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Art. X.—The Reform Ministry and the Reformed Parliament. Second Edition. 8vo. pp. 108. London. J8S3.
HIS Majesty's government have fitted out a vessel for a long and perilous voyage of discovery. Some experienced shipwrights and sailors, who witnessed her equipment, pronounced that she was unlit for such an arduous service—that she was illplanned, ill-built, ill-formed, ill-stowed—and so crank and overmasted that, in anything like a stiff breeze, she would be found unable to carry her royals! Well; she leaves Deptford, and drops down the river—she is found not to answer her helm—twice she runs aground, and is backed off by main force, but, favoured by the weather, and the tide, she at last, after a greater expense of time and labour than was ever before known, is anchored at the Nore; and then her constructor turns round in triumph and asks, whether she has not disproved and refuted all the unfavourable prognostics which were made about her?—as if passing Gravesend were doubling Cape Horn—as if floatiug one tide down the Thames were a voyage round the world!
Such, but even still more absurd, is the fallacy which this pamphlet is written to maintain—a pamphlet to which it is, we understand, avowed that the several departments of government have been summoned to contribute their talents and (what was more reckoned upon) their ingenuity. It has been everywhere quoted as ' the Voice from Downing Street,' and has been dignified with the title of the Ministerial Manifesto. It is so unusual to meet with any publication in favour of the present ministry, that we should have been perhaps inclined to notice this for its singularity. Out of the circles of office-holders or expectants, we doubt that a pamphlet in defence of ministers or their measures could have been produced; and within them, it seems, no single head was able to undertake so arduous a task. The whole body, therefore, was put in requisition—one man contributed the copy of his printed speech—another cuts, with official scissors, his paragraph out of the newspaper—another was set to reckon the days that parliament sat—an indefatigable was charged with computing the hours—and some good-natured, indolent receiver of salary was appointed to the lighter duty of stating the result. The great head of the law, dissatisfied with the little notice that he had lately received, is understood to have done the chapter of Legal Reform with his own hand—or with one of the many hands which, by dint of patronage, he has made his own—and, indeed, it has been shrewdly suspected that the whole pamphlet was got up for the sake of this chapter, just as we remember to have heard that an ingenious gentleman published an entire Peerage for the sake of introducing his own claims to a dormant title. Be that as it may, this pamphlet is avowedly
the the Smectymnuus of the ministry; and although it is such as— to use Milton's expression in the Smectymnuau controversy— might have been written with any other man's 'left hand,' we firmly believe it exhibits all the skill and judgment which its synod of authors were able to command. We therefore think it, in all these views, worthy of a degree of notice to which certainly neither its political fallacies, miscalled facts, nor its literary pretensions, which may be justly termed bad language and worse logic, would have entitled it.
The first specimen of its logic is that on which we have observed at the outset, the grand assumption that—because there is still the name of a king and the form of a government in England after tlte first session of the reformed parliament, all the fears and prophecies of the opponents of the Reform Bill are disproved and dispelled; and that, because we have survived six mouths, we are certain of living a hundred years. We would gladly compound for a tithe—though tithes be somewhat out of fashion —of the period: but we fear this logic comes rather from the town * than the University of Cambridge.
The pamphlet opens with this statement of the question—
'" I should wish to ask the Noble Lord, (said the Duke of Wellington to Earl Grey, in a speech on the Reform Bill,) how any ministry will hereafter be able to conduct the king's government, with a parliament such as will be returned by this bill 1" Well,—the experiment has been tried. The first session of the reformed parliament has closed.'—p. 1.
And all the rest of the work is dedicated to prove, from the events of this first session, that the opinion of the Duke of Wellington was erroneous, and that neither the new constituency nor its representatives
- have deserved to rouse the suspicions expressed by the Duke of Wellington, or the terrors of Mr. Croker.'^—p. 5.
Now certainly neither the Duke of Wellington, nor Mr. Croker, nor any other person that we ever heard of, prophesied that the first, or the second, or the third session of the reformed parliament must accomplish the entire overthrow of the existing constitution; but they all said (and we ourselves have on various occasions re peated the same opinion) that such a result—however it might be retarded or accelerated by unforeseen accidents — was inevitable, and that the principles on which the Reform Bill was framed would, sooner or later, bring about that frightful
• Need we remind our readers that Mr. Sprmg Kice—having been, by the operation of ihe Reform Bill, ousted from the representation of his native city of Limerick, which he had mainly, hy his own exertions, enfranchised from nomination, and which he had served for many years with zeal and ability—has been driven for a seat to the town of Cambridge, to which he is au entire stranger?
consummation. consummation. The Duke of Wellington's words, even as quoted by the pamphlet, do not warrant the narrow meaning which it finds convenient to attribute to him, as if he had asserted that a government could not exist for six months. His Grace was thinking—not, as the ministers do, about getting over a month or a session—but of the larger interests and periods of a steady and permanent system of government. The allusion to Mr. Croker's anticipations is still more unfortunate, for if ever predictions were verified—it has happened in this case.
In Mr. Croker's first speech on the Reform question, (March 4, 1831,) we find this passage—
'I do not assert that the Reform Bill is meant to be revolutionary, nor that in its present state it is so in a legal sense; but I assert and insist that it has a revolutionary tendency, and will, if carried, at last end inevitably in a revolution.'—Speech, p. 20.
