I am sleepy, sleepy, begins the piano! Sleepy, sleepy, mews Mr Violin—very, very, very sleepy, drones the drowsy four-stringed leviathan. Oh, do try if you can't say something, something, something to enliven one a bit! On this hint, the little violin first got excited upon one string, and then upon another, and then the bow rode a hand-gallop over two at once; then saw we four fingers flying as far up the finger-board as they could go, without falling overboard, near the bridge—a dangerous place at all times from the currents and eddies—and there provoking a series of sounds, as if the performer were pinching the tails of a dozen mice, that squeaked and squealed as he made the experiment. The bow (like the funambulist with the soles of his slippers fresh chalked) kept glancing on and off, till we hoped he would be off altogether and break his neck; and now the least harsh and grating of the cords snaps up in the fiddler's face, and a crude one is to be applied; and now—but what is the use of pursuing the description? Let us leave the old bass to snore away his lethargic accompaniment for ten minutes more, and the affair will end. The pianist, the Octavius of the triumvirs, thinks it necessary to excuse Signor ——, telling us, "He has bad violin, he play like one angel on good one"—but hisht, hisht! the evening-star is rising, and we are to be repaid, they say, for all we have gone through! Signor * * * is going to play. The maestro advances with perfect consciousness of his own powers; his gait is lounging, he does not mean to hurry himself, not he—his power of abstraction (from the company) is perfect; he is going to play in solitude before fifty people, and only for his own amusement. He placed himself at least a foot from the piano, his knees touching the board, his body rises perpendicularly from the music-stool, his head turns for a moment to either shoulder as if he were glancing at epaulettes thereon, and then he looks right ahead; he neither has nor needs a book; with the wide-extended fingers of both hands, down he pounces, like a falcon, on the sleeping keys, which, caught by surprise, now speak out and exert all their energies. Those keys, which a few minutes ago vibrated so feebly, and spoke so inarticulately, now pour forth a continuous swell of the richest melody and distinctest utterance. The little wooden parallelograms at first seem to be keeping out of their ranks just to see what is going on, till, the affair becoming warm, they can no longer stand it, but grow excited and take part in the general action. Relying fully on the perfect obedience of his light troops, and relaxing a little from his erect attitude of command, he gently inclines his body to the left, leads his disposable force rapidly upwards in that direction, where, having surprised the post against which they were dispatched, he recovers his swerve, and they retrace with equal precision and rapidity their course from the wings to the centre.
Come, this is playing! This is worth coming to; the instrument seems but the organ of the man's own feelings; its mournful tones are only a paraphrase of his sighs; its brilliant arabesques are but the playful expression of his own delight with every thing and every body! His cheek is warm, his eyes sparkle, his hands detonate thunder and lightnings from the keys, and he concludes as suddenly as he began; the very silence is felt, and the breathless guests, who have watched the fingers and been rapt by the tones, now burst forth simultaneously in expressions of delight and applause.
* * * * *
We read, no later than yesterday, two very pungent leading articles in the London daily journals, on the present all-absorbing subject of railway speculation. Both writers are evidently well versed in the details of the novel system; both possess some smattering of political economy, sufficient at least to enable them to form a judgment; and both consistent in their data and statistical information. Yet, agreeing in these points, it is somewhat singular to find that the Coryphaei have arrived at diametrically opposite conclusions. One of them is quite clear, that if the present railway mania (as he calls it) is permitted to go on unchecked for a short time further, the country will not only be on the verge of bankruptcy, but a general crash will be inevitable; that, vast as the resources of Britain undoubtedly are, she cannot, by any exertion short of crippling her staple commercial relations, furnish capital enough for the fulfilment of a moiety of the schemes already announced, and thrown into the public market; that the fact, which is incontestable, that a large proportion of these shares were originally, and are presently, held by parties who have no means of paying up the calls, but who are solely speculating for the rise, must very soon produce a reaction, and that such reaction will be of the absolute nature of a panic. Such are the opinions of this writer, who is clearly of the restrictive school. He holds, that the government is bound, in such a crisis as that which he rather states than prophesies, to interfere at once with an arbitrary order, and to prevent the issue of any new schemes until those already before the public are either disposed of or exhausted.
How this is to be effected, the writer does not sufficiently explain. He points to immediate interference, from which expression we are led to believe he points at some such proceeding as an Order in Council, to be pronounced during the recess of Parliament. If so, we may dismiss this gentleman and his remedy in a very summary manner. Such an Order in Council would be worse than useless, because it would be a manifest breach of the constitution. As well might an Order be issued to close our manufactories, to restrict the amount of any branch of produce, or to prevent parties from forming themselves into companies for the most blameless and legitimate purpose. It is a strange symptom of the credulousness of the age, or rather of the ignorance of the people in all matters relating to the science of government, that, towards the close of September last, some such rumour was actually circulated and believed, though its father was manifestly a bear, and its birthplace the Stock Exchange. But if this merely is meant, that there lies with the Imperial Parliament a controlling and interferential power, and that the great estates of the realm may be called upon to use it, we do not question the proposition. Whether, however, it would be wise to use that power so sweepingly as the journalist recommends, or whether, practically, it could be possible, are very serious considerations indeed.
But the existence of any evil is denied in toto by the other journalist. In the crowded columns of the morning prints, driven to supplement and even extra-supplement by the overwhelming mass of railway advertisements, he can see no topic of alarm, but "matter for high exultation, and almost boundless hope." His belief in superabundance of capital, and its annual enormous increment, is fixed and steadfast. He considers the railways as the most legitimate channel ever yet afforded for the employment of that capital, and the most fortunate in result for the ultimate destinies of the country. He compares—and very aptly too—the essential difference between the nature of the schemes in which the public are now embarking and those which led to the disastrous results of 1825. His sole regret is, that he must regard the present direction of enterprise, "as an opportunity, that is, facility of investment, that from its nature can be but temporary, though the profit of the investment must, from the nature of things, be perpetual, and though even the temporary facility may, and probably will, last for some years." This is a hopeful, sunny-minded fellow, with whose aspirations, did our conscience permit us, we should be thoroughly delighted to concur.
These writers may be taken as examples of two numerous classes. They are, in fact, the Trois Eschelles' and Petit Andres of the railroads. The first consider every commercial exertion consequent on a new discovery, or the opening of a new channel for investment, doubtful in itself, and highly dangerous if hurriedly and unhesitatingly adopted. The social system, in their view, may suffer quite as much from plethora as from inanition. Too much blood is as unwholesome as too little, notwithstanding of any extraneous means to work it off. "Slow and sure," is their motto—"Carpe diem," essentially that of their antagonists. And yet in one thing, we believe, most individuals holding these opposite opinions will be found to concur. They all speculate. Heraclitus signs his contract with a shudder, and trembles as he places his realized premium in the bank. Democritus laughingly subscribes his name to thousands, and chuckles as he beholds his favourite stock ascending in the thermometer of the share-market. Heraclitus sells—Democritus holds; and thus the great point of wisdom at issue between them, is reduced to a mere question of time.
