« ПредишнаНапред »
THE OLD AND THE NEW RÉGIME.
The commencement of a new volume—the Forty-Fourth of BENTLEY'S MISCELLANY—affords us the opportunity of congratulating our subscribers, not only on our own longevity but on that reaction of political feeling which has again given us a Conservative Ministry.
When Lord Palmerston came back from “the country,” on which he had thrown himself” after the division on the clap-trap China question, his vapouring followers loudly vaunted the unassailable strength of their party which, in any future contest, might safely reckon on whatever majority they chose to name. The extreme Liberals who dared to oppose “the upholder of the country's honour"-so the firebrand Minister was styled-had been ignominiously driven from the hustings; the Peelites who ventured to vote with them were in much the same position ; and the Conservatives barely held their ground. King Agramant, when he mustered his army before the walls of Paris, could hardly boast of a more multitudinous array than trooped beneath the banner of our incipient Dictator, after the general election in 1857.
But alas for the instability of Fortune! See how the whirligig of time brings about its revenges! A year—"a little year"—had scarcely gone by before there was confusion in the camp of King Agramant. The modern champion of England, “whose valour plucks dead lions by the beard,” so far forgot the 5 honour” he had sworn to defend, discovered so essential a difference between non-combative Mandarins and belligerent Colonels, that his hitherto obsequious though sadly be-snubbed adherents, who had eaten their leek, like Pistol
, with many muttered oaths, positively refused to march with him through Coventry—not so much because of their own raggedness, though that was patent enough to all the world, but on account of the ragged reputation of their chief. The caudine forks beneath which he ordered them to pass, were an indignity to which even they could not submit, and so they incontinently rebelled. The “great Liberal party,” tied together by a rope of sand, lost all form and cohesion in a single night,
- And thus the various train
Wander'd without a ruler or a guide, their quondam leader, no longer with a country to throw himself upon, bolting from office with all the precipitation of the well-bred animal in the apologue.
But this flight, however rapid, was only a ruse de guerre. Compelled to retire, as he thought for the moment only, Lord Palmerston waited, in grim repose, the occasion for resuming the power he coveted. To all appearance he acquiesced in his destiny, and with the ponderous levity of former days laughed at the mutability of human affairs, laughing at the same time in his sleeve at the thought of his enemies' proximate overthrow. But, as the French proverb says—“Rit bien qui rit le dernier" --the much-desired opportunity left him with the laugh-in our own popular phrase-on the wrong side of his mouth. Lord Ellenborough's censure of Lord Canning's indiscreet, not to say suicidal proclamation, was eagerly seized upon as the means, not of vindicating a policy, but of ousting a ministry. Inflated by the old arrogance, and, like the unteachable Bourbons, untaught by experience, the Palmerston “lot"—thus low had they dwindled-began to count noses before the debate began. It was as well for the brief enjoyment of their Fools' Paradise that they did begin so early, for as the debate advanced it became evident, even to themselves, that their self-illusion must be their sole reward. Snarl, worry, or bark as they might, the inexorable logic and vivid eloquence of one speaker alone had crushed them. The more the debate was prolonged the more certain became the opinion of the public as to its issue. Every man outside the ropes saw that the faction were fighting foul, but they waited patiently for the coup de grace. It came, at last, in retributive shape : Whigs, Peelites, Radicals—“ Tray, Blanche, and Sweetheart”—all “ the little dogs”– deserted the big Bow-wow. It was the Coventry mutiny over again, with more abiding consequences. Cæsar's robe was not more rent than the flimsy pretext of the personnel of Lord Palmerston. How the collapse took place Mr. Disraeli has told us in his memorable speech at Slough.
Up to the date of this unexpected political earthquake, the Conservative cabinet had been taunted with being merely a Ministry on sufferance. “At any moment,” said the Whigs,“ if we chose to unite, your tenure of office is not worth a moment's purchase.” If they only chose! But free-will no longer existed. The numerous sections into which the Whig party was split so irreconcilably hated each other, that union upon any question had become impossible. The disappointed placeholders, the Hayters, Wilsons, Lewises, and Osborns
Ambubairum collegia, pharmacopolæ,
Mæstum ac solicitum erat; but their sorrow proved as unavailing for their salvation as that of the repentant thief in Prior's celebrated song: the independent men of “Committee-room No. 11 ” coldly withheld their sympathy, and resolutely refused to combine.
Then arose a new cry—“ The Conservatives are incompetent; they are unable to govern
the country.” Like Souvaroff, when his preparations for capturing Ismaël were sneered at by his rivals,
He made no answer, but he took the city.
