Imágenes de páginas

want to point the antipathy to the executive, we refer to the jealousy of the Crown, so deeply imbedded in the very substance of constitutional authority; so many people are loth to admit the Queen, in spite of law and fact, to be the people's appointee and agent, that it is a good rhetorical emphasis to speak of her prerogative as something non-popular, and therefore to be distrusted. By the very nature of our Government our executive cannot be liked and trusted as the Swiss or the American is liked and trusted.

Out of the same history and the same results proceed our tolerance of those “local authorities” which so puzzle many foreigners. In the struggle with the Crown these local centres served as props and fulcrums. In the early parliaments it was the local bodies who sent members to parliament, the counties, and the boroughs; and in that way, and because of their free life, the parliament was free too. If active real bodies had not sent the representatives, they would have been powerless. This is very much the reason why our old rights of suffrage were so various; the Government let whatever people happened to be the strongest in each town choose the members. They applied to the electing bodies the test of “natural selection;" whatever set of people were locally strong enough to elect, did so. Afterwards in the civil war, many of the corporations, like that of London, were important bases of resistance. The case of London is typical and remarkable. Probably, if there is any body more than another which an educated Englishman nowadays regards with little favour, it is the Corporation of London

He connects it with hereditary abuses perfectly preserved, with large revenues imperfectly accounted for, with a system which stops the principal city government at an old archway, with the perpetuation of a hundred detestable parishes, with the maintenance of a horde of luxurious and useless bodies. For the want of all which makes Paris nice and splendid we justly reproach the Corporation of London; for the existence of much of what makes London mean and squalid we justly reproach it too. Yet the Corporation of London was for centuries a bulwark of English liberty. The conscious support of the near and organised capital gave the Long Parliament a vigour and vitality which they could have found nowhere else. Their leading patriots took refuge in the City, and the nearest approach to an English “sitting in permanence

” is the committee at Guildhall, where all members " that came were to have voices.” Down to George III.'s time the City was a useful centre of popular judgment. Here, as elsewhere, we have built into our polity pieces of the scaffolding by which it was erected.

De Tocqueville indeed used to maintain that in this matter the English were not merely historically excusable but likewise politically judicious. He founded what may be called the culte of corporations. And it was natural, that in France, where there is scarcely any power of selforganisation in the people, where the préfet must be asked upon every subject, and take the initiative in

every movement, a solitary thinker should be repelled from the exaggerations of which he knew the evil, to the contrary


exaggeration of which he did not. But in a country like England where business is in the air, where we can organize a vigilance committee on every abuse and an executive committee for every remedy—as a matter of political instruction, which was De Tocqueville's pointwe need not care how much power is delegated to outlying bodies, and how much is kept for the central body. We have had the instruction municipalities could give us : we have been through all that. Now we are quite grown up, and can put away childish things.

The same causes account for the innumerable anomalies of our polity. I own that I do not entirely sympathise with the horror of these anomalies which haunts some of our best critics. It is natural that those who by special and admirable culture have come to look at all things upon the artistic side, should start back from these queer peculiarities. But it is naturai also that persons used to analyse political institutions should look at these anomalies with a little tenderness and a little interest. They may have something to teach us.

Political philosophy is still more imperfect; it has been framed from observations taken upon regular specimens of politics and States; as to these its teaching is most valuable. But we must ever remember that its data are imperfect. The lessons are good where its primitive assumptions hold, but may be false where those assumptions fail. A philosophical politician regards a political anomaly as a scientific physician regards a rare disease—it is to him an “interesting case." There may still be instruction here, though

I can

we have worked out the lessons of common cases. not, therefore, join in the full cry against anomalies; in my judgment it may quickly overrun the scent, and so miss what we should be glad to find.

Subject to this saving remark, however, I not only admit, but maintain, that our constitution is full of curious oddities, which are impeding and mischievous, and ought to be struck out. Our law very often reminds one of those outskirts of cities where you cannot for a long time tell how the streets come to wind about in so capricious and serpent-like a manner. At last it strikes you that they grew up, house by house, on the devious tracks of the old green lanes; and if you follow on to the existing fields, you may often find the change half complete. Just so the lines of our constitution were framed in old eras of sparse population, few wants, and simple habits; and we adhere in seeming to their shape, though civilisation has come with its dangers, complications, and enjoyments. These anomalies, in a hundred instances, mark the oid boundaries of a constitutional struggle. The casual line was traced according to the strength of deceased combatants; succeeding generations fought elsewhere; and the hesitating line of a half-drawn battle was left to stand for a perpetual limit.

I do not count as an anomaly the existence of our double government, with all its infinite accidents, though half the superficial peculiarities that are often complained of arise out of it. The co-existence of a Queen's seeming prerogative and a Downing Street's real government is just suited to such a country as this, in such an age as ours.”


So well is our real Government concealed, that if you tell a cabman to drive to “Downing Street,” he most likely will never have heard of it, and will not in the least know where to take you. It is only a “disguised republic” which is suited to such a being as the Englishman in such a century as the nineteenth.

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »