[-129-] CHAPTER IV.
THE VICTORIA PARLIAMENT.
Meeting of Parliament—Taking the oaths—Introduction of a new Peer into the House of Lords—Further observations on taking the oaths—Mr. O’Connell’s manner in taking the oaths—Opening of the Parliament by her Majesty in person—Appearance of the House of Lords on the occasion—Conduct of the members of the House of Commons on being summoned into the presence of the Queen—The Queen’s delivery of her speech—Her Majesty’s personal appearance—Moving the Address in the Lords, in answer to the Queen’s speech—The Duke of Sussex—Lord Portman—Lord Brougham—The Address in the Commons—Lord Leveson— Mr. Gibson Craig—Scenes in the House of Commons— A missing amendment which had been moved by Mr. Daniel Whittle Harvey- Parliamentary debuts in the present session—Mr. Blewitt—Mr. D’Israeli- Remarks on the reception of the latter gentleman by the House—New members~ Miscellaneous observations.
THE day appointed for the
meeting of the present parliament was Wednesday, the 15th of November. On that
day the Commons limited their proceedings to the re-election of Mr. Abercromby
as speaker. In the Lords, they were confined to the usual formality of reading
her Majesty’s writ,—the Commons being assernbled at their Lordships’
bar,—authorising the meeting of the new parliament. Thursday, Friday,
Saturday, and the early part of Monday, were occupied with swearing in the
members of both Houses. The oaths taken on these occasions are two: the oath of
allegiance, and that which disclaims all faith in the Roman Catholic religion.
No member in either House can take his seat, or vote on any question, until he
has taken the first oath. The second, as a matter of course, is only taken by
Protestants. For the Roman Catholic Peers, and the Roman Catholic Commons, a
different oath is provided: they are made to swear that they will do nothing in
their capacity of members of the legislature to deprive the Church of England of
any part of its property, nor seek to injure it in any way. It was curious to
witness the exposition lately given in both Houses, of the peculiar notions of
particular individuals on the subject of the Roman Catholic religion. Lord
Melbourne, Earl Mulgrave, and others of the more liberal Whigs, seemed, judging
from the careless and indistinct manner in which they muttered over the words of
the oath, to look upon it as a piece of mere mummery; while. Lords Kenyon,
Roden, Winchilsea, and others of the [-130-] ultra Tory party, repeated the words with a
seriousness of countenance, and an emphasis of manner, which showed that they
felt what they uttered. The oath in question disclaims all belief in the
doctrine of transubstantiation, or in the propriety of praying to the Virgin
Mary, or other saints. The praying to saints, and the sacrifice of the mass, the
parties taking the oath declare to be idolatrous. All acknowledgment of the
authority of the Pope is also disclaimed. In the House of Lords, the Lord Chancellor
sat as motionless and mute on the woolsack, while the two clerks were
administering the oaths to the Peers, as if he had been a statue. I have often
pitied the noble and learned Lord before, while doomed to witness the nonsense
which such men as Lord Londonderry and the Duke of Newcastle were inflicting on
the House; because, while other Peers can escape the visitation by quitting the
House, he must remain on the woolsack to hear every word they utter; and what is
more, must, as a matter of courtesy, appear to listen with respectful attention
to everything they say. Great, however, as has been my compassion for the Lord
Chancellor on the occasions to which I refer, it never was half so great as when
witnessing him on the woolsack during the four days he was compelled to sit
there while the oaths were being administered to the Peers. His Lordship’s
face is grave at any time: on the occasions to which I allude, it was peculiarly
so. And no wonder; for what could be more tiresome than to have his ears dinned
by hearing the same everlasting oaths so often repeated! Nonsensical speeches,
if they have no other recommendation, have at least this one — that there is
variety in them. Here all was an unbroken monotony; and what is more, a monotony
of a very unpleasant kind. To be sure, a Peer, either on his entrance, or after
he had taken the oaths and his seat, now and then advanced to the woolsack, and
shook hands with the noble and learned Lord; but this was scarcely worthy of the
name of variety. The most interesting little episode which occurred -while I was
present, in the four days’ sederunt of
his Lordship, took place when the new Bishop of Hereford was being admitted to
the House as a spiritual peer. One of the leading officers of the House, whose
duty it is to see that none but Peers be permitted to pass the bar, having observed
the right reverend prelate standing outside the bar, with some other bishops
behind him, while the Bishop of Durham, who had undertaken to introduce him, was
motioning him to follow,—sprang to the bar from the centre of the House, where
he chanced to be standing at the time, and inquired audibly of the reverend
prelate, whether he had brought his writ with him!
“I have,” answered the right reverend prelate; and as ho spoke, he produced the important piece of paper.
[-131-] “Then you may walk in,” said the officer, opening the little iron door, and admitting his reverence.
The latter, preceded by the portly Bishop of Durham, and followed by another ecclesiastical dignitary, then advanced to the table of the House, where the clerks were in readiness to swear in the new member. One clerk stood on the ministerial side of the table, and the other on the Tory side. Whether this was indicative of the respective political views of the parties, or was the result of pure accident, or agreeably to some usual arrangement, are points on which I can give no opinion; nor is the matter of much importance either way. I allude to the circumstance of the two clerks being thus, as regarded local position, pitted against each other, for the purpose of mentioning, that the clerk on the ministerial side handed over to the one on the Tory side, a small slip of paper, carefully folded up. The latter opened the piece of paper, and began reading thus :—“ To our trusty and well-beloved, James, Earl of—” Here he suddenly paused, and looked confounded. The fact flashed on him that he had been reading the wrong writ, and tossing it over to the clerk, on the opposite side, from whom he had received it, indicated by his looks that he thought his colleague had committed a very stupid blunder. The error, however, was forthwith rectified, by the proper piece of paper being handed over to him whose duty on the occasion it was to read aloud the authority on which the new bishop was about to be recognised as a member. ~Instead of “the Earl of~” the words “ right reverend father in God” greeted the ears of every one present. The reverend prelate then proceeded to take the oaths; which having done, he laid down the paper and the New Testament on the table, and looked about him with a strangeness of manner which denoted that he was in a place which was new to him. A few seconds passed before the Bishop of Durham, who acted on the occasion as his “guide, philosopher, and friend,” gave any indication of an inclination to budge from the spot on which he stood; during which time the new spiritual peer looked as if he had been saying in his own mind, “Well, I wonder what comes next!” The thing that came next was, that the Bishop of Durham, instead of going the nearest way to the bench of bishops, in order that the new-made spiritual legislator might comply with the form of “taking his seat,” took the most circuitous way to the ecclesiastical locality which he possibly could,—the Bishop of Hereford and the other unknown bishop following his reverence with a most exemplary docility. The form of taking the seat having been gone through, the Bishop of Durham introduced the Bishop of Hereford to the Lord Chancellor, sitting, as before mentioned, as if “the sole inhabitant of some desert [-132-] isle,” on the woolsack. His Lordship seized the extended hand of the newly-admitted spiritual peer with so much energy,— arising doubtless from the cordiality with which he congratulated him on being added to the members of the House,—that he almost pulled him down on his own knee. After about half a minute’s conversation with the noble and learned Lord, the Bishop of Hereford left the House, in the company of his right reverend friends.
In the swearing-in of the members of the Lower House, there were also many amusing circumstances to be seen. It was not only amusing, but sometimes laughable, to see those gentlemen returned for the first time, when about to take the oaths. The members, including old and new, advanced to the table on several occasions in droves of from a dozen to a dozen-and-a-half; and anything more awkward than the movements of the newly-fledged legislators it were impossible to imagine. But decidedly the best scene of all was exhibited on Friday, when upwards of one hundred members were sworn in at once. Some of the new M.P.’s stared at the huge proportions of the Speaker’s wig, as if they had been afraid of the article; but what chiefly embarrassed them was, to ascertain the position which they ought respectively to occupy at the table. They dashed against each other, displaced each other, and trod on each other’s toes, just as if engaged in a regular jostling match. An Irishman would have thought the thing an imitation of a row. At one time, two or three were seen snatching at the same copy of the New Testament; and immediately after, the same two or three legislators were seen holding the book at once with an air of great gravity. The limited supply of the sacred volume—limited, I mean, as compared with the number of gentlemen being sworn in at one time—rendered this necessary. The various moods of mind in which the oaths were evidently taken, afforded matter for curious reflection. Those of liberal politics, and of latitudinarian notions respecting denominational differences in religion, clearly regarded, like the Whig Peers, those portions of the oath which relate to the Roman Catholic faith as a species of mummery; for they hummed over the words in that careless and impatient manner in which a school-boy repeats an ungrateful task. They often looked, on the sly, off the printed slip whence they read, just as boys of a trifling disposition do at school when they fancy the eye of the pedagogue is not on them. The Tories, on the other hand, and all who entertained a conscientious horror of the Roman Catholic religion, were remarkably serious and emphatic when repeating the portions of the oath which apply to it. I think it would have been no difficult matter, without any particular pretensions to a practical knowledge of the [-133-] system of Lavater, to have distinguished between the more devout of the Tories and the more latitudinarian of the Liberals, from a simple glance at their several countenances while reading the denunciations against certain points in the Roman Catholic faith. The grave visages of the former exhibited a marked contrast to the careless physiognomies of the latter.
