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The Conservative was loudly cheered. I am afraid I cheered too. Only the other day a friend of mine told me that when there was a question of getting his Eton boy a new valise, the boy wrote to say: 'Please don't let it be a Gladstone bag.' The confidential servants of great houses are Conservative. Their opinions are formed by the halls and parks and armorial bearings upon which they depend, and which in their own interests they regard as valuable institutions. This especially applies to gamekeepers and stablemen, the ministering angels of English boy hood, who suspect the Radicals of lurid designs upon sport in general. Then, as I have already said, many peers have served in the army. To go straight from a public school into a crack regiment, to serve in India or at Gibraltar, are influences and facts unfavourable to Liberalism. A vigorous past participle is the usual prefix to the Radical, his measures, and his creed on the rare occasions when current polities are the theme of conversation at mess. Then the individual circumstances of the House of Lords are conserving and conservative. To be born, as most of its members are, with a silver spoon in their mouth, even in these days of agricultural depression, inclines the House of Lords to accept things as they find them, and to discourage changes. Ils ont la résignation des gens qui sont nés tout consolés.' A few exceptions to this general rule (for the Liberal peer has always existed, and at times exerted himself), after a certain number of years of striving and voting in a dispirited minority, grow weary of kicking against the pricks and acquiesce where they are powerless to act.
I said just now that history and experience were on Lord Rosebery's side in his plea for a readjustment of the relations of the House. But so is the present practice of the House of Lords. Unyielding virtue has never been its characteristic. Self-adaptation to circumstances has.
As far back as 1719 Lord Peterborough wrote a pamphlet, in which he compared the House of Lords to a state of purgatory where the ultimate decrees of Providence (in Lord Peterborough's view the Commons) were not arrested, but only suspended and delayed. And I observe that Mr. Justin McCarthy, the leader of the Irish Nationalist party, who can hardly be accused of casuistry, recently cited the rejection of the Home Rule Bill by the House of Lords as a satisfying earnest of its passing into law in the near future. It is sometimes urged by unreflecting persons, that the strength of the House of Lords lies in a noble indifference to what happens, or to the personal consequences of its action. This is an assumption which seems to carry with it a peculiar satisfaction. But experience is seldom on the side of the unreflecting, and, as a matter of fact and of history, collision has always been averted, not by the courage of the House of Lords but by its prudence. They are neither brave nor foolish.
Mr. Bagehot, in his work on the English Constitution, unkindly says that upon great cccasions the peers have always preferred their coronets to their convictions. I do not for a moment assent, but even peers are men of the world, and I dare say they sometimes think of them together.
Only two or three months ago Lord Salisbury explained in a letter to the Times that he had spoken and voted in favour of the Disestablishment of the Irish Church in 1869, after having spoken and voted against it in the preceding session, not because he had changed his opinion-he still considered the measure to be founded on dangerous principles, and likely to lead to the gravest evils—but because a greater authority than the House of Lords had spoken, and the powers of the House of Lords were limited by the ascertained will of the people. To my mind that is a sound and constitutional vin dication, and we may be sure that the 'waverer' of the 1831 Reform Bill is not an extinct animal. Ephemeral, if you like, the creature of the hour and circumstance. “A patched-up miscellaneous concern at best, of men half reasoned, half frightened over’-Mr. Charles Greville called the party of the 'Waverers.' Yet upon that occasion of crisis and alarm the situation was saved by this sagacious miscellany." Stress appears to teach our senators wisdom. Les hommes faibles ne cèdent jamais à propos; but that cannot be said of the House of Lords. If the real occasion arises, can anyone doubt that they will not give way to the supreme power' (I am quoting from a classical speech of Lord Salisbury's ?) which the Franchise Bill of 1884 gave to the people of Great Britain and of Ireland ?
That is all very well, it may be said, but the occasion has not arisen. Where are the riots and illuminations and broken windows of 1832? Has the equivalent of a Nottingham Castle been burned down ? Has the Lord Londonderry of the day been waylaid in his cabriolet ? Did the newspapers appear in mourning when the Lords threw out the Home Rule Bill, or the Government dropped the Employers' Liability Bill on the Lords' amendments ? It is perfectly true that no such things have happened. Nor do I think it surprising that the country should not have taken up the question of the House of Lords in the way in which it was taken up, for instance, in 1832 or even in 1884. Mr. Hume was of opinion that the Reform Bill was a stepping-stone to a republic in England and to separation in Ireland. I wonder what Mr. Hume would have said to the Reform Act of 1867 and of 1884 which have placed the balance of political power in the hands of the town artisan and of the rural labourer. Yet even these later Acts have had little if any of the effect Mr. Hume anticipated from the earlier Act. Indeed, many of the old trumpet-tongued
Seventeen peers voted for the Reform Bill in 1832 who had voted against it in 1831. Ten abstained ; twelve who had abstained in 1831 voted for the Bill in 1832.
? At Newport, 1885.
watchwords have ceased to rouse. Liberal government has made not only a moderate but a material people. The mind of the electorate seems no longer set upon high things. Even without reading La Révolte or Le Père Peinard, the elector has only to look across the sea to realise that the mere absence of institutions, whether thrones, churches, or hereditary chambers, does not of itself contribute to any general raising of the standard of comfort, to the enlargement of opportunity, or to the removing of inequalities. On the other hand decent and sanitary houses, healthy and safe conditions of work, regular employment, fair wages, old-age pensions are palpable as against ideal benefits. Comfortable considerations appear to be responsible for what we style the new spirit in politics. Politicians of all shades of opinion, and notably Mr. Chamberlain, are quite aware of its requirements and its bearing upon votes. Attractive social programmes seem therefore likely to occupy the attention of party wirepullers, which a root-and-branch crusade against the House of Lords could do little to promote and might do much to obstruct. Besides, a crusade depends upon a Cour de Lion, and Mr. Gladstone has retired from active politics.
Yet, not withstanding the result of the general election, many people agree that something will have to be done before long about the House of Lords. If this be so (and it will hardly be disputed), even extreme Radicals will admit in their calmer moments that the absence of popular ferment is a favourable condition to the solution of a practical administrative problem. Mr. John Bright was no great friend of the House of Lords. He held them to be a peculiar and objectionable people. He mistrusted their birth, their manners, and their amusements. But what did Mr. Bright say at a time of acute controversy between the Houses ? After dismissing the constitutional check of an arbitrary creation of peers as a remedy worse than the disease, he said, 'I would rather see the Houses of Parliament, whether the one or the other, taking these questions up' (the relations of the Houses)'in a broad, philosophic spirit, than that they should wait until there is a ferment in the country approaching to confusion.'
Cannot this be done now? Has not the time arrived for taking up this vexed question of the House of Lords in a broad, philosophic spirit ? If Lord Salisbury has not always been frugal in the exercise of the immediate power of the House of Lords, he has given evidence upon conspicuous occasions that he appreciates the constitutional limits set upon that power; and even assuming Lord Rosebery's resolution to have affirmed in specific terms that under certain conditions the veto of the Lords should be extinguished, it would only have expressed the theory of Lord Salisbury's practice—that is, the practice of the House of Lords.
I appeal unto Cæsar. Lord Salisbury has a great opportunity of
rendering a signal service to his generation. The free hand which the general election has now given him, his personal ascendency, the majority he arrays in the Lords, make him in a sense the master of the situation. Surely his talents, his statesmanship, the experience gained in the long transaction of great affairs of State, should make him its mediator.
The popular success of Mr. Balfour's Foundations of Belief coincides with, if it did not originate, a revived interest in the eternal problem of Man and the World: the ultimate grounds of philosophy and religion. Mr. Lilly, Vr. Kidd, Mr. Mallock, and others have returned to it again and again from the theological standpoint: whilst Mr. Herbert Spencer, Mr. Huxley, and Mr. Leslie Stephen have treated it from the agnostic point of view. I crave leave to say something about a new book by Mr. Mallock, perhaps the most acute, and certainly the most lively controversialist on the theological side-all the more that he devotes a considerable part of his volume to an article of my own, now seven years old, which has not been reprinted.
In a bright and piquant volume of three hundred pages, Mr. Mallock, greatly to his own satisfaction, disposes of such trifles as Positivism, Agnosticism, Unitarianism, Free Thought, Evolution, Natural Religion, the Revolution, and Socialism. Auguste Comte, Mr. Herbert Spencer, Professor Huxley, Mr. John Morley, Mrs. Humphry Ward, Mr. Stead, Mr. Henry George, the Fabian essayists, are all demolished with airy contempt; those who do not agree with Mr. Mallock are said to be.gibbering,''cowardly,' childish,' 'ludicrous,' 'absurd,'' abject,' and so forth. Their systems are superstition, ' “rubbish. What would religious controversy be without its adjectives? It is the way of polemical argument, and especially it is the way of Mr. Mallock. As he first became known by the best parody in our language since Thackeray's Codlingsby, we must not complain if all systems of unorthodox philosophy are lumped together by him as mere forms of 'contemporary superstition.' By all means: it is ' pretty Fanny's way,' and it gives cheerfulness to a difficult subject. I did not myself see his "Scientific Bases of Optimism on its first publication; but, since he thinks it worth reprinting in this volume, and as it directly concerns an article of my own, and will serve me as a useful text to add some further development of my views, I shall not decline his invitation to renew the debate. The very
Studies of Contemporary Superstition. By W. H. Mallock. 1895. Essay No. 1: • The Scientific Bases of Optimism.'
· Apologia pro fide nostra.' Fortnightly Revien, November 1888, vol. xliv. 665.