Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

sudden movement was felt along the line, and into a hundred minds came at once the grand revolutionary idea which an instant before had been a thought in the mind of one hitherto unimportant man. A simultaneous impulsive rush, and some yards of railing were down, and men in scores were tumbling, and floundering, and rushing over them. The example was followed along Park Lane, and in a moment half a mile of iron railing was lying on the grass, and a tumultuous and delighted mob were swarming over the park. The news ran widly through the town. Some thought it a revolt; others were of opinion that it was a revolution. The first day of liberty was proclaimed here—the breaking loose of anarchy was shrieked at there. The mob capered and jumped over the sward for half the night through. Flower-beds and shrubs suffered a good deal, not so much from wanton destruction as from the pure boisterousness which came of an unexpected opportunity for horse-play. There were a good many little encounters with the police; stones were thrown on the one side and truncheons used on the other pretty freely; a detachment of foot-guards was kept near the spot in readiness, but their services were not required. Indeed, the mob good humoredly cheered the soldiers whenever they caught sight of them. A few heads were broken on both sides, and a few prisoners were made by the police; but there was no revolution, no revolt, no serious riot even, and no intention in the mind of any responsible person that there should be a riot. Mr. Disraeli that night declared in the House of Commons-halt probably in jest, half certainly in earnest—that he was not quite sure whether he had still a house to go to. He found his house yet standing, and firmly roofed, when he returned home that night. London slept feverishly, and awoke next day to find things going on very much as before. Crowds hastened, half in amusement, half in fear, to look upon the scene of the previous evening's turmoil. There were the

railings down, sure enough; and in the park was still a large idle crowd, partly of harmless sight-seers, partly of roughs, with a considerable body of police keeping order. But there was no popular rising; and London began once more to eat its meals in peace. The sudden tumult was harmlessly over, and the one personage whose impulse first shook the railings of the park may even now console himself in his obscurity by the thought that his push carried Reform.

Nothing can well be more certain than the fact that the Hyde Park Riot, as it was called, convinced her Majesty's Ministers of the necessity of an immediate adoption of the reform principle. The government took the Hyde Park Riot with portentous gravity. Mr. Beales and some of his colleagues waited upon the Home Secretary next day, for the purpose of advising him to withdraw the military and police from the park, and leave it in the custody of the Re. tormers. Mr. Beales gravely lectured the government for what they had done, and declared, as was undoubtedly the fact, that the foolish conduct of the administration had been the original cause of all the disturbance. The Home Sec. retary, Mr. Walpole, a gentle and kindly man, had lost his head in the excitement of the hour. He mentaliy saw himself charged with the responsibility of civil strife and blood. shed. He was melted out of all self-command by the kindly bearing of Mr. Beales and the Reforıners, and when they assured him that they were only anxious to help him to keep order, he fairly broke down and wept. He expressed him self with meek gratitude for their promised co-operatio, and agreed to almost anything they could suggest. It was understood that the right of meeting in Hyde Park was leit to be tested in some more satisfactory way at a future day, and the leaders of the Reform League took their de. parture undoubted masters of the situation.

All through the autumn and winter meetings were held in

the great towns and cities to promote the cause of reform. They were for the most part mere demonstrations of numbers; and everyone of any sagacity knew perfectly well that it was by display of numbers the greatest effect would be produced upon the ministry. Therefore the meetings were usually proceeded by processions, and the attention of the public was turned far more to the processions than the meetings. Hardly any one took the trouble to discuss what was said at the meetings; but a constant public controversy was going on about the numerical strength of the proces. sions. A hundred witnesses on both sides of the dispute rushed to the newspapers to bear testimony to the length of time which a particular procession had occupied in passing a given point. Rival calculations were elaborately made to get at the number of persons marching which such a length of time implied. The most extraordinary differences of cal. culation were exhibited. It was a remarkable fact that the opponents of reform saw invariably a much smaller gathering than its supporters beheld. The calculations of the one set of observers brought out only hundreds, where those of the other resulted in thousands. A procession which one critic proved by the most elaborate and careful statistics to have contained quarter of a million of men, a rival calcula. tor was prepared to show could not by any possibility have contained more than ten or twelve thousand. Cooler observers than the professed partisans of one side or the other thought that the most significant feature of these demonstrations was the part taken by the organized trades associations of workingmen. Some of the processions were made up exclusively of the members of these organized trades-unions. They acted in strict deference to the resolutions and the discipline of their associations. They were great in numbers, and most imposing in their silent, united strength. They had grown into all that discipline and that power unpatronized by any manner of authority ; unrecog

nized by the law, unless indeed where the law occasionally went out of its way to try to prevent or to thwart the aims of their organization. They had now grown to such strength that law and authority must seek to make terms with them. The most extravagant rumors as to their secret doings and purposes alarmed the timid ; and there can be no doubt that it a popular or social revolution were needed or were impending, the action taken by the working-men's associations would have been of incalculable moment to the cause it espoused. As rank after rank of these men marched in quite confidence through the principal streets of London, the thought must have occurred to many minds that here was an entirely new element in the calculations alike of statesmen and of demagogues, well capable of being made a new source of strength to a state under honest leadership and any really sound system of legislation, but qualified also to become a source of serious public danger, if misled by the demagogue or unfairly dealt with by the reactionary legislator. Some of these associations had supported great industrial strikes in which the judgment and the sympathies of all the classes that usually lead was against them. The capitalist and all who share his immediate interests; the employers, the rich of every kind, the aristocratic, the selfappointed public instructors, had all been against them; and they had nevertheless gone deliberately and stubbornly their own way. Sometimes they or the cause they represented had prevailed; often they and it had been defeated; but they had never acknowledged a defeat in principle, and they had kept on their own course undismayed, and, as many would have put, unconvinced and unreconciled. At this very time some of the doings of trades-unions, or of those who took on themselves to represent the purposes oi such organizations, were creating dismay in many parts of England, and were a subject of excited discussion every where over the country. It could not but be a matter of the

zravest moment when the “organization of labor," as it would once have been grandiloquently called, thus turned out of its own direct path and identified itself, its cause, its resources, and its discipline with any great political movement.

Thus in England the year passed away. Men were or. ganizing reform demonstrations on the one side and showing the futility of them on the other. The calculations as to the lengths of processions and the time occupied in passing particular street-corners or lamp-posts went on unceasing. Stout Tories vowed that the government never would yield to popular clamor. Not a few timid Reformers hoped in their secret hearts that Lord Derby would really stand fast. Many Liberals who could admit of no hope from the Tories were already prepared with the conviction that the govern. ment would risk all on the resolution to deny extended suffrage to the working classes. Not a few on both sides had a strong impression that Mr. Disraeli would do something to keep his friends in power, although they did not perhaps quite suspect that he was already eng aged in the work of educating his party.

While England was thus occupied, stirring events were taking place elsewhere. In the interval between the resig. nation of Lord Russell and the completion of Lord Derby's Ministry, the battle of Sadowa had been fought. The leadership of Germany had been decisively won by Prussia. The “humiliation of Olmutz" had been avenged. Venetia had been added to Italy. Austria had been excluded from any share in German affairs, and Prussia and France had been placed in that position which M. Prevost-Paradol likened to that of two express-trains starting along the same line from opposite directions. The complete overthrow of Austria came with the shock of a bewildering surprise upon the great mass of the English public. Faith in the military strength of Austria had survived even the evidence of Sol.

« AnteriorContinuar »