22 JUNE 1867, Page 8


MR. AYRTON is a curious example of the power of im- mense Parliamentary knowledge and lucid business- capacity, apparently without any higher qualities, and in spite of some very disagreeable ones, to raise a man in the House 'of Commons. He has now been ten years in the House, and session by session he becomes evidently more powerful there, though certainly not more popular. And yet he never makes an eloquent or hearty speech. He is always giving needless and bitter offence. He is not trusted, for he flirts with both parties, and only the other day, after he had secured for the 'Tower Hamlets and for the West End the additional repre- sentation for which, as a metropolitan member, he was bound to contend, voted against Mr. Laing's motion to give additional representation to the other great cities. Mr. Disraeli, too, has taken to complimenting him, which is always a dangerous sign. And yet though his Liberalism is ambiguous, and his political temper is of the worst, nobody doubts now that if a new Liberal Government were to come in before he had done anything to break with the Liberal party, he would be in- cluded in the next Liberal Ministry, — not perhaps as a Cabinet Minister, but in an office of some importance. And yet no man is more generally disliked in the House. In some respects he is a sort of bourgeois Lord Westbury. Though without his superfine manner and without his wide abstract intellect, Mr. Ayrton not unfrequently reminds observers of Parliament of Sir R. Bethell's wounding little speeches on questions of detail, and of the absolute manner in which he laid down the law for those who were his inferiors in knowledge. Of course Mr. Ayrton has not the tone of serene elevation which gave to Sir R. Bethell's manner so much of its special character. There is almost always heat in his style, even when he is most satirical, and there is never an approach to heat in Lord Westbury. Mr. Ayrton has not the air of a god descended into human debate, and consequently his bitterness is sometimes savagery, and has even a shade of vulgarity. There are signs of inflammation, of "proud flesh," in his manner. He seems to apply to others the biting caus- tic which would be most salutary for himself. The sardonic tone seldom quite deserts him, and it is closely connected with that lucidity of understanding, and that complete mastery of a great range of detail on all political subjects, which is apt to feed self-confidence, and has, in all probability, actually fed it in Lord Westbury and Mr. Ayrton alike. Of course, as a mere lawyer, Mr. Ayrton has no claim to .intellectual great- ness. He has not devoted himself to the law since his entrance into Parliament, but has devoted his whole powers to Pailia- mentary business. It is only in a certain measure of intel- lectual arrogance and self-confidence, partly legitimate timate in both, that Mr. Ayrton resembles Lord Westbury. There is nothing Olympian about the former. In the very bitterness of his most scornful remarks, he proclaims himself a creature of like passions with ourselves. In short, the superficial resem- blance we have suggested is only sufficient to mark the greater difference. Lord Westbury has a wide speculative intellect ; Mr. Ayrton apparently one rather specially averse to large and theoretic questions. Lord Westbury 's cynicism arises from deeply -rooted intellectual contempt for under- standings poorer than his own ; Mr. Ayrton's from impatient intolerance of understandings slower and clumsier than his own. Lord Westbury loves to dissect, where Mr. Ayrton only scarifies. The latter never lays bare the theoretic backbone even of a blunder, but only brands it with a drop of vitriol as he passes. What has hitherto kept, and may yet keep, Mr. Ayrton back from the first rank of Parliamentary ability, has been a want of breadth of intellect, a preference for detail, a too great addiction to the mint and anise and cumin of Parlia- mentary business.

For Mr. Ayrton, with all his remarkable ability, is entirely wanting in both broad political principles and popular feelings. He seems to have some of that impatience of both, which men of great concrete powers and an extraordinary range of special information so often evince. He has even shown from time to time a jealousy of men who gain a great influence by reiterating continually and powerfully a popular view of some one subject. Perhaps he partly regards this as clap-trap. Last year, for instance, and for one or two years previously, he took various opportunities of snubbing Mr. Bright, with whose views Mr. Ayrton's own first confession of Radical faith was in very tolerable accordance ; and on the last of these opportunities, Mr. Bright was able to repay him with interest. The occasion to which we refer was one in which Mr. Ayrton's cynical tone was curiously characteristic, for it was injudicious, and he must have known it to be injudicious, and yet he pro- bably could not control himself. At the Reform meeting in St. James's Hall the day after the great street Demonstration of 3rd December last, Mr. Ayrton, with his usual feeling of irritation for wordy and unbusinesslike proceedings, was un- wise enough to touch with his caustic first the Sovereign and then the people. He thought the Queen ought to have watched the demonstration from the palace, " and shown her sympathy with the living as well as an affectionate rever- ence for the memory of the dead." He regretted "she should not have been so well advised as to enjoy the grati- fying spectacle of looking upon her loyal people ;" but at the same time, lest that loyal people should feel too much elated at what they had done, he added sarcastically that if 175,000 out of the expected 200,000 had stayed away from the demonstration, they only gave in so doing a striking proof of their "love of industry and home." Mr. Bright seized the occasion to defend the Queen for her retirement, and raised the whole feeling of the meeting against Mr. Ayrton, by re- marking to the working men, that a woman, whether a queen or the wife of a labouring man, " who could keep alive in her heart a great sorrow for the lost object of her life and affec- tion, is not at all likely to be wanting in great and genuine sympathy with you." It was a curious and characteristic blunder in a man so able as Mr. Ayrton, to lay himself open to such a retort. But he has never yet shown any trace of direct sympathy with popular feelings, though he has shown many of direct antipathy to aristocratic monopolies. ..Still, he cannot conceal his irritation at the common platiteides of popular agitation. Mr. Ayrton has, nevertheless, risen so much in the estimate of Parliament, partly by his ability as a speaker, partly by his minute knowledge on almost every variety of Parliamentary business, that, as we said, if ever, or whenever, a Liberal Ministry is formed again, he will probably be asked, if he is, then, still a Liberal, to take office. The truth is, he not only knows something, but knows something to good purpose, on almost every subject debated in Parliament. For example, on anchors and chain cables, on the victualling system for the Navy, on almost all railway questions, on consular establishments, on the, details of finance, on the minute detail of education ques- tions, on bankruptcy law, on all legal reforms, on East India revenue accounts, and a multitude of other matters, he speaks habitually and with weight. On many of these, indeed, Mr. Ayrton is an authority, and one of the best authorities in the House. In the dull little back lanes and the blind alleys of Parliamentary business and legislation no one knows his way, or the impossibility of finding a way, so well as Mr. Ayrton. On municipal questions, especially questions affecting the municipality of London, he is even great, as Mr. Disraeli not long ago observed. The Lord Mayor and Common Council of London have long had reason to dread and hate him. He never misses a chance of trampling upon them, and his knowledge of London local questions is so great, and his power of scornful expression so great also, that he has many excellent, chances. Nothing delights him more than such an opportunity as he had not long ago in moving to appropriate what is, called the Finsbury Estate to meet the special spiri- tual destitution of the metropolis, when he was fortunately able to explain to the House how it was that the Finsbury Estate had not been swalloW.ed:up,by the City municipality, long ago. _ The long lease of this estate, which is just about to expire, was a lease to the Corporation of,,London, which was, at one time, just about to buy in the freehold, in which case it would have been lost for ever to the Church. "It was a circumstance which might almost be called providential," said Mr. Ayrton, with a sarcasm that was almost ferocious. " that the officer of the Corporation who was to have officiated on the occasion, had eaten and drunk so much that he was unable to perform his duty. He sickened, lost his appetite, and died, and happily the Finsbury Estate was preserved to the Church, and did not become a fund for supplying addi- tional eating and drinking to the distinguished men who managed the municipal affairs of the City of London." It is in such thrusts as these that Mr. Ayrton feels that it is life to live.