The mesnie of Lord Palmerston had, certainly, some show of reason on their side when they declared that the administration of affairs was an impossibility for his successors, since, one and all, they had done their worst to make it so. This difficulty apart, it will scarcely be denied by an impartial observer that the men who composed the new cabinet were not at least equal in ability to those whom they displaced.
Let us set them forth in comparative review:
Lord Palmerston's talents nobody doubts, however much their perversion may be regretted, and the experience which he has acquired during a political life extending over more than half a century, renders him an acquisition to any party—as, indeed, every party, by turns, has acknowledged; but without the same Protean claim to admiration, and dating his services from a period less remote, there is no statesmanlike quality in Lord Palmerston which does not equally shine forth in Lord Derby.
Who will venture to institute a comparison between the late Chancellor of the Exchequer and the present one ; between Sir George Cornewall Lewis-whose dulness swamped the Edinburgh Review, whose soporific periods emptied the House of all who were not too sleepy to rise, and whose financial incapacity was “a hissing and a reproach” where merchants "most do congregate”—and Mr. Disraeli, the brilliant writer, the eloquent debater, the thorough man of business, whose genius, courage, sagacity, and aptitude have placed him in the foremost rank of modern politicians ?
Of Lord Cranworth we would speak with respect, having reference to the exercise of his judicial functions on more than one remarkable occasion—notably that one when Rush was tried for the murder of the Jermys - but between the duties of the circuit judge and those which devolve upon the Lord High Chancellor, the late tenant of the Woolsack has shown that, in his own instance, the gulf is impassable. With the opportunity before him of carrying out the amplest schemes of law reform-with Lyndhurst, Brougham, and St. Leonards to render him advice and assistanceLord Cranworth effected nothing! Like a stone thrown into a pond he rippled the surface for a moment, and then sank, irrecoverably, to the bottom. A Lord Chancellor's utility cannot be measured by the events of the hour : time is the test of his value. The forensic skill of Lord Chelmsford, his acute intellect and practical ability, fully justify the expectation that of those who have filled his present exalted office his name will stand amongst the highest.
Contrast the torpor and indifference of the fainéant Lord Clarendon with the zeal and activity of the vigorous Lord Malmesbury! Look at the timid longueurs of the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs in dealing with the Cagliari question, and then note the prompt, decisive, yet temperate action of his successor ! Lord Clarendon's supineness made him a byword amongst the very lazzaroni of the Chiaja; the energy of Lord Malmesbury is the theme of applause in every corner of Europe. There is, however, one thing for which Lord Clarendon deserves credit. After the close of the Conferences of Paris, Lord Clarendon was offered a Marquisate, for his arduous exertions in bringing them to a successful issue. His modesty declined the proffered honour. For once in his life Lord Clarendon was endowed with prophetic vision. The Conferences, like the
story of Rasselas, came to a conclusion in which nothing was concluded, and Lord Clarendon, though he never gave his reasons, forbore to mix the pearls and strawberry-leaves. For this forbearance he is entitled to public thanks—for this, but for nothing beside !
To mention Mr. Smith-vapid, inefficient, elderly Mr. Smith-in conjunction with young, active, and clear-sighted Lord Stanley, sounds very much like a mauvaise plaisanterie; yet posterity will read their names on the same page of history as having each held the office of President of the Board of Control. It is, however, our consolation to think that posterity will suppose the collocation solely made for the sake of antithesis.
Are the colonies likely to suffer because their destinies are submitted to the inquiring mind of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton—the man with the world-wide reputation, literary though it be-instead of continuing under the surveillance, such as it was, of the respectable Mr. Labouchere? Who will quarrel with the arrangement which has substituted Sir John Pakington at the Admiralty instead of Sir Charles Wood ? Are the solid acquirements of Mr. Henley inferior to the capabilities of Lord Stanley of Al. derley? What have we lost in the droning Duke of Argyll that we should regret the appointment of Lord Hardwick ? For flippant Lord Granville dreaming of future Premiership-a dream never to be realised—we have in exchange the dignified Marquis of Salisbury; for callous Sir George Grey, kind and popular Mr. Walpole ; for leaden Bethell, mercurial Fitzroy Kelly; for plodding Keating, sharp-witted Cairns; for silent Shelburne, eloquent Fitzgerald ; and for all the rest of the Whig mediocrities, men of judgment and capacity who lack nothing but opportunity to achieve distinction.
But it is not the fashion with Englishmen to deal in mere assertions. The Whigs say that the Conservatives cannot govern the country. As the former did, probably not. But how they propose to do so, the Past -brief as the period has been since their accession to office-sufficiently vouches.
A successful budget and a well-ordered policy, financial rectification and the adjustment of national differences—the first fruits of Conservative government-are guarantees for the popularity and stability of Lord Derby's Ministry, and should an appeal to the country be necessary, the voice of England will reply that it has not been made in vain !