The circumstance of so many persons audibly repeating the same words at once, had a singular effect on the auricular organs. Only fancy that you hear upwards of one hundred individuals, all repeating in loud tones the same words after the clerk of the House of Commons,—words, too, which many of them had never pronounced before,—and you will easily conceive what must have been the variety of voices, and the deviation from the proper time in the delivery, which must have been exhibited on the occasion. Anything more inharmonious, it has happily been but seldom my lot to listen to. It needed not aught of the prophetic spirit, after hearing the voices and elocution of many of the honourable gentlemen, to predict that they were not destined to achieve any remarkable oratorical triumphs on the floor of the House of Commons.
While the large assemblage of members, of whom I have been speaking, were undergoing the initiatory process of taking the oaths, a rather awkward circumstance occurred. I refer to the fact, that at the same time another of the clerks was engaged in administering a different oath to six or seven Roman Catholic members standing at the same table; so that the latter were obliged to submit, without even a word of murmur, far less of remonstrance, to hear themselves denounced by the Protestant members as idolaters, for whom a certain doom, which I shall not here mention, is in sure reserve. This might have been avoided by administering the oath to the Catholics at an after period
Mr. O’Connell came into the House by himself. His ever smiling and ample countenance, redolent of health and of a, cheerful disposition, delighted all present as his athletic person was recognised passing the bar, and swaggering up towards the table. It is a positive luxury, in an assemblage where there are so many artificial dandies and sprigs of fashion, to witness the lain, farmer-like appearance, and unsophisticated manners of Mr. O’Connell. Advancing to the corner of the table, on the ministerial side of the House, next the Speaker’s chair, the honourable member intimated to one of the clerks that he was ready to take the oaths. The clerk, having placed the oath of allegiance in his hand, forthwith commenced reading it. Mr. O’Connell not being able to read without the aid of’ an eyeglass, and not having taken out of his pocket that necessary auxiliary to his vision in time to enable him to start with the clerk, [-134-] was obliged to repeat the words, for some time, after the clerk, without knowing whether the latter was reading correctly or not. All this while, the honourable gentleman was making a most active search for his glass, first in one pocket, then in another; when eventually alighting on it, he promptly raised it to his eyes, and carefully read the remainder of the oath,—as he also did the one administered only to Roman Catholics,—from the printed copy before him. It was amusing to observe the slow and cautious way in which he repeated the words after the clerk before he was in a condition to read the oath, contrasted with the rapidity of his utterance when reading it himself off the printed copy. In fact, he had hardly commenced reading the document, when it must have struck all present that, instead of following the clerk, he was rather in advance of him. It looked, indeed, as if there had been a regular match between the two as to who should read the oath most rapidly; while it was beyond all question that Mr. O’Connell was the winner. While this exhibition of rapid-reading rivalry was going on, Mr. O’Connell, instead of taking the document in his hands, as the members usually do when going through the ceremony of being sworn in, laid it on the table, and applying his glass to his eyes with his left hand, thrust the fingers of his right one between his black neckerchief and his neck, at intervals of a few seconds, until he had got to the end of the oaths. Mr. O’Connell read the whole of the oaths in a distinct and audible, though rapid, manner; but was repeatedly observed to lay peculiar emphasis on particular expressions. He laid remarkable stress on that part of the oath of allegiance which refers to the Queen in particular. If any one had doubted the honourable member’s loyalty before,—which no one, so far as I am aware, ever did,—they could no longer resist the conviction that he was not only a loyal subject, but that he was one of the most loyal subjects in her Majesty’s dominions. Having got through the ceremony of swearing in, Mr. O’Connell took up the Roman Catholic oath, and then contemptuously tossed it down again on the table, as if he had either had some private quarrel with it, or deemed it an altogether unnecessary affair. This done, he glanced some half-dozen of his own peculiar smiles at some of the honourable members beside him, and then went over to the Speaker, with whom he cordially shook hands, and held a brief’ confabulation: after which, he took his seat for a few seconds, and then waddled out of the House again.
Nearly all the members of both Houses had taken the oaths by four o’clock on the Saturday. Those who had not done so, took them early on Monday, that being the day appointed for the Queen’s opening the parliament in person, and no member [-135-] of either House being qualified to vote on any division that might take place on the Address, until the oaths had been taken.
The opening of a new parliament by the sovereign in person, is, at any time, a most interesting circumstance, and never fails to attract a large concourse of persons, not only to the vicinity of the parliament-house, but to every part of the line of procession. The interest of such an occurrence was, on this occasion, greatly heightened by the circumstance of this being not only the first parliament of the sovereign, but of that sovereign being an amiable female of the tender age of eighteen. Loyalty and gallantry, therefore, both combined to draw out the population of London on the occasion of Victoria’s opening her first parliament in person. And as has hitherto been the case, on all the occasions in which our young Queen has appeared in public, the weather, on the day in question was propitious in the highest degree. Under all these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at if the assemblage of persons who greeted Victoria with their plaudits on her way to and from her parliament, was far greater —as I am convinced it was—than were ever congregated together under similar circumstances. I have witnessed the openings of several parliaments by the sovereign in person; but the concourse of people on such occasions was nothing to what it was on the present. From Buckingham Palace to the Horse Guards there were two unbroken lines of persons as closely wedged together, ten or twelve deep, as it was possible for them to be; while from Charing-cross, down to Arlington-street, a distance I should suppose of about half-a-mile, the broad pavement on either side exhibited one dense mass of human beings. It is hardly necessary to say that the windows and tops of the houses, and every spot which could command a glimpse of the procession, were most thickly tenanted. In the fronts of most of the houses in Parliament-street, scaffoldings were erected, many of which were let out, while others were confined to the accommodation of friends. Palace-yard, again, exhibited one dense mass of cabs, coaches, carts, waggons, and vehicles of every kind, which were also let out for the occasion; and many a Jehu made a much more profitable couple of hours’ work by letting out his vehicle in this way, than he could have done by driving about in the streets from morning to night with ordinary “fare.” To compute, with anything like confidence of being near the mark, the number of persons who, on time 20th of November, were assembled together to get a glance of their young Sovereign, is what no man would undertake to do. Forming a rough conjecture on the subject, I should say it could not have been much under 200,000.
So early as twelve o’clock, the interior of the House of Lords [-136-] was nearly filled by peeresses and their daughters; by one, it was quite full; and so great was the anxiety to obtain a view of the Queen while opening parliament, that even the gallery of the House of Lords was filled with the female branches of aristocratic families by twelve o’clock; all, as in the body of the House, in full dress. Lady Mary Montague gives a graphic description of the siege which a troop of duchesses, countesses, and other titled ladies, laid to the door of the gallery of the House of Lords when, in her time, some interesting debate was expected; and how, when they found, after a ten hours’ assault, the gallery was not to be taken by storm, they succeeded in effecting an entrance by stratagem. The ladies, in the present case, were not under the necessity of attempting an entrance into the gallery by sheer physical force; for they had, in most cases, procured a lord-chamberlain’s order of admission; but several of them effected an entrance by the persuasive eloquence of their pretty and fascinating faces, accompanied by a few honied words, which the officers could not resist; and which no man, possessed of an atom of susceptibility, to say nothing of gallantry, could, had he been in the officers’ places, have withstood. But this was not all: not only did a number of ladies who had no order of admission from the Lord Chamberlain, meet with this wonderful facility of entrance; but some of them carried the joke still further, and actually took forcible possession of the front seat in the gallery, which is always specially and exclusively appropriated for the gentlemen of the press. This seat is capable, on an emergency, of containing, including a back form, about thirty persons, and yet only three reporters were fortunate enough to obtain admission; and even they, but for the accidental circumstance of having taken possession of their places the moment the door was thrown open, would also have been among the excluded. And what does the reader suppose would have been the consequence Why, none other than this: that not one word of the important proceedings in the House of Lords, on the opening of the parliament by the Queen,— beyond a copy of the speech, which is always sent from the government offices to the newspapers,—could have appeared in next day’s papers. Let the public imagine what an “untoward affair” this would have been, and be thankful that three gentlemen of the press were fortunate enough to secure their places in the gallery. The alacrity which the ladies displayed in possessing themselves of the seats set apart for the reporters, was truly astonishing. Philosophers tell us that nature abhors a vacuum, and that whenever one is created, she rushes in to fill it up. I am not myself philosopher enough to know with what expedition nature fills up such vacuums; but this I know, that [-137-] she could not be much more prompt in her movements, than were the ladies in filling up the vacant seats intended for the gentlemen of the press, on this occasion. The three reporters already referred to, when they saw the rush of the ladies to take possession of the unoccupied seats, felt, in the first instance, inexpressible surprise; but on recovering themselves, the predominant feeling in their minds was one of gratitude to their stars that they had been fortunate enough to possess themselves of their places. There they sat for two long hours, amidst a large assemblage of the fairest of the fair, literally hid from the sight of those who were lucky enough to get a peep into the House from the door, by a forest of waving plumes of feathers of the richest kind. By one o’clock, the House had an appearance which, I am convinced may be said with truth, it has seldom, if ever, presented before. The whole of the benches on the floor and the two side galleries, were occupied by the female portion of the families of the Peers, all attired in their costliest and most magnificent dresses. I will not attempt to describe the effect produced on the mind of the spectator by the dazzling splendour of the jewellery they wore. Altogether, the spectacle was perhaps one of the most interesting of the kind ever witnessed in this or any other country. I have been in the House of Lords at the opening and proroguing of several previous parliaments by the sovereign in person; but on no former occasion was there any comparison with the scene in question, either as regarded the number of ladies present, or the imposing and brilliant aspect the place presented.
