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Chapter 18

A PARLIAMENTARY SKETCH

We hope our readers will not be alarmed at this rather ominous
title. We assure them that we are not about to become political,
neither have we the slightest intention of being more prosy than
usual--if we can help it. It has occurred to us that a slight
sketch of the general aspect of 'the House,' and the crowds that
resort to it on the night of an important debate, would be
productive of some amusement: and as we have made some few calls
at the aforesaid house in our time--have visited it quite often
enough for our purpose, and a great deal too often for our personal
peace and comfort--we have determined to attempt the description.
Dismissing from our minds, therefore, all that feeling of awe,
which vague ideas of breaches of privilege, Serjeant-at-Arms, heavy
denunciations, and still heavier fees, are calculated to awaken, we
enter at once into the building, and upon our subject.

Half-past four o'clock--and at five the mover of the Address will
be 'on his legs,' as the newspapers announce sometimes by way of
novelty, as if speakers were occasionally in the habit of standing
on their heads. The members are pouring in, one after the other,
in shoals. The few spectators who can obtain standing-room in the
passages, scrutinise them as they pass, with the utmost interest,
and the man who can identify a member occasionally, becomes a
person of great importance. Every now and then you hear earnest
whispers of 'That's Sir John Thomson.' 'Which? him with the gilt
order round his neck?' 'No, no; that's one of the messengers--that
other with the yellow gloves, is Sir John Thomson.' 'Here's Mr.
Smith.' 'Lor!' 'Yes, how d'ye do, sir?--(He is our new member)--
How do you do, sir?' Mr. Smith stops: turns round with an air of
enchanting urbanity (for the rumour of an intended dissolution has
been very extensively circulated this morning); seizes both the
hands of his gratified constituent, and, after greeting him with
the most enthusiastic warmth, darts into the lobby with an
extraordinary display of ardour in the public cause, leaving an
immense impression in his favour on the mind of his 'fellow-
townsman.'

The arrivals increase in number, and the heat and noise increase in
very unpleasant proportion. The livery servants form a complete
lane on either side of the passage, and you reduce yourself into
the smallest possible space to avoid being turned out. You see
that stout man with the hoarse voice, in the blue coat, queer-
crowned, broad-brimmed hat, white corduroy breeches, and great
boots, who has been talking incessantly for half an hour past, and
whose importance has occasioned no small quantity of mirth among
the strangers. That is the great conservator of the peace of
Westminster. You cannot fail to have remarked the grace with which
he saluted the noble Lord who passed just now, or the excessive
dignity of his air, as he expostulates with the crowd. He is
rather out of temper now, in consequence of the very irreverent
behaviour of those two young fellows behind him, who have done
nothing but laugh all the time they have been here.

'Will they divide to-night, do you think, Mr. -' timidly inquires a
little thin man in the crowd, hoping to conciliate the man of
office.

'How CAN you ask such questions, sir?' replies the functionary, in
an incredibly loud key, and pettishly grasping the thick stick he
carries in his right hand. 'Pray do not, sir. I beg of you; pray
do not, sir.' The little man looks remarkably out of his element,
and the uninitiated part of the throng are in positive convulsions
of laughter.

Just at this moment some unfortunate individual appears, with a
very smirking air, at the bottom of the long passage. He has
managed to elude the vigilance of the special constable downstairs,
and is evidently congratulating himself on having made his way so
far.

'Go back, sir--you must NOT come here,' shouts the hoarse one, with
tremendous emphasis of voice and gesture, the moment the offender
catches his eye.

The stranger pauses.

'Do you hear, sir--will you go back?' continues the official
dignitary, gently pushing the intruder some half-dozen yards.

'Come, don't push me,' replies the stranger, turning angrily round.

'I will, sir.'

'You won't, sir.'

'Go out, sir.'

'Take your hands off me, sir.'

'Go out of the passage, sir.'

'You're a Jack-in-office, sir.'

'A what?' ejaculates he of the boots.

'A Jack-in-office, sir, and a very insolent fellow,' reiterates the
stranger, now completely in a passion.

'Pray do not force me to put you out, sir,' retorts the other--
'pray do not--my instructions are to keep this passage clear--it's
the Speaker's orders, sir.'

'D-n the Speaker, sir!' shouts the intruder.

