The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 21

Sir Timothy Beeswax

There had lately been a great Conservative reaction in the country, brought about in part by the industry and good management of gentlemen who were strong on that side; — but due also in part to the blunders and quarrels of their opponents. That these opponents should have blundered and quarrelled, being men active and in earnest, was to have been expected. Such blunderings and quarrellings have been a matter of course since politics have been politics, and since religion has been religion. When men combine to do nothing, how should there be disagreement? When men combine to do much, how should there not be disagreement? Thirty men can sit still, each as like the other as peas. But put your thirty men up to run a race, and they will soon assume different forms. And in doing nothing, you can hardly do amiss. Let the does of nothing have something of action forced upon them, and they, too, will blunder and quarrel.

The wonder is that there should ever be in a reforming party enough of consentaneous action to carry any reform. The reforming or Liberal party in British politics had thus stumbled — and stumbled till it fell. And now there had been a great Conservative reaction! Many of the most Liberal constituencies in the country had been untrue to their old political convictions. And, as the result, Lord Drummond was Prime Minister in the House of Lords — with Sir Timothy Beeswax acting as first man in the House of Commons.

It cannot be denied that Sir Timothy had his good points as a politician. He was industrious, patient, clear-sighted, intelligent, courageous, and determined. Long before he had had a seat in the House, when he was simply making his way up to the probability of a seat by making a reputation as an advocate, he had resolved that he would be more than an Attorney-General, more than a judge — more, as he thought it, than a Chief Justice; but at any rate something different. This plan he had all but gained — and it must be acknowledged that he had been moved by a grand and manly ambition. But there were drawbacks to the utility and beauty of Sir Timothy’s character as a statesman. He had no idea as to the necessity or non-necessity of any measure whatever in reference to the well-being of the country. It may, indeed, be said that all such ideas were to him absurd, and the fact that they should be held by his friends and supporters was an inconvenience. He was not in accord with those who declare that a Parliament is a collection of windbags which puff, and blow, and crack to the annoyance of honest men. But to him Parliament was a debating place, by having a majority in which, and by no other means, he — or another — might become the great man of the day. By no other than parliamentary means could such a one as he come to be the chief man. And this use of Parliament, either on his own behalf or on behalf of others, had been for so many years present to his mind, that there seemed to be nothing absurd in an institution supported for such a purpose. Parliament was a club so eligible in its nature that all Englishmen wished to belong to it. They who succeeded were acknowledged to be the cream of the land. They who dominated in it were the cream of the cream. Those two who were elected to be the chiefs of the two parties had more of cream in their composition than any others. But he who could be the chief of the strongest party, and who therefore, in accordance with the prevailing arrangements of the country, should have the power of making dukes, and bestowing garters and appointing bishops, he who by attaining the first seat should achieve the right of snubbing all before him, whether friends or foes, he, according to the feelings of Sir Timothy, would have gained an Elysium of creaminess not to be found in any other position on the earth’s surface. No man was more warmly attached to parliamentary government than Sir Timothy Beeswax; but I do not think that he ever cared much for legislation.

Parliamentary management was his forte. There have been various rocks on which men have shattered their barks in their attempts to sail successfully into the harbours of parliamentary management. There is the great Senator who declared to himself that personally he will have neither friend or foe. There is his country before him and its welfare. Within his bosom is the fire of patriotism, and within his mind the examples of all past time. He knows that he can be just, he teaches himself to be eloquent, and he strives to be wise. But he will not bend; — and at last, in some great solitude, though closely surrounded by those whose love he has neglected to acquire — he breaks his heart.

Then there is he who is seeing the misfortune of that great one, tells himself that patriotism, judgement, industry, and eloquence will not suffice for him unless he himself can be loved. To do great things a man must have a great following, and to achieve that he must be popular. So he smiles and learns the necessary wiles. He is all for his country and his friends — but for his friends first. He too must be eloquent and well instructed in the ways of Parliament, must be wise and diligent; but in all that he does and all that he says, he says he must first study his party. It is well with him for a time; — but he has closed the door of his Elysium too rigidly. Those without gradually become stronger than his friends within, and so he falls.

