The followers of Mr. O'Connell again succeeded in adjourning the debate until Monday the 6th. On that day Sir Robert Peel made 'an earnest appeal' to extricate himself from the almost perilous position in which he found his administration suddenly involved. In case the division on the first reading of the Irish Bill should not take place that night, he endeavoured to prevail on those members who had notices on the paper for the following night (Tuesday the 7th), the last night before the holidays, to relinquish their right and to permit the Irish debate to proceed and conclude. 'He had no wish to interfere with the due discussion of the measure; but he believed that the Irish members, if they permitted the House to proceed with the Corn Bill, by concluding the discussion on the Irish Bill, would be rendering an essential service to their country.'
But this earnest appeal only influenced still more the fiery resolves of Mr. Smith O'Brien and his friends. They threw the responsibility for delay of the Corn Bill on the government. The inconvenience which the country suffered was occasioned by the minister, not by the Irish members. He ought, on Friday last, to have adjourned the discussion on the Coercion Bill until after Easter. He and other members who were on the paper for to-morrow would willingly relinquish their right of priority in favour of the Corn Bill, or of any measure of a remedial kind, but not in favour of a Coercion Bill. He did not wish to have any concealment with the minister as to the course which the Irish members would pursue. It was their bounden duty to take care that pari passu with the discussion of the Coercion Bill there should be discussions as to the misgovernment of Ireland; and that, in the absence of any remedial measures of the government, they should have an opportunity of suggesting such as they thought advisable for removing those evils which they utterly denied that the measure now before the House would remove.
In vain Sir Robert, in his blandest tones and with that remarkable command of a temper not naturally serene which distinguished him, acknowledged to a certain degree the propriety of the course intimated by Mr. Smith O'Brien; but suggested at the same time that it was compatible with allowing the Irish bill to be now read for a first time, since on its subsequent stages Mr. O'Brien and his friends would have the full opportunity which they desired, of laying before the House the whole condition of the country. All was useless. No less a personage than Mr. John O'Connell treated the appeal with contempt, and lectured the first minister on the 'great mistake' which he had made. Little traits like these revealed the true parliamentary position of the once omnipotent leader of the great Conservative party. With the legions of the Protectionists watching their prey in grim silence, while the liberal sections were united in hostile manouvres against the government, it was recognised at once that the great minister had a staff without an army; not a reconnoitring could take place without the whole cabinet being under orders, and scarcely a sharpshooter sallied from the opposite ranks without the prime minister returning his fire in person.
Sir Robert Peel mournfully observed that he 'did not wish to provoke a recriminatory discussion,' and he resigned himself to his fate. Immediately the third night of the adjourned debate on the Irish bill commenced, and was sustained principally by the Irish members until a late hour. It had not been the intention of Lord George Bentinck to have spoken on this occasion, though he had never been absent for a moment from his seat, and watched all that occurred with that keen relish which was usual with him when he thought things were going right; but having been personally and not very courteously appealed to by the late Mr. Dillon Browne, and deeming also the occasion, just before the holidays, a not unhappy one, he rose and concluded the debate. His speech was not long, it was not prepared, and it was very animated.
Recapitulating himself the main features of the disturbed district, he said: 'It is because of these things, sir, that I am prepared to support at least the first reading of a bill, which I freely admit to be most unconstitutional in itself.'
Noticing a speech made in the course of the evening by Lord Morpeth, who had himself once been chief secretary of the Lord Lieutenant, Lord George thought it discreet to remind the House of the unequivocal support given to this bill by the Whig leaders in another place: 'Sir, I think when we see all the great leaders of the Whig party supporting the measure elsewhere, we cannot be justly impugned for doing as they do.' Lord Morpeth had referred to 'remedial measures which he thinks should be introduced for Ireland: to measures for the extension of the municipal, and also of the parliamentary, franchise of that country; and he expressed his desire to see those franchises put on the same footing as the franchises of England.' 'For the life of me,' exclaimed Lord George, 'I confess, I cannot see in what way the extension of political franchises of any description in Ireland would afford a remedy for the evils which this measure aims to suppress. I think, sir, it is impossible not to perceive that there is a connection between agrarian outrage and the poverty of the people.'
After noticing the inadequate poor-law which then existed in Ireland, he added: 'There is also another point immediately connected with this subject to which I must refer. I allude, sir, to the system of absenteeism. I cannot disguise from myself the conviction, that many of the evils of Ireland arise from the system of receiving rents by absentee landlords who spend them in other countries. I am well aware that, in holding this doctrine, I am not subscribing to the creed of political economists. I am well aware that Messrs. Senior and M'Culloch hold that it makes no difference whether the Irish landlord spends his rents in Dublin, on his Irish estates, in London, in Bath, or elsewhere. I profess, sir, I cannot understand that theory. I believe that the first ingredient in the happiness of a people is, that the gentry should reside on their native soil, and spend their rents among those from whom they receive them. I cannot help expressing a wish that some arrangement may be made connected with the levying of the poor-rate in Ireland, by which absentee landlords may be made to contribute in something like a fair proportion to the wants of the poor in the district in which they ought to reside. There is an arrangement in the hop-growing districts in England in respect to tithe, which might, I think, afford a very useful suggestion. There are two tithes: the one, the ordinary tithe; the other, extraordinary; which is levied only so long as the land is cultivated in hops. I think if there were two poor-rates introduced into Ireland, the one applying to all occupiers of land, and the other to all those who did not spend a certain portion of the year on some portion of their estates in Ireland, it would prove useful. I think, that by thus appealing to their interests, it might induce absentee landlords to reside much more in Ireland, than is now unfortunately the case.
'But, sir, I think there are other remedial measures. Some days ago, the Secretary of State told the member for Stroud (Mr. Poulett Scrope), when he suggested some such measure, that he was treading on dangerous ground, and that the doctrines he was advocating might be written in letters of blood in Ireland; but, notwithstanding all this, I still say that I think measures might be introduced for improving the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland. I do not think that some guarantee might and ought to be given to the tenantry of Ireland for the improvements they make upon their farms.
'Sir, the Secretary of State, in introducing this measure, maintained a doctrine which, I think, much more likely to be written in letters of blood, for he bound up the question of the corn laws with the present one. He said, that unless he could, have prevailed on his colleagues to accede to his free-trade measures as regards corn, he would not have introduced this bill. Why, sir, far from giving food to the people of Ireland, in my opinion the measures of her Majesty's ministers will take away from the people of Ireland their food, by destroying the profits of their only manufacture—the manufacture of corn—and injuring their agriculture; depriving them of employment; in fact, by taking away from them the very means of procuring subsistence. Sir, I cannot see how the repeal of those laws affecting corn can be In any way connected with the suppression of outrage and the protection of life. What is this but to say, that unless we have a free trade in corn, we must be prepared to concede a free trade in agrarian outrage—a free trade in maiming and houghing cattle—a free trade in incendiarism—a free trade in the burning and sacking of houses—a free trade in midnight murder, and in noon-day assassination? What is this but telling the people of Ireland, that assassination, murder, incendiarism, are of such light consideration in the eyes of the Secretary of State, that their sanction or suppression by the minister of the crown hinges upon the condition of the corn market and the difference in the price of potatoes?
'Sir, what has the potato disease to do with the outrages in Ireland? Some think a great deal. I have taken the trouble of looking into the matter. I have examined into the state of crime in at least five counties—Tipperary, Roscommon, Limerick, Leitrim, and Clare—and I find, that during the three months prior to the first appearance of the potato disease, and when in fact food was as cheap in Ireland as at almost any former period—when plenty abounded in all quarters of the empire, that the amount of crime exceeded that in the three months immediately following. Now, those who doubt this statement will have an opportunity of ascertaining the correctness of my figures, for I will not deal in general assertions. Well then, sir, I find in the three months, May, June, and July last, that the number of crimes committed in the five counties I have mentioned amounted to no less than 1,180, while in the three months immediately after the potato disease, or famine as it is called, the amount of crime committed in the same three months was not 1,180, but 870. I should like to know, therefore, what this agrarian outrage has to do with the potato famine; and where is the justification for a minister coming down to this House, and declaring that unless we pass a free-trade measure, we are not to obey her Majesty's commands by passing a measure for the protection of life in Ireland. Why, sir, I think when this language reaches the people of Ireland—coming, too, as it does from the Treasury, above all, from the Secretary of State for the Home Department—there is indeed danger to be apprehended that such a doctrine may be written in letters of blood in that country. Why, sir, if we are to hear such language as this from that minister of the crown charged with the peace of the country, we may just as well have Captain Rock established as lord lieutenant in the castle of Dublin, a Whitefoot for chief secretary, and Molly M'Guire installed at Whitehall with the seals of the home department.'
