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Chapter 77

The Senator's Lecture.--No. I

Wednesday, April 14th, was the day at last fixed for the Senator's lecture. His little proposal to set England right on all those matters in which she had hitherto gone astray had created a considerable amount of attention. The Goarly affair with the subsequent trial of Scrobby had been much talked about, and the Senator's doings in reference to it had been made matter of comment in the newspapers. Some had praised him for courage, benevolence, and a steadfast purpose. Others had ridiculed his inability to understand manners different from those of his own country. He had seen a good deal of society both in London and in the country, and had never hesitated to express his opinions with an audacity which some had called insolence. When he had trodden with his whole weight hard down on individual corns, of course he had given offence,--as on the memorable occasion of the dinner at the parson's house in Dillsborough. But, on the whole, he had produced for himself a general respect among educated men which was not diminished by the fact that he seemed to count quite as little on that as on the ill-will and abuse of others. For some days previous to the delivery of the lecture the hoardings in London were crowded with sesquipedalian notices of the entertainment, so that Senator Gotobed's great oration on "The irrationality of Englishmen" was looked to with considerable interest.

When an intelligent Japanese travels in Great Britain or an intelligent Briton in Japan, he is struck with no wonder at national differences. He is on the other hand rather startled to find how like his strange brother is to him in many things. Crime is persecuted, wickedness is condoned, and goodness treated with indifference in both countries. Men care more for what they eat than anything else, and combine a closely defined idea of meum with a lax perception as to tuum. Barring a little difference of complexion and feature the Englishman would make a good Japanese, or the Japanese a first-class Englishman. But when an American comes to us or a Briton goes to the States, each speaking the same language, using the same cookery, governed by the same laws, and wearing the same costume, the differences which present themselves are so striking that neither can live six months in the country of the other without a holding up of the hands and a torrent of exclamations. And in nineteen cases out of twenty the surprise and the ejaculations take the place of censure. The intelligence of the American, displayed through the nose, worries the Englishman. The unconscious self-assurance of the Englishman, not always unaccompanied by a sneer, irritates the American. They meet as might a lad from Harrow and another from Mr. Brumby's successful mechanical cramming establishment. The Harrow boy cannot answer a question, but is sure that he is the proper thing, and is ready to face the world on that assurance. Mr. Brumby's paragon is shocked at the other's inaptitude for examination, but is at the same time tortured by envy of he knows not what. In this spirit we Americans and Englishmen go on writing books about each other, sometimes with bitterness enough, but generally with good final results. But in the meantime there has sprung up a jealousy which makes each inclined to hate the other at first sight. Hate is difficult and expensive, and between individuals soon gives place to love. "I cannot bear Americans as a rule, though I have been very lucky myself with a few friends." Who in England has not heard that form of speech, over and over again? And what Englishman has travelled in the States without hearing abuse of all English institutions uttered amidst the pauses of a free-handed hospitality which has left him nothing to desire?

Mr. Senator Gotobed had expressed his mind openly wheresoever he went, but, being a man of immense energy, was not content with such private utterances. He could not liberate his soul without doing something in public to convince his cousins that in their general practices of life they were not guided by reason. He had no object of making money. To give him his due we must own that he had no object of making fame. He was impelled by that intense desire to express himself which often amounts to passion with us, and sometimes to fury with Americans, and he hardly considered much what reception his words might receive. It was only when he was told by others that his lecture might give offence which possibly would turn to violence, that he made inquiry as to the attendance of the police. But though they should tear him to pieces he would say what he had to say. It should not be his fault if the absurdities of a people whom he really loved were not exposed to light, so that they might be acknowledged and abandoned.

