21 DECEMBER 1867, Page 5


THERE was a striking sort of scornful article in Thursday's Pall Mall Gazette on the melancholy nature of the neces- sity for such speeches as Mr. Gladstone delivered at Oldham on Wednesday. The writer first summarized, after the manner of a string of rather curt recitals, but in his own way conscien- tiously perhaps, the drift of what Mr. Gladstone said in his three great speeches ; and then remarked that the necessity of uttering this sort of obvious truism is, " so to speak, con- sidered in the wages of modern politicians," and that "it is one of the conditions of political life in England in these days that a man is always to be ready to go to great towns, to stop at the house of some local magnate, to live there in public for days at a time, to see the sights, the co-operative mill and the co-operative store, and the new mechanics' institute, with its billiard-table and its statistics about the comparative number of novels and books of history taken out of the library in the course of the year,—and finally, to make speeches all day and all night about the advantages of education, the curse of excessive drink, and the glorious prospects which lie before British industry." Mr. Gladstone's scorn- ful critic does not deny that this sort of thing may have its good side ; that Mr. Gladstone is better known to the people of Oldham, and the people of Oldham better known to Mr. Gladstone, than they were on Tuesday. After- wards, as we shall see, he virtually retracts this admission. But then, he says, there is a very bad side to this constant 'outpouring of common-places by eminent public men, even though it be " considered in their wages." The mischief is, according to the Pall'Mall critic, as we understand him, that it• "waters down " the intellect of public men, and accustoms them to deal with important political subjects rather in the fashion which they believe their audience to be best calculated to appreciate, than in that which best conforms to the stand- ard of their own intellectual strength. Even Mr. Gladstone's 'hand, says this critic, has apparently been' subdued to the material it works in. And this is a great evil, which ought to be well weighed by all who are anxious to engage in poli- tical life.

