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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 50, December, 1861 online

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and the member concluded without further interruption.

Mr. Edwin James was the next prominent speaker. He has won a wide
reputation as a barrister, chiefly in the management of desperate
criminal cases, culminating in his defence of Dr. Barnard, charged with
being accessory to the attempted assassination of Louis Napoleon. The
idol of the populace, he was elected by a large majority in May, 1859,
as an extreme Liberal or Radical, to represent Marylebone in the present
Parliament. His warmest admirers will hardly contend that since his
election he has done anything to distinguish himself, or even to sustain
the reputation which his success as an advocate had earned for him.
The expensive vices to which he has long been addicted have left him
bankrupt in character and fortune. His large professional income has
been for some years received by trustees, who have made him a liberal
allowance for his personal expenses, and have applied the remainder
toward the payment of his debts. His recent disgraceful flight from
England, and the prompt action of his legal brethren in view of his
conduct, render it highly improbable that he will ever return to the
scene of his former triumphs and excesses. Besides its brevity, which
was commendable, his speech this evening presented no point worthy of
comment.

Since the opening remarks of Lord Palmerston, five Radicals had
addressed the House. Without exception they had denounced the action of
the Lords, and more than one had savagely attacked the Opposition for
supporting the proceedings of the Upper House. They had contended that
the Commons were becoming contemptible in the eyes of the nation by
their failure to take a manly position in defence of their rights. To
a man, they had assailed the resolutions of the Premier as falling far
short of the dignity of the occasion and the importance of the crisis,
or, at best, as intentionally ambiguous. Thus far then the Radicals.
The Opposition had listened to them in unbroken and often contemptuous
silence, enjoying the difference of opinion in the Ministerial party,
but reserving themselves for some foeman worthy of their steel. Nor
was there, beyond a vague rumor, any clue to the real position of the
Cabinet on the whole question. Only one member had spoken for the
Government, and it was more than suspected that he did not quite
correctly represent the views of the Ministry.

If any one of my readers had been in the Speaker's Gallery on that
evening, his attention would have been arrested by a member on the
Ministerial benches, a little to the right of Lord Palmerston. His face
is the most striking in the House, - grave, thoughtful, almost stern,
but lighting up with wonderful beauty when he smiles. Usually, his air
is rather abstracted, - not, indeed, the manner of one whose thoughts
are wandering from the business under debate, but rather of one who is
thinking deeply upon what is passing around him. His attitude is not
graceful: lolling at full length, his head resting on the back of the
seat, and his legs stretched out before him. He is always neatly, but
never carefully dressed, and his bearing is unmistakably that of a
scholar. Once or twice since we have been watching him, he has scratched
a few hasty memoranda on the back of an envelope, and now, amid the
silence of general expectation, the full, clear tones of his voice are
heard. He has not spoken five minutes before members who have taken
advantage of the dulness of recent debaters to dine, or to fortify
themselves in a less formal way for the night's work before them, begin
to flock to their seats. Not an eye wanders from the speaker, and the
attention which he commands is of the kind paid in the House only to
merit and ability of the highest order. And, certainly, the orator is
not unworthy of this silent, but most respectful tribute to his talents.
His manner is earnest and animated, his enunciation is beautifully
clear and distinct, the tones of his voice are singularly pleasing and
persuasive, stealing their way into the hearts of men, and charming them
into assent to his propositions. One can easily understand why he is
called the "golden-tongued."

This is Mr. Gladstone, Chancellor of the Exchequer, by right of
eloquence, statesmanship, and scholarly attainments, the foremost man in
England. I cannot hope to give a satisfactory description of his speech,
nor of its effect upon the House. His eloquence is of that quality to
which no sketch, however accurate, can do justice. Read any one of
his speeches, as reported with astonishing correctness in the London
"Times," and you will appreciate the clear, philosophical statement of
political truth, - the dignified, elevated, statesmanlike tone, - the rare
felicity of expression, - the rhetorical beauty of style, never usurping
the place of argument, though often concealing the sharp angles of his
relentless logic, - the marvellous ease with which he makes the
dry details of finance not only instructive, but positively
fascinating, - his adroitness in retrieving a mistake, or his sagacity
in abandoning, in season, an indefensible position, - the lofty and
indignant scorn with which he sometimes condescends to annihilate an
insolent adversary, or the royal courtesy of his occasional compliments.
But who shall be able to describe those attributes of his eloquence
which address themselves only to the ear and eye: that clear, resonant
voice, never sinking into an inaudible whisper, and never rising into an
ear-piercing scream, its tones always exactly adapted to the spirit of
the words, - that spare form, wasted by the severe study of many years,
which but a moment before was stretched in languid ease on the Treasury
benches, now dilated with emotion, - that careworn countenance inspired
with great thoughts: what pen or pencil can do justice to these?

