Anthony Trollope.

The three clerks : a novel (Volume 2) online

. (page 14 of 18)
Online LibraryAnthony TrollopeThe three clerks : a novel (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook




girl; " nothing short of such an undertaking on
his part would induce Mrs. Davis to budge. Had
she known her advantage she might have made
even better terms. He would almost rather
have given her a written promise to marry her
barmaid, than have suffered her to remain there
till Mr. Okies chole should return and see her
there again. So Mrs. Davis, with her basket
and pocket-handkerchief, went her way about her
marketing, and Charley, as he returned to his
room, gave the strictest injunctions to the mes-
senger that not, on any ground or excuse what-
ever, was any woman to be again allowed to see
him at the office.

When therefore on the fine summer morning,
with the early daylight all bright around him,
Charley walked home from Mrs. Val's party, he
naturally felt sad enough. Pie had one sixpence
left in his pocket ; he was engaged to spend the
evening of the following day with the delightful
Norah at the Cat and Wliistle, then and there to
plight her his troth, in whatever formal and most
irretrievable manner Mrs. Davis mio-ht choose to
devise ; and as he thought of these things he
had rinofinsr in his ears the last sounds of that
angel voice, '' You will be steady, Charley, won't
you ? I know you will, dear Charley — won't you
now? "

Steady 1 wou.ld not the best thing for him be,
to step down to Waterloo Bridge, and throvv^


himself over ? He still had money enough left to
pay the toll — though not enough to hire a pistol.
And so he went home and got into bed.

On that same day, the day that was to witness
Charley's betrothal to Miss Greraghty, and that
of M. Jaquetanape witli Miss GoHglitly, Alaric
Tudor had an appointment with Sir Gregory
Hardlines at the new office of the Civil Service
Examination Board. Alaric had been invited to
wait upon the great man, in terms which made
him perfectly understand that the communication
to be made was one which would not be unpleas-
ing or uncomplimentary to himself. Indeed, he
pretty vv^ell guessed what was to be said to him.
Since his promotion at the Weights and Measures
he had gone on rising in estimation as a man
of value to the Civil Service at large. I^early
two years had now passed since that date, and in
these pages nothing has been said of his official
career during the time. It had, however, been
everything that he or his friends could have
wished it to be. He had so put himself forward,
as absolutely to have satisfied the actual chief
clerk of his office, and was even felt by some of
the secretaries to be treading very closely on
their heels.

And yet a great portion of his time had been
spent, not at the Weights and Measures, but in giv-
ing some sort of special assistance to Sir Grregory's
Board. The authorities at the Weights and


Measures did not miss liim ; tliey would have
been well content that he should have remained
for ever with Sir Grregory.

He had also become somewhat known to the
official world, even beyond the confines of the
Weights and Measures, or the Examination
Board. He had changed his club, and now
belonged to the Downing. He had there been
introduced by his friend XJndy to many men,
whom to know should be the very breath
in the nostrils of a rising official aspirant.
Mr. Whip Vigil, of the Treasury, had more
than once taken him by the hand, and even
the Chancellor of the Exchequer usually nodded
to him whenever that o'ert asked functionary
found a moment to look in at the official

Things had not been going quite smoothly
at the Examination Board. Tidings had got
about that Mr. Jobbles was interfering with Sir
Gregory, and that Sir Gregory didn't like it.
To be sure, when this had been indiscreetly
alluded to in the House by one of those gentlemen
who pass their leisure hours in looking out for
raws in the hide of the government carcase, some
other gentleman, some gentleman from the Trea-
sury bench, had been able to give a very satis-
factory reply. For why, indeed, should any
gentleman sit on the Treasury bench if he be
not able, when so questioned, to give very


satisfactory replies ? Giving satisfactory replies
to ill-natured questions is, one may say, the
constitutional work of sucli gentlemen, who haA^e
generally well learned how to do so, and earned
their present places hy asking the self-same
questions themselves, when seated as younger
men in other parts of the House.