'Here, Wilson!--Collins!' gasps the officer, actually paralysed at
this insulting expression, which in his mind is all but high
treason; 'take this man out--take him out, I say! How dare you,
sir?' and down goes the unfortunate man five stairs at a time,
turning round at every stoppage, to come back again, and denouncing
bitter vengeance against the commander-in-chief, and all his
supernumeraries.

'Make way, gentlemen,--pray make way for the Members, I beg of
you!' shouts the zealous officer, turning back, and preceding a
whole string of the liberal and independent.

You see this ferocious-looking gentleman, with a complexion almost
as sallow as his linen, and whose large black moustache would give
him the appearance of a figure in a hairdresser's window, if his
countenance possessed the thought which is communicated to those
waxen caricatures of the human face divine. He is a militia-
officer, and the most amusing person in the House. Can anything be
more exquisitely absurd than the burlesque grandeur of his air, as
he strides up to the lobby, his eyes rolling like those of a Turk's
head in a cheap Dutch clock? He never appears without that bundle
of dirty papers which he carries under his left arm, and which are
generally supposed to be the miscellaneous estimates for 1804, or
some equally important documents. He is very punctual in his
attendance at the House, and his self-satisfied 'He-ar-He-ar,' is
not unfrequently the signal for a general titter.

This is the gentleman who once actually sent a messenger up to the
Strangers' gallery in the old House of Commons, to inquire the name
of an individual who was using an eye-glass, in order that he might
complain to the Speaker that the person in question was quizzing
him! On another occasion, he is reported to have repaired to
Bellamy's kitchen--a refreshment-room, where persons who are not
Members are admitted on sufferance, as it were--and perceiving two
or three gentlemen at supper, who, he was aware, were not Members,
and could not, in that place, very well resent his behaviour, he
indulged in the pleasantry of sitting with his booted leg on the
table at which they were supping! He is generally harmless,
though, and always amusing.

By dint of patience, and some little interest with our friend the
constable, we have contrived to make our way to the Lobby, and you
can just manage to catch an occasional glimpse of the House, as the
door is opened for the admission of Members. It is tolerably full
already, and little groups of Members are congregated together
here, discussing the interesting topics of the day.

That smart-looking fellow in the black coat with velvet facings and
cuffs, who wears his D'Orsay hat so rakishly, is 'Honest Tom,' a
metropolitan representative; and the large man in the cloak with
the white lining--not the man by the pillar; the other with the
light hair hanging over his coat collar behind--is his colleague.
The quiet gentlemanly-looking man in the blue surtout, gray
trousers, white neckerchief and gloves, whose closely-buttoned coat
displays his manly figure and broad chest to great advantage, is a
very well-known character. He has fought a great many battles in
his time, and conquered like the heroes of old, with no other arms
than those the gods gave him. The old hard-featured man who is
standing near him, is really a good specimen of a class of men, now
nearly extinct. He is a county Member, and has been from time
whereof the memory of man is not to the contrary. Look at his
loose, wide, brown coat, with capacious pockets on each side; the
knee-breeches and boots, the immensely long waistcoat, and silver
watch-chain dangling below it, the wide-brimmed brown hat, and the
white handkerchief tied in a great bow, with straggling ends
sticking out beyond his shirt-frill. It is a costume one seldom
sees nowadays, and when the few who wear it have died off, it will
be quite extinct. He can tell you long stories of Fox, Pitt,
Sheridan, and Canning, and how much better the House was managed in
those times, when they used to get up at eight or nine o'clock,
except on regular field-days, of which everybody was apprised
beforehand. He has a great contempt for all young Members of
Parliament, and thinks it quite impossible that a man can say
anything worth hearing, unless he has sat in the House for fifteen
years at least, without saying anything at all. He is of opinion
that 'that young Macaulay' was a regular impostor; he allows, that
Lord Stanley may do something one of these days, but 'he's too
young, sir--too young.' He is an excellent authority on points of
precedent, and when he grows talkative, after his wine, will tell
you how Sir Somebody Something, when he was whipper-in for the
Government, brought four men out of their beds to vote in the
majority, three of whom died on their way home again; how the House
once divided on the question, that fresh candles be now brought in;
how the Speaker was once upon a time left in the chair by accident,
at the conclusion of business, and was obliged to sit in the House
by himself for three hours, till some Member could be knocked up
and brought back again, to move the adjournment; and a great many
other anecdotes of a similar description.

There he stands, leaning on his stick; looking at the throng of
Exquisites around him with most profound contempt; and conjuring
up, before his mind's eye, the scenes he beheld in the old House,
in days gone by, when his own feelings were fresher and brighter,
and when, as he imagines, wit, talent, and patriotism flourished
more brightly too.

You are curious to know who that young man in the rough great-coat
is, who has accosted every Member who has entered the House since
we have been standing here. He is not a Member; he is only an
'hereditary bondsman,' or, in other words, an Irish correspondent
of an Irish newspaper, who has just procured his forty-second frank
from a Member whom he never saw in his life before. There he goes
again--another! Bless the man, he has his hat and pockets full
already.

We will try our fortune at the Strangers' gallery, though the
nature of the debate encourages very little hope of success. What
on earth are you about? Holding up your order as if it were a
talisman at whose command the wicket would fly open? Nonsense.
Just preserve the order for an autograph, if it be worth keeping at
all, and make your appearance at the door with your thumb and
forefinger expressively inserted in your waistcoat-pocket. This
tall stout man in black is the door-keeper. 'Any room?' 'Not an
inch--two or three dozen gentlemen waiting down-stairs on the
chance of somebody's going out.' Pull out your purse--'Are you
QUITE sure there's no room?'--'I'll go and look,' replies the door-
keeper, with a wistful glance at your purse, 'but I'm afraid
there's not.' He returns, and with real feeling assures you that
it is morally impossible to get near the gallery. It is of no use
waiting. When you are refused admission into the Strangers'
gallery at the House of Commons, under such circumstances, you may
return home thoroughly satisfied that the place must be remarkably
full indeed. {1}

Retracing our steps through the long passage, descending the
stairs, and crossing Palace-yard, we halt at a small temporary
doorway adjoining the King's entrance to the House of Lords. The
order of the serjeant-at-arms will admit you into the Reporters'
gallery, from whence you can obtain a tolerably good view of the
House. Take care of the stairs, they are none of the best; through
this little wicket--there. As soon as your eyes become a little
used to the mist of the place, and the glare of the chandeliers
below you, you will see that some unimportant personage on the
Ministerial side of the House (to your right hand) is speaking,
amidst a hum of voices and confusion which would rival Babel, but
for the circumstance of its being all in one language.

The 'hear, hear,' which occasioned that laugh, proceeded from our
warlike friend with the moustache; he is sitting on the back seat
against the wall, behind the Member who is speaking, looking as
ferocious and intellectual as usual. Take one look around you, and
retire! The body of the House and the side galleries are full of
Members; some, with their legs on the back of the opposite seat;
some, with theirs stretched out to their utmost length on the
floor; some going out, others coming in; all talking, laughing,
lounging, coughing, oh-ing, questioning, or groaning; presenting a
conglomeration of noise and confusion, to be met with in no other
place in existence, not even excepting Smithfield on a market-day,
or a cock-pit in its glory.

But let us not omit to notice Bellamy's kitchen, or, in other
words, the refreshment-room, common to both Houses of Parliament,
where Ministerialists and Oppositionists, Whigs and Tories,
Radicals, Peers, and Destructives, strangers from the gallery, and
the more favoured strangers from below the bar, are alike at
liberty to resort; where divers honourable members prove their
perfect independence by remaining during the whole of a heavy
debate, solacing themselves with the creature comforts; and whence
they are summoned by whippers-in, when the House is on the point of
dividing; either to give their 'conscientious votes' on questions
of which they are conscientiously innocent of knowing anything
whatever, or to find a vent for the playful exuberance of their
wine-inspired fancies, in boisterous shouts of 'Divide,'
occasionally varied with a little howling, barking, crowing, or
other ebullitions of senatorial pleasantry.

When you have ascended the narrow staircase which, in the present
temporary House of Commons, leads to the place we are describing,
you will probably observe a couple of rooms on your right hand,
with tables spread for dining. Neither of these is the kitchen,
although they are both devoted to the same purpose; the kitchen is
further on to our left, up these half-dozen stairs. Before we
ascend the staircase, however, we must request you to pause in
front of this little bar-place with the sash-windows; and beg your
particular attention to the steady, honest-looking old fellow in
black, who is its sole occupant. Nicholas (we do not mind
mentioning the old fellow's name, for if Nicholas be not a public
man, who is?--and public men's names are public property)--Nicholas
is the butler of Bellamy's, and has held the same place, dressed
exactly in the same manner, and said precisely the same things,
ever since the oldest of its present visitors can remember. An
excellent servant Nicholas is--an unrivalled compounder of salad-
dressing--an admirable preparer of soda-water and lemon--a special
mixer of cold grog and punch--and, above all, an unequalled judge
of cheese. If the old man have such a thing as vanity in his
composition, this is certainly his pride; and if it be possible to
imagine that anything in this world could disturb his impenetrable
calmness, we should say it would be the doubting his judgment on
this important point.

