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[-357-] TWO O'CLOCK A.M.-A LATE DEBATE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, AND THE TURNSTILE OF WATERLOO BRIDGE.
I NEVER could understand politics (which difficulty of comprehension
of a repulsive topic I share, I am delighted to know, with the whole
charming female sex, for a woman who is a politician is to me no
woman at all). I never could be consistent in public matters. If
my remembrance serve me correctly, I think I began life as a flaming
Conservative. I am now as flaming a Radical; but I admit that I am
most deplorably deficient in consistency. I find myself, while straining every nerve to defend the cause, to advocate the rights, to denounce the oppressors of that English people of whom I am one,
frequently halting on ground where Eglintoun Beaverup, the Conservative par excellence, and I can shake hands ; I find myself
acknowledging that "blood is thicker than water," and that gentle
birth will hold its own in the midst of sarcasms against the tenth
transmitters of foolish faces. I find myself actuated now (as ever in
that I have been consistent) by the same dislike and contempt for the
cruel, capricious, ruffian, unteachable Mob - the base decamisado canaille, who are not the working classes, or the lower classes, or any
other class, but the Father of confusion and anarchy's - the scurvy
mob who pelt a Castlereagh to-day and tear a John de Witt in pieces to-morrow; who slaughtered Rienzi, and yelped for joy when Madame
Roland went to the guillotine; who cried for "justice" upon Charles
Stuart, and danced round the Tyburn tree from which dangled the
rotting corpse of Cromwell; who would trample on Henry Brougham
or John Russell at the present writing, and rend their vitals, if their
mobbish majesty were crossed in one of its wild-baboon whims.
With this candid confession of my political shortcomings (I mean to stand some day for the borough of Weathercock), and having thus, I hope, disarmed criticism, I shall now venture into the (to me) perilous region of politics. It is Two o'Clock in the morning; we will even be present in the spirit at a late debate in the "House."
Which august assembly has already been designated by some irreverent wag as a "large house which keeps bad hours." In truth, [-358-] one needs to be very intimately acquainted, not only with the framework, but with the minuter organisation of English society and institutions - (how sick I am, and you must be, of those eternally-recurring words "institutions" and "society!") - to understand the causes of the immoderately late hours kept sometimes by the Lords, but with much greater frequency by the Commons' House of Parliament. At the first blush, there seems no earthly reason why the legislative business of the nation should not be got over during the day, or, at the outside, before the night were spent. The French Deputies, Conventionalists, or Representatives in the National Assembly, in their stormiest and most prolonged debates, seldom heard the chimes at midnight; and, ardent parliamentarians as are the Americans, it is only towards the immediate close of the session that Congress keeps for two or three days and nights a sort of Saturnalia of untimely sittings. If report speaks true, the members of the United States Legislature are only enabled to bear these unwonted vigils by incessant recurrence to powerful stimulants. " Ginslings," " Fiscal Agents," "Stone Fences," "Bullocks' Milk," and the innumerable tribe of "Cocktails," are at a premium during these abnormally protracted debates; the benches of the House and the desks of the members stand in imminent danger of being whittled away during the excitement of discussion; the amount of tobacco masticated is sufficient to ruin the digestive powers of the nation; the spittoons overflow, and the fretfulness and irritation not unnaturally engendered by nervous excitement, occasionally finds relief in cowhiding in the committee-rooms, gouging in the lobbies, and "stand up and drag out" fights on the august floor itself, occupied by the conscript fathers of the republic. Thus I have been informed; but it may be that report tells a fib, after all.
When we arrive, however, at a just understanding and appreciation of the mechanism of this wondrous British constitutional watch, jewelled in ever so many holes as it is, with its levers, and escapements, and unnumbered compensation balances, the lateness of our legislative hours will not be by far so much of a mystery to us. We are altogether a sitting-up late people. The continental theatres are all closed by eleven. We dismiss our audiences sometimes at midnight, oftener at half-past, or a quarter to one in the morning. Our fashionable balls commence when those of other nations are terminating. We may not dine so late, but then we sup heavily, hours afterwards. Night life in London does not condescend to commence [-359-] till the "small hours;" yet, in dissipated Paris, you may count the cafés and supper-rooms on your fingers whose portals are open at one o'clock in the morning. The "Journal des Debats" goes to press at four in the afternoon; eight hours later, there is yet often a leader to be written for the forthcoming number of the "Times." The only capital that can equal London in the faculty of "keeping it up" to any number of hours, is St. Petersburg. There the antipathy which the Russians entertain for going to bed is solely surpassed by their aversion to getting up. They turn night into day; but the sturdy, strong-willed, perverse English work or dissipate nearly "twice round the clock." They make the little children go to bed; yet the ambition even of those younglings is to "sit up late" like the grown people.
