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The present age also is an age of struggle between conflicting principles which it is the work of this time, and perhaps of many generations more, to bring into a just relation with one another. The conflict now going on is between the instincts and immediate interests of the propertied classes and those of the unpropertied. This opposition of interests—partly real, partly only apparent—is at present the grand difficulty of government. All other questions with which governments have yet begun to occupy themselves, are difficult chiefly by their connexion with this.


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Now, of those two opposing forces—neither of which can be disregarded, neither of which can or ought to triumph over the other, but which it is the grand business of government to attempt to reconcile—one only is represented in the British parliament. The ministry, be it what it may, exclusively represents the propertied classes; and the two houses of parliament are unanimously on the same side of the question as itself. It has to make out a case to the satisfaction solely of its own party.

The murmurs of the other party it only hears at a distance, and is under no greater necessity of attending to them than the cabinet of a despot. There are no recognised organs for that other power, no way in which it can show itself above ground, and the extent of its subterraneous working will therefore only be known when some day, as at Vienna, it explodes and blows up the whole fabric of society. Is it not of old one of the principal and acknowledged uses of parliament, that all which agitates and divides society should make itself felt by a corresponding agitation and division there?

Ought not parliament to be the place of discussion for adverse interests and principles, the arena where opposing forces should meet and fight out their battle, that they may not find themselves reduced to fight it in a less pacific field? If so, the British parliament does not fulfil its office; for the vital question with which all Europe rings, and which fills every thinking mind, both in England and on the continent, with anxiety—the question how to make the rights of property acceptable to the unpropertied classes, is unheard of in that assembly, which it ought more than anything else to occupy; and the subjects which engross parliamentary debates, compared with the great and urgent interests of the nation, form a contrast as full of irony, as the Byzantine multitude Edition: current; Page: [ ] occupying itself with the factions of the circus when Attila was at their gates.

They have to learn the difficult but necessary act of looking at established institutions and opinions from the point of view of those who are not on the sunny but on the shady side of the social edifice. Defects by which other people alone suffer are seldom seen until the sufferers point them out. When the unpropertied are fairly represented in the House of Commons, their just claims will, for the first time, obtain a really impartial hearing, and their unreasonable demands will, also for the first time, be so resisted as not to leave a stinging sense of injustice behind.

This article returns to the issues of No. This one thing would do more towards diminishing the undue ascendancy of landed and moneyed wealth than all the other points, even of the charter, 1 without it.

The Spirit is Willing, but the Medium is Dead

It would reduce the nominees of the landlords in the House of Commons from about two-thirds of the whole assembly to about one-third. And by making every electoral body too numerous to be bribed, it would put an end to the obtaining seats by mere expenditure, an object for which so much virtuous zeal is so ineffectually professed by all classes of half-reformers. But as it is not convenient to say that the real objection to the measure is its efficacy, every encouragement is held out to the invention of sentimental objections. Electoral districts are said to be mechanical, pedantic, a rule-and-square system; and all the other phrases usually employed to throw discredit on precise and business-like modes of conducting any transaction.

So, because the lightning and the cannon-ball fly straight to their mark, nothing else should. Straightforwardness and directness of aim are declared to be discreditable things, and whatever takes the straight road to its object is an agent of destruction.

Let us rather say that directness and power are the same thing or always accompany each other. If the object be to destroy, the means which are most direct are the most effectual; and so they are when the object is to preserve.

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When a person is in the water and drowning, Mr. Talfourd would hardly quote Schiller in favour of going round about, instead of straight in to deliver him. If it is absolutely necessary to have an illustration from visible nature, the sunbeams move in straight lines as well as the lightning; indeed more so, for the lightning makes no objection to twisting and turning in order to accommodate itself to the direction of the conducting medium.

A steam-ship, also, would have been a more appropriate exemplification of rectilineal movement than a cannon-ball. The poet goes on to say that the road on which blessing travels. Does it not occur to the admirers of crooked paths that we are living in an age of railroads; and that, now-a-days, rather than Edition: current; Page: [ ] not go straight to our object, instead of winding round the hill we even tunnel through it?

The spirit of the time requires that its machinery, whether for physical or for political purposes, shall be efficient. It is not reckoned a merit in machinery to imitate the pleasing irregularities of nature. Its beauty is in its accuracy: it works by straight lines and right angles, and works best when its lines are most correctly straight, its angles most exactly square.

