Page images

of with much hope-scarcely even without dread-as possible ministers. It seems generally felt, and not among aristocratic and official circles only, that, notwithstanding their undoubted ability and vigour, their natural and permanent place is in the opposition. They either have not the needful endowments of statesmen, or they have qualities and defects which neutralize and overpower these endowments. Mr. Disraeli is the apparent leader of a party, is undoubtedly its spokesman, and is by far the most brilliant and formidable rhetorician in the House. His prominence there, if backed by the suitable qualities, would indubitably make him a Cabinet minister and Secretary of State if ever the Tories, or their ghosts, the Protectionists, came into power. The House always fills to hear him speak; and the fierce and polished sarcasms which he launches on his opponents are the nightly delight of his associates. Yet no one ever dreams of him as a leading minister. The country would not endure his appointment to any important post, and his undeniable Parliamentary claim to such is well known to be a source of serious embarrassment to his party. He is felt by all parties to be a mere adventurer,-a man without fixed principles or deliberate and sincere public aims,—a man to whom political life is a game to be played (as respectably as may be) for his own advancement. Neither his character nor his abilities give him any weight with any class or party. Moreover, he is universally admitted to be destitute both of the statesmanlike capacity, the statesmanlike knowledge, and the statesmanlike sobriety and solidity of mind and morals. He belongs, not to the bees, but to the wasps and the butterflies of public life. He can sting and sparkle, but he cannot work. His place in the arena is marked and ticketed for ever.-Mr. Bright is a man of very vigorous though rough ability, his diligence is very meritorious, and he is gradually gaining the ear of the House; but his education is imperfect, his views narrow, his tone low, dogmatic, and somewhat vulgar; he has nothing of the statesman about him, and we do not imagine that he can ever soar above the position of a "Tribune of the People." No one looks to him for a moment as a future minister.-Mr. Cobden's mind is of a far higher order, his views more comprehensive, and his whole being and organization cast in a far finer mould; but his opinions and his language are too often extreme, and he has the great misfortune of being linked with a party altogether inferior to, and unworthy of himself; and it is to be feared that

"He will lower to their level day by day,

What is fine within him growing coarse, to sympathize with clay." Moreover, he also, like Mr. Bright, labours under the almost

Cobden, Molesworth, and Roebuck.


insuperable defect of an incomplete early education. It is not that his knowledge is not far greater, and his comprehension of social questions often far juster, than those of many men who are useful and even eminent in official life; but he wants that indescribable enlargement and refinement of intellect, the faculty for understanding other minds, and appreciating hidden wants and sympathies, which is indispensable to those who would aspire to govern a nation of cultivated men, and which an early acquaintance with the more elegant and profound branches of learning can alone confer. A man who could say that a copy of "The Times" contained more wisdom and sound information than the whole of Thucydides, even were it but in a hasty explosion of spleen, must be wanting in some of the most essential endowments and sensibilities of a true statesman.-Sir William Molesworth and Mr. Roebuck are not open to this objection: they are both men of finished training as well as of popular sympathies, and perfectly capable of comprehending the acquirements of a country like ours, and of taking wide and ample views of the science of policy. But Sir William is rich and lazy-social rather than ambitious; and though commanding the confidence of the people, would, we suspect, prefer being "proximate" to being actual minister.-Mr. Roebuck's valuable qualities are sadly clouded by certain constitutional defects. He is bold, honest, and courageous as few men are: but he is too apt to imagine that he has an absolute monopoly of these great gifts. He speaks truth both to constituents and to colleagues with an unflinching conscientiousness that is too seldom seen, but he takes care to put this truth in its most unpalatable and irritating form. He is far less extreme in his opinions than in his manner of stating them; and if he had added the suaviter in modo to the fortiter in re, he could scarcely fail to have been by this time far advanced on his way to high office. As it is, it seems to be generally admitted, even by those who think him one of the most talented politicians of the day-and we confess ourselves to be of this number that his temper utterly precludes him from entering any ministry; since it is a temper which not only makes him unnecessarily and often unintentionally offensive to those with whom he comes in contact, but colours his whole views of men and things. He is a sort of radical Lord Grey; and it would, we imagine, be even less difficult to find a cabinet that would act with him, than a cabinet with which he would not consider it derogatory to act.

