The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 55

Polpenno

Polwenning, the seat of Mr Tregear, Frank’s father, was close to the borough of Polpenno — so close that the gates of the grounds opened into the town. As Silverbridge had told his father, many of the Tregear family had sat for the borough. Then there had come changes, and strangers had made themselves welcome by their money. When the vacancy had occurred a deputation waited upon Squire Tregear and asked him to stand. The deputation would guarantee that the expense should not exceed — a certain limited sum. Mr Tregear for himself had no such ambition. His eldest son was abroad and was not at all such a man as one would choose to make into a Member of Parliament. After much consideration in the family, Frank was invited to present himself to the constituency. Frank’s aspirations in regard to Lady Mary Palliser were known at Polwenning, and it was thought that they would have a better chance of success if he could write the letters M.P. after his name. Frank acceded, and as he was starting wrote to ask the assistance of his friend Lord Silverbridge. At that time there were only nine days more before the election, and Mr Carbottle, the Liberal candidate, was already living in great style at the Camborne Arms.

Mr and Mrs Tregear and an elder sister of Frank’s, who quite acknowledged herself to be an old maid, were very glad to welcome Frank’s friend. On the first morning of course they discussed the candidate’s prospects. ‘My best chance of success,’ said Frank, ‘arises from that fact that Mr Carbottle is fatter than the people here seem to approve.’

‘If his purse be fat,’ said old Mr Tregear, ‘that will carry off any personal defect.’ Lord Silverbridge asked whether the candidate was not too fat to make speeches. Miss Tregear declared that he had made three speeches daily last week, and that Mr Williams the rector who had heard him, declared him to be a godless dissident. Mrs Tregear thought that it would be much better that the place should be disfranchised altogether than that such a horrid man should be brought into the neighbourhood. ‘A godless dissenter!’ she said, holding up her hands in dismay. Frank thought that they had better abstain from allusion to their opponent’s religion. Then Mr Tregear made a little speech. ‘We used,’ he said, ‘to endeavour to get someone to represent us in Parliament, who would agree with us on vital subjects, such as the Church of England and the necessity of religion. Now it seems to be considered ill-mannered to make any allusion to such subjects!’ From which it may be seen that this old Tregear was very conservative indeed.

When the old people were gone to bed the two young men discussed the matter. ‘I hope you’ll get in,’ said Silverbridge. ‘And if I can do anything for you of course I will.’

‘It is always good to have a real member along with one,’ said Tregear.

‘But I begin to think I am a very shaky Conservative myself.’

‘I am sorry for that.’

‘Sir Timothy is such a beast,’ said Silverbridge.

‘Is that your notion of a political opinion? Are you to be this or that in accordance with your own liking or disliking for some particular man? One is supposed to have opinions of one’s own.’

‘Your father would be down on a man because he is a dissenter.’

‘Of course my father is old-fashioned.’

‘It does seem so hard to me,’ said Silverbridge, ‘to find any difference between the two sets. You who are a true Conservative are much more like to my father who is a Liberal than to your own who is on the same side as yourself.’

‘It may be so, and still I may be a good Conservative.’

‘It seems to me in the house to mean nothing more than choosing one set of companions or choosing another. There are some awful cads who sit along with Mr Monk; — fellows that make you sick to hear them, and whom I couldn’t be civil to. But I don’t think there is anybody I hate so much as old Beeswax. He has a contemptuous way with his nose which makes me long to pull it.’

‘And you mean to go over in order that you may be justified in doing so. I think I soar a little higher,’ said Tregear.

‘Oh, of course. You’re a clever fellow,’ said Silverbridge, not without a touch of sarcasm.

‘A man may soar higher than that without being very clever. If the party that calls itself liberal were to have all its own way who is there that doesn’t believe that the church would go at once, then all distinction between boroughs, the House of Lords immediately afterwards, and after that the Crown.’

‘Those are not my governor’s ideas.’

‘You governor couldn’t help himself. A liberal party, with plenipotentiary power, must go on right away to the logical conclusion of its arguments. It is only the conservative feeling of the country which saves such men as your father from being carried headlong to ruin by their own machinery. You have read Carlyle’s French Revolution?’

‘Yes, I have read that.’

‘Wasn’t it so there? There were a lot of honest men who thought they could do a deal of good by making everybody equal. A good many were made equal be having their heads cut off. That’s why I mean to be member of Polpenno and to send Mr Carbottle back to London. Carbottle probably doesn’t want to cut anybody’s head off.’

‘I daresay he’s as conservative as anybody.’

‘But he wants to be a member for Parliament; and, as he hasn’t thought much about anything he is quite willing to lend a hand to communism, radicalism, socialism, chopping people’s heads off, or anything else.’

‘That’s all very well,’ said Silverbridge, ‘but where should we have been if there had been no Liberals? Robespierre and his pals cut off a lot of heads, but Louis XIV and Louis XV locked up more in prison.’ And so he had the last word in the argument.