Coleridge himself, though fond of quoting the passage which Mr. Talfourd cited from him, 5 is an authority in favour of electoral districts. He recommended, we think in his Church and State, a new administrative division of the country, describing the present one as barbarous, and a great obstacle to improvement. Electoral districts are mechanical. And why not? In whatever manner members of parliament are elected, there must be mechanical arrangement of some sort; and what these should be is not a question of poetry or the picturesque, but of means to an end. What is the right end, and by what means can it be accomplished?

Is it the proper end of a House of Commons to make the landed and monied aristocracies the masters of the legislature? If so, keep the system as it is. Is it the object that no class shall predominate, but that all sections of the community shall be powerful in proportion to their numbers and their intelligence? A new division and constitution of the electoral body is then imperative; and the more nearly equal the number of electors in each constituency the more nearly is the end attained.

There is a sentiment concerned in the matter, without doubt, but it is that of justice. When just ends are aimed at by just means, and means well adapted to their attainment, all other sentiment will take care of itself. Sentiment, and of the best kind, is sure to gather round all things which are large diffusers of good among the human race.

Unfortunately, reformers no more than anti-reformers have yet learned to make great principles their object, and in this lies the secret in the affairs of communities no less than in those of individuals, of ineffectual struggles and mean results. The world will rally round a truly great principle, and be as much the better for the contest as for the attainment; but the petty objects by the pursuit of which no principle is asserted, are fruitless even when attained. This unheaded third leader, another comment on the aftermath of the February Revolution see Nos.

If the revolution, after its first difficulties are over, issues in a government which at once preserves order and accelerates progress—makes the laws obeyed, and labours actively to improve them—then in England, and in all Europe, faith in improvement, and determination to effect it, will become general, and the watchword of improvement will once more be, as it was of old, the emancipation of the oppressed classes.

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If, on the other hand, the French people allow their republican institutions to be filched from them by artifice, or yield them up under the ascendancy of some popular chief, or under the panic caused by insurrection, or compromise them by an indefinite succession of disorders, repressed only by a succession of illegal violences on the part of the government, the tendency in this and other countries to the extension of political rights or the redress of social injustices, may be for a long time suspended.

The tide will set in in a retrograde direction, and a timid conservative instinct will probably take the place of even that moderate taste for improvement which did exist in a certain portion of the influential classes of this country before February last.

The enemies of reform in England know all this, and their tactics are accommodated to it. Events in France itself are fortunately out of their power. If anything which they were able to do could make the revolution in France really a disastrous failure, it would be done. Lacking this, the most that there is any chance of accomplishing is to make it be thought a failure. And to effect this, there is hardly any exaggeration or misrepresentation which is not resorted to. Those whose notions of the state of France are taken from the leading articles of almost any English newspaper, are much worse than ignorant, they are entirely misinformed.

The writers do not even preserve a decent consistency with the facts published by themselves. Oftener still, the denial, or positive disproof, given in the French papers, has not been noticed at all, while the calmuny has continued to be assumed as an indisputable fact. Instances of all these kinds of misrepresentations have occurred for example , with regard to the imputed atrocities of the late unsuccessful insurgents. The English journals eagerly circulated them all—even the nonsense about waylaying the troops and the national guard to poison them with brandy, and such cock and bull stories, which bore their absurdity on the face of them—to which nothing but the extreme of terror and exasperation combined could have made the greatest gobemouche in Paris give credit for an instant.

This, and all the tales about poisoned balls and other peculiarly murderous missiles made and used by the insurgents, 3 have been proved and are now admitted to be, not exaggerations, but absolute fictions, without the smallest pretence of a fact to ground them on. There is not a single imputation of cruelty or ferocity of anything like a general character which is not now given up; the only assertions of the kind as yet unrefuted are of two or three insulated acts by individuals, and it remains to be seen whether even these will stand the test of judicial inquiry.

Yet the English public are still led to believe, and do believe, that the insurrection was something unheard-of for its horrible barbarity; and the journals which led them into this belief take care not to disabuse them of it. Nor are the victors in the late contest more spared by calumny than the vanquished. We are told with the coolest effrontery in leading articles about the number of persons who have been shot by order of the present French government 4 —it being a notorious fact that not one person has been shot, not one life taken, by the authority of government in consequence of the insurrection, while it is expected that none will be taken even after trial.


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The mildness and moderation of the sincerely republican party are as conspicuous in the present head of the government and his cabinet as in the provisional government and executive commission who preceded him. The readers of both whig and tory papers really ought to receive with distrust the statements which they find in those papers disadvantageous to France.