A French senator gets a thousand pounds a year for wearing a blue livery coat with a stand-up collar, the whole handsomely embroidered in gold; kerseymere small clothes, and silk stockings. He drives down to the Luxembourg in his brougham, about three in the afternoon, dozes for a couple of hours on a well-stuffed bench, goes home to dine, drink coffee, play tric-trac, read the "Gazette de France," or receive a select circle of pensioned fogies like himself. lie wakes up some fine morning to find himself complimented in the "Moniteur," and the gratified recipient of the grand cross of the Legion of Honour. A member of the French Corps Législatif receives his wages in a comparative ratio, and pursues an analogous cycle of "duties." But look at an English member of Parliament. He receives nothing a year, and in many cases has little more than that problematical income, sometimes humorously characterised as "midshipman's half-pay," to live upon. If he be rich, so much the better; but wealth will not take away a tittle from his hard work. In the early morning, over his tea and toast, he has an ocean of correspondence, often frivolous, always wearisome, to wade through. Then he has his blue-books to dive into, his authorities to consult, his statistics to cram, his speeches to "coach," his grievances to hunt up, his exordia to study, his perorations to practise. Comes the hour of morning calls when he must be at home, and give audience to the great army of Askers and the legionary tribe of bores, men who will take no denial, importunate clients, who want berths in the Post-office for themselves, or reversions of tide-waiterships for their cousins' cousins. Happily for the member of Parliament, Mr. Rowland Hill's penny-postage system has abolished the frank-hunting torture, which brought many M.P.'s to [-360-] death's door, and made more bitterly regret that they had ever been taught to write their own names. And woe be to the legislator if he receive not his visitors with courtesy! They probably are constituents, and a curt answer will frequently send them away charged with the deadliest schemes against that member's vote and interest at the ensuing general election. As a diversion during the morning calls, the M.P. has to receive some dozens of applications for orders of admission to the Strangers' Gallery of the House, he having always a couple at his disposal. After this, he has, perhaps, to wait upon the Prime Minister, in Downing Street, at the head of a deputation respecting the disputed right in a cess-pool; or he may be the chairman of some parliamentary committee, sitting, de die in diem, to inquire into the hideous turpitude of a contractor who has sewn so many pairs of soldiers' boots without cobblers' wax. Then, he has to take a cab to attend the great public meeting for the Evangelisation of Chinese beggars, held at the Mansion House. He is due about this time in the board-room of the public company of which he is a director; and at the special committee of the Benevolent Institution in which he takes so much interest. A pretty hard day's work this, you will acknowledge. Add that the English member of Parliament has to be, over and above all this, a man of business or pleasure: with a wife and family very often, with a turn for literature, or art, or science, or natural history. He is a merchant or banker, and must drudge in his counting-house, like the meanest of his clerks, or gabble on Change with the nimblest-tongued bill-broker. He is a great counsel: he cannot plead the cause of "Stradlings versus Styles," by deputy, or allow his junior to sum up in the great will case. He is a celebrity of the fashionable world: he must pay his morning visits, ride in the Park, show himself at the "Corner," lounge through his clubs, drop in at the opera at night; and, after all this, or rather in the midst of all this, and pervading it like a nightmare, there is the real business of his life-the "House." He possesses some six hundred other colleagues, who are to the full as busily occupied as he is during the day, yet manage, somehow, to find themselves behind the Speaker's chair, or at the gangway, at five o'clock in the afternoon. He had better not be unpunctual or remiss in his attendance. Those constituents of his, at Shrimpington-super-Mare, will call him to a strict account of his stewardship at the end of the session, and it may go hard with him at the Mechanics' Institution or the Farmers' Ordinary. Under all these circumstances, do you [-361-] think it so very extraordinary that there should be occasionally a late debate in the House of Commons?
