14 APRIL 1855, Page 13


TEE clamour raised just now for " promotion by merit" as a sub- stitute for promotion by several of the other means now in use, which are the object of particular attack—promotion by purchase, by seniority, by favour, or by Parliamentary patronage—has an appearance of special virtue, and seems to be gaining ground. Yet no cant of the day involves a grosser delusion. Perhaps when we have considered the subject a little closely, we shall have to admit that promotion by merit is neither so practicable nor so de- sirable as it seems. In the first place, we must ask what "merit" really means. " Mereo" is to earn, to gain, to deserve ; and " meritus " is the condition of a man who has earned : that to which merit has a title, then, is wages or reward for service done. How can wages paid constitute a principle to supersede other rules of promotion ?

There is no probability of abolishing promotion by seniority,

or favour, or Parliamentary patronage ; and any agitation for such a purpose must become canting, because it must to a great extent be unreal. The promotion by purchase, indeed, is recom- mended by no consideration except the fact that it exists. It is a very indifferent contrivance for diminishing the pressure of competition for the favour of a Minister. Even a scholastic examination would be a better kind of fence for the .protection of the harassed authorities, because the official or scholastic attain- ments might indicate some qualities advantageous to the office ; but the possession of money indicates nothing except the posses- sion of rich relatives. Promotion by favour or Parliamentary patronage, however, is a process that has little to do with the pre- cise qualifications cations of the candidate or the ultimate choice of the authorities. It might exist without any corruption at all, sup- posing the choice were in other respects free and above board. The Lord Mayor immortalized by Peter Pinder thought that the sheep brought to Smithfield market were poor specimens of mut- ton, until he was told to put on his spectacles; but when he saw " G. R." in red upon their backs, his loyal eyes were at once opened to their superior qualities, and he was ready to turn glut- ton ' on such pretty-looking mutton." Influence always has had the power of making men open • their eyes, and it always will. The great point is, to make regulations of such a kind that they will work well under influences which we cannot prevent, or can- not even desire to extinguish.

Appointment by merit would be open to just the same incon-

veniences with those that attend seniority, or the existing practice of seniority combined with purchase. The number of men possess- ing the full average of capacity and conscience will always be high in any select number of Englishmen. Under the modern system of making war, a very large proportion of the duties may be per- formed by dint of courage, intelligence, and zeal. The opportuni- ties are tolerably wide; as officers are called to the performance of those duties, they will in most cases acquit themselves with perfect credit; and the fulfilment will constitute "merit." Under a fair arrangement of service, most officers will be meritorious officers; and where the merit is so general, and so equably diffused, seniority once more becomes the only practicable mode of distinction that is not invidious. Again, then, we should have relays of old officers pressing forward in competition for places that might better be given to younger men. "To pass them over," would be to pass over "merit " • and thus the distinction of one man becomes a re- flection upon the others.

Merit, it may be said, means the possession of qualities indica- ting peculiar aptitude for particular vacancies : it may be of a professional as well as a moral kind, and one officer may be able to show the merit entitling him to promotion in engineering or ar- tillery, though he might not have equal claims in infantry or cavalry. This is only to evade the question and slightly to alter the distribution. Upon the whole, the special capacities will exist in about the same ratio with the different kinds of service ; and the aggregate number of meritorious officers, whose claims would be a burden upon the Executive, would not be diminished by classification, though the consequences might be slightly abated. In truth, however, the delusion lies in recognizing merit in the individual as a claim to further service. It confounds duties per- formed towards the state with the rewards given to individuals for a previous performance of duties. It involves an idea incon- sistent with the changes of human life. The surgeon who has cut off one leg is supposed to have the right to cut off the leg of the next patient; and as time advances, with the "meritorious"

execution of that work he would have an increasing claim to the cutting off of legs even after he had passed the prime of life in that avocation. The country is at present in the position of a pa- tient whose leg requires amputation, and who has at the door a number of eminent men with tremulous voices, dim eyesight, and shaking hands, claiming not to be set aside by striplings in the profession. But past service constitutes no claim whatever after and beyond the direct reward for that service. If men have served their country well, give them their guerdon ; let the hand of the state be opened to them, let honours be given without stint, and there the transaction properly ends. They have done their duty, they have their recompense, and both sides are quite. Here the account, if justice be done, should close.

If there is a service to be performed for the state, the sole consi- deration is, the best mode and instrument for that service. Neither this individual, nor that, has any conceivable claim, in justice or in expediency. His " title " or "right" ought properly to go for nothing, except so far as it may constitute a testimonial; but then it should only be accepted for the convenience of the state. The sole consideration is, whether he is a proper man, or the best man ? It might sometimes happen that the beat man of his standing and profession—that is, the most meritorious of- ficer—would not be the one most suitable for the interests of the country. Sometimes the high qualities of an officer might ac- tually render him less desirable. A Eopular governor might be wanted, and an Aristides might be far less suitable for the state purpose than a Demosthenes, or even than a man without " the gift of the gab" and equally without the inflexibility of the "just." The true principle in guiding the selection for the public service is that one of aptitude—a man's fitness as an instrument. The as- sertion of any title or claim, so far as it is presented at all, might positively become a disqualification, if it should thus consti- tute an encumbrance and an obstruction in disposing of the public instruments as the public interests irequire. We need not state this case as a supposition ; it actually occurs. No sooner is a man pointed out as the best for a particular service, than up start several other men of "merit," who protest against being "passed over," and claim the promotion upon the strength of the popular principle. The delusion is the worse since it is covered with an appearance of moral sanction. And its reintroduction at the present time only tends to confuse ideas respecting the improve- ment of the administration, civil and military, where we ought to have a clear eyesight unobstructed by those figments of me- chanical morality.