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of the little pamphlet before us, who reasons his subject well, and with a degree of tranquillity which we almost envy, puts this point in a view which cannot be mistaken.
“In social life, as Landlords, Magistrates, and Lieutenants, they are generally respected and praised. Those who are within the sphere of their acquaintance consider themselves honoured by their notice, and those who are their dependants, are often proud of the connexion; but yet how small are the diverging ripples of this influence in comparison to the vast ocean of British society. In a few remote districts, the large territorial Peer may have some weight; but, in the living foci of our towns, marts, and ports, he is as nothing. The wide and compact chain of middle life runs its circle through the shipping, banking, manufacturing, mining, trading ranks, with scarce a connecting, much less an influential link between itself and the Peerage. In the Army and the Navy, the Church, and the higher Law, the influence of the Łords is considerable; but the two first of these professions have happily small political weight; the third is at this moment in a state to require rather than to afford aid; and the stirring talent of the poorer followers of the Law, is more than a match for the well patronized, and well paid occupants of the higher seats. “Thus, then, it seems, that the Peers, in their private capacities, act with a short lever on the mighty mass of British opinion ; and, we might be tempted to say, that, if they are weak as individuals, they cannot be strong as a body. But this assumption might not be true; for there is a venerable dignity, a calm glory, an acknowledged benefit, a conservative principle in the constitution of the third, or noble estate of the realm, which is distinct from the merits and influence of the Peers themselves;–it is the value of a Peerage in a limited monarchy. I shall not stay to discuss this value, but proceed at once to assume it as acknowledged and cherished. ‘Our Peers, then, have this solid basis for their authority, the acknowledged necessity of their existence as a distinct body under our form of government. This is their security—their constant power; and to this may be added, the varying accessories of individual influence, arising from large possessions, high name, great exploits, and commanding talents, together with the other still more valuable and available force, springing from the collective acts and sentiments of their order, being in accordance with the spirit of the age in which they live. “But firm as is the above stated basis for their authority, yet the Peers must be told, and with no unfriendly feeling, that this acknowledged necessity for a third estate is general and not particular: it pleads as much for a House of Senators as for a House of Lords. Therefore, in these critical times, our Peers must look to their own peculiar safeguards, and these are their individual and collective popularity. ‘Now, as individuals, I speak of course generally; they are, I believe, as worthy of esteem as they have been at any period of our history ; but while this measure of esteem is granted to be not less, it cannot be denied that the illusion, the reverential deference with which the person and dignity of a Peer have hitherto been regarded, is considerably abated. I do not mention this as an evil, I state it as a well known fact. But there is a lamentable attendant evil, which is, that while this conventional veil has been removed, by the increased and more general intelligence and independence of the people, the Peers, themselves, have been slow to use a like diligence. In the dark ages their forefathers placed themselves in the front of war, and nobly won their coronets; but alas! in our days, in the glorious march of intellect, the descendants or substitutes of these indefatigable warriors have supinely lagged behind. Others have occupied the post of honour, where, when the halo of adventitious respect had been dispelled, our Peers should have been found circled with the brighter and more enduring rays of superior industry, liberality, attainments, wisdom, and virtue. The scaffolding has been removed, and the temple found incomplete. There have been, and are many bright exceptions; men of grateful dispositions and philosophic minds, who, in the midst of ever means of indulgence, have, with a wise industry, lived as if they believed that the tenure by which they held their proud stations in the world, was the attainment and diffusion of knowledge, the promotion of happiness, and the guardianship of the people; men, who considered that the law which constituted them hereditary legislators, called upon them, under an awful responsibility, carefully to qualify themselves for their high and arduous functions. But such exceptions render more glaring the general rule of those who seem to think pleasure and amusement the sole fit object of their lives, and that industry would derogate from their nobility.
‘This lagging behind the intellect of the day, has alienated much of the affections and respect of a large portion of the community, while the place-hunting propensities of some noble families, who have addicted themselves to politics, have fearfully detracted from a belief in public honour and patriotism. Now, while such has been the conduct of individual Peers, the enactments of their collective wisdom have not been of a nature to call forth love and honour. The Lords have sedulously obeyed every Minister, and harshly adopted every coercive act of each successive Cabinet. No one liberal, reforming, popular measure, has originated in their House; many, of such a nature which the Commons have sent up, have been by them rejected or defeated, while they have carefully abstained from exercising this their restrictive privilege, by softening the rigour, abating the extravagance, or enlarging the policy of any one of those unpopular acts in which the Commons have too frequently indulged. Once, and once only, did the Peers give way, and wisely; for they retrieved, as far as in them lay, the evils of their previous opposition, regained credit with all good men, and saved Ireland from a convulsion. May they now, when the question at issue is the peace of the whole Empire, go and do likewise. Still this one wise act of grace is a solitary exception to their favourite pursuit of a restrictive policy, which, however irritating, has hitherto proved not the less vain; for the people have gained ground, and the Peers now witness the consequences of a thwarting opposition, coupled with niggard and reluctant concession. They see, on the part of the people, an appetite for reforms, heightened by delay; and they acknowledge, while they complain of a daily decay of respect towards themselves as individuals, and of their public influence as a body.