You will remark that I have preserved, throughout, a decorous reticence with regard to the House of Lords. Goodness forfend that I should have to judge their Lordships by the same business-like work-a-day standard which I hare presumed to apply to the Lower House. Their Lordships meet early and separate early, as becometh their degree; yet even the Lords hare their field-days, and their occasions when they sit up late o' nights. Then the right reverend bishops come clown, booted and spurred, to rote against the heathen; and paralytic old peers are borne to the House in litters, there to wheeze forth, in tremulous accents, their unalterable attachment to Church and State, so dangerously menaced in "another place," and from their most noble pockets they pull forth "proxies," signed by other peers more paralytic than themselves. But these field-days of the Lords are few and far between, and the otium cum dignitate is the easy, comfortable rule with their Lordships. It is but doing them justice to say, however, that ninny peers have been members of the Lower House in their time, and have sat up as late, and battled in debate as fiercely, as any middle-aged member of her Majesty's Opposition. Nor are they all idle, parliamentarily, in the day time. There are some noblemen - legal peers mostly - who disdain to rest upon their laurels, and are content to spend the long forenoons in listening to dreary disquisitions about the wrongs of Parsee traders, and the visionary pedigrees of claimants to dormant peerages. The Lords' committee hear appeals, and it is a wondrous sight to see those old boys snoozing and twiddling their thumbs on the crimson benches of their golden chamber. They seem not to listen to the elaborate word-entanglements of the bewigged pleaders; yet they make remarks full of sense and pregnant with acumen. You are a young man or woman, dear reader of this, I hope. You have not much time to lose. Go straight down to Palace Yard, pass through Westminster Hall, and up the stone stairs, by the giant brazen candelabra and the great stained-glass window. So on through the Gothic vestibules and corridors - never mind the frescoes of Messrs. Dyce and Company, they are not worth looking at just now. Hie you quickly to a door-way half-screened by crimson drapery, and edge your way into the House of Lords. An you take off your hat and hold your tongue, you may stare about you as much as ever you please, and hear your fill of the edifying, if not amusing, appeals.
[-362-] You may wonder at the Lord Chancellor's wrinkles and at his ruffles; you may listen to Floorem, Attorney-General, and Botherem, Q.C., till your eyes begin to wink, and your head to nod, and your whole mental framework to grow desperately weary; but you must not go entirely to sleep. Somnolence may entail a fall on the floor of the House, which would cause a noise, and would never do; so, unless you are gifted, like a horse, with the power of going to sleep standing, I would counsel you to take a cup of strong green tea before you enter the House, and so string your nerves up to wakefulness. For diversion, turn away your eyes from the verbose barristers in their horse-hair, silk, and bombazine, and look at their Lordships. There are not often more than half-a-dozen of them present-seldom so many as that. You shall scarcely fail, however, to miss that noble senator - a capital working man of business he is too - who is possessed by the curious idiosyncrasy of dressing in the exact similitude of his own butler: blue coat and brass buttons, yellow waistcoat, pepper-and-salt pantaloons - not trousers, mind - and low shoes. I think, even, that his Lordship's head is powdered. You may object that there is no reason why a gentleman of time old school, wedded to traditions and reminiscences of le bon vieux temps, should not wear such a costume as this, and yet look every inch a nobleman. Nor is there, indeed; but glance for a moment at Lord Aspendale, and you will confess that, from hair-powder to shoe-string, there is a permeating flavour of the side-board and the still-room. Whether his Lordship likes it, or whether his Lordship can't help it, it matters little; but the fact is there, plain and obvious.
Standing in the narrow Gothic railed-off space reserved for the public - the throne at the opposite extremity of the House - you may see on one of the benches to the right, almost every forenoon - Saturday and Sunday excepted - during the session, a very old man with a white head, and attired in a simple frock and trousers of shepherd's plaid. It is a leonine head, and the white locks are bushy and profuse. So, too, the eyebrows, penthouses to eyes somewhat weak now, but that can flash fire yet upon occasions. The face is ploughed with wrinkles, as well it may be, for the old man will never see fourscore years again, and of these, threescore, at the very least, have been spent in study and the hardest labour, mental and physical. The nose is a marvel-protuberant, rugose, aggressive, inquiring, and defiant: unlovely, but intellectual. There is a trumpet mouth, a belligerent mouth, projecting and self-asserting; largish ears, and on [-363-] chin or cheeks no vestige of hair. Not a beautiful man this on any theory of beauty, Hogarthesque, Ruskinesque, Winckelmanesque, or otherwise. Rather a shaggy, gnarled, battered, weatherbeaten, ugly, faithful, Scotch-colley type. Not a soft, imploring, yielding face. Rather a tearing, mocking, pugnacious, cast of countenance. The mouth is fashioned to the saying of harsh, hard, impertinent things: not cruel, but downright; but never to whisper compliments, or simper out platitudes. A nose, too, that can snuff the battle afar off, and with dilated nostrils breathe forth a glory that is sometimes terrible; but not a nose for a pouncet-box, or a Covent Garden bouquet, or flacon of Frangipani. Would not care much for truffles either, I think, or the delicate aroma of sparkling Moselle. Would prefer onions or strongly-infused malt and hops: something honest and unsophisticated. Watch this old man narrowly, young visitor to the Lords. Scan his furrowed visage. Mark his odd angular ways and gestures passing uncouth. Now he crouches, very doglike, on his crimson bench: clasps one shepherd's plaid leg in both his hands. Botherem, Q.C., is talking nonsense, I think. Now the legs are crossed, and the hands thrown behind the head; now he digs his elbows into the little Gothic writing-table before him, and buries the hands in that puissant white hair of his. The quiddities of Floorem, Q.C., are beyond human patience. Then with a wrench, a wriggle, a shake, a half turn and half start up - still very doglike, but of the Newfoundland rather, now, he asks a lawyer or a witness a question. Guestion very sharp and to the point, not often complimentary by-times, and couched in that which is neither broad Scotch nor Northumbrian burr, but a rebellious mixture of the two. Mark him well, eye him closely: you hare not much time to lose. Alas! the giant is very old; though with frame yet unenfeebled, with intellect yet gloriously unclouded. But the sands are running, ever running. Watch him, mark him, eye him, score him on your mind tablets: then home; and in after years it may be your lot to tell your children, that once at least you have seen with your own eyes the famous Lord of Vaux; once listened to the voice that has shaken thrones and made tyrants tremble, that has been a herald of deliverance to millions pining in slavery and captivity; a voice that has given utterance, in man's most eloquent words, to the noblest, wisest thoughts lent to this Man of Men by Heaven; a voice that has been trumpet-sounding these sixty years past in defence of Truth, and Right, and Justice - in advocacy of the claims of learning and industry, and of the [-364-] liberties of the great English people, from whose ranks he rose; a voice that should be entitled to a hearing in a Walhalla of wise heroes, after Francis of Verulam and Isaac of Grantham; the voice of one who is worthily a lord, but who will be yet better remembered, and to all time - remembered enthusiastically and affectionately - as the champion of all good and wise and beautiful Human Things- HARRY BROUGHAM.
But I must not forget, as I am sorely tempted to do in Westminster Hall, that it is two o'clock in the morning. This is the last night - the honourable House are positively determined to divide to-night, even if the Ministry go out - of the adjourned debate on the Gulliver Indemnity Bill. The honourable House have been speechifying at a tremendous rate for the last fortnight on the vexed question as to whether Samuel Gulliver, master mariner, is or is not to have an indemnity. Lord Viscount Palmerston, head of the government, says he shall. The Right Hon. Benjamin Disraeli, ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, and head of the Opposition, says he sha'n't. Honourable members in formidable numbers range themselves on either side. Night after night the House has been ringing with eulogies and denunciations of Gulliver and his indemnity. The country is in a ferment, the press in arms, on the Titanic topic. A monster meeting at Manchester has pledged itself, amid deafening cheers in the Lancashire dialect and rounds of "Kentish fire," to support the indemnification of Gulliver by every legal and constitutional means. The "Times" newspaper, on its part, declares the indemnity an impudent swindle, and plainly announces that if Gulliver be indemnified, Great Britain must be content to remain henceforth and for ever a second-rate Power. The funds are going up and down like a see-saw, all with reference to Gulliver. More bets are made in the clubs and sporting localities in re Gulliver than on the coming Derby, or that other vexed question whether Bludgin Yahoo, who murdered the old lady with the crowbar (they say he is beautifully penitent in Newgate, and that the sheriffs cry to see him eat his daily beefsteak) will be hanged or not. The Emperor of Brobdignag is vitally interested in Gulliver, and there were two attaches from the Lilliputian embassy in the Speaker's gallery the night before last. Never mind who Gulliver was, or what was the nature of the losses for which he sought to be indemnified. It matters as little now as whether Bolgrad was a hamlet or a town; and even while the conflict was raging, I very much question whether a hundred members of the House of Commons [-365-] knew anything about Gulliver personally, or cared two pins about him or his indemnity. In some respects politics are like fox-hunting. You want a fast-running, doubling, artful question - the more powerful in odour the better - to start with; but once run down the fox, and the question goes for nothing. Sometimes Reynard is scarce; but even then a red herring will serve at a pinch to bark at and run after.
We are in a spacious chamber, not very vast, not very lofty - for there is a false roof of ground glass, for acoustic reasons - and not very handsome. A sufficiency of oaken panelling, and windows veiled with velvet curtains, brilliant but cunningly tempered light-the absolute lamps invisible. Altogether a comfortable, well-to-do-place - say something like an enlarged edition of the coffee-room of a terminus hotel, as they are building terminus hotels now-a-days, or the newspaper-room of a club fitted up for a general meeting of the members. A tinge of Gothicism pervades the decorations, here and there tending to the Elizabethan, but altogether leaning more to the "convenient" style of ornament. Everything that skill and ingenuity (duly patented) can devise for the promotion of light, warmth, general comfort, &c., are here. Enthroned on high, slender galleries above him, is the Speaker. "Jove in his chair, of the skies lord mayor," is a sufficiently tremendous Pagan image. He must find it a somewhat hard task to keep order on Olympus' top occasionally. Vulcan will be wrangling with Apollo and eyeing Mars askant: Venus will be having high words with Juno, and Minerva boring the celestial company generally with her strongmindedness; to say nothing of Bacchus, in the plenitude of fermented grape-juice, volunteering a stave when nobody wants one; Mercury, labouring under his eternal disability to keep his hands out of the other gods' and goddesses' pockets; and the arch mischief maker, Cupid, wantoning about on his flyflapper wings, and setting everybody by the ears. But Jupiter-Speaker has a thrice more difficult task! Fancy having to preserve discipline among six hundred and a half gentlemen - young, old, and middle-aged gentles, all fond of the sound of their own voices; many of whom have dined copiously, to the making of them noisy; some who have not dined at all, to the making of them fretful and peevish, not to say quarrelsome. Poor Mr. Speaker! how weary he must be of the honourable House and of its honourable members in general, and of the Gulliver's Indemnity Bill in particular! Yet there he sits, the image of urbanity and equanimity, graceful, composed, dignified, though taciturn; his [-366-] wig unmoved, his bands and ruffles uncrumpled. How devoutly he must wish that the bill were "in committee," when the mace might lie under the table, and he himself "leave the chair!" But, alas ! the atrocious measure has not yet been read a second time. The country need be liberal and the House courteous to the Speaker. Surely, if any man deserves a handsome salary, free quarters, and a peerage on retirement, it is that Right Honourable Gentleman. To have to listen, night after night, to drowthy veibosities, phantasm statements, nightmare gibberings of incoherent statistics, inextricable word-chaoses of statements and counter-statements, sham declarations of sham patriotism bellowed forth with sham energy; to have to hear these tales, full of sound and fury, told by honourable idiots full of unutterable "bunkum" (an Americanism I feel constrained to use, as signifying nothingness, ineffably inept and irremediably pin-perforated windbaggery, and sublimated cucumber sunbeams hopelessly eclipsed into Dis) - these must be trials so sore that they need the highest of wages, the best of living, to be endured even. To induce a man to keep a turnpike or a lighthouse, to work in a gunpowder mill, or to accept the governorship of Cape Coast Castle, you must offer heavy reward. Of old, in France, glass-blowing was considered to be a trade so dangerous, and requiring so much abnegation of self, that its professors were not ranked with the meaner sort of mechanics. Your glass-blower was entitled to wear a sword, a privilege extended since, I believe, to printers: (it is lucky they do not exercise it now, or I should be run through and through a dozen times a day by compositors infuriate at illegible spider manuscript.) He could blow glass without tarnishing his scutcheon, and was called "Gentilhomme Verrier." Touching the Speakership, I think that the mere obligation of hearing men who hate each other, bandying the epithet of "honourable friend" so many hundred times in a night, is in itself worth two thousand a year.
