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AFTER the supposed settlement of the Eastern Ques
tion at the Congress of Paris, a sort of languor seems to have come over Parliament and the public mind in England. Lord John Russell endeavored unsuccessfully to have something done which should establish in England a genuine system of national education. He proposed a series of resolutions, one of which laid down the principle that after a certain appointed time, when any school district should have been declared to be deficient in adequate means for the education of the poor, the Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the county, city, or borough, should have power to impose a school rate. This was
a step in the direction of compulsory education. It anticipated the prin ciple on which the first genuine measure for national instruction was founded many years after. It was of course rejected by the House of Commons when Lord John
Russell proposed it. Public opinion, both in and out of Parliament, was not nearly ripe for such a principle then. All such proposals were quietly disposed of with the observation that that sort of thing might do very well for Prussians, but would never suit Englishmen. That was a time when a Prussian was regarded in England as a dull beerbemused servile creature, good for nothing better than to grovel before his half-inebriated monarchs, and to get the stick from his incapable militaty officers. The man who suggested then that perhaps some day the Prussians might shew that they knew how to fight, would have been set down as on a par intellectually with the narrow-minded grumbler who did not believe in the profound sagacity of the Emperor of the French. For a country of practical men England is ruled to a marvelous extent by phrases, and the term
un-English ” was destined for a considerable time to come to settle all attempts at the introduction of any system of national education which even touched on the compulsory principle. One of the regular attempts to admit the Jews to Parliament was made, and succeeded in the House of Commons, to fail, as usual, in the House of Lords. The House of Lords itself was thrown into great perturbation for a time by the proposal of the government to confer a peerage for life on one of the judges, Sir James Parke. Lord Lyndhurst strongly opposed the proposal, on the ground that it was the beginning of an attempt to introduce a system of lifepeerages, which would destroy the ancient and hereditary character of the House of Lords, allow of its being at any time broken up and remodelled according to the discretion of the minister in power, and reduce it in fact to the level of a continental life senate. Many members of the House of Commons were likewise afraid of the innovation; it seemed to foreshadow the possible revival of an ancient principle of crown nomination which might be applied to the reprequentative as well as to the hereditary chamber, seeing that at one time English sovereigns did undoubtedly assume the right of nominating members of the House of Commons. The government, who had really no reactionary or revolutionary designs in their mind, settled the matter for the time by creating Sir James Parke Baron Wensleydale in the usual way, and the object they had in view was quietly accomplished many years later, when the appellate jurisdiction of the Lords was remodelled.
Sir George Lewis was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was as yet not credited with anything like the political ability which he afterwards proved that he possessed. It was the fashion to regard him as a mere book-man, who had drifted somehow into Parliament, and who, in the temporary absence of available talent, had been thrust into the office lately held by Mr. Gladstone. The contrast indeed between the style of his speaking and that of Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Disraeli was enough to dishearten any political assembly. Mr. Gladstone had brought to his budget speeches an eloquence that brightened the driest details, and made the wilderness of figures to blossom like the rose. Mr. Disraeli was able to make a financial statement burst into a bouquet of fireworks. Sir George Lewis began by, being nearly inaudible, and continued to the last to be oppressed by the most ineffective and unattractive manner and delivery. But it began to be gradually found out that the monotonous, halting, feeble manner, covered a very remarkable power of expression; that the speaker had great resources of argument, humor, and illustration ; that every sentence contained some fresh idea or some happy expression. not very long before an experienced observer of Parliament declared that Sir George Lewis delivered the best speeches with the worst manner known to the existing House of Commons. After a while a reaction set in, and the capacity of Lewis ran the risk of being overrated quite as much as it had been undervalued before. In him, men said, was seen
the coming prime minister of England. Time, as it will be seen afterward, did not allow Sir George Lewis any chance of making good this prediction. He was undoubtedly a man of rare ability and refined intellect; an example very uncommon in England of the thinker, the scholar, and the statesman in one. His speeches were an intellectual treat to all with whom matter counted for more than manner. One who had watched parliamentary life from without and within for many years, said he had never had his deliberate opinion changed by a speech in the House of Commons but twice, and each time it was an argument from Sir George Lewis that accomplished the conversion.
For the present, however, Sir George Lewis was regarded only as the sort of statesman whom it was fitting to have in office just then; the statesman of an interval in whom no one was expected to take any particular interest. The attention of the public was a good deal distracted from political affairs by the simultaneous outbreak of new forms of crime and fraud. The trial of Palmer in the Rugeley poisoning case, the trial of Dove in the Leeds poisoning case, these and similar events set the popular mind into wild alarm as to the prevalance of strychnine poisoning everywhere. The failure and frauds of the Royal British Bank, the frauds of Robson and Redpath, gave for the time a sort of idea that the financial principles of the country were crumbling to pieces. The culmination of the extraordinary career of John Sadleir was fresh in the public memory. This man, it will be recollected, was the organizer and guiding spirit of the Irish Brigade, the gang of adventurers whom we have already described as trading on the genuine grievances of the country to get power and money for themselves. John Sadleir overdid the thing. He embezzled, swindled, forged, and finally escaped justice by committing suicide on Hampstead Heath. So fraudful had his ine been that many persons persisted in believing