If any one of that waiting audience has been impatiently expectant of
some words equal to this crisis, some fearless and manly statement
of the real question at issue, his wish shall be soon and most fully
gratified. Listen to his opening sentence, which contains the key-note
to his whole speech: - "It appears to be the determination of one moiety
of this House that there shall be no debate upon the constitutional
principles which are involved in this question; and I must say, that,
considering that gentlemen opposite are upon this occasion the partisans
of a gigantic innovation, - the most gigantic and the most dangerous that
has been attempted in modern times, - I may compliment them upon the
prudence they show in resolving to be its silent partisans." After this
emphatic exordium, which electrified the House, and was followed by
such a tempest of applause as for some time to drown the voice of the
speaker, he proceeded at once to demonstrate the utter folly and error
of contending that the action of the Lords was supported or justified
by any precedent. Of course, as a member of the Cabinet, he gave his
adhesion to the resolutions before the House, and indorsed the speech
of the Premier. But, from first to last, he treated the question as its
importance demanded, as critical and emergent, not to be passed by in
silence, nor yet to be encountered with plausible and conciliatory
expedients. He reserved to himself "entire freedom to adopt any mode
which might have the slightest hope of success, for vindicating by
action the rights of the House."

In fact, he alone of all the speakers of the evening rose to "the height
of the great argument." He alone seemed to feel that the temporary
success of this or that party or faction was as nothing compared with
the duty of settling definitely and for all posterity this conflict of
rights between the two Houses. Surveying the question from this high
vantage-ground, what wonder that in dignity and grandeur he towered
above his fellows? Here was a great mind grappling with a great
subject, - a mind above temporary expedients for present success,
superior to the fear of possible defeat. To denounce the Conservatives
for not attacking the Ministerial resolutions may have been indiscreet.
He may have been guilty of an apparent breach of Parliamentary
etiquette, when he practically condemned the passive policy of the
Cabinet, of which he was himself a leading member. But may we not pardon
the natural irritation produced by the defeat of his favorite measure,
in view of the noble and patriotic sentiments of his closing sentences?

"I regard the whole rights of the House of Commons, as they have been
handed down to us, as constituting a sacred inheritance, upon which I,
for my part, will never voluntarily permit any intrusion or plunder to
be made. I think that the very first of our duties, anterior to the duty
of dealing with any legislative measure, and higher and more sacred than
any such duties, high and sacred though they may be, is to maintain
intact that precious deposit."

The effect of this speech was indescribable. The applause with which he
was frequently interrupted, and which greeted him as he took his seat,
was such as I have never heard in a deliberative assembly. And not the
least striking feature of this display of enthusiasm was that it mainly
proceeded from the extreme Liberal wing of the Ministerial party, with
which Mr. Gladstone, representing that most conservative of all English
constituencies, Oxford University, had hitherto been by no means
popular. For several days the rumor was rife that the Chancellor of the
Exchequer would resign his place in the Cabinet, and be the leader
of the Radicals! But Mr. Gladstone had other views of his duty, and
probably he was never more firmly intrenched in the confidence of the
nation, and more influential in the councils of the Government, than he
is at this moment.

