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THE REFORM DEBATE IN THE Lords.
THIS debate, which has concluded in a manner so little creditable to the Upper House of Parliament, did not excite the extreme attention, either within or without the House, which, from the high importance of the occasion, and the expressions of the London papers, those at a distance may have imagined. Whether it was that the Lords were weary of the question, and that many of them were ashamed of the parts which they had, nevertheless, made up their minds to play; whether the public had ceased to feel the vivid interest in the decision of the question which once they felt, or were satisfied that enough of the pliancy and cowardice of the House had been found out by the keen scent of the Minister, to make the decision certain, it is undeniable, that neither among the Peers within, nor among the people without, was any thing like the same eagerness and anxiety displayed which marked the discussion of last October. It was whimsical enough to hear Peer after Peer on the Government side of the House, and some waverers on the other, rising up and continually repeating the same dull fiction of the irresistible and overwhelming popular anxiety for this Bill, when, if one might judge from appearances in Palace Yard and Whitehall, the populace felt no more concern in the matter, than if their Lordships had been debating a clause in a turnpike act, touching the breadth of waggon wheels. The whole argument, in favour of the Bill, from the beginning to the end of this great discussion, was simply this, that the populace were so fearfully urgent for the Bill, that nothing less than a violent and general convulsion was to be apprehended, not only from refusing to grant, but even from delaying the proposed measure; but when the evidence of this terrible passion for the Bill was sought for out of doors, it was only to be found in two or three more policemen than usual, and sundry porters who strayed about, waylaying country-looking people, and seducing them into the gallery of the House of Lords, at the
small charge of half-a-crown. The meanest object of Parliamentary discussion that ever excited popular attention, was not suffered to go on with apparently so little notice by the populace, as this late debate in the House of Lords; and yet men of deliberative habits, such as the Peers of England, have allowed themselves to be so clamour-stricken by the newspapers, so bawled and bothered out of their senses by the perpetual iteration of egregious falsehood, that, in the midst of perfect tranquillity, they have voted away the ancient representative system of the country, through fear of the yells and brickbats of the mob.
It is very humiliating to have to trace the progress of a discussion, in which on one side was all the reasoning, and almost all the eloquence, supported by the authority of the most eminent men of our time; and on the other, pitiful subserviency to a supposed will of the populace; with the recollection, all the while, that the victory has been to the lat ter. But it is desirable to preserve in these pages, some record of a discussion having so important a result; and we must to our task of a rapid sketch of the debate, and a remark here and there of what occurs to us as we go along.
It may be as well to observe, that before the regular debate upon the discussion of the second reading of the Reform Bill began, the Duke of Buckingham gave notice, that if that Bill were not read a second time, (a consummation devoutly wished by his Grace,) he would a propose bill of a moderate and reasonable description for their Lordships' consideration. This circumstance is necessary to be kept in mind, in esti mating the reasonableness of certain Peers, spiritual as well as temporal, who avowed their intention to vote for the Ministerial Bill, not that they approved it, or in the least doubted that a much more moderate would be a much better reform; but that as some reform was necessary to satis fy the people, they would vote for the Bill, which they acknowledged to be bad, and would not wait for that
hich would in all probability exacty meet their wishes. It would be a ity to omit a trait so highly creditble to the patience and reasoning aculties of those who made up the lorious majority of Nine in favour of the Bill.