This shows that he contemplated a gradual succession of events; and he specifies the two first events which he thinks likely to occur:—
'The first sensible effect will probably be on that part of the prerogative which gives the crown the choice of its ministers.'—Ibid. And, accordingly, the very first sensible operation on the government was the case of Sir John Hobhouse, whose acceptance of a high office, for which he was in every respect fit, so entirely obliterated all his former popularity that he was—(on an opportunity which he very unnecessarily, we think, afforded) — most unceremoniously detruded from that reformed parliament which he had helped to call into existence; and the office vacated by him was filled by a person who (however otherwise fit or unfit) was notoriously selected because it happened that he alone of all the candidates was sure of his re-election; and, finally, the partisans of the ministry, with the avowed approbation of the ministers themselves, have declared that a law must be passed to restore to the crown that prerogative of which the three first months of the Reform Bill have shewn it to be actually deprived. Mr. Croker's next ' terror' was thus expressed :—
'But next, and perhaps even more important, will be the operation of this house, when it shall be the direct and immediate delegate of the democracy, on the other branches of the legislature. By what new influence is the House of Lords to maintain its independent position in the state? Even constituted as we now are, the House of Commons has occasionally shown a disposition to encroach upon the other branch of the legislature. I will not allude to the bad times when the peers of the realm werevoted needless nuisances, but to a more modern instance—in the year 1742, when a bill of indemnity for certain witnesses was sent to the Lords, which they, in their double and doubly-sacred character of legislators and judges, thought fit to reject —at that date a noble lord (the eldest son of the then Earl of Derby) was found in the House of Commons to propose a vote of censure upon the House of Lords, for exercising this its most indisputable right. The good sense of the house at that day rejected this factious and dangerous motion; but such a slate of things, I fear, will soon again occur, if this measure receive the sanction of parliament.'—lb. p. 20.
Was ever conjecture more strikingly realized? The case did very soon occur—the House of Lords voted an address to his Majesty on the Portuguese question; and—although this was a matter on which the Mouse of Commons had never expressed the most distant opinion or wish—the opportunity was taken of bearing down the opinion of the Upper House by an adverse vote of the House of Commons; that vote passed by an immense majority—the heir of the house of Derby being again prominent in its favour—and the King was advised (as we stated in our last Number) to reprimand the House of Lords. Mr. Croker may have been right or wrong in considering these events as steps to Revolution, but no one can deny that he foretold them as likely to occur early in the reformed parliament, or that they did so occur, and even in the very order in which he had named them. It well becomes the ministerial partisans to make light of 'Mr. Croker's terrors!'
To tell us, therefore, that the ministers have weathered the first session of a reformed parliament, does not contradict any of the apprehensions which the Tories had expressed as to the ultimate tendency of the measure. But if we were even to admit, with the pamphleteers,* that the power ' of conducting the King's government' is to be judged of by the proceedings of the late session, there might still be asked two pithy questions :—Has there been a Government—in the old acceptation of the term, in which, of course, the Duke of Wellington used it? and Has that Government been the King's? To the first question we could give but a very qualified assent—to the latter an absolute negative. Government there certainly has been; but administered inversely— on the King and his ministers, and not by them. To propound measures and abandon them—to pass votes and rescind them—to give pledges and forfeit them—to be never of the same mind two days running—to puzzle by blunders and inconsistency friends and enemies alike—to drag followers through the dirt, and then desert the measure for which it had begrimed them—to have no views but of the expedient of the night—no object but to get
* We employ this word in no disparaging sense—the noblemen and gentlemen to whom the composition is attributed, are entitled to all personal courtesy and respect. We only use the term to avoid circumlocution, for the authors of, or contributors to, the ministerial pamphlet,
through through the debate—no prospect but that of closing the session— if all this be governing, we certainly have had a government; but it is a government which, having no internal force, only works by the tradition, as it were, of former authority, and can last no longer than that gradually decreasing impulse. By and bye a new power will possess itself of the torpid machine, and work it at a hew rate and to a new purpose—and that will probably be the second stage of our Revolution.
The writers of the pamphlet, feeling sorely the real impotence of the ministry, endeavour to display its vast influence and activity, and expatiate with affected triumph on the great number of things it has meddled with. Can they dream that men are so silly as not to see, in this busy and feverish restlessness, the surest symptom of weakness and disorder? Like a spinning-top, if they stand still, they fall—like rope-dancers, unable to walk at a steady pace along the line chalked out before them, they can only keep their balance by jumps and capers, which to the vulgar eye look like confidence and vigour, while, in fact, they are only painful efforts to maintain a precarious position. Hear what was said by an old Whig,—the predecessor and relative of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and one whose authority no one of that party will deny—Lord John Cavendish—upon the subject of ultra-activity in a government:—' When extraordinary remedies become the ordinary engines of government, you may rest assured that you have a weak ministry.'—Debates, 18 Dec. 1772. 'A spirit of innovation,' said Mr. Burke, 'is generally the result of a. selfish temper and confused views.' Look in common life at a weak man in perplexity, see how he tries all topics— multiplies projects and shifts—flies about to every expedient— puts, to use the common illustration, all his irons in the fire at once, without calculating how he is hereafter to find time or power to fashion them to any useful purpose. So far, then, from seeing, in the long list of measures of all kinds and classes which the ministers adduce as proofs of their wisdom and ability, any subject of praise to them or consolation to the country, we—too certainly—know that they are the convulsions of weakness,—the St. Vitus's dance of limbs which are so busy only because they have neither health nor strength to be quiet.
This, we candidly admit, is now their misfortune rather than their fault. Their fault—their crime—was the selfish and corrupt party policy which led to the Reform Bill: that once passed—as the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel, and every one else foretold —the consequences became inevitable; and on the whole we, under existing circumstances, are much more inclined to pity than to censure them. But then, on the other hand, it is a little