Now, we are not going to deny that if you take an intel- lectual standard alone,—which the able writer in the Pall Mall Gazette evidently does,—there is enough justification for the assertion that not only public speakers, but public writers, who expect to be read, must " water down " their thoughts till they are too apt to find it rather difficult to think after the good stiff downright fashion of solitary intellects going direct to the point, and wasting no power on the mere reitera- tion of admitted troths. But this obvious tendency of popu- lar speaking to promote a dilatation of thought not very favourable to hard thinking, may be found to be only one illustration of the general law of sacrifice which requires from men who devote themselves to public good frequent and willing sacrifices of private advantage. If a man with great capacities for original scientific discovery in his mind devote all his power instead to education, he will be obliged to sacri- fice his chance of scientific greatness. If a great jurist devote himself, under a sense of duty or by preference, to the estab- lishment of reformatory schools, he loses his chance of reform- ing the law of his country. By the very nature of things, great social influence means, to a large extent, in this world of limitation, renunciation of individual ends. The same man, as the writer in the Pall Mall himself points out, can seldom have the capacity of at once interesting the masses of men and prosecuting effectually many original studies. But we fail to perceive why this is a reason for greater regret, where the end for which the personal sacrifice is made is a wholesome political and social influence, than where the end for which it is made is strictly professional, as in the case of a barrister's practical duties in Court. We are told that when a bar- rister speaks in Court, " his words are intended to produce a specific effect, and their value must be measured by their tendency to produce `'that effect ; and in adjusting the things said to the effect to bs produced by them, there is, of course, scope for an indefinite amount of mental skill and exertion but such a speech or constellation of speeches as those which Mr. Gladstone made at Oldham was simply talent thrown away. A whole day is passed in very hard work by a man of first- rate ability, and the article produced is nearly worthless, except in so far as it is worth while to give harmless gratifi- cation to the people of Oldham " ' Here we are utterly unable to follow the critic. If he means, as later on he seems to mean, that the mischief of popular oratory is its tendency to relax the intensity of the thinking faculty, we can recognize this prejudicial influence, just as we recognize the prejudicial influence exerted on a barrister by the necessity of always driving his thoughts into a onesided view of his case. But when he seems to assert that this sacrifice is made for no good. purpose in the case of such speeches as Mr. Gladstone's, but for a sufficiently good purpose in the case of the machinery of justice, we are entirely at issue with him. And, indeed, when we come to look at the result of the Pall Mall's post-mortem examination of Mr. Gladstone's speeches, we do not wonder, if that is all this critic found there, that he was inclined to believe the net result valueless. There is, no doubt, a conscientious desire to summarize what Mr. Gladstone said. But there was so little in common between the critic and the criticized, that all which was most valuable really escaped in the process of analysis. If Mr. Gladstone had made a strong speech is favour of hanging criminals more frequently, and against fine subjective distinctions as to the character of their guilt, we should probably have had a hearty panegyric from'. our Pall Mall critic, instead of a scornful chemical analysis, the very method of which was so chosen as to evaporate the essence professedly sought after. We are far from denying that Mr. Gladstone, like most other public men, may have purchased his great influence at a considerable cost of high intellectual qualifications which might otherwise have been attainable to him. But we do hold very strongly, and nothing seems to us to prove it more powerfully than these speeches, that his political oratory is one of the most useful and perhaps intense of the many educating influences to which the public mind shows itself susceptible. Let us go hastily over the ground traversed by the able and contemptuous critic of the Pall Mall, and pick out what he has,—no doubt not intentionally, probably inevitably, —neglected. We think his leavings will be found indefinitely more valuable to the public than his gleanings. In the first of his three speeches, we are told by our contemporary that Mr. Glad- stone thought that "the public were becoming extravagant as to. the national revenue, which was wrong." Now, what Mr. Glad- stone did say was both infinitely more instructive and infinitely mare characteristic, though it was not given to the masculine, but not too sensitive, perception of his critic to see it. He said that the middle class, since it became wealthy and comfort- able itself, had forgotten the moral bearings of public economy; that it was a duty, not only for the sake of the savings it might cause, though this was important while there is so wide a field of wretchedness of the worst kind, but "because public economy is associated with public virtue, and because extravagance in public establishments is associated with jobbery and the extension of political vices." Now, we main- tain that this almost austere view of public economy, which distinguishes it from private thrift in that it is certainly in a far higher degree the execution of a trust for others, since it deals solely with property contributed by the nation for the service of the nation,—and which lays so much emphasis on the rich crop of subsidiary vices which sprout up directly there begins to be even carelessness in administering this public trust, is not only a lesson of the highest import,. ance to the public, but derives, in a certain sense even an original force from Mr. Gladstone's statement. Now, when the dry-rot of corruption is beginning to invade not only our official life, but our commercial enterprises everywhere, nothing is more difficult than to realize where the fountain-head of this moral corruption is to be found. Mr. Gladstone tells us that that which is merely carelessness and extravagance at the source of responsibility becomes corruption in its lower course. You cannot have the sort of selfishness at head-quarters which flings away public wealth merely in order to save trouble, with- out having that worst sort of selfishness which grasps at it for the purpose of private gain where the sense of public respon- sibility is less keen. Without an almost austere frugality in the chief, there will never be even scrupulous honesty in the subordinates. If Mr. Gladstone had only pronounced this one most characteristic and instructive passage, in which he connects the absence of any severe abstemiousness and self- denying scrupulousness in the Government in sanctioning the expenditure of public trust money, with the deficiency of honourable scruples as to plundering the public, at the lower end of the scale,—his speeches at Oldham would have been of real public value. Nor can that high ethical view of the duty of strict frugality in relation to the property of others be wholly lost on a society which sees the directors of all sorts of public companies, pitching to the winds the property which they received not to waste, but to multiply.