But though the answer given in this instance
was so eminently satisfactory, as to draw doA\Ti
quite a chorus of triumphant acclamations from
the official supporters of Grovernment, nevertheless
things had not gone on at the Board quite as
smoothly as might have been desirable. Mr.
Jobbles was enthusiastically intent on examin-
ing the whole adult male population of Great
Britain, and had gone so far as to liint that
female competitors might, at some future time,
be made subject to his all-measuring rule and
compass. Sir Gregory, however, who, having
passed his early days in an office, may, perhaps,
be supposed to have had some shght prejudice
remaining in favour of ancient customs, was not
incHned to travel so quickly. Moreover, he
preferred following his own lead, to taking any
other lead whatever that Mr. Jobbles might
point out as preferable.

Mr. Jobbles wanted to crush all patronage
at a blow ; any system of patronage would la-
mentably limit the number of candidates among
whom his examination papers would be dis-
tributed. He longed to behold crowd around him,


an attendance as copious, as Mr. Spurgeon's, and
to see every liead bowed over the posing ques-
tions which he should have dictated. No legion
could be too many for him. He longed to be
at this great work; but his energies were
crushed by the opposition of his colleagues.
Sir Gregory thought — and Sir Warwick, though
he hardly gave a firm support to Sir Gregory,
would not lend his countenance to Mr. Jobbles —
Sir Gregory thought that enough would be done
for the present, if they merely provided that
every one admitted into the Service should be
educated in such a manner as to be fit for any
profession or calling under the sun ; and that,
with this slight proviso, the question of patron-
age might for the present remain untouched.
" Do you," he would have said to the great
officers of Government, " appoint whom you
like. In this respect remain quite unfettered.
I, however, I am the St. Peter to whom are
confided the keys of the Elysium. Do you
send whatever candidates you please ; it is for
me merely to say whether or no the}^ shall
enter." But Mr. Jobbles would have gone much
further. He would have had all mankind for
candidates, and have selected from the whole
mass those most Vv^orthy of the high reward.
And so there was a split at the Examination
Board, which was not to be healed even by the
very satisfactory reply given by the Treasury
gentleman in the House of Commons.


Neither Sir Gregory nor liis rival were men
likely to give way, and it soon appeared mani-
fest to the powers that be, that something must
be done. It therefore came to light that Mr.
Jobbles had fonnd that his clerical position was
hardly compatible with a seat at a lay l)oard,
and he retired to the more congenial duties of
a comfortable prebendal stall at Westminster.
" So that by his close vicinity," as was observed
by a newspaper that usually supported the
Grovernment, " he might be able to be of material
use, whenever his advice should be required by
the Board of Commissioners." Sir Gregory in
the meantime was instructed to suggest the name
of another colleague ; and, therefore, he sent for
Alaric Tudor.

Alaric, of course, knew well v/hat had been
going on at the Board. He had been Sir Gre-
gory's confidential man all through ; had worked
out cases for him, furnished him with arguments,
backed his views ; and had assisted him, when-
ever such a course had been necessary, in holding
Mr. Jobbles' head under the pump. Alaric knew
well on Avhich side his bread was buttered, and
could see with a glance which star was in the
ascendant ; he perfectly understood the points
and merits of the winning horse. He went in
to win upon Sir Gregory, and he won. Wlien
Mr. Jobbles made his last little speech at the
Board, and retired to his house in the Dean's


yard, Alaric felt tolerably certain that he himself
would be invited to fill the vacant place.

And he was so invited. " That is 1200/.
a year, at any rate," said he to himself, as with
many words of submissive gratitude he thanked
his patron for the nomination. — " That is 1200/.
a year ; so far, so good. And now what must
be the next step ? Excelsior ! It is very nice
to be a commissioner, and sit at a board at Sir
Grregory's right hand ; much nicer than being a
junior clerk at the Weights and Measures, hke
Harry Norman. But there are nicer things
even than that ; there are greater men even than
Sir Grregory; richer figures than even 1,200/.
a year !"

So he went to his old ofiice, wrote his resig-
nation, and walked home meditating to what
next step above he should now aspire to rise.
Excelsior ! he still said to himself, Excelsior !