And afterwards he remarked, 'I have been taunted that when I may be entrusted with the government of Ireland, I should perhaps then learn that Tyrone was an Orange county. Sir, in answer to that taunt, I must take leave to ask what expression of mine, either in this house or out of it, justifies any such remark? When or where can it be said that I have ever permitted myself to know any distinction between an Orangeman and a Catholic; when, in the whole course of my parliamentary career, have I ever given a vote or uttered a sentiment hostile or unfriendly to the Roman Catholics, either of England or Ireland?' This speech, though delivered generally in favour of the Irish bill, attracted very much the attention, and, as it appeared afterwards, the approbation of those Irish members, who, although sitting on the Liberal benches, did not acknowledge the infallible authority of Mr. O'Connell, and was the origin of a political connection between them and Lord George Bentinck, which, on more than one subsequent occasion, promised to bring important results.
Two successive motions were now made for the adjournment of the debate, and Sir Robert Peel at length said, that he 'saw it was useless to persist.' He agreed to the adjournment until the next day, with the understanding that if it did come on, he would name the time to which it should be postponed after the holidays.
Upon this, Sir William Somerville made one more appeal to the minister to postpone the further discussion of the Irish bill altogether until the Corn Bill had passed the Commons. He intimated that unless the government at once adopted this resolution, they would find themselves after Easter in the same perplexity which now paralyzed them. They would not be permitted to bring on this measure except upon government nights, and the discussion might then last weeks.
The minister, exceedingly embarrassed, would not, however, relent. On the following day, when he moved the adjournment of the House for the holidays, he reduced the vacation three days, in order to obtain Friday, a government night, which otherwise would have been absorbed in the holidays, and he announced the determination of the government again to proceed on that night with the Irish bill in preference to the Corn Bill. The Irish members glanced defiance, and the Protectionists could scarcely conceal their satisfaction. The reputation of Sir Robert Peel for parliamentary management seemed to be vanishing; never was a government in a more tottering state; and the Whigs especially began to renew their laments that the Edinburgh letter and its consequences had prevented the settlement of the corn question from devolving to the natural arbitrator in the great controversy, their somewhat rash but still unrivalled leader, Lord John Russell.
A Third Party
THE members of the Protectionist opposition returned to their constituents with the sanguine feelings which success naturally inspires. Their efforts had surprised, not displeased, the country; the elections were in their favour; the government business halted; the delay in the calculated arrival of the famine had taken the edge off the necessity which it was supposed would have already carried the Corn Bill through the Commons; while the twin measure which the throes of Ireland had engendered had developed elements of opposition which even the calmest observer thought might possibly end in overthrow. Above all, that seemed to have happened which the most experienced in parliamentary life had always deemed to be impracticable; namely, the formation of a third party in the House of Commons.
How completely this latter and difficult result was owing to the abilities and energies of one man, and how anomalous was the position which he chose to occupy in not taking the formal lead of a party which was entirely guided by his example, were convictions and considerations that at this juncture much occupied men's minds. And it was resolved among the most considerable of the country gentlemen to make some earnest and well-combined effort, during the recess, to induce Lord George Bentinck to waive the unwillingness he had so often expressed of becoming their avowed and responsible leader.
When Lord George Bentinck first threw himself into the breach, he was influenced only by a feeling of indignation at the manner in which he thought the Conservative party had been trifled with by the government and Lord Stanley, his personal friend and political leader, deserted by a majority of the cabinet. As affairs developed, and it became evident that the bulk of the Conservative party throughout the country had rallied round his standard, Lord George could not conceal from himself the consequences of such an event, or believe that it was possible that the party in the House of Commons, although Lord Stanley might eventually think fit to guide it by his counsels, and become, if necessary, personally responsible for its policy, could be long held together unless it were conducted by a leader present in the same assembly, and competent under all circumstances to represent its opinions in debate. Lord George, although a very proud man, had no vanity or self-conceit. He took a very humble view of his own powers, and he had at the same time a very exalted one of those necessary to a leader of the House of Commons. His illustrious connection, Mr. Canning, was his standard. He had been the private secretary of that minister in his youth, and the dazzling qualities of that eminent personage had influenced the most susceptible time of life of one who was very tenacious of his impressions. What Lord George Bentinck appreciated most in a parliamentary speaker was brilliancy: quickness of perception, promptness of repartee, clear and concise argument, a fresh and felicitous quotation, wit and picture, and, if necessary, a passionate appeal that should never pass the line of high-bred sentiment. Believing himself not to be distinguished by these rhetorical qualities, he would listen with no complacency to those who would urge in private that the present period of parliamentary life was different from the days of Mr. Canning, and that accumulated facts and well-digested reasoning on their bearing, a command of all the materials of commercial controversy, and a mastery of the laws that regulate the production and distribution of public wealth, combined with habits of great diligence and application, would ensure the attention of a popular assembly, especially when united to a high character and great social position. This might be urged; but he would only shake his head, with a ray of humour twinkling in his piercing eyes, and say, in a half-drawling tone, 'If Mr. Canning were alive, he could do all this better than any of them, and be not a whit less brilliant.'
There was also another reason why Lord George Bentinck was unwilling to assume the post of leader of the Conservative party, and this very much influenced him. Sprung from a great Whig house, and inheriting all the principles and prejudices of that renowned political connection which had expelled the Stuarts, he had accepted, in an unqualified sense, the dogma of religious liberty. This principle was first introduced into active politics in order to preserve the possessions of that portion of the aristocracy which had established itself on the plunder of the Church. It was to form the basis of a party which should prevent reaction and restitution of church lands. Whether the principle be a true one, and whether its unqualified application by any party in the state be possible, are questions yet unsettled. It is not probable, for example, that the worship of Juggernaut, which Lord Dalhousie permits in Orissa, would be permitted even by Lord John Russell at Westminster. Even a papist procession is forbidden, and wisely. The application of the principle, however, in Lord George Bentinck's mind, was among other things associated with the public recognition of the Roman Catholic hierarchy by the state, and a provision for its maintenance in Ireland in accordance with the plan of Mr. Pitt. What had happened, with respect to the vote on the endowment of Maynooth in 1845, had convinced him that his opinions on this subject presented an insuperable barrier to his ever becoming the leader of a party which had contributed three-fourths of the memorable minority on that occasion. It was in vain that it was impressed upon him by those most renowned for their Protestant principles, and who were at the same time most anxious to see Lord George Bentinck in his right position, that the question of Maynooth was settled, and there was now no prospect of future measures of a similar character. This was not the opinion of Lord George Bentinck. He nursed in his secret soul a great scheme for the regeneration and settlement of Ireland, which he thought ought to be one of the mainstays of a Conservative party; and it was his opinion that the condition of the Roman Catholic priesthood must be considered.
It was in vain, in order to assist in removing these scruples, that it was represented to him by others that endowment of a priesthood by the state was a notion somewhat old-fashioned, and opposed to the spirit of the age which associated true religious freedom with the full development of the voluntary principle. He listened to these suggestions with distrust, and even with a little contempt. Mr. Canning had been in favour of the endowment of the Irish priesthood—that was sufficient for that particular; and as for the voluntary principle, he looked upon it as priestcraft in disguise; his idea of religious liberty being that all religions should be controlled by the state.