Lord Grey's opening speech was 'prosy, dull, and long," and devoid that sharp seasoning of threats vhich gave piquancy to his opening arangue upon the same subject last ession. He did not denounce the Bishops to the mob, (perhaps he hought of the "setting in order" of he Bishop's palace at Bristol, which had taken place in the interim,) nor lid he indulge in much fierceness of any kind. He talked lengthily of the principles of disfranchisement, enfranchisement, and extension of the suffrage, and seemed to persuade himself, that whoever consented to the admission of these in any degree must consent to his Bill. He might with as much reason argue, that the man who allows the wayfaring traveller to shelter in his barn for the night, and repose himself upon good straw, is bound, by the same principle of concession, to let his best bedchamber be violently taken possession of by an unbidden guest, while he himself is driven to the garret, or the great arm-chair in the hall. The inference is absurd, as are almost all the inferences of those theoretical politicians who, when they find a proposition suggested as applicable in a particular degree, or to a particular state of circumstances, treat it as though it were given out for an abstract, universal principle. After three hours of very unentertaining discourse, concluding with a hope, for which we give his Lordship all imaginable credit, that if any misfortune should follow the measure, it might fall only on himself, he sat down, to the marked satisfaction of
Lord Ellenborough replied. His lordship, without much pretension to oratory, is a clear, straightforward, and shrewd speaker; he is a hard hitter in debate, with but little orna. ment or flourish; and he shewed, with great force and spirit, the combination of factions by which the Reform Bill had been promoted, and the various practical benefits which, under the present system of representation,
VOL. XXXI. No. CXCIV.
were actually enjoyed; and which, under the proposed system, must be relinquished.
When Lord Ellenborough concluded, it seemed that there was no champion ready on the other side, and it was not until the third sound of the trumpet, singing out the awful notes, "divide, divide," in a very unmistakeable manner, that Lord Melbourne stepped forward with apparently the same sort of willingness that a man comes out to be hanged, He stated that he was extremely unwilling to trouble the House, an avowal which, we believe, met with universal credence. This candour he pursued throughout the most part of his speech; he would not delude the people, he said, by expressing a belief that this Bill would afford relief to the distresses which they experienced, but that he was for the Bill, "because the people demanded it." He added, that "the Govern ment were not responsible for the measure, but the people who required it." This is, indeed, a notable method of shifting responsibility. So scandalous an acknowledgment of the subserviency of a Minister to the voice of the multitude, was never made by a British Minister. We might be as well without any Government at all, and save Lord Mel bourne's salary, and that of his col leagues, if the people are to dictate to Government what they shall do; and the responsibility is to lie with the multitude, and not with those whose especial office it is to govern and control them. The Bishop of Durham followed, in an excellent speech, full of dignity and wisdom; and these were the principal speeches of the evening. There were, however, very good, but short speeches from the Marquis of Salisbury, Earl Bathurst, the Earl of Wicklow, and Lord Londonderry; a common-place mob speech from Lord Stourton, and a feeble defence of semi-rattery from the Earl of Haddington, who avowed his intention of voting for the second reading of what he called the "unhappy Bill."
The prevailing characteristic of the first night's debate was languor and heaviness, of which the dull impression lasted until the following evening, when a preliminary skir mish, in which the Duke of Rich
mond and the Marquis of Cleveland affected indignation at their consistency being questioned, occasioned some excitement and amusement. No doubt they are very worthy and consistent personages, and a high honour to the Ministry they support. The noble Duke was a professed ultraTory, and is a Minister in the Whig mobocratic cabinet of Lord Grey; the noble Marquis has been, as Lord Londonderry told him, the earnest supporter of all the various and conflicting governments since March, 1827. The adjourned debate on the Reform Bill was commenced in a speech from the Earl of Shrewsbury, a Roman Catholic Lord, who was introduced to the House by the bill of 1829, the supporters of which thought they foresaw, in the gratitude of the Roman Catholics, the best guarantee for their earnest support of the Protestant Church and State. This worthy Papist abused the British Constitution as the parent of national discontents, civil wars, anarchy, revolution, and commercial embarrassment. Crime and starvation were also to be laid to its charge. The government, in his popish Lordship's opinion, was formerly carried on by robbery (this compliment referred to the government which carried Catholic Emancipation.) The Bishops were allied with the worst enemies of the country; they concurred in profligacy, and participated in spoliation. After a series of remarks in a similar spirit of gratitude, fairness, and gentlemanly propriety, his Lordship sat down, and immediately received such a castigation from the Earl of Limerick (himself one of the many who voted for Roman Catholic Emancipation, and who now repent it), as will, we trust, cause him to bridle his tongue, and keep his insolence for some more congenial assembly in future.
