"A DAUGHTER OF OLD WALES."
It is a triumph of female perseverance and ingenuity that the whole of the foregoing is compressed into a single postcard.
Some letters, like the foregoing, are odd from their extraordinary rudeness. Others—not usually, it must be admitted, Englishmen's letters—are odd from their excess of civility. An Italian priest working in London wrote to a Roman Catholic M.P., asking for an order of admission to the House of Commons, and, on receiving it, acknowledged it as follows:—
"To the Hon. Mr. ——, M.P.
"Hon. Sir, Son in Jesu Christ, I beg most respectfully you, Hon. Sir, to accept the very deep gratitude for the ticket which you, Hon. Sir, with noble kindness, favoured me by post to-day. May the Blessing of God Almighty come upon you, Hon. Sir, and may He preserve you, Hon. Sir, for ever and ever, Amen! With all due respect, I have the honour to be, Hon. Sir, your most
"humble and obedient servant,
Surely the British Constituent might take a lesson from this extremely polite letter-writer when his long-suffering Member has squeezed him into the Strangers' Gallery.
Some letters, again, are odd from their excess of candour. A gentleman, unknown to me, soliciting pecuniary assistance, informed me that, having "sought relief from trouble in dissipation," he "committed an act which sent him into Penal Servitude," and shortly after his release, "wrote a book containing many suggestions for the reform of prison discipline," A lady, widely known for the benevolent use which she makes of great wealth, received a letter from an absolute stranger, setting forth that he had been so unfortunate as to overdraw his account at his bankers, and adding, "As I know that it will only cost you a scratch of the pen to set this right, I make no apology for asking you to do so."
Among "odd men" might certainly be reckoned the late Archdeacon Denison, and he displayed his oddness very characteristically when, having quarrelled with the Committee of Council on Education, he refused to have his parish schools inspected, and thus intimated his resolve to the inspector:—
"My dear Bellairs,—I love you very much; but if you ever come here again to inspect, I lock the door of the school, and tell the boys to put you in the pond."
I am not sure whether the great Duke of Wellington can properly be described as an "odd man," but beyond question he wrote odd letters. I have already quoted from his reply to Mrs. Norton when she asked leave to dedicate a song to him: "I have made it a rule to have nothing dedicated to me, and have kept it in every instance, though I have been Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and in other situations much exposed to authors." The Duke replied to every letter that he received, but his replies were not always acceptable to their recipients. When a philanthropist begged him to present some petitions to the House of Lords on behalf of the wretched chimney sweeps, the Duke wrote back: "Mr. Stevens has thought fit to leave some petitions at Apsley House. They will be found with the porter." The Duke's correspondence with "Miss J.," which was published by Mr. Fisher Unwin some ten years ago, and is much less known than it deserves to be, contains some gems of composition. Miss J. consulted the Duke about her duty when a fellow-passenger in the stage-coach swore, and he wrote: "I don't consider with you that it is necessary to enter into a disputation with every wandering Blasphemer. Much must depend upon the circumstances." And when the good lady mixed flirtation with piety, and irritability with both, he wrote: "The Duke of Wellington presents His Compliments to Miss J. She is quite mistaken. He has no Lock of Hair of Hers. He never had one." The Letter of Condolence is a branch of the art of letter-writing which requires very delicate handling. This was evidently felt by the Oxford Don who, writing to condole with a father on the death of his undergraduate son, concluded his tribute of sympathy by saying: "At the same time, I feel it my duty to tell you that your son would not in any case have been allowed to return next term, as he had failed to pass Responsions."
Curtness in letter-writing does not necessarily indicate oddity. It often is the most judicious method of avoiding interminable correspondence. When one of Bishop Thorold's clergy wrote to beg leave of absence from his duties in order that he might make a long tour in the East, he received for all reply: "Dear—,—Go to Jericho.—Yours, A.W.R." At a moment when scarlet fever was ravaging Haileybury, and suggestions for treatment were pouring in by every post, the Head Master had a lithographed answer prepared, which ran: "Dear Sir,—I am obliged by your opinions, and retain my own." An admirable answer was made by another Head Master to a pompous matron, who wrote that, before she sent her boy to his school, she must ask if he was very particular about the social antecedents of his pupils: "Dear Madam, as long as your son behaves himself and his fees are paid, no questions will be asked about his social antecedents."
Sydney Smith's reply, when Lord Houghton, then young "Dicky Milnes," wrote him an angry letter about some supposed unfriendliness, was a model of mature and genial wisdom: "Dear Milnes,—Never lose your good temper, which is one of your best qualities." When the then Dean of Hereford wrote a solemn letter to Lord John Russell, announcing that he and his colleagues would refuse to elect Dr. Hampden to the See, Lord John replied: "Sir,—I have had the honour to receive your letter of the 22nd inst., in which you intimate to me your intention of violating the law." Some years ago Lady——, who is well known as an ardent worker in the interests of the Roman Church, wrote to the Duke of——, a sturdy Protestant, that she was greatly interested in a Roman Catholic Charity, and, knowing the Duke's wide benevolence, had ventured to put down his name for L100. The Duke wrote back: "Dear Lady——,—It is a curious coincidence that, just before I got your letter, I had put down your name for a like sum to the English Mission for converting Irish Catholics; so no money need pass between us." But perhaps the supreme honours of curt correspondence belong to Mr. Bright. Let one instance suffice. Having been calumniated by a Tory orator at Barrow, Mr. Bright wrote as follows about his traducer: "He may not know that he is ignorant, but he cannot be ignorant that he lies. And after such a speech the meeting thanked him—I presume because they enjoyed what he had given them. I think the speaker was named Smith. He is a discredit to the numerous family of that name."
 Sir Herbert Maxwell, in his Life of Wellington, vouches for the genuineness of the Duke's letters to "Miss J." She was Miss A.M. Jenkins.
The announcements relating to the first Cabinet of the winter set me thinking whether my readers might be interested in seeing what I have "collected" as to the daily life and labours of her Majesty's Ministers. I decided that I would try the experiment, and, acting on the principle which I have professed before—that when once one has deliberately chosen certain words to express one's meaning one cannot, as a rule, alter them with advantage—I shall borrow from some former writings of my own.
The Cabinet is the Board of Directors of the British Empire. All its members are theoretically equal; but, as at other Boards, the effective power really resides in three or four. At the present moment Manchester is represented by one of these potent few. Saturday is the usual day for the meeting of the Cabinet, though it may be convened at any moment as special occasion arises. Describing the potato-disease which led to the repeal of the Corn Laws, Lord Beaconsfield wrote: "This mysterious but universal sickness of a single root changed the history of the world. 'There is no gambling like politics,' said Lord Roehampton, as he glanced at the Times: 'four Cabinets in one week! The Government must be more sick than the potatoes!'"
Twelve is the usual hour for the meeting of the Cabinet, and the business is generally over by two. At the Cabinets held during November the legislative programme for next session is settled, and the preparation of each measure is assigned to a sub-committee of Ministers specially conversant with the subject-matter. Lord Salisbury holds his Cabinets at the Foreign Office; but the old place of meeting was the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury at 10 Downing Street, in a pillared room looking over the Horse Guards Parade, and hung with portraits of departed First Lords.
In theory, of course, the proceedings of the Cabinet are absolutely secret. The Privy Councillor's oath prohibits all disclosures. No record is kept of the business done. The door is guarded by vigilant attendants against possible eavesdroppers. The dispatch-boxes which constantly circulate between Cabinet Ministers, carrying confidential matters, are carefully locked with special keys, said to date from the administration of Mr. Pitt; and the possession of these keys constitutes admission into what Lord Beaconsfield called "the circles of high initiation." Yet in reality more leaks out than is supposed. In the Cabinet of 1880-5 the leakage to the press was systematic and continuous. Even Mr. Gladstone, the stiffest of sticklers for official reticence, held that a Cabinet Minister might impart his secrets to his wife and his Private Secretary. The wives of official men are not always as trustworthy as Mrs. Bucket in Bleak House, and some of the Private Secretaries in the Government of 1880 were little more than boys. Two members of that Cabinet were notorious for their free communications to the press, and it was often remarked that the Birmingham Daily Post was peculiarly well informed. A noble Lord who held a high office, and who, though the most pompous, was not the wisest of mankind, was habitually a victim to a certain journalist of known enterprise, who used to waylay him outside Downing Street and accost him with jaunty confidence: "Well, Lord——, so you have settled on so-and-so after all?" The noble lord, astonished that the Cabinet's decision was already public property, would reply, "As you know so much, there can be no harm in telling the rest"; and the journalist, grinning like a dog, ran off to print the precious morsel in a special edition of the Millbank Gazette. Mr. Justin McCarthy could, I believe, tell a curious story of a highly important piece of foreign intelligence communicated by a Minister to the Daily News; of a resulting question in the House of Commons; and of the same Minister's emphatic declaration that no effort should be wanting to trace this violator of official confidence and bring him to condign punishment.
While it is true that outsiders sometimes become possessed by these dodges of official secrets, it is not less true that Cabinet Ministers are often curiously in the dark about great and even startling events. A political lady once said to me, "Do you in your party think much of my neighbour, Mr. ——?" As in duty bound, I replied, "Oh yes, a great deal." She rejoined, "I shouldn't have thought it, for when the boys are shouting any startling news in the special editions, I see him run out without his hat to buy an evening paper. That doesn't look well for a Cabinet Minister." On the fatal 6th of May 1882 I dined in company with Mr. Bright. He stayed late, but never heard a word of the murders which had taken place that evening in the Phoenix Park; went off quietly to bed, and read them as news in the next morning's Observer.
But, after all, attendance at the Cabinet, though a most important, is only an occasional, event in the life of one of her Majesty's Ministers. Let us consider the ordinary routine of his day's work during the session of Parliament. The truly virtuous Minister, we may presume, struggles down to the dining room to read prayers and to breakfast in the bosom of his family between 9 and 10 A.M. But the self-indulgent bachelor declines to be called, and sleeps his sleep out. Mr. Arthur Balfour invariably breakfasts at 12; and more politicians than would admit it consume their tea and toast in bed. Mercifully, the dreadful habit of giving breakfast-parties, though sanctioned by the memories of Holland and Macaulay and Rogers and Houghton, virtually died out with the disappearance of Mr. Gladstone.
"Men who breakfast out are generally Liberals," says Lady St. Julians in Sybil. "Have not you observed that?"
"I wonder why?"
"It shows a restless, revolutionary mind," said Lady Firebrace, "that can settle to nothing, but must be running after gossip the moment they are awake."