Besides these two prominent objections to accepting the offered post, namely, his unaffected distrust in his parliamentary abilities and his assumed want of concordance with his followers on a great principle of modern politics, we must also remember that his compliance with the request involved no ordinary sacrifice of much which renders life delightful. He was to relinquish pursuits of noble excitement to which he was passionately attached, and to withdraw in a great degree from a circle of high-spirited friends, many of them of different political connection from himself, by whom he was adored. With all his unrivalled powers of application when under the influence of a great impulse, he was constitutionally indolent and even lethargic. There was nothing, therefore, in his position or his temperature to prick him on in '46; it was nothing but his strong will acting upon his indignation which sustained him. It is not, therefore, marvellous that he exhibited great reluctance to commit irretrievably his future life. At a subsequent period, indignation had become ambition, and circumstances of various kinds had made him resolve to succeed or die.
On the adjournment, Lord George had gone down to Newmarket, which he greatly enjoyed after his exhausting campaign. Here some letters on the subject of the leadership passed, but nothing was definitely arranged till some time after the re-assembling of Parliament. For convenience we mention here the result. The wish of the party was repeatedly and personally urged by the popular and much-esteemed member for Dorsetshire, and at last Lord George consented to their wishes, on these conditions: that he should relinquish his post the moment the right man was discovered, who, according to his theory, would ultimately turn up; and secondly, that his responsible post was not to restrict or embarrass him on any questions in which a religious principle was involved.
Before, however, this negotiation was concluded, and while yet at Newmarket, he wrote to a friend, the day before the House met (April 16th).
'I think there is no doubt, but that the Irish will take care of Friday (to-morrow) night. I have not much hope of their keeping up the debate beyond Friday.
'It is quite clear from O'Connell's language at Dublin that we have no hope from the Irish tail.
'I still think myself, that delay affords a great chance of something turning up in our favour; already the rejection of any reciprocity by M. Guizot has provided us with a grand weapon, which, I trust, you drive well home into * * * *'s vitals; a very short delay would probably bring over similar intelligence from the United States and their Congress. I trust we shall have an important deputation over from Canada, representing that the inevitable results of these free-trade measures in corn and timber will be to alienate the feelings of our Canadian colonists, and to induce them to follow their sordid interests, which will now, undoubtedly, be best consulted and most promoted by annexation to the United States.
'Lord———'s intended tergiversation has been, I believe, some time known; he admits that all farmers without capital, in short, all little men, must be sacrificed. What a barbarous and odious policy, that goes upon the principle that none but capitalists are henceforth to be allowed to live, as farmers at least. We must turn the tables upon Lord———and all such heartless doctrinaires!
'I fear the majority in the Lords will be greater than was expected; I am told that we must endeavour to put ministers in a minority two or three times before the bill gets to its second reading in the Lords, no matter upon what question. I hear there are many peers whose votes depend entirely upon their notions, whether or not Peel can, by hook or by crook, carry on.'
Railroads for Ireland
IF WE take a general view of the career of Lord George Bentinck during the last year—from the time indeed when he was trying to find a lawyer to convey his convictions to the House of Commons until the moment when her Majesty prorogued her Parliament, the results will be found to be very remarkable. So much was never done so unexpectedly by any public man in the same space of time. He had rallied a great party which seemed hopelessly routed; he had established a parliamentary discipline, in their ranks which old political connections, led by experienced statesmen, have seldom surpassed; he had brought forward from those ranks, entirely through his discrimination and by his personal encouragement, considerable talents in debate; he had himself proved a master in detail and in argument of all the great questions arising out of the reconstruction of our commercial system; he had made a vindication of the results of the Protective principle as applied to agriculture, which certainly, so far as the materials are concerned, is the most efficient plea that ever was urged in the House of Commons in favour of the abrogated law; he had exhibited similar instances of investigation in considerable statements with respect to the silk trade and other branches of our industry; he had asserted the claims of the productive classes in Ireland, and in our timber and sugar producing colonies, with the effect which results from a thorough acquaintance with a subject; he had promulgated distinct principles with regard to our financial as well as to our commercial system; he had maintained the expediency cf relieving the consumer by the repeal of excise in preference to customs' duties, and of establishing fiscal reciprocity as a condition of mercantile exchange. On subjects of a more occasional but analogous nature he had shown promptitude and knowledge, as in the instances of the urgent condition of Mexico and of our carrying trade with the Spanish colonies, both of which he brought forward in the last hours of the session, but the importance of which motions was recognized by all parties. Finally, he had attracted the notice, and in many instances obtained the confidence, of large bodies of men in the country, who recognized in him a great capacity of labour combined with firmness of character and honesty of purpose.
At the close of the session (August 28), Cord George visited Norfolk, where he received an entertainment from his constituents at King's Lynn, proud of their member, and to whom he vindicated the course which he had taken, and offered his views generally as to the relations which should subsist between the legislation of the country and its industry. From Norfolk he repaired to Belvoir Castle, on a visit to the Duke of Rutland, and was present at a banquet given by the agriculturists of Leicestershire to his friend and supporter the Marquis of Granby. After this he returned to Welbeck, where he seems to have enjoyed a little repose. Thus he writes to a friend from that place on the 22nd September:
'Thanks for your advice, which I am following, having got Lord Malmesbury's Diary; but I am relapsing into my natural dawdling, lazy, and somnolent habits, and can with difficulty get through the leaders even of the "Times."
* * * * 'The vehemence of the farmers is personal against Peel; it is quite clear that the rising price of wheat has cured their alarm. The railway expenditure must keep up prices and prosperity, both of which would have been far greater without free trade; but in face of high prices, railway prosperity, and potato famine, depend upon it we shall have an uphill game to fight.
'O'Connell talks of Parliament meeting in November, to mend the Irish Labour-rate Act. Do you believe this?'
The Labour-rate Act, passed at the end of the session ('46), was one by which the Lord Lieutenant was enabled to require special barony sessions to meet in order to make presentments for public works for the employment of the people, the whole of the money requisite for their construction to be supplied by the imperial treasury, though to be afterwards repaid. The machinery of this act did not work satisfactorily, but the government ultimately made the necessary alterations on their own responsibility, and obtained an indemnity from Parliament when it met in '47. The early session, therefore, talked of by Mr. O'Connell, became unnecessary. As the only object of this Labour-rate Act was to employ the people, and as it was supposed there were no public works of a reproductive nature which could be undertaken on a sufficient scale to ensure that employment, the Irish people were occupied, towards the end of the autumn of '46, mainly in making roads, which, as afterwards described by the first minister, 'were not wanted.' In the month of September more than thirty thousand persons were thus employed; but when the harvest was over, and it was ascertained that its terrible deficiency had converted pauperism into famine, the numbers on the public works became greatly increased, so that at the end of November the amount of persons engaged was four hundred thousand, receiving wages at the rate of nearly five millions sterling per annum. These immense amounts went on increasing every week, and when Parliament met in February, 1847, five hundred thousand persons were employed on these public works, which could bring no possible public advantage, at an expense to the country of between L700,000 and L800,000 per month. No Board of Works could efficiently superintend such a multitude, or prevent flagrant imposition, though the dimensions of that department appeared almost proportionably to have expanded. What with commissioners, chief clerks, check clerks, and pay clerks, the establishment of the Board of Works in Ireland, at the end of '46, consisted of more than eleven thousand persons.
Always intent upon Ireland, this condition of affairs early and earnestly attracted the attention of Lord George Bentinck. So vast an expenditure in unproductive labour dismayed him. He would not easily assent to the conclusion that profitable enterprise under the circumstances was impossible. Such a conclusion seemed to him unnatural, and that an occasion where we commenced with despair justified a bold and venturesome course. The field is legitimately open to speculation where all agree that all is hopeless. The construction of harbours, the development of fisheries, the redemption of waste lands, were resources which had been often canvassed, and whatever their recommendations, with the exception of the last, they were necessarily very limited; and the last, though it might afford prompt, could hardly secure profitable, employment. Prompt and profitable employment was the object which Lord George wished to accomplish. Where millions were to be expended by the state, something more advantageous to the community should accrue than the temporary subsistence of the multitude.
