Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London by Day and Night, by David W.Bartlett, 1852 - Chapter 12 - Parliament

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    THE British building of the House of Lords has one of the finest interiors in Europe. We well remember the impression it made upon us the first night we took our seat in its Gallery. The sight was most gorgeous, and for the moment we fancied ourself gazing at some scene in the Arabian Nights. The interior is spacious, and wears an air of dignified grandeur; the light steals into it beautifully through stained windows; the throne in the distance is of splendid material, and the walls are one mass of artistic beauty. It is very difficult to gain access to the building during the session of the House, as no one is admitted without a written order from a peer. We were fortunate enough to gain the name of the Earl of Jersey upon a bit of foolscap, and therefore walked boldly through scores of policemen and guardsmen into the presence of this body of hereditary law-makers. As we passed through the hands of these lacquey-in-waiting, we could not help contrasting everything we saw with corresponding things in America. There, all was pomp and circumstance ; the House of Lords was guarded as if from an infuriated mob. In this country a stranger enters the United States Senate without any writing of orders or nonsensical bustle, goes and comes when he pleases. In real, simple dig-[-219-]nity, the house of Lords will not compare for a moment with the American Senate, and the great reason is, that here a man must be possessed of some sort of talent or he cannot secure an election to that place, while in England the peers are born to their position as law-makers. Of course they are as likely to be men of moderate abilities as common people, and generally speaking rather more so.
    The time we first entered the House of Lords the people of Paris were in the midst of Revolution. When we entered the Earl of Winchelsea was speaking upon some insignificant question, and when he sat down we noticed that the peers present grew excessively noisy. The confusion increased, and soon we saw fresh newspaper sheets in the hands of several. The news soon flew to us in the Gallery-the King of the French had abdicated his throne! Consternation was pictured upon every face, and we could not restrain our smiles. It was a scene for a painter; the proud despots seemed for a moment to catch a sight of the retribution which is in store for their wrongful usurpations. For, talk softly as we will, the system of hereditary rights in England is one of base injustice, and is only propped up by the sword and bayonet.
    The really talented men of the House of Lords - with a very few exceptions - are plebeian; men who have been bribed over from the ranks of the people by the offer of titles. Here lies a great secret in regard to English Reform. The nobility know exceedingly well when and how to bribe. Harry Brougham becomes Lord Brougham when his talents have become a terror to the aristocracy, and from that moment he is an aristocrat. Men of talent cannot withstand the temptations of office and titles, except in a few instances, among which Richard Cobden is an illustrious instance For he might have taken high office if he would, and without doubt might have a title for the asking, if there had been any hope of winning him to the side of the aristocracy.
    [-220-] There are few really great men in the House of Lords There are Brougham, the lawyer; Wellington, the warrior; Campbell, the jurist-statesman; the Marquis of Lansdowne, an enlightened Whig ; the Earl of Carlisle, formerly Lord Morpeth ; Earl Grey ; Lord Stanley, recently by the decease of his father become the Earl of Derby ; and perhaps among the ecclesiastics the Bishops of Norwich and Exeter.
    Lord Campbell is considered by some as the rival of Brougham in the Upper House, but while he is in the meridian of life, so far as ability and aptness go, the other is a mere wreck. There cannot be said to be rivalry, properly speaking, under such conditions. Both are Scotchmen and both have carved out their own fortunes, with their own hands. Lord Campbell is perhaps the ablest jurist in the kingdom ; as a statesman he ranks high, but not so high as some others in Parliament. He is a fine-looking man, with many Scotch characteristics, in countenance and actions.
    The Marquis of Lansdowne is a prominent member of the Whig Government, and an influential peer. He has for years been distinguished for his hereditary position and intellectual acquirements. He was once extremely good-looking, but is now touched by age, limping, when we saw him, with the gout. His speeches, though not brilliant, are yet replete with good argument, and candor. His sympathies are as much for the people as one could expect, owing to his aristocratic position, and there is a visible difference between his definition of liberty and that of the Earl of Derby's.
    We once saw the Bishop of Norwich - since deceased - and the Bishop of Exeter in the House together. There was a striking difference between the two men. The former was a small man, with bright eyes, and a pleasant, amiable manner, and he was good, benevolent, and liberal. The latter had a narrow, contracted look, and is contracted in some things, but possesses vigorous talents, and a biting, cross satire.
    [-221-] Earl Grey is one of the finest-looking men in the House. His personal appearance is classical, his speeches are models of parliamentary eloquence, and his influence over the peers is justly great. There is no other man there whose personal appearance, taking everything into consideration, is so good. When speaking, his figure appears to the greatest advantage. The popular engravings of him are generally correct, and in this respect he is a fortunate man. There are three men in Parliament whose portraits cannot fail to be correct, their features are so ludicrously striking. They are Brougham, Wellington, and Russell. The first has such a compressed face, the second so beaked a. nose, and the last so grannyish a face, that it is impossible to make a picture of either, and leave out the distinguishing feature.
    Lord Stanley - now Earl of Derby - is a bitter Tory, but after all one of the ablest men in the House. His appearance is good, though not remarkable. His speeches are characterized by bitterness and prejudiced reasoning-yet he is a man of great talents. His hatred for Liberalism or Democracy is as vehement as his love for the system of Protection and Toryism.
    The House sits in two capacities - a legislative and a judicial. When judicial, it sits as the highest court of justice in the kingdom. On ordinary occasions, the only persons robed are the Lord Chancellor, who sits upon the Woolsack, the Bishops, the Judges, and the Masters of Chancery. But when Parliament is opened or closed by the Queen in person, the interior of the House of Lords presents a grand and brilliant spectacle. All the peers are in their robes, and ladies of the highest rank are present - the peeresses in their own right, and the wives and daughters of peers. Parliament is generally opened by commission, which is a tame ceremony, but all London is in excitement when Her Majesty opens it in person. People crowd all the avenues leading to the Houses [-222-] of Parliament, and when the Sovereign approaches he is saluted with cheers and hurrahs, the waving of handkerchiefs, the ringing of bells, and the roaring of cannon. When she arrives at the House she is first conducted to the Robing Room. When duly attired, Prince Albert accompanies her to the throne, and when she is seated, himself takes a chair-of-state immediately on her left. As soon as she is seated, the Queen desires the Peers to be seated also, and the "Usher of the Black Rod" summons the Commons. The Speaker soon appears at the Bar of the House with a multitude of members at his heels. The Lord Chancellor presents the speech to the Queen, and she at once proceeds to read it There is a deal of foolish pomp in the ceremonial, but no one can deny that it is a most brilliant pageant.
    The members of the House of Lords are divided into two classes - the Lords Spiritual and the Lords Temporal. The former consist of two Archbishops and twenty-four Bishops, from England, and one Archbishop and three Bishops, from Ireland. There was a time when the Spiritual Lords outnumbered the Temporal, but now the latter are vastly in the preponderance. The Temporal Lords consist of twenty-eight Irish peers, elected for life, sixteen Scotch peers, elected for each term, and any quantity of English peers, who sit by right of descent, and whose only qualifications are that they be of age, of the right birth, and not totally imbecile. They are divided into various ranks, such as Barons, Viscounts, Marquises, Earls amid Dukes.
    When the House sits in a judicial capacity, it tries all individuals who are impeached by the House of Commons, Peers who are indicted, and determines appeals from the decision of the Court of Chancery. When it sits judically it is open to the public. Upon such occasions only the law-lords - generally - are present.



