TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE LAST SUNDAY BEFORE PA RLIA WE have arrived at the last breathing-time of our busy world before the opening of Parliament. For all the quiet on the sur- face, the juncture is grave ; and it might well befit the authorized actors in the proceedings of the next few days, who have the interest of their country at heart, to take counsel of their deepest conscience. In every matter of polities the country has reached a point of the most absolute stillness ; the agitations which do go on are but the incessant move which stirs the restless waters of the sea even in the stillest calm ; the very talk of war and defence is as yet a social feeling rather than a movement. But it cannot be denied that the stillness is just of the sort that is likely to pre- cede great and searching movements—changes in the set of the political currents, ulterior events of which we can foresee only their importance, not their nature or bearing. At such a juncture Parliament assembles, with its old notorious incapacity for acting rendered tenfold more incapable by the disintegration of political par- ties, which has not ceased to go on even since the last session. Long drifting on the stream of events without a settled course, the country is at last called upon, by the gathering clouds of con- fusion, to resume a life of energy : and yet we well know that Par- liament is wholly incapable of acting for it—that the provisional Government which still retains the post of office is incapable of directing Parliament; and we see the national council meet with- out the slightest expectation that it will meet for any useful pur- pose. It is not we that confess this hopelessness—every political Farty confesses the same, either in direct terms, or in extenuations or the inevitable vainness. A general election is the device to get out of that difficulty; but what will it do ? It will replace the present Parliament, minus a portion of its Members, substituting others exactly of the same pattern. "New blood" is called for ; but elaborate reviews of all the known parties have been made to show that there is no new blood to be had. This party is examined and found to be blood- less ; then that party • then a third ; and so on until even the " re- sidue " left by the exhaustive process is scrutinized and found to be effete and worthless. There is good store of stuff for second- rate statesmanship, says one of these arduous political chemists, but not a man for first-rate work, or he would have shown himself. Lord John Russell is not to go about like Diogenes with a lantern, looking for a great young man to redeem the nation and "save society." There is much truth in this. If Lord John were to wander lantern in hand, he would most assuredly find little more than the old familiar faces, the old bloods of the old haunts, as well known to politicians who are out o' nights as Sans Hall or Dick Swiveller at the late houses. The bull's-eye of the political Diogenes would illume the faces of none but old offenders, for the political Diogenes would wander only on his old beat. It is a bad job. Men will stifle yearnings of the patriotic con- science as emotions not practical, rather green, and altogether to be ashamed of. Gentlemen never cry at a tragedy, and why should they retain youthful illusions as to the possibility of doing anything for their country ? "One's country "—the very phrase has passed out of use, except at the theatre. So they will put down, with the strong hand of worldly wisdom, all rising thoughts of that school-bookish kind, and will lounge into "the House" with ears hardened to the old burst of "speeches." That is all we have to look to now. Her Majesty will read the " speech " con- cocted for her by the elderly gentlemen who pretend to be respon- sible for it ; then the mover and seconder will echo that speech ; Mr. Disraeli will make that well-known speech which has been readopted at the Burghley House council ; Lord Palmerston will, or will not, make that admirable speech which he can deliver with such freshness ; then Lord John will disclose what he has mustered to " say " ; then the House will consult the forecast lottery of the division; and then it will "go the country," to make " speeches " in every borough and county ; and then it will come back, to make the same speeches. "Speech, speech, speech—there's nothing here but speeches." It is the "business" one. Patriots hold themselves quit to their country if in the course of the session they can evolve a long " speech," and "raise a debate," which is an aggregate of speeches. It is the sole sub- stance and test of political capacity. Measures are but pretexts for speeches ; laws, indeed, being left for the Judges to make on the false basis of impracticable and unintelligible "acts." If you were to find "new blood," how would you test it, except by the capa-
city of making speeches? The abuse of free discussion is, that we have come to have nothing else. If men foresee a danger to their
country, they rush to Parliament and make speeches, and there it ends. Great speech, great Parliament man, great Minister ; no speechmaking power, no Minister, no public servant. Carlyle's idea, that in this day silence is the great complementary duty of work, is passed by as a joke ; yet the "greatest" man of the hour, the most surprisingly successful in "carrying his measures," Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, has done something by .the help of silence.