December 1847 to July 1858

They ought to consider how great an interest those papers have, or think they have, in putting the worst colour on French affairs. It is the only chance of preventing Edition: current; Page: [ ] reform. There is no way now of discrediting reform without blackening France.

The enemies of popular institutions have lost their most potent weapon, fear of the unknown. Democracy, in the popular signification of the term, exists as a fact, among our nearest neighbours. There, under our eyes, is universal suffrage, or what is usually, though improperly, called by that name; a sovereign assembly, elected by the whole male population; no aristocracy as a clog on its movements; and the motto of this government is Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.

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Here, then, is an actual trial of the experiment; with what success depends on circumstances of which no one is yet in a condition to judge; but if the result should be a social system, which, with any amount of allowance for human imperfection, does sincerely, and in a manner not to be mistaken, aim at guiding its practice by the spirit of its motto, surely it cannot have other than a beneficial influence?

Other countries will not fear anything worse for themselves from popular institutions than France suffers, or than they can be made to believe that France suffers. We may be certain, therefore, that the bad side of everything will be made the most of; that every idle or malicious rumour of mischief will be circulated as a fact, and when each particular rumour is proved to be false, the general impression made by such false assertions will be studiously kept up, and that, fairly or foully, events in France will continue to be represented in the blackest colours in which there is any hope of representing them successfully.

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And such is, unfortunately, the general ignorance in this country respecting foreign affairs, that a large amount of misrepresentation may as yet be ventured upon without any considerable danger of detection. The reputation of Sir Robert Kane, and the public position which he has held, give a sort of scientific, and at the same time official, weight to his opinions, and therefore common sense and common arithmetic, coming from him, may carry an authority which, on the wretched Edition: current; Page: [ ] subject of Ireland, they seldom obtain by their intrinsic merits.

The clamourers against small holdings and the division of the land may perhaps give heed to him, when he proves by figures that small farms, in the existing circumstances of Ireland, are a necessity; since on the large farm system there would be employment for no more than two-fifths of the present agricultural population, the other three-fifths becoming paupers, to be supported from the produce raised by the labour of the former. They are afraid to let it be known they have money, lest their rent should be raised; they are afraid to improve their land, lest their rent should be raised; they are afraid to wear good clothes, lest they might appear to be deriving more from the produce of their farm than the miserable means of physical existence which their landlord will allow them to retain.

Hence the money hid in thatch and buried in barns. We are sorry to be obliged to tell him that, on this subject, he will get no help from Sir R. The evils Sir Robert can understand, but on the subject of remedies nothing can be more lame and impotent than his conclusion. Most gladly would they do anything for Ireland, only there must not be a word said of the one vital point in the constitution of society as it exists in Ireland—the tenure of land.

And Sir Robert Kane, although not privileged, like a minister of state, to be ignorant of his business, can propose nothing as a remedy for Ireland but to instruct the people in agriculture: as if any quantity of instruction in farming would make people improve their farms who, on his own showing, hide their money in the thatch, for fear that if their landlord knew of it he would raise the rent!

Is it not a mockery to talk of doing any good to the peasantry of a country in such a state of things as this?


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Who can expect agricultural improvement where the rent depends on the good pleasure of the landlords, and of such landlords? Yet Sir Robert Kane writes strongly and boldly, while confining himself to generals:. The landlord [he says] has to learn that feudalism is extinct; that Great Britain and Ireland are the only places in the world where feudal landlordism is not extinct, except where the people are still slaves, and that there is a very large and intelligent class who think that the time is close at hand for reforming landlordism here also.

The landed interests of this country, shut out by their insular position, by their ignorance and their pride, from making themselves acquainted with the forces of thought that have grown up within the last half-century, and which now govern the opinion of Europe, will only endanger their legitimate influence and position if they attempt to retain for the future the feudal privileges and territorial powers which were the natural social circumstances of the ancient times.

Even in Ireland, the hospital for the aged and disabled ideas of Europe, feudalism, and the divine power of land, is dying—its worn out form crushed by the iron power of the industrial spirit. This is excellent; but, unfortunately, Sir R. Kane does not mean it in the sense in which it can be of any practical use. For the old, worn out theory which he so justly repudiates, that landlords have the duties and are entitled to the rights of governors, he would substitute the doctrine that land falls under the same rules as any other article of commerce, and that neither law nor opinion has anything to do with the mode in which the owner manages it for his own interest.