the highest degree, and the nation has been almost laid at the feet of a knot of conspirators against its integrity by the weakness and the vices of the House of Commons. Nobody feels assured that, amidst all the factiousness, self-seeking, and distraction, a steadfast resistance will be made even to dismemberment. The House complains of the excessive amount of business, and is almost ready to surrender legislative unity in order to relieve itself of a part of its load. But nine-tenths of its time are not spent in business ; they are spent in faction fights, in declamation which is often little more than a reproduction of leading articles in the newspapers, and in asking questions for the sake of annoyance or of self-display. Actual obstruction has now become a regular mode of party warfare ; it is practised not upon one side of the House only ; it has wrecked one Session at least, and to its powers of mischief there seems to be practically no bounds. Grand Committees may do-indeed they have done-something, but they cannot do very much, because party will insiston overriding their decisions in the full House. In such councils there can be no steadiness or consistency. Foreign affairs and Imperial questions especially cannot fail to suffer from such treatment as they must receive. Instead of being the moderator, the House, with its evil game of faction, is the source of agitation : there, not in the nation, the present disturbances have their seat. Even decency of debate threatens to depart since the social law of “ the best club in London " has lost its controlling power. These are merely echoes of the complaints which come over to us from England, and members of the House of Commons itself confess their fear that when the personal authority of Mr. Gladstone is removed, all order and organization will be lost. A governing assembly which is suspended over the brink of anarchy by the thread of one aged statesman's life, may well be regarded with anxiety by the country. If the decadence of the House of Lords is manifest, scarcely less manifest seems to be the catastrophe of the House of Commons. If the hereditary principle is in evil plight, the demagogic principle appears to be in a plight scarcely less evil.

The organization of the House of Commons hitherto has been party. But now party fails. It can be rational and moral only so long as there is some one great issue dividing the community pretty equally into two camps.

In fact, it is almost an accident of English history, which was filled for centuries with the struggle between the party of prerogative and the party of Parliamentary government. Theories that mankind is naturally divided into Whigs and Tories by temperament, that, as comedy puts it, every boy and girl is born a little Liberal or a little Conservative, are desperate attempts to give a universal and permanent character to that which is temporary and almost local. To form a basis for parties the issue must be single as well as of paramount importance; cross lines of cleavage are fatal to the system, as is beginning to appear in the United States, where all is confusion because the line of tariff reduction crosses that of administrative reform. But the number of such issues is limited, and when they are exhausted, a party becomes a faction which can be held together only by passion or corruption. Sectionalism has now hopelessly set in and is rapidly breaking up the basis of party government in all the Legislatures of Europe. This is the inevitable tendency of things as minds grow more active and independent, to say nothing of the multiplication and increased intensity of individual ambitions, So it will be till politics become a science, in the deductions of which all must alike acquiesce, when party will receive its death-blow in another way. The malady of sectionalism attacks the Liberal party especially, because there are many lines and rates of progress, while there is only one mode of standing still ; but the unity of Toryism, too, is threatened by idiosyncracy, which there is no general principle of sufficient influence to restrain, if not by divergence of opinion. In vain are homilies preached by those who wish for the attainment of their own special object to restore the strict party organization. In vain is the Prohibitionist or the Antivaccinationist exhorted to lay aside his crotchet and give his mind to the main issue ; he replies that the main issue is that to which his mind is already given. The Irish have now entirely left the party camp, in which they were long laboriously kept by the compact of the Whigs with O'Connell, and now form a flying squadron hovering between the two camps and making government impossible. If there is to be no authority in England henceforth but that of organized faction, there is likely to be no authority at all, or only an authority as unstable and as fugitive as the tumbling wave.

The organizing force of the House of Commons has failed, and the principle upon which it is elected has at the same time proved unsound. The principle is that of direct election by large constituencies with extended suffrage. Nothing has been more clearly proved than that this means practically election by wirepullers. The nominal electors, numbering perhaps many thousands, and scattered, it may be, over a large district, are hopelessly incapable of laying their heads together for the purpose of agreeing on a man, even supposing the mass of them to be otherwise qualified for the task. The ascendancy of the wirepuller is the inevitable result; and the wirepuller is too often a man who deserts honest callings to make a trade of politics. Both the political parties are now finding it necessary to set up the Caucus and the machine, as the indispensable instruments of victory over their opponents. The growth of sectionalism conspires, with the loose texture of the constituencies, to render necessary this method


of preserving party unity. The machine once fairly constructed and installed in power, the country is in the hands of the machinists. In the hands of the mass of the citizens, the franchise becomes illusory, or amounts only to the privilege of choosing between the candidates of the two machines. Attendance of independent electors at “primaries” has been preached and tried in vain.; everything is settled beforehand by the managers, and the independent elector finds himself a laughing-stock. With the wirepuller hand-in-hand comes the demagogue, at whose approach truth, integrity, and patriotism fly from the political scene. Stump oratory will oust statesmanship; it is ousting statesmanship already; and it is difficult to see how control over the national councils will be obtained henceforth except by men who have the gift of stirring masses by oratory, which is far from being identical with fitness to rule a nation. The larger the masses become, and the less capable they are of intelligent devotion to principle, the more they will require the rhetorical stimulant, and, as a necessary part of it, the power of voice which American politicians have cultivated to an extraordinary degree. Already statesmen, instead of spending their vacations in repose or reflection, are compelled to spend them on the stump. General elections are another dangerous part of the present system. They render it necessary to raise questions for the purpose of exciting the electorate, and they make the policy of the country one of electioneering agitation.