But may not the door be occasionally opened to an outsider, so that the exterior force be diminished? We know how great is the pressure of water, and how the peril of an overwhelming weight of it may be removed by opening the way for a small current. There comes therefore the Statesman who acknowledges to himself that he will be pregnable. That, as a Statesman, he should have enemies is a matter of course. Against moderate enemies he will hold his own. But when there comes one immoderately forcible, violently inimical, then to that man he will open his bosom. He will tempt him into his camp with an offer of high command any foe that may be worth his purchase. The loyalty of officers so procured must be open to suspicion. The man who has said bitter things against you will never sit at your feet in contented submission, nor will your friend of any standing long endure to be superseded by such converts.

All these dangers Sir Timothy had seen and studied, and for each of them he had hoped to be able to provide an antidote. Love cannot do all. Fear acknowledges a superior. Love desires an equal. Love is to be created by benefits done, and means gratitude, which we all know to be weak. But hope, which refers itself to benefits to come, is of all our feelings the strongest. And Sir Timothy had parliamentary doctrines concealed in the depths of his own bosom more important even than these. The Statesman who falls is he who does much, and thus injures many. The Statesman who stands the longest is he who does nothing and injures no one. He soon knew that the work which he had taken in hand required all the art of the great conjurer. He must be possessed of tricks so marvellous that not even they who sat nearest to him might know how there were performed.

For the executive or legislative business of the country he cared little. The one should be left in the hands of men who liked work; — of the other there should be little, or, if possible, none. But Parliament must be managed — and his party. Of patriotism he did not know the meaning; — few, perhaps, do, beyond the feeling that they would like to lick the Russians, or to get the better of the Americans in a matter of fisheries or frontiers. But he invented a pseudo-patriotic conjuring phraseology which no one understood but which many admired. He was ambitious that it should be said of him that he was far-and-away the cleverest of his party. He knew himself to be clever. But he could only be far-and-away the cleverest by saying and doing that which no one could understand. If he could become master of some great hocus-pocus system which could be made to be graceful to the ears and eyes of many, which might for awhile seem to have within it some semi-divine attribute, which should have all but divine power of mastering the loaves and fishes, then would they who followed him believe in him more firmly than other followers who had believed in their leaders. When you see a young woman read a closed book placed on her dorsal vertebrae — if you do believe that she so reads it, you think that she is endowed with a wonderful faculty! And should you also be made to believe that the same young woman had direct communication with Abraham, by means of some invisible wire, you would be apt to do a great many things as that young woman might tell you. Conjuring, when not knowing to be conjuring, is very effective.

Much, no doubt, of Sir Timothy’s power had come from his praiseworthy industry. Though he cared nothing for the making of laws, though he knew nothing of finance, though he had abandoned his legal studies, still he worked hard. And because he had worked harder in a special direction than others around him, therefore he was enabled to lead them. The management of a party is a very great work in itself; and when to that is added the management of the House of Commons, a man has enough upon his hands even he neglects altogether the ordinary pursuits of a Statesman. Those around Sir Timothy were fond of their party; but they were for the most part men who had not condescended to put their shoulders to the wheel as he had done. Had there been any great light among them, had there been a Pitt or a Peel, Sir Timothy would probably have become Attorney-General and have made his way to the bench; — but there had been no Pitt or a Peel, and he had seen his opening. He had studied the ways of Members. Parliamentary practice had become familiar to him. He had shown himself to be ready at all hours to fight the battle of the party he had joined. And no man knew so well as did Sir Timothy how to elevate a simple legislative attempt into a good faction fight. He had so mastered his tricks of conjuring that no one could get to the bottom of them, and had assumed a look of preternatural gravity which made many young Members think that Sir Timothy was born to be a king of men.

There was no doubt some among his older supporters who felt their thraldom previously. There were some lords in the Upper House and some of the sons of lords in the Lower — with pedigrees going back far enough for pride — who found it irksome to recognise Sir Timothy as a master. No doubt he had worked very hard, and had worked for them. No doubt he knew how to do the work and they did not. There was no other man among them to whom the lead could be conveniently transferred. But yet they were uncomfortable — and perhaps a little ashamed.

It had arisen partly from this cause, that there had been something of a counter reaction at the last general election. When the Houses met the Ministers had indeed a majority, but a much lessened majority. The old Liberal constituencies had returned to an expression of their real feeling. This reassertion of the progress of the tide, this recovery from the partial ebb which checks the violence of every flow, is common enough in politics, but at the present moment there were many who said that all this had been accelerated by a feeling in the country that Sir Timothy was hardly all that the country required as the leader of the county party.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/duke/chapter21.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43