TOPICS OF TIIE DAY.
MR. CHAMBERLAIN ON THE COBDEN CLUB.
Cattlihli3s taLy AwI ml idroa b muchl e speech ea xt t lnige uCi sohb dt the
memory of the trifling mistake which he made three weeks ago at. Birmingham, when he intimated that he hoped that the people of England would not treat any Reform Bill as a dis- charge of Liberal liabilities which did not come up to his own standard of universal suffrage, equal electoral districts, and payment of Members. The error there was in that indifference to his own Ministerial position which went so far as to weaken beforehand any settlement on which he and his colleagues might agree, since he appeared to bespeak an immediate agitation against the deficiencies which he anticipated. In the Cobden Club on Saturday his tone was very different. He not only did not deny, but roundly asserted that it was the duty of Radicals to make concessions in order to carry the country with them, and not only to make conces- sions, but "to make good every foothold before taking another step ;" "I desire," said Mr. Chamberlain, "to carry with the party, as we have in the past, the convinced judgment and the intelligent opinion of the great majority of the nation." That is the language of statesmanship, and we accept it with great pleasure as evidence that the words, dropped by Mr. Chamber- lain at Birmingham, which seemed to advise an immediate renewal of the Reform agitation after the passing of the next Bill, in the name of his own more advanced opinions, were hastily dropped, and did not express his deliberate con- viction. With every word that be said in the Cobden Club we can heartily agree. It is only fair that Radicals who go beyond the mass of the Liberal Party, should have the free right of explaining their own individual views, and why they
advocate them. But that is a very different thing from an attempt to keep great constitutional reforms always in agitation, a very different thing from giving notice before- hand that whatever you agree to as a fit and sufficient measure for the moment, is to be denounced directly it is passed, on the authority of one of those who passed it, as an inadequate and niggardly solution of the problem before the country. We claim to be as good Radicals, as firm believers in the doctrine that you must frankly trust the people, as Mr. Chamberlain. But it is for that very reason that we go no farther than the advocacy of an extension of the present borough system of household suffrage, with its sabsidiary lodger franchise, from the towns to the counties. Under that suffrage, every grown-up man who recognises the duty of exerting political influence can obtain it easily and exert it freely ; and it is the duty, not the mere right, of political action which we wish to see recognised. Doubtless, even under this fuffrage, there will be a great number of grown-up men who will never become electors ; but that will be not from want of power, but from want of will. /s it desirable, or even right, to force on people who want the will to qualify themselves as voters, the consciousness of a political power for which they have not the smallest moral concern ? Make politi- cal du ty your ideal, and you will open freely to all who haven sense of political duty the opportunity of doing it ; but in that case you will not try, and swell your electorate with masses of supine, indifferent, and therefore probably either flighty or corrupt voters. Mr. Cobden, says Mr. Chamberlain, viewed "without alarm" the very widest extension which could be given to the electoral franchise. Perhaps" without alarm ;" but did he ever express any desire to see the vote forced on men within whose easy reach it was already, but who did not care enough about it to secure it for themselves ? We do not believe it. For the same reason, we differ with Mr. Chamberlain as to the payment of Members. We wish to see politics confined to the class of men who pursue politics from more or less disinterested motives, and not merely for the livelihood to be got out of it. Where there are such men with a deep interest in politics, though too poor to devote themselves to political life without help from their constituents,—by all means let the constituency find the means. Such a course is alike honourable to the con- stituency and to the representative whom it taxes itself to send to Westminster. But why, with a large choice of men who are willing to give their time freely to the service of the nation, we should go out of our way to make politics a mere bread-winning profession,it is quite beyond our store of Liberal wisdom to discover. It may, we think, be left to Mr. James Lowther, as Mr. Chamberlain himself oddly suggested, to sup-
port this "pious opinion" by reference to the ancient custom to which Mr. Chamberlain referred. For the present, we think a large class of purely professional politicians would not greatly improve the declining parliamentary morality of the day.
For the rest, Mr. Chamberlain's eloquent and unanswerable defence of Mr. Cobden for anticipating the early conversion of the world to his own views,—an anticipation, as he justly said, exactly parallelled by Apostolical predictions of the early triumph of Christianity,—was not less satisfactory than his wise limitation of Mr. Cobden's doctrine with respect to non-intervention. On that point, Mr. Chamberlain truly said that Mr. Cobden himself was never really satisfied with. his own very strong and far too abstract assertion of that disputable doctrine, and that Mr. Cobden clearly betrayed from time to time the self-distrust with which he contemplated his theoretical assertions of it. And yet no one, we think, can. read Mr. John Morley's "Life of Cobden" without seeing that during the latter part of Mr. Cobden's career, this unmanage- able doctrine,—we may say this intrinsically false doctrine, if it is to be erected into an absolute standard of national duty,--occupied more and more of Mr. Cobden's thoughts, and lowered measurably the tone and character of his political influence. Cobden, indeed, mistook for a general principle of politics what came to no more than this,—that a nation should never involve itself in the quarrels of other•countries without the advantage of a very noble, clear, and simple cause which it is not easy to miaunderstand,—and not even then,. unless it can clearly give effect to its righteous purpose without ruin to its own citizens. The question of intervention or non- intervention, in national as in private eases, is a question both of right and of prudence ; and unless the right be very clear indeed,—which happens much more rarely than statesmen are apt to suppose,—the prudential calculation need not even be made. That is as far as most good Liberals can go with Mr. Cobden, and we heartily wish that Cobden himself had neves gone farther. There are, however, few equally illustrious states- men of any day who have not made much more serious mis- takes; and it is with something like wonder, we confess, that we ask ourselves why Mr. Goschen retired from the Cobden Club, or else why he joined it. He was certainly not com.- mitted by his membership to all Mr. Cobden's views ; and it is hard to suppose that he is not still in hearty sympathy with that great and simple mind, throughout the whole range of a very considerable arc of political thought.
Mr. Chamberlain's speech last week may not, perhaps, quite convince us that the daring duckling is, as Mr. Thorold Rogers happily called him, the swan of the Ministerial brood. There is, so far as we know, not one of what we may call his " peculiar " tenets, that seems to us stamped with a better kind of Liberalism than that of his more distinguished colleagues. But un- doubtedly the complete frankness, the great manliness, and the happy humour of the speech at the Cobden Club will do much, and ought to do much, to increase the favour with which Mr. Chamberlain is regarded by English Liberals. It is a great. thing to know not only how to retrieve a false step, but how so to retrieve it that a great forward step is made, and this is what Mr. Chamberlain has effected by his last vigorous speech. He has shown himself perfectly candid under criticism and yet neither depressed nor elated ; confident in himself and in his principles, and willing to recognise that he must give as well as take, and that what he has once given he must not at once proceed to retract.