At the same moment Charley was leaving the
Internal Navigation, and as he moved with un-
usual slowness down the steps, he bethought
himself how he might escape from the fangs of
his Norali ; how, if such might stiU be possible,
he might get for himself the love of Katie Wood-
ward. Excelsior ! such also was the thought
of his mind ; but he did not dare to bring the
word to utterance. It was destined that his
thoughts should be interrupted by no very
friendly hand.



If aU that lias of late been said against tlie
Civil Service be true, it must be in a parlous
state. We hardly know which have treated it
worst, its friends or its enemies ; that is, if we
may venture to consider that it has friends. Its
enemies are numerous enough. We meet them
in the columns of every newspaper. We hear
their sarcasms in every railway carriage. They
publish pamphlets. They utter their bitter de-
nunciations in street- corners and open market-
places. They are loud and wrathful in season
and out of season. They are of all classes ; the
great landed magnate inveighs against the Ci^dl
Service ; the independent member of Parliament,
who doesn't, perhaps, get all that he wants,
talks of the miserable creatures of a miserable
Grovernment ; the prosperous tradesman sneers at
the government official, as a dishonest, stupid
drone ; and even the young lady, who fails to
receive her book of beauty, or her monthly
fashions in due course of post, learns by heart
half a column of abuse from a newspaper, and
quotes it eloquently whenever the unhappy


Government is spoken of. Then comes the po-
pular novelist, and, with his sledge hammer, gives
it the last blow, and devotes every mother's son
in the public offices to lasting ignominy and vile

So speak the enemies of the Civil Service ; and
of the number mnst be reckoned apparently the
v/hole British public. Its friends, therefore,
must be found within itself. And how do they
speak, when called on to say a word on the sub-
ject ? How is the Civil Service spoken of by
men behind the scenes ; who are themselves in
authority therein ; who are considered specially
qualified to give opinion on the matter, and who,
it will be thought, are not likely to foul their
own nest unnecessarily? Let us hear what
such men say. In the first place, it is for
the unambitious, the indolent and the incapable
that the sweets of the Civil Service are desired.
Those v/ho are unfit for active exertions are
placed in the Civil Service, where by attending
with moderate regularity to routine duties, they
are preserved against the ordinary consequences
of old age. The Civil Service is a kind of hos-
pital, in which the parents of sickly sons seek
for employment for their puny offspring.

Many of a man's first years are spent in copy-
ing, and the remainder of his official life can only
exercise a depressing influence on him. He not
only begins life with mechanical labour, but ends


with it. No pains having been taken to get a
good clerk in the first instance, none are after-
wards taken to make the best of the bad bargain
which the pnbUc has got in the appointment.
If any good phice be to be filled up, the old clerk
is, of course, unfit for it, and Civil servants are
thus necessarily discouraged. They feel that
success does not depend on exertion, and that
idleness will not injure them.

Such is the picture of the Civil Service, as
painted by one or two who have been selected as
being better qualified than any others to describe
the Civil Service truly. All that the newspapers
can say in their most ferocious moments, all that
the independent member can allege when groan-
ing most bitterly in the sorrow of a refused re-
quest ; all that the young lady can quote when
the fashions have failed to reach her in the
middle of the season, all falls short in bitterness
of this.

What lazar houses are these public offices to
which we see so many elegantly dressed young
men trooping from ten to eleven everv morning^ !
Let us, at any rate, sweep them clean \^dth a
thorough besom, so that we may begin again in
some wholesome way, whatever the cost may be.
Nothing can, possibly, be worse than this, that
the Government should, with its eyes open, con-
tinue to hire idle, sickly, incompetent fools, to
while away their hours in big public buildings ;


doing no work, but doing daily cheat in pre-
tending to work.

But from what point shall this besom begin
to work? Shall it sweep upwards or down-
wards? Shall we commence with some useless
drunken tide-waiter, and so make our way up to
the Secretary of State ; or shall we boldly make
a start from Downing Street, and let some Her-
cules of Reform turn a river at once into the
richest stalls of these Augean stables ?

The opinions which the author has ventured to
quote are taken from a published essay, " On the
Organization of the Permanent Civil Service,"
that is, on the whole Civil Service, excepting
those high officers who go in and out with every
change of Grovernment. The Civil Service, how-
ever, rightly considered, includes more than this.
It consists of those who go out as well as those
who do not ; and as those who are permanent,
are entirely under the control of those who are
not permanent, the two can not be spoken of
justly, unless they be spoken of together.

