Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 9

The new Government

In the House of Lords that night, and in the House of Commons, the outgoing Ministers made their explanations. As our business at the present moment is with the Commons, we will confine ourselves to their chamber, and will do so the more willingly because the upshot of what was said in the two places was the same. The outgoing ministers were very grave, very self-laudatory, and very courteous. In regard to courtesy it may be declared that no stranger to the ways of the place could have understood how such soft words could be spoken by Mr Daubeny, beaten, so quickly after the very sharp words which he had uttered when he only expected to be beaten. He announced to his fellow-commoners that his right honourable friend and colleague Lord de Terrier had thought it right to retire from the Treasury. Lord de Terrier, in constitutional obedience to the vote of the Lower House, had resigned, and the Queen had been graciously pleased to accept Lord de Terrier’s resignation, Mr Daubeny could only inform the House that Her Majesty had signified her pleasure that Mr Mildmay should wait upon her tomorrow at eleven o’clock. Mr Mildmay — so Mr Daubeny understood — would be with Her Majesty tomorrow at that hour. Lord de Terrier had found it to be his duty to recommend Her Majesty to send for Mr Mildmay. Such was the real import of Mr Daubeny’s speech. That further portion of it in which he explained with blandest, most beneficent, honey-flowing words that his party would have done everything that the country could require of any party, had the House allowed it to remain on the Treasury benches for a month or two — and explained also that his party would never recriminate, would never return evil for evil, would in no wise copy the factious opposition of their adversaries; that his party would now, as it ever had done, carry itself with the meekness of the dove, and the wisdom of the serpent — all this, I say, was so generally felt by gentlemen on both sides of the House to be “leather and prunella”, that very little attention was paid to it. The great point was that Lord de Terrier had resigned, and that Mr Mildmay had been summoned to Windsor.

The Queen had sent for Mr Mildmay in compliance with advice given to her by Lord de Terrier. And yet Lord de Terrier and his first lieutenant had used all the most practised efforts of their eloquence for the last three days in endeavouring to make their countrymen believe that no more unfitting Minister than Mr Mildmay ever attempted to hold the reins of office! Nothing had been too bad for them to say of Mr Mildmay — and yet, in the very first moment in which they found themselves unable to carry on the Government themselves, they advised the Queen to send for that most incompetent and baneful statesman! We who are conversant with our own methods of politics, see nothing odd in this, because we are used to it; but surely in the eyes of strangers our practice must be very singular. There is nothing like it in any other country — nothing as yet. Nowhere else is there the same good humoured, affectionate, prize-fighting ferocity in politics. The leaders of our two great parties are to each other exactly as are the two champions of the ring who knock each other about for the belt and for five hundred pounds a side once in every two years. How they fly at each other, striking as though each blow should carry death if it were but possible! And yet there is no one whom the Birmingham Bantam respects so highly as he does Bill Burns the Brighton Bully, or with whom he has so much delight in discussing the merits of a pot of half-and-half. And so it was with Mr Daubeny and Mr Mildmay. In private life Mr Daubeny almost adulated his elder rival — and Mr Mildmay never omitted an opportunity of taking Mr Daubeny warmly by the hand. It is not so in the United States. There the same political enmity exists, but the political enmity produces private hatred. The leaders of parties there really mean what they say when they abuse each other, and are in earnest when they talk as though they were about to tear each other limb from limb. I doubt whether Mr Daubeny would have injured a hair of Mr Mildmay’s venerable head, even for an assurance of six continued months in office.

When Mr Daubeny had completed his statement, Mr Mildmay simply told the House that he had received and would obey Her Majesty’s commands. The House would of course understand that he by no means meant to aver that the Queen would even commission him to form a Ministry. But if he took no such command from Her Majesty it would become his duty to recommend Her Majesty to impose the task upon some other person. Then everything was said that had to be said, and members returned to their clubs. A certain damp was thrown over the joy of some excitable Liberals by tidings which reached the House during Mr Daubeny’s speech. Sir Everard Powell was no more dead than was Mr Daubeny himself. Now it is very unpleasant to find that your news is untrue, when you have been at great pains to disseminate it. “Oh, but he is dead,” said Mr Ratler. “Lady Powell assured me half an hour ago,” said Mr Ratler’s opponent, “that he was at that moment a great deal better than he had been for the last three months. The journey down to the House did him a world of good.” “Then we’ll have him down for every division,” said Mr Ratler.