But it is with their opinions, not their practice, that we have to deal. As usual, truth will be found to lie somewhere between two opposite extremes. We neither entertain the timid fear of the one writer, nor the fearless enthusiasm of the other. The present state of matters presents, in a double sense, a vast field of speculation, through which we think it necessary to see our way a little more clearly. Rash interference may be as dangerous as the principle of "laissez faire," which in fact is no principle at all, but a blind abandonment to chance. Let us, therefore, endeavour to borrow some light from the experience of the past.
The desire of growing rapidly rich is a very old epidemic in this country. It is a disease which infests the nation whenever capital, in consequence of the success of trade and prosperous harvests, becomes abundant; nor can it, in the nature of things, be otherwise. Capital will not remain unemployed. If no natural channel is presented, the accumulated weight of riches is sure to make an outlet for itself; and the wisdom or folly of the irruption depends solely upon the course which the stream may take. Of false channels which have conducted our British Pactolus directly to a Dead Sea, from which there is no return—we or our fathers have witnessed many. For example, there were the South American and Mexican mining companies, founded on the most absurd reports, and miserably mismanaged, in which many millions of the capital of this country were sunk. Again, Mr Porter writes so late as 1843—"A very large amount of capital belonging to individuals in this country, the result of their savings, has of late years sought profitable investments in other lands. It has been computed that the United States of America have, during the last five years, absorbed in this manner more than TWENTY-FIVE MILLIONS of English capital, which sum has been invested in various public undertakings, such as canals, railroads, and banks in that country. Large sums have also been, from time to time, invested in the public securities of that and other foreign governments, not always, indeed, with a profitable result." We need hardly remind our readers of the poignant testimony of the Rev. Sydney Smith as to the profit derived from such investments, or the probable fate of the actual capital under a repudiating system.
These may be taken as two great instances of the danger of foreign speculation. The capital of the mining companies was squandered with no other effect than that of providing employment, for a certain number of years, to the lowest of the Mexican peasantry; whereas the same amount, applied to a similar purpose in this country, would not only have produced a handsome return to the invester, but would have afforded work and wages to a considerable portion of the community. There is a reciprocity between labour and capital which never ought to be forgotten. Labour is the parent of all capital, and capital, therefore, should be used for the fostering and assistance of the power by which it is produced. Here, however, it was removed, and became, to all intents and purposes, as useless and irrecoverable as the bullion on board of a vessel which has foundered at sea. This, therefore, may be regarded as so much lost capital; but what shall we say to the other instance? Simply this—that whoever has lost by the failure of American banks, by repudiation, or by stoppages of dividends, need not claim one single iota of our compassion. With British money has the acute Columbian united state to state by more enduring ties than can be framed within the walls of Congress—with it, he has overcome the gigantic difficulties of nature—formed a level for the western waters where none existed before—pierced the interminable forests with his railroads, and made such a rapid stride in civilization as the world has never yet witnessed. What of all this could he have done on his own resources? Something, we must allow—because his spirit of enterprise is great, even to recklessness, and a young and forming country can afford to run risks which are impossible for an older state—but a very small part, unquestionably, without the use of British capital. We cannot, and we will not, believe that any considerable portion of these loans will be ultimately lost to this country. Great allowance must be made for the anger and vexation of the prospective sufferers at the first apparent breach of international faith, and it is no wonder if their lament was both loud, and long, and heavy. But we think it is but a fair construction to suppose that our Transatlantic brethren, in the very rapidity of their "slickness," have carried improvement too far, given way to a false system of credit among themselves, and so, having outrun the national constable, have found themselves compelled to suspend payment for an interval, which, in the present course of their prosperity, cannot be of long continuance. So at least we, having lent the American neither plack nor penny, do in perfect charity presume; but in the mean time he has our capital—say now some thirty millions—he has used it most thoroughly and judiciously for himself, and even supposing that we shall not ultimately suffer, what gain can we qualify thereby?
If John Doe hath an estate of some twenty thousand acres in tolerable cultivation, which, nevertheless, in order to bring it to a perfect state of production, requires the accessaries of tile-draining, planting, fencing, and the accommodation of roads, it is quite evident that his extra thousand pounds of capital will be more profitably expended on such purposes than on lending it to Richard Roe, who has double the quantity of land in a state of nature. For Richard, though with the best intentions, may not find his agricultural returns quite so speedy as he expected, may shake his head negatively at the hint of repayment of the principal, and even be rather tardy with tender of interest at the term. John, moreover, has a population on his land whom he cannot get rid of, who must be clothed and fed at his expense, whether he can find work for them or no. This latter consideration, indeed, is, in political economy, paramount—give work to your own people, and ample work if possible, before you commit in loan to your neighbour that capital which constitutes the sinews alike of peace and of war.
We believe there are few thinking persons in this country who will dispute the truth of this position. Indeed, the general results of foreign speculation have been unprofitable altogether, as is shown by the testimony of our ablest commercial writers. One of them gives the following summary:—"Large sums have, from time to time, been lent to various foreign states by English capitalists, whose money has been put to great hazard, and, in some cases, lost. On the other hand, many foreign loans have been contracted by our merchants, which have proved highly profitable, through the progressive sale of the stock in foreign countries at higher than the contract prices. It is evidently impossible to form any correct estimate of the profit or loss which has resulted to the country from these various operations; the general impression is, that hitherto the losses have much exceeded the gains." In that general impression we most cordially concur—indeed, we never heard any man whose opinion was worth having, say otherwise.
But in the absence of home speculation it is little wonder that, for the chance of unfrequent gain, men should choose, rather than leave their capital unemployed, to run the risk of the frequent loss. It does not, however, follow, as a matter of course, that home speculation shall always prove profitable either to the invester or to the nation at large. We have said already, that the proper function of capital is to foster and encourage labour; but this may be carried too far. For example, it is just twenty years ago, when, at a time of great prosperity in trade—the regular products of this country being as nearly as possible equal to the demand—a large body of capitalists, finding no other outlet for their savings, gave an unnatural stimulus to production, by buying up and storing immense quantities of our home manufactures. This they must have done upon some abstruse but utterly false calculation of augmented demand from abroad, making no allowance for change of season, foreign fluctuation, or any other of the occult causes which influence the markets of the world. The result, as is well known, was most disastrous. Trade on a sudden grew slack. The capitalists, in alarm, threw open the whole of their accumulated stock at greatly depreciated prices. There was no further demand for manufacturing labour, because the world was glutted with the supply, and hence arose strikes, panic, bankruptcy, and a period of almost unexampled hardship to the workman, and of serious and permanent loss to the master manufacturer. Speculation, therefore, in an old branch of industry, is perilous not only to the invester but to the prosperity of the branch itself. The case, however, is widely different when a new and important source of industry and income is suddenly developed in the country.