Then again, Mr. Gladstone's scornful critic sums up what he said to the Mechanics' Institute on the subject of amuse- ments thus :—" Amusement in its proper place was a good thing, and the power of amusing ourselves gracefully and in a satisfactory manner was not the strong point of the English people. The rich in particular ought to remember how much more important innocent amusement was to themselves than to the poor." There is, perhaps, some misprint in this last sentence, as it seems to us to say precisely the opposite to what Mr. Gladstone said, but anyhow, the most characteristic and the most delicate touch of Mr. Gladstone's observa- tions on this point is missed :—and it is the mixture of intellectual delicacy with ease and breadth in his popular speeches, which constitutes much of their.educating value to the people at large. What he said was that, oddly enough, it is mainly those whose lives are " from morning to night, and from year's end to year's end one succession and satiety of amusements, so much so, that at last they lose all faculty of enjoying amusements," who are most disposed to insist that recreation is quite superfluous for those whose lives are one continual succession and satiety of toil. It is those to whom amusement has become a toil who chiefly imagine that toil should be amusement. There is nothing, perhaps, very pro- found in the remark, though it is true, and often lost sight of. But in thus seizing the opportunity to trace the connection be- tween callousness and self-indulgence, Mr. Gladstone displayed a characteristic which really belongs to the essence of his moral power as an orator ; indeed, if ever it dropped out of his speeches as completely as the Pall Mall critic has ignored it, we might perhaps be more easily converted to his view of the moral uselessness of such efforts.

Greater still, as it appears to us, was the public value of his speech on the struggle between labour and capital, and the weapons used by the former in carrying on the war. Mr. Gladstone's critic does not even summarize what he said on this subject, yet it was far more obviously and directly calculated to bring about a useful result than most of those professional speeches in the Law Courts and in Parliament, which the Pall Mall Gazette thinks so much more healthy. In speaking of Trades' Unions Mr. Gladstone entered with real discrimination into their highest features, especially that tendency to make the workmen feel " responsible to each other," to make " the misconduct of the one felt as the• misconduct of the whole," to foster a willingness to sacrifice- individual interests to the interests of the class, on which the better class of working-men so eagerly insist. And yet while showing that he fully appreciated this side of Trades' Unions, so persistently ignored by the middle class, nothing could be more searching than his attack on the protective and exclusive spirit of the apprenticeship and other rules in restraint of unskilled labour and the labour of women. No. doubt this attack was not new ; on the contrary, very old: But it was new in connection with the large and generous sym- pathy extended to the good side of Trades' Unions by a statesman of Mr. Gladstone's rank. It is not by original thought, but by discriminating moral pressure that half the influence for good which a public man can exert is exerted. No moral pressure on this subject could have been more discriminating than Mr. Gladstone's. And when Mr. Gladstone reminded his audience- of the remarkable effect which strikes have often had in- hastening the invention of machinery intended to render the. capitalist independent of his self-willed labourers, and yet how that machinery has eventually worked to do the coarse- and servile toil of the world, and produce innumerable new- openings for the employment of directing skilled labour, instead of the mere mechanic strain of human sinews and muscles, he exhibited a curious elaboration of great results- out of a web of human blunders and cross-purposes, which must have produced a. considerable impression on the more imaginative both of the operatives and the masters, and one cer- tainly calculated to diminish greatly their confidence in their own power of controlling events by mere force of organization..

On the whole, we believe that such speeches as Mr. Gladstone's at Oldham, so far from being "really worthless,"- are educating influences of the highest order,—if only on this account, that they convey a very powerful impression of the per- sonal character of at least one great statesman who is anxious to enter into the heart of the questions which most deeply in- terest the masses of this nation, and to advise them as to the solution. These speeches exhibit a mind of the highest earnest- ness, of very lively sympathies, of great ingenuity, delicate grace, great sincerity, and no little moral courage, fastening 04 the social questions which are nearest to the hearts and con- sciences of the people, and taking them up into the light of a lucid and delicate moral feeling. If that is a " worthless spectacle for the public, we scarcely know what there is of any worth which public men can do.