The whole of the next morning was spent in canvassing, and the whole of the afternoon. In the evening there was a great meeting at the Polwenning Assembly Room, which at the present moment was in the hands of the Conservative Party. Here Frank Tregear made an oration, in which he declared his political convictions. The whole speech was said at the time to be very good; but the portion of it which was apparently esteemed the most, had direct reference to Mr Carbottle. Who was Mr Carbottle? Why had he come to Polpenno? Who had sent for him? Why Mr Carbottle rather than anybody else? Did not the people of Polpenno think that it might be as well to send Mr Carbottle from the place from whence he had come? These questions, which seemed to Silverbridge to be as easy as they were attractive, almost made him desirous of making a speech himself.

Then Mr Williams, the rector, followed, a gentleman who had many staunch friends and many bitter enemies in the town. He addressed himself chiefly to that bane of the whole country — as he conceived them — the godless dissenters; and was felt by Tregear to be injuring the cause by every word he spoke. It was necessary that Mr Williams should liberate his own mind, and therefore he persevered with the godless dissenters at great length — not explaining, however, how a man who thought enough about his religion to be a dissenter could be godless, or how a godless man should care enough about religion to be a dissenter.

Mr Williams was heard with impatience, and then there was a clamour for the young lord. He was the son of an ex-Prime Minister, and therefore of course should speak. He was himself a member of Parliament, and therefore should speak. He had boldly severed himself from the faulty political tenets of the family, and therefore on such an occasion as this was peculiarly entitled to speak. When a man goes electioneering, he must speak. At a dinner-table to refuse is possible:— or in any assembly convened for any private purpose, a gentleman may declare that he is not prepared for the occasion. But in such an emergency as this, a man — and a member of Parliament — cannot plead that he is not prepared. A son of a former Prime Minister who had already taken so strong a part in politics as to have severed himself from his father, not prepared to address the voters of a borough whom he had come to canvass! The plea was so absurd, that he was thrust on to his feet before he knew what he was about.

It was in truth his first public speech. At Silverbridge he had attempted to repeat a few words, and in his failure had been covered by the Sprugeons and the Sprouts. But now he was on his legs in a great room, in an unknown town, with all the aristocracy of the place before him! His eyes at first swam a little, and there was a moment in which he thought he would run away. But, on that morning, as he was dressing, there had come to his mind the idea of the possibility of such a moment as this, and a few words had occurred to him. ‘My friend Frank Tregear,’ he began, rushing at once at his subject, ‘is a very good fellow, and I hope you will elect him.’ Then he paused, not remembering what was to come next; but the sentiment which he had uttered appeared to his auditors to be so good in itself and so well delivered, that they filled up a long pause with continued clappings and exclamations. ‘Yes,’ continued the young member of Parliament, encouraged by the kindness of the crowd, ‘I have known Frank Tregear ever so long, and I don’t think you will find a better member of Parliament anywhere.’ There were many ladies present and they thought that the Duke’s son was just the person who ought to come electioneering among them. His voice was much pleasanter to their ears than that of old Mr Williams. The women waved their handkerchiefs and the men stamped their feet. Here was an orator come among them. ‘You all know all about it just as well as I do,’ continued the orator, ‘and I am sure you feel that he ought to be member for Polpenno.’ There could be no doubt about that as far as the opinion of the audience went. ‘There can’t be a better fellow than Frank Tregear, and I ask you all to give three cheers for the new member.’ Ten times three cheers were given, and the Carbottleites outside the door who had come to report what was going on at the Tregear meeting were quite of the opinion that this eldest son of the former Prime Minister was a tower of strength. ‘I don’t know anything about Mr Carbottle,’ continued Silverbridge, who was almost getting to like the sound of his own voice. ‘Perhaps he’s a good fellow too.’ ‘No; no, no. A very bad fellow indeed,’ was heard from different parts of the room. ‘I don’t know anything about him. I wasn’t at school with Carbottle.’ This was taken as a stroke of the keenest wit, and was received with infinite cheering. Silverbridge was in the pride of his youth, and Carbottle was sixty at the least. Nothing could have been funnier. ‘He seems to be a stout old party, but I don’t think he’s the man for Polpenno. I think you’ll return Frank Tregear. I was at school with him; — and I tell you that you can’t find a better fellow anywhere than Frank Tregear.’ Then he sat down, and I am afraid he felt that he had made the speech of the evening. ‘We are so much obliged to you, Lord Silverbridge,’ Miss Tregear said as they were walking home together. ‘That’s just the sort of thing that the people like. So reassuring, you know. What Mr Williams says about the dissenters is of course true; but it isn’t reassuring.’

‘I hope I didn’t make a fool of myself tonight,’ Silverbridge said when he was alone with Tregear — probably with some little pride in his heart.

‘I ought to say that you did, seeing that you praised me so violently. But, whatever it was, it was well taken. I don’t know whether they will elect me; but had you come down as a candidate, I am quite sure they would have elected you.’ Silverbridge was hardly satisfied with this. He wished to have been told that he had spoken well. He did not, however, resent his friend’s coldness. ‘Perhaps, after all, I did make a fool of myself,’ he said to himself as he went to bed.

