« AnteriorContinuar »
lived by his judgment; to expect a man whose career will be the same whether he is discreet or whether he is indiscreet to have the nice discretion of one who has risen by his wisdom, who will fall if he ceases to be wise.
The characteristic advantage of a constitutional king is the permanence of his place. This gives him the opportunity of acquiring a consecutive knowledge of complex transactions, but it gives only an opportunity. The king must use it. There is no royal road to political affairs: their detail is vast, disagreeable, complicated, and miscellaneous. A king, to be the equal of his ministers in discussion, must work as they work; he must be a man of business as they are men of business. Yet a constitutional prince is the man who is most tempted to pleasure, and the least forced to business. must feel that he is the pivot of the State. The stress of his kingdom is upon him. As he is, so are his affairs. He may be seduced into pleasure; he may neglect all else; but the risk is evident. He will hurt himself; he may cause a revolution. If he becomes unfit to govern, some one else who is fit may conspire against him. But a constitutional king need fear nothing. He may neglect his duties, but he will not be injured. His place will be as fixed, his income as permanent, his opportunities of selfish enjoyment as full as ever. Why should he work? It is true he will lose the quiet and secret influence which in the course of years industry would gain for him; but an eager young man, on whom the world is squandering its luxuries and its temptations, will not be much attracted by the distant prospect of a moderate
influence over dull matters. He may form good intentions; he may say, "Next year I will read these papers; I will try and ask more questions; I will not let these women talk to me so." But they will talk to him. The most hopeless idleness is that most smoothed with excellent plans. "The Lord Treasurer," "The Lord Treasurer," says Swift, "promised he will settle it to-night, and so he will say a hundred nights." We may depend upon it the ministry whose power will be lessened by the prince's attention will not be too eager to get him to attend.
So it is if the prince come young to the throne; but the case is worse when he comes to it old or middle-aged. He is then unfit to work. He will then have spent the whole of youth and the first part of manhood in idleness, and it is unnatural to expect him to labour. A pleasureloving lounger in middle life will not begin to work as George III. worked, or as Prince Albert worked. The only fit material for a constitutional king is a prince who begins early to reign-who in his youth is superior to pleasure-who in his youth is willing to labour-who has by nature a genius for discretion. Such kings are among God's greatest gifts, but they are also among His rarest.
An ordinary idle king on a constitutional throne will leave no mark on his time: he will do little good and as little harm; the royal form of cabinet government will work in his time pretty much as the unroyal. The addition of a cypher will not matter though it take precedence of the significant figures. But corruptio optima pessima. The most evil case of the royal form is far
worse than the most evil case of the unroyal. It is easy to imagine, upon a constitutional throne, an active and meddling fool who always acts when he should not, who never acts when he should, who warns his ministers against their judicious measures, who encourages them in their injudicious measures. It is easy to imagine that such a king should be the tool of others; that favourites. should guide him; that mistresses should corrupt him; that the atmosphere of a bad court should be used to degrade free government.
We have had an awful instance of the dangers of constitutional royalty. We have had the case of a meddling maniac. During great part of his life George III.'s reason was half upset by every crisis. Throughout his life he had an obstinacy akin to that of insanity. He was an obstinate and an evil influence; he could not be turned from what was inexpedient; by the aid of his station he turned truer but weaker men from what was expedient. He gave an excellent moral example to his contemporaries, but he is an instance of those whose good dies with them, while their evil lives after them. He prolonged the American war, perhaps he caused the American war, so we inherit the vestiges of an American hatred; he forbad Mr. Pitt's wise plans, so we inherit an Irish difficulty. He would not let us do right in time, so now our attempts at right are out of time and fruitless. Constitutional royalty under an active and half-insane king is one of the worst of governments. There is in it a secret power which is always eager, which is generally obstinate, which is often wrong, which rules ministers
more than they know themselves, which overpowers them much more than the public believe, which is irresponsible because it is inscrutable, which cannot be prevented because it cannot be seen. The benefits of a good monarch are almost invaluable, but the evils of a bad monarch are almost irreparable.
We shall find these conclusions confirmed if we examine the powers and duties of an English monarch at the break-up of an administration. But the power of dissolution and the prerogative of creating peers, the cardinal powers of that moment are too important and involve too many complex matters to be sufficiently treated at the very end of a paper as long as this.
THE HOUSE OF LORDS.
IN my last essay I showed that it was possible for a constitutional monarch to be, when occasion served, of firstrate use both at the outset and during the continuance of an administration; but that in matter of fact it was not likely that he would be useful. The requisite ideas, habits, and faculties, far surpass the usual competence of an average man, educated in the common manner of sovereigns. The same arguments are entirely applicable at the close of an administration. But at that conjuncture the two most singular prerogatives of an English king-the power of creating new peers and the power of dissolving the Commons-come into play; and we cannot duly criticise the use or misuse of these powers till we know what the peers are and what the House of Commons is.
The use of the House of Lords or, rather, of the Lords, in its dignified capacity-is very great. It does not attract so much reverence as the Queen, but it attracts very much. The office of an order of nobility is to impose on the common people—not necessarily to impose on them what is untrue, yet less what is hurtful; but