The House has commenced. The peers' gallery, ambassadors' seats, strangers', Speaker's gallery, all full of attentive listeners. "Distinguished foreigners" are present. The Emperor of Brobdignag's ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs has come down from the Travellers', where he has been playing whist with the Hospodar of Wallachia's Chargé d'Affaires, and lurks in ambush behind the Speaker. The sparkling eyes of ladies, seeing but unseen, look down, as at Evans's, upon the hall. The members' benches-oaken covered with green leather, carved ends-are full. The members' [-367-] gallery (stretching along both sides of the House) is, to tell the truth, not full, but it is possibly occupied by honourable members who have retired thither to-listen to the debate, of course. Oddly enough, they find that the assumption of a horizontal position is the very best for hearing that which is going on below; or, perhaps, they only imitate in this Fortunio's gifted servant. To turn the face to the wall, also, seems a favourite method of stimulating the auditory nerve; and some honourable gentlemen are so engrossed in the exciting debate proceeding in the House, that, at two o'clock in the morning, they sometimes give vent to their overworked-up feelings in a deep stertorous nasal sound resembling a snore.
Up in the reporters' gallery there, the gentlemen who submit to "work on an intellectual treadmill for three hundred pounds a year," are having hard times of it. The "turns" of stenography are getting shorter and shorter; but, alas! they have been terribly frequent during the debate. How unmerciful have been the maledictions bestowed on Gulliver and his indemnity since five p.m. when the Speaker was at prayers! Gulliver would be a bold man to venture into the cushion-benched chamber behind the gallery where the gentlemen of the Press retire to transcribe their notes. O'Dobbin of the "Flail" has been dying to hear Tamberlik in "Otello" these six weeks past. His chief gave him a stall this morning. Gulliver sits in it like a ghoule on a grave. Dollfus, of Garden Court, Temple, was invited to Jack Tritail, the newly-made barrister's, "call" carouse in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Gulliver is sitting at time hospitable board, gulping down the claret like Garagantua. Little Spitters, who was always a ladies' man, was to have been a "welcome guest" at a neat villa not far from Hammersmith Broadway. The fiend Gulliver is at this moment being called a "droll creature," and is flirting with the eldest Miss Cockletop.