    An English politician frequently expends fifty or a hundred thousand dollars in securing an election to the House of Commons. No man - unless of great popularity - considers it prudent to risk an election without a heavy purse. In many eases votes are bribed with gold ; but generally with dinners and flattering personal attentions. A few thousand pounds are absolutely necessary, for there are committees who must sit and be paid, canvassers for votes, and voters who must either be bribed directly with gold, or indirectly with wines, brandies, and riotous living. This reminders it difficult for the Liberals to become elected to Parliament - the cost is out of the reach of poor commoners, and therefore the aristocrats step in and win the day: The members are not paid for their parliamentary services, and many reformers are too indigent to be able to sit for seven years in the House-  the length of the Parliamentary term - without any pay. Thus the House of Commons, which was originally intended to be the people's house, is ruled completely by the aristocracy.
    Perhaps the most noted man in the Commons is Richard Cobden, the great Corn-Law opposer. The triumph which he achieved over the Corn Law was a heavy blow against the aristocracy, and they felt it to be such. He is one of the noblest of men, and is very democratic in his opinions and sympathies. No other man in England is so popular with the masses. He is a man of prepossessing personal appearance - with a broad and thoughtful brow, black hair, black eyes, and a half-solemn, sincere look. And what is a little singular, his eloquence is alike fitted for the masses or for Parliament. He knows well how to address people or senate. His eloquence is of the simplest cast, yet has the potent quality of convincing. There is no bombast in it, no flowing [-224-] rhetoric, but it satisfies. No other man could have converted the mighty intellect of Peel to Anti-Corn Lawism save simple, straightforward Richard Cobden. Through that mighty struggle of seven years, night after night did Cobden stand up in the House and advocate his opinions. One after another came over to his side, and at last the great leader of the Protectionists, Peel himself, came and sat at his feet as a follower! A grander triumph the world never saw, and Cobden might have taken any office or title if he would, but instead of that he has gone still further on in democratical opinions, and he is therefore separated from the administration by his sentiments.
    Joseph Hume is another veteran among the ranks of the Liberals in the House. He is self-made, and has for forty years fought against the aristocracy. John Bright, the Quaker member, is an enthusiastic speaker, amid was the compeer of Cobden through the great Corn Law struggle. Fox is a chaste orator, and George Thompson has eminent abilities as a speaker-and both are Liberals.