"Yes," said Lady St. Julians, "I think those men who breakfast out, or who give breakfasts, are generally dangerous characters; at least I would not trust them."
And Lady St. Julians's doctrine, though half a century old, applies with perfect exactness to those enemies of the human race who endeavour to keep alive or to resuscitate this desperate tradition. Juvenal described the untimely fate of the man who went into his bath with an undigested peacock in his system. Scarcely pleasanter are the sensations of the Minister or the M.P. who goes from a breakfast-party, full of buttered muffins and broiled salmon, to the sedentary desk-work of his office or the fusty wrangles of a Grand Committee.
Breakfast over, the Minister's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of exercise. If he is a man of active habits and strenuous tastes, he may take a gentle breather up Highgate Hill, like Mr. Gladstone, or play tennis, like Sir Edward Grey. Lord Spencer when in office might be seen any morning cantering up St. James's Street on a hack, or pounding round Hyde Park in high naval debate with Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth. Lord Rosebery drives himself in a cab; Mr. Asquith is driven; both occasionally survey the riding world over the railings of Rotten Row; and even Lord Salisbury may be found prowling about the Green Park, to which his house in Arlington Street has a private access. Mr. Balfour, as we all know, is a devotee of the cycle, and his example is catching; but Mr. Chamberlain holds fast to the soothing belief that, when a man has walked upstairs to bed, he has made as much demand on his physical energies as is good for him, and that exercise was invented by the doctors in order to bring grist to their mill.
Whichever of these examples our Minister prefers to follow, his exercise or his lounge must be over by 12 o'clock. The Grand Committees meet at that hour; on Wednesday the House meets then; and if he is not required by departmental business to attend either the Committee or the House, he will probably be at his office by midday. The exterior aspect of the Government Offices in Whitehall is sufficiently well known, and any peculiarities which it may present are referable to the fact that the execution of an Italian design was entrusted by the wisdom of Parliament to a Gothic architect. Inside, their leading characteristics are the abundance and steepness of the stairs, the total absence of light, and an atmosphere densely charged with Irish stew. Why the servants of the British Government should live exclusively on this delicacy, and why its odours should prevail with equal pungency "from morn to noon, from noon to dewy eve," are matters of speculation too recondite for popular handling.
The Minister's own room is probably on the first floor—perhaps looking into Whitehall, perhaps into the Foreign Office Square, perhaps on to the Horse Guards Parade. It is a large room with immense windows, and a fireplace ingeniously contrived to send all its heat up the chimney. If the office is one of the older ones, the room probably contains some good pieces of furniture derived, from a less penurious age than ours—a bureau or bookcase of mahogany dark with years, showing in its staid ornamentation traces of Chippendale or Sheraton; a big clock in a handsome case; and an interesting portrait of some historic statesman who presided over the department two centuries ago. But in the more modern offices all is barren. Since the late Mr. Ayrton was First Commissioner of Works a squalid cheapness has reigned supreme. Deal and paint are everywhere; doors that won't shut, bells that won't ring, and curtains that won't meet. In two articles alone there is prodigality—books and stationery. Hansard's Debates, the Statutes at Large, treatises illustrating the work of the office, and books of reference innumerable, are there; and the stationery shows a delightful variety of shape, size, and texture, adapted to every conceivable exigency of official correspondence.
It is indeed in the item of stationery, and in that alone, that the grand old constitutional system of perquisites survives. Morbidly conscientious Ministers sometimes keep a supply of their private letter-paper on their office-table and use it for their private correspondence; but the more frankly human sort write all their letters on official paper. On whatever paper written, Ministers' letters go free from the office and the House of Commons; and certain artful correspondents outside, knowing that a letter to a public office need not be stamped, write to the Minister at his official address and save their penny. In days gone by each Secretary of State received on his appointment a silver inkstand, which he could hand down as a keepsake to his children. Mr. Gladstone, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, abolished this little perquisite, and the only token of office which an outgoing Minister can now take with him is his dispatch-box. The wife of a minister who had long occupied an official residence, on being evicted from office said with a pensive sigh, "I hope I am not avaricious, but I must say, when one was hanging up pictures, it was very pleasant to have the Board of Works carpenter and a bag of the largest nails for nothing."
The late Sir William Gregory used to narrate how when a child he was taken by his grandfather, who was Under-Secretary for Ireland, to see the Chief Secretary, Lord Melbourne, in his official room. The good-natured old Whig asked the boy if there was anything in the room that he would like; and he chose a large stick of sealing-wax, "That's right," said Lord Melbourne, pressing a bundle of pens into his hand: "begin life early. All these things belong to the public, and your business must always be to get out of the public as much as you can." There spoke the true spirit of our great governing families.
And now our Minister, seated at his official table, touches his pneumatic bell. His Private Secretary appears with a pile of papers, and the day's work begins. That work, of course, differs enormously in amount, nature, importance, and interest with different offices. To the outside world probably one office is much the same as another, but the difference in the esoteric view is wide indeed. When the Revised Version of the New Testament came out, an accomplished gentleman who had once been Mr. Gladstone's Private Secretary, and had been appointed by him to an important post in the permanent Civil Service, said: "Mr. Gladstone, I have been looking at the Revised Version, and I think it distinctly inferior to the old one."
"Indeed," said Mr. Gladstone, with all his theological ardour roused at once: "I am very much interested to hear you say so. Pray give me an instance."
"Well," replied the Permanent Official, "look at the first verse of the second chapter of St. Luke. That verse used to run, 'There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.' Well, I always thought that a splendid idea—a tax levied on the whole world by a single Act—a grand stroke worthy of a great empire and an imperial treasury. But in the Revised Version I find, 'There went out a decree that all the world should be enrolled'—a mere counting! a census! the sort of thing the Local Government Board could do! Will any one tell me that the new version is as good as the old one in this passage?"
This story aptly illustrates the sentiments with which the more powerful and more ancient departments regard those later births of time, the Board of Trade, the Local Government Board, the Board of Agriculture, and even the Scotch Office—though this last is redeemed from utter contempt by the irritable patriotism of our Scottish fellow-citizens, and by the beautiful house in which it is lodged. For a Minister who loves an arbitrary and single-handed authority the India Office is the most attractive of all. The Secretary of State for India, is (except in financial matters, where he is controlled by his Council) a pure despot. He has the Viceroy at the end of a telegraph-wire, and the Queen's three hundred millions of Indian subjects under his thumb. His salary is not voted by the House of Commons; very few M.P.'s care a rap about India; and he is practically free from Parliamentary control. The Foreign Office, of course, is full of interest, and its social traditions have always been of the most dignified sort—from the days when Mr. Ranville-Ranville used to frequent Mrs. Perkins's Balls to the existing reign of Sir Thomas Sanderson and Mr. Eric Barrington.
The Treasury has its finger in every departmental pie except the Indian one, for no Minister and no department can carry out reforms or even discharge its ordinary routine without public money, and of public money the Treasury is the vigilant and inflexible guardian. "I am directed to acquaint you that My Lords do not see their way to comply with your suggestion, inasmuch as to do so would be to open a serious door." This delightful formula, with its dread suggestion of a flippant door and all the mischief to which it might lead, is daily employed to check the ardour of Ministers who are seeking to advance the benefit of the race (including their own popularity among their constituents) by a judicious expenditure of public money. But whatever be the scope and function of the office, and whatever the nature of the work done there, the mode of doing it is pretty much the same. Whether the matter in question originates inside the office by some direction or inquiry of the chief, or comes by letter from outside, it is referred to the particular department of the office which is concerned with it. A clerk makes a careful minute, giving the facts of the case and the practice of the office as bearing on it. The paper is then sent to any other department or person in the office that can possibly have any concern with it. It is minuted by each, and it gradually passes up, by more or fewer official gradations, to the Under-Secretary of State, who reads, or is supposed to read, all that has been written on the paper in its earlier stages, balances the perhaps conflicting views of different annotators, and, if the matter is too important for his own decision, sums up in a minute of recommendation to the chief. The ultimate decision, however, is probably less affected by the Under-Secretary's minute than by the oral advice of a much more important personage, the Permanent Head of the office.
It would be beyond my present scope to discuss the composition and powers of the permanent Civil Service, whose chiefs have been, at least since the days of Bagehot, recognized as the real rulers of this country. For absolute knowledge of their business, for self-denying devotion to duty, for ability, patience, courtesy, and readiness to help the fleeting Political Official, the permanent chiefs of the Civil Service are worthy of the highest praise. That they are conservative to the core is only to say that they are human. On being appointed to permanent office the extremist theorists, like the bees in the famous epigram, "cease to hum" their revolutionary airs, and settle down into the profound conviction that things are well as they are. All the more remarkable is the entire equanimity with which the Permanent Official accepts the unpalatable decision of a chief who is strong enough to override him, and the absolute loyalty with which he will carry out a policy which he cordially disapproves.
Much of a Minister's comfort and success depends upon his Private Secretary. Some Ministers import for this function a young gentleman of fashion whom they know at home—a picturesque butterfly who flits gaily through the dusty air of the office, making, by the splendour of his raiment, sunshine in its shady places, and daintily passing on the work to unrecognized and unrewarded clerks. But the better practice is to appoint as Private Secretary one of the permanent staff of the office. He supplies his chief with official information, hunts up necessary references, writes his letters, and interviews his bores.
When the late Lord Ampthill was a junior clerk in the Foreign Office, Lord Palmerston, then Foreign Secretary, introduced an innovation whereby, instead of being solemnly summoned by a verbal message, the clerks were expected to answer his bell. Some haughty spirits rebelled against being treated like footmen, and tried to organize resistance; but Odo Russell, as he then was, refused to join the rebellious movement, saying that whatever method apprized him most quickly of Lord Palmerston's wishes was the method which he preferred. The aggrieved clerks regarded him as a traitor to his order—but he died an ambassador. Trollope described the wounded feelings of a young clerk whose chief sent him to fetch his slippers; and in our own day a Private Secretary, who had patiently taken tickets for the play for his chief's daughters, drew the line when he was told to take the chief's razors to be ground. But such assertions of independence are extremely rare, and as a rule the Private Secretary is the most cheerful and the most alert of ministering spirits.