We shall look back in vain over our past history to find any parallel at all approaching to the present state and prospects of the railway system. Forty-four years have elapsed since the first public railway in Great Britain (the Wandsworth and Croydon) received the sanction of the legislature. Twenty-five years afterwards, at the close of 1826, when the Manchester and Liverpool bill was passed, the whole number of railroad acts amounted to thirty-five: in 1838 it had increased to one hundred and forty-two. The capital of these railways, with the sums which the proprietors were authorized to borrow, cannot be taken at less than SIXTY MILLIONS STERLING.
Now, it is very instructive to remark, that until the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester line in September 1830, not one single railway was constructed with a view to the conveyance of passengers. The first intention of the railway was to provide for the carriage of goods at a cheaper rate than could be effected by means of the canals, and for the accommodation of the great coal-fields and mineral districts of England. In the Liverpool and Manchester prospectus—a species of document not usually remarkable for modesty or shyness of assumption—the estimate of the number of passengers between these two great towns was taken at the rate of one half of those who availed themselves of coach conveyance. Cotton bales, manufactures, cattle, coals, and iron, were relied on as the staple sources of revenue. Had it not been for the introduction of the locomotive engine, and the vast improvements it has received, by means of which we are now whirled from place to place with almost magical rapidity, there can be no doubt that the railways would, in most instances, have proved an utter failure. The fact is singular, but it is perfectly ascertained, that the railroads have not hitherto materially interfered with the canals in the article of transmission of goods. The cost of railway construction is incomparably greater than that attendant on the cutting of canals, and therefore the land carriage can very seldom, when speed is not required, compete with the water conveyance. But for passengers, speed is all in all. The facility and shortness of transit creates travellers at a ratio of which we probably have as yet no very accurate idea. Wherever the system has had a fair trial, the number of passengers has been quadrupled—in some cases quintupled, and even more; and every month is adding to their numbers.
But 1838, though prolific in railways, was still a mere Rachel when compared with the seven Leahs that have succeeded it. The principle of trunk lines, then first recognised, has since been carried into effect throughout England, and adopted in Scotland, though here the system has not yet had full time for development. The statistics of the railways already completed, have fully and satisfactorily demonstrated the immense amount of revenue which in future will be drawn from these great national undertakings, the increase on the last year alone having amounted to upwards of a million sterling. That revenue is the interest of the new property so created; and, therefore, we are making no extravagant calculation when we estimate the increased value of these railways at twenty millions in the course of a single year. That is an enormous national gain, and quite beyond precedent. Indeed, if the following paragraph, which we have extracted from a late railway periodical, be true, our estimate is much within the mark. "The improvement in the incomes of existing railways still continues, and during the last two months has amounted to upwards of L200,000 in comparison with the corresponding two months of 1844. The lines which have reduced their fares most liberally, are the greatest gainers. At this rate of increase of income, the value of the railway property of the country is becoming greater by upwards of L2,000,000 sterling per month." It is, therefore, by no means wonderful that as much of the available capital of the country as can be withdrawn from its staple sources of income should be eagerly invested in the railways, since no other field can afford the prospect of so certain and increasing a return.
The question has been often mooted, whether government ought not in the first instance to have taken the management of the railways into its own hands. Much may be said upon one or other side, and the success of the experiment is, of course, a very different thing from the mere prospect of success. Our opinion is quite decided, that, as great public works, the government ought most certainly to have made the trunk railways or, as in France, to have leased them to companies who would undertake the construction of them for a certain term of years, at the expiry of which the works themselves would have become the property of the nation. Never was there such a prospect afforded to a statesman of relieving the country, by its own internal resources, of a great part of the national debt. Public works are not unknown or without precedent in this country; but somehow or other they are always unprofitable. At the cost of upwards of a million, government constructed the Caledonian Canal, the revenue drawn from which does not at the present moment defray its own expenses, much less return a farthing of interest on this large expenditure of capital. Now it is very difficult to see why government, if it has power to undertake a losing concern, should not likewise be entitled, for the benefit of the nation at large, to undertake even greater works, which not only assist the commerce of the nation, but might in a very short period, comparatively speaking, have almost extinguished its taxation. It is now, of course, far too late for any idea of the kind. The golden opportunity presented itself for a very short period of time, and to the hands of men far too timid to grasp it, even if they could have comprehended its advantages. Finance never was, and probably never will be, a branch of Whig education, as even Joseph Hume has been compelled a thousand times piteously and with wringing of the hands to admit—and whose arithmetic could we expect them even to know, if they admitted and knew not Joseph's? But this at least they might have done, when the progress of railroads throughout the kingdom became a matter of absolute certainty. The whole subject should have been brought under the consideration of a board, to determine what railways were most necessary throughout the kingdom, and what line would be cheapest and most advantageous to the public; and when these points had once been ascertained, no competition whatever should have been allowed. The functions of the Board of Trade were not nearly so extensive; they had no report of government engineers, and no data to go upon save the contradictory statements of the rival companies. Hence their decision, in almost every instance, was condemned by the parties interested, who, having a further tribunal in Parliament, where a thousand interests unknown to the Board of Trade could be appealed to, rushed into a protracted contest, at an expenditure which this year is understood to have exceeded all precedent. We have no means of ascertaining the expenses of such a line as the London and York, which was fought inch by inch through the Committees of both Houses with unexampled acrimony and perseverance. We know, however, that the expenses connected with the Great Western, and the London and Birmingham bills, amounted respectively to L88,710 and L72,868, exclusive altogether of the costs incurred by the different parties who opposed these lines in Parliament. It has been stated in a former number of this Magazine—and we believe it—that the parliamentary costs incurred for the Scottish private and railway bills, during the last session alone, amounted to a million and a half.
Now, though a great part of the money thus expended is immediately returned to circulation, still it is a severe tax upon the provinces, and might very easily have been avoided by the adoption of some such plan as that which we have intimated above; and we shall presently venture to offer a few practical remarks as to the course which we think is still open to the government for checking an evil which is by no means inseparable from the system.