Lord George had always been a great supporter of railway enterprise in England, on the ground that, irrespective of all the peculiar advantages of those undertakings, the money was spent in the country; and that if our surplus capital were not directed to such channels, it would go, as it had gone before, to foreign mines and foreign loans, from which in a great degree no return would arrive. When millions were avowedly to be laid out in useless and unprofitable undertakings, it became a question whether it were not wiser even somewhat to anticipate the time when the necessities of Ireland would require railways on a considerable scale; and whether by embarking in such enterprises, we might not only find prompt and profitable employment for the people, but by giving a new character to the country and increasing its social relations and the combinations of its industry, might not greatly advance the period when such modes of communication would be absolutely requisite.
Full of these views, Lord George, in the course of the autumn, consulted in confidence some gentlemen very competent to assist him in such an inquiry, and especially Mr. Robert Stephenson, Mr. Hudson, and Mr. Laing. With their advice and at their suggestion, two engineers of great ability, Mr. Bidder and Mr. Smith, were despatched to Ireland, personally to investigate the whole question of railroads in that country.
Meditating over the condition of Ireland, a subject very frequently in his thoughts, and of the means to combat its vast and inveterate pauperism, Lord George was frequently in the habit of reverting to the years '41-42 in England, when there were fifteen hundred thousand persons on the parish rates; eighty-three thousand able-bodied men, actually confined within the walls of the workhouse, and more than four hundred thousand able-bodied men receiving out-door relief. What changed all this and restored England in a very brief space to a condition of affluence hardly before known in her annals? Not certainly the alterations in the tariff which were made by Sir Robert Peel at the commencement of his government, prudent and salutary as they were. No one would pretend that the abolition of the slight duty (five-sixteenths of a penny) on the raw material of the cotton manufacturer, or the free introduction of some twenty-seven thousand head of foreign cattle, or even the admission of foreign timber at reduced duties, could have effected this. Unquestionably it was the railway enterprise which then began to prevail that was the cause of this national renovation. Suddenly, and for several years, an additional sum of thirteen millions of pounds sterling a year was spent in the wages of our native industry; two hundred thousand able-bodied labourers received each upon an average twenty-two shillings a week, stimulating the revenue both in excise and customs by their enormous consumption of malt and spirits, tobacco and tea. This was the main cause of the contrast between the England of '41 and the England of '45.
Was there any reason why a proportionate application of the same remedy to Ireland should not proportionately produce a similar result? Was there anything wild or unauthorized in the suggestion? On the contrary: ten years before (1836), the subject had engaged the attention of her Majesty's government, and a royal commission had been issued to inquire into the expediency of establishing railway communication in Ireland. The commissioners, men of great eminence, recommended that a system of railways should be established in Ireland, and by the pecuniary assistance of government. They rested their recommendation mainly on the abundant evidence existing of the vast benefits which easy communication had accomplished in Ireland, and of the complete success which had attended every Parliamentary grant for improving roads in that country.
The weakness of the government, arising from the balanced state of parties, rendered it impossible at that time for them to prosecute the measures recommended by the royal commissioners, though they made an ineffectual attempt in that direction. Could it be suspected that the recommendation of the commissioners had been biassed by any political consideration? Was it a Whig commission attempting to fulfil a Whig object? Another commission, more memorable, at the head of which was the Earl of Devon, was appointed by a Tory government some years afterwards, virtually to consider the condition of the people of Ireland, and the best means for their amelioration. The report of the Devon commission confirmed all the recommendations of the railway commissioners of '36, and pointed to these new methods of communication, by the assistance of loans from the government, as the best means of providing employment for the people.
When Mr. Smith of Deanston was examined by a Parliamentary committee, and asked what measure of all others would be the one most calculated to improve the agriculture and condition of Ireland, he did not reply, as some might have anticipated, that the most efficient measure would be to drain the bogs; but his answer was, 'advance the construction of railways, and then agricultural improvement will speedily follow.'
To illustrate the value of railways to an agricultural population, Mr. Smith, of Deanston, said, 'that the improvement of the land for one mile only on each side of the railway so constructed would be so great, that it would pay the cost of the whole construction.' He added, that there were few districts' in Ireland, in which railway communication could be introduced, where the value of the country through which the railway passed would not be raised to an extent equal to the whole cost of the railway.
Arguing on an area of six hundred and forty acres for every square mile, after deducting the land occupied by fences, roads, and buildings, Mr. Smith, of Deanston, entered into a calculation of the gain deliverable from the mere carriage of the produce of the land, and the back carriage of manure, coals, tiles, bricks, and other materials, and estimated the saving through those means on every square mile to more than L300, or something above L600 on 1,280 acres abutting each mile of railway, this being the difference of the cost of carriage under the old mode of conveyance as compared with the new. Following up this calculation, he showed that fifteen hundred miles of railway would improve the land through which it passed to the extent of nearly two million acres at the rate of a mile on each side; and, taken at twenty-five years' purchase, would equal twenty-four millions sterling in the permanent improvement of the land.
The ground, therefore, was sound on which Lord George cautiously, and after due reflection, ventured to place his foot.
And now, after the reports of these two royal commissions, what was the state of railway enterprise in Ireland in the autumn of '46, when a vast multitude could only subsist by being employed by the government, and when the government had avowedly no reproductive or even useful work whereon to place them; but allotted them to operations which were described by Colonel Douglas, the inspector of the government himself, 'as works which would answer no other purpose than that of obstructing the public conveyances?'
In '46, acts of Parliament were in existence authorizing the construction of more than fifteen hundred miles of railway in Ireland, and some of these acts had passed so long as eleven years previously, yet at the end of '46 only one hundred and twenty-three miles of railway had been completed, and only one hundred and sixty-four were in the course of completion, though arrested in their progress from want of funds. Almost in the same period, two thousand six hundred miles of railway had been completed in England, and acts of Parliament had passed for constructing five thousand four hundred miles in addition: in the whole, eight thousand miles.
What then was the reason of this debility in Ireland in prosecuting these undertakings? Were they really not required; were the elements of success wanting? The first element of success in railway enterprise, according to the highest authorities, is population; property is only the second consideration. Now, Ireland in '46 was more densely inhabited than England. A want of population could not therefore be the cause. But a population so impoverished as the Irish could not perhaps avail themselves of the means of locomotion; and yet it appeared from research that the rate of passengers on the two Irish railways that were open greatly exceeded in number that of the passengers upon English and Scotch railways. The average number of passengers on English and Scotch railways was not twelve thousand per mile per annum, while on the Ulster railway the number was nearly twenty-two thousand, and on the Dublin and Drogheda line the number exceeded eighteen thousand.
The cause of the weakness in Ireland to prosecute these undertakings was the total want of domestic capital for the purpose, and the unwillingness of English capitalists to embark their funds in a country whose social and political condition they viewed with distrust, however promising and even profitable the investment might otherwise appear. This was remarkably illustrated by the instance of the Great Southern and Western Railway of Ireland, one of the undertakings of which the completion was arrested by want of funds, yet partially open. Compared with a well-known railway in Great Britain, the Irish railway had cost in its construction L15,000 per mile, and the British upwards of L26,000 per mile; the weekly traffic on the two railways, allowing for some difference in their extent, was about the same on both, in amount varying from L1,000 to L1,300 per week; yet the unfinished British railway was at L40 premium in the market, and the incomplete Irish railway at L2 discount. It was clear, therefore, that the commercial principle, omnipotent in England, was not competent to cope with the peculiar circumstances of Ireland.
Brooding over the suggestions afforded by the details which we have slightly indicated, Lord George Bentinck, taking into consideration not merely the advantage that would accrue to the country from the establishment of a system of railroads, but also remembering the peculiar circumstances of the times, the absolute necessity of employing the people, and the inevitable advance of public money for that purpose, framed a scheme with reference to all these considerations, and which he believed would meet all the conditions of the case. He spared no thought, or time, or labour, for his purpose. He availed himself of the advice of the most experienced, and prosecuted his researches ardently and thoroughly. When he had matured his scheme, he had it thrown into the form of a parliamentary bill by the ablest hands, and then submitted the whole to the judgment and criticism of those who shared his confidence and counsels. Towards the end of November he was at Knowsley, from whence he communicated with the writer of these pages. 'I am here hatching secret plans for the next session; and now, if you have not quite abjured politics, as you threatened for the next three months to do, devoting yourself to poetry and romance, I think I ought to have a quiet day with you, in order that we may hold council together and talk over all our policy. I shall be at Harcourt House on the 30th. I shall stay there till the 3rd of December, for a meeting on that day of the Norfolk Estuary Company, of which I am chairman. Would that evening suit you—or Friday—or Wednesday? I am not well acquainted with the geography of Buckinghamshire, but presume you are accessible either by rail or road in less than twelve hours.