The political portion of London was in a ferment for the next five days. On the Sunday morning it was known that Mr Mildmay had declined to put himself at the head of a liberal Government. He and the Duke of St Bungay, and Mr Plantagenet Palliser, had been in conference so often, and so long, that it may almost be said they lived together in conference. Then Mr Gresham had been with Mr Mildmay — and Mr Monk also. At the clubs it was said by many that Mr Monk had been with Mr Mildmay; but it was also said very vehemently by others that no such interview had taken place, Mr Monk was a Radical, much admired by the people, sitting in Parliament for that most Radical of all constituencies, the Pottery Hamlets, who had never as yet been in power. It was the great question of the day whether Mr Mildmay would or would not ask Mr Monk to join him; and it was said by those who habitually think at every period of change that the time has now come in which the difficulties to forming a government will at last be found to be insuperable, that Mr Mildmay could not succeed either with Mr Monk or without him. There were at the present moment two sections of these gentlemen — the section which declared that Mr Mildmay had sent for Mr Monk, and the section which declared that he had not. But there were others, who perhaps knew better what they were saying, by whom it was asserted that the whole difficulty lay with Mr Gresham. Mr Gresham was willing to serve with Mr Mildmay — with certain stipulations as to the special seat in the Cabinet which he himself was to occupy, and as to the introduction of certain friends of his own; but — so said these gentlemen who were supposed really to understand the matter — Mr Gresham was not willing to serve with the Duke and with Mr Palliser. Now, everybody who knew anything knew that the Duke and Mr Palliser were indispensable to Mr Mildmay. And a liberal Government, with Mr Gresham in the opposition, could not live half through a session! All Sunday and Monday these things were discussed; and on the Monday Lord de Terrier absolutely stated to the Upper House that he had received Her Majesty’s commands to form another government, Mr Daubeny, in half a dozen most modest words — in words hardly audible, and most unlike himself — made his statement in the Lower House to the same effect. Then Mr Ratler, and Mr Bonteen, and Mr Barrington Erle, and Mr Laurence Fitzgibbon aroused themselves and swore that such things could not be. Should the prey which they had won for themselves, the spoil of their bows and arrows, be snatched from out of their very mouths by treachery? Lord de Terrier and Mr Daubeny could not venture even to make another attempt unless they did so in combination with Mr Gresham. Such a combination, said Mr Barrington Erle, would be disgraceful to both parties, but would prove Mr Gresham to be as false as Satan himself. Early on the Tuesday morning, when it was known that Mr Gresham had been at Lord de Terrier’s house, Barrington Erle was free to confess that he had always been afraid of Mr Gresham. “I have felt for years,” said he, “that if anybody could break up the party it would be Mr Gresham.”

On that Tuesday morning Mr Gresham certainly was with Lord de Terrier, but nothing came of it. Mr Gresham was either not enough like Satan for the occasion, or else he was too closely like him. Lord de Terrier did not bid high enough, or else Mr Gresham did not like biddings from that quarter. Nothing then came from this attempt, and on the Tuesday afternoon the Queen again sent for Mr Mildmay. On the Wednesday morning the gentlemen who thought that the insuperable difficulties had at length arrived, began to wear their longest faces, and to be triumphant with melancholy forebodings. Now at last there was a deadlock. Nobody could form a government. It was asserted that Mr Mildmay had fallen at her Majesty’s feet dissolved in tears, and had implored to be relieved from further responsibility. It was well known to many at the clubs that the Queen had on that morning telegraphed to Germany for advice. There were men so gloomy as to declare that the Queen must throw herself into the arms of Mr Monk, unless Mr Mildmay would consent to rise from his knees and once more buckle on his ancient armour. “Even that would be better than Gresham,” said Barrington Erle, in his anger. “I’ll tell you what it is,” said Ratler, “we shall have Gresham and Monk together, and you and I shall have to do their biddings.” Mr Barrington Erle’s reply to that suggestion I may not dare to insert in these pages.