He had found time to travel to Birmingham, to Manchester, to Liverpool, to Glasgow, and to other places, and really thought that he had mastered his great subject. He had worked very hard, but was probably premature in thinking that he knew England thoroughly. He had, however, undoubtedly dipped into a great many matters, and could probably have told many Englishmen much that they didn't know about their own affairs. He had poked his nose everywhere, and had scrupled to ask no question. He had seen the miseries of a casual ward, the despair of an expiring strike, the amenities of a city slum, and the stolid apathy of a rural labourer's home. He had measured the animal food consumed by the working classes, and knew the exact amount of alcohol swallowed by the average Briton. He had seen also the luxury of baronial halls, the pearl-drinking extravagances of commercial palaces, the unending labours of our pleasure-seekers--as with Lord Rufford, and the dullness of ordinary country life--as experienced by himself at Bragton. And now he was going to tell the English people at large what he thought about it all.

The great room at St. James's Hall had been secured for the occasion, and Lord Drummond, the Minister of State in foreign affairs, had been induced to take the chair. In these days our governments are very anxious to be civil to foreigners, and there is nothing that a robust Secretary of State will not do for them. On the platform there were many members of both Houses of Parliament, and almost everybody connected with the Foreign Office. Every ticket had been taken for weeks since. The front benches were filled with the wives and daughters of those on the platform, and back behind, into the distant spaces in which seeing was difficult and hearing impossible, the crowd was gathered at 2s. 6d. a head, all of which was going to some great British charity. From half-past seven to eight Piccadilly and Regent Street were crammed, and when the Senator came himself with his chairman he could hardly make his way in at the doors. A great treat was expected, but there was among the officers of police some who thought that a portion of the audience would not bear quietly the hard things that would be said, and that there was an uncanny gathering of roughs about the street, who were not prepared to be on their best behaviour when they should be told that old England was being abused.

Lord Drummond opened the proceedings by telling the audience, in a voice clearly audible to the reporters and the first half-dozen benches, that they had come there to hear what a well-informed and distinguished foreigner thought of their country. They would not, he was sure, expect to be flattered. Than flattery nothing was more useless or ignoble. This gentleman, coming from a new country, in which tradition was of no avail, and on which the customs of former centuries had had no opportunities to engraft themselves, had seen many things here which, in his eyes, could not justify themselves by reason. Lord Drummond was a little too prolix for a chairman, and at last concluded by expressing "his conviction that his countrymen would listen to the distinguished Senator with that courtesy which was due to a foreigner and due also to the great and brotherly nation from which he had come."

Then the Senator rose, and the clapping of hands and kicking of heels was most satisfactory. There was at any rate no prejudice at the onset. "English Ladies and Gentlemen," he said, "I am in the unenviable position of having to say hard things to you for about an hour and a half together, if I do not drive you from your seats before my lecture is done. And this is the more the pity because I could talk to you for three hours about your country and not say an unpleasant word. His Lordship has told you that flattery is not my purpose. Neither is praise, which would not be flattery. Why should I collect three or four thousand people here to tell them of virtues the consciousness of which is the inheritance of each of them? You are brave and generous,--and you are lovely to look at, with sweetly polished manners; but you know all that quite well enough without my telling you. But it strikes me that you do not know how little prone you are to admit the light of reason into either your public or private life, and how generally you allow yourselves to be guided by traditions, prejudices, and customs which should be obsolete. If you will consent to listen to what one foreigner thinks,--though he himself be a man of no account,--you may perchance gather from his words something of the opinion of bystanders in general, and so be able, perhaps a little, to rectify your gait and your costume and the tones of your voice, as we are all apt to do when we come from our private homes, out among the eyes of the public."

This was received very well. The Senator spoke with a clear, sonorous voice, no doubt with a twang, but so audibly as to satisfy the room in general. "I shall not," he said, "dwell much on your form of government. Were I to praise a republic I might seem to belittle your throne and the lady who sits on it,--an offence which would not be endured for a moment by English ears. I will take the monarchy as it is, simply remarking that its recondite forms are very hard to be understood by foreigners, and that they seem to me to be for the most part equally dark to natives. I have hardly as yet met two Englishmen who were agreed as to the political power of the sovereign; and most of those of whom I have enquired have assured me that the matter is one as to which they have not found it worth their while to make inquiry." Here a voice from the end of the hall made some protestation, but the nature of the protest did not reach the platform.

