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From The Spectator.
CURIOSITIES OF PARLIAMENTARY HISTORY.
The session just closed has been one of the least remarkable we have had of late years. It survived the average term, although, perhaps, it scarcely accomplished the average amount of work, and it was saved from utter dulness only by the personalities occasionally introduced into the debates. There is no circumstance connected with it which entitles it to be numbered among the curious Parliaments of which history bears record, and which are a good deal better worth recalling than the incidents of the past six months. Many of the members who were becoming impatient last week to depart for the grouse, must have envied their predecessors in the first Parliament which ever sat, in the reign of Henry the Third, who were released after an attendance of thirty-three days. The burgesses, citizens, and knights had never before been allowed to exercise legislative functions, and the writ which summoned them rendered it lawful for them to receive payment for their services from their constituents. The sheriffs were directed to form a jury of " four lawful knights "to assess the expenses of the representatives; and for many years subsequently members received wages during the session. The rate of pay was first fixed in the reign of Edward II.—it was to be 4s. a day for every knight of the shire, and 2s. for every burgess; but a smailer sum was sometimes taken, and there is one case, which a writer in Notes and Queries suggests may be the first instance of bribery known, where a member consented to serve for nothing. The expenses of travelling to the place where Parliament assembled often deterred small constituencies from sending members—they virtually disfranchised themselves on account of their poverty. Petitions have been presented to Parliament from constituencies begging to be disfranchised on the ground of their inability to pay the expenses of their members. The Parliament of 9 Edward HI. sat at York for eight days only, but the representatives from Cornwall had payment. granted them for thirty-two days spent in travelling. This formed so serious a charge that it became a luxury, which only well-to-do boroughs could afford, to have a member. In some cases
payment was made in kind instead of in specie. There is an indenture extant (3 Edward III.) between one John Strawnge and certain burgesses of Droitwich, by virtue of which the said John Strawnge agreed to attend the Parliament at Westminster, "' qwehdyr it holde longe tyme or schortt, or gwhedye it fortune to been P'rogott'" for the consideration of a " Cade of full Heryng tho* to been dyliv'id be Xitenmesse next comyng." The needy voter does not often find his privilege an encumbrance to him now-a-days, and Mr. Strange's bargain contrasts ludicrously with the amount of provender said to have been once consumed by "the voters of a small borough," besides a "preparatory breakfast" which cost £750. The following is the bill of fare, as given in the Annual Register, 1761: 980 stone of beef, 315 dozen of wine, 72 pipes of ale, 365 gallons of spirits converted into punch.
Parliaments were ordinarily elected annually, but the session was generally very brief, and between the reigns of Henry VI. and Charles II. the sittings were frequently adjourned on account of the plague. The shortest Parliament that ever sat met in the thirty-fourth year of the reign of Edward I., and existed for one day only; the longest was not that which is historically known as the " Long Parliament," which, according to the general computation, existed 16 years, 145 days, or according to another (the outside limit) 17 years and three months. The second Parliament of Charles II. met on the 8th of May, 1661, and was not dissolved till the 24th of January, 1678, having thus had a duration of 17 years, 8 months, and 16 days. This, therefore, is the real "long" Parliament. It sat through, as Hume says, "the whole course of the reign, one year excepted. . . . Before their dissolution they seemed to be treading fast in the footsteps of the last Long Parliament, on whose conduct they threw at first such violent blame." Down to the time of Henry IV., the longest Parliament that had ever been known extended over ten months. He was the first king who prorogued Parliament by his own will and act. Twenty days was the average length of the session during the half century that Edward HI. sat on the throne. This would have suited the blunt and dissatisfied Speaker who, in the course of the debate on the Triennial Bill in 1693, declared that "Parliaments resembled the manna which God bestowed on the chosen people. They were excellent while they were fresh, but if kept too long they became noisome, and foul worms were engendered by the corruption of that which had been sweeter than honey." It was not, indeed, without many prognostications of evil that Septennial Parliaments were instituted, and some of the most pungent sarcasms of Junius are directed against those who could act as they liked for six years, provided they took a little trouble to make atonement in the seventh. The longest session of late years was that of 184748, which lasted 293 days, and was referred to by the Speaker in his address to the queen, as well as from the throne, as a " laborious and protracted session." Mr. May, in a pamphlet published in 1849, states that "it sat 170 days; the average duration of each sitting was 8 hours, 16 3-4 minutes; it sat 13G 1-4 hours after midnight. There were 10,412 entries in the votes of res gestce, and 255 divisions." Let members think of this, and consider how lightly they have escaped from their duties in the present year.