'The activity in the dockyard must be in preparation to interfere in Portugal, to keep King Leopold upon the Portuguese throne: it cannot be for Mexico, for our friend the "Times" formally abandoned Mexico in his leader some days ago.
'* * * * has been entertaining Lord * * * * in Ireland, and writes: "How Peel must chuckle at the Whig difficulties." I dare say he does, but in Ireland it seems to me Lord Besborough is putting the fate Irish government to shame, whilst the rupture of the entente cordiale, the conquest of California and New Mexico, and the complications in the river Plata,—are complete inheritances from Lord Aberdeen.
'Eaton has come to life again: else there was a prospect of George Manners quietly succeeding him in Cambridgeshire. I fear we shall do no good in Lincolnshire, notwithstanding the industry of our dear friend the "Morning Post," in getting hold of Lord Ebrington's and Lord Rich's letters to Lord Yarborough. I suppose there is no mistake in Lord Dalhousie ("the large trout") going out to Bombay with the reversion of Bengal.
'The duchy of Lancaster is to be put in commission, Lord * * * * to be one of the commissioners, but unpaid. He has begun, I presume, to overcome the false delicacy which prevented his acceptance of office under the Whigs in July. S * * * * thought G * * * * was to be another of the Board, but that turns out a mistake, but Lord H * * * * is to be.
'The manufacturers are working short time, and reducing wages in all directions, John Bright and Sons at Rochdale among the rest. The Zollverein increasing their import duties on cotton and linen yarn, and putting export duties of 25 per cent. (some of the states at least) on grain.'
We must not omit to record, that in the autumn of this year, at Goodwood races, the sporting world was astounded by hearing that Lord George Bentinck had parted with his racing stud at an almost nominal price. Lord George was present, as was his custom, at this meeting, held in the demesne of one who was among his dearest friends. Lord George was not only present but apparently absorbed in the sport, and his horses were very successful. The world has hardly done justice to the great sacrifice which he made on this occasion to a high sense of duty. He not only parted with the finest racing stud in England, but he parted with it at a moment when its prospects were never so brilliant; and he knew this well. We may have hereafter to notice on this head an interesting passage in his life.
He could scarcely have quitted the turf that day without a pang. He had become the lord paramount of that strange world, so difficult to sway, and which requires for its government both a stern resolve and a courtly breeding. He had them both; and though the blackleg might quail before the awful scrutiny of his piercing eye, there never was a man so scrupulously polite to his inferiors as Lord George Bentinck. The turf, too, was not merely the scene of the triumphs of his stud and his betting-book. He had purified its practice and had elevated its character, and he was prouder of this achievement than of any other connected with his sporting life. Notwithstanding his mighty stakes and the keenness with which he backed his opinion, no one perhaps ever cared less for money. His habits were severely simple, and he was the most generous of men. He valued the acquisition of money on the turf, because there it was the test of success. He counted his thousands after a great race as a victorious general counts his cannon and his prisoners.
The Versatility of Lord George Bentinck
THOSE who throw their eye over the debates of the session of '47, cannot fail to be struck by the variety of important questions in the discussion of which Lord George Bentinck took a leading or prominent part. And it must be borne in mind that he never offered his opinion on any subject which he had not diligently investigated and attempted to comprehend in all its bearings. His opponents might object to his principles or challenge his conclusions, but no one could deny that his conclusions were drawn from extensive information and that his principles were clear and distinct. He spared no pains to acquire by reading, correspondence, and personal research, the most authentic intelligence on every subject in debate. He never chattered. He never uttered a sentence in the House of Commons which did not convey a conviction or a fact. He was too profuse indeed with his facts: he had not the art of condensation. But those who have occasion to refer to his speeches and calmly to examine them, will be struck by the amplitude and the freshness of his knowledge, the clearness of his views, the coherence in all his efforts, and often—a point for which he never had sufficient credit—by his graphic idiom.
The best speech on the affairs of Cracow, for example, the most vigorous and the best informed, touching all the points with a thorough acquaintance, was that of Lord George Bentinck. The discussion on Cracow, which lasted several nights and followed very shortly after the defeat of his Irish bill, appeared to relate to a class of subjects which would not have engaged his attention; but on the contrary, he had given days and nights to this theme, had critically examined all the documents, and conferred with those qualified to supply him with any supplementary information requisite. He spoke several times this session on questions connected with our foreign affairs, and always impressed the House with a conviction that he was addressing it after a due study of his subject: as for example, his speech against our interference in Portugal, and the statement in which he brought forward the claims of the holders of Spanish bonds on the government of Spain before the House of Commons. In the instance of Portugal, a motion of censure on the conduct of ministers had been introduced by Mr. Hume, and the government were only saved from a minority by the friendly interposition of Mr. Duncombe, who proposed an amendment to the motion of Mr. Hume which broke the line of the liberal force. Lord George Bentinck in this case followed Mr. Macaulay, whose speech, as was his wont, had been rich in historical illustration. 'The right honourable and learned member for Edinburgh,' Lord George replied, 'had entered into a very interesting history of various interferences which had taken place in the affairs of Portugal; but in making that statement he forgot to mention one circumstance which had occurred in that history, and it was this
—that when Philip II. of Spain sought to conquer Portugal, the method he had recourse to for that purpose was one which he thought her Majesty's ministers had successfully practised on the present occasion
—he persuaded the leaders in Portugal to mix sand with the powder of their troops. And so, on this occasion, her Majesty's ministers had prevailed on the member for Finsbury, and those other members who were so ready to profess a love of liberty, to mix sand with their powder.'
In a previous chapter we have treated at some length of the means proposed or adopted by the Parliament for the sustenance and relief of the people of Ireland. The new poor law for that country also much engaged the attention of both Houses this session. Lord George Bentinck took a very active part in these transactions, and moved the most important of all the amendments to the government measure, namely, an attempt to assimilate the poor law of Ireland as much as possible to that of England, and make the entire rates be paid by the occupying tenant. His object, he said, was to 'prevent lavish expenditure and encourage profitable employment to the people.' This amendment was only lost by a majority of four.
On the 26th of March, on the government bringing forward their bill on the rum duties, Lord George Bentinck brought before the House the case of the British and Irish distillers, not with any preference or partiality towards English, Scotch, or Irish distillers over the colonial producer. 'I am no advocate of any monopoly whatever. I desire only equal and exact justice between both parties; and the only way in which that end can, in my opinion, be properly attained, is in a select committee upstairs, consisting of impartial members of this house.'
He often used to say that no subject ever gave him more trouble thoroughly to master than the spirit duties; and he noticed the character of the theme at the beginning of his speech. He said he required, not only the most especial indulgence, but even the toleration of the House, 'for of all the dry and dull subjects which could possibly be introduced, the question which it is now my misfortune to bring under the consideration of the House is the driest and the dullest. If this question had been one merely of pounds, shillings, and pence, it would have been dull and complicated enough; but this is a question in which are concerned not pounds and shillings, but pence, and halfpence, and farthings.'
The Whitsuntide holidays occurred at the end of May. It had originally been the intention of Lord George Bentinck, at the request of leading merchants and manufacturers of all parties and opinions, to have brought forward the question of the Bank Act after these holidays, and to move a resolution that some discretionary power should be established as to the issue of notes. He thus alludes to this point in a letter to Mr. Wright, of the 24th of May:—
'I return you No. 1019, of the "Bankers' Circular," with many thanks.
'This delightful and timely change in the weather will do wonders for the country, and by producing an abundant and seasonable harvest, will save the country, and may save the Bank Charter Act; but it is pretty well settled that I am to give notice immediately after the holidays, of a resolution very much in the spirit of the memorial contained in the paper I am returning to you.