But, first, we are bound to state that, as yet, we can see no grounds for believing that the nominal amount of capital invested in the railways which have obtained the sanction of Parliament is beyond, or any thing approaching to, the surplus means of the country. Foreign speculation, except in so far as regards railroads, (and these are neither so safe nor so profitable an investment as at home,) seems for the present entirely to have ceased. The last three years of almost unequalled prosperity have accumulated in the country a prodigious deal of capital, which is this way finding an outlet; and though it may be true that the parties who originally subscribed to these undertakings may not, in the aggregate, be possessed of capital enough to carry them successfully to an end, still there has been no want of capitalists to purchase the shares at a premium—not, as we verily believe, for a mere gambling transaction, but for the purposes of solid investment. We base our calculations very much upon the steadily maintained prices of the railways which passed in 1844, and which are now making. Now, these afford no immediate return—on the contrary, a considerable amount of calls is still due upon most of them, and the earliest will probably not be opened until the expiry of ten months from the present date. It is quite obvious that, in this kind of stock, there can be no incentive to gambling, because the chances are, that any new lines which may be started in the vicinity of them shall be rivals rather than feeders; and if capital were so scarce as in some quarters it is represented to be, it is scarce possible that these lines could have remained so firmly held. Let us take the prices of the principal of these from the Liverpool share-lists as on 27th September.
Share. Paid. Selling Price. 25 10 BLACKBURN AND PRESTON, 19-3/4 to 20-1/4 50 15 CHESTER AND HOLYHEAD, 20 to 20-1/2 50 25 LANCASTER AND CARLISLE, 53-1/2 to 54-1/2 50 15 LEEDS AND BRADFORD, 61 to 63 25 12-1/2 EAST LANCASHIRE, 22 to 22-1/2 20 9 NORTH WALES MINERAL, 14-3/4 to 15-1/4 10 1 DO. NEW, 5-1/4 to 5-1/2 25 15 NORTH BRITISH, 25 to 26 50 20 SOUTH DEVON, 34 to 36
These lines have, in the language of the Stock Exchange, passed out of the hands of the jobbers, and most of them are now too heavy in amount for the operations of the smaller speculators. We therefore look upon their steadiness as a high proof, not only of their ultimate value, but of the general abundance of capital.
It is hardly possible as yet to draw any such deduction from the present prices of the lines which were passed in the course of last session. Upon many of these no calls have yet been made, and consequently they are still open to every kind of fluctuation. It cannot, therefore, be said that they have settled down to their true estimated value, and, in all probability, erelong some may decline to a certain degree. Still it is very remarkable, and certainly corroborative of our view, that the amazing influx of new schemes during the last few months—which, time and circumstance considered, may be fairly denominated a craze—has as yet had no effect in lowering them; more especially when we recollect, that the amount of deposit now required upon new railways is ten per cent on the whole capital, or exactly double of the ratio of the former deposits. We give these facts to the terrorists who opine that our surplus capital is ere now exhausted, and that deep inroads have been made upon the illegitimate stores of credit; and we ask them for an explanation consistent with their timorous theory.
At the same time, we would by no means scoff at the counsel of our Ahitophels. A glance at the newspapers of last month, and their interminable advertising columns, is quite enough to convince us that the thing may be overdone. True, not one out of five—nay, perhaps, not one out of fifteen—of these swarming schemes, has the chance of obtaining the sanction of Parliament for years to come; still, it is not only a pity, but a great waste and national grievance, that so large a sum as the deposits which are paid on these railways should be withdrawn—it matters not how long—from practical use, and locked up to await the explosion of each particular bubble. We do think, therefore, that it is high time for the legislature to interfere, not for any purpose of opposing the progress of railways, but either by establishing a peremptory board of supervision, or portioning out the different localities with respect to time, on some new and compendious method.
Last session the committees, though they performed their duties with much zeal and assiduity, were hardly able to overtake the amount of business before them. It was not without much flattery and coaxing that the adroit Premier, of all men best formed for a general leader of the House of Commons, could persuade the unfortunate members that an unfaltering attendance of some six hours a-day in a sweltering and ill-ventilated room, where their ears were regaled with a constant repetition of the jargon connected with curves, gradients, and traffic-tables, was their great and primary duty to the commonwealth. Most marvellous to say, he succeeded in overcoming their stubborn will. Every morning, by times, the knight of the shire, albeit exhausted from the endurance of the over-night's debate, rose up from his neglected breakfast, and posted down to his daily cell in the Cloisters. Prometheus under the beak of the vulture could not have shown more patience than most of those unhappy gentlemen under the infliction of the lawyer's tongue; and their stoicism was the more praiseworthy, because in many instances there seemed no prospect, however remote, of the advent of a Hercules to deliver them. The only men who behaved unhandsomely on the occasion were some of the Irish members, advocates of Repeal, who, with more than national brass, grounded their declinature on the galling yoke of the Saxon, and retreated to Connemara, doubtless exulting that in this instance at least they had freed themselves from "hereditary bonds." It may be doubted, however, whether the tone of the committees was materially deteriorated by their absence. Now, we have a great regard for the members of the House of Commons collectively; and, were it on no other account save theirs, we cannot help regarding the enormous accumulation of railway bills for next session with feelings of peculiar abhorrence. Last spring every exertion of the whole combined pitchforks was required to cleanse that Augean stable: can Sir Robert Peel have the inhumanity next year to request them to buckle to a tenfold augmented task? In our humble opinion, (and we know something of the matter,) flesh and blood are unable to stand it. The private business of this country, if conducted on the ancient plan, must utterly swamp the consideration of public affairs, and the member of Parliament dwindle into a mere arbiter between hostile surveyors; whilst the ministry, delighted at the abstraction of both friend and foe, have the great game of politics unchecked and unquestioned to themselves. The surest way to gag a conscientious opponent, or to stop the mouth of an imprudent ally, is to get him placed upon some such committee as that before which the cases of the London and York, and Direct Northern lines were discussed. If, after three days' patient hearing of the witnesses and lawyers, he has one tangible idea floating in his head, he is either an Alcibiades or a Bavius—a heaven-born genius or the mere incarnation of a fool!
