Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 26

“ The first speech ”

On the following morning, which was Saturday, Phineas was early at the police office at Westminster looking after the interests of his landlord; but there had been a considerable number of men taken up during the row, and our friend could hardly procure that attention for Mr Bunce’s case to which he thought the decency of his client and his own position as a member of Parliament were entitled. The men who had been taken up were taken in batches before the magistrates; but as the soldiers in the park had been maltreated, and a considerable injury had been done in the neighbourhood of Downing Street, there was a good deal of strong feeling against the mob, and the magistrates were disposed to be severe. If decent men chose to go out among such companions, and thereby get into trouble, decent men must take the consequences. During the Saturday and Sunday a very strong feeling grew up against Mr Turnbull. The story of the carriage was told, and he was declared to be a turbulent demagogue, only desirous of getting popularity. And together with this feeling there arose a general verdict of “Serve them right” against all who had come into contact with the police in the great Turnbull row; and thus it came to pass that Mr Bunce had not been liberated up to the Monday morning. On the Sunday Mrs Bunce was in hysterics, and declared her conviction that Mr Bunce would be imprisoned for life. Poor Phineas had an unquiet time with her on the morning of that day. In every ecstasy of her grief she threw herself into his arms, either metaphorically or materially, according to the excess of her agony at the moment, and expressed repeatedly an assured conviction that all her children would die of starvation, and that she herself would be picked up under the arches of one of the bridges. Phineas, who was soft-hearted, did what he could to comfort her, and allowed himself to be worked up to strong parliamentary anger against the magistrates and police. “When they think that they have public opinion on their side, there is nothing in the way or arbitrary excess which is too great for them.” This he said to Barrington Erle, who angered him and increased the warmth of his feeling by declaring that a little close confinement would be good for the Bunces of the day. “If we don’t keep the mob down, the mob will keep us down,” said the Whig private secretary. Phineas had no opportunity of answering this, but declared to himself that Barrington Erle was no more a Liberal at heart than was Mr Daubeny. “He was born on that side of the question, and has been receiving Whig wages all his life. That is the history of his politics!”

On the Sunday afternoon Phineas went to Lord Brentford’s in Portman Square, intending to say a word or two about Lord Chiltern, and meaning also to induce, if possible, the Cabinet Minister to take part with him against the magistrates — having a hope also, in which he was not disappointed, that he might find Lady Laura Kennedy with her father. He had come to understand that Lady Laura was not to be visited at her own house on Sundays. So much indeed she had told him in so many words. But he had come to understand also, without any plain telling, that she rebelled in heart against this Sabbath tyranny — and that she would escape from it when escape was possible. She had now come to talk to her father about her brother, and had brought Violet Effingham with her. They had walked together across the park after church, and intended to walk back again. Mr Kennedy did not like to have any carriage out on a Sunday, and to this arrangement his wife made no objection.

Phineas had received a letter from the Stamford surgeon, and was able to report favourably of Lord Chiltern. “The man says that he had better not be moved for a month,” said Phineas. “But that means nothing. They always say that.”

“Will it not be best for him to remain where he is?” said the Earl.

“He has not a soul to speak to,” said Phineas.

“I wish I were with him,” said his sister.

“That is, of course, out of the question,” said the Earl. “They know him at that inn, and it really seems to me best that he should stay there. I do not think he would be so much at his ease here.”

“It must be dreadful for a man to be confined to his room without a creature near him, except the servants,” said Violet. The Earl frowned, but said nothing further. They all perceived that as soon as he had learned that there was no real danger as to his son’s life, he was determined that this accident should not work him up to any show of tenderness, “I do so hope he will come up to London,” continued Violet, who was not afraid of the Earl, and was determined not to be put down.

“You don’t know what you are talking about, my dear,” said Lord Brentford.

After this Phineas found it very difficult to extract any sympathy from the Earl on behalf of the men who had been locked up. He was moody and cross, and could not be induced to talk on the great subject of the day. Violet Effingham declared that she did not care how many Bunces were locked up; nor for how long — adding, however, a wish that Mr Turnbull himself had been among the number of the prisoners. Lady Laura was somewhat softer than this, and consented to express pity in the case of Mr Bunce himself; but Phineas perceived that the pity was awarded to him and not to the sufferer. The feeling against Mr Turnbull was at the present moment so strong among all the upper classes, that Mr Bunce and his brethren might have been kept in durance for a week without commiseration from them.

“It is very hard certainly on a man like Mr Bunce,” said Lady Laura.

“Why did not Mr Bunce stay at home and mind his business?” said the Earl.