'Things are better in the City and at Liverpool, and with this weather will continue to improve; but it seems to me any reverse in the weather, such as would occasion a late and deficient harvest, could not fail to bring the commerce of the country to a dead lock.
'The opinion is gaining ground, that in the present state not only of Ireland, but of many districts in England, the government will not venture upon a general election till after the harvest, and not then, unless the harvest should prove favourable.
'I am glad to read your opinion in opposition to Lord Ashburton's, that railways keep the gold in the country, and do not send it out. Glyn gave strong evidence last year to this effect before the railway committee.'
Neither of the prospects in this letter was realised. The commercial and manufacturing interest, after the Whitsun recess, thought it advisable for reasons of great weight that Lord George Bentinck should postpone for a month or six weeks his intended motion on the Bank Charter, and the ministers resolved to dissolve Parliament before the harvest: thus it happened that the merchants and manufacturers lost their chance of relief from the yoke, and experienced the reign of terror in the autumn, the terrible events of which ultimately occasioned the assembling of the new Parliament in November.
Anticipating the immediate dissolution of Parliament, Sir Robert Peel had issued an address to the electors of Tamworth, justifying his commercial policy. In the opinion of Lord George Bentinck it set forth a statement as to the effect and operation of those financial measures which had taken place in the course of the last six years, which, if left altogether unrefuted, might have a dangerous tendency at the coming elections. The general effect of that statement was, that by the reduction of duties to a large extent, it was possible to relieve the people of this country of burdens amounting to more than seven millions and a half sterling with little or no loss whatever to the revenue. But the truth was, Sir Robert Peel in his reductions had dealt only with little more than ten millions sterling of the revenue of the country, and had left the remaining thirty-seven millions untouched. Now on that portion of the revenue with which alone he had dealt, there was a deficiency, through his changes, to the amount of five millions sterling, which loss was compensated by the increase on those very articles which Sir Robert had left untouched. It was the opinion of Lord George Bentinck that the conclusion which Sir Robert Peel had drawn from the comparatively barren results of the increased duties on imports carried by the Whigs in 1840, viz., that indirect taxation had reached its limit, and which was indeed the basis of his new system, was a fallacy, and that the anticipated increase of import duties had not accrued in 1840 in consequence of our having had three successive bad harvests, 'and a bad cotton crop to boot,' all of which had checked the consuming power of the community. Sir Robert Peel had been favoured by three successive good harvests and nearly L100,000,000 invested in six years in domestic enterprise. 'The interposition of Providence,' said Lord George, 'is never a part of our debates.'
Under these circumstances, Lord George took occasion to review the commercial policy of Sir Robert Peel, on the 20th July, in the House of Commons, only three days before the prorogation, and in one of his most successful speeches. He was much assisted by the fact that the exports of all our staple manufactures had then greatly diminished, and of course he urged this point triumphantly. 'If we had been indemnified for the dead loss of L650,000 on cotton wool by any great impulse given to our manufacturers, it would be a consolation which unfortunately we could not enjoy.' He traced all the consumption to railway enterprise, and showed that it alone had compensated for the fruitless loss of revenue which we had incurred in vainly stimulating the exports of our manufactures, which had actually diminished. He was so impressed with the importance that, 'on the eve of a dissolution, such a statement as that of Sir Robert Peel should not go forth to the country uncontroverted, as in that case the necessary result would be that the people would come to the opinion that they might abolish taxes altogether and yet maintain the revenue,' that he sat up all night writing an address to his constituents, the electors of King's Lynn, which took up nearly two columns of the newspapers, in which he presented his refutation to the public of the commercial manifesto of Tamworth, illustrated by the necessary tables and documents.
There is a sentence in this speech which, as a distinct expression of policy, should perhaps be quoted:
'Sir, I am one of those who seek for the repeal of the malt tax and the hop duties. I am one of those who think that the excise duties ought to be taken off. But, sir, I do not pretend that you can repeal the malt tax or the hop duties, or remove the soap tax without commutation for other taxes. I will not delude the people by pretending that I could take off more than seven millions and a half of taxes without replacing them by others, and not leave the nation bankrupt. But I think these reforms of Sir Robert Peel have been in a mistaken direction; I think that revenue duties on all foreign imports ought to be maintained, and that a revenue equal to those excise duties which I have mentioned can be levied upon the produce of foreign countries and foreign industry, without imposing any greater tax than one which shall fall far short of Mr. Walker's "perfect revenue standard of 20 per cent." I say that by imposing a tax far less than 20 per cent. upon all articles of foreign import, a revenue might be derived far less burdensome to this country than that of excise, a revenue of which the burden would be largely shared in by foreign countries, and in many cases paid altogether by foreign countries.'
Lord George at this time watched with great interest a novel feature in our commercial transactions. He wrote on the 29th May (1847), to Mr. Burn, the editor of the 'Commercial Glance,' and an individual of whose intelligence, accuracy, and zeal he had a high and just opinion, 'Can you inform me how the raw cotton purchased for exportation stands in the first three weeks of the present month of May, as compared with the corresponding periods of '46—5—4—3?
'I observe from a cotton circular sent to me the other day, that seven thousand five hundred bags of cotton had been purchased for exportation between the 1st and 21st of May. If with reduced stocks of raw cotton we are commencing a career of increased exportation, it appears to me to involve very serious consequences for our cotton manufactures as growing out of the existing monetary difficulties of the manufacturers.
'If you could answer me these queries within the next three or four days, I should feel greatly obliged to you.'
Again, on the 22d of July, on the point of going down to his constituents, he was still pursuing his inquiries in the same quarter.' I want particularly to compare,' he says to Mr. Burn, 'the export of the last ten weeks of raw cotton with the corresponding ten weeks of '46 and '45, and at the same time to compare the importations and deliveries into the hands of the manufacturers during these same periods.
'Pray address me, Lynn, Norfolk, where I go on Saturday, and shall remain till after my election on Thursday.'
He writes again from Lynn, with great thanks for the information which had been accordingly forwarded to him there. 'Might I ask you to give me an account of the cotton wool imported weekly into Liverpool, and also the quantity sold to dealers, exporters, and speculators, in the three corresponding weeks of '45-46.
'This information by return of post would greatly oblige me.'
On the 23d of July, 1847, the last day of the second Parliament of Queen Victoria, Lord George went down to the House of Commons early, and took the opportunity of making a statement respecting the condition of our sugar-producing colonies, which were now experiencing the consequences of the unjustifiable legislation of the preceding year. He said there were appearances in the political horizon which betokened that he should not be able to obtain a select committee in the present session, and therefore, if he had the honour of a seat in the next Parliament, he begged to announce that he would take the earliest occasion to move for a committee to inquire into the present power of our colonies to compete with those countries which have still the advantage of the enforced labour of slaves. The returns just laid upon the table of the House could leave no doubt, he thought, on any man's mind on that point. Since the emancipation, the produce of sugar by the colonies, from '31 to '46, had been reduced one half, and of rum and coffee had been reduced to one fourth. When the act of last year which admitted slave-grown sugar was introduced, the allegation of the English colonies, that they could not compete with the labour of slaves, was denied. The proof of that allegation was, that they were already overwhelmed.
When one recalls all to which this speech led, the most memorable effort of that ardent, energetic life to which it was perhaps fatal, one can scarcely observe the origin of such vast exertions without emotion.
The Under Secretary of State replied to Lord George, making a cry of cheap sugar for the hustings which were before everybody's eyes, but making also this remarkable declaration, that 'the Island of Mauritius was in a state of the greatest prosperity.' While Lord George was speaking, the cannon were heard that announced the departure of her majesty from the palace.
Then followed a motion of Mr. Bankes about the sale of bread, which led to some discussion. Mr. Bankes threatened a division. Lord Palmerston, who on this occasion was leading the House, said it would be acting like a set of schoolboys, if when Black Rod appeared they should be in the lobby instead of attending the Speaker to the other House. But as the members seemed very much inclined to act like schoolboys, the Secretary of State had to speak against time on the subject of baking. He analyzed the petition, which he said he would not read through, but the last paragraph was of great importance.
At these words, Black Rod knocked at the door, and duly making his appearance, summoned the House to attend the Queen in the House of Lords, and Mr. Speaker, followed by a crowd of members, duly obeyed the summons.
