Imatges de pÓgina

could be given of the operation of the Septennial Act, and no example cited which could show more clearly how an important measure had been delayed through the operation of the system of long Parliaments. As regards the effect which the shortening of Parliaments would have upon the Opposition, it can hardly be doubted that the effect would be to quicken the vigilance of the party in opposition, and greatly to stimulate them from first to last, for, small as their minorities might be, their protests against any actions of the Government, which they might think were prejudicial to the honour or interests of the country, would carry more weight with the Ministers of the day in the nearer prospect of the issue being submitted to the judgment of their fellow-countrymen.

Another practical advantage of shorter Parliaments would be to restore more quickly to the service of the country some first-rate men, who had lost their seats at the previous election, for it often happens that men of independence of thought, of acknowledged ability and worth, lose their seats through possessing those very qualities; giving offence perhaps by a vote on some important issue, a vote which, while it offended their constituents, might have given the highest satisfaction to some other constituencies, which would eagerly adopt them as their candidates at the first general election. It may be said that these are generally restored by some by-election. No doubt in some cases it is so; but it is to a general election we must look for most of them regaining seats.

Then it appears to me that the direct tendency of shorter Parliaments would be rather to raise than to lower the dignity of the House of Commons, rather to promote than diminish the independence of its Members, for threats of a dissolution on the part of a Government would carry less weight than they now do.

The calling of party meetings, the holding of the wand of dissolution over them if they did not comply with the will of the Government and vote just as they wished on some question or another, would be a piece of party tactics which would be rarely if ever resorted to, greatly to the advantage of the House of Commons and of the country.

In many respects the direct influence upon the House of Commons would be most salutary: knowing that their trust must be handed back to the people not later than four or at the outside five years, they would from first to last throughout the whole period have a quickened sense of their responsibility and of the value of time. This quickened sense of responsibility would not only promote the despatch of business, but the despatch of business of the best kind; for the tendency of each newly elected House of Commons would be to hold closely to those great or pressing questions which the nation had just indicated its wish should be dealt with. There is not a new Parliament elected in our day, but the representatives returned know


clearly at least two or three questions which are foremost in the minds of their constituencies; questions which the thinking portion of the community have matured and made ripe for legislation, and which most candidates have thoughtfully and carefully studied: two or three such questions might be enough for three or four sessions, but not sufficient for five or six. At present we run the risk of legislating in the last sessions of a long Parliament upon questions about which the constituencies have formed little or no opinion, and about which Members of Parliament may not have very maturely considered.

No Parliament should be elected for so long a period that the represented would be unable to judge of the nature of important measures to be brought under the consideration of its representatives. Consultation in advance is the only consultation worthy of the name. And again it is a very remarkable and gratifying fact, that amidst all the hot discussions of the House of Commons there generally prevails a very good feeling amongst all its Members sitting upon both sides. Yet no one can doubt that if any feelings of animosity have been engendered by the hot party discussions which might arise during a long Parliament of six or seven years they would in all probability, nay, almost to a certainty, be appeased and weakened by more frequent Parliaments. And in respect to the influence of the nation on foreign affairs, the present system of long Parliaments is not without its effect in relation to the influence of England on the continent of Europe. The influence of England is only really powerful when the Government is known to have the majority of the nation at its back. Until another general election has taken place and the will of the nation is declared, the real influence of England in the eyes of European statesmen must be seriously diminished, for they know perfectly well that the nation has not been consulted for so long a time, and such grave issues have recently arisen, that the voice of the Government may not only not be the voice of England, but may indeed be the very reverse.

Then as regards the people, would the change be beneficial? All classes now possess the right of voting, but the exercise of it is limited, and that to an extent wholly unknown to any country in the world. Are the people of this country unfit to give their opinion once in every four or five years as to what measures they think are most needed for the general good? I think every one will acknowledge that, after the elections of 1868 and 1874-the first two elections since the Reform Bill of 1867 so widened the franchise-the effect has not been to throw all power into the hands of either of the two parties in the State, and that both will have a share still in the government of the country dependent upon their merits.