Phineas spent the remainder of that day alone, and came to a resolution that on the coming occasion he certainly would speak in the House. The debate would be resumed on the Monday, and he would rise to his legs on the very first moment that it became possible for him to do so. And he would do nothing towards preparing a speech — nothing whatever. On this occasion he would trust entirely to such words as might come to him at the moment — ay, and to such thoughts. He had before burdened his memory with preparations, and the very weight of the burden had been too much for his mind. He had feared to trust himself to speak, because he had felt that he was not capable of performing the double labour of saying his lesson by heart, and of facing the House for the first time. There should be nothing now for him to remember. His thoughts were full of his subject. He would support Mr Mildmay’s bill with all his eloquence, but he would implore Mr Mildmay, and the Home Secretary, and the Government generally, to abstain from animosity against the populace of London, because they desired one special boon which Mr Mildmay did not think that it was his duty to give them. He hoped that ideas and words would come to him. Ideas and words had been free enough with him in the old days of the Dublin debating society. If they failed him now, he must give the thing up, and go back to Mr Low.

On the Monday morning Phineas was for two hours at the police court in Westminster, and at about one on that day Mr Bunce was liberated. When he was brought up before the magistrate, Mr Bunce spoke his mind very freely as to the usage he had received, and declared his intention of bringing an action against the sergeant who had detained him. The magistrate, of course, took the part of the police, and declared that, from the evidence of two men who were examined, Bunce had certainly used such violence in the crowd as had justified his arrest.

“I used no violence,” said Bunce.

“According to your own showing, you endeavoured to make your way up to Mr Turnbull’s carriage,” said the magistrate.

“I was close to the carriage before the police even saw me,” said Bunce.

“But you tried to force your way round to the door.”

“I used no force till a man had me by the collar to push me back; and I wasn’t violent, not then. I told him I was doing what I had a right to do — and it was that as made him hang on to me.”

“You were not doing what you had a right to do. You were assisting to create a riot,” said the magistrate, with that indignation which a London magistrate should always know how to affect.

Phineas, however, was allowed to give evidence as to his landlord’s character, and then Bunce was liberated. But before he went he again swore that that should not be the last of it, and he told the magistrate that he had been ill-used. When liberated, he was joined by a dozen sympathising friends, who escorted him home, and among them were one or two literary gentlemen, employed on those excellent penny papers, the People’s Banner and the Ballot-box. It was their intention that Mr Bunce’s case should not be allowed to sleep. One of these gentlemen made a distinct offer to Phineas Finn of unbounded popularity during life and of immortality afterwards, if he, as a member of Parliament, would take up Bunce’s case with vigour. Phineas, not quite understanding the nature of the offer, and not as yet knowing the profession of the gentleman, gave some general reply.

“You come out strong, Mr Finn, and we’ll see that you are properly reported. I’m on the Banner, sir, and I’ll answer for that.”

Phineas, who had been somewhat eager in expressing his sympathy with Bunce, and had not given very close attention to the gentleman who was addressing him, was still in the dark. The nature of the Banner, which the gentleman was on, did not at once come home to him.

“Something ought to be done, certainly,” said Phineas.

“We shall take it up strong,” said the gentleman, and we shall be happy to have you among us. You’ll find, Mr Finn, that in public life there’s nothing like having a horgan to back you. What is the most you can do in the ‘Ouse? Nothing, if you’re not reported. You’re speaking to the country — ain’t you? And you can’t do that without a horgan, Mr Finn. You come among us on the Banner, Mr Finn. You can’t do better.”

Then Phineas understood the nature of the offer made to him. As they parted, the literary gentleman gave our hero his card. “Mr Quintus Slide.” So much was printed. Then, on the corner of the card was written, “Banner Office, 137, Fetter Lane.” Mr Quintus Slide was a young man, under thirty, not remarkable for clean linen, and who always talked of the “‘Ouse.” But he was a well-known and not undistinguished member of a powerful class of men. He had been a reporter, and as such knew the “‘Ouse” well, and was a writer for the press. And, though he talked of “‘Ouses” and “horgans”, he wrote good English with great rapidity, and was possessed of that special sort of political fervour which shows itself in a man’s work rather than in his conduct. It was Mr Slide’s taste to be an advanced reformer, and in all his operations on behalf of the People’s Banner he was a reformer very much advanced. No man could do an article on the people’s indefeasible rights with more pronounced vigour than Mr Slide. But it had never occurred to him as yet that he ought to care for anything else than the fight — than the advantage of having a good subject on which to write slashing articles. Mr Slide was an energetic but not a thoughtful man; but in his thoughts on politics, as far as they went with him, he regarded the wrongs of the people as being of infinitely greater value than their rights. It was not that he was insincere in all that he was daily saying — but simply that he never thought about it. Very early in life he had fallen among “people’s friends,” and an opening on the liberal press had come in his way. To be a “people’s friend” suited the turn of his ambition, and he was a “people’s friend.” It was his business to abuse Government, and to express on all occasions an opinion that as a matter of course the ruling powers were the “people’s enemies.” Had the ruling powers ceased to be the “people’s enemies,” Mr Slide’s ground would have been taken from under his feet. But such a catastrophe was out of the question. That excellent old arrangement that had gone on since demagogues were first invented was in full vigour. There were the ruling powers and there were the people — devils on one side and angels on the other — and as long as a people’s friend had a pen in his hand all was right.