But are these public clerks as bad as they are
made out to be ? We often see charges made in
the columns of newspapers against men in office,
and in what do they result ? Such men are ac-
cused of red tape and routine. Some enterprising
unit of the British public applies on the matter
of some grievance to the secretary of some
government board, and fails in getting either


that deferential respect, or else that substantial
redress which he considers to be his due. His
revenge is at hand. He writes to the editor of
a newspaper a letter, bitter with sarcasm, over-
flowing with the gall of offended British public
spirit. He denounces routine, and puts the
brand of infamy on all who defile themselves
for pay with the vileness of red tape.

Wliat he says is not very new, nor yet very
logical. The same charge has been made in the
same j)aper scores of times before, under precisely
similar circumstances, and the editor has not been
slow to allude to the universality of British
public opinion, as shown by the frequent ad-
dresses to himself. In his mind, pubHc opinion
has no other means of declaring itself Opinion,
if it wants to become public, must do so by writ-
ing letters to him. Opinion that has had dis-
cretion to become public in so respectable a
manner should be considered. The editor appeals
to his respectable correspondents. The respect-
able correspondents re-appeal to the all-powerful
editor ; and thus the world is taught to conceive
that red tape and routine are the very devil.

But what would an all-powerful editor, or a
respectable correspondent wish that a Civil ser-
vant should do for him ? Break at once through
all trammels of office ; dash aside the meshes of
routine as unworthy restraints on a thinking
soul ; offer up a holocaust of red tape, and show


himself a free thinker and a free assent ! Oh !
thou all-powerfal editor, hast thou not many
men under thee, able contributors and unable,
own correspondents in all parts of the world,
penny-a-liners, compositors, printers' devils, a
whole world of underlings, who work all like
mill horses, in their appointed rounds ? Wliat if
they become of a sudden free thinkers and free
agents? Where would be thy much expected
early copy at six o'clock on Monday morning?
Do they not all work for thee in due routine ?
Are they not kept in trammels ? Have not they
also their red-tape limits which they cannot
pass ; limits which thou only canst pass, with
due counsel in thy governing cabinet ?

And even that respectable correspondent, has
he not also, if not men, at least probably boys
under his control ? What if that shock-haired
apprentice of his, rising above the thraldom of
routine, took upon him to sell brown sugar a far-
thing a pound below cost price ? What then ?

There can be no insaner cry than that raised
against routine. Let any man who has done
much work, and done it well, let any such man
say, whether any work can be well done without
routine. Ask Sir C. Barry, the architect ; ask
Peto, the contractor ; ask Mechi, the high far-
mer ; ask Dargan, the Irish hero. They will all
tell you that any deviation from routine is ruin.
No v/ork can be fairly done but by routine. If


there be routine without tlie work, the shell
without the kernel, the purse without the money,
in Grod's name let us amend it. But we shall
never amend it by abusing that which is a neces-
sary part of the work.

Englishmen feel at present that they have
been doing work and not doing it well. It is
thus they think that they did their work in the
Crimea. Let them look into it, and they will
find that it was not through excess of routine
that they failed, but from the want of it. Work
came so thick and so heavy, that they could not
do it according to rule, and thus the work was
ill done. All work so done must be done ill.

But are these public- office clerks as bad as
they are made out to be, by these declared
friends of theirs, whose opinions we have quoted ?
Government has put them forward as the men
best able to speak on this matter; but others
speak also, and tell a very different tale, others
who have grown gray in the Civil Service. They
say that " the Civil Service has much in it of
talent," though "lying waste and going to de-
cay;" that the "Civil Ser\dce is better educated
than the body of merchants or the !Naval Ser-
vice ;" " that it is difficult to overrate the ability
and knowledge required to perform a portion of
the functions of first-class clerks;" that " clerks
and officers of the Civil department generally are
faithful, diligent, and competent." One "has


witnessed in his office a demeanour and spirit of
which it would be difficult to speak too highly."
And another declares that "the assertions that a
large proportion of the Civil Service are men un-
ambitious, indolent, and incapable, are, as far as
his experience goes, entirely without foundation/'