The Earl of Mansfield followed in an admirable speech, full of energetic reasoning, clothed in the most correct language. He shewed the suddenness of the demand which had sprung up for Reform, proving thereby that it had not arisen out of any growing necessity. He dwelt upon the means taken by the Government to excite the people the inadmissibility of the doctrine that the decision of the House of Lords was to
be governed by the will of the people-the extravagance of the measure proposed as contrasted with that of previous Reformers, and the various practical injuries to the public business which must inevitably flow from this measure, were it to become law. After a short speech from Lord Colville, Lord Harrowby commenced his justification of his change of vote upon the question, while he admitted, not only the bril liancy of the eloquence, but the soundness of the logic of Lord Mansfield, who had just argued in favour of the views from which he (Lord Harrowby) had changed. The argument of his Lordship's speech was to this effect, that though it was right to resist clamour and intimidation once, it was not prudent to do so twice, and that no Government could go on without Reform; wherefore he was of the mind to support this Government in a very bad Reform, though he knew that it was by the great misconduct of this Ministry, that the state of things had been brought about which had made it impossible that a government could be carried on without Reform. This is a degree of complaisance which it is not easy either to understand or to forgive.
The Duke of Wellington, in a very powerful speech, answered Lord Harrowby, by quoting his own arguments of last Session against himself, and then entered into an examination of the measure, shewing the inconsist ency of its various provisions, and the danger arising from the extent of change which it contemplated-a change which involved nothing less present system of representation in than a complete subversion of the
Lord Grantham spoke against the Bill; he objected to it as having been pushed on with violence, and supported by intimidation.
Lord Wharncliffe delivered a speech, which, as might have been expected, was in every respect more objectionable than that of his brother
which referred to the Duke of WelIt was in many passages, lington, and what had been said by him, not a little impudent. Lord Wharncliffe has such a convenient estimation of himself, that he does not feel ashamed for that which
would produce a sense of shame in almost any other man. He seemed, however, very anxious to reserve his right of turning round again upon the third reading, and we may presume, that having tried the vote in favour of the Bill, by way of variety, he may, on the next division, go back to the old way again, unless pains are taken to shew him that he will make himself of more consequence by continuing a Reformer.
On the third evening Lord Winchilsea commenced the debate, avowing himself still a reformer, as he had formerly declared himself, but opposed to the present Bill, from the violent manner in which it had been proceeded with, and the erroneous provisions it contained.
The Duke of Buckingham followed him, and opposed the Bill, in a speech full of eloquence, of lively and graceful allusion, and of point and circumstance. He came to the conclusion, that it was impossible to keep up the present form of legislature with such changes as were proposed. There were to be found in the House of Commons the representatives of every interest and almost every feeling in the country, and what more could be required?
The Earl of Radnor supported the Bill with less folly than most of its supporters; he chiefly laboured to prove that some mistakes had been made in the statements of the noble Lords who opposed the Bill, and he referred, as he unfortunately does but too often, to his own borough of Downton, and his reforming magnanimity as connected therewith. He did not attempt to shew any good which was to arise from the Bill.
The Bishop of Lincoln, although disapproving of the Bill, stated his intention of supporting the second reading, because the people were becoming indifferent to Reform! He explained, that had they last Session sent the Bill into committee, the enthusiasm of the people was such, that they would not have been able to have made it a good bill with the people's assent, but now they might do what they pleased with it, and the people would not care. What strangely conflicting reasons drive men into the same course! One man votes for the second reading because the people's desire for the
Bill is too strong to be resisted; another, because the people have become passing indifferent about the
Lord Falmouth made a speech of great vigour and vivacity, in which he raked the Earl of Radnor and the Lord Wharncliffe fore and aft, in a style much more agreeable to us, than we are persuaded it was to them. The Marquis of Bristol also made a very powerful speech against the Bill, and the Bishop of London a very feeble one in its favour-it was so extremely dull that it defies criticism; there is nothing in it even to wage war with.