Phineas, when he left the indignant Bunce to go among his friends, walked to the House thinking a good deal of what Mr Slide had said to him. The potted peas Committee was again on, and he had intended to be in the committee room by twelve punctually: but he had been unable to leave Mr Bunce in the lurch, and it was now past one. Indeed, he had, from one unfortunate circumstance after another, failed hitherto in giving to the potted peas that resolute attention which the subject demanded. On the present occasion his mind was full of Mr Quintus Slide and the People’s Banner. After all, was there not something in Mr Slide’s proposition? He, Phineas, had come into Parliament as it were under the wing of a Government pack, and his friendships, which had been very successful, had been made with Ministers, and with the friends of Ministers. He had made up his mind to be Whig Ministerial, and to look for his profession in that line. He had been specially fortified in this resolution by his dislike to the ballot — which dislike had been the result of Mr Monk’s teaching. Had Mr Turnbull become his friend instead, it may well be that he would have liked the ballot. On such subjects men must think long, and be sure that they have thought in earnest, before they are justified in saying that their opinions are the results of their own thoughts. But now he began to reflect how far this ministerial profession would suit him. Would it be much to be a Lord of the Treasury, subject to the dominion of Mr Ratler? Such lordship and such subjection would be the result of success. He told himself that he was at heart a true Liberal. Would it not be better for him to abandon the idea of office trammels, and go among them on the People’s Banner? A glow of enthusiasm came over him as he thought of it. But what would Violet Effingham say to the People’s Banner and Mr Quintus Slide? And he would have liked the Banner better had not Mr Slide talked about the ‘Ouse.

From the committee room, in which, alas! he took no active part in reference to the potted peas, he went down to the House, and was present when the debate was resumed. Not unnaturally, one speaker after another made some allusion to the row in the streets, and the work which had fallen to the lot of the magistrates. Mr Turnbull had declared that he would vote against the second reading of Mr Mildmay’s bill, and had explained that he would do so because he could consent to no Reform Bill which did not include the ballot as one of its measures. The debate fashioned itself after this speech of Mr Turnbull’s, and turned again very much upon the ballot — although it had been thought that the late debate had settled that question. One or two of Mr Turnbull’s followers declared that they also would vote against the bill — of course, as not going far enough; and one or two gentlemen from the Conservative benches extended a spoken welcome to these new colleagues. Then Mr Palliser got up and addressed the House for an hour, struggling hard to bring back the real subject, and to make the House understand that the ballot, whether good or bad, had been knocked on the head, and that members had no right at the present moment to consider anything but the expediency or inexpediency of so much Reform as Mr Mildmay presented to them in the present bill.

Phineas was determined to speak, and to speak on this evening if he could catch the Speaker’s eye. Again the scene before him was going round before him; again things became dim, and again he felt his blood beating hard at his heart. But things were not so bad with him as they had been before, because he had nothing to remember. He hardly knew, indeed, what he intended to say. He had an idea that he was desirous of joining in earnest support of the measure, with a vehement protest against the injustice which had been done to the people in general, and to Mr Bunce in particular. He had firmly resolved that no fear of losing favour with the Government should induce him to hold his tongue as to the Buncean cruelties. Sooner than do so he would certainly “go among them” at the Banner office.

