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of business brought before it such as no similar assembly ever has had. The British empire is a miscellaneous aggregate, and each bit of the aggregate brings its bit of business to the House of Commons. It is India one day and Jamaica the next: then again China, and then Sleswig-Holstein. Qur legislation touches on all subjects, because our country contains all ingredients. The mere questions which are asked of the ministers run over half human affairs; the Private Bill Acts, the mere privilegia of our Government-subordinate as they ought to be-probably give the House of Commons more absolute work than the whole business, both national and private, of any other assembly which has ever sat. The whole scene is so encumbered with changing business, that it is hard to keep your head in it.
Whatever, too, may be the case hereafter, when a better system has been struck out, at present the House does all the work of legislation, all the detail, and all the clauses itself. One of the most helpless exhibitions of helpless ingenuity and wasted mind is a committee of the whole House on a Bill of
many clauses which eager enemies are trying to spoil, and various friends are trying to mend. An Act of Parliament is at least as complex as a marriage settlement; and it is made much as a settlement would be if it were left to the vote and settled by the major part of persons concerned, including the unborn children. There is an advocate for every interest, and every interest clamours for every advantage. The executive Government by means of its disciplined forces, and the few invaluable members who sit and think, preserves some sort
of unity. But the result is very imperfect. The best test of a machine is the work it turns out. Let any one who knows what legal documents ought to be, read first a will he has just been making and then an Act of Parliament; he will certainly say, “I would have dismissed my attorney if he had done my business as the legislature has done the nation's business.” While the House of Commons is what it is, a good revising, regulating, and retarding House would be a benefit of great magnitude.
But is the House of Lords such a chamber? Does it do this work? This is almost an undiscussed question. The House of Lords, for thirty years at least, has been in popular discussion an accepted matter. Popular passion has not crossed the path, and no vivid imagination has been excited to clear the matter up.
The House of Lords has the greatest merit which such a chamber can have; it is possible. It is incredibly difficult to get a revising assembly, because it is difficult to find a class of respected revisers. A federal senate, a second House, which represents State Unity, has this advantage; it embodies a feeling at the root of society -a feeling which is older than complicated politics, which is stronger a thousand times over than common political feelings—the local feeling. “My shirt," said the Swiss state-right patriot, “is dearer to me than my coat." Every State in the American Union would feel that disrespect to the Senate was disrespect to itself. Accordingly, the Senate is respected : whatever may be the merits or demerits of its action, it can act; it is real, independent, and efficient. But in common governments
it is fatally difficult to make an unpopular entity powerful in a popular government.
It is almost the same thing to say that the House of Lords is independent. It would not be powerful, it would not be possible, unless it were known to be independent. The Lords are in several respects more independent than the Commons; their judgment may not be so good a judgment, but it is emphatically their own judgment. The House of Lords, as a body, is accessible to no social bribe. And this, in our day, is no light matter. Many members of the House of Commons, who are to be influenced by no other manner of corruption, are much influenced by this its most insidious sort. The conductors of the press
and the writers for it are worse—at least the more influential who come near the temptation; for “position, as they call it, for a certain intimacy with the aristocracy, some of them would do almost anything and say almost anything. But the Lords are those who give social bribes, and not those who take them. They are above corruption because they are the corruptors. They have no constituency to fear or wheedle; they have the best means of forming a disinterested and cool judgment of any class in the country. They have, too, leisure to form it. They have no occupations to distract them which are worth the name. Field sports are but playthings, though some Lords put an Englishman's seriousness into them. Few Englishmen can bury themselves in science or literature; and the aristocracy have less, perhaps, of that impetus than the middle classes. Society is too correct and dull to be an occupation, as in other times
and ages it has been. The aristocracy live in the fear of the middle classes—of the grocer and the merchant. They dare not frame a society of enjoyment as the French aristocracy once formed it. Politics are the only occupation a peer has worth the name. He
may pursue them undistractedly. The House of Lords, besides independence to revise judicially and position to revise effectually, has leisure to revise intellectually..
These are great merits; and, considering how difficult it is to get a good second chamber, and how much with our present first chamber we need a second, we may well be thankful for them. But we must not permit them to blind our eyes. Those merits of the Lords have faults close beside them which go far to make them useless. With its wealth, its place, and its leisure, the House of Lords would, on the very surface of the matter, rule us far more than it does if it had not secret defects which hamper and weaken it.
The first of these defects is hardly to be called secret, though, on the other hand, it is not well known. A severe though not unfriendly critic of our institutions said that “ the cure for admiring the House of Lords was to
go and look at it”—to look at it not on a great party field-day, or at a time of parade, but in the ordinary transaction of business. There are perhaps ten peers in the House, possibly only six; three is the quorum for transacting business. A few more may dawdle in or not dawdle in; those are the principal speakers, the lawyers (a few years ago when Lyndhurst, Brougham, and Campbell were in vigour, they were by far the predominant talkers) and a few statesmen
whom everyone knows. But the mass of the House is
shrewd man of the world went so far as to say that “the House of Commons has more sense than any one in it.” But there is no such “ in the House of Lords, because there is no life. The Lower Chamber is a chamber of eager politicians; the Upper (to say the least) of not eager ones.
This apathy is not, indeed, as great as the outside show would indicate. The committees of the Lords (as is well known) do a great deal of work, and do it very well. And such as it is, the apathy is very natural. A House composed of rich men who can vote by proxy without coming will not come very much.* But after every abatement the real indifference to their duties of most peers is a great defect, and the apparent indifference is a dangerous defect. As far as politics go there is profound truth in Lord Chesterfield's axiom, that “the world must judge of you by
* In accordance with a recent resolution of the House of Lords, proxies are now disused. Note to second edition.