But it is time to return from this personal digression to the routine of the day's work. Among the most important of the morning's duties is the preparation of answers to be given in the House of Commons, and it is often necessary to have answers ready by three o'clock to questions which have only appeared that morning on the notice-paper. The range of questions is infinite, and all the resources of the office are taxed in order to prepare answers at once accurate in fact and wise in policy, to pass them under the Minister's review, and to get them fairly copied out before the House meets. As a rule, the Minister, knowing something of the temper of Parliament, wishes to give a full, explicit, and intelligible answer, or even to go a little beyond the strict terms of the question if he sees what his interrogator is driving at. But this policy is abhorrent to the Permanent Official. The traditions of the Circumlocution Office are by no means dead, and the crime of "wanting to know, you know," is one of the most heinous that the M.P. can commit. The answers, therefore, as prepared for the Minister are generally jejune, often barely civil, sometimes actually misleading. But the Minister, if he be a wise man, edits them into a more informing shape, and after a long and careful deliberation as to the probable effect of his words and the reception which they will have from his questioner, he sends the bundle of written answers away to be fair-copied and turns to his correspondence.
And here the practice of Ministers varies exceedingly. Lord Salisbury writes almost everything with his own hand. Mr. Balfour dictates to a shorthand clerk. Most Ministers write a great deal by their Private Secretaries. Letters of any importance are usually transcribed into a copying-book. A Minister whom I knew used to burn the fragment of blotting-paper with which he had blotted his letter, and laid it down as an axiom that, if a constituent wrote and asked a Member to vote for a particular measure, the Member should on no account give a more precise reply than, "I shall have great pleasure in voting in the sense you desire." For, as this expert observed with great truth, "unless the constituent has kept a copy of his letter—and the chances are twenty to one against that—there will be nothing to prove what the sense he desired was, and you will be perfectly safe in voting as you like." The letters received by a Minister are many, various, and surprising. Of course, a great proportion of them relate to public business, and a considerable number to the affairs of his constituency. But, in addition to all this, lunatics, cranks, and impostors mark a Minister for their own, and their applications for loans, gifts, and offices of profit would exhaust the total patronage of the Crown and break the Bank of England.
When the day's official papers have been dealt with, answers to questions settled, correspondence read, and the replies written or dictated, it is very likely time to go to a conference on some Bill with which the office is concerned. This conference will consist of the Minister in charge of the Bill, two or three of his colleagues who have special knowledge of the subject, the Permanent Officials, the Parliamentary draftsman, and perhaps one of the Law Officers. At the conference the amendments on the paper are carefully discussed, together with the objects for which they were presumably put down, their probable effect, their merits or demerits, and the best mode of meeting them. An hour soon passes in this kind of anticipatory debate, and the Minister is called away to receive a deputation.
The scene is exactly like that which Matthew Arnold described at the Social Science Congress—the large bare room, dusty air, and jaded light, serried ranks of men with bald heads and women in spectacles; the local M.P., like Mr. Gregsbury in Nicholas Nickleby, full of affability and importance, introducing the selected spokesmen—"Our worthy mayor; our leading employer of labour; Miss Twoshoes, a philanthropic worker in all good causes"—the Minister, profoundly ignorant of the whole subject, smiling blandly or gazing earnestly from his padded chair; the Permanent Official at his elbow murmuring what the "practice of the department" has been, what his predecessor said on a similar occasion ten years ago, and why the object of the deputation is equally mischievous and impossible; and the Minister finally expressing sympathy and promising earnest consideration. Mr. Bright, though the laziest of mankind at official work, was the ideal hand at receiving deputations. Some Ministers scold or snub or harangue, but he let the spokesmen talk their full, listened patiently, smiled pleasantly, said very little, treated the subject with gravity or banter as its nature required, paid the introducing member a compliment on his assiduity and public spirit, and sent them all away on excellent terms with themselves and highly gratified by their intelligent and courteous reception.
So far we have described our Minister's purely departmental duties. But perhaps the Cabinet meets at twelve, and at the Cabinet he must, to use Mr. Gladstone's phrase, "throw his mind into the common stock" with his fellow-Ministers, and take part in the discussions and decisions which govern the Empire. By two o'clock or thereabouts the Cabinet is over. The labours of the morning are now beginning to tell, and exhausted Nature rings her luncheon-bell. Here again men's habits widely differ. If our Minister has breakfasted late, he will go on till four or five, and then have tea and toast, and perhaps a poached egg; but if he is an early man, he craves for nutriment more substantial. He must not go out to luncheon to a friend's house, for he will be tempted to eat and drink too much, and absence from official territory in the middle of the day has a bad look of idleness and self-indulgence. The dura ilia of the present Duke of Devonshire could always cope with a slice of the office-joint, a hunch of the office-bread, a glass of the office-sherry. But, as a rule, if a man cannot manage to get back to the family meal in South Kensington or Cavendish Square, he turns into a club, has a cutlet and a glass of claret, and gets back to his office for another hour's work before going to the House.
At 3.30 questions begin, and every Minister is in his place, unless, indeed, there is a Levee or a Drawing-room, when a certain number of Ministers, besides the great Officers of State, are expected to be present. The Minister lets himself into the House by a private door—of which Ministers alone have the key—at the back of the Chair. For an hour and a half, or perhaps longer, the storm of questions rages, and then the Minister, if he is in charge of the Bill under discussion, settles himself on the Treasury Bench to spend the remainder of the day in a hand-to-hand encounter with the banded forces of the Opposition, which will tax to their utmost his brain, nerve, and physical endurance. If, however, he is not directly concerned with the business, he goes out perhaps for a breath of air and a cup of tea on the Terrace, and then buries himself in his private room—generally a miserable little dog-hole in the basement of the House—where he finds a pile of office-boxes, containing papers which must be read, minuted, and returned to the office with all convenient dispatch. From these labours he is suddenly summoned by the shrill ting-ting of the division-bell and the raucous bellow of the policeman to take part in a division. He rushes upstairs two steps at a time, and squeezes himself into the House through the almost closed doors. "What are we?" he shouts to the Whip. "Ayes" or "Noes" is the hurried answer; and he stalks through the lobby to discharge this intelligent function, dives down to his room again, only, if the House is in Committee, to be dragged up again ten minutes afterwards for another repetition of the same farce, and so on indefinitely.
It may be asked why a Minister should undergo all this worry of running up and down and in and out, laying down his work and taking it up again, dropping threads, and losing touch, and wasting time, all to give a purely party vote, settled for him by his colleague in charge of the Bill, on a subject with which he is personally unfamiliar. If the Government is in peril, of course every vote is wanted; but, with a normal majority, Ministers' votes might surely be "taken as read," and assumed to be given to the side to which they belong. But the traditions of Government require Ministers to vote. It is a point of honour for each man to be in as many divisions as possible. A record is kept of all the divisions of the session and of the week, and a list is sent round every Monday morning showing in how many each Minister has voted.
The Whips, who must live and move and have their being in the House, naturally head the list, and their colleagues follow in a rather uncertain order. A Minister's place in this list is mainly governed by the question whether he dines at the House or not. If he dines away and "pairs," of course he does not in the least jeopardize his party or embarrass his colleagues; but "pairs" are not indicated in the list of divisions, and, as divisions have an awkward knack of happening between nine and ten, the habitual diner-out naturally sinks in the list. If he is a married man, the claims of the home are to a certain extent recognized by his Whips, but woe to the bachelor who, with no domestic excuse, steals away for two hours' relaxation. The good Minister therefore stays at the House and dines there. Perhaps he is entertaining ladies in the crypt-like dining-rooms which look on the Terrace, and in that case the charms of society may neutralize the material discomforts. But, if he dine upstairs at the Ministerial table, few indeed are the alleviations of his lot. In the first place he must dine with the colleagues with whom his whole waking life is passed—excellent fellows and capital company—but nature demands an occasional enlargement of the mental horizon. Then if by chance he has one special bugbear—a bore or an egotist, a man with dirty hands or a churlish temper—that man will inevitably come and sit down beside him and insist on being affectionate and fraternal.
The room is very hot; dinners have been going on in it for the last two hours; the [Greek: knise]—the odour of roast meat, which the gods loved, but which most men dislike—pervades the atmosphere; your next-door neighbour is eating a rather high grouse while you are at your apple-tart, or the perfumes of a deliquescent Camembert mingle with your coffee. As to beverages, you may, if you choose, follow the example of Lord Cross, who, when he was Sir Richard, drank beer in its native pewter, or of Mr. Radcliffe Cooke, who tries to popularize cider; or you may venture on that thickest, blackest, and most potent of vintages which a few years back still went by the name of "Mr. Disraeli's port." But as a rule these heroic draughts are eschewed by the modern Minister. Perhaps, if he is in good spirits after making a successful speech or fighting his Estimates through Committee, he will indulge himself with an imperial pint of champagne; but more often a whiskey-and-soda or a half-bottle of Zeltinger quenches his modest thirst.
On Wednesday and Saturday our Minister, if he is not out of London, probably dines at a large dinner-party. Once a session he must dine in full dress with the Speaker; once he must dine at, or give, a full-dress dinner "to celebrate her Majesty's Birthday." On the eve of the meeting of Parliament he must dine again in full dress with the Leader of the House, to hear the rehearsal of the "gracious Speech from the Throne." But, as a rule, his fate on Wednesday and Saturday is a ceremonious banquet at a colleague's house, and a party strictly political—perhaps the Prime Minister as the main attraction, reinforced by Lord and Lady Decimus Tite-Barnacle, Mr. and Mrs. Stiltstalking, Sir John Taper, and young Mr. Tadpole. A political dinner of thirty colleagues, male and female, in the dog-days is only a shade less intolerable than the greasy rations and mephitic vapours of the House of Commons' dining-room.
At the political dinner "shop" is the order of the day. Conversation turns on Brown's successful speech, Jones's palpable falling-off, Robinson's chance of office, the explanation of a recent by-election, or the prospects of an impending division. And, to fill the cup of boredom to the brim, the political dinner is usually followed by a political evening-party. On Saturday the Minister probably does two hours' work at his office and has some boxes sent to his house, but the afternoon he spends in cycling, or golfing, or riding, or boating, or he leaves London till Monday morning. On Wednesday he is at the House till six, and then escapes for a breath of air before dinner. But on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, as a rule, he is at the House from its meeting at three till it adjourns at any hour after midnight. After dinner he smokes and reads and tries to work in his room, and goes to sleep and wakes again, and towards midnight is unnaturally lively. Outsiders believe in the "twelve o'clock rule," but insiders know that, as a matter of fact, it is suspended as often as an Irish member in the '80 Parliament. Whoever else slopes homewards, the Government must stay. Before now a Minister has been fetched out of his bed, to which he had surreptitiously retired, by a messenger in a hansom, and taken back to the House to defend his Estimates at three in the morning.
