Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 3

Phineas Finn takes his seat

Phineas had many serious, almost solemn thoughts on his journey towards London. I am sorry I must assure my female readers that very few of them had reference to Mary Flood Jones. He had, however, very carefully packed up the tress, and could bring that out for proper acts of erotic worship at seasons in which his mind might be less engaged with affairs of state than it was at present. Would he make a failure of this great matter which he had taken in hand? He could not but tell himself that the chances were twenty to one against him. Now that he looked nearer at it all, the difficulties loomed larger than ever, and the rewards seemed to be less, more difficult of approach, and more evanescent. How many members were there who could never get a hearing! How many who only spoke to fail! How many, who spoke well, who could speak to no effect as far as their own worldly prospects were concerned! He had already known many members of Parliament to whom no outward respect or sign of honour was ever given by any one; and it seemed to him, as he thought over it, that Irish members of Parliament were generally treated with more indifference than any others. There were O’B— and O’C— and O’D — for whom no one cared a straw, who could hardly get men to dine with them at the club, and yet they were genuine members of Parliament. Why should he ever be better than O’B — or O’C — or O’D—? And in what way should he begin to be better? He had an idea of the fashion after which it would be his duty to strive that he might excel those gentlemen. He did not give any of them credit for much earnestness in their country’s behalf, and he was minded to be very earnest. He would go to his work honestly and conscientiously, determined to do his duty as best he might, let the results to himself be what they would. This was a noble resolution, and might have been pleasant to him — had he not remembered that smile of derision which had come over his friend Erle’s face when he declared his intention of doing his duty to his country as a Liberal, and not of supporting a party. O’B— and O’C— and O’D— were keen enough to support their party, only they were sometimes a little astray at knowing which was their party for the nonce. He knew that Erle and such men would despise him if he did not fall into the regular groove — and if the Barrington Erles despised him, what would then be left for him?

His moody thoughts were somewhat dissipated when he found one Laurence Fitzgibbon — the Honourable Laurence Fitzgibbon — a special friend of his own, and a very clever fellow, on board the boat as it steamed out of Kingston harbour. Laurence Fitzgibbon had also just been over about his election, and had been returned as a matter of course for his father’s county. Laurence Fitzgibbon had sat in the House for the last fifteen years, and was yet wellnigh as young a man as any in it. And he was a man altogether different from the O’B— s, O’C— s, and O’D— s. Laurence Fitzgibbon could always get the ear of the House if he chose to speak, and his friends declared that he might have been high up in office long since if he would have taken the trouble to work. He was a welcome guest at the houses of the very best people, and was a friend of whom any one might be proud. It had for two years been a feather in the cap of Phineas that he knew Laurence Fitzgibbon. And yet people said that Laurence Fitzgibbon had nothing of his own, and men wondered how he lived. He was the youngest son of Lord Claddagh, an Irish peer with a large family, who could do nothing for Laurence, his favourite child, beyond finding him a seat in Parliament.

“Well, Finn, my boy,” said Laurence, shaking hands with the young member on board the steamer, “so you’ve made it all right at Loughshane.” Then Phineas was beginning to tell all the story, the wonderful story, of George Morris and the Earl of Tulla — how the men of Loughshane had elected him without opposition; how he had been supported by Conservatives as well as Liberals — how unanimous Loughshane had been in electing him, Phineas Finn, as its representative. But Mr Fitzgibbon seemed to care very little about all this, and went so far as to declare that those things were accidents which fell out sometimes one way and sometimes another, and were altogether independent of any merit or demerit on the part of the candidate himself. And it was marvellous and almost painful to Phineas that his friend Fitzgibbon should accept the fact of his membership with so little of congratulation — with absolutely no blowing of trumpets whatever. Had he been elected a member of the municipal corporation of Loughshane, instead of its representative in the British Parliament, Laurence Fitzgibbon could not have made less fuss about it, Phineas was disappointed, but he took the cue from his friend too quickly to show his disappointment. And when, half an hour after their meeting, Fitzgibbon had to be reminded that his companion was not in the House during the last session, Phineas was able to make the remark as though he thought as little about the House as did the old-accustomed member himself.

“As far as I can see as yet,” said Fitzgibbon, we are sure to have seventeen.”

“Seventeen?” said Phineas, not quite understanding the meaning of the number quoted.

“A majority of seventeen. There are four Irish counties and three Scotch which haven’t returned as yet; but we know pretty well what they’ll do. There’s a doubt about Tipperary, of course; but whichever gets in of the seven who are standing, it will be a vote on our side. Now the Government can’t live against that. The uphill strain is too much for them.”

“According to my idea, nothing can justify them in trying to live against a majority.”

“That’s gammon. When the thing is so equal, anything is fair. But you see they don’t like it. Of course there are some among them as hungry as we are; and Dubby would give his toes and fingers to remain in.” Dubby was the ordinary name by which, among friends and foes, Mr Daubeny was known: Mr Daubeny, who at that time was the leader of the Conservative party in the House of Commons. “But most of them,” continued Mr Fitzgibbon, “prefer the other game, and if you don’t care about money, upon my word it’s the pleasanter game of the two.”

“But the country gets nothing done by a Tory Government.”

“As to that, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. I never knew a government yet that wanted to do anything. Give a government a real strong majority, as the Tories used to have half a century since, and as a matter of course it will do nothing. Why should it? Doing things, as you call it, is only bidding for power — for patronage and pay.”

“And is the country to have no service done?”

“The country gets quite as much service as it pays for — and perhaps a little more. The clerks in the offices work for the country. And the Ministers work too, if they’ve got anything to manage. There is plenty of work done — but of work in Parliament, the less the better, according to my ideas. It’s very little that ever is done, and that little is generally too much.”

“But the people — ”

“Come down and have a glass of brandy and water, and leave the people alone for the present. The people can take care of themselves a great deal better than we can take care of them.” Mr Fitzgibbon’s doctrine as to the commonwealth was very different from that of Barrington Erle, and was still less to the taste of the new member. Barrington Erle considered that his leader, Mr Mildmay, should be entrusted to make all necessary changes in the laws, and that an obedient House of Commons should implicitly obey that leader in authorising all changes proposed by him — but, according to Barrington Erle, such changes should be numerous and of great importance, and would, if duly passed into law at his lord’s behest, gradually produce such a Whig Utopia in England as has never yet been seen on the face of the earth. Now, according to Mr Fitzgibbon, the present Utopia would be good enough — if only he himself might be once more put into possession of a certain semi-political place about ‘the Court, from which he had heretofore drawn £1,000 per annum, without any work, much to his comfort. He made no secret of his ambition, and was chagrined simply at the prospect of having to return to his electors before he could enjoy those good things which he expected to receive from the undoubted majority of seventeen, which had been, or would be, achieved.

“I hate all change as a rule,” said Fitzgibbon; but, upon my word, we ought to alter that. When a fellow has got a crumb of comfort, after waiting for it years and years, and perhaps spending thousands in elections, he has to go back and try his hand again at the last moment, merely in obedience to some antiquated prejudice. Look at poor Jack Bond — the best friend I ever had in the world. He was wrecked upon that rock for ever. He spent every shilling he had in contesting Romford three times running — and three times running he got in. Then they made him Vice-Comptroller of the Granaries, and I’m shot if he didn’t get spilt at Romford on standing for his re-election!”

“And what became of him?”

“God knows. I think I heard that he married an old woman and settled down somewhere. I know he never came up again. Now, I call that a confounded shame. I suppose I’m safe down in Mayo, but there’s no knowing what may happen in these days.”