Let it be granted that the present system pursued by Parliament, more especially when its immediate prospects are considered, is an evil—and we believe there are few who will be bold enough to deny it—it still remains that we seek out a remedy. This is no easy task. The detection of an error is always a slight matter compared with its emendation, and we profess to have neither the aptitude nor the experience of a Solon. But as we are sanguine that wherever an evil exists a remedy also may be found, we shall venture to offer our own crude ideas, in the hope that some better workman, whose appetite for business has been a little allayed by the copious surfeit of last year, may elaborate them into shape, and emancipate one of the most deserving, as well as the worst used, classes of her Majesty's faithful lieges. And first, we would say this—Do not any longer degrade the honourable House of Commons, by forcing on its attention matters and details which ought to fall beneath the province of a lower tribunal: do not leave it in the power of any fool or knave—and there are many such actively employed at this time—who can persuade half a dozen of the same class with himself into gross delusion of the public, to occupy the time, and monopolize the nobler functions of the legislature, in the consideration of some miserable scheme, which never can be carried into effect, and which is protracted beyond endurance simply for the benefit of its promoters. We do not mean that Parliament should abandon its controlling power, or even delegate it altogether. We only wish that the initiative—the question whether any particular project is likely to tend to the public benefit, and, if so, whether this is a fit and proper time to bring it forward—should be discussed elsewhere. A recommendation of the Board of Trade, which still leaves the matter open, is plainly useless and inoperative. It has been overleaped, derided, despised, and will be so again—we scarcely dare to say unjustly; for no body of five men, however intelligent, could by possibility be expected to form an accurate judgment upon such an enormous mass of materials and conflicting statements as were laid before them. And yet, preliminary enquiry there must be. The movement is far too great, and charged with too important interests, to permit its march unchecked. Of all tyrannical bodies, a railway company is the most tyrannical. It asks to be armed with powers which the common law denies to the Sovereign herself. It seeks, without your leave, to usurp your property, and will not buy it from you at your own price. It levels your house, be it grange or cottage, lays down its rails in your gardens, cuts through your policy, and fells down unmercifully the oaks which your Norman ancestor planted in the days of William Rufus. All this you must submit to, for the public benefit is paramount to your private feelings; but it would be an intolerable grievance were you called upon to submit to this, not for the public benefit, but for the mere temporary emolument of a handful of unprincipled jobbers. Therefore there must be enquiry, even though Parliament, strangled with a multitude of projects, should delegate a portion of its powers elsewhere.
And why not? It required no great acuteness of vision to see, that, even had the railway mania not risen to this singular height, some such step must erelong have been rendered imperative by the growing necessities and altered circumstances of the country. The leading feature of our age is the institution of joint-stock societies. We have taken up very lately the views which AEsop hinted at some thousands of years ago, in his quaint parabolic manner, and which Defoe, who lived a century and a half before his time, most clearly enunciated and described. We have found the way, at last, to make small capitals effect the most gigantic results, by encircling them with the magic ties of combination. No matter when it was discovered; the principle has never yet been thoroughly acted upon until now, and we know not how far it may be carried. Our fathers, for want of this principle, ruined themselves by isolated attempts—we are in no such danger, if we do not yield ourselves to the madness of extravagant daring. Put railways aside altogether, and the number of private bills which are now brought before Parliament is perfectly astounding. Twenty years ago, such an influx would have daunted the heart of the stoutest legislator; and yet, with all this remarkable increase, we have clung pertinaciously to the same machinery, and expect it to work as well as when it had not one tithe of the labour to perform.
We have always been, and we shall always continue to be, the strenuous advocates of LOCAL BOARDS, as by far the soundest, cheapest, and most natural method of administering local affairs. We can recognise no principle in the system by which a Scottish bill is entrusted to the judgment of a committee consisting of strangers, who are utterly ignorant of locality, vested interest, popular feeling, and every other point which ought to influence the consideration of such a matter. One would think, by the care which is invariably taken to exclude from the committee every man whose local knowledge can qualify him to form an opinion, that in ignorance alone is there safety from venality and prejudice—a supposition which, to say the least, conveys no compliment to the character or understanding of the British statesman. And yet this is the system which has hitherto been most rigidly adopted. We have judges in our law courts whose impartiality is beyond all suspicion. They are placed on a high, conspicuous pinnacle in the sight of the nation, to do justice between man and man; they are fenced and fortified by the high dignity, almost sanctity, of their calling, against clamour, idle rumour, private interest, or any other element that might disturb the course of equity, and therefore their decisions are received on all sides with reverential acquiescence. Why should not the private business of the country be placed upon the same footing? Let there be three commissions issued—three permanent local boards established in England, Scotland, and Ireland, under the superintendence, if necessary, of the Board of Trade; let Parliament lay down rules for their guidance, and let every measure which at present would be launched de plano into the House of Commons, be first submitted to their consideration; and let their determination to reject or postpone be final, unless the legislature shall see fit, by a solemn vote, to reverse that portion of their report. In this way a multitude of loose and undigested schemes would be thrown back upon the hands of their promoters, without clogging the wheels of Parliament; and such only as bear ex facie to be for the public advantage, would be allowed to undergo the more searching ordeal of a committee. These boards would literally cost the country nothing, even although the constituent members of them were paid, as they ought to be for the performance of such a duty, very highly. Each company applying for a bill might be assessed to a certain amount, corresponding to the value of its stock; as it is but fair that the parties who have created the exigency, and whose avowed object is profit, should defray the attendant expense.
Supposing that the principle of these boards were admitted, it seems to us that Parliament has still to exercise a great and serious duty in laying down rules for their guidance. This is perhaps the most difficult subject connected with the railway system; and we approach it with diffidence, as it is inseparable, nay, must be based upon the two grand considerations of CAPITAL and LABOUR. We shall endeavour to explain our meaning a little more minutely.
The reader will gather from what we have written above, that we entertain no fear that the nominal capital invested in the railways which have already received the sanction of Parliament, is now more than the surplus capital floating in the country which can be applied to such a purpose without injuring any portion of our staple manufactures or commerce. On the contrary, we think that it is very greatly below that mark, and therefore that it matters little, in a general point of view, by whom the stock is presently held. Sooner or later it must find its way into the hands of the capitalists, a class whose numbers are notoriously every day on the increase. Even were this not the case, and the balance otherwise, it must be recollected that the investment of that capital is not the thing of a moment. Four years, probably, may elapse before all the railways which have obtained bills can be completed, and during that time the calls are gradual. Unless, therefore, there shall occur some untoward and unforeseen cause, such as a continental war or a general stoppage of trade, the accumulation of capital in this country will be at least equally progressive. There is thus a future increment corresponding to the period of the completion of these public works, which may very fairly be taken into consideration, at least, as a kind of security that we have not hitherto advanced with too rash or hasty steps. But with the unchecked influx of new schemes, this security, which at best is but contingent, must disappear, and a further enormous absorption of capital, the existence of which is not satisfactorily proved, be called for. In such a state of things, it is unquestionably the duty of government to use its controlling power. The payment of ten per cent deposit is no guarantee at all. Whilst new stocks are at premium, a hundred pounds, in the hands of an enterprising speculator, may figure as the representative of many thousands in twenty different railway schemes. The limit of disposable capital in the country must—if all the new projects are permitted to go on—be reached, and that erelong; then comes a period of gambling whilst money is cheap and credit plentiful—a sudden contraction of currency—and a crash.