Mr. Gladstone had hardly taken his seat, when the long and significant
silence of the Opposition was broken by Mr. Whiteside. This gentleman
represents Dublin University, has been Attorney-General and
Solicitor-General for Ireland, and was one of the most able and eloquent
defenders of O'Connell and his friends in 1842. He is said to be the
only Irishman in public life who holds the traditions of the great Irish
orators, - the Grattans, the Currans, and the Sheridans. I will not
detain my readers with even a brief sketch of his speech. It was very
severe upon Mr. Gladstone, very funny at the expense of the Radicals,
and very complimentary to Lord Palmerston. As a whole, it was an
admirable specimen of Irish oratory. In the _élan_ with which the
speaker leaped to his feet and dashed at once into his subject, full of
spirit and eager for the fray, in his fierce and vehement invective and
the occasional ferocity of his attacks, in the fluency and fitness of
his language and the rapidity of his utterance, in the unstudied grace
and sustained energy of his manner, it was easy to recognize the
elements of that irresistible eloquence by which so many of his gifted
countrymen have achieved such brilliant triumphs at the forum and in the
halls of the debate.

It might perhaps heighten the effect of the picture, if I were to
describe the appearance of Mr. Gladstone during the delivery of this
fierce Philippic, - the contracted brow, the compressed lip, the uneasy
motion from side to side, and all the other customary manifestations of
anger, mortification, and conscious defeat. But if my sketch be dull,
it shall at least have the homely merit of being truthful. In point of
fact, the whole harangue was lost upon Mr. Gladstone; for he left the
House immediately after making his own speech, and did not return until
some time after Mr. Whiteside had finished. In all probability he did
not know how unmercifully he had been handled until he read his "Times"
the next morning.

Six more speeches on the Liberal side, loud in praise of the Chancellor
of the Exchequer, bitter in denunciation of the Conservatives, and by
no means sparing the policy of the Prime Minister, followed in quick
succession. They were all brief, pertinent, and spirited; with which
comprehensive criticism I must dismiss them. Their delivery occupied
about two hours, and many members availed themselves of this opportunity
to leave the House for a while. Some sauntered on the broad stone
terrace which lines the Thames. Not a few regaled themselves with the
popular Parliamentary beverage, - sherry and soda-water; and others,
who had resolutely kept their seats since the opening of the debate,
rewarded their devotion to the interests of the public by a more
elaborate repast. Now and then a member in full evening dress would
lounge into the House, with that air of perfect self-satisfaction
which tells of a good dinner by no means conducted on total-abstinence
principles.

It was midnight when Mr. Disraeli rose to address the House. For years
the pencil of "Punch" has seemed to take particular delight in sketching
for the public amusement the features of this well-known novelist,
orator, and statesman. After making due allowance for the conceded
license of caricature, we must admit that the likeness is in the main
correct, and any one familiar with the pages of "Punch" would recognize
him at a glance. The impression which he leaves on one who studies his
features and watches his bearing is not agreeable. Tall, thin, and quite
erect, always dressed with scrupulous care, distant and reserved in
manner, his eye dull, his lips wearing habitually a half-scornful,
half-contemptuous expression, one can readily believe him to be a man
addicted to bitter enmities, but incapable of warm friendships.