The present "forms" of both Houses have accumulated by slow degrees. In the reign of James I. a member brought forward a motion forbidding hissing in the House of Commons, and declaring it to be " a thing derogatory from the dignity, not becoming the gravity, and as much crossing and abating the honor and privileges of the House as any other abuse whatsoever." The motion was accepted " with approval," but the practice of making unseemly noises does not seem to have declined, and Mr. Erskine May, in his valuable Law of Parliament, regrets that in our own time " the most disorderly noises are sometimes made." The ironical " Hear, hear " is peculiarly offensive to the nervous speaker, and even the practised debater is sometimes discomfited by an unexpected cheer. A few years ago a Mr. Blewitt, representative of the Monmouthshire boroughs, was the butt of the House when he rose, and used to make, as a , writer in Fraser's Magazine tells us, "imploring appeals, in plaintive tones and with aggrieved astonishment in his aspect, to know what it was the House were laughing at." It did not avail this unlucky gentleman that he was lineally descended from
the Welsh princes. Old members of the House may recollect an instance of a prime minister being severely rebuked for a cheer which he did not give. The incident occurred during a debate on the state of Ireland, in the session of 1846. Mr. Disraeli made it the foundation of one of his "envenomed" attacks upon Sir B.obert Peel, that he had cheered a statement of Mr. Cobden, which was contrary to his (the prime minister's) own views. Sir R. Peel "totally denied" this, whereupon Mr. Disraeli, according to Hansard, exclaimed—" If the right honorable baronet means to say that anything I have said is false, of course I cease—I sit down." And sit down he did, in the middle of his speech. A scene ensued. Mr. Newdegate asked for an explanation of Sir R. Peel's words, and Major Macnamara, probably scenting a battle afar off, protested that if " any honorable member felt aggrieved, this is not the place to call him (Sir R. Peel) to account." But Lord George Bentinck, Sir James Graham, and other members who are no longer living, interposed to make peace. Sir R. Peel repeated his denial that he had cheered Mr. Cobden's remark. Mr. Disraeli expressed himself satisfied, and the parties retired for the night, without any prospect of Major Macnamara's services being called into requisition. Among all the hot encounters between Sir R. Peel and Mr. Disraeli, this approached the nearest to an open personal quarrel.
Formerly, members could not absent themselves for a single night from the House without permission of the monarch, and in after times, of the Speaker and the House. In every case they forfeited their wages during the time they were absent. Both Lords and Commons were fined if they did not attend prayers. During the "Long Parliament" the Commons made an order "that all members who climb over seats shall pay 12d.," and in the same session it was agreed, "that every member standing in the passage whilst the House is sitting shall pay 12d. to the Sergeant." It has often happened that members of Parliament have been mobbed, as in the time of Lord George Gordon's riots, or threatened, as in the case of Mr. Secretary Peel, who one night informed the House that he had received a letter complaining of his speeches, and threatening him with public contradiction from the gallery. The writer was summoned to the bar and reprimanded. Persons have repeatedly been committed by the House for libelling individual members, the first example known of this mode of vindicating its honor having occurred in 1680. Once, in the reign of James I., the House took vengeance on a yeoman of the guard who had hindered a member from entering in order to hear the king's speech. The offender was brought in solemnly in a state of great contrition and penitence, and was compelled to beg pardon on his knees at the bar. He was likewise reprimanded by the Speaker. Occasionally, persons not members were found within the House and ignominiously expelled. Such accidents are little likely to occur now. The policemen at the doors know most of the members by sight, and even if an imposter were to elude their penetration, the porter at the door would infallibly discover him. It would be hardly possible, indeed, for a non-member to take his seat in the House during the progress of business.
The Speaker, though a potent and generally revered authority, has sometimes fallen beneath the displeasure of the House and suffered rebuke. In the time of James I. there was a Speaker who seems to have been in the habit of leaving the House frequently, without apology or explanation. One evening he met with an unexpectedly warm reception on his return to the chair. A Mr. Mallory said he ought not to rise without leave, and Sir R. Phillippes complained that the Speaker " sometime negleeteth his duty to the House in intricating or deferring the question." Sir H. Manners was even more downright: "Mr. Speaker is but a servant to the House, not a master, nor master's mate." Sir H. Withrington declared that "the Speaker was the fault of all their faults, by preventing them with rising." The attack went the round of the House, the unfortunate object of it being compelled to listen to it with his accustomed impartiality and gravity. We are not aware of any timilar instance of a combined and determined outhreak against the Speaker on the part of members; of late years, at any rate, an excellent understanding has prevailed.