"There they sit with ranks unbroken, cheering on the fierce debate, Till the sunrise lights them homeward as they tramp through Storey's Gate, Racked with headache, pale and haggard, worn by nights of endless talk, While the early sparrows twitter all along the Birdcage Walk."
Some ardent souls there are who, if report speaks true, are not content with even this amount of exertion and excitement, but finish the night, or begin the day, with a rubber at the club or even a turn at baccarat. However, we are describing, not choice spirits or chartered viveurs, but the blameless Minister, whose whole life during the Parliamentary session is the undeviating and conscientious discharge of official duty; and he, when he lays his head upon his respectable pillow any time after 1 a.m., may surely go to sleep in the comfortable consciousness that he has done a fair day's work for a not exorbitant remuneration.
 The word "conservative" here applies only to official routine. The Civil Service has no politics, but many of its members are staunch Liberals.
 Spencer Compton, 8th Duke.
AN OLD PHOTOGRAPH-BOOK.
The diary from which these Recollections have been mainly gathered dates from my thirteenth year, and it has lately received some unexpected illustrations. In turning out the contents of a neglected cupboard, I stumbled on a photograph-book which I filled while I was a boy at a Public School. The school has lately been described under the name of Lyonness, and that name will serve as well as another. The book had been mislaid years ago, and when it accidentally came to light a strange aroma of old times seemed still to hang about it. Inside and out, it was reminiscent of a life in which for five happy years I bore my part. Externally the book showed manifest traces of a schoolboy's ownership, in broken corners; plentiful ink-stains, from exercises and punishments; droppings of illicit candle grease, consumed long after curfew-time; round marks like fairy rings on a greensward, which indicated the standpoint of extinct jam pots—where are those jam pots now? But, while the outside of the book spoke thus, as it were, by innuendo and suggestion, the inside seemed to shout with joyous laughter or chuckle with irreverent mirth; or murmured, in tones lower perhaps, but certainly not less distinct, of things which were neither joyous nor mirthful.
The book had been carefully arranged. As I turned over the leaves, there came back the memory of holiday-evenings and the interested questionings of sisters over each new face or scene; and the kind fingers which did the pasting-in; and the care with which we made portrait and landscape fit into and illustrate one another. And what memories, what impressions, strong and clear as yesterday's, clung to each succeeding view! The Spire—that "pinnacle perched on a precipice"—with its embosoming trees, as one had so often seen it from the North-Western Railway, while the finger of fate, protruding from the carriage window, pointed it out with—"That's where you will go to school." And, years later, came the day when one travelled for the first time by a train which did not rush through Lyonness Station (then how small), but stopped there, and disgorged its crowd of boys and their confusion of luggage, and oneself among the rest, and one's father just as excited and anxious and eager as his son.
A scurry for a seat on the omnibus or a tramp uphill, and we find ourselves abruptly in the village street. Then did each page as I turned it over bring some fresh recollection of one's unspeakable sense of newness and desolation; the haunting fear of doing something ludicrous; the morbid dread of chaff and of being "greened," which even in my time had, happily, supplanted the old terrors of being tossed in a blanket or roasted at a fire. Even less, I venture to think, was one thrilled by the heroic ambitions, the magnificent visions of struggle and success, which stir the heroes of schoolboy novels on the day of their arrival.
Here was a view of the School Library, with its patch of greensward separating it from the dust and traffic of the road. There was the Old School with its Fourth Form Room, of which one had heard so much that the actual sight of it made one half inclined to laugh and half to cry with surprise and disappointment. There was the twisting High Street, with its precipitous causeway; there was the faithful presentment of the fashionable "tuck-shop," with two boys standing in the road, and the leg of a third caught by the camera as he hurried past; and, wandering through all these scenes in the album as one had wandered through them in real life, I reached at last my boarding-house, once a place of mystery and wonderful expectations and untried experiences; now full of memories, some bright, some sad, but all gathering enchantment from their retrospective distance; and in every brick and beam and cupboard and corner as familiar as home itself.
The next picture, a view of the School Bathing-place, carried me a stage onward in memory to my first summer quarter. Two terms of school life had inured one to a new existence, and one began to know the pleasures, as well as the pains, of a Public School. It was a time of cloudless skies, and abundant "strawberry mashes," and dolce far niente in that sweetly-shaded pool, when the sky was at its bluest, and the air at its hottest, and the water at its most inviting temperature.
And then the Old Speech-Room, so ugly, so incommodious, where we stood penned together like sheep for the slaughter, under the gallery, to hear our fate on the first morning of our school life, and where, when he had made his way up the school, the budding scholar received his prize or declaimed his verses on Speech Day. That was the crowning day of the young orator's ambition, when there was an arch of evergreens reared over the school gate, and Lyonness was all alive with carriages, and relations, and grandees,
"And, as Lear, he poured forth the deep imprecation, By his daughters of Kingdom and reason deprived; Till, fired by loud plaudits and self-adulation, He regarded himself as a Garrick revived."
Opposite the Old Speech-Room was the interior of the Chapel, with its roof still echoing the thunder of the Parting Hymn; and the pulpit with its unforgotten pleadings for truthfulness and purity; and the organ, still vocal with those glorious psalms. And, high over all, the Churchyard Hill, with its heaven-pointing spire, and the Poet's Tomb; and, below, the incomparable expanse of pasture and woodland stretching right away to the "proud keep with its double belt of kindred and coeval towers."
"Still does yon bank its living hues unfold, With bloomy wealth of amethyst and gold; How oft at eve we watched, while there we lay, The flaming sun lead down the dying day, Soothed by the breeze that wandered to and fro Through the glad foliage musically low. Still stands that tree, and rears its stately form In rugged strength, and mocks the winter storm; There, while of slender shade and sapling growth, We carved our schoolboy names, a mutual troth. All, all, revives a bliss too bright to last, And every leaflet whispers of the past."
And while the views of places were thus eloquent of the old days, assuredly not less so were the portraits. There was the Head Master in his silken robes, looking exactly as he did when, enthroned in the Sixth Form Room, he used to deliver those well-remembered admonitions—"Never say what you know to be wrong," and "Let us leave commence and partake to the newspapers."
And there was the Mathematical Master—the Rev. Rhadamanthus Rhomboid—compared with whom his classical namesake was a lenient judge. An admirable example was old Mr. Rhomboid of a pedagogic type which, I am told, is passing away—precise, accurate, stern, solid; knowing very little, but that little thoroughly; never overlooking a slip, but seldom guilty of an injustice; sternest and most unbending of prehistoric Tories, both in matters political and educational; yet carrying concealed somewhere under the square-cut waistcoat a heart which knew how to sympathize with boy-flesh and the many ills which it is heir to. Good old Mr. Rhomboid! I wonder if he is still alive.
Facing him in the album, and most appropriately contrasted, was the portrait of a young master—the embodiment of all that Mr. Rhomboid most heartily loathed. We will call him Vivian Grey. Vivian Grey was an Oxford Double First of unusual brilliancy, and therefore found a special charm and a satisfying sense of being suitably employed in his duty at Lyonness, which was to instil [Greek: tupto] and Phaedrus into the five-and-thirty little wiseacres who constituted the lowest form. Over the heads of these sages his political and metaphysical utterances rolled like harmless thunder, for he was at once a transcendentalist in philosophy and a utilitarian Radical of the purest dye. All of which mattered singularly little to his five-and-thirty disciples, but caused infinite commotion and annoyance to the Rhomboids and Rhadamanthuses. Vivian Grey at Oxford had belonged to that school which has been described as professing
"One Kant with a K, And many a cant with a c."
At Lyonness he was supposed to have helped to break the railings of Hyde Park in the riot of 1866, and to be a Head Centre of the Fenian Brotherhood. As to personal appearance, Mr. Grey was bearded like the pard—and in those days the scholastic order shaved—while his taste in dress made it likely that he was the "Man in the Red Tie" whom we remember at the Oxford Commemoration some thirty years ago. In short, he was the very embodiment of all that was most abhorrent to the old traditions of the schoolmaster's profession; and proportionately great was the appositeness of a practical joke which was played me on my second or third morning at Lyonness. I was told to go for my mathematical lesson to Mr. Rhomboid, who tenanted a room in the Old School. Next door to his room was Mr. Grey's, and I need not say that the first boy whom I asked for guidance playfully directed me to the wrong door. I enter, and the Third Form suspend their Phaedrus, "Please, sir, are you Mr. Rhomboid?" I ask, amid unsmotherable laughter. Never shall I forget the indignant ferocity with which the professor of the new lights drove me from the room, nor the tranquil austerity with which Mr. Rhomboid, when I reached him, set me "fifty lines" before he asked me my name.
On the same page I find the portrait of two men who have before now figured in the world of school-fiction under the names of Rose and Gordon. Of Mr. Rose I will say no more than that he was an excellent schoolmaster and a most true saint, and that to his influence and warnings many a man can, in the long retrospect, trace his escape from moral ruin. Mr. Gordon is now a decorous Dean; at Lyonness he was the most brilliant, the most irregular, and the most fascinating of teachers. He spoilt me for a whole quarter. I loved him for it then, and I thank him even now.
These more distinguished portraits, of cabinet dimensions, were scattered up and down among the miscellaneous herd of cartes de visits. The art of Messrs. Hills and Saunders was denoted by the pretentious character of the chairs introduced—the ecclesiastical Glastonbury for masters, and velvet backs studded with gilt nails for boys. The productions of the rival photographer were distinguished by a pillar of variegated marble, or possibly scagliola, on which the person portrayed leaned, bent, or propped himself in every phase of graceful discomfort. The athletes and members of the School Eleven, dressed in appropriate flannel, were depicted as a rale with their arms crossed over the backs of chairs, and brought very much into focus so as to display the muscular development in high relief. The more studious portion of the community, "with leaden eye that loved the ground," scanned small photograph-books with absorbing interest; while a group of editors, of whom I was one, were gathered round a writing-table, with pens, ink, and paper, the finger pressed on the forehead, and on the floor proofs of the journal which we edited—was it the Tyro or the Triumvirate?
Among the athletes I instantly recognize Biceps Max., captain of the Cricket Eleven, and practically autocrat of my house—"Charity's" the house was called, in allusion to a prominent feature of my tutor's character. Well, at Charity's we did not think much of intellectual distinction in those days, and little recked that Biceps was "unworthy to be classed" in the terminal examination. We were much more concerned with the fact that he made the highest score at Lord's; that we at Charity's were absolutely under his thumb, in the most literal acceptation of that phrase; that he beat us into mummies if we evaded cricket-fagging; and that if we burnt his toast he chastised us with a tea-tray. Where is Biceps now, and what? If he took Orders, I am sure he must be a muscular Christian of the most aggressive type. If he is an Old Bailey barrister, I pity the timid witness whom he cross-examines. Why do I never meet him at the club or in society? It would be a refreshing novelty to sit at dinner opposite a man who corrected your juvenile shortcomings with a tea-tray. Would he attempt it again if I contradicted him in conversation, or confuted him in argument, or capped his best story with a better?