It has been found utterly impossible to ascertain the amount of capital at any time floating in Great Britain. We can, therefore, only guess from certain commercial symptoms when it is nearly exhausted. On this point the money articles in the London journals have of late contained many significant hints. The settlements on the Stock Exchange are weekly becoming more difficult, and an enormous per centage is said to be paid at present for temporary accommodation. It is understood, also, that the banks are about to raise the rate of discount; from which we infer that their deposits are being gradually withdrawn, since there is no other circumstance whatever that ought to operate a change. But really it requires no calculation and no foresight to see, that the mere amount of deposits required for the new schemes must erelong lock up the whole available capital of Great Britain. Let those who think this is a bold assertion on our part, attend to the following fact. We have taken from The Railway Record, the amount of new railway schemes advertised in a single week, at the beginning of October. The number of the schemes is FORTY; and they comprehend the ephemera of England and Ireland only—Scotland, which, during that period, was most emulously at work, seems, by some unaccountable accident, to have been overlooked. Of the amount of capital to be invested in no less than ELEVEN of these, we have no statement. The promoters apparently have no time to attend to such trifling details; and, doubtless, it will be early enough to announce the capital when they have playfully pounced upon the deposits. But there is some candour in TWENTY-NINE provisional committees, and their accumulated nominal capital proves to be—how much, think you, gifted reader, and confident dabbler in new stock? Why, merely this—TWENTY-FIVE MILLIONS EIGHT HUNDRED AND THIRTY THOUSAND POUNDS!!! Now—for we wish always to speak and write within the mark—let us calculate the eleven Harpocrates Companies and the Northern Schemes, (which are more than eleven,) at fourteen or fifteen additional millions; and you thus have parties engaged, in the course of a single week, for FORTY MILLIONS STERLING, or about one-twentieth part of the whole national debt; which, according to this rate of subscription, may be extinguished by our surplus capital in the short space of five months. And this is the country, where, three years ago, the manufacturer and miner were starving, Manchester almost in a state of siege, and Staley-bridge in absolute insurrection! Happy Britain, where every man has discovered the philosopher's stone!
After this, need we say any thing more upon the great topic of capital? Were the nation now in its sober senses, the facts which we have stated, and for the accuracy of which we pledge ourselves, would surely be enough to awaken it to a true conception of the vortex into which it is plunging. But as every man will no doubt think—with the ordinary self-delusion of our kind—that the scheme in which he is individually embarked is an exception from the common rule; let us ask each speculator candidly to make answer, whether he has minutely examined the merits of the line which he has adopted, or whether he has thrown himself into it upon the assurances of others, and the mere expectations of a premium? If the former, let him hold. We war with no man's deliberate judgment; and that there are many projected lines in Great Britain which must ultimately be carried, and which will prove most profitable to the shareholders, is beyond all manner of doubt. Whether they may receive the sanction of the legislature so soon as the proprietor expects, is a very different question. But if the latter, his case is far otherwise. We have seen the prospectus of several of the most gigantic schemes now in the market, by means of which the whole length of England is to be traversed, and these have undergone no further survey than the application of a ruler to a lithographic map, and a trifling transplantation of the principal towns, so as to coincide with the direct and undeviating rail. There is hardly a sharebroker in the kingdom who is not cognisant of this most flagrant fact; and by many of them the impudent impositions have been returned with the scorn which such conduct demands. It is hardly possible to conceive that these schemes were ever intended to meet the eye of Parliament; but, if not, why were they ever started? The reflection is a very serious one for those who have deposited their money.
Such projects, of course, are the exceptions, and not the rule. Still, their existence, and the support which they have unthinkingly obtained, are very lamentable symptoms of the recklessness which characterises the present impulse. Were the tone of commercial enterprise healthy, and kept within due bounds, there would be nothing of this; neither should we hear, as we do every day, of shares which, immediately after their allocation, attain an enormous premium, and, after having fluctuated for a week or two, subside to something like their real value.
Are we then justified or not in saying, that it is the imperative duty of the legislature to look to this question of capital; that it is bound to see that the country does not pledge itself so utterly beyond its means; and that the advance of the railway system must be made slow and steady, in order to render its basis secure?
But there is another point beyond this. Supposing that all our remarks on the subject of capital were erroneous, and that our financial views were as puerile as we believe them to be strictly sound—we fall back upon an element which is more easily ascertained, and that is, LABOUR. We hold it to be a clear economical maxim, that beyond a certain point, at all events within a given time, capital, however abundant it may be, cannot create labour. It has passed into a sort of truism that there is nothing which money cannot accomplish—analyse it, and you will find that it is not a truism but a popular fallacy. There are many, many things which money cannot accomplish. It has no power to clear the social atmosphere from crime; it may mar the morals of a people, but it cannot make them; and still less can it usurp the stupendous functions of the Deity. It may rear labour, but it cannot by any possibility create it, after such a fashion as the crop that sprang from the sowing of the Cadmean teeth. Let us illustrate this a little.
Probably—nay, certainly—there never was a country in which labour has been so accurately balanced as in Great Britain. Our population has been for a number of years upon the increment; but the increase has been of the nature of supply, consequent and almost dependent upon the demand. The wages paid to the children in manufacturing districts have swelled that portion of our population to a great degree, though probably not more than is indispensable from the fluctuating nature of commerce. But, so far as we can learn from statistical tables, the number of agricultural labourers—that is, those who are strictly employed in the cultivation of the land, and who cannot be spared from that most necessary task—has been rather on the decrease. Our business, however, is neither with manufacturer nor with agriculturist, but with a different class—those, namely, who are engaged in the public works of the country. Let us take Mr Porter's estimate, according to the census of 1831.
"The summary of the returns of 1831, respecting the occupations of males twenty years of age and upwards, throws considerable light upon the subject, by exhibiting them under several subdivisions. The males belonging to the families included in the non-agricultural and non-manufacturing classes, were given at the last census under four distinct heads of description, viz.:—
"Capitalists, Bankers, Professional, and other educated men.
"Labourers employed in labour, not Agricultural.
"Other males, twenty years of age, except servants.
"Male servants, twenty years of age.
"The whole number of males included under these heads, amounts to 1,137,270. Of these, 608,712 were actually employed in labour, which although, usually speaking, it was neither manufacturing nor trading, was yet necessary in the successful prosecution of some branch of trade or manufactures, such as mining, road-making, canal-digging, inland navigation, &c."