The loquacity of members is no new failing. Queen Elizabeth ridiculed and reviled
her Commons very sharply for it, and once told them "She utterly disallows and condemns those for their audacious, arrogant, and presumptuous folly who, by superfluous speeches, spend much time in meddling with matters, neither pertaining to them, nor within the capacity of their understanding." On another occasion she charged them "Not to make new and idle laws, and trouble the House with them, but rather look to the abridging and repealing of divers obsolete and superfluous statutes "—certainly a sensible and homely piece of advice. She also rebuked the Commons for keeping among them "Desperate debtors who never come abroad," and "prowling and common solicitors that set dissension between mSn and men." The "Virgin Queen" had, indeed, a particular hatred for solicitors, and it was probably at her instigation that a bill was brought in for reducing the number of those "pests."
The Act 7 and 8 Will. HL made it necessary that a member should be of age—prior to that time there was no such restriction. In one of Elizabeth's Parliaments a long discussion took place upon this very point. A Mr. Alford said that no one was fit to serve under thirty years of age, and a few days afterwards Thomas Long, "a very simple man," was questioned as to his election. "He confesses that he gave the mayor of Westhury and another five pounds for his place in Parliament." They were ordered to repay the sum, a fine of £20 was levied on the corporation, and Long was expelled. In Notes and Queries (vol. 8, O. S.) a strange story appeared of a " member electing himself." A subsequent correspondent corrected the narrative in many important particulars, but stated that he was an eyewitness of the election, and that one elector only was present. Mr. Bannatyne was the member who thus gained a seat (for the county of Bute) by one vote.
During the past session a few journals have promised to get a suitable gallery for the ladies in the House of Commons, instead of the cage which now hides their charms. These polite writers may not be aware that serious arguments were, and are still sometimes, used against ladies being admitted within the House at all. The Edinburgh Review thus reasoned in 1841: "It cannot be denied that the effect of a casual attendance at debates is to cause a regard for persons rather than for principles, and the substitution of private partiality for calm and comprehensive judgment—in short, the aggravation of those very failings which are always observable in the politics of women. Women who take an interest in politics are commonly observed to be keener and bitterer in their partisanship than men. To make them spectators of political conflicts would be to aggravate the animosity with which they are too apt to regard the opponents of their own friends; and the harmony and peace of society, which have already too often been disturbed by political discord, would materially suffer." Another of the writer's objections was that it would be unadvisable "that the vanity of young members should be tempted to encroach upon the valuable time of the House, by the presence of an audience still more interesting than even the redoubtable phalanx of reporters." He even thought that the House would be lowered in the sight of the country
'by the admission of ladies. Perhaps, after this, fair politicians will be contented with the cage from which they are permitted to survey the mysteries.
To conclude these stray notes, we may mention that two " men of color" have sat in Parliament — Dyce Sombre and John Stewart—and that it was once the custom for sittings to take place on Sunday. No instance of this has occurred since the reign of Richard II. "The last occasion," says Mr. May, "on which the Crown refused its consent to a bill was in 1807, when Queen Anne refused her assent to a bill for settling the militia in Scotland." While Cromwell was in power he gave his assent to bills in English, ignoring the French form used till then, and restored after his death. The House of Lords once passed a measure to do away with these French words, but the Lower House was for once more Conservative than the Upper, and refused to abolish the ancient custom, which is consequentlv still observed.
Discounting One's Marble.—We read in the Bath Clironicle that in the Abbey Cemetery (which we take not to be exactly the place where Mr. Acres thought there was "snug lying") a citizen of Bath has erected unto himself a tombstone, upon which he has recorded all that is usually placed there, leaving a blank for the day of his demise. And this memorial by anticipation the brave Bath brick occasionally visits and reads. We do not hear whether he has indulged himself in epigraphic eulogy, but why should he not do so' He must know himself better than anybody else can know him, and may speak of his own virtues with the calmness of certainty, whereas his executors could only guess at them. Let him put up "E. I. P. , whether that mean Respected in the Parish, or as in Roman Catholic inscriptions, implies an unpleasantly warm operation undergone in the intermediate state. Or stay. Why not take the other line? He is a strongminded man, and not afraid to rebuke tombstone flatteries. We have not the slightest or faintest idea who he is, and therefore cannot annoy him by our wildest supposition. Let us suppose him a Humbug. His decorous executors may or may not know the fact, but certainly will not allege it, vid chisel and hammer. What a splendid moral lesson he might read— thus :—
What is Mortal of
PIGGE DE BLADUD, ESQ.,
Of this City,
Ho had a bad temper and a good wig:
He knew which side his bread was buttered:
He was thought rich, and undeceived nobody:
Hence he was feared, admired, respected,
And made Churchwarden. And,
Dying on the Blank day of Blank,
And leaving next to nothing behind him,
la now called an awful old Humbug, And does not care a farthing what he is called.