On the Wednesday night, however, it was known that everything had been arranged, and before the Houses met on the Thursday every place had been bestowed, either in reality or in imagination. The Times, in its second edition on the Thursday, gave a list of the Cabinet, in which four places out of fourteen were rightly filled. On the Friday it named ten places aright, and indicated the law officers, with only one mistake in reference to Ireland; and on the Saturday it gave a list of the Under Secretaries of State, and Secretaries and Vice-Presidents generally, with wonderful correctness as to the individuals, though the offices were a little jumbled. The Government was at last formed in a manner which everybody had seen to be the only possible way in which a government could be formed. Nobody was surprised, and the week’s work was regarded as though the regular routine of government making had simply been followed. Mr Mildmay was Prime Minister; Mr Gresham was at the Foreign Office; Mr Monk was at the Board of Trade; the Duke was President of the Council; the Earl of Brentford was Privy Seal; and Mr Palliser was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Barrington Erle made a step up in the world, and went to the Admiralty as Secretary; Mr Bonteen was sent again to the Admiralty; and Laurence Fitzgibbon became a junior Lord of the Treasury. Mr Ratler was, of course, installed as Patronage Secretary to the same Board. Mr Ratler was perhaps the only man in the party as to whose destination there could not possibly be a doubt. Mr Ratler had really qualified himself for a position in such a way as to make all men feel that he would, as a matter of course, be called upon to fill it. I do not know whether as much could be said on behalf of any other man in the new Government.

During all this excitement, and through all these movements, Phineas Finn felt himself to be left more and more out in the cold. He had not been such a fool as to suppose that any office would be offered to him. He had never hinted at such a thing to his one dearly intimate friend, Lady Laura. He had not hitherto opened his mouth in Parliament. Indeed, when the new Government was formed he had not been sitting for above a fortnight. Of course nothing could be done for him as yet. But, nevertheless, he felt himself to be out in the cold. The very men who had discussed with him the question of the division — who had discussed it with him because his vote was then as good as that of any other member — did not care to talk to him about the distribution of places. He, at any rate, could not be one of them. He, at any rate, could not be a rival. He could neither mar nor assist. He could not be either a successful or a disappointed sympathiser — because he could not himself be a candidate. The affair which perhaps disgusted him more than anything else was the offer of an office — not in the Cabinet, indeed, but one supposed to confer high dignity — to Mr Kennedy. Mr Kennedy refused the offer, and this somewhat lessened Finn’s disgust, but the offer itself made him unhappy.

“I suppose it was made simply because of his money,” he said to Fitzgibbon.

“I don’t believe that,” said Fitzgibbon. People seem to think that he has got a head on his shoulders, though he has got no tongue in it. I wonder at his refusing it because of the Right Honourable.”

“I am so glad that Mr Kennedy refused,” said Lady Laura to him.

“And why? He would have been the Right Hon. Robert Kennedy for ever and ever.” Phineas when he said this did not as yet know exactly how it would have come to pass that such honour — the honour of the enduring prefix to his name — would have come in the way of Mr Kennedy had Mr Kennedy accepted the office in question; but he was very quick to learn all these things, and, in the meantime, he rarely made any mistake about them.

“What would that have been to him — with his wealth?” said Lady Laura. “He has a position of his own and need not care for such things. There are men who should not attempt what is called independence in Parliament. By doing so they simply decline to make themselves useful. But there are a few whose special walk in life it is to be independent, and, as it were, unmoved by parties.”

“Great Akinetoses! You know Orion,” said Phineas.

“Mr Kennedy is not an Akinetos,” said Lady Laura.

“He holds a very proud position,” said Phineas, ironically.

“A very proud position indeed,” said Lady Laura, in sober earnest.

The dinner at Moroni’s had been eaten, and Phineas had given an account of the entertainment to Lord Chiltern’s sister. There had been only two other guests, and both of them had been men on the turf. “I was the first there,” said Phineas, and he surprised me ever so much by telling me that you had spoken to him of me before.”

“Yes; I did so. I wish him to know you. I want him to know some men who think of something besides horses. He is very well educated, you know, and would certainly have taken honours if he had not quarrelled with the people at Christ Church.”

“Did he take a degree?”

“No — they sent him down. It is best always to have the truth among friends. Of course you will hear it some day. They expelled him because he was drunk.” Then Lady Laura burst out into tears, and Phineas sat near her, and consoled her, and swore that if in any way he could befriend her brother he would do so.

Mr Fitzgibbon at this time claimed a promise which he said that Phineas had made to him — that Phineas would go over with him to Mayo to assist at his re-election. And Phineas did go. The whole affair occupied but a week, and was chiefly memorable as being the means of cementing the friendship which existed between the two Irish members.

“A thousand a year!” said Laurence Fitzgibbon, speaking of the salary of his office. “It isn’t much; is it? And every fellow to whom I owe a shilling will be down upon me. If I had studied my own comfort, I should have done the same as Kennedy.”

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