We may fairly affirm that the working classes of this country have, during the past twenty or thirty years, made great progress in

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intelligence and in other important respects, and have on frequent occasions exhibited an amount of moderation and common sense which was greatly to their credit. In the main they do not follow mere demagogues, but think for themselves. The consequence is, that the single representative they have returned to Parliament-the member for Morpeth-is one of the most honest, thoughtful, and earnest Members of the present House of Commons. No one will dispute the statement that the working classes of this country are better able to judge of public questions than even the average of those who had the power of selecting Members of Parliament in the earliest days of the Septennial Act. Under Queen Victoria the skilled artisan, and even the common workman, often possesses a larger knowledge of books, a better acquaintance with science, and more taste for art, than would be found upon an average among the parochial clergy or the country gentlemen of England under George the Second.'8


Under the best of governments, the great mass of our people have many obstacles and hosts of difficulties and temptations, and it is but right that they should have frequent opportunities of guarding their interests by mending their choice of representatives; and this could tend to nothing but good, for it would be but giving the people a common, universal, and unanimous interest in the protection and prosperity of the country, which, indeed, is the only way to make a happy and a truly united people.

More frequent general elections would undoubtedly give rise to more frequent discussions as to the state of the people and the condition of the Empire; but when we reflect, and I think we may reflect with just pride, upon the moderation with which in this country discussions, whether in the House of Commons or out of it, are conducted, we cannot but believe that these discussions, carried on, as Lord Russell once wrote, 'with the whole nation for an audience, so far from being mischievous, tend to excite that spirit of inquiry and investigation which is necessary to the freedom of a free State.'

All parts of the country and all classes of the people have now a share in the election of Members of Parliament. It cannot but be of advantage to direct the attention of the people to the conduct of their representatives as the guardians of the public interest, and to canvass their actions. 'Confidence is good, but blind confidence in the depositors of power may be fatal to a free State.' The House of Commons should be, as Mr. Pitt said, an assembly united with the people by the closest sympathies.'

The people at present take but little interest in public questions. Were general elections rather more frequent, not only would they

Vaughan's Revolutims in English History, vol. iii. p. 647.

serve to prevent stagnation in the public mind, but they would tend to create that sympathy to which a century ago Mr. Pitt alluded. Such frequent discussions would promote an enlightened view of public duty, and be the truest safeguards of the best parts of a free constitution, and the surest protection to our liberties. Give me,' says Milton, the liberty to know, to utter and argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.'





DURING the past two years I have been trying in some six paperspublished most of them in this Review-to popularise a true and sober judgment of our modern positive thought, and the power of our modern positive thinkers. At present, as we all know, the school is possessed of the greatest weight. It has become the most active force now at work in the world. It claims the entire direction of the human mind, and of all human progress. If its claims be not fully made good yet, it boasts that before long they will be. And its strength is shown us by the fears of its enemies, even more clearly than by the hopes of its friends. Strength, however, is often nothing more than the reputation of strength; and it has been my aim to make clear, in the present case, how largely it consists of this. I am of course not speaking of the scientific school, in so far as it keeps within its own province. I am speaking of it only in so far as it quits this, and assumes to instruct the world upon wider mattersupon faith, and morals, and philosophy, or anything, in short, connected with the higher life of man. It has taught us many facts, it is true, that bear upon all these, and that some day or other will enlarge our views concerning them. It is impossible to deny this; and no one desires to deny it. All I have tried to make evident is, that those who have discovered the facts have been utterly incompetent to discern their true general bearing; and that though such men may be excellent servants to thought, they are very incapable masters of it. At present practically they are to a great extent its masters; and I desire to show on how hollow a basis their supremacy rests; how unable they will be to maintain it against any rational attack ; and that their security depends chiefly on an intellectual panic. Their position is this. They have made astonishing conquests in the physical world, and they come to us laden with spoils, and formidable with the prestige of conquerors. By a kind of coup d'état they have taken possession of the spiritual world as well; and have ignorantly been working in it an incalculable ruin, by the aid of a false prestige. To destroy such prestige must be the first step in

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