Next comes Longbow—Old Longbow, as we called him; I suppose as a term of endearment, for there was no Young Longbow. He was an Irishman, and the established wit, buffoon, and jester of the school. Innumerable stories are still told of his youthful escapades, of his audacity and skill in cribbing, of his dexterity in getting out of scrapes, of his repartees to masters and persons in authority. He it was who took up the same exercise in algebra to Mr. Rhomboid all the time he was in the Sixth Form, and obtained maiks, ostensibly for a French exercise, with a composition called De Camelo qualis sit. He alone of created boys could joke in the rarefied air of the Head Master's schoolroom, and had power to "chase away the passing frown" with some audacious witticism for which an English boy would have been punished. Longbow was ploughed three times at Oxford, and once "sent down." But he is now the very orthodox vicar of a West End parish, a preacher of culture, and a pattern of ecclesiastical propriety. Then, leaving these heroic figures and coming to my own contemporaries, I discern little Paley, esteemed a prodigy of parts—Paley, who won an Entrance Scholarship while still in knickerbockers; Paley, who ran up the school faster than any boy on record; Paley, who was popularly supposed never to have been turned in a "rep" or to have made a false quantity; Paley, for whom his tutor and the whole magisterial body were never tired of predicting a miraculous success in after life. Poor Paley! He is at this moment languishing in Lincoln's Inn, consoling himself for professional failure by contemplating the largest extant collection of Lyonness prize-books. I knew Paley, as boys say, "at home," and, when he had been a few years at the Bar, I asked his mother if he had got any briefs yet. "Yes," she answered with maternal pride; "he has been very lucky in that way." "And has he got a verdict?" I asked. "Oh, no," replied the simple soul; "we don't aspire to anything so grand as that."
Next to Paley in my book is Roderick Random, the cricketer. Dear Random, my contemporary, my form-fellow and house-fellow; partaker with me in the ignominy of Biceps's tea-tray and the tedium of Mr. Rhomboid's problems: my sympathetic companion in every amusement, and the pleasant drag on every intellectual effort—Random, who never knew a lesson, nor could answer a question; who never could get up in time for First School, nor lay his hand on his own Virgil—Random, who spent more of his half-holidays in Extra School than any boy of his day, and had acquired by long practice the power of writing the "record" number of lines in an hour; who never told a lie, nor bullied a weaker boy, nor dropped an unkind jest, nor uttered a shameful word—Random, for whom every one in authority prophesied ruin, speedy and inevitable; who is, therefore, the best of landlords and the most popular of country gentlemen; who was the most popular officer in the Guards till duty called him elsewhere, and at the last election came in at the top of the poll for his native county.
Then what shall we say for Lucian Gay, whose bright eyes and curly hair greet me on the same page, with the attractive charm which won me when we stood together under the Speech-Room gallery on the first morning of our school life? Gay was often at the top of his form, yet sometimes near the bottom; wrote, apparently by inspiration, the most brilliant verses; and never could put two and two together in Mr. Rhomboid's schoolroom. He had the most astonishing memory on record, and an inventive faculty which often did him even better service. He was the soul of every intellectual enterprise in the school, the best speaker at the Debating Society; the best performer on Speech Day; who knew nothing about [Greek: ge] and less about [Greek: men] and [Greek: de]; who composed satirical choices when he should have been taking notes on Tacitus; edited a School Journal with surprising brilliancy; failed, to conjugate the verbs in [Greek: mi] during his last fortnight in the school; and won the Balliol Scholarship when he was seventeen. I trust, if this meets his eye, he will accept it as a tribute of affectionate recollection from one who worked with him, idled with him, and joked with him for five happy years.
Under another face, marked by a more spiritual grace, I find written Requiescat. None who ever knew them will forget that bright and pure beauty, those eyes of strange, supernatural light, that voice which thrilled and vibrated with an unearthly charm. All who were his contemporaries remember that dauntless courage, that heroic virtue, that stainless purity of thought and speech, before which all evil things seemed to shrink away abashed. We remember how the outward beauty of body seemed only the visible symbol of a goodness which dwelt within, and how moral and intellectual excellence grew up together, blending into a perfect whole. We remember the School Concert, and the enchanting voice, and the words of the song which afterwards sounded like a warning prophecy, and the last walk together in the gloaming of a June holiday, and the loving, trusting companionship, and the tender talk of home. And then for a day or two we missed the accustomed presence, and dimly caught a word of dangerous illness; and then came the agony of the parting scene, and the clear, hard, pitiless school bell, cutting on our hearts the sense of an irreparable loss, as it thrilled through the sultry darkness of the summer night.
Here I shut the book. And with the memories which that picture called up I may well bring these Recollections to a close. It is something to remember, amid the bustle and bitterness of active life, that one once had youth, and hope, and eagerness, and large opportunities, and generous friends. A tender and regretful sentiment seems to cling to the very walls and trees among which one cherished such bright ambitions and felt the passionate sympathy of such loving hearts. The innocence and the confidence of boyhood pass away soon enough, and thrice happy is he who has contrived to keep
"The young lamb's heart amid the full-grown flocks."
 In School and Home Life, by T.G. Rooper, M.A.
 In Eric, by F.W. Farrar, D.D.
TRAITS DE MOEURS ANGLAISES.
JEAN LA FRETTE.
De ce cote de la Manche nous avons une specialite de souvenirs militaires, et le public parait prendre gout a ce genre de lectures. De l'autre cote, les souvenirs sont plutot d'ordre politique ou litteraire. Ils n'en sont pas moins interessants. Apres tout, les recits de massacres et de saccages se ressemblent beaucoup, qu'ils soient d'Herodote ou de Canrobert: et meme il ne semble pas que le genre soit en progres, si l'on compare les termes extremes de la serie. Car Herodote vit autre chose que les tueries, et il l'en faut feliciter.
Il y a une autre difference entre les deux groupes de memoires en question. Les notres ont trait pour la plupart a une epoque que beaucoup de gens considerent comme un apogee, de sorte que, pour le lecteur, ils apportent plutot un sentiment de decouragement. "Voila ce qu'ils firent," se dit-il: "et nous?..." Car ce qu'on est convenu d'appeler "les gloires" napoleoniennes du debut du siecle ne suffit pas, helas, a effacer la tache—non moins napoleonienne—de 1870. Ce sentiment, le lecteur anglais ne l'eprouve pas a lire les memoires qui lui sont offerts, et qui, s'ils ne racontent pas, d'habitude, des exploits guerriers, relatent les phases principales d'une lente evolution, d'un progres tres reel dans les moeurs, dans la culture et dans l'amelioration sociale generale.
Quel etait l'auteur du plus recent volume de souvenirs, Collections and Recollections, publie par MM. Smith, Elder et C'ie, a Londres, on l'ignora quelques semaines. Maintenant il n'y a plus de doute: l'auteur s'est fait connaitre; c'est M.G.W.E. Russell. Sa personnalite importait assez peu d'ailleurs: car ce n'est lui-meme qu'il raconte: ce sont ses contemporains et les faits dont il a ete temoin. Mais M. Russell est un homme de culture, qui a beaucoup approche de notabilites politiques et litteraires, et a su les ecouter parler, saisissant plus volontiers le cote humoristique ou anecdotique de leurs propos. Son livre est amusant et instructif a la fois: et il met bien en lumiere, dans les premiers chapitres en particulier, l'evolution dont il etait parle plus haut, la transformation graduelle que les moeurs anglaises ont subie depuis le commencement du siecle.
Ce n'est point que l'auteur soit centenaire, d'ailleurs. Il nous le dit expressement: ses souvenirs personnels remontent a 1856 seulement: mais il a beaucoup vu de vieilles gens, il a pris note de leurs recits, et c'est par ces recits qu'il est facile de mesurer le chemin parcouru.
Ils confirment ce qu'on savait deja de la grossierete des moeurs a une epoque encore recente. Du reste l'exemple venait de haut, et la famille royale ne pouvait en imposer ni par la tenue, ni par la moralite.
Le prince de Galles, raconte Lord Seymour, dans des memoires inedits, le prince de Galles assure—et doit s'y connaitre—"qu'il n'y a pas une honnete femme a Londres, excepte Lady Parker et Lady Westmorland: et encore sont-elles si betes qu'on n'en peut rien tirer: tout au plus sont-elles capables de se moucher elles-memes." A la reception de Mme Vaneck, la semaine derniere [ceci se passe en 1788], le prince de Galles; a l'honneur de la politesse et de l'elegance de ses manieres, mesura la largeur de Mme V—— par derriere avec son mouchoir, et alla montrer les dimensions a presque tous ceux qui etaient la. Un autre trait de la conduite respectueuse du prince: a cette meme assemblee il a fait signe a la pauvre vieille duchesse de Bedford a travers une grande salle, et apres qu'elle eut pris la peine de traverser cette derniere, il lui dit brusquement n'avoir rien a lui communiquer. Le prince a rendu visite la semaine derniere a Mme Vaneck, avec deux de ses ecuyers. En entrant dans la salle il s'est exclame: "Il faut que je le fasse: il le faut ..." Mme V—— lui a demande ce qu'il etait oblige de faire, et la-dessus il a jete un clignement d'oeil a St. Leger et a l'autre complice qui ont couche Mme V—— a terre, et le prince l'a positivement fouettee...
C'etait le resultat d'un pari. Mais Mlle Vaneck avait quelque habitude des "jeux de rois": le prince fit penitence le lendemain, et elle ne lui en voulut point. Autre aimable fantaisie du prince: il recoit le duc d'Orleans, accompagne de son frere naturel, l'abbe de la Fai(?). L'abbe pretend avoir un secret pour charmer les poissons: d'ou le pari, a la suite duquel l'abbe s'approche de l'eau pour chatouiller un poisson avec une baguette. Se mefiant toutefois du prince, qu'il connaissait sans doute de reputation, il dit qu'il espere bien que celui-ci ne lui jouera pas le tour de le jeter a l'eau. Le prince de protester et de donner "sa parole d'honneur." L'abbe commence a se pencher sur un petit pont et le prince aussitot le saisit et le fait culbuter a l'eau, d'ou l'abbe se tire non sans peine, et non sans colere, car il court sur le prince avec un fouet pour le corriger, declarant a qui veut l'entendre ce qu'il pense d'un prince incapable de tenir parole. Les practical jokers de ce genre n'etaient pas rares: le duc de Cumberland fit partager le meme sort a une jeune fille qui servait de dame de compagnie. Les "grands" s'amusent....
