« AnteriorContinuar »
gradually the permanent chamber which, perhaps, was at starting hostile to him; and, at any rate, can be best harmonised with the public opinion he represents by the additions he makes. Hardly any contrived constitution possesses a machinery for modifying its secondary house so delicate, so flexible, and so constant. If the power of creating life peers had been added, the mitigating influence of the responsible executive upon the House of Lords would have been as good as such a thing can be.
The catastrophic creation of Peers for the purpose of swamping the Upper House is utterly different. If an able and impartial exterior king is at hand, this power is best in that king. It is a power only to be used on great occasions, when the object is immense, and the party strife unmitigated. This is the conclusive, the swaying power of the moment, and of course, therefore, it had better be in the hands of a power both capable and impartial, than of a premier who must in some degree be a partizan. The value of a discreet, calm, wise monarch, if such should happen to be reigning at the acute crisis of a nation's destiny, is priceless. He may prevent years of tumult, save bloodshed and civil war, lay up a store of grateful fame to himself, prevent the accumulated intestine hatred of each party to its opposite. But the question comes back, Will there be such a monarch just then? What is the chance of having him just then? What will be the use of the monarch, whom the accidents of inheritance, such as we know them to be, must upon an average bring us just then?/
The answer to these questions is not satisfactory, if
we take it from the little experience we have had in this rare matter. There have been but two cases at all approaching to a catastrophic creation of Peers-to a creation which would suddenly change the majority of the Lords --in English history. One was in Queen Anne's time. The majority of Peers in Queen Anne's time were Whig, and by profuse and quick creations Harley's Ministry changed it to a Tory majority. So great was the popular effect, that in the next reign one of the most contested ministerial proposals was a proposal to take the power of indefinite peer creation from the Crown, and to make the number of Lords fixed, as that of the Commons is fixed. But the sovereign had little to do with the matter. Queen Anne was one of the smallest people ever set in a great place. Swift bitterly and justly said "she had not a store of amity by her for more than one friend at a time," and just then her affection was concentrated on a waiting-maid. Her waiting-maid told her to make peers, and she made them. But of large thought and comprehensive statesmanship she was as destitute as Mrs. Masham. She supported a bad ministry by the most extreme of measures, and she did it on caprice. The case of William IV. is still more instructive. He was a very conscientious king, but at the same time an exceedingly weak king. His correspondence with Lord Grey on this subject fills more than half a large volume, or rather his secretary's correspondence, for he kept a very clever man to write what he thought, or at least what those about him thought. It is a strange instance of high-placed weakness and conscientious vacillation. After endless
letters the king consents to make a reasonable number of peers if required to pass the second reading of the Reform Bill, but owing to desertion of the "Waverers" from the Tories, the second reading is carried without it by nine, and then the king refuses to make peers, or at least enough peers when a vital amendment is carried by Lord Lyndhurst, which would have destroyed, and was meant to destroy the Bill. In consequence, there was a tremendous crisis and nearly a Revolution. A more striking example of well-meaning imbecility is scarcely to be found in history. No one who reads it carefully will doubt that the discretionary power of making peers would have been far better in Lord Grey's hands than in the king's. It was the uncertainty whether the king would exercise it, and how far he would exercise it, that mainly animated the opposition. In fact, you may place power in weak hands at a revolution, but you cannot keep it in weak hands. It runs out of them into strong ones. An ordinary hereditary sovereign-a William IV., or a George IV.—is unfit to exercise the peer-creating power when most wanted. A half-insane king, like George III., would be worse. He might use it by unaccountable impulse when not required, and refuse to use it out of sullen madness when required.
The existence of a fancied check on the premier is in truth an evil, because it prevents the enforcement of a real check. It would be easy to provide by law that an extraordinary number of Peers-say more than ten annually-should not be created except on a vote of some large majority, suppose three-fourths of the Lower House.
This would ensure that the premier should not use the
reserve force of the constitution as if it were an ordinary force; that he should not use it except when the whole nation fixedly wished it; that it should be kept for a revolution, not expended on administration; and it would ensure that he should then have it to use. Queen Anne's case and William IV.'s case prove that neither object is certainly attained by entrusting this critical and extreme force to the chance idiosyncrasies and habitual mediocrity of an hereditary sovereign.
It may be asked why I argue at such length a question in appearance so removed from practice, and in one point of view so irrelevant to my subject. No one proposes to remove Queen Victoria; if any one is in a safe place on earth, she is in a safe place. In these very essays it has been shown that the mass of our people would obey no one else, that the reverence she excites is the potential energy-as science now speaks-out of which all minor forces are made, and from which lesser functions take their efficiency. But looking not to the present hour, and this single country, but to the world at large and coming times, no question can be more practical.
What grows upon the world is a certain matter-offactness. The test of each century, more than of the century before, is the test of results. New countries are arising all over the world where there are no fixed sources of reverence; which have to make them; which have to create institutions which must generate loyalty by conspicuous utility. This matter-of-factness is the growth even in Europe of the two greatest and newest intellec
tual agencies of our time. One of these is business. We see so much of the material fruits of commerce, that we forget its mental fruits. It begets a mind desirous of things, careless of ideas, not acquainted with the niceties of words. In all labour there should be profit, is its motto. It is not only true that we have "left swords for ledgers," but war itself is made as much by the ledger as by the sword. The soldier-that is, the great soldier -of to-day is not a romantic animal, dashing at forlorn hopes, animated by frantic sentiment, full of fancies as to a lady-love or a sovereign; but a quiet, grave man, busied in charts, exact in sums, master of the art of tactics, occupied in trivial detail; thinking, as the Duke of Wellington was said to do, most of the shoes of his soldiers; despising all manner of éclat and eloquence; perhaps, like Count Moltke, "silent in seven languages." We have reached a "climate" of opinion where figures rule, where our very supporter of Divine right, as we deemed him, our Count Bismarck, amputates kings right and left, applies the test of results to each, and lets none live who are not to do something. There has in truth been a great change during the last five hundred years in the predominant occupations of the ruling part of mankind; formerly they passed their time either in exciting action or inanimate repose. A feudal baron had nothing between war and the chase-keenly animating things both—and what was called "inglorious ease." Modern life is scanty in excitements, but incessant in quiet action, Its perpetual commerce is creating a "stock-taking habit the habit of asking each man, thing, and insti