I could have wished that the opponents of Mr. Grantley Berkeley’s motion for the admission of ladies into the gallery of the House of Commons, had been all present on this occasion:
that is to say, provided there had been accommodation for them. There can be little doubt that, as respects a considerable number of these ungallant “honourable gentlemen,” the real cause, though they have not the courage to own it, of their opposition to the admission of ladies into the gallery is, that they labour under the impression that ladies could not refrain from speaking to one another, and thus betray a want of proper respect for the House and its proceedings. As to the amount of respect which is due to the House and its proceedings, I beg to be excused from expressing an opinion; but this I feel bound to say, in justice to the sex, that the supposition that women could not, under any circumstances, refrain from speaking, is altogether groundless. It was proved to have been so on the occasion in question; and this under circumstances of a very trying nature; for all the ladies had to sit about two hours before the arrival of the Queen, and while there were no proceedings [-138-] in the House; and yet everything was as quiet as the most devoted admirer of the “silent system” could have wished. I do not mean to say that the ladies remained all this time as mute as if they had been so many statues; but this I will say, without the fear of contradiction, that when one exchanged a word with another, it was done in a perfect whisper, so as to be audible, with few exceptions, to no one but her to whom it was addressed. If, then, an unbroken silence was observed by the ladies present, during the two tedious hours they were in the House without anything in the shape of proceedings to occupy their attention, what a groundless and ungallant imputation for the members of the House of Commons to say—and I myself have heard members say it in private,—that if ladies were admitted into their gallery, they could not refrain from speaking!
A little before two o’clock, a discharge of artillery announced that her Majesty was on her way to parliament. The first round startled many a “lady fair,” as might be seen by the sudden and somewhat ungraceful nodding of so many plumes of feathers; but the momentary surprise over, every countenance beamed with joy at the thought that a sovereign of their own sex would in a very little time be seated on the splendid throne before them. A short time passed away, and the striking-up of a band of music on the outside, announced the near approach of her Majesty. A few moments more elapsed, and the thrilling tones of the trumpet intimated that .Queen Victoria, though as yet unseen, was proceeding along the passage to her robing-room, and would be in the midst of them presently. That was a moment of intense interest, and it was visibly depicted in every countenance. Every eye momentarily expected to gaze on the youthful Queen, attired in her robes of state. In a few seconds more, Victoria entered the House. The Peeresses and all present simultaneously rose, while every breast throbbed with exultation at the sight of their sovereign. It was a sight to be seen, not to b~ described. The most lively imagination would fall far short of the reality: how fruitless, then, were any effort to attempt to convey any idea of it by mere description! There stood, in the presence of their young and interesting sovereign,—all emulating each other in doing homage to her in their hearts as well as outwardly,—the Peers and Peeresses of the land! It was a touching sight: it was a sublime spectacle: it was one which will never be forgotten by those whose happiness it was to witness it.
Her Majesty having taken her seat on the throne, desired the Peers to be seated. The intimation was known to be equally meant for the ladies. The Commons were then summoned into the royal presence. The summons was forthwith followed [-139-] by a scene which strongly contrasted with that to which I have been alluding. There is a proverb, which is current in certain districts of the country, that some people are to be heard when they are not to be seen. The adage received a remarkable illustration in the case of the representatives of the people, on this occasion. No sooner had the door been opened, in obedience to the mandate of the Queen, which leads into the passage through which they had to pass, on their way to the bar of the House of Lords, than you heard a patting of feet as if it had been of the hoofs of some two or three score quadrupeds. This, however, was only one of the classes of sounds which broke on the ears of all in the House of Lords, and even of those who were standing in the passages leading to it. There were loud exclamations of “Ah! ah !“ and a stentorian utterance of other sounds, which denoted that the parties from whom they proceeded had been suddenly subjected to some painful visitation. All eyes—not even excepting the eyes of her Majesty—were instantly turned towards the door of the passage whence the sounds proceeded. Out rushed, towards the bar of the House of Lords, a torrent of members of the lower House, just as if the place which they had quitted had been on fire, and they had been escaping for their lives. The cause of the strange, if not alarming sounds, which had been heard a moment or two before, was now sufficiently intelligible to all. They arose from what Mr. O’Connell would call the mighty struggle among the members, as to who should reach the House of Lords first, and by that means get nearest to the bar, and thereby obtain the best place for seeing and hearing. In this mortal competition for a good place, the honourable gentlemen exhibited as little regard for each other’s persons as if they had been the principal performers in some exhibition of physical energy in Donnybrook Fair. They squeezed each other, jammed each other, trod on each other’s gouty toes, and “punished” each other, as the professors of the pugilistic art phrase it, in every variety of form, without the slightest compunctious visiting. Hence the exclamations—in some cases absolute roars—to which I have alluded. The most serious sufferer, so far as I have been able to learn, was one of the honourable members for Sheffield, who had his shoulder dislocated in the violent competition to be first at the bar. Even after the M.P.’s were fairly in the presence of their Sovereign, there was a great deal of jostling and jamming of each other, which extorted sundry exclamations indicative of pain, though such exclamations were less loud than these before alluded to. The Irish members played the most prominent part in this unseemly exhibition; and next to them, the English ultra Radicals: the Tories cut but a sorry figure in the jostling match. The Liberals [-140-] were, as the common saying is, “too many for them.” I thought with myself at the time, what must the foreign ambassadors and their ladies who were present, think of English manners, should they unhappily form their notions on the subject, from the conduct on this occasion of the legislators in the lower House It was a rather awkward exhibition for a body of men arrogating to themselves the character of being “the first assembly of gentlemen in Europe.”
Her Majesty having taken the oath against Popery, which she did in a slow and serious, yet audible manner, proceeded to read the royal speech; and a specimen of more tasteful and effective elocution it has never been my fortune to hear. Her voice is clear,, and her enunciation distinct in no ordinary degree. Her utterance is timed with admirable judgment to the ear: it is the happy medium between too slow and too rapid. Nothing could be more accurate than her pronunciation; while the musical intonations of her voice imparted a peculiar charm to all the other attributes of her elocution. The most perfect stillness reigned through the place while her Majesty was reading her speech. Not a breath was to be heard: had a person, unblessed with the powers of vision, been suddenly taken within hearing of her Majesty, while she was reading her speech, he might have remained some time under the impression that there was no one present but herself. Her self-possession was the theme of universal admiration. Nothing could have been more complete. The most practised speaker in either house of parliament never rose to deliver his sentiments with more entire composure. Nor must I omit to mention, that the manner of her Majesty was natural and easy in the highest degree: the utter absence of art or affectation must have struck the mind of every one present.
The speech being ended, Victoria descended from the throne, and with slow and graceful steps retired from the House to her robing-room, a few yards distant; nodding as she did on her entrance, to most of the peeresses whom she passed. In person she is considerably below the average height. Her figure is good; rather inclined, as far as one could judge from seeing her in her robes of state, to the slender form. Every one who has seen her must be struck with her singularly fine bust. Her complexion is clear, and has all the indications of excellent health about it. Her features are small, and partake a good deal of the Grecian cast. Her face, without being strikingly handsome, is remarkably pleasant, and is indicative of a mild and amiable disposition. She has an intelligent expression of countenance; and on all the occasions—three in number—on which I have seen her, ha~ looked quite cheerful and happy.