Ils ont d'autres manieres de s'amuser: le jeu, la boisson, et le reste, qui sont de tous les temps et de tous les pays: l'histoire de France en peut temoigner autant que celle de n'importe quelle nation. Il faut croire que ces plaisirs sont les plus appropries a la caste oisive et riche, a qui il a suffi de naitre pour etre—ou paraitre—quelque chose. Au reste, il n'y aurait guere a s'en plaindre: ils font office d'agents de selection; ils eliminent—dans la sterilite ou imbecillite—des etres imbeciles et malfaisants, et ils remettent en circulation des richesses qui n'ont souvent ete accumulees qu'a coups de rapines, ou par une perseverante marche dans les voies deshonnetes.
Mais ces soi-disant plaisirs menent de facon tres directe au crime: c'est la une notion banale, et les exemples ne manquent point.
Le duc de Bedford—cinquieme du nom—ayant perdu de grosses sommes un soir, a Newmarket, incrimina les des, les accusant d'etre pipes. Il se leva de table en colere, saisit les instruments de son malheur, et les emporta pour les examiner a loisir. Rentre chez lui, il se coucha, pour se calmer, remettant ses investigations au lendemain. Celles-ci se firent avec le concours de ses compagnons, et il dut reconnaitre que les des etaient fort orthodoxes. Cela le surprit, mais il n'avait qu'a s'executer et c'est ce qu'il fit: il adressa des excuses, et paya. Quelques annees apres, un des joueurs qui se mourait le fit appeler. "Je vous ai prie de venir," dit-il, "parce que je voulais vous dire que vous etiez dans le vrai. Les des etaient effectivement pipes. Mais nous attendimes que vous fussiez couche: nous nous sommes glisses dans votre chambre, et aux des pipes que vous aviez emportes nous avons substitue qui ne l'etaient point, et nous les avons places dans votre poche." "Mais si je m'etais eveille, et si je vous avais pris sur le fait?..." "Eh bien! nous etions decides a tout ... et nous avions des pistolets."
La seule action meritoire de sa vie, disait M. Goldwin Smith du duc d'York, c'est de l'avoir une fois risquee en duel.... C'etait maigre, pour un prince du sang, et pour un simple particulier aussi bien. Car il ne la perdit point.
La delicatesse est tres mediocre.
William et John Scott, plus tard Lord Stowell et Lord Eldon, ayant obtenu quelque succes comme avocats; dans leurs jeunes aimees, avaient resolu de celebrer l'evenement par un diner a la taverne, apres quoi l'on irait au theatre. En payant l'addition, William laissa tomber une guinee que les deux freres ne purent retrouver. "Mauvaise affaire," fit William: "voila qu'il nous faut renoncer au theatre." "Que non pas," dit John: "je sais une tour qui vaut mieux." Il appela la servante. "Betty, nous avons perdu deux guinees: voyez donc si vous pouvez les retrouver." Betty se met a quatre pattes et cherche si bien qu'elle retrouve la piece. "Bonne fille," fait William: "quand vous trouverez l'autre, vous pourrez la garder pour votre peine." Et les deux freres s'en furent au theatre, et plus tard aux plus hautes dignites de la magistrature. La pauvre Betty a-t-elle jamais compris le tour? Il se peut: ce n'est point par la delicatesse et les scrupules que se distinguait la clientele a laquelle elle avait d'habitude affaire.
De facon generale, pourtant, ce monde avait un certain courage personnel.
Le cinquieme comte de Berkeley avait dit un jour, devant temoins, qu'il n'y a point de honte a etre reduit par des adversaires, quand ceux-ci l'emportent par le nombre, mais que, pour lui, il ne se rendrait jamais a un voleur de grand chemin qui l'attaquerait seul.
En ce temps le brigandage etait repandu. Une nuit qu'il se rendait de Berkeley a Londres, sa voiture fut arretee par un seigneur de grande route qui, passant sa tete a la portiere, lui dit: "N'etes-vous pas Lord Berkeley?"
"Certainement," repliqua celui-ci.
"C'est bien vous qui avez declare que vous ne vous rendriez jamais a un voleur de grand chemin qui vous attaquerait seul?"
"Eh bien!"—et ce disant il braquait un pistolet sur Lord Berkeley—"je suis un de ces voleurs, et je suis seul; je vous demande la bourse ou la vie."
"Chien couard," crie Lord Berkeley, "crois-tu donc me tromper? Est-ce que je ne vois pas tes complices caches derriere toi?"
Le voleur se retourne, surpris, pour voir ces complices qu'il ignorait, car il etait reellement seul, et dans ce moment Lord Berkeley lui brule la cervelle.
Courage, et surtout presence d'esprit. Cette anecdote a ete racontee a notre auteur par la propre fille de Lord Berkeley.
La religion n'inspirait qu'un mediocre respect. La faute en etait en partie a ses representants, en partie a l'esprit general. Un pur formalisme, une etiquette mondaine, telle elle etait: rien de plus. Le systeme etait commode; il est reste tel, d'ailleurs, et non pas seulement en Angleterre.
Le mepris des choses religieuses etait naturel, et l'exemple partait de haut. Un des freres du roi, le duc de Cambridge, s'etait fait une specialite dans l'irreverence, en se creant pour lui seul une liturgie, et en repondant personnellement a l'officiant.
"Prions," disait ce dernier a la congregation.
"Certainement," faisait observer le duc; "c'est cela; prions."
Le clergyman commenca. Sans doute, la saison etait fort seche, car il demanda d'abord au ciel d'envoyer de la pluie. Mais le duc l'interrompit:
"Inutile; rien a faire pour le moment, le vent est a l'Est...."
Le service continua par une lecture de la Bible. "Et Zacchee se leva et dit: Vois, Seigneur, je donne la moitie de mes biens aux pauvres ..."
"C'est trop, c'est beaucoup trop," interrompit le duc; "des privileges, si vous voulez, mais pas le reste."
On lit les commandements. Le duc les commente. Il en est deux qui le genent:
"C'est tres bien dit; mais il est des cas ou c'est diablement difficile d'obeir.... Ah! pour celui-la, non; c'est mon frere Ernest qui l'a viole; cela ne me regarde pas."
A ce troupeau grossier, et mene par des pasteurs grossiers, on chercherait avec peine quelques sentiments eleves, en dehors du courage personnel. C'est quelque chose assurement: mais n'est-il pas infiniment plus deshonorant de ne l'avoir point, qu'il n'est honorable de l'avoir? Il ne semble pas qu'il y ait tant a vanter la possession d'un attribut qu'il serait degradant de ne pas posseder: c'est une vertu negative. La condition du peuple etait pitoyable: entre le status des enfants des fabriques et l'esclavage, il etait difficile d'apercevoir une difference. A Bedlam, les alienes etaient enchaines a leurs lits de paille, en 1828, et du samedi au lundi ils etaient abandonnes a eux-memes, avec les aliments necessaires a portee, tandis que le geolier allait s'amuser au dehors. En 1770, il y avait 160 offenses punies de la peine de mort, et le nombre s'en etait beaucoup accru au commencement de ce siecle. Le vol simple appelait la peine capitale, et pour avoir vole cinq shillings de marchandises dans un magasin, c'etait la corde. En 1789, on brulait les faux monnayeurs. C'etaient du reste des rejouissances, que les executions, et pour inculquer a la jeunesse des sentiments moraux, on conduisait des ecoles entieres au spectacle. Ceci se passait encore en 1820. Sur le chapitre des dettes, la loi etait feroce. Une femme est morte dans la prison d'Exeter apres quarante cinq ans d'incarceration, cette derniere motivee par le fait qu'elle ne pouvait acquitter une dette de moins de 500 francs... Aussi les malheureux qui avaient perdu leur avoir, ou qui ne pouvaient faire face a leurs engagements, etaient-ils, pour ainsi dire, jetes dans les bras du crime. Plutot que d'aller moisir dans les cachots, ils prenaient la fuite, et comme il faut manger, ils demandaient le necessaire a la societe. Ils le demandaient de facons variees: l'une des plus repandues, et qui est relativement honorable, consistait a se faire brigand de grand chemin. Nombre de vaincus de la vie embrasserent cette carriere ou l'on put voir des gentlemen ruines et jusqu'a un prelat, l'eveque de Raphoe. Ils avaient beaucoup d'audace, pillant les voitures des invites a peu de distance du palais.
Voila pour le passe.
C'est par le mouvement religieux, issu d'Oxford il y a bientot soixante-dix ans, que la transformation fut operee. Par le mouvement religieux, qui fut admirable, et aussi par le mouvement politique ou la Revolution et la France jouerent un role preponderant. Ces deux facteurs ont puissamment contribue a remodeler l'Angleterre.
La passion politique etait vive: et pendant un temps, tout l'interet se concentra sur ce qui se passait en France. Tous les esprits qui avaient a coeur la liberte civile et la liberte religieuse, tous ceux que l'imperitie et la suffisance de la classe aristocratique degoutaient, tous ceux qui voyaient avec mepris ce que l'Eglise avait pu faire de la religion, avaient embrasse la cause de la France revolutionnaire. Fox, a la prise de la Bastille, s'exclamait: "C'est le plus grand evenement qui se soit passe au monde, et c'en est le meilleur." Il croyait que tout serait fini avec le demantelement de la vieille forteresse symbolique et ne prevoyait pas qu'elle pouvait etre sitot reconstituee: l'idee que le peuple serait assez bete pour se forger, benevolement, des chaines pour s'entraver lui-meme ne lui etait point apparue. Par contre, Burke etait pessimiste. Il ne voyait la que "la vieille ferocite parisienne," et se demandait si, apres tout, ce peuple n'est pas impropre a la liberte, et s'il n'a pas besoin d'une main vigoureuse pour le contenir. Il etait pessimiste et autoritaire: aussi eut-il beaucoup d'adherents; et Pitt bientot se joignit a lui, au moins dans la haine des revolutionnaires. Son humiliation fut une joie profonde pour les whigs qui suivaient Fox: et il est interessant de voir que, pour beaucoup, la defaite de Pitt comptait plus que celle de Napoleon. Il y avait des whigs jusque dans la famille royale, et ils etaient pleins d'ardeur. Au reste la cause etait belle: c'etait celle de la liberte contre l'autorite. "Nos adversaires," s'ecriait Lord John Russell, "nous cassent le tympan avec le cri: 'Le roi et l'Eglise.' Savez-vous ce qu'ils entendent par la? C'est une Eglise sans evangile et un roi qui se met au-dessus de la loi." Oxford—clerical et litteraire—etait tory; Cambridge, scientifique, qui avait eu Newton et attendait Darwin, etait whig. Il est bon que la politique inspire de telles passions: car, au total, c'est la lutte entre les principes fondamentaux, et l'enjeu est de nature telle que nul n'a le droit de se desinteresser de la partie. Car l'enjeu ce sont les hommes memes, leurs privileges et leurs droits, et s'ils se desinteressent, ils n'ont que ce qu'ils meritent le jour ou la force s'appesantit sur eux brutalement.