In about a quarter of an hour, Mr. Speaker returned without the mace, and standing at the table read her Majesty's speech to the members around, after which they retired, the Parliament being prorogued. In the course of the afternoon, the Parliament was dissolved by proclamation.
The Great Panic
THE general election of 1847 did not materially alter the position of parties in the House of Commons. The high prices of agricultural produce which then prevailed naturally rendered the agricultural interest apathetic, and although the rural constituencies, from a feeling of esteem, again returned those members who had been faithful to the protective principle, the farmers did not exert themselves to increase the number of their supporters. The necessity of doing so was earnestly impressed upon them by Lord George Bentinck, who warned them then that the pinching hour was inevitable; but the caution was disregarded, and many of those individuals who are now the loudest in their imprecations on the memory of Sir Robert Peel, and who are the least content with the temperate course which is now recommended to them by those who have the extremely difficult office of upholding their interests in the House of Commons, entirely kept aloof, or would smile when they were asked for their support with sarcastic self-complacency, saying, 'Well, Sir, do you think after all that free trade has done us so much harm?' Perhaps they think now, that if they had taken the advice of Lord George Bentinck and exerted themselves to return a majority to the House of Commons, it would have profited them more than useless execrations and barren discontent. But it is observable, that no individuals now grumble so much as the farmers who voted for free trader in 1847, unless indeed it be the shipowners, every one of whom for years, both in and out of Parliament, supported the repeal of the corn laws.
The Protectionists maintained their numbers, though they did not increase them, in the new Parliament. Lord George Bentinck however gained an invaluable coadjutor by the re-appearance of Mr. Herries in public life, a gentleman whose official as well as parliamentary experience, fine judgment, and fertile resource, have been of inestimable service to the Protectionist party. The political connection which gained most were the Whigs; they were much more numerous and compact, but it was in a great measure at the expense of the general liberal element, and partly at the cost of the following of Sir Robert Peel. The triumphant Conservative majority of 1841 had disappeared; but the government, with all shades of supporters, had not an absolute majority.
Had the general election been postponed until the autumn, the results might have been very different. That storm—which had been long gathering in the commercial atmosphere—then burst like a typhoon. The annals of our trade afford no parallel for the widespread disaster and the terrible calamities. In the month of September, fifteen of the most considerable houses in the city of London stopped payment for between five and six millions sterling. The governor of the Bank of England was himself a partner in one of these firms; a gentleman who had lately filled that office, was another victim; two other Bank directors were included in the list. The failures were not limited to the metropolis, but were accompanied by others of great extent in the provinces. At Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow large firms were obliged to suspend payments. This shock of credit arrested all the usual accommodation, and the pressure in the money-market, so terrible in the spring, was revived. The excitement and the alarm in the city of London were so great that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer hurried up to town on the 1st of October, he found that the interest of money was at the rate of 60 per cent. per annum. The Bank Charter produced the same injurious effect as it had done in April; it aggravated the evil by forcing men to hoard. In vain the commercial world deplored the refusal of the government to comply with the suggestion made by Lord George Bentinck and Mr. Thomas Baring in the spring; in vain they entreated them at least now to adopt it, and to authorize the Bank of England to enlarge the amount of their discounts and advances on approved security, without reference to the stringent clause of the charter. The government, acting, it is believed, with the encouragement and sanction of Sir Robert Peel, were obstinate, and three weeks then occurred during which the commercial credit of this country was threatened with total destruction. Nine more considerable mercantile houses stopped payment in the metropolis, the disasters in the provinces were still more extensive. The Royal Bank of Liverpool failed; among several principal establishments in that town, one alone stopped payment for upwards of a million sterling. The havoc at Manchester was also great. The Newcastle bank and the North and South Wales bank stopped. Consols fell to 79 1/4, and exchequer bills were at last at 35 per cent, discount. The ordinary rate of discount at the Bank of England was between 8 and 9 per cent., but out of doors accommodation was not to be obtained. In such a state of affairs, the small houses of course gave way. From their rising in the morning until their hour of retirement at night, the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were employed in seeing persons of all descriptions, who entreated them to interfere and preserve the community from universal bankruptcy. 'Perish the world, sooner than violate a principle,' was the philosophical exclamation of her Majesty's ministers, sustained by the sympathy and the sanction of Sir Robert Peel. At last, the governor and the deputy-governor of the Bank of England waited on Downing Street, and said it could go on no more. The Scotch banks had applied to them for assistance. The whole demand for discount was thrown upon the Bank of England. Two bill-brokers had stopped; two others were paralyzed. The Bank of England could discount no longer. Thanks to the Bank Charter, they were safe and their treasury full of bullion, but it appeared that everybody else must fall, for in four-and-twenty hours the machinery of credit would be entirely stopped. The position was frightful, and the government gave way. They did that on the 25th of October, after houses had fallen to the amount of fifteen millions sterling, which they had been counselled to do by Lord George Bentinck on the 25th of April. It turned out exactly as Mr. Thomas Baring had foretold. It was not want of capital or deficiency of circulation which had occasioned these awful consequences. It was sheer panic, occasioned by an unwisely stringent law. No sooner had the government freed the Bank of England from that stringency, than the panic ceased. The very morning the letter of license from the government to the Bank of England appeared, thousands and tens of thousands of pounds sterling were taken from the hoards, some from boxes deposited with bankers, although the depositors would not leave the notes in their bankers' hands. Large parcels of notes were returned to the Bank of England cut into halves, as they had been sent down into the country, and so small was the real demand for an additional quantity of currency, that the whole amount taken from the Bank, when the unlimited power of issue was given, was under L400,000, and the Bank consequently never availed itself of the privilege which the government had accorded it. The restoration of confidence produced an ample currency, and that confidence had solely been withdrawn from the apprehension of the stringent clauses of the Bank Charter Act of 1844.
These extraordinary events had not occurred unnoticed by Lord George Bentinck. The two subjects that mostly engaged his attention after the general election were the action of the Bank Charter and the state of our sugar colonies. Perhaps it would be best to give some extracts from his correspondence at this period. He was a good letter-writer, easy and clear. His characteristic love of details also rendered this style of communication interesting. It is not possible to give more than extracts, and it is necessary to omit all those circumstances which generally in letter-reading are most acceptable. His comments on men and things were naturally free and full, and he always endeavoured, for the amusement of his correspondents, to communicate the social gossip of the hour. But although all this must necessarily be omitted, his letters may afford some illustrations of his earnestness and energy, the constancy of his aim, and the untiring vigilance with which he pursued his object—especially those which are addressed to gentlemen engaged in commercial pursuits who cooperated with him in his investigations.
TO A FRIEND.
Harcourt House, August 30, 1847.
An answer is come out to my address to my constituents at King's Lynn, and to my speech in answer to Peel's manifesto. Pray read it. At first I thought I could swear to its being * * * *, I now think I can swear to its being * * * *; the servility to Peel, and the official red-tape style would equally do for either; but the no-popery page, I think, fixes it on * * * *.
I think it wretchedly weak, and have written some notes on the margin, showing up the principal points. The nine months' famine of 1846-47, as contrasted with Peel's famine, shows a difference of between L6,000,000 and L7,000,000; that is to say, on the balance in the nine months 1845-46, Ireland exported about three millions' worth of breadstuffs, and not a soul died of famine. In the nine months 1846-47, she imported three millions' sterling worth of bread-stuffs, which insufficed to prevent one million—or say half a million—of the people from dying of starvation.
At present I have seen no notice of the pamphlet in any of the newspapers: if it is either * * * *'s, or * * * *'s, or * * * *'s we shall see it reviewed in 'Times,' 'Chronicle,' and 'Spectator.'
The Bank of England has raised the interest on * * * *'s mortgage one-third per cent., making an additional annual charge of L1,500 a year to him. I am very sorry for him, but I know nothing so likely to rouse the landed aristocracy from their apathy, and to weaken their idolatry of Peel so much as this warning note of the joint operation of his free trade and restrictive currency laws.
TO A FRIEND.
Harcourt House, September 2, 1847.
