TOPICS OF THE DAY
THE TREASURY BENCH AND ITS RIVALS.
THE great difficulty which the death of Lord Palmerston threw upon his successor in the office of Prime Minister was not so much to find an equivalent for his hard sense and experience in counsel, as to find what might as far as possible command the same amount of confidence in that "great middle class" to whom the destinies of the country are notoriously committed. The truth no doubt is that Lord Russell himself, owing in part to being in the House of Lords, quite as much to the blunders of his recent Polish and Danish foreign policy, and not a little perhaps to his personal identification with several unpopular and unsuccessful Reform Bills, cannot just now command that popular predisposition to accept his advice, that decided bias in favour of any- thing he may warmly approve, which is almost more impor- tant to the stability of a Ministry than even the wisdom which deserves and ultimately wins approval. And if Lord Russell has lost this prepossession in his favour which he once possessed, it cannot be said that Mr. Gladstone, in spite of his brilliant commercial policy, secures it for him. Mr. Gladstone, like most men of decided genius, has a reputation for crotchets even beyond what he deserves. The 'great mid- dle class' do not pretend fully to understand him. He is like some counties in the map,—Wiltshire and Cromarty, for ex- ample,—which have little outlying bits of themselves in the middle of other counties, embarrassing and oppressive to a limited imagination. Mr. Gladstone is no doubt a Liberal, and a very good one, but then there is a little irregular bit of him—the ecclesiastical bit—in the centre of the Conservative party, and another little bit—the pacific, non-resistance bit— in the middle of the Manchester school.' Now as the limited conscience and imagination of children is always bitterly out- raged by the anomaly of a multiple Cromarty, so the limited conscience and imagination of the electoral classes is greatly outraged by the anomaly of a multiple political mind in Mr. Gladstone. Hence the want of the Treasury bench, especially in the Lower House, was a new centre of confidence, a new ground for favourable bias towards the Government, in the mind of the middle class.
We must say that ineffectual as Lord Russell's reconstruc- tive measures seem to us, they are well calculated, probably better calculated than any others could have been, to gain this end. It was something to get rid of the feather-brained Secretary for Ireland and put a man of sterling sense in his place. The great middle class' may be defective in poli- tical imagination, but at least it was equal to feeling a sensa- tion of nausea at Sir Robert Peel's rash and light-minded speeches on the most disturbed and least contented part of the United Kingdom. It was something, too, in favour of the Ministry to this class, though certainly not very much, that Lord Clarendon, always regarded as a smooth and conciliatory though rather too suave and Ga.11icizing diplomatist, should replace the Prime Minister at the Foreign Office, and diffuse courtly equanimity where Lord Russell's curt and frigid criti- cisms had set up a needless and irritating friction. But neither of these slight changes provided what was wanted, a new Cabinet Minister to whom the middle-class constituencies should be favourably inclined, and to whose career they might look forward with a decided prepossession in its favour. -Nor was it possible to do more than select such a man at a venture, for there was none such who had already been tried. The ven- ture, however, made by Lord Russell seems to us, apart from our own favourable estimate of Mr. Goschen's powers, to have been far more judicious for this purpose than any other he could have made. It is said that the Marquis of Hartington has had far more experience and shows much ability. But besides that the Marquis of Hartington is not an effective debater, the middle class would certainly have felt a sensa- tion of disappointment and weariness at seeing the only vacant place in the Cabinet filled by one of the old Whig set, and would have accused Lord Russell of inability to recognize merit beyond the sacred cordon. Again, the Marquis of Hartington, by the very fact of having spent almost all his official life in subordinate office, has not had the opportunity of giving the public any measure of his general political capacity. He calls up uninteresting official associations. He might have proved a success, but the mere selec- tion would not have been prepossessing to middle-class feeling, as was the selection of Mr. Goschen. For in Mr. Goschen's case the mere rapidity of his rise has itself something taking in it to the middle-class imagi- nation, which would have been wholly absent had the Marquis of Hartington been promoted in his place. And Mr. Goschen, little as he has yet done, has done just enough to establish a general reputation. He has always been highly intelligible ; his Liberalism has always been of the same con- spicuous kind, not crotchetty but uniform ; and yet there has been something solid about it too, an absence of extreme or flighty views which commands confidence. Thus when he seconded the address two years ago, he threw the miscalled. Manchester school into a ferment of indignation by disclaiming the abstract policy of insulation for England, and maintaining that she ought never to cease to exercise her legiti, mate influence on the Continent or to hold herself pre- pared, in the last resort, to play the part which could alone sustain her title to such influence. Then on. banking policy Mr. Goschen has always been a bullionist, a firm, indeed extreme, apologist for the Bank Charter Act of 1844. Not only has his Liberalism been simple, homoge- neous, intelligible, unflinching, but dignified, considerate, solid. And this in a young and rich merchant is just the kind of repu- tation to bias the middle class in his favour. We do not say that Lord Russell could not have chosen men as strong or stronger and in many ways as promising,—but scarcely any man so clearly the representative of the class with whom the Ministry needs new strength. Mr. Forster would have inspired more confidence in the artisan class proper, and Lord Hartington in the aristocracy. But Mr. Goschen's success as a City mer- chant, and the character stamped upon his Liberalism, appeal directly to the imagination of the ruling class, and may, if he is successful, even win for