“But their individual and collective popularity form, as I have shewn, their peculiar safeguards in the hour of danger. And now, with these their fortresses of defence, thus found crumbling and dilapidated, with scarce an ally, certainly not an efficient ally, how is this declining order of men, who, by their habits of life, and tenure of property, are peculiarly unfitted for an arduous struggle—how are they to bear themselves successfully through the coming conflict?'—pp. 3–8.
Should that conflict really arise, that is to say, should the peers, of whose character and strength this author has given perhaps the most favourable view that could be taken of it, commit the gross folly of setting themselves up against the will of the nation, then the question will come to be treated, “what will the people do?” Will they suffer the peers to carry on their opposition to the end of time? Will they allow it even for another session of parliament? Is it to be supposed that the people will passively suffer themselves to be trampled upon by the aristocracy 2 No, undoubtedly they will not. They will interrupt all other pursuits until they accomplish this great object, the result of which will be that the commerce of the country, as it has been well and pointedly stated in the London resolutions, will be thrown into utter confusion ; many tradesmen and operatives will be deprived of employment, and riots will ensue, such as never before destroyed or even threatened the tranquillity of this country. Then let us see further with the author, how the peers are to carry on the contest, in which they shall have so madly engaged. “At the very onset I am prepared to grant the general, though partially concealed hatred, of a vast majority of the House of Lords to the present Reform Bill, indeed to all Parliamentary Reform. The practices to which it tends to put an end have been precisely those illegal means by which the Peers have endeavoured to supply that hold on the State, which they have loosened, by their unpopular acts as a body, and their lack of industry, and attainments as individuals. And yet, in truth, not a small portion of this loss of real power is attributable to the practice of these very means, and the false confidence it has inspired. But I fear it would be time thrown away, to attempt persuading the Anti-Reformers to receive this truth. And yet, why will they not perceive, that a small junto of Boroughmongers, and their adherents, who have been long usurping the patronage of the State to the palpable detriment of the Peerage at large, are now seeking to cover their own sordid and selfish opposition, by an alliance with the more disinterested of the Tories, and most timid of the Whigs. Why will not those Peers, whose sole share of the Boroughtnongering system has been a full portion of its obloquy 7 Why will they not perceive, that they are about to be made the tools of a cunning and selfish faction ? Why will they sully the purity of their own ermine, by asserting, that it is best defended by the corruption of a brother Peer's rotten Borough 2 Strange perversity One might smile at the short-sighted dexterity of the Boroughmongers, so wise in their generation, did one not foresee the fatal consequences that may result from the success of their cajoleries. “But are we then to expect, that the Peers, deficient both in energy and power, will madly place themselves in the breach, and bid defiance to the present current of royal and popular opinion ? No; this would be an act of devotion, worthy only of the Hindoos, and their Juggernaut. I cannot believe, that a body of staid, sober, wealthy, elderly Gentlemen, fathers too of large and affectionate families, should, for the sake of an opinion, meditate a proceeding, so nearly approaching to a political felo-de-se. And I am the more inclined to this charitable opinion of their discretion, when I see, that their object, if their object be to defeat the Bill, can be as effectually gained by side-winds, and flank movements, as by direct opposition. Half measures will here, for once, be as effectual as whole; and, from their nature, are peculiarly fitted for the affections and exigencies of weak bodies. To these then, I fear, they will have recourse; willingly, would I believe, that they would, with a manly courage, and patriotic candour, accede to the honest demands of their countrymen; that they would, magnanimously, place themselves within the circle of the interests and the affections of their native land. But, I much fear, that without a struggle, they will not do so; and I more fear, that, after a struggle, it will no longer be in their power to do so. “I now proceed to trace the melancholy lines of the struggle; happy shall I be, if any feature of the outline catch the eye, and arrest the vote of any Noble Lord. If a doubt should arise in his mind, surely, as a man, and as a Christian, he will lean to the side of concession and peace ; he will remember who resisteth the proud ; he will weigh immediate perils in nicer scales than remote evils; he will ward off, as far as he may, present danger, and leave the future to time, and God's good providence. Let him read of these impending evils, and consider, while he reads, that his may be the vote that may let soose or enchain them for ever. Let him pause, while there is yet time. He is on the Rubicon—even beyond the Rubicon; and, after victory, and seas of