The Bishop of Exeter followed in a speech, which, since the best days of Sheridan, has not been surpassed for striking impressiveness. It were in vain to attempt to detail here the various points which told with such wondrous effect against the authors and promoters of the Bill, and the plans by which they supported their own influence, and inflamed the public mind. The speech may be best judged by its effects. It excited the very warmest admiration of the opponents of the measure, and the bitterest enmity of all the Government and their friends. It was the knout in good earnest, and they felt it into their very marrow.
The Bishop of Llandaff said he would support the second reading, because the excitement was less now than it had been six months before, when he voted against it, but he would not pledge himself to vote for any clause whatever of the Bill in Committee. This is a wise legislator! The Marquis of Lansdowne concluded the debate of the third evening by a very able speech in favour of the Bill. In direct opposition to Lord Melbourne's statement, he admitted that there lay upon his Majesty's government a mighty responsibility in this matter, and he argued that there was an estrangement, rapidly approaching to alienation, between the higher, and the middle and lower classes of society, which this Bill was an attempt to avert. He further argued generally, that a change had taken place in society which required a change of institutions. We do not agree with the noble Marquis, either as to the fact, or the efficacy of the remedy, if the fact were as he
The debate of the fourth evening was opened by Lord Wynford, who displayed his industrious study of the Bill in all its various bearings, by a forcible and detailed exposition of the public evils and inconveniences which were likely to grow out of it. After him arose Lord Durham, with his saffron-hued juvenility of countenance, and hair parted on his forehead like a milk-girl, or like the engraving of Leigh Hunt in his book of Reminiscences." He did not long keep the viper that lives and moves within him down. Out it came with forked tongue, and hissed and spit its venom against the Bishop of Exeter. As soon as it reached the climax of "false insinuation" and "pamphleteering slang," (the last a singularly elegant flower of invective,) the House interfered-the words were taken down, and after a little, his lordship was permitted to resume his discourse, when he repeated the same hackneyed rigmarole about improvement of the middle classes, and necessity of yielding to their demands, which Mr Place & Co. have so often repeated at the meetings of the Political Union in Leicester Square. As to his attack on the Bishop of Exeter, it was merely biting against a file. To call such writing as that of Doctor Philpotts' pamphleteering slang, is too absurd for any commentary save that of loud laughter, When Lord Durham can produce such English composition, he will, in this respect, be as far above what he is at present, as the most admirable writer in England of sarcastic prose, is above the most puny whipster who practises bitter speaking in a public place. Lord Caernarvon opposed the Bill in a speech of power, of various information, and vivacity of style, only to be surpassed by
his own speech on the same subject, and on the same side of the question, last session. We mention the latter particular, because some friends of his, who last session vied with him in the excellence of their speeches, thought fit, in the present, to try the other side of the question, perhaps for the sake of the evident advantage of variety which it afforded.
The next speaker was Lord Goderich, who devoted his eloquence to another attack on the Bishop of Exeter. It did not appear that the Bishop was any the worse.
Then came Lord Eldon, the greatest of equity lawyers, and Lord Tenterden, the greatest of commonlaw lawyers, both steadily testifying against the pernicious Bill. The Bishop of Gloucester next opposed it, and administered a rebuke to the Earl of Shrewsbury, of which we wish we could believe he was capable of feeling the dignity as well as the force.
The Lord Chancellor next arose, concerning whose speech, in common charity, let us be silent. He has been a great orator; and if, as we have heard, indisposition of body or sadness of mind have rendered him unable to be what he was, it is meet that we notice his falling off with silence and a sigh.
The speech of Lord Lyndhurst, which followed, was beyond question the finest speech delivered during the debate. In sterling sense, and close convincing argument, clothed with all the graces of elegant language, and graced with a certain courteous dignity, which Lord Lyndhurst more than any other speaker of our day possesses, he outshone even the best of the excellent speeches which had previously been made against the Bill.
It seemed to rouse the slumbering rhetoric of Lord Grey, whose concluding speech was much abler than that with which he commenced. He resented the assault of the Bishop of Exeter in elegant language, and expressed his vexation in the manner of an indignant gentleman of the old school. It was a brave effort for a man of his years, at five o'clock in the morning.
The result of this debate is sufficiently notorious. The Peers, who had six months before rejected a