As they parted at Euston Square, Phineas asked his friend some little nervous question as to the best mode of making a first entrance into the House. Would Laurence Fitzgibbon see him through the difficulties of the oath-taking? But Laurence Fitzgibbon made very little of the difficulty. “Oh — you just come down, and there’ll be a rush of fellows, and you’ll know everybody. You’ll have to hang about for an hour or so, and then you’ll get pushed through. There isn’t time for much ceremony after a general election.”

Phineas reached London early in the morning, and went home to bed for an hour or so. The House was to meet on that very day, and he intended to begin his parliamentary duties at once if he should find it possible to get someone to accompany him. He felt that he should lack courage to go down to Westminster Hall alone, and explain to the policeman and door-keepers that he was the man who had just been elected member for Loughshane. So about noon he went into the Reform Club, and there he found a great crowd of men, among whom there was a plentiful sprinkling of members. Erle saw him in a moment, and came to him with congratulations.

“So you’re all right, Finn,” said he.

“Yes; I’m all right — I didn’t have much doubt about it when I went over.”

“I never heard of a fellow with such a run of luck,” said Erle. “It’s just one of those flukes that occur once in a dozen elections. Any one on earth might have got in without spending a shilling.”

Phineas didn’t at all like this. “I don’t think any one could have got in,” said he, “without knowing Lord Tulla.

“Lord Tulla was nowhere, my dear boy, and could have nothing to say to it. But never mind that. You meet me in the lobby at two. There’ll be a lot of us there, and we’ll go in together. Have you seen Fitzgibbon?” Then Barrington Erle went off to other business, and Finn was congratulated by other men. But it seemed to him that the congratulations of his friends were not hearty. He spoke to some men, of whom he thought that he knew they would have given their eyes to be in Parliament — and yet they spoke of his success as being a very ordinary thing. “Well, my boy, I hope you like it,” said one middle-aged gentleman whom he had known ever since he came up to London, “The difference is between working for nothing and working for money. You’ll have to work for nothing now.”

“That’s about it, I suppose,” said Phineas.

“They say the House is a comfortable club,” said the middle-aged friend, “but I confess that I shouldn’t like being rung away from my dinner myself.”

At two punctually Phineas was in the lobby at Westminster, and then he found himself taken into the House with a crowd of other men. The old and young, and they who were neither old nor young, were mingled together, and there seemed to be very little respect of persons. On three or four occasions there was some cheering when a popular man or a great leader came in; but the work of the day left but little clear impression on the mind of the young member. He was confused, half elated, half disappointed, and had not his wits about him. He found himself constantly regretting that he was there; and as constantly telling himself that he, hardly yet twenty-five, without a shilling of his own, had achieved an entrance into that assembly which by the consent of all men is the greatest in the world, and which many of the rich magnates of the country had in vain spent heaps of treasure in their endeavours to open to their own footsteps. He tried hard to realise what he had gained, but the dust and the noise and the crowds and the want of something august to the eye were almost too strong for him. He managed, however, to take the oath early among those who took it, and heard the Queen’s speech read and the Address moved and seconded. He was seated very uncomfortably, high up on a back seat, between two men whom he did not know; and he found the speeches to be very long. He had been in the habit of seeing such speeches reported in about a column, and he thought that these speeches must take at least four columns each. He sat out the debate on the Address till the House was adjourned, and then he went away to dine at his club. He did go into the dining-room of the House, but there was a crowd there, and he found himself alone — and to tell the truth, he was afraid to order his dinner.

The nearest approach to a triumph which he had in London came to him from the glory which his election reflected upon his landlady. She was a kindly good motherly soul, whose husband was a journeyman law-stationer, and who kept a very decent house in Great Marlborough Street. Here Phineas had lodged since he had been in London, and was a great favourite. “God bless my soul, Mr Phineas,” said she, “only think of your being a member of Parliament!”

“Yes, I’m a member of Parliament, Mrs Bunce.”

“And you’ll go on with the rooms the same as ever? Well, I never thought to have a member of Parliament in ’em.”

Mrs Bunce really had realised the magnitude of the step which her lodger had taken, and Phineas was grateful to her.

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