Page images
PDF
EPUB

included in the municipal district can be included in the Parliamentary district, unless those who live in these suburbs are content to saddle themselves with municipal taxation. I do not believe the country wishes to see the door to talent shut more closely than it is, or this House become an assembly of millionaires. I do not believe the country would look with satisfaction on the difference of tone within the House which must be produced if the elements of which it is the result are altered ; nor do I believe that it will look with satisfaction on that inevitable change of the Constitution which must occur if these projects are carried into execution-a change breaking the close connection between the executive Government and the House of Commons. I believe sincerely that this House is anxious to put down corruption, and I will say again, at any risk of obloquy, that it is not the way to put down corruption to thrust the franchise into poorer hands. If we are really desirous of achieving this result there is but one way that I know of, and that is by taking care that you trust the franchise only to those persons whose position in life gives security that they are above the grosser forms of corruption. And if you do prefer to have a lower constituency, you must look the thing in the face--you will be deliberately perpetuating corruption for the sake of what you consider the greater good of making the constituencies larger. These are things which I do not believe the people of this country wish to have. And, therefore, I believe you will be acting in accordance with sound wisdom and the enlightened public opinion of the country by deferring this measure for another year. I press most earnestly for delay. The matter is of inexpressible importance; any error is absolutely irretrievable; it is the last thing in the world which ought to be dealt with rashly or incautiously. We are dealing not merely with the administration, not merely with a party -no, not even with the Constitution of the Kingdom. To our hands at this moment is intrusted the noble and sacred future of free and self-determined government all over the world. We are about to surrender certain good for more than doubtful change ; we are about to barter maxims and traditions that have never failed, for theories and doctrines that never have succeeded. Democracy you may have at any time. Night and day the gate is open that leads to that bare and level plain, where every ants' nest is a mountain and every thistle

27—(2170)

a forest tree. But a Government such as England has, a Government the work of no human hand, but which has grown up the imperceptible aggregation of centuries—this is a thing which we only can enjoy, which we cannot impart to others, and which, once lost, we cannot recover for ourselves. Because you have contrived to be at once dilatory and hasty heretofore, that is no reason for pressing forward rashly and improvidently now. We are not agreed upon details, we have not come to any accord upon principles. To precipitate a decision in the case of a single human life would be cruel. It is more than cruel-it is parricide in the case of the Constitution, which is the life and soul of this great nation. If it is to perish, as all human things must perish, give it at any rate time to gather its robes about it, and to fall with decency and deliberation.

“ To-morrow !
Oh, that's sudden! spare it! spare it!
It ought not so to die."

GLADSTONE

GLADSTONE had all the qualities of an orator, except humour. Irony was his only form of deviation from perfect seriousness, and the ironical parts of his speeches are commonly the least impressive. He had in an extraordinary degree the powers of argument, illustration, persuasion, and analysis. A melodious and most flexible voice, into which he could put every tone of which that organ is capable, was always at his command. His style of speaking was always that best adapted to the occasion. Just as his most elaborate sentence always escaped confusion, so his subtlest train of reasoning brought his hearers, sometimes by an imperceptible process, to the goal at which he desired them to arrive. Few men's speeches are so difficult to describe. For one of his oratorical secrets was to vary argument by digression, and to avoid tedium by surprise. He never forgot his main purpose, and yet he took care to diversify the business of accomplishing it by variations of his theme which were auxiliary to the object he had in hand. His speeches were those of a great artist, and at the same time they were never made for their own sake. He could adorn the simplest topic without straying from the path which led from his premises to his conclusion. Nothing that he treated was dry while he treated it, for the relation between the parts of a subject and the whole was so adjusted as to have an almost dramatic unity. It was this wonderful power of combining workmanlike efficiency with literary effect that gave him such an extraordinary influence with educated society and with practical men. He never lost his hold either upon the intellect or upon the taste when his object was to attract the attention, and to convince the mind.

It has been said that Gladstone's greatest argumentative speech was made on the taxation of charities in 1863. This

speech is certainly a very remarkable effort, though it had no practical success at the time. Gladstone had the power of throwing over the dry details of finance a glamour which invested them with all the charm of intellectual fascination. He could deal with them in such a masterly way that they seemed to illuminate the reasoning of which they were a part. It was this gift of combining illustration and logic that made him such a master of debate. He knew exactly how far to employ with advantage each particular resource of his mind. His speeches never lose, but always gain, by the variation of treatment which they adopt. The difficulty of choosing between them is that they all, though of course in various degrees, exhibit the manifold accomplishments with which he was endowed. He was never merely eloquent. He was never merely logical. He always aimed at pleasing while he convinced, and at convincing while he pleased. He succeeded partly by virtue of his natural gifts, such as his musical voice, his command of language, and his classical style. But he also bestowed immense labour upon the task of arranging his material, and so distributing it as to make it most effective. He never left anything to the chance of a happy inspiration. His mind was instinct with the spirit of order, so that every fact was in its proper place, ready to be brought out when it was wanted, and not before. No Parliamentary statesman ever took more pains to provide for the arrangement of topics in their due succession, so that there should be no overlapping, no repetition, no belated return to a subject already dismissed.

Gladstone was a master of lucid statement, of perspicuous narrative, of cogent and conclusive reasoning. His eloquence was reserved for great occasions. The most prominent feature of his ordinary speeches is the entire command of the situation which they display in all its qualities and aspects. Though seldom, if ever, overloaded with detail, they contain all the relevant facts, and their power largely depends upon the

[ocr errors]

solidity of their foundation. This it is which gave Gladstone such strength in debate, such ease and force in controversial encounters. He was so thoroughly imbued with the whole atmosphere of the case that he had only to wield his natural resources in directing his knowledge towards the end at which he aimed. His apparent ease was really the result of labour so skilfully employed that he could, without fresh effort, make use of his acquisitions as if they had been part of his personal experience. He was not content when in office, to avail himself of the trained capacity which a Minister always has at his disposal. He mastered himself the minutest points of a case which he took up, and then delivered an argument as free and unembarrassed as if he were merely dealing with obvious generalities.

The Eastern Question

House of Commons, May 7th, 1877 I MUCH regret that I should introduce a subject of the greatest importance after discussions which must necessarily have had, I do not say an irritating, but a dissipating effect upon the mind and attention of the House. Before approaching it, I must deal with one or two preliminary matters.

My hon. friend the member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) has spoken of the character of the manifestations which have recently proceeded from the country. I have watched the proceedings and read the declarations and conclusions arrived at steadily and regularly; until to-day, when the number of meetings has entirely overpowered me, for irrespective of other correspondence the reports of nearly 100 meetings have reached me since this morning. As a matter of fact, having read all the resolutions passed at the previous meetings, and having even observed that from day to day their tone became warmer and warmer, I am bound to corroborate the statement of my hon. friend the member for Stafford. / In a very small number of these popular declarations, neutrality was either expressed or implied. But I must add, again speaking simply to a matter of fact, though I put no particular construction on it, the reception of the Resolutions now before the House has been singularly

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »