20 MARCH 1880, Page 6


IN the new and final volume of the "Life of the Prince Con- sort," we are told of one of the wise and pregnant sayings of the late Sir George Cornewall Lewis,—a man whose guileless lucidity of mind often gave a rich flavour of humour to shrewd sayings which, in him, were really hardly humorous, so uncon- scious was he of the irony which his words conveyed. It is very doubtful, for instance, whether, when he seriously told the Dis- senters who complained of being asked to state their religious convictions in the Census, that no one asked them to state their religious convictions, they were only asked to state what religion they professed, he was at all aware that he was both launching the severest possible sarcasm on the habits of the world, and ignoring in the most innocent manner the conscien- tious horror felt by the majority of the persons he was address- ing of the double-faced practice he referred to. He simply meant that, as a matter of fact, men's beliefs were not at all universally expressed by the creed of the Church to which they belonged ; and all he meant to say was that in the Census they were not asked to register their private convictions, but only the names of the communions in which they worshipped. And it was much the same with regard to this saying of his recorded by the Prince Consort in his letter to Baron Stockmar. In all probability Sir Cullman Lewis hardly saw, or at least only half saw, the humour of the remark, though he profoundly felt its truth. "Sir George Lewis said to me lately," writes the Prince, " I find that the Cabinet is an institution intended to prevent individual Ministers from immortalising themselves at the expense of the country.'" The Prince adds, wistfully, to Baron Stockmar, "This would be a valuable institution, if it ever fulfilled its destiny,"—a remark containing more bitterness than, in the year 1860, was justified by any events of which the Prince had had experience ; but which, if he were alive in 1880, he might, we think, have made with something more than justice,—with a vehement conviction of the utter failure of the Cabinet to fulfil this mission.

Nothing, indeed, strikes us as more significant of the Administration now in office than the complete failure of anything like a collective control by the Cabinet over the policy of the Government. When Mr. Dillwyn made a speech to this effect in the House of Commons, during the last Session, he got hardly any support ; and even Mr. Gladstone, who at various times has indicated his own strong belief that one mind, and one only, controls the Ad- ministration, did what was in his power to silence Mr. Dillwyn. Yet who can review the leading political incidents of the last few years, and yet seriously question that in the case of this Cabinet at all events, there is no trace of its efficiency as an institution for preventing individual Ministers from immortalising them- selves at the expense of the country ? Consider, for instance, the moment chosen for dissolution, and the turn given to it. We quite admit that as to the question of time, the Prime Minister has always had, and usually exercised freely, the right of determining for himself the best moment for an appeal to the country. Still, he has not usually done this without considera- tion for his colleagues. He has not usually led those colleagues seriously to expect a regular working Session,—as Lord Beacons- field must have done, or Sir Michael Hicks-Beach would never have announced this so publicly to his constituents just before the meeting of Parliament,—and then launched a dissolution upon them without even a decent excuse ; without a defeat, without a check, without a single presentable reason why the measures brought forward with so much unction, and the new Standing Order carried with so high a hand, should have been produced when they were, only that they might be put back again into the pigeon-holes, without even a chance of putting them in force. It stands to reason that Lord Cairns and Mr. Cross would hardly have taken so much pains as they did with measures of great importance, that were not even destined to be discussed in the House of Commons at all. If Mr. Cross had had any idea that such would be the fate of his Water Bill, it would have been, indeed, worse than folly,—most unfair to the Water Companies,—to produce it at that time at all. Again, it would be childish to suppose that Sir Stafford Northcote made his great effort to intimidate Obstructionists, if he never expected, —in this Session, at least,—to meet with any obstruction on which he could use it. And so, too, with his promise of the Seats Bill. It is obvious to every one that that promise was given by a Minister who expected to produce a Seats Bill, and not by one who knew that the Session would be closed long before it was possible that a Seats Bill could be carried. Again, as to the policy selected for submission to the country,—the Home-rule issue, the "policy of decomposition," and so forth,—can any reasonable being doubt that it was selected by the Prime Minister alone, that he was preparing to put that issue broadly before the country when he made his speech on the first night of the Session in which the Home-rulers were de- nounced as false to their country, and their Sovereign. Or, again, does any one doubt that he wrote the letter to the Duke of Marl- borough for the very purpose of snatching out of the hands of Sir Stafford Northcote, whose timidity or half-heartedness in pressing against the Liberals the charge of sympathy with Home-rule and the disintegration of the Empire, is notorious, the right belonging to Sir Stafford's office of striking the key-note of the appeal to the country ? On this matter, most assuredly the Cabinet were wholly unable to prevent the Prime Minister from "immortalizing himself, at the expense of his country." But the Dissolution is, in this respect, only of a piece with almost all the leading events of the Administration. In the whole series of those events, so far as they can be interpreted by the outer world, and without a knowledge of what has passed in the Cabinet, it appears to us that only once has the Cabinet dis- tinguished itself as an institution for preventing the Minister from immortalising himself at the expense of the country. We may be said to know indeed that once it did so. Lord Beaconsfield declared, in effect, at Knightsbridge, after his return from Berlin, that in his opinion, England had acted weakly in not threatening war against Russia, in case of her crossing the Danube at all. It was pretty clear that that was the Prime Minister's own policy, and most probable that he was overruled by his Cabinet,—which then contained, it must be remembered,both Lord Derby and Lord Carnarvon,— so that in this case, at all events, the Cabinet did fulfil the functions laid down for it by Sir Cornewall Lewis. But has it ever done so since ? Was it the Cabinet which suggested the calling-out of the Reserves, the display of Indian troops in the Mediterranean without the advice of Parliament, the seizing of Cyprus, the guarantee of Asiatic Turkey? We all know that this was the policy foreshadowed in" Tattered' more than thirty years before the writer had the chance of acting upon his own brooding fancies. Again, was it the Cabinet which selected Lord Lytton for the instrument of a new Indian policy,—which suggested his communicating with the Russian Embassy before leaving England, that he might threaten the poor Ameer of Afghanistan more successfully,—which sup- ported Lord Lytton in absolutely reversing the Indian policy so strongly advocated by Sir Stafford Northcote, when he was Indian Minister ; which suggested the necessity of seizing upon a "scientific frontier," and securing the "great gates" of India ? Everybody knows that on this whole policy, as on all its catchwords, Lord Beaconsfield has set his peculiar mark, and set that mark in complete defiance of the announced views of that one of his colleagues who had formerly filled the post of Indian Minister, and who still leads the House of Commons. In relation to the Afghan war—the most showy and worst blunder of a most showy and blundering Administration— the Cabinet certainly had either no heart or no influence, to prevent the Prime Minister from immortalising him- self at the expense of his country.

Indeed, it seems likely that Lord Beaconsfield will be best remembered in history as the British Minister who most effectually succeeded in immortalising himself at the expense of his country ; and that his colleagues, from Lord Salis- bury and Sir Stafford Northcote downwards, will be re- membered chiefly as the creatures of his indiscreet but indomitable will.