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HOUSE OF COMMONS.
THE building in which the representatives of the nation assemble at
Westminster, is about as insignificant, ill-contrived, and inconvenient a place
as can be well conceived. It is true that the edifices appropriated to both
Lords and Commons are both only temporary ones; nevertheless, it would have been
easy to construct halls of assembly more suitable for their purposes than those
that now exist.
The House of Commons is an oblong, with rows of plain wooden
benches on each side, leaving a space in the middle which is occupied by the
table, whereon petitions are laid. At one end of this table is the mace: at the
other, sit the clerks who record all proceedings that require to be noted. Close
behind the clerks, and at one extremity of the apartment, is the Speaker's
chair: galleries surround this hall of assembly ;- the one for the reporters is
immediately over the Speaker's chair; that for strangers occupies the other
extremity of the oblong; and the two side ones are for the use of the members.
The ministers and their supporters occupy the benches on the right of the
speaker: the opposition members are seated on those to the left of that
functionary. There are also cross-benches under the strangers' gallery, where
those members who fluctuate between ministerial and opposition opinions,
occasionally supporting the one side or the other according to their pleasure or
convictions, take their place.
At each extremity of the house there is a lobby - one behind
the cross-benches, the other behind the Speaker's chair, between which and the
door of this latter lobby there is a high screen surmounted by the arms of the
united kingdom. When the House divides upon any question, those who vote for the
motion or bill pass into one lobby, and those who vote against the point in
question proceed to the other. Each party appoints its tellers, who
station themselves at the respective doors of the two lobbies, and count the
members on either side as they return into the house.
The house is illuminated with bude-lights, and is ventilated
by means of innumerable holes perforated through the floor, which is covered
with thick hair matting.
According to the above-mentioned arrangements of benches, it
is evident that the orator, in whatever part he may sit, almost invariably has a
considerable number of members behind him, or, at all events, sitting in places
extremely inconvenient for hearing. Then, the apartment itself is so miserably
confined, that when there is a full attendance of members, at least a fourth
cannot obtain seats.
It will scarcely be believed by those previously unaware of
the fact, that the reporters for the public press are only allowed to attend and
take notes at the proceedings upon sufferance. Any one member can procure
the clearance of both the reporters' and the strangers' galleries, without
assigning any reason whatever.* [* "The process of parliamentary
reporting, and the qualifications of those by whom the task is performed, cannot
be adequately described within the narrow limits of this articles but it is
hoped that the reader maybe enabled to form some idea of both from the following
brief outline. Every publication not copying from or abridging any other, but
giving original reports, keeps one of a series of reporters constantly in the
gallery of the lords, and another in the commons. These, like sentinels, are at
stated periods relieved by their colleagues, when they take advantage of the
interval to transcribe their notes, in order [-220-] to
be ready again to resume the duty of note-taking, and afterwards that of
transcription for the press. A succession of reporters for each establishment is
thus maintained; and the process of writing from their notes is never
interrupted until an account of the whole debates of the evening has been
committed to the hands of the printer. There are only seven publications for
which a reporter is constantly in attendance; and these include the London
morning papers, from which all others that give debates are under the necessity
of copying or abridging them. The number of reporters maintained by each varies
from ten or eleven to seventeen or eighteen. They are for the most part
gentlemen of liberal education - many have graduated at the Universities of
Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Dublin; and they must all possess a
competent knowledge of the multifarious subjects which come under the
consideration of Parliament. The expedition and ability with which their duties
are performed must be admitted by every one who attends a debate and afterwards
reads a newspaper, while the correctness and rapidity with which their
manuscript is put in type and printed, has long been a subject of surprise and
admiration.". - The Parliamentary Companion]
half-past four o'clock the members began to enter the house pretty thickly.
Near the table stood a portly happy-looking man, with a
somewhat florid and good-natured countenance, grey eyes, and reddish hair, he
was well dressed, and wore enormous watch-seals and a massive gold guard-chain.
He conversed in an easy and complacent manner with a few members who had
gathered around him, and who appeared to receive his opinions with respect and
survey him with profound admiration: this was Sir Robert Peel.
One of his principal admirers on this (as on all other
occasions) was a very stout gentleman, with dark hair, prominent features, a
full round face, eyes of a sleepy expression, and considerable heaviness of tone
and manner: this was Sir James Graham.
Close by Sir James Graham, with whom he exchanged frequent
signs of approval as Sir Robert Peel was conversing, was a small and somewhat
repulsive looking individual, with red hair, little eyes that kept constantly
blinking, a fair complexion, and diminutive features,- very restless in manner,
and with a disagreeable and ill-tempered expression of countenance. When he
spoke, there was far more of gall than honey in his language; and the shafts of
his satire, though dealt at his political opponents, not unfrequently glanced
aside and struck his friends. This was Lord Stanley.
Shortly before the Speaker took the chair, a stout burly man,
accompanied by half-a-dozen representatives of the Emerald Isle, entered the
house. He was enveloped in a cloak, which he proceeded to doff in a very
leisurely manner, and then turned to make some observation to his companions.