Let us now sum up the strength of our available and regular ministerial army, rank and file, on which the country will have to rely when the four worn and veteran statesmen whom we first named have retired or died. We have three cabinets to provide

for-Tory, Liberal, and Medium. For the first we have literally no one for the second we have Lords Clarendon, Granville, and Carlisle; with Mr. Fox Maule, Mr. Wilson, and Mr. Frederick Peel for the third we have Lord Dalhousie, Mr. Gladstone, and Mr. Cardwell among the tried men; Mr. Sidney Herbert, the Duke of Newcastle, the Duke of Argyll, and possibly Lord Stanley among the prospective ones. The coalition of the whole set-proved men and hopeful men— could scarcely form one complete and competent ministry among them and such a coalition we have not seen since the time of Pelham, and cannot look for in these more earnest and conscientious days. When Lord Derby has fallen a victim to the gout, Lord John Russell to feeble health, Lord Palmerston and Sir James Graham to the course of natural decay; when Sir George Grey has sunk under combined illness and toil, and Sir Francis Baring and Mr. Labouchere have yielded to their wish for ease and peace-all of which events must happen soon, and may happen to-morrow we shall have to construct a ministry fit to govern and to guide our great empire out of the scanty materials we have enumerated. We must have a Premier, a Chancellor of the Exchequer, three Secretaries of State, a First Lord of the Admiralty, a Secretary or Lord Lieutenant for Ireland, and a President of the Board of Trade-eight in all, who must be men of superior and tried capacity and character, besides nine others of respectable ability; and we have, taking all parties together, only six adequate for chiefs, and about seven for secondary parts. Truly, our political army is in lamentable want of recruits.

To some parties, however, this state of affairs presents no cause for uneasiness. "In a country and an age so enlightened, so free, so self-governing as ours, we do not," they say, "need statesmen of lofty and surpassing genius to rule us. We can dispense with 'great men.'" There is some truth in this view; but it is partial and superficial truth. We can dispense with great men better than most nations, but we cannot dispense with them altogether, nor without mischief and without danger. Or rather, we can dispense with the kind of greatness which we do not require, but not with that kind which we do require. Ministers of vast philosophic capacity, like Bacon; of profound, systematic, thorough-going policy, like Strafford; of commanding and predominating genius, like Chatham; of imperious and overbearing resolve, like Pitt; or of haughty and unbending will, like the Duke of Wellington, we perhaps do not need now. Their age is past. They would find no fitting scope, and no decorous place in our democratic and balanced constitution. Much of their superiority would be thrown away, and much of their power would be wasted in fruitless contest with the munici

Administrators wanted rather than Legislators.