He had been sitting, as his manner is, very quietly during the evening,
never moving a muscle of his face, save when he smiled coldly once
or twice at the sharp sallies of Whiteside, or spoke, as he did very
rarely, to some member near him. A stranger to his manner would have
supposed him utterly indifferent to what was going on about him. Yet it
is probable that no member of the House was more thoroughly absorbed in
the debate or watched its progress with deeper interest. Excepting his
political ambition, Mr. Disraeli is actuated by no stronger passion than
hatred of Mr. Gladstone. To have been a warm admirer and _protégé_ of
Sir Robert Peel would have laid a sufficient foundation for intense
personal dislike. But Mr. Disraeli has other and greater grievances to
complain of. This is not the place to enter at large into the history of
the political rivalry between these eminent men. Enough to say, that
in the spring of 1852 Mr. Disraeli realized the dream of his lifelong
ambition by being appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the Ministry
of Lord Derby. Late in the same year he brought forward his Budget,
which he defended at great length and with all his ability. This Budget,
and the arguments by which it was supported, Mr. Gladstone - who had
already refused to take the place in the Derby Cabinet - attacked in a
speech of extraordinary power, demolishing one by one the positions
of his opponent, rebuking with dignified severity the license of
his language, and calling upon the House to condemn the man and his
measures. Such was the effect of this speech that the Government was
defeated by a decided majority. Thus dethroned, Mr. Disraeli had the
additional mortification of seeing his victorious opponent seated in his
vacant chair. For, in the Ministry of Lord Aberdeen, which immediately
succeeded, Mr. Gladstone accepted the appointment of Chancellor of
the Exchequer. The Budget brought forward by the new Minister took by
surprise even those who had already formed the highest estimate of his
capacity; and the speech in which he defended and enforced it received
the approval of Lord John Russell, in the well-known and well-merited
compliment, that "it contained the ablest expositions of the true
principles of finance ever delivered by an English statesman." Since
that memorable defeat, Disraeli has lost no opportunity of attacking the
member for Oxford University. To weaken his wonderful ascendency over
the House has seemed to be the wish nearest his heart, and the signal
failure which has thus far attended all his efforts only gives a keener
edge to his sarcasm and increases the bitterness of his spirit. That
persistent and inflexible determination which, from a fashionable
novelist, has raised him to the dignity of leader of the Conservative
party in the House of Commons, that unsparing and cold-blooded malignity
which poisoned the last days of Sir Robert Peel, and those powers of wit
and ridicule which make him so formidable an adversary, have all been
impressed into this service.

His speech this evening was only a further illustration of his
controlling desire to enjoy an ample and adequate revenge for past
defeats; and, undoubtedly, Mr. Disraeli displayed a great deal of a
certain kind of power. He was witty, pungent, caustic, full of telling
hits which repeatedly convulsed the House with laughter, and he showed
singular dexterity in discovering and assailing the weak points in his
adversary's argument. Still, it was a painful exhibition, bad in temper,
tone, and manner. It was too plainly the attempt of an unscrupulous
partisan to damage a personal enemy, rather than the effort of a
statesman to enlighten and convince the House and the nation. It was
unfair, uncandid, and logically weak. Its only possible effect was to
irritate the Liberals, without materially strengthening the position of
the Conservatives. When "Dizzy" had finished, the floor was claimed
by Lord John Russell and Mr. Bright. It was sufficiently evident that
members, without distinction of party, desired to hear the last-named
gentleman, for cries of "Bright," "Bright," came from all parts of the
House. The member for Birmingham is stout, bluff, and hearty, looking
very much like a prosperous, well-dressed English yeoman. He is
acknowledged to be the best declaimer in the House. Piquant, racy, and
entertaining, he is always listened to with interest and pleasure; but
somehow he labors under the prevalent suspicion of being insincere, and
beyond a small circle of devoted admirers has no influence whatever in
Parliament.

To the manifest discontent of the House, the Speaker decided that the
Honorable Secretary for Foreign Affairs was entitled to the floor. Lord
John Russell deserves a more extended historical and personal notice
than the legitimate limits of this article will allow. But, as his
recent elevation to the peerage has led the English press to give a
review of his political antecedents, and as these articles have been
copied quite generally into our own leading newspapers, it may be
fairly presumed that most of my readers are familiar with the prominent
incidents in his long and honorable public career. As a speaker he is
decidedly prosy, with a hesitating utterance, a monotonous voice, and an
uninteresting manner. Yet he is always heard with respectful attention
by the House, in consideration of his valuable public services, his
intrinsic good sense, and his unselfish patriotism. On the question at
issue, he took ground midway between Lord Palmerston and Mr. Gladstone.

It was now about two, A.M. Since the commencement of the debate eighteen
members had addressed the House. At this point a motion prevailed to
adjourn until noon of the same day.

On the reopening of the debate at that hour, Mr. Bright and a few other
members gave their views upon the resolutions of the Premier, and the
final vote was then taken with the result already indicated.




A LEGEND OF THE LAKE.