On the conclusion of the Queen’s speech, both Houses ad-[-141-]journed, as is usual on such occasions, till five o clock, when they again met to discuss the royal oration, and to consider the propriety of voting an address to her Majesty, expressive of the gratitude of the legislature for her most gracious speech.
In both Houses there was a large attendance of members, while the galleries were crowded with strangers. In proceeding along the passage which leads to the reporters’ gallery in either house, immediately previous to the commencement of the debate, it was an interesting sight to witness the reporters of the evening newspapers, with a number of boys all ready to be despatched to their several offices with the copy in piecemeal so soon as prepared, sitting at a table, with the necessary apparatus of pen, ink, and paper before them, and each more eager than the other to give a practical proof of the accuracy and expedition * (*The accuracy and despatch with which “The Sun” publishes its reports of the parliamentary proceedings, and of the speeches at public meetings, are really extra. ordinary; and can only he accounted for from the circumstance of Mr. Young being so fortunate as to have a corps of reporters, who unite the greatest zeal towards the establishment, with first-rate professional abilities. Mr. Young’s achievements in parliamentary reporting are unparalleled in the annals of the press. One very extraordinary recent one may be mentioned in proof. On the motion of Lord Roden, in the end of November, on the subject of the present state of Ireland, —“The Sun” gave a verbatim report of the speeches down to eight o’clock, making upwards of seven columns in all, and had the whole published, in a third edition by nine o’clock, at which hour expresses were despatched to all parts of the country.) with which they could commit to paper, and then extend their notes for publication, the orations with which the minds of the various intended speakers were surcharged.
In the Lords, the address to the Queen was moved by the Duke of Sussex. To witness his Royal Highness on this occasion, was an interesting sight. Not only did the circumstance of his being for so many years a veteran in the cause of reform, — and that, too, in the worst of times, — necessarily give rise to a variety of associations, of the most hallowed kind, in the minds of all who wish well to the cause of human Improvement; but there was something so exceedingly venerable in his personal appearance as could not fail to impart an unusual interest to everything which proceeded from his lips. There stood his tall and exceedingly stout person, immediately before the ministerial bench, not bowed down or decrepit by the load of sixty-four years, yet evidently feeble, in a physical sense, through the combined effects of advanced age and recent illness. His countenance wore a remarkably cheerful expression: it glowed with benevolence, and so far was an accurate index of his disposition. The tones of his voice, and the occasional energy of his manner, clearly showed that it was not from mere courtesy towards’ the ministers, that he had undertaken the task of moving the ad-[-142-]dress; but that it was to him a labour of love. He spoke with much distinctness, and with great seeming ease in so far as concerned the intellectual part of the exercise. He was audible in all parts of the House. His speech occupied nearly half-an-hour in the delivery, and was listened to with the deepest attention by both sides of the House. Considered as a mental effort, it would have been regarded as worthy of all praise from any noble Lord in the prime of life, and was such as but few of their lordships could equal: considered as the speech of one who has attained the age of sixty-four, and who has of late years been a severe physical sufferer, it must have been looked on as a great intellectual achievement.
Lord PORTMAN seconded the motion for the address. His Lordship having been but recently -raised to the peerage, and not having made any speech before,—unless, indeed, a few desultory observations, arising out of some casual circumstances, be deserving the name,—his appearance on this occasion was regarded as his debut in the character of a speaker in the House of Peers. Hence all eyes were upon him, to see how he would acquit himself. He spoke for more than half an hour, and acquitted himself in a highly respectable manner. The matter of his speech, without being brilliant, displayed considerable talent. It was occasionally argumentative, sometimes declamatory, always clear. His style was unassuming and plain: he never seemed to aim at being rhetorical. His manner was pleasant rather than impressive. One of his favourite attitudes was to rest both hands on the table for a short time, and then suddenly withdraw them to enable him to resume a perpendicular position. He usually kept his eye fixed on the two or three noble lords immediately opposite him. He spoke with some fluency, and without any seeming difficulty. His voice is of the treble kind. He did not speak in loud tones, but was sufficiently audible in all parts of the House. He had nothing worthy the name of gesticulation, beyond his resting himself by means of his two hands on the table, in the way I have described, and a slight occasional movement of the head. He is dark-looking, and has dark hair. His features are regular, and his countenance wears an intelligent aspect. He is rather tall, and of a stout frame. He is understood to be somewhat reserved in his habits, and is said to have a good deal of the quality which the French call hauteur. The noble lord is in the thirty-eighth year of his age.
There have been already a good many discussions in the House of Lords. Seven or eight of the debates have been of considerable importance; a very unusual circumstance so soon after the beginning of a session. I believe there were as many interesting [-143-] discussions during the five weeks the house sat, before the Christmas holidays, as there were in as many months from the beginning of either of the last three sessions. To the circumstance of Lord Brougham being again present, and perfectly recovered in health, we are, in a great measure, to ascribe this. The noble Lord seems determined to make up by his activity this session, for his absence in the session of 1836, and his inactivity in the last session, caused by the indisposition under which it is now well known, though he himself tried to conceal it, he then laboured. I know from private sources of information, that he is resolved to make what is called a sensation this session. I have met with gentlemen who have had lengthened interviews with him, within the last few weeks, and they say that he is all eagerness for rushing fairly into the political arena in the House of Lords. He is in excellent spirits: he never was in better in his life. This, indeed, has been visible in his appearance and manner during that part of the session which is already past. He has all the appearance of excellent health about him. He looks as well, in point of physical vigour, as he did twenty years since, when, as plain Henry Brougham, he was day after day achieving such splendid victories both at the bar and in the senate. He is himself animated with the highest hopes of seeing, ere long, the complete triumph of those principles, both in politics and education, with which he has within the last few weeks identified himself in so remarkable a manner. His speech on introducing his measure for a system of national education, occupied upwards of two hours in the delivery, and was one of the most masterly speeches I ever heard. It was equal to anything the noble Lord ever himself achieved; and yet it was delivered under the most unfavourable circumstances. There were not above fourteen or fifteen peers present during the delivery of this address. Now, every person, who knows anything of public speaking, must be aware how dispiriting it is to the speaker to have to encounter the slight offered to the subject, if not to himself personally, by the absence of most of those whose duty it is to be present. Lord Brougham, however, did not seem in the least disheartened by the thinness of the House, but displayed great liveliness of manner as well as excellence in his matter. I am satisfied, indeed, that he would have delivered his two hours’ speech with the same animation and spirit, had no other Peer than the Lord Chancellor been present. He is not a man to be dispirited by marked neglect, any more than by strenuous opposition. In regard to regularity of attendance this session, Lord Brougham has exceeded every other Peer in the House; always, of course, excepting the Lord Chancellor. I do not recollect missing him for a single evening while the House [-144-] was sitting. The only Peer who would probably have been Lord Brougham’s rival in the matter of regular attendance, is now out of the country: I allude to the Duke of Cumberland, alias the King of Hanover. His Hanoverian Majesty, as I mentioned nearly two years ago in my “Random Recollections of the House of Lords,” was, for some years prior to his quitting the country, more regular in his attendance in the upper House than any other Peer of the realm. He was always the first to enter and the last to leave it.
The address in the Commons, in answer to the Queen’s Speech, was moved by Lord Leveson, son of the Earl of Granville, and member for Morpeth. As this was the noble Lord’s maiden speech,* (* The noble Lord was first elected for Morpeth towards the close of last Session; but never made any regular speech in the House before.) all eyes were naturally fixed on him. What added to the interest of his moving the address, was the. circumstance of his speech being the first after the regular meeting, not only of a new parliament, but of a new parliament under a new sovereign, and that sovereign a female of only eighteen. The proceedings on the election of speaker are only considered a sort of preliminary matter which has no proper connexion with the actual business of the session. The interest which the circumstances to which I have alluded gave to the speech of Lord Leveson, was greatly heightened by his exceedingly youthful, not to say boyish appearance. The noble Lord is very young to be entrusted with the representation of an important constituency, for he is only in his twenty-second year; but young as he is, he even looks still younger. He commenced with wonderful self-possession, under all the circumstances of the case, and spoke for about fifteen minutes with much seeming ease. His utterance was rapid rather than otherwise, and the words proceeded in regular order from his mouth. His voice does not appear to be powerful, but it is clear and pleasant. His articulation was sufficiently distinct, and in his pronunciation there was an absence of that dandified “fine-young-gentleman” manner of speaking, which is somewhat common among the sons of the aristocracy. His action was quiet and unpretending; in fact, beyond a slight movement of his right arm, and an occasional gentle turning of hi~ head from one side to the other, there was nothing in his manner to deserve the name of gesticulation at all. In the matter of his speech there was little either to praise or blame. It was -rather above mediocrity, which is all that can be said about it. But, in justice to the young nobleman, let me guard the .reader against prejudging him on the score of talent, in consequence of my speaking of his maiden oration in the House as not rising much [-145-] higher than mediocrity. Supposing he were a man of commanding abilities, he could not, in the circumstances in which he was placed, have made any striking display of his talents. The movers and seconders of addresses in answer to royal speeches, are necessarily tied down to certain topics; the topics, namely, embraced in the speech: and even in speaking on these topics, the mover and seconder are expected to be exceedingly guarded in what they say. They have no latitude either of thought or of expression allowed them. It is for this, perhaps, more than for any other reason that could be named, that no men of distinction as speakers are ever selected to move or second the address in either House; for Ministers would be apprehensive, were such men to be entrusted with the moving or seconding of such address, that they would, in some ill-starred moment, follow the impulses of their genius, and overleap the limits of discretion.
Lord Leveson’s personal appearance is very prepossessing. His manner is modest: there is no assumption in it. He is under the middle height, and slenderly formed. His features are small; his complexion is fair; and his hair has something of a flaxen hue. He has a bright eye, and a rather intelligent expression of countenance. His face is exceedingly pleasing, and is not without a feminine expression. I am anxious to see how so young a legislator will acquit himself when he takes part in any important debate.
Mr. Gibson Craig, the new member for the county of Edinburgh, seconded the address which had been moved by Lord Leveson. Mr. Craig having been long known as an advocate of considerable distinction at the Scottish bar, great things were expected of him: great things, I mean, as to the manner of his speech. The delusion was dispelled before he had uttered half a dozen sentences. He completely broke down in the very outset, and never afterwards recovered himself. He commenced thus: “Mr. Speaker,—I rise, Sir, for the purpose of seconding the motion which has just been made by the noble Lord; and I—” Here he suddenly paused, and appeared to be labouring under great tremor. Not resuming his speech for some seconds, both sides of the House cheered him, with the view of enabling him to recover his self-possession; and of encouraging him to proceed. I am convinced that these cheers only aggravated the evil they were kindly meant to remedy; for though it is the custom, at all public meetings in England, to endeavour to encourage a tremulous speaker in this way, I do not recollect ever having seen the expedient resorted to in Scotland; and therefore it must have sounded strange in the ears of Mr. Craig,—if, indeed, he did not understand it in a light the very opposite of what was intended. I have seen it stated in several journals, [-146-] that after he had uttered the first sentence, he actually sat down, and did not rise again. This is not correct. He remained on his legs at least five minutes; and during all that time did continue saying something or other, though that something was, to use one of his own favourite terms in the law courts of Edinburgh, often as “irrelevant” to the subjects, to which he should have confined himself, as it was possible to be. Nor is this all. Not only did Mr. Craig wander from the topics introduced into the royal speech, but he wandered from every other topic. His language, in other words, had often no meaning at all. One of the most experienced and accurate shorthand-writers, in the gallery, mentioned to me, a few days afterwards, that he could not, by any exertion of his intellect and judgment, extract anything like meaning or coherency from his notes of the learned gentleman’s speech. Mr. Craig, on. finding himself break down in the commencement, referred to the notes, which he held in his hand, of what he meant to say; but they afforded him no assistance worthy of the name. It is true, they did help him to an idea or two, when there seemed to be an utter absence of any in his mind; but the evil of it was, that he could not clothe those ideas in the proper phraseology, so as to make himself intelligible to his audience. He stuttered and hesitated, corrected and re-corrected his expressions, and then, after all, left his sentences worse at the I act than they were at the first. His self-possession all but completely forsook him; and his nervousness was so excessive, that in many cases he could not pronounce the word even when if suggested itself to his mind. Hence, during a good part of his speech (if so it may be called), not a word was heard by those a few yards distant from him, though his lips continued to move. I he most pleasant part of the matter, to all who were present, was to see him again resume his seat, which he did very abruptly.
Great surprise has been generally expressed, that a lawyer, so much accustomed to public speaking as Mr. Craig has been for many years past, should thus have completely broken down in the House of Commons. To my mind, there is nothing surprising in the circumstance. The causes of his failure appear to me as plain as can be. They were the peculiar circumstances in which he was then placed. These were different from any in which he had ever found himself before. It was the first day of the meeting of parliament, and the first time in which he had been •on the floor of the House, except during the election of a Speaker, and while taking the oaths. Everything, therefore, was new to him. He found himself, too, overwhelmed with that undefinable sort of awe which almost every man, who ever addressed the House immediately on his introduction to it, has [-147-] afterwards confessed that he felt. It will doubtless be urged, in opposition to this hypothesis respecting the causes of Mr. Craig’s breaking down, that, on the same grounds, Lord Leveson ought also to have failed, as he may be said to have been also a new member. To this, I answer, that there was this difference between them,—a difference, it will at once be seen to be decisive in favour of my theory,—that Lord Leveson, not being a practised speaker, took the wise precaution of previously writing out and committing his speech to heart; so that he had only to repeat it, just as he did when giving one of his short recitations at school a few years since; while Mr. Craig, trusting to his extemporaneous powers of utterance, had not prepared hi~ speech, but trusted to his consulting, if there should be a necessity, a few confused notes which he had jotted down on paper.
It was a most ill-advised thing on the part of Ministers to ask Mr. Craig to second the motion for the address, knowing as they did that he had never been in the House before. It was still more injudicious on his part to have undertaken the task. I do not at this moment recollect any previous instance of the kind; but I know several instances in which the most distinguished men have either broken down altogether, or comparatively so, when they ventured to address the House on the first day of their introduction to parliament. I have mentioned in my “Random Recollections of the House of Commons,” that Cobbett once stated to me, that, bold and confident in his own resources as he was, he felt a degree of tremor come over him when he rose to address the House on the day of his first entering it, which almost unnerved him for the tack; but that knowing every word he uttered would be severely criticised, he took the precaution of preparing his speech beforehand, and consequently managed to get through it in a passable manner.
The instances are innumerable in which men of first-rate talent have broken down in the House, when making their maiden speech, even after they have been some time in it, and consequently might be expected to have felt more at ease. The case of Addison, who rose up and said, “I conceive,” three successive times, resuming his seat each time, because he was unable to proceed, and who did not eventually succeed in uttering another word, is known to everybody. Sheridan, also, in his first effort, completely failed; so did Erskine, and so also did the late David Ricardo. The truth is, it will generally be found that parliamentary failures most frequently occur in the case of great men. The reason is obvious: they are usually the most diffident: they want that assurance which is so common among persons who are below mediocrity. Such tenth-rate personages as Mr. Peter Borthwick never break down. Their stock of an [-148-] overweening conceit of their own abilities is at all times, and under all circumstances, abundant; and they have consequently an ample supply of mere words for all occasions.
The nervousness of Mr. Craig, under the peculiar circumstances in which he was placed, I should have regarded as presumptive proof of his being a man of superior intellect, had I known nothing of him previously. Cicero mentions, that not only did his knees tremble, and his whole frame shake, when he first ventured to address an assemblage of his countrymen; but that he never, even after he had enjoyed for years the reputation of being the first orator in Rome, rose to speak on any important occasion without feeling himself oppressed in the outset by an excessive nervousness. Mr. Craig has the matter in him; and, as Sheridan said of himself in similar circumstances, “out it will yet come.” I am much mistaken, indeed, if Mr. Craig does not, by the success of his future efforts, more than atone for the failure of his first attempt.