A n'entendre parler que de politique, les enfants memes se troublaient "Maman," demandait la fille d'un whig eminent; "les tories naissent-ils mechants, ou bien le deviennent-ils?" "Ils naissent mechants," repliqua la mere, "et deviennent pires....' Une vieille fille excentrique, que l'auteur a connue, ne consentait a monter dans une voiture de louage qu'apres avoir demande au cocher s'il n'avait point transporte de malades atteints d'une maladie infectieuse, s'il n'etait pas puseyite, et enfin s'il adherait au programme whig.
"La passion aveugle," dit Topffer: elle aveuglait sur la moralite des procedes. Pitt, en visite chez une femme qui occupait un rang eleve dans le monde whig, au moment d'une election, dit a son interlocutrice: "Eh bien! vous savez, nous l'emporterons. Dix mille guinees partiront demain par un homme de confiance pour le Yorkshire, et c'est pour notre usage qu'elles partent." "Du diable s'il en est ainsi," replique la dame. Et la nuit meme le porteur etait arrete, et son precieux fardeau allait grossir les poches des electeurs qui voterent pour le candidat whig et en assurerent la nomination.
C'est au cours de ces luttes politiques, pleines de feu et glorieuses, qui marquerent principalement le debut de ce siecle, et firent tant de bien a la nation, que les barrieres entre les castes commencerent a s'abaisser. Jusque-la, il n'y avait point de rapports entre l'aristocratie et la classe moyenne, en dehors des cas, encore rares, ou la premiere patronnait l'aristocratie intellectuelle. (Voyez La Vie de Johnson par Boswell, par exemple.)
Les choses allaient a ce point que Wilberforce refusa la pairie pour ne point retirer a ses fils le privilege de frequenter chez les gentlemen, les familles du commerce, etc. A l'ecole—et c'est lord Bathurst qui a raconte ceci a l'auteur—les fils de nobles etaient assis sur un banc a part, loin du contact avec les roturiers. Il fallait garder la tradition. C'est ce que faisait le marquis d'Abercorn, qui mourut en 1818. Il n'allait jamais a la chasse sans arborer sa decoration—son Blue Ribbon—et exigeait que pour faire son lit les femmes de chambre eussent les mains gantees, et de gants de peau, pas de fil.... Avant d'epouser sa cousine Hamilton, il la fit anoblir par le regent, pour ne pas se marier au-dessous de sa condition. Et quand il apprit qu'elle le voulait planter la pour suivre un amant, il la pria de prendre le carrosse de famille afin qu'il ne fut pas dit que Lady Abercorn avait quitte le domicile conjugal dans une voiture de louage. A ses yeux cette "voiture de louage" jetait evidemment un grand discredit sur les operations. On a de la race ou l'on n'en a pas.
Nous avons dit plus haut que M.G.W.E. Russell avait connu beaucoup d'hommes marquants de ce siecle, et avait eu avec eux des relations personnelles. Il en fut de toutes sortes; leurs opinions religieuses et politiques etaient souvent tres opposees, mais tous etaient au nombre des, notabilites du jour. Sur chacun d'eux, notre auteur donne son impression personnelle, et rappelle des souvenirs personnels ou des anecdotes interessantes. Nous ne pouvons les passer tous en revue: mais on en peut citer quelques-uns.
Sir Moses Montefiore ne fut pas le plus celebre: mais il avait une specialite. Ne en 1784, il mourut en 1885, ayant ete toute sa vie un objet d'horreur pour les teetotallers; car de quel oeil en verite pouvaient-ils considerer un homme qui buvait chaque jour une bouteille de porto, et a qui la Providence permettait de se bien porter? C'etait indecent...
Une physionomie plus curieuse etait celle de Lord Russell, plein d'anecdotes, spirituel, souvent froid en apparence, a l'occasion eloquent. A une dame qui demandait la permission de lui dedier un livre, il repliquait qu'a son grand regret il se voyait oblige de refuser: "parce que, comme chancelier de l'Universite d'Oxford, il avait ete tres expose aux auteurs."
Pour un chef politique, il avait un grave defaut. Sa memoire des visages etait tres faible. Il se rencontra une fois en Ecosse chez un ami commun avec le jeune Lord D...., depuis comte de S.... Le jeune homme lui plut par sa personne et par ses opinions whig. Quand vint l'heure de la separation, Lord John dit a Lord D.... tout le plaisir qu'il avait eu a faire sa connaissance, et ajouta: "Maintenant il faut que vous veniez me donner votre appui a la Chambre des communes." "Mais je ne fais pas autre chose depuis dix ans," repondit le jeune politicien. Son chef ne l'avait pas reconnu. Avec cela des distractions qui auraient pu le faire croire denue d'education alors qu'il n'etait que denue d'artifice.
Etant assis un soir a un concert a Buckingham Palace, aux cotes de la duchesse de Sutherland, il se leva tout a coup, et s'en fut au fond de la piece, ou il s'assit aupres de la duchesse d'Inverness. La chose fut remarquee, et l'on soupconna quelque querelle, aussi fut-il interroge par un ami sur la cause de son attitude, et il repondit et toute sincerite: "Je ne pouvais rester plus longtemps aupres d'un feu aussi vif: je me serais evanoui." "Ah! tres bien: la raison est bonne en effet, mais au moins avez-vous dit a la duchesse de Sutherland la raison de votre changement de place?" "Tiens, non, je ne crois pas le lui avoir dit: mais j'ai dit a la duchesse d'Inverness pourquoi je venais m'asseoir pres d'elle."
Il n'etait pas diplomate—comme on le peut voir—mais il avait de l'esprit, et sa conversation etait pleine d'anecdotes curieuses. Il avait converse avec Napoleon a l'ile d'Elbe. Celui-ci l'avait pris par l'oreille, et lui avait demande ce qu'en Angleterre on pensait des chances qu'il pouvait avoir de remonter sur le trone de France. "Sire," repondit Russell, "les Anglais considerent vos chances comme nulles." "Alors vous pouvez leur dire de ma part qu'ils se trompent."
* * * * *
Autre physionomie interessante, celle de Lord Shaftesbury, un beau type d'aristocrate, au physique comme au moral, tres sensible et compatissant, un philanthrope bon et loyal, anti-esclavagiste militant. "Pauvres enfants," disait-il en ecoutant le recit d'un inspecteur d'ecole d'enfants assistes. "Que pouvons-nous faire pour eux?" "Notre Dieu subviendra a tous leurs besoins," dit l'inspecteur, en servant le cliche habituel. "Oui, sans doute, mais il faut qu'ils aient a manger tout de suite," dit Shaftesbury, et sur l'heure il rentre chez lui, et expedie 400 rations de soupe. Le quiproquo d'un journaliste americain l'amusa fort. Devenu Lord Shaftesbury apres avoir longtemps porte le nom de Lord Ashley, il signa une lettre sur l'emancipation des esclaves des Etats-Unis du Sud. "Ou etait-il donc, ce lord Shaftesbury," demandait le journaliste, "pendant que ce noble coeur, Lord Ashley, seul et sans appui, se faisait le champion des esclaves anglais dans les manufactures du Lancashire et du Yorkshire?" C'etait un type admirable de grand seigneur, et de grand coeur, et l'on comprend ce que lui disait Beaconsfield, avec un peu d'emphase, une fois qu'il prenait conge, apres lui avoir rendu visite dans son chateau: "Adieu, mon cher lord. Vous m'avez donne le privilege de contempler l'un des plus impressionnants des spectacles; de voir un grand noble anglais vivant a l'etat patriarcal dans son domaine hereditaire."
Puis c'est Lord Houghton, qui avait de l'esprit et de la psychologie. Il venait de gagner une livre a un jeune homme de ressources tres modestes, au cours d'une partie de whist, et comme il empochait la piece: "Ah! mon cher enfant," dit-il, "le grand Lord Hertford, que les sots appellent le mechant Lord Hertford, avait accoutume de dire: Il n'y a pas de plaisir a gagner de l'argent a un homme qui ne sent point sa perte. Comme c'est vrai!"
Et apercevant un jeune ami, au club, qui faisait un souper de pate de foie gras et de Champagne, il lui fit un regard d'encouragement: "Voila qui est bien, mon ami: toutes les choses agreables de la vie sont malsaines, ou couteuses, ou illicites." C'est un peu la philosophie du Pudd'n-head Wilson de Mark Twain, qui declare que, pour bien faire dans la vie, il faut se priver de tout ce que l'on aime, et faire tout ce que l'on n'aime point.
Notre auteur n'a point connu Wellington, mais des anecdotes lui ont ete fournies a son egard, de premiere main.
C'etait lors du couronnement de la reine Victoria. Celle-ci voulait aller au palais de Saint-James, n'ayant dans son carrosse que la duchesse de Kent et une dame d'honneur; mais Lord Albemarle, master of the Horse, exposa qu'il avait le droit de faire le trajet avec la reine, dans la meme voiture, comme il l'avait fait avec Guillaume IV. De la, discussion. L'affaire fut soumise au duc de Wellington, considere comme une sorte d'arbitre en choses de la cour. Sa reponse fut precise et peu satisfaisante. "La reine seule a droit de decider," dit-il: "elle peut vous faire aller dans la voiture ou hors de la voiture, ou courir derriere comme un s... chien de raccommodeur."
A un autre moment le gouvernement meditait une expedition en Birmanie pour la prise de Rangoon, et l'on se demandait a quel general la tache serait confiee. Le cabinet consulta Wellington. Celui-ci repliqua aussitot: 'Envoyez Lord Combermere.'
"Mais nous avons toujours compris que Votre Seigneurie considerait Lord Combermere comme un imbecile...." "Assurement, c'est un imbecile," repliqua Wellington, "c'est un s... imbecile, mais il peut bien prendre Rangoon."