When doctors differ, how shall the patient
arrive at the truth ? How are we to reconcile
this demeanour and spirit of which it is difficult
to speak too highly, with the want of ambition,
indolence, and incapability v/hicli is brought
forward in such strikingly dark colours. May
we not fairly say, attributing to each authority
an anxious desire to speak the truth, that they
are both right, and so far both wrong ? May
we not conclude that there is in the Civil
Service, as we believe also in all other services,
merit and demerit; that the former should be
fostered, rewarded, and so increased; the latter
discountenanced, if need be punished, and so

If the British public expect to find merit in
their servants without rewarding it, or to find
them free from demerit without punishing it,
one might safely prophesy that the British pub-
lic will be disappointed. Did any man ever se-
cure good servants by any other than the very
simple mode of treatment here recommended?
One would say not. One would also say that
no sensible man would ever try any other mode.


From the early clays of our own boyhood, when
with glittering prize in one hand, and the
odious rod in the other, we were invited to
make our election between prisoners' base and
prosody, we never heard of any other mode of
securing merit.

Many there be who so invited will still choose
prisoners' base and the rod — who will elect
idleness and bad pay, nay ultimately idleness
and no pay. But many also will take prosody
and the prize. If, however, you offer no prize,
nothing but the rod of penury to energy and
idleness alike, how then can you hope that
energy will trouble himself to earn that which
idleness can get without earning?

The Crown has greatly lamented that the
aspiring, energetic, and ambitious among British
youths do not flock into its Civil Service. As
regards the service this is to be lamented; but
as regards the British youths, we hardly think
that it is gromid for grief. Wliy should they
do so? By what hopes actuated should energy
and ambition seek the Civil Service ? Ambition
cHmbs. What is there in the Civil Service for
her to climb to ? Energy expects reward. Wliat
reward does the Civil Service ofier ? Energy and
ambition ! There is, as it were, an arrogance in
the very allusion to such claims on the part of
the Crown. Shall we imagine that some par-
simonious lady resolves to have a concert, and


endeavours to get tlie great vocalists of tlie opera
to give their aid for tlie same wages wliicli would
hardly satisfy an itinerant fiddler ? As the great
vocalists would make answer to the parsimonious
lady, so should energy and ambition answer this
demand of the Crown.

Ambition seek the Civil Service, or energy
waste in so unprofitable a garden the muscles
and vigour of its youth ! No, not while there
be bishops and judges in the land; not while
physicians ride in chariots, and write themselves
baronets ; not while there be glory to be won in
the field, and a gallant name in the wars ; not
while there is a pen for ambition to use, or even
a plough for energy to follow !

Capel court and railway shares, low as such
be, have more to ofter to ambition than Downing
Street. Manchester, with her millions of miles
of calico, will be a better mart for energy than
Somerset House.

The Crown has no right to ask for such things.
Ambition and energy are the luxuries of the
labour market, and will go to those who pay
highly for them. Those who require cheap work,
must be content to put up with bad work. Care-
less men will gain but scanty wages, and scanty
wages will gain but careless men.

If the wages of the Crown have been scanty,
who has a right to complain that the men have
been careless ? Certainly not the Crown. Certainly


not tliose great officers of tlie Crown in wliose
hands is the disposition of these tilings.

Grreat men sitting at the Treasury, talking over
these matters with anxious minds, consider how
best they may dissolve the evils of patronage,
and open the Civil Service to the educated am-
bition of the country. But no allusion is made
to any project of making due payment for the
article required. Much is said of the manner
in which young men are to be put in at the
bottom of this government machine called the
Civil Service, but very little of the treatment
of elderly men who may get to the top. Much
is said of the required excellence of education ;
but nothing of the rewards by which such
excellence is to be stimulated.

It might certainly be thought a costly remedy
for the evil, if any one were to propose to the
minister to create lay bishoprics, or deanships and
prebends in the Civil Service, for the reward of
merit. A palace and 5,000/. a year might not
be too much for a man whose decretion had

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18

Online LibraryAnthony TrollopeThe three clerks : a novel (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 18)