Of these 600,000, now probably augmented by a tenth, how many can be spared from their several employments for the construction of the railways, and how many are at this moment so employed, with their labour mortgaged for years? This is a question which Parliament ought most certainly—if it can be done—to get answered in a satisfactory manner. It must be remarked, that in this class are included the miners, who certainly cannot be withdrawn from their present work, which in fact is indispensable for the completion of the railways. If possible, their numbers must be augmented. The stored iron of the country is now exhausted, and the masters are using every diligence in their power to facilitate the supply, which still, as the advancing price of that great commodity will testify, is short of, and insufficient for the demand. From the agricultural labourers you cannot receive any material number of recruits. The land, above all things, must be tilled; and—notwithstanding the trashy assertions of popular slip-slop authors and Cockney sentimentalists, who have favored us with pictures of the Will Ferns of the kingdom, as unlike the reality as may be—the condition of those who cultivate the soil of Britain is superior to that of the peasantry in every other country of Europe. The inevitable increase of demand for labour will even better their condition, according to the operation of a law apparent to every man of common sense, but which is hopelessly concealed from the eyes of these spurious regenerators of the times. It is impossible to transform the manufacturer, even were that trade slack, into a railway labourer; the habits and constitution of the two classes being essentially different and distinct. Indeed, as the writer we have already quoted well remarks—"Experience has shown that uneducated men pass with difficulty, and unwillingly, from occupations to which they have been long accustomed," and nothing, consequently, is more difficult than to augment materially and suddenly the numbers of any industrial class, when an unexpected demand arises. To us, therefore, it seems perfectly clear, that even if the capital were forthcoming, there is not labour enough in the country for the simultaneous construction of a tithe of the projected schemes.
There are considerations connected with this matter which entail a great responsibility upon the government. The capitalists are, in fact, putting at its disposal the means of maintaining a great portion of the poorer population for many years to cone. If this be properly attended to, emigration, which principally benefits the labourer, may be discontinued. We have now arrived at a pass when the absence of those who have already emigrated becomes a matter of regret. There is work to be had nearer than the Canadian woods or the waterless prairies of Australia—work, too, that in its results must be of incalculable benefit to the community. But the government is bound to regulate it so, that, amidst superabundance of wealth, due regard is paid to the ECONOMY OF LABOUR. It is rumoured that some railway directors, fully aware of the facts which we have stated, are meditating, in their exuberant haste for dividends, the introduction of foreign labourers. We doubt whether, under any circumstances, such a scheme is practicable; but of this we entertain no doubt, that it is as mischievous a device as ever was forged in the cabinet of Mammon! Some years ago the cuckoo cry of the political quacks was over-population. Now it seems there is a scarcity of hands, and in order to supply the want—for we have drained the Highlands—we are to have an importation from Baden or Bavaria, without even the protecting solemnity of a tariff. If this be true, it seems to us that government is bound to interpose by the most stringent measures. It is monstrous to think, that whereas, for many years past, for mere slackness of labour, we have been encouraging emigration among the productive classes of our countrymen to a very great degree; draining, as it were, the mother country to found the colonies, and therein resorting to the last step which a paternal government, even in times of the greatest necessity, should adopt—now, when a new experiment, or social crisis—call it which you will—has arisen, when labour has again reached the point where the demand exceeds the supply, we are to admit an influx of strangers amongst us, and thereby entail upon ourselves and posterity the evils of prospective pauperism. We have been already too prone, in matters relating rather to the luxuries than the necessities of our social system, to give undue preference to the foreigner. British art has, in many branches, been thereby crippled and discouraged, and a cry, not unnatural surely, has ere now been raised against the practice. But how incomparably more dangerous it would be to inundate the country with an alien population, whose mere brute strength, without a particle of productive skill, is their only passport and certificate! This too, be it observed, is not for the purpose of establishing or furthering a branch of industry which can furnish permanent employment, but merely for carrying out a system of great change certainly, but of limited endurance. If labour required to be forced, it would certainly be more for our advantage to revise our penal institutions, and to consider seriously whether those who have committed offences against our social laws, might not be more profitably employed in the great works of the kingdom, than by transplanting them as at present to the Antipodes at a fearful expense, the diminution of which appears, in all human probability, impossible.
If, then, we are right in our premises, the two leading points which Parliament must steadily regard in forming its decisions connected with the new schemes, are the sufficiency of unfettered capital and the adequate supply of labour. Our conviction is, that neither exist to any thing like the extent which would be required were the present mania allowed to run its course unchecked. But, on the other hand, a total stoppage of improvement might be equally dangerous; and it will therefore be necessary to steer a middle course, and to regulate the movement according to certain principles. Let us, then, first consider what lines ought not to be granted.
At the head of these we should place the whole bundle of rival companies to railways already completed or in progress. We are not of the number of those who stand up for exclusive commercial monopoly; but we do think that there is a tacit or implied contract between the state and the proprietors of the sanctioned lines, which ought to shield the latter against rash and invidious competition. The older railways are the parents of the system; without them, it never could have been discovered what gradients were requisite, what works indispensable, what savings practicable. The expense of their construction we know to have been, in many instances, far greater than is contained in the modern estimates, and the land which they required to occupy was procured at extravagant prices. Now it does seem to us in the highest degree unfair, that the interest of these companies should be sacrificed for the sake of what is called the "direct" principle. A saving of twenty or thirty miles between Newcastle and London, is now thought to be a matter of so much importance as to justify one or more independent lines, which, despising intermediate cities and their traffic, still hold their even course as the crow flies, from point to point, and thereby shorten the transit from the south to the north of England by—it may be—the matter of an hour. We did not use to be quite so chary of our minutes: nor, though fully aware of the value of time, did we ever bestow the same regard upon the fractional portions of our existence. What the nation requires is a safe, commodious, and speedy mode of conveyance, and we defy the veriest streak-of-lightning man to say, that the present companies in operation do not afford us that to our heart's content. It is but a very few years ago since we used to glorify ourselves in the rapidity of the mail-coach, doing its ten miles an hour with the punctuality of clockwork. Now we have arrived at the ratio of forty within the same period, and yet we are not content. Next year, within fourteen hours we shall be transported from Edinburgh to London. That, it seems, is not enough. A company offers to transport us by a straighter line in thirteen; and for that purpose they ask leave of the legislature to construct a rival line at the expense of a few millions! Now, keeping in mind what we have said as to capital, is not this, in the present state of things, most wanton prodigality? The same "few millions"—and we rather suspect they are fewer than is commonly supposed—would open up counties hitherto untouched by the railway system—would give us communication through the heart of the Highlands, through the remoter districts of Wales, through the unvisited nooks of Ireland, and, in so doing, would minister not only to the wants of the community, but in an inconceivable degree to the social improvement of the people. Among the list of proposed schemes for next session, there are many such; and surely our government, if its functions correspond to the name, is bound, in the first instance, to give a preference to these; and—since all cannot be accomplished at once—to assist the schemes which volunteer the opening of a new district, rather than the competition of mushroom companies where the field is already occupied.