blood, there came the Ides of March. But here, I would more especially address one Bench of their Lordship's House. I would ask the chiefs of that religion, whose essence is peace, charity, and good will towards man, what, if they should be found arrayed in support of a rule by corruption, founded on a distrust of the people, would people think, what would they say ? Certainly, they would not blasphemously impute such scandal to the purest, the meekest of faiths: therefore, most assuredly, would they lay it at the feet of its professors. So, if the Bishops desire a Radical Reform in the Church, they can adopt no method more effectual, for the accomplishment of their object, than upholding the perjuries, the drunkenness, and corruption of elections. They may thus collect, conduct, and point against themselves the dark electric cloud, that now lowers over the country. Surely, they will not so flatly contradict their faith. “But I am lingering on the threshold;—no more. I pass over the consequences of positive rejection; because, though they might be more sudden, and severe in their operation, they would not be different in their nature. I assume, then, that we shall hear of motions for adjournment till after Christmas, and for various essential modifications and perversions of the Bill. There will be no doubt as to the covert intent of such proceedings, however much disguised by outward protestations. They will be received and met by the country, and the Ministers, as direct attacks on the Bill itself. The day of trial will come. The speeches will have been made, the votes given. Who have it? The Ayes; joy, reconciliation, peace. The Noes 2 A dead silence At that moment some Peer may wish he had voted otherwise; but, too late, the struggle has begun, the first blow has been struck.”—pp. 10–14. We do not at all agree with the able author of this brochure, that it would be a necessary consequence of this vote, that Lord Grey and his cabinet should resign. As long as they continue to possess the confidence of the House of Commons, the word resignation should be banished from their vocabulary, for it is in that house that the real power of the country resides. It would be an act of the most consummate folly, in our opinion, for a cabinet so justly popular, so justly honoured with the confidence of the king, to abandon the helm of the state at the moment their exertions would be most required to save the vessel from shipwreck. We therefore contemplate no such proceeding, and shall not waste a word upon it. If it be necessary, the parliament, as we have already intimated, must be prorogued for a few days; the measure will then be brought before both houses de novo, and a sufficient number of peers must be created for the purpose of carrying it. It is said that this alternative is one to which Lord Grey has strong and even rooted constitutional objections. If so, he is not the man we take him for, he is not the man for such a crisis as this, and he must yield his position to some individual who is. But this need make no great alteration in the present cabinet, even if such a misfortune were to happen, as his lordship's secession from it would be felt by the country. We cannot, however, imagine that he would really interpose his notions of delicacy on such an occasion, when they would be productive of more injury than he could ever hope to repair. We must then take it for granted that he would not, if eventually driven to it, refrain from calling to his aid the prerogative of the crown, and if in the course of a little time after the Bill shall have become a law, any real inconvenience should grow out of the numbers of the peerage, we see no reason why the course so well pointed out by the author should not be adopted, in order to get rid of that inconvenience.
* Meanwhile, the voice of the country would support him, and he would secure a large and permanent majority in a House, where he must expect nearly as many secret as declared opponents. But the Bill, once passed, the people would remember their refractory Lords; and the more so, as complaints would resound from all quarters, but chiefly from the Peers themselves, and most of all from the youngest creations; from the Londonderry's, the Ellenborough's, the Wynford's, should we hear protestations against the overgrown state of the Peerage, and the late stretch of prerogative. Then would the question, now quietly flowing in the under currents of opinion, gradually rise to the surface; and we should hear it asked, why the Peerage of England should not be assimilated to that of Scotland and Ireland ' And Lord Grey himself, quoting as precedents, the disfranchisement of Peers that attended the Union of these kingdoms with England, might boldly declare, that an elective Peerage, from an heriditary Nobility, was in accordance with the Constitution ; that it would remove the evils of an overgrown House; would set free the Irish and Scotch Lords, now daily intriguing for the more permanent value of an English coronet; while, at the same time, it would efface the legitimate absurdity of an heaven-born race of hereditary Solons; thus consolidating, and replacing, within the circle of modern conformity, the antiquated, though venerable temple of the English Peerage. A refractory House of Lords, by rejecting all Reform in the Commons, might, in this way, draw down upon themselves a Reform they little contemplated.