He started up, wildly, when Mr Palliser had completed his speech; but the Speaker’s eye, not unnaturally, had travelled to the other side of the House, and there was a Tory of the old school upon his legs — Mr Western, the member for East Barsetshire, one of the gallant few who dared to vote against Sir Robert Peel’s bill for repealing the Corn Laws in 1846, Mr Western spoke with a slow, ponderous, unimpressive, but very audible voice, for some twenty minutes, disdaining to make reference to Mr Turnbull and his politics, but pleading against any Reform, with all the old arguments. Phineas did not hear a word that he said — did not attempt to hear. He was keen in his resolution to make another attempt at the Speaker’s eye, and at the present moment was thinking of that, and of that only. He did not even give himself a moment’s reflection as to what his own speech should be. He would dash at it and take his chance, resolved that at least he would not fail in courage. Twice he was on his legs before Mr Western had finished his slow harangue, and twice he was compelled to reseat himself — thinking that he had subjected himself to ridicule. At last the member for East Barset sat down, and Phineas was conscious that he had lost a moment or two in presenting himself again to the Speaker.

He held his ground, however, though he saw that he had various rivals for the right of speech. He held his ground, and was instantly aware that he had gained his point. There was a slight pause, and as some other urgent member did not reseat himself, Phineas heard the president of that august assembly call upon himself to address the House. The thing was now to be done. There he was with the House of Commons at his feet — a crowded House, bound to be his auditors as long as he should think fit to address them, and reporters by tens and twenties in the gallery ready and eager to let the country know what the young member for Loughshane would say in this his maiden speech.

Phineas Finn had sundry gifts, a powerful and pleasant voice, which he had learned to modulate, a handsome presence, and a certain natural mixture of modesty and self-reliance, which would certainly protect him from the faults of arrogance and pomposity, and which, perhaps, might carry him through the perils of his new position. And he had also the great advantage of friends in the House who were anxious that he should do well. But he had not that gift of slow blood which on the former occasion would have enabled him to remember his prepared speech, and which would now have placed all his own resources within his own reach. He began with the expression of an opinion that every true reformer ought to accept Mr Mildmay’s bill, even if it were accepted only as an instalment — but before he had got through these sentences, he became painfully conscious that he was repeating his own words.

He was cheered almost from the outset, and yet he knew as he went on that he was failing. He had certain arguments at his fingers’ ends — points with which he was, in truth, so familiar that he need hardly have troubled himself to arrange them for special use — and he forgot even these. He found that he was going on with one platitude after another as to the benefit of reform, in a manner that would have shamed him six or seven years ago at a debating club. He pressed on, fearing that words would fail him altogether if he paused — but he did in truth speak very much too fast, knocking his words together so that no reporter could properly catch them. But he had nothing to say for the bill except what hundreds had said before, and hundreds would say again. Still he was cheered, and still he went on; and as he became more and more conscious of his failure there grew upon him the idea — the dangerous hope, that he might still save himself from ignominy by the eloquence of his invective against the police.

He tried it, and succeeded thoroughly in making the House understand that he was very angry — but he succeeded in nothing else. He could not catch the words to express the thoughts of his mind. He could not explain his idea that the people out of the House had as much right to express their opinion in favour of the ballot as members in the House had to express theirs against it; and that animosity had been shown to the people by the authorities because they had so expressed their opinion. Then he attempted to tell the story of Mr Bunce in a light and airy way, failed, and sat down in the middle of it. Again he was cheered by all around him — cheered as a new member is usually cheered — and in the midst of the cheer would have blown out his brains had there been a pistol there ready for such an operation.

That hour with him was very bad. He did not know how to get up and go away, or how to keep his place. For some time he sat with his hat off, forgetful of his privilege of wearing it, and then put it on hurriedly, as though the fact of his not wearing it must have been observed by everybody. At last, at about two, the debate was adjourned, and then as he was slowly leaving the House, thinking how he might creep away without companionship, Mr Monk took him by the arm.

“Are you going to walk?” said Mr Monk.

“Yes”, said Phineas; I shall walk.

“Then we may go together as far as Pall Mall. Come along.” Phineas had no means of escape, and left the House hanging on Mr Monk’s arm, without a word. Nor did Mr Monk speak till they were out in Palace Yard. “It was not much amiss,” said Mr Monk; “but you’ll do better than that yet.”

“Mr Monk,” said Phineas, I have made an ass of myself so thoroughly, that there will at any rate be this good result, that I shall never make an ass of myself again after the same fashion.”

“Ah! — I thought you had some such feeling as that, and therefore I was determined to speak to you. You may be sure, Finn, that I do not care to flatter you, and I think you ought to know that, as far as I am able, I will tell you the truth, Your speech, which was certainly nothing great, was about on a par with other maiden speeches in the House of Commons. You have done yourself neither good nor harm, Nor was it desirable that you should. My advice to you now is, never to avoid speaking on any subject that interests you, but never to speak for above three minutes till you find yourself as much at home on your legs as you are when sitting. But do not suppose that you have made an ass of yourself — that is, in any special degree. Now, goodnight.”

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