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Lord Westbury's fall was not perhaps so much the result of the one or two transactions for which the censure was passed, as of the growing dislike which both houses had come to feel for an intellect too keen to be scrupulous, and a nature which brought even to the uninspiring business of law reforms some of the fierce animosities to which the tongue of a Swift would hardly have given a more bitter expression. Many thought, when all was done, that he had been somewhat harshly used. He would, perhaps, have been greatly surprised himself to know how many kindly things were said of him.
The hour of political reaction was evidently near at hand. Five years had passed away since the withdrawal of Lord John Russell's Reform Bill; and five years may represent in ordinary calculation the ebb or flow of the political tide. The dissolution of Parliament was near.
Lord Derby described the speech from the throne, at the opening of the session of 1865, as a sort of address very proper to be delivered by an aged minister to a moribund Parliament. The Parliament had run its course. It had accomplished the rare feat of living out its days, and having tu die by simple efflux of time. On July 6th, 1865, Parliamert was dissolved. Mr. Disraeli's address to the electors of Buckinghamshire, sent out before the dissolution, distinctly declared that the issue which the country would have to decide concerned the National Church and the franchise. “The maintenance of a National Church," he said, “involves the question whether the principle of religion shall be an element of our political constitution; whether the state shall be consecrated; or whether, dismissing the sanctions that appeal to the higher feelings of man, our scheme of government should degenerate into a mere system of police.” “I see nothing,” he proclaimed, “ in such a result but the corruption of nations and the fall of empires." As regards the franchise he was vaguely grandiloquent ;
and both the vagueness and the grandiloquence were doubt. less deliberate and to serve a purpose.
“On the extension of the electoral franchise," he observed, “ depends the distribution of power." He was of opinion that “the primary plan of our ancient constitution, so rich in various wisdom, indicates the course we ought to pursue.” What that course was Mr. Disraeli took good care not to explain too clearly. The ancient constitution, he showed, had “secured our popular rights by intrusting power not to an indis. criminate multitude, but to the estate or order of the Commons; and a wise government should be careful that the elements of that estate should bear a due relation to the moral and material development of the country." Public opinion, he suggested, might not be yet ripe enough to legislate on the subject; but the country "might ponder over it with advantage, so that when the time comes for action we may legislate in the spirit of the English Constitution, which would absorb the best of every class, and not fall into a democracy, which is the tyranny of one class, and that one the least enlightened.” Translated into plain English, these pompous generalities meant clearly enough, although perhaps men did not all see it just then, that Mr. Disraeli would be prepared, if his turn should arrive, to bring in a Reform Bill, and that he still had hopes of being able to satisfy the country without going too far in the direction of popular suffrage. But it seems evident now that he had left it open to him to take even that course should it come in his way. No matter how wide the extension of the franchise which he found himself driven to make, he could always say that in his opinion it only absorbed the best of a class, and did not allow us to fall into a demo. cracy.
“ Which spills the foremost foeman's life, that party conquers in the strife.” The first blow was struck in the city of London, and the Liberals carried all the seats. Four Liberals were elected. In Westminster the contest was somewhat remarkable. The constituency of Westminster always had the generous ambition to wish to be represented by at least one man of distinction. Westminster had been represented by Fox. It had more lately had Sir Francis Burdett for one of its representatives, and Cochrane for another. Byron's friend Hobhouse long represented West. minster. More lately still it had had Sir de Lacy Evans, not much of a politician to be sure, but a very gallant soldier, a man whose name was, at all events, to adopt the French phase, “in the play-bill.” This time Mr. Mill was induced to come out of his calm retirement in Avignon and accept the candidature for Westminster. He issued an address embodying his well-known political opinions. He de. clined to look after local business, and on principle he objected to pay any part of the expenses of election. It was felt to be a somewhat bold experiment to put forward such a man as Mill among the candidates for the representation of a popular constituency. His opinions were extreme. He was not known to belong to any church or religious denomination. He was a philosopher, and English political organi. zations do not love philosophers. He was almost absolutely unknown to his countrymen in general. Until he came forward as a leader of the agitation in favor of the Northern cause during the Civil War, he had never, so far as we know been seen on an English political platform. Even of the electors of Westminster very few had ever seen him before his candidature. Many were under the vague impression that he was a clever man who wrote wise books, and died long ago. He was not supposed to have any liking or capacity for parliamentary life. More than ten years before it was known to a few that he had been invited to stand for an Irish county, and had declined. That was at the time when his observations on the Irish land-tenure system, and the condition of Ireland generally, had filled the hearts of
many Irishmen with delight and wonder-delight and won der to find that a cold English philosopher and economist should form such just and generous opinions about Irish questions, and should express them with such a noble courage. Since that time he had not been supposed to have any inclination for public life, nor, we believe, had any serious effort been made to tempt him out of his retirement. The idea now occurred to Mr. James Beal, a popular Westminster politician, and he pressed it so earnestly on Mill as a public duty that Mill did not feel at liberty to refuse. Mit) was one of the few men who have only to be convinced that a thing was incumbent on them as a public duty to set about doing it forthwith, no matter how distasteful it might be to them personally, or what excellent excuses they might offer for leaving the duty to others. He had written things which might well make him doubtful about the prudence of courting the suffrages of an English popular coustituency. He was understood to be a rationalist; he was a supporter of many political opinions that seemed to ordinary persons much like “ fads," or crotchets, or even crazes. He had once said in his writings, that the working classes in England were given to lying. He had now to stand up on platforms before crowded and noisy assemblies, where everything he had ever written or said could be made the subject of question and of accusation, and with enemies outside capable of torturing every explanation to his disadvantage. A man of independent opinions, and who has not been ashamed to change his opinions when he thought them wrong, or afraid to put on record each opinion in the time when he held to it, is at much disadvantage on the hustings. He will find out there what it is to have written books and to have enemies. Mill triumphed over all the difficulties by downright courage and honesty. When asked at a public meeting chiefly composed of working-men, whether he had ever said the working-classes were given to lying, he an
swered straight out, “I did;" a bold blunt admission with. out any qualification. The boldness and frankness of the reply struck home to the manhood of the workingmen who listened to him. Here they saw a leader who would never shrink from telling them the truth. Mr. Mill has himself described what followed his answer. “Scarcely were these two words out of my mouth, when vehement applause resounded through the whole meeting. It was evident that the working-people were so accustomed to expect equivocation and evasion from those who sought their suffrages, that when they found, instead of that, a direct avowal of what was likely to be disagreeable to them, instead of being affronted they concluded at once that this was a person they could trust. . . . The first working man who spoke after the incident I have mentioned (it was Mr. Odger) said that the working classes had no desire not to be told of their faults; they wanted friends, not flatterers; and felt under obligation to any one who told them anything in themselves which he sincerely believed to require amendment. And to this the meeting heartily responded.” One is in doubt whether to admire more the frankness of the speaker or the manly good sense of those to whom he spoke. “ As much to my surprise,” says Mr. Mill, " as to that of any one, I was returned to Parliament by a majority of some hundreds over my Conservative competitor."
In many other instances there was a marked indication that the political tide had turned in favor of Liberal opinions. Mr. Thomas Hughes, author of “ Tom Brown's School Days," a Radical of the “muscular Christianity” order, as it was called, was returned for Lambeth. Mr. Duncan Mc. Laren, brother-in-law of Mr. Bright, and an advanced Radical, was elected for Edinburgh, unseating a mild Whig. Mr. G. O. Trevelyan, a brilliant young Radical, nephew of Macaulay, came into Parliament. In Ireland some men of strong opinions, of ability, and of high character found seats