On the next day, after breakfast, it was found to be raining heavily. Canvassing was of course the business of the hour, and canvassing is a business which cannot be done indoors. It was soon decided that the rain should go for nothing. Could an agreement have been come to with the Carbottles it might have been decided that both parties should abstain, but as that was impossible the Tregear party could not afford to lose the day. As Mr Carbottle, by reason of his fatness and natural slowness, would perhaps be specially averse to walking about in the slush and mud, it might be that they would gain something; so after breakfast they started with umbrellas — Tregear, Silverbridge, Mr Newcomb the curate, Mr Pinebott the conservative attorney, with four or five followers who were armed with books and pencils, and who ticked off on the list of the voters the names of the friendly, the doubtful, and the inimical.

Parliamentary canvassing is not a pleasant occupation. Perhaps nothing more disagreeable, more squalid, more revolting to the senses, more opposed to personal dignity, can be conceived. The same words have to be repeated over and over again in the cottages, hovels, and lodgings of poor men and women who only understand that the time has come round in which they are to be flattered instead of being the flatterers. ‘I think I am right in supposing that your husband’s principles are conservative, Mrs Bubbs.’ ‘I don’t know nothing about it. You’d better call again and see Bubbs hissel.’ ‘Certainly I will do so. I shouldn’t at all like to leave the borough without seeing Mr Bubbs. I hope we shall have your influence, Mrs Bubbs.’ ‘I don’t known nothing about it. My folk at home allays vote buff; and I think Bubbs ought to go buff too. Only mind this, Bubbs don’t never come home to his dinner. You must come arter six, and I hope he’s to have some’at for his trouble. He won’t have my word to vote unless he have some’at.’ Such is the conversation in which the candidate takes a part, while his cortege at the door is criticising his very imperfect mode of securing Mrs Bubb’s good wishes. Then he goes on to the next house, and the same thing with some variation is endured again. Some guide, some philosopher, and friend, who accompanies him, and who is the chief of the cortege, has calculated on his behalf that he ought to make twenty such visitations an hour, and to call on two hundred constituents in the course of the day. As he is always falling behind in his number, he is always being driven on by his philosopher, till he comes to hate the poor creatures to whom he is forced to address himself, with a most cordial hatred.

It is a nuisance to which no man should subject himself in any weather. But when it rains there is superadded a squalor and an ill humour to all the party which makes it almost impossible for them not to quarrel before the day is over. To talk politics to Mrs Bubbs under any circumstances is bad, but to do so with the conviction that the moisture is penetrating from your greatcoat through your shirt to your bones, and that while so employed you are breathing the steam from those seven other wet men, at the door, is abominable. To have to go through this is enough to take away all the pride which a man might otherwise take from becoming a member of Parliament. But to go through it and then not become a member is base indeed! To go through it and to feel that you are probably paying the rate of a hundred pounds a day for the privilege is mot disheartening. Silverbridge as he backed up Tregear in the uncomfortable work, congratulated himself on the comfort of having a Mr Sprugeon and Mr Sprout who could manage his borough for him without a contest.

They worked on that day all the morning till one, when they took luncheon, all reeking with wet, at the King’s Head — so that a little money might be legitimately spent in the cause. Then, at two, they sallied out again, vainly endeavouring to make their twenty calls within the hour. About four, when it was beginning to be dusk, they were very tired, and Silverbridge had ventured to suggest that as they were all wet through, and as there was to be another meeting in the Assembly Room that night, and as nobody in that part of town seemed to be at home, they might perhaps be allowed to adjourn for the present. He was thinking how nice it would be to have a glass of brandy-and-water and then lounge till dinner-time. But the philosophers received the proposition with stern disdain. Was his Lordship aware that Mr Carbottle had been out all day from eight in the morning, and was still at work; that the Carbottleites had already sent for lanterns and were determined to go on till eight o’clock among the artisans who would then have returned from their work? When a man had put his hand to the plough, the philosophers thought that a man should complete the furrows!

The philosophers’ view had just carried the day, the discussion having been held under seven or eight wet umbrellas at the corner of a dirty little lane leading into the High Street, when suddenly, on the other side of the way, Mr Carbottles cortege made its appearance. The philosophers at once informed them that on such occasions it was customary that the rival candidates should be introduced. ‘It will take ten minutes,’ said the philosophers; ‘but then it will take them ten minutes too.’ Upon this Tregear, as being the younger of the two, crossed over the road, and the introduction was made.

There was something comfortable in it to the Tregear party, as no imagination could conceive anything more wretched than the appearance of Mr Carbottle. He was a very stout man of sixty, and seemed to be almost carried along by his companions. He had pulled his coat-collar up and his hat down till very little of his face was visible, and in attempting to look at Tregear and Silverbridge he had to lift up his chin till the rain ran off his hat on to his nose. He had an umbrella in one hand and a stick in the other, and was wet through to his very skin. What were his own feelings cannot be told, but his philosophers, guides, and friends would allow him no rest. Very hard work, Mr Tregear,’ he said, shaking his head.

‘Very hard indeed, Mr Carbottle.’ Then the two parties went on, each their own way, without another word.

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