    Lord George Bentinck was for a few years previous to his death the leader of the Protectionist party in the House of Commons. His speeches were characterized by nervous energy, and he was an ingenious arrayer of facts, which is often the infest convincing kind of eloquence. Aside from his peculiar sympathies for the Corn Laws, he was a reasonable man, and a good leader of his party. He was deficient in morals, being a great gambler. In one season he netted by his gain. hung between three and four hundred thousand dollars. It was a singular sight to see the leader of the Tories of England betting at the races like any common and debauched gambler. England, however, had her "gambler statesmen" before Bentinck came upon the stage. In appearance he was tall and slim-dressed fashionably, but not foppishly. His [-225-] forehead was broad and showy, and his general appearance was intelligent and pleasing.
    Since Lord Bentinck's death, Benjamin Disraeli has been the acknowledged leader of the Tories in the House of Commons, though his advocacy of Jewish liberty came near costing him his place. If the party had a single talented man in the House beside him, they would dispense with his services, for he is ill-fitted to be the leader of a great party. His personal qualities are not such as to inspire respect. His natural position is one from which he can attack whom he pleases, for he is only brilliant when destructive. As a builder he is good for nothing ; he has no clear-sighted philanthropy ; but can wield savage, though polished sarcasm and wit, with terrible effect. He often expends his wit upon the defenders of Truth, but in such cases it falls harmless to the ground ; but occasionally he points his guns where he should point them, and then, when truth and wit unite, his success is magnificent. He dissects an enemy with the ferocity of a tiger, but does it politely. His wit is keen and deep, but his invective s irritating rather than grandly impetuous. He has not depth enough to pursue a man as Daniel O'Connell did in that House. He cannot storm along with Daniel's thunder, making the very skies grow black and tempestuous about his victim's head ; but he stings like a venomous insect, and the result is, that his subject becomes vexed, maddens and hates, but is never afraid, and always despises his enemy. He has little popularity, because he lacks heart. As a brilliant speaker and writer - for he is far-famed as an author - he commands much attention, but little love or esteem. He has a Jewish look, and is of Jewish descent. His hair is dark eyes intense, wickedly black, narrow yet high forehead, slim body, and a medium height. He has a foppish and jaunty appearance, and in his dress causes much amusement, for he is the dandy-statesman of the House. 
    [-226-] Mr. Goulbourn is one of the members from Oxford - the stronghold of Toryism. He is not talented as a speaker, but in the opinion of some is a man of sound judgment and discriminatory powers.
    Sir Harry Inglis is quite distinguished for his advocacy of blind Conservatism ; Sir James Graham was one of Peel's Generals, and is a moderate Conservative of great talents.

    Lord John Russell, the Whig Premier, is by virtue of his position, one of the most prominent men of the House. In personal appearance he is quite ordinary, and indeed inferior. He is diminutive in size, has a grannyish face, the features being dry, small and wrinkled, his eyes are intelligent, his forehead small, and his manners rather pompous. This is not affected - he is of such inferior size, has such a doleful face and general appearance, that when he rises as Prime Minister with great words upon his lips, there is a look of pomposity about the man. One smiles involuntarily to think of a great statesman on so short a pair of legs! And besides, Punch has so often presented to the public that same peculiar face attached to so many different kinds of bodies, that the gazer cannot forget it. The Premier is a man of genius, but no statesman. He lacks depth, breadth, and statesmanlike fore-knowledge. There is little dignity in his character, and the nation remembers that once he was, while out of office, a flaming reformer, but now a craven aristocrat. In the days of the Reform Bill he talked loudly of the people's rights, but long since has hushed that cry. He dresses with aristocratic simplicity, is a gentleman, pure in private life, and obliging in disposition. We shall not be at all surprised to see Lord John Russell once again an agitator. If circumstances deprive him of office, he will lead the people again, and ride triumphantly into power - perhaps again to deceive them.
    [-227-] We saw Sir Robert Peel in the House of Commons during our first year in the metropolis, and we always thought him the ablest statesman there. The very face and figure of the man proclaimed him to be no ordinary character. His forehead was large, his countenance always in grand repose, and his person in keeping with the colossal proportions of his intellect. He was always well dressed, not splendidly, but with a plain richness which became him well. Whenever he rose to speak, the House gave all attention. No other man in the House inspired such universal respect. Men might differ from him, but they stood in awe of his stern morality and large intellect. His sudden conversion to Free Trade his quondam friends can never forgive, but it was a sublime proof of his love for truth and candor. The cry of "traitor!" did not disturb him, for his conscience told him he had acted nobly and well. He had mortified himself, for the sake of the toiling millions of England! And he lived long enough to see the discomfiture of his enemies, and now that he is dead, the man who would dare to traduce him would be hooted out of England. Knowing the temper of the nation, in this respect, the Tories never mention his desertion, now they well know that the cause of it was a powerful conviction in the mind of Peel, that to save the English nation, the Corn Laws must be repealed.

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