pal and self-ruling element in our national character. Nor do we need as we once did-and valuable as such would still bestatesmen endowed with the special and glorious gift of legislative genius,―men who possess a penetrating and unerring insight into the character of the people, a thorough knowledge of their wants, and that peculiar organizing and arranging faculty, which can adapt laws and decrees to these two guiding conditions. The nation has now so many ways of explaining its own character, and proclaiming its own wants, that no one who can read and listen needs to misunderstand them, or remain ignorant of them; while at the same time it abounds in men of quick observation and of deep thought, whose united action in speech and writing even more than supplies the place, which, in less free or less developed countries, is filled by individual statesmen of paramount and commanding power. With us a hundred sensible and reflective men combine to do the work of one great man. Through the mighty, pervading, unresting engine of the press, they instruct, persuade, inoculate, and guide the people, as formerly and elsewhere a Clarendon, a Burleigh, a De Witt, a Hardenberg, or a Washington, might have done. More and more the policy of Britain is directed, its opinions formed, the tone of the national mind decided, its tendencies developed, its legislation modified, amended, and matured, by its writers rather than by its formal and official politicians. In matters of legislation, the unrecognised are often far more influential than the recognised statesmen of the day. In books and pamphlets, in newspapers and reviews, on a hundred noisy platforms, and in a thousand silent studies, the great national work is carried on; and carried on, in all likelihood, with a far greater aggregate of national benefit, if with less rapid and exact attainment of the immediate end, than if it were entrusted to a single statesman, towering far above the mass. Even in parliament, it is probable that sounder views are elicited, and more ultimate good effected by the crude and wild discussions and the bewildering and shallow contributions of many men of imperfect knowledge and superficial understanding, than would be produced by the calm and elaborate exposition of one loftier mind. For the last half century the nation has done its own work. The union with Ireland was probably the last great act of individual legislative statemanship. Catholic emancipation was extorted by the Irish people. Parliamentary reform was carried by the English people. The re-organization of the Poor-law was the work of men out of parliament and scarcely heard of at the time they studied the subject, elaborated the plan, informed and prepared the country, while ministers were scarcely persuaded to adopt so bold, masterly, and complete a measure. And the last great



change in the spirit and direction of our policy-the adoption of Free Trade-was due to no section of statesmen, but solely to the middle classes and their self-elected leaders.

It is not, then, chiefly for the purpose of comprehensive and philosophic legislation that we require public men of superior and commanding ability, but for the purposes of government and administration. Incapacity in this department the floating talent and sense of the country cannot supplement, or can do so only imperfectly and at enormous cost. Incapacity in this department is productive of the most fruitful suffering and evil; it may continue to work its mischief for months and years before it is discovered and proclaimed; yet the press can do nothing but expose it, and Parliament can do nothing but discard the actual delinquents and replace them by others who may be no less incompetent. The functions and the powers of ministers, even in this country, where they are so constantly badgered and so closely watched, are vast and appalling. A thousand eyes are constantly observing them, a thousand tongues constantly calling them to account, with all the vigilance of mingled envy, animosity, and patriotism; yet how small a proportion of their daily actions ever come to light or become the subject of public animadversion! How still fewer are discovered, reprehended, and counteracted, before they have run a long course of misery and mischief! We imagine that a hostile and ambitious opposition affords us a sufficient guarantee against matters going much or long amiss. We are deplorably mistaken: it affords us, indeed, a security that ministers will act under a nervous sense of responsibility, and probably, therefore, with conscientiousness and caution; but it affords, and can afford, no security that they will act with judgment or discretion. Let us consider for a moment what their functions are. Each of

"The far greater proportion of the duties which are performed in the office of a minister are and must be performed under no effective responsibility. Where politics and parties are not affected by the matter in question, and so long as there is no flagrant neglect or glaring injustice to individuals which a party can take hold of, the responsibility to Parliament is merely nominal, or falls otherwise only through casualty, caprice, and a misemployment of the time due from Parliament to legislative affairs. Thus the business of the office may be reduced within a very manageable compass, without creating public scandal. By evading decisions whereever they can be evaded; by shifting them on other departments or authorities, where by any possibility they can be shifted; by giving decisions upon superficial examinations, categorically, so as not to expose the superficiality by propounding the reasons; by deferring questions till, as Lord Bacon says, they resolve themselves ;' by undertaking nothing for the public good which the public voice does not call for; by conciliating loud and energetic individuals at the expense of such public interests as are dumb, or do not attract attention; by sacrificing everywhere what is feeble and obscure to what is influential and cognizable; by such means and shifts as these the functionary may reduce his business within his powers, and perhaps obtain for himself the most valuable of all reputations in this line of life-that of being a a safe man." "The Statesman, by Henry Taylor, p. 151.



« PreviousContinue »