There is also a filching spirit abroad, which ought decidedly to be checked. Scarce a main line has been established from which it has not been found necessary, for the purposes of accommodation, to run several branches. Until about a year ago, it was generally understood that these adjuncts ought to be left in the hands of the original companies, who, for their own sakes, were always ready to augment their traffic by such feeders. Now it is widely different. Four or five miles of cross country is reckoned a sufficient justification for the establishment of an independent company, who, without any consultation with the proprietors of the main line, or enquiry as to their ultimate intentions, seize upon the vacant ground as a waif, and throw themselves confidently upon the public. If the matter does not end in a lease, the unfortunate public will be the losers, since it is manifestly impossible that a little Lilliput line can be cheaply worked, independent of the larger trunk. This class of schemes also should receive their speedy quietus; for what would be the use of permitting the promoters to attempt the proof of an impossible case?
England has already made a great portion of her railroads, but neither Scotland nor Ireland as yet have attained the same point. Now, in a general point of view, it will hardly be denied, that it is of far greater importance to have the country thoroughly opened up, throughout its length and breadth, than to have an accumulation of cross and intersecting railways in one particular district. We are asking no favouritism, for it has become a mere matter of choice between companies, as to which shall have the earlier preference. In point of policy, the legislature ought certainly to extend every possible favour to the Irish lines. It may be that in this railway system—for Providence works with strange agents—there lies the germ of a better understanding between us, and the dawn of a happier day for Ireland. At any rate, to its pauper population, the employment afforded by companies, where no absenteeism can exist, is a great and timely boon, and may work more social wonders than any scheme of conciliation which the statesman has as yet devised. Idleness and lack of employment are the most fertile sources of agitation; let these be removed, and we may look, if not with confidence, at least with hope, for a cessation of the stormy evil. By all means, then, let Ireland have the precedence. She needs it more than the other countries do, and to her claims we are all disposed to yield.
But England owes Scotland something also. For a long series of years, amidst great political changes, through good and through evil report, this Magazine has been the consistent champion of our national interests; and, whether the blow was aimed at our country by seeming friend or open foe, we have never hesitated to speak out boldly. More than twenty years ago, a measure was passed by the United Parliament, which literally brought down ruin upon the Highlands of Scotland, and from the effects of which many of the districts have never recovered. Along all the western coast and throughout the islands, the manufacture of kelp was the only branch of industry within the reach of a poor and extended population, who, from their very poverty, were entitled to the most kindly regard of government. But, as it is believed, at the instigation of one member of the cabinet, himself largely connected with foreign trade, without enquiry and without warning, the market was thrown open to competition from without, barilla imported, and the staple product of the north of Scotland annihilated. To this fatal, and, we hesitate not to say, most wanton measure, we attribute the periods of distress, and the long-continued depression, which, in very many lamentable instances, have been the ruin of our ancient families, and in consequence of which the Highland glens have been depopulated. It was a cruel thing to do, under any circumstances—a wicked thing, when we remember the interest by which it was carried. There is now a great opportunity of giving us a reasonable compensation. From the introduction of the railway system, we anticipate a new era of prosperity to Scotland—a time when we shall not have to devote ourselves to the melancholy task of decreasing the population by a harsh or inhuman exile—when the crofts of the valleys shall again be tilled, and the household fires shall be lighted on the now deserted hearthstone. Therefore, in the event of a restriction, we so far claim precedence. Let the work, however, be impartially distributed throughout the kingdoms, and there can be no ground any where for complaint. Only let our haste be tempered with prudence, and our enthusiasm moderated down to a just coincidence with our means.
During all this torrent of speculation, what is the Currency doing? No man seems to know. The nation has found a paper of its own quite as effective as that which is doled out by the chartered bank. The brokers are, in fact, becoming bankers, and payments of all kinds are readily made in scrip. This is an instructive fact, and may somewhat tend to disturb the triumph of the theorists who uphold the doctrine of a restrictive trade in money. We do not rely on the safety of the system, but we look upon it as a strong proof that our monetary regulations are wrong, and that there is not only a wish, but several practical ways, effectually to evade its fetters. We are not, however, going into that question, though it is by no means unconnected with our present subject. At the same time we should like to see this same article of scrip, which is fast approximating to notes, a little more protected. Has it never occurred to the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or to the Premier, who has a most searching eye, that a very profitable source of revenue to the public, and one which would hardly be grudged, might be derived from the simple expedient of requiring that all scrip should be stamped? There is no practical difficulty in the matter. Companies already formed, if they do not desire the benefit of a stamp—the best, and indeed at present the only security against the forger—may be called upon to pay their quota, corresponding to the number of their shares, from the fund of their Parliamentary deposit. New companies, again, might be imperatively required to issue stamps; and we confidently believe that no tax whatever would be more cheerfully assented to. Let the currency doctors do what they will, they never can drive scrip from the market. Would it not, then, be a measure of good policy to enlist it as a serviceable ally?
Whether these observations of ours may stand the test of another year's experience, is certainly matter of doubt. The period of a single month makes wild changes in the prospects of the system, and involves us not only in new calculations but in a newer phase of things. At any rate it can do no harm, in the present period of excitement, to preach a little moderation, even though our voice should be as inaudible as the chirp of a sparrow on the house-top. The speculative spirit of the age may be checked and controlled, but it cannot be put down, nor would we wish to see it pass away. All great improvement is the fruit of speculation, upon which, indeed, commerce itself is based. We have, therefore, no sympathy for that numerous class of gentlemen who profess a pious horror for every venture of the kind, who croak prophetical bankruptcies, and would disinherit their sons without scruple, if by any accident they detected them in dalliance with scrip. A worthier, but a more contracted, section of the human race does not exist. They are the genuine descendants of the Picts; and, had they lived in remoter days, would have been the first to protest against the abolition of ochre as an ornament, or the substitution of broadcloth for the untanned buffalo hide. The nation must progress, and the true Conservative policy is to lay down a proper plan for the steadiness and endurance of its march. The Roman state was once saved by the judicious dispositions of a Fabius, and, in our mind, Sir Robert Peel cannot do the public a greater service than to imitate the example of the Cunctator. He has the power, and, more than any living statesman, the practical ability, to grapple with such a subject in all its details. That Parliament must do something, is apparent to every reflecting man. The machinery of it cannot dispose, as heretofore, of the superabundant material. It must devise some method of regulation, and that method must be clear and decisive. A question more important can hardly be conceived, and so with the legislature we leave it.
 Since this article was sent to press, the Bank of England has raised its rates of discount one-half per cent. Our prognostication, therefore, has been verified sooner than we expected, and we are not sorry to find that great establishment thus early indicating its opinion that speculation has been pushed too far. We see no ground of alarm in the rise, but rather a security for a more healthy and moderate market.
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Edinburgh: Printed by Ballantyne & Hughes, Paul's Work.