What Mr. Ayrton needs in order to rise higher and more rapidly than he has hitherto done is a little bonhomie, and some dedication of his powers to the broader and more general fields of political discussion. In bonhomie, and the intellectual placidity of mind which bonhomie is apt to imply, he is utterly wanting. He goes out of his way to trample down even new men, for mere inaccuracies, which is a sad political mistake, as well as an unamiable characteristic. Not long ago in a debate on Mr. McCullagh Torrens' Bill for improving the dwellings of artizans, Mr. Ayrton went quite out of his way to trample rather brutally on a new member,— a Conservative,—who was warmly supporting the Bill, but who had exaggerated its drift, and represented it as a more formidable measure than it really was. And as a rule, he cannot let an opportunity slip of setting anybody down. This, of course, makes him very unpopular, and what perhaps is more important in relation to his success in Parliament, it gives a tone of acridity to his intellect which makes people think him as unsafe intellectually as they do in a party sense. He likes even, if he can, to show his scorn for the House in general, as when he complained last session of the "uxoriousness " which made it so unwilling to debate late, even on the Reform question. In this respect Mr. Ayrton has somewhat softened his tone this session. And as his abilities are more generally recognized, he may perhaps become rather less savage. Mr. Gladstone has treated him this session as a power ; and it has had a marked effect in giving him a more composed and less aggressive manner,—which cannot but secure greater weight for his judgment. But, to succeed, he must also speak more, and more at length, on the larger questions of statesmanship, and less on matters of detail. Nothing is better for a new member than to impress the House with his business capacity, and to be silent on large show questions till he has made a reputa- tion for solid knowledge of what Mr. Lowe calls "revolting detail." But Mr. Ayrton has long passed this stage of political estimation, and will be listened to attentively for his lucidity and force on whatever he may choose to speak. And to attain real weight in the House, he must, if he can, give greater weight to political principles and less to political information. He must show not less intelligence, but more intellect. Minute knowledge of the legislation on anchors and chain cables is a capital thing in its way, but it will not make a statesman. Even so admirably lucid a speech as he made on voting papers on Thursday, is too much on a question of detail to give him any rank as a leading poli- tician. Mr. Ayrton's political confession has always been very Radical, but it is obvious, we think, that he is no in principle an extreme man, if indeed he has any hearty political principles at all. On the great Liberal questions of the day, the Irish Church, foreign policy, even Reform in its largest sense,—we do not mean, as discussed, clause by clause, in Committee,—he rarely speaks, or speaks briefly and indifferently. Street music is a capital topic about which to plague the aristocracy and the men who give themselves. airs, but it is not one on which to win a reputation such as might be almost within Mr. Ayrton's grasp if he could change his contemptuous tone for one of sincere political belief ;—and yet there are not very many questions on which he has spoken at much greater length of late years than street music. As a speaker Mr. Ayrton is effective, but not attractive. His rapid, cut-and-thrust style, and -his sub-acid tones in sarcasm, are excellent for their purpose, but he has no tones which seem to come from beneath the partizan surface of his mind,—no tones of gravity, dignity, and deep conviction. He expresses intellectual passion, aggressive contempt, complete mental mastery of his subject, perfectly. But of deep political earnestness and disinterested political feeling, neither voice nor manner gives any trace. Mr. Ayrton is as yet a vigorous and fluent business speaker, with a very efficient sting ; and by these ,somewhat coarse means alone, has gained the estima- tion in which he is held. He is a thoroughly unlovely power in politics, but he is a kind of power not unlikely to pre- dominate more in the future than even in the present.