to imagine. The effectiveness of a great Minister may be doubled by the presence of a friend in the Cabinet in whom nobody else can see any- thing—that is the obvious truth with, say, 10 per cent, of mankind as respects their wives, and why not as respects their friends P—and if it is so, then his duty is to secure that friend his place. Such cases are rare; but they occur, the existence of complementary men, who, though apparently feeble, exactly supply some want in the force of the strong man, being as certain as the existence of favouritism, which often has its root in that very necessity for special help. And besides this claim, which would, we suppose, be admitted by all reasoners, there are two others. One is that kinship is often a guarantee of qualification,—a truth we constantly miss in civil life, and as constantly acknowledge in the fighting services, whither particular families swarm from natural proclivity ; and the other, that justice should always be done, even if the applicant is, for the purpose in hand, an aristocrat. It is not a moral crime or an intellectual dis- qualification to be a patron's son ; and the patron who acts as if it were is not virtuous, but unjust as well as weak. He is protecting himself against newspapers, not doing justice to the nation, and deserves at the very least to read Dean Hook's opinion thrice a day.
We should like to know the reason, if a crowd ever reasons, why men, in condemning a job, always blame the nepotist and not the nepos. If both are equally conscious of unfitness, both are guilty, though not quite equally, the legal trust being in the former; but the recipient is always more or less acquitted. Is he supposed always to believe in himself? For if so, the crowd is very ignorant of modern human nature, which tends to be self-distrustful, even when promised pay. Or is there a secret sympathy with the lack of the incompetent, such luck giving others hope ? Or is the true reason a gentle cynicism, which refuses to demand from average human nature more than it is at all likely to get ?