"But," continued the Senator, now rising into energy, "tho' I will not meddle with your form of government, I may, I hope, be allowed to allude to the political agents by which it is conducted. You are proud of your Parliament."

"We are," said a voice.

"I wonder of which house. I do not ask the question that it may be answered, because it is advisable at the present moment that there should be only one speaker. That labour is, unfortunately for me, at present in my hands, and I am sure you will agree with me that it should not be divided. You mean probably that you are proud of your House of Commons,--and that you are so because it speaks with the voice of the people. The voice of the people, in order that it may be heard without unjust preponderance on this side or on that, requires much manipulation. That manipulation has in latter years been effected by your Reform bills of which during the last half century there have in fact been four or five,--the latter in favour of the ballot having been perhaps the greatest. There have been bills for purity of elections, very necessary; bills for creating constituencies, bills for abolishing them, bills for dividing them, bills for extending the suffrage, and bills, if I am not mistaken, for curtailing it. And what has been the result? How many men are there in this room who know the respective nature of their votes? And is there a single woman who knows the political worth of her husband's vote? Passing the other day from the Bank of this great metropolis to its suburb called Brentford, journeying as I did the whole way through continuous rows of houses, I found myself at first in a very ancient borough returning four members,--double the usual number,--not because of its population but because it has always been so. Here I was informed that the residents had little or nothing to do with it. I was told, though I did not quite believe what I heard, that there were no residents. The voters however, at any rate the influential voters, never pass a night there, and combine their city franchise with franchises elsewhere. I then went through two enormous boroughs, one so old as to have a great political history of its own, and the other so new as to have none. It did strike me as odd that there should be a new borough, with new voters, and new franchises, not yet ten years old, in the midst of this city of London. But when I came to Brentford, everything was changed. I was not in a town at all though I was surrounded on all sides by houses. Everything around me was grim and dirty enough, but I am supposed to have reached, politically, the rustic beauties of the country. Those around me, who had votes, voted for the County of Middlesex. On the other side of the invisible border I had just past the poor wretch with 3s. a day who lived in a grimy lodging or a half-built hut, but who at any rate possessed the political privilege. Now I had suddenly emerged among the aristocrats, and quite another state of things prevailed. Is that a reasonable manipulation of the votes of the people? Does that arrangement give to any man an equal share in his country? And yet I fancy that the thing is so little thought of that few among you are aware that in this way the largest class of British labour is excluded from the franchise in a country which boasts of equal representation."

"The chief object of your first Reform Bill was that of realising the very fact of representation. Up to that time your members of the House of Commons were in truth deputies of the Lords or of other rich men. Lord A, or Mr. B, or perhaps Lady C, sent whom she pleased to Parliament to represent this or that town, or occasionally this or that county. That absurdity is supposed to be past, and on evils that have been cured no one should dwell. But how is it now? I have a list, in my memory, for I would not care to make out so black a catalogue in legible letters,--of forty members who have been returned to the present House of Commons by the single voices of influential persons. What will not forty voices do even in your Parliament? And if I can count forty, how many more must there be of which I have not heard?" Then there was a voice calling upon the Senator to name those men, and other voices denying the fact. "I will name no one," said the Senator. "How could I tell what noble friend I might put on a stool of repentance by doing so." And he looked round on the gentlemen on the platform behind him. "But I defy any member of Parliament here present to get up and say that it is not so." Then he paused a moment. "And if it be so, is that rational? Is that in accordance with the theory of representation as to which you have all been so ardent, and which you profess to be so dear to you? Is the country not over-ridden by the aristocracy when Lord Lambswool not only possesses his own hereditary seat in the House of Lords, but also has a seat for his eldest son in the House of Commons?"

Then a voice from the back called out, "What the deuce is all that to you?"

Anthony Trollope