The great chief of the Opposition has spoken. Gloomy, saturnine, isolated, yet triumphant, sits the eloquent and sarcastic Caucasian. Those once brilliant black corkscrew ringlets are growing slightly gray and wiry now, the chin tuft has disappeared, and time and thought have drawn deep lines in the sallow visage of Benjamin Disraeli, ruler of the Opposition. His attire, too, is sober compared with the myriad-hued garb, the flashing jewellery, and vests of many colours, with which Benjamin was wont to dazzle our eyes in the days before he slew Robert Peel, and hired himself to the Protectionists - all in a parliamentary sense. People say, when he wrote "Venetia" [-368-]
TWO O'CLOCK A.M. : A LATE DEBATE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
[-369-] and the "Revolutionary Epic," he used to wear laced ruffles at his
wrists and black velvet inexpressibles. He is wiser now. He has
turned the half century, and only wears a vest of many colours when
he dons his gold robe as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has worn
it once, and would very much like to wear it again. He has made a
very long, telling, brilliant speech, in which he has said a multitude of
damaging things against Gulliver, his indemnity, and especially against
the noble Viscount at the head of the Government. He has never
been abusive, insulting, coarse, virulent - oh, never! he has not once
lost his temper. He has treated the noble Viscount with marked
courtesy, and has called him his right honourable and noble friend
scores of times; yet, hearing him, it has been impossible to avoid the
impression that if any man was ever actuated by the conviction that his right honourable and noble friend was an impostor and a humbug,
with a considerable dash of the traitor; and that-without hinting anything in the slightest degree
libellous - his right honourable and
noble friend had been once or twice convicted of larceny, and had failed
in clearing himself from the suspicion of having murdered his grand-mother, that man was Benjamin Disraeli, M.P. for the county of
Bucks. He did not begin brilliantly. He was not in the slightest degree like Cicero or Demosthenes, Burke or Grattan, or like thee,
my Eglintoun Beaverup, when thou descantest upon the "glorious
old cocks," the "real tap, sir," of antiquity. He was, on the contrary,
slow, laboured, downcast, and somewhat ponderous; nor even at the
conclusion of his magnificent harangue, did he throw his arms about,
smite his breast, stamp his foot, or cast his eyes up to heaven-and
the ceiling. The days of weeping and gesticulation, of crumpling up
sheets of paper, cracking slave-whips, flinging down daggers, and
smashing the works of watches, seem to have departed from the House
of Commons. Yet the eminent Caucasian contrived to create a very
appreciable sensation, and certainly shot those barbed arrows of his -
arrows tipped with judicious sarcasm and polite malevolence - with
amazing dexterity and with murderous success. He has made his
noble friend wince more than once, I will be bound. But you cannot
see the workings of that stateman's face, for (save while addressing
the House) he wears his hat; and the light coming from above causes
the friendly brim to cast the vice-comital countenance into shadow.
A noticeable man this Hebrew Caucasian, Benjamin Disraeli, with his byegone literary nonsenses, and black.-velvet trousered frivolities. Not at all an English Man, trustworthy, loveable, nor indeed admir-[-370-]able, according to our sturdy English prejudices. Such statesmen as Shaftesbury, Ximenes, De Retz, any minister with a penchant for "dark and crooked ways," would have delighted in him; but to upright, albeit bigoted, William Pitt, he would have had anything but a sweet savour. Even Tory Castlereagh and Tory Sidmouth would but ill have relished this slippery, spangled, spotted, insincere Will-o'the-wisp patriot. I should like very much to have known what manner of opinion the late Duke of Wellington entertained of Benjamin Disraeli. It is, of course, but matter of speculation; but I can't help thinking, too, that if Arthur Wellesley had had Benjamin in the Peninsula, he would have hanged him to a certainty.
Hush! pray hush! Silence, ye cackling juniors on the back benches; wake up, ye sluggards-only they don't wake up - the noble Viscount at the head of the Government is speaking. He begins confidently enough, but somewhat wearily, as though he were thoroughly tired of the whole business. But he warms gradually, and he, in his turn, too, can say damaging things about his right honourable friend, head of the Opposition. But he never says anything spiteful - is at most petulant (loses his temper altogether sometimes, they say), and flings about some bon mots that, were they published in this week's "Punch," would cause a well-grounded complaint of the growing dulness of that periodical. He speaks long, and to the purpose, and you can see at once in what stead have stood to him his long official career, his immense parliamentary experience. Recollect that John Henry Temple, Viscount Palmerston, has sat in Parliament for half a century, was Secretary-at-War while Wellington was yet wrestling with Napoleon's marshals in Spain, was one of the authors of the "New Whig Guide," has formed part of scores of administrations; and - one of the hardest-worked men of his time - has yet found leasure to be a beau and lion of fashion in Grosvenorian circles, and to be called "Cupid" - Grosvenorian circles rather chap-fallen, crow's-footed, rheumy about the eyes by this time, rather fallen into the sere and yellow leaf, now hessians and short waists have gone out, hoops and pegtops come in. Drollest of all, to think that this smug elderly gentleman, voluble in spite of tongue-clogging seventy, and jaunty in spite of evident gout, but quite a decorous, father-of-family, select vestryman-looking ancient, should be the terrible Palmerston, the firebrand of the Continent, the bugbear of foreign oligarchs, the grim "Caballero Balmerson," naming whom Spanish contrabandistas cross themselves, the abhorred "Palmerstoni" whom papal gensd'arme [-371-] imagine to be an emerited brigand who has long defied the pontifical authority from an inaccessible fastness in the Apennines. I need not tell you anything more about his speech. You will find it all in Hansard; and the newspapers of the day gave an accurate summary of the cheers, the counter-cheers, the ironical cheers, the "Hear, hears," and the "Oh, oh's" which accompanied the harangue, together with the "loud and continuous cheering" (from his own side of the House) which greeted its conclusion.