The Victoria Parliament has not, as yet, been productive of many of those uproarious scenes which are of such frequent occurrence in the House of Commons. Abundance of such scenes, however, are, I have no doubt, in store for those who are partial to seeing the “first assembly of gentlemen in Europe” making themselves ridiculous. All the scenes worthy of the name which have occurred hitherto, took place on one night; the night, namely, on which the conduct of the “Spottiswoode gang,” as it has been called, was first brought under the consideration of the House. The House sat on that evening till a quarter past ten; and from five o’clock till that hour there was nothing but a continued succession of scenes. The usual discussions, indeed, constituted the exception, and the scenes the rule on that memorable night. Sir Edward Knatchbull had the honour of commencing, quite unintentionally there can be no doubt, the uproar and disorder which so largely characterized the after proceedings. He called Mr. O’Brien to order, in a few moments after the latter honourable gentleman had risen to animadvert on the “Spottiswoode conspiracy.” Sir Edward Sugden soon after followed the example of Sir Edward Knatchbull, and lustily called out “Order!” Both baronets interrupted Mr. O’Brien, on the ground that he was irregular in making observations when presenting a petition. Several other members soon mixed themselves up with the question of “order,” and a regular scene followed. Four or five rose repeatedly at once, amidst deafening cries of “Order !“ “Chair! chair!” and so forth. Among those who seemed most eager to rush into an altercation on the point of order, were Mr. O’Connell, Mr. Wakley, Mr. Lamb-ton, and last, though not least, Mr. Henry Grattan. The latter [-149-] honourable gentleman is most liberal of his gestures on all occasions on which he speaks: when exhibiting in a “scene,” he is particularly so. The interposition of the Speaker restored order for a time, but only for a time. Sir Francis Burdett made a speech, which called up Mr. O’Connell, but the latter honour-able gentleman had no sooner presented himself, than he was assailed by a perfect tempest of clamour from the Tory benches. In the midst of all the noise and commotion which prevailed among the Opposition, and amidst all the din of voices at the bar, and the moving of feet on the floor of the House,—loud cries of” Spoke! spoke “—meaning that Mr. O’Connell had no right to rise a second time,— were distinctly heard. The honourable gentleman stood with his arms folded across his breast, in an attitude of perfect calmness, and looked at the Tories opposite as if he had been bidding them defiance. At last, seeing the uproar continue, he threatened to move the adjournment of the House if the interruption was persevered in. He was then allowed to proceed for a few seconds, but was again assailed by cries of “Spoke! spoke !“ “ Order! order!” Mr. Hume now rose with the view of seeing what he could do for the purpose of allaying the storm of uproar which was raging in the House; but poor good-natured Mr. Hume was himself received with increased shouts of disapprobation from the Tory benches; and what aggravated the thing was, that a universal yell of “Chair! chair !” was set up before he had uttered a single word. Good-tempered as the member for Kilkenny proverbially is, this was really more than human nature could endure, and he exclaimed, with considerable sharpness and energy, looking “the enemy fairly in the face, “Why ‘chair,’ when I have not—” The remainder of the sentence was lost amidst a most vociferous renewal of the general cry of “Order! order!” Amidst some half dozen who now rose to speak from the Tory side of the House,—some of them exhibiting an alarming superabundance of gesticulation,—Sir Robert Inglis was heard to say that he called Mr. flume to order because the Speaker wished to make some observations. “But,” shouted Mr. Hume again, starting to his legs, before Sir Robert had time to resume his seat; “but how am I out of order? ~and why call out ‘chair,’ when I have not yet spoken at all ?“ Loud laughter, accompanied by additional uproarious demonstrations, followed the observation. Eventually the Speaker’s voice prevailed over that of the performers in the scene; and the scene itself was soon afterwards put an end to. In about twenty minutes, however, it was succeeded by another, though of a different kind. It was one to be seen: not to be described. Sir Francis Burdett having been keenly attacked by Mr. Maurice O’Connell, and having beer [-150-] asked by Mr. Handley whether, after subscribing to the Spottiswoode Fund, he would not feel it binding on him, as a man of honour, to abstain from voting on all matters connected with Irish elections,—all eyes were turned to him; but, instead of repelling the attack of Mr. Maurice O’Connell, or answering the question of Mr. Handley, he rose from his seat, and without uttering a word, made a low bow to the Speaker, and, with a steady pace, but a most ludicrous carriage, walked out of the House, as if he had been performing what soldiers call the dead march. The cheers of the Tories were deafening, while the laughter of the Reformers was so immoderate as to threaten serious injury to their sides.
Soon afterwards came the “last scene of all,”—the last, I mean, to which I shall advert,—in “the strange eventful” proceedings of this memorable evening. Mr. Blewitt, the new member for Monmouth, having concluded a speech of an hour’s duration, by moving a string of resolutions nearly as long as the speech itself, condemnatory of the Irish Election Petition Fund, seemed perfectly at a loss as to whether or not he should press them to a division. The honourable gentleman, who is a little bustling man, leaped about from one part of the House to another, asking the opinion of different members as to what he should do; and then, when he had got a most abundant supply of advice, all to the effect that he should withdraw his resolutions, he seemed to be, as they say in Scotland, “in a peck of troubles” as to whether he should take it or not. It is impossible to describe the scene of confusion which the House presented at this time. The bar was so crowded with honourable gentlemen laughing and talking, and otherwise amusing themselves, that there was no getting out or in; while the floor of the House was promenaded by other honourable members, just as if they had been on the pavement in Regent-street. Mr. Blewitt at last said something about withdrawing four resolutions, and pressing the fifth; but the noise and confusion were so great, that nobody but himself and the Speaker seemed to know anything of the matter. Eventually, amidst the same scene of disorder, Mr. Blewitt withdrew the remaining resolution; but nobody being aware of the circumstance, Mr. Peter Borthwick, Sir Edward Knatchbull, Mr. Goulburn, Colonel Sibthorp, Sir Edward Sugden, and a number of others, all rose at the same time, some to speak on the resolutions, and others to ask whether or not they were still before the House. The scene which ensued defies description. Mr. Blewitt and some of his friends rose in threes and fours at a time, to assure the House that. all the resolutions were withdrawn; while the Tory members not only started up in dozens to deny the fact, but were prepared, with great vehe-[-151-]mence of gesture, to argue the point. Their friends, on either hand and at their backs, came forward with an edifying promptitude and unanimity to support their hypothesis, as to the non-withdrawal of the resolutions, by loud cries of “They are not withdrawn,” “No, no,” &c. Groans, yells, and other zoological sounds proceeded from several parts of the ministerial side, by way of answer to the exclamations and affirmation of the Tories. In the midst of this uproarious exhibition, the Speaker several times assured the House that the resolutions had all been formally withdrawn, and that there was no business before the House; but for some time they persisted in maintaining that he was mistaken. At last he satisfied the Tories, or at least seemingly so, that the resolutions were withdrawn, and order was once more restored. But so keenly did the right honourable gentleman feel the disrespect offered to him in the implied doubt of his word, that he next evening mentioned, that if such conduct were again repeated he would resign his office as speaker.
The most amusing circumstance, not coming under the category of “scenes,” which has yet taken place in the House of Commons, happened in the second week of parliament. The occasion was that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer bringing the question of the Civil List under the consideration of the House. It will be remembered, that Mr. Daniel Whittle Harvey gave previous notice of his intention to propose an amendment to the motion of the right honourable gentleman. As is usual on such occasions, as a matter of courtesy, Mr. Harvey, before commencing his speech, handed to Mr. Spring Rice the amendment he meant to propose; but instead of handing the right honourable gentleman a copy of the amendment in question, Mr. Harvey handed him the original itself, and this, too, without providing himself with a copy. There can be no doubt Mr. Harvey’s intention was to have asked his amendment back from Mr. Spring Rice before beginning his own speech; but having forgotten to do this, and also forgetting for the moment that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had his amendment in his possession, Mr. Harvey concluded an able and luminous speech by observing, with his usual volubility, that he now begged “leave to propose the following amendment.” Mr. Harvey immediately leaned down to “pick up” his “following amendment from among a quantity of papers which were lying on his seat; but no “following amendment” was to be found. It was then that the fact flashed across his mind that he had handed it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that the latter gentleman had not had the politeness to return it. “My amendment,” exclaimed Mr. Harvey, with some tartness of manner, “is in the custody of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Be pleased to hand [-152-] it me over.” As the honourable gentleman uttered the last sentence, he looked anxiously towards Mr. Spring Rice, who was five or six yards from him, at the same time stretching out his hand to receive the document when it should be returned to him through the means of some of the intervening honourable gentlemen. Mr. Spring Rice looked amazed and confounded when the honourable member for Southwark so pointedly apostrophized him as being the custodien of his amendment. To be sure, he said nothing in the first instance; but it was very easy to see that he was inwardly ejaculating “ Me, your amendment !“ The fact was, that he also had become oblivious of the circumstance of the document being in his possession. However, in a few moments, the conviction was brought home to his mind that he was a defaulter in this respect; and forthwith he commenced a most vigorous search for the amendment, Mr. Harvey all the while standing in his place, with his eye as steadily fixed on the honourable Chancellor of the Exchequer as if he had been about to play the cannibal with him. Mr. Spring Rice searched his pockets: the missing amendment was not there. He eagerly and hastily turned over a miniature mountain of documents erected by his side on the seat on which he sat: still there was no appearance of the lost amendment. He then rose up, and advancing to the table, rummaged for some time among a heap of papers there: the search was still in vain. He resumed his seat, and inquired of Lord Morpeth, who was sitting beside him, whether he knew anything of the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Harvey’s amendment. Lord Morpeth significantly shook his head, being just as ignorant on the matter as the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. Lord Morpeth, however, kindly consented to assist in the search for the missing amendment; and great was the activity he displayed in turning and re-turning over, after Mr. Spring Rice, the various documents that lay on the seat and on the table. Long before this time, Mr. Harvey, tired of holding out his hand to receive that which was not likely to be forthcoming in “a hurry,” had drawn it in, and, as if determined to take the thing as coolly as possible, folded his arms on his breast, and stood in that attitude with all the seeming resignation of a philosopher who patiently submits to a calamity over which he has no control. In the meantime, however, though thus motionless in one sense, he was not so in another. His tongue was occasionally set a-going. He remarked, on one occasion, with that bitter sarcasm of manner which is peculiar to himself, that this was the first document of his which ever had. been taken so much care of by a cabinet minister. Roars of laughter, to the manifest mortification of Mr. Spring Rice, followed from both sides of the House. On another occasion, he [-153-] observed that he was quite