They immediately burst out into a hearty laugh -for it was a joke that had
fallen upon their ears - a joke, too, purposely delivered in the richest Irish
brogue, and, accompanied by so comical an expression of his round good-natured
countenance that the jest was altogether irresistible. He then proceeded slowly
to his seat, saying something good-natured to his various political friends as
be passed along. His broad-brimmed hat he retained upon his head, but of his
cloak he made a soft seat. His adherents immediately crowded around him;
and while he told them some rich racy anecdote, or delivered himself of another
jest, his broad Irish countenance expanded into an expression of the most hearty
and heart-felt good humour. And yet that man had much to occupy his thoughts and
engage his attention; for he of whom we now speak was Daniel O'Connell.
Close by Mr. O'Connell's place was seated a gentleman of most
enormously portly form, though little above the middle height. On the wrong side
of sixty, he was as hale, robust, and healthy-looking a man as could be seen.
His ample chest, massive limbs, ponderous body, and large head denoted strength
of no ordinary kind. His hair was iron-grey, rough, and bushy; his eyes large,
grey, and intelligent; his countenance rigid in expression, although broad and
round in shape. This was Joseph Hume.
Precisely at a quarter to five the Speaker took the chair;
Mr. Greenwood was then introduced by the Tory whipper-in, and (as the papers
said next morning) "took the oaths and his seat for Rottenborough."
The Whig whipper-in surveyed him with a glance of indignant
disappointment; but Mr. Greenwood affected not to notice the feeling which his
conduct had excited. On the contrary, he passed over to the Opposition benches
(for it must be remembered that the Whigs then occupied the ministerial seat)
where his accession to the Tory ranks was very warmly greeted - being the more
pleasant as it was totally unexpected - by Sir Robert Peel and the other leaders
of that party.
Mr. Greenwood was not a man to allow the grass to grow under
his feet. He accordingly delivered his "maiden speech" that very
evening. The question before the House was connected with the condition of the
poor. The new member was fortunate enough to catch the Speaker's eye in the
course of the debate; and he accordingly delivered his sentiments upon the
He declared that the idea of a diminution of duties upon
foreign produce was a mere delusion. The people, he said, were in a most
prosperous condition - they never were more prosperous; but they were eternal
grumblers whom nothing could satisfy. Although some of the most enlightened men
in the kingdom devoted themselves to the interests of the people - he alluded to
the party amongst whom he had the honour to sit - the people were not satisfied.
For his part, he thought that there was too much of what was called freedom. He
would punish all malcontents with a little wholesome exercise upon the
tread-mill. What presumption, he would like to know, could be greater than that
of the millions daring to have an opinion of their own, unless it were the
audacity of attempting to make that opinion the rule for those who sate in that
House? He was astounded when he heard the misrepresentations that had just met
his ears from honourable gentlemen opposite relative to the condition of the
working classes. He could prove that they ought to put money in the
savings'-banks, and yet it was coolly alleged that in entire districts they
wanted bread. Well - why did they not live upon potatoes? He could demonstrate,
by the evidence of chemists and naturalists that potatoes were far more
wholesome than bread and for his part he was much attached to potatoes. Indeed,
he often ate, his dinner without touching a single mouthful of bread. There was
a worthy alderman at ha right hand, who could no doubt prove to the house that
bread spoilt the taste of turtle. Was it not, then, a complete delusion to raise
such a clamour about bread? He (Mr. Greenwood) was really astonished at
honourable gentlemen opposite; and be should give their measure his most
strenuous opposition at every stage.
Mr. Greenwood sat down amidst loud cheers from the Tory
party; and Sir Robert Peel turned round and gave him a patronising nod of most
gracious approval. Indeed his speech must have created a very powerful
sensation, for upwards of fifty members [-221-] who
had been previously stretched upon the benches in the galleries, comfortably
snoozing, rose up in the middle of their nap to listen to him.
The Conservative papers next morning spoke in raptures of the
brilliancy of the new talent which had thus suddenly developed itself in the
political heaven; while the Liberal prints denounced Greenwood's language as the
most insane farrago of anti-popular trash ever heard during the present century.
Mr. Greenwood cared nothing for these attacks. He had gained
his aims: he had already taken a stand amongst the party with whom he had
determined to act ; - he had won the smiles of the leader of that party; and he
chuckled within himself as he saw baronetcies and sinecures in the perspective.
That night he could not sleep. His ideas were reflected back
to the time when, poor, obscure, and friendless, he had commenced his
extraordinary career in the City of London. A very few years had passed ;- he
was now rich, and in a fair way to become influential and renowned. The torch of
Fortune seemed ever to light him on his way, and never to shine obscurely for
him in the momentous affairs of life :- like the fabled light of the
Rosicrucian's ever-burning lamp, the halo of that torch appeared constantly to
attend upon his steps.
Whether he thus prospered to the end, the sequel of our tale
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