Should you go to Centre-Harbor,
As haply you some time may,
Sailing up the Winnipisauke,
From the hills of Alton Bay, -

Into the heart of the highlands,
Into the north-wind free,
Through the rising and vanishing islands,
Over the mountain sea, -

To the little hamlet lying
White in its mountain-fold,
Asleep by the lake, and dreaming
A dream that is never told, -

And in the Red Hill's shadow
Your pilgrim home you make,
Where the chambers open to sunrise,
The mountains and the lake, -

If the pleasant picture wearies,
As the fairest sometimes will,
And the weight of the hills lies on you,
And the water is all too still, -

If in vain the peaks of Gunstock
Redden with sunrise fire,
And the sky and the purple mountains
And the sunset islands tire, -

If you turn from the in-door thrumming
And clatter of bowls without,
And the folly that goes on its travels
Bearing the city about, -

And the cares you left behind you
Come hunting along your track,
As Blue-Cap in German fable
Rode on the traveller's pack, -

Let me tell you a tender story
Of one who is now no more,
A tale to haunt like a spirit
The Winnipisauke shore, -

Of one who was brave and gentle,
And strong for manly strife,
Riding with cheering and music
Into the tourney of life.

Faltering and falling midway
In the Tempter's subtle snare,
The chains of an evil habit
He bowed himself to bear.

Over his fresh, young manhood
The bestial veil was flung, -
The curse of the wine of Circe,
The spell her weavers sung.

Yearly did hill- and lake-side
Their summer idyls frame;
Alone in his darkened dwelling,
He hid his face for shame.

The music of life's great marches
Sounded for him in vain;
The voices of human duty
Smote on his ear like pain.

In vain over island and water
The curtains of sunset swung;
In vain on the beautiful mountains
The pictures of God were hung.

The wretched years crept onward,
Each sadder than the last;
All the bloom of life fell from him,
All the freshness and greenness passed.

But deep in his heart forever
And unprofaned he kept
The love of his saintly Mother,
Who in the grave-yard slept.

His house had no pleasant pictures;
Its comfortless walls were bare;
But the riches of earth and ocean
Could not purchase his Mother's Chair, -

The old chair, quaintly carven,
With oaken arms outspread,
Whereby, in the long gone twilights,
His childish prayers were said.

For thence, in his lone night-watches,
By moon or starlight dim,
A face full of love and pity
And tenderness looked on him.
And oft, as the grieving presence
Sat in his mother's chair,
The groan of his self-upbraiding
Grew into wordless prayer.

At last, in the moonless midnight,
The summoning angel came,
Severe in his pity, touching
The house with fingers of flame.

The red light flashed from its windows
And flared from its sinking roof;
And baffled and awed before it,
The villagers stood aloof.

They shrank from the falling rafters,
They turned from the furnace-glare;
But its tenant cried, "God help me!
I must save my mother's chair."

Under the blazing portal,
Over the floor of fire,
He seemed, in the terrible splendor,
A martyr on his pyre!

In his face the mad flames smote him
And stung him on either side;
But he clung to the sacred relic, -
By his mother's chair he died!

O mother, with human yearnings!
O saint, by the altar-stairs!
Shall not the dear God give thee
The child of thy many prayers?

O Christ! by whom the loving,
Though erring, are forgiven,
Hast Thou for him no refuge,
No quiet place in heaven?

Give palms to Thy strong martyrs,
And crown Thy saints with gold,
But let the mother welcome
Her lost one to Thy fold!




AGNES OF SORRENTO.


CHAPTER XVI.

ELSIE PUSHES HER SCHEME.


The good Father Antonio returned from his conference with the cavalier
with many subjects for grave pondering. This man, as he conjectured, so
far from being an enemy either of Church or State, was in fact in many
respects in the same position with his revered master, - as nearly so as
the position of a layman was likely to resemble that of an ecclesiastic.
His denial of the Visible Church, as represented by the Pope and
Cardinals, sprang not from an irreverent, but from a reverent spirit. To
accept _them_ as exponents of Christ and Christianity was to blaspheme
and traduce both, and therefore he only could be counted in the highest
degree Christian who stood most completely opposed to them in spirit and
practice.

His kind and fatherly heart was interested in the brave young nobleman.
He sympathized fully with the situation in which he stood, and he even
wished success to his love; but then how was he to help him with Agnes,


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 50, December, 1861 → online text (page 5 of 20)