delighted to see that his amendment was so safe in the keeping of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as that no one would have any chance of abstracting it. All this time, Mr. Spring Rice and Lord Morpeth were most exemplary as regarded the eagerness with which they prosecuted their search for the lost document. It is worthy of remark, that no one joined with them; but all, even the Liberal members, seemed to enjoy the sport. To the Conservatives, the affair was a rare piece of amusement. I observed some of them laughing heartily, who were never seen to laugh within the walls of the House before; and in whose existence, even out of doors, a hearty laugh might be said to be quite an era. Mr. Spring Rice, after “turning about and wheeling about,” in search of the amendment, wit an agility worthy of his namesake of Jim Crow notoriety, at length bethought himself of unlocking a small tin box, in which he keeps the more valuable of his papers, when, to his infinite joy, after rummaging for a few seconds among its contents, he discovered the missing amendment. He pounced upon it just as a Bow-street officer would on some offender, for whom he had been on a vexatious search, when alighting on him; and dragging the innocent amendment out of its place of concealment, held it up in his hand to the gaze of the House, exclaiming, as loud as his lungs would permit, and with an air of triumph, “Here it is! here it is!” “I’m happy to see that the right honourable gentleman prizes it so highly,” said Mr. Harvey, in the sarcastic way to which I have alluded, “as to place it among his most valuable papers, and to lock it up in his box.” Peals of laughter followed; and during their continuance, the amendment was handed over, through the assistance of two or three intermediate members, to the honourable gentleman whose property it was, who, as soon as it reached him, read it, amidst renewed peals of laughter. The bursts of laughter, which were thus resounding through the House, were much increased by the circumstance of Colonel Sibthorp, who was directly opposite Mr. Spring Rice, rising, with his own imperturbable gravity, and with his huge mustachios looking unusually large, to second the amendment. It certainly was a novelty in the proceedings of the House of Commons, to witness the most ultra Tory, perhaps, in the House, rising to second an amendment on a vital question, moved by one of the greatest Radicals. The shouts of laughter which followed the circumstance, had their origin in the impression that the gallant mustachioed Colonel had seconded the amendment in a mistake; but when it was understood that there was no mistake in the matter, and that the gallant gentleman was perfectly aware of what he was about, the Liberal members looked unutterable things at one another. It was at last [-154-] understood that the Tories were, from factious motives, about to join the extreme section of the Reformers on that particular occasion, not doubting that, in the event of a division, ministers would be in a minority, and consequently be compelled to resign office. The circumstance, however, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer giving Mr. Harvey certain specific pledges, in reference to the treatment of the Pension List, induced the latter gentleman to withdraw his amendment, which of course prevented any division taking place.
The debuts made by new members have not been numerous. Those of Mr. Blewitt and Mr. D’Israeli have attracted most attention. Mr. Blewitt made his debut by bringing forward certain resolutions connected with the Spottiswoode Subscription. He commenced by apologizing for venturing, so soon after his introduction to the House, to occupy its attention by undertaking to bring under its notice so important a subject as that embraced by the resolutions which he had given notice of his intention to move. There being a self-possession and confidence in his manner, which seemed at variance with his imploring the indulgence of the House, the Tories at once set up a loud and general laugh, mingled with other interruptions which it is not so easy to characterise. This appeared to embarrass the honourable gentleman in some small measure; but several cheers from the ministerial benches having immediately succeeded the interruptions from the other side, he speedily recovered his composure of mind, and proceeded to address the House in a distinct and steady voice. He kept his eye for some time as constantly fixed on the wig of the Speaker, as if it had been a crime of the first magnitude to withdraw his gaze from it for a moment. By the time he had been on his legs for about fifteen minutes, he waxed wondrously magniloquent. He evinced a singular partiality for expletives. He talked of the “purity and honesty of his motives,” and so forth. He made repeated efforts to be impressive; but his intended pathos only ended in bathos. He regretted that he could not introduce honourable gentlemen opposite, to the recesses of the bottom of his heart. Of course he could not do this, as the “recesses of his heart,” however capacious, could scarcely be expected to accommodate three hundred Tory gentlemen. Such rhetorical flourishes as this—and they were not few in number— caused, as might have been expected; loud shouts of laughter from the Tories; and even the honourable gentlemen who graced the ministerial benches could not, in several cases, refrain from joining in the merriment of those on the opposite side. For some time the interruptions from the Tories were renewed, chiefly however in the shape of laughter. At last the honourable gentleman degenerated into a more tame and monotonous manner [-155-] of speaking; and the consequence was, that the Tories, instead of keeping up their merriment, entered, in most cases, into conversation with each other; while a few of them addressed themselves to sleep. The greatest inattention to Mr. Blewitt’s speech, also prevailed on the ministerial side. During the hour he spoke, he only got two cheers, and these very faint and very partial ones. Mr. flume, who sat immediately at the back of the honourable gentleman, repeatedly yawned and spoke to Mr. Bulwer, the celebrated novelist. Mr. Bulwer did not evince any greater disposition to engage in conversation with Mr. flume than he did to listen to Mr. Blewitt, being, very probably, engaged in his own mind in inventing the plot of some new work of fiction. Mr. O’Connell sat on the other side of Mr. flume; and I speak with all seriousness, when I say that the honourable and learned member for Dublin looked the very incarnation of melancholy. I never in my life saw his countenance wear an aspect of so much gravity. Towards the conclusion of his speech, Mr. Blewitt repeatedly paused; and there seemed, on one or two occasions, to be a general impression that he would not be able to resume, in consequence of his memory having proved unfaithful. He contrived, however, to recommence again, until, having unconsciously made some very ludicrous observation, a general and loud laugh from the Tory side of the House fairly drove the remainder of his speech out of his head; and not being able to resume the thread of his argument, though not losing his self-possession, he, after a short pause, observed in a very characteristic manner, that if the gentlemen opposite would not listen to his speech that was their fault, not his. This eli-. sited another burst of laughter; when, after a temporary pause, he remarked, with much emphasis, that they (the Tories) had fairly laughed him out of a great part of his speech, and that, therefore, he must abruptly conclude by moving the resolutions. Mr. Blewitt then sat down amidst loud laughter.
Among the new members who have already made their debuts, Mr. D’Israeli,. the member for Maidstone, is the best known. His own private friends looked forward to his introduction into the House of Commons as a circumstance which would be immediately followed by his obtaining for himself an oratorical reputation equal to that enjoyed by the most popular speakers in that assembly. They thought he would produce an extraordinary sensation, both, in the House and in the country, by the power and splendour of his eloquence. How different the event from the anticipation! It was known for some days previously that he was to make his maiden speech in the course of the discussion respecting the Spottiswoode combination: he himself made no secret of the fact among his party, that he was labouring [-156-] with an oration which he expected would produce a great impression; and this circumstance, taken in conjunction with the sanguine notions already referred to of his friends, as to his capability of achieving mighty oratorical triumphs, made the House all anxiety to hear him. When he rose, which he did immediately after Mr. O’Connell had concluded his speech, all eyes were fixed on him, and all ears were open to listen to his eloquence. Before he had proceeded far, -he furnished a striking illustration of the old story about .the mountain in labour bringing forth a mouse. For the first five minutes he was on his legs, the Tories met every burst of laughter, or other manifestation of ridicule which proceeded from the ministerial benches, with loud cheers. And it is particularly deserving of mention, that even Sir Robert Peel, who very rarely cheers any honourable gentleman, not even the most able and accomplished speakers of his own party, greeted Mr. D’Israeli’s speech with a prodigality of applause which must have been severely trying to the worthy baronet’s lungs. The latter honourable gentleman spoke from the second row of benches immediately opposite the Speaker’s chair: Sir Robert, as usual, sat on the first row of benches, a little to the left of Mr. D’Israeli; and so exceedingly anxious was the right honourable baronet to encourage the debutant to proceed, that he repeatedly turned round his head, and looking the youthful orator in the face, cheered him in most stentorian tones. All, however, would not do. Mr. D’Israeli increased in the absurdity of his matter, and the ludicrousness of his manner, with every succeeding sentence he uttered. This, of course, called forth fresh bursts of laughter from the ministerial benches. At last, his own most devoted friends were obliged to abstain from all farther manifestations of applause. For a time he endeavoured to brave out the laughter and jeers of the gentlemen opposite; but it was visible to all, that when his own party ceased to cheer him on, he began to lose courage. There was not only less confidence in his manner; but, on one occasion, he intimated his willingness to resume his seat, if the House wished him to do so. He proceeded, however, with his speech; at One time talking a sort of sickly sentimentality which would have been scarcely endurable even in one of his own novels, but to utter which in the House of Commons indicated a most miserable taste; at another time, speaking downright nonsense. What for instance, could be more nonsensical than this passage! “When we remember that, in spite of the support of the honourable and learned gentleman, the member for Dublin, and his well-disciplined phalanx of patriots; and in spite of all this, we remember the amatory eclogue, (roars of laughter,) the old loves and the new loves that took place between the noble Lord, the Tityrus of the [-157-] treasury bench, and the learned Daphne of Liskeard, (loud laughter, and cries of ‘Question!’) when we remember, at the same time, that with emancipated Ireland and enslaved England; on the one hand a triumphant nation, on the other a groaning people; and notwithstanding the noble Lord, secure on the pedestal of power, may wield in one hand the keys of St. Peter, and in the other—” The remainder of the sentence was lost amidst peals of laughter: but it is not probable that any after combination of words could have made sense of the passage. On another occasion he spoke of himself~ amidst roars of laughter the loudest and most general I ever remember to have heard in the House, as being the representative of all the new members of Parliament. By the time he had got half through his speech, he was assailed by groans and under-growls in all their varieties, as well as with continued bursts of laughter. The uproar, indeed, often became so great as completely to drown his voice. Some of the peals of laughter lasted for a considerable time; and when it was thought that honourable members were literally exhausted, the recollection of the ludicrousness of the matter and manner of Mr. D’Israeli threw them into renewed convulsions of laughter before he could commence another sentence. At last, losing all temper, which until then he had preserved in a wonderful manner, he paused in the midst of a sentence, and looking the Liberals indignantly in the face, raised his hands, and. opening his mouth as wide as its dimensions would permit, said, in remarkably loud and almost terrific tones,—” Though I sit down now, the time will come when you will hear me.” Mr. D’Israeli then sat down amidst renewed roars of laughter, which lasted for some time.