The exclusive reliance on this speechmaking function has bad results besides the false test which it applies to public men. It begets a habit of making acts mere pegs to hang the speech upon,
and thus fosters the abuse of multiplying figmentary measures. the " motions " of a session are sheer rubbish and obstruc- tion. It is not much that can really be done in a session' still less
that might really be done well. The very protraction of hours is enough to unfit men for the duties of production; and how many measures which seem to be 'carried are repealed by the Judges be- fore the recess is over ! If you put ten mouthfuls into your mouth at once, you cannot -swallow, but only undergo a dangerous and unseemly paroxysm of ejaculation : precisely the picture of poor Parliament stated with measures, like an Abyssinian nobleman with raw meat to the lips. Surplus motions positively obstruct what might have been done if they had been thinned. By the gross abuse of " ventilating " measures, they are no longer venti- lated, but only coated with another layer of old smoke. The trick of "putting Parliament in the wrong" has been worn out, and "measures for rejection" should be wholly discontinued. No measures should be advanced that will not come to something, or that are not at least meant to have results. Of those, however, the greater part—we do not say all—must necessarily lie with the Government for the time being. Country gentlemen need not feel under the compulsion to be doing : it is theirs to see that what is done is right; they need not do it all themselves. Patri- otic Members, if any will permit an expression so little comme il faut, would do a positive service to their country if they were to believe that they had no Heaven-conferred " mission," but would only abstain from motions. Verily, as compared with these fussy statesmen all bent on "starring it," a man who could hold his tongue and do nothing would usefully fill a seat, which might otherwise give place to a babbling busybody, a motion-and-speech machine.
It is a terrible doom that has fallen upon the country, thus to lie under the wide waste and weight of words. It has taught public men, not to construct measures for real purposes, but only to talk about. As knives are made for sale, not use, so bills are made for discussion, not for working. The clauses are devised to look well "in Committee," not to serve the people of the country in their daily business. A man 'would rather publish a pretty sentiment as a "be it enacted," which might bring him credit through the daily papers next morning, than frame a sober law which should carry with it convenience and utility. The men in most real earnest are they who legislate for "interests" under the modest cover of" private "bills ; and here we see but little talk of it; so true is it that men are silent when they are in earnest. As for national statesmanship, it is eaten into by the taint which is cor- roding the substance of our trade—adulteration. The newest sur- prise of the public is the grossest : fifteen millions sterling per annum has the public been paying these many years for fleets and armies, and now, when they may be needed for actual service, we are told that they are not altogether serviceable ! There are red coats and muskets, to be sure; but the muskets won't hit their mark ; the soldiers are tamed by the burden of their equipments; and the ships won't carry their men. Our army and navy have been adulterated. Pleasant news, when a Brummagem &ander- beg, a buccaneering Hudson on an imperial throne, is lodging next door to us! The constituencies are not without responsibility in this matter. It is a common excuse for idle fuss, that a Member is addressing, not the House, nor the nation, but "his constituency ": men speak at their electors, and move at their borough. And it happens too often that they thus support that which they would not support if it were to succeed ; pretending to their constituencies that they , would do that which if they could they would prevent. Yet the ' trick succeeds ; constituencies like to be cajoled, and they will return a Member for a reason no higher or graver than that be speaks boldly, or makes an "annual motion" which ends in nothing but a division and the trumpeting of some miserable mi- nority. Constituencies thus indulge personal vanity and self- puffing cant ; two great obstructives of all real work. Parliament is beset with such empty not-dangerous dragons, who fill the House with smoke ; mechanical monsters, terrible only at first sight ; idle mockeries of action ; boilers without engines. But the could not get there if it were not for the constituencies.
The difficulty for any patriotic Parliament man—if there is any patriotic Parliament man—would be, to penetrate the fog of speeches, so as to do any real work. At present it seems hopeless ; but nothing is impossible to stout unadulterated heart—if there is stout unadulterated heart in any man qualified to sit. Indeed we do not doubt there is good English stuff in every man. Now there is a work for it to perform. If it is stout enough and brave enough, stout English heart, beating even in "honourable" bo- som, might undertake, and perform, that most glorious enterprise, of breaking down the false system. Were there but a knot of men who truly cared for their country—who could resolve, whether they could " speak " or not, to stand forth on the floor of the House, amid the conflict of party rivalries and still more treacherous party connivances, and there stoutly and doggedly insist that the old hackneyed devices should be suspended for a season ; that "votes of confidence," or organized Opposition "amendments," should be set aside, and party triumphs rebuked ; and that attention should first and most chiefly be paid to the pressing public needs, the plain manifest interests of the country,—those men would deserve to rank with the stanchest patriots of the greatest times. Such a true and pious enterprise, its possibilities, modes, and duties, is a work well deserving grave reflection, even on the day of sacred rest.