An attempt has been made by the writer elsewhere to set forth the probable advantages of indirect election—that is, of the election of the central legislature, not by the people at large, but by local councils, elected in their turn by the people, and to show how this might be the means of redeeming the elective system from the wirepuller and the demagogue, giving to the people more of real power in the elections than they now possess, securing high character and intelligence for the central legislature by the process of twofold selection, and renewing the connection of the Government with the solid worth and patriotism of the country. It is assumed, of course, that the local councils shall be first properly constituted and invested with their proper functions, to which, when the function of choosing the central legislators was added, they would hardly fail to attract the best citizens of the district.

An attempt has been also made to commend, as the best substitute for the party system, the regular election of the executive by the legislature, for a term certain, and with such rotation as might preserve the necessary degree of harmony between the two bodies. Further, the writer has contended that the system of two chambers, which is an attempt to divide the supreme power against itself, is at once chimerical and noxious, that it has its origin in a misconception as to the nature of the House of Lords, which is not really a Senate but a privileged interest, and that experience is in favour of a single assembly, in which all the best elements, conservative as well as progressive, may find their place, and temper each other's action by mutual influence, not as under the bicameral system by collision. Assuredly, whatever of real worth there is in the House of Lords, would find its position better in such an assembly than in the practical ostracism to which, under the guise of privilege, it is at present condemned, and in which odium is added to impotence. In a country in which social influences are very strong, rank and local station would perhaps be only too sure of election.

To help, or try to help, in forming a constitution, however, is not the object of this brief paper. Its object is to suggest that the forming of a constitution has become necessary. The long revolution, extending over three centuries, by which the Crown and the House of Lords have been stripped of practical authority, and power has been concentrated in the House of Commons, now touches on its close. It has demolished the old government, but it has not founded a new one.

A government must now be founded, if the nation is to be secured against anarchy; and it will not be founded, the work of founding it will only be made more difficult, by blind extensions of the franchise. Democracy has come; it must be recognized; but, at the same time, it must be organized and regulated in England as it has been in the United States, though much more effectively, with the improvements which the experience of the last century suggests. Unorganized and unregulated, it will be confusion ; and it is into unorganized and unregulated democracy that England, by the conflict of parties, is being drawn. The days are not evil, but they are stormy, and the outlook is stormier still. The masses, rendered sensitive and speculative by education, have become keenly alive to the inequalities of the human lot, and they believe that they can remove them and indefinitely improve their own condition by the use of political power. Social science, which might teach them the limits of legislative change, has not yet penetrated their minds, and the controlling faith in an ordering and compensating Providence has lost its hold. Concessions once made to democracy can never be retracted except through a counter-revolution, and it is difficult to see, when an unlimited franchise has been granted, what leverage constructive statesmanship will be able to employ. Without much delay, then, a government must be founded-a government, elective, national, and responsible, but, at the same time, strong enough to maintain political order and afford the country a stable administration amidst the movements of social and economical change. The task is formidable : to a mere party leader it is almost impossible ; but it cannot be declined.

Goldwin Smith.




[ocr errors]

HE somewhat trite saying that few English readers of Dante

get beyond the “Inferno” and that few who talk of the “Inferno ” know more than the Francesca and Ugolino episodes, is probably less true now than it was half a century ago. Cary and Longfellow, not to speak of other translations, each with merits of its own, have helped to familiarize men with the idea of Dante as a whole. Mr. A. J. Butler's admirable prose version of the “ Purgatorio ” has done something to call special attention to the section of the great “ Commedia” of which I now propose to treat. I will state briefly why I have been led to make this selection. It has seemed to me, as I have read the “ Purgatorio” that in it, far more than in the “Inferno" or the “Paradiso," the man Dante Alighieri reveals himself to us in all the distinctness of his personality, that the poem is essentially autobiographical. It is something more than a polemic against the crimes of the Roman curia or the citizens of Florence ; something more than the summing-up of the creed of mediæval Christendom, or the veiled symbolism of a new and mystic heresy destructive of that creed. In the “Inferno” he passes on stern and ruthless, condemning sins which were not his, hardly touched, except in the Francesca story, with the thought of the pity of it all. In the “Paradiso ” he paints a blessedness to which he has not attained, on which he gazes as from a far-off distance, which he can but dimly apprehend. But in the “Purgatorio ” he is with those who are not only of like passions with himself but are passing through a like stage of moral and spiritual experience. The seer paints the process of the purification of his own soul from the seven deadly sins that had eaten into his life. We might almost speak of this section of his poem as “the Confessions of Dante Alighieri.”

« ForrigeFortsett »