Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][merged small][merged small]

THE

HE Reform banner then had “ drooped over the

sinking heads" of Lord Russell and Mr. Gladstone, and the Liberal administration was at an end. The Queen, of course, sent for Lord Derby. There was no one else to send for. Somebody must carry on the Queen's government; and therefore Lord Derby had no alternative but to set to work and try to form an administration. He did not appear to have done so with much good-will. He had no personal desire to enter office once again; he had no inclination for official responsibilities. He was not very fond of work, even when younger and stronger, and the habitual indolence of his character had naturally grown with years, and just now with infirmities. There was, therefore, something of a genuine patriotic self-sacrifice in the consent which he gave to relieve the sovereign and the country from difficulties by accepting at such a time the office of Prime Minister, and undertaking to form a government. It was generally understood, however, that he would only consent to be the Prime Minister of an interval, and that whenever, with convenience to the interests of the state, some other hand could be intrusted with power, he would expect to be released from the trouble of official life. The prospect for a Conservative Ministry was not inviting. Despite the manner in which Lord Russell's Reform Bill had been hustled

out of existence, no sagacious Tory seriously believed that the new government could do as Lord Palmerston had done—that is, could treat the whole Reform question as if it were shelved by the recent action of the House of Commons, and take no further trouble about it. Lord Derby, too, when he came to form a government, found himself met by one unexpected difficulty. He had hoped to be able to weld together a sort of coalition Ministry, which should to a certain extent represent both sides of the House, It seemed to him only reasonable to assume that the men who had co-operated with the Conservatives so earnestly in resisting the Reform measures of the late government would consent to co-operate with the Conservative Ministry which their action had forced into existence. Accordingly, he had at once invited the leading members of the Adullamite party to accept places in his administration. He was met by disappointment. The Adullamite chiefs agreed to decline all such co-operation. A leading article appeared one morning in a journal which was understood to have Mr. Lowe for one of its contributors, announcing in a solemn sentence, made more solemn by being printed in capital letters, that those who had thrown out the Liberal Ministry on principle were bound to prove that they had not been animated by any ambition or self-seeking of their own. Indeed, the voice of public opinion freely acquitted some of them of any such desire from the beginning. Mr. Lowe, for example, was always thought to be somewhat uncertain and crotchety in the views. There were not wanting persons who said that he had no set and serious political opinions at all; that he was more easily charmed by antithesis than by principle; and that he would have been at any time ready to sacrifice his party to his paradox. But no one doubted his personal sincerity; and no one was surprised that he should have declined to accept any advantage from the reaction of which he had been the guiding

spirit. About the rest of the Adullamites, truth to say, very few persons thought at all. No one doubted their sincerity, for indeed no one asked himself any question on the subject. Some of them were men of great territorial influence; some were men of long standing in Parliament. But they were absolutely unnoticed, now that the crisis was over. The reaction was ascribed to one man alone. There was some curiosity felt as to the course that one man would pursue; but when it was known that Mr. Lowe would not take office under Lord Derby, nobody cared what became of the other denizens of the cave. They might take office or let it alone; the public at large were absolutely indifferent on the subject.

The session had advanced far toward its usual time of closing when Lord Derby completed the arrangements for his administration. Mr. Disraeli, of course, became Chan. cellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House of Commons. Lord Stanley was Foreign Secretary. Lord Cranbourne, formerly Lord Robert Cecil, was intrusted with the care of India ; Lord Carnarvon undertook the colonies; General Peel became War Minister; Sir Stafford Northcote was President of the Board of Trade ; and Mr. Walpole took on himself the management of the Home Office, little knowing what a troublous business he had brought upon his shoulders. Sir John Pakington boldly assumed the control of the Admiralty, an appropriation of office to which only the epigram of a Beaumarchais could supply adequate illustration. On July 9th Lord Derby was able to announce to the Peers that he had put together his house of cards.

The new ministry had hardly taken their places when a perfect storm of agitation broke out all over the country. The Conservatives and the Adullamites had both asserted that the working people in general were indifferent about the franchise; and a number of organizations now sprang into existance, having for their object to prove to the world

that no such apathy prevailed. Reform leagues and Reform unions started up as if out of the ground. Public meetings of vast dimensions began to be held day after day for the purpose of testifying to the strength of the desire for reform. The most noteworthy of these was the famous Hyde Park meeting. The Reformers of the metropolis determined to hold a monster meeting in the park. The authorities took the very unwise course of determining to prohibit it, and a proclamation or official notice was issued to that effect. The Reformers were acting under the advice of Mr. Edmond Beales, President of the Reform League, a barrister of some standing, and a man of character and considerable ability. Mr. Beales was of opinion that the authorities had no legal power to prevent the meeting; and of course it need hardly be said that a commissioner of police, or even a home secretary, is not qualified to make anything legal or illegal by simply proclaiming it so. The London Reformers therefore determined to try their right with the authorities. On July 23d a number of processions marching with bands and banners set out from different parts of London and made for Hyde Park. The authorities had posted notices announcing that the gates of the park would be closed at five o'clock that evening. When the first of the processions arrived at the park the gates were closed and a line of policemen was drawn outside. The President of the Reform League, Mr. Beales, and some other prominent Reformers, came up in a carriage, alighted, and endeavored to enter the park. They were refused admittance. They asked for the authority by which they were refused ; and they were told that it was the authority of the Commissioner of Police. They then quietly re-entered the carriage. It was their intention first to assert their right and then, being refused, to try it in the regular and legal way. It was no part of their intention to make any disturbance. They seem to have taken every step which they thought necessary to guard against any breach

of the peace. It was clearly their interest, as it was no doubt their desire, to have the law on their side. They went to Trafalgar Square, followed by a large crowd, and there a meeting was extemporized, at which resolutions were passed demanding the extension of the suffrage and thanking Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Bright, and other men who had striven to obtain it. The speaking was short; it was not physically possible to speak with any effort to so large an assemblage. Then that part of the demonstration came quietly to an end.

Meantime, however, a different scene had been going on at Hyde Park. A large and motley crowd had hung about the gates and railings. The crowd was composed partly of genuine Reformers, partly of mere sightseers and curiositymongers, partly of mischievous boys, and to no inconsiderable extent of ordinary London roughs. Not a few of all sections, perhaps, were a little disappointed that things had gone so quietly off. Many of the younger lookers-on felt aggrieved, exactly as the boys did in the “Bride of Lammermoor," when they found that the supposed fire was not to end in any explosion after all, and that the castle had "gane out like an auld wife's spunk.” The mere mass of people pressed and pressing round the railings would almost in any case have somewhat seriously threatened their security and tried their strength. Emerson has said that every revolution, however great, is first of all a thought in the mind of a single man. One disappointed Reformer lingering in Park Lane, with his breast against the rails, as the poetic heroine had hers, metaphorically, against the thorn, became impressed with the idea that the barrier was somewhat frail and shaky. How would it be, he vaguely thought for a moment, if he were to give an impulse and drive the railing in? What, he wondered to himself, would come of that? The temptation was great. He shook the fails; the rails began to give way. Not that alone, but the

« AnteriorContinuar »