The longest lane, however, must have a turning; and this desperately long drawn-out parliamentary avenue has its turning at last. There have been frenzied shrieks of "Divide-divide!" numerous bores who have essayed to speak have been summarily shut up and coughed down; and at length strangers are ordered to withdraw, and the division bell rings.
"On our re-admission," we quote from the "Times" newspaper of 185-, the results of the division were announced as follows:-
For the second reading of the bill . . 284
Against it . . . . . 307
Majority against the Government . . 23
The bill was consequently lost.
Next day the Government presided over by the noble Viscount who wears his hat, goes out of office - the "Times" giving it a graceful kick at parting, and hinting that it was never anything more than a disreputable, shameless, abandoned clique, whose nepotism had grown intolerable in the nostrils of the nation. The Right Honourable Caucasian, who doesn't wear his hat, is sent for by a certain friend of his - a noble Earl, who is generally considered a first-rate hand at making up a book for the Derby. He in his turn is sent for by his Most Gracious Sovereign; and, for the next three or four days, there is nothing but running about and getting upstairs between Buckingham Palace, St. James's Square, and Grosvenor Gate; and at the end of that time, the right honourable Caucasian finds himself snugly ensconced in Downing Street, with full liberty to wear his gold robe again.
Past, long past two in the morning. The much-suffering House of Commons at last shut up, and deserted save by the police and the night watchmen. The last cabs in Palace Yard driven away: the charioteers grumbling horribly on their boxes, for they have members of Parliament inside, who never pay more than the legal fare. Irish members [-372-]
TWO O'CLOCK A.M : THE TURNSTILE OF WATERLOO BRIDGE
[-373-] walked round the corner to Manchester Buildings or Victoria Street,
there dwelling. Some members do all but sleep in the House. As
for the noble and defeated Viscount, he trots cheerily home-scorning
either cab or carriage - shouldering his umbrella, as though nothing in
the world had happened to ruffle his equanimity.
And now, for the first time since this clock was set in motion, something like a deep sleep falleth over London. Not that the city is all hushed; it never is. There are night revellers abroad, night prowlers a-foot. There is houseless wretchedness knowing not where to hide its head; there is furtive crime stalking about, and seeking whom it may devour. Yet all has a solemn, ghastly, unearthly aspect; the gas-lamps flicker like corpse candles; and the distant scream of a pro~ conflict with the police, courses up and down the streets in and shuddering echoes.
The Strand is so still that you may count the footsteps as they sound; and the pale moon looks down pityingly on the vast, feverish, semi-slumbering mass. Here we stand at length by Upper Wellington Street; a minute's walk to the right will bring us to the "Bridge of Sighs."
Which never sleeps! Morning, and noon, and night, the sharp, clicking turnstile revolves; the ever-wakeful tollman is there, with his preternaturally keen apron. I call this man Charon, and the river which his standing ferry bridges over might well be the Styx. Impossible, immobile, indifferent, the gate-keeper's creed is summed up in one word - "A halfpenny!" Love, hope, happiness, misery, despair, and death - what are they to him? "A halfpenny for the bridge" is all he asks! but "a halfpenny for the bridge" he must have.
"Please, sir, will you give me a halfpenny for the bridge?" A phantom in crinoline lays her hand on my arm. I start, and she hastens through the turnstile-
Out of the world,"
perhaps. But I may not linger on the mysteries of the Bridge of Sighs. They are among the "Secrets of Gas," and the pictured semblance of the place here must content you.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]