We needn't tell you all this, however, for if you have an atom of
observation, one glance at his sleek, knowing-looking head and
face--his prim white neckerchief, with the wooden tie into which it
has been regularly folded for twenty years past, merging by
imperceptible degrees into a small-plaited shirt-frill--and his
comfortable-looking form encased in a well-brushed suit of black--
would give you a better idea of his real character than a column of
our poor description could convey.

Nicholas is rather out of his element now; he cannot see the
kitchen as he used to in the old House; there, one window of his
glass-case opened into the room, and then, for the edification and
behoof of more juvenile questioners, he would stand for an hour
together, answering deferential questions about Sheridan, and
Percival, and Castlereagh, and Heaven knows who beside, with
manifest delight, always inserting a 'Mister' before every
commoner's name.

Nicholas, like all men of his age and standing, has a great idea of
the degeneracy of the times. He seldom expresses any political
opinions, but we managed to ascertain, just before the passing of
the Reform Bill, that Nicholas was a thorough Reformer. What was
our astonishment to discover shortly after the meeting of the first
reformed Parliament, that he was a most inveterate and decided
Tory! It was very odd: some men change their opinions from
necessity, others from expediency, others from inspiration; but
that Nicholas should undergo any change in any respect, was an
event we had never contemplated, and should have considered
impossible. His strong opinion against the clause which empowered
the metropolitan districts to return Members to Parliament, too,
was perfectly unaccountable.

We discovered the secret at last; the metropolitan Members always
dined at home. The rascals! As for giving additional Members to
Ireland, it was even worse--decidedly unconstitutional. Why, sir,
an Irish Member would go up there, and eat more dinner than three
English Members put together. He took no wine; drank table-beer by
the half-gallon; and went home to Manchester-buildings, or
Millbank-street, for his whiskey-and-water. And what was the
consequence? Why, the concern lost--actually lost, sir--by his
patronage. A queer old fellow is Nicholas, and as completely a
part of the building as the house itself. We wonder he ever left
the old place, and fully expected to see in the papers, the morning
after the fire, a pathetic account of an old gentleman in black, of
decent appearance, who was seen at one of the upper windows when
the flames were at their height, and declared his resolute
intention of falling with the floor. He must have been got out by
force. However, he was got out--here he is again, looking as he
always does, as if he had been in a bandbox ever since the last
session. There he is, at his old post every night, just as we have
described him: and, as characters are scarce, and faithful
servants scarcer, long may he be there, say we!

Now, when you have taken your seat in the kitchen, and duly noticed
the large fire and roasting-jack at one end of the room--the little
table for washing glasses and draining jugs at the other--the clock
over the window opposite St. Margaret's Church--the deal tables and
wax candles--the damask table-cloths and bare floor--the plate and
china on the tables, and the gridiron on the fire; and a few other
anomalies peculiar to the place--we will point out to your notice
two or three of the people present, whose station or absurdities
render them the most worthy of remark.

It is half-past twelve o'clock, and as the division is not expected
for an hour or two, a few Members are lounging away the time here
in preference to standing at the bar of the House, or sleeping in
one of the side galleries. That singularly awkward and ungainly-
looking man, in the brownish-white hat, with the straggling black
trousers which reach about half-way down the leg of his boots, who
is leaning against the meat-screen, apparently deluding himself
into the belief that he is thinking about something, is a splendid
sample of a Member of the House of Commons concentrating in his own
person the wisdom of a constituency. Observe the wig, of a dark
hue but indescribable colour, for if it be naturally brown, it has
acquired a black tint by long service, and if it be naturally
black, the same cause has imparted to it a tinge of rusty brown;
and remark how very materially the great blinker-like spectacles
assist the expression of that most intelligent face. Seriously
speaking, did you ever see a countenance so expressive of the most
hopeless extreme of heavy dulness, or behold a form so strangely
put together? He is no great speaker: but when he DOES address
the House, the effect is absolutely irresistible.