Now, there would be true courage in a man who should put up anything of that sort, and we believe (unless seeing Robert If Diable has mado us superstitious) that the hypocritical tombstones around this revelation would be found to have twisted round and turned their backs upon such vulgar frankness. De mortals nil nisi Verum is a rule to which we have not yet attained; but if the living took to writing their own epitaphs, we might approach that wholesomeness. At any rate we are obliged to our friend at Bath for putting the notion into our minds, and in return wo will hope that it will be a good while (if such be his wish) bcforo the date is chiselled into the stone mentioned in the Bath Chronicle.—Punch.
From Once a Week. WHAT I HEARD AT THE COFFEE PARTY.
I BELIEVE there is no country in the world utterly devoid of superstition in one form or other. Germany is generally considered to be the land of legends and traditions, yet the part in which I have lately resided, is, I think, the least poetical corner of Europe. In Silesia, which was formerly a Polish. province, scarcely is a vestige of ancient grandeur to be found, and nothing can be more matter of fact, unrelieved by the least fancy or imagination, than both the habits and tastes of its inhabitants ; yet even there, amidst those unpoetic plains, romance, tradition, fiction, call it what you will, has found some small channel, and from time to time threads its way through the commonplace tittle-tattle of this most prosaic era.
Whilst staying at the small garrisop town
of N , I was invited to a "coffee party,"
an entertainment generally given to ladies alone, the unfair sex being rigorously excluded. The Frau Landtrathin von G
had assembled round her hospitable board a numerous party of ladies from the neighborhood, and extensive were the preparations made for their delectation. The younger members of the circle might probably have considered that an invasion of some of the uniformed youths, of whom the town was then full, would not altogether have marred the enjoyment of the endless refreshments set before them; but the rule of exclusion was stringent as the laws of the Medes and Persians, so they were fain to make the best of existing circumstances, and wile away the time by discussing the respective merits of absent friends—male and female. A little scandal, or " klatschen," as it is called in German, is a necessary ingredient in all small assemblies, and if report speaks truly, is an amusement not exclusively confined to the weaker sex.
On this occasion the conversation became all the more lively for being interspersed with repeated sips at that delectable composition called " Bowie." This is a beverage of which Rhine wine, pineapple sugar, and champagne form the principal ingredients; when mixed with due skill and science, the flavor is ambrosial, and it is particularly favored by the ladies as being more delicate and refined than the ordinary vinous beverages.
Who knows how many characters would
have been torn to pieces, or matches made or even unmade, on that afternoon, had not our good hostess chanced to express her admiration of a pearl necklace, of great value, worn by one of her guests: "It is more curious than beautiful," rejoined the wearer; " you know it is the famous Malzahn necklace."
"•What, the necklace!" exclaimed all the ladies in chorus. "Oh, pray let us see it!"
I inquired into the cause of all this curiosity, and as a few besides myself professed ignorance of the generally well-known story, the countess was kind enough to relate it for our benefit.
"You must know, then," said she, "that one of our ancestors, a Count Malzahn, inhabited, ut a very remote period, the Castle of Militsch, in Silesia. He was married to a very beautiful young lady, and in due course of time became the happy father of a son and heir, whose birth was greeted by the most joyous festivities in Castle and Hall.
"Shortly after the child's birth, as the young mother had fallen into a deep slumber, she had a strange dream or vision, which made so deep an impression on her mind, that she could not refrain from relating it the next day. She dreamt that a little dwarf had appeared at the bottom of her couch, and that he had begged and prayed her in the most piteous tones to have her baby's cradle removed from the spot on which it stood, as the rocking, he said, disturbed his wife, who was very ill, and could not sleep for the noise. The poor countess only got laughed atfor her foolish dream. The next night, however, her troublesome guest re-appeared, this time urging his request with still greater earnestness; she therefore determined no longer to withstand his entreaties, and the next day had the baby and his cradle removed to the other end of the room. The ensuing night, the little man visited her again in her dreams, but this time in high spirits, thanking her profusely for her kind acquiescence in his wishes, and assuring her that his wife was already fast recovering in consequence.
"The countess was well pleased when the vision disappeared, and left her for some time in peace: the relief, however, was not of long duration, as a few weeks later the poor lady's dreams were again disturbed by the same apparition. This time the little dwarf had no intention of again dislodging