Autre trait de la meme periode, et qui se rapporte a Lord Melbourne.
La reine Victoria venait de se fiancer, et elle voulait que le prince Albert fut fait roi consort, par acte du Parlement. Elle parla de ceci a Lord Melbourne, le premier ministre. Celui-ci commenca par eviter la discussion, mais comme Sa Majeste insistait pour obtenir un avis categorique: "Pour l'amour de Dieu, Madame, ne parlons plus de ceci. Car, une fois que vous aurez donne a la nation anglaise le moyen de faire des rois, vous lui aurez aussi donne le moyen de les defaire."
Il avait de la philosophie, Lord Melbourne.... C'est lui qui disait que l'intelligence n'est pas toujours indispensable: le grand avantage du celebre ordre de la Jarretiere, ajoutait-il, c'est qu'au moins "il n'y a pas, dans toute cette bete d'histoire, de merite a l'avoir." Lord Melbourne avait la bosse de l'esprit pratique, en meme temps que la philosophie.
Pour les personnalites plus modernes, notre auteur insiste assez longuement sur Disraeli, alias Dizzy, alias encore Lord Beaconsfield. C'etait un homme ingenieux.
"On m'accuse d'etre un flatteur," disait-il a Matthew Arnold. "Cela est vrai, je suis un flatteur. Il est utile de l'etre. Chacun aime la flatterie, et, si vous approchez les rois, il faut l'empiler avec une truelle...." "Mon secret, c'est de ne jamais contredire et de ne jamais nier; j'oublie quelquefois...."
Il savait etre aimable quand il le fallait, et voici son procede pour se faire bien venir des personnes qu'il ne reconnaissait pas, mais qui le connaissaient, a en juger par leur maniere de venir a lui: "Eh bien!" disait-il sur un ton d'affectueuse sollicitude, "et le vieil ennemi, que fait-il?" (How is the old complaint? Comment va l'indisposition accoutumee?) Cela tombait rarement a faux; et cela faisait toujours plaisir.
Bismarck, qui s'y connaissait, avait une haute opinion de Disraeli, "Salisbury est sans importance," disait-il durant le congres de Berlin: "ce n'est qu'une baguette peinte pour ressembler a du fer. Mais ce vieux juif—Disraeli—s'entend aux affaires."
Un amusant episode se rapporte au meme congres, et au meme "vieux juif."
Lord Beaconsfield arriva a Berlin la veille de l'ouverture, et l'ambassade anglaise le recut avec beaucoup d'apparat. Dans le courant de la soiree un des secretaires vint trouver Lord Odo Russell qui etait l'ambassadeur en ce moment et lui dit:
"Nous sommes dans un terrible embarras. Vous seul pouvez nous en tirer. Le vieux chef a resolu d'ouvrir le congres avec un discours en francais.... Il a redige une longue oraison, en francais, et il l'a apprise par coeur. Il ouvrira les ecluses demain. L'Europe entiere va se moquer de nous: sa prononciation est execrable. Nous perdrions nos places a vouloir le lui dire: voulez-vous nous tirer d'affaire?"
"La mission est delicate," fit Lord Odo: "mais j'aime les missions delicates. Je vais voir ce que je puis faire."
Il alla rejoindre Dizzy dans la chambre a coucher d'honneur de l'ambassade.
"Mon cher lord," dit-il, "une terrible rumeur est arrivee jusqu'a mes oreilles."
"Vraiment, qu'est-ce donc?"
"On nous dit que vous avez l'intention d'ouvrir demain les travaux du congres en francais."
"Eh bien! et apres?"
"Ce qu'il y a, c'est que nous savons tous que nul en Europe n'est mieux en etat de ce faire. Mais, a tout prendre, faire un discours en francais est un tour de force banal. Il y aura au congres au moins une demi-douzaine d'hommes qui pourraient en faire autant, presque aussi bien. Mais, d'un autre cote, qui donc, hormis vous, pourrait prononcer un discours en anglais? Tous ces plenipotentiaires sont venus des differentes cours d'Europe dans l'expectative du plus grand regal intellectuel de leur existence: entendre parler en anglais par le maitre le plus eminent de la langue. La question est de savoir si vous les voulez desappointer?..."
Dizzy ecouta avec attention, mit son monocle, considera Lord Odo, et dit enfin:
"11 y a un argument serieux dans ce que vous me dites la. Je vais y reflechir."
Et il y reflechit si bien que le lendemain il ouvrait le congres en langue anglaise. Avait-il reellement avale la flatterie, ou bien avait-il compris—fut-ce vaguement—son inferiorite en francais? On ne sait; mais un flatteur tel que lui devait avoir quelque mefiance; et la seconde hypothese est sans doute la plus exacte.
Autre anecdote. Il dinait un jour a cote de la princesse de Galles, et se blessa le doigt en voulant couper du pain trop dur. La princesse, pleine de grace, entoura le doigt de son propre mouchoir. Et Dizzy, avec a-propos, de s'exclamer:
"Je leur ai demande du pain, et c'est une pierre qu'ils m'ont donnee.... Mais j'ai eu une princesse pour panser mes plaies."
Sa mort fut longue et douloureuse. Pendant six semaines elle approcha et s'eloigna tour a tour. Un ami—ce nom est-il bien en situation—trouva le courage de dire a ce propos: "Ah! le voila bien; il exagere: il a toujours exagere."
Sur Gladstone, Newman et beaucoup d'autres, il faut passer rapidement. Manning a toutefois laisse une grande impression a l'auteur, par sa prestance et sa dignite. Il etait malicieux aussi.
Peu apres la mort de Newman, un article necrologique parut dans une revue, qui etait piquant et meme mechant. Manning fut interroge a ce propos; il declara qu'il plaignait l'auteur de l'avoir ecrit, que celui-ci devait avoir un fort mauvais esprit, etc., mais, ajouta-t-il: "Si vous demandez si c'est bien la Newman, je suis bien oblige de vous le dire; c'est une vraie photographie."
On peut du reste ouvrir Collections and Recollections au hasard; a toute page c'est un trait curieux et spirituel qui se montre. J'en cite quelques-uns, "tout venant," comme disent les carriers. Les deux premiers rapportent a Henry Smith, un Irlandais des plus spirituels, qui fut professeur de geometrie a Oxford. Un homme politique eminent, qui est actuellement un des premiers jurisconsultes de son pays, et dont le principal defaut est une suffisance exageree, se presentait aux elections en 1880, comme candidat liberal. Pour le discrediter, ses adversaires politiques le representerent aux elections comme athee; c'etait une manoeuvre. Apprenant cette accusation, Henry Smith s'ecria, avec une indignation feinte:
"Tout cela est faux. Il n'est nullement un athee. Il croit le plus fermement du monde a l'existence d'un etre superieur "—sans ajouter que l'etre superieur, en qui X——croyait, etait X—— lui-meme.
"Que vaut-il le mieux etre, eveque ou juge?" "Oh!" fait Henry Smith, "eveque. Car le juge, au plus, peut dire: 'Allez vous faire pendre;' mais l'eveque peut vous damner." "Oui," dit le maitre de Balliol, "mais si le juge dit: 'Allez vous faire pendre,' vous etes effectivement pendu." Ici Smith avait le dessous.
Une jolie anecdote dont Napoleon III. n'est pas le heros:
Napoleon III., alors qu'il n'etait que pretendant, et plus riche d'esperances que de monnaie ayant cours legal, frequentait beaucoup, a Londres, chez Lady Blessington, maison plus clinquante que solide. Apres le coup d'Etat, la dame vint a Paris faire un petit voyage, et elle s'attendait a ce que ses politesses lui fussent rendues. Aucune invitation ne venait, l'empereur oubliait les bienfaits recus par le prince. A la fin, pourtant, Lady Blessington reussit a le rencontrer au cours d'une reception quelconque. Il ne put eviter de la voir et l'interpella: "Ah! milady Blessington, restez-vous longtemps a Paris?" "Et vous, Sire?" repliqua-t-elle.
Revenons un peu en arriere et voici une autre jolie ironie.
Au college d'Oriel, un soir, un des compagnons de Charles Marriott, qui joua un si grand role dans le Tractarian Movement, s'oublia, et se conduisit de facon deplacee. Le lendemain, rencontrant Marriott, il essaya de s'excuser. "Mon cher ami, je crois bien que j'ai quelque peu fait la bete hier au soir." "Comment donc, cher camarade?" repliqua Marriott. "Je ne me suis pas apercu que vous fussiez autrement qu'a l'ordinaire."
Le tact n'est pas donne a tous; et pour en avoir, il ne suffit pas d'occuper une haute situation.
Il y a a Windsor, au bout d'une des promenades du chateau, une statue equestre que le peuple a denommee le Cheval de cuivre. Un grand de distinction, mais assez pauvre en culture historique, etait l'hote de la Reine, et une apres-midi il fit une promenade. A diner la Reine s'informa de ce qu'il avait fait, demandant s'il n'etait point fatigue.
"Du tout, Madame, merci; j'ai trouve une voiture qui m'a ramene jusqu'au Cheval de cuivre."
"Jusqu'ou?" dit la Reine avec effarement
"Jusqu'au Cheval de cuivre, vous savez bien, au bout de Long Walk."
"Mais ce n'est pas un cheval de cuivre: c'est mon grand-pere."
"Avez-vous lu les Greville Memoirs?" demandait quelqu'un a Disraeli. "Non," repliqua-t-il. "Ils ne m'attirent pas. Il me souvient de l'auteur, et c'etait la personne la plus vaniteuse avec qui je sois jamais entre en contact, encore que j'aie lu Ciceron et connu Bulwer Lytton." D'une pierre trois coups; et ils sont bons. Voulez-vous de la malice feminine?
"Que Lady Jersey est donc belle!" s'exclamait un admirateur fervent, devant Lady Morley, sa rivale en beaute. "Dans sa toilette de deuil, en noir et avec ses diamants, elle semble personnifier la nuit." "Oui, mon cher," fit Lady Morley, "mais minuit passe."
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Le chapitre des mots d'enfants est fort etendu. J'en cueille quelques-uns au hasard:
Voici un trait d'Alexandre de Battenberg, alors qu'il etait tout jeune encore. Manquant d'argent de poche, il imagina d'ecrire a son auguste grand'mere, la reine et imperatrice Victoria, pour en demander. Elle lui repondit une admonestation, et en l'engageant a etre desormais plus econome, de facon a ne pas se trouver depourvu a la fin du mois. Tres bien. Quelque jours apres, elle recut un second billet de son petit-fils.