A more extraordinary exhibition altogether I have never seen in the House. Mr. D’Israeli’s appearance and manner were very singular. His dress also was peculiar: it had much of a theatrical. aspect. His black hair was long and flowing; and he had a most ample crop of it. His gesture was abundant: he often appeared as if trying with what celerity he could move his body from one side to another, and throw his hands out and draw them in again. At other times he flourished one hand before his face, and then another. His voice, too, is of a very unusual kind: it is powerful, and had every justice done to it in the way of exercise; but there is something peculiar in it which I am at a loss to characterise. His utterance was rapid, and he never seemed at a loss for words. Notwithstanding all the nonsense he spoke, I am convinced he is a man of talent, and possesses many of the requisites of a good debater. I doubt, however, if he will ever acquire any status in the House. His manner and matter created so strong a prejudice against him, that it [-158-] will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for him ever again to obtain a fair hearing. He seemed himself to feel deeply mortified at the result of his maiden effort. He sat the whole evening afterwards, namely, from ten till two o’clock in the morning, the very picture of a disappointed man. He scarcely exchanged a word with any other honourable gentleman. He did not cheer when his party cheered, Lord Stanley and Sir Robert Peel; neither did he laugh when they laughed. He folded his arms on his breast for a considerable part of the evening, and seemed to be wrapped up in his own unpleasant reflections.
Let me, before concluding my notice of Mr. D’Israeli’s parliamentary debut, mention, in justice to him, that however foolish his speech may have been, and however much calculated some parts of it were to elicit laughter from the House, yet, that the way in which he was assailed by the ministerial supporters, was most unbecoming, if not actually indecent. There was an evident predisposition on the part of many honourable gentlemen to put him down, if at all possible, without reference to the merits of his speech; and I have always observed, that when the Liberal members have come to a resolution of this kind, they never scruple as to the means they employ to accomplish their purpose. The Tories cannot stand a moment’s comparison with them, in the matter of putting down a member. Not only are they, generally speaking, blessed with lungs of prodigious powers, but, on such occasions, they always give them full play. Their “Oh ! ‘s” and groans, and yells, to say nothing of their laughing, or rather roaring capabilities, far exceeding anything I have ever heard elsewhere, not even excepting the ultra Radical assemblages which meet at White Conduit House, or at the Crown-and-Anchor. I am convinced that, on this occasion, Mr. D’Israeli was made to utter a great many foolish things which otherwise would not have escaped his lips; for I observed that he usually made some observations in reference to the interruptions offered to him; and that it was when doing so, or immediately afterwards, that he gave expression to the greatest absurdities. In the middle of his speech, when respectfully soliciting the indulgence of the House, especially as it was his first appearance,—a plea which one would have thought could not have been ineffectually urged in an assembly, “not only of the first gentlemen in Europe,” but of men sitting there for the specific purpose of doing justice,—Mr. D’Israeli very emphatically said, that he himself would not, on any account, be a party to treating any other honourable gentleman in the way in which he himself was assailed. I did think that this appeal to the sense of justice and gentlemanly feeling on the ministerial side of the House, could not be made in vain. The event showed [-159-] that I was mistaken. It had scarcely escaped the honourable gentleman’s lips, before he was assailed as furiously and as indecently as ever. Mr. D’Israeli is a man of the middling height, rather slenderly made, and apparently about thirty-five years of age. His complexion is sallow, and his countenance has so much of the Jewish cast in it that no one could see it without at once coming to the conclusion, that he is of Hebrew extraction; which, I need not say, he is.
The number of new members in the Victoria Parliament is unusually great: it is no less than 158, being nearly a fourth part of the whole. The appearance of so many strange faces in the House had a curious effect on the old members during the first few days of the session. It awakened in the minds of those of them accustomed to reflection, a train of interesting reflections. They thought of the varied circumstances by which their absence from the new House was to be accounted for. Some were excluded from ruined fortunes; some because they had quitted the country; some because of their apostacy from the principles they had formerly professed, and in the faith of which they had been returned; others, from the fickleness of popular favour; and a fifth class, because they are now in their graves. The contemplative mind had only to follow out this train of reflection, by recollecting particular individuals who belonged to each of these five classes. On some occasions, old members seemed as if in a strange place; for on particular nights the new members, impelled by the novelty of the situation in which they were placed to be marvellously punctual in their attendance, whether the business to be transacted was important or not, far outnumbered the old stagers. The side galleries were, for the first three weeks of the session, nightly crowded by the newly-imported M.P.’s. And here I may remark, that new members have a particular partiality to the side galleries. By taking up their position in them, they are enabled to look down on the more experienced M.P.’s, and by carefully observing their movements, become acquainted with the forms and proceedings of the House. The awkwardness of new members, for the first few weeks of the session, can only be conceived by those who have witnessed it. Not only are .they, with the few exceptions furnished in the case of some two or three self-confident or adventurous spirits, afraid to utter even one brief sentence on any subject which is under discussion, but they do not even know how to deport themselves as regards their moving from one place to another. The knowledge necessary for this, however, they soon acquire, by lounging about in the side galleries. Hence, in addition to the motive to frequent these galleries afforded by their anxiety to learn the forms and proceedings of [-160-] the House, as regards speaking, they have a desire to avoid laughter at their own expense because of any awkward physical movement.
I do not recollect ever to have seen so many young members in the House of Commons as there are at present. Some of them have all the appearance of mere youths, whom one would suppose ought to be still under the strict guardianship of their tutors. How they came to be chosen as the representatives of constituencies does, indeed, seem passing strange. The idea of such youths having the destinies of a great country, in one sense, committed to their care, is something more than odd. There may be men of mature judgment among them; but their appearance is not calculated to inspire confidence in the wisdom of their deliberations.
Among the new members returned to the Victoria Parliament, there are a great many whose manner, both in the House and out of the House, is the most undeliberative-like that the human mind could fancy. In the House, you see them either talking to or laughing with each other—very often both together; or if not, they are to be seen standing in dozens about the bar, completely blocking up the passage, so as to deny other honourable gentlemen all egress and ingress. To sit quite quietly, and to listen with attention to what is going on, is a habit which, in most cases, they have yet to acquire. Then, again, to see them leaving the House smoking their cigars, and making a regular noise as they proceed up Parliament-street, you would suppose them to be so many sparks bent on what, in homely language, is called a spree. I could not help contrasting, in my own mind, the levity of demeanour exhibited by several of the young members on their way up Parliament-street, on one of the nights of the debate on the Spottiswoode combination, with the staid manner in which Mr. flume, Mr. Warburton, Mr. Wallace, and others of the older members, walked themselves home. But this is a delicate topic, and therefore I will say no more on it.
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