I think it is * * * *. The trickster, I observe, has carefully reduced the pounds of cotton to cwts., in the hopes of concealing a great fraud to which he has condescended; taking, in the Whig year of 1841, the home consumption of cotton, whilst in Peel's year he gives entire importation as the home consumption, representing both as home consumption.
In Peel's year, 1846, officially we have only the gross importation; but in the Whig year, 1841, the entire importation and the home consumption are given separately: the importation exceeding the home consumption by fifty million pounds. Burn's 'Glance,' however, gives the importation and home consumption for both years; unfortunately, however, not in lbs. or cwts., but in bags. * * * *'s fraud, however, is not the less apparent.
He selects a Whig year when the home consumption was 220,-000 bags under the importation, and a year for Peel when the importation exceeded the home consumption by 280,000 bags, and claps down the figures as alike describing the home consumption.
None of the Peel papers have taken up the subject: if they should, the 'Morning Post' will answer the pamphlet; but I should like to have mine back again, in order that I may furnish them with the notes.
* * * * was with me this morning, and called my attention to the circumstance that the author starts with 'We,' but drops into the singular number; * * * * fancies it is Peel himself, but the page on endowment fixes it on * * * *.
Lord L * * * * means, I presume, that Peel's savage hatred is applied to the Protectionist portion of his old party, not of course to the janissaries and renegade portion.
The following letter was in reply to one of a friend who had sent him information, several days before they occurred, of the great failures that were about to happen in the city of London. The list was unfortunately quite accurate, with the exception indeed of the particular house respecting which Lord George quotes the opinion of Baron Rothschild.
TO A FRIEND.
Welbeck, September 17, 1847.
A thousand thanks for your letter, the intelligence in which created a great sensation at Doncaster.
As yet none of the houses appear to have failed except S * * * *. Baron Rothschild was at Doncaster. I talked with him on the subject; he seemed not to doubt the probable failure of any of the houses you named, except * * * *. He declared very emphatically 'that * * * * house was as sound as any house in London.'
Lord Fitzwilliam declares 'it is no free trade without free trade in money.'
Lord Clanricarde is here—laughs at the idea of Parliament meeting in October; but talks much of the difficulties of Ireland—says he does not see how the rates are to be paid.
Messrs. Drummond are calling in their mortgages. I expect to hear that this practice will be general; money dear, corn cheap, incumbrances enhanced, and rents depressed. What will become of the apathetic country gentlemen? I judge from * * * * 's language, that Lord John Russell will stand or fall by the Bank Charter Act-but that he feels very apprehensive of being unable to maintain it.
I agree with Bonham, in thinking that the Protectionist party is smashed for the present Parliament; but I must say I think Protectionist principles and policy are likely to come into repute again far sooner than was expected; and though Peel's party be a compact body, and formidable in the House of Commons, I cannot think that there appears that in the working of his measures to make it likely that he should be soon again carried into power on the shoulders of the people. I think his political reputation must ebb further before it can rise again, if it should ever rise again. * * * * thought him 'broken and in low spirits,' when he met him at Longshaw; but Lord * * * *, who was there at the same time, came away more Peelite than ever, and told them at Bretby that Sir Robert said, 'That he was quite surprised at the number of letters he got every day from members returned to Parliament, saying they meant to vote with him.'
You may rely upon it the Peelites are very sanguine that they will be in power again almost directly. We must keep them out.
TO MR. BURN, EDITOR OF THE 'COMMERCIAL GLANCE.'
Welbeck, September 38, 1847. To the many courtesies you have already bestowed upon me, I will sincerely thank you to add that of informing me what have been the estimated cotton crops in the United States in each of the last four years. I would also thank you to inform me the comparative importation, home consumption, re-exportation, and stocks on hand of cotton of the first seven months of the current and three preceding years.
TO MR. BURN.
Welbeck, October 4, 1847.
Your statistics have reached me in the very nick of time, and are invaluable. I care nothing about 'outsides,' it is 'insides' I look to; give me a good 'heart,' and I don't care how rough the 'bark' is.
Anything so good I fear to spoil by suggesting the most trivial addition, else I should say it would be an interesting feature to classify the exports of cotton goods, etc., etc., under three heads:—
1st. To the British colonies and British possessions abroad.
2nd. To the northern states of Europe, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, etc., etc., the United States of America, and other countries having high tariffs.
3rd. To China, Turkey, Africa, and the Southern States of America, and countries with low tariffs.
I fear these failures of East and West India houses must entail great distress upon Manchester, and the manufacturing interests generally. You have given an account of the bankruptcies in the cotton trade during a long series of years till last year inclusive; are you able to say how the first nine months of the current year stands in comparison with its predecessors?
I so highly prize your new work, that I must ask for a dozen copies to distribute among my friends.
P. S. I have already parted with the copy you sent me; may I, therefore, beg another without waiting for any other binding?
TO A FRIEND.
Welbeck, October 5, 1847.
I shall go up to town on Friday evening, in my way to Newmarket, and shall be at Harcourt House all Saturday and Sunday, and shall be delighted to see you, and have a thorough good talk with you. Free trade seems working mischief faster than the most fearful of us predicted, and Manchester houses, as I am told, 'failing in rows,' ashamed to do penance in public, are secretly weeping in sackcloth and ashes, and heartily praying that Peel and Cobden had been hanged before they were allowed to ruin the country.
Money at Manchester is quoted one and a quarter per cent, for ten days: L45 12s. 6d. per cent. per annum!
TO A FRIEND.
Harcourt House, October 22, 1847. I have this moment got a note from Stuart, telling me that 'the Chancellor has this afternoon sent out his notice of the business to be taken in his own court during Michaelmas term, that is, from the 2nd of November till the 26th, and below it there is this notice—except those days on which the Lord Chancellor may sit in the House of Lords!!!'
Surely this must portend a November session.
TO A FRIEND.
Harcourt House, October 23, 1847. The fat banker's gossip is all stuff. Peel goes to Windsor today, I believe on an invitation of some standing. * * * * who had been dining at Palmerston's last night, tells me that he does not think that ministers mean calling Parliament together, and is confident they mean to maintain the Bank Charter Act. There have been some first-rate articles and letters in the 'Morning Chronicle' lately on this subject.
TO A FRIEND.
Harcourt House, November 6, 1847.
I will stay over Tuesday, that I may have the pleasure of a thorough talk with you.
I am told things are gradually getting better. I expect, however, a fresh reverse about six weeks or two months hence, when the returned lists of the stoppages in the East and West Indies, consequent upon the late failures here, come home. The Western Bank of Scotland is whispered about. If that were to fail, it might bring the canny Scots to their senses; but they are a headstrong race.
A committee on commercial distress having been appointed, the principal reason for the summoning of the new Parliament in the autumn had been satisfied, and an adjournment until a month after Christmas was in prospect. Before, however, this took place, a new and interesting question arose, which led to considerable discussion, and which ultimately influenced in no immaterial manner the parliamentary position of Lord George Bentinck.
The city of London at the general election had sent to the House of Commons, as a colleague of the first minister, a member who found a difficulty in taking one of the oaths appointed by the House to be sworn preliminarily to any member exercising his right of voting. The difficulty arose from this member being not only of the Jewish race, but unfortunately believing only in the first part of the Jewish religion.
THE relations that subsist between the Bedoueen race that, under the name of Jews, is found in every country of Europe, and the Teutonic, Sclavonian, and Celtic races which have appropriated that division of the globe, will form hereafter one of the most remarkable chapters in a philosophical history of man. The Saxon, the Sclav, and the Celt have adopted most of the laws and many of the customs of these Arabian tribes, all their literature and all their religion. They are therefore indebted to them for much that regulates, much that charms, and much that solaces existence. The toiling multitude rest every seventh day by virtue of a Jewish law; they are perpetually reading, 'for their example,' the records of Jewish history, and singing the odes and elegies of Jewish poets; and they daily acknowledge on their knees, with reverent gratitude, that the only medium of communication between the Creator and themselves is the Jewish race. Yet they treat that race as the vilest of generations; and instead of logically looking upon them as the human family that has contributed most to human happiness, they extend to them every term of obloquy and every form of persecution.