Mr. Gladstone's policy that sort of trust which his own brilliant but composite mind and (to half the constituencies) ill-comprehended career have as yet failed to command. As far as Lord Russell's changes in the personnel have gone, though they have certainly not gone far enough, they have undoubtedly been calculated with a very fair eye for the chance of inspiring greater confidence where greater confidence is most clearly needed. An able writer some years ago ex- plained that England was governed by the opinions of "the bald-headed man at the top of the omnibus." Mr. Glad- stone plus Mr. Goschen has certainly a far better chance of winning the good opinion of that bald-headed gentleman than Mr. Gladstone plus the Marquis of Hartington ; and in.. finitely more than Mr. Gladstone minus Mr. Layard,—for had Mr. Layard had the vacant seat in the Cabinet, we need not remark that he would have inspired a large amount of diffi- dence instead of confidence in that important gentleman's mind. As to the old occupants of the Treasury bench, there is probably not any very great change in the degree of confidence or diffidence which they inspire, since last session. The Duke of Somerset and Lord de Grey are still efficient, Lord Granville, mild and skilful, still diffuses, as is his wont, "a pleasurable feeling of blind love" among the great class who recognize his tenfold aristocratic claims, and the bland humility with which he ignores them. Sir Charles Wood has not, in spite of his mischance in the hunting field, lost that reputation for disagreeable ability in counsel, some one possessor of which the middle classea love to see in the Government. On every board of direc- tion they feel that there ought to be some one to make those grating and unpleasant remarks which jar the feelings of a Board, and remind them of the harsh external criticisms of an unfeeling world. They trust to Lord Stanley for this purpose in the Tory Governments and to Sir Charles Wood in the Whig. Sir George Grey, Mr. Milner Gibson, and Mr. Villiers are what they were, not more and not less ; and only Mr. Cardwell has suffered in public estimation. His feeble and ineffectual policy in' New Zealand had rather increased his influence in England ; for England, knowing little and caring less for what was going on, rather liked to see the colonists snubbed. But in the Jamaica matter, while he has angered the advocates of massacre by consenting to the commission, he has outraged all Liberal feeling by his monstrous partizan declaration at Oxford that "comparative safety was speedily restored to all persons, of whatever race or colour, who desired to live in peace and orderly submission to the law." Un- doubtedly this half-and-half line of policy has weakened greatly the not very great influence which Mr. Cardwell's plausible manner had gained for him with the "great middle class."
But it is when we come to think of the Administration not absolutely, but in what is now called "the relative spirit," that their chance seems to us best. In the House of Lords the available Opposition is almost confined to Lord Derby, assisted perhaps in practical matters by Lord Carnarvon, and occasionally by a dashing charge from Lord Ellen- borough. Where the Opposition is strongest in numbers it is weakest in reason and ability. Then Lord Derby himself, though universally admired among the constituencies, is not trusted. He is believed to be indolent not only in mastering details for the purpose of forming a judgment, but, even when he has formed one, in contesting the judgment formed by others on less ade- quate grounds. He is not very ambitious of power, and does not hold it jealously in his own hands even when he has got it. He has been much weakened by illness, and is "not now -that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven." Indeed it is believed that to form a new Government would be very distasteful to him, even if he were ever again em- powered to do so. In the House of Commons Mr. Disraeli remains the head of the party. And while he remains the bead of the party we may be sure that nothing can be more 'distasteful to the constituencies,—more certain to be rejected at the poll,—than the proposal to give the Conservatives a Parliamentary majority. Every Conservative Government in which Mr. Disraeli has been the mind of the party has been a Government on sufferance,—a temporary Government formed for Parliamentary purposes and not at the wish of the country, —and we may be sure that it will always be so. Mr. Layard would have as much chance in "appealing to the country" as Mr. Disraeli. A feeling so vehemently the opposite of confidence that it is not easy to express it in the English language, is felt by the constituencies not for the Conservatives, but personally for Mr. Disraeli. Even in Parliament and for temporary purposes, we believe a Government of which Mr. Disraeli should be Prime Minister, and not merely leader of the Lower House, would be impossible. Lord Cranborne is strong, but then Lord Cranborne is rather Tory at heart than Conservative, which is mot the feeling even of the Conservative constituencies. He would have launched the country into a war for the South. He has fierce aristocratic impulses beneath his solid, sensible, and matter-of-fact manner. Lord Stanley is strong, but Lord Stanley is not really in opposition. Mr. Seymour Fitzgerald, by far the most pleasing, moderate, and able of the Con- servative critics of the Liberal policy, is not re-elected. General Peel is able in his way, but it is not a very popular way, and he is little known in the country at large. Sir Bulwer Lytton is a show minister. He does not do the work. And as for Sir John Pakington, Mr. Gathorue Hardy, and Mr. Walpole, they are not quite a match for Sir George Grey, Mr. Milner Gibson, and Mr. Villiers. On the whole, if the personnel of the Ministry is still open to a good deal of criticism, it is certainly not a mere "Palmerston Ministry without Lord Palmerston." Looked at in "the relative spirit," the Ministers are infinitely more than a match for their opponents. If they would only bring in strong measures,— the present men with little modification—say the introduction of Mr. Stansfeld into the Administration somewhere and the ejection of Mr. Cardwell—would do well enough. If they do not, of course they must go. But we may venture to pre- dict that their successors would still be a recast Liberal Ministry, and not a scratch Ministry from the other side of the House.