The small gentleman with the sharp nose, who has just saluted him,
is a Member of Parliament, an ex-Alderman, and a sort of amateur
fireman. He, and the celebrated fireman's dog, were observed to be
remarkably active at the conflagration of the two Houses of
Parliament--they both ran up and down, and in and out, getting
under people's feet, and into everybody's way, fully impressed with
the belief that they were doing a great deal of good, and barking
tremendously. The dog went quietly back to his kennel with the
engine, but the gentleman kept up such an incessant noise for some
weeks after the occurrence, that he became a positive nuisance. As
no more parliamentary fires have occurred, however, and as he has
consequently had no more opportunities of writing to the newspapers
to relate how, by way of preserving pictures he cut them out of
their frames, and performed other great national services, he has
gradually relapsed into his old state of calmness.

That female in black--not the one whom the Lord's-Day-Bill Baronet
has just chucked under the chin; the shorter of the two--is 'Jane:'
the Hebe of Bellamy's. Jane is as great a character as Nicholas,
in her way. Her leading features are a thorough contempt for the
great majority of her visitors; her predominant quality, love of
admiration, as you cannot fail to observe, if you mark the glee
with which she listens to something the young Member near her
mutters somewhat unintelligibly in her ear (for his speech is
rather thick from some cause or other), and how playfully she digs
the handle of a fork into the arm with which he detains her, by way
of reply.

Jane is no bad hand at repartees, and showers them about, with a
degree of liberality and total absence of reserve or constraint,
which occasionally excites no small amazement in the minds of
strangers. She cuts jokes with Nicholas, too, but looks up to him
with a great deal of respect--the immovable stolidity with which
Nicholas receives the aforesaid jokes, and looks on, at certain
pastoral friskings and rompings (Jane's only recreations, and they
are very innocent too) which occasionally take place in the
passage, is not the least amusing part of his character.

The two persons who are seated at the table in the corner, at the
farther end of the room, have been constant guests here, for many
years past; and one of them has feasted within these walls, many a
time, with the most brilliant characters of a brilliant period. He
has gone up to the other House since then; the greater part of his
boon companions have shared Yorick's fate, and his visits to
Bellamy's are comparatively few.

If he really be eating his supper now, at what hour can he possibly
have dined! A second solid mass of rump-steak has disappeared, and
he eat the first in four minutes and three quarters, by the clock
over the window. Was there ever such a personification of
Falstaff! Mark the air with which he gloats over that Stilton, as
he removes the napkin which has been placed beneath his chin to
catch the superfluous gravy of the steak, and with what gusto he
imbibes the porter which has been fetched, expressly for him, in
the pewter pot. Listen to the hoarse sound of that voice, kept
down as it is by layers of solids, and deep draughts of rich wine,
and tell us if you ever saw such a perfect picture of a regular
gourmand; and whether he is not exactly the man whom you would
pitch upon as having been the partner of Sheridan's parliamentary
carouses, the volunteer driver of the hackney-coach that took him
home, and the involuntary upsetter of the whole party?

What an amusing contrast between his voice and appearance, and that
of the spare, squeaking old man, who sits at the same table, and
who, elevating a little cracked bantam sort of voice to its highest
pitch, invokes damnation upon his own eyes or somebody else's at
the commencement of every sentence he utters. 'The Captain,' as
they call him, is a very old frequenter of Bellamy's; much addicted
to stopping 'after the House is up' (an inexpiable crime in Jane's
eyes), and a complete walking reservoir of spirits and water.

The old Peer--or rather, the old man--for his peerage is of
comparatively recent date--has a huge tumbler of hot punch brought
him; and the other damns and drinks, and drinks and damns, and
smokes. Members arrive every moment in a great bustle to report
that 'The Chancellor of the Exchequer's up,' and to get glasses of
brandy-and-water to sustain them during the division; people who
have ordered supper, countermand it, and prepare to go down-stairs,
when suddenly a bell is heard to ring with tremendous violence, and
a cry of 'Di-vi-sion!' is heard in the passage. This is enough;
away rush the members pell-mell. The room is cleared in an
instant; the noise rapidly dies away; you hear the creaking of the
last boot on the last stair, and are left alone with the leviathan
of rump-steaks.

Charles Dickens